Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Support from Canadian Opposition

Other bloggers have been examining the support that Israel has received from around the world in the current crisis. So far, President Bush, the majority Republicans, and the opposition Democrats, have been almost 100% united in their support. But it is worthwhile to see how Israel is faring outside the US.

In Canada, Prime Minster Stephen Harper has been very supportive and has been criticized for that support, especially after Canada was unable to rapidly evacuate the 40,000 Canadian citizens from Lebanon as rapidly as some desired. However, Harper has a weak minority government and it is also worthwhile looking at what the opposition is saying. So I surfed to the opposition Liberal party web site and found that they are currently having what amounts to a primary election for their leadership.

I surfed through each of the candidates web sites and was happy to find statements from six of the eleven candidates that I would consider to be pro-Israel: Joe Volpe, Bob Rae, Scott Brison, Ken Dryden, Carolyn Bennett (with a later clarification), and Maurizio Bevilacqua. Less supportive were statements from Gerard Kennedy and Hedy Fry. I found nothing on the issue from Michael Ignatieff, Stephane Dion, or Martha Hall Findlay.

I am completely unfamiliar with most of these candidates. I remember Rae from his term as Premier of Ontario during the early 1990s (as a member of a different party) and Dryden as a great hockey player (Joe Schick, are you reading this?) but had never heard of any of the others. Any Canadians reading this able to clue us in?

Their convention is November 28-December 3.

UPDATE: 10 of the 11 candidates responded to an interview in today' s Toronto Star:

Comments after Shabat.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Natural coalitions finally starting to evolve

The Washington Post today reported that environmental groups are finally starting to realize that they have a lot in common with outdoor recreation enthusiasts in much of the US:

I have never understood why environmental groups have ignored this natural common interest. My guess is that the typical Sierra Club member just can't imagine that he has anything in common with someone who belongs to the National Rifle Association. As a result, we now have the most anti-environment President in many decades. Note that even some Republicans in the mountain states are having second thoughts on Bush's develop-energy-at-any-cost policies.

Meanwhile, David Kinghoffer shows cluelessness in yet another area, associating some kinds of environmental concern with godlessness:

Does Mr. Kinghoffer really think that the Rabbinical Council of America is in bed with atheists when they call for reduced oil consumption in part because of the threat of climate change?

Or in their call for environmental education:

What does he think of the Orthodox Jewish organization Canfei Nesharim?

Or the Israeli Shomera organization

Which has developed curricula for charedi schools

Mr. Kinghoffer works with evangelical Christians; he must know about Sir John Houghton, described as a "senior scientist who is also a devout Christian":

Evangelical Christian leaders indeed see that the problem is real:

There are plenty of reasons to blast secularists. Concern for the environment is not one of them; it is a biblical value in both Christianity and Judaism. And when even secular environmentalists teach that there are things more important than the pursuit of material wealth at all cost, it is one that we can agree with even though we may disagree with how they got there.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The New York Times is Biased!!!

But which way?

Against Israel:
CAMERA has repeatedly demonstrated the deeply entrenched editorial bias against Israel at the New York Times. Whether Israel employs military tactics to protect itself from terrorist attacks, or the peace process is stalled, or it is simply not progressing as quickly as the editorialists would like, even while Israeli civilians are being blown up by Palestinian terrorists, New York Times editorial writers stick to their consistent message—blame Israel and whitewash Palestinian responsibility. (Source)

Towards Israel:
A little over a week ago, some members of our organization, If Americans Knew, met with New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent to discuss the findings of a detailed study we had completed of two years worth of Times news stories on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Okrent was going to be writing a column discussing the paper'’s coverage of Israel/Palestine, and we felt our study would be an important resource.


Our statistical analysis of their coverage, however, showed that there was startling disparity in how deaths were reported, depending on the ethnicity of the victim.

For example, we found that in 2004, at a time when 8 Israeli children and 176 Palestinian children were killed -– a ratio of 1 to 22 -– Times headlines and lead paragraphs reported on Israeli children's deaths at a rate almost seven times greater than Palestinian children's deaths.


Overall, we found that in every single category Times coverage reported Israeli deaths at rates three or more times greater than Palestinian deaths. (Source)

I just picked one example from each side because of the immense quantity of complaining from both sides. To one side, the Times is completely anti-Israel, overly sympathetic to the Palestinians, and leans towards anti-semitism. To the other, the Times is a Zionist propaganda machine devoted to maintaining the illusion that Israel's no more at fault than the Palestinians. And then there are the real hate groups like Storm Front (who I won't link to) with their babblings about the "Jew York Times."

Here's the deal, folks. If you're all the way on one side of a debate, a close-to-the-middle story is going to seem biased against you. The farther from center you are, the more biased it will look.

So please stop writing about how this word or the placement of that picture reveals a deep-seated bias on the part of the Times. Most probably, you're only showing your own bias.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Israel at War

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Plame Sues Libby, Rove, Cheney

I'm only writing about this because I think it should (but won't) be thrown out out of court. Reading through the court documents, it looks like a calmer Kos posting than a normal lawsuit; it seems that this lawsuit is far more about scoring political points and trying to overshadow the recent statements of Robert Novak which demonstrate that in fact, the administration was not doing anything wrong and was only trying to refute the Op-Ed of Joe Wilson. (It is especially interesting to file this just a few months before the midterm elections, but I don't know enough about it to determine whether or not that hinged on the case Fitzgerald was making.)

What will be interesting is if this case is thrown out of court. The slap to the left will be large and loud, and the reprecussions immense. Another interesting outcome will be the forced testimony of reporters, from Judith Miller to Matt Cooper to Chris Matthews, and how that affects the freedom of the press. As many have pointed out before this, the left has placed themselves into a situation where reporters are no longer going to be able to get away with false allegations from "unnamed sources" - those sources will be revealed and sued. I agree with those that feel this is a terrible outcome, and that the fault for this lies with reporters who are too intent on both getting out a story (and specifically certain stories with certain agendas) and not intent enough on finding out more information. It's a shame, and I hope that those responsible are held accountable.

I'm Married, and The New York Court Got It Right

Thanks for all the mazel tovs everyone. I'm glad to see my co-bloggers are keeping this blog active in my absence. Maybe one of these days we'll all start blogging at the same time.

Two weeks ago the Court of Appeals of New York ruled that New York is not obligated to extend marriage recognition to same-sex couples. I blogged about these issues extensively as related to the U.S. Constitution (here, here, here, here, and here), and I'm glad to see the court more or less agreed with my Equal Protection argument.

I'm going to summarize my basic arguments in this post, because thanks to the fast day I'm too tired to write up anything original.

The constitutional argument for SSM generally rests on two clauses of the Constitution: the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the 14th and 5th Amendments. The Due Process argument is weaker (although under the NY Constitution it is stronger).

The Due Process Clause of the US Constitution has been interpreted to protect fundamental rights, which are rights that are fundamental and deeply rooted in our history (don't ask how a clause that talks about process can be substantive). In this case the question is whether this clause protects SSM. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the clause protects the right to marry. So the question depends on how one characterizes the right involved: should we view the right as a right to marry that is broad enough to include marriages to someone of the same sex or is it a right to marry a member of the same sex? The latter construction would fail the due process test because no one could argue with a straight face that the right to marry someone of the same sex is deeply rooted in our history. If the right is a broad right to marry, then that right would probably be protected.

State courts have split on this question. I've argued that the proper construction is a narrow right because the concept of marriage is inherently linked to its central purpose, which historically was child-bearing (yes, that purpose might be different today). Since two members of the same sex cannot procreate, it would make no sense for the institution of marriage to cover their union. Therefore SSM would not even fall within the definition of marriage, and would have to be characterized as a separate right and would probably not be protected.

The Equal Protection argument is better. In short it goes like this: Jane can marry Bob but Billy can't. The sole reason why Billy can't is because he's male. Hence the law discriminates against Billy on the basis of his gender.

I would construe the situation differently. While Billy cannot marry Bob because they are the same sex, Jane cannot marry Cindy for the same reason. So what the law does is prohibit people from marrying people who are the same sex, and that isn't a classification on the basis of gender. Similarly situated people are being treated equally.

The primary response to this argument is that it ignores Loving v. Virginia where the Court ruled that Virginia's miscegenation laws were unconstitutional because it wasn't enough that both Whites and Blacks were prohibited from marrying people outside their race (as defined by the law). Mere equal application of a law does not suffice to save it.

I believe the situations are distinct. First, Loving is a case about race; the Court has been much more willing to smoke out racial classifications, because they are usually based on an idea of racial superiority. Moreover, the law was intended to discriminate against Blacks. While some Whites were harmed, the law was primarily aimed at keeping Blacks from "infecting" the White blood line. There was a clear intent to classify based on race.

That is not the case with SSM. Both men and women are equally affected by prohibitions against SSM, and the law was not designed to keep either gender in its place (unless you think marriage was designed to keep women in a gender role, which is an argument I do not buy). In fact when the law was written, the authors probably never even thought this issue would arise. There was no intent to classify based on gender.

Last, one could argue that the law discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. That's probably a good argument after O'Connor's concurrence in Lawrence v. Texas, but sexual orientation is not a protected class and therefore the state only needs a rational basis for classifying. This test is extremely deferential, and is easily passed.

For more, check out Dale Carpenter's series of interesting posts on the decision.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bush administration makes no changes to America's largest welfare program

This New York Times article describes the unchanging nature of the defense procurement system. The United States continues to purchase unneeded weapons systems that were designed to fight a no-longer existent enemy.

Many of the weapons systems that are causing the problem were planned back in the Reagan years to fight the Cold War. But there is today no enemy with anything near the technological capabilities of the US and its allies. (Even the former Soviet Union's weapons systems had been well behind the US in capability in most areas by the 1970s.)

Consider the Joint Strike Fighter. There is in fact no combat aircraft anywhere in the world that is a match for the F-15. The Joint Strike Fighter is therefore no better, and much more expensive. And the F-16, much cheaper than the F-15 and still in production, may be a better bargain. In any case, the US can't afford to replace all the F-15s and F-16s with the Joint Strike Fighter.

The last President to try to do something about this system was Jimmy Carter, and he did not succeed. It is almost impossible to stop a new weapons system once it has advanced past the concept phase. Politicians who raise questions can have their commitment to national defense or even their patriotism questioned. But a revolving door of military officers who have to keep the system alive or have their careers ended, the promise of well paying defense contractor jobs in the districts of influential congressmen, and an unwillingness by the last four presidents to do anything condemns our children and grandchildren to pay the bills for this corporate welfare program for generations to come.

If it all resulted in a stronger defense, it might be worth it. But how is a Joint Strike Fighter going to help in the war on terrorism in a way that an F-16 would not?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why Conservatives Can't Govern

Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

Great article in The Washington Monthly. Via Arts & Letters Daily.

Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes what George W. Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his administration. But from just about everyone else, on the right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four. Even those who appeal to history's ultimate judgment halfheartedly acknowledge as much. One seeks tomorrow's vindication only in the context of today's dismal performance.


Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions. Libertarians such as Bruce Bartlett fret that under Republican control, government has not shrunk, as conservatives prescribe, but has grown. Insiders like Peggy Noonan complain that Republicans have become--well, insiders; they are too focused on retaining power and too disconnected from the base whose anger pushed them into power. Idealistic younger conservatives bewail the care and feeding of the K Street beast. Paleocons Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak blame neocons William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer for the debacle that is Iraq. Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.

Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.

The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut--especially in ways benefiting the rich--the better.

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

"Ideas," a distinguished conservative named Richard Weaver once wrote, "have consequences." Americans have learned something about the consequences of conservative ideas during the Bush years that they never had to confront in the more amiable Reagan period. As a way of governing, conservatism is another name for disaster. And the disasters will continue, year after year, as long as conservatives, whose political tactics are frequently as brilliant as their policy-making is inept, find ways to perpetuate their power.

There's a lot more. It's a long article.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Another 1/6 Bites The Dust...

This should have been posted yesterday, but... I didn't really think of it then. Anyways...

All the members of JAJC would like to wish our dear contributor Nephtuli a hearty Mazel Tov on his marriage!! May you share a lifetime of health, happiness, and blessing.

Romach wrote a short post about all the bloggers who were there, too... I actually thought about crashing, but we had previous plans.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Sin Taxes & Hybrid Cars

Fellow JAJC member Charlie Hall made a side comment in the discussion on the previous post that brought to mind an interesting topic: "Sin" taxes. Sin taxes, briefly, are taxes that are placed on so-called "sinful" acquisitions, such as alcohol or tobacco. According to Wikipedia, they are most often used in cities to raise money for large projects, such as a football stadium.

I think sin taxes are wonderful, and should be utilized more often, albeit carefully. Large sin taxes cause black markets to pop up, much like large income taxes do. When Russia had an extremely large income tax rate, black markets flourished; when it lowered the rate by a large chunk, suddenly more businesses were reporting more of their activities.

But sin taxes are a bit of the best of all worlds: They encourage people to not waste money on goods or activities that are unhealthy for them and for others, and they discourage people from getting involved in those activities in the first place, which may help curb future addicts. However, they still leave people with the choice and ability to buy the goods they wish to if they so choose, retaining the rights of the individual.

I view it as a slight variation on the way the government treats hybrid cars. [For the sake of argument, I am assuming that people view smoking and drinking as unhealthier and more dangerous than using a regular car (as opposed to a hybrid vehicle).] In the case of hybrid cars, the government offers a tax incentive for people to buy a hybrid car over a regular car, by allowing a small tax deduction for those who own a hybrid car. It would be unfair to "punish" everyone who owns a regular car by raising taxes on gasoline or on regular cars, especially gasoline: It is not the "fault" of car owners that almost all cars are made to run on gasoline, that hybrids are so expensive, that alternative transportation is not nearly as convenient, that this has been the standard since cars were invented, etc. Even if one would argue that people could 'do more', and it is nowhere near ideal, I doubt many would feel that people should be forced to pay an extra tax for using gasoline.

However, it does make sense for the government to offer incentives to those who are willing to sacrifice somewhat for a hybrid car. Hybrid cars are still far more expensive than regular cars, with similar models costing between $7,000 and $10,000 more than their non-ecological twins. They also haven't completely cut out the need for gasoline. A relative who worked in the Department of Defense who is quite the conservative (here's a blow to stereotypes) was considering getting a hybrid car last year; after figuring out all the extra costs versus the gas savings and tax incentives, the difference was still so high he simply could not do it. While the tax incentives in this case are not enough to completely make up for the difference (and larger incentives would likely prove to be too costly to the government), at least the small incentives encourage more people to consider hybrids and likely help a few make that leap.

Along the same vein, the government should consider more - but slight - "sin" taxes. I must emphasize that these taxes should be used very carefully... But they should be used. The amount of money people waste and the negative effect smoking and drinking have on the general public (drunk drivers, SIDS, lung cancer, etc.) is astounding. Taxes will force people to think a bit more carefully about what they are doing to themselves and their families. Were marijuana to become legal, that may also be a good candidate for a sin tax; perhaps a compromise could be reached to make it legal (something I have no opinion on) as long as there were a large tax on it to help discourage casual use. Gambling could be another target, though the nature of gambling might preclude the tax having much of an effect. Most of all, the savings to the people who decide not to smoke or drink would be a tremendous step in helping many families get out of poverty, and could provide even further savings to the government in terms of health care and the like.

The difference between hybrids and cigarettes is obvious. In the case of hybrid cars, the government needs to try and help convince people to drive hybrids over the current status quo of gas guzzlers via incentives. In the case of cigarettes, the government should no longer have to "convince" people to stop smoking. Those who are choosing to smoke are doing so despite knowledge of the health risks involved. Instead, the government should help create a disincentive to smoke - by hitting people where it counts, in the wallet. Those who still wish to do so may - but they are going to pay for it now, not just later.

The government should not be in the habit of 'forcing' people to get healthier or take on certain lifestyles; but they should be in the habit of helping to encourage those lifestyles which help everyone and discouraging those which do not. There is definitely precedent for this, such as tax breaks for married couples, and the incentives already in place for homeowners and hybrid buyers, and this is a practice the government should continue to expand.