Archive for August, 2008



Finally, Some Common Sense on the Drinking Age

Published August 21st, 2008 by tcarpenter

A group of more than 100 college and university presidents have issued a statement advocating that the minimum drinking age in the United States be lowered from 21 to 18.  It’s about time!  The law requiring states to set a minimum age of 21 for consuming alcohol or lose their federal highway funds is perverse and counterproductive even by the usual standards of federal legislation.   We have a system in place where 18, 19, and 20-year-olds are considered mature enough to marry, purchase property, obtain and use credit cards, serve in the military, and be held responsible for any violations of law.  Yet, they are not considered mature enough to have a beer or a glass of wine.

I wrote on this issue back in 2001, pointing out that the United States is almost alone in the Western world in setting the minimum age at 21.  The vast majority of countries set the age at somewhere between 16 and 18.   Some have even lower limits–or no legally mandated minimum at all.  And almost all of those countries have fewer problems with drunk driving, binge drinking, and other social pathologies.  That’s not surprising.  Adolescents (and even younger children) in such societies learn to drink responsibly under adult supervision.  In the United States, young people are expected to avoid even a drop of alcohol until their 21st birthday.  Presumably, while they are asleep on the night before they turn 21, the responsible drinking fairy comes and sprinkles responsible drinking behavior dust over them. 

The U.S. system is a disaster.  A large percentage of teens and young adults flout the law, often in unsafe settings where binge drinking is the norm.  It is a law that cries out to be changed.

Predictably, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which was the main lobby for the passage of the orginal law setting a nationwide minimum of 21 back in the 1980s, has reacted to the proposal of the college presidents with shrill denunciations.  MADD, a group that was originally formed to combat a real social problem, quickly morphed into a group of prohibitionist zealots that has waged a jihad against even recreational drinking, and especially against any drinking by young Americans.   It is well past time that the rest of us reject their views and urge Congress to adopt more sensible legislation.  The college and university presidents deserve praise for launching a badly needed debate.

U.S. Pot Calls Russian Kettle Black

Published August 16th, 2008 by tcarpenter

John McCain blisters Russia for its military intervention in Georgia, saying “in the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.”  Excuse me??  What does the good senator think the United States did in Afghanistan and Iraq?  And the last time I looked, both 2001 and 2003 were years in the 21st century.  The man has apparently no sense of irony, or he is elevating hypocrisy to a whole new level.

Similarly, President Bush accuses the Russians of “bullying” behavior.  Now, I certainly don’t like what the Russians are doing in Georgia–even though the Georgian government is not exactly the poor democratic victim of unprovoked aggression as it it typically portrayed in the Western media.  But even if Moscow’s actions do constitute bullying, consider the number of occasions since the end of the Cold War that the United States has initiated military force against small, weak countries.  Panama, 1989, Iraq 1991, Somalia, 1992, Haiti, 1994, the Bosnian Serb republic, 1995, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq (again), 2003.  Only the invasion of Afghanistan was truly justified on the basis of self-defense.

Before Bush, McCain, and their warhawk allies start lecturing Russia about improper use of military force, they need to acquire one crucial foreign policy tool that they apparently lack.  A mirror.

Avoiding Foreign Quarrels

Published August 13th, 2008 by tcarpenter

I’ve grown accustomed to the steady stream of foreign policy drivel coming from America’s political leaders, but the reaction of both Barack Obama and John McCain to the war between Russia and Georgia reaches a whole new level.  There is a difference, though.  Obama is bad on the issue, but McCain is dreadful.  

Both political luminaries think that it is a dandy idea to admit Georgia to the NATO alliance.  That is a horrible idea.  Just imagine how much worse the current crisis would be if that country were a member of the alliance.  Under article 5 of the treaty, the United States would have to consider Russian military action in Georgia as equivalent to an attack on America, and we would be obligated to help Georgia in its fight.  In other words, we would be going eyeball to eyeball with a nuclear-armed Russia over the status of two secessionist regions in a tiny country on Russia’s border.  There might be situations in the world that are less relevant to the security and liberty of the American people, but it would take a concerted search to find them. 

Unfortunately, McCain goes well beyond favoring NATO membership for Georgia.  In response to the murky conflict that erupted last week, the gentleman from Arizona stated: “I know that I speak for every American when I say to [Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili], today we are all Georgians.”

His comment encapsulates a pervasive attitude among America’s political and policy elites.  They repeatedly act as though the interests of various small client states (e.g., Georgia, Estonia, Israel, Taiwan, Kuwait) are identical to America’s interests.  Even worse, they are perfectly willing to endanger America to advance the interests of those client states.

Whatever happened to the principle expressed so well by George Washington that America should avoid either strong antipathy or passionate attachment to any other country?  I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, though.  Given the transition from the caliber of Washington and Jefferson to the likes of Bush and McCain, it becomes clear that, when it comes to politics, Charles Darwin got the theory of evolution backwards.

With Friends Like These….

Published August 4th, 2008 by tcarpenter

I never agreed with President Bush’s stark demand regarding the war against radical Islamic terrorism that “either you’re for us or you’re against us.”  It seemed entirely reasonable to me that nations that had no dispute with the Muslim world might not want to get involved in that conflict.  At the same time, though, it is not acceptable for foreign governments to pretend to be America’s allies and then knife us in the back when convenient.  Our so-called ally Pakistan has done that before, and now has apparently done it again.  Back in late 2001, there was evidence that Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, helped Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters escape from U.S. forces in Afghanistan who were closing in on them.

Just this past week, U.S. intelligence agencies uncovered evidence that ISI operatives were again aiding the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Washington should make it clear to Islamabad that the time is long overdue to clean out terrorist sympathizers from the military and the ISI.  If that doesn’t happen, we then know that Pakistan is an adversary, not an ally, and we should develop our policies accordingly.

The irony is that while U.S. leaders focused on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Revolutionary Iran as the principal sources of trouble for genuine American security interests, the greatest damage has been done by two supposed allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis funded anti-American schools around the world, and Pakistan not only helped put the Taliban in power in Afghanistan (and has periodically assisted it ever since), but was probably complicit in scientist A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation activities to North Korea and other adversaries of the United States.

With “friends” like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, America doesn’t need any enemies.