Patterico's Pontifications

6/2/2009

DOJ Rejects Georgia Voter ID System

Filed under: Judiciary,Obama — DRJ @ 6:58 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Obama Justice Department has rejected Georgia’s voter ID system that requires voters provide Social Security numbers and driver’s license data in order to vote. The rejection letter cites the law’s disproportionate impact on “African-American, Asian and/or Hispanic voters” that burdens their right to vote.

The rejection resulted from a requirement that Georgia obtain “preclearance” of voting changes under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Georgia and 16 predominantly Southern states, including Texas, are required to get “federal approval before changing election rules because of a history of discriminatory Jim Crow-era voting practices.” Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that the local government prove to federal authorities that the voting change is not discriminatory and will not adversely affect minorities.

The Georgia rejection may illustrate why a tiny Texas case brought by the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 — a case that was argued before the Supreme Court on April 29, 2009 — could have a big impact on the law:

“Texas is one of the states that is still subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Thus, when the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 (”MUD”) serving 3,500 residents wanted to change a polling place from a garage to a school, it was required to get preclearance from the DOJ. “It took two months and cost $1,250 in legal fees.”

MUD sued the federal government claiming the Section 5 preclearance requirement is no longer necessary.”

As I understand it, the lawsuit will not affect the obligations under the Voting Rights Act but it could change the burden of proof under Section 5. Specifically, instead of a local government having to prove that the proposed change does not discriminate in order to obtain preclearance, it could eliminate preclearance and thus reverse the burden by requiring that any plaintiff(s) prove a voting change has a discriminatory effect.

— DRJ

The larger lesson from Geithner’s China trip

Filed under: General — Karl @ 4:23 pm

[Posted by Karl]

Treasury Secretary Timmy Geithner went to China this week to reassure folks that China’s huge holdings of dollar assets are safe. A student audience at Peking University laughed at him. Yu Yongding, a former central bank adviser, told Bloomberg that “[i]t will be helpful if Geithner can show us some arithmetic,” as though Geithner was a remedial student.

China (and other holders of Treasury debt) are uneasy because the Fed’s quantitative easing program seems ineffective. The Fed created a trillion dollars out of thin air in March to purchase Treasury bonds and mortgage securities, but the yield curve is steepening.

Will the Obama administration’s approach launch America into an inflationary spiral like Argentina? Or will all of that freshly printed money and self-purchased debt nevertheless fail to prevent a painful period of Japanese-style deleveraging?

I freely admit to not knowing enough about economics to know the answer to those questions. What I do know is that Fed officials are almost equally clueless in diagnosing the current state of the bond market:

The Federal Reserve is studying significant moves in the U.S. government bond market last week that could have big implications for the central bank’s strategy to combat the country’s recession.
But the Fed is not really sure what is driving the sharp rise in long-dated bond yields, and especially a widening gap between short and long term yields.

Do rising U.S. Treasury yields and a steepening yield curve suggest an economic recovery is more certain, meaning less need for safe haven government bonds and a healthy demand for credit? If so, there might be less need for the Fed to expand the money supply by buying more U.S. Treasuries.

Or does the steepening yield curve mean investors are worried about the deterioration in the U.S. fiscal outlook, or the potential for a collapse in the U.S. dollar as the Fed floods the world with newly minted currency as part of its quantitative easing program. This might be an argument to augment to step up asset purchases.

Another possibility is that China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt, has decided to refocus its portfolio by leaning more heavily on shorter-term maturities.

With officials still grappling to divine the factors steepening the yield curve, a speedy decision on whether to ramp up the Treasury debt purchase program or the related plan to snap up mortgage-related debt seems unlikely.

Yet the notion that the Fed and Treasury know what they are doing is the foundation upon which Pres. Obama’s economic program is built. Indeed, the conceit that statist bureaucracies of experts, left to their own devices, can steer the US economy to that third bowl of porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right, has been a tenet of progressivism since its inception. The real lesson of Geithner’s trip is that he had to make it. The response to his message reveals that even the People’s Republic of China has learned something about the limits of statist bureaucracies. Eventually, even the Obama administration may learn that lesson. America can only hope that lesson gets learned before the economy ends up in the wrong bowl of porridge.

–Karl

Highway Trust Fund: Send $$$

Filed under: Obama — DRJ @ 1:42 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Obama Administration has discovered that the Highway Trust Fund will go broke by August because Americans aren’t driving as much, and their change in behavior has reduced federal gas tax revenue:

“Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a hearing the administration has told senators the Federal Highway Trust Fund will need an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion to keep current construction projects going.

The California Democrat said another $8 billion to $10 billion will be needed to keep the fund solvent through the year ending Sept. 30, 2010.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Jill Zuckman confirmed those figures.”

One tone deaf Republican Senator, joined by “a consensus of transportation experts and lawmakers,” agree we need to raise taxes:

“Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said it’s clear that Congress must raise the federal gas tax, which is now 18.4 cents per gallon.
***
Two congressionally mandated commissions have called for an immediate increase in the gas tax. The first commission, which issued its report in early 2008, recommended a 40-cent per gallon hike. The second panel, which issued its report earlier this year, recommended the tax be increased 10 cents per gallon for gas and 15 cents per gallon for diesel, and that both be indexed to inflation.

The two panels also said fuel taxes are not a sustainable source of revenue over the long term as drivers shift to more fuel efficient vehicles. Both panels recommended Congress find a new revenue source to pay for highway and transit programs.

Their top recommendation was to tax motorists based on how many miles they drive. That would require equipping cars and trucks with devices that use GPS technology to record not only how many miles the vehicle was driven, but whether the driving took place on interstate highways or secondary roads and whether it was during peak travel periods. The device would calculate the amount of tax owed and the bill could be downloaded.”

Taxes are the answer to everything in this Hope-and-Change world, but even Barack Obama will have trouble selling Americans on a $0.40 per gallon tax on gasoline. As for asking us to download and pay a monthly driving tax bill? Heh.

— DRJ

Bill Saletan: Is It Wrong to Murder an Abortionist?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:11 am

I recently asked: if you believe abortion is murder, what is the difference between killing George Tiller and killing Osama bin Laden? William Saletan has an article that explores the moral issues raised by my question (although he does not explore the parallel to Osama). Saletan’s piece opens provocatively:

If abortion is murder, the most efficient thing you could have done to prevent such murders this month was to kill George Tiller.

Tiller was the country’s bravest or most ruthless abortion provider, depending on how you saw him. The pregnancies he ended were the latest of the late. If your local clinic said you were too far along, and they sent you to a late-term provider who said you were too late even for her, Tiller was your last shot. If Tiller said no, you were going to have a baby, or a dying baby, or a stillbirth, or whatever nature and circumstance had in store for you.

Saletan viewed Tiller as brave. I agree, but I also agreed with Bill Maher that the 9/11 terrorists were brave. Morally despicable, but brave. Labeling as “cowards” people who put their lives on the line for what they believe in, to me, renders the word “coward” essentially meaningless.

Me, I condemn the murder of Tiller — but unlike Saletan, I don’t agree with what he did. But I don’t consider it murder, and Saletan’s piece addresses those who do, asking: if you condemn his murder, do you really consider abortion to be murder? Because, as Saletan explains, Tiller wasn’t really fungible. Late-term abortion providers don’t grow on trees, and murdering him may actually prevent a lot of abortions:

Tiller’s murder is different from all previous murders of abortion providers. If you kill an ordinary abortionist, somebody else will step in. But if you kill the guy at the end of the line, some of his patients won’t be able to find an alternative. You will have directly prevented abortions.

That seems to be what Tiller’s alleged assassin, Scott Roeder, had in mind. . . . .

. . . . Is it wrong to defend the life of an unborn child as you would defend the life of a born child? Because that’s the question this murder poses. Peaceful pro-lifers have already tried to prosecute Tiller for doing late-term abortions they claimed were against the law. They failed to convict him. If unborn children are morally equal to born children, then Tiller’s assassin has just succeeded where the legal system failed: He has stopped a mass murderer from killing again.

The interesting part, as Saletan notes, is that pro-life groups aren’t supporting Roeder’s actions. They are roundly condemning them, as they should.

I applaud these statements. They affirm the value of life and nonviolence, two principles that should unite us. But they don’t square with what these organizations purport to espouse: a strict moral equation between the unborn and the born. If a doctor in Kansas were butchering hundreds of old or disabled people, and legal authorities failed to intervene, I doubt most members of the National Right to Life Committee would stand by waiting for “educational and legislative activities” to stop him. Somebody would use force.

When I raised the question, most anti-abortion absolutists here explained that they wouldn’t have murdered Tiller because of their respect for the law. But Saletan takes issue with that defense, raising a very interesting point:

The reason these pro-life groups have held their fire, both rhetorically and literally, is that they don’t really equate fetuses with old or disabled people. They oppose abortion, as most of us do. But they don’t treat abortionists the way they’d treat mass murderers of the old or disabled. And this self-restraint can’t simply be chalked up to nonviolence or respect for the law. Look up the bills these organizations have written, pushed, or passed to restrict abortions. I challenge you to find a single bill that treats a woman who procures an abortion as a murderer. They don’t even propose that she go to jail.

If abortion is really murder, why wouldn’t proposed laws target the mother as well?

Ultimately, Saletan suggests that many anti-abortion absolutists aren’t really as absolutist as they claim to be:

The people who kill abortion providers are the ones who don’t flinch. They’re like the veterans you sometimes see in war documentaries, quietly recounting what they faced and did. You think you’re pro-life. You tell yourself that abortion is murder. Maybe you even say that when a pollster calls. But like most of the other people who say such things in polls, you don’t mean it literally. There’s you, and then there are the people who lock arms outside the clinics. And then there are the people who bomb them. And at the end of the line, there’s the guy who killed George Tiller.

If you don’t accept what he did, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself what you really believe. Is abortion murder? Or is it something less, a tragedy that would be better avoided? Most of us think it’s the latter. We’re looking for ways to prevent abortions—not just a few this month, but millions down the line—without killing or prosecuting people. Come and join us.

I don’t sign on to this conclusion wholly, because I believe I am far more anti-abortion than Saletan, and far more disgusted by late-term abortions — at least those done for reasons of convenience, which are the majority of such abortions, the propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding. I condemn what Tiller did, which was to end the lives of babies whose mothers’ lives often were not at risk, at a point in time when those babies were no longer undeveloped fetuses, but rather babies.

But I’m torn, as I always have been about abortion. I’m not an absolutist. I’m not sure I consider what he did murder, the same as if Tiller had been an ongoing mass murderer of grown humans. I think if such a mass murderer existed, and the law were powerless to stop them, people would not be condemning the murder of the murderer — just as most of you would not condemn the murder of Osama bin Laden.

Where am I wrong? As always, be extra polite in discussing this very sensitive issue.


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