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A 2008 Vanity Campaign From the Right?

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

I’m still unconvinced.

A Washington Naval Treaty for Submarines?

[ 1 ] October 18, 2007 |

Sonar kills whales, and Yglesias links to an interesting Hendrik Hertzberg article making the following proposal:

Any real solution would have to be international, involving some serious diplomacy aimed at a new kind of arms control. The cat-and-mouse games played by submarines may have made a certain kind of sense during the Cold War, but what is the point of them now? Russia is annoying, but it is no longer our mortal enemy. The Chinese have no desire to bury us, except under piles of sneakers and kitchen appliances. Al Qaeda’s navy, as the Cole incident showed, consists of the odd motorboat. The terrorists have no submarines. Perhaps the immense sums still spent on naval toys whose strategic rationale is obsolete could be redirected to teaching the relevant personnel, humans and dolphins alike, to speak Arabic.

I’m skeptical. To overly simplify matters, there are really two kinds of arms control agreements, and neither of them fit submarines very well. The first kind, into which the Washington Naval Treaty or the SALT agreements might fit, try to limit the numbers and types of roughly symmetrical weapons held by countries with roughly symmetrical capabilities. For example (and to simplify even further) the Japanese, British, and Americans recognized in the 1920s that it was okay to limit oneself to 15 battleships apiece as long as the other major powers did the same. It didn’t do anyone any good to have an unconstrained arms race that might invite pre-emption and increase tension, but that in the end would probably result in roughly the same balance of power. Similarly, strategic arms limitation between the US and USSR was based on the idea that both states could make do with just thousands of nuclear warheads, rather than many multiples of that number. The ABM Treaty was based on more or less the same logic.

Unfortunately, this logic does not apply to submarines. Despite the fact that the United States has the largest fleet of advanced nuclear submarines in the world, submarines remain, fundamentally, weapons of the weak. Submarines are relatively cheap, difficult to detect, and can kill much more expensive capital ships. Accordingly, states that don’t feel they have a chance in a normal naval encounter tend to build lots of submarines. Kaiserine Germany resorted to a submarine campaign after Jutland demonstrated the futility of trying to destroy the Grand Fleet. The German surface fleet in World War II was hopelessly outmatched by the Royal Navy, and thus resorted again to submarine warfare. After the war, the recognition on the part of the Soviets of overwhelming and long term Western naval superiority led down a similar path. Unsurprisingly, the PLAN (deficient in surface ships) has a strong submarine arm, the Russians have preserved their submarine fleet better than their surface, and the Iranians and the Venezuelans have both concentrated big ticket procurement on submarines rather than surface vessels. The USN launched a very successful submarine campaign against the Japanese in World War II (as part of a larger Mahanian campaign), but the US submarine fleet was primarily oriented towards the defense against and destruction of the Soviet submarine fleet during the Cold War.

What this means is that, unlike the situation with battleships and nuclear warheads, an effort to ban submarines would involve a significant redistribution of world naval power. If the Chinese and Russians can’t have submarines, then they might as well pack up and go home; the USN will go where it wants and do what it wants to whom it wants without difficulty. Now, as Hertzberg and Yglesias suggest, maybe major power war is obsolete and pointless, and anyway submarines aren’t terribly effective against terrorist. That may be true, but the problem is that you would have to get the major powers to agree for the very long term that they have no disputes susceptible to militarization, and thus no reason to worry that overwhelming US naval superiority will be used against them. In other words, in order to ban submarines you essentially have to get the big states to agree that they’ll be peaceful forever. If we could manage that, great, but while we’re at it, we should probably ban all other kinds of weapons as well.

The second kind of arms control agreement involves the declaration of some particular weapon type as immoral, and thus worthy of being banned. There’s some overlap with the first, certainly; the Washington Naval Treaty wouldn’t have come about without the slaughter of World War I, and the nuclear limitation agreements (although not necessarily the ABM Treaty) were premised on the idea that nuclear weapons are icky. Bans on chemical and biological weapons and on land mines would fall into this category. There was certainly some thought given in the interwar period to banning submarines; the British considered their use barbaric and in violation of international law, for example. Those efforts really went nowhere, however, in large part because of the recognition by weak states that strong states would always have an advantage in capital ships. Future efforts to ban the submarine (especially those with an environmental logic) would probably have to be along these lines, but for the reasons laid out above, I’m not optimistic. In particular, the primary reason for declaring submarines icky was that they would most often be used against civilian merchant shipping, and that their use would almost invariably violate the rules that regulated the interaction of civilian and military shipping. That logic no longer applies; no one expects the Chinese, in the case of a militarized dispute over Taiwan, to engage in an anti-commerce campaign. Instead, Chinese subs will target American carriers, which are legitimate military targets.

Defending the Indefensible

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

Ross Douthat tries to defend ineffective and inequitable abortion criminalization policies:

Whereas we know that when abortion was legalized in America in the early 1970s, the abortion rate went up dramatically; we also know that Western Europe, which has lower abortion rates than the U.S., also has (somewhat) more restrictive abortion laws. Which suggests if you’re serious about reducing the abortion rate in America (as opposed to taking the “more abortion is a good thing” line that Matt espouses), the Edelstein-Saletan answer is something of a cop-out; if some kind of restriction isn’t on the table, you probably aren’t going to get very far.

A few obvious problems here:

  • First of all, the comparative analysis cuts both ways. Since Western Europe also for the most part lacks powerful movements dedicated to opposing rational sex education and access to contraception for unmarried people and also has a stronger safety net (making it easier for poor women to bear children), its lower abortion rates don’t answer the dispute here; they’re just as consistent with the thesis that these policies lower abortion rates more than criminalization. Douthat also ignores Latin America, which has pretty much the exact mix of policies favored by most American anti-choicers (abortion bans, reactionary sexual and gender mores, threadbare safety net) and also has sky-high abortion rates.
  • Douthat also makes the common error of conflating the quantity of formal restrictions on abortion with access to abortion. Since most European abortion restrictions are either similar to ones on the books in most American states or affect only the tiny fraction of late term abortions, the assumption that European women have less access to abortion than American women on the ground is highly problematic. Moreover, of the common non-ban regulations the most important is denying funding for poor women — which is available in most of Europe and not in most American states. And finally, Canada — which has almost entirely unregulated and state funded abortions — also has lower abortion rates than the United States; the same is true of the Netherlands, which effectively has state-funded abortion on demand (unless you consider showing a “state of distress” after 12 weeks is a difficult standard) for pre-viability abortions. This suggests again that the level of abortion regulation has fairly marginal effects on abortion rates.
  • Finally, Douthat entirely ignores the key implications of the study. How could the marginal-at-best reductions in abortion rates possibly justify the arbitrary enforcement, grossly inequitable effects, and the great harm caused to women that are all endemic to the legal regimes Douthat advocates? Like most anti-choicers, Douthat simply hides under the table when the question comes up.

GO CATS! And Huck the Fuskies…

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

Indeed. One of the nice things about working at an SEC school is that literally ever other team in the conference is worthy of my loathing and derision (with Tennessee deserving a special kind of hate). So yes, go Cats, beat Florida.

Unfortunately, my attention on Saturday will be drawn away from Lexington and towards Seattle, where my beloved Ducks will do battle against the premier manifestation of evil in the modern world, the Washington Huskies.


[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

Apparently, the holiday season is fast approaching. I know this because the number of catalogs I receive just shot up exponentially. But this year, I’m taking action and “unsubscribing” from virtually all of them — for free — here.

Maine School Gets Smart

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

Yesterday, a Maine school board decided to allow a Portland middle school to open confidential health clinic within the school. The clinic will provide basic health services (like immunizations) as well as sexual health counseling and birth control. Kids will not need their parents’ permission to obtain birth control, though they will need their parents’ permission to be treated at the health center in the first place.

Amazingly, all but two members of the 12 member board voted to approve the center.

And while the sane were represented at the hearing, so were the (wing)nuts:

“It has been shown, over and over again, that this does not increase sexual activity,” said Pat Patterson, the medical director of School-Based Health Centers.

Reaction was mixed.

“This is really a violation of parents’ rights,” Peter Doyle, a Portland resident, told the committee. “If there were a constitutional challenge, you guys would be at risk of a lawsuit.”

Pat Patterson is right, and I’m so glad to see her or him shooting down the right wing argument (advanced by foes of BC and EC) that the availability of birth control makes kids crazy sex animals. Regarding Peter Doyle’s argument, it’s not so clear whether he’s right or wrong. Parents definitely have a constitutionally protected interest to raise and educate their kids in the way they want to (within limits). But as kids grow up they too develop their own competing privacy rights. Some states already allow minors to access birth control without parental permission. If middle school kids can be sentenced to life in prison, there’s nothing incongruous about giving them (all teens) the tools to lead healthy lives.

Yeah, Surrrrrrre…

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

For those unclear on the concept of bluffing, here’s Brian Cashman:

But yesterday after meeting with the three Steinbrenners and other members of the Yankees brain trust, Cashman said the team absolutely does not plan to negotiate with Rodriguez if he opts out. Another source familiar with talks told Newsday the Steinbrenners are absolutely onboard with that.

“Yes, I can affirm that,” Cashman said. “If Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, we will not participate in his free agency. That is accurate and that is definitive.”

[5 second pause, entirely for effect] “I re-raise.”

This has been in a lesson in “transparently non-credible bluffing.”

Damning Stuff

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

You know the criminal justice situation in the US is bad when you open the morning paper and read this paragraph as the lede in a front-section article (that happens to be written by Adam Liptak):

In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Ah, the US. First on the moon and first in incarceration.
In recent years, and especially since the Supreme Court held, in Roper v. Simmons, that the United States cannot execute people who were minors at the time of the commission of the crime, awareness and concern has been growing about the way minors are treated in our criminal justice system. Last year, over 200,000 minors ended up in the adult criminal justice system. According to the Christian Science Monitor (linked last sentence), that’s an increase of over 200% since the 1990s, when states first began passing laws allowing them to try juveniles as adults.
There seem to me to be a number of problems with such a system (putting aside, even, the juveniles who are saddled with life sentences). But the most central one is this: this seems like the clearest way to make sure that we keep a class of people is trapped in the criminal justice system for their entire lives. Again, not counting the kids who get life sentences, sentencing a child as an adult means that he or she serves his/her sentence in an adult prison. Adult prisons are tough places. Kids often don’t get to finish their high school educations while incarcerated. They are often exposed to drugs and violence while incarcerated. Juvenile detention facilities aren’t necessarily such happy places either, but at least they are better equipped to address the special needs of teenagers, and to at least try to make sure that the kids reenter their communities smoothly. Whereas most state adult criminal justice systems couldn’t care less about reentry, therefore creating the prisons’ revolving doors.
How long will we remain the only country not to realize that we are doing more harm than good by treating juvenile offenders with as little humanity as we treat adults?

Gender Discrimination and Mukasey

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

An interesting catch from today’s hearings from Emily Bazelon.

He Can’t Be Serious, Can He?

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

Might Stephen Colbert actually run for President (at least in South Carolina)?

The "Pro-life" Culture of Death

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

Bush’s new nominee to oversee family planning programs doesn’t like contraception; no surprise there. Ann notes that “pro-lifers” don’t really see anything in it for them if middle-class families have health insurance for their children. After explaining the deadly consequences of the new abortion ban in Nicaragua, Jill sums up:

In the meantime, countries with the most “pro-life” laws have higher abortion rates than the Western European countries with the most liberal abortion laws in the world. A large part of the difference is contraception — Eastern Europe has seen a 50 percent decrease in its abortion rate since contraception became more widely available post-Communism. And yet contraception is something else that mainstream anti-choice groups oppose.

Yes, you read that right: Mainstream “pro-life” organizations are opposed to contraception as well as abortion. They’re just keeping quiet about it because they know it’s an unpopular position, and they know it outs them as hypocrites who put ideology over human life. But the fact remains that none of the well-known and influential national anti-choice groups have come out in support of contraception access. None of them promote the very thing that has been proven, time and again, to lower the abortion rate.

What do they promote? Abstinence until marriage and embracing pregnancy and childbirth. (Apparently, no married woman has ever wanted an abortion or experienced pregnancy-related complications). Other than that, anti-choice groups offer no real alternative to women who don’t want to be pregnant, or women who don’t have a choice to say no to sex, or women whose pregnancies threaten their life or their health. They offer no solution to the problem that kills nearly 70,000 women every year, other than “don’t have sex outside of marriage; only have sex if you’re willing to give birth; and abortion is wrong, don’t have one.”

That isn’t working. It has never worked.


So far, “pro-life” groups have been non-responsive to the dead bodies in their wake. They are, however, mobilizing around the world to spread policies like Nicaragua’s far and wide. They are actively seeking to outlaw abortion in the United States, and in the meantime trying to limit access to it. Right now they’re in Aurora, Illinois, opposing Planned Parenthood. They’re also the base of a Republican party that regularly launches assaults at children and families. The right-wing opposition to children’s health care is just the start; 100 percent of the country’s worst legislators for children are “pro-life.” The global gag rule, which cuts off U.S. funding to any NGO that so much as mentions the world “abortion,” ends up de-funding health clinics that provide contraception, condoms and HIV prevention. As much as anti-choice leaders claim to value life and dislike abortion, their actions don’t back it up.

Dead sluts would seem to be the price the forced pregnancy lobby is willing to pay for…whatever it is that abortion criminalization is supposed to accomplish. Even “Feminists [sic] For Life [sic]” take no position on contraception other than to express concern “that certain forms of contraception have had adverse health effects on women.” To state the obvious, any position that expresses concern for fetal life while being indifferent to or actively opposing policies meant to reduce unwanted pregnancies is a complete fraud.

The Effect of Abortion Criminalization

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

In response to Matt here, let’s go back and see what I actually wrote about the new WHO study:

If the goal of abortion is to protect fetal life, criminalization is at best an ineffective and grossly inequitable means of achieving this goal, and the bundle of policies favoring reproductive freedom (including legal abortion) generally produces lower abortion rates than the illegal abortion-no rational sex ed-limited access to contraception-threadbare welfare state usually favored by the American forced pregnancy lobby.

It is, of course, true that the fact that countries that criminalize abortion have higher abortion rates doesn’t mean that the criminalization itself causes these high rates, and indeed it’s almost certainly true that ceteris paribus criminalization lowers abortion rates; I didn’t say otherwise. My points, however, are that 1)significant numbers of abortions will be performed under legal regime, since affluent women will almost always have access to safe abortions and some poor women will resort to unsafe illegal abortions, and 2)in practice, all things are almost never equal; abortion criminalization is almost always accompanied by other reactionary policies that swamp whatever inhibiting effects the bans have. What effect abortion criminalization would have in some hypothetical society with a strong commitment to women’s equality that happened to have a de facto commitment to fetal life that is rarely evident when push comes to shove even in societies that ban abortion is pretty much a pointless parlor game. If you want to consider marginal reductions in abortion rates that are reversed by the other policies that almost inevitably come with abortion bans in the real world and are obtained at the price of considerable negative externalities and arbitrary enforcement an “accomplishment,” I guess you can; I don’t.

On the normative point, as long time readers will know I don’t consider increasing abortion rates a moral problem and consider the sexual liberation that comes from legal abortion (and access to contraception) a feature, not a bug. (I do think that lower abortion rates that come from preventing unwanted pregnancies rather than restricting abortion access a good thing; I think that most women would prefer not to become pregnant in the first place than go through the expense and small risk of an abortion even if, like me, you consider pre-viability abortions morally neutral.) I don’t think this means, however, we should ignore the fact that “pro-life” policies are indefensible failures even if you accept “pro-life” premises. It strikes me that these arguments are a lot more likely to convince people who are ambivalent on the issue than making normative arguments about the a priori moral status of abortion.

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