Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The RFRA: Relying on Law to Mediate Social Differences

This op-ed derives from an earlier blog post, which has less structure and links to tons of resources. 
Thanks to Craig Ladwig at IPR for improving (greatly) on my chosen title. 

And note that the two paragraphs or so, marked in blue italics toward the end, were excised from the in-print versions-- to reduce the word count and the snarkiness/preachiness of what is a sensitive topic. I think those words and sentiments are fine, as is, but people haven't been all that rational in this "discussion", so it's better safe than sorry-- at least in more public media. 
Let’s start with a riddle: What federal legislation was incredibly popular 20 years ago, but created a firestorm when Indiana passed a similar law last week? If you’ve been paying attention to any media, the answer is obvious: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)! 
Agitation and confusion over the law’s intent may lead lawmakers to tweak it. But for now, what can we say? (It’s beyond the scope of this essay, but for help on the legal aspects, I’d suggest reading Dan Conkle, Kevin Duffy, or Eugene Volokh.)
First, depending on the comparison, 19 or 30 other states have similar laws, including “liberal” states like Rhode Island and Connecticut. So, why the furor here and now? On the one hand, opponents look silly since the fervent concerns are new. Why would this law be discriminatory in Indiana, but not in other states? Why did President Obama vote for legislation like this when he was in state government? Why would the mayor of Seattle and the governor of Connecticut want to boycott Indiana when their own states have the same sort of law?
On the other hand, it tells us that context matters. Indiana’s law was passed in the wake of the recent tumult over “same-sex marriage”. And so, passage of the RFRA has been interpreted by some people to be focused simply on “gay rights”. (How quickly we’ve forgotten the Hobby Lobby case!)
Second, the state laws are based on a Federal law passed by President Clinton and a strongly Democratic Congress in 1993. Of our 538 legislators, only three Senators voted against it! The law was introduced by Chuck Schumer (D-NY), probably the next Senate Minority Leader.
As Schumer, Obama, Clinton, and thousands of other politicians are pressed by journalists, it will be interesting to hear them explain how the 1993 effort was glorious, while the 2015 law is evil.
Third, it's not clear how much of this is political posturing. If you're posing, please stop. You're part of "the problem". If you're responding to posers, you might want to take a deep breath. (Stephen Warner has a terrific blog post on this angle. He argues that the bill “says nothing and means nothing”, given its vagueness. And he notes that neither "discrimination" nor anything about sexuality appears in the RFRA.)
Let’s turn from observations to some basic questions. First, what are the practical concerns with such laws? These are complex issues—and it is difficult to write laws in a way that deals with all contingencies. (The likely effort to revise the bill speaks to this reality.) Moreover, this law will not operate in a vacuum; there is a stable of relevant laws that strive to limit discrimination and balance competing interests.
Second, a more important question: Why is it ethical to force business owners to serve people? The strongest answer is that we don’t want some people to impose direct and significant harm on others, especially when the harm is larger. But this remedy is problematic when the use of force itself causes direct and significant harm. If an owner refuses to produce t-shirts for a racist group, the group members are harmed, but forcing the owner to make the shirts will cause harm as well.
Third, why is it alright to force business owners to serve certain people, but only in some, politically-correct contexts? Should an owner be forced to serve customers who are legally carrying guns? Should a homosexual store owner be forced to decorate a cake with Romans 1:26-27? Should a Catholic school be forced to hire non-Catholics or teach doctrine that contradicts their beliefs? Should the Affordable Care Act have tried to force Hobby Lobby and other companies to provide insurance for morally-troubling abortifacients?
In this light, the larger issue is an over-reliance on law to mediate social differences. Or putting it another way: Can’t we all just get along? My family and I visited Selma again last week. But today, we’re not talking about systemic, massive abuses of civil rights by the majority population—as with racial problems, 50 years ago in the South. The current complaints are centered on the occasional landlord, restaurant owner, photographer, or baker.
This should be especially easy to understand for self-styled "liberals" who promote themselves as "pro-choice", tolerant, and empathic. Christians should do well here too: a call to high moral standards while practicing robust forms of tolerance and love.
What do we have now? Partisan TV viewers, “Facebook lawyers” cheering for their team, and a bunch of children playing “gotcha”. A same-sex couple wants to bully a conservative Christian into decorating their cake. A shallow Christian wants to sue a gay man who doesn’t want to make an offensive t-shirt. It reminds me of a kid with a magnifying glass torturing an insect. Put down the magnifying glass of litigation and act like an adult.

Instead of relying on the law to address these things, how about we just grow up a little bit? Recognize that people won’t always agree with us—sometimes on profound matters—and some will even try to hurt us. When we encounter those people, fight back if you must. But more often than not, try to empathize, practice a robust form of tolerance, pity them if it’s vital to you, and just move along with your life. 

nine tips for running an effective Christian small group discussion

Let's start by defining some of the terms. 

1.) "Effective" depends on your goals. My goal is to make disciples and disciple-makers-- disciples who can make disciples. So, what are your goals and how can a small group discussion be most effective in promoting these goals?   

2.) Likewise, "Christian small group" implies something beyond merely social, but it also includes a significant social element. A "Christian small group" also implies a significant study piece-- whether book or video, whether a book of the Bible or a book by a Christian author (or a secular book studied from a Christian perspective). 

3.) "Small group" is anything between, say, 2-100 people, but more likely in the 5-60 range. The first of two huge barriers to effective discipleship is getting people to move from a large group format (e.g., worship service) to a small group format. 

4.) There's far more to an effective small group than simply the discussion! In terms of making disciples and disciple-makers, it is crucial to reach both head and heart, to convey knowledge and to model behavior, to love and serve people within the group in addition to teaching and exhorting them, and so on. 

One quick exhortation here: Learn people's names within the first meeting-- or before you meet them if possible. Take pictures, study their names, pray over your group members. In a group of modest size, there is NO excuse for not knowing their names after you've met them once. 

So, in a word, my comments are aimed at the discussion piece of a small group that intends to build up disciples and disciple-makers. 

1.) Encourage them to do something more than just show up. The second (and most over-looked) barrier to effective discipleship is "moving past passivity", especially passivity outside the group meeting. In lighter groups, "homework" should be encouraged. (For example, if you're covering John 9, encourage them to read it multiple times that week and to journal about it.) In heavier groups, homework should be required. (This link offers some meatier short-term studies; this link describes DC: Thoroughly Equipped-- our "capstone course" for "higher-end" discipleship and lay-leadership development.) You simply can't progress quickly if you don't put time/energy into your own discipleship. Just showing up to hear a bunch of sermons or even an excellent small group teacher is far from sufficient for even modest growth. 

2.) Less of you / more of them. Get group members to talk as much as possible. It's less boring and they'll take greater ownership in their faith and the process of discipleship.

3.) Get comfortable with silence. Wait for them to answer; be patient. Take a breath-- and then re-word the question if necessary. If you wait, they'll (almost always) say something useful.  

4.) Aim for balanced talking among group members. In more elementary groups, this should be a goal. In more advanced groups, insist on it. Encourage quiet people to speak-- and then encourage them when they have spoken. Privately or publicly, encourage more talkative people to take it easy and pick their spots. This allows more room for the quieter folks. And it allows the talkers to work on skills they need to develop: listening, patience and empathy. In a word, I'd rather have a mediocre nugget from a quiet person than one more strong comment from a big talker. 

5.) Ask lots of (good) questions. Emulate Jesus, who asked 301 recorded questions in the Gospels. (I taught a series on this if you'd like the notes.) Avoid yes/no questions. Avoid questions with obvious answers or regurgitations of what they've just read. As useful, write out questions beforehand. 

6.) Be careful with the length and type of your replies to their responses. Use non-verbals as much as possible; you don't need to say something every time. Use verbal replies that vary from quick affirmation to lengthy engagement. It is common for leaders/facilitators to talk too much after too many comments from group members. Avoid this temptation. Remember: every minute you talk, you're not allowing them to talk and "find their voice".

7.) Avoid tangents. You have more important things to cover, right? Limit their tangents tactfully. (Have a public or private discussion about this if useful.) And you should rarely if ever create tangents. Don't cause trouble you're trying to prevent-- and don't be in the business of modeling the creation of tangents!

8.) Organize your notes effectively. Experiment until you find a system that works well-- and then continue to tweak it. It's common for people to have too much stuff in their notes. The good news: it's all in there; the bad news: you can't find it easily. Try a basic outline format with indents for sub-points. Try single words, phrases and clauses, instead of sentences. Only use sentences for things that you need to word carefully or when you're using a quote.  

9.) Make a schedule. First, publicly commit to a start time and at least an approximate end time. Have a rough timeline for what you hope to cover in a given time frame (e.g., Eph 1:3 from 7:15-7:30). Generally stick to the schedule, but be flexible as you learn how to do this well-- and after that, as the Spirit leads you to adjust. 

Other ideas? 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Indiana joins the gang: the new "Religious Freedom Restoration Act"

Before I invested some time in the particulars of Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), here's what I wrote:

I don't know if I'm going to bother with a lengthy weigh-in about the brouhaha on Indiana's (in)famous new law. But here's what I'll say for now:
Good luck to anyone who wants to a.) write legislation on "discrimination"; or b.) critique that legislation in a way that's coherent.
I haven't studied A yet in this context (enough to form a useful view of that matter), but I've seen a bunch of ugly stuff in category B on FB.

Now that I'm making an investment and trying to write something more specific, I should probably open with this caveat:
Good luck to anyone (me!) who wants to c.) write about legislation on "discrimination" and critique those whose criticisms are largely incoherent.

The law may get tweaked in the coming weeks. (For some strong analysis of the current law and discussion of prospects for change, see: this WSJ article [and google the title if you can't access it straight-up].) And it's amazing/sad that the proponents of this did such a poor job "selling" this and "responding" to the concerns/questions. (Pence has since penned a useful essay for the WSJ.) So, at least for now, what is useful to say, questions to ask, etc.? 

A few observations: 

-This WaPo author makes two useful observations: 1.) At least 19 other states have laws like this. (This WSJ article says "some 30 states".) Perhaps it's fortunate that Indiana's actions have finally awakened the outrage, but it makes the excited opponents look silly since it's the first time they've raised the concern. And why would they argue for discrimination vs. Indiana but not the other 20-30 states?

-WaPo point #2: The state-based laws are similar to a Federal law passed by President Clinton in 1993. The Weekly Standard notes that it passed the Senate by a 97-3 vote and was co-sponsored by soon-to-be Senate Minority leader, Chuck Schumer. They also explain the potential need for state-based laws, given a 1997 SCOTUS decision. 
(Scott Shackford at Reason discusses the same incoherence.) In a word, consistent outrage is difficult/impossible here-- and the sudden awakenings (most notably, by Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer-- who have, so far, refused to clarify why they supported it years ago) are somewhere between amusing and pathetic. 

-The WSJ article also makes a point to which I alluded above: "The law covers a relatively complex issue-- setting a legal framework for those who claim a government rule or requirement is hampering their exercise of religion." Examples include long hair for religious reasons vs. a dress code. In each of these cases, we have the tension between individual "rights" (when do my rights conflict too much with yours) and individual vs. community preferences as codified (well?) by law. 

-Here are two useful resources on the legal side of things: a thorough post from Kevin Duffy and a nicely-done "resource page" and FAQ from Indiana's House GOP. (On the latter: yes, I recognize that they might be trying to justify themselves, but read it for yourself and report back with your critiques.) Update: This from Joe Carter seems helpful as well, including the factoid that the 1993 law passed unanimously in the House. Eugene Volokh weighs in here, with more legal analysis. See also: Doug Masson's comments. And then, maybe the most important piece-- by law professor and "a supporter of gay rights", Dan Conkle

-It's not clear how much this whole thing is related to law vs. mere posing-- on both sides. If you're into posing, please stop. You're part of "the problem". If you're responding the posers, you might want to reconsider your angst, since it's not good for your look. Here's a terrific blog post by Stephen Warner on these points (and more). In addition to arguing that the bill says nothing and means nothing (given its vagueness), he provides links to the actual (two pieces of) legislation and notes that neither "discrimination" nor anything about sexuality appears in the laws.  

-Here's a beauty from the CEO of SalesForce, Mark Benioff, focusing on Indiana over the other states with the same law and comparing China's human rights record with Indiana's. 

To the stated concerns, here are some basic questions-- all of which have decent, if not consistent, answers: 

-Why do we want to force business owners to serve people? 

-Why do we think it's ethical to force business owners to serve people? 

-Why do we think it's practical to force business owners to serve people? 

But then the questions get tougher:

-Why do we think it's ok to force business owners to serve certain people, but not other people? (See: Christians with the ACA and abortifacients, gun-toting customers, some cakes or t-shirts but not others.) Mollie Hemingway provides a sample/list of 10 (highly sympathetic) people who have been helped by RFRA's. 

-Why are "liberals" who consider themselves "pro-choice" ok with not allowing choice here? (The best coherent answer is that the discriminators are doing direct and significant harm to others.) 

-How do we have high standards for ourselves while practicing robust (vs. tepid) forms of tolerance, love, and compassion? 

-Why do people imagine that "right-to-work" laws will NOT be good for Indiana's economy (by attracting business)-- while a law like this (even under the most stringent assumptions-- aside from the brouhaha created) will cause significant economic damage. See also: a higher minimum wage will not create unemployment. Of course, the extent to which the cause will have an effect is debatable. But it's not a good look to totally deny the one and go crazy about the other. 

-UPDATE: For another nice set of questions, see this strong essays in the NYT from Ross Douthat. I have another from the IPR's Tom Huston.

I planned to comment on some of the comments out there. But that would take too long; some people are too blind; and I don't want to embarrass anyone when casual political observers who are throwing mud (without recognizing what they're doing). Instead, I'll settle for responding to this quote/meme from George Takei. It's good, but not as applicable as he imagines for this context: "If you have to make laws to hurt a group of people just to prove your morals and faith, then you have no true morals or faith to prove." Of course, that's not the purpose of the law-- let alone, the single purpose of the law. Or perhaps we could apply Takei's quote to those on the Left who want huge taxes on those with higher incomes-- or who are fond of using legislation to mess with all sorts of people.  

Along the same lines, let me close with two paragraphs I took out of the op-ed I penned on this. They tended toward preachy and snarky, so I decided to take them out of highly-public discussion, without the context of my blog to help out. 

This should be especially easy to understand for self-styled "liberals" who promote themselves as "pro-choice", tolerant, and empathic. Christians should do well here too: a call to high moral standards while practicing robust forms of tolerance and love.
What do we have now? Partisan TV viewers, “Facebook lawyers” cheering for their team, and a bunch of children playing “gotcha”. A same-sex couple wants to bully a conservative Christian into decorating their cake. A shallow Christian wants to sue a gay man who doesn’t want to make an offensive t-shirt. It reminds me of a kid with a magnifying glass torturing an insect. Put down the magnifying glass of litigation and act like an adult.
Instead of relying on the law to address these things, how about we just grow up a little bit? 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ravitch's "Reign of Error"

A colleague/friend of mine recommended Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error

Education reform is not high on my reading list these days, but I appreciate book recommendations and Ravitch has been a big stick over the last two decades-- so she's certainly worth a look.

I read the first chapter. So far, it's a dog's breakfast of useful stuff, exaggeration, conflation, strawmen, and blech.

The most notable, quick problems: she...

a.) pounds liberals and progressives (broad categories!) without defining which subsets she's attacking: 
b.) says that private and charter schools are "deregulated, unsupervised, and accountable"; 
c.) implies that choice necessarily (or likely) undermines democracy; 
d.) ignores that the status quo is deeply unequal; 
e.) conflates NCLB with charters/vouchers; 
f.) is apparently allergic to for-profit involvement; 
g.) seems to think that our probs in education are largely inner city; 
h.) ignores family structure/stability in her correct reference to important variables other than schools; 
i.) conflates charter and voucher in terms of "privatization"; 
j.) acts as if we've had a ton of market reform; and 
j.) tells us that we're not in crisis, but if we pursue even a bit more market reform (as if we've had a ton already!), then it's akin to a train going off of a cliff.

All that said, the book is probably worth sifting through the chaff to get some wheat. But I'm not sure whether I'll get to it soon...

Monday, February 23, 2015

"not worth the ride"?

This AM, Rick Bozich concludes that it was "not worth the ride".

"Not worth the ride?" I don't know about that. Who could know that, from the outside? Why would you rush to measure that, right now, anyway?

Heck, I don't much about nuthin' specific. But I do know about the importance of redemption and second chances. And I know that people often abuse mercy, grace, and second chances. So, I know that mercy is messy and difficult to do in practice.

My hope is that sports coaches take chances and strive to develop athletes as athletes and as human persons. You can take great athletes for a year and then wave them on through to the NBA or you can develop their talents. You can take people with nice backgrounds and take credit for what they brought to your program. Or you can "educate"-- moving people from where they were toward where they can be,

I wonder how often it happens. And I hope it happens a lot.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Max Boot's "Invisible Armies": a history of guerrilla warfare

Max Boot has a terrific book on the history of guerrilla warfare. (The term derives from the Spanish for "small war", first invoked to describe Spanish 'irregulars' opposing Napoleon from 1808-1814.) It weighs in at nearly 600 pages-- with 64 chapters of 3-19 pages each. The book is organized into sections-- by era and the most relevant ideology that defines the era. The relatively short chapters and the recurring themes within each section helped a long book be a relatively quick read. It was easy to bang out a chapter or two at a time, while the dominant theme within each section helped to hold it together in my memory. 

Boot's book reads well-- both the specific accounts and the over-arching narrative. Still, it is necessarily a combination of correlation, causation, and just-so story-- given the project's historical nature, the limited info available, and the subsequent hermeneutical leaps. The challenge is greater going back farther in time and knowing that the winners often get to write their own histories. At times, the stories "smell" better or worse, but overall, his narrative seems reasonable and compelling.

I'm not a great student of history. But Boot covers all of the relevant historical episodes I could imagine-- and then some. When one thinks of guerrilla warfare, 20th century battles probably come to mind. But Boot spends a good bit of time on BC and early AD clashes, including the Maccabees, Athenians, King David, Scythians, and Viriathus. He briefly details the first full-scale conventional battle recorded by history in 1468 BC (p. 9) and notes the first recorded empire and its struggles with insurgents (ch. 4's Sargon, 23 centuries before Christ).

Among many examples of insurgency (and counter-insurgency) in more modern times, Boot covers:-the fall of Rome (ch. 7);
-the American revolution as a mix of insurgency and conventional warfare (ch. 14);
-freedom for Greece (ch. 17), Italy (ch. 18, including Garibaldi's role and even his invitation from Lincoln to fight in the U.S. Civil War [118-119]!), Latin America (brief/passing mentions of Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin), and the Irish (ch. 35, incl. the role of Michael Collins);
-Afghanistan for the 19th century Brits (ch. 24) and as the "Russian Vietnam" (ch. 59);
-nationalists (Chiang) vs. communists (Mao) and Japanese in China (ch. 44);
-Vietnam for the French and the U.S. (chs. 45, 51, 52);
-Cuba and Castro (ch. 53)-- and Che Guevara (chs. 53-54);
-the amazing events surrounding Entebbe (ch. 55)-- which were largely supplanted in the public imagination by 9/11; and
-what he describes as "50 days that changed the world" (ch. 58)-- from the fall of the Shah and the hostage crisis in Iran to Russia's fateful invasion of Afghanistan. 

Boot also describes huge characters/players with whom I had little or no familiarity-- particularly for their success in effective counter-insurgency (military and otherwise): Edward Lansdale, Gerald Templer, T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), Orde Wingate, Louis Lyautey, and George Crook. Because their efforts are not as sexy as leaders with big armies doing conventional warfare, history does not remember them nearty as well. 

A few episodes deserve further comment. First, Boot (ch. 31) notes that the KKK began in the time of Reconstruction, as an insurgency against the victorious "occupying" forces of the North. As Reconstruction pulls back and Southern majority interests are again able to use their own government to thoroughly oppress blacks, we find the emergence of Jim Crow and its formal abuses. Anderson and Kiriazis describe the connections between the ideological of Progressivism-- a strain of statism combined with "Social Darwinism" which led to many different forms of eugenics and crony capitalism in political economy-- what Gabriel Kolko described as the triumph of "conservatism".

Second, in all of Book VI, Boot details the decline of the French and English from WW I through WWII into the post-colonial era. I don't know why I didn't connected those dots earlier. But weakened England and especially France were unable to hold their colonial "empires" together after WWII. In a word, it's why "decolonization swept the world"-- from Israel to Africa to Southeast Asia (322-326). It also explains why the French are prone to imagine that they're a bigger deal than they are on today's world stage. They were a big deal, as late as 75 years ago! Today, they're just another medium-size, reasonably-prosperous country-- albeit with an impressive and memorable history.

Third, Boot devotes one of his longer chapters to Yasser Arafat (ch. 56). (He covers other opponents of Israel in ch. 60 and notes that Israel is different in that it must defend itself against insurgents [474]). Boot describes Arafat as a nationalist, secular (vs. religious), and abstemious (like Guevara vs. most other insurgent leaders). Arafat did avoid danger, preserving his own life (468), while sending others into danger. (Other subjects were more impressive than Arafat in this regard!) But sometimes, one must make sacrifices, yes? Boot also notes that Arafat follows Israel's "terroristic" path to sovereignty-- in their post-WWII efforts against the British in 1947-- a point I had not known before. One wonders if history would have been any different if Israel had taken a different approach to independence from the British.

Fourth, Boot covers Al Queda (ch. 61-62), including a nice write-up on Osama Bin Laden's background (517; see: Looming Tower for tons of detail on this). Boot also details Petraeus' return to Iraq (ch. 63) with the "surge". Well over and above more troops, Boot points to his strategy of putting troops into the communities rather than hunkering down in bases. Boot wraps up the book (ch. 64) by wrestling with whether "global islamist insurgency" is failing or succeeding.

Big themes
First, as an economist, I'm amazed by technological advance and its impact on economy. Boot details its impact on the military-- for both insurgency and counter-insurgency. Generally, counter-insurgency has the initial advantage: as the wealthy can afford luxuries in an economy, so wealthier economies are the first to develop and the most able to afford tech advance in this realm. And oddly, more primitive counter-insurgency has often meant more success-- since they are less prone, themselves, to use conventional approaches (52-55). But after a time, everybody else catches up-- and then things even up quite a bit, especially if the counter-insurgents insist on trying to use conventional warfare as their defense (127-130). 

Boot (xx): "Time and time again, guerrilla warfare seemed to be superseded by the 'new new thing'-- industrial warfare in the 1910s, aerial warfare in the 1930s, nuclear warfare in the 1950s, network-centric warfare in the 1990s. And yet each time it reasserted itself with a vengeance. Since WWII, insurgency and terrorism have become the dominant forms of conflict-- a trend likely to continue into the foreseeable future." Before the 20th century, it was crossbows and then gunpowder. Now, propaganda is a key part of the arsenal.
Second, there are clear comparisons here to (suicide) terrorism-- both are cheaper/easier; low-probability last-ditch efforts to deal with a much stronger foe in conventional military terms (xxiii); more likely to be successful when dealing with (soft) democracies than (hard) dictators; and hoping to attract big help from outsiders (this is reminiscent of 3rd parties in a two-party system!). 

All of these themes are revisited from Robert Pape's work. (I've also blogged on data that fits Pape's view-- and the implications of Pape's book here, here, and here. In particular, check out the dynamic analysis of doing this stuff long-term and Pat Buchanan on the connections to empire.) Oddly, Boot ignores Pope except to try to put distance between them (509, 531). While there are differences-- in particular, what Boot sees as a contemporary emphasis on religion as a primary vs. secondary motive-- Boot is a companion to Pape.

Boot distinguishes terrorism from guerrilla warfare as "the use of violence by non-state actors directed primarily against noncombatants" vs. "hit-and-run tactics by an armed group directed primarily against a government and its security forces for political or religious reasons" (xxii). 

Anarchists and assassins represent a narrow and extreme form of the guerrilla warfare (Book IV). Chapters 29 and 36 are especially helpful in trying to understand the motives of people in these positions.

Third, occupying countries are likely to give in to counter-insurgents when the costs become too high. Those benefits and costs include political context (more pain in "liberal democracies" than from dictators-- a la Pape); the geographical distance of "far-off wars"; colonial economic gains vs. national security goals; the use of conscripts (vs. volunteers, mercenaries); and the availability of media for propaganda by insurgents or counter-insurgents. (On the latter, Boot mentions a few uses of American media [e.g., 339].) And he notes that, even with "success", there can be huge consequences (e.g., Ch. 19).

Fourth, Boot spends a lot of time on successful counter-insurgency. Success comes from sheer military might-- or when things get more interesting, from a combination of military action (sometimes ruthless), with degrees of restraint, and strategies to "win hearts and minds". Also important is the need to be perceived as credible to the natives-- that you're "in it to win it" and can do so. Natives are often in a very rough position-- not wanting to irritate either the occupiers or the insurgents.

Fifth, key motivations have changed over time-- with reigning political, religious, and economic ideologies, as well as historical context. "Like everyone else, guerrillas and terrorists are subject to popular moods and intellectual fads." In the 18th and 19th centuries, they were "inspired by liberal ideas" from the Enlightenment. But in the 20th century, anarchism, socialism, and then religion (475-477).

One sees an analogy to the times in which countries became free-- often by insurgencies from occupying countries. The U.S. won its freedom in a time of laissez-faire economics and so, our government was relatively limited. Post-WWII, at the height of Keynesian and optimism about socialism, countries emerging from colonialism embraced big governments-- and disaster has followed. 


Boot does a nice job of setting the table and then reviewing key principles. In the prologue, we provides "five major points" (xxvi-xxvii). In chapter 10, he lays out "keys to success"; and then he wraps up the book with "12 articles" or principles (557ff).

To wrap up, let me lay out the 12 and organizing them a bit: 
-Guerrilla warfare has been ubiquitous and important throughout history. It is not an "Eastern way of war".
-It has been over and under-estimated. They still lose a lot but have become more successful since WWII (although perhaps this is an artifact of post-WWII anti-colonialism). 
-Public opinion, media and propaganda have become increasingly important. (More broadly, access to info on wars has changed the landscape for most military activity.) As such, mass terror does not usually work. And establishing legitimacy is important-- to both sides.
-Conventional tactics are unlikely to be effective in response. Technology has been a key player. Insurgencies take time and more effective with outside support.

my review of "The Song"

Tonia and I enjoyed "The Song" last night. After its disappointing box office performance and hearing it get a range of reviews, I was pleasantly surprised. I'd give it 3 or 3.5 stars (out of 4); the film is well-done and really well-filmed. I would only ding it for being a bit stilted in places, a bit too quick/clean at the end, and too predictable throughout to be ideal. It is comparable with Fireproof-- both are must-see movies on the topic of marriage-- but better done, artistically.

I'm guessing part of the problem, box-office-wise, was describing the film succinctly and targeting the film at various demographics. The movie is billed as inspired by Song of Solomon. But it ends up being more Ecclesiastes than Song of Solomon-- and perhaps that's part of the challenge in putting the film into a box/category.

FWIW: We got mixed advice on watching it with the boys (ages 10-16)-- and invited the older two. They weren't all that interested, so we didn't push. Once we got into it, we were not even opposed to our third son (12 years old) keeping an eye on it. And now, we wished we had pushed at least the older two to watch it with us.

Slippery Slopes and Sins of Omission & Commission

I was most impressed by the subtlety of what turned out to be the film's key moment. The husband is well into the slippery slope of his struggle, but things can still be turned around. He's shown the ability to fend off a lot of temptation, but now he's made a series of unwise choices and things are in a position to get ugly. He's about to be a big-time knucklehead, but the film does not let the wife off the hook.

First, she clearly struggles with "leave and cleave" issues. That, by itself, was probably sufficient to avoid or at least head him off the poor path he's walking. She also comes off as insular and (at least a bit) fragile. In any case, her failure to join him on the road-- at all-- is huge and gives her big culpability through a sin of omission.

Second, they depict the couple's struggle with physical intimacy in a way that is nicely murky. He makes a special effort to come home briefly in the middle of a long tour, but things don't work out well. Is the problem that he's away too much and then too insensitive when he comes home? Is the problem that she's too cold, doesn't recognize his efforts, and isn't doing anything close to her best? Or is it, as it usually is in these contexts, a good bit of both?

Third, there's no evidence of her asking him any "hard questions". Things are obviously not ideal in their marriage; he's on the road a bunch, surrounded by a range of temptations; and he's working closely with an attractive female. Duh; hello.

A Segue on the Importance of Community

A related matter is that nobody seems to be involved in Christian community, living out whatever faith they have as "Lone Rangers". This is *necessarily* less effective, less biblical, and ultimately incoherent in Trinitarian-Christian terms. The band members seem like nice enough people, but there's no relationship portrayed beyond the superficial-- and nobody intervenes. Ol' Dad is a hard worker; he loves his grandson; he's a "tough guy" who wants to make sure his daughter doesn't end up with a loser-- including not settling for merely a "said" faith in her suitors. But his approach to life is also not well-connected with a robust view of Christianity or Christian community.

Two other, smaller observations, along the same lines: The chapel is an effective metaphor in this. The couple gets married in (literally) a shell of a church. When things start going south, the husband "finishes" the chapel, completing the shell. It still has the look of a pretty monument and the timing gives it a I Samuel 14:35-ish feel to the effort. Later, he damages the chapel in anger. And then, at the end, he finishes it "properly"-- this time with pews, as if anticipating at least some community.

Second, the film has an us/country/pure vs. them/city/impure feel to it. The full-blown separatism of the "us" looks attractive in places, but is ultimately portrayed as far from the ideal for the couple and is not ineffective in engaging the world-- consistent with City on a Hill's worldview and eschatology.) 

Wrap Up

Back to the husband/wife-- and applications to us-- to wrap this up: How often does "this" happen in real life? I've heard about many cases and seen a few. The dude makes obviously bad/stupid choices-- and we bang on him for being a moron, etc. Meanwhile, the wife's more subtle sins (often of omission) make things unnecessarily difficult and increase the power of the temptations at hand.

They're nice enough people on the front end. But without an abiding faith, a robust Christian worldview, progress as disciples of Jesus, and vibrant Christian community, abundant life will be out of reach and they are unlikely to have the wisdom and courage to stand underneath the weight of various temptations.

Let "The Song" be good (and full) counsel/warning for us-- in our own marriages and as we help others in our daily lives.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

data on EITC (2014)

The EITC is a tax credit for low-income workers, particularly for heads-of-household [HoH] or married folks with kids. Eligibility for and the amount of the credit are based solely on household composition and earned income. (The latter ignores non-reported income-- at least non-cash benefits from govt, savings/wealth, etc. This arrangement also ignores costs of living and other contexts [e.g., big medical expenses].).

There are three variables to any welfare program. EITC has another wrinkle which adds a 4th dimension.

1.) The credit kicks in with every dollar earned-- for those with no children (about $7.66 cents per $100 earned); and for those with children (1 child = $34; 2 children = $40 and 3 or more children = $45). 

The credit is designed to help those with lower incomes who are trying to raise a family. But it also serves to *incentivize* work, in this range, by subsidizing net wages through the tax code. (And contra the minimum wage, it accomplishes this without making workers more expensive-- and thus less attractive-- to hire.) 

2.) EITC's added wrinkle: The credit increases to a maximum that plateaus in certain income ranges: 
-with no kids, a $496 credit for "income" between $6,500 and $8,150 for HoH (or $13,550 if married)
-with 1 kid, a $3,305 credit for income between $9,700-17,800 (or $23,250 if married)
-with 2 kids, $5,460 between $13,650 and $17,800 (or $23,250 if married)
-with 3+ kids, $6,143 between $13,650 and $17,800 (or $23,250 if married)

3.) Then the credit is reduced through a "benefit reduction rate" (BRR); as earned income rises, there is less need for assistance. The BRR is an implied marginal tax rate (MTR)-- your (total) income is reduced to the extent that B is reduced as you earn more (as a tax does). Economists worry about BRR's and MTR's as they get higher, since this reduces the (financial) incentive to work (or in other types of welfare policy-- to save, to get more education, etc.). 
-With no kids, the BRR is the reverse of the credit structure: 7.66%. 
-With 1 kid, the BRR is 16%; with two or more kids, it's 21%. 

4.) It follows that benefits have a "cut-off point" after reaching a certain income. 
-With no kids, HoH earning $14,590 receive nothing from EITC.
-With one kid, the cut-off point is $38,511; with two, it's $43,756; with three or more, it's $46,997.
-Being married always adds another $5,430 to the cut-off point.

Three things to note in closing. First, having one kid makes a big difference. The credit amount rises significantly. Having a second kid is worth another $2,155. #3 is only worth an additional credit of $683. More kids add nothing. Likewise, the cut-off point increases with number of children.

Second, note that the EITC "gives" while payroll taxes (FICA) "take away". (In fact, the EITC began as an effort to offset the regressive and staggering impact of FICA taxes.) The working poor are not hit by federal "income taxes", but they do get nailed by federal payroll taxes on income: 15.3% on every dollar earned-- no credits, deductions, or exemptions-- $1,000's annually from those at the poverty line. (A number of states also enjoy taxing the working poor.)

Third, overt taxes on income (e.g., 15.3% for FICA and in Indiana, a 6% MTR) combines with the implicit MTR from losing EITC benefits (typically 16-21%), yielding an MTR of 37-42%). Along with the loss of other means-tested government benefits as income increase, the MTR's are significant. During the peak of the War on Poverty, the average MTR's for the poor were in the 80-90% range-- while individuals can easily have MTR's over 100%. Would you work with an MTR of 80%?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

post-Civil War political economy and race

A terrific article in the Independent Review by Bill Anderson and David Kiriazis on race, political economy, and the "rents" (profit ops through govt policy) created by the progressive/regulatory state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries...

The article changed the way I think about the post-Civil War era. But it lines up nicely with Gabriel Kolko’s work on the Progressive Era as “the triumph of conservatism” and the use of “progressive” legislation for obviously non-progressive reasons under Apartheid—and I already knew Bernstein’s work, the push for eugenics, and the impact of the Flexner Report. (See: this link on progressives vs. liberals.)

So it shouldn’t have surprised me so much!