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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Rule of Law

We'll soon know (probably on Monday) whether the Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Medellin v. Dretke. What the Court does with this case will tell the world a lot about how the U.S. views its legal obligations.

Medellin is one of the cases affected by the International Court of Justice's recent judgment over what to do about U.S. violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. You'll probably have heard about this: the convention requires that when a foreigner is arrested, his nation's consulate be advised, but some local police forces didn't have procedures in place to ensure compliance. A number (roughly 50) of foreigners were convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death without their consulates' knowledge. (Since the controversy arose, the State Department has been working hard to inform local police about the convention and ensure that repeat occurrences are minimized, an effort for which the ICJ commended the U.S.).

The ICJ decided that the U.S. had violated the convention. As a remedy, it ordered the U.S. to review these defendants' cases and determine whether the violation had affected the cases. In other words (as I read the ICJ judgment), if the U.S. decides that they would have been convicted and sentenced to death anyway, the executions may go forward.

The 5th Circuit held that since Medellin hadn't raised the Vienna Convention issue at trial, he'd waived any right to argue it on appeal or habeas corpus review. I, and I think most other observers, had understood the ICJ ruling to require review of the substance of each case, and not to permit a finding of "procedural bar." Because of its waiver ruling, the 5th Circuit didn't determine whether the convention violation had affected Medellin's trial. The 5th Circuit may have been correct as a matter of U.S. precedent, since the Supreme Court refused to stay an execution in spite of an order from the ICJ to the U.S. not to execute the Mexicans who were the subject of the ICJ proceedings while the ICJ was deciding the case. But even if its action was compelled by the Supreme Court's earlier decision (which is arguable), the U.S. as a whole would be in violation of its sworn international obligations if the courts didn't reach the merits of each case.

Just so you don't have to take my word for it, here's an excerpt from a summary of the ICJ case by Professor William Aceves:

The Court indicated that review and reconsideration must be effective and must provide “a procedure which guarantees that full weight is given to the violation of the rights set forth in the Vienna Convention, whatever may be the actual outcome of such review and reconsideration.” Thus, the procedural default rule cannot be used to preclude a defendant from raising a Vienna Convention violation. In addition, the Court stated that review and reconsideration must occur “with a view to ascertaining whether in each case the violation of Article 36 committed by the competent authorities caused actual prejudice to the defendant in the process of administration of criminal justice.” Thus, the Court declined Mexico’s request to find that a Vienna Convention violation must automatically result in the partial or total annulment of conviction or sentence.

The Court also averred that it was not determining the correctness of any conviction or sentence issued by a U.S. court. It continued:

The question of whether the violations of Article 36, paragraph 1, are to be regarded as having, in the causal sequence of events, ultimately led to convictions and severe penalties is an integral part of criminal proceedings before the courts of the United States and is for them to determine in the process of review and reconsideration. In so doing, it is for the courts of the United States to examine the facts, and in particular the prejudice and its causes, taking account of the violation of the rights set forth in the Convention.

I have added italics to emphasize two things: first, it's quite hard to read the ICJ's decision as permitting the U.S. to dismiss the defendants' or Mexico's Vienna Convention claims because they didn't raise them earlier; and, second, the ICJ isn't saying that anyone has to be retried, let alone released, but is leaving it up to the U.S. to decide whether any defendant was prejudiced by the violations and, if so, what the appropriate remedy should be.

I very much hope the Court grants certiorari and eventually vacates the 5th Circuit's judgment. If we comply with our legal obligations--not only did we sign the convention, but we agreed to ICJ jurisdiction to resolve disputes--we'll probably still end up executing most or all of these defendants, but we'll show that we respect the rule of law. If we just blow it off, saying that because of our procedural rules, the courts won't undertake the review that the U.S. has been ordered to undertake, that will send quite a different message.

My prediction, for what it's worth, is that the Court will defer its decision on certiorari and ask the Acting Solicitor General for a brief "expressing the views of the United States [i.e., the federal government]" on whether the case should be reviewed. That may take some time, as the S.G.'s office will have to consult with lots of interested stakeholders within the government, e.g., the treaty people at State and the "federalists" at Justice. So it might be a while before the Court decides whether to hear the case, though that raises the specter of more applications for stays of execution if Medellin or others come up against their execution dates before the Court disposes of the certiorari petition.

BTW, although I've written that Alberto Gonzales is better than many others whom Bush could have chosen as AG, this is another issue where he hasn't covered himself with glory. Gonzales was counsel to then-Governor Bush when the Mexican government made a Vienna Convention claim on behalf of Irineo Tristan Montoya, a Mexican national on death row in Texas. Gonzales advised Bush: "Since the State of Texas is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, we believe it is inappropriate to ask Texas to determine whether a breach...occurred in connection with the arrest and conviction." This is such an idiotic argument that it's hard to know where to begin--the Supremacy Clause might be one place, though.

posted by Arnold P. California at 9:15 AM

Arnold P., Opinion Leader

Lesser pundits are playing catch-up.

Long after I described the interplay between our budget deficit, trade deficit, and exchange rates--and the potential for disaster if we remain on the same course--the New York Times Editorial Board, Robert Reich, and Atrios are getting around to it. Atrios even stole the title of my post verbatim: "Thanks, George" (Atrios is also in Europe at the moment, so he's feeling the pinch of the weak dollar directly).

Also from from the land of Atrios, we have stand-in Hecate catching on to the irony of the U.S. government's lecturing Ukraine about election administration and transparency, another recent Arnold P. topic.

Now that I'm a leader of men, I'll try not to forget the little people who were there on the way up.

posted by Arnold P. California at 8:46 AM

Bloggy Thanksgiving Treats

Or, as Atrios would call it, turkee.
  • "Dozens of homeless people have appeared on the streets of Amsterdam sporting warm jackets emblazoned with an advert for ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's."
  • "Depending on the commentator's disposition towards the character, Zwarte Piet is either an Ethiopian orphan who was saved by slavery by Saint Nicolas, a chimney sweep (who presumably hasn't had time to have a bath) or a 'Moorish assistant' who really enjoys doing all the work for his white friend." [I've previously mentioned this issue]
  • No boobs on the front page of today's Telegraaf (unless you count President Putin); but Georgina Verbaan's website features a large mammogram and a link to "a 'Boobgate video'" that Ms. Verbaan promises is "the ultimate 'BOOBGATE' guide." Netherlands residents can get an access code to the video by calling the Dutch version of a 1-900 number. (Her triumphant message says the paparazzi and media have gone crazy, but now that the truth is out, perhaps they will say, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." This last bit is in English, and for the life of me I can't figure out what it means in this context. I suspect it has to do with some unnatural sexual practice among the heathen Dutch.)
  • Finally, from the "Did You Know?" department: how many Americans are aware that many of the Pilgrims left England in 1609 (not 1620) and settled for a decade in Leiden, right here in the beautiful Netherlands?

posted by Arnold P. California at 7:25 AM

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Billy Graham's Integrity

One of the constant drumbeats that is heard from the Religious Right and their allies is that the mainstream media is so anti-religious in its news coverage. So how does one explain the following headline from Saturday's New York Times article about a Billy Graham crusade?
"In Time of Turmoil, Graham Offers Soothing Words"
But Graham's private words have not always been soothing for all Americans.

In 1972, Graham told then-President Richard Nixon that Jews had a "stranglehold" on America's news and entertainment business -- a stranglehold that had "to be broken or the country's going down the drain."

Then, for good measure, the North Carolina minister added this gem:
"... a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I'm friendly with Israel. But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country."
The Times article described Graham as a "counselor" to presidents. He was someone "who stayed free from both politics and scandal," and the timing of his crusade in California was, in the Times' words, "impeccable."

I suppose it's true that the disclosure of that '72 conversation did not create what could reasonably be called a scandal. Nonetheless, Graham's words certainly stunned and disappointed many Americans (Jews and Christians alike).

Moreover, Graham's trangression was somewhat Clintonesque, given that he'd insisted in May 1994 (before the 1972 tape transcript was released) that he had "never talked publicly or privately about the Jewish people, including conversations with President Nixon, except in the most positive terms."

Within its 24-paragraph story, the Times did not make any mention of Graham's stinging '72 comments about Jews. Instead, staff writer Charlie LeDuff closed his story with an admiring quote from one of those who attended Graham's crusade -- a quote that included these words:
"You hear of men of God who fall short. Billy Graham has integrity."
Yeah. Integrity.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 3:14 PM

The Perception of Power

The American Prospect has an article on Kay Daly and the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary. In the past, I have taken exception to Daly's hack postings over at Southern Appeal (she, thankfully, doesn't post much over there any more) and, thanks to the Prospect, I see that she is every bit the hack I had suspected
In interviews and on the coalition's website,, Daly describes the group as comprising "more than 75 grassroots organizations dedicated to supporting qualified, capable federal judicial nominees." In an e-mail, Daly told me that the groups include Americans for Tax Reform, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, and a number of others. Asked to name the group's top dozen donors, she said the organization hadn't focused on fundraising in the past but hoped to raise between $500,000 and $1 million in the coming year, mainly from small donors.

Ms. Daly also concedes that her group's staff now consists of "just me." And as is true with so many other "grassroots" groups on the right, it's impossible to know just how much clout the "coalition" she presides over actually wields.


After all, Daly doesn't appear to have any particular qualifications to speak as an expert on legal affairs. She is not a lawyer; she is a political consultant with an extensive background in marketing. She's worked a variety of corporate communications jobs, most recently with the Signature Agency, a Raleigh-based firm that develops marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies.

Daly is at bottom a Republican operative. She has held a range of communications and policy positions for GOPers, like former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and former Representative Fred Heineman of North Carolina. In the mid-1990s, Daly married Jack Daly, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor. The Dalys represent a picture-perfect Republican union -- their second son's middle name is "Reagan" -- and are fierce partisan warriors who are not afraid to get their hands dirty on behalf of client or party. Jack Daly threw waffles at candidate Bill Clinton during a campaign stop in Winston-Salem in 1992. And last spring, in the midst of a nasty Republican congressional primary in North Carolina, the Dalys were accused of sending out fictitious e-mails to Christian voters about a rival of Kay Daly's candidate, in which a character named "Pastor Randy" falsely alluded to a variety of lurid criminal charges against the rival. Kay Daly has denied involvement.
Hmmm ... a one-person operation run by a "stay-at-home mom" is not quite the fearsome "coalition" I had imagined.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 1:07 PM

Physician, Heal Thyself

Residents of the District of Columbia have grown used to GOP Congressional leaders controlling or meddling in their electoral and policy decisions, but it's especially outrageous when a Democrat engages in the same kind of behavior.

In an editorial in today's Washington Post, the newspaper correctly rakes Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) over the coals for inserting an a last-minute appropriations rider without consulting District officials:
"Fortunately, at the last hour real friends of the city on Capitol Hill undid most of Ms. Landrieu's damage by eliminating her appropriations riders, which, according to city officials, would have jeopardized current dispositions of school properties, resulting in a significant loss of revenue to the city; given charter schools an additional or double discount that could amount to 50 percent on property purchased from the city; and changed leave-of-absence provisions for teachers, undercutting the school system's ability to plan for adequate teacher coverage.

"Why on earth would Ms. Landrieu arbitrarily take such unilateral action without a word to city officials? Apparently the Louisiana senator, despite her oft-professed respect for local self-determination, is inclined to throw comity and courtesy to the wind and grant the wishes of local charter groups when lobbied directly.

"The bill ... still has a problem provision that takes away any discretion by the mayor and D.C. Council on the disposition of future school property, giving charter schools the right of first refusal on any property the school system wants to sell. Yes, it derails the District's service and revenue priorities. But why should the senator and the charter group she serves care?

"... The District is probably the most charter-friendly jurisdiction in the country ... The city reports that it has opened 45 charter schools ..."
So the District has 45 charter schools. How many charter schools are operating in Landrieu's home state of Louisiana? As of last school year, a grand total of 16.

Nearly 1 out of 6 District students attends a charter school. By contrast, roughly 1 out of every 173 Louisiana students attends a charter school. And an educational profile of states produced by the pro-charter Heritage Foundation assessed the strength of Louisiana's charter school law as "weak."

So if Landrieu wants to railroad through Congress a pro-charter school provision, shouldn't she be targeting her home state?

And one final question: should Landrieu be doing special favors for the charter-school lobby in light of recent student achievement data that reflects poorly on charter school performance?

posted by Frederick Maryland at 10:50 AM

Yet More Lefty Soul-Searching (or -Rending)

Mikhaela adds to the literature on lesbians feeling guilty about "helping" Bush. Then she gets really, really bitter. It's just a peachy-keen time for us America-haters.

posted by Arnold P. California at 10:44 AM

Daily Darfur

Happy Thanksgiving

A boy sleeps in the shade of a grass shelter at Zam Zam camp near El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, November 22, 2004. Tribal clashes have blocked the delivery of food aid in parts of western Sudan's Darfur region despite recent peace agreements. More than 20 months of fighting in Darfur has driven 1.5 million people from their villages, creating what the U.N. calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:27 AM


Via The Carpetbagger Report

G. Gordon Liddy loves the GOP
The Fuhrer was G Gordon Liddy's first political hero. Liddy was a sickly, asthmatic child when he grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 1930s. The town was full of ethnic Germans who idolized Hitler. Liddy was made to salute the Stars and Stripes Nazi-style by the nuns at his school; even now, he admits, "at assemblies where the national anthem is played, I must suppress the urge to snap out my right arm." His beloved German nanny taught him that Hitler had - through sheer will-power - "dragged Germany from weakness to strength."

This gave Liddy hope "for the first time in my life" that he too could overcome weakness. When he listened to Hitler on the radio, it "made me feel a strength inside I had never known before," he explains. "Hitler's sheer animal confidence and power of will [entranced me]. He sent an electric current through my body." He describes seeing the Nazis' doomed technological marvel the Hindenberg flying over New Jersey as an almost religious experience. "Ecstatic, I drank in its colossal power and felt myself grow. Fear evaporated and in its place came a sense of personal might and power."
As the Carpetbagger said, "unless Liddy prefaced his remarks by saying, 'I completely disagree with everything I'm about to say...' these are the kind of comments that should ruin Liddy's career and drive him from American public life."

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:01 AM

Just Don't Hit Me in the Crossfire

Oh, great. So now the Muslim preacher who wished right-wing jerk MP Geert Wilders were dead has gone into hiding himself, apparently in fear because of the outcry over his comments. So we're now up to two MPs and one imam under death threats, plus the brutal murder of a man who referred to Muslims as "goat fuckers" and ended up with an Islamist screed stuck in his chest with a knife.

I wish we could put all these idiots on an asteroid, along with the Falwell-Dobson-Bob Jones crowd, revolutionary Marxists (are there any left?), right-wing orthodox Jews who think God wants Israel to annex the West Bank, al Qaeda, and everyone else who's so convinced he's right that he's going to kill or subjugate those who disagree. Let them fight over their little rock to their hearts' content.

Meanwhile, the sane folks can have a much nicer, more peaceful time of it here.

posted by Arnold P. California at 9:07 AM

Nieuws uit De Telegraaf

De Telegraaf is one of Holland's most popular papers (maybe the most popular; I haven't checked). Educated people look down their noses at it, as it's thought to be in the same class as the English tabloids. Maybe they're right, but it does give some insight into what people here are talking about.

F'rinstance, the front page today leads with the headline "Georgina is Purely Natural" and reports that mammography has put and end to Boobgate. You can even see the mammograms themselves and form your own opinion (I believe this kind of reportage is what EU bureaucrats refer to as "transparency"). There's also a video link that I haven't watched; I'm not sure whether it shows the doctors explaining the mammograms or something more racy. But you can see how critical this issue is to Dutch society -- otherwise why would the newspaper go to all that trouble to cover the story in such depth? (The next time you're chagrined by a frenzy over Scott Peterson or shark attacks, remind yourself of this and remember that the U.S. is not the worst offender).

Georgina herself is apparently elated: "From now on, I never want to talk about breasts again. I love my Harries, but the tremendous attention they've gotten since the Playboy article is really too much." I figured "harries" must be Dutch slang for breasts, but it appears that the word was properly capitalized: everyone in Holland (except me) apparently knew that Georgina named her breasts Harries (I think this is the plural of "Harry"; neither Harries nor Harrie nor Harry is a typical Dutch name). At least one 17-year-old blogger is sick of all this, saying: "It's fine if you want to give your breasts a name, but then name them Geertruida or Emalia (I know) but not Harries....Cheap, ordinary, and definitely not funny." In a display of Dutch openness, the blogger reveals that she is on the pill -- supposedly the cause of Georgina's sudden expansion -- but hasn't gained a single cup size. I'm figuring she's in the skeptics' camp.

In less important news (i.e., further down the page), we see that an imam named Abdul-Jabbar said on television last night that he wishes Dutch anti-immigration MP Geert Wilders were dead -- though he says he doesn't condone murder and that there's a big difference between the wish and the deed (English story here). In any case, Holland now has two MPs fearing for their lives, and this only a couple of years after right-wing, anti-immigration MP Pim Fortuyn was assassinated by an animal-rights activist.

Kind of takes the edge off of Boobgate, doesn't it?

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:41 AM

LA Cartoons II: The Not-at-All-Bitter Kerry Voter

I'm not sure I quite follow this one. If these are supposed to be the red states, how did New York, half of New England, Illinois, and Pennsylvania get on the map? I don't think Paul Conrad is that sloppy, but it's hard to get the point unless he meant to put only red states in the cartoon.

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:29 AM

LA Cartoons I: The Clear-Eyed Bush Voter

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:25 AM

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Because I Can

Those who write for blogs have a tendency to produce posts on idiosyncratic gripes that nobody else really cares about.

This is one of those posts.

This is a suggestion to the publishing industry, but since I doubt that anyone working in that industry actually reads this blog, it is just a self-indulgent suggestion I am making mainly because I have this small forum in which to do it.

I recently purchased the book "Origins of Rwandan Genocide" by Josias Semujanga. Now, I've read more than a dozen books on the topic and will pretty much read anything that has to do with the 1994 genocide. Having read thousands of pages on the issue, I feel I am pretty well-informed so it came as a bit of a disappointment that Semujanga's book is way, way over my head.

Without getting into the details, suffice it to say that this book is far more technical than I had anticipated and, in order to properly understand (or even follow) it, I am apparently required to be intimately familiar with the various theories regarding hundreds of years of Rwandan history put forth by various individuals I have never heard of.

I've read one-third of the book and I am totally lost and more than a little pissed that I just dropped $20 on it. The same thing happened when I first started to read about the genocide in Rwanda. The first book I picked up on the topic was "When Victims Become Killers" by Mahmood Mamdani. The back cover description was very straight-forward and made the book sound interesting and understandable.

It wasn't, but I've since gone back and re-read it after reading several other things and gound it to be quite informative.

I can't be the only person who has purchased a book on a topic of interest, only to discover that the level of analysis and technicality is far beyond what I am capable of understanding.

As such, I think the publishing industry ought to start rating their nonfiction books on the level of technicality. From 1 to 10, books ought to come with a technicality number so that people know what level of knowledge is required in order to understand it. For example, "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families" by Philip Gourevitch would get a 1, whereas Mamdani's and Semujanga's books would each get a 9.

Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" gets an 11.

Given that I have read quite a bit about Rwanda, I probably would have purchased Semujanga's book anyway, thinking I would be able to understand it. I wouldn't have, but at least I would have known what I was getting in to.

It is obvious that back cover descriptions are generally written quite simply in order to appeal to the widest possible audience, but that is misleading and unfair as it essentially tricks people into buying books that they probably won't be able to understand.

Maybe that is done intentionally, but I, for one, would greatly appreciate it if the people publishing and writing these books would give me some way of knowing when a book requires a substantial amount of knowledge in order to understand it.

I'm done complaining now. At least about this issue.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 4:37 PM

Feeling the Chill in NC

In an article published today on, Jim Lobe writes about the recent refusal of a North Carolina-based NPR affiliate to air a sponsoring announcement that contained the words "reproductive rights." The Raleigh News-Observer recently chronicled this disturbing story:
WUNC-FM recently informed Ipas, a Chapel Hill-based international women's rights and health organization, that the phrase "reproductive rights" in the group's on-air announcement could be interpreted as advocating a particular political position. The station required Ipas to use "reproductive health" instead.

WUNC made the change to avoid trouble with the Federal Communications Commission, general manager Joan Siefert Rose said. ... "We can accept sponsorships and make announcements from advocacy groups, but we can't use advocacy language," Rose said. "Unfortunately, the FCC doesn't specify what that is. There's no list of forbidden terms. The only way to find out if you've stepped over the line is if someone challenges it and the FCC issues a fine. So we are always pretty conservative in interpreting the announcements we make."
Can you say "chilling effect"?

For several months, Ipas' sponsorship statement had aired without challenge or controversy. Ipas has printed the sponsorship statement on its website:
"Ipas, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit that protects womens reproductive health and rights at home and abroad. More information available at"
Then, in October, the station informed Ipas that the word "rights" would no longer be permitted and suggested that the group come up with alternative language to describe its mission.

In a website statement, Ipas President Elizabeth Maguire declares:
We highly value WUNC listeners and want to inform them about our work. But there is no alternative language. Promoting reproductive rights is half of Ipas’s mission. WUNC’s position denies Ipas the right to describe itself accurately and completely. It goes against fundamental values which we -- and many others in our community -- expect our local public radio station to uphold.
Every half-witted vitamin, verility or hair-tonic peddler in America freely advertises on Limbaugh and other right-wing radio shows with hardly a peep from the FCC about the health claims these ads make. But behind-the-scenes pressure from the FCC has led a radio station to declare the term "reproductive rights" verboten.

That's one hell of a contrast.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 3:55 PM

Boobgate, Part II (in color)

Two things I left out of the Boobgate post. First, "Boobgate" is not my invention; it's what the "debate" is called here. Second, the boobs in question.

Frankly, it's a relief to have something in the Dutch news other than MPs who are in hiding in fear for their lives.

Not that violent Muslim fundamentalists would be much more in favor of Ms. Verbaan's work than they are of documentaries about women's rights under Islam.

Sigh. This was supposed to be a lighthearted post. The world just isn't a lighthearted place at the moment.

posted by Arnold P. California at 3:49 PM

Interesting Debate

Via Southern Appeal I found out about this very interesting post by Publius over at Legal Fiction regarding the future of the federal judiciary and the "activist" jurisprudence we can expect from Bush judges regarding economic and regulatory policies enacted by Congress.

Check it out, and read the comments as well; they are equally interesting.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 2:07 PM

Shorter Arnold P. (not that that's difficult)

I seem to have unwittingly hit upon a hot issue among the money people. My old hometown paper printed an article with several quotes that said more pithily what I tried to say yesterday. Samples:

Right now, our whole country's on life-support from Beijing and Tokyo.

The rest of the world has allowed us to enjoy a good lifestyle. But, at some point, we have to pay for it.

I don't know why people think a decline in the dollar is going to make foreigners more willing to buy our exports. If people don't want to buy our stuff, they're not going to buy our stuff.

At some point, China might decide it's best to cut us off this welfare scheme and start spending the money on their own citizens.

Notice a theme? If there's one thing the stereotypical red-stater hates, it's being at the mercy of foreigners.

Read the whole article. It does a very good job of explaining what the worries are and what the counterbalancing optimistic view is.

posted by Arnold P. California at 1:00 PM

"I Know Where He Stands ...... Against Me"

Earlier today, Eugene offered his assessment of the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. I have a similar, bewildered take on a different poll: the most recent New York Times-CBS News poll.

Pollsters and pundits kept telling us in the weeks preceding the election that voters who supported Bush liked him because "they know where he stands." But this doesn't quite explain why people supported someone whom they know stands far from where they stand on key issues.

With the Times-CBS News poll as the backdrop, consider the following:
On the tax code, administration officials are discussing plans that would, among other things, lower the tax rate on higher-income Americans and eliminate some deductions. In the poll, more than 6 in 10 of the respondents said people with higher incomes should pay a greater proportion of their income in taxes ...
And there is this additional tidbit from the Times article on the poll:
Nearly two-thirds of all respondents -- including 51 percent of Republicans -- said it was more important to reduce deficits than to cut taxes, a central element of Mr. Bush's economic agenda.
And then there is the gap between where Bush and the public stand on these issues:
Even as two-thirds of respondents said they expected Mr. Bush to appoint judges who would vote to outlaw abortion, a majority continue to say they want the practice to remain either legal as it is now, which was Mr. Kerry's position, or to be legal but under stricter limits.

Americans said they opposed changing the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which Mr. Bush campaigned on in the final weeks of his campaign. A majority continue to support allowing either same-sex marriages or legally recognized domestic partnerships for gay people.
The apparently flawed assumption that many of us made was that where a candidate stood on issues would matter more than simply knowing that the candidate had taken stands on issues.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 11:45 AM

I Hate Polls

From the most recent USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll
How would you rate the overall state of moral values in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

Excellent - 4%
Good - 22%
Only fair - 41%
Poor - 32%

Right now, do you think the state of moral values in the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse?

Getting better - 27%
Getting worse- 64%
Same - 7%
So some 73% of people think our moral values are fair or poor and 64% think they are getting worse. What should we do? Perhaps get the government to start promoting "traditional values"?
Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

Promote traditional values - 55%
Not favor any set of values - 41%
But wait, the government is already doing too much already
Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

Government doing too much - 55%
Government should do more - 36%
So I guess it is up to individuals to get better morals, preferably from their churches
Do you think the church or organized religion currently has too much or too little MORAL influence in America?

Too much - 27%
Right amount - 6%
Too little - 64%
But once they get those morals, they had better not start getting involved in politics
Do you think the church or organized religion currently has too much or too little POLITICAL influence in America?

Too much - 48%
Right amount - 7%
Too little - 40%
So apparently, the American people think that their government ought to stop doing so much, but that it should be promoting traditional values while the church needs to have more moral influence and less political influence.

I guess what this country needs are more candidates with strong religious and moral convictions who will pledge not to make policy based on those convictions.

I think my head is about to explode.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:35 AM


I just came across this editorial in the Allentown Morning Call on Sen. Specter and the Judiciary Committee. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about it - except for the conclusion
The bottom line is that the Senate GOP is five votes short of ending filibusters, and that will moderate the whole confirmation process.
As I said before, "huh?"

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:56 AM

Daily Darfur

Helicopters were needed to evacuate dozens of aid workers who were forced to flee when fighting broke out in North Darfur. At least 17 people were killed and a state of emergency has reportedly been declared.

The World Food Program is warning that the number of displaced people in Darfur will reach two million by next month.

Along with the fighting, a drought has wiped out this year's harvest in Darfur and the International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that there will be "an 85 percent crop loss."

And amid the calls for UN or AU peacekeeping troops to be deployed to Darfur, I guess we ought to keep this in mind
The United Nations is investigating about 150 allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. civilian staff and soldiers in the Congo, some of them recorded on videotape, a senior U.N. official said on Monday.

The accusations include pedophilia, rape and prostitution, said Jane Holl Lute, an assistant secretary-general in the peacekeeping department.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:33 AM


And now for something more titillating from the Low Countries.

Dutch actress Georgina Verbaan has vowed to publish x-rays to settle a major controversy - is her ample bosom natural or silicone-based?


According to a leaked contract, she was paid EUR 200,000 to appear naked in the Dutch edition of men's magazine Playboy. As soon as the December edition with the 12-page spread hit the news stands earlier this month, gossip magazines began to question whether she had undergone breast augmentation surgery.

RTL Nieuws reported on Tuesday that the issue is such a hot topic that search engine Google has logged 136,000 searches under her name in recent weeks.

The X-rays will appear on Verbaan's website, though how this will advance the debate among Playboy's "readers," few of whom I imagine are radiologists, is unclear.

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:27 AM

A Bright, Young Conservative Who Won't Be Appointed to the Supreme Court

Splitting the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been a pet project of social conservatives for years; they claim the court is too liberal. But the court features more than a few notable conservatives: Kleinfeld, O'Scannlain, Bybee, Hall, et al. The smartest of the circuit's conservatives is Alex Kozinski. I like to think of him as Scalia with principles: he's got the informal, acerbic, and compelling writing style, but he's not as result-oriented or hypocritical as Scalia. In an opinion (pdf) filed yesterday, Kozinski exhibited once again the qualities that will keep him from ever being mentioned on a "short list" of potential Bush Supreme Court nominees. Kozinski is a conservative of the libertarian variety, and his appreciation of the need to keep the government (particularly police and immigration authorities) in check may stem from his childhood in Communist Romania; but that view is not at home in the conservatism of the administration that brought you John Ashcroft and Guantanamo.

Yesterday's decision exemplified a serious conservative judicial no-no: federal judges overturning a state criminal conviction. The prosecution failed to turn over evidence that would have undermined its theory of the case. Kozinski's depiction of the facts is as masterly as usual and shows why overturning convictions on "technicalities" (like the Due Process Clause) is sometimes the right thing to do.

In this case, the situation was so clear that the more conventionally and consistently conservative Cythia Holcomb Hall, Chief Justice Rehnquist's ex-girlfriend (try not to think about it), joined the unanimous decision. But Kozinski's tendency to protect individuals from government overreaching, even when law enforcement and national security are at stake, disqualifies him from advancement in this "strict constructionist" administration.

posted by Arnold P. California at 5:46 AM

Arnold P. Scooped Again

It's not only Alan Greenspan who got to this issue before I did yesterday, and with a hell of a lot more authority. Turns out the finance ministers of 20 countries also chatted about it in Berlin over the weekend. Bad planning on my part: I was in Berlin the previous weekend and missed a chance to get a groupie's-eye view of the people who are professionally required to worry about the plummeting dollar.

Update: Argh! Now Atrios is on the case as well, pushing my brilliant economic analysis even further into the background. The connection isn't in the lengthy quote in the Atrios post, but in the post-quote comment about letting the dollar drop and inflation rise in order to reduce the real value of Americans' consumer debt. This is closely related (I think) to my point about foreigners' willingness to invest in American bonds (i.e., debt) if our currency is going to be worth less when the bonds come due than it is now.

posted by Arnold P. California at 5:42 AM

Further Evidence that the State Department Is Out of Step with the Bush Administration

From yesterday's State Department press briefing by deputy spokesman Adam Ereli:
And as I said earlier, this is not a question about support for one candidate or another candidate. This is a question about support for the democratic process, for people being able to--without intimidation or harassment or the threat of violence--to be able to freely express their opinion, and for that opinion to be accorded its due weight in a fair and transparent process. That, up until now, has not happened in the Ukraine.
That's so cute. Those naive souls at State think the U.S. can credibly come out against the harassment of voters and in favor of a "transparent" election process.

Tinfoil hat caveat: I don't believe Bush stole the election, and I certainly haven't seen, among the theories circulating in cyberspace, decent evidence to shake that belief.

But, as others have pointed out, permitting Diebold to keep its code secret and failing to require meaningful audits of electronic voting machines mean that the process in the U.S. is anything but transparent. And the GOP has a longstanding (for at least 40 years) policy of harassing and intimidating voters, as I discussed ad nauseam before the election.

posted by Arnold P. California at 5:20 AM

Monday, November 22, 2004

Parley-Vous "Intelligence Reform"?

Sometimes, even friends and allies speak to the public and to each other through endless layers of subtext. Permit me to translate the recent article by Associated Press reporter Jim Abrams, who assessed Congress' failure thus far to pass an overhaul of the country's intelligence funding and oversight. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) have championed the proposed bipartisan package of intelligence reforms.

Here are some excerpts from Abrams' article, which appeared in numerous daily newspapers on Monday:
"For us to do the bill in early December it will take significant involvement by the president and the vice president," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. "It will take real focus on their part."
Translation: The President hasn't given intelligence reform the necessary attention.
At a news conference after an economic summit in Chile, Bush said: "I was disappointed the (intelligence reform) bill didn't pass. I thought it was going to pass up to the last minute." He said he and Vice President Dick Cheney had talked with key members of the House and "it was clear I wanted the bill passed."
Translation: Apparently, it was every bit as "clear" to Congress that Bush wanted an intelligence reform bill as it was that he wanted an extension of the assault weapons ban.
The legislation has met resistance from (Defense Secretary) Rumsfeld and other Pentagon leaders who do not want to cede control of the intelligence budget. The Pentagon now controls roughly 80 percent of the estimated $40 billion spent on intelligence each year.

"It's well-known that the secretary of defense wasn't enthusiastic about this loss of budget authority," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on NBC's "Meet the Press." McCain said Pentagon obstruction of legislation backed by the president was "one of the more Byzantine kind of scenarios that I have observed in the years that I have been in Congress."
Translation: It's incredibly outrageous that a secretary of defense would dare to obstruct Congressional reforms that his boss (the president) has repeatedly stated that he wants passed.
While acknowledging opposition from the Pentagon, (Republican Senator Pat) Roberts also said some has come from the White House "despite what the president has said."
Translation: Either the president can't control his own White House on this issue or he's simply lying about his true position.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 11:12 PM

Oh. Gawd. No.

I swear my blood ran cold when I read this:
Bush calls for verifying Iran nuclear claims

Nov. 22, 2004 | CARTAJENA, Colombia (AP) -- President Bush said Monday that he hopes Iran's claim that it has suspended uranium enrichment and has no nuclear weapons ambitions is true, but "there must be verification."
It's not the fact that it sounds just like pre-Iraq days BUT it is the same fundamental bind that we put Iraq in-- Bush challenging another country that we do not trust to build trust by demanding that they prove a negative.

Yes, there are all sorts of sensible, logical ways to prove this particular negative-- inspections, yadda, yadda. But if recent history teaches us anything, what if "we" refuse to believe Iran or the findings of the inspectors? What position does that inevitably place us in? What reason would Bush give to justify believing Iran more than Iraq?

(big, deep sigh)

posted by Zoe Kentucky at 4:34 PM

The "Nuclear Option" Reborn

The talk of Republicans using the "nuclear option" to stop the Democratic filibuster of judicial nominees first surfaced in the spring of 2003, as evidenced by this article (for which I have no link)
GOP senators keep 'nuclear option' in reserve for judges

692 words
7 May 2003
The Washington Times

Republicans could immediately break the current filibusters against two of President Bush's judicial nominees with a rarely used parliamentary procedure that would confirm them through a simple majority vote, according to a plan under consideration by Senate Republicans.

The tactic would be so drastic in the usually congenial Senate that Republicans refer to it as their "nuclear option."
Back in the summer of 2003, PFAW described the "nuclear option" as such
While this proposal is itself controversial, it is the threat of exploiting parliamentary rules in order to forcibly eliminate the filibuster by a bare majority vote that presents the greatest threat to the political environment and the Constitution. Under normal conditions, attempting to change the rules regarding cloture votes (Rule XXII) would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate (67 votes), which would inevitably fail considering that Republicans cannot now even secure the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture on the current nominees. Thus, Republican senators are considering a so-called “nuclear option” that would not entail seeking a Senate vote on a rule change, but rather a ruling from the presiding officer of the Senate, most likely Vice-President Dick Cheney, that Rule XXII doesn’t apply to judicial nominations. As it would require 51 senators to override Cheney’s ruling, Senate rules would effectively be changed despite the Senate’s own explicit requirement that changing the rules can only be done with the support of two-thirds of the Senate.
That sounds an awful lot like this new thing I've been hearing about
How would the "constitutional option" unfold? The next time Senate Democrats balk over a principled Bush nominee, Frist would attempt to resolve the impasse. Failing that, he would ask the presiding officer of the Senate to rule on the appropriateness of applying the 60-vote supermajority requirement to judicial nominees. The presiding officer is a senator who oversees Senate floor debate and is empowered to interpret Senate rules and establish binding Senate precedents. Given the gravity of this ruling, expect to see the Senate president pro tem, Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, occupy the chair when Frist issues his challenge to the 60-vote requirement.

Next, the presiding officer would rule that using the filibuster in this narrow set of circumstances is inappropriate, perhaps noting (but only in passing) the constitutional concerns that arise when a Senate minority effectively eviscerates the "advice and consent" requirement with respect to court nominees. The ruling would lower the confirmation threshold from 60 to 51 votes. On cue, a senior Democrat, either the new minority leader, Nevada's Harry Reid, or perhaps Senate procedural expert Robert Byrd of West Virginia, would appeal the ruling of the chair. The ensuing floor vote to implement the presiding officer's ruling, which would unfold largely along party lines, requires only a simple majority.
Back in 2003, it was the Republicans who coined the term "nuclear option" for this proposed change, highlighting the implications such a power-grab would have on the chamber's workings.

Now, a year and a half later, when they are actually contemplating carrying it out, it has suddenly been renamed the "constitutional option." It is the same procedure, only now the GOP is valiantly defending the Constitution instead of merely nuking the Democrats.

Update: I see I'm a little late to the game. Sen Frist has already begun the rechristening process
FRIST: Oh, it's clearly one of the options. I've always said it's one of the options.

What it basically — it's called the nuclear option. It's really a constitutional option. And what that means is that the Constitution says you, as a Senate, give advice and consent, and that is a majority vote. And then you vote on that, and that takes 50 votes to pass.

And I think it clearly becomes a viable, viable option if we see a minority denying the majority the opportunity to express advice and consent.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 11:18 AM

A Good Start

Congress has been in its lame-duck session for about a week and already the Republicans have gotten right to work - looking at your tax returns and buying the president a yacht.

First this
Congress passed legislation Saturday giving two committee chairman and their assistants access to income tax returns without regard to privacy protections, but not before red-faced Republicans said the measure was a mistake and would be swiftly repealed.
Rep. Ernest Istook reportedly slipped this little provision into the 3,000 page, $388 billion bill at the last minute but now everybody is pledging to remove it.

And, as Zoe already mentioned, they also decided to spend $2 million to buy back the presidential yacht, which Jimmy Carter sold in 1977 because it was a waste of money.

All told, it looks like they packed some $15 billion worth of pork into the bill, including, much to my chagrin, $70,000 for a "Paper Industry International Hall of Fame" in Appleton, WI. I don't know who put that into the bill, but I suspect it was either this asshole or this one.

If they are going to be spending money on Appleton, maybe they ought to spend it on something useful, like improving the grave of Appleton's most famous son - Joseph McCarthy.

Anyway, the GOP dominated Congress is off to a good start. I'd assume that once the newly elected Republican show up next year and start serving, things will only get better.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:35 AM

Daily Darfur

The UN intends to deploy some 7,000 peacekeepers to southern Sudan once the final peace accords are signed (whenever that is.)

Of course, there are only 500 or so AU forces in Darfur right now and continued fighting is hindering humanitarian access to thousands of refugees.

Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal says it is not genocide, merely war
ABC News found Hilal living openly in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. When asked about the genocide accusations, Hilal told ABC News in Arabic, "It's not genocide. It's war. And in war, bad things happen. People die."
Emily Wax continues her reports from Sudan and the Post had this editorial
THE BUSH administration shrugged its shoulders last week at the genocide in Sudan's western province of Darfur. At an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council in Kenya, it sponsored a resolution that not only failed to advance those that passed in July and September but actually stepped back. The veiled threat of sanctions on Sudan's government was dropped. So was the demand that Sudan's government disarm and prosecute its allies in the Janjaweed death squads, which have burned villages, raped and murdered their inhabitants, and left nearly 2 million people homeless and at risk of starvation.

The Bush administration presents this abdication as a triumph.
A representative from Oxfam says that refugees do not have enough water.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:47 AM

Presidential Shipwreck

Wow. That's pretty ballsy. Of all the outrageous, frivilous things to spend TAX DOLLARS on-- during a war, a historic deficit, dramatic cuts in critical social spending-- Smirky now has himself a freaking presidential yacht.
The Senate voted 65-30 for the legislation late on Saturday that sets aside funds for a range of priorities including a presidential yacht, foreign aid and energy. It is one of the final pieces of work for the 108th Congress and they may return to finish a spy agency overhaul before the end of the year...
To fit into limits demanded by Bush as part of his effort to trim the record budget deficit, Republicans agreed to make an across-the-board cut in spending levels backed earlier by the House and Senate, provoking anger among some lawmakers.

"It's been a terrible bill to handle," said outgoing Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican.

Some last minute increases were allowed for favored White House projects like NASA space programs.

Democrats fumed that Republican leaders had cut crucial funding for education, health and the environment.
A few details about the yacht:
[The Republican-dominated, "fiscially conservative" congress approved] $2 million for the government to buy back the presidential yacht USS Sequoia, sold in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter to demonstrate frugality.
I know Atrios has already posted on this, but it's worth repeating, ad nauseum. It's just so absurd. Bush already has a winter palace and a summer palace, he does not need a yacht, he does not need more taxpayer-funded recreation and vacation options.

posted by Zoe Kentucky at 9:40 AM

Please Tell Me Conservatives Have Conversations Like This

Fellow lefties will nod knowingly when I say that I've sat through one version or other of this discussion, over God knows how many different issues, more times than I care to remember.

posted by Arnold P. California at 7:59 AM

Thanks, George

It was painful to window-shop in London over the weekend and consider what the prices there would translate to in dollars. The pound is worth close to two bucks now and is higher than it's been since George I was president (see the chart for the last ten years below, courtesy of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia).

But the great thing is that I'm now being paid in euros, which closely correlate with the pound and which are at historical highs against the dollar (the euro didn't exist in the time of George I). So when I visit the in-laws in Seattle for Christmas, everything will seem very cheap. It'll be just like hitting Tijuana during my San Diego boyhood. Excellent! Thanks, George!

On a serious note, there's nothing inherently wrong with a weak dollar. The economy can suffer when the dollar is too strong, most notably because we can't export anything--American-made products become too expensive in local currency terms for foreigners to buy. And currency markets are notoriously fickle, so for all we know the dollar could be back to its 1990s levels in 2005.

What's troubling about the dollar's current slide is the possibility that it reflects a fundamental change in attitude among foreign investors, brought on by the massive Bush deficits. For years, we've run a huge trade deficit, importing a lot more stuff than we export. That means we send more money out of the country than we take in, which doesn't seem sustainable. And if trade is the only thing you considered, you'd wonder why the dollar hadn't plunged long ago until imports and exports reached equilibrium. As I understand it with my non-economist's brain, the reason this hasn't happened is that the trade deficit has been financed by foreign investment in the U.S.: foreigners send a lot more money into the U.S. to buy assets (stocks and bonds, for instance) than we send abroad for the same reason, and this offsets the deficit running in the other direction for goods and services. So they send us stuff like televisions and cars, and we pay them with stock certificates and bonds.

The problem now is that dollar-denominated investments--say, U.S. Treasury bonds--become less attractive if foreigners think the dollars they'll be getting a few years from now won't be worth very much. Think about it: if you knew that peso-denominated Argentine government bonds were paying 20% interest, but that the Argentine peso was likely to drop 30% against the dollar annually, you wouldn't buy the bonds. If we're running such large fiscal deficits that foreigners believe we'll have to devalue the dollar, directly or indirectly, in order to repay our government's creditors, they won't be interested in buying our debt unless interest rates get pushed way up--which, in turn, stifles economic growth and makes us look more like Argentina than we'd like.

I don't have a problem with modest deficits from time to time. But the situation we're in now is serious and will be very hard to fix without a lot of pain, as Bush is adding trillions to the debt that must be serviced. The falling dollar, if I understand this correctly (and there's a pretty good chance I don't), may be a signal that the collection of people and entities known as "the market" believes we've got a long-term, structural problem on our hands that may well have significant effects on our economy well into the future. So--

Look! Over there! Two guys holding hands! They're headed for City Hall! Stop them!

What was I saying? I've forgotten.

Update: Looks like this Greenspan fellow over at the Fed is thinking along the same lines. Or so he told the European central bankers on a visit to the home of the euro last week. Why are people always stealing my ideas?

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:46 AM

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