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, December 31, 2007

Bush Fatigue

In an excellent post yesterday, Glenn Greenwald expanded upon an NY Times report on the Bush administration's destruction of the CIA tapes. This follows Dahlia Lithwick's excellent ten-point summary of the Bush administration's worst lies and legal fictions. I read these articles and felt a moment of outrage... then numbness. Sad, miserable numbness.

For seven years, the Bush administration has lied blatantly, lied maliciously, and then lied again. The Bush administration has evaded or outright deceived all attempts at oversight from Congress and the judiciary, and they have concocted outlandish claims of "executive privilege" and "war powers" to conceal their wrongdoing. In the name of freedom, the Bush administration has secretly kidnapped hundreds of people from around the world--even here at home--and held them captive for years in secret prisons without charge, sometimes without telling anyone. In the name of justice, the Bush administration has tortured hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women. The Bush administration has turned our proud nation into a rogue state, hated around the world.

And yet, despite a mountain of evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, nothing seems to stick. They blame "a few bad apples"; they alternately claim ignorance and secret knowledge as it suits them; they impugn the character and patriotism of anyone who questions them; they invoke 9/11 to defend everything. They portray all attempts to find the truth as mere partisan attacks. They have gotten away with murder and the American public has yet to call them on it.

How is this possible? Why do Americans react, as I did, with sadness and numbness? Because they have managed to wear us all down, to make us all feel like helpless, frightened victims. No wonder those countdown clocks are so popular, marking time until Bush must leave office: we have given up hope of holding these bastards accountable and are just waiting for the nightmare to end. This national fatigue may be the most insidious legacy of this administration. But we can still fight it.

There is still time to impeach. And have a Happy New Year.


Democracy is the Best Revenge

Benazir Bhutto's party has chosen a new figure head...her 19 year old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Remember how Pakistan's median resident is only 20 years old?? This is a smart political move. It will combine the sympathy and anger revolving around Benazir's assassination with a clear message to the youth of the country, "We're with you!"

Of course he will be the figure head and speculation is that his father, Asif Ali Zardari Benazir's widower, will be the real party leader. Many of the corruption charges around the Bhutto family lately have centered on Mr. Zardari.

There is some precedent for this. Benazir herself took over the party at the ripe old age of 24 after her father, then Prime Minister, was hanged following a military coup in 1977 led by General Zia.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari concluded his announcement by saying "My mother always said 'democracy is the best revenge!'" It certainly would be. The one thing that Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Musharaff all agree on is that a democratic Pakistan is intolerable.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Konstitutional Krisis at Kamp Krusty

Today, Bush went further than anyone thought possible. He has vetoed the Defense Authorization Bill. His right. But he has insisted that he cast a pocket veto because the Congress is not in session! To prevent a crisis, he did a CYA move to veto it for real, but he nonetheless claims that the Senate's pro forma sessions don't count, and that Congress is not in session. Congress is in session. Period.

To quote him:

"The adjournment of the Congress has prevented my return of H.R. 1585 within the meaning of Article I, section 7, clause 2 of the Constitution. Accordingly, my withholding of approval from the bill precludes its becoming law. The Pocket Veto Case, 279 U.S. 655 (1929). In addition to withholding my signature and thereby invoking my constitutional power to "pocket veto" bills during an adjournment of the Congress, I am also sending H.R. 1585 to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, along with this memorandum setting forth my objections, to avoid unnecessary litigation about the non-enactment of the bill that results from my withholding approval and to leave no doubt that the bill is being vetoed."

If he tries to make a recess appointment, it will be war. Reid will not tolerate that.

This is just the most outlandish of the claims of vast Executive power.

Bush belongs in jail.


Friday, December 28, 2007

What next in Pakistan?

OK, so what next in Pakistan?

Here are some little factoids about Pakistan mostly from the CIA worldfactbook (see link to the right).

population: aprox 165 million
median age: about 20 (the median age in the USA is about 36, the global median is about 28)
Per Capita GDP (adjusted for purchasing power): $2,600 (in USA it is $43,800; the global per capita GDP is $10,200)
Largest import partner: China
Largest export partner: USA
Labor force distribution: ag = 42%; industry = 20%; services = 38%

Pakistan spends about 3% of their GDP on the military and has nuclear weapons. The US provides special military aid that is specifically targeted to protecting/guarding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal (of about 20 to 40 weapons). According to the various websites I looked at Pakistan may not have the missiles to deliver those warheads very far (possibly not even as far as Dehli).

So what we have here is a very poor, very agrarian, very young country with nuclear weapons in which a corrupt (remember the nuclear smuggling that Musharraf's government let happen?) military regime is doing everything it can to maintain the status quo. The problem is that the status quo involves Al Qaeda and the Taliban have the run of half the country. Musharraf apologists say "that's better than them having the run of the entire country." That's probably true if that's really the only alternative.

I haven't thought through what the US policy should be towards Pakistan after this latest development. So let's have a little forum about it here on the blog...


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Killed! Did Musharaff Order the Hit?

The corner stone of the Bush "War on Terror" outside of the debacle in Iraq has been support for Generalisimo Musharraf (who recently retired from the military but who is he kidding). Musharraf has repayed our support with sweetheart deals with tribal leaders who themselves are sheltering Bin Laden and providing troops to the Taliban in what is rapidly turning into our debacle in Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan?).

Well, I awoke this morning to see reports in the European press (see BBC news link to the right) that Benizir Bhutto has been wounded in the third (I think) suicide bombing attack on her rallies since her arrival in Pakistan to take part in upcoming elections. 20 or so people were killed. This story is still very much "breaking news" and as I type this CNN has not picked up on her being wounded yet. BBC and the Danish press are both reporting her being wounded. OK, I just hit "refresh" and the European press is saying that Bhutto was killed in the attack. CNN just reported that she'd been killed. CNN is reporting that she was killed by bullet wound to the neck. Bombs and shooting? Someone wanted to make sure they murdered her.

This is a tragic development! Benezir Bhutto was the first woman to be elected head of government of a Muslim country. Her support came from the urban, more educated, more "modernized" segment of Pakistani society. The attacks against Bhutto have been continued and systematic. I'm not the only one speculating that Bush's friend Musharraf is behind them. Regardless of whether he ordered the hit, I'm sure he's celebrating this murder.

This is a sad day for Pakistanis.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

All in a Day's Work, Part II

As they did over Thanksgiving, Democratic Senators are gaveling one-minute pro forma sessions over the Christmas holidays to prevent Bush from making "recess" appointments. Senate Majority leader Reid (D-NV) had offered to allow Bush to make dozens of such appointments if Bush would just drop his bid to appoint Steven G. Bradbury as head of the Office of Legal Council at the Department of Justice... But of course Bush refused to compromise, as always, so here we are.

There is a good reason why a host of Senators have asked Bush to withdraw that one nomination: Bradbury was the author of the DoJ "torture memos." Moreover, in rather stunning bit of testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee, Bradbury declared to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 2006 that, "The President is always right." (And no, that was not taken out of context.)

In a year when the Democratic Congress has often been thwarted by the Republican Party on big ticket items, these quiet micro-sessions remind us that the Democrats keep fighting and have managed to thwart a thousand tiny ills that the Republican Party would have visited upon this nation. May 2008 bring us a President who will oppose torture, will close Guantanamo, and will understand that she (or he) is not always right.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bush Refuses to Raise Emissions Standards

After years of refusing even to issue a decision, the EPA has rejected California's request to set higher emissions standards for vehicles. It is a smack in the face to Schwarzenegger. And it is surely no accident that this comes today, buried in the news on the very day Bush signed into law the new CAFE standards, trying to trumpet his "green" credentials. (Although of course the new standards were forced on him and he only agreed to them kicking and screaming.)

With one hand, Bush giveth; with the other he taketh away. Gods, what a lousy administration!


Vote Democratic in 2008 for Fiscal Responsibility

The House voted today to shield 21 million Americans from the unintended consequences of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). No doubt the Senate will follow suit and the President will sign it soon enough. This is good news on the whole, but the bill passed is totally irresponsible--courtesy of your Republican Party, which blocked all Democratic attempts to pay for it. This bill will cost on the order of a trillion dollars over the next decade or so, and that goes straight to the bottom line.

The disgusting part of this whole sordid affair is that, even though both parties know the AMT has become unfair and requires massive adjustment (if not outright elimination), all budget forecasts quietly assume the AMT will continue. Every single budget Bush and the old Republican Congress ever presented to justify those unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy only added up because they counted the windfall in the "out-years" (2007 and beyond) when the will AMT hammer the middle class. All those budgets were shams.

This year the new Democratic Congress tried to find ways to pay for eliminating the AMT, but the Republicans ridiculed these attempts as tax "hikes"--even though their own budget numbers still include all that tax revenue and more from the AMT! The Republicans held hostage the fortunes of 21 million Americans until the Democrats finally had to give in. Bush and the Republicans have driven the budget straight over a cliff.

Every time Bush and the Republicans talk about "holding the line" on the budget, it makes me want to puke. They style themselves "fiscal conservatives" and smugly oppose all taxes, while they plow us deeper and deeper into debt. We are now $9.2 trillion in debt--up from $5.7 when Bush took office--and already nearly a quarter of all income tax goes to pay interest on the debt. That's a half-trillion dollar annual subsidy for Wall Street. This crop of Republicans gets off scot free while they force all the tough choices onto the next Congress. Argh!

As Kerry said back in 2004, "These guys are the worst bunch of liars and thieves I've ever seen."


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Harry Shearer

Now we here at The Citizens love us some Harry Shearer. I think it's obvious that a lot of us are Simpsons fans, and we have a link to Le Show on the right -- that's Harry's weekly NPR program. You can get it podcasted for free, by the way, if you want.

Now Harry has his own internet channel! Check it out here. Some pretty good stuff, including his silent debates ...



The NY Times today carried an opinion piece which claims the Iowa Democratic party conceals the actual vote at the caucuses. Unlike the Iowa Republican party, which releases the tally of how many people voted for each candidate, the Iowa Democratic party never does.

Instead, the Iowa Democratic party will release only so-called "Delegate equivalent" totals that result from the delegate selection process and complex apportionment rules. (Republicans also have a delegate selection process, but the op-ed piece claims the press effectively ignores the outcome.)

According to the article, these "Delegate equivalent" totals differ sufficiently from the actual vote that the "winner" could have actually come in second, and someone with 12% support might be reported to have no support at all. Is this true? Can any of The Citizens confirm this? And why is this the case?


Saturday, December 15, 2007

McCain's Surge

I am no longer the only one paying attention to McCain's candidacy. Iowa's Des Moines Register and the Boston Globe have both endorsed McCain for the Republican nomination. (For the Democrats, the Register picked Hillary Clinton and Globe favored Barack Obama.) McCain is now consistently #2 in New Hampshire polling and rising (albeit about 14% behind Romney).

A Newsweek op-ed piece says that McCain has, "got his mojo back." USA Today headline reads, "McCain gaining in New Hampshire." Detroit News notes that when non-Republicans who might vote in the Michigan primary are factored into themix, McCain is actually leading there.

On the one hand, this is sort of good because I think McCain is surely the best of the Republicans running. But that frightens me also. I would far rather the Republicans commit "Huckacide" as one blogger put it. John McCain is the only Republican who consistently polls at a statistical tie with Clinton and Obama--all the other potential Republican nominees lose in head-to-head matches. Food for thought.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Why you should care about steroids and baseball

When scandal happened, the Romans would ask "cui bono?" - roughly meaning "who benefitted?" Lenin asked generally of capitalism "kto-kovo?" (who-whom?) meaning, who is the subject and who is the object?

One response to the steroid scandal is to punish the players for "cheating." The Republican or conservative view would be to view this issue as exclusively one of moral choice by players who deserve to be punished for knowingly making a bad choice. While the players deserve opprobrium for their actions, it is a huge mistake to insist that this is merely a matter of personal moral choice. Cicero and Lenin would disagree. The players' union protected the players, and management knowingly rewarded steroid users for pumping up statistics and attendance with pumped up salaries. Indeed, some may have outright encouraged steroid use for underperfomers. The players were also responding to market forces. So were the unions and the management, also. Marx commented in "Capital" that in capitalism it happens that people frequently make moral choices they would prefer not to make and say that they were forced into it by the market. Money, he said, becomes the subject, and we become its objects. How many bosses have cut wages or laid off employees with tears in their eyes, saying the market required it?

To put turn the steroid issue entirely into a moral lesson on individual responsibility not only misses the operation of the market system in baseball, but takes away our ability to fix the problem. As RBR can tell you better than I can, trying to prevent a person from purusing her own self interest with penalties alone is largely a doomed enterprise. Where everyone is responding to market forces, the blame and corrective efforts must also be applied strongly to those who are best able to resist market forces. Put another way, those who are motivated by economic survival and greed (players and their union) are harder to deter than those motivated by greed alone (the management). Those who knowingly tolerated steroid and HGH use should be punished as much as the players who used them. They need to be given an incentive NOT to reward the players for their steroid use.

We saw the same thing with Enron and other corporate scandals. Individuals were blamed, not the system that incentivized their behavior. Sarbanes-Oxley did not do enough to put the onus on the beneficiaries (the CEOs) to obey the law. Instead, individual corporate attorneys and accountants are again asked to risk their careers to challenge accounting practices. Auditors and accountants are punished for looking the other way, although if they had not done so, they would have been replaced by those who really had the economic power to make better choices. Conservative rhetoric about individual responsibility makes it harder to fix problems by putting all of the enforcement at the feet of those with the most perverse incentive structure.

Conservative republicans may say that I am advocating evading invidual moral responsibility, and that this is a religious issue. They see the Christian religion as preaching only about individual sinners repenting. But that is not the only valid interpetation. Jesus railed against the Pharisees in part because they created a religious and political system that made it much harder for ordinary people to make the right choices. His anger was not only at their sinfulness, but the heavy yoke they laid upon the poor. Individual responsibility should not be used to evade corporate responsibility.

I suspect this conservative individual-first rhetoric is cynically designed to prevent real change. Illegal immigration is blamed entirely on illegal immigrants, and "fixes" are addressed to punishing them, not removing the incentives that bring them here (jobs). Republican businessmen agitate against illegal immigration, but resist legislation aimed at employers that might actually work to stop immigration because want an underpaid illegal underclass. Or, as I like to say when angry, conservatism itself with its praise of self-interest is just an elaborate justification for the wealthy to keep their wallets closed.

The other conservative tack is to say "well, we're all to blame. " The fans are responsible for the baseball scandal. People who buy cheap products knowing they are produced by illegal immigrants are to blame. We must resist this rhetoric also. Collective action problems make it impossible for the general public to have an effect on these bad behaviors, even if they do bear some moral culpability for cheering and looking the other way (I myself once argued vainly that steroids were unlikely to be prevalent in baseball because the sport was more about skill than strength). Blaming everyone is a way of blaming nobody.

A regulatory scheme simply cannot be directed solely at those with the greatest moral responsibility; it must be addressed to those whose incentives can be best realigned. Because the wealthiest and most powerful are the most able to resist market forces (since they are motivated by greed rather than surival), this means that the center-left must vote to realign the incentives of the rich and powerful.


Friday YouTube

Mike Huckabee launches an excellent new ad campaign.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Who is More Electable?

Poll after poll shows that a significant majority of Democrats believe Hillary Clinton is the most electable Democrat running. For example, one recent poll showed 62% of Democrats thought Hillary was the most electable, with only about 14-15% giving the nod to Obama or Edwards. But wasn't the scuttlebutt on Hillary that she was just hated by too many people ever to be elected? What gives?

It seems unlikely that most Democrats are simply unaware of how many people hate Hillary: people have been going after her for years. My theory is that--after the swift-boating of Kerry--most Democrats have bitterly concluded that Republicans will demonize any candidate the Democrats throw out there, no matter who it is. I suspect most Democrats reluctantly conclude the general election will end up as a "50% plus one" slugfest, just like the last two. And so, precisely because she is viewed as such a tough old warhorse, Democrats believe Hillary is the one who best can take it.

If Obama or Edwards is to win the nomination, I believe they must convince their fellow Democrats that the next election can be different. Maybe the successes in 2006 will allow enough Democrats to believe it, just a little. Is hope really too audacious for Democrats these days? I think we will know by the end of Feburary 5th, if not sooner.


Democratic Nomination Shakeup

In national polls, HRC's lead over Obama is diminishing. In Iowa, Obama is leading. In SC, polls show a tie. Today, a new poll shows Obama tied with HRC in New Hampshire also. The vaunted "firewall" of Clinton in NH may be foundering. It's too early to say what will happen, but it is starting to look like Obama has, as Bush pere would say, "the big mo." Attack dogs should be coming soon.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Torture, Rape and Supporting the Troops

Well, it was predicted in some of the comments to the earlier post about the CIA tapes. ABC is interviewing a former CIA operative who was a witness to the torture sessions on those destroyed tapes. You can see the interview here. The man defends waterboarding while admitting that it is torture. He claims the information they got from torture enabled them to foil several attacks. But we have only the torturers' word for it. Can we trust people who use torture to extract information, keep that information secret and then, when they are criticized for using torture, say "Trust us. A bunch of attacks that never happened never happened because of the torture of this guy." At one point in the interview the CIA guy says that he's changed his mind some about torture as time has passed since 9/11/01. So he's saying that he was engaging in torture because he was mad about 9/11.

Another story ABC news is reporting about is the case of a Kellog Brown and Root employee who was gang raped by her co-workers, then imprisoned in an empty container with a bed but not food or water and told that she could not leave or appeal for help. One of her guards took pity on her after days of this and gave her a cell phone which she used to call her father. Her father then called his Congressman who called the State Department who then sent their people to the KBR camp and rescued the woman. You can read the story here.

Now, granted, neither of these incidents involves actual Army or Marine personnel. But it's not like we haven't heard similar stories about them. Of course I'm not saying that all the troops are doing this kind of thing. But I am saying that when you put hundreds of thousands of people into this kind of situation, you get more torture, more rape and more murders etc.

When I hear people - mostly in the media and on the right - talking about "the troops" as if they are some kind of host of saints, I think about this context. Knee jerk support for the troops is completely unjustified. They are human beings. And human beings in particular brutal situation. It does no one any good to give them an automatic free pass for what goes on over there. The only ones who want us to do so are the leaders who would ultimately be to blame. Calls for "supporting the troops" are really calls to "stop criticizing" their leaders.

We need to get out of Iraq as quickly as possible. A gradual pull out will on continue this kind of horror longer and will not change the inevitable consequence of this invasion, occupation and withdrawal.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Rudy Giuliani smokes pot

That's the only conclusion I can draw from his recent Meet The Press appearance.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Getting Rid of the Evidence at the CIA

By now you have probably heard about the destruction of videos of "enhanced interrogations" by the CIA. I won't repeat the details of the story here as you can find them yourself easily enough on any of the news links on the right.

One would be justified in speculating that the leadership in the CIA fears prosecution under a Democratic administration in 2009. At the very least I think we safely assume that the videos would "shock the conscience" and so would violate the Bush administration's own self-serving rules and standards for redefining torture.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Life imitates art

In 1992, the much-regretted Bill Hicks said the following:

I don't find it ironic at all-Christians for the death penalty. 'Cause after all, if it weren't for capital punishment, we'd have no Easter. F**k it, that's a three day weekend where I come from.
Funny, right? Except guess which presidential candidate has made the exact same argument?
“Interestingly enough,” Huckabee allowed, “if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, ‘This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency’.”
That's crazy.

By the way, speaking of Huckabee, LTG left a comment below that reminded me of one of my all-time favorite moments from The Colbert Report ...


Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I just took this interesting test from ABC to determine which candidates I match up best with. The results?

3. Ron Paul (WTF?)
2. Dennis Kucinich
1. Mike Gravel

You have got to be kidding me.

By the way, all you need to know about Ron Paul you can learn from Stephen Colbert. Remember, he wants to get rid of all government programs.


Huckabee and the USA

Okay, so now we learn that Mike Huckabee opposes waterboarding and favors shutting down Guantanamo Bay. Good for him. I mean, he's a minister, for goodness' sake. Predictably, the wingers are going nuts. But it confirms what I have thought, which is that Huckabee is the one Republican who won't entirely destroy our country if elected President. He'd be tough to beat in a general election, though.

But hey ... wouldn't an Obama-Huckabee race make for great TV?


Monday, December 03, 2007

This May Prevent War with Iran

The US National Intelligence Estimate has just been released today contradicting the Bush administration. It says that Iran has kept its nuclear program on hold more or less since 2003. Thus, there is no imminent threat of anything. This is very, very good news.


Rogue State

The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.
The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The 1989 Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The 1997 Land Mine Treaty.
The 1998 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.
The 2001 UN Agreement to Curb the International Flow of Illicit Small Arms.

Any questions...?


Good on you, Australia

Australia received a minute-long standing ovation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali (which runs for 12 days, starting today) when it was announced that newly installed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had, within hours of his accession to office, moved to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. (In a rebuke to former PM John Howard--and in recognition of the new political reality--the new leader of the opposition immediately endorsed the decision.) 175 nations have now accepted the treaty. George Bush's Coalition of the Unwilling now consists pretty much of the US and the glorious nation of Kazakhstan. (Despite what the NY Times writes, Liechtenstein ratified the treaty in 2005.)

The real impact of Australia's decision is that its delegation has now been granted status as full participant in the negotiations at Bali to begin writing the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It is largely a symbolic gesture on Rudd's part, since it is widely expected that signatory nations will not be assessed fines for exceeding their treaty obligations on carbon emissions anyway--it seems to be understood, tacitly at least, that the formulas require revision and renegotiation to be workable.

Still, in a morning of surprising good news--Hugo Chavez' "reforms" were rejected by the electorate, and the British schoolteacher in Sudan jailed for allowing her students to name a teddy bear 'Muhammad' (I'm not making this up!) has now been pardoned, due to strong efforts of the British Muslim Council and the British government--this news stands out.