Monday, May 23, 2005

GOP Follies

What are the pros and cons of the "compromise" on judicial filibusters? The only benefit from a Republican point of view that I can see is that should they ever find themselves in the minority again they may have recourse to the filibuster, but this is bitter solace. If it's wrong for the Democrats to filibuster judicial nominees now it would be wrong for Republicans to do so in the future.

The liabilities, however, are several. It's now almost certain that at least two of Bush's nominees will not be voted on by the senate, which is a gross unfairness. Every nominee deserves a vote. That should have been a non-negotiable principle, but McCain, Warner and the other Republicans caved on it.

There is still the possibility that a future nominee will be filibustered and that the Republicans will invoke a rule change, but after this deal it becomes psychologically more difficult to pull that off.

Moreover, by kicking the can down the road, the Republicans have risked serious difficulties after 2006 should the Democrats pick up a couple of senate seats in that election. They still wouldn't be in the majority, but a gain of a couple of seats would make a rule change much more difficult to pass were it to become necessary, which it almost certainly will.

The Democrats managed to out-maneuver the doppy Republicans yet again. The Dems have essentially given up nothing that they wouldn't have lost anyway and have effectively secured a Republican promise that the GOP will not prevent a filibuster on the two nominees the Dems feel they can safely oppose without looking bad in the eyes of their constituents. This deal is not a compromise. The Republicans gained nothing, and the Democrats get to block at least two of Bush's nominees.

In my humble opinion, John McCain has just forfeited his chances of gaining the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Bill Frist, I think, is relatively unscathed. It's true that he appears ineffective in being unable to impose party discipline on the moderates, but his opposition to this "compromise" will work to his advantage with the Republican base in the 2008 primaries.

World Population Trends Down

Richard Neuhaus discusses the latest demographic projections in an essay in the March issue of First Things and they really are quite startling. He writes:

Consider the demographic evidence: Global fertility rates are 50 percent lower than in 1972-2.9 children per woman, down from six children per woman. They continue to fall at an increasing pace. For population to remain stable, the fertility rate must be 2.1 in nations with relatively low infant mortality and proportionately higher than 2.1 where greater numbers of children die in childhood from communicable diseases or malnutrition.

Philip Longman, author of the new book The Empty Cradle, writes in Foreign Affairs (May/June 2004): "All told, some fifty-nine countries, comprising roughly 44 percent of the world's total population, are currently not producing enough children to avoid population decline, and the phenomenon continues to spread. By 2045, according to the latest UN projections, the world's fertility rate as a whole will have fallen below replacement levels." In Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future, sociologist Ben Wattenberg states: "Never in the last 650 years, since the time of the Black Plague, have birth and fertility rates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for so long, in so many places."

The average fertility rate in Western Europe is a dismal 1.4 children per woman, ranging from 1.8 in Ireland and France to 1.2 in Italy and Spain. This is what a 1.4 fertility rate means for Germany: "Germany could shed nearly a fifth of its 82.5 million people over the next forty years-roughly the equivalent of all of east Germany, a loss of population not seen in Europe since the Thirty Years' War" which ended in 1748. Western Europe is losing approximately 750,000 people a year.

President Vladimir Putin calls Russia's population loss of 750,00 people a year a "national crisis." The yearly loss could increase to three million or more by 2050. And it is estimated that "Bulgaria will shrink by 38 percent, Romania by 27 percent, Estonia by 25 percent."

According to U.N. estimates, over the next four decades, Japan will lose a quarter of its 127 million people.

"Mexican fertility rates have dropped so dramatically, the country is now aging five times faster than is the United States. It took fifty years for the American median age to rise just five years, from thirty to thirty-rive. By contrast, between 2000 and 2050, Mexico's median age, according to UN projections, will increase by twenty years, leaving half the population over forty-two."

The U.S. fertility rate dropped to a low of 1.7 children per woman in 1975, but rose to 1.99 where it currently is, largely as a result of the slightly higher birthrates among Latino immigrants. However, the population in the U.S. sixty-five years and older is expected to double by 2035.

So, why are birthrates dropping?

To start with, forty-six million abortions occur annually, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. More or less "effective" artificial contraception and widespread sterilization have greatly reduced birthrates, especially in those developing countries where coercion is used to reach population targets. UN data report that 62 percent of women of reproductive age who are married or "in union" are using some form of artificial birth control.

But economic and "lifestyle" factors also can affect a family's decision to have fewer children, for example:

Migration of families from farming areas-where children's labor benefits the family-to urban centers where there's no immediate economic incentive for having children.

Women's access to paying jobs in urban areas, and the reality that many have to work to help support the family.

The continually rising cost of raising children: in the U.S., over $200,000 to age eighteen, excluding college, according to the Department of Agriculture.

High taxation, reducing the family's disposable income.

Young people spending more years in higher education to meet the demands of a more highly skilled workforce, which delays the average age of marriage and increases their education debt.

The later average age of marriage, resulting in lower fertility among women and a shortened period of child-bearing in marriage.


Sexually transmitted diseases which can impair fertility are at epidemic levels due to multiple partners.

Materialism and consumerism, fueled by advertising and television.

Radical feminist ideology that measures women's worth solely by the acquisition of money and power, and denigrates their contributions to family life.

Neuhaus thinks that declining birth rates are a bad thing. We're not so sure (whether the reasons for the decline are bad is a different question). There are certainly some negative consequences (e.g. a smaller population of young workers to care for a larger population of elderly and proportionately fewer people developing the innovations that make life better), but on balance it's not clear that population numbers commensurate with mid-twentieth century levels would be calamitous either economically or environmentally. Indeed, lower populations would place far less stress on natural resources. Moreover, there must be some upward limit on how many people the planet can sustain before war, pestilence, and famine cause the population to crash. It seems to us better that such a limit never be approached.

The biggest drawback to a declining population in the West would be the disadvantage it would place western civilization in vis a vis third world peoples, and especially the Islamic world, if their birth rates do not also decline. If the drop is universal and not too precipitous, however, it's not clear to us why it should be cause for alarm.

Real Martyrs

When it comes to sheer savagery in the name of religion Muslims do not have a total monopoly as this story illustrates:

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - The high court of Orissa on Thursday cancelled the death sentence handed to Hindu extremist Dara Singh for the killing of an Australian missionary and his two sons six years ago, and instead ordered life imprisonment, lawyers said.

The high court also acquitted 11 people sentenced to a life term by a lower court for burning alive Graham Staines and his two children in a remote village in the state.

Judges Sujit Burmon Roy and Laxmikant Mohapatra gave no reason for commuting the death sentence on Dara Singh and the acquittal of the others. The judges retained the life sentence on another man convicted of involvement in the killings in 1999.

A mob attacked Staines and his sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6, as they slept in their jeep in a remote village in Orissa. They torched the vehicle and killed all three.

Singh pleaded innocent and appealed against the lower court's decision to hang him and sentence 12 other men to life imprisonment.

The Staines' killings followed a wave of attacks on Christians blamed on Hindu radicals fighting conversions, and underscored tension between India's Hindu majority and religious minorities.

What ever happened to the spirit of Mahatma Ghandi?

One of the amazing things about stories like this is that Christian young people are lining up to go to places like Orissa despite the violence and danger they'll face. They're incredibly courageous and the contrast they create with those who are willing to die only if they can kill others is stark.

Indeed, this is the essential difference between Christianity and many other religions. Christianity enjoins us to love people into the Kingdom of God, other religions enjoin their votaries to kill people who resist accepting their "truth".

ABC News on the Filibuster

ABC News did a blurb on the radio the other night about the rules change vote expected to occur in the senate and mentioned that although liberals want to use the filibuster now, it was conservatives who used it back in the sixties to try to block liberal civil rights legislation.

This was deceptive for two reasons. First, the earlier filibuster was employed to block legislation, not judicial nominees. Legislation is what the filibuster was originally intended to be used for. More egregiously, what the ABC reporter fails to tell his listeners is that those who tried to block civil rights legislation were largely Democrats. Robert Byrd, William Fulbright, Al Gore, Sr. and others resisted advances in civil rights by using the filibuster. To call these Democrats conservatives is ludicrous.