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Terror and Liberalism

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria


Polyarchy by Robert Dahl

The Nazi Seizure of Power

The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen

Terror and Liberalism

Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

In Association with

The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck



Ideology Triumphs

If Congress won't approve your judicial appointments because they are the most ideological appointees ever, just go around Congress and install them yourself:

"WASHINGTON - President Bush bypassed Congress and installed Charles Pickering on the federal appeals court Friday, opening an election-year fight with Democrats who had stalled the nomination for more than two years.

"Bush installed Pickering by a recess appointment, which avoids the confirmation process. Such appointments are valid until the next Congress takes office, in this case in January 2005."

Well that's just great.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 3:43:00 PM

Friday, January 16, 2004  


Antonin Scalia: Professional Jerk

Before the Supreme Court just the other day was the case of Tennessee vs. Lane. It's a case dealing with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Tennessee's unwillingness to retrofit its pre-1970's courthouses with means of access for the disabled. The case ultimately is about states rights and a private citizen's right to sue a state over violation of the ADA.

In the course of arguments the plaintiff's lawyer described how his client had to crawl up several flights of stairs or had to ask a complete stranger to carry him up stairs to a courtroom for a hearing.

All these tales though, failed to sway Mr. Meanie, Justice Scalia. Scalia became annoyed that officials at the courthouse had even offered to carry the plaintiff up the stairs. To Scalia he should have had to ask, and that should suffice. His argument was that the ADA simply said the state must provide a "means" for the disabled and did not specify if that meant a ramp or elevator or if it meant the ability to ask a total stranger to carry a disabled person up flights of stairs.

"He has the right that the state has to provide the means. The means can include someone carrying him up the stairs."

And this:

"It depends on what's meant by discrimination. The handicapped not getting an elevator may not be a constitutional violation."

Gee, what a nice guy!

Remember, if Bush is reelected no doubt we'll get up to three more justices on the bench not too different than Scalia. If that's not enough to get you to vote for Anyone But Bush, nothing will.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 12:22:00 AM

Thursday, January 15, 2004  


Can Trade Be Free And Fair?

One of my hesitations about Dick Gephardt is his undying allegiance to big labor. This in itself isn't a bad thing. I think labor should be able to unionize and to get quality standards for its workers. His solution to the job loss in American manufacturing and his concern about developing nations though, seems a bit dreamy. He proposes an international minimum wage which, granted, would be calculated based on each country's needs and abilities to meet it, but it seems to me that if it were this easy we would have done it a long time ago.

Last year at Kenyon a pair of activists came and gave a talk about the horrible conditions in Nike sweatshops somewhere in southeast Asia. They had pictures, they gave a passionate talk about the poverty of the workers, and they showed their activist credentials by showing a clip of themselves confronting Nike's CEO in a restaurant. Gee, how bold of them.

What got me though, is that while these "sweatshop" jobs are indeed horrible, they are the best jobs around for the workers in those developing nations. I've had this argument with some of my activist friends and it always ended in a disagreeable stalemate. In today's New York Times Nick Kristof puts a personal touch on the argument:

"Nhep Chanda is a 17-year-old girl who is one of hundreds of Cambodians who toil all day, every day, picking through the dump for plastic bags, metal cans and bits of food. The stench clogs the nostrils, and parts of the dump are burning, producing acrid smoke that blinds the eyes.

"The scavengers are chased by swarms of flies and biting insects, their hands are caked with filth, and those who are barefoot cut their feet on glass. Some are small children.

"Nhep Chanda averages 75 cents a day for her efforts. For her, the idea of being exploited in a garment factory ? working only six days a week, inside instead of in the broiling sun, for up to $2 a day ? is a dream.

"I'd like to work in a factory, but I don't have any ID card, and you need one to show that you're old enough," she said wistfully.

"All the complaints about third world sweatshops are true and then some: factories sometimes dump effluent into rivers or otherwise ravage the environment. But they have raised the standard of living in Singapore, South Korea and southern China, and they offer a leg up for people in countries like Cambodia.

"I want to work in a factory, but I'm in poor health and always feel dizzy," said Lay Eng, a 23-year-old woman. And no wonder: she has been picking through the filth, seven days a week, for six years. She has never been to a doctor.

"Here in Cambodia factory jobs are in such demand that workers usually have to bribe a factory insider with a month's salary just to get hired.

"Along the Bassac River, construction workers told me they wanted factory jobs because the work would be so much safer than clambering up scaffolding without safety harnesses. Some also said sweatshop jobs would be preferable because they would mean a lot less sweat. (Westerners call them "sweatshops," but they offer one of the few third world jobs that doesn't involve constant sweat.)

"In Asia, moreover, the factories tend to hire mostly girls and young women with few other job opportunities. The result has been to begin to give girls and women some status and power, some hint of social equality, some alternative to the sex industry.

"Cambodia has a fair trade system and promotes itself as an enlightened garment producer. That's great. But if the U.S. tries to ban products from countries that don't meet international standards, jobs will be shifted from the most wretched areas to better-off nations like Malaysia or Mexico. Already there are very few factories in Africa or the poor countries of Asia, and if we raise the bar higher, there will be even fewer."

Its this last point that has bothers me about Gephardt (and most of his opponents) position on trade. In contrast to Gephardt's 1988 blatant protectionist platform, the campaign he has run so far seems to be based on a moral argument that calls for America to lead the way in promoting higher standards in developing nations. I don't doubt his desire is genuine, but I wonder, like Kristof, if this is really the best way. If "sweatshop" factory jobs are the best around we shouldn't promote policies that would take those jobs away.

I still think Gephardt is the best candidate in the field. His health care plan is big and ambitious, but with his 26 years in Congress he'll know how to get it passed. His education plan for getting teachers to the public schools where they are most desparately needed is exactly what our education policy needs. He's a candidate who you know could step into the Oval Office on Day One and will be in total control and won't need a learning curve. In a time where national security is important, we can't afford to have a president who doesn't know what he's doing. We've tried that the past three years and you've seen the result.

But Gephardt's trade solution is troubling to me. I'm OK with supporting him overall because I believe that once he were in office he would be forced to move to the center on issues like trade and would come to a more accomodating answer to the problem of development. The solution is not full, free trade, but it is not protectionist international equality either.

I believe we can have free trade that doesn't just leave every country to its own devices. We can grow together. Now we just need a plan for doing that in a way that doesn't hinder one nation for the gain of another. There has to be a way.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 4:23:00 PM

Wednesday, January 14, 2004  


The Importance of Turkey

Part II of Friedman's five part series on the "War of Ideas" is about Turkey, so I feel compelled to comment.

"Turkish politicians are not intimidated by religious fundamentalists, because — unlike too many Arab politicians — they have their own legitimacy that comes from being democratically elected."

True, they aren't intimidated, but then again they don't have the real power in the country. Gul and Erdogan say exactly the right words that they need to say, but if the Turkish military doesn't agree it won't matter. Luckily its the military that is determined to lead Turkey to Europe. Political legitimacy is still a few years off.

Right now the Turkish public feels content to elect less than moderate politicians knowing that the military will step in if they mess up. Likewise the military continues to influence government to such an extent that the politicians never feel like they need to take substancial steps to gain real political control.

I think the current Turkish government is as moderate as they will ever get. Yes, its an Islamic leaning party, but lets look at the facts here: Turkey is 99% Muslim. A Muslim party is inevitable. A responsible Muslim party is a whole different matter. But this one, the Justice and Development Party, is one that fulfills the needs that Turkey has had and will have in the future.

"I think Turkey's membership in the E.U. is so important that the U.S. should consider subsidizing the E.U. to make it easier for Turkey to be admitted. If that fails, we should offer to bring Turkey into Nafta, even though it would be very complicated."

Friedman goes a bit over the edge on this one. The EU isn't holding back its admission of Turkey because of economic reasons. No, the EU is hesitant because a few Danes and Dutch don't want Muslims to play in their Christian club. It's a curious objection considering that in 1981 the Europeans were practically begging Turkey to join at the same time as its long time rival, Greece. Because of unfortunate domestic strife the Turks rejected the offer to join.

A subsidy isn't the answer to getting Turkey in the EU. The answer is convincing the Europeans to see Turkey as the crucial partner that the U.S. sees. Admission will also rely on Turkey's willingness to go the final steps towards human rights and true representative government.

Now, the thing about Turkey joining NAFTA: it's ridiculous. The best hope is that the EU will accept Turkey within the next three to five years and Turkey will gain from free trade within the Euro zone. If we were to offer any sort of free trade pact with Turkey along the lines of what we have with Israel, I think it would almost have to have the same incremental steps on human rights and representative democracy that the EU is requiring. Therefore, it would be a lot of coaxing that we shouldn't have to do. The EU is doing just fine and they are the ones who should be leading the way for Turkey. To offer a free trade pact with Turkey outside of the EU formula would show just how bad off our relations with Europe are.

I believe Europe will make the right decision in due time and I think that is probably less than five years away. That's a good amount of time for Europe to get comfortable with the idea of a massive Muslim nation as a member and for Turkey to straighten itself out. It will happen, and the U.S. should do everything it can to encourage that bond.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 5:42:00 PM

Sunday, January 11, 2004