Topic: General

Shameless

On the off chance anyone may have thought there were any vestiges of limited government left in the ranks of today’s GOP:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is trying use a bill authorizing U.S. military operations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, to prohibit people from using credit cards to settle Internet gambling debts. Frist, R-Tenn., and his aides have been meeting with other lawmakers and officials in both the House and Senate to get the measure attached to a compromise Defense Department authorization bill, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide.

If this goes through, any senator who would dare suggest that the gambling ban be killed on the grounds that what people do with their own money on their own time in their own homes is none of Bill Frist’s business now risks accusations that he doesn’t support U.S. troops overseas.

What’s most aggravating about Congress’ full-throttle push to ban online game is that there’s really no call for it from the public, save for some of the fringe family-values conservatives. Some in Congress – Sen. John Kyl, and Reps. Goodlatte and Leach, for example – have been pushing this ban for years. But Frist’s sudden interest looks like little more than election year red meat.

Public opinion polls show most voters are overwhelmingly opposed to an online gambling prohibition. And to my knowledge, supporters of the bill can’t point to a single study showing that large numbers of Americans are gambling away their futures on these poker sites. Thus far, they’ve justified the bill with no more than a few anecdotes.

Of course, there’s also the naked hypocrisy of exempting state lotteries and the politically powerful horse racing industry from the ban. There actually are studies showing state lotteries to be a primary outlet for gambling addicts.

Saddam’s Supergun

An article in Sunday’s New York Times takes you to a Graveyard of Goofy Weapons south of Baghdad.  Among them, the remnants of Saddam’s Project Babylon, which, if completed, would have been the world’s biggest spud gun:

the barrel alone would have been 512 feet long and weighed 1,665 tons. As the pieces lying around in the lot in Iskandariya illustrated, the barrel was wide enough to fire projectiles “the size of industrial garbage cans,” as Mr. Lowther put it.

Estimates on the cost of two planned superguns and a smaller prototype called Baby Babylon range from $25 million to several hundred million dollars. If the big guns had operated as designed, they could have shot a 300-pound projectile 600 miles, or lifted a much larger payload into orbit if it was outfitted with a small rocket engine.

Doubtless there’s some true believer out there in the right-wing blogosphere trumpeting this story, hailing it as confirmation that Saddam was the Arab Hugo Drax, coming ever closer to having the means to kill us all.  What if he had loaded up an industrial garbage can with some of those degraded mustard gas shells, floated the whole works off our southern coastline and aimed it right at Disneyworld? 

Well, it’s never too late to be retroactively terrorized, but most of us are probably with Lt. Col. James A. Howard, quoted in the article after visiting the site: “I think a gun this big would be kind of dumb.” 

It’s Constitution Day, Charlie Brown

Note to D.C. readers: Tomorrow is Cato’s annual Constitution Day symposium, headlined by Chief Judge Danny Boggs of the Sixth Circuit, a polymath and one of the bright lights of the federal appellate bench. View the schedule and last-minute registration information here. (Bonus points: Take a version of the quiz Boggs famously asks clerkship candidates to fill out here).

Tomorrow, Cato also releases our annual Cato Supreme Court Review, now ranked among the top 20 peer-reviewed specialty law journals in terms of “impact” according to the influential Washington & Lee law review ranking system. For a sample of the 2005-2006 edition’s contents, see former Thomas clerk Peter “Bo” Rutledge’s thoughtful article analyzing the next Supreme Court term here.

New at Cato Unbound: Clark Ervin Replies to John Mueller on Terrorism

In today’s installment of Cato Unbound, Clark Kent Ervin, former Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and author of Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack, strongly disagrees with John Mueller’s provocative lead essay, “Some Reflections on What, if Anything, “Are We Safer” Might Mean,” in this month’s issue devoted to “9/11 Five Years After: Reassessing Homeland Security and the Terrorist Threat.”

Borrow and Spend, Spend and Elect

As chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) is charged with helping House Republicans get elected and re-elected. In this difficult year for Republicans he’s facing a tough race at home in the Buffalo area. According to the Wall Street Journal (paid reg. required), he’s using today’s standard Republican formula: promise to cut taxes and spend, spend, spend:

Mr. Reynolds, with about $3 million in campaign contributions, has run ads on local television for more than a month, earlier than in past campaigns. The first emphasized his support for low taxes and few business regulations, ending, “Tom Reynolds – Fighting to save New York jobs.” Another had two retired military officers hailing his role in saving the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station from shutdown. The third featured a mother holding her toddler while recalling the congressman’s help in forcing Blue Cross/Blue Shield to cover surgeries for the child’s cleft palate. “Tom Reynolds has a big heart,” she says into the camera.

Ouch.

I’m anything but an expert on British politics, but if the head of the Conservatives is making noises like this, we’ve got a serious image problem abroad:

“I and my party are instinctive friends of America and passionate supporters of the Atlantic alliance,” [Conservatives chief David Cameron] said, warning against the “intellectual and moral surrender” of anti-Americanism. But he added that being an uncritical ally was dangerous for Britain: “I fear that if we continue at present we may combine the maximum of exposure with the minimum of real influence over decisions.”

Risking a rift with the Republicans and his own traditionalists, he attacked the “unrealistic and simplistic” neoconservative philosophy of Mr Bush’s closest colleagues and advisers, calling it “a view which sees only light and darkness in the world – and which believes that one can be turned to the other as quickly as flicking a switch”.

Health Care Quality: Sharpening the Differences

Ezra Klein wants patients to receive the highest quality health care possible.  So do I.  Klein thinks that patients are “easily fooled” when it comes to health care quality.  So do I.  Klein thinks “panels of experts should watch over health care decisions.”  So do I. 

Klein thinks that politicians should empanel and watch over those experts.  I think that multiple panels should compete to provide patients with the best information, which patients could take or leave.

I worry that if politicians lead the pursuit of quality, the pursuit of quality will become infected by politics.  Klein kind of agrees.

Klein proposes to get around that sticky wicket by prohibiting Americans from contributing to politicians they like.  I think it’s an odd health care agenda whose success requires shredding the First Amendment.

Klein thinks patients are ignorant about quality, and thinks politicians should insulate patients from the costs of their medical decisions.  I think insulation from costs breeds ignorance about quality.

An elderly woman presents with abdominal pain from ingesting a spider.  Klein’s prescription: one bird and one cat, to be administered orally.  Cannon’s prescription: induce vomiting.