Better late than never. Kevin

Better late than never. Kevin Drum titles a recent post as follows:

AL-QAEDA A PAPER TIGER?

Well, yes, yes it is in fact. I, and other people, have been saying that for some time now, but it’s nice to see that the blogosphere is finally catching on. But it’s important to realize that not only is al-Qaeda a paper tiger, but terrorism in general is, in regards to the United States. Terrorism simply doesn’t pose the kind of threat to us that it does to, say, Israel. Don’t get me wrong; it could very well become a serious threat, if armed appropriately (i.e. with biological or nuclear weapons; with port security in the state it’s in, it’s not as unlikely as one would think), and a fundamental change in Muslim hearts and minds is thus necessary to prevent it from reaching a tipping point. But as of today, terrorism is not a significant threat to the national security of the United States, and should not be treated like it is.

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Ten years after its first

Ten years after its first truly democratic election, South Africa, from the ashes of Apartheid, is now more equal and free than 49 of the United States of America:

A lesbian couple’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal to have their marriage legally recognised and registered succeeded on Tuesday.

The court, in a majority decision, declared that under the Constitution the common law concept of marriage was to be developed to embrace same-sex partners.

The appeal, brought by Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys, in essence challenged the definition of marriage under South African common law.

According to common law, marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This made it impossible for same-sex couples to be married to each other.

On Tuesday, Judge of Appeal Edwin Cameron said in his judgement that the definition of marriage should read: “Marriage is the union of two persons to the exclusion of all others for life.”

The court also declared that the intended marriage between Fourie and Bonthuys was capable of lawful recognition as a legally valid marriage, provided the formalities in the Marriage Act of 1961 were complied with.

Via Andy Sullivan. This is particularly amazing, as homophobia is simply endemic in South Africa. All I can say is that I hope our court follows suit. Oh, and congratulations to all the soon-to-be-married gay and lesbian couples in South Africa. Free at last.

They are few things cooler

They are few things cooler for the blogosphere than to have a big-deal blogger arguing a high-profile Supreme Court case. One of them is that blogger doing extremely well:

It appears that both sides of the argument did well, but (if Solum’s account is accurate) Randy Barnett did brilliantly (with the harder side). Here is the most interesting exchange for me:

Souter: Suppose that 100,000 people are in chemotherapy in California. Then couldn’t there be 100,000 users of medical marijuana?

Barnett: There could be.

Souter: If there are 34 million people in California, then there could be 100,000 people in chemotherapy.

Barnett: It is important to remember that the law confines medical cannabis use to the people who are sick and have a physicians recommendation. Wickard v. Filburn’s aggregation principle does not apply if the activity involved is noneconomic.

Souter: But isn’t the argument that it is economic activity if it has a sizeable effect on the market?

Barnett: No. The effect on the market is only relevant if it is market activity.

Souter: But in Lopez wasn’t the effect on the market much more remote than the effect involved in this case?

Barnett: The point is that economic activity and personal liberty are two different categories.

Souter: That is not a very realistic premise.

Barnett: The premise is that it is possible to differentiate economic activity from personal activity. Prostitution is economic activity, and there may be some cross substitution effects between prostitution and sex within marriage, but that does not make sex within marriage economic activity. You look at the nature of the activity to determine whether or not it is economic.

That is probably the best analogy I have ever heard. Period. If it isn’t clear already, this is the medical marijuana case, Ashcroft vs. Raich. The case focuses on the Justice Department’s overzealous prosecution of medical marijuana users in states where possessing marijuana for medicinal uses is legal. So, in short, it not only decides the legal fate of hundreds of terminally ill patients, but also the future of federalism in America. If the court rules in favor of Raich, it will significantly further the Rehnquist court’s recent push towards greater state’s rights (not a euphemism). If it rules in favor of Ashcroft, it will lead to the extreme interpretation of the commerce clause that has always been hoped for by non-traditional conservatives (i.e. Scalia). In short, it’s the autonomy of states vs. the power of the federal government to do whatever it pleases. So, good luck to Randy Barnett. Let’s hope he prevails.

So I was getting pretty

So I was getting pretty bored, as there’s not much interesting in the blogosphere right now, so I decided to investigate a little further into this whole flat tax idea. Using graphs (everyone loves graphs)! So, lo and behold, my first graph:

This is a graph of the percentage of a family of four’s income that is collected in taxes under both the Armey-Shelby flat tax proposal, and the current tax code (using the standard deduction). It only covers the incomes of the middle class. As can be seen, the current tax code, even with Bush’s revisions, is easier on families until they start making more than $45,000 dollars or so. As the median income for a family of four in the U.S. is $62,000, this shows that a significant amount of Americans would indeed do worse under a flat tax. Who would gain, then? Well, let’s look at our next graph:

This is the same graph we looked at before, expanded to include all incomes from $0 a year to $500,000 a year. And no, you are not seeing funny. The richest 1% will see their taxes nearly cut in half if a flat tax is passed. The flat tax isn’t about tax simplification, or ending “discrimination”. It’s about helping the rich, pure and simple.

Daniel Drezner is always here

Daniel Drezner is always here to mentally scar foreign policy wonks:

I may never forgive Greg Djerejian for pointing me to this Alex Beam article in the Sunday Boston Globe about what happens when policy wonks write novels with… shudder… sex scenes.

Former Kennedy School dean Joseph Nye usually writes the kind of books discussed earnestly at policy forums and perused by index-skimming colleagues killing time at university bookstores. But no more! In his just-published novel, “The Power Game” (“a taut but sensitive political thriller” — Tina Brown), Nye reaches out for a whole new audience. Here protagonist Peter Cutler, the proverbial “high State Department official,” engages in some ill-advised personal diplomacy with the alluring Alexa Byrnes, herself a policy playa at the Department of Defense. Cutler is married, albeit not to Ms. Byrnes:

Alexa led me to the bed in the middle of the enormous room and pulled me down beside her. I kissed her breasts and ran my hand between her thighs. She gripped my shoulders tightly. Unlike the first time I made love to Alexa, when the ecstasy had been eroded by a sense of anxiety and uncertainty, I was sucked into this moment as quickly and completely as if I had placed my feet in quicksand. Memories from years ago blended with intense physical excitement in a driving, pounding torrent of passion.

As Dan gleefully points out, this is the man who pioneered the terms, and theories, of “hard” and “soft” power. All I can say is that I can never read Foreign Affairs the same way again.

Maybe this is why we

Maybe this is why we lost:

Only about a third of Americans believe that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well supported by the evidence, while just as many say that it is just one of many theories and has not been supported by the evidence. The rest say they don’t know enough to say. Forty-five percent of Americans also believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago. A third of Americans are biblical literalists who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.

Via Taegan Goddard. I think this speaks to one of two things: 1) the shocking incompetence of science teachers nationwide or 2) the disturbing degree of religious extremism in this country. I wish I believed the former, but I lean towards the latter. While it’s a stretch to compare this to the extremism of al-Qaeda, it’s more than fair to compare it to the religious beliefs that bred al-Qaeda. There’s no doubt in my mind that Biblical literalism is to Christianity as Wahhabism is to Islam. This extreme literalism only leads to religious, gender, and sexual bigotry. It leads to the creation of a main enemy in the eyes of its followers. Today, it’s gays and lesbians; tomorrow, it could be Jews, women, or non-Christians altogether. This is very similar to the initial victimization of women in Muslim society, then of non-Muslims, and now hatred of the West. If we aren’t careful, there could be an American Hezbollah.

P.S. If you want to be more depressed, Kevin Drum reminds us that 25% of the U.S. believes that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Strangely, this has Biblical basis as well; that’s why Galileo was persecuted. However, there is nothing in the Bible to justify 78% of Americans not knowing what a molecule is, 55% of Americans not knowing what DNA is, or 52% of American thinking that humans once lived with dinosaurs. The second is probably due to the fact that DNA wasn’t incorporated into most high school biology curricula until well after it was discovered in the 1950s; the third is probably due to The Flintstones. And the first one, well, that’s probably due to the incredible bore that is chemistry class.

Johann Hari (via Andy Sullivan)

Johann Hari (via Andy Sullivan) has a terrifying and disturbing interview with G. Gordon Liddy. Some excerpts:

G. Gordon Liddy is vibrating with rage. “Environmentalism is a form of pagan fundamentalism. These green wackos are fanatics like al-Quaida. Just like them,” he quivers. “Osama believes there are 72 virgins waiting for him. The environmentalist believes human beings cause global warming. They both want to wreck havoc because of their mad beliefs. What’s the difference?”

Except that we really are causing global warming, but go on:

And suddenly I am lifting the bag of G. Gordon Liddy – Nixon’s rent-a-thug, the Watergate burglar, the far-right shock jock extraordinaire – into the boot of a taxi and reeling at his smallness. We are heading for Penn Station so Liddy can return to Washington DC; I am going to sit with him while he waits for his train. He turns to me and smiles. “So – where do we begin?” he says. I try to smile back and say as sweetly as I can, “How about with Adolf Hitler?”

The Fuhrer was G Gordon Liddy’s first political hero. Liddy was a sickly, asthmatic child when he grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 1930s. The town was full of ethnic Germans who idolized Hitler. Liddy was made to salute the Stars and Stripes Nazi-style by the nuns at his school; even now, he admits, “at assemblies where the national anthem is played, I must suppress the urge to snap out my right arm.” His beloved German nanny taught him that Hitler had – through sheer will-power – “dragged Germany from weakness to strength.”

This gave Liddy hope “for the first time in my life” that he too could overcome weakness. When he listened to Hitler on the radio, it “made me feel a strength inside I had never known before,” he explains. “Hitler’s sheer animal confidence and power of will [entranced me]. He sent an electric current through my body.” He describes seeing the Nazis’ doomed technological marvel the Hindenberg flying over New Jersey as an almost religious experience. “Ecstatic, I drank in its colossal power and felt myself grow. Fear evaporated and in its place came a sense of personal might and power.”

A-ha. So, Mr Liddy, do you feel that your early, formative love for Hitler shaped your political behavior later in life? “Oh, no,” he says somberly. He renounces Hitler’s war against the Jews as “evil” and flaunts his support for Israel’s hard right as evidence he is not an anti-Semite. “It was part of my childhood, that’s all,” he says.

Really? That doesn’t seem to match the historical record. In his autobiography, Liddy admits that, after reading the writings of the notorious anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh, Liddy decided to pick his wife on eugenic grounds. He held out for “a tall, fair, powerfully built Teuton.” Isn’t that behavior at the very least in the shadow of Hitler? “Of course not. Genetics is accepted by everyone.” But a Teuton? My dictionary defines it as “descended from an ancient Germanic tribe. Often synonymous with Aryan.” He waves his hand and says, “That’s how we spoke then. This is political correctness.”

Okay, so how about your fanatical Nietzschean emphasis on Will-power? He has written, “If any one component of man ought to be exercised, cultivated and strengthened above all others, it is the will; and that must have one objective – to win.” He used to take his kids to see Leni Reifenstahl’s Nazi propaganda movie ‘The Triumph of the Will.’ When he was a kid himself, he went to insane ends to test his will-power. He stood in front of approaching trains, telling himself he would not die because “I am a machine too.” During lightning storms, in order to demonstrate to himself to power of his will, he would climb onto tall trees and yell, “Kill me! Kill me!” He even trained himself to kill animals in anticipation of becoming a brutal soldier. He describes beheading chickens with glee: “I killed and killed and killed, and finally I could kill efficiently and without emotion or thought. I was satisfied; when it came my turn to go to war, I would be ready. I could kill as I could run – like a machine.”

It gets worse:

While the Nixon administration was spraying tonnes of napalm and poison over Vietnam, he complained the policy was “too soft.” He says now, “I wanted to bomb the Red River dykes. It would have drowned half the country and starved the other half. There would have been no way the Viet Cong could have operated if we had the will-power to do that.”

But what about the millions of innocent people who would have been murdered? “Look at Dresden. Millions of people died there too.” And it hits me: he just can’t see them. They are un-people, specks of red dust on a distant map, obstacles to his Will. Their suffering is as irrelevant as that of the chickens he decapitated with such glee sixty years ago in New Jersey. “Once you start a war, you have to win,” he continues. “Look at the time some of Julius Ceasar’s emissaries were sent into Gaul, and they were killed by bandits. Caesar sent Roman troops to slaughter all the men who were left alive in Gaul. He sold all the women and children into slavery. From that point on, nobody touched a single one of Caesar’s emissaries.” I pause. Let me get this straight – you are advocating the selling of women and children into slavery as US policy?

“No. What I’m saying is we had better embrace the horror of war. If you aren’t tough, if you don’t pull out all the stops, you lose.” So all of the conventions created in the wake of the Second World War – the Geneva Conventions, the very concept of war crimes – these are all just polite fictions to be crumpled? “Of course. The Seventh Infantry Division in 1945 used to drive their tanks around with the heads of defeated Japanese solders displayed proudly on the front. That’s what we need to train our present-day soldiers to be.” Returning to Vietnam, he adds that the French – the colonial power preceding the Americans – succeeded in Vietnam because “they were using the Foreign Legion, then manned almost completely by veterans from the most disciplined, ruthlessly efficient practitioners of all-out warfare in history: the Waffen SS.”

And so we are back to Him, the dictator who hangs over Liddy’s life like an old, angry ghost. Liddy’s seems to believe – as his childhood icon did – that life is an eternal war against Absolute Enemies. There are no rules. There can be no restraint. Kill them or they kill you. This mindset is revealed neatly in the advice he gave to his children from the time they were toddlers. He told them to start fights or they would be beaten. When the kids’ school explained that they had a strict non-violence policy, Liddy replied, “In the late 1930s French children were taught that philosophy while German kids were taught to be fierce in battle. Given the destruction of the numerically superior French armies by the Wehrmacht in about thirty days, I prefer the German approach. The school will just have to live with it.”

This approach wasn’t only for the Vietnamese and kids. Liddy extended it to Nixon’s domestic political opponents too. He is famous in the US as the most fiercely loyal of Richard Nixon’s “plumbers”, one of the agents sent to illegally burgle, drug and libel the President’s internal opponents. “The war in Vietnam was fought on the streets of America too,” he says. “It was lost here at home, by people who didn’t have the Will to win. We had to get the people who wanted America to lose.” Including killing columnists? “If they were traitors as Jack Andersen was, directly helping the enemy, then yes.”

This contempt for democracy and law led Liddy to the Watergate Hotel – and it changed the world. I received a second e-mail from his publicist that contained one line: “NO WATERGATE!!!!” I decide to plunge in anyway. Does he regret burgling the offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and setting in chain the resignation of a President?

A vein twitches angrily on one of his scales, but he replies in a level voice, “No.” He has a bizarre revisionist take on Watergate that places the blame for the disaster entirely on another Nixon henchman called John Dean. “The official version of Watergate is as wrong as a Flat Earth Society pamphlet,” Liddy says, referring me to a conspiracy-theory book called ‘Silent Coup: Removal of a President’ by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin. Its thesis is stark. The Watergate burglars – including Liddy – believed they were breaking into the offices of the DNC to plant a bug so the Republicans could hear the election plans of George McGovern. They were duped. The book’s authors claimed John Dean – Liddy’s immediate superior and the man who gave the orders to commit the burglary – ordered the burglary for his own reasons, nothing to do with Nixon. The DNC had evidence that linked Dean’s then-fiancee with a prostitution ring – and Dean wanted it back. So – hey presto! – Nixon was innocent, and the victim of a wicked coup d’etat. Liddy has convinced himself he served five years in jail for nothing.

Before too long, I’m going to start quoting the entire interview, so just read it. You will tremble in fear of this man, if we can really call him that.