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The Problem With Game Theory in Constitutional Theory

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |

Of limited interest to those of you who aren’t constitutional scholars and/or social scientists, but since I’ve had to read way too much of this literature thought I’d let you know that X. Trapnel makes the case effectively.

Was Article III Repealed Earlier This Week?

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |

Many bloggers have already taken whacks at the non-argument, made by Alan Dershowitz and recycled by Marty Peretz, that the Libby conviction was a political conspiracy by conservative Republicans against other conservative Republicans. Obviously, having set this standard of stupidity nothing can really top it, but I was also struck by this claim:

Only President Bush’s political judgment was constitutionally sanctioned, and that is because clemency and pardon are explicit rights of the chief executive.

Uh, what? Since when do federal courts duly created by Congress not have the constitutional authority to pass sentences (that fall within the George Bush approved federal sentencing guidelines!)? What constitutional provision requires appellate courts to grant bail on appeal to every convicted individual? Help me out here.

Politics: About Conflict

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |

To follow up on what Thoreau says here, it’s remarkable that people like Ignatius fail to even consider the possibility that Americans won’t just “pull together and take appropriate steps to prepare for future terrorist attacks on America” because people have serious substantive disagreements about what steps are appropriate. Some people, like Ignatius, believed that the appropriate response to 9/11 included replacing a secular dictatorship which had no connection to 9/11 and posed no significant security threat to the United States with an Islamist quasi-state, which would improve American security because…[insert transparently idiotic non-sequitur, preferably expressed in a gambling metaphor, here.] Then you had rational people who thought that terrorism, once Al Qaeda’s sponsors in Afghanistan had been removed, was not a problem that could be solved primarily through military action but would require collaboration, intelligence, policy work — all that much-derided stuff that, you know, actually prevented the terror attacks in Britain. And to borrow a point from Stephen Holmes’s new book, some people simply assume that increases in arbitrary executive power and reductions in transparency automatically increase security; there are others, call them “liberal democrats,” who are skeptical that unconstrained and unchecked power leads to more effective decision-making.

And so on. At any rate, there’s nothing about another terrorist attack that would make these disagreements go away, and it’s not just about partisan politics. Politics is about people with fundamentally differing views. And if “getting serious” means doing all the egregiously counterproductive things that Ignatius wanted to do after 9/11, I’m happy to remain unserious and not join into his sense of “shared purpose.”

Because God Forbid a Woman Have A Choice About How to Give Birth

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |

Shorter Judge Patricia Joyce: let’s control women’s reproductive lives right down to the position in which they give birth.

From the Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy Report:

Cole County, Mo., Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of a new state law (HB 818) that allows midwives to deliver infants at home, the AP/Columbia Missourian reports. Current Missouri law bans midwifery except when done by physicians or trained nurses under a doctor’s supervision (Lieb, AP/Columbia Missourian, 7/4).

Next stop: reinstating full anesthesia during labor.

A Dirge for D.C.

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |

Poor, poor Washington, D.C. Stuck under the thumb of the Federal government and unable to stretch its independent legs.

Washington, D.C. is the city with the fastest HIV/AIDS rate in the country — it’s growing 10 times faster than the national average. According to recent CDC reports, the rate of new cases of HIV/AIDS in D.C. was 128.4 per 100,000 in 2005, compared with a national average hovering around 13 per 100,000. That’s about 1 in 20 D.C. residents who are living with HIV/AIDS.

And the virus is spreading fast through the city’s community of intravenous drug users. D.C. is also, according to a recent NY Times article, the only city in the counry unable to use local funds for a needle exchange program. In other cities, state and local funds support needle exchange programs and other outreach. But not in D.C., where Congress controls the budget and has long barred the appropriation of money to any type of harm reduction.

There’s a clear opinion divide about needle exchange programs. Mostly conservative politicians who want to be seen as “tough on crime” oppose them (duh), and ignore the connections between drug use and public health. From the NY Times article:

Critics of needle exchange programs argue that rather than reducing the suffering of drug users and preventing them from spreading diseases, the programs foster further drug use.

“We need to fight drugs, not show people that they can be used in a safe manner,” Representative Sam Graves, Republican of Missouri, said last year during House floor debate about drug policy.

But those who operate the programs see needle exchanges as a gateway to the provision of social services:

“The needle is just an enticement, really,” [Ron Daniels, an HIV+ former heroin addict who now runs a needle exchange program in DC] said, looking through the screen door of his van at a line of about 10 people who gathered within minutes of his arrival at a corner on the city’s grittier Northeast side.

He said his program, which reaches about one third of Washington’s estimated 9,700 intravenous drug users, relied on clean syringes to attract users so he and his staff of four could counsel them about drug rehabilitation and testing for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

Daniels’ program is funded wholly by private donations.

Yet despite the mountains of evidence that needle exchanges don’t raise levels of drug use and do prevent HIV, the federal ban remains in effect. Clinton, who had the chance to change course, chickened out.

In 1988, Congress banned federal money from being used on needle exchange programs, though it included an exception allowing the president to waive the federal ban if review by the surgeon general or secretary of Health and Human Services determined that syringe exchange programs were proven effective and did not increase drug use.

A number of federal studies found that such programs did not increase drug use, and in 1998 Donna Shalala, then the secretary of Health and Human Services, concluded, “A meticulous scientific review has now proven that needle exchange programs can reduce the transmission of H.I.V. and save lives without losing ground in the battle against illegal drugs.”

However, President Bill Clinton did not remove the ban on syringe exchange financing, and in 1998 Congress reinforced the ban by removing the executive waiver.

The attention paid to the issue helped embolden critics in Congress, who decided not only to tighten the federal ban but also to block Washington’s own financing of such programs. In recent years, Mr. Clinton has said he regrets not having done more to lift the ban.

So what are we to do with a vindictive federal policy that runs counter to the data and that has a disproportionate effect on the city that could most live without it? At least one Congressman (NY’s Jose Serrano) is trying to change it. But it’s almost ten years and probably thousands of lives too late. Anyone still think the “War on Drugs” and all its attendant human costs is a good idea?

It’s All About the Outcomes…

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |

Read Gene Healy’s fantastic post on conservatives and Presidential power.

No principles, not even bad, historically and constitutionally indefensible ones.

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Random Reds Notes

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

The Reds are quite terrible, but fortunately the Giants are also terrible. 6-3 for the Redlegs. Random observations:

  • I go to a game with Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Adam Dunn, and it’s Bronson Arroyo that hits a home run?
  • Josh Hamilton is really a great reclamation for the Reds, just as Brandon Phillips was last year.
  • At .249/.308/.357, Ryan Freel is running the risk of no longer being the best Scrappy White Guy(TM) in baseball. Then again, since the primary characteristic of a Scrappy White Guy is the combination of suckitude with inexplicable popularity, maybe he’s doing just fine. Also, I don’t know that having “Tom’s Diner” as your intro song really strikes fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.
  • People always said that Seattle had bad weather for baseball, but in my limited experience with the Reds I’ve had a couple thunderstorm related rain delays, a painful 30 degree gametime temp in April, and a nasty, sweltering 95 with high humidity. Acknowledging that the roof is necessary in Seattle, I’d still say that it has the best baseball weather possible in July and August.
  • Is the Alex Gonzalez playing for the Reds the “good” Alex Gonzalez, or the “bad” Alex Gonzalez? Does that question even make sense to non-fantasy baseball enthusiasts?
  • Jeff Conine is still in the Majors?
  • It must have been tough growing up as Jon Coutlangus.

That is all.

The "Serious" People

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

It really does become harder to believe that Islamic fundamentalism is the dire existential threat of the day when it becomes clear that, just a few years ago, the people who cry the loudest about Islam were demanding action against China. It seems to me that either China or radical Islam can be the greatest threat to the United States; they can’t both be, and deciding to essentially ignore one (China) in favor of the other doesn’t lend much credit to the whole “existential threat” industry. If military conflict between China and the United States really is inevitable, US actions in the past six years have done nothing but substantially improve China’s position.

If I believed war with China were inevitable, I’d be pissed about the War on Terror.

I would also say that this, in combination with the earlier revelation that Dick Cheney spent Bush’s first term trying to convince Taiwan to declare independence, opens just the tiniest space for someone who wants to argue that Colin Powell isn’t a complete hack and sell-out. We’ll probably never have a full grasp on what went on in the first term, but I can at least understand a narrative under which Powell, apparently not having understood just how crazy Cheney et al were, and how weak Bush was, decided that obstruction from within, rather than from outside, was the best hope for avoiding a disaster even worse than the one we’ve stumbled into. I certainly don’t know if this narrative is true, and it doesn’t, after all, “save” Powell’s reputation; he attached himself before 2000 to these “serious” thinkers, and continued to serve with them in early 2003 when it should have been obvious that there was no way, internally, to stop the Iraq War. Still, he may deserve some credit for trying to prevent war with China and possibly delaying the Iraq War by a year and a half.

Book Review: In Spite of the Gods

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

This is the fourth of a nine part series on the Patterson School Summer Reading List.

1. China’s Trapped Transition, Minxin Pei
2. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs
3. Illicit, Moises Naim
4. In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce

Edward Luce, formerly the South Asian bureau chief for the Financial Times and currently the Washington bureau chief, has written a book on his experiences in India and his expectations about India’s future economic and social development. It is, unsurprisingly, a journalistic account, full of interesting observations but somewhat lacking in coherent structure. We included it on this year’s list because we wanted a book on India (we have one on China), and this seemed a solid introduction to the subject matter. The book pretty much fulfills that expectation, as Luce is a good writer with a lot to say about the subject.

Luce doesn’t hold to the notion of a “Hindu rate of growth” but he’s not exactly pleased about what he believes to be the impact of cultural factors on Indian economic productivity. He argues, for example, that caste consciousness has served to poison the political system such that the formation of sensible policy, including economic policy, is seriously impeded. He also argues that what he sees as the Indian focus on spirituality and the village over material and the urban has had detrimental policy effects. There’s an interesting cultural-structural argument to be made here, although Luce doesn’t really pursue it very far or with very much sophistication. On its face, the argument that caste consciousness leads to policy deficiencies seems reasonable, but I’m not sure that the effects are any more notable than the variety of cleavages that other democracies suffer from. In part because of his attitude regarding Indian culture, he utterly loathes the BJP. This doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, as he paints a picture of the BJP that is, indeed, quite loathsome.

Luce’s account of widespread corruption in the Indian government reminds me of the argument that Minxin Pei made about autocracy and Chinese economic growth. Pei argued, more or less, that autocracy would breed a predatory state that, being corrupt and unaccountable, would eventually sap Chinese economic growth. China’s transition was thus, without democratic reform, trapped. Having read what Luce has to say about the apparently amazingly corrupt Indian bureaucracy, I have to wonder whether how democratic government provides an answer to that particular problem. The Indian bureaucratic state, in no small part because of the decisions about how the educational system should be organized, seems to be a prime example of how a predatory states can limit economic productivity and general economic growth. Fifty years of democracy may or may not have exacerbated the corruption problem, but they certainly haven’t solved it.

In his conclusion, Luce focuses on the problems of HIV and environmental degradation, and the threat that these pose to future economic development. This is kind of odd, since he doesn’t discuss them anywhere else in the book. He also talks more generally of the problems associated with a country that has both a thriving middle class and a tremendous and extremely poor underclass. Luce draws a interesting contrast between educational policy in India and China to explain, in part, this development. In China, educational funding focused very heavily on elementary and secondary schooling, with the result that most Chinese are now literate and have at least some education. In India, the government allotted equal attention to elementary and post-secondary schooling, resulting in a large educated class and a very large class with no education at all. As noted above, this may have fed the existence of the large, bureaucratic predatory state that seems to sit on top of India today.

In a chapter about Bollywood, Luce relates the plot of what must be considered the best idea for a movie ever:

A lesbian, who spends her spare time beating up men in amateur kick-boxing sessions, seduces her drunken and unsuspecting best friend. The latter’s wholesome fiance cottons on to the former’s preferences and, in confronting her, is almost killed in a furious, muscular assault before he finally prevails. The final scene shows the conventional Hindu couple paying their respects at the lesbian’s Christian gravestone.

Convincing scripts are not Bollywood’s strongpoint.

Okay, I see Hillary Swank as the lesbian pugilist, Clint Eastwood as her ornery trainer, Ed Norton, or maybe Leo, as the boyfriend… this casts itself!

Luce has produced an interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, book on India. Unlike a lot of academics, I tend to quite like good journalistic accounts, and to think that they have a lot of value. Luce’s book, though, is a bit disordered even for me, jumping from one spot to another and providing a lot of small stories, but not enough large insights. The book was valuable enough for our purposes, but I put it down wanting more.

The Unconnected

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

With respect to the disgraceful Libby commutation, Laura of 11D provides some interesting data about how likely a petitioner not connected with the Bush administration is to get a pardon or commutation by historical standards. On an individual level, a recent Supreme Court case provides another example. In Rita v. U.S., the Supreme Court recently held that sentences that fall within the (now merely advisory) federal sentencing guidelines can be presumed to be reasonable on appeal without violating the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The man whose appeal failed, Victor Rita, is a man (unlike, say, Scooter Libby) with a genuinely distinguished record of public service: “lengthy military service, including over 25 years of service, both on active duty and in the Reserve, and Rita’s receipt of 35 medals, awards, and nominations.” The sentence that was upheld? 33 months for perjury, making false statements, and obstructing justice. Anyone think he’s getting a commutation or pardon from Bush? I think it’s safe to say you have to be part of a conspiracy to burn a CIA agent in order to further a grossly dishonest case for a disastrous war to merit that kind of attention…

Whew, and I Thought It Was Piece of Crap Based on A Toy Commercial!

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

You will be happy to know that Libertas, home of Conservative Thought (sic) About Film (sic) has screened the latest Michael Bay joint and declared in free from wrongthink.

Another amusing thing about this outpost of wingnuttia is that they don’t really understand capitalism. They are, of course, committed to the idea that the public is completely turned off by all the left-wing propaganda (except for all the extremely popular right-wing films like Transformers, America’s Heart and Soul, and The Great Raid, but…well, nobody’s ever accused them of being rigorous thinkers. Or thinkers at all…) The difficulty of that narrative is that the studios are actually raking in more money (and, indeed, they’re so committed to this narrative that they’ve predicted 15 of the last one declines in revenue.) The solution? Ignore revenues and focus on attendance. Now, someone with any understanding of economics might note that studios are trying to maximize revenues, not attendance, so if higher ticket prices mean more net money a drop in attendance is worthwhile (and, of course, if ticket prices were cut in half and attendance therefore went up this wouldn’t prove that movies are more popular in any substantive sense, and in particular wouldn’t prove that the public is now excited by Hollywood’s allegedly left-wing offerings.) This is one of the problems with letting hack supply-siders write about movies, I guess…

…the screenwriter (and terrific liberal blogger Kung Fu Monkey) speaks

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