Archives: 10/2008

Obama Said McCain Is Confused

According to the New York Times, Sen. John McCain

stepped up his criticism of the Bush administration by pounding the lectern and demanding that the government support his plan to buy troubled mortgages from homeowners. “And why isn’t the Treasury secretary ordering them to do that?” Mr. McCain asked.

And then he went on:

“We finally learned what Senator Obama’s economic goal is. As he told Joe the Plumber in Ohio, he wants to, quote, ‘spread the wealth around.’ He believes in redistributing the wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs and opportunities for all Americans. Senator Obama is more interested in controlling who gets your piece of the pie than he is in growing the pie.”

“Socialist!” someone in the crowd yelled.

Presumably the listener yelled “Socialist!” after McCain’s gibe at Obama’s “spread the wealth” plan, but it’s possible that the writing was a little sloppy and the charge actually came in response to McCain’s demand that the federal government buy up mortgages.

Today at Cato

Article: “Mark-To-Model, Into The Twilight Zone,” by Steve H. Hanke and John A. Tatom in Investor’s Business Daily

Daily Podcast: “Rail Versus Gas,” featuring Randal O’Toole on Cato.org

Article: “Questionable Deals in a Volatile Region,” by Malou Innocent and Christopher Preble in The South China Morning Post

Radio Highlight: Robert A. Levy discusses the constitutionality of the bailout on WBAL’s “The Ron Smith Show” (Baltimore)

The Next President and the Use of Force

Robert G. Kaiser shows in today’s Washington Post what many of us have known for some time: notwithstanding their differences over the wisdom of going to war in Iraq, Barack Obama and John McCain may largely agree on the wisdom of going to war in general.

Neither man wants you to believe that, of course. It behooves them to highlight their differences, both to rally their core supporters, and to make an affirmative case for why they should be chosen by the voters to lead the country for the next four years. These differences are most pronounced in domestic matters: in fiscal policy and on taxes, on health care, and on the benefits of international trade.

But, Kaiser writes, the two candidates share many similar views on national security:

[B]oth have revealed a willingness to commit U.S. forces overseas for both strategic and humanitarian purposes. Both agree on a course of action in Afghanistan that could lead to a long-term commitment of American soldiers without a clear statement of how long they might remain or what conditions would lead to their withdrawal.

Both candidates favor expanding the armed forces, Obama by 92,000 and McCain by as many as 150,000. Both speak of situations when the United States might have to commit its troops for “moral” reasons, whether or not a vital American interest was at risk. Both accept what Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and professor at Boston University, calls the “unspoken consensus which commits the United States to permanent military primacy” – shared, Bacevich said, by leading figures in both parties.

Obama has worn his opposition to the Iraq War as a badge of honor. And rightly so. His principled stand, taken at a time when precious few politicians were willing to do the same, has allowed him to turn his opponents’ (first Clinton and now McCain) supposed advantage – their experience – into a liability, or at least a nullity. If experienced politicians could make such a colossal blunder as to support a war that now two thirds of all Americans believe to have been a mistake, then what is the value of experience?

But the great unknown remains the lessons that Obama has taken away from the Iraq experience. Was the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein from power a good idea, poorly executed? Or was it a bad idea at the outset, further complicated by bungling in the Executive Branch? Obama has signaled that he believes the latter, but some of his advisers seem to have more confidence in their ability to pull off similar missions in the future – say, for example, against the government in Sudan, as Obama advisers Susan Rice and Tony Lake suggested in late 2006.

Given the continuing influence within the Democratic Party of the so-called liberal hawks, there is even the disturbing possibility that a President Obama would be more prone to military intervention than his predecessor.

That said, John McCain’s continued strong support for the Iraq War is merely one of many examples of his enthusiasm for using our military to solve distant problems. He has adopted a similarly bellicose stance toward North Korea and Iran, and has hinted darkly at a confrontational posture toward Russia that could ultimately result in a ruinous military conflict. In that respect, I wholeheartedly agree with Justin Logan’s deliberate ambivalence in his most recent paper, “Two Kinds of Change: Comparing the Candidates on Foreign Policy”: “The best case that can be made for Senator Obama’s foreign policy is the fact that the alternative to his approach is Senator McCain’s.”

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the lingering effects of the Iraq War will greatly limit the next president’s enthusiasm for foreign military intervention. But nothing that either candidate has said during this campaign gives me sufficient assurances that that is the case. Foreign policy has generally been pushed aside during this long campaign, an understandable shift given the current economic climate. But it is not too late for both men to clarify their views on the use of force, and to explain how they might differ from their opponent.

“Secure” Government Databases?

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Information on [Joe “the Plumber”] Wurzelbacher was accessed by accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department.

The security of information about you in government databases is contingent on you keeping your head down. Something to keep in mind when advocates for the REAL ID Act (national ID program) and the E-Verify national background check system come a-calling.

Quick Overview of McCain and Obama on Education

With the economy and financial system in turmoil, education has been a bit player in the election. Andrew Coulson has a new must-read overview of Obama and education at NRO (with a sequel to come).

But I thought I’d throw up my very short and simplified version of where I see both of the candidates on education…

The differences between Barrack Obama and John McCain on k-12 education policy center on school choice and funding. McCain is more supportive of school choice and local control than Obama, and Obama supports a much larger increase in federal education spending.

While both candidates speak favorably about school choice, only John McCain supports policies like vouchers and education tax credits that would allow parents to choose any school that works for their child, public or private. Barrack Obama wants to increase funding for charter schools, but speaks often of “accountability” for them. “Accountability” is often a code word used by political actors who wish to restrict the relative freedom of action and independence that make charter schools attractive to many parents.

Obama supports a large, $18 billion increase in federal education spending, with $10 billion of that increase devoted to an expanded federal effort in early education and preschool. Preschool, however, has been shown to be expensive and ineffective at increasing long-term achievement. And the federal government’s effort at other levels hasn’t worked either.

McCain proposes to hold spending at the same levels and focus on expanding virtual education, tutoring and school choice, and encouraging local reforms.

No More FDRs

Robert Zoellick tells the presidential candidates to aspire to be ”a 21st-century FDR” because “A World in Crisis Means A Chance for Greatness.” A new New Deal, a new Bretton Woods, a new multilateralism–holy cow, the president has it in his power to make the world over again. Poor Bill Clinton, who reportedly told friends after 9/11 that he was frustrated that he never got such a great defining crisis to deal with. Now another president is going to get a chance to knock some heads together and have historians call him great.

But what is Zoellick thinking, urging Barack Obama and John McCain to reach for greatness? Aren’t these two candidates megalomaniacal enough? McCain, who thinks that only corruption could explain anyone disagreeing with his position at any given moment, was a childhood admirer of Napoleon and now names the imperialist, meddlesome Teddy Roosevelt as his presidential model. And Obama of course said on the day he secured the Democratic nomination for president

that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation.

Don’t give these guys any more ambition than they have now. The cult of the presidency is quite enough already.

Twitter Terror — Laughable? Or Is There a Lesson?

I was amused to read that a draft Army intelligence report identified micro-blogging service Twitter as a potential tool for terrorists. On the other hand, it’s regrettable that this terrorism mania persists to foster this kind of report and media attention. There’s no distinct terror threat from Twitter.

If you’re reading this, you’re familiar with blogs. On Twitter you can publish ever-so-brief thoughts, giving your readers (or “followers”) ambient awareness of what’s on your mind or what you’re doing. Here’s an example: the Cato Institute’s Twitter feed, which I encourage you to follow. WashingtonWatch.com has one too. And CNN. And former Cato intern Felix Ling.

Now, to use of Twitter by terrorists: Sure, it’s possible, just like it’s possible with any communications medium. Twitter is right up there with telephones, pen and paper, email, SMS, and smoke signals as a potential tool for terrorism. Each of these media have different properties which make them more or less susceptible to use for wrongdoing — and more or less protective of legitimate privacy for the law-abiding.

Like most common digital communications, Twitter is a pretty weak medium for planning bad things. Copies of every post are distributed far and wide — and all “Tweets” are housed pretty much permanently by a single organization.

If you want to get caught doing something wrong, use Twitter to plan it.

Securing against terrorism is hard because terrorists don’t wear uniforms or occupy territory. Their tools are our tools: sneakers, sandwiches, credit cards, cars, steak knives, box cutters, cameras, cell phones, driver’s licenses, Web sites, Napster, Friendster, Facebook, spinach. The list goes on and on and on.

(Yes, spinach — it grows terrorists’ muscles.)

The problem is determining what things in our society have a proximate relationship to terrorism that is greater than their relationship to all the good things we do with them. Box cutters were integral to the 9/11 attacks, but they are used by millions of people every day for wonderful purposes, so we haven’t pursued restrictions on, or monitoring of, box cutters (beyond airplanes, of course). Highly enriched uranium can be used to do a lot of damage. There is exceedingly little chance of it being used by terrorists, but it’s prudent to pursue controls on this material and monitor for peoply trying to acquire it.

Twitter and other digital media are used billions of times a day for all the good things law-abiding people do. There is also a small chance that they’ll be used for wrongdoing, and we have rules about what to do when that chance arises. Alas, Supreme Court cases under the Fourth Amendment are a little too permissive these days.

The chance of Twitter being used by terrorists (real ones, serious ones) is very small and not newsworthy. We’re all relatively inexperienced with the security dilemmas created by terrorism, and it’s appropriate to give a brief thought to how all the implements and infrastructure in society might be used to do damage. In summary, the production of a report on Twitter terror is just shy of silly. The media attention paid to the question: fully silly.