Late Friday night, the U.S. Senate passed a ban on Internet gambling. The ban now awaits President Bush’s signature.
Sen. Bill Frist attached the ban to the port security bill at the last minute on Friday, conveniently allowing the ban to go forward without any debate. That also means any senator who rightly believes that online poker is none of the government’s business would also have to vote against a national security bill to vote against the ban — making that senator a ripe target for charges of being soft on terrorism.
The major gaming sites — that is, the legitimate companies regulated by British law and traded on the London Stock Exchange — announced over the weekend that they’ll cease offering service to U.S. customers the moment President Bush signs the bill. What does that mean? Well, it means the shady, fly‐by‐night sites that aren’t regulated or publicly traded will now thrive with U.S. customers. These gray‐ and black‐market sites are more prone to fraud, more likely to be involved in organized crime, and don’t include the child‐protection measures the major sites have implemented.
For all the talk from Sen. Frist, Sen. Kyl, and Rep. Goodlatte about the dangers of this “unregulated” industry, the bill they’ve just passed will actually put the well‐regulated gambling sites out of reach of U.S. customers. The end result? Online poker and other gaming sites will soon be even less regulated, more likely to attract children, and more likely to defraud U.S. consumers than ever before. Meanwhile, one of the most addictive forms of gambling — state lotteries — will soon make an en masse move online, thanks to an exemption in the bill that effectively creates an online monopoly for them.
In short, in an intrusive, big government effort to protect Americans from themselves, Congress has passed a futile, hypocritical, counter‐productive, protectionist piece of legislation that will make it more difficult for millions of Americans to engage in an activity most participate in responsibly and moderately. For those people, the bill will probably work. But it’ll do little to prevent problem gambling, children’s access to gaming sites, or online fraud.
One can’t help but think that for Frist, none of that matters so long as the bill helps Republicans keep control of the Senate come November.
Over at the Library of Economics and Liberty, Duke political science chair Michael Munger has a real gem of an essay lucidly explaining why democracy, which caters to the median voter, won’t produce innovation, which is created by bets with long odds by risk‐takers on the fringe.
For political decisions, “good” simply means what most people think is good, and everyone has to accept the same thing. In markets, the good is decided by individuals, and we each get what we choose. This matters more than you might think. I don’t just mean that in markets you need money and in politics you need good hair and an entourage. Rather, the very nature of choices, and who chooses, is different in the two settings.
That part’s not very funny, but most of the essay is. So if you like your political economy at once weird and crystal clear, do check it out.
Today’s Washington Post suggests that the reaction of some “antiwar liberals” to a recent leak from the National Intelligence Estimate may have been unjustified. The NIE allegedly asserts that the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists than it is eliminating, and many Iraq war critics responded that they had always assured us it would — and that the war therefore is (and always was) a bad idea.
The Post dismisses this “I told you so” reaction as the product of “hindsight bias,” arguing that the critics hadn’t (and indeed couldn’t have) been certain of this outcome from the beginning — that they have only convinced themselves, retroactively, that they were.
Whether or not the Post’s observation is valid, it ignores a much more fundamental error in the critics’ reasoning: It is never the waging of wars that makes you safer, only the winning of them.
The U.S. was not safer in 1942–1945 than it had been in early 1941. We entered World War II because winning it would make America safer. In trying to win it, we suffered over a million casualties.
Part of the argument for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime was that a beachhead for freedom and democracy in a Muslim Middle Eastern nation would, in the long term, weaken militant Islamism and promote peace. It was never suggested that the process of trying to create that beachhead would itself make anyone safer — no more than it was suggested that Americans would be safer during our participation in WW II.
Hence, it is fatuous to argue that a current rise in terrorist recruitment proves that toppling Saddam was a bad idea. Efforts to create a free and democratic Iraq are ongoing — the war is still in progress.
Note that none of this is to say that freedom and democracy are sure (or even likely) to take root in Iraq. Critics are welcome to argue that we and freedom‐loving Iraqis will ultimately lose there, and be worse off if we do. But can we please treat logic and common sense as non‐combatants, and stop assaulting them with fallacious arguments such as the one described above?
People are highly tuned risk managers. Daily, we make decision about risky things like crossing streets. To do so, we analyze the speed and density of traffic, light conditions, our own physical skills, and myriad other factors to determine whether to cross in the middle of a block or at a controlled intersection.
Five years since 9/11, people are getting better at assessing the risks of terrorist acts. And people are growing increasingly skeptical of the risk choices being made for them by the Department of Homeland Security. The evidence? Their willingness to see security lampooned.
The writers at The Onion are undoubtedly finding a good reception for this send‐up of the Transportation Security Administration’s liquids rules.
And people are diverting themselves from their exasperation with airport security using this fun game.
A basic indictment of government‐provided security is in daily newspapers’ comic sections this morning. Syndicated cartoon Bizarro by Dan Piraro is titled “Orientation Seminar at Homeland Security.” It depicts a teacher at a chalkboard that says “Inconvenience = Security.” (Available online here early next month).
The funny bone is a highly tuned instrument, and it’s showing the dissonance in air security today.
Legal scholars are debating whether the Military Commission Act [MCA], passed by Congress on September 29 and soon to be signed by President Bush, applies to U.S. citizens. The answer is more complicated than one would think.
First: Under Sec. 948a(1) an unlawful enemy combatant is “(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co‐belligerents …; or (ii) a person who…has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal….” Use of the word “person” suggests that citizens may be detained as unlawful combatants.
But second: Sec. 7(a) denies habeas rights only to aliens. Thus, a citizen who is detained as an unlawful combatant would appear to have habeas rights to challenge his detention.
Moreover, third: Sec. 948b states that “[t]his chapter establishes procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants.” In other words, only non‐citizens may be tried by a military commission.
My conclusion: A citizen may be detained (subject to habeas challenge), but not tried, under the MCA.
When Chris Preble and I released "Failed States and Flawed Logic," the Dean of the Wilson School at Princeton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, offered what I thought was a pretty cutting critique. While admitting that "Rhetorically, the distinctions between these positions...are relatively easy to elide," Slaughter criticized Chris and me thus:
Preble and Logan lump together such unlikely bedfellows as Robert Kaplan, Niall Ferguson, Frank Fukuyama, Steve Krasner, Gerald Helman and Steve Ratner, David Laitin and James Fearon, Sebastian Mallaby, Max Boot, Tony Lake and the entire Clinton foreign policy team as neo-colonialists — all perceiving the principal threat to the U.S. as failed states and the optimal solution as a new era of colonialism, with far more altruistic motives and international supervision. Preble and Logan in turn worry that all of this is a justification for a massive nation-building enterprise that will ignore sovereignty and usher an extraordinarily costly and difficult era in which the U.S. will take on the task of turning all "bad" or weak states into mature democracies to ensure our safety, using military and non-military means.
I thought this was a pretty good point. After all, there's got to be some daylight between, say, Max Boot, an open advocate of American Empire, and, say, Anthony Lake, no?
Well, crack open the op-ed page of the Washington Post this morning, and you get this from Brookings' Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Donald M. Payne, on what to do in Sudan. Get ready:
It's time to get tough with Sudan again.Read the rest of this post »
After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.
[In the National Health Service,] something important is quietly dying. I don’t think it is too fanciful to call it the spirit of medical professionalism. And we, the medical profession, are watching it die....
[F]ar from being privatised, medicine in England has become ever more a creature of the state....
[A]lthough medicine has embraced the need for evidence-based medicine, policy making remains largely an evidence-free zone.
Politicians consolidating and centralizing power...government sucking the soul out of a profession...ho-hum. It was the last line that really caught my attention.