30 June 2006
One Strike Against a Police State
At least a majority of the justices on the United States Supreme Court are smart enough to realize that 9/11 did not, in fact change everything.
I do wondr, however, whether anyone is going to notice that those military tribunals have taken an awfully long time to get started.
Only 10 of the approximately 450 detainees now held at Guantánamo have been formally charged before the military commissions. Officials declined to say whether those detainees—who include Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a onetime driver for Osama bin Laden who was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case—might now be moved back out of the maximum-security cells in which they have been held since pretrial hearings for the commissions began to accelerate in early April.
The beauty of holding prisoners indefinitely without trial is that you get to impose life sentences without the annoying complications of laws, rights, and appeals.
Bobo the Clown
Supposedly, David Brooks represents the smart side of conservative punditry. I would hate to see what the stupid side looks like.
They say that the great leaders are gone and politics has become the realm of the small-minded. But in the land of the Lilliputians, the Keyboard Kingpin must be accorded full respect.
The Keyboard Kingpin, a k a Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, sits at his computer, fires up his Web site, Daily Kos, and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way. And in this way the Kingpin has made himself a mighty force in his own mind, and every knee shall bow.
Those are the first three paragraphs of a recent column. And it does not get any saner from there.
What conservatives like David Brooks do not understand is that the "left blogosphere" represents a remarkably diverse web of opinion. When Markos Moulitsas writes something on Daily Kos, yes, a lot of folks take notice, but he hardly commands anything, let alone an army.
Even David Brooks ought to understand that Daily Kos is a Democratic community, by which I mean that it is dedicated to Democrats winning elections. So, that means that the views expressed therein are very likely (but not, naturally, guaranteed) to mesh with the views that are benefiting Democrats in the real world.
By contrast, when Grover Norquist wants to set up yet another conservative astroturf organization, lo and behold, we see Americans for Letting Paris Hilton Never Pay a Dime to the Government Again. There's your blinking kingpin, wise guy!
26 June 2006
How Dare They Not Call It Treason
The Bush administration is really mad because the New York Times and a few other organizations not only believe in the first amendment to the Constitution—that annyoing thing about a free press and all—but also want to warn Americans that Bush and Cheney are building a police state.
To be fair, various Republicans (William Cohen comes to mind, because he was prattling this nonsense at least as early as 1994) have been babbling about the supposed tradeoff of liberty and security for years.
24 June 2006
Does anyone seriously think that if Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had denounced a sportswriter as a "spic" or "coon" or "polack" instead of a "fag" that he would be treated as gently qas he is right now? Guillen's punishment hardly amounts to anything: a fine and sensitivity training—and Guillen even tried to squirm his way out of that.
By contrast, Guillen received a one-game suspension because David Riske, one of his pitchers hit a batter after the umpires had warned both teams about throwing at batters. Guillen received a suspension for something that one of his players probably, but not assuredly, did on purpose. But certainly intentional homophobia gets a pass.
Apparently insanity in the realm of international relations is not confined to the neoconservative right. This week, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Ashton Carter and William Perry—high-level members of the Clinton administration—advocating destruction of the missile that North Korea might be preparing to test.
Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not. The Bush administration has unwisely ballyhooed the doctrine of "preemption," which all previous presidents have sustained as an option rather than a dogma. It has applied the doctrine to Iraq, where the intelligence pointed to a threat from weapons of mass destruction that was much smaller than the risk North Korea poses. (The actual threat from Saddam Hussein was, we now know, even smaller than believed at the time of the invasion.) But intervening before mortal threats to U.S. security can develop is surely a prudent policy.
Therefore, if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead.
Of course, under this knackered doctrine, North Korea ought to be considering preemptive strikes at American defense installations worldwide. After all, the United States is constantly perfecting intercontinental ballistic missiles that are more than capable of delivering nuclear weapons to North Korean soil.
The international community has long considered attacks like that proposed by Carter and Perry as acts of war. And by making such an attack, the United States would be welcoming a devastating response—if North Korea is supposed to be a terrorist state, then its reply might involve a terrorist attack, one that would for once be justified in many eyes as legitimate.
One problem for hawks in Washington is that the North Korean missile program is pretty much a joke. The North Koreans have successfully tested exactly one intermediate-range missile and no long-range missiles. Their fuel is a corrosive mixture of gasoline and kerosene. The same intermediate-range missiles that could hold weapons could have no pernicious consequence if they launch satellites. And launching a missile is the easy part—successfully making warheads small enough to launch and navigating them to their targets is what is particularly difficult.
But a bigger problem is that the United States has always resisted restrictions on its flight-testing of all sorts of missiles. When we do it, it establishes reliability and makes the world safer. When they do it, they are evil and need to be stopped. Talk like this does not establish your bona fides on defense. It just means that you have been drinking the wrong Kool-Aid. Enough!
Shocking News of the Week
Overconfident people are more like to start wars but do worse in them, says a recent study.
And politicians are rarely overconfident—except when it comes to asserting Congressional rights under the War Powers Act.
What Part of "Do No Harm" Don't You Understand?
Some doctors appear to have taken the hypocritical oath in deciding to help devise more efficient execution techniques.
But medical experts say the current method of lethal injection could easily be changed to make suffering less likely. Even the doctor who devised the technique 30 years ago says that if he had it to do over again, he would recommend a different method.
Switching to an injection method with less potential to cause pain could undercut many of the lawsuits. But so far, in this chapter of the nation's long and tangled history with the death penalty, no state has moved to alter its lethal injection protocol.
At the core of the issue is a debate about which matters more, the comfort of prisoners or that of the people who watch them die. A major obstacle to change is that alternative methods of lethal injection, though they might be easier on inmates, would almost certainly be harder on witnesses and executioners.>
The American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has opined on the role of doctors and execution. In short, that role should not exist.
A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution....
Physician participation in an execution includes, but is not limited to, the following actions: prescribing or administering tranquilizers and other psychotropic agents and medications that are part of the execution procedure; monitoring vital signs on site or remotely (including monitoring electrocardiograms); attending or observing an execution as a physician; and rendering of technical advice regarding execution [emphasis added]....
The use of a physician's clinical skill and judgment for purposes other than promoting an individual's health and welfare undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine—first, do no harm. Therefore, requiring physicians to be involved in executions violates their oath to protect lives and erodes public confidence in the medical profession.
Some doctors just don't get it. And if they don't, how will our judges and politicians ever expect to?
18 June 2006
The news that a cholera epidemic is rampaging through Angola is particularly disheartening. It is disheartening because yet again an oil-rich nation does little to nothing for its poorest citizens. It is disheartening that the only solution—chlorination of river water—comes from the ad hoc actions of a Western nonprofit. And it is disheartening that the United States, which has not only a stated interest in promoting democracy, but also a strategic interest in promoting new suppliers of petroleum, has not spent the relatively short money to alleviate the problem.
Of course, the Church of the Free Market knows that all that Angola requires is time for providers of clean water to provide it to the highest bidder. And isn't providing things to the elite enough?
The Doctor Made Me Do It?
David Segui claims that he was the former player who talked to Jason Grimsley about obtaining human growth hormone, but he claims that he used HGH only with a doctor's prescription.
David Segui was a solidly-built ballplayer, listed at 6 feet, one inch tall and 202 pounds. Is he the sort of fellow who suffers from growth failure? Because the only other on-label indication for HGH for adults is for a disease that one would not wish on one's worst enemy.
After all of the bad press that the Bush administration received over its bungling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one might expect that it would be making every effort to get things cleaned up in New Orleans.
In Orleans Parish, fully half of the storm debris is still uncollected. And the Lower Ninth Ward still does not have trash pickup.
Too bad the National Guard keeps getting sent overseas.
Massachusetts voters might be excused for thinking that the Republicans and the party of rich tax cheaters. Christy Mihos, who is trying to qualify as an independent candidate for governor after a public falling-out with the state Republican party, is only the third prominent Republican to try to avoid paying sales tax on an expensive yacht by claiming that it was berthed elsewhere.
The problem is not so much that Republicans have a serial yachting problem. The problem is that states like Rhode Island persist in trying to use tax breaks, such as sales tax exemptions, to benefit particular industries.
The savings on even a $475,000 yacht like the Ashley is $23,750—certainly a large amount, but not so much as to keep Christy Mihos from settling on a $450,000 yacht instead. And certainly there are some rich Rhode Islanders who used the tax break legitimately. But did no one in the Rhode Island legislature realize that many of the Rhode Island "purchasers" of yachts would be single-asset corporations with no real Rhode Island presence beyond the Providence address of a law firm?
Probably not, judging from the increasing propensity of repeal or weakening of the Rule against Perpetuities, which historically has limited the duration of trusts. In about 20 states, the maximum length of a trust now extends from several hundred years, and is even limitless in some states. Legislators were told that dynasty trusts were going to help small businesses. In reality, all it means is that South Dakota or Delaware or Wyoming lawyers make a few bucks setting up trusts, and rich clients have a government-approved way to resurrect the aristocracy. And every cut of taxes on investment income or repeal of estate taxes makes their contributions to society all the smaller.
13 June 2006
Iraqi Prosperity is Right Around the Corner
Just how safe is downtown Baghdad? Safe enough that the President of the United States can tell as many as five of his own cabinet members about traveling there.
[Bush slipped] out of a high-level dinner at Camp David at 7:45 p.m., saying he was "losing altitude" and looking forward to doing some reading in his quarters and then catching a full night's sleep before what was to be the second day of a two-day "war summit" at the presidential retreat. Today was to include a videoconference between Mr. Bush's war cabinet and the new Iraqi government's top officials.
Of those at the table, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knew what the president was up to. Several others—including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns—did not, said the White House counselor, Dan Bartlett.
White House officials left behind in Washington—who did not know about the trip until this morning, either—could not say whether the nation's two top-ranking intelligence officials, John Negroponte and Gen. Michael Hayden, knew about the secret visit as they, too, sat at the dinner table with the president.
Officials said a small circle of advisers had been planning the trip for the past month, only six of them in all to avoid any leaks.
And how much warning did Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have? A few minutes or so.
The Iraqi government was kept in the dark about the visit. It had been previously announced that Mr. Maliki and his cabinet and President Bush, along with his top advisers at Camp David, had planned to hold a joint cabinet meeting today via a video link to set an agenda for the new Iraqi government, and they had been asked to gather in the American Embassy in Baghdad this morning for the teleconference.
American officials told Mr. Maliki that the president was in Baghdad only after Mr. Bush's Nighthawk helicopter had landed in a secure airfield in the Green Zone after a six-minute trip from the Baghdad airport.
Yes, that Iraqi government has full sovereignty over Iraq. No puppetry involved at all.
12 June 2006
How to Win in 2006 and 2008
The environment is an issue that crosses traditional liberal-conservative lines. Lefties like me know that the world we live in is a real thing, and is therefore worthy of serious political thought. But even self-described conservatives who rely on the natural world for recreation are very worried.
A recent poll commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation found that huge majorities of those surveyed were in favor of tougher curbs on greenhouse gases. Fully 76% agreed that global warming was happening; 56% blamed fossil fuels; and 78% thought that the United States should reduce its production of greenhouse gases. (Those are not percentages of those having an opinion—they are percentages of all respondents.) The political orientation of those polled was 36% conservative, 37% moderate, and 11% liberal. They supported Bush over Kerry in 2000 by 53% to 29%.
The cool kids inside the Beltway pooh-poohed Howard Dean when he said that he wanted to get the votes of Southerners with gun racks in their pickup trucks. Guess what? Being a hunter does not make you a slave to the latest ravings of Grover Norquist and his pals on K Street. Reminding hunters and fishermen that your party actually likes helping the environment may actually win you friends in the coming years.
Boola Boola, Boola BOO!
Large private universities are forever hustling for cash from their alumni, whether for new buildings or new initiatives or financial aid or general operating expenses. One reason for the endowment is supposedly to pay the best prospective faculty to come to the large private university and provide the best possible teaching to students. It all sounds so nice. It is a pity, then, when political correctness—the kind found in real life—gets in the way.
In real life, political correctness is what keeps American corporations from suggesting that perhaps a universal health care program would be better than the annual fight with workers and insurance brokers for health care. (The very fact that insurance brokers exist should be a signal that the market for health insurance is woefully inefficient.) And in real life, political correctness is what keeps a university like Yale from hiring a top-notch expert on the Middle East because, well, he says insidiously true things on his weblog.
Professor Cole is too circumspect to cast aspersions on the university that almost hired him away from the University of Michigan. But other commentators know blackballing when they see it.
Is it the end of the world that Yale could not stand to have an outspoken liberal on its faculty? No. But it is a sad comment on how feckless and myopic the powerful can be. Most students know that their professors have political opinions, even strong, deep-seated ones. But most also know that these same professors are more concerned with learning than with indoctrination. To put it another way, would Donald Kagan and David Gelernter prefer that their Yalie charges share their political proclivities? Sure. But I think that they would much prefer that their students really understand Greek history and the philosophical underpinnings of computer science.
"You're Doing a Hell of a Job" Redux?
I wonder what the United States soccer team thought about this call.
Eager to prove they are among soccer's elite after their surprising quarterfinal finish in South Korea four years ago, the Americans brought their most-talented team ever to this year's tournament. They even got a pregame pep talk from President Bush, who called from Camp David before the game and wished them well.
Bush showed his inverse Midas touch—3-0 Germany. I wonder if the Amercian eleven realized that they were doomed once Bush called them.
08 June 2006
Great Moments in Judicial Activism
After looking over this ruling, my only question is how the contemplated appeal would be decided. A coin flip? Arm wrestling?
06 June 2006
Sauce for the Gander
Someone in the Washington press corps needs to ask President Bush just how serious he is about activist judges and marriage.
Since 2004, state courts in Washington and California and Maryland and New York have ruled against marriage laws. Last year, a federal judge in Nebraska overturned a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, an amendment that was approved by 70 percent of the population. And at this moment, nine states face lawsuits challenging the marriage laws they have on the books.
Some argue that defining marriage should be left to the states. The fact is, state legislatures are trying to address this issue. (Applause.) But across the country, they are being thwarted by activist judges who are overturning the expressed will of their people. And these court decisions can have an impact on our whole nation.
In 1967, an activist Supreme Court overturned the expressed will of the people of Virginia and allowed a white man and a black woman to get married. At that time, 16 states banned interracial marriages. In 1948, an activist California Supreme Court overturned that state's ban on interracial marriage, at a time when fully 36 states out of 48 banned such unions.
Would President Bush support an amendment to reverse these decisions? Those nasty activist judges have been subverting the will of the people for more than just a few years.
Been There, Done That
Atrios reminds us that a group of soi-disant centrists are pushing a thoroughly knackered idea of a "Unity" ticket for the 2008 national elections. Supposedly, many of the government's ills would vanish if a Democrat were president and a Republican were vice president (or the other way around).
Even if this were a good idea—and it's not—the idea has one huge flaw.
This idea already failed in 2000, with Gore as the Democrat and Lieberman as the Republican. Why would it work any better in 2008?
02 June 2006
The New York Times reports on the burgeoning business of "faith night" at the ballpark. Mind you, that "faith night" is not going to be Islamic, or Jewish, or Unitarian, or even Catholic, but one of the newer religious fads, that of conservative Protestantism.
Third Coast Sports, a company in Nashville that says it specializes in church marketing and event planning for sports teams, has scheduled 70 this year in 44 cities, and many teams produce Faith Nights on their own.
They are about to become even bigger. This summer, the religious promotions will hit Major League Baseball. The Atlanta Braves are planning three Faith Days this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks one. The Florida Marlins have tentatively scheduled a Faith Night for September.
The religious promotions are spreading because they offer something for fans and for teams. Churches get discounted tickets to family-friendly evenings of music and sports with a Christian theme. And in return, they mobilize their vast infrastructure of e-mail and phone lists, youth programs and chaperones, and of course their bus fleets, to help fill the stands.
"Religion is a very big component of people's lives around here, and churches are very well organized," said Derek Schiller, a senior vice president for sales and marketing for the Braves, whose first Faith Day is scheduled for July 27. "If they decide they're going to have an outing and it's going to be an Atlanta Braves baseball game, rest assured there will be a big participation."
The fetishism of religion here is truly fascinating. Normally, a religious service or event involves at least a token separation of religion and capital. Here, though, the event is aimed at a particular subset of American Protestants, but the goal is not any sort of religious transcendence, but merely a way to make money for the owners of the club. To put it another way, Faith Night is just the fad of the moment. And fads mean profits.
One of the ballparks with a Third Sports promotion this summer will be Knights Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday, 4 August. The Knights website promises that "Christian comedian" Brad Stine will perform. Alas, Stine's own website does not mention his Christianity. (No, he is "America's Conservative Comedian".) The most interesting part of the website is the quote comparing him to Sam Kinison and George Carlin, both notable stalwarts of clean humor and family values.
But perhaps Brad Stine is less raunchy and more Christian than his web site might lead you to believe. It does still seem odd that a team so caring of its Christian friends to have a "faith night" on Friday, 4 August, nevertheless has its weekly Thirsty Thursday—that means $1 beers—on the previous night.
I wonder what happens if the Thursday game is rained out and the Knights play a doubleheader on Friday. Does Faith Night wait until the second game, so we can see how many devout Christians get plastered on $1 beers?
Below Average Joe
In case you needed a reason to support Ned Lamont in his race against Joe Lieberman in the August 2006 primary, Pachacutec at FireDogLake helpfully shows that Joe Lieberman thinks that homosexuality is icky.
And in case you needed confirmation that the Human Rights Campaign was a useless pot of weak tea, Pachacutec also laments that the HRC has no qualms about endorsing Lieberman over Lamont, despite Lamont's overt and proud support for actual civil rights for gays and lesbians.
I suppose that the "anti-American left" now includes the United States Army. Those pesky leftists always hide behidn the truth.
A military investigator uncovered evidence in February and March that contradicted repeated claims by marines that Iraqi civilians killed in Haditha last November were victims of a roadside bomb, according to a senior military official in Iraq.
01 June 2006
Business Week comes to the amazing conclusion that perhaps Vinson & Elkins, Enron's law firm, might have known more about Enron's shenanigans than it has let on.
But documents and transcripts reviewed by BusinessWeek indicate that V&E attorneys had doubts about the legitimacy of Enron's business practices. Sometimes they even made light of the company's aggressive accounting....
V&E also played a critical role in helping the energy company complete a series of complex transactions designed to generate cash from the sale of otherwise illiquid assets. Yet through complex "total return swaps," Enron actually retained control of the assets, rendering the transactions, and the cash proceeds from them, suspect. Court-appointed bankruptcy examiner Neal Batson noted in his report that obtaining V&E's opinion letters was "crucial to Enron's ability to complete" these transactions. Legal opinion letters, which are signed by a law firm itself, are needed to complete some types of deals.
In order to issue a legal opinion on a transaction, the law firm doing the opining is supposed to do an impressive amount of due diligence about its documentation and assumptions. The opinion itself reviews not just statutory but also case law. Even the strength of the opinion is supposed to reflect how likely the underlying transaction would be approved by the relevant governmental agencies or courts upon audit or lawsuit.
Either Vinson & Elkins was thoroughly knowledgeable about the intricate web of entities behind the Enron fraud, or it was issuing opinions based on merely a shallow understanding of the relevant facts. In either case, Vinson & Elkins should be in an awful lot of trouble.
The first case is much more likely, I think—it hardly strains credulity to imagine that Vinson & Elkins partners convinced themselves to keep issuing opinions for one of their best clients. Corporate lawyers are working for their clients, not for the pursuit of truth or justice, so they are, in effect, doing the bidding of their clients. No one should be surprised that behind every elaborate fraud is a web of elaborate legal documents.
One other point to keep in mind is one that Business Week mentions almost as an afterthought.
Like many law firms, V&E reorganized as a limited liability partnership in 1992. That insulates partners from personal liability, leaving plaintiffs looking at insurance for a payoff.
I wrote in early 2004 that the whole idea of a limited liability partnership was an immensely stupid idea. Until the early 1990s, most law firms were organized as professional corporations, in which the misconduct of one partner could affect the fortunes of any others. But the wave of "reform" that spread through state legislatures in the early 1990s allowed legal and accounting firms to set up LLPs instead. In LLPs, only the specific partner guilty of misconduct is personally liable. Lawyers and accountants lobbied state legislatures to make the change, and they all did. And look what happened. Shocking, that.
The Lyrics Speak for Themselves
New item: longtime bastion of highfalutin conservative thought, National Review, decided to name 50 top conservative rock songs of all time. The threshold must have been low, and the ceiling not much higher, if a certain song made it all the way to number 38.
A song from 1996 aptly summarizes the thinking that must have gone into elevating Sammy Hagar into any sort of rock pantheon.
Is this what you wanted, Sammy Hagar?
Sammy Hagar, is this what you wanted, man?
Dave lost his hairline but you lost your cool buddy
Can't drive 55
I'll never buy your lousy records again
Is this what you wanted, National Review? Sammy Hagar? Sammy Hagar?