July 29, 2005
Links of the Week
David Weigel presents The Legacy of George Pataki.
Will Franklin tallies up votes on CAFTA vs. votes on NAFTA, and finds the pro-trade wing of the Democratic party on life support.
And finally, Pulp Fiction in 30 Seconds (And Re-Enacted by Bunnies). (Viewer discretion advised, obviously.)
July 26, 2005
Today is my birthday, so here's my Amazon Wish List just in case someone is feeling generous.
July 22, 2005
Links of the Week
Events in London this week make Reuel Marc Gerecht's look at European-bred Islamist terrorism all the more relevant. I'm not sure what to think of Gerecht's suggestion to suspend the US visa-waiver for Western Europeans, but I do endorse his last paragraph.
Likewise, Daniel Pipes's counterintuitive comparison of French and British anti-terror policies is worth pondering, even if not everything Pipes praises the French for is necessarily praiseworthy.
Ed Whelan argues that John Roberts "won't be a 'pro-life' justice," meaning he wouldn't outlaw abortion from the bench (very few people would, but to hear NARAL talk you'd think otherwise).
There's tons more on Roberts at the The Supreme Court Nomination Blog.
And speaking of Roberts, Wendy Long at NRO's Bench Memos recounts an amusing segment on The Daily Show.
July 20, 2005
I praise the new Supreme Court nominee in my AmSpec column today.
July 18, 2005
Life and Death, Cost and Benefits
My friend Jeremy Lott, writing for BeliefNet.com, argues, essentially, that there can be no utilitarian justification for legal abortion. I'm glad he brought this up, since with a court battle coming up where I expect I'll have to point out the distinction between "pro-choice" and "pro-Roe" at least once or twice, it's high time I sharpened my arguments for choice. A smart pro-lifer like Jeremy makes a great whetstone.
This is long, so I've tucked it beneath the fold.
Jeremy starts by discussing economist Steven Levitt's theory that legal abortion lowers crime rates.
I will concentrate on the ethical dimension of this proposition. That is, suppose that economists and social scientists from other disciplines subject Levitt's conclusions to a battery of tests and find he has proved not only loose correlation but ironclad causation. In other words, suppose that more abortions do translate into lower incidence of crime, and go from there. Should that affect how we think about abortion?There's a grain of truth here: Confirmation of Levitt's theory, by itself and out of context, shouldn't change ones position on abortion. But Jeremy's trying to go further than that-- too far, in fact. Such information should, without question, affect how we think about abortion. Take Jeremy's examples. First, summary execution:
Short answer: no.
People who are found guilty of murder could be executed quickly, without the possibility of appeal. Yes, this would result in the death of the occasional innocent party, but most economists who have looked into the issue agree that higher execution levels are likely to raise the stakes for people contemplating a capital crime, and thus lower their incidence.All that this proves, though, is that most of us think the costs of summary execution outweigh the benefits. That the innocent would be more likely to be killed, and that the power of the state would be dangerously expanded and capable of doing more harm, heavily outweigh the benefit of reduced crime. That doesn't mean that the benefits of summary execution are irrelevant to an analysis of the policy, though. There are, after all, some situations where summary execution is the practice, namely in the heat of battle. Few object to the summary execution of a rogue soldier or a mutinous sailor during wartime. In this case, the cost of entrusting officers with life or death powers, circumscribed to a particular situation, do not outweigh the benefits of protecting other men, and in some cases the nation, by quickly dispatching a threat without standing on ceremony.
But legislatures do not do this horrible thing because efficiency is not their only concern. There is also justice… many of us would become screaming death-penalty opponents if the legal safeguards against summary executions were removed.
We would change our position because we recognize that not all methods of deterring or punishing crime are legitimate. At some point, the crackdowns on crime become at least unjust, if not outright criminal.
There's a similar response to Jeremy's take on torture:
More crimes could be solved if cops were allowed to beat confessions out of people, but police are barred from doing this for two reasons: respect for the dignity of our fellow persons and the intuition that torture corrupts the torturer. In order to inflict damage on suspects, torturers must treat them as less than human, and this process has a tendency to distort how one looks at the world.Those two reasons do not exhaust the argument against torture-- and it's a good thing, because by themselves they are quite weak. What is the benefit of "respect for our fellow persons?" Why do we care if the torturer is corrupted? I submit that these are two variations on the statement that a world with regular torture is a less-happy world. The innocent may be tortured, and the risk increases as the torturer himself breaks through psychological barriers to inflicting pain; the slippery slope to a regular source of pain without any direct benefit is very plausible, and the benefits of reducing street crime are outweighed by that cost.
When we move beyond street crime, to terror attacks that kill dozens or thousands, that calculus changes. There are some who estimate that the cost is so high that it's worth the potential loss of life and ensuing grief to avoid the path that torture leads down. I don't agree, but I don't claim that this is an easy question, either.
Which brings us back to where we started. Says Jeremy:
As with torture, so with abortion. There have always been, and will always be, abortions. But giving it the sanction of law corrupts society all the way down the line.Obviously, there is a cost to legal abortion. The argument that pits a "culture of life" against a "culture of death" is, essentially, a slippery slope argument positing that devaluing some types of life will lead to less respect for others, and, implicitly, more misery. It's an argument that carries especial weight against late-term abortion: If you can destroy an eight-and-a-half-month-old fetus, why not a newborn? Why not a one-year-old? A line needs to be drawn somewhere or we quickly reach a point of social breakdown, which is part of the reason that partial-birth abortion bans are so popular. Bans on late-term abortion carry very little cost in terms of impeding women's ability to abort (we are assuming benefits to legal abortion, remember), and offer the important benefits implicit in drawing that line.
Jeremy would draw that line at conception. If you believe, like Jeremy (a convert to Catholicism), that the moral status of an embryo is, by divine law, identical to that of a human child, this is a no-brainer: Devaluing them is a monstrous defiance of God's will. But if your religious beliefs (like mine) offer no such clear-cut guidance, then you must take into account the costs of outlawing even early term abortion. One of those costs, assuming Levitt is right, is higher crime rates. Add in the "reverse" slippery slope, toward absolute sanctity of post-conception embryonic life, and there's also the risk of closing off promising avenues of scientific research that may extend life and increase happiness.
I can support fairly stringent abortion restrictions-- even up to outlawing surgical abortion, assuming that chemical abortion (which only works in the first two months of pregnancy) is available. But by my estimate, the cost of outlawing abortion completely is just too high.
July 15, 2005
Links of the Week
Fred Barnes says that the White House is leaning against nominating Alberto Gonzales.
Mickey Kaus ruminates on the increasingly-plausible Plame-leak theory that "many MSM journalists, who know more about the case than I do, are worried about." Glenn Reynolds thinks lefty blog reactions indicate that "the scandal is pretty much over."
Someone has discovered a way to stay awake during sessions of the EU Parliament.
Finally, just because I skipped the link round-up last week doesn't mean I can overlook Orin Kerr's wonderful "only supreme court editorial you have to read."
Bin Laden's PR Problem
My AmSpec column today examines the new Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of six Muslim countries.
July 13, 2005
It Happened One Blog-Post
Mickey Kaus, Monday:
Sullivan: HIV Made Me More Modest! Oh, wait. Sorry. What he actually wrote was:That's rather unfair. As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, saying something made you better and braver is different from saying you're good and brave. Kaus seems to miss the distinction.HIV transformed my life, made me a better and braver writer ....One for Peggy Noonan's collection.
Andrew Sullivan, today:
ROVE-A-DOPE: I'd say it would be prudent for all journalists to be very careful in speculating about the Rove-Plame thingy. We don't know enough to know anything for sure. One of the first casualties of the impulse to jump to conclusions is Bob Kuttner. (I can't believe I beat Mickey to this. I guess he's been too busy covering the London massacres.)It's surprising that Kaus wasn't right on top of a Kuttner story, but the implication of that parenthetical dig is also unfair. Kaus hasn't completely ignored London-- see his Sunday post on a possible "Bin Laden vs. Zawahiri doctrinal dispute." More to the point, Kaus doesn't run his blog in a way that you would necessarily expect him to cover the bombings. He's written:
I hate Topic-Aism, in part because it means people expect me to post something on the big story of the day even when I have nothing interesting to say about the big story of the day. ... Plus the "other things going on in the world" are the Topic As of tomorrow. ... Plus the pickin's are easier on Topics B-Z. ... Plus I get really sick of Topic A.If life were a screwball comedy, this silly insult-trading would be a sure sign that Kaus and Sullivan will, by the end of the movie, realize that they are actually in love.
P.S.: Andrew Sullivan is in a happy monogamous relationship; the one time I met him I asked, "When are you going to settle down and get married?" (He has a home in Massachusetts.) He replied that he and his boyfriend have considered it. Mickey Kaus: Homewrecker!
P.P.S.: Which of the pair is the Claudette Colbert? You'd think it'd be the gay one, but I'm not so sure...
July 12, 2005
I've been alerted that Joan Vennochi quoted me (though not by name) in her Boston Globe column last week (may require registration):
But conservatives despise Gonzales. In just one example, an online article in the conservative American Spectator said that picking Gonzales ''would reek of unprincipled cronyism."It was actually my fiancee-- not an enthusiast for overturning Roe-- who caught my attention with the declaration that, ideology aside, it would be awful for Bush to "just nominate one of his friends."
Vennochi characterizes the angst over Gonzales as coming from "social conservatives" who "want complete political victory, a Supreme Court justice who mirrors their beliefs, especially when it comes to opposing and restricting abortion." There may be some truth in that oversimplification, but the fact that she quotes a line written by an anti-Roe pro-choicer, inspired by a pro-Roe pro-choicer, from a column that mentions Gonzales in the context of jurisprudence on racial preferences as well as abortion, does underscore that her picture is, indeed, an oversimplification.
-No, I never got around to doing a link round-up on Friday. Sorry.
-Tim Birdow asks if I have any predictions on the judicial nomination. Not quite yet.
July 08, 2005
Douglas Adams, The Weakest Link, and the London bombings all feature in my AmSpec column today.
July 07, 2005
July 06, 2005
"Al Gonzales is a great friend of mine," Bush said in a phone interview. "When a friend gets attacked, I don't like it."So sorry, Mr. President, that I wrote in today's column: "That the rumor mill on potential nominees has even mentioned Alberto Gonzales... is deeply troubling, and would reek of unprincipled cronyism."
Oh, wait-- no I'm not. As Ramesh Ponnuru puts it, Gonzales
is a public official with a track record, and people can't very well be expected not to express opinions about that record or his suitability for an important government post just because he's a friend of the president. If the president wants to shield his pals from such scrutiny, he can leave them in the private sector.It always been clear that Bush values loyalty to a fault. (Remember the guy who was fired after 9/11? No you don't, because he doesn't exist.) The idea that he'd consider a pro-Roe, pro-Grutter, anti-gun nominee simply because of friendship suggests that Bush might not even know that it's possible to be loyal-to-a-fault.
Remember the Day... O'Connor
I look back at Sandra Day O'Connor's jurisprudence (and take a swing at Alberto Gonzales) in today's AmSpec column.
July 04, 2005
July 01, 2005
Links of the Week
Sandra O'Connor actually announced her retirement two days ago!
Glenn Reynolds argues against a "journalistic privilege" in USA Today.
And for those of us who found Sideways extremely overrated, Roger Barr offers some suggestions for improving it at National Lampoon (lots of profanity).
O'Connor a Goner
Three reasons to like Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her retirement today:
She was on the right side-- that is, dissenting-- in Gonzales v. Raich;
Her opinion in Lawrence v. Texas would have overturned, on Equal Protection grounds, only those sodomy laws applying exclusively to homosexuals-- a better approach, I thought, than that of either Kennedy or Scalia;
And she wrote a good dissent in Kelo v. New London: "To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings 'for public use' is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property–and thereby effectively to delete the words 'for public use' from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment."
Of course there are reasons not to like her as well. Ramesh Ponnuru painted a balanced picture two years ago in National Review.