Discrediting our principles is counterproductive

A reasonable person who understands and respects American ideals could never write what will surely follow this:

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 govern the treatment of lawful combatants and civilians during wartime. But now a new Pentagon memorandum concludes that Common Article 3 of the Conventions also governs the treatment of unlawful combatants: pirates, drug mafias and especially terrorists. So, five years after 9/11, the U.S. is about to give to people who ram commercial jets into buildings many of the same legal privileges and immunities as the average GI.

Framed that way, it’s easy enough for the non-thinking right-thinking American to be appalled at the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision. That frame is wrong. The sub-title to the Opinion Journal’s editorial implies that we’re now giving legitimacy to terrorists. We’ve done no such thing. The Supreme Court’s proper decision that America is subject to the Geneva conventions is about re-legitimizing our adherence to trusted and tested principles, not giving some special recognition to mass-murdering lunatics. The heinous nature of their crimes should not alter how we treat them in captivity.

What the world needs is a new legal framework for distinguishing between legal and illegal combatants, but instead we are now heading toward the European model where terrorism is seen as just another fact of life and not a unique evil or grave threat.

I’m open to the case about legal versus illegal combatants, although we’re discussing war, so a man with a gun is a man with a gun. What I want to hear to be persuaded is how the differences matter in law, how we’ll decide who is illegal, and what we’ll do to captured prisoners who receive “illegal” status. Torture is not acceptable, again because it is too reprehensible for us to commit. The tortured is irrelevant. I will never concede this point.

The appropriate questions are simple to agree upon. For example, should illegal enemy combatants be held indefinitely until hostilities are concluded? If so, how will we know when the war is over? If we believe enemy combatants without ties to a specific nation are a threat, and we have proof, we should try them in a court of law. The assumption of future aggression against the United States by such combatants after the war is well-founded, but that indicates permanent incarceration for such initial war-making. That should be imposed through a structured system of justice. If we can prove their guilt, that is a reasonable solution. Because its implementation would be neither easy nor expedient is not reason to avoid it.

Instead of silly amendments and false proclamations of adherence, the President should adhere to his responsibilities as spelled out in the Geneva Conventions (and the Constitution). The Congress should not alter his responsibilities because he finds them burdensome.

Oxymoron of the Day

Commenting on Ezra Klein’s post about Charles Murray’s book In Our Hands is well past its timeliness, but I enjoyed this bit:

I do, however, want to use my blog’s blissfully unlimited space to go into some added detail on Murray’s policy mistakes. The base assumption of his plan is that he can halt the growth of health spending — the primary driver of budgetary inflation — by restoring all power to the individual, who will then bargain with private insurers and demand better care, lower cost, and snappier service. His basic premise is that given the trillions floating around our government, the concept that we have any problems at all is absurd, and it must mean that government waste is subverting America’s abundance.

The problem is, our country’s entitlement programs are models of bureaucratic efficiency. Social Security spends less than one percent of its budget on administration; for Medicare, it’s two percent. Compare that to the private health insurers, who blow about 14 percent on administration. Indeed, if you imposed the Plan immediately, it would cost staggering $355 billion more than the government currently spends. Some efficiency.

Perhaps Mr. Klein’s summary of Mr. Murray’s plan is correct; I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on the details. Its details aren’t essential to understand that Mr. Murray is probably not talking about overhead. It doesn’t matter how efficient the bureaucracy is at administering entitlements, if it’s paying too much for unnecessary procedures, there is waste that should eliminated. If the public wants its unnecessary procedures, they should pay for those procedures themselves. So, if you spend 14% on overhead to keep prices in line, you may be able to save more than if you efficiently overpay.

Link from a Balloon Juice discussion on minimum wage proposals.

More than what you need is too much

Do I need to read beyond this drivel from yesterday’s Washington Post?

Wages are rising more than twice as fast for highly paid workers in the Washington area as they are for low-paid workers, an analysis of federal data by The Washington Post shows.

That means the spoils of the region’s economic expansion are going disproportionately to workers who are already well-paid, widening a gap between rich and poor in a place where it is already wider than in most of the country.

Businesspeople cite shifts in the world economy that give educated workers leverage to negotiate for higher wages but make low-paid workers replaceable — a disparity that is especially pronounced in a service economy like Washington’s.

Spoils. Disproportionately. Already well-paid. Capitalism sure is evil, what with the rewards that go to people who make themselves economically attractive to the marketplace. It’s not fair. There should be a law against that.

I won’t be reading beyond those opening paragraphs.

Save our souls (and state monopolies)

Congress: Boo yourself!:

The House passed legislation Tuesday that would prevent gamblers from using credit cards to bet online and could block access to gambling Web sites.

The legislation would clarify and update current law to spell out that most gambling is illegal online. But there would be exceptions — for state-run lotteries and horse racing — and passage isn’t a safe bet in the Senate, where Republican leaders have not considered the measure a high priority.

The House voted 317-93 for the bill, which would allow authorities to work with Internet providers to block access to gambling Web sites.

Work with is a euphemism for force. Anyone still want to claim that Republicans and Democrats are for economic freedom, and liberty in general? I don’t. Paternalism marches on.

I don’t have any more to say on this bill specifically, but I want to savor the stupidity of this quote:

“Never before has it been so easy to lose so much money so quickly at such a young age,” [Jim Leach, R-Iowa] said.

When will Congress act to outlaw citizens from using credit cards to finance a new business? As a business owner, I could lose everything I own. Won’t you protect me?


Revising an earlier opinion

During the last presidential election, I suggested that I’d like to see a Kerry-McCain ticket. I had no misunderstanding about Sen. Kerry’s less-than-desirable status as a presidential candidate. Indeed, I voted for him because he wasn’t the other guy. However, I believed that Sen. McCain would be a great addition to the ticket. I was wrong. Now that I’ve had time to better tune my political radar, I realize that John McCain hates free speech. I would never vote for him for president.

A worse nightmare is the “dream ticket” proposed by Andrew Sullivan. I respect Mr. Sullivan, but I don’t get that pairing. Sen. Lieberman’s regular ranting against entertainment companies, most recently in the form of obnoxious threats against video game developers, bothered me when he ran on Gore’s ticket in 2000. My opinion hasn’t changed in the five-plus years since. No thanks.

In researching links for this entry, I stumbled on this article from shortly after Gore nominated Lieberman in 2000. It’s mostly a rehash of Sen. Lieberman’s disdain for uncultured speech, but this quote in his defense struck me as absurdly misinformed:

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, told the Freedom Forum Online yesterday that Lieberman’s selection was “good news and bad news.”

“Certainly he would appear to be preferable to anyone on the Republican ticket,” she said. “And we’re pleased he has supported public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and opposed flag-desecration (legislation) in the past, both important First Amendment issues.”

Public funding for the NEA is in no way a First Amendment issue. Reading “Congress shall make no law” as “Congress shall fund speech” is as wrong as the censors who want to stamp out indecency. Every one of us has an unalienable right to free speech. We do not have a right to have that speech funded by everyone. If we did, no publisher would be able to reject an author’s manuscript. No television station would be able to reject a sitcom, drama, or documentary. Absurd.

Satan hates our Constitution

In 1706 crazy people in Ms. Sherwood’s village decided she was a witch, so they tied her up and threw her into the Lynnhaven River. Since she floated, she was apparently a witch. Fascinating. So, which angle should I take on this news?

The Witch of Pungo is no longer a witch. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Monday gave an informal pardon to Grace Sherwood, who 300 years ago became Virginia’s only person convicted as a witch tried by water.

“I am pleased to officially restore the good name of Grace Sherwood,” Kaine wrote in a letter Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf read aloud before a re-enactment of Sherwood’s being dropped into the river.

“With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice,” Kaine wrote. “We also can celebrate the fact that a woman’s equality is constitutionally protected today, and women have the freedom to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

It’s nice to know that our state’s commonwealth’s governor can find time for an extra kooky publicity stunt in which to babble about a woman’s constitutionally-protected equality. We’re so much more enlightened now than ever before. Except when we’re not, of course. We can’t take this as a clear lesson that the citizen mob can go bonkers and adjust our civil protection of liberty further. Nope, that’s too obvious. So here’s what I propose: Ms. Sherwood’s guilt should be maintained forever. After all, the will of the people is most important. Besides, there’s a long tradition of prosecuting witches. Who are we to question the wisdom of that history? It’s older than our republic!

Long live traditional defenses against magic.

Politicians will find new ways to be hacks

Tim Lynch has an interesting position on term limits, reinforced by the news that Tom DeLay considers himself a Virginian now that he’s “retired”.

One of the best arguments for terms limits is that we have reached the point where members of Congress are no longer “representatives” of their districts. The latest evidence of that came in this morning’s newspaper, which says Tom Delay will be on a Texas ballot in an upcoming election even though he has now declared himself to be a Virginian. …

Mr. Lynch concludes that term limits are necessary to prevent the next generation from assuming “that this is all perfectly normal and appropriate.” I think the current generation accepts that. I don’t, however, think that calls for term limits.

We have the power to vote. We know what our representatives are doing, especially now with the pervasive access to information. We possess the power to demand local access and accountability within our individual districts. Yet, we rarely choose to exercise that power. Some polls suggest we might collectively seek change this year, but I’m not convinced. It’s too easy to see that (R) or (D) on the ballot and punch the corresponding button because that’s what we always do. The name almost doesn’t matter. Term limits won’t fix partisanship.

Abuse by our representatives is inevitable, but we have the power to stop it. It is our responsibility to do so. The founders designed our Constitution to protect us from the coercive power of government without providing for explicit term limits. As an extension of our now-accepted idea that unlimited presidential terms is bad, I might entertain term limits for Congress. But that’s a different approach. Using the “Tom DeLay is a Virginian” argument for term limits seems to offer little more than protecting us from ourselves.

Even if successful, it’s five years too late

President Bush spoke with Larry King on Thursday.

“When history looks back, I’d rather be judged as solving problems and being correct, rather than being popular,” Bush said.

I agree with his sentiment, but zero out of three isn’t good. Even in the times when he’s correct (recognizing that we have enemies, social security must be eliminated fixed), he doesn’t demonstrate the leadership necessary to solve the problem. Of course, objective criteria aren’t sufficient to conclude what’s correct and what’s merely personal preference. That has a good bit to do with his administration’s flailing effort to satisfy his base’s every unimportant moral whim.

“The president that chases the opinion poll is the president that will have failed policy,” Bush said in an exclusive joint interview along with his wife, Laura, at the White House.

So that’s not why he supported the Federal Marriage Amendment? What was it then? His opinion that recognition and respect for same-sex couples is important? I’m not buying that; there’s too much evidence to the contrary.

On his chosen course, regardless of the issue, history will not be kind. That’s unfortunate. As an American who didn’t vote for President Bush, I want him to be successful in the important tasks he tackles, within our existing principles. That’s the hurdle he seems unwilling to face. His words are correct. Will his actions catch up?

The difference is not so different

Today is the first I’ve ever heard of breast ironing:

Worried that her daughters’ budding breasts would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and even rape, their mother Philomene Moungang started ‘ironing’ the girls’ bosoms with a heated stone.

“I did it to my two girls when they were eight years old. I would take the grinding stone, heat it in the fire and press it hard on the breasts,” Moungang said.

“They cried and said it was painful. But I explained that it was for their own good.”

“Breast ironing” — the use of hard or heated objects or other substances to try to stunt breast growth in girls — is a traditional practice in West Africa, experts say.

Normal anatomy puts the child at risk. The incorrect question, which is the only one asked, is not unique. Do the potential benefits of physical alteration (avoiding sexual harassment and rape) outweigh its harmful effects (physical damage, future health complications)? Is that reasoning familiar? How about this?

“You ask me why I did it?” said Moungang. “When I was growing up as a little girl my mother did it to me just as all other women in the village did it to their girl children. So I thought it was just good for me to do to my own children.”

African girls and American boys aren’t that different. Both seem to be the property of their parents, the integrity of their bodies at the mercy of the flimsiest whims of their parents. Subjective standards allegedly justify a bizarre cultural practice, and as such, allow its imposition. It’s considered normal. Good, even. As outsiders, we condemn it for the unjust violation it is, while ignoring the equivalent violation in our own hospitals. Or we feel it’s not our place to say something because who are we to force our beliefs on another culture?

Meanwhile, the mutilations continue.

Cover the First Amendment in Whipped-Cream and Pasties

Now that it’s been called on its bullshit, the FCC wants a do-over.

“Today the Commission, supported by the ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates, filed a motion for voluntary remand and stay of briefing schedule in Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission,” the commission said in a statement. “It did so at the request of broadcasters who complained they did not have the opportunity to be heard by the Commission before it issued its decision in its “Omnibus” order in March. Additionally, the remand would allow the Commission to hear all of the licensees’ arguments which is necessary for the broadcasters to make these same arguments before the Court.”

I’ll ask the obvious: does no one understand that “Congress shall make no law” is an absolute? And is it any surprise that an arm of the government granted unconstitutional power by that Congress will somehow abuse that power beyond its own rules? The key lost in this story is that Fox is not one of the networks asking for this “voluntary” remand in Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission. Good. If it sticks this out through to trial, I promise to watch every So You Think You Can [Insert Unwatchable Activity Here]? show its producers can imagine. Just include lots of T&A and swearing when if the court realizes that the bulk of the FCC’s Congressionally-sanctioned nanny-mongering is unconstitutional.

Hat tip: Jeff Jarvis