The Opportunity of Reconstruction

The latest post from Matthew Yglesias has me thinking about rebuilding Iraq. In particular, he cites a TNR blog post noting that:

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week found only 37 percent support for only a three-year effort. Does anyone expect the Bush administration, as its reelection campaign heats up, to rally public support to a politically difficult but strategically vital cause?

Here's the speech I dream of hearing:

My fellow Americans, the world continues to be a troubled place, and America must once again rise to the tasks that lay before it. The eyes of the world are upon us, trying to determine from our actions what it is that America now stands for. Those with aspirations of liberty and prosperity look to see if America will help lead them toward their noble goals. Those who fear progress hope in the darkness of their hearts that America will turn inward and abdicate its obligations. We will do no such thing.

Like generations of Americans before us, we will take responsibility for helping a defeated foe rise and rebuild. After the Second World War, many years of dedicated work and capital went to set the nations of Germany and Japan on a path of prosperity which they still enjoy today. As a result, we can count them among our strongest allies and can admire the strength of their democratic systems, which we helped to create. We will do the same for the people of Iraq, helping them rebuild their nation in a land that has seen millennia of human progress. We will give them the necessary manpower, training, and capital. More importantly, we will give them our patience and our committment. We will not let the violence and hatred of a few keep our helping hand from reaching the many. We will not be abandon the people of Iraq. They are our brothers and sisters, and we will help them rebuild their home.

Times Have Changed

I'm doing research on defenses of necessity in criminal trials, and have been reading the recent literature on the use of medical marijuana. In so doing, I came across a curious article from 1999 on then Texas Governor Bush's support for states' rights on marijuana. Despite the grammatical imprecision, we see a principled federalist stand on the issue:

Gov. George Bush said he backs a state's right to decide whether to allow medical use of marijuana, a position that puts him sharply at odds with Republicans on Capitol Hill. "I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose," the governor said recently in Seattle in response to a reporter's question.

Fast-forward to this week:

House Republicans want to move drug enforcement money from state and local police officers to federal agents in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use.

The GOP-sponsored legislation would also allow the Bush administration's drug policy office to launch an advertising campaign to deliver the message that marijuana should not be legalized.

Both provisions were initiated by Congress, but they clearly reflect the Bush administration's desire to strictly enforce marijuana laws.

Oh well.

Fear

I finished White Noise this morning, and found it to be well-written and worthwhile, notable particularly for a sharp but dry wit and stellar dialogue. I won't say more because I personally like beginning new books with a blank slate and don't want to give anything away to those who haven't read it yet. I will say that it was quite an interesting day, as I then proceeded to watch Donnie Darko for the first time. That movie would be a feast of stimuli on any day, and only more so when one's thoughts have already been elevated by a provocative novel.

I highly recommend both, though not necessarily on the same day. They touch on several of the same topics, namely fear, and it can be quite a lot to take. I think I'll fix a nice snack and find something lighter with which to spend my evening.

East of Eden

Oh before I start my first DeLillo novel, I wanted to say a couple of words about East of Eden. It is hard for me to speak much about a novel I've just finished reading. It usually takes me a while to fully process a book, and the better the book, the longer it takes. Well I can say this: it was marvelous. If you forced me to pick one author whose work I could read (you know, a desert island type of thing), I think Steinbeck would be it. I doubt I could choose between The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, but I very well might go for the latter if push came to shove. It was beautiful in that way that really sneaks upon you when you're not looking... you're reading along, and then all of a sudden you have to stop and just notice how beautiful the story is, even as it tours the darker shadows of our human experience.

I don't think I'm old enough to be able to list 5 books that really knocked me flat, but I know there's been at least one: Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read in the spring of my sophomore year of college and haven't been the same since. I guess I lucked out: my lost college soul found Buddhism rather than Ayn Rand.

Free Will

So I was just about to sit down to finish Anthem when I remembered "Hey, I don't have to" and I put it back on the shelf. Fortunately I did find my copy of White Noise, which had been hiding from me ever since it was recommended by several of this site's readers. Off I go...

Firing Squads

Proud day to be from Utah:

Exercising their right under Utah law, a serial killer, Roberto Arguelles, and Troy Michael Kell, a white supremacist who stabbed a fellow inmate to death, have chosen the firing squad over lethal injection and are set to die at 12:01 a.m. on June 27 and 28, respectively.

As far as executions go, I don't really see why it matters which of these methods they use if it is the inmate who chooses. On the other hand, this part seems quite odd:

One of the five rifles will contain a blank so that no one will know who fired the fatal shots.

Not having had the unfortunate experience of ever shooting anyone, I can't speak from any source of personal knowledge on this topic. But I have doubts about what sort of benefit the executioners will get from the knowledge that there is only an 80% chance their gun fired a live round. I'm not sure it would make me feel any better, and it might inhibit me from confronting and dealing with my responsibility head on.

Mandatory Volunteerism

Ezra Klein has a good take on Kerry's mandatory volunteerism 'thing':

The problem is that this is the type of thing which we should be able to easily deem "good", if we cannot, then there are defintely some problems within it. The most glaringly obvious of which is that mandatory volunteerism is an oxymoron. Making volunteerism a mandatory requirement for high schoolers contradicts the whole spirit of volunteerism. When you donate time out of a will to make the world a better place, that's volunteering. When the Government makes you donate your time in order to make the world a better place, that's called forced labor.

I always felt the same way about using community service as an alternative sanction in the criminal justice system. It sends entirely the wrong message, both about what community service is supposed to be, and what punishment is supposed to be.

Those who chose to volunteer are sent the message that the work they do is somehow a negative thing, so much so that we'll make criminals do it instead of sending them to prison.

Criminals get the message that the crime they've committed isn't that bad, since all they have to do is something that other people choose to do voluntarily, something that is generally considered a worthy and fulfilling activity.

This mixed message ought to satisfy no one.

Ayn Rand

Just as I began Anthem, Ayn Rand (and Atlas Shrugged in particular) started getting beat up over at CalPundit:

[I]sn't there a bigger problem with the book's "timeless quality"? I mean, the whole point of the novel is that socialism is taking over America, with the government steadily becoming more and more Soviet and full central planning and our own set of 5-year plans lurking right around the corner � in fact, we're just a few years behind the "People's State of England." Now, even in 1957 this was a stretch, but in 2003 it's not going to inspire anything more than guffaws. The Soviet Union is gone, the Berlin Wall is no more, capitalism reigns supreme around the world, and small government Republicans have dominated the political debate in America since 1980.

I'm almost done with Anthem (it's quite short, just over 100 pages in massmarket paperback), and I have to agree. It's not terribly written, but it shows its age beyond the mere fact that the world has changed quite a bit since 1937. Among my favorite books are 1984 and Darkness at Noon and though each was also written when the geopolitical outlook was quite different, they have retained their insights and quality. If the emphasis is on individualism, I'd take either of those books or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich over Anthem anyday.

It may be that Rand simply isn't a very good writer. She certainly writes with a pretty blunt pen in Anthem, and the lack of any subtlety or subtext makes her future vision of the world the sole point of the book. It certainly doesn't help that she was so very, very wrong.

For My Eyes

I finished East of Eden this morning (and will blog more on it later), and began thinking about what to read next.

Lo and behold, what do I find waiting outside my door when I got home? My very own copy of Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing. I'll give it a thorough reading soon and write up a little review. I anticipate greatness.

Scary Headline

Geez. Breaking News from CNN:

Associated Press reports explosion at Yale University law school. CNN working to confirm.

My heart is racing.

UPDATE: Here's the initial AP report.

Strange Polling Data

Can this possibly be accurate? It just seems so... so... unlikely:

The presidential campaign of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry received some startling news Wednesday from his own back yard.

A poll recently conducted by the research institute Mass Insight shows Kerry trailing President Bush in the race for president in the Bay State.

The poll, which involved 500 Massachusetts voters at the end of April, shows the president with a 6 percentage point lead -- the exact numbers have not been released.

This stands in stark contrast to a similar poll taken by the group in January. Back then, Kerry had a commanding 16 point lead in Massachusetts in a theoretical matchup with the president.

After all, here's MA's 2000 results:

George W. Bush - 32.5%
Al Gore - 59.8%
Ralph Nader - 6.4%

Now I'm note sure just what this poll is suggesting (perhaps most are undecided), but I'm skeptical.

(via Drudge)

Uh...

I love Peter King. He's a great football analyst and a fun read, and his Monday Morning Quarterback column on CNNSI.com is a weekly staple for me. But he says something so ignorant in this piece on Giants coach Jim Fassel that I have to point it out. The story is about Fassel's reunion with a son he gave up for adoption 34 years ago.

Fassel's story, of course, has a happy ending. But when it began, in 1968, Fassel and his future wife, Kitty, were starting college in southern California. Kitty got pregnant with a baby neither of them felt ready to keep. Abortion, to them, wasn't an option.

Well Peter, since it was 1968, abortion wasn't much of an option for anyone. It was ILLEGAL!

OK, ok, it's just a football column. And I suppose there is a remote possibility that King is pointing out that the Fassel's were unwilling to take the risks of an illegal abortion.

But I think not. Instead I believe King, an intelligent and educated American, has simply forgotten that 35 years ago Mr. Fassel and his wife could have gone to jail for having an abortion. That disturbs me.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has given some vital insight in the comments:

Actually, California's first abortion law was passed in 1967 and signed into law by....Governor Ronald Reagan.

As I recall, it was a pretty restrictive law (no surprise for 1967), but nonetheless abortion was in fact legal here in the Golden State in 1968.

So I'm wrong on the facts, which was the thrust of my objection to King's article. I do still think there's a deeper point, which is that many people forget just how recent it was that many of the rights we now enjoy were not respected (only 50 years since Brown, only 30 years since Roe, etc.)

UPDATE II: Now PG comes back with this:

The 1967 law was based on the Model Penal Code, which allowed abortion for rape, incest, health reasons and life of the mother, none of which would seem to apply for the Fassels.

OK, so maybe I was right on the facts. Still, the health reasons probably included 'mental' health which may have provided an opening for the Fassels. Huh.

Baseball

Though I haven't let it be known too much on this blog, I am a huge baseball fan. I grew up north of Chicago and spent some wonderful afternoons of my youth at Wrigley Field. A few days ago I saw an episode of Ken Burns' Baseball, focused on New York City in the 1950's, when the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants were all competitive teams, and Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays all played in the same town.

My first thoughts: Ken Burns is a genius. I just have to watch the rest of that series, and I'm assuming his Civil War and Jazz documentaries are of the same caliber.

Second: It really is a shame how the money has corrupted baseball. I have no doubt that this is equally true of other sports, but am I so wrong in thinking that baseball really used to mean something in this country? Something special?

UPDATE: Charles Kuffner has a very good answer:

The answer to the question is Yes, but the implication is that this is no longer the case. I'd argue that's very much not so, as anyone who watched the 2001 World Series would attest. Attendance figures bear that out as well - take a look at the yearly attendance and average league attendance for the Braves, Cubs, and Yankees, and observe that average attendance in 2002 was nearly triple that of 1952, and with twice as many teams to boot. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - there's never been a better time than now to be a baseball fan.

I like that way of looking at it.

AWB and President Bush

This is obviously a very limited sample, and who knows if they'd really stick to their guns (oooh, bad pun), but some of the folks over at AR15.COM are pretty steamed at the idea of President Bush signing an extension of the Assault Weapons Ban.

Hit & Run

Reason's Hit & Run gets results! Here's a May 16 post from Jeff Taylor:

Excuse me for interrupting the victory laps over aircraft carriers, but shouldn't Tom Ridge have raised the terror threat level to orange right about now? We've got seven dead Americans in Saudi Arabia from a daring attack by al Qaeda, staged just hours before Colin Powell was due to be in country. More attacks may be in the works.

And then earlier today:

It didn't make sense last week that Homeland Security did not go to Code Orange in the wake of terrorist attacks against Americans in Saudi Arabia. Now that we have a fresh FBI warning that al Qaeda may strike again in the U.S. the code system is revealed to be a farce.

And now:

The United States raised the nation's terror threat level Tuesday, saying the U.S. intelligence community believes al Qaeda has entered an "operational period worldwide" and might attack within the United States.

Yep, those al Qaeda blokes are doing pretty well for being crippled.

Public Domain

I didn't realize Larry Lessig has been blogging so much recently, so I missed this important post on the public domain:

About a month ago, I started sounding optimistic about getting a bill introduced into Congress to help right the wrong of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. I was optimistic because we had found a congressperson who was willing to introduce the bill. But after pressure from lobbyists, that is no longer clear. And so we need help to counter that pressure, and to find a sponsor.

The idea is a simple one: Fifty years after a work has been published, the copyright owner must pay a $1 maintanence fee. If the copyright owner pays the fee, then the copyright continues. If the owner fails to pay the fee, the work passes into the public domain. Based on historical precedent, we expect 98% of copyrighted works would pass into the public domain after just 50 years. They could keep Mickey for as long as Congress lets them. But we would get a public domain.

Yet the lobbyists are fighting even this tiny compromise. The public domain is competition for them. They will fight this competition. And so long as they have the lobbyists, and the rest of the world remains silent, they will win.

We need to your help to resist this now. At this stage, all that we need is one congressperson to introduce the proposal. Whether you call it the Copyright Term Deregulation Act, or the Public Domain Enhancement Act, doesn�t matter. What matters is finding a sponsor, so we can begin to show the world just how extreme this debate has become: They have already gotten a 20 year extension of all copyrights just so 2% can benefit; and now they object to paying just $1 for that benefit, so that no one else might compete with them.

Sounds to me like a worthy cause.

On the Ground

Phil Carter has a new article in the Washington Monthly on the need for more troops to rebuild Iraq:

Not only did Wolfowitz and Shinseki publicly disagree over how many troops would be needed to win the war in Iraq, they also disagreed on how many troops would be needed to win the peace. Shinseki testified to Congress that we would need "several hundred thousand" and Wolfowitz, very publicly, argued that the situation called for far fewer. What's become clear in the aftermath is that Wolfowitz simply didn't grasp, as Shinseki (who's commanded Army units in peacekeeping operations) clearly did, just what this kind of mammoth peacekeeping and nation-building operation would entail.

He also points to a key text that all those interested in military issues must read:

On the shelf of nearly every Army officer, you'll find a book by retired Col. T.R. Fehrenbach on the Korean conflict titled This Kind of War. At the end of World War II, confronted by the military revolution brought on by the atomic bomb, America cut its military from a wartime high of 16 million down to a few hundred thousand. Bombs and airplanes--not soldiers--would now protect America's shores and cities. After fighting as a grunt in Korea, Fehrenbach thought otherwise. Transformation was great for the Air Force and Navy, but for the Army and Marine Corps, the essential nature of warfare remained unchanged.

"You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life," wrote Fehrenbach. "But if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud." It's time Don Rumsfeld brushed up on his Fehrenbach. The book is on Gen. Shinseki's official reading list for the Army, so it's a good bet that one of his generals has a copy he can borrow.

Great book.

Tact

CalPundit provides yet another post demonstrating why I read him everyday. Commenting on the deal Kennedy made with Khruschev to remove our missiles from Turkey, he recognizes this key insight:

The real lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis isn't that standing firm at all costs is the only way to conduct international relations. Sure, you need to be steady and resolute, but the real lesson is that you face the world the way it is, you don't overreact to every provocation, and you make the best deals you can. This is a lesson that the neocons in the Bush administration ought to take to heart.

There may be some brilliant diplomatic efforts underway that we just don't see, but I'd be surprised. So far we've seen failures with the U.N., NATO, Turkey, and North Korea, and that's just in the past couple months.

Incentives

Nathan Newman articulates exactly my thoughts on the recent wave of violence in Israel:

When suicide bombers launched multiple attacks on civilians over the weekend, their goal was to derail the "Roadmap" negotiations on peace in Israel and Palestine. This has been the pattern repeatedly over the years-- every move towards peace is met by terrorism by extreme Palestinians and military violence against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Right-- both aims being to derail peace by embittering the opposition population.

Sharon has given the Palestinian terrorists their wish and pulled back from negotiations.

Which of course means that Israelis are put in more danger in the future, since Sharon is demonstrating that the more Israelis killed, the more the terrorists win. Kill Israelis, terrorists win.

Deterrence II

Dan Kahan, then a law professor at Chicago but now at Yale, wrote a piece in 1997 called Social Influence, Social Meaning, and Deterrence (83 Va. L. Rev. 349). I haven't finished the article, but his basic premise seems so intuitively correct that I thought it was worth sharing:

Individuals don't decide to commit crimes in isolation; rather, their decision interact with and reinforce each other in various ways. In particular, individuals are much more likely to commit crimes when they perceive that criminal activity is widespread. In that circumstance, they are likely to infer that the risk of being caught for a crime is low. They might also conclude that relatively little stigma or reputational cost attaches to being a criminal; indeed, if criminal behavior is common among their peers, they may even view such activity as status enhancing. Finally, in a community in which crime is perceived to be rampant, individuals are less likely to form moral aversions to criminality. By social influence, I refer generically to how individuals' perceptions of each others' values, beliefs, and behavior affect their conduct, including their decisions to engage in crime.

Alright, so far we've got some well-articulated, but very basic understandings of sociology. Where Kahan's insight lay is in connecting these sociological points to a model of deterrence. His first suggestion lay squarely in the 90's NYPD model of 'order maintenance', cracking down on vandalism, public drunkenness, prostitution, etc:

When citizens obey norms of orderliness - and when authorities visibly respond to those who don't - onlookers see that the community is intolerant of criminality. This message counteracts the inferences that point social influence in the direction of crime. It also reassures law-abiders, inducing them to engage in patterns of behavior that discourage crime. In this way, the perception of obedience becomes reality.

That's a far as I've gotten, but I thought I'd pass on this interesting point:

Because norms construct the context within which action becomes meaningful, regulating norms can reinforce or suppress particular meanings. Consider possession of guns in inner-city public schools. This behavior is infused with social meaning. Possessing a gun confers status because it expresses confidence and a willingness to defy authority. By the same token, not possessing one signals fear, and thus invites aggression. Policies that aim at suppressing possession usually fail; indeed, when authories aggressively seek out and punish students who possess weapons, their behavior reinforces the message of defiance associated with guns, thereby increasing their expressive value.

One policy that is believed to be effective is to pay rewards to students who turn in gun possessors. This tactic appears to work, moreover, not just because it facilitates seizure of the weapons, but because it interferes with norms that give guns their meaning. Whens tudents fear that their peers will report them, they are less likely to display their guns; when students are reluctant to display them, guns become less valuable for conveying informaiton about one's attitude and intentions. Students then have less incentive to carry then. Paying students to inform probably doesn't change the meaning of guns, but it does disrupt behavioral norms - including the ready display of guns - that are essential to their expressive value.

In another article (in fact responding to the Katyal piece I just posted about), Kahan also notes that the "belief that onlookers are willing to sell out possessors counteracts the inference that possessors enjoy high status among their peers."

Interesting stuff.

Deterrence I

I've been reading the recent legal scholarship on justifications for punishment, and came across two interesting articles on deterrence (I'll give each its own post). Deterrence's Difficulty is a piece from 1997 by Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal (95 Mich. L. Rev. 2385). He suggests several additions to the economic model of criminal behavior, but his discussion of substitution seems particularly interesting. He argues that an over-emphasis on marginal deterrence has created a narrow view of deterrence, one that can be partially corrected by recognizing the implications of substitution:

At its best, the marginal deterrence argument is one about creating incentives for individuals to refrain from committing the same crime on a greater scale. As such, it is a much-needed refinement on the traditional deterrence question. While the traditional question asks whether a penalty for X deters X, the marginal deterrence theorist asks whether a penalty for X may prompt commission of the marginally more severe crime X + 1 because that crime receives the same magnitude of punishment as X.

By pointing out that consumers (criminals) will base their choices between X and X + 1 on the price (expected penalty) of each, marginal deterrence demonstrates a relationship between price and conduct. But criminals often have choices beyond X and X + 1; thus an increase in the price of X may increase the commission of non-X activities. The substitution perspective therefore expands the conventional deterrence question by asking wheter a penalty for X will distort behavior and lead people to commit an altogether differenct crime (Y, Z, or some combination of the two). These other acts my be other crimes, or they be lawful endeavors. Substitution's chief insight is that it shows that the focus on marginal deterrence -- one example of substitution -- is too narrow.

It's a very fascinating article, and brings into economic models of criminal deterrence some of the more fundamental aspects of market theory that have been left out. Katyal notes that this neglect has, in part, been due to a false assumption that different crimes are independent goods rather than supplementary, which is simply not true for what he calls "market crimes," those committed for profit. His practical example, though lacking in causal empirical evidence, is that the harsh penalties enacted for crack cocaine dealing/possession may have led dealers to simply switch over to heroin, which could be possessed in quantities exponentially greater than crack for commensurate penalties. All in all a worthwhile read, if one is so inclined.

The Forbidden Topic

Matthew Yglesias has realized what a bad idea it is to write about guns. I think he's right on this one. If you don't have an opinion on it, I'd stay out. Heck, I have a whole rucksack full of opinions and still try and keep my mouth shut.

I also think PG's intuition in the comments is probably correct:

I think that gun control is fought mostly from the gut. Each side is fueled by people with very strong emotions, often coming from personal experience. The Bradys' vehemence on gun control makes complete sense to me -- the man got shot, for chrissakes. On the flipside, people who have grown up around guns and used them for sport and self defense feel personally attacked by the thought of gun control.

This certainly provide some explanation for my own varied stances on gun issues. I grew up in a home without guns, never hunted (and never will), and never raised an eyebrow at gun control. Then I joined ROTC, learned to shoot a M16, and enjoyed the experience so much that I am now a gun-owner.

I have mixed feelings on the constitutional objections to gun control laws, but I think everyone ought to be concerned with how incredibly stupid some of these laws are, the AWB being a prime example. It's just a poorly written law that covers mostly cosmetics and a list of guns that LOOK scary but actually pose much less danger of being used in a crime than a pump shotgun or revolver (I'm sorry I keep harping on this). Those who oppose gun control will obviously oppose this law. But even those who favor gun control ought to take a hard look at a law like this and try and figure out whether it's really doing any good. If not, why spend so much political capital on it?

Things That Make You Go Hmm...

So in this month's Stuff (I know, I know), Pamela Anderson is asked: "What are you reading these days?" Now this question obviously has amusement value all its own considering the interviewee, but this response is priceless:

The Bible. I haven't gotten to the good parts yet. I'm, like, halfway through. I'm glad that I'm finally reading it, though. (emphasis added)

Um, yeah. I hope she lets us know if she ever gets to the 'good parts.'

Baghdad PD

Phil Carter has some well-informed (he was an active-duty MP officer) criticism of the new rules of engagement in Baghdad, which allow American soldiers to shoot on sight of a crime in progress (e.g. looting):

As a matter of law enforcement, I think this is the wrong solution. It's a band-aid measure to cover up the fact that we simply don't have enough soldiers in Iraq to do the job. A strong show of force -- soldiers on dismounted patrol; mounted patrols by armed HMMWVs and Bradley fighting vehicles, quick response to any breach of the peace -- could impose law and order on the chaotic streets of Iraq. But such a show of force takes a lot of manpower -- more manpower than the U.S. has in theater. It would have been wise to mobilize 3-5 National Guard divisions 6 months ago, when we committed to the Iraq mission, so they could be ready to perform this kind of mission today.

This is the sort of thing the Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki, was talking about a few months ago, for which he was heavily criticized within the administration.

Assault Weapons Ban

It'll be real interesting to see how this plays out:

The House of Representatives will not extend a 1994 assault weapons ban set to expire next year despite President Bush's call for its renewal, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said.

"The votes in the House are not there to reauthorize it," said DeLay, a Texas Republican and staunch foe of gun control.

The 1994 ban on military-style assault weapons expires in 2004 unless Congress renews it. Bush, who generally opposes additional gun control legislation, has said he believes the ban should remain in effect.

There's a lot of conflicting opinions on whether gun control has helped or hurt the Democrats, but I suspect that the Assault Weapons Ban itself is not a particularly controversial law among mainstream Americans. If Tom Delay really is responsible for the renewed manufacturing of AK-47s, it might be worth bringing up in the elections next year. (aside: I personally don't think AK-47s are any more dangerous than pump shotguns or revolvers, which constitute a much higher portion of guns used in crimes; nonetheless, most Americans think they are scary-looking and are thus more willing to see them regulated).

On that note, I'm off to the gun range. Going to punch some paper with my 9mm.

Signs of the Apocalypse

This has to be one of the strangest stories I've ever seen:

The political version of the Amber Alert was posted for 53 Texas legislators who fled the state Capitol to avoid a vote that could cost Democrats seven congressional seats.

Without the Democrats present, the Republican-controlled House does not have the two-thirds quorum needed for a vote on legislation to redraw congressional districts.

News reports late Monday quoted leaders of the missing Democrats as saying they are gathered across the state line in Ardmore, Oklahoma, out of reach of Texas Rangers who have been ordered to arrest them and return them to the House chamber.

A bulletin was posted Monday on the Texas Department of Public Safety Web site -- the same one used to alert citizens to missing children and wanted criminals -- asking for help in locating the missing lawmakers.

What the hell is going on down there?!? And why are they voting on redistricting in 2003? Isn't that a decennial activity?

UPDATE: Looks like they caught one.

Role Reversal

I guess I understand what might be the actual intentions of the President (to encourage the silent majority who supposedly already support him to speak out), but there's something about this headline that just seems backwards to me:

Bush Urges Americans to Call for Tax Cuts

I mean, isn't democracy supposed to work the other way? I was under the impression that the people tell their elected officials what they want, and more or less the elected officials should do it. The idea of an elected official telling the people what they should be demanding from him just seems odd.

9/11 and Missed Opportunities

In a brief escape from studying Constitutional Law last week, I was discussing with my neighbors my belief that this country, and in particular the political leadership, had missed a great opportunity in the wake of 9/11. This was an opportunity to step back and re-examine what it is to be an American, what values our country wants to emphasize. It was also an opportunity to try and see our country within the context of a much bigger, global neighborhood. Instead we were encouraged to return to our self-interested mass consumerism.

I was having trouble articulating exactly what it was I thought was missed, but the end of exams has allowed me to return to reading East of Eden, and of course Steinbeck (writing at the beginning of the Cold War, 1952) has just the words I was looking for:

There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, even our religion, so that some nati ons have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.

At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?

In asking and answering such questions, we would know who we are. Instead we remain adrift, surrounded by a fog of our own creation.

Invisible Man

During exams I did not pay particularly good attention to the latest Democratic nominee news, but now that I'm fairly caught up, let me say this: blech. I am almost overwhelmed (or is it underwhelmed) by the dearth of inspiration provided by these candidates.

I'm too young to really remember the nomination process in 1992, but I have to think this group of nominees is less appealing.

On the other hand, I am impressed by the bare fact that Howard Dean has really turn himself into a contender, when so recently he could be dismissed as a fringe anti-war candidate. I'm not speaking at all to his conduct, policy, or potential in a show-down with President Bush. I'm just reflecting on the fact that he's become a strong viable candidate and I wasn't sure he would.

UPDATE: (Via Yglesias) Ezra Klein shows that optimism was similarly lacking in 1991.

Women in Combat Redux

Dean Esmay is asking a simple question:

Do you think women belong in direct combat duty roles in the armed forces? Should there be any limits at all?

Dean's twist is that he's asked only women to respond. There are some very interesting comments:

Women should be in direct combat roles if they qualify for them, period. All of the social arguments against women in combat have been used before whenever women enter a hitherto forbidden field or activity, and have proven to be groundless.

There's a lot of good stuff, check it out.

Malvo's Confession Admitted

In a ruling that should not surprise anyone, a judge has admitted the greater part of sniper suspect Malvo's confession. The only parts excluded were those comments made before his Miranda rights were given.

His guardian "ad litem" (appointed because his parents were absent) claimed that he had arrived at the police station and sought to see Malvo, but was prevented from doing so by police, who also failed to tell Malvo of the guardian's arrival. The Supreme Court ruled in Moran v. Burbine that the police have no obligation to inform a suspect that a lawyer has been hired for him or wishes to speak to him. In that case, the court even set aside the fact that the police had deliberately misled the attorney, telling her that the suspect would not be interrogated that night. Though "objectionable as a matter of ethics", the court held that as long as the deception was not of the suspect, his waiver of Miranda rights was still voluntary. Some state courts have held that, under their state constitutions, the police may not intentionally or negligently fail to inform a suspect that their lawyer is trying to see them, or interfere with the attorney-client relationship by preventing access to the suspect, but the U.S. Constitution currently offers no such protection. Apparently this logic extends to guardians 'ad litem' as well.

There had also been some allegations that he'd made comments referencing his desire for a lawyer, or his fear of speaking without a lawyer present. Nonetheless, as the court ruled in Davis v. United States, a suspect has to make a clear and unequivocal invocation of his rights. If the police could reasonably believe he only might be invoking his rights, they have no duty to stop, clarify, or even acknowledge his comments.

Remember that if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being questioned by police: "I invoke my right to remain silent. I invoke my right to counsel. I will not answer your questions until my counsel is present."

More on Hizballah/Hezbollah

Adam Kushner has a great article up on The Columbia Political Review, pointing out important distinctions between Hezbollah and other violent Arab groups. In particular, he notes the role Hezbollah wants to play in Lebanon, an issue somewhat distinct from our traditional view of ant-Israeli terrorism.

It's worth a read.

Hizballah on America

I don't normally look too deeply into the proclamations of terrorist spokesmen, but this struck me as interesting:

"I rule out that the road map is an acceptable solution for the Palestinian people," said Hussein Al-Khalil, Hizballah's political officer. He added he's not optimistic about Powell's visit to the region. "The U.S. State Department - America's foreign policy - works on behalf of Israel. It's not a State Department for the American people." (emphasis added)

It seems Mr. Al-Khalil is drawing a distinction between the American public and the Bush Administration. I wonder if this can be seen as evidence of some actual recognition of pluralist thought in America (as opposed to monolithic imperialism), or if it's just a creative way of attacking Bush/Powell.

Bye Bye Campaign Finance Reform

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill was largely struck down by a panel of federal judges today:

In a 2-1 vote, the court ruled that political parties can raise corporate and union contributions for general party-building activities such as get-out-the-vote drives and voter registration but cannot use it for issue advertising.

Also voting 2-1, the court struck down a provision barring a range of interest groups from airing issue ads mentioning federal candidates in those candidates' districts in the month before a primary election and within two months of a general election.

I've never formulated a legal or political opinion on the issue, though from a political process perspective I can't see how the money involved in today's campaigns is anything but destructive and corrupting. More to the point, it sure seems a shame for those involved to have spent so much time and political capital fighting a fight that will likely end without any tangible improvements. (Of course this can be also said of those whose fight for change I want to fail).

Perspective

This is not the kind of person I'd be excited to hear speak at my high school graduation:

Blair Hornstine's latest report card had four A-plus grades in five courses. She scored a 1570 out of 1600 on the SAT and is deciding whether to attend Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Princeton or Cornell -- all of which have accepted her.

But despite her best-in-her-class grades, her school district wants to name her co-valedictorian with two other students.

Hornstine, the 18-year-old daughter of a state Superior Court judge, has asked a federal judge to intervene, saying that being forced to share with students with lesser grades would detract from what she has accomplished.

Has everyone lost the ability to sustain a self-identity independent of relative terms? Can't she just be happy with her successes and opportunities irregardless of who does or does not share them?

(Hey Blair, I did better than you on the SATs. Maybe I should sue to get your Harvard admission enjoined, since your attendance would detract from what I accomplished).

I hope the judge tosses this back in her face.

Okay. I'm exhaling now.

No Guns For Blacks

As a military man and gun owner who tends to favor sensible gun control, I often find myself torn on gun issues. As such, I try to stay knowledgeable about the latest news. Recently the NAACP has been pursuing a lawsuit against gun manufacturers in a federal district court in NY. Here's the disturbing response of several gun dealers:

Due to the lawsuit initiated by the NAACP, we can no longer sell firearms to African-Americans. We are sorry for this, as African-Americans have rights and needs for self-defense as strong as anyone else. This was not our choice, but was forced upon us as we cannot afford such litigation.

Huh.

I happen to think there is a lot of room for moderation on the issue, and am glad to see President Bush has pledged to support a re-authorization of the Assault Weapon Ban (though I still think it a bad bill written by people who really don't understand firearms).

Likewise, the Virginia rule that one cannot buy more than one handgun a month seemed a good, moderate, reasonable way to end Virginia's status as a feeder state for guns used in crimes in the Northeast. Nonetheless, testimony in the NAACP trial shows that Virginia is still the top source of crime guns in New York, including three of the top five dealers to whom gun used in crimes can be traced. That's shameful.