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1:10 pm - Fri, Apr 11, 2014


10:44 am - Wed, Mar 26, 2014
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Apostles of Violence

“Ukrainian events have demonstrated,” writes Maria Snegovaya in The New Republic, “that control of violence is still at the very essence of the state.” She says Vladimir Putin’s aggression proves that Max Weber’s definition of the state — an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force — is still relevant, even though we in the West “tend to think of the ‘monopoly on violence’ as a metaphor.”

We do? That would be news to the relatives of Kelly Thomas, a homeless California man beaten to death last year by police officers (who were later acquitted). And to the relatives of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed man who was shot to death by New York City police officers (who were also acquitted). It would be news to a lot of black and Hispanic men who have been stopped and frisked in the streets of New York — or bent over the hood of a squad car anywhere in America.

The idea that governmental violence is merely metaphorical would be news to the employees at a gold mine in Chicken, Alaska, who were stunned last year when armed and armored agents from the EPA swooped in to search for violations of the Clean Water Act.

It would be news to Gibson Guitar Corp., subject to an armed federal raid for using the wrong tariff code on imported wood. It would be news to Audrey Hudson, a reporter whose home was raided in October by armed federal agents who seized her files and notes. And it would be news to countless others whose property was seized through eminent domain.

Governmental violence is not a metaphor. It is not even an aberration. It is a daily occurrence. Often it is entirely justified: If a bank robber would rather shoot it out with the cops than surrender peacefully, his death will bring no loss to the world. If Osama bin Laden starts a fight with the U.S., then America should end it.

Still, Putin’s aggression does draw attention to the prevalence of state violence — and the often incoherent attitude toward it on both sides of the American political divide.

During the Bush years, progressives spent a great deal of time lamenting American militarism. They found the promotion of American values through brute force misguided and cruel. The neoconservative project of reshaping the wider world through hard power was, progressives said, arrogant. Abusive. Bullying. As a piece in The Nation explained: “U.S. involvement abroad, even when well-intentioned, is perceived on the receiving end as heavy-handed meddling.”

“For eight years we have paid the price for a foreign policy that lectures without listening,” Barack Obama said in a 2008 speech at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington. In that speech, he said the U.S. needed to try a different approach — engagement. Development assistance. “Now is the time for a new era of international cooperation,” he declared.

Conservatives — at least the interventionists, which is still most of them — scoff at this. They say the world is full of bad actors — actors who prey upon the weak, who have no conscience, and who must be contained by more enlightened nations willing to use force to do it.

But then turn the discussion to domestic affairs. Suddenly progressives are more than happy to use the coercive power of state violence to make the world a better place, as they define it.

Economic inequality? Redistribute wealth. Obesity? Tax the Twinkie and ban the Big Gulp. Health care? Make everyone buy insurance – and dictate what kind. Concepts common to foreign policy — such as sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination — go right out the window, replaced by heavy-handed meddling. After all: The country is full of bad actors who prey upon the weak, who have no conscience, and who must be contained by more enlightened parties willing to use force to do it.

Many conservatives display no more consistency. For years, voices on the right have ridiculed the federal government’s utter inability to get anything right. The standard conservative critique holds that government is inept, corrupt, and grotesquely wasteful; peopled by incompetent bureaucrats whose only concern is in expanding their fiefdoms; and completely blind to the law of unintended consequences. Government, say conservatives, has no business telling a company what benefits it must provide and no business telling families how to raise their children. Butt. Out.

Until the discussion turns to foreign affairs. Then all those concepts common to domestic policy — individual sovereignty, autonomy, and self-determination — go right out the window. Suddenly it is perfectly fine for the United States to order the rest of the world around. And when it does so, there will be no incompetence, no corruption, no self-interest, no unintended consequences. When the U.S. marches off to war, the federal government can do no wrong. And if you don’t stand behind the troops, pal, feel free to stand in front of them.

Both sides are half-right. The state might have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, but that doesn’t mean it should be prodigal with the stuff, either at home or abroad.



10:09 am - Wed, Jan 15, 2014
2 notes

On Sex, Never Mind ‘How’

Some Virginia public officials seem to have trouble grasping an extremely simple concept: Protecting children from sexual predation does not require drawing distinctions among different types of sex. Had he emphasized that point more, state Sen. Tom Garrett might have spared himself a great deal of grief.

Garrett recently introduced legislation to amend and re-enact Virginia’s notorious crimes-against-nature statute, which court rulings have rendered a nullity. The bill renews the prohibitions against oral or anal sex with minors or in public, while stipulating that such acts between consenting adults in private do not violate the law.

This marks a considerable improvement over the position taken by Ken Cuccinelli, who believes homosexuality “brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of [the] soul” and that “homosexual acts … should not be accommodated in government policy.” As attorney general, he doggedly defended the state’s old, comprehensive ban against certain sexual acts — which felonized even those intimacies between married straight couples.

Cuccinelli tried to maintain that courts could sustain Virginia’s law even in light of the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas if they interpreted it as applying only to cases of adults preying on minors. That did not fly, for the obvious reason: It’s not what the law said. He might as well have asked the court to read a law outlawing all hats in church as forbidding only lime-green fedoras.

The courts shot him down. But while Garrett’s bill is an improvement, it still has a lot of problems, as others have pointed out at length. Virginia law lets 17-year-olds marry. But if those 17-year-olds then had oral sex, under Garrett’s original bill they would be committing felonies. Genital sex between an adult and a 17-year-old remains a misdemeanor, but merely to solicit oral sex with a 17-year—old would be a felony.

Moreover, public sex acts would be treated differently depending on what sort of conduct they involved: as felonies for “crimes against nature,” but misdemeanors otherwise. As the Virginia ACLU’s Claire Guthrie Gastañaga told ThinkProgress, Garrett’s original measure “leaves in place discriminatory treatment and doesn’t address the underlying problem that LGBT people are treated differently than folks that have other kinds of sex.”

Consequently, Garrett has caught unholy heck. “This Guy Wants to Outlaw Oral Sex Between Teenagers in Virginia,” screamed a Huffington Post headline. “Apparently, there’s an emergency in the great state of Virginia,” wrote The New Civil Rights Project. “High school students are having too much oral and anal sex, and it’s time to start throwing them in prison for it —– making them felons for the rest of their lives.” Garrett’s office has been slammed with nastygrams.

But while the legal critique of the legislation is spot on, the hyperventilating personal criticism has been unfair. Although he has called himself a “Cuccinelli conservative,” Garrett is not a Cuccinelli clone. In fact, he modeled his legislation after a proposal introduced nine years ago (two years after Lawrence) by former Democratic state Sen. Patricia Ticer. When she announced her retirement three years ago, The Washington Post described Ticer as “one of the senate’s most liberal members.”

To be precise, Garrett didn’t simply model his legislation after Ticer’s. He copied it — almost word-for-word. All the flaws of his bill, then, were embedded in hers as well. It’s a fair bet she didn’t draft her legislation with the intent of stigmatizing homosexuality and sending teenagers to prison. Indeed, her bill died in committee along party lines — with Democrats supporting it and Republicans, including social conservatives such as Mark Obenshain, opposed. Maybe we should give Garrett the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t harbor such an intent either.

“I tried to draft the simplest bill possible,” Garrett wrote in an email to “I would be open to amendment, and may even amend it myself, to say that any act is only a crime when one participant or solicitor is an adult, and the other a minor. Honestly, the idea of outlawing acts between minors isn’t something I had contemplated. … I genuinely thought opposition to this bill would come from the right, not the left.” Just as it did with Ticer’s.

Garrett has now updated his bill so that it is now not just close to Ticer’s bill but identical to it. If it clears the Senate, then the trick will be to get it past the social conservatives in the House of Delegates — though it’s not clear why even that is really necessary. Like they say, this isn’t rocket surgery: (1) Grown-ups should not prey on kids, and (2) sex belongs in the bedroom, not on the boardwalk. Virginia can easily regulate those two questions of “who” and “where” without ever bringing up the question of “how.”


2:08 pm - Fri, Nov 29, 2013

Voter-Shaming Finks Should Mind Their Own Business

Voter-shaming finks should mind their own business

“The privacy of the ballot booth is a core American value,” declared James Valvo, director of government affairs for Americans for Prosperity, two years ago. “Allowing individuals to make their own decisions about their government … free from coercion from either side, is paramount.”

Valvo was criticizing “card-check” legislation to let unions organize through other than secret ballots — and he wasn’t alone. Ballot secrecy, declared AFP Virginia’s Ben Marchi, was “the bedrock of our democracy.” AFP waged a loud and sustained campaign on behalf of the secret ballot in union fights.

Too bad AFP doesn’t practice what it preaches. If it did, then it would not have sent out “voter audits” tattling on people who, AFP believes, do not vote with sufficient regularity.

As the Chesterfield Observer reported last week, county resident Steve Serrao got one such report card in June. It listed him as a non-voter. His wife, Renee, who teaches government, strenuously disputes that. “We’re contacting you and your neighbors today to let folks know who does and who doesn’t vote,” the report card says. “As you can see below, your neighbors who have voted are concerned about the community’s well-being. Are you?”

Nancy Meacham of Roanoke got a similarly ominous audit from the group in November — as did others around the state. Many of them felt, quite rightly, that the mailings amounted to rank voter intimidation.

AFP wasn’t the only group this year to employ such tactics. So did the Democratic Party of Virginia. “The chart below shows your household’s public voting record in past elections as well as an empty space which we will fill to indicate if you vote in this year’s election on Tuesday, November 5th,” reads that party’s mau-mauing missive. “We intend to mail you an updated chart after the election that will show whether or not you voted. We will leave the space blank if you do not vote.”

According to state officials, the left-wing Voter Participation Center likewise sent out similar letters to citizens it deemed “BELOW AVERAGE.” “After the election,” the VPC wrote, “we will re-evaluate your voting record and hope to share it with your neighbors to see if there is improvement.”

The VPC gained notoriety last summer when, as The Times-Dispatch reported, it sent 200,000 voter registration forms, many to “already registered voters, as well as to children, non-citizens, the deceased and family pets.”

This was not fraud itself, but it was a long way from seemly. In 2008, a felon used a form sent by the VPC to vote illegally, for which she received a (suspended) 10-year sentence. Is AFP proud to emulate the tactics of the VPC? For that matter, is the liberal group proud to emulate the tactics of the conservative one?

None of the senders should be proud of invading other people’s privacy and harassing them to do something they are under no obligation to do: The right to vote also entails the right not to vote.

No one should have to justify exercising a right; rights, by definition, justify themselves. Nevertheless, for many people, not voting is an entirely rational choice: The cost of learning about the candidates and the issues often outweighs the benefit to be had from casting a ballot whose odds of making a significant difference in the outcome are infinitesimal.

Many people make a much bigger difference through other means — mentoring kids, volunteering, charity and civic groups. Government is far from the only avenue for doing good.

Yet the threatening tenor of the mailings suggests there is something shameful about exercising such a right. Public shaming of this sort is nothing new; it has been used often throughout history — usually by exceedingly undemocratic and illiberal regimes, such as ancient Rome, Puritan America, contemporary Iran and 20th century communism.

It is the communist culture — citizens informing upon citizens, show trials for dissidents and backsliders — that echoes most loudly in the letters: “Comrade Jones has squandered the opportunity he has been provided to strive for the betterment of the People. The People have a right to expect that Comrade Jones will direct his every effort to the class struggle. By setting his own ego and contentment above the interests of the proletariat, Comrade Jones has demonstrated behavior unworthy of a Bolshevik. He has betrayed his fellow citizens, who have committed themselves completely to the collective good. …”

Many people — harried single mothers, fathers working two jobs, adult children caring for sick parents — simply have more pressing things to do on Election Day than vote. AFP and Co. might think otherwise. If so, too bad: It’s not their call to make — and none of their business in the first place.


N.B.: Ben Marchi is no longer with AFP-Virginia. He writes: “Like the Roanoke Times, who published the names and addresses of conceal carry permit holders, AFP-VA’s actions are unfortunate and not in keeping with its past record of forcing Speaker Howell to record subcommittee votes, pushing successfully for specific spending cuts and exposing legislators’ abuses of the working papers exemption to FOIA laws.”


11:34 am - Tue, Nov 5, 2013
For a group insistent that we all take responsibility for our lives the right wing — at least its most arrogant elements — never has been big on self-examination.
Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post, on conservatives who blame everyone but conservatives when conservatives lose elections.


9:53 am - Mon, Oct 7, 2013
8 notes

A Conservative Case for Gay Marriage


Theodore Olson has entered the fray over Virginia’s ban on gay marriage. Olson, a powerhouse Republican lawyer who helped keep Al Gore out of the White House, is joining forces with the ACLU (which is challenging the ban in a separate suit) and what those on the right like to call the “homosexual lobby.” This adds a big wrinkle to the standard left/right narrative, and raises a question: Is there a conservative case for gay marriage?

There certainly is a liberal one: Diversity is great, which means gay people are great – so if they want to marry, that’s great too! Besides, you’re not supposed to discriminate against anybody. (Except conservative Christians, because they’re so judgmental and icky.)

There is also a libertarian argument for gay marriage, which is equally straightforward: Short of actually shooting somebody in the face, individuals should be able to do pretty much whatever they want (except criticize the novels of Ayn Rand, no matter how hilariously bad her prose). If that means two burly lumberjacks get to pick out china patterns together – hey, go for it.

Most everyone also knows the conservative argument against gay marriage: God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Plus, look at these pictures from the San Francisco gay-pride parade we found on the Internet. Dude, are you seriously gonna stand up for those freaks?

Olson has. With Democratic lawyer David Boies, he successfully challenged California’s ban on gay marriage. In 2010, Olson penned a piece for Newsweek explaining his version of “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.” He pointed out that “same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize” – such as commitment, stable families, and “thinking beyond one’s own needs.” Moreover, gay marriage follows from the “bedrock American principle of equality.” If you believe in the values of the Declaration and the Constitution, then you believe in equal rights, and “marriage is one of the most fundamental rights that we have as Americans.”

Those are good reasons. But they are not the only reasons conservatives might accept gay marriage. Here are five more.

(1) Gay marriage is good for “the institution of marriage.” 

If you think marriage is a valuable cultural institution, and you worry about its decline in contemporary America, then you should welcome a reform that would shore up that institution against erosion. Just as the institution of banking is stronger with many participants rather than few, having more marriages rather than fewer is better for the institution of marriage.

Granted, you can push this argument too far. The institution of marriage would not be strengthened by “marriages” joining, say, cats and mice in holy matrimony. But those unions do not entail any intent to participate in the institution; cats and mice are not buying in to any set of values when people pretend to marry them off. When gay people seek to marry, however, they do intend to participate in marriage, and they do buy in to a (conservative) value set.

(2) Gay marriage fosters virtue.

Social conservatives believe sexual promiscuity is bad for the body and corrosive to the soul – that the sexual revolution’s encouragement of licentiousness has degraded social norms and debased our common virtue. If they are right about that, then allowing  homosexuals to enter lifetime monogamy ought to be altogether desirable – just as it is desirable for heterosexuals, and for the same reasons.

(3) Gay marriage benefits children.

In his 2012 book A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights, David Lampo notes that “over a quarter of a million children are living with same-sex couples.” Forbidding those couples to marry does not spirit their children away from them into the arms of straight couples (which likely would be awful for those children anyway). All it does, as the ACLU points out, is deny those children “the protection and stability of having parents who are married.”

But how do those children fare compared with children raised by straight couples? “There is no evidence that gay parents are any less effective or loving than heterosexual ones,” Lampo writes. In fact, some studies (such as one conducted by the University of Melbourne) show children raised by gay couples are better off by some measures (e.g., family cohesion) and no worse off in others (e.g., self-esteem). According to the Supreme Court, voluminous research indicates that children raised by gay or lesbian couples “are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted.”

(4) Banning gay marriage injects government where it doesn’t belong.

Conservatives probably will respond to the previous point by contending that while letting single-gender couples raise children might not be profoundly harmful, it certainly is not optimal. The optimal family, they will say, consists of children raised by two parents of the opposite sex.

Let’s accept this as true for argument’s sake. But while it is one thing to stipulate what might be optimal, it is something else – something far more dangerous – to suggest the state should impose its view of what is optimal on the nation’s families.

After all, the optimal conditions for child-rearing extend far beyond parental gender. We can easily imagine what a government in the hands of left-wing activists might consider optimal: No guns in the home. No smoking, either. Certainly no spanking. And absolutely, positively no trying to cure a sick child with prayer.

In fact, a government that was to impose its view of optimal child-rearing conditions would not start by forbidding gay couples to marry, since their marital status has nothing to do with their child-rearing skills. Rather, a government bent on optimal parenting, as conservatives define it, would start by banning divorce. (And to be fair, some conservatives – such as Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli – do want to make divorcing more difficult.) Having banned divorce, social conservatives trying to optimize parenting would then take children from single-parent homes, where they face much longer odds of life success, and require two-parent families to adopt them.

(5) Banning gay marriage encourages big-government thinking.

Conservatives content they want to protect the institution of marriage and foster procreation by straight couples. First question: Show me where the Constitution says that is any part of government’s job. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Can’t find it, can you? Even if someone could, the means chosen – banning gay marriage – is connected to those goals only by logic so thin and weak it cannot stand up. Letting gay people marry does not discourage straight people from getting married, and it certainly does not discourage them from procreating. (What spouse has ever said, “Gee, honey, I’d love too, but not tonight – seeing Kevin and Don’s engagement announcement kind of spoiled the mood”?) Gay marriage simply has nothing to do with either of those issues.

By pretending it does, conservatives adopt precisely the sort of big-government thinking they otherwise abhor. If government is supposed to encourage procreation, then the law should be narrowly tailored to achieve that goal. (For instance, straight couples seeking to marry should have to take fertility tests.) By suggesting government can exclude gays from marriage in order to encourage procreation, even though the two issues have no relation to each other, conservatives encourage government to claim it can do anything at all so long as it has what James Madison called a “colorable pretext” for its actions. That’s exactly the kind of thinking that led to Kelo, the Supreme Court decision allowing local governments to confiscate private property if they think they might one day find a better use for it.

Finally, conservative say the traditional straight family is – well, traditional. But as another court has noted, this does not explain the reason for discriminating against gays, it merely repeats it.

Repeating a conclusion doesn’t prove it. And besides: “Upholding tradition” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution, either.



3:58 pm - Wed, Aug 21, 2013
12 notes

How the Right Learned to Love Gun Control

Today’s column:

Conservatives took a break last week from their sensible skepticism toward big government in order to embrace the liberal logic of gun control. That logic is familiar to anyone who has ever spent much time kibitzing the gun debate, and it goes like this: Government should infringe on, or even abrogate, the rights of millions of law-abiding people in order to stop a minuscule fraction who use guns to commit mayhem.

Whether gun-control laws actually produce the desired results is a matter of great dispute. But liberals will happily cherry-pick the data that best make their case. (Why should they be any different?) They will then argue as The New York Times did in 2010, when it denounced a Supreme Court ruling upholding gun rights: “The arguments that led to Monday’s decision,” the newspaper intoned, “were infuriatingly abstract, but the results will be all too real and bloody.”

Translation: Don’t give us any of that airy nonsense about rights. People’s lives are on the line here. This, in essence, was how conservatives reacted last week when a federal judge said New York’s stop-and-frisk tactics were unconstitutional.

Stop-and-frisk was “a policy that has saved thousands of black lives,” wrote noted civil-rights icon Ann Coulter. The Wall Street Journal agreed: “If the judge’s ruling isn’t overturned, the victims won’t be in the tony precincts (but) in the barrios and housing projects.” Channeling The Times, Daniel Henninger of The Journal griped that “when liberals weigh the reality of physical threat … against hyper-abstract interpretations of constitutional rights, abstraction wins.”

According to National Review, “intelligent police work” had “reversed what seemed 20 years ago to be an inescapable descent into lawlessness, indecency, and chaos.” Writing in City Journal, Heather Mac Donald concurred: “New York’s 20-year reprieve from debilitating violence may well be over.” She fretted the ruling could “signal the end of the freedom from fear that New York’s most vulnerable residents have enjoyed.” In Commentary, Seth Mandel depicted stop-and-frisk as a “fight to keep the city’s minority neighborhoods safe.”

And, sure, that might be the intent. But then you can claim all sorts of policies will keep a city safe, including a total ban on firearms and surprise house-to-house searches for drugs. If the ends justify the means, then you can do just about anything you want. Conservatives usually like to think they’re a little more high-minded than that.

The other trouble with such consequentialist rationales is that they depend on producing the right consequences. So naturally, conservatives simply assume stop-and-frisk deserves the lion’s share of the credit for New York’s falling crime rate. But crime has fallen steeply across the country — including in many places that did not employ stop-and-frisk.

What’s more, conservatives seem to have forgotten their own prior explanation for the Big Apple’s progress: the broken-windows theory. That theory, popularized by the late James Q. Wilson, posited that tolerating minor crime such as turnstile-jumping and vandalism created an atmosphere major crime found inviting. To discourage major crime, therefore, crack down on petty crime. You can read volumes on how “James Q. Wilson’s thinking about crime and policing saved lives and transformed cities for the better” in the City Journal article “Man of Reason” (by Heather Mac Donald) — and several others just like it.

Mac Donald now defends stop-and-frisk by pointing out blacks and Hispanics are the primary perpetrators of violent crime in New York — so it only stands to reason that they should be the primary targets of stopping and frisking. This epitomizes the racial-profiling fallacy you also see in the debate over Muslims and terrorism.

It’s undeniably true that Muslims have committed most of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. in the past couple of decades. But this does not justify viewing all Muslims with suspicion, because while there have been only a handful of attacks, there are something like 1.6 billion Muslims. The odds that any one of them is a terrorist are, therefore, vanishingly small. (Not surprisingly, the same NYPD that carries out stop-and-frisk got into hot water a couple years ago for infiltrating mosques and other Islamic institutions.)

By the same token, just because most perpetrators in New York are black or Hispanic does not mean most blacks or Hispanics are perpetrators. After all, most homicides are committed with guns — but that does not mean most gun owners commit homicide.

The NYPD’s defenders also contend the police did not stop and frisk minorities at random; they stopped those who acted suspiciously. This is true only if you consider perfectly normal behavior suspicious. Judge Shira Scheindlin found, for instance, that (as a news account put it) “officers sometimes stopped people on the grounds that the officer observed a bulge in the person’s pocket; often it turned out that the bulge was caused not by a gun but by a wallet.” Other causes for suspicion: “being fidgety” and “walking in a certain way.” That sounds ironclad, doesn’t it?

In fact, stop-and-frisk is not a tremendous success but a tremendous failure, because such stops turn up contraband only 2 percent of the time. In other words: 98 times out of 100 the officer’s suspicion is unjustified.

If any other program had a 98 percent failure rate, conservatives would hold it up as a shining example of everything that’s wrong with big government. That they’re so eager to defend a failing program when it happens to target minorities makes their professed concern for “the most vulnerable” ring a trifle hollow.


5:55 pm - Sun, Aug 11, 2013
23 notes

The Right Is Wrong About Defense

And here’s why:

First, look at the big picture. From 2002 to 2011, inflation-adjusted defense spending rose 64 percent. In 2012, defense spending shrank 6 percent. Sequestration hacks real Pentagon spending levels all the way back to where they stood in … 2007. Was the U.S. military woefully undermanned and underarmed in 2007? Of course not.

If you include homeland security, intelligence and foreign aid, then national-security spending totals more than $840 billion. All individual income taxes total $1.1 trillion, just $260 billion more than that. True, defense spending has shrunk as a share of the overall budget — thanks to exploding outlays in social-welfare spending. The remedy for that is to cut the latter, not pointlessly inflate military spending just so it can keep up.

And speaking of catching up: At present, the U.S. accounts for 46 cents of every military dollar spent worldwide. America’s military allies add another 22 cents. That means the rest of the nonaligned world spends only 32 percent of global outlays on arms, and America’s potential enemies — such as China, Iran and Russia — spend only about half of that. They have a long way to go even to get within spitting distance of parity.

What’s more, the U.S. is winding down the second of two wars. Reducing troop strength from a wartime high of more than half a million Army regulars to slightly less than half a million five years from now hardly qualifies as hollowing out the service. Yet many conservatives seem to think any reduction in troop strength is a disaster. That’s like insisting food-stamp levels should remain steady even after the end of a recession.

Second, a grotesque amount of Pentagon spending goes to waste — as even conservatives will concede. According to the American Enterprise Institute, “most major weapons system development programs … have cost overruns of over 30 percent.” The Heritage Foundation has identified $70 billion in annual savings. That’s 40 percent more than the cuts imposed by sequestration. So contrary to what Hagel claims, deep spending cuts need not require the mothballing of carrier strike groups. They simply require doing the job right.

A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office found that in just two years “management failures added at least $70 billion to the projected costs” of major weapons systems, The New York Times has reported. A single program — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — “accounted for $28 billion of that increase.” And yet, as a piece in Roll Call noted last month, the F-35 “has been shielded from the sequester” even though it “is almost a decade behind schedule, expected to cost $1.5 trillion and yet critical systems still don’t work. … The F-35 performs poorer than many legacy aircraft.”

The principal reason for the GAO-identified cost overruns? “The Pentagon began building the systems before the designs were fully tested.”

There’s a similar story to be told about the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The average cost per ship has doubled since the program’s initiation; the Navy is buying more even though testing won’t be finished for another six years — “we are purchasing first and testing second,” says California Rep. Jackie Speier — and a recent GAO report says “current LCS weapon systems are underperforming and offer little chance of survival in a combat scenario.” Little chance of survival – despite $40 billion in outlays. This helps defend America exactly how?

Matching the military to its peacetime mission and cutting out the waste would permit a substantially smaller budget without diminishing America’s ability to defend itself.

This leaves just one rationale for unbounded military spending: jobs. Conservatives insist military outlays must remain high in order to sustain employment levels. Are they serious? Then apparently all their critiques of the Obama stimulus were wrong, and government really is great at creating jobs. Who knew?

Except, of course, government isn’t. Every dollar Washington spends comes from the private sector — which is far more efficient at allocating economic resources to their highest and best use. True, some economists defensibly claim deficit spending can stimulate the economy; does this give conservatives an escape route? Far from it.

Never mind their aversion to deficit financing generally. Those conservatives who believe in the power of government to stimulate the economy should support even deeper cuts in defense spending. That is because other kinds of spending would stimulate the economy even more, for several reasons. Example: Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, point out that the labor intensity in education is higher than the labor intensity of the military, which relies on machinery much more than schools do. So if job creation is the goal, Congress should shift funds from the Pentagon to education.

What’s more, a lot of defense spending ends up overseas: “U.S. military personnel spend only 43 percent of their income on domestic goods and services … while the U.S. civilian population, on average, spends 78 percent of their income on domestic products.” A sailor might blow his paycheck in Bangkok or Berlin, but a teacher is more likely to blow it in Baltimore or Brooklyn.

The truth is that the jobs argument is just plain wrong. Industry-funded studies may claim devastating harm from defense cuts, but they have a powerful motive to paint a grim picture: From 2001 to 2010, defense-industry profits quadrupled. You can’t blame the industry for wanting to keep the spigot flowing.

Disinterested observers, however, find something rather different. The Pacific Research Institute’s Benjamin Zycher points out that inflation-adjusted defense appropriations rose every year from 1981 to 1989, then fell in eight out of the next 11 years. If defense spending were as important to the economy as conservatives pretend, then GDP should have moved up and down in tandem with the Pentagon’s budget. Nothing anywhere close to that happened. Except for two years — 1982 and 1991 — the economy grew steadily throughout the period.

To conservatives, government is a bloated bureaucracy in pursuit of an inflated mission that wastes untold billions with no accountability. They detest that sort of thing when it wears the name of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Education. So why do they give it a pass whenever it puts on a uniform?


10:36 am - Mon, Jul 1, 2013
3 notes

Repeal the Marriage Amendments

Last week’s twin Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage have left final disposition of the question to the states. So now would be a good time for Virginia and the 30 others with constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions to start repealing them.


Even the most strident social conservatives generally do not dispute the principle animating the drive for same-sex marriage: the “fundamental right of all people,” as the Cato Institute put it during litigation over DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, “to be treated equally by their government.” Governments must not discriminate “based solely on differences that are irrelevant to legitimate governmental objectives.”


But there is no compelling governmental reason to deny gay couples equal marriage rights or the benefits that attend them. Government’s elemental duty consists of protecting individual rights from aggression. Same-sex marriages imperil nobody’s rights. They harm no one. Hence opponents have conjured up other rationales.


We are told, for instance, that marriage equality somehow threatens “the institution of marriage.” This is akin to arguing that letting gay couples open bank accounts threatens the institution of banking. It not only does not follow, it is counter-intuitive.


Voluminous evidence suggests other social forces have eroded traditional marriage while gay marriage has left it unscathed. Marriage’s worst declines occurred in the 1960s and 1970s – long before gay marriage arrived on the scene. And where gay marriage has been legalized, other marriages have not suffered. Massachusetts approved gay marriage a decade ago. Marriage rates there shot up shortly afterward as gay couples wed, and have remained steady since.


What’s more, in states that have legalized gay marriage divorce rates have been lower, on average, than before legalization. They also have been lower than the national average. Nationwide, marriage rates are higher among those who tend to support gay marriage – well-to-do college graduates – than among cohorts that support gay marriage less.


This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Time and again, social conservatives confronted with imminent progress have predicted dire consequences that never came to pass.


Women’s suffrage was condemned as an “exceedingly dangerous” experiment that would destroy chivalry, defy  God’s will, violate biological law, and require “a radical change in human nature of which the world has never given the faintest sign.” Women gained the vote – and yet somehow, Western civilization abides.


Opponents of integrating the armed forces similarly denounced the notion as an “experiment” that would “cripple our national defense” and “result in ultimate defeat.” It didn’t. Foes of integrating the schools warned that doing so would ruin “the amicable relations between the white and Negro races,” bring “unending violence and strife,” and destroy public education. It didn’t. Critics of repealing don’t-ask-don’t-tell warned that letting homosexuals serve openly in the military would threaten “unit cohesion,” “break the all-volunteer force,” etc. It didn’t.


Perhaps because of this record, the dwindling cadre that opposes gay marriage is falling back on less empirical arguments: Marriage is for procreation; polygamy’s a-comin’; the Bible condemns homosexuality. (True. It also decrees, in Deuteronomy 22:13-21, that a bride who is not a virgin “shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.” Maybe we should look elsewhere for legislative guidance.)


As the case against gay marriage has grown weaker, public support for it has grown stronger. Seven years ago, 57 percent of voters approved Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. Today, 56 percent of Virginians think gay marriage should be legal.


That is bad news for Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, who remains staunchly opposed to gay marriage in particular and to homosexuality in general, which he considers “intrinsically wrong.” It might be better news for Cuccinelli’s Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe – if McAuliffe had any discernible principles, or courage to match them. McAuliffe gave tepid, pro-forma applause to last week’s Supreme Court decisions but refuses to say whether Virginia should repeal its gay-marriage ban.


That leaves only Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, who notes Virginia’s sordid history in matters marital: Not until 1967, in the case of Richard and Mildred Loving, was Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage overturned. “If it weren’t for the courage of the Lovings,” Sarvis says, “I might not have been able to marry the woman I love. But today, Virginia still isn’t for all lovers. That’s why I want to honor the Loving legacy and lead the fight now, in this election, to recognize same-sex marriage in Virginia.”


The clear trajectory of the issue indicates that same-sex marriage eventually will come to pass, in Virginia and the rest of the country, just as women’s suffrage, school desegregation, interracial marriage, and all the rest did. It would be nice if, for once, the Old Dominion didn’t have to be dragged into the future kicking and screaming.




2:22 pm - Tue, Jun 25, 2013
1,692 notes




Further news: water is wet, candy is delicious. 

What? Conservative morality is based on obedience to arbitrary, irrational rules without any thought as to the outcomes? DO TELL

But isn’t it nice to have scientific confirmation?

As with so many such studies, this one seems highly selective and tendentious. (For a more nuanced and thoughful examination of the source of our intuitions, consider the work of Jonathan Haidt.)

Conservatives may tend toward deontological ethics with regard to certain activities, but they can be highly consequentialist with regard to others. See, e.g., the discussion of waterboarding — which conservatives justified not because it was intrinsically right according to natural or God’s law, but rather because it produced useful intelligence. That was consequentialist ethics in action.

By the same token, liberals opposed waterboarding because they considered it intrinsically wrong (a deontological position) even in cases where it might have produced useful intelligence (though they often argued that it didn’t do that, either).

Likewise, conservatives very often make consequentialist arguments against economic interventions such as the minimum wage — arguing, for instance, that it depresses employment among young people and the low-skilled. Liberals argue, deontologically, that the principles of social justice and simple human decency require us to set a floor on wages.

The principle that we should treat all people as having the same intrinsic moral worth - a basic tenet of liberal political philosophy (and, parenthetically, my own) - is hardly consequentialist. But that does not mean it is “arbitrary” or “irrational.” It grows out of the Kantian categorical imperative. And if you have ever read Kant’s Groundwork, you know he is anything but irrational.

News flash: Not everything qualifies as yet further proof that Your Side is right about everything and Their Side is filled with flaming idiots. There’s a bit more to it than that.

(via abaldwin360-deactivated20130708)


10:33 am - Wed, Jun 19, 2013
49 notes

I have nothing in common with these people politically. But it’s more than political party affiliation or policy disagreements that separate us. We literally share no common political principles. While I may disagree with them, I don’t want to silence them or take their freedoms away. However, they have no problem with taking mine away. They take no issue with the fact that a major arm of the executive branch is targeting and punishing groups based solely on ideology, so long as that ideology is different than theirs. The notion that I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” seems to be completely lost on these people. What’s worse, because of their ignorance, there can be no reconciliation. Because of their stubbornness, there can be no compromise. And because they consistently and flippantly disregard the tenth amendment, there can be no ignoring them.

Superbly put.


11:12 am - Sat, Jun 8, 2013
8 notes


2:53 pm - Fri, Jun 7, 2013
2 notes

Why Do Democrats Want to Eliminate All Military Spending and Leave America Defenseless?

Well, they don’t — of course. At most, some Democrats are proposing modest reductions in the rate of growth of Pentagon spending. Some of the more ardent liberals and libertarians (guilty!) want to cut military spending in real terms. But nobody is suggesting anything close to eliminating the armed forces. (During the past decade, spending on defense has grown nearly 50 percent after adjusting for inflation. The 12-percent cut imposed by sequestration simply rolls military spending back to 2007 levels.)

That’s what makes posts like the one below so tiresome: the utter lack of context:

I just don’t know any longer what I’m supposed to think about a political movement whose primary raison d’être, one they no longer even bother to conceal, is an almost gleeful immiseration of the poor for the benefit of the rich. How is it that the wealthiest country on earth has come to this?


Kevin Drum, on the cruelty of the Republican party.

Why would you want to end SNAP in this economy? Even in the best times, you need food assistance programs. But in hard times?

Republicans kick you when you’re down, then complain you can’t get up quick enough. They want perpetual poverty. Bastards.

(via liberalsarecool)

Politicalprof: Well, the Democrats have abetted, and for the very same reason the Republicans have sold out: they were (very) well paid to do so.

—the thing is, as we have reformed the income tax code in a way that enriches the rich (and it does, since cuts in tax rates benefit the rich far more than the middle and working classes), we have given them ever-larger amounts of money to lobby government to promote their class interests. The real reason we have SuperPACS and 501c4s is that there are people with enough money to fund them. From which basis they then lobby for things like destroying public pensions, eviscerating public services, reduction in services to the poor … and tax cuts for the rich.

—it’s really not that complicated

So here’s some context:  Since 2000, outlays on food stamps have quadrupled. The House GOP proposes a $20 billion cut out of a 10-year projected outlay of nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars. In other words, the GOP wants to impose a 2-percent “cut” in the wake of a 400 percent increase. And this qualifies as “ending” SNAP? Good grief.

The current farm bill, in which SNAP benefits are contained, will still be 39 percent larger after adjusting for inflation than the previous farm bill of five years ago. So, go back to the Pentagon analogy. Let’s have a show of hands: Would any progressive call equivalent increases in defense spending a vicious attack on the military? 



12:39 pm - Wed, Jun 5, 2013
8 notes
Since conservative praise of Michelle Obama is about as common as a unicorn stampede, I thought I’d share…

Since conservative praise of Michelle Obama is about as common as a unicorn stampede, I thought I’d share…


4:29 pm - Mon, Jun 3, 2013
1 note

Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and Jason Reifler of Georgia State found that Republicans presented with news articles pointing out that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that such weapons were found than Republicans who didn’t read those articles. The truth, in other words, triggered a partisan backlash.

One way to interpret these results is as a worrying sign of epistemic closure. Democrats and Republicans, the theory goes, are increasingly cloistered in their own media cocoons and refuse to accept facts that don’t comport with what they already believe… .

In the control group, the authors find what Bartels, Nyhan and Reifler found: There are big partisan gaps in the accuracy of responses. On every question but one on whether the deficit rose under George W. Bush, there were statistically significant differences in Republicans and Democrats’ responses. For example, Republicans were likelier than Democrats to correctly state that U.S. casualties in Iraq fell from 2007 to 2008, and Democrats were likelier than Republicans to correctly state that unemployment and inflation rose under Bush’s presidency.

But when there was money on the line, the size of the gaps shrank by 55 percent. The researchers ran another experiment, in which they increased the odds of winning for those who answered the questions correctly but also offered a smaller reward to those who answered “don’t know” rather than answering falsely. The partisan gaps narrowed by 80 percent.


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