What Price (Restricted) Freedom?

About six months ago, I did an elegant back-of-envelope calculation about the Western Hemisphere Travel Restriction Initiative’s cost in terms of lost freedom and commerce. I came up with an estimate of about half a billion dollars (net present value).

If that estimate was a little too airy, here’s a clearer cost of WHTI: $944 million over three years. That’s the direct cost we’re paying through the State Department for the WHTI rules.

So now we’re at around $1.5 billion. Will $1.5 billion+ in damage to the United States’ people, possessions, infrastructure, and interests be averted thanks to WHTI? No. As a security measure, it’s Swiss cheese.

WHTI does more harm than good. It is a self-injurious misstep - precisely what the strategy of terrorism seeks to cause.

Evil in Qataniyah

More than 250 people were killed in four coordinated truck bombings in northern Iraq, in the villages of Qataniyah and Jazeera. The victims were adherents of the Yazidi faith, which predates Islam in the Middle East. Public radio’s “The World” interviewed Dutch scholar Philip Kreyenbroek, who has written books about Kurds and the Yazidi faith. He explained that Muslims and Christians sometimes denounce Yazidis as Satanists, claiming that they worship evil. But that’s not true, Kreyenbroek said; they don’t worship evil, they just don’t think it exists.

I wonder if they do now.

An Apology Is in Order

Yesterday, I posted to this blog regarding a paper by Michelle Bucci and Bill Beach of the Heritage Foundation. My post consisted almost entirely of one sentence from that paper; I offered no context.

Taken by itself, that lone sentence could be interpreted to mean that the authors support an income tax increase. I never for a moment considered that to be the authors’ position; the sentence was interesting to me for that ambiguity, not because I thought the authors support such a thing.

I have since been informed that my post read like an accusation, rather than something playful. A cheap shot, really. That was not my intention, and I apologize to Bucci, Beach, and their colleagues at Heritage.

I sometimes disagree with Heritage scholars, but it is important to me to keep those disagreements friendly and respectful. Here it seems I failed, and it wasn’t even over a disagreement. Sorry, guys. Yeeeouch, indeed.

Who Will Author the Petraeus Report?

The LA Times reports that it will be the Bush White House:

Despite Bush’s repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

The president actually presaged his own views at the recent press conference. One would imagine the president’s views will feature prominently in any report authored by the White House.

THE PRESIDENT: As you know, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will be coming back to report on the findings of the success of the surge. The surge success will not only include military successes and military failures, but also political successes and political failures. And my own perspective is, is that they have made some progress, but not enough.

So the findings on the success of the surge will feature both successes and failures. And, no doubt the president will ask for more time to reach our ultimate objective of Victory.

Getting Drafty?

It’s tough to imagine that the White House was too pleased that the first public declaration of the much-touted “war czar,” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, was to suggest that we may need to “consider” a draft to fulfill our myriad international commitments.

Fred Kaplan explores the topic more in Slate, and notes “If we want to take on the world’s problems, we may need the draft. Still want to?”

But probably the best piece about the draft I’ve seen recently isn’t even about the draft. Benjamin Friedman, a PhD candidate at MIT, had this piece in Foreign Policy magazine about expanding the Army generally–voluntarily or not. It’s really worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the gist:

[N]obody has stopped to ask an obvious question: more troops for what? Expansion of the U.S. armed services feeds the misplaced hope that military occupations and state-building can defeat terrorism and strengthen the national security of the United States. Wiser leaders would avoid these doomed missions and the troop expansion altogether and focus on what works.

[…]

The good news is that counterterrorism does not demand that Americans master the art of running foreign countries. Modern Sunni terrorism stems principally from an ideology, jihadism, not a political condition. History is rife with ungoverned states. Only one, Afghanistan, created serious danger for Americans. Even there, the problem was more that the government allied with al Qaeda than that there was no government.

True, certain civil wars have attracted terrorists, but it hardly follows that the United States should participate in these conflicts. Doing so costs blood and treasure and merely serves the narrative of jihadism, slowing its defeat by more moderate ideologies. The notion that fighting terrorism requires that we fix foreign disorder leads to an empire far more costly than the problem it is meant to solve. What the United States needs is not more troops, but more restraint in using the ones it already has.

It would be great if the debate shifted from “a draft, or no?” to “more troops or fewer missions?” Then we’d be getting somewhere.

The Food and Drug Administration’s Deadly Policies

A devastating column in the Wall Street Journal calculates the death toll caused in part by the bureaucrats at the FDA. The paper-pushers refuse to let critically ill patients have access to experimental new drugs – even when those drugs already have cleared some clinical tests. In a free and just society, individuals would have the right to make those decisions:

The Alliance began pushing for access to investigational drugs for terminal patients after its founding in mid-2001 upon the death of Abigail Burroughs, who was denied an investigational drug (Erbitux) that an early trial showed might have helped her. She and her doctor were right, but she never got the drug. Over the past five years, the Alliance has pushed for access to 12 exceptionally promising investigational cancer drugs which have subsequently been approved by the FDA and now represent standard care. At the time we began our advocacy, each of the drugs had cleared at least preliminary Phase 1 testing, and in some cases more-advanced Phase 2 or Phase 3 trials. In other words, they obviously worked for some patients. …

In sum, these 12 drugs – had they been available to people denied entry to clinical trials – might have helped more than one million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters live longer, better lives. We have actually underestimated the number of “life-years” lost at more than 520,000, because we have not included other safe and effective uses of these drugs that the FDA has yet to approve. …

The American Cancer Society reports that some 550,000 cancer patients die annually, making the number of cancer deaths from 1997 to 2005 about 4.8 million. Over that same period, the FDA reports granting individual access to an investigational drug to not more than 650 people per year for all diseases and drugs – a pathetic, even cruel, pittance. A few thousand more patients managed to gain access by enrolling in relatively small clinical trials or exceedingly rare expanded access programs. The other 4.7 plus million cancer patients, not to mention millions more with other diseases, were abandoned to die, denied access to progress by their own FDA when they needed it most.

Term Limits and the Happiness of the People

Hugo Chavez is the latest public official to join the effort to roll back term limits. He will soon be free of the limits on his terms as president of Venezuela as well as other constraints on his drive toward total power. If you ever wondered whether term limits contravened excessive ambition, perhaps President Chavez suggests an answer.

Chavez is seeking to end his term limit and other measures to increase his power “to guarantee to the people the largest amount of happiness possible.”

Is he so different from American politicians? He offers the voters happiness (not liberty) and demands power adequate to that end. Constraints on power like term limits are so, you know, neo-liberal, so pre-New Deal.