Published Writing


August 6th, 2013

8 Animals That Are Dog-Tired of Waiting for Entitlement Reform

A version of this blog post appeared on BuzzFeed on August 2, 2013 and FreeEnterprise.com on August 5.

As Congress kicks the can on reforming the country’s entitlement programs, America’s future hangs in the balance. Since we’ve addressed the issue in the usual ways—speechvideoblog postinfographicanimated gifFacebook post—we thought it was time for a listicle. With animals. BuzzFeed-style.

Thanks to the NRCCHeritage Foundation, Mercatus Center, and Woodrow Wilson Center for paving the political ground for this newfangled approach.

1I walk my human every day. Don’t tell me entitlement reform is too much work!

2I have nine lives to plan for—can’t you tackle Social Security before my whiskers turn gray?

3Listen, I’m the only one who should be playing dead when it comes to fixing Medicare.

4I’m practicing for when the debt becomes so big, they start rationing the fish.

5My kids deserve better.

6Wake me when we stop pretending Simpson-Bowles never existed.

7Oh, honey, I spend more time with a hair brush than Congress spends thinking about the future.

8I’m not going to be this cute forever. Reform entitlements now!

July 13th, 2009

There’s Something About Dick Cheney

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, center right, is flanked by his wife Lynne, right, and Israel's President Moshe Katsav, center left, when leaders from 30 countries gather to remember the victims of the Holocaust on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp by Soviet troops in Oswiecim, southern Poland on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005. At left is Jolana Kwasniewski, the wife of Poland's President. (AP Photo/Herbert Knosowski)

A version of this blog post appeared on the Next Right on July 13, 2009.

In his Pulitzer-winning biography, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, Barton Gellman recounts a conversation between former vice president Dan Quayle and newly sworn-in VP Dick Cheney:

“Dick, you know, you’re going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you’re going to be doing all this political fundraising,” Quayle [said]. “I mean, this is what vice presidents do. We’ve all done it. You go back and look at what I did, or what Gore did.”

Cheney did that thing he does with one raised eyebrow, a smile on just the left side of his face.

“I have a different understanding with the president,” he said.

What exactly what was this “different understanding”? Gellman captures it perfectly in another reported nugget:

Days after [Hurricane Katrina] had passed, when he finally returned to Washington from Crawford, [President] Bush assembled his senior staff in the Oval Office. He was going to form a cabinet-level task force, he said.

“I asked Dick if he’d be interested in spearheading this,” Bush announced. “Let’s just say I didn’t get the most positive response.” Bush nodded ironically toward the vice president, putting on a show for the others: Card, Rove, Bartlett, Condi Rice. His expression, the tone of voice, had a hint of edge. Can you believe this guy?. . . .

“Will you at least go do a fact-finding trip for us?” Bush asked.

“That’ll probably be the extent of it, Mr. President, unless you order otherwise,” Cheney replied.

Leave aside for the moment whether you like or agree with Cheney. Can’t we all appreciate the sui generis power he wielded? The consequence-free autonomy? The chutzpah? Consider:

• He maneuvered the search committee he was leading to select a vice presidential candidate for then-Governor Bush such that he himself became the running mate—while maintaining a treasure trove of personal information about his would-be competitors.

• He argued, all the way to the Supreme Court, his right to keep private the names of those with whom he had devised a national energy strategy.

• He, rather than the president, issued the order to shoot down the unknown jetliner racing toward Washington on 9/11.

• He unilaterally exempted his office from the presidential order that requires executive branch personnel either to submit periodic reports on the classified information held in their offices, or to allow National Archives staff to conduct in-office inspections.

• He accidentally shot a friend in the face while quail hunting, and kept the incident under wraps for a full day.

• He, rather than the president, ordered the CIA to withhold information about a secret counterrrorism program from Congress.

Others have written at length about Cheney’s predilection for secrecy and executive power. But what fascinates me is Cheney’s psychology. He doesn’t care what you think. He’s a millionaire in his 60s who’s survived four heart attacks. He does what he wants, when he wants, and lets the chips fall where they may (for instance, a 13% approval rating upon leaving office).

There’s something wondrous, if not necessarily wonderful, about that.

November 11th, 2008

How Would You Respond to This E-mail?

Hand on MouseIn the first week of my first job, my boss sent me the following e-mail:

“Jonathan: Please find out who voted for BCRA.”

My first instinct was to reply, “Hi Bill: So sorry about this, but I don’t know what BCRA is.” Fortunately, before clicking Send, I rethought my response and instead Googled “BCRA.” Ten seconds later, I found the answer: BCRA stood for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, otherwise known as McCain-Feingold.

These differing responses represent the two types of employees. The first response, which foists the burden back onto the questioner, comes from the slothful employee, who wants to go about his job without exertion and who does not seek success. The second response, which embraces the burden, comes from the achiever. He may not know the answer—and even be utterly ignorant of the subject—but he takes it upon himself to learn. He is averse to answering a question with a question, and considers it a failure if he cannot do what is asked, even with limited information. (A third response, research without success, is fine, as long as the research is undertaken in good faith.)

In short, the slothful employee presents his boss with problems, whereas the achiever presents him with solutions. One is a problem; the other is a problem-solver.

Think about which person you are the next time you receive a request—and not just from a superior—which asks for something about which you’re ignorant. Instead of reaching for the Reply button, scroll a little farther for the search bar. You may surprise yourself.

November 29th, 2007

Should We Question a Presidential Candidate’s Religious Beliefs?

Hand on Bible

A version of this blog post appeared on Redstate on December 1, 2007.

Those running for president are asking us them to trust them with the launch codes to the world’s most powerful and largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. Surely, then, it’s perfectly appropriate to question their judgment.

The most controversial of these judgments concerns—ironically—the candidates’ most cherished beliefs, which is to say their religious convictions.

Let’s get the caveats out of the way: The candidates are running to be our president, not our priest, so whether they say grace or how often they attend church is inconsequential.

Yet since each one has professed to be a person of deeply felt faith, they have all thereby invited us to probe what that means.

Not because, as Christopher Hitchens would have it, religion is evil—from far it—but because anything—be it religion, a book or even a wife—which a candidates claims significantly informs his thinking, warrants scrutiny.

Addendum (12/7/2007): John Dickerson points out another paradox:

[Mitt Romney] claim[s] that for voters to ask questions about his faith runs afoul of the founders’ prohibition against religious tests for office. But the legal prohibition refers to government barring people from becoming a candidate or holding office. It does not bar voters from considering religion as they make their choices.

Also, the WSJ observes that evangelical bigotry toward Mormons is grossly misplaced:

Mormons seem the very embodiment of “family values,” and you couldn’t invent a religious culture that lived more consistently with Biblical messages. Broadly speaking, most Mormons have, and come from, big families; they’re regular churchgoers and give to charity; they don’t drink, smoke, gamble or engage in premarital sex. On the scale of American problems, the Mormons don’t even register.

September 28th, 2007

John Berthoud: Friend of Freedom and Friend of Mine

John Bethoud

A version of this blog post appeared on TechRepublican.

The e-mail arrived yesterday at 7:19 pm. It was titled, “Cancellation: September Party at John’s House,” and the first sentence struck me like a sharp gust of wind: “We are sorry to announce the passing of John Berthoud.”

What!? I had seen John just last night, at the E Street Theater for the premier of The Call of the Entrepreneur. In fact, as we walked into the movie room along with a couple of NTU colleagues, the theater was so packed that we couldn’t find a group of seats together. John’s solution: he found an open seat, and instead of availing himself of it, said I should take it.

Later, at the after-party, I found myself chatting with NTU’s newest employee, who had just finished her third day. As John was leaving, he stopped by, and our last exchange went like this: “You know,” I said, “It’s pretty cool to have a boss who not only hangs out with you after work, but who’s also cool enough to be someone you want to hang out with.” John’s reply: “Dude, the job’s already been filled.”

This was John: selfless and dependable, witty and fun.

Whenever we took a taxi somewhere, John insisted that he pay. As he once e-mailed me, “You’re a poor indigent 20-something, so I’ll cover the cab.”

Another e-mail captures the same sentiment. “Amigo— I’m going to pop by this party on Water Street this evening. Want my Red Top [Cab] chauffeur to swing by and pick you up?” I said yes, but asked if we could leave 15 minutes earlier. “Anybody who—post-college—can swim a 200 free in two fricking minutes clearly shouldn’t be left tapping his fingers,” he wrote back.

Similarly, at the happy hours we both frequented, it was not unusual for John, finding his drink running low, to ask whatever circle of people he was in what he could bring them back from the bar. There was no ulterior motive; there was even no expectation of reciprocity. This was unqualified generosity—a happiness to be in the company of others, to meet new people and to enjoy life as it came.

I met John when I worked a few blocks away from NTU, in Old Town, Alexandria. We were just acquaintances until about six months ago, when we realized that a woman he had dated was the same one who got me my first job. After that, we became fast friends, both firmly believing in limited government and living a few minutes away from one another in the Clarendon section of Arlington.

You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t ask, but John was not only an advocate, having run NTU for the past 11 years, but also a scholar, having received a PhD from Yale and taught at George Washington University. Indeed, the fight for freedom lost a major figure yesterday, and I lost a great buddy.

Addendum: Jon Henke, Rob Bluey, CAGW, David Keating, Mike Krempasky, ALEC, Mary Katherine Ham, and Mike Pence each offer their own tributes to John.

Addendum: Another glowing tribute, from John’s ex-wife, Maria:

Reading the funny stories that some of you shared here about John made me smile (which has been hard to do for the past 24 hours), because so many of you captured his dry wit and humor perfectly, and everyone captured his passion and dedication to his work. Although John and I have been divorced for five years, the 10 years we spent together made me who I am today, and I will always be grateful for the time I had with John. Besides being the man I loved, and will always love, John was also my first real mentor in the work world, and there is no one I respected more, as his dedication to his work was immeasurable. But as his brother Charlie mentioned, so many people didn’t know the other side of John—his family, and how much he loved his brothers and their wives and children, and his mother and late father. His family meant the world to him. Those in the conservative movement lost a true hero yesterday, but his family lost a beloved member. I cannot imagine what the holidays will be like this year for his family without John’s presence. God bless his wonderful family, and God bless John, an absolutely amazing man that I was lucky enough to have had in my life for so long, and known so well. Goodbye for now JEB.

August 15th, 2007

Withdrawal Is Not an Option

Withdrawing troops from Iraq

Many of us are frustrated with the war in Iraq. No one doubts that serious mistakes have been made, and everyone is anxious for a panacea.

The problem is, instant gratification is not a strategy. Instant gratification, while emotionally pleasing, will only require our future return to mop up the metastasized mess.

First, consider the calls to cut our losses and redeploy. Presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, wants to “bring all the troops home … in six months, with no residual forces.”

But as Richardson’s colleague, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, retorts, “It’s time to start to tell the truth” about such withdrawal. “If we started today, it would take one year—one year—to get 160,000 troops physically out of Iraq.” Indeed, 19 years ago, it took the Soviets nine months to extract 120,000 men from Afghanistan, and they were simply going next door.

Slowing things down further is the staggering amount of stuff we would need to take with us—or destroy or sell if we couldn’t, lest it fall into the wrong hands. According to Time magazine, the U.S. currently has 45,000 ground-combat vehicles in Iraq, spread out across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. Equally daunting, equipment re-entering the United States must be inspected for any microscopic diseases.

Moreover, the price of pulling out prematurely is gigantic and grave. In the north, Kurds and Arabs would do battle for oil wells, as Kurdistan drifted toward independence, instigating skirmishes with, and possibly an invasion by, Turkey. In the south, an emboldened Iran would stop pussyfooting and uncork its influence, establishing a theocratic Shiite foothold, with neighborhoods controlled by militias like the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army. The middle of the country would erupt in a bloodbath.

Those who contend that Iraq cannot get much worse than it is now would do well to remember that this was the same refrain about Lebanon before civil war enveloped that country and about Somalia before the U.S. rushed out in 1993. In short, the only thing standing between the shaky stability of present-day Iraq and an ethno-sectarian inferno scorching the Persian Gulf is the United States armed forces.

We should also honor our humanitarian obligation to leave Iraq more stable and more secure than we found it. To paraphrase Colin Powell, We broke it, so we own it; now we must fix it.

Finally, retreating without a decisive victory would perpetuate our enemies’ perception of us as a paper tiger. Early evacuation might also trigger an arms race among our friends and allies, who would no longer trust the weak-kneed U.S. to defend them, and it would surely endanger our diplomats around the world, who would become tempting targets for every would-be, tin-pot terrorist who questioned American resolve.

So, where do we go from here? Iraq today is at a crossroads. Prudence dictates that we stay the course until at least September 15, when Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, will deliver a report detailing our progress, or lack thereof.

In the meantime, preventing the country—and thus the Gulf, and thus the world—from slipping beyond repair will take patience and cause pain. But whatever our instincts may demand, a brighter future for the Iraqi people and vindication that American lives have not been lost in vain is still very much possible.

August 7th, 2007

HillaryCare on the Installment Plan

HillaryCare

A version of this blog post appeared on Redstate on August 7, 2007.

Legislation: H.R. 3162, the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act of 2007.

Background: Established in 1997, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP, pronounced “s-chip”) is a partnership between the states and federal government to insure poor children. The program is up for reauthorization by September 30, but big-government liberals want not just to renew it, but also to expand it.

The problem is, the expansion contradicts SCHIP’s original, limited intent.

First, it redefines eligibility by recognizing people up to 21 as “children.”

Second, it extends coverage to a family of four with an income of $82,600—hardly a “low-income” group.

Third, by removing the requirement for reauthorization, it transforms SCHIP from its current block grant status into a permanent entitlement, like Medicaid, which is automatically funded every year, regardless of congressional approval.

Thus, what’s being proposed is not reauthorization but repudiation. SCHIP was intended to insure kids. Now it’s being exploited to encompass adults and even wealthy families. Instead of distorting language and creating new entitlement programs, we should reaffirm sensible age, income and reauthorization parameters.

Furthermore, the proposed expansion crowds out private insurers in favor of government health care. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill will cause nearly two million people to abandon market-based medicine for Washington-based mandates.

In order to avoid caricature, this debate is not about whether to insure poor children. This debate is about how to insure them: not via welfare-style coverage, but via market forces that have facilitated the world’s most advanced drugs and cures.

Finally, at a time of ballooning deficits, expanding SCHIP makes a mockery of fiscal responsibility. According to CBO estimates, the bill will cost nearly $60 billion over 10 years, which is 10 times President Bush’s budget request.

Moreover, in order to finance all this, smokers would be hit with an extra half dollar in taxes for every pack of cigarettes they buy. Such a sin tax is inequitable and regressive.

Democrats are picking up where Hillary Clinton left off 14 years ago. Their Hillary Care-lite legislation deserves the same fate as hers: ignominious defeat.

June 1st, 2007

Are the Beliefs of a Political Spouse Relevant?

Ann Romney, center, wife of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, acknowledges applause as she is introduced by her husband during his State of the State address in the House chamber at the Statehouse, in Boston on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006. Debbie DiMasi, left, is the wife of Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, D-Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A version of this blog post appeared in Politico on June 1, 2007.

Thirteen years ago, Anne Romney gave a $150 personal donation to Planned Parenthood. Upon the disclosure, her husband, who is now running for president on a staunchly pro-life platform, disclaimed, “Her positions are not terribly relevant to my campaign.”

But are they? Should you consider the views of a spouse when voting for his or her partner?

Undoubtedly, Bill Clinton is integral to Hillary’s campaign. He is, hands down, the best Democratic mind and campaigner today. Of course, the Clintons are an exception, given that one of them occupied the Oval Office for eight years.

What does the Republican front-runner think? Asked if his wife would sit in on cabinet meetings, Rudy Giuliani told Barbara Walters, “If she wanted to. If they were relevant to something that she was interested in. I mean, that would be something that I’d be very, very comfortable with.”

To put the point poetically, recall the scene from Angels in America, where Al Pacino is bragging about his clout. Pacino tells his doctor, I pick up the phone, make a few calls, and you know who’s on the other end? “The president?” “Even better,” Pacino smirks. “His wife.”

Indeed, no one knows the president better than his wife. She’s the first one with him in the morning and the last one with him at night. Do this with someone long enough, and pillow talk is inevitable (even for Tony Soprano). “You know, honey,” Laura Bush admonished George W., “I think it’s time you let Don go” (I’m paraphrasing).

But W. rejected the advice (to fire his now-former former secretary of defense), and it’s worth noting that while the president’s wife, his mother and one of his closest advisers, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are all pro-choice, he remains a committed pro-lifer; among other things, he has reinstated the global gag rule and appointed two, anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court.

As further evidence of spousal independence, consider such strange-bedfellow marriages as Mary Matalin and James Carville (she was a senior adviser to Dick Cheney, he to Bill Clinton) and Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger (she’s a lifelong, hereditary Democrat, he’s the Republican governor of California).

Therefore, Romney is right: the views of a significant other aren’t terribly relevant. While it may be comforting to think that a wife is whispering NARAL talking points into her husband’s ear, the hope for a consequent change in policy is probably more hope than actuality. Spousal disagreement surely softens an otherwise inflexible position (hence the phrase “my better half”), and makes the other person aware of the counterarguments, but it’s unlikely to change one’s mind.

Addendum (6/27/08): Amy Sullivan points out additional examples of First Wife spousal disagreement:

From Pat Nixon, who declared “I believe abortion is a personal choice,” to Betty Ford, who praised the Supreme Court’s judgment in Roe as “a great, great decision” to Laura Bush, who on the eve of her husband’s inauguration said she did not think he would appoint justices who would overturn Roe, pro-choice wives have long tried to signal to voters that this particular Republican President would not focus on abortion.

May 18th, 2007

Why Ron Paul Is Bad for Himself and Good for the GOP

A version of this blog post appeared on TechRepublican.

Here’s the now-infamous exchange (parts of which I’m omitting, signified by ellipses, to get to its essence) among Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), Rudy Giuliani and moderator Wendell Goler, during the most recent debate for the Republican presidential candidates:

Paul: They attack us because we’ve been over there. [For instance,] we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve been in the Middle East. . . .

Goler: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

Paul: I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it. . . .

Giuliani: I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us he didn’t really mean that.

Paul: I believe very sincerely that the C.I.A. is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. . . . If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there.

For these arguments, many are now clamoring for Ron Paul’s exclusion from future debates. This is not only unhealthy, but also sets a dangerous precedent. (What’s next: baring a Republican who supports gay marriage?)

Dissent—in a debate of all places—invigorates discussion. And since Paul is the only one, out of 10 candidates, to oppose the war, his views merit inclusion.

Of course, not all dissent is worthy. Dissent for dissent’s sake is a waste of time, which is precious with only 90 minutes and 10 people. But dissent that’s grounded in conservative principles (“war is the health of the state“), or even some evidence, deserves a hearing.

Indeed, the idea that the U.S. invited 9/11 is not as radical as one might think. This idea, at least the nuanced, scholarly school of it, does not blame the United States for the attacks, but recognizes that it’s both who we are (“They hate us for our freedom“) and what we do (“We’ve been in the Middle East”) that fans the terrorist flames.

Even if Paul sounds like him, Michael Moore he is not.

But if he’s not a kook, then who is he? Well, some of his ideas are kooky, but the bigger problem is that he’s a poor communicator, who suffers from a rhetorical Napoleon complex. In short, he’s his own worst enemy.

Even a fool realizes that a format where you’re given one minute per question is probably the worst place to articulate perhaps the most controversial thing you could say to an American audience (you have blood on your hands for the deadliest attack on American soil in the nation’s history), especially one of Southern conservatives to whom the war on terror trumps everything. To wit, Paul’s above remarks were unnecessary (yes, he was baited, but he took the bait) and inappropriate (they require far too much time to explain, let alone convince someone of).

Since it’s fair to assume that a 10-term member of Congress is familiar with the cardinal rule of marketing—know your audience—the only explanation I can think of for these follies is that Paul likes controversy. And, to give him his due, as a going-nowhere candidate, he may be right to exploit the P.T. Barnum rule of publicity: all press is good press. If nothing else, his confrontation with Giuliani (it’s playing on YouTube as Ron vs. Rudy) has heightened his profile.

But Paul is seemingly oblivious to the alternative: instead of trying to ride his antiwar bona fides, he should emphasize his domestic agenda.

For example, when asked by both Giuliani and Goler to disabuse those who thought he had just likened Americans to cold-blooded mass murderers, instead of returning to theories of blowback, he might have simply said “No, I am not,” and pivoted back to why the Iraq war is hurting our national security.

What Ron Paul offers are deeply consistent, principled views on what the Constitution authorizes and does not authorize. Among Republicans hungry for a candidate who not only believes but also acts on fiscally conservative principles, this is his unique selling point.

Yet in listening to him, you’d never know this. You’d never know that he has never voted to raise taxes. Or that he has never voted for an unbalanced budget. Or that he has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership. Or that he has never voted to raise congressional pay. Why? Because Ron Paul is lousy at self-promotion—when, ironically, he has the most to promote.

So, instead of attacking Giuliani and asking him to apologize, both of which only fuel the perception that he is out of touch, Paul must focus more on himself. He’s already nailed showmanship. Now he needs to master salesmanship.

Addendum (6/1/2007): Finally, Paul declares, “It’s preposterous to say that I’m blaming America. That’s a complete distortion, like blaming a person for being murdered. No, I’m looking at the motives and reasons that elicit such hatred and willingness to kill.”

May 10th, 2007

Ron Paul’s YouTube Surge

A version of this blog post appeared on TechRepublican on May 11, 2007.

We’ve already seen how Ron Paul’s fans are using Digg to fire up his campaign. Now comes evidence that they’re also savvy YouTubers (as are, thankfully, his campaign staffers). Both clips come from last week’s debate among the Republican presidential candidates.

The first, uploaded by “dcarrico,” who previously had posted only one, apolitical video, has been viewed nearly 60,000 times. Moderator Chris Matthews asked Paul whether he supported a constitutional amendment allowing foreign-born citizens to become president. Paul said “no, because I am a strong supporter of the original intent,” to which Matthews muttered, “Oh God” (above; fast-forward to 1:10).

The second clip, viewed nearly 3,000 times and uploaded by the politically active “infowars,” scrutinizes another cheap shot. At the end of an answer concerning the war on terror, Paul declared, “I would work very hard to protect the privacy of American citizens, being very, very cautious about warrantless searches. And I would guarantee that I would never abuse habeas corpus.”

What you probably missed is that Rudy, who disagrees sharply with Paul about the role of civil liberties in wartime, snickered at this last line:

In an earlier era (i.e., a year ago), I would have heard about these details through the grapevine, and probably chalked them up as rumors spread by partisans. In the Age of YouTube, I can effortlessly and for free view and confirm such rumors for myself.

May 8th, 2007

3 Reasons to Privilege Tax Reform Over Tax Relief

A version of this blog post appeared in Politico on May 8, 2007.

Another Tax Day has come and gone, but the Internal Revenue Service remains essentially unmoved and unchanged. Accordingly, instead of continuing to advocate tax relief, the right should focus its efforts on tax reform.

The Cleanse the Code Coalition is an excellent example of how this works. As John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union, has explained, while members of the coalition disagree sharply on specifics (for instance, whether the code should be more or less progressive), they all agree that the current system should be scrapped in favor of something “simpler, fairer and more transparent.”

Without wading into the question of whether the current code is unfair, there are three strong reasons why such tax reform should supersede tax relief.

1. Reform is more urgent. Compliance with the tax code’s ins and outs, especially if you’re self-employed, necessitates a significant expenditure of both time (which translates into lost productivity) and money (to pay an accountant to ascertain your particular loopholes).

2. Reform is less divisive, easier to identify with and thus easier to sell. By contrast, tax cuts are controversial always. There’s no one alive whom the current code—at 67,204 pages and with 1,638 forms—doesn’t irritate and frustrate. Columnist Deroy Murdock reminds us that USA Today recently picked four tax professionals to create returns for the imaginary Bailey family. The pros generated four different amounts of taxes the Baileys owed. Similarly, in 1998, Money magazine asked 46 tax experts to file for another hypothetical household. In return, readers received 46 different tax liability figures, varying from $34,240 to $68,912.

3. Reform is more important. In the same way that conservatives now emphasize the importance of judicial appointments (since federal judges receive lifetime tenure), we should seek changes that are permanent rather than temporary—changes that are so institutional they can’t be repealed by the stroke of a pen from the next president.

April 14th, 2007

Conservatism’s Crossroad

A version of this blog post appeared on Politico.com on April 14, 2007.

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is the mecca for the Republican base—the people who man the phone banks, knock on doors, plant homemade signs on lawns and bedeck their bumpers with stickers. In theory, what’s good for CPAC is good for the GOP.

Alas, as last month’s confab made clear, the nexus between the conservative movement and the Republican Party is wobbly. Whereas conservatives are ideologues who concern themselves with issues, Republicans are politicians who focus on re-election. The two are not mutually exclusive—in fact, the competition is healthy—but something is wrong when many conservatives think their elected officials would exercise greater fidelity to the cause as the minority rather than the majority.

In short, the Right is at a crossroad. On one hand are those who have inured themselves to the relentless growth of government. Such people no longer want to downsize federal agencies but to harness them for their own ends. On the other hand are those who believe that the principles of limited government—fiscal discipline, a market economy, decentralization—are still worth fighting for. Such people read Goldwater, quote Reagan, and cite the Contract with America.

If the GOP wants to regain the congressional majority, it must therefore make a choice: should we try to co-opt the Democratic agenda, or should we hold fast to our leave-me-alone, do-it-yourself ideals?

To be sure, it’s one thing to pontificate from the sidelines, and it’s another to explain to one’s constituents why it’s wrong that their neighbors’ farm, but not their own museum, just received a million-dollar grant. Indeed, the right answer requires mettle—which is to say that it requires principles.

Principles matter not only because they establish a framework for thinking, but also because they distinguish one party from another. A lack of principles explains the CNN poll taken after the November midterms that astonishingly found more than 60% of Americans now believe the GOP to be the party of “big government.”

They’re wrong, of course, since in a contest for who can better exploit the resources of the state, conservatives will always lose. The reason: liberals are more consistent in such advocacy.

So, instead of adopting a me-too approach, Republicans should view the 110th Congress as an opportunity to reorient and revitalize themselves—to reconnect with CPACers. The solution is to return to first principles, the ones that are as easy to explain—government is the problem, not the solution—as they are commonsensical.

October 12th, 2006

Vote Yes on Amendment 39

A version of this blog post appeared as an action alert for the American Conservative Union.

Conservatives in Colorado haven’t had much to cheer about recently. Amendment 39 changes that prospect.

For too long, the only demand of education funding has been more money. Indeed, owing to Amendment 23, Colorado taxpayers have seen their public education costs rise to record levels every year.

Amendment 39 reverses this trend to “more education for more money” by implementing what columnist George Will calls the 65% solution. Simply put, this program will ensure that 65% of K-12 public school funding reaches Colorado’s classrooms, teachers and students, rather than lining the coffers of bloated bureaucracies.

Like all good legislation, Amendment 39 reprioritizes expenditures instead of raising taxes. Amendment 39 is also flexible, phased-in and allows a governor to grant a waiver if a school district has a legitimate reason why 65% cannot be reached, such as rural transportation costs.

While this reform should be implemented nationally, it’s particularly important in Colorado. For only 58 cents of every education dollar currently reaches the state’s classrooms, making them the 47th least-funded in the country.

No wonder fellow conservatives from around the country are promoting the 65% solution for their states. Texas Governor Rick Perry of Texas and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue have implemented it, while gubernatorial candidates Dick Devos (MI), Ken Blackwell (OH), Mark Green (WI), Charlie Crist (FL) and your own Bob Beauprez have all endorsed it.

So do your part for Colorado taxpayers, parents and students. Make classroom instruction Colorado’s first priority in education by voting yes on Amendment 39 in November.

Learn more here.

November 16th, 2005

Statesmanship vs. Brinksmanship on Taiwan

As a speech (see video below), received first prize in the Young Professionals Speak debate (Center for Strategic and International Studies) on November 16, 2005. As an essay, received third prize in the Cato Institute’s intern op-ed contest in December 2005.

During his recent trip to Asia, President Bush praised Taiwan as “free and democratic and prosperous.” Why then, if the Taiwanese already have it so good, should the U.S. rock the boat?

For instance, writing in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Gary Schmitt and Dan Blumenthal recently argued that the U.S. should “encourage” Taiwanese politicians who are independence-minded. During a recent hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute protested that Taiwan spends more on defense per capita than does U.S. ally Germany. What’s more, as Justin Logan of the Cato Institute notes, these neoconservatives advocate very provocative measures, such as sending senior U.S. officers to Taiwan to coordinate with Taiwan’s military.

The problem with these proposals is that international relations is not an academic exercise. It’s not about grandiose abstractions or righteous platitudes. On the contrary, international relations is a cost-benefit analysis, behind which lie death and destruction. To wit, when China issues threats over Taiwan, as it does repeatedly, it’s not bluster. Its leaders mean it when they say that Taiwan is part of China and that reunification—as polling data invariably confirm—is the will of the Chinese people.

Why are 23 million Taiwanese so important to 1.3 billion Chinese? Beijing has invested its very identity in Taiwan. Its national destiny, its pride and its rage are inextricably bound up with this little island. On the Taiwan question, the stakes don’t get any higher for the People’s Republic, so it would be willing to incur massive economic and military losses in order to save face.

As a Chinese general told an American diplomat in 1995, “In the end you [Americans] care more about Los Angeles than you do about Taipei.” Indeed, ask any Chinese citizen what he thinks about Taiwan, and the overwhelming odds are that he’ll respond with deep-seated passion. By stark contrast, ask an American about Taiwan, and he’ll respond with indifference.

Moreover, in matters of national security, Americans should care more about our own freedom, fortunes and futures than those of the Taiwanese. We should be, like all countries, self-interested.

Nonetheless, suppose that we follow the advice of the Free Taiwan crowd. What then?

Militarily, Beijing has made it clear that it would launch a war if Taiwan were “separated from China in any name.” Even assuming that we would win, it is unjust to ask Americans to shed the blood and treasure that war with another nuclear power would entail.

Diplomatically, we need China’s cooperation in the United Nations, which includes not only voting with us but also abstaining. But as a permanent member of the Security Council, China can veto any resolution it wants. One example: we’re engaged in talks with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions. On this issue, China’s regional influence is indispensable. Regarding Iran, provocation would give China an excuse to abandon its restraint on selling arms to the ayatollahs.

Economically, pressuring China would destabilize Taiwan. After all, prosperity requires stability; stability gives investors the security to invest. Indeed, past conflicts between China and Taiwan have caused volatility and uncertainty. In 1996, after the U.S. issued a visa to Taiwan’s president in order for him to give a speech at Cornell University, China lobbed a series of missiles over Taiwan. One result: prices in the computer market jumped dramatically.

Finally, even if China annexed Taiwan tomorrow, reunification would not spell disaster. As various Chinese officials have said, a reunified Taiwan would enjoy even greater autonomy than Hong Kong. In theory, Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. In practice, Hong Kong retains its own legal system, currency and customs. A major international center of finance and trade, it is also an economic dynamo. For these reasons, Taiwan’s reunification would occur more in name than in substance. It would amount to new letterhead on a government memo, not serfdom.

To be sure, the U.S. should not support reunification. Instead, we should continue the current course of strategic ambiguity—which, after all, has resulted in the affluent democracy President Bush hailed two weeks ago. The status quo isn’t perfect, but it’s been painstakingly, skillfully crafted over the past 60 years. Let’s not turn statesmanship into brinksmanship.

July 18th, 2005

End Anonymous Evidence

Congressman Robin Hayes (R-NC)Last month Rep. Robin Hayes, vicechair of the House subcommittee on terrorism, declared that Saddam Hussein was “very much involved in 9/11.” Hayes claimed that he has access to evidence few others do. Told no investigation has ever implicated Baghdad in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the congressman responded, “I’m sorry, but you must have looked in the wrong places.”

Let’s take another look. Shortly after 9/11, a U.S. official leaked to the Associated Press that “the United States has received information from a foreign intelligence service that Mohamed Atta,” the ringleader of the 9/11 gang, “met earlier this year in Europe with an Iraqi intelligence agent.” As the story unfolded over the next month, the world learned that in early April 2001, Atta had allegedly rendezvoused with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, a vice consul in Iraq’s embassy in Prague but actually a spymaster. The meeting would have been Atta’s second time in the Czech capital in less than a year, having passed through the city’s airport en route from Germany to New Jersey in June 2000, and was the sole evidence tying Saddam to 9/11.

On one hand, the Czech domestic intelligence service, who by virtue of proximity had the best data, held that the rendezvous happened. It was certainly plausible, since before communist Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, Iraq had been a major buyer of Czechoslovak arms. Additionally, according to Richard Perle, then the chair of the Defense Policy Board, an influential advisory group to the Pentagon, operations like 9/11 “are not planned in caves; they’re planned in offices by people who have secretaries and support staffs and research and communications and technology.” Finally, as James Woolsey, who visited England to investigate the case on behalf of the Justice Department, contends, even with all the ambiguity, the evidence was “about as clear as these things get.”

On the other hand, counters Daniel Benjamin, the director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council from 1998-1999, it is “very difficult to hide serious ties” between a regime and a terrorist client. For in collaborating, “they negotiate over targets, finances, materiel, and tactics.” Similarly, the apparatuses of bureaucracy—including employees who will swap secrets for cash—afford ample opportunity for spying on governments. This is why state sponsors, like Libya vis-à-vis the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and Iran vis-à-vis the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers, have historically left ample trails.

And yet the only Iraqi trail pertaining to 9/11 was one meeting in Prague, during a month for which neither the F.B.I. nor C.I.A. could uncover any visa, airline or financial records showing that Mohamed Atta had left or reentered the U.S. (Their research placed him in Florida two days before the meeting.) Second, all the evidence rested on the uncorroborated allegation of a single informant, who could produce neither any audio nor visual recordings. Third, no one could verify what Atta and Ani had discussed—for instance, whether Atta requested help or updated Ani on his progress. Accordingly, as Cheney told Tim Russert in September 2003. “[W]e’ve never been able to . . . confirm[] [the meeting] or discredit[] it. We just don’t know.”

Of course, circumstantiality is not a basis—or even a partial basis, really—for taking a country to war. After all, the burden of proof always falls on he who asserts a positive. In the 16 months between 9/11 and the Iraq war, despite considerable efforts, hawks failed to meet this burden. Consequently, neither of the administration’s two most publicized arguments for the war—the State of the Union address (1/28/03) and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the U.N. Security Council (2/5/03)—even mentioned Prague. And lest we misconstrue the subtext, on January 31—seven weeks before the war began—Newsweek asked the President specifically about a 9/11 connection to Iraq, to which Bush replied, “I cannot make that claim.” Eight months later, in September 2003, Bush repeated, “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th.”

Moreover, in July 2003, U.S. troops arrested Ani in Iraq. The Iraqi denied ever meeting Atta, a denial that officials found credible. Also in July, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence declassified the much-delayed report of their Joint Inquiry into 9/11. Tellingly, nowhere in 858 pages does the report mention Iraq’s purported involvement in our day of infamy. Finally, a year later, the 9/11 Commission Report concluded that “[t]he available evidence does not support the original Czech report of an Atta-Ani meeting.” The report added that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh both denied that any Atta-Ani meeting occurred.

Still, Rep. Hayes persists. The “evidence is clear,” he told CNN. In fact, it is illusory. And at a time when the American people increasingly mistrust journalists for their reliance on anonymous sources, isn’t it time we turn the same scrutiny to politicians who rely on anonymous evidence?

Unpublished Notes

In a 10,500-word article in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn charge those who dismiss the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship as having “an acute case of denial”: “We know from these IIS documents that beginning in 1992 the former Iraqi regime regarded bin Laden as an Iraqi Intelligence asset. We know from IIS documents that the former Iraqi regime provided safe haven and financial support to an Iraqi who has admitted to mixing the chemicals for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. We know from IIS documents that Saddam Hussein agreed to Osama bin Laden’s request to broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda on Iraqi state-run television. We know from IIS documents that a “trusted confidante” of bin Laden stayed for more than two weeks at a posh Baghdad hotel as the guest of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.”

But ex post facto evidence cannot be a casus belli.

“[T]he Free World is not interested in epistemological debates over what constitutes a connection. We are not engaged in a court case, or a classroom debate. We are fighting a war.” [1]

[1] Claudia Rosett, “Saddam and al Qaeda,” Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2005.