Republicans fighting to unite church and state

Very interesting column by Duke University Law Professor, Erwin Chemerinsky, in the Washington Post today.  Apparently, the House has passed a bill that basically punishes attorneys who win cases that show the government has violated Americans' first amendment rights regarding separation of church and state.  Here's the deal:

A federal statute, 42 United States Code section 1988, provides that
attorneys are entitled to recover compensation for their fees if they
successfully represent a plaintiff asserting a violation of his or her
constitutional or civil rights. For example, a lawyer who successfully
sues on behalf of a victim of racial discrimination or police abuse is
entitled to recover attorney's fees from the defendant who acted
wrongfully. Any plaintiff who successfully sues to remedy a violation
of the Constitution or a federal civil rights statute is entitled to
have his or her attorney's fees paid….

Despite the effectiveness of this statute, conservatives in the
House of Representatives have now passed an insidious bill to try and
limit enforcement of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,
by denying attorneys fees to lawyers who successfully challenge
government actions as violating this key constitutional provision…The bill, if enacted, would treat
suits to enforce the Establishment Clause different from litigation to
enforce all of the other provisions of the Constitution and federal
civil rights statutes.  Such a bill could have only one motive: to protect unconstitutional government actions advancing religion. 
(emphasis mine)

When it comes to separation of church and state, I'm definitely with Thomas Jefferson.  Government was not created to enforce and encourage a particular set of religious views– at least not in this country, maybe in Iran. 

I knew them when…

My good friends (okay, they may not want to admit to that) and NCSU Political Science colleagues, Bill Boettcher and Mike Cobb, had their research featured on the front page of DailyKos.com today.  I am impressed.  Daily Kos apparently gets over 600,000 daily hits.  I think it is safe to say that their research (on tolerance of casualties in Iraq) will therefore reach a far greater audience and have potentially far greater impact than publication in the very best political science journals could ever bring about.  It's a brave new world out there.  On occasion, a political scientist makes into an Op-Ed in a major paper, but this clearly shows that the blogosphere is now becoming an avenue for political scientists to have a real impact on policy debates. 

Boettcher and Cobb argue that tolerance for casualties in Iraq largely depends upon what Americans see as the goal.  If our goal is simply preventing civil war, as it increasingly seems to be, tolerance for additional American casualties is much reduced.  They also have some pretty cool new data on attitudes towards Iraq– I'll talk about that when their findings are public.

Call me crazy

but I think the Democrats need to borrow a page from Karl Rove's playback and fight back and fight back hard on the legislation just passed on the treatment of terrorism suspects.  Rove, of course, famously attacks his opponents at their perceived strength.  So, how about attacking Republicans on their “strength” on security.  What about something like this for an ad:

“Mike Dewine doesn't think we need the U.S. Constitution.  Mike Dewine voted for a bill that would allow George Bush to name you, or any American citizen, an enemy combatant, have you shipped off to prison, tortured, and deny you the right to even try and prove your innocence.  This is how nations like Iran and the Soviet Union operate.  Those are not the Constitutional American values that I believe in.  Tell Mike Dewine you stand up for the Bill of Rights.”  Throw in some images of Bush with notable totalitarian figures, Constitution with the circle/slash over it, etc. 

Okay, I'm no political advertising guru, but I think something along those lines (distorting things for political gain as much as possible while retaining the essential truth, as political ads do) could potentially be effective. 

Constitution? We don’t need no stinkin’ Consitution

How do Republicans live with themselves these days?  Seriously?  Complete and massive denial of reality?  Capitulation of all decent values in order to support the torturer-in-chief?  I'm especially curious how all the conservative Christians reconcile Jesus' message (he didn't spend a lot of time preaching against gays) with this pro-torture administration.  Anyway, thanks to Kevin Drum for highlighting this Bruce Ackerman column which concisely sums up the problems with the Republican bill to deal with suspected terrorists:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House,
authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy
combatants, even if they have never left the United States….It also
allows him to seize anybody who has “purposefully and materially
supported hostilities against the United States.” This grants the
president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be
designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a
Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military
prison.

Not to worry, say the bill's defenders. The president can't detain
somebody who has given money innocently, just those who contributed to
terrorists on purpose.

Get that?  United States citizens can be arrested and held without the right to prove they have been unjustly imprisoned.  This is not America!  This is the sort of practice of every totalitarian regime that has ever existed.  This could not be a more disturbing and blatant undermining of core American values.  I believe there is a word for a leader who can imprison his citizens on his own say-so and keep them their indefinitely: dictator.

The army

Great article in by Fred Kaplan in Slate, entitled, “How Bush Wrecked the Army.”  Apparently, top generals, active and retired, are concerned that are efforts in Iraq are basically ruining the quality of the U.S. Army.  The choice tidbits:

Meanwhile, to meet enlistment targets, the Army has raised the maximum age of recruits to 41, lowered their required aptitude scores,
and?in another recent gulp?relaxed moral and disciplinary standards.
The Army has always waived these standards to let in a small number of
applicants. But since the Iraq war, this number has risen
substantially. In 2001, just 10.07 percent of Army recruits were given
moral waivers?i.e., were allowed into the Army, even though they had
committed misdemeanors or had once-prohibited problems with drugs and
alcohol, records of serious misconduct, or disqualifying medical
conditions. By 2004, this number had risen to 11.98 percent. But in
2005, it soared to 15.02 percent. And as of April 2006, according to a
fact sheet obtained from an Army officer, the number has leapt to 15.49
percent….

Schoomaker's central complaint is that he doesn't have the money to
maintain the Army's global missions. The president and the Congress can
pony up the money (a lot more money) or scale back the
missions. To do otherwise?to stay the course with inadequate
resources?is to invite defeats and disasters.

In case that's not clear enough, “staying the course” without adequate resources is exactly what we are doing. 

The story in Afghanistan

Very nice story yesterday in the News & Observer about how the diversion of military resources from Afghanistan to Iraq has allowed for a dangerous resurgence of the Taliban.  It's not a pretty picture:

Afghanistan has become Iraq on a slow burn. Five years after they
were ousted, the Taliban are back in force, their ranks renewed by a
new generation of diehards. Violence, opium trafficking, ethnic
tensions, official corruption and political anarchy are all worse than
they've been at any time since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001.

By
failing to stop Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden from escaping into
Pakistan, then diverting troops and resources to Iraq, the Bush
administration left the door open to a Taliban comeback. Compounding
the problem, reconstruction has been slow and limited, and the U.S. and
NATO didn't anticipate the extent and ferocity of the Taliban
resurgence or the alliances the insurgents have formed with other
Islamic extremists and with the world's leading opium traffickers.

There
are only 42,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops to secure a country that's
one-and-a-half times the size of Iraq, where 150,000 U.S.-led coalition
troops are deployed. Suicide bombings have soared from two in all of
2002 to about one every five days. Civilian casualties are mounting.
President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. backers have become hugely
unpopular.

Though I'm sure conservative readers would like to complain about the liberal bias of the article, I'd argue that is has a reality bias (as Stephen Colbert says, “reality has a well-known liberal bias).  It is refreshing to have a reporter just call things as they are, rather than rely on a facile “he said, she said” style of reporting in which objective reality has no place.  And as for the substance, it really speaks for itself.  There can be no doubt among sensible people (i.e., those outside this administration and their apologists) that the war in Afghanistan was far more important in preventing future terrorism than the war in Iraq.  Yet, by the use of our military resources, this administration has made the opposite (and wrong) judgment. 

Insectopia

David and I just finished watching a great nature documentary, “Life in the Undergrowth.”  This terrific documentary following the lives of insects, spiders, slugs, and other creepy-crawlies is the latest in a tremendous “Life of” series of documentaries by Sir David Attenborough (earlier efforts included Birds and Mammals).  In quite a interesting coincidence, by favorite podcast, Quirks and Quarks, back from a summer hiatus had a feature this week about one of the insects featured in the series, the blister beetle. 

In an amazingly complex and sophisticated feat for an insect, here's what they do… the tiny beetle larvae climb up the stem of a small desert plant, they group together into roughly the size of a female solitary bee and release pheromones that mimic those of the female.  The duped male comes into mate (psueudo-copulation being the scientific term for this) and soon discovers he's covered in beetle lavae.  He recovers, flies off, and when he finds a real female to mate with, the beetle larvae jump on her.  She unwittingly takes them into her desert burrow where they feed off the food she brings for her own larvae, before devouring it, becoming adults, and starting the whole cycle over again.  Pretty amazing. 

As amazing as that is, I found the amazing adaptation of a particular ichneumon wasp even more fascinating.  The caterpillars of the blue alcon butterfly mimic both the pheromone and smell of ant larvae so that they are taken into ant nests and fed and cared for along with the ant larvae.  They are reasonably good uninvited guests, only taking the food and care before becoming butterflies, not eating the ant larvae.  While the ants are completely fooled by this, the ichneumon wasp is not.  Somehow it detects which nests have the caterpillars inside, flies in, and when attacked by the ants releases a pheromone that makes them attack each other instead (perhaps the military should be investigating this).  Once the ants are busy attacking themselves, she lays her eggs in the caterpillar.  A few months later the caterpillar goes into a cocoon and what emerges is not a butterfly, but an adult wasp.

“You're writing about the bugs?” Kim asks looking over my shoulder.  But I just thought these were such amazing things in the insect world that more people should know about them.  If you don't agree, you probably didn't make it to this point in the post anyway.

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