Thursday, November 17, 2005

Judgifying I don’t like update

A man who can write in one sentence “racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion,” is not a man who only hates judicial activism. It’s been pretty clear that the Administration and Specter are trying to paint this guy as an enigmatic intellectual who could go any way on Roe v Wade, and now that’s fallen apart. I think that’s good, not because I want a Sammydammerung but because we need to stop covering up all these important policy decisions.

On affirmative action btw, make sure to read Ygeslias on why a) affirmative action is probably less useful now than ever before but b) it’s probably the reason we don’t have national race riots like France.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A few of you caught on the Daily Show last night that the White House is on the defensive about pre-war claims regarding WMD in Iraq.

The Bipartisan Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Report "Did Not Find Any Evidence" Of Attempts To Influence Analysts To Change Intelligence. "Conclusion 83. The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities. Conclusion 84. The Committee found no evidence that the Vice President's visits to the Central Intelligence Agency were attempts to pressure analysts, were perceived as intended to pressure analysts by those who participated in the briefings on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, or did pressure analysts to change their assessments." ("Report On The U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments On Iraq," U.S. Senate Select Committee On Intelligence, 7/7/04, Pg. 284-285)

First off, this is a lie. The Bi-Partisan panel agreed on no such thing, and in fact scolded parts of the administration. The Republican minority opinion did make such a sentence. This factoid really needs to be spread.

Secondly, here’s a favorite pre-war political cartoon of mine that was up where I used to work. By a pretty prominent cartoonist and given good circulation via both the newspapers and email.

We were told there weren’t weapons - we just didn’t want to listen. I can see how the DIA or CIA may disagree with Hans Blix over analyzing intelligence, but who is some random political cartoonist to know better than him that there were weapons there, and mock Blix for not being able to find them? Did he go to Iraq himself and find the weapons that the bumbling UN inspector couldn’t seem to find? Of course not, the cartoonist’s presumption (and everyone who fwded it) simply came from his political leanings. Before the war, the information regarding WMD simply meant a choice between believing the UN Inspector and leaks from CIA analysts, or believing the DIA, administration spokespeople, and Fox News. If you thought the latter groups were going to look objective and thoughtful a few years down the line then you haven’t been paying attention for the past eight years.

Lastly, who cares? Maybe it was exaggerated, maybe not. That’s not the point, because there clearly was some evidence out there that WMD wasn’t an issue even then, and it’s pretty clear now that the Iraq war was a bad/unpopular idea due to the trouble we’ve had in securing the place. Most Americans want out for a variety of reasons (more terrorists, huge costs, military deaths, loss of world standing, distaste for the new Iraqi government) that have little to do with whether or not Iraq had weapons. The people who still support the war really could not care less about the WMD either, and that’s why they keep talking about liberation and “not giving in.” There’s only one small group of people who care about the WMD claims.

Democratic Senators. A group of ambitious politicians who see that their future lies in being an effective critic of the war, but also felt they had to vote for the war for the same reasons of ambition in 2003. Some of them (Edwards) have reconciled this by saying they were wrong; we’ll see how that works out for them. But most of them are unwilling to say they’ve changed their mind (like 40% of the American public has). And so they say it was deception that caused them to make a faulty vote. That’s really sad. Especially because it provides the administration such an effective way of cutting them off at the knees.

I’m certainly sad about how much the American public/media hates a politician who changes their mind. The public and media itself are the height of caprice, but a politician who admits they were wrong or that things have changed is labeled a coward, flip-flopper, opportunistic, etc. Well, all that gets you is a bunch of stubborn, blithe people who get you into wars.

I’m also sad that Hilary wants to run for President, because a world where she stays in the Senate is a pretty good one. As the most visible Democrat since 2000, representing a large and wealthy state with a good guarantee of life long incumbency, a staunch liberal reputation, a compelling feminist life-story, and an overwhelming source of cash, she could be a senatorial powerhouse. Like Ted Kennedy, but not from such privilege and not confined to Massachusetts and jokes about drunk-driving. Can you imagine a better kingmaker to lead the populists in the Senate towards healthcare reform? Instead, she voted for the war and has tried to convince a public she’s moderate. Maybe it will go well, maybe not, but in the platonic-realm sense she has a comparative advantage in being a strong Senator over being elected President. (Admittedly, like Sen. Kennedy, dangling presidential ambitions may just be a way to get press attention and money. But she could do that while being a passionate liberal; it’s the ineffective moderation that kinda proves she’s not looking for a long-term commitment to the Senate.)


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Just Sad

Yesterday TAPPED predicted that this would happen. House Republicans scrapped ANWR from their current budget bill

This may sound like a good thing, but it is not. The reason this was scrapped was because it already passed the Senate version. Being in the Senate version, it will be relatively easy for the Conference Committee that reconciles the House and Senate Bills to put it back in the final version. But in the meantime this has allowed some more moderate Republicans to get cover for voting for a “budget balancing bill” that doesn’t balance the budget, cuts MediCare, and allows tax cuts.

I really hate Conference Committees. I do think the parliamentary nature of the current party is convincing more and more Congressmen that it’s just another legislative trick, and not an objective way to reconcile two bills. If the minority party has no say in the Conference Committee, then they will pretty soon stop supporting it.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Torture Round-Up

Glad to see the blogosphere is finally re-vamping up on the torture issue.

Neil’s got a post about the uselessness of pro-torture laws. It’s not very useful and even if it was, it’s not like Jack Bauer won’t do it anyway.

For some weird-ass reason, conservative bloggers talking about torture issues are still discussing the Amnesty International report’s use of the word “gulag”. This was like five months ago, and there’s plenty of news today (such as the ironic news that we are using former Soviet prisons). I know they feel a contrarian duty to support the military and the administration, but do they really think that ten years from now they’re going to look back and be proud that they stood up against the use of the word gulag?* Anyway, CT raises the point that these asinine anonymous posters are valuable because they are at least telling us what a lot of people think deep down. Which is sad.

Also sad is that the administration is trying to mount an investigation and raise public outrage over the fact that this information was leaked. For one, I must say it is refreshing after the whole Libby fiasco to see such a good example why press shielding of secret sources is important. For another, looking into the exposers and ignoring the real issue is the sort of totalitarian reaction you’d expect from much lesser countries. So it is at least comforting that no one gives a flying fig.

Yglesias has a really good point about how torture is very successful – at getting told what you want to hear. That this sort of information was used to lead us into the Iraq War is quite possibly the scariest thing I have heard about the administration in the past five years. I’m a reasonable bureaucracy-trusting person, but the idea that they** tortured a suspect into falsely telling us that a country was threatening us so they could release that information publicly in order to build support for a war, should make anyone a little nauseous.

Fafblog is funny.

If all this hasn’t depressed you enough, make sure to go check out Sully for even more information.

*Note: anyone who prefaces their remarks by “the cruel and unusual punishment and interrogation techniques are horrible and must be stopped now” can talk about the overuse of the word gulag. People who offer no opinion on the actual torture but are thrown into hysteria by the hyperbole of AI are the ones I am pointing the finger at. Non-trivially, I only know of people who fall in the latter category, and not the former.

**I originally typed “we”. I’m torn about what pronoun to use to describe acts done by the administration lately. I’ve usually used “we” or “America” to describe foreign policy actions, because even if I do not contribute to them the actions do reflect on all of us and that’s why they matter. But this is starting to get absurd.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Humble Judges

The Supreme Court has taken up an indefinate detainee case. Yay.

The new Chief Justice Roberts has previously ruled on this case, as a DC Appeals Judge. he ruled for the government. It can be assumed that Alito would rule the same way. Boo.

But, Roberts has recused himself from the case, because of his previous affiliation. Yay.

And as much as I disdain a defender of torture, I have to say I really respect that. In the past few years of Bush v Gore and Scalia's Duck-Hunting Buddy, it's become easy to view SCOTUS as enacting whatever they damn well please. Robert's "humbleness" seemed as dismissable as the whole "judicial activism = judgifying I don't like" trend. It's pretty good to hear he really does have respect for the procedurs and institutions.

Unless my primary goal was overturning Roe v Wade. Then I'd be pretty worried now.


Monday, November 07, 2005


Reading Ezra’s site on the new California Ballot measure, and the endorsements he linked to, there seems to be this idea that there could be ideal voting districts. We want multiple things from voting for Representatives, but mainly competition and representation. As a democracy we recognize huge rates of incumbency are bad and in order to have a responsive government we need one that throws out the trash every once in a while. We also feel that when it comes to representing our interests we’d like to be in a group with people who have the same cultural identities, local concerns, and political leanings as us.

What a lot of pundits seem to be forgetting is this: these are not the same thing and may even be competing goals.

Though Experiment: Let’s say there’s a state with a million people (two representatives) and a large city. Half of the population lives in the city, which is 80% Democratic, and half live in its suburbs, which is 80% Republican. The other 20% of the state is independent. It’s a pretty likely (although exaggerated) scenario.

The intuitive solution is to have the city elect one representative, and the suburbs elect another. This is a very fair and representative solution. It is not the only solution, but there are a lot of reasons to like it. The California ballot measure would probably lead to solutions like this. Once the Democrat was elected in the city and the Republican was elected in the suburbs, they would almost certainly never leave office.

Another solution would simply be to divide the state exactly in half, with half the city and half the suburbs in one district, and the other halves in the other. This would be un-representational, but would produce great swings. When Democratic ideas were unpopular, the independents would elect a Republican in both districts, and vice versa. This sort of competition is great, as it makes the party in power accountable, makes it less likely individual politicians will live forever and build power-bases, and means popular or unpopular policies to the middle-of-the-road voter would be reflected. Also another worthy solution.

Do you see how in this situation the goals are really incompatible? One of the things that has really bothered me about the Democratic talking points on the ballot measure has been the idea that anyone who likes actual representation is simply a Republican lackey who is not paying attention. There are real non-partisan goals to be achieved in making districts objectively representative.

It’s not all their fault really. Gerrymandering has become connotationally linked with “incumbency”, even though making competitive districts is the only way to fight incumbency on the party level.

I believe at the moment, that cities are horribly under-represented in our federal government, and by making our Constitutional rules simpler and fairer it will bring that into balance. That does not mean I oppose a fair rule just because it might disperse the voting power of cities.

This country does have a disturbingly high incumbency rate but it's not because of gerrymandering. On a party level in fact, there should be a pretty high-incumbency rate - after all, do you think San Francisco or Dubuque really switch their party allegiance every two years? It's the primary level, combined with a strongly individualistic legislature, where you get the incumbency problems of electing the exact same person over and over again no matter what they do.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Irony and Pennsylvania

Matt and Ezra thinks it’s silly that Arlen Specter, senior Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and Chairman of the judiciary committee, seems to like Supreme Court nominee Judge Alito. Specter campaigned as pro-choice in Pennsylvania, and they believe that Pennsylvanians would find Alito’s pro-life positions very unpopular.

The only real evidence we have of Alito being pro-life of course, is that he affirmed the state government’s regulations in one of the first cases to test abortion rights, Casey v. Planned Parenthood. The SCOTUS then struck down some of those provisions.

I wonder how the logic goes that an elected legislator from Pennsylvania would believe a judge is unpopular for not striking down a law made by the legislature of Pennsylvania. I suppose the law could have been written and passed against the will of the people, or that it was enforced in a way people don’t like anymore. But still, the burden of proof for popular agreement would have to be on the judicial activists in this case, not the people who let the law stand.

Extra fun irony fact: one of the most important elections for 2006 is the Pennsylvania Senatorial race against incumbent arch-conservative Rick Santorum. There is nothing more the cultural left would like in that year than to win this battle. The all-but-coronated Democratic opponent will be Bob Casey Jr., son and inheritor of the political dynasty of the Governor Casey for whom this “unpopular” court case was named.

Non-fun non-ironic fact: Appointed by the first Bush, when Arlen was the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and on the Judiciary Committee, Specter was almost certainly consulted about appointing Alito to the District Court for Pennselvania. It would be a good guess that Specter already vetting and approving of him was part of the reason Alito was chosen, and so I expect to see a smooth ride through the Judiciary Committee.


When Economics is Wrong

Yglesias et al are paying attention to the hysteria regarding the HPV vaccine – a newish vaccine shot to stop women from getting cervical cancer, and men from transmitting it. I’m not sure why it’s come up today, but it’s the topic du jour.

In particular, lots of conservatives are furious at the idea of mandatory child vaccination. And lots of liberals are sad that a need to insist their kids will always be chaste means we can’t take the proper measures to wipe out a debilitating condition, whether people remain chaste or not. There’s even cynical references to conservatives who are pro-STD because they feel it enforces their worldview about promiscuous sex.

There does seem to be a lack of historical awareness here: vaccines are always opposed. There is just some element about injecting a virus into you in order to prevent a distant and improbable event that people really don’t like. At the founding of this country there were great arguments over the morality and viability of the flu vaccine (Ben Franklin had particularly moving stories regarding this). To this day the flu vaccine is focused on by Austism victims as a leading cause, disproportionate to the evidence.

One is tempted to say there’s a conservative drive to believe “the other” is “dirty” and the problems they suffer are entirely their moral responsibility. Meaning it could never happen to us clean people, and making ourselves more like the dirty ones is offensive. This is a very appealing narrative for an anthropologist, but I don’t know the data to back it up.

What’s interesting is that this rhetoric is rather the opposite of what you’d expect given the economic incentives involved. Assuming there is some downside to being vaccinated (I don’t know, .01% risk of the virus mutating, the shot hurts, etc.), a person should be incentivized to tell everyone else to get the shot, thereby halting the spread of the disease, and lessening your risk even if you aren’t immunized. A society of rational agents would avoid any stigma for the shots, and in fact do everything you can to encourage other people’s children to get shots.

Of course, we’re not a society of rational agents, and we have many cultural inefficiencies. They just usually lead to fuzziness and falling a little short of the desired economic outcomes – not the exact opposite.


Andrew Sullivan is a liberal.

“The key thing to remember about Bush's nominees: they are all completely craven with respect to the executive's powers in wartime. And wartime is now defined as: for ever.”

Liberal blogs really like bashing him these days because they think he likes to kill brown people, and any opinion shared with him must immediately be searched out for conservative influence. He also says really mean things about Michael Moore and George Galloway and acts like it’s an indictment of the Democratic party. I would like to make it clear that anyone who could say that above quote will always be on the liberal side, and frankly most Democratic politicians couldn’t afford to say anything that questioning of the war and its current director.

He’s also a gigantic pain in the ass. Not even “our” gigantic pain in the ass. Just mean-spirited, reflexively using arguments and simplifications that dumb down American discourse, and taking for granted many of the anti-Enlightenment beliefs that form the foundation of fundamentalist conservatism. But he always seems to come to liberal conclusions, in a contradiction that I think is immensely appealing to suburban and rural America.

For instance, he is a devout Catholic that is happy to question the morality of atheists or other religions. He takes the Bible as God’s word. He believes these things so strongly that he’s comfortable saying the Church’s stance on the Pope’s power, gays, women clergy, birth control, abortion, the death penalty, economic redistribution, and war are very wrong. There isn’t an issue the Church has a political stance on that I think he agrees with. And yet by claiming an illogical fundamentalist attachment to the Church, he makes otherwise sane people think of him as a theocon.

Liberals are really upset that he continues to say the war was a good idea, no, a great idea. He just happens to have withering criticisms of its leaders, is one of the best sources of information of the issues surrounding torture, and wants us to get the hell out of there in as seemly a manner as possible.

If Democrats really wanted to win 2008 it’d be easy. Just nominate someone, a pretty Southern face, like Mark Warner and make Andrew Sullivan his campaign director. He knows how to speak to middle America – namely in a very illiberal fashion.

Everytime a liberal pundit is saying how liberals need to talk in order to win, I just think “then why don’t you talk that way!?”. If you put together all these pieces of advice from the most cynical and calculating pundits, you’d probably get Sullivan.

But this is the subtle point: the things that make him a great fighter for liberal causes because he’ll cross lines the rest of us won’t, is what made him believe that a war to free Iraq would be a good idea and that post 9-11 Bush was a strong leader.

So really, that’s the choice Democrats have to make. Not about whether to be moderate or to be extreme. Or whether to focus on social issues or economic ones. But whether to be war-mongers in the political arena, or hold on to their values even with regards to the methods of electioneering.


"Judgifying I don't like"

Other things that everyone should see.
We found that justices vary widely in their inclination to strike down Congressional laws. Justice Clarence Thomas, appointed by President George H. W. Bush, was the most inclined, voting to invalidate 65.63 percent of those laws; Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Bill Clinton, was the least, voting to invalidate 28.13 percent. The tally for all the justices appears below.
Thomas 65.63 %
Kennedy 64.06 %
Scalia 56.25 %
Rehnquist 46.88 %
O’Connor 46.77 %
Souter 42.19 %
Stevens 39.34 %
Ginsburg 39.06 %
Breyer 28.13 %

Now, willingness to strike down congressional laws may not be a perfect measurement of “judicial activism”. But I really can’t think of any other objective measurement.

Conservative complaints about judicial activism are simply a combination of anti-lawyer prejudice, and focus on a few very controversial issues. Now I don’t feel Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy are necessarily bad judges just because they are the most active, but they are far from the most humble or restrained.

This probably isn't news to many of my readers, but it is news to a lot of middle-America, and should be spread as widely as possible. I really would like to see Democratic talking heads repeatedly using the phrase "Thomas is the most activist judge on the bench".