Tag: John McCain

And Now Syria

The White House has made it official: Syria has crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons on the opposition. McCain, ever eager for another war, is saying we are going to start aiding the rebels. The WH has yet to confirm.

The Syrian opposition is kind of difficult to define. But we know at least one element includes radical Islamists. We should stay out. It’s a horrible thing — 100,000 dead according to the latest estimate. But I don’t see that our getting involved will solve anything.

Not Giving In

One of the worst temptations after a high-profile crisis like Boston is to surrender some of our freedom for the illusion of safety. Perhaps this was justifiable after 9/11, when he had 2800 dead and weren’t sure what Al-Qaeda’s capabilities were. But even in that case, we can see now, after ten years, that we gave too much. Warrantless wiretapping, surveillance, no-fly lists, TSA, torture, the spectre of drones in American cities, the Patriot Act. The last time we gave an inch, the government took about ten miles.

In the wake of Boston, many pro-“security” pols are already beating the drums for more restrictions on our freedom. They are as shameless and as opportunistic as those who called for immediate gun control in the wake of Sandy Hook. They are hoping that, in the passion of the moment, we will give them something they have wanted for a long time whether or not it would have prevented this tragedy.

But the idea that we should have a 9/11-type surrender of freedom after Boston is simply absurd once you push aside the emotions of the last week. As horrible as the attack was, it killed and maimed fewer people than a good night on America’s highways. As scary as it is that terrorists might start going after “soft targets”, there are literally tens of thousands of mass gathering throughout the year in the United States. We simply can not protect all of them, no matter what we do. And, as we have found out with the powers we gave the government after 9/11, any powers we give the government now will quickly be used for other purposes.

In Boston, at least one bad idea was used and several more have been proposed in the interest of “public safety”. To tackle three of them:

Lockdown: For years, we have had a growing problem with schools locking down the minute they sense some danger, real or imagined. In Boston this week, we had the strange case of a (mostly) voluntary lockdown put out by the Governor. This lockdown included MTBA, which basically mandated the lockdown for anyone without a car (with corresponding hurt to the working poor).

Murderers, rapists and muggers are always on our streets. But for one idiot kid, we shut down a major American city? If I were him, I would have been delighted to see millions of people inconvenienced because the police couldn’t find me. The cost of the lockdown has been estimated between $1 and $3 billion (although I think those are wild overestimates). Was it worth that? Was it worth the precedent? Ironically, the kid was found because the lockdown was lifted and one man ventured out of house and saw something in his boat.

The motto for this week was “Boston strong”. And the people of Boston have indeed shown a sterling resilience. I’ve heard many say they plan to go to the marathon next year as a show of defiance. But what is strong about telling people to hide in their homes and not go out?

I was living in Baltimore when the Beltway Sniper was on the loose. We didn’t have any killings up there (although it turned he was staying there). But the sense of tension and fear was very palpable. Much more so than this week because no one had any idea who the sniper was. But we got out and went to work. The idea of shutting down anything simply wasn’t on.

Look, I get the flip side: if he’d had more guns and bombs, he might have gone into a public square and slaughtered dozens. But that danger always exists. Criminals have weapons. Terrorists have bombs. That we knew this one guy was dangerous does not make any other day of the week safe. If you know of a specific danger, you can call in more cops and warn citizens. In an extreme case, you can use the National Guard. In short, you can increase the number of alert and armed people who are out there and improve the odds. But having everyone cower in their homes? It’s not only a violation, it’s an ineffective one.

(More on this from Popehat.)


One thing being pushed in the wake of Boston is more public surveillance. We are being told that we need more security cameras and more police access to security cameras.

Never mind that the clearest video of these guys came from a private store’s camera. Never mind that more images came from the public. Never mind that, with ubiquitous smart phones, it’s almost impossible not to be photographed every day. Never mind that the public cooperates any time something like this happens. Never mind that cameras have never delayed or stopped a terrorist attack: London is one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the world but that didn’t stop the 7/7 attacks. No, we need more cameras say the police staters.

The police state supporters have always wanted more cameras. They have been pushing them on us for decades using any crisis — the War on Drugs, 9/11, Boston — to push for more. They are constantly walking through the blood of the slain in their efforts to get everyone on camera every day. Of course, these cameras are rarely used for counter-terrorism. Like the Patriot Act powers, they are mostly used for ordinary crime, including drug crime. And we frequently find that they are abused for purposes that have no relation to crime.

I would think that the ease with which these guys were identified and the images that came in from the public would indicate that we have enough surveillance already.


Remember when Rand Paul filibustered the Senate over the use of drones, worrying that the President’s power to kill would be extended into this country against American citizens? Remember how crazy everyone said he was, how paranoid?

Well, guess what? Lindsey Graham and John McCain are now calling for an American citizen captured on American soil with no obvious ties to any terrorist organization to be treated like an enemy combatant. They want to deny him a lawyer, deny his Miranda rights and basically detain him indefinitely.

Now do we see why Ron Paul wanted clarity on drones? Now do we see why he wanted clarity on targeted killing? Now do we see why we shouldn’t have opened the door to indefinite detention and denial of rights with Jose Padilla? Once you have started to carve out areas of the law that are exempt from Constitutional rights, those areas will expand and expand until they enclose everything.

No extremist links have been alleged in this case, let alone proven. There is no evidence that he is tied Al-Qaeda or any other group. There is little evidence this was part of a larger conspiracy. It’s not even clear what, if any, role their religion played in this. But McCain and Graham simply want him declared an enemy combatant because … well, because he’s a Muslim who killed and maimed a bunch of people. They now want the “battlefield” to enclose the entirety of the United States.

Constitutional rights are not popular the best of times. Every time a high-profile criminal is caught, some subset of the population gets annoyed that he gets a lawyer and jail time instead of being strung up at dawn. If the Bill of Rights were ever up for a vote, I doubt it woud get 50%. That is why those who do value civil liberties, who claim to revere the rights and liberties enshrined in our Constitution must never give an inch.

I don’t object to a temporary delay in Mirandizing this guy to make sure there are no more bombs out there (and, indeed, the FBI has apparently made some related arrests this morning). But once that is done — preferably within a day or two — he should be Mirandized and given a lawyer. He should be tried in a criminal court and thrown in jail for the rest of his life (Massachusetts has a death penalty on the books but has not used it for thirty years).


We have courts because they are essential to the protection of the rule of law and the rights of individual citizens, and they are the method by which we dispense justice under rules that are designed as much to protect us as they are to protect criminal defendants. Treating Tsarnaev, a naturalized American citizen who has lived in this country since he was eight years old, treated no differently from men who were captured on battlefields in Afghanistan and are currently sitting in the prison complex at Guantanamo Bay where they are likely to remain for a very long time, is a perversion of that system of justice in the name of a haphazard system of non-justice that has risen up in the years since the September 11 attacks. If Tsarnaey is treated as an “enemy combatant” then it would mean that any American citizen could potentially receive the same designation if the government so chose, and that they could be subjected to the same deprivations of rights, including lack of access to counsel for extended periods of time. That’s a perversion of justice and a perversion of liberty.

Lindsey Graham and others in the Republican Party would have us believe that this weeks events in Boston were part of a war that began nearly twelve years ago with the attacks of September 11th. At the very least, this judgment is premature because we have absolutely no idea what the real story behind the Boston Marathon attacks actually is. We don’t know if the Tsarnaev brother were motivated by religion, by a political agenda, by an unspecific generalized hatred of the society they’d grown up in based on the fact that they hadn’t achieved what they believed they were entitled to, or by just a desire to cause destruction and pain to people. Even if the attacks were based on some kind of religious/political motivation, we don’t know if they were acting alone or if they were surrogates for others, either domestic or foreign. Ascribing, at this early date, these attacks to a “Global War On Terror” is both premature and, quite obviously, based only on the fact that they are Muslim men. That is clearly not sufficient grounds to strip an American citizen of his rights and throw him in the rat hole that is Guantanamo Bay.

Our legal system has served us well, although admittedly at times imperfectly, for two centuries now. Sacrificing the values it represents in the name of the “war on terror” would be a fatal error.

Bingo. Mirandize him, give him a lawyer, put him on trial. Those are his rights as an American. No matter what he’s done.

Detention Hall

I’ve been warning for some time that the regime of indefinite detention of terror suspects — started by Bush and continued by Obama — would not stay confined to foreign terrorist (it never really was, as Jose Padilla could tell you). Well, here we go:

Either Monday or Tuesday the Senate will vote on a bill that allows the US military to imprison civilians with no formal charges and hold them with no trial.

The ACLU reports even US citizens wouldn’t be immune as the legislation aims to declare national territory part of the “battlefield” in the War on Terror.

The bill gives the President unilateral power to detain anyone, mandates detention of civilians outside of military control and transfers control of detention to the Department of defense.

Mark Udall and Rand Paul are trying to strip this provision from the defense bill and Obama is threatening a veto. The ACLU has more here.

McCain and Levin — the authors of this provision — respond here. Almost all of their points address concerns that we’re not giving the President enough power to declare anyone to be a terror suspect and turn him over to DoD indefinitely. The closest they come to addressing civil liberties concerns is a claim that they are simply codifying what the President is already doing:

No provision in the legislation expands the authority under which detainees can be held in military custody. On the contrary, it codifies detention authority that has been adopted by two administrations and upheld in the courts. The bill states clearly that it does not expand or limit the president’s authorities under the original 2001 authorization of the use of force against al-Qaeda.

Even if this were true — and the ACLU thinks it isn’t — the detention power the Presidents have assumed since 9/11 already goes too far, is too arbitrary and has no review or oversight. To call it “Star Chamber justice” is to insult star chambers. It grants our president the power no president should ever have: the ability to declare someone an enemy and throw them into a prison for as a long as he wants. This includes American citizens caught on American soil.

Notice something else about the McCain-Levin op-ed. It includes a plethora of phrases that Terror Warriors use to try to frighten us into surrender:

the unprecedented kind of war that came to our shores on Sept. 11, 2001 … the threat posed by al-Qaeda … al-Qaeda terrorists who participate in planning or conducting attacks against us …

Whenever I see these asides in an article, post or speech, I know what follows is likely bullshit. They are the War on Terror’s answer to liberal asides like “corporate power” and “wealth disparity”. They are the grease for the multi-pronged dildo that is to follow.

Al-Qaeda is waning as a threat. This President has taken out their nominal leader and most of their upper echelons. And the response is … to increase our government’s anti-terror powers? What McCain and Levin are unwittingly revealing is what civil libertarians have been claiming all along: that this was never about terrorism; this was about increasing government’s power.

Coburn on the Move

Tom Coburn is on the warpath against the NSF for supposed wasteful spending on scientific research, citing such wasteful programs as running shrimp on treadmills and having robots fold towels as examples of NSF waste.

I’ve blogged on this subject before. NSF does not dole out research grants on a whim. They are, in fact, a paradigm of how government agencies can work. They stick to a strict budget. The rank proposals by peer review and then only fund the programs they have the money for. Regular reports are required to release funding in subsequent years. And funding is contingent on past performance. If Coburn had dug a little deeper, he would have found that many of these so-called wasteful programs are useful. The shrimp treadmill program, for example, is about monitoring the health of shrimp — shrimping being a multi-billion dollar industry. The towel folding experiment, while sounding trivial, was a key breakthrough in robotics. Even though folding towels seems simple, it’s a very complex task. Getting robots to do it is a big step toward getting them to do other things (and providing insight into how humans do complex tasks so easily).

To be fair, however, you will almost certainly find any list of government research grants to have more than its share of clunkers. Indeed, that’s the reason we have government-funded science — to put money into projects that don’t have an obvious and immediate payoff but may have big benefits down the road: the sort of high-risk, high-reward projects that can sometimes bump science along. Most scientific experiments fail, most scientific theories prove wrong. Scientific investigation often sounds dumb because … well, it often turns out to be dumb. This is why scientists get so defensive about ideas like AGW and evolution: because it’s rare to find a theory so supported by the available evidence.

The best thing to do is let NSF continue to control its budget. Accountability is always good. Let’s make sure there are no conflicts of interest and that money isn’t being put into clearly failed projects. NSF’s policy of publishing layman’s summaries of all approved research should be continued and highlighted. But micromanaging it is a recipe for disaster. As I said in the above linked post:

If we need to cut science funding to balance the budget—and I think it’s a bad place to start cutting—the way to do it simply to cut NSF’s budget and let NSF figure out what programs they can ditch. Maybe we can shift some gross budget items. But having 535 lawyers looking over scientists’ shoulders is bad medicine.

The worst thing about Coburn’s rant is that is has inflamed the usual suspects into claiming that the GOP hates science. In the middle of an otherwise good debunking of talking points, the above blogger says:

Republicans don’t like science and scientists because they are sources of data that are independent of GOP-approved propaganda mills like Fox News. Pesky scientists and academics are always popping up to dispute the Roger Ailes-approved buzz-quote of the day — on climate change, on health care, on the effects of poverty on the rapidly evaporating middle class, on the diversity of American families, and on the importance of funding basic research instead of commercially-driven ventures constrained by short-term considerations like ROI.

Today’s GOP has a visceral distrust of scientists for the same reason that it has a visceral distrust of the “lamestream media” (particularly deeply reported news organizations like The New York Times), teachers, organized labor, regulatory agencies, National Public Radio, and protest movements that are have not been astroturfed for Fox News’ cameras by Koch Industries: They’re not with the program, whatever this week’s program might be — more windfalls to Big Oil, justifying torture, or floating amendments to officially brand gay people as second-class citizens.

Science, you could say, has a built-in left-wing bias, because it does not appeal to simplistic notions of God, country, tribal supremacy, or any of the other lesser angels of our nature that the GOP finds handy for its get-out-the-angry-vote drives.

This is absurd. Ronald Reagan was a tremendous supporter of science as were both Bushes. Here, from the NSFs own website, is NSF’s historical funding, which has risen steadily, including when Bush and the Republicans controlled the government. There was a short (and ill-advised) spike in funding in 2008.

As for not being on the Fox News approved message: the only prominent politicians who are openly questioning the War on Drugs and the War on Terror — I mean, when there isn’t a partisan advantage to doing so — are Republicans like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson. Turn on Fox News and you’ll sometimes find someone like Andrew Napolitano vigorously disagreeing with the GOP on constitutional issues. John McCain and Jon Hunstman have both said they agree that climate change is occurring. McCain, you may remember, is such a marginal figure that he was the Republican President nominee in 2008.

Furthermore, the Left is more than happy to ignore science they don’t like. When The Bell Curve was published, the Left responded with anger, not debate. When Larry Summers, in the midst of discussing how to get more women into science, had the temerity to suggest that sexism was not the root cause of the gender disparity, the Left didn’t just dispute him; they hounded him out of office for blasphemy.

The Left continues to support climate-change related pseudo-science like food miles, locavorism, electric cars and corn ethanol. They continue to treat scientific ignoramus Algore as some kind of prophet. The Democrats have specifically buried reports they don’t like, such as those showing Head Start to be a failure and Obamacare-style reforms to drive up healthcare costs. They continue to flog welfare spending, “fair” trade and raising the minimum wage despite decades of research showing the disastrous effects of such policies. They ignored the parts of Climategate in which scientists tried to silence climate dissenters and have said nothing about unfair and brutal attacks on climate realists like Bjorn Lomborg.

Hell, right fucking now, they are running around claiming the spate of tornados is a result of global warming despite the dearth of any evidence supporting this position. They’ve even said that the null hypothesis should be that any weird weather is a result of global warming. They’re calling for states to make long-term plans to deal with AGW even though no one really knows what those long-term effects will be beyond unscientific “narratives” conjured up out of the imagination.

And frankly, the profligate spending of both parties is the biggest menace threatening science today. Just the interest on the stimulus would be enough to fund a complete second NSF.

But … the Republicans are determined to make it easy to fling these charges at them. Their positions on AGW and evolution open the door wide. They recently cut funds to overhaul our weather satellite system — a crucial part of hurricane prediction. Eric Cantor put numerous small scientific programs on the ridiculous You Cut website.

As long as the GOP continues to act as if science is the enemy, they will be accused of … seeing science as the enemy. As long as they continue to tolerate ignorant anti-science screeds from politicians who can’t be bothered to read the publicly available layman’s summaries of funded research that explain what the research is and why it’s being done, they will be branded this way.

And that’s a pity. Because science won’t survive in the hands of the Democrats either. Science is many things; but it’s never politically correct.

(As always, disclosure: I’ve been funded by NSF programs at various points in my career.)