Monday, May 30, 2011


This is no "he-said-she-said," the truth is there on the parties' computer, according to Kaus, who points out that Representative Wiener can end the scandal by simply having a neutral third party examine the computer. If the account was hacked it will be evident. Conversely, if the Congressman does not make his computer and account available for such an examination it should be taken as evidence that he is lying about the hacker, no?

But isn't the important thing that the scandal go on? I mean, really, any scandal that lends itself to the name "Wienergate" should be given a fair chance to live.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I don't normally take much interest in sex scandals but in these circumstances I feel I have no choice. I am only human. A member of Congress sending a picture of his (underwear clad) member to a 21 year old college student is difficult enough to pass up on its own, add to that he is a member of the party I don't like and is very prominent one at that it becomes practically irresistible, but that the guy's name is "Weiner"? We are in sign from God territory. I declare it the solemn duty of all God-fearing Republicans to pursue the truth in its every trivial detail beyond all bounds of common sense or taste with all the self-righteousness and sarcasm they can muster or risk divine retribution. Let Weinergate begin!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The relentless pursuit of the obvious

In a economical matched pair design, a social scientist has demonstrated that personal attractiveness among young women is associated with a greater willingness on the part of merchants and operators of various public conveyances to offer their goods or services gratis. In laymen's terms pretty girls get free stuff. Where would we be without social science?

An example of the costs of not solving collective action problems: the return of measles. This is one place where economics supports a strong government role.

The great books explained in under 20 minutes.

And, for those who need a little more terrorism in their weekend, an interesting article about the increasing mismatch between our practices on targeted killing and international and domestic law.

Mark Steyn on Cass Sunstein. I happen to have met Sunstein a couple of times and of course knew a lot of people that were quite well acquainted with him and I must say that he is a very nice and capable man. Still, I think that Steyn's criticisms are on target and, as always, very funny.

Friday, May 27, 2011

what are you more worried about?

The Republicans are accused of being irresponsible for refusing to raise the debt ceiling. But the only meaning of the debt ceiling is the signal it sends to our creditors about our intention and ability to repay them. What is more worrisome to a creditor, your willingness to apply for another credit card or your willingness to reign in your spending? Would a bank be relieved if you walked into a credit negotiation with a handful of newly filled out credit card applications? Or would they rather see you cut the credit cards up and see that you had traded in your expensive car that you were still making payments on for a beater you had paid cash for? Who is really being responsible? Who is really the one that is risking the full faith and credit of the US? The people that want us to send in the application for a new home equity loan or the people that want us to stop eating out and shut off the cable?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Punish your enemies, reward your friends

Michael Barone mentions,

'In a Univision radio interview during the 2010 election cycle, Barack Obama urged Latinos not "to sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're going to punish our enemies and we're going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.'"

I wish he would take that attitude in foreign policy, particularly in the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. Kill an American and you get a bunch of advisors showing up to build power stations and roads to get you to like us. Welcome the Americans and they ignore you because everything is fine where you are.

Of course, doing this in domestic society where the rule of law is established is the worse sin of a political leader. But in a situation where not the rule of law, but rule itself, the monopoly on violence that is the prerequisite for any government, then punishing your enemies and rewarding your friends is not only forgivable, it is imperative.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Courts are sacrilegious. They presume to deliver judgement. That is wrong. Only God can judge.

Now many of the people that support the killing of bin Laden support this argument on the argument that bin Laden was evil. I am a supporter of killing him but I do not presume to know that he was evil. His actions were evil, but I, since I am not God, do not know and have no way of knowing that he was evil. Who knows? If I had been raised in the same society and milieu as he was, perhaps I would have ended up thinking the same things he did and doing the same things. I am not particularly committed to the proposition that he wasn't a bad guy, he probably was. But the larger point remains that all through history we have seen people do things that to us seem unquestionably evil but that to them and the societies they were a part of were seen as necessary or even virtuous.

I only know that his continued existence on this Earth was dangerous to innocent people, not only for the further evil actions he was in all likelihood planning but for the example that he set to the world of being able to publicly gloat and boast of defying the US and inflicting a grievous and humiliating defeat on the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth.

But that is a prudential argument, not a moral catharsis argument. I regard the pleasure and pride with which most Americans greeted the death of bin Laden at the hands of our brave soldiers at the direction of our able president as justifiable and innocent. Still, justice, if it is to be done, will be done by God. We cannot inflict enough pain to expiate the pain caused by his crimes nor claim the moral standing to judge him as an individual human being.

But the fact is that his acts were evil. His acts put him beyond the protection of any human laws. Weather he deserved to be punished in the deepest, moral sense it is beyond my power to judge, but that his death was necessary and useful is beyond anyone's power to seriously question.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Israel is not what is wrong with Middle East, Israel is what is right with the Middle East

Well received speech by the Israeli Prime Minister.

I don't agree that Israel needs unique security arrangements, I think that smaller states living within the security constraints set by larger states is routine in the international world. The only thing that makes the security arrangements unique is that the one demanding constraints is the smaller country.

I don't agree that "peace cannot be imposed, it can only be negotiated." It may be true that the UN's attempts to impose peace will fail but that is only because the UN is not really interested in peace. But peace is imposed all the time. We didn't come to an agreement with the Nazis. More to the point, Israel is attempting to impose a peace on the Palestinian--quite rightly in my view, but imposing nonetheless.

It is nice to see someone who can really give a speech for a change. How can people watch Obama in his robotic, pedantic drone and gush about what a great speaker he is? How can you watch the Prime Minister of Israel give a speech and then sit through the anointed one thinking, "There is a guy who can talk?"

Monday, May 23, 2011


I never much cared for Pawlenty but I am impressed that he is telling Iowans he is against the ethanol subsidy and is apparently set to go to Florida to advocate for a fundamental overhall of social security and medicare. These are long over due and, in the case of Social Security and Medicare, absolutely vital to our continued prosperity and vitality as a country. Maybe there is hope after all. On the other had, I have to say that I found his saccarine campaign roll-out radio ad a bit embarrassing.

One of the basic problems in our democracy is that we don't realize that rent-seeking is damaging and wrong because of the amount of value it destroys in the economy, not the incomes of the people that are receiving the funds. The payoff can be a million dollars to one guy or a dollar a piece to a million guys, the damage to the economy is the same. Many of the most politically successful programs are massive rent-seeking schemes that are politically successful precisely because they give relatively small amounts of money to very large numbers of people. These people don't think of themselves as exploiting the system because their total incomes are not particularly large. But that doesn't matter. If a large number of people are taking a relatively small amount of money the deadweight loss can be just as large or larger than with the sort of payoff that we usually think of as corruption.

Teutonic Shift

This piece mentions the President's "Teutonic shift" slip of the tongue which was cleaned up in the written version of the President's remarks later distributed to reporters and un-commented upon by same. If only Bush had made this error we could be having some good fun with it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

War of Choice

this is an odd phrase, "war of choice." Is a war of no choice better? WWII was not a war of choice. Is that a good model to follow? We were attacked. We had no choice. Does that make us right? Or does it make us foolish?

There was nothing surprising about the Japanese attack. In many ways it was inevitable from 1937 onward. From that point on we made it clear that we would not accept their expansion into China. We asked for war and then gave them four more years to prepare for it. Was that smart?

Churchill called WWII the unnecessary war. Why? Because it could have been prevented if the British and their allies had confronted Hitler before back in 1936 when he re-occupied the Rhineland in clear contravention of the Treaty of Versalles. He is undoubtably right, but following his advice, as with confronting the Japanese earlier in the Pacific, would have surely constituted a war of choice.

The idea that a war of choice is a bad thing is a corollary of our idea that war is unnatural, an indication that we have mistreated an enemy or that there is a misunderstanding of some sort that should have been resolved. The Romans had no such idea. They expected war. War was in the nature of man. All of their wars were in some sense a war of choice. Waiting till you had no choice was an indication of failure, not turpitude.

The most open administration in history

Isn't it a bit odd that the same administration that wants to see what political campaign contributions corporations have made before deciding on giving them government contracts refuses to disclose what campaign contributions were made by the companies to which it is granting waivers for its new health care law?

I am officially worried

Mitch Daniels is out of the race. I have always dismissed talk about not having good candidates but now I have to admit to being worried.

1949 or 1967?

The link goes to reactions in Congress to the Administration's insistence on going back to the 1967 lines.

Why are they always referred to as the 1967 borders? They might as accurately be referred to as the 1949 borders. They are the borders that were set at the time of the armistice in 1949 after the first Arab attempt to destroy Israel. There is nothing special about 1967 but that the Arabs attempted to destroy Israel again in that year.

There would be some legitimacy to the demand from the Arabs that the Israelis go back to the 1967 lines if the Arabs had ever recognized those lines either formally or in practice. Since the only thing that the Arabs ever did was attack across those lines there seems little moral force in their demand that they now be respected.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Against Abortion? Have the Government Fund It

This is a nice introduction to the argument for voucherizing medicare. It is a video with some helpful graphics on the size of Medicare in relation to other programs.

The most interesting contribution is the evidence for the effectiveness of markets in holding down healthcare costs. He cites two examples which are pretty well known (though he again accompanies them with very useful graphics): Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery (elective). Since these are both entirely (or almost entirely) paid for by the consumer they have both actually gotten cheaper relative not just to other medical prices but also to inflation in the rest of the economy.

But the most interesting piece of evidence he introduces comes from abortion provision. It turns out that this has gotten cheaper over the years, too.

This is quite a remarkable piece of evidence. One of the first things that you hear when you point out to people that cosmetic surgery has gotten cheaper is that, "people don't really need it so they can afford to shop around." Of course, one can always use the economist's argument that people also need money and so do, in fact, find ways to shop around anyway, but the argument that cosmetic surgery and lasik might somehow be a special case and that the lessons learned from those fields might not apply to the rest of the medical field strikes most people as being sensible.

That is one of the reasons that the evidence of the price of abortions is such a handy thing for advocates of the free market in health care. Broadly speaking advocates for greater involvement in health care and the advocates of abortion rights tend to be on the same side. They can hardly say that abortions are not necessary. At least rhetorically they are committed to the idea that the typical seeker of an abortion is a poor mother facing serious health risks from carrying a pregnancy to term. The fact that these consumers are able to control health care costs more effectively than expert allocation should carry weight with people holding such views.

It also poses a question for conservatives (or at least those that are not libertarians and are against abortion and socialized provision of health care): if government provision of is so inefficient then wouldn't, in the long run, a more effective way of reducing abortions be to put government in charge of paying for them?

If the price of abortions had been going up along with the rest of our healthcare system then even with the government picking up 80% of the cost the out-of-pocket costs to the patient would be more than the entire cost of the procedure at present.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Narcissism in Pop music

Mark Steyn makes this interesting observation in a discussion of entitlements:

"I was interested to discover recently that Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky has conducted a survey of “linguistic markers of psychological traits and emotions” in popular music from 1980 to 2007, and concluded that we are in (to use the book title of two of his co-authors) a narcissism epidemic. Once upon a time, love songs were about other people: “Me, Myself, and I (Are All in Love with You)” — Billie Holiday, 1937. Seventy-odd years later, Fergie sings in unconscious echo that she needs more time to be with herself; Beyonce sings about how hot she looks when she’s dancing; and, on the increasingly rare occasions when a vocalist directs her attention to an object of her affection other than herself, it sounds more like self-esteem boosterism than a love ballad. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pink’s current blockbuster hit, “F**kin’ Perfect”:

Pretty, pretty please
Don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than
F**kin’ Perfect."

This is one of those things that you never notice until it is pointed out to you. It is amazing and disturbing how many love songs are praises of oneself.

The fine print

This is something I really didn't know.

"Under today's Medicare, seniors are subject to an individual mandate more subtle but just as coercive as ObamaCare's. By regulation, seniors must enroll in Medicare or forgo their Social Security checks. By law, they are denied the right to go outside of Medicare and buy the kind of private insurance they prefer. They are thus trapped within a single-payer government monopoly. Add budget pressures to the mix, and you have the perfect conditions for rationing."

That really does seem remarkable to me. So remarkable that I suspect it is not true, or some important fact is being left out.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Showing Nixon a Little Respect

Ok, let's be fair to Nixon. Sure, he had an enemies list, but he had the good sense to at least try to keep it secret. Actually, being able to tell your friends from your enemies is an important presidential skill, but you should know better than to talk about it and calmly explain why it is a good idea. Explaining why reporters you don't like aren't invited to the press poll a White House spokesman said, “I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters.”

Now doing it is bad enough but not having the respect for the intelligence of the American people to not think of a decent lie to cover for it is inexcusable. Let's give Nixon a little credit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Advice for Newt

Note to Newt: Before you throw someone under the bus check to make sure your bus is moving. Paul Ryan just finds himself under a bus that is not moving and says, "Hey, why am I under this bus?" and gets up and brushes himself off and strolls off. Newt can think outside of the box. He has to learn to think outside of his mouth.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Common bared from White House

The link is to the youtube video of Common's objectionable appearance.

This is from the NBC story:

Their objection stems from a 2007 YouTube video of Common flagged by The Daily Caller. In the video, Common says "tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton" as well as "Burn a Bush cos' for peace he no push no button."

Leaving aside the affront he poses to Police officers, he is a clear and present danger to the English language.

It is hard to write a hard and fast rule, sometimes one set of considerations may outweigh what would normally put someone beyond the pale. Ronald Reagan was sheepish when chided for inviting Frank Sinatra to the White House. You wouldn't normally invite someone with well-known ties to organized crime to the White House but for a truly great artist (that your wife happens to be sweet on). Could you say anything about Common that couldn't be said about someone who had been invited at some point to the white house? I suppose not.

But still, we are entitled to question the President's judgment. The White House is not his pad, it is the people's house and the people invited there to take a prominent role in public events should be people that all Americans can, broadly speaking, think are admirable and not offensive. Could someone watch the youtube video linked to and say that about Common?

Bob Dylan has been brought up as a counter example, someone who had defended someone convicted of murder. But Dylan thought that the guy did not do it. That is not Common's point.

"This is someone who fought for my freedom." She fought for his freedom by killing this cop--that is her point, no? Surely that is a bit different? Is it bad enough to keep someone out of the White House? Well, I think so. The president is the chief law enforcement officer in our country. It is, oddly enough, National Police appreciation week or something. It just isn't done.

We know that Reverend Write or Bill Ayers will never be invited to the White House because his association with them had become a problem in the election campaign leading the Obama operation to throw them under the bus. Once you are under the bus you don't come back. Having them to the White House would now just be too inconvenient.

Ask yourself, if Common had become a problem during the campaign is there any doubt that he would have found himself under the bus as well? Can you watch this Common fellow and then listen to another sermon on racial tolerance from Obama?

NBC says that Common was on his best behavior:

It ended with "one King's dream, he was able to Barack us."

Sanctimonious and insipid. Whether treating Common as a respectable figure is acceptable, treating him as a poet is genuinely appalling.

It is only news when Jews do it

The Turks killed 12 trying to cross their border yesterday. Nothing to see here folks, keep moving. It is only a human rights issue when Israel does it.

Of course, the Turks have every right to kill people trying to cross their border. That is what it means to be a state, to have the right to decide when to use violence to defend your sovereignty. Your borders are your sovereignty. If you don't decide who comes in here you are no longer a state.

And of course that is precisely the point. Israel's defense of its borders is treated as a human rights issue by much of the human rights community precisely in order to undermine its continued existence as a state.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Huckaboob not running

I am happy that Huckabee is not running. I just never liked him and always thought he was a phony. My early impression was formed in the last election cycle when he wrote what I thought was a cynical and foolish article published in Foreign Affairs arguing that we should take a more humble, apologetic approach toward dealing with Iran. Event quickly forced him to back away and I suppose that we should not be terribly surprised or upset when American governors running for president find that their ideas on foreign policy modified during political campaigns, but Huckabee struck me as an especially egregious example of a huckster. His rhetorical approach of casting himself as just a simple man, I don't understand all these fancy words these Washington type people, but I do know.... and then spout off some entirely anodyne populist proposal. I couldn't stand the guy. Where is H. L. Mencken when you need him?

You could hear some of his pompos piety in his statement that he would not run. “I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ and that relationship is far more important to me than any political office," began a sentence explaining his decision not to run. Good grief. He is doing this because of his relationship with the lord, well, well. Are the other candidates not quite right with the man upstairs? Is that why they are running? As a Christian, I find his use of religion for the most pedestrian of political purposes offensive and ill-considered. His departure is a healthy development.

Read more:

I am suddenly happy about the Republican field with the departure of a bad candidate who would have had a good chance to win the nomination and the probable entry of a very good candidate with a good chance of winning--Mitch Daniels.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why is Coffee so expensive in Moscow

Interesting BBC item on the reason a cup of coffee will set you back 7 dollars in Moscow. The main culprit is official corruption and regulatory red tape, so much so that, "defective institutions are responsible for up to 30% of property prices, 15% of the cost of retail goods and 10% of communication services prices." The article links to some interesting cross-national measures of institutional effectiveness and corruption.

Mitch Daniels

This piece in the New Republic warns the faithful not to be fooled by Mitch Daniel's seeming moderation by listing the scary right-wing things he has done. With press like this Daniels may have a shot at the Republican nomination after all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Real Scandal

The real scandal is not that bin Laden was not given a trial but that he was not interrogated. We went in to kill him because we knew that if we had him there would be too much pressure to give him a trial. We could have gotten a lot of useful information out of him even if he had been uncooperative and we had confined ourselves to the Army Field Manual rules. Once again, Churchill had the right idea--draw up a list of modest length (now, now, Joe, don't get greedy), find them and kill them.

Hitchens on Chomsky

Hitchens dissects a Chomsky post on the killing of bin Laden.

Here is the original Chomsky post.

One thing I would differ with Hitchens on. Chomsky states that the US naming an aircraft "The Apache" is like the Nazis naming one of their weapons "The Jew" or "The Gypsy".

Now I have given up being ruffled by the left's admonitions to never make a Hitler analogy (unless it is about the US), but the point being made here is just wrong I believe. The salient fact about the Jews is that they were not allowed to fight, that they were overwhelming murdered as civilians. The salient fact about the Apaches is that they not only fought they fought extremely well. They were admired and hated for their fighting abilities and forced the US Army to drastically alter its tactics and ultimate reform parts of itself in their enemy's image.

This is not to dismiss or minimize the killing of Apache civilians (or of US or white civilians) but the Apaches thought of themselves as warriors, not victims. It is the left that wants to transform them into victims above all. That is why the controversies about American Indian (or Native American) sports mascots often leads to controversy between the Advocates and the "Advocatees" on many occasions. The Native Americans seem on the whole to favor the team names taken from Indian tribes. These are taken out of admiration for the fighting qualities the tribes exhibited in the fact of overwhelming odds.

The correct analogy, if one insists on using the Nazis, would be the Nazis naming a plane the "RAF" or the US Marines, no?

Bad Faith

The link is to a discussion of the new regulations to be applied to Fracking, the longstanding but newly controversial practice of fracturing the walls and using pressure to get more oil and natural gas deposites out of old wells. This would seem to be as about an environmentally friendly way of getting fossil fuels as one can imagine, given that the well is already there. But it is being held up and stymied nonetheless by the Obama administration. There are two reasons. First, it is because they can. Since the new operation requires a new permit it offers and opportunity to block something by relying on the bureaucracy and without going to the legislature. More fundamentally it is about discouraging the use of fossil fuels. The ideologues in the administration want to shift the country long term from fossil fuels to alternative sources (as long as they aren't nuclear, of course). One way to do this is to make fossil fuels more expensive. Anything that restricts the supply of fossil fuels, even clean fuels like natural gas, is work on the side of the angels. One of the underlying problems in Washington is that there are some groups that will not admit to their real objectives and preferences. You cannot come to a reasonable agreement on how to do something safely if the other side is not really interested in safety but in getting right with the Gia.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Lazy Assumptions

So here is a nice discussion of San Francisco's idiotic rent control law. It points out that in addition to the normal outcome of ultimately higher rents and fewer apartments being built that San Francisco has gone so far as to produce an even more perverse outcome: people with existing apartments opting to keep them off the market altogether. It is one thing to discourage people from building new apartments, it is quite another to discourage people to, in effect, destroy them.

One of the things that drives this the lazy assumption that the landlords are the oppressor class and the renters are the disadvantaged. It is probably true to a first approximation that those who own rental properties are more wealthy on average than those who simply rent them, but there is a lot more to the story and a large part of the groups concerned that do not fall into that picture.

Landlords are often working class people that have pulled themselves up by their own hard work. A large proportion of them are first and second generation immigrants. It is one of the few ways that a person with limited credentials and language abilities but lots of practical wisdom and willingness to work can get ahead and own something. A significant part of renters are young professionals who have a comparative advantage in manipulating rules and legal systems. What we reflexively assume is a contest between a white rich guy and a poor suffering worker's family are often the reverse, a first generation working family trying to get ahead by taking risks to reclaim urban areas through sweat equity being exploited by well-connected yuppies.

I think that is especially true of San Francisco.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

An answer to the pro-torture argument ab bin Laden

Fried and Fried make the argument against torture in the Washington Post:

“Those who defend the use of torture and who are using bin Laden’s killing to prove their point prove just the opposite. However vile, bin Laden was not the armed-nuclear-bomb-hidden-in-downtown-L.A. scenario of Jack Bauer’s “24.” The point is that once you are willing to cross the line of absolutely wrong, you must answer impossible questions: How many people must be endangered; how certain must we be of the danger; how sure must we be that this is the person who can lead us to the bomb and that the torture will work on him? What if the terrorist who planted the bomb is immune to torture or beyond our reach, but his young child is not? May we torture the child if that will make the terrorist talk? And how certain must we be that that will work?”

Now these are all good arguments. This is the most creative and impressive case I have seen so far.

One thing that must be said is that it is not the argument the Obama administration is making and that even if the argument holds it still doesn’t address the political argument: How can Obama take credit for something that came only as the result of things he has outlawed? Moreover, has Obama really made us safer? If we got bin Laden because of things that Obama has now made impossible what are we thanking him for? He has only made the same decision that any president (presumably) would make and now takes away from future presidents and future Americans the possibility of protecting themselves with the same degree of effectiveness.

Obama is taking victory laps for getting bin Laden. He cannot at the same time admit that he is dismantling the policy that made it possible for him to do it. He has to go into the election saying that he will keep us safe. If it is true that torture lead to finding bin Laden and Obama is ending torture then it is a problem.

They say that torture involves us in impossible choices, a series of which they proceed to name. The problem with their argument is that even if these things are impossible they are impossible in somewhat different ways.

One source of impossibility is in making value trade offs, another is in making probability judgments that are impossible to make precisely but are no different from the sorts of judgements that all uses of force, whether in the criminal justice system or on the field of battle require us to make. The third source of impossibility is one that involves a logical impossibility that shows, I think, where the thinking of academics and the thinking of most other people, diverge.

The first part of their argument puts a lot of emphasis on the slippery slope argument. This seems out of place. Of course there is a sense of proportion and of course people will disagree on where the line is but that doesn’t mean that we will inevitably slip into a torture regime for bicycle thieves. All of the things we do to criminals are in some way inhuman. Putting someone in prison is inhuman. Locking them up in a cage for years on end is inhuman. Is the fact that we admit putting people in cages for the rest of their lives is admitted in some cases and we cannot a priori tell exactly what it is that separates the cases where such a punishment is admitted from those where it is not automatically going to lead to a slippery slope where every crime will be punish with life in prison?

The real problem in their argument I think is the child, and this is where the academic debate gets off track with the way that most non-philosophers and lawyers think about these things. The philosopher assumes the case for torture is utilitarian: preventing an immanent loss of life might justify torturing a person that has the information. And if torturing that one person is justified by preventing the harm then torturing another person such as his child would also be justified. And since we know that (or seem to feel that) torturing the child of a terrorist is wrong then torturing the terrorist is wrong too. And so, if we make a utilitarian calculation, balancing up the suffering of the terrorist’s victims against the suffering of the people that we torture to get the information is always going to lead us to some horrible moral absurdity the only solution is to not make the consequentialist move at all.

And here is where they get away from the way that most people think about this. I don’t think there is a simply utilitarian calculation. I think there is a moral calculation in the minds of those who advocate for torture. The terrorist has placed himself outside the protections of civilization by using the protections of civilization to destroy civilization. He has put himself outside the protections of civilization making himself hostis humanitas, and has no claim on civilization’s protections.

The child of the terrorist has done no such thing and that is why I think that most people would see the move from torturing the terrorist to torturing his child as not a move down a slippery slope but a jump across and chasm.

The terrorist is the enemy of civilization. He is not like the ordinary criminal who uses force and violence to break the law. The terrorist uses the law itself, the characteristics of a society that make it civilized, to destroy it. It is for that very reason that he is far worse than an ordinary criminal and is entitled to none of the protections and rights generally accorded ordinary criminals.

The examples they go on to cite of Lincoln’s code prohibiting cruelty are irrelevant. For instance, they quote Hallack’s admonition to his troops to not roast the Indians just because they have roasted some of ours. But that is irrelevant to this case. No one is proposing roasting bin Laden or inflicting pain on him for our amusement nor even to punish him. The torture regime that was, after all, only used on three high value targets (the number goes up to a hundred or so if you include all the prisoners held in secret prisons abroad who were subjected to mistreatment falling short of water-boarding) were not tortured for entertainment. And they could have avoided most or all of this by cooperating and giving up the information they had.

I am just not sure why I would be a better person if I put not torturing Osama bin Laden above the life of an innocent person in my own society. I am deeply skeptical that it is the right trade-off when the life sacrificed is one from outside my own society, as I think is the case in most of the cases we deal with.

How would you face God? I thought that it was important that I not subject one of your creatures to torture even though it necessitated another one of your creatures dying? Is that the answer God wants to hear? Are we so sure that God wouldn’t be disappointed? What if he says, “So what if everybody did that? The world will be ruled by those willing to commit terrorism because those that are against terrorism don’t want to get their hands dirty? That is what you do with the world I give you? That is how you protect the people that depend on you, for whom you have been given the responsibility to protect, by letting them be killed because you would not subject the killers to torture?” And let us be clear as long as we are talking about God, can we be sure he will be as horrified by water boarding as a couple of law professors from Cambridge? You have to remember that he has a much broader experience. In his major word are plenty of treatments that would make water boarding look pretty tame--many that were sent by the Old Man himself.

They accuse the people that are using the successful detection and killing of bin Laden as an argument for the harsh interrogation techniques the Bush administration used against some of the detainees of tarnishing President Obama and our military’s triumph. “Now, the same apologists who applauded President George W. Bush’s authorization of torture — and make no mistake, waterboarding is torture — are working to stain this great triumph

But if the detection of bin Laden came about by torture then the triumph is already stained. The question is, what are we to make of this fact. If it is a fact then we should face it squarely and own up to it. If, as Fried and Fried would have it, we cannot know whether this came about in part because of torture then it is already to late; we must admit that the triumph has been gotten by immoral means. Those who point this out, those who point out the role of torture in making this feat of arms possible are doing us a favor, they are speaking the truth to us, they are giving us a chance to redeem ourselves. They should be applauded, not excoriated. Surely, if it had been during the Bush administration that we got him Fried and Fried would be among the first to be pointing out how the victory is tarnished by this association, by these unanswered questions. Shouldn’t they be the ones asking if this great triumph is stained by torture rather than dismissing the question as “indecent” by saying that we can never know what role torture had in this accomplishment “because there is no way of knowing whether it is true, and any attempt to prove or disprove it must reveal intelligence that our security requires remain secret.”

Thursday, May 05, 2011

bin Laden continued

That does it, I am sleeping in the nude from now on. I have enemies.

Ford wins
the race to bring a hybrid to market that costs the same as the regular model. Amazingly they were the company that didn't take the government's money. Funny, that.

Annoying Obama explanation
for not releasing the photographs: we don't want to spike the ball, that is not who we are. Why so annoying? It is tendentious. It assumes that the only reason we would want to have the photographs out would be to gloat or "spike the ball." This is an Obama trope. He tries to be reasonable and mild but ends up being condescending. He makes arguments premised on those who disagree with him having childish motives. From bitter clingers to gloating yobs, he sees his opponents as mentally and morally deficient.

And it is an entirely avoidable error. He could easily say there are lots of good reasons that people would want the photos released. He could acknowledge that and say that he was worried that some people might see it as spiking the ball and avoid the problem. He doesn't because he doesn't see the problem. The way he says, "We are better than that," another Obama trope. He frames his thought as a compliment to America but it is really a boast about the people that agree with him. Those who think like me are better than the people that disagree with me. And he has no idea he is doing it.

Chile's economy roars along by pursuing free market policies. Why do we always follow European statist models when we look abroad?

The obligation to offer a chance to surrender will lead to more airstrikes: another example of the counter-productive nature of international law.

By the way, Obama is given so much credit for not using a missile, but
since we seem to have lost some secrets with the entirely predictable loss of a new model stealth helicopter, why didn't we send in a cruise missile after the raiders left?


As the details come out about the funeral held for bin Laden at sea I find myself again filled with rage at the thought of America service men and women having to stand at attention while that subhuman piece of garbage was honored. Feed it to the fishes if you must but good God, make our soldiers stand at attention for that piece of filth? What is wrong with these people?

The link is to European reactions to bin Laden's death, which naturally are about the legality of and morality of killing him. I think we are talking about pulling out of Afghanistan while we should be talking about pulling out of Europe.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Can We Win In Afghanistan? | The New Republic

Can We Win In Afghanistan? | The New Republic

Peter Bergin argues forcefully that the war in Afghanistan is both worth winning and winnable.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Enhanced interrogation techniques

So now that the Obama administration appears to have gotten bin Laden because of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" and is thus the beneficiary of such practices, do we now change sides and have the right calling them torture and the left using the euphemism?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

cutting up credit cards ~= not paying credit cards

Just so I can stay sane, can we finally get this straight: not raising the debt ceiling is not the same as defaulting on the debt. Period. If we do not raise the debt ceiling it means that we have to live on our current income, the 59 cents of every dollar that we actually take in in taxes. That is bad and may well be unsustainable, but it is not default. Cutting up your credit card does not mean that you stop making payments on your balance.