Archive for November, 2010

One of the ironic things about the WikiLeaks scandal is that people who hold a security clearance cannot go to or otherwise access the WikiLeaks website to view or download information contained on the site.  Here is the content of an Air Force memo to this effect that applies to all of its personnel (I think the story improperly suggests that these limits apply to government computers when in fact they apply to individuals).  This is because Executive Order 13526 Section 1.1(4)(c) makes clear that “(c) Classified information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information.” 

That makes it pretty hard for military personnel and others with security clearances to have a reasonably informed opinion or conversation about the controversy and/or the material leaked.  Indeed, those with a clearance would probably want to avoid any and all public discussion of the issues involved to ensure compliance with regulations.

So isn’t it funny that the entire world – including our enemies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere – can view the documents and discuss them but those with a clearance can’t?!?

As for my overall take on the matter, I think that the security breach (or breaches) that resulted in the scandal is an egregious violation of a public trust given to whomever leaked the documents.  Therefore, I’m with Chris Preble at the Cato Institute on this specific point below

Because I don’t trust individual leakers to be able to discern which material is legitimately classified, and which is not, I believe that individuals who possess classified material and knowingly release it to people not cleared for such information should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Finally, as a practical matter, I am particularly leery of individuals passing judgment on when to follow the rules, and when to ignore them, in cases involving national security. We rightly condemn military officers who defy civilian authority over the conduct of war. We should be equally critical of people who choose to go their own way in the conduct of information warfare. People with access to classified material have chosen to work in the government. They therefore choose to abide by the government’s rules, and should expect to pay a penalty if they violate them.

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Guido Fawkes makes the case for letting banks fail, comparing the trajectories of two economies massively damaged by the financial crisis: Iceland and Ireland. Iceland let its banks fail, while Ireland has bailed out its banks, to massive expense:

The Irish bail-out plan will cost €54,800 per Irish household. Ireland’s future thus looks a lot more bleak than Iceland’s path of debt default and a devaluation of 60% two years ago which has the country rebounding: exports and manufacturing are growing by 20%, tourism is back near all-time highs, real wages are rising, unemployment is declining sharply, interest rates fell from 18% to 5.5% and the stock market has rebounded 50% from its lows.

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Wikileaks and Incompetence

George Orwell once noted: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” I am not certain that the release of the newest Wikileaks documents is very revolutionary, even if the times meet Orwell’s description. David Rothkopf captures my general reaction in his brief column at Foreign Policy:

“the 250,000 State Department cables contained in the release offer up no single revelation as striking as the overall message they contain: The dark shadowy world of diplomacy and international intrigue is working just about precisely as you suspect it is.”

There are some interesting if not surprising revelations, of course. For example, who would have guessed that Slovenia was promised an audience with President Obama if it accepted a former Gitmo detainee? This seems overly ham-handed and hardly a glide path to closing Gitmo in 6 months 1 year 2 years…never. And HRC seems to be on her way to assembling an impressive database on UN diplomats via her National Humint Collection Directive which, according to der Spiegel, sought out “personal credit card information, frequent flyer customer numbers, as well as e-mail and telephone accounts. In many cases the State Department also requested ‘biometric information,’ ‘passwords’ and ‘personal encryption keys.’ Perhaps HRC’s days as FLOTUS taught her the high costs of working with asymmetrical information.

The most shocking aspect is the leak itself. The government’s secrets were downloaded by a private first class, burned, and smuggled out as a Lady GaGa CD. This evident incapacity to control secret documents should give pause to anyone who still believes the government can be trusted with maintaining the confidentiality of electronically transmitted medical records…or anything else, to be frank.

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So saith Doug Bandow in the American Spectator. (BTW, how far has the American Spectator come in publishing a piece like this?)

Why hasn’t the South put its resources to better military effect? Because it doesn’t have to.

So long as America offers a security guarantee, maintains a tripwire troop presence on the peninsula, and promises to do whatever is necessary to protect the ROK, the South Koreans have little incentive to take over their own defense. Granted, it’s a bit humiliating to constantly beg Washington for aid: it would be a bit like the U.S. going hat-in-hand around the world asking for help to defend against Mexico. Still, better for Seoul to get the gullible Americans to pay its defense bill than to have to cover the cost itself.

Making the ROK’s behavior even more outrageous has been Seoul’s attempt to buy off Pyongyang while relying on American military support.

The argument here is for an interesting combination of noninterventionism (on the part of the United States) and muscular deterrence (by South Korea). It just goes to show that you don’t have to be a dove to be a noninterventionist. Still, Bandow doesn’t go so far as to advocate withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear deterrent shield from South Korea.

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Favorite Books of 2010

This was a fine year for books. I am embarrassed to admit that I read little in the way of fiction this year and what I read was quite dated (e.g., Oakley Hall, Warlock). But I have some recommendations under biography and memoirs, economics, and religion.  I am most interested in hearing what you would recommend to me and fellow Pileus readers.

Biography and Memoirs:  I read a lot of biographies this year (on Nash, Keynes, McCarthy, Hamilton, Arthur, Eisenhower, Truman, Hoover, Bush, and Roosevelt). All were fine in their own ways, but the best single work was Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market. I am not much of an Ayn Rand fan (in fact, I’m not a fan at all). Burns’ biography succeeded in painting a complex portrait of Rand that made me appreciate her (even if I remain unconvinced about the novelty and virtues of her thought). In the memoir department, I strongly recommend Keith Richards, Life. Having spent most of my life playing guitar (telecaster thinline, in case you are interested) and marveling at the amazing rhythm licks of Keith Richards, this book was one of my favorites. Richards presents a refreshing uncensored window into the Stones, while offering a course in musicology (focusing on the blues) and some extraordinary discussions of the intellectual process that led him to embrace open tunings.  I just finished a second memoir, George W. Bush, Decision Points. While the book carries the heavy hand of a ghostwriter, it succeeds in bringing out the complexities of many of the issues faced during the Bush presidency. Bush is, at times, painfully honest about some of the results of his eight years in office. At other times, he seems oblivious to the damage done by core decisions (e.g., Medicare Modernization, the war in Iraq).

The Financial Crisis and Beyond: Many of the best books came out in 2009 but I only got to them in this calendar year. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time is Different, provides an impressive tutorial in the history of financial crises and the underlying dynamics. It is a fantastic, if heavy, read. Gary Gorton, Slapped by the Invisible Hand, is well worth the investment. Gorton has written some fascinating papers on the shadow banking system (focusing on the repo market) and they are brought together in this fine volume.Robert Reich’s Aftershock is an interesting read even if you disagree with 80 percent of what Reich writes. Reich seeks to place the collapse within a history of stagnant wages (a product of deindustrialization and the decline of unions) and growing inequality. Whether you agree or disagree with Reich’s larger argument, it is a lively book that is pitched to a generalist audience.

Two other books that require little in the way of specialized knowledge include Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, Crisis Economics and Ian Bremmer’s The End of the Free Market. Bremmer’s book is particularly interesting. It explores the phenomenon of state capitalism and the difficulties the US faces in competing with these regimes. If anyone is interested in sovereign wealth funds and the industrial policies embraced by state capitalists, this book  is made to order.

If all of these books leave you pessimistic, you can find relief in  Matt Ridley’s new book, The Rational Optimist. While this book was not as compelling as The Origins of Virtue, it was nonetheless a great read. And if you really want relief, turn to P.J.O’Rourke’s new book, Don’t Vote. While not in the same category as Parliament of Whores or Eat the Rich, this is a fantastically enjoyable read.

Religion: I made my first trip to Israel this year and in preparation I explored a number of books from the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. The authors—Christians and Jews—seek to place the gospels in the context of 1st century A.D. Judaism and understand where Jesus fit in the larger rabbinical tradition.  If this kind of thing interests you, I can recommend David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, David Biven, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, and Ron Mosely, Yeshua. I have also been intrigued by the debates inspired by the so-called new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc) and the response of Christians. Most of the work of the new atheists is polemical. However, some rather sophisticated essays on apologetics can be found in Robert Lane Craig and Chad Meister, God is Great, God is Good. If one is troubled by the problem of evil or wishes to explore the Islamic contributions to the cosmological argument, this is a great place to start.

All is all, it was a decent year for books. With the exception of Keith Richard’s memoir and the recent piece by O’Rourke,  you could provide any of these books to those you love without embarrassment (your mother may not be interested in some of the more seedy adventures of the Rolling Stones).

I await suggestions for great books I missed (and, of course, correctives on the poor books I praised).






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Sunday Morning Quotation is back, this time with a quotation from Damon Linker’s new book The Religious Test:

Unlike so many of their predecessors and contemporaries, the first liberals treated disagreement and discord about the highest good as a given and then proposed that civil peace in a deeply divided society could best be established and maintained by excluding as much as possible the most divisive questions – metaphysical questions – from political life.  Citizens would still have strongly held views about the highest good, but they would no longer presume that their neighbors or the political community as a whole would collectively endorse those views.   

Too bad so many people today, conservatives and modern liberals, want to turn the clock back and politicize so many things (high and low) that should be left in the private sphere.

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Honorific Resolutions

Jonathan Adler, a very smart law professor and one of my favorite bloggers over at the Volokh Conspiracy, notes that  “Republicans may eliminate honorific resolutions (e.g. resolutions endorsing National Potato Day and National Pi Day, or honoring the 75th anniversary of Radio Shack’s listing  on the NYSE — all real examples) from Congressional business.  This would be a nice symbolic gesture.  Such resolutions seem trivial, but they cost time and money — and they add up.” 

I’m really tempted to agree, and Jonathan is probably right.  Such resolutions are silly and a distraction when we know that Congressmen and women are so pressed for time that they can’t even read the full texts of important legislation. 

However, as I note in the comments at the VC:

“Idle hands…

But this issue does tap into the age-old question among classical liberals of whether we are better off with an efficient government or not. In theory, of course, we’d prefer an efficient, strong but limited government. But if we had an efficient and strong government, would it remain limited in practice? I guess in Italy one might prefer an inefficient government given how much the state could do based on what is on the books. But in New Hampshire, more efficiency — but maybe not so much people would be tempted to try and extend government too far. In other words, the inefficiency of the DMV might be a good thing since it provides a check on enthusiasm for the extension of the state.”

I didn’t see any estimations (in the original article Jonathan references) of the costs of such resolutions.  Anyone know?

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