Archives: 07/2009

“Cyberattack” in Perspective

Two very welcome articles skewer breathless reporting and commentary on the recent cyberattack against U.S. government Web sites, among other things.

In a “Costs of War” column entitled “Chasing Cyberghosts,” intrepid reporter Shaun Waterman turns up the excesses that blew the story out of proportion and easily enticed congressional leaders to overreact.

[M]edia coverage of the attacks almost universally attributed them to North Korea, initially on the basis of anonymous sources in the South Korean intelligence services.

“There’s not a shred of technical evidence it was North Korea,” said [Internet Storm Center director Marcus] Sachs… . [M]any lawmakers, apparently anxious to polish their hawkish credentials, were swift, as Sachs put it, “to pound their fists and demand retaliation.”

The North Koreans “need to be sent a strong message, whether it is a counterattack on cyber, [or] whether it is more international sanctions,” said Republican Rep Peter Hoekstra, a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. “The only thing they will understand is some kind of show of force and strength.”

Security guru Bruce Schneier puts it all in perspective:

This is the face of cyberwar: easily preventable attacks that, even when they succeed, only a few people notice. Even this current incident is turning out to be a sloppily modified five-year-old worm that no modern network should still be vulnerable to.

Securing our networks doesn’t require some secret advanced NSA technology. It’s the boring network security administration stuff we already know how to do: keep your patches up to date, install good anti-malware software, correctly configure your firewalls and intrusion-detection systems, monitor your networks. And while some government and corporate networks do a pretty good job at this, others fail again and again.

I testified on cybersecurity in the House Science Committee late last month. This episode was a perfect illustration of one of my points to the committee: “Threat exaggeration has become boilerplate in the cybersecurity area.”

Waterman’s and Schneier’s pieces are shorter and eminently more readable so I’ll give them a “read-the-whole-thing.” All three of us participated in the Cato’s January conference on counterterrorism strategy.

Can a Story about Government-Run Health Care Have a Happy Ending?

Fox News recently reported about how Oregon’s government-run health system gives people advice on how to kill themselves. The statist system in the United Kingdom has a different approach, relying instead on people dying as they languish on waiting lists. But the bureaucrats across the pond are not a bunch of joyless robots. They managed to divert some of their budget to produce leaflets telling kids about the cardiovascular benefits of orgasms. The Telegraph reports on this innovative use of taxpayer funds:

NHS guidance is advising school pupils that they have a “right” to an enjoyable sex life and that regular sex can be good for their cardiovascular health. The advice appears in leaflets circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers and is meant to update sex education by telling students about the benefits of enjoyable sex. The authors of the guidance say that for too long, experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and committed relationships while ignoring the principle reason that many people have sex. …The leaflet carries the slogan “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away”. It also says: “Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?”

Good News: Health Care Express Slows

Health care “reformers” (meaning those who want to effectively nationalize America’s medical system) have long understood that their best hope in the new political environment is to ram through legislation with the claim that it is an emergency and won’t wait.  The longer the American people think about the increased cost, decreased choice, and other negative impacts of a a government takeover, the less likely they are to support it.

Thankfully, the government health express has slowed noticeably in recent weeks.  Even supporters are coming to doubt that legislation can be approved before Congress goes home in August.  Reports Politico:

Health care reform proponents are growing pessimistic that they can meet President Barack Obama’s August target for passing a bill — saying the next four weeks must fall together perfectly, without a hitch or a hiccup.

The number of weeks that’s happened recently? Zero.

A series of setbacks has made the task of completing floor votes in both chambers virtually insurmountable, given the plodding pace of the Senate. The official line from the White House and the congressional leadership is it’s possible, but privately, there are a dwindling number of aides who would put money on it.

And without a deal by August, the ripple effects could start to endanger the prospect of health care reform this year altogether — chief among them, the closer it gets to the 2010 midterm elections, the harder it will be to get members to make the toughpolitical decisions needed to vote on a bill.

This is good news.  The U.S. health system needs fixing.  But the more rushed they are, the less likely policymakers are to do the right thing.  We need a medical system that is more responsive to consumers and market forces rather than to political forces and government dictates.

Turning Tide?

Mark Krikorian of National Review reminds us that Gene Healy had complained about the “Obama Shop” at Washington’s Union Station, featuring lots of “Obama-related tchotchkes and talismans.” Every shop I’ve been into lately – from Macy’s to 7-11 to the airport souvenir shops – has offered Obamastuff. It’s been oppressive.

But I just passed through Dulles Airport, and guess what the America! store on Concourse C was offering? Sure, they had Obama t-shirts, along with the usual White House shot glasses and Washington Monument paperweights. But as you walked past the store, you saw these t-shirts out front:

  • “I Love My Country; It’s the Government I’m Afraid Of” (an oldie but goodie that I first saw a few years ago)
  • “Don’t Blame Me; I Voted for McCain and Palin” (that one might need a bit of editing)
  • “Where’s My Bailout?” (see it here)

The store is probably a leading indicator of what’s selling. So I’ll be keeping an eye on it on my next trip.

Opening Day at Judiciary Park: Sotomayor On Deck

The first day of the Sotomayor hearings yielded many baseball references but little in the way of home runs and strikeouts—or surprises. Democrats lauded Sotomayor’s rags-to-riches story and career achievements. Republicans questioned the “wise Latina’s” commitment to objectivity, whether she would be a “judicial activist” and—most interesting to me—whether she planned to use foreign law in helping her to interpret the Constitution. These would clearly be the lines of attack and counterattack.

It was all “set pieces”—prepared statements that often said more about the senators themselves than about the nominee. The stars of the show were unquestionably Senators Sessions (R-AL), Graham (R-SC), and Franken (D-SNLMN). Sessions, the ranking member, is armed for bear and has clearly been reading the memos my colleagues around town have been writing. Graham marches to his own (very candid) drummer, pronouncing that Sotomayor would be confirmed unless she had a “complete meltdown.” Franken… well he’s just happy to be on the big stage on his sixth day in office.

Assuming Sotomayor is confirmed, however, this will not be that big a political victory for President Obama. With Democrats holding a 60-40 margin in the Senate, confirmation has long been expected, and the political markets have already discounted for it.  The president will likely see a temporary blip of support, particularly among Hispanics, but not as much as one might think—because those who are high on Sotomayor already support Obama.  Moreover, most people will soon forget the Supreme Court and go back to worrying about their personal economic situation—which the president’s policies are certainly not helping.

In a way, this week’s hearings and the confirmation process generally have more downside potential for the administration than upside.  Not because of the small chance Sotomayor won’t get confirmed—which would be a real blow—but because issues such as affirmative action, property rights, gun rights, and the use of foreign law are all being thrust to the forefront of the news cycle.  These issues, and the debate over judicial philosophy generally, are all winners for the Republicans—if they play their cards right.

In any event, tomorrow the real fun begins—with the blue team tossing softballs at the nominee and the red team sending the high heat.

Mandate for Taxes?

The New York Times reports that House Democrats want to raise money for health care with a $550 billion tax hike on people who produce the most wealth. The Times says,

the proposal is perhaps the clearest expression yet of the mandate that Democrats believe they won last November, when voters expanded Democratic majorities in Congress and sent Barack Obama to the White House.

If Democrats think they won a mandate for huge tax increases – without talking about them – then 2010 ought to be fun.

Bob Barr on Drug Reform

President Obama’s new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, says he wants to banish the idea of a “war on drugs” because the federal government should not be “at war with the people of this country.”

At a Cato policy briefing on Capitol Hill on July 7, former Republican congressman Bob Barr, once a leading drug warrior in the House, explained why carrying out an end to the “war on drugs” will require a bipartisan solution.