AT LAST! Finally, Mort


Finally, Mort Halperin gives the anti-war side of the debate what it has obviously lacked: an alternative strategy for dealing with the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein. He calls it “containment-plus.” It depends on a Security Council resolution that I’m not sure would pass, but it sounds like it’s worth a try.

And just yesterday, my colleague Amy Zegart — in the course of wiping up the floor with Arianna Huffington in a debate about war here at UCLA — provided the best statement I’ve heard of what our objectives in a war should be and why waiting and counting on deterrence has poor prospects. She also convinced me that September 11 makes a real difference in thinking about how to approach Iraq, in a way that doesn’t depend on the idea that the fanatical Baath secularists who run Iraq and the fanatical Wahabbis in al-Qaeda are somehow in cahoots. If Amy writes it down, I’ll post it.

It’s a little late for the two sides in this debate to be finally getting their acts together, but better late than never.



Gentle reader, would you be kind enough to participate as a subject in a small unscientific study in social pschology?

Read the text below, and, before reading further, send me an email ( with the answers to the two questions that immediately follow.

We are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota. Minnesota is one of the few states that allow same day voter registration. We will therefore focus our energy on registering young Minnesotans. Wellstone will need a high percentage of young people to register and vote for him if he is to stave off the campaign that Bush, the Republicans and the Greens are waging against him.

Question 1 What is the organization that sent that message trying to do? Does it intend:

A. To bring young people from outside Minnesota to Minnesota to falsely register and vote there; or

B. To bring young people from outside Minnesota to Minnesota to encourage young people who live in Minnesota to register and vote?

C. The text is ambiguous.

Question 2 Would you describe yourself as:

A. A strong Democratic partisan

B. A weak Democratic partisan

C. More or less neutral between the parties

D. A weak Republican partisan

E. A strong Republican partisan

F. Not placeable on this scale


What, you wonder, is the point of this study?

It starts with a puzzle. Eugene Volokh is a sensible and fair-minded person, and a somewhat less rabid partisan than I. (It’s hard to be a more rabid partisan than I, at least on an outpatient basis.) He is, as a law professor, a professional interpreter of texts. He would never willingly make a false charge, especially about as serious a matter as voter fraud. His blog reprinted the text above (which came from the Young Democratic Socialists, the youth arm of the Democratic Socialists of America, which is the Michael Harrington wing of the old Socialist Party), with the following comment:

I suppose this might be seen as saying that they want to bring young people to Minnesota to register other young people, who are legitimate Minnesotans. But this sure isn’t what leaps out at you when you first read this — the much more obvious interpretation is that they’re bringing young people from outside Minnesota to Minnesota so they can then register as young Minnesotans. Pretty iffy stuff; I’m surprised that it hasn’t gotten more attention.

Now when I first read the message from the DSA, interpretation (B) struck me as the only possible reading; “registering young Minnesotans” means, I would have thought unambiguously, registering young people who live in Minnesota. (The sheer cost-ineffectivenss of trying to steal votes by moving physical voters seems to me to strengthen this interpretation; if you’re going to commit voter fraud, why not use natives and save the travel expense? Or spend the transportation money on honest phone-banking, which surely produces more net votes per dollar spent?) But Eugene, even after a second reading, continues to believe that the text is, at best, ambiguous.

So that’s the point of my study. How closely will responses break down along party lines? If only strong Democratic partisans agree with me, I’ll have to concede that my biases have led me to an error of interpretation. Results (if any) to be posted soon. Anyone who would like to help with the study is encouraged to recruit additional subjects, by email, in blogspace, or face-to-face.



My response to the drug czar’s office on the cannabis-potency issue is now up at American Enterprise Online. For those of you who haven’t been following this tempest in a teapot, the response has all the relevant links. For those of you who have, there’s nothing new. It’s a pleasure to acknowledge Eli Lehrer’s generosity in allowing me to respond at length on his site.

UPDATE In case you were hoping that the “drug policy reformers” observed higher standards of intellectual integrity, read this and weep.




Remind me not to annoy the folks at They make a mean (in both senses) TV spot, and they post their product on the web, so they don’t even have to spend the money to put it on TV.




Wouldn’t it be nice to know whose rifle is firing the shots killing all those folks in the DC area? It might even help catch the guy doing the shooting. The police have already been able to use the markings on the bullets and shell casings to figure out that the same rifle fired all the shots; each gun has its own peculiarities, and leaves its mark on the rounds it fires. But right now there’s no way of identifying the gun itself.

It has been proposed that each weapon be fired before it leaves the factory, and the resulting “signature” recorded along with the serial number of the gun. The serial number, in turn, can be linked to the name and location of the retail seller. Any crime-scene evidence could then be compared to the database of “signatures,” and the gun thereby traced to whoever sold it, and thus to whoever bought it. It would be as if each bullet came with the serial number of the gun that fired it. Note that the database of “signatures” would not include the names of the buyers; they would be kept as now required, by the retail dealers.

Of course, the system wouldn’ t be perfect; guns change their “signatures” over time, and can also be deliberately modified for that purpose. But so what? There would be some null results, and some bad leads. That’s in the nature of police work. Presumably the technology would get better over time. But something is better than nothing.

Not according to the Bush Administration. Ari Fleischer says that the President is still worried that the technology is imperfect. And he recites the NRA mantra about killing already being illegal, so how is another law going to deter a killer?

That, of course, is complete nonsense. The point isn’t deterring killers; the point is being able to catch them. The question for the President is simple: Why is an imperfect investigative tool worse than none at all? And why is this the only issue on which the exigencies of what you keep saying is wartime shouldn’t override what in this case are fairly trivial privacy concerns?

[No, I’m not in favor of banning private gun ownership; see here for my tentative position on the gun question.]



Does anyone out there understand what’s going on with Homeland Security? (Here’s the latest news story.) The Bush folks are saying they need authority to break unions in order to run the show effectively. But as anyone who’s managed in the Federal sector understands, union contracts are a minor problem compared to Civil Service protection. (Of course anyone who’s worked in a non-civil-service, patronage-driven environment knows that can be even worse.) Bush has already charge the Democrats with preferring union bosses to the victims of terrorism; Daschle fires back that the President prefers having an issue for November to having the agency he asked for. (It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone to fight fire with fire by saying “We don’t intend to let Karl Rove turn the Homeland Defense Agency into a patronage dump.” And of course explaining that things like civil service protection are an obvious extension of the general theories of limited government and checks-and-balances that conservatives are supposed to be in favor of would be a waste of time.)

In any case, it’s not clear to me that moving the boxes around on the organization chart is going to make us more secure, but I’m open to instruction.


Jeffrey Rosen seems to think that the Democrats’ concern is that the Administration bill would “create a class of nonunionized Federal employees.” That has to be wrong. Most Federal employees aren’t unionized right now. Confucius say, “Tly again.”

But Rosen raises a good question: why are the people the liberals love to characterize as “wing nuts” more concerned about the civil-liberties threats in the bill than are mainstream Democrats? Still, I think Matthew Yglesias is right in calling the Rosen piece a good example of “self-hating liberalism.”

PRISON RAPE Eli Lehrer at


Eli Lehrer at AEI reports on a bill inching its way through Congress — with support from both left and right, though not from the Bush Administration — to address the problem of prison rape. I haven’t read the text of the bill, but I hope it can be expanded to cover the broader problem of prisoner-on prisoner violence.

(And while I agree with Lehrer that litigation alone can’t handle the problem, reopening the federal courts to prisoners making serious claims about cruel and unusual conditions of imprisonment — reversing one of the more mean-spirited moves of the Gingrich Congress — has to be a good idea. The notion of requiring a prisoner who gets raped with the complicity of corrections officers, or beaten up by a corrections officer, to complain through the prison bureaucracy before taking his case to court is absurd on its face; there must be a way to weed out frivolous claims about peanut butter without slamming the courthouse door entirely.)

Lawless prisons are bad for prisoners, which ought to be enough reason to do something about them. But they are also bad for the rest of us. Prison gangs are partly a response to the need prisoners have for someone to watch their backs. The existence of those gangs is self-reinforcing; any prisoner not in a gang picks himself out as a victim. The gangs are largely along racial — and racist — lines. The Aryan Nations, the only significant neo-Nazi terrorist group in America, is in effect the outside-the-walls version of the Aryan Brotherhood, the biggest white prison gang. And that’s not the only prison gang with an outside-the-walls presence. Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam fits the same model.

Any terrorist group looking to recruit U.S. citizens could do a lot worse than starting in our prisons. The proposed Prison Rape Reduction Act won’t change that fundamentally. But it could be a start.

[For some further thoughts on accountability in prison management, see here.]

Liberals, conservatives, and free expression

Eugene Volokh responds to my earlier claim that liberals are better than conservatives about standing up for the free expression of those with whom they disagree.

Some of his points are valid. Liberals aren’t perfectly, or even adequately, consistent. But I still think there’s a basic difference.

A liberal who stands up for the rights of people on the right will be regarded by mainstream liberals as expressing liberal values, even if some of them think he’s going too far in some particular case. A conservative who stands up for the rights of people on the left will be regarded by other conservatives as not really a conservative: a libertarian, perhaps, or even (shudder) a moderate.

Note that the standard rhetoric reflects this division. When some group on the left deviates from free-expression orthodoxy (over “hate speech,” for example), the standard charge from the right is that of hypocrisy, because someone on the left ought to be liberal. No one charges a conservative who wants to suppress free expression with hypocrisy; the charge wouldn’t make any sense.

The reverse is true of free-market principles; when a liberal Democratic Senate passes a disgustingly, obscenely extravagant farm bill, that’s just business as usual; when a conservative Republican House of Representatives passes the same bill (well, the same bill with a little more for agribusiness, a little less environmental protection, and a little less for non-millionaire farmers) and a conservative Republican President signs the resulting compromise, that’s hypocrisy, because the Republicans are supposed to be for free markets and against wasteful government spending.


John Rosenberg at Discriminations has a long, interesting post reflecting on a somewhat parallel question: racial profiling and affirmative action, which he sees as posing a difficult problem for conservatives, such as himself, who dislike the second but need to justify the first in the current security context.

In an aside, though, he says:

I’ve been struck by the inconsistency of liberals who oppose racial profiling when done by police but applaud it when done by admissions officers or employers. This is not so surprising for a movement whose intellectuals tend to reject principles on principle…

This seems to me a fundamental mistake, confusing political liberalism with intellectual post-modernism. Liberal politicans are just as moralistic in their way as conservatives, and I think we would do better politically if we were prepared to defend that moralism where it is appropriate rather than concealing it as benefit/cost analysis. The claim, for example, that every child deserves something like an equal start in life is a moral claim, and its policy implications are profound, since the relative disadvantage of the children of poor parents grows both with the extent of income inequality and the extent to which markets, rather than public choices, are allowed to allocate resources.

On the other hand, I would assert that modern political liberals tend to make too many things matters of principle that ought instead to be discussed in terms of outcomes. Nuclear power, toxic waste cleanup, “tracking” in schools, and the corporate income tax are all issues on which the standard “liberal” position can, I think, be convincingly criticized as serving neither liberal values, nor the interests of the dispossessed groups with whose interests liberals identify, nor the broader public interest. Fetishizing positions into principles is almost always a bad move. And refusing to do so isn’t the same as having no principles at all.


John Rosenberg responds.



If you could never quite stay awake and focused through Kant’s Transcendental Induction, here it is set to music, and Tom Lehrer couldn’t have done it better.

Now that I have a clearer idea of what Kant was up to, I think I’ll stick with Karl Popper. But categorical thanks to Kieran Healy for the link. I can only hope the same songwriting team is working on the Groundwork.



Kevin Moore of, who drew the cartoon that I rather liked but Glenn Reynolds didn’t, writes to clarify his intentions. It turns out that Moore, like me, is more or less in favor of war, but not happy about it.

The cartoon was not made in response to the recent war drive against Iraq. Rather, the cartoon was my first artistic response to the terrorist attacks and the few days that immediately followed. I had a feeling that retribution was going to be waged on the people of Afghanistan, who, like us, have little to any say in the machinations of political elites. In fact, Afghanis had no influence whatsoever on the Taliban, who were I think helpless against the al-Qaeda forces occupying their country. At any rate, I saw a lot of equivalency: as civillians, as victims of war, as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, as workers, as human beings. Events soon proved me, sadly, prophetic: roughly the same number of Afghani civillians were killed by U.S. bombing as civillians killed on 9/11.

But was it worth it? First, can one really even pose such a question (talk about “monstrous”)? Yet leaving that aside, for all the problems of the unstable psuedo-democracy running Afghanistan, of the warlords shaking local businesses down and fighting with each other, and the ongoing struggle of women there (alas, and everywhere)—it beats the Taliban, yes? Can we make the same argument with the people of Iraq? Saddam is atrocious, yes, but can we ask a father to accept the risk that his child could die by air bombing from the US in exchange for toppling the regime?



Glenn responds: he doubts the estimate of Afghan civilian deaths, but doesn’t doubt that innocents will die, which I took to be the point of the cartoon. He notes my error about the cartoonist’s name, which I’ve corrected.