Obama on Pakistan (and Nawaz Sharif)

The New York Times reports this morning that the Obama administration is deciding whether Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is likely to be a reliable ally or an obstructionist force.

Honestly? This is a man who in 1999 agreed to send a special operations team to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, who later tried to forge peace with India, and recently agreed to mediate a truce between Karzai’s government and the Taliban.

Right now, there’s no solution in Afghanistan unless Pakistan is stabilized. Sure, Sharif is pompous, self-aggrandizing, and as religiously conservative as ever before, but he’s still immensely popular and (reminder to policymakers in Washington) it’s not our job to pick and choose that country’s political winners.

In this turbulent region our strategy should be narrowly tailored to securing our specific objectives (i.e. - narrowing our aim to denying al Qaida the use of sanctuaries, if that’s even still achievable), implementing the few policies likely to achieve those goals (i.e. - cooperating with local leaders and tribal elders along the Pashtun tribal belt straddling the Afghan-Pakistan border), and being flexible with whatever leader holds power in Islamabad (i.e. - not expecting Sharif to toe the line on every conceivable issue).

Women’s Suffrage Abandoned. “Too Unpopular,” says Anthony.

Reversing his earlier support for private school choice in the District of Columbia, Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews now calls for the end of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. Why? “Vouchers help [low income] kids, but not enough of them. The vouchers are too at odds with the general public view of education. They don’t have much of a future.”

So private school choice programs work, but because they are not growing quite fast enough for Mr. Mathews’ taste we should abandon the entire enterprise? Why keep striving for total victory when can seize defeat today!

The thing is, major social changes are usually, what’s the word… oh yes: hard. Susan B. Anthony co-founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869. She died in 1906 – 14 years, 5 months and five days before passage of the 19th Amendment. If a social reform is right and just, it will inspire reformers who will fight for it every bit as long as it takes.

And even those who decide what social reforms to support based on their popularity should take note that school choice programs are proliferating all over the country. And newer tax credit programs, such as Florida’s, Pennsylvania’s, and Arizona’s, are all growing at a faster rate than older voucher programs like the one in Milwaukee. More than that, the politics of school choice have already begun to change at the state level. While Democrats in Congress had no qualms slipping a shiv into the futures of 1,700 poor kids, more and more of their fellow party members at the state level are deciding to back educational freedom.

EDLs on the Ropes

With the REAL ID Act floundering in state resistance, DHS officials and government contractors have been pinning their hopes on “enhanced drivers licenses” or EDLs. These are state-issued driver’s licenses that the Department of Homeland Security and State Department have agreed to treat as proof of citizenship for purposes of border crossings.

With the flexibility of doing things by fiat, outside of a statutory process, the bureaucracy had gotten some traction with this ID system – most notable for its use of long-range RFID (radio frequency identification tags) to track people.

But news comes today that the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is scrapping its plans to create EDLs for U.S. border crossings, mostly due to cost.

“I was comfortable in the $25 to $50 range, but when I saw those costs (for an enhanced driver’s licence) go above $50 and nearing the cost of getting a passport, the argument for just having a passport became stronger and stronger and I think logically we’ve made the right decision here,” [Crown Corporations Minister Ken] Cheveldayoff said.

With more vocal opposition to RFID-based tracking in EDLs south of the border (that is, here in the states), the U.S. EDL may run into more than just cost concerns. And there is discomfort brewing with federal agencies cooking up an identity system on their own.

For all its faults, at least REAL ID had a statutory mandate. EDLs could end up being anything bureaucrats want them to be, which could be worse than what Congress put together in REAL ID.

Slashed?

The Hill is reporting that Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) “has slashed Obama’s proposed increases in domestic discretionary spending from 12 percent to 6, according to lawmakers who met with Conrad.”

Unemployment is rising, businesses are failing, and folks are truly “slashing” their spending habits.  But in Washington, to “slash” means to increase spending 6% instead of 12%.  I’m sure most hard-working Americans – the poor stiffs whose taxes will pay for this “slash” – wished their budgets were in line for a 6% increase this year.

Tuesday Podcast: ‘Anthony Kennedy’s Modest Libertarianism’

Author Helen J. Knowles calls Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy a “modest libertarian” in her new book The Tie Goes to Freedom: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Liberty, which analyzes Kennedy’s jurisprudence.

In Tuesday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Knowles explains why she chose to recognize Justice Kennedy as a “modest libertarian”:

If you line all the justices up and say… did they vote for the individual, or for the government? Kennedy is overwhelmingly in favor of the individual rather than the government, far more than any of his colleagues.

Awesome, Fearsome, Awesome - Or Maybe Silly

This video is making the rounds because Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) muses in it that perhaps the Internet shouldn’t have been invented.

He immediately grants, “That’s a stupid thing to say” - perhaps for political reasons, or perhaps because he recognizes that the Internet makes us much better off despite every risk it carries and security flaw in it.

But he goes on to overstate cybersecurity risks excessively, breathlessly, and self-seriously. Not quite to the point of stupid - maybe we can call it “silly.”

The Department of Defense, he says, is “attacked” three million times a day. Well, yeah, but these “attacks” are mostly repetitious use of the same attack, mounted by “script kiddies” - unsophisticated know-nothings who get copies of others’ attacks and run them just to make trouble. The defense against this is to continually foreclose attacks and genres of attack as they develop, the way the human body develops antibodies to germs and viruses.

It’s important work, and it’s not always easy, but securing against attacks is an ongoing, stable practice in network management and a field of ongoing study in computer science. The attacks may continue to come, but it doesn’t really matter when the immunities and failsafes are in place and continuously being updated.

More important than this kind of threat inflation is the policy premise that the Internet should be treated as critical infrastructure because some important things happen on it.

Of cyber attack, Rockefeller says, “It’s an act … which can shut this country down. Shut down its electricity system, its banking system, shut down really anything we have to offer. It is an awesome problem.”

Umm, not really. Here’s Cato adjunct scholar Tim Lee, commenting on a report about the Estonian cyber attacks last year:

[S]ome mission-critical activities, including voting and banking, are carried out via the Internet in some places. But to the extent that that’s true, the lesson of the Estonian attacks isn’t that the Internet is “critical infrastructure” on par with electricity and water, but that it’s stupid to build “critical infrastructure” on top of the public Internet. There’s a reason that banks maintain dedicated infrastructure for financial transactions, that the power grid has a dedicated communications infrastructure, and that computer security experts are all but unanimous that Internet voting is a bad idea.

Tim has also noted that the Estonia attacks didn’t reach parliament, ministries, banks, and media - just their Web sites. Calm down, everyone.

But in the debate over raising the bridge or lowering the river, Rockefeller is choosing the policy that most enthuses and involves him: Get critical infrastructure onto the Internet and get the government into the cyber security business.

That’s a recipe for disaster. The right answer is to warn the operators of key infrastructure to keep critical functions off the Internet and let markets and tort law hold them responsible should they fail to maintain themselves operational.

I have written elsewhere about maintaining private responsibility for cyber security. My colleague Ben Friedman has written about who owns cyber security and more on the great cyber security freakout.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: The Toxic Duo

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has finally unveiled details about his bailout plan. Not surprisingly, he plans on propping up insolvent (but politically influential) financial institutions. Even worse, there is no effort to shut down – or even reform – the two government-sponsored enterprises that deserve the lion’s share of the blame for the financial crisis. Yet as Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute explains in this new video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are at the epicenter of the housing bubble and subsequent damage to financial markets.