Monthly Archives: November 2007

A Small Win For Privacy

Amazon user data request dropped

Federal prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena seeking the identities of thousands of people who bought used books through online retailer Inc., newly unsealed court records show.

The withdrawal came after a judge ruled that the customers had a 1st Amendment right to keep their reading habits from the government.

“The [subpoena’s] chilling effect on expressive e-commerce would frost keyboards across America,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker wrote.

“The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their knowledge or permission,” Crocker wrote. “It is an unsettling and un-American scenario to envision federal agents nosing through the reading lists of law-abiding citizens while hunting for evidence against somebody else.”

In the days of warrant-less wiretaps, and PATRIOT act concerns that the feds may be snooping on your public library records, it’s nice to see that someone is still willing to step up and protect the rights of individuals.

It’s a small step, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Libertarianism And Non-Interventionism

Megan McArdle has a post up outlining the divide that developed among libertarians over foreign policy in the wake of the Iraq War:

A real non-interventionist has to accept that the United States should not have entered into World War II. Yes, Japan attacked us, but they did so because we were encroaching on their sphere of influence. Had we actually kept the navy within our territory, Japan would never have attacked, and we would never have entered World War II. And no, I’m not convinced by arguments that our intervention in WWI brought about WWII; our role, other than urging France and Britain to mitigate their vengeance, was fairly minor. Moreover, since we’re not starting from some blank, non-interventionist slate now, this is not a compelling argument against entering into World War II at the time of World War II.

Some libertarians do accept that (as does Pat Buchanan). Most, especially the more moderate breed nurtured post-Reagan, can’t accept a philosophy which means we should have allowed more millions to die in concentration camps, left the Russians and British to starve without lend-lease, etc. Their minds also turn to wondering how the American Revolution might have turned out had the French government adopted a similarly modest foreign policy.

If you are not willing to posit that Americans should stay home even when millions are being senselessly slaughtered, then you end up in sticky pragmatic arguments about the possibilities of inherently untrustworthy state power to counteract even more noxious state power, and how much in the way of cost we can reasonably be expected to bear in order to advance liberty. I don’t think there’s an inherently libertarian answer to those questions. Libertarians should be inherently more suspicious of the American government’s ability to make things better than other groups–but by the same token, it seems to me that they should be inherently more suspicious of repulsive states such as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Keep in mind that when we use the word “intervention,” it can mean any number of things such as cutting off diplomatic relations, joining in international pressure directed at a regime that is repressing its citizens, leading or joining in an economic boycott against that regime, supporting an internal opposition aimed at overthrowing that regime, all the way up to direct military action. This is important because the answer to the “should we intervene” question depends, in no small degree, on the type of intervention we’re talking about.

The question that McArdle’s post raises, of course, is when, if ever, the fact that a state like Iraq is violating the rights of its citizens justifies intervention in their internal affairs. If the answer is that the existence of a repressive regime is per se justification for intervention, then you’ve basically adopted a neo-conservative/Wilsonian idea of foreign policy, with all the attendant disasters that come from it. And here I disagree with McArdle in one respect — the negative impact that Wilsonian interventionism had on World War I, or more specifically on the peace that followed, clearly did have an influence on the events that led to another World War less than 30 years later. If the United States had stayed out of World War I and not intervened in the peace negotiations in Versailles that ended the war, then the treaty that ended the Great War would have, most likely, been far less punitive toward Germany, and that alone could have prevented the rise of Naziism.

If the answer to McArdle’s question is that intervention is never justified unless the United States is directly threatened, and even sometimes not even in that case, then you’ve basically adopted the position of the isolationists prior to World War II, who would have apparently been okay with Europe falling under Nazi rule and every Jew being sent to their death.

I don’t think that there’s an easy answer to this question and, in part, it depends on the kind of intervention that is being talked about.

Absent a direct threat to the United States or its interests, military action against, say, Burma, would not be justified; but that doesn’t mean that it would be impermissible under libertarian principles for the United States to suspend diplomatic relations with the Burmese junta, or to impose economic sanctions against the country in retaliation for their repression of the pro-democracy movement. Similarly, though less convincingly, the no-fly zones that were imposed in the northern and southern Iraq from the end of the First Gulf War until the U.S. invasion in March 2003 were arguably justifiable as means to protect the Kurdish and Shiite minorities that had been terrorized by Saddam Hussein’s forces.

Since there are gradations of “intervention”, many of which fall short of direct or indirect military action, I don’t think it makes sense to say that “intervention” can be judged by a specific set of principles or that “intervention” is always per se unjustified. Again, if you make the former argument they you are essentially saying that the United States should have stood by and done nothing in the years prior to World War II while the Nazis rolled over Europe — because Lend-Lease would have been a violation of a policy of strict non-interventionism.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not an outcome that I could accept.

Chavez threatens property of opponents

Atlas continues to shrug in Venezuela:

The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, today threatened to strip the country’s industrialists of their assets if they continued to oppose his indefinite presidency.

Chávez faces a vote at the weekend on his proposals to change 69 articles of the constitution, including scrapping the limit on the number of terms a president can serve.

Venezuela’s largest business chamber, Fedecámaras, to which thousands of large and small businesses belong, has called the planned reforms an “illegal act”, and called on voters to oppose their passage “by every possible legal means”.

Where’s Jimmy Carter when you need him!!!

Lou Dobbs Is Winning

David Brooks argues in the New York Times that the nativist, anti-free trade, anti-immigrant message of Lou Dobbs is winning the battle for hearts and minds:

Once there was a majority in favor of liberal immigration policies, but apparently that’s not true anymore, at least if you judge by campaign rhetoric. Once there was a bipartisan consensus behind free trade, but that’s not true anymore, either. Even Republicans, by a two-to-one majority, believe free trade is bad for America, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

Once upon a time, the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world are rising out of poverty would have been a source of pride and optimism. But if you listen to the presidential candidates, improvements in the developing world are menacing. Their speeches constitute a symphony of woe about lead-painted toys, manipulated currencies and stolen jobs.

And if Dobbsianism is winning when times are good, you can imagine how attractive it’s going to seem if we enter the serious recession that Larry Summers convincingly and terrifyingly forecasts in yesterday’s Financial Times. If the economy dips as seriously as that, the political climate could shift in ugly ways.

And this is despite the fact, as Brooks notes, that the things Lou Dobbs and his ilk say are demonstrably, provably wrong:

[D]espite the ups and downs of the business cycle, the United States still possesses the most potent economy on earth.


In the World Economic Forum survey, the U.S. comes in just ahead of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany (China is 34th). The U.S. gets poor marks for macroeconomic stability (the long-term federal debt), for its tax structure and for the low savings rate. But it leads the world in a range of categories: higher education and training, labor market flexibility, the ability to attract global talent, the availability of venture capital, the quality of corporate management and the capacity to innovate.


[T]he number of jobs actually lost to outsourcing is small, and recent reports suggest the outsourcing trend is slowing down. They are swamped by the general churn of creative destruction. Every quarter the U.S. loses somewhere around seven million jobs, and creates a bit more than seven million more. That double-edged process is the essence of a dynamic economy.

And it gets better from there. But you don’t here that if you tune into Lou Dobbs’ nativist screed, or pick up the latest doom-and-gloom book from Pat Buchanan. To them, it is precisely the things that makes America strongest — it’s open economy, it’s willingness to accept new immigrants, and it’s openness to international trade and competition — that are leading to its destruction.

It’s the same nonsense we’ve heard before, really, but, this time, it seems to be gaining adherents in the mainstream of American politics.  And, Brooks is absolutely right about one thing — if the nativists like Dobbs and Buchanan continue to gain credibility, then things really will get ugly when the next recession rolls around.

Mitt Romney’s Religious Test

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has stated that he would not appoint an otherwise qualified person who happened to be Muslim to his cabinet if he became President:

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that “jihadism” is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

Romney, whose Mormon faith has become the subject of heated debate in Republican caucuses, wants America to be blind to his religious beliefs and judge him on merit instead. Yet he seems to accept excluding Muslims because of their religion, claiming they’re too much of a minority for a post in high-level policymaking. More ironic, that Islamic heritage is what qualifies them to best engage America’s Arab and Muslim communities and to help deter Islamist threats.

Romney’s reasoning for excluding Muslim’s from the cabinet, based apparently on their representation in the general population is, to say the least peculiar; especially when you consider that there are apparently more American Muslims than there are American Jews. So even if you accepted Romney’s inane suggestion that the makeup of the cabinet must somehow mirror American society, Romney’s position wouldn’t be consistent with reality.

More importantly, Romey’s blanket ban on Muslim cabinet members would appear to be unconstitutional. Specifically, Article VI states in part:

[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In a Romney Administration, the religious test would be pretty straight-forward — you can serve in my Administration as long as you’re not a Muslim.

Of course, it’s ironic that Romney, whose Mormon faith has been, unfairly in my opinion, mentioned on several occasions as a reason we should be concerned about him, should be the one to say that someone’s religious faith per se disqualifies them from serving in his Administration. More than once, in fact, Romney has stated that his faith should not be an issue in the campaign.

But who ever said hypocritical politicians were something new on the scene ?

Update: The New York Times is reporting that Romney says that he was either misquoted or misunderstood:

“His question was: ‘Do I need to have a Muslim in my Cabinet to be able to confront radical jihad and would it be important to have a Muslim in my Cabinet?’” Mr. Romney said, according to ABC News. “And I said no. I don’t think that you have to have a Muslim in the Cabinet to be able to take on radical jihad.”

To be fair to Romney, this explanation would seem to be consistent with the tone of the original article, in which the author basically argues that we should put Muslim’s in the cabinet because failing to do so could lead to another terrorist attack:

[Romney], and other candidates for the presidency from both political parties, should actively begin searching for American Muslims and Arab Americans who can serve in primary decisionmaking cabinet level posts. To do otherwise is to risk promulgating policies that once again put the US straight in the sights of the terrorists who seek to bring America down.

This is, of course, an absurd suggestion. The only considering that President’s need to give in selecting appointees is (1) is the person qualified for the position in question and (2) are they in basic agreement with my agenda ? Everything else, including the religious faith, or lack thereof, of the candidate in question, is irrelevant.

Update No.2: It looks like Mitt’s flip-flopping on this story may get him in more trouble than the comment itself:

Presidential canidate Mitt Romney has discounted appointing Muslims to his cabinet on more than just the one occasion reported in a CSM op-ed yesterday.

TPM Election Central has learned that at a private fundraising lunchleon in LV three months ago, Romney said he would probably not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet and made other comments that one witness described as “racist.”

Making this story potentially worse for Romney, the witnesses, Irma Aguirre, a former finance director of the Nevada Republican Party, paraphrased Romney as saying: “They’re radical. There’s no talking to them. There’s no negotiating with them.”

A second witness, a self-described local registered Republican named George Harris, confirmed her account.

The sad truth of the matter is that there’s enough anti-Muslim bigotry out there that Romney’s remark may not hurt him at all in the primaries.

H/T: James Joyner

1 2 3 4 5 6 30