All Your Citizens Are Belong to Us

Thomas Ricks has an op-ed in today’s New York Times on reinstating a peace-time draft. It’s embarrassing in many ways, but two especially:

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Great, can we implement this now? That means no taxes, as well, right? I know, hahahaha, of course not. A straw man dipped in gasoline is easily burned.

But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.

Three words: starve the beast. With the national debt standing at $15,883,106,924,772.24 and counting, when can we put that to rest? Politicians do not operate on logic. And the majority of voters would still not be participants whenever our government waged war. The cannon fodder would still be a minority to be wielded by the majority. They just wouldn’t be volunteers any more. That’s not an improvement.

Penn Jillette on Obama’s Marijuana Hypocrisy

Penn Jillette is awesome for many reasons. As such I’m a fan of his new weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School. It always delivers, like last week when he went on a rant about President Obama’s continuation of the unwinnable, anti-liberty drug war and his hypocrisy. It’s brilliant and can be fully experienced in the clip below in a way the transcript can’t deliver.

Like Mr. Jillette, I’ve never consumed drugs or alcohol, but I do not care if another wants to do so. My only criterion is what I use for everything: do it voluntarily and without harm to another. Ingest drugs? No harm. Rob someone to get money to buy drugs to ingest? Harm. Drive while under the influence? Harm. It’s not complicated.

Contrast that with President Obama’s comments in his interview with Jimmy Fallon (video via NORML):

Notice the nanny-state mentality where anything that might be an individual problem automatically becomes a matter of “public health”. No one is an individual, just a cog in the machinery of the state to be managed and used.

Of course, Obama’s hypocrisy goes further. (As it does for all politicians, who are, by default, moral defectives.) Via the same NORML link, he clarified his remarks in an interview with Rolling Stone (from April):

Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?

Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do. I do think it’s important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we’ve done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We’ve had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that’s an appropriate debate that we should have.

Only to a politician does “not prioritize” mean “vigorously pursue”. And, sure, cutting off supply of marijuana to people who may legally possess and use it within specific states isn’t “prosecution”, but it sure isn’t the same as federalism or a passing nod to his campaign promises. Nor, circling back to Jillette’s destruction of Obama’s hypocrisy, is his implied wrongness of recreational use vindicated by anything he’s said or done. He’s nothing more than a bad parent’s slogan: Do as I command, not as I do.

Expect the Unexpected: Revisited

Our political obsession with identifying Others is potentially as dangerous as it is offensive. Safety is a legitimate role for the government, to the extent it can reasonably be achieved. But we need to uncover the psychopaths (or related variants) who would be murderers, regardless of skin color. Racial profiling is the appearance of safety for political cover. With this week’s news about Colleen Renee LaRose, the Philadelphia woman (Image) suspected of recruiting for terrorist organizations, I want to repost an entry I wrote almost five years ago.


With a new terrorist threat to the New York subway system gripping the nation, the blogosphere is abuzz. I obviously share everyone’s concern and want our police and security forces to thwart any (potentially) forthcoming attacks. In an effort to accomplish this, the debate seems to descend to an argument simple profiling. When the constitutionality of profiling inevitably arises, the proponent either responds with some variation of “Constitution be damned” or “random” searches. New York implemented a random search policy for backpacks, which was incomplete, at best. (ed. note: Dead links omitted.) Yet, the proponents of profiling continue to advocate ineffective policies. Consider this from La Shawn Barber, who writes extensively and credibly about the threat of terrorism:

Will Islamofascists bomb the NYC subway? Is it all just a rumor? Your guess is as good as the government s. Flip a coin. Draw a straw. Throw it against a wall and see if it sticks.

Are they still searching little old ladies and skipping young men of Middle Eastern descent because it would be racist to search them? Probably.

It would be racist but I’m not against if for that reason. Immediate threats to safety must shake the debate from simple intellectual discourse. But within that intellectual discourse, reason can provide insight into how such a policy could fail, and fail miserably.

I don’t normally agree with Michelle Malkin on much, as evidenced by the posts here where I’ve referenced her blog. But with her reporting on last weekend’s suicide bomber in Oklahoma, she’s doing excellent work highlighting deeper facts in the case. There are indications that the bomber, Joel Henry Hinrichs III, was a Muslim. He attended a local mosque in Norman, OK. His Pakistani roommate hasn’t been heard from since the bombing. Mr. Hinrichs’ bomb included TATP, an explosive compound not commonly used in America, but popular with terrorists. He tried to purchase a large amount of ammonium nitrate. On Saturday, he apparently tried to enter the stadium during the Oklahoma football game before settling on the bench where he blew himself up (intentionally or unintentionally). Etc. I don’t know what story these and other facts will eventually tell, but it seems clear that there is more to the story than just some depressed guy commiting suicide. While I’m not ready to declare this an Islamofascist suicide bombing on American soil, the details of this case should be pursued.

This case also highlights the ineffectiveness of racial profiling in our attempt to prevent further terrorism. Click this picture of Mr. Hinrichs. (Image Source) Ignore the beard; a roommate of mine in college had a beard like that and he was no terrorist, unless you count accidentally killing fish when his hydroponic fish tank failed. So let me ask the obvious question. Say Mr. Hinrichs had tried to bomb the New York subway. Would racial profiling for “young men of Middle Eastern descent” have caught him? Is it reasonable to assume that if we rely on racial profiling, terrorists will switch tactics to include racial (and gender) profiles we’re not looking for?

Hey! Other topics exist. Who knew?

I’m not an attorney, so I can’t get completely into the questions of what Congress has restricted explicitly versus what leeway is authorized. But the Department of Justice has an insightful, albeit obviously broken, theory of how a liberty-minded society should fight an open-ended, poorly-defined war:

The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.

The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees.

While the Geneva Conventions prohibit “outrages upon personal dignity,” a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments.

“The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.

This administration can’t be trusted. We knew that already, so this is just another example. I’m more amazed at my capacity to be surprised by this egregious implication.

Forget the injured and dead prisoners, I suppose. The former will heal, unless they won’t, in which case we’ll classify them with the latter, who deserved it. I do sometimes forget that our government only incarcerates terrorists, not accused terrorists. As long as the intent of the is to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, it can’t possibly be humiliating or *gasp* abuse.

I’m so tired of the argument that intent matters more than the act, that it should be enshrined as a rule. Beyond the obvious fault that the potential for abuse dictates clear rules limiting government, it’s impossible to completely legislate a competent determination of the subjective distinction between good and bad intent. The mere potential for an exception where a vile, illegal act can be excused becomes the rule. That is not a sane path. Prosecute the act; acquit the legitimate exceptions.

Don’t worry, though. Our government still cares a little.

“The fact that you are doing something for a legitimate security purpose would be relevant, but there are things that a reasonable observer would deem to be outrageous,” [a senior Justice Department official] said.

Who determines what is a “legitimate security purpose”? Congress? The president? What if the reasoning is classified, as it most certainly would be, an assumption the administration demonstrates¹ repeatedly? Are members of the administration who authorize such measures the reasonable observers who decide? The answers are important, since they speak to the continued development of what is supposed to be an open and free society.

¹ To be fair, the Bush administration is not alone in this inclination, nor is it unique to a party.

Indifference does not prevent difficulty.

From the New York Times Magazine:

I wondered how [26-year-old Capt. Dan] Kearney was going to win back his own guys, let alone win over the Korengalis. Just before I left, Kearney told me his biggest struggle would be holding his guys in check. “I’ve got too many geeking out, wanting to go off the deep end and kill people,” he said. One of his lieutenants wanted to shoot every Afghan in the face. Kearney shook his head. He wished he could buy 20 goats and let the boys beat and burn them and let loose their rage. He tried to tell them the restraints were a product of their success — that there was an Afghan government with its own rules. “I’m balancing plates on my goddamn nose is what I’m doing,” he said. “All it’s gonna take is for one of these guys to snap.”

My initial reaction to this is disgust, given the indifference to the idea of inflicting suffering and death on goats. I understand (and agree with) the desire to save people before animals, but that’s not the call here. The either/or scenario here is self-imposed. Yes, the soldiers are a victim of circumstance. No, that doesn’t matter. They’re professional soldiers.

After that thought passed, this quote indicates the problem with our military strategy. Take an invading force and turn it into an peace-keeping force and this sort of challenge seems inevitable. Afghanistan was a legitimate war. From the moment the Taliban’s involvement in permitting attacks on the United States was clear, it was always reasonable to plan to oust it from Afghanistan. But we also needed to prepare for the rebuilding aftermath of invasion, both in infrastructure and government. Capt. Kearney’s concern reveals a flaw somewhere in the chain of command if a problem can fester long enough to create this type of rage. How badly has the transition been managed? How prevalent is this in Iraq? How significant will this be when these soldiers return to civilian life in the U.S.?

War is chaotic. Outcomes are unpredictable. I accept that, and some uncomfortable level of challenge in multiple areas is not a sign of extraordinary behavior. But this is ridiculous. The manner in which the Bush administration drove us into two simultaneous wars with seemingly little concern for these long-term outcomes and consequences displays a mind-boggling level of incompetence.

Link via Slate, via Ben Casnocha.

The definition of “semantics” mentions political propaganda.

Here’s a headline from yesterday’s New York Times:

Waterboarding Not Legal Now, Justice Dept. Lawyer Says

I opened the article with a twinge of optimism.

Steven G. Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, seemed set to shake up one of the fiercest debates in Washington today by offering a clear and concise statement about the controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

‘’There has been no determination by the Justice Department that the use of waterboarding, under any circumstances, would be lawful under current law,’’ he says in prepared remarks for a House hearing today that were obtained in advance by The Associated Press.

Bradbury proffered all the words necessary to reach the conclusion stated in the headline, but only if you’re anxious to accept the assurance you’re looking for at any hint of its existence. Sadly, Bradbury is not stating that waterboarding, or any other torture technique, is illegal. He left open the government’s option to later make the determination of whether or not current law permits torture. (I weep for my country that I must write that sentence.)

Non-answers like this are a fundamental aspect of politics. The Bush administration is only the current, flagrant example. It is why rules restricting government should be as specific and as clear as possible. Such rules should be as extensive as necessary to prevent any uncertainty.

Only waterboarding three detainees is still three human beings too many. The Bush administration is populated by war criminals. They must be prosecuted. And every excuse-peddler in government who helps to support such crimes must be shown the door.

A hard-hitting question or twenty from journalists wouldn’t hurt, either. Lapping up the Bush administration’s persistent line of crap is damaging.

Can we put the inmates back in the asylum?

There is some nuance necessary, I think, but this Frank Rich editorial is pitch perfect on the situation in Pakistan and how it too closely mirrors the United States. There’s too much goodness to excerpt any particular part as the key. However, I like this:

To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal.

This is most apparent in the Republican presidential race, where most of the candidates seem to be running for dictator and make no apologies for it. They’re falling over each other to expand Gitmo, see who can promise the most torture and abridge the largest number of constitutional rights. The front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, boasts a proven record in extralegal executive power grabs, Musharraf-style: After 9/11 he tried to mount a coup, floating the idea that he stay on as mayor in defiance of New York’s term-limits law.

This is exactly why I will not vote Republican in 2008, even though I’m ready to not vote Democrat. As detestable as I find the possibility of President Hillary Clinton, she has the polarizing chance to cause Americans to vote for gridlock in 2010. President Guiliani would laugh at gridlock, as if it mattered one iota to his ability to do whatever he pleases. He wouldn’t even raise himself to Bush’s level and pretend that he cares about the Constitution. No thanks.

Link via John Cole.

Legislate for every possibility and the law becomes meaningless.

Alan Dershowitz discusses what he believes could be a flaw for the Democrats in demanding accountability on torture in today’s Wall Street Journal. He is wrong, because he has two flawed assumptions:

There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works–it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

This is fair enough, but it assumes that we’ve only tortured, or would only seek to torture, those who are guilty of some atrocity. What is the potential for collateral damage, to use a poor euphemism for torturing an innocent person? How many of the suspects we have in captivity are guilty? Will we ever find out, since the Bush administration shows no interest in bringing any of them to trial? I’m not interested in abandoning centuries of legal and ethical principles that every individual is innocent until proven guilty. Especially when that justification is expressed with a “do you want us all to die?” extreme, as Mr. Dershowitz provides:

The members of the judiciary committee who voted against Judge Mukasey, because of his unwillingness to support an absolute prohibition on waterboarding and all other forms of torture, should be asked the direct question: Would you authorize the use of waterboarding, or other non-lethal forms of torture, if you believed that it was the only possible way of saving the lives of hundreds of Americans in a situation of the kind faced by Israeli authorities on the eve of Yom Kippur? Would you want your president to authorize extraordinary means of interrogation in such a situation? If so, what means? If not, would you be prepared to accept responsibility for the preventable deaths of hundreds of Americans?

The proper question is whether or not the members of the judiciary committee, on a jury during a trial, would convict the president for authorizing torture in this unlikely scenario. People who oppose torture are not demanding punishment for every imaginable instance in which torture might be used. But demanding that every imaginable instance of torture be held to some minimum standard of accountability – with justice imposed where necessary – is the sane position.

The president should torture a suspect in the ridiculous, unlikely reality that he’s facing a suspect who he “knows” has the information he needs if time is essential and the suspect won’t talk. But if he is wrong, no amount of protest that he only intended to protect America will suffice. President Bush has justified every abuse of the last six years with this notion that any and all measures are good for us if we stay safe. No. Anyone who can’t understand that forfeits the opportunity to discuss saving a country he does not believe in.

We must break the law to defend the law.

In its editorial today, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board demonstrates its abandonment of liberty in favor of authoritarianism and reverence for acting tough. It’s not necessary to go beyond the opening to know that the editors have lost all intellectual credibility:

Democrats welcomed Michael Mukasey as a “consensus choice” for Attorney General only weeks ago, but incredibly his confirmation is now an open question. The judge’s supposed offense is that he has refused to declare “illegal” a single interrogation technique that the CIA has used on rare occasions against mass murderers.

Why the mock scare quotes on illegal? If it’s just one interrogation technique, presumably among many, why worry if it gets singled out and prohibited? Assuming that waterboarding amounts to torture, does it matter how many times it’s been used, or how awful the alleged mass murders committed by the tortured?

But the editors can’t help themselves:

… [All of the Democratic Presidential candidates would] disqualify a man of impeccable judicial temperament and credentials merely because he’s willing to give U.S. interrogators the benefit of the legal doubt before he has top-secret clearance.

Since when do government officials get the benefit of the doubt before prisoners? Last I checked, the government must prove guilt. Until it does, the accused is presumed innocent. It’s quite the anti-conservative stance to trust government first and only.

But it’s possible to give some credibility to the stated position. Judge Mukasey hasn’t reviewed the documents. That means he can’t and shouldn’t rule on whether or not specific U.S. interrogators have engaged in torture. That would be for later inquiry. However, it is possible to state whether or not waterboarding as an interrogation technique constitutes torture, absent any details or facts from alleged instances of its use.

Could there be a clearer demonstration of why voters don’t trust Democrats with national security? In the war against al Qaeda, interrogation and electronic surveillance are our most effective weapons. Yet Democrats have for years waged a guerrilla war against both of these tools, trying to impose procedural and legal limits that can only reduce their effectiveness. Judge Mukasey is merely collateral damage in this larger effort.

The editors are no doubt aware that the question is not the validity of using interrogation and electronic surveillance to uncover threats to the United States. The misdirection is telling about their character, but I’m more concerned with why they would be so opposed to procedural and legal limits. Effectiveness over costs? If that’s your position, be honest and agitate for a police state. You’ll argue what you want without falsely smearing opponents.

There are a few more informative points in the editorial:

Most important, [Mukasey’s] discretion serves the American people by helping to keep our enemies in some doubt about what they will face if they are captured.

Right, because if we say we don’t torture, then they won’t waste time preparing for torture. They’ll spend more time planning ways to kill every American. That’s time they now spend figuring out ways to avoid folding after being tortured interrogated. See, being forthright that we’re moral and humane would mean we lose.

What’s really at stake here is whether U.S. officials are going to have the basic tools required to extract information from America’s enemies.

U.S. officials have always had sophisticated (i.e. not basic) interrogation tools required to extract information. Those sophisticated tools were developed using our intelligence and reliance on the credibility of the information extracted. But the might-is-right crowd have dismissed intelligence in favor of brute force. When you’re too stupid to understand that sophisticated psychological techniques are more effective, you begin to think that torture is good and should be considered a basic tool.

But about that information:

Yet those interrogations have generated “thousands of intelligence reports.”

Thousands of intelligence reports… hmmm. How many of those proved accurate and how many proved to be a say-anything-please-make-the-torture-stop fiction that wasted U.S. resources in pursuit of a dead-end?

As for waterboarding, it is mostly a political sideshow. The CIA’s view seems to be that some version of waterboarding is effective in breaking especially tough cases quickly. Press reports say it has been used only against a few high-value al Qaeda operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zubaydah.

The CIA does not dictate what is and is not a legal interrogation method in the United States, alleged effectiveness notwithstanding. But that doesn’t matter, right? We only use it on deserving individuals. See, those who have been convicted of crimes in a court of law deserve it. Moral relativism, anyone?

It is possible to be serious on the threat facing our nation from enemies without getting hysterical and dismissing the reason our country exists as a quaint relic of the past.

Insert random, relevant Orwell reference here.

It’s a fairly effective standard by now that I’m against whatever the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board agitates in favor of. I’d never surrender critical thinking and dismiss its essays without reading the arguments. But if I did, I’d be wrong less often than I’d be right.

For example:

As the Bush Administration winds down, one of its main tasks is preserving Presidential war-fighting powers against poaching by a hostile Congress and expansive judiciary. On this score, last week’s Senate “compromise” on warrantless wiretaps is at best a mixed achievement. In return for Congress’s blessing to continue this surveillance, the White House is ceding some of its Constitutional authority to unelected, unaccountable judges.

Presidential war-fighting powers apparently include the ability to ignore the Fourth Amendment. I missed that in the text of the Constitution, but I’m sure it’s there. Maybe it’s in the Ninth Amendment. Oh, wait…

I do love the mention of unelected, unaccountable judges. Anyone who supports President Bush in his quest for a dictatorial reading of the Constitution has no business challenging anyone as unaccountable, but set that point aside. Judges are certainly accountable to the Congress. And should they really be elected? Opening the rule of law to politics isn’t a particularly conservative position. Of course, the Journal’s editors aren’t really conservatives, in the limited government sense, so the talking point in place of an argument is unsurprising.

On the topic of telecom companies complying with warrantless government requests for information:

The larger principle is whether private individuals or companies should be punished for doing their patriotic duty when requested to do so by the government.

And we’ve reached the point where I stop taking them seriously. We all have a patriotic duty to serve our government. I can’t imagine a more un-American concept.

In the wake of 9/11, President Bush and the Attorney General asked the telecom companies to cooperate in what they told the companies was a legal program.

September 11th? Check. Blind faith in the benevolence of President Bush? Check. Government is always right? Check.

For centuries, the common law presumption has been that private parties should have legal immunity if they comply with such requests.

This sounds suspect, but I’m not an attorney. Wouldn’t companies have attorneys smart enough to request warrants? If they don’t know or ask, they should be immune simply because the government asks? This doesn’t sound correct.

In the absence of evidence that the government’s request is illegal, private actors should be given the benefit of the doubt for cooperating.

Again, obedience should be the default. It’s interesting that the government should always be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Don’t we have our republic specifically because we figured out that such an assumption was foolish?

Of course, if we’re using the preposterously low “in the absence of evidence” as our guide, shouldn’t the telecoms have asked the government to produce a warrant? Wouldn’t the absence of a warrant (“Don’t you worry about that”) be the absence of “the absence of evidence” that the government was engaging in shenanigans?

Imagine a society in which everyone refused such requests for fear of being sued: No airplane passenger would dare point out suspicious behavior by another passenger, and no subway rider would speak up about a suspicious package.

I wonder what they’ve named their straw man. They have to have named him by now, because I’m sure he’ll be around for a long time. It would be tedious to constantly say “hey, you, straw man”.

The airline passenger should and would point out suspicious behavior, but how did that get involved here? The issue is whether the government may instigate – without a warrant – an investigative search of data for alleged suspicious behavior. Set the scenario honestly. The government is going to the individual/company, not the other way around.

[The bill] includes a six-year sunset provision, which makes no sense against a terror threat that is likely to continue for decades.

A decades-long war. Hmm, why would anyone be concerned about setting aside a key Constitutional amendment to give the president broad powers? Gosh, I’m confused.

The great irony here is that, in the name of checking “secret” Presidential power, Congress is giving enormous authority to judges who will also make decisions in secret and never have to answer to the voters.

Unchecked, the president (in general, but President Bush, definitely) would make this decision in secret. When would he answer to voters for his secret exercise of this alleged power? I’m supposed to feel better with less oversight, as long as the kept-in-the-dark voting public can vote with information it doesn’t have? The Constitution is up for a vote?

Yet if the President won’t protect the Presidency, who will?

If the president won’t protect civil liberties, who will? If the Congress won’t protect civil liberties, who will? If the courts won’t protect civil liberties, who will?