The Closet Moderate: March 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Must Love Bombs

An exciting new romantic comedy from the Council on Foreign Relations. You can get the plot synopsis at the Cato Institute.


  • Elliot Abrams, Senior Fellow at CFR

  • Karim Sadjadpour

  • Martin Indyk


I don't know how we decided that people are okay with us bombing their country. I think my instinct is that the people pushing this view read too much USAF propaganda or stay up late masturbating to the History Channel's grainy footage of DUBYA DUBYA EYE EYE. I'm sure as shit that none of them have ever been bombed. Long story short: Elliott Abrams just unseated Max Boot in the category of "Stupid Shit Said In Public By A CFR Fellow" with these dingers:

So they wake up in the morning and find out that the United States if attacking those facilities and, presumably with some good messaging about why weʹre doing it and why we are not against the people of Iran.

Itʹs not clear to me that the reaction letʹs go to war with the Americans, but rather, perhaps, how did we get into this mess? Why did those guys, the very unpopular ayatollahs in a country 70 percent of whose population is under the age of 30, why did those old guys get us into this mess.

The full transcript is here.

The attraction of a bombing campaign is the damage to corpse ratio for your side. If you've got air superiority, you just send a some folks in a plane over the target and let fly with the bombs. If everything goes well, you hit your target and fly home. In contrast, wreaking that kind of devastation with land forces is a real hassle both logistically and tactically. While relatively poor countries may not have an air force, they almost certainly have a few fellows who can hold a rifle and walk overland to where you're setting up and shoot at you.

But there is a visceral component to a bomb detonation that no amount of "good messaging" is going to obscure. In an instant of light and noise, people lose family members, friends and limbs. If they happen to be at the target and survive the detonation, their next moment is filled with the mutilated corpses of people who, in many cases, are no longer recognizable as anything that might once have been human. Those distant from the explosion lose fathers, brothers, sisters and mothers without any ability to say goodbye--all because someone thousands of feet in the air pressed a button.

In light of that, Abrams' assertion that he's "not persuaded" that the people of Gaza are angry at the Israelis for bombing them (transcript, p. 19) is both loathsome and ridiculous. Many of the people killed in that invasion were civilians with no recourse. They couldn't leave Gaza to get away from the Israeli bombing campaign. Intuitively, we understand that it was an experience that was both humiliating and painful for people who weren't aligned with either combatant. If someone turned Elliott Abrams' father into flying pieces of bloody meat I seriously doubt he'd be inclined to sit back and rationally assess the situation. [Indeed, we might go a step further and identify that basic human impulse as one of the main reasons that the Israel/Palestine issue is so difficult to solve.]

But, returning to the Iranian situation, Abrams seems completely unaware of the basic concept of nationalism. Imagine, if you will, that the 9/11 hijackers had attacked using conventional means and targeted Fort Dietrich, claiming that the United States was on the verge of unleashing a bioweapon or some shit. Does Elliott Abrams really think that we'd take that lying down, or pause for a moment and ask George W. Bush uncomfortable questions about the research taking place at Fort Dietrich? No, we wouldn't. The aftermath of 9/11 was partially a sense of moral outrage about the methods and targets used by al-Qaeda, but it was primarily driven by the fact that someone had bombed our country.

I'm astonished and ashamed that CFR allows this clown to work for them.

In other news, Alex Massie is all over my dick.

Update 2: Eric Martin ties it all together.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Substance, It Burns!

We've had a little too much "real" talk on this blog lately, so I'm going to switch gears and talk about the Great American Pastime. That's baseball, for all you football-loving heathens out there.


I'm a man of slightly conflicted baseball loyalties. I started life as a Mets fan, but was forced to switch teams as a young lad by my mother, who heard tell of Darryl's wife-beating ways on NPR or something like that. My grandmother was a Phillies phan, and, being a contrarian by nature, I started following the New York Yankees in 1990. For those of you who hate the Yankees without knowing anything about them, 1990 was the year the Yankees finished dead last. There was Donnie Baseball and not much else to keep a young man's spirit alive, but I held fast and was eventually rewarded with a string of championships that justified my faith beyond my wildest expectations.

As a result of my childhood errors and a number of friends who follow the New York Metropolitans, I have a certain interest in their doings (mostly for the purposes of mockery). Watching the Mets contrive to get swept by the Phillies twice at Citizens Bank Park in 2007 was an almost spiritual experience, but it did cause a great deal of baseball-related grief to my friends. Mets fans are so broken at this point that their ray of sunshine is that they won't be knocked out of playoff contention by the Marlins in the last game of the regular season this year (See: '07 Mets, '08 Mets). Because they're not playing the Marlins in the last game of the regular season.

I also have a certain amount of love for the Phillies. I do appreciate a team so hungry for victory that when they finally ascend the mountain, they indulge in an orgy of arson, looting, cursing and violence. Grandma would be proud.

But look, there is one thing I can't stand: the bullshit concern-trolling about the Yankees spending a hojillion dollars on Teixeira, Sabathia, and AJ Burnett. "Can you believe it? In this economy?!" they say, monocles a-pop, as if the richest, winning-est franchise in the history of the sport has some sort of obligation to keep proletarian feathers unruffled. There are a couple points I want to make in response to these accusations.

1. Baseball is a business, and money exists so it can be exchanged for goods and (brace yourself) services. The services of, say, a great first basemen and a couple of damn good pitchers. The Yankees have a lot of money. They're not going to stick it in their ears. Rather, in a down market they'll take advantage of the financial weakness of other teams to snap up good talent. It's called competition, and it's presumably the reason people you watch sports. But on-the-field competition is somehow pure, while front office shenanigans are beneath contempt? Please.

2. We're doing you a favor. Actually, make that two favors. First off, when your team beats the Yankees, you can get that warm fuzzy feeling that accompanies a good underdog story. Relatedly, you can ignore the fact that lurking deep within you is an entitled fan just waiting for something to be entitled to. Witness the Boston Red Sox. Prior to 2004, Red Sox fans were bitter old men who spent their summer evenings in poorly lit bars, smoking and reminiscing in gravelly Boston accents about Teddy and Yaz. There was a certain honesty in that despair. In contrast, a stroll down Boylston Street in 2009 (after a Sawx win) will introduce you to an atmosphere previously found only in Wall Street boardrooms: the 100% douchebag environment. Choking clouds of smoke, cheap cologne and BoHos abound.

And they only won twice in 4 years.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Globalization... why spherical things scare me

A fellow blogard shared this article via Google Reader today. And since the new Comment feature on Reader is crashing constantly, I'm going to try to goad the other folks on CM to discuss.

In short, the article claims that the country must choose 2 of the following 3 things: globalization, small government, and social stability. The author takes British and American conservatives to task for believing "that policies that support globalization must not be touched." I have several objections to this, not least the fact that this is hardly a conservative-only position. Quite a few liberals also hold this view. But who really cares what side (or sides) think this? The real question is should we think this?

The basic premise of the article is that globalization is a choice, and one we're making blindly. And the U.S. has done many things that support a globalized economy. But what really is the alternative? Are there economists who think that protectionism can work in the long-term? I'll grant that globalization wrecks havoc on labor markets since they're highly inelastic and gov't programs to alleviate that (retraining, unemployment comp, etc) are expensive and big government. But why not frame the choice as you can have 2 of the following three: protectionism, small government, increasing standards of living? North Korea is about as protectionist as you can get, and last I checked they're not doing so well.

Obviously I haven't done much other than present a straw man here, but hopefully folks better versed than I can get into this in future posts or the comments. Any takers?


Monday, March 23, 2009

Am I Greedy?

Well, it looks like those fat plutocrats at AIG are going to give back those sweet bonuses. Or, at least 18 of them are. As much fun as this populist news cycle has been, I'm kind of glad. I was not looking forward to the Supreme Court having to rule on how high a tax had to be before it constituted confiscation or a bill of attainder. There was no way that was going to turn out well.

It still might happen, of course. Not all of these guys (all of whom I picture looking like the Monopoly Guy) have agreed to cough up the tribute. Paul Caron at TaxProfBlog has been cataloging the arguments for and agin' if you're into what real lawyers think, but if you want an underemployed tax lawyer's ideas, read on below:

Despite my status as the Closet Moderate's closet conservative, I'm inclined to construe the taxing power of the federal government fairly broadly when it comes to income. The reason is the Sixteenth Amendment, which, in the great American Constitutional tradition, says all it needs to in just a few words:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Incomes "from whatever source derived" is pretty expansive, and the Tax Code and the caselaw bear that out. If you earn income, the government may tax it. We, as a people, agreed to this when two-thirds of the Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures passed the amendment in 1913. Unlike the Constitution of the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the federal Constitution does not even contain a Uniformity Clause, so the Congress may charge different rates on different incomes, or on income earned in different occupations. Bonuses are income, so Congress may tax them, and may tax them at higher rates than ordinary income.

But how high can they go? How narrow can the group be on whom the tax is imposed? The House of Representatives seems to have considered these questions, and altered the bill to fit, in that too-clever-by-half way they have. They figured they couldn't levy a tax on "those AIG cocksuckers," so they levied it on "an employee or former employee of a covered TARP recipient". So, it doesn't look specific, but courts have held that you don't have to name names for it to be too specific for comfort.

Congress was also likely advised that they couldn't take 100% of the money back, so they set the rate at 90%. But, as this WSJ article makes clear, for employees living in New York City, the state and local rates are 6.85% and 3.648%, added to which is the FICA tax of 1.45%. If any of you readers are liberal arts majors like me, don't worry, I did the math: it's 101.948%.* The feds might not be confiscating all of the money, but they're making it so that the AIG guys don't get any of it, and that they actually have to go in their own pockets for about 2%. Sounds insane, but old-timers may recall that in the middle of the Second World War, the top marginal rate was effectively 90%.**

The normal equities arguments don't apply here. Normally, I'd say a 90% rate stifles innovation and industry, and I'd be right. But, this is only intended for this one unusual situation. And normally some think-tank would come up with a scenario in which the new rate would have unintended consequences, but I can't think of any. I guess my only problem with it is that, as a matter of equity, it's bullshit. The administration knew that this would happen -- they even altered the bailout bills to make sure it did happen. Now, the President thinks he can sign this bill and reap the benefits? That's messed up for the old politics, and for our hopey new politics, it's disgraceful.

Ultimately, I think the Congress has the right to do what it wants to do here. But if I was an AIG executive, I'd take the money and run.

*I didn't do the math; I copied from the article.
**Seriously, people laugh when I call FDR a socialist, but the proof is in the pudding.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

West Britons

If dead men's bodies really do spin in their graves when confronted with the misdeeds of their descendants, then one must imagine the corpse of Joseph P. Kennedy to be a kind of perpetual motion machine. Even so, those old Irish bones must have kicked into a new gear earlier this month month when Senator Edward Kennedy accepted a knighthood from the Queen of the United Kingdom.

This is not to say that old Joe didn't know how to kowtow when he had to -- far from it. When he was appointed ambassador to the UK in 1938, he allowed himself to be presented to the King with all the requisite bowing and scraping. The difference there was that his very appearance at the Court of St. James' was a slap in the face (if only a minor one) to the British establishment and their Anglo-American counterpart in this country. His son's situation is exactly the opposite: by accepting this honor (or honour, if you must,) Teddy has not only acknowledged the system of monarchy as legitimate, something politically incorrect in the original sense of that term, but has in essence glided his way out of Irishness and into the grand system of the British Empire.

Added to this ignominy is the fact that, no matter how this knighthood may be couched in terms like "honorary," in accepting it, Kennedy has acknowledged allegiance to a foreign sovereign. Should a private citizen wish to do this, I would not object to strenuously, though I might doubt his loyalty. But for a Senator to do so is surely against the founding principles of this republic. From this day forward, both of Massachusetts's Senators should be considered fake Irish.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exit, pursued by a pig

Our new efficient, rational, and scientific government has recently passed an omnibus spending bill. According to our colleagues in the real news media, it contains some 8,500 earmarks. The folks at Taxpayers for Common Sense put the figure at 8,570, but they're still counting.* The Heritage Foundation calls it 9,287. Clearly, more funding needs to be appropriated just to pay someone to count them.

I'm not terribly surprised that the new boss is the same as the old boss, but pork spending does get to me. One of my fellow bloggards once wondered at the fixation on pork, since it is a relatively small part of the budget, compared with the massive spending on the welfare state and the defense department. He expressed this idea using math, and even scientific notation, which is history majors' kryptonite. Still, my understanding of his argument was that it was of a Benthamite bent. Maths aside, I thought it would be fun to mock some of the more egregious spending habits of our Dear Leader and his wacky band of Congress-people:

* $494,000 is appropriated for a "business incubator" at Arkansas State University. This is where investment bankers are kept in their larval stage.

* In Alabama, they're spending $819,000 to study the catfish genome. After that, they'll splice in some of the dogfish genome and see if it will chase itself up a tree.

* Alabama's also getting $800,000 for oyster rehabilitation. I'm not sure if that's rehab for addicted oysters, or for people addicted to oysters. In either case, it should be delicious.

* Michigan gets $3,800,000 for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy. Apparently, half-torn-down buildings are rare in Detroit, and need our care and attention.

These are all amusing, but my favorite has to be the $1,791,000 for swine odor research in Ames, Iowa. Seriously. It's almost as though Congress put their corrupt heads together and said "You know, they're on our backs about pork all the time, so fuck 'em, let's give 'em some real pork. Pig pork!"

Honestly, what can $1.7 million tell us about pig-stink that we don't already know? It would be better spent in some CCC-style program, giving $17.91 to 100,000 people and asking them to sniff a pig's ass and record their findings. I'd imagine the results will be somewhere on the mud-shit spectrum, but who knows? Maybe they smell like candy! At any rate, at least 100,000 folks would have seventeen bucks, which is more than the stimulus bill seems to be doing.

*A full break-down is available in a spreadsheet available on their site.


On the Politicization of Science

Approximately 400 news cycles ago, President Obama revoked the previous Administration's ban on certain types of stem cell research. There was much rejoicing. So was this a triumph of cool intellect over fiery dogma? Has science been saved from the driveling idiots?

Probably not, since by my reckoning drivel is just as likely to reside in the mouths of PhD's as it is in your every day moran. The universality of narrowmindedness aside, there's just no bright line between science and politics.

Here's a specific, real-world example:
A program manager for Department of Homeland Security is tasked with solving the following "technical problem" given to him by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). CBP has too many false alarms from ground sensors placed in the slash, the 20 meter deforested strip along the US/Canada border. That program manager is given a budget based on subjective/political decisions about the priority and difficulty of solving this "problem". The program manager writes, reviews, and awards contracts to solve this problem.

Now do you want a manager who's tackles this as purely a technical problem who invests all of their budget on say an additional video sensor that CBP can look at to figure out if the "threat" is a deer, person, tank, etc? Right now at DHS those program managers are nearly all technical folks with varying levels of interest outside their field of expertise. Yet the "problems" they work on have obvious social and political implications. Would you want to live near one of these cameras? What if your driveway was in their field of view? Or would you want DHS to have people and tools that will help them consider broader social implications of their projects and hopefully avoid building gadgets that will meet immediate, hostile resistance from the public?

Science has a great deal to tell decision-makers about what may or may not happen should they choose a particular course of action. But science can never tell us what we should do, even if scientists do. Mr. Obama's stem cell and science integrity memos recognized this distinction. Mr. Obama stated,

But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.

It is a difficult and delicate balance. Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.

This was not a decision to pursue science where ever it may lead. It's one particular ethical and moral standing winning in political combat. This Administration will provide no more free rein to scientists trying to create policy than the last. It may allow scientists to express their political agendas more freely. And it will certainly continue making politically motivated, and value-driven choices about what actions to take.

A truly novel approach to science policy would be to recognize the value choices inherent in any human endeavor. Perhaps by creating more and more positions where technical and subjective evidence are explicitly discussed as separate but entangled entities and decisions are made with antecedents in both camps. Where science and policy professionals use tools and frameworks that make value choices more transparent. And where decisions about what collaborations, research goals, or outcome metrics should be used benefit from greater consideration within the Academe and without.


The Man of Steele

As a preamble, please read Michael Steele's interview with GQ's Lisa DePaulo.

According to the RNC chair:
  • Being homosexual is not a choice.

  • Abortion is a woman's choice.

  • Black people will riot if deprived of Starbucks.

  • He maybe-probably-sorta voted for Carter.

  • Obama doesn't show him any love because bipartisanship is bullshit.

  • Harry Truman is his favorite Democrat, because like Rodney Dangerfield, George W. Bush and Michael Steele, he couldn't get no respect.

  • Barack and Michelle probably could've dressed better for the inauguration.

Now, there are two ways to look at this hilarious-yet-humanizing trainwreck of an interview. Mr. Steele comes across as a wayward liberal who became disaffected during the 70s, moved to the GOP and ended up as the Lt. Gov. of Maryland. He seems like a social liberal and fiscal conservative. Unfortunately, now he's in charge of the Party of Rush and in the difficult position of reconciling his east coast GOP instincts with the crazy remnant of the party.

The other possibility, proposed by those libruls at TPM, is that Michael Steele is a chameleon who projects whatever he thinks his interlocutor wants to see/hear. When he sat down with the hippies at GQ he put his best liberal foot forward, and when he has to explain to the national GOP why he completely undermined almost all of their talking points he'll transform into a "I was tricking those stupid peace-love-and-dopers" conservative.

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. It's one of the craziest interviews I've ever read, and I think it's clear that Michael Steele has the political instincts of someone with Tourette's Syndrome. It's also pretty clear that SNL nailed this skit.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"I'm Sorry, Chas, You're Fired."

Actually, he was never hired.

I'm not going to get into the substance of this issue, but I will say that the optics on this look really really bad. Andrew Sullivan has a good timeline of what actually went down. Max Blumenthal also has a pretty good overview of the brouhaha.

Now before I go any further I want to insert the standard disclaimer: criticism of the state of Israel is not the same as criticism of the Jewish people. If I were to criticize Angela Merkel's handling of the economic crisis, that would not be the same as criticizing the Germans generally. So, with that disclaimer and the best-defense-on-the-internet backing me up ("some of my best friends are Jews!") I just want to say: this is how they make those commercials!

Say a couple of prominent academics have written a book about how the "Israel Lobby" distorts American strategic thinking and foreign policy. It raises hackles all over the internet, with everyone from Alan Dershowitz to John Chait joining in the carnage. Supporters see the "Israel Lobby" everywhere, while detractors range from fevered baying about anti-semitism to more measured accusations of shitty social science. Over time the fracas dies down. Then, a few years later, along comes a guy who everybody seems to agree is a pretty brilliant intelligence analyst. He's being appointed to a more-or-less politically meaningless position within the Obama administration, but one that will have a soft effect on America's strategic thinking and foreign policy.

BUT WAIT! This man is the very same CHARLES FREEMAN who gave a speech to the Gulf Cooperation Council about America's failed policy in Iraq, the last few paragraphs of which are critical of Israeli foreign policy. He also wrote a "controversial" (read: unsentimental) memo about China to a private listserv which is now all over the internet. In it, he advances the horrifying view that China might not have had to run people over with tanks if it had just gotten its shit together a little earlier. (See: Bonus Army)

A few weeks later, you've got a veritable parade of rabidly pro-Israel ideologues doing their level best to beat up on Freeman. Then, once Freeman decides to cut and run, Chuck Schumer stands up to take the credit.

If I were Professor Walt, I wouldn't bother writing this entry, I'd just snap a shot of my wang, write "CHECKMATE!" on it in red sharpie, and intra-office mail it to Alan Dershowitz.

We can argue about whether "the Israel Lobby" as defined by Walt and Mearsheimer exists or not, but at the end of the day it sure looks like a well-qualified professional was prevented from serving his country on the basis of his views about the state of Israel. As Joe Klein points out, that's actually a very bad thing for the United States and Israel alike.

That said, there was an upside: Chas' son (also named Chas) threatened his dad's detractors with physical violence over the internet thereby proving that some things truly are universal.



So, full disclosure, I used to work for SEIU. Below, I've excerpted a bit from the Rachel Maddow show explaining what the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) does:

There's a larger question embedded in the debate, which is--depending on your perspective--why do we need some un-American alternative to the secret ballot OR why doesn't the secret ballot work? To be pithy, here's why. In most cases, the workers who are trying to unionize are caught in an economic trap. They're working in shitty low-skill jobs. They are dependent on the income from those jobs. They are very replaceable. They probably don't have the flexibility to just pack up and go somewhere else in search of a new job.

So, if a manager comes to them and says "if you vote to unionize / participate in the election, I'll fire you" they're in a really tough situation. If working conditions are shitty, they either have to gamble their entire livelihood on the chance that their fellow workers will stick to the plan and vote to unionize, management's threats be damned. In other words, they're facing a classic prisoner's dilemma situation.

Now, theoretically they have legal recourse. They can appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claiming unfair labor practices. There are a couple of problems with this route, though. First of all, the NLRB is appointed by the President and if the administration is hostile to organized labor (i.e. Republican) then those grievances are unlikely to get more than a cursory hearing. Secondarily, it's actually very hard to prove that someone said something. Oftentimes what happens is that a statement is made to a worker and it spreads throughout the workforce, producing a chilling effect without a pattern of intimidation. Finally, the penalties for violating the National Labor Relations Act are so miniscule that for the company, it's almost always worth taking the chance.

So, what exactly does EFCA do to remedy this situation? First of all--and this is the main reason labor is pushing so hard for its passage--it makes it so that the workers choose whether to use the secret ballot or card check. Currently, the employer decides which method to pursue. Furthermore, it requires the employer to recognize the union if a majority of workers decide to unionize (through whichever method) and guarantees them a contract. If the employer and union cannot agree to a contract within 3 months EFCA mandates third-party mediation. Finally, it increases the penalties for coercive practices and intimidation. Really, it's the first point that's the most important. It's standard union practice to visit workers away from the site of employment. In some cases, being seen with a union organizer is grounds for termination and card check is easily performed off-site.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Congratulations! It's a worthless bank!

There's a lot of strange doings a-transpirin' in Washington these days. As the economy continues to tank, some on the left are wondering why President Obama has not taken more drastic measures to do ... something. Something other than what the last administration did, anyway. True, he's floated this plan for handouts to mortgagees, but his plan so far for troubled banks is the same as President Bush's: give 'em big handfuls of free money. Shit, even Republicans are talking about nationalization by now, but Geithner and the gang are afraid to even mention the n-word.* Still, the Obama administration does nothing.

Or so we are meant to believe.

In fact, I think a plan is at work even now for the FDIC to seize banks like Citibank, whose last remaining asset is a big bucket of fail. "But no," you say, "Barry would never keep secrets from us! This is the most transparent administration ever! Hope! Change!" Maybe so, but consider: openly discussing nationalization or receivership would destroy whatever confidence still remains in the banking sector. Sure, he could nationalize one bank, but then everyone would drop the other banks' stock like a bad habit. He's got to snatch it up real quickly, so no one notices until it's too late. And he's got to do all of them at once, so there's no run on the remaining banks.

Finally, as much as Obama thinks he's the Luo Abraham Lincoln, the rest of his lackeys have a collective hard-on for FDR. And what's more FDR than having America wake up one Saturday morning to hear that all the banks are closed, and they ain't re-opening until the President gives the OK?

Maybe I'm insane, but I think this is happening. What other explanation is there for the lassitude in Washington? What else explains Geithner's dreadful performance in explaining the administration's plans? The FDIC does this all the time for small banks. The only reason they would have held not done so for larger failures is the fear of panic. But some of these banks are too far gone, and nationalization, or receivership, or whatever you want to call it, is coming. On some Friday evening in the coming weeks, all 300 million of us in America are going to find out we're the proud parents of a bouncing baby bank.

*No, not that one.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Barack Town

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the President and his allies in Congress are purporting to crack down on offshore banking havens, used by the rich to hide income and avoid U.S. taxes. Here, Senator Levin's bill is broken down (the full bill is here, but it's a PDF, so don't say I didn't warn you.)

I understand the point of these bills, and the reason for their popularity: it seems wrong, to any reasonable person, that some people should avoid taxes while other equally situated people pay them. But the failure will be one of execution. We already have tons of complicated laws on foreign income, and yet Americans' money still finds its way to the Caymans, Liechtenstein, the Channel Islands, and various other odd places around the globe. The bankers and lawyers have always managed to stay at least one step ahead of the Congress, because they are clever and their livelihood depends on it.

These countries have all turned to shady banking because they have no other industry, excepting possibly tourism. Everything is more expensive to do on an island, except those things that don't require any transport of actual goods. Thus banking, in this age of electronic money, is a good fit, while manufacturing is not. So no law America or the EU passes and no diplomatic effort we essay will convince them that it's not in their interest to use their nations as banking havens.

Where diplomacy fails, and where the problem is a threat to the national interest, nations must resort to force. We don't have to take over every banking haven; after the first few, the rest might get the idea that we're serious. And we don't need to seek out the far-off ones; we should probably just convince Britain to assert better authority over its Crown Colonies that are nearby to it, like the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. But there must be some force, and the best target for it is the best-known banking haven in the world: the Cayman Islands.

In an age of long and somewhat-unpopular wars, this plea may fall on deaf ears, but I say (like all agitators) that this plan is different. Remember Grenada? That took about two days. And Grenada is bigger than the Caymans. Also, they don't have an army. Seriously, even the French could take these guys down. Plus, look at the upside: in addition to all the foreign policy beneifts detailed above, we'd also gain some lovely tropical beaches.

To close: let us protect our national revenue, restore confidence in our military, and have a jolly adventure in the Caribbean. Onward to George Town!*

*To be renamed "Barack Town."