Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Here's an idea: Pass a constitutional amendment that says the power to regulate abortion lies with the states. Congress may regulate things like transporting a minor across state lines to get an abortion, but intrastate activity would be controlled by the - wait for it - the states. Such an amendment would have a chance at passing (albeit a small chance), whereas a national abortion ban will not get ratified by 37 states and two thirds of both houses of congress in the foreseeable future. It wouldn't everywhere stop the evil barbarism, but the votes to do that just aren't there.

And while we're at it, let's add to the amendment that gay marriages, civil unions, sodomy laws, and the like are also the purview of the states, along with a clarification (perhaps I should write exception) that the Full Faith and Credit clause does not require states to recognize any and all marriages from other states.

Wait a minute - we already did this over 200 years ago (excepting the Full Faith and Credit clause stuff). It's called the tenth amendment. However, our supreme court, through misinterpreting the fourteenth amendment at best and pulling penumbras out of thin air at worst, has nationalized abortion and sodomy laws. I fear it is only a matter of time before the opinion of five justices become national policy on gay marriage. The tenth amendment is dead (save a few good decisions by the Renhquist court on limiting Congress's interstate commerce purview to something closer to, you know, actual interstate commerce). It's as though we've been reduced to passing another copy of the tenth amendment suffixed with "We really mean it this time."

Monday, November 24, 2003

David Bernstein aptly summarizes how I feel about the national Republican party.
"Compassionate conservatism" seems to have turned out to be a replay of the Nixon strategy of buying off every conceivable interest group that is capable of being bought off by a Republican administration, while using social issues and conservative rhetoric to appease the Republican masses. Nixon, at least, had the excuse of governing in an era when liberalism was at its apex, and with the constraints imposed by the other two branches of government, dominated by liberal Democrats. What is George Bush's excuse? And as for Senate and House Republicans, they are living proof of the need for term limits.
There's only one major political party with whom I'm more displeased.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I'd like to say a bit about tariffs, quotas, embargoes, and other international trade restrictions. As a free-trader I generally oppose them, but there are certain circumstances in which they are good for free trade. An extreme example would be embargoing a repressive country so as to starve it until it collapses and a free market emerges. Unfortunately such has never happened because the whole world never has agreed to an embargo and the emergence of free market isn't easy (see Russia).

A more common example is happening right now. Europe is threatening retaliatory tariffs against us because of Bush sold out his conservative supporters (who are overwhelmingly free traders these days) by imposing steel tariffs which he think will help him with the protectionist vote in 2004. Are the Europeans further hurting free trade by threatening to retaliate? Will they hurt free trade if we call their bluff and they follow through? No and no. If the Europeans keep a credible deterrent, in the long run the US will have more free trade (at least with Europe) than if the Europeans decide to just lie down and take it. In the short run it would be in Europe's economic interest not to respond, as restricting trade hurts all parties, but in the long run it will be better for Europe to keep a deterrent.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

It happens every time. The House pulls right. Then Senate pulls left. Bush signs no matter what. This time it's Medicare. If the AARP is for it then it's a safe bet that I'm against it. It's clear Bush either is afraid of a fight or doesn't care about the issue. (After all, he promised some form of government prescription drugs coverage for old folks back in 2000.) What about the House? Aren't there enough conservatives there to say no? The most charitable explanation I can give is that Republicans legislators in general, knowing that health-care is a winning issue for Democrats, want to neutralize it as an issue. Of course in so doing they neutralize another reason for conservatives to vote for them.
Donald Sensing has written a great essay on something that's bothered me for a quite a while. I believe I should be compassionate and I base this belief on Christ's compassion for me. See Matthew 18:21-35. Should I therefore vote for my government to be compassionate? Read the essay.
Claudia Rosett contrasts present-day Iraq with present-day Vietnam. I have long considered our betrayal of the South Vietnamese in 1975 to be one of the most dishonorable acts in the history of our foreign policy, right up there with our betrayal of the Shia Iraqi rebels of 1991.
Woe to the free market. I believe the Democrat nominee will be either Dean or Gephardt. Dean has called for "re-regulation." Also, we all know of Bush's protectionism and that Gephardt is even more protectionist. Dean is also protectionist, of course. Now Bush is certainly the least bad option of the three and I expect Bush will be re-elected, but this is small consolation when considering that if anyone of these guys is elected he will almost certainly manage to provoke a trade war. The worse tendencies of a President Dean or Gephardt regarding domestic economic policy might be counteracted by a Republican congress, but protectionism has bipartisan appeal. Economic libertarians should vote for Lieberman. (However, I'd argue that foreign policy is more important in this election, ergo Bush.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

My opinion of the legal merits of Massachusetts Supreme court decision has definitely gone down. My problems with the decision are the same as they were in yesterday's post: ignoring original intent in legal interpretation. The difference from yesterday is that I've realized how egregious this particular legal misinterpretation is. Four of seven judges have put themselves above the law in an incredibly arrogant manner. Just look at what they wrote.
We construe civil marriage to mean the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.
So that's how it's done. Well, I'm going to construe pork as the flesh of a mammal. Now isn't beef mammalian flesh too? Only a bigoted restaurateur would serve pork but not beef. You say pork has meant something else for centuries? You must be one of the unenlightened who just can't keep up with our evolving food standards. Like our living constitution, they are dynamic, always adapting to the views of currently living judges.

Do you think I'm being too harsh? Just look at how the decision justifies its reconstruing of marriage. They use "evolving constitutional standards" to overturn centuries-old standards they dislike:
Canada, like the United States, adopted the common law of England that civil marriage is "the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others." Id. at, quoting Hyde v. Hyde, [1861-1873] All E.R. 175 (1866). In holding that the limitation of civil marriage to opposite- sex couples violated the Charter, the Court of Appeal refined the common-law meaning of marriage. We concur with this remedy, which is entirely consonant with established principles of jurisprudence empowering a court to refine a common-law principle in light of evolving constitutional standards. See Powers v. Wilkinson, 399 Mass. 650, 661-662 (1987) (reforming the common-law rule of construction of "issue"); Lewis v. Lewis, 370 Mass. 619, 629 (1976) (abolishing common-law rule of certain interspousal immunity).
This situation is intolerable. Supreme courts at the state and federal level are doubling as upper legislative chambers. These legislator-judges are in many cases appointed for life, though they are elected in some states. Often the only way to veto a law they enact is through constitutional amendment. Massachusetts now needs a constitutional amendment. The nation doesn't . . . yet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

As is the case with most big court cases Eugene Volokh has some insightful posts on the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision here and here. Both of these posts are about slippery slopes. The first notes that as predicted by some conservatives at the time the ERA leads to gay marriage: Massachusetts passed an ERA for its constitution in 1976 and today's decision used that amendment as justification. The second post takes this idea to the next level: how today's decision could become a precedent for allowing polygamous and incestuous marriage.

As for my own take on the Massachusetts decision, I think it's profane policy-wise and I'm unsure about its legal merits. The profanity of course comes from its legitimation of a horrible perversion of God's gift of sexuality. I could write a lot about this, but I doubt it would change anybody's mind, so I'll move on to my legal critique. On the one hand, the Mass. constitution does outlaw discrimination based on sex and I generally support interpreting laws based on their plain meaning. On the other hand I also generally support interpreting laws according to the original intent of the people who passed them. The Massachusetts Equal Rights Amendment of 1976 was certainly not intended to legalize gay marriage, and in that sense the Mass. supreme has assumed a legislative (as opposed to judicial) role by changing the law.

Weighing plain meaning against original intent, in this instance I tentatively come down in favor of original intent. The plain meaning at the time of the passage of the Massachusetts ERA in 1976 was that exclusively heterosexual marriage was not unconstitutional sex discrimination, otherwise it would not have passed. The idea that voters might have to pass a constitutional amendment clarifying what they originally meant in order to fix a court's misinterpretation bothers me. Effectively a state constitution has gotten a very controversial amendment without any legislative vote or plebiscite.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Saturday, November 15, 2003

"The U.S. government's secret memo detailing cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden," leaked to the Weekly Standard. Do read. Oh how I heard again and again that Sunni Islamist Al Qaeda would never cooperate with secular Saddam (or with Shia Iran for that matter). Every time intelligence suggesting exactly such cooperation pops up in the news I hear immediate dismissals, as though it were so much heresy. But the intelligence didn't go away. It was put together and plenty of it was corroborated, as you can read in the above link.

Unfortunately I doubt the dismissals will stop. The credibility of our intelligence agencies has been tarnished by the missing Iraqi WMDs. The article I linked to will be all to easily dismissed by some as a leak by a partisan hack to a partisan magazine and the memo dismissed as hawks within the bureaucracy twisting the data to fit desired conclusions. To this I respond that 1) American intelligence was not alone in its beliefs about Iraqi WMDs and that we should not presume all subsequent intelligence assessments to be suspect and that 2) if the data is being twisted then surely an even more credible counterleak is soon coming, no?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Leaked to the NYT:
But the essence of the Central Intelligence Agency report about North Korea is that that country is speeding up its weapons production. And Iran's decision to allow the international agency into facilities that were previously closed to inspectors may, diplomats said, blunt Mr. Bush's effort to seek some kind of sanctions in the United Nations, leaving Iran with an advanced nuclear infrastructure that could be restarted at a moment's notice.
Grrrr. Unilateral sanctions. Now.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

With Bush's speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, the goal of middle East democratization has been made official. It's about time, everybody paying attention knows that the reason we're not willing to abandon Iraq is because of this goal.

Though I can't fault the speech, I worry about the follow-up. In foreign policy Bush usually says the right things, but sometimes practical concerns prevent him from doing the right things. Exhibit A is the 2002 State of Union speech. Referring to the Axis of Evil (which Bush defined as states like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and their terrorist allies), he said "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." What happened with North Korea since then? Essentially Bush promised too much. The United States is clearly not willing to fight a costly war over nuclear proliferation.

Similarly, I don't think we will invade Egypt or Saudi Arabia to democratize them. Our rhetoric is nonetheless important, especially to the few democrats of Middle East. But we must remember that it is just rhetoric. Our actions make it clear that we are willing to democratize Iraq, but that the rest of the region will get little more than encouraging words and the example of an Iraqi democracy, and Bush was careful not to promise more than this in his speech.

To be a fair I should say what more we should be doing. As a nation we are simply not willing to allocate the resources to forcefully democratize another country besides Iraq. (Draft, huge war deficits, anyone?) Moreover, I doubt economic sanctions would be effective (see Cuba). The best I can come up with is something analogous to the Iraqi Freedom Act, in which we gave financial support to Iraqi dissidents. Such a course would probably have the most effect in Iran, where dissidents are already the most active. I know this isn't much, but at the very least it would put our money where our mouth is; credibility matters.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

More evidence that Japan going to become a military power soon. I think this is good news, though it is partially a symptom of bad news from North Korea.
What's going on here? I was impressed by the third quarter's 7.2% annualized GDP growth, but then I read that the corresponding non-farm productivity increase wads 8.1%! Whenever productivity growth exceeds output growth, there is a net job lost, in this case 41,000 non-farm jobs. Will we ever figure out what is causing this productivity boom? Last time I checked economists were stilling arguing about the productivity increases of the nineties, though I remember some paper showing that a disproportionate chunk of it was due to Wal-Mart. I can't content myself with a salute to the undeniable ingenuity of my fellow Americans; I'm too curious. Also, understanding past productivity growth can assist current productivity growth.
State-run universities have to respect free speech, yes? First Amendment and all that? Heh. Let's say the record is mixed.

The latest hip thing among College Republicans is do an affirmative action bake sale. White males pay a buck; women and Hispanics and some other minorities pay less; blacks pay even less than them. Hardly anyone buys cookies, but of course that's not the point.

At Indiana university such a bake sale inspired criticism by the expected student groups. This was all well and good competition in the marketplace of ideas. However, at least one student who "asked school officials to stop the sale," indicating not everyone was paying attention in high school civics (or worse, they paid attention but decided they didn't fully believe in free speech). The administrators rightfully did not interfere with the bake sale, and the young budding censors presumably whined or sulked.

This isn't always what happens. It often appears that Indiana University is the exception, though it's quite possible that my perception is biased by the fact that uneventful things like the bake sale at Indiana University get much less news coverage than the travesties that have happened at other colleges. I've read multiple accounts of conservative student publications being stolen and of violence and threats of violence by other students against conservatives at their public events. And in all these accounts the college administration did not punish these criminal acts; if there was any response it was to denounce the viewpoint the conservatives were expressing.

Consider the affirmative action bake sale at the University of Washington.
On the list were prices per cookie, ranging from 25 cents to a dollar per cookie based on the race of the buyer, with the highest price to whites.

A sign was posted: "Affirmative Action Is Racism."

Jason Chambers, 22, was one of the sellers. For a few hours, he said, students came to talk, some agreeing, some arguing. It was civil. At 12:30 it changed. An insistent crowd of about 200 massed around the display. A couple of students ripped down the sign, scattered donuts and threw a box of cookies at a seller's head....Campus police intervened and student adviser Phillip Hunt asked the Republicans to stop the sale. Hunt's assistant, Rene Singleton, recalled, "The College Republicans were pinned against a brick wall. It was a safety issue."
So instead of protecting students' right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, the police capitulated to the mob. I bet they could have just told everyone to stay civil. The only alternative possibility is that this crowd was actually angry enough to fight with the police. Therefore either the police don't believe in free speech or a lot of students don't believe in free speech. It gets worse:
Then came an extraordinarily pusillanimous statement from the University of Washington Regents. Issued after two weeks of thought, it was signed by Gerald Grinstein of Madrona Investment Partners, president of the regents. It said that the bake sale had been "tasteless" and "hurtful."

"We are deeply disappointed," the regents said, "that the College Republicans' bake sale's 'statement' did not embrace the basic value of respect for its student colleagues."

Were the regents also disappointed in those who tore down the sign and threw the box of cookies at a student's head? No. The regents didn't mention them. The regents proclaimed freedom of speech and condemned only those who had exercised it.
The UW regents don't believe in freedom of speech either.

All this has been roundly condemned from the outside. The link above from which I've been quoting is from the Seattle Times, a conservative newspaper. Here's a liberal columnist at the liberal Seattle P-I denouncing the UW Regents. Since most students probably aren't zealous enough to devote their best years to suing colleges, these sorts of injustices need to be put under the limelight as much as possible, because college depend on the outside world to fund it. Though I doubt I'll ever be rich, after I graduate from MIT I do not plan to give them any money until, among other things, they reform their oppressive harassment policy, which gives anyone who knows how to say "I'm offended" the capability to make my life miserable as long as I'm a student here.

Monday, November 03, 2003

It's official. Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) has come out swinging with a WSJ op-ed endorsing Bush.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

If this were in a movie we'd say it was way over the top.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Now a flat tax in Iraq. Will the rich democracies of today ever adopt the flat tax?
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- As the United Kingdom braces for an impending measles outbreak this winter due to low vaccination rates, U.S. health experts say this raises concerns the deadly disease could spread to the United States, particularly considering immunization rates in some states have fallen to dangerously low levels.
I thought every kid in this country got their MMR shots. I remember missing the first day of 6th grade because I was tardy in getting my MMR booster and my hometown public school wouldn't admit me without it.
In the United States, MMR vaccine coverage is about 91.6 percent, but "we hear anecdotal reports of lower coverage in certain areas," CDC's Orenstein said.

Several areas have rates of only 87 percent or lower, including Arizona (except for Maricopa County), Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Shelby County, Tenn., Houston and parts of Colorado.
Were vaccines less strongly required back in the day, implying that with time coverage will get better? Nope:
"The real threat is the same thing that has driven down immunization rates in the United Kingdom and Japan and that is parental resistance to having their children immunized," Griffin said.

In Colorado, for example, there are communities "where close to 20 percent of kids are not immunized," she said. "All you need is the introduction of a case and since its constantly happening in the United States all you need is a case to occur in those vulnerable communities" for an epidemic to take hold, she said.
How depressing. Many parents apparently believe measles is no longer a serious threat, hence measles will become a serious threat. Is this more a case of the tragedy of the commons or of the human proclivity for quackery?