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."

Monday, February 28, 2005

Democracy spreading in the Middle East

Here are two stories that are interesting for several reasons:

Lebanon's pro-Syrian PM resigns

Egypt takes step toward free elections

The first story is great news, while the second is sort of so-so ... more reforms are needed in Egypt. But hey, it's a first step. Be sure to read both articles if you haven't already.

Here's the question as concerns U.S. politics -- what will the conservative reaction to these stories be? So far it has been tempered, to say the least. If they start to trumpet this news and call it great for the world, then good. After all, our President has stated that his top foreign-policy goal is to spread democracy in the Middle East.

If, however, the reaction continues to be as tepid as it has been, then one might begin to wonder about their true motives. One could be excused for suspecting that Bush's true motives are less about freeing oppressed people and more about securing oil reserves. Or, as the Ironic Times so eloquently put it:

Last week, in a story about President Bush's goals for his second term, we quoted him as saying: “My top priority is to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.” In fact, he said: “My top priority is to spread democracy in the Middle East.” We apologize for the error.


Friday, February 25, 2005

"Culture of Life" or "Culture of Lies"

Hi Everyone,

Check out this article on about a Republican attorney general, Phil Kline, in Kansas who is conducting secret investigations of all abortions performed in his state. He CLAIMS he's investigating unreported instances of statutory rape.

Here are some of the issues that bother me about this type of investigation:

1) There is no way for legislators to monitor the potential abuse of power by the attorney general in a secret investigation.
2) The supposed justification for the investigation is a rather thin veil for ideologically motivated witch hunting.
3) Christian conservatives probably ASSUME Kline is not telling the truth about the purpose of the investigation but since only "bad people" would be hurt by the lie and since the lie is in the service of "God," it's justified.

I'm more and more interested in hearing from Law Talking Guy (and/or Seventh Sister) about the legal strategies that the Christian conservative movement is adopting to do end run attacks at abortion.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wead it and Reap

Mr. Doug Wead., a confidant of George W. Bush, recorded phone conversations with him from 1998 until he becamse President. He released some of them recently, and the NY Times has printed some excerpts. They make for fascinating, if frightening, reading.

For example, Bush admits trying pot, but won't say so publicly and mocks Gore for doing so. According to Bush, former drug users should lie about their past drug habits. It's a glimpse into the man's disregard for the value of truth, which we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

Bush: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

Bush: "Baby boomers have got to grow up and say, yeah, I may have done drugs, but instead of admitting it, say to kids, don't do them."

He also shows a surprising interest in gay issues. Before it was even on the radar screen, Bush clearly says he is opposed to same-sex marriage, which he calls a "special right" (and isn't that an Orwellian phrase?) Yet at the same time he is quite unhappy that the conservative Christians are attacking gays and is upset that the evangelicals "hate" them.

Bush: "Gay marriage, I am against that. Special rights, I am against that."

Bush: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

The scariest part is that Bush clearly believed his Presidential campaign to be a moral crusade for evangelical Christian values. Yet as his self-serving view of lying about past drug habits illustrates, Bush's belief in his own moral righteousnesse is just another example of the amazing capacity for doublethink that accompanies fundamentalism.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I love our President

Not because he's a good President or anything, but because of the way he goes about things.

Bush: Attack on Iran 'ridiculous'

After all, why would we possibly think that this administration would even dream of attacking Iran? It's not like they have a history of attacking countries in the Middle East that they have termed "evil". Plus, if the President says so, it must be true, right?

I am sick of being told that something is "ridiculous" just because the President says otherwise. We're intelligent people, give us some credit occasionally.


Right to Die

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case concerning Oregon's 1997 physician-assisted suicide law ("Death with Dignity" voter-approved referendum). Under Clinton, the Justice Dep't. did not fight it, but under Bush, Ashcroft has challenged it. The 9th Circuit upheld the law in a 2-1 decision, which has now been appealed to the Supreme Court.

At the same time, in Florida, a court has permitted a stay to expire that had prevented Michael Schiavo from having the feeding tubes removed from his brain-dead wife Terry Schiavo. Her parents, however, contend she that there is still brain function, and want her kept alive. The doctors say she is brain-dead, but the parents released a video showing what looked like Terry responding to conversation (but doctors say those were common reflexes in comatose patients). The battle has gone on for 15 years, and last year, Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law explicitly to save her life, which FL Supreme Court struck down as an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers.

So the "Right to Die" is very much in the news. Does a terminally ill patient have a right to choose to die? If so, do the States have the final say over whether assisted suicide is acceptable, or is it Federal jurisdiction? And then, within a state, can the governor or legislature overrule the courts? When the person in question is unable to communicate, and the husband (and court appointed legal guardian) contends that his wife would have wanted to die, but the parents disagree, whose wishes prevail? These are profound questions that are being tackled now by every part of government: courts, executive, legislature, state and federal levels, and the voters.

The case of Jack Kevorkian shows how the struggle between several of these branches has played out in one instance:

1990: Oakland County, MI. Charged in Michigan for murder for Oregon assisted suicide. Judge dismisses case, saying Michigan has no law against physician-assisted suicide.
1992-1996: Oakland County, MI. Judge dismisses 2 murder charges (same reason as above). Charges reinstated after Michigan bans assisted suicide. Acquitted by jury.
1993-1994: Wayne County, MI. Tried for Assisted Suicide again under new Michigan law. Acquitted by jury.
1993: Redford Township, MI. Judge throws out Michigan's ban on assisted suicide as unconstitutional.
1993: Ann Arbor, MI. Judge throws out Michigan's ban on assisted suicide as unconstitutional. Two more charges are later brought against him for other acts, but dropped after this ruling.
1996-97: Oakland County, MI. Arraigned on 10 cases of murder, but new District Atty takes over in 1997 and drops cases; he made a campaign pledge to do so and stop "wasting taxpayer money."
1997: U.S. Supreme Court rules that states may ban assisted suicide.
1998-present: Waterford Township. Arrested for 1st degree murder of Thomas Youk. Death was not by suicide machine, but direct act by Kevorkian. Convicted 1999. Serving 10-25 years. Appeals to Supreme Court have been denied.

Remarkably, Kevorkian was never convicted of the suicide-machine style assisted suicide by any jury, despite laws passed specifically to bar it. Moral generalizations regarding euthanasia fail when the specific facts of a case are known. This suggests that blanket laws are an unwise approach, but it does not suggest what would be wise.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Hey, Sailor...

There's an article in today's NY Times about gays and lesbians in the British Navy. Five years ago, the European courts ruled that the British forces could not discriminate against homosexuals anymore, and quoth the Times, "Far from effecting a cataclysmic change, the new policy appeared to be something of an anticlimax. Recently, gay men and women in the British services have lived and fought in Iraq alongside heterosexuals - and Americans - without problem, according to military officials."

Apparently, the Royal Navy has now asked Stonewall (gay rights group) to help them recruit and retain gays and lesbians. Hmm... so many jokes come to mind I don't know where to start. Well, anyhow, here's to hoping that the U.S. military can learn from this, eventually...


Friday, February 18, 2005

Creeping Coups and Cold War Chills

There's an interesting article in Al Jazeera that isn't getting any press over here, as far as I can tell: today, Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain introduced a resolution urging President George Bush to take action to suspend Russia's G8 membership. McCain said that he warned back in 2001 that there was a "creeping coup" against democracy and capitalism going on in Russia, and now he says, "the coup is no longer creeping--it is galloping." This comes ahead of a Bush-Putin summit next week. So if the Senators are right, is suspending Russia's G8 membership the right way to begin confronting the issue? If Putin is becoming a dictator, what should we do?

Meanwhile, the Russian press is not being kind to Bush at all. The front page of Pravda features an editorial that suggests that Bush and Putin are no longer pals. This is one of the most strident things I've read outside of Al Jazeera. I quote:

"Several years ago, if someone had said that a state could perpetrate an act of mass murder in which tens of thousands of civilians were butchered, invade a sovereign nation using a casus belli based upon barefaced lies and forgery of documents and whose military forces could commit acts of rape, bullying, sodomy and sexual depravity on a shocking scale and then go on to commit acts of torture, one might have wondered whether such a report came from the annals of the Inquisition or Ancient Rome. [...]

George W. Bush, his administration and the Armed Forces of the United States of America are hereby accused formally of crimes against International Humanitarian Law. Is the world going to stand by as it did in the 1930s, allowing Hitler to try to dominate the planet? Or are those people who studied law going to do something about it in the proper forums of law? How about making a 'citizens arrest' of George W. Bush if he dares to step off an aircraft anywhere outside the USA?"

Anyone feel a cold war chill coming on again?


"Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe..."

On Sunday, Feburary 20th, Spain will become the first nation to hold a referendum on the European Union's proposed Constitution. According to the BBC, opinion polls show that Spain is likely to vote Si! by a comfortable margin, even though the majority of Spaniards, "still have no idea what the constitution is about." Their vote has been scheduled first in hopes of building momentum for victories in less Europhilic nations. Assuming the Spanish referendum succeeds, the score will be: 1 down, 21 to go. (Slovenia, Lithuania and Hungary have already ratified the text by parliamentary vote.)

It seems to me that the E.U. Constitution would be a good idea, but I'm afraid I'm in the boat with most Spaniards in not knowing what it's all about. All I remember is that The Economist thought the 325-page Constitution was a particularly ugly piece of committee-work that was a real missed opportunity. A brief look at the preamble suggests that they are correct. It even includes a self-congratulatory shout-out to the authors. Here it is, in all its glory:

"His Majesty The King Of The Belgians, The President Of The Czech Republic, Her Majesty The Queen Of Denmark, The President Of The Federal Republic Of Germany, The President Of The Republic Of Estonia, The President Of The Hellenic Republic, His Majesty The King Of Spain, The President Of The French Republic, The President Of Ireland, The President Of The Italian Republic, The President Of The Republic Of Cyprus, The President Of The Republic Of Latvia, The President Of The Republic Of Lithuania, His Royal Highness The Grand Duke Of Luxembourg, The Parliament Of The Republic Of Hungary, The President Of Malta, Her Majesty The Queen Of The Netherlands, The Federal President Of The Republic Of Austria, The President Of The Republic Of Poland, The President Of The Portuguese Republic, The President Of The Republic Of Slovenia, The President Of The Slovak Republic, The President Of The Republic Of Finland, The Government Of The Kingdom Of Sweden, Her Majesty The Queen Of The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland,

Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law,

Believing that Europe, reunited after bitter experiences, intends to continue along the path of civilisation, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived; that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes to deepen the democratic and transparent nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world,

Convinced that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny,

Convinced that, thus "united in its diversity," Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope,

Determined to continue the work accomplished within the framework of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and the Treaty on European Union, by ensuring the continuity of the Community acquis,

Grateful to the members of the European Convention for having prepared the draft of this Constitution on behalf of the citizens and States of Europe,

Have designated as their plenipotentiaries:
Who, having exchanged their full powers, found in good and due form, have agreed as follows:"


Count Every Vote

Senators Kerry (D-MA), Clinton (D-NY), and Boxer (D-CA) introduced the "Count Every Vote Act" in Congress yesterday. The L.A. Times says that Senate Democrats have put Election Reform on their top 10 list. This act would:

1. Give voters the right to register and vote on Election Day
2. Make Election Day a Federal Holiday
3. Require a paper ballot for every vote cast electronically
4. Allow ex-felons to vote after they have completed their sentences
5. Require random recounts after an election
6. Provide money to study the use of the Internet for voter registration
7. Require states to come up with a plan to reduce waiting time at polling places if a "substantial number" of voters had to wait more than 90 minutes in the 2004 election.

Meanwhile, the GOP introduced their own reform measure, which would:

8. Require voters to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot
9. Establish a pilot program to use indelible ink at polling places a la Iraq.

As one would expect, Democratic reforms would make it easier to vote while Republican reforms would make it harder. Still, if taken together, they sound like a fine package, so I say let's do it all. Any objections?


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dominant and Recessive Coalitions, or a Reason for Optimism

When was the last time a Democratic Presidential candidate received a majority of the popular vote? And when was the last time a Democratic Presidential candidate carried the South? The answer to both questions is Carter in 1976. That sounds like a simple enough syllogism, and I think a lot of pundits complete it by concluding that the Democrats need to start winning the South again. But the way I see it, this is a misreading of the electoral history: the South is not the key to electoral victory. Carter’s election was a fluke. The man we should be paying attention to is LBJ.

First, Carter was running against the shattered remnants of the most disgraced administration in US history. Second, Carter’s coalition was unique: he carried the South for the first and last time since 1960, but he failed to win a majority in any state in the industrial Midwest, and he won no state West of Texas. Finally, Carter’s "majority" was negligible anyhow: a bare 50.08% of the popular vote. In fact, if Carter hadn’t eked out a 52%-48% victory in New York, he wouldn’t have won at all.

The last genuine Democratic majority was LBJ’s 1964 landslide victory over Goldwater. LBJ won 61% of the popular vote even though he lost the South to the Republicans for the first time since the Reconstruction! Some may dismiss it as just a sympathy vote for Kennedy, but I believe the margin was just too large: even if you only were to count those states that voted for LBJ by more than 62%, he still would have won.

Despite this, many pundits still see Clinton's two terms as confirmation that the Southern strategy is critical for the Democrats. But Clinton would have won both times even had he lost the South entirely. Since World War I, two coalitions have emerged: (1) the "dominant" Progressive coalition of the Pacific Coast, the Industrial Midwest, and the Liberal Northeast, and (2) the "recessive" Conservative coalition of the South and the West. Clinton's coalition was the same dominant coalition that has prevailed for nearly a century.

Since 1920, the dominant coalition has won—and would have won with or without the South—16 times. The recessive coalition has only won 4 times: 1960 (Kennedy), 1976 (Carter), and 2000-2004 (George W. Bush). Not coincidentally the "recessive" wins were also 4 of the 5 closest elections in the same time period. (There were also two oddball elections, 1948 and 1968, with strong regional independent candidates and an effective split of both coalitions.)

Thanks to George W. Bush, the Republicans are now stapled to the South, and will continue to have to hold together every state in the recessive coalition to win. Karl Rove discovered that the glue that could hold the recessive coalition together was Christian fundamentalism. But they still needed a couple of inroads into the Progressive states in order to win, and that kind of glue will not hold forever. The Democrats, by securing the dominant coalition for themselves, should be on the side of history.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A Failure to Perform My Civic Duty?

I have a feeling I failed to perform my civic duty today. But it isn't an obvious call, so I thought I'd share the story with you and see what The Citizens might think about it.

I was on my way to work this morning when a guy runs a red light and hits the side of my truck. My light had just turned green and I was pulling out into the intersection. He was moving slowly and couldn't have been going more than 5 or 10 mph when he hit me. The funny part is that I was clearly right there in front of him, and other cars were honking--and had the other guy stepped on the brakes at any time, there is no question that he could have stopped before collided with me. Unfortunately, since I was revving up from a dead stop, I had no time to move out of his way, so I just braked to ensure he only hit the very front of my truck instead the middle.

So I signal to him, and we both pull into a nearby parking lot. We both get out of our vehicles to inspect my truck... and the first thing I notice is that there's something weird about his mouth. There's a green paste around it, maybe a medicine of some kind. But there is no damage to my car as far as I can tell--clearly, he just hit my wheel with his (low) bumper. I am thinking that I'd like to just forget about it, but trying to be cautious, I say we should exchange information anyhow, just in case. He is nice enough and offers to give me his phone number, but he admits to me that he doesn't have insurance. This annoys me, and we talk about it for a minute or so, but the guy's car is old and poor, and I figure he just can't afford the insurance, so I feel a little bad for him. And since there's no damage anyhow, I decide to just leave it be. We shake hands and then we both head back to our vehicles.

But as soon as I turn around, there's an unmarked cop car that has pulled up right behind me, with two police officers inside. The young officer in the passenger's seat has his door half open and asks me if I smelled any alcohol on the guys' breath. I answered honestly that I had not. The cops say nothing, but watch the other guy climb into his car and begin to drive away. Although I cannot put my finger on it, I sensed that the cops wanted me to say "yes."

At that moment, as the other guy started driving off, I thought about mentioning that the guy told me he didn't have insurance. I thought about mentioning that there was something funny around the guys' mouth. After all, the guy had been driving funny and maybe he was on drugs or something. Maybe the cops had been following him, knowing he was a public menace, and just needed some excuse to stop him? I seriously considered lying and saying I thought I'd smelled something. But instead of any of that, I stayed silent and I did not volunteer any more information about my fellow citizen. So the cops in the unmarked car drove off when the other guy did, looking to me like they were following the guy.

As I resumed driving to work, I wondered if I had done the right thing. After all, the man was uninsured, had been driving funny, and the cops clearly thought there was a problem. Did I do the right thing by telling the truth and not ratting on the man about his lack of insurance? Or did I just allow my instincts to be "nice" and not get "involved" to override my civic duty to help the police investigate a dangerous driver? In retrospect, I think I may have failed in my civic duty. I keep thinking how bad I would feel if I read in the local paper some weeks from now that this man caused a serious accident that hurt someone. What would you have done?


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Guerrilla Legislative Tactics

There are threats that Republicans may try to declare filibusters unconstitutional in this new term. Called the 'nuclear option' by some, it has never been done. The declaration would be by simple majority vote, i.e., just 51. The result, as Democrats have pledged to a man (except possibly for Ben Nelson and Lieberman, who had cojonectomies a while back) will result in chaos. Here's one tactic that may be used:

This is taken from the US Senate's official website.

"Recent news stories describing members of the Texas senate fleeing to New Mexico to avoid being counted for a quorum bring to mind traditions of “quorum busting” within the U.S. Senate.
The framers of the Constitution sought to prevent such behavior by providing that a minority of members may “compel” absent colleagues to attend. But the Constitution leaves it up to each chamber to determine precisely how.
For its first eighty years, the ever-collegial Senate adopted no rules to enforce attendance. It simply provided that no member may be absent without the Senate’s permission and that the sergeant at arms could be sent to round up missing members, without actually arresting them. As one senator explained, “It has always been supposed that a Senator acting upon his honor would report himself when his attendance was requested.”
In 1877, in response to proliferating filibusters that employed tactics designed to keep the Senate from attaining the 51 percent quorum needed to conduct business, the body amended its rules to allow the sergeant at arms, upon receiving Senate orders, to arrest members.
But what happened if senators, sitting in the chamber, responded to a quorum call and then refused to vote on the legislation before them? During a major filibuster in October 1893, senators demanded the yeas and nays for a vote, but then remained silent when the clerk called their names. The presiding officer announced that the necessary majority had not voted, even though there were enough senators in the chamber to make a quorum. When that officer again ordered the clerk to call the roll to determine if a quorum was present, a majority of members answered. But when the roll-call on the pending measure was then taken, the filibusterers declined to vote. In one frustrating forty-hour-long session, this tactic produced thirty-nine quorum calls, but only four votes.
Four years later, in 1897, the Senate agreed to a procedure that basically ended this delaying game. This prompted a return to the tactic staying away from the chamber.
Over the following decades, the Senate occasionally directed its sergeant at arms to arrest members. But the first openly physical act of compulsion did not occur until 1988. On February 24, 1988, in an attempt to establish a quorum on a campaign finance reform bill, Capitol police carried Oregon Republican Senator Robert Packwood into the chamber feet first at 1:17 a.m."

Let them drag in Harry Reid by his feet as he swears to defend Social Security. Let them wrestle nine Democratic women as they shout about defending Social Security. Let them do a perp walk with Obama for all the black churches that supposedly are warming to Bush. Let them try to get Mikulski at all.

The Senate has many other tactics of note. The anonymous hold is one. A senator notifies his party's leader that he intends to object to bringing a bill to the floor. Because the Senate proceeds by unanimous consent so often in adopting voting schedules, this effectively prevents any vote. If Republicans try to destroy the Senate and its two centuries of tradition to get their legislation through, a solid Democratic opposition will win the public relations game.


Monday, February 14, 2005

But At Least They're Reverent

Some of you may have heard by now that the Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America is being investigated by the FBI for fraudulently inflating membership roles (especially African American membership) to solicit greater charity donations.

I am an Eagle Scout. My involvement in scouting was one of the best things about my youth. I was also the Senior Patrol Leader of my troop (the most senior position held in the troop by a boy and in my troop, the office that ran all the day to day operations of the troop). Our troop was self consciously non-partisan in a heavily Republican neighborhood. As Senior Patrol Leader, I tried to see that scouts from our troop were not subjected to political indoctrination.

I am disgusted by the direction that the Christian conservative movement has taken scouting since completely taking the national organization over in the late 1980s and 1990s. Christian conservatives from the South combined with massively disproportionate representation of Mormons to transform a non-partisan, ecumenical and relatively multi-cultural youth movement into the quasi-official youth organization of the Religious Right. These groups have always been heavily represented in scouting but it is only recently that they have asserted their control over the national organization. Tolerant troops do still exist but they have little influence on national BSA policy.

The Scout Law is as follows: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent." The Alabama Council has reduced this to "A Scout is thrifty and reverent."

But George W. Brutus says the Boy Scouts are examples for us all...and Brutus is an honorable man.


Institutional Choice and the Iraqi Election Results

Hi Everyone,

The election results are starting to come out of Iraq. Now is the time to start looking at the institutional choices imposed on the recent Iraqi elections by the Bush administration and how they led to the current make up of the Iraqi constitutional assembly.

For over a year, critics of the Bush administration and even some of their supporters have warned that the worst thing for Iraq would be for the constitutional assembly to not include all the major groups in Iraq. The reasoning is that if one of the major groups is excluded from the process of building the constitution then the government that results from that new constitution will not be seen as legitimate by the excluded group. Such a situation would be a recipe for disaster.

The Bush administration chose to base the Iraqi elections on proportional representation (PR) with the votes counted in one big national district. In of itself, the PR system is not likely to have been a problem. But by counting all the votes in a single national district, the Bush administration set the stage for the disenfranchisement of the Sunnis. Here is the reasoning:

1) Violence in the Sunni areas has been far higher than in any other region of the country. US troops have been incapable of establishing order in that region. Despite calls for more troops, the US force levels have remained far below the levels said to have been necessary by many of the military experts mentioned in Dr. Strangelove's recent posting. The violence in the Sunni areas is so great that few were expecting good voting turnout there. In the end, the turnout in Anbar Province (the largest Sunni province) was only 2%. Turnout in the other provinces with large Sunni populations ranged from 17% to 34%. Baghdad's turnout was 48%. Turnout in the Shiite areas ranged from 61% to 73%. Turnout in the Kurdish areas ranged from 80% to 84%.

2) By counting the votes in one big district, the already minority Sunni community was made to appear even smaller by their disproportionately low turnout. The result is that there is virtually no Sunni representation in the Iraqi constitutional assembly. Shiite parties gained 48% of the vote. Kurdish parties gained 26%. The interim government/exile bloc got 14%. All other parties (including all Sunni based parties) got only 12%.

3) If instead of having a national district, the PR vote had been calculated by province, the low turnout in Sunni provinces would only have disenfranchised those factions that did not turnout. There would still have been Sunni representation in the assembly. Consider the following example. If only 2% of Texans vote, Texans still get two Senators and 32 representatives in the House. But if the US used one big national electoral district such a low turnout in Texas would make one of the most populous and important states in the country appear trivial in its significance.

So, while it was arguably not the Bush administration's fault that Sunni turnout was as low as it was (although this will spark debates about troop strength, tactics etc), it was certainly the Bush administration's fault that such a low turnout had the effect that it did.

Now the Kurdish leaders are calling for inclusion of Sunnis in the assembly despite the election results. Kurds probably see the Sunnis as potential allies to balance the Shiite bloc. We will see if Kurds succeed in bringing Sunnis into the process despite the institutional bias against them established by the Bush electoral system.

Comments? Discussion?


Friday, February 11, 2005

North Korea

Can someone please explain all this mess to me?

North Korea has nuclear weapons. We want North Korea to disarm. North Korea wants to have bilateral talks with us. We don't want to.


What possible harm could there be in having bilateral talks with North Korea? Are we afraid that they're such good negotiators that we're going to agree to something we don't want? (Them: We'll get rid of two of our nukes and in return, you can either have the washer-dryer combo or the contents of ... this box! Us: The box! The box!) Isn't the point to do everything possible to stop what Bush himself admits is the biggest threat to security -- nuclear proliferation?

And, then, what the heck is up with North Korea? What possible good can come out of announcing to the world you have nuclear weapons and then trying to get bilateral talks with us, even though

A fourth round of talks did not take place in September when North Korea refused to attend, citing what it called a "hostile" U.S. policy.


Pyongyang also lashed out at Bush's inaugural speech in which he emphasized the effort to spread freedom, calling it an "untamed fire" that "will reach the darkest corners of our world."

North Korea called the effort a diabolical U.S. scheme to turn the world into "a sea of war flames."

I don't think they want to have these meetings to ask us to marry them, if you catch my drift. So can someone please explain these goings-on to a confused layman?


Howard Dean Redux

From today's Washington Post:
"The real message of my campaign was stand up for what you believe in and pursue the politics of conviction," Dean said. "That's frankly why George Bush was successful, because he gave the appearance that he had some deep-seated convictions. If you want to excite people in politics . . . you've got to be a party of convictions."

That's why Dean is a good leader for the Democratic party. The problem is not (anymore) money or seeming too liberal. It's seeming to stand for nothing at all. It's not being able to call out the Republicans from a solid place. If he does his job, the 2008 nominee will have an energized party with a solid message able to (1) ride the Republicans hard for their broken promises and (2) show that Republicans' "message" and "convictions" are too far to the right for the American people, and (3) show the American people that the Democrats represent their real values.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

And Then There Were Eight

North Korea announced publicly last night that it has developed nuclear weapons. They pulled out of the six-party talks. The U.S. estimates they may have 8 bombs. Right now, they can't put them on a missile. North Korea claims that the belligerence of the Bush Administration forced their hand. I tend to agree.

It is difficult to see how not having a nuclear arsenal would be preferable for North Korea--and that's the problem. If the U.S. had provided sufficient incentives and guarantees, or conversely sufficient threats, that could have tipped the balance in favor of not having nukes. But by pursuing both strategies half-way, we have found ourselves in the worst of worlds.

This is yet another dramatic failure of leadership from the Bush Administration. They abandoned Clinton's approach and let North Korea fester. They refused direct talks. They called them names but made it clear they weren't about to go to war. They assumed that North Korea was somehow being a "bad actor" by wanting nuclear weapons, ignoring the right to self-defense--even pre-emptive self-defense!--that Bush so vocally advocates for himself.

The Nuclear Club now contains eight acknowledged members: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Israel has it but won't admit it. Iran may have it soon, if they don't already. South Africa used to have it, but got rid of it. Japan has a somewhat suspicious nuclear program using unnecessary "fast breeder" reactors. And South Korea has been caught peforming unusual experiments. As Tom Lehrer asked, "Who's Next?"


With our recent posting about realism I thought it would be appropriate to repost the first thing ever posted on this blog. I originally posted this entry on April 11th, 2004.

Here is it is:
"Is All Terrorism State Sponsored?"

This is a rarely expressed but vitally important question in this election year. The Bush administration’s answer to this question is the link between 9/11 and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Bush administration wants to sell G.W. Bush as the great leader who guided us through the unimaginable of 9/11 and then led us to victory after victory in the "War on Terrorism."

Many on the left casually suggest that George Bush II invade Iraq to finish the job left unfinished by George Bush I and to avenge the attempt on George Bush I’s life. However, I believe that such accusations do not give the current administration enough credit for honest intentions - at least with respect to the "War on Terrorism." I believe that however misguided their foreign policy may be, it is based on a broad world view rather personal grudges.

Realism: A State Centric World View

The Bush administration’s foreign policy clique - variously called The Chickenhawks, The Vulcans, or the Neo-Cons - are adherents of a theory of international relations known as "realism" (in this usage, not the opposite of naivete or idealism). Realism is based on three major assumptions. 1) States (like the USA, France or Iraq) are the dominant influences on world affairs. 2) States make decisions as "unitary actors" that is, they make decisions as if they were single individuals. For example, it makes sense under this assumption to say "France wants XYZ" or "The United States wants ABC" without much consideration of internal conflicts within the governments or societies in those countries. 3) States seek to increase their power relative to other states in the most efficient way available.

In this view of world politics, non-state actors like the UN, Multi-national corporations, Non-governmental Originations (like Red Cross, Amnesty International etc) play only a supplemental role and in most cases are either irrelevant or tools of some powerful nation-state. This applies to terrorist groups as well. From the realists’ perspective, in order for Al Qaeda to be a threat to the United States of the first order, it must be a sponsored tool of some powerful government. According to this view, most effective way to stop terrorism is to wage war against the states that sponsor it. Attacking the terrorists themselves is treating the symptom. Attacking Iraq, and other states, is getting to the root of the problem.

This world view may have encouraged Bush administration officials to believe any report - no matter how incredible - of a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda’s attack on 9/11. In the realist world view, it is inconceivable that such a complex, coordinated and effective attack could be carried off without the full support of a foreign government. Of all the governments in the world that would have had a motive to support such an attack, Iraq stood out as the most likely. Richard Clarke’s report that G.W. Bush strongly pressed him to find a connection between Iraq and the World Trade Center attacks is consistent with the idea that Bush was influenced by the realist viewpoint.

The bottom line is that for the Bush administration the "War on Terror" is mainly a series of conventional wars against nation states. The U.S. will invade a succession of "rogue states" until all states recognize the perils of sponsoring terrorism.

An Alternative Viewpoint:

This state-centric view of the world is at odds with an increasingly accepted alternative view based more on economic activity and individual (rather than national) interests. According to this more individual centered view, there is no such thing as a "national interest." Every policy a national government adopts results in gains and losses for every individual citizen. Few policies make everyone better off without costs. For that reason, understanding a country’s foreign policy requires understanding the personal interests of its leaders and their key supporters. This alternative view also argues that organizations of individuals other than national governments can have enormous influence on world affairs. Those who ascribe to this view would ask, "which is more influential on the world stage, North Korea with world’s the 3rd largest army or a large multinational corporation, like General Electric, Siemens or Mitsubishi?"

In this individualistic view Al Qaeda is the violent, murderous version of a multinational business cartel.

In this view, waging war against nation-states in the traditional sense of massive military invasions is not going to address the problem. Even if non-governmental actors, like multi-national corporations or terrorist groups, benefit the protection of nation-states, they exist separately from those governments. That is, non-governmental actors can survive and even thrive despite the total defeat of sympathetic rogue states.

Applied to Al Qaeda this view suggests that Al Qaeda could continue to exist and be an effective threat to the United States despite the conquest and occupation of any number of "rogue states". Al Qaeda’s function depends on its leaders’ ability to communicate amongst themselves and their ability to raise and spend money. None of these basic functions depends on the power of a rogue state's government. Conquering the territory upon which Al Qaeda erected their training camps does nothing more (or less) than evict the terrorists and force them to find new homes. It does not eliminate the basic problem, that a loose network of people with murder on their minds can kill people by the thousands. Remember, the Oklahoma City bombing killed hundreds of people and was pulled off by a couple of right-wing extremists working out of a garage in Michigan!

The bottom line in this view is that the "War on Terror" should be more like the "War on Drugs" or the "War on Poverty" than a conventional war between nations. This is not to say that no military action is necessary at all. However, it does mean that full scale invasions and long term occupations are likely to be ineffective and very costly.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Bush's FY2006 federal budget would increase military spending another 4.8% to $419 Billion—a net 41% increase in military spending since he took office. But this comparatively modest increase masks a quiet revolution ("transformation") underway in the US military.

In the mid-1990s, the Pentagon began to believe that the most significant challenge facing the US military was not the end of the Cold War, but the dawn of the information age. (The reduction in active divisions from 18 to 10 may have inspired this line of thinking.) As the internet had given rise to the "new economy," so military experts thought computers networks should be able to "transform" the military: wars would be won or lost by the flow of information, not of bullets.

Gen. Shinseki seized upon this in the late-1990s. The Stryker Brigades are his brainchild, an intermediary step between the "legacy" force and his ultimate force objective, which he labeled--in a triumph of tautological taxonomy--the "objective force." (It now goes by the name "Future Force," which suggests to some that it may never actually arrive.) He pushed hard to create momentum within the Army to do this before he was due to retire, but he ran afoul of Rumsfeld.

When Rumsfeld first took over, he wanted to cut the Army to 8 divisions. He canceled programs viewed as legacies of the Cold War, including ones like Comanche and Crusader previously thought sacrosanct. He was so unpopular with the military before 9/11 that many thought he would soon be fired. Rumsfeld’s vision was also of a light, nimble force that could be deployed rapidly anywhere, and Gen. Shinseki agreed, but wanted to maintain heavy forces too.

Things came to a head over the war in Iraq. While Rumsfeld was saying the US could fight the war with a "small footprint" of modernized forces, Shinseki famously told Congress it would take sustained deployment of 200,000 troops. Thus began Rumsfeld’s purge of the Army. Shinseki’s retirement was hastened (as were those of his protégés) and Rumsfeld replaced him with Gen. Schoomaker of the Special Forces Command (not the mainstream Army). When Bush’s first Secretary of the Army resigned (Enron ties), Rusmfeld replaced him with a former Admiral (and you can imagine how much the Army loved that).

Now Iraq has become a budgetary bonanza for the Army. Those pushing for transformation cite the success of the major combat phase, while those in favor of traditional forces cite the subsequent stability and support operations. The result? The Army will get both. The new budget shifts at least $25 Billion to the Army; the $100 Billion Future Combat System (the heart of the Future Force) is being accelerated; and Rumsfeld now wants to add 30,000+ active troops. Meanwhile, the Navy is losing submarines and an aircraft carrier; the Marine’s new expeditionary equipment is being postponed; and there are cuts in aircraft orders.

Like Shinseki, Rumsfeld wants to create momentum for transformation before it’s his time to go. The massive investments in technology will surely improve our military forces… but will they improve national security? Is this the right transformation for the post-9/11 world? More federal dollars may be spent on this transformation than on any other new initiative enacted so far except the prescription drug plan, and nobody is debating it.


More Onion

Well, it's been a long time since I've posted anything, and since I have nothing interesting to say these days, I'll just give you this little snippet from The Onion:

Bush Defends Deny-Side Economics

WASHINGTON, DC—Fielding questions from reporters at a Tuesday press conference, President Bush defended his adherence to the principles of deny-side economics. "Nope," the president said. "I keep hearing people say that the U.S. economy is troubled, but that isn't true. Our economy is strong. We just have to keep on doing what we're doing, and everything will work out." Leading economists say they are curious to see whether the president's optimism will trickle down into the public consciousness.

Does bashing this administration's ostrich-like tendencies ever get old? It's sad that I have to be asking that question ... since it means I've resigned myself to the fact that they will never change.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Realism and the Middle East

Today, we saw Arafat's death turned into political capital for peace: the meeting at Sharm-el-Sheikh and a cease fire. This is an interesting moment for realism. Realism posits that interests, not personalities, dictate matters of war and peace. Similarly, it posits that internal politics do not dictate foreign policy on big questions. If Arafat's death is the event that causes peace to break out, not a change in underlying interests, it strongly suggests that either Arafat's personality or Abbas' political position are the most important causes behind the peace settlement, not the classic combo of power and interest that realists rely on.

This also means that realists expect the current 'peace initiative' to fail unless there is a more fundamental change elsewhere. Realists in the administration, caught between a theoretical rock and a practical hard place, are reduced to pure fabrication: they claim that the overthrow of Saddam in Iraq and US success in erecting democracy there is the "real cause" of peace. In the modern world, the middle east is where theory hits the road.


Schwarzenegger Redistricting Plan

Hi Everyone,

Recently we got into a heated debate about redistricting that centered on the possibility, feasibility, and advisability of non-partisan solutions to the apparent absurdity that is the American electoral districting process. I almost hesitate to bring this all up again but its becoming a major issue in California politics right now so in interests of keeping the blog current I'll bring it up again. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (hereafter "A.S.") is proposing to overhaul the method we currently use to draw electoral districts in California. Right now, it is done by the majority vote of the State Legislature. A.S. proposes turning the process over to a non-partisan committee of "retired judges." This is very similar to some of the alternatives mentioned by Dr. Strangelove in the aforementioned debate.

A.S. does not specify how the committee will be selected or why "retired judges" should be less partisan than anyone else. That's key because LTG has told me that there is a significant conservative bias in the judiciary - especially at the local level - because so many judges are former prosecutors. But forget all that for a moment. Assume for now that they will draw districts in a completely non-partisan way. That districts will not be tortured shapes designed to preserve partisan or racial majorities. Rather they will draw "rational" boundaries that look more "reasonable" on a map. Perhaps corresponding to township or zip code boundaries something that ignore partisan concerns entirely.

The L.A. Timesis reporting that the Republicans in the California Congressional delegation are opposed to the A.S. plan because they see it as a partisan attack on conservatives. See, if the new "non-partisan" redistricting process goes through, the tortured boundaries that ensure safe seats for Republicans (and Democrats) will be replaced by boundaries that include broader and presumably more random cross sections of the ideological landscape. Since ideology is closely associated with class, occupation and - this is key - geography, redrawing the boundaries could create more districts where neither party is really at an advantage. That would tend to favor centrist candidates of both parties. So the conservative dominated Republican leadership in California fears that A.S. is proposing this new plan in an effort to take over the party and change its ideology rather than out of any true spirit of non-partisanship. Given the uneasy relationship between A.S. and the conservative wing of his party, this fear is probably justified.

I'm just to the left of being centrist so I don't mind such a plan all that much (I'd be willing, reluctantly, to trade away the left of wing of the Democratic party if it meant being saved from the scourge of the far right). But there are many on the left wing of the Democratic party and the right wing of the Republican party who would scream bloody murder over such a plan - and are warming up for it already. And who is to say that they don't have a right to call this a partisan plan? It's a centrist partisan plan but centrists can be partisan too - they just tend to riot less.

The reason I bring this up is because this example shows that even if you assume honestly non-partisan boundary selection, the boundaries can have partisan implications. Partisan politics is unavoidable when it comes to institutional design.


Monday, February 07, 2005


On Friday, an appeals court in New York City made gay marriage legal there. While pledging on the one hand that he will lobby the New York State legislature to codify gay marriage, the Republican mayor (facing a primary challenge this September) is still going to appeal the court's ruling. It may be a long time before it gets resolved, of course, but I wonder... will this help the fight for gay rights, or will it be another inflammatory court decision that makes the passage of an anti-gay-marriage amendment more likely?


The Art of Fake Budgeting

Bush's new $2.6 trillion federal budget is a masterpiece of misdirection. He says he makes hard choices and projects that he can cut the defecit in half by the time he leaves office, but the truth is that he and his cronies are looting the treasury and will do nothing to help the defecit. Here's a few reasons why.

1. The cuts he proposes this year for social programs, while painfully large percentage-wise for some of the smaller programs, would only amount to $15-$20 billion. Meanwhile, his increases in military spending more than offset that. Just like in previous years, all the painful cuts are scheduled for future years--and these cuts aren't going to materialize either. For example, Bush's 2004 budget slashed 65 programs to save $4.8 billion, but when the ink dried, his Republican friends in Congress only cut $200 million. To make his fuzzy math work out right, Bush makes unrealistic cuts that he knows full well will be restored by Congress. Why else would he target after-school programs to keep kids off drugs?

2. Despite the increases in military spending, the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not included. A "supplemental" $80 billion will be added later. The cost of rolling back the alternative minimum tax, averaging $50 billion per year for the next 10 years is not included either, nor is any of the projected $3 trillion in "transitional costs" that his proposal to raid the Social Security trust fund (excuse me, "privatize") would incur.

3. The budget projections rely on very optimistic forcasts for economic growth and tax revenue increases, requiring economic growth of 3-4% every year, even though the only year in Bush's term that has seen that high a GDP is 2004. Furthermore, most of this presumed economic growth would go to the richest Americans, and yet despite the fact he has cut their taxes, Bush is still relying on the same formula linking tax revenue to GDP from the 1990s for his forecasts.

4. Did I mention that the pledge to "cut in half" the defecit refers to the projected estimate of the defecit for FY2004, not the real one? The projection was for a defecit $109 billion worse than materialized, thanks to unexpectedly good economic growth (a growth rate that is now apparently taken for granted). Oh, and the dollar value won't be cut in half, not even in real dollars. Read the fine print: Bush means "cut in half" with respect to the size of the economy (which he projects will grow at a brisk 3-4% per year). Thus we see how FY2004's $422 billion defecit can be "cut by more than half" and still be over $250 billion in FY2008.

Yes, his budget is a masterpiece of lies, damned lies, and statistics--and sometimes, all three once! Meanwhile, regardless of the math, our defecits keep compounding and the total Federal Debt has now surpassed $6 trillion. By way of comparison, our GDP is at $12 trillion. So my question is: to whom do we owe half our country?


Saturday, February 05, 2005

George Bush and the Ownership Society

OK, so what's this about an ownership society? Is it a new idea? What kinds of effects might it have?

When George W. Bush talks about the "Ownership Society." He's make a rhetorical allusion to Johnson's "Great Society." He's trying to frame (gag, I hate that term) the issue as a juxtaposition between a "paternalistic" welfare state to a kind of inclusive capitalist utopia where everyone controls their own destiny. Removing social security is the biggest part of it. So really, this isn't so much an attack on the "Great Society" (which has mostly already fallen victim to the Republicans) as it is an attack on the "New Deal" (which is the foundation of post-WWII American political economy).

The stated idea is that people will be better off if instead of having a guaranteed social security check when they retire, they have their own retirement account which will be giving a bigger return because it is based on stock market returns rather than inflation indexing and payroll taxes. Republicans like to point to the higher rates of return in the stock market etc.

But is that the real goal? Is it new? The answer to both is no. In the early 1980's Margaret Thatcher pushed for transferring large numbers of public housing for the poor to private ownership. Imagine you live in government housing and the government comes along and says "Hey, we're going condo!" For those residents who were able to make the transition they ended up owning their apartments instead of renting them. For those who weren't able to make the transition... Anyway, there was an interesting side effect: many of the new condo owners shifted their party allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives. Bush could be hoping for a similar effect with regard to social security. Studies show that stock owners tend to vote Republican.

So what kind of effect will it have? I haven't read the details of the privatization plan and the rumors I've heard about it are really scary. So I'll just stick to broad strokes issues here. The reason the stock market has a higher rate of return is because the risk of losing your money is greater. Something most people don't seem to understand is that the rate of return for an investment is directly linked to the level of risk involved in the investment. This is a really basic principle of economics - the much beloved "market forces" of the Republican orthodoxy. When you have a lot of wealth distributed in a diversified portfolio, risk is diffused. But when you have limited resources, the diversification strategy is less effective. What's more, if you have a $200,000 of total assets and you lose $20,000 in the markets it will sting but you won't be out on the street. But if you have $20,000 of total assets and you lose $2,000 in the markets, it could be the difference between paying rent and being evicted. Now, consider that a large share of the American population lives pay check to pay check - that is that they have net worth of zero or less. How much risk can they afford?

The "Ownership Society" is an attempt to replace FDR's New Deal with the "Raw Deal" that came before. Bush's "Ownership Society" would be a fun ride so long as the stock market was hopping but when the first "market correction" hits millions of Americans would be suddenly impoverished as their savings were wiped out? Sound familiar? It should, that's what happened in 1929.

Comments? Discussion? Horrified Screams?


Friday, February 04, 2005

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

I saw an article this morning on CBS about Enron; some new audio tapes of telephone conversations have been released, and they add to the mountain of evidence that Enron illegally manipulated the California energy market. But it was this line that caught me: "The new tapes... confirm what CBS News has been reporting for four years: That Enron secretly shut power plants down so they could cause, and then cash in on, the crisis." [emphasis added]

Yes, that's right--the power crisis was back in the summer of 2001, and Enron filed for bankruptcy Dec. 2, 2001 after the scandal broke. It took three years before (on July 7, 2004) Ken Lay was finally indicted by a Grand Jury--and now it's 2005 we're still awaiting the trial. Assuming the trial actually finally happens sometime, it will surely drag on for months, and then will immediately be appealed, and then re-appealed, etc., taking many more years. All this while Enron claims it is "fully cooperating" with the investigations!

Can anyone please explain to me why obtaining justice takes so damned long in this country? Are there too few judges? Is there not enough money for the courts? Are the laws written to permit virtually endless stalling? Could it be that we do we not have enough qualified lawyers in this country? What is it? And what can we do to fix it? How can any law deter white collar crime if defendants are more likely to die of old age before they get to trial? And while I'm at it, why do appeals in death penalty cases take so long? Is it the same problem? Even in the bloodthirsty Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the average time an inmate stays on death row before execution is 10 1/2 years.

What's the problem? Help a layman understand this, will you?


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Another "Accountability Moment"

Alberto Gonzales has been confirmed by the Senate in a 60-36 vote this afternoon. Here's a link to a news article about it. Many Democrats held together and voted NO. Is this the sign we've been waiting for? Could this mean that the Democrats have finally found their spines again? I can hear the pundits crying Hallelujah! For this time, finally, the Democrats did not roll over!

Instead, they were rolled over.

Hooray. Yippee. Whoop-de-doo. I think I'll get out a firework to celebrate :-(


Gonzalez, Torture, the GOP and Democratic Resistance

Hi Everyone,

This is turning into a very active day for The Citizens. I guess some of us are feeling a little oppressed and need to vent today.

The U.S. Senate today voted on whether to confirm Alberto Gonzalez of Texas as the next Attorney General of the United States. Gonzalez was the White House lawyer who took the lead in justifying the use of torture in the "war on terror." He was also linked to some back room deals to keep then Governor Bush from having to report for jury duty for fear of having his DUI records made public. Gonzalez has been accused of committing perjury in that affair - a charge as yet unexplored and unrefuted. The Republicans all voted for confirmation so Gonzalez will replace John Ashcroft who is soaring off into retirement. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the Democratic Party came very close to voting as a solid bloc against Gonzalez. Democratic Senators voting against confirmation included the following: Reid (D - Nevada), Bayh (D - Indiana), Lincoln (D - Arkansas), Dorgan (D - North Dakota), Johnson (D - South Dakota)

Three Democratic Senators were absent from the vote: Baucus (D - Montana), Conrad (D - North Dakota) , Inouye (D - Hawaii)

Baucus and Conrad were shadowing Bush's tour of their states. Not one Republican voted against confirmation. But Burns (R - Montana) was absent, probably traveling with Bush.

The only Democrats who voted to confirm Gonzalez were: Landrieu (D - Louisiana), Lieberman (D - Connecticut), Nelson (D - Florida), Nelson (D -Nebraska), Pryor (D - Arkansas), Salazar (D - Colorado)

The bad news is that the vote was 60 Yeas, 36 Nays. That's enough to break a filibuster had their been one. What this means is that the Democrats have to get very tough with the weak links in their fold. Salazar might have been voting his ethnicity rather than his principles - not cool. Lieberman is a lost cause. Pryor was probably playing it safe since he comes from conservative Arkansas as were Landrieu of Louisiana and Nelson of Nebraska. But Nelson of Florida really doesn't have much excuse unless the former Batista supporters down in South Florida have convinced him that torture is OK as long as you're pretty sure the victim is a communist or something.


About Academic Freedom

From AP February 3, 2005:
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A federal judge has ruled that Yale Law School can block military recruiters from campus without fear of losing federal funding.

U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall ruled Monday that a federal law requiring universities to let recruiters on campus violates the school's constitutional right to free speech.
School policy requires all recruiters to sign a nondiscrimination pledge, which the Pentagon has not done in light of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning open homosexuality. Defense officials argued that federal law requires Yale to allow recruiters on campus even without signing the pledge.

With the government threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, Yale faculty members sued the Department of Defense last year. Hall's decision echoes a ruling in November by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appealsin Philadelphia in a case filed by other law schools. The Pentagon has said it will take that case to the Supreme Court. In the Yale case, military officials said they were reviewing Hall's decision Wednesday and had no comment.
Immediately following the ruling, Yale's law school returned to its decades-old policy of banning military recruiters. The school temporarily halted that policy in 2002 to avoid losing federal funding.


The UN, Bremer, Iraq and Corruption

It's not getting a lot of play because of the aftermath of the State of the Union speech etc but a committee lead by former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volker, has just released a report accusing a UN official from Cyprus of corruption including soliciting and paying bribes while running the UN's "Oil For Food" program.

This is interesting because this scandal is widely pointed to as justification for excluding the UN (and by implication the international community at large) from occupied Iraq. The argument, according to the neo-cons, is that Americans are more honest and efficient. Americans can do it better than the UN and the "Oil For Food" corruption case proves it.

But how honest and efficient has the US occupation been? Earlier this month an audit of the Bremer Viceroyalty has revealed that nearly $9 billion is missing. Now here is the fun part. Much of the money that Bremer lost is left over from the UN "Oil For Food" fund supplemented by the sale of "seized property!"

When the "Oil For Food" program was shut down by the occupation, $8.1 billion was transferred to the CPA. I mention that just to give you an idea of the scale of the $9 billion that went missing under Bremer's watch.

In response to the audit, the Bushies are insisting that the corruption wasn't their fault. It was the fault of the Iraqis who they assigned the money to. Funny, I bet the UN made similar excuses.

When Bush awarded Bremer, disgraced CIA chief George Tenet, and General Franks with the Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian award in the US), Jon Stewart of the Daily Show said, "That'd better be some sort of shame medal."


Democracy Gets Fryed

Orange County Superior Court Judge H. Michael Brenner upheld the November election of Mayor Dick Murphy of San Diego, rejecting 5,551 votes for write-in candidate Councilwoman Donna Frye (which would have given her the election by a larger margin than Murphy currently can claims) because people did not fill in the oval next to her name as required by state law. The LA Times writes,

"In his ruling, the judge said the intent of write-in voters for Frye was clear but concluded that the rules were meant to be followed. State law requires that voters for a write-in candidate not only fill in the name but darken the oval. Filling in the ovals, the judge said, 'requires a small burden on voters.'"

This disgusts me. For example, among the rejected ballots was one in which Murphy's name was crossed out and Frye was written in with several exclamation points. But because the oval was not darkened... it did not count. It's especially galling to realize that if San Diego simply had not chosen to use scantron technology, there would have been no requirement to darken the oval, and the race would have gone to Frye without question. Technology trumps democracy??? If even the judge concedes that the intent of the write-in voters was clear, isn't that what really matters? How can this be?

Frye has not yet conceded and those who brought the lawsuit will appeal.


Reid My Lips

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) delivered the first part of the Democrats' rebuttal to Bush's State of the Union address. I think he hit excellent themes when it came to Bush's raid on Social Security. Here's what he said:

"The Bush plan would take our already record high $4.3 trillion national debt and put us another $2 trillion in the red. That's an immoral burden to place on the backs of the next generation. But maybe most of all, the Bush plan isn't really Social Security reform. It's more like Social Security roulette. Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings. But that doesn't mean taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it. And that's coming from a Senator who represents Las Vegas."


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Free Speach Under Direct Attack by GOP in Ohio

Hi Folks,

This is making the rounds of the blogsphere and since I'm from Ohio I thought I would comment here. The Daily Kos website (see sidebar link to the right) has a good stream going on this subject.

It seems that some Republican in the Ohio State Senate have introduced a bill (SB 24) called the "Academic Bill of Rights for Higher Education." Like many pieces of conservative legislation you can tell what it does by assuming the opposite of its title (like the "Freedom to Work" legislation that restricts workers' ability to unionize etc). Check out the legislation...its positively Orwellian!

Some highlights:

(B) "Students shall be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study and shall not be discriminated against on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs. Faculty and instructors shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or antireligious inndocrtination."

(C) "Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relations to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose."

(F) "Faculty and instructors shall be free to pursue and discuss their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, but they shall make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own through classroom discussion or dissemination of written materials, and they shall encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate, and the critical analysis of ideas in the persuit of knowledge and truth."

This is positively a direct attack on free speach. The language is designed to sound like its protective of individual rights but think about how these prospcriptions will be interpreted? Is it obvious what any of this actually permits or forbids?

Could LTG look into this type of law and let us know if anything like this has been struck down by the Federal courts in the past? Are there similar laws already on the books in other states?

The sponsors of this bill are Republicans from small towns in Ohio. The language in the bill hints strongly at the persecution complex of the Christian Right.

How might one arrange a compromise with the sponsors of this bill? I would say compromise on this type of issue is imposible. However, it does underscore the potential for cooperation between progressives and libertarians that Dr. Strangelove and myself have suggested.

If this isn't another bit of evidence that the Republican Party, and especially the Christian conservative movement which dominates that party, has gone completely mad with power I don't know what is.