Archive for January, 2009



Obama’s First Week: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Published January 25th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama is certainly off to a fast start.  The record during his first week, though, is mixed. 

One good early action was his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, shut down the secret CIA prisons in various overseas locations, and tighten the standards for interrogating terrorist suspects.  Gitmo and everything associated with it will likely go down as one of the more shameful episodes in American history.  Even though Bush administration officials repeatedly denied that the U.S. engaged in torture, the reality was otherwise.  Cynical euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques” sounded like dialogue from characters in a George Orwell novel.  Of course, we all want to minimize the danger of new terrorist attacks, but there are certain lines that a society must not cross if it wishes to remain a moral society.  Torture is one of those bright red lines.

While President Obama’s decisions on that issue removed a stain on America’s honor, his proposed remedy for the ongoing economic recession embodies many of the worst ideas liberal Democrats have been peddling for decades.  Advocating another $825 billion in spending when the federal government is already running a deficit that is likely to exceed $1 trillion this year constitutes fiscal folly.  Even the underlying goal to jump start more consumer spending is flawed.  Jim Rogers, one of world’s most successful investors over the past three decades put the matter very well: “The idea that you can solve a period of excessive borrowing and consumption with more borrowing and more consumption” is “ludicrous on its face.”

The ugly portion of the Obama administration’s first week was the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.   In her earlier confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she pledged that the administration’s foreign policy would be one of “smart power”–filching a term that I and other scholars have used for years.  That wouldn’t be so bad if what she advocated was even remotely smart.  But virtually everything she said was merely warmed over conventional wisdom–and usually the worst aspects of the conventional wisdom.  Clinton emphasized the supposed need to strengthen NATO–that Cold War-era dinosaur of an alliance–and add new members, such as tiny Balkan states, Georgia, and Ukraine.  The former are militarily useless (as is Georgia) and membership for Georgia and Ukraine would further damage the already tense relations between the U.S. and Russia.  The rest of her testimony was equally bad.  America must keep other useless, costly military commitments, such as the one to South Korea, somehow solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (like we haven’t been trying to do that for the past four decades), take a hard line with Iran (like we haven’t been doing that for the past three decades) and engage in more humanitarian interventions and nation-building missions.  Those, apparently, we can accomplish with all of our spare money and troops.  If there were such a requirement as truth in advertising for presidential appointees, Hillary’s foreign policy would have to be labeled “dumb power” not smart power.  For an approach that is actually smart power, check here.

Perversion of the Law in Pennsylvania

Published January 16th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I never expected to publish multiple blog posts on crazy measures regarding sexual conduct.  I assumed that the politicians in Washington state who want to criminalize relationships between teachers and adult students between 18 and 21 (see yesterday’s post) had plumbed the depths of arrogant stupidity.  But then I read this news story about the authorities in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and it became clear that the Puritanical zealots in Washington are rank amateurs.

Three teenage girls, all of whom are 14 or 15 years old, apparently took nude or seminude photos of themselves and then shared them with male classmates via their cell phones.  There is no question that the parents of those girls need to have a candid conversation with their daughters about the dubious wisdom of such conduct, including the important detail that once such photos enter cyberspace, they achieve immortality and can show up anywhere months or even years later.   The boys receiving such material might benefit from a meaningful discussion with their parents as well.

But the Greensburg police decided to file criminal charges against the girls for distributing child pornography and against the boys for possessing such pornography.  This episode is yet another example of the death of common sense on the part of law enforcement personnel–right up there with prosecuting a student for giving an aspirin to a classmate who had a headache, or handcuffing a kindergarten student for bringing a pen knife to school (incidents that have occurred in other jurisdictions).

It is a safe bet that the Pennsylvania criminal statute against child pornography was intended to bust adult exploiters of young children.  I doubt if any legislator who drafted that measure intended it to be used against kids who engage in the computer era’s version of playing doctor.  Perverting the intention of the law in that fashion is even worse than the attempt by zealous prosecutors to go after anti-abortion groups under the statute designed to dismantle organized crime syndicates.  I find many of the anti-abortion activists shrill and obnoxious, but it is preposterous to equate them with the mafia.

So, too, it is not only absurd but offensive to equate teenagers who may have engaged in unwise, even tasteless, conduct with the actions of true child pornographers.   The police department of Greensburg should be ashamed of itself for putting kids through such needless trauma.  If convicted, these teens could not only face jail time, but would have to register as sex offenders for at least 10 years.  Innocent lives would be ruined.

Just as small children should be kept away from knives and other sharp objects, police and prosecutors who can’t use common sense should be kept far, far away from instruments of power.  Greensburg, PA needs to rein-in its out-of-control cops.

Nanny State Strikes Again

Published January 15th, 2009 by tcarpenter

The court of appeals in Washington state has struck a blow for common sense.  A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that a criminal statute explicitly designed to prohibit teachers from having sexual relations with students who are MINORS did not apply to a case in which a high school choir director allegedly had a relationship with an 18-year-old student.  Duh!  I guess that’s why the law had “minors” in the title.

Now, I have no problem with rules by a school district, or even a college or university, that consider a sexual relationship between a faculty member and even an adult student to be professional misconduct and grounds for dismissal.   Among other problems, when a faculty member is sleeping with a student, immediate doubts arise about whether that faculty member can possibly be objective in grading the student’s classroom work.  There is also troubling potential for manipulation or blackmail by either party.  It is acceptable for an educational institution to establish rules against such relationships as a condition of employment.

But making such conduct between consenting adults a criminal offense is an entirely different matter.   That takes us back to the bad old days in which government presumed to meddle in every aspect of human sexual conduct–even by married couples.  Adults are adults, and in a free society they should have the right to decide with whom they have sex.  

Yet some state legislators in Washington are outraged by the court’s decision and now seek to modify the criminal statute to apply to students up to the age of 21.  Not surprisingly, that effort is being led by a conservative Republican.   It is bad enough when legislators act as though 16-and 17-year olds are all so innocent of sex–or are so stupid–that they should not be allowed to make decisions about the most intimate aspects of their own bodies.  But it is doubly outrageous when politicians try to extend such patronizing, intrusive laws to 18, 19, and even 20-year-old adults.  The appeals court got the decision right, and the self-annointed moral police in the state legislature should back off.