Friday, September 30, 2011

Richard Miniter misleads the readers of The Daily Beast

Since Awlaki had not been convicted in a proper court or hasn’t been killed while shooting at American soldiers, they contend, his killing is unconstitutional. A side argument, beloved by the ACLU, is that the method of deciding who goes on the CIA target list is secret and therefore an illegal violation of due process.

These are clever arguments, but wrong. Federal courts have rejected the ACLU’s view when it brought a case seeking to bar the listing of U.S. citizens on the CIA’s terrorist hit list. Awlaki’s own father made a similar argument in another court and it too was rejected.

It's important to note that federal courts rejected those lawsuits over technical issues—standing—and not on the merits of the cases themselves. If Richard Miniter didn't know that, he should've. And if he did know that, he did a profound disservice to The Daily Beast's readers by suggesting otherwise.

Where is the 'battleground' anyway?

Mario Loyola knows:

For purposes of combat actions such as the targeted killing of Awlaki, the battleground in our war against al-Qaeda is not “everywhere.” It is in those few countries that either willingly or unwillingly provide significant safe havens for al-Qaeda. Yemen is in the first rank of that group of countries, along with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia. 
All I can say is: Germany, we're coming for you. London, you might see some Predator drones in your skies. Toronto, get ready for some Hellfire missiles.

Victor Davis Hanson on al-Awlaki

Those on the left who made the argument — often quite vehemently and with plenty of personal invective (“war criminal”) — that water-boarding three known and quite proudly confessed foreign-national terrorists represented a “war crime” must now come forward and turn that vitriol on the Obama administration, which just executed an American citizen abroad on suspicions of terrorist activity. (Most nonpartisans might consider water-boarding three self-described terrorists less a “crime” than executing over 2,000 suspected terrorists — and any and all who, as collateral damage, happen to be in the general vicinity when the sentence is carried out.)

If we see anything less than commensurate protest against the present administration, then the entire hysteria of 2002–8 in retrospect becomes rank partisanship and hardly principled anguish. But as we have seen with the continuance of Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventive detention, and the Bush policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, these once-acrimonious issues are simply not issues any more. I guess critics “moved on” around January 2009.

Conor Friedersdorf on the assassination of al-Awlaki

President Obama has perhaps forever changed the relationship between the United States government and its citizens, setting a precedent as damaging as anything a modern president has done, and the appropriate reaction, whatever one's partisan or ideological orientation, is shock and anger at his hubris and imprudence. Depending on the GOP nominee in 2012, I may well decide that I can't vote for him or her in good conscience. But today, as Obama celebrates the extra-legal assassination of an American, and sets the precedent that the president can kill citizens without due process if he or she pronounces them a terrorist, I know that I cannot in good conscience cast a vote to re-elect him. If you're even a little bit of a civil libertarian, and this didn't cost Obama your vote, I'd ask you to ponder this question: What transgression would?

Kevin Williamson on conservatives and the al-Awlaki assassination

The Awlaki case has led many conservatives into dangerous error, as has the War on Terror more generally. That conservatives are for the most part either offering mute consent or cheering as the Obama administration draws up a list of U.S. citizens to be assassinated suggests not only that have we gone awry in our thinking about national security, limitations on state power, and the role of the president in our republic, but also that we still do not understand all of the implications of our country’s confrontation with Islamic radicalism. The trauma of 9/11 has deposited far too much emotional residue upon our thinking, and the Awlaki case provides occasion for a necessary scouring. 

Contra present conservative dogma, the Constitution has relatively little to say about the role of the president in matters of what we now call national security, which is not synonymous with combat operations. What the Constitution says is this: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” That is all. Upon this sandy foundation, conservative security and legal thinkers have constructed a fortress of a presidency that is nearly unlimited or actually unlimited in its power to define and pursue national-security objectives. But a commander-in-chief is not a freelance warlord, and his titular powers do not extend over everything that touches upon national security. The FBI’s counterterrorism work, for example, is critical to national security, but its management does not fall under the duties of a commander-in-chief; it is police work, like many of the needful things undertaken in the War on Terror. The law-enforcement approach to counterterrorism is much maligned in conservative circles where martial rhetoric is preferred, but the work of the DOJ, FBI, NYPD, etc., is critical. It is not, however, warfare.

A commander-in-chief does not have unilateral authority to invade foreign countries or to name belligerents, and it is clear that the Founders did not intend to give the president that kind of unchecked war-making power, much less to compound it with unchecked domestic police and surveillance powers, which is why the power to declare war resides with Congress rather than with the president. Our Constitution, as in all things, relies upon checks and balances when it comes to the conduct of war. It is significant that the final powers — to declare war, to ratify a peace treaty, to punish treason — do not rest with the president, but with Congress. 

Even if you're a liberal not disposed to reading National Review, I think this is a pretty important piece to read and revisit.

SPJ and 'illegal immigrants'

I'm uncomfortable with this:
The Society of Professional Journalists, hearing an emotional plea from Rebecca Aguilar, a member of SPJ and of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, voted Tuesday to recommend that newsrooms discontinue using the terms "illegal alien" and "illegal immigrant." The resolution from the 7,800-member organization says only courts can decide when a person has committed an illegal act. 
Aguilar argued that using those words insulted Latinos and all those who are or had once been in the United States illegally. She used the example of her mother, who became a "proud American" in 1980. Her mother felt insulted "every time she heard that word," Aguilar said of the phrase "illegal alien."
The appropriate term? "Undocumented people." Ugh.

The problem here, as I've written before, is that the 11 million "undocumented" people in the United States are here ... illegally. Have they legally been ajudicated as such? No, the vast majority of them. And it's why my practice, when referring to a specific person or small set of persons, would be to attribute descriptions. "John Doe, whom authorities say entered the United States illegally..." or "John Doe, who says he crossed the border, etc. etc." Let your sources do the work of framing.

But I'm fine using the term "illegal immigrants" or "illegal immigration" to describe the issues surrounding the 11 million people who are in the United States in violation of the laws of this country. That's what the controversy is about. Using the term "undocumented" doesn't convey that—it reduces the issue to one of paperwork. (And as long as we're being pedantic, it may not be strictly true: Surely many if not most of these folks have, say, birth certificates or driver's licenses or whatnot in their home countries.)

I think "undocumented immigrant" obscures more than "illegal immigrant" reveals, if only slightly. I'm sorry that that hurts some people's feelings. If it were up to me, our immigration policy wouldn't criminalize most people who want to come to the United States. But the law is the law, and the journalist's job is to convey information as clearly as she can. The SPJ folks suggest they're striking a blow for clarity and accuracy by putting the kibosh on this term. I don't think they're right.

Adam Serwer on the al-Awlaki assassination

The central question in the death of American extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is not his innocence. That really misses the point. Awlaki was the only publicly known name on a covert list of American citizens the US government believes it can legally kill without charge or trial. Awlaki's killing can't be viewed as a one-off situation; what we're talking about is the establishment of a precedent by which a US president can secretly order the death of an American citizen unchecked by any outside process. Rules that get established on the basis that they only apply to the "bad guys" tend to be ripe for abuse, particularly when they're secret. 

Kevin Drum on the al-Awlaki assassination

No one is likely to mourn al-Awlaki himself -- which is what made his assassination so safe in the first place -- but we sure ought be mourning the fact that it happened, and that it's likely to happen routinely from now on. The Obama administration has demonstrated once again, as it did in Libya and as it's done in a variety of surveillance cases, that its view of executive power in the arena of national security is hardly any less expansive than Dick Cheney's was. The fact that this was predictable makes it no less alarming. Regardless of how any of us feels about warmaking in general, there are very good reasons that national governments are more constrained in their ability to kill their own citizens than in their ability to kill foreigners, constraints enshrined in both the explicit rules and longstanding traditions of due process. That bright line has grown a lot dimmer today.

If you care about civil liberties, can you vote for Barack Obama?

I wrote this in April. Given today's assassination of a U.S. citizen with Al Qaeda ties, it's a good time to restate it.
First, do no harm.

That's where I start with my philosophy of governance. Maybe it sounds conservative. I don't think conservatives would have me as one of their own, though, because I think it is also wise—where possible—for republican government (as the servant of the community) to provide services we can't otherwise provide for ourselves. A safety net for the poor. Universal healthcare. NPR. Stuff like that.

But a government charged with providing such services to—and on behalf of—the citizens has a basic obligation that supersedes those: Do no harm.

Do not torture people.

Do not lock away people without due process of law.

Do not eavesdrop on people without a warrant.

Do not subject people to cruel and unusual punishment.

Do not deprive people of their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If a government cannot do those things, the rest—the social services, the safety net—is just a payoff. If a government cannot do those things, then it is probably no longer a government that derives its power from its citizens, but instead is (or is on its way to becoming) a government that rules its citizens. It's not always easy to tell the difference between the two, but the distinction is there—and it is important.

I have lost confidence in the ability of Barack Obama to first do no harm.

He is in charge of a government that—despite promises to end torture—is clearly trying to break the will of one of its own citizens in a military brig.

He is in charge of a government that prosecutes suspected terrorists in whichever format seems most likely to guarantee a win for prosecutors, instead of giving every suspect equal access to the law.

He is in charge of a government that seeks ever more-expansive ways to spy upon its citizens. He is in charge of a government that claims the right to kill a citizen without any kind of legal proceeding. He is in charge of a government that proclaims itself legally immune from efforts to hold it accountable for transgressions. And he is in charge of an administration that reserves to itself the right to make war without permission from Congress.

I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because I was mad. I was mad at George W. Bush for doing everything I've listed above, plus a few other things. I was kind of mad about Republican governance that seemed interested, mainly, in catering to the interests of the rich, but I was mostly mad about how the Bush Administration had reserved to itself unlimited, abusive wartime powers—in the name of prosecuting a war without end. Obama seemed to promise more than that.

He has delivered, on these matters, almost exactly what came before. I can no longer trust Barack Obama, or the Democratic Party, to be truly on the side of civil liberties.

Adam Serwer, a liberal, wrote: "Point is, though, if you voted for Obama in 2008 expecting a restoration of the rule of law, a rejection of the Bush national-security paradigm or even a candidate who wouldn't rush headlong into wars in Muslim countries expecting to turn back the current of history through mere force of will, then you don't have a candidate for 2012. You probably don't have a party either." He is right.

Conor Friedersdorf, a conservative, wrote: "Since his January 2009 inauguration, President Obama has embraced positions that he denounced as a candidate, presided over a War on Drugs every bit as absurd as it's always been, asserted the unchecked, unreviewable power to name American citizens enemy combatants and assassinate them, and launched a war without seeking Congressional authorization. His attorney general's efforts to live up to his boss' campaign rhetoric have been thwarted at every turn. And presiding over the disgraceful treatment of Bradley Manning, he has lost the right even to tout his record on detainee policy. On civil liberties, President Obama cannot be trusted." He is right.

For a long time, I have paused before the decision I find I must make. Democrats are awful, but Republicans are worse. They'll do all of the above—gleefully, without any pretense of a furrowed brow—and they'll do it while doing everything they can to exacerbate inequality between the very rich and the rest of us.

After the darkness of the Bush years, I came to convince myself that the lesser evil is, well, less evil. At some point, though, the lesser evil is still too evil to support. I don't believe Barack Obama is evil. I believe he is better than his opponents—but not in the critical realm where the "do no harm" rule applies. And I do not believe he is good enough.

The president has announced his re-election campaign. At this point, he will not have my vote. He has until November 2012 to earn it back. I do not expect he will.

The economy's problem? It ain't uncertainty

Another set of data also calls into question the “regulatory uncertainty” argument. If firms were nervous about hiring new employees but had immediate profitable sales opportunities (say, before new regulations are established), then they could readily increase the weekly work hours of current employees to produce more goods and services. The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker  (2011) and EPI’s Heidi Shierholz frequently point out that weekly hours are still far below their pre-recession level. Figure C depicts recent analysis by Shierholz (2011) of hours data through August 2011. It shows that weekly work hours for private-sector workers averaged 34.6 in 2007 but had fallen to 33.7 by June 2009 (the start of the recovery). Since then, weekly hours have recovered about half that loss and were at 34.2 in August. If employers restored working hours to their pre-recession level, that would be the equivalent of adding 1.2 million jobs, suggesting that a lot more staffing is readily available (without making permanent new hires) to produce output of goods and services if employers so desired. It is hard to believe that regulatory uncertainty is what is preventing employers from adding work hours to current employees to fulfill current profitable opportunities to sell goods or services. Something else must be going on: Customers and sales opportunities are simply not there.

Do you believe, we can't put a man on the moon?

China, which has invested millions of dollars in recent years into a burgeoning space programme, now has a flagship piece of hardware already off the launchpad. Nasa currently has no manned launch capability of its own for crewed vehicles following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet this summer.

It is a situation that rankles with prominent figures in the US space community, among them Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, who last week lambasted the American programme as an embarrassment that could soon be eclipsed by the achievements of other nations.

"For a country that did so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable," he told a congressional hearing on the future of space flight. "Nasa leaders enthusiastically assured the American people that the agency was embarking on a new age of discovery. But the termination of the shuttle, the cancellation of existing rocket and spacecraft programmes, the lay-off of thousands of aerospace workers [and] the outlook for American space activity through the next decade is difficult to reconcile with agency assertions."

I love Neil Armstrong, and grew up idolizing astronauts. But: Who cares?

Don't get me wrong: If NASA approached and offered me a ride to the Space Station, I'd take it. My heart wants a space ship! But my head is a little colder about the issue. The Space Race—where human spaceflight is concerned—is mostly about national prestige, and almost not-at-all about solving the problems that face us on earth. It's a romantic endeavor, but in a time of belt-tightening, romance really shouldn't be the province of the government.

I know, I know: Humankind should be preparing to take a trip to the stars, getting ready for the day when our planet can no longer host us. If you believe that's really in the realm of possibility—and I'm skeptical—then we're still OK. Private industry is ready to start leading the way. The Chinese are ready to start leading the way. Humankind won't suffer because the United States government is on the sidelines for a few years.

It's official: The Obama Administration is assassinating U.S. citizens

Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual US-Yemeni citizen, is believed to have been killed at 9.55am on Friday morning at a site 90 miles (140 kilometres) east of Sana'a between the provinces of Marib and al-Jawf in what is believed to have been an air strike.

Witnesses say that Awlaqi was boarding a 2005 Toyota Hilux along with five other supporters when a US drone attack hit the vehicle. Acccording to a Associated Press report, the same team that directed the Osama bin Laden assassination was behind the strike.

The CIA and the US military have used drones to target al-Qaida officials in Yemen and had placed Awlaki near the top of a hit list. The US president, Barack Obama, authorised a request to target Awlaki in April last year, making him the first US citizen to be a legal target for assassination in the post-9/11 years.

I wouldn't call al-Awlaki a good guy, but that's not the point. The Obama Administration hasn't made clear the process by which a U.S. citizen can be deprived of his life via assassination. We don't know what safeguards are in place, or if any due process is involved. All we know is that the government decided he's a bad guy, and now he's dead.

Harold Meyerson: Time for tariffs on China

The news that our trade with China has been bad for the American middle class has finally reached the U.S. Senate. On Monday, the Senate will take up legislation that would impose tariffs on Chinese goods so long as China depresses the value of its currency. Despite the partisan polarization that grinds lawmaking to a halt these days, the bill’s support is thoroughly bipartisan, with sponsors ranging from such conservative Republicans as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham to liberal Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown. The legislation is expected to clear the Senate’s 60-vote hurdle for a floor vote and move on to the House.

Today's class warfare update

Nearly half of all Americans say President Obama treats society’s “haves” and “have-nots” about equally, perhaps blunting Republican criticism that he is engaged in “class warfare.” Still, nearly three in 10 see the president as overly favoring the “have-nots,” according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Half as many see the president as favoring the “haves.”

Public opinion about Republicans is a bit harsher: almost half say Republicans in Congress are doing more to help the haves, with fewer -- under a third -- saying the GOP treats both sides of the divide about equally.

Jonah Goldberg, and my good faith on the death penalty

TreeHugger social media editor Chris Tackett—a friend from my Lawrence days—managed to bring my post about Jonah Goldberg and the death penalty to the attention of Goldberg himself. Goldberg tweeted a response:

And he's almost right! If you can reform death penalty jurisprudence so poor and black defendants get a good shake, or to solve any of the other huge problems that exist, it would be much more difficult to oppose the death penalty on fairness and justice grounds. The problem is: I don't think such reforms are likely—I wonder, really, if they're possible. It would take, among other things, a decision by legislatures to spend a lot more money on defense lawyers for poor defendants in capital cases—an act that would be politically tough in good times, never mind when states are tightening their belts. Abolition seems the best way to go to me.

Then again—addressing Goldberg's good faith question*—let me make myself plain: I'd still oppose the death penalty on moral grounds even if it were pristinely administered. But it's not pristinely administered, and short of abolition I would take reform. Right now, we're getting neither.

*An entirely reasonable question from one standpoint: I insulted Goldberg on Twitter recently. It was (I hope) uncharacteristically unkind and ungenerous of me. I have apologized, but to the extent I'm on his radar at all, I wouldn't blame him for holding a grudge.

Discriminating against the unemployed

President Obama's new jobs bill would make it illegal for employers to turn away job applicants just because they're not currently employed. That's the topic of my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week. My take:
Workers have rights, too. 
So much of the political discussion in recent years has focused on the liberty of businesses -- usually huge corporations -- to dominate our politics, be free from burdensome regulations, and avoid the entanglements of unions. 
Even in the aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008, Republicans have been unceasing in the efforts to ensure that businesses can do whatever they want to do to turn a profit. If those companies have any responsibility to the broader American community, you'd never know it from GOP rhetoric. 
Obama's proposed law does nothing to reverse that tide. It doesn't keep corporations from spending tons of money on campaigns. It doesn't force them to reduce their own profits in order to clean the air or water. It doesn't require them to accept unions. It makes one demand -- a small demand, all things considered: That companies not overlook smart, hard-working applicants who might benefit their business. 
Understand: The law wouldn't require businesses to hire unemployed workers. And it wouldn't require companies to overlook the fact, say, that Joe Jobseeker is unemployed because he was lousy at his last job. 
It only requires that they not discard Joe's resume because he's unemployed right now -- they have to decide on the merits of his actual job experience. 
There are 14 million unemployed Americans -- and that number doesn't count the jobless citizens who've given up hope. There are four jobseekers for every available position. Obama's proposal gives them almost nothing, except this: A small bit of hope that they don't have to be unemployed forever. Whatever burdens the law imposes on businesses is more than outweighed by the load it lifts off the shoulders of workers. Congress should pass the law. 
A fair break. That's not too much to ask, is it?
Ben says employers would stop hiring because they're afraid of lawsuits.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Serwer responds to Turley

There's nothing particularly unusual about Democrats' silence on matters of civil liberties and national security, which is easily attributable to mere partisanship. Declaring it the function of a kind of mental affirmative action is silly. The same civil libertarian groups who were fighting Bush, like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, are doing so now. What they lack is the support or amplification provided by prominent Democrats in Congress when the president was a Republican. Turley also lets the GOP entirely off the hook, as though there's nothing unusual about a party whose mantra is "small government" offering no opposition whatsoever to the expansion of the national security state. Perhaps it's just that Turley's expectations for Republicans are so low that he doesn't even see the contradiction as worth noting. 

A Wall Street protest I understand

Like a lot of people, I find myself vaguely sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protesters—but only vaguely, since the protesters themselves are somewhat vague on their purposes and goals. Rage is a warning, but it isn't an agenda.

Lots of my lefty friends today are lumping this Wall Street protest with Occupy Wall Street—and heck, it makes a great, even cinematic photo. But two problems with the conflation of the pilots and the rest of the protesters:

• I see no evidence that the pilots were trying to link up with the OWS protesters in a show of anti-corporate solidarity. Even the Daily Mail story hints as such: "The demonstration coincided with the 11th straight day the Occupy Wall Street encampment, which has seen thousands of demonstrators descend onto downtown Manhattan - and hundreds arrested." (Emphasis added.) Now, that's fine, because two separate protests aimed at Wall Street might suggest a growing discontent, but the fact of separateness doesn't really indicate—as my friends seem to suggest—that Occupy Wall Street is achieving some kind of critical mass.

• On the other hand, it's easy to see that the pilots are expressing something more than inchoate rage. They're looking for a new collective bargaining agreement that covers all pilots swept up in the merger of United and Continental airlines, and they're haggling over things like seniority, pay, and benefits. They have an end result in mind, and the protest is a means of achieving that goal.

The Occupy Wall Streeters, on the other hand, don't seem to have an end result in mind. They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. I get that, and I sympathise with it. But if you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. 

Me @ Macworld: Thunderbolt peripherals are on the way. Really.

Seven months after Apple and Intel announced that the newest MacBook Pros would ship with Thunderbolt, peripheral-connection devices that take advantage of the new feature are making their way to consumers quite slowly.

Jonathan Turley: Obama a disaster for civil liberties

It's almost a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome, in which a hostage bonds with his captor despite the obvious threat to his existence. Even though many Democrats admit in private that they are shocked by Obama's position on civil liberties, they are incapable of opposing him. Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism: A Republican would be worse. However, realism alone cannot explain the utter absence of a push for an alternative Democratic candidate or organized opposition to Obama's policies on civil liberties in Congress during his term. It looks more like a cult of personality. Obama's policies have become secondary to his persona. 
Ironically, had Obama been defeated in 2008, it is likely that an alliance for civil liberties might have coalesced and effectively fought the government's burgeoning police powers. A Gallup poll released this week shows 49% of Americans, a record since the poll began asking this question in 2003, believe that "the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals' rights and freedoms." Yet the Obama administration long ago made a cynical calculation that it already had such voters in the bag and tacked to the right on this issue to show Obama was not "soft" on terror. He assumed that, yet again, civil libertarians might grumble and gripe but, come election day, they would not dare stay home.

On immigration and Big Government, I was wrong. Unfortunately.

The other day I suggested that conservatives who really want to beef up enforcement against illegal immigration would have to live with a bigger and more expensive federal bureaucracy. I've been proven wrong by this morning's New York Times story about private companies that basically do the work of immigration enforcement for countries around the world.

The really infuriating parts of the story will be familiar to anyone who has critiqued the privatizing of prisons in the United States: The illegal immigrants who are placed in the care of these private companies are often treated like cattle—with the problem being that ranchers generally want their herd to survive. The Times documents a number of cases where immigrants died or were badly injured while in the custody of the private companies. When that happens, companies are punished by ... losing contracts. The problem: Contracts are plentiful, and companies find it easy to replace the lost income. The profit motive works only to attract big companies to profit—not to ensure that they do the job correctly. We should ask ourselves about whether society benefits when the people carrying out the work of the taxpayers are more accountable to their shareholders.

Also disturbing, to me at least, is the way the story illustrates a bizarre disconnect. While workers are largely confined to their countries of origin—or face life-threatening detention—the companies that imprison them can span the globe. The Times: "G4S delivers cash to banks on most continents, runs airport security in 80 countries and has 1,500 employees in immigration enforcement in Britain, the Netherlands and the United States, where its services include escorting illegal border-crossers back to Mexico for the Department of Homeland Security." 

Not to sound all Marxist about it, but: There are no borders for Big Business. Only for people. That should trouble lovers of individual liberty—if not the corporate shills who masquerade as such.

Happiest in the dirt.

Taken at Fitler Square

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jonah Goldberg is certain about the death penalty

Jonah Goldberg doesn't think that the potential execution of innocent people is any reason to halt the death penalty, because, well, stuff happens:
If anything, I’m even more opposed to police accidentally shooting bystanders or shop clerks mistaken for robbers. Well we know that happens. And yet, I’m still in favor of cops carrying guns. I’m against — absolutely against — all sorts of accidental deaths that are the direct result of government messing something up. I’m against Air Traffic Controller errors that lead to deaths, but I’m still in favor of flying and air traffic controllers. It is a scandal, given how much we spend on the death penalty and all the endless appeals, for any mistake to go as far as it has. But why is it that the death penalty is the only government function that must be abolished after a single error?
The examples Goldberg cites are situations where split-second judgments are called for—and sometimes go awry. But the death penalty, of course, takes years and even decades to carry out. We've made a considered judgement to do it badly.

If you're poor and accused of capital murder, you're screwed. If you're black and accused of capital murder, you're screwed. If your lawyer falls asleep during the trial, you're screwed. And if evidence later emerges that you might well be innocent, well ... you may well be screwed.

This isn't a split-second judgment. This is a system riddled with structural problems guaranteed to produce unjust and unfair outcomes. It's a system that lawmakers have tried, over the years, to stack the deck in favor of those unjust and unfair outcomes.

Put it this way: If this was the EPA rulemaking process we were talking about here, Goldberg would be screaming bloody murder. Or, to borrow Goldberg's analogy: If police training seemed designed to produce the shootings of innocent bystanders on a regular basis, and if Congress had acted to make it easier to shoot innocent bystanders efficiently, we'd be alarmed. We'd be talking about changing that system, certainly.

It's not a single error that's the problem—though that error, if ever conclusively proven, will likely become a focal point of the death penalty debate. It's that the whole system is rickety. We shouldn't trust it with our lives.

Rod Dreher on American exceptionalism

Rod Dreher » Is Obama ashamed of America?: "American exceptionalism is so deep within our national psyche, and has been since the beginning, that it will never be eliminated. James Kurth was correct to say that the realist tradition in American foreign policy “is not only rarely in America, it is un-American.” (N.B., Kurth, a conservative, is by no means saying that’s a good thing; read his brilliant essay/speech on the role a secularized Protestantism has played in shaping American foreign policy.) If we believe that we, as Americans, have been especially blessed, and have a special responsibility among the nations to be a light, then I agree. But that too often expresses itself not as humility — as holding ourselves to a higher standard, and striving to live by it — but rather as arrogance: believing that we are a kind of chosen people, and that that status gives us the right and even the obligation to impose ourselves on the rest of the world, and to think of ourselves as doing them a favor.

'via Blog this'

Commentary's continuing lack of self-awareness

Max Boot hasn't done me the favor of sounding like Paul Krugman for a couple of days, but lucky for me his Commentary colleague Ted Bromund is stepping up to the plate:
The Economist reports two researchers from Columbia and Cornell have been studying the personalities of individuals who, in surveys, express a willingness to personally kill one human in the hope of saving more. Their conclusion is there is “a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas . . . and personalities that were psychopathic.” TheEconomist’s conclusion, in its usual slightly tongue-in-cheek style, is utilitarianism is a “plausible framework” for producing legislation, and the best legislators are therefore psychopathic misanthropes.
 This would seem to be an indictment of governance generally—there's always a weighing of costs and benefits in decision-making, or there should be—but for Bromund it's an indictment of progressive governance. He writes: "But the problem with applying utilitarianism to legislation ... is someone has to decide which ends serve the greater good, just as the Ivy League experiments require someone to decide who lives and who dies, and just as top-down legislation in the progressive tradition requires wisdom that no single person possesses."

But to me, this psychopathic framework reminds me strongly of the decision to start a pre-emptive war. Like, say, accusing a country of possessing weapons of mass destruction and then invading or bombing that country to prevent the—entirely hypothetical—use of those weapons. In that case, a country's leaders are willing to see hundreds or thousands of people die so that many more people might be spared a horrible death. At least, I think that's the logic.

Is that psychopathic? By the standards advanced here, I'd say it is. And yet Bromund's colleagues at Commentary can reliably be counted on to cheerlead any proposed U.S. military intervention, anywhere, for nearly any reason. Our debacle in Iraq has suggested that Bromund is correct: Our leaders aren't really wise enough to balance decisions of life and death very well. Yet his magazine would almost always give our government carte blanche to make those decisions in the military arena. EPA regulations are pretty small potatoes compared to that.

John Hinderaker: Democrats would like to commit genocide

John Hinderaker at Power Line: "How many Democrats are National Socialists at heart? Quite a few, I suspect, and every now and then the Democrats’ totalitarian urges break through to the surface. Thus, we have the Governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue, suggesting that we “ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years.” The press assures us that she was just kidding. I would modestly submit that suspending elections is not something an elected executive should kid about."

Sure. Because one Democratic governor said something unwise—granted—off-the-cuff, I think that merits painting the American left as a bunch of genocidal tyrants in waiting. We'll leave alone, for the moment, Hinderaker's revisionist take that Nazism was a left-wing phenomenon. (The brown shirts beating up Communists was apparently left-wing intramural sport. Right.) The truth is you can't summon up Nazism without summoning up 6 million slaughtered Jews. Ever. Hinderaker surely knows that. Which makes his casual Nazi analogy cynical and despicable. 

Before Solyndra before they were against it

Solyndra isn’t the best poster child for what’s wrong with President Obama - The Washington Post: "What McConnell neglected to mention is that Solyndra was cleared to participate in this loan-guarantee program by President George W. Bush’s administration. He also did not mention that the legislation creating the loan-guarantee program, approved by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2005, received yes votes from — wait for it — DeMint, Hatch and McConnell.

This doesn’t mean that Bush is to blame for Solyndra or that the Obama administration should be absolved. Obama, whose administration gave the company the loan guarantee, deserves the black eye that Republicans have given him over the half a billion dollars squandered on the company. But the Republican paternity of the program that birthed Solyndra suggests some skepticism is in order when many of those same Republicans use Solyndra as an example of all that is wrong with Obama’s governance."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vote Michael Untermeyer for Philadelphia City Council. Because otherwise, black dudes will try to have sex with white women.

I dunno. Is there another message I'm supposed to take from this?

 (Hat tip: Hickey)

The next big discrimination barrier to fall in the armed forces: Letting women fight

Under the law, American women are not allowed to serve in combat roles in the military. In practice, of course, wartime necessity has meant something different. Officially, though, the discrimination still exists—and with good reason, defenders say: Women tend to be smaller and weaker, and changing combat-ready standards to include them would diminish the readiness and roughness of our armed forces.

My response has always been: Don't change the physical standards. Just change the discrimination. And now I see that's what is happening in Australia:

In a landmark move for the Australian military, women will be allowed to risk their lives alongside male soldiers and serve on the frontline. In a move described as "a significant and major cultural change" the Australian army will remove all gender barriers over the next five years and women will be able to take up roles that previously were considered too dangerous.
Women who met the same stringent physical and psychological criteria required of men would be able to work in the most dangerous of roles after the Australian cabinet approved the measure, said the defence minister, Stephen Smith.
"This is simply about putting into the frontline those people who are best-placed to do the job, irrespective of your sex," he said. "In the future your role in the Defence Force will be determined on your ability, not on the basis of your sex," said Smith.
Conservatives have other objections, of course—the co-mingling of female and male soldiers, the ability of Americans to deal with seeing women soldiers come home in body bags. In truth we've been dealing with both situations for years. And yes, there have been some horrific bumps along the way. But there's no reason the country should deprive itself of the service of the people best prepared and most willing to serve it—no matter their gender.

Still glad that Arlene Ackerman is gone

Annette John-Hall in today's Inky suggests deposed school superintendent Arlene Ackerman was somehow redeemed by a new report that shows she was pressured—Philly-style!—into making a company favored by Sen. Dwight Evans the new charter operator of Martin Luther King Junior High here in Philadelphia.  Ackerman, it seems, was the victim of dirty dealings.

But Ackerman can be the victim in the MLK story and Philadelphia can be better off without her. The bill of particulars against Ackerman isn't limited to the MLK debacle. There's also....

• Getting caught by surprise by a $600 million budget deficit. 

• Her slowness in responding to attacks on Asian students at South High, waiting until the situation boiled over into a very public crisis.

• Her "buck doesn't stop with me" attitude in response to the crisis of violence in Philadelphia schools overall. 

Even the trend of higher district test scores—which began before she came to Philadelphia—looks to be tainted.

So. The head of Philadelphia schools couldn't manage the budget. She couldn't keep the schools safe. And there's real reason to believe that she wasn't improving the education in a district renowned for its awfulness. Plus, she and her PR team were brittle and defensive. It was time for her to go.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Max Boot still sounds like Paul Krugman

I noted recently that conservative hawk Max Boot was starting to sound like Paul Krugman. Today, he again makes the economic case for leaving the military budget untouched:
If the Pentagon is forced to slash a trillion dollars during the next decade—which would amount to an 18 percent reduction from the Obama budget projections released earlier this year—the Committee staff projects the total size of the Army and Marine Corps could fall from 771,400 personnel today to just 571,000, a 25 percent reduction that would make it impossible to respond to a range of different contingencies around the world. Some 200,000 soldiers and Marines who signed up to serve their country will be fired—and many of them will be hard put to find work at a time when the national unemployment rate is over 9 percent and the unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is believed to be over 20 percent. (For wounded veterans the rate is said to be over 40 percent.) We would not only be breaking faith with these heroes but also jeopardizing our security—and that of our allies—in the process.
Again, that's the Krugman argument against recession austerity—that reduced budgets kicks thousands and thousands of public employees off the payroll into an unwelcoming job market. Soldiers, sailors, and marines are to be exempt from this process because they provide us security. Police and firefighters, apparently, don't.

But wait. There's also our security. What valuable security interests do we have that require 771,400 soldiers and Marines that 571,000 won't? Boot doesn't answer that question—there's always danger out there, nebulous though it may be. Instead, he relies ever-more-heavily on the economics argument, even noting that cutting a number of weapons programs will result in private-sector layoffs:
Cutting all these programs will result in even more job losses—the report projects at least 25 percent of the civilian defense workforce will have to be furloughed, resulting in the elimination of 200,000 jobs.
Again: The argument applies just as well to non-defense sectors of government spending.

Do we owe our veterans something more than unfettered capitalism? Maybe. Do we need to have a rough-and-ready defense force ready to protect our country? Sure. But the government is tightening its belt. We have to live within our means—and maybe that means giving up the ability to invade countries on the other side of the planet.  But if the primary argument against defense cuts is that it will harm the economy, and the unemployment rate, then that argument applies to the rest of government as well. Our military is special—but it's not that special.

Ben Shapiro, Hollywood elitism, and America's love of dick jokes

Hey! Look! Ben Shapiro is griping again about how Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream American values, with shows that make light of sex and use the word "vagina." Truth be told, I don't have much use for the new fall season shows he criticizes at National Review, but then he reaches this astounding conclusion.
Some of these shows may be good. Who knows?
I enjoy how the quality of shows is irrelevant to his critique of them. I enjoy how he implicitly admits that he hasn't seen the shows he's criticizing.  But that's not the juicy part.
 Maybe Hollywood will stumble onto something. But note a pattern: the network that continues to appeal to most Americans — and the network that doesn’t appear on this list — remains CBS. That’s because they aim at older audiences, and so have less need to be “edgy.” It’s also why you won’t see them winning too many Emmys in the near future.
Well sure. CBS is the most-popular network—and its most popular sitcom, Two and a Half Men, has more dick jokes per minute than a Milton Berle roast. (Note: I am not 70 years old.) Same for its other hit, The Big Bang Theory.

Now: I suspect that dick jokes actually do reflect mainstream American values—which, as Shapiro notes, is why CBS is so popular. But it really doesn't offer much support for his analysis that real Americans want some good old-fashioned family values served up during primetime. It's almost as though Shapiro's got a theme he intends to keep hammering, no matter what the evidence actually shows.

Conservatives? Want tougher enforcement of immigration laws? You're going to have to grow the federal bureaucracy

To listen to Republicans in the presidential primary debates, you'd think Barack Obama had thrown open the borders to the United States to every Tom, Dick, and Juan who wants to stream over the southern border. That's not true, of course: Obama's deported nearly as many illegal immigrants in less than three years than George W. Bush did in eight. 

But there are still illegal immigrants in the United States, so clearly he's doing something wrong. Right?

Maybe you can ship all 11 million illegal immigrants out of the country. But here's the thing, conservatives: You're going to need a much bigger federal bureaucracy to get the job done. According to a Washington Post profile this morning, the U.S. only has the budget to deport 400,000 illegal immigrants a year.  At that rate, it'll only take 27.5 years to ship everybody else—assuming, of course, you can keep everybody else out.

If you want tougher enforcement that includes deportation of any immigrant found to be here illegally, you're going to have to raise the budget for border enforcement considerably. You're going to have to hire a lot of new immigration agents. That's going to expand the federal workforce—something conservatives seem to hate—and spend a lot of money, something conservatives undoubtedly hate. If bigger government is an evil in its own right, then the only solution here is more evil.

Or we could reform our system to offer more guest-worker visas and generally allow more legal immigration. But that would make too much sense.

Millionaires can afford a tax hike: Some correspondence

Nothing makes middle-class conservatives angrier than suggesting millionaires should be paying more in taxes. One admires such folks for sticking so rigorously to a principle that won't benefit them in the least, but still one wonders—why?

Anyway, I've heard from you in blog comments and at Facebook. I also received a couple of letters on the topic overnight. The first, from John Senuta in Wickliffe, Ohio:
Hey Joel here is another way to look at it .The poor that don't want to
work and live off you they look at you as RICH and they want alot more of your
money to spend.They want your TAX rate to go to 75% so they could live
better,you can afford it RIGHT???? 
And by the way a portion of your phone bill pays for a cell phone for them
to use FREE.Do you have a cell phone????How much are yoiu paying???Let dig a
little deeper into your pocket and help them out....
There's a presumption here that "the poor" are a bunch of lazy panhandlers trying to get their hands into your pocket. But of course, there are four job-seekers for every job opening in America today. And the money raised from a millionaire's tax, in this case, would go towards programs like tax breaks for businesses to hire employees.  So that people can work private-sector jobs. It's shifting the tax burden ... to people who can afford it.

H Kennedy, meanwhile, tells me that my thinking is "narrow and faulty based on a short coming socialist point of view." An excerpt:
Of course, you give no thought to the fact within our present tax structure the top 1% of wage earners already pay 39% of taxes collected. And, I might add, the top 50% of earners pay 97% of the taxes. 97%, that means the entire remaining 50% pay only 3% of all taxes. Yet, avail themselves of all the benefits provided by the greater taxes collected from the others. Perhaps it is your concept is those top 50% should pay 100%. That way all the others shouldn't pay anything. 
As well, many of those 3% not paying any revenue into the system will get 'refunds' under the Earned Income Tax Credit' or Child care Credits. Refunds, I might add, from the taxes paid by those evil rich. 
Additionally, have you given no thought that the 'millionaires' are already paying more taxes? They are paying more in their communities in Real Estate Taxes due to the more and expensive 'upper class' homes. Also, more taxes in licensing fees, sales taxes, and personal property taxes for the cars, boats, etc. they own. So, these greater tax payments support the local fire, police, schools, and support services. And too, pay more to keep the streets, bridges, sidewalks, infrastructure, etc. in their towns and cities.

So, Pay More???? 47% of the population isn't paying anything. Yet, they use those fire, police, EMT, personal. They travel those street, roads and bridges. Those "not so fortunate" share in all these with any cost sharing all due to the payment of the 'evil rich'.
Some mistakes that Kennedy makes:

• I don't think I've said the rich are evil.

• It's incorrect that 47 percent of the population "isn't paying anything." Now: A good portion of the population doesn't pay income taxes, it's true. But they do pay other taxes—FICA, for example, to the feds, plus all manner of local sales taxes and other fees—that go to support the very services Kennedy says only the rich are paying to support.

• As Ezra Klein notes in the link on the previous bullet point, Citizens for Tax Justice (PDF) has added up all the federal and state and local taxes paid by each income group. And this is what they've found:

The Top 1 percent earns 22.2 percent of all income in the United States—and pays 23 percent of all taxes: federal, state, and local combined. Despite what Kennedy says, the rich are not unduly burdened.

And it suggests we can do what I've been saying all week: Raise taxes on the millionaires. They can afford it.

Let's get rid of our government, start over with a parliament: Revisited

A few months ago in the Scripps Howard column I made the 300-word case that America's Constitutional system is broken, and should be replaced by the parliamentary system in place in nearly all other advanced democracies. In The American Prospect today, Harold Meyerson makes the case at more length,   but offers more modest proposals instead:
The two reforms with the most support—ending the filibuster and abolishing the Electoral College—would do nothing to curtail the fragmentation of power within the federal government, but both would limit minorities’ ability to reduce the sway of majorities. Another reform that would create a more representative government would be to change the timing of elections and the terms of congressional office. Presidential contests draw far more votes than midterm congressional ones: From 1984 through 2008, turnout in presidential elections has ranged from 53 percent of eligible adults to 62 percent, while turnout in midterm elections from 1986 through 2010 has ranged from 39 percent to 42 percent. If House members were given four-year terms coterminous with the president’s, they would be answerable to the same larger electorate. This, of course, would also be true of senators. These wouldn’t be parliamentary elections—the candidates for president, senator, and representative would still be elected separately—but at least our elected officials would all derive their power from the identical and most broadly representative electorate. 
Although the federal government can’t go parliamentary, why can’t the states? Maintaining two legislative bodies at the state level has been pointless for the past 50 years, ever since the Supreme Court’s one-person, one-vote decisions; those rulings required state Senate districts, once apportioned by geographical unit (such as counties), to be apportioned by population, just as lower-house districts are. Talk about duplication and waste in government! Nebraska has long had a unicameral legislature. There’s no good reason why 49 other states shouldn’t follow suit. Nor is there a reason why at least a few more compact and homogenous states—Vermont? Oregon? Utah?—can’t go one step further to a parliamentary system. Two and a quarter centuries after the Philadelphia convention, America should be ready for some small-scale experiments in majority rule.
It's worth noting that the Constitution came together because the national government under the Articles of Confederation was so gridlocked that it couldn't pay the bills—America's Revolutionary War debts weren't being paid, with the result that the United States was seen as weak and feckless. Based on the Founders' own precedent, we're once again at a point in history (for the third time this year!) where it's time to consider altering our political system so that it can perform basic duties in a fashion accountable to the electorate. We're not going to adopt a parliamentary system anytime soon, but maybe we should.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ross Douthat's confounding argument against banning the death penalty

Ross Douthat's column in today's New York Times—when did he get moved to Sundays?—attempts, I think, a form of moral sophistication but instead falls prey to silliness. His argument (I think) is that banning the death penalty would be really bad—because life in prison is really bad, maybe even worse than being executed, and in any case might cause prison reformers to take their eye off the ball.

But there’s a danger here for advocates of criminal justice reform. After all, in a world without the death penalty, Davis probably wouldn’t have been retried or exonerated. His appeals would still have been denied, he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, and far fewer people would have known or cared about his fate.
Well, maybe. But ... he'd still be alive.

Ah, Ross argues, but life in prison would be a fate worse than death.
This point was made well last week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing for The American Scene. In any penal system, he pointed out, but especially in our own — which can be brutal, overcrowded, rife with rape and other forms of violence — a lifelong prison sentence can prove more cruel and unusual than a speedy execution. And a society that supposedly values liberty as much or more than life itself hasn’t necessarily become more civilized if it preserves its convicts’ lives while consistently violating their rights and dignity. It’s just become better at self-deception about what’s really going on.
We can't ask Troy Davis if he'd rather be dead or alive and in prison, but I suspect he'd prefer the former. I imagine his family would prefer him living, as well. And we wouldn't be wondering right now if the State of Georgia and the Supreme Court of the United States were essentially indifferent to questions of innocence when it comes to the rights of death row prisoners.

But Ross is correct, from what I can tell: Prison is hell. Is it worse than death? At the risk of being glib, an awful lot of prisoners aren't committing suicide, so I'll presume that the vast majority of them think that living is preferable.

Let's put aside Ross's obtuseness regarding the execution of potentially innocent life—I don't think he brooks many excuses when it comes to abortion—the real fundamental problem here is his assumption that we can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Hey: We can work to ban the death penalty because it's an unreliable yet irrevocable form of justice and work to reform prisons and our sentencing culture at the same time. There's no reason we can't do both! And indeed, justice may demand that we do so. Ross Douthat's position is that we have to choose which injustice to correct. We should try to have it all.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Christina Ricci misses the overt misogyny of the 1960s

Pardon me for scoffing as Christina Ricci promotes her new show, "Pan Am":
It’s interesting. We’re portraying women who are navigating a blatantly misogynistic world, time, and society. And we live in a society that is a thinly veiled misogynistic society. And we are women trying to navigate that. It’s interesting, because in some ways, while it’s nice that everyone pretends the world today is not misogynistic, in other ways, at least before, when it was blatantly misogynistic, it was a little bit more honest. Things were called what they were called, and the rules were set, and people knew what things they had to meet, and what things they had to check off the checklist. And once they abided by certain things, they could then kind of go and run free and avoid things that needed to be avoided. It was, in some ways, less confusing, and in some ways, less dangerous. I struggle with which is better.
I know which is better. Now is better.

Ricci is correct, perhaps, that the old ways were "more honest." But hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue—and in the 21st century, misogyny and sexism are looked down upon. Even officially sanctioned, in some settings. That's progress, even if it's not as much as we'd like to see.

Beyond that: the rules, expectations, and checklists that women were expected—and, frankly, allowed—to fulfill during the 1960s setting of Ricci's new show were much more limited. Being a stewardess (or a teacher, or a homemaker) was about as far as most women could hope their talents to take them. Being an executive at a company? Election to congress or the Senate? Serving in a president's cabinet? It was unthinkable.

It's true that women oftentimes face obstacles in those heady settings that men simply don't. (Remember all the hubub about Hillary Clinton getting choked up during the New Hampshire primary in 2008?) But during the era Ricci pines for—and never experienced—women didn't even have the opportunities to rise that far.

There's still work to be done. I won't deny that. But Ricci expresses a kind of ignorance when she acts like the 21st century is no better than the 1960s. It really, really is.

Rich Lowry's piffle about Elizabeth Warren

At NRO, Rich Lowry hints that Elizabeth Warren—she of the "factory owner" quote that's gone viral among my liberal friends—is a bit of a socialist.
Her remarks and the celebration of them capture the Left’s romance with collective action over individual initiative. Most people don’t look at a successful manufacturer and say, “Yeah, but he’d be nothing without a surface-transportation network.” Although all of us (not just the rich) travel roads and bridges, few of us open factories.
 Lowry's wrong. Warren's remarks celebrate collective action and individual initiative working hand-in-hand. (And it's a necessary counterpoint to the ascendant Ayn Randian ideology that celebrates the individual without acknowledgement of the collective action that made it possible for the individual to succeed—indeed, disdains that collective completely.) Here's part of what Warren said:
“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
Lowry scoffs:
Focusing on infrastructure as the crucial support of entrepreneurial activity is like crediting the guy who built young Bill Gates’s garage with the start of Microsoft. Yes, Gates needed a roof over his head, and garages are useful. But it was Gates who had the ambition to do more in his garage than store his car and lawn-care products. Incalculably more important than his physical surroundings were his imagination and business sense. 
Could Gates have done it in Mogadishu or Peshawar? Certainly not. But the goods cited by Warren as the foundation of a workable business environment are extremely minimal.
I guess I don't get this. Lowry has to admit that the infrastructure and public safety made possible by government are essential to entrepreneurial activity—thus the Mogadishu comparison—but at the same time he dismisses it as "minimal."

I think that's extremely easy to say if you're not in Mogadishu. Gates can't get his work done without that garage, but it doesn't matter? Very weird. I assume Rich Lowry likes to build houses without foundations.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Millionaires can afford a tax increase

Ben and I talk a little bit about the "Buffett Rule" in this week's Scripps Howard column. I got my populist on:
Should the federal government raise taxes on millionaires? Why not? They're millionaires! They can afford it! Don't let all the crocodile tears over "class warfare" persuade you otherwise. 
It's time, in fact, for millionaires to start giving back to their country. While Americans in all income categories saw their tax rates slide slightly from 1979-2007, the top 1 percent of households saw a big drop: From 37 percent to 29.5 percent. The richest 400 households in America got an even better deal, says the Economic Policy Institute: Their average tax rate dropped from 26.4 percent to 16.6 percent -- a tax rate nearly 4 percent lower than the average American's. 
The millionaires can afford it. 
And the rich are getting richer. EPI also notes that from 1983-2009, the top 5 percent of households accumulated 82 percent of the nation's wealth gains -- half of that went to the top 1 percent -- while the bottom 60 percent lost ground during that time. In fact, the Census Bureau reported last week that the poverty rate is the highest measured in 52 years; the median household income declined in 2010 by 2.3 percent from the previous year. 
The millionaires can afford it. 
Republicans protest that levying such taxes will penalize "job creators" and discourage them from doing the hard work of capitalism. 
But take a look at the high, sustained unemployment rate. Right now there are four job seekers for every job opening in America. The rich aren't actually creating jobs right now; they're sitting on their money. Put that money into President Obama's jobs program! 
America's wealthy are getting wealthier. The rest of us are not. It's not "penalizing success" to ask millionaires to pay just a little more. But those higher taxes might give many Americans a shot to survive. 
The millionaires can afford it.
In fairness, I'm not certain Obama's jobs program will deliver the kind of employment jump-start we need. But at least it's something.

Mark Krikorian: Governments were made for executions

In the wake of the Troy Davis execution, NRO's Mark Krikorian argues that we wouldn't even have government if citizens didn't want murderers killed. (He doesn't name Davis, weirdly.) It's an odd argument.
If the state refuses, as a matter of policy, to execute murderers under any circumstances, it rejects the reason people submitted to government in the first place and underlines its own legitimacy. And this isn’t just theoretical bloviation — people sense it in their hearts, even if they don’t think about it in those terms. That was the appeal of Chuck Bronson’s Death Wish movies — when the state fails to carry out its most elementary duty, people will resort to vigilantism, i.e., they seek justice in the only way available to our ancestors in pre-political times.
It's true that one of the things that makes a government a government is that it largely has a monopoly on force. But I guess I'm hugely dubious about the idea that governments are made for the express purpose of executing people. And Krikorian's Charles Bronson example is illustrative of that. "Death Wish" came out in 1974—two years after the Supreme Court (temporarily, it turned out) ended the death penalty in the United States. But the crime wave of the 1960s and 1970s had started several years before that.  People were already fed up.

I don't think people don't find their government illegitimate when it doesn't execute murderers. But they do find government illegitimate when it can't generally keep a lid on the number of murders, and generally bring murderers to justice. Pile that on top of a whole range of other, mostly lesser crimes, and people don't feel secure in their communities. New York hasn't executed anybody since 1963; the city faced questions of governability during the crime wave—along with a financial crisis—but was reborn in the 1990s thanks to a combination of demographics and policing that had nothing whatsover to do with the death penalty. New York became safer, so people became more confident in the city as a place to work, play, live, and pay taxes.

That's where a government gets its legitimacy: Protecting and serving its citizens. Killing a few of those citizens doesn't necessarily get the job done, especially—as in the case of Troy Davis—when there are real questions of innocence. The State of Georgia in particular, and death penalty jurisprudence in general, face more doubts about their legitimacy today than they did yesterday. It's not because they refused to execute a man.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The United States and the Economic Freedom of the World

The latest Economic Freedom index report is out, and the clear talking point is that the United States dropped four spots in the rankings. What that talking point omits is that the United States is still ranked No. 10 out of 141 nations. In other words: Our economy is still incredibly free, despite the socialist designs of President Barack Obama.

Still, even if one believes the United States is trending in the wrong direction, it's interesting to contemplate the nations ahead of us on the chart. Hong Kong comes in at No. 1; Singapore comes in at No. 2. These are not nations (ahem) noted for their political and civil liberties; the former is under the control of the People's Republic of China, while the latter is, well, Singapore. Tea Partiers have spent the last couple of years suggesting that economic liberty—freedom from regulations and burdensome taxes—are, perhaps, the foundational part of personal liberty. But the Economic Freedom Index suggests the two are easily separated.

Two other countries ahead of the United States on the list: The UK and Canada. These, of course, are the tyrannic socialist hellholes we were warned against becoming if the United States adopted a healthcare system anywhere close to ones run by those countries. Apparently they're also good places to do business.

I'm trying not to be snarky, and failing. The point is that much of the political rhetoric we've heard the last two years has suggested the United States is sliding into an anti-freedom morass of taxes, regulations, and central planning. Relative to the rest of the world, however, we're extraordinarily free—both economically, and with regards to our political and civil liberties. It's good to be vigilant in defense of freedom, but a little perspective helps.

John McNesby is right about something

I mostly reference John McNesby when the FOP president is defending abuses or criminal activity by Philadelphia cops, so I should mention that I think he's right to file a grievance against City Hall for the "deplorable" facilities that many officers are working in:
Fleas are far from the only issue within the facilities, McNesby said. Cells in the 15th District station, at Harbison Avenue and Levick Street, have been closed since July because of a bedbug infestation, he said. That station and those in other districts often flood and leak when it rains, he added, and some are riddled with asbestos, lack sufficient plumbing and have heating and cooling systems that don't work.
 The city's obviously had its share of budget problems in recent years, but the kinds of problems described here don't happen overnight: They're the result of years and years of deferred maintenance and upgrades. Never a good idea, but all-too-typical of short-sighted municipal budgeting.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Max Boot cries wolf, Taiwan edition

Max Boot:

The Osama bin Laden raid notwithstanding, the Obama administration continues to project an air of weakness and irresolution on national security that will come back to haunt us. The latest example is its refusal to sell F-16s to our democratic ally Taiwan.

Taiwan is facing a growing imbalance of cross-Straits power as China continues to increase its defense budget by double-digit figures every year. This buildup is tilting the odds against the U.S. Navy in the western Pacific and making it increasingly likely Taiwan would be on its own in any crisis. That makes it all the more imperative Taiwan have the ability to defend itself.

Say, here is the challenge the U.S. Navy faces:

The Chinese navy's first aircraft carrier has begun its sea trials, the state-run Xinhua news agency has said.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says China is years away from being able to deploy this carrier as a potent military tool. Even so, the country's neighbours will be worried.

I'd say the United States Navy is still in good shape. Despite the fact that we spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined, Max Boot would have you believe were always on the verge of losing our ability to dominate ... other continents that aren't our own.

As far as the F-16s go, NYT points out that the Bush Administration wouldn't sell them either:

“The notion that is being bandied about that this a capitulation to China, given the unprecedented magnitude of sales in the first two and a half years of the administration, and that F-16’s were never authorized by the Bush administration, suggests that these attacks are partisan rather than security-based,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Andrew Breitbart fantasizes about killing liberals. He is not kidding.

Ever since the Giffords shooting, my conservative friends have been quick to hop on every violent metaphor that comes from the mouth or pen of any reasonably liberal person in America. "So much for the new tone," they harp, because—hey, everybody does it. Right?

 My problem was never with violent metaphors, so much, though I'm not such a fan. My problem was the ideology that suggested that armed rebellion was an appropriate response to tyranny—and a clear consistent message that the Obama Presidency was a tyranny which, perhaps, merited that response. It wasn't the metaphors that bothered me; it was the underlying—though likely idle—threat of actual violence. In this, large swaths of the conservative movement can sometimes be that guy at the end of the bar who threatens to kick your ass and never does. You don't expect trouble, but it wouldn't really surprise you if trouble happened, either.

 All this is prelude to Andrew Breitbart's latest fantasy:
Ranting Weiner fetishist and far-right blog mogul Andrew Breitbart is so tired of "vicious" Twitter leftists and liberals calling him gay—which they do for no reason—that sometimes, during "unclear moments" of addled thinking and high emotions, he thinks about how cool it would be if America had another civil war. Then he might finallyfulfill his promise of taking down America's Left, and also end his own victimization. "Major-named" people in the military has his back on this! 
Breitbart's war fantasy pits Janeane Garofalo, SEIU, and "public sector union thugs" vs. him and America's gun-owning anti-liberals. "They can only win a rhetorical or propaganda war," he told a gathering of Tea Partiers in Boston. "We outnumber them and we have the guns." When the gatherers laugh, he reiterates: "I'm not kidding."
"I'm not kidding."

"I'm not kidding."

"I'm not kidding."

I'd like to think that Breitbart is, you know, actually kidding. But Breitbart isn't nobody in the conservative movement; he's not a fringe figure. And I'm pretty sure my conservative friends aren't going to tut-tut knowingly about the "new tone" this time. They'll keep silent, or offer up a feeble excuse, then jump on the next words said by a union leader. Whatever.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

About the 'soft socialism' of Big Defense Spending

Some of my conservative friends have taken issue with my use of the term "soft socialism" to describe how defense spending is used not just for defense purposes, but to prop up the economy and provide jobs. Defense, they point out, is an enumerated power of the government under the Constitution. And so it is! But so is the establishment of post offices. And I doubt very much that my conservative friends would describe that as a capitalist enterprise: Just because the Founders thought of something doesn't mean it was market-oriented. In any case, defense is an enumerated power—but the military we have today, with bases and ships around the world, is also light years away from what the Founders conceived. That never comes up.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Max Boot sounds just like Paul Krugman

Conservative military analyst Max Boot has never met a defense spending cut he likes, but his latest argument against cuts is ... interesting:

The defense secretary estimates trimming $1 trillion from the defense budget during the next decade–as could occur this fall–would add one percent to the unemployment rate. Given that unemployment is now at 9.1 percent, that’s a further hit that our economy simply can’t afford.

Now, Boot doesn't really write or advocate on economics. But it's interesting that his argument here very like Paul Krugman: We shouldn't be cutting big chunks from government right now because that austerity withdraws money from the economy and thus deepens the Great Recession.

But of course, mainstream conservative Republicans—whatever their fiscal rhetoric—have long favored the soft socialism of big defense spending. It's masked because the money goes to private defense contractors, so the guy in Wichita who makes a widget that goes on a helicopter doesn't really see himself as being on the government dole. The idea of using the government to prop up economic demand works when it comes to the defense sector, apparently, but for everybody else it's free markets, Ayn Rand, and gruel.

Muncie, Indiana speaks: Joel Mathis is hardheaded and ignorant!

Muncie's Aldon Veach has written a letter to the editor, objecting to my tone in last week's Scripps Howard column. Veach writes:
I often read the RedBlueAmerica columnists. I don't always disagree with all Joel Mathis writes, but the Sept. 6 article showed his hardheadedness as well as his ignorance. His nasty remarks about the Iowa poll voters was not necessary. The 65 percent who do not believe in evolution are smart enough to know it is not a proven science, but rather a myth that should not be taught in our schools without creationism being taught. The 79 percent he claims don't believe in climate change just don't agree with the theory of Al Gore and the far left that want to cost us taxpayers. The 68 percent who question Obama's birth place are probably right too, if we could get the truth. How unkind of Mathis to call these folks "Know Nothing" voters. We conservatives are not anti-science just because we believe in God, the Father, Jesus Christ, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We want our nation to survive and go back to the basics. It is the liberals, including our liberal president, who are destroying our blessed country.
Since Veach apparently embraces "birtherism," I'm going to go ahead and stick to my guns on the Republican repudiation of truth and empirical knowledge.

Ford didn't take auto bailout money. But Ford supported the car industry bailout.

Ford's new advertising campaign mocks the car-industry bailout:

What the ad conveniently omits is that Ford supported the bailout for its competitors, and sought access to a multibillion-dollar line of credit guaranteed by the government ... you know, just in case. Here are some excerpts from a "Ford Motor Company Business Plan" (PDF) submitted to the Senate Banking Committee in December 2008.

We are acutely aware that our domestic competitors are, by their own reporting, at risk of running out of cash in a matter of weeks or months. Our industry is an interdependent one. We have 80 percent overlap in supplier networks. Nearly 25 percent of Ford’s top dealers also own GM and Chrysler franchises. That is why the collapse of one or both of our domestic competitors would also threaten Ford.

For Ford, the availability of a government line of credit would serve as a critical backstop or safeguard against these conditions as we drive transformational change in our Company. Accordingly, given the significant economic and market risks that exist, Ford respectfully requests that government funding be made available to us, in the form of a “stand-by” line of credit, in the amount of up to $9 billion. This line of credit would be a back-stop to be used only if conditions worsen further and only to the extent needed.

It is in the face of the deepening economic and credit crisis that Ford is asking the Government to make assistance available to the domestic automotive industry even though we have a Plan for our future which, with exception to Department of Energy funding under Section 136, does not assume government assistance. We do so for at least four reasons.

First, we are acutely aware that our supply base, our labor structure, and our dealer network, among other factors, are sized for an industry and a market share that the domestic companies can no longer support. The current crisis has generated considerable debate about the perceived need to restructure our industry in the national interest. As the nation’s oldest automotive company, Ford Motor Company is a vital participant in that debate.

Second, we are aware that our domestic competitors are, by their own reporting, at risk of running out of cash in a matter of weeks or months. Because our industry is an interdependent one, with broad overlap in supplier and dealer networks, the collapse of one or both of our domestic competitors would threaten Ford as well. It is in our own self-interest, as well as the nation’s, to seek support for the industry at a time of great peril to this important manufacturing sector of our economy.

So Ford supported the bailout. It lobbied Congress for the bailout. Why? Because Ford Motor Company wouldn't have survived if the government didn't bail out its competitors!

Now the company is strutting its stuff like it alone embraces free market values—but that's a stance that depends on people forgetting what really happened, and why. And by its own estimate, Ford might not even be around to strut its stuff if the government hadn't intervened. Advertising isn't ever really about the truth, I understand, but this is particularly hypocritical. With this ad, Ford takes advantage of the bailout, twice.