Let’s Make Government Big?



At the Huffington Post, James Roumell takes up the task of identifying the proper size of government. His answer: “The Proper Size of Government is Big.” He doesn’t just like his government big; he likes it European-style. He asserts that his goal is to put the debate in context, but his commentary studiously ignores all aspects of the debate which do not reflect positively upon larger government size, thus reducing the “context” to nothing more than simple issue advocacy. Moreover, his issue advocacy focuses on just one issue – capital allocation – without even so much as mentioning some of the significant and substantial reasons why proponents of a smaller government take their position. Perhaps that is a reflection of Mr. Roumell’s perspective as an asset manager. However, it is no excuse. If he were writing a newspaper column, where space was at a premium, it might be acceptable, but in a blog format where space constraints are irrelevant, the failure to even address the counter argument when purporting to give “context” to a debate is deficient.

Advocates of small government favor restrictions on its size not just on the basis of economic efficiency, but also on the basis of individual liberty. We are concerned about the concentration of power in the hands of a few, regardless of whether such a concentration would be economically efficient. Mr. Roumell asks, rhetorically, “Americans might want to ask themselves if they were forced to choose between reducing the public sector by 15% versus increasing it by 15%, which would they prefer?” But small-government advocates, before getting to that question, would ask “would you, as an American, be willing to live under a dictatorship if it meant a better standard of living?” Undoubtedly, some people will say “yes,” but I suspect that vast majority of Americans would say no (although the number of consents will assuredly increase the greater the economic advantages bestowed).

Mr. Roumell does not touch upon this issue at all. Perhaps he has the same problem that a CNN reporter had when interviewing some members of the Tea Party. The Tea Party was protesting the stimulus bill because its members felt that it was wrong and that it was being orchestrated by powerful interests in Washington, while they had no say. The CNN reporter was nonplussed at the protest and tried to explain to the protesters that they would be getting money from the stimulus. She was simply unable to comprehend that it was the method and process – not just the money – that mattered, and that these people were upset on a philosophical level as to how their government was being run, something which was more important to them than immediate financial gain. Of course, one can take the position that the Tea Party is foolish for doing so, but it at least must be recognized that economic outcomes are not the only things that are important to citizens when they choose a government.

A corollary to this point is that many people who advocate for smaller government are concerned not with its overall size, but its composition and power distribution. For instance, smaller government advocates often are in favor or a robust military, police force and judicial system. They also tend to favor institutions that are controlled at a more localized level. So, PTA boards “yes,” the Department of Education “no.” The size is important, but what is more important is the level of intrusiveness and the loci of power. Mr. Roumell either considered these arguments and rejected them out of hand or failed to consider them when constructing his column. Neither was appropriate.

Philosophical arguments aside, Mr. Roumell’s economic efficiency arguments are, overall, weak on their own terms. Aside from his observation that that the OECD countries spend a high percentage of their GDP on the public sector, most of the points he makes to support his arguments are ambiguous, at best. Take, for example, his reference to Eisenhower founding NASA and the precursor to DARPA. While NASA achieved great things in getting to space and the Moon, there are many who would argue that the agency has wasted vast sums of money on projects that aren’t necessary or provide little return for the investment dollar. As for DARPA, Roumell likes it because it created the Internet. DARPA is a valuable asset to the United States because it provides a way for the government to invest in promising military technologies that might otherwise go unfunded, but that does not mean the Internet is a great example of big government. Had DARPA not funded the early internet, it would likely have come into being anyways. Students and scientists at university would have fooled around with networking technology until it sprang into existence. In France, the proto-internet was implemented by businesses; it wascalled the Minitel.

Another dubious point in favor of big government is the observation that “the wealthiest nations on earth are all characterized by economies with a dynamic and robust public-private partnership.” The same could be said for some of the worst autocracies and kleptocracies in the world, some of which are very poor. Almost all nations seek to implement public-private partnerships. While they are often present in wealth societies because there is money to spend and a rule of law, they are also found in the poorest societies because there is still (the people’s) money to spend, while at the same time the law can be bent to accommodate whatever is necessary.

I won’t argue with Mr. Roumell’s point about the superior capital allocation capabilities of the government in certain circumstances regarding long-term health and welfare. Indeed, I think most small-government advocates would agree that the government has a role to play when there is a market failure due to a time horizon beyond the return period in which corporations are interested. However, Mr. Roumell conflates that sort of spending with the benefits of computing that were derived from government defense initiatives, which is a problematic argument for two reasons. First, small-government advocates generally acknowledge that national defense is an area where the government can and should be “large”. Second, while we should always take advantage of any derivative benefits that come from a military or other government program, arguing that we should have a large government in order to create such benefits is silly. The Internet would have come into existence without DARPA. On the other hand, how many programs has DARPA invested in that have led nowhere, with no return to the taxpayer? In the case of DARPA, those negative returns are balanced out by the fact that we need a mechanism to promote early-stage advanced technologies due to their vital role and the fact that the market is unlikely to provide them. Where is the similar justification for spending by the Department of Energy, Education, Labor and others?

And how does Mr. Roumell come to the conclusion that small-government proponents are “adolescents pumping their chests to proclaim that they don’t need mom and dad… [a]nd then Katrina, Sandy or Ebola hit and the most ardent detractors, and often their Republican Governors, come crawling to Uncle Sam asking for help”? The examples he cites are all in areas where the Republicans have no issue with government – emergency and disaster relief and threats of bodily injury to the American people. Mr. Roumell does cite successes by the EPA and FDA In the areas of pollution and drug safety, but he fails to mention the enormous economic damage the EPA has inflicted on industry – sometimes capriciously – with many of its rules, or the people that have died as drug approval has lingered at the FDA. For all the good that Mr. Roumell cites at these agencies, there is much damage done by them.

Mr. Roumell has a lot of expertise in investing and understanding capital allocation, and that is the source of his greatest misunderstanding. His column leaves one with the impression that he believes there is no difference between a company and the state. To borrow from King Louis the Fourteenth, he declares ‘the state is a business.’ Thus we get a discussion of capital allocation:

I’m a committed private-sector loving guy who invests capital for a living, so why the appreciation for the public-sector? For one, I’ve seen first-hand for nearly 30 years how private allocators of capital often get it terribly wrong, too. In 2011 Hewlett Packard bought Autonomy Corporation, PLC for $11 billion and in 2012 wrote off $9 billion. Oops. In fact, perennial corporate write-offs from over paying for acquisitions are routine in the private sector and in each instance represents a poor capital allocation decision.

This is the most troubling part of Mr. Roumell’s argument. He shows no appreciation for the difference between state and private action. Investors in HP or another private entity, are able to enter and exit their position at will. HP can exercise no control over their decisions, and the shareholders’ losses are limited to the stock that they voluntarily purchase. When the state acts, it is a different matter, entirely. Citizens cannot simply opt in and out of the country’s decisions. When a poor decision is made by the government, the citizen is tied to it, for better or worse. Furthermore, unlike in the case of the private company, when decisions are made at the federal level they are done so by people that the citizen has never heard of and never voted for. There may be many smart and wise people in government making good decisions, but nobody who has thought about these issues should make the mistake of thinking that decision made by the central government are similar to those made by private companies or individuals. It is not a matter of degree, it is a matter of kind.

Mr. Roumell concludes his column by claiming the Republic Party has been hijacked by “government haters.” Undoubtedly, there are some. However, disagreeing with the breadth and scope of our current government, and the way in which it has strayed from the idea of federalism and limited government is not reflexive hate, it is the result of study, both at a philosophical and a practical level. When government grows more concentrated, it grows more powerful and the rights of individuals recede. When government grow more concentrated and powerful, it makes it easier for well-connected and powerful interests to exert even more influence. And, when government becomes concentrated, it enables people to abuse their power far more easily. At an operating level, governments are often inefficient. They are inefficient because they sit at the center of a market inefficiency, monopoly, and thus are not subject to the corrective force of competition. If we want to have a discussion about the proper size of government, then any “context” must include all of the ways in which government has wasted money, been subject to abuses of power and makes decisions based on the furtherance of political interests, rather than objective criteria. Context requires a look at both sides of the issue.

Hillary Clinton Demands: Show Them the E-Mails!


Hillary Clinton has tweeted:

Clinton wants those e-mails released (now, gosh darn it!).  Phew, clearly Hillary is honest and straightforward – she want’s her e-emails released just as much as all of the reporters and Republicans who have been clamoring for them the last few days.  Problem solved!

Except, not really.

According to news reports, her staff combed through her e-mails and delivered 55,000 to the Department of State.  I have prepared a handy Venn diagram depicting Clinton’s e-mails during her tenure as Secretary of State.

As I had no way to show the absence of any e-mails from her DOS account, I have had to settle for an arrow pointing to nothingness.  That aside, what do we see in this chart?

  1. Hillary Clinton has been asked to produce everything in the red circle, representing any and all e-mails she sent in her capacity as Secretary of State.  Those e-mails are the property of the American people.
  2. Her representatives combed through the red circle and delivered only what they wanted to, represented by the orange circle.
  3. We care about what is in the green circle.
  4. Clinton is a dissembler.

In her tweet, Hillary calls for release of the orange circle, despite the fact that it is the green circle in which we are interested and it is her obligation to turn over the entire red circle.  The Jews have a word for this, “chutzpah.”


Not a Neutral Fight

David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, has an entire column in Politico about the benefits of net neutrality. His central thesis is that without net neutrality he could never have succeeded with Tumblr. It is ironic position, considering that the empirical evidence is 100% against him. He created Tumblr without there being any net neutrality laws in place.

Despite his own experience, Mr. Karp fears that without net neutrality businesses like his might fail because internet service providers might prioritize deeper pocketed players over startups. He cites Vimeo, Etsy and Kickstarter as wonderful concepts that we should have more of in support of his argument for net neutrality, while again failing to realize that all of his examples came into existence without net neutrality rules being in place.

On the other side, Mr. Karp provides no examples of the hulking menace that exists in an internet not subject to net neutrality rules. According to Mr. Karp:

Over the past year, there’s been a real threat to that promise. The Internet providers saw an opportunity to pick winners and losers, rather than let the internet continue to sort those things out for itself. How would they pick? In lots of ways. For example, by charging companies for the ability to prioritize their traffic over everyone else’s. Content from companies that didn’t pay would be slowed down—or potentially never transmitted at all.

The only problem with the above paragraph – it isn’t true. There has been no mass attack on content providers from ISPs. The “threat to that promise” is a threat mostly dreamed up by net neutrality supporters. The ISPs have not, in any meaningful way, picked winners and losers. The only instance I know of (and the fact that there are so few should tell us just how much of a “threat” this is) is Netflix being slowed down. Netflix is a huge bandwidth hog. It seems to me that there is a perfectly rational reason to limit Netflix if a network is reaching capacity and Netflix accounts for a grossly disproportionate share of the bandwidth usage. Moreover, I don’t know how Mr. Karp and net neutrality opponents would classify a “little guy” without deep pockets, but I am guessing Netflix wouldn’t qualify, which means that the single major example where net neutrality might have prevented “predatory” behavior would be to protect one deep pocketed company from the “predations” of another.

The net neutrality platform trades on a David vs. Goliath theme, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Because there are millions of small content providers (including yours truly) and only a handful of ISPs, the narrative of the story becomes that of the little people vs. the corporations.  In reality, you have deep pocketed, powerful players on both sides – ISPs and big-name content providers like Google, Netflix and Amazon. None of this would much matter, except for the fact that the long-term impact of net neutrality is likely to have unexpected, adverse and perverse consequences starting with decreasing investment in infrastructure and ending with the regulation of content.

You Cannot Defeat The Islamic State if You Don’t Understand They Are Muslim

The conference this week on “Countering Violent Extremism,” hosted by the White House and attended by President Obama represents the triumph of semantics over substance. Foregoing the lesser methods of uncomfortable positioning and waterboarding, the Obama administration has gone straight for the rack and the iron maiden in its efforts to torture logic and ignore the obvious. In what must be one of the dumbest assertions made in recent memory, the President has taken the position that the Islamic State isn’t Islamic, using an argument that amounts to nothing more than a theological declaration.

What we are witnessing is nothing less than the complete liberal politicization of our national security. What I mean by that is not that we have allowed politics to dictate our foreign policy – it always has and always will; foreign policy decisions are political decisions – but that we have completely subordinated the national security priority of making America safe to the domestic priority of political correctness. The White House would rather not potentially offend some Muslims, either at home or abroad, then take an honest look at the root causes behind the extremist violence that represents a significant security threat to the United States and the world.

The difference between semantics and substance is the difference between the trivial and the profound. Unfortunately Obama and the administration have confused semantics and substance, with the result that they focus on the trivial while ignoring the profound. Calling the Islamic State and Islamic terrorism what they are isn’t merely semantics. It is substance. Understanding the nature of one’s enemy, its motives and its goals is paramount to understanding how to defeat it. If you cannot acknowledge that the violence coming from groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS is motivated by Islam, then you cannot be serious about finding the most effective means to stop them.

Violent extremism is a non-term, an all-encompassing category which is meaningless in the context of identifying, analyzing and solving the real threats to the United States and to Western civilization. All violent extremism is not equally threatening to national security. There are white supremacists on isolated compounds. There are death cults like Aum Shinrikyo. There are even, as Dean Obeidallah, has reminded us, Christians employing extremist, terroristic violence in some parts of the world. However, none of these groups, though they are all violent extremists, represent a threat to the world order the way that Islamic extremists do.

The Obama administrations steadfast refusal to acknowledge that cold reality is farcical. We have now reached a point where the President of the United States has decided to weigh in on the theological issue of who is and who is not a Muslim. According to White House policy, the President of the United States has the ability and authority to decide to what religion a person belongs based upon whether the President thinks that person’s ideology reflects the “true” values of that religion. Thus, he has decided and declared the Islamic State not to be Islamic because, in his words, “[t]hey are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.” Where Obama gets the notion that being a religious leader and a terrorist are mutually exclusive is never made clear, probably because such an idea is ridiculous. He does cite a few passages from the Koran in defense of his assertion, but in doing so only demonstrates that he has not read the text or, if he has, has utterly failed to understand it. He has also, as Graeme Wood, writing the Atlantic, so eloquently demonstrated, failed to grasp that the people he accuses of not being Muslims are, in fact, fully steeped in the Koran and have studied it extensively.

And this is a key point. Obama’s facile understanding of the Koran has led him to determine (or at least declare) that ISIL is not comprised of Muslims. In doing so, he has taken an active step to say that understanding their interpretation of the Koran and what it means is fundamentally not important to defeating them. After all, if they are merely “violent extremists” who are not truly Islamic and not motivated by Islam, then understanding Islam is probably not very relevant to understanding how to defeat them.

The problem is that nothing could be further from the truth. When Obama says the following, he does so from a place of profound ignorance:

“These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice and tolerance toward others, that terrorism is prohibited, that the Koran says, ‘Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.’” “Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.”

When Obama refers to innocents, he is referring to innocents as he, a liberal American sees innocents (i.e. people who have not done anything). And, indeed, if the Islamic State agreed with Obama that the people it is murdering are innocents, then they would be violating their faith. However, the fundamental problem is that ISIS does not view the people it is killing as innocents. It rejects, out of hand, Obama’s premise. Under ISIS’ interpretation of Islam, the people it is killing are guilty of crimes against God, and therefore must be exterminated. But because Obama only wants to acknowledge Muslims who are in general agreement with his worldview, he fails to grasp this basic fact.

Acknowledging the fact that ISIS is comprised of Islamic fundamentalist/terrorists is simply an acknowledgement of reality. While it may be uncomfortable to speak about such things, it is necessary. Understanding an enemy’s motivations is paramount to understanding how to defeat it. Tying an arm behind your back in a fight because the truth is ugly won’t change the truth – it will simply make you more likely to lose. Just as it would be a monumental mistake to tar all of Islam with ISIS, it is a terrible idea to run to the opposite extreme and say that they are unrelated.

Christian Terrorists?

I don’t claim to know an extensive amount about what has been happening in the Central Africa Republic (CAR), but it seems to me that Dean Obeidallah’s use of the conflict to try and lend support to Obama’s musings last week is inapposite. Obama, sought to downplay the religious motivation behind ISIS and other Islamic extremists through equivocation, arguing that since terrible deeds have been done by people of all faiths in the name of their religion, the current Islamic extremism is not, in fact, Islamic in nature.

Obama’s argument, of course, has many flaws, starting with the hubristic appeal to his own authority in decreeing who and who is not a Muslim, and taking it upon himself to tell the rest of the world what a true Muslim must believe in order to be deemed a Muslim. Then there is the problem that his argument rested on attacking Christianity from eight hundred years ago which, of course, is precisely the point that many critics of Islamic extremism make – Christianity evolved and completely changed in the last eight hundred years to become something gentler and more true to the “turn the other cheek” philosophy, whereas elements of Islamic teachings remain mired in a medieval world, contributing to Islamic extremism.

So, here comes Obeidallah, citing the CAR conflict, to argue that Christian terrorists are alive and well today. It is a fair point, insofar as it goes. There are Christians committing atrocious, terrorists acts in the CAR. That is indisputable, but it is not checkmate. What is happening in the CAR, however horrific, is different in kind, not just degree, from what has been happening across the globe with respect to Islamic fundamentalism and terror.

The conflict in the CAR is pitting Christians against Muslims in a tribal conflict, with both sides attacking, slaughtering and committing heinous acts against the other. The methods used by both sides are, in some cases, fully deserving of the title “terroristic”. However, what is happening in the CAR is not terrorism in the same way that Islamic terrorism is terrorism. The fighting in the CAR is not about a worldwide Jihadic struggle for dominance over the globe and a new world order. It is not a fight between the forces of a medieval mindset and modernity. It is a fight over land, resources and tribal issues.

Unlike the Jihadist, there are no Christian fighters in the CAR looking to extend a holy war across the world and bring the conflict to other countries. They are not setting off bombs in civilian areas abroad, shooting up Mosques in the Middle East or encouraging suicide attacks on believers in Mecca. Unlike the Jidhadist, the Christian (and, for that matter, the Muslims in the CAR) are not fighting about a world ideology and – this is very important – they are not an existential threat to the safety and security of the rest of the world.

Finally, something that really sets this apart from what we see with radical Islamism, is that I don’t believe there is any widespread support amongst the Christian community outside of the CAR for the actions of the Christian population there. The Catholic church, from the Pope on down is against what is happening. So too, I would imagine, would be virtually every priest, pastor, deacon and lay churchman in the world outside of the CAR. There is also no tacit support for what is going on, and certainly no active support in the form of funds raised and charities organized to aid the militants. There are no words of encouragement from church leaders. There is no media support. The most visible Christian figure in the region, Father Bernard Kinvi, has done his best to shield and protect both Christians and Muslims from reprisals.

The Christians in the CAR may, as Obeidallah suggests, be terrorists, but their terrorism is local and the world beyond the CAR faces no threat from them. The terrorists that are a threat to modernity are fundamentally different – they claim a global battlefield with every man, woman and child as a legitimate target. And, despite the fact that it is inconvenient for Obama and Obeidallah, today’s global terrorist is overwhelmingly rooted in the ideology of one religion, and it is not Christianity.

Irony: Nathalie Baptiste Has It

This is fantastic. Nathalie Baptiste, writing in the American Prospect, has a piece titled “How to Be a Walking ‘Confirmation Bias’ (Role Model: Mia Love).” To prove her point that confirmation bias is bad, she opens her column with this paragraph:

Have you ever been in a debate with your right-wing uncle and when you ask him for proof of his wild claims, he pulls up a Fox News article? Instinctively, you roll your eyes. Of course he sought out Fox News as a source—it’s a haven for people like him. Everything he already thinks about minorities, LGBTQ people, Muslims and single moms is there. Automatically turning to Fox News to search for information that he knows will affirm what he already believes is called a confirmation bias.

Well, it’s official. We can dismiss any evidence from Fox News because a priori we know it must be wrong . Nathalie Baptiste has confirmed it.

The plural of anecdote is…


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Charles Blow, in the New York Times, writes about the “Privilege of ‘Arrest Without Incident’”. The purpose of the article is to highlight the fact that white people, when arrested, are not injured by the police whereas black people, in similar circumstances, are. I don’t know if Blow is right, but I do know he has utterly failed to establish any evidence for his contention.

The piece opens with a description of a white woman who was arrested by police without injury after leading them on a chase and shooting at people. Then, after admitting that “[e] very case is different,” Blow assembles his “evidence” that non-whites are disproportionately injured when being arrested. He cites the cases of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Antonio Martin and Jerame Reid. He sums up their experiences – which occurred in different states, under different circumstances involving different police officers – with the following analysis:

But none had the privilege of being “arrested without incident or injury.” They were all black, all killed by police officers. Brown was shot through the head. Garner was grabbed around the neck in a chokehold, tossed to the ground and held there, even as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe; it was all caught on video. Rice was shot within two seconds of the police officers’ arrival on the scene. Crawford, Martin and Reid were also cut down by police bullets.

In the cases that have been heard so far by grand juries, the grand juries have refused to indict the officers.

Maybe one could argue that in some of those cases the officers were within their rights to respond with lethal force. Maybe. But shouldn’t the use of force have equal application? Shouldn’t it be color- and gender-blind? Shouldn’t more people, in equal measures, be taken in and not taken out?

Taking five cases of non-whites being shot, stringing them together, and then comparing them to one selected case of a white person not being shot and claiming it proves anything is ludicrous. What makes these cases representative of a larger trend? As far as I can tell, they are just six cases that have made the news recently and thus stand out in Charles Blow’s mind. Here are just a few pieces of data that we need to know before we can possible say anything concrete about whites vs. blacks and their propensity to be injured while being arrested:

  1. How many white people are shot while being arrested?
  2. How many black people are shot while being arrested?
  3. How many white people are not shot while being arrested?
  4. How many black people are not shot while being arrested?

Those numbers would at least be a start at something empirical, though there is a lot more information one would want to know about the circumstances in each case (beginning with the cause for each arrest) to be able to make useful comparisons.

Someone should have told Mr. Blow, long ago, that the plural of anecdote is not data.

From Yalta to Crimea


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On Sunday, December 7th, Michael O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro published, in the Washington Post, a column calling for the appeasement of Russia and its leader, Vladamir Putin. Its title “Crafting a win-win-win for Russia, Ukraine and the West” brings to mind nothing so much as the phrase “Peace in Our Time.” Paul Roderick Gregory has an excellent point-by-point rebuttal to the authors’ call to compromise here. In short, O’Hanlon and Shapiro advocate that the United States comprise its leadership, moral authority and credibility on a wing and a prayer that Putin will reciprocate US compromise with concessions of his own. History and evidence, apparently, be damned.

Speaking of history, what struck me, immediately, upon reading the O’Hanlon/Shapiro piece was how similar its proposals were, in their tenor and assumptions, to another US-Russian (Soviet) agreement, struck nearly 70 years ago, where the United States accepted words on paper from Russia. We paid up-front with concrete concessions and we were stiffed on the back-end of the transaction with Russia simply declining to adhere to its commitments (actually, it actively subverted them). The results were tragic, for the people of Poland and for U.S. credibility. We looked like fools.

O’Hanlon & Shapiro, taking a page from Marx, would repeat history, with the attendant tragedy, asking for future commitments while providing Russia with immediate benefits under the belief that doing so will bring peace.

Russia can make its historically based claim on Crimea but would have to accept a binding referendum under outside monitoring that would determine the region’s future, with independence as one option.

Now let’s look at the text of Yalta:

A new situation has been created in Poland as a result of her complete liberation by the Red Army. This calls for the establishment of a Polish Provisional Government which can be more broadly based than was possible before the recent liberation of the western part of Poland. The Provisional Government which is now functioning in Poland should therefore be reorganized on a broader democratic basis with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself and from Poles abroad. This new Government should then be called the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity.

M. Molotov, Mr. Harriman and Sir A. Clark Kerr are authorized as a commission to consult in the first instance in Moscow with members of the present Provisional Government and with other Polish democratic leaders from within Poland and from abroad, with a view to the reorganization of the present Government along the above lines. This Polish Provisional Government of National Unity shall be pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot. In these elections all democratic and anti-Nazi parties shall have the right to take part and to put forward candidates. [emphasis added]

The three heads of Government consider that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favor of Poland. They recognize that Poland must receive substantial accessions in territory in the north and west. They feel that the opinion of the new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity should be sought in due course of the extent of these accessions and that the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should thereafter await the peace conference.

And now let’s look at what actually happened:

First, the allies gave the USSR nearly half of Poland. Since the USSR was already there, it would have been hard to remove them, but the allies went a step further and legitimized the annexation. In return, they asked for a representative government in Poland. However, they agreed to let the provisional government’s contours be dictated by Stalin, ensuring a communist-dominated regime that was allied with Moscow. The communists then rigged elections throughout the country and took complete control.

The result of Yalta was that Poland became a puppet regime of the Soviet empire. Would it have happened anyway with Soviet armies positioned as they were? Probably. But the West legitimized the action and gave it cover by agreeing, in return for a few promises that it was clear Stalin would never honor, to allow the Soviets to dominate the country. It is striking just how similar in tone and content the first element of the O’Hanlon/Shapiro proposal is to what was agreed upon at Yalta.

I don’t know what would make O’Hanlon & Shapiro believe, based upon the last fifteen years, that Putin will honor his commitments or mollify his behavior in response to U.S. acquiescence on the Ukraine. He is a thug sitting atop a corrupt and brutal regime that assassinates reporters and represses its own people as a matter of course. I can only conclude that they are hopelessly naïve, as were so many scholars during the Soviet era. When Roosevelt brokered the Yalta agreement, he returned to inform Congress “I come from the Crimean Conference with a firm belief that we have made a good start on the road to a world of peace.” He was wrong, and so are O’Hanlon and Shapiro.

Sally Kohn is Credulous


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I feel sometimes as if I should turn this blog into a register of all of Sally Kohn’s logical fallacies and appeals to emotion. Her writing, while always long on passion, often lacks critical reasoning and analysis. Rather than look for truth, she starts with a pre-determined view and then disregards any facts which might contradict her chosen narrative. Her latest CNN column Rape culture? It’s too real upholds that tradition.

We can begin with the fact that everyone is in agreement that Rolling Stone’s article was poorly written, contained serious errors and was atrociously fact checked. Most people also seem to agree that the author committed grave journalistic errors when she agreed to certain conditions on her reporting, the result of which was to refrain from interviewing certain individuals she should have.

That seems to be where agreement ends. When I see the facts above, I think to myself that everything contained in the story now needs further analysis. Any presumption of truth has been destroyed. There are only two broad scenarios which are likely given what we know:

  1. Jackie told Erdely her story and Erdely faithfully recorded it but failed to fact check it which, based on the existing evidence, would indicate that Jackie was either lying or her memory was incorrect; and
  2. Jackie told Erdely her story and Erdely misunderstood what Jackie said or changed Jackie’s story, either unintentionally or to make it fit her narrative of a rape epidemic.

Within those broad scenarios there is obviously a lot of distance, from Jackie lying completely, to embellishing her story to telling the truth but being misquoted or misunderstood. We don’t know. However, we do know that substantial portions of the story are questionable and alleged facts are wrong. As a result, it is not only reasonable, but prudent, to examine all of the facts to determine whether the article’s problems are errors or intentional lies and, if the latter, whose lies they are.

But Sally Kohn doesn’t see it that way. Rather that acknowledge the possibility that the story may be false in it substantial part or in its entirety, she has determined that the right thing to do is to attack those who raised questions about it in the first place and to assume that the alleged attackers are guilty.

And new reporting by the Washington Post does reveal that Jackie’s friends, cited in the story, say they are skeptical about some of the details. Still, they all believe that Jackie experienced something “horrific” that night, in the words of one, and we do know that Jackie stands by her story. Most of the doubts about it were apparently raised by those she’s accusing, including the fraternity and main alleged assailant — whom, I guess, we’re supposed to believe instead.

This whole paragraph is wrong on multiple levels. First it is factually wrong. Doubts about the story were raised by third parties who, looking at the alleged facts, concluded that they sounded strange and merited further investigation. As it turns out, they were right! How on earth can Kohn have a problem with that? Had those third parties verified the story I presume Kohn wouldn’t be writing a piece disclaiming the validation. Second, wouldn’t you expect doubts about a story to be raised by those who are accused, particularly if they are innocent? If someone claimed I stole their car and I was in California the day it was stolen, I would definitely bring that to the attention of anyone looking into the matter. Third, there is the last sentence; it’s a perfect straw man. Nobody is arguing that we are supposed to believe the alleged assailant. Those questioning the story are arguing that we should try to get the truth. Moreover, given that Jackie’s story contains errors, whether intentional or not, and the alleged assailants stories, thus far, hold up, what should a rational and logical person think?

Looking at the situation dispassionately, when presented with the facts, I conclude that the party more likely to be telling the truth is the fraternity brothers. That may be completely wrong. They may have assaulted and/or raped Jackie, but no objective person could come to that conclusion based upon what we currently know. Perhaps new evidence will emerge tomorrow that shows the story is more true than false, in which case I will revisit my opinion. Sadly, the concept of weighing evidence, as opposed to motives, is not Kohn’s problem. Facts matter less than the source:

While Rolling Stone’s reporting was clearly shoddy, for example, some writers who initially poked holes in Jackie’s story did so for ideological motives. For instance, even before the reporting lapses were revealed, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg called Jackie’s story unbelievable. “It is not credible,” Goldberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t believe it.”

How is it at all relevant that reporters poked holes in Jackie’s story for ideological reasons? Either it was true or it wasn’t. It’s amusing to see Kohn attacking Goldberg for not believing the story since he turned out to be right. Of course, that may be luck and he might have been wrong, in which case I assume Kohn would have taken him to task for making assumptions that were false.

More problematic, Kohn (and a number of others like her) still doesn’t seem to understand that what matters at the end of the day is the truth, not a political agenda. I will venture out on a limb and say that if you ask Americans, the vast majority will agree with that sentiment. But the Kohns of the world are different. They believe because they desire confirmation of their prejudices more than they care about the truth. Consider Kohn’s closing paragraph.

Anti-feminists have it wrong. No one, myself included, wants Jackie’s story to be true (that’s absurd and offensive), but we cannot apologize for erring on the side of a fair, compassionate and credulous hearing of a woman’s account. What feminists want — as we all should — is a culture in which it is safe for women to report sexual assault when it happens, where they can trust that their families, their peers, the police and courts and, yes, the media will respond with sensitivity and compassion, not skepticism and shame.

Kohn, even by her own account, is uninterested in the truth. She wants to err “on the side of a fair, compassionate and credulous hearing of a woman’s account.” That is fine for a person’s family and friends, but it is not fine for a policy discussion. Credulous is the opposite of inquisitive. Type credulous into Google. It is a word whose synonyms are “gullible,” “naïve,” “too trusting,” “easily taken in,” “impressionable,” “unsuspecting,” “unsuspicious,” “unwary” and “unquestioning.” She lumps together families and peers with the police, courts and the media and thinks they should all perform the same function, but that is most certainly not the case. Police, courts and the media should be seekers of truth and facts, wherever they lead, even if the results are uncomfortable or disappointing. It would be nice if Ms. Kohn, as a member of the media, would do the same.

The Insularity of Lena Dunham


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I had never heard of Lena Dunham until a few months ago, but I’ve heard and read plenty about her since. I am not impressed. Mostly, I am unimpressed in her behavior which – at best – can be characterized as obtuse. It is probably more accurately described as egotistical, self-righteous and shockingly poor.

For those who have not been following the controversy, the facts are relatively straightforward. Dunham published a memoir called “Not That Kind of Girl” in which she claims to have been raped while at Oberlin college. She identifies an individual named “Barry” as her rapist and includes several details about his identity, including that he is a Republican. There is an individual named Barry who attended Oberlin at the time Dunham was there and was a Republican. Certain other details Dunham puts in the memoir about him are untrue (such as a mustache), but by typing in all of the verifiable details into Google it isn’t hard for someone to find the Barry that was at Oberlin at that time. For nine weeks, until today, Dunham refused to clarify that the Barry that one can easily identify through a Google search was not her rapist and that, in fact, she used Barry as a pseudonym. Today, she posted a column on Buzzfeed explaining that fact, along with a series of self-serving statements.

Let’s start off with the fact that Dunham has published and sold this book as a memoir, a non-fiction recounting of events that happened to her. For her to use a pseudonym for someone without making that explicitly clear is fraudulent to the reader. It’s fine to use pseudonyms to protect people – go read The Human Factor by Ishmael Jones, virtually every name is a pseudonym – but it is not okay to allow the reader to think you are using a real name when you are not. In at least one other instance in the book, where Dunham does use a pseudonym, she makes clear that she is doing so. Omitting that fact in describing Barry looks, at the very least, grossly negligent and – given the nature of the description – malicious.

Dunham says she has no interest in “exposing the man who assaulted” her. Fine. That is her choice and given the time that has elapsed there would probably be zero chance of convicting him. But then Dunham, who has been paid millions of dollars for a book that is supposed to be nonfiction had this to say:

I was not naïve enough to believe the essay in my book would be met with pure empathy or wild applause. The topic of sexual assault is far more inflammatory and divisive than it should be, with tension building around definitions of consent, and fear ruling the dialogue. But I hoped beyond hope that the sensitive nature of the event would be honored, and that no one would attempt to reopen these wounds or deepen my trauma.

But this did not prove to be the case. I have had my character and credibility questioned at every turn. I have been attacked online with violent and misogynistic language. Reporters have attempted to uncover the identity of my attacker despite my sincerest attempts to protect this information. My work has been torn apart in an attempt to prove I am a liar, or worse, a deviant myself. My friends and family have been contacted. Articles have heralded “Lena Dunham’s shocking confession.” I have been made to feel, on multiple occasions, as though I am to blame for what happened.

If this is the sort of claptrap that passes for mental rigor then we are all in serious trouble. Nobody forced Dunham to write about her assault. She was paid millions of dollars and chose to include the incident in her book, a book she is now actively promoting. What she seems to find objectionable is the concept that people who read the book will hold her to account for allegations and accusations contained within it. It is an attitude which betrays her level of insularity.

Notwithstanding an violent and misogynistic language Dunham has encountered on the internet, and which is illegitimate, Dunham’s character and credibility have been attacked because of actions she took. She chose to write the book. She chose to include the story of her alleged assault (I use the word alleged here, rather than take her at her word, because she shot her credibility when she lied about the name of her assailant). And she chose to include details which, when examined, did not hold up and which implicated an innocent person. The fact that the innocent person she accused is a Republican, and she included that as an identifying detail, only makes the situation all the worse, given her views on Republicans. It looks as if she intentionally defamed someone because of his political views. Whether it was intentional or not, it was certainly irresponsible and fully deserving of fact checking.

Evidence of Dunham’s complete cocoon from reality is further on display when she absolves herself of all responsibility for her actions:

But I don’t believe I am to blame. I don’t believe any of us who have been raped and/or assaulted are to blame. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what is written about me individually. I accept the realities of being in the public eye. But I simply cannot allow my story to be used to cast doubt on other women who have been sexually assaulted.

I have a certain empathy for the journalists who asked me questions like whether I regret how much I drank that night or what my attacker would say if he was asked about me. These ignorant lines of inquiry serve to further flawed narratives about rape, but these people are reacting to the same set of social signals that we all are — signals telling us that preventing assault is a woman’s job, that rape is only rape when a stranger drags you into a dark alley with a knife at your throat, that our stories are never true, and that lying about rape is a way for women to enact revenge on innocent men. These misconceptions about rape are rampant, destructive and precisely the thing that prevents survivors from seeking the support that they need and deserve.

Speaking out about the realities and complexities of sexual assault is how we begin to protect each other. I do not want our daughters born into a world that reacts to sexual violence against women in this way. This reaction, which ranges from skepticism to condemnation to threats of violence, is something I have been subject to as a woman in a position of extraordinary privilege.

Dunham, in an attempt to insulate herself, conflates the concept of blaming people who have been raped (illegitimate) with those blaming Dunham for pointing to an innocent man in her book (legitimate). If Dunham isn’t to blame for omitting a crucial detail about Barry in a book with her name on the cover then who is? That is the blame at issue, not being raped or assaulted. If Dunham was raped or assaulted, the perpetrator should be in prison. Furthermore, I don’t question other women who have claimed to be raped – each criminal incident has to be judged on its own merits. But for Dunham to think it is completely unfair that people are questioning her given what she wrote is ludicrous. If she had said “Barry” was a pseudonym from the start, or had she not provided identifying characteristics that would lead to an actual person then there would be no questioning of Dunham’s veracity. Contrary to her belief that the skepticism and condemnation is the result of her being a woman, Dunham’s account was questioned because the facts didn’t add up. If a reporter had looked at her account, found that there were significant inconsistencies and then decided not to publish because the issue was rape then the reporter would be granting coverage of rape, as an issue, a special privilege, effectively saying that fact checking is impermissible.

Dunham closes with this thought:

Survivors have the right to tell their stories, to take back control after the ultimate loss of control. There is no right way to survive rape and there is no right way to be a victim. What survivors need more than anything is to be supported, whether they choose to pursue a criminal investigation or to rebuild their world on their own terms. You can help by never defining a survivor by what has been taken from her. You can help by saying I believe you.

I’m not sure that I agree with Dunham. I think rapists should be locked up and prevented from raping again. However, I will grant that that isn’t always a possibility and the need to heal is an important goal, and if there has to be a choice made between allowing a rapist to go free and a woman being able to heal, then the woman should be the one to make that choice. What I most definitely cannot agree on, however, is the idea that Dunham is in that position. She could have written a fictionalized account of her assault and she would not be questioned. She could have written a true account of her assault and not be questioned because the facts would show it was true. She could have written a true account of her assault but made clear that the underlying details were changed to prevent identification of the attacker because Dunham did not want to delve back into that experience. Instead, she chose to describe her assault, insert (presumably) some facts which are true alongside facts which are untrue. That created a false account, pointed to an innocent man and ultimately leads to her credibility being a question.