Saturday, March 05, 2005

Gay Marriage in Washington State

The Seattle Weekly gives an overview of the upcoming State Supreme Court fight over Washington's State Defense of Marriage Act. The state is appealing two lower court rulings, Castle v. State (discussed here) and Anderson v. Sims (discussed here), both which ruled the law unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the Court is reviewing the decisions de novo, so those two excellent opinions will carry very little weight. However, the Washington State Constitution is known to be very protective of individual liberties, so it is quite possible that the rulings will be upheld and marriage equality will enter Washington once and for all.

HT: The newly redesigned How Appealing blog.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

UPDATE: I confused "Mark" of Pseudo-Polymath with "Marc" of American Future. AM, tragically, will not be opining on my proposal, since, as Marc has since reminded me, it is solely a foreign affairs blog. My apologies for a truly boneheaded mistake.

Many people have graciously offered responses to my original call for reasons privatizing Social Security will solve the solvency problem. Pseudo-Polymath (whose move to a new server has prompted me to make its long overdue addition to my blogroll) offers the following:
There are only three valid arguments against privatization, being:

"It's not broken" That we shouldn't consider improving a social program, which costs as much as it does seems suspect. Why wouldn't one want to improve a program that comes at such a high cost? Why not consider ways of providing more "bang" for the buck?

Transition costs As to the second argument, alas I have no data to add to the mix. Both sides of this fray have brought forth their personal predictions from their own crystal balls of future trends and have come down firmly holding to answers they want to find. These results would be perhaps more believable, if evidence could be shown that those people ever came up with results which did not jibe with their pre-conceptions.

dependence of retirement on market fluctuations and market fraud. To my mind, the best type of retirement investment would be index funds. There are negligible management fees, and no great profits for managers to gain lots of federal funds due to tweaking of the laws regarding SS privatization funds. Index funds cause one to "bet" on the health of the US industries as a aggregate. There seems to me no more natural thing to base our retirement on than that.

The following are reasons for privatization:

Inheritance Since accrued benefits can be inherited early death does not cause loss of benefits for heirs. While this is often seen as a "blow" to the ability of the system to remain solvent, in reality it really can't be, for benefits allegedly are paid in proportion to money put in. If this is really true, then after "transition" costs are paid, inheritance of money saved can't hurt the "system". Further it aids the solvency of the system in that little money is expected to be paid from sources outside of that which was put into the system in the first place by the investor. Since less "transfer of wealth" is going on, less wealth needs transferring and it's easier to remain solvent.

Investment aids US industry Those funds, while being saved are invested primarily in US industries. This helps the economy, which in turn helps the solvency of the system in general. Malthus notwithstanding, economics is not a zero sum game.

Population dependence is weakened. This lessens the dependency of SS benefits on relative population fluctuations. In the current scheme the SS solvency is closely tied to the relative sizes of the working and retired population ration. As medical advances, unforeseen epidemics, or heaven forbid large scale wars affect these population rations. The privatization scheme removes much of this dependence by allowing each individual to rely on his own accrued investment, removing his ties to the future generations ability to support him.

Other commenters argued that taking funds out of the trust fund keeps it from money-grubbing legislators, and one argues that the $2-3 trillion debt figure only is relevant to spending money on other programs (which isn't true, more on that in a second). While I think PPM raises some legitimate points, to make the long story below short, I think that the risks (both in terms of transition costs and additional liabilities without additional revenue) outweigh the benefits (inheritence, speculative economic growth, and avoidance of population shocks).

The reason I phrased my question the way I did is that I don't have a philosophical objection, per se, to allowing for private accounts. So long as there is still some sort of safety net so my grandparents don't starve on a Miami street corner, I have no issue with people investing their own money for retirement. At the same time, neither are private accounts my top priority. I really don't care about them either way. So if private accounts are a threat to Social Security as is, either by making the problem worse or by pretending like we've "solved the problem" when we haven't, then I oppose them.

Since I wrote my last post, I talked to my friend and brilliant guest-blogger Greg Ihrie, and he told me the following: In the most pure sense, Privatization would provide solvency to Social Security in the long-term (transition costs, once again, are separate). This is because the government wouldn't be "covering" anything anymore, you'd put in whatever money you wanted, and you'd get out whatever money you make. If you make a fortune, congratulations. If you get burned, well, its time to start a price-check on dog food. There couldn't be a debt or a surplus, because nobody is "owed" anything. Of course, we're not talking about complete privatization, but a partial privatization scheme. Partial privatization aids solvency because it reduces the "risk" that the government has to cover--it only has to worry about the amount of social security that is still public, which, thanks to the diversionary effect of private accounts, is a smaller and thus more manageable amount.

The kink is that the system can never work in that "pure" manner. This is because every Privatization program has to include some guaranteed safety net in case folks get burned. Otherwise, we're essentially crossing out the "Security" in "Social Security" (and a program just called "Social" makes no sense). This throws all the solvency assumptions above for a loop, because the government has to cover the losses without being able to access the extra gains. I despise Math, but I'll try to explain in simplified figures.

Status Quo System: $100 coming in (payroll taxes), $110 going out (SS benefits)

Partial Privatization System (w/out Safety Net): $80 coming in (payroll taxes), $85 going out (SS benefits). In addition, there is $20 going into private accounts and $X dollars coming out of Private accounts. The government doesn't have to worry about this at all.

Full Privatization (w/out safety net): $0 in, $0 out.

Partial Privatization (with safety net): $80 coming in (payroll taxes), $85 coming out (SS benefits) + $X coverage of investment losses. There still are some gains in the above X (private accounts), possibly (probably?) even a profit, but the government can't touch them because they are private. Hence, we have our problem: We have additional liabilities (investment losses) without additional income.

The other issue at hand here is the transition costs. These should be dealt with separately because they are a one-time expense--but they're a doozy of one. Contrary to what PPM says, there is no "debate" over whether the transition costs will "happen" or not--they are there. That's a fact, and nobody has adequately explained how they are being paid for. Here's how it works.

The reason Social Security was able to hit the ground running in the 1930s is that the current generation of workers pays the current generation of retirees. The money I put into SS isn't "mine," it's going to my grandparents. When I grow old and frail, my grandchildren will be paying for my account. That's why you keep hearing about the declining worker:retiree ratio--if it was my money going into the system that wouldn't be an issue.

Here's the rub: If I divert however much money into Private Accounts, that money is no longer available to pay the current benefits of retirees. That creates our lovely shortfall. If I was paying in $100 originally, and now am paying in $90 (because I diverted $10 to my account), then that's $10 less that's available to pay the current generations benefits. Magnified across the entire system, that's where we get our $2-3 trillion dollar gap. It isn't based on competing conceptions of how strong the market will be, or crystal-ball gazing. It's a direct characteristic of how the system is set up. Hence, we get back to my original objection to privatization: the short-term hit we take (in the transition costs) is too threatening to justify whatever longterm benefit we're getting, at least when there are other options open to fix the problems (like eliminating the Payroll Tax Cap).

Meanwhile, in comments PPM asked me a question of his own: Why should the government be involved with retirement plans at all? Why can't the middle class simply save for its own retirement?

From the way he framed his question, I believe he thinks a government "safety net" for the poor would be right and proper. But he questions why we need to pay benefits to everyone else to do it. This is a fair question, and I don't think there are obvious answers. I do have two tenative responses.

The first is purely political. As I said above, the highest priority on my end is making sure that our elderly population can be secure in retirement. Shifting Social Security from its current universalistic format to a particularistic government aid program to the poor will rob the program of much of its political potency. Empirically, government programs which are targeted solely at the poor have a disturbing tendency to die slow, quiet deaths on the Hill. That's because a Democratic government will necessarily tailor its spending to give benefits to "us" (IE, White, Middle-Class Americans). When it wants to cut spending, it will look to programs that aid "the other," because they don't have the same level of political influence. Since we know that the poor have virtually no political cachet in Washington, making them the sole constituents of Social Security would likely be a lethal blow to the system. By contrast, when the Middle Class has a stake in a program (like they do in SS now), they will defend it voraciously, hence Social Security's "third rail" reputation. So basically, this argument is that we need to give Social Security to the middle class in order to preserve it for the lower class.

The second response I'd give is that transforming the program only into a safety net (say, a guaranteed minimum income) would destroy any incentive for lower income Americans to save. Let's say the minimum income level is set at $2000/month. If I, Mr. Poor Man, save enough to give me a retirement income of $1000/month, the government will give me the remaining $1000 to make up the difference, giving me $2000/month total. Alternatively, I could spend all my money now, leaving me with no savings. The government will then cut me another check, leaving me with...$2000/month. For person's who will make less, the same, or only marginally higher than the cut-off amount, there will be a disincentive to save--or to go after a better job--under a safety net system. In this respect, the current Social Security program acts like the retirement version of the Earned Income Tax Credit--since earnings are tagged positively to retirement income, it gives an incentive for people to work hard and try and reach the middle class.

I would not be opposed to some type of "means-testing" on Social Security, so long as it only effects upper-income Americans. Call it class-warfare if you want, but it makes perfect logical sense from my standpoint. The rich aren't part of the "us" (so it dodges my first objection), and there is an upward limit on how much the prospect of additional income will motivate one to work (law of diminishing returns), thus avoiding my second objection. And of course, means-testing the rich will reduce SS costs while not throwing any grandmothers on to the streets! It's win-win!

And finally, I want to thank everyone for giving me the chance to title a post "Mo Money, Mo Problems." I don't like rap, but I do love that song.

Casey in, Santorum on the Way Out

Andrew Sullivan reports that Pennsylvania Treasurer Robert Casey Jr is going to challenge incumbent US Senator Rick Santorum in 2006. Casey is a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat who will be difficult to tar with the "out of step liberal" label. Santorum, by contrast, is reviled by decent human-beings across the nation for his stridently anti-gay rhetoric, culminating in his infamous comparison of gay sex to sex with a "box turtle" after the Lawrence v. Texas decision. The poll data is looking very good for Casey. He has the same approval ratings of Santorum with only a third of the disapproval ratings (twice as many people haven't heard enough about Casey to form an opinion, however). Santorum has struggled in recent elections, with a relatively unknown Democratic challenger taking 47% of the vote against him in 2000. This time, with a high-profile name on the ticket, topped by popular Governor Ed Rendell and prominently absent the presence of GOP ticket-topper George W. Bush, liberal prospects here look much better. Indeed, the Quinnipiac poll cited claims that Casey's main problem might be a divisive Democratic primary. And lo and behold, according to PoliticsPA (the same site that broke his bid), Casey's main Democratic challenger, former Treasurer Barbara Hafer, has dropped out of the race. The stars appear to be in alignment, and the Democrats might be able to knock off one of the most prominent Conservatives in America. If only we could get a certain exterminator to join him...

UPDATE: The Pittsburgh Channel has a permalinked edition with the basics.

Split Decision

Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin makes a daring prediction about the upcoming Ten Commandments case. Best one line blog post, ever. Follow the link.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Broken Bonds

Kevin Drum reports that the primary link keeping the fractured Republican coalition together--slavish devotion to Tax Cuts--is finally coming undone.

Obviously, this a good thing for Americans desperate for a return to fiscal sanity. And there are few lobbyist I find more obnoxious than Grover Norquist (Americans for Tax Reform) and Steven Moore (Club for Growth). But the real interesting question is, where now for the GOP? A few months ago, I argued that Tax Cuts were literally the only ideological bond shared by the Republican Party today. As I wrote then, beyond Tax Cuts
[w]hat, exactly, does the Republican Party have left? It doesn't have a commitment to Homeland Security, witness Bush's opposition to the DHS, 9/11 commission, and a myriad of other HS reforms. It doesn't have a commitment to small government, look at the Prescription Drug Coverage plan. It doesn't have a commitment to states rights, look at NCLB. It doesn't care about government non-intrusiveness, look at the FMA and the PATRIOT act. The closest thing to a coherent foreign policy it has is a commitment to democratization, which I support (and tragically, many Democrats have reflexively opposed despite it being a natural extension of liberal views), but even this appears to have stalled out beyond Afghanistan and Iraq (look at our anemic protests towards Putin's Russia, and our devil's bargain with Uzbekistan, for example). I would say Republicans like to blow things up, but then why is North Korea still on the map? It appears that LITERALLY the only thing that "unites" the Republican party is tax cuts, and that coalition simply can't hold together much longer.

Without cutting taxes (and reducing the size of government generally), there is nothing, literally nothing, that the Social Conservatives and Libertarian wings of the party have in common. There will be significant tensions in the old-guard GOPers as well, who like cutting taxes but (nominally, at least) value fiscal responsibility more.

The Washington Monthly article I linked to above notes that even in notoriously tax-averse Virginia, a group of stalwart Republican legislators managed to get passed a giant $1.8 billion tax increase, outstripping even the calls from Democratic Governor Mark Warner. Norquist and Moore have called for these legislators' heads, and are gunning for them in Virginia's 2005 elections. A very good indicator of the anti-tax zealots grip on power is how those elections turn out. If the maverick Republicans hold their ground, then that is a major crack in the wall.

Diplomatic Justice

Powerline rightfully assails this article on TNR Online for its utter disregard of the separation of powers and general analytical shoddiness. I don't think the opinion was all too horrible, though the other article Powerline cites, by Crescat Sententia's law guru Will Baude, makes a compelling argument against it. However, regardless of whether the Supreme Court got it right or wrong here, it is utterly ridiculous to even imply the Supreme Court should exercise foreign policy discretion when making decisions. That is not, under our constitutional form of government, its role. Indeed, the Court has expressly removed itself from exercising influence over FP (see United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Co.), beyond, of course, its constitutionally delegated responsibilities (interpreting treaty law, for example). Certainly the Court's actions have incidental effect on how the world perceives us--if they interpret our constitution in a manner that makes the world happy, the world will like us, and if they interpret it in a less pleasing manner, they won't. However, once the judges go beyond merely interpreting the law and instead considering how the law should be applied in order to further a specific policy goal beyond their mandate (in this case, friendly foreign relations), that is one of the rare cases where I think the tag of "judicial activism" is deserving.

To be clear, however, I don't think that's what happened in this case. As I noted, the 8th amendment is somewhat of a special case because its language specifically connotates evolution and a look toward contemporary societal norms. Whether or not the rest of the world should count as part of that "society" is debatable, but answering yes to that question (as I do) certainly is not a ridiculous position. That's why Powerline's use of this particular case as its springboard into arguing that the Court is acting like a bunch of "robed masters" who consistently are issuing "outrageous decisions" is so manifestly absurd. This decision can be criticized, as many cases can be (and Scalia's opinion is unquestionably a resounding success on this front). However, is it really so off-kilter as to question the entire legitimacy of our judicial system? Let's get some perspective here. Maybe if the Court, say, allowed American citizens to be detained indefinitely on an isolated military base in, say, Cuba, by the whim of the President without ever being charged with a crime or being granted access to a lawyer, then they'd have a case. But thankfully, that isn't the legal environment we live in, because apparently the "Terrorists got the Last Laugh" in Al-Odah v. Bush. How nice. By the way, much credit to Mr. Mirengoff for registering is support for the right side in Hamdi and Padilla, at least. But if two of the three decisions were correct, why are the negative theme of the post? Moreover, what am I supposed to take from this excerpt in his latest attack on the Court?
"...most of the decisions [by the Supreme Court] aren't viewed as that earth-shaking from a policy standpoint, even by people who disagree with them. This is not to say that they don't have serious consequences. The defendant in the juvenile death penalty case took into account his belief that he would not be executed if he indulged his desire to murder. Now that the killer's belief has been validated and become the law of the land, a few more people probably will be murdered based on a similar calculation. But these murders will occur away from the limelight, after ordinary people have forgotten all about the Court's decision. It would take something as dramatic as a major act of terrorism by a detainee released due to a Supreme Court decision to shake the public's willingness to tolerate the Supreme Court's imperialism." [emphasis added]

Either the decisions were right, and suspected terrorists do have the right to due process of law, or they were imperialist whims of an unaccountable court. You got to pick one or the other. Hyper-ventilation aside, I have not seen much evidence to support the notion that this Court has stepped too far in its constitutional interpretation, regardless of whether we're talking about Liberal nightmares like U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison, or Conservative anathemas like Lawrence v. Texas or, apparently, Roper v. Simmons. Take a deep breath, and calm down.

Good News Club

The Bull-Moose directs me to some of the best news I've heard in a long time: Tom DeLay is getting nervous about his re-election prospects back home in Texas. DeLay's mid-term redistricting episode got five new Republicans into the House--but at the cost of making his own district substantially less secure. The local media has turned against him, and the Democratic challenger in 2004--relative unknown Richard Morrison--managed to hold him to only 55% of the vote. Since then, the stench of scandel has only grown around the good Representative, and national Democrats are beginning to eye the district carefully.

It appears even Texans know a rat when they see (or smell) one. Here's to hoping that the Exterminator goes back to zapping bugs down in Sugar Land.

Private Aid

A few commenters took issue with my last post where I applauded Democrats for finally showing some spine on Social Security. They argued that Social Security is faltering and we need to do something to put it back on solvent footing. Thus, Democratic opposition to privatization is not something to be applauded but rather something to be protested. Now to start, I'm not sure I accept the claim that Social Security is dying as true. Kevin Drum has been excellent in showing how the Social Security projections have consistently been too pessimistic over the years. Furthermore, as has been noted over and over, once that magical 2018 barrier passes us by, Social Security will begin paying out more than it takes in, making every other federal program. So I'm sorry, but it's pretty hard to motivate myself here.

However, let's take the claim at face value (after all, the Democrats did a fair bit of Social Security scare-mongering in their time as well). What I don't get is how Privatization will in any way, shape, or form, help the problem. Not even solve it, but help it. I've never seen any analysis that even purports to show how privatization will fix the short-term solvency crisis. I have seen tons of evidence showing how it would exacerbate the problem--by giving us a funding gap of several trillion dollars and by sucking away part of the funds in fees. This is why Talking Points Memo's constant refrain of Bush proposing "Social Security phase-out" actually carries some weight with me (and other more sober center-leftists as well, see this post on TNR's Etc. blog)--it actually appears to be the most likely upshot of his signature proposal.

So this is a call to all my Republican (or otherwise pro-privatization) pals. How does privatization help restore the Social Security system to solvency? I'm not interested on any other reasons why it's a good idea, just that particular facet of the argument. Thanks a bunch.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Finding Their Voice

Is it just me, or has the relentless pummeling the Democrats have taken in the last 3 elections finally given them back their voice? After Election 2000, Democrats wouldn't speak up because there was a collective consensus that we needed to "unite as a country" after the Florida debacle; from 2001-2002 Democrats couldn't speak for fear of being labeled "unpatriotic" and losing the 2002 elections; after getting crushed in those elections Democrats were left dazed and reeling, and finally came together just long enough to fall back into flimsy wishiwashiness for the 2004 election. And of course, they lost then too.

But with no groundshaking events to put them on their heels, no more prospect of kicking Bush out of office to keep them motivated, and no elections until 2006 (and with virtually all vulnerable Democrats have already been knocked out of office anyway), Democrats finally have absolutely nothing left to fear. And with Bush's politically suicidal Social Security Privitization Scheme at the top of the news, the Democrats have appeared to find their voice for the first time since Bush got 2000.

America was designed to have checks and balances, with the minority party acting as a hedge against majoritarian extremism. The Democrats have not been able to fulfill that role for too long. Let us hope that their new-found political spine lasts for the next four years. America sure needs the help.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Introducing "State o' Nature"

In the same vein as Poly Sci romance, Poly Sci bedtime stories, and Poly Sci pickup lines, we give you Poly Sci gangsta rap, with a cover on my man J-Locke.
"Political power, wanna know the truth?

Get to the roots, man, get to the roots.

What’s it like without the state?

Freedom, freedom nothing to hate.

Who’s the pimp and who’s the whore?

Don’t talk to me til you learn the score!

Unless our maker says I’m first,

Me and you’s equals on this earth."

Then in comments:
"You betta watch what tha fuck flies outa ya mouth
Or Ima burn your house down with ya tied to ya couch
Cos reward and punishment’s the only rational way
To make a fuckin man do whatever the fuck I say
I gotta viewa human nature that’s tabula rasa
Cos you don’t know shit til I make you my masta

Separation a powers, got my checks and balances
And the Glorious Revolution got me in the palaces
And you mystical muthafuckas just look like some phalluses
Locke down and cold, murdering all yo fallacies.

Empirical truth, mutha, don’t ever try to diss me
Cos I got rhymes that’s colder than Walt Disney
My lyrics are like syphallus but harder to catch
An if you don’t obey my law, then you gettin yo ass capped
You gettin locked in the pen fo ten to fifty
Monopoly a violence boy, cos you lookin shifty

You Hobbesian people swallow like Bambi Woods
And you’d never live a day in the projects or the hoods
Cos you ignorant about what keeps men from they selfish ways
Private property, boy, helps the people get paid."

You can credit Oxblog for that lovely addition to your collective intellectual repertoires. And let me just shout out: East Side!!! D.C. What Up?!?

And now I quietly will return to my lily-white Minnesota rural College. Thank you for your indulgence.

Proof of Syrian Terror, Part 2

I posted earlier on a report that the Israeli government had proof that Syria was linked to the latest suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv. Now it appears that the US is onboard with this theory as well. Clearly, this isn't really too shocking, as Syria's animosity toward the Jewish state is well known. How this will impact the peace process, however, (not to mention the ongoing events in Lebanon, and, oh yeah, Iraq) remains to be seen. It is still unclear whether or not Europe has the spine to take decisive action against the enablers of terrorism in the region. Here's to hoping, though.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Legally Speaking

Legal Affairs points us to the Supreme Court's decision in Roper v. Simmons, striking down the use of the death penalty on juvenile offenders. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion of the Court, Stevens concurred, and dissents were authored by O'Connor and Scalia. Scalia, by the way, gains points for intellectual consistency but is docked on persuasiveness for arguing that original intent would allow us to execute seven year olds for certain criminal acts.

Powerline is angered by the Court's use, once again, of foreign opinion and standards as part of its decision (Scalia, unsurprisingly, also blasts the majority on this, as does Crescat Sententia's Waddling Thunder). I'm more placid about it. I can certainly see the dangers of relying too heavily on foreign case law and community standards in American constitutional law; after all, they didn't ratify our constitution and didn't vote for our laws. However, let's keep in mind what specific constitutional clause we're talking about here: The 8th Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment." As John Hart Ely noted in his masterpiece Democracy and Distrust, those words have no meaning behind them UNLESS we look at what the overall contemporary community feels about the issue. Executing seven year olds may not have been unusual in 1789, but it certainly would be today. And as the Court aptly notes, the United States is very unusual in the modern world by executing juveniles. Now, I'm not a huge fan of originalist interpretations of the constitution in any event, but in this case the constitution seemed use rhetoric specifically designed to change with age--ironically, the very facet of the opinion Justice Scalia criticizes in the introduction to his dissent. In this respect, Justice Scalia and his allies are so wrapped up in the original context in which the amendment was passed that they appear to ignore the original intent inherent in how the amendment was written--using language that specifically requires us to look to contemporary moral norms in evaluating whether or not a practice violates our constitution. I do not think noticing that the US stands nearly alone in executing juveniles violates either the letter or the spirit of that mandate.

Powerline uses this case to highlight the importance of who President Bush will name to the Court, and points us the post immediately prior where it endorses Michael McConnell for the bench. I'm happy to say I concur in this assessment, Judge McConnell is a brilliant scholar and would represent a fine addition to the Supreme Court. Hopefully, this all-too-rare occasion of concurrence between Powerline and The Debate Link will signal that McConnell is someone everybody can agree on for the Supreme Court. In fact, my only grievance with Powerline on this issue is that they got to see Mr. McConnell while he was in Minneapolis, and I didn't. I will freely admit my jealousy.

Padilla Detained Illegally

The Volokh Conspiracy, among other sources, directs my attention to this ruling. A Federal Judge in South Carolina--Bush appointee, one might add--has ruled that the President does not have the authority to detain Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant. The Washington Post has an article on it coming out tomorrow, but frankly one would do better to read the Law Professor blogs out there for a good summation.

Nothing in the opinion is too earth-shattering, though conservatives across the nation would do well to read this quote:
"For the Court to find for Respondent would also be to engage in judicial activism. This Court sits to interpret the law as it is and not as the Court might wish it to be."

When the law explicitly grants certain protections, a Court is just as activist when it defaults to the democratic branches of government as it is when it overrules those branches to create its own social policy. It applies here, where the constitution very clearly mandates that criminals receive procedural protections (except in a few very limited scenarios not implicated by the case), and it applies to many of the "activist" rulings the Court has been criticized for in the past--most of which were just giving the 1st or 14th amendment some teeth. The law says equal protection, so the only "activist" decision would be upholding irrational restrictions that solely apply to gay couples seeking to adopt children. Somehow, this concept remains difficult to grasp, but amazingly enough sometimes "upholding the law" means doing things conservatives won't like.

The most interesting outgrowth of this is what will happen on appeal. There is obviously no way the 4th circuit court of appeals will not weigh in on this matter. But as I've pointed out, two of the top names on Bush's Supreme Court shortlist--J. Michael Luttig and J. Harvie Wilkinson III--both sit on that bench. If either is part of the panel, it could produce some interesting fodder for confirmation hearings.

Monday, February 28, 2005

"Not on my Watch"

I just returned from a lecture by Smith College Professor and Darfur expert Eric Reeves, who also maintains a very useful website that has everything you'd ever need to know on the issue. He was absolutely spell-binding, and hit on virtually every important aspect of the conflict I could think of. Unfortunately, the upshot was a prevailing skepticism that anything will be done to stop the killing that is now a matter of routine there.

One of the areas Prof. Reeves addressed was the possibility of using the African Union troops to defuse the crisis. Brian Ulrich specifically mentioned the African Union specifically and "regional actors" in general as the preferred mechanism for stopping genocide. Unfortunately, Prof. Reeves seemed quite assured that the AU could not solve the problem. For one, they are not experienced enough--this is the AU's first major deployment and so far it has been an ignoble failure. To be fair, they have only 2000 troops with a limited mandate patrolling an area the size of France. However, that just emphasizes the second problem: The AU is still not politically stable enough to coordinate an effective response. Reeves gave the example of Nigeria, a key player in the Union. Nigeria's problem is that they are currently facing unrest in their predominantly Muslim north, and the Arab League has made it very clear that if they wish to avoid further trouble they should lay off on Khartoum. The result is that President Obasanjo has basically sold out Darfur to maintain domestic stability. And even if we could get past all of that, there still remains the problem of logistics. The AU simply does not have the equipment to facilitate the massive amounts of humanitarian aid that needs to be forwarded to the region. Reeves believes that even if the AU managed to make a full deployment to Darfur, it still is not adequately equipped to alleviate the crisis.

The UN is no better. The big problem on the UN's end of things is China. China is Sudan's largest foreign investor, and sees it as key to satisfying its future oil needs. China also has a veto on the Security Council, which it has threatened to use if the UN so much as threatens sanctions, much less the military response that clearly is necessary here. Basically, China wants to use Africa as a jumping off point for its hegemonic ambitions, so they are willing to overlook such trivialities like their allies engaging in mass murder of their own citizens (incidentally, I originally linked to that article in the context of a long post on why the GOP is philosophically hampered in fighting the war on terror). Even beyond China though, the UN has an abysmal record on genocide in the past. From Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia to Congo, the UN has never once shown even the slightest inclination to reacting toward genocide, even when it's occurring right in front of their own eyes (and Kofi Annan is the worst of this lot). The UN promises security, but it has given only betrayal. This is the context in which the UN refuses to even call the events in Darfur genocide because it might just compel them to act.

So what can we do? Reeves cites UN Peacekeeping Gen. Romeo Dallaire as estimating the total amount of ground troops necessary in Darfur as around 45,000--not too bad, and certainly within the capacity of NATO and the other EU nations who presumably could use this opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of the world beyond the US. But the real sticking point isn't ground troops, it's in logistical support and intelligence so that we can make strategic choices and deliver desperately needed humanitarian assistance. This is where US aid would shine, since this is something we excel at and it is a facet of our military sphere this isn't being taxed to the breaking point by Iraq. We can do this. The only question is, will we?

Professor Reeves opened his comments by describing President Bush's reaction to Bill Clinton's strategic ambivalence regarding the Rwandan Genocide. Bush is reported to have written in the margins of the paper, "not on my watch." Well, genocide is happening on your watch, Mr. President. The AU can't act, the UN won't, and the EU is waiting for a sign. It's time for you to take the lead.

Proof of Syrian Terror?

UPDATE: 2/28 @ 1:42 PM
The Moderate Voice links to a report by the Xinhau news agency that Israel has proof of Syrian involvement in last weeks Tel Aviv suicide bombing--and is briefing European diplomats on the matter.

For those of you who don't know, Xinhau is the state news agency of China, so take whatever it says with a grain of salt. Still, this could be very interesting, especially since, as TMV notes, Syria is already under intense scrutiny of its support for insurgents and possible backing of the Rafik Hariri assassination. So while normally Europe might just scrape by with a half-hearted condemnation and call for dialogue, here we might finally see some action.


UPDATE: The Pro-Syrian Lebanese government has just resigned. This keeps getting better and better.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Observer Article Online

Hey, this is neat. Unbeknownst to me, the Carleton Observer, Carleton College's first and only non-partisan journal of politics and public policy (it's run by the Carleton Conservative Union, but don't let that fool you: after all, I write in it!), has some of its archives available online. You can find my first printed article, "Torturous Logic," (not to be confused with my earlier blog post Torturous Reasoning) in this edition. Enjoy!

The REAL Terrorists in our Midst

It's not Osama. It's not al-Qaeda. It's not even the Democrats. Nope, according to far-right wing wacko group Accountability Utah, the real terrorist is Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper). Helpfully reminding us that "not all terrorists wear turbans," AU argues that Stephenson has "promote[d] terrorism, violence, and lawlessness." What did Stephenson do to merit such a claim? Well, according to The Salt Like City Tribune, it's because he voted for a bill stripping illegal aliens of their drivers licenses and giving them instead "driving privilege cards" that wouldn't be acceptable as government identification.

Now, for one glorious, naive second, I assumed their protest was against a really stupid bill that both unnecessarily degrades immigrants and makes our nation less safe by pushing the illegal community further underground and farther out of reach of the law. After all, it strikes me that since the majority of illegal immigrants are generally law abiding, giving them legitimate identification would make it easier to either spot and punish the terrorists (if they tried to get fraudulent ID) or track them (if they tried to stay in the system). Pushing every illegal into the underground community just let's the terrorists blend in with the crowd, and makes it harder for the police to infiltrate the communities they hide within. But that was silly! AU is actually attacking the good senator because the bill doesn't go far enough: "Under the pretense of this reform, this legislation continues to allow al-Qaida operatives to obtain Utah driver's licenses and roam freely in our communities." And the comparison to terrorism? According to the Tribune, the organization argued that "the bin Laden comparison was not egregious because Stephenson is contributing to a society that gives incentives to undocumented workers." Moral equivalency, anyone?

Only the farthest reaches of the far right could possibly say that one is a terrorist by giving "incentives to undocumented workers." And some people say the Democrats have been hijacked by extremists...

Thanks to Wonkette for the heads-up.

Deaniacs on the Warpath

Well, it looks like the Conservatives were right. Howard Dean's rabidly liberal base will never countenance the use of American force--even in the face of genocide. Why, just look at this post over at Dean Nation, a blog "dedicated to the spirit of the Dean Movement" (link: Oxblog). It's outrageous:
"Since this nation was founded, the world has become increasingly interdependent, and at least since Woodrow Wilson worked passionately for the League of Nations, Americans have been at the forefront of efforts to build an international community based off the interests of all rather than narrow alliances for the interests of the participants. And the international community has declared that there is no greater atrocity than the extermination of those whose only crime is to be both different and inconvenient. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are not mere instances of local conflict, but threats to the very foundation of an international order based on the interactions between peoples.

The time has come to enforce these principles, not merely with the words of diplomats and campaigns of activists, but, when necessary and practical, with strength. This is not just a humanitarian principle...
As wonderful as it would be, we cannot end all war. We can, however, draw a line in the sand at indiscriminate slaughter aimed at the elimination of whole populations. And right now in Darfur, we have the chance to act. The international community must enact and enforce a no-fly zone over the region to prevent the Khartoum regime from using its helicopter gunships. We must slap an arms embargo on the Sudan, and a deployed peacekeeping force must have the strength and authority to disarm combatants within the region. Finally, we must crack down on those responsible through referrals to the International Criminal Court. I am not interested in discussing the merits of this court; this is a debate which the United States must postpone due to the clear and present danger to innocent life. The world's most powerful nation must not cower at the expense [of] children who face unspeakable brutalization."

Well, I'll be darned. Looks like there might be some spine in the Deaniac movement after all. I wrote on Centerfield that the political community should hold off judgment on Dean and his cohorts until he had a chance to prove himself. After all, once upon a forgotten past, Dean was considered a DLC stalwart and a bit of a hawk. And while this post wasn't Dean himself, it is a positive sign that one of his more rabid supporters would come out so strongly in favor of American military intervention in Darfur. And judging by the rhetoric he uses, while it would preferable for the international community to act, he agrees that the US must be willing to act alone, if necessary, to stop the brutality that is rapidly encompassing the Darfur region.

On his other blog, however, the author of the above post is slightly less encouraging. He writes there:
"In the comments, someone has already raised the issue of the U.S.'s limited manpower, and I also anticipate objections to my doctrine as stated that we cannot become the world's police. I agree with both these concerns. When I make specific suggestions, my "we" should be interpreted as referring to the broader international community. The Bush administration has actually been pretty good on Sudan. As far as the "world's police" concern, I'd argue that we need to at least be a community leader, willing to jump on these issues wherever and whenever they arise. However, the actual military burdens should be born whenever possible by regional actors who have the most at stake in a given situation. In the case of Darfur, my understanding is that the African Union can do most of what is needed, and simply lacks logistical support."

This seems quite a bit more tame than what was written on the other blog. Still, as long as "whenever possible" actually has some meat behind it, then we're still cool. Certainly, the US acting as a "community leader" on the Darfur issue, pressing the world for action, would represent a major improvement on the half-hearted condemnations that are the status quo. On this point, I disagree with the authors assertion that the Bush administration has been "pretty good on Sudan," as it has been entirely too quite and complacent in the face of the genocide there. It has in no way made any major steps geared toward compelling an international response to the Darfur atrocity. We have seen barely any substantive US action on Sudan since we labeled it a "genocide" in the first place, a "response" which I've argued is impoverishing the entire meaning of the term "genocide". If the US can label something "genocide" and still not take an action, then I think we're worse off than when we started, because it sends the message that genocide is something the world will tolerate. This emboldens the killers, past, present and future. Genocide expert Samantha Power gives the example of Serbia:
"Slobodan Milosevic saw that he got away with the brutal suppression of independence movements in Slovenia and Croatia and he reasoned he would pay no price for doing the same in Bosnia and Kosovo. Because so many individual perpetrators were killing for the first time and deciding daily how far they would go, the United States and its European allies missed critical opportunities to try to deter them. When they ignored genocide around the world, the Western powers were not intending to 'green light' the perpetrators. But because the killers told themselves they were doing the world a favor by 'cleansing' the 'undesirables,' some surely interpreted silence as consent or even support."
. Indeed, it appears we're actually regressing, as the UN still refuses to apply the term "genocide" to the situation at all. So for possibly the last time in my life I will criticize a Bush policy than even a Deaniac is agreeing with: The current US policy on Sudan and Darfur is abominable and cannot stand.

All of the above carping notwithstanding, the original point still stands: the worst nightmare of Truman Democrats like myself of the Dean ascendancy, that the US will never intervene in foreign conflicts again, appears to be unlikely to pass. Get past that hurdle, and one of my key discomforts with the modern Democratic party falls by the wayside.