Political Argument

4/30/2007

Where's the Evangelical Candidate?

For the past two elections, the evangelical constituency has backed President Bush, even as their opinion of him has declined. While he has yet to do anything concrete to forward the evangelicals' agenda, he remained the evangelicals' choice for president given his sense of religiosity and the values that he espoused. Since the election of 2004, the evangelicals' opinion of Bush has further diminished, and it is impacting their entire view of the GOP. Although Bush is not a candidate for the 2008 election, due to his performance the evangelicals have become disenchanted with the Republican Party. While it is unlikely the evangelical bloc would switch to the Democratic Party, this group of voters is reaching the point where they are threatening to stay home from the polling booths in November 2008. Although the evangelicals are disillusioned with the Republicans and the current potential nominees for president, in a recent interview, Dr. Richard Land, the president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), indicated that "with Hillary Clinton looming on the horizon, electability is a very important issue." Thus, the evangelicals might be driven to the polls not because they want to directly forward their own agenda, but they want to prevent a more liberal one from becoming viable. However, even if they were to vote Republican, who would be their candidate?
In an article in OpinionJournal, the candidates thus far are presented as "Rudy Giuliani, a twice divorced, pro-choice, supporter of civil unions; Mitt Romney, a Mormon who as recently as his 1994 Senate campaign against liberal icon Sen. Ted Kennedy was pro-choice and wishy-washy on gay marriage; John McCain, who voted against the gay marriage amendment and who crafted the campaign finance laws that have done much to damage the anti-abortion efforts of religious conservatives; or perhaps Fred Thompson, who supported McCain-Feingold and says that gay marriage is a state issue." Since the evangelical constituency is bonded by their common interest in a socially conservative agenda, all of these candidates are far from ideal. While some candidates have tried to ameliorate the situation by meeting with prominent evangelical leaders, it is still far from clear who will obtain the evangelicals' support in 2008.

4/24/2007

Campus Security Issues: Justified Criticism or Glorified "Victim-Blaming"?

In the wake of last week’s terrible events at Virginia Tech, controversy has been swirling about whether appropriate safety measures were taken by university officials that fateful morning.

Security-threats on campus were certainly not completely foreign to Virginia Tech. An escaped convict months earlier coupled with two bomb threats in the weeks leading up to the shootings had, in some people’s opinion, established worth-while cause to re-evaluate and tighten campus safety measures—something which apparently did not happen, at least not to a sufficient degree. Thus, should we be faulting Virginia Tech for not pursuing a course of action aggressive enough to counter the situation? Or are we, as some suggest, “victim blaming?” Looking to rationalize an impossible-to-digest atrocity by putting its victims in the hot-seat rather than accepting it for what it was, a completely unpredictable terrible tragedy, plain and simple.

Many, including Tech students, have voiced complaints about being alerted to potential danger—via mild-mannered email—two entire hours after the first shootings occurred, by which time the second attack was already underway. Many have wondered why—even if the first shootings were unpreventable—the second shootings were permitted to occur when such a significant amount of time elapsed between the two. Why wasn’t the campus evacuated, may wonder? In the very least, why didn’t they lock it down?

A significant argument questions, however, (as university president Charles Steger has pointed out time and again) that on a campus of 25,000 strong—with a population density comparable to that of a small city—what do you lock down?

Indeed, as Associate Press writer Hank Kurz reports, Edmund Henneke, an Associate Dean of Engineering who was in the building where the second attacks occured, argued that criticism of the authorities' response was unfair. "We have a huge campus," he said. "You have to close down a small town and you can't close down every way in or out."

While no practical option may yet exist to effectively “lock down” a huge, open campus such as Virgina Tech’s, many argue that more effective measures could certainly have been taken to alert the students of possible danger. Yet the question remains, at 8 am with thousands of students spreading out across the sprawling campus on their way to class—spilling out of dorms, parking lots and cafeterias—what feasible way exists to intercept them?

On one hand, Virginia Tech does have an out-door Public Address system that could possibly have been utilized to this end. On the other hand, however, to announce over loud-speakers that a man has just shot and killed two students, is on the loose, and could potentially strike again could very well do nothing—as university officials argue—but promote mass hysteria, causing more harm than good. The question remains, however, are the potential injuries, panic and chaos commonly cited as reasons against making such announcements really more worthy of avoiding than more dead students? Yes, an announcement that there’s a killer on the loose might be less diplomatic and more hysteria-inducing than a level-headed email explaining a “shooting incident,” but very arguably it could succeed in getting more students off campus, and out of potential danger-zones quicker—and isn’t this the all-important goal of campus security measures? To keep students out of harm’s way?

As an alternative option to the PA system, some have suggested a campus-wide text-messaging service that could alert students and faculty of emergencies via their cell phones. Questions concerning privacy then inevitably emerge, however, as the only way for such a system to be effective would entail faculty and students to submit their cell numbers—very private information in the minds of many.

Issues such have these—along with inevitable debates about gun-control—have taken a political forefront as campus’s across the nation, reeling from last week’s tragedy, struggle to put in place security measures that are capable of preventing such shootings in the future.

It should be recognized that a select minority of gun-rights advocates—including Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners America—have decided to argue that it is not faulty security or lax gun-control laws that are to blame for last week’s massacre, but another problem: too FEW guns on campus. At bottom, however, it seems that many members of the American public have taken the events at Virginia Tech as a shocking and tragic indication that our current safety protocols and defense of our “inviolable” right to bear arms are out-dated artifacts from a safer, perhaps dangerously incomparable, time.

Iraq

The theme of this week seems to be Iraq, so I'm going to propose that it no longer exist. A bit simplistic, but I think it just might work.

The time has come to reevaluate Iraq's colonial-era boundaries, given the seemingly intractable divisions between the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish groups. While the boundaries between the groups are diffuse, they are becoming more defined with every passing day; Shiite death squads push Sunni families out of mixed neighborhoods while Shiites flee Sunni bombers. Furthermore, a new political agreement forced by Kurdish PMs gave Arab families incentives to leave the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, originally Kurdish but forcefully Arabized under Saddam. A unified Kurdish bloc is taking shape in the north of the country, while Sunnis are increasingly concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods in Baghdad and the rest of the "Sunni triangle." Shiites, meanwhile, dominate the south of the country.

The only real problem is oil. The oilfields are concentrated around Kirkuk and the southern Shiite territory, leaving Sunnis dependent on a unified Iraq to receive a fair share of the oil proceeds. This suggests a loose federal structure as the way forward, with a central government in charge of distributing oil money on a per-capita basis and little else. Each region already virtually has its own army, and making the boundaries official will allow American troops to take a less prominent role, easing the transition as families relocate (under ideal circumstances this would be voluntary, but little about Iraq is or has ever been ideal).

It is time to recognize that Iraq is not a country capable of governing its disparate population, and has never been. It is an artificial British post-World War I creation which has run its course. Let's acknowledge reality, and try to set Iraq on a viable future course before our troops are inevitably brought home.

4/23/2007

Are Insurgencies Beatable?

This is perhaps one of relevant political-historic questions of today. As the United States military – the stronger one in the world - continues to fight Iraqi insurgencies, more and more people point out to the Bush administration and the General Staff that historically modern armies have never beaten this type of armies. The French lost to FLN in Algeria, the Soviets lost to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, and the Americans lost to Viet Cong in Vietnam. While certainly insurgencies have been more common in 20th and 21st century history, in Western history, they date as far back as the Spanish guerrilla resistance against Napoleon’s army in early 19th century. Even Carl von Clausewitz in his classic On War has devoted a chapter to “people’s wars” in the scheme of his more widely read conventional war analysis. More recently, the Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote The Transformation of War, the only non-American book on the U.S. army officer-reading list. In this book, he advises Western nations to assemble smaller armies that mimic insurgencies if they want to win these types of wars, because Western soldiers are morally discouraged from fighting weaker enemies.

Certainly there is merit in citing Western nations’ bad track record and promoting smaller armies, but overall, the pessimistic critiques of modern armies much too often fail to examine all warfare against insurgencies. When one starts to recollect that Syria beat the Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon forced out the PLO, among the many non-Western victories over insurgencies, the track record of conventional militaries suddenly dramatically improves. The truth is that insurgencies are weak. They can be beat and they have been beaten before. It’s not an easy task. In case of the Syrians, it takes a massacre of an entire city of Hama to do the job, but nevertheless, it can be done. Unlike the successful non-Western powers, Western nations have lost to insurgencies because of a lack of dedication and will. The French, the Soviets, and the Americans never made it a priority to win in their perspective wars. Even Iraq has been just one of the issues in American politics. What Western nations need to understand is that to win wars against insurgencies they must be devoted: they must be ready to face very heavy causalities among their soldiers and they must be ready to inflict even heavier casualties on the civilians of the opposing side. Just because they are fighting a scattered army doesn’t mean that they can win easily or that the other side is unbeatable; they must treat it as a conventional war, which certainly costly, but winnable. If they start to show weakness by trying to minimize causalities of their army personal and the local civilians, as the Israelis have done in the 1982 and 2006 Wars with Lebanon, they will never achieve their tasks. That being said: is the cost of war against insurgencies worth it? That’s up to politicians and the public to decide. Are insurgencies beatable? Absolutely.

4/22/2007

It's not Senator Reid who "Lost" the War in Iraq

While Senator Harry Reid certainly has the right to practice his freedom of speech and declare that the war in Iraq is "lost," to do so from the position of a United States Senator and as the leader of Democratic Party in the Senate has been lampooned by Republicans as both cowardly and irresponsible. They claim that such statements do nothing but demoralize our troops and strengthen the enemy, making the fight that much harder to win. In this sense, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the U.S. believes the war is lost, then it will more than likely end on terms that could reasonably be called a defeat for the U.S.

But will such a hypothetical future "defeat" be one the United States has suffered, or will it be something that the Bush administration has suffered? For many, there is no disctinction. George W. Bush is the President after all, and that means that whatever he believes in, whatever he chooses to do, whatever the consequences, that is where American goals and policy should be headed. After all, he was elected by the people (and not a friendly Supreme Court, or anything like that, right?).

The sad truth is, the Bush administration never had a plan for "victory" in Iraq, beyond the success of the military invasion and overthrow of Saddam. Surely there was never any doubt that the most advanced fighting force in the world would defeat one lone Middle Eastern dictator with nothing but an ill-trained army outfitted with outdated Soviet technology and not even any WMD's to cheat with. In a fair fight against Saddam, the U.S. was going to come out on top (and in spectacular fashion, after only a few weeks of major combat operations).

However, if that was the only fight the Bush administration was expecting in Iraq, which it seems like it was, then I can barely express my shock and outrage at the criminal level of negligence and myopic planning that has so far proven to be the case. From Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War, it becomes shockingly clear how little planning or preparation there was for the post-war operations phase of the campaign. From administration officials refusing to heed the pleas of commanders and soldiers deployed on the ground for money or support, to Rumsfeld's decision that the Iraqi army be immediately disbanded after the war (thus releasing hundreds of thousands of young, disgruntled, unemployed men into the streets, instead of retraining or reconstituting them for reconstruction or police duties), it's obvious the adminstration didn't think Iraq would be a big deal after Saddam. Dictator gone, mission accomplished (look, a banner on an aircraft carrier that I just landed on, how cool is that!).

But you can't take apart a country's leadership and expect things to just be dandy. I am not saying the war in Iraq should not have been fought, I am saying that once the decision was made to fight this war, the amount of planning and preparation for it was absurdly inadequate. Our troops were dropped into a fractured country and left to dry, hanging in the middle of the brutal sectarian violence that was inevitably going to follow. And once it became apparent that the mission was most certainly not "accomplished," it became the Republican rallying cry to support the troops no matter what. I support the troops. I support keeping them alive. I support using them for missions for which they are fully informed, for which they have clear, accomplishable objectives.

There are those out there who would claim that by denouncing the "leadership" of President Bush (in quotes, because in truth, he has not shown anything resembling that quality, except perhaps a naive and foolish stubbornness that some mistake for "determination" and "courage"), I undermine the troops, and abet our enemies. They say that these enemies will go on fighting us, with even more resolve as we lose our stomach for the fight. And I say, why are we fighting them? To defend our freedom? To defend Iraqi freedom? They fight us because we are there, they fight us because they can easily be made to believe that we are the oppressors. The longer we stay, the more innocents will die. They are our enemies, because by being there, our presence has created them. We cannot win this war in the traditional sense, because the longer and harder we fight it, the longer and tougher the resistance to our efforts will be. Republicans happily claim now, with an "I told you so" attitude, that the growing violence in Iraq is proof positive of the extensive Al Qaeda presence there. What they fail to realize, is that Al Qaeda is there, and is stronger than ever before, ONLY BECAUSE WE ARE THERE. They were not there before the invasion, but they sure as hell had plenty of reason to jump in the fray after we did.

And that is what is lost in the senseless yelling in this "debate" on Iraq. This is not the Revolutionary War, and saying that George Washington never would have quit has nothing to do with anything. We are not fighting a just war against an imperial power who threatens to dominate our liberties and our livelihoods. This is not like any war we have ever fought before, because we have no defined enemy. The current troop surge is like trying to knock down a wall with a rubber mallet; it didn't work the first time, so now we'll just swing harder. But the harder we fight, the harder the fight will be. Instead we must be fighting smarter, and if at all possible, not engaging in physical combat at all. In that sense, Senator Reid was right, that this war will need to be won on economic, social, political, and diplomatic fronts, because it cannot be won soley by brute force.

4/17/2007

In Defense of Imus

Given the recent controversy surrounding Don Imus, I’d like to take (what seems to be) the very unpopular stance: Don Imus didn’t do much wrong. I say this for two reasons. Firstly, all he ever did was say something; Imus merely made an offhand remark on air. He didn’t punch anyone or kill anyone, he didn’t do anything physical and his comments didn’t incite any action as well. Imus didn’t call for black female basketball players to be hung, but based on the reaction, you might have thought so. Imus was well within his first amendment rights and he made an off-color joke (or what was intended to be a joke). Not only that, but Imus apologized for the comment within two days and the Rutger’s basketball team even accepted the apology!

Sure, many have noted that Imus has a history of racial insensitivity and this very accusation leads to my second point: why is the public so outraged at Imus when many other talk show hosts make more extreme and detrimental remarks all the time? Take Rush Limbaugh, for example, who gets 13.5 million viewers a week (at least triple that of Imus). Limbaugh has mocked Michael J. Fox’s condition, called the 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton, the one person effectively off-limits during the Clinton years, the “White House dog,” and has himself made (what many consider) racist remarks, such as when he said Donovan McNabb got too much credit because he is black. He has also said, for example, that “the NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies." But maybe Limbaugh deserves most credit for decrying the supposed immorality of illegal drug use when, it turns out, he was abusing painkillers the whole time!

So it is for these two reasons, that Imus’s remarks were not malicious or didn’t result in anything that harmed the team and that when compared to other radio hosts, Imus doesn’t seem so bad, that I think Imus should have been let off the hook. I am certainly not condoning racist remarks and it is true that Imus has a history of making racist and sexist remarks, but at the end of the day we have to realize that his comment had no real effect on the team other than to stir up controversy. There are other figures I’d rather see taken off the air.

Freedom of Speech Revisited

The First Amendment of the Constitution states that:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

What exactly falls within the realm of our frequently-invoked First Amendment? Is it as clear-cut as simply ensuring that people have the right to say whatever is on their mind, whenever they choose? Or is it more limited than people generally give it credit for?

In recent news, Don Imus was fired for using racial epithets on his morning show, and the show was cancelled. Were both CBS and MSNBC justified in firing Imus, or were they actually in the wrong and violating Don Imus’ right to freedom of speech?

Freedom of speech is deemed one of a US citizen’s fundamental rights, and the First Amendment was put in place to protect this right from government interference. In order to interfere with this right, the government has to present a compelling reason as to why the restriction is necessary. A popular example is whether or not the government can sanction someone who yells “Fire!” in a crowded theater. The compelling reason in this case is that this speech would directly and immediately endanger the other people in the theatre; thus it has been removed from the protection of the First Amendment.

Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre is one example of a situation in which the government found a compelling argument as to why freedom of speech should be restricted. While similar cases define the circumstances under which freedom of speech can be regulated by the government, it does not follow that anything not explicitly restricted is protected speech since the First Amendment only applies to government action.

For example, on a smaller scale, the speech of employees of private companies is not protected by the First Amendment with respect to consequences created by their employers. Thus, if an employee were to curse at his boss, his boss would be fully within his rights to fire him.

Going back to Don Imus, his being fired by CBS and MSNBC was not, in fact, a freedom of speech issue. Don Imus was fired by his employers after using racial epithets primarily because major advertisers were withdrawing their support, not because of the language actually used. However, even if it were about the language used, since CBS and MSNBC are private companies, the First Amendment does not apply to their actions.

4/16/2007

Tragedy in Virginia

Seeing the news this afternoon, that a shooting had occurred at Virginia Tech, resulting in the killing of over 30 students and the gunman, was, to say the least, chilling. Virginia Tech is a good school - I've got friends there - and, as is sadly the case with many such events, it's just not where you'd expect to see a mass murder. (Which sort of suggests the question "just where would you expect to see a mass murder take place?" but that's beside the point.) We here (I can safely speak for everyone, I think) at Princeton Political Argument send our condolences to the families and friends of those affected by the incident.

As always, this tragedy will not be an isolated event, but will spur introspection from all fronts. Take, for example, that our Class of 2010 Assassins game has been put on hold for a week. It's likely that other topics will come up, and I wanted to discuss briefly one that already has shown up in the news as a reaction to the VA Tech shootings. In the wake of the shootings, gun control activists have already seized the moment to once again call for stricter gun control laws. While admirable in intent (duh, they want to stop violence) I'd like to present a brief argument against gun control, lest we forget our reason in the heat of the moment.

Most arguments (and indeed ones we are likely to hear in coming days) focus on gun control's ability to reduce crime. Statistics can be cited for both sides, and then attacks on both sides' statistics can be cited on and on. There are countries in the world with stricter gun control laws and both higher and lower rates of crime than the US. Crime being such a complicated issue, it is relatively hard to isolate the legality of guns as a variable.

For the sake of argument, it is at least safe to turn to ideas of statistics. If guns are made in some measures illegal or harder to obtain, it is likely that fewer people would possess them. The question to be asked, then, is who is it that will be deterred from getting a gun? The argument that criminals in general will be kept from gun ownership is unfortunately naive. Since guns are still widely available and cheap, slapping regulations on the legal market will only fuel the illegal black market of firearms. Why would a criminal wait for a background check or fill out a long series of forms?

Also easy to see is that guns can indeed increase the safety of a neighborhood whereas gun control laws can endanger it. If a burglar is sure that no law-abiding citizen will have a gun, he can rob with great impunity. If he knows that any given potential victim could be a potential gun carrier, he is much more likely to think twice.

Worth noting is the effect guns have on people's psyches. Gun deaths from children left unsupervised are far fewer than deaths caused by children drowning while left alone in swimming pools. Yet which is more likely to keep parents from letting their child play at a friend's house: knowing the friend's parents have a gun or a pool?

Guns can do terrible things, but, as the cliche goes, if guns are outlawed then only outlaws will have guns. If some madman opens fire in Frist, I sincerely hope that someone busts out a pistol and returns fire. While there is clearly a law to be drawn (I don't think we should be allowed to have nuclear bombs) it may be wider than one would think. In whatever debate issues, we need to remember that while tragedies are visible on a national scale, whatever crimes guns prevent are (happily) not so newsworthy.

Sources:

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aM9rLMRr4IYs&refer=home
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_the_United_States
Freakonomics, Steven Levitt

4/14/2007

Where have all the e-mails gone?

An estimated 5 million White House emails have vanished into thin air. Who is to blame? Speculation about presidential advisor Karl Rove misusing the Republican National Committee’s email system had previously raised questions, but surprise surprise-those records have gone missing as well. CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), a liberally driven watchdog group is insistent that a Presidential Records Act violation has occurred. CREW is lobbying for investigation in separate instances; one being the Republican National Committee’s mishandling of the email server and the other being the eye opening 5 million emails missing.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was quick to distance speculation from the outside resource, CREW. “We're checking into them. There are 1,700 people in the Executive Office of the President.” Republican Party campaign account emails have not been saved, which creates a big problem that the White House has already recognized as a ‘screw up.’ This Capitol Hill controversy surrounds email accounts set up for the 22 aids that were supposed to part official business from political work. Senator Patrick Leahy is spearheading the Congressional attack for action to be taken. “You can't erase e-mails, not today, that's like saying, the dog ate my homework.” Leahy has already compared this incident to the Watergate scandal and threatens the RNC with subpoenas.

Although this incident is claimed to be incidental (yeah, right), the Executive Office of the President has certainly not stopped there. A special prosecutor from the CIA leak case has already identified that a gap in saved emails took place in 2003. Democratic officials feel that this is an especially controversial topic because it sparks questions about a lack of information released in the CIA leak case. What does the RNC have to say about it? Attorney Robert Luskin reported that until this month Karl Rove thought his emails were being archived, and that he had done nothing wrong. While the White House may come up with better excuses than Karl Rove, the public may never know the truth about the missing emails.

4/10/2007

America's Great Wall of Immigration

While plenty of attention has been given to the construction of a physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border designed to stem illegal immigration, the finer points of the immigration debate are often missed. Just to get it out of the way, I'll state the facts and figures and forget the wall for now: the wall costs between $1 to $10 million per mile, and it would cost several billions of dollars to cover a substantial enough part of the border to matter.

President Bush visited the border yesterday at Yuma, Arizona, to commemorate the opening of a new border guard station, and also to take the opportunity to push for his immigration reform policies. While the bill authorizing the construction of the wall along with other enforcement measures was passed with bipartisan support, Bush stressed that enforcement is only half of the problem. New, comprehensive legislation is necessary to tackle immigration reform, that not only places an emphasis on enforcement, but also on what to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The problem is, here is where that bipartisan support falls apart. Democrats are actually closer to the President's ideas for reform than his own Republican party-mates, which include a temporary guest worker program, and avenues to citizenship for current illegal immigrants. Conservatives vehemently oppose any plan that would allow illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, calling it an amnesty that would reward illegal activity. President Bush's response so far has been to try and sell his immigration reform to Republicans, from whom he lacks support, while counting on the same Democrat support for his plans that he received for an earlier bill that passed the Senate but stalled in the House. However, the more Bush courts GOP support, the more he may alienate his ironically Democratic base on the issue. "For instance, one plan would require illegal immigrants wishing to remain in the United States to return to their country of origin first and pay a $10,000 fine to obtain a three-year work visa. The visas would be renewable, at a cost of $3,500." Such prohibitive costs may end up meaning nothing at all, if these visas become practically impossible so as they might as well not exist.

House Speaker Pelosi has warned the President that Democratic support is uneven, and that any reform legislation cannot pass without significant GOP support. This means the Bush adminstration is going to have to find a way to negotiate over what some conservatives see as an nonnegotiable issue. In point of fact, the difficulties the White House face in brokering such legislation is more a sign of the President's ebbing political capital than anything else. Bush can't afford to have his own way, but any concessions to the right will cost him support from the left, and vice versa. In the end, odds are nothing will be done in the short time frame available, as the looming 2008 presidential elections draw legislators' attention way from the death throes of this President's adminstration. In the meantine, American tech jobs will contine to suffer as highly skilled immigrant labor remains capped at 65,000 visas a year, and legal immigrants will continue to be dissuaded from remaining in the U.S. with the difficulty and enormous backlog in processing applications for residency.

In effect, the U.S. is facing the costs while not being able to enjoy any of the benefits of immigration, legal or otherwise.

4/09/2007

Bush: the Worst President Ever

And now, the long-awaited justification for my coronation of Bush as our nation's worst chief executive:

There are essentially two criteria by which a president should be judged: how they respond to crises, and how long the positive changes they make last, or the negative ones take to undo.

Washington, Lincoln and FDR have to be considered the three greatest, in some order. Washington resisted the temptation to become a monarch in all but name, and by stepping down after two terms set a precedent that was followed until FDR. He also defused the first major national crisis, the Whiskey Rebellion. Lincoln of course brought the Civil War to a close and ended slavery; furthermore, he seems to have had a real shot at bringing the South back to the Union peacefully and in accord with Northern values until a bullet turned the job over to his incompetent successor, Andrew Johnson. FDR brought the United States out of the Depression and through WWII, and while some of his social policies may have been overzealous, he set the United States on an egalitarian course that was unchallenged until Reagan, and of which major elements (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) persist today. Reagan also deserves credit for hastening the fall of the Soviet Union and paving the way for the economic recovery of the nineties, though he clearly does not rank among the top three.

Now to compare our unfortunate president against these titans of history may be a bit unfair, so let's take a gander at the bottom of the barrel. Grant and Harding were incompetent; not themselves corrupt, they were totally unfit for office and were ruthlessly swindled by their closest advisers. Fortunately, corruption is quickly remedied by regime change, and their failings were short-lived. Andrew Johnson, on the other hand, seriously botched Reconstruction, but by the end of his career he was so enfeebled by the Radical Republicans that his impact was negligible. Often pre-Civil War presidents such as Fillmore, Pierce and Buchannan are censured by historians for their failures to avert the Civil War, but in my opinion it was sixty-three years in the making and all but unavoidable. Nixon failed to get out of Vietnam in a timely fashion, but his only major failing was Watergate, which despite shaking the nation’s confidence in the presidency was actually rather minor. In addition, his visit to China and steps toward d├ętente were important.

The worst president, until our own, was Rutherford B. Hayes (also, incidentally, a serious contender for the worst presidential name, but the two are probably not related). Hayes was never elected president; only a massively obvious vote fraud put him in front of the Democratic (read Southern) candidate, and to avoid a showdown he struck the most insidious deal in American history. In return for Samuel J. Tilden conceding the election, Hayes agreed to dismantle reconstruction and remove all Union troops from the South, only 12 years after the end of the Civil War. While Reconstruction was flawed, it was making progress; many Southern states have had the only black senators or governors in their history during the post-Civil War period. Through this act and his later tolerance of the Jim Crow laws, Hayes set the stage for ninety years of segregation.

And now, George W. Bush. Bush faced a major crisis early in his presidency, September 11th (Katrina, in the eyes of history, was rather minor, though revealing). Bush at first responded rather admirably, with an entirely justified and internationally supported campaign against Afghanistan, using minimal American troops and quickly handing power to a relatively democratic Afghan government. Then of course came the Iraq War, which undermined reconstruction in Afghanistan, sent Iraq toward civil war (though life under Saddam Hussein was no picnic), and undermined U.S. credibility for years to come. In addition, Bush used September 11th to justify the largest assault on civil liberties since World War I.

What is worse, however, is how thoroughly he has eroded the capacity of the United States government to fulfill its primary function, to govern. Bush came into office as a firm disciple of the neoconservatives, who having chafed under eight years out of the spotlight, came back into power with an appetite for vengeance. The neoconservatives held that they wanted to radically change the government, and that the established, professional bureaucracy was their enemy in this mission. They set out to staff all important positions with loyal Republicans in order to carry out this agenda, and as eight prosecutors recently found out, no job was safe. At every level, Bush has made function subservient to ideology and obedience, replacing experienced bureaucrats with incompetent functionaries. A few examples: FEMA director Michael Brown, who in a few short years turned the agency which responded quietly and admirably to Hurricane Andrew into the one which botched Katrina to extent which needs no description; Donald Rumsfeld, who went straight from manipulating pre-war intelligence to mismanaging the war itself thanks to his dismissal of advice from experienced generals; the Department of the Interior (as a whole) which has been staffed by former oil executives intent on signing away as much of our national resources for as little as possible, and the EPA, which has cut environmental regulations and national parks set up by the Clinton Administration.

Bush has damaged our international credibility more severely than even Vietnam could, has turned a record-setting surplus into a record-setting debt, has turned partisan warfare from into an ideal, has wasted thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and has gutted our government of those who know how to run it. We can only hope that our forty-third president will always remain our worst, and that his disastrous example is not soon forgotten.

Why don’t the Democrats Party with Osama?

This past week the Democratic leadership proved to be a disgrace, a group of men and women who should be charged for treason, not lead our nation. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is first on the list of the dishonored. Crossing over any line of decency and ethics for small political gain, he met with the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mohammed Saad el-Katatni. The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic fundamentalist organization that has caused violence throughout the Middle East in the past and influenced Osama bin Laden to establish al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks. The organization also supports Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians. In short, the Muslim Brotherhood stands hostile to all U.S. interests in the area. The meeting between Hoyer and el-Katatni itself is harmful because it could have potentially alienate Egypt’s President Mubarak, who is a strategic partner for the U.S. in the Middle East. In addition, lets not forget that Hoyer doesn’t have any constitutional right to conduct foreign policy and shouldn’t defy any pleads from the Bush administration and the Department of State not to conduct controversial and indeed harmful encounters with foreigners.

Hoyer’s partymate in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi, proved to just as dirty. She set off to Israel and Syria as if she was the Secretary of State, trying to serve as a mediator between the two countries by passing, what turned out to be false, messages. She seemed to have forgotten that the United States already has a Secretary of State and that she doesn’t have political power to act as an American foreign affairs spokeswoman. Whatever she said to both Israeli and Syrian leaders could be destructive, since they could have interpret it as official American statements and acted accordingly. Furthermore, just the fact that she is willing to communicate with a country that sponsors terrorism, serves as a satellite of Iran, and arms Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has waged war against Israel this past summer, is disdainful.

One could perhaps argue that Hoyer’s and Pelosi’s meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood and Syria were necessary because it’s important to have communications with our enemies. However, this argument doesn’t have a sound basis. If the United States needs to negotiate or communicate with either Syrian or Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, the U.S. can do so through unofficial, secret meetings. It doesn’t need traitors with fancy titles and ill moral to do that work.

4/08/2007

Death Penalty Quandaries

Currently implemented in 30 states, the death penalty was re-legalized by Supreme Court decision in 1977. Since then, 552 people have been executed, while another 3,000 or so remain on “Death Row.” Much of the current controversy over the death penalty surrounds the circumstances where it should be applied—many argue that it has been unjustly implemented insofar as unequal application among racial and socioeconomic classes is concerned. Over 50% of death row inmates are black or another minority—an apparently hugely disproportionate number when one considers this demographic only accounts for 17% of the general population.

I would like to address, however, the merits of the very concept of the death penalty rather than argue merely over its application.

On one hand, it is widely held—both legally and in the court of public opinion—that the death penalty is both constitutional and morally right. When the accused has been convicted of reprehensibly violent crimes, and guilt is well beyond any discernable doubt, many argue that it would be ridiculous to allow the criminal any chance of killing again. While the threat of future crimes is certainly understandable, and in many cases legitimate, two major objections come to mind.

First of all, our criminal justice system is allegedly predicated upon rehabilitation. Capital punishment, quite obviously, leaves no room for rehabilitation. It is the ultimate punishment. No judgment is more final than that needle.

Furthermore, even if it were morally sound and just to decide that men—in certain circumstances—are completely beyond help and incapable of rehabilitation, given that the death penalty is the one irreversible punishment, shouldn’t our courts be proven incapable of error before given the responsibility to determine such a sentence? A system that allows the potential for innocent men to be sentenced to death is conceptually hard to justify.

In the past, we have been able to delude ourselves into thinking that our courts—while occasionally capable of error, as all human constructions are—were by and large sound and reliable systems through which a guilty man is punished and an innocent man is excused. In current years, however, given developments in DNA forensics, countless errors in verdicts of capital punishment cases have been proven. With this new awareness of the frequency of wrongful convictions in capital cases, it is hard to argue that the system should remain in place as it stands. In no just society should men be condemned to death for crimes they did not commit.

Thus, not only is the death penalty apparently applied on discriminatory and racially oriented grounds, but it denies any possibility for meaningful rehabilitation and holds the treacherous capacity for irrevocable error.

4/06/2007

El problema De Los Conservadores

"We should replace Bilingual education with immersion in English, so people learn the common language of the country, so they learn the language of prosperity, not the language [Spanish] of living in a ghetto " shouted Newt Gingrich in a recent speech.

Only days later did Newt Gingrich release a “straight-to-youtube” video (oh! the spoils of generation next, right? ) titled "Mansaje de Newt Gingrich" which was more or less an attempt to apologize for his insensitive comments. In Spanish, he hails the language of Espana and clarifies his assertion that English is the language of progress in America.

The recent debacle over the words of one Newton Gingrich has exemplified the dicey situation the Republican Party has found itself in. On one hand the conservative party wants to reach out to the new kid on the voting bloc, Latinos, and broaden their vision to include the hopes and aspirations of millions of new Hispanic voters. On the other hand, the Republican Party is home to a large contingent of voters demanding border security, English first initiatives, and limited immigration. What’s the right to do?

This just shows how sinuous the debate on immigration and assimilation is for the Republican Party. The party stands to lose if it takes a definitive position on one side or another. If it sides with immigrant rights, bilingual education, and a softer immigration policy it will undoubtedly gain the support of millions of Latinos, and perhaps sow the seeds for Republicanism in the "sleeping dragon" of American electoral politics. However, the party will gain the ire of many of its most ardent supporters, many of whom feel that the Party is losing its ideological fervor.

The party is at a watershed moment where it can no longer tenuously balance its right wing and the desire to incorporate large scale Latino participation. Several key and influential Republicans have been at odds lately over the issue, and many Republicans have time and time again taken spoken on issues only to later retract their words when they realize that they are alienating the other of the two sides. Newt Gingrich’s recent “slip of the tongue” exemplifies this. He obviously holds a position which is in many ways anti-parallel to the desires of many Hispanics in America, and his usage of the word “ghetto” to describe Hispanics who speak only Spanish further details the tension that is possible. His quick and hilariously ironic apology only emphasizes how much he cares about trying to incorporate Hispanics into his political agenda.

In the end the Party has to determine what path it will take. How can one political “group” have voices like Tom Tancredo that advocate strict border control, tight immigration policies, rigid Bilingual education programs, and a decidedly protectionist position when other members like President Bush pursue an agenda that includes guest workers, bilingual education, and a moderately tight position on immigration? Some of the more liberal elements in the Republican Party view the Tom Tancredo’s of the party as excessively xenophobic and protectionist, while others believe that the recent attempt to reach out to Hispanics is a direct assault on conservative values of maintaining the social milieu and propose an argument that allowing so many people to move in weakens the American tradition. Obviously the party needs to determine a directed approach to avoid these kind of personal tirades that leave everyone feeling that the Republican Party is either a bastion of bigotry and xenophobia or a party filled with hypocritical supporters of illegal immigration. Either way the conservative position will be debased, because you cannot ignore the Hispanic vote, but you cannot ignore the vote of the millions of conservatives who hold particularly protectionist views.

4/03/2007

Bush's Legacy

Sometimes I feel bad for our president. There was a time when it seemed like Republicans could do whatever they wanted and get away with it and get the public to side with them. But now it seems like just the opposite: the Democrats are leading the Republicans with 32% of Americans associating themselves with the Republican party and 38% the Democratic party. In fact, 30% of Americans now refuse to identify with either party, a 7% increase from the 2004 election. Bush’s approval ratings are hovering in the low 30’s right now. On top of this, the Senate is Democrat-controlled, the war in Iraq is proving to be a miserable failure (to use a term popular in the blogosphere) and tremendous embarrassment for this country (two thirds of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of the situation), Bush’s former Chief of Staff is all over the news… for having been convicted of obstruction of justice, and to top it off, Bush’s Attorney General is being ripped apart in the papers. Bush’s administration completely messed up Katrina, got nowhere with Social Security privatization and Bush made a fool of himself when he rushed back to Washington to sign a bill to attempt to save the life of one human being (Terry Schiavo) — of course he was unsuccessful. Bush’s Federal Marriage Amendment failed but that bill was doomed from the start considering Bush’s right-hand man, Dick Cheney, didn’t even support him. Speaking of Cheney, did I mention that he shot a man in the face with a shotgun?

So why the pity? Well I’ve realized that Democrats have it well these days because the Republican Party has dug its own grave. Back in the day, Republicans could lie to the public, wiretap domestically and cut funding for everything and act like heroes. But I’ve realized that the party has screwed itself over by acting so arrogantly during the times it held such a strong majority. Remember when Bill Frist suggested getting rid of the filibuster of judicial nominees? Those were the days…

4/02/2007

The Evangelical: An Updated Conception

When the word “evangelical” appears in the media, it is commonly associated, or even equated, with the religious right and a socially conservative standpoint. During both the 2000 and 2004 elections, evangelicals were closely associated with opposition to issues such as gay marriage and adherence to traditional family values; due to their strong affiliations with these standpoints, they were credited with turning out in huge numbers to support Bush and, by many, were credited with winning the election for him. Although the social issues most commonly associated with evangelicals are still of significance to them, evangelicals are certainly not, as a group, completely preoccupied with them as is clearly indicated by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

When looking at the home page for this group, the news is dominated by issues concerned with human rights such as opposition to torture and the modern-day slave trade, not to gay marriage and abortion. Perusing through their values reveals that this group identifies “ministry to the poor” and “cross-cultural involvement” among their top eight concerns. According to one article, the NAE are also expressing a growing concern with global warming. Although not all evangelicals feel that the NAE presents rational standpoints on these issues, it is significant that evangelicals have shifted their focus, and it would be a mistake to predominantly associate them with the social issues that were prominent even just a few years ago in the 2004 elections.

The Right to Bear Arms - Protecting Democracy

Most of the argument surrounding gun control laws and gun rights argues about the effectiveness of civilian owned guns as a deterrent to crime and the effectiveness of gun control laws in reducing gun violence. The Second Amendment of the Constitution, where the right to bear arms finds its home in the legal world, seems to address a different context.

"Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Naturally, we couldn't expect the authors of the Bill of Rights to address the modern context in which prevalent gun violence can be a significant concern for the average law-abiding citizen in many urban neighborhoods. So what was their concern? It is that concern, independent of the problems of prevalent gun violence that we face today, that I would like to discuss.

The text of the second amendment addresses not the safety of individuals from criminals, but rather the security of a free State. It appears that the intentions of the authors were to protect the State from outside aggressors (as in foreign attackers) but also to protect the State from a tyrannical government in order for the state to remain free. The context of the time just after the Revolutionary war lends itself to this interpretation. It makes sense too: a well-regulated militia of ordinary arms-bearing citizens would have played a key role in keeping a state free and democratic.

In the case that one adopts the interpretation that the Second Amendment refers singly to the protection of a free State against outside aggressors, one could argue that the modern military makes such a militia unnecessary and frankly impractical. A counterargument to that could very well be that just as civilians bearing arms was necessary then to protect from outside aggressors, today civilians bearing arms is necessary to protect against a different enemy (the perpetrators of violent crime) against which the government's armed forces and law enforcement cannot respond adequately.

(Regarding the gun violence argument , comprehensive studies and research reveals that increased legal civilian gun ownership does not increase gun violence and if anything can decrease the crime rate. Well-publicized mass gun training programs have significantly reduced violent crime rates in the area in question.)

Alternately, another interpretation supports a reading that would uphold the right of civilians to own and carry guns in order to protect against the possibility of governmental tyranny, perhaps through the pretext of a threat to national security and then the establishment of military law and then the long-term extension of governmental power at the expense of individual rights... etc.

Should civilians have the right to keep and bear arms in order to protect against the eventuality of a 'hostile' government? On the other hand, should the government have a monopoly on firearms and the power to decide who wields them? If democracy of this nation depends on the government deriving its powers from the people, shouldn't we maintain a situation in which protests cannot be met brutally without retaliation?

I know that the idea of a right to bear arms to fight the government seems not only far fetched but drastic in this day and age, but should we allow the rights that at one time were essential to the protection of democracy to be slowly abridged because political stability has convinced us that such necessities are limited to the 18th century?

Legal Immigration

The news is awash on and off with debates over the "problem" south of the border. Illegal immigrants are streaming across in record numbers and the methods proposed for handling this range from harsher laws to vigilante militias to real big fences. It's a touchy subject. But in this deluge of immigration worry another type of immigration is being overlooked: the legal kind.

Especially in the technology sector immigrants are of the utmost import to the American economy. Something like 30% of Silicon Valley business started in the past 15 years were run and operated by East or South Asians. About 40% of computer science and engineering PhD students in the U.S. are foreign born. Why is this a problem? Well, of course that fact alone is fine, if not great - the problem is the would-be immigrants that might keep up this trend are finding it increasingly hard to come to the U.S., just as opportunities beyond our borders become more appealing.

While one might think America would welcome these immigrants, the numbers and laws run to the contrary: in 2003 the number of visas available for high-skilled workers was nearly quartered, and the most recent attempt to bring the numbers up to even half of their previous level died in the House. Big technology companies lament these difficulties just as foreign immigrants complain about all the immigration red tape in place. At the same time, other nations have lowered barriers as much as possible to attract skilled labor. The desire to come to America - while perhaps no less compelling to Mexicans - is fed by fewer and fewer opportunities for Asian skill.

This is one of many examples of general principles, enacted on a broad scale by the government (here restriction and fear of immigration) having unforeseen and undesirable consequences. While the issue of illegal Mexican immigration is no doubt significant, our Congress has proven incapable of handing even seemingly simple aspects of immigration well. On this one, I have to go with the conservative position that is skeptical in the government's ability to get anything much done.


Resources:

"The Economist," March 24th-30th 2007 issue, p. 40
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H1B

4/01/2007

Gingrich and Bilingualism in America

While reflecting on bilingual requirements for ballot printing, Newt Gingrich’s comments about bilingual education have sparked controversy about not only about his potentially racist attitude but the issue of the United States making English the nations official language. Gingrich was quoted to say: “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.” Astonishingly, the crowd at the National Federation of Republican Women event responded with applause. While the issue of English becoming America’s official language is not altogether a racist one, dubbing other languages to be from the ghetto is. In the past, Gingrich has even gone as far as saying that bilingualism threatens the long term fabric of our nation and may become dangerous to our society.

Spanish, the primary language being attacked throughout the controversy is utilized around the nation in ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. This type of bilingual institution places focus on extending knowledge of the English language while continuing to learn more concentrated subject matter in Spanish. Critics of this system claim that international students are not adapting to the American school system quickly enough, but the counter-argument says that an expedited integration into the school system could leave international students even further behind.

In 1981, the first English Only legislation was proposed, which would have virtually banned all uses of non-English language by federal, state, and local governments. Although this was never congressionally voted, it was the catalyst for twenty two other states to adopt variations of the Official English legislation. Even though ratifying a constitutional amendment appeared to be out of reach, English Only advocates continued their effort and proposed a bill that would only require a Congress majority vote. The closest this bill has come to being passed was in 1996, when it passed the House, but not the Senate. The abolition of bilingualism in education and government would render massive repercussions that could even go as far as a stunt in immigration. Although a national English Only bill may never be passed, speculation about bilingualism as a part of our society will remain.

3/27/2007

Designer Babies? Ethical dilemmas surrounding Genetic Enhancement

Imagine a future where you could pop a pill and be able to compose like Mozart. Imagine a future where you could take a shot and gain the speed of not just an Olympic sprinter, but a cheetah. Imagine a future world where parents sit in a waiting room, browsing through a “book of life” to decide the eye color, height, facial structure, intellectual capacity and personality type of their yet-to-be-conceived child. While these are certainly extreme examples, given projected development paths for biotechnology, is nonetheless hard to determine any inherent limits on the horizon. Thus, the question becomes not can we leap to new biological realities, but should we.

Leon Kass, the chair of the president’s council on bioethics, answers utilaterally, “No.” Voicing vehemently the potential dangers of genetic engineering, Kass insists that “we are compelled to decide nothing less than whether human procreation is going to remain human. whether children are going to be made to order rather than begotten, and whether we wish to say yes in principle to the road that leads to the dehumanized hell of Brave New World.” And indeed, federal policy seems to be bowing to these fears; since ’96 congress has prohibited researchers from using federal funds for embryo and germline research. Certainly, many contend that these new capacities subvert our most basic traditional philosophical paradigms, and undermine our standard ethical foundations of “human nature” or “humanity.” As Kass further rants, we are absolutely morally obligated to “speak up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”

What Kass and countless others seem to be overlooking however, is the doubtless potential of developments in genetic germline technology to do incredible good. These new technologies could well save millions of children from debilitating, often lethal genetic diseases (Tay Sachs, Down Syndrome and Cystic Fibrosis just to name a few). Yet when it comes to consciously manipulating the most elemental aspects of our unborn children, profound and unsettling fears emerge. Are we interfering with nature? Playing God? More concretely, could such therapeutic technologies eventually be used to create an entirely new genetically enhanced ruling class? Out of reach of everyone but the already privileged few, the gap between the have’s and the have-not’s could only widen as the privileged become not just socially and economically, but biologically more advantaged. While these fears are not unfounded, to bow to them would be indicative of a profound distrust in the moral capacities of man. It would imply that our capacities for evil outweighed our will to do good.

At the end of the day, obscure, only dimly discernable monsters will always lurk in the shadows of revolutionary technologies. It is ultimately best, however, to shine a light and expose them for what they are—most likely fearsome projections of our own dark, omnipotent urges which can and should be reckoned with continually, not buried or run from. Ignorance is not bliss, it is a cop-out.

To deny afflicted individuals gene therapy on the grounds that we doubt our abilities to comprehend long-term implications and act discriminately would be nothing short of crippling cowardice. There is no question that forging ahead with our quest to unlock the mysteries of our genes poses real and daunting challenges that are intuitively obvious. And indeed, as scientists and citizens, we have an obligation to be informed and ever sensitive of risks, ever cautious in action. Yet “we mislead ourselves if we imagine that the tradeoff is between meager benefits and great dangers” . Our exploding discoveries in genetics, as long as well guided, bring the hope of affecting miraculous change for mankind that could surely be more compassionate than the mindless randomness of nature.

3/26/2007

Has Nancy run out of ideas?

The Democratic majority that swept into Congress in the 2006 elections claimed a mandate on a broad swathe of issues, from health coverage to the minimum wage. But most importantly, it was elected because of Iraq. There was not a truly unified platform, as Pelosi claimed, nor was there even consensus among the antiwar Democrats about how the war should be brought to a close: some opposed it but believed that it was the President's prerogative to manage, and that there was little Congress could do directly short of cutting off funding, a politically suicidal move. Others believed that Congress should press for immediate withdrawal, while the middle of the party generally supported the idea of setting a timeline for withdrawal.

In the first 100 hours, the House of Representatives hurriedly passed the Pelosi agenda, with almost none of the pledged bipartisanship and debate, most of which was rejected or modified by the Senate, and none of which has yet been enshrined into law. After this triumph, the Democrats got down to the real reason for their majority: Iraq. After rancorous debate, the Democrats narrowly passed a withdrawal deadline for September 1, 2008 attached to an Iraq spending bill, with fourteen defections and only two Republican votes. What did this do? In practical terms, nothing. This bill has no chance of passing the Senate with the deadline in place; a vote in the Senate on the withdrawal deadline alone fell three votes short of a majority, and twelve short of the level necessary to overcome a filibuster.

And if the bill did pass the Senate, what then? Well, assuming Bush refuses to cave, which given his record is a virtual certainty, he would have two options: veto, forcing Democrats (with far less than two-thirds support) to cut off funds for the war or to pass funding without the deadline. Or he could simply accept the bill with no intention of honoring the withdrawal deadline, and in a year and a half, with less than four months left in office, he could simply ride out the Constitutional showdown, which he would probably eventually win in any case.

But the Democrats have made their dramatic show of defiance, and that's what counts. What really worries Democrats now is 2008. They were elected on the widespread perception of Republicans as unable to govern, and if they don't show some concrete legislation by the next election cycle, not only will their tenuous majority be imperiled, but they may be saddled with four more years of Republican presidency. The environment is perhaps the one remaining issue which can unite the disparate Democratic coalition, but even on that issue some are saying better to wait until a Democratic presidency in 08, when more dramatic reform can be passed, while others debate cap-and-trade versus emissions standards, all the while throwing wasteful ethanol subsidies at the corn farmers of Iowa.

Your move, Nancy.

Effects of the Internet on the 2008 Presidential Campaign

When I was looking at John Edwards’s campaign website, I was surprises to see links on the front page to his account on popular social networks such as Facebook and MySpace as well as websites that I have never even heard before, like vSocial.com. Such links were not as predominately featured on Hillary Clinton’s or Rudy Giuliani’s websites, but were on the front page of Barak Obama’s website. With a creative slant, John McCain’s website proposed users to create an account on McCainSpace, a mySpace-type network for McCain supporters. In addition, McCain posted his own March Madness bracket, which users can compete against to win free “McCain-2008” shirts. This shows just shows a glimpse of the Internet-ization of the 2008 Presidential campaign (WSJ has a interesting article on the subject). Each of the candidates is relying more on the Internet to attract voters, trying slightly different Internet approaches than the others, but overall sticking to the same devices. The question is whether such campaign tactics will revolutionize, or at least change, the campaign process, perphaps like personally addressed mass mail did back in the early ‘80s.

Internet-ization could potentially lead voters to be more informed and to choose candidates primarily based on candidates’ views on issues. In previous election, voters had to predominately rely upon the television for information about the candidates’ views on issues. However, the media more often covers scandals, poll ratings, and campaign day-to-day activities than actual issues. The candidates had websites, but they were substantially less developed compared to the much better designed and maintained websites candidates have today. Voters could easily access such websites, or even better, stumble upon them from Facebook or mySpace, read about the candidate’s views, and formulate their opinions of the candidates based on what issues they support. For this to actually happen, candidates need to have unique, clearly stated views. In real life, though, candidates prefer to have very bland stances on issues that attract the most voters by alienating the minimum number of voters. For example, Giuliani is generally viewed as the most liberal Republican candidate when it comes to social issues, like gay marriage. On his website, it is stated:
“Rudy Giuliani believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He does not - and has never - supported gay marriage. But he believes in equal rights under law for all Americans. That's why he supports domestic partnerships that provide stability for committed partners in important legal and personal matters, while preserving the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.”
On the other hand, McCain is considered a socially conservative candidate. On his website, its written, “John McCain believes that marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman. He believes that the courts should respect the right of the people to decide this question.” Just from reading those short sections, one couldn’t choose between the two based on their views on gay marriage. Both say that they oppose gay marriage and it’s not clear whether McCain supports a “legal partnership” for gay couples. Perhaps there is hope that the ever-growing un-official sources, such as political blogs or other politics related websites, will reveal more detail pictures of the candidates’ stances on issues. However, it’s debatable how popular are these sources. After all, will the non-polarized, average Americans bother google-ing for more information on Presidential candidates’ political views or will they just trust CNN?

The second and probably main goal of Facebook-like campaign tactics is to attract more young voters. After all, most of the users of the social networks are young; statistically speaking, many of them don’t usually vote, but potentially could if they started caring about the particular candidates. However, the problem wilh Facebook-like tactics is that most people who are aware of the candidates’ social network profiles are already politically active. Unless one randomly searches for a candidate on Facebook or MySpace, he can only find out about a candidate’s social network profiles either through a candidate’s campaign websites or the news. If he either access campaign website or reads the news and bother to look up a candidate’s profiles, he is politically involved and would likely to vote anyway. Proving this assertion, the exposure of campaign related profiles is very small compared to the total population. As an example, Barack Obama leads all the Presidential candidates with eighty-three thousand MySpace friends, a number way short of the millions of young voters in the U.S. Thus, campaign’s heavy reliance on the Internet will have negligible effect on getting young people to vote. The much talked about Internet-ization is no more than an ineffective fad.

Eight U.S. Attorneys, the Fifth Amendment, and One Attorney General in the Crosshairs

While the controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys has been brewing for quite some time, new developments in the case continue to stir the pot. With an aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales pleading the Fifth Amendment and refusing to testify in Congress, even more questions will be raised. Ms. Goodling, the Justic Department liason to the White House, is contesting the fairness of the panel investigating the firings, and also "cited the possibility that she might be a witness in a criminal inquiry, although there is currently no known criminal investigation into the dismissals." Of course this begs the question, what sort of future criminal investigation could Ms. Goodling be worried about?

The White House and Mr. Gonzales maintain that the firings were based solely on performance, and that the list of U.S. attorneys asked to resign was compiled solely as a list of underperforming attorneys. In a recent NBC interview, Mr. Gonzales emphasized this point repeatedly, although he also made clear that he was not directly involved in the creation of the list. Apparently, Mr. Gonzales was only involved at the end of the process, in keeping the White House up-to-speed on the progress of the review, and approving the final list submitted to him. When asked how he could be sure that the attorneys on the list were there for the proper reasons, Mr. Gonzales became evasive, instead saying, "[w]hat I can say is this: I know the reasons why I asked these United States Attorneys to leave." Well if you know, how about letting the rest of the world in on the secret?

With 3000 documents released to the investigation, it would seem that somewhere would be sufficient evidence of "underperformance" if indeed that was the reason for the firings. But the fact of the matter is, these attorneys were for the most part competent, effective U.S. attorneys. The U.S. attorney from New Mexico recently published an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times, in which he stated that according to a 2004 review, he was a "diverse up and comer." He had a 95% conviction rate, prosecuted the biggest corruption case in New Mexico state history, made a record number of overall prosecutions, and received excellent office evaluations. To say that Mr. Iglesias was underperforming would not be mere understatement, it would be a flat lie.

What many of these eight attorneys did have in common was their involvement in politically charged corruption cases. In both New Mexico and Washington state, Republicans were dismayed that the U.S. attorney did not proceed to prosecute corruption cases against Democrats, due to a lack of sufficient evidentiary support.

The White House and the Justice Department led by Mr. Gonzales have both been far from forthcoming with the process, rationale, and motivations behind the firings of these U.S. attorneys. To allow the judicial branch to be co-opted by partisan politics and White House/Republican influence is to start down a very slippery slope.

3/14/2007

Washington DC Gun Ban Lifted

“A federal appeals court yesterday struck down the District's 30-year-old gun ban, ruling that the right to bear arms as guaranteed in the Second Amendment applies to individuals and not only to militias.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said he was "outraged" by the court's decision, which overturns a law that "has been unquestioned for more than 30 years."

"Today's decision flies in the face of laws that have helped decrease gun violence in the District of Columbia," he said. "The ruling also turns aside longstanding precedents and marks the first time in the history of the United States that a federal appeals court has struck down a gun law on Second Amendment grounds.” “


A federal court lifted Washington DC’s gun control laws, among the most restrictive in the nation, on the grounds that the Second Amendment applies to individuals. The mayor of DC, Adrian Fenty—a well liked, perceptive, and coherent leader—berated the decision and vowed to appeal. Now this may look like an unfortunate loss for the safety of our urban communities, however, I present to you a twist.
There is some consensus now (at least among the federal appeals court) that these laws are extra-judicial and encroach on the rights enumerated to you and I by the Constitution. Both sides presented legal arguments. However, what about the effectiveness of these laws? Its one thing to have a program work to provide for the security of its denizens and argue its legal merit, its totally another to have a program that has been proven ineffective to be upheld for such a long time (especially in light of the additional judicial concerns).
The DC gun ban was wholly ineffective in preventing firearm violence in Washington DC. In fact with one of the most restrictive programs in the nation, Washington DC is still among the most dangerous cities in the nation—worse yet it actually was the murder capital of the US on multiple occasions in the past 30 years, including 1991 when it saw more than 480 homicides. Communities with much more lax gun control laws exhibited far higher levels of safety and a far lower rate of firearm crime. Now, granted, this debate is very heated, and people often point out extremes in arguments—the Switzerland example comes to mind, in which the nation of Switzerland maintains among the most liberal gun policies in the world and endures some of the least gun crime in the world, but I want to present one of many possible arguments on the dynamic of gun-control.
Many believed that by restricting gun sales to law-abiding citizens, that there would subsequently be less guns on the street and hopefully less gun crime. This line of reasoning was proven wrong through years of empirical data. Indeed, even intuitively, it makes sense why strict gun control doesn’t work. To ban law-abiding citizens to get guns assumes that they commit most of the gun crime. On the contrary, citizens fitting that description commit a disproportionately smaller number of gun crimes. In addition the policy is based on the assumption that the guns would conceivably disappear from communities, but yet again, a misguided assumption rears its ugly head. The demand for guns has changed little, and in some urban locales, it has increased precipitously.
Gun control laws of the sort that Washington DC codified more than 30 years ago, deprive private citizens of any personal security. Evildoers can safely bet that their targets are unarmed, and thus continue to ravage the very urban communities that the law aimed to protect. In addition, the rise of the underground gun market is startling in Washington DC, and highlights one negative byproduct of a gun control law that admittedly was well intentioned, but sadly, ill thought.
The most prudent way to strike at gun-crime would be to facilitate information-swapping with differing jurisdictions, ensuring security in the gun purchasing system, implementing zero tolerance policies toward illegal gun possession, and finally attacking the demand side of the gun market while continuing to identify and eliminate the suppliers in the underground market………

3/13/2007

Anthrax and the Government

60 Minutes did an interesting story just this Sunday on the investigation into the person behind all the anthrax mailings back in 2001. The story is about the main suspect in the case, Steven Hatfill, who was wrongly accused of being the culprit. Now, and this is where 60 Minutes picks up, Hatfill is suing the government (specifically the FBI and the Department of Justice) for defaming him and ruining his career. The story is interesting for two reasons: one because Hatfill is suing the government because the FBI leaked very specific information about the case (a practice that may well define the Bush administration, another great example is the Valerie Plame leak) but also because the story concludes, and it’s all but obvious from the evidence of the case, that the FBI purposely leaked information about Hatfill simply because it had no other leads and wanted to make it seem that the culprit was just around the corner, so to speak.

Regarding the leaking, even (members of) the Congress has come to the conclusion that the FBI was sneaky. The story goes, “Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, has looked into the case and has concluded that there was leaking by top officials and that the purpose was not to shut Hatfill down, but to hide the lack of progress in the case.” While it is still possible that Hatfill was, in fact, the perpetrator, the FBI is split and most of the evidence (including the fact that he would have had to turn the “wet slurry anthrax” available to him into weapons-grade powder) seems to indicate that it was not Hatfill.

Whether the FBI did wrong is a different issue. On the one hand, the government made an effort to cover up what might have scared the general public (that the FBI was clueless). To this end, lying is not always “bad.” On the other hand, this type of behavior is indicative of the larger problem of the Bush administration: misleading the public. While the war in Iraq and this case are very different, they are both examples of this administration’s complete secrecy and willingness to lie to the public.

3/12/2007

Ending Prohibtion

The ACLU recently sent me a poster in the mail. I'm not a member so I don't know why they did that, but the topic is sort of interesting. Apparently there're a whole ream of laws on the books authorizing government seizure of any private property whatsoever with probable cause of crime as the only motivation. (Probable cause leading to arrest I can understand, but seizure of property without arrest...?) These laws were invented to help aid in the war on drugs (one of the many governmental wars, including the war on terrorism and the war on porn ) but, my new poster contends, they have resulted in little more than a breach of basic civil liberties.

In related news, other laws intended for use in the war on drugs put in prison suffering patients no reasonable person would condemn as guilty of any crime.

Many arguments against specific drug prohibition laws center around specific outcomes of the laws being wrong or distasteful. But while many support the relaxation of some drug laws, or perhaps legalization of medical marijuana, or perhaps of recreational marijuana but not harder drugs, the argument should go significantly further: all currently illegal drugs should be legal. Here are some main points to that argument.

For those Mullerian conservatives out there, take a look at the historical record: the so-called "Noble Experiment" of Prohibition failed drastically. Note some of the results: as is usually the case when government outlaws something, a huge black market springs up to fill the ordinary market's void. This black market is dominated by organized crime, providing structure and funding. Organized crime leads to (duh) higher crime. Consider Al Capone's and similar gangs, moonshine, speak-easies, or the fact that murder rates rose 70% during Prohibition, but fell to previous levels once Prohibition was repealed. Alcohol consumption did not significantly decrease and in fact hard liquor consumption increased. Government spending on enforcement increased drastically, and in the name of Prohibition civil liberties were violated, though the newly rising crime rates were not quelled. Social commentators of the day, for example H. L. Mencken, noted that drunkenness actually increased and respect for the law and government fell. Today the case is much the same.

Whatever good may come about from drug prohibition is mitigated by the huge boost to crime provided by the drug black market. Where legal drug sellers compete through lowering prices, crime syndicates, gangs, and individual dealers often compete through violence, and innocents are caught in the crossfire.

What would happen if these drugs were legal? Legitimate industrial competition would quickly put the drug cartels out of business, as happened with Prohibition. The image of back alley drug dealers would fade as quickly as those of back alley abortions did after Roe v. Wade. Currently drug quality varies highly - meth can vary from pure drug to pure poison. This is because of the high risk and low accountability associated with production. Who can consumers hold accountable if their cocaine is toxic? But consider how quickly pharmaceutical drugs are pulled from the shelves when they are discovered to have bad side effects. Making drugs legal would make the streets safe and protect the consumers. Legal drugs would mean legal and safe help for those who wished to rehabilitate

One common argument against is the terrible danger of the addict. And it's true! From that site, it is estimated that drug addicts commit 25% of all auto thefts, 40% of robberies and assaults, and 50% of burglaries and larcenies. How could this be true? Quite simple - drug addicts are rarely on drugs when they commit these crimes! The danger of producing, trafficking, and selling drugs drives the prices sky-high. Addiction does make people do stupid things, but usually these are well-calculated, soberly-executed stupid things designed to produce revenue for further drugs. Such would be unnecessary if drugs were affordable. Nicotine is more addictive than most controlled substances - including crack - and due to low prices causes nearly zero crime. But what do you think would happen if suddenly, tomorrow, cigarettes were sold for no less than $500 a pack. Would everyone would just quit?

Don't fool yourself thinking that legal drugs would lead to drug lords, crack babies, and general crime. Just look around: as far as it will it already has! There is no government is no dam holding back a flood of evil. It can barely deliver the mail. Uncle Sam can only stop drug use to the extant that he controls every aspect of our lives.

There are the few bad apples who do use drugs irresponsibly and I support full police crack-down on all perpetrators of violent crime. The fact is, if drugs were legal drug-related crime would fall drastically: drug wars would cease, addicts would be able to fund their habits through legitimate means, and users could seek help legally. How many people do you know who smoke pot or do coke? Are they hurting society? The whole second floor of Terrace (and several rooms in other clubs) are full of law-breakers - but a breach of the law is often defined as an act against the People, and what people are the victims of these crimes? No, make drugs legal so the government can focus on the small percentage of the population that actually would endangers us then.

Whatever usage increase legalization might see would be far mediated by the positive effects laid out above. Organized crime and theft go way, way down, industry flourishes, civil liberties are safe, and the world is happier. A century ago drugs were completely legal (cocaine in Coca-Cola, e.g.) and personal responsibility was enough to keep the vast majority of users from harming anyone, even themselves. It's time to end Prohibition again, this time for good. Legalize all drugs.

An Extraordinary Rendition on Power

“March 10 WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) for introducing legislation to ban extraordinary rendition. The "Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act" would forever stop the federal government from secretly kidnapping people and sending them to torture cells run by foreign governments.”


Where once the executive branch of our government recognized the limitations of its power and the responsibilities of our signed treaties and conventions, our current President has taken a decidedly different approach. The Bush Administrations continued reliance on “The Extraordinary Rendition Program” is a direct challenge to jurisprudence, precedent, and international consensus. Administered by the [in]famous CIA, the government has endorsed a policy of detaining and transporting individuals into foreign countries for the sole purpose of finding a more hospitable locale for torture. This subversive program is not only detrimental to the construct of the American society—namely one rooted in the reverence of liberty, freedom, checks and balances, and enumerated rights—but also weakens the American position in the hearts and minds of the people of the world.

The program, as a matter of fact, was begun by the Clinton administration, an indeed thats where the blame is rooted. However it was Bush and his string quartet that gave tutelage to the monster, and allowed the program to grow and become menacingly pervasive. The program essentially allows the CIA to extra-judicially detain individuals they presume are involved in "terrorism" and then transport them to jurisdictions where torture laws are lax. In addition to being in blatant violation of terms in both the "United Nations Convention Against Torture" and the Geneva Conventions, the program has an inherent tendency for mistake. In whats been termed as "Erroneous Rendition", the clandestine CIA has admitted that some individuals were incorrectly detained and presumably endured torture. Now, this may be an Orwellian abuse of power, but Administration Officials have tried incessantly to emphasize the utility of "Extraordinary Rendition", sighting the 'extraordinary' threat to America's security. Critics both foreign and domestic, have berated the program, lambasting its secretive and subversive conviction to commit wrongdoing in the name of security. However, what is more alarming, some say, is the Administrations "Extraordinary Rendition" on power. This broadening of 'executive privilege', has constitutional scholars guarded. The administration has taken a definitively liberal and constructionist view of its power enumerated in the Constitution. This program is only one of many that leading constitutional scholars have highlighted as possible encroachments on precedent or law.

The "Extraordinary Rendition" program and the 'extraordinary rendition of executive power', are alarming developments, and should be scrutinized with the greatest of energy. Now, protecting America, is a task that is admittedly difficult, but that is the nature of the beast. To begin to use extra-judicial, secretive, and unconstitutional measures to address security is where the problem starts. This administration has shown a blatant disregard for the rule of law and has begun making overtures that attack at the very fabric of our life. While, I, by no means argue that we should take one opposite in the debate over Security and Privacy, I must however emphasize that this "Extraordinary Rendition" program and other constitutionally and jurisprudentially dangerous programs are presenting far different dynamics...............

3/11/2007

America: A Christian Nation?

In “Atheists, Conservatives, and Christianity,” Steve Warshawsky proffers his opinion on Ryan Sager’s book, The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party. In this article, Warshawsky argues that there is currently an attack on Christianity in this country and that this “attack on Christianity…is contrary to the American tradition.” The support provided for this argument by Warshawsky is flawed to the point of being preposterous. While I will agree with Warshawsky that Christianity did play a central role in Western and American history, there is very little else in his argument that warrants any merit. One of the key premises of Warshawsky’s argument is that America is a “’Christian nation’…since it certainly is not a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist nation.” The underlying assumption that Warshawsky makes in asserting this, is that America must be a religious nation. While it is true that the majority of Americans identify as Christian, separation of church and state insists upon keeping the religious sphere separate from the political one.

In light of his opinion that America is a “Christian nation,” Warshawsky asks “by what political, moral, or logical principle should the views of religious minorities and non-believers take precedence over those of the vast majority of Christian Americans?” By posing this question, Warshawsky makes two major erroneous assumptions. The first is that those who self-identify as Christian actually are actively engaged in being Christian; the second is that this majority of Christians is a cohesive unit.

According to an article entitled “The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong,” Bill McKibben asserts that according to a poll, “only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels.” More surprisingly, McKibben states that “three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that ‘God helps those who help themselves’” – even assuming that all non-Christians answered in the affirmative, they would only constitute a little more than a quarter of the vote. Thus almost 50% of those who responded to this question were Christians who believe that this is actually a Biblical message. If this is the standard of Christianity in America, can it truly be said that America is a “Christian nation”?

Even assuming that everyone who self-identifies as “Christian” is truly following the Christian faith, it is a mistake to see them as a cohesive unit. Although approximately three-quarters of America identifies as Christian, this bloc can be divided into several smaller groups such as Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelicals; the fact that all groups are clustered under the umbrella of “Christianity” does not directly imply alignment of interests, not even social ones. This is clearly highlighted with respect to gay marriage. Although 83% of evangelicals were strongly opposed to gay marriage as of 2003, the issue was not nearly as important to mainline Christians or Roman Catholics. In fact, over the past 7 years, the number of mainline Christians opposed to gay marriage has decreased by 20% while that of Roman Catholics has decreased by 19%. Empirical evidence shows that it is a mistake to treat all Christians as sharing the same views.

Clearly Warshawsky’s argument is riddled with errors. In addition to the errors highlighted above, Warshawsky similarly overstates the unity of purpose and outlook of American conservatives. With both of his key premises regarding Christianity and conservatism lacking any form of concrete foundation, Warshawsky presents an argument that is poorly supported and ultimately unpersuasive.