Friday, April 29, 2005

A Brief Moment for Ethics

I'd like to note how deeply I'm enjoying the Delay scandal. Not just because he's a scumbag and deserves it, but because it makes me happy to see the Congress concerned with ethics, even if they're only doing it to score political points. Already various Congresspeople are rushing to get their records in order. There are a lot of good lobbyists in Washington (take, for example, the Center for Democracy and Technology), but by and large the Congress-lobbyist network is a cesspool of corruption. The Republicans have threatened to retaliate by exposing ethical lapses of Democrats (Nancy Pelosi's name has come up a few times). I say more power to them. Although the partisan infighting of it may be distasteful, I would find bitter partisanship palatable in a contest of ethical purity. It might not make the politicians actually become ethical, but at least forcing them to follow the formalities of ethics guidelines would be a step in the right direction.

Time Warp

Following politics recently, I'm starting to feel that we've been time warped back to August, 2001. As you may recall, at the time, after passing a flurry of bills that he had campaigned on, President Bush had largely stalled out, and Republicans were beginning to wonder if the President's critics were right. Bush spent the next three years riding support for his anti-terror agenda. But at this point, the public has gotten the sense that the war on terror will be a long, hard (and often dull) slog. The insurgents in Iraq are back in full force after a post-election lull. Global terror attacks are up significantly in the past year. The new Iraqi government has been slow moving and is mired in conflict.

With foreign policy no longer providing a safe refuge, Bush has had to return to domestic policy. He's now simultaneously trying to prop up Tom Delay against ethics charges, support his nomination of John Bolton, push his social security program, and back Senate Republicans in eliminating the filibuster, all issues on which he has little public support and on which Democrats feel they can capitalize. Add to that the failed and unpopular gambit to intervene in the Schiavo affair, and the Bush presidency appears to be a key setback or two from descending into irrelevance. His party is wavering and beginning to drift. This looks much more like Bush the bumbling amateur politician of mid-2001 than Bush the avenging war hero of more recent times.

Undoubtedly the Bush team still has a few tricks up their sleeve. In political cycles it's a long time until 2008 and Bush will have ample opportunity to try to reinvent himself. I can't even speculate which direction he might turn, but it does seem that much of his difficulties are related to his stubborn, hard-line approach to policy and his close relationship with the Religious Right, and I have a hard time picturing him compromising on either point. Time will tell. Perhaps the best hope of the administration at this point is that the Democrats will fumble the ball, as they did in the election last year. I can't say I have a great deal of confidence in them, but the Democrats can't screw up all the time. They'll get it right eventually. Everything is set up for them right now. All they've got to do is bring it home. I've got my fingers crossed..

Monday, April 25, 2005

Is It Paternalism When You're Right?

This interesting (but factually thin) article on CSM on Americans' bad investment choices puts me in mind of our frequent paternalism discussions. The author aptly comments at the end that the problem isn't really that people couldn't be good investors, but they don't bother to do it. I'd add that it probably isn't a matter of sheer laziness, but that there are a hundred other common areas where people fail similarly, and they have only so much time and attention to go around. And, of course, there's the factor that economists have been known to be spectacularly wrong from time to time as well...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Bad Blood

I'm overdue to post something on the ongoing tiff between China and Japan which is being followed very closely by a certain member of my household. Japan has never repudiated the atrocities they committed in WWII the way Germany has and this has been a continuing source of tension between Japan and Korea (North and South) and China. While post-war Japan has emerged as a major donor nation, with much of their contributions targeted to nations harmed by them in the war, they have been careful to characterize those payments as donations rather than reparations, and Japan has consistently glossed over their wartime atrocities in their textbooks and historical accounts. China and Japan have never been particularly close, and this insult is one that China is not willing to drop. The recent discussions of UN reform, with the strong possibility of Japan gaining a permanent Security Council post, has brought things to a head. Japan does need to own up to their past, but I'm not sure the U.S. will care to push that point. Tension between the two nations hardly hurts us, allowing the U.S. to act as mediator, deepening Japan's dependence on the U.S. for military and diplomatic support, and strengthening U.S. influence in the region. It will be interesting to see if they can move past this, as China and Japan could both profit greatly in many regards from closer ties. The pull of profit seems to be slowly healing old wounds between China and Taiwan, and it may do the same between China and Japan.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Re: A Critique of Social Science (Hank's Response)

I just wanted to draw to the Board's attention a comment on one of Henry's posts, by someone posting as "vox humama" (was that meant to be "humana"?). It reads:
I am out here in the hinterland with the rest of the "rational" population, so reading this was the equivalent of mental weightlifting. I am happy to state that I not only got it done but actually feel stronger for it. As a member of the over 50 age group, my eyes were not well served by the experience. (BIGGER PRINT WOULD BE APPRECIATED!)
It would be hard for me to make any comments of a sufficient intellectual rigor to feel worthy of this discussion. But my question would be, Is the academic world, particularly or especially the "disciplines" of the social or soft sciences, engaged in this kind of discussion? Or is it the elephant under the proverbial rug?
I will give Joe or Henry the first shot at a substantive answer, but I agree with the commenter that we should consider making the default setting a little easier to read (note, however, that one can always change the text size in the browser). I am happy we have a reader beside ourselves!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Re: Federal Courts

I don't know whether a survey of the empirical evidence would demonstrate the number of appellate court cases has increased relative to the number of cases the Supreme Court hears, though my observation matches Joe's. Yet I do not see that trend--if there is one--as posing a problem to the stability of the system. The courts of appeals are certainly aware of decisions of other circuits (the parties make sure of that) and the courts are, as a general matter, hesitant to create a circuit split unless the reasoning of another circuit is really flawed. To the extent that circuits disagree, the Supreme Court can step in to resolve the controversy after the courts have had a chance to work it out themselves. I think the system is sufficiently dynamic to respond to the increased reliance upon courts of appeals. In my view the existing structure could only be characterized as broken if people believed the courts of appeals were unable to handle the added burden, but in my view they are doing just fine.

My two cents.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Federal Courts

CSM has a decent article up summarizing the state of the federal appeals courts as it pertains to the nomination battles. The commentary is fairly worthless, but numbers are interesting. In particular I wonder how sound the system is where the Supreme Court, which supposedly provides appellate review of all the circuit decisions, only handles about 0.1% of the number of cases handled by the circuit courts (that doesn't even take into account state cases that SCOTUS may also review). My understanding is that the caseload of the Supreme Court has been in decline for some time now, even as the size and caseloads of the circuit courts have been increasing. The obvious implication is an increasing balkanization of the federal legal system as the unifying influence of the Supreme Court on the circuits wanes. It's a topic I've never read about or heard discussed in class, so it's hard for me to assess how problematic this is (if it's a problem at all), but I find it curious and may have to poke around and see what's out there (I would be surprised if there isn't a fair amount of literature on this)...

Friday, April 01, 2005

India Begins To Assert Itself

Here's a bit of an interesting development on the international front. After the U.S. decided to sell F-16's to Pakistan, India was understandably upset. To make amends, the U.S. somewhat cynically, offered to sell F-16's and F-18's to India as well. India refused the offer, and instead announced $746 million in military purchases from Russia, Germany, Italy, Israel, and Qatar. Additionally, India has recently stated that it wants no part of a U.N. Security Council reform that would not give them veto power, stating that they wanted equal footing with any other permanent members. With China also becoming far more active in regional affairs (although still suprising meek on global issues), the next decade or two are likely to see some major changes in the geopolitics of south and south-eastern Asia.