Vladimir Putin may not know it, but he is desperate. Russia is a country in long-term decline. The Russian population peaked in 1992, at 149 million, is now about 143 million, and is projected to drop to about 129 million by 2040. One of the more dire projections is that the Russian population will decline to 111 million by 2050. By contrast, Americans now number almost 318 million, projected to grow to 405 million by 2040, and 439 million by 2060.
Immigration to the U.S. is booming, and will continue booming for the foreseeable future. Practically no one moves to Russia.
Russian GDP ranks eighth in the world, between Brazil (#7) and Italy (#9). The U.S. ranks first, and will continue to rank first until China, with a population four times as big as ours, overtakes us in the 2020s.
Russian ranks a pathetic 130th in the world in life expectancy, at 67.68 years. The U.S., which fares poorly among industrial nations at #40, has an average life expectancy more than ten years longer.
We say we believe in democracy, civil liberties, personal freedoms, and free markets. We believe in these things because we believe that liberal capitalist democracy is the superior form of social and political organization. But we sometimes lack the courage of these convictions. The collapse of the Soviet Union took us by surprise – we somehow didn’t accept the logical conclusion of our beliefs: that authoritarian rule is doomed to fail. Similarly the Arab Spring took us by surprise – we somehow didn’t understand that Arabs, like all people, want personal freedoms and individual rights, and will overthrow governments that deny them those things.
Putin’s government is unmistakably authoritarian. Putin’s people lack individual rights enforceable against the state. Putin’s Russia is doomed to fail. QED.
American partisans are just now consumed with trivialities. Putin invaded the Crimea because President Obama does not project strength. Putin invaded the Crimea because President Obama’s foreign policy is “feckless.” Putin invaded the Crimea because the U.S. and Europe have no “leverage.” Obama should do such-and-such. Europe should do so-and-so.
In retrospect, the Cold War required only two things from us: that we remain true to our liberal, capitalist, democratic ideals, and that we avoid nuclear annihilation pending the Soviet collapse. The same is true today. All that is required to “win” this “war” is to remain true to our ideals, and to minimize death and destruction while we wait for Russian authoritarianism to collapse.
By all means, we should impose on Russia whatever sanctions we can. We should make a big show of support for Ukrainian democracy and self-determination. We should rally international opposition to Russian militarism. We should condemn Russian unilateralism. But we should do all of that with the clear understanding that it will not remove Russia from the Crimea, and it will not hasten the inevitable collapse of Putinism in Russia.
Our short-term goals should be modest. It is not failure if the Crimea separates from Ukraine, even if the Crimea re-unites with Russia. It is not failure if Ukraine is not brought into the European Union or NATO. It is not failure if Ukraine learns to balance deference to its Russian neighbor with its own democratic aspirations, as Finland did with remarkable dexterity for 50 years.
Now is time for patience, for a long view. Now is the time for the courage of our convictions.
The Indiana legislature yesterday handed marriage equality advocates a big victory by voting in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Indiana is one of only four states left where same-sex marriage is banned by statute. Same-sex marriage is banned by state constitutions in 29 states, and is legal in 17 states. Indiana, like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming, has no constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage.
It’s not for lack of trying. In Indiana, an amendment to the state constitution requires approval from two separately elected legislatures, followed by public approval at the polls. Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment began in 2004. The measure finally passed in the state Senate in 2010, but the Democratic-controlled House let it die. Republicans took full control of the legislature in the 2010 elections, and the constitutional amendment passed its first legislative vote by large margins in 2011. Legislative leaders brought the amendment up again in 2014, and it passed again.
But before approving the amendment the second time, legislators modified it by deleting a sentence intended to preclude same-sex civil unions, leaving only a one-sentence ban on same-sex marriages. The amendment just approved therefore has had only one legislative approval – before it can go to the voters, it must be approved by a second, separately elected legislature. The second legislative approval can’t happen until 2015, and the voter referendum can’t happen until November 2016.
Maybe that sounds more like delay than success. But sometimes injustice delayed is injustice denied.
Approval of the stricter (no marriage, no civil unions) amendment in 2011 was by a margin of 70-26 in the House and 40-10 in the Senate. Approval of the more modest (no marriage) amendment this month was by a margin of 57-40 in the House and 32-17 in the Senate. The House has 69 Republicans and the Senate has 36 – meaning that a handful of Republicans in each house voted against even the narrower anti-gay ban.
The constitutional amendment has gained some important opposition outside the legislature as well. Major Indiana employers like Eli Lilly and Cummins joined the opposition. So did Indiana University. Even former Republican Governor Mitch Daniels expressed serious reservations.
Public opinion on the question is hard to gauge, but support for the constitutional amendment seems to be dubious. Wikipedia compiles the results of seven polls from 2011 to 2013. Four polls show statistical ties; one shows amendment supporters with a 29-point lead; and two show amendment opponents with leads of 16 and 20 percent. The rate of change in public opinion being what it has been of late, it may be that 2016 is just too late for marriage equality opponents in the Hoosier State.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas this week told a Palm Beach Atlantic University audience that Americans are more race-conscious today than in Savannah, Georgia, in the 1960s. Justice Thomas referred to being the first African-American in town to go to a previously all-white school, but “rarely did the issue of race come up.” Thomas made this assertion in the context of claiming that people are way too “sensitive” today.
The justice continued with a jab at liberals: the “absolute worst” he has ever been treated, he said, “was by northern liberal elites.”
No one who has read my writing on race will expect me to claim that northern liberal elites are prejudice-free paragons of racial equity. But worse than segregated Savannah in the 1960s? For starters, isn’t the fact that he was the very first African-American student at his school a pretty good indication of race-conscious exclusion?
New York Times columnist Charles Blow trashes Justice Thomas’s remarks beyond my poor power to add or detract. But I’m a blogger, so I’m going to add anyway.
I have no first-hand knowledge of Savannah in the 1960s, or of being African-American in any time or place. But my grandparents lived in Atlanta during the late 1950s and early 1960s. After they moved north, my grandmother told me stories about their time in Atlanta, one of which in particular burned its way into my seven- or eight-year old mind.
My grandmother told me about a time she was walking in Atlanta, and she came around a corner at the same time that an African-American man came around the corner from the other direction. They inadvertently bumped into each other and the man reflexively put his hands up to break the collision. One of his hands went to my grandmother’s shoulder.
He was instantly horrified at what he had done: he had touched a white woman, and not just a handshake, in a time and place that African-Americans did not dare look white people in the eye. My grandmother related to me in graphic detail how the man immediately began to apologize, profusely, wholly out of proportion to the event. As he apologized, he backed out into the street in extravagant deference.
To explain the man’s reaction, my grandmother had to explain to me that the man was in mortal fear, and that he had cause to be in mortal fear. Had my grandmother screamed, for instance, or had someone seen the bump, the man might have been accused, he might have been arrested, or a mob might have delivered its justice right there on the street.
So a grown man abased himself in the street, abjectly begging forgiveness, because bumping into a white woman might ruin his life, or even take it.
Of course the issue of race never came up, because people were so much less sensitive back then.
Three weeks ago, I wrote about the two same-sex marriage cases that are farthest along in the federal appeals process. One is an appeal by the state of Utah from a federal trial judge’s decision that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The appeal is in the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The other is an appeal by same-sex couples from a federal trial judge’s decision that Nevada’s same-sex marriage ban is constitutional. That appeal is in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The Nevada case was briefed first, with final briefs due by January 2, compared to the Utah case, where final briefs are not due until March 4. But the Utah case has already been scheduled for oral argument, on April 10 at a special session of the court of appeals to be held in Denver. The Nevada case has not been scheduled for argument.
There are two important developments to report. First, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals now has a second case – an appeal by the state of Oklahoma from a federal trial judge’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage. The court of appeals scheduled expedited briefing, with final briefs due by April 7, and has already scheduled oral argument, for another special session in Denver on April 17.
Recall that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Utah’s request for a stay of the trial judge’s decision pending appeal, apparently because the court of appeals did not think that Utah’s appeal is likely to succeed. The Supreme Court did grant a stay, but that presumably doesn’t change the court of appeals’ notion that Utah is unlikely to win the case.
The second development came yesterday – Nevada’s Democratic attorney general and Republican governor announced their conclusion that defense of the case is not legally viable, and their intention not to defend the appeal at oral argument. News accounts did not indicate that they withdrew Nevada’s appeal, and at this point it’s not clear how or even whether the appeal will proceed.
If the appeal does proceed, recall that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was the federal appeals court that struck down California’s Proposition 8 two years ago this month. Although the court went to lengths to tailor its decision precisely to the situation in California, I never found that effort to be convincing.
I don’t want to be overly optimistic, but I’m saying that it’s probably about 50-50 that both the ninth and tenth circuit courts of appeals will sustain same-sex marriage rights. That would legalize same-sex marriage in most of the western half of the country, adding a dozen marriage equality states to today’s 17 (plus the District of Columbia). Some states might require further litigation to get them to recognize that the decision applies to them (think Wyoming, Idaho, Kansas), but basically, the jig would be up.
Furthermore, without conflicting appellate decisions on the question of marriage equality in light of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision, the Supreme Court might well opt not to hear the inevitable appeals. I think we need to delay a Supreme Court decision only two years or so to ensure a positive result.
The light has appeared at the end of the tunnel.
Americans being an impatient people, we tend to want instant results. Worse, we tend to judge an event by its immediate aftermath. We aren’t inclined to wait and see.
Thus in many quarters the Arab Spring has been branded a failure. Violence reigns in much of the Arab Middle East, and democracy is not exactly on the march. Most Republicans, and even many Democrats, regard this state of affairs as proof of failure of American policy, specifically President Obama’s policy, and maybe also former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s policy as well.
I’m an advocate for a longer view. Short-term results matter, of course, and I was a huge fan of the NATO intervention in Libya, which enabled a rabble of Libyan militias to oust the awful dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The intervention was minimal, almost entirely limited to air support for the native Libyan ground campaign. Unlike in Afghanistan or Iraq, NATO intervention left Libya in control of Libyans, and Libyans never thought of the intervention as an occupation to be fought and ousted.
I regard the Libyan intervention as a short-term success because it freed Libyans to make their own choices about how to govern themselves. The evolution of those choices will likely take decades. I have noted that it took South Koreans fully 35 years after the end of the Korean War to evolve into the liberal, capitalist democracy that it is today. Thus I see the Korean War as a great success.
The Arab Spring bears some important similarities to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Both took both American popular opinion and the American intelligence community completely by surprise. We lacked the courage of our own convictions, that liberal capitalist democracy is the superior form of social and political organization, and that all people everywhere prefer civil liberties and self-government to the alternatives. Both had short-term results that were, at the very best, ambiguous.
Surely the collapse of the Soviet Union was a good thing – at least as good a thing as the Arab Spring, right? The Arab Spring is a toddler next to the 22-year old post-Soviet republics. So how are they doing?
Of 15 former Soviet republics, precisely three have become liberal capitalist democracies: the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Four republics have lower gross domestic product today than in 1991: Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan and Ukraine. Several republics remain quite autocratic, and two of them have had the same heads of state for the entirety of their post-Soviet existence: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have also had long-time autocratic rulers. Vladimir Putin has been either president or prime minister of Russia since 1999. Azerbaijan has fallen into a dynastic presidency, a father-son pair having held control for more than 20 years.
Outside of the Baltics, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are limited, human development is mediocre to poor, democratic practices are spotty, violence is rife and armed conflict is common.
In addition to our impatience, Americans like things to be clear-cut. We’re not good with ambiguity and nuance. But despite its ambiguous results to date, the collapse of the Soviet Union was unequivocally a good thing because it created opportunities, even if most of the former Soviet republics have yet to seize those opportunities.
The three Baltic republics have joined the European Union and NATO. Ukraine now hangs in the balance between Russia and Europe, with Europhiles seeming to gain the upper hand in recent weeks. As Ukraine goes, so Moldova will likely go – Moldova recently refused to buckle to Russian pressure imposed by a Russian ban against Moldovan wine, despite the importance of wine exports to Moldova’s economy. Georgia struggles, against odds that are heavily stacked by Russian military support for separatists in Abkhazia, to develop democratic institutions, a capitalist economy, and personal freedoms.
The arc of history is long, but it is bending toward the American ideal of liberal capitalist democracy. The Arab Spring is just three years old. Four Arab Spring countries have deposed autocratic leaders (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen). Tunisia just adopted the most progressive constitution in the Arab world, and is to date the most successful of the Arab Spring countries. Yemenis concluded a “national dialogue conference” last week with an agreement to form a federal republic, and drafting of a constitution to be done by next January. Egypt’s and Libya’s fits and starts have been well covered, both countries engaged in struggles between pro- and anti-democratic forces, both countries showing flashes of popular preference for the democratic forces, especially in the cities.
Iraqis have made some big mistakes, like preferring the less inclusive Shiite Nouri al-Maliki in the 2010 elections over the more secular, pluralistic Shiite Iyad Allawi. The governing Shiite party has succeeded in sufficiently alienating Iraq’s Sunni minority that Al Qaeda affiliates have taken root – even physically taking over the important cities of Falluja and Ramadi last month.
Still, Iraq holds to the forms of democracy, elections and all, and as long as the forms of democracy remain, there is hope for development of real democracy. A people with no democratic tradition does not transition easily from Saddam Hussein to liberal democracy. On April 30, Iraqi voters will get another chance. Maybe they will choose better this time, maybe not. (Americans should never be smug about other countries’ electoral choices, given some of ours.)
Syrians may yet rid themselves of the Assad regime. Bahraini Shiites may yet oust their minority royal Sunni masters. Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco may yet loosen the holds of their ruling families.
These are opportunities that the Arab Spring has created. Some of the opportunities will be taken, some will be wasted. But the standard for measuring success cannot be perfection. The Arab Spring is already a short-term success for the opportunities it created. I’m prepared to wait several decades to decide whether it was a long-term success.
But I am optimistic, because I believe that people everywhere, not just Americans, ultimately prefer self-government, democracy, individual rights, and free markets over the alternatives, and because I believe that people everywhere, even including Americans, ultimately prefer pluralism and tolerance over perpetual conflict and forcible suppression of those of differing ethnicity or religion.
Among the host of federal lawsuits challenging states’ exclusion of same-sex couples from the right to marry, the two farthest along are pending in the federal courts of appeals for the ninth and tenth circuits. They arise respectively from challenges to anti-marriage equality laws in Nevada and Utah.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handles federal appeals from district courts in Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals handles appeals from Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Nevada voters imposed a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2002. In 2013, the state legislature began the process of removing that constitutional ban, but that process can’t be completed before 2016. Meanwhile, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed suit in April 2012 in the Nevada federal court. Lambda represents several same-sex couples contending that the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection.
In November 2012, the federal court ruled against the plaintiffs and dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed, and the court of appeals put the case on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court cases on same-sex marriage (Hollingsworth v. Perry) and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor). Once those cases were decided late last June, the court of appeals picked up the Nevada case again. Briefing was just concluded on January 2, and oral argument has not yet been scheduled.
Utah has prohibited same-sex marriage by statute since 1995, and by voter-approved constitutional amendment since 2004. Same-sex couples who want to get married sued in Utah federal court in March 2013. The court ruled in their favor in December 2013 – the first federal court to rule on same-sex marriage in the aftermath of the two Supreme Court decisions. Both the district judge and the court of appeals refused to stay the judge’s ruling, so same-sex marriage was legal in one of our reddest states for 17 days, until the Supreme Court stayed the ruling.
During those 17 days, more than 1,300 same-sex couples got marriage licenses. Evidently the Utah sky did not fall, and a Salt Lake Tribune poll taken earlier this month found, remarkably, that Utahans are now evenly split on the issue: 48 percent favor and 48 percent oppose allowing same-sex marriage in Utah.
When the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied the stay, it ordered an “expedited” briefing schedule. “Expedited” in this case means that briefing is to be completed by February 25, 2014, with oral argument to be held some time in March.
If the tenth circuit holds oral argument in March, that may well be before oral argument in the ninth circuit’s much older case. Then it’s a race to issue decisions – which could be anywhere from a few weeks after oral argument to a more common few months.
When a court of appeals rules, the losing party has 90 days to ask the Supreme Court to review the case. My prediction is that the Supreme Court won’t want to consider same-sex marriage for at least another year or two – I have pointed out that the Court did not rule on anti-miscegenation laws until only 16 states still had them, and did not rule on anti-sodomy laws until only 14 states still had them. As of today, 33 states still prohibit same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court won’t feel real pressure to rule earlier unless the courts of appeals issue conflicting decisions. Of course there can’t be conflicting decisions until there are at least two decisions. The first two are almost certain to be the Nevada and Utah cases, from the ninth and tenth circuit courts of appeals.
Meanwhile, there are two state court cases that have reached state supreme courts, in Pennsylvania and Texas. Pennsylvania sued a county official to stop him from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples unless and until the legislature or courts invalidated Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban. Briefs were submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on December 2 and January 16.
In Texas, two same-sex couples legally married elsewhere sued to require Texas to recognize their marriages for purposes of litigating their divorce claims. The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on November 5.
State supreme court decisions that are based solely on state law cannot be appealed to the Supreme Court, so these decisions may not have effect outside of Pennsylvania and Texas. But if a state supreme court rules on federal constitutional grounds, the losing party can ask the Supreme Court to take the case.