Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What's in a name?

How has every network news show and most mainstream reporting and commentary labeled Bush's NSA surveillance program? Domestic spying. Except it may involve few if any calls that took place in the United States at all. How do we know? Just read James Risen. That's right, the New York Times reporter who broke the story in advance of his book State of War. Excerpting the book, lawprof Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy suggests strongly that "most of the new surveillance program was not about domestic surveillance at all; most of it was about the surveillance of entirely international calls and e-mails that just happened to be routed through U.S. networks in the course of delivery." Kerr is hardly a Bush apologist. In this follow-up post, Kerr says he still can't decide whether the program violates the law. (I'm with him, and with today's editorial in the Rocky Mountain News -- I don't work there yet -- which suggests that if the law had to be broken to keep the program going, it's time to revisit the law.)

But media reports have clearly misrepresented how many communications were intercepted within U.S. territory -- abetted, I must say, by the Times and by Risen himself, who continues to claim that the leakers were righteous whistle-blowers and that the program is an outrage. I'm willing to bet a substantial amount of money the MSM will never willingly acknowledge the distinction between intercepting phone calls within the United States and snooping on international calls that route through U.S. networks. Nor will they drop the "domestic spying" shtick.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Confused cons

Check out the back-and-forth at The Corner between (mainly) Rod Dreher and Jonah Goldberg over "crunchy conservatism," Dreher's formulation that a growing number on the right have grown dismayed with a mindless worship of market capitalism and are willing to burn the blazers, wear Birkenstocks, and shop at Whole Foods. No, seriously. This is an emerging movement! Dreher's Sunday Times essay promoting his forthcoming book launched the back-and-forth at NR. Goldberg's criticism of Dreher (which dates from 2002) is golden. His main points: Only a handful of inconsequential libertarians (or hidebound Objectivists) pretend that market economics is an all-encompassing philosophy of life; Friedman and Hayek never attempted to explain beauty or spirituality on purely economic grounds. Dreher and his crunchy mates are in fact promoting a 21st century version of Yuppie-style consumerism -- show your class consciousness: eat organic food!

This debate began more than a week ago (keep scrolling, and be sure to follow the links) in response to this essay by longtime NR editor Jeffrey Hart, lamenting the triumph of "free market utopianism" -- now there's an oxymoron, for anyone who knows anything about markets or Utopia -- and the boorishness of today's materialistic conservative political movement.

Dreher seconds Hart's complaints, but he veers into a knee-jerk embrace of localism that sensible keepers of the WFB tradition smartly reject. For one thing, extreme localism can easily lead to grassroots tyranny; it was, after all, Washington that forced local and state governments in the South to dismantle Jim Crow. (For a concise summary of Dreher's confusion, read this post.)

But I digress. What Dreher fails to completely comprehend is that Whole Foods symbolizes a triumph of free-market capitalism, not its antithesis. (More thoughts on Whole Foods here.) Thanks to America's continent-wide free-trade zone, it's possible for organic farmers to gain the distribution networks they need to sell their wares to a larger group of consumers; at the same time, expanded markets keep prices low for consumers while letting the farmers earn a living. The public trading of Whole Foods shares on major financial markets has allowed the chain to expand throughout the nation; otherwise, John Mackey could never have raised the capital to expand beyond a handful of stores in the Bay Area.

As Goldberg says, "crunchy cons" may be nothing more than 21st century Yuppies. But there are policy implications in the agrarian-tinged technocracy Dreher is flirting with, and they're hostile to the Burkean "little platoons" Dreher claims to embrace. Virginia Postrel has eloquently refuted such critiques of plenitude here and here, among other places. Dreher says he would reject government edicts to mandate his preferred way of life. Yet he continues to argue that the marketplace must be shackled, or he could never maintain his lifestyle. I look forward to the continued debate on The Corner, and I'll probably read the book, so long as I can keep my blood pressure in check.

Back in the 'sphere

The cats and I trekked across the mountains and have landed safely in the Denver Metro area. We await the furniture, hoping that the movers were not waylaid by winter storms. The weather here has been wonderful, a bit breezy but sunny and unseasonably mild (60 degrees or higher every day). SoCal did all it could to keep me. I took my final bike ride in the 'hood on Christmas Eve. It was 84 degrees with brilliant sunshine and just enough breeze to cleanse the smog and reveal the gorgeous mountain vistas. I'm glad the elements cooperated so I could enjoy that ride.