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."

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Hague and a Failure of Justice

If I hear one more time on NPR that Radovan Karadzic has "refused to attend" his war crimes trial, I am going to deliberately run over a small animal. Mr. Karadzic is not in a hotel. He is in prison. He can be forcibly taken to the trial and, if need be, manacled to his seat.

Something is seriously wrong in the Hague. Milosevic's trial was four years and counting when he died. The Karadzic trial is expected to last two years. This is excessive, surely. Equally bad, they seem unable to punish anyone. A woman was convicted of war crimes and sent to Sweden where, apparently, serving 2/3 of your sentence is considered good enough for government work. Plavsic is, therefore, already returning home to a heroine's welcome in Belgrade. What has happened in a place where the trials exceed the punishments in length?

Here in the USA, we have some experience with excessively long civil and criminal trials, but they are not fixtures in the system. Their emergence has been unexpected and the judiciary is trying to figure out how to tamp it down. Not so in Europe, it seems. The Hague operates like most European courts.

I get the sense that the European civil law system, as a whole, is totally broken, perhaps beyond repair. Criminal trials routinely take years. There is no right to a speedy trial in Europe, it seems. In Italy, you basically have to be convicted twice before you can be sentenced. French Appellate courts (courts of cassation) have the power to remand, but not to reverse - meaning that decisions are interminable.

The liberal sentiments are so excessively written into the law that accused persons -like Karadzic - are treated like honored guests. The contempt power of courts seems nonexistent. Punishments are bizarrely lenient. I am not advocating the overcrowded rape-and-murder factories of our American prisons, most of which are rightfully condemned by international human rights organizations. But there must be some middle ground between 25-to-life in Angola for murder (or the death penalty) and 5 years in a Swedish spa.

Part of the problem, I fear, is that the Euro-lawyering profession itself is undereducated. European lawyers need only the equivalent of a bachelor's degree. Judges also are not chosen from the practicing bar, but are specially and separately trained in college and -also- have the equivalent of a 4-year-degree only. They are by design just bureaucrats. This means that the academic study of law is insufficiently integrated with the judiciary. In the USA, judges and experienced lawyers routinely participate in academic legal discussions.

I have tried for some time to figure out why the European justice system works so badly, and I am finally convinced that Europe needs a judicial revolution.

Now, I am *not* arguing that the American system needs to be adopted. I do believe the American system is better overall, but it has enormous faults too. The core of the American system - the adversarial system - need not be imported. But a few reforms seem necessary.

Part of the problem is that Europe's professional judges lack the disinterested impartiality of jurors, and the lack of an (unpaid) jury means that there is no incentive to finish trials quickly. Some form of citizen participation in criminal trials would be a great help.

Also, the American judicial system is by and large dominated by the bar, which has proven to be a pretty good thing in criminal law for a few interesting reasons. Our system is adversarial, the bar is overwhelmingly civil, not criminal, and prosecutors play very little role in it. Most of the elite lawyers' participation in criminal matters is pro bono representation of indigent defendants or theoretical advocacy. So the judiciary is more acccused-friendly and is a counterweight to the legislature and executive that are pro-prosecutor. The European bar needs to organize itself. Having judges selected from the bar, rather than through special schools with no professional exposure involvement to the bar, is crucial.

Europe needs to create post-university law schools with special training and specialized academic faculties, not just have a law department as part of the poli sci department. The 3-year law school is most useful because the third year is the place where academic study of law can really take place after a couple of years of intensive training.

Above all, Europe needs to construct and independent judiciary. The Napoleonic-era desire to make courts into mere bureaucratic adminitrators of Napoleonic-code justice (mere instruments of the code) is a failed experiment. The independent judiciary with its own contempt power and political power is the better model. Judicial power, feared and hated by French revolutionary reformers as tied up with King and Pope, needs to be restored and reinvigorated.

This is not bash-Europe day for me. What Europe must not lose in this process is its great desire to protect human rights. But the system is out of balance and, I fear, by design. The most visible part of the european justice system, the Hague, is a total fiasco. Thousand-page indictments and multi-year criminal trials have to stop. Due process cannot become an end in itself. It is not necessary to adopt an adversarial system with its philosophical constraints, but something must be done to alleviate the problem that the judges are charged with the roles of investigating, prosecuting, and defending the rights of the accused all at the same time. Shifting some of these burdens to a more profesionalized bar and leaving the judges to manage the efficiency of the system (ah, docket and calendar control!) will do a great service.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What is the EU and What is it Good For?

Hi Everyone,

A recent story in The Economist wonders aloud who will "wake up Europe." They decry eight "wasted years" and seem annoyed the the EU has not become something much more or at least different than it is today. But what I found interesting about the article was that it didn't go into a lot of detail about what the EU was or what The Economist wanted it to become or why.

These are important questions if we are to set appropriate expectations and define measures with which we can judge how well the EU has met them. So what is the EU? The European Union is a confederation of democratic states with varying periods of complete sovereignty prior to joining the EU.

First and foremost, it is a free trade area with a a common currency (used by most of the member states that have been in for more than 5 years) and an increasingly integrated economic market. This degree of economic integration is largely possible because of the high degree of regulatory harmonization that has taken place in the EU over the last half a century.

More than half of the regulations and laws that govern the day to day lives of Europeans are passed at the EU level rather than by the governments of the member states. These regulations are pass by a directly elected European Parliament and a Council of Ministers made up of the elected Cabinet Ministers of the member states.

So that's what it is. What's it good for? This system has unified the economies peacefully that countless kings, dictators and generalissimos have tried to unify through war for more than 2000 years. The EU has formed the keystone of a regional system in Europe that has preserved a more complete peace for a longer period of time across a wider cross section of the continent than any other international arrangement in history.

In my opinion, if the EU does nothing from now until the end of time it will be playing a critical and beneficial role in the lives of Europeans. It doesn't need to be a super state or a world power. It doesn't need to be a counter weight to the USA. It doesn't need to have a President. Even if the EU completely stagnates and ceases all change and institutional development, it will be fulfilling its most important role... establishing a peaceful and democratic order in which individuals may prosper and be happy. Everything else is just details.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Joe Lieberman is Such an Asshole

Joe Lieberman said today that he will filibuster Harry Reid's bill with the opt-out. So much for party unity and all that. It's all about Joe, all the time. It looks like we will have to do this with Snowe's vote, not with Joe. He makes me angrier than all the Republicans. Does anyone remember now that Joe Lieberman was Al Gore's running mate for the Democratic nomination in 2000? The Democratic platform that Lieberman ran on called for guaranteed access to health care for all children and allowing persons 55 years or older to buy into Medicare. It also called for Universal Health Coverage.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Momentum for Health Care Reform

The logic of elections and political power is finally bearing itself out in the health care reform debate. With control of the white house and large majorities in both houses of Congress, including 60 votes in the Senate, it was always within the power of the Democrats to pass sweeping reforms. It also has been their biggest issue for 20 years. This is what Democrats, what Obama, were elected for. So it is not too surprising that they are in a position to get it done.

What is surprising is how well it is working. Pelosi, Obama, and others did not lose their nerve (not so sure about Reid - he was better in the minority by far). And we are now on the verge of getting the legislation to the floor. What's better is that the question is now now "will there be a public option" but - likely- what kind. Moderate Dems are realizing that there is no way to demand cost containment but oppose the public option at the same time. Snowe is looking for a compromise. On the Democratic side, the question is whether Landrieu (LA), Nelson (NE) and Lieberman (FU) will vote against the whole package if it has a public option of some kind. The expectation is apparently now that they will "work against" having one, or work to water it down, but will not oppose the legislation altogether if one is included. It helps a lot that the Dow is at 10,000 and next week the numbers will come out showing the Great Recession is officially over, and that economic growth has resumed. True, there is still lots of pain, but the belief that things are going to improve - i.e., HOPE - is what elected the Democrats in 2008, and will bring them renewed political victories in 2010.

All this is not inside baseball. It is all about whether we will finally get health security for Americans, or whether we will continue to live in a country where most people's health insurance covers too little, and where we have no real choice (most of us get a "choice" of the one plan our employer offers -I can "choose" only one PPO or one HMO, for example). The irony is that only government employees really get more choices these days.

This is a big deal. So far, the President has done a bad job of selling the bill, but it's getting better. The insurance industry has helped out a lot. Private for-profit health insurance has committed atrocity after atrocity, and their unpopularity is a millstone around the neck of their GOP allies.

This is phase one: passing the bill. Phase two is capitalizing on the reform politically in 2010 and 2012.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This is Who, RBR

To answer the question RBR just posed - who is the anti-gay-rights initiative in Maine appealing to?

Well, today, the Vatican announced that it would provide a special mechanism for whole Anglican parishes or dioceses to join the Roman Catholic church en masse and retain some of their Anglican traditions - such as the book of common prayer - and their married clergy (but not bishops who are married, or priests who are [openly] gay, or ordained women). This bears some resemblance to the Eastern Rite and Uniate churches - the churches with married priests and Orthodox (not Catholic) rite that for historical reasons make obeisance to the Pope and are included in his RCC fold. As Catholic as you wanna be.

As a liberal Episcopalian, this is rather good news. Instead of dividing my house, the conservative reprobates can just leave. By sucking up the hardest core of conservatives, it will drain away the driving force behind talk of schism. Remove the agitators and the support for schism becomes shallow indeed. This will probably kill the Anglican"covenant" movement too. Lose the far right and the rest can find common ground. Go in peace, friends (but definitely go).

On second thought, however, it's a strange move for the Roman church. Apparently, only two things are important to being a Catholic (1) proclaiming fealty to the Pope and (2) excluding women and (openly) gay persons from full membership in the community. This is not much of a Rock now, is it? To say that these two issues are so much more important than all the others is, in the end, pretty sad. It is another betrayal of Vatican II which embraced modernity, if not (yet) liberalization of these issues.

It also is a setup for failure. As has been pointed out by many, the "market" doesn't need another church to exclude gays or subordinate women. That niche is oversubscribed. And if that's how you define yourself, then your congregation is just going to gradually grow old, male, and die. You can say a lot about homophobia, but you can't call it a growing movement. The more the Roman catholics tie themselves to heterosexual patriarchy, the smaller their future will be. There's a reason why the leadership on anti-gay issues is increasingly among protestant fundamentalists. It thrives only in a sealed terrarium of religious intolerance.

Of course the biggest issue is not the "gay" issue, but the "women" issue. Gays are only - at most - 10% of the population, and openly gay Christians are a much smaller percentage of the whole. Women, however, are a solid majority of churchgoers everywhere, and definitely the majority of active members.

Here's the rub: the Vatican's new position today has nothing to do with the holy Spirit, and everything to do with conservative politics. If I were trying to keep people from giving the gospel faith a chance, I couldn't think of a more devious strategy.


A WWII Vet Speaking About Equality For Gays In Maine

This is a great clip of a WWII vet speaking about whether or not Gay people should have the same rights as anyone else. This is yet another demonstration of why the current incarnation of the Republican party is so marginalized and likely to continue to be so until it undergoes a revolutionary purge of the Religious fanatics that dominate it today. If they can't win over an elderly, white, male, war veteran on a social issue who are they appealing to? The fringe of the fringe? Hate mongers?


Monday, October 19, 2009

Run Off in Afghanistan

So the President of Afghanistan did not really win reelection outright in the first round after all. With enough fraudulent votes for Karzai invalidated to drop his support to about 48%, Karzai will now face a run off against Abdullah Abdullah, a former member of the Northern Alliance and former Foreign Minister of both the transitional government and Karzai's government.

Abdullah Abdullah was a close associate of Ahmad Massoud who was assassinated by Al Qaeda on September 9, 2001. Now, the Northern Alliance guys are not pussy cats. There are accusations of human rights violations and several of the "tribal warlord" types in the north-west don't really like them. But this faction does have long standing ties to Russia, the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, Turkey, Iran and India. Those could prove be useful contacts for the next Afghan administration - and their American allies.

I think this is a great chance for the Obama administration that they will accept democratic outcomes even if they are inconvenient. First and foremost because I doubt Abdullah Abdullah will be terribly unfriendly to American policy objectives. And what's more, if the US had resisted this or quashed it (probably what the Bushies would have been tempted to do), it would have fatally linked us to an illegitimate and increasingly corrupt and unpopular Karzai. This way, whether Karzai wins or loses the US can at least plausibly claim some neutrality in the election and hopefully reinforce the legitimacy of who ever the winner of the second round is.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gay Rights March on Washington

There was a significant but not overwhelmingly important gay rights march on Washington today. It will not be more impressive than West Hollywood or the Castro district (SF) on Halloween. There is no doubt that many in the gay community want gay rights to become the civil rights issue of the 2010s. This march was part of that. Notably, Barney Frank was not on board with the march. As we know in California where gay rights groups are divided as to whether to bring an initiative for gay marraige in 2010 or 2012 - and they are idiotically having their fight through the press- the gay community is VERY internally divided.

Who can be surprised? For decades and generations, the gay community has been divided between those who were more out or more in the closet. The community has divided mightily and personally on strategies of infiltration, collaboration, or confrontation. In this respect, the gay community is more divided than the black community ever was - since for blacks, the ability to just "fit in" and be hidden was never an option.

My strong inclination is to oppose, at this time, a nationalization of the gay rights movement. first, it has been organized on the local and state level for the last 2 decades, and it has been very successful. Second, gay rights groups do less well the larger the forum of contest is. The biggest success is at the local level, then smaller states, then larger states, then nationwide has been the hardest of all. I agree with Barney Frank in principle that the state-by-state movement is working well and should be continued.

Here's my thought: Imposition of equal rights by federal fiat will ultimately be necessary in the benighted South run by its Republican-Baptist theocracy, but it will be a much harder and more politically expensive battle if the East, North, and West are not yet fully on board. Even national issues are really more local than they seem. I am heartened, for example, by the fact that Senator Reid just wrote an open letter to President Obama demanding repeal of don't ask-don't tell in the military. A mormon senator from Nevada? Well, Nevada is trending Democratic, is very libertarian in its social policies, and Harry Reid wants gay money from California next door. Which he will now get, I presume. But this is really about local positioning by Reid, not really about national policy (since Obama is not expected to move in that direction quickly and Reid is not really expected to push him - this is about positioning Reid vis-a-vis Nevada and California).

So maybe big marches on Washington should be postponed for 5-10 years. March on Sacramento first.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why the Census and Redistricting Really Matter

There's an excellent post by Tom Schaller on that contains a number of nuggets of neat information. The post is about the "generic congressional ballot" (GCB) which is a nationwide aggregate survey of party preference in congressional elections. The question is simply "will you vote D or R?" We are so far away from the 2010 elections that only the broadest trends of red/blue have any vague predictive value now. My personal take on election polling is that polls more than six months out are as useful as predictions of the weather - on a particular day - six months out. Right now the GCB is trending more Republican than it has since 2005. But, as I like to point out, unemployment is at 10% and the Democrats are slogging through very hard agenda items in Congress. Next summer, with a year of legislative accomplishments behind them and a recovering economy, I would expect the GCB to tilt Democratic again.

Most politicos are waking up to the fact that the conventional wisdom that the president's party loses seats in the midterm elections didn't hold true in 1998 or 2002. In fact, other than big-change elections in 2006 and 1994, there has been no such "natural" drift in midterms for almost 20 years. Many things affect what may be a change, but here's the basic analysis: we no longer have coattail driven presidential politics, where the president's personal popularity sweeps in a set of reps who would never have won otherwise, and who therefore lose in midterms. We have presidents and parties much more politically aligned and polarized than in previous years. Thus the presidential popularity and vote share more closely match congressional vote shares. The 1994 and 2006 elections were examples of the president's unpopularity being reflected in Congress.

What is fascinating is the comment by a noted pollster that, in this decade, he simply subtracts 2 from the Democratic column in the GCB because Democrats are concentrated in fewer districts. Because of the GOP advantage in statehouses in 2000-2001 redistricting period (and the unbelievable mid-term redistricting in Texas later), Democratic-voting districts are more democratic than Republican districts. So much is the tilt that pollsters simply discount some Democratic strength in polling. Remember that the main use of gerrymandering is to arrange a situation where your party has 51% majorities in most districts, leaving the opposition to have supermajorities in a few districts.

Now realize that - despite this - the Democrats have surged to big electoral majorities in the House in 2006 and 2008.

So in 2010, we will see another round of redistricting. Odds are that, unlike 2000, the Democrats will control the process in Ohio, Iowa, California (somewhat), Colorado, and New York, and will have acquired some veto power over the process (e.g., control of one legislative house or governor's seat) in Virginia, Montana, and Nevada. This will make the House trend more Democratic in the next decade. The big question is what happens in Texas. Texas will get up to 4 new seats depending on how the math is figured. 3 is likely. Right now, the Texas lower house is split almost 50/50 for the first time in years. Dems have been reorganizing and gaining strength there as internal migration and demographic change in Texas has brought in non-Texans from around the USA and minority groups, including the Katrina refugees. If the Democrats can take over a legislative chamber in Texas in 2010, this will be very huge.

Note that the Senate is not gerrymandered. So with advances in gerrymandering technology (data and computers) the Senate has become almost more responsive to changes in national politics than the House.


Friday, October 09, 2009

This is going to drive Republicans NUTS

Hi Everyone,

By now you have probably heard that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. I guess he will be going back to Scandinavia again. This time with a more successful story line.

It is extremely telling that the Nobel committee compared awarding the prize to Obama to their award to Gorbachev. They see Obama's presidency in the context of the over throw of a tyrannical system - namely Bush's approach to world politics.

This award is certainly as much a slap in the face of George W. Bush and his approach to foreign policy as it is a recognition anything Obama has accomplished in the first several months of his presidency. As such, it will drive Republicans UP THE WALL. There will be a chorus of complaints about how Obama isn't really serving American interests but the interests of lilly livered lefties who would give aid and comfort to "terrists."


Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I found this interesting.

The US government has relaxed its control over how the internet is run.
It has signed a four-page "affirmation of commitments" with the net regulator Icann, giving the body autonomy for the first time.
Previous agreements gave the US close oversight of Icann - drawing criticism from other countries and groups.
The new agreement comes into effect on 1 October, exactly 40 years since the first two computers were connected on the prototype of the net.
"It's a beautifully historic day," Rod Beckstrom, Icann's head, told BBC News.
First of all, I didn't even know the U.S. basically ruled the internet like that. Second, some people seem to think this doesn't fix any of ICANN's problems.

Third ... does this affect day-to-day life on the internet at all? Can someone give me a primer?


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The NRA is Dishonest and Sleazy

I just got - four minutes ago - a "push poll" from the NRA. They called my office, identified themselves as the NRA taking a one-question poll, and asked me what I thought of "the UN scheme to ban all guns in America." I curtly informed them that this was a place of business. I would have told the volunteer calling me that she and her organization were being incredibly dishonest, sleazy, and were originally formed to defend the KKK, but why bother. They're not right in the head, they are armed, and they seem to know where I work.

That's how the NRA operates, people. Total dishonest sleaze.


It Was Only A Matter Of Time

Iowa's supreme court recently ruled that Gays have the same rights to get married as anyone else. Iowa has a history of trying to entice its expatriates in California and other places to come back to Iowa. Iowa has a far lower cost of living (especially relative to average wages) and something of a youth and brain drain problem that state leaders have been trying to reverse for years. But this ruling is encouraging some people in Iowa go after people who may never have lived her before. A handful of tourism boards in Eastern Iowa set up shop at Gay Days in Disneyland advertising Iowa as a place to get married and live in peace and equality. The link above is to a news story from the biggest city in that part of the state, Cedar Rapids.

This is a really great idea and I hope it works.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Deep Thought

I bet that if I drugged and raped a 13 year-old girl, I wouldn't get 100 Hollywood big shots rushing to my defense. Just a guess.

How is this an issue they should be defending? And Woody Allen ... you probably should have sat this one out.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

So Much For the Decline of the Left

So with a series of elections among the wealthy countries of the world since the 2008 crash, there have been some high profile defeats for the traditional center-left parties. The center-left got beaten badly by the center right in the EP elections earlier this year. Then there have been some bi-election embarrassments for the British Labor Party that have many pundits all but writing that party's reelection chances off completely. Then the German Social Democrats were crushed in the elections there at the same time that the pro-market FDP surged to their best electoral result ever. One could be forgiven for thinking there is something seriously wrong with the center-left - or at least something has gone wrong with their relationship with voters. But two elections in wealthy countries are bucking this trend. In Japan, the center-left managed to unify and form the first single party government other than the LDP in Japan's post WWII history. And today, PASOK won the elections in Greece.

So what does this all mean? Probably not much in the way of consistent partisan shifts in among wealthy democracies. Rather this is probably all just a "throw the bums out" phenomenon. Especially in countries where the 2008 financial collapse has cause serious problems, voters are just reacting against what they perceive as the incumbent governing parties' responsibility for the economy. One thing I think is safe to say from this, any declines in the electoral fortunes of any center-left parties around the world are likely due to the idiosyncrasies of local politics (especially when the center-left are the incumbents going into the election) rather than any world wide reaction against the welfare state or taxes in the face of the recession.


What the Irish "Yes" on Lisbon in do over vote means

Yesterday, the Irish Republic held a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. (If you don't trust the EU to be objective about the treaty, check out the wiki site here.) Last time, they had a referendum on this Treaty, the Irish voted "No" (53.4% against). This time they voted "Yes" by a HUGE margin (67% in favor). The Czech Republic and Poland have yet to ratify but won't be doing so by referendum so their eventual ratification can be expected to be smoother. So this vote means the Lisbon Treaty is likely to be the law of the EU sooner rather than later.

The Lisbon Treaty is designed to implement many of the institutional changes (changes in the application of voting rules, changes in how majorities are measured in the Council of Ministers, new positions for foreign policy spokesperson and new "President of the EU" who will be largely a figure head) that were included in the now failed Constitutional Treaty. The best feature of this treaty, in my view, is that it will codify a new means of determining a majority vote in the Council of Ministers. In the past, majorities of various types in the Council were calculated by a system of weighted votes with each country's weight in the Council carefully negotiated to produce an acceptable (to the national governments) balance of influence among the various member states. This is all well and good but it required extensive renegotiations of the decision making rules every time a new member state joined. And it could potentially require renegotiation as political, economic and demographic conditions in the various member state change (remember that the Eastern Member States are changing very rapidly right now). Imagine if the US had to rewrite Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution every time a new state joined or the demographics in the country shifted.

The new method will be based on the number of governments voting together and the percentage of the EU population they represent. This updates itself automatically so this new method can become a permanent fixture. This alone is a huge improvement over the status quo and should have argued forcefully for the treaty's ratification.

The creation of the "President of the EU" and the "Representative for Foreign Affairs" are largely ceremonial. Neither will have much in the way of real political influence. But these features are what are drawing much of the anti-Treaty attention. The Foreign Affairs rep in particular would be allow to propose foreign policy missions but these would only be approved through unanimous vote of the Council so such proposal power isn't likely to be much beyond a media event that could start a debate but not - in of itself - constrain any member state government.