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Friday, December 10, 2004

Daily Darfur

The UN Population Fund says that women in Sudan are dying from causes linked to pregnancy, childbirth and lack of natal care at a rate of 509 per 100,000 live births - one of the highest rates in the world.

Human Rights Watch says that the African Union needs to speed up its deployment of troops and seek to expand their mandate to protect civilians. HRW also commemorates Human Rights Day and laments that the world has done so little for Darfur.

The Boston Globe reports on efforts to get Harvard University and the retirement funds for Massachusetts and Boston workers to sell off their holdings in companies that do business in Sudan.

Elsewhere in Africa:

Internal UN documents report that Rwanda maintains military control over parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo through proxy Congolese forces.

The International Bar Association demands that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe face international justice for the reign of murder, rape, abduction and enslavement he has overseen.

The International Rescue Committee estimates that six years of conflict in Congo have claimed 3.8 million lives, half of them children.

The New Republic reports on the chaos in Côte d'Ivoire.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 11:08 AM

Nothing Is Ever Simple

When a man who has been on death row for 20 years for admittedly raping and killing 8 women says he wants to die, I tend to say "sounds good to me."

The people of Connecticut, on the other hand, are trying to figure out some way to keep from having to execute their first person in 44 years
An articulate Michael Ross, demonstrating a detailed knowledge of state and federal law, tried to convince a Superior Court judge Thursday that he is mentally competent and should be allowed to die as scheduled on Jan. 26.


He told Judge Patrick Clifford he believes that 20 years was long enough for the appeals process, and said he did not want to bring further pain to the victims' families.


The hearing follows a motion by Ross' former public defenders, who are seeking to intervene in the case against Ross' wishes. The two public defenders claim Ross is incompetent and the lethal injection would amount to "state-assisted suicide."


Although Ross, a former insurance agent and Cornell University graduate, has indicated that he does not want to pursue more appeals, several organizations have mounted challenges in an attempt to stop the execution.

The Connecticut Civil Liberties Union and the Connecticut Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty have hired lobbyists, are setting up a Web site and are scheduling meetings across the state in an attempt to rally support for the abolishment of capital punishment.

A rally is planned at noon Friday at the state Capitol to protest the death penalty.
"State-assisted suicide" - All hail the wonders of framing.

Who exactly is that phrase supposed to appeal to? Death-penalty opponents are, generally speaking, pro-assisted suicide whereas death-penalty proponents, on the other hand, are generally anti-assisted suicide.

Thus, it seems clear that the anti-death penalty side sees this as a death-penalty case, and that is, ironically enough, why they are talking about it in "assisted suicide" terms - they are already opposed to it on anti-death penalty grounds and are trying to win over the anti-assisted suicide crowd.

I love politics.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:22 AM

Are We? vs. Why Aren't We?

President Bush weighed in on Sec. Rumsfeld's dismissal of the troops concerns regarding the lack of adequate equipment on the battlefield
The concerns expressed are being addressed, and that is we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment. And if I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I'd want to ask the Secretary of Defense the same question, and that is, are we getting the best we can get us?
That would be a good question. Unfortunately, it is not the one asked by the soldier
Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?


Our vehicles are not armored. We're digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that's already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north.
You know George, I don't think that the soldier was asking some theoretical question about whether this administration was ensuring that they have the best equipment available. In fact, it was almost as if he was noting the fact that administration had failed to do so and was asking why that was.

You see, the soldier's question was entirely based on the premise that they did not have the proper equipment. He just wanted to know why.

There is a pretty clear difference and your attempt to answer a hypothetical question of your own creation instead of the one actually asked by the soldier in the field speaks volumes about your complete lack of interest regarding their concerns.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:48 AM

Mutually Exclusive

I want to make one thing very clear at the outset of this post: Jean-Claude van Damme is not Dutch. He is Belgian. True, Belgium was briefly part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (not one of the brighter ideas to come out of the Congress of Vienna), but that was almost 200 years ago. I repeat: Jean-Claude van Damme is not Dutch.

Why am I so adamant? I think the following two quotes from the gentleman in question should make that clear.

It's not true that the potency of a man decreases if he has a tough physical training regime every day. I can tell you that from my own experiences. When I get back home every day I am my wife's superhero in bed.

* * *

I would always go for a muscular woman rather than for a skinny one but on one condition - her brains have to be as developed as her muscles.

I think van Damme is doomed to disappointment. No woman with brains is going to tolerate her man telling the press that he's her "superhero in bed."

Or wait; maybe I'm confusing brains with self-respect.

posted by Arnold P. California at 8:52 AM

Those Effing Cloggies

I've come across two versions of this cross-language problem. I'll go with the Santorum version first.

Honden is the Dutch word for "dogs." The verb "to breed" is fokken. Thus, "I breed dogs" is Ik fok honden. According to the Dutch edition of hilarious book The Undutchables (which fondly refers to the Dutch as "cloggies"), a Dutch dog breeder once told an English-speaking acquaintance, "I fuck dogs."

The longer version is a story about a Dutch horse breeder. Horses are paarden; otherwise, the vocabulary is the same as with dog breeding.

So the Dutch horse breeder arrives at Heathrow and is going through U.K. Immigration.

Inspector: What is your profession?
Cloggie: I fuck horses.
Inspector (with furrowed brow): Pardon?
Cloggie (happily): Exactly!

An American who has been here for the better part of a decade told me that joke last night, and we both laughed uproariously. I then realized that this must be one of those things that tells you to go home for a little while. When I lived in Japan, the tell-tale was when you found this one funny: Two foreigners pass each other on the street in Tokyo. The first one says, "O-hayo." The other one replies, "No, California."

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:39 AM

You Make It Too Easy, Zell

Why shouldn't Zell Miller join a law firm just because he's not a lawyer?

After all, he joined the Senate's Democratic Caucus.

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:34 AM


No one who made it through the first year of law school can ever forget Mrs. Palsgraf.

If you're in that less-than-select company and know about the exploding fireworks, the shaking train platform, and the toppling scale, you'll find this amusing and/or horrifying.

posted by Arnold P. California at 6:27 AM

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Logic Was Pronounced Dead Today

After meeting today with his top advisers on the issue of Social Security reform, President Bush offered brief explanations of where he stands. CNN reports:
... President Bush promised Thursday he would not raise payroll taxes to help pay for overhauling Social Security.

... "The problem is America is getting older and that there are fewer people to pay into the system to support a baby boomer generation which is about to retire," the president said.

... the program is facing "unfunded liabilities of about $11 trillion," the president added, noting he's suggested a new way to help shore up its funds.

"I think it's vital to consider allowing younger workers, on a voluntary basis, to set aside some of their own payroll tax in personal accounts as part of a comprehensive solution to dealing with the Social Security issue," Bush said.
Okay, just so we're clear on this, let's review. Here's a summary of how Bush defined the problem and the solution for Social Security:
The Problem

"... there are fewer people to pay into the system ..."

The Solution

Allow younger workers to set up personal accounts instead of paying into the system.
Not enough people are paying into the system, and the way to solve that problem is to encourage even fewer people to pay into the system.

Okay. Sure glad we cleared that up.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 3:31 PM

Watch That Meme: Reid as Racist (cont.)

Other wingers have climbed aboard the "Harry Reid's a Racist" express that we first reported on Tuesday. Tapped points out Sean Hannity's RNC-induced indignation:
HANNITY: I'm just beginning to see a pattern here. I see a lot of the left attacking Condoleezza Rice. I see when -- when Justice Janice Brown, an African-American woman, when the president wants to appoint her, Democrats oppose her. Democrats opposing Miguel Estrada. Democrats attacking Condi Rice, Democrats attacking Clarence Thomas.
Tapped also references Robert "Douchebag for Liberty" Novak's recent outburst on Crossfire:
NOVAK: He said he could not support Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation if nominated for chief justice, calling Justice Thomas an embarrassment who writes poorly. But Reid said he could back Justice Antonin Scalia for chief justice. Now, since Thomas and Scalia are both conservatives and agree on most everything, why the difference? The implication is that Thomas is a black man who is not smart enough, while Scalia is a white man who is.
Meanwhile, WSJ's James Taranto goes for a second bite from the Reid-Racist apple, comparing Democrats' relationship with African-Americans to a protection racket:
The deal is that the Dems will protect blacks from racism and blacks will give their political support to Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and the like. But the most blatant racism in America today comes from Democrats and is directed against black politicians and public servants who opt out of this arrangement.
Perhaps it's time for Reid to take his new communications "war room" out for a spin so as to put all of these unlikely GOP freedom riders in their place.

posted by Noam Alaska at 2:58 PM

Stop It

John Podesta delivered a speech yesterday entitled "Dealing with Darfur: Can the World Act on its Responsibility to Protect?" The speech itself is focused on Darfur and was honestly quite good, but I get extremely angry when I see former Clinton officials making this argument regarding the failure to act in Rwanda
In April and May 1994, for example, as the genocide unfolded in Rwanda, Cabinet-level national security officials were focused on crises in Haiti and the Balkans.

The magnitude of the killings was not immediately apparent; and the logistical and political challenges in mounting a rescue operation in the wake of the Somalia failure were overwhelming.
Podesta was serving in the Clinton administration in 1994 and I assume that he and others were aware of articles like this
Rwanda's `Sad, Sad, Sad' Self-Immolation; Free-for-All Slaughter Continues Among Tribes, Rebels, Army and Roving Gangs
Jennifer Parmelee
14 April 1994
The Washington Post

One week after Rwanda's president died in an apparent assassination, this Central African country has become a horrifying study in self-immolation. Terror has taken over the streets of Kigali, the capital, and the rolling green countryside where streams of refugees flee the tribal carnage that has claimed thousands of lives.


No one could say how many casualties were added today to the estimated 20,000 people who have died in Rwanda's explosion of bloodletting since last Wednesday, when the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed in a plane crash, presumably caused by a rocket attack. Red Cross officials said they had heard reports that one group of about 200 Tutsi civilians was slaughtered during the night in the Kigali area.
If for some reason they weren't reading the papers, they were surely reading their own internal documents.

As early as April 11th, the Defense Department was warning (pdf format) that
[U]nless both sides can be convinced to return to the peace process, a massive (hundreds of thousands of deaths) bloodbath will ensue that would likely spill over into Burundi.
By May 9th, the Defense Intelligence Agency was reporting that a genocide was underway (pdf format)
It appears that, in addition to the random massacre of Tutsis by Hutu militias and individuals, there is an organized, parallel effort of genocide being implemented by the Army to destroy the leadership of the Tutsi community. The original intent was to kill only the political elite supporting reconciliation; however, the government lost control of the militias and the massacre spread liked wildfire. It continues to rage out of control.
The media was reporting tens of thousands dead in the first week and those reports were drastically underestimating the pace of the killing. At the same time, the administration was being inundated with information and had mobilized a crisis response unit - a unit that focused mainly on evacuating US citizens and shutting down UNAMIR specifically because Rwanda was descending into utter chaos and horror.

For various reasons, the Clinton administration did not intervene to stop the genocide and even actively thwarted suggested efforts aimed at stopping the violence. And they did so because it was politically expedient, NOT because they didn't know what was happening. The magnitude of the killing was readily apparent in the first weeks; ten years after the fact, it is time for Clinton administration officials to start admitting as much.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 2:39 PM

He's Such a Dick

The column that I referred to in my last post isn't the only time Dick Morris has seen fit to write before he thinks. In the previous issue of The Hill, Morris launched a diatribe against the United Nations:
... Congress cannot and should not continue to spend our money paying dues to an organization that will not open its records to our elected officials who are seeking to investigate numerous reports of corruption ...

If the United Nations refuses to open its financial records to our congressional investigators, the United States should suspend payment of part of its annual dues as a punishment for the United Nations’ intransigence.
Morris seems to forget something. The U.S. has a pretty lousy track record of paying its UN dues in a timely fashion.

Indeed, I don't even know if the U.S. is fully paid up as we speak. As of this April, the Associated Press reported:
The United States is again struggling to pay its dues at the United Nations and dozens of other international organizations.

... The United States had fallen hundreds of millions of dollars behind in its U.N. dues in the 1990s. ... An agreement was reached in December 2000 to reduce the U.S. share of the operating and peacekeeping budgets.
In addition, the U.S.-run iterim government in Iraq had scoffed at the UN's request that Iraq pay 14.6 million dollars that it owes the United Nations in dues. In a statement to the Inter Press Agency, a UN official pointed out the irony in this refusal:
'''The (U.S.-run) former Coalition Provisional Authority, which is now being accused of misspending hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq's oil revenues, did not think it fit to pay the country's U.N. dues even while it was pleading for U.N. assistance to help the reconstruction of Iraq."
A country that has a shoddy record of paying its UN dues (and withholds other nations' dues) is not exactly in an ideal position to use those dues as a bargaining chip to change UN policy.

When I read Morris' columns, I am reminded of the person who wrote, "The words came to him so quickly he could hardly make it to the wastebasket in time."

posted by Frederick Maryland at 1:01 PM

Dick Morris’ Delusions of "People Power"

Just when you thought the post-Election 2004 analytical drivel was over and done with, political consultant Dick Morris offers his bizarre, way off-track analysis in a column in the current issue of The Hill. Under the headline, “Elites lost to people power,” Morris writes:
The election of 2004 will be seen historically as the beginning of a dramatic reshaping of the techniques, methods and tactics of American politics.

This year, the nation’s political process was turned upside down as the elites lost power and the masses of average voters gained it.

… The way a handful of Swift boat Vietnam veterans with only a few hundred thousand dollars among them were able to defeat the entire propaganda apparatus of the Democratic Party and nullify the effect of a four-day national convention … is another example of the emerging people power.
Morris is either lying or seriously deluded. “The way” that the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) succeeded is a very old story -- find a wealthy backer to finance your political cause and go from there.

Bob J. Perry, SBVT’s chief financial supporter, is a Houston man who has known Karl Rove for more than 25 years and who has contributed well over $5 million to Texas political candidates and causes since 2000. Perry has donated nearly $50,000 to George W. Bush in his campaigns for governor and the presidency.

Does Morris expect us to accept SBVT or Perry as examples of “emerging people power” in electoral politics? Say what you will about the SBVT's ads -- they definitely had an impact in halting Kerry's momentum, but they were not the mere product of average American citizens.

The anti-Kerry book that SBVT promoted so heavily, Unfit for Command, was published by the Washington, D.C.-based Regnery Publishing. There’s nothing new or “emerging” about Regnery Publishing, which has been around for more than half a century and has published books by Mona Charen, David Horowitz and other conservatives.

The influence of blogs was also overhyped by Morris:
And then there were the bloggers. Every week, every day, everybody got first a few and then a deluge of blogs from friends and family about the election.

… these informal, unpaid, unedited, unsanctioned expressions of opinion … came to dominate the dialogue of 2004.
Influencing the dialogue? Sure. Dominating it? He's nuts.

It's nice to hear anyone validate what we do as bloggers, but let’s get real. According to this article, a 2003 Pew Research Center survey on the Internet found that only 4 percent of online Americans read blogs for information and opinions. Although this percentage undoubtedly climbs as months pass, it’s laughable to think blogs dominated political dialogue or that they will anytime soon.

Perhaps Morris’ ludicrous conclusion about blogs reveals what a Washington creature he is. Everybody he knows must be reading blogs -- therefore, everybody must be reading them.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 11:34 AM

It Was Cloudy

I'm no rocket scientist, so forgive me for being confused as to why the military had to cancel a test of its missile defense system because of clouds
Bad weather Wednesday forced the military to scrub the first full flight test of its national missile defense system in nearly two years.

"It is just heavy cloud cover," Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said of conditions Wednesday evening off the Alaskan coast.
Hopefully, once they spend a few billion more dollars on the project, they'll be able to get the system to work in all weather conditions.

Either that or we'll have to ask people only to lob missiles at us on sunny, cloudless days.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:41 AM

Daily Darfur

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it will allocate $114 million for its operations in Sudan in 2005 - a three-fold increase from this year.

An op-ed in the Washington Post says the EU is shirking its responsibility while an editorial says the world's inaction is having consequences.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a story on an exhibit on Darfur put together by a Doctors Without Borders volunteer that includes, among other things, drawings by child refugees
Elsewhere in Africa:

The International Rescue Committee says 31,000 people are dying ever month as a result of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, says that conditions in Somalia are as bad as they are in Darfur and that the country needs more attention and assistance.

The UN is investigating allegations that Rwanda troops killed civilians and torched villages in Eastern Congo.

Canada is attempting to deport Leon Mugesera, a Rwandan Hutu who delivered an infamous speech in 1992 that many contend incited violence and played a key role in the preparations for the genocide.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:00 AM

Pantera Should Never Have Broken Up

From the AP
A gunman charged onstage at a packed nightclub and opened fire on the band and the crowd, killing top heavy metal guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and three other people before a police officer shot him to death, authorities and witnesses said.


Damageplan had just begun their first song at the Alrosa Villa when the man opened fire, first targeting Abbott, shooting him multiple times at point-blank range, a witness said.

Abbott, 38, one of metal's top guitarists, and his brother, Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, were original members of Grammy-nominated thrash rock pioneers Pantera, one of the most popular metal bands of the early 1990s.
I have a geuniune love of Pantera, especially their album "Vulgar Display of Power" and can't help but think that this would have never happened had "Dimebag" Darrell been on-stage next to Pantrea front-man Phil Anselmo
Would you dare rush on stage with that guy standing there?

I didn't think so.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 8:58 AM

Well, Duh

I recently linked to the cover illustration of the current Economist. Now that I've read the leader and the article that go with the illustration, I'm even more alarmed about than I was before (read them yourself if you want to cure yourself permanently of irrational exuberance).

What frightens me most is the obliviousness of the people in charge of our government to realities that are obvious even to my economically challenged self. For instance, this passage from the Economist article would have seemed to me to go without saying:
In any case, the current-account [trade] deficit cannot be corrected by a fall in the dollar alone: domestic saving also needs to rise. The best way would be for the government to cut its budget deficit.
Well, no kidding.

And what's the alternative? Pretty much what I guessed it would be when I first tried to noodle this stuff out for myself, right before I noticed that most of the financial press and the world's central bankers were already very publicly worrying about the same thing:
If, on the other hand, the government fails to cut its budget deficit, the dollar will fall more sharply and bond yields will rise. America's housing bubble might then burst and consumer spending would certainly slow sharply. That combination would reduce the external [trade] deficit, but only at the cost of a deep recession.
Hello, Mr. Snow? Now that you've signed on for another term at Treasury, maybe you can see if your boss can spare a few minutes to read this primer, or perhaps this article from 20 months ago predicting exactly what's now happening--in spite of the squawkings of your predecessor, Mr. O'Neill.

posted by Arnold P. California at 7:56 AM

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

And the Grinch Award Goes to...

The Committee to Save Merry Christmas


1) For organizing a letter writing campaign and boycott of major department stores whose alleged official policy is to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

2) For being "offended" by the idea that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that the policies of businesses reflects that fact. Also a store forcing its employees to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" isn't necessarily good management, as not all employees or shopper celebrate Christmas.

4) For having a hissy fit over a policy that apparently doesn't even exist in the first place.

4) For failing to understand the one of the basic themes of their own holiday-- be nice and decent to your fellow human beings, good will towards men and all that.

5) Finally, for having too much free f*cking time to launch such an exceptionally trivial boycott. I thought Christmas and being a good Christian during Christmastime was about helping people who are starving, need clothing or shelter, not harassing department stores. (That and and buying, buying, buying until your credit card bleeds.)

What a bunch of Christmas fascists. If you want to be in an environment where Christmas is properly recognized as Jesus' birthday, go to a church not a shopping mall.

posted by Zoe Kentucky at 5:10 PM

Trust Us. Please

I've been kicking around the thought recently that if Democrats want to retake Congress and the White House, they ought to work to create a narrative that paints the GOP as a party driven by dishonesty and quest for power while they simultaneously work to gain the trust of those moderate voters who tend to swing elections (the theory is more complex, but it's still a work-in-progress so this will suffice for now.)

Anyway, I just came across this Gallup survey that asked people to rate the honesty and ethical standards of those working in various professions
1. Nurses (79 percent)
2. Druggists, pharmacists (72 percent)
3. Military officers (72 percent)
4. Medical doctors (67 percent)
5. Police officers (60 percent)
6. Clergy (56 percent)
7. Judges (53 percent)
8. Day care providers (49 percent)
9. Bankers (36 percent)
10. Auto mechanics (26 percent)
11. Local officeholders (26 percent)
12. Nursing home operators (24 percent)
13. State officeholders (24 percent)
14. TV reporters (23 percent)
15. Newspaper reporters (21 percent)
16. Business executives (20 percent)
17. Lawyers (18 percent)
18. Congressmen (10 percent)
19. Advertising practitioners (10 percent)
20. Car salesmen (9 percent)
When "Congressmen" are considered just barely more honest than car salesmen and far less honest than auto mechanics, you know that you are in trouble.

Getting voters to trust ayour candidates obviously has huge advantages, but establishing that trust might just be impossible considering that people already distrust politicians and are likely to see any attempt at building such trust as just another cynical political maneuver.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 3:08 PM

A Wash?

People For the American Way (PFAW) has released a new edit memo regarding the federal judiciary. Aside from rehashing their previous memos and throwing in dashes of hyperbolic rhetoric such as "If President Bush were successful in putting new far-right justices on the Court, the consequences would be staggeringly damaging," they did manage to offer a new argument - one that I disagree with
It would not, however, be an ideological "wash" if Rehnquist were replaced by Scalia, Thomas, or someone like them. While Rehnquist is indeed a very conservative Chief Justice, Scalia and Thomas are in some regards even further to the right than Rehnquist and have sometimes staked out more extreme positions on states' rights and other issues than even Rehnquist has been willing to support.

For example, Rehnquist wrote the Court's 6-3 opinion in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs (2003), rejecting the state of Nevada's claim that state employees could not sue the state for money damages for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act. Justices Scalia and Thomas (and Kennedy) dissented. Just two more votes in accordance with the Scalia-Thomas position would not only have undermined the Family and Medical Leave Act, but extended even further the Court's recent "states' rights" rulings, which have severely limited the power of Congress to protect the rights of individual Americans.

Scalia and Thomas were also in dissent in two other important cases in which Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion: Dickerson v. United States, which upheld Miranda's requirement that criminal suspects be notified of their rights, and Locke v. Davey, in which Scalia and Thomas as the only dissenters would have forced states that subsidize secular college studies to also subsidize the studies of students preparing for the ministry.

So it is, in fact, possible to move the Court further to the right while replacing Rehnquist, and it would be destructive to do so, especially if he would be replaced by a younger nominee likely to serve for three decades or more.
I tend to think that anyone Bush nominates to fill Rehnquist's seat (or Scalia's or Thomas', should they be elevated) will probably be consistently conservative enough to be a wash in that they will fail to make the Court noticeably more conservative.

Scalia and Thomas are more conservative than Rehnquist, but not by much. The three generally rule the same way on cases and it seems to me that in the cases in which Rehnquist does break with them, he is never the deciding vote. In fact, the examples PFAW gives serve as a good example.

In Hibbs, the Court decided the case 6-3; in Dickerson and Davey it was 7-2. Even if Rehnquist had sided with Scalia and Thomas in these cases, it would not have made any difference. In fact, I can't think of a single case in which Rehnquist broke with them and, in doing so, cast the deciding vote.

PFAW does make the case that the Chief Justice has more power on the Court than do the other justices, such as the power to assign decisions and influence the Court's workload, but I don't see Scalia or Thomas changing it much, should they take over the position.

If there is going to be a fight over Rehnquist's replacement, let it be over the nominee and not over who is to be elevated (should that be the scenario.) Back in 1986, the Dems got so worked up about Rehnquist being elevated to Chief Justice that they completely overlooked his replacement - Antonin Scalia - and ended up unanimously confirming him.

Don't let that happen again.

Update: The Carpetbagger and I were just discussing this issue the other day and I see that he has now posted his thoughts on the topic as well. Not surprisingly, we are pretty much in agreement.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 1:25 PM

Are They Talking About the Same Cable?

This morning, the Associated Press transmitted a story on the classified cable that was sent to Washington by the CIA station chief in Baghdad, assessing the post-war situation there:
In a farewell assessment of Iraq's security and political situation, the CIA's senior officer there wrote that a stronger government and economy are necessary to avoid descent into wider violence, a U.S. official said yesterday.

The Sunni population must take part in Iraq's Jan. 30 election, the officer wrote in a mixed review of the situation, according to the official.
A mixed review? Not according to the New York Times.

The Times broke this story yesterday, characterizing the cable’s message in much more alarming terms than did the AP story. According to the Times:
[The CIA chief’s cable] has warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon, according to government officials.

… the officials described the station chief's cable in particular as an unvarnished assessment of the difficulties ahead in Iraq. They said it warned that the security situation was likely to get worse, including more violence and sectarian clashes, unless there were marked improvements soon on the part of the Iraqi government, in terms of its ability to assert authority and to build the economy.

Together, the [CIA cable and a separate appraisal] … were much more pessimistic than the public picture being offered by the Bush administration before the elections scheduled for Iraq next month, the officials said.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 1:19 PM

You Are Here to Die, So Stop Asking Questions

The Carpetbagger catches Donald Rumsfeld, while facing tough questions from the troops, basically telling them to stop complaining.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 1:04 PM

Daily Darfur

John Danforth railed against the UN for its failure to deal with countries that routinely violate human rights
The outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, used highly undiplomatic language in describing what he regards as the Assembly's insensitivity to the suffering in Darfur, where well over 1 million black Africans have been uprooted from their homes by government-backed Arab militias.

"The message from the General Assembly is very simple, and it is: You may be suffering, but we can't be bothered," Danforth said.

At another point, he said persistent failures of U.N. members "to present a unified front against well-documented atrocities would represent nothing less than the complete breakdown of the U.N.'s deliberative bodies related to human rights. "
Danforth also criticized all sides in the conflict in Darfur
A frustrated John Danforth said: "We're getting nowhere." He said Sudan's government, its militia and the rebels involved in Darfur "sign agreements which apparently mean nothing at all."
Congress has approved $300 million in humanitarian assistance for Sudan.

Amnesty International warns that rape is going unpunished in Darfur and other war zones.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 12:55 PM

Accessories for Your Next Trip Abroad

The Associated Press reports:

An American T-shirt company has a solution for their fellow citizens who want to vacation in Europe without having to answer questions about U.S. politics -- pose as Canadians.

For $24.95, offers the "Go Canadian" package, full of just the kind of things an American traveler needs to leave their country and its politics behind. There's a Canadian flag T-shirt, a Canadian flag lapel pin and a Canadian patch for luggage or a backpack. There's also a quick reference guide -- "How to Speak Canadian, Eh?" -- on answering questions about Canada.

It's the brainchild of employees at the Mountainair, New Mexico-based company known for novelty T-shirts it sells worldwide on the Internet.

The "Go Canadian" idea sprouted after one of ['s employees] heard of someone being harassed about U.S. politics during a recent overseas trip.

Pass the maple syrup, please.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 12:44 PM

Bob Novak Trips Over a Question

As many of you know, I have had several snarky posts to write about conservative columnist Robert Novak. Well, this time I am simply posting something snarky that was written by Amy Sullivan in Washington Monthly. It shows Novak in all his hypocritical glory.
[Robert Novak] and his colleagues on CNN's "The Capital Gang" were squabbling over whether CBS should have run a story on President George W. Bush's National Guard service, a story which relied on documents whose authenticity had come into question. Novak -- the show's resident curmudgeon, outfitted with a three-piece suit and permanently arched eyebrow -- delivered his verdict.

"I'd like CBS, at this point, to say where they got those documents from," he growled. "I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS."

Resident liberal Al Hunt jumped in to clarify. "Robert Novak," he asked, "you're saying CBS should reveal its source?"

When Novak replied that he was, Hunt pressed him further.

"You think reporters ought to reveal sources?" In a flash, Novak realized he had made a mistake; he began to backtrack.

"No, no, wait a minute," he said. "I'm just saying in that case." So in some cases, Hunt continued, reporters should reveal their sources – but not in all cases? "That's right," said Novak.

What Novak's fellow panelists on "The Capital Gang" knew that day, but most of the show's viewers probably didn't, was that much of Washington has spent the better part of a year waiting for Novak to reveal a source of his own.

During the summer of 2003, someone in the Bush White House decided to extract a pound of flesh from former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration's rationale for the Iraq war, by revealing to members of the press that Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA agent. And though the leak was peddled to several journalists, only one was willing to actually print it: Robert Novak.
The rest of Sullivan's article is worth a read -- not that any of us need new reasons to wonder why a newspaper with the prestige of the Washington Post would regularly reserve part of its op-ed page for Novak's drivel.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 12:22 PM

Mission Accomplished

From the very beginning, Bush has opposed pretty much everything about the 9/11 Commission - from its creation to its investigations to its need for public testimony and finally its recommendations.

So it should come as no surprise that the new "intelligence reform" bill he is supporting reforms the system in name only.

Fred Kaplan explains
In short, this "reform" bill places about 80 percent of the entity that's supposedly being reformed outside the control of the official—the new national intelligence director—who is supposedly the reform's centerpiece.


However, whether reform is a good idea or not, what the Congress is about to wreak is not reform in any meaningful sense. There will be a director of national intelligence. But the post will likely be a figurehead, at best someone like the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, at worst a thin new layer of bureaucracy, and in any case nothing like the locus of decision-making and responsibility that the 9/11 commission had in mind.
And just as he did with the Department of Homeland Security and the patients' bill of rights in Texas, he will eventually end up taking credit for the creation of the thing that he opposed it every step of the way.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:40 AM

Arnold P. Stakes Out His Position

As long as we "progressives," or whatever we're calling ourselves these days, are having one of our tiresome fratricidal orgies over how Democrats have been stabbed in the back by the anti-war crowd, I just want to make it clear where I stand.
  1. My opposition to the Iraq War reflects my approval of the policies favored by radical Muslim fundamentalists, just as my parents' opposition to the Vietnam War expressed their support for Soviet totalitarianism.
  2. I adamantly oppose any action that would increase the security of American citizens and/or U.S. territory.
  3. I detest the military, all who serve in it, and all who have ever served in it with a visceral loathing I can barely contain.
  4. I hardly noticed 9/11 and think that we pretty much had it coming anyway.
OK, now that we've got that out of the way, can we move on to something worth talking about?

posted by Arnold P. California at 9:42 AM


Joe Glover loves the GOP
But Joe Glover, president of the Virginia-based Family Policy Network, says something is very wrong. Glover says homosexual publications have outed at least six members of [Senator George Allen's] office as homosexuals. He says one homosexual activist even went so far as to say Allen had the "gayest office on Capitol Hill."

Pro-family conservatives, he says, need to make sure Senator Allen hears their voices. "If someone is going to run the day-to-day operations for the Republican apparatus to elect U.S. senators across the country, then dog-gone-it, it better not be somebody who practices a lifestyle that is diametrically opposed to the evangelical Christian base that delivered George W. Bush and the Republicans in the Senate the victory they saw in November," he says.
There you go: the GOP's base is diametrically opposed to any attempt to be tolerant and inclusive of gays and lesbians.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:02 AM

A Foolish Inconsistency?

To war apologists who rely on corruption in the oil-for-food program as the latest ex post rationale for attacking Iraq: what do you make of this?

posted by Arnold P. California at 7:42 AM

For Those Suffering from Boobgate Withdrawal

Crown Princess Maxima, who will likely one day be Queen of the Netherlands, has an interesting family. She comes from Argentina, where her father was a cabinet member during the "dirty war" of the 1970s. As a result, Parliament approved her marriage to Crown Prince Willem-Alexander only on condition that Maxima's father not attend the wedding. (This continues a family tradition of controversial marriages: riots attended the marriage of Willem-Alexander's mother, Queen Beatrix, to a German (Prince Claus), which would have been a bit touchy even if he hadn't been a former member of the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht (which he was); and her mother, Queen Juliana, married--in the mid-1930s--another German, Prince Bernhard, who had been in the SS and whose brother remained an outspoken supporter of Hitler.)

But enough about politics and right-wing skeletons in royal closets. The latest flap involving Maxima's Argentine relations was caused not by her father but by her second cousin.
Princess Maxima's cousin, pole dancer Laura Vina, has decided to stay in the Netherlands after a Friday performance in Amsterdam at the Ex Porn Star party. Vina, 22, works as a professional stripper and pole dancer in Buenos Aires. Her grandmother is a sister of the grandmother of Argentine Princess Maxima, who is married to Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander. Vina claims both she and Maxima met several times as children, but the Government Information Service (RVD) has denied this. For the next two weeks, Vina will be stripping for viewers over the internet and can be seen daily from 8pm to 9pm on a website operated by the Ex Porn Star organisation.
I must say I've found my stay in the Netherlands quite interesting thus far from a cultural point of few.

posted by Arnold P. California at 5:47 AM

He's the President. Honest.

President Bush's words are often so cliched, so empty and so mangled that Karl Rove has always felt that the president's best selling point is, quite simply, the fact that he's president. But the White House seems to be going just a little bit overboard to make sure none of us forget who's the boss.

On Tuesday, Bush spoke to Marines at Camp Pendleton, and the White House (or the prez himself?) felt the need to dress Bush up for his remarks in a ridiculous-looking, sand-colored jacket that -- lest we forget who he is -- had these words sewn into the front:
George W. Bush
Commander In Chief
Just to reinforce the point, perhaps Bush's tailor will consider sewing a White House logo on the reverse side of the jacket.

Or perhaps they should consider tweaking the words that appear on the front of the jacket so that they read as follows:

George W. Bush
Commander In Chief
Seriously .... We Mean It

posted by Frederick Maryland at 1:28 AM

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Water Down the Rules, Or Just Ignore Them

Right after the Nov. 2 election, the GOP-controlled House voted to water down a rule that the Gingrich gang had once championed in the days before the Republican landslide of 1994. It was the so-called "Jim Wright rule" -- one that said any member who had been indicted had to resign his or her House leadership position. When the GOP majority voted in mid-November to take the teeth out of this rule, the world's greatest asshole was most appreciative.

Now, the Republican House majority has turned its back on yet another rule that it once championed as part of its "reform" agenda. The previous issue of Roll Call newspaper (subscription req'd) explains:
Next to appropriations earmarks, the parochial lifeblood of Congress just might be commemorations, remembrances and recognitions. They provide every Member with an opportunity to affix the Congressional seal to a favorite group, cause, team, local interest, vegetable or whatever they wish.

There's only one small problem. For the past decade, House rules have prohibited them.

Of course, the prohibition hasn't stopped Members -- up to and including Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) from indulging themselves. There's been National Preparedness Month. National Investors' Day. National Donor Day ... (and) dozens, even hundreds, of others in the 108th Congress alone.

... each resolution honoring those days and months violates the spirit, if not the letter, of a House rule enacted by the new GOP majority in 1995 that remains in force .... the rule was designed to eliminate some of the frivolous and wasteful activity that the insurgent Republicans believed hamstrung the chamber under decades of Democratic rule.

... "The Parliamentarians are not supposed to let you introduce [such resolutions or commemorations]," (former Rules Committee staff director Don) Wolfensberger said, adding that "the Parliamentarian doesn't have final control. The Speaker makes the ultimate call as to whether it can be introduced."

... Although it wasn't part of the "Contract with America," the impetus behind the commemorations ban was very much a part of the same package of reforms instigated by the Republicans who took over the House (in 1995) after 40 years of Democratic rule.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 3:08 PM

Tauzin .... Bush

In a runoff election this past weekend, voters in Louisiana's Third Congressional District appear to have elected a Democrat, Charles Melancon, by the narrowest of margins: 517 votes out of more than 114,000 that were cast. Melancon would fill the vacancy left by the departure of Republican Congressman Billy Tauzin.

Tauzin was hoping his son, Billy Tauzin III, would win the seat. But, as the New York Times explained, "[t]he race between Mr. Tauzin and Mr. Melancon ... attracted more attention, in part because ..."
... Mr. Tauzin's detractors described him as an unqualified, overgrown frat boy trying to glide into Congress on his father's name ...
Hmmmm. If you only changed a few words, you could create a paragraph that might just as easily have been written four years ago:
... Mr. Bush's detractors described him as an unqualified, overgrown frat boy trying to glide into the White House on his father's name ...

posted by Frederick Maryland at 1:51 PM

Watch That Meme: Reid Is a Racist

There's a new storm a-brewin' on right-wing web sites. It appears that soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is a racist because he said some unflattering things about Clarence Thomas on Meet the Press. Some examples:

Rush Limbaugh: "I would like for Soiled Harry to cite for me an opinion of Justice Thomas's that's poorly written, and I would like for Soiled Harry to tell me why in his esteemed opinion as a senator from Nevada that the esteemed Justice Clarence Thomas' opinions are poorly written, and I want to know just what has Justice Thomas done that has embarrassed you. You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks? You notice how easy it is?"

Gary Bauer: "If Senator Trent Lott, or any conservative leader, attacked a liberal black Supreme Court justice by insinuating he was 'dumb,' charges of racism would be flying through the air like rhetorical missiles. But Senator Reid had no qualms in suggesting that the only black justice was not intellectually up to the job."

The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto: "It's a shame Russert didn't press Reid to name some Thomas opinions he considers to be poorly written. In the absence of such examples, one can't help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black."

I don't know anything about ClarenceThomas' IQ or how it compares to other Supreme Court Justices. Nor have I read many of his opinions. While he tends to be mighty quiet during oral arguments that could be a very thoughtful silence for all I know. However, it seems to me that Reid should be allowed to criticize Thomas without being equated to the KKK. Sadly, Democrats have frequently resorted to unfair identity politics over the years, so perhaps they're reaping what they sow. Still, such rhetoric won't make the upcoming battle over the Supreme Court any more enlightened.

Oh, by the way, just to show how enlightened I can be, I won't describe Taranto's rag as a racist just because one of its editors recently sent out an item about the U.S. Civil Rights Commission chairman Mary Frances Berry entitled "Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Retiring" [subscription required]. Still, someone should press WSJ for examples of Berry's witchiness.

posted by Noam Alaska at 1:43 PM

STOPP’s Double Standard

STOPP, an anti-abortion group and arch foe of Planned Parenthood, recently complained about Planned Parenthood’s decision to offer "Choice on Earth" Christmas cards to its supporters. An anti-abortion website reports:
The redesigned (Planned Parenthood) card features the same slogan as previous years. This year's card features bubblegum pink snowflakes on the outside along with the infamous tagline.

… "In its continual attempt to 'normalize' abortion, Planned Parenthood has once again chosen to offend the Christian community by releasing the latest edition of its 'Choice on Earth' holiday cards," said Jim Sedlak, executive director of STOPP, a group that monitors Planned Parenthood.
Of course, STOPP isn’t bothered by similar efforts by various anti-abortion groups, including these state and local pro-life groups, both of which urge supporters to “send pro-life Christmas cards.”

What truly offends STOPP isn’t someone using Christmas as a vehicle for delivering a political message; it's offended when someone uses Christmas to deliver a message that it doesn’t happen to agree with.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 1:38 PM

The Way to Restore Calm in China

Chinese leaders have often complained that Japanese textbooks fail to accurately instruct young people about Japan's invasion of China in the 1930's and the brutal acts committed during the Japanese occupation. But, as a New York Times article notes, this is a classic case of "physician, heal thyself."
No one (in Chinese schools) learns that perhaps 30 million people died from famine because of catastrophic decisions made in the 1950's, during the Great Leap Forward, by the founder of Communist China, Mao Zedong.

... Asked why Chinese textbooks do not mention such matters as Tibet's claim to independence at the time Communist troops invaded, Ren Penjie, editor of a history education magazine in Xian, said: "These are still matters of controversy. What we present to children are less controversial facts, which are easier to explain."
And what about the 1989 massacre perpetrated by Chinese troops to quel the Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations?
One 1998 textbook that alludes to the (Tiananmen) demonstrations calls them a "storm" created by the failure of leaders to stop the spread of "bourgeois liberalism," adding vaguely that "the Central Committee took action in time and restored calm."

The most recent edition of the same textbook is vaguer still, speaking only of thoughts fanned by a small number of people whose aim was to overthrow the Communist Party, with no mention of the lethal aftermath.
Oh and, by the way, freedom is slavery, war is peace and ignorance is strength.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 1:26 PM


The Bush administration is big on "either/or" scenarios: either you're with us or against us; either you support the war in Iraq or you support the terrorists; either you support school vouchers or you want minority children to fail, etc...

In philosophy, this rhetorical technique is known as the "Fallacy of the Excluded Middle" (or sometimes "False Dilemma" or "Bifurcation") in that it provides only two solutions and forces you to pick one when, in reality, there are many other unstated options available.

When it comes to privatizing Social Security, the Bush administration is staying true to form
Asked if transition costs, estimated at between $1 trillion to $2 trillion, would be financed by government borrowing, he added: "That's what you're looking at doing as part of the transition to a better Social Security system."


McClellan countered: "The Social Security system is unsustainable. It needs to be fixed."

He said it would cost $10 trillion "if we do nothing... It will lead to either massive tax increases or massive benefit cuts for younger workers."
So in McClellan's view, fixing the problem will either cost us a few trillion dollars now or a several trillion dollars in the future. But as Paul Krugman notes, this is a false dilemma created entirely by those who want to privatize Social Security
[It is estimated that] the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Given these numbers, it's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come.

It's true that the federal government as a whole faces a very large financial shortfall. That shortfall, however, has much more to do with tax cuts - cuts that Mr. Bush nonetheless insists on making permanent - than it does with Social Security.
There are many ways to deal with this inevitable shortfall that do not require privatizing the program, but you won't hear about them from Bush.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 1:04 PM

How the 5th Circuit Thinks

Eugene just made a good post on the oral arguments heard at the U.S. Supreme Court in the Texas death penalty case. The case concerns Thomas Joe Miller-El, an African-American who was convicted in the slaying of a Dallas hotel clerk in 1985.

Eugene took a few (well earned) shots at Justice Scalia. But I think the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals deserves criticism as well. This editorial from today's Washington Post takes the appeals court to task:
The Supreme Court should not have had to hear the case of Thomas Joe Miller-El once, let alone twice. But yesterday the court for the second time held oral arguments in a capital case that ought to embarrass even Texas, with its unrivaled enthusiasm for executions.

... Nearly two years ago, the Supreme Court instructed a lower appeals court to seriously examine evidence of racial bias in the jury's selection. The high court's message should have been clear when it expressed suspicion that "the State sought to exclude African-Americans from the jury." But after that ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit again averted its gaze from substantial evidence of discrimination, treating the case with what seems like willful disregard for the high court's meaning.

The backdrop of this case is Dallas's ugly history of keeping blacks out of the jury box. ... the Dallas Morning News reported that, in 100 cases studied, prosecutors had eliminated 92 percent of African Americans using peremptory strikes, a device for removing jurors who would otherwise be qualified.

The manipulations in Mr. Miller-El's case were not subtle. Prosecutors exploited rules to move potential African American jurors out of contention; of 11 who got past that barrier and were qualified to serve on the jury, 10 were struck by peremptory challenge.
And which black juror did the prosecution agree to seat? One who, according to The Post,
declared that lethal injection is "too quick. They don't feel the pain ... What I call punishment is back to the old Indian days ... Pour some honey on them and stake them out over an ant bed.
Not exactly what you'd call a bleeding-heart liberal. The editorial continues:
... as the Supreme Court noted in its last opinion, prospective black jurors were questioned differently from others.

Amazingly, both the Texas court system and the 5th Circuit judges have consistently approved the prosecutors' conduct. In the last go-round, the 5th Circuit declined even to hear the case, contending that reasonable judges could not disagree on the subject.

After eight Supreme Court justices disagreed and ordered the lower court to consider the merits of Mr. Miller-El's claims, the lower court rejected them -- using passages lifted nearly verbatim from Justice Clarence Thomas's lone dissent.

This case ... also poses the question of whether the Supreme Court will allow a lower tribunal -- keen to keep the machinery of death humming -- to all but openly defy it. The answer must be no.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 11:25 AM

Scalia the Advocate

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a death penalty case out of Texas
Mr. Miller-El, a black man, was convicted of killing a clerk at a Holiday Inn in Dallas in 1985. Although the case is now in a new procedural stance, the underlying question is the same: did Texas prosecutors violate Mr. Miller-El's constitutional rights by deliberately excluding black jurors from his 1985 murder trial on the basis of their race?
As the New York Times explained
The prosecution struck 10 of 11 black jurors; six of those strikes are now in dispute. Mr. Waxman, Mr. Miller-El's lawyer, argued in the first round and again on Monday that in removing black jurors from a black defendant's trial, the prosecution used a double standard, accepting white jurors while striking blacks who expressed equivalently ambiguous sentiments on whether they could impose the death penalty.
The article makes clear that every Justice thought that the 5th Circuit had misread the Court's earlier decision in this case and that the Texas practice was unconstitutional.

Every Justice, that is, except Scalia who seems to have a thing for serving as an advocate from the bench
When Justice Antonin Scalia, who did an energetic job of reinforcing the state's argument at every turn, told Mr. Waxman that the state had an explanation for each juror and that "a buckshot attack" on the jury selection "has to be examined pellet by pellet"


The state's insistence that there was a meaningful difference in potential jurors' answers on their attitude toward the death penalty is crucial to its defense of what occurred during jury selection. Under the Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, the use of peremptory challenges to shape a jury on a basis that appears to be racial is presumed unconstitutional unless the prosecution can provide a reason unrelated to race. Qualms about the death penalty would be an acceptable reason unless black and white jurors were held to different standards.

While Mr. Miller-El's case was tried shortly before the Supreme Court issued the Batson decision, the ruling applies to him retroactively. Nonetheless, the timeline proved something of a trap for Ms. Bunn and her vocal ally, Justice Scalia.

Several justices questioned the prosecution's practice of using cards to note the race of potential jurors in the pool. Justice Scalia provided a potential explanation for a practice that these justices found troubling. "Maybe the prosecution didn't want to come up with an all-white jury for fear it would be challenged," he said.

Ms. Bunn readily agreed. "It was necessary to keep track, as Justice Scalia noted, to be certain that you don't run afoul of Batson," she said.

Justice John Paul Stevens said, "Batson hadn't been decided yet."
Should Scalia ever decide to retire from the bench, he'll have quite a career ahead of him as a trial lawyer. In fact, he already has some 20+ years of experience advocating for his causes, only from the wrong side of the bench.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:10 AM

State's Voter List Being Outsourced

Wisconsin just recently decided to outsource the maintenance of its statewide voter registration list. According to a news report:
Accenture just landed the $13 million contract with Wisconsin's State Elections Board. State employees say it's another example of work they should be doing.

"We have Enron's bookkeeper counting our votes," said state employee Mark Davis. "That does not sound like democracy to me."

Accenture is a branch of Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that oversaw Enron's demise. Accenture is already under fire in Florida over voter registration lists that wrongly excluded some black voters.

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Mike McCabe says the whole idea doesn't make sense.

"We're breeding mistrust of our elections in our state," said McCabe. "And it's going to cost taxpayers more to do it this way."
Accenture was one of two outside contractors hired by Florida officials to build a sound database of felons who are ineligible to vote. According to an investigative report this summer by the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Accenture and the other vendor "failed to notice a serious problem with the (state) database that stores felons." The Herald Tribune also reported:
From the days when it was called Andersen Consulting, Accenture has drawn fire for running up prices on government contracts and missing deadlines. Contracts in Texas, Virginia, Nebraska and Canada cost those governments millions more than expected, according to the Polaris Institute, which creates profiles on companies that do business with government.

The federal Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Accenture for a possible violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.S. law banning bribery of foreign officials. Accenture announced the investigation last week, saying it involved operations in the Middle East.

... (Florida Congressman Kendrick) Meek said the state could have found a company without "such a history of wrong-doing and sloppy work."
One would think so.

posted by Frederick Maryland at 10:02 AM

Does Math Matter?

From the Christian Science Monitor
Math + test = trouble for US economy

For a nation committed to preparing students for 21st century jobs, the results of the first-of-its-kind study of how well teenagers can apply math skills to real-life problems is sobering.

American 15-year-olds rank well below those in most other industrialized countries in mathematics literacy and problem solving, according to a survey released Monday.


These results track findings that most US high school students don't know enough mathematics to do well in college courses or the work force. "Only 40 percent of high school graduates are prepared to earn a C or higher in a college level course, and these are also the same skills needed for the workplace," says Ken Gullette, a spokesman for ACT Inc. in Iowa City, a college entrance exam.
What's the big deal? We have a president who was unprepared to earn a C or higher in his college courses and he is doing pretty well for himself. In fact, his complete lack of math skills is something of an advantage as it allows him to run up record deficits and shift trillions of dollars in Social Security costs "off-budget" without accounting for it.

It seems pretty clear to me that actual math skills are totally unneeded in today's workplace, so long as you go to work for the GOP or Enron.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:42 AM

Daily Darfur

The UN warns that despite various cease-fires and peace talks, the region is descending into chaos and anarchy and that Khartoum has made no efforts to control the Janjaweed.

Sudan has ordered the head of Oxfam to leave the country for a visa violation.

Eric Reeves has produced another lengthy analysis of the crisis - "Genocide in Darfur: A growing international strategy of equivocation."

On a semi-related note, on Sunday December 19th, the History Channel will be showing a documentary entitled "Rwanda - Do Scars Ever Fade"

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:22 AM

Monday, December 06, 2004

A Divine Plan?

Michael Berube has the best solution to our red state problem-- the answer is the Louisiana Purchase. According to Berube, the Louisiana Purchase covers the following modern territories: "Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, half of Minnesota (we?ll keep some of Minnesota, thanks), North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, most of Montana and Wyoming, small chunks of New Mexico and Texas, and the conservative eastern half of Colorado to boot." Berube argues that the Louisiana Purchase is easily legally bogus, a bad contract, and could be nullified.

The best part? Who was the seller in the Louisiana Purchase? Who would the land be returned to? I had to think about it for a minute myself.

France! Yes, suddenly, all these red-staters would suddenly be under French rule. It's a great solution, much better than wishing the South had seceded, after all, those folks who voted for the French-speaking Kerry would be OK. But what do you think France would demand of those who angrily referred to strips of fried potatoes as "freedom fries"? If I were France I would make french the official language, their children wear berets and smoke cigarettes, study their new heritage, and force them all to visit their new motherland.

After the election, while many of us have all been saying variations of the same theme, Michael Berube has found a way to unravel American history in a uniquely amusing way. Now if only he had a messiah complex and was able to convince a big chunk of America that God told him that this is what he wants us to do.

posted by Zoe Kentucky at 5:13 PM

That'll Teach 'Em

The Bush administration is threatening to cut off hundreds of million of dollars in assistance to countries that do not exempt US citizens from potential prosecution in the International Criminal Court
An amendment to the 3,000-page budget bill before the House of Representatives would punish countries, even close allies in the war on terrorism, that have joined the International Criminal Court and have declined to promise they would not send American citizens to the court without US permission.

Since 2002, the US government has withheld military aid from countries that refused to sign such a bilateral agreement. But the new amendment in this year's budget bill goes a step further, revoking other nonmilitary assistance to governments. The amendment targets an economic support fund designed to foster democracy and human rights around the world, as well as promote the rule of law in Muslim countries to bolster counterterrorism efforts.
Jordan stands to lose $250 million for a program that seeks to counteract Muslim fundamentalism by fostering pluralism and secular education.

A narrower version of this provision is already on the books, but that one automatically exempted NATO countries and major allies. The new version removes that exemption and requires Bush to exempt them himself if they are to continue to receive military and non-military aid.

Of course, the World's Biggest Asshole thinks this is a great idea
Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, insisted the amendment protected US soldiers from UN Secretary General "Kofi Annan's kangaroo court."

Calling the tribunal "a shady amalgam of every bad idea ever cooked up for world government," DeLay said the court "still asserts jurisdiction over the American people, including American soldiers fighting the war on terror and still salivates at the prospect of prosecuting one of us for anything the UN does not like."
On the other hand, people like Rep. Jim Kolbe see things differently
Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona, opposed the amendment, saying it applies "a very, very heavy hand to the problem."

"At a time when we are fighting the war on terrorism, reducing this tool of diplomatic influence is not a good idea," Kolbe said.
Anybody want to hazard a guess as to which person's view is going to win out?

posted by Eugene Oregon at 2:05 PM

Oh, Dear

I went to a lunch today where the American ambassador to the Netherlands spoke about European-American relations. One subject he touched on was the weak (to put it mildly) dollar and our massive trade deficits. I was not heartened.

By the way, the dollar closed here today at less than 75 euro-cents. Yet another record low. Having purchased a house here a few months ago, I'm going to make out just fine. If I were a Republican, I'd say the rest of you can go f*** yourselves. But I'm not, and I really wish the morons who are running things in Washington would figure out that if you keep borrowing trillions of dollars with no plausible plan for paying it back, eventually the world will treat your currency like the piece of crap that it is.

posted by Arnold P. California at 2:00 PM

We Are the UN

Fareed Zakaria has a good column in Newsweek on the fact that, in order for the UN to succeed, it has to be treated as more than a dumping ground for all the problems the US and others don't want to deal with and a scapegoat for the inevitable failures that arise as a result of this treatment
Rwanda was a failure at almost every level, but certainly it was a failure of the United Nations. But let us be clear what we mean by that. It was the major powers - the United States, Britain, France - that determined the exact nature of the peacekeeping mission. It was they who insisted that the force stay neutral. (France's actions were even less edifying, since it was reportedly a big supplier of the Hutu Army.) The United Nations failed in Rwanda because we failed.

This logic holds even in the messy scandal over the Oil-for-Food Program, a badly managed affair surrounded by corruption. But who designed the Oil-for-Food Program? The United States and Britain. They wrote the rules that allowed Saddam Hussein to choose his trading partners, banks and consultants. They vetted every one of the 30,000 contracts that passed through the program. They held up 5,000 over concerns about materials that could be used for weapons of mass destruction, but not one over concerns about corruption. Saddam's major revenues actually came from smuggling, which was an activity the United Nations was not mandated to stop. The only ones who could have stopped it were the ones with military force in the region - the United States and Britain. The truth is that Washington (during both the Clinton and the Bush years) cared little about Iraq's corruption. It cared only about its weapons.
Zakaria also makes a point similar to one made by Romeo Dallaire: Lack of a genuine international will to deal with humanitarian crises and the routine failure to provide an adequate UN mandate for troops sent to deal with such crises does more harm than good by giving those under UN "protection" a false sense of security.

In Rwanda, many people thought that the UN would protect them from the Rwandan army and the Interahamwe, only to find themselves abandoned and killed when the UN pulled out as the genocide unfolded.

Paul Rusesabagina, the man at the center of the new film "Hotel Rwanda," explains it thusly
"In a sense, things got better after the peacekeepers left. People realized that no one was going to help them and took matters into their own hands."
Zakaria makes the hard-hitting point that if the international community is not willing to commit enough troops with the proper mandate to deal with difficult issues, they should simply admit that they do not have the will to intervene and stop dumping these problems on the UN and then blaming it when it fails.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 1:50 PM

Things I Learned on a Weekend Drive to Düsseldorf

Actually, I knew some of this already, but anyhow:

  1. Not all Germans drive like Bostonians on acid. Some drive like Bostonians on speed.
  2. Corollary to the foregoing: if you are driving in Germany with your spouse and children, sedate everyone in the car. Including yourself.
  3. There is nothing quite like walking in a Weinachtsmarkt (outdoor Christmas market) on a cold day and warming yourself up with glühwein (literally, "glow wine") and wurst.
  4. If it's really cold and your kids don't like sausage, they may not appreciate point #3.
  5. People who think that DVD players in the back seats of cars are decadent don't have kids.
  6. Germans should really stop using six-pointed stars in their Christmas motifs, particularly when the stars are yellow. I'm just saying.
  7. Dutch and German are similar, except when you need them to be.
  8. The German title for the movie "The Incredibles" is "Die Unglaublichen." The Dutch title is "The Incredibles" (even for the dubbed version). The movie opened two weeks earlier in the Netherlands than in Germany. Did it really take Disney two weeks to translate two words?
  9. Mel Brooks can be really annoying when he's in your head all weekend saying: "Don't be stupid/Be a smartie/Come and join the/Nazi Party" (extra points to those who know why I was susceptible to this affliction).

posted by Arnold P. California at 11:03 AM

Thanks, But We Really Don't Deserve the Credit

The blogosphere is in another cyber-uproar, this time about the school teacher who claims he was discriminated against for being a Christian. Eriposte has a long, contentious dissection of the teacher's claims, in which Eriposte claims to show that much of what he was peddling to his students was bogus or false. I'm afraid my head started to hurt before I got very far, and I'm really not sure I follow. Not that I'd doubt that the "Christian" right would blow a story like this way out of proportion--it's been their trademark for several years to create frustratingly durable urban myths about martyrdom in the public schools--but I just don't understand this case well enough to make a judgment.

One thing I do have an opinion about are these paragraphs from the complaint (pdf) that launched the teacher's lawsuit:

66. The introduction to the [California Dep't of Education] History-Social Science Content Standards for Grade Five state: "This course focuses on one of the most remarkable stories in history: the creation of a new nation...founded on the Judeo-Christian heritage...."

67. This nation was founded on the Judeo-Christian heritage.

I've ranted about the execrable term "Judeo-Christian" before. I wish the Falwells and Robertsons of the world would keep their Christian off my Judeo, thank you very much, and stop using this misbegotten word to make themselves sound tolerant and ecumenical.

But that's not what I want to talk about now. I'm stunned that my former home state would include that statement in its curriculum and amused that a lawyer would repeat the statement as an allegation of fact (para. 67) in a complaint. But let's be clear: Jews didn't have a lot to do with creating the United States.

There were certainly Jews, mostly Sephardim, in the colonies, and Jewish patriots. Haym Salomon played an important role in keeping the Continental Congress financially afloat and was sentenced to death by the British before escaping from jail in 1778. But to say that "nation was founded on the Judeo-Christian heritage" is going way too far. There were Christians among the founders, and there were deists and children of the Enlightenment, but Judaism cannot claim much of an influence on the proceedings.

Of course, a Falwell type might say: we don't mean that Judaism as practiced in the 18th century was involved, but that Christianity was a continuation of pre-Jesus Judaism, so the Christian patriots did have a "Judeo-Christian heritage."

This is one of the major problems with the faux-tolerant term "Judeo-Christian": it is generally used to mean the same thing as "Christian." Indeed, I find it telling that the documents in the lawsuit use the phrase "founded on the Judeo-Christian heritage," as if there were only one. It's bad enough that the fundies are claiming the term "Christian" for themselves, leaving out liberal and mainline denominations, not to mention the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Copts, and whatever other flavors of Christian I'm forgetting. But they could at least stop co-opting the "Jewish" label as well.

posted by Arnold P. California at 11:03 AM

Fluffy, Fluffy Filler

The following story story is not from The Onion.
Bush attends church, goes biking

December 5, 2004

Washington (AP) -- President Bush attended a church service Sunday and then headed out on his mountain bike to ride in crisp, cool weather, getting in some exercise before attending a star-studded event at the Kennedy Center.

"Good morning everybody," Bush exclaimed to onlookers as he left the worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church, just across Lafayette Park from the White House. "Great to see ya."

Before church, the president, clad in a tan cowboy hat, moseyed around the Rose Garden area, his dog, Barney, in tow. Several visitors joined the president and first lady in the brief motorcade to church. Afterward, Bush returned to the White House, changed clothes and headed to Beltsville, Maryland, near Washington, to ride his bike on the grounds of a Secret Service training facility.
What actually irks me a little is that Bush the bible-thumper going to church does actually qualify as news. However, Bush moseying in the Rose Garden and taking a bike ride really does not qualify as news. Was yesterday really that slow of a news day? Is there really such thing as a news day so slow that a story like this one is justified? Sheesh.

posted by Zoe Kentucky at 10:14 AM

Privitizing the IRS

We all know about the provision in the omnibus bill that would have given some Hill staff the power to look at your tax returns. Now the Christian Science Monitor is reporting that there is less well-known provision that passed recently that will turn over the power to collect unpaid taxes to private firms
Proponents see several advantages in the plan. But privacy advocates are worried, especially by a clause that allows the firms to negotiate installment payments of taxes owed. Since repayment could stretch over five years, collectors will probably have to ask taxpayers for numerous financial details to figure out how much they can afford to pay.

That's troubling because private firms already doing business with the IRS don't exactly have a stellar record in safeguarding taxpayer data. A review by the Treasury's Inspector General of more than 900 IRS contracts - obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request this past spring - stated that "contractor's employees committed numerous security violations" that placed "taxpayer data at risk" and that in some cases, "contractors blatantly circumvented IRS policies and procedures" even when told about it.
As an added bonus, its ineffective and it wastes money
In 1996, the IRS tried a small experiment using private firms to collect back taxes. It failed. The IRS spent as much as it collected. But if Congress gave the IRS sufficient funds to pursue the $350 billion or so that taxpayers should pay but haven't, the IRS would collect much more money at lower cost than private debt collectors could - and significantly reduce the budget deficit, argues Donald Alexander, an IRS commissioner during the 1970s.
Since Republicans have placed their anti-tax/anti-IRS platform at the center of their agenda, they are not likely to increase funding for the IRS, even if such an increase could help the government collect hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid taxes. Instead they are turning that responsibility over to private companies who generally pay their employees bonuses based on how much they collect.

That, in turn, will probably lead to overly-aggressive collection tactics - but since it won't be IRS agents who are tossing your house or harassing you at work, you won't be able sue the federal government.

So the collection of unpaid taxes could be done cheaper and more efficiently by the IRS, if it only had the staff. And as David Cay Johnston stated in his book "Perfectly Legal: The Secret Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else," it would save us all money in the end
If the government could collect that conservative estimate of $300 billion lost to evasion, then Congress could exempt from taxes the half of Americans who earn less than $532 a week and give tax cuts averaging $4,000 to the rest of the taxpayers.
But I guess it is more important to turn this job over to private collection agencies who - since they are entitled to keep 25% of whatever they collect - could theoretically make some $75 billion a year from this.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 10:12 AM

Daily Darfur

Sudan says it expects relations with the US to normalize when it signs a peace agreement ending 21 years of civil war - Khartoum does NOT expect this normalization process to be impeded by the genocide in Darfur.

The Bush administration announced that it is making 200,000 metric tons of wheat available "to relieve suffering and avert famine" in Darfur.

Passion of the Present adds its voice to the growing chorus demanding Kofi Annan's resignation.

Khartoum has accused the rebels of killing at least 89 people since they signed a cease-fire in April. Of course, the government continues to bomb villages and the Janjaweed continue to rape and kill civilians, so they probably shouldn't be pointing fingers.

Sudan says it has agreed to hold talks with a third rebel group that recently appeared in Darfur but that those talks will be separate from the AU-sponsored Darfur peace process.

The UN says Somalia has malnutrition rates situation similar to those in Darfur, but nobody is willing to help.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:28 AM

The Voters of Alabama Stand Firm

It is nice to see that, in Alabama, the vague fear of tax increases can outweigh attempts to make the state seem slightly less racist
Statewide Recount Shows Alabama's Segregation Amendment Failed

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Unofficial totals from a statewide election recount show that Amendment 2 failed by 1,766 votes. That's a margin of 0.13 percent.

The unofficial numbers are based on preliminary figures from the recount done by county election officials. Secretary of State Nancy Worley cautions that nothing will be official until next week. The original election totals had Amendment 2 losing by 1,850 votes out of nearly 1.4 million votes cast.

Amendment 2 would have removed segregation-era language from Alabama's constitution. That included language on segregated schools and poll taxes, as well as a provision saying there is no right to an education at public expense.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:04 AM

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