Saturday, March 31, 2007

UNHRC Closes Out

The UN Human Rights Council has finished its session, culminating with its 9th (no joke) condemnation of Israel. No other country in the world has been condemned that often, because no other country has been condemned at all by the council. But check out the strong action they took on Darfur!:
The Council did address the ongoing crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, but it could only muster a meekly-worded resolution that failed to condemn, or even to cite, the Sudanese government or any other party to the conflict for abuses. The resolution merely 'express[ed] deep concern" about violations in Darfur without attributing them to anyone. Apparently, the human rights violations there are occurring all by themselves. An earlier European Union draft had the words "including attacks by rebel and government forces," but that reference was dropped to achieve consensus. The resolution also defers to Sudan by expressing regret that the Council's expert assessment mission, led by Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, "could not visit Darfur," obscuring that it was the Khartoum government that denied them entry.

The Williams assessment team, which went to Ethopia and the Chad/Darfur border, did present its report at this session. However, the Council, which is dominated by Sudan's allies in the African and Islamic groups, did not formally adopt the Williams report or call for the implementation of its numerous and specific recommendations, but rather simply "took note" of it. Instead, the Council established yet another expert group to "work with the government of Sudan" to promote the implementation of unspecified "relevant" UN recommendations on improving the situation in Darfur,"taking into account the needs of the Sudan in this regard," and to make yet another report to the Council at its next session.

That's the type of bold, decisive language we want when the subject is a half-decade of genocidal violence [/sarcasm].

Other highlights of the session include ending special oversight of the Iran and Uzbekistan human rights situations, increasing "geographic balance" in the hiring decisions of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (effectively meaning more employees from dictatorial regimes), and a resolution against "defamation of religion." The resolution, which only mentions Islam, was pushed through by an alliance of OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) states, as well as Russia, Cuba, China, and some African nations.

Islam is the only religion actually mentioned in the resolution. I would have loved to cross-examine some of the diplomats on that council, holding up a good fifty or so inflammatory anti-Semitic cartoons, statements, flyers, and textbook entries from around the Arab World (as well as the UN's own meetings) and ask if they counted as "religious defamation under the contours of this resolution."

Finally, following up on my last Why I hate the UNHRC post, UN Watch has posted a video of its speech to the council, the response, as well as a prequel detailing a variety of statements that were deemed quite "admissible."

Friday, March 30, 2007

Putting the "Fraud" in Voter Fraud

This article, "The Myth of Voter Fraud", by Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt, is simply spectacular.
Allegations of voter fraud -- someone sneaking into the polls to cast an illicit vote -- have been pushed in recent years by partisans seeking to justify proof-of-citizenship and other restrictive ID requirements as a condition of voting. Scare stories abound on the Internet and on editorial pages, and they quickly become accepted wisdom.

But the notion of widespread voter fraud, as these prosecutors found out, is itself a fraud. Firing a prosecutor for failing to find wide voter fraud is like firing a park ranger for failing to find Sasquatch. Where fraud exists, of course, it should be prosecuted and punished. (And politicians have been stuffing ballot boxes and buying votes since senators wore togas; Lyndon Johnson won a 1948 Senate race after his partisans famously "found" a box of votes well after the election.) Yet evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy.

Before and after every close election, politicians and pundits proclaim: The dead are voting, foreigners are voting, people are voting twice. On closer examination, though, most such allegations don't pan out. Consider a list of supposedly dead voters in Upstate New York that was much touted last October. Where reporters looked into names on the list, it turned out that the voters were, to quote Monty Python, "not dead yet."

Or consider Washington state, where McKay closely watched the photo-finish gubernatorial election of 2004. A challenge to ostensibly noncitizen voters was lodged in April 2005 on the questionable basis of "foreign-sounding names." After an election there last year in which more than 2 million votes were cast, following much controversy, only one ballot ended up under suspicion for double-voting. That makes sense. A person casting two votes risks jail time and a fine for minimal gain. Proven voter fraud, statistically, happens about as often as death by lightning strike.

Yet the stories have taken on the character of urban myth. Alarmingly, the Supreme Court suggested in a ruling last year ( Purcell v. Gonzalez) that fear of fraud might in some circumstances justify laws that have the consequence of disenfranchising voters. But it's already happening -- those chasing imaginary fraud are actually taking preventive steps that would disenfranchise millions of real live Americans.

Identification requirements often sound simple. But some types of paperwork simply aren't available to many Americans. We saw this with the new Medicaid proof-of-citizenship requirement, which led to benefits being cut off for many longtime citizens. Some states insist that voters provide photo IDs such as driver's licenses. But at least 11 percent of voting-age Americans, disproportionately elderly and minority voters, lack the necessary papers. Required documentation such as naturalization paperwork can cost as much as $200. By contrast, when the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1966, it was $1.50 ($8.97 in 2007 dollars).

The mythology of voter fraud is a thinly veiled facade to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning and marginalized groups. Even something as seemingly innocent as a photo ID requirement both falls much heavier on certain classes of citizens (the elderly, the poor, the homeless) than others, while being utterly unnecessary to combat fraud. As voting rights expert Spencer Overton has stated, "a photo ID requirement would prevent over 1000 legitimate votes (perhaps over 10,000 legitimate votes) for every single improper vote prevented." Outside the ever-popular Daley machine anecdotes, there is precious little evidence to show that voter fraud is a severe or even significant problem in America.


Or Of The Blog(roll)

An interesting discussion at Republic of T (via Faux Real) on the issue of blogrolls and blogroll "purges" (where big bloggers take a knife to their 'rolls and eliminate sites they don't read frequently).

As a smaller but not entirely unknown blogger, this discussion of blog network dynamics obviously effects me. I don't think I will ever become an A-lister (I'm not even sure I'd want to be), but I certainly wouldn't turn down a bit more attention. I'm surprised how depressed I've been over a recent slump in my traffic over the past two months (a little under 6,000 hits in February, and probably less than that this month). Of course, if links are currency, then my blog-economy is entirely tied to The Moderate Voice, where I have the opportunity to feed myself traffic indefinitely. But regardless, there are also psychological benefits from being blogrolled. It is nice to know the bloggers you read and respect feel the same way about you, enough to put you on their roll at least (Faux Real, Slant Truth, Pseudo-Polymath). Getting on the list of a relatively larger blog is still a thrill (I think Balloon Juice would be the largest I'm on now). Of course, even a single link by a true a-list blog can distort my traffic charts for an entire month (I got a link from Powerline on July 4th once, that was a massive deluge). But I really would trade those one-shotters for a more persistent relationship with fellow midrange bloggers.

This isn't meant to be a whine--I don't do the things bloggers are supposed to do to grab more traffic. I almost never send emails plugging my own posts. I hate participating in comment threads (I'm not even really a lurker--I rarely, if ever, read them, and tend to get infuriated the rare occasions I do). I do trackback, but it seems that more and more sites are pulling the option (spam trackbacks are really obnoxious). Ultimately, I link to a wide array of blogs, but don't do much more to promote myself on top of that.

For my part, I do feel I have an obligation to try and draw attention to bloggers lower on the totem pole than I--how else will people find them? I only knew about the now-defunct Armchair Capitalists because one of the writers was the ex-boyfriend of a camp friend of mine. I'm not sure if Law and Letters is smaller than me anymore, but it certainly deserves all the lavish praise it can get from the law blawgger world. I firmly believe people should take it upon themselves to seek out and elevate the smaller bloggers they think have talent--and the more influence you have, the greater the obligation to give back from whence you came.

It's tough being a small-to-middle-sized blogger. You streak after elusive crumbs from the big boys and girls, but never really can break to the top. That's not so bad--I don't think I'd want the stress of becoming a big time blogger. But I wish there was more horizontal linkage among the middle range. The way it seems to work is a hub and spoke system: Someone, large or small, picks up a story, eventually a big blog links to it (if they didn't initiate it themselves), and then a community of smaller blogs all chat about the story with reference to, at most, the originator and the big blog. However, it's rare to see the small-blog discussants trade links among themselves. Partially, that's because they can be tough to find--technorati is a hassle, and trackbacks seem to be falling out the vogue. But even still, it makes community building difficult, and has the effect of stopping the conversation at just a few disconnected voices.

There is an opportunity for the blogosphere to become a lot richer, not necessarily by expanding our blogrolls or RSS feeds, but by progressing organically from individual posts we find interesting to see all the range of commentary being forwarded on the subject. I think that the way to get the most out of the blogosphere isn't necessarily to rely on the gatekeepers at the top (as useful as they are), but to harness the power of the b-list--blogs that are not at the top but can be relied upon to provide top-notch commentary on their areas of interest and expertise. It takes a bit more effort, but if blogs which can move traffic start working on this, I think we can really change this medium for the better, both in terms of our own intellectual stimulation, as well as revitalizing the more egalitarian and meritocratic blogosphere instincts that have begun to wane of late.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Schlafly Honors Marriage

The ERA has emerged from the grave to make another run at passage, and you know what that means: Phyllis Schlafly is back in the news! At an event at Bates College, the anti-ERA warrior claimed that marital rape is impossible. "By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape."

But clearly, it's the "pro-family" folks like Schlafly that are defending the institution of marriage, by informing the populace about the perils of eliminating the marital rape exemption.

Feministing seems to have a solution that everyone can appreciate: "Hows about we make a rule that the amendment would guarantee equality for all women except Phyllis Schlafly? Then everyone wins."

Also at Feministing is a post talking about some queer activists opposed to fighting for marriage equality, because (among other reasons) marriage is so bound up in patriarchal history and practice that it is rather perverse to even want to be included in it. Generally arguments like that don't sway me, but comments like Schlafly's certain add to their potency, no?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's An Art

I like writing smackdowns. This post, addressing an anti-gay adoption article by Lynn Wardle, was described as a "rib-cracker," something I'm very proud of. Other times, I don't write the smackdown myself, but link to someone else's demolition.

Usually, smackdown posts come out when someone makes a) a really offensive argument b) in a really weak manner. However, sometimes, regardless of whether you have any prefigured commitment on an issue or person, you have to link to a smackdown just because it demonstrates the sheer art of it. Jacob Weisburg laying out historian Andrew Roberts would be a perfect example. I don't know anything about Roberts, in fact, I've never heard of him. But, as a student of the smackdown genre, how can I resist this?
Roberts is as sloppy as he is snobbish. I am seldom bothered by minor errors from a good writer, but Roberts' mistakes are so extensive, foolish, and revealing of his basic ignorance about the United States in particular, that it may be worth noting a few of those I caught in a fast read. The San Francisco earthquake did considerably more than $400,000 in damage. Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in 1941, did not write for Encounter, which began publication in 1953. The Proposition 13 Tax Revolt took place in the 1970s, not the 1980s--an important distinction because it presaged Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. Michael Milken was not a "takeover arbitrageur," whatever that is. Roberts cannot know that there were 500 registered lobbyists in Washington during World War II because lobbyists weren't forced to register until 1946. Gregg Easterbrook is not the editor of the New Republic. "No man gets left behind" is a line from the film Black Hawk Down, not the motto of the U.S. Army Rangers; their actual motto is "Rangers Lead the Way." In a breathtaking peroration, Roberts point out that "as a proportion of the total number of Americans, only 0.008 percent died bringing democracy to important parts of the Middle East in 2003-5." Leaving aside the question of whether those deaths have brought anything like democracy to Iraq, 0.008 percent of 300 million people is 24,000--off by a factor of 10, which is typical of his arithmetic. If you looked closely enough, I expect you could find an error of one kind or another on every page of the book.

Via Jon Chait

Blank Check

Publius on the unified theory of why the Bush administration is hideous:
If my critique of the Bush administration could be expressed in a single sentence, it would be this -- they ignore and attack restraints on their power. This is the foundational conceptual thread that binds together so many of the scandals and controversies we've seen over the past few years. International law constraining your actions? Ignore it. War crimes statute limiting your interrogation methods? Ignore it (then delete it). Don’t like part of a congressionally-enacted statute? Issue a signing statement and ignore it. Pesky FISA cramping your style? Declare it unconstitutional. Geneva Convention got you down? Call it quaint. Is your habeas flaring up again? Delete it. Having problems with a special prosecutor? Lie to him. Are certain Democrats political threats? Prosecute them, or suppress their political base through fraud investigations or through not enforcing the Voting Rights Act. And if U.S. Attorneys refuse to go along? Fire them.

I could go on, but you get the point. And many similar critiques could be leveled against the Republican Party more generally on everything from Bush v. Gore, to the Texas redistricting, to the Medicare Rx bill vote, to the New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal, to the nuclear option, etc.

I'll give the GOP credit for instilling me with a healthy respect for limiting government (albeit they've shown that I should focus on limitations less of the "minimum wage sucks" form than the "torture = illegal" issue). But as Publius notes, the problems here aren't necessarily breaking or evading rule of law. Some of what the Bush administration has done is probably legal, but hideously inadvisable. For example, I guess I give the administration a little credit for (belatedly) getting Congress to change the law regarding Habeas. It's better than the old position, which was that President Bush could ignore Habeas simply because he wanted to. But it's still a bad thing insofar as it obliterates a crucial check on government power that prevents oppression.

America has a peculiar internal history, one that is deeply tied to our tradition of being a liberal, democratic state. In its purist manifestations, this story serves our nation well as a symbol of our highest aspirations. But we must take care not to be seduced by our own idealized history. If there is one thing Americans remember, it is that there is nothing intrinsic to being "American" that prevents our government from becoming a tool of oppression and illiberalism. If we strip away the procedures and norms that demand open government and democratic accountability, we will not be saved from authoritarianism simply because the state flies red, white, and blue. Many people seem willing to sanction near-any assertion of power by the Executive Branch, primarily because they cannot even imagine that this state, our state, could succumb to the totalitarian temptation that has cursed so many people around the world. This type of thinking will do us (and the democratic project) in.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not Admissable

This, in a nutshell, exemplifies why I can't stand the UNHRC. Both the speech (by UN Watch), and the response by the chair (the President of the UNHRC), are must-reads (for entirely different reasons, of course).

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Unless it's the tally of your lawyers being dismissed from your military commission trial. The ACLU Blog has the story surrounding accused Australian terrorist David Hicks' guilty plea:
No Military Commission proceeding would be complete without a dispute about counsel that nearly derails the case. (See here, and here) Monday's proceedings stuck to the script. The judge asked Hicks whether he was satisfied with his attorneys. He said he was, except that he hoped to add additional lawyers and paralegals so as to achieve "equality" with the prosecution. But precisely the opposite occurred.

First, following a somewhat arcane discussion, the judge ruled preliminarily (while claiming not to) that one of Hicks's lawyers, Rebecca Snyder, could not represent Hicks, because she had been appointed by the chief military defense counsel but was not herself on active duty. This was wrong – and the judge allowed that he might revisit the issue after briefing -- but the result was the first empty chair at Hicks's table.

Next, and far more troubling, the judge stated that Hicks's civilian defense counsel, well-known criminal defense attorney Joshua Dratel, had not submitted a letter indicating his agreement to comply with the rules and regulations of the Commissions, and therefore was not qualified to serve as counsel. Under Commission rules, a civilian lawyer must sign an agreement issued by the Secretary of Defense indicating that the lawyer agrees to abide by the Commission's regulations. The problem for the judge was that the Secretary of Defense had not yet created that agreement, and therefore Dratel could not sign it.

Instead, the judge had created his own version of the agreement – thereby, in Dratel's words, "usurping the authority of the Secretary of Defense." Dratel would have signed even that version – so long as the agreement made clear that it applied only to regulations that already existed, and not to those (and there are many) that have not yet been issued. "I cannot sign a document that provides a blank check on my ethical obligations as a lawyer," Dratel explained. In simple terms, Dratel was unwilling to pledge compliance with rules that he had not yet seen.

The judge was unpersuaded. "I find no merit in the claim that this is beyond my authority," he said. "That's sometimes what courts do, they find a way to move forward." Because Dratel refused to sign the agreement as written by the judge, he could not serve as counsel. There was a second empty chair.

Can we just reiterate that? Hicks' second lawyer was dismissed because he refused to agree to rules that hadn't been written yet. This is the system we're assured is going to provide fair and adequate process to the accused?

Via Michael Froomkin.

And now that the "guilty plea" is in, Kevin Jon Heller remarks: "I certainly hope Hicks gets credit for his five years in Gitmo. Frankly, it should count double."


Today was one of those days I knew no real blogging would get done, so I've been trolling around the intertubes to try and find something so the day wouldn't be a total waste.

The fruits? Tim F's Second Law of Interchats: "[A]s online discussions of Republican transgressions lengthen the probability of an attempted Clinton Did It! distraction approaches one."

With that, I can do some of my homework play Heroes III.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cycle of Violence

Commenting on prospect of real movement towards a Mid-East Peace Summit (primarily between Israel and Saudi Arabia), Daniel Drezner makes a sobering point:
If this gains any momentum at all, I predict there will be an attack in Israel or the occupied territories. The attack will be designed to inflame the Israeli political establishment or wreck the Palestinian coalition government. There are simply too many armed groups in the region with a vested interest in maintaining the festering status quo.

From which Kevin Drum draws an important implication:
He's right, of course, and this is what makes the whole kabuki dance so frustrating: everybody knows this is exactly how it will play out, but nobody is willing to acknowledge it up front and agree to keep forging ahead even when the extremists on the other side do something inflammatory. Unfortunately, the extremists know this perfectly well.

This is true, and I think it is the only way for progress to be made. A Palestinian government which does not recognize Israel cannot be negotiated with (what are they to negotiate over?). But if Saudi Arabia is serious about genuine rapprochement with the Jewish State, the leaders of both countries need to show the courage to pursue peace, even if it means pushing through the obvious and inevitable attempts to sabotage it.

The Tragedy of Great Bracket Politics

And other tales of the day.

Today was the first day of the term, meaning the obligatory "what did you do over break" conversations with various folks. In my first class, I happily chirped away about how I went to Vegas. "What about you, Mara?" I asked.

"I went to Louisiana with Habitat for Humanity."


So that started my day off with a heaping dose of "I'm a horrible human being."

Later on, another friend remarked at how I was sitting at a right-handed desk, even though I'm lefty. I'm so used to them by now, I think I naturally gravitate towards righty desks at this point. It's odd, because I'm usually pretty gung-ho about left-handedness. So I was going to make a joke about how normally I'm a "left supremacist." Except instead, I said how normally I'm a "White supremacist." Wow.

Finally, I'm currently losing in my NCAA pool tournament to a girl who had Illinois in the finals. Illinois! A 12 seed that lost in round one!