The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Anti-McNamara
Mike Rappaport

That's my name for General Petraeus. Petraeus is an intellectual whose rigorous and demanding mind is probably responsible more than anything else for the success of the surge. 

Petraeus should therefore be the hero of those in the academy, who are devoted to the beneficial effects of rigorous thinking.  But, of course, one finds few in academia who praise or trumpet the greatness of Petraeus.  How sad.  How pathetic. 

Petraeus is also the Ant-McNamara.  Defense Secretary Robert McNamara used his charts and numbers in an effort to win the war in Viet Nam, but his methods did not work.  His failure did much to discredit intellectual efforts at fighting the war.  But Patraeus showed the way.  His methods worked.  

I am waiting for McNamara's critics to point out the contrast with Petraeus.

This book, which is positively review by the New York Times, looks like an excellent place to start getting a clearer picture of the methods that went into the surge.  I hope to read it over the holidays.  Here is an excerpt from the review that portrays Petraeus as the rigorous intellectual:

The ­55-year-old general is a superachiever who took on all the toughest training assignments and came away with the ­medals, a perfectionist who demands as much from others as from himself and a deeply reflective figure — he has a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton — who continually adapts to the lessons of experience. Petraeus puts no special store by his gut intuitions; in Iraq, he surrounded himself with junior officers as analytical, and as driven, as he is. Robinson singles out as his greatest gift not leadership but “intellectual rigor,” which compelled him “to mount a sustained effort to understand the problem.”

November 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wittes Reviews Meyer
Mike Rappaport

Jane Meyer's book on the coercive interrogation techniques and other extraordinary means used to deal with the terrorists, On the Dark Side, has received a great deal of praise from the left side of the legal academy, such as at Balkinization.  Having seen her interviewed on C Span, I was tempted to read the book, but she just came across as so sanctimonious and one sided that I just didn't think I could bear it.  This was also how her hatchet job some years ago on Clarence Thomas came across.   

Now, Benjamin Wittes, certainly no right winger, reviews the book and reaches the same conclusion in a review, aptly named, One Side Only.  Wittes concludes:

I learned a lot from Mayer’s reporting, and much of it is probably correct. For its impressive detail, its narrative depth, and its disturbing accounts of what is taking place in the invisible recesses of America’s confrontation with the enemy, The Dark Side is a genuine contribution. What it isn’t, however, is either fair or remotely rigorous in its snap assessments of the costs and benefits of both the path America took and the paths it did not take.

November 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Huffington is rude
Tom Smith

I feel it is my duty to link to this post so more people will know what a rude b-person Ahriahhnahh Huffington is.  I'm really glad this didn't happen to me.  I am susceptible to line rage.  I probably would have chased after her yelling "It's Zha Zha, and she has cut the line in front of me, dahhhling!"  I like to think I would have had the good judgment not to tackle her, but I'm not sure. 

November 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Spitzer proof that extreme horniness can lead to extreme dumbness
Tom Smith

Spitzer and all of his friends should quit their whining.  Even if the suspicious activity reporting scheme were tightened up considerably, so that only extremely suspicious activity that appeared to be a transparent and stupid effort to hide criminal activity had to be reported, Spitzer still would have popped up, as I explain here.  There are criminals, there are dumb criminals and there are dumb criminals in high public office and I think we are entitled to go after at least the third category.

November 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Bring back the bad bank model
Tom Smith

This makes sense to me.  The insolvency problem has to confronted and sorted.  Liquidity infusions are not going to solve the problem by themselves.

November 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The green New Deal
Tom Smith

Or is it the New Green Deal?  Whatever it is, I think it is remarkable and my bet is it is going to be a big fiasco.  I think all of the VC money going into it, and I think it is a lot, is spurred on more by the hope of government subsidies in one form or another than by real economics.  It strikes me as a strange sort of mania.  It looks like we are pouring a lot of money we don't have into technologies that very well may not work to solve a problem we are not sure we have.  It's very hard to make money even with technologies you already have to solve problems that you are sure you have.  VCs are said to be herding creatures and this proves it.

November 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)

Where Thanksgiving came from
Tom Smith

The story.

November 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

How Keynesian stimulus is supposed to work
Tom Smith

Well, here is one cogent-seeming explanation that is in accord with what I remember from years ago.  I'm afraid I really only understand Keynesian stimulus policy at the level of crude metaphor.  The economy is like a man on a bicycle.  If the bicycle slows down too much, he enters into an unstable disequilibrium.  He will slow down more and more, get tippier and tippier, until he falls over.  That's the collapse at the end of a deflationary spiral.  What he needs is a good shove, so he can get pedalling again and back into a stable equilibrium at a higher speed.  (I know I should not be educating myself in public in this way, but academics who pretend they know everything are so unbelievably tedious that I decided long ago to fess up to my ignorance, unless there was truly a lot to gain by not doing so.)

My problem is I don't quite believe it, Keynesianism that is.  One thing I certainly don't believe is that the government is likely to make productive investments with their stimulating spending.  I suspect it will be like a lewd dance by an ugly person.  It may be intended to stimulate, but will fail to do so.  

The Agonist blog post also says that the idea is to recapture with taxes enough from the increased production caused by the stimulus to pay back the stimulus.  To that I say, ho ho.  It is very hard even for the really smart people with the new technology and all that, to make money.  For the government to do so by throwing money at failed business models and dreaming up some new ones of their own, such as "green technology", strikes me as a very long bet indeed.  Last night on XPR, they were talking about how Congress was going to spend 150 to 300 billion on green technology.  I am very confident that most of this, if it is spent, will be wasted.  By drawing all sorts of engineers, managers and so on into businesses that ultimately don't work as businesses, it will be enormously costly, more so than whatever is wasted outright.  I suppose some of it will come back beneficially as demand from the salaries to engineers trying to invent new batteries or whatever.  But huge amounts will be wasted.  There won't be much increase in production from these investments to tax and repay the borrowings that finance it.  When a business does this, it goes bankrupt.  When a whole economy does it, I doubt it works out well in the end.

So I take it the path we have already embarked upon is to borrow trillions of dollars to spend on projects many of which will be flat out waste.  Not just the coming green rapture, but Citibank, GM and the rest.  I concede I don't really understand how Keynesian stimulus is supposed to work, but I just don't find the story very persuasive or encouraging.  I just don't see how making bad investments on a sufficiently large scale can make them pay for themselves.  I suspect a hidden (often anyway) premise in the Keynesian story is the assumption that governments will find productive things to do with the money they borrow and spend.  That I really don't believe.  To get through this, I fear we are going to need the kind of stimulus that comes in bottles.

November 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Is Thanksgiving politically incorrect?
Tom Smith

Today at the finest gourmet store in one of San Diego's worst neighborhoods, I was wished not Happy Thanksgiving, but something like Have a nice Holiday.  Then at Starbucks (a PC meter if ever there was one) I noticed various references to Holidays and even "giving thanks." But no Thanksgiving or any traditional icons of this holiday, such as turkeys, pilgrims, etc.  I am used to the banning of Christmas, but is Thanksgiving poliitcally incorrect now too?  And if so, why?  Because it was at the beginning of stealing the continent from the Native Americans?  Because the Puritans were Christians?  Theocrats?  Because Thanksgiving implies there is Someone to thank?  I'm just asking.  I like to stay abreast of these things.

November 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

E.O. Wilson: Massively gonadal hero of Science
Tom Smith

Bravely stood up to the forces of political correctness and Marxism, and pioneered a new science.  Taught us all about the wonders of bugs.  Helping save rainforests where we can be eco-tourists someday, if the market ever comes back.  I love this guy.  He has lived his dream.  If he were an insect, he would be the voluminous, pulsating head of a giant colony, except in a manly way.

November 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)