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I Can’t Believe I’m Pro-War Group Shrinking

Talking Points Memo: “At this point, we have truly the worst case scenario on the international stage. And I think the those costs now outweigh those gains.”

CalPundit: “I still believe strongly that we need a tough-minded long-term policy aimed at eradicating terrorism and modernizing the Arab world (among others) — and that this policy should include the use of force where necessary — but not this time. This is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”

Sean-Paul (The Agonist): “I’ve had enough as well. I was going to make that argument about credibility, you know–the worst argument ever– but after one too many lies folks, it’s simple enough to say this: Mr. President, I am opposed.”

But Matthew Yglesias remains undaunted: “For what it’s worth, I’m not quite sure what the point in flip-flopping at this point would be.”

And of course, ETL New Republic remains true to the cause, so to speak.

I think the liberal war-supporters were pro-war because they believed that the Iraqi people are suffering (they are, but the world is full of evil dictators), that Saddam makes the region less stable (probably, but so might war, and so does the Palestinian-Israeli situation), and that there was some legitimate risk that to the extent that he has WMD, he might sell or give them to those who would use them, either in Israel, Europe, or North America (the thing that scares me).

But I think it’s important to look at how a war gets started, not just why. As evil as Saddam H. is, when a campaign of lies–from the plagiarized report to the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents–is used to drum up support for the war, and all it yields are the U.S., Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria in the pro-war column, it’s just not plausible that there’s grounds for war there. Did I mention selling out the Kurds, spying on our allies and threatening Mexico? And there’s no intellectual consistency on the pro-war side, by which I mean that under every metric, North Korea is a bigger threat (But attacking North Korea doesn’t count as revenge on Muslims, which is what I think this war is really about for many on the Right).

Understand, there’s no compelling evidence available to the public (or apparently outside of the governments of the US and Britain) that Saddam poses and immediate threat to his neighbors or to the West. So we’re talking about, at best, misinformation being used to justify a war against a nation that is not invading any country, and in the process we are straining alliances that have held strong for over 50 years. Starting a war in this way is a huge precedent, and an unwise one.


Update. (Via Atrios) NYT now antiwar (excepting UN, perhaps NATO approval, or even just France and Germany–the wording is vague):”If it comes down to a question of yes or no to invasion without broad international support, our answer is no.”

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When Competition Goes Bad

Competition is generally a great thing. It explains why cell phone and long distance prices plummetted over the last 20 years (competition and technology), while local prices remained fairly flat (lack of competition). But for some reason, competition makes the mass media worse. Consider the antics on CNN in the post-Fox era (competition); contrast that to the BBC and NPR (little direct competition).

For those who aren’t already reading him, Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler is a must read. This week he’s (incomparably) been reviewing the coverage of Gore during the 2000 campaign, with a particular focus on the Naomi Wolf “scandal”. As Somerby recounts, a slew of articles came out on Gore and “earth-tones”, all sourcing Time magazine (a Washington Post story with a quote from Dick Morris speculating is the actual source):

…Time had said nothing about earth tones. The next day, Maureen Dowd also misstated the point, writing that “Time magazine revealed that Al Gore hired Ms. Wolf…to help him with everything from his shift to earth tones to his efforts to break with Bill Clinton.” Clarence Page asserted the bogus fact too, in his syndicated Chicago Tribune column. “It was Wolf, Time reported, who persuaded the president to wear more ‘earth tones,’” Page erroneously said. Indeed, Morris went down the memory hole as journalists ran with the “earth tones” report. According to a NEXIS search, no one ever cited Morris as the source of the pleasing claim, while a wide range of writers falsely attributed the story to Time. Meanwhile, many scribes found an all-purpose way to avoid citing Morris’ “speculation.” They said that Wolf “reportedly” told Gore to wear earth tones, using an all-purpose word that lets a writer repeat any tale that has ever been said.

Amazing, they all referenced a fact that didn’t exist! It could be accidental, but it sure seems opportunistic. Dick Morris was and is an aspiring pundit and is not a big fan of Clinton/Gore and so is not a credible source; Time, on the other hand, is credible. Sure it was a trivial issue, but do you think the pundits are less sloppy on other issues? I guess you can’t believe something is true just because all the pundits are saying it. While it might in fact be true, it could just as easily be that pundits are lazy and find it easier to simply parrot each other. But where are the editors and fact-checkers?


P.S. Try it yourself:

(1) Search Time (1/1/99-12/31/00) archives for “Naomi+Wolf”

(2) Search Time (1/1/99-12/31/00) archives for “Naomi+Wolf+Earth”

Note that the one hit from the second result is in the “Letters” section–I don’t have archive access, but this almost surely means that one letter referred to the Naomi Wolf story (that never mentioned earth tones) and some other letter mentioned the earth. Importantly, you can clearly tell that the word “earth” is not in the “Gore’s Secret Guru” story.

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Hey, Angry Bear, weren’t you blogging about Rawls?

Yes, I was, first here and then here, and there is more to come.

In the meantime, Matthew Yglesias has some thoughts on the issue:

I don’t think that’s really the best way to think about the issue [AB note: here, Matt is referring to my claim that “The open question is whether people behind the Veil of Ignorance really would choose to structure society in a way to maximize the minimum of well-being”]. It’s better to see that the purpose of the original position is to provide a formal model for a conclusion reached on independent normative grounds. In other words, Rawls sets up the original position the way he does because he thinks it leads to the conclusions he favors, and not the other way around.

I agree that Rawls likely had his Principles of Justice in mind first (it may well be documented in some of his writings), and then searched for a theory to justify them–a search that lead to the Veil of Ignorance/Original position argument. If this sounds backwards, it is–from a scientific method perspective. However, Philosophy is expressly normative, not positive, so this is not a weakness in Rawls’ approach.

In any event, if you are trying to use Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance to make a point, as Will Bailey and Eric Alterman recently did, I think you would start with the Veil and then try to get to the conclusion, in a Socratic fashion, not the other way around.

Matt’s site allows comments (something I should add someday), and his readers have interesting things to say. For example, a reader going by the name Ogged says “Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re right, Bear’s wrong”, while an anonymous commenter says “Original postion deliberation doesn’t obviously lead to either Minimax *or* equal considerations of liberties. Why shouldn’t I be willing to swap unequal liberty (given some minimum: I’m not a slave, etc.) for a chance at more money?” This second commenter is making a statement about preferences and risk aversion, which I’ll talk about in my next (and final?) post on Rawls.


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More Mankiw from MaxSpeaks

Max Sawicky finds two more nuggets in Prof. Mankiw’s books. Apparently, deficits do affect interest rates and the corporate income tax only hurts workers and customers of taxed corpotations, not the owners.

I agree with Mankiw on the former point; we’ll see if he changes his tune as part of his new job. As to the latter point, Mankiw only gets it partly right–when corporate income is taxed, the incidence is shared among all interested parties: shareholders/owners (who get less take home profits), workers (less are hired, wages may be lower), and customers (may pay higher prices and/or have fewer firms to choose from). I say Mankiw is partly right because, while a corporate income tax seems like it would only hurt the owners of a company, it also (but not only, as Mankiw’s quote insinuates) affects workers and customers.


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Charges (wisely) Dropped

&C, even the liberal New Republic’s blog, has a pretty good roundup on the buzz surrounding Osama and reasongs why is Bush unexpectedly giving a press conference tonight at 8:00.

Alan Kreuger writes on the ballooning federal deficit. Items of note include Goldman, Sachs raising its estimate of the deficit for the current year to $375b (without including the war, and $75b higher than last OMB numbers I’ve seen)…”This dire predicament inspired the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan business organization, to issue a report yesterday calling urgently for tax increases and spending cuts to put the government’s fiscal house in order. Unless corrective action is taken, the group warned, investment, productivity and living standards will suffer.”…”Although the group’s recommendation of higher taxes is unlikely to be popular, past experience with deficits suggests that tax increases are virtually inevitable before the decade is out. Even Ronald Reagan ended up raising taxes to try to make up for the big shortfall from the 1981 cuts.”

Wednesday is (well, was) Cartoon Day at Alas, a Blog.


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This is A Big Deal

Here’s the joint French, German, and Russian statement:

ARIS, March 5 — Following is the text of a joint statement by Foreign Ministers Dominique de Villepin of France, Ivan S. Ivanov of Russia and Joschka Fischer of Germany, as translated by the French Foreign Ministry:

Our common objective remains the full and effective disarmament of Iraq, in compliance with Resolution 1441.

We consider that this objective can be achieved by the peaceful means of the inspections.

We moreover observe that these inspections are producing increasingly encouraging results:

The destruction of the Al Samoud missiles has started and is making progress.

Iraqis are providing biological and chemical information.

The interviews with Iraqi scientists are continuing.

Russia, Germany and France resolutely support Messrs. Blix and ElBaradei and consider the meeting of the Council on March 7 to be an important step in the process put in place.

We firmly call for the Iraqi authorities to cooperate more actively with the inspectors to fully disarm their country. These inspections cannot continue indefinitely.

We consequently ask that the inspections now be speeded up, in keeping with the proposals put forward in the memorandum submitted to the Security Council by our three countries. We must:
Specify and prioritize the remaining issues, program by program.

Establish, for each point, detailed time lines.

Using this method, the inspectors have to present without any delay their work program accompanied by regular progress reports to the Security Council. This program could provide for a meeting clause to enable the Council to evaluate the overall results of this process.

In these circumstances, we will not let a proposed resolution pass that would authorize the use of force.

Russia and France, as permanent members of the Security Council, will assume all their responsibilities on this point.

We are at a turning point. Since our goal is the peaceful and full disarmament of Iraq, we have today the chance to obtain through peaceful means a comprehensive settlement for the Middle East, starting with a move forward in the peace process, by:

Publishing and implementing the road map;

Putting together a general framework for the Middle East, based on stability and security, renunciation of force, arms control and trust building measures.

I’m “Ambivalent, but on Balance Against, Bear” on a war against Iraq. The main risk–at least the plausible main risk–that Saddam poses is the chance that he will sell or give whatever technologies of mass destruction that he posesses to those who could bring them into the US or other regions that might ignite his ire. To date, however, there is no credible public information that Saddam has either the ability or inclination to do so. Thus, a rush to war seems substaintially premature. What I find wrong with the war concept is that whatever evidence exists, and I’m sure there’s much that is not public, is not convincing to any of our NATO allies except Britain. On the other hand, Tony Blair, at great personal political risk, is on board–and on every other issue he’s more Clintonesque than Reaganesque.

So we’re in the position where those with much to lose by supporting the President’s plan (Blair has much to lose) do support Bush, while those with much to lose (France, Germany, Russia) by opposing the war do, nevertheless, oppose the war. But, if in doubt, don’t start a war seems like a reasonable proposition, particularly when starting the war jeapordizes NATO alliances.


And what about North Korea?

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Another Update

In an update of his own, Instapundit references an article by a former student, Jennifer Niles Coffin, that discusses the mall free speech issue in great detail. For example,

There is no consistent rationale behind the decisions that grant free speech protections to the visitors of shopping malls. The Colorado Supreme Court found sufficient entanglement with the government to support a finding of state action. The Oregon court based its decision on the initiative and referendum powers reserved to Oregon citizens in the state constitution. The California and New Jersey courts balanced the property rights of mall owners against the free speech protections of the state constitution and held that the right of citizens to engage in free expression outweighed the property interest of the mall owners. Both courts dispensed with the traditional state action requirement in that context. The New Jersey court also noted the “affirmative right” granted by the free speech provision of the New Jersey Constitution. Interestingly, the language of New Jersey’s free speech provision is nearly identical to that of states in which the courts have refused to extend free speech protection in shopping malls.

However, most of these cases involve petition drives, or protests–things that seem more likely to disrupt commerce than wearing a shirt.

What makes a shirt different? Again, this is from a layperson, but Title II of the Civil Rights Act might. It basically says that if you are open to the public (and the Act gives an expansive definition that surely includes malls), then you can’t discriminate against (or bar, or evict) people on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin”, but it doesn’t mention political ideology. So if the shirt said “I’m a Jehova’s Witness and therefore I believe that we should give peace a chance”, then the act seems to apply. But if it just says “Give peace a chance”?? Again, what distinguishes this case from the cases Ms. Coffin discusses is that (based on reports I’ve seen), they were only walking around the mall in their shirts, in the process of shopping. They were not doing anything, such as pamphleteering, petitioning, or protesting, that would interfere with commerce (other than the innate fear of spending money and desire to flee that seeing the phrase “Give Peace A Chance” might induce.)

On one level it’s a silly issue–it’s a T-shirt. But on another it’s fundamentally disconcerting that people would be harassed for something like this. Regardless of your view on the war, here is something worth keeping in mind.


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Are Malls Public Places?

If so, then the Crossgates Mall was clearly in error. Instapundit, (Glenn Reynolds, who of course is an actual law professor, so I’m treading on dangerous ground) says this:

A reader wonders if he’s [the shirt-wearer] got a First Amendment lawsuit. The answer is no, because the mall is a private entity and doesn’t have to observe the First Amendment (he may, however, have an action under New York law or New York’s state constitution).

I am not a lawyer, but I vaguely recalled that issues like this have received considerable attention in the context of limitations on abortion protestors’ free speech rights vs. the right of would-be patrons of abortion clinics to have unfettered access to the clinics, which are, naturally, on private property. So I did a little googling and found a different case entirely, and one that is more on point in the current context: a 1979 decision by the California Supreme Court called Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center[23 Cal.3d 899 (1979), aff”d, 447 US 74 (1980)]. There, inter alia, the court ruled that

“to protect free speech and petitioning is a goal that surely matches the protecting of health and safety, the environment, aesthetics, property values and other societal goals that have been held to justify reasonable restrictions on private property rights.”

The California court specifically ruled that malls are “quasi-public” places (Pruneyard is, alas, the name of the shopping mall).

The mall appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court on 3/18/198, which affirmed the California Supreme Court’s ruling on June 9, 1980 (If you follow the previous link, the “appelants” means the mall). The ruling was issued by (now Chief) Justice Rehnquist. At issue was whether a group of students could solicit signatures to a petition in opposition to a UN resolution, or whether the Pruneyard Mall had the right to evict them “because their activity violated shopping center regulations prohibiting any visitor or tenant from engaging in any publicly expressive activity that is not directly related to the center’s commercial purposes.” The Mall won in District Court, and in California Appelate Court, but lost in the California Supreme Court, leading to the USSC case.

Here are some selected quotes from the Rehnquist-authored USSC ruling.

  • State constitutional provisions, as construed to permit individuals reasonably to exercise free speech and petition rights on the property of a privately owned shopping center to which the public is invited, do not violate the shopping center owner’s property rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments or his free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
  • The reasoning in Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner, 407 U.S. 551 – which [447 U.S. 74, 75] held that the First Amendment does not prevent a private shopping center owner from prohibiting the distribution on center premises of handbills unrelated to the center’s operations – does not … limit a State’s authority to exercise its police power or its sovereign right to adopt in its own constitution individual liberties more expansive than those conferred by the Federal Constitution. And a State, in the exercise of its police power, may adopt reasonable restrictions on private property so long as the restrictions do not amount to a taking without just compensation or contravene any other federal constitutional provision.
  • The requirement that appellants permit appellees to exercise state-protected rights of free expression and petition on shopping center property does not amount to an unconstitutional infringement of appellants’ property rights under the Taking Clause of the Fifth Amendment, appellants having failed to demonstrate that the “right to exclude others” is so essential to the use or economic value of their property that the state-authorized limitation of it amounted to a “taking.”
  • The PruneYard is a large commercial complex that covers several city blocks, contains numerous separate business establishments, and is open to the public at large. The decision of the California Supreme Court makes it clear that the PruneYard may restrict expressive activity by adopting time, place, and manner regulations that will minimize any interference with its commercial functions. Appellees were orderly, and they limited their activity to the [447 U.S. 74, 84] common areas of the shopping center. In these circumstances, the fact that they may have “physically invaded” appellants’ property cannot be viewed as determinative.
  • We conclude that neither appellants’ federally recognized property rights nor their First Amendment rights have been infringed by the California Supreme Court’s decision recognizing a right of appellees to exercise state-protected rights of expression and petition on appellants’ property. The judgment of the Supreme Court of California is therefore affirmed.

The last bullet point is important, because what the USSC really says is that it’s ok for the State of California to not let mall owners restrict speech that the mall owners dislike (i.e., they can’t kick out the students if said students are orderly). The ruling does not, however, say that there is an affirmative right to free speech in malls, just that the states are allowed to create such rights if they so choose. Still, the USSC is on record as saying in various ways that malls are semi-public places, which would probably imply that, in spite of Reynolds’ reply to his reader, the shirt-wearers would get past summary judgement if they filed a lawsuit.


P.S. The Oregon Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that malls can ban petitions. Follow the link and scroll down to see that there are a variety of state rulings on this subject, which may mean this issue is ripe for certiorari. On the other hand, this is a case of states differing, not the various Circuit Courts of Appeals differing, so it may just be an “it’s up to the states” issue.

Update: I see that CalPundit beat me to this one, though he gives less detail.

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