Posts tagged ‘Iraq’

That Whole "Banality of Evil" Thing

I can't help thinking of Adolf Eichmann when I look at 1) our Elvis-impersonating terrorist who thinks the local hospital is hoarding body parts and 2) the Chechnyan Beavis and Butthead who managed to kill and maim scores of people despite being bigger screwups than the entire Reservoir Dogs gang.

Don't let your freedoms be taken away by people who say such and such a place or event is vulnerable or open to attack.  If these guys can successfully terrorize people, there can't be any way to stop serious threats short of a North Korean police state.  Every occasion and location is theoretically vulnerable.  Our best protection is to build a society that eschews violence.  And, when someone does go off the farm, we want a society where there is no general toleration for the act.  In Chechnya or Syria or Iraq, these two boneheads would likely have found help and protection from some percentage of the population.  Not so in Boston, or anywhere else in America.

PS-  Today must have been CNN's wet dream.  This was like a real-life version of the Running Man (the enjoyable Richard Bachman aka Steven King book, not the awful movie), with similarly high ratings.

Some Predictions I Made in 2007

Blogging has been light during the holidays, but here are some predictions I made back in 2007 I feel pretty good about (note these were made a year before Obama was elected)

What I will say is that folks who have enthusiastically supported the war should understand that the war is going to have the following consequences:

  1. In 2009 we will have a Democratic Congress and President for the first time since 1994.
  2. The next President will use the deficits from the $1.3 trillion in Iraq war spending to justify a lot of new taxes
  3. These new taxes, once the war spending is over, will not be used for deficit reduction but for new programs that, once established, will be nearly impossible to eliminate
  4. No matter what the next president promises to the electorate, they are not going to reverse precedents for presidential power and secrecy that GWB has established.  Politicians never give up power voluntarily.  [if the next president is Hillary, she is likely to push the envelope even further].  Republicans are not going to like these things as much when someone of the other party is using them.

1.  The prediction was 100% correct, and in fact even went further as the donkeys gained a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, at least for a year.  Though the war likely had little to do with the outcome, which was driven more by the economy

2.  Dead-on.  Five years later Obama still blames the deficit on Bush.  This is no longer true -- Obama has contributed far, far more than Bush to the deficit -- but the Republicans' fiscal irresponsibility during their tenure have robbed them of any credibility in criticizing Obama

3.  Mostly true (and usually a safe bet with government).   Tax increases were deferred for four years due to an economy I had not foreseen would be so bad, but they are coming.  At the time, it seemed logical to blame a lot of the deficit issues on war spending.  Today, though, 1.3 trillion is barely 8% of the debt and is almost trivial to more recent money wasting activities.

4.  Absolutely true.  In spades.  The only thing I missed was I thought Obama might be less likely to go overboard with the whole executive authority and secrecy thing than Hillary, but boy was I wrong.  Obama has absolutely embraced the imperial presidency in a way that might have made Dick Cheney blush.  Accelerated drone war, constant ducking of FOIA and transparency, increased use of treason laws to prosecute whistle blowers, claiming of power to assassinate Americans on the President's say-so, accelerated warrant-less wiretapping, using executive orders to end-run Congress, etc. etc.  And I never guessed how much the media which so frequently criticized  Bush for any expansions in these areas would roll over and accept such activity from a President of their party.

Never Waste a Crisis

If you had told me last week that half the media would be blaming Sarah Palin for the actions of a leftish nutcase, or that Keith Olberman would be accusing, well, anybody, of being too immoderate in their rhetoric, I would have said you were crazy.  Seldom have I found the tone and tenor of the media coverage of any event to be less satisfactory than with the Giffords shooting this weekend.  So of course, I have joined the fray with my own column on Forbes.

We libertarians cringe when presented with a “national tragedy” like the shooting of Gabriella Giffords.  Not because we are somehow more or less sensitive to vilence and loss of life, but because we begin bracing for the immediate, badly thought-out expansion of state power that nearly always follows any such tragedy, whether it be 9/11 or Columbine or Oklahoma City or even Pearl Harbor.  Those looking to expand the power of the state, and of state officials, make their greatest progress in the emotional aftermath of a such a tragedy.  These tragedies are the political equivilent of the power play in ice hockey, when defenders of liberty find themselves temporarily shorthanded, and those wishing to expand state power rush to take advantage.

Here is one example from later in the piece:

After 9/11, Republicans argued that it was time to put away political differences to rally around the President in a time of war.  They implied that criticizing the President in such a time was somehow unpatriotic and counter-productive.   Was this true?  I thought the opposite — that the momentous decisions to be made post-9/11 demanded more rather than less debate.  America would eventually wake up from this celebration of unity with a hangover in the form of the TSA, the Patriot Act, detention at Guantanamo Bay, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact is that politicians, particularly those in power, find every excuse to ask Americans to “moderate their public discourse,” in large part because this request translates in the real world to “reduce the criticisms of those in power.”    So it should not be surprising that many of those who represent our current ruling party blamed the Giffords shooting on the hate-filled rhetoric of the opposition party, even before we knew the name of the killer,.

From a larger historical perspective, I would argue that current political discourse is really rather tame.   Even the wackiest cable opinion show pales in comparison to the fire-breathing political attacks that could be found in nearly any 19th century newspaper.  In the 1960’s, political discourse became so heated that it spilled out into the streets in the form of urban riots.  In fact, what we should fear far more than our rhetoric is the current threats by politicians like Jim Clyburn of South Carolina to use this tragedy as an excuse to put new restrictions on speech.  A number of high-profile comentators have spent more time blaming this shooting on Sarah Palin than on the shooter himself.   Given the complete lack of evidence for any such connection, such efforts can only be viewed as an effort by those on power to silence a prominent opposition leader.

Hilarious Misdirection

Progressive green web site the Thin Green Line takes on subsidies for petroleum products, saying that reducing such subsidies could immediately have a major impact on CO2 production.  Fine with me, I am no fan of subsidies by governments of any private activities, though I don't live in fear of CO2.

However, the author, trying I guess to buff his progressive credentials in a sort of typical knee-jerk for green writers, tries to imply all this largess is somehow flowing to large oil companies, and the implication is that western nations like the US are subsidizing folks like Exxon and BP:

The timing couldn't be better: With BP's oil continuing to pollute the Gulf Coast, the question of how much our alliance with the oil industry really costs us is at the front of the everybody's mind.

The International Energy Agency released an early draft of a report documenting, for the first time ever, how much the fossil fuel industries get in subsidies each year (H/T Grist). The timing is, of course, coincidental: The IEA's work stems from an agreement made at this years G20 conference that subsidies of fossil fuel industries should be phased out as part of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

So "” drum roll, please! "” how much money are the energy giants taking in? $550 billion a year.

But the author is, I believe, misunderstanding the study and the underlying economics (no surprise there from a green progressive writer).  This is from a study of 37 developing, not rich, nations.  There is no way these guys are paying $550 billion in cash into private oil company pockets.  In fact, most of these countries barely let the private oil companies even play, or force them into some marginal operator role subservient to their state oil company.

If these countries are subsidizing producers at all, the vast majority who are getting such largesse are large state-run companies, not western private oil companies.

However, my guess (and I have not seen the report yet) is that what they mean by most of these subsidies is actually selling fossil fuels to their citizens at below-market prices.  These subsidies are not transfers of state dollars to oil companies at all, but below-market pricing of oil products to consumers by state-run oil monopolies.   The people getting subsidized here are poorer consumers, not private oil companies.  Countries like China, Iran, Iraq and even Venezuela (run by progressive heart throb Hugo Chavez) sell petroleum products way below market prices to their citizens.  I am fairly certain this is the half trillion dollar subsidy the report refers to.

So we have the ultimate irony of a "progressive" lamenting government-subsidized energy for poorer people in developing nations.  Wow, I never thought I would say this, but if this is the progressive position, I agree with it.  The whole situation does highlight the difficult tension between development and CO2 reduction programs, and reinforces my argument that aggressive worldwide CO2 abatement will mainly hurt the poor.

Common Cause

I will tell you, those who agree with me on the immigration issue in the Democratic Party are trying as hard as they can to turn me against immigration.  This same thing happened in the Iraq war.  I was against the war, as I thought it a poor use of resources (there are just too many bad governments in the world to take them all down that way).  But when my fellow anti-war travelers agreed with me for stupid reasons (we must defer to Europe, Sadam is not a bad guy, etc.) it almost made me change my mind.  If the people who agree with me are idiots, is that a bad sign?

TJIC has similar thoughts here, and I watched in amazement as the Mexican President yesterday criticized US immigration policy for being to harsh, despite the fact it is far more open than Mexico's own immigration policy.

Here is the Key Bait and Switch

Bill Clinton joined a number other leftish writers of late trying to marginalize those who criticize the government (and in particular, I think, the Tea Party folks).   I am really not going to comment much on this attempt, except to say that we endured something identical during the Iraq war, with the BS about not criticizing the President during wartime.

Here is the key bait and switch in Clinton's argument:

But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.

The government that guarantees our freedoms?  I suppose this sounds sort of good if one just lets it roll by, but in the context of our country's formation, this is absurd.  The only threat to freedom that the founders of this nation were concerned about was the government itself.

The government is the only entity with the power to use force and the power to grab money without permission.  As such, the founders recognized it as the single most potent threat to freedom that could possibly exist.  All their efforts were aimed at constructing limitations and protections from the power of government itself.

It would be far more correct to say "the Constitution that guarantees our freedoms" by limiting the power of government, but in fact that is exactly what the left is trying to overturn, with a hundred years of efforts to slowly whittle the Constitutional limitations on the power of government down to zero.

Update: Wow, this is an amazing excerpt from a 1995 memo from Dick Morris to Clinton just after the Oklahoma City bombing.  Seems like he is still following the same playbook:

Later, under the heading "How to use extremism as issue against Republicans," Morris told Clinton that "direct accusations" of extremism wouldn't work because the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. Rather, Morris recommended what he called the "ricochet theory." Clinton would "stimulate national concern over extremism and terror," and then, "when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans." As that happened, Morris recommended, Clinton would use his executive authority to impose "intrusive" measures against so-called extremist groups. Clinton would explain that such intrusive measures were necessary to prevent future violence, knowing that his actions would, Morris wrote, "provoke outrage by extremist groups who will write their local Republican congressmen." Then, if members of Congress complained, that would "link right-wing of the party to extremist groups." The net effect, Morris concluded, would be "self-inflicted linkage between [GOP] and extremists."

Atomic Welfare

Jerry Taylor echos my point I made last week that supposedly conservative supporters of nuclear power are ignoring the problem of huge government subsidies.

There is an interesting phenomenon in public discourse that I don't have a name for.  Take nuclear power.  Many of the people who oppose nuclear power do so for some pretty flawed reasons.   I think there is a natural tendency to take the other side of the argument when one sees this happening, even if by first principles one should joining the opposition to nukes but for different reasons.

I know I was pulled into having some initial sympathy for the Iraq war for just this reason, because the war-opposition arguments seemed so stupid (e.g. France won't like us as much!)  The correct argument on Iraq was not that Iraq didn't suck (it did) but that so many countries suck just as bad it was an impossible task to start knocking them off using large portions of the US Military, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars each time out  (I call it the "cleaning the Augean Stables argument).

GWB: Leftish Icon?

If it wasn't for his reactions (Patriot Act, Gitmo, Iraq, Afghanistan) to 9/11, shouldn't GWB be a leftish icon?  (source)

200912_blog_edwards291

Ironically, the current Congress renewed most of the Patriot Act, Obama will most likely not close Gitmo any time soon, I see no movement out of Iraq, and Obama has doubled down on Afghanistan.    GWB may have been the worst president in recent memory (since at least Nixon) for libertarians, though Obama seems to be on a trajectory to surpass him.

More Specious Logic

A while back I wrote:

People often use terrible, specious logic when arguing things political.  I have particularly seen this over the last 6 months.  The argument typically goes like this:

  1. I make a critique of a policy in the Obama administration, say on health care
  2. Sometimes as an opening response, or sometimes when [the] other person is unable to specifically counter what I have said, they respond instead, "well, your guys  fill in the blank ." The latter part might be "got us into Iraq" or possibly "are pushing this birther nonsense."
  3. I respond that  fill in the blank was not something I support(ed) and that if  by "my guys" they mean Republicans, that I was not a Republican, that I do not think the Republicans have an internally consistent position, and that I disagree with many programs and policies typically advocated by Republicans.  And besides, how did this have anything to do with the original conversation?
  4. They respond to me now as if I am somehow cheating.  Confusion reigns.

Michael at Q&O has a good example today, from the White House blog reacting to criticisms that there are too many unaccountable czars running around:

But of course, it's really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration's use of "czars", had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration's use of "czars". Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint "czars" to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges.

That addresses the charge, how?  Unbelievably, the White House is resorting to the kindergarten playground argument "well, you started it."

By the way, I had asked before if such an argument had a name.  Its clearly a subset of ad hominem arguments, but I suspected that something so common must have be labeled.  It has:

Tu quoque (pronounced /tuːˈkwoʊkwiː/, from Latin for "You, too" or "You, also") is a Latin term that describes a kind of logical fallacy. A tu quoque argument attempts to discredit the opponent's position by asserting his failure to act consistently in accordance with that position; it attempts to show that a criticism or objection applies equally to the person making it. It is considered an ad hominem argument, since it focuses on the party itself, rather than its positions.

I Feel Like I'm Taking Crazy Pills

Just as a brief aside, it is sometimes entertaining to be a libertarian without an affiliation to either the Coke or Pepsi party.  It's amazing, from the perspective of standing off to the side on a point of the political spectrum that most civics books don't even acknowledge exists**, how much of political discourse is team-loyalty politics rather than meaningful policy discussion.

The posts that happened to set me off down this path were a pair from Kevin Drum about poor Barney Frank having to meet rowdy protestors and a lament on the frustrations of cloture in the Senate, but I am not particularly singling him or the left out.  In fact, I read Drum because he is less bad on the team politics angle than others.  I force myself to read a couple of political blogs on the left and right to see what they are saying.  A few observations:

  • Both teams are absolutely convinced that they are occupying the high ground and it is the other side that is resulting to personal attacks, negative campaigning, astroturfing, whatever.  Seriously, its really hilarious -- I see exactly the same posts written about "our side is losing because we don't resort to the low tactics of the other side" written by bloggers on both sides of the political spectrum on the same day.
  • Both teams are absolutely convinced that the media does not give their side the coverage or respect they deserve.
  • Both teams are guilty of trying to block dissent through clever rhetorical games without having to actually answer policy critiques.  Team red did it with the Iraq war, saying it was wrong to criticize a President in wartime, a useful concept when it is combined with the theory that the President can declare any time to be wartime.   Team blue takes a different approach, by claiming any opposing argument on subjects like climate or health care are being raised as part of plots funded by nefarious interest groups, and so therefore don't deserve a response.
  • Both teams hold up wacky members of the opposing team's fringes and attempt to portray them as representative of the mainstream opposition.  (OK, I may have been guilty of this once or twice myself)
  • Both teams can be loud and strident where they are energized and ticked off (this is a good thing).  Both teams have recently compared the opposition president to Hitler.   Both teams have been "obstructionist" as the minority in Congress.  Both teams have dreamed of changing the filibuster rules in the Senate while in the majority.  Both teams have freaked at suggestions the filibuster rules in the Senate would be changed while in the minority.  Both teams have promised bipartisanship when they were in the majority and not delivered on it.  Both teams have members who are corrupt.  Both teams have members who have had affairs.
  • Both teams have supposed evil genius schemers in the background (Rahm Emanuel meet Karl Rove).  Both teams have found it convenient to make concerted personal attacks on individual opponents (Sarah Palin meet Bill Clinton).
  • Both teams have promised respect for the Constitution in the Executive office and not delivered on it.  Both teams have promised a less interventionist foreign policy and never delivered on it (people forget GWB first campaigned almost as an isolationist against Clinton's Kosovo interventions).  Both teams have Presidents who are addicted to signing statements.  Both teams have really gone after selected Supreme Court nominees.
  • Both teams have Congressmen who support ethanol subsidies, which thoughtful people agree are stupid.  Both teams have Congressmen who support farm subsidies, which thoughtful people agree are stupid.  Both teams have Congressmen who support trade interventions (e.g. sugar tariffs) which thoughtful people agree are stupid.  Both teams have actively supported ratcheting up the war on drugs, which some thoughtful people may agree with but I think is stupid.  Both teams have voted in the last 15 years for major government interventions in medicine, education, and limitations on personal freedoms in the name of security.  When team blue was in power, it supported a law that was basically the Patriot Act, but had it voted down due to team red opposition.  When team red was in power, it forcefully pushed through the Patriot Act which it had previously opposed, this time against the opposition of team blue members who had previously supported it.

All this is not to say that libertarians are necessarily better people.  If we had a real team that wasn't a political joke, we'd probably engage in similar behaviors.  Of course, the difference is that we would be trying to lower the stakes of the political game rather than continue to raise them.

** Footnote: I don't know about you, but my civics textbooks in elementary school described a 2-dimensional political spectrum that ran from "fascism" on the political right to "communism" at the extreme of the left.  How does a libertarian even place himself on a spectrum that ranges from totalitarian statism to totalitarian statism?   I haven't seen such textbooks lately, so I don't know if this "heads statism wins, tails freedom loses" approach to the political spectrum still exists.

By the way, I have been reading a book called The Vampire Economy by Gunter Reimann, published in 1939.  It is a description of the economic policy of Nazi Germany, a subject that gets very little coverage because, frankly, later Nazi atrocities are such a magnet for attention.

I challenge anyone to read that book and find any substantial point of differentiatoin between Hitler's economy and a strongly socialist country.  And the section on strong-arming the banking industry for political goals was especially entertaining the context of the last 2 administrations.

Hitler approached his later war with Russia as an ideological war to the finish between polar opposites, but in fact it was really a feud between blood brothers.

Full Quote Referenced in the Title from Zoolander: "The man has only one look, for Christ's sake! Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face! Doesn't anybody notice this?  I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

Things I Have Learned As A Libertarian

People often use terrible, specious logic when arguing things political.  I have particularly seen this over the last 6 months.  The argument typically goes like this:

  1. I make a critique of a policy in the Obama administration, say on health care
  2. Sometimes as an opening response, or sometimes when other person is unable to specifically counter what I have said, they respond instead, "well, your guys  fill in the blank ." The latter part might be "got us into Iraq" or possibly "are pushing this birther nonsense."
  3. I respond that  fill in the blank was not something I support(ed) and that if  by "my guys" they mean Republicans, that I was not a Republican, that I do not think the Republicans have an internally consistent position, and that I disagree with many programs and policies typically advocated by Republicans.  And besides, how did this have anything to do with the original conversation?
  4. They respond to me now as if I am somehow cheating.  Confusion reigns.

I am not a student of logic, so I don't know what this technique or fallacy is called, though I have learned that such common behaviors generally do have academic sounding names.  I think of it as the sports-team-argument approach.  When my son (Yankees fan, much to the embarrassment of the whole family) argues with his Red Sox cousins, he might say "Kevin Youkilis has to be the creepiest looking guy in the league," and his cousins might respond "Yeah, well how many steroids has A-Rod done this week?"

Strictly speaking, bringing up A-Rod does not answer the Youkilis barb.  But it is understood to be in the broader context of my team vs. your team, and in that context the exchange makes logical sense, and the A-Rod comeback is a perfectly appropriate rejoinder to the Youkilis insult.  You point out a blemish in my team, I respond with a blemish on your team.

But what if you don' t have a team?

I am starting to understand better that this is how most people approach political discourse.  For someone looking for a quality discussion on key public policy questions, arguments seldom make sense.  Why does something Rush Limbaugh is saying have any bearing on the point I just made on health care or cap-and-trade?  The answer is that it does not, unless the whole point is a red team-blue team one-upmanship between the Coke and Pepsi parties.

Postscript / Disclosure: I am actually an agnostic in the Yankees / Red Sox battles, but I am a big fan of Kevin Youkilis.  The story of how Oakland's Billy Bean tried to pry Youkilis out of the Red Sox farm system in Moneyball is priceless.  According to the story, Bean knew before the Red Sox what talent they had lurking in the Minors.

More on the European Economic Model

Yesterday I posted on the irony that in the name of "change" and "dynamism," the Democrats are pushing for what basically is an inherently more conservative (little-c), less dynamic economic system that mirrors that of many continental European countries.

Daniel, an American reader who does quite a bit of work in Europe, wrote me:

1) The static nature of the Euro mentality assigns a high cost to ... people ... who try to break the mold. Cost of failure is relatively high. In Italy if your small business declares bankruptcy, you forfeit the right to vote.

2) In Germany, workers are sorted at an early age into "blue collar schools" and "professional schools". I know from my youth, if I had grown up in Germany instead of America, I probably would not be a consultant but more like a janitor (not that there is anything wrong with janitors...).

3) Social services in Europe are hit and miss. In Germany, many people carry private insurance despite the availability of public insurance because of the lack of quality.

4) (this may be a good thing) Italian school children go through a less harsh puberty than American kids. Society has drilled into them that it's not cool to be different, so there are less cliques. When I share my experiences in school with most Europeans they usually make some snide remark about how growing up in a battle zone (primary school) has caused the Iraq war.

5) Highly skilled workers are in many cases no better paid than unskilled staff. In the south of Italy a senior programmer may make 2K euros per month. A secretary might make 1.5K a month. If it weren't for most Europeans fear of moving to new cities, there would be no programmers to hire.

6) Speaking of being afraid to move, many Europeans find the thought of moving to a different city complete alien concept.

7) Life in Euro is a much more comfortable than in America *if* you are European. If you are an immigrant, forget it. After two years of pitching companies in the South of Italy, I have never seen a black person be more than a street side vendor of trinkets. In Italy, there is an unsaid rule that you must be an Italian to ever be a professional.

8) Don't get me started on France.

9) It is illegal for a business to stay open more than it's quota in most European countries. It is illegal to operate a barber shop on Mondays.

The Panic Imperative

Eric Posner writes:

Many legal academics claimed that courts should serve as fire walls
against the conflagration of fear. When the government locks someone
up, the courts should realize that in many cases either government
officials have panicked or are violating someone's civil liberties
merely to assure frightened citizens that something is being done. For
that reason, courts should treat the government's justifications with
skepticism, and never ever trust the executive branch.

These arguments have not yet surfaced in the current crisis. The
specter of fear is everywhere, not just on Wall Street. And the scale
of the government's reaction is no less than what it was after
9/11"”that is what probably scares ordinary people the most. Yet no one
who believes that the government exploited fears after 9/11 to
strengthen its security powers is now saying that the government is
exploiting financial crisis fears in order to justify taking control of
credit markets. No one who thinks that government would use fear to
curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear
to curtail economic liberties. Why not?

No one, except me of course.  From my October 1 discourse with a Democratic friend:

I find it surprising that you take this administration
on faith in its declaration of emergency in the financial sector.
You've lamented for years about the "rush to war" and GWB's scare
tactics that pushed, you felt, the nation into a war it should not be
fighting, all over threats of WMD's that we could never find.  You
lamented Democrats like Hillary Clinton "falling for this" in Congress

But now the mantra is the same - rush, rush, hurry, hurry, fear,
fear, emergency, emergency. Another GWB declared crisis in which the
country needs to give the administration unlimited power without
accountability and, of course, stacks of taxpayer dollars to spend.  A
decision that has to be made fast, without time for deliberation.
Another $700 billion commitment.     And here the Democrats go again.
Jeez, these guys may have the majority in Congress but it is sure easy
for GWB to push their buttons when he wants to.  Heck, Pelosi is acting
practically as the Republican Whip to get GWB's party in line.

This is Iraq without the body bags, and without the personal honor
of brave soldiers in the trenches to give the crisis some kind of
dignity.

It's a Feature, not a Bug

Laws that require the goodwill and ethical functioning of its participants, without oversight, always worry me.  The companion argument to this is when someone says (and this is popular among Democrats nowadays) all this infrastructure in the government that does not work will be fine when we get our own smart people running it.

It never, never works.  Here is yet another example:  All that extra post-9/11 investigatory power?  Trust us, we only use it on the bad guys.

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as
terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state
and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police
chief acknowledged yesterday.

Police Superintendent Terrence B.
Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the surveillance
operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq
war, was far more extensive than was known when its existence was
disclosed in July....

Said the unrepentant leader of this efort:

"I don't believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government," he said.

Reading my history, disrupting the government was not the last thing they were trying to protect, it was the first thing. 

The Bailout is Back

So what does it take to overcome the opposition of Congressmen who said they opposed the bailout bill as too expensive, too big of a giveaway, and too much of a moral hazard?  Why, more moral hazard (in the form of higher FDIC insured balances), increased spending, and, incredibly, money for alternative energy.  Are these guys a joke or what?  (HT Hit and Run)

By the way, I had a conversation yesterday with a very anti-Bush, anti-Iraq-War Democrat -- the sort that can't get through a five minute conversation without making a Dick Cheney crack.  She was lamenting the failure of the bailout package in the House and excoriating Republicans for being so ignorant and narrow-minded.  My response was:

I find it surprising that you take this administration on faith in its declaration of emergency in the financial sector.   You've lamented for years about the "rush to war" and GWB's scare tactics that pushed, you felt, the nation into a war it should not be fighting, all over threats of WMD's that we could never find.  You lamented Democrats like Hillary Clinton "falling for this" in Congress

But now the mantra is the same - rush, rush, hurry, hurry, fear, fear, emergency, emergency. Another GWB declared crisis in which the country needs to give the administration unlimited power without accountability and, of course, stacks of taxpayer dollars to spend.  A decision that has to be made fast, without time for deliberation.  Another $700 billion commitment.     And here the Democrats go again.  Jeez, these guys may have the majority in Congress but it is sure easy for GWB to push their buttons when he wants to.  Heck, Pelosi is acting practically as the Republican Whip to get GWB's party in line.

This is Iraq without the body bags, and without the personal honor of brave soldiers in the trenches to give the crisis some kind of dignity.

Can We Go Back to Ignoring Naomi Klein Now?

In her wild and somewhat bizarre polemic aimed at Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein argues that major historic crises have always been manufactured by capitalists to slip free market principles into action against the wishes of the socialist-leaning masses. 

Really?  In what crisis, ever, did the government end up smaller?  What about the current crisis and the government response to it carries any good news for free marketeers?  History is a series of problems created by government intervention but blamed on the free market, which can supposedly only be solved via more government intervention.

Update:  Critique of Klein here.  Seriously, it is amazing that this rings true with anyone:

Klein's basic argument is that economic liberalization is so unpopular
that it can only win through deception or coercion. In particular, it
relies on crises. During a natural disaster, a war, or a military coup,
people are disoriented, confused, and preoccupied with their own
immediate survival, allowing regimes to liberal-ize trade, to
privatize, and to reduce public spending with little opposition.
According to Klein, "neoliberal" economists have welcomed Hurricane
Katrina, the Southeast Asian tsunami, the Iraq war, and the South
American military coups of the 1970s as opportunities to introduce
radical free market policies. The chief villain in her story is Milton
Friedman, the economist who did more than anyone in the 20th century to
popularize free market ideas.

As is typical, Klein confuses support for capitalism with government support of individual capitalists.

Getting the Bureaucrat's Permission to Speak

Ezra Levant has posted YouTube videos of his interrogation by an oily little Canadian bureaucrat called "a human rights officer."  He has done it in a series of post, so go to his site and keep scrolling.  Apparently, in Canada, free speech is not a human right but "freedom from criticism" is, at least for certain politically connected groups  (threatening violence at the drop of a hat also seems to help gain one this "freedom from criticism" right.  Levant is being hauled in by the government for publication of those Danish cartoons that barely register at 0.1 on a criticism meter that goes to 10

This exchange really resonated with me:

Officer McGovern said "you're entitled to your opinions, that's for sure."

Well, actually, I'm not, am I? That's the reason I was sitting
there. I don't have the right to my opinions, unless she says I do.

For all of you who left the US for Canada for more freedom from Bush and the Iraq war, have at it.  Because Bush will be gone and we will be out of Iraq long before Canada (as well as Europe) catch up to the US in terms of its protection of [most] individual rights, like free speech.

via Maggies Farm

Update, from Mark Steyn:

Ms McGovern, a blandly unexceptional bureaucrat, is a classic example
of the syndrome. No "vulnerable" Canadian Muslim has been attacked over
the cartoons, but the cartoonists had to go into hiding, and a gang of
Muslim youths turned up at their children's grade schools, and Muslim
rioters around the world threatened death to anyone who published them,
and even managed to kill a few folks who had nothing to do with them.
Nonetheless, upon receiving a complaint from a Saudi imam trained at an
explicitly infidelophobic academy and who's publicly called for the
introduction of sharia in Canada, Shirlene McGovern decides that the
purely hypothetical backlash to Muslims takes precedence over any
actual backlash against anybody else.

Libertarian Split on Non-Intervention

Megan McArdle does a pretty fair job of outlining the issues that have split libertarians over the Iraq war.  A snippet:

If you are not willing to posit that Americans should stay home even
when millions are being senselessly slaughtered, then you end up in
sticky pragmatic arguments about the possibilities of inherently
untrustworthy state power to counteract even more noxious state power,
and how much in the way of cost we can reasonably be expected to bear
in order to advance liberty. I don't think there's an inherently
libertarian answer to those questions. Libertarians should be
inherently more suspicious of the American government's ability to make
things better than other groups--but by the same token, it seems to me
that they shoul

Does Anyone Really Believe This?

James Pethokoukis argues that we might have spent a lot of the $1.3 trillion cost of the Iraq war on containment of Iraq had we fought the war.

I will admit I have not seen the studies, but I declare right now that there is NO WAY.  If we really would have spent $150 billion a year containing Iraq in absence of a war, we should be spending similar magnitudes today on other similar regimes on which we have chosen not to declare war, like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc.  But demonstrably we are not.  One might argue that oil prices would be lower, I guess, but one could also argue that the post-9/11 recession would not have been as deep without a war.  I am sure there is a broken window fallacy in here somewhere.  This reminds me nothing so much as the tortured economic studies that purport to show a gullible populace that it makes sense to build a billion dollar stadium for the hapless Arizona Cardinals because the city will make it all back in future revenues.  Sure.

I am not going to argue the justifications for the Iraq war here.  What I will say is that folks who have enthusiastically supported the war should understand that the war is going to have the following consequences:

  1. In 2009 we will have a Democratic Congress and President for the first time since 1994.
  2. The next President will use the deficits from the $1.3 trillion in Iraq war spending to justify a lot of new taxes
  3. These new taxes, once the war spending is over, will not be used for deficit reduction but for new programs that, once established, will be nearly impossible to eliminate
  4. No matter what the next president promises to the electorate, they are not going to reverse precedents for presidential power and secrecy that GWB has established.  Politicians never give up power voluntarily.  [if the next president is Hillary, she is likely to push the envelope even further].  Republicans are not going to like these things as much when someone of the other party is using them.

I Honestly Don't Understand Where We Are on Foreign Policy

I don't even pretend to be very knowledgeable about foreign policy so I seldom write about it.  But the dialog around Turkey honestly has me confused.  Nancy Pelosi argues that we need to call out Turkey right now in order "to restore America's moral authority around the world."  So I get the moral dimension of calling out bad people for bad actions.  But it was my understanding that this was what Democrats found facile in Bush's foreign policy, that Bush called out countries like North Korea and pre-invasion Iraq for being part of an axis of evil.  Is it then Pelosi's position that morality in foreign policy consists of pointing out evil actions committed by our allies eighty years ago, but avoiding calling out current evil actions by our enemies?

Bush Sucks

Chris Edwards of Cato has the numbers:

Edwards_0907

I always laughed at Democrats that tried to woo me to their party.  Now I laugh at Republicans too.  MoveOn may get mileage out of attacking Bush, but he has done more for the left/liberal cause than Clinton.  Clinton had NAFTA, welfare reform, and (moderated by an aggresive Republican Congress) fiscal sanity.  While he too had an Iraq-like war in Kosovo, he never got sucked into the sweeping nation-building Bush has taken on.

Bush II is also leading this poll for the modern inductee to the free market hall of shame.

You Better Shop Around

From Kevin Drum:

Marc Cooper spends 20 hours in the hospital and tells his story here.  Price of stay without insurance: $116, 749.  Price with insurance: $4,730.  Only in America, folks.

He's not very clear if this was an emergency situation -- like, did he have a heart attack and get rushed to the hospital in an ambulance -- or an important but non-emergency situation.  I will assume the latter by the tone of Marc Cooper's detailed post.

If so, then my first comment is, indeed only in America would he have gotten this procedure without waiting twelve weeks or without traveling to, say, America to get it done more expeditiously,

Second, I wonder:  Did he ask for a price estimate in advance? Did he ask, as most of
us do with all of our large purchases, for a written estimate or
quotation? Did he get such estimates from two or three competitors? Did
he shop around?

Of course not! Because in a system where someone else is paying the
bills, we have no incentive to shop around. So providers have no
incentive to compete on price or to worry about productivity and cost
control.

Sure, this looks like a rip-off.  But if you went in to buy a car, concerned only with the quality of the
car, and never asked the price and then got a bill for $100,000 a few
weeks later, would you be surprised?  Would anyone give you sympathy if you complained you paid $100,000 for the car but admitted you never asked what the price was?

So this is a dead-obvious outcome from the health care system we
have, where no one has the incentive to shop. By the way, I have a high-deductible policy which causes me to
shop around, because costs come out of my own pocket. I ask questions
like, is that extra CT scan really necessary?

It's incredible to me that given this situation, the solution for
this blog's author and most of his readers is not "we should find a way
to have individuals experience both the cost and benefits of care,
because only they can make these tradeoffs for themselves and shop
around for better options" but is instead "lets just turn it over to
the government, since they do such a good job with Iraq and the mail
and our schools."

Finally, I would point out that the author is making some wild assumptions about an insurance statement he probably does not understand (I say that with confidence since no one understands health insurance statements).  His assumption that the walk-in poor would have had to pay $100,000 for the procedure or would have been left to die are demonstrably untrue, since there is just not that much evidence that either outcome is occuring with any regularity.  That is why health care socialization supporters always talk about the number of people uninsured, which is almost irrelevant, instead of the number of people who don't get care, which is a much much smaller, almost vanishingly small number.

Help Me Out on Darfur

Many of the very same folks who are vocal critics of the war in Iraq have "Save Darfur" banners on their web site.  I followed one, and clicked around a lot to find out what the hell they thought should be done.  They have some woman on the home page "running for Darfur" but I am not sure that is much of a practical solution.  I see they also want to send in the UN peacekeepers, but they seem to imply the problem is that the government needs to go, and I have never known UN peacekeepers to overthrow any governments (or to do anything really, other than maybe participate in some of the looting themselves).  And I can't believe that any adult really thinks sending aid money to this area with a rapacious government is going to help one bit.

Isn't the only real solution to send in troops, overthrow the old boss, and hang around for a decade or so until the new boss is stable?  And how is that any different than Iraq.

Seriously, I thought opposition to Iraq was about not engaging in wars we don't have to for mainly humanitarian reasons.  I am very sympathetic to this position, but it means that you are just going to have to watch and weep when the inevitable Darfurs come along.  But all this Darfur stuff is making me think that the opposition to Iraq is more about wars started by our guy vs. wars started by your guy.  I think it is perfectly valid to have a discussion about whether we want to try to take on by military force every bad government in the world (see: Cleaning the Augean Stables).  Unfortunately, I think the discussion is instead devolving into whether we should use our army to attack governments George Bush doesn't like vs. those Bono doesn't like.

Help Me Out on Darfur

Many of the very same folks who are vocal critics of the war in Iraq have "Save Darfur" banners on their web site.  I followed one, and clicked around a lot to find out what the hell they thought should be done.  They have some woman on the home page "running for Darfur" but I am not sure that is much of a practical solution.  I see they also want to send in the UN peacekeepers, but they seem to imply the problem is that the government needs to go, and I have never known UN peacekeepers to overthrow any governments (or to do anything really, other than maybe participate in some of the looting themselves).  And I can't believe that any adult really thinks sending aid money to this area with a rapacious government is going to help one bit.

Isn't the only real solution to send in troops, overthrow the old boss, and hang around for a decade or so until the new boss is stable?  And how is that any different than Iraq.

Seriously, I thought opposition to Iraq was about not engaging in wars we don't have to for mainly humanitarian reasons.  I am very sympathetic to this position, but it means that you are just going to have to watch and weep when the inevitable Darfurs come along.  But all this Darfur stuff is making me think that the opposition to Iraq is more about wars started by our guy vs. wars started by your guy.  I think it is perfectly valid to have a discussion about whether we want to try to take on by military force every bad government in the world (see: Cleaning the Augean Stables).  Unfortunately, I think the discussion is instead devolving into whether we should use our army to attack governments George Bush doesn't like vs. those Bono doesn't like.

Open Up to Cuba

The Bush administration is in the unenviable but not historically unprecedented position of not really being able to accomplish much of anything over the next two years.  Bush's credibility is such that a solid majority in Congress may oppose any plan he suggests, just because he suggested it.  Also, it is unlikely that any third-rail-type reforms will be considered in a presidential election cycle.  And I am generally OK with government legislative inaction.  In fact, it would be great if the Democrats chose to pursue impeachment hearings, not because Bush is any more or less a lying sack of shit than other politicians, but because it would divert Congress onto an enforced lassaiz faire path on every other issue.

However, one thing Bush could productively accomplish is to open up relations with Cuba.  If we are ready to pull out of Iraq after five years, even at the cost of being seen as "losing," we should be ready to reconsider our cold war with Cuba after over 46 years.  After all, our cold war with Russia, if dated from the end of WWII, only lasted 44 years.  We trade freely with communist China, and even with communist Vietnam, despite the fact that we were in a shooting war with them more recently than the Castro takeover.  And what have we accomplished?  Cuba is nowhere close to an anti-communist revolution, and its people suffer.  In fact, I think the embargo on Cuba, by turning Cuba's attention away from its natural trading partner the US, causes it to look for allies in places like Venezuela.

I think history has proven time and time again the power of open commerce and interchange in bringing closed, unfree societies into the modern age.  I can't for the life of me figure out why we still pursue the proven-pointless embargoes against Cuba except:

  • The sugar lobby like it that way
  • The Cuban expat community, operating on wounded latin pride, have stubbornly made it clear that anyone who suggests opening up to Cuba will lose the typically tight vote for Florida's key electoral votes.

With GWB's lame-duckracy and his brother moving on from the Florida governor's mansion, no Bush has to run for election in Florida again. With Castro's death (I'm not dead yet - yes you are, you'll be stone dead in a moment) the anti-Castro movement in the expat community loses focus, and might be reshaped into what it should be, that is pro-Cuba rather than anti-Castro.  I think these two stars are lining up to provide a unique opportunity to do something about Cuba, and in fact might be a useful step in counterpoint to Hugo Chavez's recent actions.