October 30, 2006 8:16AM

No End in Sight

The front page story in yesterday’s Washington Post by Tom Ricks and Peter Baker is a sobering must‐​read. (“Tipping Point for War’s Supporters?”)


Don’t be fooled by the headline or the first few paragraphs. While it is true that stalwart Republicans such as John Warner have become more outspoken about the lack of progress in Iraq, and some in the GOP have mused openly about the need for a new approach, the consensus that emerges from the article is toward “a new phase” of the conflict, not an end to it. That is how former Pentagon official Dov Zakheim describes the current state of play. Zakheim dismisses the notion that the United States will leave any time soon, and it is his words — not Warner’s — that close out this important article. (Ricks, by the way, will be at Cato on Thursday to discuss the U.S. experience in Iraq. Visit the Cato web site for more details.)


That a solid majority of Americans want a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq must now be seen as irrelevant. Public and so‐​called elite opinion has diverged almost from the moment that the Bush administration launched the war in Iraq. In other words, the tipping point, if you want to call it that, occurred long ago. This has had no impact on the size of the U.S. military presence in the country, nor on the mission as a whole.


If you think this assessment too pessimistic, consider the table that appears below the Ricks/​Baker story in the Post’s print edition. The piece compiled by the Post’s Dita Smith, with research assistance by Robert Thompson, documents the sliding target date for when U.S. troops might begin to be withdrawn from Iraq. The graphic begins by noting that Pentagon planners expected that the 150,000 troops would be cut to about 30,000 by the fall of 2003. But this was only the first of many misjudgments as to the costs and risks of this war. A progression of statements by senior civilian and military personnel since January 2005 shows how projections for troop cuts have consistently missed their mark. According to Gen. George Casey, security in Iraq might improve in 12 months time, which would allow for some troops reductions in the fall of 2007, but for now more troops might be needed.


That doesn’t sound like a change of course to me; and to the extent that it is, it is a change in the wrong direction.

October 29, 2006 8:33AM

An Interrogation in the Middle East

I have just been informed by a university student who attended our conference in Cairo this August that he has been told to report tomorrow to the prosecutor’s office for interrogation. If I don’t hear back from him by tomorrow evening, I’ll be alerting people to contact his country’s embassies for information on his status.


The potential crimes about which he is being interrogated (and for which he was arrested and detained earlier) concern informing the public on his Arabic‐​blog about police misconduct. 


I hope that the authorities don’t further compound their misconduct by jailing this brave young man. But if they do, they should at the very least know that people are watching them. (Thank God for the Internet, which allowed him to alert people to police misconduct and now to alert his friends to the harassment he is facing for it.)

October 29, 2006 6:57AM

A Great End to the Conference on ‘Freedom, Commerce, and Peace’



I'm really happy with the conference on "Freedom, Commerce, and Peace: A Regional Agenda." We had Georgians and Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, Armenians and Azeris, Iranians and Iraqis, Romanians and Moldovans, and on and on...28 nations in all.

The first discussion of the last day of the conference was of a high order, with Robert Lawson speaking on the Economic Freedom of the World Report and Cato's new Senior Fellow Andrei Illarionov offering a high-level critique of methodology and suggestions for improvements. The discussion was very scientific and really focused attention on the issues of explaining the relationship between liberty and well being. Ricardo Martinez Rico, former Deputy Minister for the Budget of Spain, gave a fascinating and practical guide to how Spain managed to get its state budget under control, along with concrete proposals for the assembled reformers from Eurasia.

The three workshops (organizing a think-tank, involving free media in public information campaigns, and using the economic freedom of the world data to promote reform) went well, as did Johan Norberg's presentation on the environmental case for property rights, which moved participants to avoid environmental disasters by promoting transferrable rights in fisheries, forests, and other natural resources. Some other highlights were former Croatian Justice Minister Vesna Skare-Ozbolt's presentation on "Improving the Rule of Law" and the presentation and discussion of Warren Coats's paper on "Creating Monetary Stability and Financial Sector Freedom." (Ok, the others were good, too, notably the energetic presentation by my friend from Belarus, Jaroslav Romanchuk, on how to convince the public of the benefits of liberty.) 

The papers will be collected and edited over the coming months; my plan is to publish them in English and in Russian editions.

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October 27, 2006 4:53PM

The Deval in Massachusetts

The establishment media are swooning over Deval Patrick, former civil rights chief in the Clinton administration and now on the verge of being the first black governor of Massachusetts. The New York Times says, “Mr. Patrick’s greatest assets include his charismatic personality, inspiring speaking style and biography.” The Washington Post reports long‐​time non‐​voters in tears over his “message of optimism, his personal charisma and his uplifting personal story.” David Broder hails him as “New Star among the Democrats.”


But Deval Patrick’s personal story isn’t quite so uplifting to advocates of equality under the law. When he was named to be assistant attorney general for civil rights by President Clinton, after Lani Guinier’s nomination was withdrawn under fire, he came under the same sort of criticism. Clint Bolick, then with the Institute for Justice, called him “pro‐​quota” and a “stealth Guinier” who held the same views but lacked the same paper trail.


After Patrick took office, he seemed to confirm Bolick’s warnings. In 1995, Bolick called him “a master at using the threat of expensive litigation to extort concessions from municipalities and organizations.” (Alas, none of these op‐​eds and news articles from the 1990s seem to be online, but they can be found in Nexis.) He testified in 1995 oversight hearings that Patrick was “shedding any pretense of impartial law enforcement in favor of unbridled ideological activism” at the Justice Department.


Bolick wasn’t alone in his criticisms. “Deval Patrick has committed the Clinton administration to a vision of racial preference that fulfills the most extravagant fantasies of a conservative attack ad,” wrote Jeffrey Rosen in a 1994 New Republic article. “Rather than honestly confronting the costs of affirmative action, Patrick has blithely endorsed the most extreme form of racialism.” Nat Hentoff denounced one of Patrick’s most famous cases, when he sided with the Piscataway, N.J., school board’s decision to fire a white teacher in the name of “diversity.”


These days, Patrick endorses the standard tired litany of big‐​government liberalism: more tax money for middle‐​class housing, more tax money for low‐​income housing, more tax money for schools, more tax money for jobs and education for ex‐​cons, more tax money for alternative energy. Oh, and property tax relief. But his record suggests a propensity for more authoritarian policies to ensure that his moral vision prevails.


As for the title, a tip of the hat to Marion L. Starkey, author of the acclaimed book, The Devil in Massachusetts, about Massachusetts leaders who would go to extraordinary means to root out the merest allegations of sin.

October 27, 2006 3:22PM

Going off the Rails on a Crazy Train

By Brandon Arnold

A recent report reveals that Amtrak spent a staggering $102.6 million on outside legal counsel between June 2002 and June 2005. The review, requested by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also finds that Amtrak improperly managed its legal contracts and failed to provide proper oversight (as if simply wasting more than a tenth of a billion dollars wasn’t enough).


Members of the committee are predictably outraged.


Rep. John Mica (R-FL) said, “Amtrak’s management of outside legal services has been found to be in serious disarray, with virtually no attention focused on costs and expenditures.”


Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) remarked, “Amtrak is continually showing us it is incapable of effectively spending the $1 billion in federal funding it receives each year.”


But before we label these folks paragons of fiscal responsibility, keep in mind that last year this same committee passed a bill that would recommend a 67 percent increase in federal funding for Amtrak. The bill is highlighted on the committee’s list of its proudest accomplishments, despite the fact that the full House of Representatives never brought it up for a vote.


And they call this a “do‐​nothing” Congress?

October 27, 2006 3:20PM

Fake Boarding Pass Generator Underscores ID Woes

Yesterday, the blogosphere crackled with news that 'net surfers could use a website to generate fake boarding passes that would enable them to slip past airport security and gain access to airport concourses. The news provides a good opportunity to illustrate a credentialing (and identity) system, how it works, and how it fails.

It’s very complicated, so I’m going to try to take it slowly and walk through every step.

The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) separates commercial air passengers into two categories: those deemed to require additional security scrutiny — termed “selectees” — and those who are not. When a passenger checks in at the airport, the air carrier’s reservation system uses certain information from the passenger’s itinerary for analysis in CAPPS. This analysis checks the passenger’s information against the CAPPS rules and also against a government-supplied "watch list" that contains the names of known or suspected terrorists.

Flaws in the design and theory of the CAPPS system make it relatively easy to defeat. A group with any sophistication and motivation can test the system to see which of its members are flagged, or what behaviors cause them to be flagged, then adjust their plans accordingly.

A variety of flaws and weaknesses inhabit the practice of watch-listing. Simple name-matching causes many false positives, as so many Robert Johnsons will attest. But the foremost weakness is that a person who is not known to be a threat will not be listed. Watch-listing does nothing about people or groups acting for the first time.

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