Saturday, July 30, 2005

State Governments Want Revenue (A NYT Exclusive)

Most observers with a meager interest in the affairs of the Supreme Court could have predicted right off the bat that the court's Kelo decision was a spark in a tinderbox. But a 365-33 House vote condemning the decision is pretty astonishing, if you ask me (although I hate commending politicians. Here it goes: Thank you, Rep. DeLay. Good for you, Rep. Waters.

A survey of the madness here, in what I believe is the only newspaper in the country to print a salutary analysis of the decision:

http://nytimes.com/2005/07/30/national/30property.html?ei=5094&en=a2632ae228739398&hp=&ex=1122782400&partner=homepage&pagewanted=all

In a particularly unsurprising commentary on the relationship between tyranny and the flattery of the ego, one of the most blowhardish outfits in the history of professional sports, the Dallas Cowboys, has slimed its way into collusion with the Texas state government to have a swath of homes and residences demolished, in order that this stellar franchise (2004 record: 6-10) can seat both of its remaining fans in a fancy new stadium.

Vengeance isn't one of my most conspicuous traits, but I can't help but cheer on these folks:

http://www.freestarmedia.com/

The gentleman spearheading this effort, one Logan Darrow Clements, appeared the other night on the new Tucker Carlson show (a program which I seem to be the only person in the country to like), and he appears to be a very congenial, even-tempered fellow. Just the sort of guy you'd want to see beat the living snot out of twits like Souter.

Know Your Rights

Tom Palmer, of the Institute for Humane Studies and the Cato Institute, has posted lecture notes for a seminar he is presenting in Varna, Bulgaria, on a variety of topics pertaining to classical liberalism, here:

http://www.tomgpalmer.com
(scroll down to the July 22 entry)

In related news, I'm pleased to report that I am now twice as smart as I was 20 minutes ago.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Half a League Onward

For some time it had been difficult to gauge how serious President Bush and his trade policy team are about pressing the case for CAFTA. Jeff Taylor of Reason Magazine, in his article today, gives free-trade partisans (who on more than one occasion have been memorably betrayed by the administration) a reason to revive a little optimism:

http://www.reason.com/links/links071805.shtml

The president seems not to mind offending the isolationist, protectionist Buchanan Right that still retains a considerable Republican constituency. Good for him. Particularly significant, and a revealing triumph, is Bush's confident debunking of protectionism's retarded cousin, xenophobia, on the question of the commie Chinese. Taylor interestingly points out how expansive trade policies are concomitant with stable, sensible immigration policies.

Incidentally, I have been to North Carolina; they do indeed grow a lot of hogs there.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Questions about the Schmidt Report

With all the analysis of the recent Schmidt report on detainee abuse in Guantanamo Bay at hand, a pretty elementary question comes to mind. Considering that it is now fairly certain that an institutional tendency toward what Marty Lederman has called "defining inhumane down" now pervades the entire hierarchy of the armed forces, wouldn't it make sense to ask what quality and quantity of actionable intelligence the detainers and their supervisors had expected to eke out of the more amateurish, neophyte detainees whose cases have now become cause for concern? As it seems fairly clear that determining a standardized, enforceable upward limit to what we can do to any suspected terrorist is to be considered nowhere in the agenda of the federal government or the top military brass, shouldn't we worry about such things as the symptoms of prison backflow, overcrowding, "hyper-interdiction" in general? What happens if we catch bin Laden and al-Zarqawi at once but can only fit one in? This is figurative speech, but it's a concern, I would think.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

On Pape-ism

The question of what baits the hook that lures aspiring jihadists is a sine qua non in the war against terror. Answering it would come a long way in determining jihad's strategic agenda and rational criteria for our own success and failure. A sobering thing to wonder is to what extent those in charge of prosecuting the war have arrived at any consensus at all on this. President Bush, it has been observed, received an thorough scolding for letting slip the statement that the war on terror is unwinnable, and a thorough scolding for apparently stepping back from this mentality. The event is an important one to consider in a political critique of the war on terror.

Chief among the elements of war skepticism is the belief that military incursion into the Middle East is automatically translated from within the 'Arab street' to be an act of aggression, provoking an immediate escalation of terrorism. University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has formulated what appears to be a sophisticated argument to this effect in a new book (which I haven't read), 'Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism', summarized in these newspaper articles (hat tip Justin Logan):

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/09/opinion/09pape.html?

http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/2005/05/18/opinion/edpape.php

That the argument is familiar is a relief. But I confess I am not much in agreement with it. Though I have not read the book, the above articles do not encourage me much. Pape opens the Herald-Tribune article positing that the fact that the successful Iraqi elections were followed by a spike in terrorist attacks amounts to a "contradiction", and that the contradiction can only be resolved by concluding that "there is far less of a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think" - and that American intervention is the one assured constant at the root of it all. As Ronald Bailey notes in his response to this theory over at Reason, bin Laden 'stipulated' an end to American intervention in the Middle East as a basis for an al-Qaeda ceasefire in his 2002 tape.

Justin, my former boss (and a damn smart one), argues that policymakers in Washington should follow Pape's argument to its natural conclusion and withdraw from Iraq, or risk an even greater swell in bin Ladenist ranks. Is that the full logical extent of the conclusion, though? If any military mobilization in the Middle East is bound to rain fire on us, how is it possibly that any conceivable war against terrorism could amount to anything more than a case of the US playing tag with mass murderers? How is any response to terrorist aggression not destined to exacerbate rather than secure?

Because war against terrorists has to be an unavoidable, intractable one in order for it to any justification to be convincing. I would hold that it is. I would reject the argument that the risk of arousing jihadist rage is prohibitive of armed conflict against them. Government of a free people has an implicit moral obligation to respond to credible foreign threats to American lives, articulated clearly and forming in plain view, by attempting to render them powerless through military action. So, more to the point, how might Pape's recommendations be heeded in Washington? Where is the appropriate strategic equilibrium, balancing the intrinsic threat of inaction with the permanently side-constraining threat of inspiring further terrorism? Do we limit the scope of militarism to responding to threatening parties that have already made their move, thus establishing a policy of 'get shot first, ask questions later'? Pape's thesis would argue 'yes'. How does the very likely emboldening of committed terrorists witnessing the apparent retreat of the Great Satan correlate to overall threat of terrorism against us, and to the consideration of a policy of non-intervention?

To state my basic intuition, I do not believe that the relationship between American militarism in the Middle East - past and present - and the provocation of terrorism should obscure the "positive argument" of bin Laden and his ilk in determining our war policy. I do not believe that the risks we've yet accepted in confronting Islamic terrorists can be held to eclipse the danger posed by the perverse and proactive imagination of the terrorists themselves. I do believe that the most significant animating principle of the terrorist mind is a hatred of the West, of liberalism, of civil society, of secular constitutionalism and representative government, and an obsession with the singular wish of eradicating any elements of these in the Middle East. I believe that America regrets its past and present follies a great deal more than bin Laden does, and that within this psyche, the casualties of American intervention serve only as useful simulacra for this 'revolt'. Militant Islamism is in my view a delivery mechanism for raw, simple totalitarianism.

This surely isn't an original argument, obviously. Anyway, Ronald Bailey's recent Reason article states my own view of the argument better than I can - I retort, you deride:

http://www.reason.com/links/links071105.shtml

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Spectre of Ownership

I had thought to leave well enough alone and not say more than has already been said about the rash of borderline-insane Supreme Court decisions that ended the last Court term. But this Julian Sanchez column was motivation enough:

http://www.reason.com/hod/js063005.shtml

and especially the NYT article to which he links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/24/opinion/24fri1.html?ex=1121313600&en=c8887de78041569e&ei=5070

Typically great Sanchez - and typically lousy Times. There isn't an absurd defense of the decision this op-ed, fatuously titled "The Limits of Property Rights", forgoes - it is so fawning, you would think Castro wrote the opinion. From the first sentence it reads like a high-schooler's work, praising the Court for relieving the enfeebled federal government of the responsibility of defining any objective criterion for claiming eminent domain over the objections of greedy homeowners and their insidious cohorts in the " 'property rights' movement". Not to be confused with the property rights movement, of course (I'm here reminded of Sanchez's resolution to dub the Washington Times a "newspaper", with "journalists", in light of its incessant use of scare quotes to refer to "gay marriage".) Together, the Court and the Times admonish us, this unholy alliance of people who live in homes they paid for and people who think people ought to be able to live in homes they paid for pose a mortal threat to the public interest, the raison d'etre of which is "reasonable zoning and environmental regulations." The journalistic CYA comes in the acknowledgement that, per the O'Connor and Thomas dissents, "eminent domain must not be used for purely private gain." Using it against purely private gain, though, is not only alright but both inherently noble and, now, the implicit moral imperative of the state. Thus, the editorial celebrates, "The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, sided with the city." And against the people who live in it.

I don't think it's too glib to wonder if anyone on the Times editorial board would find themselves consoled by such a riveting defense of the public good if they were to be standing in the shadow of a Coast Guard museum that used to be their home.