State of the Union

National Service Programs Have Nothing To Do With Patriotism

Nothing like a “boot camp” or forced labor to bring back that good ol’-fashioned patriotism, says Joe Klein:

We have drifted a long way from civic rigor in this country. We’ve had a period of intense prosperity and intense immigration and intense growth of government programs for those in need, followed by an economic crash. We don’t know each other very well anymore, and it’s hard to trust people you don’t know. Throughout history, civilizations have built a common cause through coming-of-age rituals. But we don’t do that anymore. Maybe we should think about that. It could be something as simple as kids’ cleaning up their schools together, as Bob Quinn did–yes, Newt Gingrich was right about that–or it could be full-blown national service, including boot camp. But unless we start getting to know each other better, our chances of coming to a consensus about the important things we have to do together as a nation are going to be pretty slim.

The co-chairs of the Aspen Institute’s project to expand national service have an op-ed in Politico today calling for the same thing, though they say it wouldn’t have to be compulsory:

What we truly value, we institutionalize. To educate, we build universities. To cure, we build hospitals. To make citizens, we must facilitate the shared experiences that cultivate civic pride and responsibility.

This should mean a period of full-time national service as a rite of passage for every young American, ages 18 to 28. Such service could be military or civilian. Young adults could choose the Army or Peace Corps, Marine Corps or AmeriCorps, the Navy or VISTA. National service would be optional, but expected. Every college admissions officer or employer must start to ask, “Where did you serve?”

Hear that, young people? The Aspen Institute doesn’t think you’re patriotic enough, so they’d like you to lend your labor toward a great patriotic revitalization of nation and soul. And if you don’t want to, you should be relentlessly shamed and denied educational opportunities.

This idea crops up from time to time, and is occasionally endorsed in the pages of our biggest newspapers, mostly because it’s slightly less controversial than drafting young people into the military. John McCain had a memorable story in the Washington Monthly a month after 9/11—never waste a crisis, as they say—in which he more or less said he’d draft you if he could:

The decline of the citizen-soldier is not healthy for a democracy. While it is not currently politically practical to revive the draft, it is important to find better incentives and opportunities for more young Americans to choose service in the military, if not for a career, then at least for a limited period of time.

Most people don’t take reviving the draft or compulsory national service seriously because they’re terrible ideas, and the latter would almost certainly be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Their defenders all share a weak, shallow understanding of patriotism that is better described as something more idealistic, like nationalism. They would have a hard time making sense of Henry James’ great aphorism that “patriotism is like charity—it begins at home.” Our betters at the Aspen Institute and other defenders of national service say the public suffers from a sort of civic ennui. But contra David Brooks, this has less to do with a nation fragmenting along economic or cultural lines a la Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, and more with the fact that the civic institutions where meaningful participation is actually possible have been stripped of much of their significance. And not just in the sense that state and local governments have abrogated many of their roles upward, but also because the more mobile a society gets, the less those local affinities matter. As the pluralistic state declines, we’re left with a unitary one, forever in a state of becoming, toward which destiny the labor of young people is demanded.

In the absence of James-ian patriotism, having been replaced by the crude jingo type prone to starting wars, libertarianism may be the idea best equipped to push back. Consider a hypothetical debate between a progressive, a conservative, and a libertarian about reinstating the draft. The conservative is perhaps slightly reluctant about the idea but embraces it because he sees a means toward restoring patriotism and, after all, the price of freedom is compulsory military service. The liberal enthusiastically supports it because it will correct racial disparities in the ranks (as per Rep. Rangel’s nauseating obsession). The libertarian says the draft is slavery.

Posted in , . Tagged , , . 21 comments

‘Starbursts’ from Harry Jaffa: On Rich Lowry’s Embarrassing Lincoln Screed

National Review editor Rich Lowry’s two most notably unwise statements are defending the idea of nuking Mecca, and his odd reaction to a Sarah Palin speech. But his red-blooded sort of militarist nationalism has a pretty long paper trail. After cheering the war in Iraq, he said more troops wouldn’t make much of a difference, then changed his mind and called for escalation, even after the surgecriticized Obama for not being tough enough in Libya, and has been calling for Syrian intervention since 2003. And yet fisticuffs with Al Franken were a bridge too far.

Bear in mind Lowry’s—and there’s no other way to say this—callous disregard for American lives and unintended consequences as he defends the president in large part responsible for the war that took the most American lives. He’s written a new book about Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Unbound, and has been conducting promotional interviews this week in which he repeatedly refers to him as an “apostle of opportunity.

Now that Lowry’s written the book, he’s a mind-reader:

“He certainly would have loved the constitutionalism of the Tea Party.” (with Ed Driscoll)

“I believe he would consider having a car company named after him a high honor.” (with Jamie Weinstein)

In contrast to today’s “debt-obsessed” GOP, Lincoln was “solutions-focused.” (on Morning Joe)

Being one of the most studied figures in history—there are literally dozens of new books on Lincoln every year—one might wonder what the purpose of writing this book was. He has a helpful explanation in this cover story in the National Review; it’s to claim him for the respectable conservatives like himself—”he is much more one of us than one of them”—and to exonerate Honest Abe from his critics on the right. And so the brave editor rides to the sound of the guns Schlesinger polls.

Read More…

Posted in , , . Tagged , , , , , . 47 comments

Michael Lind Takes on the Cartoon Libertarians

For the last week or so Michael Lind has been sticking his thumbs in his ears and trolling libertarians with the challenge, “show me your laissez-faire utopia, nerds!”

Lind is an arch-Hamiltonian at the aggressively centrist New America Foundation, so this isn’t really surprising. But it being something of a libertarian moment with the administration’s various scandals, his columns have provided fodder for other guardians of the Washington consensus, such as E.J. “Your Community, The State” Dionne.

I’m not sure it’s useful to delve into the divergent historical views of everybody involved—Lind is basically right that 19th-century America hardly qualifies as a libertarian nation. These historiographies are mostly just proxies for contemporary debates: To Lind, his inability to find a good example of a libertarian state is evidence the philosophy doesn’t work, and Dionne saying early-20th Century America was “largely handcuffed by this anti-government ideology until Franklin D. Roosevelt came along” is just a historically ignorant way of condemning Scourge Tea Party.

Lind is absolutely right that the premium libertarians put on ideological purity often leads them to shoot themselves in the foot—evidence their eagerness to dismiss Rand Paul, the most prominent champion of libertarian ideas today, over things that end up not being true. The problem is he seems completely uninterested in engaging any of the more substantive responses from his interlocutors, such as Will Wilkinson, Ron Bailey, Max Borders, and Walt Thiessen. He’s arguing against a “cartoon libertarian” straw man.

If anything, libertarianism is skeptical of utopias of the sort that Lind’s social-engineering fellow travelers often fantasize about. It’s an attempt to solve the problem of power, as opposed to architecting and channeling it. That libertarians think they can is perhaps evidence of naive assumptions about human nature, but it’s still a worthy project.

Update: In today’s Transom, Ben Domenech points out Liechtenstein as a pretty good contender as a libertarian monarchy, rebuts Lind’s smear about Coolidge’s racism, who was fairly progressive on racial issues, and digs up this hilarious poem Lind wrote about former Klan member Woodrow Wilson.

Posted in . Tagged , , , , , , . 40 comments

E.W. Jackson Hits Aneesh Chopra for Alleged PRISM Connection

Here’s a press release from Virginia Republican Lieutenant Governor nominee E.W. Jackson yesterday:

CHESAPEAKE, VA - E.W. Jackson for Lieutenant Governor campaign manager Greg Aldridge today released the following statement on Aneesh Chopra’s role as Barack Obama’s Chief Technology Officer:

“When Barack Obama announced Aneesh Chopra as his technology czar in 2009, President Obama said the position would include promoting technological innovation to help ‘keep our nation secure,’” said Jackson for Lieutenant Governor campaign manager Greg Aldridge. “As more information becomes public concerning the government’s efforts to monitor its own citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Virginians have a right to know: What did Aneesh Chopra know about the PRISM program and other federal government efforts to archive our telephone conversations, e-mail and internet activity? If Aneesh Chopra can not stand up to his boss in the White House for the privacy of American citizens, how can Virginians trust him as Lieutenant Governor?”The news regarding the PRISM program and Verizon turning over customer data has spotlighted the issue of the federal government’s spying on the phone records, email communications, and internet activity of the American people.

Lest you think this is just coming from one side, Dems on Ben Tribbett’s Facebook have been implying similar things. The main one, Gail Gordon Donegan, was a DPV delegate and is a “community leader” for Women for Northam, Chopra’s primary opponent.

Bearing Drift has more on this developing story.

Chopra is running in today’s Democratic primary for the LG nomination.

Jackson is widely thought to be a drag on the Republican ticket for his history of outlandish statements—be sure to read Betsy Woodruff’s great profile. But if Chopra wins today, it could be a race between two candidates with significant flaws.

Posted in . Tagged , . 3 comments

Snowden and Outsourcing

Now that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has outed himself as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor which receives 99 percent of its revenue from the federal government (23 percent from intelligence work), the company’s stock has predictably begun to fall.

The company has released a statement condemning Snowden’s actions as a “grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

To put it politely, their homepage at the moment lacks a certain self-awareness:

Screen shot 2013-06-10 at 12.26.29 PM

It’s been pointed out that the bigger issue illustrated by Snowden’s disclosures is the degree to which we’ve outsourced important intelligence-gathering functions to private contractors. From today’s Post:

Snowden was among tens of thousands of private intelligence contractors hired in the unprecedented push to “connect the dots” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They work side by side with civil servants as analysts, technical support specialists and mission managers. An unknown number have access to secret and top-secret material. Several years ago, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence estimated that almost one in four intelligence workers were employed by contractors.

The growing reliance on contractors reflects a massive shift toward outsourcing over the past 15 years, in part because of cutbacks in the government agencies. It has dramatically increased the risk of waste and contracting abuses, government auditors have found, in part because the government has repeatedly acknowledged that it does not have a sufficient workforce to oversee the contractors.

The Times’ story along the same lines points out Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s—who has blasted the disclosures as “reckless” and dangerous to national security—connection to the firm:

As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen.

“The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that studies federal government contracting. “This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.”

Indeed, one of the strangest things about this disclosure is how a 29 year-old high school dropout working in IT had access to some of the NSA’s most sensitive intelligence information. But the thing is, as Farhad Manjoo points out, any effort to discredit Snowden reflects poorly on the government, which cleared him to handle this stuff, and the company that hired him.

Look, I despise the explosion of contractors and new agency headquarters that’s shielded the DC region’s real estate market from economic downturn and destroyed Virginia’s electoral politics as much as the next patriotic American, but here are two things worth keeping in mind:

1. There are many problems with the contracting system, but anyone claiming Snowden’s disclosures argue for enlarging the federal workforce is missing something important.

2. As Matt Frost points out on Twitter, whatever Snowden was doing was at the government’s explicit request, and being on the outside possibly made him more likely to leak. And as we’ve learned from Lois Lerner, government employees can be very difficult to fire.

Posted in . Tagged , , . 10 comments

President Obama Embraces the False Choice

For those of you just joining us, there have been two big revelations about the NSA’s data-mining efforts since Wednesday, both reported by the Guardian.

The first:

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largesttelecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

And the second:

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

A few things to keep in mind: Technically the latter only applies to foreign nationals living outside the U.S.—keeping tabs on which is the NSA’s job description—but it seems impossible to separate one from the other. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the tech companies’ denials that they cooperated. As for the collection of phone records, it’s probably safe to assume that this is going on with most major providers.

In a press conference today, during which he took one question from the press–”because  I don’t want the whole day to just be a bleeding press conference”–the president tried to reassure Americans that the NSA is full of really good people who would never in a million years think about violating your Fourth Amendment rights, and that ”You can’t have 100% security and then 100% privacy.” From the AP report:

In his first comments since the programs were publicly revealed this week, Obama says safeguards are in place. He says nobody is listening to the content of phone calls. And he says the internet targeting is aimed at foreign nationals, not American citizens.

Obama says he increased some of the “safeguards” on the programs after taking office. And he believes they help his administration stop terrorist attacks.

From a political standpoint, these massive data collection efforts the administration’s stated commitment to ending the war on terror pretty hard to believe. They also contradict the president’s former views—he sponsored the SAFE Act, which would have banned them, and talked frequently about the “false choice” of liberty or security during campaigns.

Read More…

Posted in , , , , . Tagged , . 16 comments

Does Bob Goodlatte’s Cell Phone-Unlocking Bill Go Far Enough?

This morning the House Judiciary subcommittee covering intellectual property is holding a hearing on cell phone unlocking, specifically a legislative proposal to restore the exemption under the DMCA that the librarian of Congress decided not to include last year.

That Congress is acting so quickly to fix the problem is encouraging, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that, but keep in mind that it’s very narrowly-tailored—the legislative exemption expires, leaving future determinations in the hands of the librarian—and it doesn’t address the DMCA itself at all. Sina Khanifar, one of the two people responsible for the public-relations campaign that brought us to this point, has said it doesn’t go far enough in an op-ed for USA today. Derek Khanna, the other one, was asked to prepare a written statement (embedded below) but he also criticized the lack of any IP critics testifying:

On Thursday, Chairman Goodlatte’s legislation will be before the House Judiciary IP Subcommittee. Unfortunately, while the wireless industry and others who have been against unlocking will be represented, there will be no witnesses at the hearing who have been part of our campaign for unlocking (however, Consumers Advocacy may be an advocate for the consumer on this issue). This is very disappointing news.

Ryan Radia has a pretty evenhanded take on the legislation:

By restoring the broad DMCA exemption for phone unlocking in force from 2006 to 2012, S.517 [the Senate analogue to the House bill] addresses the problem at hand without going too far. It neither forces carriers to help users unlock their phones, nor limits carriers’ ability to recover damages from subscribers who breach their contracts. Rather, the bill would simply shield users who unlock their cell phones from the DMCA’s harsh penalties. In striking this balance, S.517 deserves credit for aiming to solve a discrete problem with a narrowly-tailored solution.

But would S.517′s fix last? Given that “[n]othing in [the] Act alters . . . the authority of the Librarian of Congress under [the DMCA],” S.517 would presumably leave unchanged the substantial deferenceenjoyed by the Librarian regarding his decisions about which circumvention tools to exempt—including cell phone unlocking tools. If, three years from now, the Librarian boldly decides that his2012 decision to curtail the phone unlocking exemption was correct, and thus restores the language currently in force, Congress will be back at square one.

Also be sure to check out FCC commissioner Ajit Pai’s op-ed on the hearing in today’s New York Times.

Khanna’s full statement after the jump. Read More…

Posted in . Tagged , , , , . 2 comments

Millennials in the Mist

After all the reporting trumpeting the College Republicans’ stock-taking of Millennial voters as “scathing[!!!],” I was a little underwhelmed when I finally read it.

Some parts have the humorously anthropological feel of someone who’s marinaded in beltway groupthink for too long and ventures out to find that Real People share hardly any of the same assumptions, or even language:

… whether or not the government was “too big” was a perplexing question for them. Few had a clear picture of what “big government” meant.

No way!

Some things were legitimately troubling. Only 27 percent considered lowering healthcare costs a top priority, which is odd for the group that’s being screwed most of all by the ACA. It’s awfully magnanimous, for a generation often accused of being self-obsessed.

On the whole, nearly all the Millennial criticisms of the current GOP are the same as those being made by “libertarian populist” reformers—the party is more friendly to big business than small, too focused on cutting and not enough on fixing. Marginal tax rates don’t turn them on, and they question whether deregulation would actually result in better outcomes for them, at least directly.

Here’s what their survey said about what winnable voters thought about the causes of the recession:

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 2.57.13 PM

A big point it’s missing is something that Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry says in his reform conservatism “manifesto“:

In other words, the reform conservative story about how government grows goes something like this: Americans increase their demand for big government when they feel enough economic and social insecurity that they see bigger government as the only resort left.

 Obamacare is a case in point, here. Americans have always been, and remain, deeply skeptical of socialized medicine, and for extremely good reason. But the cost of health insurance, and the insecurity associated with it, and the dysfunction of the system have become so bad that, in the face of a lack of conservative reform and credible conservative alternatives, they reluctantly accepted it.

The same applies to many Millennial priorities. Most accept at least in theory the idea that higher education subsidies increase the cost of college, but they’re not willing to eliminate them and accept the uncertainty and lack of support that would go along with a return to realistic pricing.

The most concerning long-term threat to small government as far as Millennials are concerned is that they’re likely to be the first generation less economically successful than their parents. It’s certainly possible, some might even say likely, that they’d turn to government to fill that gap. It would have been nice to see the College Republicans reckon with that.

Posted in , . Tagged , . 18 comments

In Praise of (Legalistically) Splitting the Baby

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is being criticized from all sides for deciding to hold a special election to replace Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died on Monday at the age of 89, three weeks before a general election in which the governor is running for reelection.

He could have just appointed someone to serve out the rest of Lautenberg’s term, but it could be damaging for Christie to be tied to the voting record of the GOP’s senate minority. Not to mention New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1972. Christie also has by now a good track-record of putting New Jersey voters before the national GOP, which for most people is a good thing.

The August primary virtually ensures that Newark Mayor Cory Booker will get the Democratic nomination. Activists on both sides who benefit from drawn-out primaries, were quite upset: American Bridge characterized the decision as opportunistic while Dick Armey deemed it evidence of “debilitating stupidity.”

The Star-Ledger blasted the “self-serving stunt” in an editorial published last night:

There is no legitimate reason to hold two separate elections, and the reason he’s doing it is purely self-serving. He calculates that more Democratic voters will show up and cast ballots against him if a popular Democratic candidate like Newark Mayor Cory Booker is on the ballot as well. Given the big lead the governor has already, the greed here is striking: He apparently wants to run up his margin of victory as a credential for his 2016 presidential campaign.

Democratic former governor James Florio praised Christie’s decision, though says he would have waited until the November general election to avoid the extra cost, which is what virtually everyone from New Jersey Democrats to Drudge to Washington Republicans have said. David Freddoso helpfully points out that by New Jersey law he wasn’t allowed to wait that long:

… provided he made the proclamation of Lautenberg’s vacancy today, the latest he could have legally set the election was at the end of October. Christie made a point of mentioning that the primary is 70 days from today, and the general election is 64 days after that — the earliest possible date. Now, I can’t find anything in the statute that says Christie could not have waited a few weeks before issuing a proclamation — theoretically, this might have let him set the election for November 5. But this might also carry some legal implication I don’t know about, and it could have also complicated the appointment of a new senator.

In any case, as many others have pointed out, there are also obvious political benefits for Christie to split the baby by holding the election this year, but not on the same date as his own re-election. Republicans are highly unlikely to defeat Cory Booker in the Senate race, whether or not Christie is on the ballot. That’s just the reality. So politically speaking, the question is when you want to give Democrats a real reason come running down from the hills to vote? Certainly not on November 5, 2013.

So, he left the decision to voters, but followed the letter of the law so as not to give down-ticket Democrats a boost from Cory Booker in November. What’s not to like?

Posted in . Tagged , . 8 comments

John McCain’s Islamist Photo Op and the Problem with ‘Material Support’

Senator John McCain undermined the point of his trip to Syria—to prove that it really is possible to arm the right rebels and not the wrong ones—by posing with what the Lebanese press has claimed are Islamist kidnappers. Even the reliably hawkish Andrew McCarthy is cracking jokes. Allahpundit gets it right:

… [McCain] actually says at 4:40 that the rebels “are trying to achieve the same thing that we have shed American blood and treasure for for well over 200 years.” It’s one thing to believe that 10 years ago, before a series of exceptionally hard lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Egypt; it’s another to believe it now. It’s so surreally untrue that it eclipses McCain’s one solid realpolitik-minded argument here, that aiding the Sunni rebellion is a way to weaken Iran and, especially, Hezbollah by bleeding them in a Vietnamish quagmire of their own. We’ve spent two years watching Egypt bend towards Islamism and now here’s Maverick attempting to sell the public again on the idea that Syria’s a liberal democracy in the eventual making if we just pick the right people to empower, knowing full well that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood probably constitutes one of the milder expressions of Islamic fundamentalism among the rebel hordes.

Of course, McCain’s office pushed back hard, saying ”it would be ludicrous to suggest that the senator in any way condones the kidnapping of Lebanese Shia pilgrims or has any communication with those responsible.”

But that isn’t really the point. The point is that he didn’t know what sort of people they were and turned out to be wrong.

More troublingly, apart from being inappropriate meddling by the legislative branch in a tense diplomatic situation, McCain’s photo-op could possibly constitute ‘material support’ for terrorists under the PATRIOT Act, as Doug Bandow points out:

Having his photo taken with Islamic extremists could reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement, which, based on past cases, could be seen as providing “material support” for terrorism. Presumably that isn’t what Sen. McCain intended. But the law’s application is not based on intent.

To be fair to the rest of us, the Justice Department should investigate. The alternative would be for Senator McCain to launch a legislative effort to restrict the application of the law to what most people would reasonably consider to be aiding terrorists. …

A legislative rewrite obviously would be the best response. Still, as much as I oppose vague and ambiguous criminal enactments by the federal government, I would enjoy seeing Senator McCain in the dock. It would be cosmic justice for his support of the catastrophic invasion in Iraq and endless occupation of Afghanistan.

This vague, sweeping definition of ‘material support‘, defined in the 2010 case Holder v. Humanitarian Law also made the likes of John Bolton, Howard Dean, Tom Ridge, Louis Freeh, and Clarence Page terrorist supporters under the government’s own definition, for giving paid speeches on behalf of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. The Islamo-marxist cult was de-listed late last year after a coordinated lobbying campaign headed up by the agency that represented Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad.

Count me with Bandow in thinking it would have been nice to see some law enforcement agency be consistent enough to arrest and jail any of the above supporters of terrorists, if just to prove a point about the overreach of executive power since 9/11. But why quibble over some abstract principle like equal justice under the law when there are terrorists to fight support?

Posted in , , . Tagged , . 12 comments
← Older posts