Saturday, April 29, 2006

Progress Report

Brevity is the soul of wit - and, sometimes, of honesty:

"Let's put it another way: a territory controlled by U.S. forces accounted for 50% of deaths caused by terrorists on the planet last year. If that is a successful military occupation, then I'm not sure what failure would be. I guess I should ask Powerline."
- Andrew Sullivan, on Iraq.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Please Don't Finish That Sentence

Flipping on C-Span just minutes ago, here's what I first hear from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), arguing against fat wads of cash for fishery subsidies,during floor debate on emergency supplemental spending for Hurricane Katrina recovery:

"I'm not objecting to the fact that we should be trying to increase demand for seafood, but..."

I didn't catch the rest. And if you think that's a scream, realize that Coburn is the lone voice in the wilderness arguing against funding a marketing campaign for seafood businesses in an emergency spending bill.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Strategy - The Remix

On Tuesday, the president declared in his flashbulb-shattering speech to the Renewable Fuel Association that "the long-term strategy" with respect to 'energy independence' was to run automobiles "on something other than oil." Any questions?

Not anymore. The word 'strategy' has played an axial role in Bush's vision of his policymaking job. Political visions, as Julian Sanchez explained in a recent column, are defined in Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions" as belonging to two categories: constrained and unconstrained. The constrained vision observes certain intractable limits which human nature imposes on the intrinsic potential of people and institutions when faced with historically constant and infinitely complicated crises. The competing unconstrained vision sees no such permanent limitations on knowledge or action, and instead insists that fortitude, patience, and ingenuity hold limitless potential in personal and social affairs. So repairing humanity is the simple visceral matter of summoning the courage of convictions necessary to take action and stay the course, whatever features the course may exhibit. While scrupulously fair to both visions and ultimately suggesting that some equilibrium is ideal, Sowell clearly depicts the latter political vision as dangerous, reckless and delusory.

Moments such as this scrub away any ambiguity as to which vision captivates Bush's mind. Returning to the above example, was it not obvious to audience members that whatever the merits of the aim of replacing oil with "something other than oil", this description of an aim suggests no obvious relationship to any kind of strategy (especially a 'long-term' one)? But in the unconstrained vision, as in the long and rusty chain of this administration's decisions and rationales, a strategy is just a goal in which elites and leaders earnestly and persistently believe. Ends are vital, means are ornamental. In ordinary life this is a troublesome assumption. In political activity it is a disastrous one. This has yet to dawn on the president, and I wouldn't predict an epiphany before 2008. But, with mid-terms in view, the fact that conservatives climbed to power espousing a constrained vision in politics might be worth reminding Republicans up for re-election.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Cordially, Nicola Sacco"

Now who wants to call the Sedition Act a "pointless law?" Or "repressive and unconstitutional?"

"You have insulted the very government that employs you." To the stockade with you, writer of letters.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

So That's the Problem?

I think I've announced it on this blog before, but I am and have been for a long time a great admirer of Christopher Hitchens. He's as brilliant a polemicist and observer of world affairs as any, and to have survived dyed-in-the-wool Trotskyism with the full sum of his intellect is itself an impressive feat. Of all the critiques to saddle him with, laziness is not one. So what is exactly going on with his recent NYT letter to the editor I have no idea. In a rejoinder to the realists par excellence Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, whom he recently took to task for what I agree was a rather lazy and "smelly" assumption regarding the Jewish lobby, he writes:

"And if Osama bin Laden were moved principally by the suffering of the Palestinians - rather than by his demand to impose a caliphate on Afghans, Iraqis, Turks, Egyptians, and others - then he would be at least morally in the right."

Really? So, if he hadn't long ago proven his words of allegiance to Palestinians to be duplicitous, and instead was moved, "principally by the suffering of the Palestinians", to murder 2,700 innocent people in one day, "then he would be at least morally in the right"? I had presumed that the World Trade Center bombings had put the question of ideological motive somewhat beside the point, and that Hitchens thought so, too.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Living Constitution Suddenly Braindead

One might expect a persistent and rather well-practiced movement in American jurisprudence, dedicated mainly to inventing schema of rights, inventing constitutional definitions, inventing legal precedent, to have by now evolved into something remotely inventive. Not so, ironically, when it comes to that piece of constitutional text which jurists of virtually every conviction agree is the basic axiom on which the document bases its entire argument for political rights, the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit Court, that mass producer of dubious legal logic, has just ruled that a San Diego public school district was within its rights to bar one of its students, Tyler Harper, from wearing to school a t-shirt displaying a biblical message decrying homosexuality during a gay awareness event at the school. According to the school's assistant principal, the Day of Silence sought to "raise other students' awareness regarding tolerance in their judgement [sic] of others", and she believed the shirt was "inflammatory under the circumstances and could cause disruption in the educational setting." The principal helpfully explained to Harper that he was being ordered to remove the shirt to preempt "the threat of physical violence." Harper filed suit against the school in June of 2004, and after appealing his case all the way to the Ninth Circuit, the decision upheld the district court claim that Harper's case "failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that the School violated his First Amendment right to free speech", arguing as such on the grounds that the speech in question "intrudes upon...the rights of other students."

The dismissiveness on the part of the court of Harper's free speech claims is only one link in the chain of seemingly implausible and unconstitutional arguments this case exhibits. It is virtually impossible in this decision to locate a logically constistent conception of individual rights implemented by Judge Reinhold, who authored the opinion. Just try to sort out the actual premises regarding what rights are presumably at stake here. As to the positive argument, we have, implicitly, two constitutional claims in play - the individual's right to free public education, and the right to be shielded from invective by unspecified official action, where such speech might be construed as a distraction from the learning process. Suffice it to say that the fact that the first claim has survived judicial muster for so long puts the approval of the second in fairly proper context. But the "cooperation" of these two "rights" certainly puts the explicit constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech in as precarious a place as can be imagined. Judicial moves like this seem to respond to this by saying, "well, what's the problem?" What, indeed? No problem that a court can, in one motion, affirm a right's status as such, only to foreclose on that right's prospect of actually being enforceable. The fluid motion is really stunning and can be summarized in a single sentence. The assurance of a student's free public education (not a constitutional right) demands protection from personal humiliation and distress (not a constitutional right) against another student's offensive speech (certainly a constitutional right.) Sorry, can't resist: 'Two wrongs don't make a right.'

This court has come under repeated castigation for advancing the odd suggestion that if rights are a good thing, more of them is a better thing. Judge Reinhold, with this decision, has surely done away with the first half of that syllogism.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How Do I Love Thee? None Of Your Business.

As has been the case in the war on terror, the brave souls on the front lines of the marriage war have come to depend very much on strategic secrecy for the success of that noble cause. The effort's planners and policymakers have a difficult task in balancing the freedom of speech with the security of matrimonial sanctity, in which all Americans have a stake. I'd say this is evidence of a job well done:

Very hush-hush.

(Hat tip: Hit and Run).