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.

Bureaucrats Strike Back

My new bulletin [.pdf] regarding federal vs. private pay has set off lots of rowdy discussion at a popular website for federal workers.

An article on my piece is here, and about 80 responses are here.  Federal workers are against me, but a few brave souls ask their comrades essentially, “If all you federal workers get paid so poorly, then how come so few of you ever leave?”  One worker with the Social Security Administration notes, “I am a libertarian, and working for 35 years within the government to witness its dysfunction first hand has made me so.”

Still, critics of my piece had at least one good point. I noted that the average federal pay advantage over the private sector has risen sharply in recent years. Folks pointed out that is because many low-skill federal jobs have been contracted out. I think that is part of the explanation, but some workers agreed with me that other factors are in play, such as ”inflation” in setting job classifications. And certainly, federal pay increases are consistent and generous, while private wages occasionally stagnate during economic slowdowns. And then there are those gold-plated government benefits….    

Applying the Law

Some additional thoughts on the Hudson case, which Radley wrote about earlier today …

To quickly recap Hudson, it involves a police search of a man’s home, during which the police found contraband. The law says that before the police can break into a person’s home, they must first “knock and announce” themselves. In this case, all admit the police violated the knock-and-announce rule, but there is a dispute about how to handle this violation.

 A lot can be said about this case, but for this particular post, I think I’ll introduce (or perhaps reacquaint) readers with an axiom of our criminal law: Generally speaking, the government demands strict application of the law to the people, but lenient application of the law to itself.

A few examples: 

Elwyn Lehman found himself under arrest and facing deportation after living in the United States for 15 years. Lehman was a tour bus driver. A few years ago, he was driving gospel singer CeCe Winans to the White House from out-of-town for a special guided tour. The 53-year-old driver did not realize he had a handgun on board his bus until he was at the gates of the White House. He immediately told the Secret Service about his mistake and turned the pistol over to them. Lehman was sent to the downtown jail on three counts of weapons possession.

Daniel Yirkovsky found a single 22-caliber bullet while he was remodeling his home. He placed the bullet in a box in his room and forgot about it. Months later, when police responded to a former girlfriend’s complaint that Yikovsky had kept some of her things, they discovered the bullet. Nothing else—no gun, no stolen property. Federal prosecutors charged him with being a “felon in possession of ammunition.” Yirkovsky is now serving a 15-year sentence.

Edward Hanousek was a railroad roadmaster who was sentenced to prison under the Clean Water Act. A backhoe operator who was working for Hanousek accidently ruptured an oil pipeline while removing rocks from a section of track. Hanousek was off-duty at the time of the accident, but the backhoe operator was working under him. Thus, prosecutors charged Hanousek with “negligent failure to supervise.”

These are just three quick examples of the strict application of the law. The rule of law is important, prosecutors say, and swift and severe punishment will deter violations. 

But on closer inspection, we find that when the prosecutors were speaking of “the law,” they did not mean the Bill of Rights. Yes, the Fourth Amendment is law. Yes, the police violate the law when they fail to knock and announce themselves when they break into people’s homes. But, it is argued, this is not a situation for the strict application of law.  Severe punishment in this context is totally inappropriate. Justice, in these circumstances, requires leniency and non-enforcement, for some reason. 

In the Hudson case, Justice Scalia and Justice Alito know the law was violated, but they seem keenly interested in making sure that the penalty or remedy is “proportionate” to the violation. This is the axiom at work. 

Some people may prefer a strict application of the law, across the board. Some may prefer a lenient application of the law, across the board.  A case can be made for both. I also think a case can be made for strict application of the law as applied to the government, but a lenient application as applied to the people. But the least defensible position, it seems to me, is the one that dominates: Strict justice for the people and leniency for the government.  

The speculation is that there is a 4-4 split on the Court in the Hudson case and that Justice Alito will tip the balance. It is a bad sign that he had no questions at all for the government lawyers who were urging a lenient response to Fourth Amendment knock-and-annonce violations.

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 … .

Bold and Bad

At its meeting yesterday, the U.S. secretary of education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which is tasked with creating a renovation strategy for the nation’s ivory tower, illustrated well why government rarely produces rational policies.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings kicked off yesterday’s confab by urging the commission to make its final report, which is due in September, “as bold and as concrete” as possible. Setting aside that “bold” almost certainly translates into more big government—the last thing needed by American higher education, which is bloated with taxpayer dollars—it was immediately clear that the commission won’t be able to settle on any meaningful policy proposals, bold or otherwise. Indeed, the commission members couldn’t even agree on the definition of “unaffordable” or proper use of terms like “higher education” and “college.” If they can’t nail those things down, how the heck are they going to agree on any truly “bold and concrete” reforms?

In the end, the only things the commission’s final report will probably “boldly” declare are that (1) there’s a “crisis” in higher education, and (2) government must fix it. The report’s remedies, in contrast, will likely be restricted to nebulous proposals like “improving access” to higher education and imposing greater “accountability” on schools—the kind of lowest-common-denominator stuff that is the best one can hope for from a group that can’t even agree on a definition of “unaffordable.”

Of course, that’s probably what most policymakers want. It will give them a perfect excuse to waste even more money on student and institutional aid, pile new rules and regulations on colleges, and congratulate themselves for attacking the higher education “crisis” head-on.