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The New (Old) Paternalism In Ohio

[ 0 ] August 1, 2007 |

Legislation has been introduced in the Ohio legislature requiring women to not merely inform fathers before obtaining an abortion but to obtain written permission. And why not? Given that a majority of the United States Supreme Court has argued that anachronistic assumptions about the inferior decision-making capacity of women are sufficiently legitimate state interests that they can save the constitutionality of legislation that is otherwise wholly arbitrary and capricious, it seems like a logical next step. Oddly, I didn’t see any provision in the legislation requiring men to submit a list of potential sexual partners to the state so that they can be coerced into obtaining their written permission before purchasing Viagra or a box of Trojans; must be an oversight.

Assuming — which is probably not entirely wise — that Kennedy will stand by his vote, such a provision would be ruled unconstitutional under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which struck down a spousal notification requirement. It’s worth noting, however, that the newest justice while sitting on the 3rd Circuit dissented from the same holding made by his colleagues. In that opinion, Alito simply assumed that the state had the same interest in regulating children and adult women, and that the only question was the burden imposed by the regulation (while ignoring whether the burden was “due”), and did so despite the fact that the most relevant opinion — O’Connor’s concurrence in Hodgson — began with a discussion of the special interest states have in regulating the conduct of minors. One more Republican appointment, and we’re back to the future of 19th-century sexism in the Supreme Court. And in some cases, like Carhart II, we’re already there. Some legislators seem to be getting the message.

…see also Melissa.

It Worked for England

[ 0 ] August 1, 2007 |

The UK once used New South Wales – now Australia – as its penal colony, shipping its convicts to the ends of the earth instead of making space for and warehousing them on its own precious soil. And it’s happening again. Only this time it’s the U.S. who is sending incarcerated men and women far from home.

The New York Times reported yesterday that in an attempt to deal with prison overcrowding (now rampant throughout the U.S.), states are sending some of their charges to private prisons (that is, prisons that are run for profit by private companies) that are far from home.

Hawaii seems to have it worst (which makes sense being that it is so far from mainland U.S. There’s nowhere close to send people):

About one-third of Hawaii’s 6,000 state inmates are held in private in Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky. Alabama has 1,300 prisoners in Louisiana. About 360 inmates from California, which has one of the nation’s most crowded prison systems, are in Arizona and Tennessee.

Which means, of course, that those 2,000 Hawaii residents who are incarcerated in other states must often go without seeing their families for years on end, sometimes for the entirety of their sentences.

Prison overcrowding is a real problem, and one that must be dealt with fast. As I – and others – have argued before, the issue is supply and not demand. The solution is not to continue to support the prison industrial complex by further privatizing prisons. Instead, it is to reevaluate the policies that have led to this overcrowding — most obviously, the war on (some people who use some classes of) drugs, which has led to the jailing of hundreds of thousands of addicts and low-level dealers. The country’s prison population is the highest it’s ever been. Part of the solution is getting rid of these drug war policies. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is addressing the economic inequalities that lead people to low-level dealing. That’s a longer term issue and one that this country (other than John Edwards) doesn’t seem willing to really address.

Shipping people off to far-away private prisons is not only a flawed and temporary solution. It’s also self-fulfilling. Shipping people far away from home for prison further detaches them from their communities and reduces the opportunity for actual rehabilitation and smooth reentry post release. The lack of community ties and support leads to increased rates of recidivism, which lands people right back in jail and puts even more money in the pockets of the private prison companies.

Prison crowding is a serious problem too. But these far-off latter day prison colonies are the wrong solution.

Beyond Embarrassment

[ 0 ] August 1, 2007 |

I will have more on Bergman and Antonioni soon, but in the meantime I should note that anyone who thinks that people who admire Bergman do so because they are “embarrassed by the movies” couldn’t be more spectacularly wrongheaded. The idea that nobody can enjoy art that places more demands on your eye and intellect than Patch Adams – just because not all entertainment is art is hardly follows that art cannot be entertaining, and many of Bergman’s films were exceptional examples of this — is pretty much the definition of philistinism. It is, however, exactly what one would expect from someone who considers (or considered, before George Lucas was subsequently found guilty of Wrongthink) The Phantom Menace “captivating” and Ron Howard’s dreary, interminable, every-scene-a-cliche Cinderella Manone of the best movies ever made.”

[Via Roy.]

Scout’s Honor!

[ 0 ] August 1, 2007 |

The Wall Street Journal asserts that there’s no possible way that Rupert Murdoch will compromise its journalistic standards:

The nastiest attacks have come from our friends on the political left. They can’t decide whose views they hate most–ours, or Mr. Murdoch’s. We’re especially amused by those who say Mr. Murdoch might tug us to the political left. Don’t count on it. More than one liberal commentator has actually rejoiced at the takeover bid, on the perverse grounds that this will ruin the Journal’s news coverage, which in turn will reduce the audience for the editorial page. Don’t count on that either.

It is somewhat misleading to say that Murdoch will push the paper’s news and editorial content “to the left.” It is more accurate to say that he will push content in a way that supports politicians and policies that support Murdoch’s business interests, even if they happen to be Democrats. It’s not really “right” or “left,” but we can certainly expect the Journal to dial down if not entirely eliminate its critical coverage of China, for example. (To paraphrase the Journal‘s defense, Murdoch hardly paid a “premium of 67% over the market price for an asset he intends to threaten the viability of his media empire in authoritarian states.”) At any rate. the idea that Murdoch’s constant interference and the consequent decline in journalistic standards inevitable when he purchases a newspaper is some kind of invention of jealous rivals is laughable:

Those who are suspicious of Murdoch’s pledges of noninterference recall what happened when he first extended his press holdings beyond his native Australia, nearly forty years ago: he persuaded the Carr family of London to sell him the sensational tabloid News of the World, and promised to run the paper in partnership with the family that had owned the paper for nearly eighty years; he abandoned this pledge after learning, he said, that to honor it would harm shareholders because the Carrs had created “a total wreck of a company.” When he bought the New York Post from Dorothy Schiff, in 1976, he publicly pledged to leave its liberal editorial stance unchanged, saying, “The New York Post will continue to serve New York and New Yorkers and maintain its present policies and traditions”—and promptly reversed course. But Murdoch’s approach may best be seen in what happened after he bought the influential and once storied Times of London and the Sunday Times, in 1981. At the time, English journalists asked their Australian-born colleague Phillip Knightley to analyze how Murdoch might behave, and as Knightley now recalls, “The point I made was that Murdoch came from a tradition very different from European and American proprietors. In Australia, a proprietor owned the paper and considered it was his to do whatever he liked with it. Proprietors used their newspapers to support or oppose political parties, settle private feuds, and cross-promote their other interests. Any idea that they could not do this would have met with bewilderment.”

Within a year of acquiring the papers and promising not to interfere in the editorial operations, Murdoch fired Harold Evans as the editor of the Times and transformed the paper into an often-partisan voice on behalf of Margaret Thatcher. Evans had been the twelfth editor at the Times in nearly two hundred years; Murdoch hired and fired five editors in his first eleven years. Evans, in his 1983 memoir, “Good Times, Bad Times,” wrote, “The most charitable explanation of Murdoch’s attitude to a promise was that he meant it when he made it; only circumstances changed.”

Admittedly, as Ezra says maybe the impending destruction of one of America’s last great newspapers has its upside. I can’t quite relish it.

I’d Like a Democracy and Health Care Sandwich, Hold the Revolution

[ 0 ] August 1, 2007 |

Loomis asks an interesting question:

I have been thinking about some of the implications of Michael Moore’s Sicko. Specifically, why is the United States the only nation in the developed world without some sort of equitable, government-funded health care? I am just wondering if we can look back to the American Revolution for some answers. To be exact, did the American Revolution undermine the modern United States’ willingness to engage in the sort of social democracies we see throughout Europe, Canada, and increasingly other nations as well?

I don’t have a solid answer for this. But I’m going to play a little counterfactual game to help think about these issues. Let’s say the American Revolution fails. What happens?

It’s an interesting question, but the devil, of course, is in the details.

The first thing I have to wonder about is the French Revolution. I’m assuming that in this alternative reality an abortive American Revolution was defeated by British military force. I have to think, though, that rump revolutionary sentiment would have been re-invigorated by the events of 1789, only under far more favorable circumstances. It’s hard for me to imagine that Britain, facing the full fury of a revolutionary France, would have been able to put down a second independence effort. Now, assuming that this “second” American Revolution didn’t succumb to Bonapartism (a big if), I think that a little extra radicalism might have produced a better architecture for the American Republic. Of course, it might have embroiled that Republic much deeper in the Napoleonic Wars than it eventually became, which could a) have severely wounded the young Republic, or b) helped Napoleon win the war.

Assuming that the British nevertheless maintained control, I fear that Erik is being far too sanguine about the slavery issue:

Second, Britain would have solved the U.S.’ slavery problem. Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833. Slavery was never as profitable in the US as it was in the Caribbean. So the US experience likely would not have affected British opinion. In addition, if we assume that the US becomes a free nation in 1867, the same year as Canada, that gives us 34 years to figure out our race relations. Do we still have racial problems? Of course. But they would be different, at the very least.

Yeah, I just don’t see it. British attitudes began moving against slavery in the late 18th century, but weren’t matched by a shift in American attitudes, even in the North. In the South, the pro-slavery position solidified over the early 19th century. I’m afraid that, rather than meekly accepting the abolition of slavery, the southern colonies would have pursued the same option in 1833 that they did in 1860. Now, maybe the combination of the northern colonies and British military power would have put a quick end to that rebellion, but maybe not, and if the south (along with any northern supporters) had won, the American Revolution of 1833 would have tightly tied with the preservation of slavery, and probably wouldn’t have included some of the northern colonies, resulting in what would have been a country far less amenable to progressive change.

I think that Erik’s on much more solid ground with regards to the West, assuming that the Revolution wouldn’t just have been delayed until 1789 (had that been the case, the seizure of Spanish territory in the West might have come even sooner, as part of a larger scale project of support for Bonaparte). Continued British control may have resulted in a kinder, gentler brutal imperialistic Western expansion, although it’s worth noting that remaining in the Empire didn’t help the Australian indigenous population very much. Britain might also have refrained from the Mexican land grab on the 1830s and 1840s. In any case, it’s hard to imagine how the situation faced by Native Americans could have been much worse.

New Focus

[ 0 ] August 1, 2007 |

John Noonan of Op-For, a graduate of VMI, has an interesting article in the Weekly Standard proposing that the math and science heavy curriculum at the service academies should shift to one more friendly to the social sciences:

An Army platoon leader would be better equipped to administer to tribes in Anbar province if he had a degree in International Affairs and a minor in Arabic. A Marine infantry Lieutenant might be more effective unifying warlords in Afghanistan if he spent his four years at Annapolis studying the history of central Asia. U.S. Special Forces have been deployed to over 180 different countries since 9/11, and, to be sure, the military offers them the education needed to meet that goal. But in all that training an academy cadet will only get as much foreign study as he can squeeze into his schedule between orbital mechanics and advanced calculus.

FM 3-24 (the counter-insurgency manual) is a remarkably sophisticated social science document, and I think that John is quite right to suggest that, however well the science and engineering curriculum may have worked in the past, emphasizing the social science option now makes sense. Of course, the service academies do offer majors in the social sciences and even arts and letters, but the curricula still very heavily favor math and science. Given, however, that we can expect future wars to resemble tightly knotted social science problems more than engineering problems, however, it seems reasonable to review the balance.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Democracy for Me, But Not for Thee

[ 0 ] July 31, 2007 |


Maybe the emphasis on getting more people to vote has dumbed-down our democracy by pushing participation onto people uninterested in such things. Maybe our society would be healthier if politicians aimed higher than the lowest common denominator. Maybe the opinions of people who don’t know the first thing about how our system works aren’t the folks who should be driving our politics, just as people who don’t know how to drive shouldn’t have a driver’s license.

Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people about the basic functions of government? Immigrants have to pass a test to vote; why not all citizens?

A voting test would point the arrow of civic engagement up, instead of down, sending the signal that becoming an informed citizen is a valued accomplishment. And if that’s not a good enough reason, maybe this is: If you threaten to take the vote away from the certifiably uninformed, voter turnout will almost certainly get a boost.

As luck would have it, Jonah is going to be in Juneau tomorrow. I suspect I’ll find him at one of the two delicious fudge shops located conveniently along the dock. Perhaps he and I can have a stimulating conversation about the merits and demerits of universal suffrage. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to remind the Doughy One that instituting “a voting test” would require amending the 1965 Voting Rights Act (unless, of course, Goldberg wants to have fifty different “voting tests”). And since Goldberg clearly understands that a proposal like that would generate a massive “boost” in voter turnout, perhaps he can think of a few Republican friends of his who might take his asinine, contrarian notions seriously enough to propose them in Congress or on the presidential campaign trail.

In fact, here’s a model. I’m pretty sure it’s in the public domain, so borrow as much as you want!

. . . more from Tom Hilton, who always manages to find these things several hours before I do….

On a Lighter Note (In One Sense of the Word)

[ 0 ] July 31, 2007 |

Yesterday was sharks. Today, the world’s only domesticated hippo. The last scene is priceless.

Liberals On My Teevee!

[ 0 ] July 31, 2007 |

Ann says what needs to be said about the latest obsession over meaningless trivia.

This is Predictable…

[ 0 ] July 31, 2007 |

The Times:

The death of a marine in western Iraq brought the American military death toll to 74 so far in July, on course to be the lowest monthly figure this year. The reduction follows a record 331 fatalities between April and June during intensive military operations in Baghdad and Diyala Province, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks military and civilian casualties based on Defense Department figures. That was the deadliest quarter of the war thus far.

The United States military said the marine was killed Monday while conducting combat operations in Anbar Province, west of the capital. Estimates of the death toll varied, but Iraq Coalition Casualty Count put the July total so far at 74, down from 101 in June and the lowest number since November 2006.

It would be nice if the article had noted that July has, over the course of the conflict, had the second lowest monthly casualty rate of the war (February had a slightly lower rate before this year). The rate this month was 2.77, a 63% increase over the July rate in previous years. This does represent an improvement over June (86% increase), and May (79% increase), but is rather worse than April (32% increase) or March (29%). Now, call it a positive impact of the Surge if you want, but I find it a touch troubling to celebrate the fact that we’ve just had the worst July in the history of the Occupation. July is the hottest month of the year in Iraq, and I suspect that the relationship isn’t random, although I haven’t run a regression to make sure.

Now, if casualty rates continue to decline in August and September, we might have something to talk about. Incidentally, what’s the deal with this? I can’t find a full transcript, but if Yglesias is relating accurately it’s odd to see O’Hanlon apparently backing off so quickly. I also have to wonder about Jonathan Chait; it somehow escaped his notice that Pollack and O’Hanlon argue entirely by anecdote, that the only statistics they can provide are demonstrably wrong, and that even the anecdotes they provide (shopkeepers happy about the American presence) run against the statistical data we have? And this is what passes for “a strong case”? Indeed, that is rather the point of Greg Sargeant’s argument regarding the Brookings Index. The anecdotes that O’Hanlon and Pollack provide run directly counter to the statistical evidence that O’Hanlon’s organization is providing. Far be it from me to claim that anecdotes have no value, but in this case the scales of evidence seem to fall heavily against the contentions that Pollack and O’Hanlon are making.

Just so we’re clear about Uncle Ted . . .

[ 0 ] July 31, 2007 |

. . they lift[ed] the house on stilts and add[ed] a first floor.

That’s really, really hard core.

I may have mentioned this already, but my state is chock full o’ nuts.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 23

[ 0 ] July 31, 2007 |

“I’ve gambled all my life and it’s never been a moral issue with me. I liked church bingo when I was growing up.” [1]

Erected upon a sturdy moral pedestal of church-sponsored wagering, the massively-sculpted William John Bennett — who celebrates his 64th year of abject hypocrisy today — slowly ascended the ranks of the world’s least successful gamblers. As he spent his life exhuming nearly every form of human iniquity, scolding his fellow citizens in print and over the airwaves for their collective departure from the virtuous path, Bennett devoted greater and greater sums of his annual income to the pursuit of fleeting, empty joy. Pissing away literally millions of dollars at the Bellagio and Caesar’s Boardwalk Regency among other sinkholes for the less-rich and less-famous, Bennett’s magnificent appetite for the slot machines and video poker terminals caused him no evident shame as he commanded $50,000 speaker’s fees and earned stupefying royalties on books he most likely did not write. In doing so, Bennett ignored the sage advice of the Proverbs, from which he might have learned that “dishonest money dwindles away.”

Bennett’s obscene gambling habit, of course, only accentuates the narrow scope of his commitment to “virtue.” Throughout his career, Bennett has advocated or helped implement policies — especially the so-called “war on drugs” — that are even more wasteful than his private vices and which, moreover, lack even the rudimentary elements of justice. As well, his vision of righteousness seems not to include factual accuracy, as Bennett has demonstrated when erroneously claiming, for instance, that the average lifespan of a gay man in America is only 43, or that crime rates might be reduced by higher abortion rates within the black community. Nor can Bill Bennett find room in his mighty, virtuous heart for journalists who expose the legal and moral transgressions of their own government (at least when the government is dominated by his co-religionists in the Republican party). These sorts, he believes, should be tossed into prison — along with the minor drug offenders and carriers of AIDS whose detention Bennett has also advocated from time to time.

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