July 31, 2005

Democratic Self-Identification

The center-left of US politics continues to be broiled in confusion, misdirection, unfocused aggression and hilariously overstated confidence amid a sea of bland messages and mindless themes. The Democrats don't stand for anything, yet theu're proud to be Democrats; they have no idea what their message should be, but are convinced that if you elect them everything will be right with the world.

The fact that the Democrats continue their confusion about who they are and what they stand for should of course beg the obvious question: "why don't they know who they are?" The reason is simple. They suffer from the long-building, deep-rooted philosophical dearth of the American center-left over the last century-plus.

Historically, the progressives started a lot of the things the modern left loves and a lot that it hates. The progressives, more Republican than Democratic, were very focused on reform of all types - political reform, social reform, economic reform, journalistic reform, etc. They had a surprising unity of vision and purpose; they could reform various practices in society to help the good and eliminate the bad. They were the ones who lobbied to ban prostitution on the logic that it was an immorality that damaged women and broke up families. They also worked for fire code and business regulations in order to make modern living and working safer. And when they passed minimum wage laws and work-hour laws it was supposed to help people live safer and more moral lives, including providing single women with sufficient income to avoid resorting to prostitution.

In other words, the progressives had a unified political agenda undergirded with moral purpose and direction. They did not have an especially developed political philosophy, however. This meant that the progressives ranged in partisan affiliation, political pet causes, and in their orientation toward some issues. For example, they approached segregation and Eugenics with the same reform-minded enthusiasm, with many progressives pushing positions that would today disgust most of those style themselves 'progressive.' But the larger impact of a philosophical dearth would be felt later on.

As the center-left continued on it has become a hodge-podge of Jacksonian populism, progressive interventionism, FDR bureaucratization and 60s radicalism, in addition to the other various influences on it). It is not a political or social philosophy, and now it is not even a unified political agenda. It has even deteriorated beyond the point where it could represent identity politics for particular social groups (like race, religion or economic stratum). The center-left in the Democratic party, as I've said before, is little more than a shopping list. Jim Carville called it a 'litany' but that's being optimistic. It's not just that the Democrats lack a good theme to tie everything together, it's that they're drawn by fulfilling the budgetary requests of different interests instead of any unified political agenda.

So when it comes to selling a shopping list of budget earmarks to the voters, it's both a tough sell (except for the people who want to protect their spot on the list) and a difficult place to regroup from. Sure, political socialization will make sure there are Democrats around with no budgetary compulsion to stay loyal to the party, but it's hard to pull swing voters and independents when you don't stand for positive things. All you have to is being not as bad as the opposition.

The Democrats need to connect with a political philosophy, or at least a coherent agenda. Why bother trying to reform the Democrats if you're not trying to resurrect any message? Right now, everything is on the table. Some have suggested loosening the party's abortion stand, which would no doubt improve its gains with some groups like unions, the South, Hispanics and the religious. Others have talked about guns, gay marriage, social issues in general and tried to ramp up Democratic efforts to ban violent or sexual video games. If they're trying appeal to more socially conservative voters, then it must be to save their foreign policy or economic agenda. But they very successfully revamped the economic agenda under Clinton and the DLC to strongly embrace free trade, liberalization and take a much more centrist line (at least post 1994). Others suggested that Kerry should embrace a stronger line against terror and for the Iraq war in order to win the presidency.

Why would a political group entertain the idea of deemphasizing or dumping certain aspects of the platform except to save the others? If you had to cut your monthly spending to balance your budget, you'd cut frivolities in order to save the basics like food, shelter and health. If a military commander made a decision to sacrifice men or equipment it would only be to save the mission or to save others. A politician should only remove agenda items in order to save the core agenda; Democrats have all suggested dumping different parts of the agenda, and the only overarching goal seems to be victory at election instead of legislation.

A further analysis from a libertarian point of view could really help explain the problem. Committed Democrats can give impassioned overviews of their agenda, with one point related to personal liberties and the following point related to economic security. Especially humorous and contradictory is when a Democrat will oppose the Patriot Act with Franklin's line about those trading liberty for security deserving neither but then turn around and discuss the dangers of the marketplace and explain why government control over retirement will protect us from an uncertain world.

The Republicans have their own problems with message and unity, but the Democrats are more fragmented and far less driven by political philosophy. The Democrats have been going on momentum from the New Deal, from the Great Society and from Bill Clinton, and haven't been working on future agendas. The Republicans have been working in think tanks for decades turning instincts into ideas and turning solutions into legislation. The Democrats have been caught not doing their homework but in the aftermath they can't even figure out which subject they're supposed to be studying.

Until and unless the Democrats can come up with something like a unity of purpose and a reason to exist, they're going to struggle in efforts to sell themselves or to redefine themselves.

July 26, 2005


Kids across the country learn about Louis Pasteur and his work on abiogenesis, otherwise known as spontaneous generation. Although his rabies vaccine is simple to remember, it's his work with germs that led to his immortalization as the process that makes milk drinkable - Pasteurization. His study of germs disproved one of the common misconceptions among doctors, scientists and learned experts of his time. They believed you could get something from nothing.

Specifically, they thought that bacterial growths were generated out of nothing, and that a covered broth would spawn bacteria or insects. Various intelligent doctors helped disprove the various forms of spontaneous generation theory, but Pasteur's work is most often credited with the accomplishment,especially as applied to unseen microscopic creatures like germs. These experts showed that you cannot start with a boiled broth and end up with a germ-laden broth sample without unfiltered access to the open air; they showed that you can't get something from nothing. This is the principle of omne vivum ex ovo - 'all life from egg.'

Abiogenesis was disproven because it takes the building blocks of life to produce life. Unfortunately, the equivalent for diplomacy and trade policy has not yet been fully accepted. Many discussions of foreign policy do not accept the premise that it takes the building blocks of freedom and democracy to produce them.

When we look at the crimes committed by various governments around the world, we should react with outrage and look for ways to express our anger, ways to alleviate the suffering these policies have caused. Unfortunately, the natural human instinct to do the former often overrides the much more pressing issue of the latter; we get so caught up showing our anger that we suggest reactions that often are not effective solutions or are even detrimental to solving the situation.

The trade embargo and its various manifestations is primarily my focus here. It may feel satisfying to punish a government by denying their country access to American goods and consumers, but does it do anything substantive? The Cuban embargo is embarrassingly ineffective at removing the tyrant Castro from power. If anything, we solidify his grip by isolating his people from American citizens, money and ideas.

Dictators, rather than running from openness, thrive on isolation, alienation and control. They go to great lengths to keep media, businesses and foreigners away from areas they want to control. They can't go around killing or imprisoning everybody, especially Westerners, so they need a closed society to do a lot of the front-line work to keep control. The fewer Westerners running around taking pictures, asking questions, spreading ideas and spending money, the easier it is to tell the people lies, mistruths and deceptions. Dictators thrive on closed, backwards, isolated populations that can be manipulated more easily. It is the educated, the informed and the successful that they fear.

Rather than focusing on self-expression of our outrage through crude, inexact embargo-derived policies, the US should embrace policies that fight tyranny at the source: closed civil societies. Our hope should be to educate, inform and enrichoppressed people. Unfortunately, restricting trade tends to do the opposite on all three counts.

It's valiant and admirable to call out China for its abysmal record on Tibet or religious minorities, or to criticize other nations like Cuba or South Africa for abusing their people, but we should not use trade restriction as a policy tool.

We cannot expect a tyranny to become more open and democratic when we enact policies that will remove democratic Westerners from the country. How can the political version of abiogenesis make any sense? Illcall it alogogenesis; abiogenesis means non-life-creation and alogogenesis means non-reason-creation or non-principle-creation. Without the logic, rationale, or principles behind democracy being preached, proselytized and explained to the oppressed peoples around the world, how can we expect them to undertake democratic change?Democracy, like bacteria, will not simply develop in a vacuum, and certainly it would not be aided by a vacuum we force onto the situation.

It seems like an embargo targeted against a human rights abuser would be a valuable contribution to the cause, but the democrats in tyrannical countries need allies rather than seclusion. We need to push the cause to the people, talking about democracy, freedom, free press, free speech, free exercise, free thought. When we withdraw Americans from dictatorial nations we lessen the pressure on their contradictory systems. It would be just the solution to undertake if we wanted to protect the tyrants, because in the long run freedom begets freedom.

If we want countries to become free, we should use freedom as our weapon: free trade, free speech and free press are the arsenal we should use. We cannot build open countries from closed policies, nor expect good democrats to spontaneously generate from authoritarian nations.

A wide-open trade policy with un-free countries should be step one in pushing the contradictions within these systems; instead of sheltering them from the light of day, we should be visiting, witnessing and speaking out. Closed borders do not help the victims of foreign tyranny. We need to encourage interaction and discussion in order to fight these regimes in the war of ideas,a battle where we always have the advantage.

UPDATE: Now available on the website here under issue articles.
'Did the Iraq War Cause The July Bombings?'

Idiotic. Did invading Nazi-held Europe on D-Day lead to the Battle of the Bulge? Just stupid. Yes, we're engaged in conflict with the Islamist killers and as a result they're going to use ongoing and past conflicts as rhetorical flashpoints to rally their side to action, but that doesn't mean the conflict was ineffective or in bad judgment, nor does it mean that violence could have been avoided. We were already being engaged in violence by these same groups, whether we responded or not. It's ludicrous to think that it's all a response to the war in Iraq.

It's a conceit of dumbass Western journalists that somehow the war in Iraq is a point of contention for the Islamists, while the war in Afghanistan, the existence of the state of Israel, the Australian-led campaign for East Timor, or the 1991 Gulf War are not. This is editorial revisionism; the journalists oppose the war in Iraq, so they want to cast it as the cause of further violence, but few Westerners would openly oppose the existence of Israel or the war against the Taliban or the 1991 Gulf War so they can't blame these for the war.

As John Howard said a few days ago, the Islamists cited the Australian role in freeing East Timor (Catholics) from the brutal occupation at the hands of Indonesia (Muslims) as a primary motivation behind the Bali bombing. Yet few Western mainstream journalists would argue that we should've continued to let Indonesia brutalize the East Timorese.

By the same token, the Islamists in Sudan killed approximately 2 million black Africans (Christians and animists) mostly by forced famine during the North-South civil war. In the Darfur region the Janjaweed militias, almost certainly aided by the Sudanese air force, are wiping out black non-Muslims to the tune of 10,000 lives a month, and many more raped and beaten, not to mention the many others forced to flee for their lives. None of these people is guilty of anything related to the war in Iraq, but are decidedly guilty of not being Muslims and not being Arabs.

It's madness to try and ascribe rational motives to this ideology any more than we would ascribe rationality to the Final Solution. It would be beyond foolish to try and explain - let alone justify - the Nazi genocide; it borders on the bigoted to indulge the hatred of the Nazis by elevating them to reasonable thinkers with misguided plans. They were not reasonable men, they were twisted by hatred, pushed by momentum and stripped of their humanity by unquenchable desires for some imagined racial perfection. In the same vein, the Islamo-fascists who now threaten the free world are not reasonable men with exaggerated methods. They are nihilistic killers who use culture as a rallying point to bring together lost, despondent or listless souls who are more interested in committing to any cause than committing to a good cause.

Like the Nazis, the Islamo-fascists are far less an ideology and far more a personality disorder. Do not try and divine some rational political agenda from their hatred; they are bigots, killers, homophobes, misogynists and nihilists who attach themselves to Islam as a proxy for true ideology.
Judiciary Cmte Document Requests

The Democrats are again asking for documents written by a judicial nominee while serving as counsel for the executive branch. The strategy used against Estrada's nomination revolved around documentation stemming from his work in the Secretary General's office. The White House cited attorney-client privilege and did not release many of the requested documents, giving Democrats the barest of pretexts to continuing filibustering Estrada. The Democrats are asking for similar documents relating to Roberts' work in the Secretary General's office, but they haven't been threatening filibuster over it.

Let's be clear: work product related to the Secretary General's office often falls under attorney-client privilege with the executive branch, and that's extensively protected in US law. Just like religious, spousal and medical privacy protections, the attorney-client privilege is well protected and widely accepted. In this case, every living Secretary General, Democrats and Republicans, came out strongly against the use of privileged documents in blocking Estrada's nomination, saying that it's both private and necessary to preserve the ability of the SG office to function.

Attorney-client privilege must be preserved. Democrats should not be allowed to use SG documents, something they know they will never be given full access to read, as an excuse to filibuster a nominee.

Fortunately, it looks like Roberts will be fine. A number of Democrats have voiced positive comments, and Feinstein even today gave positive reviews of a conversation she had in a meeting with Roberts. Others, like Lieberman, have also been positive. I think Roberts is going to be confirmed.

The question for me is whether he's going to be a reliable vote against abortion. It's unfortunate that extracting a promise from a nominee to vote against abortion would ethically require a recusal on the issue in court. I am concerned that Roberts will end up another Souter, but at this point there's little to do but hope that his intelligence, credentials and professionalism will, in all honesty, lead him to make a decision I like. I wish I felt remorse about being so explicit, but I don't. When we're talking about critical moral issues like abortion, slavery, segregation, etc. that have such an overwhelming constitutional imperative it's hard for me to pretend like any position is morally or politically equivalent to another.

July 25, 2005

Whatever Happened to Post-2004 Federalist Democrats?

A lot of academics and pundits liked to speculate that after the losing 2004 election the Democrats and especially the left should embrace federalism. They point to state funding of stem-cel research, the Terri Schiavo incident, and other examples as reasons why the Democrats are slowly embracing left-federalism. Of course, these were all examples of opportunity, not of genuine ideological change. Sometimes opportunism can be around long enough to allow genuine thought to develop. But this is not the case for Democrats today.

Witness the Roberts confirmation debates. Not only is the subtext of the abortion debate the issue of state choice over abortion, but the qualifications of Roberts (and other jurists) have been affected by the debate of whether the nominee is a member of the Federalist Society. Senator Leahy asked Edith Brown Clement ten different questions about the Federalist Society. Roberts was reported to be a member, then that story was shown to be false, but now a possible honorary position on the steering committee is being reported. If the Democrats were really interested in a genuine embrace of federalism, I doubt they'd use membership in the Federalist Society as an identifier for being potentially too conservative.
Anti-War Blind Cynicism (tip to FD)

The Buchananite faction of the libertarians have decided to attempt to cast as much doubt as possible onto any aspect of the war. Their negativity at times ignore facts and at other times is grossly overblown.

First of all, the continued argument that there was no Iraqi conenction to Al Qaeda has been disproven repeatedly by Stephen Hayes. The Baathist-Al Qaeda connection has been shown; there were multiple links between AQ and IIS operatives, including joint missions, diplomatic cooperation and even listing Osama as an IIS asset as early as 1993. It's a token of blind ignorance of the anti-war left that there was no AQ-Iraq link. The fact is that the Iraqis were linked to many terrorist groups and to many notorious terrorists, Al Qaeda included.

Second, the unabashed negativity about the prospects for democracy in Iraq are as unattractive as they are pessimistic. While it's true that the Iraqis still have a ways to go before they get a working democratic government, it's also true that the US doesn't have all the answers yet. Raimndo and Knappster criticized a number of provisions in the Iraqi bill of rights, but apparently they forgot that every one of their criticisms of the Iraqi constitution is a problem in Western democracies as well. Western governments often let 'greater good' or 'public morals' rationales disrupt individual liberties, Western courts often seal records for various reasons, and conscription and firearms licenses are pretty much the standard for democracies and non-democracies.

The problem is that even after a stunning electoral outcome that all the naysayers predicted would fail, after working out a collective government that's ethnically inclusive when all the naysayers foretold of civil war, and after the crafting of a bill of rights that's very roughly equivalent to many democracies around the world all they can complain about is the fact that it has a lot of the same problems other countries do.

They conveniently don't put any real weight on the fact that the Iraqi bill of rights repeatedly and explicitly bans all physical and mental torture. It guarantees a fully independent judiciary and the prsumption of innocence. The Iraqi bill of rights even has a guarantee of private ownership.

Of course, somebody should point out to Raimondo that his 'critique' of the Iraqi constitution is actually of the old draft, not the new one. Many of the more problematic sections were edited or removed entirely, including an anti-Israeli populist tossback.

In a wider sense, the anti-war people in general should not be so harsh and dismissive of opportunities for democracy in Iraq. Nobody should expect a perfectly functional, perfectly libertarian constitutional republic in Iraq to be established by Aprial, 2003. These things take time, especially since democracy is so foreign (thus far) to Arab political culture. Lebanon and Iraq are the two closest examples to Arab democracies (Turkey is Turkic, Israel is Jewish, Iran is Persian) and believe it or not it takes some effort to fit together old customs with new politics. We have decades and centuries of parables, cliches and traditions to back us up, from free speech and trial protections to simple adages about voting and writing your Congressman.

We've been expecting a lot from the Iraqis, and so far they've performed quite well. I realize it plays into the perfectly closed view of the world that many anti-war people have to doubt every aspect of the Iraq war but a reasonable person would have to agree that the good outweighs the bad and that the progress currently being made can be built on in the future. Or I suppose we could resort to sensory-abusive propaganda, selective evidentiary foundations and ridiculously exaggerated expectations in order to innoculate ourselves from any serious philosophical self-examination.

July 23, 2005

Behold the 4-Line Quiz

Judging from the site tracking device, the 3-Line Quiz is currently one of the more popular aspects of this site, and is one of the more often linked. Therefore, I will eventually make a big coding push and put it all on one big honkin' page. Until then, I've come up with the 4-Line Quiz. Unlike the 3-Line, which deals with political philosophy generally, the 4-Line is designed to cover foreign policy more narrowly. The quiz is essentially done but the coding is going to be long and tedious.

But for now, I've got a working PNG of the quiz lines. I reserve the right to add/remove lines, rename or revalue them or whatever else. Since I've already written the quiz, I probably won't change anything soon.

The diagonal and vertical lines are not meant to be interchangeable with the 3 Lines (except the capitalist-socialist one, of course) but I did try to match them up to some degree. The pacifist-militarist one is mostly based on traditional stereotypes of left-wing and right-wing, so it was easy to do but hard to accept (because the stereotype itself is largely meaningless on any real philosophical debate).

Because I don't think I've asked the right balance of questions, I won't post the quiz. I will, however, link to the SelectSmart selector I made on the same subject. The selector doesn't relate directly to the 4 Lines, and instead rates you against various philosophical identities. It can be found here. The 3 Line quiz is listed all over the place, and can be taken here.

July 21, 2005

Zero-Sum Economics and the Political Left

The economic left in more or less all cases has a belief (or fear or suspicion) that economics is fundamentally a zero-sum game. In contrast to a positive-sum game where everybody can benefit at the same time or where the overall winnings outweigh the losses, a zero-sum game requires that every winner produce a loser. This means that rich people, in effect, take a 'bigger slice of the pie' and must necessarily take their excess by leaving others with less. This is the foundational perspective for most ideologues of redistributive economics, not the much better-marketed 'helping the disadvantaged' line they like to give. It's the source of hatred for the rich; if the rich didn't take more than their share, there would be more for the poor.

But the flip-side of a zero-sum game is that it is also not a negative-sum game. A negative-sum game means that the losses outweigh the winnings. Both positive- and negative-sum games are often referred to as non-zero-sum games. The opposition of a zero-sum game, which many economic leftists believe in, is a non-zero-sum game - whether it's a positive- or negative-sum game.

Think of it like the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy); the total energy going into a system must equal the total energy coming out of it, and cannot be created or destroyed. Energy is not destroyed but transferred. (Physics geeks, ignore entropy and the second law of thermodynamics for these purposes).

So for economics, while the zero-sum people think that a positive-sum economy is false because the gains of the rich hurt the poor, they also think that a negative-sum economy is false because money will simply be reallocated. I'll give an example, and for these purposes I'll shorthand 'leftist' meaning someone who consciously or subconsciously believes in a zero-sum economy.

Our leftist despises the rich because every dollar they have is a dollar the poor don't have. A positive-sum game is beyond his one-dimensional,authoritarian mindset. At the same time, a negative-sum economy doesn't even occur to him as a possible consequence of his redistributive schemes. In 'fixing' asset inequality by giving poor individuals and poor businesses more goods and assets, our leftist could be disproving the zero-sum economy with a negative-sum result.

The rich individuals and businesses lose immediately from the redistribution. But the economy overall (recalling that 'economy' is a metaphor for market transactions within a given universe or space) could lose if the redistribution results in lost productivity or jobs. The bad businesses have been saved in order to protect their employees, but now the bad businesses have a greater share of the economy and are behaving less competently than would better businesses. Their bad decisions could result in lower growth or stagnation, lessened innovation and general inefficiency. After all, without bankruptcy acting as a recycling function on the economy, the resources of inept businessmen are never sold off to adept businessmen.

In other words, the leftist believes in a zero-sum game, so tries to 'correct' a positive-sum game, but also because he believes in a zero-sum game, he doesn't see the threat posed by a negative-sum game.

While many real-world leftists are not so obtuse or philosophical about zero-sum economics, they still make many assumptions based on some perspective that money is not created by the rich nor is it squandered by socialist budgets. The same viewpoint that discounts creation of wealth also discounts destruction of it.

The more practical problem is that people stuck in a zero-sum view of economics are grossly incompetent at diagnosing economic problems or at prescribing economic solutions. Yet because of their warped perspective, they're forever drawn to making policy recommendations. And why not? They see constant problems as the rich take more than 'their fair share' and see few problems with their wealth-squandering policy proposals.

We all need to acknowledge several things, starting at the basic level, that taken together prove we operate in a fundamentally non-zero-sum economy.

1) If A buys a widget from B, then both are better off or they wouldn't undertake the trade. This is exemplified every day when customers visit restaurants, stores and other establishments that don't charge more than the product is worth (by definition, or again, the customers would leave) and yet are able to stay in business or even turn a profit. If the zero-sum view were correct, then either B is selling the product for too little or too much, and between A and B one MUST be a loser and one MUST be a winner. That is not the case.

2) If C redistributes money from expertly-run company D to disastrously-run company E, then in all likelihood the money will not be used as efficiently. Company E will likely produce products lower in quantity or quality (or both) than Company D. Company D and consumers are worse off, and the benefits garnered by Company E are lower than the benefits that would have been garnered by Company D had C not redistributed anything. Since this is ahypothetical, we can assume that E is as embarrassingly inept as D is astonishingly adept. If the zero-sum view were correct, then no matter how incompetent Company E might be, the scenario would have to result in the same net benefits and wealth. That is also not the case.

3) Even if a situation does arise where the winnings and losses balance out, that does not prove that the economy is a zero-sum game, since it would be hypothetically possible to find such a situation within a non-zero-sum universe.

Accepting the premise that the economy operates on non-zero-sum rules, we can come to several conclusions. First, wealth can be created by individual effort, because wealth can be created. Second, the possession of greater-than-average wealth does not take away wealth from others, because there need not be a loser to match every winner. Third, bad government policies can be net-negative, because wealth can be destroyed. With this knowledge, we can understand that wealth does not deserve jealousy and that government intervention against the market can easily do more harm than good.

Proving not just that government interventioncan but usually does cause more harm than good is another topic altogether.

UPDATE: This article has been published on my website here, and is listed under issue articles here.
John Howard Gets Plus Five Cool Points (tip to Instapundit)

Partial transcript of joint Howard-Blair press conference from NRO:
    PRIME MIN. HOWARD: Could I start by saying the prime minister and I were having a discussion when we heard about it. My first reaction was to get some more information. And I really don't want to add to what the prime minister has said. It's a matter for the police and a matter for the British authorities to talk in detail about what has happened here.

    Can I just say very directly, Paul, on the issue of the policies of my government and indeed the policies of the British and American governments on Iraq, that the first point of reference is that once a country allows its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it's given the game away, to use the vernacular. And no Australian government that I lead will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats, and no self-respecting government of any political stripe in Australia would allow that to happen.

    Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq.

    And I remind you that the 11th of September occurred before the operation in Iraq.

    Can I also remind you that the very first occasion that bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia's involvement in liberating the people of East Timor. Are people by implication suggesting we shouldn't have done that?

    When a group claimed responsibility on the website for the attacks on the 7th of July, they talked about British policy not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. Are people suggesting we shouldn't be in Afghanistan?

    When Sergio de Mello was murdered in Iraq -- a brave man, a distinguished international diplomat, a person immensely respected for his work in the United Nations -- when al Qaeda gloated about that, they referred specifically to the role that de Mello had carried out in East Timor because he was the United Nations administrator in East Timor.

    Now I don't know the mind of the terrorists. By definition, you can't put yourself in the mind of a successful suicide bomber. I can only look at objective facts, and the objective facts are as I've cited. The objective evidence is that Australia was a terrorist target long before the operation in Iraq. And indeed, all the evidence, as distinct from the suppositions, suggests to me that this is about hatred of a way of life, this is about the perverted use of principles of the great world religion that, at its root, preaches peace and cooperation. And I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder.

    PRIME MIN. BLAIR: And I agree 100 percent with that. (Laughter.)
(Emphasis mine; typos and errors not mine)

Trying to say that the Iraq War causes terrorism is putting the cart before the horse. How can a 2003 invasion of a terrorist-supporting tyrant incite terrorists to violence in 1993 (WTC), 1998 (embassies), 2000 (USS Cole) and 2001? Apparently the terrorists decided to preemptively retaliate. At least wacko Professor Ward Churchill argued that the cause of Islamic terrorism was the UN embargo that's blamed for the death of many Iraqis; of course, that would put Iraq at the center of the war on terror, so not a lot of lefties rely on that argument or even mention it.
I Can't Stand The Ignorance

Armando at DailyKos is incredibly persistent that Roberts state a clear position on Roe and he blogs as much several times (here and here just on the current first 12 Kos posts). He ignorantly frames the issue like this:
    Here comes the pushback. Roberts does not have to answer questions is the GOP line. Roberts does not have to provide full and frank information they insist.

    This attitude begs the question, what does Judge Roberts need to hide? Why should he be afraid to state clearly and unequivocally his judicial views?

    I tell you what I suspect - he does not want to discuss Roe. And that is unacceptable.
Obviously Armando isn't a lawyer or he'd realize that a judge that has stated his opinion on a case before him or likely to come before him is obligated to then recuse himself when the case does come around. Apparently he didn't read the news when Scalia ran off at the mouth about how the Ninth Circuit Newdow case on the Pledge of Allegiance was a bad ruling; Justice Scalia recused himself from the case, so when it does come up only 8 Justices will be voting on it.

If a Justice nominee made a promise in public or in private to vote for or against a constitutional right to abortion then he or she would be ethically obligated to recusal. It destroys the principle of impartiality. Even if the Justice were able to sidestep recusal without serious questions about ethics and impartiality, the Justice would be tightly bound to stick within the confines of a promise to the Senate committee; the implication would be that the Justice lied if the statement to the Senate didn't sync up with the actual opinion given. It's an ethical nightmare and potentially a legal one if the decided-against party were to try for impeachment articles.

But absent that, it's inappropriate for a Justice to state an opinion on a case likely to come before his or her court. It's right there in the federal canons. Simply phrasing the issue as "hiding something" versus honesty is childish and ignorant, and such people should do more research before expressing opinions about procedural matters. And again, the fact is that Ginsburg and all the other Justices were quite coy about their answers, avoiding statements to the Senate that might ethically require recusal.

July 20, 2005

Two Observations About The Roberts Discussions

First, I find it very interesting that many pundits and cable news contributors, when discussing the potential judicial ideology of Judge Roberts, mention his friendliness and approachability. It implies that in order to be as extreme as Scalia or Thomas would involve being irascible, cranky, mean or reclusive. Dick Cheney as a Representative (for WY) was widely considered a friend to most other Congressmen, even though he regularly found himself in single-digits minority on votes like school lunches and gun control. I've heard rumors about big-time moderates that cast them as selfish, egocentric assholes. Certainly everyone should realize that personalities and politics often don't overlap.

Second, in yet another flaw of using Communications, English and Journalism majors to write articles about law, politics or economics, the media coverage seems to be tilted toward giving one- or two-sentence descriptions of his former cases without going into the law. They describe the situation and the ruling and whether he was joined by his colleagues, but give little about the larger legal issues. While it might seem topical to a communications expert to describe that such and such issue or regulation met with such and such a fate, it offers little insight into Roberts' judicial philosophy. So he struck down X or upheld Y or dissented on Z - I have little idea why he made these rulings, and more to the point even less idea what he'd do to set new precedent. But they have to have something to talk about and all they have is old rulings.

Journalists and AP staff writers know story structure and the five Ws but they're not experts in other subjects; it's crazy to assume that if you teach somebody how to write they'll be able to make a coherent story out of it. It would be better to find people with a little background in the subject they're covering and then make sure they know how to write. Writers with little subject matter expertise have trouble so they tend to be over-reliant on press releases.

My guess is that Roberts is something like Rehnquist, that he'll be pretty decent on federalism but somewhat skeptical of the 9th Amendment. My hope is that he'll rule against Roe and Casey but it's hard to say with this information. What I can say is that he seems honest in his decisions and willing to rule against his personal feelings in ordser to follow the law. He's obviously qualified from his experience and education.

But trying to learn about his ideology from one-liner descriptions of old cases or divining his judicial philosophy from his friendliness is a case of journalists trying to find evidence where little is present.

July 19, 2005

SCOTUS Nominee: Judge John Roberts

The President has nominated a judge from the DC Appeals Circuit, John Roberts, Jr., to take Sandra Day O'Connor's seat when she retires from the Supreme Court. He's 50 years old, so he's young. He has a host of academic credentials including Harvard BA and JD, so he's smart. He was a seasoned lawyer for private practice and for the government, including as Solicitor General, and argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, so he's experienced.

He's been mentioned before as a good pick to avoid a major confirmation fight by Lieberman, but he's also one of the most respected conservative lawyers and jurists in the country. He's not so outspoken a conservative as Scalia or Thomas, but he's very likely a solid conservative in more of a Rehnquist style (he clerked for Rehnquist).

Leahy and Schumer in a press conference immediately following the President's 9 pm announcement seemed to be gearing up for criticizing Roberts without committing themselves. Leahy said the usual stuff that it's a serious, long-lasting confirmation, that it's important and a thorough hearing should be made. But then he also said that O'Connor was a valuable and talented moderate jurist, which is fine by itself but a good setup to try and contrast Roberts negatively against O'Connor.

More ominously is that Schumer said that Roberts should have to answer many questions of a probing nature, and that Schumer voted against him for the DC circuit because he didn't answer enough questions. I've already blogged about my anger at Schumer for refusing to understand the ethical issues behind judicial impartiality, but I think Roberts should be fine using the same statement that Ginsburg used to avoid answering some questions in her hearing.

I think Roberts will be confirmed if only because Lieberman forwarded him as a compromise candidate; that suggests that the Republicans will hold at least 50 of their Senators and get some Democrats. I want to say that the confirmation will be smooth but the leftwing advocates are too geared up for war to back down now. They're going to unleash their full activity and they'll pull Democrats with them. In the end I think enough of the Gang of 14 Democrats will back the nomination that he'll be passed. The consultation with the Democrats meant that the President spoke to 3/4 of the Democratic caucus, so they can't say that Bush didn't consult.

The Democrats want somebody to hate, and if the left moves fast they will be able to demonize Roberts enough to convince lefties that Roberts is evil and should be blocked. But my prediction is a successful confirmation.
Koreans for America (tip to Malkin)

A protest in South Korea of a memorial for General MacArthur was met by a larger protest defending him and his statue. The protest grew somewhat unruly and even a little violent, and the police had to hold back the participants. It makes a lot of sense that the South Koreans would be appreciative of MacArthur and the US for the successful UN police action in Korea; their cousins in North Korea currently live in one of the worst possible countries on Earth.

North Korea is littered with a series of ten or twelve concentration death camps where people are sent for everything from political dissent to religiosity to engaging in market activities (illegally, almost by definition). The people lucky enough to be outside the deadly prisons are simply in a larger prison that is their entire country. Famine and hunger have gotten bad enough that instances of cannibalism have been reported there for years. It's illegal to leave the country, which doesn't stop thousands from constantly trying to escape to China or occasionally to raft to Japan. Few make it out of the country, and many find that once they do escape to China the red police there try to stop them before they can reach a safe embassy.

In all, North Korea is not only the most unfree country in the world (worse than Saudi Arabia, Sudan or Saddam's Iraq) it is also one of the deadliest per capita: the DPRK communist government has, in the last ten years, starved one person in ten or more than two million out of a population of twenty-two million.

The South Koreans would be crazy if they weren't overjoyed at being saved from the fate of the North. It's interesting that the US is often accused of having a short-term memory, yet it seems that it's the anti-Americans in South Korea (and elsewhere) who have tragic memory loss.

UPDATE: I forgot that I wanted to mention the other countries that helped contribute to South Korean independence and to (still unattained) North Korean liberation. According to korean-war.com: Republic of Korea 590,911; Columbia 1,068; United States 302,483; Belgium 900; United Kingdom 14,198; South Africa 826; Canada 6,146; The Netherlands 819; Turkey 5,453; Luxembourg 44; Australia 2,282; Philippines 1,496; New Zealand 1,385; Thailand 1,204; Ethiopia 1,271; Greece 1,263; France 1,119
Tom Tancredo: Nuke Mecca (tip to Malkin and the Captain)

Colorado Rep. Tancredo kind of struck me as a populist that doesn't fully think things through. He's been very aggressive about combatting illegal immigration even when it's just Mexican maids and gardeners. I've never felt he fully divided his positions between legal and illegal immigration. And in order to stop remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean (which are an important part of many families' incomes, and are a private matter between a laborer and his overseas family) he tried to put a steep tax on wiring money overseas - without realizing that one of the major wire-transfer companies was headquartered in his district. He just kind of struck me as aggressive without a real direction or travel plan. This latest issue fits in the same vein.

When discussing on an Orlando radio show what the US response should be if we were nuked, Tancredo suggested bombing Islamic holy sites like Mecca. While I understand the anger and frustration one might feel if Chicago or Seattle were to suddenly glow green, it's not a good idea to threaten a whole region and religion with the same treatment. Just as we would be devastated by a terrorist nuclear strike, so too would Muslims and Arabs - and probably most everybody else in the world - be devastated if we glassed Mecca.

Obviously a response to such an attack should be swift, strong and effective, but that doesn't mean we should emotionally lash out at a symbol the terrorists worship. For every terrorist that worships to Mecca, there are probably at least a thousand peaceful Muslims. Unless we're talking about the genocide of all Muslims and most Arabs, which I sincerely hope we're not, then it's a move that should not be considered.

Moreover, besides the political repurcussions it would entail the deaths of hundreds of thousands of worshippers and citizens, possibly millions over time. It might be emotionally satisfying to make somebody else pay for our hurt, but let's make sure that if the time does come we make sure that our rage is focused instead of indiscriminate.

Seneca Falls Anniversary

In 1848 on July 19th and 20th a women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. It was one of the earliest major events for the women's rights movement. Believe it or not, it developed in large part because women were being excluded from the abolitionist movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met in London during the World Anti-Slavery Convention; the women were forced to remain in the balcony and even had a curtain around them. Funnily enough, similar mistreatment of women in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s helped spawn the women's rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

A long-term contributing factor to the 1840s women's rights movement was the spread of industrialization in America and the growth of a middle class that could afford more free time. With less time taken up by agriculture or housework, women were free to join reform associations, temperance leagues and so forth in addition to increased social opportunities. Many of their groups were focused on condemning prostitution (almost omnipresent at the time, in part because of the industrial revolution and smaller family sizes), alcohol and slavery (with the separation of slave families being a large emotional selling point). When women from these women-only reform associations tried to work in men-founded organizations, the great degree of friction showed them that women weren't all that far about slaves in terms of rights.

Of course William Lloyd Garrison, perhaps the most impassioned and extreme of the abolitionists (he didn't participate directly in politics and he burned the Constitution, saying it was tainted by slavery) was supportive of equal rights with women, as well as abolition of slavery.

We should all appreciate the women's rights movement, who asked for legal equality with men - no more, no less.

July 18, 2005

The Usual Suspects on TV

Bad idea. Let's just say that "fairy godmother," "bucko" and "tight ham" (?) make for a bad movie. I actually preferred when they said "frigging."
Israeli Protests

I heard on NPR that the massive Israeli pro-settlement protests resulted in Israeli police arresting tons of people and stopping several hundred busloads of people from going to Gaza to protest. Bus drivers that tried to drive anyway had their licenses revoked. Let's see if the Palestinian authorities can start showing similar good faith by cracking down on terrorists. I'd say Israel is clearly serious about pulling all the settlers out of Gaza and their very strong (perhaps even too strong) moves to pull out settlements prove good faith. I don't think the Palestinian leaders have done as much in return; I'd credit most of the reduction in violence in Israel (though certainly reduction doesn't mean a halt, as we've seen) to the security fence.

The Israelis are working on their side; it's time for the Palestinians to show they want to build peace or to stop complaining when the IDF comes in to do the job they won't do on their own.
Co-Blogger Announcement

Due to her boundless intelligence and unparalleled gift for speech my girlfriend Adriana is joining the blog as theorangeevil. She won't be posting at predictable intervals, but she'll always have interesting things to say. I'll let her skill speak for itself.

July 17, 2005

Clearing up the Wilson-Plame Business

The Democratic opportunism toward Karl Rove and the Wilson/Plame story is just silly. While I agree that unethical bheavior or violating state secrets are grounds for firings even if not illegal, it's interesting that of all the Democrats lined up to destroy Rove, few of them said much of anything about punishing Sandy Berger when he "accidentally" stole documents from the NARA. Of course, I'm willing to bet hypocrisy swings the other way against Republicans, too - although the media and Democratic actions against Rove are a good ten times more energetic and far more common, showing up on news seemingly more often than the Aruba stuff.

Personally, I'm consistent: I could barely care less about it. I understand it's important, but violating confidentiality has never been one of my pet peeves unless it causes something tangible like losing a mission, losing lives, losing battles, etc. What is one o my pet peeves is when stupid people get away with making false arguments simply because other stupid people repeated them enough to gain acceptance by force where acceptance by reason was not available. So I want to clear up a few things.

First of all, Rove did not commit a crime. The author of the statute Rove supposedly violated told WorldNetDaily as much. Several elements that aren't or arguably aren't present are required to fit the statute. 1) The agent must have operated outside the US within the previous five years. That didn't happen, because apparently she was back in the states in 1997, while the Novak column was in 2003. 2) The government has to take affirmative steps to protect the covert agent's identity. She was apparently no longer working as a covert agent, and let Joe Wilson go to Africa without signing a confidentiality agreement. 3) The statute also requires intent to disclose the identity of a covert agent. Arguably, this did not happen, especially given that Rove has signed waivers letting reporters discuss all their interviews with him on the subject.

Additionally, I found it very interesting that Chuck Schumer, one of Rove's biggest critics here (no doubt because he smells headlines) voted against the bill creating this statute back when he was in the House. Man, Schumer is such an ass. Wants to ban guns, wants to ban violent video games, and wants to keep intentionally outing overseas covert agents legal but make talking about formerly overseas, formerly covert agents illegal if it's Karl Rove doing it. Seriously: Chuck Schumer is an asshole.

But back to the subject at hand. Rove didn't commit a crime. However, Joe Wilson's anti-war arguments now getting a rehashing in the media - supposedly the reason Rove sought 'revenge' against him by outing his non-covert wife - are false. In the 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The lefties have said that this was perhaps THE lie that the war was predicated on. Of course, the war was also based on other stuff like the major terrorists Saddam was believed (and now proven) to have aided or sheltered and the democratization of the Middle East, but that's beside the point. The fact is that Iraq DID try to buy nuclear material in Africa.

The problem is that there were fake documents related to the sale between Iraq and Niger, and that allowed Wilson to make the claim that Bush lied (and let Democrats say "Bush lied, people died" endlessly until their heads explode). But that isn't the extent of the evidence. But some intelligence sources believe the fake document was actually intended to be found and discredited, thus making the nuclear link appear false.

British intelligence has consistently argued that Iraq tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. The evidence supports this conclusion (for more, check out this year-old NRO piece). So the President was right to include those 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address, because they were accurate.

Not only was Wilson wrong about the Niger link, but he flat-out lied in the process. He said the CIA told the White House that the African link wasn't entirely unsound, when the CIA never did such a thing. He said that he knew the Niger memo was fraudulent because the names and dates were clearly wrong, but he couldn't have seen the memo at the time he was in Africa because the US didn't acquire the memo for another eight months. A Senate invesitgative panel found that he had lied in both situations.

The Democrats rallying behind WIlson reminds me of the Democrats rallying behind Richard Clarke. They want a guy who can symbolize THE FAILURE of the Bush Administration. It matters not what the failure is or even whether it really happened, but the bigger and juicier the better - especially if it means they can try to neutralize the war on terror as Bush's issue. They don't really want to claim it for themselves, because that would entail being even more gung-ho than Bush. They just want to feel patriotic, look strong and not have to worry about security issues anyway. Richard Clarke and Joe WIlson are both cast in the role as disrespected, disgruntled ex-government officials who wisely know THE TRUTH about the lies behind the war and are going to speak truth to power (mostly by publishing fluffy, self-indulgent books and going on the rent-a-speaker lecture circuit) and become the face symbolizing the failures of the Bush White House.

Of course, Joe Wilson isn't nearly as credible as Richard Clarke and his star fizzled after a month or so. If anything Joe Wilson is just a reminder that the Niger-Iraq connection is real. Wilson is a symbol of the Democrats' opportunism and enthusiasm run wild; they've latched onto a known liar as an excuse to go after Bush and to get Rove kicked out. It won't work; Rove will keep his job a while longer (though he might leave before the term is out; eight years is a long time to work for any Administration) and Wilson will be dropped because of his lies. It's hard to indict Bush and Rove of being liars when your mouthpiece is such an unabashed one.
Aage Bjerre's Pro-US Pizzeria

A Danish pizzeria owner banned French and Germans from eating in his restaurant in the 2003 run-up to the war in Iraq. Denmark sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan, but many Danes were upset by the ban. He was fined for discrimination but refused to pay it, landing him eight days in jail. He sold the shop after repeated vandalism and decreased sales. I don't think the average French or German citizen should be punished for the actions of their governments, but it is nice to hear that some people in Europe have a nice view of the US - bearing in mind that bashing America has been a European hobby for a few hundred years, and vice versa.

Speaking of which, there was also a pro-US rally in Denmark to correspond with the President's visit there. (tip to Instapundit)

July 15, 2005

Interntional Freedom Center

The IFC memorial on the former site of the WTC towers is still embroiled in a fight over just how the memorial issue should be handled, though it appears just today that they may be forced into considering other locations for it. One of the more extreme suggestions has been repeated by Bill Maher, and is something to the effect of a Why They Hate Us pavilion. It's not clear that the IFC is going to such lengths, but a Why They Hate Us section at the 9/11 memorial would be roughly equivalent to a Why The Jews Deserved It arena at the National Holocaust Museum.

The IFC had been vaguely described as an all-encompassing museum on the history of freedom and oppression. That's a noble and important effort (if done correctly) and I'd be willing to make a charitable contribution to such an enterprise (from a reputable developer). But would we write on a loved one's tombstone how great everyone else is? Do we hear about the wonders of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover at the FDR Memorial?

Bill Maher's idea is tragically stupid and woefully crude. It's unbelievable disrespectful to take what is in effect hallowed ground and turn it into a time to explain why they deserved to die or why the actions weren't unjustified. That would be the equivalent of going to a AIDS clinic or memorial and explaining how having unprotected sex or sharing needles brings AIDS on yourself; but at least in that case, you're being highly inappropriate in an accurate way. But the fact is that the 'Why They Hate Us' schtick is heavily overplayed. They hate us because we have a great country and they don't, we have a great economy and they don't, we have power and influence and they don't, we have different cultural norms and our mores and cultural media are being accepted by many Arabs and Muslims while Arab and Muslim culture are not being accepted by us. They hate us because they are neo-fascist bigots that hate people who stand in the way of gaining power; their hatred isn't our fault, no matter what mistakes or missteps might have been made in US foreign policy. But more than that, the 3,000 people who died didn't do anything to bring this wrath down on them any more than the rape and burn victims of Darfur brought hell down on themselves. Why They Hate Us is an idea both horribly crass and horribly wrong.

But even a step down from blaming the victims, putting broad context to a specific event, is crass. It belittles the event. If somebody complains of a stomachache and you shoot back that there are starving people in Ethiopia, then you are not commiserating, but denigrating. For the purposes of mourning the victims of Islamic terrorism against the World Trade Center, we don't need to hear about the Holocaust, slavery, apartheid or the civil rights movement. Those are all important things to learn about and learn from, and anyone who disagrees is a fool or a bigot. But we don't need to hear about them at the site of the WTC.

A brief segment or exhibit linking the attacks to humanity's endless struggle for freedom against oppression would not only be tasteful but powerful and intellectually stimulating. But it should be a conclusion or a capstone to an actual memorial. You do not mourn someone's pain by only talking about the pain of others. Not only do the organizers realize this fact, they are counting on it. They hope to lose the outrage and sadness Americans feel about 9/11 in a general sea of sadness and inspiration for the whole history of freedom.

By all means, build the IFC memorial as planned - just build it across the street, across town, across the country, anywhere not in the way of a real WTC memorial. The site of the towers should have ample space reserved solely for the victims and mourners of the attacks.

And by the way, I seriously think whatever we build there has to be taller than the WTC towers were. Nothing like an extra ten or twenty stories for an added "fuck you" to the terrorists and their sympathizers.
Chirac and Schroeder

Chirac and Schroeder are embarrassing, especially to the Western anti-war movement they helped legitimize. Both are playing on fears of change and hatred of foreigners to try and revitalize their pathetically low popularity rankings.

Both leaders may have led the diplomatic opposition to the war in Iraq with the public backing of massive supermajorities across Europe, but their track records aren't doing them any good. Chirac's approval rating is in the 20s, and Schroeder's SPD drew 24% approval in the latest five-party polling. Maybe their low ratings are despite opposition to the war, or possibly being anti-war at a time when Iraq has its own elections is looking less and less idealistic and more opportunistic. My guess, though, is that the war in Iraq isn't that big of a real issue; the people with reasons to oppose the US latch onto it, and the people with no real beef with the US are apathetic.

It is interesting to note that Blair and Howard did very well in their elections despite broad domestic opposition, while Chirac and Schroeder are getting the sort of ratings Nixon got after the Saturday Night Massacre despite leading the even broader domestic opposition to the war.

Schroeder has played up anti-capitalism, anti-globalization and anti-Americanism. His party leaders and allies have described US businesses as 'blood suckers', compared various capitalists to locusts, and even compared a CDU campaign slogan to Nazi death-camp propaganda.

Chirac has also played on fears of capitalism, of globalization and tried to gain from anti-Americanism and anti-Anglicism. He himself went to the humorously immature level of insulting British food (hopefully at least half joking) but more substantially (and far less justifiably) criticized the British social model. De Villepin in his first speech as PM promised that the French social model would not be abandoned. The anti-Americanism of both during the Iraq War run-up is still fresh in the memories of many Americans.

Schroeder and Chirac are frightfully similar in many regards. Though in France Chirac is of the right and Schroeder is of the German left, both attempted half-hearted liberalization programs his country, both used emotions about the Iraq war to gain political credibility, both have suffered major defeats at the polls (the EU Constitution treaty vote for Chirac, since Germany had only a parliamentary vote on it; the Nordrhein-Westfalen election miserable failure for Schroeder) and both are turning up the heat on emotional pleas to an anti-globalization left-wing populist base.

The insults won't work. Chirac and Schroeder, first of all, have been around for a while and there's a real problem for incumbents regarding the public's weariness; it's hard for the citizenry to stomach most leaders for a long time unless it's an office that's less present in their daily lives. Chirac was reelected in 2002 as was Schroeder, but neither was very impressive.

Chirac's victory, approximately 80% of the vote, came because the neo-fascist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front was the only opponent in the round two (run-off) vote; in the round one vote Chirac took the plurality with only 19.9% of votes cast. In other words, only one in five French voters (with 71.6% turnout) thought Chirac was the best choice for President - even though he was the incumbent (granted, part of this is due to the eccentricities of the French presidential voting system).

Schroeder's 'victory' was that, while his SPD edged out the CDU/CSU with 251 seats to 248 (and both with popular votes of approximately 38.5%) the Green Party's 55 seats outmatched the FDP's 47 seats (the Greens were and are the SPD's governing partner, and the FDP is the CDU's presumed governing partner). Barely a victory at all, and it was only Schroeder's opposition to the war in Iraq that manged to salvage even this much for his party. Only days before the CDU was ahead in polls, so Schroeder squeaked out his victory.

My prediction is that Chirac will not be able to run for reelection in 2007 (if he ran in won, his term would be from 1995 to 2012) and that his intra-party opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, will be the UMP candidate. De Villepin is just too much of a haughty little bastard even for the French, and besides which is a career bureaucrat and has never run for office in his life. Sarko's father was Hungarian and fled the Soviet invasion, eventually joining the French Foreign Legion; his mother was half Sephardic Jew and the daughter of a wealthy surgeon (though Sarko is Catholic). Sarko is currently the Minister of the Interior (making him roughly the third highest in French government) and explicitly and publicly touts the virtues of the Anglo-American market system. Obviously it would be folly to expect him to be a full-blown American capitalist, but compared to many French politicians, even many of the center-right, Sarko's a reliable proponent of capitalism. Sarko is much more favorable to the US in general and a presidential campaign might feature tax cuts and labor market deregulation.

My prediction is that the red-greens will lose in Germany. That's hardly going out on a limb, though. The CDU leader Angela Merkel is already the official candidate for the September elections. Unlike the bulk of the CDU base, she's Lutheran instead of Catholic, and she's from Eastern Germany. She's no communist, though, and she supports more market reforms for Germany. She's often compared to Margaret Thacther, as both are strong women from the center-right. Merkel supported the US in the Iraq war, and is generally pro-US. When the CDU wins, the FDP will almost certainly be their coalition partner; the FDP leader would take the role of Foreign Minister. Guido Westerwelle is a Protestant from the Bonn area (western Germany, near Belgium) and is openly gay. He's been one of the foremost critics of SPD xenophobia and anti-capitalism.

I fully expect to be disappointed by Sarko and Merkel-Westerwelle, both because they'll be less than I'd expected and because they'll be limited in what they can do. But it is nice to know that Chirac and Schroeder will be kicked out and replaced by more reasonable, liberalizing, market-oriented forces - hopefully with a more pro-American persuasion.

July 14, 2005

Schumer's Judicial Ignorance

I've blogged before about Schumer's idiocy with regard to judicial nominees answering questions. In the Miguel Estrada business he claimed that Estrada was not answering questions (which is weird, given that Schumer, unlike fellow Senators, declined to exercise his privilege to ask Estrada written questions before the hearings and receive detailed written hearings; other Senators did so). Now Schumer is arguing that that the impending nominee should be asked and have to answer direct questions about specific cases and issues almost certain to come before the Court.

Schumer wants them to answer questions because he wants to either get them on record as being 'too extreme' and supporting Republican answers or get them on record as supporting his answers and thus use that testimony to beat them over the head if they happen to change their minds in actually ruling (it might go to impeachment). This is of course speculation, but it's also due to the arrogance of Senators (who tend to think that their deliberative functions are the end-all be-all of American governance) and the simplicity of politicians. It's especially boneheaded given that Schumer went to Harvard Law.

Apparently he never learned a thing about judicial ethics - even though any idiot can find the federal judicial canon of ethics with a google search. There is a large body of thought regarding what judges can and can't do and what obligations are placed upon them in order to further both the appearance and existence of impartiality.

The relevant portion of the federal canon of judicial ethics is from the third canon, part A6:
    A judge should avoid public comment on the merits of a pending or impending action, requiring similar restraint by court personnel subject to the judge's direction and control. This proscription does not extend to public statements made in the course of the judge's official duties, to the explanation of court procedures, or to a scholarly presentation made for purposes of legal education.
The short explanation is that a judge that states a position on a disputed issue coming before the court sacrifices the appearance of impartiality and betrays its non-existence. This is not a rule to be taken lightly; judges that run afoul of this rule recuse themselves from the proceedings, as Justice Scalia did after he made comments regarding the pledge of allegiance case that showed his bias.

Every Justice currently on the Supreme Court refused to answer such specific questions when asked them and the Democrats risk running close to hypocrisy if they try to use it as a way to block a SCOTUS nominee.

I do not believe that Senators are bound by any rule of ethics to ignore the political biases of themselves or of the nominees. I think Senators should be willing to vote down nominees of unacceptable political bent (if it's okay to vote down extremists like Nazis or pro-Confederates for political views, it's okay to do so on other issues closer to the mainstream). But Justices should not answer questions about issues almost certain to come before the Court and they should not be voted down for refusing to give unethical responses.

For all the bitching about history, precedent and the filibuster, you'd think Schumer (a guy who loved playing up the save-the-filibuster stuff) would have an ounce of interest in preserving explicit judicial ethics. An impartial judiciary is more important than requiring 60 votes to confirm judges and more ingrained in our history. If only political opportunism were on his side, Schumer would be up in arms about the need to protect judicial impartiality.

July 13, 2005

Pushing The Envelope on The Right to Life

A few short years ago there was precious little discussion of Social Security reform at all, let alone private accounts. Now polling shows that a majority of Americans support personal accounts of some form. It would've been difficult to blame the President for not pushing reform of Social Security, given its reputation as difficult and unpopular to change. Yet he went on a road tour for weeks promoting it.

The problem as I see it is that his performance on the right to life consists largely of two things: 1) being willing to sign pro-life acts of Congress, and 2) opposing federal funding of embryo destruction. While I'm glad that the President signed into law things like the PBA ban and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act ('Laci and Conner's Law') - especially since Clinton repeatedly vetoed a partial-birth abortion ban on fraudulent claims of medical necessity - it doesn't strike me that he had a very big role in either. He's a supporter, but he didn't appear to be the driving force. I don't recall him spending a lot of time as president pushing Congress on the issue or trying to drum up political support. It's hard to get all worked up about the stem cell stance, since it's not about banning stem cell research, but about not federally funding it - a world of difference.

He coasts on the momentum of supporting the pro-life side while not expending political capital on behalf of it. If anything he consumes the political capital of supporting these two issues - which have support in the 60s or 70s - and spends it elsewhere. There's nothing wrong with gaining and expending political points, but it's frustrating to see such a monumentally-important issue ignored.

It's an important time to support the right to life movement because of the SCOTUS nomination the President is about to make. Republican SCOTUS nominations have not been very good to the pro-life movement, with Republican appointees Stevens, Souter, Kennedy and O'Connor all supporting a constitutional right to abortion. In fact, the Court is 7-2 Republican to Democratic appointees, yet 6-3 for abortion rights and 5-4 for partial-birth abortion.

The President should appoint someone serious about the right to life, rather than continuing to walk the fine line of doing just enough to hold support and show some real leadership on the issue. History will remember his actions.
Western vs. Southern Europe

In continuing his criticism of Fox News' phrase "homicide bombing" as a replacement for "suicide bombing" (a subject of less than mild interest to me personally) Eugene Volokh includes Madrid, Spain in Western Europe. While Spain is fair to include in "western Europe," I'd argue that it is a stretch to include it in "Western Europe." Leaving old-school racial and ethnological studies entirely to the side, let me be more specific for my reasons.

First, "western Europe" and "Western Europe" are as different as saying "West Virginia" instead of "west Virginia." "Western Europe" with a capital W is a specific place - a pronoun. Saying "western Europe" with a lower-case w is an adjective modifying Europe - a western portion of Europe. The Fox article used the pronoun "Western Europe."

"Western Europe" implies a cultural attachment to the Enlightenment and liberal democracy as embodied by England, the Netherlands and so forth. Spain's political culture is probably more similar closer to Greece's, especially since (along with Portugal) they both had two of the most recent dictatorships of the EU countries. Spain has had some philosophers who even question whether Spain belongs in the Western intellectual tradition at all. Don't get me wrong, I'd still say it's part of Western civilization (following, say, Huntington's divisions in The Clash) but I would not say it's a part of the subset of Western civilization known as Western Europe.

The distinction is probably academic minutiae to a law professor, but it's substantive if not relevant to the issue at hand.

July 12, 2005

What's Wrong With This Situation?

As we learned this spring, an incapacitated woman can be deprived of water and food until dead on the say-so of her estranged husband. However convicted murderers and rapists cannot be executed if they are comatose, and must be perfectly healthy before we kill them. Who thinks this stuff up?

I understand the need to place moral and legal restrictions on the death penalty, but considering the first step of the death penalty is to make the felon unconscious, it seems like a comatose death row inmate saves the state from an anesthesiologist's bill.

July 09, 2005

Hitchens Kicks Ass (tip to LGF)

On the MSNBC show that Ron Reagan, Jr. co-hosts, Hitchens kicks ass in a debate over terrorism. Hitchens points out that terrorists aren't being provoked into attacking us because of Iraq or Afghanistan but have been attacking for years before that. He expertly points out that you cannot elevate this terrorism into reasonable demands or rational actions; they are for their own sake. The attacks are not means justified by good ends (Israel out of Palestine, US/UK out of the Mideast, Russia out of Chechnya, India out of Kashmir, blacks out of Sudan, etc.) but are the ends in themselves. The pain and suffering inflicted is enough to commit the attacks for the monsters who do these acts; they have larger agendas but they need no further justification to do it.

The UK was not attacked because of its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; terrorists had been plotting a chemical attack on the UK several years ago before either venture. It's certainly reasonable to say that engaging the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan can make the US and UK a bigger target, but we were both already targets. Just because engaging evil potentially makes you more noticeable to evil doesn't mean that not engaging evil is better - and it certainly doesn't make it safer.

The US was already a target before 9/11 when the WTC was bombed, when the African embassies were bombed and when the USS Cole was bombed. The Islamist violence targeted on London or New York or Madrid is not deserved any more than schoolchildren in Beslan deserved to be murdered or young women in Darfur deserved to be raped and mutilated. These attacks are not about capitalism, the West or Israel; the victims of Islamist violence are of every income from the poorest Africans and Asians to the richest Anglo-Americans, of every race from black African to white English, and every religion from animist to Orthodox to Protestant to Hindu.

Hitchens is right to put Ronny Reagan in his place, because it's politically ignorant and historically illiterate to argue that terrorism is committed by rational men committed to reasonable goals. Don't delude yourself into thinking that terrorists commit bad acts for good reasons, because they don't share our views that all religions and races are deserving of tolerance. They are nothing more than bigots with bombs who will use any excuse to perpetrate violence. Separate whatever good goals that reasonable Muslims might have from the self-justified violence of Islamic terrorists.

PS - Reagan is very smarmy and hard to watch or hear. He sounds like a nagging schoolmarm when he says "Christopher." He sounded better when he argued directly instead of by innuendo and inference and sarcasm. He was definitely outmatched by Hitchens and only Reagan's interruptions did anything to stop the hemorrhaging.
Oliver Stone To Make First Major 9/11 Movie (tip to LGF)

The first major motion picture about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon will be made by Oliver Stone and will star Nicholas Cage. The story is about the last two people to be saved from the wreckage of the WTC, two NY Port Authority cops, one of them played by Cage. Charles Johnson at LGF and Mickey Kaus are worried about Oliver Stone's penchant for dramatizing historical events to serve his own editorial biases. Let's hope with real-life cops working on the movie, including Officer McLoughlin, the man Cage is portraying, we won't see a blame-the-victim flick.

July 07, 2005

Bombings in London

Cowards have bombed the London transit system and injured over a thousand people, with dozens dead so far. London only just won the 2012 Olympics a day or two ago from Paris and the UK is playing host to the G-8 summit. The UK was an attractive target for chaos. Multiple transit bombings, apparently three on the tube and one on a bus, sounds like an echo of the Madrid 3/11 bombings. An Al Qaeda group has taken credit for the murders.

Blair gave a strong speech pledging resolve in the face of the attacks.
    It is important that those who engage in terrorism realize that our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction and impose extremism on the world. They will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear.
Both President Bush and President Chirac stood right behind Prime Minister Blair as he made this announcement. Stupid move, Islamist assholes. Getting the French to stand on stage with the British and Americans in a statement on terror sends a very strong message for our side.

They attacked because a) it worked on Spain, bringing about a Socialist victory and withdrawal from Iraq, and b) they're losing in Iraq. It's a sad fact that because the losing side gets more desperate as its ultimate failure looms closer and closer, it gets more bloodthirsty and unpredictable. "The fox is deadliest when cornered." With Iraq clearly moving into the democratic column and the intra-Western feud over the conflict moving from ultra-divisive to a resigned cooperative effort, they needed some chaos and fear again. They needed to put some hurt back on us.

This cruelty will not go unpunished.

July 05, 2005

Iraqi Violence Going Three-Sided (tip to Instapundit)

Many nationalist insurgents are in open conflict with the foreign Islamists in Iraq. After assassinations of government officials and tribal leaders and women and businessowners being harassed, the tribal nationalists are attacking the Islamists. According Lt. Col. Tim Mundy in the Telegraph article, the nationalists started targeting their mortar attacks away from the US garrison and toward the Islamists, and when the rounds hit near the base they re-targeted to fire at the Islamists.

It makes sense, of course, that provincial tribal leaders would have little in common with globe-spanning Islamist radicals. The agenda of the first is older than Islam and much more local; they're concerned with their extended family's security and honor. The agenda of the latter is entirely about using violence to bring about an abstract international vision; they want to fight for their vision of social cohesion and values. A lot of times they intersect because they are all largely Muslim and largely Arab. But they have different emphases, different loyalties, different educational backgrounds and in this case, different military targets.

Let's hope that these two facets of the insurgency continue to quarrel amongst each other and ignore the coalition and the Iraqi government. This is a good sign from Iraq.
Checkpoint Charlie Memorial Destroyed

The SPD-PDS Berlin government succeeded in destroying the Checkpoint Charlie Memorial, which included 1,065 crosses. It's unfortunate that the same political party, now renamed the PDS, was able to preside over the destruction of a monument to victims of East german tyranny. Let's hope that a new memorial to the tragedy and deaths associated with the Berlin Wall can be constructed soon.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, city Senator Thomas Flierl of the PDS was a member of the East German SED government, and was one of the major critics of the monument. In other words, he was LITERALLY part of the government criticized by the monument; it would be like a member of the Confederate government getting a Civil War memorial torn down.
The Direction of Defense

There's a discussion at QandO on the overall strategy for the US armed forces and whether the two-front war is still as applicable and necessary today as it might have been a few decades ago. I'm reposting my comment to that thread and explaining why I think that being perpetually prepared for a two-front war with a massive conventional army is unnecessary.

We should focus on keeping a kick-ass Navy and streamlining the special forces command. If China started moving in on Taiwan - which it probably won’t, by the way - then the Navy could pester them to stay the fuck back. Groups like Delta, Night Stalkers and so forth can more effectively handle antiterrorism missions around the world than cumbersome armies, but they can also be used to cripple transportation and communication routes for conventional forces.

The last guy to try and beat the US in a conventional matchup, Saddam in 1991, got his ass kicked so bad that a month-long air war and 100 hours of a ground campaign thoroughly destroyed his ability to project real force against us.

We always have the nuclear deterrent and we still have the capacity to produce large amounts of tanks and infantry units if a WWII-like situation somehow came again. What we should be focusing on is 1) a Navy capable of protecting us and of projecting force around the world, 2) Special Forces to be sent around the world by the Navy if necessary in order to destabilize dictators, destroy terrorist camps and harrass major threats, and 3) a huge emphasis on new technology. Technology is one of the most valuable things the military gives us and one of the most sought-after aspects of any major conflict. Developing newer weapons, defenses and detections systems is what we need to focus on - not useless tank columns and more cannon fodder.

Conventional warfare is on hiatus right now. We need to adapt to the way things are today and get ready to project hi-tech force around the globe with unbelievable speed and inhuman accuracy. That’s how we can impress on our enemies our ability to fight.

A two-front war just isn’t that likely. Several minor- and a few medium-scale engagements with terrorists is the current situation. We need to start improving the individual effectiveness of each soldier rather than trying to compensate for individual incompetence with sheer volume (like the Russians in WWII throwing waves of unarmed peasants at the Germans).

Technology and precision can replace the old-style armies just as laser-guided bombs have replaced inaccurate mass bombing.
Conservative Jurism

Plenty of people preach judicial restraint; conservatives decry 'judicial activism' as a symbolic codeword for all the things they dislike about the modern judiciary. The problem, at least for libertarians, is that the traditional government mantra - restraint, respect for the prerogatives of others, and a hearty reliance on self-crrection - is inappropriate in the judicial setting.

It's a good thing for the government to exercise restraint in dealing with the populace; it's a bad thing for the watchdogs of government behavior to exercising restraint when dealing with abuses of liberty and process. The judiciary has a very large role in the latter and ought not be fearful of its primary task: to stop the government in continued abuses upon our liberties. It would be folly to elevate the court to some mythical level on infallibility, but it endangers our freedoms to force the courts to continually defer to the whims of legislators and bureaucrats.

The courts do not have to defer to the legislatures or even to the voters. They are supposed to be undemocratic, that's their nature. If we wanted the legislatures to run everything then we'd eliminate the Senate, eliminate the Electoral College, reduce the hurdle for constitutional amendments to majrotiy vote of the Congress, abolish the 10th Amendment and federalism and just have a Parliament run everything. We have a complex government set up to divide tasks for a specific and important reason. They are there to check each other and to block excesses or abuses. It's an intentionally confrontational system of government and it's why our system is better than the typical European setup that doesn't even separate the executive and legislative.

Now I don't think the courts have any right to simply make up stuff that isn't in the Constitution or to start writing social policy from the bench. But they ARE supposed to aggressively defend our freedoms, even if other public officials don't.

An excellent article in this month's Reason called Unleash the Judges forcefully makes the point that an engaged libertarian judiciary is nothing to fear. They also rightly point out that it was the progressives and New Dealers that first attacked the court as overly powerful and argued for a very long leash for the states and Congress - on economic matters, instead of social matters. Landmark cases, most notably Lochner v. New York were attacked and overturned as being made up law fit to the policy preferences of Justices. The same criticisms are made today by conservatives.

Overturning the acts of legislatures is precisely what the courts are meant to do. If they were nothing but a rubber stamp on the activities of the executive and legislature then they'd be pointless and we could just fire tham and save on the costs of their salaries. No, the courts have value and are the equal of the other branches. The courts should always be willing to overrule an unconstitutional or illegal act of the legislatures; the popularly representative aspects of government can use the amendment power to make changes.

The separation between conservative, pro-government restraint of the judiciary and libertarian, pro-liberty restraint of the government is what makes the forthcoming SCOTUS nomination all the more important. let's hope that president Bush makes a nomination of somebody willing to use the powers of the judiciary for the liberty of Americans and not to defend the already overindulged prerogatives of arrogant legislatures.

July 04, 2005

"They Just Didn't Want To Pay Taxes"

Every so often you'll come across some idiot who thinks he has an ingenious grasp of history and is challenging the status quo, but in reality his uninformed opinions have been rehashed for decades or centuries. One of the most common is that the Founders were simply over-hyped tax cheats and that America was founded on not paying taxes. While the American hostility toward taxation was undeniable, the situation was far more complex.

The British argued that the taxes levied on American colonists were to pay for the defense of the colonies. Wrong! The British had just fought the Seven Years' War (the French and Indian War). Lest someone assume that the French and Indian War was prosecuted for the interests or defense of Americans, let's be clear: this was an imperial war and a European territorial war. It was almost entirely a continuation of thew War of Austrian Succession - another war not fought for the interests of America. The Seven Years' War was an alliance of Austria, France and Russia against Prussia and Great Britain. The fighting started in Ohio and was mainly maneuvering between two large empires. The British and French also fought in India, the Philippines, the Caribbean, coastal Africa and of course Europe. Suggesting that the British were fighting in India for the good of Boston or Charleston is absurd.

The soldiers (supported by taxes levied on American colonists) weren't there for the defense of Americans. The French had just been defeated in North America and were even less of a threat than they had been before. Why the need for troops, then? To cement central authority and to prevent Americans from settling westward. British troops burned countless homes of settlers attempting to settle to the west. The taxes were going to pay for the soldiers tasked with destroying American homes. Of course, few Americans were harmed in the burnings, and would build a replacement home very quickly - so quickly that settlers were building more homes than the British could burn down. But to say that these troops were there for the colonists' defense is not entirely accurate.

When the British soldiers came to fight in the American West in the French and Indian War, they saw how the colonists lived. Americans had the lowest tax burdens in the British Empire and in the world. They had large homes, large plots of land, ample trade and lived better than most British in England did. This fueled the argument for greater taxation when officers and soldiers reported the American affluence to their superiors in England. England was in serious debt due to its colonial ambitions around the world. In addition, British citizens living in England paid roughly twenty-six times more in taxes than did their American counterparts after the Seven Years' War. The solution seemed obvious to parliament: tax the prosperous Americans who benefit from England's mercantilist policies and military protection. To be fair, the taxes parliament levied on the American colonies after 1765 weren't economically crippling, but after over one hundred years of salutary neglect and colonial rule, the colonists had no interest in surrending power or liberty to England.

It was not about 'paying their fair share' or anything similar. The Americans hadn't been invaded all the decades previously and had handled defense situations without major British taxes.

Other people say that the tax-cheating Americans were smugglers who didn't appreciate attempts to cut down their black-market business. Of course, this argument leaves out the mercantilism of British colonial policy. All goods from America were supposed to go to Britain and then sold or re-shipped from there. This was supposed to keep the central government at the top of the trade business. Smugglers would naturally oppose taxes aimed at blocking their business because smuggling had been tacitly allowed for decades. Under salutary neglect, the British Parliament and Crown more or less let the colonists do as they wished. Smuggling was not very strictly policed, nor were large amounts of taxes collected. Salutary neglect was the equivalent of a respectful distance. Ending that respectful distance was bound to meet with opposition from the people who were doing things that, though illegal, were not often prevented.

To say that the American Revolution was all about tax dodging is grossly inaccurate. The fact is that Americans were not treated as full British citizens and did not have a government dedicated to looking out for them. "Taxation without representation" was a fitting phrase for the time: the problem wasn't with taxation itself because colonists had been paying taxes to their legislatures for over one hundred years. Taxes were accepted as an integral part of life in the colonies and British Empire. The American colonists opposed a foreign parliament--a parliament in which Americans had no representation--levying a tax without the consent of the colonies, especially since that tax was 1) unprecedented and 2)imposed to pay for a war the American colonists did not initiate. When repeated petitions and letter-writing committees failed and violence broke out, revolution was a natural step to address the gross inadequacies of the British colonial system in America.
Paine: Voice of the Revolution

It was the pamphlet Common Sense, authored by Thomas Paine, that helped propel the massive shift in public opinion toward revolution and independence in colonial America. It was published in January, 1776 and quickly 600,000 copies were spread throughout a colonial population of 3 million (America's first best seller); in other words, virtually every American either read it or had it read to them. It was dicussed in taverns and clubs, and it helped frame the national debate.

Thomas Paine met Ben Franklin in 1774 and his new friend helped arrange transport for Paine to America. The Englishman was a strong supporter of America's cause. He would famously remark in Common Sense:
    The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested.
And also:
    Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.
After the American Revolutionary War, Paine went to France to press the cause there. He was one of two non-French members of the revolutionary legislature. Along with the finest minds of revolutionary France, Paine sided with the Girondin - leading to his imprisonment during the Reign of Terror. Paine engaged Edmund Burke in a great literary debate between classical liberalism and classical conservatism, and forcefully advocated for a government not beholden to ancient commitments.

He was a man of skillful argument and great words, and his work on behalf of freedom was invaluable. This holiday, let's remember the corset-maker from Thetford that helped create America.