Simple choices Dep’t

This November’s election is a between a party devoted to making Osama bin Laden’s dream of a war to the death between al-Islam and the West into a reality and a party devoted to preventing it. Pick your side. But please don’t tell me it doesn’t matter.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

14 thoughts on “Simple choices Dep’t”

  1. I just wish the choice wasn't between a party that will kidnap and torture people and extra judicial killings and a party that that covers for the kidnapping and torturing of people plus extra judicial killings.

  2. Amen, Rob.

    Honestly, I think normalizing Cheney is the worse sin of the two.

    Being the sort of conservative that pines for the quaint old days of the Magna Carta, I'm honestly not as convinced that it matters as Mark seems to.

  3. And normalizing Bush, whom Obama called before his speech about supposedly withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and then praised in the speech. It's bad enough not to prosecute war criminals, but why does he treat Bush as an elder statesman? Is Obama still striving for bipartisanship? Does he expect to win Republican votes?

  4. I'd like to thank all three of you for making my point. We have a party that wants to start a worldwide War of Faith and a party that wants to avoid one. And all you can find time to do is complain about the leader of the part that wants to avoid war, because he's not as mean to the other side as your revenge-fantasies demand. Unfortunately, you don't have to be an idiot to be what Lenin called a "useful idiot": someone whose political thinking is so divorced from reality that he winds up helping the wrong side. Try to wake up from your dreams of moral superiority and smell the coffee: or, in this case, the blood. The bin Laden/Limbaugh coalition is playing for keeps.

  5. My complaint is not that Obama is "not as mean to the other side as [my] revenge-fantasies demand." I do not seek revenge; I propose that we look forward and try to deter future presidents and others from committing war crimes. And Obama could share that goal without being mean. And what's wrong with complaining? I thought that the original post was objecting not to complaining, but to failing to vote Democratic. Of the three initial commenters, only Jamie implies that he would not vote for Obama as the lesser evil. But you'd have us not only vote for the lesser evil, but not complain about his evil?

  6. it's a continuum, folks. Vote for the folks closest to your views, and open up more room for folks actually holding your views.

    It's not like the Democrats moved left after the Nader fiasco – quite the opposite.

  7. "I’m honestly not as convinced that it matters as Mark seems to."

    Jamie, I think the relative lack in difference in policy between parties has more to do with the state of gridlock in Washington politics than actual lack of philosophical agreement. Just imagine for a second if there was no middle, and it was a choice between what the Democratic base and the Republican base want. Those are hugely different scenarios. That fact that we aren't there is more a reflection of our divided nation, and the conservative structure of our political process.

    That said, I think there enormous differences in the things that actually get done. Hell, appointing cabinet officials who actually believe in their jobs was worth electing a democratic president. As for November, I'm just counting on representatives who are not insane.

  8. The correct strategy for disgruntled progressive Democrats is Glenn Greenwald's: support likeminded challengers to Blue Dogs and trimmers in primaries. At the very least, it will scare them into remembering the base matters, not only rich contributors. Then hold your nose and cheer for the Blue Dog in the election as by far the lesser evil. What signal does moping send? Ignore me.

    Also, don't give up hope. Whatever his other faults, Obama has proved he is a briliant campaigner; and he's only just started. Remember his low point in the summer of 2008 and the Palin bubble.

  9. . . . If you read and listen to Islamist, how they describe their world view and strategic assessment, you will discover they believe themselves to be in " a war to the death between al-Islam and the West " and behave accordingly. They are at war with the West and have been killing Americans in the furtherance of that world view since long before 2001. That world view is not subject to change since it is informed by devine, according to the Islamists, prescription. So, to avoid this war, you, the West, must submit to the Islamists. Submit or fight. That war is a already a reality yet you imagine that it can be voted away. so thats how a self-described "reality-based community" sees it. Wow! good luck with that, LOL!

  10. Eli: "I think the relative lack in difference in policy between parties has more to do with the state of gridlock in Washington politics than actual lack of philosophical agreement."

    So? I don't want to have a beer with Obama, and I don't care what's in his heart. I want him to govern in a way consistent with the belief that due process, accountability and transparency are, you know, the law of the land. Instead, we are getting le etat cest moi. I get that campaign promises are for suckers, but I also believe in the lowest common denominator of the iterated prisoner's dilemma. And turn it around: if you're correct, then who cares? It turns into football, and I've never been able to get worked up about which color jersey won, when the result is the same – good beer sales and annoying people honking horns.

    Mark: "And all you can find time to do is complain about the leader of the part that wants to avoid war, because he’s not as mean to the other side as your revenge-fantasies demand."

    Mark, you can brush it off as revenge fantasy if you like, and also feel free to ignore your own research about behavior modification. You can call me a useful idiot because one party preaches religious tolerance while agreeing with the other that domestically, hollowing out the state, lawless authoritarianism and destruction of the middle class are the goal. If it feels good, do it, dude.

    But let's grant, arguendo, that the bombing of weddings, torture and graft aren't the problem, it is nutjobs burning books and arguments distances between YM(M)As and rubble piles. And let's say that you're right and Eli's wrong, that the color of the jerseys matters.

    Isn't that an argument for Bush III: the Rest of the First Two? After all, as so many Democrats are now noting, II kept the islamophobia down to a dull roar, something no Democrat is going to be capable of, especially a secret socialist Muslim one. We know a first-term Obama is expanding the front, even as he's moving Iraq into maintenance-occupation mode, so at most the difference is how soon Iran is on the menu. There's no big policy difference in terms of the actual bombing and torture, nor on the domestic information warfare, so the determinant for when the American Jihad ends will have more to do with when we run out of money. So. Is it your contention that year after year of bombing and torture are just, you know, no biggie, but what really makes matters is a bigot book burner? I think you should support Jeb for Pres, then.

    I'll leave aside the strategic stupidity of dropping what little negotiating power one may have, holding the nose and voting party line Because The Other Team's Worse, as I've ranted for too long already.

    (And I'm the useful idiot?)

  11. i'm so stupid for insisting there's accountability with my elected officials, especially after 20 years of volunteering and donating. i'm a worthless, ignorant, selfish person. see mark? i'm trying, i really am. tell me again a few more times so that i can really convince myself.

  12. Something like ten years prior to September 11, 2001, David Bohm, Donald Factor, and Peter Garrett wrote a paper, now easily found on the Internet, "Dialogue – A proposal" ( One Internet source, as of a few minutes ago, was:

    To me, the first paragraph describes an aspect of difficulty people tend to have when talking about really important things. The first paragraph ends with, "In our view this condition points to a deep and pervasive defect in the process of human thought."

    Before I was a year and a half of age (before the end of 1940), it was clear to me that something about people made absolutely no sense to me, and I have worked for about 70 years since then in an all-out effort to understand why I cannot understand the world of human society as it appears to me that most people readily do. Yes, I freely admit to being, plausibly, profoundly autistic. Yes, I allow that autism is a brain condition which is deemed to be of mental disorder and/or disease.

    By the mid-1990s, I decided that I might have learned enough about how to use words to be able to test, and perhaps even test definitively, whether one or both of (1.) the world view (or "weltanschauung"?) I find I have, or (2.) the world view which starkly differs from mine and which I find is seemingly almost ubiquitous, can be refuted with a valid scientific argument. Methinks I can refute the conventional/traditional view very easily.

    I hold that the deep and pervasive defect of Bohm, et al., is time-confusion (Erik H. Erikson's epigenetic chart of psycho-social developmental crises) and time-corrupted learning as brain trauma (Robert Scaer, "The Trauma Spectrum" and "The Body Bears the Burden, Second Edition."

    Time-corrupted learning? I find it is of time-corrupted learning to believe that any decision, choice, or mistake ever made or to be made ever was or ever will be avoidable. Yet, in every culture I have been able to study (and I observe that Joseph Campbell made the same sort of observation), children of about 18 months of age tend to be told, upon having done something they were told to not do or having not done something they were told to do, something of the form, "You did not do as you were told, you were disobedient, and you need to be punished so you will learn to do as you are told, because people need to learn to be obedient because society does not work if enough people are disobedient." Common versions of that lengthy form (which I have never heard told that way to any child) which I have heard, include, "You knew better because you were told." "If I told you once, I told you a thousand times…" "You're so stupid, you will never learn; now take your punishment like a man (said to a four-year-old boy)…

    It appears to me that very few folks yet understand the neuro-biology of brain decision-making. I find that a decision is made within the human brain when the neurochemical state of a synaptic cleft is such that the post-synaptic membrane either does or does not depolarize, resulting or not resulting in an axon action potential propagating to the cell body and out to dendrites. The depolarization of a post-synaptic membrane is the biological quantum of decision-making in the human brain. Any overt decision is surely (in every plausible model I can yet find) the result of many (even thousands to millions?) of individual post-synaptic membrane states within some fuzzy time interval.

    Because I can find no way within quantum-mechanical biology for any person to be sentiently aware of the precise state of every synaptic cleft in his/her brain, I find no intellligible way to hold any person "responsible" for his/her decisions. The notion of personal responsibility is a critical aspect, in my research to date, of the deep and pervasive defect in the process of human thought suggested by Bohm, et al.

    What I observe people actually do have are response abilities, and people learn what there response abilities are after some event results in their responding to it. Response abilities are learned through responding, and cannot be known in advance with certainty. I find that being taught to "believe in responsibilities" (which I find are biologically delusional) results in people developing cognitive-affective splitting, such that either an affective understanding or a cognitive understanding will prevail in any given context because cognitive and affective understanding have become irreconcilable. How this splitting happens determines whether one identifies as, in the current U.S. mass-media-fashionable political color code, as "red" or "blue."

    PLEASE NOTE: I am not using red and blue judgmentally or pejoratively; such are the colors now in vogue as I watch "the tele."

    With people who I have been able to talk at length about this, not one person of about 3000 so far has been able to describe any choice, decision, or mistake made which could have been avoided. Therefore, I conclude that the notion of the Anglo-American Adversarial System of law and justice is based on a delusion, however commonplace the delusion may be.

    It is my conjecture that, as long as a significant proportion of a population believes that choices/decisions/mistakes made could and/or should have been made differently, we will live in a society at war with itself because its individual members will be at war with themselves and will project their internal warfare condition onto others.

    Where I find I am unlike almost everyone else I have ever met is that my cognitive weltanschauung and my affective weltanschauung tell the very same story, albeit from complementary perspectives. I am not divided against myself, I am not divided against my life, any other person, or the world in which I find I actually live.

    I have never met an actually-stupid person. I have met many people who have been devastatingly hurt by the traditional socialization process, and I observe that nearly everyone is as though blind to the hurts of time-corrupted learning. I cry about this.

  13. "Obama has proved he is a briliant campaigner"

    Or just lucky? We could've used a little more campaigning over the past year. Little late now.

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