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, March 30, 2005

Shhhh Don't talk so loud or everyone will want one

Hi Everyone,

I just heard on MSNBC that the Pope is hooked up to a feeding tube.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Formosa Straits

Hi Everyone,

With all the plugging and unplugging going on in Florida, we may have missed an important episode in the continuing drama that is Taiwan's modern history. Last week the Chinese "legislature" (read Communist Party) declared that the People's Republic China would use military force to take control of Taiwan should the government in Taipei declare independence. Yesterday (Today?), the Taiwanese people responded with mass demonstrations protesting the PRC declaration. If self-determination means anything, Taiwan would be officially independent now. They are independent in every meaningful sense of the word. But the PRC, like most dictatorships, is far more concerned about appearance than substance.

If you are interested in a review of past troubles in this region, check out this little website.

If you would like to review the PRC's ability to successfully invade Taiwan with military force review these websites:
P.L.A.N Report By US Naval Expert

Report about the Chinese Airforce

Taiwanese Navy

Taiwanese Airforce

Taiwanese Airdefense

US 7th Fleet

When considering the credibility of China's threat to invade Taiwan consider that in June, 1944 the combined naval, air and land forces of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada (with help from small units from France, Poland, and the rest of Europe) invaded the coast of France across the English channel (a body of water similar in size to the Straits of Formosa). This attempt was made with years of preparation (including years of strategic bombing of German military production), under conditions of total air and naval supremacy, a civilian population that actively assisted the allies in the planning phase, during the invasion itself, and by disrupting counter attacks. The German army defending against the invasion was technologically spotty, a minority of units were top shelf, but most relied on horses for transport. The German army could not move during the day because of air attacks. German ammunition had a high rate of failure because of inferior production and forced labor ... and it was not an easy success.


Tom De Lay Is a Cynic

Hi Everyone,

First, happy Easter to all the believers among us.

The title of this posting shouldn't be that big a surprise to anyone. Tom De Lay has been admonished by the bipartisan ethics board in the House of Representatives on four separate cases. This is not including a case which may lead to his being indicted for fraud and illegal fundraising in Texas. But the issue that makes De Lay look so bad today comes in an article in the Sunday LA Times. The article reports that Tom De Lay's father was removed from life support at the request of this family. The elder Mr. De Lay had no living will. However, because the family was unanimous there was no legal fight and no intervention by Mr. De Lay's predecessors in the House Republican leadership. The icing on the cake is that the elder Mr. De Lay suffered his ultimately fatal injury trying to ride a home made tramway he built from a kit in his back yard. After his death, Mr. De Lay's family -- get this -- sued the manufacture of the kit! The case was based on consumer protection laws in Texas that Rep. De Lay's tort reform bills override. The case was settled out of court for a reported $250,000. My favorite parts of the article are where Rep. De Lay's spokespeople say that his father's situation was "completely different" from the Terri Shiavo case. Running a close second was where Rep. De Lay claims to have "prayed" about the situation...apparently God said, "Pull the plug and call the lawyers."

So what does this tell us about the Republican leadership?


Friday, March 25, 2005

Culture of Hypocrisy

In another shot in his struggle for "the culture of life," GWB is going to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, which will use them to kill people and threaten India. Pakistan is the country where gang-rape is considered an acceptable punishment for a woman accused of adultery.

Never think a Republican or fundamentalist "christian" is acting in good faith when they talk about "life." Same people can't wait to fire up the 'lectric chair or start wars.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Revolution in Kyrgystan etc

Hi Everyone,

Sick of hearing and reading about feeding tubes, political grand standing and vegetative states? Well how about a little revolution? This latest one is in of the countries that supported the US invasion of Afghanistan. It seems an opposition leader, Felix Kulov, was arrested by President Akayev since 2000 on charges of embezzlement (Kulov was Akayev's VP, Akayev has been President of Kyrgystan since independence). Opposition supporters have taken to the streets and there are rumors that Mr. Kulov has been freed and that President Akayev's whereabouts are unknown. There have been street fights between opposition demonstrators and Akayev loyalists. For the moment there appears to be no ethnic dimension to this. However, a region of Kyrgystan in the south west of the country is populated largely by ethnic Uzbeks with traditions of practicing a stricter form of Islam than the majority Kyrgyz. Al Qaeda is reported to be influential in Uzbek areas. Akayev blames the United States for starting riots.

In other "War on Terror" news, Ukraine is pulling its troops out of Iraq. Italy is also pulling its troops out of Iraq after US troops fired on a Italian journalist who had just been released by an insurgent group following negotiations with an Italian agent. The agent was killed in the shooting by US fire. These events got mostly missed in the media amid the rush to give the neo-cons credit for anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon (which were portrayed, not without some justification, as pro-democracy demonstrations). The Ukraine and Italy were two of the largest international troop contributers in Iraq. Unlike Spain's removal of several hundred troops, these moves involve thousands of soldiers. The bottom line is that it seems that the coalition of the willing is getting smaller and smaller.



Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Poll Numbers on Shaivo and Social Security

Hi Everyone,

We've been ranting a bit about the Shaivo case, the Bush push to end social security or at least to end both its social aspect and its security aspect, and the plan to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate. Here are some interesting poll numbers on the issues from (see link to the right). These are just highlights. You can see all the numbers at

First, the Shaivo thing since it seems to be the hot topic this week (these results are from an ABC news poll):
56% of respondents support the Florida court ruling the remove life support
78% of respondents would NOT want to be kept alive themselves if they were in Terri Shaivo's condition - count me in with the majority on that one.
60% of respondents oppose sending the case to Federal Courts
70% oppose Congressional interference
67% believe such interference is motivated by political opportunism

Fox "News" polls got similar results (but they didn't even ask about Congress etc - why ask when you know you won't like the answer)

Now for Social Security:
59% of respondents disapprove of the way Bush is handling the social security issue (Newsweek poll)
48% of respondents believe the Bush administration is just using scare tactics. 43% believe there is a crisis (Time poll)
52% of respondents oppose investing social security in stocks and bonds (Time poll)
When the pollster mentions the amount of borrowing involved in privatization, 67% oppose it (Time poll)

The Filibuster:
57% of all respondents oppose ending the filibuster. 33% of Republicans oppose ending the filibuster! (Newsweek poll)

Bush's DISapproval rating is back up to 48% (Newsweek).

These numbers suggest that the Republicans are really picking their fights unwisely. Let's hope they push it to the limit so that we can get some democracy in 2006!

What do you think?


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Schiavo Shame

As I write this, Congress is assembling to make a political statement for right-wing fundamentalists, trampling on the life of a young woman and her family in the process.

For the second time in a decade, the Republicans have disliked the outcome of Florida's law and courts, and have chosen extra-constitutional methods to overrule and federalize the case. Not, as in the 1960s, to protect civil or human rights, but rather the opposite: to deny rights to the citizens of Florida. In 2000, the Supreme Court intervened to take away the right to vote as Florida defined it, requiring all vote counting to stop in order to certify the Republican as a winner. Now, in 2005, Terri Schiavo's right to die in peace, with dignity, is being turned into a right wing political football. "Culture of life?" No. It's about overriding a woman's choices, above all.

The greater tragedy is that the issue of "advance directives" and the right to die is very complicated and not amenable to solution by slogans like 'err on the side of life." You don't have to study this issue to long to realize this. The fact that Terri Schiavo has no right to undergo a lethal but painless dose of morphine, but can only starve herself to death, shows you how messed up the debate has become. These are serious issues that require open public debate. Not midnight votes as a sop to the the so-callled Christians of the religious right.


Friday, March 18, 2005

Random Post

CNN: Iceland to vote on Fischer offer

This has nothing to do with anything, but can we stop calling Bobby Fischer "Bobby" now? It was fine when he was a 15 year-old grandmaster, but now he's a cranky 62 year-old. How about calling him Robert? Or just Rob?

Okay, I'm done.


George Kennan Dies at 101

Most of the regular posters and viewers on this blog are familiar with George Kennan. But for some new visitors he may be relatively unknown. That probably explains why the top story on was about Teri Shiavo and there was no mention on their front page about Kennan's passing (I guess the theme from Love Story doesn't fit a photo montage of the 101 year old Kennan). however has a report on the life of the accomplished diplomat, academic and two time Pulitzer Prize winner (Hurray for the BBC! May there always be an England!). NPR is also reporting on this - but they lead with the Shiavo nonsense.

Kennan began his career as a foreign service officer. While stationed in the Soviet Union in 1947, he wrote the famous "long telegram" (this was before fax machines and email). In it Kennan lays out a detailed vision of what the Soviet Union thinks its role in the world is and what the American response should be.

Kennan is associated with Realism but he played a major role in the very un-realist Marshall Plan. Kennan was an architect of the Containment doctrine as well. I would really REALLY urge Dr. Von Brawn to share his views on the late George Kennan with us on the blog!


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What Steams Me About Social Security "Reform"

Hi Everyone,

I recently had lunch with a good friend of mine, and Congress expert, from a public university in Florida (I can report his views on Jeb Bush on request). After a bit of gossip about which political scientists are at what universities etc, we started talking about social security reform.

He pointed out that if we raised the retirement age by one year it would put off the "crisis" by 17 years. At this I pointed out that the crisis is time dependent so delaying it is as good as eliminating it altogether! Think of this way. Social security is a "pay as you go" plan. That means that workers today pay for the retirements of pensioners today. The problem is that as the Baby Boomers retire, they will depend on Generation X to pay their retirement. Since there are about half as many Gen X'ers as Boomers, this is bad news for Social Security. But it is not a permanent problem! As the Boomers die and the Gen X'ers retire, the enormous Boomer Echo or Tidal Wave II will hit their peak earning years just as the number of pensioners declines sharply. So the bottom line is that the Bush administration is proposing a massive restructuring of social security that may destroy the program entirely in order to address a temporary problem caused by a fat spot in the population distribution (the Baby Boom) which will pass through the system in time. Why? I suggest it is about destroying social security for ideological reasons and very little else.

My other major beef with the social security issue is that Republicans like to claim that privatizing social security yields a "higher rate of return" than the social security trust fund. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, while it is true that the stock market is always higher today than it was 20 years ago, it is not always higher today than it was 5 or 10 years ago. What happens if you retire during a "market correction?" Also, that "higher rate of return" is not automatic or for free. The reason you get more money back at the end of an investment than you put in is because that is what compensates your for the RISK that you may not get your money back at all. Generally, the higher the rate of the return, the higher the risk. Misunderstanding this basic economic principal is what caused so many people to lose their fortunes in when the Dot-com bubble burst. People invested in "high return" internet startup investments without thinking that the the reason the returns were high was because the company was in serious danger of going bust. OK, no apply that to privatized social security accounts. Introducing risk into pension plans would be fine if you had enough money to distribute that risk across many types of investments. But if you are poor and can't distribute your investments, you are increasing your vulnerability to risk. Not a good basis for a retirement plan.

Bush probably doesn't understand the relationship between rate of return and risk for a few reasons. First, when his investments go belly up, his friends and his fathers friends bail him out... no risk! Second, empathy is not this President's strong suit. If he hasn't experienced it personally, he doesn't get it. Finally, this President is not known for his performance in the class room so even though he was almost certainly taught this principal in his Harvard MBA program, his grades indicate that he probably just slid through the class.

The Democrats are fighting hard to block the President but I haven't heard them mention the temporary nature of the looming short fall in social security. Also, I haven't heard any clear description of the relationship between "rate of return" and risk. There have been vague alarms raised about the riskiness of the stock market but no direct link between the "rate of return" and risk.

Comments? Discussion?


Friday, March 11, 2005

Torture and the Moral GOP's Reaction

Hi Everyone,

Two documents were released yesterday. In the one the US press covered most,the Pentagon released a report
clearing itself of any wrong doing in the Abu Gharib abuse scandal. The report also clears senior political appointees in the Pentagon and the White House of any wrong doing. But since the officers who put the report together were ordered not to investigate "up the chain of command" just "down the chain of command" its not surprising this investigation let Rummy and Gonzalez et al off the hook. To their credit, Democrats weren't buying it.

Unfortunately, since the Democrats are not in the majority in either house of Congress, no serious investigation will take place.
Sen. Jim Talent (R-Missouri) said, "If our guys want to poke somebody in the chest to get the name of a bomb maker so they can save the lives of Americans, I'm for it...I don't need an investigation to tell me that there was no comprehensive or systematic use of inhumane tactics by the American military, because those guys and gals just wouldn't do it." So which it GOP? Did it never happen or do you not care!? The level of moral depravity among the Republican establishment is just outrageous!

Of course most of the US press has not yet picked up on the other document that was released yesterday. These are
internal reports about prisoner abuse throughout the world that the ACLU got released through the Freedom of Information Act (the ACLU got this instead of the so called "4th Estate" because we have witnessed the death of investigative journalism in America and abroad). These reports detail patterns of abuse in numerous prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the latest outrage is the revelation that children as young as 8 to 12 years old were held at Abu Gharib. But the Pentagon promises that none of the children were abused...begging the question of whether it is a form of abuse to detain children as "enemy combatants" and house them in the same facility with adults who are being abused. In the reports, Brig. Gen. Karpinski, the commandant of Abu Gharib (who, by the way, was not interviewed for the above mentioned Pentagon report), is quoted as saying, "I don't care if we're holding 15,000 innocent civilians,...We're winning the war."

Comments? Outrage?


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Syria and Lebanon

Hi Everyone,

With all the doin's ahappenin' in Lebanon I thought it would be worth while to present a brief profile of the two countries. I got the information from the CIA World Fact Book so you know its right.

Per capita GDP = $4,800
Economic sectors = agriculture 12%; Industry 21%; Services 67%
Population below poverty line = 28%
Public Dept = 185% of GDP
Median age = 26.9
Life Expectancy = 72.35
Literacy Rate = Men 93.1%; Women 82.2%
Major ethnic/religious groups = Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite, Maronite Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant and other. There are 17 officially recognized religious communities.
Parliament seats are allocated by broad religious community = Muslims 64 seats (including Sunni 27, Shia 27, Druze 8 and Alawites 2); Christians 64 seats (including all sects, Maronites 34 seats);

Per capita GDP = $3,300
Economic sectors = agriculture 28.5%; Industry 29.4%; Services 42.1%
Population below poverty line = 20%
Public Dept = 89% of GDP
Median age = 20
Life Expectancy = 69.71
Literacy Rate = Men 89.7%; Women 64%
Major ethnic/religious groups = Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%; Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various sects) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)
Country is a military/hereditary dictatorship lead by the Asad Family who are from the Alawite minority.

Neither country has much oil. Lebanon has a surplus of water in a region with a severe shortage of water. Syria is beset by factions within the dictatorial regime. The largest Shia party in Lebanon (Hezbollah) is closely tied to Syria and Iran through ideological and financial ties.

So what do you guys think?


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A Realist Ambassador to the UN?

In its latest round of newspeak, the Bush administration is trying to sell and arch unilateralist/statist, John Bolton, as a great fit at the UN.

Bolton is on record numerous times as being a critic of the UN. What's worse, his choice of tone for his criticism was unprofessional and childish. For example, a story in the LA Times reports that Bolton once said, "The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." I'm sure there are people rotting away in Gitmo for saying similar things about any of the other tall buildings in New York or Chicago.

Bolton is a realist. That means he believes world politics is fully explained in terms of unitary, rational, power maximizing states. For example, the same LA Times story reports that "in 2000, Bolton told National Public Radio that the U.N. Security Council needed only one permanent member, the United States, 'because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.'" For more Bolton quotations see this link at the LA Times.

Realists chose that label for their theory because they intend it to make people think that anyone who disagrees with them is unrealistic or "idealistic." But their theory is actually a gross distortion of how the world real works. I've posted about that before.

Now Bolton claims that he's all for the U.N.. The man is lying when he claims that. Just like Rice is lying when she holds up Bolton as a paragon of "effective multilateralism." He has a strange combination of opposing the existence of international organizations (because they hinder US goals) while at the same time declaring them to be irrelevant. Dr. Von Brawn has great deal to say about this internal contradiction within realism and I would love it if he were to share his views on the matter with us!


Saturday, March 05, 2005

Our Loyal Allies in Pakistan

Hi Everyone,

A while back, a local Pakistani tribal council ordered the gang rape of a young woman, Muktar Mai, to punish her 12 year old brother for alegedly raping an older woman. It was later discovered that her brother was falsely accused (not that that matters for the injustice done to her). It turns out that the original rape her brother was falsely convicted of was actually committed by the same men who made up the tribal council that ordered that Ms Mai be gang raped. Human rights organizations report this kind of thing is fairly common in Pakistan (yet another example for the anti-modern/post-modern left of how there is more to traditional cultures than quaint costumes and folk dancing).

The men behind the entire affair were eventually convicted by Pakistani government authorities amid international pressure to deal with the matter. However, last week those convictions were overturned by the Punjabi provincial government. By the way, Punjab is not on the border with Afghanistan so often claimed to be ungovernable. Punjab is in the heart of the "governable" part of Pakistan.

I'm wondering how what is going on in Pakistan is distinguishable from the ex-post justifications for invading Iraq (since no WMDs have been found). I'm also wondering how the neo-con ideology of spreading democracy isn't being consistently applied in the Pakistani case. I wonder if Pakistan would be so kindly regarded in Washington if the Bush administration itself were not indifferent to the point of malign neglect with regard to women's rights at home and abroad.

Anyone have anything to add? (dis) Agree with?


Tuesday, March 01, 2005


CBC reports that Japan's space agency, JAXA, has announced plans to send robotic explorers to the Moon by 2015, to be followed by a permanent, manned lunar station by 2025. Like China, Japan's long-term plan also includes a proposal to develop reusable vehicles like the space shuttle, but Japan is still well behind. China launched its first manned spaceflight in 2003, while Japan has yet to do so. China also announced plans last year for an unmanned lunar satellite by 2007, and robotic lunar vehicles by 2010, leading up to a Chinese "taikonaut" Moon landing by 2020. Meanwhile, NASA plans to put robotic vehicles on the Moon by 2008 and to return Americans to the Moon by 2020--a date Bush announced mere weeks after China's announcement of the 2020 date.

Why the new Moon race? Alas, the answer may be simple: the world is an increasingly bellicose place, and at least for the next few decades, the Moon is the ultimate high ground. The military side of the race is not being advertised, but the clues are not hard to find. For example, CBC notes that, "In a break from its peaceful space policy, Japan began launching spy satellites in 2003." Also, when Prime Minister Martin formally rejected joining the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program last week, CBC noted that, "he insisted he would not sign a deal that put weapons in space." A curious remark, since the BMD program is supposed to be land-based. Indeed, last year, the venerable Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) called Bush's lunar proposals a "trojan horse." They argued that a Moon base was a poor choice as a stepping stone for a manned Mars mission (its stated goal)--but it would make for a fine military base. (The International Space Station, which we are abandoning, would be much more useful as a stepping stone.)

Some of the new kids on the block are interested in Space as well. A few weeks ago, Iran announced that they had reached an agreement with Russia for the first Iranian communications satellite ("Zohre" or "Venus") to be built and launched. A press release from TASS and Iran's News agency IRNA announces that, "The purpose of the first Iranian satellite will be purely civil," but at the end of the release, they note that "Tehran intends to place a second similar order with Russia within a year." The purpose of this second Iranian satellite is not specified. Iran also mentioned another satellite deal to launch a "multi-purpose" small satellite in 2006, "in close collaboration with China and Thailand." Hmm...

Want to see where proliferation is headed? No need to strain for a glimpse over the fences in North Korea. Just look up.


Updating the Bill of Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court today abolished the juvenile death penalty in a 5-4 decision. In his majority opinion, Kennedy affirmed the importance of "evolving standards" and "international opinion." Regarding evolving standards (discussed at length in the opinion) Kennedy quoted from a 1958 case (Trop v. Dulles, 356 U. S. 86, 100-101) and repeated that the Eighth Amendment, "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

Regarding international opinion, Kennedy also wrote, "It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty... The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions... It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom."

In a short concurring opinion, Stevens and Ginsburg were even more emphatic about changing standards. They wrote: "Perhaps even more important than our specific holding today is our reaffirmation of the basic principle that informs the Court’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment... If the meaning of that Amendment had been frozen when it was originally drafted, it would impose no impediment to the execution of 7-year-old children today... The evolving standards of decency that have driven our construction of this critically important part of the Bill of Rights foreclose any such reading of the Amendment. In the best tradition of the common law, the pace of that evolution is a matter for continuing debate; but that our understanding of the Constitution does change from time to time has been settled since John Marshall breathed life into its text. If great lawyers of his day--Alexander Hamilton, for example--were sitting with us today, I would expect them to join Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court."

Naturally, in his dissenting opinion, Scalia disagreed with this view of what the framers would have intended. He complained that, "'updating' the Eighth Amendment as needed, destroys stability and makes our case law an unreliable basis for the designing of laws by citizens and their representatives, and for action by public officials. The result will be to crown arbitrariness with chaos." But as in Lawrence v. Texas (striking down anti-sodomy laws), Justice Kennedy (a Reagan appointee) wrote a decision heavily laden with evidence of evolving standards of morality within the U.S. and around the world. In Kennedy's view, basic rights can change with time, and as the underlying rights evolve, the Amendments that protect them must follow. Could this be a new direction for the court? Will this, as Stevens and Ginsburg hope, be the most important aspect of this case?