Topic: General

Democrats Out of Power

The Washington Post reports today that the Ds are planning an onslaught of staged media events over the Memorial Day weekend to highlight their discontent over high gasoline prices. The Democrats are kicking off their campaign today in Ohio, where Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to appear in front of the cameras with Rep. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate there, in front of a giant wind turbine outside a Cleveland science center.

Presumably, the Democrats think that the windmill symbolizes their commitment to break America’s so-called addiction to oil. In reality, the windmill symbolizes the Democrats’ incoherence on energy policy. Unless they plan to strap those turbines onto the hoods of our cars, wind power cannot substitute for oil because windpower is used to generate electricity and only a trivial amount of oil is used for that purpose.

“Wherever you live, your gas prices are out of control, and you want to hold someone accountable for it,” Reid said. While Reid predictably blames “Big Oil,” he apparently missed the FTC report out today finding nothing underhanded about gasoline prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I’m sure you’ll hear all about on tonight’s O’Reilly Factor.

“Net Neutrality” Grasstroturf

The opponents of broadband regulation have produced an amusing animation that pretty effectively skewers the campaign for “net neutrality.” Why, yes, of course it’s produced by large corporations seeking after their own interests. But the piece effectively points out that the campaign for federal regulation of broadband is also a product of large corporations seeking after their own interests.

So, if it’s a debate between two large corporate interests, we can drop the ad hominem and just discuss which group of large corporations is trying to protect its property and its investments, and which group of large corporations is trying to win rents through the legislative and regulatory process. Figured it out yet? Good.

(Cross-posted from TechLiberationFront)

A New Berlin Wall

On “The McLaughlin Group,” John McLaughlin asks if the United States should impose tariffs on Mexico equal to the cost of providing social services to Mexican immigrants if Mexico doesn’t stop illegal cross-border traffic. Pat Buchanan responded by emphasizing the need for U.S. border security, Eleanor Clift said it would be too costly for Mexico, and Tony Blankley said it would probably be a violation of WTO. Mort Zuckerman said the reaction to such a law in Mexico would move the country far to the left.

It seems to me that all of these insightful pundits missed the point: McLaughlin was proposing that Mexico build a wall to keep Mexicans inside. Immigration advocates sometimes warn that a fence along the border would be “a new Berlin Wall.” But that’s a little over the top; the Berlin Wall was designed to keep East Germans in, to declare them the property of a repressive regime that couldn’t survive if it allowed people to vote with their feet. Whatever its demerits, an American fence would be intended to protect our borders and regulate who could come in.

But McLaughlin’s proposed Mexican wall would be a new Berlin Wall. Anybody can stumble into a bad idea, but it’s disappointing that not one of McLaughlin’s four guests noticed the import of his proposal.

The Minutemen: Modern-Day Abolitionists?

Astonishing quote from Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner on Face the Nation yesterday:

…we shouldn’t be very sympathetic to employers who are hiring large numbers of illegal immigrants and paying them very low wages and exploiting them. Those folks are the 21st-century slave masters, and what they’re doing is just as immoral as what the 19th-century slave masters did that we had to fight a civil war to get rid of.

Words fail.

Topics:

The Strategy of Pure Destructionism

The flight of the Iraqi middle classes (New York Times; requires simple registration), which means among other things people with education and a more worldly viewpoint, is an especially dire sign for the future of Iraq. The goal of at least a large faction of the terrorists is pretty clear: to murder, bomb, and destroy their way to total chaos. This is just one example of their strategy:

Trash is collected only sporadically. On April 3, insurgents shot seven garbage collectors to death near their truck, and their bodies lay in the area for eight hours before the authorities could collect them, said Naeem al-Kaabi, deputy mayor for municipal affairs in Baghdad. In all, 312 trash workers have been killed in Baghdad in the past six months.

Trash collectors, electricians, sewage repairmen, nurses, police officers, lawyers, and many other professions have been targeted, not for their ethnicity or their politics, but in order to wreck social order, destroy the infrastructure, and create such chaos that only the most vicious and brutal will survive to establish their rule. For some that means a revival of Ba’athism, for others a theocracy. And for yet others, an endless war throughout the region that will bleed America.

I have worked with Iraqis on my trips to the country to try to craft an acceptable constitutional and legal improvement over the previous situation and I will continue to do so. But I also do not underestimate the challenges that Iraqis face. As I pointed out in this essay in Reason magazine (the third essay of the three that are linked),

The war being fought in Iraq is unlike any other. Parallels with Vietnam are of limited use for the simple reason that the Communists were seeking to kick out the Saigon government and replace it, not to create a firestorm that would engulf the region. For Al Qaeda in Iraq, it won’t be over if the U.S. and allied forces withdraw, or the U.S.-backed government falls. In fact, many of those fighting the U.S. and the elected government don’t want the U.S. to withdraw. They want to draw us in further, hoping, as Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recently put it, to “make the West bleed for years.” Nor is World War II a useful comparison: Once the Fascists and Nazis were beaten, they were beaten. They didn’t go underground and wage a war of destruction; their ideology was effectively defeated with their armies.
The goal of at least a large faction among the insurgents is to create maximum chaos and maximum bloodshed. They account for a tiny fraction of the Iraqi population, and no one really knows what percentage of them are foreigners, but they are ruthless and determined. They will also be very difficult to defeat. No accommodation is possible with them. The existence of an armed faction that is dedicated to destruction per se makes the job of defeating the insurgency all the more difficult.

George Will’s remarks on Thursday in Chicago at the Milton Friedman Prize dinner honoring 2006 winner Mart Laar were quite on target when he lambasted the administration for their decision to invade. The administration’s naivete in thinking that all you had to do was to remove a dictatorship to uncover a democracy has been shown to be absurd. Criminally so. (The issue of WMD is more complex, since it seems that they sincerely believed that Saddam had poison gas and biological weapons. Nonetheless, the president’s decision to award a medal to the man who presided over the “intelligence” fiasco was a deliberate thumb-in-the-eye to the American people.)

It’s long past time for the U.S. to craft a careful withdrawal strategy that sets goals for the Iraqis but makes it clear that U.S. forces will be gone and therefore that Iraqis will have to create peace among themselves. As the fiasco with Ibrahim al-Jaafari (who refused to step down for months, even though it was clear he could not be confirmed) made clear, factions will jockey for power and delay any defeat of the terrorists so long as they think that the U.S. will be there to protect them. That safety net for politicians has to be removed. They will have to fashion their own safety net by fashioning peace themselves among the factions.

Punting on Medicare Reform

I just returned from lunch with Mark McClellan, MD/PhD (economics) and administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Servicesa very smart guy. The lunch was hosted by Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute and Merrill Matthews of CAHI. (Thanks for lunch, guys.) 

Dr. McClellan told the group of the success of Medicare Part D, including the fact that it has (so far) cost less than projected. 

When recognized for a question, I made the following points:

  1. Part D has contributed to a rift in the president’s base, as evidenced by an editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal.
  2. Though there is disagreement over the significance of Part D’s lower-than-expected spending projections, there is no question that Part D made it more difficult to meet Medicare’s already unsustainable promises. 
  3. One result of Part D is that people who would otherwise be talking about Medicare reform are talking only about whether Part D is a success. 

I asked Dr. McClellan when the president might begin pushing Medicare reform, in particular the kind of reforms discussed by the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare in 1999. 

McClellan answered that the president’s budget proposes (a) slowing the growth of Medicare spending on hospital care, (b) requiring wealthier seniors to pay more for their Medicare benefits, and (c) having Congress create another Medicare commission to tackle the problem.

The first two proposals are both potentially helpful and woefully inadequate. The third is a punt. 

Today’s Wall Street Journal also reports that yesterday Alan Greenspan “repeated a warning to lawmakers, saying Medicare spending is unsustainable and could one day drive government debt and interest rates substantially higher.” The president has acknowledged his duty to address those unfunded liabilities. 

An anxious nation waits … and waits … and waits … .

Hudson Reargued

The Washington Post has a write-up of yesterday’s unusual second round of oral arguments in the Hudson v. Michigan case (see my summary of the case and its implications here, Cato’s amicus brief in the case here [pdf]). The case was almost certainly reargued because it ended in a 4-4 tie the first time around, meaning that new justice Samuel Alito is the likely tie-breaking vote. To that end, there’s reason for pessimism:

The case may have a different outcome without retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She seemed ready, when the case was first argued in January, to rule in favor of a Detroit man whose house was searched in 1998.

Alito was confirmed to replace O’Connor before the case was resolved. The new argument was scheduled apparently to give Alito a chance to break a tie vote.

Alito, a former appeals court judge and government lawyer, seemed more sympathetic to police. He asked tough questions of the lawyer for Booker Hudson Jr., who was convicted of cocaine possession based on evidence found in the search. Alito had no questions for government lawyers.

According to the Post, if one were to judge by the oral arguments the first time around, the justices lined up in a neat left-right split, with Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy on the state’s side, and Stevens, Ginsberg, Souter, and Breyer for the defense. The Post suggests Kennedy may be hedging:

Another justice who could be crucial to the outcome is Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate swing voter. During the January argument, Kennedy called the issue “troublesome,” but seemed most supportive of police. He also appeared conflicted Thursday.

I’d like to think Thomas will continue his libertarian growth on the bench and find for the defense in this case. But the tone of the questioning in the second round of arguments suggests otherwise. What’s clear is that Bush’s nomination of Alito may very likely tip the outcome. O’Connor seemed ready to side with the defense:

During the January argument, O’Connor worried aloud that police officers around the country may start bursting into homes to execute search warrants. She asked: “Is there no policy of protecting the home owner a little bit and the sanctity of the home from this immediate entry?”

The answer, sadly, is “no.”

In the last election, I seem to remember hearing lots of lecturing from conservatives, telling libertarians they should overlook President Bush’s big-government record and support him, if for no other reason than for the Supreme Court justices he’d appoint.

Still waiting for that payoff….