Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Oil independence is not the answer

Arnold Kling over TCS reminds us about economic reality when it comes to Saudi Arabia and our dependence on their oil. Conclusion:
The real issue is the alleged Saudi funding of terror. No matter how much demand we withdraw from the oil market, the Saudis will have revenue and we have to be concerned with how they use it.

If cutting off funding is critical to winning the war on terror, then we must press the Saudis on that point. We should tell them that we respect their rights as a sovereign nation, but they owe it to the community of nations to not fund terrorists. If that approach does not work, then it is a waste of time to wring our hands over our "dependence on foreign oil." The only fallback position is the one suggested by my wife: just take the oil.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Let's roll

The 9/11 Commission's report provides new information about Flight 93:
At 9:57, about seven minutes before the end, one of the passengers ended her phone conversation saying: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye."

Soon after, Ziad Jarrah, sitting at the controls, began rolling the plane to thwart the passengers. Just after 10 a.m., he is heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying: "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?"

But another hijacker responds: "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off."

The voice recorder captured sounds of continued fighting, and Mr. Jarrah pitched the plane up and then down. A passenger is heard to say: "In the cockpit. If we don't we'll die!"

Then a passenger yelled, "Roll it!" While earlier accounts reported the phrase as "Let's roll," which was repeated in speeches by President Bush and became the title of a best-seller, some aviation experts have speculated that this was actually a reference to a food cart, being used as a battering ram.

Mr. Jarrah "stopped the violent maneuvers" about 10:01, according to the report.

"He then asked another hijacker in the cockpit, 'Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?' to which the other replied, 'Yes.' '' Eighty seconds later, a hijacker is heard to say: "Pull it down! Pull it down!"

Soon after, the plane plunged into a field in Shanksville, Pa., about 20 minutes flying time from Washington.
"Let's roll" is one of those things that, if isn't true, it ought to be. In any case, the heroes of flight 93 are heroes for what they did, not for what they said.

Keep your chin up

A lengthy compilation of July's good news from Iraq.

The conservative and the compassionate

A surprising quote:
A society of different lifestyles spawned a group of young people who were brought up without parental discipline, without proper role models and without any sense of responsibility to others.... Today, people have had enough of this part of the 1960s consensus. People do not want a return to old prejudices and ugly discrimination. But they do want rules, order and proper behaviour. They want a community where the decent law-abiding majority are in charge.
Tony Blair, the leader of the Labour party, said this last week.

Here are some other interesting quotes.
And I think that's a proper role for the federal government, to help people.
We've increased federal funding for K through 12 by 49 percent from 2001.
Those are from Bush's recent speech at the Urban League. Now I'm no libertarian, but I am a federalist, and I know there was a time when Republicans talked about getting rid of the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.

Not long after I found these quotes, I discovered that Jonah Goldberg's latest NRO column is on the same topic. He had found a Bush quote of his own:
[T]he role of government is to stand there and say, 'We're going to help you.' The job of the federal government is to fund the providers who are actually making a difference.
The "providers" are marriage counselors. Goldberg complained about this in The Corner and got an email, from no less than the (Or is it "an"?) assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, saying that
By offering marriage-education services on a purely voluntary basis to interested couples whereby they can develop the knowledge and skills necessary to form and sustain healthy marriages, we will help reduce the need for more intrusive government interventions later on.
Read the whole column for Goldberg's response. The bottom line, as Goldberg correctly puts it, is that "at the end of the day, I would still trade every dollar of creative social policy for a dollar of budget cuts."

Goldberg had more to say on this subject in an older column:
While I still think it would be bad for America if Bush lost the election to Kerry and terrible for Republicans, it's less clear it would be bad for the conservative movement.
Last Labor Day [in 2003], George W. Bush told a crowd, "We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move."
Some conservatives are now claiming that Bush's conservatism isn't about "big government" so much as "strong government." Others are complaining or cheering that conservatism is flying under the flag of religion more than liberty.

But most are simply suspending needed conversations until after the election, because a Republican victory at the polls and/or an American victory in the war on terror take precedence. It's an understandable impulse. I just hope there's enough of the Reagan legacy to build on after the election.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

State of concern

"The Real Reasons Why An Iranian Bomb Matters." Perhaps a more accurate title would replace "Real" with "Realist." The reasons in this article are the floor, not the ceiling, for reasons to be concerned. I believe one thing that is being overlooked in this article is the significance of Iranian efforts to sabotage us in Iraq. If this sort of stuff gets worse, we might not be to appropriately respond to a nuclear Iran. Recall that in the Korean war, we didn't attack China directly for fear of provoking World War III. During the Cuban missile crisis, we didn't invade Cuba for the same reason.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Army stretched to its best

Phillip Carter argues that our army is quite possibly the best it has ever been because of Iraq. He notes that "the stresses of war--and in particular the aftermath of defeat or failure--have historically spurred the most profound and lasting revolutions in military affairs," and then goes on to give many examples of how the US Army has been forced to implement many overdue reforms. Combining this with noting the benefit of having so many combat veterans, he paints quite a bright picture. He also notes that, "Despite dire predictions about recruiting and retention, the Army Reserve has largely met both sets of targets since 2001, even with the extremely high operational tempo."

However great a fighting force the army has become, Carter still thinks, "Even when our commitment in Iraq ends, it will be several years before our forces have recovered enough to take on a military venture of similar size." I suspect it will take popular opinion even longer to recover.

Employment speculation

Interesting. Perhaps welfare reform has lowered the natural rate of unemployment, explaining why wage growth has been lower than expected.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Federal alternative to FMA

Eugene Volokh defends the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, and he doubts the Supreme Court will overturn it. The implication is that the FMA is not needed to protect states' rights. I hope he's right, and I'd give him, say, 50-50 odds of being correct.

I think the Right has made a mistake in investing so much effort in the FMA, especially given its recent procedural squashing in the Senate. Federalism is the route most likely to succeed, not to mention the route most truthful to nation's governing traditions. As I've said before, the amendment we should be trying to pass is one that makes the clear that the Tenth Amendment still applies, that states can decide matters like gay marriage for themselves. The states' rights argument is by far the one we're most likely to win on the national level. Consider that right now, if you ask most Democrat politicians about gay marriage, they'll say it's up to each state to decide, even if they're only saying this so as to dodge the question.

I'd propose a amendment text something like this: "The power of intrastate regulation of marriage and children, including unborn children, exclusively belongs to the States." (This is just a first draft, and could surely use the critical eyes of some legal scholars.) All at once, such an amendment would take some the most divisive social issues off the national table. Right now, social activists fight their biggest battles in the Senate over federal court appointments and the occasional constitutional amendment. Moving these battles back to state legislatures and ballot initiatives would be more democratic. Also, it would be more accommodating of our divided society, as there would doubtless be pro-life states, pro-choice states, states with civil unions, states without them, states with gay marriage, such that if you lose on election night, you'll still be able to vote with your feet.

Playing hardball for a change

House Votes to Block Aid for Saudi Arabia. "The vote was a stinging defeat for the Bush Administration which had strongly opposed the measure saying it would "severely undermine" counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia and U.S. efforts for peace in the Middle East." Oh, boo hoo. This provides an opportunity to play good cop, bad cop. Ever since the Shah fell, dictators from Pakistan to Egypt to Saudi Arabia have been implicitly holding the threat of Islamic fundamentalists and the "angry Arab street" over our heads, dissuading us from pushing too hard for reform. Why shouldn't Bush tell Prince Abdullah that he'd "love to help, but you're country's just so unpopular among Americans; can't you show me some meaningful reform that I can use to convince Congress that we're on the same team?"

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bilingual sham

Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs.
ON a sultry night in late June, when the school term was nearly over, two dozen parents gathered in a church basement in Brooklyn to talk about what a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of Bushwick, they were the people bilingual education supposedly serves. Instead, one after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and upward mobility.
Listening to this litany, I experienced the sensation that Yogi Berra memorably called "déjà vu all over again." Five years earlier, in the rectory of another church only a few blocks away, another group of immigrant parents voiced the identical complaints about bilingual education - that the public schools shunted Latino children into it even if those pupils had been born in the United States and previously educated in English, and that once the child was in the bilingual track it was almost impossible to get out. An association of Bushwick parents, virtually all of them Hispanic immigrants, had gone as far as suing in State Supreme Court in a futile attempt to reform the bilingual program in local schools.
Parent after parent in the church basement last month remembered receiving, and then naively signing, a letter from school that apparently constituted their agreement to having a child put into bilingual classes. The letter, recalled these Spanish-speaking parents, was written only in English.
One of the more egregious examples of a lousy public school bureaucracy and dissatisfied parents without recourse. If this doesn't scream "vouchers," then I don't know what does.

Fixing the CIA

The Weekly Standard has an article by a guy who was in the CIA in the 80s. He fears the CIA's real problem, a system that is very inefficient at getting good human intelligence, will not be fixed, even with all the current heat on the CIA for its misperception of Iraq. The systemic problem he refers to goes back even before the 80s. Some excerpts:
NOW, as in the days of Iran-contra, the CIA is front-page news. Odds are Tenet and his Agency will get hammered for all the wrong reasons.
When you stack up the Agency's assessment of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq during the Clinton administration and under Bush, the continuity of Tenet's positions is compelling. It is most unlikely that either he or politically ambitious CIA managers below him ginned up intelligence on Saddam Hussein's WMD programs.
Historians will probably view CIA reporting on the Iraq WMD threat as no less responsible than Agency analysis of the WMD threat from the former Soviet Union.
It is also absolutely true that George Tenet's CIA failed to penetrate Saddam Hussein's inner circle.... But it is also true that the CIA failed to penetrate Moscow's inner circle in the Cold War and that the great agents we did have (the most valuable were probably scientists) were all volunteers.... one simply cannot judge the caliber of a Western espionage service by its ability to penetrate the power circles of totalitarian regimes. The difficulties are just overwhelming.

One can, however, grade intelligence services on whether they have established operational methods that would maximize the chances of success against less demanding targets--for example, against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, which is by definition an ecumenical organization constantly searching for holy-warrior recruits. It is by this standard that George Tenet failed and the CIA will continue to fail, assuming it maintains its current practices.
The abysmal espionage apparatus that William Casey presided over was decades in the making. It was in great part structurally foreordained: Not only the promotion system but also the decision to deploy the vast majority of case officers overseas under official cover--posing as U.S. diplomats, military officers, and so on--set in motion a counterproductive psychology and methods of operation that still dominate the CIA today. (emphasis mine)
What needs to be done?
The entire system for finding, training, and deploying overseas case officers of this type needs to be completely overhauled. The "farm," the legendary training ground for case officers in the woody swamps of Virginia, ought to be abandoned. It has never had much relevance to the practice of espionage overseas. It is a symbol of the Agency's lack of seriousness. This new cadre needs to be a breed apart. Their operational half-life in the field might be at most ten years. It is hard to imagine them married and with kids. It is also hard to imagine their coming into being unless these jihadist moles are well paid. A starting salary of a quarter of a million dollars a year would be reasonable. Outsiders will know such a change is afoot when there are rumors of case officers' regularly dying abroad.

The vice presidency - obsolete since 1800

National Review has an interesting article on the origins of the vice-presidency. In every election through 1800, the electors each cast two ballots for the presidency, with each elector forced to choose candidates from two different states. The whole point of the vice-presidency was to discourage electors from the strategy of casting one vote for their first choice and throwing away their second vote on a fringe candidate so as not to help their second choice defeat their first choice.

Monday, July 12, 2004

So many reasons for free trade

Brink Lindsey has an excellent Reason article titled "10 Truths About Trade," but each truth is backed up by many facts, so "100 Truths About Trade" might be more accurate. Do read!

Sunday, July 11, 2004


Remember that uranium in Niger?

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Mercantilism - alive and well

Daniel Drezner on free trade: the good news and the bad news.

Hong Kong and Egypt

Some places are more than ready for democracy; some places have a ways to go yet.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Intelligence and motives

The Washington Post has an informative piece on the 511 report released today by the Senate Intelligence committee. In short, the CIA got it wrong on the Iraqi WMDs.
In accusing the CIA and its top leaders of engaging in a "group think dynamic," the committee said analysts and senior policymakers never questioned their long-held assumption that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the committee reported, the CIA had no undercover agents in Iraq since 1998 to help gather reliable information and failed to tell policymakers of "the uncertainties of both the reliability of some key sources and of intelligence judgments."
"The debate over many aspects of the U.S. liberation of Iraq will likely continue for decades," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the committee. "But one fact is now clear: before the war, the U.S. intelligence community told the president, as well as the Congress and the public, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and, if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong."
And, of course, there is the partisan questioning of the administration:
While the committee's nine Republicans and eight Democrats voted unanimously to release the report, they expressed some differences about whether the Bush administration exerted undue political pressure on the intelligence community to provide assessments that supported a decision to go to war in Iraq. And Democrats lamented that a second phase of the committee's investigation -- into how the administration used the intelligence it received -- will not be completed until well after the November elections.
I believe it's prudent and important to make sure the intelligence was used wisely; what angers in the questioning of motives by the more, er, outspoken Leftists. I remember the days when the news was saturated with all matters Clinton and Lewinisky and Starr. One day, seemingly out of the blue, Clinton announces that he has just launched cruise missiles against a chemical weapons factory in Sudan and a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. Wag the Dog was on the tip of everyone's tongue, but at least for the first few days, not even Rush Limbaugh was willing to question the President's motives. As time went by, Limbaugh and other did question motives, and it bothered me. To say the president used the lethal force of our awesome military for devious reasons is to say he has blood on his hands. That's not a charge to lob like another political talking point. You may call me naive, but until proven otherwise, I assume my government goes to war in good faith.

British meekness towards Iran

Border skirmishes, kidnapping British sailors, intelligence operatives planting bombs (see here about that last one)- what is Iran up to in Iraq? Whatever their plans are, at least we're taking the threat somewhat seriously, even if the British are not:
America's military commander in Iraq ordered British troops to prepare a full-scale ground offensive against Iranian forces that had crossed the border and grabbed disputed territory, a senior officer has disclosed. An attack would almost certainly have provoked open conflict with Iran. But the British chose instead to resolve the matter through diplomatic channels.
Update: Mark Steyn is blasting Blair for the pusillanimous British response to the kidnappings.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Who will control spending?

Fiscal discipline is dormant. It will wake up in 2006 at the earliest. Everyone has long since given up hope with Bush, and those who hope in Kerry are fools:
An omnibus health insurance bill would be the first legislation sent to Congress in a Kerry presidency, he says. But while the centrist Kerry still advocates shrinking the budget deficit, a bolder Kerry, less noticeable so far in the campaign rhetoric, adds that if the deficit threatens to rise rather than fall, well, so be it - he'll go ahead with his health plan anyway.

"Health care is sacrosanct," Mr. Kerry said in a telephone interview, offering the most explicit commitment to date to a program that he estimates would cost $650 billion. That is an amount greater than the cost of all his other economic proposals combined.

"Listen," he said, "if worse comes to worst, you make adjustments accordingly in other priorities."

And not in health care? Mr. Kerry says that he will not have to face that choice, and that in his overall economic plan there is leeway for deficit reduction and expanded, subsidized health insurance. But if a choice has to be made, deficit reduction will have less priority. "Health care is too important," he said.
That leaves Congress. I won't waste words considering the Democrats. As for the Republicans, I expect there will a backlash against their love for big-government, but I doubt that it will be big enough to tip the balance.

I think the virtue to be called upon now is perseverance. After all, Milton Friedman had to wait until he was an old man to see any significant vindication of his ideas. As for pragmatic concerns like "what should we do in the meantime?": I believe the most likely path to success is through the Republican primaries. There are still a lot of Republican representatives and senators that believe in smaller government (at least 88 in the House), and it wasn't so long ago that they controlled Congress and were fighting tooth and nail against Clinton for spending cuts. The Club For Growth has pushed it weight around in congressional primaries (as well as general elections) already, and they are bragging that "Contrary to the RINOs, ALL of the legislators who were elected with the Club's support voted YES [for the Spending Control Act on June 25th]." I think they've got the right idea, and I'm putting my money where my mouth is: I've just become a member and donated.

Towards action

Some good news about Darfur:
The AU, a pan-continental body, is to send a 300-strong protection force to Darfur to support 60 AU monitors who began work last month.

But the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said the force would not now limit itself to the protection of the monitors and saw its role as also protecting civilians.

The Sudanese government said the force had to stick rigidly to its remit of protecting the monitors, and protection of civilians remained a matter for the Sudanese government alone.
It also notes that Britain is threatening an arms embargo while Colin Powell is cryptically threatening "further measures." Meanwhile, France opposes sanctions.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Do the math

The Voynich manuscript is a hoax. How this was discovered is an interesting mix of history and applied mathematics.


Despite all our setbacks, McCain still believes we were right to Invade Iraq. William F. Buckley does not. I feel very strange siding with McCain against Buckley.


King Arthur

Gregg Easterbrook is bashing Hollywood's latest take on King Arthur for its unfaithfulness to history. What he says is true, but I'd argue that we shouldn't be too hard on the film, as our historical knowledge about Arthur is so limited that sticking to the facts isn't possible. The historical King Arthur was the subject of a high school research paper of mine. Among the things I learned is that we don't know much about Arthur other than that he ruled during the fall of the western Roman Empire and that he defended still-Roman Britain against a rising tide of barbarian invasions. The film got this part right, and for this I praise it. The film may be dreck, judging from the IMDB rating of the film, and so I'm in no rush to see it. However, I suspect I will see it eventually, as I have a soft-spot for historical films.

Whatever the quality of various movies about him, the history and legend of Arthur both still appeals to me. In my paper I quoted Winston churchill on Arthur, and I'd like to repeat the quote here:
If we could see exactly what happened we should find ourselves in the presence of a theme as well founded, as inspired, and as inalienable from the inheritance of mankind as the Odyssey or the Old Testament It is all true, or it ought to be; and more and better besides. And wherever men are fighting against barbarism, tyranny, and massacre, for freedom, law and honour, let them remember that the fame of their deeds, even though they themselves be exterminated, may perhaps be celebrated as long as the world rolls round. Let us then declare that King Arthur and his noble Knights, guarding the Sacred Flame of Christianity and the theme of world order, sustained by valour, physical strength, and good horses and amour, slaughtered innumerable hosts of foul barbarians and set decent folk an example for all time.


An interesting problem that never occurred to me before:
Some secrets shouldn't be taken to the grave, such as computer passwords needed to access bank accounts, e-mail, or hard drives. Families and employers often have to scramble to find personal and professional passwords after a death. If passwords for critical computer files or financial records are lost, the execution of wills and final requests can sometimes be delayed.

"It's becoming a very common occurrence," John E. Kuslich, a professional password cracker, told the Dallas Morning News. "I've had families of people who have committed suicide, for example, and they'll call me and say all these files are encrypted and they want to get into them. In those cases, especially, people call back and are so thankful for what they were able to read. It's really something else."
So how does one keep a secret while alive but ensure the secret passes on to others after death? This is trickier than just delaying the publishing of a secret for a fixed time period, for only God knows the number of our days. I can't think of any way to do it without a trusted third party. A poor-man's solution would be a password list in a safe deposit box.

Scalia trifecta

After thinking for a while about the three big detainee decisions by SCOTUS, I have to agree with Scalia on all three counts. For Hamdi & Padilla, it's I think it's pretty clear-cut:

"The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." -Constitution

"Absent suspension of the writ, a citizen held where the courts are open is entitled either to criminal trial or to a judicial decree requiring his release." -Scalia

We aren't facing invasion or rebellion. And in any event, Congress has not suspended habeas corpus.

Now, Hamdi and Padilla are citizens being incarcerated in the United States, in our court's jurisdiction. With Rasul, this is not the case. Thus things are not so simple. As Scalia put it,
The Court today holds that the habeas statute, 28 U. S. C. §2241, extends to aliens detained by the United States military overseas, outside the sovereign borders of the United States and beyond the territorial jurisdictions of all its courts. This is not only a novel holding; it contra-dicts a half-century-old precedent on which the military undoubtedly relied, Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U. S. 763 (1950). The Court's contention that Eisentrager was somehow negated by Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Ky., 410 U. S. 484 (1973), a decision that dealt with a different issue and did not so much as mention Eisentrager is implausible in the extreme. This is an irresponsible overturning of settled law in a matter of extreme importance to our forces currently in the field. I would leave it to Congress to change §2241, and dissent from the Court's unprecedented holding.

As we have repeatedly said: Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree....
An interesting thing about these cases is the ways the justices were split. In Hamdi, Scalia's dissent was actually more in favor of Hamdi than the plurality opinion, which only required Hamdi be given some form of due process, not the full habeas corpus. Guess who joined in Scalia's dissent? Stevens - not what you'd expect if you were thinking in terms of the usual left-right political spectrum. In Rasul, Scalia's dissent was less-surprisingly joined by Rehnquist and Thomas.

For more extensive commentary on these decisions, the best place to go is of course the Volokh Conspiracy.

Power corrupts

On June 25, by an astonishing vote of 326 to 88, the GOP-controlled body rejected the Family Budget Protection Act, which would have removed the bias toward greater spending inherent in the current Congressional budget process. Even among Republicans, the bill lost 131 to 88. The Members also nixed the Spending Control Act, a less ambitious bill that Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle championed to impose spending caps, by a vote of 248 to 146.

Most of the credit for this repudiation of GOP principle belongs to the so-called College of Cardinals, the chairmen of the 13 Appropriations subcommittees and protectors of sacred pork, who threatened their fellow Republicans with legislative excommunication if they voted for the reforms sponsored by some very brave GOP backbenchers. Specifically, they vowed to zero out all pork projects for their districts.
The willingness of these porkophilic Republicans to go on the record like this demonstrates total contempt for their grassroots. Mark my words, this will come back to bite them in the 2006 primaries. The fratricide will be especially intense if Bush loses.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Useful idiots

Lee Smith demonstrates that the mainstream Western media is passing along the obviously false claims (as in easily falsifiable with net connection) that the Qur'an doesn't mention beheadings. I wonder how else they're being duped. As Smith warns,
Since Islamists have typically understood Western writers and researchers to be in league with the enemy, it is logical to assume that Islamists will generally not cooperate with them unless it is to their own advantage. In fact, Islamists and others will often use Western journalists and academics to carry their message.
I think at least a partial antidote to this sort of thing is resources like MEMRI, which provide translations of what folks in the Middle East here from their own media in their own language. It needn't tell us the truth, but it allows us to spot spokespeople that say one thing in Arabic and another in English.