Friday, November 30, 2007

Mike Huckabee Phones God -- and Sully Freaks

Sully links to this blurry YouTube video of Governor Huckabee talking to God -- on his cell phone. Sullivan dubs it "horrifying," but I think that's going too far. It would be "horrifying" if Huckabee actually heard God on the other end of the phone, issuing instructions. I don't think he believes that God is actually on the other end, although with Huckabee you can't be sure.

It's my sense that Huckabee was just trying to be funny, although it's not nearly as successful as his Chuck Norris ad. But, while it's not horrifying, it is derivative: he's just copying an old Ellen DeGeneres act.

Was that horrifying too? Well, I suppose it was.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More On Gerson

In my last post, I talked about the way Michael Gerson is getting hammered by conservatives, but, predictably, he has a few defenders. Ross Douthat links to this Josh Patashnik defense of Gerson, over at The Plank. Patashnik thinks that conservatives are being unfair to Gerson by characterizing him as a statist big-government leftist. In fact, according to Patashnik, Gerson's actual policy proposals are pretty small-bore, despite his highfalutin' rhetoric:

Gerson doesn't want a massive new federal effort to combat social injustice; he wants a modest effort, but one imbued with an awesome new sense of moral purpose. It's Tommy Thompson's ideology wrapped in RFK's rhetoric. One can question whether this is really a unique political philosophy meriting a big book deal, but Great Society liberalism it ain't. To me--and I mean this in a good way--it seems more or less like run-of-the-mill centrism; he probably could have just joined the Republican Main Street Partnership or the DLC and been done with it, though that wouldn't have earned him very much money.

So what exactly is the difference between a small-bore government program with a modest budget that gets implemented because people kinda sorta think it might do some good and exactly the same program "imbued with an awesome new sense of moral purpose"? Does the grandiose rhetoric have any independent value?

I think that the reason for the conservative reaction to Gerson has a lot of roots. To start with, small government types are often tarred from the left with the "you don't care about the poor" brush. Most of the time, it's a stupid, irrelevant distraction from the real policy question about whether big government programs actually achieve their stated goal, but it is a quite common rhetorical strategy. To have that idiotic leftist mantra repeated verbatim by one who is supposed to be one of our own is infuriating.

Further, when Gersonian rhetoric is accepted by folks who are supposed to be conservative, it leaves fiscal conservatives and libertarians rhetorically disarmed when somebody comes along and employs the grandiose rhetoric in support of grandiose programs. Gerson and his ilk may not support massive big-government programs (although I am unconvinced that they don't), but they redefine the terms of the debate in a manner favorable to statist big-government liberalism.

There's also something else going on as well, I think. Quite a few conservatives and libertarian-leaners who have tended to vote Republican have already broken with George W. Bush. And yet, quite a few conservatives still have some residual loyalty to President George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Let's face it: Gerson's philosophy isn't that far from that of is former boss. Attacking Gersonism is a way of attacking Bushism without going after Bush.

I've already recommended Matt Kibbe's review of Gerson's book, and again, it is well worth reading in full. Kibbe thinks that Gerson is being stupid when tries to read small government types out of the movement:

It’s true that there has always been some tension on the Right between traditionalists and small-government proponents, but the coalition has also been conservatism’s greatest strength. By arguing that one must pick one or the other, Gerson is indicating a willingness to hack off a huge chunk of the conservative coalition — all the while claiming that this is the way to save it.

True. But isn't that equally true of Bush? Sure, Bush managed to win two terms in the Oval Office for himself, but he's managed to burn down the house Reagan built.

Consider the following passage, from a post by left-leaning blogger Publius at Obsidian Wings:

But 2008 is a new world. The modern conservative movement is both intellectually and practically exhausted. It’s still a powerful force, but the fires ain’t burnin’ like they were 20 years ago. There’s a window here to shift the course of the river – to enact not only a stable progressive majority, but to chart a lasting progressive course on the big issues of our day (health care, climate change, foreign policy).

Can you even imagine a paragraph like that being written tweny years ago? And why is the conservative movement in such shambles? Well, the reason is pretty obvious: the rise of "compassionate conervatism" and the presidency of George W. Bush, along with the Gersonian rhetoric Bush has embraced.

Which makes it all the more ironic that Gerson couches so many of his arguments in terms of what Republicans need to do to wine. Because Gersonism -- or Bushism -- is a sure fire way to get that "stable progressive majority" that Publius yearns for.

UPDATE: Minor editing glitch fixed.

Gersonism and Conservatives

I confess: I am going to break one of my own rules. In general, I make it a practice to refrain from criticizing books I have not read. But after perusing Michael Gerson's column archives at the Washington Post, well, readings of Heroic Conservatism are starting to look like a viable alternative to waterboarding. Still, the world doesn't need me to read the book and criticize it, because Gerson is absolutely getting hammered.

Start with the personal stuff: The Atlantic published an article by Gerson's former White House colleague Matthew Scully which accuses Gerson of self-aggrandizement and exaggeration of his own role in various matters. And of taking credit for other people's work. David Frum weighs in, saying:

I worked closely with Gerson and Scully, and I know both men well, as I do the third member of that once-intimate band, John McConnell. I witnessed the events Scully chronicled, and I can attest to the accuracy of Scully's account.

Frum then goes on to accuse Michael Gerson of plagiarism, which is a pretty serious charge. I mean, you've got to be pretty desperate to plagiarize David Frum.

While this bickering among former Bush Administration insiders is undoubtedly amusing, it isn't of great import. Of course Gerson is a climber who exaggerates his own importance and shades accounts to make himself look good. This distinguishes him not at all from his fellow members of the political caste.

In addition to the nasty, vindictive personal stuff, the book has attracted a lot of substantive criticism as well, particularly from conservatives. George Neumayr at Human Events referred to Gerson's "Heroic Liberalism," and characterized the whole Gersonian enterprise as a "cowardly retreat from conservatism." Jonah Goldberg asked "Why is This Man Called a Conservative"? Even Ross Douthat, who is the sort of squish who might be susceptible to Gerson's style of argument, penned a negative review for Slate, and he's had a couple of blog posts following up on it.

So what, exactly, is Gerson's philosophy? What is "Heroic Conservatism"? Well, as I said, I haven't read the guy's book, and I have no intention of doing so. But it's not clear that such exertion is really necessary. Gerson is the sort of intellectual who would only be so-classed because he's a member of the political caste. Gerson's "Heroic Conservatism" is a warmed-over version of Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism." In his column, he tells us that he cares a lot about the poor, and that people who disagree with him on this or that are uncaring.

In this column, for example, he goes after Dick Armey and Phil Gramm, before going after his real target: the libertarian-leaning wing of the Republican Party. Typical Gersonian rhetoric:

But the moral stakes are even higher. What does a narrow, anti-government conservatism have to offer to urban neighborhoods where violence is common and intact families are rare? Very little. What hope does it provide to children in foreign lands dying of diseases that can be treated or prevented for the cost of American small change? No hope. What achievement would it contribute to the racial healing and unity of our country? No achievement at all.

Ross Douthat quotes him as saying fiscal conservatives are "small minded, cold and uninspired," and Gerson's columns are imbued with this sort of rhetoric. Gerson is very comfortable sitting astride his moral high horse.

Gerson takes pains to distance himself from traditional big-government statist liberals, but, in practice, his arguments has exactly the same form as do theirs: I care about the poor and dispossessed, while you small-government types don't. He doesn't seem overly concerned about whether his favored nostrums actually achieve their stated goals, whether they have unintended consequences, or whether market solutions are indeed a superior alternative. But, for Gerson, it's not about that. Matt Kibbe's scathing review is worth reading in full, but he absolutely nails it, when he says of Gerson:

But what’s important to note is that it’s indicative of Gerson’s worrisome approach to governing. In his world, it’s not just about creating policy that works, but policy that makes him feel good. He doesn’t want government to get out of the way; he wants to use it to help him find meaning.

The urge to find meaning through politics is one of the most pernicious and destructive urges in human history. At its worst, it leads to atrocities: the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Gulags, death camps. In its most mundane form it leads to bad policies. It's what is wrong with liberalism in its modern sense, and, for that matter, a lot of what's wrong with the Presidency of George W. Bush.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good Job, Princess Cruise Lines

This is amazing: via Radley Balko an account of a poor old lady who spent ten years saving for an Alaska cruise. Princess Cruises even booked the lady's air travel. Booked her on three different flights, on three different airlines, all to get her to Alaska in, one presumes, the cheapest way possible. So of course this poor elderly pensioner misses the boat, due to ubiquitous travel snafus.

And here's the fun part: not only won't Princess Cruises refund her the money she took ten years saving, they've taken, and apparently plan to keep, the partial refund she got from the airlines. And, stupidly, they continue to be adamant even after being contacted by a Washington Post reporter.

I have to say that if I were a competitor of Princess Cruises, I'd give the old lady a free cruise to Alaska. Then I'd have her tape a commercial saying "Princess Cruise Lines screwed me out of my money, but Cheerful Iconoclast Cruises treated me like a queen!"

Government Largesse: Some Strings Attached

Radley Balko links to this article about the Supreme Court's refusal to review a challenge to a San Diego program in which government officials searched the homes of welfare applicants. People were free to refuse to be searched -- but if they did, they couldn't get benefits. As Mr. Balko points out, the notion that applying for government benefits constitutes consent to a search is pretty broad:

I suspect the law-and-order response to the policy in San Diego would be something along the lines of "if they can’t prove they’re clean, they don’t deserve my tax dollars." Of course, if everyone who received any sort of government assistance had to consent to a search of their home, the Fourth Amendment would be pretty much null(er). For example, I’d guess there’d be quite a bit more outrage if these fishing expeditions/searches were being done on the homes of, say, middle class kids applying for government-subsidized student loans instead of low-income people applying for welfare.

There might be more outrage, but of course many of the same justifications for searching the homes of welfare recipients might apply to student loan recipients. In any case, this practice points to one of the often-unappreciated costs of the massive welfare state: it inevitably leads to increased government monitoring of the beneficiaries of welfare programs. And of course as people become accustomed to searches of all sorts, the willingness to object or resist declines.

The power to do something for you is also the power to do something to you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Presidential Candidates Lie, and It Is (Sometimes) a Good Thing

Over at PowerLine, Paul Mirengoff says that he thinks Bush was lying back in 1999, when he started spouting on about "compassionate conservatism:"

When I first heard George W. Bush talking about "compassionate conservatism" in 1999, I figured (and certainly hoped) that it was at least 80 percent ad campaign and no more than 20 percent policy guide. Eight years later, it seems to me that, in practice, the Bush administration probably hasn't strayed too far to the wrong side of that proportion.

I must confess that I too thought it was PR: I thought that Bush was a straight-up Reagan conservative, and that the "compassionate conservative" crap was about getting votes from the soccer moms.

Unlike Mirengoff, however, I wish that Bush had been lying when he talked about being a compassionate conservative. But he wasn't! Bush managed to ram the prescription drug entitlement program through a Republican Congress at just the time when the "spoiled generation" -- the Baby Boomers -- are about to start retiring and getting sick and bankrupting us all. Bush gleefully signed the "No Child Left Behind Act," a bill with no real benefits that massively increases the role of the federal government in education -- something real conservatives have been trying for decades to reduce. And of course we have the near-miss of the Bush amnesty for illegals. He's gotten his way on plenty of those "compassionate" policies -- enough to do real damage.

And, worst of all, he's gotten Christian Conservatives -- who might have been a lost cause anyway -- used to the idea that big government is their friend, thereby fracturing the Republican coalition. And bringing us "serious" candidates like Mike Huckabee, who, despite having hilarious ads with Chuck Norris, manage to combine the worst elements of nanny-state big government tax-and-spend liberalism with know-nothing Christianist moralizing. Thanks, Bush!

So yeah, I too hoped he was lying back in '99. I was right, but it turned out that he was lying about the "conservative" part.

Mona over at Unqualified Offerings is outraged by Mirengoff's post, but for quite different reasons. She's mad that Mirengoff approves of the lying in the first place. As she puts it, "the point is, Power Line is not just conceding, but approving that a Republican presidential candidate lied to get elected." (Emphasis in original.)

I would be terrified at the thought of having a President who didn't lie, repeatedly and well, in order to get into the Oval Office. Because any Presidential candidate who isn't a good liar would have to actually believe all the nonsense that any person who wants to be President has to say.

What do we want in a President? We want a person who is reasonably intelligent, with an IQ of between, say, 125 and 150 -- no higher because super-geniuses tend to be erratic, but no lower, either. We want somebody who is intellectually curious about the world, well-informed on major issues, who has at least some substantive knowledge of economics and statistics and political theory. We want somebody who is a good manager, and who is good at picking people and evaluating their performance. We want somebody whose world-view is evidence-based rather than faith-based. We want somebody who can think for him or herself, who makes independent judgments about matters.

Note that this is very generic -- it's not about ideology, but about the general intellectual characteristics we would seek in a President.

It's my thesis that any person who meets these criteria will have views that will render the candidate unelectable if expressed openly. Consider the following propositions:

Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme designed to ensure support for big government, but we are stuck with it for the present. America's farmers are a bunch of welfare queens and farm subsidies should be abolished. Evolution is true, and creationists are a bunch of know-nothings. DARE is a waste of money and it should be defunded. Worse, the whole War on Drugs is pernicious. The attack on Iraq was a huge tactical blunder, but having gotten into the war, we need to do anything possible to avoid ignominious defeat. Free trade is a good thing, and the United States should unilaterally abolish all trade barriers. We shouldn't worry about opium being grown in Afghanistan.

All of these propositions are totally defensible in reasoned argument, but, if espoused bluntly, any one could render a candidate totally unelectable. I'm not saying that a qualified candidate would have to believe any or all of these claims, but most independent thinkers of requisite intelligence are likely to believe at least something that renders him or her unelectable.

And so we have a choice: we can insist on total honesty, and we can select a candidate so stupid, dull, or unimaginative that the candidate has no heterodox views. Or we can accept the fact that presidential candidates, like all politicians, lie. They lie frequently, openly, and with great skill. If they didn't, they couldn't get elected.

Free the Small Farmers -- And Everybody Else, Too

Given the vitriolic nature of much left/right "debate" on the web, it's nice to see a civil exchange between people who nonetheless disagree quite fundamentally. So I want to congratulate Libby Spencer at Newshoggers and Jim Henley for the tone of a recent exchange that nonetheless nicely illustrates the differing mindset between those who instinctively support the modern liberal regulatory state and those who are more skeptical of it.

Spencer points to this Nation article, which focuses on the travails of one small Michigan farmer in dealing with overbearing regulators, but which discusses, more generally, the issues facing small farmers (often organice) who embrace a direct-to-consumer model. Reading this article in The Nation, I got the momentary sensation I was reading Reason instead. Witness this passage, for example:

But as the re-emergence of a farm-to-consumer economy draws increasing amounts of cash out of the mass-production factory system, the new movement is bumping up against suddenly energized regulators who claim they want to "protect" us from pathogens and other dangers.

Wow, I thought you had to be a libertarian to put "protect" in sneer quotes like that. Still, there is the inevitable swipe at big business and the "mass-production factory system" of agriculture. So it's The Nation after all. Spencer reads this article and concludes that reducing regulations will do nothing but "allow the corporations to more easily foist off bad food." But the regulations have to be done correctly, which, according to her means that "they need to be enforced against the commercial facilities they were designed to oversee, not wrongly used to destroy privately owned competition."

Jim Henley responds, in a post amusingly titled "Wishing for a Free Range, Organic -- Pony." Henley's argument is that this sort of thing is the inevitable result of the regulatory/farm welfare system we now have in place:

Three-quarters of a century of regulatory-state agriculture has left us with a system of subsidized corporate farms who deplete the soil, abuse animals and enjoy a coziness with state agents while the same state agents hassle independent operators and crusading eccentrics out of business. It’s as if, my man IOZ would say, there’s a pattern.

The pattern is that reforms are put in place to regulate evildoers, but the evildoers soon harness the regulatory agencies to reduce competition. There's even a term for that: it's called "regulatory capture." The classic example is the Interstate Commerce Commission, originally created to regulate railroads that quickly turned into a way for existing enterprises to restrict competition.

But Spencer doesn't see it that way. According to her it is all the fault of Big Bad Bush:

I'm not unaware that Bush didn't build the bureaucracy singlehandedly, but he stacked the agencies with industry cronies, putting them in charge of oversight. Under his administration, regulations have been relaxed from previous safety standards for everything from consumer goods to coal mining. Enforcement against corporate entities is practically nonexistent.

In other words, her view is that it's bad people enforcing the regulations, not the existence of the regulations themselves that causes the problem.

So who's right? Well, as a person who leans libertarian, I am naturally inclined to agree with Henley, but that could well be confirmation bias at work. And yet, I think that the evidence leads to that view. It may well be true that regulators have been unusually compliant under Bush -- I honestly don't know enough to make such a global judgment -- but as I noted earlier, the classic example of regulatory capture is the Interstate Commerce Commission, an agency created over 100 years ago. Nor is it limited to just the ICC -- it happens in basically every field when an all-encompassing regulatory agency takes over. The "bad people" explanation gets weaker and weaker when something happens over and over again.

I also have to wonder whether Ms. Spencer read the article in The Nation with sufficient care. The farmer who is highlighted, Greg Niewendorp, had problems not with the federal bureaucrats appointed by the Evil Bush, but instead had difficulties with the Michigan Department of Agriculture, a state regulatory agency. And, as the article highlights, the regulatory difficulties of these independent producers involve both state and federal regulators. Which, again, suggests a more structural problem, rather than the "bad people" explanation that Spencer seems to favor.

And there is at least some irony here. Niewendorp, the farmer whose plight was highlighted by the article in The Nation, objected to a program which is supposed to test cattle for bovine tuberculosis. In general, I am not a huge fan of government regulation, but as health-and-safety regulations go, requiring that beef critters be tested for communicable diseases doesn't strike me as being that onerous or unjustified. Now, Niewendorp's claim is that he's just a small-scale producer and that his customers trust his practices. As somebody with libertarian procilities, I am more willing than a lot of people to let people assume this sort of risk. However, if you are the sort of person who believes in the case for lots of government regulation generally, I don't see how you can say that the guy ought not have his cattle tested.

Likewise, the article talks about small-scale producers who do their own butchering, and sellers of raw milk and cider:

Federal and state agriculture and health authorities say farmers are violating all kinds of regulations to meet fast-growing consumer demand, such as slaughtering their own hogs and cattle instead of using state and federally inspected facilities, and selling unpasteurized dairy products and cider without the proper permits.

Raw milk is a matter of huge controversy. Personally, I don't enjoy throwing up all that much, and as a result I am a big fan of of pasteurization. Silly me, but I think Louis was onto something with this whole "germ theory" thing. That said, I think that if people want to purchase clearly-labeled raw milk, they ought to be free to do so. Likewise, I think that if people want to purchase cows or pigs that were slaughtered by the farmer in his barn, rather than in a government-inspected slaughterhouse, you ought to be free to do so, so long as there is full disclosure. But if you are the sort of person who read The Jungle and who believes generally in the case for government-inspected slaughterhouses, I am not sure why you ought to make an exception for "local, organic" farmers.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Note To MSM: Stop Lying

I recently blogged about CNN's decision to label Democratic-Party activists "undecided voters." Now, via Instapundit, this little tidbit, claiming that the San Francisco Chronicle's online edition has a feature which allows moderators to delete comments in a particularly sneaky way. Lots of sites allow comment deletion -- blogger lets me delete comments, although I seldom do so, and certainly would never do so simply because somebody disagrees with me. (In fact, the only comments I have ever deleted thus far have been comment spam.)

But the Chronicle feature deletes the comment for everybody except the person who originally posted it. The person who made the original comment gets a cookie which identifies them, and they still see their own comment. (Of course the person can purge the cookie, or go to a different computer, in which case it won't be visible.) Apparently, the idea is to prevent people from getting up-in-arms about having their comments deleted.

If they want to delete comments, it's their site. There are no "equal time" rules requiring newspapers to allow comments. But if you delete comments, don't lie to the people who made them and pretend the comment has not been deleted.

Might I suggest that this willingness to lie is part of the reason why the "MSM" is in such trouble these days? Hint: if you want to get your credibility back, then, at a minimum, stop lying.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lispin' Rudy

Ann Althouse links to this YouTube video of Mo Rocca making fun of Rudy's lisp, and James Taranto's comments in response.

Taranto says that Rocco is being homophobic. Professor Althouse is underwhelmed by Taranto's argument:

I guess he sort of has a point. But it seems to me Mo Rocca is mostly making fun of himself. Also he says nothing about homosexuality, and other political figure with a lisp he refers to is Winston Churchill — who, like Giuliani, is quite macho.

Um, Ann, given Rudy's propensity to flounce around in women's clothes, are we sure he's "quite macho"? Maybe the "macho Rudy" thing is an act? Could he be compensating for something?

Logically, neither Rudy's speech patterns nor his propensity to run around in women's clothing ought to affect his candidacy. Still, if his "macho" attitude is perceived as an attempt to cover up a somewhat less-macho reality, it will surely hurt Giulianni's candidacy. Al Gore may have won his debates against Bush on purely intellectual grounds, but his more effeminate mannerisms (including, according to some, a slight lisp) undoubtedly hurt his campaign, particularly among men. If Rudy is perceived as effeminate, he's toast.

Chuck Norris For President

This Mike Huckabee ad is all over the place.

Sully links to RedState saying it is "insanely good," as well as Ezra Klein, who (despite some criticism) calls it "The Greatest Ad Ever." Mathew Continetti at "Campaign Standard" thinks it "is funny and fresh, but in terms of substance it's lighter than air." Yglesias calls it "strange but funny."

Well, funny it certainly is. I have to say, though, that I agree with Ezra Klein: the ad is funny if you know about the whole phenomenon of "Chuck Norris facts." As a viral video it is incredibly good -- everybody's linking to it and embedding it, after all. But won't the average voter be a bit confused by Huckabee's claim that Chuck Norris moves the Earth when he does pushups?

"Undecided Voters" = Left Wing Activisits

Fresh off the Clinton-campaign mini-scandal regarding her planted questions, CNN decided to up the ante: via Glenn Reynolds, this link to a Hot Air video demonstrating that nearly every "undecided voter" asking a question at the recent Democratic debate was a left-wing activist of some sort.

Seriously, if CNN thinks that anti-war activists, union organizers, and other sundry Democratic Party agitators will ask better questions that randomly-selected average questions, fine. In fact, I rather dislike the whole "Town Hall" concept myself. But characterizing these people as mere "undecided voters" is so misleading as to be tantamount to a lie. Sure, they may well be undecided in the sense they've not yet formally endorsed a particular Democratic candidate, but they're not undecided in the ordinary sense of the term. They're activists!

Let them ask questions if you like, but identify their affiliation. I mean, all I want is the truth. Is it that hard?

By the way, while I don't like Obama, I do admire the fact that he didn't pretend that he didn't know the lady whose question was directed toward him. It was a softball, but he didn't try to pretend she was a stranger to him.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Live From VRWC Central

Always on the lookout for his readers, the intrepid Cheerful Iconoclast penetrated the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy last night, attending a black-tie dinner at a convention of the dreaded Federalist Society. The dinner, which celebrated this secret cabal's 25th anniversary, featured speeches from quite a few notables, including three Supreme Court Justices and President George W. Bush. It got covered by the AP and Washington Post, and undoubtedly by other outlets as well.

I loved this bit from the AP:

Inside the historic Union Station, crowd gave Bush a standing ovation complete with cheers and hollering. Supreme Court justices and members of the nation's judiciary and legal communities sipped wine and ate beef and veal medallions. Outside, a small group of protesters shouted "War criminal Bush" and "Stop waterboarding." The latter was a reference to a controversial interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

This is a great example of writing that's factually accurate but utterly misleading. It makes it sound as if the convention featured a sybaritic feast worthy of an Iron Chef. In fact, if the audience "sipped" its wine, because drinking it normally would have meant tasting it. The wine was a step or two above Thunderbird, but nothing I would buy myself. The Viognier tasted like Kool-Aid, and the Cab harsh and tannic. You can get better wines at the $5.00 bin at your local grocery store (if you live in a state that allows local grocery stores to sell wine, that is). As for the veal and beef medallions, it was difficult to tell whether the minute portion size was a blessing or a curse. Yes, they were described as gourmet tidbits in the printed menu, but they might as well have been mystery meat: overcooked nuggets of meat smothered in sauce. As it was, upon returning home, the Main Squeeze and I shed our formalwear and warmed up some leftover pasta, which I assure you far surpassed the night's repast.

It was banquet food. Better than your old school lunch, but certainly in the same genre. And not enough of it!

As for President Bush's welcome, members of the Federalist Society are nothing if not polite to their guests. It is certainly true that a poll taken in that room would probably make President Bush seem more popular than a poll of, say, the American People. But you would expect him to be more popular among self-identified conservatives. It is hardly news that a group of conservative lawyers gave a sitting Republican President a warm welcome.

However, Federalist Society members can and do differ among themselves about President Bush's policies. In particular, any number of libertarian-leaning Federalist Society members are harshly critical of some aspects of the Bush administration. Of course, in order to find that out, the reporters would have had to, you know, actually talk to people, rather than listening to the President's speech and dashing from the room when he finished. If one had approached me, I would even have been happy to express my candid views. I might even have shared a bite of beef medallion, and a sip of wine.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tough Talkin' Tancredo

Andrew Sullivan doesn't like this Tom Tancredo advertisement:

He compares Tancredo to Rudy, characterizing this tactic as one favored by "small men in search of a balcony," his favorite tag for Rudy. Sorry, but this ad actually has a couple of things going for it. The first is honesty: it uses the phrase "Islamic terrorists," identifying the likely source and motivation for a major terrorist attack. Give Tancredo credit for that, at least.

The second is that Tancredo's proposed security measure -- better border security -- actually has some likelihood of achieving beneficial results. Unlike, say, harassing innocent photographers, or the idiotic security theater at airports, it is actually possible that potential terrorists might seep through our lax border security and commit terrorists acts.

Of course, there's no particular reason for likely Islamic terrorists to go to the trouble of swimming the Rio Grande, or risk heat stroke in the Arizona desert, when they can just get a student visa, like the 9/11 terrorists did. The Bush administration has done all sorts of really stupid things in response to the 9/11 attacks -- undermining the liberty of millions of Americans. Denying student visas to Saudi and Egyptian nationals would have been both simple and effective, and it would neither have expanded government power nor invaded the rights of Americans. So of course the Bush Administration didn't even consider it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Light Blogging

I am going to be out of town for a few days, and so blogging will be light to nonexistent until next week. I hope my adoring public manages without me!

Rudy, Toughness, and Torture

A friend of mine sent me the link to this Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by ostensibly-liberal law professor Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz decries what he considers to be a "pacifistic stance" among the Democrats, and he argues that Rudy Giuliani appears to be doing well in the polls because "the post- 9/11 Rudy conveys a sense of toughness, of no-nonsense defense of America."

Well, maybe. But to me the post-9/11 Rudy conveys something else: the puffed chest and macho posturing of a small, fearful man. I don't think his attitude conveys strength and toughness; I think it conveys fear, weakness, and paranoia -- the same sort of fear that leads an Amtrak employee to become overwrought about an elderly Japanese photographer. Rudy's message: be afraid all the time. Sacrifice our honor and our most important values.

When asked whether waterboarding was torture, Rudy said it was, the way it was described by the "liberal media," but he seemed to leave open the option that there could be some forms of waterboarding that wouldn't count. Well, Jonathan Adler at Volokh links to this article, an article written by somebody who was an instructor at SERE school, a man who has undergone waterboarding and performed it on American soldiers in training. A real tough guy, one who doesn't need to engage in Rudy-style macho-posturing to prove his manhood. He says, simply, "when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt." This article has been cited extensively in the blogosphere, so you may have seen it already, but this is a passage that I think every American ought to read:

We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like “24”, are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become? Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraieb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.

With regards to the waterboard, I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.

History’s Lessons Ignored

Before arriving for my assignment at SERE, I traveled to Cambodia to visit the torture camps of the Khmer Rouge. The country had just opened for tourism and the effect of the genocide was still heavy in the air. I wanted to know how real torturers and terror camp guards would behave and learn how to resist them from survivors of such horrors. I had previously visited the Nazi death camps Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I had met and interviewed survivors of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Magdeburg when I visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. However, it was in the S-21 death camp known as Tuol Sleng, in downtown Phnom Penh, where I found a perfectly intact inclined waterboard. Next to it was the painting on how it was used. It was cruder than ours mainly because they used metal shackles to strap the victim down, and a tin flower pot sprinkler to regulate the water flow rate, but it was the same device I would be subjected to a few weeks later.

On a Mekong River trip, I met a 60-year-old man, happy to be alive and a cheerful travel companion, who survived the genocide and torture … he spoke openly about it and gave me a valuable lesson: “If you want to survive, you must learn that ‘walking through a low door means you have to be able to bow.’” He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered “the Barrel” version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.

Is that what we wish to become?

Now, it does seem that waterboarding has not been used particularly often -- at least if recent reports are to be believed. This ABC News report claims that only three people have been waterboarded by the CIA, and it has not been used at all since 2003. As Julian Sanchez, observed, you can't have it both ways: you can't claim that the technique is vital to national security when it hasn't been used at all since 2003. The ABC report indicates that, after being waterboarded, Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessed. Of course, we know we can make people confess to pretty much anything if we torture them. He probably is guilty of at least some of the things to which he confessed, but the hard truth is that the fact that he confessed under torture tells us nothing.

And because of his treatment, it is now virtually impossible to try him in a real court. If we had treated him in a humane manner, we could have tried him before a real court, with real lawyers, a real judge, and a real lawyer. And the result would have been real justice. Would some have refused to believe he had gotten a fair trial? Sure. But for those who could be swayed, giving him a fair trial would have been an important symbolic act.

But what about the favorite example from those who wish to justify torture: the ticking time bomb scenario? Professor Dershowitz discusses this situation:

Consider, for example, the contentious and emotionally laden issue of the use of torture in securing preventive intelligence information about imminent acts of terrorism--the so-called "ticking bomb" scenario. I am not now talking about the routine use of torture in interrogation of suspects or the humiliating misuse of sexual taunting that infamously occurred at Abu Ghraib. I am talking about that rare situation described by former President Clinton in an interview with National Public Radio:

"You picked up someone you know is the No. 2 aide to Osama bin Laden. And you know they have an operation planned for the United States or some European capital in the next three days. And you know this guy knows it. Right, that's the clearest example. And you think you can only get it out of this guy by shooting him full of some drugs or waterboarding him or otherwise working him over."

First of all, it never happens. You never know enough to know there's a ticking time bomb and that you have the person who knows where it is. If you know for sure that it's the guy and you know about the bomb, you probably know all sorts of other things which are likely to lead you to the bomb. So why spend all this time discussing a scenario that never happens?

Second, the ticking time bomb is the scenario in which torture is least likely to work. If the terrorist can ever hold out, or construct a convincing lie, this is the time he will do it. Because he knows that he just has to last a limited period of time, and then the bomb will go off.

I am curious to know how far people are willing to take this. Suppose, for example, that the terrorist has a child. We grab Terrorist Mastermind at home with his child. And somebody gets the bright idea of making the Mastermind watch as we crush his eleven-year-old son's testicles -- something John Yoo claims the President has the inherent power to do. So do we do it? Just how far do we go?

Let me make a somewhat different argument. If there were an imminent attack on America, and you could stop it at the cost of your own life, would you do it? I don't know for a fact that I would sacrifice my own life, but I certainly hope I would. And I assume our CIA and FBI agents, and members of our military would make the same choice. Likewise, I hope that they would sacrifice their freedom in order to prevent a terrorist attack on the United States. So here's my proposal: if the ticking time bomb ever happens, the CIA or FBI agents or whoever can torture the mastermind and then, after the attack is foiled, turn themselves in, plead guilty, and accept punishment. If your answer is that they are not really willing to do that, well, I suspect it is because they don't believe that torture is really necessary. And if a President believes it is really necessary, well, let him (or her) authorize it, and the resign from office and accept the legal consequences.

I think that we can defend our country from terrorists without throwing away our honor. We don't need to torture people, and we sacrifice something about what makes America great when we do so. Yes, be tough on terror. But do so in a manner that is consistent with American values.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Frightening Thought

Matthew Yglesias doesn't think that any of the potential Republican nominees have a chance at the nomination. This leads to a problem, since the Republicans have to nominate somebody.

And then he had a nightmare epiphany: "Brokered convention leads to Jeb Bush nomination."

All I can say is that if that happens, I will vote for the Democratic nominee, whoever it might be. Kucinich, Gravel, Clinton, Obama -- it just doesn't matter.

No. More. Bushes.


From The Land of the Brave To A Nation of Bedwetters

My buddy Sully links to this article about a tourist's run-in with security conscious officials. At the outset, I want to add the same caveat I suggested in the case of the Jena 6 when I first began to read about the case. It is possible that this story is a hoax, or that it's been exaggerated, or that salient facts have been omitted. Of course it would be a good idea to have independent verification, to hear more accounts, to know more facts.

Still, assuming the article is accurate, it's a horrible story: an elderly Japanese tourist who speaks no English is riding an Amtrak train from New York to Boston. He rides along, threatens or bothers nobody, and then does the unforgivable: he starts to take pictures. Well, we can't have that, can we? Sensing danger, the heroic Amtrak conductor swings into action:

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures. “Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train.” He starts, “I…….” but, without English, his response trails off into silence. The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: “Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away.” Again, little response. “Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures.” She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, “Put. It. Away!” He packs his camera.

And it gets worse! When the train arrives in New Haven, two police officers enter the train and remove him, apparently because he "refused" an order he couldn't understand. Hopefully these dim bulbs managed to find somebody who spoke Japanese, determine that he wasn't a terrorist, and send him on his way.

I got in a bit of trouble in the comments a while back when I said that some (though not all) TSA screeners were morons, and I suppose that I may offend an Amtrak employee here, but I don't really care. I don't know whether the "policy" against photography from speeding trains is an actual Amtrak rule, or merely a policy put in place by an idiosyncratic conductor on a power trip. I suppose the theory behind it is that terrorists could scout locations for attacks from the train and use photographs in their planning.

But this is utterly idiotic. What are the chances that terrorists would actually scout locations and take photographs from a speeding train? Wouldn't they be far more likely to get off the train and take pictures of their targets? And how many terrorists use photographs anyway? This policy is beyond stupid. It has no possible intelligent defense.

As to this conductor, if the policy is a real policy rather than simply her own personal policy, then she may not have had any choice but to enforce it. However, even if she had no choice, she didn't have to be an asshole about it. She didn't have to call the cops on a guy who obviously didn't speak English and who represented no threat. She didn't have to go into that whole "this is a security matter!" act. She could have been nice about the whole thing.

I know nothing about this woman, or her life. Maybe she is just somebody who hates her job and takes it out on the passengers, whom she resents. Maybe she's just a small person who gets to feel big by pushing people around. But one of the worst aspects of the War On Terror and the security theater it has engendered is that it gives uniformed bullies a chance to throw their weight around. When we give petty officials the power to enforce arbitrary and stupid rules, it is hardly surprising that many of them become abusive.

I sometimes think that our friends on the left get overwrought, and maybe I am a bit overwrought myself, but I have to ask: what kind of a people have we become? What kind of country is this? Is this the America we want to live in? Do we have to be afraid all the time, so afraid that we put in place stupid security measures against phantom dangers?

Let me make a radical suggestion: let's stop being afraid. The object of terrorism, after all, is to inspire fear. I am fine with putting in place reasonable precautions, with hunting down the folks behind attacks on the United States and killing them. But we can't sacrifice what we are as a country. This constant, unreasoning, debilitating official paranoia just has to go.

Why (This) Libertarian Hates Unions

Why do some libertarians hate unions? Megan McArdle says that liberals believe that libertarians hate unions because "they raise wages and improve working conditions for their workers at the expense of profits." Citing this article on tollbooths and the adoption of technology like the EZ-Pass, Megan says that the "the central problem with unions, to the extent that there is a problem, is not that they demand higher wages, but that they reflexively oppose productivity enhancing change." And she cites a couple of examples -- the dockworkers' strike and the Big Three autoworkers who sit around being paid to do nothing.

Megan is right that one problem with unions is that they tend to oppose productivity-enhancing innovation, and this is indeed a good reason to hate unions. But, from a libertarian perspective, the central problem with unions is that they depend on the coercive power of the state. Property rights and freedom of contract are fundamental rights. Under current law, if 51% of the workers at company X vote to join a union, the employer is legally required to contract with that union. (The Democrats want to change this to require compulsory contracting if 51% of the workers can be persuaded or intimidated into signing a card.) The employer cannot refuse to contract with that group, contract individually with the other 49%, offer payment to workers in exchange for an agreement not to join a union, or seek employees willing to give a better deal. Every private sector union contract in force today exists in part because a people with guns say "bargain with them, or else."

Under libertarian rules, workers would, of course, be free to form unions or join existing ones. They would be free to seek a favorable contract from their employer. By the same token, the employer would be allowed to bargain individually with people who chose not to join a union, to refuse to bargain with the union, or to offer contracts which forbade unionization. I am not a big fan of unions, but that is largely because, under current rules, they have the heavy hand of the state behind them.

Calling All Wingnuts

Matthew Yglesias, who has a somewhat-undeserved reputation to being open to points made by his ideological adversaries, nominates Steven Den Beste for Kevin Drum's "All-Time Wingnuttiest Blog Post Contest." Matthew's follow-up is here.

Note that Matthew never actually, you know, quotes a Steven Den Beste post and takes issue with his argument or analysis. Not that Matthew couldn't do this -- it's fair to say that the Steven Den Beste archive is a target-rich environment. But calling somebody a "wingnut" does not an argument make.

So my question is, what is the point of this exercise? Is the idea just to give liberal bloggers a chance to point at people they don't like and jeer? A Two Minute Hate for lefty bloggers, what an idea.

Monday, November 5, 2007

My Top Five Ever

Megan McArdle links to this Ogged post criticizing the whole enterprise of nominating the best blog posts ever. She says she is more interested in what people would pick for their own best blog posts. So interested, she says, that "I'm like, this close to tagging five bloggers . . . except that I'm afraid they wouldn't do it, and then I'd be like that kid who nobody comes to his birthday party."

Megan's display of insecurity is charming, but of course utterly without rationality. She is an A-lost blogger who gets to hang out with all the cool kids. I mean, there is a whole blog dedicated to running her down, which proves that she is a certified A-lister. However, if she is really worried about "tagging" bloggers and having them ignore her, here's a foolproof method: tag five bloggers much lower in status than herself. They will be so delighted to get a link from Megan McArdle that they will probably name their firstborn son "Megan" just to curry favor with her.

In any case, I am so anxious to curry favor with Ms. McArdle that, in addition to naming my firstborn son "Megan," I will do her bidding even without being tagged.

So here they are: the best of The Cheerful Iconoclast.

At number five, I would put this post, entitled "Libertarians Against Vouchers -- Accpeting Members Now." Granted, it's not exactly consistent with my attempt to curry favor with Megan McArdle, since I express disagreement with her, but I hope that the Mighty Megan can tolerate some amount of dissent.

My fourth favorite post continues my pattern of disagreeing with my heroine Ms. McArdle. This is the post where I articulated the cultural rationale for opposing the Bush-McCain immigration amnesty bill. Essentially I argued that American culture is better at wealth-creation and democratic institution-building than Mexican culture, and that letting more Mexicans in is therefore a bad idea.

I've done a lot of blogging on the whole Jena 6 matter, and a number of my posts on that have stood up pretty well. I considered naming my very first post on the matter, in which I called for skepticism on the media narrative. Or the one (linked by Instapundit!) where I said "I told you so." But my favorite Jena 6 post, and my third favorite overall, is the post where I called the Jena 6 a Mob of Cowardly Thugs.

My second favorite post deals with my favorite topic: religion. The title of the post is "Suck It, Jesus. You Too, Mohammed." In it, I defend Kathy Griffin's comments at the Emmy Awards. Note that I don't just defend her right to say them -- I defend the comments themselves.

Finally, in my favorite blog post (so far), I trash Mother Teresa and her Sadomasochistic Theology. Yep, beating up on a nun is even better than showing Rudy in drag.

Why Does Sully Do This?

On Friday, Andrew Sullivan graced his readers with a snarky one-line post: "Glenn Reynolds vs a real libertarian on torture." The "real libertarian" is the author of Glenn's stalker-site, Instaputz, and the post to which Andrew linked is here.

One reason I am not the biggest fan of blogwars is that if you come in in the middle of one, it's hard to untangle who said what, when, and who is misrepresenting whose statements, etc. And often it seems like it's not worth the trouble. But here goes, anyway:

Glenn's original post is here. Glenn links to this Andy McCarthy piece from The Corner which shows that Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Charles Schumer and Bill Clinton have all, at various times, admitted to the necessity of coercive interrogation (or even torture). Glenn then points out that there is a double standard at work: "Somehow, they are fit to lead the Democratic Party but the suitability of Mukasey — who has taken a more measured stance — to be attorney general is in doubt? What am I missing here?"

From this double standard he concludes that "the 'torture' debate is a political tool, and otherwise unserious." Taken in context, he's not arguing that we ought to have torture, or that the debate is unimportant, or anything of the sort. He is taking isssue with hypocrisy and double standards. He's saying that if you condemn Mukasey you should logically also condemn Clinton, Clinton, Obama, and Schumer. Failing that, he contends, that the torture debate is primarily political.

Now, it is possible to make logical arguments against Glenn's position. One could track down the original statements by Clinton, Clinton, Obama and Schumer, for example, and argue that they are, in fact, less sanguine about torture than McCarthy suggested. One could argue that the Attorney General should be held to a higher standard. One could even contend that both parties are hopelessly corrupt and that all of these people should be condemned.

Does Instaputz do any of those? Does he take issue with any of Glenn's facts and reasoning? No. He simply quotes the sentence where Glenn says that the "The torture debate is a political tool, and otherwise unserious." But he gives no hint as to the chain of reasoning that led up to that conclusion. He's followed up on it, but again, he makes no attempt to come to grips with Glenn's reasoning or argument.

So why does Andrew Sullivan give an uncritical link to this snarky little jab? Note that it's not the first time -- Sullivan is a repeat offender.

Well, if Sullivan can put words in people's mouths, I can psychoanalyze the guy from a distance. Particularly since I am being clear that this is utterly speculative, although it is based on my observation of Sullivan's blogging over the past few years. Let me suggest a theory. Sullivan likes to accuse his opponents (particularly Bush) of having a Manichean world-view.

He may well be right about Bush, but the same is true of Sullivan himself. He seems to think that people are all good or all bad -- there's no in-between, there are no good-faith differences among well-meaning people, not even really any hard issues. Now that he sees Reynolds as a bad guy, well, he must be pro-torture, even though he's never said anything that one could plausibly interpret as being pro-torture. It's enough that Reynolds hasn't worked himself into a high dudgeon about it.

We saw this dynamic in Sullivan's attitude toward President Bush. the immediate aftermath of 9/11. At first, Sullivan saw George W. Bush as our mighty-thewed leader in the War Against Islamo-Fascism. But then, something happened, and Sullivan turned against Bush. Now he writes about Bush like he's a jilted lover. Don't get me wrong, I'm a harsh critic of President Bush myself. But at the same time, I don't feel any great sense of personal betrayal, because I never expected that much from Bush to start with.

And the same is true, though to a lesser extent, of Reynolds. Back in 2001 and 2002, they were fellow warriors in the war against Islamo-fasicism, but not that Sullivan has turned against the Iraq war and President Bush, Reynolds is a doulbe-plus ungood enemy. And he has always been an enemy!

You see the same dynamic now, with Sullivan's blossoming man-crush on Barack Obama. I finally made it through Sullivan's essay on why he wuvs Obama, and it is Andrew Sullivan at his self-indulgent worst. It is nearly as bereft of rational argument as his exchange with Sam Harris on religion. Sullivan admits that Obama's policy views are bog-standard left liberal views, but Obama will unite us all and heal our divisions because he's young, and handsome, and black. Did I mention handsome? Now maybe Sully's crush on Obama will last forever, but I suspect that, this year or next, Obama will dissapoint, and then Sullivan will give him the same sort of spurned lover treatment he now gives to President Bush and Glenn Reynolds.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Islam's Woman Problem

Andrew Sullivan links to this article about statements by Nik Abdul Azia Nik Mat, described as "the spiritual leader of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party." It seems that Nik is worried about the emotional abuse of men:

“We always [hear about] the abuse of children and wives in households, which is easily perceived by the eye, but the emotional abuse of men cannot be seen,” Nik Abdul Aziz said. “Our prayers become unfocused and our sleep is often disturbed.”

So what is it that gets Malaysian men so riled up? Women who wear sexy clothes in public.

Just another fruitcake, you say? Well, maybe -- it is important to remember that he is a leader of the opposition party, and that it is therefore safe to assume that most Malaysians don't agree with him. It is certainly a mistake to view all Muslims as one undifferentiated mass. Still, in a country of about 25 million people, his Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party claims 800,000 members. That is an appreciable portion of the population. And Malaysia is a non-Arab Muslim country -- it's not Saudi Arabia.

It's not unusual for left-leaning secularists to warn against christian reconstructionists and dominion theology -- which is fair enough, since those people are nuts. But you know, the chances that the country which brought Jessica Alba to the world is going to devolve into a theocracy where sassing one's parents is punishable by death is pretty low.

Which is why, while American secularists ought to oppose what Andrew Sullivan calls "Christianists," we ought to recognize that views which are relegated to the lunatic fringe among western Christians are, in fact, quite mainstream in the Muslim world. So, for example, while every majority-Christian country has a legal code undoubtedly influenced by Christianity, none have adopted any form of "Biblical Law" which purports to apply Biblical commands directly. Yet a number of countries have, in form or another, adopted some form of Sharia law.

Islam is a real problem, and you don't have to take a "the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim" view to recognize that fact. Not all Muslims are Islamists, but it is not clear, as of now, that Islam is compatible with a secular state that is tolerant of religious differences. And it might be a good idea for my atheist friends to stop obsessing about ultimately trivial stuff like moment of silence laws and worry more about a religion many of whose members actually do want theocracy.