The War on the Drug War

IMHO, the best show on television is HBO’s The Wire.  Now the writers and producers are taking their passion to the pages of Time Magazine, where they rail against the injustices of the drug war and call for jury nullification. (HT: Radley Balko’s Agitator).

Cato co-published the most comprehensive book on jury nullification in 1999.

For additional background, go here, here, and here.

Chapman Kneecaps McCain

Libertarian columnist Steve Chapman has written what is to date the definitive takedown of John McCain’s various delusions about Iraq. As is Chapman’s wont, it’s a great column overall, packed with substance. Here’s the gist:

McCain portrays himself as uniquely clear-eyed about the war. In fact, those eyes have often been full of stars. When Army Gen. Eric Shinseki forecast that more troops would be needed for the occupation, McCain didn’t fret. Shortly before the invasion, he said, “I have no qualms about our strategic plans.” As the online magazine Salon reports, he predicted the war would be “another chapter in the glorious history of the United States of America.”

He brags now that he criticized Donald Rumsfeld’s handling of the occupation. But McCain didn’t declare “no confidence” in him until a year and a half after the invasion. And let’s not forget the day he took a stroll through a Baghdad market, guarded by attack helicopters and 100 soldiers in full combat mode, to prove how safe Iraq was. The following day, 21 Iraqis were abducted from the market and murdered.

[…]

The point of the surge was to catalyze rapid progress that would facilitate our departure. But now the Pentagon says that come July, we’ll still have more troops than the 132,000 we had before. When Lt. Gen. Carter Ham was asked if the number will fall below 132,000 by the time Bush leaves office, he replied, “It would be premature to say that.”

McCain says the current “strategy is succeeding in Iraq.” His apparent definition of success is that American forces will stay on in huge numbers as long as necessary to keep violence within acceptable limits. We were told we had to increase our numbers so we could leave. Turns out we had to increase our numbers so we could stay.

Five years after the Iraq invasion, we’ve suffered more than 30,000 dead and wounded troops, incurred trillions in costs and found that Iraqis are unwilling to overcome their most basic divisions. And no end is in sight. If you’re grateful for that, thank John McCain.

As has always been the case, men like John McCain define leaving as losing and staying as success. If we stay in Iraq for 100 years, that’s “success.” If we leave, ever, we’ve lost.

I’d only add to Chapman’s column that, before the war, media darling St. John of Arizona was one of the most naive proponents of the “greeted as liberators” school of thought, assuring Larry King on September 24, 2002 that “I believe that the success will be fairly easy.” Five days later, McCain was back on CNN, assuring the American people that “I believe that the United States military capabilities are such that we can win a victory in a relatively short time. And I, again, I don’t think it’s, quote, ‘easy,’ but I believe that we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.” And so forth.

McCain’s claim to straight-talking rectitude on Iraq today is based solely on the fact that the Washington narrative has been changed as a result of The Surge. It’s almost as if it was designed to have just such an effect.

FISA and the “Ravenous Trial Lawyers”

One of the common talking points of advocates for warrantless wiretapping is that the debate is really about lining the pockets of “ravenous trial lawyers.” As I’ve said before, this is a particularly silly argument. An op-ed in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune makes this argument particularly well:

The Bush administration and its acolytes now claim that we must give giant telecoms amnesty for breaking the law, or else those telecoms will no longer cooperate with the government in spying efforts that help protect America. The truth is that telecoms do not need a special deal. These companies have immunity from lawsuits for turning over customer records to the government if they do so in conformity with existing law. But, in this instance, the telephone companies knowingly violated that law. If we give them a free pass this time, won’t the telephone companies feel free to violate the laws protecting our privacy in the future?

The Bush administration and its supporters in Congress complain that these lawsuits are simply about money and enriching trial lawyers – suggesting that the litigation should be stopped because of the potential damages that might be awarded in such lawsuits. This criticism ignores the fact that, according to the rules in the federal court, the only way that we could ensure that a federal judge could continue to explore previous violations if the companies simply changed their participation or the government changed or ended the program was to ask for minimal damages. We are not interested in recovering money for ourselves, nor is our counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. We, however, are committed to assuring that these giant companies are punished for violating the law and thus dissuaded from violating the law in the future.

More important, amnesty not only lets the companies off the hook without answering any questions, it assures that the American people will never learn about the breadth and extent of the lawless program. Some seem to suggest that we should not have our day in court because a select few members of Congress have been able to review documents about the spy program operated by the White House. The judgment of a few Washington insiders is not a substitute for the careful scrutiny of a federal court.

This is ultimately not about money, but about the principle that nobody is above the law. I actually think that a reasonable compromise would be to limit damages due to past FISA lawbreaking. This would ensure that telecom companies aren’t driven into bankruptcy while upholding the principle that violating your customers’ privacy—and the law—comes with consequences. Of course, I’d bet money that supporters of warrantless wiretapping wouldn’t accept that compromise, because they, too, know that this is an issue of principle, not money.

Clinton Promises to Protect Yankees from Unfair Trade Practices

A little ditty from an author who wants to remain anonymous:

NEW YORK — Senator Hillary Clinton vowed Tuesday that if elected president she would enact legislation that would give the New York Yankees a reprieve from what she characterized as the “unfair and exploitive” trading practices of the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Clinton, a self-described Yankees fan, told an audience of supporters that the lower wages paid by the smaller-market clubs give the teams an unfair advantage over the Yankees, who are compelled to pay high salaries for the team’s superstar players. She vowed that upon assuming the presidency she would immediately ask for a “time out” for trades between the Yankees and the so-called “parasite” teams for five years, during which time Congress and Major League Baseball would study the harm done to the Yankees from these trades and construct a remedy that would protect the team.

She suggested that such protection should be extended to other teams as well, with the Dodgers, Mets, and Cubs among the teams that have been victimized in trades by rivals.

Clinton’s proposal was hailed by Yankees fans as a welcome first step toward correcting the imbalances in Major League Baseball that have hindered the Yankees’ efforts to remain competitive.

“Let’s face it, these teams continually manage to steal talented minor leaguers from us, some of whom eventually enjoy moderately successful major league careers,” said Michael Kumar, 26, a florist from Brooklyn. “As a result, we occasionally find ourselves wishing we had the players back that we traded to them. I’m tired of them conniving to weaken our teams in this way. It’s about time someone stopped this.”

Greg Packer, 43, from Huntington, N.Y., a self-described avid Mets fan, echoed that sentiment. “For too long Major League Baseball has allowed the Royals to rip off our teams without doing anything to prevent it. Brian Bannister was our pitcher and now he’s an ace for the Royals. That’s (garbage).”

In her address Clinton noted that the Yankees lost once to the Royals in 2006 and twice in 2007, a trajectory that would have Kansas City sweeping the Yankees in the season series by 2011. “We are giving them the rope to hang us with,” she said. “This must stop!”

An aide to Senator Clinton pointed out that the payroll of the Royals has increased by over 10 percent per year over the past four years, while the Yankees’ payroll has stagnated over the same period. Such a surge has given Kansas City vast resources with which to compete for talent with the Yankees on occasion.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig indicated that he will duly investigate the matter and come up with the appropriate prescription that will give the Yankees at least a modicum of relief from the relentless competition that the Royals inflict upon them.

“I am well aware of the myriad advantages that the Royals have over the Yankees, and it is clear to me as a matter of basic fairness something must be done to rectify this situation and protect teams like the Yankees and Red Sox,” he told a reporter in his Milwaukee office.

Selig suggested that the trade “time out” could be phased out over time as the Pirates and Royals increase their attendance and television ratings.

While Senator Barack Obama enthusiastically supported a trade “time-out” as well, analysts have questioned his sincerity after his senior baseball adviser contacted the Chicago Cubs to assure them that if he were elected president they would still be able to make trades.

Senators Suddenly Pro-Trade

Four influential senators have written [$] to the French Ambassador to express their displeasure at France’s ongoing restrictions on genetically modified (GM) corn, warning that the issue could spark litigation.

America and the European Union have been at loggerheads over GM foods for years now, culminating in a dragged-out WTO dispute (summary available here) that was resolved with a partial-loss for the EU because they took too long to make a decision on allowing certain products into the european market, and because the EU didn’t base some of their restrictions on scientific evidence, as required under WTO rules. Now the victorious parties, including the United States, Canada and Argentina, are waiting for practical resolution and for trade to start flowing.

The French, however, are continuing to resist approving products made from agricultural biotechnology, ostensibly in the face of public opposition to the foods. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken publicly in support of a ban on growing GM crops in France, and the French yesterday proposed scrapping the current EU approval process for genetically modified organisms in favour of tougher standards.

Enter the senators, who see what tougher restrictions would mean for GM-happy American farmers and are incensed at what they see as a flouting of trade rules. Ironically, among them is Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) who favors the continuing support of American cotton growers, even in the face of WTO rebukes for the manner in which that support is delivered. Similarly, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) has refused to countenance passing any trade deals unless and until he gets his way on trade adjustment assistance (you can see what I think of his ideas for TAA here).

Senator Obama isn’t the only member of that august chamber with two faces on trade.

(D) All of the Above

As an advocate of free trade, I feel slightly vindicated by reports that the Obama campaign quietly assured the Canadian government that the Senator’s strident words about NAFTA in last week’s debate were merely political rhetoric. We’ve long been saying that opposition to trade is mostly an artifice of politics. But the story begs the question: Is Obama (a) economically illiterate; (b) dishonest, or; (c) naïve. The answer is (d), all of the above.

Obama blames faulty trade agreements, like NAFTA, for the loss of 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. But one can check that claim easily by turning to page 280 (Table B-46) of the Economic Report of the President, 2008 [.pdf]. There one will find that in the 14 years since NAFTA took effect, the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs declined by 2.7 million. In the 14 years prior to NAFTA (between 1979 and 1993) the number of manufacturing jobs declined by 2.7 million. No difference at all. In both periods, there was a decline of 193,000 net manufacturing jobs per year.

Although U.S. manufacturing employment peaked in 1979 and has been trending downward since, there was an uptick in employment in the first few years after NAFTA took effect. Between 1993 and 1998, 500,000 net jobs were created in manufacturing. Did NAFTA create those jobs? I wouldn’t make that claim, but it certainly has more empirical support than the opposite claim—that NAFTA cost jobs.

Three million jobs lost since 2000? Look again [.pdf]. During the pronounced manufacturing recession of 2000-2003, there was a precipitous drop of 2.8 million manufacturing jobs, but it’s hard to blame NAFTA for that. Manufactured imports from NAFTA countries were flat during that period: imports in 2000 were higher than the average for 2001 through 2003. Again, if you must blame NAFTA, look to the export side of the equation. U.S. exports dropped 11 percent from 2000 to 2003.

And for the record, since 2004, there has been a decline of 300,000 manufacturing jobs nationwide. That rate of 100,000 per year (vs. the rate of 193,000 per year during the entire post-peak period of 1979-2007) suggests that even the basis for the political rhetoric is about five years too stale.

That Obama asserted he would take a “sledgehammer” to NAFTA because it is broken and then say just kidding to the Canadians is dishonest. Some are cynical enough to excuse that as par-for-the-course pandering, but I don’t. The reason that there is a backlash against trade – that there is even a debate – in this country is that lies like those are uttered with such frequency that they are believed. Those myths are all the more reinforced when spoken by someone as apparently likeable and charismatic as Senator Obama.

Finally, the attempt to smooth things over with the Canadian government raises questions about the candidate’s naïvete. Did it not occur to him that a conservative Canadian government might favor a McCain presidency and might make political hay out of the “disregard-the-NAFTA-belligerence” comments?

At least Senator Clinton knows enough to wait until after Ohioans vote before winking at our NAFTA neighbors.