I Lied and I’m a Coward

I’m not a big fan of the New York Times, but today’s front-page investigative report on the Pentagon’s managing of the news is absolutely first-rate. One of the Pentagon officials, Torie Clarke, the Pentagon’s main propagandist, said her goal had been to achieve “information dominance.” In other words, she wanted the Pentagon’s message to get out and crowd out the independent information from others. To do this, the Pentagon recruited retired military officers and fed them select information that was often at odds with reality. Wow! I’m already sounding like a spin doctor. What I mean in the earlier sentence is that the Pentagon lied.
The payoff for many of these retired officers was that various “defense” contractors for whom they worked got a better shot at military contracts. [Why “defense” in quotation marks? Because most of what the Department of Defense does has nothing to do with defense: it’s offense, much of which makes us less safe.]
Interestingly, some of the retired military knew they were being lied to and passed the information on as truth nevertheless. In other words, they lied. One, General Paul E. Vallely, a FOX News analyst from 2001 to 2007, stated, ““I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south [in Iraq.]” But on his return, Vallely told FOX’s Alan Colmes, “You can’t believe the progress,” and predicted that the number of insurgents would be “down to a few numbers” within months. Of course, it wasn’t. And it turned out that Vallely didn’t “believe the progress.”
How did they rationalize their lying? Take Timur J. Eads. Please. Eads is “a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.” Eads said he had withheld the truth on television for fear that a four-star general would call and say, “Kill that contract.” I’ve heard of people running from battle because they might be literally killed. And I’m sympathetic. But lying because the consequence of telling the truth is that your employer might lose business and you might get fired? Wowee. Pretty scary.
The whole article is well worth your time.

War Is an Economic Policy, Senator McCain

This morning I received a request to sign an “Economists’ Statement in Support of John McCain’s Economic Plan.” The statement laid out his plans to prevent taxes from rising, to reduce some taxes, such as the corporate income tax, to support free trade agreements, and to restrain the growth of domestic government spending. Notice something missing? I did.

Here’s the answer I sent to the co-chair, economist James Carter:

There’s nothing in there I disagree with. [I later found a few things but I agreed with the vast majority.] The problem is that it leaves out a huge part of his economic policy that will make it virtually impossible to achieve what’s in the statement. That huge part is his policy on war–with Iraq and maybe with Iran. War is very expensive and is part of an economic policy. So by signing the statement, I would be helping Senator McCain maintain the fiction that there’s no connection between war and economic policy. I’m unwilling to do that.

John Yoo opposes a U.S. War

You read it here first. Or, if you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, second. In today’s WSJ, Yoo actually speaks out against a war. Yoo, remember is the Berkeley law professor who believes that the U.S. president has way more power than the Constitution appears to give him and that he can rightfully use this power to order the torture of people.

No, he doesn’t oppose the current war. He probably won’t oppose the next war. But he does oppose, apparently, the War of 1812. Here’s what he wrote:

But the historical record on this is not heartening. During the reign of the Jeffersonians, the progenitors of today’s Democrats, the congressional caucus chose the party’s nominee. It was a system that yielded mediocrity, even danger. Congressional hawks pushed James Madison into the War of 1812 by demanding ever more aggressive trade restrictions against Great Britain and ultimately declaring war — all because they wanted to absorb Canada. It ended with a stalemate in the north, the torching of the U.S. capital, and Gen. Andrew Jackson winning a victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

On Buckley’s Civility, Part II

Dear All,

I can see from some of the comments on my first blog yesterday that blogging and nuance don’t mix well. As I said, I liked Buckley somewhat and I would never celebrate his death except to the extent that he, as a Catholic, would want me to. All I was saying is that some balance was needed in the assessment of him. If you don’t want to assess him, that’s fine. But when commentator after commentator comments on his civility without hedging the compliment, that’s where balance is required. Moreover, contrary to one of the commenters on my first blog, I was not making a judgment about his personality apart from his ideas. It was when he tried to defend war against the devastating criticism of Noam Chomsky that this unpleasant aspect of his personality came out.

Also, those who think one should not speak ill of the dead would certainly not have found agreement from–William F. Buckley. See what he wrote about Murray Rothbard after Murray died, for example.

And I know what follows next: some will say that what I really tried to do with my blog on WFB was to pay him back for his bad treatment of Murray. But if you knew Murray and some of the nasty things he wrote about me, you would not make that claim.

On Buckley’s Civility

I notice that many of the obituaries of Buckley make a positive mention of his manners and civility. That was often accurate. But one way to judge someone’s real civility is to see how he reacts when he’s losing a debate. Yesterday, I rewatched all of the YouTube videos from when he had Noam Chomsky on in the late 1960s and they discussed, among other things, the Vietnam War. Buckley was often good when he knew more than the person he interviewed, which was often. But Chomsky had a calm command of the facts and Buckley got rattled a lot. One way to respond when you get called out is to admit the point. That was not Buckley’s way. Instead he got belligerent, interrupting Chomsky every time Chomsky tried to respond to the latest Buckley thrust. I challenge anyone to watch those videos and come out thinking well of Buckley’s civility.

I write this as someone who liked Buckley somewhat and was even, for 6 months, the economics editor of National Review who wrote 2 unsigned short editorials every issue (in 1986 and early 1987). And I’m not making a total statement of support for everything Noam Chomsky has written or said. But I do think that the scales must be balanced.