Free Markets, Free People

Dale Franks

Dale Franks’ QandO posts

The “Economics” of Obama’s First 100 Days, Part 2

In addition to Bruce’s post below, chartng the rise in debt since Pres. Obama took office, I think it’s important to look at whether we can find historical parallels, and try to identify how closely such parallels may apply to the current economic situation in the US.  Fortunately, a historic parallel–and a very close on at that–comes easily to hand.

Does this look familiar?  If not, it probably will...

Does this look familiar? If not, it probably will...

The chart on the right is a comparison of how Japan’s increase in debt since 1989 compares with the performance of the Nikkei stock index.

As the authors of the chart point out:

[I]f large increases in government debt were the key to economic prosperity, Japan would be in the greatest boom of all time. Instead, their economy is in shambles. After two decades of repeated disappointments, Japan is in the midst of its worst recession since the end of World War II. In the fourth quarter, their GDP declined almost twice as fast as that of the U.S. or the EU. The huge increase in Japanese government debt was created when it provided funds to salvage failing banks, insurance and other companies, plus transitory tax relief and make-work projects.

In 2008, after two decades of massive debt increases, the Nikkei 225 average was 77% lower than in 1989, and the yield on long Japanese Government Bonds was less than 1.5% (Chart 6). As the Government Debt to GDP ratio surged, interest rates and stock prices fell, reflecting the negative consequences of the transfer of financial resources from the private to the public sector (Chart 7). Thus, the fiscal largesse did not restore Japan to prosperity. The deprivation of private sector funds suggested that these policy actions served to impede, rather than facilitate, economic activity.

They say that insanity can be defined of repeating past actions with the expectation of a different outcome.  If so, how do we characterize the current government activity in response to the economic situation?

Happily–if that is the appropriate word–we may be able to put to rest fears of hyperinflation.

The bottom line, however, is that it is totally incorrect to assume that the massive expansion in reserves created by the Fed is inflationary. Economic activity cannot move forward unless credit expansion follows reserves expansion. That is not happening. Too much and poorly financed debt has rendered monetary policy ineffective.

So, we’ve got that going for us.

Podcast for 26 Apr 09

In this podcast, Michael, and Dale discuss the torture memos and their possible legal consequences, and the possible securities law violations that the treasury committed in administering the TARP program.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Torture Memos: Prosecute who? For what?

Patterico WLS, posting at Petterico’s “Jury” blog points out that, despite all the calls for prosecuting “former Bush officials” over the torture memos and the actions taken under their aegis, he wonders, as an actual prosecutor, who would be charged with a crime, and what, exactly, the crime would be.

In mulling over the news of the past few days, I’m curious as to what the critics of the Bush Administration see as plausible criminal charges against the officials who were responsible for the drafting/authorizaiton [sic] of the “Torture” memos.

It would be one thing to actually prosecute the CIA officials involved in carrying out the interrogations…[b]ut they would likely have the time-honored defense of “advice of counsel” which works to negate the mens rea (”guilty mind) necessary to establish knowing criminal conduct.  When the top law enforcement officials of the US government tell another component of the US government that the conduct they are proposing to carry out on behalf of the government is not prohibited by statute, it’s exceedingly difficult — if not impossible — to mount a successful prosecution against any government official who acted in accordance with the advice…

Prosecuting the officials who offered the advice is a different question.  But what would be the charge?  It can’t be “Torture” under the statute — they didn’t do anything.  They simply responded in their official capacity to a question raised by another governmental entity… Why is the ANALYSIS of the specific technique described in the memos — concluding it would not fall within Sec. 2340 — wrong?

Fair questions indeed.

The officials who wrote the memos were acting as lawyers providing legal advice over the meaning of a statute.  Perhaps that advice was wrong.  But is providing an erroneous legal opinion a crime?  If so, what, exactly, would the crime be?  You would have to prove that the advice was completely and knowingly concocted from whole cloth and/or that the concocted legal advice was part of conspiracy to commit torture.  In that case, you’d have to find evidence of specific collusion between the CIA and DOJ to knowingly concoct  spurious justifications.

Absent such evidence, all you have is lawyers providing legal advice that the current administration doesn’t like.  In that case, I don’t see what the prosecutable offense is.

Taking it further, the CIA officials who actually conducted the torture have a very good defense, namely, that the formal legal advice they received from the government’s top lawyers at the DOJ was that the specific techniques they used fell outside the meaning of §2340.  In that case, they cannot have known they were committing a crime, but rather, they believed they were, on the advice of counsel, acting entirely within the law. So, unless there’s evidence that the interrogators went off half-cocked and began using non-approved techniques in the questioning, it’s difficult to see what the crime would be on the part of the interrogators themselves.

With the above in mind, it’s difficult to construct any other scenarios in which any of these of officials are prosecuted without it becoming, in effect, a criminal prosecution for partisan policy differences.

Whatever else that might be, it is not the Rule of Law as it is commonly understood.

About Those Torture Memos…

Well, this is an unexpected revelation.  In all the imbroglio about the “torture memos” and the possibility that the justice department may look into torture indictments of various officials, Rep Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) writes that it’s a bit hypocritical for Congress to escape scrutiny.  Apparently, they knew all about it.

It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses…

Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can’t be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.

Hmmm.  That actually might be interesting to see.  Very interesting.

Crazy Barry is Cutting Prices to the Bone!

The Washington Post reports on the president’s bold move to order his cabinet to identify cost savings in the Federal government:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, and he will order its members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.

So, how much is that, exactly, in terms of spending?  Well, let’s take a look.  Heritage Foundation drew up a little graph for our edification.

obamacuts

As the AP “Spin Meter” puts it:

The thrifty measures Obama ordered for federal agencies are the equivalent of asking a family that spends $60,000 in a year to save $6.

He’s all about the sacrifice.

Doddering Old Fool Spouts Off

I just sat here, right this minute, and watched Andy Rooney suggest on 60 Minutes that we should make all income tax records public, and publish everyone’s tax records.  He doesn’t mind, he said, if ewveryone knows what he makes, and how much taxes he pays.

Well, guess what?  I do.  How much money I make, and what I do with it, is none of your goddam business.

Jebus Cripes, is there any freedom these morons are not willing to turn over to the government?

Podcast for 19 Apr 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the use of torture on terror suspects, and the week’s Tea Parties.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Torture…Again

I have to admit to some surprise in seeing Michael’s post on torture below.  QandO has been pretty much opposed to the use of torture, and we’ve taken some heat for it every time the subject has come up.  But, once you open up a libertarian blog to others to write for it, and tell them to feel free to write their own opinions without prejudice or favor, then,  before you know it, they go off getting ideas of their own, disagreeing with you, and generally acting with an outrageous sense of independence.

What’re you gonna do?

I understand the attraction of torture, both on utilitarian grounds, and in terms of what I will call “emotional reciprocity”, so I won’t re-cover Michael’s arguments, tendered, as they are, more inquisitively than asseveratively.

When I speak of “torture”, I want to be sure that we all have the same thing in mind when I use the word.  So I will define it here as the intentional application of physical pain, accompanied by the possibility of permanent injury, scarring, derangement, or death.  This will, I think, encompass the entire spectrum pf physical discomfort comfort from beatings to anything else more severe.  I specifically reject a definition of torture that includes psychological pressure, such as putting a particularly nasty-looking beetle in the cell of a prisoner who’s afraid of bugs.  I also reject questioning methods as sleep deprivation for a couple of days, or discomfort from keeping the air conditioning too low as torture.  These things might be unpleasant, but they are not physically or mentally harmful in any significant sense.

It’s possible to construct any number of scenarios in which torture is acceptable–perhaps even moral.  But that doesn’t negate the general rule that torture is, in fact, wrong.To continue, I would then proceed to the question, “Is torture always wrong?”  Well, that’s a silly formulation of the question.  In every human action, context matters.  I think there is general agreement that lying is generally wrong, yet if a terrified woman approaches us and pleads for us to hide her from a crazed stalker who intends to kill her, I think there is also general agreement that if the stalker subsequently approaches us, we would have a positive moral duty to lie to the stalker and deny any knowledge of her whereabouts.  There might also be general agreement that lying has a social purpose at times, in the sense that the answer to the question “Does this dress make me look fat?” is pretty much always, “No.”

In light of the above, it’s possible, then, to construct any number of scenarios in which torture is acceptable–perhaps even moral.  But that doesn’t negate the general rule that torture is, in fact, wrong, in the widest range of circumstances.  If we actually believe in all that stuff about “inalienable rights”, then certainly the right not to have hot needles shoved under our nails is one of them.

Beyond that, however, we enter a terrifically complicated area, when we begin to discuss giving the government the power to have recourse to torture as a matter of policy.  As a practical matter, it is nearly impossible to construct a system in which any official sanction to torture will not inevitably spiral out of control.  Once a set of rules is in place–any set of rules–there will inevitably be torture imposed on anyone on whom an official wishes to impose it.  Officials will ensure that the rules will apply to the persons they wish to torture.  Sure, the guy may look like an innocent Kabul taxi driver, but there will always be an official who “knows” better, and who will ensure that all the proper boxes are checked before the flensing knives are brought out.

We have elaborate rules, for instance, covering the issuance of search warrants, and severe criminal and civil sanctions for their abuse, yet, oddly enough, police agencies fairly routinely deliver no-knock drug warrants on innocent homeowners, which, not infrequently, result in homeowners or policemen getting shot.  Or in the case of 90 year-old Kathryn Johnson in Atlanta several months ago, police just ignore those rules, and seek to provide creative ex post facto justifications.  In that case, of course, we learned that such actions were not at all uncommon in portions of the Atlanta PD.

It is nearly impossible to construct a system in which any official sanction to torture will not inevitably spiral out of control.Providing legal sanction to use torture invites similar overzealousness on the part of officials.  Moreover, if the government can point to some cases of torture’s utility, the pressure to increase the range of acceptable subjects will inevitably increase–just as the drug war has increased the incidence of no-knock warrants being issued to “take down” non-violent drug offenders.  And, frankly, we haven’t done a very good job of guarding the slippery slope in these and similar areas of government activity.

That doesn’t make me sanguine about giving the government the legal sanction to engage in torture, especially in an environment where heathen foreigners will be on the receiving end of it, and their redress in case of mistakes are…limited.  That seems to me to have all the element necessary for an unconscionable abuse of power.

Now, let’s look at the question of whether torture works.  That answer to that is, yes, but not reliably.  There are a number of celebrated cases in World War II where French or Yugoslav partisans were captured by the Germans, turned over to the Gestapo, and essentially tortured to death without telling the Germans anything.  We also have, conversely, literally thousands of “confessions” of witchcraft during the Inquisition, extracted under torture.

What does that tell us?  Well, nothing really that we didn’t already know, which is that if you wish to get a suspect to talk, 220 volts to the genitals will probably work better than a medium-rare steak au poivre with shallots, and a robust glass of Côte de Nuits.

Whether the subject can be relied upon to tell you the truth, or just what he thinks you want to hear, is more problematic.  Torture can work–by which I mean you can receive reliable information from it– through the following iterative process:

1) The subject can be induced to talk through physical pain.  You can eventually get someone to tell you something, if enough torture is applied.  To ensure that something is useful,

2) You must be able to verify the subject’s information in whole, and provide…correction if any part of the subject’s statement appears to be untrue.

You must be able to repeat the above steps until the subject is convinced of your ability to verify his statements and punish evasions or subterfuges.  This can, needless to say, become an elaborate process.  If you can’t go through the process, then you don’t really know if you’re getting reliable information from it, or if the subject is shining you on to obtain relief.  Perhaps he’s telling you the truth.  Perhaps he’s just getting you to look askance at an innocent taxi driver in Kabul.

Michael asked:

Moreover, if it really is ineffectual, why does it continue to happen? Clearly, somebody somewhere is getting results.

Two things come to mind.

First, the vast majority of torture use, both historically, and in the modern world among those regimes that use it, is directed to obtaining confessions of guilt from criminal suspects.  It comes as no surprise that it’s highly effective at obtaining them.  Again, I refer to the Inquisition, where the possibility of death at some unspecified future date became more attractive than than the prospect of a continuance on the rack in the present case.

Second, as I wrote previously, torture does provide more information than would be obtained by abstaining from it.  One wonders, however, how much of that information is actually reliable, as opposed to how much of that information is beleived to be reliable by officials. Or simply politically convenient.  Those two latter  things may not, in fact, be the same as the former.

Finally, the question arises, “who do we torture?”  Certainly, every real terror suspect has some knowledge that can be useful.  Do we get to torture all of them?   Most of the justifications I’ve seen would give us the option to torture someone in a ticking bomb scenario.  Which sounds nice…if you actually know there’s a ticking bomb.  In the normal scheme of things, though, you really need to torture people to find out if a ticking bomb exists, not to figure out where it is.

The vast majority of torture use among those regimes that use it, is directed to obtaining confessions of guilt from criminal suspects.  It comes as no surprise that it’s highly effective at obtaining them.Or do we just torture the higher-ups in the terrorist movement, as a sort of fishing expedition?  This is, I gather, the justification for the interrogation techniques used on some of the al Qaeda biggies.  We thought they were up to something, and we used harsh interrogation to find out what they knew.

The most interesting thing about that is that we didn’t have to brand these guys with hot pokers to get them to give it up.  These guys apparently have little resistance.  Threaten to open a box of StayFree® Maxi-Pads in front of them, and they sing like superstars.  So maybe we got lucky in that some of these guys were easy marks.

But, as the Gestapo experience of WWII shows, sometimes, people will let you torture them to death without telling you anything.  Even in Vietnam, our POWs in Hanoi would resist real, actual torture for extended periods before giving up a “confession” to their captors.

But I digress.

Either you are going to define the torture-liable population so broadly, that officials will pretty much have a license to torture, or so narrowly that, as a practical matter, you’ll never use it.  If the former, you’ve got a slippery slope problem, if the latter, it’s not useful enough to even worry about sanctioning it, rather than just worrying about it on an ad hoc basis.

What would this guy do?

What would this guy do?

Jonah Goldberg has written often about the unwritten law, vs. the written law. Fifty years ago, it was against the law for the police to dispense street justice.  In practice, the beat cop, who walked the same neighborhood day after day and who knew the residents, would occasionally rough up some troublemakers pour encourager les autres, and in so doing, kept the peace on his block.  It wasn’t legally sanctioned, but it worked–and the cop knew that when he did it, he was risking at least his career, if it became a problem.

For a variety of reasons discussed above, as well as other, more prudential reasons in terms of the country’s image, and diplomatic reputation, I’d prefer never to see torture be enshrined in the written law.

I’ve noted before that, when I was on active duty, if I’d ever been faced with getting caught behind enemy lines in a Soviet attack in Europe, I would like to have the option of capturing a Russian officer, and finding out how to get back to our lines.  And, if I had to hook up a field telephone, and make a collect call to his genitals, I’d do it without blinking, if that’s what it took to get my guys back home alive.

I wouldn’t brag about it, or mention it to anyone in responsible authority later, but if I got found out, I’d expect to take the Court-Martial.  And, as long as I’d gotten my guys out, I’d have been happy to do it.

Necessity, it’s often said, knows no law.  But the law shouldn’t explicitly bow to necessity. I would rather have it understood that any torture inflicted is done without sanction, and the official authorizing the torture may be in danger of serious sanctions if he uses it.

It’s probably not the best solution.  But, on balance, I think it’s a better solution than giving the government explicit permission to conduct torture however they see fit.  Torture is problematic for a number of reasons, and the ethics of engaging in it are, at the very least, difficult to parse.  And, as Michael should well know, “hard cases make bad law”.

UPDATE [McQ]: What Dale said.

Escondido Tea Party

I dropped by the Escondido Tea Party this afternoon.  I got there about 15 minutes before the official kickoff, and there were about 100 people there already.  I had to leave at 6:30 to do a telecon with a client, but before I left, there were probably 300-400 people there, which is really more than I expected for a little town like this.

KUSI was there, as were a couple of other media outfits.  However, they got there before the 5pm kickoff, and they had cleared the scene before 5:30.  That means they missed the vast majority of the crowd.

My photo gallery of the event, all taken via cell phone, is below the fold.

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