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, July 31, 2006

Get Ready for Another Round of Criticism

The Guardian (republished at the Common Dreams website) is reporting today that the U.S. is building a Germ Warfare Center in Maryland. The stated purpose of the Center is to prepare for a possible biological attack by running Red Team scenarios. They say it is defensive in nature. However, it is a violation of the rather windy titled Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction signed in 1972.

Ok, I understand the stated intent of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, which will be managed by the Department of Homeland Security. I understand that we do have to prepare for such an event as a possible bioterror event. But it makes me squeamish because I have to wonder what else such a facility might get into.

I think that not only have we in this country allowed terrorism to change our system of government, we are allowing it alter much of the international law that has been established since 1945. We are now being told that we have change Geneva Conventions, the UCMJ, and now, perhaps biological weapons provisions. Will such a facility spark a new type of race, this time an biological weapons arms race?


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Another Craven Court

Today, a bitterly divided Washington Supreme Court, in six separate opinions, voted 5-4 to uphold a State ban on gay marriage.

All sides agreed that the State had a rational interest in promoting opposite-sex marriage. The difference was in where they went from there.

The majority said they had no choice but to defer to Congress's stated intentions in enacting the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Wrote the majority, "DOMA is constitutional because the legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not, in the legislature’s view, further these purposes."

The dissenters, on the other hand, lambasted the majority for rolling over and accepting the stated reasons of the Congress at face-value, rather than bravely weighing the issue themselves. "Had the Court adopted the current plurality’s mindset," wrote Justice Bobbe J. Bridge, "it would not have rectified a long list of now obvious wrongs."

The minority observed that banning same-sex marriage in fact did absolutely nothing to promote opposite-sex marriage. Justice Mary E. Fairhurst wrote simply that, "the statutory denial of the right to marry to same-sex couples cannot rationally further the proffered state interests." Quite to the contrary, they said, much of the rational basis for promoting opposite-sex marriage applied equally well, if not better, to same-sex marriage. Noted Fairhurst, "If anything, denying same-sex parents the right to marry would seem to make resolving parental rights and obligations more difficult."

In her angry opinion, joined by all four dissenters, Fairhurst wrote that the right to marry, "the person of one's choice," was a, "fundamental right," and that the majority had, "shirked its responsibility to the people," when it decided to, "condone blatant discrimination against Washington's gay and lesbian citizens." Fairhurst saved her strongest words for DOMA itself; she wrote bluntly that, "DOMA was motivated solely by animus toward homosexuals."

Justice Bridge noted--making a First Amendment argument that the Episcopalians (and USWest?) might well appreciate--that if DOMA were taken at face value as an attempt to uphold the "sanctity" of marriage, "then it is clearly an unconstitutional foray into state-sanctioned religious belief." Justice Bridge accused the majority of deliberately ignoring both, "the petitioners’ fundamental right to privacy," and also, "the legislature’s blatant animosity toward gays and lesbians."

Finally, Bridge compared the majority's reasoning to that of the majority in the (now-discredited) Bowers v. Hardwick who claimed the case was merely about, "whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy." Justice Bridge wrote that, "Future generations... will undoubtedly look back on our holding today with regret and even shame."

Supporters of gay marriage may take comfort in the knowledge that when this same question came before the Washington courts 32 years ago, the idea of gay marriage was unanimously dismissed by an appellate panel and the Washington Supreme Court refused to hear it.


No Wonder

No wonder Kofi Annan blasted Israel for its attack on a UN station yesterday. CNN is reporting that UN observers placed 10 calls to the IDF in the time before the attack telling the IDF that the bombing was coming too close.

Then there is the fact that the IDF had to know the UN Station was there because they had flown over it many times over the last 6 years. Israel is denying that it purposely bombed the UN station. Like the US denying rendition, they think if they say it enough, people will believe it.

I say they did it to nix any possibility of a UN force being sent to the border region of Southern Lebanon. Of course, that isn't necessary considering that the US and UK would most likely veto any UNSC attempt to draw up a force.

In an interview on NPR this morning, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that he doubted that they would be able to get an UN Force strong enough to do the job because no one has enough troops to donate to the cause. Interesting arguement and one that I find questionable.

Turkish news is reporting that pressure is being put on them to donate the troops to a UN force in Lebanon. Turkey is refusing, saying that they are already over extended in Afghanistan. What they aren't saying, and what I think is being planned, is future operations in Northern Iraq.

Guys, we may have a version of WWIII brewing here. It won't be like past wars- where you have 5-6 years of fighting followed by calm. This war will have no winners and will be cumulative over several years. It will be like battling brush fires, all in close proximity with non-conventional forces.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Feinstein on Election Reform

Some of you will remember that last month I posted a copy of a letter from Barbara Boxer about election reform. I was asked by Bell Curve about what Diane Feinstein had to say. Well, I received response from her today. I have posted it below.

July 24, 2006

Thank you for contacting me regarding election reform. Your
correspondence is important to me, and I welcome the opportunity to

Like you, I believe the country needs meaningful election
reform. Since the 2000 Presidential Election, Congress has worked
diligently to improve our election system. Experiences in recent
elections, some of which were pointed out by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in a
July 15th Rolling Stone Magazine article, have demonstrated that we
need to take further steps to safeguard the integrity of our electoral
process. To that end, states are currently implementing the Help
America Vote Act of 2002 and replacing punch card and lever voting
systems with electronic machines. In addition, I am an original co-
sponsor of the "Voting Integrity and Verification Act of 2005" (S. 330),
which would require voting machines to produce a permanent paper
record so that voters can check the accuracy of their ballots and officials
can conduct a manual audit or recount should either one be necessary.

It is also imperative that all citizens are assured that their right to
vote will not be violated. There are several proposals presently in
Congress aimed at ending voter intimidation, increasing overseas voter
turnout, increasing voter registration, and ensuring that absentee ballots
are accurately counted. Please be assured that I understand your concern
about the state of elections in this country, and I will keep your views in
mind as the Senate reviews legislation and other efforts to protect the
legitimacy of the electoral process. Public elections are the heart of our
democracy and we must ensure that they express the will of the people.

Once again, thank you for writing to me. I hope you will
continue to keep me informed on issues of importance to you. Should
you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to call
my Washington, D.C. staff at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator


Doha Is Dead

In Geneva this Monday, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy reluctantly announced that he would call for an indefinite suspension of the Doha round talks. After four and a half years, now all work within all negotiating groups will be suspended; all deadlines will be moot. Last minute talks between the six major intransigent parties--Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India, Japan, and the U.S.--have utterly failed. "The gaps remain too wide," said Lamy. "We have missed a very important opportunity to show that multilateralism works... Today, there are only losers."

After the initial flurry of optimism at Doha in Nov., 2001, and the admittance of China and Taiwan that December, the negotiations quickly went sour. The 2003 talks in Cancun collapsed after four days. The 2004 talks in Geneva provided a glimmer of hope, but the 2005 talks in Hong Kong produced only deadlock, and subsquent meetings in St. Petersburg, Paris, and Geneva have borne no fruit. Most blamed the U.S., the E.U., and to a lesser extent the other four nations, for being unwilling to reduce their agricultural protections and subsidies in any meaningful way. And there proved to be other insurmountable differences regarding market access between developing and developed nations.

Some on the Left will crow with glee. Ever since the "Battle of Seattle" at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nov. 1999, anti-globalization activists have targeted the WTO... but ironically, I believe the death of Doha ultimately resulted from the resurgence of conservative nationalism (led by the U.S., unfortunately). The WTO is about achieving gain; there is no ticking clock to apply pressure. To achieve success, all parties must be willing to cooperate, to compromise, to make sacrifices, and to demand sacrifices from special interests, for the sake of a common vision for their future. Conservative politicians--especially those in the pocket of special agricultural and industrial interests--are the natural enemies of true globalization.

In the UK, the conservatives are anti-E.U. In the U.S., the conservatives are anti-U.N. It was the Clinton administration that pushed NAFTA through a reluctant Congress, and helped forge the WTO in the first place. Had the U.S. chosen to put its efforts into cooperation instead of confrontation, the U.S. could been the architect of an improved global trading system instead of one of its chief obstacles. Bush's go-it-alone foreign policy has isolated the U.S. and left us despised around the world. Bush's inability to conduct diplomatic negotations is legendary, from his inability to obtain the support of the U.N. Security Council in the leadup to the Iraq war, to his failures with North Korea and Iran, to his failure to scuttle the Kyoto accords despite his best efforts, to his empty "roadmap" for peace in the Middle East. Yet even with all these, the collapse of the Doha round may yet go down in history as the greatest failure of the Bush administration.


Friday, July 21, 2006

The Trouble with Theories

Today, my Turkish team came across this article in the Armed Forces Journal and they were livid.

The article suggests that to solve the problems in the Middle East, you'd have to redraw the borders of the entire region. It makes arguments as to why various borders should be changed. It is an interesting idea, but troubling when you see the map, and in some ways just as arrogant and those postwar people who "arbitrarily" drew the current borders to begin with. While I tend to agree that Kurds need to have a state of their own, I am also aware that someone else would have to loose land. And that is never an easy proposition. Imagine the wars and death that would have to take place for Ralph Peter's borders to be become reality. That is the problem with theories.

A side note: the cover story in the Journal that I have linked to above, is very interesting and worth a read. I realize that it merits a separate post, but in the interest of space, I'll add it here. I'd be interested in Dr. S's perspective on it.


Swapping hatemongers

The Augusta Chronicle recently decided to drop Ann Coulter's column from their newspaper and replace her with Michelle Malkin. Here is the letter I just wrote them.

So ... you're replacing Ann Coulter because she called the 9/11 widows "witches" and said that they were enjoying their husbands' deaths. Fair enough. It's hard for me to understand why you would do it now, as opposed to when she said
  • "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors."
  • "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."
  • "We Need Somebody To Put Rat Poisoning In Justice Stevens' Creme Brulee"
and I could go on. (I'm sure you will say that she's just joking, as if that makes it all right). But do you think that replacing her with Michelle Malkin will be any better?

Were you aware of her reaction when the New York Times did a puff piece on Donald Rumsfeld's and Dick Cheney's vacation homes?
"Why publish maps and specific street names and photographs of the private (not anymore) homes where the Vice President and Defense Secretary and their families spend their vacations?


Because blabbermouth Bill Keller feels like it, right? (Interesting timing, no?) . . . .

And because al Qaeda already must have an inkling that Rumsfeld and Cheney live somewhere in the greater Washington, D.C. area, right? So what's the harm in handing them all the details, right?"

And let's not forget the episode where she posted the phone numbers of some college students and a chancellor, after military recruiters were blocked access to UC Santa Cruz. All of them began receiving death threats, and Malkin was asked to remove their contact information from her site. She refused (the contact info is still there). The chancellor in question committed suicide a few months later.

You are replacing one hateful conservative pundit with another. I fail to see how this improves anything.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Where is OZ?

I received an e-mail at work yesterday about power conservation. We were asked to turn off unnecessary lights so that we could help conserve power for the burning Central Valley residents. This follows instructions issued by the state yesterday.

I found this e-mail interesting because just that morning, NPR had reported that while power consumption was expected to rise with the heat index, California didn't risk rolling blackouts because it had put more power on-line following rolling black outs in 2001. Now I am all for power consversation. But I think we are being trifled with.

Suddenly we hear that the Palmdale's regional air traffic center went dark grounding aircraft, forcing those already in the air to land, and causing huge disruptions in flights all over Southern Califronia. Why? A traffic accident downed power lines to the facility, triggering backup generators. Their surge protectors then failed, causing the blackout. It wasn't the first time that glitches had appeared. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich agreed and requested a dedicated power line be strung up. Well, why did it take so long to figure out how exposed that system was to damage?

So I start to wonder if Oz is playing around in the power grid again. I grew up in the Central Valley where we had a small pool and no air conditioner. Temps were regularly over 100 degrees in the summer. So this heat wave is nothing new to those of us from the valley. We never had a problem and we had our own local power supplier. The population of the Central Valley has grown, but local power suppliers have more stable grids that those of the state. The state grid, to its credit, amanged to withstand record consumption rates that exceeded 46K megawatts. But we still have a power grid so faulty that a mere traffic accident can take it out. That's just wrong. Whe needs a terrorists when some idiot driving while yacking on a cell phone can run into a power pole and take out half the of LA?

Either we are being fed a line of crap or someone is playing games. I say bring back real regulation in the power market.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why does Hezbollah have a military and what can that tell us

Hi All,

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking a lot about what's going in Lebanon. I've said before that I don't understand why Israel is doing this bombing thing. It is inherently sloppy (i.e. kills and so alienates civilians) and yet it's unlikely that Israel can disarm Hezbollah (a good goal!) with air strikes alone. Leaving that puzzle aside for a moment, I was thinking about why Hezbollah still has it's military and what that can tell us about it's motives.

Hezbollah developed it's military wing during the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. It's understandable how it came about in that circumstance. But Israel pulled out of Lebanon (except for some tiny enclaves here and there along the border) years ago. What's more, Hezbollah has proved quite successful politically and has won representation in the national government. So why hasn't Hezbollah dismantled its private military? Why has it instead strengthened it?

Suppose that Hezbollah's motive is purely to "defend Lebanon" when the national military cannot? If that is the party's goal, why doesn't it simply donate its equipment (and troops) to the national military and advocate a strong defense like many hawkish/nationalist parties around the world? One might say, "Well, Hezbollah's supporters are poor and can't afford to pay for a national military strong enough to deter Israel." Fair enough. And that is probably why Hezbollah's funding for it's own military comes mainly from Iranian and Syrian aid.

So why would Iran and Syria give military aid to Hezbollah but not to the Lebanese army (which uses a mixture of western military equipment and some older Soviet stuff)? I suggest it is because they prefer that Hezbollah BE the Lebanese government rather than simply participate in it. That Hezbollah accepts this arrangement suggests that they share this goal.

I'm increasingly convinced that the argument that Hezbollah needs it's military because of the Israeli threat to Lebanon is nonsense - even given the current invasion by Israel. If defending Lebanon was the goal, Hezbollah would support the national military. That they insist on having a private military reveals their more selfish concerns.


Violence and the Right Wing Blogosphere

I have to thank Dr. S for the link to the Merkel video because at the top of the Crooks and Liars website was a post that caught my eye. It stresses that the right wing blogosphere is getting little attention in the mainstream media while the left wing blogosphere is examined ad nauseam.

This is important because, as Glenn Greenwald points out, the rhetoric is more and more violent. He has several links in the piece that take you to examples and sources for such vile rhetoric. I think we have to pay attention to that because the blogosphere is very large, even on the right. And if people are publishing such things, it could prove to be very dangerous if they start acting that stuff out. Let's take for instance stories that the US marshals are now providing home alarm and security systems for federal judges. Remember the black listing and shooting of doctors at abortion clinics?


How Dumb is the Prez: Exhibit B

Well, not only do we have a gaff at the open mike, but the videos are circulating on Bush's unsolicited, and obviously unwanted, shoulder squeeze on German Chancellor Merkel. Guess she isn't his main squeeze no more! I think I know that look on her face as one I have made before when some unwanted person laid on unwelcome touch on me. It makes you cringe.

Hello! Doesn't anyone give the man cross-cultural training beforfe he takes these trips? And why not a little sexual harassment training as well? You'd think after all that Clinton stuff, someone would have taught the man some protocol.

Put the video and the gaff together, and I have a harder time believing that he was being calculating in his actions.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How Dumb is the Press: Exhibit A

So, the press is having a field day talking about George W's supposed "private exchange" with Tony Blair about the Middle East. He said that Hezbollah should stop "doing this shit." He didn't know the mike was on, they say.

You have to be a Grade A Moron to believe that. Of course he knew he was being recorded. It was staged, obviously. He is getting pressure at home by pro-Israeli groups to sound tough, and pressure at the G8 and from anyone with a brain to rein in Israel before the war there spirals out of control. So he shores up domestic support with a "private statement." Bullshit. It's just another form of intentional leak. Ask Valerie Plame. I can't believe even the Washington Post thinks it's "obvious" he knew he wasn't being recorded. Really? FYI, You'll know they've caught the president off guard when he says something wholly inappropriate involving the word "fuck" and perhaps some woman who is not his wife, the sort of statement that has NO political upside. This will HELP Bush in the polls. Till then, expect that George W knows, after 6 years in office, that microphones work. I am reminded of this when people start at a party saying things like, "I've got this really embarrassing story about when I was in college." Not so embarrassing that they won't tell it, of course...

By the way, there's a West Wing episode about that, in case you're wondering just how widespread the knowledge is that presidents can and do behave this way.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Give War a Chance

With its attacks on Haifa, Hizbollah has now demonstrated it can strike deep into Israel. Hizbollah is a terrorist organization that has been allowed to develop a military infrastructure in Lebanon--a state which, if not precisely a "failed state," is at least incapable of governing its Southern half. When Al-Qaeda attacked New York and Washington D.C., we went after them and their base of operations in Afghanistan. Is this not the same policy Israel now pursues in Lebanon?

Though Israel may engender more hatred on the Arab stret through its counterstrikes (if such a thing is possible) angry words are not what kill people, nor does their hate. Guns and rockets are what kill people. Hizbollah's infrastructure of terror must be disarmed or destroyed. I am angry, too, that Hizbollah deliberately hides its rockets and launchers in villages and houses, effectively making the villagers human shields. It is despicable and cowardly.

And I am disturbed by a quote from Bush today. He said that he wanted to be clear that the root cause of the violence was, "Hizbollah, its relation to Syria, its relation Iran, and the relations between Syria and Iran." That's about as direct a threat to Syria and Iran as I have heard from Bush so far. If Hizbollah cannot be stopped, this may precipitate a wider war in the Middle East--and drag the U.S. in too.

Maybe the international community will heed the call of Kofi Annan and Tony Blair to deploy an international force in Lebanon to stop Hizbollah (there already is a U.N. force there--presumably the idea is to deploy one with teeth). But more likely they will do nothing. The policy of appeasing and tolerating Hizbollah in Southern Lebanon has failed to provide security to anyone. Maybe we need to give war a chance.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Common Article III

I want to take a little time to examine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. We have talked about it before on the blog, but maybe a more elementary explanation of it for our readers is called for in light of the controversy that the Handam case has stirred up. Allow me to qualify myself. It has been a long time since to studied International Law, so perhaps the other Citizens can help fill out this analysis.

I think this is important because I have listened to multiple news stories and everyone is throwing "Common Article 3" around. The Administration is giving conflicting messages about its stance on the article and how it plans to comply with the US Supreme Court ruling in Handam.

So let's look at the real thing and allow the readers to make their own determiniation.

Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.

Part I : General provisions

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed ' hors de combat ' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) taking of hostages;

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

taken from the ICRC

Ok, that is the article. Let's start at the top. For starters, it's worth remembering that prior to WWI, it was an accepted principle of international law that states could treat their own citizens any way they saw fit without outside intereference. But, after WWI there arose exceptions such as the 1926 antislavery convention and concern over the treatment of Jews in Russia and Armenians in Turkey. With the Holocaust and the establishment of the United Nations, the idea that human rights was a global affair, not just a question of internal policies, took hold. The Geneva Conventions grew out of this movement. Because of the high level of ratification by its signatories, all states are bound to respect the Conventions.

They are comprised of four treaties that protect a different group of people at risk during armed conflict. The third treaty deals specificially with internal armed conflicts (not of an international nature) and grants combatants in those conflicts similar protections as traditianal prisioners of war. It says that persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including POWs; shall in all circumstances be treated humanely. And then it gives a semi-specific list of unacceptable treament. Like all law, this is open to interpretation. However, it is pretty obvious based on common sense what other types of things would be banned under the Convention. So anyone in the Administration that tries to say something like water boarding is acceptable under Geneva or that it doesn't apply to "enemy combatants" is looking for a way to avoid the Convention with semantics and slick legal arguements. The real bone of contention now is Artcle3, sec. 1 part D that deals with trial and conviction.

(What no one is talking about is Article 4 that covers all conflicts not covered by Article 3 which are all conflicts of an international character. It defines prisoners of war to include members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict and members of militias of such armed forces (4.1.1) and members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements in all conflicts not covered by Article 3 which are all conflicts of an international character.(4.1.2). But this is a different post.)

Article 3 requires that detainees be tried in a regularly constituted court. The tribunals that Bush set up are not "regularly constituted" since they have not been ratified by Congress. So what type of court can they be tried in? The military says they should be tried in military courts under the current UCMJ. The Administration wants Congress to ratify its own designed tribunals, thus rendering them "regularly constituted" under Article 1 sec 8 of the US Constitution. Yet others want to modify the UCMJ.

Administration lawyers want Congress to pass legislation stipulating that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to terror suspects. In light of article 4, I am not sure how they can justify that. But I am sure they are working on that as we speak. My view is that if these people deserve to be tried at all, and I am not sure many in Gitmo should be, then I'd agree with the military brass that the current UCMJ is good enough. It would much easier and better for US policy if we accepted the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to "enemy combatants" and treated them as the POWs that they are.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fight for Gay Marriage Continues...

It's been a bad couple of weeks for gay marriage rights. On Fri., July 7th, the Supreme Courts of both New York and Georgia held separately that their state constitutions did not require marriage equality. And on Fri., July 14th the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower judge's ruling that Nebraska's ban on not only gay marriage but other rights for gay couples--e.g. health insurance--violated the U.S. Constitution. To add to the gloom, the Tennessee Supreme Court permitted a gay-rights ban measure to go on the State ballot for November. Finally, on Tues. July 11th, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court likewise permitted an anti-gay marriage amendment to proceed to the ballot (although it would not invalidate the 10,000-or-so marriages already consummated).

Courts across the country are failing to follow the lead of the MA court from 2003. In its ruling, the 8th Circuit held that, "limiting the state-recognized institution of marriage to heterosexual couples are rationally related to legitimate state interests and therefore do not violate the Constitution of the United States." And even the New York court held that, "the traditional definition of marriage is not merely a by-product of historical injustice." Gay marriage supporters are stll hopeful that the CA Supreme Court will rule more favorably in the next several months... but the recent negative decisions by sister courts casts a shadow over the proceedings.

Looks like this is a battle that is going to have to be fought on the ground for a while--something for the legislatures and voters of the States to brawl over. But there is some hope. The Democratic candidates for Governor in California (Angelides) and New York (Spitzer) have both said they would sign gay marriage into law (assuming the legislature assented.) And in a surprise move, the MA legislature put off voting to approve the anti-gay marriage amendment for the ballot until Nov. 9th (since it was done by petition, only 25% of the legislators need to agree with it in two consecutive sessions.)

It's a start.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Is this the way to fight terrorists?

Israel continued its bombardment of Beirut today. Civilian casualties in Lebanon are, according to AP, now 73. The reason for this is that Hezbollah, an armed faction in southern Lebanon with some participation in the current Lebanese government, has kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and fired ketusha rockets into various Israeli towns, including (although there is some dispute) downtown Haifa. I am not sure how killing 73 civilians makes the point that it is wrong to kill civilians or kidnap Israeli soldiers. It feels disproportionate, also.

Worse, the idea that air strikes will beat the Lebanese into submission is based on pretty much nothing. Air strikes don't terrorize populations; they inflame them. Slobodan Milosevic, a man was not popular, became the focus of national support and adulation after the USA began to bomb Belgrade. As always in the Middle East, the problem is about a total inability to empathize or put oneself in the other's shoes.

Imagine if a despicable gang of White Supremacists, whom most Americans revile, kidnapped two Mexican soldiers and fired rockets into Mexican towns, including, I don't know, Veracruz. Mexico demands action. The USA, a la Katrina, says, "What-EVER..." The Mexicans retaliate by destroying JFK airport. How, exactly, would the US public and government respond? Would they respond by caving in to Mexican pressure? No, they would go apeshit. The president's popularity would surge to 90% and the public would demand invasion of Mexico. Taco Bells would be egged. Military pressure by Mexico would not produce the desired result.

Why does Israel think military pressure on Lebanon will be different? Does the above analysis change if, rather than a despicable gang of White supremacists, it was the Minutemen or even the Republican party that undertook these actions? Even liberal Democrats who dislike the Republicans would rally 'round the flag. And we aren't half as proud, macho, or concerned about honor as Middle Eastern cultures can be.

If Israel wanted its soldiers back, the approach of you-touch-me-I-kill-your-family will not succeed. Olmert should have tried to arrange for he, Abbas, and the Lebanese PM to appear on TV together and make a plea to release the soldiers. He needed to appeal to the Lebanese and Palestinian people, not take the attitude that "those tribes all hate us, even the little children. they are animals, so we punish them en masse." I have frequently heard Israelis refer to Palestinians as animals. That is not a helpful attitude if you need their cooperation, and Israel need to realize that they DO need Palestinian cooperation if there is ever to be peace. That is not an attitude appropriate for a Democracy. Israel also should confine military action as much as possible, not buzz the home of Syria's president with F16 fighter jets. The idea is to turn public opinion in Israel's favor, not to unite public opinion of the skeptical Arab Street - particularly in modernizing, relatively secular Beirut - with Hezbollah and Hamas.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Would You Like LIES With That?*

It turns out that Whole Foods is a supporter of the Cato Institute. Word elsewhere in the blogosphere is that this verbal support extends to money as well. I'm devastated. I actually shop there, although only for cheese and produce, because everything else is monstrously overpriced, and while cheese and produce is also overpriced, it is superior in quality to what you can buy at UnSafeway or the appropriatelynamed Ralph's.

As for the book that Whole Foods' CEO is endorsing, it is a con job. Government, they say, prevents businessmen from acting ethically. Leave the market alone, and good people will act ethically.

Are they high? (No, the technical term is "nuts"). The market is what causes people to act unethically. The phrase, "Sorry, it's just business" is emblematic of that problem. Many good people do not want to underpay their workers, hire illegal aliens, shave hours from timecards, pass off substandard merchandise, or skimp on health care, but they often find they cannot compete with the Walmarts and other nasty corporations that do, unless they also do so. Most of the unethical choices businessmen make are done under competitve pressure (including illegal dumping of toxic waste, etc.). When properly done, then, government regulation is boon because it permits good people to act ethically by forbidding those who act unethically from profiting. Minimum wage and hour laws are a good example. Failure to enforce those laws, however, negates their good effects. FYI, universal health care is the same sort of level-the-playing-field regulation.

Ah, Whole Foods, I weep for thee. Must I do ALL my shopping at Costco (a very large supporter of the Democrats).

*Note: Simpsoniana.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Running Against Everything

Media Matters asks an interesting question. Why is news that is obviously bad for the Republican Party said to be "good" for it by the media? The writer points out that commentators are spinning now that the US Supreme Court's Handam decision is good for Republicans because this will allow them to run " agaisnt the Court"- a Court pretty much of Republican making. When Bush's approval ratings hit the floor, they said this was good because Republicans could run against Bush. Threating media outlets that publish news on say secret wiretapping with investigation allows Republicans to run against the media.

It's a good commentary. Check it out.


An Idiot is Someone Who Only Knows His Own Discipline

In the LA Times today, David Barash, a psychology professor, tackles the "mysterious" problem of why German women are not having children - 30% no longer do, including 40% of college educated women. He makes some idiotic arguments about selfishness, free will, even evolution. Blah blah.

Like it's really a mystery. Go ask anyone who knows anything about Germany and they will tell you the real reason. In Germany, schools close at 1 or 2, with no afterschool sports or anything, so kids have to go home. Stores close at 5, no exceptions, so you can't work and buy food. There is little or no daycare to speak of. Nannies and au pairs are rare. There is no financial (or cultural) support for a man who stays home, but women get the "kindergeld" - payment to raise their own children. Through these and other tactics, women are ruthlessly excluded from the workforce if they have children. Thus, it is no mystery why German women, particularly the educated, choose not to have children so they can have careers.

Everything else Barash says is just idle speculation from someone with too little sense to inquire of other disciplines. The mystery is why German women tolerate this. For that, I turn to Bismarck, who famously said, "There will be no revolution in Germany because revolutions are illegal in Germany."


A White Man's Army?

It is always a danger when the military is of a different mindset alien to the public, in this case, much more conservative. Now, it appears things have gotten a lot worse because of recruiting shortfalls. The military is apparently turning a blind eye to recruiting neo-Nazis and white supremacists, abandoning a "zero tolerance" crackdown on racist groups instituted after the OKC bombings. Combined with the zealous evangelist intolerance of fundamentalists at the Air Force Academy, this begins to draw a frightening picture of a military trend away from core American values. That is, paradoxically, the sole political disadvantage of an all-volunteer force in a democracy.

My swastika-on-grave comment in the "Mourning in America" thread is suddenly not so far-fetched.


Bush Supports Lieberman

From today's New York Times:
--When pressed about his liking [Senator] Lieberman, Bush responded, "You're trying to get me to give him a political kiss, which may be his death."

And why wouldn't Bush wish "his death" if Lieberman is a Democrat? Because he's really a Bush ally in disguise. Guess what, Bush, you did just give Lieberman a political kiss, and you were too dumb to notice it.


We Have Always Been At War With Eurasia

In this morning's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer wrote a piece of apologia for the Bush administration's shredding of the constitution. He begins by saying that "1861. 1941. 2001. Our big wars -- and the war on terrorism ranks with the big ones -- have a way of starting in the first year of a decade. Supreme Courts, which historically have been loath to intervene against presidential war powers in the midst of conflict, have tended to give the president until mid-decade to do what he wishes to the Constitution in order to win the war." This is historical revisionism gone mad.

1. The war on Al Qaeda (a war on an idea or a tactic, such as "terrorism" is just a metaphor, so that's a phony and dangerous usage) is nowhere NEAR as big as World War Two or the Civil War. You can tell this by the fact that the US government has all but abandoned that conflict in favor of a different, unrelated war in Iraq. The war in Iraq has one similarity with the War on Al Qaeda, of course: our failure to secure Iraq has invited Al Qaeda to come there in hopes it can piggyback on Rumsfeld's piss-poor planning to claim a victory of its own after the inevitable US withdrawal and collapse of Iraq into chaos (not sure which order those occur in, by the way). I'm not saying that 9/11 wasn't horrible. Or that the threat of more terrorism is not equally awful. But get a grip! WWII and the Civil War cost hundreds of thousands of US lives and threatened to destroy the country.

2. Even such a right winger as Reagan apologized for FDR's internment of the Japanese, as he recognized it was overreaching. The timidity of the US Supreme Court then is not part of a tradition we should honor, but something we should abhor and learn from.

3. The gravest threat to the USA, by far, was the Civil War, where hundreds of thousands of traitors, under arms, threatened to surround the US capital and destroy the whole country. They killed more than 300,000 American soldiers. The rebel junta in Richmond was desperate to have the British intervene, i.e., to have the UK invade the North and recolonize it, in exchange for freedom for the South. Lincoln's most questionable acts took place in the brief period between April 1860 and September 1860, when the Congress was not in session. He wrestled with them mightily, though, in a way that GWBush is mentally incapable of. We likely will never confront such exigencies again.

4. Oh, and the US Supreme Court DID oppose Lincoln's war powers, in part because it was packed with southerners. He ignored them.

The real problem underlying the Bush administration's unconstitutional power grab is one of motives. Conceding that the Roosevelt administration went too far, and that the SC was wrong to have failed to intervene, the real issue is whether there is any meaningful comparison between Lincoln and GWBush. None that would flatter GWBUsh, that's for sure. Here's the rub. Lincoln acted out of true necessity, out of a genuine belief that had he not, for example, arrested secessionists in the Maryland legislature, the US government would have been totally surrounded by enemy forces in Washington, DC, and the country would have been destroyed. Bush, facing no real emergency, hired lawyers to a historical-legalistic argument for grabbing more power, using the war as an excuse. Krauthammer does the same. Lincoln did not want to set a precedent, nor did he. Lincoln only said, "I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government – that nation – of which that constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? " Those were the stark choices Lincoln faced, and the way he phrased the dilemma.

Believe me, if Bush ever faces the choice between losing the whole nation or preserving the constitution, nobody would stand in the way of some extraordinary measures. He does not. Only an incredibly intellectually dishonest person, like Krauthammer, apparently, would claim so.

Oh, and Lincoln did not authorize torture against the southerners. Indeed, the first war crimes trials in American history were held to punish southerners for what they did to Union prisoners at Andersonville. I have been there. 50,000 Union soldiers were crammed into an open space the size of a football field, with no shade from the sun, a single ditch for water and relieving themselves, and finally almost no food. The pictures are terrible to behold.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mourning in America

Apparently, there are now Wiccans in the armed forces, and one of them was killed in Iraq. The military, believe it or not, inscribes some 38 symbols for different religious affiliations, including a symbol for atheists, but none for Wiccans.

The issue appears to be not about dishonoring Wiccans so much as a desire not to inscribe a pentagram or pentacle, which has been traditionally viewed as a satanic symbol by (certain) Christians. What a tempest in a teapot this is going to be. Leaving aside arguments about Wicca's genuine claim to be a religion, which some would dispute, it would seem we could find at least ONE Wiccan symbol that could satisfy everyone. I understand the reluctance just to inscribe a W, but this is such a no-win situation.

More to the point, do advocates of liberty really have to go into the elections this Fall advocating the carving satanic symbols? Why don't we just write "WICCAN" in big bold letters under his name. Or, perhaps, "Dead Wiccan?"

Of course, even in the sticks, there is apparently some room for tolerance, at least if it's a soldier.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Something Rotten in California

Hi Everyone,

Back when the state of California was going through it's special recall election, now Governor Schwarzenegger was found of saying things like, "the problem is that there are too many politicians. What we need is one leader for all the people." Coming from the son of an Austrian NAZI policeman these are chilling words. But most people, even some Democrats said that Schwarzenegger was a moderate who was preferable to the less charismatic moderate, Grey Davis.

But now we find out that Schwarzenegger may be a chip off the old block and Bush's GOP is encouraging Governor Muscles to follow in his father's footsteps. The LA Times is reporting this weekend that Schwarzenegger's California department of Homeland Security and the California National Guard have been secretly monitoring and tracking the political activities of animal rights groups, anti-war groups and other legal, liberal groups.

Many people in California are trying to justify voting for Schwarzenegger because they think the Democratic candidate is not inspiring. This story should make it clear that even an incompetent, even a fiscally corrupt and ambitious politician is preferable to Schwarzenegger and his plan to turn California into a kind of Vichy Kahleefornya on Bush's behalf! A vote for Scharzenegger is a vote for tyranny plain and simple. And in our two party system, a vote for anything other than a Democrat is a vote for tyranny.

At least for the next couple of elections we must make it clear to each other that support for or even failure to strategically oppose the Bush-Rove-Cheney version of the Republican party is just not morally justifiable.