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    Tuesday
    Feb102015

    The Long View 2002-10-03: Jersey Joke

    Here is a bit on local Jersey politics and election law. Reproduced for completeness.

    Jersey Joke

     

    I have never been good with off-the-cuff witticisms, but I am rather proud of this exchange from many years back:

     

    Tactful New Yorker: "If you don't mind my asking, are people who live in New Jersey sensitive about Jersey jokes?

     

    Lifelong New Jersey Resident: "If we were sensitive, we would live somewhere else."

     

    These words pretty much sum up my reaction to Senator Bob Torricelli's cringe-making speech on Monday evening, in which he announced he was withdrawing from the race for the US Senate. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both had their strengths, all of which Torricelli lacks. However, in that speech he managed to combine Nixon's paranoid self-pity with Clinton's weepy refusal to ever admit that his bad luck is his own fault. The result was Tony Soprano without the integrity.

    The Senator made no apology for having disgraced his office. He alluded to the charges against him of gross, old-fashioned corruption only by asking how the word of someone with no credibility (the fellow in jail who says he bought the Senator little luxuries) could bring down someone with Torricelli's hard-earned reputation. Does the man really have no idea what his reputation was?

    Clintonism drips from the the affair like the slimy protoplasm in Ghostbusters. It has been clear for some time that Torricelli was not going to jail on the current batch of charges; his folly of seeking and winning the Democratic nomination for reelection was based on the assumption his constituents did not follow events in Washington closely enough to notice his reprimand by the Senate. His decision to back out now, weeks after the statutory deadline, continues the new Democratic pattern of testing the legal system to the breaking point.

    The statutes do allow a party to change candidates, if they do it by a little under two months before election day. There are also mechanisms for handling the death or resignation on an incumbent. What they do not contemplate is a situation like this. Torricelli saw that he had no more chance of being reelected than did Hannibal Lector, so he withdrew in favor of a stronger standard-bearer for his party. To allow him to do that would fundamentally corrupt the electoral system. The poll that counts should be the one on election day.

    The New Jersey Supreme Court saw it otherwise. That Court has long been a strange institution. Beloved of leftist activists, it has displayed an uncanny knack for always reaching the progressive conclusion in ways untainted by legal principle. In this case, the justices remained true to form. Noting that the statutes do not absolutely forbid a change on the ballot later than the statutory deadline, the Court invoked its equitable power to allow the Democrats to substitute the ex-Senator Frank Lautenberg, whose chief merit is lack of infamy. The justices said they did this so that voters would have a "choice." To put it another way, the voters will be made to choose again, because they seemed to be making the wrong choice the first time. Democracy is fine within limits, but the control of the US Senate could turn on who is the next senator from New Jersey.

    Coup calls forth counter-coup, or at least the appearance thereof. The Republicans announced that they would immediately file suits in the federal courts, including a direct application to the US Supreme Court. From what I gather, the chief argument would be that people who have already mailed in absentee ballots, particularly members of the armed forces, would be disenfranchised if the ballot were altered at this late date. It is possible, though not likely, that we may be about to see a Mid-Atlantic reenactment of the Bush v. Gore case. It would be a grave error for the Republicans to take it that far. In reality, the outrageous behavior of the Florida Supreme Court left the US Supreme Court little choice in the presidential election of 2000, but both the Court and the Bush Administration bled legitimacy afterward. Neither this Senate seat, nor even the control of the Senate, is worth starting that dynamic again.

    Incidentally, remember how every legal commentator in the country assured us after Bush v. Gore came down that the case would be limited to its facts, and so had no real precedential value? Making dubious law to further your immediate interests is like making a wish on the Monkey's Paw: the result is never what you expect, and every new wish makes the situation worse.

    Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

     


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    Friday
    Feb062015

    The Long View 2002-09-26: Strange Forms of Life

    The internal politics of the Right in the United States have been strange. For most of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Right has struggled for respectability without achieving it. Or at least that is how it seems now. It is worth remembering that this has not always been true in living memory. What has been true is that some have sought to sacrifice others for the public good [or their own benefit]. At least in principle, the struggle session has been a thing of the far Left. However, in practice, it has been rather bi-partisan.

    During the middle of the twentieth century, American conservative thought was thought to be moribund, and was famously caricatured by Lionel Trilling as nothing but a series of irritable mental gestures. Whittaker Chambers felt the Left was going win, but he threw in with the losing side because of Stalin's purges and genocides. This trend reached its apotheosis in the Kennedy Enlightenment, but the failures of the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty resulted in the victory of the Reagan coalition and a resurgence of the Right. This is the period that gave us the birth of the neo-conservative movement, when a number of prominent liberals such as Irving Kristol publicly defected to the Republicans.

    Thirty years ago, it was fashionable to be conservative, as I was reminded upon reading Paul Fussell's Class. If you want a visual reminder of this time, look at the movie PCU, which memorably lampooned early PC while illustrating the early nineties glamour of New England preppies. With the passage of time, the tides have turned against the Right again, and now all the cool kids want to be on the Left again. However, this is the New Left, the winner of the succession wars that followed the self-destruction of the liberal consensus. So far, neither Right nor Left in America has been able to produce an enduring political settlement to match the longevity of the New Deal, with repeated swings back and forth in national politics as fortunes rise and fall.

    Part of this cycle is a continual churn in the staffs and the very existence of the little magazines that provide the national conversation on political topics. Most of these journals never really make money, and are kept alive by the financing and egos of wealthy men who choose to dabble in politics in the hopes of leaving a legacy. Over time, some of these magazines pass into the American mainstream, providing a source of stable jobs and political influence, and they cast off their less-respectable elements as they seek legitimacy. On the Right, this manifests as a search for anti-Semitism and racism. On the Left, this is the ever expanding search for those who are not sufficiently politically correct.

    John mentions the American Conversative in this vein. In 2002, Taki Theodorocopulos was the financial angel who kept this magazine alive, and Patrick Buchanan provided the brand name. Ron Unz was also involved. Taki and Buchanan are still listed as founders on the masthead, but they no longer are editors or publish articles, having long since been forced out for crimes against respectability.

    As it turns out, John was very wrong about the Second Iraq War. There are some I respect who still think that a different policy in Iraq could have preserved the peace. It isn't hard to find people who think no good was possible, and Taki and Unz and Buchanan are foremost in funding that on the Right; some things never change.

    Among those things is the interest in extraterrestial life.  Many of the hopes of Golden Age sci-fi were dashed by actual exploration of Mars and Venus. Since I grew up reading Heinlein juvenile, the idea of settling Mars or Venus seems inexpressibly romantic to me.

     

    Strange Forms of Life

     

    Although I live on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I followed with keen interest the giant march of rural protestors in London on Sunday. 400,000 people? Isn't that ten times as many who turned out for the Charterist Movement marches in the 1830s? And all to protest a bill before Parliament to ban fox hunting?

    I realize that these foxes are just carrying water to a basket of grievances. (That's a mixed metaphor, but a cool image.) The Countryside Alliance, which organized the march, seems to be like the umbrella groups that form from time to time in the rural US. Some rural protesters are pig-greedy agricultural entrepreneurs who think the state owes them a living. Still, as in the US, what we also have here is a movement against ecological ideology by people who actually know something about the land.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about all this is that none of the the marchers, as far as I can tell, were the Usual Suspects. In fact, judging by the reaction on the Web (which may be a poor barometer), radical Britain reacted to the appearance of a genuine populist movement with singular disinterest. Whenever a large number of people march for any purpose, political, economic or even religious, you can usually count on some pack of neo-Trotskyites trying to hijack the movement for their own squirrel-brained purposes. The closest I could find was a few feeble attempts to redirect Web searches away from the march's organizers.

    The march seems to have been a genial parody of the typical climax to a G.K. Chesterton novel, in which the People rise up to overthrow the establishment, especially when the establishment is socialist. Chesterton was not a great admirer of aristocracy (though he was of monarchy, so he would have been pleased by Prince Charles's open support for the Countryside Alliance). Among the aristocrats he numbered what would later be called cultural liberals, whom he also associated with plutocracy. That is not how Prime Minister Tony Blair's New Labour government looks to me, but that is how it seems to look to at least 400,000 Britons.

    The fact that one of Britain's rare earthquakes occurred about the same time as the march might have given an earlier generation pause.

     

    * * *

    Some forms of populism are past due. Among them I would include the kind represented by Patrick J. Buchanan's new magazine, The American Conservative. I just got a complimentary copy of the October 7 issue. There is nothing to complain about in terms of layout or editorial quality. It is printed on the sort of cheap paper-stock that denotes the traditional seriousness of the Little Magazine. It further maintains tradition by being subsidized by a financial angel of whom the less said the better, in this case one Taki Theodorocopulos.

    This issue is almost wholly devoted to arguing against an American invasion of Iraq. This is reasonable thing to argue for, but the magazine's opposition seems to be, well, overdetermined. One gathers that the invasion will be a bloody mess, or that the occupation will be a bloody mess, or that the next Iraqi government will be no better than the current one, or that control of the Middle East would create imperial overreach. The one possibility that the issue does not allow for is that the war will be a resounding success.

    At risk of jinxing the operation, a happy outcome is by far the most likely. The fighting will be short. The country will not break up; it will be cantonized and demilitarized. The Iraqis will sing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and get back to business, which is good: the country's GDP grew 15% last year. The democratic movement in Iran will be bolstered and the Syrians will stop funding terrorist organizations.

    If these good things happen, the magazine will have nothing to talk about but illegal Mexican immigration. That is an important issue, but it does not merit its own magazine.

     

    * * *

    When things go badly in this world, we can always turn our attention to another. I was particularly pleased to see that a new analysis of the atmosphere of Venus is consistent with biology in the middle layers. I recognize that this sort of announcement has a history of not being verified, but I still think it worth noting. As far as I know, it is the first application of an important principle of planetary astronomy: any feature of an atmosphere that cannot be explained by geology is probably caused by biology.

    James Lovelock, better known for formulating the Gaia Hypothesis, came up with this idea when NASA asked him how they could determine from a distance whether life was present. His answer ran like this: It would be obvious from a distance that Earth has life on it, because of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen is an explosive. If it is not continuously replenished, it will soon bond with other elements. The same would be true of, say, methane, which breaks down easily. If something inherently unstable is a persistent feature of an atmosphere, then there is a good chance that some metabolic process is maintaining it.

    Venus has been explored, even by landers. The surface is covered by superheated CO2 at almost 100 times sealevel pressure on Earth. However, it has long been known that there are mysterious dark regions that sometimes form at the middle altitudes, where temperatures are below the boiling point of water, and where there is in fact some vapor available. It now also appears that there are unstable acids at those levels. They sound pretty horrible in themselves, but the best explanation for them is biology.

    There are doubtful points here. There are non-biological ways to produce the substances in question. And is the proper adjective for things related to Venus "Venusian" or "Venerian"?

    A zeppelin should be dispatched at once to clarify these matters. If his magazine folds, Pat Buchanan might be persuaded to serve as ship's lexicographer.

    Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

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    Monday
    Feb022015

    CrossFit 2015-01-30

    1 RM thruster

    Kashi

    5 rounds

    • 1 minute strict pullups
    • 1 minute hang squat clean thrusters [75#]
    • 1 minute row for Calories
    • 1 minute bench press [95#]
    • 1 minute rest

    Reps: 31-31-28-39-27 = 146

    Monday
    Feb022015

    CrossFit 2015-01-28

    Max height box jump

    Death by sprints

    20 minutes, increasing 10m sprint ladder

    Monday
    Feb022015

    CrossFit 2015-01-25

    1 RM Clean&Jerk

    Captain Crunch

    AMRAP 20 minutes in teams of two

    • 30 lateral barbell burpees
    • 30 chest to bar pullups 95-105-115#
    • 30 power cleans

    Rounds: 3 + 8 reps

    Monday
    Feb022015

    CrossFit 2015-01-23

    1 RM Snatch

    Strict press

    OTM x 2 reps

    • 85#

    Cashout 3 rounds

    • 1 minute strict press [55#]
    • 1 minute strict pullups
    • 1 minute double unders
    • 1 minute rest

    Reps: 40, 37, 30

    Thursday
    Jan292015

    The Long View 2002-09-19: Historical Accidents

    In general, John was a cautious advocate of George W. Bush, but he wasn't a fool.

    The US will probably get its chance to change the regime in Iraq very soon. For myself, I am inclined to think that everyone is making a lot of fuss about a 72-hour raid. However, we might remember that Henry V's campaign in France was tactically brilliant, but a strategic failure.

    John also had a better appreciation of economics than most critics of the war in Iraq.

    One of the points often made about US Iraqi policy, and about US policy in that part of the world in general, is that it is based on nothing more than US desire for oil. This is true only indirectly. Certainly it is not the case that the US "wants Iraq's oil," as that country's hapless foreign minister recently put it. Actually, I suspect that the domestic oil producers with whom the Bush family is so familiar would like nothing better than that the Iraqi fields be capped and buried under ziggurats; peace and new oil fields could bring back the days of $18 per gallon crude. Nonetheless, it is true that the US is so interested in the Middle East because the world has a petroleum economy. It does not follow, however, that a non-petroleum economy would mean a peaceful world, or even a peaceful Middle East.

    The oil boom brought about by fracking is a consequence of $100 a barrel oil. We get oil from Saudi Arabia for the same reason we get electronics from China: the importers save a few cents on each transaction, which adds up in a big country like ours. Nonetheless, what happens in the Middle East influences oil prices, which affect the US economy and US citizens, so US politics pays attention.

    Finally, imagine a "Green" world, in which renewable energy is not the unreliable, capital intensive monstrosity that it is in our world, but in which people in developed regions live in "frugal comfort" on sunflower oil and electricity from windmills. That would mean that many regions would be an order of magnitude poorer and more chaotic than they already are. Without petroleum exports, the whole Middle East would be Afghanistan.

    With the death of the king of Saudia Arabia, many have wondered whether time has come for the US to cut our ties with the Saudis. If we were able to successfully extricate ourselves from the Middle East, it would require a big change in both US politics and our economy. While difficult, the changes seem plausible. These changes would mean the end of the petrostates all over the world. However, the big question is whether the Middle East would again be a sleepy backwater, or would explode in violence from desparation.

    Historical Accidents

     

    George Bush is rarely compared to Shakespeare favorably. Still, all through the president's address to the United Nation's General Assembly last week, I could not help thinking of the oration early in Henry V (Part II). That is when the bishop explains that, by any reasonable interpretation of the Salic Law, young King Henry was the rightful king of France. George Bush made an argument of much the same order to the Assembly, using UN resolutions instead of Merovingian constitutional law. The difference between George and Henry is that the people whose cooperation George needs, both foreign and domestic, all seem to have found his argument persuasive. At any rate, they found it politic to say they did. The legal preparations for an Iraqi campaign began in earnest.

    The supposed concession by the Iraqi government to unconditional inspections was long predicted and well timed, from their point of view. However, the initiative does nothing to alter the course of events.

    They did the same thing just before the allied offensive in 1991, but too late to have any effect: the resolutions from the Security Council and the US Congress were already in place and military action was at the discretion of the executive. By making the ploy now, they have at least the potential to slow down the political process by some weeks. However, it became immediately apparent that unconditional inspections would have conditions. One reports says that only sites designated by the Iraqis as military bases would be open to inspection. Another says that the Iraqi negotiators have already said that Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspectors, is a "spy." Even the UN will not tolerate being made to look so foolish so soon.

    The US will probably get its chance to change the regime in Iraq very soon. For myself, I am inclined to think that everyone is making a lot of fuss about a 72-hour raid. However, we might remember that Henry V's campaign in France was tactically brilliant, but a strategic failure.

     

    * * *

    One of the points often made about US Iraqi policy, and about US policy in that part of the world in general, is that it is based on nothing more than US desire for oil. This is true only indirectly. Certainly it is not the case that the US "wants Iraq's oil," as that country's hapless foreign minister recently put it. Actually, I suspect that the domestic oil producers with whom the Bush family is so familiar would like nothing better than that the Iraqi fields be capped and buried under ziggurats; peace and new oil fields could bring back the days of $18 per gallon crude. Nonetheless, it is true that the US is so interested in the Middle East because the world has a petroleum economy. It does not follow, however, that a non-petroleum economy would mean a peaceful world, or even a peaceful Middle East.

    Let's do some alternative history:

     

    Imagine we had come to the year 2000 with economic autarky and political isolation as the dominate principles of statecraft. That was, pretty much, what happened in the 1930s. It proved to have certain drawbacks.

    Imagine another world, one that embraced nuclear power as soon as it became available. That is, in fact, the only currently feasible alternative to a petroleum economy; the French made just that choice, and it worked very well for them. Such a world, however, would require a shoot-on-sight non-proliferation regime far larger and more rigorous than the one we have now. There would be an Iraq-type crisis every few years.

    Finally, imagine a "Green" world, in which renewable energy is not the unreliable, capital intensive monstrosity that it is in our world, but in which people in developed regions live in "frugal comfort" on sunflower oil and electricity from windmills. That would mean that many regions would be an order of magnitude poorer and more chaotic than they already are. Without petroleum exports, the whole Middle East would be Afghanistan.

    Oil is only an occasion, not a cause. At this stage of history, global terrorism and wars to contain it are inevitable. Technology has made the world just a day or two across by commercial jet. Resentment, ambition, and need flow with few restrictions over a world that has not yet developed the institutions to manage the situation. The really scary thing is that ours may be the best of all possible worlds.

     

    * * *

    Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm that suffered the worst casualties in the attack on the World Trade Center, has issued a report criticizing the calculations of the Victim's Compensation Board, which is supposed to award settlements in lieu of litigation to the survivors of the victims of 911. (Can we say, "September 11," or has that become confusing now that another September 11 has passed?) The report points out that the fund is operating more like a welfare fund than like an arbitrator in a wrongful death suit. Cantor Fitzgerald's staff was young and very highly paid; the average payouts of one and a half million dollars that the fund anticipates is really just a fraction of what the survivors of such people would receive in the courts. The report says that this is not fair.

    Yes, it isn't fair. Murdering all those people certainly was not fair. It also is not fair that there is not enough money in the world pay off all the theoretical claims that could be made for 911 in lower Manhattan. I have seen figures as high as half a trillion dollars. You could rebuild all of Manhattan for that. Awards of that magnitude would wreck the world's insurance system and bankrupt several government entities. As a matter of fact, the victims' survivors have the option of pursuing their claims in court, but it will be intolerable if any large number of them do so.

    There is something that the authors of the Cantor Fitzgerald report seem not to understand; neither do many of the other survivors, or even their attorneys. Tort damages are not a civil right. The tort system is a government service, one that is helpful and even necessary for society in normal times. In abnormal times, when there is war or natural disaster, the rules of liability are suspended. This is not a new idea. The law has always worked this way; it has to.

    We must ask ourselves: suppose there is a next time, and a time after that?

    Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

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    Monday
    Jan262015

    The Long View: Our Global Neighborhood

    John's basic take on the report issued by the UN in 1995 on improving its own efficiency was this was a document written by hard-working, well-meaning bureaucrats. That doesn't mean it isn't also a revolutionary tract.

    Many of the complaints in this volume are just. For example, NYC spent more on its uniformed police and fire services in 1995 than the UN did on peacekeeping. On the other hand, NYC arguably has a bigger army than most independent nations. There is also the difficulty the UN has collecting the funds its member nations have agreed to give it, and the patronage system that selects UN bureaucrats.

    All of this is a whitewash designed to deflect attention from the organizing principle of the work, which is to make the UN, in concert with other existing international institutions, into a world government. This report suggests dismantling the UN as it is exists, the remnant of the coalition that won the Second World War, and turning it into a proper government, one with general powers, police, courts, and unambigious jurisdiction.

    I suppose if I worked for the UN, I might be willing to endorse such an idea. If want your organization to succeed, you usually want the means to fulfill the ends.  I just cannot imagine actually wanting to work for the UN.

    The boldest proposal in this document is worthy of any barracks-lawyer. The authors propose handing control of the global commons to the UN Trusteeship Council. There is something to be said for this, what with the tragedy of the commons. However, you might notice the "commons" is defined as anything not under the exclusive, unambiguous control of an existing nation-state. That pretty much amounts to everything that currently exists.

    On the gripping hand, what is most interesting about this idea is its very parochialism. The class of international businessmen, bureaucrats, and professional do-gooders who back this proposal are the flowering of Western progressivism, and they have nothing in common with the teeming masses of the Global South they purportedly represent.

    Our Global Neighborhood
    The Report of the Commission on Global Governance
    Oxford University Press 1995
    $14.95, 410 pp.
    ISBN 0-19-827997-3

    The Great International "Them" Unmasked!

    Even the most powerful and carefully devised conspiracy is bound to make some fatal mistake. Perhaps a letter will fall into the hands of a crusading journalist, a prominent conspirator will attract unwanted attention on the way to a secret meeting, the vast sums being moved through the international banking system to support the conspiracy's activities will excite the curiosity of an obscure but honest clerk. The conspiracy to end the international regime of sovereign states and replace it with a world government has made a different misstep: they wrote their ideas down in a report by a barnfull of international bureaucrats and published it in a 410 page paperback book. Some people just can't keep a secret.

    Seriously, the earnest and hardworking diplomats and technical experts responsible for "Our Global Neighborhood" are not trying to do anything underhanded. Mostly. The idea behind the report was that, what with the end of the Cold War and the 50th anniversary of the U.N. coming up, it might be a good idea to do a general performance review of the major international institutions, particularly of the U.N. itself, and suggest some reforms. Willy Brandt, the former West German Chancellor, was chiefly responsible for getting the project organized in 1990, and it received the support of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the current U.N. Secretary General at the time.

    Actually, as reports written by international committees go, this one is pretty good. It is of reasonable length, for one thing. Blessedly for a U.N.-related document, the text is no more cluttered with acronyms than the matter requires. There is a minimum of political posturing, and almost all the reform recommendations are practical. That, however, does not make them any less radical. In some ways, the international system they would create would be as different from the one we have now as the U.S. federal government is from the government under the Articles of Confederation. It is wrong, however, to dismiss the report as just another example of one-worldism. "World Federalism" and similar sentiments have existed, in the U.S. and elsewhere, since the end of the Second World War. They had always been negligible because there was nothing behind them. Today, this is no longer true. Long before Marx, Hegel recognized that no social development can get anywhere if there is no "class of civil society" behind it. Unlike the 1940s, such a class exists in the 1990s.

    Many of the Commission's proposals have merit. They have a laundry list of social development agencies in the U.N. system that never seem to have done anyone any good and that richly deserve to be discontinued. As a streamlining measure, they suggest putting economic development and related activities under the purview of a new Economic Security Council. They show how the Secretary General could be set free to do more basic administration if he were not required to produce so many useless reports. They acknowledge that the U.N. bureaucracy is about as efficient as the Italian Post Office on a bad day (though not, of course, as bad as the municipal government of Washington, D.C.), and suggest a procedure for turning it into an honest civil service. This means, for instance, that officials would be hired on the basis of ability rather than what country's turn it is to fill a given post. They complain that the uniformed municipal services of New York City had more money to spend on fire and police protection in 1992 than the U.N. did on peacekeeping operations for that year. They argue, persuasively, that countries should at least pay for the activities their representatives have authorized. They suggest a number of reasonable measures to reform the formula for calculating the assessments made by the U.N. on its members, and various ways to make these deadbeats pay up.

    In many ways, "Our Global Neighborhood" is refreshingly realistic. The report notes early on that there is no world "community." That is, we deceive ourselves if we believe that the peoples of the world all value pretty much the same things and that all identify themselves with world society in the way that they may identify themselves as Chinese or Sunni Moslems or French speakers. (The report does lapse into the use of the phrase "world community" later on, but since today we use expressions like "the pickpocket community" and "the tubercular community," it is understandable if the commission members could not help themselves.) What we do have is a world neighborhood. We live in a limited space where we are all going to interact whether we want to or not. Therefore, we have to make some accommodations so as not to annoy each other. This is a perfectly satisfactory exposition of the matter.

    Amazingly for a document prepared largely by U.N.-types, the report has hardly any animus against free enterprise. This is remarkable because many of the people on the commission were responsible for such 1970s phenomena as the New International Economic Order, which was a plan whereby developed countries would ship their development to underdeveloped countries, and the New World Information Order, which was a plan for preventing independent western news organizations from disseminating unpleasant news about the governments of those countries. Most of the commission's major proposals contemplate the direct involvement of private businesses. Multinational corporations are seen as at least morally neutral, and even potentially useful. A recurrent theme of the report is that history has shown that centrally controlled economies do not work. Much of the report does not deal with the U.N. at all, but with bodies like the World Bank and the new World Trade Organization. These bodies could use a bit of coordination, but the commission finds it good that such institutions remain independent. Government itself is recognized to be of limited effectiveness.

    Still, at the heart of the report, there lies a solid nugget of dissimulation. The commission is at pains to emphasize that what it is promoting is world governance, not world government. Governance is primarily a matter of establishing generally accepted rules. There may, of course, be certain bodies entrusted with the task of settling disputes and enforcing the rules from time to time, but they are not essential to the concept. The system of competition between professional soccer teams, for instance, is a form of "governance," but that is a long way from saying that soccer, either nationally or internationally, is government-controlled. The same point might be made about free market economies in general. While entrepreneurs and consumers will occasionally have recourse to the courts, most of the time business flows on autonomously, under the governance of well-known custom and the understood principles of contract. A surprising amount of the international system has always worked like this, from the usages regarding the repatriation of diplomatic personnel in time of war to the happy anonymity of such venerable institutions as the Universal Postal Union. The Report of the Committee on Global Governance purports to be doing nothing more than to make some incremental reforms to this already-existing ecology of international relations.

    I'm sorry, it just won't wash. The adoption of the major proposals in this report would transform the chief international institutions of today into a world government of general powers, with the U.N. at its center. The commission members want the veto power of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council phased out, thereby transforming that body from a council of ambassadors to an executive. They want the current jurisdiction of the World Court, which today is voluntary, made mandatory for all member states. They want to make persons and organizations, and not just states, the subjects of international law, so they propose creating a "Council of Petition" where aggrieved private parties could plead their case without a state sponsor. They want an international principle to be established that world military forces may intervene for humanitarian reasons in member states without those states' permission, and they want a standing U.N. army to expedite the process. They want to create an international criminal court to punish crimes like genocide. They want to create an independent tax base to support international institutions. (They recoil, wisely, from the notion that the U.N. should become a taxing authority. Instead, they propose that levies be placed, presumably by member states, on activities of an essentially international nature, such as international money transfers and deep sea fishing. The proceeds would then be used to fund international agencies.) Perhaps the most breathtaking of their proposals is the Trusteeship of the Global Commons.

    The U.N. Trusteeship Council was created to oversee the transition of certain former colonies to independence or other autonomously chosen status. However, the world today being what it is, the Council is fresh out of former colonies to oversee. The Commission on Global Governance suggests that this Council be given charge of overseeing the use of the "global commons." The oversight would include such things as licensing the use of the commons to private companies, and conditioning this use on the private parties agreeing to make certain investments conducive to global development. It took a moment for the full import of these suggestions to come home to me. The global commons is everything not under the exclusive jurisdiction of a sovereign state. This includes the ocean. And the mineral-rich ocean bed. And the atmosphere. And near space, including the narrow range of orbits in which geosynchronous communications satellites can be deployed. And all the planets in the solar system. And all the stars in the sky. Access to some of these resources is still a bit hypothetical, but we may rest assured that, as soon as someone figures out a way to make use of them, someone from the U.N. Trusteeship Council will be there, asking for a cut.

    Now, though this is a outline for a government, it would not be a very effective government. The commission wants states (and the individuals within them) to be gradually disarmed, even though the proposed U.N. army would be little more than a SWAT team with airlift capacity. In other words, the proposal would ensure that when situations arise that require the use of force, there will be no force available. As for its funding and economic development proposals, expressions like "ramshackle" and "invitation to graft" come to mind. And actually, the commission does recognize that the burden of world governance would overwhelm the institutional arrangements the report outlines. The commission does not anticipate that the official institutions should bear the primary burden. Rather, the governance of the world will rest primarily on the spontaneous self-organization of global civil society.

    They are onto something. Although the concept of a "citizen of the world" is very old, the fact is that, at most times in history, such creatures have been extremely rare. Particularly at the time the U.N. was created they were very thin on the ground. The world at the end of the Second World War was run by states with isolated, overprotected economies, mutually inexchangeable currencies, and visa regulations that Kafka would not have incorporated into his novels because they were too improbable. Global civil society, the people whose livelihoods and intellectual horizons could really be said to have a global dimension, was confined to a few thousand businessmen and a rather larger number of diplomats and higher civil servants. Today, the situation is quite remarkably different. Money and goods flow between states with an ease not seen since before the First World War, when the long twentieth century slide toward state control and militarism began. The costs of communication and travel have fallen spectacularly, and they are less and less under the control of private monopolies or state agencies. Businesses, if not losing their national character to the degree that some writers suggest, are at least developing a truly worldwide perspective. More important than any of these factors is the involvement of actual people with world affairs. For many, immigrants or the families of immigrants, this involvement is direct. For many others, far more influential, global questions have become questions of practical politics.

    There are, according to the report, 28,900 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the world that operate in at least three countries. They include everything from the Sierra Club to Catholics for Free Choice to innumerable avatars of labor unions and trade associations. They have changed the face of international diplomacy. It used to be that international conferences were rather restricted affairs. Heads of government, their ministers and aides would get together for a few days in some picturesque spot, preferably in Switzerland, to bore each other into a pacific state of mind. Such events were rare, because the U.N. General Assembly, which sometimes seemed to think itself the Parliament of Man, was supposed to provide a continuing forum for such wide-ranging discussions. Today, however, the General Assembly is a sleepy anachronism. Instead, the U.N. takes bodily form in a series of monster international meetings, such as the Rio summit on the environment in 1992, the human rights get-together in Vienna in 1993, and the variously memorable Cairo summit of 1995 on population and development. Each of these conventions of diplomats is closely attended by a circus of NGOs to lobby and enlighten them. They attend in their thousands with posters and pamphlets, disproportionately young and unnecessarily humorless, housed in makeshift facilities that seem likely to become a permanent feature of U.N. operations. The literature on them is inadequate, though I might suggest P.J. O'Rourke's jaundiced account of the Rio summit in "All the Trouble in the World" (1994). We need a literature on them because they may become "the people of the world."

    Something like this has happened before. When we think of "the people" in the revolutionary tradition, we are likely to think of shabbily-dressed peasants storming the gates of the masters' chateaux, or granitic Social Realist industrial workers staring into the eastern sunrise so as to expose the planes of their faces to best effect. In reality, however, as James Billington has explained in "Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith" (1980), the original "people" for the purposes of revolutionary agitation was the sophisticated rabble that patronized the cafes of the Palais-Royale in Paris. The gardens known as the Palais-Royale were owned by Louis XVI's slightly disreputable cousin, Phillipe d'Orleans, and so the activities there were largely immune to the police and censorship of the city. The cafes that ringed the gardens became the headquarters for most of the political factions that would play a part in the French Revolution. The gardens and cafes, many of the latter literally underground, provided venues for every philosophical sect, pleasure and vice that the late Enlightenment had to offer. The habitues were a special kind of person, and the gardens themselves a spiritually unique place, the place from which popular legitimacy issued. When the "people of Paris" marched on Versailles in 1789 to bring the king back to the city, it was from the Palais-Royale that they set out.

    The NGOs and the international businesses that today seek both to expand the influence of international institutions and to shape their policies are new to the international system. Whereas heretofore international law and governance had been matters that concerned only states, now private parties are intimately involved. Moreover, there is nothing elitist or underhanded about these private parties. They are active in the political life of their home countries, so that decisions taken by international fora now have a reliable source of domestic political support. The political positions they promote are likely to be minority positions, but some minorities are always more influential than others, and the sorts of minorities that stand behind the NGOs are often very influential indeed. NGOs are now and will be for the foreseeable future overwhelmingly from the developed West. This is less of a drawback than it might seem. NGOs operate internationally in no small measure because they are frustrated with their lack of progress at home. They seek to go over the heads of their own governments. Thus, their rhetoric is often anti-Western, and so their oddly parochial origins are disguised, even from the NGOs themselves.

    One of the chief restraints on the behavior of international bodies, and particularly the U.N., is that there is a big difference between a conference of ambassadors and an assembly of legislators. Ambassadors, after all, exist primarily to transmit the views of their home governments. They can generally be dismissed if they begin to act independently. To a lesser extent, these restrictions have also applied to the international civil service that was created to do the ambassadors' bidding. Today, though, ambassadors and civil servants who enjoy reasonable security of tenure can claim to represent something else, global civil society. This is not an empty abstraction, like the "We the Peoples of the United Nations" whose chimerical sovereignty is invoked by the preamble to the U.N. Charter, but a real population of breathing, rather persistent human beings. They are, of course, no more "the people of the world" than the denizens of the Palais-Royale were the people of France. However, like that other superior rabble, it is easy to imagine that they could someday become the "locus of legitimacy" for a new world order that is really new.

    If global civil society as we know it today is going to play a major historical role, however, it will have to do so in fairly short order. Global civil society, for all its cant about transcending the Eurocentric vision of the world, is in reality the progressive West in its purest form. Perhaps it was only in the antiseptic, concrete-and-glass world of U.N. politics that this exotic flower could have come to maturity. Global civil society, like the society of Palais Royale, probably belongs to that class of exotics which flower dramatically but briefly. Napoleon closed down the Palais Royale only a few years after it had been the political center of the world. Napoleon knew the difference between government and governance.



    This article originally appeared in the September 1995 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information:

    Copyright © 1995 by John J. Reilly


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    Sunday
    Jan252015

    The Long View: Warrior Politics

    Imagine this as a bald eagle with olive branches and arrowsThe opening entry of this review explains much of John's views on the Middle East. And also why this article was published in First Things.

    Robert Kaplan has spent these past 20 years reporting on local collapses of civilization, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. He tells us that, in the future, we should expect more collapse rather than less, and over a wider area. Indeed, he says "the paramount question of world politics in the early 21st century will be the reestablishment of order." The period we have entered will be "the most important decades of American foreign policy," when the terms of the emerging global civilization are written. We need more than merely new policies to navigate this stretch of history, Kaplan believes. In "Warrior Politics," he tries to give us nothing less than an outline of an imperial ethos for American elites.

    John didn't think that the terrorists could defeat us, but he did think that a loss of will in the voting public of the United States could have negative long term consequences. I think our wars in Iraq were stupid, but John's point of view does give me pause. It is pretty easy to laugh off John's analysis as imprecise and unscientific, but part of the reason I am re-posting everything he wrote over the last fifteen years is I am acutely interested in what he got right, what he got wrong, and why.

    For example, Kaplan was very much right that societal collapse seems to be something we see more of, rather than less. One might point out that Kaplan was involved in causing this himself, but he later changed his mind. As of yet, the United States has not yet pursued the logic of promoting democracy in the Global South to its logical end. For example, we destroyed Libya, but we have have preserved Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite their depravity.

    It really isn't difficult to imagine the reason why. We think we know how to remake the world in our image, but each political generation discovers anew that we cannot. We make our peace with the regimes we support and the ones we choose to destroy, but we have not yet found a principled reason for what we do. John proposed a reason, and I think we should consider it.

    Warrior Politics:
    Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
    By Robert D. Kaplan
    198 Pages, US$22.95
    Random House, 2002
    ISBN: 0-375-50563-6

     

    Robert Kaplan has spent these past 20 years reporting on local collapses of civilization, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. He tells us that, in the future, we should expect more collapse rather than less, and over a wider area. Indeed, he says "the paramount question of world politics in the early 21st century will be the reestablishment of order." The period we have entered will be "the most important decades of American foreign policy," when the terms of the emerging global civilization are written. We need more than merely new policies to navigate this stretch of history, Kaplan believes. In "Warrior Politics," he tries to give us nothing less than an outline of an imperial ethos for American elites.

    Kaplan says about Western foreign policy pretty much what one wag once said of Queen Victoria: we have pursued goodness to the point of self-indulgence. The result has too often been bloody chaos. Before the UN insisted on conducting an independence referendum in East Timor, for instance, two things were clear. First, the people would vote for independence from Indonesia. Second, Indonesian partisans would exact revenge violently, unless a foreign security force were on the ground to keep the peace. The UN, or rather its members, would not provide such a force, but the do-gooders of the world nonetheless insisted on enforcing the international norm of self-determination. The cost to the people of that country was terrible.

    Particularly since the end of the Cold War, the West in general and the US in particular have been guilty of many such exercises of catastrophic good intentions. We punished military governments in places like Pakistan and Nigeria because they were not democracies, though we knew those countries could unravel if civilians took over. We imposed economic sanctions on countries with imperfect human rights records, even though we needed their help in combating forces that were lethally disposed toward us. Often enough, such policies have been driven by nothing more than the irresponsible harping of the press. We could not have continued to conduct foreign policy like that forever. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, we haven't been. "Warrior Politics" does not directly discuss those attacks, but it does explain what we had been doing wrong that made them more likely.

    In essence, Kaplan says that the Wilsonian tradition in American foreign policy seeks to apply essentially civic norms to international society. Kaplan characterizes these norms indifferently as "Judeo-Christian" or Kantian. In any case, he says we have been making a category mistake. Civic morality, in Kaplan's view, is a morality of intent. We seek to respect the rights of others, and ask that others respect our rights. The measure of how well we live up to this standard is the disposition of our will to respect it. However, as Hobbes was rude enough to point out, rights become an issue only after order has been established. Only the Leviathan state can provide civic order, and there is as yet no global Leviathan capable of enforcing universal norms. In the world as it is today, the best we can do is an ethics of result. The goals may well accord with Judeo-Christian ideals, but the means to achieve them often cannot.

    Among the many technical points Kaplan never clarifies is how the ethical dilemmas of statesmanship differ from those of sovereigns domestically. Obviously, the duties of private persons differ from those of magistrates, because the latter are responsible for the well being of people other than themselves. This is true whether the conflicting goods they must reconcile are domestic or international. Is the ethics of keeping the peace abroad really so different from keeping the peace at home?

    Kaplan is at pains to emphasize that he is not endorsing amorality, but rather a morality that is not Judeo-Christian. He calls this ethos "pagan," though he asserts it underlay the ethics of great modern statesmen, notably his hero Winston Churchill, and of Machiavelli and Hobbes. The actual pagans he discusses at length are Sun Tzu, author of the fourth century B.C. Chinese classic "The Art of War," and Thucydides. "Warrior Politics" is really a meditation on the implications of the ideas of these five men, plus those of Malthus, for the 21st century.

    The "warrior ethos" that Kaplan proposes takes something from each of them: Churchill's animals spirits, Thucydides' caution against arrogance, Machiavelli's injunction to "anxious foresight," Hobbes's assessment of man as a dangerous predator, and the willingness of Malthus to consider that the mechanical trends of history need not tend toward the increase of human happiness. Inspired in part by an unpublished essay by Michael Lind on the "honor paradigm" in international relations, Kaplan says that the wise statesman of the 21st century should be guided by something rather like the code duello.

    In civil society the state protects us, but in lawless regions we must look to self-help, or to strong protectors. The safety of the weak, in fact, depends on the willingness of the strong to use violence in their behalf. In such an environment, the strong dare not suffer insult, lest their credibility diminish and so invite further attacks against them and their clients. There are limits to violence, however. The strong act from self-interest, but only to the point dictated by necessity. To use more force or cruelty than the occasion demands would provoke one's enemies to unite in self-defense.

    Readers of Frank Herbert's romance "Dune" may note how closely this ethos matches that of the leaders of the Great Houses in Herbert's imaginary galactic civilization. Indeed, the parallels are closer, since Kaplan imagines a world in which conventional military conflict is rare, but conflict continues nonetheless through "asymmetrical" means. Terror and assassination become the preferred methods of attack, not by the weak, but by the ambitious. The leaders of the West, and particularly the United States, must be prepared to function in a world in which democratic mass armies no longer ensure security. Future wars "will feature warriors on one side, motivated by grievance and rapine, and an aristocracy of statesmen, motivated, perhaps, by ancient virtue." So much for soccer-mom politics.

    The role of the United States in all this is unique. It is not quite a world Leviathan, but it is a planetary hegemon. It does not have the luxury that Great Britain had after the Second World War of handing its place in the world over to a compatible power. If anyone is going to embed human rights and the rule of law in the world system, it has to be us. As Kaplan puts it, "Global institutions are an outgrowth of Western power, not a replacement for it." At least on a military level that power lies almost exclusively with the United States.

    Kaplan suggests that the world is moving to a greater level of institutional unity. He dwells on an analogy between modernity and the Warring States Period in China. That era resulted, after three appalling centuries, in the Han Dynasty at the end of the 3rd century BC. Kaplan characterizes the dynasty as a loose system of "governance" for the newly unified but highly diverse Chinese world. Inevitably, he also makes the analogy of the United States to Rome; the point of departure is the frequently made comparison between the Second Punic War and World War II.

    The United States, then, is to oversee the crystallization of a global civilization we would want to live in. However, Americans must be quite literally the last people in the world to eschew ordinary patriotism for internationalism. Americans must cultivate Flag Day and the Fourth of July in order to maintain the national integrity needed for their global role. Kaplan's model here is the myth-making patriotism of Livy, though one may note that Livy idealized the ancient Republic after it was over, in the first generation of the Empire.

    "Warrior Politics" does not propose a formal system of ethics, not even an ethics of statecraft. Still, while describing an ethos is not quite the same as elaborating an ethics, we may note that the ethical systems that come down to us from the ancient pagans have little to do with the "ancient pagan ethos" that Kaplan submits for our approval. Epicureanism and Stoicism were at least as much philosophies of self-cultivation as is Kant's Transcendental Idealism.

    Kaplan's dictum that "unarmed prophets always fail" has as many historical exceptions as confirmations. Kaplan does mention that the unarmed followers of Jesus did "help bring down the Roman Empire," but without discussing the case in detail. However, inflexible idealism prevailed over pragmatism even in one of his favorite historical analogies. In the great ideological contest of the Warring States Period between Legalism and Confucianism, the outcome was the defeat of Machiavellian Legalism and the triumph of persnickety, I-told-you-so Confucianism. The prigs do sometimes inherit the earth.

    Kaplan's silence about Christian political theory is encyclopedic. He mentions Niebuhr's "Christian Realism" favorably, though he does not describe it. He also makes a passing friendly reference to Richelieu's and Bismarck's "pietism," which Kaplan believes left them free during business hours to maneuver as Realpolitiker. No doubt he saved himself the trouble of reviewing an extensive literature by confining his remarks about Just War theory to this: "Grotius's 'just war' presupposed the existence of a Leviathan - the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor - to enforce a moral code."

    "Warrior Politics" is really a call for the American political class to redefine itself in terms of a new goal: the maintenance and consolidation of an international system that is, in some respects, a loosely organized global empire. Kaplan does indeed propose a transformation of values, though maybe not the ones he imagines. In effect, he is not asking for the rejection of Jesus, but of John Rawls. The imperial project is not inconsistent with the expansion of the rule of law, domestically and internationally, and the spread of democratic institutions, or even of economic equality. However, its overriding goal would be peace, or at least a tolerable global order. This would be a new organizing principle for politics. Certainly it would be an un-modern one.

    One way to look at modernity is as the period in which societies sought to transform themselves in order to achieve the highest social goods. Democracy and equality in some form have usually been counted among them, but then so have free markets for some and socialism for others. For many people the highest goods have included secularization and environmentalism. In any case, these highest goods, however defined, could never be more than instrumental to the global system of perpetual peace (or mitigated war) that Kaplan is proposing as the end of policy. We are to turn our attention from the highest goods of modernity to the common, essential good of civilization, which is a livable order.

    This may or may not be a good idea, but let us not deceive ourselves about the magnitude of the change Kaplan proposes. His "warrior ethos" would change our rhetoric, our public priorities, the kinds of things we admire and despise. An imperial future would be a different world.


    This article originally appeared in the June/July 2002 issue of First Things. Please click on the following line for more information:

    Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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    Wednesday
    Jan212015

    The Long View 2002-09-12: Destabilizing Deterrence

    There is immense value to a country in possessing nuclear weapons, at least in part because of the mythos that has grown up around them. Iraq didn't really have the ability to make nuclear weapons, but Saddam would be toasting his good health today if they did. [there are those who disagree] North Korea would still exist, since they managed to annoy their neighbors for a good long while without nuclear weapons, but everyone would take them far less seriously. Qaddafi thought that making nice with the US after the Second Gulf War would work, and you can see how well that worked for him.

    However, for all that, there are a number of countries that plausibly could have developed nuclear weapons, and have chosen not to. Why not is a more interesting question than why.

    Destabilizing Deterrence

     

    Just this morning, the New York Times ran an Op Ed piece that illustrates the decay into which the concept of strategic deterrence has fallen. In "The Wisdom of Imagining the Worst-Case Scenario," Milton Viorst gives us some imaginary horribles to chew over in connection with a US invasion of Iraq. He suggests that by "moving into Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein would shift the battlefield far to the south, imposing on American troops a much heavier burden than just the capture of Baghdad." Such a move would put the operation of the Saudi oil fields at risk, and so the whole world's economy.

    It's actually a little hard to imagine how Iraqi mainforce units could invade anything under the cover of US air supremacy, but it is not out of the question that Iraqi missiles could do some damage to the oil fields. However, these things would be only the beginning of evils. Suppose the Iraqis fire some bio-chemical weapons at Tel Aviv, and the Israelis nuke Baghdad? In that case:

     

    "[Pakistan's President] Pervez Musharraf....has joined America's war on terrorism but would be unlikely to survive politically should there be a nuclear attack by an American ally on Iraq's Muslims. Islamists, overthrowing him, would take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal; lacking the ability to launch missiles that would reach Israel, they would turn to India, their proximate enemy. A nuclear attack would set off global chaos."

    As a matter of fact, a Pakistani nuclear strike would not "set off global chaos," though it would result in the end of the Pakistani state in short order. What would set off chaos would be if an Islamist government in Pakistan started handing out small nuclear devices as party favors to terrorists and criminal groups, something that elements of the Pakistani security services have hinted they might do. This would actually be far more like the situation we would face, should Iraq and Iran ever acquire the bomb.

    Doubtless the sovereign suppliers of the technology of mass destruction could always maintain plausible deniability. They could feed the world's terrorist networks and black arms-markets with components, expertise, and occasionally sanctuary. Such countries rarely do anything blatant enough to constitute a traditional causus belli. Up until now, of course, it has been possible to strike at states that do such things, or to threaten them with retaliation: measures such as the air strikes on Libya by the Reagan Administration did much to transform the open support for terrorism displayed by some governments in the 1970s into the much more tactful attitude of the past 20 years or so. This is what is about to change.

    A single, deliverable nuclear weapon grants a state a large measure of invulnerability. Even if Iraq were openly underwriting Al Qaeda's campaign against the United States, the US could not plausibly threaten to remove the government in Baghdad, if that meant that Tel Aviv, or Rome, or Paris, would go up in cinders as soon as the Rangers took the last Iraqi presidential bunker. Conventional aggression by such states could never be answered by conventional responses that posed an existential threat to their regimes. This is, in fact, much the situation that now confronts the US with regard to North Korea, a nuclear-armed failed-state that survives by exacting blackmail from the US and from its neighbors.

    During the Cold War, deterrence served not just to prevent a nuclear exchange, but also to inhibit the direct use of conventional force by the US and the USSR. In the current era, deterrence has nearly the opposite effect; it still reduces the chance that weapons of mass destruction will be used, but it facilitates the use of force against the majority of the world's states that have no hope of acquiring an effective deterrent.

    The dismaying thing about the Cold War was that, while it was on, there seemed to be no reason why it should not continue forever. That is not the case with the Terror War. The number of irresponsible states that seek to acquire the immunity afforded by weapons of mass destruction is not large. The arms networks they support are also limited in geography and resources. A consistent policy of preemption could end the danger worldwide in much less than a generation. Forcible regime change should be necessary in just a few cases; once it is clear the policy will be carried out consistently, no state will openly run the risk of falling within its ambit.

    Then we will have deterrence we can live with.


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