Monday, December 31, 2012

foreign policy vs. national security

Words matter. Different words are usually used to convey different meanings. I learned recently that "international" was coined only in the early 19th century by Jeremy Bentham. There are two terms that I tend to use interchangeably, though I realize that technically they are supposed to be different.

"Foreign policy" is the action of a state beyond its borders, usually with other states. Those actions encompass the full spectrum from trade and culture to war. "National security" deals with the various policies a state pursues to protect and support its people and institutions, especially in relation to other nations and peoples.

Those are crude definitions, but the terms also reflect longstanding debates and policy preferences among scholars and policymakers. "Foreign policy" is an older term, long used as a study in history that concentrated on diplomacy and wars. "Military history" is a subfield  dealing with armed forces and their use in conflicts. In my own field of political science, "foreign policy" has long been split between students of international relations in general -- especially the causes of war and conflict resolution -- and those concerned with the policies of particular countries. Academic specialization makes it hard to bridge those fields. The same is true in government: foreign policy in America is seen as the purview of the President and State Department. National security tends to be equated with "defense" and largely assigned to the Pentagon, with White House oversight and ultimate control.

An interesting historical development occurred in the United States in the 1930s. Civilian scholars such as Edward Mead Earle at Princeton began urging more academic and governmental attention to the foreign policy aspects of military policy. Earle complained about the "water-tight compartments" in both institutions and urged more attention to "effective coordination of military with foreign and domestic policies." Implicit in his argument was the notion that war was too important to be left to generals and that civilian control of the military required more knowledge of military matters by civilian officials. The term they adopted for this new field of study was "national security."

Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1919 had proposed a Joint Plan-Making Body from the State, War and Navy departments, to define wartime objectives and force levels, as president established an Army-Navy planning board in the White House. Wartime experience led civilian and military experts to call for greater coordination of the armed forces and between the military and the diplomats. They embraced the umbrella term of national security.

Accordingly, when Congress finally enacted a comprehensive law in 1947 putting the armed forces under a single secretary of defense and creating a White House level advisory body and establishing the Central Intelligence Agency, they called their law The National Security Act of 1947 and their panel the National Security Council.  Moreover, that law specifically said that the function of the council was to advise the President on "the integration of domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security."

Implicit in that new terminology was a policy preference for coordination across once-separate institutions. That's why "national security" has largely supplanted "foreign policy" when describing America's international relations. What still hasn't been widely recognized, however, is that the field properly includes foreign economic policy as well as defense and traditional diplomacy.  Since I teach in what historically has been called the "American foreign policy" department, I feel obliged to use that narrow term even when I mean the broader one.But I recognize the difference and wish the U.S. government took a more comprehensive approach in its policymaking.

how to please the bosses

The theory of representative government holds that lawmakers are the agents of the citizenry, who are deemed sovereign.  Some members of Congress claim they will do what their voters want, but they usually evolve into thinking that they'll do what seems to be in their voters' best interests.  They never forget that they can be held accountable, even for inconsequential but symbolic votes.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has a valuable column with the numbers: only 15 Republican House members represent districts that voted for Obama in 2012; only one of the 14 GOP Senators up for election in 2014 comes from a state that voted for Obama. Thus, few Republicans have any political incentive to compromise with the President.

That kind of disparity is what the framers of the Constitution had in mind. That's why they gave the President, Senators, and Representatives terms of different lengths. I remember calculating similar figures when President Clinton was first elected: 98 Democrats were elected with more votes in their districts than Clinton. They had no incentive to follow his lead, and many didn't.

We onlookers who advocate civility and compromise and fiscal prudence are not asking lawmakers to commit political suicide. We are asking them to recognize that the national interest is at stake, and continuing prosperity. A good deal will have elements that each side wants, and smart voters can be persuaded of its value.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

backing away from the brink

As we approach the fiscal "cliff" and related policy questions, it's important to keep in mind several deadlines, some real and unchangeable and some soft and more flexible.

1. Midnight, December 31. That's the time the expiring laws -- like the Bush tax cuts, the narrower alternative minimum tax [AMT], the Medicare "Doc Fix," extended unemployment insurance, and lower payroll tax -- actually expire. While legally significant, in practice Congress can make any new tax provisions retroactive. If lawmakers act fast enough, there would likely be no real impact on taxpayers. Moreover, missing this legal deadline also transforms the vote on any legislation into a "tax cut" from the restored rates.

2. January 1. That's when the Treasury Department says the U.S. debt would reach its legal ceiling, absent extraordinary measures. Not an immediate problem, however, since Treasury plans to take those steps, like delaying some intragovernmental financial transfers, as it has many times before. The real deadline can be pushed off until late February or so. Even then, in extremis the president might invoke the 14th amendment which arguably would make the debt ceiling law unconstitutional. Nevertheless, breaching the ceiling would force the United States into default on its debts in the view of the financial community.

3. January 2. That's the day that the 2011 Budget Control Act's sequester kicks in, requiring broad cuts in current spending across the government during the rest of the fiscal year. The actual cuts could be delayed for a while if there were a real prospect of a budget deal, since implementation is up to the Office of Management and Budget [OMB]. Or Congress could substitute some new law, either a grand bargain of many of the unresolved issues, or a kick-the-can-down-the-road law that imposes a different set of cuts totaling $110 billion over the next nine months.

4. Noon, January 3. That's the hour that the 112th Congress ends and the 113th Congress begins. If a bill hasn't quite passed, it's dead, and the new Congress would have to pass identical versions after that hour for the president to have a bill to sign. [There are historic examples when one chamber or the other literally stopped the clock for a few hours in order to squeeze within a legal deadline, but that can't happen with the change from one Congress to the next. Just as doubts over Chief Justice Roberts' erroneous wording of the Obama presidential oath, leading to a just-to-be-safe second swearing in, the risks of a legal challenge would make the noon deadline rigid.]

5. Afternoon, January 3. That's when two important events should have happened --the election of a Speaker of the House and adoption of some organizing motions by the Senate. If Republican rebels want to challenge John Boehner, that's their moment for action -- and perhaps a reason why Boehner has been reluctant to support a deal with the administration that increases taxes. Similarly, if the Senate adopts changes in its rules or procedures -- or gets into a big fight over the rules that poisons the legislative process for weeks to follow -- that will affect how easily any agreements may be handled by the Senate.

6. January 4 and beyond. That's when the new Congress gets organized, with many committees facing new leadership and with new members anxious to make their marks. The main consequence for economic policy questions is the greater unpredictability of congressional institutions.

7. January 20. Not really a legal deadline, since President Obama has been elected to a second term. He does have to take the oath of office two more times, however, once on Sunday, the 20th, and then again Monday, the 21st in the public ceremony at the Capitol.

8. March 27. That's the day the Continuing Appropriations law expires. Agencies will lose their spending authority. Unless superseded by particular appropriations bills, or extended, perhaps even for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30, the U.S. government will have to halt all but emergency operations.

These various dates provide incentives and hurdles for lawmakers to develop and enact whatever measures they try in order to back away from the fiscal cliff. The terrain is tough any time, but particularly treacherous given current political polarization.

weak tea for Senate reform

The procedural reforms most likely to be approved by the Senate on January 3 are pretty weak, but better than nothing. Although a group of newer members, all Democrats, may have 51 votes for their more consequential  proposals, several senior Senators from both parties would prefer to avoid the precedent of a rules change by majority vote. Instead, this group, led by Senator Carl Levin [D-MI] and John McCain [R-AZ], has developed a proposal that changes the Standing Orders just for the 113th Congress. Those orders are usually adopted by unanimous consent, but could be filibustered.

The Levin-McCain proposal would end filibusters on motions to proceed to bills and nominations and would allow two amendments each for the majority and minority. This change would still allow filibusters, which would still require 60 votes to end, but could reduce the total number of filibusters. The proposal also limits filibusters on motions involving conferences with the House to resolve differences.

To speed up consideration of nominations -- except for cabinet officers and federal judges -- the proposal would automatically put the names of nominees for over 500 positions automatically on the Senate calendar, thus bypassing committees and possible delays at that level.

Levin and McCain encourage but don't require opponents to show up and debate when they mount a filibuster. They also require objectors to unanimous consent agreements to come to the Senate floor and voice their positions.

I wish the reformers had gone further, but this is the way the Senate usually handles pressure for reform: avoiding direct confrontations and worrisome precedents by developing alternatives informally. Since this is the most we are likely to get, I hope it doesn't get derailed in the chaos of dealing with the fiscal cliff as one congress ends and a new one begins.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

campaign assessment

One of the best journalistic accounts of how the two presidential campaigns assessed their respective efforts was developed the the Boston Globe, one of the few outlets with good sources in the Romney campaign. `I am still amazed by how the Obama campaign expanded the electorate by technological targeting of potential voters -- and by the insularity and ineptness of the Romney campaign, despite their vaunted devotion to management metriucs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


The special review panel investigating the Benghazi attacks that left four Americans dead has submitted its report. In response, three State Department officials have resigned.  That's accountability in my book. The responsibility lies at the working level, not the Secretary, much less the UN Ambassador.

Friday, December 14, 2012

the talking filibuster

While some analysts doubt that changing the Senate rules to require a "talking filibuster" will make much difference, I am persuaded that Sen. Jeff Merkley's will help. The Oregon Democrat has released a long explanation with Q&As that convinces me the change will work as designed.

If coupled with nondebatable motions to proceed to begin debate, I think that fewer filibusters would be threatened and even fewer conducted. While the skeptics suggest that Senators will welcome the opportunity to grandstand, in fact I believe they will limit their battles -- if only t allow more time for fundraising and homestate travel.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

be careful what you vote for

ABC News and Garance Franke-Ruta of the Atlantic have made a useful discovery: the resolution passed by the Senate condemning the Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans was worded to suggest that demonstrations led to the attacks. The measure also failed to label the attackers terrorists or extremists. Since the resolution passed unanimously, perhaps those Senators who have been sharply criticizing the comments of Ambassador Susan Rice should revise and extend their own remarks.

treaty defeat

For only the fourth time since before World War II,the Senate today defeated a treaty, the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, by a vote of 61-38, five votes short of the required 2/3 vote. Opponents claimed that the measure would somehow interfere with home schooling of disabled children, while supporters argued that the agreement created no rules beyond current U.S. law.

It's a shame that Tea Party know-nothingism has infected so many Senators.

crime and punishment on Capitol Hill

Until now Speaker John Boehner has refused to punish Republican dissenters from the party line. This week, however, he exiled several members from key committees, apparently because they had voted the wrong way too often.  One consequence, I suspect, is that this strengthens Boehner's hand in passing whatever he might agree to with Obama on fiscal policy.

the story behind the Benghazi talking points

The Wall Street Journal has a long story -- the hour-by-hour account that journalists call the "tick tock" -- describing how the CIA and later other organizations coordinated and ultimately agreed on unclassified talking points regarding the Benghazi attacks. Its most significant conclusion is:
No evidence has so far emerged that the White House interfered to tone down the public intelligence assessment, despite the attention the charge has received.

The story is a typical one illustrating bureaucratic politics, the way each agency has different perspectives on common problems and how they act to defend and protect their own interests. There are no bad guys in the story, no coverups, just different people trying to do their jobs.

China's interagency tangle

Whatever problems the U.S. government has in getting its act together, China has even greater ones.

Consider these facts from the Economist:

  • There has been no foreign affairs specialist in the 25-member Politburo since 2002.
  • The Ministry of Defense lacks command authority over China's armed forces.
  • There is a profound lack of coordination between the foreign ministry and the military.
  • Eleven government agencies assert various authorities over matters related to the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
  • Many heads of State Owned Enterprises outrank local party and government leaders and thus can ignore their orders.
If China is going to play a responsible role in world affairs, and especially if it is going to avoid stupid mistakes and avoidable escalation into military confrontations, it needs to develop mechanisms and processes to coordinate decisions and monitor government actions. 

Monday, December 3, 2012


American politics remains caught in a hyperpartisan gridlock. We keep fighting many of the same old fights while the new problems and issues get ignored.

There's real wisdom in a quote from Republican campaign operative Ken Mehlman resurrected by Joshua Green:
“If you look back over the last few decades, an era of politics has run its course,” Mehlman told me at the time. “Both parties achieved some of their highest goals. Democrats got civil rights, women’s rights, the New Deal, and recognition of the need for a cleaner environment. Republicans got the defeat of the Soviet Union, less violent crime, lower tax rates, and welfare reform. The public agrees on this. So the issues now become: How do you deal with the terrorist threat? How do you deal with the retirement of the baby boomers? How do you deliver health care with people changing jobs? How do you make sure America retains its economic strength with the rise of China and India? How that plays out is something we don’t know yet.”
Mehlman's questions are the ones the politicians should be dealing with, and their answers need to go beyond the shopworn formulas of "tax the rich," "slash government spending," and "let the market decide."

pedants' revolt

English teachers across America are resisting the new Common Core Standards for elementary and secondary schools because they require half the readings to be nonfiction. I like the new standards. I think students should read more and write more, but they need to go beyond "literature" if they are to develop critical thinking skills. I also like it when students have to memorize poems and recite then aloud. But that doesn't help them to dissect an argument for a new environmental regulation or comprehend instructions for filling out a government form.

Nonfiction doesn't have to be boring. There are exciting history books, biographies, travel and science books, even policy books advocating different approaches to deal with poverty or climate change or internet technology. Even speeches in Congress now score at the junior high school level. Read 'em and weep.

UPDATE: Here is more information on those standards and a sample reading list. Any objections?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

filibuster reform Republicans can't refuse

Right now the rhetoric is heated and the threats of legislative chaos abundant. Senate majority leader Harry Reid [D-NV] is warning that he will propose filibuster reforms at the start of the new Congress and minority leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY] is threatening massive retaliation. That's why a somewhat similar idea was called the "nuclear option."

No need to duck and cover. This is the way the Senate does business. In 2005 the Republican majority leader threatened to force a rules change allowing majority votes to confirm Bush judicial nominees, but he backed off when a bipartisan "Gang of 14" proposed deescalation. A promise of better behavior left the rules unchanged but more nominees confirmed. Two years ago, Reid opposed filibuster reforms because of a better behavior promise by McConnell. Now he's a changed man.

History shows that the Senate often changes its rules a little only when faced with a threat that the rules will be changed a lot. That's what happened in 1957 and again in 1975. With the prospect of a total end to the filibuster overhanging urgent negotiations, Senators agreed to modifications in the filibuster rule.

I think that's what will happen this time. Democrats aren't proposing an end to filibuster, just restrictions on their use and with a greater burden on the obstructionists to hold the floor and debate. TPM's Brian Beutler laid out the confusing sequence of parliamentary moves two years ago; this is the likely scenario for next January.

consensus on defense cuts

Despite Republican campaign proposals for even higher defense spending, there is now a growing consensus among Washington think tanks that deeper cuts will and should be made. [After all, elections have consequences.]  Gordon Adams of American University and the Stimson Center notes that recent reports from several organizations across the political spectrum are suggesting smarter ways to achieve the inevitable reductions. He links to five of the recent reports, so you can read and judge for yourself.

In public discussions of defense spending, too much attention, in my opinion, is paid to big ticket weapons programs. While dollars can be saved there, even more money can be squeezed out of force structure -- military and civilian -- and from the burgeoning military entitlement programs. It just doesn't seem right that recipients of military health care benefits who are not on active duty haven't had to pay more  as costs have risen. It just doesn't seem right that retirement benefits are so generous but only one veteran in six ever receives them. We need rebalancing in these programs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

schmoozing to victory

Andrew Rudalevige of Bowdoin College has an excellent post on The Monkey Cage marshaling the evidence against the latest pundit argument that the President needs to cultivate better personal relations with Republican members of Congress in order to succeed in his deficit reduction talks and other policy priorities. The title sums it well" "Dinner won't do it."

Yes, good personal relations can help somewhat, but structural and megapolitical factors matter more. Republican leaders are constrained by their own colleagues who in turn are constrained by their home voters and the promises they made to them in their campaigns. Sharing a beer is not the same as sharing an ideology. A willingness to talk civilly is not the same as a willingness to compromise.

While better personal relations can't bridge the partisan divide between Congress and the White House, I still believe that more civility and social interaction could still improve the situation within Congress, where most members spend little time in Washington except Tuesday-Thursday, when they are insanely busy with legislative business and fundraising. Members of Congress still have an incentive to make the institution work, and to achieve legislative accomplishments -- and those goals require cooperation beyond party lines. Thus in Congress, habits of breaking bread together and getting to know other members as human beings can still help.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

One justification for filibuster abuse

Use of the filibuster by Senators has surged in recent years for many reasons: hyperpartisanship, ideological separation of the parties, a loss of civility, and the lure of publicity for radical obstructionists. Defenders of the filibuster,after citing  "Senate traditions" and the dangers of tyranny by the majority, have one practical and little noticed argument in their favor -- the increased use of "filling the amendment tree."

This practice, by the majority leader, prevents the minority from offering their own alternatives to pending legislation. As a New York Times article today shows, this tactic has also surged in recent years. Of course, some of the frustrated amendments were politically embarrassing or designed to split the majority, but the minority still felt that its power had been thwarted, thus making use of the filibuster feel more reasonable.

Both sides need to back down. The filibuster should be preserved but its use limited; the minority should be given opportunities to offer a few genuine alternatives; and obstructionists should have to bear the discomforts of prolonged debate.

Churchill and alcohol

In my experience, the bulk of the wittiest quotations come from just three men -- Mark Twain, Yogi Berra, and Winston Churchill. Regrettably, many of the most cited lines are impossible to document. But we use them anyway, perhaps softening the attribution with a note of doubt. Too good to check is a bad standard, but too good not to use at all is even worse.

I had these thoughts while reading a recent book on Churchill's life as a writer, his declared profession. British historian Peter Clarke cites evidence of Churchill's bills from wine merchants in the 1930s and concludes that he spent about 6% of his average disposable income on wines and spirits -- as much each week as three times the earnings of a male manual worker. He averaged three bottles of brandy and whiskey each week and one bottle of champagne each day.

Given his other accomplishments, I can see why Churchill, when criticized for drinking too much, is said to have replied, "I've got more out of alcohol than it has out of me."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

21st century politics

Years ago I had some experience door-knocking and phone-banking in political campaigns. But I was amazed to learn of some of the 21st century techniques used this year by the Obama campaign.

From Politico:

JIM MESSINA, Obama for America campaign manager, gave his first on-camera interview before a standing-room-only crowd at Playbook Breakfast: “What Targeted Sharing was -- and I think it's one of the most important things we did -- was a Facebook app that allowed you to go and match your Facebook world with our lists, and we say to you, ‘Mike, here are five friends of yours that we think are undecided in this race. Click here to send them a piece of viral content. Click here to send them a factsheet. Click here to ask them to support the President.’ … [I]t took us a year of some amazing work of our talented technology team to figure out how to do it. But we were able to contact over 5 million people directly through their Facebook worlds, and people that they knew. So, they're going to look if their friend … sends them something. They're going to look at it because they know that person. …

“What campaigns are evolving into, actually, in many ways, is a return to the past. Door-knocking is going to be even more important in the future … [H]ere's why … [T]he diffusion of American media makes it harder to get your message out and there's so much television … Citizens United created this huge cacophony of television in the final months of that campaign. And people got so much of it, a simple door-knock from a trusted neighbor really mattered more than anything else -- to say, ‘Hey, let me tell you why I'm supporting Barack Obama. I live down the street. Let me talk to an issue you care about.’ And that, we found, became incredibly important to how people were going to vote. …

“A friend of mine was door-knocking for us in Wisconsin a week before the election and he called and said, ‘Let me tell you the story about why I think you guys are running a smarter campaign. I was told to knock on two doors on one block. One was to chase an absentee ballot, and I watched the person fill it out and we mailed it together, and the second one was an undecided voter who I was given a very specific persuasion script … I had a great conversation, and I'm pretty sure that that person is going to vote for us on Election Day.’ He said, ‘One block, two doors, and only two doors.’ That is using volunteers' time more wisely. It's saying to them, ‘Every contact you're going to make is going to matter to us.’ And I think it allowed us to hit more doors and more effective doors than the Romney campaign.’ …

“We used data for everything, we modeled everything, trying to figure out how to use our time wisely. … We modeled every person who supported the President about whether or not they would volunteer. … [W]e had a whole bunch of data points: … your voting history, your giving history. Everything we knew about [you] allowed us to figure out whether or not you were going to volunteer. We even modeled whether or not people were going to be a better direct mail giver or an online giver. We did a test about a year ago with a piece of Michelle Obama mail that we split the universe in half and we did half the old way that direct mail consultants have been talking about for a very long time, and half using our data analytics world. … [T]he data analytics world over-performed by 14 percent -- which, in our world, is a bunch of money.” Story and video clips Full video

We have seen the future, and it works.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

pampered officials

The journalistic carrion birds are now picking over General Petraeus and General Allen and suggesting that senior officers work in a bubble of sycophants and live in a world of billionaire-style perks. Writers in the Washington Post even quote the former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates complaining about the personal support provided to his neighbor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
“I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time,” Gates said in response to a question after a speech Thursday. He wryly complained to his wife that [Admiral] “Mullen’s got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I’m shoving something into the microwave. And I’m his boss.”
I know all the justifications. Busy officials shouldn't have to iron their own shirts. Those overseeing national security need to be protected at all times from bad guys.

And yet... State Department officials usually have to fly commercial to do their vital business. CIA analysts are encouraged to disagree with their superiors if they believe the facts warrant it. It's also troubling that military officers can retire after 20 years, take another government job at full salary and full pension, and have the most socialized medicine system in the world for life, while the rest of us hope we don't lose our jobs and with it our health care, much less our pensions.

A partial remedy is for those officers, and senior civilians as well, to have to experience some of the daily facts of life their subordinates endure. Make them commute by public transit one day a month. Make them go through a TSA inspection every tenth flight. Make them do their own grocery shopping once in a while. Make them handle their own phone calls and office equipment for just one hour a week.  You get the idea.

How dysfunctional is Congress?

Well, compared to what? It's more open and transparent than in the early years, when the Senate met in secret until 1795. There's much less personal corruption than people witnessed in the 19th century. Members are better informed now that they have larger staffs and support institutions like the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office. [Full disclosure: I was one of those staffers for 22 years.]

On the other hand, partisan divisions and gridlock on vital national policies is higher than ever before, or at least higher than at the start of the 20th century.

I like to give my students this quotation from the president of the American Political Science Association:

“The indictment against the existing system of congressional control is impressive. It is basically control over details, not over essentials. It is negative and repressive rather than positive and constructive. It reflects fear rather than confidence. It is sometimes irresponsible. It is based on no rational plan, but is an accumulation of particulars whose consequences are seldom seen in perspective. Congress has done both too much and too little in trying to discharge this phase of its responsibilities. … The Statues at Large and the annual appropriations acts are cluttered with a mass of detailed prohibitions and limitations upon administrative action. They represent in part a process of legislation by exasperation. Unfortunately, these often petty restrictions tend to continue and to accumulate. They hamper good administration and miss the mark as a means of control.”
Sounds pretty damning. And it was -- in 1945, when Leonard White wrote those words.

Since then, Congress has instituted major reforms -- in its procedures, in its committee system, in campaign laws.  But there's still a long way to go. So I agree with the analysis and recommendations of Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, who say it is even worse than it looks.

I especially hope that the incoming Senate changes its rules to minimize use of the filibuster. But more on that later.

a Nation of immigrants

Many years ago, I won the equivalent of over $800 in today's dollars in a contest based on knowledge of the life and ideas of Alexander Hamilton.  I've been a Hamilton fan ever since.

The more I study Hamilton, the more impressed I am with his understanding of economic forces and his prescient vision for American greatness.  Yes, he wrote that "a national debt is a national blessing," but only because federal assumption and financing of the debt would bind the former colonies together. The key word there is "national," not "debt." But he also wrote the 1971 Report on Manufactures that advocated government support for research and development as well as a few protective tariffs for certain infant industries.  This was encouraging entrepreneurs, not picking winners and losers.

I'm currently reading a fine by by Thomas McCraw, an emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School who died shortly after the book was published in October. McCraw has dual biographies of Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, the longest serving Secretary of the Treasury, that argue for their superior understanding of economic policy compared to their early American contemporaries.

McCraw has an important repetitive point I hadn't thought about before -- that men like Hamilton and Gallatin were able to take a national perspective on policy matters precisely because they were immigrants. They identified with the new nation while many of the other founders had their strongest loyalties to their home states.

He notes this of participants in the Constitutional Convention in 1787:
"Of the fifty-five delegates who had assembled in Philadelphia,. thirty-nine signed the Constitution.  Seven of the eight immigrant delegates signed and one did not. By contrast, of the forty-seven native-born delegates, thirty-two signed and fifteen did not -- including two of the three from New York and four of the seven from Virginia."
Among those non-signers were George Mason and Patrick Henry.

I think he's right. America is a nation of immigrants and more of a nation because of immigrants.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

diplomatic security

Read how it was in the good(?) old days, when U.S. ambassadors packed heat and drove themselves around turbulent countries. Robert Worth has an article in next Sunday's New York Times magazine, released today, raising the question of whether diplomats can really do their jobs in shielded against all risks.

It's a very difficult judgment, but I share the view of those who think we've gone too far.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

conservative realism

Kori Schake is an experienced national security professional with strong conservative views. I've worked with her and have the highest respect for her. As a regular contributor to the Shadow Government blog at Foreign Policy magazine, she has offered telling critique's of the Obama Administration's foreign policy.

Now she has written a post-election warning to conservatives to listen to the voters.

Conservatives need to face it squarely: We lost the argument. Voters gave us a hearing, gave us the opportunity to make our case, then decided they didn't trust us to solve their problems any more than they did a president who passed legislation they didn't like, by means they didn't approve of, behaved recklessly with the nation's finances, and seemed uninterested in working with the opposition. We need to take ownership of losing the argument rather than taking refuge in excuses or despairing for the future.

On the deficit/defense dilemma, she says:
But we were implausible in our policies. We insisted defense must increase and emphasized growing dangers that will demand more wars. We railed about the Obama administration's defense cuts when our alternative in the House included the same reductions. We criticized the president for not embracing Bowles-Simpson but didn't vote for it ourselves. After arguing debt's centrality, we flatly rejected deals that would have a ten to one cuts to spending ratio. 
Schake also makes a plea to limit the use of policy by executive orders and use the legislative process to build national consensus on security policies. I agree.

Monday, November 12, 2012

plan B

Another reason for the Obama victory is that the campaign had a Plan B, a fallback for a possibly crashing computer system that the Romney campaign, despite its management experience and expertise, failed to have.  The story is here.

John Dickerson also explains why the Romney numbers and expectations never matched up with reality.

we don't need a draft

Every so often, a prominent public figure calls for a return to a draft for the U.S. armed forces.  They usually argue that military service is a civic obligation that shouldn't be contracted out to mercenaries, however patriotic they may be, or that a draft would make it less likely that America would get involved  in unwise wars.

While I agree that public service, in uniform or as a civilian, is virtuous and ennobling and ought to be generously rewarded, I don't think that conscription would solve either of the problems cited by proponents.

Any draft would be unfair to many of the people conscripted. There is no way to fashion a fair draft. Include women? At all stages of education, marriage and motherhood? Allow no exemptions for education or parental care or child care? Require remedial action to meet mental or fitness standards? Include or exclude green card holders? You see what I mean. And a draft widely seen as unfair would weaken our patriotic cohesion, not strengthen it. Another point is that, if you take all volunteers before you take any draftees, you may end up with a less qualified force demographically.

To avoid unwise wars, we already have a system in place -- under the Constitution. Congress is supposed to act to authorize the use of force in major military operations, but it hasn't been very diligent about upholding its rightful role.

Now we have retired lieutenant general David Barno with his interesting but still flawed proposal:
One policy to better connect our wars to our people might be to determine that every use of military force over 60 days would automatically trigger an annual draft lottery to call up 10,000 men and women. They would serve in every branch of service for the duration of the conflict, replaced by future draft tranches in limited, like-sized numbers. Ten thousand draftees would comprise only about 5 percent of the number of new recruits the military takes in each year, but they would signify a symbolic commitment of the entire nation. Every family in the country would now be exposed to the potential consequences of our wars and come to recognize in a personal way that they had a stake in the outcome. The national calculus on go-to-war decisions subtly changes when all families can be called upon to answer the call to arms.
Besides the fact that we don't want 10,000 newly inducted but barely trained soldiers being plunged into combat, this proposal would make military service a drastic punishment by lottery  -- as if we used a lottery to decide which presumed pot smokers among 18-22 year olds should be sent to jail without a trial, as a warning to others. Or if we took away the driver's license of one person by lottery in response to every traffic death.

Lincoln led from behind

I don't see many movies in a real cinema anymore, but I think I should do for Spielberg's "Lincoln." Daniel Day Lewis is a superb actor -- and who couldn't be excited by a movie about the legislative process [passing the 13th amendment]?

Among the articles discussing the Civil War as we commemorate its sesquicentennial is this piece in The American Scholar by Professor Louis P. Masur of Rutgers.

I knew from my own research and writing that Lincoln was slow to accept abolition f slavery as a war aim and that he withheld the emancipation proclamation until Union forces won the bloody battle of Antietam.

I was especially struck by Masur's citation of some white soldiers' letters admitting that they had changed their own views as a result of the war and of seeing black soldiers fighting for the Union.
The Emancipation Proclamation and black military participation transformed the  thinking of many white soldiers. Charles Wills, who enlisted as a private with the 8th Illinois and rose to be a lieutenant colonel with the 103rd Illinois, marveled at his own transformation. In summer 1863, Wills confessed, “I never thought I would, but I am getting strongly in favor of arming them [blacks], and am becoming so blind that I can’t see why they will not make soldiers. How queer. A year ago last January I didn’t like to hear anything of emancipation. Last fall accepted confiscation of rebel’s negroes quietly. In January took to emancipation readily, and now believe in arming the negroes.” Another soldier, Silas Shearer of the 23rd Iowa, had a similar experience. “My principles have changed since I last saw you,” he informed his wife. “When I was at home I was opposed to the medling of Slavery where it then Existed but since the Rebls got to such a pitch and it became us as a Military needsisity … to abolish Slavery and I say Amen to it and I believe the Best thing that has been done Since the War broke out is the Emancipation Proclimation.”
This is further proof that Lincoln led the country not by jumping into the radical forefront but by pushing it from behind until it reached the conclusions that he held.

post mortems

“There were just too many damn Democrats,” the pollster said.  This anonymous statement from a Republican pollster is part of a lengthy analysis by Politico of why so many polls were wrong, anticipating a Romney win over Obama. The consensus seems to be that the adjustments made to the raw polling data assumed a whiter and older and more Republican electorate than what actually showed up at ballot time.

Another Republican regretted that his team just didn't believe the openly declared Obama strategy:

Another Republican fumed at the party’s unwillingness to heed the Obama campaign’s publicly broadcast intentions to expand the 2012 electorate and keep minority and youth turnout high.
“For a year, they were saying in their YouTube videos and memos, ‘This is what we’re going to do, we’re going to turn all these people out,’ ” the Republican said. “They told us exactly what they were going to do and we just didn’t believe it.
Still another explanation is that Republicans were caught in their own "media cocoon."


Friday, November 9, 2012

winds of change in Florida

Cuban-Americans are becoming more divided politically, a less solid Republican bloc, according to this year's voting in Florida. That is newsworthy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

return on investment

Never mind my previous post. The Sunlight Foundation reports the amazingly low return on investment for some of the Super PACs. It notes that Karl Rove's groups spent over $200 million and supported no winning candidates.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Money and results

So what did the $6 billion spent on the various campaigns actually buy?  I have a hypothesis that I hope some energetic researcher will test: that the strong showing by Republican House candidates came in part from advertising by Super PACs and other unaffiliated groups.  It's surprising to me that so many Tea Party radicals won reelection. Redistricting helped, of course, but I wonder whether many incumbents were saved by the outside money.

quants win

After so many weeks of efforts to find holes in the polls, the pundits now need to acknowledge that the geeky guys who analyzed and aggregated the opinion surveys were right, not just close, but right on the money with their estimates.

The election also showed that the sophisticated Democratic ground game, propelled by extensive quantitative analysis, allowed them to get their people to vote in large numbers.

The Obama team knew how to win allt he states they won in 2008 and wound up winning all but two [or three if Florida ends up in Romney's column].  The future of campaigning is with the quants.

mandate for more of the same

Rarely do presidential elections represent a mandate to do particular things. Most of the time, including this year, they merely show that one team got more of its supporters to the polls than the other team. Although there was ticket splitting in some states -- Indiana, Montana, North Dakota -- I don't think voters were deliberately choosing divided government.

But that's what we'll have for the next two years. I'm sure that the renewed Republican majority in the House will feel vindicated in victory, as will the Democrats in the Senate and White House.  I hope, however, that instead of thinking that the voters said "hang tough" they will act as if the voters said "work something out."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wow! Is it that bad?

Rosa Brooks is a law professor who served in the Pentagon earlier in the Obama administration and is obviously well-connected to inside circles on national security policy. But she has a piece on the Foreign Policy website that argues that Obama's foreign policy team is dysfunctional.

Some of her criticisms are misplaced. She says the President has no grand strategy or a strategy-producing office -- but that's been largely true for most of the last 65 years, with a few minor exceptions such as the Nixon-Kissinger years. She suggests that current officials are bad managers and don't know enough about their jobs. That may be true of a few people, but I've seen and heard many of these folks -- outside of the policy discussions, of course -- and doubt that they merit such criticism. She goes further, and urges Obama to "get rid of the jerks."  She must have had some nasty arguments with somebody, for I think she exaggerates the number of truly objectionable personalities there are in high positions. [I remember a lot of people considered Dick Clarke, the counter-terrorism official at the NSC in three administrations, for having sharp elbows and a loud voice, but he got good results.]

I do agree with Ms Brooks in criticizing Obama's reluctance to use some of his political capital on the Hill to fight harder for some of his foreign policy goals. And I'm worried if some of her asides are true, such as her claim that "McDonough and Donilon can barely stand each other" and "Cronyism" determines who attends White House meetings.  But the bulk of her arguments sound like sour grapes.

missing debate issues

The respected, though aging, CBS newsman Bob Schieffer will moderate Monday's encounter between President Obama and Governor Romney on foreign policy issues.

Here's the list of broad topics issued by Schieffer:
America’s role in the world
Our longest war — Afghanistan and Pakistan
Red lines — Israel and Iran
The changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism — I
The changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism — II
The rise of China and tomorrow’s world
What's missing? Big stuff.

No questions on the Pentagon or defense spending -- a clear point of difference between the candidates.

No questions on the criteria for the use of force, whether in Iran or Syria or ... Mexico.

No questions on the war powers of the President, either regarding Iran or drones or targeted killings.

No questions on [my favorite topic of] civil-military relations.

Maybe Schieffer will shoehorn some of these issues into his announced topics, or maybe the candidates will broaden their answers. I hope so. Otherwise, this will be a truncated and woefully inadequate one.

budget pipe dreams

I got all excited when I read that the Bipartisan Policy Center had developed a "grand bargain to avoid the 'fiscal cliff." Then I read the 3-page proposal.  It's superficially interesting but could never happen in practice.

The BPC wants Congress to follow an "accelerated regular order" -- meaning, no Senate filibusters allowed and committees of jurisdiction do all the work -- to pass a deficit reduction package. That sounds reasonable, but Senators would have to agree to carve out an exception to their right to filibuster in this case. In fact, the same result could be achieved by following the reconciliation process, as was done to pass Obamacare.

The real flaw in the proposal is the demand for an automatic "backstop" that would occur if Congress failed to adopt the required laws. The last time we tried that, barely a year ago, it was called a "sequester" and now everybody is complaining that they passed it. The BPC explain this backstop this way:
The Executive Branch shall eliminate any shortfall – whether from the failure of the debt reduction bill to become law or from insufficient debt reduction contained therein – by achieving the requisite amount of debt reduction compared to the current policy baseline: half of the savings would come from reductions to all mandatory and entitlement programs (with the exception of Social Security) and half from reductions in all federal tax expenditures. The framework recognizes that the backstop of cuts in mandatory programs and tax expenditures will require flexible treatment – certainly, cutting an entitlement program involves different considerations than cutting a tax expenditure.

I really don't see how the President alone, absent votes by Congress on new laws, could reduce spending on mandatory and entitlement programs, and especially not on tax expenditures. Remember, his chief constitutional responsibility is to see that the laws are faithfully executed. If the law says people get a tax deduction for a charitable contribution or home mortgage interest, how can the President can change the law or the tax collection rules or the forms to make that happen. Dumb idea in pursuit of a worthy goal.

Monday, October 15, 2012

military endorsements of politicians

The Center for a New American Security has a report just out examining the influence of military endorsements of candidates. The CNAS press release summarizes the findings:

  • Military endorsements may benefit Democratic candidates more than Republicans by dispelling historical notions that Democrats are not strong on defense issues.
  • The extent to which military endorsements damage a candidate's campaign is modest enough that such warnings can be ignored.
  • However, endorsements may produce troubling effects regarding public views of the military. The survey provided some evidence that endorsements and politicization may undermine confidence in the military as an institution over the long term.
Ultimately, the authors conclude that "military endorsements are just attractive enough for campaigns to use them, yet not so attractive that it is impossible to think they would ever stop." They argue in support of those like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey who would seek to eliminate military endorsements in presidential campaigns, and suggest steps that campaigns can take to help establish a taboo against these endorsements.

Sounds reasonable to me. There's a real danger if the people view the military as a partisan force, and it's not correct to say that retired generals aren't really treated as spokesmen for the active force.

October surprises

There is a long and not very encouraging tradition of October surprises involving foreign policy shaking up presidential campaigns.In 1968, Nixon aides passed word to the South Vietnamese president to resist peace proposals from the Johnson administration that were aimed at helping the candidacy of Hubert Humphrey. In 1972 Henry Kissinger gave a dramatic -- and highly misleading -- news conference just before the election announcing that "peace is at hand" in Vietnam. In 1980, again just days before the election, the Iranians broke off negotiations with the Carter administration on releasing the Americans held hostage at the U.S. embassy. In 2000, the attack on the U.S. Navy ship Cole may have helped the chances of George W. Bush.

This year, the Republicans are trying to turn the Banghazi attacks into a foreign policy issue rather than a narrower question of balancing risks and resourcing security.  Now it turns out that the issue of an October surprise came up in the infamous "47 percent" tape of Gov. Romney's Florida fundraiser. One of the contributors asked whether Romney could take advantage of a problem like Carter's with the hostages, and Romney replied, "I mean, if something of that nature presents itself I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity."  I guess that shouldn't be surprising any more.

Lincoln the politician

Abraham Lincoln was a great president -- and a skilled politician. He knew how to inspire people, build coalitions, sideline his rivals, and defeat his enemies. Too many people like to think he must have been above the fray because he accomplished so much and was personally quite admirable. It's useful to be reminded that Lincoln succeeded as he did because he was good at politics.  Years ago, I got my first understanding of Lincoln the politico in David Donald's great biography.

Now we have a long article on the same theme by Sidney Blumenthal.  Worth reading. In truth, all of our greatest presidents have been good at politics.

Romney and the neocons

Presidential campaigns attract people who want jobs, especially people who worked in an earlier administration and want back in the game. Once Mitt Romney was the likely Republican nominee, he was surrounded by former officials from Bush 41 and 43 administrations, both pragmatists like Bob Zoellick and neocons like John Bolton. Romney has sung from both hymnbooks in recent months, but now the campaign is putting out the word that it wants to put daylight between Romney and the neocons.

It might be true. It's certainly a useful line to put out when those advisers seem trigger happy, eager to get America into another war or two, and the public doesn't want to hear it.

deficit delusions

Russell Long, longtime Senator from Louisiana, summed up the American attitude toward taxation as, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind a tree." The same attitude applies to cutting federal programs in order to reduce the deficit. A new Pew poll not surprisingly finds that  the only changes approved by a majority of those surveyed are taxes on incomes over $250,000 and limiting the tax deductions for large corporations. Reducing funds for defense, science, education and the poor all get majority disapproval.

The only way around such views, I think, is a package of revenue increases and spending cuts that's big enough to make a difference, but with particular items small enough to be tolerable.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

telephone trivia

You can date a movie by the cars, the clothes and hairstyles, or by the telephone technology. I seen recent movies that depend on texting and older movies where the plot depended on an inability to reach someone on the move. There are even older films, like the gripping "Sorry, Wrong Number" that turn on the availability of a human operator. It's fun to watch, and to remember the old days.

How many people today know why there are no letters on the dial -- sorry, I guess they're all keypads now -- for 1 and zero? The answer derives from the fact that early phones connected to a central operator by lifting the receiver and creating a click. More here. When direct dialing was introduced, and the system worked by the number of clicks, not the different tones on modern phones, a single click was reserved for reaching a trunk link or an operator.  The exchanges were built around names using the first two letters -- hence PEnnsylvania 6-5000, the Glen Miller song from World War II. Over time, phone numbers expanded from 6 to 7 to 10 digits. As recently as the 1980s, I had a weekend cottage served by a small rural telephone company that let us call anyone local by dialing only four numbers. You could also choose between private [individual] and "party" [shared] lines, where you could listen to your neighbors, and they to you, and new calls could not be made until the other party ended their call.

Another difference between now and then was the high cost of long distance calls. Many families had little 3-minute egg timer hourglasses by the phone so that they would keep their holiday calls to family members short. When I first started working in Washington, I would drive to work on weekends in order to use the office WATS [wide area telephone service] line for calls to my parents in Denver. Now we can have Skype video calls almost anywhere in the world for the price of an out of state call four decades ago.

Cuban missile crisis revisited

I finished the revisionist history book on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and was persuaded that Kennedy administration officials, including Bobby Kennedy and Ted Sorensen deliberately misled the American people on what happened.  There was no "Trollope ploy." The president actually overrode the unanimous views of his advisers when he decided to accept the Soviet offer to remove U.S. nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy in exchange for withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. And despite years of denials, the United States did promise not to invade Castro's Cuba.

Les Gelb also has a good piece on the lessons of the crisis. There was a diplomatic bargain, deliberately kept secret but real nonetheless. This was not a case of Soviet surrender to American threats. I hope would-be commanders-in-chief would learn that lesson -- and also learn how close we came, through accidents and misjudgments to a nuclear exchange that likely would have led to a civilization-destroying nuclear war.

military measures

Campaign discussions of defense issues routinely degenerate into scary numbers and misleading comparisons. The GOP ticket, for example, warns that we will soon have the smallest navy since before World War I. Numerically true, but highly misleading. Many Democrats like to point out that the United States is spending  more on defense than the rest of the world combined and, even with recent cuts as we draw down from Iraq and Afghanistan, are spending at levels above the average during the Cold War. Also numerically true, but no justification for either cuts or increases in future spending. Still other analysts say that we are wasting money on the wrong kinds of weapons acquired in the least efficient way.

The true test of military strength is not what we spend, but what we get for those expenditures; not how many particular units, people, or weapons we have compared with others, but how well they can perform in combat. Regrettably, we have a predictable tendency to make decisions in peacetime on the basis of efficiency and in wartime on the basis of effectiveness.

Over time, these cross-pressures tend to balance out. We still tend to put a premium on systems that are best for offense rather than defense; we still prefer high tech promise over lower tech reliability; we continue to underestimate the true costs of most equipment we acquire. On the other hand, we eventually embraced unmanned aerial vehicles; we eventually adopted counterinsurgency doctrine and trained units for it; we traded numbers for capabilities time and again -- even when that left the navy with fewer ships than in 1916.

I wish our debates would focus on threats, capabilities, combat effectiveness, and ways to reduce long term costs rather than on the misleading measures tossed about in the current debates.

politicizing tragedy

I'm getting pretty disgusted with Republican efforts to make political gains as a result of the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. That evidently is the new GOP strategy.

Their logic seems to be:  President Obama must be judged a failed president because: [1] the intelligence community changed its assessment as to whether the attack was premeditated by a terrorist group; [2] State Department security officials failed to field a large, well-armed force to defeat the attack which was launched; [3] those same officials denied a request to extend the tour of a military unit providing security for the embassy in Tripoli; and [4] somehow these actions by subordinate units of the U.S. government demonstrate the broader critique that America is less safe than four years ago, that the President is a failed leader, and that he apologizes for America.

It doesn't follow. What Benghazi showed was how chaotic Libya and much of the post-Arab spring world is. And that chaos is not, as Gov. Romney seems to argue, because the Obama administration failed to side with demonstrators earlier or because the struggle is between "democracy and despotism." Moreover, the answer is not a platoon of soldiers with tanks and helicopters accompanying every U.S. diplomat, but careful assessments balancing risks and diplomatic needs. Sec. Clinton made that point well yesterday. Right now, we have the ridiculous situation where officials can't do their jobs with tight security and thus face risks that can lead to tragedy. That's a dilemma, not proof of a failed presidency.

Monday, October 8, 2012

historical revisions

I'm getting exposed to a lot of historical revisionism this week. I'm reading a book on the Cuban missile crisis that cites persuasive evidence from the secretly recorded tapes to show that most Kennedy administration officials, especially the president's brother, distorted the facts to make themselves look good to history.

I read another persuasive piece that casts doubt on James K. Polk's strategic goals, demonstrating that the most persuasive evidence was created only long after the fact.

And now, here's a piece arguing that Manhattan was not purchased from the Native Americans by the Dutch for $24. Whatever deal was made, and it's not clear what the property involved was, should be valued around $951 in today's dollars.

Who knows? At this rate, I may read that Columbus didn't really discover America....

military politics

The not surprising news today is that military personnel tend to be Republican and pro-Romney. The Military Times newspapers conduct a poll of subscribers and report results here. The respondents are probably a reasonable cross section of subscribers, but hardly of the armed forces. Only 16% of the people in uniform are officers; over 1/3 of those in the poll were in the middle officer grades. Moreover, 80% of the respondents were white and 91% male. So older white male people in uniform tend to be Republican. Hardly breaking news.

My worry is not how people in the armed forces vote, but whether they identify openly with a party and proselytize for it, and thus undercut public confidence in their ability to follow the orders of whoever is commander in chief. I don't think we are anywhere near a danger point on that score, as we were during the Clinton years, but civilian control is always a fragile thing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

sputnik anniversary

October 4 marked the 55th anniversary of the shock and awe when the Soviet Union launched the world’s first space satellite, and Americans worried that the United States was suddenly threatened by Soviet missiles.

            While U.S. concerns now seem exaggerated, the American response to the Soviet sputnik was far-reaching in its scope and in its consequences. In fact, the reaction led to U.S. leadership in space, science, education, and defense for many years to come.

            On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent its 184-pound sputnik  into orbit, shocking Americans who had assumed that scientific breakthroughs were always “Made in the USA.” The United States had planned only a 3-pound, grapefruit-sized Vanguard satellite, not realizing that the world was ready to watch a space race in which both speed and size mattered.

     There was other evidence of Soviet prowess in missiles. In August and September of 1957, the USSR had two successful flights of its first intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs], compared to two test failures of the American Atlas missile. Six months before, the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that the Russians would not likely have any operational ICBMs until 1961. A new National Intelligence Estimate forecast 10 operational Soviet  ICBMs by 1959, 100 by 1960 and 500 by 1962 – compared to an expected U.S. force of only 24 ICBMs  by 1960 and 65 by 1961.

     A month after the first sputnik, the Russians launched a dog into orbit in a satellite weighing more than half a ton. The very next day, President Eisenhower met with a panel of scientists and defense experts –the Gaither Committee – that he had appointed several months earlier. That group concluded that  the USSR had “probably surpassed us in ICBM development” and warned of “an increasing threat which may become critical in 1959 or early 1960.”

     This was the basis for the feared “missile gap,” which helped John F. Kennedy win the presidency in 1960.

In fact, that gap was turned in the United States’ favor by the American response to sputnik. Eisenhower adopted many of the Gaither group’s recommendations, though not their rhetoric. He accelerated U.S. missile programs as well as the effort to build a nuclear-powered submarine. He increased his next defense budget almost 4% and approved increases in the planned size of the ICBM force by 62% and a tripling of the planned intermediate range missile [IRBM] force. To guard against surprise Soviet attacks, the president ordered greater dispersal of U.S. bombers as well as the start of a limited airborne alert bomber force. He also secured NATO agreement to allow the European basing of American IRBMs.

     Eisenhower also seized upon the sputnik crisis to push for a new law, long resisted by Congress but finally adopted in 1958, strengthening the power of the Secretary of Defense and consolidating military research and development programs. One outgrowth was the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency [ARPA, later DARPA], which funded the basic research that subsequently led to stealth aircraft, high speed computers, and the Internet.

The president and congress also concluded that America needed to boost its brainpower as well as its military firepower. Eisenhower named the first Presidential Science Advisor and supported creation of a civilian space agency, NASA. Lawmakers supported his defense budget increases, but also tripled the funds going to the National Science Foundation.

One of the most far-reaching educational measures was the National Defense Act of 1958 [NDEA], establishing a four-year program college student loans,  science, math and foreign language teaching, and graduate student fellowships in science, engineering, and foreign area study. That program totaled almost $4.4 billion in today’s dollars. [Full disclosure: thanks to NDEA money, I was able to be the first in my family to go to college.]

In the decade after sputnik, these measures tripled the number of doctorates awarded and doubled the share of U.S. GNP devoted to basic scientific research. The success of the NDEA led to other federal programs aiding education at all levels.

Today we are richer, better educated, more technologically advanced, and better protected against a wide range of military threats thanks to the way Americans came together in a bipartisan way to respond to sputnik a half century ago.

the first debate

I don't like to use this space to promote my party preferences, but I probably should comment on the Obama-Romney debate because I used to be a pretty good college debater and even a debate coach.

I know what a winning debater looks like, and this week his name was Mitt Romney. He was fluent, well-prepared, well-organized with both general propositions and pertinent facts. He had an effective style and substance. President Obama, by contrast, had some reasonable substance, but he sure lacked the style.

I saw the contest as one between the Salesman and the Professor. And politics is mostly a sales job. [Remember my citation of Maverick's line that I consider the politician's credo: If you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, those are pretty good odds.]

What's really surprising to me is that this really was a "debate," not just a joint news conference. Jim Lehrer invited the candidates to explain their differences with their opponent on each topic. Romney was prepared to do that; Obama was less well-prepared or at least less eager to engage combatively.

What Romney needs for the remaining two debates is more of the same, plus practice responding to a more aggressive opponent.

What Obama needs is more practice, more concentration on key arguments -- both main points and vivid examples, and recognition that appearances are important. He has to look up, not down; show eagerness to be there and to engage on the substance; and be dignified ["presidential"] but relaxed.

science news has to be newsworthy

Surprise: the only science news that makes the news is whatever is new and different.  It's the same pattern followed by the Big Lie that gets attention, while the correction comes in small print in an obscure place.

This shouldn't be surprising to anyone who followed the conventional wisdom of foods to avoid or hormone treatments to try or to avoid, only to learn much later -- never mind.  Researchers find it hard to get money or publications if they show lack of confirmation of exciting theories, much less a solid alternative theory.

There's hard evidence in a report cited by Ezra Klein and the Economist.

Read them and remember next time you see a science story.