October 01, 2008

How not to run a 911 system

Dial 911

Me: "Hello, 911, my wife just called me. She just got rear ended by a drunk driver on I-80."

ESO-1: "Sorry, that's not us, where on I-80?"

Me: "Headed towards I-355"

ESO-1: "That could be more than one state trooper command. Let me give you a number that might be it. I can't transfer there"

Dial another emergency number

Me: "Hello, my wife got hit by a drunk driver on I-80"

ESO-2: "Which way was she going"

Me: "westbound"

ESO-2: "What's the nearest exit"

Me: "Right be I-355"

ESO-2: "Sorry, that's a different command. Let me give you the number of the other command. I can't transfer there."

Dialing again

Me: "Hello, my wife got hit by a drunk driver on I-80 heading westbound right by I-355."

ESO-3: "I'll get a trooper on the way to take your wife's report"

Edited down to take out the inanities that's what just happened. It took about 5 extra minutes at which point said drunk driver had traveled an extra 5 miles of random mayhem assuming he hadn't been speeding.

This is no way to run a 911 system.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:09 PM

April 14, 2008

The Bar Got Raised

Reading through an analysis of the recent push in Sadr City I found myself unexpectedly not excited. Of course the Iraqi government is going to push through and not give up, of course they're going to have the staying power to bring Sadr City to normality. And then I realized how utterly bizarre my calm acceptance of these statements would have been even a few short months ago. I'd have cheered them on, of course, but I'd have been nervous as hell that they could pull it off. Now, I'm not nervous and the difference is Basra. Basra happened, it was their final exam and now the Iraqi military is no longer a creature wholly dependent on the US and the rest of the coalition but its own animal with its own ideas and interests and an independent capability to carry its government's policy into reality. It's come out of the crib and is toddling around happily bashing the other toddlers when necessary.

This is progress. This is good. This is going to be recognized by the mainstream media (on their own schedule) sometime between November and January or, if McCain's smart, he'll force them to recognize it in the summer so by the fall, Iraq will be a net benefit for Republicans, not a drag.

Iraq came through in time, and now the bar is raised.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:29 AM

May 28, 2007

Improving Iraq

When Iraq started fielding its first troop post-Saddam troop formations things were pretty grim. Entire units melted away. Others had desertion rates of 75%. Many of those who stayed would not fight insurgents. Others wouldn't travel. Others were insurgent plants. But since then, things have measurably improved. You don't hear about entire units melting away anymore. You don't hear about massive desertion rates. There are units who will fight and die for Iraq and they grow more numerous as time goes on. But not all of those problems have gone away and the NY Times provides a most unhelpful spin with "As Allies Turn Foe, Disillusion Rises in Some G.I.’s". Instead of looking at the sorry mess as part of a time sequence, providing the context that people really need to translate events into proper news, what you get is a sort of time sequence in reverse. They were our allies and now are our enemies. By implication, they are monolithic, undifferentiated and only the brave captain's inexplicable optimism is holding things together.

The reality is that US soldiers in WW II didn't much care about Hitler in 1944. In fact, the consensus view on the question of combat motivation (which really only started to be seriously examined in WW II) is that soldiers fight for their comrades in arms most of all with little ideology being involved, though some have argued that latent ideology plays some role. So unless you are aware of this background, having either served yourself or applied yourself to study warfare, you end up with a completely distorted picture of a perfectly normal situation within the abnormal milieu that is warfare.

It would be disappointing save that I don't really expect that much from the New York Times.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:45 PM

May 12, 2007

Take the Training Wheels Off

It's a very old chestnut in the conservative arsenal to decry the 1970s gutting of US intelligence. The intelligence agency geldings that started then continued pretty much until 9/11 awoke all us to the horror of what we had collectively done, blinded our guardians (though some had been awake and warning of the coming catastrophe from the beginning). But all that's over. We have so recovered our national intelligence capabilities that, according to Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, we can divert resources to assessing climate change impacts.

The immediate threat of jihadis massacring soldiers in their bases and civilians in the malls has been resolved adequately. Our program of rebuilding our human intelligence capabilities needs no further resources. Our technological intelligence facilities need nothing more. The guys at the pointy end of the spear are overflowing with timely intelligence reports and pictures flowing flawlessly.

Were it not, the insertion of the DNI into a partisan debate over would be entirely inappropriate. The threat of global warming is not a threat for next week or even next year. An awful lot of americans have already died because of the gelding of our human intelligence and our self-imposed limitations on covert action. Collectively, we haven't descended into an orgy of "I told you so's" and finger pointing over those 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s decisions. We've given our intelligence agencies pass after pass, let them get by on lower standards, essentially let them ride with training wheels.

But with this foray into global warming, the training wheels should come off. We need to take this statement as a "coming out party" for our intelligence agencies, that they are comfortable with their core competencies and are ready to branch out to more long term and speculative work. That's fine, as far as it goes. If we truly have turned the corner, you won't find anybody happier than me. But if they haven't turned the corner, they haven't fixed the troubles that have led to so much death and misapplied action on the part of the US government, heads should roll for taking their eyes off the ball and taking on a politically popular but very long-term and uncertain threat.

HT: Instapundit

Posted by TMLutas at 10:40 AM

April 11, 2007

1st Secretary of Everything Else

3 Generals Spurn the Position of War 'Czar' is an interesting article and reminds me of something I read in early-mid 2000. The Republican nominee George W Bush was having just as much trouble, perhaps even more than today in filling a slot but that time it was looking for a running mate that was tripping him up. He'd picked a trusted Washington figure to lead the search, Dick Cheney. Eventually he picked Cheney for running mate. I wonder if he might not do it again.

One of the problems of Tom Barnett's "Department of Everything Else" (DoEE) is that it takes an episodic problem that has a sure end date (the day that the Gap disappears and we've all "made it" into the Core) and builds a permanent bureaucracy around the task. It took us better than 100 years to dismantle an "emergency" tax originally levied to fund the Spanish American war and we're to believe that a DoEE will go quietly into that good night? Men are men and not angels. It's hard to believe that those people building their ccareers at DoEE will go elsewhere any more readily than those maintaining our strategic stockpiles of helium (for our nonexistant military dirigible fleet) and mohair (in case we ever decide to start making uniforms out of the stuff again). A Democrat might have less trouble with that objection but Bush is still Republican enough that it's got to bug him on some level.

It is thus much more likely that the 1st Secretary of Everything Else will already have a chair at cabinet meetings, will already have a power base, and will thus not have to get confirmed or set up that permanent power base. So why not Cheney?

Cheney has a powerbase. Cheney's powerbase transcends departments. The precedent for the DoEE would become someone who was elected by the people and that's important because the DoEE is dangerous.

Fundamentally the DoEE is a government in waiting. when there is a breakdown in governance sufficient to form a Gap, the DoEE will come in and build up institutions, essentially serve as a stopgap government, a sort of cellular scaffold for government until Gap conditions recede and regular governance can resume. The DoEE would be chartered to function only outside the US, just like the US military but it doesn't take a genius to see how posse comitatus is breaking down and how a DoEE might subvert democratic governance in a future administration.

But a Vice President already transcends the stovepipe authorities of the cabinet secretaries. You wouldn't be creating anything novel there. Why not pick Cheney and make the DoEE a vice presidential function? Why not indeed.

HT: Tom Barnett

Posted by TMLutas at 11:47 AM

March 23, 2007

Unified Command

Dr. Barnett's recent article Unity of effort requires unity of command is very long on indignation, and rightly so. For the US State Department to block the transition of even the rich off of rations is disgraceful. The State Department is a mess. The problem would not be solved by merely creating a new bureaucratic department, even a cabinet level one. That's because, functionally, presidents of both parties have institutionally lost control of the State Department (as well as other pieces of the executive).

Neither Democrat nor Republican presidents have been happy with the compliance of the State Department to their wishes. Whether it's Ambassador Silberman in 1979 or Speaker Gingrich in 2003 the basic fundamental truth has not changed for decades, we the People, through our elected representatives, have only limited control over the State Department. Our voices do not count for much because powerful figures at high levels in these departments are simply impervious to the comings and goings of administrations.

The State Department is not alone in institutionally creating its own priorities and policies. Critics of the CIA on the left have accused it of having its own agenda for decades. Critics on the right sometimes view the ongoing Plame affair as part of a calculated CIA campaign to hobble Bush administration foreign policy. This separation of civil servants from political control essentially creates a mandarinate, a mandarin class and it's a real problem that is showing up in lots of ways.

Barnett wants "unity of effort" (as do we all) and thinks that "unity of command" would provide it. In one sense, the idea's right and the Bush administration is way ahead of him there, but there's a bear trap for Democrats like Barnett. You see, the Bushies call their version, the unitary executive, in other words, taking the Constitution seriously when it says that "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." But unitary executive theory is a lightning rod for criticism from the left, viewed as prelude to dictatorship and other unwholesome things. Get out the asbestos underwear if you're going to propose a unitary executive among liberals.

But let's say that one can have unity of command without a unitary executive. Let's say that the bear trap is avoidable. How would things look like? You would have a department whose mission would be to go out in Gap countries and provide connectivity so that they would, over the long haul, join the Core. Like every other Cabinet level department, power and prestige would be measured by the same metrics, head count and budget. Graduating a country out of the Gap would reduce head count and force shifts and retraining for staff who specialized in the graduating country. In other words, there would be an career aggrandizing incentive to subtly foul things up, to manage problems instead of solving them.

Effort would be unitary alright. But getting around State is already hard enough, if you're adding to the challenge by the creation of a bureaucratized "DoEE" as well, things might get worse, not better. After all, what are you as a DoEE bureaucrat to do if you shrink the Gap to nonexistence, start over in State or DoD?

Clearly, there will be individuals who will fight the temptation and do their best but systemically this is what is very likely to happen over time as the incentives to fail without appearing to fail lead to career advancement and power for those who are honesty impaired as department bureaucratic power is maximized by their actions.

The civil service system that created the mandarinate is there for a reason. It is a pretty good improvement over the previous spoils system. But we are suffering from the current incarnation's defects and it's costing us more than treasure, it's costing us lives as our transition in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer because of infighting among the mandarinate and between the mandarinate and their putative political masters, us.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:03 AM

March 16, 2007

Miller's Trench Guns

United States v Miller is a fascinating law. It's a case where the defendants were missing, their lawyer never argued the case at all, and the US Supreme Court got the facts wrong, and it's controlling law today.

The decision itself is short enough and relies on the fact that shotguns are not used in combat, are thus not suitable weapons for a militia, and thus are not protected by the 2nd amendment. But combat shotguns do exist, they existed and were issued to US forces prior to the decision (significantly in WW I), and the Supreme Court just got its facts wrong. That virtually no lower court has had the guts to say so in 200 subsequent cases is a pretty damning indictment of the english precedent system of justice at least as far as 2nd amendment law goes.

HT to Matthew Yglesias whose foolish article on rewriting the US Constitution nonetheless got me off my but and writing today.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:39 PM

July 25, 2006

Wanted: A Department of Anarchy VIII

Apparently, I'm not alone in wanting a Department of Anarchy, that fine institution that would remove the useless clutter of rules, regulations, and departments that have long outlived their usefulness. I call it the DoA because it is a delightful acronym and because statists always view any area of human life not tied down by government rules and regulations as "anarchy".

Apparently the House of Representatives has a strong block of "anarchists" and they have introduced HR3282 to accomplish the noble ends of getting the cruft and crud out of our government. They will review the entire government on a maximum 12 year cycle (which can be shortened by Congress). Each agency reviewed by the commission shall be abolished one year afterwards unless it is reauthorized by Congress.

HT: Michael Williams

Posted by TMLutas at 01:05 PM

April 24, 2005

Checking Barnett

In a recent roundup Dr. Barnett, of Pentagon's New Map fame, reiterated his pessimism on the election of Benedict XVI

That's why my discomfort over Benedict as pope remains: to me, it's totally a fear-the-Gap call--a circling the Core wagons mentality displayed. Catholicism isn't all about "us" anymore, and hasn't been for a very long time. I had a bit in BFA I thought I would have to rewrite with John Paul's death. Now I just need to jack up the wording to make it more pointed.

I think that Benedict is going to be a very good transitional Pope, one that is going to make the 1st "Southern" or "Gap" pope much more effective when he's finally elected. Right now, the College is disproportionately concentrated in historic dioceses that have lost their faithful but not the tradition that a red hat goes to the local bishop. That has to get fixed.

As someone who has been the doctrinal enforcer for JP II for so long, Benedict is going to be able to shift the red hats around to a far greater extent without protest than someone from the South/Gap would. Nobody's going to worry that Benedict is going to revive liberation theology by sprinkling Latin America with new cardinals. There might be more concern if it were a pope from that region doing it. Suspicion of region favoritism is not a good way to maintain peace in the College.

So here we have an objective measure, something that you don't need to be an insider to see. If Benedict is truly a "circle the wagons" pope then he's not going to increase the representation of Africa/Asia/Latin America. If he isn't, he'll do it in order to realign power in the hierarchy with people in the pews and make a transition so that the next time around, the Conclave will have an awful lot more diversity and the old European power bloc will be weakened.

There are likely other objective measures to watch for but this is a big one. If the College simply shifts out of eurocentricity under Benedict XVI and becomes more distributed, it will be a worthwhile papacy as far as Gap progress is concerned.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:16 PM

April 23, 2005

Drawing Catholic Maps

I'm a great fan of Thomas PM Barnett and I think that his idea of drawing Gap and Core maps are very useful in analyzing the political and economic world. In the case of politics and economics, the maps are very congruent. Generally political connectivity and economic connectivity go hand in hand.

Not everything follows the same map lines. Religion can draw the same sort of map, where thriving areas and challenged areas are marked out all over the globe. The maps can be very different even inside a faith. As far as roman catholics are concerned, Chicago is chock full of churches, so many that some must be weeded out. They are too dense on the ground in some spots. For Romanian Byzantine Catholics, the metropolitan map looks very different with two parishes in Aurora, a parish in E. Chicago, and only a lone mission up on Fullerton inside the city proper.

Taking this insight into the Church in general, the election of a German cardinal takes on a different cast. Where is Germany today in the map of the Catholic Church? Is it inside the Core? Is it inside the Gap? is it in a seam state between the two?

Certainly, the infrastructure is there. There are hierarchs galore but not too many actual people sitting in the pews on Sunday. There aren't all that many vocations either, as far as I can tell. A vibrant, powerful church in Germany is simply not a reality today. It would be interesting to know how much of the FRG is considered "mission territory" today.

It would be entirely proper if some of the European cardinals are simply not replaced when they pass away or retire, leaving their seats vacant. The red hats can go to areas where there are more faithful, where the Church has been more successful. This is not likely to be monitored much in the international press but it would signal a realignment of power inside the Church to better reflect reality and would also increase the chance that the next conclave picks a pope that is entirely out of Europe.

The press will notice when they tote up the red hats and find that there aren't as many europeans any more and will trumpet the news around the world. If we're a bit more observant, we can do better than that.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:42 PM

April 18, 2005

The Scandanavian Model is Dead

Even the NY Times finally gets it. Scandanavians are no model for an economic future. They're not even a model for Europe.

In late March, another study, this one from KPMG, the international accounting and consulting firm, cast light on this paradox. It indicated that when disposable income was adjusted for cost of living, Scandinavians were the poorest people in Western Europe. Danes had the lowest adjusted income, Norwegians the second lowest, Swedes the third. Spain and Portugal, with two of Europe's least regulated economies, led the list.

Europe itself is generally poor compared to the US and falling behind.

All this was illuminated last year in a study by a Swedish research organization, Timbro, which compared the gross domestic products of the 15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the 50 American states and the District of Columbia. (Norway, not being a member of the union, was not included.)

After adjusting the figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the only European country whose economic output per person was greater than the United States average was the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.

Longtime readers might remember that I made mention of the study last July in an article on maternity leave.

This leaves "progressives" in something of a pickle. Who will they point to as an example now? Soft-socialism hasn't installed a gulag but it has installed high poverty (by our standards) and large brain, ambition, and hard work drains. Who would ever want that?

Without an external model to point to that works, progressives have only the history of their own initiatives to fall back on and that isn't a very good record. It is domestic failure of "progressive" programs that led to the reliance on pointing to external "successes" in the first place.

The US political model relies on two poles fighting it out in an adversarial process, improving each other's work so that the country can benefit. The economic pole on the left has disintegrated to the point that the NY Times can no longer deny that the economic ideal it has pushed for decades leads to drastic increases in poverty. This implies huge changes on the horizon.

Update:VodkaPundit has a great take observing how Bernie Sanders used the "but it works there" technique on Alan Greenspan back in 2003.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:20 AM

April 07, 2005

Unspinning McClellan

This article complains that Scott McClellan has stock responses to an awful lot of questions regarding Iraq and that he sticks to the script instead of letting himself make news by veering from administration position. In other words, he's doing his job and doing it the way he's supposed to.

Instead of bemoaning the fact, they might consider asking new questions that nobody has written a stock, scripted answer for. Here are five to start:

1. The world's underlying foreign policy assumption of national sovereignty was set in 1648 at the signing of the Peace of Westphalia. Tony Blair has explicitly called for us to move beyond Westphalia. Does the administration agree and when are we going to start the national conversation on what chucking aside 350 years of rules means?
2. Since the UN utterly depends on the mediating between sovereign nations, does Prime Minister Blair's (and the administration, if they've answered question 1 that way) "beyond Westphalian" talk utterly destroy the rationale for the UN as it is currently constituted? Is it time to do to the UN what happened to the League of Nations, cherry pick out the good parts and wrap them up in a superior framework? If not now, how bad do things have to get before it's time?
3. Lots of law enforcement agencies find that neighborhood watch programs can do wonders for crime rates of all types but that they work best when coordinated with the relevant law enforcement groups. What is administration policy on neighborhood watches and how would you plan on coordinating with volunteers if they wanted to set one up on our southern border?
4. What is administration policy on the admission of new territories and states to the United States?
5. What is the administration policy regarding the PRC's new anti-secession law were it to apply the law to Tibet, Xinhian or somewhere other than Taiwan?

It took 20 minutes thought to think up five questions that are unlikely to involve rote repetition of previous talking points. It wasn't that hard and given an hour that I don't have I could probably come up with another five. If I were doing this for a living I'd probably go through the federal code and come up with one per Title and rotate through them. I'd do that because I believe in informing people, not in taking part in a stylized kabuki interrogation.

I think that the press has created Scott McClellan, or at least his job description. If he had a wide variety of questions, he wouldn't be so drilled in repeating the same answers to the same questions over and over again. The public would be better informed, the chance of actually breaking news would be higher because no human being can be briefed on everything that the executive is doing. The government's grown too big for that.

The problem with my style would be that you wouldn't have so much "pack" journalism and that would mean that it wouldn't lend itself to partisan baiting and ideological combat but rather to really informing the public on a great deal more of what's going on. Wait a minute, that's a feature, not a bug.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:40 AM

April 05, 2005

Canada Corruption Scandal Censorship

I had a dry little note about the Canada corruption scandal and the Gomery Commission. There wasn't much original work to it, merely a link to where you could get the skinny. Since I'm in the US, Snappingturtle.net server is in the US, and I have little respect for foreign censors, it seemed to have little down side for me. Right before I hit submit, I remembered. Bruce Rolston, the fellow who set up this little corner of the web for me is Canadian. After a quick phone call, I found out that the fellow whose information is on the whois record of the domain is also canadian.

As a courtesy to my hosts (on request), I won't post the link here. As a courtesy to my readership, I will always talk about episodes of censorship and self-censorship that pop up in my writing. The Google search term "Gomery Commission" provides all necessary background information on the publication ban so those of you who legally can access Google (probably not the KSA, PRC, or possibly Canada) you can educate yourself there. I am not a lawyer and apparently you should consult one before you search the web these days on what your particular jurisdiction's legal requirements are.

God help us all.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:40 PM

March 10, 2005

Dueling Legal Systems

Terry Schiavo's Canon Law rights offer an interesting insight into the dueling claims of church and state even in relatively benign situations where Catholic legal doctrine has long ago made its general peace with civil law. It's sad, but true, that there are still conflicts. Muslim law is even more problematic because muslim law has no universally acceptable code of canons. Having no hierarchy, a universal code of canons is impossible. US law has to come to grips with this in order to facilitate some sort of interface where civil law can have reasonable expectations of followers of muslim judicial codes and flat out we don't have it yet. Then again, the job isn't entirely done with even relatively familiar challenges such as Catholic law.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:51 PM

February 28, 2005

Raising a Political Class

In 1989, I bent the ear of anybody I could in the romanian-american community that Romania needed political schools to raise up a democratic political class. Being under the age of 40 at the time (heck, I'm still under 40) I wasn't taken seriously. But ten years later I heard the laments that if only such a school had been created, the debacle of the 1996 opposition government would have been avoided.

There was just no critical mass of new thinkers who understood that if you build your campaign about the promise to resign if you can't get your program through in 200 days, day 201 should see mass resignations and new elections. The result was in 2000, the opposition parties who led the way in that government, including my personal favorite, PNT-cd were obliterated and only the liberals who had cannily maintained enough distance to avoid the blowback managed to survive.

I bring this up because I'm hearing an awful lot of talk about EU cynicism, about how the EU political class simply does not trust the people, does not permit them a real say in how things are run, and they specialize in back room deals that make the franchise something of a joke as real choice is leached out of the system.

The solution is as obvious today as it was in 1989. Somebody needs to plunk down the money, in country after country, to raise a political class in the EU republics dedicated to the proposition that citizens are the ultimate authority, that the political class are their servants, and that rise or fall, politics will be conducted honestly.

It's a strikingly impractical suggestion. It's as impractical as the suffragettes, the good government movements that brought down the corrupt urban machines, as impractical as the civil rights movement. Such a movement would require vision and a march through the institutions as tenacious as the fabian's was a century ago.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:20 PM

February 19, 2005

Considering the ICC

This article by Thomas Barnett led me to consider the ICC a bit more. The idea of "moving the pile" and reconfiguring dialogues so that they don't just go nowhere is a powerful one but I wonder if all the variables are properly defined as variables.

The fundamental problem with the ICC is that it exists at a supranational level and is a part of the corrupt UN constellation. Judges are already the hardest part of the government process to keep honest and reigned in with accountability. By their nature, they need to be divorced from immediate political accountability in order to render retail justice without favor to the powerful. If they go rogue, independent justices pose a difficult problem in reigning just the rogues in without destroying systemic independence.

The current iteration of balancing the two classic problems of a judiciary is not to our liking, so we're sitting this institution out right now. So where are we? Are we just a late signer onto a fundamentally sound institution or are we the last hope of rescuing the world from a fatally flawed implementation of international justice.

Dr. Barnett's right that we will eventually need something that fills the organizational space that the ICC currently occupies. That doesn't mean that it's ever going to happen with the ICC as it's currently constituted. For advocates of us signing on to the ICC, accountability questions have to still be answered in light of a world where the UN system was so obviously corrupted by a 3rd rate dictator like Saddam Hussein. For those who do not think the ICC should have US participation, the question remains of what do you put in its place that would be workable. Would a pay to play system work acceptably where the proportion of contribution to the judiciary is calculated by the 5 year average of your contribution proportion to the SysAdmin force?

Both the US and the UN had early false starts (the Confederacy of the United States and the League of Nations respectively). There's nothing magic about the ICC treaty that mandates that we have to accept the first round if it's fundamentally flawed. But that doesn't excuse us from moving the pile forward and committing to a structure that would be better. If the ICC is fundamentally flawed, it'll eventually collapse. It would behoove us to be ready with version 2 when the time comes.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:37 AM

February 13, 2005

"No Special Deals" Act of 2005

Disregard: Thanks, Hank, for pointing out that I was operating off old information (20 years old in fact). The CSRS system which was outside Social Security is grandfathered in, but is not the pension system of new employees. More facts here

I can imagine a very quick way to turn the Social Security debate into a route for the private account side. Simply propose a "No Special Deals" bill which would dump government workers right back into Social Security in whatever form it is starting 2015. It would strengthen the finances of Social Security as more money entered the system. Its passage would put very powerful government unions on the side of reforming the larger program. And any opposition to it would look elitist and awfully hypocritical for the "party of the little guys", the Democrats.

I can't imagine that the Republicans aren't going to continue point out the hypocrisy of government workers getting a private accounts deal while their unions and their friendly representatives fight tooth and nail to keep that deal away from the general public. After all, it was a highly effective line in President Bush's State of the Union speech. Why shouldn't that be put into legislation? At the very least, a bill will be drawn up and circulated to the government worker union leaders. They'll have a choice then. They can either keep their superior retirement plan and put pressure on Democrats to vote for partially privatized Social Security or they can see that draft bill introduced and get their retirement fates tied to the Social Security system they fought so hard to escape from.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:58 AM

February 05, 2005

Gay Marriage Judicial Activism

Orin Kerr reports that a NY trial judge has ruled gay marriage legal. The opinion is online (pdf). It's difficult to know where to begin but there doesn't seem to be any basis in this decision to defend marriage as an institution for only two people. If marriage is maleable enough to extend it to effective tripartite marriages (two women and a male sperm donor) it seems a short distance to pulling the rest of the guy into the arrangement beyond renting his gonads. You can also attack consanguinity regulation of marriage on equal protection grounds because we do not limit marriage between people who have as high a risk of genetic defects as uncle/neice pairings would. This is just really poor and I hope this summary judgment decision gets squashed quickly.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:17 PM

Corner and Kill Friedman

Every once in awhile Thomas Friedman goes absolutely bonkers. His idea of a Geo-Green movement is downright pernicious:

Yes, there is an alternative to the Euro-wimps and the neocons, and it is the "geo-greens." I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.

In reality, productive reform requires more capital flowing into a society, not less. Cornering a regime and killing off an economy leads people straight into the arms of the extremists, in this case the Islamists. Under crushing, punitive sanctions in the '90s, Saddam started getting awfully religious for a secular tyrant. He changed the national flag to include a religious saying in arabic script. He famously gave enough blood to write out an entire Koran, and he also went on a mosque building spree with some really unusual architecture cropping up. If an authoritarian regime doesn't have money to stay in power anymore, fanaticism is cheap, if dangerous.

This Geo-Green strategy is one that will put these societies in a corner and when they lash out at us (perhaps in another 9/11?) we'll have to kill them off. Instead of doing that, we need to lead them out of their current dead end and give the elite an exit strategy that makes lashing out to retain power highly unattractive. I don't see how $18 a barrel oil is going to get us there.

One fortunate thing about the scheme is that we're not going to get $18 a barrel oil again until after the end of the age of oil. We need a huge amount of energy to bring India and the PRC to the 1st world and we just can't drill enough to do it. All the conservation in the world isn't going to satisfy 2.4 billion people who want to go from a yearly per capita consumption of 1 barrel a year to a first world level of 25. In a sense, it's a moot strategy because any significant downward pressure on oil is simply going to get swept up in further buying in south and east Asia. That dynamic isn't going to change until we get a disruptive advance in energy.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:52 AM

February 03, 2005

Dr. Barnett Doesn't Like Verticalization

In its entirety, I thought the SOTU was about taking the broad, horizontal strokes of his Inaugural address and starting the process of verticalizing them, getting into detail and starting up Bismark's famous legislative sausage machine to actually get stuff done. Dr. Barnett finds this boring:

So what I got out of the speech was: I've got some domestic stuff I want to get done in second term, and I want Iraq to get better and serve as an example to the rest of the Middle East. Not exactly ambition defined, I would say, given what he did and tried to do in the first term.

Again, you got the feeling the White House wanted to avoid anything expansive on foreign policy after the way in which the inaugural speech was interpreted. But to me, that's not letting Bush be Bush, and if he's gonna be president another four years, shouldn't he be?

I'm getting the message that Dr. Barnett is a fellow who simply thrives on the horizontal and doesn't much care for the vertical. Unfortunate, that, because I'd estimate that 90% of the actual work of changing the world is in verticalization of the kinds of horizontal concepts that he does so well in PNM and elsewhere.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:15 PM

SOTU 2005: Fiscal Restraint

More SOTU commentary:

America's prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline. I will send you a budget that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent, and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. (Applause.) My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all. (Applause.)

Now there's a marker to keep an eye on. I'm really looking forward to getting that list of 150 government programs. Unfortunately, fiscal restraint in the non-entitlement sector isn't going to be enough. Fortunately, we've finally got a president who is taking the entitlement bull by the horns. More on that later but right now, as Social Security keeps building up a balance on its trust fund, keeping growth below inflation will be sufficient. If we wait to reform entitlements until those trust fund dollars start to be redeemed, actual current dollar cuts are going to be required avoid exploding the deficit or imposing ruinous tax increases.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:51 AM

January 31, 2005

Libertarian Problems of Transition

One of the tricky bits about libertarianism is handling the transition. I believe, ultimately, that drugs should no longer carry criminal penalties for possession, use, and trade. But I think it would be pure folly to do so and make addicts able to live a carefree life of stupor on the public purse. I think that there are lots of changes that have to happen in charity, in societal attitudes toward sloth, and in subsidy for irresponsibility before full legalization can proceed without serious problems, problems that we should not inflict on society.

That doesn't mean that I'm in favor of the current system. It's cruel, heartless, and counterproductive. But it means that drug reform shouldn't be taken in isolation, shouldn't be accomplished by radical reform that only addresses legalization. In short, the permissiveness of legalization should be balanced by withdrawing permissiveness in other areas, permissiveness that is sponsored by the public purse. If there were a bill that made all drugs legal and restored welfare back to the 1970s style guaranteed benefits, I'd vote against it.

This all came to mind because te Germans are handling prostitution legalization quite badly and are attempting to force a woman to become a whore. I can't imagine a dominant private charity forcing a woman to work in a brothel. They would destroy their charitable contributor base. The German government has no such problems and shows how libertarian initiatives can lead to absurd results. In a sane world, the local churches would pass the hat and pony up the difference to keep this woman out of whoredom. There's none of that in the article and it shows that either the reporter has a sadly atrophied view of German churches or the churches themselves are atrophied beyond belief.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:17 AM

January 30, 2005

Kojo Annan Flips

Kojo Annan has admitted to oil dealing in Saddam's oil and is now cooperating with UN investigators in the oil for food scandal. This is going to be a highly unpleasant and long investigation. The rot is so extensive, we have a chance at turning over all the rocks. I hope we take it.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:38 PM

January 27, 2005

Fantasy Commercials I

Reading this sensible article on the cost of price controls, the script of a commercial sprung to mind on the related question of bureaucratic delays to drug approvals.

A piece of paper is stamped "early approval denied" and the camera pulls back to a stereotypical bureaucrat, using the same stamp over and over. After 2-3 repeated stamps on other pages, the camera pulls back out of his office, out his building, out of DC in a frenetic pace and into a hospital room where a gravely ill woman is surrounded by beeping machines. A voice says "Sunsan Smith, and 8,548 other gravely sick patients will die because the medicine that would have safely and effectively cured them was held up by red tape. The camera backs out of the hospital and speedily returns to DC, this time the Capitol building. A generic congressman explains to an unseen lobbyist "I like the idea of reforming drug approvals to minimize overall deaths but we just can't do it. Everybody cares when we let a bad drug through. Nobody cares as much when we delay a good drug even though the delay kills more people. Pull back, go to a different hospital bed, a different patient dying, a family crying. The final cut is fade to black and big block white letters, "Nobody cares?"

If anybody ever makes this, I want the quicktime version.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:42 AM

January 18, 2005

Entitlement Reform

I think that Robert Samuelson's missing the point when he complains about Bush's SS Reform efforts. Samuelson would rather that we tackle the whole problem at once. "[T]he debate becomes harder, but it also becomes more honest and meaningful." That may be true but if the debate gets too hard, you end up with a deadlock and the unsustainable status quo survives. Time is not on our side. The longer we wait, the more drastic the changes will have to be and the more human suffering will happen as people can't get adjust in time and have poorer retirements because of it.

I'm starting to suspect that Social Security reform is the domestic version of Iraq and Medicare is the domestic version of N. Korea as far as Bush policy goes. Social Security is going to get the full assault treatment because it's strategic, people understand it well, and it's about the biggest problem we can handle with that approach. Medicare is too tough, too confusing, and much more susceptible to a quiet "python" approach. So we get shifts in medical care that will tremendously increase savings like forced computerization on pain of reduced reimbursements, standardization, tort reform to reduce costs, and introducing the pharmaceutical revolution into the world of government funded senior care so we don't continue to prefer expensive surgery to inexpensive pills. This is similar to the slow squeeze we're inflicting on N. Korea with the six party talks. There isn't anywhere for the N. Koreans to play their usual games of strategically playing one great power off against another. They're all at the same table talking at the same time.

A great deal of the problem on Medicare is that I believe that government accounting simply can't take into account the substitution effect of pills for surgery. I've yet to see any credible figures for how much surgery care is going to be cut because of increased pharmaceutical use due to the Medicare drug benefit. Without those, you can't really measure the net effect and because those substitution savings are going to show up further out, we're going to hit a nasty lag period in the meantime. Economists like Samuelson could explain that but few seem to have grasped the cost savings potentials.

Too bad.

HT: National Center

Posted by TMLutas at 09:36 AM

January 14, 2005

Homosexual Arab Linguists

In all the kerfuffle over the Army kicking out homosexual arab linguists, I think that everybody is missing the easy fix. Make them take off the uniform and put them elsewhere doing exactly the same job. They're linguists for pete's sake. If they're translating in civvies and aren't in the chain of command, exactly how much utility has the USG lost? decide a cash value on excluding homosexuals that's per individual, give them all cards for a KBR recruiter and pay KBR some money to do the job.

What, exactly, is the problem with that? If it's all about dollars and cents, what's the cost of moving them out? If the Army is organizing things so they actually lose translating capability, that would seem to be a problem of bad organization not of "gays in the military".

Posted by TMLutas at 03:52 PM


George Will closes a good article on Social Security reform with this great paragraph:

The public—particularly the iPod-using cohort, which is a steadily increasing portion of the public—has figured something out. In the words of a much "misunderestimated" president, "Where the people are the government they do not get rid of their burdens by attempting to unload them on the government." So said the sainted Calvin Coolidge, 12 years before Social Security was born.


I really have to learn more about Coolidge.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:14 PM

January 13, 2005

Die Eminent Domain, Die

David Sucher notes that:

Eminent domain came about precisely because the market could not solve the endless bargaining problem. Eminent domain was not part of some original condition given to us by God and from which we have to escape. It was adopted by human beings to solve a problem. You may not like eminent domain and indeed it has been and is abused and needs reform, at least in the USA. But let's start our discussion with reference to reality, not fantasy. Eminent domain is itself a solution to market imperfections. Eminent domain came into use precisely because the market could not solve the bargaining problem and so it conjured up a deus ex machina to intervene.

This is fine, as far as it goes but the analysis suffers from a common problem, treating a variable as a constant. The market could not solve the problem of the dual coincidence that was necessary for trade for quite a long time. Then, somebody invented money and we no longer had to have a dual coincidence. Situations of trade without money were renamed barter and we moved on, I believe somewhere around the bronze age.

Eminent Domain may solve the "endless bargaining problem" but what, in fact, is the endless bargaining problem? Google is no help (no results) and I'm not particularly familiar with any economic literature that describes it as such. Eminent domain is the application of the violence of the state to the problem of people not willing to part with their property at a price that the buyer is willing to agree to.

In fact, I think that the history of eminent domain is an attempt to pretty up a practice that is as old as government, simple property expropriation. The state, having the necessary arms, took what it wanted and paid nothing in compensation. Who would complain, or at least survive to complain twice when government was not usually based on the consent of the governed but on might makes right?

So if we've got something of an appendix of old time state coercion here, it seems like a great opportunity for the market to step in and provide a superior alternative. It's a pity that politically bankrupt ideas survive so much longer than economically bankrupt ones.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:16 PM

December 04, 2004

That's What I'm Talking About

Kudos to the Adam Smith Institute! They've got the key to undoing the statist nightmare, figuring out what the relevant interests are and accommodating enough of them with a free market solution that can achieve a political coalition strong enough to actually pass in the legislature.

There are an awful lot of libertarians out there who would rather be living in a statist society so long as they are personally pure enough rather than doing the extra work necessary to improve things in the real world while satisfying enough people's interests whether the people care about libertarianism or not.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:52 AM

November 24, 2004

Reform or Purge

As long as I've been reading conservative political stuff (and that's been a long time, two decades now) the State Department has been viewed as a placee where conservatives and their ideas would not get a fair shake. It was viewed, institutionally, as hostile territory and the use of shorthand, even back then, made it clear that by the time I started reading about it, it was an old, old problem. It hasn't gotten better.

The State Department is still a place where conservatives do not like what goes on there, where they view that the mandarinate is viscerally hostile to their initiatives and always fights to reverse them, no matter what their duty is to further the policies of the current administration regardless of party. There's only so much of that sort of resistance that is tolerable in a democratic republic.

When Republicans, and everybody else, viewed themselves as a minority temporarily in charge of the Executive, long term projects such as cultural change in the State Department were viewed as "nice to have" but so long term that undertaking them would probably be fruitless. That was because any progress would be undone by the inevitable next Democrat administration and the Congress, being reliably Democrat, would not defend the changes.

George W Bush is the first Republican president in decades not infected with this self-defeating attitude. He has already undertaken a major change at CIA on these lines and, inevitably, will be doing the same at the State Department.

This is the moment of truth for the US Left. They can either recognize that the State Department (as well as the CIA) has been behaving improperly, stop mau mauing our new Secretary of State, and coordinate efforts to make the civil service more neutral between the parties or they try to defend the biased careerists who think that they can run their department better than the President's appointees. If they do the latter (and there are too many signs pointing that direction already) they are likely to provoke an even harder push to burn everything down to the foundations and build anew. The shorthand for that outcome is a purge. Are Democrats going to be a constructive opposition or will it take a few more losses? I wish I knew.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:11 AM

November 22, 2004

Who Are the Sycophants?

I can't imagine anybody examining the CIA cleanup initiated by the new chief, Porter Goss without at least mentioning Imperial Hubris, the extraordinarily unprofessional spectacle of a serving CIA agent being unleashed on the administration he's supposed to be serving. Yet David Wise manages to do just that in his LA Times piece entitled Sycophant Spies.

Even if you buy into the line that the level of CIA leaking and the one sidedness of those leaks against the President are just par for the course, nobody can find any historical precedent for a CIA agent publicly writing his tell all book while collecting a CIA paycheck while being fully authorized to do not only a book, but a book tour. This article is positively orwellian in both spin and in the classic sense of losing inconvenient facts down the memory hole. I'd fisk in detail but I find I haven't the heart for it.

David Wise no doubt has sources to protect and he's enlisted in the war against Porter Goss' cleanup to preserve his ability to gain inside information at the CIA. In a very real sense, he's a sycophant to his sources. In a normal world, he'd be heaped with scorn and suffer significant career damage. We don't live in a normal world.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:44 PM

November 21, 2004

Conservative Taxation

At a certain point, we should take a break from tax cuts, tax code changes, and the like. We'll have hit a sweet spot where the system is pretty good, the cost of change eats up most of the remaining benefits and better to leave well enough alone. We'll miss that sweet spot by a mile if we're not careful.

Right now, I see tax reform and tax cutting as a runaway train. There are still many things left to cut or reform, lots of room for improvement but I'm starting to detect that a significant portion of the Republican office holding class doesn't much care for reform and improving the system. They're looking for something to put on their campaign brochures for their next reelection.

This is a real challenge for the center-right policy shops, Heritage, Cato, and the rest of that ecosystem. They have to keep the policy idea hopper full in order to provide ready replacements when something gets done. You'll know that the new Republican era of political dominance has peaked and started to decline when they start failing to do so.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:24 AM

November 19, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXIII

Obsidian Wings has the vapors over Bush tax reform proposals, especially the idea of removing the deductibility of employer sponsored health insurance. It's unfortunate that the other half of that plan, associational health insurance isn't explicitly linked to it. It should be, but because that was rolled out in a state of the union address some time ago, people are missing the obvious connection. Here's what I wrote in comments:

What the analysis so far has missed is the previously announced Bush policy to establish associational healthcare. That means that instead of getting your healthcare from your employer, you get it from the Lions Club or the Catholic Church. Change employers and you don't change health care plans. This makes for a vastly more empowered workforce as nobody is feeling trapped in their job just because junior has a health condition and they'd never get healthcare if they moved to a new job. You pick out the health care that works for you in the association you're comfortable with.

Now there's a whole lot of work to be done to make this actually sane instead of just potentially sane but I could see how it could be a positive thing for everybody. As part of the transition plan, you could mandate that employer healthcare spending had to be turned into cash and added to paychecks and there would have to be some sort of transition period where the associational health insurance system got set up and people moved off of employer provided health insurance.

Lets remember that the current system was an unintended consequence of WW II wage control legislation. It never has been a good idea that was planned. It was sort of an accident that we got in the habit of keeping around (sort of like that temporary tax from the spanish-american war that kept getting renewed every two years for the better part of a century). If we can move to different arrangements that provides better service, we should.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:46 PM

November 18, 2004

An Intellectual Exercise I

A Paris based Iranian exile group is accusing Tehran of continuing to enrich uranium at a large estate in northwest Tehran. The last is according to Debka so add salt, but it might be worthwhile to review how such a claim would be discredited in a free society if it were false.

The county clerk would have the owner of record and the ownership chain, two facts that don’t seem to be in evidence. The owner would be investigated, there would be journalists camped out at all entrances to the site, making a nuisance of themselves for anyone entering and leaving by investigating them until some sort of inspection was permitted to settle the question and it would have to not only satisfy the government but the paranoid wing of the press.

Much of this is unavailable in Iran as evidenced that it’s not happening. Putting aside the politics of it all, it would be a great story that dangerous work (enriching uranium is quite dangerous, especially if you haven’t already made your mistakes over the years) was going on in a residential neighborhood in the capital. That provides a powerful incentive in the form of sales and reputation for any news outlet that lands such a story. A free press not only holds governments to account but settles false rumors quickly that can endanger a government from both inside and out. Unfortunately for the mullahs, they have ensured they do not have such a safeguard. Most tyrants are not so far sighted.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:09 AM

November 17, 2004

Libertarian Clueless II

Tyler Cowen grumbles about the idea of private forced savings accounts. The problem is that he takes the marketing job much too seriously. The reality of forced savings accounts is that they provide savings for those who would not otherwise be able to save due to their payroll taxes sucking up so much of their disposable income. Thus in the real world, you're replacing some government taxation with money that is conditionally yours but has restrictions on it so you don't end up on the dole.

For those who are richer, a different effect than providing a private pension out of what would otherwise be tax dollars kicks in. These are people who are already saving privately both in tax advantaged and taxable accounts. The net effect of the new system (post transition) is that the amount of tax advantaged savings is increased so for the vast majority of us who do not think that government pensions are enough, this is merely a new account we can dump our savings into without paying the tax man.

A world with private retirement accounts would be a world that is better than today's where leftists still get away with an awful lot of mindless tripe about how the average person is incapable of planning their own retirement. With the creation of private accounts the battleground shifts to an examination, in minute detail, over each regulation that prevents irresponsible speculation. Over time, we are likely to see successive, small shifts toward true ownership without restriction until the remaining regulations are mostly symbolic, low impact rules, that are more trouble to remove than they are worth.

Removing the debate over retirement to the question of how financially responsible people are versus whether they should have any responsibility whatsoever, fundamentally moves the political debate in a very libertarian friendly direction. The battle of how responsible people are with their own money is something that can be measured, improved, and is likely to generate a string of libertarian policy wins. Libertarians should be on board for that process as the Bush administration kicks off the first draft for market reform.

HT: The Bit Bucket

Posted by TMLutas at 05:23 AM

November 16, 2004

George Bush's Dusty Broom

After reading this piece by Phil Carter complaining about George Bush's impulse to purge the CIA, I have to ask, what world has he been living in? There have been calls for a purge up and down the entire national security apparatus since at least 9/11/01 and there are perennial Republican calls for a purge in State and Education because they're viewed as having a hostile culture to Republican administrations and conservative initiatives. President Bush has resisted most of this, with very partial exceptions for demonstrated, public disloyalty in individuals to carrying out presidential policy.

The CIA mandarinate apparently thought that restraint was license for them to more or less openly resist this administration. This is unacceptable, outrageous, and has no doubt gotten people killed. Phil Carter eventually backed down a bit in a postscript (I think I would have blown a gasket had I read the original, unmodified story) but he's still playing down the dangers of a mandarin class who is officially authorized to keep deep secrets from most of the rest of government, much less society, has a history of funny accounting, and has gotten into the habit of violating the fundamental rule of a civil service, don't get involved in politics.

Coups have started from less in societies that are not as stable as ours. In fact, one of the principle dangers is foreign misunderstandings that a CIA acting in this fashion might be in pre-coup mode. That injects an awful lot of noise in the system, making our friends fearful and our enemies bold. That's a major disservice to the people.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:11 PM

November 14, 2004

Why the SEC Won't Investigate Congress

Alex Tabarrok picks up the scent that the SEC has detected that there might be stock picking cheating going on among our nation's legislators. He seems somewhat surprised that the SEC is highly reluctant to investigate. The problem is not that the SEC is in cahoots with inside trading congressmen but that it's powerless to act and does not want to draw attention to that fact. Executive agencies can't just burst into congressional offices, seize records or otherwise do what they would normally do with any other US institution (outside the Supreme Court, I wonder what their stock market gains are like) because the US Senate and House of Representatives are uniquely privileged against such investigations.

Imagine if they weren't. Congressmen could be brought up on trumped up charges right before elections, they could be brought in for questioning far away from Washington, DC and miss crucial votes, there are all sorts of nefarious things that the executive could do to the legislative branch to tilt 5 or 10 votes in a house with dirty investigations.

This, of course, means that when there is actual wrongdoing (there may or may not be, I'm reserving judgment) the SEC can make a bit of noise to brush back legislators but they really can't do much more than issue a few releases because Congress takes those privileges against executive investigations very seriously and for good reason. In any sort of analysis of such a situation, you really need to get a feel for the precedential consequences of action v. inaction.

In this case, the problem seems to be so widespread that it's better taken care of by making it an issue that any challenger can grab ahold of and use to beat incumbents about the head with their personal profiteering in the stock market. And this seems to be what the SEC is setting up, doing the grunt work and backing off without damage to their regulatory reputation while leaving the issue alive for any savvy opposition researcher to pick it up in a couple of years.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:57 PM

The Mandarinate Strikes Back III

I've written previously about the rise of the mandarin class in the US federal government. David Brooks picks up the theme and focuses on the CIA's disgraceful activity during the recent campaign season to undermine their boss. Like the mainstream media (MSM) the CIA was willing to bet their credibility on a Kerry win. Both have lost heavily but the CIA will likely pay for it quicker as Porter Goss cleans house.

Unfortunately, David Brooks doesn't see this as a systemic problem but is taking a stovepipe point of view, examining just the CIA in this column. No doubt the State Department will be taken apart in another column. While this sort of vertical thinking is good for feeding the columnist's deadline beast, it reinforces a regrettable trend not to think more broadly of the problem of our present civil service system and the inevitable temptations to band together into a mandarin class to defend the system from the "know nothing" fools who inhabit the political sphere in 2, 4, or 6 year terms.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:32 PM

November 06, 2004

Figuring Costs

Russ Nelson provides a general case for the Bush administration's big government conservatism in an essay ostensibly on building codes. Well, at least half a case. I've made the argument in the past that what Bush is doing is sacrificing to advance the runner, providing extra money to useless programs in order to gain systems that measure the currently unmeasurable costs of government programs and common sense requirements that we use the best alternatives, closing down inferior ones.

The small government movement, both libertarian and conservative, is a complete failure when it comes to direct assaults on illegitimate state activity. We still have huge structures, entire cabinet departments that have been targeted for elimination for decades and all efforts to remove them have failed despite holding the entire government in our hand for the last three years and holding significant control over the government for many years prior in that 3 decade period.

What President Bush has figured out is a winner is to build on the basic cultural consensus that we shouldn't waste money, that measuring results is a reasonable goal, and changed the terms of the debate so that he'll give up everything now to measure results from here on in. Once the results are measured, all the extra spending will be scrutinized and that which is wasteful will be eliminated.

The article of faith among small government types that the vast majority of government spending is wasteful and could be done better via the free market will get a workout. If the article of faith is true, we will, step by step, gain all that we wish in terms of government reduction as measurement proves our point. If we're wrong, well, it's definitely time to regroup and come up with something better.

With all the sniggering about a "reality based community" among the left, the Bush administration's reality based government program evaluation is the most radical extension of judging on empirical facts, not ideological faith in many a decade. You'd think that he'd get more credit for it in the "reality based community". Surprise, surprise, he isn't.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:08 AM

November 04, 2004

Takings Progress

Apparently, Oregon has passed a referendum reforming takings so that land use rules that merely reduce the value of the land have to be compensated for. By making the cost of regulation visible in the jurisdictional budget, this should radically reduce state and local regulations that reduce property values.

Bravo Oregon!

Posted by TMLutas at 02:03 PM

November 02, 2004

DC Budgets

Noah Schachtman discovers DC budgeting sucks and decides to blame Don Rumsfeld in a very nasty way. The budget game hasn't worked right since the beginning of the Republic. Frankly, the only reason to put things in supplementals instead of in the regular budget is that you're sure that they wouldn't pass in the regular budget. Working up supplementals is an energy drain and if the only way to make sure your vehicles have enough gas to actually get the job done is to pair them with body armor requests, that's how you structure the request.

A lot of things can get soldiers killed. Not having enough fuel on hand to mount a rescue mission is one way for soldiers to get killed but that isn't sexy. Pairing that vital request with the "politically impossible to vote against" body armor means fewer soldiers die on balance if you've got a Congress that is looking to underfund the military. The real question is whether the Congress we elected in 2002 is that kind of Congress. That doesn't seem to be the kind of question that Noah Schachtman is as interested in as in Rumsfeld bashing.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:57 AM

October 30, 2004

Big Government Conservatism: A Lifecycle

Reading about Bush's Republican Revolution, especially his creation of big government conservatism as a major thread of the modern conservative movement. I think that a great deal of the concern that many small government conservatives and libertarians have about big government conservatism is misplaced. It, like Republican radicalism, is something that is legitimately kept in conservatism's cupboard, to be taken out when needed, but the circumstances when it is needed are very few, and far between. The last time we needed Republican radicals before their current run starting on 9/11 was back in Lincoln's day in order to defeat the scourge of slavery.

Big government conservatism is something like a live virus vaccine. Sure, it can give you the actual disease of socialism and government tyranny just like big government liberalism but this particular strain is weakened by two features that will save us, if we play things right, measurements and standards.

Measuring the results of a government program and terminating government expenditures that don't actually deliver results are probably the easiest selling offering the center-right has offered to the people in decades. Who wants to waste money when you can spend it better elsewhere? But here's the twist. If small government conservatives are right, if the libertarians are right, the number of programs that properly measured, actually deliver for the american people are very few and far between. A stringent insistence on measuring success and killing programs that fail the people is a sure ticket to a smaller government if the small government ideology actually maps well onto reality. The emergence of the evidence for such failures can take a few years but the harvest in pruned failures after that will be continual and long-lasting, a process of successful government cutting that will play out over decades.

The big government part of big government conservatism is something that is likely to die out as the measurement and accountability parts of big government conservatism strip away the self-serving lies and obfuscations propping up failed programs. That doesn't mean that small government conservatives should wait for inevitable collapses. We need to fight to make sure that programs that fail are killed, free market alternatives are given equal billing with pseudo-free market alternatives as next stage replacements, and push big-government humpty dumpty off the wall as soon as possible.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:02 PM

October 29, 2004

Voting for Idiots

Eugene Volokh thinks that ballots should be accessible to even below average intelligence voters. That's fine, as far as it goes. I happen to agree that if you're a little slow, you shouldn't basically have your vote error rate so high that members of your IQ level are basically voting white noise. How far down the intelligence scale does that go? You've got to test ballots, like you calibrate standardized tests. So what's the appropriate minimum IQ that the ballot should be tested for?

The nasty thing is that you can't really answer because the entire concept is incredibly politically incorrect. There's some real life history behind being gunshy about such questions because lots of states used to have literacy tests and those tests were applied discriminatorily against racial minorities as a disenfranchisement tool, mostly against Republicans. Those sorts of literacy tests have been banned decades ago, and rightly so. But I wouldn't be surprised if the fear of being associated with such a base practice out of America's darker past has stopped election board officials from doing the easy thing, simply picking an intelligence standard, let's say an IQ of 75, finding a bunch of people with an IQ of 75 and asking them to fill out the ballot. If the error rate is below a certain amount, the ballot design passes and is used for the election.

At that point, "partisan ballot design" charges go out the window. If you tested the ballot, it fell within the error rate specs, you've got yourself a nice, scientifically based safe harbor to protect yourself from litigation. At a certain point of low intelligence, any ballot is going to be too complicated to fill out. You have to draw the line somewhere. Why not set a standard, test the things before they go into use, and where you still get error rates higher than normal, you can at least eliminate poor ballot design as a culprit.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:11 AM

October 17, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXII

Kofi Annan proves once again that he's strictly amateur hour. With a plethora of investigations flying, Annan has an institutional obligation to the UN to make sure that no matter what happens, the UN is not destroyed by the facts as they come out. He fails miserably by siding with France and Russia ahead of the true facts being discovered and does his very best to undercut the believability of any UN investigators clearing anybody of wrongdoing. What follows was the comment I left on the link thread.

This is one more piece of evidence that Kofi is simply not professional. There are investigations flying all over the place and ahead of the full facts coming out, Kofi Annan is already putting his own reputation and the reputation of the office he holds on the line to assert something that has not been proven. I would feel disappointed that a town mayor would have so little sense to prejudice ongoing investigations, some of which are undertaken by people he's signing checks for. For the Secretary General of the UN to do so is just disgusting.

For the record, here's what the Sec. General should have said. "These are serious charges. I personally know many of the personalities who are accused and my observation has been that they are not capable of such actions. That being said, it is crucial that independent investigations proceed to the conclusions that the facts lead them to. The guilty must be punished, the innocent must be exonerated, justice must be done no matter who it embarrasses, even if it embarrasses me."

Posted by TMLutas at 08:51 PM

August 18, 2004

Wanted: A Department of Anarchy VII

Do we already have a proto-department of anarchy? We just might as a part of OMB. While the Data Quality Act would only do a small subset of what a true DoA would do, it's an important part and something that's in actual law today, not just the fevered imaginings of some blog writer. OMB is an unlikely place for the DoA to grow out of but, like any good bit of anarchy, its very unpredictability is an asset.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:40 PM

July 29, 2004

Return of the General Warrant

One of the original grievances that the american colonies had against George III's government was its penchant for issuing general search warrants (called Writs of Assistance). A judge would issue a warrant for a general area and crown officers could search any place in that area looking for illegalities without any prior cause or suspicion. An awful lot of innocent people were inconvenienced, their possessions disturbed, broken, or turned up missing after such searches.

The general warrant seemed to be making a small comeback in Oshkosh, WI (no permalink) for a time. According to this story people were rousted from their homes without suspicion and their residences searched, with guns being taken under suspicious circumstances.

Fortunately, the Oshkosh police seem to have had a chat with a competent lawyer and apologies are being tendered for undocumented and illegitimate seizure of guns and there the matter is likely to rest.

HT: Clayton Cramer

Posted by TMLutas at 12:16 PM

July 28, 2004

Where do State Courts Get Their Power?

Eugene Volokh chimes in on the constitutionality of jurisdiction stripping and finds that it's probably constitutional but might be a bad idea because state supreme courts might come to conclusions that are aberrant and there is no trumping them in the federal system at that point. According to Prof. Volokh pro-traditional marriage majorities are then out of luck.

But I'm reasonably sure that this is not so, at least not in all cases. First of all, some state supreme courts can be recalled or are subject to election. California's Supreme Court comes to mind. Another remedy is jurisdiction stripping in the state courts. Here is a simple legislative device that should take care of much of what concerns Prof. Volokh on behalf of traditionalists.

The state judicial power shall not extend to interpreting federal constitutional issues that cannot be reviewed by the federal judiciary. In such cases that the Congress has stripped jurisdiction in order to give primacy to the individual states in accordance with the 9th and 10th amendments, only our own Constitution and subsidiary laws shall be considered for judicial purposes.

This language should take care of both the problem of state courts interpreting the US Constitution in aberrant ways without federal appeal remedy and enforcing out of state judgments that do not conform to local law on the subject. In essence, it acts as an firewall against jurisdiction shopping in order to leverage social change on states that do not want it.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:09 PM

The Right is Winning on Education

Here's the Brookings Institute's commentary on John Kerry's education proposals for K-12:

Kerry advocates exempting education spending from [his proposed] cap on discretionary spending by proposing a ten-year $200 billion entitlement to the states for education spending.... Roughly half the total...would be devoted to No Child Left Behind (the signature Bush education law).

One of the most important things that can happen to a partisan initiative championed by a president is to be confirmed by the next president of the opposing party. It's something like the way a boa constrictor tackles a meal, you squeeze down and then hold firm. The problem in education has always been long and ineffective feedback loops

That No Child Left Behind is being confirmed this way shows that over the next generation or so we will see the end of the teacher led war on productive reform. With testing and standards for performance the dead wood of bad theories, bad administrators, and bad teachers are going to retire early or be thrown out. It's not going to be a pretty process and far too many children will still be lost before we're done but even when the federal government changes hands, we're not going to have disastrous levels of backsliding.

That's real news.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:56 AM

July 24, 2004

Where do Federal District Courts Get Their Power?

Josh Chafetz asserts that H.R. 3313 IS NOT CONSTITUTIONAL (his capitalization). His reasoning is all well and good but it does seem to omit any sort of explanation of how US federal courts that are not the Supreme Court get any judicial power whatsoever. If a court is created by statute, the Congress is the body granting jurisdiction, no? And Whatsoever Congress grants, Congress can take away. A court created by Congress, could even be closed up and done away with entirely so what makes this lesser reduction of authority somehow illegitimate?

You could have some sort of argument about the (male) ambassador of the UK getting married to another man and applying for some sort of spousal benefit in Virginia and suing for original jurisdiction remedy in the USSC but that's not what people are worried about here.

The reality is that the judicial power of a subsidiary court to take up a question is either based in the Congressional authorizing statute which lays out their jurisdiction (and thus amendable by act of Congress, like HR 3313) or it flows from the Supreme Court itself, which can only grant to its subordinate bodies what powers it already has. If it can't do something, what Constitutional power does a lesser court have that is denied to the highest judicial body in the US?

If you were to take this argument seriously, what stops the 9th Circuit from hearing appeals outside its territory? The only thing that stops it is the Congressional authorizing statute that says you don't have jurisdiction. But if Congress' assertions of limits on jurisdiction are not legitimate in the case of gay marriage cases, why are they legitimate in the case of territory or other subject matter, like special courts for terrorism, maritime law, etc?

The idea that Congress cannot amend jurisdiction is both ahistorical and simply unworkable. Amendments of jurisdiction according to territory are no different than amendments of jurisdiction according to subject matter and both have been done in the past without major controversy. The major difference is that this measure strips jurisdiction without providing another federal body to take it up. It thus remains in the hands of the states, something that the anti-federalists who demanded the 9th and 10th amendments would no doubt find very satisfying.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:26 PM

Wanted: Department of Anarchy Methods I

Russ Nelson provides a useful device to determine whether a subsidy creates value or destroys it:

As a perfect example of why subsidies are wrong from the start, look at the subsidized bus service between Plattsburg and Watertown (NY). Riders pay $10.30 to ride from Canton to Watertown, and $15.90 from Canton to Plattsburg, but the ride costs $115.

I think that, as penance, Andy should have to ride the bus himself, and whenever somebody tries to get on it, offers them a check for $115 if they'll find another way to get there. Anybody think he won't get any takers? Think anybody will refuse?

Who would do such a good deed, offering users the cash equivalent of the subsidy to a service in order to see how many would take the cash? Nobody would really do it for free. You'd have to make it into a job. And what Department would you put that job into? You couldn't realistically put it in the department offering the subsidy. There would be a strong incentive to sabotage the one subsidy checker to protect the jobs of all the subsidy administrators (and therefore protect the department head's power).

This sort of thing is a perfect fit for a Department of Anarchy. Simply go to the various departments offering subsidies, calculate what the costs are, and on an irregular schedule see if the subsidy is actually worth it. If more than x% take the cash rather than the subsidized service, the subsidy destroys value and should be eliminated.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:04 AM

July 23, 2004

Article 3 Section 2 Comes Alive

Via Outside the Beltway comes notice that the US Congress has been reduced to the use of blunt force instruments to restrain the judiciary. Clause 2 of Article 3, Section 2 of the US Constitution reads as follows:

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

In short, the Congress has always had the power but has never had the courage to limit the judiciary. The judiciary has usually had the good sense to reign in their wilder impulses before Congress gets around to passing an Article 3 limitation law. It looks like the gay marriage issue is going to cross the line.

In a way it's pretty sad. the Exceptions and Regulations clause was always viewed as an "in case of emergency, break glass" type of Congressional power. I'd have hoped never to have to see the day it was used. If it passes, look for more and more political factions to try to replicate it.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:21 PM

July 08, 2004

Wanted: A Department of Anarchy VI

Professor Bainbridge laments that government only grows and thus, Kaus' "try something and dump the failures" is an irresponsible way to vote because nobody governs that way.

As I've said several times before one of the key problems of government reform is to institutionalize reform so that there is a permanent presence in the bureaucratic battlefield that permanently agitates for smaller, more efficient government. The day that we have a proven formula for a successful Department of Anarchy (freedom is always being called anarchy by statists) then Kaus' position is no longer foolish but rather an intriguing strategy for responsible voting. Because I can't figure out how to permalink Kaus, I'll quote him

....[Wait a minute. You gave money to Kerry?-ed. Yes. Doesn't that violate journalistic ethics?--ed. Not mine, as long as I disclose it, which I just did. The danger is that having invested in him, I'll now go soft on him. Don't worry! You think he'll be a failed, Carter-like President--ed. True. But we survived Carter and we'd survive Kerry (though it will be a long, hard slog!). I plan to vote for him because I think a) we need a break* from Bush's strident public global terror war in order to prevent it from becoming a damaging, lifelong West vs. Islam clash--in order to "rebrand" America and digest the hard-won gains we've made in Iraq and Afghanistan (if they even remain gains by next January). Plus, b) it would be nice to make some progress on national health care, even if it's only dialectical "try a solution and find out it doesn't work" progress. I could change my mind--if, for example, I thought Kerry would actually sell out an incipient Iraqi democracy in a fit of "realistic" Scowcroftian stability-seeking (an issue Josh Marshall's recent Atlantic piece doesn't resolve). But I don't intend to agonize like last time.] ... *Note: The first version of this post said we needed a "time out" from Bush's strident global terror war, etc. Several e-mailers point out, correctly, that this is a bad phrase to use, in that it seems to imply a pause in attempts to get at al Qaeda and similar groups. I mean a period of consolidation and lowered swagger and apocalypticism, not a halt in rooting out terror cells, etc. ... 1:51 A.M.

I don't think that we can ever get government to be as efficient as the market in dumping failed ideas (which is one of the reasons why I'm a minarchist and not a socialist) but I think that we can do much better than we currently are doing it and Kaus demonstrates that there's a real demand for some sort of system that does it. A Department of Anarchy would fit the bill nicely. We just have to figure out how to create such a beastie without being neutered by the rest of the government.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:58 PM

June 29, 2004

Trumping the Guantanamo Habeas Ruling

Eugene Volokh worries about enemy litigation as a consequence of the Guantanamo detainees being granted habeas corpus rights. The ruling, as I understand it, can be trumped by legislation and I would do so in a two part law.

1. Deny jurisdiction to lower courts. If the USSC desires enemy combatants to have habeas rights, fine. Let them do the work. By denying jurisdiction to lower courts (a rarely used constitutional power of Congress), the problem of a flood of habeas petitions is limited to the body that created the mess.

2. Define as an impeachable offense the wrongful granting of habeas to combatants. Furthermore, if they're found in future on the battlefield, dead or captured, this shall be considered sufficient proof that they were combatants at time of the habeas hearing.

The power to impeach justices and the power to deny jurisdiction are not areas which are readily addressable by the Court. Since the only ones being impeached under the law would be Supreme Court justices any pronouncement they make has conflict of interest written all over it.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:32 PM

May 04, 2004

Iraqi Psychology

Is there any doubt at this point that the Iraqis will have no inferiority complexes about being able to run the place better than the US? I can still remember predictions that the Iraqis were too passive, that they would only wait for the Americans before they did anything. That there was no taking responsibility among them.

There is nothing in the world more conducive to wanting to take responsibility than current leadership being seen incompetent and heading towards disaster and at the same time being willing to hand over the reigns of power to the locals. Now if only we can survive the transition, we are at least sure that the Iraqis will take charge of their own fate.

When you have a bumper crop of lemons, concentrate on making lemonade.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:08 PM

May 03, 2004

How Regulation Gets Messy, A Primer

Q and O offers this primer on how problems spawn bureaucratic solutions that are neither effective at solving the problem or making very many people happy, but achieve a sort of horrible state of zombie life where they shamble along immune to whatever reformers may do to them, hunting for more victims to destroy.

The commentary says apply it to nationalized healthcare but it's of general use and can be applied anywhere.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:28 PM

May 02, 2004

Welfare Reform Scofflaws

The predictions were that welfare reform would lead to huge increases in child poverty and worsening conditions for the poor. This has turned out not to be the case. In fact, requiring social spending to be linked to real effort to find a job and get off welfare has led to significant economic and social improvement in the lives of what used to be known as the "permanent underclass". But it's not working out everywhere as some jurisdictions do what they can to sabotage the law and allow people to continue their decades long history of taking without giving in return and teaching their children to do the same.

This is eventually going to get broken as jurisdictions that don't trap welfare recipients rack up better records than jurisdictions that do but the entrenched interests will not give up their ideas without a fight.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:29 AM

April 01, 2004

Contemptible Court

"Our Cour System is a Joke" is a sentiment born of frustration, completely lacking in respent, and ladled with a healthy dose of contempt, but if you put a sign saying that on your front lawn, it's not a crime, right?


Judge Haralson, of Jackson county, signed an arrest warrent and had hone Phillip Dean tossed him in jail for contempt, had the sign removed and coerced an apology out of Dean as he literally stood in chains before the judge.

The sign was posted on Dean's own front yard.

Not only was the judge contemptible, but the police who carried out this obviously illegal arrest order share in his shame. The people of Jackson county do have a remedy for this mess. Judge Haralson is apparently an elected official. If they can't find somebody else besides this worm who thinks that jackboots are an appropriate fashion accessory to his black robes, then the people of Jackson County also will be contemptible.

I hadn't made any plans to visit Alabama in the near future, but if something comes up, I'll be steering clear of Jackson County as long as leg irons are the reward of exercising your constitutional right to free speech.

HT: QandO

Posted by TMLutas at 04:45 PM

March 30, 2004

The Revolutionary Net

No doubt there will be an awful lot of outrage over this article at The New Republic and with good reason. There are two problems with the article, the first is in its misunderstanding the net. The second is its misunderstanding dictatorships. First the Internet. We're currently in a space crunch on the Internet, which is what is making it possible, temporarily, to keep track of sites that offer political subversion.

With the adoption of IPv6 by decade's end, the problem of political filtering can be solved by making redirection costs tax deductible for political site redirection. What this means is that if you run an appliance on your network (in your huge public address space that you're never going to fill anyway), the costs of that appliance in bandwidth and electricity and capital costs would be tax deductible.

At that point, any domain, with very innocuous dns entries, can serve as a conduit for political dissent. Sure, the same technology could be used for nefarious purposes to make the Internet safe for pedophiles, but nobody's going to make that tax deductible so the good is very likely to outweigh the bad. Huge address spaces make filtering efforts impractical for speech that is licit in many countries. It's only a temporary architectural artifact that the network can be tracked at all.

Beyond cheap and plentiful redirection, encryption is going to be standard for the network with IPv6. This makes things very uncomfortable for information controllers. They either mandate insecure communication and live with the e-commerce black hole they have created, losing out on millions in transactions, or they accept commercial encryption and thus, the political encryption that will inevitably piggyback onto it.

But the biggest problem in the article is that it downplays the importance of civic society. Falun Gong was completely ignored by the PRC's security forces as a low level threat until they tweaked the noses of Beijing's communist elite by assembling, essentially, the PRC's first flashmob. A certain percentage of civic organizations in a dictatorship will 'go rogue' from the dictatorship's point of view. It is inevitable and completely unpredictable what will set them off. Thus civic organizations have always been highly controlled and heavily penetrated. But in the Internet age, my wife partakes in a worldwide conspiracy of mothers. Most days they talk about breast milk v. formula but some days things get quite a bit more subversive. Romania's a democratic republic, not a dictatorship but the exact same thing can happen in the PRC, Singapore, or any other wired authoritarian state.

They are all growing their civic organizations and this very connectivity will both make their societies better and enable the connectivity that is necessary to create revolution. And it will always come from where we all least expect.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:31 AM

March 26, 2004

Clinton's Al Queda Plan

Let's assume, for a moment, that the Clinton administration did have a secret plan. This plan has long ago been overtaken by events so why not declassify and put it out to the 9/11 commission? Why isn't anybody in the Clinton administration demanding publication of the plan if the plan would prove that they were serious about terrorism? Is there any reason to keep such a thing secret?

Posted by TMLutas at 11:33 PM

March 07, 2004

Liberty Trees

Andrew Sullivan nails one when he comments on the reemergence of Iraqi politics. I speculated that the US is attempting to plant an Iraqi liberty tree instead of creating an american empire back in July of 2003.

Today Sullivan notes:

SISTANI SHIFTS: The violence in Iraq - even the horrifying sectarian mass murders last week - have failed to derail the tortuous political process. That's hugely good news. It's not surprising that there should be last-minute renegotiations, brinksmanship and the like in forging a new constitution in a fissiparous country. That's called politics. It hasn't been practised in Iraq for many, many years. Its emergence - however imperfect - is wonderfully good news. Instead of lamenting this wrangling, we should be encouraged. What we're seeing is something you simply don't see anywhere else in the Arab-Muslim world: negotiation trumping violence. This isn't a path to democracy. In important ways, it is democracy. The first true post-war victory is ours - and, more importantly, Iraq's.

For people stuck in the paradigm of empire and pax americanus such brinksmanship is evidence of failure. For those who think in terms of planting liberty trees, (which seems to include Sullivan) the exact same evidence is a success. Does anybody want to place bets on what US political factions fall into each of the above paradigms?

Posted by TMLutas at 11:40 PM

February 29, 2004

Who Gipped Kerry

Prof. Bainbridge is shedding crocodile tears over Michael Ovitz's supposed stiffing of John Kerry. While Janet Jackson gets a $2,137 meal with Ovitz, Kerry just gets a $137 meal.

This might be trouble, but not like you probably think. Kerry isn't getting stiffed, he's possibly slightly over the limit. The Senate bans gifts that exceed $50 with a $100 yearly limit. If anybody gipped Kerry it's the people who think that a Senator can be bought with a meal at Spago.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:39 AM

Dust off the 3rd amendment II

Toyota's apparently working on the idea of a resident chip snitch in our cars and has shown off such a device in one of its concept cars. Fortunately, a great many ideas do not make it out of this stage but a great many ideas do. As I've said in the past such devices are a very obvious 3rd amendment violation. They are not a search, they house a parasitic chip in your vehicle (or other bit of your property) that serves the interests of the state instead of the interests of the owner.

There is also a great deal of risk of this sort of thing in the home with the introduction of trusted computing as advocates for that sort of system also create a bit of a home snitch that mandates a government presence monitoring your actions.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:30 AM

February 24, 2004

Cyber Search Abuses

Samizdata has a useful article highlighting an amazingly broad search that resulted in the seizure of an entire data center. The problem is that there are likely many innocent users who were not included in the search but who are likely going to have their personal and corporate secrets put under government scrutiny based on the coincidence of being in the same 'data neighborhood' as an accused criminal.

Here's my comment on the Samizdata board:

The unanswered question here is how much of an obligation to the innocent does the FBI have to not interrupt their daily activities. I think that this duty is quite large and there were technical measures that the FBI could have taken to lessen the disruption to innocent parties.

In a seizure of this nature, I certainly could see taking a server off-line for a couple of hours, copying its drives, and putting it back up. I think that the police should have an estimate of the order of magnitude of data that needs to be copied and that they have a requirement to bring sufficient rapid copy data storage on site when they execute such warrants so that such copies can be made.

I further believe that the FBI should not have access to the data thus copied. I believe a judge should be appointed (not the original search warrant judge) and should grant access based on user permissions with each account being a separate warrant. XYZ account did this? sure, you get access to all data he had read/write/execute permissions on. ABC account isn't on the original warrant, you have to make a new probable cause presentation before you see the first byte. Once the crime is adjudicated, dropped, or a certain time limit passes the data in state custody has to be wiped.

Thus, the search fails in two ways. It was unnecessarily crude in inconveniencing the innocent and thus, unreasonable. It is also broad beyond imagining, a classic updating of the old colonial area searches that created the 4th amendment in the first place.

No doubt there is a crying need for legislative intervention to manage this properly.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:30 PM

February 11, 2004

Can We Pass It All?

Andrew Sullivan opines>:

My agenda: means-test social security, scale back Medicare, abolish agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare and move toward a flat tax that the super-rich cannot evade. That's one good answer to the Dems' itching to raise taxes again. We can do it all - if only we stop wasting so much on people and special interests (of left and right) who do not need the help.

In a theoretical world, AS is right. Where he goes off the rails is that he is completely ignoring the problem of the current makeup of the Senate and House of Representatives. With such narrow margins, every vote can be held hostage by a very small number of legislators who must be paid off in pork to gain their vote. I do not see any way around that fact. A closely divided Congress will have this dynamic no matter who will be in the White House and no matter what their agenda is. The only cure is to either change the partisan makeup of the members of Congress so that party discipline can push through more votes without promising pork or change the voting rules so the current balance is not so closely divided. The former is much easier than the latter and the people will have an opportunity to solve the problem in November.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:40 PM

February 10, 2004

Serbia Anarchy Watch

A charming note remarks the surprising coincidence that Serbia had no government in December and also the highest economic growth in five years.

But how was January?

Unfortunately, the Serbia anarchy watch will not go on much longer as they now have a functioning parliament.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:17 AM

February 09, 2004

Patriot Act Catharsis


Yes, I support the war on terror. Yes, I think that tightening up the money laundering regulations is a good idea in wartime when the enemy is multinational terrorism. But does Citibank have to be so bloody disorganized about what they will or will not take as proof of business address? Citibank has my banking records dating back since I was a teenager, that's a decade and a half of customer relationship data.

My wife's only banking relationship with any bank has been with Citibank and that's about five years. All we want is a simple business checking account as my wife is going to do some charity medical work and will have an office in our church to do basic prescription writing and low level primary care. We're not paying for space, we're not paying any utilities, and the local branch banker won't deviate one iota from her check list even though she has the power to do so. She doesn't even bother to check our banking records to see the longstanding (and lucrative for them) relationship we have with them.

The Patriot Act must go. The day after the freaking war is over, it's got to go.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:34 PM

Letter to the Paper III

I just wrote NRO's Bruce Bartlett on the subject of Medicare costs. He has an article on the budget up:

Right now the taxpayer is on the hook to treat elderly heart disease via medicare much as it has been for decades. Up until this administration the only thing we paid for was surgery, by far the more expensive of the treatments. Now that we have a drug benefit, we can encourage medical management which is both better from a patient perspective and is less expensive. But classic medicare and the medicare drug benefit are two different budget items. How is it we can be spending massive new monies on medical treatment without having a lowering of expenses for surgical treatment?

I smell a Washington accounting mess. Would you address this?

Posted by TMLutas at 02:43 PM

February 08, 2004

Russian Stability

There are two roads to stability. The first is to just rule forever. This is the authoritarian model and creates all sorts of problems because of two little inconvenient facts. People die and political ambition is not limited to the current ruler. The second road to stability is the western democratic model of competing schools of thought around a national consensus with deep political bench strength. This has the disadvantage of being messy and very hard to quickly and broadly shift in a new direction.

An article over at SiberianLight over a Russian constitutional initiative to allow Putin to serve as President until 2018 got me thinking once again about these two models. The authoritarian model is tremendously weak in the transitions of power. There is no guarantee of continuity between authoritarians and no really good succession strategy. For every Kim Jong Il, there are dozens of Nicu Ceausescus and Uday Husseins.

The problem is when the national consensus is centered around horrible, self-destructive ideas. The bickering and back-and-forth semi-stasis of the bench model is a good way to lead the country down the drain if change cannot be effected fast enough.

So, getting back to Russia, which model is best seems to be a hybrid, starting at the authoritarian model and morphing to the school/bench model as the authoritarian moves the political class' consensus to the general area that marks long term viability for the nation. This does not answer the question of whether the term lengthening idea is a good initiative or not, but it does give some good pointers on how to question Putin and try to hold him accountable to keeping to that road of traveling from de-facto authoritarianism to school/bench.

President Putin:

1) If, God forbid, you were suddenly struck down, are you comfortable with the level of leadership you would leave behind in all major parties that no matter who won, Russia would be led by a responsible figure that the nation could survive? If no, what is your plan to take us out of this dangerous situation?

2) In your opinion, is the center of gravity of the Russian political class' opinion in a place that would promote the long-term growth of Russia or do you believe that significant intellectual leadership is still required to institutionalize ideas that will make Russia prosper for the long haul?

3) Are you satisfied with the level of civic-mindedness in the average Russian citizen? Do you think they have gotten enough beyond the communist attitude of waiting for solutions from above or do you think they need to become more involved in local civic life as part of what Edmund Burke called "little platoons" that organize to make life better? And what are you going to do to further encourage such civic organizations?

SiberianLight thinks that Russia today reminds him of Chile. Hopefully, it will have an even better ending.

HT: The Argus

Posted by TMLutas at 11:04 AM

Intelligence Commission Membership Picking

This NY Times opinion piece entirely misses the point. If this commission were entirely populated by former heads of intelligence services and Bush I cabinet officers, the cry wouldn't be a lack of stature but that it was obviously a coverup.

You can nit pick the formation of any commission in the US because the US has such a deep bench of political and government talent that there are always credible alternatives. This particular commission may or may not be the "best" personnel possible but it doesn't need to be. It's certainly in the top 10% of the possible members and that means it'll be good, fair, and serve the country well.

And that's all that's really needed.

HT: Balloon Juice

Posted by TMLutas at 09:39 AM

February 06, 2004


Ralph Peters enlarges on my previous remarks on our Human Intelligence (HUMINT). He takes a much more negative view but we're both on the same track, who exactly was it that caused the intelligence agencies to require a 13 year rebuilding plan in HUMINT, of which we are 55% done (we're in the 7'th year, according to George Tenet).

I disagree some with Ralph Peters in that I don't think a 55% progress report is passing, or even close to acceptable for the USA. We're improving, and that's the message I took away from Tenet's admission but it's a self-admitted failing grade. You can't expect, nor would I forgive, a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) who too boldly waved red flags and announced to our enemies that come on in the waters fine, our spies are mostly greenhorns and incompetents. That's just asking for trouble. But the 13 year rebuilding plan is sufficient notice for those with eyes and ears to note what is going on.

Most of all it is a call to not go into the field with machete drawn and silver platter ready to sport heads. If we're in the middle of a planned rebuilding cycle, this is something that needs strong oversight but not cries for blood on the editorial pages.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:23 PM

Curing the WMD

That's Washington Monument Defense, not Weapons of Mass Destruction, though both are used in much the same way. The latter keeps invasion at bay, the former, budget cuts. Both are deployed at politicians eager to maintain their independence.

The WMD which Master of None's Michael Williams terms Washington Monument Syndrome is deployed every time popular will exhibits a preference for budget cuts. The most painful and visible cuts possible are adopted first in order to cure the people of such extravagant ideas as having a smaller government. Budget cuts hurt is the message and the real message is that the politicians will make them hurt if the plebes show up at the gates. Of course, publicly the message is that closing down the Washington Monument was the only spare money available in the budget.

The cure is simple, if unimplemented. Budget information needs to be accessible by the people, both revenues and expenses in as detailed a form as the legislature gets it (aside from secret expenditures, of course). Collaborative software needs to be created that will allow people to present alternatives to the current budget to achieve particular savings levels or to sign on to other citizen sponsored plans. Once savings are found and people show popular support for particular cuts that would not be as painful, politicians will have lost their excuse to use the WMD to defend their pork expenditures.

The beauty is that lots of people know exactly where the pork is hidden in their little corner of the world, whether that's geographical area or functional expertise. Given an opportunity to expose it, there would be a great deal of energy expended on exposing these unnecessary expenditures to the light of day.

All that's needed is for citizen software writers to create such a system and for government IT people to adopt an open standard for sharing budget figures. This is not rocket science. It's much easier than that.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:49 PM

Damn the Nation and Jump to Conclusions

When George Tenet asked for patience and forbearance on the part of the american people to wait for the actual facts to come in he was warning against exactly the kind of irresponsible bloviating in today's NY Times editorial.

Sadly, the NY Times entirely misses the point. It ignores reports that indicate that it is reprising its cold war "useful idiot" role and plunges ahead, unwilling to heed the warning signs that maybe it's being played for a sucker and it should moderate its stance to take into account that possibility. Perhaps it will be luckier than in previous times when it has given more credence to those opinions it found comfortable than those opinions that were ultimately found to be correct about the nature of this nation's enemies.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:53 AM

February 05, 2004

Status of Human Intelligence Branch

More Tenet:

When I came to the CIA in the mid-'90s, our graduating class of case officers was unbelievably low. Now, after years of rebuilding, our training programs and putting our best efforts to recruit the most talented men and women, we are graduating more clandestine officers than at any time in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

It will take an additional five years to finish the job of rebuilding our clandestine service, but the results so far have been obvious.

This is the best indication that I've seen that this intelligence inquiry issue is seen as deadly serious by the CIA. To say that we're five years away from rebuilding our HUMINT (Human Intelligence) to a decent level is the nearest I've ever seen to a bend over and drop your pants moment.

One thing that I think we should all demand from any intelligence review commission is what the heck happened that decimated HUMINT to the point that you need a 13 year program to build it back up? Have all of those destructive inputs ceased?

Posted by TMLutas at 11:12 PM

February 03, 2004

Clean Up Timing

There's a lot being written now about the US intelligence situation and the need for resignations and reform. Here's a typical offering by Peter Brookes, a former intelligence agent. In fact, its better than most because Mr. Brookes actually leaves open the possibility that our current state of knowledge is not complete, that before the ISG finishes its work, we shouldn't come to final conclusions. But what could be made better in the article, and is utterly lacking in most such articles is any sense of a time line of when it would be appropriate for changes to be launched. That would be after a full investigation of the causes of the failure and a comprehensive plan to make our human intelligence systems as good as our overt military is.

By this point, people at the CIA, NSC, and the rest of the intelligence apparatus are hunkering down like a battered wife and waiting for the kicks and punches to come flying their way. The problem is that there seems to be no sense of the history of how our intelligence services got into their current jam. Without some sort of reasoned planning process that creates a consensus within which our agents can operate fearlessly we are going to continue to be surprised by phantom threats we see too easily and all too real threats that we ignore to our national peril. It would be nice to see such wisdom come from both parties. Some days, it would be nice to see it coming from one party.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:15 AM

February 02, 2004

The Benefits of Patience

Michael Ledeen's got a great record on advocating freedom in the mideast. In NRO he writes that he personally knows of some stories about WMD movement to Iran that were never properly investigated (evidence that was refused to be seen and locations that our people refused to inspect). This is the stuff of nightmares for information ministers and press secretaries, all the foundations necessary for conspiracy theories that will last for decades.

This is just one more example of why it is necessary to have an actual report, an actual detailed accounting of what was examined, what was rejected, and why was it rejected. There may be perfectly good reasons why the evidence that Ledeen is aware of was not true. But we don't have the report. We don't have the official side to the story. All we have is an ungodly urge to rush to conclusions and start firing people.

Could we possibly take things seriously and have the patience to do things right? Are we really so short of entertainment that we need to botch investigations to give room for conspiracy theories to thrive? The chips need to fall where they may for the nation to be served well but they should at least fall first.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:34 PM

Getting Back Into the Spy Business

I'm a technology kind of guy. But part of doing my job right is to properly judge when a job is better done in a low tech instead of high tech way. In some way's it's the start of any design job I do, "should I be doing this at all". Unfortunately, this is a question that doesn't seem to have been properly handled in the spying business. The always insightful StrategyPage has an article on the subject entitled "Why American Spies No Longer Exist".

Alas, in the 1970s and 80s, the U.S. Congress decided that it was beneath the United States to deal with criminals and unsavory people when engaged in espionage. Spy satellites are so much cleaner. Plus they are made in the USA, by American workers. None of this exporting millions in cash to bribe some guy with a long rap sheet, who happens to party with some Baath Party munchkins who hear a lot of interesting conversations. You simply can't trust people like that. These amazing satellite photos, on the other hand… That's how everyone got snookered. Establishing enough spies in Iraq to have exposed the WMD scam would have taken more money, talent and dirty dealing than most governments are willing to tolerate. And then there's the media risk. One of your spies gets ticked off and bumps into someone from the Washington Post. Who needs the headaches? It's easier to deal with being ignorant. If no one else knows what's going on, where's the harm? 

I had been thinking of writing something along the same lines but I would have based it on the most extreme and recent of the spy eviscerating bonehead moves, a Clinton administration executive order I recall passing that made recruiting spies with unsavory connections illegal. I couldn't find the text of the thing so I put it on the back burner.

But the Clinton administration was only the culmination of a very big problem that has spanned decades and has afflicted spying policies conducted by both parties. The temptation to rely on technical resources over building human networks has led us to our current, dangerously impotent state of human intelligence.

The real cure is to forge a consensus that spying, though unpleasant and certainly not clean, is a capability that we cannot do without. That consensus has to span beyond the elected officials of both parties to the media and the public at large. How to get there from here is a mystery, but it is a mystery we should all be seriously thinking about.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:03 AM

January 27, 2004

Approving Constitutions

Steven Den Beste is shocked and appalled over this article describing referenda as a gamble that does not guarantee a positive result.

I'm inclined not to be so panicky. I think, instead, that both methods of passing judgment are flawed, though SDB's favored solution of referenda is closer to right than the EU elite class's reliance on parliamentary passage.

The flaw with referenda is that it is the voice of the mob and the mob can be misled by slick confidence men into making unwise decisions. This is less true than it was in 1789 at the passage of the US Constitution but it still does have some truth to it. But politicians are often elected not for their judgment but for their ability to milk the state teat for all its worth on behalf of their constituents and damn the national interest. Can such a politician be seriously relied upon to do what is right and good in the case of a momentous decision like the adoption of a constitution? I don't think so. They are at least as flawed an arbiter of such questions as the mass of people and even more dangerous.

You can see the bribes offered to the people. Their mass distribution means that they will probably be discovered, before or shortly after the referendum. But politicians who are money oriented can be swayed in much quieter ways.

The solution is a third system which is to convoke a constitutional convention, electing people with the sole task of passing judgment on the constitution. No doubt that this will include a good portion of the political elite but a "Senator Pothole" who concentrates on road repair and other such practicalities will likely be left off the list selected by the people. Other figures who are important intellectually but usually are not tempted to enter the political realm might also become delegates. Laurence Tribe and Robert Bork will never make it to the legislature but I can see them making it to a constitutional convention.

Constitutions are special documents and deserve special consideration. Just ramming an approval through a national legislature is not satisfying but neither is the blunt yes or no of a referendum. There is a third way out but nobody in Europe seems to be interested.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:56 AM

January 23, 2004

The Citizen's Burden of Choice

The New York Times has a particularly dumb op-ed by Barry Schwartz complaining about choice. The effect he describes is real. I've seen cases where US choice over toilet paper provoked physical illness in people direct from Ceausescu's Romania. They got over it but there is something to the idea of too much choice.

Of course, you could always go to a store that stocked fewer choices. Gate keeping is a value added service and you could live your life blithely ignorant of the 80% of excluded brands and merely choose among the top three or five for any particular need as decided by the gatekeeper you... choose.

But this fairly obvious (to me) observation that there can be too much choice is being bent to unnatural ends in a condemnation of government program reform as championed by the Bush administration. The threat to the left (and a right-wing professor at Swarthmore published in the NYT is about as plausible as a pink elephant) is that choice implies judging performance and judging performance on these programs is deadly to their continued political survivability.

The political class has failed. They should have chosen wisely and pruned back programs that did not work. Now citizens have to take up that burden of choice that our representative have demonstrated for decades that they are incapable of properly exercising. Those who choose wisely, quickly, will reap the greatest gains. But even those who make initial mistakes will take the feedback of other people's choices and move out of the old, failed, counterproductive choices.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:56 AM

January 22, 2004

Spoils System Problems

While I'm not a fan of the civil service system because it introduces a mandarin class the spoils system has its own idiocies. This sort of bad service was what original led to the creation of the civil service system.

A lot of these positions that are not obviously political but are held politically are held as non-obvious political payoffs in exchange for support. This was the entire genesis of the Travelgate scandal, the need to find additional slots to reward supporters. Presidential travel is a political function and serves at the pleasure of the President so Clinton had the right to fire them at whim, just as the Senate Democrats had the right to fire the preceding computer tech support personnel. Who gets that contract is a straight party line vote, always. It's not even generally voted on, the chairman just gets his way.

The reason for Travelgate being a scandal was the misuse of authority, consisting in character assassination of the previous personnel. The scandalous incompetence of the Democrat Senate leadership who viewed political jobs as more important than their own computer security has, to this point, remained a quiet scandal.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:03 PM

January 20, 2004

The Mandarinate Strikes Back II

It's not just State that suffers a mandarin problem. The Weekly Standard's article, Showstoppers is showing how some parts of the National Security Complex (DoD, NSC, Justice, CIA) has become unmoored from proper civilian control irrespective of party. Glenn Reynolds, Donald Sensing, Moe Lane, and Wretchard have their own commentary.

The fundamental problem is that on the one hand, if we have the right to change all these people based on elections, that right will likely get abused in a manner familiar to US political historians, the spoils system (to the victor belong the spoils). This lowers effectiveness and increases partisan rancor. Believe me, you haven't seen vicious until you've seen the great swaths of government workers fight an election because their jobs are actually at stake. The battle to keep line B in NY State during Pierre Rinfret's disastrous run is as close as I've seen and it's just a pale shadow of what would be a regular occurrence in a spoils system.

The other hand is what we've got now. Bureaucrats, freed from the fear of political change become careerists and eventually get their own ideas of how things should be run. It's a much subtler poison to the body politic but it's also harder to rule out. CEOs with experience changing corporate culture are about as close as you can get to the required job description for a Cabinet Secretary needed to fix an out of control mandarin type culture but it's not the same thing. The inability to fire due to civil service protections makes the job much harder at the Cabinet level than it is in the corporate world.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:56 AM

December 18, 2003

Could Have, Should Have

Now, things are going to get interesting. Governor Kean has uncorked the king of all stink bombs and said that there are major players in the current administration who should be fired for their role in failing to stop the events of 9/11. Over the next month, public commission sessions will flesh out the case for failure and personnel change in the administration.

In 2001 and 2002 I recall repeatedly counseling patience and calm to a lot of overheated people who wanted immediate, mass firings. Well, now we're going to have a report. Now we have a blueprint to map out the failure properly. Now we're going to be able to judge properly without descending into a government crippling witch hunt. Now is the time for personnel changes that will enhance our fight in the War on Terror by improving the team leading it.

The report needs to be finished up, released, and the public needs to know the cast of incompetents and as much evidence as can prudently be made public to verify that this is not a rogue commission. I hope that the Bush administration will keep its priorities in order and be loyal to the people, and not their employees and coworkers. That's the reasonable justified expectation of every patriotic american.

HT to the Drudge Report.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:22 PM

December 13, 2003

Bush's Koolaid

Some people in the conservative and libertarian camps despair needlessly over George W. Bush. Donald Sensing's recent post predicting that he's the last generation of free american is a case in point. What they miss is that the Republicans have been brewing up a batch of small government Koolaid for decades and Bush is really the first President to get america to drink it down.

Let's take a look at the Department of Education. Reagan went in and there were noises about abolishing it. Well, it's still here though a lot of people politely pretended to imbibe. Was that progress? I say only in the most limited sense of clearing the field so the real work could get started.

Let's look at Social Security. Newt Gingrich went in and talked about privatization and the withering away of the old system. Did he actually get anything passed on the subject? With less charm than Reagan, people didn't even bother to pretend to drink as they poured the stuff into the nearest potted plant. Again, the answer is no real progress legislatively but the gradualist meme was introduced.

Now we have Bush who is not talking about ending things at all but instead is focusing on creating metrics for publicly measuring success and failure in education (no child left behind), health care (medicare reform), and, if reelected, pensions (pension choice). He's already got two down and will likely get the third in a new term.

If you have faith in your convictions as a small government conservative, you have to believe that all these success metrics will loudly proclaim, in a faux sort of market, the failure of the command and control government solution. This sets up two favorable dynamics for a future small government president:

1. People will be fleeing the command and control solutions as they figure out that it's a bad deal for them personally. This will be a majority of the voting public

2. The residue that remain will not need the universality of the current systems with their high overheads. You can restructure it into something that would strongly resemble a conventional charity and eventually spin it off into a charity equivalent of Fannie Mae. Give it an appropriate endowment so that 'the politicians can't rob from the poor to pay for other programs'.

To get to this point small government advocates had to get the Democrats to drink the Koolaid. Reagan couldn't do it, neither did Newt. Bush did. The main problem with Bush is that he's crab walking and that's confusing people as to whether he's really going forward or back. But it's that crab walk that has convinced enough Democrats into thinking that maybe they have a shot at winning the next round. Don't bet on it if Bush has anything to say about it. The truth is the best chance the Democrats have is disheartened conservatives and libertarians ceding the field and letting leftists win the crucial next round.

Buck up, gear up, and get ready for 2k5.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:09 PM

Policing the Rights Police

Steven Den Beste's recent article on the human rights groups popped off a thought that Amnesty Internationa, Human Rights Watch and the rest should properly be thought of as private, specialized police. They police the world for violations of human rights treaties and conventions. Now if you translated their behavior into the behavior of a normal policeman walking the beat, what would that look like and how good a career would that cop have?

That hypothetical beat cop would:

1. Selectively enforce the law in terms of arrests to please those who sign his paycheck
2. In terms of warnings that do not matter, he'd be even handed.
3. In terms of conflicts between those hated by his paymaster and those who are a subject of indifference, there would be only some arrests (of the participants hated by his paymaster) and the other participants would go scott free, or if there was sufficient protest, a warning would be issued to them.

So what would you do with a policeman like this in your city? Even if he was locking away people you despised preferentially, would you be happy with his performance?

Posted by TMLutas at 11:23 AM

December 08, 2003

Removing the Defenses of the Welfare State I

Michael Barone has an interesting column on George W. Bush's redefinition of conservatism. He forgets that this redefinition already has a label, "compassionate conservatism", but has latched onto something very important. The essence of compassionate conservatism is not some triangulation or verbal fudge that works well in the electoral process (though it does work well at election time). The essence is injecting choice and accountability into each of our individual relationships with various government programs.

What he doesn't cover is the next step. Having multiple choices implies that better solutions have the right to compete and win support and accountability implies that wasteful programs that don't get the job done have to expect to be shut down when there are better solutions available. Over the long haul this is the death of the welfare state.

Conservative ideology is against state solutions not because conservatives are hard hearted but because their compassion includes an expectation that problems actually be solved, not deferred or hidden away. Government solutions are not often the best option to solving problems and so modern american conservatives tend to like their governments to be small, responsive where they're the best solution, and keeping their nose out of areas where they can't constructively contribute to a solution.

The problem has been that an entire class of programs has been constructed in such a way that choice has been identified as an immoral lapse in social solidarity. Accountability has been associated with heartless cruelty. These two measures have made it virtually impossible to reform these programs. Removing these two defenses enables the normal correctives of our free society to start to work. If choice and accountability are truly installed, a temporary tactical setback of larger public expenditures now are well worth the strategic victory of making entitlements be 'normal' programs that are judged by how well they solve problems compared to alternatives and when they fail, can be abolished in favor of better solutions.

The only question really is whether choice and accountability are real changes that are now built into these new systems. For me, the jury's still out on that one.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:25 PM

December 04, 2003

Thomas Friedman Gets It Right

The NY Times' most famous observer of the Middle East has just endorsed a moderate Islamist Republic on virtually the same grounds that I have done so previously. Going back to the lessons of Federalist #10, it would be even better if the Kurds and Sunni Arabs had their own Sistani, or that each religious/ethnic faction had several of them.

Only one quibble, depending on a person is not a wise thing in constitution writing. If we depended on always having a George Washington, I doubt the US would have ended up with the Constitution that has served us so well the past two centuries. Sistani will die, as we all do and the next generation should not have to depend on an unbroken line of virtuous men to safeguard their freedom.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:55 PM

October 30, 2003

Let the Judges Defend Themselves

Like most consensual political systems, the US has a lot of internal rules that operate by unwritten agreement. There is no formal obligation to do a great many things. These rules often arise from the fact that peaceful though we all are, we all hold potential daggers to each others throats. We all have the power to make things thoroughly unpleasant for a great many other people.

The Senate runs very much by these unwritten codes and one of the less obvious exchanges is the idea that judicial nominees will keep their mouths shut in exchange for Senators acting as something of a nonpartisan employee search committee ratifying the administration's choice unless there is some objective defect in the judge which would make him bad for the country. In formal language, this is called advise and consent. Oh well, so much for that.

In the ever increasing bad faith of the judicial nominating process, one of the daggers that has not been drawn is the increasingly ridiculous restriction on the free speech of the nominees. In the two years that Miguel Estrada was pummeled by liberal Senators and liberal interest groups, he was not permitted to defend himself other than by answering direct questions put to him by Senators. In a system that at least maintains a pretense of fairness, this is a reasonable restriction. Judges normally should be seen as dispassionate arbiters. But there is a line past which it is not only personally cruel but downright injurious to the health of the Republic for the best defender of a nominee's record, the nominee himself, to be barred from responding to scurrilous charges that he's not black enough, not hispanic enough, or is otherwise unacceptable to the US mainstream even when he wrote or voted with the majority on a particular case.

There is all sorts of talk about a 'nuclear option' to change the rules of the Senate and kill the judicial filibuster. Before going nuclear on the Senate's rules, might it not serve the process better to try free speech?

Posted by TMLutas at 11:39 AM

October 28, 2003

Humiliation Solved: A Republic, If You Can Keep It

Steven Vincent has a guest comment on National Review Online in which he covers the subject of Iraqi humiliation. It seems that resentment is seriously breaking out in Iraq. From the article:

To offer one example: At a small social gathering in Baghdad recently, a woman expressed great excitement over the freedom in her life occasioned by the fall of Saddam. In the same breath, however, she added, "but I hate the occupation of my country so much I fantasize about shooting a U.S. soldier." When I suggested a link between U.S. soldiers and Saddam's demise, she replied, "I know that — and you can't imagine how it humiliates me."

But the solution is easy, if unexamined. People say that a fish doesn't generally notice the water he swims in, it's just there, unexamined. The hard work of creating the US is eclipsed by the harder work of maintaining and increasing its perfection. Dr. Franklin said it best when asked what sort of government the founding fathers had given the US "A republic, if you can keep it" was his reply. Founding the US was one generation's pride. Keeping it is every generation's.

One thing should be noted. Franklin's famous comment came after the 2nd government's founding. The US had a little talked about first run that was, all in all, not working. The Articles of Confederation simply didn't work and six years after the 1783 Treaty of Paris formalized US independence, were scrapped and replaced by the US Constitution. Iraqis can do one better than the US merely by getting their first post-Saddam Constitution right enough that it can be adjusted by amendment, not by scrapping it and starting fresh less than a decade later.

Will Iraqi legislators pummel each other in their new parliament? It happens in Taiwan today. In the first generation post independence, it was so common in the US that there were specific pugilistic rules drawn up to regulate the practice.

Iraq's founding document will likely not have some of the major flaws that the US Constitution had at start. There will be no 3/5ths of people, no slavery, no indentured servitude.

There is plenty of opportunity for Iraq to surpass the US' achievements in freedom and self government but one thing that they might not understand that is vital. Every generation has the opportunity to sell its freedom for a mess of pottage. It is every generation's pride that they refuse to do so.

Nothing the United States of America can do will keep Iraqis free if they choose not to be. A people can always, can always sell their liberty. It is inevitable that outsiders are impotent in this sort of transaction. If they choose to live in freedom, they have the chance to become a beacon of light for all arabs, showing what free arabs can do. That would be a worthy addition to the story of the heirs of Mesopotamia.

And it is something absolutely, utterly impossible for the US to accomplish.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:03 PM

September 25, 2003

Wanted: a Department of Anarchy III

Jennifer Roback Morse has an interesting article on NRO outlining 10 ideas for the next Governor of California. What interests me right now is #8:

8. Create a California Sunset Commission that would systematically review the continued relevance and performance achievements of 20 percent of all state programs annually.

As the kids would say, "Duh."

This is my previously advocated Department of Anarchy in another form. One improvement I would make is that the Department/Commission should be required to issue one of three ratings:

1. The program has improved the problem it was created to solve. The consequences of this would be a continuation of policy

2. The program has neither improved nor made the problem worse. The consequences of this would be an automatic five year process for sunsetting the program. A simple legislative majority would be able to override this judgment.

3. The program has actually made the problem worse. The consequences of this rating would be a two year sunset in order to give time to create a better answer and redeploy resources in a way that wouldn't make things even worse. Again, the legislature could (but why would they?) override the recommendation through the normal legislative process.

By creating an institution devoted to not only evaluating the quality of government solutions but also armed with the power to do something about it, we'd reverse the ratchet effect of stupid government solutions creating pressure for further government intervention and pouring good money after bad down the rathole.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:19 PM

September 11, 2003

Wanted: a Department of Anarchy II

I wrote earlier about the idea of organizing a specific body of the US government (frankly just about all governments could use one) that would be dedicated solely to the proposition of turning government functions over to private industry. Now that I've read this article over at National Review Online, I can only say that we need such a thing now more than ever.

It was a simple idea that the Budget Committee had. Go to all the other committees and ask them to identify 1% of their expenditures that might be wasted and deserved further scrutiny. They named a deadline of September 2 for responses. Fewer than half the committees answered by that deadline.

The idea that neither party in the legislature would bother to even try to identify waste, fraud, and abuse is just disgusting. It's a mockery of the hard labor of taxpayers to create the wealth that these politicians throw around with such abandon.

For shame.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:37 PM

An Accidental Experiment in Freedom

Hat tip to James Taranto's Best of the Web who notes Mayor Eruviel Avila Villegas' innovative anti-corruption initiative. The Mayor is eliminating official bribery by radically downsizing the number of petty crimes that are available to extort money over. The first target has been non-criminal traffic and parking citations (drunk driving and other dangerous behavior incidents still draw the police). So far, the experiment is working and a radical experiment of freedom is born, not as classical liberal experiment but as a desperate measure to pry society's official wolves out of the people's wallets.

Next up? Building permits.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:20 PM

September 04, 2003

Truth and Lies, a Libertarian Conundrum

A month ago, I wrote about a dilemma facing the Bush administration's prosecution of the War on Terror. Yesterday, The Agitator got around to addressing the issue and he's not happy with the idea of anything but full, immediate disclosure. His fire is mainly aimed at Randy Barnett but what he's disagreeing with is an instance where Prof. Barnett was referring to me over at NRO's the Corner.

"I'm always amazed at how willing otherwise sound libertarians are to cut government slack in times of war", he remarks. And that's really the nub of the problem, he just can't see the difference between war and peace. A great deal of the libertarian ethic, the libertarian tradition rests on truth telling. A good case can be made that in some way or another, it all rests on it.

Libertarianism holds that we are as we are as individuals and the State should not club us down for it but we should persuade each other to fashion a better society. We are drawn to capitalism, not because we are obsessed with money or economic gain, but because free markets are the most honest of economic arrangements, giving value for value for the betterment of all parties (though later, some may regret their choices). Libertarian political instincts tend to be uncomfortable with subterfuge as well, which is why you don't see the sort of cross-endorsement for patronage deals that, for example, eventually destroyed the Liberal party in NY State.

At every stage, at every turn, there are special pleaders saying this bit of coercion, that bit of deceit, is justified. 99 times out of a hundred there are real life examples of how to get similar or superior results honestly. And in that hundredth instance, almost every single time there is a strong suspicion that if we were just smart enough, wise enough, had good enough tools, we could figure out how to do without coercion in those instances too.

The number of special pleadings an educated libertarian has to concede haven't been sorted out can be counted on your fingers. But two of the big ones are war and foreign policy.

The Agitator asks why some libertarians cut the government slack in these cases. I can't speak for others but I can say that my motivation is simple, that I've read, studied, and examined military history and military affairs enough to understand that imposing specific, special rules on government conduct during war that relax the normal restrictions is not simply one policy option among many, it is the only option in a war for national survival. Make no mistake, that's where we are right now.

Deception plays a great part in warfare and can range from the tactical misdirection of changing a ships course unpredictably to avoid torpedo strikes, to the actual landing point for the invasion of France in WW II to large strategic deceptions where mutually exclusive treaties are signed and nobody is really sure which will be honored when war is declared.

But this does not mean that we've sold our birthright of freedom for a mess of pottage labeled security. Patriotic libertarians need to check and double check to see that the new rules are temporary, that the state will not only not stay fat and corpulent (for war is the health of the state) but will be set for an even bigger reductions after the war passes. Furthermore, the most important thing that libertarians must be on guard against is that the war is not lengthened unnecessarily, that the threat does not become a boogie man that is used to scare us from taking up our rights in full measure.

This is a very difficult task, a dance on the edge of a knife blade and one that free societies have traditionally not managed to pull off. This is the great test of our generation. I can only hope that we succeed where others have failed before us.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:02 PM

September 02, 2003

The Mandarinate Strikes Back

Steven Den Beste has an excellent article out on the problems the US is facing with its State Department. I happen to prefer the label mandarin class as a descriptor for them as they (and their co-mandarins in other government departments) only formally subscribe to the policies of the government of the day. When the government of the day happens to agree with the mandarin class, everything is fine and dandy. When conflicts arise, the mandarinate strikes back, attacking the government they are sworn to serve and continuing, as much as possible, in their own policy preferences.

This [Ed. by which I mean the US mandarinate] is nothing that the Founding Fathers ever envisioned and is a system completely at odds with the idea that the People rule. It is an illness in our body politic that eventually must be rooted out. The only question being how and when.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:12 PM

August 25, 2003

Proposed US Constitutional Amendment

I think that the gay marriage amendment people are wrong. But they're not wrong because they want to slap the US judiciary across the wrists. The problem is that they're too micro-focused on a cause of the day when they should be thinking bigger, grander.

The problem really is that the judiciary is writing new constitutional law when it should only be interpreting it. Writing new law is the job of a constitutional convention, the Congress, and the state legislatures using the amendment process. What is needed is a mechanism to declare that a judicial decision carries no value as precedent as it is writing new constitutional law and force that new law through the amendment approval process which is the way a constitution should be changed.

Of course, the problem is that this provides little check on the judiciary so far. The thing that will put teeth into it would be making writing new constitutional law in this manner an mandatory impeachment offense whether the amendment process wins or loses. Sure, you can fall on your sword as a judge and write new law as a judicial activist but you're likely to only be able to do it a handful of times before you get your butt bounced off the bench. If the Senate has to hold repeated trials of you for going astray, after awhile they'll just be tired of seeing your face no matter how well justified you think you are in making 'bold', 'progressive' rulings.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:08 PM

August 23, 2003

Advancing the arts and sciences II

The bottom line, both pragmatically and constitutionally, for any discussion of US patents and copyrights is whether a particular innovation advances the progress of the arts and sciences. The Washington Post (reprinted in the Detroit New) has an article on the subject. Unfortunately, the US government has squelched an effort of WIPO to host a meeting on open source software and how its different model of intellectual property protection does just that, advance the arts and sciences.

This is a shame and an outrage, if true. If the hallmark of property ownership is the ability to do with it what you will, intellectual property's limited monopoly privilege should have the same neutrality of usage to it as long as it fulfills its basic function to advance the arts and sciences. To shut down a discussion on a different usage model merely because it discomforts incumbent IP producers' business plans is in the worst tradition of corporatism.

Hat tip to Slashdot for making me aware of the story.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:23 AM

July 24, 2003

Wanted: a Department of Anarchy

Every statist in the world has at one time or another called private enterprise solutions anarchy. They just can't see how things such as food production, heavy industry, road transport, or many other services could ever be accomplished as something other than a pure state system. And clearly there are some things that nobody has successfully figured out how to privatize in the modern age (like the military or concluding treaties with foreign powers). But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. This, in essence, is the argument of minarchy, the idea that the government which governs best, governs least.

Obviously the name must go (though there would be something delightfully wicked in having a DoA issuing edicts terminating bureaucracies "sorry, you're DoA'd") but there's something to be said for a permanent department whose sole task is to privatize the function of every other government bureaucracy.

It would create an institutional force during budget and authorization times for the provision of obvious social goods via private arrangement and would allow old, no longer useful sections of the government to come under quick scrutiny and be recommended for Congressional action to eliminate or executive order to eviscerate the useless bureaucratic parasites.

So what's wrong with the private equivalents of a DoA? Unlike many free market ideologues, minarchists are practical in the sense that if the private alternatives aren't working, shifting effort into government action isn't verboten but may be a temporary necessity until we can figure out how to get the job done without forcible taxation.

Right now, the job of keeping our freedom is slowly being lost on many fronts as traditional small government forces abandon fiscal discipline and few care to go through the fight necessary to evict even minor expenditures. Jim Nussle and the government oversight committee are a step in the right direction but more is needed because government reform is about spending smarter while the DoA would be about how to transition to not spending at all out of the taxpayer's purse.

I would expect a DoA to eventually privatize itself and perhaps be brought back into the govt. fold when the further descendants of a free people draw close to losing their freedom to government growth once again. There is now no real institutional constituency in government for less government. There should be.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:14 PM

A threat to Canadian medicine?

While conservative US opponents are being unfair to the Canada's record on medicine safety with bogus worries about counterfeit drugs raining down from up north, they have noted one hidden danger of note to Canadians, that the Canadian market is so small that continuing to operate in it under a reimportation regime would lead to net losses because so much product shipped to Canada would come back to the US as to eviscerate pharmaceutical industry profitability. This has happened already to Glaxo has already taken action but, not wanting to make the economic case, has cited health and safety issues. Others, like Merck are likely to follow suit.

Glaxo's problem is that they don't want to explicitly make the case for the dead and dying a decade from now from depressed profits today. But it isn't tomorrow's victims alone that exist, it's today's because the actions a decade or more ago are costing lives today as drugs could have been discovered years earlier if the pharma industry had had more widespread free market conditions.

quotation note: The observant reader will notice that I'm linking to Bernie Sanders' site, a man who I have little in common with and would not shake his hand if I met him (socialists have too much blood on them for me to be comfortable with).

I've received some private criticism about such links and links where I don't 100% agree with the article but thought it a useful example of where a major political pole was headed. I've decided that I don't agree with limiting links in this fashion, that it would create an echo chamber effect and just not be either practical or fun. And until somebody starts paying me, it needs to at least be fun.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:14 PM

July 23, 2003

Visible victims, hidden victims

One of the major problems of humanity is how to decide between today's suffering victims and future victims? Do you spend resources to help people today or invest to aid even more sufferers tomorrow? This problem crops up in many fields of human endeavor, including medicine.

New medicines are discovered not by accident, but by purposefully testing many thousands of substances and poring over previous tests to discover whether a substance rejected for one purpose is useful for another. It is a massive undertaking that works by brute forcing the problem. Promising substances enter the approval process which resembles a funnel with fewer and fewer substances passing through each stage and a slow trickle of new miracle cures popping out the end.

Widening the funnel by testing more substances in the same time increases the number of new medicines approved a decade later while narrowing it by testing fewer substances means that a decade later people die who wouldn't otherwise.

The funnel is fed by the money given by investors to fund new companies and by customers who pay for current medicines to established firms. Increase profits and give stockholders a better then average rate of return and new entrants will pour into the market and additional stock will be issued to pay for more substances to be tested per month.

Conversely, if you reduce the rate of return via price controls, good ideas for new medicines will not be funded and existing companies will gut R&D to maintain profitability. Today, government price controls are the biggest factor in reducing industry profitability and today people are dying because a decade ago, people got reduced prices for their medicines and inevitably the number of substances tested declined. A decade from now, people will be dying because of the price controlled pills that are prevalent in most of the world are starving the industry of income to find the next generation of cures.

So why does this happen? Simple, it's cheaper and easier for politicians to rob the future ill of their cures in a way that will not be politically punished than to come up with the money to pay for medicines that some find difficult, even impossible to pay for on their own. It's a dishonest, irresponsible thing to do but it won't end until the voters won't stand for it anymore.

The end game will be when all major markets are subject to price controls and the industry can't soak the remaining free markets for the R&D expenses that should have been spread out throughout the world. Perhaps the current drug importation bill will mark the beginning of the end.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:06 PM