Fast Things: John Kerry and Defamation Suits

Little Men: Things to Think about when considering a credit card .

Matt Yglesias on the true economic costs of war (according to CRS).

The same CRS report indicated that before it ends, the war will likely cost somewhat more than the $549 billion spent (adjusted for inflation) in the much more lethal Vietnam War. But even this figure will likely prove to be off by hundreds of billions of dollars because it accounts only for funds directly appropriated for war fighting. As Linda Bilmes, a leading Harvard budgetary expert, and Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz point out in their January 2006 paper, “The Economic Costs of the Iraq War,” the spending captured by the CRS, even in strict budgetary terms, is “only the tip of a very deep iceberg.”

Wartime appropriations do not, for example, include the cost of disability payments to veterans wounded in the war, payments that will continue throughout their life spans. Nor do they cover the costs of medical treatment for those seriously injured in the war, or even such basic war-related costs as the replacement of equipment and munitions expended in the conflict or the need to transport soldiers back to their home bases when they rotate out of country. The war has also substantially increased the military’s overall recruiting costs, reflected in bigger bonuses and additional recruiters. What’s more, by combining the war with aggressive tax cutting, the administration has ensured that the operation is paid for entirely by borrowing money on which interest will need to be paid. The shocking truth, according to Bilmes and Stiglitz, is that if one applies the Congressional Budget Office’s basic assumptions about the duration of the conflict (“a small but continuous presence”), it will cost nearly a staggering $1.27 trillion dollars before all is said and done.

Yglesius proceeds to discuss other ways to spend the money.

Speaking of which, I’m reading an excellent book centered around John Kerry’s Vietnam experience: Tour of Duty by historian Douglas Brinkley. Reading it makes you aware of how distorted the Swift Boat accusations were during the presidential campaign. According to the book, Kerry and others were under fire on an almost daily basis and put their lives in danger regularly. To bicker about whether this medal was deserved because of factual disputes just shows the pettiness that soldiers have about their valor.

Here’s a great piece John Dean wrote about the Swift Boat attack ads during the 2004 campaign. His suggestion: Kerry should have sued them for defamation. He could easily prove actual malice, and by not suing, he let the accusations far more than they needed to:

How should Kerry deal with the attacks? He should take a page from the playbook of the last U.S. senator to receive his party’s presidential nomination: Barry Goldwater, in 1964. Goldwater suffered the same type of attack, and set a precedent as to how to counter it: Sue.

Never has a book been more deserving of a defamation lawsuit. And Kerry has several reasons to sue. One is to put these false claims to rest forever. The other is to deter future, similar claims.

Recall the absurd 1992 charges that Bill Clinton was running drugs and murdering people. Most people laughed, and Clinton chose to do nothing about the claims, during the election or after.

But the Clintons paid a cost for not suing: Even more ridiculous charges — claiming Vince Foster’s suicide was a murder, and so on — followed, and critics were emboldened to say anything they wanted about the Clintons, regardless of veracity.

Kerry should take a stand not only for himself, but for future candidates and elected officials. Factually baseless attacks knowingly designed to destroy political opponents should be culled from our system: Defamation law is meant to serve that purpose, and so it is time for Kerry to file suit.

Evolution of a Programmer (comic but revealing). Also by Patrick Jordan: Quick Comparison of the Popular Languages.

An insider criticizes the Scientology cult. (I’ve only read half of this piece; it’s really amazing what some people would believe).

I’ve been enjoying the latest facelift of Digg. They’ve expanded to more categories. The challenge is in spreading the scope of the site, while keeping a large enough audience for each category. For example, it looks like sections like Entertainment are already overrun by promos.

28 Chapters, an interesting exercise in video production. I like this idea (and in fact was thinking of starting a similar kind of project). Here are their submission guidelines. The problem with their idea is that each episode is too short. (They did it to increase the frequency of episodes). Instead of using 1 minute episodes, they should have worked with 10-15 minute episodes (which I’ll be the first to admit, requires a lot of work). They’ve fallen in the trap of thinking that frequency creates momentum, which is not the case at all for artistic works. Also, by using the same characters, they reduce the probability of continuity. (Contrast that with Linklater’s Slacker, which handled the distributed filmmaking challenge with panache). I think viewers are tolerant of a large cast of characters, but they really can’t be bothered to keep track of incarnations of characters, especially if the episodes are that short.