Friday, June 30, 2006

Freedom and Free Markets

“So long as effective freedom of exchange is maintained, the central feature of the market organization of economic activity is that it prevents one person from interfering with another in respect of most of his activities. The consumer is protected from coercion by the seller because of the presence of other sellers with whom he can deal. The seller is protected from coercion by the consumer because of other consumers to whom he can sell. The employee is protected from coercion by the employer because of other employers for whom he can work, and so on. And the market does this impersonally and without centralized authority.”

“Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it does this task so well. It gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

Milton Friedman (1962)

TFFQ: Dangerous Minds In Dangerous Times

Warning: it's a long one.

Questus Furore - Dangerous Minds in Dangerous Times
What a weird and wild week.

Over the weekend, the New York Times revealed the existance of a top secret program to monitor financial transfers, with the intention of intercepting funds heading for terror groups and tracing their moneymasters. This was a program that worked, that the Congress (its leadership, at least) knew about, was legal, and so far had proven effective. The Times printed the story anyway, despite requests and pleas from the Administration to not publish, and rendered one of our key intelligence operations in the War on Terror inert. Such callous carelessness in times such as these is inexcusable; but it likely will also go unpunished.

On September 24, 2001, the Times was demanding that the Administration do something about terroist financing. How quickly memory fades.

And the real crimnials are the leakers - those who decided to talk, even though they had sworn an oath to keep quiet. But the penalty for oath-breaking is pretty mild today, at least in the civil service. Soldiers take a rather dimmer view of betrayal.

Then yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled against the United States government in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, stating that the President did not have the authority to try the prisoners captured by the United States on the battlefield to trial by military tribunal.

The usual critics came out and said this decision was a victory for truth, justice and democracy. (Since, according to them, Bush is against those things, and also puupies, kittens, rainbows, and sunlight.) I'm not convinced that the decision means as much as they think, given the sharp divide of the decision. (The decision was 5-3, with Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in the minority. Chief Justice Roberts abstained, as he had ruled on this case as an appeals court judge before - and upheld the government's position.)

While much remains to be written and said about the ultimate results of the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision, and I'm not the legal scholar they are, I'll admit to being somewhat confused by this decision. In World War II, FDR ordered military tribunals to prosecute some German agents who were captured in a bungled attempt to start a sabotage campaign against American defense industries. This decision removes that precedent, and sends the government back to the drawing board and to Congress.

Why do I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach all of a sudden?

One point of concern is that the majority cites American law and the Geneva Convention in making concerns known over the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. There's one major problem with this approach.

Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups are not signatories to the Geneva Convention, and they are not part of any state's military. There are some, who claim that they are legitimate resistance fighters. If they were, they may be right, but there's a problem with that line of arguement. Al Qaeda is a stateless organization, whose stated goal is the creation of a caliphate, a totalitarian government flavored with extreme Islam. They're not resisting anything - they're seeking to overturn.

In my mind, they are analagous to pirates - stateless actors making war against all comers.

These two events, in and of themselves, are not catastrophic. They are pebbles in a much greater landslide. The latter is simply government, working as it was meant to; however I do believe the Supreme Court did not make the right decision.

The New York Times' blabbing is a greater concern, because it is illustrative of an all too common attitude.

Only those enlightened few, such as the New York Times, know the Truth. Only they. So there is no rule they do not feel justified in violating, no confidence they feel uncomfortable in divulging, no oath that is not worth breaking in service of that Truth. And they will not rest until every knee bows down to that Truth.

The problem is, their Truth is not what the rest of share. And it constantly shifts, never constant.

Peace, defined only as the absence of conflict, has become a virtue superior to all others - even at the expense of other virtues. Justice, tolerance and liberty have become buzzwords. We now not only hold all men equal, despite their works, but we hold all ideologies equal, even those diseased as the Islamist vision Bin Laden so gleefully advocates.

We fear to judge, for we have been told that judging is wrong. We refuse to differentiate, compare, and hold one thing better than another. In this modern view, the only differences between gold and dross are superficial.

We continue to become a nation incapable of rousing to its own defense.

[The rest of the Friday Furo Questus can be found here. It is a weekly feature of The Wasatch Front.]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The official Pacific Slope stance on the proposed flag-burning amendment is: I'm opposed to amending the Constitution for this.

I think flag-burning is uncultured, juvenile, and stupid; the rare occasions the media deigns to show a picture of protestors burning a flag, my opinions are reinforced.

But amending the Constitution to deal with this is wrong. here's my thoughts on why:

  • There seems to me no pressing need for this at this time.
  • This threatens to raise flag-burners to martyr status - and those hippies and whackos get too much attention as it is.
  • Most importantly, the Constitution is a document detailing the restrictions on government, not on citizenry. The only place for an anti-flag-burning law is in the civil code, and so such a law is not possible unless the Supreme Court makes a new ruling allowing such a law.

    [This is why Supreme Court justices matter, and why its important to know and understand their views on the application of the law. In this case, by ruling laws forbidding flag-burning as unconstitutional, the Court has placed these acts beyond regulation by society, short of amending the Constitution. Whether their decisions are right or wrong, this ability to place acts beyond the reach of local lawmakers places a lot of power in the hands of nine unelected (and thus difficult to hold accountable) individuals. And the Court is not made of infallible people - you need only look at the Dred Scott decision for evidence of their human failings.]

I personally think there is a much better way to deal with this situation. Reduce beating the snot out of someone burning a flag from a felony to a misdemeanor, with a fine not to exceed $25 and payable to the arresting officer.

But that's just me.

[Crossposted to The Wasatch Front. If you would like to comment, please join me over there in the comment forum.]

Sea of Heartbreak

Picked up "Unchained" by Johnny Cash late last week, and have been listening to it all weekend.

This was Cash's second album with Rick Rubin, and an emphatic statement that Cash was back. It's an interesting mix of songs - and to top it off, Rubin brought in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to back Cash up.

When it's slow, it's not bad; but when it turns up, when it gets moving - it's fantastic. When they are on, they are on. My favorites off the album so far: "Rusty Cage" and "Sea of Heartbreak."

Sea of Heartbreak has been around for a while, originally being recorded by
Don Gibson in the early 1960s, and covered by wide variety of country artists since.

With Cash's deep bass and the Heartbreakers lively backing, the tune is hard to get out of your head.

The lights in the harbor
Don't shine for me
I'm like a lost ship
Adrift on the sea

Sea of heartbreak
Lost love, loneliness,
Memories of your caress
So divine, how I wish
You were mine, again my dear,
I'm on this sea of tears
Sea of heartbreak

Oh how did I lose you?
Oh, where, did I fail?
Why did you leave me
Always to sail

This sea of heartbreak
Lost love, loneliness,
Memories of your caress
So divine, how I wish
You were mine, again my dear,
I'm on this sea of tears
Sea of heartbreak

Oh, what I'd give just to sail back to shore
Back to your arms once more

Come to my rescue
Come here to me
Take me and keep me
Away from the sea

Sea of heartbreak
Lost love, loneliness,
Memories of your caress
So divine, how I wish
You were mine, again my dear,
I'm on this sea of tears
Sea of heartbreak

Sea of heartbreak
Sea of heartbreak
Sea of heartbreak

Sunday, June 25, 2006

1950: North Korea Invades

Less than five years after the end of the slaughter of World War II, the United States found itself drawn into war again.

In the
pre-dawn hours of June 25, 1950, 135,000 North Korea troops followed a massive artillery barrage into South Korea.

The post-war optimism of 1945 had faded when it met the harsh power-lust of Communism. Under Joseph Stalin's instigation and the USSR's insistence, Communist puppet governments had been set up all over two continents. The world had become divided, between the free and the Communist.

And on June 25,
at Stalin's order, the post-war peace was shattered and the two nuclear powers found themselves in conflict.

The Korean War had begun.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Friday Furo Questus

Questus Furore - Strange Priorities
I would have thought, considering the political and media furor over alleged murders of civilians by American troops, that an atrocity carried out against American troops would have at least merited similar outrage and attention.

Especially since the American soldiers involved were not just executed, but mutilated and desecrated.

I was wrong. No politician has said more than a passing comment, and the story has already fallen off the front page...

For the rest, please continue at The Friday Furo Questus at The Wasatch Front.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Missile Defense Becoming a Reality

Great article in TCS Daily by Alan Dowd on the current state of missile defense, as the U.S. stands up its missile interceptors in reaction to North Korea's latest bout of stupidity. (And pointed out by Instapundit, naturally.)

The technology is farther along than you realize. Granted, we are still in the initial phases of developing a missile defense doctrine, but the technologies are moving along into advanced stages of testing. In addition to the interceptors at Fort Greeley and Vandenburg Air Force Base, sea-based interceptors were successfully tested earlier this year, the airborne laser project is moving along well and will enter the main round of testing next year, and new land-based and space-based missile interceptors are in development.

One thing that surprised me - especially considering all the debating points that by adopting missile defense, America would isolate itself from the world - is the level of international involvement. Britain and Denmark have agreed to upgrade radars in Britain and Greenland for missile defense purposes; Poland overtly and the Czech Republic quietly have been intently exploring missile defense, with each volunteering to host a European missile interceptor base. Australia is on board, Canada is reconsidering its stance, and India is talking about it to the U.S. But more seriously than anyone else, Japan is working with America on all aspects of missile defense:
But no member of this amorphous IMD coalition seems more serious about the threat than Japan. With Kim Jong-Il just next door, that's understandable. According to the MDA, the Japanese system already includes a network of new ground-based radars; SM-3 interceptors, which attack incoming missiles at their highest point; missile-tracking Aegis warships, which patrol near rogue countries; and Patriot PAC-3s, which serve as a last line of defense. Last month, Japan agreed to deploy a new X-band radar near Misawa to support US and Japanese anti-missile assets. The two allies also agreed to establish a joint air and missile defense base at Yakota Air Base by 2010.

Plus, as the Claremont Institute's project on missile defense reported last month, the US and Japan have agreed to deploy new batteries of PAC-3 interceptor missiles at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. "Japan also plans to deploy PAC-3 batteries at bases in the Saitama and Shizuoka prefectures near Tokyo," according to Claremont. The two nations are also committed to co-developing a newer version of the SM-3.
There is a reason though: more than any other nation, Japan feels threatened by ballistic missiles from North Korea, and it's a good reason. In 1998, North Korea tested a medium-range ballistic missile, firing the missile well into the Pacific Ocean - and right over Japan, without any warning. It was a blunt message to Japan: we can hit any target in your country, from Honshu to Okinawa.

So the threat is there. And we're doing something about it.

[Crossposted to The Wasatch Front.]

Valid Concern or Sales Pitch?

There is a follow-on to yesterday's "The Attack That Was Cancelled" article.

Subsequent interviews with NYPD and NYC officials state that the threat of the poison gas weapon was overstated:

One official who was briefed at the time that the authorities learned of
the threat said some in the intelligence community had been skeptical of the
supposed plot, particularly of the idea that the plot had been called off by Mr.
al-Zawahiri. The plot was said to involve the use of a relatively crude device
for releasing the chemical gases.

"This is a simple cyanide thing, two chemicals mixed together, and it releases cyanide gas," he said. "They'd be lucky if they killed everybody on one car — you can do that with a 9-millimeter pistol." He added, "None of it has been confirmed in three years, who these guys were, whether they in fact had a weapon, or whether they were able to put together a weapon, whether that weapon has been defined and what it would cause or whether they were even in New York."

One former official said he believed the basic information about the scheme had been declassified two years ago for distribution to state and local officials.

New York Times, June 18, 2006

That's a pretty different story than what Suskind was claiming - and puts it more in the realm of vague threats than originally thought.

Someone got overly excited. And it wasn't the authorities.

Hat Tip: Eric Umansky. Even though he's a Lakers fan.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Threats and Counters

North Korea has prepared a ballistic missile for launch, so the U.S. is responding by placing the missile defense system on alert.

While the diplomatic dance to convince North Korea to back down whirls on, this shows that the US is regarding this as a serious threat without upping the ante to threatening offensive action. (A carrier battle group off the Korean coast would.)

It also shows the value of the missile defense system. This is the kind of threat the system was designed to defend against - a single rogue power led by a man who forgot to take his Thorazine this morning.

It gives us additional leverage - it demonstrates an unwillingness to back any farther while avoiding escalation.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Attack That Was Cancelled

If you tool arounf the blogosphere at all, you have probably already seen this article in Time, excerpting a book by Ron Suskind.

Al-Qaeda terrorists came within 45 days of attacking the New York subway system with a lethal gas similar to that used in Nazi death camps. They were stopped not by any intelligence breakthrough, but by an order from Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. And the U.S. learned of the plot from a CIA mole inside al-Qaeda.

While that alone is disturbing, it was this that concerned me the most:
U.S. intelligence got its first inkling of the plot from the contents of a laptop computer belonging to a Bahraini jihadist captured in Saudi Arabia early in 2003. It contained plans for a gas-dispersal system dubbed "the mubtakkar" (Arabic for inventive). Fearing that al-Qaeda's engineers had achieved the holy grail of terror R&D — a device to effectively distribute hydrogen-cyanide gas, which is deadly when inhaled — the CIA immediately set about building a prototype based on the captured design, which comprised two separate chambers for sodium cyanide and a stable source of hydrogen, such as hydrochloric acid. A seal between the two could be broken by a remote trigger, producing the gas for dispersal. The prototype confirmed their worst fears: "In the world of terrorist weaponry," writes Suskind, "this was the equivalent of splitting the atom. Obtain a few widely available chemicals, and you could construct it with a trip to Home Depot — and then kill everyone in the store."

The device was shown to President Bush and Vice President Cheney the following morning, prompting the President to order that alerts be sent through all levels of the U.S. government. Easily constructed and concealed, the device ensured that mass casualties would be inevitable if it could be triggered in any enclosed public space.
Now, I want to hear more. (Which is why you are only hearing about this now. There's books to sell.)

But let me explain why this matters: with chemical weapons, dispersal is the key to effectiveness. You often hear how "one drop of Agent X on the skin" could kill you. What you don't hear is how difficult that can be to attain - getting fine drops of a liquid airborne without destroying them in the process.

From a counterterrorism perspective, that is the one thing we have going for us. Producing an effective weapon of mass destruction is hard.

But an ineffective WMD can still kill a lot of people. You may remember the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway back in the mid-1990s. This attack was carried out by a savvy (if completely insane) doomsday cult. The grand attack failed, because they could not adequately disperse the gas.

They still managed to kill 12, and send 5,000 to the hospital.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

We Either Develop The Will To Win - Or We Retreat

Cliff May, speaking from The Corner:
Iraq and Vietnam [Cliff May]

Much as I hope to see a free and democratic Iraq, I don’t think democratization is the key distinction – or the key issue.

We lost in Vietnam because we didn’t have the will and the skills to prevail. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people and millions of Cambodian victims of the Khmer Rouge paid the stiffest price.

Americans went home and got on with their lives. But notice was taken of America’s failure.

That led to the seizure of our embassy in Tehran in 1979. When we responded fecklessly to that act of war, the Ayatollahs let loose Hezbollah to slaughter U.S. Marines, diplomats and intelligence agents in Beirut. We retreated again.

And we were tested again – in Mogadishu in 1993. We did not pass that test either.

So Osama bin Laden was inspired to train thousands of terrorists in Afghanistan. We knew what he was doing. We did nothing serious in response. Before long, they came after us – in Kenya and Tanzania, off the coast of Yemen and then in New York and Washington.

Eliminating Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s commander in Iraq, was a great victory. But it’s important to continue to pursue the enemy – not stop fighting prematurely as we did in both 1991 and 2003.

If we fail to prevail against al-Qaeda and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, why would we not falter also in Afghanistan? And why wouldn’t the same strategy and tactics lead to victory for the Islamo-fascists in Jordan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere?

We either develop the will – and the military and intelligence skills — to defeat the enemy we now face on the battlefield in Iraq, or we retreat not just from Iraq but from anyplace our enemies don’t want us.

We either overcome our enemies or we resign ourselves to cowering behind concrete barriers for the remainder of this century.

Posted at 1:13 PM

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Internal Mail

XXX This Message Is Brought To You By Your Central Nervous System. XXX

To: Brain, Tyler
From: Lower Back Muscles, Tyler
Date: June 12, 2006 4:11 PM

Dear Brain,

Nice work, dipstick. Not five minutes after the man tells you not to do anything stupid, what do you do? You go and do something stupid, and break me.

No, I don't know when I'll be better. I don't care. You knew better, but you still did it.

So I'm going to enjoy this. I'm just going to sit here and [CENSORED] send these [CENSORED] [CENSORED] pain reports up the [CENSORED] chain all [CENSORED] day, and I'm going to [CENSORED] enjoy it.



The Lower Back

XXX Thank You For Using Your Central Nervous System. Proudly Serving All Of Tyler Since 1978. XXX

Thought of the Day

“Creating smoking holes gives our lives meaning and enhances our manliness.”
Lt. Colonel at a counter-terrorism conference

The Stupid Shall Be Punished.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

To Make A Better World



It's worth taking a moment to remember. And John does his usual excellent job of remembering over at

Monday, June 05, 2006

Have The Lights Been On All This Time?

Back from Yellowstone; I'll report later this week. I did manage to get some good pictures.