Archives for June, 2009

“Tell Me How This Ends”

This week’s Examiner column argues that we should start withdrawing from Afghanistan:

Each year of the war brings greater violence than the last, with 2008 the deadliest yet for U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians. Civilian deaths dropped somewhat in 2009, but coalition casualties continue to rise–up 62 percent from last year.

Army chief of staff George Casey recently told reporters that the situation will get worse before it gets better, and that “anything you put [in Afghanistan] will be in there for a decade.”

No surprise there: Nation-building is extraordinarily hard. The good news is that it’s almost always unnecessary–and especially so in Afghanistan.

Gen. Colin Powell’s famous “Pottery Barn” principle–”you break it, you own it”–doesn’t apply in this case. We didn’t “break” Afghanistan. We went to war to disrupt Al Qaeda and demonstrate that no government could get away with sheltering a group that killed nearly 3,000 Americans–goals we achieved more than seven years ago.

If Al Qaeda operatives are foolish enough to set up new training camps in Afghanistan, we won‘t need boots on the ground to destroy them. Thanks to advances in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology, we’re no longer limited to Clintonian gestures like lobbing cruise missiles at empty tents. Since 9/11 we’ve repeatedly used UAVs to kill Al Qaeda operatives in countries we’re not occupying, like Yemen and Pakistan….

Mad love to the Cato foreign policy crew for sources and suggestions on this one.


Posted on Jun 23, 2009 in Foreign Policy and Defense | 3 Comments

Look, Ma

I was on TV again.

Posted on Jun 17, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency, Executive Power | 8 Comments

Wait a Minute

Ignore that post below. I just started reading the actual speech in question, and it appears I’m totally wrong. It looks like she’s defending/apologizing for the government’s position in the Padilla case. Even for March of ’03, that’s egregious.

Update: Or is she? I’m perplexed. Phrase in question is–in the context of Padilla–“one can certainly justify that type of detention under precedents and current law.” And it’s in the midst of a pretty noncommittal discussion of issues raised by the WoT that will be percolating through the courts. And later, she asks “how long will we hold people without any judicial review….” she follows up with the mealy-mouthed declaration that “when I ask this question, it is not intended to suggest that either the President, Congress, or the courts have done anything unconstitutional or bad.” One thing’s for sure: if you can be this confusing and noncommittal on core constitutional questions, you’re tailor-made to make it through the confirmation process.


Posted on Jun 17, 2009 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

More Soto on Executive Power

Charlie Savage, your go-to source on this issue, has an article in the NYT on the subject today, paying particular attention to a speech Sotomayor gave in March 2003.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor expressed skepticism in March 2003 about the expanded government surveillance powers in the USA Patriot Act, citing what she referred to as its broader authority “to impose nationwide wiretaps with little judicial supervision” and to monitor Internet use in search of terrorists.

On the other hand,

Judge Sotomayor did seem to indicate that some policies were on firmer legal footing. For example, she said that “one can certainly justify” detaining enemy combatant suspects “in secret” and giving them different legal rights than criminals “under precedents and current law.”

All in all, recognizing that the speech was given in March ’03 (Iraq War month, a time when crazy hung heavy in the air) I still see some reasons for cautious optimism on this issue.


Posted on Jun 17, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Executive Power | 11 Comments

Panic on the Streets of Wichita

Here’s yesterday’s Examiner column on terrorism panic, liberal edition:

The liberal overreaction to the crimes of two despicable “lone nuts” demonstrates that the Left is just as susceptible to terrorism panics as the Right. But maybe liberals are right that there’s a “teachable moment” for conservatives here, even if it isn’t the lesson Rich and Kos intend.

It’s worth thinking about how much worse off we’d be in the midst of a burgeoning “militia panic,” had the Bush administration’s radical view of executive power become the law of the land.

After 9/11, George Bush and Dick Cheney argued that the president could do what he deemed necessary to fight terrorism, and any laws to the contrary could be nullified by his Magic Scepter of Inherent Authority. Most conservatives backed the president, insisting that civil liberties at home wouldn’t suffer if we allowed him unlimited power in foreign affairs.

But the Bush team always maintained that those powers could be used on the home front as well. In congressional testimony in 2006, then-attorney general Alberto Gonzales suggested that the president had inherent authority not only to wiretap international calls without a warrant, but also to listen in onAmericans’ domestic communications.


Conservative defenders of so-called “enhanced interrogation” are rarely able to identify the “ticking time bomb” scenarios they insist make torture necessary. But last week, Scott Roeder, Dr. Tillman’s murderer, told reporters that “similar events” were being planned even now. Might a little waterboarding loosen his tongue?

Posted on Jun 17, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Executive Power | 1 Comment

Disrespecting the Cult which the Motorhome Diaries crew visits a weird, Easter-Island looking roadside Rushmore, and with Megadeth blaring, express their disapproval.

Posted on Jun 13, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 5 Comments

Sotomayor on International Law

Charlie Savage has unearthed some remarks by Sonia Sotomayor that reveal her take on international law, and bolster the case that she’s an executive power skeptic:

in April 2009, Judge Sotomayor delivered a speech on how federal judges look at foreign and international law that suggested she might take a more conservative position on that topic than Justice Souter.

She said that individuals had no right to file a lawsuit to enforce a treaty and that ratified treaties were not legally binding unless Congress separately passed a statute to do so. Treaties usually have effect, she said, only if the president and Congress choose to respect such obligations as a matter of politics, not law.

“Even though Article IV of the Constitution says that treaties are the ‘supreme law of the land,’ in most instances they’re not even law,” she said.

That principle, she said, explained the outcome of a high-profile 2008 Supreme Court ruling, Medellin v. Texas, which involved an International Court of Justice ruling that some Mexican inmates on death row in Texas should get new sentencing hearings because the authorities failed to help them get help from the Mexican Consulate, contrary to a treaty the United States had ratified.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the international court’s decision had no legal force and that the treaty was not binding, because Congress never passed a statute explicitly making it domestic law.

The ruling, Judge Sotomayor said, “surprised many human rights groups and civil liberties groups” but was “premised on very traditional American law principles.”

So she would have ruled against the Mexican inmates, disappointed the human rights groups and upheld a limited view of the treaty power. It’s almost like she’s not some kind of crazy left-wing radical.


Posted on Jun 12, 2009 in Executive Power | 9 Comments

Sotomayor: Presidential Power Skeptic?

…that’s my DC Examiner column for this week. Excerpt:

The Second Circuit, Sotomayor’s home for the last 11 years, gets few national security cases. But what we can glean from three key cases she’s participated in suggests she agrees with former Justice Sandra O’Connor that the War on Terror “is not a blank check for the president.”

A Justice Sotomayor is unlikely to move in lockstep with the ACLU in this area. In Cassidy v. Chertoff (2006), she rejected a Fourth Amendment challenge to post-9/11 security searches conducted by a ferry operator acting at the behest of the Bush administration.

But in 2008’s Doe v. Mukasey, she joined two colleagues to strike down provisions of the Patriot Act related to National Security Letters (NSL). NSLs allow the FBI to seize private customer information from ISPs and other businesses, and place the recipient under a “gag order,” preventing disclosure of the demand.

Still before the Second Circuit is the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen sent to Syria under the U.S. government’s extraordinary rendition program and tortured there. At oral argument last December, Sotomayor questioned the administration’s lawyer sharply: “So the minute the executive raises the specter of foreign policy, it is the government’s position that that is a license to torture?”

A thin record, but one more promising on these issues than Roberts’ or Alito’s. Incidentally, Clarence Thomas–who’s otherwise libertarians’ favorite Justice, and for pretty good reasons–is the worst of the worst on executive power issues. His dissent in Hamdi alone puts Scalia ahead of him as “least bad Supreme Court Justice.”

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Posted on Jun 9, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Executive Power | No Comments

Tweet Back in Anger

Pres Obama while u sightseeing in Paris u said ‘time to delivr on healthcare’ When you are a “hammer” u think evrything is NAIL I’m no NAIL

–Senator Chuck Grassley’s “angry tweet” from yesterday

Idiocracy, like Spinal Tap, undershot.

Posted on Jun 8, 2009 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Jenkins on Carter

carter-shirtI’ve written before than Jimmy Carter’s pious, sanctimonious, and off-putting public persona may have caused conservatives to miss the fact that he wasn’t that godawful a president. Holman Jenkins has a column in today’s WSJ, “If Obama Had Carter’s Courage,” that provides a point of evidence in Carter’s favor.

In Mr. Carter’s day, bankruptcies were scything through the railroad sector, hurtling toward a rendezvous with nationalization. Conrail, an amalgam of failed Northeastern lines, had already been taken over and analysts foresaw a $300 billion bill (in today’s dollars) in the likely prospect that Washington would soon have to operate the rest of the nation’s freight railroads….

comprehensive federal regulation had only distorted the industry’s pricing, driven away investment, and made competitive adaptation impossible. But the argument had a new ring now that Washington would have to bear the political risk of operating and subsidizing the nation’s rail services.

It still took some doing on Mr. Carter’s part. When the bill stalled, a hundred phone calls went from the White House to congressmen, including 10 by Mr. Carter in a single evening. The bill essentially no longer required railroads to provide services at a loss to please certain constituencies. It meant going up against farmers, labor, utilities, mining interests, and even some railroads — whereas Mr. Obama’s auto bailout tries to appease key lobbies like labor and greens, which is why it can’t work.

I should note also, that in his updated, libertarian ranking of the presidents, Ivan Eland ranks Jimmy as one of the least bad modern presidents.

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Posted on Jun 3, 2009 in Conservatism, Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy, Libertarianism | 16 Comments

Blame the Voters

That’s the thrust of this week’s column in the DC Examiner:

There’s no end of finger-pointing in our Red-Team/Blue-Team battles over fiscal incontinence. But there’s one group that rarely gets the blame it merits. That’s us. When you look at the positions embraced by the ordinary American voter, you start to suspect that we’re getting the government we deserve.

Sixty percent of Americans say the federal government has too much power and too much money, according to a Rasmussen poll released last month. And they’re right. But what are they willing to do about it?

In 2007, the Harris polling firm looked into that question, and the answer was “not much.” Very few of us are willing to support the spending reductions necessary to get our fiscal house in order. Harris reports that “hardly anyone would cut Medicaid (4%)… Social Security (2%) or Medicare (1%)”–among the biggest chunks of the federal budget.

Of course, due to public choice dynamics, it’s too simplistic to say (and I don’t say) that Americans are getting precisely the size of government they want. But the polls cited show the difficulty of reducing or even slowing the growth of government.

On a related note, I found this post from Chris Bowers (from whom I got the link to the Harris poll) pretty interesting:

The mainstream of the American left-wing (represented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus), and the mainstream of the American right-wing (represented by the Republican White House / Congress trifecta from 2003-2006), are only proposing a difference in social investment spending (health care, pensions, education, transportation, unemployment, and new energy), of 3.21% of gross domestic product. That is, the left and right-wings of the American political mainstream are only arguing over whether to increase social investment spending by, at most, 3.21% of GDP. That is the entire difference. This is a grand ideological argument that isn’t.

If that’s right, then, as Bowers suggests, 3 percent of GDP is a lot of money, but it hardly seems like the difference between freedom and “socialism.”

Posted on Jun 3, 2009 in Conservatism, Domestic Policy, Liberalism | 9 Comments