Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Title: Frog Talk, part I

Hi Everyone, Bell Curve and Mrs Bell Curve are summering in Paris, France (and before you francofiles out there complain about the title it was Bell Curve's idea, Mr. and Mrs Bell Curve are both Franco-Americans and I don't mean that they like canned pasta). Anyway, he's having trouble posting and asked me (Raised by Republicans) to post this for him. The following are Bell Curve's impressions from France:

This is the first in a series of reports from France.

Hi everyone. Bell Curve reporting with a few random thoughts from France. Here goes:

1. Great move by the Bush administration to hand over sovereignty a few days early. Had they done it on June 30th, everyone would have talked about how it was a meaningless gesture. This takes everyone by surprise, and even here the journalists can hardly say anything negative about it.

2. The general feeling here seems to be that Kerry cannot win the election, since he doesn't have enough charisma to beat Bush. This comes from a people who badly want Kerry to win, thanks to his familial French ties, but are just terribly pessimistic about everything...remember, these are the people who brought you such life-affirming ideas as existentialism and Calvinism...

3. I don't know how much this is getting reported stateside, but Chirac does not want NATO to get involved in Iraq. I can hardly disagree with him, seeing as how Iraq is not a North Atlantic country. He also talked recently about French-American relations, which I thought was interesting: he essentially said "France and America are allies, and as allies we can disagree. We disagreed on Iraq; it now appears this was the correct decision, at least for the French people." Feel free to interpret that as you like.

More to come...


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Nader On The Issues

There has been a lot of Nader bashing among Democrats especially. But almost all of it is based on the strategic implications of Nader and Kerry both running as left of center candidates against Bush. There has been little attempt by the Democratic Party leaders to say why Nader is wrong on the issues. Here is an examination of some of Nader’s positions on important issues (I got the quotations from Nader’s website in the “Funny” section of the links to the right):

Trade: “NAFTA and the WTO makes commercial trade supreme over environmental, labor, and consumer standards and need to be replaced with open agreements that pull-up rather than pull down these standards. These forms of secret autocratic governance and their detailed rules are corporate-managed trade that puts short-term corporate profits as the priority. While global trade is a fact of life, trade policies must be open, democratic and not strip-mine environmental, social and labor standards. These latter standards should have their own international pull up treaties.”

Nader argues that NAFTA and the WTO “pull down” labor, environmental and consumer protection standards. This is the usual “race to the bottom” argument against free trade agreements. However, there is NO EVIDENCE that free trade results in a race to the bottom. In fact the evidence from the European integration experience is strongly in the opposite direction. Furthermore, Mexican trade unions have grown since the passage of NAFTA. Since NAFTA, Mexico has had its first freely contested elections and the semi-dictatorial and massively corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the election. It seems to me that the prospects for improved labor, environmental and consumer protection in Mexico are far better since NAFTA than they ever were before it. While I won't claim here that NAFTA caused these improved prospects (however I stand by my ealier posting arguing that economic diversity is a neccessary condition for democracy), I will say that this is evidence that NAFTA has not resulted in worsened conditions in Mexico.

Individual Status for Corporations: “A national debate is needed regarding the necessity to reverse the dicta in the 1886 Supreme Court Case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad that first awarded the corporation constitutional status as a person and in subsequent decision. Corporations are not human beings, they do not vote; they are artificial entities which should be subordinated to the rights of human beings There can be no equal justice under the law if General Motors or Exxon has all the rights of humans plus all the privileges and immunities to concentrate enormous power and escape responsibility in ways unavailable to the wealthiest of real people.”

Obviously, Nader is upset that corporations have disproportionate influence on American life. I must say I sympathize somewhat. However, what would his proposed solution do? Would removing the individual standing of corporations before courts help the situation or make it worse? Imagine a world in which Corporations have no standing as individuals in court. Would you be able to sue that corporation in court if it harmed you in any way? Or would you be required to prove that some individual within that corporation had harmed you? What implications would that have for the amount of damages victims of corporate negligence could get? Would Nader create a world with no more deep pockets? Also, what about the rights of corporations in a democratic society? If corporations have no individual standing in court, what protection would they have against the power of the state? Could a right wing government swoop in and harass Ben and Jerry’s because they are a progressive company? Could government authority ride roughshod over any corporation (or other collective organization) that engaged in unpopular of politically incorrect activities?

These are just two issues but they are important ones as they get to the core of Nader’s platform. I argue that there are serious, policy based reasons not to vote for Nader. He has demonstrably false assumptions about the relationship between trade and progressive politics. He has a poorly thought out view of civil liberties in the USA. We already have a President with a poor understanding of the world and a tendency to support statist solutions. Nader would be just like Bush but exchanging Post-modern leftist orthodoxy for Religious zealotry.


Canadian Election

Hey there hosers,

Canada just had an election and the results are interesting. First some background: The large majority of Canadians (and seats in the Canadian Parliament) are from Ontario. Quebec is the second largest province and its politics are heavily influenced by the Bloc Quebecois - a party with the goal of an independent, francophone nation of Quebec. Canada uses the same electoral system as the USA and UK. This tends to mean that in each district (Canadians call them ridings), seats are only contested seriously by two parties. Which two parties are competitive in any riding varies, however.

The big news is in Ontario where the ruling Liberal Party (something akin to the American Democratic party) won 75 out of 106 seats. Sounds impressive but in 2000 the Liberals won 100 out of 106 seats. In a sense, the Liberals had no where to go but down in Ontario. The Progressive Conservatives (aka "the Torries") won 24 seats and the New Democratic Party (a new left party) won 7 seats. Most press is interpreting this as a rebuke for the Liberals and especially Paul Martin, but one could also view this as the Torry party making a solid come back from an annomolous near extinction. In Quebec, Bloc Quebecois won 54 seats out of a total of 75. The Liberals won the remaining 21 seats. In 2000, the BC had 38 and the Liberals had 36. The Torries had 1 seat in Quebec in 2000 and lost it this year. In the Atlantic Provinces, the Liberals made substantial gains going from 19 seats in 2000 to 21 seats in 2004. The Torries won the remaining 7 seats in those Provinces. The Torries (who recently merged with a regional party called the Canadian Alliance) did best in the West.

Total Seats for Parliament: 308
Lib: 135
Torries: 99
BQ: 54
NDP: 19
Independent: 1

All this means that the Liberals have lost their absolute majority in Parliament. However, Prime Minister Paul Martin will continue as the head of a minority government that will count on support from one or more of the smaller parties on an issue by issue basis. In many respects, this will not matter much to the Liberals in terms of the policy they can pass. They will be able to play the Torries, BQ and NDP off against each other to good effect. Any influence the Torries and BQ will have will depend on their ability to maintain party discipline, something that can be difficult in countries with Canada's electoral system.

If any of you out - sorry - oot there have some special insight into Canadian politics feel free to share!


Monday, June 28, 2004

Numquam Silent Leges

The title of this posting is a play on the Roman maxim (inter arma silent leges) that translates as "in times of war, the laws are silent." The title means "Laws are never silent." Chief Justice Rehnquist has frequently repeated the Roman maxim since 9/11, leaving no doubt of his opinions. In the dissent to Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Justice Stevens and Scalia, the two most opposed justices apart, unite to say that this phrase has no place in the US constitution or our laws. It is a rather stunning rebuke of the administration, and of the Chief Justice. Stevens and Scalia would have overturned Hamdi's indefinite incarceration on US soil. The majority remanded the case on the grounds that he has the right to contest the factual basis of his detention (that he is an 'enemy combatant') before a neutral decisionmaker. Thus, although styled as a dissent, Stevens and Scalia were even MORE opposed to the administration. Only Justice Thomas upheld the Bush administration's position that it may hold a US citizen indefinitely, without any showing to anybody of any kind.

Liberty won today. Frankly, the re-discovery of liberty by Scalia is nothing short of a miracle. I hope I am not too melodramatic to report my own unexpected reaction to the opinion of Justices Stevens and Scalia. Unbidden to my lips came the standard liturgical response in the Anglican church to a reading from the Bible: Thanks be to God. Today is indeed a day to be grateful that there may yet be enough virtue to save this republic.

I will post more when I have had a chance to read all three of today's rulings. I invite your comments in the meantime.


A Note On Fahrenheit 911

There has been a lot of fuss about this movie. Conservative groups have tried to prevent its release and are now trying to prevent its being advertised on TV. The White House and Republican spokespeople are doing the news talk show circuit bashing the movie for being wildly inaccurate and biased. Michael Moore defends his film saying that all the facts have been checked etc. So what’s going on with this film?

I saw the film with Law Talking Guy and his fiancé over the weekend. I have a number of comments.

First, go see the movie for yourself. It’s worth seeing just on its merits as a film and will be so controversial that if you don’t see it you’ll be letting the loudest person in the room drive your point of view.

Second, most of the film is footage of people talking and speaking their minds without much prodding from Moore. In fact, much it gives the impression of a story on 60 Minutes. I noticed only one glaring inaccuracy in the facts presented in the film. In one scene in front of the Saudi Embassy, Moore makes a big deal about being rousted by uniformed Secret Service officers despite being “no where near the White House.” Having lived in Washington, D.C., I can say that it is very normal to see uniformed secret service throughout the District especially near embassies. I lived across the street from back gate of the then new Russian embassy for a year and there was often a uniformed Secret Service car parked there. What’s more, the District is so short of resources that federal agents take over many of the local police duties there. When I lived there, D.C.P.D., the Secret Service, the Capitol Hill P.D., and the Park Service patrolled the district. It should be noted however that he was definitely being harrased but it could just have easily been any cop in DC harassing him. There is no reason to see a White House conspiracy in the fact that it was Secret Service harassing him.

Third, while most of the facts are backed up and documented, the conclusions drawn are certainly open to debate. For example, Moore argues there is a close business relationship between the Bin Ladens and the Bush family. While Moore presents a fair amount of evidence to support his view, it's mostly circumstantial and wouldn't prove much in court. But politics has different rules than a court of law. How convincing you find it is up to you.

Fourth, the film starts with an account of the Florida 2000 mess but doesn't mention Broward County or hanging chads. For this reason alone I'm a HUGE fan of the movie. The real story in Florida was the thousands of African Americans who were prevented from voting in Jacksonville. But that story did not get covered by the TV media so no one realized just how Old South the Republican "Southern Strategy" really is.

If you have seen the movie, feel free to post your own impressions as comments.


Friday, June 25, 2004

One Iraqi One Vote But How To Count Them?

The Bush administration, the UN, the Europeans and John Kerry all seem to agree on one thing: A sovereign Iraq should be a democracy. But although governments, the press and everybody talks about a democratic Iraq there has been little to no public debate about one of the most important institutional details: the electoral system. Well, this blog is all about furthering knowledge through opinionated speculation so here goes…

Majoritarian Systems:
Single Member Districts (SMD): This is the electoral system used in the United States and the United Kingdom. The country is divided into local districts each of which has a single representative. Candidates compete for the single seat and the one that gets the most votes wins.
Variations on SMD: France has a variation of this system where the top two vote getters compete in a second round for the seat. Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system (STV). Under STV voters rank order their choices on the ballot. As the ballots are counted the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and his votes redistributed to the other candidates according to their second choices (repeated until someone gets over 50%). In Japan, they use the Single Non-Transferable Vote system (SNTV). This system counts votes exactly like in the SMD system used in the USA and UK but in Japan the districts have more than one representative. So instead of only the top vote getter getting a seat in the legislature, the top two, three or four get a seat.
All the majoritarian systems have similar effects. They all tend to reduce the number of parties. The SMD system does this most aggressively and the STV and SNTV system less so. Generally, the parties that remain tend to be moderate except in the most polarized societies. Because small parties and radical parties tend to be excluded from representation, supporters of those parties often resent the system and decry its illegitimacy. Ralph Nader’s supporters in the United States are a perfect example of this. There is some evidence that supporters of such parties are more likely to engage in “non-traditional” political participation such as demonstrations. In Iraq, “non-traditional” political participation may take the form of violent insurgency. One advantage for the Iraqi case is that these electoral systems don’t require organized parties!

Proportional Representation (PR): This family of electoral systems all work on the principle that a party’s share of the vote should translate into a similar share of the seats in the legislature. If 10% of the votes go for the Raving Looney Party then the Raving Looney Party gets 10% of the seats in the legislature. A common variation is to require a minimum vote share for representation. In Germany, the minimum is 5% of the vote: any party that gets less than 5% gets no seats at all. This system typically results in large numbers of parties with widely divergent ideologies. In Iraq, this type of system would probably guarantee large blocs of seats for radical Sunnis and Shia. Another problem with this system is that it needs fairly organized parties to function smoothly. Finally, it is unlikely that this system would produce a single party with more than half the seats in Iraq's legislature. That means coalition governments. That might be a good thing but coalitions are vulnerable to radical disruptions. In Weimar Germany, the NAZIs and Communists repeatedly voted together to bring down centrist governments but never voted together to establish a replacement. The result was a paralyzed political system subject to blackmail by its most radical elements. Iraq could easily go down this road.

What do you guys think?


Thursday, June 24, 2004

What The Founding Fathers Really Said (Reposting)

Hi Everyone,

Al Gore is on the speaking circuit claiming that the current administration is a "clear and present danger" to "the American experiment" (i.e. democracy). He argues that the founding fathers would be very concerned about what the Bush administration is claiming as powers inherent in the Commander-in-Chief. So I'm reposting a series of quotations from the Federalist Papers to see if Al Gore is on to something or just being partisan.

There is an enormous amount rhetoric out there - especially from conservatives - along the lines of "the Founding Fathers never intended blah blah blah." However, it is my experience when talking to conservatives who like to make these arguments that very few of them have actually read anything written by the "Founding Fathers" or the Constitution itself for that matter. Which is really strange because these guys were really prolific authors. I've been reading The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay a lot lately in relation to my own research on political institutions and here are some of my favorite quotations.

"For it is a truth which the experience of all ages has attested, that the people are always most in danger, when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion." - Federalist 25 (Hamilton)

I think the quotation above speaks to the "trust Bush, he has moral clarity" justification for greater executive power we hear from conservatives.

"This policy of supplying by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power; where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other; that the private interest of every individual, may be a centinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of supreme powers of the state." - Federalist 51 (Madison)

This quotation by Madison is my favorite of all time. Consider what Madison would think about the enormous concentration of executive power (and executive police power at that) in a single agency in the form of the Homeland Security Agency.

"Its is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers; but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: The one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority, that is, of the society itself; the other by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens, as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole, very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self appointed authority. This at best is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests, of the minority party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority." - Federalist 51 (Madison)

OK, that was a long one. But it speaks to my earlier posting (which generated so much controversy) arguing that economic diversity was a necessary condition for democracy. It also speaks to the demands by religious conservatives that all government policy reflect "traditional American values" (read conservative Evangelical values).


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Why Your High School Civics Class Was Wrong

When we were in high school, we all heard about the "separation of powers." The idea was that there were three branches of government with distinct roles and discrete powers. This characterization of US governmental structures is misleading.

Powers are not separated they overlap! The Framers intentionally devised a system in which each branch could interfere with every other branch. For example, the President is the chief executive but Congress has the authority (through its power of the purse, and power of impeachment) to monitor and constrain executive actions. Since the writing of the Constitution, this arrangement has evolved and matured into a complex network of overlapping powers. Congress has legislative, executive and judicial functions. So does the executive and so does the judiciary.

In theory neither Congress, nor President nor Court is above the law. In practice this is only guaranteed by the myriad of ways each branch interferes with the other. The "petty" politics of inter-institutional jealousy plays a vital role in guaranteeing our freedoms.

When one institution claims total supremacy over the others (as the Bush administration claims with regard to the war on terror and police powers - see posting re: torture and international law below), it is a threat to the foundations of American democracy and freedom. This sounds overstated but it is not. Many such threats have emerged over the centuries but in most cases, balance between the institutions was restored (Congress tried to dominate the Presidency post Civil War but this ended with TR; FDR tried to dominate the Court but was reigned in by Congress; McCarthy tried to ride rough shod over the executive branch and lost; Nixon expanded and abused executive power but was stopped by the Court and Congress). However, in most cases, years were required to restore the balance and repair the damage done.


International Law and Torture Memoranda

The Bush Administration, via the Ashcroft Justice Dept., has taken the following positions that are incorrect as a matter of US law: (1) The president can unilaterally suspend the Geneva convention; (2) The President, as commander in chief, is not bound by law in the prosecution of war. These two legal interpretations lead to the belief in the Bush administration that he could, if he wanted to, order torture during wartime.

Both contentions are false. True, the United States takes a "dualist" approach to international law, which means that US law supersedes international law. States with a "monist" approach (every other country outside the Anglo-American legal system) believe that international law trumps domestic law. Thus, Congress may abrogate international law if it chooses. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld this prerogative. However, the President alone may not do so, unless specifically authorized by law.

The constitution does, it is true, make the President the commander in chief of the armed forces. But nowhere in the document does it give the armed forces (or their C-in-C) the right to abrogate US law for any reason. The principle that military authority is subordinate to civilian authority is so old that it is unbelievable that the President should question it. But in the post-9/11 world, there seems no principle of law sacred anymore. The military must follow US law, and there is no exception to that.

The bottom line is that there are no "Emergency Powers" in the US Constitution. This is for good reason. It has been repeatedly observed that emergency powers tend to lead to the creation of universal emergency. This is the Bush administration's formal position as laid out before the Supreme Court in April: There is a war on terror, and the whole world, including the USA, is a battlefield, so that on this battlefield, the military is constrained by no authority. That is why they can seize Jose Padilla, a US citizen, on US soil, and hold him indefinitely without charges.

No lawyer worth his salt would ever agree with the Justice Department's stance today.


Monday, June 21, 2004

Thoughts About Polls

Hi Everyone,

Everyone is talking about the electoral horse race (see polling and other polling links on this blog). The national poll horse race is pretty tight. Some polls have Kerry ahead, some have Bush ahead or have them tied. But we should all know by now that the election is not a national popular vote contest. It is a series state by state elections. State by state results are available but you usually have to pay for them (or check out the LA Times interactive electoral vote map/calculator which gives the most recent poll results when you move your mouse over each state). But you can still guess at some things from these nationwide polls. Here are some things I've been noticing and speculating wildly about.

Bush seems to do better in polls that use "adults" or "registered voters" as opposed to "likely voters." Why is this interesting? Republicans usually do better among "likely voters." Republicans do better among those demographic groups that vote the most often (wealthy old white men). Bush support may have a critical weakness: suburbs. Suburbanites are likely voters (and how!) and they tend to be socially progressive, fiscally conservative. States like Ohio are full of them. States like Alabama have very few of them.

Second, Zogby reports a majority (53%) of respondents say it is "time for someone new" in the White House. This number has been over 50% for months. Zogby used this question to accurately predict the Gore-Bush 2000 popular vote (he's the only pollster who successfully predicted that Gore would win the popular vote).

Finally, polls reported in polling (see link) show that voters prefer a Congress controlled by the Democrats by about 50% to 40% (and some undecideds) depending on the poll. Now, this is nationwide poll and nationwide polls are even less useful for Congressional races than they are for the Presidential race. However, these results have been stable for months and may indicate a big turnout for the Democrats' base. The big caveat on this one is that Republicans have been able to redraw the Congressional districts in a lot of states to maximize their chances of winning the most seats. Also, most voters dislike Congress but like their local representative (regardless of party).


News From Florida

Hi Everyone,

CNN.Com is reporting today that Florida's Department of Health (Governor: Jeb Bush (R)) has banned the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. Without getting into the policy impact of such a ban, the political impact might be significant. Canadian drug imports are a popular cause among the elderly and the elderly are a force to be reckoned with in Florida (as long as they can figure out the ballots). According to the 2000 census, Florida (17%), Iowa (15%), Pennsylvania (15%), North Dakota (15%) and West Virginia (15%) lead the country in percentage of residents over 65. All but North Dakota are "swing states" that G.W. Bush MUST win to be reelected. The elderly vote far more than other demographic groups (the last polls I saw have Kerry leading in IA, PA, and WVA).

In another Florida related story, 11,000 ex-cons have had their voting rights returned to them. Florida is one of only six states that forbids convicted felons from voting even after they've served their time in prison. This may have an impact for a couple of reasons. First, in 2000, the real story in Florida was the thousands of - mostly African American - voters in the Jacksonville area that were turned away from the polls because they were "mistakenly" on the state's list of convicted felons without voting rights. African Americans in the state (and around the country) were outraged. There is enormous evidence that in the states where ex-cons are allowed to vote, they vote 90% for the Democrats. The second reason these 11,000 new voters may turn out to be significant is that the polls that show Florida to be a tight race, are based on previously registered and/or "likely" voters. These newly eligible (and ticked off) voters wouldn't get picked up such polls. Granted, the turn out among such voters is likely to be very low but the margin in 2000 was in the hundreds. If only 1 in ten of these new voters it could tilt the state to Kerry.

According to a month old poll reported in the LA Times interactive electoral college map (link from LA Times election coverage page) Kerry and Bush are virtually tied in Florida with 4% undecided. Zogby (see link to the right) and other pollsters argue that undecided voters mostly either vote for the challenger or don't vote (if they liked the incumbent they wouldn't be "undecided" after 4 years of watching the guy).


Friday, June 18, 2004

Iraq, the Axis of Evil, and WMD Proliferation

One of the primary justifications for invading Iraq was that Iraq was stockpiling nuclear, chemical and/or biological weapons (WMDs) and was willing to use them against the United States. Since the invasion and occupation of Iraq, it has become increasingly apparent that Iraq did not in fact have any WMD stockpiles. Unphased, the Bush administration (and its supporters) points to Lybia’s abandonment of its WMD programs as evidence that the invasion of Iraq has convinced states to abandon their WMD programs. However, two other cases seem to suggest the opposite effect. Both Iran and North Korea seem to have accelerated their WMD programs since the invasion of Iraq. Why do we observe the two different responses?

I believe two factors are at work: First, how advanced was the WMD program? How close to a deployable weapon has the program gotten at the time of the invasion of Iraq? Second, how belligerent do US intentions towards the proliferating state appear to be? How aggressive is the proliferating state’s foreign policy?

North Korea:
North Korea has several nuclear weapons right now. There is little serious talk (I hope) of a US invasion of North Korea. If the US were to invade North Korea, they would risk a nuclear attack on either South Korea or Japan (what’s Japanese for “why do they have to nuke us every time?”). Despite N. Korea’s being on the “Axis of Evil” and the presence of tens of thousands of US troops right on the N. Korean border, the US did not invade. Instead, the US is actually transferring troops out of the Korean area to Iraq. The North Korean regime could be forgiven for thinking that it was their nuclear capability that has saved them.

Iran: Iran began developing its WMD program during its war with Iraq. In that war, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran. Based solely on the Iraqi threat, Iran would be foolish NOT to develop WMDs of its own. Iran’s nuclear program is already at the stage of uranium enrichment. While the Iraqi threat is gone, the US has troops on both its eastern and western borders and naval and air forces in the Persian Gulf to the South. Finally, the US President has declared Iran to be an “evil” regime. From an Iranian point of view, the threat of US invasion must loom very large indeed. Iran has a sufficient conventional military capability to deter the US so long as its military is bogged down in Iraq. However, the US military may expand or the situation in Iraq may change. For all these reasons, Iranian military planners have strong incentives to accelerate their nuclear program in an effort to establish their own strategic deterrent before the US gets around to the next country on the “Axis of Evil.”

Libya: Libya’s WMD programs were not very far advanced. Libya seems to have developed some chemical weapons. But Libya was years and years away from a usable nuclear weapon. Given Libya’s geography (a populated coastline with thousands of square miles of uninhabited desert behind it), chemical weapons might not be all that useful. Libyan weather conditions along the coast might not be conducive to the use of chemical weapons to repel an amphibious invasion. Nuclear weapons might deter such an invasion (nukes work against naval targets better than chemical weapons). Also, Libyan relations with the West have been gradually improving for years. Libya’s Qadafi has been pushing a new strategy of trade and economic engagement centered on the creation of a pan-African trading bloc (something the US should reward). The diplomatic developments point to possible improvements between the US and Libya. To sum up, Libya’s WMD program was years away from being able to deter a US invasion while the payoffs for cooperation appeared likely.


Do Conservatives "Get" Democracy?

Hi Everyone,

Two conservative groups (at least) are pulling out all the stops to prevent Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" from being released at all in the US.

The groups are "Move America Forward" and "Citizens United" (we never joined them!). "Move America Forward" is the group that successfully pressured CBS into not broadcasting the biography of Reagan. "Citizens United" is preparing TV and Radio ads urging people not to see Moore's film.

The following quotation from the story is very telling: "Mr Bossie said: 'Look, this guy (Moore) is simply producing and advertising this movie at this time to try to affect the election.
"It seems to be left to us to make sure that the media is educated, as well as the American people are educated, as to just what they're up to.'"

Bossie obviously recognizes that Moore's movie is what constitutional lawyers would call "political speech." Nevertheless, he wants to prevent Moore from showing the film. It seems to me that this guy just doesn't get democracy on a gut level. I put it to you that this is representative of the 30% or so of voters who are solid Bush supporters who would never consider voting for anyone other than Bush.

A number of Nader supporters have told me that "there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans." They believe that there if the Democrats win the election there will be no difference. I point to statements and actions by Conservatives like those discussed above to counter that argument.

The stakes of this election are hard to overstate. Bush did not win the popular vote and his administration is eroding civil liberties at an alarming rate. Imagine if he actually wins the popular vote this time - with constituents like this Bossie guy, what "mandate" will Bush think he's got?


A Tangled Web Indeed: Putin Announcement

Hi Everyone,

No sooner does the 911 Commission announce that there is no connection between Iraq and Al Qaida then Putin (CNN story) announces that Russia had information that Iraq was planning a terror campaign against US targets throughout the world (including in the US) on its own. Putin also said that Russia told Bush this before the US invasion of Iraq and that Bush personally thanked the Russian intelligence chief. This raises a number of questions:

1) If Russia had this intelligence why did they oppose the US invasion of Iraq so strongly? If this story is true I find the Russian position (and the fact that they did not reveal this information publicly to the UN) to be reprehensible.

2) If the Bush administration had this information in the period leading up to the war, why didn't they announce it to the US public? People were clamoring for reasons to justify an invasion. The Bush administration during this period was cycling through reasons for war on a weekly basis. This would seem to be a far stronger reason to go to war than tenuous connections between Iraq and Al Qaida that even at the time, were known to be shaky (even if they were believed by many voters).

3) Why release this information now? The war is over (and Putin still says he was right to oppose it). Is Putin trying to interfere with the US election?

Putin is not a particularly reliable source. Putin has practically abolished the free press in Russia meaning that he can say pretty much anything he wants about what intelligence he's got and no one will investigate the story to verify it.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

Iraq and Al Qaida

The bi-partisan 9/11 Commission has now announced that after their review of all the information (both public and classified) there is no credible evidence of any cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaida prior to 9/11.

The Bush administration is continuing to insist that there was a link while at the same time insisting that they never said Iraq's cooperation with Al Qaida was the reason to invade Iraq. My favorite quotation from this story is "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaida, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaida." Uh, right.

Take a look at this old story from 2002 about a statement by Condaleeza Rice (remember her??). In it Rice is quoted as saying that not only was there collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaida but that Iraq trained Al Qaida in chemical warfare. Bush repeated this chemical weapons connection in his statement today - he gets both incorrect assumptions into one sentence that way.

OK, so we've got the 9/11 Commission saying there was no connection. We've got the Bush administration saying basically that the 9/11 Commission got it wrong, that there was a connection. Now, if the Bush administration had evidence supporting the Iraq-Al Qaida link they should have presented it to the Commission. If they didn't one must wonder why not. It is far more likely however that the 9/11 Commission simply didn't believe the evidence the Bush administration has been alluding to for the past two years about this.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

How Many Electoral Votes Has the Pope?

Stalin dismissed the influence of the Roman Catholic church with the famous line "How many divisions has the Pope." We tend to remember this ironically when the Polish Pope went to Warsaw and rallied his countrymen against the Soviets. Now, GWB has complained to the Vatican that US Catholic bishops aren't condemning Kerry quickly enough.

Of course, it's appalling that Bush should urge churches to tell Americans to vote for him. It's tragically comical that some RC bishops actually will urge voting for a heathen (Bush) over a Catholic (Kerry) based on the fact that Bush agrees with them on two issues (abortion and gay rights) while Kerry agrees on only four (death penalty, Iraq policy, poverty, hunger), and neither agree on contraception or divorce. It shows what I mentioned in another post, that many conservative RC bishops would rather align with a conservative heathen than a liberal member of their own flock.

Apparently Bush has also forgotten that the Vatican is an independent country and the Pope is head of state. He is urging a foreign government to take part in US elections!

Another issue, largely untouched by the media, is that the position of the Roman Catholic church is not ecumenical at all. The pope does not think Bush is going to heaven. He's a Methodist, which is to say he's not a Christian, in the pope's eyes, and is damned for all eternity unless he confesses the true faith in the one true church. On this, the Roman Catholic church is even more fixed than on abortion. In a declaration of September 2000 (Dominus Iesus) the Roman Catholic church reminded the world that there is no salvation outside of that institution, and that it is wrong to call other churches "Christian" because unless they recognize the pope they are "not a proper church." GWB may give the pope a medal, but the pope still thinks Bush is going to hell. Indeed, given that the pope claims the keys to heaven and the throne of Peter, to "bind or loose" whom he chooses (Matthew 16:17-20) the pope is putting him there.


The Nastiness of Politics

Question: Why is Modern American Politics so Vicious?

1. Before 1964, politics was about geographic and group alliances, not ideological purity. So FDR and southern racists worked together, as did Eastern Republicans and the midwestern farmers. In the 1970s and 1990s, the southern racists allied with northern republicans, while Democrats tended toward liberal ideological purity. Problem was that the "boll weevil" dems existed the "conservative dems" of the south. These "moderates" made policy and politics was "nicer." `1994 was really the watershed year that made southern conservatives vote republican. So the Republicans gained control of both houses with an alliance of southerners, northern conservatives, and northern moderates (in particular New England Republicans). Then in the late late 1990s and early 2000s (see Jim Jeffords, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee, William Weld) the Northeastern urban moderate republicans began to bolt the party. The tenuous hold of Republicans in congress has to do with the last few "moderates" in the party. The rest of the politics is: urban liberal vs. rural conservative. Battleground suburbia. It is, as Pat buchanan said, a culture war.

2. The other source of change is the end of the Cold War. Before 1990, the constant state of war moderated politics. "Politics stops at the water's edge" was a constant refrain. That consensus collapsed after the cold war. Republicans assailed Clinton's Kosovo operations. The reaction of Democratic base to the Iraq adventure surprised even Democratic legislators.

I think these two events, the re-alignment of American politics around ideology and the end of the cold war, have led to the modern contest. But there's a third issue:

3. The rise of radical right wing politics. What nobody could have foreseen in the 1980s was that Reagan would come to be viewed nostalgically by liberals as a moderate. The right-wing mix of religion and politics has poured venom on our political fights. The Economist (and Karen Armstrong a few years back) properly observed that the liberals of all religions (reform Jews, Episcopalians, "cafeteria Catholics") and the conservatives of all religions (fundamentalist "christians", mormons, Mel Gibson "Catholics", orthodox Israel-is-always-right Jews, Islamic extremists) have more in common with each other in terms of liberal or conservative world-view than they do with their own co-religionists.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

European Parliament Elections

Hi Again,

The European Union's Parliament (EP) held elections this week and the results just came out. Not many people inside Europe understand how influential this institution is and even fewer people outside Europe know it even exists. Despite its underestimated influence on legislation, voters tend to treat elections for its members as consequence free protest votes. For that reason it would be easy to over state any trends shown in this election. But let's speculate anyway, that's what blogs are for, right?

Parties on the left of the political spectrum (including Labor parties, socialist and social democratic parties as well as the Greens etc) gained seats from the last EP election in most countries (obviously new member states had 100% gains for every party) with the exceptions of Luxembourg, the U.K. (Conservatives also lost so Labour losses may be a possible anti-Blair protest), Finland. The Spanish Socialist party gained seats building on the momentum from their recent national election victory. The BBC reports that governing parties tended to lose and anti-EU parties tended to do well (see below). There was also what Europeans consider a low turnout (45% of eligible voters).

So what does all this mean? The conventional wisdom is that governing parties lose seats in the EP elections. Kind of like off year elections in the USA. Most governing parties were Conservative or otherwise right of center so an overall win for the Socialists could be just that, a win for the socialists. Or it could be a "throw the bums out vote." (for example, both major parties in the UK lost seats)

In the end, the make up of the EP doesn't effect the foreign policies of European states that much. But it MIGHT indicate the mood of voters for countries that have elections in the near future.


Fallujah, Terror Reports and Diplomats for Change

Hi Everyone,

Four items for this posting which are all related sort of. The first is about how Iraq is being handed over to radical Sunnis. The second is about how terrorism is getting worse. The third is about how diplomats and former Generals are calling for Bush's defeat in November because of all this. Finally, a comment about how Political Scientists can say "we told you so."

Defeat in Fallujah. It is unfortunate that the Bush administration has stuck with Rumsfeld minimal force approach. The latest symptom of this problem is the defeat of American policy goals in Fallujah. This is old news in the sense that the fighting stopped there a while ago. But it may not be widely known that Fallujah has turned into a de facto autonomous zone in which former Baathists (with US backing) are incapable of keeping Theocratic Sunni conservatives (Wahabi/Al Qaeda??) from running the city according to strict Islamic law. Some of the Citizens, particularly Law Talking Guy, have long predicted that sooner or later, the Bush administration would turn to former Saddam loyalists in an effort to curb Islamic radicalism. Now we are seeing that they are in fact doing that and it is not working because the US doesn't have the forces on the ground to back up the rhetoric.

The latest report on terrorism by the U.S. State Department had erroneously declared that terrorism is in decline. It turns out that the opposite is true. This has led to the Bush Administration's favorite sacrificial lamb, Collin Powell, doing the Sunday morning rounds (Tim Russert, etc) apologizing for the "screw up." It seems that the erroneous report was accident, not a blatant attempt to manufacture good news in an election year.

A group of 50 diplomats and generals from the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administration have signed a letter calling for Bush II's defeat in November. They argue that Bush has done serious damage to the security of the United States by alienating allies while making new enemies.

This isn't really shocking news either. For political scientists this is very old news in fact. As soon as the Bush administration started the march to war in Iraq, every political scientist I know - with the exception of specialists in American politics (don't know much about other countries or foreign policy) with strong partisan Republican loyalties - expressed their opposition to the idea. The consensus position among political scientists is nicely summed up in an essay by John Mersheimer (U. Chicago) and Stephan Walt (Harvard). It's very informative. The "practitioners" in the diplomatic and military communities no doubt held back out of some sense of professional propriety.


Saturday, June 12, 2004

More On Torture etc

Apparently there is an excuse for torture, or at least, that's what the US Justice Department and Department of Defense lawyers have concluded. By now the story is well circulated that government lawyers presented memos laying out an argument justifying torture in Guantonamo and other places - or at least a strategy for avoiding prosecution of US officials as war criminals.

When pressed on this issue by reporters at the G8 meeting, Bush was evasive and defensive. Repeatedly saying that he ordered American officials to abide by the law - ignoring the revelation (mentioned in the questions) that he had been given memos saying there might be a way to conduct torture without technically breaking any laws (judges have not yet ruled on whether the memos' assumptions are correct).

Now the Washington Post is reporting that Gen. Sanchez personally approved various forms abuse in the prisons in Iraq. Officers were allowed to select from a list of 32 methods. The approved methods included threatening dog bites, exposure to extreme heat and cold temperatures, putting prisoners on a bread and water diet.

So here is yet more evidence that there was a systematic strategy of torture approved at the highest levels.



Thursday, June 10, 2004

New L.A. Times Poll

If you're wondering what to do today, I suggest you check out this new L.A. Times Poll (registration required). The headline is "Voters Shift in Favor of Kerry", which is what you'd expect from the liberal L.A. Times, but the article is much more layered and interesting than that. One point that I found particularly interesting was the issue of flip-flopping. The article states, predictably, that Kerry is perceived as a flip-flopper while Bush is perceived as a strong leader. One quote:

Bush is a very strong person, and that's what we need for a president," said Harley Wilber, a machine operator in Milwaukee and a Vietnam veteran. "If we had Kerry … in there, [he] would be kind of wishy-washy."

This is to be expected, given the Bush ad campaign. However, the article goes on to say:

But for Bush, the flip side of the flip-flop charge is a deepening perception that he is too rigid: By a resounding 58% to 16%, poll respondents said the phrase "too ideological and stubborn" applied more to Bush than to Kerry.

Bill Baggett, a retired accountant in Commerce Township, Mich., said he preferred Kerry's willingness to change his mind over what he saw as Bush's intransigence. Kerry's flexibility, Baggett said, "to me is a sign of intelligence."

So which is it, America? The pussy-footer or the mule?


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Should Reagan Get Credit for "Winning the Cold War?"

Hi Everyone,

With the round the clock eulogizing of Ronald Reagan that's going on, you'd think he was the least controversial President in American history (believe me he was plenty controversial back when he was more than just a nice old man with Alzheimers). He is being credited with everything from saving the American economy to winning the Cold War. The plan seems to be nearly a week of uninterrupted Republican Party propaganda and revisionist history. I'm increasingly moved to say..."Well, there you go again."

To pick one issue for this posting: Should Reagan get credit for "Winning the Cold War?" To the extent that he was a Cold War era President, yes. But should he get more credit than any other Cold War era President or even the people of East-Central Europe? Probably not.

Strong US support for the Afghani resistance to the USSR is widely credited with sapping the Soviet military machine of its strength (and blamed for giving birth to the Taliban and Al Qaeda). But was it really Reagan's project alone? No. President Carter started the military support of the Afghans. It was also Jimmy Carter who ordered the Olympic Boycott and the embargo on grain exports to the USSR both in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Reagan is widely credited for inspiring Solidarity and other East-Central European dissident groups to resist Soviet Authority. This is possibly the most ridiculous revision of history. Central European resistance to the Soviets began almost as soon as the Red Army arrived (Stalin murdered hundreds of Polish officers during WWII for their resistance to Soviet post-war ambitions). Hungarian resistance in 1956 is well known as is the 1968 "Prague Spring." But resistance to the Soviets occurred throughout East-Central Europe and with little apparent encouragement from ANY US President. There was a spontaneous, violent uprising against the Soviets in East Germany in June, 1953. Polish resistance to the Soviets had successfully toppled two Polish Communist leaders (one in 1956, another in 1970) decades before Reagan was elected. Poland also saw a wave of national strikes and violent demonstrations in 1976. Solidarity was founded in 1980 (before Reagan took office) - hardly the first East European resistance movement. The main Czechoslovakian dissident group was called Charter '77 - not because Reagan did anything in 1977 but because of the 1975 Helsinki accords on Human Rights which the Czech government had signed and ratified through a law in 1976. Charter '77 was a dissident petition that had the goal of forcing the Czechoslovak government to abide by the Helsinki treaty it had signed but ignored. Incidentally, it was Carter - not Reagan - who pressured the Soviets on applying the Helsinki Accords faithfully.

To sum up: Reagan should share some credit - along with a number of US Presidents - for "Winning the Cold War." But the most credit should go to the people of East-Central Europe who never fully accepted Soviet rule and eventually overthrew it through repeated uprisings.

One last parting shot: In the Summer 1989 after Reagan left office, no one thought the Cold War was nearing its end. Yes, there was talk about a new detente associated with Glasnost/Perestoika but no one really believed a fundamental change was in the wind. I heard no less a foreign policy authority than Henry Kissinger say as much as a speech at Ohio State University. All this talk about Reagan "Winning the Cold War" started up well after he had left office. Reagan himself probably never believed that he had "Won" the Cold War.


Monday, June 07, 2004

Reagan Legacy

Amid the endless Reaganalia being spewed on TV and on the radio, I thought it was worth taking a moment to reflect on Reagan's legacy.

Ronald Reagan is credited with many things he did not do (ending the cold war, lowering taxes on the middle class) and is denied credit for things he did (increased the involvement of women in high government office, very little use of military force). The Reagan "legacy" is something of a mystery, I think, because of what the Republican party has done since 1994. Unlike GWB, Reagan was really a uniter, not a divider, with unparalleled levels of popular support and affection from our allies.

His foreign policy was hard to fathom. He saw communist boogeymen everywhere, but he was willing to negotiate about everything with Gorbachev. He may have hunted down the Achille Lauro terrorists, but he also retreated from terrorism in Lebanon in 1993 and had secret negotiations with terrorists in Iran. He funded the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, precursors of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and supported Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Reagan's foreign policy legacy may be this: he relentlessly steered a course from being one of two superpowers in 1981 to hegemony by 1989.

At home, he allowed Americans to quietly conclude the 1970s. To wit, the bulk of Americans viewed that Vietnam was a bad war, and that we had done enough on civil rights. Dreams of space exploration and eradicating diseases or poverty were deferred or put aside entirely. We gave up on public schools and universities. We accepted pollution, global warming, and drugs. In short, Ronald Reagan presided over the death of civic idealism. Ronald Reagan told us not to relate to the government as citizens working together, but as taxpayers working for ourselves.

I can't admire his vision, but I can acknowledge the depth of his success in achieving it.


Saturday, June 05, 2004

What Is To Be Done?

Hi Everyone,

If you don't subscribe to The Economist I strongly encourage you to start. Newsweek and Time et al are trashy tabloids by comparison. While the Economist has a clear editorial bias in favor of libertarian policies, they are open about it and usually provide evidence where others rely entirely on rhetoric. This week's issue has a number of great stories!

The first is an article commemorating the 200th anniversary of Richard Cobden. "Who's he?" you ask? None other than the founder of the British Anti-Corn Law League. The Corn Laws were a series of agricultural subsidies and price supports in 19th century Britain that increased the cost of food for British (and Irish) poor and retarded the development of potential agricultural exporters in developing countries (like the then pre-industrial USA). The article includes a tally of how much the average household in Europe, the USA and Japan are currently OVERPAYING for food each year because of agricultural subsidies and price supports. Europeans pay $646/year extra; Americans pay $366/year extra; Japanese pay $1000/year extra. The total annual amount of subsidies being paid are astounding! Europe aprx. $100 billion; USA aprx. $40 billion; Japan aprx. $44 billion!

Removing these pernicious distortions of the market would simultaneously reduce budget deficits and the cost of living the developed world. It would also lead to increased wages and profits for the agricultural sector in the developing world. Since most people in the developing world work in the agricultural sector and since most of the world's poor are agricultural workers in developing countries, this would be a huge step towards alleviating world poverty. In the United States, these terrible examples of agri-corporate-welfare mainly benefit solidly Republican (allegedly conservative, pro-capitalist) states in the South and the Great Plains. California would also get hit badly - but the parts of California that would suffer are the Republican strongholds in the Central Valley where Mexican migrants are abused and exploited while farm owners get rich off Federally subsidized irrigation projects.

There is also a Special Report on the Copenhagen Consensus. The idea was to get a group of Nobel Prize winning egg heads (and Nobel prize winners to be) and ask them what are the developed world could do that would do the most good for the developing world and the world as a whole. This project was backed by the notorious anti-environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg (presumably no relation to the boss from Office Space). However, don't throw out good ideas just because a jerk came up with them. The 8 people involved are a who's who of famous social scientists (well, famous among social scientists anyway): Robert Fogel (U. Chicago), Douglass North (Washington U., St. Louis), Vernon Smith (George Mason U.), Jagdish Bhagwati (Columbia U.), Bruno Frey (U. Zurich), Justin Yifu Lin (Beijing U.), Thomas Schelling (U. Maryland), Nancy Stokey (U. Chicago).

They came up with a list of 17 Very Good, Good, Fair and Bad projects based on a series of criteria based mostly on the cost of the project versus the benefit to society. The top project - the one that would do the most good for the least cost - is the control of HIV/AIDS. The rest of the "Very Good" projects are #2: malnutrition, #3: Opening trade and eliminating subsidies (see comments above), #4: Controlling Malaria.

The controversial part is that this group saw little profitable benefit to climate stuff like controlling greenhouse gases etc. They aren't saying we should never worry about that. They are saying we could help more people faster with less cost, by doing the "Very Good" projects first. I would add that successfully resolving any of the projects on the 17 project list would increase the resources of the world's population as a whole enabling us to afford to spend resources on the other projects.


Friday, June 04, 2004

Curious Daily News Briefing

London Times: "Pope Delivers Public Rebuke to President Bush"
Washington Post: "Pope Critical of War in Iraq"
New York Times: "Bush Meets with Pope in Vatican"
CNN: "Bush Gives Medal to Pope"
Fox News: "Bush Gives Medal to Pope"
Frankfurter Allgemeine: "Papst fordert rasche Souveränität für den Irak"
ABC News: "Bush Meets with Pope at Vatican"
Corriere della Sera: "Roma, sfila il corteo: 'No War, No Bush'"
No reports in Russian or Australian press yet.

Also from London Times (no mention in any other source):

"Two US Marines have been jailed after admitting torturing an Iraqi prisoner with electric shocks. The crimes did not take place in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison but Al Mahmudiya jail south of Baghdad. A court martial took place in mid-May but a statement was released only yesterday. Private Andrew Sting was sentenced to one year in jail and Private Jeremiah Trefney to eight months. Both will receive a bad conduct discharge."


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Oversight and Responsibility

Hi Folks,

The other political scientist (who is turning into the king of the lurkers) got in an argument with me about my earlier posting about oversight. He said that he thought I was making apologies for the Bush administration because I said the problem was a lack of oversight. I'm glad he brought it up because it forced me to clarify my own thoughts on the issue. Just one more reason why this guy needs to start posting!

OK, so here goes....

The day to day operation of our government is conducted by millions of people who never got elected by anyone. They are civil servants or military personnel. Some times they aren't even government employees but private contractors. How does a democratic government ensure that these unelected people act in accordance with the laws and wishes of the elected officials? The answer is oversight! Political appointees in the executive branch oversee the civil servants and contractors in their agencies. Congress oversees the executive branch as a whole - through committee hearings, and Congress' sole control over the national budget. The Judiciary plays an oversight role as well. Not only do judges review laws to determine their constitutionality but judges require executive branch agencies to open up their administrative practices to the public - through public bidding for contracts, publication of new rules and procedures before they take effect etc. I have argued in the past that the problems in Iraq are largely the result of the break down of oversight. My friend believes that this lets Bush et al off the hook. Here is why I believe it does not.

Executive Branch Oversight: The Defense Department has a responsibility to ensure that its employees (including the military and civilian contractors) abide by the laws of the United States. I contend that the Bush Administration has gone out of its way to ensure that its employees DO NOT abide by the laws of the United States. I contend that the torture incidents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanomo are the result of orders by Rumsfeld and other high ranking DOD appointees. Granted, there has been no smoking gun to this effect yet, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence implying that the sexual abuse of prisoners is a consistent policy across the "War on Terror." Furthermore, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to establish structures that prevent Congress and the Judiciary from exercising their oversight responsibilities. These structures include the wide spread use of private contractors that have a high turnover of employees and are also less liable to Congressional authority. There is also the moving of funds from budgets for Afghanistan to pay for operations in Iraq - ignoring the Congressional authority over the budget (more on this later).

Congressional Oversight: Congress is controlled by the Republican party. This is the most important factor when considering Congressional oversight. Although the Republican majority is narrow (especially in the Senate), the Republicans have total control over the agenda of both houses. Republicans determine what hearings get held, what investigations occur etc. Only Republicans can MAKE something happen in Congress. The Democrats (especially in the Senate) might be able to PREVENT something from happening but they can't force hearings, investigation etc. The Abu Gahrib hearings were brief and ultimately resulted in little more than a photo op. But yesterday, the Democrat's power came into play for the first time in a long long time. The Senate approved new supplementary funding for the war in Iraq but with very specific requirements about where the money should be spent, drastically curtailing Executive branch ability move money around without prior approval. This is Congress really reasserting it's oversight authority for the first time since 9/11! The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Judicial Oversight: Judicial oversight is sometimes slower. They must wait for cases to work their way up through the courts. The Padilla case for example is only now before the Supreme Court. The judiciary may eventually have a role in investigating the no-bid contracts with Halliburton et al. I imagine that someone will accuse the Bush administration of violating the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) with those contracts. The APA is the bible of American bureaucracy. The judiciary has used the APA as a launching board to force more openness in the awarding on contracts and to limit executive discretion where Congressional laws are vague.

Summing up: None of this lets the Bush administration off the hook! The Bush administration has gone out of its way to make oversight by the Judiciary and Congress very difficult. Holding prisoners in Guantanomo was intentionally done in an effort to limit judicial jurisdiction. Using outside contractors was intentionally done to make it difficult for either Congress or the Judiciary to establish who is doing what.

Finally, while there are institutional reasons why the Democratic minority can't unilaterally conduct oversight, the Democrats have been very weak in the exercise of little they can do. Why? I would argue that the Democrats have been cowed by Republican accusations of "aiding terrorists" whenever the Democrats oppose things like the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act (which dramatically reduced several avenues of oversight required by the APA) and other bills. Max Clelland lost his seat in large part because his opponent accused him of aiding and abetting terrorist by opposing the Homeland Security Act. (Perhaps one of the other "Citizens" could do a posting on these accusations and their effects).

The Executive branch is using its oversight powers to violate US laws and to prevent Congress and the Judiciary from interfering. Congressional Democrats are ineffective due to a combination of institutional weakness (minorities in both houses) and fear of being accused of treason in an election year. The Judiciary moves slowly and has yet to make a major ruling in any of this (but that is coming soon). The result: a total mess in Iraq, torture, corruption, abuse of executive authority etc.


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

One Born Every Minute

From the Los Angeles Times online today, GWB invoking WWII:
"Like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the United States. We will not forget that treachery and we will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy."

1. Which enemy? Al Qaeda? Saddam Hussein? Sheik Yaboodi? Will any Arab or Muslim do?
2. All of this is, of course, supposed to justify an upper-class tax cut and special no-bid contracts for large Republican donors?
3. Comparing one's own struggle to WWII hackneyed -- are we going to start comparing our enemies to the Nazis now?
4. Does GWB know that WWII began in Europe and the USA sat it out for 2 years?

History will surely record this as Mr. Bush's War.



Hi Everyone,

The latest episode in the comedy of errors that is the Bush administration is particularly absurd.

It seems that the primary source for two of the most important of the Neo-Cons justifications for going to war in Iraq - the presence of WMDs and the "Happy Iraqi Theory" - was a double agent for the Iranians. It is all over the press now that Chalabi passed US secrets to the Iranians. Secrets he got from an unnamed US official who let them slip to Chalabi while drunk.

So what will be the next phase of this story? I'm wondering who might have been likely to be drunk with Chalabi? It's well known that Chalabi ran in some pretty high ranking circles. Will the next story be that the White House will start covering up the story because the drunken official (who would be in danger of a very long prison term for espionage) was Feith or Wolfowitz?! Don't bet the farm that it won't be! Consider this: the Republican party claimed that extra marital fellatio is grounds for impeachment. I can't wait for the Republicans to argue that covering up for a drunken incompetent guilty of espionage is not.

Or will the next phase be that the information wasn't just flowing from the US to Iran? Was Chalabi pushing an Iranian agenda among the Neo-cons?! Gee, I wonder what possible reason the Iranians would have to want the US to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein? Could it be that the Iranians foresaw - along with everyone else with half a brain - that a post-Saddam Iraq would be fertile ground for radical political Shiism? It's clear as day that Bush et al have been played for saps. But was Chalabi the conductor or just the first violin?

OH, and by the way....NPR just reported that another batch of thousands of soldiers in Iraq who had been expecting to come home soon will have their deployment in Iraq extended.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A Screw Up, A Cop Out and a Little Honest Graft

Three big news items lately all call into question the competence and honesty of the current US administration and their closest allies in the Middle East (the Saudi Royal Family).

In a screw up that is all the more alarming for its being so predictable, the US forces in Iraq alienated the new Iraqi police force in Najaf even before they could make their first patrol. The Iraqis have simply gone home.

In a Royal Cop Out the Saudi Monarchy allowed several Al Qaeda gunmen to escape following a bloody hostage crisis in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials say the move was needed to save lives however, while they say that they know the identity and appearance of the suspects, there is no report yet of their arrest.

When Bush campaigned in 2000, he claimed he would be restoring honor and integrity to the White House - a clear jab at the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. However, it would appear that Vice President Dick Cheney is not above a little honest graft.