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.

Woolsey Makes Predictions

Former CIA Director James Woolsey has surfaced recently to declare that it’s time to get serious about bombing Iran, and predicting terror attacks on the United States this summer or fall. Woolsey made an appearance on the Newsmax website last week, noting

“I think the threat of a serious attack in the next few months is very real.” A terrorist strike with a dirty bomb or with biological weapons was “a real possibility.”

And last night, Woolsey popped in to chat with Lou Dobbs, where he made the shocking prediction that

I’m afraid within, well, at worst, a few months; at best, a few years; [the Iranians] could have a bomb.

There were some weird commonalities to these appearances, almost as if Woolsey had prepared remarks. (Both interviews, for example, featured the Woolsey riff that “the Persians invented chess. They’re good at it. Their most valuable piece, their ‘queen’ really, is their nuclear weapons program.” Both appearances also feature this: “I agree with John McCain. Force is the worst option except for one. And that is allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”)

While both of these substantive predictions are alarming, they have the benefit of being clear and falsifiable. Like the prediction Woolsey made in 1993 as the Director of Central Intelligence, for instance:

“February 24, 1993: CIA director James Woolsey says that Iran is still 8 to 10 years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon, but with assistance from abroad it could become a nuclear power earlier.”

God forbid we’re attacked or the Iranians get a bomb–let alone before the end of the year. What would be helpful, though, was if we had a predictions market so that we could put odds on these sorts of predictions and follow up to determine who knows what he’s talking about.

Equal Justice?

Mary Winkler is out of jail. She served 67 days after her conviction for shooting her husband in the back as he lay in bed and killing him. Now she’ll go back to work at the dry cleaners in McMinnville, Tennessee, and seek to regain custody of her children.

Meanwhile, Will Foster was sentenced to 93 years for using marijuana to relieve the pain of his acute rheumatoid arthritis. An appeals court reduced the sentence to 20 years, and Gov. Frank Keating made him serve more than four years before granting him parole.

A few miles from Mary Winkler in Tennessee, 57-year-old Bernie Ellis has been confined for the past 18 months to a halfway house. His crime? Growing marijuana to treat a degenerative condition in his hips and spine. A public health epidemiologist specializing in substance abuse, he also provided pot to some other sick people.  10 officers of the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force swooped in to put a stop to that, and to try to seize his farm as well.

In a more just world, Tennessee would set up a Murder Eradication Task Force, leave Bernie Ellis alone, and give Mary Winkler a tad more than 67 days for shooting her husband to death.

He Who Pays the Sociologist Calls the Tune

Sociologists from around the country have gathered for the annual American Sociological Association conference, and apparently they’re running scared. At least, according to an article appearing in Inside Higher Ed, many are running from research described best using such words as “sex” and “incestuous.” Apparently, having such words in the description of one’s research has been known to draw the ire of conservative activists, and has occasionally placed National Institutes of Health funding in jeopardy.

The problem, of course, is that as much as sociologists might love free money, NIH funding ultimately comes from taxpayers, and – surprise! – some taxpayers actually want a say in how their money is used. And, no, just because someone’s a scientist doesn’t give him the right to do whatever he wants with someone else’s hard-earned ducats. Of course, it can be very hard to examine really controversial issues if everyone gets a say in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Which leads to the only logical solution to the problem: If social science work – or any controversial scientific work, for that matter – is going to be done right, it cannot be conducted through the wallets of taxpayers. Just as scientists need the consent of human subjects to conduct experiments on them, they must have the consent of their funders if they want to be left alone. Which leaves sociologists with an important decision to make: Do they want to conduct science free of political interference, or sell out for the promise of abundant government grants? Unfortunately, right now the latter seems to be the more popular choice.

Grover Norquist & Co. Join the Anti-Universal Coverage Club

Here’s an excerpt from the Americans for Tax Reform blog:

Many debates in health care over the last decade (or five) have focused on the best way to universally insure all Americans.

The Left believes in a single-payer health care system where all Americans are covered by a single government health care plan.

The Center-Left believes in some combination of socialized medicine and heavily government-subsidized private sector health care.

The broad Center-Right coalition believes in individual choice and control, in particular via use of health savings accounts (HSAs).

But maybe we’re getting the question wrong.