Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sleepless in Mississippi

Balloon Juice tips me off to the case of Cory Maye--a black man on death row in Mississippi who's been subject to one of the grossest failings of justice I've ever seen.

Radley Balko has been doing the major reporting on the case. Here's the quick summary:
Let's summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frightened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

Read the whole post--that's barely the half of it.

Fortunately, now that the story is out there seems to be bipartisan outrage (at least in the blogosphere). Instapundit writes that the case constitutes a "total miscarriage of justice" and draws an interesting parallel to the recent scare in Miami:
In a way, this is the flipside of the Miami airport shooting. And I regard the shooting of a cop in this situation similarly: It's a tragedy, but the risk is, and should be, borne by the person who's acting unreasonably. Here, it's the cop's. When you break down people's doors and charge in unannounced, you do so at your own risk, cop or not.

"Bitter" of Bitch Girls, who characterizes herself as "normally a fan of the death penalty," says that the case is "so clearly wrong that it makes me sick to my stomach."

Publicola has a good rundown of the relevant laws. He also links to local coverage of the case, which barely glosses on the self-defense claim and doesn't feel worth mentioning at all the fact that the police were raiding the wrong house. Here's the relevant clip:
The trial for 23-year-old Cory Maye was moved from Jefferson Davis County to Columbia, Mississippi in Marion County. Maye was charged with capital murder the day after Christmas two years ago. Maye said he shot Prentiss police officer, 29-year-old Ron Jones in self defense when he burst into this [sic?] home to serve a search warrant for drug possession. Maye's girlfriend and family members said he had never been in trouble with the law and the drug charges were ridiculous. They maintained he was only defending himself.

As written here, it makes it sound like the police had a valid warrant for Maye's house, which they didn't. That obviously is a major issue that changes the tenor of the case dramatically.

I think it is indisputable that Mr. Maye's actions constitute justifiable or excusable homicide. It appears that the police did not announce their presence to Mr. Maye, and even if they did, I think that an innocent black man has legitimate reason to fear a police officer busting in his door unannounced in Mississippi. There is no way that this case should have gone to trial, at trial, there is no way he should have been convicted, and once convicted, I can only hope that he will be immediately released on appeal. But it just shows once more how easily a broken system can put an innocent man on death row.

Friday, December 09, 2005

River on the Originalists

Apologies for the lack of posts. The past few days have been exhausting--and I haven't been getting the sleep I need. It's too bad too, because there were some things I wanted to blog about in the news yesterday. But, alas.

Anyway, I give you this quickie to tide you over.

All the time, we hear conservative judges and judicial nominees, trying to rationalize decisions harmful to civil rights, women, or minorities, by saying its what the law required. Of course, that isn't technically accurate--if it were that clear, there wouldn't be a controversial case in front of them, and no angry liberals blasting them from dissent (or majority, whichever). So the more precise argument would be that it's what their interpretive philosophy of the law requires, and they believe that philosophy (generally originalism or strict textualism) is binding to them.

Whenever I hear an argument on those lines, I'm reminded of the following passage from (yes, I'm a geek) the final episode of "Firefly" ("Objects in Space"):
River: You hurt people.

Early: Only when the job requires it.

River: Wrong. You're a bad liar. [...] You like to hurt folk.

Early: It's part of the job.

River: It's why you took the job.

It seems so blindingly obvious that the conservative tail is wagging the interpretive dog when it comes to these rulings. Originalism doesn't just "happen" to lead to bad results for the politically disenfranchised, and judges who become originalists don't make that choice ignorant or even saddened by that fact. It's not just "part of the philosophy," it's why they chose the philosophy. Alito doesn't hold fast to his Casey opinion because it's what his legal philosophy dictates. He holds his philosophy because it allows him to justify outcomes like Casey.

While judges do occasionally express remorse at an outcome they claim they were "forced" to reach (see Justice Thomas in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Stevens on Kelo), these cases are few and far between. In Derrick Bell's words, they are "contradiction closing cases," the ones where judges prove how impartial and unbiased they are--the cases everyone can point to as a response to charges of the courts playing politics. However, CCCs rarely have a major impact on law as we know it--they are by definition anomalies and will stay that way absent a major political shift of consciousness. It is the rarest of the rare when a judge will break from a position s/he is deeply invested in because s/he thinks that's what the law requires. Justice Thomas may have been willing to allow legal sodomy, but I doubt he would have lost much sleep over it's continued prohibition. But in cases where "the law," or even "the interpretive philosophy" clearly cuts one way, but the judges politics another, it is extraordinarily uncommon for a judge to stay consistent. Consider Justice Scalia on Affirmative Action or the Religion Clause--in both cases, he's been roundly criticized for taking positions wholly at odds with what his normal originalism requires.

I'm not going to say liberals are different--liberals select interpretive theories because they believe they will produce a judiciary more in line with their values. What I'm saying is that conservatives need to stop playing this shell game where they pretend like they are making decisions based on the clear mandate of "law" and that all the awful consequences are unforeseen but tragic necessities. It just isn't true.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How To Aid An Enemy

Mark Olsen of Pseudo-Polymath writes what in my mind is just a peculiar post about how liberal commentators who criticize the war often are "aiding the enemy." Not that the accusation is, in itself peculiar, because unfortunately its become rather routine from the right half of the blogosphere. But it is odd to hear it from a normally sober and reasonable voice like Mark's.

The post is short, so I quote it essentially in full:
Is the "everything was done wrong" an unpatriotic claim? Constructive criticism in time of war is not unpatriotic. But so much of the criticism is not constructive but intended for partisan aims. While helping in its primary (partisan) objective it also serves to aid the enemy. It is a calculated (or not!) strategy that hopes the aid to the enemy will be less damaging than the "hoped for" restorative that getting the opposition party back on top would effect. How fair are criticisms of actions done 2 years past, when 2 years ago the opposition did not propose better (or any) alternatives? Is aiding the enemy for partisan reasons patriotic? Certainly there are those on the way out radical left wing are strongly anti-American (while living here and reaping the benefits of its position in the world), but how about the more reasonable? Do the left wing bloggers review their posts and act themselves if they are aiding the enemy and reconsider? Do the MMSM journalists do the same? How about the knuckleheads in the opposition party in Congress?

Looking at some past wars those who complain, so many of their criticisms seem well unfounded. "Mistakes were made" is a completely disingenuous and ahistorical claim. Please, I'd ask those who complain that the Iraqi campaign was not managed well, to point out one war that was!

I'm afraid I haven't seen a "mistakes were made" claim being made that was either supportable or constructive. Have you?

As a member of the "it was done wrong" bloc (and I know that Mark knows I identify as such), I'm shocked at the imputation of partisan motives for what I consider to be an almost boneheadedly obvious criticism. I'd like Mark to imagine my writing the following:
Is "stay the course" an unpatriotic claim? Supporting the status quo in time of war is not unpatriotic. But so much of the support is not based on a genuine faith in current policies, but intended for partisan aims. While helping in its primary (partisan) objective it also serves to aid the enemy [by refusing to change policies that have inflamed the insurgency and weakened our position in Iraq and the world community]. It is a calculated (or not!) strategy that hopes the aid to the enemy will be less damaging than keeping the current party in control (or keeping the opposition out). How fair are criticisms of liberal complaints or alternative strategies, when our current plans are failing now? Is aiding the enemy for partisan reasons patriotic? Certainly there are those on the way out radical right wing are strongly anti-American (while living here and reaping the benefits of its position in the world--see Bill "let San Francisco die" O'Reilly and every member of the Christian Right who said Katrina victims were punished for New Orleans' sins), but how about the more reasonable? Do the right wing bloggers review their posts and act themselves if they are aiding the enemy and reconsider? Do the MMSM journalists do the same? How about the knuckleheads in the congressional leadership?

I'd imagine Mark would be outraged, justifiably so. This is true despite the fact that there are indeed die-hard partisans who wouldn't dream of supporting the current policy were it not Bush leading them. It's true even though the administration clearly has prosecuted this war and the entire war on terror with an eye for political gain. And it's true despite the fact that the enemy gets far more tangible aid from incompetent war planning/prosecution than it does from whatever Atrios posted today. That last part is what the dark voice in my head always whispers whenever I hear the "Democratic faint-heartedness emboldens our enemies" line. "You know how to really aid an enemy? Refuse to plan for the war and then stick with policies proven to fail!" If I were an insurgent I'd be overjoyed if someone told me we were going to stick to the same policies that have let my movement flourish over the past 24 months. I'd be considerably less concerned hearing that Dennis Kucinich wants to withdraw, and I'd be downright worried if someone said America was going to overhaul its tactics an fix those "mistakes [that] were made."

It's probably too much to say that there are no partisan motives floating around for any critics/supporters of the Iraq war. Undoubtedly, Republicans are more inclined to support the President's policies because it's this specific President, and Democrats are more likely to oppose them for the same reason. Need proof? Look at what Republicans said about our far more justifiable (and I say this as a war supporter) intervention in the Balkans during the Clinton years--it reads like dKos on steroids. However, I think that by and large average people discussing Iraq do so with the best interests of their country, not party, at heart. It's demeaning and wholly unwarranted to suggest otherwise.

Mark also mischaracterizes what the critique I and my cohorts make actually says. It's not merely that "mistakes were made." As Mark notes, mistakes will be made in every war. Rather, it's that this war managed to screw up in virtually every category on virtually every issue--and that isn't something one found in WWII or any modern American war this side of Vietnam. And again contra Mark, it isn't like people didn't point these issues out. People asked for pre-war planning; the Bushies didn't do it. They asked for more troops in the early stages of the campaign(doesn't anybody remember Eric Shinsiki?); the Bushies ignored them (and fired the advocate!). We asked for more efforts to build international support; our diplomatic strategy for the first year or two was essentially "f*** off." We asked that the US work quickly to build democratic institutions in Iraq; instead they dilly-dallied with a bogus "caucus" system designed to install American flacks (which, as few recall, was the original spark that gave the insurgency national currency). We requested that the US move quickly to restore order in post-liberation Iraq; we saw Donald Rumsfeld acting as if mass looting and chaos was no big deal. We asked that American troops above all present themselves as models of what a free, stable, and democratic Iraq could look like; we got an administration that is now trying to redefine "torture", detains (and, oh, also tortures) people they know are innocent, and tried to cover-up and minimize Abu Gharib. Wesley Clark just wrote an excellent outline for succeeding in Iraq where Bush has failed. Is it perfect? Probably not, but it's a far cry better than what we have now. The New Republic has been prolific in providing sensible, necessary plans for long-term solvency in Iraq--one's that don't involve cutting and running but don't involve wishful idiocy either. When it comes to "what we'd rather do," I think we've more than fulfilled our burden Mark.

Ultimately, I think it's important to discuss these issues fully and rationally. We both know of persons on both sides who clearly are looking at this just as political strategists. They should be ignored with extreme prejudice. But we do discourse no favors by painting the entire opposing side with these broad strokes. It's unfair, inaccurate, immoral, and in this case, quite personal.

Telling Other Stories

I'll admit this CNN article on Katrina's victims leaves me troubled. The piece is about the testimony of Katrina victims in front of congress, where they explicitly placed racism amongst the factors causing the slow federal response.

On the one hand, I think that there is something to the claim. Most importantly, I think that victims should have a presumption of expertise when talking about their own experiences. So when a bunch of congressional Republicans responded to their story by basically saying "no, it couldn't have happened," my immediate response is "how the hell would they know?"

On the other hand, I am very distressed by the victim's analogy to the Holocaust and concentration camps. I think that Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) was absolutely right to tag that comparison as "inappropriate."
Black survivors of Hurricane Katrina said Tuesday that racism contributed to the slow disaster response, at times likening themselves in emotional congressional testimony to victims of genocide and the Holocaust.

The comparison is inappropriate, according to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida.

"Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed," Miller told the survivors.

"They died from abject neglect," retorted community activist Leah Hodges. "We left body bags behind."
The five white and two black lawmakers who attended the hearing mostly sat quietly during two and a half hours of testimony. But tempers flared when evacuees were asked by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, to not compare shelter conditions to a concentration camp.

"I'm going to call it what it is," said Hodges. "That is the only thing I could compare what we went through to."

Concentration camps weren't places of "abject neglect." They were places where human beings were congregated in brutal conditions with the express purpose of extermination. Far from neglect, concentration camps were purposeful in the most terrible of ways. I really don't think one recognizes just how brutal the conditions were in the camps, even with the type of Holocaust memorial literature most students study nowadays. Read Terrence Des Pres, "Excremental Assault" or watch "The Grey Zone"--and even those, I imagine, can only showcase a sliver of the reality.

I think there are problems when one group appropriates another's story for their own ends. I don't know what grounds Ms. Hodges has to say with such certainty that the refugee camps were like concentration camps. I'll defer to her in describing her own tale--if she tells me that conditions were awful and degrading, then I'll assume absent compelling evidence that they were. But the comparison strikes me as treading on dangerous territory. I don't think it was justified here, and I don't think that, in general, Katrina victims (or any other group not directly impacted by the Holocaust) has the requisite standing to provide modern day analogues to the horrors of the Holocaust. Let the deeds (or misdeeds) stand on their own.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I don't particularly mind Bruce Bartlett. Sure, he's a conservative, but the honest sort. And when I was a debater, I found his articles valuable, both for the arguments and being well-sourced. But this is just innane.
A few weeks ago, the Internal Revenue Service released data on tax year 2003. They show that the top 1 percent of taxpayers, ranked by adjusted gross income, paid 34.3 percent of all federal income taxes that year. The top 5 percent paid 54.4 percent, the top 10 percent paid 65.8 percent, and the top quarter of taxpayers paid 83.9 percent.

Not only are these data interesting on their own, but looking at them over time shows that the share of total income taxes paid by the wealthy has risen even as statutory tax rates have fallen sharply. A growing body of international data shows the same trend.
At some point, those on the left must decide what really matters to them -- the appearance of soaking the rich by imposing high statutory tax rates that may cause actual tax payments by the wealthy to fall, or lower rates that may bring in more revenue that can pay for government programs to aid the poor? Sadly, the left nearly always votes for appearances over reality, favoring high rates that bring in little revenue even when lower rates would bring in more.

Okay, number one--this data is absolutely meaningless without some indication of what percentage of the total income the wealthiest 1%, 5%, 10% et al bring in each year. Even in a flat tax society, the wealthiest 1% would still pay a fair percentage of the total income tax because they make a fair percentage of the total income. If they make 10% of the income, they'd pay approximately 10% of the total taxes. Since we have a progressive tax system, they pay somewhat higher than that--but the disparity isn't as crazy as Bartlett plays it up to be. The only way for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to pay exactly 1% of the income taxes would be either a) for us to live in a communist society where everybody made the same amount of money or b) for us to have some extraordinarily low flat non-percentage tax which would crush the poor. Conservative economists always use these numbers and they always use them wrong.

This observation also leads us to problem number two: if the wealthy's share of tax dollars is rising, isn't that equally explainable by a rising income gap between the rich and the poor? Indeed, wasn't that the major critique of Reaganomics--they put more wealth in the hands of the rich while the poor stagnated? That seems to be the most plausible interpretation of Bartlett's data--the rich paid a greater portion of the tax load because the rich were getting, well, dirty rich(er). This is especially true because it isn't like the wealthy got a tax cut while the middle and lower class tax rates stayed constant or rose. Everybody's taxes fell, which will counter-act the proportionality argument Bartlett tries to make.

Third, economies move for complex reasons--it's foolish to associate them particularly with one policy or another (especially, and I know Bartlett knows this, fiscal as opposed to monetary policy). For Bartlett to say that the information he provides indicates that lower tax rates for the rich will give the government more money to spend on the poor is a gross oversimplification. And his statistics don't even prove that--they say nothing about whether governmental revenues rose or fell in this time period (in real dollars), just that the rich's share rose.

Fourth, the folks who want to lower taxes don't want to do it to see increased revenues--and they definitely wouldn't want to increase said revenues. They want to shrink government further and they want to cut programs--especially those for such no-good worthless constituencies like poor people. So to characterize the "choice" by the left as between keeping up appearances and joining the noble conservative crusade for greater financing on the safety net is just absurd.

So if Justin Jones really "couldn't say it better" himself, well, then I think liberal economic theory is in pretty good shape.

Diversity Versus Specialization

Henry Manne (H/T: Todd Zywicki) also weighs in on the conservatives-in-academia issue, commenting on the same Peter Schuck article that prompted my latest post on the issue.

Like everyone else it seems, Manne starts by dismissing "any kind of government-enforced viewpoint affirmative action."
Everyone seems to recognize the morass of abuses, bureaucratic meddling and the sheer impossibility of enforcement that such an approach implies. A private solution - almost any private solution - is to be preferred to that.

Well, sure, when you put it that way. Yes, I too would not like the government busting into to our universities and mandating that they hire a quota of Republicans. But I define AA more narrowly as just a specific and institutional effort by a university to diversify their faculty or student body--in this case, politically by adding more conservatives. How they go about it is up to them. In any event, I think that Manne gets to the real core of opposition later in the piece, saying:
Certainly no one wants the government to intervene (the usual interventionists because they would lose in the short run and the anti-interventionists because they are just that).

That's closer to the heart, I'd say.

Unlike most folks speaking on the issue, however, Manne questions whether a plurality of viewpoints is even all that desirable. Instead, the upshot of his argument is that we should favor specialization in law schools. Manne is affiliated with George Mason University, which is basically a specialty shop for Law & Economics folks, and Manne would like to import that model to other institutions. So you'd have schools that specialize in liberal legal thought and conservative thought, perhaps a Crit school or a feminist school, etc etc..

Specialization has its advantages, I suppose, but I really don't think that it's the proper model for a school. One of the key aspects of an education is exposure to competing viewpoints. Schools should, as institutions, try and challenge their students, not keep them in intellectually insulated cocoons. Students don't actively seek out opposing viewpoints, but their presence is critical to creating well-rounded citizens, a key value that I believe academia must impart. Manne writes that:
Schuck's second the idea that every professor should present impartially and thoroughly all sides of any controversial issue. After all, he could argue, we are trying to train lawyers who may have to assume any side of a given proposition, and therefore it is the responsibility of any law professor to teach all sides.

I suppose at one time, when almost all of legal teaching was done via the rote quoting of 'rules of law,' this may have been a feasible albeit irrelevant approach. But today the fine analysis required of various legal rules - and not merely in constitutional law but equally in almost every field - requires teachers who not only understand the finer points of, say, the market theory of antitrust, but who would be embarrassed not to scoff at the opposite view. Should an antitrust professor 'fairly' present a near-totally discredited idea like monopolization being inherent in resale price maintenance? Frankly I believe that Peter is simply wrong in this. I think the best teaching, and therefore the best preparation for lawyering, is done by professors who are intellectually committed to the views they propound and who present their case as strongly as they can.

I think this is a weak argument. The whole "present a near-totally discredited idea" objection is a strawman, the idea is to teach legitimate academic controversies, not to concoct controversies for their own sake. I don't think I'm being inconsistent when I say we should teach a breadth of political philosophies, but should exclude Nazism from the canon. Also, one can agree that a Professor should strongly advocate her particular position without rejecting that colleges should be pluralist institutionally. Even if students learn best from hearing just one side presented strongly (as opposed to all sides "fairly"), there is no reason why a school shouldn't has a whole be balanced. That is, the liberal professor is unabashedly liberal, and the conservative professor is unabashedly conservative, and therefore the campus as a whole benefits from the availability of diverse views while at the same time maintaining the "committed" professor in the classroom. Indeed, a monolithic campus environment may make it less likely that a professor will be as aggressive on her pet issues in class. I think most professors feel at least a nominal obligation to insure their students are fully exposed to the their given topic. If there are a professors representing a variety of political persuasions, then they'll feel fine focusing on their strengths, knowing that interested students can find other faculty members if they wish to pursue other avenues. But if their view is the only game in town, then professors might feel obligated to be as balanced as possible to make up for the shortfall.

Of course this isn't a problem if the school explicitly labels itself "conservative" and markets itself that way. But again, I think such a school is eliminating a very important part of its mission. I don't want liberals to be so be default, and I don't want conservatives to be so because they've never heard or read a liberal. We need to encourage folks to broaden their horizons. Individuals perhaps should be specialists, but institutions should be generalists.

Montreal Massacre

A friend who attends McGill University asked me to blog about The Montreal Massacre, which happened on this date in 1989.

I had never heard of the event until he told me about it, but basically a man who felt that "the feminists" were responsible for him not getting into engineering school went to a local university and systematically gunned down all the female students he could find. In all, 14 women died before he took his own life.

There is obviously little to say about events such as this, except to remind ourselves of the risks we take when we cavalierly deny the humanity of other people. The same mentalities of hatred and extremism motivate these sort of mass killings, whether on relatively small-scales (like here) or large (like in Darfur, Rwanda, or Germany). It is almost trite to say that we must "oppose" these acts or opinions--who doesn't oppose atrocities? Except, of course, the perpetrators. Trite as it may be, a constant and omnipresent aura opposed to senseless violence, to mutilation and murder in all its forms, is the best way we can honor the memories of the victims.

Monday, December 05, 2005

DeLay Remains Under Indictment

A Texas Judge has upheld the more serious charge facing Tom DeLay while tossing out a second indictment. John Cole hits the right note, I think: this doesn't mean DeLay is innocent, nor does it mean he's guilty. It does, however, mean that he is finished as Majority Leader.

And that's something we can all celebrate.

Some Conservative bloggers are complaining that the majority of news sources are phrasing this as "some charges upheld" rather than "some charges dismissed." Glass half-full, glass half-empty. Outside the Beltway, which in itself (unlike the above links) is not making the complaint as a pure partisan point, argues that:
This isn't pedantry or partisanship on my part. Delay is in serious trouble and, even if he is ultimately acquitted on these charges, there is plenty of evidence that he played as close to the limits of legality as possible, almost certainly crossing the line of proper ethical conduct. Regardless, however, the news here is Delay's the conspiracy charges being dropped, not other charges remaining.

News, as the name implies, is about things that are different. An hour ago, Delay faced two serious charges; he now faces one. Considering that he faced the remaining charge when the day began, the new thing is the charge he no longer faces.

That seems a bit forced to me. Specifically, the "new" is that DeLay has one less charge. Broadly though, the "new" is that Judge Priest has made the first rulings on DeLay's dismissal motions. This is the first test of how Earle's much-maligned (by the right anyway) indictment will stand up. So it's news that part got dismissed, and news that part didn't--and unfortunately, incorporating both would probably be too unwieldy for an internet headline. Also, as noted above, with leadership elections in January, the decision to uphold any indictment spells the end of DeLay's leadership tenure--and that is news.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

War on Terminology

Brian Leiter's guest-bloggers, with a concurrence by Carey Cuprisin, argue that the concept of a "war on terror" is absurd and should be abandoned. I'm confused. They make the following two warrants:
One really can't repeat this often enough: there is no "war on terror," not only because you can't wage war on a technique, but because there is no single agent of terrorism motivated by a unitary set of concerns.

Neither of these objections seems particularly convincing to me. I say that disclaiming the separable issue of whether or not the current administration has effectively or honestly fought such a war (it has done neither). I'm only concerned with whether such a war is conceivably possible.

To the first, I think that one could declare war on a technique, at least within the common usage of the word "war." If Major League Baseball declared a "war on cheating," I think most of us would be untroubled by the terminology itself (potentially by the hyperbole, I'll grant). To declare a war on a process is to declare that process absolutely forbidden, beyond the pale of permissible conduct. They'd be attempting to purge the tactic of "cheating" from existence, just as we might wish to purge the tactic of "terror[ism]" from the world. If one defines "terror[ism]" as the targeted killing of innocent civilians to advance a political agenda, then I think opposing it is a noble goal indeed--and one well worth fighting for. Obviously it represents a major shift in objectives from a "normal" war against Germany (a nation) or Poverty (a state of being). But I don't think our language is insufficiently flexible to adapt to it.

The latter objection is similarly too narrow. First of all, if we are declaring on a deontological level that "terror" (as defined above) is never a justified tactic, then we could fight a war against it regardless of whether the utilizers share motivations or ideologies. Again, to analogize toward cheating--regardless of whether the particular cheater is acting to win a game, or a bet, or just to prove "he can," if we're battling cheating as such then the distinctions are immaterial. Similarly, if Palestinians are terrorizing to throw the Jews out of the Holy Land, while Iraqis are terrorizing to end the occupation and the IRA is terrorizing to gain a Catholic-ruled Northern Ireland, we could still oppose the tactic as such without regard to the differing motivations. Again, this isn't to say that we are doing this (or even necessarily that we should--though I do think that), only that the term itself isn't objectionable.

In fact, I'd actually prefer that we phrase more military actions as battles against concepts rather than peoples. If we were to intervene in Darfur, I'd like it to be a "war against genocide," not a war against Sudan. The reason why is simple--the goal of such an intervention shouldn't be to exact retribution against the Sudanese people. Rather, it should be to send a message to the world that genocide--anywhere, anytime--is intolerable and will be met with the full force of the international community. Likewise, the war on terror should not be fought against the terrorists themselves or their sympathizers specifically, but rather as a broader struggle against military tactics that specifically target civilians for death and destruction. A conceptually-justified war is more likely to have the long term deterrence impacts that are missing in the status quo--Sudan would have been far less likely to engage in the slaughter in Darfur had our Kosovo intervention been framed as the response genocideers receive, as opposed to "just another" war that happened to be against Serbia.

I should also note that I think Leiter's guestbloggers (both surnamed "Stanley", so I'm going to refer to them as "the Stanley brothers") are too glib in their dismissal of the terror threat. Admittedly, bin Laden and his cohorts do not possess armies capable of massive world domination. But that isn't where the threat comes from. It may be trite, but the face of the world is changing. The "insight" of terrorism is that one can cause significant impacts in global affairs without the major expenditure of resources that conventional warfare requires. Hell, you don't even need a state. And the way that the world is evolving makes us more vulnerable to such an attack, not less. Consider the argument by leftist scholars Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (as summarized and applied by Legal Fiction):
First, they whine about the collapse of non-capitalist alternatives and the rise of globalization. But second, and here's the key, they argue that the trends of globalization are making it easier to strike down the global capitalist economy dragon. And to make their point, they rely on the concepts of networks and interconnectedness (or for you Clinton fans out there, interdependence). The idea is that the global economy is becoming one big, connected entity. In this sense, they seem to be agreeing with Thomas Friedman that the world is flattening.

But here's the catch. Because everything is so interconnected, the entire network itself is more susceptible to attack because destroying one important node can - Abramoff-style - bring the whole thing crashing down. It's sort of like creating a black hole that would suck down everything around it, which is pretty much what Abramoff is at the present.

Most disgustingly, though most presciently perhaps, the authors heap a lot of praise on radical Islam, largely because they view it as most clearly rejecting modernity and as the most willing to act against it. They wrote all this before 9/11, but you can see where I'm going with this. And when you do, you should hopefully develop a greater sense of urgency about the magnitude of the threat posed by nuclear terror. Under this view, 9/11 was not merely an attack on the country or the West, but an attack upon an important node of the global economy. Thus, what's most frightening about terrorism in the age of globalization is its ability to potentially bring the whole damn thing crashing down. And a well-placed nuclear bomb could do just that.

It's amazing in retrospect that destroying the center of the financial universe did not trigger a more destructive chain reaction across the markets. Maybe that's because we're not as connected as we think we are - yet. But we're getting there.

When you think of the world economy as a network, it's easy to see how a terrorist attack - or the collapse of stability in the oil-rich Middle East - could really suck our entire world economy into chaos. A nuclear strike on New York, or a collapse of Saudi Arabia, or any number of scenarios could trigger a financial panic spreading at the speed of broadband. And as the world's financial centers grow more connected, and capital grows more fluid, there's a greater chance that the world could experience on a much larger scale what Argentina recently experienced.

This is what makes terror such a threat--it's the ultimate geo-political jujitsu. Nearly any aggrieved party can access the tools necessary to cause massive international chaos. Such a threat should not and cannot be easily dismissed. I agree that a long-term strategy to address this requires that the US move away from it's aggravating realpolitik and start practicing what it preaches in foreign affairs. As long as the US supports dictatorships, we'll be prone to attack. But eliminating our direct support is only half the battle. In any world that has massive amounts of political injustice and an American hegemony, terror will still be a risk. As such, ultimate solvency can only come when all the aggravating factors--imperialism, racism, totalitarianism, autocracy, ethic strife, etc., are, if not eliminated, then at least subject to severe and immediate international sanction.

In the end then, I do not find that the use of the term war on terror should, as the Stanley brothers so diplomatically put it, cause the speaker to "be laughed out of serious society." And I am shocked to hear them say that this rhetoric is as "appallingly and transparently ridiculous as...old films of Stalinist or Nazi propaganda." I'd say that this would be the example of rhetoric that should get someone "laughed out of serious society," except that a serious society would remember just how serious the crimes of Hitler and Stalin were and wouldn't degrade them in the endless quest for political points.