Archives for January, 2006

Suspension of Disbelief

So I Tivo’ed an episode of the original Battlestar Galactica. “The Man With Nine Lives,” from 1979. I hadn’t seen the show since I was a little kid, when I liked it enough to get a Battlestar Galactica lunchbox. I have to say, it’s a very unrealistic vision of the future. Starbuck walks around everywhere with a lit cigar.

Posted on Jan 31, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Information. On the State of the Union.

What a horrid, horrid clownshow. The text is here.

The Constitution requires the president to provide “Information” on the State of the Union. Key word, that. The idea behind Article II, sec. 3’s requirement that the president “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union” was that in the course of executing the laws, the president would learn of facts that would be useful to Congress as it determined what laws should be passed. As St. George Tucker described it:

from the nature of the executive office it possesses more immediately the sources, and means of information than the other departments of government; and as it is indispensably necessary to wise deliberations and mature decisions, that they should be founded upon the correct knowledge of facts, and not upon presumptions, which are often false, and always unsatisfactory; the constitution has made it the duty of the supreme executive functionary, to lay before the federal legislature, a state of such facts as may be necessary to assist their deliberations on the several subjects confided to them by the constitution.

If any actual Information got conveyed during tonight’s eschaton-immanentizin’ drivelstream, I totally missed it.

Posted on Jan 31, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

“Non-Security Discretionary Spending”

I was trying to figure out how this wasn’t a flat out lie: “Every year of my presidency, we have reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending.” If you look at Figure 1 here (.pdf) nondefense discretionary spending went up over 20 percent over the first three years of the Bush administration. But it must be the wiggle room in the term “nonsecurity.” I bet they’ve defined “security” broadly enough to include the Hispanic Healthy Marriage Initiative.

Yeah, I guess I’m kind of live-blogging the SOTU. I’m about to implode into a black hole of loserdom.

Posted on Jan 31, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

President of the World

I knew I shouldn’t have watched. You’d think a week after the Washington Times, of all papers, ran a picture of a purple-fingered Hamas voter, the president could manage to be a little more muted and less triumphalist with the democracy-talk.

But as far as the advance of liberal democracy–the only sort of democracy I care about–goes, Yglesias put it well a couple of weeks ago:

Democracy, liberal institutions, and roughly free markets have spread a great deal since 1945 and that’s overwhelmingly happened without the United States of America invading places and setting up new state institutions. That’s not to say that we’ve been totally uninvolved, but it’s been around the margins and rather subtle. We ought, I think, to have a little faith in democracy’s success and track record and not be in some kind of panic where either we need to spread freedom around the world tomorrow or else just decide we don’t care about values or humanitarianism.

I prefer my country when it’s a City on a Hill to when it’s charging up San Juan Hill, and I think the former approach does a lot more for the advance of freedom than the latter.

Matt, on the other hand, may have in mind more state action than I’d like, throwing more dollars at the National Endowment for Democracy or some such. Ideological scruples and questions about efficacy to one side, I’d embrace that policy in a heartbeat over the one we’ve got now. At the very least, it does far less harm.

A Rip Van Winkle awoken in 2003, trying to figure out what American conservatism was all about would conclude after a few days perusing the relevant periodicals, that it’s a political creed devoted to the promotion of Arab democracy. To the extent that this newfound goal is sincere, and for many, no doubt, it is, surely there are better ways to go about it. One might try something that doesn’t kill or maim tens of thousands of civilians, as well as thousands of American soldiers. Pick a strategy that doesn’t cost over a trillion dollars, and, while you’re at it, pick a method that doesn’t utterly fail to achieve its goals more often than not.

Posted on Jan 31, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Speech from the Throne

I have a piece on the Cato site today decrying the ridiculous ritual of the State of the Union. Excerpt:

Thus the State of the Union has settled into its familiar, modern incarnation: a laundry list of policy demands packaged in pomp and circumstance. And the content of the annual message has changed accordingly. In the journal Presidential Studies Quarterly in 2002, political scientist Elvin T. Lim tracked the evolution of presidential rhetoric through two centuries of State of the Union addresses. Lim notes “an increasing lack of humility” on the part of the president, as well as declining references to the Constitution, which were quite prevalent in the 19th century. By the late 20th century, it was “all about the children,” with “Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton [making] 260 of the 508 references to children in the entire speech database, invoking the government’s responsibility to and concern for children in practically every public policy area.” Granted, Washington did mention children in his seventh annual message, protesting “the frequent destruction of innocent women and children” by Indian marauders. But modern references to children have a different tenor, as when President Bush used his 2004 State of the Union to demand “drug testing [in schools] as a tool to save children’s lives…[and] send them this message: We love you and we don’t want to lose you.” In the same speech, departing from the constitutional injunction to address his recommendations to Congress, President Bush called on major league baseball and football to “get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.”

Posted on Jan 31, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Not All the King’s Men

Very interesting article in Newsweek about bureaucratic infighting within the administration over the Bush doctrine of presidential absolutism. Best performances playing against type: James Comey and John Ashcroft. The NSA eavesdropping program was a bridge too far for Comey, the former prosecutor who threw the book at Martha Stewart for covering up a perfectly legal stock sale and who considered prosecuting fabulist Jayson Blair for making stuff up in the New York Times. In other words, not someone averse to expansive legal theories.

Ashcroft had earlier body-blocked Cheney’s plan to invoke the “enemy combatant” theory–i.e., president designates you as EC, you’re stripped of all legal rights and thrown in the brig indefinitely, with no opportunity to contest your imprisonment–against all terrorist suspects on American soil, citizens or not. Here, even when cornered in his hospital bed by Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales, he refuses to sign off on the NSA program. He also prevented John “crush ‘em” Yoo’s ascention to head of the Office of Legal Counsel.

Also in a starring role, Jack Goldsmith, former head of OLC, who repudiated the torture memos, despite great pressure from leading Vulcan David Addington. Though I never had him for class, Goldsmith taught at U of C when I was there, and he always cut an appealling figure: sort of like a genteel, cleaned-up version of John Belushi. As the article makes clear, he’s one of the good guys in this story.

Posted on Jan 30, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

You’re Like School in the Summer

No class.

That classic Fat Albert insult soon may not make any sense any more, thanks in part to the president’s unconstitutional approach to education reform. Federal pressure for standardized tests is leading a lot of school districts to think about starting school in early August.

It’s a damn shame kids can’t vote.

Posted on Jan 24, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Public Policy Understatement of the Week

Last week, anyway.

“We will not eradicate prostitution overnight”.

–Fiona Mactaggart, UK Home Office minister, announcing a plan for liberalizing Britain’s prostitution laws. And here, from the Independent, is a history of brothels.

Posted on Jan 24, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off


Many of the arguments for staying in Iraq that I heard the other night at the AFF debate seemed based on the unconscious premise that Americans are idiots. Ten dollar a gallon gas, and the threat of world domination by the European Union, among other things. (Would they force everyone to take six weeks vacation?). (Also, note to self, if I’m ever in the delicate position of advising people from another country as to how they should best use their blood and treasure, when the subject of military casualties comes up, I must remember not to demand: “what do you have an army for?” It could look graceless.)

Posted on Jan 23, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off


Yes, yes, yes, a “truce” with Bin Laden is a silly idea, as everyone seems to be falling all over themselves to affirm. First off, Al Qaeda has gone viral–it’s not an organization you can treat with, one with comprehensive control over its “members,” like the IRA, say. It’s not clear that the Madrid bombers, for example, were AQ members, in the sense of being directed by Bin Laden, and it’s pretty clear that AQ doesn’t have complete control over Zarqawi. Also, you don’t get to make a deal after killing 3,000 Americans. You get to get killed.

But the more interesting question is why he said it. It could be a sign of desperation. However strong the core Al Qaeda group, those who’ve directly pledged fealty to OBL, was prior to 9/11, it’s clearly weaker today. (AQ-inspired offshoots–‘viral’ Al Qaeda–likely are stronger). Yet even a man in a cave knows America’s not going to take a deal. So why the offer? Maybe, like his other public statements, this phony offer was made with an eye toward the larger audience: the Islamic world and the potential recruits therein. The message will be: “They say they’re here to defend themselves. So we offered them peace. We said we’d call off the attacks if they’d leave our lands. They didn’t care. They’re not here to defend themselves. They’re here to dominate you.” It’s an “offer” designed to give him an additional recruitment-drive talking point.

Now, for the slow-witted or deliberately obtuse among you, trying to understand what Bin Laden’s up to doesn’t mean endorsing his analysis. I don’t think we’re there to humiliate the Arab world and steal their oil. But I’m having a hard time figuring out why we’re there at this point. It’s hard to see how our presence in Iraq is doing us any good in terms of defending America. I think we ought to take a page from Ariel Sharon in Gaza, and get out, on our own terms.

Posted on Jan 20, 2006 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Federalism: It’s What the Judge Ate for Breakfast.

I haven’t looked too closely at the Oregon case, but the divergent outcomes in Raich and this case seem like grist for the legal realist mill. You have two cases with fact patterns that elite lawyers are going to find sympathetic: one involving desperately ill women who find that marijuana eases their suffering, the other involving terminally ill patients seeking to end their suffering. However, a ruling for the sympathetic characters in the first case arguably threatens a whole host of programs that elite lawyers like, from those that protect cute furry creatures to those that promote women’s soccer. The second case involves issues of statutory construction and those can be finessed more easily by picking a canon from column A or column B as the mood strikes. Ruling for the good guys in Oregon thus is a one-off and doesn’t require validating the “federalism revolution.”

Posted on Jan 19, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Debating Surveillance

My colleague Bob Levy debates David Rivkin on NSA surveillance and the divine right of chief executives here (.pdf). Incidentally, I’ll start to believe the scare stories about the Federalist Society taking over the world when they work out a way of getting new content on their website in some format other than .pdf.

Posted on Jan 17, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Cool Stuff on the Internet and off by People I Know and/or Like

Sheldon Richman has been assimilated into the blogosphere. I used to work with Sheldon, and he’s a great guy, and a real influence on my thinking over the years.

Happy Third B-day to fellow Hoya class of ’93 Noah Schactman’s Defensetech blog. It’s a great site on all things defense policy, and Noah’s done some terrific reporting for the New York Times and Wired, among others, in the last few years.

Another friend from the GU class of ’93, Gerry Russello, has been named editor of the University Bookman, founded by Russell Kirk in 1960. Subscribe here.

The new issue of Cato Unbound , edited by Will Wilkinson, explores “Internet Liberation: Alive or Dead”

Oh, and David Friedman has a new blog. I’ve never met him, but he’s been one of my favorite libertarian thinkers since I read Machinery of Freedom in college. An excellent, lucid writer as well.

Posted on Jan 12, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

A Trillion Here, a Trillion There

Nobel prizewinner Joseph Stiglitz and coauthor conclude that Iraq war, all told will cost over a trillion dollars. I’m sure they’ll be faulted in the troglodosphere for not taking into account the costs we’ve avoided by undertaking the war. Like the destruction Saddam’s dread unmanned aerial vehicles were sure to wreak on America’s cities.

Posted on Jan 11, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Warrantless Surveillance

Here (.pdf) is a copy of the new CRS report on warrantless surveillance by the executive that made the front page of the Washington Post today. According to the Post:

A report by Congress’s research arm concluded yesterday that the administration’s justification for the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments.

The Congressional Research Service’s report rebuts the central assertions made recently by Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about the president’s authority to order secret intercepts of telephone and e-mail exchanges between people inside the United States and their contacts abroad.

I haven’t read it yet.

Posted on Jan 7, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off