The Iran Deal may represent an uncomfortable agreement that ultimately prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear power with nuclear weapons. Or it may repThe Iran Deal may represent an uncomfortable agreement that ultimately prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear power with nuclear weapons. Or it may represent an infamous "peace in our time". The stakes are high. Should we accept the deal as the best achievable under the circumstances? Or should we reject it as worse than no deal? In either case, could we have done better? Alan Dershowitz in this book presents his answers to these questions.
But first, some caveats.
This book isn't quite a "book". It's more a chronologically-grouped collection of Dershowitz's op-eds from roughly the past decade, discussing the problem of Iran (and, sometimes, Israel/Palestine). The op-ed format is limited. Arguments, rebuttals, and conclusions can only be briefly and almost conclusorily presented. Op-eds don't really grant the space necessary for a persuasive, comprehensive proposition. Naturally, many of the arguments are quickly sketched out with little depth. (And, somewhat amusingly, Dershowitz's various rhetorical ticks become more apparent: his fondness for Winston Churchill's "Jaw, jaw is better than war, war" aphorism, George Washington's "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace" observation, and the arguable misuse of the "Sword of Damocles" metaphor for potential disastrous results determined by Iran [rather than for the weighty responsibility inherent in great power], for example.)
As the book is largely a series of op-eds, it's likely possible to find its various parts elsewhere. There's some apparently-fresh scaffolding connecting the various parts ("Maintaining Military Options", "President Obama's First Term Approach to Iran", "President Obama's Second Election Promises Regarding Iran", "President Obama's Second Term Policy toward Iran", "Closing the Deal"). But the bulk of the fresh material is in the introduction to the book (with notable inline comments in a condensed version of the agreement, in an appendix). This is perhaps to be expected in a book reportedly written in two weeks concerning a complicated and delicate matter of foreign policy.
Dershowitz's conclusions about the Iran Deal and the windup to it are roughly as follows.
The United States did a poor job of presenting a credible threat that we would do anything to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. We claimed the "military option" was on the table, yet we were never really serious about it -- and Iran recognized this. (President Obama receives the bulk of the criticism on this point, simply due to timing, but the second President Bush doesn't escape unscathed. The November 2007 National Security Estimate that concluded Iran had abandoned its nuclear program is particularly criticized as "known to be false", with Dershowitz faulting Bush for it.)
Dershowitz repeatedly received promises from Obama that he would do everything necessary to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and Dershowitz believed him in the runs to the 2008 and 2012 elections. Yet over time, Obama's rhetoric subtly shifted toward accommodation. As a result the Iran Deal ultimately negotiated is substantially worse than it could have been. Inspection regimes give Iran substantial time to hide any forbidden nuclear operations. And the deal is time-limited, with eight, ten, and fifteen-year timelines muddying the waters to make unclear exactly how and when the deal constrains Iran.
But the choice now is not between a better deal and this deal: it's between no deal and this deal. Obama has backed the United States into a corner. The best that can be done to salvage the matter is for Congress to emphasize its understanding of a sentence from the Iran Deal's preamble (perhaps not the best place to locate operative language, I would observe) -- "Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons" -- as the standard to which we will hold Iran during the deal's tenure, while simultaneously approving the deal. Congress should also authorize military action now should Iran violate the deal's terms, to emphasize that the military option emphatically remains on the table should Iran backslide.
This is no ringing endorsement of the Iran Deal. It almost seems to me (as one who did not vote for Obama and likely disagrees with much of Dershowitz's politics, to put my ideological priors on the table) that Dershowitz's conclusion is one he reaches as an unconsciously-partisan attempt to view matters in the light most favorable to the president he voted for and continues to support. Were Dershowitz not a supporter of Obama, or a Democrat in general, I wonder if he would so grudgingly support the Iran Deal. (I think there's a good argument that a gullible Dershowitz was suckered into continuing to support Obama based on incompletely sincere, privately-expressed promises Obama made primarily to gain Dershowitz's political and rhetorical support as, perhaps, a "useful idiot". I'm not sure this was the case, but it seems a very strong possibility.)
But political affiliations aside. Is Dershowitz nonetheless right, even if his opinion is the product of unrecognized partisanship? Are we stuck in the bed we've made? At the very least, I can't say he's wrong (cathartic as it might be to confidently conclude the deal is all right or all wrong). And, sad to say (for I agree this deal indeed doesn't seem very good, particularly with a state so untrustworthy as Iran), I think he might well be right: now, with this proposal as the only possible proposal, this deal is better than no deal.
I'm not sure how convincing Dershowitz's arguments will be to its target audience of the one hundred senators. (And the general public, as a far-distant second.) I suspect most Republicans' hawkishness will lead them to dismiss any argument for the deal, even an argument as critical of the deal as Dershowitz's. A few Republican fence-sitters might be willing to entertain Dershowitz's argument, yet (at least for the senators) certainly the politically safe option is for them to condemn the deal consistent with their opposition to Obama. Similarly, partisan Democrats will already approve the deal to support Obama. That leaves Democratic fence-sitters as the only audience I expect might be receptive to Dershowitz's argument.
But as we've now (as of September 15) seen, dubious political machinations (the deal requiring a two-thirds vote of disapproval to prevent its implementation, as the Iran Deal is allegedly not a treaty -- an at best dubious legal conclusion in my opinion) mean that the Iran Deal will not be voted down. So ultimately the remaining Democratic fence-sitters can vote as is politically convenient.
The most likely value of this book, for the success of the Iran Deal, is that it represents an argument for the deal, from a critic of it, who nonetheless strongly supports Israel. If you find that stance interesting, this book may be of interest to you. If not, reading it might be only an academic exercise. Either way, if the Iran Deal interests you, I think it's worth considering this book's arguments....more
Suppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientistSuppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientist-rationalist husband Michael Verres-Evans. In this world, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres learns the surprising fact of his magical heritage and proceeds into the magical world possessing a strong background in science and logical thinking. How might this change J.K. Rowling's story? What happens when a scientific mind tries to harmonize the world of science with a world in which transfiguration, Time-Turners, and illogical monetary exchange rates hold sway? What happens when game theory, artificial intelligence, ethics, quantum physics, and other scientific (or at least Enlightenment-influenced) ideas are introduced into Rowling's soft-magic world?
The answer is, of course, much poking of fun at the canonical Harry Potter world's magic, frequent in-jokes (often lampshading) referring to canonical-series events that don't happen in this story (or sometimes do, but in substantially different manner). (And many, many references, explicit and implicit, to other works, especially SF/F ones: Ender's Game, Star Wars, Star Trek, and others I can't bring to mind quickly enough -- not to mention the references I doubtless missed.) This is a much darker story than the original, with rationalist Harry regularly tending Machiavellian, or amorally utilitarian, in his actions. But it's still quite good.
As far as potential demerits. This story's fairly heavy in what's clearly the author's viewpoints, but generally they're artfully conveyed within the story itself without being too heavy-handed about it (unlike, say, various Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand works: and to be clear, I was able to enjoy those authors' works even when this happened, or at least to mentally disassociate at such times). The tone varies a fair bit through the course of the story, with occasional arcs that aren't quite resolved cleanly. Somewhere just past the halfway mark, the general consensus seems to be (and I think there's some merit to it) that the story bogs down a little. There's one arc that I think probably could be left out, with the important parts merged into the rest of the story, at little overall cost. And the story is loooooong: fully half again as long (if not more) as the longest Wheel of Time doorstopper. (I have no problem reading long epic fantasy, so this isn't particularly a problem to me [though the glacial increase in percentage read on my Kindle was mildly wearying]. But it is a very slow slog to read the entire thing.) Some of this might be attributable to its basis in fan fiction (though to be clear, I say that almost entirely on the basis of stereotypes, without much direct experience with fanfic myself).
Nonetheless, this is an entirely enjoyable story, as long as you're willing to accept its incredible length. Particularly so if you enjoyed the original Harry Potter (do not read this before reading that -- there are far too many jokes and references that you'll completely miss if you haven't), and especially if you want something a little darker, more systematic, more intelligent, and more adult. (Which is not to say that it exceeds the original: J. K. Rowling is a better writer, her stories' points resonate better, and I think are largely more important and more profound than this story's points.) If you don't typically appreciate hard-SF sorts of literature, tho, you might want to stay away....more
What's to say? It's the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, in their original forms. TheWhat's to say? It's the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, in their original forms. The only adjustment is that portions of the Constitution and amendments changed by subsequent amendments are bracketed and footnoted to indicate which amendment changed them. (So, for example, the Eighteenth Amendment [instituting Prohibition] is bracketed and noted as repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment. Have you ever noticed the alcoholic beverage amendments were 18 and 21? Quite the handy coincidence!) This is an excellent portable version of the original, unmodified text of these foundational documents.
This booklet also includes a brief preface by Roger Pilon of the inestimable Cato Institute, which publishes this booklet. The preface lays out some of the historical background for the Declaration and Constitution, and it discusses their aims and goals. (I wish the preface had also discussed the context and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, given how fundamentally it altered our constitutional structure. Given a desire to keep the preface short, and the complexity of the topic, this absence is understandable. But it's still unfortunate.) Not surprisingly given its Cato provenance, the narrative presented is one of a broadly libertarian, limited government of enumerated powers. In any case it's easily ignored by the reader who disagrees with it, and it doesn't make this edition any less useful than any of the other pocket Constitutions out there....more
"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"
Thus reads the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, restr"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"
Thus reads the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, restricting the power of eminent domain: requiring that takings of private property be for "public use" and that the owner be compensated.
In this book Jeff Benedict documents the story of Susette Kelo and how the Fifth Amendment entered her life. She had found her dream home: a small fixer-upper in New London with a river view. Shortly after moving in and beginning to improve it, however, she found a notice on her door. Her land and home were in the path of economic redevelopment plans. She had two options: sell her dream house and land for whatever the city would offer, or have them taken from her through eminent domain. She and a number of her neighbors chose neither, instead fighting the city in the courts. Their argument: the land was being taken not for a public use such as to build a school or highway, but rather to transfer it from a low-tax-paying private user to a high-tax-paying private user. The legal battle eventually ended up at the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London (2005), probably its most universally reviled decision in decades. (Special emphasis on universally: this decision, unlike most controversial decisions, was condemned pretty widely across parties, branches of government, social class, and so on.)
This book focuses on the personal stories of the people involved -- primarily upon Susette Kelo as the main named plaintiff, but also upon the other New London residents evicted from their homes. Benedict also reveals much about New London city politics, Connecticut state politics (the redevelopment plan was spearheaded by the governor's office as a way to make himself look better), the unholy union of government power with an unaccountable private corporation, and the public opinion battle fought by the Institute for Justice. The book is somewhat light on Kelo's legal case itself, which I find unfortunate but probably understandable. Throughout it remains a story of people -- not just Kelo and the other evictees, but also of people affiliated with the city government (both in support of and opposed to the redevelopment plan), of people at IJ involved in fighting the case, and of other New London residents involved at the periphery. Benedict does yeoman's work pulling together accounts from the hundreds and thousands of people involved in all this to tell a story of truly domineering, egotistic people thinking they can turn around a city while completely dismissing the costs in doing so and the chances for failure. (Which is not to say that the people on the city's side are villainized. They're portrayed as in the wrong by implication, perhaps, but there were definitely some well-meaning people on the other side -- as well as some people willing to run roughshod over anyone standing in the way of their grand plans for New London.)
Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage doesn't have a happy ending. Kelo lost her case at the Supreme Court, and she eventually did have to leave East Street and move elsewhere. But there were silver linings. The case was as close as they come at 5-4 and came with a particularly stinging dissent from Justice O'Connor, who had authored a previous opinion which provided strong support for New London's position. Even after her Supreme Court loss the battle continued, buttressed by public support of her and by condemnation of the city and its tactics, and she was able to live in her house longer than the decision date might indicate. And in the end Kelo was able to save her house, if not the land it sat upon: as part of her settlement New London paid her enough money that she was able to move it elsewhere to stand as a testament to the threat of eminent domain abuse -- the equivalent, perhaps, of giving the finger to New London's uncaring city leaders. (Or, rather, of forcing them to give it to themselves!) Kelo's loss also spurred nationwide eminent domain reform, triggering legislative efforts and constitutional amendments in over forty states to prevent the abuses carried out in New London (although some of those efforts were mostly symbolic). And, in time, and with a change in composition of the Court, perhaps Kelo will eventually be overturned.
I would have liked a little more coverage of the legal issues in the case. But beyond that lack, this book does an excellent job of covering the back story behind one of the most notorious decisions in recent memory. Recommended if you're into law, although don't expect this book to provide a ton of law itself....more
The United States tax system is insane. At over 70000 pages and counting, it's impossible for any person to fully understand it. It's riddled with looThe United States tax system is insane. At over 70000 pages and counting, it's impossible for any person to fully understand it. It's riddled with loopholes and special cases, inserted over the years by politicians larding their bills to attract votes. Its incentives distort individual choices by making evasion and avoidance more attractive, it stimulates rent-seeking, and it's spawned entire industries devoted to addressing the deadweight loss from its complexity. It is almost thoroughly unlikable, and it's a system no one would ever design.
This book (also available for free online) presents an alternative tax system: the flat tax. The flat tax strips away nearly all the complexity of the current tax code, reducing the entire tax system (with a couple exceptions like the social security tax) to a handful of figures and simple calculations, stripping away nearly all special cases to eliminate loopholes and opportunities for unequal treatment. The authors reduce the entire code to a mere seven very short pages of text, understandable by any financially-savvy person. The tax forms themselves are the size of postcards.
In this book, Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka present the rationales for the flat tax, the logic behind it, the details of how it would work, and common questions and answers about it. They labor at some length to present the complete details of the system. It's technical reading you can't simply breeze through: you'll have to work a little to understand it all, and it's best digested slowly. But any intelligent person with a little mathematical skill and mind for finance will come away from this book with significant understanding of exactly how the flat tax would work.
Merits or demerits of the proposal aside, this presentation of the flat tax is excellent. If you want to understand the flat tax, whether to praise it, to bury it, or simply because you want to be better-informed, this is the book to read....more