Friday, April 29, 2005

Thrice Damned Committee

Our Constitutional system seems both intellectually and practically flawed in so many ways, but I’ll never forget when I first became disgusted by it. The Conference Committee. Where measures with wide public support but are an annoyance to the leadership, go to die.

According to Prospect, we’re not going to pull our aid to Sudan because of the genocide. Oh, both the House and Senate want it, and the President could never veto such a thing. But that’s just the price of having a non-public, unrepresentative, leadership dominated final arbitrer in modifying bills to fit both the House and Senate.


Torture Debate

Columbia just sponsored an interesting debate on how our Constitutional system can deal with torture. I’m glad to see someone intelligent try and actually lay out the reasons that neither the Geneva Conventions nor federal statute prohibit torture of suspected terrorists – if only to see how weak those arguments are.

The discussion that the GC only exists in terms of repudiating Germany’s crimes show what Prof. Grimsley said about rules of war tend to be formulated for the main purpose of criticizing your enemy’s conduct, and never an intention to tie your own hands.

I have to admit that Prof. Yoo PO’ed me when he opened with “First, I would like to say that it is a welcome change to leave the People's Republic of Berkeley to come to Columbia.” Coming from a university stereotyped for its liberalness myself, I really hate when conservatives (or any ideology) who were hired by a university (and I assume everything else in terms of support), criticize that university for being intolerant towards the beliefs they hold and preach. So I may not have really given his arguments enough respect. Still, to say that the democratic checks against torture have been legitmately exhausted because Bush was re-elected, seems absurd.

And this gets to one of my bigger worries about the two party system (especially in the party-minimalist democracy that I often argue for). The party that the majority of the public backs may fit with a majority of the public’s view on some policy issues, but not others, and those bad views are simply viewed as the cost, since you are limited in choices. Ideally, eventually the parties would be opportunistic enough that whenever it is in agreement with the public on N issues, the opposition would be in agreement with the public on N+1 issues. But even a little inefficiency and slowness can prevent that from happening, and then the entire competitive “race to the bottom” stalls. Particularly when you contrast issues that are “expensive” for a party to hold (like tying the intelligence departments’ hands) compared to ones that are “cheap” to hold (like condemning commerical culture).


Media and Jobs

I should stop looking at other jobs while I have this one. Between September and December there will be plenty of time to scope out other things. However, I can’t deny that this caught my notice.

The owner of the Atlantic Monthly and a few other publications is
looking for a recent grad with an applied math or econ background to
help think through strategy and acquisitions for our media company.
The job will consist of modelling, mostly, and should be interesting,
as we're poised to expand.

I’ve done both applied math and econ, and rather enjoy making models. Not to mention I enjoy politics and the realm Atlantic Monthly deals in. So I was thinking maybe it’d be worthwhile to look into.

Except I realized, eh, what models I could construct probably say bad things for Atlantic Monthly. Magazines like that exist in a tenuous bridge between academics, mass media, electoral politics, and everyday discourse. While consumer demand for that bridge is rising, substitutes (cables news, internet media) are rising faster.

Which got me thinking how down I was on media in general. I’ve got Tivo to skip commercials and SharpReader RSS to skip ads for my webbrowsing, and you can’t be sure if I’ll pay a ticket to see a movie or download it from the net. Why should any content to be tailored to me in the future?


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Why Don't We Encourage Other Nations To Use Our Constitution?

Yglesias and his comment board has an interesting section on Parliamentarian v Multiple Branch constitutions. He rightfully points out there are a lot of different issues that get thrown in (federalism, checks and balances, separation of powers, and 1 man 1 vote, are all different issues).

Especially interesting are the theories as to why the US government has not encouraged “strong executives” and other checks, we supposedly consider so fundamental, in nations it helps build. One is that this reflect the role of other Western nations in most of our national building, two is that we are trying to maintain the Parliaments beforehand, three is that we are trying to make easily compliant and weak governments we can dominate, and four is the implicit one, that our State department and military planners realize our system is flawed.

I have a hard time believing that anyone raised in America, let alone in our Beltway, has understood that the American system is not the best – just from the sheer lack of discussion we have about it (and how groping in the dark we seemed on the Iraq endeavor). Still, anyone who does comparative politics tends to immediately realize that our system is a cobble of compromises, and certainly not an ideal of perfectly balanced mechanisms. And we certainly wouldn’t want to replicate it.

PS: One might argue that the current system is used because it works uniquely well in our culture, just not in others. The idea that the ideal government can't be shared between two countries, but can transcend two centuries of change, is absurd.


Scalia Watch:

Last month Scalia loathed the practice of taking into consideration foreign laws and international opinion. Nevermind that this (what “cruel and unusual means”) is the area where SCOTUS has the broadest authority in determining what is usually up to public legislatures otherwise – and not that they’re trying to apply EU or UN laws to the US government on random policy areas. Comparing international standards with US ones is just that abhorrent to him.

But this month, Scalia believes that statutes that limit rights based on your conviction in “any court”, means not just US courts but foreign courts as well. When we say you can’t own a gun because a justice system has sad you are a bad person, apparently we mean any justice system, not just ours. Of course some of these systems are horribly autocratic and convict at the slightest political whim, but that’s only a “worst case scenario” and “cherry picking” for people who are worried about abuse of authority. Of course when defending civil rights we should look at the average, not the worst thing the government could do with power.

I like the idea that Scalia is actually just a “munchkin gamer” who looks at laws with an incredibly realistic approach, and reads only what is there with a consistent interpretation. But it’s simply a good PR campaign, not how he actually rules.


Deference Lost

An interesting aspect of the “nuclear option” debate is the retaliation threatened by Dems. I think this is definitely overlooked as the most interesting part of this whole debate. First, let’s be clear about what various polls mean.
1. A majority of Americans oppose the judges who have not been confirmed (not a plurality, a majority). Good for Dems.
2. A majority of Americans think these judges should get an up-or-down vote. Good for Reps.
3. A majority of Americans think the filibuster should stand. Good for Dems.
4. Sadly I have not seen poll numbers on this, but I imagine that it’s true that a plurality of Americans would oppose Democrats stopping the entire business of the Senate for the rest of the term (except for budget and defense) if the nuclear option were to happen. Good for Reps.
So, yeah, either party can select what good news they want from that.

What’s interesting kinda, is not that Democrats would just outright stop everything, but how they would. They would cease something called deference to the agenda of the majority. The individualist nature of the Senate works such that anyone could propose legislation, but then nothing would get done, so the majority leader monopolizes proposals (and the Committees). Violating this agreement would allow Reid to propose lots of bills that a) waste time, b) have majority support among the American people and c) Democratic supporters would love to see voted on.

I think this is an even more radical change in the Senate’s fiber than the end of the filibuster, if it happens. The idea that anything with the support of 51 or more Senators would pass, and not just laws presented by the majority leadership, would be a huge breakdown in partisan control. That's hugely more democratic a step than overriding that one minority protection. So here's hoping.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

FAFBLOG: Hey there Constitution! What're you doin just lyin around on the ground here?

Fafblog makes wonderful commentary on certain interpretations of the Constitution. The ability for a political party or movement to insist that we must follow it’s original precepts with not attention to change over a hundred years, and that “September 11th changed everything” so we don’t have to follow the Constitution at the same time is demonstrative of how futile the hope of adhering to a unifying document like the Constitution is. Everyone sees the need to move beyond the legal compromises of 200 years ago, but sadly only in the context of their pet issues.


Unnecessary Hypocrisy; Relativist Menus; Rube Goldberg; Geeks - see where I'm going?

I really should be making separate entries here. Well eff that. 4 Really Interesting Things.


I’m curious why Frist et al keep using “we just want the nominees to get an up or down vote”. Railing against the filibuster, well Republicans haven’t used said filibuster in ages (because they didn’t have to), so they can safely do that. But they certainly prevented many judicial nominees from getting yes-no votes by delaying them in committee during Clinton’s term. Now this isn’t the same thing clearly, but both are “not letting nominees get an up or down vote”. Why be so hypocritical when you can avoid it?


The Ethical Werewolf has a series of discussions going on what relativism really means, and even better, why the actual definition of it matters in our current political debate. Good reading.

- has a paean to Rube Goldberg who was pretty anti-New Deal, for his understanding of government. Apparently his overly complicated machines were not just humorous, but metaphors for human endeavor. In particular, for our government. I take this to heart, in terms of pointing out the absurdity of our complex decision making system.

Simple is better (not always true, but a good first premise).

(In one of the science camps I went to as a nerdy kid, our final project was to make Rube Goldberg machines. To be all deep and stuff, I must say it wasn’t the complicated and confusing parts that didn’t work, but getting the very (apparently) simple steps to function as well as you imagine them to, that was unreliable.)


Lastly, I’d be remiss to not point out Totalitarianism Today on geekiness. Why? Because it really plays into what I was saying Monday about aesthetics and how much many political people look on politics as more of a game. Now I love games, and am definitely the type of geek described both there and here. As I imagine all the readers of my blog are. So we would do well to not forget that we are probably pretty buffered from the effects of bad policy or government waste, and to analyze how our passions for debating the news matches so closely to our passions for watching Firefly or playing Puerto Rico.


Monday, April 25, 2005

I'd be amused if Filibustering falls under Fair Use

Well Frist made his big speech on “Justice Sunday” about removing the filibuster, and it came to nothing. Now we wait and see whether Congress will really repeal the judicial filibuster or not. Yglesias makes a good point that this matters so little in terms of results, compared to the effect of Democrats retaliating by stopping all business ever, that Republicans are unlikely to do it. But after all this build up (especially if you include Schiavo as part of the build up), my own social theories think the ideologists can’t just calm down, and will insist that something is done. We’ll see.

Anyone at all interested by this totally needs to go out and read Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, part of the mega-biography of Lyndon Johnson. A thousand pages on his 8 years in the Senate, has wondiferous stuff on these types of maneuvers, and what makes them work or not work. I expect the last volume, on Johnson’s presidency, to be a let down in comparison.

My own thoughts clearly are just wondering why more of the elite doesn’t oppose the filibuster. And there have been several grounds (to this democratic minimalist) for saying so. The inefficiency it pushes, the lack of democratic accountability, the horrible uses its been used for in the past (and never ones we later look back on and are grateful for), and the hope that one day their party will be in power. But I had to this one more, one which should be particularly important to those that enjoy politics as a fun game or interesting narrative or even a work of art, more than as people who will be affected by the results directly (ie, almost every blogger). Aesthetics.

The Senate was created to be the “deliberative body”, a small chamber of wise men (let’s be honest about our founders here), who would illuminate the issues of the day with their debate, leading to well thought technocratic results instead of ideological factionalism. Well that’s clearly out the window. But it is this ideal of debate that is the reason the Senate had unlimited time to talk. Not minority rights. The writer’s of the Constitution most assuredly did not believe that floor debate would simply be a way for someone to talk forever if they didn’t want a bill to pass.

The filibuster has become a mockery of this ideal, literally. What time was originally reserved for intelligent discussion, has devolved into reading phone books, or the encyclopedia entry on Wisconsin and cheese, or whatever amusing thing the Senator wants to read as they show how absurd they are in their hours of prattle (Jeebus, couldn’t you at least read The Peloponnesian War or something? Harry Potter is popular with the kids these days, and clearly that’s gotta fall under “fair use”).

I personally think that our system does poorly compared to a party-based parliament, but I understand those who want to continue this individual-based republican experiment. But the way the filibuster is, with one party voting to allow a member continue reading a recipe book in order to prevent a vote from happening, is the very disgusting knee-jerk party-ism that should worry people like that.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Two Pundits Walk Into a Bar...

In the NYT today David Brooks not information coming out about the author of Roe v Wade, and argues that Roe v Wade has caused such divisiveness since it’s a command from on high. A position I’ve certainly taken before.

Over at HNN, Ralph Luker counter-argues that there was poison over judges before Roe v Wade, so it must not be Roe v Wade that’s the problem.

I agree with both. Its judges that are the problem. Incredibly frustrating interpretations of the Constitution that overrule democratic laws, and don’t seem to be rights that a majority of our society agrees with let alone a supermajority, were not new in Roe v Wade.

(Not that that there isn’t plenty to complain about Brooks though. I certainly don’t trust him when it comes to interpreting the democratic will.)


Monday, April 18, 2005

Two Failed Budget Cuts

Two news items today about attempts at cutting spending in areas I believe a broad majority of Americans support. Capping farm subsidies to large corporations, and cleansing corruption and uncompetitive contracts in the Air Force. Obviously the deficit is a problem, but neither of the two dominant political ideology is eager to reduce their programs – so cutting clear waste like this is incredibly important.

In the first case, the President proposed caps and has been thwarted by southerners who chair committees in the Senate. Executive stymied by Legislative branch, sad. In the second case, an aggressive committee chair is trying to investigate the military and push for cuts, but is running into >too much bureaucratic inertia and a winking executive. Alas.

So in today alone, we see cases where checks and balances, in both ways prevent something from getting done. That sentence may cause euphoria in some libertarians until I add the modifier: that “something” is cutting the size and waste of the government. Instead, we will just continue spending more money.

A simpler system, be it an all powerful executive or a dominant legislature, would cut at least one of those forms of waste, and be more responsive to the people.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Death Penalty, Freakonomics, and Ira Glass

Proponents of the Death Penalty often use the argument: “with the DP as the hghest possible punishment, we can get criminals to plea bargain and get life imprisonment, and other things we might want (in the case of treason, there clearly is intelligence value). We don’t want to kill people, but the threat is very valuable.

Economists who like engaging in social engineering (such as this) by creating artificial incentives often shoot themselves in the foot because you create all sorts of other incentives as well. We can rarely predict all of them, especially when often proposed incentives (tax cuts, death penalty) are “solutions in search of a problem”. This preview of Freakonomics, an introduction to microeconomics and looking at economics in everyday behavior, ironically shows how such artificial incentives can easily create the opposite reaction.

I was thinking about all this when I heard today’s This American Life. They interviewed a man who’d been wrongly convicted of murder. When preparing to take the stand during the sentencing phase, he decided to paint himself as a despicable person who was in favor of the death penalty himself. Why? Because if he was stuck with Life without Parole for the rest of his life, there was no chance he’d ever be acquitted. But if he was on death row, he’d have every lawyer in the state looking at his shoddy conviction. He got the death penalty, and 15 years later, the guard who says he witnessed someone else commit the murder was allowed onto the record, and our man was set free.

Which all just goes down to: The government killing people in order to create incentives, is as distortionary a policy as any tax loophole.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Two Simple but Very Important Things

I have stated I want more power to the wishes of the people, because that is the only possible source of legitimacy that we could all agree on. I know some libertarians and anti-materialists are turned off by such a populist message. The “will of the people” may not in fact be the best thing for the country or mystically ordained, and rampant desire to always please them can lead to totalitarian systems. I admit, the popular will may not be a legitimate source of sovereignty – but there certainly isn’t any other. Even most libertarians these days don’t use some Lockean conception of rights to say property is the source of legitimacy anymore, but mostly consequentialist arguments.

We need to understand that a set of “rights” from 250 years ago is a reflection of the culture at the time and not good in of itself. In fact, there may be no a priori goods that we can understand. It is just my belief that the only thing that might but a good all of itself, is the will of the people.

In fact, the will of the people can obviously be wrong and clearly has no mystical properties. My own belief in democracy is simply that the leaders having to respond directly tot he will of the majority, seems to bring about the safest and least tyrranical government.


More discussions this past weekend with people over the DC representation. It continues to astound me how people can just accept “well it would be politically inconvenient to one side or the other, so they don’t get full representation”. Dear lord, do we think gays vote Democratic so we might just not give them a vote? Would that argument pass? How about disenfranchising Massachussetts? How can any party have a claim on democratic legitimacy if it allows a city of half a million to go without any state government or federal representation?

And it’s not like you can’t find solutions that don’t insanely help one side or another. Fold DC into VA or MD: Democrats lose some electoral votes, gain a Congressman, and the Senators remain unchanged.

It’s not the biggest deal in terms of saving lives or the fiscal future of our nation I know – but it should be the biggest deal in terms of something that is clearly wrong in the this country, and why arbitrary distinctions of different territory in terms of political representation is horribly silly and immoral.

[The idea favorite to Democrat's I've heard isn't making DC a state... but folding DC into VA. One more congressman, and make the Senators and EV of VA into real swing elections.)


Theo-Cons Gone Wild!

I fear the less said about this Anti-Judicial Activism Conference the better, but clearly this strain is not going away. For me the biggest worry it causes is not that judicial independence will be overthrown, but that we continue to have a politically-passionate faction who elects our leaders that can never be satisfied (because their policies can never be implemented).

Regardless, despite my at-all-costs pro-democracy views, and even my hopes that Republicans will see the injustice and negative-sum problems inherent in our Constitution, such narrow ideological goals are not what is going to get it done or anything I endorse. (Indeed, some have noted that this group only hopes to replace our current un-accountable ancient superlaws with an older set.

The best rebuttal to this conference of course being a sympathetic call to arms about the need to impeach Scalia.

In the Go game of politics, the Right is trying to use this to convince their base they are fighting for them (while no one else is paying attention), so they don’t have to make any other indulgent policies in the next 2 years, while the Left is trying to convince America that these people really are crazy and represent at most 30% of the country. I continue to think things look better for Democrats than the Republicans ever give them credit for (compare Bush’s re-election EV tally to other re-elections: Johnson 486, Nixon 520, Reagan 525, Clinton 379, W 286), but do not be tempted to think any political event like this is played brilliantly by only one side and not the other.



Sometimes just getting some vocabulary described is useful, especially for future reference. If you disagree with this vocabulary, please point it out, so I can figure out if any of it’s wrong. In the meantime, I think this is all pretty analytically useful.

On any policy issue, there tends to be two and only two spectrums it might fall:
Social control by the government (what things are morally or game-theoretically acceptable, like drug usage, speech, sexuality, etc)
Economic control by the government (taxing the wealthy, welfare state, etc)

The reason these two groupings are useful, is that anyone who is on one end of the spectrum on some issues (say, social libertarian), is very certain to share that perspective on all issues at that end of that spectrum. There may be various issues that defy these categories and analytically aren’t useful (for instance, gun control might seem like social control… but most gun apologists are advocating the government use more draconian social policy to lower crime, and vice versa), but outside just sheer pork-centered self interest, these are pretty accurate categories.

Once we accept these two spectrums, we see where the binary identifiers people are grouped into, come from.

Left: Social freedom, economic control
Right: Social control, economic freedom

Is very different from

Libertarian: Social freedom, economic freedom
Authoritarian/Communitarian: Social control, economic control

And the thought that goes into each of those positions is very different. It’s just important to remember that a position on one spectrum, doesn’t deny the validity of the other spectrum, or mean that since you intersect on one issue, you will on another. It’s also important to note where some people are getting their beliefs from, deep down, and how any reconciliation deep down is impossible. (Or that people you may disagree with on other issues… can still find common ground on new ones.)

But there is another spectrum brought to light most recently by the passing of the Pope.

Anti-materialist Vs. Materialist. (which could also be Deontologist vs. Consequentialist)

Like the previous two spectrums, this does not correlate with other spectrums, but to ignore this is very foolhardy. This libertarian appeal to the Pope to support capitalism instead of socialism on materialist grounds is the type of foolishness I am talking about. One key use of this is watching how the Republicans turn from a Right-Materialist party into a Authoritarian/Communitarian-Anti-Materialist party, be it in our President’s speeches or arch-conservative Rick Santorum’s conversion to the minimum wage; this is not centrism or compromise, but a change in philosophy.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader where or if "Centrist vs. Extremism" is a useful analytical category, or correlated with other spectrums.


Nuclear Option

Our news sources and blogs are discussing the Nuclear Option of using Parliamentarian defaults in the Senate to overrule a ruling on the legitimacy of filibusters in the Senate on judicial nominees. If there were any serious argument to be made on behalf of the filibuster in the Senate, I’d say it would stand for judicial nominees more than anyone else, since widespread agreement on the supposedly neutral arbiters who interpret our laws seems more important to protecting rights than, say, the ability to filibuster Social Security changes.

The liberal blogs in particular, are very enthusiastic about any real discussion of the filibuster and what they perceive to be bi-partisan reason to do away with it. I couldn’t agree more, that a deal to throw out the filibuster all together would be good for liberalism.

Of course, this is a zero-sum game generally, and I don’t think you’ll get both intelligent and self-interested parties to agree, thinking it helps them more than the other guy (which is why this blog usually focuses on inefficiency, social cohesion, and other democratic benefits that won’t just represent zero-sum changes, but pluses for everyone). I also don’t think anyone’s going to ratify a deal to do away with the filibuster altogether (although using such a proposal as a piece of rhetoric on the Democrat’s behalf, I can’t say is a bad idea – but neither is stopping the Senate entirely).

And frankly, I’d be a bit concerned about any such deal. Once majoritarianism is in place in the Senate, and the Democrats ever look like they might take back power, I worry the Republicans would just insert the filibuster again – and without the filibuster in the first place, the Democrats couldn’t stop that rules change. This is why appreciation of the spirit of democracy is so important. In our current climate, I think arbitrarily throwing new rules up would be completely acceptable if it helped further an ideology’s goals – we need an ethic that entirely rejects arbitrary constitutionalism getting in the way of popular will.

But that’s mostly academic. The idea at hand is doing away with the judicial filibuster, and a pro-democracy change even on this self-interested-selected point, would be one I’d be happy to see.


Tactical Voting

People are getting worked up over in England, in the run-up to Blair’s re-election, about whether to vote for Labour or Lib-Dems. It’s largely an exercise in trying to feel important and discuss these issues, since Labour’s victory is overwhelmingly expected. I think most commentators dream of a Labour led government, but chastised about the costs of the Iraq war.

[I note with wry amusement that Lib-Dems are becoming more and more automatically the preferred party of the Left, which says interesting things about the long term future of British politics. Labour as a continually dominant centrist-communitarian party? Lib-Dems as the dominant Left party squeezing Labour out? Who knows.]

Crooked Timber discusses the uselessness of tactical voting. The old saw about the economic futility of voting (the chance you’ll change the outcome times the value of a change in outcome, being very small). And if you believe that, then you probably litter too. It is certainly true that in aggregate these votes matter, and it’s a matter of social-contract that we “waste our time” doing it, so everyone else will. CT doesn’t make an argument for why voting “your preference” will actually change things, or is worth the effort more than staying home.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Technocratic: Moral Punishment

FC worries about how our is giving a pass to corporate giants because of their economic importance

"There is an increased reluctance to bring criminal charges that ultimately have the effect of killing a company that otherwise employs a lot of innocent people and has lots of value to it," says Michael Gass, an expert on SEC enforcement at Palmer & Dodge, a Boston law firm. "Instead, there is an increased focus on the individuals responsible."

This disturbs some I’m sure, but it’s how I really wish the rest of us were able to think about punishment. In this case, our government/public opinion/enforcement has problems in that it needs to deter crime, but harm upon the agents responsible (the company) creates a lot of arm overall (such as job losses for everyone in the company). And we don’t want to cause harm to those many people.

Contrast with our punishment decision-making for individuals who commit crimes. Our society wants to deter future crime, and also relishes causing the offendee pain. I know the importance of deterrence (and also prevention simply by having them locked away), but our desire or willingness to cause pain to these people does not make me happy. We’re all sinners, or automatons that lack free will, or sources of hedons, or whatever. Causing pain to someone is a bad thing, a negative, a cost, independent of what actions they have taken. It’s worth it perhaps to further other practical goals (deterrence), but still a cost not a benefit. And while I think most moral philosophers in our country would pay lip service to that, it is certainly something our justice system has trouble enacting.

In this corporate world, we can understand that. We know we need to deter companies from doing evil things, but we’re also sad at the prospect of thousands of people losing their jobs. From this we determine more valid punishments, than we do from bloodlust.

Of course I recognize that in practice, our enforcement against corporations is riddled with cronyism and delays, or at least appears that way to the public (the most important part of any deterrent). I also understand the temptation to focus all the blame for wrongdoing on individuals, but FC rightly points out how easy it is to spread the blame to the whole company, both legally and logistically.


"Do you realize that right now there is no one infallible on Earth? It's all being run by humans." - Stephen Colbert

Sometimes to make my central point of “organic popular will better than unbreakable laws” I look to the UK, which has more in the tradition of absolute democracy. One can certainly look in the other direction, at liberal modern states based almost entirely on archaic formal laws and not on the popular will at all.

Of course, this gives us the topic on everyone’s minds – and everyone’s praises – the Catholic Church. A nation of laws and laws alone if there ever was one, and it’s consistent application of these laws across the board receives great intellectual respect. And it’s, in my opinion, entirely the sort of thing we need to be getting away from.

In all this talk of the Pope’s legacy, with every political commentator mentioning things they disagreed with the Pope about, but saying they felt much affinity because of where they agreed, there’s little mention of the role of women.

The Catholic Church does not allow women to be equal to men. In Catholicism, the role of priests is more important than almost any other religion for its clergy (I think, feel free to correct me. It’s certainly a very large role) – in terms of how the priest relates an individual to God, and how the entire centralized policy-making apparatus has to be priests. To say women cannot be part of that at all, is nearly barbaric in this day and age.

No one seems to get particularly upset over this anymore (okay, the mainstream liberal and conservative blogs aren’t as upset over this as I’d expect them to be), because of an attitude like “hey, that’s some wacky scriptural vestige. Christ didn’t ordain female priests or give us the power to ordain female priests. Sure, it’s probably because women were treated like shit back then and we do know Christ respected women more than anyone else in his culture at the time did, but… we gotta go with this because Christ kinda-sortasaid so. Sorry gals.” And since it’s infallible law (reinforced by John Paul 2, just so no one lets him off the hook), no one would expect the Church to change it, and our commentators focus more on pronouncements on war or the death penalty.

Yeah well. Clearly that’s silly to someone who thinks that the egalitarian “now” is better than the “then”.

A lot of talk is made over how the Church is declining in Europe but is soaring in the global south. Like this reflects on the lack of faith in the spoiled countries and those who are growing up in struggle can really appreciate Christianity. Well maybe it’s that the modern countries are tired of BS repressive un-changeable doctrines dominating their social life, while the controlling powers in Africa and Latin America are happy to welcome an institution that says women can never have as much power as men. And which direction would we rather follow?

I respect the Church, the parochial school I went to was one of the most intellectual and liberal institutions in the Midwest city I grew up in and led me to meet a lot of good people. Its “culture of life” positions are more consistent than anyone else’s and as an intellectual I respect that. And even on birth control and abortion, I feel the Church issues moral pronouncements that are more along the lines of “there is a cost to this sexual culture, and we will internalize that cost” than actually having the power to prohibit it or trying to (JP2 after all, did not run Planned Parenthood – and more than a few missionaries have been willing to turn a blind eye and do what was clearly utilitarian in third world countries when needed). And they certainly recognized that material well-being of the poor is the most important issue on the planet.

But saying that women and men are equal in the eyes of God, and giving them the power that validates that, especially in the countries where that affirmation is needed the most is specifically part of the Church and the Pope’s power, and the lack thereof is something so absurd, so pre-Enlightenment, that I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s adherence to foolish consistencies from archaic times that I feel is the strongest example of why we should disregard super-laws and constitutionalism.

I am of course always curious how my liberal Catholic friends, such as Namespace Collision (with whom I have discussed this somewhat), deal with this. I tend to think that this exclusion is so massive, so capricious in source, that liberals just ignore what seems so out of place.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Odds and Ends: From Days Offline

A situation interesting to any democratic idealist, such as myself, is the US’s continued alliances with autocratic states. Not only do projects like Iraq and Afghanistan appear hypocritical and opportunistic when foreigners look at our closeness and fond language used over Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Pakistan… but helping supposedly friendly dictators is a key part of what led to the recent mess in Iraq and Afghanistan that we had to step in after great cost. So I find Juan Cole’s defense of our alliance with Pakistan very useful and reassuring. (Juan is favorite type of guy when it comes to critics of our foreign policy. He’s definitely a realist… but not a wishful realist, and it’s clear he advocates against heavy-handed foreign policy because it’s a bad idea, and not out of defensiveness>)

This still leaves open the perennial question of what the hell we should do in the Mid-East; democracies that openly hate us and risk turning into theocracies, or autocracies that work with us for now, but continually egg their populace anti-US on just so we will continue to support the dictator, and might turn on us anyway. I really don’t know a third option.

(Although I do have to praise the Bush Administration for recently stepping up its rhetoric against Russia and the degree to which Putin is becoming an autocrat. I don’t know what can be done there either.)

And shout out to my only Pakistani reader, at the Project for Middle East Democracy.


Left2Right has a conclusion to their ongoing discussion of originalism and judicial interpretation of the Constitution.

Suppose courts were in the business of worrying about benefits and burdens. … It's not just that such courts will be awfully busy — it's child's play to comb through the statute books and find all kinds of benefits and burdens. (I suppose that states' decisions on road layout and maintenance, or tort awards driving up malpractice insurance premiums, can make it harder for women to procure abortions. No one in her right mind should think any of that should trigger an enquiry into "undue burden," the legal standard floating around in that terrain. But some might.) What must courts do when they hear such challenges? They have to "balance" the importance of the government interest against the importance of the individual exercise of right.

But balancing is messy. The considerations in the scales look incommensurable, and courts shouldn't have to puzzle over questions of the form, "is red bigger than p?"

Courts can, though, decide when a law takes illicit aim at a protected right. That task requires no invidious balancing. If the state acts for a constitutionally forbidden reason, strike down the law — unless "compelling state interest," that joker in the constitutional deck, rears its ugly head. The categorical nature of this enquiry lends itself to principled reasoning, just what we properly demand of courts.

An interesting and defensible separation definitely. And it makes the key point that far too many political activists tend to forget, it’s not that we don’t believe in their political goals, it’s that the legislature is the correct place for reaching those goals.

First I’d like to note that while this is an interesting argument for judicially protected constitutionalism in general… it’s not one that applies to our Constitution. Specifically, our legislature is limited in what it is allowed to do many practical terms, and therefore isn’t a direct representation of the will of the people. Does this mean judges need a bigger role? Not necessarily… just that “balancing burdens” is not something the legislature can always do correctly (and “forbidden reasons” isn’t the only thing our judges are called to protect against).

But I feel that this solution encourages too much gaming of the system, a la the smirks and winks that brought about literacy tests and grandfather clauses during the Reconstruction, and also instead of asking only “what did the founders mean when they wrote the Constitution”, now wants judges to always know what those who passed laws meant, the pundits who dominated the airwaves. Do we interview the staffers who wrote the rules, the pollsters who advised their Congressmen how to vote, only the specific language of the law, what? This isn’t just academic, already Ohio and Michigan are facing sticky areas around civil unions and common law marriages because of the recent Constitutional amendments passed in this past election, such as arguments about what the amendment didn’t affect before the vote, now being rejected. No, we’re still in a very messy area.


Inspired by this interesting discussion of the libertarian argument on secession, both now and then, at LFA is remebering one thing that always intrigues me about the Civil War and the writing of the Constitution. What did the founders say about secession? Why does it not say in the Constitution whether you specifically can or can not ever leave the Union? If it was left out intentionally, how much discussion about this aspect came up at the convention or in the run up to ratification? Can any of my readers give me some references to look at?