September 9, 2011

Quis Dicit?

On Twitter, I got asked a great question by @edwardjohngalla:

If we repealed Marbury v. Madison, that would get rid of Roe v. Wade and Citizen's United. Cool! Your thoughts?

OK, there are actually several things buried in there that I want to talk about:

  1. Would the undoing of Marbury v. Madison also undo all the precedents set by rulings assuming its validity?
  2. Should we even be using precedent in deciding legal matters? What about nullification?
  3. Should Marbury v. Madison be undone?
  4. Should there be a final arbiter of the Constitution's meaning, and if so who or what should be that final arbiter?

I'm going to take them in that order.

When people reference Marbury v. Madison, what they really are referring to is the power of judicial review that it established: the Supreme Court has the power to nullify laws passed by the Congress on the grounds that those laws violate the US Constitution. In other words, the Supreme Court asserted the power (a power not given in the Constitution to any office or body) to be the final arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution, and by extension of the meaning of a law. [Don't write letters; I recognize that I'm simplifying.] In the 208 years since this decision, a great many Court decisions have been predicated on it, at least in part, including the two mentioned in Edward John Gallardo's question. Because our system is theoretically based on common law (about which more later), and in particular because we use the doctrine of stare decisis to avoid continuously relitigating cases, such a decision would apply not merely in the specific case being decided, but in any matter whether or not brought before the Court, until such time as a later Court might revisit the issue. That's a huge assumption of power, and we'll deal with that later. But for now, the relevant issue is that the combination of doctrines that we use for our legal system and the assumption of power from Marbury v. Madison essentially mean that once the Court decides on the meaning of some part of the Constitution, that meaning sticks indefinitely.

So let's assume that some case were to come along based on Griswold v. Connecticut, which I believe was the first Supreme Court decision to find a constitutional right to privacy, and in deciding this case, the Supreme Court were to strike down Griswold. In that event, the right to privacy protection would be struck down as well, and then cases based on that decision, such as Roe v. Wade, would also potentially be in jeopardy. The idea there is that if the Court were to revisit the issue of abortion without Griswold's precedent to rely upon, it might reach a different decision regarding Roe. But note all the conditionals: merely having undone Griswold would not itself undo Roe, because the cases decided different issues. The right to privacy asserted in Roe and based on Griswold might still exist in Roe that are not addressed in the decision that undid Griswold. In other words, merely undoing a Supreme Court decision does not mean that all of the Court's decisions that reference the decision that was nullified would themselves be undone. Presumably, the Court would have to hear other cases that would be brought asserting the claim that this or that case was now also invalid, and over time a new jurisprudence would arise that would clarify those issues.

So no, undoing Marbury v. Madison would not ipso facto undo either Roe or Citizens United.

Part of the problem, though, is that our legal system is hopelessly muddled. We use precedent as if we were a common law country (as, indeed, the Constitution says we should be), but we give supremacy to laws passed by legislatures over common law "even against common right and reason". In fact, it was Marbury v. Madison itself that made statute law take precedence over common law in the US. We allow nullification for the Court generally nullifying laws (again, Marbury v. Madison is responsible for that, or at least for cementing in place what was prior to that a scattered practice) but not for juries nullifying laws in a particular case. We almost seem to have designed for ourselves a system that takes the worst elements of common law and the worst elements of statute law and makes that the universal practice. If we are to truly be a common law nation, then that law which governs the fewest people or the smallest area should take precedence over that law which governs the most and the widest, and Constitutions/charters should flow in the other direction. That's essentially a states' rights position, by the way. It also means though that we have to take into account human nature and a broad conception of rights granted against the powers of government, which inherently limits government and expands freedom. If, alternately, we are to be a statute law nation, then we must have all laws explicitly written, and interpreted according to the plain meaning of the words rather than inventing new meanings out of whole cloth. By trying to have it both ways, we have utterly thrown away any conception of a nation based on law, rather than man.

I should explain here that the idea of rule of law is commonly and horribly misinterpreted. Rule of law does not mean having a lot of laws, or even compelling obedience strictly to the law. Rather, it means that the laws must be knowable (few enough to learn, and clear enough for a common person to interpret, and published widely enough for anyone to access), and that all people regardless of station or position must alike be subject to the law. The alternative is the rule of man, where the arbitrary whims of those in power determine whether or not you are to be punished for any given act, and the written law (if there even is one) is no defense. The United States is not a nation of laws. If you need evidence of this, consider that recent Supreme Court decisions — settled law of the land and trumping all else — have held that non-commercial actions happening entirely within one person's domicile constitute "interstate commerce;" that the protections against the seizure of one's property by the government does not hold if the government really, really wants your property, even if it's just to give it to someone else in a corrupt land for campaign cash deal; and so on. Or consider that we are now being asked to believe that not engaging in commerce means that you are engaging in commerce, and in the process to allow Congress to dictate — and I use that word deliberately — anything at all that it wants, to compel you to do or not do as it suits them and them alone. Or consider prosecutorial discretion, which routinely holds the favored few to no account, while bringing horrific punishments on the common many. And all of this is in no small part due to the confusions introduced by Marbury v. Madison, though of course there are other factors in play as well.

So the next question is, should Marbury be undone? The easy answer is yes, but that's a problematic answer. Fundamentally, the legitimacy of an institution or a system really comes down to whether or not people accept it as legitimate. Authority is granted by acceptance. If Americans as a rule believed the Court to be institutionally illegitimate because of their arrogation of the power to have the final say on the meaning of the Constitution, then overturning Marbury would be a no brainer. But really, people don't. In fact, I'd say that Americans as a whole likely see Court review of laws as a fundamental cornerstone of our Constitutional system. You can argue about whether they are right to do so, but that doesn't matter in the end. Legitimacy flows from acceptance, and the American people accept that the Court not only does have this power, but should have this power. And in practice, that means that the Court will have this power until we fundamentally change our system.

But at this point, I would argue that we need to fundamentally change our system. If we are to be a nation of laws, those laws have to have meaning. And the supreme law of the land is the Constitution. It is no longer possible to read the Constitution and, from that reading, understand anything other than the basic structure of the Federal government. In particular, you cannot read phrases like "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated" (4th Amendment) and actually know what it means, because if this were actually legally binding, how would no knock warrants be possible? In fact, what you can start with is the annotated Constitution (don't forget the three supplements released later), thousands of pages of text and footnotes explaining how the Court has actually interpreted the Constitution, frequently to mean the exact opposite of what is meant by the plain meaning of the words. So the real Constitution is, in a fundamental sense, unknowable to the average person, and in fact largely hidden from the average person. Moreover, because what is taught to people as the Constitution is the original, written form, people routinely see the Constitution (not to mention other laws) violated by the government and treated as being as meaningless. Contempt for the law from the government breeds contempt for the law from the people; why should anyone think about the meaning of the Constitution when the Speaker of the House, on being asked whether a proposed law granting the government sweeping new powers is constitutionally valid, responds with "Are you joking?"

If we are to be a nation of laws, and not of men, then the law — including the Constitution — must be seen to be binding, knowable, and uniformly enforced. That means that what the law is also needs to comport with the beliefs of the great majority of what the people believe the law should be. And that in turn means that the Constitution, as written, is illegitimate, because it does not conform to what the majority think it should be. There are three ways around this. The first would be to call a Constitutional Convention, and write a new Constitution that actually says what we think it should. I encounter a lot of resistance to this idea on the grounds that a Constitution written with current beliefs is unlikely to protect things like freedom of speech, or of religion, or whatever. To which my answer is this: it already does not provide any such protection in practice. The second would be to amend the Constitution to make Social Security constitutionally valid, for example, and to actually give the Supreme Court a written grant of authority to be the final arbiter of the document's meaning, and so forth. The problem with that is this: if you propose, and pass the Congress, an amendment to make Social Security valid, and then it fails to be ratified by the States, is Social Security then invalid? No, under the way that we interpret the Constitution. And so the amendments would potentially further alienate the legitimacy of the Constitution, rather than restore it. The third way is to do what we have done: consent to being ruled by the whims of men, and live in fear that our government might be ruled by people who will force their religion on us and ban abortion (on the one side), or take our guns and ban religion (on the other). Federalism and subsidiarity, the idea that we should be mostly governed locally and the Federal government should have very strictly limited powers, seems to be a dead letter in the American mind, even though it would resolve even some of the thorniest of our issues were we to practice it.

So yes, Marbury should be undone, but the only way to undo it is to fashion a new system, and that would require a very great leap of faith, and consequently a strong non-partisan or bi-partisan leadership to allow that leap of faith. I don't see it happening in practice, but in theory it's way overdue.

But let's say that we do decide to rewrite or amend the Constitution back into a meaningful document. Then should there be a final arbiter of its meaning, and if so, whom or what kind of body should that be? If it were up to me, I'd say that we should not have a final arbiter. The reason is that it actually requires more different people and groups to violate the Constitution without a final arbiter than with one.

Let me give an example. Let's say that the Court had the ability to apply judicial review only to a particular case, and not to broadly strike down laws. Then to violate the Constitution, the Congress would have to pass a law in violation of the Constitution. The President would have to enforce that law in violation of the Constitution. The Court would have to allow that enforcement to stand in each case brought before it — and each case could be brought before it because lower Courts wouldn't automatically dismiss them as unconstitutional. So if the Congress passes an unconstitutional law, the President could simply determine that the law was unconstitutional and refuse to enforce it. Judges could determine that the law was unconstitutional and refuse to try. Juries could determine that the law was unconstitutional and refuse to convict. In other words, a ton of people would have to concur that the law was constitutuionally valid in order to enforce it, while only a few people would have to concur that the law was unconstitutional in order to prevent its enforcement. This is undeniably a situation that furthers individual liberty.

But as I noted before, the idea of a final arbiter has broad legitimacy, and changing that impression — if it is at all possible — would not be easy or quick. So let's assume for the moment that we want to have some person or body with the final authority to interpret the Constitution's meaning. Whom or what should that be? What characteristics would we want to have for whomever has that power?

First, I think that we would want this to not be a single person, because (a) a single person can be corrupted, and (b) that's a lot of power to put in one person's hands. What if that person turns out to think that beheading is an appropriate punishment for shoplifting? What if he thinks that's the only appropriate punishment for shoplifting? By the nature of being a final arbiter, that power is plenary — there is no appeal. So if it's to be an organization, what kind of organization should it be?

Well, we'd want it to be fast. This rules out the first thing that comes to mind: periodic Constitutional conventions. When court cases are pending, it's not exactly conducive to a speedy trial to have to wait a decade or more for the next convention. It would be possible to do periodic conventions combined with court review in the interim periods, but that would lead to an unstable base of law (and thus essentially to an unknowable base of law) as decisions get made and then overturned and so forth. For the same reason, we'd want whatever kind of organization has this power to be permanent, at least to the point of having a common body of rules that change slowly over time, including the rules for how many people are in the body and how they are chosen.

At the same time, you wouldn't want the body to be schlerotic. It is good to have the basis of law change slowly, but it is also good to have an ability to change bad decisions without waiting decades or suffering disastrous consequences. Recall that the appeal for the Dred Scott case was the Civil War. For that reason, you want the body's membership to change over time, and you want the body to meet regularly.

So far, that gives us a permanent institution that meets regularly and changes its membership regularly. What powers should it have? I would argue that it should have exactly two powers: it should be able resolve constitutional questions posed by the courts, legislatures, executives and even common citizens; and it should be able to recommend changes to the Constitution, either to Congress as Amendments, or directly to the States as amendments or a call for a Constitutional Convention. That way, the body would have the power to say what the Constitution means, and to recommend changes where that meaning is at odds with current sentiments. I'd be willing to give it the power to amend, and take that away from Congress, depending on how the membership is chosen and a host of other details.

As far as membership, though, you'd want to have that selected by more than one means. The reason is that this body would be the governing body over the interpretation of the Constitution, and a large purpose of that document, and thus of this body, is to make sure we are all represented and all protected. So you'd want some people appointed by various legislatures or executives, but you'd also want people who were elected by various subgroups (ethnic, gender, urban/rural, by trade/profession, income level, owners/renters, etc) with diverse interests, and you'd want some people who were chosen by lot from the jury pool. The idea is to ensure that the body is both large enough and diverse enough in its interests and needs to ensure that any change to the Constitution, or any interpretation of the Constitution, protects and serves the whole society, rather than just narrow interests. (That, by the way, was the purpose of the original geographic breakdown of the House of Representatives. If we wanted to preserve that idea today, we'd probably go to partisan proportional representation.)

I don't want to go too far off topic by getting into all kinds of other features of such a body, but it's pretty clear to me that if there is to be a power vested somewhere to interpret the Constitution for everyone else, the Supreme Court is not the place to vest it. The membership changes too slowly, is too small, is too unrepresentative of the population, and is appointed in exactly one manner.

Posted by jeff at 5:27 PM | TrackBack

October 12, 2008

Down the Ballot

With elections approaching, it's time to go down the ballot and figure out who to vote for. Here are my choices in my new home in Northern Virginia.

President
Obama/Biden (D)I think that Obama would be a disastrous president. He will give us a redux of Carter on foreign policy, and would be as bad as Johnson or maybe even Nixon on domestic politics. His socialist policy tendencies would be bad for the economy. His misunderstandings of the Constitution — or maybe it's just interpreting it away to get his policy preferences despite their being unconstitutional — are dangerous to Liberty. I am voting very strongly against Obama because of all of this, but mostly because of the foreign policy implications. If the Democrats had nominated Hillary, I would have been voting for her. They didn't; I'm not.
McCain/Palin (R)I do not like John McCain. (I do like Palin.) McCain would be good on the war, and at least passable on foreign policy otherwise. That's it. His economic populism is likely to be quite damaging to the economy, though popular. His misunderstandings or outright contempt for the Constitution when he disagrees with it (see McCain-Feingold) are dangerous to Liberty. He would be, at most, a mediocre president. If this were not a wartime election, or I were not in a swing state, I would write in someone. But since it is a wartime election, and I am in a swing state, the reality is that my choices are between Obama (disaster all around) and McCain (disaster except on foreign policy). Sadly, that leaves me voting for McCain.
Baldwin/Castle (Independent Green)Don't know anything about them, and for reasons explained above, don't care.
Barr/Root (L)I like Bob Barr a lot, and if it weren't for the war, might vote for him. But the Libertarians, in reacting as if we are in the wrong for fighting terrorists (they are even against our presence in Afghanistan) have lost my vote, possibly forever, certainly as long as terrorism is a category 1 threat.
McKinney/Clemente (Green)Wouldn't vote for McKinney for dog catcher.
Nader/Gonzalez (I)Wouldn't vote for Nader for dog catcher.
My VoteMcCain/Palin (R)
Senate
Mark Warner (D)He wants universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq (victory optional, hard to tell if it's even preferred) and to throw more money at the teachers' unions. To cap it all, he appears to be ardently opposed to home schooling. No thanks.
Jim Gilmore (R)He opposes the bailout, is strong on the 2d amendment, and his positions on issues generally seem mainstream Republican. Sadly, he's also a social conservative.
Glenda Parker (Independent Green)As far as I can tell, her entire campaign boils down to "trains are good." Um, OK, but...?
William Redpath (L)I like his positions on just about everything. "Just about," because the one thing on which he's disastrous is foreign policy. I'm sorry, but there's no way that withdrawing from Iraq will improve our security; there are many ways in which doing so would reduce our security. This is why the Libertarians have lost me on any national office while we are at war; they are simply unable to think clearly through their ideology to real world results. Bleah.
My VoteI don't know. I always vote as if the person I vote for has a chance to win, so that really leaves me unable to vote happily for any of these guys. If I knew the people in the area (hey, I'm new here!), I'd write someone in. I guess the least unappealing generally is Redpath, but his position on the war is a deal breaker. Warner is terrible, and Parker is a cipher at best. I like Gilmore except for the social conservative thing, so I guess I'll vote for Gilmore. But I'm not happy about it.
Congress
Judy Feder (D)An Obama clone, judging by her campaign literature and according to the young lady who came to my door asking for my vote, I am unlikely to agree with her on any policy position.
Frank Wolf (R)A long-time incumbent (which I do not like on principle) who voted for the bailout package (which is a huge strike), he does not get my vote.
Neeraj Nigam (I)Seems to be a bit of an economic populist. But his positions on immigration (legal immigration should be easy, illegal immigration difficult and punished), general issues (like transportation and health care), and the necessity of protecting the Constitution are all very appealing to me. His Iraq position is basically that we shouldn't have gone in, but now that we're there, we have to finish it.
My VoteNigam (I)
Ballot question
There is one ballot question, calling for $77 million in bonds to be issued for county and regional park expansion and maintenance. I'm generally in favor of such park projects, and have been unable to find any good information opposing the ballot question. I can't see any reason to vote against this, so I'll go with my default position on parks and vote for it.
Posted by jeff at 9:41 AM | TrackBack

April 5, 2007

Of Course You Know...

Fran Porretto is contemplating civic religion and the possibility of civil war. It's a topic, or really a set of topics, that has been on my mind for some time, and there are about half a dozen takes I need to get all of the various parts out. For now, I'd just like to respond to Fran's thoughts, and in particular to discuss whether the breakdown of the American polis portends worse.

I read a book some years ago, by an Australian author whose name I have sadly forgotten (along with the title), about why wars start. In order to know why war breaks out, he posited, one must know why peace breaks out. If we cannot know why peace comes, how can we understand why war comes? His conclusion, after much evidentiary exploration, was that war occurs because of a conflict of needs coupled with a difference of opinion on the consequences of war. If Iran, today, believed that taking 15 British sailors hostage would result in the immediate destruction of their Navy and ports, and possibly the nuclear destruction of Iran in toto, the odds of their capturing those sailors would be nil. On the other hand, if you think the enemy will refuse to fight, or lose if they do, you would be more likely to take action, as Iran has done (apparently with a correct reading of the situation).

So the questions as I see them, from a standpoint of disintegration of the polis in response to a progressive collapse of the civic religion over the last 130 years, is whether one or more of the four significant American subgroups will decide that they will fight at any cost, and whether the others will give way.

Digression: Those four groups, by the way, are the progressives/radical Leftists/Left-wing statists, the evangelicals, the originalists (not just libertarians, but small government conservatives and similar groups as well), and the institutional statists. The originalists held sway through the end of the Civil War, but Reconstruction brought the puritanical progressives into prominence. They gained power until they had it all, well into the FDR years. After that, the natural power seekers and hangers on (the institutional statists) took over, and have been in charge since. The evangelicals formed as a bloc under the social pressures following the 1960s and the capture of many institutions by the progressives with institutional statists in support, and began by the 1990s to wield significant influence with their insistence that moral rigidity and conformance was the answer to the problems caused by the moral ambiguity of the institutional statists and the moral decrepitude (by that time) of the progressives.

Anyway, I think it's clear by now that the unchallenged power of the institutional statists is at an end: the progressives have taken over the Democratic Party, and have made serious inroads into the far-right of the Republican Party (not evangelicals by and large, but puritanical moralists combined with reactionary megalomaniacs — the Buchananites, for example) in the last decade. The reasons they were able to do this are numerous, and irrelevant to this discussion, but I would think that a serious look at how teachers are trained, and what they believe, in connection with educational outcomes from primary and secondary educational institutions, would be a good place to start. Nonetheless, there has been a power shift among the elite towards the progressives. The progressives are not yet in unchallenged charge, but clearly they aim to be, and they might even succeed, at least for a time.

It is also clear that the progressives as a whole, from the anthropogenic global warming zealots and the netroots and the professional protesters to the abortion-by-decree absolutists and the health-care-free-for-all absolutists and the communist absolutists, have defined the enemy (anyone who shares their cultural roots, but not their contempt for their cultural roots), have defined their endpoint (total control of society), and have decided that destroying the entire system that created and enriched them (in order to take control of the aftermath and guide us to a brighter tomorrow) is their moral duty. They are willing to fight, and so far that has taken every form except widespread violence in support of their causes. Note the word "widespread:" there has been a great deal of localized and targeted violence. If the progressives decide to escalate into mob violence the way the brownshirts did (not out of the question, though only really likely if they suffer a really large political marginalization without also being reduced in numbers), would the other groups resist?

The institutional statists would not: they are heavily invested in the State and its corollaries (and thus themselves, of course) as all-powerful bringer of all wants and desires, but they are no more prepared to tolerate large-scale violence than they were during the riots of the 1960s that taught the progressives to fight in the first place. Indeed, a fairly large faction of the institutional statists, the center of the Democratic party in its political and media forms, actively applaud the progressives because they see the progressives as ultimately enriching their own (the institutional statists' own) power, while not being able to actually wield the power they wrest from the other institutional statists and the originalists.

The evangelicals might be willing to fight, but likely not. Despite their antithetical position to the progressives, and despite progressive propaganda about theocrats and so on, the reality is that the evangelicals are moral absolutists, but not very committed to violent means of imposing those moral absolutes. They think we should all agree with them, but they aren't willing to force the issue the way the progressives seem close to.

The originalists would fight, tooth and nail, and are well armed to boot. But the reality is that 5% of the population that cares cannot beat even 30% of the population that cares, and has State power on its side, with the rest of the populace not actively engaged (except rhetorically).

Therefore, the odds of civil war as our polis breaks down are small. The odds of repression, tyranny and decline, sadly, are quite a bit higher.

Posted by jeff at 1:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 11, 2007

The Problems with the Precautionary Principle

I was watching a Penn and Teller piece on environmentalists, courtesy of the Jawa Report, and was struck anew by the fallacies embedded in the precautionary principle. I need to differentiate between Wikipedia's definition and the way that the precautionary principle is used in practice, even though both are wrong, and the Wikipedia's more reasonable-sounding definition in fact only sounds more reasonable.

Wikipedia says the precautionary principle states that "if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action." The more common way of using the precautionary principle is to claim that if there is the possibility, no matter how remote, of harm being caused by action or inaction (on certain issues), then the action or inaction which might possibly cause harm cannot be done until the proponents of the action (or inaction) can prove that no harm will result.

The first fallacy is hidden in the unstated premise: those issues to which the precautionary principle may be applied are inevitably the issues of interest to anti-capitalists, anti-industrialists, socialists, environmentalists and the like. The precautionary principle is never applied by such people to problems such as, say, Iran, or jihadi terrorism, and indeed is rejected utterly in relation to issues not of interest to the radical Left.

The second fallacy is obvious: proof is not possible in science. All that you can do is build up evidence. But even overwhelming evidence falls immediately in the face of a single convincing counter-example. This is largely a problem with the Wikipedia definition, which stresses science and absolute terms. In the more common definition, the problem is worse: a veto is given to those on the correct (ie, more "progressive") side; until you prove to their satisfaction that you can act against their interests without causing harm, you must either do what they want, or not do what they do not want, depending on the issue. In other words, the precautionary principle is a way of stopping the argument in place: you cannot act because it might cause harm, and you cannot debate the point because we refuse to accept any evidence you might offer. Ergo, we win.

But there is a third and more insidious fallacy buried in the precautionary principle: there is no such thing as an absolute lack of harm. Every decision that we take, every thing that we do, causes harm in some measure to someone or something, particularly when we include those acts which we do not do. Let's take an easy example: if I spend money on environmental causes, that money is not available to feed my family, or prepare for my retirement. Now, an environmentalist might say that is true, but that the money spend on environmental causes does far more good for me (and if that argument fails, they will appeal to the greater good) than using my money for the other purpose. That would be a reasonable argument, and we could perhaps debate the point. They might even convince me in some circumstances. But the proponents of the precautionary principle implicitly exclude that cost-benefit analysis from issues to which the precautionary principle is applied. The precautionary principle sets the value of any level of harm at infinity, and the value of any countervailing cost at effectively zero. In other words, the precautionary principle assumes that any cost, no matter how massive, is worth creating a benefit, no matter how small or arguable.

What is left out of this consideration is the opportunity costs: what else could be done with the money? Let's say, for example, that the cost of fighting global warming is $10 trillion over some arbitrary unit of time. Let's further simplify by saying that global warming is happening, it is caused by humans, it will cause disastrous effects — let's assume as a single unit of measure 1 billion human deaths — if not stopped, and that spending that money will stop the warming and prevent the ill effects. Finally, let's discard even the possibility of natural causes of global warming, and assume that the climate does not change at all absent human causes. Now, here we are giving every arguable point (and more) to the proponents of anthropogenic global warming. So, why would we not, then, necessarily buy into the necessity of spending that money in that way?

What if we could prevent 2 billion deaths by spending $1 trillion over the same time period? That would leave another $9 trillion available for other uses, and would save additional lives besides. But the precautionary principle prevents any discussion of such tradeoffs, because it assumes infinite harm and zero cost, and so any discussion of using the resources available in different ways, even to the same end, is out of bounds: even if you save 2 billion lives, they are different lives, and that 1 billion might still die. In other words, a second line of argument-stopping "we win" assumptions is built into the precautionary principle.

But that in fact is the principle's power, and why it will continue to be made, even — in fact, particularly — in cases like global warming where there is a significant range of variation in possible outcomes and costs of action. That it is dishonest and fallacious does not appear in any way to enter the considerations of those who rely on the precautionary principle.

Posted by jeff at 6:59 PM | TrackBack

February 10, 2007

Can't Keep up with Catastrophe

Is it the "scientific consensus" on global warming, or the "almost unanimous" agreement of meteorologists on global cooling, or the ozone hole, or acid rain, or asteroid impact or that I'm supposed to be panicking about today? I can't keep up any more.

Posted by jeff at 10:40 AM | TrackBack

December 18, 2006

Why Governors Can Pardon Criminals

Governors have the pardon power exactly to remedy such vast injustices as this travesty. I hope Governor Perdue exercises that power in this case.

(hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

Posted by jeff at 6:51 PM | TrackBack

November 12, 2006

Two Justices in Need of Leaving

One of the important characteristics of a legal system like ours is consistency: we allow a great deal of latitude to judges, rather than specifying everything as the French system (for example) does, but in return we expect that the judges will change things only very slowly, and in particular will rely greatly on precedent and well-established legal maxims. Our Supreme Court has, over the past 70 years, repeatedly, frequently and almost maliciously violated this bedrock principle of justice, primarily due to agenda-based judicial decision making.

When what matters is getting the right outcome, you get Justices like Ginsberg and Stevens, who voted in Raich that an activity that entirely occurred in one state and involved no exchange of value was interstate commerce, and thus could be regulated by the Federal government, while other activities taking place in a state and not involving an exchange of values (in this case, partial birth abortions) are not interstate commerce and not subject to Federal regulation. This is, to be blunt, simply making up judicial reasoning to back up the outcome you prefer in the first place.

At this point, I would seriously consider staffing the Supreme Court by just randomly drafting people, like for a jury pool, to 2-to-5 year terms. I suspect we'd get better judicial reasoning, and more consistency, than we have now.

Posted by jeff at 6:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 9, 2006

Texas Post-Election Note

Just thought Jeff and others would find this interesting; I know I did.

According to the Star-Telegram, the Libertarian party fielded more candidates in Texas than the Democrat party did.

Also, straight party voting for Libertarians more than doubled from 2004, though it was still quite a small number.

Posted by Brian at 10:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 7, 2006

My Prediction Nationally

I think that the Democrats will pick up 13 seats in the House, not quite taking control, and two net in the Senate, with Lieberman winning as an independent. That leaves the House at 220 Republican to 215 Democrat (the currently independent-held seat goes to Democrat control), and the Senate at 52 Republican, 46 Democrat and 2 Independent. But that's a swag at best, because the polling has been even worse than usual this year, and it's usually not great.

UPDATE: Well, bad as the polls were, they were accurate for once. Who knew?

Posted by jeff at 6:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Down the Ballot II

In which I follow up on this post by researching local races out loud.

STATE SENATOR:

Brian Seiferlein, R: He's against the SBT, which taxes companies on revenue rather than profit. That's good. He wants to support small businesses with a "help line" — I assume he means something more comprehensive than that — which is good, but proposes to fund it by cutting waste, which is bad (because it's a cop out). He proposes an insurance reform I like: if you have to sue an insurance company, and you win, the insurance company must pay triple the claim plus court costs and attorney's fees. He supports tort reform where the loser pays the attorney's fees. I can see positives and negatives in this, so call it a wash. He's for restricting the use of eminent domain even more than it would be restricted under prop 4, which is good. He's socially conservative, which is bad.

Deborah Cherry, D: The incumbent District 26 state Senator. Outsourcing — particularly offshoring — is a canard, and Democrats tend to play it to the hilt. I guess that Michigan gets it worst because of Michael Moore's Roger and Me and the changes to the auto industry that he (and so many others) got wrong, but this one really annoys me. Cherry plays to the offshoring is evil crowd. That's bad. OK, ick, I can't finish reading through her issues page; it's all squishy and code words and feel-good nostrums without any hint of substance. Cherry's website is emotional claptrap projected into policy, with nary a hint of thought of alternatives or economics or what it would cost. ("Taxes are important, but even more important is what I could pay for with your money" — yes, it's a paraphrase — is noxious in the extreme.) Bleah!

My vote: Seiferlein, by default.

REPRESENTATIVE IN STATE LEGISLATURE

Fran Amos,R: So far, of the people running for office, this has to be the most pathetic and useless web site on offer. No issues, no positions, no idea of anything, and her online office (the only useful link on the page) is no help either. In 10 minutes of research, I know that Fran Amos is the incumbent, a Republican, and nothing else.

Kellie Riddell, D: Her first issue is election reform, and I'm going to quote the whole issue position because, well, look at my notes on Fran Amos: "I propose a paragraph description of each candidate and each issue available in every polling booth. Too many people vote without knowing anything about the candidate. Currently, the candidate supported by big money usually wins. Let’s even the field for a stronger democracy." Yes, and hell yes. But damn it all, she supports the Single Business Tax and unions and minimum wage increases.

My vote: Wow, I disagree with Kellie Riddell on a lot of things, but I have no idea what Fran Amos is for or against. I have to call this a none of the above vote. I'm going to write in Maurice Cox, because he is a local person I know who is very sensible and dedicated to community service. I don't know what his politics are, and I barely care, because I trust his character.

MEMBER OF THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: This is a "vote for two" from a list of 2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, 2 Greens, 2 US Taxpayers, 2 Libertarians, and a Natural Law candidate. Here's where I get into the "I don't know anything about these guys, so let's think about things other than the person" category. Actually, that's not quite true. I know that Tom McMillin, one of the Republican candidates, is very pro home schooling, so he gets one of the two votes. I'm not going to bother looking at the commiesGreens or the fundiesUS Taxpayers and Natural Law candidates, because their parties are anathema to me on this issue. The Democrats tend to be stooges to the teachers' unions, and very anti-homeschooling. Since there are only so many hours in a day, I'm eliminating them, too. That leaves Eileen Weiser (R), Erwin Haas (L) and Ernest Whiteside (L) as contenders. A brief review indicates that Weiser is reasonable, but not exciting, with pluses (opposes prop 5) and minuses (opposes prop 2); Haas is pro-homeschooling, pro-voucher and anti-public school; and Whiteside — OK, let's just start with this: if you're running for the board of education, I had better not notice obvious grammar errors on your issues page.

My votes: McMillin and Haas.

MEMBER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN BOARD OF REGENTS: This is another vote for two election, with 2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, 2 Libertarians, a Green, a US Taxpayers, and a Natural Law candidate. This is a really odd one, because frankly, the University of Michigan is pretty explicitly liberal. It's in Ann Arbor (a very liberal town) and employs such instructors as Juan Cole, whom I despise to the core of my being. So I'm all for voting to blow this one up, and am looking for the candidates who would cause the most chaos in the system, on the grounds that the current system needs a reset. The League of Women Voters provides a handy guide. The Natural Law candidate having eliminated herself through the stupidity of her answers, the Democrats and Republicans having eliminated themselves through blandness and codewords, and the Greens having eliminated themselves due to being idiots, my votes go to Hudler and Larson, the Libertarians.

MEMBER OF THE MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES: This is another "vote for two" election, and we get to use the same voters' guide (different section) that we used for the last race. OK, so let's see, Perles (D) seems to have actually thought about what MSU's purpose and challenges are; Spencer (Green) gives me the creeps — this is a theme for Green Party candidates, in fact; Denoyer (L) also seems, well, just not quite right in the policy centers of his head; Raaflaub (L) seems quite the nutcase, you know, the old guy muttering to himself on street corners; Dern (Natural Law) seems barely aware of what office she's running for. My votes: Perles and Gale (US Taxpayers).

MEMBER OF THE WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF GOVERNORS: Again, a two votes in one election; and again we use the same voters' guide. Have I mentioned yet that all these Board of Governors jobs are 8 year terms? 10 out of 10 for continuity, but minus several thousand for responsiveness to the constituency, whatever that is. Also, let me state that "I have ... been involved in movements since 1968" isn't the way to get my vote (and again the Greens go down to ignominious background noise). Johnson (US Taxpayers) creeps me out on the fundie level, while actually contradicting himself in the course of one sentence and one fragment. I like Van Bemmelen's (US Taxpayers) answers to the LWV questions. Jones (L), on the other hand, is as much a nut as either of the Green Party guys. I'm going to have to put my votes to Van Bemmelen and a write-in candidate. Hmmm... I don't know anyone locally who'd really be interested in this, and there aren't any other candidates I like, so my second vote goes uncast on this one.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER

Eileen Kowall, the Republican incumbent, faces off against Jennifer Suidan (D). Oakland County (where I live at present) is a large and wealthy county, and has a broad geographic and economic spread. Currently, there are a lot of budget issues facing the county, which apparently are a result of a combination of job losses and de-urbanization (Pontiac is a mess, for example). It impresses me that every local paper notes Kowall as having done an excellent job in this office. Knowing nothing, really, about either candidate, my vote has to go to Kowall on the strength of those endorsements and the sense of humor that comes through in the few Q&A pages I've been able to find on this race.

TOWNSHIP TREASURER

Margaret Birch (R) and Aaron Stepp (D) are the candidates. Birch has been involved in a variety of local offices, including some where she had fiduciary responsibilities. I cannot find anything useful on Stepp. That by default throws my vote to Birch.

JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: This is a vote for 2 candidates from a list of 2 serving justices and three non-serving candidates. (This is a non-partisan election, which is appropriate for such an office.) The candidates are Michael Cavanagh, Maura Corrigan, Kerry Morgan, Marc Shulman, and Jane Beckering. Based on the information I can find, Corrigan and Morgan seem to have the best take on the court's job (to interpret, not make, law) and policies important to me (liberty vs. dependence on the nanny state — a real battle in Michigan right now). So my votes go to Corrigan and Morgan.

JUSTICE OF COURT OF APPEALS, JUDGE OF CIRCUIT COURT, JUDGE OF THE PROBATE COURT, JUDGE OF DISTRICT COURT: This is frustrating, because judgeships at all levels are vitally important, yet none of these races has more candidates than positions open. Therefore my votes here are irrelevant: the only candidates who will be in consideration are those on the ballot, and I don't know enough to write in a candidate.

OAKLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES: This is a "vote two" race among six candidates. The League of Women Voters comes through again. My votes, on ten minutes of research, go to Chambers and Wiser, both of whom actually seem to want to use the college to provide useful community services by providing useful educations.

And that's a wrap, people.

Posted by jeff at 1:30 AM | TrackBack

November 1, 2006

Down the Ballot

So the election is in 6 days, and I am totally unprepared. I have only been in Michigan, where I will vote this year, for a short time, and the local issues and candidates are only slightly known to me. Time to get educated. In the process, I'll probably rant a bit, and lecture a bit, because I'm like that. I'll also do it online, because I know Steph wants to see my thoughts on the election because she's in the same spot I am. Courtesy of the Secretary of State, I can find my ballot online.

STRAIGHT PARTY VOTING: I like the fact that this includes more than just the Republican and Democratic parties, I dislike the fact that they make it so easy to violate my obligation as a citizen to cast an informed vote. Frankly, I think that people who vote a straight party ticket — for any party — should not bother to vote at all.

GOVERNOR & LT GOVERNOR: In Michigan, it's a joint ticket, just like President/Vice-President. I don't know anything about the Lt Governor candidates, and they frankly don't factor in to my decision making here. The choices are:

Dick DeVos, R: Like many challengers, DeVos focuses far too much on what's wrong and far too little on what to do about it. He's pretty obviously a social conservative, which is a definite negative for me. He's pro-gun rights, which is a definite plus. It's kind of hard to dig through the platitudes on his site, the obfuscation in media articles, and the various hit sites on him to get a good feel of his actual positions, but I get the feeling he's a nanny-state conservative, pretty willing to abrogate my rights if it serves his interests. I prefer nanny-state conservatives to nanny-state liberals, because of the different mix of issues where they want to step on me, but I frankly don't want either one. For example, his turnaround plan begins with the statement that the governor's job is jobs. I disagree: the governor's job is to protect (or reestablish where necessary) the free economy necessary for jobs to come about, not to create regulations to push job creation where it is not economically sustainable without subsidy, as well as protecting our freedom of choice in other ways, such as not interfering in who our marriage partners are. The Daily Kos is against him (a plus) in part because he supports homeschooling (a plus).

Jennifer Granholm, D: The current governor, Granholm has hardly impressed me with her handling of the state's economy, particularly her stand on keeping the small business tax, which is charged on revenue instead of profits, as well as her insistence on maintaining the tax on heavy equipment, which is slowly driving heavy manufacturing out of the state. Moreover, she's a nanny-state type, with proposal after proposal for spending more money on one initiative or another, with the constant theme being increasing the size and reach of government at the expense of private choice; essentially she wants us to pay to reduce our own freedom. On the other hand, she's a competent governor, and takes care of the actual functions of state government well; I just dislike her from a policy perspective.

Douglas Campbell, Green: His "Imagine" bit on the front page of his site really turned me off from a fingertip-feel perspective, and I see why just looking at the top link on his page, about why he is running. I admire the fact that he's not content to let the issues he cares about get ignored by the major parties, and wants to do something to fix that. I disagree with pretty much every position he takes, though, starting with his first position statement: "We must challenge our corrupt and dysfunctional federal government, which is a cause of so many global problems". Um, no, not even close.

Bhagwan Dashairya, US Taxpayers: He seems to be associated with the Constitution Party as well. Unfortunately, his campaign web page doesn't list his positions, just pointing to the party's positions. I generally like the party positions, except that they seem to be heavily social conservative. I like his idea of budgeting by percentage of tax revenue ("indexed budget") rather than by dollar amounts; it's hard to game that system behind the scenes, because budget and revenue are inextricably tied. I could not find much information about Dashairya on the web, so I emailed him. I'll update this if I hear back from him.

Gregory Creswell, Libertarian: Creswell supports ending affirmative action, which I also support. He supports cutting the size of government (for example, ending the single business tax and replacing it not with another tax, but with shrinking the state's budget). He is an unabashed free-market supporter. In fact, judging from his web site alone, I support every position he noted, at least in principle. I wouldn't vote for a Libertarian for national office while we are at war and they oppose fighting the war, but that doesn't matter at the state level.

Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get information about minor-party candidates, because the media does not let their message be easily heard. For example, the governor candidates' debate only included the Republican and Democratic nominees, despite there being five candidates on the ballot. For shame!

My vote for governor: Gregory Creswell.

SECRETARY OF STATE:

Terri Lynn Land, R: The Democrats have vociferously complained about everything about the current Secretary of State for Michigan except that her name is on the ballot. (Today I heard them complaining on the local NPR affiliate that her name is on certain information posted at polling places. Unfortunately for their position, Federal law requires that she do so, as current Secretary of State.) My dealings with the SOS office (two drivers' license changes and two registrations to vote) have been efficient and straightforward, so I've got no complaints on that score. She seems to have made a lot of improvements in efficiency and effectiveness of the office, which is a good thing. While the Democrats complain about election fraud (talk to me about elections in Oklahoma when the Democrats were in charge!), Michigan is one of only three states that use electronic voting machines and have required that the source code be escrowed (a vital and basic precaution against fraud). Michigan is not, it must be noted, known for voter fraud (in the recent past, at least).

Carmella Sabaugh, D: Currently Macomb County Clerk, and apparently efficient and effective at it, from all reports I could find. Unfortunately, she seems to support a lot of measures (like unrestricted absentee and by-mail voting, same-day registration) that would in practice increase voter fraud. It's hard to find objective information about Sabaugh, but she doesn't seem to be excessively good or bad, leaning slightly negative because of the measures she supports which would lend themselves to increased voter fraud.

Lynn Meadows, Green: I could be argued into supporting instant runoff voting, as Meadows does, but not universal registration or public funding of campaigns. And citing truthout is a reason to vote against her right there.

My vote: Terri Lynn Land.

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Mike Cox, R: Currently Attorney General, Cox has gone after spammers, a topic near to my heart. He seems to be big on collecting child support, strong legal enforcement in general, and in particular upholding consumer protection laws. Now, in general, I disagree with some of those laws, but that's not the AG's job; his job is to enforce the law. As such, I cannot complain about Cox on that score. In fact, I really can't find any good reason to fault Cox's performance in office, generally.

Amos Williams, D: OK, to be blunt, he lost me here. That's the kind of language (and issue choice) designed to inflame the passions of the ignorant. I disagree with all attempts at mob rule tactics, period.

Charles F Conces, US Taxpayers: I can't really disagree with his issues, which largely involve finding places where the government has gone beyond the law and reigning them in. Good so far. On the other hand, I do require that AG candidates be willing to follow the law, even laws they disagree with. This looks like a typical activist who cannot govern in any pragmatic way, because he's too stuck on his ideology to realize that not everyone shares it.

Bill Hall, Libertarian: I like his position on using the AG's office as a watchdog against big government, but that's not really what the office is for. Most importantly, the office has nothing to do with marijuana legalization (a constant stalking horse for many Libertarians), as that is the legislature's job.

My vote: Mike Cox, more or less by default

UNITED STATES SENATOR

Michael Bouchard, R: OK, I think that lawsuit's like California's that try to hold automakers responsible for global warming, and similar stunts, are stupid. But Bouchard's take on the issue is to use the Federal government to remove this from the hands of the states, with extreme prejudice. A federalist he is not. Picking on sexual offenders further by collecting their IP addresses is just dumb: IP addresses change frequently and are hardly a reliable indicator of anything. Trying to blame the Democrats for out-of-control Federal spending is disingenuous: while the Democrats would undoubtedly not improve on the Republicans' dismal record, is is the Republicans' record at this point. He's for earmark reform and a line item veto, both good items. He's against the move to abolish racial preferences in Michigan, which I support. He's virulently anti-abortion. His stand on the war is that we cannot leave Iraq if it would create a vacuum, and he doesn't seem to have a problem with preemptive war.

Debbie Stabenow, D: I cannot vote for a Democrat for national office so long as we are at war and the Democrats generally support measures that would lead to weakening our position in that war. The exception would be for people like Zell Miller or Joe Lieberman, who support fighting the war aggressively. Stabenow is not such a one. (In fact, she voted against the invasion in the first place. At least I can disagree with her consistently: she can be trusted to always do the wrong thing, apparently, on the issues I care about.) Her strong point: she's not Carl Levin. Some endorsement.

David Sole, Green: I didn't even get past his URL. No, no, no, no, no!

W. Dennis FitzSimons, US Taxpayers: I didn't get past his single-page home page, which is basically all quotes about how we're a Christian nation and Bible quotes and such. Uh, no thanks. Just on the ambience I'm getting the ooks.

Leonard Schwartz, Libertarian: I cannot vote for a Libertarian for national office so long as we are at war and the Libertarians generally support measures that would lead to weakening our position in that war. The exception would be for people who support fighting the war aggressively. Schwartz is not such a one. (In fact, he's of the "Bush lied" school, which is a kind of combined intelligence/partisanship test for me.)

My vote: Bouchard, holding my nose the whole way and seriously thinking about not voting at all, if winning the war weren't so damned important.

REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS:

Joe Knollenberg, R: For aggressively waging the war. Otherwise a grab-bag of middle-of-the-road Republican positions focused on his district, which is a generally unoffensive thing for a Representative. Frankly, my distaste for the obvious views of those opposed to him gives me more hope for him than anything else. He seems the typical district-focused type, and hasn't made a big impact outside of voting on issues, so far as I can see.

Nancy Skinner, D: I cannot vote for a Democrat for national office so long as we are at war and the Democrats generally support measures that would lead to weakening our position in that war. The exception would be for people like Zell Miller or Joe Lieberman, who support fighting the war aggressively. Skinner is not such a one. (In fact, she "strongly support[s] Rep. John P. Murtha’s four-point plan", which is a transparent way to lose the war, and I don't just mean in Iraq.)

Matthew R. Abel, Green: I'll just quote his site: "Violence is morally wrong and logistically ineffective, because it treats the symptoms of problems, not the root causes. The Bush regime has led our nation on a path to permanent war – and the Democrats have been complicit every step of the way. 9-11 is no reason to support Israel’s crimes against Palestinian humanity; no reason to fight a war for oil in the name of a war on terror; no reason to abandon our own civil rights and the protections of due process in the name of national security." And so, another strong, revolted no for the Green Party candidate.

Adam Goodman, Libertarian: I cannot vote for a Libertarian for national office so long as we are at war and the Libertarians generally support measures that would lead to weakening our position in that war. The exception would be for people who support fighting the war aggressively. Is Adam Goodman such a one? Who knows? Getting on the ballot needs to be followed by something, and I couldn't find any useful information on Goodman at all.

My vote: Knollenberg, by default.

I'm going to end this with the proposals, and come back to the more local races later, because there are a lot of races and candidates, and the people and offices are obscure enough I'll have to do some digging.

PROPOSAL 06-1: Establishes conservation and recreation funds as state constitutional mandates.

My vote: No - I have no objections to such funds, but they should be funded by the legislature, rather than being placed beyond debate by constitutional mandate.

PROPOSAL 06-2: Constitutionally bans, at the state level, affirmative action based on the same criteria in the US Constitution.

My vote: Yes - I am against racial, gender or ethnic discrimination of any kind. The government should be blind to these things. How the US Constitution's ban on this gets interpreted to allow it, just not the way we did it in the past, is beyond me. Then again, much of the interpretation of the Constitution is beyond me, since it makes no sense given the plain meanings of the word. I only figure there's a fifty-fifty chance that this amendment to the state constitution would survive modern court interpretation, but it's better than the chances we have now.

PROPOSAL 06-3: Establishes a hunting season for mourning doves.

My vote: No - I won't vote in favor of something I don't understand. Apparently this was passed into law, so why is there a proposal to pass this into law? Doesn't make sense to me.

PROPOSAL 06-4: Restricts the state's power of eminent domain.

My vote: Yes, yes, yes. Not only is the limitation on takings to give to private entities (individuals or businesses) inherently the right thing to do, it establishes higher standards of proof for takings of property that is "blighted" (which term has often been abused in the past to justify very questionable takings) and compels the government to pay above market value, in fact 125% of market value, for property seized.

PROPOSAL 06-5: Mandate funding (in fact, funding at higher than present levels) for education, including mandatory increases indexed to inflation and shifting massive amounts of local spending to the state.

My vote: NO!!!! This is a classic way of taking someone's policy preferences on education funding and mandating them into a law in such a way that they will always increase, and can never (politically) be fixed, no matter how outrageous they are. If you don't like what the legislature is doing on state budgeting (this goes for Federal budgeting, too), vote them out. But in no way should budgets be compelled by this kind of claptrap.

LOCAL PROPOSAL: Increase the millage above the Waterford Township's Charter limitations to fund parks and recreation.

My vote: Yes. This is actually a hard one. On the one hand, I generally like the way that the parks and recreation systems work here; they provide amazing parks and facilities. On the other hand, I think that there is a reason for this kind of limitation in the first place: to prevent the local government from growing to large. On the third hand, I haven't exactly noticed the creeping tyranny of the Waterford Town Council. On balance, I'd pay the extra tax to get better parks, though I wish I had a better idea of what else the ad valorem taxes are being used for.

That's it for now. I'll have to come back to the other races on the ballot.

Posted by jeff at 11:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 28, 2006

This Tired Old Man that we Elected King

I was thinking about how the Left thought about Reagan (note the lyric that titles this post) and the way that they think about Bush, as opposed to how the Left thinks of Clinton. It occurs to me that the Left's real problem is that they cannot get their heads around the notion that if they give power to an institution — be it the Congress or the Courts or the office of the President, or what have you — the power stays with the institution even when the Left is no longer in charge of it. Though Clinton had no less or fewer powers than Reagan or Bush, and used them no less ruthlessly (in many ways, more ruthlessly), Clinton is a shining paragon of virtue and open government in the eyes of the Left, while Reagan and Bush are incarnated demons for the least exercise of their powers, even those that were inherent in the office at its inception.

I think the real problem is that the Left is content to live in a world where the government has overwhelming power to compel people to do what the Left wants, but not in one where the government has overwhelming power to compel people to do what the Left doesn't want. The Right has, to a lesser extent, the mirror-image problem. I don't want either side telling me what to do.

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October 10, 2006

Funny and Tasteless

Here is a political commercial you won't be seeing on TV this campaign season. And what a shame, since it mercilessly mocks Madeleine Albright. The only thing that could make it more perfect was if it managed to eviscerate Henry Kissinger.

(hat tip: Instapundit)

Posted by jeff at 9:30 PM | TrackBack

October 5, 2006

An Impossible Standard

So Rep Foley appears, it turns out, to have sent sexually suggestive IM's not to a minor, nor to a person of the age of consent, but to an 18 year old. Foley is still a big bucket of sleaze, of course, for using his position of power in an attempt to pressure young people into having sex with him against their better judgements. And it is a good thing that he resigned. But it does make me wonder: can more than ten people in the House and Senate survive a standard that high? Do we have that many elected representatives who do not use their positions of power for gaining more power, more money, or more personal perquisites — more often than not using public money and property to do so? Have we so easily forgotten Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Cynthia McKinney, Gerry Studds (all Democrats) or for that matter the various and sundry Republicans who have behaved just as badly? Can any person who seeks the power and prestige of elected office in the US stand up under such a standard of review?

I say we apply that standard, broadly and immediately. Because the truth is, a quick look at our laws and the behavior of our elected representatives indicates that the number of representatives who deserve to remain in office is statistically indistinct from zero. Of course, instead, we keep electing these slimeballs, as Massachusetts seems to be ready to do.

(Prediction, though: this standard can only, in a politically realistic sense, be applied to Republicans. Anyone attempting to smear a closeted (but widely known) gay Democrat acting sleazy with the Congressional pages would have their character assassinated and reputation ruined. Being called a homophobe would be the mildest approbation applied, and newspapers would not be filled with inaccurate and damning details of the conduct, but inaccurate and exculpatory denials of the conduct. The elected Republicans are sleaze with a sense of shame. The elected Democrats are sleaze with no sense of shame.)

Posted by jeff at 5:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 3, 2006

Bye Bye to a Bad Law

Congratulations to Southwest Airlines and the people of Dallas and Fort Worth. With the Wright Amendment dead, the DFW area will finally have two full-service major airports, and thus better service at lower prices for people flying there. If Ft. Worth decides to refurbish Meacham Field, there can be three major airports in the DFW area. Given the amount of air traffic needed to support that many passengers, three fields (DFW as the major one, with smaller airlines and shorter hop flights at the other two) makes a huge amount of sense. The only losers are American Airlines (which effectively has a controlling vote in what happens and D/FW International), and D/FW International's airport board. For everyone else, this is a huge improvement.

For those not aware, the Wright Amendment was instituted when D/FW International was built, to ensure that it would be viable. That is, the Wright Amendment was effectively the granting of a monopoly by the Federal government. Like most monopolies, the effect has been largely negative. D/FW was built because the two existing airports could not handle expected air traffic increases in the Dallas and Fort Worth municipal airports. Unfortunately, D/FW alone could not handle that traffic, either, by the middle of the 1990s. The lack of competition resulted in D/FW being one of the most expensive airports in the country to fly into or out of.

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September 26, 2006

Clinton's Outburst

I don't have much to say about Clinton's outburst on Fox News. Others have covered in far more detail how many lies and omissions were in Clinton's short interview, as well as the kind of political machinations that Clinton is so prone to. But there is something that I haven't seen: a look at what Clinton's outburst reveals — or rather, how it reinforces what we already know — about his character.

Bill Clinton (and yes, Hillary, too) is what Southerners call "white trash." He is not much more than the trailer park slut who gets pregnant at 15, or the poor guy who beats his wife because he can't ever manage to get ahead (or to care enough to change his own self-destructive behaviors), or the fat old slob bemoaning that the world finds them unattractive. Clinton has managed to cover it well, most of the time, because he is very charismatic and very intelligent. Which just goes to show that you can be intelligent and a great fool. Clinton is a great fool, on many levels. Clinton is also amoral, and a habitual liar. Worse yet, he is the kind of habitual liar who blames all of his failures on the machinations of others, and accepts no responsibility for his own behavior.

Bill Clinton is the only argument that I have ever seen in favor of term limits that have made me think there might be a point to that position, after all. My great fear is that enough people have managed to bury his and Hillary's lack of character in their disused memories, and that that forgetfulness will allow Hillary to become President. The gods forbid such a pestilence on our great nation.

If I sound disgusted, it's because I am.

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September 25, 2006

Wonderful Irony

Something occurred to me tonight: the reason we are so dependent on oil today might very well be because of early Progressives. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Progressives were on an anti-trust bender. I've always looked at this as a generally good thing, because it broke up a lot of monopolies, which tend to be very destructive.

But tonight I was thinking in a longer time frame. While the monopolies are very destructive in the short term, in the long term, don't they just spawn unorthodox competition? After all, if you look at Microsoft's rather blatant destruction of any and all competition, its eventual outcome was the open source movement, typified by operating systems like Linux and applications like Apache. Open source is largely immune to Microsoft's bullying tactics, and that has given many other companies (not least of them being Apple) a lot of breathing room that they didn't have before. Now you can compete with Microsoft without being crushed; that was not true in the 1990s.

So might it not also be true that, had Standard Oil not been broken up under anti-trust laws, that some very unexpected opposition would have arisen, giving both new options for those who wished to avoid using Standard Oil's monopoly product, and those wishing to compete with Standard Oil? And might it be that we would have been off of any serious dependency on oil by the end of the 1930s? And if so, aren't Progressives to a large degree responsible for the situation they now so decry, our dependence on oil from the Middle East to maintain our economies?

Well, at the very least, I think it's fair to say that free markets produce better solutions than government regulation, though they are sometimes slower than government regulation.

Posted by jeff at 10:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 14, 2006

Say Again?

What does Keith Olbermann want the President to do, run New York City's Port Authority, too? (hat tip: The Jawa Report)

Posted by jeff at 7:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ann Richards

Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, has died after a short battle with cancer. Although I would not have voted for her in a national office, I actually did vote for her over George Bush for a second term as Texas governor. Richards was a funny, no-nonsense Texan with an attitude appropriately sized for the state, and most of the time (when she wasn't playing partisan) a class act. Goodbye, Governor, and bright blessings.

Posted by jeff at 7:13 AM | TrackBack

September 12, 2006

Why I am not a Libertarian

I am not a Libertarian, though I am a libertarian. The primary reason I am not a Libertarian is this mindset.

Consider just this one point: Mueller neglects to consider that one reason that there may not have been attacks in the US on the scale of 9/11 is that we responded in force to 9/11. Indeed, he even notes that "the number of Americans killed within the United States by international terrorists in the five years since 9/11 is the same as the number killed in the five years before: zero" and that "they do not seem to have become more capable generally since 9/11", but fails to attribute this to anything other than al Qaeda supposedly being over-hyped as a threat.

No, also consider a second point. Here is Mueller:

Even if [terrorists] were able to pull off "another 9/11" every three months for the next five years, the chance an individual American would be killed in one of them would still be two one-hundredths of one percent.

Not quite. The chances of someone in Andalusia, Alabama dying in a terrorist attack would be essentially zero, while the chances of someone in New York dying in a terrorist attack would be near certainty. Lying with statistics does not add to Mueller's credibility.

The problem with Libertarians as a party is that they are fanatical purists — mostly ivory-tower academics and drug-fiends who like the "we'll let you smoke anything" plank of the party — and over the long-run can only retain the loyalty of people too out of touch with reality to consider the implications of their proposals. And frankly, that's a shame, because the libertarian ideal could use a good party to champion it. In fact, it could use every party championing it.

Posted by jeff at 10:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Political Scorecard

A recent comment annoyed me, and being annoyed, I decided to list out my political positions. Being a geek, I decided to score them. (OK, the comment was recent at the time, but then I forgot to publish the entry. It's still relevant, so here it is.) So here's how this works: I list an issue, my position on that issue, the importance of that issue to me, the positions of various political parties, how well their positions agree with mine, and how they score on that issue.

My importance scale is:
0 — This issue is of no consequence whatsoever in policy terms. Not only will I put out any effort (other than occasional rhetoric) to get my positions passed, but if their antithesis passes instead, I won't much care.
1 — I care about this, at least theoretically, and it would effect my voting and political donation patterns.
2 — I care about this quite a bit, and it would strongly effect my voting and political donation patterns. Alternately, this would be a 3 if the issue were to seriously come up as a policy differentiator, but in reality it's only going to come up around the margins, rather than challenging the core of the issue.
3 — I care about this so deeply that it could be the sole determinant of my vote. In fact, if moves far enough away on enough of these issues, it would be sufficient to push me to emigration or rebellion.

A party's agreement with me is scored as follows:
0 — Their policy position is essentially or actually antithetical to mine. Discussion is meaningless because no compromise position can be reached. A pox on them!
1 — Their policy position is strongly opposed to mine, but there are points for discussion, which could lead to them seeing things my way.
2 — Their policy position matches mine closely enough that I am not unduly concerned about them getting their way.
3 — They agree with me completely, showing their great wisdom and deep understanding of the issue.

A party's score, then, is the product of the importance of the issue to me and their agreement with me on the issue. I couldn't figure out how to put this into a readable table, so I settled instead for a series of tables.

The War

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeFight aggressively at home and abroad: no quarter given, because none will be given us. At the same time, let's not try to kill all 1.2 billion Muslims or do to Islam what Rome did to Carthage. The point is to remove the threats of jihadi terrorism and of nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable regimes. We need to dramatically expand the military, perhaps even back to Cold War levels, because we could be fighting Iran, Syria and potentially Saudi Arabia, and at the same time we will need to maintain the ability to defend Taiwan should China decide to attack.3
Democrats"The war is largely a matter of police work and intelligence in the US, combined with cooperation with our allies abroad. By understanding the root causes of terrorism, such as poverty and corruption and inefficient social services, we can work to end terrorism. We should vigorously pursue the terrorists in Afghanistan. We should not attack sovereign countries without the agreement of the UN and involvement by pretty much all of our allies. In particular, we should work with our allies to diplomatically resolve any crises arising from a rogue nation developing nuclear weapons.

If a Democrat is President, though, we'll act just like the Republicans are now. (Witness our bellicosity in 1998.)"

13
RepublicansWe should vigorously pursue the war at home and abroad, and should ensure that Americans are not attacked in the US ever again. If that means attacking nations that support terrorism, or are in the process of developing nuclear weapons and are a potential threat to the US, then we should destroy those nations with our allies if possible, and without them if necessary. All Muslims are not the enemy; Islam is not the enemy; the jihadis are the enemy. We believe that the key to eliminating terrorism is eliminating the failure of the Arab/Muslim nations that has caused frustration to boil over into terrorism.26
LibertariansWe should treat the "war" as a police issue at home, and should not fight abroad.00

The Economy

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeThe economy is largely the domain of private individuals. Government's role should be limited to the actions of the Federal Reserve in setting money supply and interest rates. By and large, it's a good idea for the government to not interfere, but it is also necessary to recognize that moderate interference in the economy (such as spending more in a recession or using tax policy to encourage some actions and discourage others) can have a salutary effect on increasing prosperity and, in particular, on decreasing immiseration.2
DemocratsThe economy is almost entirely the responsibility of the Federal government, and should be regulated to produce fairness and eliminate poverty, even if that means confiscatory taxation, massive wealth transfer and/or forcing businesses to adopt socially progressive policies.12
RepublicansThe economy is almost entirely the responsibility of the Federal government in cooperation with corporations and small businesses, and should be regulated to reduce income inequalities and poverty, even if that means high taxation, massive wealth transfer and/or forcing businesses to adopt policies convenient to Republicans politically.12
LibertariansThe economy is entirely the domain of private individuals. Period. Well, OK, the government can mint money, but that's it.24

Drugs

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeThe government has no business regulating what products or substances people can purchase or use. In attempts to regulate drugs, for example, the Federal government generally strays into tyranny, such as no-knock warrants and long prison terms and regulation of funds transfers abroad.1
DemocratsDrugs should be legal. But to the extent that they're not, it's important that the issue be manipulated for Democratic political advantage, for example by painting Rush Limbaugh as a hypocritical drug addicted fascist.22
RepublicansDrugs should be illegal. Anything we have to do to keep them that way is just fine.00
LibertariansThe government has no business regulating what products or substances people can purchase or use. In attempts to regulate drugs, for example, the Federal government generally strays into tyranny, such as no-knock warrants and long prison terms and regulation of funds transfers abroad. Besides, we really, really want to light up, man.33

Taxation

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeObviously, taxes are necessary to run the government: it's not and should not be a business. Income taxes are particularly a problem, for two reasons: progressive taxation punishes economic advancement, leading to less of it; and the side-requirements to enforce income taxation, such as looking through your bank accounts without a warrant and preventing large money transfers abroad, lead the government to behave tyranically. We would be better off with a flat tax, and even better off with a consumption tax (in either case, with a significant up-front exemption to protect the truly impoverished).3
DemocratsTaxes are good. Income taxes are especially good, and the more progressive they are the better. The more taxation the better, because the government can then efficiently make decisions about who should have what amount of money, ensuring fairness by reducing the incomes of high earners to raise the incomes of low earners. Besides, we have a lot of special interests to buy off.00
RepublicansTaxes are good, but they need to be lower than they are now. In fact, it might even be wise to look at things like a flat tax or a consumption task. But don't look too closely, because we have a lot of special interests to buy off.13
LibertariansTaxes are evil. If we can't have an anarchy, the government should be restricted to funding itself through user fees and import duties.26

Health Care

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeIt's none of the government's business. Providing the indigent with free health care, and the poor with subsidized health care, is a good idea for policy reasons, but other than that the government should stay out of it. Giving a tax credit to everyone for health care is OK, but giving a tax credit just to businesses leads to all kinds of problems.1
DemocratsNationalized health care is best. If we can't have that, we'll settle for excessive regulation.00
RepublicansGiving tax credits to businesses is best. And massive, massive wealth transfers is also good, because it buys votes.00
LibertariansIt's none of the government's business.33

Energy Policy

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeWe shouldn't have one. It's not the government's job to decide what forms of energy to use, or how to get them: let the market handle that.1
DemocratsIt's the government's job to specify what energy sources we use, who can use them, how much, what they will cost and so on.00
RepublicansI suppose an energy policy would be a good idea. Absent that, why don't we just drill everywhere for oil and call it an energy policy.11
LibertariansWe shouldn't have one.33

The Environment

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeDon't soil your nest. The government should get involved only in so far as it is necessary to prevent you from soiling my nest.2
DemocratsIt's the government's job to specify how everything will be done that might effect the environment. Including breathing and the allowed percentage of methane in cow farts.00
RepublicansA clean environment is good. But not at the expense of prosperity.24
LibertariansWhy is the government at all involved in this, again?24

Immigration

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeLegal immigration should be easy. Illegal immigration should be hard.2
DemocratsIllegal immigration should be easy. Legal immigration should be heavily bureaucratic and time-consuming.24
RepublicansLegal immigration should be hard. Illegal immigration should be hard, but we're really not going to put any effort into it.24
LibertariansImmigration should be pretty much completely uncontrolled.12

Freedom of and From Religion

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeBoth.3
DemocratsFrom, certainly.26
RepublicansOf, certainly.26
LibertariansBoth.39

Freedom of Expression

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeYes.3
DemocratsMostly.26
RepublicansMostly.26
LibertariansYes.39

Freedom of Peacable Assembly and of Association

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeYes3
DemocratsYes, for individuals. No, for groups or businesses; the government has to regulate membership and customer practices to protect minorities.26
RepublicansYes39
LibertariansYes39

Right to Keep and Bear Arms

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeYes. Except for area weapons (nuclear, chemical, biological, perhaps FAEs or cluster bombs).3
DemocratsNot so much, no.00
RepublicansPersonal arms, yes, but not crew-served weapons or vessels or aircraft or armored vehicles with weapons.26
LibertariansYes.39

Freedom From Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeYes3
DemocratsYes, if the Republicans are in office.13
RepublicansYes, if the Democrats are in office.13
LibertariansYes39

Eminent Domain

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeThe government has no business taking private property. For practical reasons, like the ability to have roads, there will from time to time need to be exceptions, but these should meet stringent tests of need and be accompanied by excessive compensation, because you're not just taking someone's property, you're forcing them to change their lives in the process.3
DemocratsNot so much, no.00
RepublicansMostly.26
LibertariansEminent domain is an abomination. Better to have no roads at all.26

Law Enforcement

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeIt's important to have a small number of well-defined laws, and enforce them vigorously (particularly criminal law). The rights of defendants must be protected completely, while also ensuring that justice is served, rather than technicalities (like whether two pages are stapled or paper-clipped together).3
DemocratsThe law should more or less be enforced, particularly those laws that disproportionately target Republicans.13
RepublicansThe law should more or less be enforced, particularly criminal and drug laws. White collar crimes, not so much. Defendants currently get way too many protections, though.13
LibertariansWhat very few laws should exist should be vigorously enforced, preferably by private citizens.39

Torture

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeWe should not torture people. However, harsh, even humiliating, treatment of captured enemies is not the same thing as torture.2
DemocratsWe should not torture people. "Torture" includes anything from playing loud music or making people cold on up. Unless Democrats are in office.12
RepublicansWe should not torture people. "Torture" and "people" are up for definitional debate. Unless Republicans are in office.24
LibertariansWe should not torture people.36

Federalism

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeI'm for it.3
DemocratsWe're against it.00
RepublicansWe're against it.00
LibertariansWe're for it.39

Gay Marriage

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeFine, if you want to.0
DemocratsYes, and we'll do anything we can to make it stick.20
RepublicansWe're against it.00
LibertariansFine, if you want to.30

Abortion

PersonPositionImportanceAgreementScore
MeBad idea. Getting the government involved would be a worse idea.0
DemocratsAbortion is good for womyn and children. No, really!00
RepublicansWe're against it. You should be against it, too. By law.00
LibertariansWhy is this a political issue again?30

Now, I picked those issues because they are important to me, or because they were on my mind. If you want me to address other issues, or if you disagree with my characterizations (not my ratings: that's not your place), let me know, and I'll be glad to update. This is kind of fun, actually.

OK, and here are the results:

Of a maximum possible 123 points, given my importance ranking, the Democrats get 37 (about 30%), the Republicans 63 (about 51%), and the Libertarians get 100 (about 81%). So, if I agree so much with the Libertarians, why am I ruling them out? Well, as long as we're at war, the government is not our most dangerous enemy, so the Libertarians are out of the running, because they flunk on the war and do best on issues that, if we lose the war, they will have little chance of implementing anyway. (If the Libertarians would change their position on the war, I'd start voting for them again: I don't vote "strategically", which is little more than accepting second best in voting.)

This is pretty skewed by the choice of issues, because I put the basic freedom issues in there, where the Libertarians pretty much clean up from my point of view. A longer list of issues would moderate the list somewhat, and change the percentages. In particular, most of the issues where I would disagree with the Libertarians aren't in this list; on the other hand, they aren't there because they aren't a big deal to me (or because I didn't think about them), rather than because I'm trying to inflate Libertarian numbers. For an example of how this changes nothing, see the last two issues (abortion and gay marriage).

Also, some of the issues are really big, like the economy, while others (like energy policy) are really small. Some way of chunking up the issues better would probably be a good idea. But then I'd have to think, and it's late already.

Posted by jeff at 7:38 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 8, 2006

Too Slow out of the Gate

When I saw Kevin Drum hyperventilating about median family incomes dropping under President Bush, I decided to check the statistics myself to see how this really looks. After all, Drum's data points are 1999 and 2005 — why those two? Is that simply the choice that makes the President look worst? I don't feel less wealthy. Besides, I am always suspicious of a trend line based on two data points: such a comparison seldom proves anything useful.

But before I could get around to it, Jane Galt beat me to it. (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

Posted by jeff at 8:21 AM | TrackBack

September 6, 2006

Words I Never Thought I'd Say

I agree with every single word Atrios wrote here. Now, to sit back and wait for the apocalypse. Oh, yeah, I'm Pagan — after the Rapture, can I have your stuff?

Posted by jeff at 10:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Depths of Madness

The environmentalists, and by that I mean those to whom unvarnished nature is their god and man their devil (yet who somehow always seem to live in mcmansions and drive SUVs), are out to get rid of lots of invasive species, even ones that aren't particularly harmful, in order to "restore" nature to its prior state. I think that the analysis of that idea can stop with one small notion: except in northeastern Africa, man is an invasive species. Come to think of it, maybe that's where they got the idea.

Posted by jeff at 10:19 PM | TrackBack

September 1, 2006

That's Going to Leave a Mark

Now that the Plame affair is over, and "it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson" in the Washington Post's words, Wretchard observes: "Mark Coffey is "absolutely flabbregasted" at the Post's accurate summation of events, which is sad in the way that watching an immigrant from the Third World marveling that the electricity works is."

That's going to leave a mark, on the media that is. How sad indeed that we are stunned when the media is accurate to events. As I put it 3 years ago:

[S]hould it transpire that there is far more smoke than fire here, and that in fact nothing quite so dastardly as the intentional blowing of operatives' cover for petty political reasons actually happened, the critics who are all over the administration on this issue should apologize in the same fora where they are smearing the President.

I also noted that I didn't think that such a result would happen, so at least I'm not surprised. Just disgusted.

Posted by jeff at 4:28 PM | TrackBack

August 30, 2006

A Victory for Open Government

When the Senate brought up a bill that would have created a searchable online database of Federal contracts, grants, loans, insurance and financial assistance — in other words, a system that would allow ordinary citizens to watch for corruption and waste in government spending — it seemed assured of passing with overwhelming bipartisan support. But due to an obscure and somewhat recent (since the 1960s) Senate tradition, one Senator was able to stop the bill dead in its tracks, without revealing their identity except to their party leader in the Senate. Outraged bloggers — conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans and others, whose only commonality is that they are US citizens — came together to track down the Senator who placed the "secret hold" that stopped this worthwhile legislation. And they found him: Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), whose other sins include perpetuating the very pork this bill would make easier to stop, including the infamous "bridge to nowhere".

I am not ready to say that the "secret hold" is necessarily bad in all circumstances. Certainly, it gives a Senator time and space to quietly argue differences or get further information, before dragging any issues out in open session, and possibly causing political damage to himself or others. But it also, if abused, is a very powerful tool to allow a single Senator's preferences to override the will of the overwhelming majority of the chamber while suffering no personal repurcussions for doing so. This appears to have been such a case, the carping of Stevens' staffers notwithstanding. Bully for those who participated in this citizen action.

Posted by jeff at 5:23 PM | TrackBack

August 10, 2006

Bad Timing, I Think

I wonder if the netroots folks think it was a good idea to oust one of the few Democrat office holders who was serious about the war against the jihadis the day before a major jihadi terrorism plot was foiled, apparently (from what we now know) with only a few days to go before execution. Actually, I'm sure they are fine with the outcome: the netroots movement is not about gaining power, or it would be inclusive instead of taqfiri. Instead, the netroots seeks to force their principles to the fore, to recenter the debate far to the left of where it has been since 1980 or so, and that requires both the excommunication of heretics and the spinning of every event into their political frame, regardless of whether it fits or not. So in the end, this bombing plot will be about Iraq (regardless of the echos to Operation Bojinka, which was foiled while Clinton was President) and Bush (regardless of its occurring in Britain) and will show how fighting terrorism is bad, though the netroots will present no options other than those that failed to prevent 9/11, the embassy bombings, the Cole attack and so on. In that case, maybe the timing is not so bad for the netroots after all.

For the Democrats, though, it's an unmitigated disaster.

Posted by jeff at 5:36 PM | TrackBack

August 9, 2006

Let me Get This Straight

So, in Massachusetts, the legislature denied state college tuition breaks to veterens from Massachusetts returning from the war, but extended state college tuition breaks to illegal aliens? If any further evidence were needed of the truly fucked-up state of American politics, particularly on the Left, there it is right out in the open. Shame, shame on the Massachusetts legislature.

(hat tip: The Jawa Report)

Posted by jeff at 6:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What Lieberman's Defeat Means

QandO and The Glittering Eye both have interesting posts on the meaning of Lieberman's primary loss to Ned Lamont. They are well-considered and worth reading. My take is somewhat different, though.

What interests me is that there could be a party realignment like that which destroyed the Whigs. While the political system in the US only supports two parties over the long term, and mandates that those parties, or at least any party capable of winning elections, must be a coalition of interests, there is no mandate that the parties remain the same over time. The Whigs exploded, and the Bull Moose movement could have (but did not) done the same thing to the Democrats in the early 20th century.

What it takes for a new party to rise to prominance are a significant number of voters not in either party coalition, prominent leaders who will bring their following into the new party, and a committed base of support for fundraising. At least two of those conditions currently exist, or may exist in the near future.

Currently, the Republicans represent those who are conservative on social policy, statist on economic policy, and aggressive on fighting the war (in broader terms, the Republicans don't have a coherent position on intervention generally, though President Bush has generally seemed to be minimalist in that sense). Currently, the Democrats represent those who are progressive on social policy, progressive on economic policy, and broadly against aggressive pursuit of the war (though ironically interventionist in every other way). Crime policy is not really much of a debate in the US any longer, so I've left it out of consideration. The broad swathe that is unrepresented are those who are generally liberal or libertarian on social policy, libertarian on economic policy, and committed to aggressively fighting the war (with a broad range of opinion on other interventions). So there is certainly an untapped consitutency. (I should note that if a party arises to meet this need, there is no guarantee that the whole agenda of such a constituency would be embraced, or even that any of it would. It is enough that there are a large number of voters willing to take the chance.)

If Lieberman loses in the general election, and McCain loses the Republican presidential primary race in 2008, they would have a powerful incentive to form a third party, for their own self-aggrandizement if nothing else. (Dave notes this in regard to Lieberman and his likely independant run for Senate.) Each has a following, and much of that following would transfer to the new party. In addition, as noted above, a significant number of voters could be swayed just to take the chance of getting something better. (The normal argument against third parties, that they are incapable of winning office, would certainly be less plausible with two such prominent politicians heading the party. If Hillary Clinton loses the Democratic presidential primary in 2008, she could potentially find common cause here as well, and that would further boost the party's credibility.) The unknown will be whether a large enough base comes along to make the party competitive.

In other words, what Lieberman's defeat could mean, provided other events fall out in not-unlikely ways, is that in three years we'll have a real third party to challenge the existing political order.

So let's say that a third party along these lines is formed, and has a general policy position of liberal socially, statist economically, and interventionist abroad, which would somewhat match the preferences of McCain and Lieberman so far as I can tell. What would happen then? There are two likely paths. The most likely is that the party will for all practical purposes disappear within two presidential election cycles. But it is possible that the party would do well enough to become kingmakers. If such a party were able to gain regional votes in both the northeast and southwest, it could prevent a first-ballot election of a president by the electoral college. That would in turn position the new third party (assuming they had the fewest electors) as kingmakers: they could promise their electors' votes in exchange for concessions in terms of cabinet positions (maybe even VP) and the like, concessions that would increase their odds of winning in the next general election.

If that were to happen, there would be a general realignment, and one of the three parties would be destroyed in the shuffle. I cannot do more than guess at what the alignments would be afterwards, though I suspect that the central dividing issues would not be economic, but social and national security issues. I suspect too that the extreme Left and extreme Right would end up in one party, with the two remaining parties being broadly centrist, both committed to aggressive conduct of the war, and differing on social issues. In other words, I suspect that we'd spin off the extremists and be back, more or less, to the political alignments of the early 1960s.

Posted by jeff at 6:00 PM | TrackBack

Taqfiri

Perhaps the reason that the Michael Moore/Markos Moulitsas wing of the Democratic Party is so uncomfortable with opposing the Islamists is that they recognize the similarities of approach, such as the practice of taqfir, the ostracism of the insufficiently pure. This is not meant as an equation of morality; for all their poor judgements and moral failures, neither Moore nor Moulitsas are murderers. But they are fanatics, and from a distance, most fanatics resemble each other. Maybe the real problem with Moore's and Moulitsas' approach to the enemy is that they've been too busy focusing on nearby Republicans to see that they (Moore and Moulitsas) have more in common with the Republicans than with the jihadis in the distance.

Posted by jeff at 5:25 PM | TrackBack

July 20, 2006

Stem Cells

There's something that I do not really understand in the debate over President Bush's veto of a bill to federally fund stem cell research: why should the government, absent any moral concerns, fund stem cell research?

Let me back up to a higher level: why should the government fund any scientific research, other than that needed for its other legitimate purposes (such as defense, survey work, weather monitoring, and so on)? It's not the government's job to decide what scientific avenues should or should not be pursued; it's the government's job to create an environment in which science (and for that matter any other private pursuit not threatening the society at large) can be pursued. Have universities and medical companies folded up shop? Clearly not. So why is the government involved in this? The only reason I can think of is that we seem, as a people, to have lost sight of a very fundamental truth on which America was founded: the government exists not to determine the shape of society, but to create and protect a just and free environment so that the people can, through their invididual exercise of rights including the pursuit of happiness, make society into whatever shape they choose.

Fundamentally, just because something is good (and I do believe that stem cell research has the potential to create good medical therapies) does not mean that the government should do it.

Posted by jeff at 11:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 28, 2006

The One State Strategy

Third parties don't fare well in the US, because of the ruthless mathematics of our electoral system. In some ways, this is a good thing. It means that periods of tumult and discontent — particularly periods where there is no national consensus on the way forward — result in very hard feelings; but it also means that there is a way to resolve those feelings towards a consensus that does not involve armed gangs roaming the streets.

Nonetheless, there is also the huge downside that people are compelled to pick someone with whom they disagree on many things, or allow someone with whom they disagree on even more things to win. This in turn means that voting for third parties is always a losing game: your choice is so unlikely to get elected that there is simply no point in voting for him; better to vote for your preference among candidates likely to win. But how, then, does a group that by and large agrees with a particular party, but not on everything, ever gain the leverage to move a party? Are the Greens and the Libertarians doomed to howl in the wilderness forever? Probably, because they're loons, but there is a way that minor parties or cohesive interest groups could break out of the wilderness and actually become the kingmakers. The Democrats are trying a "50 state strategy", where they contest every election. A third party would need the opposite approach: contest one big election.

While third party candidates could conceivably win (have in fact won) House and maybe even Senate races from time to time, those positions are powerful largely by partisan alignment. A member of any party other than that holding the majority can only affect the body at large when there is essentially a tie in the rolls, as happened with Jim Jeffords' defection. Otherwise, their votes would be courted, but their views given no real power to shape the outcome of legislation (less power, even, than the power of the minority party, which at least has the numbers to force some changes in what is passed). But there is an election where this does not hold as true: the Presidential election.

The problem with the Presidential elections, besides the difficulty of getting on all the State ballots as a third-party candidate, is money. Without hundreds of millions of dollars, you have no hope of making an impact, and thus you will barely be mentioned in the press, and will certainly not be part of most debates, candidate questionnaires, and other such tools of influencing the process. If you cannot be heard, you will not be voted for. The one advantage of having Ross Perot run for President was that he had the money to be heard. If he wasn't going to be invited in, he could just buy 30 minutes of prime time TV to get his message out. This is not, to put it mildly, usually an option for third parties, and campaign financing rules make it essentially impossible for all except billionaires to even try.

But, and this is a huge but, that rule only applies if you are trying to win, and a third party doesn't have to do that. Instead, a third party could work to make itself the kingmaker, and this would take notably less assets. Consider the Greens in California or the Libertarians in Texas. By and large those states' populations are friendly to the message of those parties, and so there is a certain amount of resonance that their message would get. On top of that, winning in one state is much much cheaper than competing in all of them, or even in the ones needed for an electoral college majority, which means that enough money probably could be found to win one state, if the party's message was good enough.

So how does winning one state translate into becoming kingmaker? To be elected President, a person has to win the votes of 270 electors. California has 55 votes; Texas has 34. In both the 2000 and 2004 elections, Texas would have prevented George Bush from winning. California could have thrown the 1976 election to Ford. Consider this: had the Libertarians won Texas in 2000 or 2004, they could have essentially determined the outcome of the election, by instructing their delegation to vote for whichever candidate was going to offer them the most concessions. (In fact, any of several states could have fulfilled this role in either of those two elections.)

So it seems to me that if you want to be successful as a third party, your best bet would be to gain influence by trying to win just one state, and so to control the margin of victory. While this would be difficult, it's considerably less difficult than the traditional approach of trying to win the Presidency outright.

Posted by jeff at 11:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Supreme Dissent

Supreme Court opinion reading can sometimes be interesting - especially the dissents. Today, the SCOTUS overthrew just a portion of Texas' redistricting plan. Most of it was fine, but a minority-district that went from Austin to Houston was deemed invalid by a 5-4 vote.

Chief Justice Roberts had this to say about the majority opinion. I like the "style points" comment:

The majority dismisses the District Court’s careful factfinding on the ground that the experienced judges did not properly consider whether District 25 was “compact” for purposes of §2. Ante, at 24. But the District Court opinion itself clearly demonstrates that the court carefully considered the compactness of the minority group in District 25, just as the majority says it should have. The District Court recognized the very features of District 25 highlighted by the majority and unambiguously concluded, under the totality of the circumstances, that the district was an effective Latino opportunity district, and that no violation of §2 in the area had been shown.
Unable to escape the District Court’s factfinding, the majority is left in the awkward position of maintaining that its theory about compactness is more important under §2 than the actual prospects of electoral success for Latino-preferred candidates under a State’s apportionment plan. And that theory is a novel one to boot. Never before has this or any other court struck down a State’s redistricting plan under §2, on the ground that the plan achieves the maximum number of possible majority-minority districts, but loses on style points, in that the minority voters in one of those districts are not as “compact” as the minority voters would be in another district were the lines drawn differently. Such a basis for liability pushes voting rights litigation into a whole new area—an area far removed from the concern of the Voting Rights Act to ensure minority voters an equal opportunity“ to elect representatives of their choice.” 42 U. S. C. §1973(b).

The full opinion is here.

Posted by Nemo at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

Supreme Dissent

Supreme Court opinion reading can sometimes be interesting - especially the dissents. Today, the SCOTUS overthrew just a portion of Texas' redistricting plan. Most of it was fine, but a minority-district that went from Austin to Houston was deemed invalid by a 5-4 vote.

Chief Justice Roberts had this to say about the majority opinion. I like the "style points" comment:

The majority dismisses the District Court’s careful factfinding on the ground that the experienced judges did not properly consider whether District 25 was “compact” for purposes of §2. Ante, at 24. But the District Court opinion itself clearly demonstrates that the court carefully considered the compactness of the minority group in District 25, just as the majority says it should have. The District Court recognized the very features of District 25 highlighted by the majority and unambiguously concluded, under the totality of the circumstances, that the district was an effective Latino opportunity district, and that no violation of §2 in the area had been shown.
Unable to escape the District Court’s factfinding, the majority is left in the awkward position of maintaining that its theory about compactness is more important under §2 than the actual prospects of electoral success for Latino-preferred candidates under a State’s apportionment plan. And that theory is a novel one to boot. Never before has this or any other court struck down a State’s redistricting plan under §2, on the ground that the plan achieves the maximum number of possible majority-minority districts, but loses on style points, in that the minority voters in one of those districts are not as “compact” as the minority voters would be in another district were the lines drawn differently. Such a basis for liability pushes voting rights litigation into a whole new area—an area far removed from the concern of the Voting Rights Act to ensure minority voters an equal opportunity“ to elect representatives of their choice.” 42 U. S. C. §1973(b).

The full opinion is here.

Posted by Nemo at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

June 23, 2006

Obligations

I was going to write at some length about the latest attack by the New York Times on the American war effort, and thus on the people of the United States1, by disclosing yet another method the government uses to find terrorists. Fortunately, most of that ground was covered by Fran Porretto, so you can see much of the rest of what I would have written there.

But there is one thing that Fran didn't cover and that I would like to discuss: obligations. A member of a community — up to and including a citizen of a country — has obligations to that community. One of those obligations is to obey the constitutionally-valid laws duly passed to govern that community, and another is to not deliberately attack that community directly or by aiding those who attack the community. To do otherwise is to yourself be an enemy of that community. (If someone would like to propose a definition of "enemy" that doesn't include deliberate attempts to destroy or weaken an entity, I'd love to hear it.) For institutions that are part of a community, there is a double obligation: the obligation of the institution to support the system that governs and protects them, and the obligation of each and every member of that institution to do likewise. As such, the Times has multiple obligations to the US that should prevent the Times from deliberately attempting to weaken the US. "Serving the public interest" is not only the Times' duty, but that of every US citizen or institution — and most particularly of the government. The government has an absolute duty to protect the US from attack, and the Times' weakening of that ability is a moral and cultural failure.

The Times, though, has some other peculiar views about obligations that it seems to share with many other MSM outlets. For example, the Times seems to think that the government has an obligation to the Times (and other self-designated journalists with the proper accreditations, memberships and viewpoints) to grant access, disclose information and otherwise to assist the Times in its organizational (corporate, in this case) endeavors. The government has no such obligation. This lack of obligation on the government's part opens a road to dealing with the Times and its like-minded compatriots: banishment.

The President should immediately announce that the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have, through their disclosure of this and other critically sensitive government programs, policies and procedures in the War passed beyond the point where they can be reasonably believed to be acting as responsible American journalists, particularly in refusing to withhold publication of sensitive information about vital government war measures. That, as a result, it is the policy of the government for one year from this date to hold those named institutions and their employees to be persona non grata in their role as journalists, with the following consequences: neither those organizations, nor any employee or associate of those organizations, nor any person whose material is published by those organizations during the year, will be granted press credentials at any government news conference or other event, including travel on Presidential and other government trips abroad; nor will any executive officer or employee grant interviews or otherwise disclose any information of any kind in their official capacity to those organizations or their employees, on pain of termination. The organizations' behavior over the sanction period would determine if the sanctions would continue in place past that year.

The MSM have for too long trampled over the people's true interests, and the people's representatives, in the MSM's own self-interest (while piously insisting they are merely our representatives, as if they were an elected, rather than self-appointed, agent of the public!). It is time for the government to reassert its own obligations to the citizens, by failing to cooperate with those who would harm our war efforts. True, there would be a firestorm over this. But then, what can the Times say that would be worse than what they've already said? What can they do that would be worse than what they've already done? It's time — it's past time — to reclaim government's role as our watchdog.

Certainly, there needs to be a free press covering the government, but there also need to be limits to how far that press goes. Exposing true malfeasance by government (yes, Abu Ghraib counts, though the coverage was one-sided and excessive) is one thing. A sustained attack on the country's ability to defend itself is quite another. And while censorship is not the answer, neither is ignoring the rot within.


1Yes, I realize that the Times would claim that they are "serving the public interest", or, in private, perhaps that they are attacking the Bush administration, but when you deliberately weaken a country's war effort, it is the people of that country who are put at risk. Do I question their patriotism? Unhesitatingly.

Posted by jeff at 6:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 22, 2006

It's the Coverup, not the Crime, That Brings you Down

I have read DailyKOS fewer times in the last 4 years than I read InstaPundit or Eternity Road in any given week. And I really, really don't care much what the kossacks think about politics or much of anything else. But it is interesting and funny to watch them implode over doing exactly what they accuse their political opponents (they would doubtless say enemies) of doing. And now the self-destructive blame game commences. Clearly, it's time to grab a beer and a bowl of popcorn, sit back, and watch the fireworks.

Two notes: I am not accusing either Kos or Jerome Armstrong of a crime: the title is a fitting cliche. Also, yes, I am a having a bit of schadenfreude, since everything I know of the denizens of Kos' circle's political views, personal animus to anyone who doesn't share those views, and ethical and behavioral standards strikes me as elitist and arrogant. I despise the self-anointed elite, and the bombastic crap spewed by Kos and associates certainly marks them as such.

Posted by jeff at 3:18 PM | TrackBack

June 20, 2006

Time Traveling Aliens

Most of the time, I look at politics as an entertaining spectator sport: cheaper than the movies (at least so long as you ignore what the politicians do with taxes) and so much longer-lasting. But from time to time I get really burned out on all of the insider crap that goes on around any political endeavor. (Usually, this is when I'm dealing with a lot of political crap at work, oddly enough.) But even when I'm a bit burned out about it, there are always a few total morons parading as self-proclaimed geniuses that keep things fun. Today's example: TruthOut, which still quite implausibly maintains that Karl Rove will be indicted any day now.

Posted by jeff at 10:17 PM | TrackBack

June 1, 2006

The Near Enemy; The Far Enemy

I've been contemplating lately how partisanship is utterly corrupting in our society. In particular, how it is that the Left sees the domestic enemy, the Right, as the near enemy, and the jihadis as, at best, the far enemy (much the same as the Left saw the Soviets, Chinese, Khmer Rouge, North Vietnamese, Ba'ath and so on and so forth); while the Right sees the foreign enemy (the Soviets, Chinese, and so on) as the near enemy, and the domestic enemy, the Left, as the far enemy. On the principle of engaging the near enemy first, the Republicans generally seem to feel that once the foreign enemy is defeated, they can win the culture war; meanwhile the Democrats generally seem to feel that once the domestic enemy is defeated, they can worry (or not) about the foreign enemy at their leisure.

Before I could put those thoughts into words, though, Glenn Reynolds interviewed Peter Beinart (of the Leftist "fight the Republicans first" school); Wretchard wrote , showing incidentally how The Nation uses the fight against the foreign enemy against the domestic enemy; Brian Tiemann addressed how you can determine the general political ideology of a state by noting which side has the crazies with the conspiracy theories; and most importantly, Marc Danziger wrote this.

So, really, there's no point in me doing more than writing a brief observation and linking to people with far more thoughtful posts. The blogosphere has an astounding amount of talent, moving together (if chaotically) towards something vastly lacking in our "official" political and media discourse: understanding and context. Good for all of us.

Posted by jeff at 9:22 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Too Funny

Greenpeace, foiled again...by itself.

Posted by jeff at 7:48 PM | TrackBack

May 15, 2006

Ripe for a Demagogue

Throughout history, there have been moments of great crisis that were utterly unrecognized for what they were until after the crisis was passed. Instead, the crisis would be seen as something else: economic problems or partisan policy disputes, usually. But in these times, deep in the heart of the common people in the country in crisis, there is a growing sense that nothing is working right, and that the gaps in political discourse are unbridgeable. The people become, by degrees, more and more ready for someone to "just fix things". In other words, the country becomes ripe for a populist (and frequently nationalist) demagogue.

The canonical example of this is the rise of Adolph Hitler; who, it must be remembered, was after all just one of the many demagogues in Germany in the early 1930s. More recent examples include Jugoslavia's Milosevic, Venezuela's Chavez, Bolivia's Morales. Twentieth century examples besides Hitler include his contemporaries, Mussolini, Mao and Franco, the later Noriega and Castro and the earlier Lenin. Demagogues, it should be noted, are not always horrible people; in many cases they really do think that they are doing the best that they can to fix the problems that they see with their country. The problem comes in with two additional factors: unchecked power and insularity.

Unchecked power, which is the norm in all but a very few countries, allows the executive, sometimes with minimal interference, to push through whatever changes that he wants. Those changes almost always start with government "reforms" that serve to make that power unassailable by any but military means, and "security reforms" that serve to make rebellion essentially impossible. The resultant lock on power, and the perks of feeding from the essentially infinite public trough rather than having to earn money yourself, leads to isolation and then to insularity, so that the demagogue in power loses touch with the populace he initially set out to assist.

The US right now is in such an unrecognized crisis. The debate over illegal immigration, exacerbated rather than helped by the media's general refusal to separate legal from illegal immigration in any discussion, and most certainly exacerbated by partisan political tactics (hence Senate Minority Leader Reid's demands for President Bush to stake out a clear position, presumably so that Reid will know what he, Reid, is against), hides a much deeper issue. Americans are becoming convinced that their government is incapable of controlling the borders, incapable of competently prosecuting both the long war and the immediate campaign, and incapable of resolving any conflict because of partisanship. If the issue continues to heat up, expect to see an independent presidential challenge within the next couple of election cycles, at least as strong as the Perot challenge to outsourcing in the early 1990s, and most likely stronger.

Perhaps President Bush can navigate a way out of this mess; we'll see shortly. But even if he does, until the rampant partisanship and unbending buffoonery and constant corruption of the system is fixed, the crisis only waits for an issue to crystallize around.

Fortunately, the US and the other Anglosphere countries have, by and large, proven remarkably resistant to demagogues. Populism resonates from time to time, but has a hard time getting a solid foothold on power. This is largely because the Anglosphere countries tend to keep political power diffuse and to resist government changes (due, I think largely, to generally good governance for the last few hundred years). And it is in the end unlikely that the US will fall for an immigration demagogue. I wish I could say the same for Europe, but I fear that Europe is not only ripe for a demagogue, but susceptible to demagoguery.

Posted by jeff at 7:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 2, 2006

A Modest Immigration Proposal

You know, if we just conquer Mexico, and turn the current Mexican states into territories, within maybe 20 years we can kill the worst of the drug trade and corruption, teach the new population how to live as citizens of a free Republic and in particular how to be prosperous, and make all of the new territories into US states. I believe that would solve the vast majority of the immigration problem.

Posted by jeff at 8:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 1, 2006

Closing the Border

I have to say that I am generally an open borders proponent. I believe in the New Colossus:

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!"” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


I am not certain how many illegal immigrants I have employed in the last month, loading the truck before my move to Michigan or doing the remodeling of my house. At a guess, I'd say about 6-8 of the people involved were unlikely to be here legally. And I don't care. Nor do I care what language you speak; English-only or even English-first requirements for government miss the point: the government exists to serve the people, rather than to create the rules by which you have to abide to pass muster with the government.

But I do have to make one point to those marching in the streets, especially the La Raza and MECHA types who want to restore the southwestern United States to Mexican rule: don't tick us off. Seriously: come here and work and we'll be happy to have you; we like it when people want to better themselves and their family. But in the process, pay your taxes and follow the rules — yes, they are stupid right now, and we doubtless need to seriously reform them to allow more people to come here legally and work. But pay the taxes (not just some of them: send a money order and keep a copy if you don't want to identify yourself to the IRS) and follow the laws and we really won't hassle you. The last couple of decades should certainly prove that point.

But when you come out demanding amnesty for your illegal entry, and don't pay your share of taxes (which for most of you will be quite small in comparison to what most people pay; first-generation immigrants tend to be poorer than their children and succeeding generations), and start making noises about returning rule of parts of the US to Mexico, then there is something that you should consider. The United States has, for the past three and a half years, been interdicting trails through the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts and river valleys of Iraq. We have an extraordinary amount of soldiers and Marines trained to stop infiltration. We have sensors and other equipment to aid in that task. And we have significant experience at mapping social networks to find specific individuals that we want to find, which is much easier to do when you are trying to find a class of people rather than a specific individual. If you piss enough of us off, what you are risking is that the US will get serious about the border. In about three months, that border will be closed, hard. And within about three years after that, 80% or more of the people here illegally will be deported.

Now, it would take a lot to get us that annoyed. We don't like to use our military to guard the border; and we don't want to turn our immigration services, which should be welcoming to those who want to come here, into search and deport squads. But we can do it.

So just don't tick us off, OK?

Posted by jeff at 6:09 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

April 27, 2006

I Would Comment if I Could Figure Out What he Meant

Robert Fisk — a man so vile and depraved and shameless that his name has become a pejorative verb meaning "to ridicule a person's statement or article point by point" — has given an interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I would love to take it apart, but I can't figure out where to start. For example, did the US create Abu Musab al Zarqawi as a mythical demon to justify our actions in the war, or not. Every single statement that follows is from this one short interview, and every single one is Fisk in his own words (with occasional context added in [brackets]):

"But I think [Zarqawi's recent tape] is part of the bestialisation, if you like, of those people we want to hate, in the sense that I think individuals like Zarqawi or bin Laden don't actually matter."

"In other words, does he actually have any real status as a militant, as a resistant, as a rebel, whatever you like to use the word, terrorist, other than just being a person who is to be hated and to be bestialised in front of the television screens. The issue really is, I think, is this a person who is seriously an enemy of the "West" or is this just another person who is popping up on our screens to say this is the latest mad lunatic, the latest fanatic, the latest terrorist whom we have to be concerned about? That is the real issue, you see. Over and over again we've had this system where whereby we've had Ayatollah Khomeini and Gaddafi in Libya. We've had these extraordinary figures in the Middle East, like Nasser, for example, in Egypt in 1956 and people whom we are encouraged to loathe, encouraged to hate and who, ultimately, are just figureheads, who in the end are people who we just are encouraged to loathe, encouraged to hate. People who, at the end of the day, are not per se people who we need to worry about, people who, indeed -- "

"I mean, we don't know that that was Zarqawi [beheading Nick Berg]. If indeed it was, then he is obviously the monstrous figure we make him out to be. At that time you'll remember the Americans said they believed the voice was that of Zarqawi, but we didn't have any evidence of the voice on the tape. You know, the issue is, are we in fact creating these creatures for ourselves to hate or are they creating themselves? In other words, are we being promoted by these people? Are these people being put before us as caricatures, if you like, to hate or are they people who are there to be hated by us in order to make the, you know, them and us, evil/good caricatures, which George W. Bush has laid out before us?"

[Answering a question from Tony Jones as to whether, in fact, Zarqawi and bin Laden and such "creating themselves" as beasts.] "No, that's absolutely correct and they want to create themselves and we help them create themselves. We help them do that. We help them do that. Every time we hold a press conference of the occupation powers, for example, in Iraq and say, "Mr Al-Zarqawi is to blame" , we help to do this. This is what we are doing and this is a big problem because we are helping to create the creatures of "evil". "

"Here 's what I conclude. I think these people are bad guys. OK, they are. There's no doubt about it. They are bad guys."


So, did we create Zarqawi as an evil bogeyman, or is he an evil bogeyman showing his true colors? Listing to Robert Fisk, you'd have to conclude the answer is "yes". Fisk's only consistent (not coherent) position is that America is evil, and Bush is particularly evil, and that anything in the world that opposes America, and especially Bush, must therefore not be, in the end, evil. Even people who slaughter children by the hundred, are not evil in Fisk's world, if only they also burn an American flag. Or would, if it came up.

hat tip: InstaPundit

Posted by jeff at 7:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 24, 2006

Political Purges and Civil Service

A CIA employee at fairly high levels (a career civil servant, though, not a political appointee) has been accused of leaking classified information to the press — serious classified information about things like government programs to track, capture, hold and get information from terrorists — information that could be used by the enemy to avoid being tracked, captured or held, and lessen the amount of information that the US gets from interrogating captured enemy fighters. In other words, she may have seriously undermined the security of the United States during war time. And it may have been for political reasons: she was a fairly hefty (for a non-rich individual) contributer to John Kerry's campaign and other Democratic causes.

Now the administration is apparently trying to figure out if there was more than one partisan leaker, a development over which Jon Henke is justifibly worried: we don't need political purges of civil servants (in the White House travel office or the CIA or anywhere else).

On the other hand, there is the possibility of a coordinated effort by Democrats in the CIA and State Department to embarrass the President by leaking information (often out of context or missing vital bits of exculpatory information that honest government officials who know it cannot provide because it would compromise security, which is how the whole Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson thing apparently came about). Or just, perhaps, spying directly for the enemy, which is worse. I'm hardly the first to note the apparent war on George Bush's policies by mid-level CIA and State Department staffers; it's been an ongoing discussion for years.

If that is the case, then there needs to be a purge, and it will inherently be political because the people being purged undertook their illegal and immoral actions for political reasons. So while I agree with Jon in general, this may be an exception — it is certainly too soon to tell.

Furthermore, I think that this is evidence that career civil service simply might not be valid in such an atmosphere of hyperpartisanship. The civil service system replaced patronage because it was seen as more professional and less corrupt (and much less disruptive) than changing over the civil servants every time the White House changed hands. In retrospect, that decision might have to be undone.

Posted by jeff at 7:20 PM | TrackBack

April 19, 2006

A Modest Abortion Proposal

I should say up front that I am morally opposed to the procedure of abortion, to the Federal regulation of abortion, and to most taxes (what? - wait). However, I think I have an idea on how to make abortions much rarer, while not dramatically increasing the problems that come from difficulty in getting abortions (such as infanticide being more common). The more I think about this, the more I think it could actually work, so I'll lay it out, and then you guys can tell me what I've missed.

Tax abortions. Prior to, say, 12 weeks, the tax would be zero. It would rapidly escalate after that time until, at term, the tax was huge — say the same as the average cost of an adoption (which I seem to recall is upwards of $30000). The tax would be waved if the mother's life was in danger (self defense is always a valid cause of action) and reduced if the mother's health was seriously and unusually at risk. The proceeds of the tax would go to subsidizing adoptions of American babies by American families, less only the amount needed for overhead (which could be small, but probably wouldn't be, because bureaucracies insist on vast regulation when simple means would suffice) to collect and distribute the tax.

OK, so what did I miss, and why would this be unattractive to anyone less rabid than NARAL?

Posted by jeff at 9:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 8, 2006

Don't Call Me a Republican

I haven't really considered myself a Republican for several years now, instead preferring the label "libertarian conservative". However, it has not really bothered me to be called a Republican, especially considering I vote largely for members of that party. But that has changed. From now on I don't want to be called a Republican. While I will still likely vote for many Republicans, I won't vote for just any Republican because they are not as bad as the Democrat. For example, if 2008 were a two party vote only, and the candidates were say McCain and pretty much any Democrat other than Lieberman, I would not vote for either candidate, not out of apathy but out of disgust.

This is a change that has been brewing for a while. The illegal immigration debate has certainly increased my unhappiness with several Republicans (although I have been happy with one of my Senators - John Cornyn). But, surprisingly, it was actually this story which caused me to write this post. I don't even live in Arkansas or smoke (In fact, I find smoking a disgusting habit). Maybe it was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

Mike Huckabee is supposed to be a "conservative". I'm sorry but conservatives should be champions of freedom. I'm glad he's living healthy and all. I understand that he would like others to do the same. But trying to force that on people is not "conservative" in the current lexicon. It's just more "government knows best; defy us and you will pay!" I expect that from Democrats and "moderate" Republicans, but not "conservatives".

The governor should feel free to use the bully pulpit to encourage people to live healthy and not smoke, but when that crosses over into legislation abridging individual freedom, you're no longer a "conservative" but an advocate for the nanny state. Don't expect to see me follow you there. Posted by Brian at 1:02 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 6, 2006

A Brilliant Idea

Undocumented Congressmen, via Glenn Reynolds.

Posted by jeff at 11:50 AM | TrackBack

NPR and Immigration

I'm getting very frustrated at NPR on the whole immigration issue. First, they never, ever refer to "illegal" or even "undocumented" immigrants, except derisively or in a quote. Rather, they are all simply "immigrants" — hardly fair to those who've worked to come here legally! Worse, since they don't distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, they tend to associate the traits of each (quite distinct) group with the other, so that legal immigrants are presented as coming for jobs Americans don't want (in IT, they tend to come for jobs Americans haven't been prepared for by our school system) and illegal immigrants are presented as being the basis of the country's population. Neither is quite true.

I finally came up with an analogy that points out the ridiculousness of NPR's position. Imagine if they took this position:

Small businesses are good for the economy.
Stop prosecuting Mafia members.

Who would then take NPR seriously? I certainly cannot take them seriously on immigration.

Posted by jeff at 11:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 28, 2006

Redistributionism by Any Name

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change links to a proposal I've seen linked elsewhere, to replace the welfare state by direct redistribution of money to all adults, rather than filtering the money through welfare programs. On the one hand, the plan would have a salutary effect in reducing the size (if not the cost) of government, because fewer administrators would be needed. On the other hand, such a proposal would not succeed in the long run, because it does nothing to alter the incentives.

There are a couple of problems that I have with the proposal. First, I think (from a brief look) that his numbers on crossover and long-term costs do not include inflation indexing. Let's face it: such a plan must include inflation indexing to be at all meaningful to most people. Otherwise, in 20 years, the grant will be half the size (in purchasing power) that it would be at the beginning, and that's hardly a way to pay for a retirement.

Second, the US poverty guidelines put poverty level at $9570 for one person, plus a little more (about $3200) for each additional person. So the proposal would eliminate poverty, at least for intact families in the continental US and with fewer than 3 children. Except that poverty would then get redefined, so that anyone who only had their government grant plus some other defined number would be considered in poverty. Social statistics like these are not made to conform to reality, but to allow promotion of a particular agenda. If terms need to be redefined in order to continue to pursue that agenda, then they will be redefined. In this case, the redistributionists, who would be greatly emboldened by such a program, would not be satisfied, but energized. Thus the demands to equalize wealth by force would not abate, but intensify. If $10000, why not $20000? If $20000, why not $40000? We wouldn't want anyone to be poor, would we?

Third, there are close to 300 million Americans. This means that we would need 3 trillion dollars to provide this amount of money to each American. In 2003, there were more than 130 million individual tax returns filed, but only 89 million of them were taxable, and those would be the people paying the money that feeds into that $10000 per adult. But it's actually worse than that, because people who pay less than $10000 in taxes would be, on net, getting more than they're paying. That crossover point appears to come somewhere around $45000, if I'm reading the spreadsheet correctly.

Let's say that we decide to make this administratively trivial, and have the money disbursed as part of tax collection and refunds. So you simply deduct $10000 for your tax bill, regardless of any other factors. A person paying no taxes at all would thus get the full $10000 back, while a person paying $100000 in taxes would instead pay $90000. (Actually, less than that, as he appears to be phasing this out after a while.) But hey, since that's already what people are paying in taxes, aren't we just more or less rolling the (currently separate) taxes for Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid into the general income tax? So we're effectively raising the income tax rate by the amount needed to make up for getting rid of the taxes dedicated to particular programs.

This really, in effect, is just a flat (or nearly flat) negative tax scheme, and those are hardly new proposals, dating at least back into the 1960s.

But the real problem is that this proposal doesn't actually address the cause of poverty. In fact, I don't believe that it's possible to address the causes of persistent poverty in the United States without being labeled as, at best, cruel. Here I go being cruel, then: people are, by and large, stupid. Once one excludes the relatively few who really cannot work due to reasons entirely beyond their control (the profoundly handicapped, particularly the profoundly mentally handicapped; the persistently ill; and so on), the remainder of persistently poor people (say, who stay in poverty for more than ten years) largely fall into a few categories: people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, women who have children at a very young age and do not marry the father, people who do not want to work at the available jobs, people who are unwilling to move to where there are jobs from where there are no jobs, and people chronically unable to take care with their money.

The plan as proposed even recognizes this, by forcing some of the grant to be set aside for health care, and some for retirement and so forth. So allow me to make a prediction of what would happen if this plan were adopted: people who are desparate for cash would take $5000 (or less) now rather than wait for the $10000; people who are addicted would spend as much of the money as they could get at on their addictions; people who do not want to work or do not want to move where the jobs are would continue to act just as they are acting now, and would not gain significant additional income because they are probably getting the same or more now through various poverty alleviation programs.

Now, being the kind and compassionate (if sometimes deeply misguided) people that we are, how long do you think that it would take before there were redistributionist poverty alleviation programs to take care of the people who squandered the $10000 they were given?

So there are some benefits to the plan over what we are doing now, particularly for people who are actually responsible with their money, and especially because it would be hard for Congress to roll into the general fund money that the Treasury has disbursed. But in the end, it would fail to truly alleviate poverty and to provide for all people's retirements and health care, and so additional programs would be tacked on. And then we're right back where we started. The problem is not with the welfare programs, but with the welfare mentality.

Posted by jeff at 3:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 27, 2006

An Unacceptable Argument

I should really do this funny, as Captain Subtext, but I'm not feeling humorous right now, so you get it straight up.

There has been a series of rallies in the last few days across the US, dedicated to the proposition that people who come to or stay in the US in violation of the law are not criminals, but honest people seeking good work. OK, fair enough as far as it goes; I'll give up that point without making the obvious snarky rejoinder because there's something more important: has anyone actually looked at the argument that the people protesting in favor of illegal immigration are really making? It ends up being this: the United States government should have no control of American borders. Here is the chain of logic, though most of it would be denied vociferously by those in favor of illegal immigration:

1. People who come here, or stay here, in violation of US law on who can come here or stay here are just looking for a good job, and are honest people who contribute much to American society.
2. Because just looking for a good job, and contributing to American society, are good things, the government should allow this regardless of any other considerations. In particular, the government should not enforce any laws that take notice of whether a person has followed or broken the rules on coming and staying here.
3. This advantages people who break immigration law over those who follow it, because there is no paperwork or waiting period to coming here illegally, but there are such hindrances and obstacles to coming here legally. That is to say, supporting ignoring the law supports illegal immigration over legal immigration.
4. We don't want to do that, so the real options are to abolish or (same thing in effect) ignore immigration laws. The result being, completely open borders: if you cannot control who comes in, how can you control what comes in? Answer: you can't.

In an age of terrorism, that is simply unacceptable. Very libertarian, but not acceptable in practice.

I think a better case could be made for allowing in anyone who hasn't been kicked out for some reason or who is otherwise a threat or undesirable, but giving the government strong powers to kick out and keep out people under a broad range of causes of action, with very little impediment. That would certainly allow more people to come here for jobs, but would also give us the ability to kick them out and keep them out for, say, not paying taxes or committing some crime. As it is, we have created a shadow population and economy, which is not a good thing. And the proposals of the "pro-immigrant" (really, pro-illegal-immigrant) types would make that not better, but worse.

Posted by jeff at 8:21 PM | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

Dubai Ports World Must Not Take Over Port Operations

With all due respect to Dave Schuler, there is a factor he neglected in his logical analysis of the ports deal. In fact, the law triggered by this factor, while it might be considered "magical thinking" — and rightly so since it is an exact inverse of the law of similarities — is so empirically proven reliable that I cannot but conclude that the ports deal must be scrapped forthwith, despite the judgments of my reasoning mind, even if it means selling to Halliburton (and won't that drive Kos [more] batshit crazy?) or for that matter Disney: Jimmy Carter thinks it's a good idea.

Always do the opposite of what Jimmy Carter recommends, and all will be well.

UPDATE: I am not alone.

Posted by jeff at 8:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Oh, So That's Why

I've been wondering why the US did not declare war after 9/11. Now I understand. Well, sort of. What I don't understand is this: if the declaration of war inherently triggers powers the Congress does not want to trigger (censorship and the like), why not amend the WWII and post-WWII laws to remove those triggers, so that they require separate acts of Congress as they used to? But once again, Congress passes the buck to the President, and carps about it later, rather than doing their jobs. You would think I would be used to this, but I really do expect our political leaders to take the nation's interests over their own interests and careers, and I'm continually disappointed when they don't.

UPDATE: Brian Dunn has the same reaction, pretty much.

Posted by jeff at 9:46 PM | TrackBack

Jane's Law and Religious Politics

Glenn Reynolds has a rare long post (well, for him) discussing the religious aspects of politics Left and Right. Where he had me thinking was with his reference to Jane's Law. But while Reynolds was thinking about polarization, I was thinking about what happens when polarity reverses. Here's my guess:

When a Democrat gets elected to the Presidency, and centrist (in which I include libertarians) bloggers agree with some of their programs, the out-of-power Republicans will accuse the centrist bloggers of horrors just as bad as the Democrats currently accuse the centrist bloggers of. Meanwhile, the by-then smug and arrogant Lefty bloggers will be accusing the centrists of heresy and being "secret Rethuglican shills" every time centrist bloggers disagree with the administration. Both tendencies might be somewhat mollified if the Democrats only take the Presidency, and not the Congress, but I doubt it.

You see, there wasn't a blogosphere during the Clinton administration. Had there been, would sites like Powerline or Hugh Hewitt be recognizable voices of sanity and thoughtfulness? I'm guessing they'd be on the "I disagree with my opponents, and therefore he has sex with goats" bandwagon. (If you came here from searching on sex with goats, I'm sorry for you on so many levels.) Anyone remember the "dead lists" of people supposedly murdered on Clinton's behalf? All of this despite, after 1994, essential control of one or both houses of Congress by Republicans.

Posted by jeff at 9:30 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

ACLU Being Stupid Again

So the ACLU is suing the Boy Scouts again over their policy on homosexuals. Two of our children are Boy Scouts, but we kept them out for a long time and sought out alternatives over two of the BSA's policies: their position on homosexuality and concern that, as Pagans, our children would not be welcome. We were wrong on the second point, and eventually decided that even though we disagree with the BSA on whether homosexuals should be allowed in scouting, nonetheless we want the experience for our children.

But the ACLU is missing a big point: the BSA is a private, not a governmental, organization. As such, the scouts have freedom of association, explicitly protected by the Constitution no less, and can refuse membership to anyone they want. And you can refuse to join if you want. But lawsuits over this are stupid, and should be thrown out immediately.

Posted by jeff at 1:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

The Impossible Job

Bob J Young at The Centrist Coalition is disappointed in President Bush, and musing about whether Al Gore would have been better after all. Here's a hint: no. Actually, that's not fair, the real question to ask is how would Gore have been better and how would he have been worse, and where would it not matter? The election of 2000 wasn't really about anything in particular, because the real differences between Bush and Gore were those of emphasis and focus, not basic policy: both stood for increasing statism and numerous small programs to give voters what they want and (at least it so appeared at the time) relatively sane and inoffensive foreign policies. Gore was hurt by being part of a corrupt administration, and likely by actually being corrupt. Bush was hurt by his inexperience in national affairs. I think that it's the essential sameness of the two that made the 2000 election so bitter: with no differentiators of great note, the only way to tell the players apart was by the depth and bitterness of their vitriol.

But the truth is, when the crisis comes (as it has for every American President since the start of the Great Depression (and well over half of the Presidents before then), we're stuck with the guy we elected, and we can, beforehand, only tell in outline how he will perform, because the crisis changes him. Would Gore have stood up and become an aggressive and efficient warrior while efficiently managing the government at home? Maybe, and maybe not: there is no way to know. But there is one absolute guarantee: Gore would have failed somewhere, and badly. That is inevitable, and it has nothing to do with Gore and everything to do with being human. (In actuality, Gore seems to be a control freak, which oddly enough means that he would be likely to fail very badly in many areas, as did Clinton and Carter; it also means that he would probably have very notable successes in other areas, as did Clinton, if he could have been a good enough politician not to get rolled by Congress all the time.)

The reason that Presidents — all Presidents — are guaranteed to fail somewhere is that the Presidency is simply too big of a job for any human to do well. Consider what we expect of our President:

  • Deter any foreign enemy from attacking the US or its allies; prevent any attacks not deterred; punish any attacks not prevented. Only 100% success is acceptable. And in doing this job, do not hurt the feelings of our friends or our enemies, and do not attack countries unless every other nation in the world, possibly excluding the one being attacked, concurs. If you do go to war the only possible success is if all of our goals are achieved without any deaths of our troops, enemy troops, or innocent bystanders. And solve the Middle East's problems, and Africa's problems, and SE Asia's problems, and handle perfectly any crisis that arises in foreign affairs. Be neither too multilateral nor too unilateral. Do all of this while infringing on absolutely no rights of any American or foreigner.
  • Ensure that the economy is continually growing in every sector, that every person has a job that pays above average and that no person in America goes without food, clothing, good housing, a car, a television, a telephone, internet access, cable and the other basic necessities of life. Make sure that inflation and interest rates stay low while the economy is growing rapidly in every sector and is at full employment.
  • Be completely cognizant of every trade deal and dispute, every interstate issue, every "issue of the day", every policy ever tried or not tried by the government, every decision by every Federal court and any controversial decisions by any State courts and every immigration or asylum case.
  • Make sure that government never falls behind on technology in any area, but do this without spending more money. Oh, and raise government workers' salaries. And for the sake of all that is holy do not ever let any government employee have any reason to complain that he didn't have the exact equipment or training he needed to do some critical job even if it had only been developed three weeks prior to his complaint.
  • Know and understand every detail of every regulation and law and be prepared to discuss at length, say, the levels of arsenic in test wells in N. Carolina and how you will fix this problem.
  • Have solutions ready to hand for poverty, transportation, energy, health care, pollution and other environmental matters, resource utilization and private companies' or organizations' policies that strike some as bad. Do this while not increasing taxes or spending overall and while respecting individual and States' rights and not interfering in the economy any more than is already done.
  • Do all of this without raising taxes for the middle class, but being sure to raise taxes on the "rich", and while balancing the budget and cutting spending.
  • Be responsible for the entire 4 million or so (!!!) Federal government workers, and make sure that they all are in lock step with your policies and are absolutely competent even though you only control about 1000 officers of government, if that. Know how to do all of their jobs, and all of the details of what they are doing.
  • Do all of this while half the country and half of Congress vilifies you constantly and seeks to undermine every policy or decision you make.

Believe it or not, I've understated the problem, because there's a lot more to the job than that, and I did not account for bad faith or for government employees or departments that decide to sabotage you because they disagree with your policies. We have simply created a job that no human can do.

I don't think that it's possible to fix the expectations problem: it's simply the case that that much education doesn't exist, and education doesn't always take. Some people will want the government to solve every problem no matter the consequences. Some people will want the government to take no action on any problems no matter the consequences. In any event, it is simply going to be true that every President will fail badly at many things, and will be incompetent or incapable of handling at least a fair amount of what we expect him to handle. Perfect expertise and control on so many issues is simply not possible.

But there are ways that we can make it better. For example, we can separate regulation from enforcement, putting the regulators under the control of Congress. Why should the executive be making regulations in the first place: that's a legislative responsibility. We could make departments of staffers who are experts on various issues and they could write the regulations and Congress could debate them and have hearings and either enact them or not. This would likely have a couple of good side effects, including decreased need for lobbyists to help write bills (because of lack of Congressional subject matter expertise), a decreased number of Federal employees (because of reduced duplication in fact finding) and fewer actual regulations (Congress can only pass bills at a certain rate).

The remaining executive staff, whose job it is to carry out the laws and enforce the regulations, could then be moved away from the civil service protections and back to serving at the will of the President, because no longer would a President have an incentive to fire people for formulating regulations that he disagrees with. The increased responsiveness to Presidential directives would be a positive win, and it would become reasonable to hold people accountable, and to hold the President accountable for his management of Federal employees.

A number of departments would disappear altogether from the executive branch. The Department of Education, for example, would likely be so small that it would fold into another department (as it was before, IIRC, Jimmy Carter's presidency). Transportation, Homeland Security, Defense, State, Treasury, the intelligence agencies and Interior would remain large, but I think the others (unless I'm forgetting a couple) would shrink dramatically.

And a lot of the Federal departments, too, could be spun off into semi-private agencies like the Post Office or the Federal Reserve. NASA and the FAA would be good examples of where this could work well.

Heck, if we took away from the President the responsibility for creating the budget, putting that back in Congress where it belongs, a large number of the Title X military people (Pentagon bureaucrats) and a huge percentage of the other departments would become either Congressional employees or, more likely, mostly superfluous.

In any case, the reality is that we can shrink the requirements of the President's job, to the point where a human — well, some humans anyway — could actually do the job well. And that would be a good thing all around. Which of course means it is unlikely to happen.

Posted by jeff at 4:53 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 7, 2006

The NSA Kerfuffle, Declaring War, and the Limits of Constitutional Powers

This article and associated commentary on Centerfield is the best debate I've yet seen on the NSA surveillance kerfuffle. I was going to put this as a comment there, but it got too long to reasonably be considered a comment.

I'm not convinced that even if the surveillance was between two citizens of the US, both of whom were in the US, that the action would be illegal. Certainly, it would violate FISA, but it might be within the President's purview Constitutionally. Consider:

The power to act as Commander in Chief is fundamentally the power to order to military to undertake operations to take or destroy the enemy.

Operations to take or destroy the enemy necessarily involve surveilling the enemy (among other things: who would argue the President does not have the inherent authority to order the Navy to stop suspected enemy vessels at sea, or search them in a US port?), which is nothing more, really, than determining the enemy's position, capabilities and/or intentions.

Surveilling the enemy need not be by visual observation: it is also possible to determine the enemy's position, intent or capabilities by listening, electronic means, human intelligence (spying) and other means. There is no Constitutional limit to the means the President can use to surveil the enemy. There is no treaty limitation that I am aware of that would preclude the electronic gathering of intelligence.

The Constitution does not limit the President to fighting the enemy abroad, nor require a separate declaration of Congressional intent to fight the enemy in the United States. The President's power is to fight the enemy defined in the declaration of war, wherever that enemy is.

Thus the President has the power to surveil the enemy wherever that enemy is.

The question becomes, who is the enemy? That is answered by the AUMF: "those nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons".

The Congress explicitly gave the President to power to determine who the enemy is, within the limitation of being connected to 9/11. Since the President decided that this includes al Qaeda, any al Qaeda operative falls within the definition of the enemy even if that operative is a US citizen. The term we're searching for here is "treason", though for the life of me I cannot understand why we aren't charging people such as Padilla, Hamdi and Lindh with exactly that. Hamdi and Lindh, in particular, were captured on the battlefield and the case is a slam dunk (Padilla is a harder case, and a court is going to have to work that one out).

The only valid way to claim that the surveillance is illegal is to claim that the AUMF does not trigger the President's war powers because the AUMF is not a declaration of war. But nowhere in the Constitution is the President's power to make war divided between "real wars" and "so so wars": there is no way to grant the President the power to make war except to declare war. The Constitution does not require that such a declaration contain particular wording, such as "a state of war exists between the United States and [enemy]". So on what grounds, other than claiming that the Constitution is a "living document" and means whatever we want, can anyone claim that AUMF is not a declaration of war? If not, then what is it?

The Congress' powers are delineated in Article I, Section 8. They include:

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;


Clearly, the provisions for creating and maintaining the militia, army and navy do not apply to the question. AUMF does not fall under "mak[ing] Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces". (Neither does FISA, by the way, because that is done via the Uniform Code of Military Justice and FISA is not part of the UCMJ.) AUMF does not activate the militia. AUMF does not deal with "Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations" per se, and was from the wording clearly not intended to apply this specific power. AUMF is not a Letter of Marque, nor is it a rule concerning captures. The only remaining power the Congress could be operating under is the power to declare war.

Now, it would be an interesting (and I think, losing) argument that the Congress' power "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof" allows the Congress to regulate the way in which the President can carry out his duties, and further that FISA constitutes such a regulation. I think this would fall down on whether or not the President is an Officer of the government of the United States. Since the Presidency has a Constitutional existence apart from any organization of government, and is head of state as well as head of government, I think that most people (except Whigs and congressmen of the party not occupying the White House) would agree that the President is not an officer of government as intended in this grant of authority.

It would be an interesting argument to have, though.

Posted by jeff at 8:54 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 2, 2006

Originalism and the Sins of Scalia

In the first few years of Justice Thomas' tenure on the bench, I was deeply unimpressed. The reason is that Thomas seemed to me not an original thinker, but a near-copy of Justice Scalia (whom I respected quite a bit). In particular, Thomas seemed to author few opinions, in either the majority or the minority, and those he did author tended to be near-copies of Scalia's reasoning.

My position has almost reversed: I still hold Scalia in a good deal of respect, but not nearly so much as I used to do, while my respect for Thomas has grown immensely. The reason for this is simple, even though it unfolded over a number of cases, but the defining moment of clarity (even though it came after I had come to my current opinion) was Raich. That is when I knew that Thomas was clearly the (and I do mean "the") principled originalist, closely holding to the meaning of the Constitution, while Scalia was an originalist only where being so would not offend his ideological sensibilities. Contra Scalia's famous "you got me", Raich showed that no, we didn't. And now via Lawrence Solum, we have someone way smarter than me, Randy Barnett, concurring. (It's always a comfort to have a good authority that you respect state something you had already come to believe, the logical fallacy of "appealing to authority" notwithstanding.)

If you have any interest in theories of law and Constitutional interpretation, Dr. Barnett's paper is well worth your time.

UPDATE: David Bernstein smacks Scalia down on basically the same point.

Posted by jeff at 10:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Economic Perceptions

WILLisms had an interesting post the other day, talking about a report from the Pew Research Center on people's perception of the economy referenced against their political party affiliation. Here is the key chart:

partisandivideoneconomy.gif

The time frame is problematic, because it only shows since the Clinton administration took office, but I'm going to venture a thesis anyway. Note that at the beginning of Clinton's term in office, people's perception of the economy (which is a lagging indicator, since people's perceptions of the economy don't change immediately, but as they see the effects) was divided on partisan lines. This has also been true during the entire Bush administration. But during the Clinton administration, the perceptions converged. Why is that?

My speculation is this: reporters are a fairly liberal lot in general. My personal impression (no study of articles, which would be interesting to see if my impression bears up) is that journalists' perception of the economy, and thus reporting on the economy, is tied to whether or not the party in power shares the journalists' broad views. Given that it is largely organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post, AP, Reuters and the network news shows that drive the issues and tone for all of American reporting, and that all of those outlets are fairly liberal, it is not surprising that the economy is covered as worse than it really is during Republican administrations. Thus, the Republicans, who have a tendency to view the economy as better than it is during Republican administrations, continue to see the economy as being strong, and to dismiss the media's slanted reporting. But Democrats and Independents accept the reporting and see the economy as being weak.

Now what would be really interesting is to go back to the late 1960s, and from then until now compare the partisan views of the economy with the percentage of positive/negative economic articles and the actual economic indicators (per cent per year growth in GDP would probably be a good choice, here). That would show how the economy was really doing, how it was reported as doing, and how it was perceived as doing. And it would show if my thesis is broadly correct or not.

Posted by jeff at 9:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 1, 2006

Just When You Think You Know A Justice

Maybe it's not Scalito, but Soulito......

Alito Splits With Conservatives in Death Penalty Case

Alito, handling his first case, sided with inmate Michael Taylor, who had won a stay from an appeals court earlier in the evening. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the stay, but Alito joined the remaining five members in turning down Missouri's last-minute request to allow a midnight execution.

I just find this awfully ironic. I'm sure the base of the Republican Party is just going to go nuts tonight. Maybe he just doesn't want to make a split-second decision his first full day on the job.

Personally, though, not knowing any real facts about the Taylor case, I have a hard time being upset at a new Justice being a bit on the careful side when deciding an execution stay.

Posted by Nemo at 10:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 31, 2006

Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends

Ladies and gentlemen: the Democratic Party. The thing about the Democrats is, they eat their own.

Posted by jeff at 6:49 PM | TrackBack

January 30, 2006

Some Realignment Necessary

There is a deep flaw in US politics at present. It goes beyond the near-universal substitution of vicious ad hominem attacks for studied policy debate. It goes beyond the corruption that taints both parties, from vote buying via special interest money to vote buying via earmarks (pork). It goes beyond the unwillingness to offer ideas from the Democrats, who would rather snipe at the Republicans than have responsibility themselves; and beyond the unwillingness of Republicans in the House, apparently, to even allow the Democrats in on the process of drafting laws. It goes to the very heart of what it is to be American: the policy-making cores of the two parties fundamentally disagree on what America is.

Let me explain what I mean by "policy-making cores". Let's say that you or I, people of modest means and without the ability to marshall millions of dollars of special interest money, dedicate all of our time and effort to getting the party of our choice elected, and are successful. Now, let's say that we decide to write a letter, or make a phone call, or visit the office of our representatives, the ones we worked so hard and spent so much to elect. Would that contact make a policy difference, ever? If you answered "no", you are on to something: even if our representative himself has much influence on making policy (perhaps especially if he does), our opinion will have the exact weight of a tally mark in a column that, if it favors our representative's interests, would be disclosed of evidence of how much support our representative's policy has among his constituents. That's it.

Who does have influence? It's a small club, consisting of the leadership of the party in the House, some key committee chairmen from the House, key Senators (particularly those who head an important committee, or who represent a large state, or who have some particular gift of eloquence or fundraising or outreach to a critical consituency), key unelected party leaders (like Howard Dean and Ken Mehlman) and lobbyists representing large voter blocs and with vast sums at their disposal (the term "lobbyist" includes here activist organizations for each party, which at least represent votes and fundraising influence; this is why Kos gets the time of day from Democrats: he has the eyes and influences the votes and actions of hundreds of thousands of activist Democrats). And this club is possible, but difficult, to get into; in practical terms it won't happen unless that is your overriding goal and you are willing to sell your soul and children to do it.

The policy making cores of the two major parties are so far apart right now that civil dialogue seems impossible to find. Worse yet, the way in which the cores differ feeds the vitriol, because the Democrat core believes the Republicans are evil and the Republican core believes the Democrats are traitors or "useful idiots". And since they cannot have any discussion, and since ordinary people cannot have any influence, the reality is that our cohesion as a nation is deeply threatened. This despite the clear fact that, exluding the parties' policy making cores and the activists, most ordinary Americans believe more or less the same things: that America should aggressively defend itself from foreign threats, but only when we have to and then overwhelmingly and competently; that the government should have some role in providing a social safety net, but should not simply transfer wealth from one group to another without condition; that education is important, and our government has a role to play in making sure that a quality education is available to everyone; that legal immigration is good, and illegal immigration is bad; that jobs are important, and the economy is important, and that the government has some role in ensuring that the economy stays good and we all have jobs, but not at the price of taking over private companies; that abortion is wrong, but should be legal at least early in pregnancy or if the mother's life is endangered. We may disagree about how those ends should be achieved, but there is pretty broad agreement on those principles. Now, which party represents them in their policy-making cores?

The Republicans by and large mirror the public consensus on defense and welfare. The Democrats by and large mirror the public consensus on education and jobs. Neither represents the consensus opinions on anything else, really. Indeed, it is not surprising that almost 2 in 5 of the voters (me included) associates itself with neither of the major parties. I would suspect much, much larger numbers of the 45% of eligible voters that do not vote would similarly not associate with either party. Here's the thing: we've seen all this before.

In the late 1840s, the Whigs began to fall apart. The major issue over which there was internal dissent was slavery, but a bevy of other issues were pulling the party in different directions, including a number of minor parties that were forming as groups split away from the Whigs, including what would eventually become the Republican Party. The Compromise of 1850 so battered the Whigs that their candidate for President in 1852 did not even win his home state! Then in 1854, the crisis came: the Kansas-Nebraska act so inflamed northern, anti-slavery Whigs that they left the party en masse, mostly to the infant Republican Party, and some to the Know-Nothings or other truly radical parties. The Whigs rapidly declined, and by the end of the Civil War were effectively not a force in American politics.

With our current situation, the environment is slightly different. There are several groups that are essentially permanent minorities within both the Democratic and Republican parties. These include the strong foreign policy/socially liberal groups best exemplified by Lieberman and McCain in their respective parties, the libertarian caucus primarily in the Republican Party, the DLC (more or less Truman Democrats) in the Democratic Party, conservative Democrats like Zell Miller, and groups like the Log Cabin Republicans. In policy terms, which drives electoral success to a large degree, the Democrats are in the hands of radical progressives, and the Republicans in the hands of an odd coalition of business-over-everything groups (whence the lobbying problem, to a large extent) and foreign policy hawks with a sprinkling of social conservatives (who have less policy influence outside a small number of issues, but bring a lot of votes). The Republicans can probably sustain themselves on their internal structure, but the Democrats cannot: either the Democrats must move to the center — isolating the radical activists, the abortion-is-everything zealots, and the transnational progressives — or they will be unable to present realistic candidates for offices that are not, via districting or overall state proclivities, essentially sinecures.

If the Democrats fall apart, it would most likely be because of people like Lieberman, Zell Miller, and possibly even Hilary Clinton uniting with people like McCain, Olympia Snowe and Jim Jeffords. There is actually ample ground for a party there, in policy terms, that would resonate with large numbers of voters who currently feel left out, or forced to vote for someone they profoundly dislike to avoid electing someone they despise. Without such a high-profile effort, though, similar to what recently happened in Israel with Sharon and Peres forming a new party, the Democrats may be doomed to a slide into irrelevance, ceding a virtually one-party state (for a while) to the Republicans.

Posted by jeff at 5:49 PM | TrackBack

January 23, 2006

Interesting Google Game

Just out of curiosity, after seeing a comment to an old Kevin Drum post, I went and googled the terms:

bush impeach
clinton impeach

Bush got 2.86 million results. Clinton, who was actually impeached got 1.11 million results. Odd, that.

Posted by jeff at 7:40 PM | TrackBack

January 16, 2006

Priests and Kings

I was somewhat disheartened reading Kevin Drum's thoughts on Iran. Not because of Kevin himself: it's sad that he sees this only as a political issue (though not to the extent of the hyperpartisan Duncan Black), but at least he's trying to look at what a serious Democratic policy position might be. No, it's his commenters, who tend to the Chimpy McBushitlerhalliburton end of the Left that worry me. Oddly enough, of the very few commenters who seriously attempted to offer a position, the most eloquent and sustained was "Jimm", whose position is basically that we take care of Iran by disarming all nuclear states of all their weapons, and in the process eliminate nuclear power, too. Then everyone in the world would certainly agree that any country that starts developing nuclear weapons should be invaded. Well, it's not a realistic position, but at least it's coherent and arguable. More typical is this:

I prefer (c) - impeachment. That would make me feel a lot safer.

Maybe so, until the Iranians develop and use nuclear weapons, which would lead to at least one, and possibly two, genocides. But this is not really about the consequences of not dealing with Iran, or whether Iran would or would not develop and would or would not use nuclear weapons. Instead, it is about whether or not we can indeed have a reasonable, civil political debate about policy in the United States.

Signs are not good. Since the late 1960s, something with only two precedents in US history has been happening: the two parties are coming to embody militant fealty to a set of interrelated (often loosely) positions, and seeing the other party as the enemy, rather than an opponent. Those two precedents: the run up to the Civil War, and the early 1930s. In both cases, radical change was in store for America, and it appears we may be heading in that direction now. After all, there is not a possible reconciliation between "gay marriage is a moral obligation of society" and "gay marriage leads to polygamy, pedophilia and incest"; or between "the United States has done horrible things, and has no right to push its beliefs on anyone else" and "if we don't fight now, we face nuclear war in a few years". (Abortion, ironically, would likely settle itself quickly to being legal in some circumstances almost everywhere if it were to be made subject to political forces; it's not an unsolvable issue, except that Roe v. Wade makes solving it impossible for now.) Without a reconciliation between these extremes, can there be meaningful dialogue? Do the two parties even believe in the same vision of what the United States is, let alone what the United States should do? Apparently, no.

But why is this the case? I believe that the reason the two parties have crystallized so far apart on so many issues is that, since the late 1960s, each has attracted a different sort of power-seeker. Unlike in the early 1800s, when both parties were essentially parties of libertarians seeking wealth and freedom, or the late 1800s, when both parties were essentially parties of progressives seeking social justice, or the 1950s and early 1960s when both parties were essentially parties of benign statists seeking a fair and prosperous society, today the parties are split in their moral foundations, and thus in their political reasoning. It has been summed up as "liberals feel and conservatives think", but I believe it's deeper than that. Certainly, Al Gore and Kevin Drum and Lance Mannion are capable of thinking clearly, and George Bush and Francis Porretto and Bill Whittle have emotional depth. So where does the distinction lie?

Man will only truly be free when the last Priest is strangled with the entrails of the last King. — Diderot

Historically, libertarians and democrats are loathe to rule. At best, you can get them to govern, but those whose deepest political instinct is that the individual or the society at large knows best tend to shy away even from governance. What rule, or even governance, offers is power and control, and the people attracted to rule or governance are those who are attracted to power and control. (It is for this reason that any government not fundamentally limited in practice will eventually become tyrannical. If you don't believe me, try to sell liquor at retail or to grow marijuana. The US in only "free" in relative terms.) Those who are attracted to power and control are typically either priests or kings, and most governments throughout history, and even today, are one or the other.

To a priest, the right to have power over others, to exercise control, is moral. Fitness to rule is proved by allegiance to their vision of the One True God. Because they are the anointed of the One True God, questioning the decisions of a priest is questioning the wisdom and will of the One True God, and that of course is heresy: the highest crime against the priestly order.

To a king, the right to have power over others, to exercise control, is meritorious. Merely by rising to the height of power, the king has shown his ability to rule, and thus must rule by right. Secure the power enough, and don't inbreed, and your descendants will acquire the same right, not so much by inheritance as by the merit of staying in power against all comers. Fitness to rule is proved by ruling. Questioning the decisions of a king is questioning his fitness to rule, and that of course is treason: the highest crime against the princely class.

For a priest, the chief fear is descent into evil: that the society will take up the call of an alternate view of morality, and thus make the priest irrelevant. For a king, the chief fear is descent into anarchy: that the society will question the need for a powerful guiding hand, and thus make the king irrelevant. For a priest, you prove your worth by your purity. For a king, you prove your worth by your loyalty.

For a priest, the end of politics will come in a cataclysmic clash of good and evil, after which their purity and fealty to their One True God will shine forth so that all acclaim them. Priests are always looking for their evil nemesis. For a king, the end of politics will come in a cataclysmic contest of strength, after which they, standing alone on the battlefield, will have proven their fitness beyond doubt. Kings are always looking for a strong challenger.

Normally, the priests and kings rule in accord: the king provides power and the priest provides moral cover, and together each benefits, generally to the detriment of individuals who are not part of the ruling elite. But at times, such as now, the two types of power seekers are in conflict. And then each attempts to raise its armies and go forth to fight the foe — and generally not an external foe, but the internal one.

And so you have the Republican kings and the Democrat priests, far apart and gunning for each other. (Yes, there are exceptions, like Pat Robertson and Bill Clinton. But in general it is the Republicans acting like kings and the Democrats acting like priests.) George Bush claims Presidential authority of a very broad sort, and it is the argument of a king: I am President and so deserve to rule as I see fit. Howard Dean's priestly counter-argument is that the President has no moral authority to rule because he has all the wrong ideas about how to do so. And so the government lurches on, at loggerheads and without resolution.

And the priests of the Democrats drive people away for insufficient purity (read Daily Kos or Democratic Underground to see what I mean) while the Republicans demand absolute loyalty (read Hugh Hewitt or Ann Coulter to see what I mean). And I wonder what it will be, this time, that brings us out of our national navel-gazing. The precedents — the Civil War and WWII — are not encouraging.

Posted by jeff at 5:47 PM | TrackBack

January 13, 2006

Reformation

I'm certainly on board with this statement. (Thanks to Bat1 for bringing it to my attention.) I do not think that governmental corruption is the biggest problem we face, but it is a persistent drag on the government and economy, without which solving the bigger problems would be much easier. One irony is, it's such an easy problem to end: representatives simply have to remember that the interests that lobby them are indirect representatives of a voter block, while the representatives are direct representatives of a segment of the population that includes the one voter block most important to them, their constituents, and act accordingly. Another irony is that campaign finance reform makes the openness and transparency necessary to good governance harder, rather than easier, to accomplish.

So, yes, I would like to see the Republicans clean their own house first. Being generally supportive of the Republicans, in no small part because of the anti-corruption efforts of the Republicans near the end of the Democrats' decades-long malgovernance, I believe it is critical that they uphold a high moral standard. I also believe that it's important to hold Democrat lawmakers to a high moral standard, but frankly being from Texas, none of them represent me.

Posted by jeff at 3:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Shocked, Shocked!

Every once in a while you find someone who sums things up rather nicely:

Wiretapping, FISA, and the NSA

Let's start with a little reality check here. Much of what the NSA and the intelligence community does is in violation of some law somewhere. Indeed, much of what the military does is as well. When the NSA intercepts a communication from France to Afghanistan, it probably violates the privacy and electronic surveillance laws in both countries. When it installs alligator clips on a phone in Turkmenistan, it probably violates some local burglary or trespass law. Espionage - the staple of the CIA - is a felony in almost every nation, and a capitol offense in the U.S. In fact, it is part of the intelligence community's job to try to get people to commit treason. So we are hardly shocked or offended that our government or any government is violating the law.

I still haven't seen much that makes me feel like this is anything worth the investigation and hand-wringing. The program was not kept secret by the White House to the other branches, and was under almost constant scrutiny for reauthorization.

However, as this week's Alito hearing show, Congress likes nothing better than to stand around wringing their hands about their authority.

Posted by Nemo at 2:42 PM | TrackBack

Arguing Past Each Other

Kevin Drum points to a Michael O'Hare post that succinctly differentiates the divide on the Judiciary Committee, and by extension between the Democrats and Republicans generally on the purpose of judges:

I also have a sense of a man with, as my friend Ed Reilly once said of another public figure of our acquaintance, an "unrelenting instinct for the capillary". He was described by various witnesses, some admiringly, as always deciding cases on the narrowest possible grounds. This is generally a virtue in a judge, but not always and especially not always in a judge of high or highest appellate jurisdiction. Brown v. Board of Education could have been decided like Plessy, or so narrowly as to demand only (say) equal per-pupil spending, but that wouldn't necessarily have been a better holding. Alito knows the law, but he doesn't seem to know, or care about, The Law. Every issue in the hearings was immediately reduced by the nominee to a technical question of almost bureaucratic rule manipulation. This approach is a good one for nearly all the cases courts hear, but it's not what the Supreme Court is about.

He doesn't have a screw loose; what he has is a piece missing, conspicuously, radiantly, displaying the absence of any sense of, well, justice. Not a case came up for discussion in which he registered that one or another outcome was just wrong, outrageous to a sense of decency, or to him. He's on record in a memo as believing that to shoot an eighth grader, known not to be armed, who was trying to climb over a fence in escape, is a proper use of deadly force by a policeman. In a discussion of immigration cases that have been regularly occasioning inexcusable, vile, un-American heartbreak on people who missed obscure deadlines or violated arcane requirements, all he could say was that the courts get bad transcripts and it was hard to find translators for some of the plaintiffs, but that was a problem for Congress. It wasn't exactly Pilate washing his hands, but the man appears to be completely comfortable dealing with frightful social wrongs by moving the issue down the hall to another office. Sometimes the Court has to do this, but to Alito it's an especially good day's work, not a disappointment.


OK, what O'Hare is saying is that a judge's job — particularly the job of a Justice on the Supreme Court — is to settle cases according to abstract ideas of Justice and Right, or "The Law" as O'Hare put it. In other words, the law and what it says is not the end of a judge's job, but the starting point. The judge should not only decide on the case, but also on the advisability of the law.

This is fine as far as it goes, but it is a perversion of our system that would require other adjustments to make logical sense. You see, it is the legislators under our system who are intended to decide if a law is good and just, and if the consequences of enforcing the law are Right. In other words, those who make the law are charged with ensuring Justice and "The Law" are met by the actual legal code. Only in extraordinary cases should a judge depart from the law, and those cases are generally when the law has consequences manifestly different from those expressed by the legislators as their aim. If, for example, following the law strictly in a particular case would cause a law intended (as shown by Congress' findings on the law, for instance) to prevent excessive appeals would actually result in a defendant not getting any appeals, a judge is justified in setting aside the strict interpretation of the law until such time as Congress amends it.

For the Left, judges are legislators in a real sense: they must decide whether a law is Right and Just (by the Left's standards, mind you). For the rest of us, a judge's job is to decide what the law allows and compels: to judge, not legislate.

And again, if that's the system you want, that is OK. I don't think that it's inherently wrong: it's just not the system we have. But there are some flaws with simply taking our system as is and letting judges decide the law rather than the law's application to a case. Let's look at them.

The first problem is that judges at the circuit court and Supreme Court level, those whose decisions on the law would have wide and binding power, serve life terms and are appointed: they are not accountable to the voters and cannot be easily removed for making bad decisions. What happened to Daschle or Gingrich when they messed up cannot happen to a Federal judge, who can only be removed by impeachment. Unless you want to live in what amounts to an oligarchy, this needs to be fixed. Either limiting judges to a short tenure (say, 10 years) or making them periodically stand for election would do the trick.

The second problem that I see is that the law becomes unpredictable: since any case can result in changes to the law, it would become impossible to understand the law. This means that behaviors which appear legal may not be. A corporation, for example, could be acting as corporations always have under both statute and common law, but a single corner case could overturn all of that and make past legal actions suddenly illegal: effectively, having the judges decide the law to this extent would create a system of ex post facto laws. Such unpredictability would dramatically limit the scope of freedom not just of corporations, but of individuals. Would you fly a small plane if you could be penalized for landing in someone's field, even though that was the common understanding of what was legal when you did it? There would have to be some kind of prevention against ex post facto laws or the search for what is Just and Right would fail quickly.

The separation of powers doctrine would be dead. With legislative and judicial powers combined in one set of people, a vindictive judge would have extensive and near-dictatorial powers. Imagine, for example, a judge who believed marijuana dealers should be hung, or conversely one who believed that pedophilia should not be criminalized. Do you really want such a person having the power to act on his beliefs, or should he be able to do so only within the confines of the law as written, and as interpreted by precedent? If you are OK with that, you would need a much more extensive appeals system to prevent such powers from being abused. In particular, you would need to ensure that judges' findings of fact and the law would both be appealable.

What would the duties of legislators be? Clearly, their budgetary authority would remain, but not their regulatory authority. Would the Congress become mostly a stage for grandstanding, plus passing the budget and declaring war, with no other real powers? If laws are basically just suggestions, why not throw out the statute law altogether and allow law to develop entirely by common law means? It would make more sense, and might even do less damage to the legal system.

On the other hand, it seems to me that what the Congress as a body really wants is to have the power to make laws, but not the responsibility for the outcomes. No dice, from my point of view. Others may differ.

Posted by jeff at 9:35 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 12, 2006

Warrantless Home Searches

My Pet Jawa notes that the President ordered not just warrantless monitoring of terrorist communications, but an actual warrantless search of a Virginian terror suspect's home!

Two civil liberties groups filed legal briefs this week in support of a Virginia man accused of helping to fund Mideast terrorists, arguing that federal agents had no right to search his home without a warrant in 1993.

Wait a sec: 1993? That means it was President Clinton who ordered the warrantless search (or at least allowed it). And it wasn't even undertaken under a declaration of war. Wonder if this will show up on any of the Lefty sites that have been arguing for impeaching President Bush for allowing wiretaps of calls from or to overseas terrorism suspects, when the other end of the call was in the United States? Somehow, I doubt it.

UPDATE: And I had forgotten about Echelon.

Posted by jeff at 9:41 PM | TrackBack

January 9, 2006

A Piece of the Action

There has been considerable debate, in the wake of the Abramoff scandal (actually, that's bad metaphor: how about "in the first surging of the bow wave of the Abramoff scandal(s)"), on how to keep corruption out of politics, or at least minimize it. The proximate cause of this post is Dave Schuler's What a Good Fisherman Knows, while Dave was inspired by Thomas Sowell and James Joyner. All of them miss the fundamental point.

If I may summarize far too briefly, and thus possibly unfairly:

  • Sowell argues that our representatives are underpaid and thus use public money to buy their re-elections, and handing out this public money draws corruption;
  • Joyner argues that we need to tighten up and enforce ethics rules, require lobbyists to itemize their "gift giving", "promote a culture of ethics" and raise congressional salaries, the last to attract better people to Congress, which Joyner apparently sees as underperforming due to poor quality of members;
  • Schuler notes that attracting members to Congress by paying them more simply gives more incentives to those who are more passionate about money, and thus presumably more easily bribed.

Schuler is closest to the truth, but all of these ideas miss the reason why corruption happens, and Sowell misses it by so wide a margin that it is stunning, particularly given his normally very powerful capacity of reason. Corruption exists for one reason and one reason alone: the Federal government disposes of something like a third of the national economy directly, and virtually all of the national economy and most non-economic matters indirectly.

When that amount of money and power is in play under the control of an entity which alone has the power to use force without legal sanction, no one sleeps easy in their beds at night. When people don't sleep easy in their beds at night because of the government's possible actions — or just hope to get a bit of the action, as it were, for themselves — they petition the government for redress of their grievances, prevention of future grievances, or perhaps a nice tidy lump sum, as allowed by the Constitution in respect of centuries of Anglo-Saxon tradition.

Now, I can go down to the city council, and as one of a few dozen people there and one of a score of thousands represented, make a reasoned argument, and have some chance of swaying the direction of the council. I can go to my representatives to the state government in Austin, and probably get heard directly by them (though not by those who don't represent me), but the odds of me alone effecting change are slim to none. I can go to my representatives at the Federal government, and sit in their offices, and talk to a powerless, well-meaning staffer, and have essentially no impact on even my own representative, never mind the policy actions of the Federal government.

Or, I can get a lot of like-minded people on a particular issue together, and we can each contribute less money that it would take us to travel to Austin or Washington, D.C. and stay for a few days. We can then use that money to hire an agent, who will go to that place for us (and in fact, likely already lives there), and will take the money that is not his pay, and will use that money to get entrance to the offices not only of my representatives, but of all representatives. That agent, let's go ahead and start calling him a lobbyist, will be able to get that hearing, and make those points, because he has the ability to contribute significant amounts of money to that politician's re-election fund. Nothing else separates me from my agent but the aggregation of funds and, the representative will undoubtedly conclude, votes. Well, and one other thing, but it's a minor factor in corruption: a lobbyist on a particular issue will already have position papers, briefings, and probably even legislation already drafted, which makes a representative's staffer's job far, far easier when such items are needed.

Now, once there are lobbyists for me, and there are lobbyists for others, the question becomes: how does my lobbyist ensure that he has a better chance of getting my preferences enacted than does his competitor who has my opponent's interests at heart? Say that I want to get the Congress to make health insurance tax deductions an individual, rather than corporate, benefit. Then my lobbyist has to have either more votes or more money or more public opinion on his side than the lobbyists for the large corporations that benefit from this provision. Since public opinion is volatile, it is nearly meaningless as currency; and since votes may or may not materialize, they are less valuable than cash. Cash has the benefits of being fungible and nearly irrevocable: there's little question of whether cash has value, while a promised vote may or may not be meaningful.

Does anyone seriously believe that the Abramoff scandal would have happened had Congress not had the power to give massive benefits to Indian-operated casinos?

Without that, the Indians would not have hired Abramoff, and Abramoff would not have had that money to throw around. (Contra Sowell, representatives who are paid ten times what current representatives are paid would still bribe voters with other people's money rather than their own. Not only are the amounts larger, but there's the benefit (to the representative) of not having to use his own money, which still applies no matter what he is paid.) And Abramoff threw a lot of money, at representatives from both parties, and they took it, because they are rational human beings who want to get reelected and know money helps them do that. And now they are trying to say they weren't bought, because they are rational human beings who know scandals reduce their future chances of reelection, and because they hope that we are not rational beings and will therefore not realize that all politicians, all people, are corruptible, at least when the corruption accords with their own personal desires. If you were offered thousands of dollars, legally, to do what you already wanted to do, would you take it? If you answered no, you're a saint or a liar. I haven't met any saints, but I've met a lot of liars.

So there are only a few possible ways to minimize or eliminate government corruption. The first way is to remove the ability of the representatives to buy votes with public money; the second is to remove the requirement that politicians be elected.

The first way was the choice of our Founders. They prohibited direct taxation (which effectively makes all taxes avoidable, at least in theory), and they strictly limited the powers of the Federal government. In addition, the Founders set up a system where Congress itself represented multiple interests; the House represented the people from a small locale, and the Senate represented the States themselves, as distinct from the population of the States. The 16th and 17th Amendments removed, respectively, the financial and political limits on the powers of the Congress.

As far as money goes, you read about Teapot Dome, but that was peanuts compared to what is an everyday occurrence now: the oil fields in question at Teapot Dome were government owned, but now the government can regulate who can make money, and how much, from oil fields the government doesn't own. With the current effectively unlimited ability of the Federal government to tax and regulate, there is essentially no limit to their power and thus no monetary limit to the corruption. With both Representatives and Senators being elected by, and thus responsible to and needing the votes of, the people at large, and with less than half of the population paying essentially the whole cost of government, there is no political limit to the corruption, either.

The second method, limiting the ability of politicians to be reelected, is not essentially bad, but does have some serious problems. The first serious problem is that good representatives, when they are found, do not stay for long, because they cannot be reelected. The second serious problem is that just when they begin to get real experience on the issues government faces, the representatives are out of office (and this may actually increase the need for lobbyists by the representatives and their staffers). I would argue that having the Congress reelectable without limit and the President reelectable only once is likely the worst of both worlds.

Anything besides prohibiting reelection or limiting the powers or reach of the Congress is, frankly, just window dressing.

If I were writing the Constitution from scratch, I would likely have a tricameral Congress, with one chamber consisting of whomever shows up that day and to which of course you could appoint an agent (but having very, very limited powers), another consisting of people elected to represent particular parties (party slate tickets, essentially) and a third elected based on the tax burdens of its electors. Thus you would have one chamber that is very, very representative of popular will; another that is explicitly representative of popular ideologies; and the third that is representative of the individual burden shouldered by its electors. The first would have the power to propose legislation to the other houses, to set tax rates within limited bounds, and to impeach sitting officials; the second would have the power to pass legislation proposed by the first, subject to veto by the President or the third chamber, to override the vetoes by supermajority, and to allocated collected funds; the third would have the power to strike any legislation that had been active for at least a year, to veto any legislation passed by the second chamber, to try impeachments, and to consent to treaties or Presidential appointments. A declaration of war would require the affirmation of all three chambers and would be required before committing US troops to offensive action overseas. I would not have any limits on reelection or campaign finance, except for disclosure of receipts. Instead, I would count on the manifestly different interests to balance each other out.

Of course, I would also make a requirement that no Constitution could be kept in place for more than 75 years without having a Constitutional Convention. This is, among other reasons, why it is unlikely anyone would ever let me write a Constitution.

Posted by jeff at 4:28 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 7, 2006

Pronoun Trouble

Francis Porretto at Eternity Road asks if there should be a national identity card, and a lot of subsidiary questions about why you might want one, and how to control its use. My answers are too big for a comment, as were Mark Alger's. I will not reproduce — or likely even answer — the questions here; you can go to the aforementioned sites to read up so you know what was in my head while I was typing this.

The first question that needs to be asked is what constitutes your identity as relates to the government. There are, as Mark notes, two answers to that. The first is who you actually are, and the second is what you actually are. Who you are, that which separates you from all other entities from the point of view of an outside observer, is really just a set of differentiating characteristics such that no two people share the same set of characteristics, the characteristics do not change (at least over a sufficiently short period of time for the purpose your identity needs to be demonstrated), the characteristics cannot be easily falsified and the characteristics cannot be alienated (transferred to another entity).

The most detailed identity characteristic that we know how to measure is one's DNA, which has sufficient individuality to be useful almost by itself — the odds of a two people sharing a duplicate DNA fingerprint when a complete and un-degraded sample is available is so close to zero as to be not worth worrying about in practical terms. And given a certain period of time in which to examine the samples, two people — even identical twins — can be reliably distinguished with only human error to worry about. The DNA fingerprint is also essentially unchanging over a person's natural life span and is inherently inalienable. But DNA fingerprinting would constitute an unacceptable claim of identity to most people, because who wants to walk around getting poked or otherwise sampled every time you have to demonstrate who you are?

The most meaningless identity characteristic we can measure is one's name — at least if one's name is sufficiently common. Even name and birth date do not work. Nor do name and place of birth, or name and height and weight. But if you pile on enough of these not-very-individual characteristics, you eventually get to something reasonably unique and permanent and non-transferrable. As Mark notes, this is hardly an efficient way to demonstrate identity, and is certainly an intrusive way to do so. Worse, the characteristics are largely falsifiable.

Biometrics other than DNA fingerprinting have different degrees of stability and uniqueness, but all are inalienable. Any document you could carry around is alienable and falsifiable, and thus useful only as a shorthand, rather than as a reliable identifier.

So demonstrating who you are as a unique individual can be quite difficult to do with sufficient reliability and precision and security. As Mark also notes, it's much easier to denote what you are than who you are. What I mean by what you are is really a way of saying what you may do because of some characteristic that attaches to you. For example, a citizen of a certain age may vote in a national election. A holder of a state or Federal identity card may fly on a commercial aircraft or enter a courthouse (most courthouses, at least). But while it is easy to document someone's status in such a way as to determine whether a person may do a thing, it's not easy to do that in a verifiable way. All status is granted by some agency or method. You are a citizen because you were born here, or born to American parents abroad, or naturalized by the appropriate government procedures and rituals. You demonstrate your citizenship by showing a passport, a birth certificate, a State Department certification of natural birth abroad, or a naturalization certificate. As a shorthand for any of these, you can obtain from the Federal government a passport that says that you have somehow proved to the satisfaction of the government that you are a citizen.

But these methods are all inherently alienable and falsifiable, so merely demonstrating what you may do is not very reliable. It may work for you, but may not work to, say, the TSA's standard of reliability. In other words, knowing what you may do without being able to demonstrate who you are, so that it can be verified that you legitimately carry the documents or instruments that demonstrate what you are, is essentially meaningless because it is essentially unreliable.

So to reliably show what you are, you have to have some instrument that ties together who you are and what you are: both sides of the identity question are meaningful. You must authenticate in order to authorize. (This is not true in all cases. For example, your bank does not care who you actually are when you authenticate to their online banking system, only that you are eligible to access a certain account because you have authenticated to the system's satisfaction as an entity with the characteristics appropriate to accessing that account.)

Generally, there are two reliable classes of instruments for this purpose: either a combination of something that you have and something that you know, tied to a centrally-available record of what permissions apply to an entity so authenticated; or something that can be reproduced from your physical presence, tied to a centrally-available record of what permissions apply to an entity so identified. Because centralizing records across so many domains of ownership, control, and purpose is effectively impossible, either multiple identities, each suited to a subset of possible purposes, are required or some portable instrument easily verified (at least to a reasonable accuracy, as with a photograph) is required. The determination of what kind of instrument to use is dependent on technological limitations, but even more so on the consequences of a wrong assignment of identity. (Courts, for example, must have very reliable identities to work with; liquor stores may require much less reliability; the TSA has to have good but not perfect reliability.)

The second question that must be asked is to what extent the government has a right to know your identity. I think that it would be relatively uncontroversial to say that the Federal government has a right to know your identity in so far as you are getting access to something controlled by the Federal government or services from (or serviced by if you are unlucky or deserving enough to have to deal with Federal law enforcement) the Federal government; state governments have a similar right within their own domains of action; one government may or may not take the instrument of another government at face value, and may or may not require the holder of an instrument from another government to undergo further verifications; individual non-governmental organizations have similar rights and abilities within their own domains of ownership or action; and that no one should be able to force you to demonstrate identity except for a court, but anyone may deny you access or services if you fail to demonstrate identity.

Therefore it should be uncontroversial to say that the Federal government can create an instrument of identity and require it to be shown for any benefit, access or service within the Federal government's domain, and any state government or private entity could likewise accept and utilize such an instrument. The reason that this in actuality is controversial is that there are insufficient limits on the ability of Federal, state and local governments as well as private entities in obtaining and utilizing such information.

In particular, the worry that most people (me included) have is this: that the Federal government will create an identity document for people that is inalienable, difficult to falsify and quite accurate at distinguishing individuals; that other governments will require this identity document as pre-requisite to their identity documents (or just use the Federal identity document directly); and that private organizations will similarly use the Federal identity document as their identity document. The practical upshot of this is that, even were the government not to randomly stop people on the street to verify their identity documents, a person is still trapped within their identity: they could never be clear of anything they had done in the past, could never prevent their information from being freely shared among all kinds of organizations without their consent, and that they therefore would have no privacy worthy of the name. What privacy is there when the government could easily determine what shows you watch, and corporations could easily determine your income and benefits?

So in order for such a scheme to be workable, there is a layer of laws that must be put in place. Specifically, it must be possible to refuse to use your Federal identity as an identity for any other government or organization (and vice versa), requiring other organizations to independently establish your identity; it must be possible to prevent the transfer or sharing of information tied to your identity except in very limited circumstances (with a court order, for example); and it must be possible to opt out of the system entirely, though the price of that may be forfeiture of services to which you are otherwise entitled.

Without that, it will be impossible to obtain public acceptance of a universal government-issued identity.

Posted by jeff at 1:36 PM | TrackBack

January 6, 2006

Talk About Reservations

The President signed HR2863, a bill that "provides resources needed to fight the war on terror, help citizens of the Gulf States recover from devastating hurricanes, and protect Americans from a potential influenza pandemic." But he apparently had a few reservations. (hat tip: Hugh Hewett)

Posted by jeff at 2:50 PM | TrackBack

December 27, 2005

Parties and Positions

Dave Schuler, in commenting on a list of "conservative" blogs posted by Kevin Drum, asks a very important question: what do the American political parties actually believe in?

It’s becoming harder and harder for me to understand the positions of the two major political parties. Abortion on demand is pretty clearly an article of faith among many Democrats. And the Democratic Party is very clearly the party of Fordism (mass consumption, mass employment, government fine-tuning of the economy, state provision of essential services). If Fordism weren’t collapsing everywhere, I’d have more sympathy with it, myself. It’s been the prevailing political ideology in America for most of my life.

I honestly have no idea what Republicans believe these days. Not in small government; not in the market; certainly not laissez-faire. It’s a mystery.


American political parties, like mature political parties in any mature representatively-governed nation, are simple to understand: the only goal of any political party is to take and hold power. Everything else — everything else — is secondary. That is why the political parties, in circling for a permanent majority, end up flipping their positions periodically (as seems to be happening at the moment on the utility of deficits and other economic issues). What both Republicans and Democrats — and by that I mean the partisans of those parties — believe in is getting and keeping power.

There is a secondary question, that I believe would go further to answering what Dave is really looking for, and that is, "How do the political parties arrive at a particular position."

Americans as a whole (excluding the hardest core of partisans, who would never schism or disagree with the corporate position of their label, even when it flips 180 degrees) do not affiliate with political labels as a primary consideration; political affiliation is generally a second-order effect. The primary affiliation of most Americans is to positions on issues of substance. Issues that people cluster around right now include abortion, the right response to 9/11 (Iraq is a subsidiary issue here), how much control of the domestic and international markets should be exercised by the government, fiscal policy, the drug "war", what should be done about illegal immigration, response to criminal behavior, and how much income should be redistributed through programs like Medicare and Social Security. Each of those policy questions claims a variety of opinions — far more than can be encompassed by two labels — and different people assign different levels of importance to each issue. For example, my position table would look something like this1:

issuepositionimportance as a political issue
abortionmorally wrong, but the government should stay out of it prior to the point that the baby can survive outside of the mother's bodylow
response to 9/11Utterly destroy jihadis and the governments that support them with every means at our disposal.highest
marketsMarkets should be almost entirely free both domestically and internationally, with no subsidies except for defense-critical industries that wouldn't survive otherwise, and should be regulated only to the extent needed to ensure that there is not an asymmetrical information problem between producers/suppliers and consumers.medium
fiscal policyThe government should run no deficits except in wartime, and should consume as little GDP as possible, even if that means that some current government activities would have to be stopped or curtailed.medium
drug "war"See my policies on markets. If people want to kill themselves or destroy their lives, it's certainly not my business to contradict them.low
immigrationLegal immigration should be much easier. Illegal immigration should be much harder.low
crimeIn general, fewer things should be criminal, and those things that are criminal should be treated strictly. Strictly does not mean "lock 'em up and throw away the key" (except for those that actually need killing); rather, we need to focus on fixing problem behaviors where possible (locking up drug users is a particularly pointless exercise, for example) and on removing from society those not fit to live within it.low
income redistributionThere should be virtually none. Let's not go back to having people starving in the streets through no fault of their own, but let's also not run headlong towards the European model.medium to high

Every person, in addition, has their own list of issues that don't fit into the general societal arguments. Furthermore, there are minor issues that may become major, or may have been major in the past, about which there is currently little controversy.

But in the US, it so happens that our electoral system is rigged in such a way that only two stable and widely-supported political parties can exist. For that reason, people will be forced to choose from a limited list of candidates at the polls. So people choose based on which parties or candidates come closest to their positions on the most issues. (And they do this in a vacuum of information: most Americans know little more than the candidates' labels and major positions, even at the Presidential level.)

And that is where we come to what political parties believe in. Political parties believe in gaining and keeping power. The only way to do that is to get a plurality of voters to vote for your candidates. And the way to do that is to stake out a position on each issue, such that you can get the most voters to whom that issue is of critical importance. No party has a truly fixed position on any issue, and each will rotate about the issues trying to gain more votes. (As noted earlier, this is why sometimes the parties exchange positions on some issues.)

It happens, at the moment, that the Republicans have a slim electoral majority, premised on their fiscal position held when they were out of power (fast eroding now that they are in power), their position on abortion (and gay marriage, which I did not include in the list above), their position on markets, and primarily their position on the war. The Democrats held power essentially unchallenged for 40 years on their positions on income redistribution, the use of the military before and after (but not so much during) Viet Nam, and civil rights.

But the Republicans are grasping for a bigger slice of the vote pie by altering their fiscal position (losing libertarians, gaining moderate liberals), while Democrats seem to be trying to hold lose voters as fast as possible with their positions on the war, gay marriage and the markets. Given that the current trends in the Democratic Party are unsustainable, the party will likely either schism or isolate the hard Left. The only alternative is to give up on what the Democratic Party truly believes in: getting and keeping power, just like the Republicans.

This continuous ebb and flow means that the positions the parties will be taking ten years from now is not predictable beyond broad outlines or key issues (abortion for the Democrats and free markets for the Republicans). It also means that at any given time, the party that is out of power (and not-infrequently the party that is in power, too) is incomprehensible and jumbled. Ironically, the only time when political parties have such a fixed position that it's possible to determine a corporate position that they hold "on principle" is when they are on the way down.

UPDATE: Apparently Hugh Hewitt's blog software doesn't do trackbacks, but he comments here, and includes a list of lefty blogs he reads. Hewitt also lists the different 6-7 factions that he sees, and they map in an interesting way to the issues I noted above. I wonder if the prevalence of economic and foreign policy issues I list, and the fact that I would fall into the seam between Wealth and National Security on Hewitt's faction list, are related? That is, would a person falling into, say, the License faction list different issues, breaking up the two I listed (drug "war" and abortion) into further subdivisions?

1In actuality, I could write complete essays about each of these (and have about many of them), and there is a great wealth of detail and hedging in all of them that cannot be represented succinctly in a table.



As a side note, Dave seems to be amused that Kevin Drum listed mostly "conservative" blogs that are libertarian or heterodox conservatives. I'm amused as well, but not surprised. While Kevin Drum is one of the most readable of the left-of-center blogs, primarily because he's willing to question the left-of-center orthodoxy, Kevin is still fairly partisan. And there is a strong temptation to any partisan to see people outside of the party more as a threat than as a potential convert, or sometimes even as more than technically human. I suspect a list of "liberal" blogs that Hugh Hewitt would find worthy of reading would be similarly non-representative.

Posted by jeff at 8:31 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

Like Pulling Teeth

Approximate US budget over the next five years:

$12,000,000,000,000

Approximate size of the newly passed deficit reduction package in the Senate:

$40,000,000,000

Approximate amount of money government will now spend in next five years:

$11,960,000,000,000

Final vote to pass this meager alteration in future spending:

50-50 (Cheney breaking the tie)

Congress' avarice:

PRICELESS!

Posted by Brian at 11:47 PM | TrackBack

December 9, 2005

RNC Ad on Dean/Kerry

The GOP has released a new ad, skewering the Democrats with their own words on the war. It takes the words of Howard Dean and John Kerry and puts them up with a person waving a white flag.

The Democrats have been running from Dean all week since he said the US could not win the war in Iraq, and the GOP is going on the offensive with it. Like a few weeks ago when they put the retreat plan to a vote before the Senate (and being defeated soundly), the GOP is making the Democrats eat their words.

The Democrats have tried hard to undermine the war in the media, but have not wanted to be held accountable for it later. I'm glad to see the Republican party hold their feet to the fire on this - it is way past the time to put up or shut up. The Democrats don't want to be called unpatriotic? Then maybe they need to be the loyal opposition, rather than constantly being the nay-sayers. They need to put forth just criticism and real alternatives, not calling our own troops terrorists.

I really wonder how much longer before the DNC pulls Dean out of his position.

Posted by Nemo at 5:08 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 6, 2005

They Eat Their Own

By and large, the Democrats — at least the opinion leadership of the Party — seem to be moving in the direction of Howard Dean and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (aka kos). In other words, the opinion formation is moving away from the Clintons' DNC towards the true dingbats, the transnational progressives. And seeing how kos, for one, treats those in the Party who dissent (hey, isn't dissent supposed to be good?) from the Party orthodoxy, it's clear that the Republicans have nearly a free hand to fail at almost everything that they do, because in the end, you can't beat someone with no one, and the Democrats still eat their own.

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December 1, 2005

If I Were President

Dave Schuler points out something too often missed: most of what the executive branch is doing is actually the responsibility of the Congress. Actually, that's unfair: much of what the executive branch is doing is actually unconstitutional, and much of the remainder is actually the responsibility of Congress. So, with that in mind, here are some things I would do if I were President, and which my wife insists (probably correctly) would get me assassinated in short order for doing — and by the way, if you want my vote for President, promising to do even a few of these would almost guarantee it.

  • The Congress is responsible for making law, deciding the budget, and so forth. I would not propose a budget, on the grounds that the law compelling the executive to do so is unconstitutional: it is a usurpation of Congress' power to set the budget (notwithstanding that it is the Congress that is usurping itself to avoid responsibility).
  • I would pardon anyone incarcerated in Federal prisons strictly on drug charges (not on violence in relation to drug possession and distribution, mind you) where there was no actual transfer of drugs across state or international borders by the imprisoned person, on the grounds that the government has no power to control commerce (or even, as in the Raich case, non-commercial non-transactions) that does not cross state or international boundaries. I would actively seek out other unconstitutional laws and pardon those currently serving time under them. As to those incarcerated for moving drugs across state or national borders, much as I might think the "war on drugs" is counterproductive, Congress clearly has the power to regulate what commodities move across state or international lines resulting in an exchange of values. Too bad for you, my disagreement with the policy wouldn't absolve me from enforcing the parts of it that are constitutionally allowed.
  • I would refuse to allow any executive department to publish any regulation not pertaining to matters internal to that department, or constitutionally reserved for the executive. This is Congress' job, and it is wrong for the executive to usurp that power, even if Congress really really wants the executive to do so. In fact, I would declare that after 1 year (to give the Congress time to pass any needed laws — choose carefully guys: you're short on time), I would no longer allow executive departments to enforce regulations outside of their own departments unless those regulations were in fact explicitly set by law, and found to be constitutional.
  • I would pull US troops out of any country where they were not deployed pursuant to an act of Congress, and those that were pursuant to an act of Congress but which are no longer in our interests, unless the troops were not in a combat situation (or potential combat situation) and were invited to be there by the government of the country where they are stationed. In actual fact, I'm not certain that this covers any troops currently deployed, except possibly in Kosovo, where I'm not particularly sure our national interests are being served.
  • I would refuse to deploy troops abroad in future without an explicit declaration of war. While laws giving the President the power to use force (such as Kosovo or Iraq) meet the Constitution's requirement that Congress declare war, I would demand explicit declarations to ensure that the Congress could not backpedal years later and blame it all on me. Further, I would immediately seek a declaration of war against all jihadi and militant Islamist groups (identified by ideology, not by name) and any countries that support them (again, not necessarily identified by name, but by their actions). Failing that, I would demand a declaration of war against certain named groups and named countries. Failing that, I would state that I did not have the power to fight the war, because Congress refused to grant it, and that therefore the country should be prepared for the logical consequences, which I would do everything possible within my constitutionally-granted powers to avoid or ameliorate.
  • I would ask for the resignations of, and refuse to appoint replacements for, every political appointee in every executive department whose duties are not set forth in the Constitution. This might actually leave little more than State, Defense, Commerce, Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security and parts of the rest with appointed leaders, but I'm OK with that. I would submit legislation to abolish most of the executive departments, rolling their constitutionally-mandated functions into a smaller number of departments and simply eliminating the rest. I would not expect that the Congress would pass such a law, but I would feel obligated to propose it.
  • I would certainly propose radical reforms to taxes and to certain programs like Social Security and Medicaid. While the Congress has the power to tax, even to impose direct and unevenly-distributed taxes, the system could be made much more reasonable without diminishing revenue, but this cannot be done with fiddling at the margins. Programs like Social Security and Medicaid are too intrinsic to our society after 70 years to simply eliminate or cut drastically, no matter how wrong they are. However, they should be converted away from "pay as you go", made optional (with the consequence that your non-participation absolves the government of responsibility for supporting you if you end up destitute as a result) and for those who cannot support themselves for various reasons beyond their control (such as those too crippled or ill to work), replaced with a direct subsidy program that doesn't try to hide that it is redistribution of wealth behind flighty rhetoric.
  • I would relish the fights in the courts.
  • I would calmly accept my impeachment and removal from office.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention vetoing every single law that contains anything unconstitutional. Along with an explanation, of course. It should be fun passing budgets in such a case.

Posted by jeff at 4:22 PM | TrackBack

November 22, 2005

Right Move

José Padilla has been indicted. Excellent, and about time. While I realize that this was, in large part, to head off a battle in the Supreme Court, it is still the right thing to do. The rules should be simple:

An American who is not in the military, wherever taken and under whatever circumstances, should be subject to the jurisdiction of US civil courts. If he's fighting for the enemy, he's committing treason, and should be charged with it. (This covers Padilla, who if guilty of conspiracy to set off a dirty bomb (the original reason he was said to have been arrested) has committed treason and if not guilty should be charged differently or released.)

An American who is in the military, wherever taken and under whatever circumstances, should be subject to US military courts. In the case of SGT Hasan Akbar, for example, who attacked his fellow soldiers, a summary trial and field execution would have been appropriate: he got more access to the justice system than he deserved.

A non-American, taken in the US and not having attacked the US (presumably such a one would be charged with conspiracy), should be subject to a determination by civil courts whether or not he is an enemy combatant, and after that to US military courts.

A non-American, taken in the US in the act of attacking the US or after an attack on the US, should be subject to US military courts so far as is necessary to determine his status. If he is determined to be an illegal combatant, he should have no further access to US justice systems. Summary execution is just fine in such a case.

A non-American who is a member of a regular armed force, taken overseas under any circumstances, should be subject to the provisions for POWs.

A non-American who is not a member of a regular armed force, taken overseas under any circumstances other than in the act of attacking the US, should be subject to a military tribunal to determine his status, and if an illegal combatant should have no further access to any system of justice.

A non-American who is not a member of a regular armed force, taken overseas in the act of attacking the US, should have access to no system of justice. Summary execution in this case is just fine, should we decide to do so.

Of course, these are entirely my opinions, and I suspect the courts might differ on some of them.

Posted by jeff at 1:01 PM | TrackBack

November 18, 2005

Why is it Called the Ninth Circus?

Well, here is a bit of clue. The Ninth Circuit court — the court that thinks that the word "god" should not be in the Pledge of Allegiance (despite its non-sectarian connotations) because it "promotes religion" — apparently thinks that the government forcing children to pretend to be Muslim (to the point of taking on Islamic names and reciting lines from an Islamic prayer and simulating fasting) does not promote religion.

While I don't think that parents have any automatic rights to control what is taught to their children in public schools or how — that is an administrative decision, and the school board and legislature are the places to argue that — it is quite pointedly the courts' responsibility (as it is every citizens' responsibility) to yank the government up short when it goes off violating the Constitution. And this clearly does violate the Constitution, based on the common meaning of the words in the First Amendment, and based on prior precedent from the courts (the 9th Circuit, ironically enough, in particular).

Maybe the court would have found the courage to rule correctly if the students had been similarly introduced to Judaism, or if the students had been required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance first.

Posted by jeff at 2:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 17, 2005

Where is Sanity?

I've asked before where the thinking anti-war bloggers are. That is, where are the people who opposed the war at the beginning, who still oppose the war, and who can convince me they are right. Where is the Left's Steven Den Beste or Bill Whittle? And every time I've gotten recommendations, they've turned out to be a bust. Demosophist takes apart one of those recommendations (that I had long abandoned): Josh Marshall. There are some who were anti-war to start, but believe that as a practical matter we should win. There are some who were pro-war to start, but who have become defeatists on the grounds of unrelated issues (like gay marriage) turning them against the administration. But where are the Den Bestes and Whittles of the Left? Are there any?

Posted by jeff at 12:52 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 16, 2005

Et tu, Harry?

On November 14, 2005, Harry Reid had this to say:

Tired rhetoric and political attacks do nothing to help us bring the troops home or achieve success in Iraq.

On November 1, 2005 (the day the Dems shut down the Senate), Harry Reid had this to say: [note: these are individual statements taken from one speech]

"This indictment raises very serious charges. It asserts this Administration engaged in actions that both harmed our national security and are morally repugnant.
"The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really about: how the Administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions.
"As a result of its improper conduct, a cloud now hangs over this Administration. This cloud is further darkened by the Administration's mistakes in prisoner abuse scandal, Hurricane Katrina, and the cronyism and corruption in numerous agencies.
"The record will also show that in the months and years after 9/11, the Administration engaged in a pattern of manipulation of the facts and retribution against anyone who got in its way as it made the case for attacking Iraq.
"There are numerous examples of how the Administration misstated and manipulated the facts as it made the case for war. Administration statements on Saddam's alleged nuclear weapons capabilities and ties with Al Qaeda represent the best examples of how it consistently and repeatedly manipulated the facts.
Playing upon the fears of Americans after September 11, these officials and others raised the specter that, left unchecked, Saddam could soon attack America with nuclear weapons.
"What has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress to the Administration's manipulation of intelligence that led to this protracted war in Iraq? Basically nothing. Did the Republican-controlled Congress carry out its constitutional obligations to conduct oversight? No. Did it support our troops and their families by providing them the answers to many important questions? No. Did it even attempt to force this Administration to answer the most basic questions about its behavior? No.
"Unfortunately the unwillingness of the Republican-controlled Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities is not limited to just Iraq. We see it with respect to the prisoner abuse scandal. We see it with respect to Katrina. And we see it with respect to the cronyism and corruption that permeates this Administration.
"Time and time again, this Republican-controlled Congress has consistently chosen to put its political interests ahead of our national security. They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican Administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why.
When Joe Wilson stated that there was no attempt by Saddam to acquire uranium from Niger, the Administration launched a vicious and coordinated campaign to demean and discredit him, going so far as to expose the fact that his wife worked as a CIA agent.
"Given this Administration's pattern of squashing those who challenge its misstatements, what has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress? Again, absolutely nothing. And with their inactions, they provide political cover for this Administration at the same time they keep the truth from our troops who continue to make large sacrifices in Iraq.
How did senior Administration officials manipulate or manufacture intelligence presented to the Congress and the American people?
How did the Administration coordinate its efforts to attack individuals who dared to challenge the Administration's assertions? Why has the Administration failed to provide Congress with the documents that will shed light on their misconduct and misstatements?
"At this point, we can only conclude he will continue to put politics ahead of our national security. If he does anything at this point, I suspect he will play political games by producing an analysis that fails to answer any of these important questions.
It is time this Republican-controlled Congress put the interests of the American people ahead of their own political interests."

Senator Reid, what was that about "tired rhetoric and political attacks" again?

Posted by Brian at 11:42 PM | TrackBack

Law Review Online

The latest Harvard Law Review is available online in PDF format (hat tip:Instapundit). Of note this issue: several obituaries of the late Chief Justice Rehnquist by Chief Justice Roberts, and Associate Justices O'Connor and Ginsburg.

Also, there is a major section on the use of foreign law in judicial decision-making (which I haven't read yet), and lastly a commentary on Kelo vs New London which I scanned over:

In sum, the Court rightly chose to continue its “longstanding policy of deference to legislative judgments in this field” by underenforcing the Public Use Clause. The condemnation with which libertarian conservatives have responded to Kelo — and their mobilization in legislatures across the country to overrule the Court by statute — vindicate the wisdom of the Court’s approach: apparently, the legislative process can be trusted to impose constraints on a state’s eminent domain power. Certainly, land use and development are important issues of public policy and should continue to be the subject of vigorous democratic debate. But the proper for a for such deliberation are city councils and federal and state legislatures, not the federal courts.

I'm glad the Kelo decision has prompted so many states and cities to change their eminent domain laws. It's a good outcome to the case overall, but it's still criminal that property was lost in the process.

Posted by Nemo at 9:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 15, 2005

Attack!

The first president I recall while he was in office was Jimmy Carter, the disastrous buffoon who destroyed our economy and self-image while simultaneously almost fatally weakening our defense and foreign policy (go, Jimmah!). President Carter was unable to catch a break from the press or the public. Largely, it is true, because he was incompetent, but there is another factor as well: he was passive when dealing with both foreign enemies and domestic opponents.

Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, had a mixed record dealing with foreign enemies; mostly aggressive but not always (such as his withdrawal from Beirut after his attempt at acting charitably to terrorists by protecting them from the Israeli Army was answered with bombings of our embassy and Marine barracks). His domestic behavior, though, was always very aggressive towards political opponents. While his knives were more humorous than grim, he used them frequently and well.

The first President Bush was quite aggressive with foreign enemies, but quite tame with domestic opponents. Not actually timid, as President Carter was, but certainly respectful and seeking consensus, even in the face of quite brutal political attacks against his policies and personal attacks against himself.

President Clinton was far more like Reagan in domestic terms: he was constantly on the offensive. There was no Clinton administration scandal that was not really just the Republicans up to their dirty tricks and lies, until it became clear that the scandalous behavior really had happened and it was done by the administration. At that point, of course, the Republicans were clearly overreaching in their criticism, because while Clinton may have stumbled, the Republicans were actively evil — look, shiny things. In other words, President Clinton was masterful at attacking his domestic opponents constantly not only over their own stumbles, but over his stumbles. And Clinton's attacks were not confined to jest and outmaneuvering the opposition on legislation: Clinton went after his opponents hammer and tongs, with personal attacks against the weakest points he could find (no matter how misogynist, racist, or irrelevant those attacks might be). And of course, he was the most popular president since Roosevelt, other than Reagan.

The current President Bush is much like his father, or has been until recently. And his approval among the public appears to have been taking a beating lately, under the constant attacks (fair and unfair) leveled by his political opponents, and with his base frustrated and feeling politically homeless. But interestingly enough, now that he has been making a strong attack, for at least the last several days, pointing out the misrepresentations, falsehoods, hypocrisy and sometimes simply the meanness and low character (more real than rhetorical, as far as I can tell) of his political opponents, his base at least is strongly responding in a favorable way. It is too early to know what the general public's reaction will be.

But I have a theory that President Bush's approval ratings will be going up as long as he stays with the aggressive stance. It appears to me that the American public, by and large, favors a strong President, and the President does not look strong when he's attempting to govern (as Carter did disastrously, and the first President Bush did successfully), but does look strong when he's attempting to lead (as Reagan and sometimes the current President Bush have done) or rule (as Clinton tended to do).

Interestingly, I think that the Democrats figured this out long ago. Note the Democrat stance towards any Republican officeholder or Republican policy: almost uniformly vicious and hostile and constantly attacking in the press. Note also the tactics of the Clinton administration, and of Howard Dean. And most tellingly, notice whom the Democrats most viciously and personally attack, and most seek to keep out of the Republican leadership: Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney. In other words, the loudest and most sustained attacks are against the few Republicans who seem to believe in taking the political offensive, those whose removal would not necessarily most affect policy, but which would most affect the tone of the Republicans' rhetoric.

Posted by jeff at 7:07 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 12, 2005

John Kerry is a Lying Dick

From Deb Riechmann of AP quoting John Kerry's response to President Bush's Veterans' Day speech:

"This administration misled a nation into war by cherry-picking intelligence and stretching the truth beyond recognition. That's why Scooter Libby has been indicted.

I am going to emphasize this next bit in bold so that maybe that asshat clown can see it!

From Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference regarding the Libby indictment:

QUESTION: A lot of Americans, people who are opposed to the war, critics of the administration, have looked to your investigation with hope in some ways and might see this indictment as a vindication of their argument that the administration took the country to war on false premises.

Does this indictment do that?

FITZGERALD: This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.

This is simply an indictment that says, in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer's identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person -- a person, Mr. Libby -- lied or not.

The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.

And just in case Kerry is not a drooling moron and can actually read, here is the actual indictment so that he can see what Libby was indicted for.

And asswipes like Kerry have the nerve to talk about Bush misleading people!

Predictably, AP did not correct Kerry's claim of what the Libby indictment was about.

Posted by Brian at 12:36 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 11, 2005

The Libertarian Case Against Roe v. Wade

Steph asked me to put forth the argument for how a libertarian who believes the government should have no control over women's bodies could believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Conveniently, I am a libertarian who believes the government should have no control over women's bodies and who believes that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, so I suspect I can make the argument. But to do so, we have to realize just exactly what claims are at stake in the debate. We have to go back to first principles.

Those who are anti-abortion (I cannot call them pro-life, since so many are fine with the death penalty) make the claim that abortion should be illegal because the State has a duty to protect the lives of its people, and a baby is just as subject to protection — more so, even — as an adult. But when does a baby become a living person? The moment of birth is fairly arbitrary. Would we not condemn as murder a person striking a pregnant woman in labor with a blunt object, in order to kill the baby? Moreover, it's not like the baby is delivered and is suddenly independent of its mother; it must be fed and cared for in order to survive; and absent access to things like infant formula or wet nurses, it must be fed and cared for by its mother. And if we would call that murder, then how can we justify allowing an abortion — murder by knife held by a doctor, but the baby is just as dead — at the same point? And if we cannot justify it then, how can we justify it the day prior, when the baby was certainly as viable as on the day of birth? And if not the day prior, how can we justify killing the baby a week prior to not be murder? At what point does the baby become a baby if not when it is created, at conception; or if not then than when the heart starts beating, or brain waves become detectable, or when the baby would likely live — given all the help technology can provide — if removed from the mother? In any event, at some point that baby is a baby, and that moment is prior to birth, and from that point forward, killing the baby is murder.

Those who believe that abortion should be legal (I cannot call them pro-choice, since so many of them would deny individual choice in all other matters) make the claim that prior to a baby's birth, the baby is simply a part of the mother's body; not an independent person deserving of any protections or rights. For surely, the fertilized egg that is still a single cell is not independent and possessed of rights: it is a cell that is in the mother's body. And when it's divided many times, and attached to the uterine wall, there is still a pretty good chance that the mother's body will spontaneously abort the pregnancy, probably without her even knowing she was pregnant (a late and very heavy period might be all she notices). And even once the fœtus starts to develop an independent circulatory system, that system is still dependent on the mother's system for its function, and the fœtus does not become a person with protected rights until the baby is actually born. What "search" could be more unreasonable, in any case, than government agents searching inside a woman's body to see if she's still carrying her baby, or in her medical records looking for evidence of care of which they disapprove? What abrogation of rights is more severe than the abrogation of a person's right to decide what will be done with their own body?

So the rights claim from the anti-abortion folks is that every person has a right to live, the State has a duty to protect the lives of its people, and a baby is reasonably a person some time well before its birth: thus the State must protect the unborn baby. The rights claim from the legal abortion advocates is that every person has a right to control their own body and decide what medical care they will have, the State has no right to invade the privacy of a person regarding their health or their medical care, and the fœtus is not a person worthy of government protection until it is born: thus the State must stay completely out of such matters and abortion must be legal.

Each side also has practical arguments, but Roe v. Wade makes those arguments meaningless, because such arguments are political and Roe v. Wade altogether removes any arguments about abortion from the political sphere. Actually, this is only partly true: the decision allows government regulation at the state level in the second trimester, and even prohibition in the third trimester as long as an exception is made for saving the life of the mother. Roe v. Wade is even more complex than that, though, because it reaches out and creates or expands a few more Federally-protected rights, most importantly the "right to privacy". And once there is a Federally-protected right to privacy, and that right encompasses abortion, then any regulation of abortion other than a purely medical one (regarding sanitation, for example) is pretty much out of the question, and virtually every limitation on abortion that has been attempted, has been subsequently struck down by the courts.

Now normally, I'm pretty sympathetic to claims of unenumerated rights, on the basis of the Ninth Amendment. But there is the problem of the Fourteenth Amendment, which throws up some conflicting claims if read more broadly than it was intended, and part of what it has since been read to mean is that rights granted at the Federal level must be granted by each State as well. And this means that a finding that the Constitution protects a right to privacy and that right to privacy encompasses not having the government interfere with obtaining an abortion also applies to the States, and prohibits them from interfering with obtaining an abortion. But there's something else interesting about Constitutional rights: some are more protected than others.

To pick the easy and cheap shot, the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms is nearly meaningless in practical terms. The right to speak freely has been abrogated to the point that political speech can be regulated by the government during political campaigns. While the right to not be compelled to practice religion has been upheld zealously, the right to practice religion has been upheld hardly at all. The right to not have your property taken by the government for the use of some other private person? Nope, not there any more in practice. Illegal search and seizure? Not really, no. In other words, a right not specifically mentioned in the Constitution has in practice been given more weight than virtually every right specifically mentioned in the Constitution. That does not seem very useful for a nation supposedly governed by laws rather than men.

Moreover, just go trying to assert the right to have your bank accounts kept private from the IRS. Or even try to assert privacy in medical decisions other than abortion. "Privacy" is a very slippery right indeed. The word, in fact, has become as meaningless in the context of Constitutional law as "choice", or "shall make no law". Because of this, the reality is that Roe v. Wade does nothing more than express the policy preference of the Justices who wrote and signed on to the decision: it has no more meaning than that which we accord it by observing the Court's decision. Because of Marbury v. Madison, though, that is a great deal of meaning indeed.

The problem is, this puts the Court in the position of solving political disputes. And that's really what the dispute over abortion is: a political dispute where conflicting claims of rights are made. But the Court was not intended for that purpose: that is what politics is for, what legislatures are for. Where the Court has interfered in political issues, it has generally met with grief. The appeal to Dred Scott was the Civil War.

So my case against Roe v. Wade is simply this: it's not the Court's place to decide contested claims of rights in a permanent manner; that is the purpose of the law and the province of the legislatures. The Court's only role should be to decide the conflict between different claims of what the law does and does not allow in a particular case. (In other words, I also object to Marbury v. Madison.)

And the ironic thing is, most states were moving towards making abortion legal at the time Roe v. Wade was decided. But by making the issue moot, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the intervening culture war over abortion (which has done so much damage to the nation that it is hard to overstate) makes it likely that many states would immediately outlaw abortion, or severely restrict its availability. But what I think about abortion per se is irrelevant, as is the potential outcome should Roe v. Wade be overturned: the issue should be decided in a way where my and other voices can be heard, rather than by a group of unaccountable mandarins. The only other outcome is to remove our ability to self-govern, and that is far more damage to a free society than abortion itself can ever do.

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November 10, 2005

Free Speech is not an Online Thing

It is an American right. It is a natural right of all mankind, and it is an American civil right as well because of the first amendment to the Constitution. And while I wish these guys well, I cannot help but wonder why the movement's aims are so limited. Is it only online that people should be allowed to voice opinions on candidates within 60 days of an election? Surely, we should be able to do that at any time, and any reasonable place (that is to say, not in our neighbors' house, without his invitation).

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November 7, 2005

Murder by Any Other Name

Ecoterrorism scares me quite as much as anti-abortion terrorism or any other domestic terrorism. Why? Well, read this. There are, let us be clear, some people who need killing. The entire reason that government has the monopoly on the legitimate use of force other than in self defense is so that people like Jerry Vlasak — or for that matter people like me — don't get to unilaterally decide who it is that needs killing. That doesn't appear to be enough to stop Vlasak, though.

Be very afraid of people who are convinced that they are right, and that their position justifies any extremity of action. Be very, very afraid of those who are convinced of that and that acting in the name of a higher good (be it a god or a Cause).

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November 4, 2005

What do People Expect?

The 9th Circuit, ruling in Fields v. Palmdale, holds that parents have no due process or privacy right to control what their children are taught in public schools, and no right to be the exclusive provider of information about sexual matters to their children.

The district court dismissed the federal causes of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and dismissed the state claims without prejudice to their right to re-file in state court. We agree, and hold that there is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children, either independent of their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it. We also hold that parents have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed while enrolled as students. Finally, we hold that the defendants' actions were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose.

This, to put it mildly, has upset a few people. The problem the critics have is that the court was right to rule the way they did. Parents simply cannot have any direct control over how their children are taught in public schools: there are too many students to have any kind of organized school and yet accommodate all of the preferences and opinions of all of the parents. Government-run schools do not exist to serve the parents, but to serve the State. They serve the State by ensuring that most citizens are, at adulthood, minimally trained and capable of work. They may indeed serve the parents, too, at least by providing subsidized babysitting for much of the time, but that is incidental to the purpose of government-run schools.

So what do people expect when the State decides that it is going to further its interest? That the State will decide that some parents wouldn't be comfortable with that, so that it's best not to go ahead? When has any bureaucracy ever acted that way? Whatever the purpose here, and I assume without further evidence than the questions asked and their form that it was nominally to catch children who were being abused at home but had fallen through the social-welfare cracks, the government has a near-absolute right to control what your children do, see, learn and are exposed to when the government is acting in loco parentis; that is, while your children are at school.

Now there are things you can do about this if you are upset: you can go to school board meetings and raise a stink, you can run for school board, you can withdraw your children and educate them privately or at home, or you can throw a tantrum. But you won't get anywhere filing lawsuits, because the government controls your children when they are in public schools.

UPDATE: Bat one was certainly unhappy with the ruling. I guess I get to be the "sort of idiot will try to rationalize this latest bit of leftwing lunacy". Heh.

UPDATE: Daryl Cobranchi makes the point that if you take the king's gold, you play by the king's rules. (via Dare to Know)

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November 2, 2005

Racism and Bigotry in Maryland Politics

Read both pages of this, for some illuminating insights from black Democrats in Maryland regarding race. (Note: None of this is new, but it's still intersting/appalling when it manifests.)

Some of my favorite bits:

Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in his bid for the U.S. Senate are fair because he is a conservative Republican.
Such attacks against the first black man to win a statewide election in Maryland include pelting him with Oreo cookies during a campaign appearance, calling him an "Uncle Tom" and depicting him as a black-faced minstrel on a liberal Web log.

and,

Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, a black Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Steele invites comparisons to a slave who loves his cruel master or a cookie that is black on the outside and white inside because his conservative political philosophy is, in her view, anti-black.

followed by,

"That's not racial. If they call him the "N' word, that's racial," Mrs. Marriott said.

and finally,

State Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat and vice chairman of the General Assembly's legislative black caucus, said black Republicans deserve criticism because the Republican Party has not promoted the interests of the black community.
"The public policies supported by Democratic principles are the ones that most impact the African-American community," she said. "I'm not saying [Mr. Steele] is a sell-out. That's not for me to say."

I'm not saying many of Maryland's black Democrats are racist bigots - oh wait, yes, I am. That's for me to say.

Posted by Brian at 10:53 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The Purpose of the Courts

Dale Franks has a penetrating essay on the purpose of the courts. Here's the best part:

The Supreme Court's job—the whole judiciary's job, in fact—is not to represent anyone. It's to apply the law as written to the facts of the controversies that are argued before them. That's it. There's no "black" meaning to the 3rd Amendment. There's no "feminist" reading of Admiralty law. There's no "hispanic" theory of tortious liability. There's reason, and the law, and that's about it. There is nothing at all about the judiciary that's representative. That's what we elect Senators, representatives, and to some extent, Presidents to do.

This is a microcosm of whole problem with the way the Left views the Courts. They view the Courts as another governing branch, which makes interest in "proper results" and "looking like America" and "making history" important to them. But the Judiciary is not a governing branch. At best, it's a referee for the real governing branches, the executive and the legislative.

Once you've bought into the idea that the Courts are there in some way to govern us, then you've already subscribed to a feeling of equanimity with tyranny. You've already become comfortable with the idea that a coterie of unelected lawyers who serve for life can become a sort of peerage—a legal nobility—who can legitimately direct our lives in any way they wish, whether we, the people, agree or not.

The really funny thing is that such an attitude is what's now known as "progressive" thinking.


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November 1, 2005

Vaccines and Politics

Apparently a couple of drug companies are close to producing a vaccine that can prevent several strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer. News to celebrate? Apparently not for some social conservatives, who fear teen sex more than they hope for healthy women. Yet another reason I cannot be a Republican.

You know, the first political party that comes up foreign policy Wilsonian/Jacksonian, social libertarian and fiscal conservative has my thorough support, and would, I suspect, have a lot more than just mine.

Back to the vaccine: I have a problem with any vaccines being mandatory, except during the middle of an epidemic. I have a bigger problem with objecting to vaccines being mandatory not because the government should not compel medical care, but because it is somehow associated with sex (tenuously, in this case).

Posted by jeff at 2:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 31, 2005

Party Boundaries

The US system, because of the nature of how we elect officials, is inherently only stable with two major parties. More than that leads to one party attaining dominance, and the others coming together to counter the majority party, thus resulting in two parties. Fewer than two major parties leads the internal divisions in the major party to come into full play, eventually resulting in a split as the non-dominant faction seeks other outlets to maximize its influence; and again resulting in two major parties. The only way to change the dynamic is to change the electoral rules from simple plurality, so that smaller parties can have a reasonable assurance of representation. (For an idea of some of the possible electoral systems, see this summary.)

You can look at opinion as being a range, centered about a line. (Politics being a zero-sum game, any given issue will break down into two camps in the end.) The obvious division is Left and Right — that is indeed the division that is pushed on us every time a political discussion happens, even if it's not the appropriate division to draw for that particular issue. (I really hate the "Left/Right" paradigm, because it's so non-descriptive. Sadly, without a new political vocabulary, it's the best we've got.) But there is not merely one center around which the whole population is distributed on any given issue: each subgroup of the population also has a center. The centers of each of these subgroups stand in some relation to the center of the population as a whole. The MSM, for example, centers somewhat to the Left of the center for the whole population.

The political parties are, in the end, nothing but subgroups of the whole population who so identify with a particular political label that they see it as their highest calling to politically support others who identify with the same label. It seems petty and shallow — face it: it is petty and shallow — but that's how political parties work: they maximize their power by maximizing the number of people who identify with that label regardless of policies. The balancing act required to maintain that maxima is what has party positions moving around a little at a time, but constantly; the idea is to prevent either of the extreme ends of the party from getting so upset with the balance that they leave the party.

The balancing act is imperfect, and all political parties change their centers somewhat drastically over long periods of time. Since each party is a coalition of what would be several mid-sized, or many minor, parties under a different voting system, parts of each party break away or join over time, leading to shifts in the party's centerline. The Democrats' "solid South" that turned into the Reagan Republicans are one example: that shift was so large as to realign the parties, giving the Republicans a clear and lasting majority for the first time since the 1920s. The breakup of the Whigs and the formation of the Republicans prior to the Civil War is another example. There are many more, most quite smaller than that. And as the parties change their centers, in response to groups moving in or out, new opportunities for unity or disunity are exposed. (The coming of the neocons — economically and socially somewhat liberal and hawkish on foreign policy — to the Republicans for foreign policy reasons, for example, diluted the power of the economic conservatives that had dominated the Republicans during the Reagan years, and led to the current profligate Republican Congress. This is leading the economic conservatives to look for options.) This will happen despite the party's attempts to keep the party center consistent, because even minor shifts throw off the groups at either extreme, and draw them in at the other extreme. The Democrats can't keep both the DLC and the MoveOn/DU crowd happy for long; one or the other will give up.

In the most extreme cases, the center of a party will shift so far so fast that the party falls apart. This is how the Whigs were destroyed and the Republicans created. What happens in such a case is that the party's center moves too quickly for the subgroups of the party to react to it. When the center stops moving, one or another very large subgroup finds that it has no power, will have no power, and cannot abide the center of opinion of their party. So that subgroup will break off. In a case where the group that breaks away is quite large, the party splits. Otherwise, the group that breaks away will generally move to the other party, shifting its center closer to their ideal, and probably driving other subgroups away from that party.

The Democrats are shifting fast at the moment, indeed have shifted so far to the Left as the MoveOn/DU crowd comes increasingly into power within the party that people who used to be moderate Democrats are finding themselves voting Republican (mostly for foreign policy reasons, because that is the current impetus for the shift in the Democrat Party's center). This is leading to a major regrouping of the Democrats, which is why they cannot consistently beat the Republicans, who are quite disorganized and tend to offer up weak candidates of their own.

The Republicans, too, are undergoing a rapid shift of center, as a result of electoral success, the influx of many former moderate Democrats, the pressures of the war, and the differences between fiscal conservatives (now in the minority of Republicans) and social conservatives (reemerging into the majority). It is beginning to look like the current Republican pattern is that fiscal conservatives take over when the Republicans are out of power, and social conservatives when the Republicans are in power.

Will either of these shifts result in the breakup of one of the parties? I think so. There are basically four groups that come out of the two parties at the moment: the international socialists (far Left Democrats), the DLC (moderate left Democrats), the fiscal conservatives (moderate right Republicans) and the social conservatives (far Right Republicans). In the Republican case, the far Right within the party is still reasonably close to the moderate right. But in the Democrat case, the far Left is not only much further to the left than the DLC, they are also moving further Left as fast as possible. If this continues, and if the DLC cannot regain control of the party, the DLC will soon find itself leaving the Democrats. Then what? The rapid leftward shift in the Republican's party center caused by the DLC aligning with the Republicans would spin off the social conservatives so fast it will make you dizzy. This would leave three groups remaining: the international socialists in charge of the smoking remains of the Democrat party, the classical liberals (DLC + social liberal/fiscal conservative Republicans) and the social conservatives.

The Democrats, in that context, would be too small to stand on their own. Stripped of a large numbers of moderates, the Democrats would collapse as a major party. In the meantime, we would once again settle down with two parties, and I believe they would look a lot like the two parties we had in the period between 1930 and 1965: they would largely agree on foreign policy, and the fights would be over money and how far government can go in pushing a social agenda.

The key potential tipping point will be 2008: if the DLC puts forth Hilary, and loses, the far Left will pull the Democrats further to the Left than the DLC can tolerate. If the DLC wins, or if the international socialists end up picking the candidate and lose the general election, differences might be papered over long enough to become irrelevant, as new issues arise.

Posted by jeff at 11:27 AM | TrackBack

October 30, 2005

Justice Kozinski?

As speculation has increased on the blogs about whether Judge Kozinski would be a good nominee for the Supreme Court (the consensus seems to be yes), I have come across some wonderful discussions, of which this has been my favorite. Besides abstracting some of Judge Kozinski's opinions, Arms and the Law has a suggestion: write to comments@whitehouse.gov with your suggestion that the President nominate Judge Kozinski to the Court. (hat tip: Instapundit, who has been all over this)

Out of curiosity, I was searching on Google, and found something I hadn't known about Judge Kozinski, which is that he brings a much-needed intellectual property skill set: he is quite knowledgeable about Internet issues, as witness his opinion in Kremen v. Network Solutions, Inc. Frankly, that kind of knowledge is sadly lacking on today's court, which is hearing and will continue to hear an increasing number of IP cases.

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October 29, 2005

Uncommon Law

Should the US Supreme Court — or any other US court — quote foreign courts in their legal decisions?

When that question first came up, my immediate thought was, "No. Of course not. It's a different system with different laws." But upon reflection, I've modified my opinion quite a bit. I still think that it is meaningless to quote foreign courts in Constitutional matters — even harmful, to the extent that this gives the idea that our Constitution might not be sovereign. But on criminal law, I think that quoting foreign courts from other countries whose legal systems are based on English common law is not only valid, but admirable. (I'd be delighted to learn of more judges having read, say, Blackstone.)

The whole basis of common law is that it is the law that has evolved among free people to keep them free. Up until a hundred or so years ago, in fact, it was not unlikely for a bad English law (or a bad American law) to be put by the board simply because no judges would hear a case brought under it, and no jury would convict. Common law was mostly based on common sense: it was law made largely without benefit of legislatures or lawyers. The closest thing to it in America today is, ironically, TV court shows like The People's Court. Under common law, you would not see multi-million dollar settlements against big companies just because they are big companies, nor would you see people being put in jail for simple self defense (as they often are, now, in England).

More and more, our laws are coming to resemble the French system: they cover every aspect of everything, and are self-referential. There is no possibility of going outside the law to common sense, and all respect is given to the law even if it is tyrannical and arbitrary. To the extent that quoting foreign common law courts brings us back to our justicial roots, I'm all for it.

Posted by jeff at 5:53 PM | TrackBack

Judge Kozinski

My absolute favorite judge from what I know of his decisions is Alex Kozinski, of the 9th Circuit Court. (Yes, though I am a non-lawyer, I sometimes read circuit court decisions. I have no life.) I suggested Kozinski back in June. Now Glenn Reynolds has been mentioning Judge Kozinski repeatedly over the last few days, and today has some great bits from Judge Kozinski's dissent in Silveira v. Lockyer. But there are two other great quotes from that decision that I'd like to pass on, including possibly the most brilliant words ever written on the Second Amendment. But, first, a reminder of the role of inferior courts in our system:

As an inferior court, we may not tell the Supreme Court it was out to lunch when it last visited a constitutional provision.

And now, the Second Amendment rationale:
The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed—where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

There's a lot more in the decision worth reading. For that matter, the other dissent in the case, written by Judge Kleinfeld, also has some notable points, including this one:
The panel's protection of what it calls the "people's right to bear arms" protects that "right" in the same fictional sense as the "people's" rights are protected in a "people's democratic republic."

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October 28, 2005

Liar! Bah! Fools.

So Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Vice President's Chief of Staff, has been indicted for lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, in the case regarding the leaking to the press (and subsequent publication) of a CIA agent's name. Of course, the case could be made that this was unimportant lying, because it was only to a grand jury and it was only about talking to reporters. I do not, though, expect to see any Democrat partisans making such a case, though they did so most forcefully during the Clinton administration, when the President lied to a grand jury. (Or is it that sex is less important than talking to reporters? Will MoveOn move on?)

The case could also be made that any public official lying to a grand jury or obstructing justice is deeply damaging to open government and the rule of law, and that Libby should therefore never be allowed to serve in government again (having already resigned his office, he could not now be removed by impeachment). I do not, though expect to see any Republican partisans making such a case, though they did so most forcefully during the Clinton administration, when the President lied to a grand jury. (Or is it that discussing a CIA agent's career is less important to the nation than talking about who gave you blow jobs?)

Me? I fall into the camp that says that perjury on the part of government officials is a terrible weakening of the rule of law, whether the perjurer is the President (very damaging, as the President is the chief of all Federal law enforcement) or some more minor official (potentially very damaging, because if they are willing to lie about this, what else is hidden from the people, who employ them). This is the same position I held when President Clinton was impeached.

So the Democrat partisans are reduced to whining "Liar" as if they were paragons of virtue, while the Republican partisans are reduced to putting their hands in their ears as though they were innocent lambs. Both look like fools to me.

UPDATE: As usual, Planet Moron has a great take on this.

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October 27, 2005

Power and Control in a 4GW World

Mark Safranski has an interesting and pessimistic look at the ability of the State to defend itself in a 4GW world. Myke Cole, whom Mark quotes, sees the dissolution of the State in the face of a threat it cannot overcome. Mark sees the possibility of death squads as a State defense. I see a more optimistic scenario.

It seems to me that there is another option as well, and that it is not necessarily a bad one.

In the US, and in some other Western States, the government is not some god-installed authority against whom there is no power and over whom there is no control. Instead, the government is the agent of the people, and exists to serve the people's will. Indeed, the institutions of government are nothing more than a delegation of agency by the people to the State to do full-time what any given person can only do part-time, and not nearly as effectively.

The military is little more than the delegation of the power of self-defense against foreign foes to the State - the militia power, if you will. The police forces are nothing more than the citizens' delegation of authority to the State to enforce the law (which all citizens are duty-bound to do). And so forth.

The practical result of this is that, at least in the US, the State can fail utterly at some task without leading to dissolution — even at the task of defense against enemies, foreign or domestic. Let us say, for example, that the police make a total mess of fighting against a domestic 4GW threat. While it's possible the government could turn to death squads, it is unlikely (again, at least in the US). What is far more likely is that the armed citizens would organize themselves into a group and go solve the problem. There is a name for this: a Committee of Vigilance. Perhaps better known as vigilantes. While not the best solution — such groups tend to get out of hand — it is certainly better than giving up to death or at least chaos.

If you think that this will not happen in today's world, you should read up on the Minutemen.

Posted by jeff at 10:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 19, 2005

Discrimination?

I was going to write about the decision striking the Georgia law requiring voters to show ID, on the grounds that that was discriminatory. It's a dumb decision for a couple of reasons, but I find I just have to let Glenn Reynolds say it, since he was so pithy about it:

GEORGIA'S VOTER ID REQUIREMENT was struck down as discriminatory. That's to vote though. You still need one to buy beer. . . .

Yup. That about says it all.

Posted by jeff at 5:08 PM | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

The Peace of the Grave

Glenn Reynolds rounds up some opinions on the so-called "peace movement". This leads to a thought I've had since the 1980's, when the "peace movement" was active in attempting to get the US to stop defending Europe and Latin America and pretty much even the US against the Soviets:

The "peace movement" always and only focuses on the actions of the US, our allies, or Israel [hereinafter "the good guys"]. They never condemn the side that opposes the good guys [hereinafter "the enemy"], even — in fact, especially — when the enemy is actually doing what the good guys are being falsely accused of1. Always and forever, the "peace movement" urges us to disarm, to back down, to forgive, to forget, to sleep, to sleeeeep....

The "peace movement" does not advocate peace: it advocates surrender. And to surrender against tyrants is to advocate the death of Liberty and its adherents — that is to say, they want us dead, or at least powerless and enslaved.

And interestingly enough, if we look at the "peace movement" from the 1960s onwards, the same people are always at its core: the hardcore Communists. Even today. Some people are simply evil right through; and let's face it, the only way to stop them is to kill them. Their minds are not changeable, and they will not give up until they win. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be necessary, in that there aren't very many people who fall for it any more, as the picture in Glenn's post demonstrates. Perhaps time will take care of the problem for us.

1For example, war crimes in Viet Nam or torture in the current war.

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October 7, 2005

Yes, That's it Exactly

It's rare that I find something online, or anywhere else for that matter, with which I can agree 100%, without any reservations or clarifications.

Here's one. Mark Safranski notes the utterly craptacular Al Gore speech calling for government regulation of speech in order to further "the marketplace of ideas". That is, to be blunt, pure newspeak: shutting down your ability to make your points means my ideas win, and that's free speech. Um, yeah.

Just this morning I was mentioning to Steph that this is yet another reason I'm not a Republican, and this is immediately followed Gore giving me yet more reason to support the Republicans anyway. The Republicans are stupid and moralistic, but the Democrats are odious and tyrannical. A pox on both their houses.

UPDATE: Fixed the link to ZenPundit.

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October 6, 2005

Naming Things, Logic, and Humanity

I'm a big believer in calling things by appropriate names. This is not mere sophistry: the naming of a thing tells us how to respond to that thing. To name a thing is to assign a moral role to that thing. The enemies of clear understanding, the Derridas and Chomskys and Zinns, use names to blur the moral nature of otherwise repugnant people or activities, as did Markos Zuniga when he called contractors working for the military in Iraq "mercenaries", and said "screw them" when they were killed and treated barbarously. It's why our external enemy are called "freedom fighters" by those who view us as their internal enemies: freedom fighters are morally legitimate, and thugs and terrorists are not.

Setting aside for the moment how this abuse of language leads words to become meaningless, and thus leads to the inability to clearly articulate moral choices, we come to another term that is meaningless and needs to be abandoned: "suicide bomber". A person who goes into the middle of the desert and kills himself by detonating explosives is not what we mean by "suicide bomber", even though he used a bomb to commit suicide. Similarly, a person who goes into the middle of a crowd, and sets of his bomb killing many, but who somehow survives (it has happened) is what we mean by "suicide bomber". But what to call such a person? The point of the act is not suicide, but homicide and "martyrdom" (a term that needs an essay or two to do justice to, particularly in the jihadi sense of the term) together — or frequently just homicide.

But "homicide bomber" doesn't work. Tim McVeigh, in destroying the Murrah Federal Building, certain committed homicide using a bomb, but that is not the same thing as what we mean, because McVeigh did not intend to die in the act. (This is why Fox News calling the Madrid train bombings the first homicide bombings in Western Europe was so ridiculous; clearly Fox missed the entire era of Communist terrorism in Western Europe, and for that matter the Irish bombings in England over several decades.) So what term does express the act itself: the intentional killing of others with a bomb, in order to attain a goal (terrorizing others into cultural and political surrender, these days), with the intent of killing one's self in the process? The only term I can come up with is "kamikaze". It expresses both the intended suicide and the intended homicide aspects of the act, and is morally neutral for the most part. It is understood to be a tactic, rather than a cause. And so it can be equally applied to attacks on military or government targets (morally legitimate) or attacks on civilians (morally illegitimate).

And now to some logic, and current events. Joe Hinrichs killed himself with a bomb at OU last Saturday. Was he or was he not a kamikaze? I tend to think not, for a few reasons.

  • First, he doesn't fit the profile of today's kamikaze's. As Fran Porretto ably pointed out, the next one or ten or one hundred of these attacks are not going to be committed by middle class non-Muslim white guys. (Don't worry; we'll come back to this point.) As far as I can tell, Joe was a middle class non-Muslim white guy.
  • There were several easy, spectacular targets nearby (including both the ongoing football game and a popular and crowded Irish pub) where, were Joe a kamikaze, he could have killed many, many people.
  • In many ways most importantly to me, Joe was a member of the Oklahoma Chapter of Triangle Fraternity, an organization I am also privileged to be a member of. I know the kind of people involved in the fraternity in general, and the Oklahoma chapter in general. I know, as an initiate, the central mystery and ethics that are assumed as a part of becoming a Brother. Joe would have had to utterly renounce that creed — would have broken every part of it — to kill himself and others in this way.

Now that last point isn't logical. It is an intuitive feeling based on things that I know that are not amenable to logic. And as such, I'm perfectly ready to abandon (with accompanying grief and disappointment) that last point if it turns out that in fact Joe was intending a kamikaze attack. In fact, if it could be shown that Joe was a Muslim convert, I would have to acknowledge the likelihood that in fact this was a kamikaze attack, intended to kill numerous of my fellow citizens.

But let's pause there and look at the logic of many whose opinions I otherwise respect, who claim that Joe was a kamikaze. There are many examples, but I'm going to pick on The Jawa Report, because the format is easiest to deal with:

1) Hinrichs seems to have converted to Islam and attended a nearby Islamic center. (see map at Zombietime) However, the president of the University of Oklahoma Muslim Studeant Association denies that Hinrichs was a Muslim. Other witnesses, though, claim Hinrichs was a frequent visitor to the mosque.

2) It appears that the Islamic center is affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and which has been investigated for funding terrorism by Congress.

3) The ISNA linked mosque may have been the same one attended by Zacharias MOUSSAOUI. Much more on the Zacharias MOUSSAOUI link at Cao's blog.

4) Hinrichs' roomate, Fazal M. Cheema, was a Pakistani national and neighbors claim the apartment was a center of activity for Middle Easterners. He is described as a 'really nice guy' by his friends. Unfortunately, all terrorists are described this way by their friends. NEIN now reports that Cheema and his associates may have been on the FBI's terror watch list.

5) Hinrichs attempted to buy a large amount of ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in large explosives such as the first World Trade Center bombings or the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing.

6) Hinrichs was later known to the FBI because of his attempted purchase.

7) Evidence at the scene of the bombing suggests that shrapenel was part of the bomb. This is a strong indication that Hinrichs planned to kill more than himself.

8) Witnesses now report Hinrich may have attempted to enter the OU football game, but that he fled when security attempted to check his backpack

9) Northeast Intelligence Network, who's earlier reports we had dismissed because of that website's long track record of alarmism but who are increasingly looking like they got this one right, claims a source is telling them:

It appears that HINRICHS was part of a larger plan that included members of an Islamic terrorist cell based in and around the Norman and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma area. As a Caucasian, it was much easier for him to obtain the materials needed to create a large bomb, act in concert with members of the local terrorist cell, and strike when relative calm was the word of the day.
All of this evidence suggests that there may have been a wider plot by Islamic terrorists to use Joel Henry Hinrichs III as a suicide bomber in exactly the same way as terrorists use suicide bombers around the world: to kill civilians. Hinrichs, like so many other suicide bombers, failed in his attempt and killed only himself.

OK, so let's look at this. Point one might be convincing, if in fact it turns out that Joe was a convert to Islam. But was he? The only sources I've seen that say he was are either unreliable (I think NIN is as surprised as anyone any time they get something right; they're like the American Debka) or refer only to "anonymous sources", which I've learned not to trust. In contrast, named people will go on the record saying Joe was not a member of the mosque. Does anyone have a source that is not anonymous, and that is not NIN or WND or some equally untrustworthy site?

The most ridiculous evidence I keep seeing is the map showing the proximity of the local Islamic Center to Joe's apartment, the blast site, etc. Um, guys, the College Republicans, the office of the local Representative, and a lot of other things (including bars and bookstores) are equally close. That's not only unconvincing; it's blatantly illogical.

Points 2 and 3 are irrelevant if point 1 is unproven.

Point 4 is based on NIN "reporting", which I will not take without corroboration elsewhere (involving named sources).

Points 5 and 6 are essentially the same point (of course you're known to the FBI if you try to buy a large quantity of ammonium nitrate; they're not idiots, and learned to watch that after the OKC bombing), and certainly show that Joe might have intended to build a bomb. Of course, the fact that he killed himself with a homemade bomb showed that already, so I'm not sure how this is evidence of anything that isn't already proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Point 7 might be convincing, but there is no attribution and this is not something I've seen elsewhere. Is it from a reliable site, and a named source, or is it just rumor or third-hand reports?

Point 8 is a secondhand report, which is also known as "rumor", if you want to go back to the topic of naming things. The library security guard may be telling what he knows accurately, but given that he is telling about something he did not witness, it's not reliable testimony of what actually happened at the stadium, nor whether the student mentioned as running from the stadium guards was even male, never mind whether the student was Joe.

Point 9 is more rumors and unnamed sources from NIN.

So it comes to this: my prejudices lead me to believe that Joe was not a kamikaze, and a lot of people's prejudices lead them to conclude that he was. But the "evidence" being bandied about is not very convincing on either side, and perhaps it would be better to remember that no matter what else, Joe has a family and friends who are very badly affected by Joe's death. In the absence of good evidence, isn't it a bit better to wait to pronounce from on high, so as not to unfairly smear a possible innocent and his family? Otherwise, just how are conservatives any better morally, any less conspiracy-addled freaks, than the DU moonbats?

To Rusty's credit, he does at least have a disclaimer: "A word of caution is necessary here. It is definitely possible that Hinrichs did act alone and was just a sad nut with a death wish. Some of the facts presented above could turn out to be untrue, and even if true could be interpreted in a number of ways. We'll just have to wait and see. But, as of this writing I am inclined to believe that Hinrichs was part of a larger plot." I wish others were at least as responsible.

UPDATE: Lewy14 notes in the comments: "I recall reading something last year to the effect that _real_ kamikaze pilots (there were a few who went through the training and survived the war) were indignant at being compared to terrorist suicide bombers. Calling the latter "kamikaze" elevates them to the dignity of soldiers. It effectively claims that their civilian victims are legitimate combatants. Whatever else the Japanese kamikazes were, they were not murderers or terrorists."

I actually considered that. The problem is that our enemy doesn't think like we do, while the Japanese basically did. Our enemy does not have an idea that separates soldiers from civilians; they are tribal. But when a "suicide bomber" attacks a military or government target that we would regard as legitimate, then they are doing exactly what the kamikazes did. The only difference is that our enemy doesn't regard civilians as non-combatants.

UPDATE: Classical Values has great coverage of this story, by the way. I have gone through the last few days of posts, and it's exactly the tone I was trying to hit (except without the emotional involvement I have): skeptical of unsourced claims from any site.

UPDATE: Cathy Young has an interesting post today, 10/18, where she takes apart Michelle Malkin, Powerline, and Jawa Report for basically the same reasons I did. Here is the graf that had me saying, "yep":

Malkin, Powerline, and The Jawa Report claim that the blogs have not made any assertions, merely asked questions. First of all, that's a common, and rather poor, excuse for irresponsible speculation. If a prominent left-wing blog ran an item titled, "Did George W. Bush know in advance about the 9/11 attacks?", I doubt that Malkin & Co. would consider the question mark to be much of an attenuating circumstance.

I do have to say one thing in Powerline's favor: they didn't consistently refer to Joe as "Joel Henry Hinrichs III", as the other blogs did. That full legal name thing just screams "suspect", and I'm happy that not everyone jumped onto it.

UPDATE: Turning off comments, because I'm getting really weird ones now, that are complete junk (just a few words) rather than real comments.

Posted by jeff at 6:20 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

October 4, 2005

Politics Test

You are a

Social Liberal
(63% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(86% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Capitalist




Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test


(hat tip: Peeve Farm)

I would note that I am not a social liberal, but rather a social conservative. However, I believe that government's role on social issues should tend to be more libertarian than not, generating this score. But I would trend libertarian/conservative more than libertarian/liberal. Otherwise, I am satisfied with being a wart on Ted Nugent's left cheek.

Posted by Brian at 12:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 3, 2005

Harriet Miers Nominated to Supreme Court

The President has nominated Harriet Miers, currently White House Council and a Texan, to the Supreme Court. The Glittering Eye has a great roundup, with more at Wizbang here and here. Due to her job history, there is not a lot of public information on her positions, so it's hard to comment knowledgeably. Given the social-rightists' reaction, I'm guessing she's fairly moderate, in somewhat the same mould as the President. I'm OK with that, if so.

My criteria for a Supreme Court justice are these:

  • Strict constructionist
  • Wise
  • Intelligent

I don't want a conservative activist any more than I want liberal activists like Ginsburg. I want someone who will interpret the Constitution according to its plain meaning, who will understand when correct legal results lead to bad outcomes and how to deal with such cases to produce the best possible outcome consistent with the most just legal results, and who understands at more than a surface or ideological level. Is Ms. Miers such a person? No clue. But the reaction of the social conservatives is heartening. We'll have to see if the social and policy liberals also go nuts; if so, this could be a good nomination.

Now it's up to the Senate to see if they can dig out any ideological information. (Which, I might add, they'd have a better chance of doing if they started focusing on philosophy instead of particular issues.)

Posted by jeff at 2:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 30, 2005

Combat Emergency Rescue Logistics

There have been some suggestions made — apparently seriously — suggesting that the US military should be given a primary role in disaster response. That is to say, the military should be given the job of being first on the scene in a disaster, without the requirement of acquiescence from state and local officials. As Planet Moron points out, this is perhaps not the best idea going.

My first thought on improving the logistical capacity of the Federal government's civil disaster response agencies (FEMA and other DHS agencies, primarily) was to estimate the cost of maintaining even more disaster response capacity than we already have at the Federal level. The long-term cost of maintaining those resources as opposed to the requirement for them, which is running about once every 25 years by my reckoning, would be pretty high. There's also a more immediate objection: having more resources at the Federal level would encourage states and localities to do less, on the presumption that the Federal government would bail them out. This would require even more Federal resources to ensure that the government could have first responders in any community the first day. It's hard to move resources from, say, Maryland to Louisiana, or California to N. Carolina, so you'd need regional duplicates of much of your capacity. Not only does that cost, it also makes response slower, because the larger bureaucracy required to manage that kind of infrastructure will inevitably move more slowly because of the weight of the overhead that has to be dragged along.

So, bad idea. But what about beefing up local response capabilities? There's some justification to that, in fact quite a bit of justification to that, but it's probably not a good idea to do that at the Federal level. In addition to the redistributionist aspect of such a scheme, there's also the simple fact that California will prepare better for earthquake response than the Federal government would, and Louisiana would similarly prepare better for hurricane response than the — — sorry, I forgot for a moment that we were talking about Louisiana. Remember the saying about getting the government you deserve? I bet if Louisiana had called an election in Baton Rouge for the day of the hurricane, they would have gotten those buses moving.

Anyway, it might be a good idea to have the Federal government set up to handle responses to events unlikely to hit anywhere, and equally likely to hit any given place when they do, like having chemical decontamination facilities and such. But other than that, there's not much wrong with the setup we have now, assuming the local and state officials do their jobs. And frankly, that's a job for the voters to manage: note that Texas' response was significantly different to not only Rita, but prior hurricanes as well. Compare last years' hurricane response to Ivan (NOLA dodged that bullet and the local and state governments muffed that one, too) with the prior years' response to Claudette (admittedly smaller).

But I was thinking about logistics, and how you could improve materiel stockpiling and delivery at any level, and it occurred to me that we don't need to beef up our logistics capacity at any level, really. All we have to do is take advantage of our wonderful economy, and get contracts out in advance from both state and local agencies to companies like Wal Mart (supplies, warehousing, and transportation), Federal Express and/or UPS (time-critical transportation), Safeway and other grocery chains (supplies), REI and other sporting goods chains (supply). Since these companies (and others) have the right supplies and the capacity to deliver them quickly to any area, we could contract to take over as much as necessary of their supply and logistics as we need, essentially redirecting what is already in the civilian economy.

The companies could price this based on their expectation of the risk of business loss and the cost of goods that would likely be consumed. They would have a guaranteed income stream for doing nothing, as long as nothing needed to be done, and the overall spending by government would be much lower than if government maintained all of this stuff on its own. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems sensible and win-win to me.

UPDATE: Tim Worstall notes another place where government use of the economy works. (Hat tip: QandO)

Posted by jeff at 5:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 26, 2005

Naming Conventions

Jay Tea is trying to figure out, if the other side in the Western debate about what to do about terrorism is called "anti-war", what should the side that favors freedom be called? Jay Tea suggests that "pro-freedom is too vague" (and I concur), and that therefore "pro-victory" would be good. I have what I believe to be a better suggestion: how about "anti-tyranny"? After all, we aren't looking for victory over the enemy for the sake of victory over the enemy, but for the sake of advancing freedom and thereby ending tyranny in all its forms.

If you're trying to define the terms of the debate, make the "anti-war" guys explain why war is more horrible than tyranny, rather than anti-tyranny people having to explain why war is sometimes necessary.

There is an older term, much in use in the United States during the Revolution but since having become too politically overloaded to use (so overloaded, in fact, that I cannot myself take on the name): republican.

Posted by jeff at 12:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

Bad Law is Bad Law

And some laws are bad enough they deserve to be fisked. The HoNDA law is most assuredly one of them: take an activity over which the Federal government is given no control (in this case, education of children by their own parents), and specify to the States how since the Federal government doesn't control it, the States have to. Oh, the government is here to protect us, so they claim. Yeah, right. Can't we just keep the government out of any new areas of regulation? And while we're at it, can't we get them out of some that they are in, so that there's a chance that those areas can also actually succeed?

As a wise man once said, the power to tax is the power to destroy. And the power to regulate is the core of the power to tax. HoNDA needs to die.

Posted by jeff at 6:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Constitution Day

I had forgotten about it being Constitution Day recently, until Steph noted it last night. I was going to rant a little about it, until I found Rusty Shackleford beat me to it. Actually, he didn't make one point quite strongly enough: a day to celebrate the Constitution is only as meaningful as the Constitution. Given the Supreme Court's rape of the Constitution over the last 70 years, combined with our willing accession to that process, the Constitution is meaningless, and so the day is meaningless.

Steph's take is funnier.

Posted by jeff at 12:57 PM | TrackBack

August 15, 2005

Invasion?

Jay Tea at Wizbang justifies calling the illegal immigrant problem an invasion, by citing the following:

  • "large groups of foreign nationals crossing the border without permission or documention"
  • "portions of the country essentially "occupied" by those who speak a foreign language, to the point where that language has supplanted English for all official business"
  • "portions of the country that have, in essence, declared federal laws null and void within their boundaries and chosen to side with the invaders"
  • "invaders illegally getting wealth and sending it home, much like the pillaging Vikings"
  • "invaders proudly hoist the flags of their native lands"
  • "invaders commit acts of violence against Americans"
  • "Is there a nation or nations that are openly threatening us? No. But let's take a look at Mexico. They publish and give away books showing the best ways to illegally enter the United States. They give out "Matricula Consular" IDs to virtually anyone for the asking, conveniently overlooking that the only people who would need such an ID are illegal aliens -- legal immigrants already have some form of ID issued by the United States government."
  • "Do they pose a threat to average Americans? I think they do."

Jay Tea ends with this:
It's a war, folks. Just because the invaders don't wear scary uniforms and no nation or nations is announcing "we will bury you" doesn't make it any less of a threat.

While I suppose one could list a number of assonances between the immigration problem and the effects of a military invasion, that no more makes the immigration problem a war than the fact that there are similarities between taxation and slavery make taxation the same as slavery. But Jay Tea is correct that this is an invasion, just not in the sense that he means it.

The original meaning of invasion did not necessarily have a military context. The Latin root (in + vadere) means simply "to go towards" or "to go into", and it generally denoted what we would now consider migrations into new territory. (Take, for example, the invasions of Ireland.) In fact, the current meaning of the word invasion comes from the similarities of effect between military invasion and population invasion. In that original, classic sense, the immigration problem is an invasion, and there's no need to resort to extended use of assonance to justify the use of the term.

Posted by jeff at 3:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 14, 2005

State Sanity II

Dave Schuler and Mark Safranski have written on the State Department reforms I noted last week. Both are worth reading.

I think it's fair to say that we need to significantly alter the State Department's institutional biases, or reassess the role of the State Department. For example, letting the State Department handle only relations with nations that are already free, while creating a new agency or international body designed to work with non-free countries. As it is, State simply doesn't have the mentality to deal with reality in really tough places, without simply accepting those conditions as "the way it is". State careers between rampant realism and rampant idealism, without ever looking at how the US is or is not served in the long run by how State implements US foreign policy.

And that's a shame, and I'm glad to see the administration addressing it. I hope the reforms work.

Posted by jeff at 5:25 PM | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

Conflicts of Interest

When it became known that Jamie Gorelick, the Clinton administration official responsible for the "wall of separation" between intelligence and law enforcement that was a key to the failure to detect the 9/11 plot, was herself on the 9/11 intelligence review commission, I made a comment on another blog (can't remember which) that regardless of what the commission discovered, or what it recommended, the result would be deeply flawed by the conflict of interest. Whadda ya know?

Posted by jeff at 10:48 PM | TrackBack

August 9, 2005

How To Marginalize the Left

There's one easy way to do it. Step aside and let them speak.

(hat tip: Drudge)

This kind of thing used to make me angry, but now it's so hysterical (and almost funny, too) that I actually feel sad for these people. I can't imagine living with so much rage and hatred in my heart. Do these people ever crack a smile or lighten up?

Posted by Brian at 12:25 AM | TrackBack

August 8, 2005

State Sanity?

Winds of Change delivers good news: the State Department is going to be reorganized.

“Today, protecting America from weapons of mass destruction requires more than deterrence and arms control treaties,” said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in brief remarks at the State Department on Friday when the announcement was made.

“We must also go on the offensive against outlaw scientists, black market arms dealers, and rogue state proliferators. Securing America from terrorist attack is more than a matter of law enforcement. We must also confront the ideology of hatred in foreign societies by supporting the universal hope of liberty and the inherent appeal of democracy,” she said.

To that end, the department said that pending congressional approval it would merge two existing departments to create a bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation that would focus exclusively on the threat posed by terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Officials said the State Department also intended to bolster the capacity of the Bureau of Political Military Affairs and increase the mandate of the Verification and Compliance Bureau, which provides oversight relating to international arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements and commitments, to include implementation.


There are two parts of the US government that desperately need to be deeply reformed: State and the CIA. The CIA is a subject for a different time. The State Department suffers from a number of problems. In particular, the career diplomats - functionaries, really, for the most part - come over time to identify with the group of people they are around all the time: international diplomats from other countries. And the result of this is that State concerns itself overly much with explaining the world to the American government in a finger-wagging way, and attempting to force American policy to be more friendly to their friends, who are often the representatives of other countries with whom we have vast differences. Lost in all of this is carrying out the American foreign policy, except when an internationalist president like Clinton is in office.

This is bad on a number of levels. First, it tends to undercut US foreign policy, particularly in those areas where a strong stance must be taken. Second, it increasingly separates our representatives to other countries from our own country, meaning that increasingly as their careers progress and these diplomats become more senior, they are also increasingly unable to explain America and American positions. Third, and in some ways most disastrous, it is not uncommon for senior diplomats to work diligently to undercut American policy, either by leaking damaging information, or by giving advice tailored to the conclusion they hope to see enacted into policy, or by not supporting the policy while in contact with foreign representatives. The end result is that State is often an obstacle to implementing American foreign policy, rather than an asset.

The reforms as laid out in the ISN article will be useful, but they don't go far enough (well, neither did the intelligence reforms go far enough; it seems to be a failing of conservative governments that they are not willing to radically overhaul failing government agencies). In particular, they don't address the fact that we need diplomats who are a part of the nation's mainstream in the same way that we need an Army that is part of the nation's mainstream. I would like to see civil service procedures reformed to prevent diplomats from becoming a permanent fixture. This would likely involve a return to a patronage system, with turnover at each administration. This causes problems of novice mistakes and lack of institutional, which is one reason that it was abolished in the first place, but I think that this could be overcome by separating the State Department employees into two categories: country and regional and policy experts, who are under the current civil service rules and have only an advisory role, and diplomats and others in contact with foreign governments on a regular basis, who would have a policy implementation role and would be changed out with each administration. In other words, turnover at each administration needs to reach deeper into the State Department, in order to keep the State Department representative of the nation it represents.

Posted by jeff at 9:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 2, 2005

Fools and Charlatans

Isn't it sad that I'm reduced to supporting fools and charlatans in public office, to avoid frauds and incompetents?

Posted by jeff at 4:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 1, 2005

What Would We Do Without Howard Dean?

Does anyone know how Howard Dean gets from the parallel universe in which he lives into ours? It's a mighty neat trick!

[Dean] also said the president was partly responsible for a recent Supreme Court decision involving eminent domain.

"The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is 'okay' to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is," Dean said, not mentioning that until he nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court this week, Bush had not appointed anyone to the high court.

Howard, Howard, Howard. That stuff you smoke must be really good!

How Bush is in any way responsible I have no idea, and Dean doesn't say. I can only assume it's because everything is Bush's fault.

As for the "right-wing Supreme Court", I know I don't need to remind anyone that the Court's three conservative members opposed the Kelo decision, the four liberals supported it, and the two moderates split.

Sadly, the MSM is totally ignoring the story. So only those of us who read blogs will ever know of this, and that's a shame. I think all Americans should be able to enjoy the comedic pronouncements of the head of the DNC.

Posted by Brian at 9:48 PM | TrackBack

History's Greatest Monster

VodkaPundit summarizes Jimmy Carter.

(The quote I used for the title comes from Futurama.)

Posted by jeff at 3:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

That's Rich

Kevin Drum makes an interesting comparison:

Republicans lined up to denounce the IRS as "Gestapo-like" and a law was quickly passed that handcuffed agents and slashed the budget for audits and enforcement, especially against high-income taxpayers. It was a boon for the rich in the same way that it would be a boon for drug dealers and street criminals if Congress slashed the budgets of local police departments.

Am I to infer that to Kevin, the rich are like drug dealers and street criminals in that they will absolutely commit crimes unless forced not to by the overwhelming force of the government? Ummm... I don't think so.

I am all in favor of having IRS auditors, lots of them. But not as the situation now stands. The tax code is so complex that it is not possible for an ordinary person to follow it. As a sole proprietor (that is, I own my own business, but am not shielded from liability and my income is not differentiated from the company's income), the taxes are terribly difficult to do. And I get to do them four times per year, followed by sending a big check to the government. Get it wrong in any way - miss an instruction in the tens of thousands of pages of IRS rules and regulations, misunderstand a rule that is contradicted or modified in a completely different place, get bad advice from the IRS itself - any of these things could result in massive fines, on top of the payments of taxes. Complying fully with the tax code is simply impossible unless you have one employer, no dependents, and virtually no deductions. Otherwise, your options are to claim as little as possible to ensure that you don't get it wrong, and thus pay higher taxes than you owe under the law, or face ruination if you mess up.

Now, if the tax code were to be simple, like Forbes' proposed flat tax ($x consolidated deduction per adult and $y per child, z% of all money over that is what you owe in taxes), I'd be happy to let the IRS audit as many people as they wanted whenever they wanted. But in the meantime, it's simply wrong for the government to abuse citizens under an assumption of guilt, which (contrary to Kevin's apparent belief) is precisely what the IRS was doing before the Roth hearings and their aftermath.

Just as an example, assume that Forbes' flat tax comes with a $15000 deduction per adult and a $2000 deduction per child, and a tax rate of 15%. (You'd have to manipulate those numbers to get a revenue neutral system.) This means that a single, childless person pays no tax unless their income exceeds $15000, and a couple with two children would pay no taxes unless their income exceeded $34000.

Let's say a couple with 2 children make an income of $50000, and another couple with two children make an income of $250000. For the first couple (lower middle class), their taxes would be $2400. For the second family (upper middle class), their taxes would be $32400.

There's no reason taxes couldn't be that simple to figure.

Well, there is: such a simple tax makes it very difficult to manipulate people's behavior and votes using the tax system. Also, it puts social security and medicare back into normal government spending, which further reduces their power as manipulative institutions.

So make that, there's no good reason taxes couldn't be that simple.

Posted by jeff at 2:26 PM | TrackBack

July 25, 2005

Defense in Depth

One of the things that really bugs me is that people tend to think very thinly - even supposed experts. Sometimes, I suppose, that is simply a result of not being willing to say what they really, think, because it would be unpopular. I prefer to think that people are Machiavellian, rather than dumb. (Evidence suggests I'm probably giving too much credit.) A key example, the one that got me writing this, is immigration.

I am a strong supporter of immigration. I think that it should basically be legal for anyone (with a few exceptions, like terrorists or organized criminals or people who have been expelled) to come to the US, for any or no reason, with next to no requirements except that we know who they are and where they are, so that we can get hold of them if we need to. I think that to make this possible, it should be very, very easy to immigrate legally to the US. Would this lower our standard of living? Temporarily, it undoubtedly would, as labor supply overbalanced labor demand, particularly at the low end.

On the other hand, if we have really open trade policies and minimal subsidies (for example, if we had only reciprocal tariffs to balance tariffs and subsidies from particular places), then the balance would be quickly struck with the rest of the world, and we'd grow in synchronization (as we do internally in the US, for the most part). This would be good for all concerned.

With all of that taken into account, we don't live in that world. And it's true, whether we like it or not, that our immigration policies are such a mess that it's easier to get and stay here illegally than legally. This will last until shortly after we figure out that coyotes smuggled a group of jihadis over the border, and they afterwards carried out a mass casualty terrorist attack. But for the moment, the proponents of illegal immigration (however much they deny it) have the field.

OK, but we have these laws about immigration, and as a matter of curiosity, I'd like to think about how we could enforce them, to prevent the aforementioned terrorists from getting and staying here. And here's where the bad thinking comes in. Most people I've been able to find recommend that we go after the employers, or that we build a wall on the border, or some other magic bullet method. Here's something that I've learned about magic bullets in my life: there aren't any. Perfection simply isn't attainable except in very, very limited areas for very, very limited times. Try going to the store to get something, and see how many times such a simple trip goes wrong due to a flat, or the store being out of stock, or forgetting your credit card.

The only kind of defense that works is a defense in depth: it is necessary to put so many different layers between your core and that which you want to stop, with different characteristics (both strengths and weaknesses) in each layer, that one of the layers will catch any given attack or effort. If we want to stop illegal immigration, we need to do all of these:

  • Make legal immigration easier for non-criminals and non-terrorists (or terrorist supporters). This includes such efforts as guest worker programs, as well as dramatic reductions in the wait times and paperwork necessary to come here.
  • Patrol the borders much more vigorously, land and sea.
  • Make deportation of non-citizens who do not have legal documents illegal unless they make a valid claim for asylum.
  • Make that deportation fast.
  • Make deportation ironclad: do not release illegals from custody until they are in their destination country.
  • Heavily fine any employers who hire illegal immigrants.
  • To catch such employers, offer a conditional amnesty: the first illegal immigrant who turns in a particular employer, provided they are otherwise eligible to be here (ie: would not be kept out if they applied legally to immigrate), gets citizenship short-circuited, while the rest of the illegals that work there are deported.
  • Do not give automatic citizenship to children born in the US: only if their parents are here legally should they be given citizenship.
  • Require proof of legal residence before issuing any government identification or providing any government services.
  • Hold liable, and fine, anyone who knowingly aids an illegal immigrant in remaining in the country.

There are more things we could do, really, but this would go a long way towards fixing the immigration problem.

If, that is, we cared about fixing the immigration problem. My hunch is that we, as a society, don't.

UPDATE: Mark in Mexico notes one part of the problem that I mentioned above: illegals who are caught get released with an order to appear before the court for a deportation hearing later. Guess how many show up?

Posted by jeff at 9:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 19, 2005

The Best You've Got?

OK, let me make sure I'm up to snuff on the Wilson/Plame thing: the current set of allegations, once all of Wilson's lying and the media's resultant sensationalism has been taken away, is that Karl Rove confirmed a reporter's prior knowledge (and apparently common knowledge on the Washington social circuit) that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

Come on, guys, is that the best you've got after six years of relentless digging into President Bush's campaign and administration?

Perhaps you have information on how the President's wife profited enormously from investing someone else's money in futures? No, wait, that was Hillary.

OK, but surely the President and his wife bought some waste land that somehow became quite lucrative? No, that was the Clintons again. Give me a minute here.

Didn't the President receive immense contributions from foreign countries, including one that considers us its "main enemy", during his campaign? Didn't he then make sure that missile technology could be exported to that country? And didn't he lie about that? No, sorry, Clinton again.

OK, certainly there must have been some kind of situation where the President was trading access to the White House and top government administrators in exchange for campaign cash? Darn it, that was Clinton, again.

Firing non-political staff members to replace them with cronies, in violation of Civil Service rules? Nope, still Clinton.

Surely, surely, you have something on the biggest scandal of all: the President perjuring himself (that is to say, illegally lying) in front of a grand jury, and then attempting to obstruct the investigation into that perjury? Nope, still Clinton.

Taking FBI files and "losing" them, only to be found once certain investigations were completed and the files could no longer be used as evidence? Nope, Clinton.

How about the Agriculture Secretary accepting bribes and committing fraud. Wait, no, that was Clinton's Agriculture Secretary, Mike Espy.

Attacking fringe religions with armed force? No, that was Janet Reno. How about taking children from their relatives and sending them to tyrannical a communist dictatorship? Oops, Clinton and Reno again.

Pardoning campaign contributors? No, still Clinton.

There has to be something we can get the President on. How about putting a price on the head of political enemies, helping criminal organizations to launder drug money, bribery and fraud, obstruction of numerous investigations, trading promotions for sexual favors, or fabricating charges against political opponents at critical times in order to derail criticism? Those were all Clinton, too.

The Democrats really need to get on the ball here. They're starting to look like pikers at generating scandals.

Posted by jeff at 9:57 AM | TrackBack

July 15, 2005

Perspective

John Cole of Balloon-Juice has a point that needs to be made:

While it is fair to characterize the over-the-top hysteria from some quarters on the left regarding Rove as, well, over-the-top hysteria, some perspective should be offered. If it turns out that someone in this administration really did 'out' an agent, I want their head on a platter. That it might have been done for petty political revenge just makes it even more odious.

Yes, exactly. I have not to this point see convincing evidence that a government officer "outed" a clandestine agent for political reasons, but if it happened, such a person should be fired, prosecuted and reviled.
But, it is worth examining- What if this had happened during the Clinton administration? What if it was Paul Begala or someone like him who was accused of outing a CIA agent? What would the right be doing?

If your answer is anything other than what the left is doing, only louder, you are fooling yourselves. Rush Limbaugh would have talked about nothing else for 3 years, and unlike 2004, this WOULD have been the chief issue of the election.


Yes, that is pretty much the case on the Republican reaction. Neither party has clean hands. The Republican partisans were bat-shit insane when Clinton was in office, and that was before blogs were available to amplify their voice.

But something interesting about the election of 2004. Since 9/11 happened before that election, the major point of the debate would have been the same as in the real election: the administration response to 9/11. And this issue would have been a talking point, but a minor one.

Posted by jeff at 10:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More on the Rove/Wilson/Plame/MSM Kerfuffle

What is the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame story about anyway?

Initially, the kerfuffle was that someone in the Bush administration had "outed" CIA covert operative Valerie Plame in retaliation for her husband, Joe Wilson's, op-ed in the New York Times criticizing part of Bush's rationale for going to war. Revealing the identity of an undercover agent, knowingly and purposely, would be a crime, i.e., someone in the administration may have commited a crime. Apparently, the source was Karl Rove. But did he "out" an undercover agent, which is what this was all about in the first place?

According to Joe Wilson on CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity."

So let's see, Novak blew her cover, but she didn't have a cover to blow when he did it.

So what's this story all about again?

Well, for the media, their tack has certainly changed. If you read their questions, it doesn't even matter whether Rove commited a crime. All that matters now is if he even dared mention her name, because, you see, Bush said he would fire anyone involved in this matter, and Scott McClellan said Rove, among others, was not involved in this matter. The only problem the MSM seems to have, is remembering that this matter was "outing" a covert agent, not simply acknowledging her existance as a CIA employee.

Posted by Brian at 1:35 AM | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

Patriots? Hell, No!

So Karl Rove was wrong about liberals? The media aren't on the other side? Don't question their patriotism?

I don't question: I deny utterly that a significant fraction of the American Left is at all patriotic. I categorically state that a significant fraction of American and Western media is on the other side.

Posted by jeff at 11:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 6, 2005

Sturm Abteilung

Brian Tiemann dug further into the Kos fever swamps than I could stomach, in their reaction to a satire that is not even actually about the Left. (If a satirist makes fun of the enemy adopting your rhetoric, and you jump on that as if the rhetoric were legitimate and it's not the enemy, but your domestic critics that are to be hated and pilloried, well, let's just say I don't so much question your patriotism as outright deny that you have any patriotism at all.)

The Sturm Abteilung (the original brown shirts whose ferocious thuggery has been defined down by Al Gore, no less) were brutal thugs who specialized in the use of violence to disrupt the peaceful assembly of their political opponents, demagoguery of their opponents and vilification of their positions by associations with hated or feared groups, and outright slander and demonization to promote the Party as the savior and defender of the People. All that's missing, at this point, from the Kos Kidz is the presence of an armed faction. And before you argue that the Left doesn't like guns, remember the Weathermen.

Posted by jeff at 12:54 AM | TrackBack

July 3, 2005

George Bush is a Good Man and the Democrats Can Go to Hell

It's almost Independence Day and President Bush and the Democrats have each issued their weekly radio addresses. Here is the summary of the addresses:

President Bush is asking Americans celebrating the Independence Day holiday to thank the U.S. men and women serving in the military, especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Party criticized the president for what it says is a failure to be honest about the cost of the Iraq war.

Is there no shame in the Democratic party? Are they really so bitter, so clueless, so damn UNPATRIOTIC, that they cannot put partisanship aside for one weekend to honor, literally, the defining moment of this nation's history.

Everything we have been, are, and will be is interwoven with the ideals espoused in Declaration of Independence - "that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness - That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it".

While these four truths do seem self-evident to us today, they were radical, indeed, revolutionary ideas at the time, neither practiced nor espoused by any nation on Earth.

And the best the Democrats can do is attack Bush on Iraq. In fact, having Patty Murray being the one making the attack. You remember Patty Murray, right? Let me refresh you:

In December 2002, Murray made the following controversial comments before a high school audience at Vancouver, Washington:
Osama bin Laden has been very, very effective being we've got to ask, why is this man so popular around the world?
Why are people so supportive of him in many countries? He has been in many countries that are riddled with poverty.
People don't have phones, no sewers, no roads, no schools, no health care, no facilities just to make sure their daily lives are OK.
He's been out in these countries for decades building roads, building schools, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. It made their lives better.
We have not done that. We haven't been out in many of these countries helping them build infrastructure.
How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?

I did not want to be partisan this Independence Day, but this got me angry.

To all those who still love America and cherish her and respect her, I wish you all a Happy Independence Day!

Posted by Brian at 10:58 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 1, 2005

Supreme Court Nostradamus

Pennywit saves us the trouble of listening to the Democrats and Republicans about the upcoming Supreme Court fight. Of course, he neglects to point out the inevitable personal attacks (is Anita Hill available?) from the Left, and the inevitable personal attacks in reverse (yeah? CHAPPAQUIDDICK!!!) from the Right.

Besides, I've got popcorn and a comfy couch and satellite TV with 2 C-SPAN channels. This is going to be fun.

Posted by jeff at 8:09 PM | TrackBack

"almost as if God has spoken"

Nancy Pelosi is, if you'll forgive my language, a fucking idiot. Actually, she's a fucking idiot even if you don't excuse my language. I have to hand this to her though, some people really do treat Supreme Court decisions as if they were graven in stone tablets and passed down from the top of Mount Sinai. Still, Pelosi's complete inability to even grasp the outline of the issue and the possible legislative responses to it (including ones that don't alter the decision, but comply with it, since the decision explicitly said that the decision of when taking property from A and giving it to B is justified is a matter for the legislatures to decide!) is more stunningly stupid than I generally expect from politicians - even Democrats currently in the leadership. This was actually less intelligent than Dean's rantings! I feel my IQ draining just thinking of how stupid Pelosi is, so I'll stop ranting now.

Posted by jeff at 5:38 PM | TrackBack

Supreme Court Vacancy

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has resigned, which means that President Bush will appoint the first new Supreme Court justice in about a decade (the last was Justice Breyer in 1994). While President Clinton's nominees - even Ruth Bader Ginsburg - sailed through their confirmation hearings, the Democrats showed with Clarence Thomas and, earlier, Robert Bork and (of all people) David Souter that they are looking for blood on the floor, a knock-down drag-out festival of hatred and lunacy.

Make lots of popcorn; this will be fun.

UPDATE: Good coverage at Wizbang and Blogs for Bush.

And Confirm Them has an interesting statistic on timelines. Short version: two to three months' worth of popcorn will be needed.

Posted by jeff at 11:58 AM | TrackBack

June 30, 2005

Supreme Choices

I'm with Jay Tea: I want the next two Supreme Court justices to be about as moderate - in the other direction - as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Then, it will be time to get some true centrists onto the Court. (For that matter, it will likely be time in another 8 years or so to change the parties all around in the executive and legislative, too, like diapers, and for the same reason.)

Posted by jeff at 10:52 AM | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Well, I'm Glad They Cleared That Up

So, the Supreme Court has issued rulings in two Ten Commandments cases. In a stunning act of lucid, well-reasoned logic, the Court has decided the Ten Commandments are acceptable in some cases, but not in others. What wisdom! Thank you, Supreme Court!

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that displaying the Ten Commandments on government property is constitutionally permissible in some cases but not in others.

Thank you for clearing that up!

(Justice Stephen) Breyer was the only justice to vote with the majority in both cases

Now we know who to thank for his consistency of thought.

The court said the key to whether a display is constitutional hinges on whether there is a religious purpose behind it. But the justices acknowledged that question would often be controversial.

Well, at least we have such a wise oligarchy to answer these questions. Who better, I tell you, to know what lies in the hearts of other men. All hail, the Supreme Court!

He (Justice Souter) said it was important to understand the Constitution's Establishment Clause

Well, we're in trouble now.

The rulings mean thousands of Ten Commandments displays around the nation will be validated if their primary purpose is to honor the nation's legal, rather than religious, traditions.

Again, I'm glad our nine Supreme unelected officials have this duty. Only they know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Or is that the Shadow?

Location also will be considered, with wide open lots more acceptable than schoolhouses filled with young students.

Good grief! Is there any point in asking where in the Constitution they found the case for this reasoning?

"It means we'll litigate cases one at a time for decades," said Douglas Laycock, a church-state expert at the University of Texas law school, noting the decisions provide little guidance beyond the specific facts of the cases. "The next case may depend on who the next justice is, unfortunately," he said.

Well, it apparently won't depend on the Constitution.

Breyer, who provided the fifth vote in the holding, did not join Rehnquist's opinion. As a result, his separate concurrence, concluding that the Texas display was predominantly nonreligious and thus constitutional because it sat in a vast park

It was constitutional because it sat in a vast park?!? What? No, seriously, WTF?

God help us all!

Posted by Brian at 1:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 24, 2005

No Excuse

Randy Cunningham is a war hero, a fine pilot who became America's first ace in Viet Nam, by shooting down three enemy aircraft in one day (he had downed two others earlier). The last of these kills was originally thought to be against "Col. Tomb", top Viet Namese ace with 13 kills (who apparently didn't actually exist), and was a very close-run battle. In fact, this last battle is one of the scenarios included in "Chuck Yeager's Air Combat" flight simulator, though there you have an advantage, because the simulated American F-4 has guns, which Cunningham's real F-4 did not. (Yes, that's correct, Randy Cunningham got in a low-speed dogfight with a more maneuverable enemy aircraft flown by an expert pilot, and he only had missiles to work with, and at that had fired off several in earlier combat on that mission, and beat him!)

All of that does not in the least excuse now-Representative Cunningham if he is indeed guilty of corruption.

(hat tip: My Pet Jawa)

Posted by jeff at 12:17 PM | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

Bye Bye Private Property

In the ongoing obliteration of the written Constitution, the Supreme Court has rendered the 5th amendment meaningless. (More here) I haven't seen the actual decision and dissent yet, but it's clear from the articles that the Supreme Court has just decided that government can take your private property to give to another private person simply by declaring that this is "for the public good". Interestingly, while this decision goes with the previous decision on medical marijuana (that is, that activity conducted by one person entirely within one state and involving no exchange of value is "interstate commerce" because Congress says it is), the lineup of votes was somewhat different.

Here is what the fifth amendment says, by the way:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

So what the Supreme Court has just said is that the point I emphasized above serves to limit government only in that the government has to pay for the property - at a value it sets.

I believe that it is inevitable that people will, at some point soon, begin to resist the government in cases like this with armed force. A "rule of law" that doesn't protect individuals obligates them to protect themselves. It would be better to call a Constitutional convention, or to amend the Constitution to strictly limit the powers of government (by removing the ability of the Court to expansively interpret the Constitution to mean anything they want it to), but there is little apparent support for this course. Natural human frustration, then, will lead where it will, as it generally does.

UPDATE: More from Dale Franks, Glenn Reynolds (more here), David Bernstein, Kevin Aylward, Orin Kerr, Jay (Accidental Verbosity), Captain Ed, Will Collier and others.

On thinking more about this, there are two things I find even worse than the thought that our Constitution as written is meaningless: the Court just handed city officials everywhere the ultimate fundraising tool, because the opportunity for corruption inherent in city officials selling your property for campaign cash is unlimited; and we've tried in the West a system where the wealthy can simply expropriate land at need, reducing the non-wealthy to indentured tenants in fact if not in word - it's called feudalism, and it didn't work out too well, all things considered.

I have to hand it to the Supreme Court: in the past year they've managed to so debase the Constitution as to make me a supporter of the right of secession from the United States. I've certainly become convinced in fact of what I had mentioned often before in theory: we need a Constitutional Convention.

UPDATE (6/24): Lots more reaction to the Kelo decision here.

And as I noted yesterday, it's only a matter of time before the incursion of the State run up against someone like Francis Porretto.

UPDATE (6/24): I can't resist, sorry: this brings a whole new meaning to the "takings" clause. Good parody by My Pet Jawa.

Also, Steven Taylor at PoliBlog has a fine post on the topic:

In short: this radically increases the power of local governments and diminishes individual rights–indeed, gives local governments the power to seize the homes of private citizens because said government thinks it is a good idea.

I however, think it is a pretty bad idea


Posted by jeff at 11:36 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

Not Again!

The moment the idiots in the Republican party manage to pass a flag burning amendment, I will be booking a trip to Washington DC, where I will burn copies of the Constitution on the steps of the Capital. Go ahead, keep on amending.

Posted by jeff at 6:33 PM | TrackBack

Doing Without the UN

Francis Porretto points to an over-the-top editorial about the possibility of the President using a recess appointment to appoint John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.

Frankly, I hope that the President doesn't use the recess appointment power for this. I certainly recognize his Constitutional right to do so. I certainly recognize that the Democrats are not remotely interested in being reasonable so long as they are in the minority (and wonder why the President didn't use the recess appointment power to appoint judges). I just think it would be, um, instructive to see how little difference it makes whether we even have an ambassador to the UN.

It wasn't always so. There was a time when the UN could have been expected to take concrete actions to do good things. That time is long past.

Posted by jeff at 10:42 AM | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Free Advice

Per Transterrestrial Musings, we have a reported death from electoral trauma:

Alas the stolen election of 2000 and living with right-winged Americans finally brought him to his early demise. Stress from living in this unjust country brought about several heart attacks rendering him disabled.

Please allow me to offer my advice to any of you who feel trapped in an unjust country that steals elections away from your preferred candidate: move to a more just country, renounce your American citizenship, and find your inner peace. You've already decided that America isn't worth your life in other ways; don't let it take your life now.

Posted by jeff at 1:00 PM | TrackBack

June 17, 2005

Kudos to Howard Dean (Yes, Howard Dean)!

While I am more than happy to criticize Democrats for saying stupid things, it's important to give them credit when they say or do the right thing.

A handful of people at Democratic National Headquarters distributed material critical of Israel during a public forum questioning the Bush administration's Iraq policy, drawing an angry response and charges of anti-Semitism from party chairman Howard Dean on Friday.

"We disavow the anti-Semitic literature, and the Democratic National Committee stands in absolute disagreement with and condemns the allegations," Dean said in a statement posted on the DNC Web site.

and,

According to Dean, some material distributed within the DNC conference room implied that Israel was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

One witness, former intelligence analyst Ray McGovern, told Conyers and other House Democrats that the war was part of an effort to allow the United States and Israel to "dominate that part of the world," a statement Dean also condemned.

"As for any inferences that the United States went to war so Israel could 'dominate' the Middle East or that Israel was in any way behind the horrific September 11th attacks on America, let me say unequivocally that such statements are nothing but vile, anti-Semitic rhetoric," Dean said.

There is a segment of the left with a predilection for anti-Semitism, and many with great disdain for Israel in general. It's good to see Mr. Dean speaking out against it.

Posted by Brian at 11:24 PM | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

Why the Democrats Don't Get my Vote

You know, there are times that the Republicans really, really bug me. And before the war, I would generally vote Libertarian, because at least I thought they'd do little harm if they won. (Since the Libertarians are isolationists even now, I cannot vote for them while we are at war.) On the other hand, the Democrats don't have a chance as long as this is their answer:

If you want to convince these guys that their economic interests lie with Democrats, we need to offer them something real: local clinics, free healthcare, tax rebates, something. Right now, I don't think these voters believe that Democrats are actually promising anything that would make a genuine difference in their lives.

Yes, yes, the Democrats want to offer everyone everything except freedom and prosperity. And they want to take away prosperity from those who have it to buy votes from those who don't, all the while stagnating as Europe has done. A pox on their house.

Posted by jeff at 10:56 AM | TrackBack

June 9, 2005

Silently Weeping at Where America is Heading

Via InstaPundit, information that Pete Sessions (R-TX) [sadly, not my rep, so that I could vote against him], is up to no good:

A Texas Congressman has introduced a bill that impose a nationwide prohibition on municipally-sponsored networks.
Dubbed by the Author, Representative Pet Sessions (R-Texas), the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005, the bill prohibits state and local governments from providing any telecommunications or information service that is "substantially similar" to services provided by private companies.

The bill, HR 2726, is similar to a host of state bills pushed by telecommunications companies aimed at fending off municipally-run wireless networks. Some of those bills, most recently one in Texas, have been stalled in state legislatures.

The telecommunications operators say that such networks represent unfair competition while municipalities claim that the services are needed to promote business and close the gap between digital haves and have-nots.

According to Sessions' on-line biography, he is a former employee of Southwestern Bell and Bell Labs. The bill will first be considered by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.


You know, I used to think that in the very remote event I were ever compelled to take up arms to defend Liberty, dual sovereignty, a government of enumerated powers, negative rights or to prevent tyranny, it would be because of the overreaching statist Democrats. Now, I am coming to think that in the hopefully-unlikely event I am ever compelled to take up arms for those reasons, it will be because of the overreaching statist Republicans.

Posted by jeff at 9:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Constitution as a Political Weapon

Glenn Reynolds is not excited with the filibuster fights, because he doesn't feel that it matters. Sadly, he's correct in a way. With even Scalia voting that the Congress can do anything it wants, so long as Scalia agrees with it, it's becoming increasingly clear that the written Constitution is meaningless in practical effect.

But this is a problem. If we don't have a meaningful written Constitution, then it is impossible to limit the government's power: any limitation could simply be interpreted away as it is convenient to the government to end the limitation. In other words, whether we are free or tyrannized is entirely within the hands of the government. Our only hope is that a government which already has no accountability to the citizens, and increasingly has no limitations on its powers, is composed of benevolent tyrants. If you are a Republican, think of Bill Clinton with no checks on his power. If you are a Democrat, think of Richard Nixon with no checks on his power. If you are not scared of that thought, I hope your chains rest lightly on you.

What all this comes down to is that appeals to the Constitutionality of a particular government policy, law or regulation are now strictly utilitarian. There is no principled reason to point to the Constitution, since in practical terms it is not observed; instead, the Constitutional appeals of both sides have to be seen in the light of whether they advance or retard that side's policies.

So let's just say, for the sake of argument, that we cannot compel strict interpretation via Constitutional amendment, cannot get strict interpretationists on the bench, and cannot change the general public acceptance of government overreach. What then?

Actually, we don't have to guess: the filibuster battles show us that what follows logically is already in progress practically. The key to power becomes the Supreme Court and (to a lesser extent) the circuit Courts. Whichever group has the majority of judges on the Court will see its policies upheld, and the opposing party's policies struck down. (Since few judges are truly lockstep, the process is slowed, but not stopped.) Given that neither party has any protection other than holding that Court majority, each party will do anything possible to prevent its opponents from stacking the Court, and to stack the Court itself.

In other words, the filibuster battles are the only rational outcome of a system in which only pure power protects you from your opponent's whims. Events will take a turn for the worse. When a vacancy opens in the Supreme Court (which could happen as early as this month), the bloodletting will make the filibuster battles pale in comparison (and will likely subsume them).

There's only one step further that must be descended: the recognition by Republicans that it is in their interest to appoint more justices like Scalia, rather than more justices like Thomas. And I suspect that realization will not be long in coming.

Posted by jeff at 2:21 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 8, 2005

Homeland Insecurity

I bury my head in my hands and weep. OK, that is a bit of an exaggeration: I don't actually expect perfection in any human endeavor. What bugs me about border security is that we, for what appears to be crass political reasons, are unwilling to even make a serious attempt to secure our borders. What, I wonder, will the politicians and activists so intent on letting illegal immigrants get here and stay here without let or hindrance say, once terrorists exploit our weak borders and kill numerous innocents? I suspect they will continue whistling past the graveyard, while blaming it all on someone else and stepping up the pressure to legalize all illegal immigrants "so that this can't happen again." Then, then I will be weeping.

Posted by jeff at 9:08 PM | TrackBack

A Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment

The implications of the Supreme Court's latest farcical decision have gotten me thinking about the Constitution again. Actually, I do that pretty constantly, sometimes at high volumes and levels of agitation, as my long-suffering but wonderful wife can attest. But specifically, I'm wondering if there's a Constitutional fix that would work; that is, a fix so plainly worded as to make impossible its abrogation by a Supreme Court steeped in its own arrogation of power to set the Constitution to mean anything the Court wants it to mean. And I think there is.

The problem whose solution I'm looking for is summed up by Justice Thomas in his dissent:

If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption
(not because it is interstate commerce, but
because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce),
then Congress' Article I powers -- as expanded by
the Necessary and Proper Clause -- have no meaningful
limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs,
guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to
"appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating
commerce."

[snip]

If the majority is to be taken seriously, the
Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees,
clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50
States. This makes a mockery of Madison's assurance to
the people of New York that the "powers delegated" to the
Federal Government are "few and defined," while those of
the States are "numerous and indefinite."


So, how is it possible to return to a Federal system of dual sovereignty and enumerated powers, and to a meaningful Constitution? The first requirement is to realize that any amendment that would have this effect, must first pass through the current process for amending the Constitution. This means that such an amendment would fail if it did not reflect what people want from the government.

The first requirement is that any such amendment should either utterly discard Marbury v. Madison, or should codify it. If Marbury v. Madison is left unstated, then any restrictions in interpretation imposed upon the Court immediately make Marbury v. Madison untenable as precedent, and thus moot themselves. The more likely course is that such restrictions would be ignored. Therefore, the aspect of Marbury v. Madison that gives authority to the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of the Constitution should be codified. Because this is an awesome power to wield, the power should be limited in the codification. For example:

In any Case arising pursuant to Article III, the Supreme Court and any duly-constituted inferior Courts shall have the power to invalidate any Law or other government act which is in contradiction to this Constitution and its Amendments, and to impose such remedy as appropriate to redress the Law or act. However, such remedy shall only be binding on parties to the Case, or to their heirs or assigns as provided by law. No Law or act of government may be invalidated if that Law or act adheres to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may any Law or act of government be used to impose penalties on any person, if that Law or act does not adhere to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

Now that we can meaningfully restrict the power of the Court, yet still reach a (relatively) final resolution on the meaning of the Constitution, at least in a legal sense, any such amendment must contain language that compels a narrow interpretation of the Constitution, so as to prevent sophistry from trumping liberty. For example:
The Court may not, in invalidating a Law or act of government, in any way abridge powers granted according to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may the Court, in upholding a Law or government act, grant additional powers not present in the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

The above language would reverse the concentration of sovereignty in the hands of the Federal government, as that concentration contradicts the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution (specifically, Amendments IX and X).

But there are problems with this language as it sits. The language would invalidate most laws passed in the last 75 years, as challenges came up to Social Security, the drug laws and so forth. Heck, I'd be among the first to file to overturn all campaign finance reform laws, particularly BCRA, as violating the first amendment. The desires of the people in regards to their government have changed, and this needs to be reflected in the Constitution, rather than imposed by unelected and virtually unaccountable courts. Many of the laws that would be invalidated should in fact be included in the Constitution, as they are powers the people by and large want the government to assume. There also has to be a time for transition, because it takes time to amend the Constitution under any scheme (well, any amendment scheme that purports to protect the Constitution anyway) and some of the programs and powers that would need to be codified could have disastrous side effects if simply removed without transition. Again, think of Social Security here.

Another problem is what to do about lynchings. Where a State refuses to enforce its own laws, to the detriment of its citizens (and by extension, of US citizens), how should this be handled?

The language of the amendment would have to be expanded to cover these cases, because otherwise the amendment could not muster enough support for ratification.

In order to allow the Constitution to evolve more quickly, to meet the changing desires of the people for what their government should be allowed to do and disallowed from doing, the amendment process needs to be revamped. The current process requires 2/3 of both houses of Congress to propose an amendment, or 2/3 of all State legislators to call a convention. The amendment only becomes valid when 3/4 of the State legislatures or of Conventions in 3/4 of the States have ratified the amendment. That makes the bar so high that the Constitution is rarely amended. While generally a good thing, the limits are probably set too high, and that is the primary reason, I think, why we have taken to using an unwritten Constitution and largely ignoring the written one. (The amazing thing about a common law system is that, for the most part, that actually works!)

I see three things that can be done: make the existing Congressional process easier; add a process where the people as a whole can more easily propose amendments (this allows large-population States a way to get what they want); make the existing Constitutional Convention process easier (this allows politically-similar low-population States a way to get what they want). I think all of these ideas are viable, so how about language for all three:

The Congress, whenever three fifths of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of three fifths of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, or, upon the presentation to Congress of referenda proposing Amendments in States whose population is three fifths of the whole population of the United States, shall propose such Amendments, which, in any Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, or by Conventions in two thirds thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Yes, that's pretty much a straight rewrite of Article V.

In order to ensure that the amendment process has time to work before programs and powers simply disappear, the amendment needs to include a transition period after an existing law is challenged. Note that some transition period is available simply because it would take a while for this amendment to go through the process, and at the same time there would be no requirement to even begin the process of adding a program or power by amendment until a case challenging the power or program works its way through the courts. This should do it:

Any Law or act of government, passed or undertaken prior to the ratification of this Amendment and invalidated by the Court, shall continue in force after such invalidation for one month for each year of the Law's or act's time in effect.

Note that this means that a law passed in 1935 would be in effect for 70 months (almost 6 years) after it was invalidated, assuming such an amendment were ratified and a law invalidated under it, all in this year. This would give a lot of time for an amendment process to take place. Sufficient time, in fact, to actually come up with an amendment to, say, allow Social Security. More recent laws, being less firmly established, would have less time to be amended or to have requisite powers added to the Constitution before they passed out of effect.

In order to protect people from a State's unwillingness to protect its own citizens, the amendment needs language that allows a person to bring suit against their own State for failing to uphold its laws. For example:

The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in any case arising from the failure of a State to grant to any of its citizens the equal protection of the laws of that State.

Note that I have stayed away from policy in this language. This is not a wishlist for which policies should be codified (in fact, I generally don't think that policies should be codified at all). The only intent is to restore us to being a federal republic, and then let the will of the people take its course from there.

So how can this be improved? When I'm happy with it, I intend on contacting my Senators and seeing if I can't get them to introduce it (or something like it). After all, if you don't ask, the answer is no.

Here is the full text, all in one place:

Section 1.In any Case arising pursuant to Article III, the Supreme Court and any duly-constituted inferior Courts shall have the power to invalidate any Law or other government act which is in contradiction to this Constitution and its Amendments, and to impose such remedy as appropriate to redress the Law or act. However, such remedy shall only be binding on parties to the Case, or to their heirs or assigns as provided by law. No Law or act of government may be invalidated if that Law or act adheres to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may any Law or act of government be used to impose penalties on any person, if that Law or act does not adhere to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

Section 2.The Court may not, in invalidating a Law or act of government, in any way abridge powers granted according to the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified; nor may the Court, in upholding a Law or government act, grant additional powers not present in the plain meaning of the words of this Constitution and its Amendments at the time that they were ratified.

Section 3.The Congress, whenever three fifths of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of three fifths of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, or, upon the presentation to Congress of referenda proposing Amendments in States whose population is three fifths of the whole population of the United States, shall propose such Amendments, which, in any Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, or by Conventions in two thirds thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Section 4.Any Law or act of government, passed or undertaken prior to the ratification of this Amendment and invalidated by the Court, shall continue in force after such invalidation for one month for each year of the Law's or act's time in effect.

Section 5.The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in any case arising from the failure of a State to grant to any of its citizens the equal protection of the laws of that State.


Posted by jeff at 2:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

How to Tell that Howard Dean is Off the Deep End

When I read the first paragraph of this entry at InstaPundit, it actually took me a moment to realize that it was satire (from Scrappleface, of course). Howard Dean has been so over the top lately that it sounded plausible.

Posted by jeff at 8:21 AM | TrackBack

June 7, 2005

Sets and Subsets

The lack of logic in this is stunning:

The great-great-granddaughter of a black South Carolina farmer who was killed by a white mob nearly a century ago will be on hand next week when the Senate belatedly apologizes for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation.

Doria Dee Johnson, an author and lecturer on lynchings, says she will be in the chamber next Monday when the Senate will take up a resolution expressing remorse for not stopping a crime that took the lives of at least 4,742 people, mostly blacks, from 1882 to 1968.

The measure apologizes and expresses “most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching.”

The Senate resolution, sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and George Allen, R-Va., notes that nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in the first half of the 20th century and that seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching. But Senate filibusters blocked anti-lynching legislation for decades, Johnson said. “It will be nice to have an apology from that same body,” she said.


(hat tip: Best of the Web)

OK, let me get this straight:

  1. Murder is an unlawful killing.
  2. Lynching is an unlawful killing committed by a mob where the murder victim is hanged.
  3. Lynching is therefore a subset of murder, and a ban on murder is a ban on lynching by definition, just as a ban on wearing shirts would encompass wearing plaid shirts.
  4. Every State has (and had during the period in question) laws against murder. Therefore, lynching was already outlawed in every State during the period in question.
  5. The Federal government did not (during the period in question) have laws against murder, because there was a time when Federalism meant something, and murders would have been tried by the States under which they occurred.

So, is the Senate saying that they should have acted to prevent a subset of murders, but not all murders? Are they saying that State murder laws were ineffective then, and so they should have killed Federalism sooner? I mean, if they want to make a sensible apology, maybe they should apologize that we were at one time a federal republic. At least that would be intellectually consistent. By apologizing for not federalizing punishment of a particular type of murder, whose victims were generally of an easily-identified group, all the Senate is doing is pandering to that group.

At least bills like this are meaningless as law. Unless, of course, it comes to the Supreme Court; then there's no telling.


Posted by jeff at 3:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 6, 2005

We Certainly Handle the Koran Better than we Handle the Constitution

The Supreme Court has once again utterly abrogated is role in protecting the Constitution, by ruling in Raich that activities that don't cross state lines and are not commercial are nonetheless subject to Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. (hat tip: InstaPundit, of course) I'll leave it to David Bernstein to enumerate why this decision is bad; I want to tackle something related. Here's his summary: "It seems we do to some extent live under a system where the personal preferences of the Justices, having nothing to do with the history, text, or logic of the Constitution, dictate when the Supreme Court will or will not intervene to overturn particular regulations."

The Supreme Court arrogated in Marbury v. Madison arrogated to itself the power to be the final word on the Constitution. This power is not assigned by the Constitution, and the Founders in refusing to assign the Court an exclusive power to interpret the Constitution left that power in the hands of the people. How, though, does the Supreme Court enforce such decisions? In a much derided but very accurate Clintonian phrase, other people comply as a matter of "policy and comity." Supreme Court decisions are Constitutionally only binding in certain kinds of cases, and then only in the cases themselves, rather than in broad terms.

The fact that that last paragraph seems so at odds with reality is because Marbury v. Madison was a powerfully argued and brilliantly crafted decision, and since that time it has been extraordinarily rare - in fact, I can't find an example - for anyone to simply ignore the Court. But the Constitution enumerates certain powers to certain branches of government, and reserves unenumerated powers to the States or the People. The Supreme Court has developed a bad habit since the 1930s of disagreeing with the Constitution, and simply imposing their will. Why did it require a Constitutional amendment to ban alcohol, but not drugs? Why is an activity that does not cross State lines and does not involve any commercial activity subject to Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause?

Because, and only because, the Supreme Court says so and nobody disobeys them. I don't have any opinion on medical use of marijuana per se, but I do have an opinion on overreaching on the part of the government. If California decides to simply ignore the Supreme Court and continue to allow the medical use of marijuana, barring State and local law enforcement from interfering, ordering State courts to dismiss cases under the Federal statute, and if necessary ejecting Federal agents attempting to enforce the law, I will certainly support their right to do so. It would set a powerful precedent on its own: the power to enforce the Constitution lies not in the Supreme Court's benevolent intentions, but in each of us as individual citizens of a free Republic.

Unless, of course, we're ready to just give up.

UPDATE: And if the Democrats can convince me of a few things, this plan could get my vote. (hat tip: No Silence Here) What they have to convince me of:

  1. They are serious that we are at war, and that they will prosecute that war as a war.
  2. They are serious, and would put in place concrete measures to ensure that the Democrats would not revert to their own long-cherished habit of perpetuating government power over the rights of the citizenry, or extend the Federal spending power still further.

I'm not sure they can convince me of point 1. To convince me of point 2, it might be a good idea for them to start proposing Constitutional amendments limiting government power and taxing/spending authority. I look forward to them making a serious attempt to convince me.

Posted by jeff at 1:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 4, 2005

Does Howard Dean Support Private Social Security Accounts?

Stephanie links to this article about Howard Dean and John Edwards ranting to far-leftists.

My favorite bit is this gem:

...pension plans "ought not to be controlled by companies, they ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to."

Dean is speaking of private pension plans. Social Security is also a pension plan. Does Howard Dean believe those pension plans "ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to" instead of by the equivalent of said companies, i.e., the government? If not, why not? Or does he perhaps think those pension plans are being controlled by their rightful owners. Goodness knows, if you die before 65, the government gets to keep your Social Security "contributions" for themselves. Sounds like "they" do own "our" pension plans, doesn't it?

Mr. Dean, I agree. The working people of America should control their pension plans. Hope to see you joing the president soon to make it happen.

Also intersting was this bit that Steph referenced:

Speaking about election reform, he said it is unconscionable for voters to have to stand in lengthy lines at polling places given the demands of work and family.

Yes, long lines are too much to ask to maintain freedom in the republic. How inconvenient! Maybe Howard Dean can give this message to the Iraqi people while he's at it, let them know what is too steep a price to pay to vote. Then he can give that message to the people of China, North Korea, Cuba, Viatnam, most of Africa, much of the Middle East, etc. - all of the world that still yearns to breathe free.

This guy really is too good to be true for Republicans. Posted by Brian at 12:10 AM | TrackBack

June 3, 2005

Peak Oil

It's very much worth reading Kevin Drum's Peak Oil series (summary here). In particular, if you understand the underlying issue (which basically is that oil is not an infinite resource), his plan in part 5 is worth reading and debating.

Even if Kevin is too pessimistic about new oil supplies coming online, which he may be, his proposals as a general rule make a lot of sense. I think Kevin has missed (or I have missed in reading the series where he addresses it) some optimistic factors.

The most important of these is that markets work. As oil increases in price, the cost of alternatives (synthetic lubricants, biofuels like biodiesel, vegetable-derived alcohol and so forth) decreases in relative terms. At some point, the price of oil is such that these alternatives predominate, and the infrastructure begins to switch over. This reduces aggregate demand for oil, which then stabilizes at the new (higher) price. And assuming that the availability of oil continues to drop, the alternatives will take over more and more of the uses of oil, because oil will continue to get more expensive.

Eventually, the end result is that we don't use oil for hardly anything, but at the same time this results in a higher energy cost overall in the economy, and thus lessened economic output. Of course, this could be overcome by productivity gains elsewhere, and we've got a pretty long time horizon to solve the problems, so it's likely that this will not look as bad to people living through it as it will to economists looking back at old data fifty years from now.

Direct taxes on oil products is probably not a good answer, and here is why: the intent is to prevent increasing the cost of energy to the economy, or to delay that as long as possible. Taxes artificially raise prices, and thus artificially lower consumption. Good that consumption is lowered, but all you've really done is to start now on the increased costs. Stricter CAFE standards and not exempting SUVs and other non-commercial vehicles would be a much better response. So would increased tax credits for owning alternative-fueled vehicles, vehicles with higher mileage, hybrids and so forth.

Research into better electricity storage mechanisms - particularly high-efficiency, lightweight, low-cost, easily disposed of or recycled batteries - would be a good place for the government to spend research dollars. The economic driver for this is a ways out right now, but producing a better storage mechanism before the market demands it would have some advantages: cars could be converted to electricity more effectively, meaning that sources other than oil could be used to generate power for vehicles; space and military applications abound; and it's likely that such research would lead to breakthroughs in unrelated areas.

Finally, it would be good to explore distributed power generation. We used to have solar panels on my Dad's house in the 1980s. They never generated enough to repay the cost, and I cannot think how much landfill space they will generate when they are removed (that house won't last forever). But there are good cases for using solar and wind energy as supplemental systems, along with on-demand water heaters and other technologies like heat recapture. With all of that said, the market will take care of this as energy prices over time rise to be more expensive than these technologies are and will be. Still, if we put some research into these areas, it's possible that we could find ways of reducing their current costs, and thus making the market action kick in faster.

Posted by jeff at 12:47 PM | TrackBack

June 1, 2005

Good Choices for the Supreme Court

It is likely that there will be three - and there may be as many as four - Supreme Court vacancies during the Bush presidency. ProfsBlawg suggests Richard Posner, an able jurist, a clear thinker, and probably widely acceptable (to the extent, anyway, that the Democrats don't decide to utterly destroy any nominee Bush puts forward). (hat tip: InstaPundit) This is a good choice.

I'd like to mention three others: Alex Kozinski of the 9th circuit; Miguel Estrada, whose nomination to the DC circuit was filibustered to death by Senate Democrats, apparently for being Hispanic and conservative; and Janice Rogers Brown of the DC circuit, also filibustered for years, again apparently for being a conservative and a minority, but recently confirmed.

I know that Brown and Estrada, in particular, would raise the Democrats' hackles. That doesn't bother me much. They both seem to be well-qualified jurists who would make good decisions, which is what I care about in Supreme Court justices.

Posted by jeff at 10:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

My Tipping Point

Wizbang has more on the FEC's proposed attempts to comply with McCain-Feingold by regulating the ability of people to publish political commentary supportive of or in opposition to political candidates within 60 days before an election.

Let me be perfectly clear:

  • I will not accede to any government regulation of my political speech.
  • I will say what I want about politicians - or anyone else - when I want and where I want (provided, of course, that it is not someone else's property).
  • I will refuse to comply with any law enforcement or other executive agency that attempts to censor or compel my speech on politicians, issues and affairs in the news, and any other matter that I consider to be protected speech (in other words, I'll accept content-neutral restrictions where they make sense, such as not yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater).
  • I will refuse to comply with any court that attempts to pass judgement on me under this or any similar - that is, blatantly unconstitutional - regulation or law. I will attempt to avoid any sentence, and will ignore any court orders, in furtherance of such attempts.

I am not quite to the point that I am willing to pick up a gun and resist such attempts by force; I think that civil disobedience is more effective in such cases - and it's certainly less likely to leave my wife widowed and my children fatherless. I used to know that there was a point where I would enter into armed rebellion against the government - it's been necessary before, even in the US - but I couldn't imagine what would tip me over that edge, what our government could do that would force that decision. I don't wonder about it anymore: this isn't my tipping point, but I can see it from here.

Let me be more clear: if the ability to speak on political matters is in any way limited, other than in minimal and content-neutral ways, then "shall make no law" is as meaningless as "for a limited time". Once the Constitution's words become utterly meaningless, as they are now perilously close to becoming, then there is no protection of liberty in the Constitution. If there is no protection of liberty in the Constitution, then it fails the meta-test of the purpose of government as laid down in our Declaration of independence. If the government has failed in its purpose, it must be abolished or reformed by any means necessary and convenient, including if necessary the use of armed force. (A Constitutional Convention would be my preferred method, if we can't simply pass an amendment that decrees the Constitution to mean what it says in the plain language of the time in which it was adopted, and compel that amendment to be observed.)

Posted by jeff at 6:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 31, 2005

Deep Throat - and I Don't Mean the Movie

I was just wondering the other day when Deep Throat - the inside source to Woodward and Berstein during the Watergate scandal - would be revealed. It will be interesting to see where the revised histories end up after studying Mr. Felt's involvement in more detail and tracing the trails around him. It would be unfortunate, though, if the inevitable search for feet of clay were to overshadow the moral courage Mr. Felt showed in coming forward with the information that led to Nixon's resignation.

Posted by jeff at 2:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

Party, Party Everywhere but not a Vote to Cast

Mark is right: the Democrats will have no serious chance at sustained victories in national offices until they take national security issues seriously. And it's a shame that Democrats won't apparently take national security issues seriously, because the truth of the matter is that the Republicans will be very, very bad for America if there is not a strong opposition party to keep them from doing stupid things.

And right now, the Republicans are starting to do stupid things (trying to save the life of Terry Schiavo, for instance, with a Federal law naming her alone, rather than stating a broader principle). And right now, I still can't vote for a Democrat, despite the Bush administrations lamentable positions on stem cell research, abortion, Saudi Arabia and a host of other issues. Until I can trust the Democrats (or whatever opposition party rises to the top if the Democrats schism) on national security, I cannot vote for them in a time when sustained prosecution of an ideology-based war is required.

All I can do, until that time, is hope that either the Democrats reform, or that they split, or that the Republicans go against everything I know about human behavior and act in the pure national interest instead of their narrow political and financial interests.

Posted by jeff at 12:52 AM | TrackBack

May 23, 2005

Filibuster Follies

Normally, I wouldn't care one bit about the whole filibuster mess in the Senate right now. The only reason that I do care is that President Bush is nominating strict constructionists - as far as I can see an absolute prerequisite for maintaining a shred of Liberty - and it is those judges who are being blocked. Well, the Republicans caved to the Democrats, and so a couple of judges will get through now, and no more circuit court or Supreme Court judges that Bush nominates will get onto a court unless they are "living document" types. Unless...

There is one and only one way at this point for the Republicans to get strict constructionist judges approved: actually make the Democrats filibuster. In other words, rather than just letting the gentlemen's agreement on filibusters stand - that once someone declares the intent to filibuster, they don't actually have to do so - the Republicans will have to make the Democrats filibuster each and every nominee for real. Otherwise, the Republicans have handed control of the confirmation process to the Democrats without reservation.

And frankly, we have enough activist judges, thanks, without adding a few more.

UPDATE (5/24): Francis Porretto puts it well:

But of course, the main event still looms in our future: the need to replace between two and four Supreme Court Justices over the next three years. Anyone who thinks the Democrats will permit a Republican president and his Senate backers to select those justices without the bloodiest and most vicious struggle in the history of parliamentary politics simply hasn't been paying attention. Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas were warm-up frames for what the Left will do at the next Supreme Court nomination.

After all, Roe v. Wade is at stake!


Posted by jeff at 8:40 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 20, 2005

James Carville, Call Your Office

Josh Marshall makes an odd point about the filibuster battle going on in the Senate right now:

Another point, for anyone who's actually interested in the constitution, its history and its future, is the degree to which this whole operation is quite clearly being engineered from the White House. This isn't just about the internal workings of the senate. It is also about, indeed principally about, the executive clipping the wings of the Congress, part of the parliamentarization of the American government under the President Bush that we discussed back on November 5th.

What makes this such an odd point is that it's hardly new. It's been the case since at least the 1930's that the executive branch has been heavily involved in directing Party strategy (on both sides), that the two-party system was taken to be a given, and that the division in political party was accepted to be the locus of the balance of powers, rather than between the executive and legislative branches. It's been the case since at least the 1960's that the Federal and State divide was no longer going to be part of the balance of powers, and that this too would be subsumed into the Party-balance equation by federalizing most State lawmaking realms. It began to be assumed, with the Bork nomination, that the judiciary, too, would become part of the Party-balance battle. This was made explicit after George Bush's election in 2000, when the current kerfuffle over judicial nominations to circuit courts (and the Supreme Court, when that finally comes up) began.

It's not as if the Clinton administration didn't direct the activities of the Democrat Party in the House, the Senate and pretty much everywhere else: in fact they were (in)famous for how closely they controlled Party politics. So, OK, if you're looking for partisan spin (which Marshall generally is), that is maybe a fine talking point (I begin to see where the blog name comes from...), but it's hardly a point worthy of debate or scandal.

Posted by jeff at 6:23 PM | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

More Stupid Quotes by Politicians

Ah, the filibuster. Nothing has done a better job lately of allowing politicians to say annoyingly stupid things.

Example one comes from our old friend Harry Reid (D-Nv).

"The attempt to do away with the filibuster is nothing short of clearing the trees for the confirmation of an unacceptable nominee to the Supreme Court," said Democratic leader Harry Reid. He accused the president of an attempt to "rewrite the Constitution and reinvent reality" with his demand for a yes-or-no vote on all nominees.

Pray tell, Senator Reid, where in the Constitution does the filibuster appear? Where does the Constitution require a 60 vote super majority to approve judicial nominations? Let me help you out Senator Reid. The answer to both is "nowhere".

But in your defense Senator, I am sorry that the President is asking so much of you. How dare he rewrite the Constitution in a way that demands members of the upper house of the legislative branch of government to fulfill their constitutional obligation to advise and consent on judicial nominees in the form of a vote of either yea or nay. The bastard!

Not to be outdone, though, was Rick Santorum (R-Pa).

Countered Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, "It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942." He said Democratic protests over Republican efforts to ensure confirmation votes would be like the Nazi dictator seizing Paris and then saying, "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city. It's mine."

Ah yes, the time honored tradition of invoking a comparison to Hitler in a debate. Now that supporters of the filibuster (as a tool to block judicial nominees) know that their position is the equivalent of Hitler in 1942, I'm sure they'll rush right on over to your way of thinking, Senator Santorum. Thank you for enlightening them as to their ignorance.

I expect the mindless invoking of Hitler from the kooks on the left; I am embarassed to see it come from the right. This debate is in no way equivalent to Hitler or his actions at any time. Please stop the Hitler analogies!

And one more note on the Dem's bad faith.

Senate officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Reid had been forceful in private discussions with Democrats, trying to make sure that any compromise would maintain their right to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees while foreclosing Republicans from attempting to change the filibuster procedure.

Senator Reid, perhaps it would be useful to look up the definition of "compromise" at your earliest convienance.

Posted by Brian at 9:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

Well, Yeah!

Harry Reid finally said something I can agree with:

"Right now, the only check on President Bush is the Democrats' ability to voice their concern in the Senate," said Reid, D-Nev. "If Republicans roll back our rights in this chamber, there will be no check on their power. The radical, right wing will be free to pursue any agenda they want."

Yes, that's absolutely correct. The Democrats have squandered control of the executive branch and both branches of Congress, through bad politics, bad behavior and bad policies. Having done so, the only remaining powers they have are their residual judicial appointments (those judges still on the bench who were appointed by Presidents Clinton and Carter) and the thin protections of the Senate filibuster rule and the possibility of crossover votes from non-Party-line Republican Senators like Senator McCain.

They have brought themselves to this position, and now they are - again through bad politics, bad behavior and bad policies - going to strip themselves of their ability to filibuster nominations in order to prevent the Republicans from closing the gap in sitting Federal judges. Once the filibuster is gone, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court and the circuit courts are packed with judges who will be more right-wing than if the Democrats had used the filibuster (if you'll pardon the pun) judiciously.

You see, if the Democrats had only filibustered the truly "out there" judges (as they claim, quite transparently ridiculously, to have done), the Republicans would not feel the need to take away the filibuster. In other words, the Republicans would have had to have put forward more moderate judges than they now will, because "restraint" is a word whose meaning is apparently unknown to the Democrat Senators (along with "shall make no law", apparently).

The current likelihood, assuming that the Republicans do not overplay their hand and the Democrats don't wise up, is that Republicans will continue to make slow gains in the House and Senate, will generally hold the Presidency and will thus generally advance the number of Republican judges over the next decade or two. The gains in representation will overwhelm the Democrats' next-to-the-last line of defense: crossover votes. And this will, in the end, leave only one way for the Republicans to be controlled: the inevitable stupidity of politicians who have no effective opposition, leading to their eventual defeat in the polls.

Unless, of course, the Democrats' constant pushing of the doctrine of the Constitution as a "living document" means that the by-then heavily Republican Supreme Court may simply - and with ample Democrat-provided means - decide that election returns are to be counted directly by the House of Representatives.

No, that almost certainly won't happen, but the seeds of such a mess were sown by the Democrats, who are even as I type barreling down the road to powerlessness and a one-Party state, which no sane person wants to see. Well, no sane person who has read any history, in any case.

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September 14, 2003

Budgeting

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Somehow, I don't think Newsweek is very serious. After all, the money you spend on insurance against a house fire could be spent on food. The money you spend on health insurance could instead be spent on educating your children. And, yes, the money we spend occupying and reforming Iraq and Afghanistan could be spent on day care centers or hiring firemen.

The question that is reasonable is not, "How does this compare to other items in the budget?" (and note: they did not compare to other items in the budget larger than $87 billion, such as Medicare), but "How does this compare with national needs and goals?" Unless Newsweek intends to say - and they might - that we'd do better fighting the war on terrorism by using Federal money to fund community health care than we would by spending the money on the occupation and reformation of the nations at the heart of our enemies' territory, then these comparisons are meaningless. Worse than that, they do not even attempt to make a distinction between valid uses of Federal money (such as defense) and invalid uses (such as spending money on individual AIDS patients).

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September 13, 2003

Childish Politics

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Peeve Farm has an interesting post about how easy it is to come up with cute Lefty slogans, but how much harder it is to refute them or develop equivalent conservative or libertarian slogans. There is a reason for this, I think, and that reason is...reason.

It appears to me that there are certain default positions - intuitively arrived at if no external education intervenes - which are common across a large fraction of mankind. I think of these as being childish positions: most children would arrive at this position without external prompting. This is not meant as an insult, and many of these positions actually survive the application of logic, reason and experience.

The problem is that many of them don't. Part of the reason for this is that we have evolved socially and mentally in a very different environment than has existed for the past 150 years, and our modern world presents many problems that our intuition has not evolved to solve. The notion of fairness that seems common to humans, for example, is equality of results: a child doesn't expect to be treated differently than their siblings by their parents, regardless of the actions of the children involved; indeed a child who feels that their parents show preference to a sibling would be highly resentful. Adults, though, generally realize that a person who does not work hard does not make as much money as one who does work hard. We begin to learn that our actions have consequences.

There are similar notions about religion, economics and interpersonal relations which tend to take hold unless education or experience intervenes. Statism, for example, cannot survive any serious study of history; nor can Communism survive any serious study of economics. For that matter, logic and experience argue that welfare (a fairly central piece of the Peeve Spot post) has benefits over the short term, but massive costs over the long-term, if that welfare is sustained and large. Similarly, progressive taxation makes intuitive sense (the rich people have more money, so they can afford to pay more), but the counterintuitive notion of flatter taxes actually produces more revenue (ever notice that even the die-hard Left in Congress doesn't propose returning to a 70%+ tax at the high end?) is actually the correct one, if your goal is to raise revenue as efficiently as possible while not destroying the economy.

The best cure-all for incorrect intuition is education. This is one of the places where our public education system has failed miserably: it tends to reinforce our incorrect intuition, rather than to correct it. The second-best cure-all for incorrect intuition is logic and reason, but again this is not taught well in schools. The last resort for learning these lessons is experience, but experience has two flaws: it's frequently painful to acquire, and for some things (such as evaluating different economic systems) it takes more than a single lifetime to gain sufficient experience. As a result of this failing on the part of public schools, and the fact that most Americans are products of public schools, and the fact that colleges are increasingly dumbing down, and the further fact that most people never learn how to educate themselves; as a result of all of these acting in concert, it is very easy for an American or European to grow up basically uneducated. (Never, as Mark Twain asserted, confuse schooling and education.)

The result of this is that you tend to have two very vocal extremes, on the Left and the Right, who are philistines at best. These groups push for some of the most hare-brained schemes to become official and national policy: statism, isolationism, restrictions on liberty and the like. But most of the people fall in the middle, and by and large the dividing line between moderate conservatives and moderate leftists are those issues they have chosen to become educated about.

It would take more than a human lifetime to be educated about everything, so we pick and choose what we educate ourselves about. Those people who tend to educate themselves about economics, foreign policy, good governance and the like tend towards conservatism or libertarianism. Those people who do not (who choose, for example, to educate themselves primarily about sports, fashion, entertainment and the like) tend to remain in the somewhat leftist column, because that is where their intuition leads them.

I believe that this has also been a big reason why the country has been moving towards a more moderate-conservative view over the past 20 years, and particularly over the past 2: Viet Nam and the malaise afterwards forced an education on a great many people, and 9/11 has compelled an even more painful evaluation of ourselves and our society. This is why, since 9/11, there has been a large number of shifts to the right, most famously by Christopher Hitchens: forced to evaluate classical liberalism and the Enlightenment against statism and religious repression, honest classical liberals have gone from moderately (or even quite far) left to centrist.

But it is so much easier to chant, isn't it? Even if it is childish.

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September 9, 2003

Valerie Plame

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I haven't wanted to say anything about the whole Valerie Plame affair, because it seems so overblown, and because some people are being just a bit over the top about it. Fortunately, I don't have to write about it, because "Jane Galt" has said everything I would have said already.

Actually, there are two things I'll say briefly. The first is that, should it transpire that senior administration officials are actually blowing the cover of CIA agents - even desk analysts - those officials should be fired - not allowed to resign - and very publically, and the President should publically deliver an apology for the misdeeds of officials in his administration. The second is that, should it transpire that there is far more smoke than fire here, and that in fact nothing quite so dastardly as the intentional blowing of operatives' cover for petty political reasons actually happened, the critics who are all over the administration on this issue should apologize in the same fora where they are smearing the President.

Frankly, I don't expect either "should" to come about, though I think it very likely that this is a "more smoke than fire" issue by a long way.

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August 24, 2003

Why I'm Not Republican - or a Democrat

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Most people just assume I am a Republican. They are wrong. Here is an example of why: the Republicans are once again proposing to ban gay marriage - by Constitutional amendment. (hat tip: Michael Totten)

There are three problems with this:

  1. What business does the Federal government have determining what constitutes a marriage?
  2. Presuming the Federal government had some power over the definition of marriage, why on Earth do they want to put something that minor and piddling in the Constitution?
  3. How much damage is done to the fabric of the nation by undermining equal treatment under the law?

The fundamental, most basic and deepest underpinning of America is simply this: all citizens are equal before the law. This is the key feature that enables "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to have meaning; for how is life protected, when it can be arbitrarily taken away? What does liberty mean when it is contingent on your behavior fitting certain norms defined by others? How can one even attempt to find their own path to happiness, when they can be arbitrarily deprived of whatever would make them happy?

Without the equal protection of the law, no other right can last very long - not even the most basic and self-evident truths hold, when the government gets to define who is able to enjoy these rights, and who is not, based not on their individual actions, but on some professed belief or membership in some group. This was the singular blemish on the Constitution in the first place: certain groups (Negros and Indians) were defined as unprotected by the law, because of their racial grouping. We fought a war, and slaughtered thousands of our fellow citizens, to get rid of that blemish.

Now we are attempting to add that blemish back in, by Constitutional amendment and Supreme Court decree: it's OK for the government to judge on the basis of race, or on the basis of choice of life partner. Bullshit! It is not OK; it is patently un-American.

Let me be clear. If a person wants not to have a gay person in their house, they are entitled to exclude them. If a private college wants to allow only white students, they are entitled to do so. If the Congressional Republicans want to pass a Constitutional amendment saying that gays cannot choose their life partner, the Congressional Republicans can take a flying leap (as well as a refresher course in equal protection). If the Supreme Court wants to declare that some races are more equal than other, it can also take a flying leap (and the same refresher course).

And isn't it interesting that these two issues came up so close together? Because the would-be dictators on the Right and the would-be dictators on the Left each find equal-protection religion when it comes to the other side's issue. I'm sure that the Republicans were outraged that the Supreme Court even considered breaching the sacred equal protection to give special rights to some groups over others, while the Democrats are equally outraged that the Republicans would consider breaching the sacred equal protection to some groups over others. The only difference between them is that they back different groups.

A pox on both of their sanctimonious and hypocritical houses.

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August 23, 2003

Hurricane Shaniqua

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Apparently, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (Moonbat-TX) is disturbed that hurricanes are not named after black people, and so this is somehow racist. Yeah, that's how we're keeping the blacks down: we don't name massively destructive storms after them. Ha! Back to the plantation with you!

Looking at the 2003 list of names, I suppose that means that Bill Cosby and Danny Glover don't have black enough names. Oh, well, suppose they'll just have to change their names then. There doesn't appear to be a Sheila in the next few years - maybe that's why she's upset?

Please, please, please can we have redistricting now, so that her seat will go away? Please?

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Meaningless Elections

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It has been said that the key to making democracy - more particularly representative democracy - work, is to make sure that election results are nearly meaningless. After all, if having your side lose the election means that you end up in prison or have to watch your family be killed while your house burns in the background, any rational person will make damned sure that the results of the election are determined well in advance, and will go to great lengths to ensure that the vote is ignored. The alternative is worse.

One of the great strengths of America at its founding, and for its first century, was that elections were nearly always meaningless. The most that would happen is that a few policies or political appointments would go against you, and you'd get another shot at changing the situation 2 or 4 or 6 years later. In fact, probably the only presidential election whose result really mattered prior to the 1930s was the election of Abraham Lincoln. Had the election gone the other way, it's likely that succession would have been allowed, and both sides knew that going into the election. This is why the Southern Democrats made clear in advance that a Republican presidential victory would mean civil war. And Lincoln's victory triggered that war, almost certainly, just as a Democratic victory would have likely resulted in a separation without civil war, and likely would have made America into a continent more like Europe, with armed borders and contending, rival states entering into frequent (if smaller) wars.

But that was the exception, because let's face it: the stakes were small. There was a minimal government, with very limited powers, which basically could undertake foreign policy, regulate actual commerce between the States, and settle inter-state legal or policy disputes. That was about it. The real power - the ability to change people's lives, power over policies and power to achieve - these were to be had at the State and local levels, to the extent they could be had at all. And if you lived in a State and it went to the dogs, you could always move to another State if you couldn't win back power later.

But FDR changed all that. By the end of his time in office, as a result of his policies during the Depression and WWII, and then with the beginning of the Cold War during Truman's presidency, this had all changed. Suddenly, in a span of less than one generation, the Federal government had begun to batter down the powers of the States, arrogating them to itself. The Federal government took direct control of a large proportion of national wealth through direct taxation (thank you the Progressives!), and used it to create large and unkillable programs like welfare, social security, medicare/medicaid, a large standing Army (arguably a good thing, given that we couldn't really step back into isolationism after WWII), increasingly intrusive regulations on business and personal conduct and the like.

By 1955, beyond any shadow of doubt or possibility of reform by changing the party in office, power was concentrated in the Federal government. The loss of political, financial, and Constitutional constraints on Federal power were gone. (Respectively, these were removed by direct popular election of all Senators, the power of direct taxation, and Supreme Court decisions that allowed the Federal government to do almost anything under the names of interstate commerce or national security plus the arrogation of legislative power to the courts.) Now, when an election was lost, it could mean a decade of losing elections because of redistricting. It could mean a loss of billions of dollars - which soon will be trillions of dollars due to the way our government and economy are both growing. It could mean judges who would effectively determine law for decades at least, without the ability to appeal short of Constitutional Amendment. It could mean moving the country towards socialism, or towards corporatism - with virtually no Federal office holders believing that the economy should be a truly free market. For a businessman, it could mean the difference between expansion and bankruptcy. For an individual, it could mean choosing between rights to behave socially as they wish, or economically as they wish.

In other words, elections had by the mid-1950s become important. Deadly important. And when elections become that important, they are important enough that some will choose to violate any rule or principle, to cheat and to steal and to lie, to do anything to win.

I think that this must have fallen hardest on the Democrats, because they had been effectively in nearly-complete control for almost a hundred years in the South, and more than 50 in the North, by the time that the I became interested in politics in the 1980s. With such a legacy of power, it was difficult, I think, for Democrats to give that up.

Yet the country was becoming more conservative. In the aftermath of Viet Nam (which was somehow transformed into a "Republican war") and Watergate, the public was willing to give the Democrats a virtual blank check to run the country. The result was the narrow election of Jimmy Carter, which almost certainly would have gone the other way if not for vote fraud in Chicago, which Gerald Ford (wisely, I think) did not challenge, because it would have been too divisive.

But the Carter presidency was a disaster. People remember the Iran hostage crisis, but forget much of the rest of the state of the US at the time. Interest rates were sky-high, making home ownership all but unaffordable - and moving (if you had a home) impractical. Inflation was equally out of control, and the value of the dollar was dropping like a stone. Abroad, we had given up control of the Panama Canal early, and for little benefit to ourselves, and without ensuring that the Panamanian government could actually operate the canal. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and many analysts thought that the USSR would have a warm water port and control of Persian Gulf oil within a decade. Our military was so undermanned, underequipped and demoralised that we were expected to lose any potential war in Europe, and the transition to a professional military, which was just beginning, had not had time to show its promise. The most common term used to describe the state of the US was "malaise."

In the aftermath of this disaster, Ronald Reagan was able to tap into the fundamentally optimistic nature of Americans. Reagan delivered, too: by the end of his first term, the military buildup that would eventually defeat the USSR without firing a shot was well under way; the economy had recovered and was growing dramatically (despite later Democratic attempts to declare the 1980s as economically disastrous, because of huge layoffs as the economy became more productive - note here the rise of Michael Moore); interest rates and inflation had been tamed; marginal tax rates and stifling regulation had been reduced; a series of minor wars, well and cheaply won, showed that the United States was capable of military victory; environmental quality was improving; standards of living rose dramatically. It was a good time for America.

The Democrats, who had been veering Left ever since the 1972 election, paid for Carter's failure in spades, as the country moved increasingly conservative fiscally and on foreign policy. For 12 years, the Republicans gained increasing control at all levels of government. And then, something close to unbelievable happened: a minor-state governor with unexceptional policies and views, but exceptional drive and political savvy, managed to defeat a sitting president in the wake of one of America's more astonishing military victories and in a growing economy. I think that the real reason for George Bush's loss - the cause of the checking of the country's move to the Right - was that the social conservatives overreached. People like Pat Buchanan and Billy Graham scared the fiscal and foreign-policy conservatives enough that they didn't show up to vote, or more likely they voted for Perot.

Bill Clinton was ruthless, charming, uncompromising, brilliant, nihilistic, passionate, petty, cunning and vindictive. He was able to play on the fear, uncertainty and doubt lingering over the just-ended recession and the overreach of social conservatives, and to convince voters to give him a chance. But Clinton, too, overreached - almost immediately. His policies on gays in the military satisfied no one, while his tax increases and attempt to socialize medical care scared almost everyone. At the same time, the Republicans publicly and visibly began to ostracize the social conservatives, to remove them from the decade of control they had had over the Republican Party's policy decisions. (To a large extent, this came about because of Pat Buchanan's challenge to Bush in the primaries, which likely cost Bush the election - it did far more damage than did Perot's fitful candidacy. The Republican moderates were furious.) The combination of Clinton's too-far-Left policies and the Republican reformation led the Republicans to control of the House and Senate for the first time in some 40 years, and restarted the country's rightwards drift.

I believe that it was in the wake of the Gingrich-led Republican resurgence that the Democrats decided not to lose again, at any cost. In one way, this was good, as it led to, for example, Clinton moderating his policies, and adopting welfare reform and a balanced budget after they were forced upon him. In another way, though, it has led to some terrible consequences.

In gubernatorial elections in Florida, Lawton Chiles' campaign phoned senior citizens on the eve of the election to tell them that the Republican gubernatorial candidate was going to cut their Social Security. While this was impossible for a governor to do, nonetheless the tactic worked. In Oklahoma, the then-Democratic legislature would pass unconstitutional bills just before each election to ban poll watchers, thus facilitating vote fraud. These laws would be thrown out right after the election, but a new law would be ready just in time for the next election anyway. In more recent campaigns, Democrats have substituted candidates after legally-imposed deadlines with the complicity of Democratic State judges. The Democrats have announced who would be appointed to fill a vacant seat if the Democratic candidate - who had died just before the election - were to win, campaigned all out for that outcome, and chided the Republican candidate to stop campaigning against a dead man. (Bet they wish they could take the Carnahan election back now, eh?) The Democrats attempted to rig the 2000 election in Florida, again with the complicity of Democratic State judges, against all law and precedent, then screamed that the Supreme Court selected George Bush to be President, because the Supreme Court ruled that the Florida State Supreme Court was not the Florida Legislature and could not arbitrarily determine the rules of the election after the election had been held. In Texas, the Democratic legislators have twice walked out to prevent a proper redistricting, which they had initially prevented (in the aftermath of the 2000 election) by forcing the issue into a court of their choosing.

These are just the most visible examples, among many. The thing is, though, that Republicans shouldn't get too smug. The only reason that I can see that Republicans have not done the same, is that the Republicans are the ones who are winning. But even during the Clinton presidency, the Republicans were making gains in Congress and in State governments. As high as the stakes are now, as much as the government controls and decides, it wouldn't take many years of declining influence for the Republicans to fight just as dirty. If you don't believe me, consider the extremist social conservative elements (almost exclusively Republican) and their battles over abortion (up to and including the murder of OB/GYNs who perform abortions) and putting Christian monuments in public courts.

By taking power away from the people, and away from the States, and concentrating it in the Federal government, the stakes have been raised too high to allow for a gentle loss and a peaceful handover of power, too high for there to ever be a time where the next election isn't being fought. But I think that all of this came about because of a lack of faith in the people. If we don't trust people to make their own fiscal and personal decisions wisely, or States to make regulatory decisions wisely, and instead insist on government control of every aspect of life, then we reasonbly conclude that power must be concentrated as much as possible. And this is the foundation of the policies of both major parties. The Democrats want to control our fiscal behavior, and the Republicans want to control our social behavior. With all of the power of unlimited government behind them, how could they pass up the opportunity to rule?

But that's the thing, really. We Americans shouldn't be electing rulers. We should be electing representatives and governors and presidents. And the very first and most important duty of those people should not be to accumulate control, but to shed it. The purpose of government is to protect the citizens so that they can create the economy and society they want, not to mandate the economy and society they must accept. To do otherwise is very, very un-American.

And in the end, this is why I have stated that there should be a Constitutional Convention. A country with faith in its people, with a government that has the powers the people want it to have - no more and no less - would have meaningless elections. And that's a good thing.

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August 22, 2003

I Feel Like Using InstaPundit's Mannerisms

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Heh.

It surely tells you something about the strength of the Administration when sophisticated enemies abroad look to a Democratic replacement as their only hope for survival.

Indeed.

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August 18, 2003

Humility is a Dish Best Served

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I am not frequently accused of being humble, or of keeping my opinions to myself. OK, I'll wait for a moment while friends and family get in their laugh at the understatement. Better? Fine. Anyway, I suspect that this is likely true of most bloggers. However, it is always wise to not get too steeped in one's reputation.

Phil Carter of Intel Dump is well-recognized and well-read for his analysis of and insights on military policy. He has written for several rather well-regarded papers. However, he got a bit ahead of himself today:

I should be clear: I allege no plagiarism or dishonesty here. I borrowed from Fehrenbach, and I certainly didn't come to my own conclusions about everything I wrote about. The accepted norm is to borrow good ideas where you find them, whether it's in the Washington Monthly or the Weekly Standard.

Therein lies the irony. Sen. Hutchison's politics are quite different from mine, and probably quite different than the average Washington Monthly reader. I find some irony in the fact that a Republican senator from the President's home state would seize on ideas in a liberal magazine to criticize the foreign policy decisions of the Bush Administration. But I guess that truth is often stranger than fiction.


Given that the Senator has been arguing in favor of expanding the military since well before Phil's March article - indeed, since well before 9/11 - this statement is a little over the top. Isn't it just possible that Senator Hutchison, who is quite involved in defense policy in the Senate, came to the quote independently, particularly given its wide usage? Somehow, the idea that one has to read "a liberal magazine" to recognize that the force was cut too deeply is annoying to me. Good ideas can come from all over the place, and the fact that two people who think differently come to the same conclusion is not really surprising, assuming that the conclusion is logical.

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August 17, 2003

Redistricting

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Grim suggests a fairly bone-headed idea for non-partisan districting. To be fair, at least he's thinking about the problem, which is more than our elected representatives are doing. (OK, they're thinking about the problem, too, but about how to take advantage of it rather than how to solve it.)

I am glad that Grim is at least trying to address the problem. Still, there are several reasons that the idea is bone-headed. First, it takes no account of existing political or geographic boundaries, which means that there is no way of keeping constituencies with similar interests together. Second, choosing a point and drawing the lines in the correct way will still provide an ability to somewhat rig the boundaries. Third, the proposal takes no account of the role of the courts in recent redistricting battles (what's to prevent the courts from throwing out the plan altogether and choosing their own initial point and radial increments?). Fourth, the suggestion lets the legislature off the hook. Finally, any legislation that relies on telling people to act in any way other than their best interests, and which would fail if people do act in their best interests, is destined to fail.

I proposed a solution over at Aubrey Turner's blog, in this comments to this post. Here is my full comment:

I've been thinking about this lately, too, and here's what I came up with:

1. All districts must be equal in population, using the US Census data, within 1% of the average of all districts. (That is to say, if the average is 1,345,038 people per district, no district may be larger than 1,358,488 people, nor smaller than 1,331,587 people.
2. The sum of the lengths of all inter-district boundaries must be a minima, except that the boundaries can be adjusted to match existing geographical or political boundaries.
3. No redistricting plan passed by the legislature can be challenged in court, except on a violation of either or both of the first two points, and then only if the plan passed by less than a 2/3 vote. The court's sole discretion would be to declare the plan invalid and require the legislature to re-address the issue.
4. Failure of the legislature to pass a redistricting plan within one year of the need originally arising, would result in the legislature being disbanded, a special election called, and the former members of the legislature being ineligible to stand for re-election.

This would create a process whereby the legislature's ability to play partisan politics over this issue would be reduced, the court's ability to declare a solution would be reduced, and the people would be given the final appeal should the process break down. (At the very least, the idiots not doing their job would get thrown out.)


This idea might, of course, also be bone-headed, and I could just be missing it, but I do think it a better solution than anything else I've yet seen proposed.

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August 14, 2003

Oh, My

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Tasty Manatees points to a Rutland (VT) Herald article, containing some of Howard Dean's comments just after 9/11. Dean, then Governor, apparently broached the possibility of some far-reaching civil liberties violations:

Dean said Wednesday he believed that the attacks and their aftermath would "require a re-evaluation of the importance of some of our specific civil liberties. I think there are going to be debates about what can be said where, what can be printed where, what kind of freedom of movement people have and whether it's OK for a policeman to ask for your ID just because you're walking down the street."

Dean's attacks on President Bush over civil rights are ringing a bit hollow right about now.
We need more Democrats who are willing to stand against Bush's reckless disregard for our civil liberties. As Americans, we need to stand up and ensure that our laws reflect our values. As President, I will repeal those parts of the Patriot Act that undermine our constitutional rights, and will stand against any further attempts to expand the government's reach at the expense of our civil liberties.

Apparently, though, Dean is OK with reconsidering the First Amendment. OK, then.

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Paying your Taxes

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Tasty Manatees has a great post which suggests making people actually pay their taxes, rather than withholding them automatically. I've ranted about this fairly frequently over the last several years, so just go read Ryan's article so that I don't have to start up again.

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August 11, 2003

Canticle

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One amazing feature of the blogosphere is that there is a certain tendency for articles on different sites about different subjects to reinforce each other, bringing about a kind of an epiphany.

So today with Porphyrogenitus and Winds of Change. Joe Katzman at Winds of Change is discussing problems with evaluation of intelligence, and when to learn lessons.

There's a reason bureaucrats are seen as ass-coverers whose foremost priority is to ensure that they're never accountable for anything. It's because many bureaucrats really are ass-coverers whose overriding priority is to ensure that they're never accountable for anything. As a corollary, if things go wrong, support for the idea that you predicted it may be helpful in building your bureaucracy's importance at the expense of its rivals.

Porphyrogenitus is discussing the ideology of the Boomer generation as it applies to foreign policy, and how Gen-X (or whatever we're supposed to be called these days) differs.
There are things that need to be done, but in many cases the institutions that were built over previous generations to make pursuing the well-being of our society do not seem to be working. Lavishly funded and huge though they are, with complex bureaucratic boxes for all possible tasks and much duplication, they often seem irrelevant where they are not a positive obstacle and hindrance. Reshuffling the boxes, as in the creation of the Homeland Security Department, seems to make little difference. The problem seems to be less one of out-and-out incompetence but rather institutional inertia and misguided or misdirected priorities on the part of the people who staff these bodies, who have taken survival - both the survival of their institutional rice-bowl and of the society whose interests those institutions are supposed to advance - for granted.


For a variety of reasons, our generation does not take that for granted. The airy, idealistic slogans about how things can be solved peacefully with goodwill and mutual understanding and the like that so beguiled the generation prior to ours - the Boomers - cut no mustard with most of us, because so many of us have seen how badly these bromides have worked in our personal lives when foisted on us by our elders. Where they tended to concentrate on idealistic-seeming but impractical causes ("world peace via unilateral American disarmament" and the like) to be solved holistically through the application of a unified field theory political ideology, we have tended to be more practical. Many older Americans are willing to tolerate policies implemented by institutions that don't work, as long as those policies are ideologically (or "politically") correct, and value process (as in "peace process") over results - effectiveness and effect on people's lives are not the priority for them.


Whether or not the war should have been carried to Iraq often seems less important to them than whether a procedure fitting an abstract and generally vaguely defined "multilateralism was followed regardless of results or whether or not doing so would achieve our goals. The debate in the aftermath among primarily "Boomer" politicians is the same - revolving around whether we have gotten "legitimization" from the UN or other international bodies of kleptocrats and thugogracies where Libya and Syria preside over legitimizing what is and isn't a Human Rights violation - and arguing we should involve them further because this would fit their ideological vision. Concern over how involving those who oppose our goals and seek to achieve ends at cross-purposes with ours would affect our ability to achieve what we need to, not only for ourselves but for the people of Iraq for example, is secondary - where it is something they consider at all. This is why the same people can complain about how things are going in Afghanistan, where their "international community" is in charge and the UN is overseeing everything, and demand that the same model be applied in Iraq. The disconnect that we notice is invisible to them.

The connection to earlier posts is evident in this regard: for some the ideal vision of having the "international community" voting on where and how we can fight the war that was thrust upon us, having them determine where we cannot (Iraq) and where we must (Liberia) send our young men is more important than whether this is an effective method, and the question of how those they want to involve in these processes might abuse the "say" they want to give them is unimportant and uninteresting. They will let others deal with the consequences and complications of implementing their vision, and they will accept none of the responsibility for the difficulties that result. For them, idealism (of a certain sort) is combined not with accountability, but with inaccountability. Theory, as usual for them, trumps practicality and empirical reality - if the world doesn't fit the theory, it is the world that is flawed, not the theory, and we must change to fit their vision, consequences be damned - or, rather, left for others to clean up.

The War on Terror is the first crisis the Boomers have faced. Their parents fought and won the Cold War, and suffered the consequences of Viet Nam and Watergate. The Boomers sat on the sidelines theorizing, and cheering on ideological ideals without any sense of personal responsibility. Bill Clinton in many ways was the avatar of personal irresponsibility - nihilism made manifest. Now that the crisis is upon the Boomers, the instinctive habit of many is to return to their youth, and shift responsibilities once more to the grownups. Sadly, the real grownups are not in the international community, but in the generation younger than the Boomers.

On the side of a hill in the deep forest green, Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown blankets and bedclothes The child of the mountain sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves
Washes the grave with silvery tears.
A soldier cleans and polishes his gun,
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions.
Generals order their soldiers to kill
And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten.

Perhaps the War on Terror will inspire the Boomers to remember the causes they once ostensibly championed, or perhaps it will show that they really are and were an empty and hollow generation. Either way, their test of leadership has come, and there is no way they can escape the crucible. The buck stops now, and it stops in the hands of the Boomers.

UPDATE: And just in time, courtesy of The Noble Pundit, are the lyrics to a song I'd forgotten, which pretty much sums up the Boomer tendency I was referring to.

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August 10, 2003

The Need for a New Constitution

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The purpose of the Constitution is given in the Declaration of Independence:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [protection of natural rights], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

As this post from Zenpundit points out, there is a significant proportion of the American population that no longer believes in the Constitution, and this comes from both the Left and the Right. Jesse Jackson, Jr. illustrates one pole, while those Republicans who would happily amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage or flag burning, or to make Christianity the official religion of the US, illustrate the other. Even the Supreme Court is getting in on the rewriting, with decisions like Grutter, which held that it's OK to violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution, but only for a while. (One wonders if, at the end of Justice O'Connor's posited time period, if the underlying goal of the university's discrimination has not been achieved, would the Justice then support extending the deadline yet further?)

I really like our Constitution as is, but I suspect that I am in the minority. The reality is, we have not actually been following large portions of the Constitution since the 1930's. The Federal government has been increasingly becoming intrusive on private Liberties, and the States have increasingly been becoming puppets of Federal laws and regulations. (Hence, a State may pass a medical marijuana law, but not prevent the enforcement of Federal regulations banning the use of marijuana.) The combination of redistribution of income (both to individuals via various welfare programs, and to States using mechanisms such as highway funding) and the removal of limits to Federal power (via doctrines such as "interstate commerce refers to anything that happens that might effect the economy" and "the government has a compelling interest to do anything it says it has a compelling interest to do" and "a limited time means any time which is not actually infinite, up to and including 3 billion years" and so on and so on).

It is clear to me that, no matter how much I hate the idea, it is time for the States to invoke their authority under Article V and call a Convention for the purpose of rewriting the Constitution. It is far better for us to have a mediocre Constitution that we actually follow, than an excellent Constitution which we ignore at our leisure.

UPDATE (8/5): ZenPundit comments.

Also, Chris Noble disagrees. I suspect that Chris and I see the Constitution in very similar terms. I, too, believe that we should live up to the Constitution's ideals. I'm not certain that a reconstitution would not live up to those ideals. (OK, if that doesn't mark me as an optimist, nothing will.)

I guess my real hope is that we will rediscover, after arguing through the issues, that we really want to be closer to the spirit of the original Constitution than to today's interpretations (many of which have been arrived at either by narrow agreement, or even over the heads of the people as a whole). I think that this could be achieved, if the standard was set that any Constitution had to pass a 2/3 vote to be reported out of Convention, as well as the requirement to be accepted by the States, presumably via referenda. (I don't think it would be politically possible for most States to address the issue just in their legislatures.)

Even if we ended up rejecting the new Constitution, and staying with the current one, the debate would add immensely to our public life. If we did get a new Constitution, it would almost certainly not contain any truly contentious statements, as these would get washed out between the supermajority requirements in the Convention and the ratification process. Those issues would be thrown back into political play, with the new balance of power (presumably more explicitly tilted towards central government) significantly changing the debate. Again, this would be good for our public life.

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Philanthropy?

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The Democrats are constantly claiming to represent the common man, like multibillionaire Geore Soros, who intends to put $10 million into a group working to defeat President Bush next year. Clearly, the definition of "philanthropy" has changed from my previous understanding.

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July 24, 2003

Beaten Like Rented Mules

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When President Carter came into office, the military was in utter shock. Viet Nam had been a military victory over the original enemy, the Viet Cong; but the victory had been so pyrrhic, so domestically divisive, and so fragile (in that we never removed the threat of invasion by the N. Vietnamese army) that most Americans didn't realize that it was a military victory at all. When this was combined with the political defeat - not rearming the South, nor remaining to defend them, followed by President Ford abandoning them altogether (not even offshore air support) in the face of the North Vietnamese invasion of 1975 - it led to a complete collapse of confidence in the ability of the military to function. This loss of confidence was prevalent throughout the military at all ranks, in the society at large, and in particular in the foreign/defense policy community.

The Democrats had made their decision by the early 1970s: the military was to blame for all the evils of the Viet Nam war, no credit was to be had by anyone - and particularly not by the Republicans, who had extracted us from Viet Nam (as promised by Nixon in 1968). There is a bit of irony here, in that it was the muscular liberal Democrats - the Harry Truman/Scoop Jackson wing - which had gotten us into Viet Nam, continually escalated our involvement and then refused to carry the war to the North (thus eventually costing us the war). But this wing of the Democratic party was also in the doldrums - in shock at the conduct and outcome of the war, and sidelined by the McGovernites and the radical fringe groups he had brought with him into control of the party.

Carter immediately set about gutting the military, and purging its ranks. This was done by the simple expedient of cutting funding, ignoring his military advisors and publically and frequently talking down to the military establishment.

The foreign/defense policy expertise built up by the Democrats resided in the now-discredited Scoop Jackson wing of the party, and the Carter administration ignored their advice on almost every policy issue of substance. As a result of this and the cost of fighting the war, by the end of the Carter administration, the military had lost a generation of equipment upgrades, had had their warfighting doctrine shattered, and had their reputation publically trampled by their Commander in Chief. The military was in total shock, and the country was not far behind. The economy was also in the toilet (double digit inflation, unemployment and interest rates), and the word most used to describe America was "malaise."

President Reagan was not elected by such a broad margin because of the Iran hostage crisis; that was just a symptom of the malaise. Reagan offered hope. Reagan pointed to the vision of our better selves, to the "shining city on a hill," and called on America to become that city. He made us believe that we were better than we thought of ourselves. It really felt like morning in America, after a long, dark night.

One of the things Reagan did was to make it clear that we were going to defeat Communism, to win the Cold War, and that to do this we needed a robust and confrontational foreign policy, and a large, well-equipped and well-led military. Reagan remade the military command structure, brought pride back into military service, upgraded the military's equipment, fixed a large number of logistical problems and gave the military a mission, which brought forth the Air-Land Battle doctrine. In doing all of this, Reagan reached out to the Democrats' Scoop Jackson wing. Today's neo-cons were called "Reagan Democrats" in the early 1980s.

Schools, and even colleges, don't really teach foreign and defense policy. The closest most get is history, and that field has largely been taken over at the academic level by people who fear and distrust not just America, but the idea of America. The foreign and defense policy cadres of a party are trained by the generation that preceeded them. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and the like were trained by the foreign/defense policy wonks of the Johnson administration, who had themselves been trained by the Truman administration.

Because the "Reagan Democrats" left the party in droves, and came over to the Republicans, there was a generational break in policy development within the Democratic party. Perle and Wolfowitz and the like have trained not Democratic, but Republican policy makers. The Democrats simply don't have much expertise left.

The prominent names in the Democratic party for foreign and defense policy would have to be Sam Nunn, Leon Fuerth, and Richard Holbrooke. Sam Nunn seems to be out of politics. (He had been involved with a program at Georgia Tech, but that seems to have been cancelled, or at least scaled back, in the last year or so.) There is no Democratic equivalent to the think tanks and sponsorship and mentoring that allow Republicans to develop and hone the skills and gain the experience needed to craft policy at the highest levels.

Porphyrogenitus comments as well, though I think he misses one point. The pool of people who develop the national grand strategy is very small, and non-partisan. Note that the current grand strategy, that of bringing democratic self-government to failed states, began to take shape under Clinton, with the policies of pre-emption (then called forward engagement) and regime change taking shape. Note that President Bush came in disavowing that strategy, yet has since 9/11 not just embraced it, but extended it, to include the concepts of equivalence (treating sponsors of terrorism as terrorists), denial of nuclear weapons to dictatorships (still being worked out in regards to North Korea, which obtained them before Bush came into office) and ad-hoc coalitions to settle specific problems (replacing reliance on the UN, NATO and other permanent internationalist organizations). Because of the nature under which the grand strategy is developed, it is likely to change slowly and infrequently. By and large, both parties will adopt the goals the grand strategy sets.

The problem is at the level of strategy to implement those goals. It is here that Steven Den Beste's overview plays out. If you accept Steven's summary, as I would venture to say most supporters of the Iraq campaign would, as being plausible, then you basically align with the President's method of waging the greater war on terrorism so far. If not, and most opponents of the war apparently would not, you would want to take a radically different approach. And this is the level at which the Democrats have totally failed to be able to make coherent policy, likely to improve America's security situation.

Instead, this is what passes for Democratic thought on foreign policy. The whole focus is on how wrong America is, how much we are to blame, how irresponsible we are, how we need to make room for the adults (the UN and Europeans) to rule the world. This is just not a policy that the broad majority of Americans will accept. It is the policy that brings people into the streets to protest capitalism, democracy and personal liberty, and it is a policy relies on the hatred of not just America, but the idea of America.

This is not just, as Trent would apparently have it, a problem for the Democrats; it is a problem for America. It's a problem for America precisely because, as long as we are at war and the Democrats don't have a serious foreign policy team, the Republicans will "beat[] them like rented mules." The political competition between the two parties is what keeps the Right from imposing social conformity according to their religious doctrine, and the Left from imposing dictatorship and tearing down capitalism according to their political doctrine. This competition is good for us, and we as a nation will suffer for the lack of it.

Yet there will be little competition in national elections as long as we are at war, and the Democrats are unserious about national security. The Democrats had a chance to figure this out in 2002, but instead chose to go with the fantasy ideology of believing that they weren't pure enough on the Left, and immediately elevated Nancy Pelosi to control of the Democrats in the House. This was a sure signal, and it was followed by the appearance of Dean and Kucinich and Kerry as contenders in the presidential nomination process. The Democrats will have another chance to figure this out after their forthcoming humiliation in 2004. I really hope that such a beating is sufficient to get the Democrats to change direction, because if they don't we could all be "dead and damned" - not just the Democrats.

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July 21, 2003

Liberty vs. License

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Randy Barnett has an excellent analysis of the Lawrence opinion. In particular, his distinction between Liberty and License: "Instead, he puts all his energy into demonstrating that same-sex sexual freedom is a legitimate aspect of liberty — unlike, for example, actions that violate the rights of others, which are not liberty but license." This is a concept too lacking in our post-New Deal courts, and one I hope to see make a comeback. I'd like to see the 9th amendment take on meaning again.

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July 19, 2003

One Half of the War

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I've said before, more than once, that there are two enemies we are fighting: radical Islamism and radical Leftism. The former seeks to use America and Israel as a proxy enemy for the real enemy: moderate Islamism. The latter also has a real enemy, and it is not the one that attacked us on September 11; it is the Enlightenment liberal ideology on which the United States is founded. In other words, we are struggling against those who would destroy the West from within because the West's ideals don't fit with theirs, and those who would destroy the West from without because it allows them to attack their own moderates' position, without directly attacking the moderates (which is, in Islam, pretty seriously forbidden).

Porphyrogenitus talks about the internal half of that equation, and says a lot of things I have been thinking, far better than I could have said them. I don't know how we can defeat our internal enemy, except by espousing a public ideology which explicitly rejects theirs. The problem, of course, is that the internal enemies of the West control the educational institutions, entertainment companies and many of the religious institutions, which together make up the major methods our society has for forming a public ideology. I think that the solution will require, in part, forcing the forces of anti-Enlightenment thought (at least in the anglophone countries) to support themselves. In other words, cut them off the government dole which gives them time, money and a platform to speak.

As to the external forces, I have more hope. Attacks by Muslims upon other Muslim factions, such as those which happened recently in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are the fruit of our labors so far. It has become so difficult to successfully attack the West, and Israel has been attacked to the point where pushing much further would lead to a slaughter of the Arabs, that Muslim radicals are being forced to attack their moderate Muslim enemies directly.

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July 17, 2003

It Could be Worse

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Bill Kristol has a Weekly Standard column up on the Democrats' and media's attempts to turn President Bush's State of the Union comment, on Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from Africa, into a scandal. He is pretty dismissive of the media coverage:

American journalism's frenzy over the thing--the hyperbolic, rush-to-judgment, believe-the-worst character of the coverage--has been plenty bad enough. But the Democratic party has been even worse. Here, for example, is what unsuspecting Internet visitors learn from the Democratic National Committee's website: There has been "a year-long campaign of deception involving a bogus intelligence report on Iraq's nuclear program." And who has directed this deception, for reasons so terrible, apparently, that they cannot be identified? DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe has cracked the conspiracy: "This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of the Union address," he says. And "this was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error."

OK, let's face it, this is still more entertaining and less gruesome than the Chandra Levy story of two years ago, or last year's Laci Peterson story. IfWhen the media is going to be lazy, at least they could dohave recently done worse than to focus people's attention on a story where, should they choose to do followup reading, they could learn something meaningful.

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No Suprise Here

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Mark at ShaKaRee posted his results to this quiz about how closely one's political positions agree with various candidates. Even though the questions tended to have one stereotypical right-wing response, and multiple and nuanced left-wing responses, and though the "Libertarian Candidate" goes unnamed, I can not argue with the results:

  1. Libertarian Candidate ��(100%)
  2. Bush, George W. - US President ��(87%)
  3. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat ��(65%)
  4. Phillips, Howard - Constitution ��(55%)
  5. Graham, Senator Bob, FL - Democrat ��(54%)
  6. Gephardt, Cong. Dick, MO - Democrat ��(52%)
  7. Lieberman Senator Joe CT - Democrat ��(50%)
  8. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat ��(50%)
  9. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat ��(45%)
  10. Kucinich, Cong. Dennis, OH - Democrat ��(37%)
  11. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol IL - Democrat ��(22%)
  12. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat ��(18%)
  13. LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. - Democrat ��(-9%)

I am a little bummed that everyone from Dennis Kucinich on down scored as high as they did. It's a little surprising that John Edwards rated so high, though I suspect that his and my versions of "prefer other solutions" are in fact wildly different.

So come on Mark, uncheck the box that takes third-party candidates off the ballot and let's see where the third parties fall on your scale.

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Intelligence

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Andrew Olmstead looks at the structure of US intelligence agencies in the light of the report of the joint Congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks. He concludes that the structure of the intelligence agencies made detection of the plot impossible, and that the unchanged structure of the intelligence agencies would thus also be unable to detect future plots of a similar type. He recommends a thorough restructuring of the intelligence agencies.

I think that it would be helpful, before doing so, to reflect on why the existing intelligence agencies are what they are.

There are three basic types of information that can be determined by intelligence agencies: capabilities (who has what methods of doing damage), intentions (who intends to do what) and general information (commercial information, like research goals and manufacturing techniques; economic information like resource exploitation and allocation, farm production and the like; and so on). Much of the information that's gathered comes from open sources, and I suspect that the majority of our actual intelligence work consists of drawing connections between disparate information in open sources. This, incidentally, is why totalitarian societies try to keep all of that kind of information secret, to the point that SARS became widespread in China - it was illegal to publish information on who was getting what diseases. Each of our intelligence agencies, plus the counter-intelligence and (to a lesser extent) domestic investigative parts of the FBI, gather information from each of these areas.

Prior to WWII, we didn't have any method for determining intentions. We could detect capabilities to an extent, mostly through open sources, and from the military's efforts. We could gather general information from open sources and the State Department's efforts. But we couldn't really tell what someone intended. There was a huge time required, for example, to determine that the Japanese carriers had all disappeared, put that together with the intercepted diplomatic communiques and the knowledge of Japanese training with shallow-water torpedos, and determine that therefore the Japanese were planning on striking a shallow-water harbor by air; and since they were having difficult relations with us, it would probably be one of our harbors. (Actually, I don't think that we knew about the shallow-water torpedo experiments, and even the infamous bomb-plot communique to the Japanese Hawaii consulate wasn't enough to set off the warning bells in the Army defending Hawaii.) The time was in fact so long, and the analytical capability so rudimentary and scattered, that we never did determine that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor.

In the wake of WWII, we determined to never again allow ourselves to be surprised, and so we formed the intelligence structure that we have today, adding new agencies as new capabilities became available. And let's face it, our intelligence agencies are supremely capable of determining where enemy forces are; how they are equipped, manned and trained; and what they are capable of doing. That is why we have satellites and listening posts and underwater microphone arrays and the like. It's also why we de-emphasized human intelligence (spies): they didn't add a lot to the mix, in the grand scheme of things.

However, this structure was and is supremely incapable of non-state actors. The FBI is more-or-less set up for it, but that is not the primary role of the FBI, and the FBI mainly is involved in domestic law enforcement. Just as we did after Pearl Harbor, America is saying "Never again." But we don't have the capabilities to make that possible.

So, yes, we do need to reform our intelligence agencies. We need to separate analysis from information gathering. We need to make general intelligence, which is after all gathered from public sources, publically available to everyone in the intelligence community, the military, the State Department, Congressional Staffs, even the interested public. We need to focus the analysts on specific types of threats or customers: state actors, non-state actors, diplomatically-useful information, militarily-useful information. We need to make available to the analysts the information gathered from any means. (An analyst looking at Iraq needs to be able to see the communications intercepts, the military reconnaisance, the satellite data, the general information, and so forth all at once.) When we find holes in information gathering, we need to plug them immediately. When we find holes in analysis, we need to plug them immediately. Most of all, we need to hold people accountable for failure - not the expected failure of missing something when the signs are ambiguous, but the systemic failures of ignoring intelligence for political reasons, for example.

I am not qualified to say what our intelligence agencies should look like, but I hope that the Congress will act soon to reform our intelligence agencies, so that when we say "Never again," we can be confident that can back that up.

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July 15, 2003

What About the Supreme Court, Though?

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Robert Prather, at The Mind of Man, has a post on a fantastic-looking bill in the House. The Enumerated Powers Act would force the Congress to state the Constitutional provision that gives Congress the authority to pass such a law. Excellent bill, and should be passed.

Of course, giving the Supreme Court's tendency, since FDR's administration, to assume powers not Constitutionally forbidden to the Congress are granted to the Congress (the 9th and 10th Amendments and the Federalist Papers' explanations notwithstanding), I don't know that the bill would do much real-world good. But there's always hope.

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July 14, 2003

Separation of Church and State

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Chris Noble thinks it's OK for an Alabama judge to prominently display a monument of the ten commandments in his court's rotunda.

I believe that the appeals court decision is correct in a legal sense, but it's not good for the moral fabric of the nation.

But let's look a little deeper here. What is the real problem?

Is it the actual text of the Ten Commandments? If so, which one? I find it hard to believe that someone could possibly have a problem with "thou shalt not kill" or "thou shalt not steal."

The Ten Commandments aren't important because they are some special super secret Judeo-Christian bit of wisdom that no one else could ever possibly understand. No, the Ten Commandments are important because they are universal truths. They are the foundations of a civil society, of one based on laws.

So what is the problem with the monument in the courthouse?

I suppose that if you believe that this is an explicitly Christian nation, then the reasoning above is OK. The problem is, not all of us are Christians.

The ten commandments, while they include some statements I agree with, are explicitly religious and explicitly monotheistic. (I'll take them apart in a few moments, so that you don't have to take that statement "on faith," as it were.) As a result, displaying them in a place where they could provide license or inhibition is simply wrong on the part of the government, both Constitutionally and morally.

If such an explicitly religious monument is allowed in a place where jurors have to pass by before sitting for trial, isn't the government, in the person of the judge, saying to them that it's OK to use their religion - rather than the law - to make judgements? Isn't it saying to me, as a Pagan, that my chances of a fair trial are diminished in that courthouse? If so - and I believe that it is so - then the moral case is against the display.

Were a judge to put up an equally universal religious principle that is non-Christian, would that be OK? Were I a judge, could I carve into the courthouse floor: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will." Even if I agreed with the sentiment, it would still be wrong for me to do so, because it is the place of the government to set and preserve the conditions for a free and just society, not to determine the form and content of that society.

(see the More... link at the bottom for an offtopic discussion of the quote I used.)

If the judge wants to put up the commandments in his chambers, I have no problem with that. To do so in the public area of the courthouse, though, is to attempt moral suasion in a way inconsistent with the Constitution and the law.

I also cannot accept the premise, frequently stated, that the ten commandments are not specifically religious and specifically monotheistic, nor that there is not a valid way to view "Thou shalt not kill" as other than a religious (moral, in this case, rather than dogmatic) assertion.

Here are the commandments, from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, along with my gloss on the commandments as regards the American legal system.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:2-3 & Deutueronomy 5:6-7

This commandment compels worship of a particular god. This is explicitly forbidden the force of law by the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:4-6 & Deutueronomy 5:8-10

This not only falls into the category of requiring worship of a particular god, it also forbids certain forms of worship altogether. This violates both the establishment and the free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. There's also a logical flaw, just as a side note. If the first generation accepts, and the second generation rejects, what happens to the third generation, which falls into both descendent categories listed?

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not aquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 & Deutueronomy 5:11

I actually prefer this formulation to the more common "thou shalt not take My name in vain," because the more common formulation generally is interpreted as a ban on cursing. In actual fact, I've always read this as a ban on comparisons ("I'm better than God", for example).

In any case, this is a violation of both the free speech and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work-you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 & Deutueronomy 5:12-15

Ignoring the justification of why one should not work on the Sabbath, there is still the problem that labor laws are not based on the Biblical injunction, but rather on the humanitarian arguement that overworking one's employees or one's self is cruel, and the utilitarian argument that it is counterproductive. To the extent that the law fixes a day where one is denied the ability to work altogether, in any form, it would arguably pose a violation of the takings clause, in that one's labor is generally held in the US to be one's property, available for sale. Therefore, to enact such a ban would likely be unconstitutional. (Though it would be constitutional to, for example, ban government offices from being open on certain days, whether or not that accorded with a particular religion's holy days.)

Honor your father and mother, so that your days may be long in the land of the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12 & Deutueronomy 5:16

This is certainly not a universal truth. In my view, a parent has to earn the respect of their children. Even disregarding that, though, I cannot see an argument for this as a basis of our legal tradition. Indeed, there are many situations under the law where such a sentiment is ignored, including the laws on compulsory public schooling, removal of children from an unfit parent, and more.

You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13 & Deutueronomy 5:17

This is certainly a key provision of the law, but not for moral reasons. The government, frankly, has no real interest in the life or death of any particular individual. What the laws against murder seek to do is establish a stable society. If you are under constant threat of harm, you will be constantly armed against it, and the societal disruption of murders is huge when no attempt is made to prevent them. The government has an interest in promoting a stable society; in fact, that's its main purpose.

As a Pagan, the argument I would make from a moral sense is that murder is causing harm, both to the victim and to the family and friends of the victim, and that as such it is immoral. I doubt that Chris would buy this reasoning any more than I would buy the reasoning that "murder is wrong because some god said so."

You shall not commit adultery. Exodus 20:14 & Deutueronomy 5:18

This is obviously not universal. Indeed this commandment is more observed, as it were, in the breach. The government has no interest in the sexual behavior of individuals, as long as that behavior does not cause societal disruption. So, for example, the government outlaws rape and child molestation, but not (generally) incest. And as the recent SCOTUS decision on sodomy makes clear, such laws as were passed based on this reasoning will be struck down. There has to be a clear external effect in order for the government to regulate sexual activity.

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15 & Deutueronomy 5:19

This is encoded in law certainly, but again not because "some god said so." Nor is it encoded on the Pagan view that stealing causes harm to the victim. Rather, the injunction against stealing has to do with the government's duty to protect the property rights of individuals against encroachments. If one can legally steal another's property, than the only way to protect one's property is through armed force, which is destructive to the good order of society.

You shall not bear false whitness [sic] against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16 & Deutueronomy 5:20

This basic principle is encoded both in perjury laws and in libel/slander laws. The reason, though, is not because "some god said so." Rather, the reason is utilitarian: perjury distorts the ability of the legal system to judge wisely, while libel and slander could easily result in duelling (and frequently did, before libel, slander and duelling were all outlawed).

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17 & Deutueronomy 5:21

Certainly, the government lacks any right to ban what someone thinks. Since there is a separate provision against stealing, this provision can only be read as banning the thought itself - the feeling of envy. While this may be an admirable sentiment, though again more often observed in the breach, it is hardly necessary to our system of laws.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will" is from Aleister Crowley.

The formulation of Law (in the moral sense) that I use is "Do what thou wilt, an harm none", which is much more universal, being libertarian rather than hedonistic. Still, even this is not a true universal, given the existence of those who deny free will.

The more common formulation of this is "An it harm none, do what thou wilt." I prefer the way given in the last paragraph, because the two statements basically break down into Love and Truth, and I feel that Truth has more precedence than Love, but Love controls and moderates Truth. One must do what is right - even at a heavy cost - rather than counting the costs before determining what is right to do.

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July 13, 2003

Health Care

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Kevin Drum (not unexpectedly) comes up with the moderate statist case for socialized medicine, and why businesses should support it. While I agree that businesses have a real incentive in the current regulatory/cost climate to shift this to the government, I believe that there is a much better solution.

First, a digression. It was in WWII that we started, as a nation, subsidizing health insurance. We did this by providing businesses with a tax credit for the money they spent on employee health care. The reason businesses asked for this was that it would allow them to compete better for the scarce worker pool, given that some 28 million young men and women (obviously, mostly men) were under arms, by offering better benefits in lieu of better pay. They were having a hard time offering better pay because the businesses mostly were government contractors and didn't want to raise the price of war goods to the government during wartime. Of course, the reality of this program was to give large subsidies to large companies, which allowed them to outcompete smaller companies, who didn't have a large enough worker pool to get preferred insurance rates, and thus could not compete on a level field with the large companies. (This was not a bug; it was the central point of the program.) Other large companies, of course, had large numbers of workers and thus were able to compete on level terms.

Of course, once such a program is enacted, it takes a national near-catastrophe to undo it, and so this method of paying for health insurance has persisted into the present day. Assuming that it is in the interest of the Federal government to ensure a healthy population (arguable, but I can accept it under some conditions, and certainly on utilitarian grounds), the current system is nearly the worst way to provide it. The only worse way I can think of is socializing the entire system.

Socializing the entire system would be a disaster, because the central point of government-controlled medicine is its scarcity. There is a reason why we get patients in droves from Canada, and in lesser numbers from all over the world: sufficient funding from private sources allows us to provide the best possible healthcare in extreme cases, exceptional healthcare across a broad spectrum of cases, and some health care even to the poorest. (Despite numerous horrifying anecdotes, promulgated third-hand every time the proponents of single-payer care try to impose it on the rest of us, I've yet to see a confirmed story of someone being turned away from at least emergency-room care when they are in need.) Adequate preventive care appears to be available in every population center of note, should people wish to take advantage of it. (Most cities, for example, run hospitals which are compelled to take patients regardless of ability to pay. Also, there are free clinics for many common problems among the poor. The countryside, of course, tends to have fewer such resources.) I personally don't want the government to bring the compassion of the DMV and the financial management of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to focus on giving me health care.

Having companies fund the health care for their workers makes more sense than socialized medicine, but has numerous and large flaws. For example, if you work for a large company, you generally have affordable benefits which work well for you. If you work for a small- to mid-sized company, you have expensive benefits with much less flexibility and coverage. In both cases, you have virtually no real choice in your health plans, as each provider meets basically the same coverage requirements at basically the same costs. If you are out of work, or work for a very small company, or work for a company with high turnover (such as fast food or retail stores), you likely don't get any health insurance coverage until you are a manager. In addition, the costs in meeting these needs for their employees and the costs of regulation imposed by the government and the costs of paperwork imposed on the employees to meet all of those regulatory burdens (and the fiscal burdens and audit requirements of the employer) conspire to make the entire system dreadfully inefficient and a pain in the ass to deal with.

No government involvement in health care, other than perhaps to run free hospitals and clinics for those who need them, might work - it has worked in the past for us - but I suspect that (with current medical care depending on expensive people, equipment, facilities and drugs) such a lack of involvement would result in a brittle system, with good care available to the rich, and virtually nothing available to anyone not in the middle class or higher. Also, this would almost certainly be politically impossible in a country which accepts the proposition that it's OK for government to be involved in virtually everything.

A better system would be to do away entirely with business tax credits for subsidizing employee health insurance, and the provision for allowing a deduction for large health expenses not covered by insurance (I think anything under 15% of your salary is not covered by the current individual deduction), and replace both of them with a direct credit to individuals for all health care costs. In other words, any money I spend on health insurance, medicines or whatever would be credited to me on my taxes. This would allow each employee to spend as much or as little as they choose in order to get coverage tailored to them, and would allow for a far more efficient system in general (for one thing, too much paperwork and I take my business elsewhere).

That system could be improved on in order to fix some of the flaws. The individual tax credit amount would not emphasize good insurance, or cost cutting by the individual, with a straight credit. After all, why not get the absolute best when you're not paying for it at all. This could be fixed by having smaller percentages credited as the costs increase, which would tend to make insurance a better bet for anything other than relatively small amounts (say, under a few thousand dollars), while making insurance affordable by not driving people to use insurance to pay for every single visit to the doctor's office for routine care. The problem of some people being unable to get insurance (because, for example, they have really bad health problems or because they are destitute) could be solved by retaining Medicare/Medicaid and applying them only to the uninsurable (which should, as a side benefit, reduce the costs of those programs).

There are other problems, of course, in any system so large an complex. However, if you accept the premise that the Federal government has an interest in ensuring a healthy population, then I believe that individual tax credits are a far better way to achieve that than corporate tax credits or socialized care.

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July 11, 2003

Schism

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Michael Totten warns the Democrats that classical liberals are leaving the party, due to its stance on national security. There were only two great inflection points in American politics in the 20th century. We are in the middle of another one - the first of the 21st century.

The first truly great shock was the victory of the progressives in the 1930s. Since the 1890s at least, the progressives had been attempting to push the US from being an isolationist republic with a minimal government, mostly accountable to the voters indirectly (the Representative being the only directly-elected office), into an internationalist republic with a comprehensive government, more powerful but more directly accountable to the voters. The Great Depression brought about a realigning election, putting the Democrats solidly in power, at the same time as the country was wallowing in a deep economic crisis. The combination, and a pliant Supreme Court, allowed FDR to push through reforms that effectively gutted the Constitutional limitations on government, and brought about the governmental norms in place today.

The second political shock was the 1960s cultural upheaval. During this time, the Republicans effectively silenced the moderate New England patricians - the Rockefeller Republicans - and replaced them in control of the party with the populist and more conservative Goldwater Republicans. This culminated in the Reagan administration, and had the effect of drawing a sharp boundary between the Democrats and the Republicans, who until that time were more alike than different. This period saw the self-destructive impulses of the Democrats over Viet Nam and McGovern which would likely have resulted in a realignment back to the Republicans, were it not for Watergate. Instead, it was Reagan in 1980, after the failure of the Carter presidency, who made visible the nation's dramatic shift rightwards. Still, there was no realignment, though the parties approached sufficient equality that by the 1990s, the Republicans were able (for the first time in 40+ years) to hold both the House and the Senate.

This shift rightwards was actually stopped by the end of the Cold War. With the apparent threat gone, Americans wanted to turn back to domestic issues, and Americans have seen the Democrats as being most capable of managing the domestic agenda since at least 1932. With the election of Bill Clinton, the US had its first caretaker president since WWI. This combination of circumstances left the US in a 50-50 split, with half of the electorate being concerned with a basket of issues that led them to vote Democrat, and half being concerned with an overlapping, but not identical, basket of issues that led them to vote Republican.

George Bush would most likely have been a caretaker president, had it not been for September 11. That horrible event plunged the US into war, and the parties took two distinctly different approaches to the challenge we face.

The question for America now is, do we conclude that we've won the war, and go back to the status quo ante, except that Afghanistan and Iraq are domestically changed, treating terrorism like a law enforcement issue and focusing our efforts on attempting to create an American version of the European statist model; or do we view terrorism as an existential threat, to be fought for decades (as was the Cold War) both directly and via proxy, to eliminate not just terrorism and state sponsors of terrorism, but also weapons of mass destruction from the hands of non-democratic states, focusing our effort on creating America-lite in the failed nations of the world?

If we conclude that we have won the war on terror, and now need to treat terrorism as a law enforcement issue, then Americans will elect a Democrat to the Presidency, and retract our military greatly. We will intervene abroad on the Clinton model: only where the only possible goal is humanitarian, and there are no direct gains for America in doing so. We will obsess over health care, business regulation, expanding the scope of entitlements, and merging ever closer to the European-derived "civilized international norms."

If we instead conclude that the terrorist threat is existential, and we are willing to take decades to wipe it out, in the process raising up failed states into free, self-governing and non-threatening republics, then Americans will elect a Republican to the Presidency, and expand our military greatly. We will intervene abroad where failed states exist, solely to reform those states into viable entities, if necessary redrawing borders in the process (particularly in Africa). We will ignore the UN, and possibly even withdraw from it. Our international relations will de-emphasize the socialist-leaning European states, such as France and Germany, in favor of the eastern European states, the Anglosphere and nations like Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan and Israel. We will work tirelessly to bring Liberty and self-determination to the 3rd world, and in the end we will be engaged in this for a generation.

I think that the inflection point happened between 9/11 and the end of the war in Iraq, and we are now making up our minds. The next election will show us which way the public has decided.

If the public decides to re-elect President Bush, it is most likely true that the Senate and House will swing more Republican, and that the Democratic party will fracture under the strain. I think that the paroxism of the Left will be such that its thrashing will throw off the classical liberals like Armed Liberal and Michael Totten, who didn't move with the "Reagan Democrats" or in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

WARNING: WILD SPECULATION FOLLOWS

The Joe Liebermans and Dick Gephardts of the Democratic party might similarly find themselves out in the cold. Should that happen, I suspect that the Democratic party will split permanently, much like the Whigs did in the 1840s or 1850s. The Left will retain the Democratic party name, while the centrists will form a new party. There would then be a long period of realignment, during which the new part and the Republicans would be shifting members across the lines, with the remainder of the Democratic party consituting about a third of the electorate. It's possible we could stabilize on a three-party state, with two parties (Republicans and new party) fighting the war on terror, while two parties (the Democrats and the new party) determine the domestic agenda. This would put the new party into the kingmaker position, and frankly I wouldn't be unhappy with that.

UPDATE: Porphyrogenitus comments: "I think that it will stabilize at two parties; the outcome will be either an unreformed Democratic Party, a renewed (or remade) one, or a new Party." That may be so. The US has certainly tended towards two-party politics, although a lot of that since the 1890s or so has to do with the kind of regulations adopted by the States (and since Watergate by the Federal government) to make it difficult for third parties to compete fairly. For example, the Democrats and Republicans do not have to get candidates onto the ballot: it's automatic. For third-party candidates, some states (NY is a case in point) are nearly impossible. Campaign finance legislation is similarly weighted to favor large and established parties.

That said, I don't think that there's anything sacred about the two-party system, and a stable three-party arrangement could exist, at least for several election cycles, if it built up from the ground (instead of starting with the Presidency) and had a substantial base to start with. We do not suffer from the parliamentary weakness of requiring a majority coalition at all times. We simply pass bills by majority, and it does not matter where those votes come from. Congress won't fall, nor will the President, on a failure to get the majority party to maintain party discipline. As a result, it is possible for several parties to exist simultaneously in the Congress without causing a crisis. (In fact, I'd bet that we could sustain as many as a half-dozen parties without causing a crisis. After that, there would be a lot of time taken up by partisan dealmaking that would make taking action difficult - that may be a feature.)

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July 10, 2003

Feels Good to Me

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Something Porphyrogenitus said got me thinking:

I used to encourage every one of my friends to go out and vote, regardless of whether they were informed on the issues or not (indeed, when some would reply to the effect that they didn't feel they knew enough about things to vote, I'd prod them to do it anyhow, exercise their democratic right and duty. This was back when I was a Democrat. I wonder if there's any connection between that and the stance I took then).

I suspect that there is a default "stupid" position for any given question - that is to say, most unthinking people will by and large make the same choice. There seems to be a huge imperative for people not to think through their decisions, but to take them on faith, based on what feels right to them. For example, in the US, there are two positions you can take on religion that will result in fairly widespread affirmation, and which require no thought: Christianity or atheism. In addition, for the rebellious who need negative affirmation (that is to say, what you are doing is taboo, so it must be the right thing to do), there's the Pagans.

In the same way, there is a huge societal disaffirmation of conservatives in general and Republicans in particular, while being a Democrat carries an immediate affirmation from the media in particular. For those needing the negative affirmation, there are the Greens. For those who have chosen the more right-wing Christian sects, and so are not ideologically disposed to the Left or to individual responsibility, there are plenty of Idiotarians on the far right as well.

Note that intelligent people can pick the stupid default for intelligent reasons. There are intelligent and wise Democrats, Christians and Pagans, for example. I'm not yet convinced that there are wise Greens. There are also idiots who choose outside the normal groups. There are plenty of non-extremist Republicans who are not that bright and are quite foolish, for example. Ann Coulter, for example, is deeply intelligent and either quite the fool, or at least she plays one in public.

I think that the basis of decision-making for these people is: do what feels right, while taking no personal responsibility. This makes it easy to be a Democrat (we want to help people, but we're victims and so we can't: you help us all) or a Christian (I'm trying to do good, but we're all sinners by birth so you can't expect me to always do right) or a radical Leftist (everyone should be equal, so we have to punish the people who are smarter, or richer, or prettier, or healthier). It's no wonder that the Democrats, in general, want as many people as possible to vote, while the Republicans, in general, don't.

I may be wrong of course, but that explanation feels good to me.

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July 9, 2003

Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid

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OK, we're in the middle of a war on terror, which started when four planes were hijacked, and three of them rammed into buildings. The government is warning that the group who hijacked all of those planes is going to try it again. We're having problems retaining air marshals, because of the onerous flight schedules. What shall we do? How about we reduce the number of air marshals, whose job is to prevent airliners from being hijacked? Only the government could be this stupid. (hat tip: Winds of Change)

UPDATE (8/1): Laughingwolf comments on airline security as well. (hat tip: Winds of Change)

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Peace, Love and Understanding

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There is a discussion going on at Winds of War, as to whether or not the President should lay out the strategies he is pursuing in the war on terror. Sadly, this is starting to degenerate into a culture clash. I hope I can clear the air a little:

Trent, you are being overwrought. It is true that the President cannot lay out our strategy (as opposed to doctrine, which he has done here). It is equally true that many Leftists want the President to lay out his intentions so that they can attack those intentions for partisan gain. It is also true that A.L., Michael Totten and the like are confronting the Leftists, and you do them a disservice (and drive them more towards the Leftists) by talking like Ann Coulter. The disloyal opposition (yes, there is one) is a very small part of the Democratic party, and is confined almost exclusively to their activists and a few of their political leaders. Some subtlety would be helpful.

A.L., you are missing a major point: the President can lay out his doctrine, and has done so here. He cannot lay out the strategies in play right now, for reasons Steven Den Beste tackles here. To lay out the strategy would be to either doom it, or at least to make it more difficult and costly to achieve. I would like for the other aspirants to lay out their doctrines, but as far as I can tell, only the Libertarians have done so (and I cannot accept disengagement and isolationism).

Gabriel, you too are missing a point: those people who are willing to let America take damage if, in the process, it damages the Republicans to their own gain, are disloyal opposition, and some of them might be traitors. (For example, people like Rachel Corrie and the rest of the ISM crowd actively aid and abet the terrorists.) It is reasonable for Trent to point this out, and it shouldn't take all of the air out of the conversation when he does so (though he tends to be a bit strident rhetorically). Most of the people in this vein are on the Democratic side of the ledger, and reasonable Liberals need to call them out, and distance themselves from the radicals. Some of the people in this vein are on the radical Right, and resonable Conservatives need to call them out, and distance themselves from the radicals.

It would be tragic if the centrists fought amongst themselves because of the positioning of an arbitrary line, and in the process let the radicals take control of the agenda. Debate is crucial, but it needs to be civil in order to be useful. This debate hasn't spiralled out of control, but I'm worried that it will as the political battles unfold over the next year.

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July 8, 2003

Can We Force a State out of the Union?

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So, I was reading this (hat tip: Accidental Jedi), which of course happened in California, and it occurs to me that while we cannot carve up a State without its consent (article IV), and a State cannot secede (the Civil War settled that question), I don't see any reason why the rest of the States could not just get together (in the form of the Senate and the House voting) and boot California right out of the Union. Other than good harbors, and the grousing of the people who'd move back to the US and miss the climate, what exactly would we be losing?

Could we trade California to Canada for the western provinces? Canada's population and economy would go up, and the US and western Canada would end up being a better match for each other than we are for California and eastern Canada.

Just thinkin'...

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Bush Lied? Uh, No.

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Steven Den Beste has posted a quite detailed exposition of America's rationale and position in the war on terror, including a listing of root causes, the justifications for war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and some notes on the long-term direction we're going in. His conclusion: Bush can't reasonably be said to have lied; the statement in question from the SOTU is pretty far down on the list of relevant justifications for the war; and the Democrats are just marginalizing themselves by harping on what everyone knows is a really minor nit, to the point of calling for impeachment.

I would have just said, "No, Hesiod, you delusional partisan jerk, President Bush didn't lie." But that's just me.

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July 1, 2003

Nobody Outcrazies Kucinich

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Bob Graham is really trying, but nobody outcrazies Kucinich:

He called for cutting the Pentagon's budget by $60 billion to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and canceling President Bush's $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in favor of universal college education. Kucinich said universal health care can be achieved with a system administered by the federal government.

Does anyone besides me remember the Saturday Night Live sketch "What were you Thinking?" All we have to do is change a few lines, make it Kucinich instead of Mondale, and we're done. It'd be worth seeing Kucinich nominated just for that skit.

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June 24, 2003

The Economic Role of Government

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Kevin Drum at CalPundit has posted an interesting article on the role of the government in the economy. I have to say that I agree with everything he said, with one caveat: the government's intervention should be both limited and defined.

Completely free markets, without any external controls, are economic anarchy, no less than the lack of external controls on social behavior is political anarchy. No less than political anarchy leads often to political tyranny, as the strong sieze all of the real political power, so does economic anarchy lead to economic tyranny, as the rich and well-connected (and, normally, politically powerful) sieze all of the real economic power.

To prevent this, it is necessary to have external limiting mechanisms. The external controls for politics in the US were laid out in the Constitution: no direct taxes (limits Federal government's ability to raise funds, and thus its power); Senate must approve appointed officers and treaties, influences laws and budgets and has the sole power to remove a sitting President (all of which gave States the ability to limit Federal power); the States can call a Constitutional Convention at will; and as a final bulwark, the people have an unlimited right to own military arms. Of course, a combination of amendments and court decisions have limited and in some cases totally destroyed all of these limitations, except for the right of States to call a Convention.

The external controls for the economy were much less thoroughly documented in the Constitution. While power was given to the Federal government to regulate interstate commerce, and certain other powers (like not allowing a State to force traffic to pay excises at their ports just because it transits through the State's waterways) were also granted, these provisions were mainly intended to prevent interstate wars, rather than to actually regulate the economy. The only Constitutional provisions I can think of off the top of my head, which directly regulate the economy, were the ability to collect tarriffs and levy excises, to establish uniform weights and measures and to regulate the value of currency.

While I think that the government needs additional powers, not forseen by the Founders, I don't think that they should be available to the government except by amending the Constitution. Otherwise, the potential for abuse is too great. I think that we could come up with a list of such powers that the government needs:


  • establish a central bank - this is probably already justified by the power to coin money (and thus to regulate its value)
  • regulate the sale of shares in publically-owned companies - the justification being that these companies have exceptional government-granted rights, and thus should have corresponding duties to not cheat the public
  • prevention of monopolies from using their power to stifle competition, charge prices untenable in a competitive market, or force people to purchase unregulated products or services in order to get the products or services they need
  • regulation of non-property resources (air quality, water quality and transit, radio spectrum and the like) which are not subject to ordinary market forces (because the abuser does not bear the costs of his abuse)
  • regulating working conditions to prevent physical or psychological abuse (this would include child labor laws), or to prevent the coercion of workers to doing non-job-related activities (such as enforced political contributions); preventing discrimination based on age, color, gender and so on; ensuring the privacy of information entrusted to companies
  • prevention of the accumulation of wealth by limiting the amount of tangible property, cash and negotiable instruments to heirs.

      It would be nice if, for once, we would as a people actually give our government the powers we want it to have, rather than just letting the government assume those powers as it wishes. But I do think that the government needs to regulate the economy beyond the point that the Constitution currently allows.

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      June 23, 2003

      Politics and Policy

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      The easiest way to tell when Kevin Drum's argument lacks substance is to look at what he presents to back it up. When he's got something plausible, even if its arguable or wrong, he presents statistics, or argues from history. When he's way off base, he just asserts:

      I don't expect Gabler's argument [that for Bush "politics seem less a means to policy than policy is a means to politics"] to mean anything to Bush supporters, of course, but I've felt this way about Bush almost from the beginning. He's a furious political animal who is uninterested in compromise and whose main goal is to defeat his enemies, not advance a cause. Ideology is actually secondary, and is useful mainly as a way to batter his political opposites.

      Actually, that criticism is better levelled at the Clinton, Johnson or Nixon administrations, all of which used policy as a weapon. For Bush, it's true that he has a very muted ideology, and so his policies are more political than idealistic. But it's not true that his policies are shaped as a political weapon. Rather, President Bush sets out major policy goals so as to leave the system in a better state than when he started.

      When Bush was first elected Governor, I voted for Ann Richards (who I still maintain was an excellent Governor, and who I am very glad never got into national office). Soon after his election, Governor Bush was asked by a reporter what his goals were. He listed five policy goals which he felt would correct real problems in Texas. The reporter asked Bush what he would do after that. Bush's answer was "Make sure those five get passed." Bush has always had that kind of focus (where always is defined as "at least since he ran for Governor"). Generally, he seems to pick a few policies which he really wants to get put through, and then bend every effort to getting them passed.

      In that sense, I suppose you could say Bush uses policy as a weapon, since he will compromise on any issue that he doesn't consider core in order to get his core policies through, but that's a really weak statement in comparison to the argument Kevin is trying to make. In particular, I think that President Bush used a very measured approach, at first, in trying to convince people to support the war effort. Once it was clear that certain groups (the Robert Byrd-led group of Democratic demagogues and the Axis of Weasels, for example) were not going to support Bush no matter what, and that other groups (moderate to conservative Republicans, a few Democrats like Zell Miller, the British and Australians) were going to support Bush, all of Bush's efforts went into protecting those who would support him and sidelining or minimizing those who would oppose him, all so that the President could win the assent of the undecided voters and countries.

      I do think that 2004 will be nasty, and certainly some of that will come from conservative groups. If the history of US politics since about 1984 is any guide, though, most of the worst offenses will come from left-wing groups and fringe Democratic candidates, along with a few ultra-rightists like Pat Buchanan.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 15, 2003

      Failure of Logic

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      Are the "opponents of tax cuts" then suggesting that if my taxes are reduced to $5 per year, but that $5 represents 100% of the Federal income tax take, then I should be upset about the effect of the tax cuts? What an odd argument.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 23, 2003

      Taxation

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Kevin Drum at Calpundit has an article about taxation which is worth reading. He also references Henry Waxman's excellent example of how to lie with statistics. I'm not going to discuss the chart in detail, though, because I want to focus on why taxation exists, where revenue can come from, and what our tax options are. I hope thereby to clear up some of the confusion both in Mr. Drum's post and in his comments. In particular, I want to show why those whose views differ from Mr. Drum and his commenters have not "completely run out of ideas on economic policy," do not "mistakenly think they are among the top 1%," and are not necessarily "hypocritical, deceitful scum."

      As a matter of first principles, the absolute requirements of the Federal government are to:


      • conduct a census (necessary for many aspects of representative government, Art 1, Sec 2)
      • regulate the structure of government, and ensure the good behavior of government officers (Art 1, Secs 2, 3, 5 and 6)
      • regulate Federal elections (Art 1, Secs 4 and 5; and Art 2, Sec 1; and several amendments)
      • enact laws as needed to carry out the powers of the Federal government (Art 1, Sec 7)
      • pay debts incurred by the United States (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • provide for the common defence and general welfare (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • regulate commerce with foreign nations and between states (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • regulate naturalization (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • provide uniform laws in specific cases, such as bankruptcy (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • coin money, regulate the exchange rates of the currency, and standardize weights and measures (this was done to ensure that trade would be transparent and fair, Art 1, Sec 8)
      • provide for communications between various parts of the country (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • provide intellectual property protections (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • enforce the laws (Art 1, Sec 8)
      • raise and regulate the Federal military and regulate the various milias (Art 1, Sec 8)

      To undertake these functions, and other functions which some may prefer to be done by the Federal government, but are not absolutely necessary (for example, unearned entitlement programs), the Congress must raise revenue, which Article 1, Section 8 entitles them to do. The methods by which the government might raise revenue include taxation of the states; duties, imposts and excises; user fees; sale of goods and services; taxation of organizations; or direct taxation (that is to say, the taxation of individuals).

      The Federal government uses all of these sources of revenue except, I believe, for taxation of the states. I have no doubt that good arguments can be made for and against each of these sources of revenue, on the basis of the amount of revenue raised, the fairness of the method, the intrusiveness of the method, and other factors. I'd like to specifically talk about direct taxation of individuals, since that is what is at issue in Mr. Drum's post.

      The one argument which is undeniably in favor of using direct taxation of individuals is that it raises a lot of money. The arguments against it - especially in its present form - are legion. The basic categories of arguments that I would make (I'm sure there are others out there) against the current income tax code are: it is intrusive, it is unfair, it is excessive, it is too complex, and it is uncontrollable.

      Intrusiveness: The current Federal tax code intrudes into many aspects of private individual behavior. Because of the number of exceptions, exemptions and provisions, the Federal government needs to know a huge amount of detail about your family structure, your health care, your provisions for retirement, your will, your inheritance from others, your investments, where and how you spend money, your business and personal undertakings overseas, your cars, your house, your travel plans and on and on and on. And every single bit of information that the government knows about you is a method (and sometimes a reason) for intervening in your life and influencing or regulating or even prohibiting your choices.

      Fairness: This is probably the biggest area of disagreement between supporters and opponents of the current tax system. The entire idea of progressive taxation grates on me. The argument advanced in favor of progressive taxation is that it is "more fair" because "the rich can afford to pay more." I don't buy it. I'm pretty solidly middle class, my brother is poor and I have friends who are quite wealthy - on the low end of actually being rich. Should I, on going to a store to buy bread, pay $1.25 for it, while my brother pays $0.20 and my friend pays $7.00? If you support progressive taxation, how could you disagree with this? After all, it gives a break to my poor brother, while my rich friend and I can afford to subsidize my brother's purchase. (By the way, if you think that this is not going to happen, you haven't been keeping up with corporate experimentation in online "smart pricing" arrangements.)

      Obviously, in order to charge this kind of pricing, the corporation would have to be rather intrusive, not unlike the government, into my personal business. But I'm not trying to make the intrusiveness argument here, and I fail in any case to see why it's worse for a company to know my income than it is for the government, since I can choose to take my business elsewhere.

      So from a fairness standpoint, I don't see a difference between the two practices. They are both massively unfair. My ability to pay for a thing should not be the determinant of the price of that thing. My ability to pay the government should not be the determinant of what I pay the government.

      Excessive: I pay a significant fraction of my income in taxes. This is money that I would otherwise use to get out of debt, buy things my family needs or wants (anyone who wants to donate a storm shelter, email me, 'kay?), educate my children (we homeschool, so we don't benefit from the property taxes we pay, either, at least to the very large extent that such taxes finance the local public schools), save for my retirement, save to start a company of my own, and so on. In fact, if my taxes were cut in half, I'd end up being out of debt in one fourth the time - literally - that it will take me as is, assuming I only put half of the new money into debt repayment.

      Now the Federal government does a lot of things I would rather that they not do. Some of these things I think are blatantly unconstitutional, while others are just not the proper role of Federal government. However, I would not argue that taxpayers have the right to withhold their money from programs they don't like. I note, though, that these programs consume some 50% of the Federal budget, and that share is growing. You can make the argument that the government has to do more, and thus needs more revenue, and thus needs higher income taxes (since that's how revenue can be generated in the largest amounts); but I would counter with the argument that I cannot see anything in my list of least-liked programs whose elimination would make this country a worse place to live. Indeed, the country would be a freer place.

      Complex: I have a pretty simple tax return. I don't own a farm, or my own business, or engage in sophisticated financial deals. I don't have complex and involved medical care; my medical care is straightforward; and my real estate holdings are limited to my primary residence. Nonetheless, it takes me about six hours to do my taxes each year, with the aid of a computer program designed for the purpose, and I am never sure that I've done them correctly. In fact, I am pretty timid about which deductions I claim, even if I appear to be entitled to them, because I don't want to trigger an audit and have to defend every single thing I put down, with the presumption of the law being that I am a tax cheat until I can conclusively disprove to the most ardent sceptic that I wasn't trying to cheat the government out of the 8 cents credit I got on books donated to the library. Not that I'm bitter.

      Uncontrollable: Every form of taxation except direct taxation has a limit to its effectiveness, and almost all are totally avoidable, given a desire to do so. For example, let's say the government taxes the sale of food. I can choose less expensive food, to lessen the tax, or even to grow my own food and eliminate the tax entirely. But what is to limit the Federal government's take of tax on individual incomes? The only way to avoid this taxation, since everyone has to earn a living, is to leave the country or vote out the entire Congress en masse. Given the way that disctricts are drawn, you'd be advised to leave the country. Worse still, since the government doesn't allow you to write a check every quarter if you are working for a corporation, you don't see the tax bite very well. It's hidden. This of course reduces the resistance to income taxes, which reduces the chance to change them.

      On top of that, the income tax is heavily concentrated on higher income earners; so much so that about 50% of the people pay no income tax (note: I am not referring to Social Security/Medicare, which are theoretically earned entitlements - just the income tax portion). Well, if half the people are not affected by raising the tax rates, then it is not unreasonable to expect that " the hoi polloi in America are so undertaxed that they can vote themselves just about anything, knowing that it won't cost them a dime." Except that the dynamic isn't about what people will vote for, but what they will not vote against. Suppose a politician is contemplating a tax increase that will win him X votes in people affected by the spending that tax increase enables, and lose him Y votes from people paying heavier taxes. As long as X is larger than Y, the politician's incentive is to vote for the increase. Given that half the people are basically in the X category as it is, the increase in taxes has to actually start reaching down into that bottom half - rather than just soaking the upper half further - to really increase Y. On the other hand, massively increasing the taxes on the top few percent of income earners likely increases Y not at all, while massively increasing X. All in all, the politician's incentive is to soak the rich. Of course, "rich" gets defined further downwards all the time.

      So, while I agree that it is necessary for the Federal government to raise revenue, our current system is the worst possible way to do so. At the very least, we should shift taxation from individuals to the States, where the taxation of any given State is proportional to its relative GDP. Those States could then decide how to meet that revenue need - to what degree to tax their citizens, use other methods, reduce spending themselves and so forth. On top of this, the States have the power to limit the Federal government's take, by threatening to call a Constitutional Convention to amend the Constitution to define that take. And if you end up not liking your State's choice, you could move to a more amenable State. This shifts the incentives pretty nicely.

      There are other schemes that would be even better, in my opinion, but frankly the more attractive they are, the less likely they are to get passed.

      I suspect that most people could agree that the government needs revenue. Strict Libertarians would likely not agree that a direct tax is a reasonable way to raise revenue. Small 'l' libertarians would likely agree that direct taxes would be OK, as long as they were fair and not terribly intrusive (for example, a flat tax which has a high individual exemption) would be reasonable. Very conservative people would argue that spending needs to be cut dramatically as programs are shifted back to the States or eliminated entirely. Somewhat conservative people would argue that spending should be cut somewhat as programs are made more efficient, or combined, or eliminated if they are not working. Somewhat liberal folks would likely demand that spending cuts not happen on programs which "benefit the people," while defense spending and corporate tax abatements (which presumably in that logic do not benefit people) should be slashed, and many small exceptions should be created as needed for "fairness," "justice," or "compassion". Strongly lefty types generally seem to argue that taxes should be raised and concentrated on fewer people, with as much effort as possible spent to ensure that all people end up with the same material outcome regardless of their input.

      I fall in the small 'l' libertarian and mildly conservative bands.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 20, 2003

      A Pet Peeve

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      If one's goal is to create an equality of opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, one will fail to attain one's goal as long as one insists on basing all meaningful decisions in whole or in part on race. After all, if race is always taken into account, race will always be taken into account. Just sayin'.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 19, 2003

      The Intellectual Property Myth

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Aubrey Turner is conflicted about intellectual property, and uses the infamous (at least among geeks) XOR patent. My wife, earlier today, was complaining about the "copyright Nazis" on a homeschooling mailing list who scream "infringement" at everything. This is to the point that a person making a derivative product based on a well-known education-technique book was being taken to task on the presumption that the product wasn't "authorized".

      We have created a system where the majority of powers and rights (collectively, let's call them Liberties) were vested in the individuals, with limited and enumerated powers granted to the States and the Federal government by their associated Constitutions. Those powers granted to the government (in our system, governments have no rights, just powers) were basically those necessary to guarantee the people's rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (which includes property rights). However, the Founders recognized that certain additional powers should be granted to the Federal government, in order to create a better society. These powers included the ability to create a postal system (to enhance communications), the power to regulate commerce between the States (to prevent interstate wars over trade) and the power to "secur[e] ... to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries", but only "for limited Times," in order "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts."

      The whole idea behind copyrights and patents was to encourage authors and inventors to write and invent. To encourage this, such people were given the sole right to their works, which means that they could make a profit off of the work. But this ability to profit was limited in time, so that an author or inventor could not retire from the profits of one work or invention. Thus, the author or inventor would have to create new works or inventions. In the meantime, the transfer of previous works or inventions into the public domain would "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," because now anyone could use those images, ideas, and methods.

      You see, "intellectual property" doesn't exist: it's propaganda. Property is something I can deny you the use of. If I take your radio, you cannot listen to it. I have stolen your property. If I sing your song, or copy it to a CD, or give it away, I have not stopped you from singing it, or using your copies in any way you like, or even selling that song and making a profit. Thus I have not stolen from you, because songs are not property in any meaningful sense of the word.

      It can still be argued, though, that it is a good idea to allow people a limited monopoly over works of art, books, actual representations of factual data (as opposed to the data itself), and ideas subject to patent. Granting such a monopoly encourages people to create new things. However, these rights must be balanced. Works must fall into the public domain while they are still available, so that they can be used and preserved. Rights must not be extended into areas where they make no sense; for example, it should not be possible to patent a discovery of some naturally-occurring organism, or part of an organism, or way of doing business. Rights should be granted to individuals, and should perish more quickly if held by organizations. Rights should only survive the rights holder long enough to remove an incentive for murder; not to grant a boon to the rights holder's grandchildren as is today the case (life + 70 years is, according to a recent Supreme Court decision, a "limited Time."

      In actual fact, I do believe we have gone too far in granting these rights. We have three choices. Either the Supreme Court can strike down laws granting excessive rights on the basis that they do not meet the test of "promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts" or "for [a] limited Time[];" or Congress could wake up and begin to restore the balance between rights holders and the general public; or eventually people will take it into their own hands to redress that balance.

      File sharing on the Internet is a warning shot. It has always been the case that people will seek redress and justice outside the system when the system does not provide them satisfaction. Indeed, that's one of the primary reasons for government to exist. If copyrights are not scaled back, people will begin to violate them wholesale. At this point, it will become virtually impossible to find a jury to convict someone of copyright violations. As far as I am concerned, that is as it should be. The law exists only to serve the needs of the public. When it does not do so, it should be abolished or ignored.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 17, 2003

      Liberal?

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      Radley Balko has a fine article on the FoxNews website, wherein he talks about the original meaning of the word "liberal."

      I think that he has a point, but the only way "liberal" will ever reacquire its meaning in the US is for a party representative of classically liberal values to organize itself as the Liberal Party. Otherwise, liberal will basically just be another word for leftist.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 16, 2003

      Making America a Better Place

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      John Hawkins asks, "Theoretically, let's say you could get any five pieces of legislation passed that you wanted. These could either bills that are already in the pipeline in Congress or that you could write yourself. What pieces of legislation would you pass?" I'd like to comment on some of his answers, and add a few of my own.

      Abortion - This doesn't make sense to me. If you want to do this, it's better to take a generalist approach, it seems, and declare that the Congress may set a single condition to determine when life begins, a single condition to determine when one becomes an adult, and a single condition to determine when life ends. Until and unless Congress acted otherwise, these conditions would be: life begins at the point that 50% of babies would, if delivered, survive for at least 6 months; adulthood begins at age 18; death occurs when a person is unable to survive without the assistance of a machine, and has been for at least 10 days unable to declare himself alive. Any act of government would be prohibited from making age/life condition distinctions other than that a person is alive, but not an adult; is a live adult; or is dead. This would both maximize the protection of lives (including unborn children killed when the mother is mugged, for example) and minimize the intrusion of government into medical care.

      Balanced Budget - OK, as long as it includes the phrase "except in time of war" - this might require additional amendments to clarify war powers, such that "war" could not continue indefinitely.

      Confirmation - I would again prefer to be generalist about this: The consent of the Senate, where required under this Constitution, shall be deemed to be given unless, the Senate having been in session for less than twenty days since the requirement for consent arose, the Senate affirmatively acts to withdraw such consent.

      Flat Tax - If we're going to have direct taxes, a flat tax with a large deduction per person is the best way to do it. I'd rather eliminate direct taxes, though. If a Convention - because, let's face it, that's what it would take to do this - determined that insufficient revenues could be raised under these terms, it could allow the Federal government to tax the States and Territories, and allow the States and Territories to tax their residents.

      Race and Gender - Glenn Reynolds' proposal doesn't go far enough. No act of government, nor of any entity recieving government funds, should be allowed to consider race or gender.

      Illegal Aliens - I would only support tougher enforcement of immigration rules if the rules were much more open and much less arbitrary. In fact, I would prefer that it take an act of a judge to prevent a person from entering the country, except in certain well-defined circumstances (such as they are engaging in illegal activity, like smuggling, while in the act of entry). We have always been open to immigrants, and I see no reason to stop now. Of course, we might want to, as a parallel policy, start offering statehood to nations and provinces of nations. The money we would expend, for example, fixing Mexico's problems would pale in comparison to the good we would obtain from spending less on enforcement and incorporating Mexicans into our society and workforce. That act alone would dramatically reshape the immigration debate.

      School Vouchers - Nope, bad approach. If we are talking wishes here, let's just prevent the government from enforcing a government monopoly on education. Let any child be educated in any way that their parents desire. The school taxes will be apportioned so that the amount necessary for the maintenance of a public school infrastructure would be granted to the government monopoly school district, while the rest of the money (which now goes to supplies, salaries and so on) would be divided among the parents of school-age children - as vouchers if you prefer - which can be used for educational materials and supplies or for tuition. Government schools would be required to take a student on in exchange for the full allotment granted to the parents for that child. Private schools could charge more, or less. Homeschoolers could spend the money on supplies, curricula, books and media or what have you.

      Term Limits - It would be better, again, to be generalist and to define instead what constitutes a Congressional district. Make each State legislature define the districts such that there is a minimum total boundary between districts, and they follow where possible established physical (roads or rivers) or political (county lines or city limits) boundaries, and the districts vary by no more than 2% of population from each other. A redistricting plan could only be challenged in court by someone who could prove that a plan exists which follows existing boundaries and has a smaller total boundary length or a more-even distribution of population.

      Tort Reform - no arguments there

      Other changes I'd like to see implemented:

      Transfer payments - Congress shall make no law which disburses money from the Treasury other than for goods received or services rendered.

      Monopolies - The government should not be allowed to maintain to themselves, nor grant to others, any monopoly power, except for copyrights and patents.

      Intellectual Property - No grant of copyright or patent should be allowed to exceed 25 years under any circumstance.

      Direct Election of Senators - Scrap this, and give the States power over their own destinies again. The States should choose their Senators; otherwise it's just a less responsive House of Representatives.

      Gun Ownership - The government should be required to train each member of the unorganized militia, at that person's request, in the use of small arms, and should provide a rifle for each such person. (Note that the unorganized militia is basically the body of all adult citizens, excluding felons and certain other classes of people.) The government should not be in any way able to prevent, limit or otherwise infringe on the rights of individual citizens to own any weapon (other than nuclear, chemical or biological weapons) that they are capable of operating safely and responsibly.

      There are probably more, but those are the big ones. Personally, I wouldn't have the Constitution say anything about abortion, or include the balanced budget requirement. Even so, any of these proposals would make this a more free and just society.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      What a Load of Crap!

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      Calpundit is a fairly bright and articulate guy, whom I generally disagree with. I don't tend to disagree with him in the sense that I think he's a raving looney, as he's clearly not. But this is a complete load of crap.

      First, shall we start getting into cutting up a person's net worth by who is most responsible for them achieving it? Why stop with the country? What about Bill Gates' parents who raised him and gave him the genetic part of his abilities? What about the teachers (public or otherwise) who taught him things? What about the authors whose books he read, and his business partners, and his investors and his customers? What about he himself? Even if we could get into determining what part of a person's inherent abilities, education/schooling, influence of friends and associates and so forth contributed to that person's wealth, why would we want to tax them according to that?

      And then, let's apply Kevin's reasoning to the other end of the scale. I have a brother who is impoverished. He has no job and has never had one, except for short stints. He has no savings or other resources to draw upon, other than his family. Yet he has a car, a place to live, a TV, food, access to medical care at the emergency room, and is in many ways better off than an indigent person in Pakistan. Should he therefore be required to pay a large percentage of his income in taxes, presuming he ever gets one, because he has more than he would if he were born in Pakistan? If not, then why should Bill Gates have to do so? If so, then hasn't Kevin's point been totally negated, in that my brother is not wealthy in any way, shape or form? By the way, he gets neither unemployment nor any other form of money from the government. By Kevin's logic, should not Bill Gates be sending my brother a check?

      I will grant Kevin's proposition in one way: Mr. Gates should not be paying taxes to Pakistan's government, as he earns his money in the US. Therefore, such taxes as he is required to pay should go to the American government.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 14, 2003

      Drivel

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      This is not about school, per se, but was was written by a teacher. I suppose that her students, like most, will get no training in logic or history. (hat tips: Andrew Sullivan and Cold Fury)

      THE EVIDENCE OF this overwhelming meanness of spirit is everywhere, abroad and at home. Even the administration's efforts to justify the war in Iraq as one of liberation and declare victory cannot mask the human costs to American troops and their families. How many thousands of Iraqis are dead? Where are the ridiculously named "weapons of mass destruction" that Bush used to justify this invasion? Witness the looting of priceless antiquities, kitsch and cash from Iraqi museums and Saddam Hussein's palaces and homes, allowed and participated in not only by Iraqis but members of the American armed forces and their "embedfellows," the media.
      Yet to question this war and its aftermath is characterized as at worst treason and at best anti-American cynicism.

      No, no, Ms. Nelson. We don't think that you are treasonous, nor anti-American. It is quite clear from your column that you are weak-willed, ignorant of history, pathetic, illogical, and a pathological hater of Republicans in general and of President Bush in particular. That, or you are in serious need of psychiatric help. But not treasonous or anti-American, per se.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 12, 2003

      Clinton to Blog?

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      Sgt. Stryker points to a FoxNews article which notes:

      Clinton told the audience that his Web site, which is now up and running, will soon offer his take on news events as they happen. "Now you'll know what's really going on," he promised. "Since you're not told that often these days."

      It doesn't sound to me like he's actually going to write this himself. His usual flacks will probably write the material based on Clinton's vague directions, and then he'll alter a few things and approve the text. In fact, it doesn't sound like a blog at all (depends on the meaning of "as they happen"?), which is kind of sad, because I really want him to have comments turned on.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 11, 2003

      Moderate-but-Inconsistent

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      Patrick Belton at OxBlog postulates that American policies (he mentions foreign policy, but I suspect that this applies just as strongly to domestic policies) come out the way they do largely because American voters, while somewhat ignorant as a whole of policy details, have a very strong and constant set of values. By voting on their values, Belton maintains, the policies of American administrations "a rather moderate-but-inconsistent course that frustrates ideologues on both sides of the partisan divide." It's a very interesting article, well worth reading.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 10, 2003

      Don't Senators READ the Constitution?

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      Newsday reports (hat tip: the Volokh Conspiracy) that the Republicans in the Senate, tiring of the Democratic filibuster of President Bush's judicial nominees, are considering either taking the issue to court, or rewriting the rules so that 60 votes are not needed to end a filibuster.

      I am just stunned that the Senators are even considering taking this issue to the courts. Shouldn't it be a requirement for office that the Senators have at least read the parts of the Constitution that define the powers of the Senate? The courts cannot have any say in the rules of the Senate, because the Constitution reserves to each chamber of Congress the power to set its own rules. This is cut and dried, and if they try this, the justices should not grant certiori.

      Now, changing the rules within the Senate is just fine. The idea behind having 60 votes to end debate is that it would prevent a slim majority from voting on bills as soon as they were proposed, so as to keep the opposition from attempting to convince anyone to change their vote. However, the Senators of both parties have abused this to the point that it has become a way of making any controversial decision require a supermajority. I'm not convinced that this is necessarily bad, as long as the Senators are acting like Senators instead of party hacks, but sadly they more often act like party hacks. In any case, it is within both reason and the Constitution for the Senate to change its rules in such a way that the filibusters won't be sustainable.

      In the longer term, I think that it would be wise for the States to change the Constitution so that, when "advise and consent" is called for, the Congress is assumed to have consented unless it votes to withdraw its consent within some reasonable time. Actually, if this were the rationale for the States to call for a Convention, I think that the Congress would pass an Amendment fairly quickly, in order to forestall a full Convention. I doubt that any of the Representatives or Senators want a Convention called. Just think of the threat it would represent to their sinicure...

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 9, 2003

      Representation

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Steven Den Beste has a post about the European Parliament and the number of members it has. He starts with the US House of Representatives:

      The Senate of the US has two members for every state. That's right out of the Constitution. But there's no direct guidance for how big the House should be, except for a ceiling of no more than one Representative for every 30,000 citizens, which would mean about 9300 Representatives.

      Obviously we don't have that many, and the reason is that quite a while ago it was recognized that as the chamber became larger it also became more unwieldy, and so the House itself capped its numbers at 435. What if it got larger?


      It is certainly true that after a certain point, individual members have almost no real power in such a body. Certainly, there are issues that arise from having a small group of leaders in charge of all of the committee assignments, agenda and so forth. As Steven points out, these issues already arise in the House, at 435 members. I'm not sure, however, that this is really a problem.

      The whole purpose of the House of Representatives is to give individual citizens a voice in government. The House's powers include, for example, the requirement that all tax bills originate in the House. The House has the sole power to impeach officers of the government. The primary method for a Representative to influence the law is by his vote. As a practical matter, the direction and agenda of the House is set by the Speaker and his officers. This is true even with the current size of 435 Representatives.

      While the individual Representative's power decreases as the number of Representatives increases, the power of the individual citizen increases as the number of Representatives increases. This is because a Representative is representing few people. Texas, where I live, has 21,779,893 residents, according to the 2002 census estimates. Texas has 32 Representatives. That means that my Representative also has 680620 other citizens to represent. What are the odds of my influencing Kay Granger's vote? Now, if there were only 29999 other people competing for attention, I'd have more of an ability to influence that vote, and thus more individual power in government. Indeed, judging by the precinct map, I'd be able to walk to most of the people represented along with me. (I live in the very Northeast corner of the 12th district.)

      Beyond having more influence over my Representative, I would have a chance of actually knowing the Elector who represents me. This would put pressure on the State (because I'd want this power, and so would a lot of other voters) to abandon winner-take-all electoral voting and replace it with more local selection of electors. In that case, the Electoral College could actually function the way it was meant to, aggregating the votes of small regions to select people of honor who could interview the Presidential candidates in great detail, and select the best candidate for President. This would act to temper the passions of the moment, and replace them with a longer-term view.

      The levels of corruption and vote trading would decline, because it would be much, much harder to influence the House by influencing a few of its members. Alternative parties would be strengthened, because it would be easier for them to actually get people elected. In a district with almost 700000 people, an alternative party has no chance. In a district wtih 30000 people, there is a good chance that someone from a minor party could win an election. This would increase the diversity of the House, which would strengthen the laws by bringing in a more diverse set of viewpoints.

      All in all, I'd say that having more Representatives is preferable to having fewer.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      TX Democrats in a Snit

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      I don't usually write about State politics, but this is really funny. Basically, what it comes down to is this:


      1. Democrats have historically had the upper hand in Texas politics, but this has been changing as the State becomes more right-wing and the Democrats nationally become more leftist.
      2. Democrats have used this upper-hand to form voting districts that will enshrine their upper-hand.
      3. It's time for redistricting to happen.
      4. The Republicans are in control of the redistricting process.
      5. The Republican plan will break the Democrats' hold, transferring some 4 to 7 seats to the Republicans.
      6. The Democrats are in a snit.
      7. The Democrats left the State, rather than allow a quorum to form that would vote on redistricting, and pass the Republican plan.
      8. Please note that this has been through court several times already.

      I don't know why, but I find this really amusing.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      May 1, 2003

      Wanna Bet?

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      How much do you want to bet that the New York Times would not get onto a leftist for gambling? I'm no big fan of Bill Bennett, but given that this is an activity he has engaged in legally (no criminality), has not criticized as immoral (no hypocrisy), has not apparently done to the detriment of himself or others (no victim), and has admitted to frequently (no coverup), what is the big deal? It's not like he gets stinking drunk and then leaves his dates to drown, or gets blow jobs in the Oval Office while discussing foreign affairs with Senators, or is on the take or any of the numerous other things that leftist politicians have done which the Times has given them a free pass for. I'm all for setting high standards for public servants, but this is just stupid.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      April 30, 2003

      The Great American Melting Pot

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Aubrey Turner posts on the growing number of immigrants, primarily hispanic, who do not end up learning English. He is worried, both because this limits their success, and because it tends to factionalize us. I would like to note two things: 1) the people who most promote the multiculturalist idiocy are the same who benefit from it (and I don't mean the immigrants themselves, but the victimization advocates), and 2) there is cause for more hope than Aubrey lets on.

      The cause for hope is simply this: our nation has always been this way. The initial generation of immigrants speak only their native language. Their children are bilingual, and in the third generation only English is spoken. I share Aubrey's concerns that we are, as a nation, slowing this process, and that doing so tends to marginalize the new immigrants. I do have faith, though, in the ability of immigrants to realize that speaking English is in their own interest, all carping by those who wish to have the immigrants as a captive audience aside.

      Posted by jeff at 4:55 PM | TrackBack

      Deporting Immigrants

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a controversial 1996 law:

      The government can imprison immigrants it is seeking to deport without first giving them a chance to show that they present neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, a divided Supreme Court ruled today.

      The 5-to-4 decision upheld the mandatory-detention provisions of a 1996 immigration law as applied to a substantial category of aliens who are lawful permanent residents of the United States and who have been convicted of any of a number of drug crimes and other "aggravated" offenses.


      Let's face it: this is a terrible law. Even without the stories of immigrants who have lived here since they were a few years old, and who don't speak Korean but are being deported to Korea, the law is lousy just on a surface consideration of its merits. What this law says, is that the US government can decide to hold a person under this law, and in doing so can deny him the opportunity to prove that he should not be held under the law. That's pretty offensive.

      On the other hand, the Constitution does not require that a law be sensible or morally upstanding; only that it be passed by the methods given in the Constitution, and accord with powers granted the government by the Constitution. Since it is generally held that these powers include the right to control who can and cannot legally remain in the country, providing that they are not citizens, and since the law was passed in the normal manner, the Supreme Court's decision was a good one. Now that the Supreme Court has so decided, it would be a good idea to get this law amended, rather than letting such an unreasonable law stay on the books.

      By the way, a citizen "owns" living in America, while a non-citizen is essentially here as a guest of the government (as Cato points out), so there is a due process argument to be made for citizens that would not apply to non-citizens.

      Posted by jeff at 2:56 PM | TrackBack

      Prospects of a Political Axis Shift

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Robin Goodfellow a an interesting article about the prospects for a political axis shift in US domestic politics, where the issues being discussed totally change, and the political parties reform into a new pair (possibly with the same names but with vastly different agendas). (Thanks to Instapundit for the link.) I think that there is a good chance that Robin is correct. After all, there are a lot of issues out there that do not break cleanly along party lines (the war on terrorism being only one) and there are a lot of people who don't feel connected to the major parties. When they become convinced they have an alternative, those voters change things. Witness Jesse Ventura's race for governorship, for instance. Robin's suggestion of where the parties might reform is certainly plausible.

      What is lacking, I think, is a charismatic leader. If someone like Colin Powell or Zell Miller were to come out and say, hey, we need a third option, and here's what it should be, then I think we could see a rapid formation of a new meaningful political party. It can't be about that charismatic leader though - that's the fate that Perot suffered, because people wanted him to be something he couldn't, so the Reform Party eventually and inevitably self-destructed. Even then, though, I'm not entirely convinced that such a part could survive for long.

      I think that the breaking points in future American politics will be Federal vs. State control, which includes the debates about government size, taxes, protection of individual liberties and so forth; the war against terrorism and rogue states developing nuclear weapons; and immigration. I think that if a group of well-known political figures were to form a party with the stated principles of transferring most governmental and tax authority back to the States, vigorously prosecuting the war on terrorism while otherwise pulling back from overseas commitments, and allowing much easier immigration, such a party could easily pull about 1/3 of the Democrats and a similar proportion of Republicans into its fold. A large number of independents might also fold in, and at that point, there would be the possibility of real change. It's certainly possible, too, that the opposing parties would reform into a single party pushing massive Federal control and nanny-state welfare provisions combined with very restricted immigration and even greater intrusions on individual liberties in the name of "security." Such a party would likely, as the moderates got pushed out of it, become isolationist as well.

      Certainly, it will be interesting.

      Posted by jeff at 10:44 AM | TrackBack

      April 22, 2003

      Think You've Seen the Worst of the Clintons?

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Not yet you haven't, but you will. Excerpt:

      Brill, who defended the Clintons throughout the Monica Lewinsky impeachment scandal, said that efforts to mislead him began after the former first lady got word he was writing his 9/11 book. She actually sought him out at the Ground Zero ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the attacks. "I hear you want to talk to me about your book," he recalls her saying.

      Thanks to Cold Fury for the link.

      Posted by jeff at 11:23 AM | TrackBack

      April 21, 2003

      Libertarian with a Small 'L'

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Down below the "More..." link below is a Libertarian Party press release, which demonstrates a major reason that I cannot be a member of that party, despite my generally-libertarian political and philosophical leanings. In summary, the release is an example of the Libertarian Party belief that foreign intervention is always wrong. Certainly, they would make the exception that if we were to be attacked, the nation that attacked us could be fought overseas. However, they tend to not draw any connections between September 11 and anything else (including Afghanistan - I don't have the letter but it was somewhat like the one below in tone).

      What bunk! I certainly can see a principled position which states that if the US were to withdraw to the status of minor power, we'd be in far fewer wars. This is likely true. It's even possible that, with the European addiction to social spending and the Chinese tendency to only care about power in a regional sense, rather than in a global sense, we would not be in many wars if we didn't aggressively defend our interests overseas. The problem is that this approach takes account of neither the lethality of modern weapons (one attack with nuclear weapons on an American city is unacceptable) nor of the presence of non-state actors in foreign affairs. In other words, the Libertarian Party is stuck in the 1780s. And what a shame, because libertarianism is a direct child of the Enlightenment. If only we could harness the desire for minimalist government and individual natural rights, there would be a great value in the Libertarian Party. As it is, the party is a bunch of crackpots with a few useful people involved. Here is a quote from the press release:

      As the war winds down it's clear what its legacy will include: the
      death of thousands of innocent people; more embittered, anti-American
      Arabs in search of revenge; another frustrating foray into nation-
      building; massive economic costs for the American people; and a
      framework for expanded, global war.

      Is that really worth celebrating?


      No, the legacy of this war will include fewer innocents dead than if we had not fought. Consider that the number of civilians killed in the war itself - including those killed by the Iraqi soldiers and paramilitaries and the non-Iraqis among the Fedayeen - was smaller than died in Iraq in a normal month pre-war. The legacy will include more Arabs examining their societies to determine how they came to this. It will include successful nation-building, as in Japan and Germany after WWII. It will certainly present massive economic costs to the American people, but likely smaller costs than would have been incurred by not acting. After all, how much have we spent in containing Iraq for the last 12 years? How much more would we have spent? And if Iraq actually completed nuclear weapons, and sold or gave one to a terrorist group to attack us or Israel, how much would we pay? It is possible that this will be a global war, but it is a war of existence for us, not a war of choice. Should we fail to fight this war now, on terrain of our choosing, while we are strong and our enemy is weak and fractious; we will be choosing instead to fight this war later, on the terrain and at the time of our enemy's choosing, when they are stronger and more united and we are weaker and more divided.

      Given all of this, yeah, it's really worth celebrating.

      ===============================
      OP-ED FROM THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY
      2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 100
      Washington DC 20037
      World Wide Web: http://www.LP.org
      ===============================
      For release: April 16, 2003
      ===============================
      For additional information:
      George Getz, Communications Director
      Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222
      E-Mail: GeorgeGetz@hq.LP.org
      ===============================

      What have we really won in Iraq?

      By Geoffrey Neale

      Iraqis have been freed from the clutches of a ruthless dictator, and
      that certainly is worth celebrating.

      But what else has been gained from the speedy victory over Saddam
      Hussein's regime?

      Thus far the main justification for the invasion -- to protect the
      United States from weapons of mass destruction -- remains unfulfilled,
      since no such weapons have been found.

      A secondary goal of the invasion -- to bring genuine democracy to Iraq
      -- appears to be a long shot at best, according to most foreign policy
      analysts.

      Over 100 coalition soldiers were killed, wounded or taken captive.

      An uncounted, and perhaps uncountable, number of innocent Iraqi men,
      women, and children were killed or maimed, and a nation of 23 million
      people lies in smoldering ruins as looters pick through the rubble.

      The graphic TV images of the U.S. bombing campaign broadcast on Arab
      networks may yet spawn "a thousand bin Ladens," warn terrorism experts,
      while no evidence suggests that the region is now more favorably
      inclined toward the United States.

      U.S. taxpayers will soon fork over $80 billion for a "down payment" on
      the war, and the ensuing occupation and reconstruction could cost
      hundreds of billions of dollars.

      An expanded war -- perhaps targeting Syria or Iran -- remains a
      distinct possibility.

      So even as President Bush prepares to declare victory over Iraq, it
      seems fair to ask: What, specifically, has the United States won?

      Only one tangible benefit springs to mind: the satisfaction of knowing
      that millions of repressed people can now breathe the fresh air of
      freedom.

      But most Americans tacitly agree that toppling a dictator is an
      insufficient reason to invade another nation. Otherwise, they would be
      demanding that the U.S. government overthrow equally dictatorial
      regimes in Burma, North Korea, Cuba, China, Libya, Sudan, and Saudi
      Arabia.

      Another potential benefit -- achieving democracy -- is considered at
      least five years away by most foreign policy experts, who point out
      that the Middle East has no tradition of democracy and no active
      democratic movements.

      James Dobbins, a U.S. diplomat who helped oversee nation-building
      efforts in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, says, "It
      isn't like the first day of Genesis, where the secretary of defense
      passes his hand over Iraq and says, 'Let there be democracy.' "

      In the short term, any leader who appears to be handpicked by the
      United States, as President Hamid Karzai was in Afghanistan, will be
      seen as illegitimate.

      Even if genuinely free elections were to occur soon, Americans might
      not like the results. Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy
      studies at the Cato Institute, points out that Shi'a Muslims, who
      comprise over 60 percent of the Iraqi population, could elect a leader
      with close ties to Iran's religious mullahs.

      A second possibility, Preble notes, is that Kurds could choose leaders
      demanding full-fledged independence from Iraq.

      A third, chilling possibility is that the newly liberated Iraqis could
      end up electing another Saddam Hussein. That scenario could unfold if
      several candidates were to split the votes of Shiites and Kurds,
      allowing the Sunni Muslim minority to unite behind a former Baath Party
      official.

      As the war draws to a close, it appears that the U.S. government has
      invaded a sovereign nation to confiscate weapons that may not exist and
      create a Western-style democracy that may never exist.

      But it gets worse: This "victory" could end up making the entire world
      a more dangerous place, thanks to Bush's shocking proclamation that a
      U.S. president has a right to launch a pre-emptive strike against any
      nation that he deems a potential threat.

      "If" a foreign leader has weapons of mass destruction, the argument
      goes, he "might" give them to terrorists. Therefore the United States
      has the right to launch an offensive attack, destroy that regime and
      kill thousands of innocent people in the process.

      But why should such a "right" extend only to the United States? Nearly
      every nation faces a threat, real or contrived, at some point.

      Imagine what would happen if other nations adopted Bush's kill-first,
      ask-questions-later policy.

      Might nuclear-armed India launch a pre-emptive strike against its
      bitter rival Pakistan, or vice versa? What if belligerent North Korean
      leader Kim Jong-il, or an Iranian government that is reportedly close
      to acquiring nuclear weapons, suddenly sense a threat to their national
      security?

      Unfortunately, the argument isn't just theoretical. On Monday,
      Australian Prime Minister John Howard sparked outrage throughout
      Southeast Asia when he asserted the right to launch pre-emptive anti-
      terror strikes against other nations in the region.

      Malaysian leaders immediately denounced Howard, and said such an attack
      would be considered an act of war.

      Nonetheless, the precedent has been set. The doctrine of pre-emptive
      strike may soon pose a greater threat to world peace than Saddam
      Hussein ever did.

      As the war winds down it's clear what its legacy will include: the
      death of thousands of innocent people; more embittered, anti-American
      Arabs in search of revenge; another frustrating foray into nation-
      building; massive economic costs for the American people; and a
      framework for expanded, global war.

      Is that really worth celebrating?


      About the author: Geoffrey Neale is national chair of the Washington,
      DC-based Libertarian Party.

      Posted by jeff at 11:51 PM | TrackBack

      April 17, 2003

      Fisking Bill Clinton

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      Thanks to this pointer from Oki, I found an article about Bill Clinton's latest blather. Herewith my first Fisking:

      NEW YORK (AFP) - Former US President Bill Clinton blasted US foreign policy adopted in the wake of the September 11 attacks, arguing the United States cannot kill, jail or occupy all of its adversaries.

      Amazing, Bill Clinton finally realized that it's possible to have a foreign policy, rather than just stumbling blindly from crisis to crisis hoping that no one notices the brunette under the desk. He's right though, that the US can't "kill, jail or occupy all of its adversaries." Some individuals will need to disappear, and some soon-to-be-former leaders will need to be turned over to their soon-to-be-former slaves for the Mussolini treatment. Thanks for reminding us to use all of our options.
      "Our paradigm now seems to be: something terrible happened to us on September 11, and that gives us the right to interpret all future events in a way that everyone else in the world must agree with us," said Clinton, who spoke at a seminar of governance organized by Conference Board.

      Something did and it does. One would hope that Mr. Clinton would remember what happened on September 11, but since he's not specific, I'd just like to remind him that our enemies deliberately attacked us in a way which created thousands of dead and billions of dollars in economic damage. This is not a small thing. This is not something to just get over. The world should thank us for not immediately irradiating the entire Middle East. And if they don't agree on our need to destroy terrorism the way that piracy was destroyed - knock it down into a little nub of a forgotten idea - then they should be prepared to be targetted or, at best, ignored (if they are irrelevant enough to ignore). This is a feature of our foreign policy, not a bug.
      "And if they don't, they can go straight to hell."

      So can you, Clinton, so can you.
      The Democratic former president, who preceded George W. Bush at the White House,

      ...requiring a change of carpet and substantial repairs to equipment before President Bush could get down to real work.
      said that sooner or later the United States had to find a way to cooperate with the world at large.

      No. The world at large has to find a way to cooperate with us. When the bull is lose in the China shop, the thing to do is to get the China out, not to argue with the bull.
      "We can't run," Clinton pointed out. "If you got an interdependent world, and you cannot kill, jail or occupy all your adversaries, sooner or later you have to make a deal."

      A deal like the Balkans, where we put an unnatural end to a natural conflict, thus ensuring that not only will it not be resolved, but we'll be occupying the country for years to prevent renewed violence? Or a deal like Kosovo, where Clinton was perfectly willing to bomb Serbia into agreeing to an occupation, and to do so with the consent of neither the Congress nor the UN? Or a deal like N. Korea? Or a deal like that with the Palestinians, so they could kill as many Israeli children as they wanted, so long as they made the occasional paper concession? What kind of "deal" do you forsee, you ignorant self-involved weasel?
      He said he believed Washington overreacted to German and French opposition to US plans for military action against Iraq and suggested that the current administration had trouble juggling foreign and domestic issues.

      Let's see, the Germans and French attempted with every instrument of power they possess to prevent the United States from carrying out its foreign policy, which is (in case you weren't paying attention) to forever destroy the threat of terrorism as a policy by destroying terrorist groups and the regimes that assist and encourage them. They didn't use military force only, so far as their behavior suggests, because they have none worth using. The proper reaction to this is to declare that France and Germany are committing acts of war against the United States, and unless they cut it out we will add them to the target list. I'd say that, if anything, we underreacted.

      The Clinton administration held its focus squarely on domestic issues, because that was what would pay off in political terms for them. There was no coherent focus on foreign policy, which is a large part of the reason we're in the mess we're in now. President Bush is pushing a domestic agenda, but mainly by making proposals and then letting Congress flesh them out or gut them. The President's focus is on making sure that we don't die tomorrow, or next week. That is the right thing to do.

      "Since September 11, it looks like we can't hold two guns at the same time," Clinton said. "If you fight terrorism, you can't make America a better place to be."

      Yet more proof that getting policy advice from Clinton is like getting policy advice from Carter. Sure, it's a good laugh, but it's not something to take seriously. And what's with describing "make[ing] America a better place to be as "holding [a] gun[]"? And while we're at it, let's just try and erase the image of Clinton holding his gun...
      Clinton said that if he were at the White House right now he would scrap a 726-billion dollar tax cut proposal made by the president in January to stimulate the flagging economy.

      Congress has since cut the proposal to 550 billion dollars in the case of the House of Representatives and 350 billion under a Senate version of the plan.


      If Congress passes a 350-550 billion dollar tax cut, it is still an enormous victory for those of us who are overtaxed. Better than zero, or worse yet, a tax increase, which would have been the standard unthinking Democratic response (is there another kind?) to the economy's troubles at the end of the Clinton administration.

      Posted by jeff at 10:39 AM | TrackBack

      April 9, 2003

      Fault Lines

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      At Winds of Change, Armed Liberal says:

      Personally, I refuse to yield all the optimism to conservatives. I believe there are a number of liberals like me - who define their liberalism not by antipathy for the modern West, or more specifically for the U.S., but by a desire for more justice, more liberty, more equality, and a belief that we can have it all. I think that someone will find a way to channel our patriotism, our hope, and our energy into a political movement that can stand toe-to-toe with the conservative wave that is going to rise for the next few years in this country. Somone is going to outline a future for us, and challenge us to make it happen.

      I believe that the old lines between Conservative and Liberal are blurring. In the 1990s, the Conservatives kicked out their reactionary, extremist idiots, and basically silenced the extreme right. The remainder is a moderate classical liberalism, with economic and foreign policy ideas drawn from the legacy of both Conservatives and Liberals in America.

      The Liberals are beginning to find the same fault lines within their own party, between the Noam Chomsky left and the Dick Gephardt left. There is more in common between the Noam Chomsky left and the Pat Buchanan right than there is between the extreme left and the moderate left. I believe that the extreme right and the extreme left are coming together to make common cause. I belive that the moderate right and the moderate left need to do the same.

      The kind of rightist that Bush represents and the kind of leftist that Armed Liberal represents have a lot in common. As Armed Liberal himself puts it:

      And I'm happy to admit that it isn't for me because I am perfectly willing to stand with conservatives in believing in American exceptionalism.

      I just think we got there for different reasons, and that we'll build the shining future using different tools.


      I concur. I think, though, that too many on the moderate right and too many on the moderate left are blinded by the Republican and Democrat labels. The labels keep us from seeing our commonalities by emphasizing our differences. There is a thread of self-loathing and hatred of those who aren't "part of the tribe" which needs to be fought, and it will only be the combined efforts of the moderates in all parties and among independents which will be able to ward off the doomsayers and cynics enough to allow America to act, at home and abroad, optimistically.

      This is a time when we need to come together - the moderate right, the moderate left, and the non-ideologically-blinded among the Libertarians and independents - in order to fashion a new polity in America, which believes and acts both at home and abroad on one simple principle:

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

      Posted by jeff at 7:08 PM | TrackBack

      March 31, 2003

      Not Getting It

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      I am deeply concerned about a current aspect of American politics. This problem was driven home to me when I watched an interview with an anti-war British MP on American TV. This MP had worked tirelessly to prevent PM Blair from deciding to go to war, and had voted against doing so. Yet once the vote was taken, this MP said (and I am paraphrasing here): "The decision has been taken, and it is in the nature of democratic governance that the decision taken is taken for all."

      This is not the case in America lately. From the Right, during the Clinton presidency, came bumperstickers that asserted "Charlton Heston is my President." Now from the Left comes the call that this President's administration is illegitimate, and that all decisions made are therefore wrong, and if only it had been President Any Democrat, we would be all for going to war in Iraq, or whatever the issue of the day is.

      I feel that we have to heal this rift, and soon, or it will destroy our ability to live as anything other than a tyranny with frequent changes of tyrant.

      Posted by jeff at 12:32 PM | TrackBack

      March 20, 2003

      The President's Press Conference

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      What impressed me most was that the press corps were serious and respectful. They asked good questions, occasionally even quite tough questions, without being rude or frivolous. I never really expect this from the press. The President's performance was also quite strong, which I expected, though the somber mood was surprising.

      A lot of the followup, particularly from Senator Hart, struck me as frivolous and partisan. This is not really an appropriate approach to such serious matters as the defense of the Nation. But then again, I seldom expect the Democrats to act with any real decorum or forethought. It wasn't always this way - I would still vote for Senator Boren if he chose to return to politics and run for President.

      The most telling moment was when the President was asked whether he would be making the decision soon to go to war. His answer was, in part:

      That's what the United Nations Security Council has been talking about for 12 long years.

      It's now time for this issue to come to a head at the Security Council, and it will.

      As far as ultimatums and all of the speculation about what may or may not happen after next week, we'll just wait and see.

      The way he stumbled over that past sentence, I believe indicates that he has decided that he will give the order next week, barring the very remote chance of Sadaam suddenly deciding to comply or abdicate.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack