May 31, 2005

Mark Felt is 'Deep Throat'

A former top FBI man was the secret source for the Watergate scandal. He isn't dead, he's 91, but his family revealed it and Bernstein, Woodward and Bradlee confirmed it. So it wasn't Pat Buchanan, after all.
Pakistani Bride Gang-Raped For Tribal Vengeance (tip to lgf)

Words do not describe. Just read.

    MULTAN: In an act of revenge, a woman was gang-raped with the consent of her in-laws by three people on her wedding night in Dera Ghazi Khan, police said.

    Ghulam Hussain, the father of the victim Kaneez Kubra, told reporters that his daughter was married to Mujahid Hussain on April 28, as ordered by a panchayat (local jury) under the wani custom since Kaneez’s brother Abdul Majid had sexual relations with Mujahid’s sister Sumera.

    After the wedding, Kaneez Kubra went to the groom’s home. Her husband stayed with her in their room till 11pm and then left. Afterwards, Mujahid’s grandfather Shahroo Khan and his mother Mukhtar came in and told the bride that the wedding was just an excuse to exact revenge on Majid for outraging Sumera’s modesty.

    Mujahid Hussain then invited his three friends Muhammad Rafiq, Shabbir Muhammad and Abdul Majid Almani, who gang-raped the bride.

    The next day, Mujahid Hussain took her to the house of his friend Ghulam Mustafa, who also assaulted her.
De Villepin new PM

Raffarin has stepped down as Prime Minister of France due to stunning unpopularity of his timid market reforms and the failed plebiscite on the EU constitution. Chirac had promised a cabinet shuffle, no doubt to reinvigorate his chances for a third term in the 2007 election. De Villepin, who was Foreign Minister from 2002 to 2004 during the contentious Atlantic squabbling over the Iraq war, is moving up from Interior Minister to take the PM slot.

Dominique de Villepin has never been elected to public office. A product of the French academies, a source of French elites for decades, de Villepin hails from the snootiest of the academies - the civil service ecole. He's a career diplomat and bureaucrat. He's most famous for his irrationally absolutist stand against any form of UN intervention against Iraq, breaking France's earlier promise to intervene per UNSC Resolution 1441.

He has a reputation throughout the US, especially on Fox News, as one of the biggest-names in the European anti-American brigades. His elevation will bring a hail of criticism. This means that the Guallist French are now vying with the German Social Democrats for Most Anti-American Electoral Campaign.

May 30, 2005

Knife Control! (tip to Samizdata)

I can't believe it's actually here, but something I used to say sarcastically as a way to mock gun control advocates is now being advocated by a group of clueless do-somethingers. Their belief is that kitchen knives don't need to have pointy edges but people high or drunk use them in fights all the time.

Watch for the move to ban glass beer bottles and heavy TVs that might be used as weapons. After that: cover the world in bubble-wrap and mommy's kissies.
French Reject EU Constitution

The French voters rejected the proposed EU constitution by an 8 to 12 point margin. Since the constitution requires unanimous buy-in from the member states, it seems like the most likely course from here is a revote. I doubt they'll change anything of substance in the constitution, since that would require revotes in other countries, too. I don't think it would really matter, anyway.

The rejection is based on the fear, strange as it is, that the EU would further liberalize the European (and therefore French) economy. While most Americans would wonder how the Eu could be market-oriented when it spends so much time trying to stop the English from working so hard (in the form of weekly-hours caps) or keep overly-successful products from being marketed too widely (e.g. Swedish strawberries). The EU is over-regulated, over-subsidized and a mess of special protections and artifically super-high labor costs. It has almost no labor mobility to the strangling power of many European unions.

And yet, viewed from the perspective of the French working class, for decades sympathetics with the West's most powerful Communist Party and lately somewhat taken with the neo-fascist National Front, the EU looks like an Anglo-American economy of stock markets, capital flows and efficient labor-pricing.

They do have something to worry about, since the labor costs of Eastern Europe will probably require some changes in the Western European economy. But that's ultimately a good thing, since the high cost of labor is throttling the competitiveness of those same economies. Some balancing would do them good.

It's possibly also connected to the policies of Chirac and Rafarrin related to the French work week. Ultimately French rejection is actually from a socialist-nationalist standpoint, rather than a capitalist-nationalist one. If anything, this makes me see the EU in a bit of a new light. Sure, it's still horribly mismanaged, but if it pisses off the French - and French Communists at that - then it can't possibly be all bad.

This will probably somewhat put the brakes on further EU integration measures after the constitution. Hopefully they'll get the message and wait a few extra years before taking the next step (like say Turkey or EuroForce). I doubt it, though.

May 29, 2005

Federalism AFTER Liberty (tip to DF)

In a rambling, tortured piece on federalism and interventionism from lewRockwell, we're treated to (punished by) an explanation for why nobody should intervene in the bad or evil actions of other government jurisdictions. Of course, I'd suspect this is partly due to the neo-Confederate sympathies known to come from the site, since it would justify the 'leave slavery alone' thesis if it were in fact a 'leave everything alone' thesis.

What's funny is that, despite an over-emphasis on the illegitimacy of states (states can't be illegitimate prima facie until they start initiating force, which is separate from the fact that every existing government seems to initiate force) the conclusion is fundamentally anti-vigilante, anti-humanity and anti-freedom. They believe that it would be a horrible thing if people started protecting the freedom of others, that it would lead to horrendous chaos and that the world would be one big warzone.

I remember that from somewhere. Oh yes, that was Hobbes on the state of nature: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. That old totalitarian-lover believed that we're all mean, greedy and stupid and only by submitting irrevocably to a mega-monarch could we avoid the fate of choas. In other words, we're too evil and dumb to be free.

A good anarchist, which the authors seem to fancy themselves, would realize there's some inherent value to vigilantism. After all, if they wish to live in a stateless world, should we just allow women to be raped as long as it's not us? That seems like a pretty harsh view of things. While the libertarian question of whether you should be obligated to live for another by fighting for them is unquestionably that intervention is optional, the libertarian answer for whether it's morally acceptable to use force against force-initiators is laughably uncontestable.

In other words, while nobody should force you to help others under attack, there's absolutely no moral reason why you can't meet force with force.

Their objection, ultimately, is that it's bad in implementation. That for unrelated reasons, it's bad to use force to help others. The argument, though relayed in a mangled and confusing manner, seems to be mostly based on the practical side effects and the hypocrisy of breaking law or sovereignty to serve freedom.

Well, the poractical side effects are an important consideration. In that case, though, the authors would have to support in principle the intervention in Iraq while opposing on the margins the damages done to civilians. Of course, then we get into the question whether it's better to risk accidentally harming or killing a few thousand Iraqis or to knowingly let Saddam arrest, rape, murder and terrorize the millions of Iraqis that were under his domination. Once we get into the practical side effects, things get a little messy for philosophers. But either way, the authors ought to stand with the coalition in principle. Ten bucks says they don't.

The hypocrisy argument is unpersuasive twice over. First, the tu quoque fallacy; just because somebody is a hypocrite doesn't mean the act in question is wrong. I could say that all Iraqis deserve to be raped bu then save a Kurd woman from being raped. I'd be a hypocrite but I'd still be right. Second, it's insane to suggest that we should obey a law or principle that doesn't have us doing the right. The response shouldn't be resigned inaction but aggressive reform. If a law has us protecting slavery, defending Jim Crow or ignoring genocide, then it's the law that needs changing, not the intervention to defend liberty.

The article has clear confederal overtones and places the idea of federalism, limiting government's structure, above liberty, limiting government's power. It's a fallacy of paleo-libertarians that it's somehow more principled to have the government ignore slavery and ignore genocide than to risk it intervening to protect the freedom fo the victims. Beyond the obvious selfishness of not caring for the liberty of others, and the rank, stinking hypocrisy, it's not really libertarian.

Federalism is not more important than freedom. It is good if the federal government intervenes to stop infractions from the states, be it slavery and Jim Crow or wine tariffs and rent control. The fact that it doesn't give the state's a blank check to abuse liberty is why it's good, not why it's bad. The LewRockwell paleo-libertarians would have us believe that this sort of federal government reaction against the states or intervention in Iraq is bad because the power to do good is the power to do bad. While it's certainly true that doing good can easily lead to doing bad, the question of morality is found in liberty, not in federalism.

They seem to argue that if the feds intervene to stop wine tariffs between the states, it's bad because federalism is good. I would argue that it's good if the feds intervene for liberty, and the power to intervene is only bad when it serves to trample on or weaken liberty.

Federalism is not liberty; states do not have freedom. Federalism is practical, while liberty is ethical. Practical considerations should not masquerade as ethical ones.
Danica Patrick Sets Record

In the Indy 500, Danica Patrick just made history by being the first woman to lead the race at Indy. She was in second place at a handfuil of laps to go, but fell behind because she was almost out of fuel. She finished fourth. Her performance is far mor impressive because she nearly had a calamitous accident but went on to lead at Indy and finish fourth. I'm not much of a racing fan (I went to the Indy 500 once) but I just wanted to note the event. For some reason it reminds me of the women's soccer team victory over China; I know far less about soccer than even what I know of Indy racing, but somehow I appreciated that victory, too.

This was Patrick's first Indy 500. No doubt she'll be back.
He Gets It (tip to VC)

James Piereson was the Olin Foundation's director for two decades, and he really gets it. The focus of political influence, discourse and evolution is ultimately dictated by ideas. Good ideas, bad ideas, philosophical treatises, persuasive worldviews, gut reactions, the whole collection of different types of ideas play a major, often decisive, role in politics.

Well-defended and well-argued ideas are then immensely powerful in politics. That's what has precipitated, in part, the rise of the right in American politics and the fall of the left. It's not the entirety of politics, but it's a major factor.

The development of libertarian groups like FEE and IHS, as well as political PACS like Cato and (conservative) Heritage have also had a big role. That's so that, in editorials, news shows, political debates and congressional wrangling, your supporters have the arguments, evidence, research and models to win the day.

If a Representative gets into an argument on education, he needs an idea to counter the "teacher's unions and their members should get more money and benefits" strain of arguments. With ideas, that Rep. can turn around and reach for a vouchers proposal from idea-men like Friedman or think-tanks like Cato. The idea alone isn't enough; he needs to have a fairly specific proposal that can be turned into a law, or even that's already written in the form of a bill by the idea people. But then he needs some follow-up support in the form of evidence, research, and general rhetoric.

This is the true currency of political discourse. Influence and connections can make things happen in the short-term, but ideas dominate the larger and longer-term battles. The prevalence of ideas makes the idea-men more important than elected officials in a sense. After all, the hundreds of thousands of local, state and federal officials that support vouchers would be nowhere if Milton Friedman hadn't thought up the idea first.

Perhaps the best way to see it is a battle. The elected officials are the soldiers of varying degrees of power and rank. Without ideas and proposals to use as weapons, they're defenseless, and so it makes sense to get them the best weapons you can - from guys who do nothing but think up good ideas to turn into policy.

The Democrats have a dearth of ideas and philosophy. The American left is not really liberal, not really socialist, not really pacifist, not really isolationist, not really capitalist, not really anything. The only ideology that fits them is a watered-down positivism - the idea that government should step in and try to make things 'better.' A highly underformed type of utiliatianism, to put it another way. Without philosophy, they don't really know what they want the world to look like and hence have few ideas for getting there.

They became this way because they aren't a political party, but rather a shopping list. Unions, black people, latinos, women, everybody wants their particular policy or handout without an overarching philosophy. The biggest unifying mark of the Democrats is that they're not Republicans. That will take them far enough to stay in contention, since there are enough people that don't believe in the ideas Republicans have, but it's dfamned hard to win converts when you are always opposing and never proposing.

Since they have no ideas and represent a collection of divergent, fragmented social interests and anti-Republicans, they don't have a lot of suggestions for things to do should they be elected. In the response to the State of the Union, the only two policy proposals I heard were both unoriginal and stereotypically tax-and-spend. One was a Marshall Plan for America and a NEW GI Bill of Rights - both suffering from depressing unoriginality, a touch of nativism, a fatal dose of non-specificity and largely proposed out of the tax-and-spend heritage of the US left.

These are their ideas? They want to spend more? I'm pretty sure the Democrats already had three Marshall Plans for America: FDR's New Deal, Truman's Square Deal, and LBJ's Great Society.

They have no philosophy, hence no ideas for how to govern. Their idea-men are running on three types of power: 1) recycled FDR-LBJ tripe, despite being largely discredited, 2) a mix of radical, socialist and Bush-hating agenda items that make a big ruckus but are either extremely vague or extremely unworkable, 3) trying to fight against the Democrats to make them more capitalist, more conservative, more Southern, more interventionist or more libertarian. The first two types won't take them anywhere they really want to go, electorally or politically, though the radical brand hoilds the current plurality (see: Dean). The third type will get media play because it might work, but the only ideas that the Democrats as a whole might follow and that might help the party are the ones to make them more capitalist or more interventionist. The Democrats will never be libertarian and their anti-conservatism is too fundamental; by the same token, the adversarial relationship many in SF and LA and NYC hold against Southerners makes a Southern Strategy unlikely.

For now, the interventionist Democrats appear to be widely hated and associated with Bush - a death sentence for most in the left party. They might come back into vogue later, especially with pro-war Hillary running for 2008, but I doubt they'll get very far in the next decade.

The capitalist-leaning Democrats in the New Democrat movement WERE the best bet for making the Democrats more powerful in the idea war. They could've stood for something, even if it was simply a mixed-message, watered-down Republicanism. But having some ideas could bring in people on the positive side while holding the anti-Republicans on the negative side. Clinton did this well, making himself more appealing to the middle class socially and fiscally. The New Democrats are hated by many a radical anti-Bushite, and have been giving up their strongly pro-trade and mildly pro-market views of late. The transition is so sudden that CAFTA is being opposed by New Democratic icons on labor and environmental grounds, despite having substantively similar positions on both as the new Democrat-supported trade deals in the last few years and the last decade (like NAFTA, which New Dems helped pass).

The views of the hesitantly pro-idea Democrats are either unpopular in the left or actively being abandoned - and in most cases, both is true.

Once the Democrats embrace a real philosophy, we'll approach a standstill of their hemorhaging to the right. Then they have to back it up by investing in weapons and ammo - ideas, policy proposals and substantive research. Until that shift from groups to ideas happens on the left, don't be surprised if they lose again in 2006 and beyond.

May 28, 2005

Worms in the Apple

Not to put too fine a point on it, pro-abortion and pro-choice people in the GOP and Libertarian parties are the pro-slavery and pro-popular sovereignty elements gumming up the works for a dramatic cause of historic moral importance.

Reading articles and hearing stories about abortion tends to stir up the issue for me, since it almost invariably misses the real socio-political conflict. The press coverage is obviously slanted on the issue. I mean, there was a while when we couldn't go days without some media outlet or other telling us the divorce rate is high but I don't know that I've ever heard a newspaper or tv news show cite the annual abortion rate or the total number of abortions under Roe. It oughtn't, by itself, be a damning statistic, but it's a striking admission of bias and perceived self-weakness that the statistic isn't tossed around like the divorce rate used to be.

It seems to me that the GOP needs to go to its proto-libertarian roots - Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men. It was founded as a broad coalition to fight back a major political lobby, represent the interests of middle-class commerce, and primarily to stop the continued spread of a great moral evil. The lack of vision to compare abortion and slavery in direct terms tends to alienate from people whom I otherwise respect - after all, could you respect somebody who thought slavery was no big deal?

I don't think there should be expulsions or something, but the political and economic right ought to make itself as committed to stopping abortion in 2005 as it was to stopping slavery in 1865.

May 27, 2005

Moral Agency and Personhood

Don Boudreaux is of the opinion that stem cell research (presumably 'embryonic' stem cell research, rather than adult stem cell research) is not obviously immoral because the embryo doesn't have moral agency. Moral agency, implicitly, is the threshold (or A necessary condition) for personhood.

Of course, if this is so then I could kill a newborn without worrying about anything more than the time and cost of its construction. After all, little Johnny makes cute gurgling sounds and opens his eyes wide but he doesn't have much moral agency at a week old. Even when kids get to be a little older, they don't have very developed senses of morality - or even of truth. Little kids lie all the time, claim everything is theirs, and react angrily at times when some perceived object of theirs is touched or looked at. Kids don't really get morality, so how can they really be moral agents? I mean, at least some rescue dogs can save people in wells or burning buildings or something. Timmy was saved by Lassie, not a toddler.

There's certainly some question to whether kids have moral agency - the first part of the question being just how you define moral agency. I'd leave the definition at something vague for now, like the ability to discern right actions from wrong ones (or perhaps the ability to choose between right actions and wrong ones).

Given that as a standard for personhood, there's a sliding scale o' personhood. Babies wouldn't really be on the scale, as they have few actions beyond curiosity and are barely capable of comprehending pain or evil, let alone avoiding them. That's why we give them a pass when they do gross, destructive, mean or dangerous things. They're not expected to have moral agency, to 'know any better.' That'd put them somewhere around lab rats - off the personhood charts.

As children mature, they tend to view morality in terms of punishment. One action is wrong because it gets them punished, while another action is okay or good because either a lack of punishment or the receipt of reward is the result. Is that really moral agency? I'd say it's self-interest, and lab rats are capable of that (see: maze experiments in positive and negative reinforcement). The lab rat finishes the maze correctly and wins cheese or takes too long gets the shock. The child cleans his room and gets a cookie or breaks a lamp and gets no dinner. Not exactly a crystal clear theory for personhood, even if the child is far better at discerning the behaviors desired than the lab rat. Separate from moral agency, children have loyalty and emotions and love that the rats do not have, but little kids are pretty shaky on moral agency (the defined signpost).

The basis of adult relations to kids starts and ends with the fact that a baby or little kid "doesn't know any better." That's the essence of moral non-agency.

The question, beyond immaturity, is sociopaths. Those people who, for whatever reason, display narcissism instead of sympathy and apathy instead of morality. There are people without compassion for other humans and without any real sense of moral right and wrong. They aren't crazy like hearing voices, but they are mentally defective in their inability to care about the moral lines you and I take for granted. They don't have moral agency in any substantive way, only in an ability to mimic the common behavior of others. Is that moral agency? I don't think so. Of course, how could you prove who these human non-persons are? It would take a series of psych tests and the assumption that they exist and can be discovered through testing, but then you'd have to figure out if these amoral humans have rights.

If moral agency is the signpost of personhood, then embryos, fetuses, infants, young children and sociopaths aren't persons. They're human non-persons, living without true moral agency. Would it be okay to kill them? I certainly don't think so.

I submit that all humans are persons. Every different human is a person, and therefore you can't go around killing them any more than you would kill a fully grown human being. I realize this has implications on scientific research and birth control, but it'd be a despicably poor example of moral agency if I altered my definition of humanity for the sake of convenience.
Values and Deus Ex Machina Politics

Politics is way too direct and simplistic the way many people view it. Any value you hold must be legislated as policy or you obviously don't hold the value. If you don't want to increase welfare, you must not want to help the poor. If you don't want expansive environemntal legislation then you must hate nature. It goes on like this to absurd degrees (you don't want to increase Social Security? you must hate families).

Of course, this formula for politics is incredibly child-like. Rather than translating every social preference into a legislative initiative, politics should be generally neutral on such personal preferences. That's the essence of classical liberalism: separating out the right from the good. What's right becomes law; don't steal, don't rape, don't murder. What's good is the free choice to the citizens; choose your own religion, choose your own home, choose your own family.

Politics ought not be a way to simply shape the country in what you like. After all, if you have a preference for pasta should restaurants be encouraged to carry spaghetti at the expense of fish or burgers? Few people would agree to that. Why is it appropriate to decide that the world should have more trees instead of buildings or grasses? Why is it appropriate to decide that car companies or poor people should get money rather than pharmaceutical companies or animal shelters?

It's best to let these decisions be made by each and every person individually. If they value charity, trees or something else then they can patronize, fund or volunteer for them. It's no different than religion. It would be inappropriate for the government to start writing checks to church groups as a way to approve of their beliefs or social role (which is different from hiring people to complete government work and not caring whether or not they're religiously affiliated, an approach I endorse).

The concept of deus ex machina (day-oss ex ma-keen-ah) means god from the machine and comes from a Greek tradition. When a playwright found himself in a bind he'd simply have a god be lowered by a crane-like machine called a machane onto the stage. The god could alter the events in the play to make whatever the writer wanted to happen be the ending. If a character was beset by impossible odds or some difficult task then deus ex machina is the mechanism that allows a writer to simply write away the problem. In the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy, the third movie and book had the two main Hobbits stuck on a volcano and about to be killed. The giant Eagles of Tolkien's world come from nowhere to save them. This is an example of deus ex machina.

The political version of deus ex machina is seeing a problem and expecting a simple intervention will alter. It's a helpful complement to the child-like politics of translatings values into law. After all, even if you had no issue about translating values into law, you'd think twice about it if you knew a wide array of bureaucratic agencies, regulatory structures, US Code revisions and endless budgetary earmarks would be required. But if you delude yourself into deus ex machina politics, then your values can be translated into law with nothing more than cutting a check from the treausry.

I've run afoul of both values politics and deus politics. The values politics is almost invariably meaner (in part because deus politics tends to be from naive and/or mentally unchallenging perspectives). One example I can recall has to do with my wallpaper, which is right now a breathtaking sunset shot from Snake River in the Grand tetons park in Wyoming. I love Wyoming, and though in general I find nature bothersome to interact with, it's still quite a site to behold (from a difference). It's also a hell of a picture. When I showed the picture, in full 1024x768 glory on a net board, I was not so subtly criticized for not supporting the wilderness through environmental legislation.

That's a horribly dishonest and narrow-minded view of the world. Why is it that I am not allowed to appreciate something unless I make it my political priority? Do I have to support corn protections and ethanol programs to enjoy Iowa corn? It's just silly, used as a method to drive a wedge and isolate free market views on the environment, in this case. Since nearly everybody has some good feelings about the environment, it behooves environmentalists to protray the debate as pro-Earth versus anti-Earth.

The analogy that I like hre is simple. I think big box stores like Home Depot, Wal-Mart and the like are wonderful. They are cheap, they have wide selections, they bring TVs and computers into rural areas at affordable costs, and they are more efficient and easier to use than a larger number of smaller stores. But I don't think the government should give handouts to the big box stores. Frankly, if they can't turn a profit, then screw 'em. It's their job to turn a profit - otherwise, sell off to somebody else, who then will try to turn a profit with the resources (or not turn a profit, assuming he can afford the losses). There shouldn't be government handouts to big box stores, whether or not they need it, any more than there should be to small businesses.

So I'm perfectly happy to let these stores twist in the wind if they can't turn a profit, yet I still consider myself an avid supporter of both the right for the stores to exist and their utility for increasing wealth and luxury for the customers they serve. I don't have to support government privileges and handouts to support the institution.

By the same token, I don't need to think that national parks should be given any number of special, anti-market protections that environmentalists would have us give. I like the idea that the parks are there, and I'd like to drive through Yellowstone, the Tetons and others, but I'm not going to say that we need to reorganize the economy to make evertybody poorer, rather than risk some unproven harm to these parks.

Government coercion should not and is not the standard for proving my appreciation for some part of society. I wouldn't go around forcing people to believe in my brand of Deism, I wouldn't make everybody enjoy dipping cheeseburgers in ketchup, and I wouldn't tell everyone to only buy my brand of shoes, electronics or clothes. My preferences are my own, be they religious, economical or environmental.

Hopefully we can get away from both types of deus politics - both the deus ex machina style of one-stop policymaking and the simply deus style of assuming that a group of legislators can act as God in dictating the preferences for others.

This is why Democrats are seldom liberals; any self-respecting liberal ought to realize there's a difference between what's right and wrong (universal) and what's good and bad (relative).

May 25, 2005

This Is Why I Use Red=Dem, Blue=GOP

From Kudlow's blog (not to show any disrespect) -

    Isn't it interesting that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his SDP/Green Coalition got clobbered in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state. Even by using the most virulent anti-American, anti-capitalist rhetoric, Schroeder lost big in a very blue state.
Of course, in Germany the SDP is Red, the Greens are Green, the FDP is Yellow and the CDU/CSU is Black. If anything, most European countries would make conservatives blue, not social democrats like the US Democratic Party. Nordrhein-Westfalen is, if anything, a red state because it votes for the Social Democrats.
Medal of Honor Awarded from Iraq War (tip to ChicagoBoyz)

The Army has the newest Medal of Honor winner, from action in 2003 in Iraq. He's the first to receive the Medal of Honor from the conflict in Iraq.

    Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers.
Club For Growth, Fight Don Young

Don Young is the porkmaster of Congress, getting Alaskans the highest per capita pork spending of any state population. The state has unique needs, but many of these projects are simply unnecessary. There's the $1.5 million bus stop upgrade in this year's budget Young got in. Or how about hundreds of millions of dollars for remote, lightly-populated parts of Alaska to have enormous bridges. Of course, he also has many other pork projects.

Now, I happen to like Alaska and I have respect for its history and its role in this country. I'm glad Seward bought it for us. But that doesn't mean I think they should all sorts of massive pork projects, because no state should get to spend our money like that.

The Club For Growth is supposed to be about making primary challenges against Republicans (or Democrats) that abuse free market principles by supporting opponents that back the free market. Don Young seems to be pretty entrenched in the pork barrel games of the Congress, and it would potentially save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year to get a better Republican in his spot. It would take a hell of a lot to move him out of his spot on top of the hill, but you should never underestimate the independence of Westerners (I include Alaska as a Western state, but not Hawaii).

Club For Growth, please send the message that out of control pork is no longer acceptable; challenge Don Young for the Alaska House primary.
Fallacy of Wishful Thinking (tip to QandO)

Howard Fineman thinks that Republicans may have reached their zenith in the latest generational cycle of US politics. His analysis is silly and I can't chalk this poor critique up to anything more than wishing it to be so.

First of all, the Republicans, compared to the Democratic victories of the past, are barely in power. They've only had the House since 1994, while the Democrats held it straight for decades before that. Moreover he compares LBJ's 1964 victory - when he trounced Goldwater 61-38 and took over 90% of electoral votes - to Bush's victory in 2004, which Bush won by 2 and a half points. If this is the high-water mark for conservatism, then it's not very high.

Americans haven't had decade after decade of Republican rule as they did with the Democrats. We're not going to see the exhaustion factor because the Democrats are still a far more viable opposition in the House than the Republicans were for most of the mid-20th century. Part of the reason the Democrats fell was the laziness of a pseudo-monopoly and the exhaustion of seeing one-party rule in Congress.

But far more critically, the Democrats fell as their ideas withered and the Republican ideas matured. Republicans created think tanks and interest groups, the libertarians formed critiques and white papers, the religious conservatives formed PACs, the economists expanded their proposals, etc. The Republican resurgence was a serious renewal of ideas that took decades to build, test and exploit.

The Democrats, far from mimicking this work for a renaissance of socialism, are putting their energy into two areas: special interest groups that are little more than vessels of abortion (they used to be feminist, now they're just pro-abortion), and interest groups that do little more than run anti-GOP ads, anti-GOP rallies and do voter turnout. Turnout is important, but what do you do with the power after you win? Unless the Democrats can challenge the Republicans idea for idea, they're doomed to lose. The Democrats have an idea deficit, and that's why they are not fated for any sort of Phoenix-like rise back to power.

What do the Democrats want to do with security policy? 'More! They'd be the bestest, most secure ever! They're WAY better than Bush!' That's about the extent of their agreement. Are they going to repeal the Patriot Act, put a stop to Camp Delta and end the War on Terror? Are they going to ramp up domestic efforts, create a civilian Homeland Security corps and start nationalizing bridges and tunnels? Nobody knows, because any of these might reasonably be heard from Democratic partisans. No agreement, hence not a lot for voters to sink their teeth into.

What do the Democrats want to do to fix Social Security? 'No! NO! Nonononononono!' Well, that's productive. The few Democrats in Congress who've advanced ideas have been cut out and ignored by both media and the Democrats. The left doesn't even acknowledge anything needs to be done, so they refuse to get down with a plan. They're not even on the map with this issue.

Are they going to capitalize on some simmering issue with the electorate and ride it on in? I doubt it. One issue where they could peel off Republicans is immigration, but the Democrats have no idea what to do with immigration. Bush undercut them with a pro-immigration plan in 2003 and they didn't have a serious challenge either direction. About all they know is they didn't like the Minuteman Project. Oops. guess they won't peel away antri-immigrant voters. They'd have to risk their stand with Hispanics anyway.

Surely they have some ideas of what to do, right? Well, not really. Their response to vouchers is that teachers unions should have more members and money ('smaller class sizes') which doesn't mean vouchers couldn't happen at all. Their response to free trade is that there should be more protection for labor and the environment, but they don't know what this means and this is clearly just an excuse since Australia has even stronger labor protections than we do but they opposed an FTA with them. Their response to the war in Iraq was that we should send more troops but that we're spending too much money on Iraq.

Had Kerry defeated Bush, it would not have been a harkening call for Democrats to rally back to their spot as the US' natural majority. It would have been, as they say in SCOTUS lingo, 'limited to the facts.' It would have meant that Random Democrat defeated a viciously opposed President Bush, and had generally few real signs for the course of the future. The Democrats don't have the ideas and policies to rally them back to long-term leadership. They can't come back into real dominance without a platform consisting of several popular principles and real credibility in at least two or three broad policy areas.

They definitely haver some strengths and some residual credibility that sustain them at their current level, but they don't have the ideas to even withstand Republican onslaught, let alone push the GOP back down. If stem cell research was going to be a major issue that defeated the GOP, it would have happened already. The fact that guys like Fineman can only really cite stem-cell research as a way in which Biblical conservatives go too far shows that there isn't nearly enough for Democrats to campaign back to power on.
Sex Ratios in Asia

This link from Volokh is very clever, about an economist who realizes that a good part of the reason behind the male-heavy sex ratios in Asian and Arab countries come from Hepatitis B, a disease that for some reason causes women to have boys more than girls. It seems like a pretty decent hypothesis, but I do know that (at least in India) sex-selective abortion is a big thing. Supposedly they have ads in India saying it's better to spend $35 to $40 on aborting a female fetus than $3,500 to $4,000 on a bride's dowry.

Of course, before there was sex-selective abortion, there was sex-selective infanticide - often amounting to leaving the baby in a field or throwing it off a cliff, in any case to be eaten by scavengers. Hep B probably makes a good partial explanation of these factors, but human history suggests that there's likely some conscious influence factoring into the outcome.

May 24, 2005

Filibuster Not Saved, Just A Reprieve

Kos seems to think the recent deal from 14 Senators to proceed to voting on three court nominees without filibuster or rule changes is a good thing for Democrats because they'll be able to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee this year. Of course, what he doesn't seem to realize is that the agreement itself does little besides give Bush three of his nominees and delay the actual rules fight for later.

It's not as though the remaining blocked nominees are gone. They're still waiting, and if the fourteen Senators in the deal don't pull a repeat on the next nominees then the rules fight will come anyway.

The deal includes a promise from the fourteen not to remove the filibuster in exchange for these three nominees. The Democrats hold onto the filibuster for the most extraordinary cases. Of course, if they should filibuster then the Republicans can support the rules change. The deal falls apart.

This doesn't change anything beside getting three nominees into robes and hopefully generating some goodwill between the sides. If the Democrats try to filibuster the SCOTUS nominee Frist will just take a rules change to the floor anyway. More likely they'll modify the rules in the course of fighting over the remaining nominees.
Democratic SS Plan: Medicare Bailout

Lefty bloggers argue that the Democrats should go beyond stonewalling and give Social Security reform the silent treatment. Instead, they would change the subject to talk about massive changes they want to make to Medicare. Specifically, some say they should stop going to hearings on the issue until Republicans drop personal accounts.

Of course, the voters didn't elect the Senators to not go to work. Such tactics are seldom very popular. After all, the Democrats are already in the minority, and the mandate on the Senate was even clearer than the mandate the President received. That's not a good time to start waging all-out war. The problem, as I see it, is that a group of people with strong opinions, little vision and serious anger are trying to turn every issue in a mega-confrontation.

Too many voters are interested in seeing reasonableness, compromise and progress on issues for super-stonewalling to work. And if the Democrats go from saying no to saying nothing then the Republicans dominate the issue. As it stands the Democrats are making sure that they don't rally around any counter-proposal to Bush's plan. But if the President is the only one putting a plan out there, he's going to have a serious advantage.

The polls show that a majority of people support personal retirement accounts, they just for some reason don't like what Bush is talking about (which is likely due to media influence, I'd say). The power on the issue is on the side of personal accounts, and the Democrats are over-estimating the support personal accounts holds from the GOP base. They're believing their own lies reprinted in the newspapers and polling reports and thinking that Republicans are about to crumble on the issue. But the support is underestimated by the press and the polls and the issue has serious traction among the public - especially the young.

The Democrats are trying to avoid the issue because they know they risk alienating the young or the old and because it's an issue where they're likely to lose. People as a whole in this country want personal retirement accounts, especially the young, and that's going to cost the Democrats.

The best Democrats can hope for is to address the real and chronic problems in Social Security with their trusty tax hikes. If they remove the dangers of bankruptcy then they weaken the urgency of establishing personal accounts. That won't stop the country and the young from wanting personal accounts, but it would weaken GOP arguments.

By totally backing themselves out of the debate and just saying no to everything, they avoid getting a criticized plan. But by failing to address the real problems of Social Security, they leave the door wide open for a popular initiative, personal accounts, to step up and do the job.
Herr Allende

Salvador Allende, cherished as a martyr by leftists the world over after Augusto Pinochet overthrew him in a coup, apparently was swept up in the genetically elitist spirt of the early-twentieth century left. According to a book published in Chile and Spain, a publicly available dissertation by Allenda from 1933 details many of his controversial beliefs. In other words, he sounds like a Nazi wannabe. From a Der Spiegel article:

    In many ways, the young Dr. Allende was, indeed, in line with the Fascism-infected streams that were so prevalent during the first half of the last century. For example, he argued that mental illnesses, criminal behavior, and alcoholism were hereditary. Or further, he argued that homosexuality is an illness curable by implanting testicle tissue into the abdomen. Another example: Allende proclaimed that the hot climate prevented people in southern regions from acting morally. Referring to other studies, Allende wrote ominously about Jews in his dissertation saying, 'The Hebrews are well-known committers of certain types of crimes including: fraud, deceit, defamation, but most notably usury.' "
The left used to be all tied up in Eugenics because it seemed to fit with their creating-a-better-world-without-liberty general theme.
Federalism and Liberty

I refuse to sympathize with the people who think that intervening in state affairs is automatically a question of federalism. It isn't. Federalism is at most a matter of law and balancing, neither of which trumps natural liberty. If a natural liberty is being violated, there is no natural state right to protect the violator or continue the violation. In point of fact, there is no natural state right to anything, since a state by definition exists only outside the state of nature. So states rights are whatever we write the laws to say and whatever public opinion and political behavior refine de facto.

If a state is protecting, funding or furthering slavery - as it does when it pays to capture fugitive slaves or when it protects slave-owners and slave commerce - then natural rights are being violated. By the same token, if a state is violating the right to life, to property or to whatever else, then it can and must be stopped. This is no different whether the Supreme Court strikes down a law or the Congress acts to change the law.

So when you hear libertarian criticism of the Republicans as being soft on federalism, ask what they mean. Is there a state right to kill people? No? Then I guess it'd be okay to ban abortion or work to save Terri Schiavo. Federalism means a balance. Some people want different balances, and the Constitution seems to dictate a pretty heavy balance toward the states. But both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities Clause seem to send one message:

states' rights are ALWAYS subservient to human rights

Again, I refuse to sympathize with the idea that federalism trumps freedom. The idea that Maine or Minnesota has a higher claim to freedom than living, breathing people is absurd. States' rights are artificial, created solely to protect us from government by setting our leaders into conflicting relationships. They exist because they can help protect human liberty. If there were no human liberty to protect, states' rights would be moot - nothing more than an arbitrary organizing principle without any merit.

The paleo-conservative impulse to drastically over-value traditional federalism is a throwback that will eventually extinguish itself out of its own stupidity. It enjoys popularity now for three reasons: 1) it lets Democrats appeal to a principle, to seem like they were abstaining from the Schiavo affair instead of colluding in her murder, 2) it lets certain libertarians think they're both principled and socially progressive, instead of intellectually apathetic about the right to life, and 3) it seems to fit in the general theme of criticizing the Republicans for abandoning traditional principles of the party.

Of course, the Republicans are rapidly retreating a short distance from center-right capitalism to center-capitalism, so they deserve criticism to return to their founding principles from 1856. But would anybody say the Republicans violated states' rights when they freed the slaves? They changed the Constitution to free the slaves; they committed a perfectly lawful action to free tons of people. How is it any different from the Schiavo incident, aside from the scope? Granted, there are distinctions, but the parallels are striking.

If anybody complained that abolishing slavery or fighting Jim Crow was a violation of states' rights, we'd be liable to view them as racists - after all, what's the point of having a government if it doesn't protect liberty? By that point it'd just be a device for killing foreigners and taxing us. Government exists to protect liberty, and everybody realizes that by accepting that federalism bows to the abolition of slavery.

And yet, if you simply changed your point of view slightly - namely, that slaves aren't people or don't have natural rights - then it would very possibly be a violation of states' rights, perhaps even a violation of an individual's right to own slaves. And so it is with the right to life. If Terri Schiavo isn't a person, if fetuses aren't persons, then there's no legally appropriate reason to protect the incapacitated or the unborn. After all, if they're just animals or lumps of flesh, then no liberty is attached.

Of course, real libertarians would go further if they were really committed to this; if this is a personal decision to euthanize or abort, why do states have the prerogative to ban it? Why is it that the feds can't intervene on behalf of individuals, whether to protect their rights or stop their transgressions? Well, nobody would disagree with that proposition in the main. But restricted to controversial issues like the right to life, squishy libertarians appear.

They're squishy because they're uninterested in the rights of the incapacitated or the unborn. It seems uncouth to side with the religious people and overly aggressive to stand next to the Planned Parenthood types. Rather than picking a real side, they hide behind federalism, because it seems like a good principle and it lets the squishies avoid deciding the issue. The answer, though, can't be that states' have the choice.

That negates libertarianism by negating the individual's right; either you have the right to kill people in comas and wombs or all levels of government have the right to stop you on behalf of those same people.

I remember federalism butting its nose in as a false front to protect other forms of intellectual apathy. I can recall many a conversation with conservatives through the years who refused to directly answer what they thought of gay marriage. When asked, they'd say it's a state issue and there's a state right for states to decide what's good for themselves. Of course, that doesn't answer the question, so then you have to ask what they would want from their state, and what they would pick for other states, ideally. Most still referred me back to states' rights, unwilling or unable to understand that ‘states' rights’ doesn't mean 'no opinion.'

It was a shield to deflect the question entirely, which is happening more often with the right to life. It's a controversial issue, often one that nobody wants to deal with. You have one side calling you a murderer and associating abortion - correctly - with infanticide, Eugenics and slavery. Then the other side is associating opposition to abortion with religious zealots, luddites and misogynists. So either you support horrible crimes or you're a horrible person. Rather than taking flak from one side or the other, it's far easier to throw up your hands and talk about the war on terror or social security.

The problem is that liberty doesn't care whether we wage a culture war or not. Liberty is not negated because you're too cowardly to pick a spot. Some people genuinely end up in a middle position, and though I disagree strenuously I do not include them with the squishies. The squishies are disinterested in educating themselves on a subject, yet continue to espouse the abstentionist position.

Look, if you can't be bothered to figure out whose liberty is at stake, then don't give an opinion on a subject; what's the point of abstaining if you have to tell everyone about it?

It's indefensibly un-libertarian to say that a matter of individual liberty ought to remain a state-by-state issue. Individuals have the liberty, and the organization of government, whether federal, unitary or confederal, is solely tasked at preserving that liberty.
The Incredibles

I just saw The Incredibles, rented on DVD, and it was a very entertaining movie. I don't know the exact etiquette on 'spoilers' for movies that are long since released, but I make a couple plot mentions that I suppose might be considered spoilers. The movie was clever, well-written, visually appealing and had a socio-political message. I didn't realize the movie would have any message beyond the typical stuff like love your family, value life, be good, etc. But it had some proto-capitalist messages about success and achievement.

When the mother tells the son that everyone is special, the son says that's just a way of saying nobody is. In and of itself, I wouldn't have taken too much out of this tidbit. However, the evil bad guy is interested in first eliminating and then replacing all superheroes with himself, and then, when he's retired, in selling his gadgets to make everyone a superhero. He said that when everyone is super, nobody will be. That's definitely a major theme of the movie, as it seems to be a big motivator to the bad guy (hence a conflict of the plot).

It's supplemented by a few other plot points that drive home the same theme. There's the lawsuits from people who start litigating against the superheroes, forcing them to stop using powers and stop being special. There's the way the parents won't let their children use their powers, including the super-fast son being prohibited from sports for fear he would be too good.

It's not just a political message but a broader social message. They sort of spin the lawsuits as unfair (which is a whole political can of worms) but they also make fun of corporate insurance bureaucracy. In both cases the theme is doing your job well, honestly and to the best of your ability.

I'm a little surprised at this theme because movies don't normally like to take such an adulterated individualistic bent to life. When mainstream media (kids' shows and books) take on individualism it's always in a group context; for example, "everyone is unique." This theme is about being confident and special regardless of what others say, and about not being afraid to be better than other people if that's how it is. It's sensible and honest. I wouldn't say it's the exact message I'd send, but coming from Hollywood, I'd have to say it's unique.
German-speaking Liberals

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Germanic liberals hold truer to the classical liberal philosophy than do English or other liberals. This is somewhat confusing, since the English are certainly closer to the classical liberal vision than the Germans. Perhaps this is the reason in itself, though; being accepted into the mainstream, liberals are freer to change and morph with time. But that doesn't necessarily hold true in all countries, so I think it's in part an example of the unique political development of different countries.

So English liberals: the UK Liberal Party is more or less irrelevant; the UK Independence Party is small but largely a protest vote that has yet to establish a clear liberal vision; the Liberal Democrats are considerably positivist and somewhat to the left. Even the old Liberals were the creators of the welfare state in the UK.

Germanic liberals: the German Free Democrats are quite liberal in support of capitalism, openness and have an abiding focus on smaller government; the Swiss Free-thinking Democrats are market-oriented, capitalist liberals; the Swiss Liberal Party is more moderate but still are generally market liberals.

I don't know what kept Germanic liberals relatively classical, small government-focused and market-oriented. Certainly it doesn't seem to have done much for Germany, currently languishing under a mess of state welfare provisions and burdensome labor laws that create horrendously slow growth (sometimes the slowest in Europe, after only Moldavia).

May 22, 2005

Crazy Prophets

I don't know what it is, but something strikes me as strangely similar between the stories of Ben-Ami Ben Israel and Fard Muhammad.

Ben-Ami Ben Israel was originally Ben Carter, a black steelworker from Chicago. He was the founder of the Black Hebrews. He claimed that a vision from Gabriel revealed to him that black people were descended from the lost tribes (of Jews, lost in the Second Exile), because they had wandered for 1,000 years and ended up in West Africa. Then these Jews were taken to America as slaves. Carter and a few dozen followers went to Liberia and then to Israel. In the Negev desert they eventually worked out a communal lifestyle, were tolerated by the Israeli government (which doesn't consider them Jews under the Law of Return) and now run vegetarian restaurants around Israel. They live communally to increase their numbers (today around 2,000). Oh, and did I mention: they're racists. Aside from rejecting the Talmud and matrilineal Judaism, they argue that white Jews stole the religion and aren't true Jews.

Fard Muhammad was really Wallace Dodd Ford, a man of mixed Polynesian-Caucasian descent. He started the Black Muslims (the Nation of Islam; not all black Muslims are 'Black Muslims'). He claimed alternately that he was another prophet, even though Mohammed was supposed to be the final prophet of Islam, or that he was himself God. His followers gained some power and notoriety, mainly on the argument that black people should be Muslim (historically inaccurate, since West Africans were much less likely to be Muslim than East or Northern Africans) and so this group rose on the fringes of the civil rights movement. Beside his heretical teachings about the Prophet and his own divinity, he also said that white people were created by an evil scientist on an island off of Greece (supposedly the same island where John had his visions recounted in Revelations in the Bible). Race war was inevitable and black people had to prepare by learning their history and the nature of the universe.

Needless to say both these guys were kinda bonkers. The parallels are very interesting, since it looks lioke both men lied about their ethnicity, made up interesting stories about their lineage and created a worldview wherein racist persecutors, marked by artificiality, oppress the group. It's also interesting that both tried to claim a monotheistic religion solely for black Americans, even though the genealogy of both groups to their claimed ancestors is beyond tortured.
The Unknown Genocide?

In the upcoming Genocide segment that I'll be adding to the website, I will have at least a half dozen instances of genocide and mass murder. One instance of a massive crime against humanity I'm not sure whether to add. It seems to have the qualifying features, but it's strange that the first I'd even heard of it was in a history class the eighth semester of college.

Tennessee Congressman B. Carroll Reece, a Republican, called it genocide in 1957. The Stuart Center of DePaul University held a 1993 exhibit on ethnic cleansing of the mid-40s and called it an unknown holocaust. What was it?

Those of you who didn't click the link in the title will be surprised to learn it was a massive migration, largely coerced, of Germans out of newly Soviet holdings. Ultimately between 7.75 and 10.25 million Germanic peoples were expelled or fled from Eastern European countries (Poland, then-Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and other Soviet and Eastern European states). Many of the people were forced out, while many others fled for fear of reprisals or out of the newly-hostile climate to the defeated Germans. Germanic land and property were seized on the justification that a state of war existed with Germany.

While moving a huge number of people solely because of their ethnicity is always ethnic cleansing, the true holocaust portion is in the deaths that resulted: German Heimatvertriebene argue that two million people were killed in this process. Sort of a 'Das Trail of Tears' thing.

I don't know how accurate all this information is, though I do know a few things about history. First, German used to be the lingua franca for Central/Eastern Europe, and it was widely spoken among merchants and politicos. This is not the case any longer. Second, one of the main parts of old Germany, Prussia and Konigsberg, are now Polish, Lithuanian and Russia. Third, I know that the Russians annexed/stole Poland's territory back to the Curzon line (remember WWI?) and then in exchange gave their puppet Poland parts of Germany to the Oder-Neisse Line. All three of these things were achieved because the German populations werereduced so thoroughly as to be politically impotent.

Of course, one of the main things that the Nazis did to justify their wars and adventures was to annex German states or protect German rights. Unfortunately for European peace, they weren't entirely wrong - there really were Germans in the Sudetenland and Danzig Corridor that wanted German citizenship. By removing the Germans from the many countries of Eastern Europe, the Soviets and the Allies were supposed to be de-clawing future such arguments from Germany.

The Allies were definitely in favor of this move, perhaps to punish Germany, perhaps to weaken its argument for war, and perhaps in deference to the Soviet Union controlling the areas in question. But it's also true that the Soviets had a viciously anti-German bent for a while, and that the expulsion of 8-10 million Germans and the death of 2 million German refugees wasn't where it stopped. East Germany, the GDR, was for years pillaged, looted and literally raped by the Red Army. There were likely several million rapes in the years after World War II, something Stalin excused as soldiers having their fun. It is interesting that, placed in context, the German people - most of whom had no more culpability for the Holocaust than their contemporary French, Romanians, Croats or Hungarians - have indeed paid in blood for the war and the Holocaust.

I suppose I will include this episode of history in the genocide article, after I've researched it better, because it's such a horrendous event that so few people have even ever heard of. If there's one thing to be said for Germans, they follow orders well. The world told Germans to feel bad, shut up and play nice and they continue to do all three.

May 21, 2005

Democrats Defend Rich (tip to CFG)

Okay, in truth this is just a ploy to smear Bush, which is anything but news from the Democrats. Bush's plan to re-index Social Security benefits would raise benefits for most earners and start scaling them back for people making an average of $60,000 in wages. That sounds like somebody who makes $60k a year, but it isn't. This is somebody who made an average of $60k as calculated by the Social Security bureaucracy.

About 15 percent of SS beneficiaries have an average of $60k or more, so it's not, as Pelosi said, "soldily middle class" - at least not in the way Democrats mean middle class. I'm going to assume the Democrats who wrote this either didn't know the difference between average SS earnings and actual annual salary or disregarded it to score political points. Neither ignorance nor malice would surprise me.

Now, my own take is that middle class means neither aristocracy nor peasantry, and under that definition pretty much every American is middle class. After all, the reason 'middling class' came about is people who had no set role in the feudalist system and moved around as they wished, more or less. Since there isn't really any successor to the feudal system, everyone in this country is middle class. That's my take.

Of course, then there's middle class as a relative section of an economy. I don't really appreciate such comparisons because I know a lot of people outside the middle levels on income who have middle class outlooks - both rich and poor - and I know some people of strikingly average income and normal upbringing with uncharacteristically proletarian or aristocratic views of life (funnily enough, both of these groups swing toward the Democrats in my experience).

Simply having money doesn't fundamentally alter who you are. It can be useful to make these distinctions when there's some independent correlation to other behavior - like if people 'in the middle' or 'at the bottom' seemed to have certain viewpoints or self-identifications. But I don't like to put much stock in this type of analysis.

After all, virtually everyone today is richer than his or her grandparents in terms of health, technology and luxury. Who cares where you are in relation to other people? Life isn't a competition and it doesn't hurt you if other people have more than you.

As far as the Democrats are concerned, nobody's middle class when it comes to taxes but everybody's middle class if it means you can attack Bush.

May 19, 2005

Media Blackout on 450 Pro-Account Economists

Cato last week pulled together 450 economists to sign a petition endorsing personal retirement accounts to pressure the Republicans to keep them in sight and the Democrats to accept reform. No major media outlets have covered this story. Surprise.

It's quite important that this sort of endorsement from a huge range of qualified experts gets some attention. Personal accounts have been ravaged in the media as irresponsible and economically disastrous for one reason or another. If only for the perception of validity, these economists play an important role.

Can anyone really say that 450 economists endorsing private accounts is not news, while the seventh story in two months about opinion polls on Social Security is valid? Of course not. This is an important part of the debate - the experts are lined up behind personal retirement accounts. Everyone needs to know that, when they oppose reform and personal accounts, they're doing so against economic good sense. These 450 economists help people realize how economically nonsensical their anti-reform positions are.

Whenever somebody attacks the personal retirement accounts as poor for economical reasons, it can really help to just link Cato's press release about the 450 economists here. This is too important a story for nobody to hear about it.
SCOTUS Rules Against Discrimination In Wine Cases
They Didn't Go Nearly Far Enough

The wine cases, which refer directly to laws in Michigan in New York and indirectly to similar laws in approximately half the states, dealt with discriminatory laws that restricted consumer-direct wine shipments from out-of-state wineries. The Court found that the laws of MI and NY violated the Commerce Clause and were not protected by the 21st Amendment (the one that repealed Prohibition by throwing alcohol back to the states' jurisdictions).

The Court held, in reference to the 21st Amendment, that Section 2 of the 21st only applies if the state is a dry state (no states are dry since the 1960s, though some states have many dry counties). Section 2 says:
    The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."
The operative phrase is "in violation of the laws thereof." The reason is obvious, and the Court points it out; the pre-Prohibition jurisprudence held that stopping interstate alcohol shipments was unacceptable in light of the Commerce Clause. The 21st Amendment gave the dry states a helping hand (prior found in Congressional acts) that allowed them to ban interstate transportation of liquor if they wanted to stay dry. It was a way to help states that stayed dry, not a "let states do whatever they want" clause. I definitely agree with this holding on the 21st Amendment.

The Court held, in reference to the Commerce Clause, that preferential treatment for in-state businesses and against out-of-state businesses is unconstitutional. They've held this position repeatedly in the past. I agree with this holding, since it's obvious that the Founders meant to prohibit just this sort of thing. We're a country, not a customs union or confederation. But beyond that, I'd also make the argument that Art IV, Sec 2 applies:

    The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
I think this clause - long discarded or ignored by many lawyers - bestows broad rights, including to citizens engaging in commercial activity. I see it as a precursor to the Fourteenth Amendment, since its wording certainly says, in plain enough terms, that no state has a right to abuse the liberties of its citizens below the (high) level guaranteed all Americans.

But speaking of the Fourteenth Amendment, I'd also suggest that it's both an issue of Due Process and Equal Protection.

It's an Equal Protection matter because the 14th says "nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" and not any citizen of that state. So Equal Protection is not contingent on being a resident or citizen of the state in question, only in being a person within its jurisdiction.

While it's obviously unclear just how jurisdiction applies if you're buying wine online, one thing must be true: if the state didn't have jurisdiction requiring Equal Protection, then it wouldn't have jurisdiction to ban the wine shipment. Therefore, either the state has jurisdiction, which must be bound to follow Equal Protection, or the state has no jurisdiction, and the law is simply void. I would say the state has jurisdiction when the wine crosses the state line - the point at which they'd stop any black-market wine shipments - and so that's when Equal Protection is attached.

It's substantively unequal treatment and doesn't have any sort of rational, fair basis. It's flatly discriminatory, so I'd apply the Equal Protection rights in this case as well.

For Due Process, I subscribe to a semi-Lochnerian view (as is obvious from my available writings on the Supreme Court, available on the website under issue articles) but mostly to a natural rights view. Of course, I think

And because I'm really out of touch with the constitutional mainstream on the issue, I'm also of the opinion that, just as this violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the Due process Clause, this violates the Ninth Amendment. I could get flunked out of law school, were I attending one, for espousing this opinion. Well, not really, but it's incredibly unpopular and often mocked. That said, I'm confident it's the appropriate, sound and constitutionally-mandated result; I mention the unpopularity mostly to explain that I understand the irregularity of my approach to con-law. The Ninth Amendment protects natural liberty, and the wine shipment instance clearly applies.

Aside from the Ninth Amendment, my interpretation of and reliance on the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause might turn some heads, to put it mildly. Again, I find these not only sound but relatively obvious interpretations of the Constitution, and I don't really see how an alternate interpretation could be correct. I believe most of the controversy stems from the unwillingness of so-called liberals to embrace economic freedoms and the uneasiness of conservatives to question the power of the legislature. Both might easily label this activism, though I suspect that striking down a hypothetical Ban Political Parties Act of 2011 would not be considered activism; "activism" is largely a term reserved for opinions that one dislikes.

Aside from using these important provisions, the application of constitutional rights to economics is considered something akin to having sex with a beagle or telling Luke to rule the galaxy by your side. Some might think as a libertarian, I see the Constitution as extending to economic rights. I'd reverse that sentiment; because I believe that economic rights are every bit as normal, important and deserving of protection as other rights, I am a libertarian.

However, I have to say I'm very happy at the ruling. On a sidenote, it's interesting that this formulation of the Justices has never happened before, ever. There's never been this combination of dissenting and concurring Justices. Kennedy wrote the opinion of the Court, and Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer joined. Stevens dissent with O'Connor joining. Thomas dissented with Rehnquist, Stevens and O'Connor joining. Very strange mix-up. Kind of confuses the normal one-dimensional interpretation that tries to place the Justices in a liberal-moderate-conservative line-up. If the conventional wisdom applies, then the majority was moderate, conservative, liberal, liberal, liberal and the dissenters were conservative, conservative, liberal, moderate. There's a bit more to it than the 1-D model would tell us; hopefully we can all retain this in mind for future SCOTUS watching.

May 17, 2005

NYT Going Backwards

While the rest of the world online is trying to entice readers to hear their opinions by having games, gimmicks and graphics, the New York Times is planning to start charging subscriptions to read their articles and op-eds. As noted at QandO, the Wall Street Journal charges for access but they have a specialized subject, a strong reputation, and a small devoted market that can easily afford premium web services. And they still likely feel a loss in influence due to their exclusivity and insularity.

The reason the New York Times is criticized so heavily is not that New York is important and therefore New York's premier paper should be a target. It's that, moreso than any other US paper, NYT articles are re-printed in other papers. So the Kansas City Star and the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle you read might actually contain New York Times articles. That's a good reason to give them scrutiny on fairness of coverage.

But if the New York Times starts receding from its net presence, which up 'til now has been impressive if not dominant, it will see a loss of influence in the blogosphere. Even when it's being criticized it still gets to help set the terms of debate.

Now, personally, I never registered a free account so the only NYT stuff I read is the occasional reproduced quote and every so often when I try to click on a link and see if some or all of it is open. So even forcing a free registration on me was too much (I've registered too many things online to have any interest in doing it for the NYT). But imagine how many bloggers, who work on a hobby/recreational basis, who aren't going to sink $50 down the hole to hear stupid opinions and poorly-research editorials masking as articles.

It's too easy as it is to read the WaPo or LAT, or even Townhall (which is subscription-free) or just follow the great collection of links regularly found in the Club For Growth blog entries. Their fame and name have helped keep the NYT at the top of the dogpile online, but it wouldn't take much for WaPo or the LAT to pass them up - especially with guys like Patterico already holding a vast amount of dirt on the LAT.

It is interesting, again, that the NYT is essentially running against the grain. Assuming that their op-eds are so valuable as to pull a vast chunk of the registered readers into subscription readers sounds like an accounting-influenced decision. Somebody probably noticed that they had a huge bandwidth bill and that sponsors weren't covering the gap.

It's also possible that they're trying to help save the print subscriptions, which now come with free TimesSelect membership online. Maybe they're trying to discourage those who circumvent the news-stand/print-subscription route by going online.

I don't see it working in their favor. While they could become profitable as a result - with a severe drop in hits and subscriptions to help cover costs and hopefully offset the loss of ad revenue - they're going to see an overall loss of prestige and influence. The Paper of Record would lose that status online to a more web-friendly venture. The Washington Post has been online for a while and it wouldn't be at all surprising if they stepped into the vacuum and became The Internet's Paper of Record.
Massacres and Media

In Abu Ghraib, the US (prior to the public knowledge of the abuses) admitted wrongdoing and proceeded to begin prosecutions related to the torture and a homicide that had occured in that instance. The media covered it incessantly and continue to use it as a way to indict virtually anything Republicans and Americans do.

Several thousand Vietnamese were killed in Hue by the NVA and VC during the Tet Offensive. Few if any were combatants and yet they were all killed anyway - some of them were on the Communists' lists for nothing more than being Catholic or college students. Overall a few thousand were found but maybe twice that number were killed overall. The media at the time barely covered this war crime, even though they found plenty of time to cover the brief few days of US pullbacks during the war.

So how is it that the conscience of the media is such that it can be worse than Jane Fonda for the massacre at Hue, but then become a Jiminy Cricket from Hell when it comes to Abu Ghraib. I realize there is a severe time period change in there, but I have two responses: a) a lot of the media and Democrats in general seem to draw a great deal of indentification from the Vietnam-Watergate era, including their view of Republican-Democratic relations, so it's not an entirely inappropriate reference, and b) if the time period bugs you then let's move to a new comparison.

Everyone points out that the media covered Abu Ghraib like crazy but then didn't really cover the execution of Berg. This is an apt comparison. How about the myriad crimes of Saddam Hussein - much of which was caught on tape. In fact, there are pictures of Abu Ghraib abuses, but there's actual video of the stuff Saddam's police agencies did - including throwing people off buildings - and Bick Berg's vicious murder also had video. Video trumps stills.

Now I've watched enough media reports to know that video, especially popular movies but generally any video, gets played for the lightest of reasons. I saw a clip of Trinity and the keymaster jumping onto a truck from the Matrix in an NBC story on the base closings Pentagon report because one of the bases had been used in that movie's production. I've seen worse (and better) excuses to show video clips. Sometimes they just show random shots of unrelated places with the flimsiest of connections. They want to show you video because it's not radio; they need to give you something to look at while you listen.

So why is it that in segments about Saddam we don't see the video of the secret police's criminal exploits? Why was it that the NVA/VC execution of thousands of non-combatants got virtually no coverage in 1968 but the spot execution of one combatant by a US officer got outstanding levels of coverage? Is it just the pictures available? I wouldn't think that could be the full explanation, because again, there's video of Nick Berg, there's video of what Saddam's thugs did, etc.

It's certainly not the tired appeals of nativism that Americans are only interested in stories about America. I think there'd be plenty of interest in hearing about horrible stuff done by our enemies. In fact, one of the single most famous stories of the early twentieth Century - the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Young Turks - sold huge amounts of magazines and newspapers in the US. So you can't tell me that Americans would rather hear about horrible things Americans do than the horrible things our enemies do; I'd imagine the opposite would be far more accurate.

Aside from various factors like randomness, luck, concidence and so forth, I think it's two reasons: 1) the oppositional spirit that journalists like to affect for themselves, wherein they're the scrappy reporters fighting the monoliths of traditional wisdom and entrenched interests (hence they have an enhanced interest in exposing US crimes and a diminished interest in proving the US government right about our enemies) and 2) the heightened access of US-controlled areas. Since freedom of movement and the press is far greater than other places, Americans find it much easier to cover our own follies rather than our opponents. This is contrary to history, but it's important. It serves as a check against our government.

Unfortunately, many media outlets are not compensating by striving to cover the crimes of foreign leaders. The result is that our media don't cover North Korean, Cuban or Iraqi crimes - on balance all far worse than anything done by this country this century or the last - and it makes us look like the bad guys simply because we air our laundry where others don't.

Of course, it always has to come down to bias. Fox News and the NY Post and so forth cover Saddam's crimes because of their biases. CNN and the NY Times don't really cover them because of their biases. Whatever other factors are involved, it has to be simple bias in the end, because the media outlets have the resources to report other stories, they simply don't look for them or don't report on them.

I remember when NATO was bombing Serbia and was forced by the media to apologize for every mistaken bomb and misguided attack - even though all reasonable people conceded they were accidents. Meanwhile, the enemy had troops destroying houses, burning villages, raping women and committing ethnic cleansing.

We should continue to hold US and Western governments and citizens accountable, but not at the expense of context. For example: Abu Ghraib was tragic and criminal, one of the worst impulses of humanity and a dangerous symbol to the Arab world, but the offenders were caught and punished by the Army itself, before media scrutiny, and they were granted rights that they had denied others such as punishment prescribed by law after due process. But in context, the US was eliminating a regime that committed countless similar crimes and worse, without punishment and with explicit encouragement from Saddam's regime.

Abu Ghraib abuse took one life in contravention of law and accepted custom. Saddam's men took hundreds of thousands of lives by explicit order of all their superiors and as the mandatory custom of Ba'athist policing. Both are bad, but it takes context to understand that not all regimes are equally bad - context that is truly lacking in most media outlets.
Proof Even Euros Hate The French (tip to ExpatYank)

A survey group asked a bunch of Europeans to list the five adjectives they thought best described the French. The answers were overwhelmingly negative - even from outside Britain.

Put me down for "smelly, humorless, cowardly, fascistic and anti-Semitic."

What some of the other Europeans said about the French-

British: "chauvinists, stubborn, nannied and humourless"
Germans: "pretentious, offhand and frivolous"
Dutch: "agitated, talkative and shallow"
Spanish: "cold, distant, vain and impolite"
Portuguese: "preaching"
Italians: "snobs, arrogant, flesh-loving, righteous and self-obsessed"
Greeks: "not very with it, egocentric bons vivants"
Swedish: "disobedient, immoral, disorganised, neo-colonialist and dirty"

Hopefully Americans wouldn't get such a bad showing, but it's nice to know that, when Chirac gets up there to chide the Eastern Europeans for Having Opinions a lot of Europeans don't care what he says.

May 15, 2005

Evolution Again in KS

I've been disappointed that Kansas, a state where I have a number of relatives and have visited innumerable times, is again looking at socially-motivated alterations to the science curriculum on evolution.

First of all, I'm annoyed by the elitist condescension coming from certain people who, I believe, see this almost entirely as a cultural issue. That's just as bad as the Creationists that also see it as a cultural issue. There are plenty of people on the pro-evolution side who are there out of a social affinity with a certain cultural and geographical sect of Americans, and not of an enduring respect for objectivity, universality, falsifiability and science. After all, many of these same people accept any lie, exaggeration or ridiculous claim made by environmentalists - even when they are contradictory or flatly deceitful.

However, that's no excuse for Kansas to alter the science curriculum to fit non-scientific views. Yes, it's technically possible that evolution could be proven incorrect, as with any scientific theory. But right now it sure seems to fit with the available evidence, and in science, that's the best we can do.

A common criticism of evolution seems to be that it "doesn't explain everything." This would be a truly damning indictment if only evolutionary theory purported to explain everything. It's not supposed to answer why and it's not supposed to give an overarching theme for the purpose of life. It's supposed to explain the process by which the existing species in the world came about and to address the observable variations and similarities between species.

That's what science is - observable facts, reproducible results and falsifiable hypotheses. Creationism and Intelligent Design are not science. While it may turn out to be true that God or gods had a hand in creating the universe, the Earth and the creatures upon it, but there's currently no evidence to propel that theory above others. In fact, since any criticism of Intelligent Design can be excused with "well that's just God's plan" or the theory of an omnipotent deity, there's no point to the theory. It doesn't give us any useful information about the universe or biology because almost any set of facts could fit with the theorem.

Since it's not truly falsifiable, it's not science. It is not impossible for ID to be correct, but it's still not science. There is a distinction between science and truth. I don't think ID is the truth (why would God not intervene to save the Jews or the Tutsis but choose to intervene to create the ten-thousandth variation on beetles) but it's definitely not science. It doesn't belong in a classroom.

The only change that might make some sense is micromanaging, but it would go something like just inserting a clarification that evolution doesn't explain everything. However, I'd avoid something like this because it sends a political message that doesn't seem appropriate. After all, would we conclude the unit on gravity by reminding students that it "doesn't explain everything?" Would we couch the unit on electromagnetics or the wave-particle nature of light with a reminder that God might have created these things? No.

It seems silly to even suggest it outside the theory of evolution. So while I: a) sympathize with people who want to teach kids certain things, even wrong-headed and demonstrably false things; and b) have little sympathy for the culturally-tinted condescension coming from a number of leftists who don't give a damn about science either when it conflicts with their worldviews, I have to say that it's just not the right place. Religion and philosophy don't belong in a science class.

Maybe it would be entirely appropriate to teach various world-creation theories in a social sciences class of some sort, where it would be in a context of beliefs and cultures instead of facts, hypotheses and falsifiability, but I hope the Kansas education people don't force that on schools. That would just be a political sop to a certain point of view and it would be forcing schools to teach something in order to please a certain segment of the population. It makes more sense, for the time being, to let each school (and ideally, each teacher) to determine such matters.

In the long term, the true solution is to privatize education so that the Creationists can have their own school, and the Muslims and vegans and so forth can get their own schools as well. In this way the Creationists could shelter themselves from inconvenient science and the religious freedom issues would be eliminated.

Before leaving the issue, I want to again emphasize that science is often under attack from people on the left, who would prefer to see themselves as repositories of all learning and erudition. The lack of basic scientific knowledge in subjects like climatology, fetology and history is shocking, given the forthright opinions often espoused by some of these people. You would hope that somebody trying to enforce the extreme provisions of Kyoto, the murderous dictates of Roe v. Wade or the imperatives behind slavery reparations would at least have the corresponding background to discuss the issue intelligently.

However, on the subject of Kansas, I truly hope the education officials decide not to do anything though they almost certainly will. Teaching Intelligent Design in a science class, or even modifying the evolution lesson plan to try and couch it in philosophical or cultural context, is an affront to the idea of science.

I wish they'd spend their time doing something constructive, like say adding an embryology/fetology unit to the science curriculum. Besides being important to parenthood and pre-natal care, it might foster a greater understanding of the unborn and a correspondingly greater respect for the inherent humanity of the million-plus destroyed every year.

I can't imagine the mindset that had evangelicals, almost certainly all pro-life, look at the situation in the country where there are over one million abortions every year and somehow decide that the most pressing issue is trying to prove the Earth is ten thousand years old. Wasted energy on a pointless, doomed experiment in denying basic scientific truths. Of course, unlike the abortion industry, at least when Creationists stick their heads in the sand to ignore science and logic, doing so doesn't (directly) result in deaths.
Embracing Bias

Referencing advocates of public broadcasting that call on us all to "condemn politicized attacks" against things like PBS, Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek points out a simple fact: how can a publicly-funded institution not be subject to politics?

As an initial side-note, it's a wonder anyone thinks we need public broadcasting given the availability of inexpensive news sources from radio, cable, broadcast TV, the Internet and newspapers. C-SPAN is able to run several low-cost, high-intellect programs of the same sort as NPR and PBS; specifically, a few smart people are interviewed in a non-combative forum speaking in low tones with few or no commercial breaks. If C-SPAN can do that and operate in the free market, including expanding to have a C-SPAN2 and a C-SPAN3, then I don't see how PBS and NPR fulfill an otherwise-unfulfilled, valuable need. There's no reasonable economic justification I can see to provide it as a government-procured product. On top of which, there's a serious problem in forcing people to pay to broadcast views that might be incongruent with their own (see: Thomas Jefferson and freedom of belief).

But the idea of a PBS or NPR free of "politicized attacks" is a symptom of the wider exceptionalism bestowed upon certain media sources - with the employees of these outlets doing the bestowing. It amazes me how I can read an editorial criticizing blogs for expressing biased editorials and opinions and catering to the specific ideologies of the readership, from an editorial published in, hypothetically, the New York Times or the LA Times. How is it that these newspapers and other media sources don't acknowledge their own bias?

Somehow they act as though they present the unvarnished truth as Americans ought to all see it. Anyone paying attention knows that true elimination of bias is difficult if not impossible. And that's okay.

I don't want to regularly patronize news sources that don't treat political corruption, terrorist attacks or genocide events as negative. But that's a form of bias. It's taking a position: a) this is terrorism and b) this is bad. I don't see a problem with that kind of reporting. That's how human beings communicate. We have opinions and values and we communicate them virtually every single day.

In fact, I'm concerned when somebody tries to present something as objective and unbiased and doesn't acknowledge his own prejudices and perspectives. I know I can't trust stories like that too quickly because the author is downplaying or unaware of the biases that might have gone into a story.

I'd rather hear something from somebody I know has a bias, thus allowing me to factor it in. It's more annoying when I have to figure it out myself. I wish I could remember who, but some blogger or bloggers pointed out a simple parallel: if a business reporter has to acknowledge the stocks and companies he's bought or invested in before he can ethically report on subjects related to stocks and the corporate world, why is it that political reporters don't have to publish their contributions and admit how they're voting and have voted? I'd just like it acknowledged before I read a story.

When I read something in DailyKos that says Bush is an idiot-criminal and Dean is a political genius, I know that it comes from a guy who hates Bush and who did paid political work (which, by the way, he reported up-front) for Dean. But if I were to read something in the Boston Globe or the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about how Voters Reject Bush Social Security Plans than I'm left to assume but never to know that it comes from someone with a specific editorial bias.

The question is not "should we eliminate the bias" versus "should we accept the bias." The controversy is "we should ignore the bias in ourselves" versus "we should acknowledge the bias in ourselves." That's a far more honest way to deal with others and it would yield a media atmosphere that carried itself with much more integrity.

In the end, it's the same impulse that tries to condemn political attacks against a political subsidiary that also tries to ignore all potential biases within the various mainstream news sources: the self-exceptionalism that is rampant within many media outlets. People working in media are not bad, they're just not super-human. Just as we should not expect a political subsidiary to be perfectly immune from criticism, neither should we expect human beings to be perfectly transcendent about their fundamental prejudices and perspectives.

If I wanted to be even more dramatic and make a longer post I could link media exceptionalism to wider governmental exceptionalism and how many people excuse a government action that would be immoral if an individual or business did it. For now I'll stick to media self-exceptionalism.