Bush and Torture– again

I hate to have to come back to the topic of our president endorsing torture, but a great Op-Ed yesterday in the Post deserves some mention.  A couple of former conservative Reagain appointees make a vigorous argument against Bush's latest torture policy (and public misdirection) on the matter.  The authors are no weak-kneed liberals, but rather they start out by admitting that they actually have very little respect for civil liberties:

One of us was appointed commandant of the Marine Corps by President Ronald Reagan; the other served as a lawyer in the Reagan White House and has vigorously defended the constitutionality of warrantless National Security Agency wiretaps, presidential signing statements and many other controversial aspects of the war on terrorism.

Despite believing in some of these more odious practices of the Bush administration, Bush's torture policy goes too far for even these men:

But we cannot in good conscience defend a decision that we believe has
compromised our national honor and that may well promote the commission
of war crimes by Americans and place at risk the welfare of captured American military forces for generations to come…

In other words, as long as the intent of the abuse is to gather
intelligence or to prevent future attacks, and the abuse is not “done
for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual” — even if
that is an inevitable consequence — the president has given the CIA
carte blanche to engage in “willful and outrageous acts of personal
abuse.”

It is firmly established in international law that
treaties are to be interpreted in “good faith” in accordance with the
ordinary meaning of their words and in light of their purpose. It is
clear to us that the language in the executive order cannot even
arguably be reconciled with America's clear duty under Common Article 3
to treat all detainees humanely and to avoid any acts of violence
against their person.

I'm glad the President has no problem with “willful and outrageous acts of personal
abuse” so long as he thinks it is for a good cause.  It does hearten me to know he loves Jesus so much.  There's got to be something supporting torture for a good cause in the Sermon on the Mount– right?

Its thin friends for me from now on

In some really intriguing new science news, it appears that being overweight has a strong social component.

Obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus, researchers are
reporting today. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to
gain weight, too…

The investigators knew who was friends with whom as well as who was a
spouse or sibling or neighbor, and they knew how much each person
weighed at various times over three decades. That let them reconstruct
what happened over the years as individuals became obese. Did their
friends also become obese? Did family members? Or neighbors?

The answer, the researchers report, was that people were most likely
to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person?s
chances of becoming obese by 57 percent. There was no effect when a
neighbor gained or lost weight, however, and family members had less
influence than friends.

It did not even matter if the friend was
hundreds of miles away, the influence remained. And the greatest
influence of all was between close mutual friends. There, if one became
obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese,
too.

And here's a thought-provoking line:

It may also mean that the way to avoid becoming fat is to avoid having fat friends.

Alright friends of mine, you are on notice.  Ten more pounds and then you are cut off.  Interestingly, the graph also suggests that opposite sex friends don't seem to hurt you.  All women friends for me?  What do you think Kim?

A Moms place is in the House

I'm sure my millions of loyal readers (okay, all 6 of you) have wondered what's happened to me, but between reading the new Harry Potter book and my now complete obsession with the video game Impossible Creatures (I've not been this addicted to a game since I was 16), my free time for blogging has been dramatically curtailed.  Time for me to get back on the horse…

The Post ran a really interesting piece this weekend about Congressmoms– female members of Congress who have young children back home in their district.  The most dramatic case was that of Cathy McMorris Rodgers.  She actually just had a baby while serving in Congress.  Unfortunately for her, her home district is all the way across the country in Washington. As if that's not tough enough, her little guy has Downs Syndrome.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz also does not exactly have it easy with a 3-year old and 8-year old twins.  That's got to be plenty hard enough without a job that takes you away from home most weeks.

What seems really unfair is that the Senatorial moms just have their families in the DC area, whereas members of the House clearly feel they need to keep their family back in their home district.  Even Columbus, Ohio's Deborah Pryce (my former rep) who has adopted a child as a single mom. 

Of course, what is particularly noteworthy about this is how many people stop to think about all the men in Congress who leave their kids back at home– we don't hear a thing about it.  Its just an expected part of life, but when a women leaves her young children behind, it just seems so much more dramatic (admittedly, even for an avowed feminist like me).  In truth, a major reason that women are in Congress at much lower numbers is that so many women put off running for political office until their children are older whereas this does not seem to hold back too many men.  This is one of the reasons I do not think we'll ever have near 50% women in Congress (though I suspect the institution would be better for it). 

What money actually buys you in politics

It's a pretty common belief that all those campaign contributions basically buy the votes of members of Congress.  As I actually teach my Introduction to American Government students, this is not the case.  What is nice to see, is a column in the Washington Post (by Social Science columnist Shankar Vedantam) actually explaining how it really works.  Money doesn't buy votes, it buys priorities. 

The conventional take on these donations might be called the “Mr. Smith
Goes to Washington” version. This widely held view is that campaign
contributions basically buy politicians….

The conventional view, at least implicitly, is that these donations are
designed to sway candidates who win elections in the direction of
groups who gave them money…

…the vast majority of campaign contributions from
special interest groups go to politicians who already agree with the
groups making the donations — antiabortion groups, for example, give
nearly all their money to Republicans and abortion rights groups give
nearly all their money to Democrats. If such donations were meant to be
bribes, wouldn't these groups give money to candidates and politicians
who were on the fence or on the other side? Why do you need to bribe
people who agree with you?

Hall said that when special interest
groups make donations or lobby the president and legislators, the pitch
is never, “Here's some money to change your vote,” but rather, “Here is
an issue to work on that will appeal to your constituents.” Politicians
go along with the proposals precisely because such work does
help their constituents. The only problem, of course, is that by
focusing on some constituents, the politician no longer has time to
focus on issues that help other constituents. Politicians may feel they
are in the corner of both wealthy and poor constituents, but the money
that flows into politics tends to get them to prioritize the concerns
of the wealthy and the organized over those who are marginalized.

“There
is a loser,” Hall said. “Whatever else the legislator would be doing
gets lost . . . I don't get to the 15th thing on my list, but I don't
know what the 15th thing is and I don't know if I would have gotten to
it anyway. There is a distortion of priorities, but there is no ethical
violation.”

So, money definitely matters– a lot.  Its just not quite as corrupt as people like to think. 

Bush politicizes formerly non-partisan government agency, part 794

In what should sadly come as a surprise to absolutely know one who actually has been paying attention the last few years, new evidence suggests that the President has not politicized the Office of National Drug Control Policy, i.e,. The Drug Czar.  From today's Post:

White House
officials arranged for top officials at the Office of National Drug
Control Policy to help as many as 18 vulnerable Republican congressmen
by making appearances and sometimes announcing new federal grants in
the lawmakers' districts in the months leading up to the November 2006
elections, a Democratic lawmaker said yesterday.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee,
said documents obtained by his panel suggest that the appearances by
the drug control officials were part of a larger White House effort to
politicize the work of federal agencies that “may be more widespread
than previously known.”

Waxman cited a memo written by former White House political director Sara M. Taylor showing that John P. Walters, director of the drug control office, and his deputies traveled at taxpayer expense to about 20 events with vulnerable GOP members of Congress in the three months leading up to the elections.

In a letter to Taylor, Waxman also pointed to an e-mail by an official in the drug policy office describing President Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove
as being pleased that the office, along with the Commerce,
Transportation and Agriculture departments, went “above and beyond” the
call of duty in arranging appearances by Cabinet members at campaign
events.

“This recognition is not something we hear every day and
we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed,” said the
e-mail, written by Douglas Simon, the drug policy office's White House
liaison. “The director and the deputies deserve the most recognition
because they actually had to give up time with their families for the
god awful places we sent them.”

The drug control office has had a
history of being nonpartisan, and a 1994 law bans the agency's
officials from engaging in political activities even on their own time.

Democrats and reality-based Republicans (I know there's a few of you out there) may continue shaking their heads in dismay.  The rest of you may continue to keep your heads in the sand regarding this President. 

What happens when you expedite the death penalty

The Post ran an incredibly distressing story yesterday about a man on death row, whom evidence increasingly seems to indicate may be innocent, but may very well be executed this week anyway.  In an effort to speed up the death penalty, we have greatly limited the opportunity for convicts to appeal a death sentence to the federal court.  This means that even if evidence of actual innocence may emerge the courts can refuse to hear it if they've already given the guy a chance.  The simply, and poorly understood, fact of the death penalty is that the faster you make the process of executing people and the fewer appeals you give them, the greater the likelihood that you will kill innocent people.  All those persons who complain about murderers hanging out on death row too long need to understand that the alternative is surely executing innocent people.  Sadly, in discussions about the death penalty with my students, many appear to be willing to make that trade-off.  Anyway, read the article and see if you don't think we need to do things differently:

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A Georgia
man is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday for
killing a police officer in 1989, even though the case against him has
withered in recent years as most of the key witnesses at his trial have
recanted and in some cases said they lied under pressure from police.

Prosecutors
discount the significance of the recantations and argue that it is too
late to present such evidence. But supporters of Troy Davis,
38, and some legal scholars say the case illustrates the dangers
wrought by decades of Supreme Court decisions and new laws that have
rendered the courts less likely to overturn a death sentence.

Three of four witnesses who testified at trial that Davis shot the
officer have signed statements contradicting their identification of
the gunman. Two other witnesses — a fellow inmate and a neighborhood
acquaintance who told police that Davis had confessed to the shooting
– have said they made it up.

Other witnesses point the finger
not at Davis but at another man. Yet none has testified during his
appeals because federal courts barred their testimony.

“It's getting scary,” Davis said by phone last week. “They don't want to hear the new facts.”

“There is no more serious violent crime than the murder of an off-duty
police officer who was putting his life on the line to protect innocent
bystanders,” William S. Sessions, FBI director under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, wrote recently in an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But “serious questions have been raised about Davis's guilt. . . . It would be intolerable to execute an innocent man.”

Those who have recanted their testimony against Davis claim that the police threatened and coerced them into putting the murder on him.  And if you don't think the police still do these things, I've got a bridge to sell you.  And, you need to watch my all time favorite documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning

UPDATE: Just as I was about to post this, I learned that the Georgia clemency board granted a 90-day stay of execution.  Good for them. 

My new favorite author

I've been doing a very poor job of updating my on-line book reviews (partly, because its been a slow year for me until pretty recently).  But, short of updating it, I did want to put in a plug for my new favorite author: Peter Abrahams.  I almost never seem to find the time to finish a book in less than two weeks anymore, but I just tore through both Oblivion and End of Story, finishing each in a matter of days.  I enjoyed Oblivion so much that I thought I'd try and squeeze in one more Abrahams book before Harry Potter comes out on the 21st.  As it turns out, I ended up reading almost every spare moment the past few days and now I'll have to make due reading political science articles needing reviews until Saturday because I'm definitely not going to be in the midst of another book for The Deathly Hallows.  I don't generally read a lot of mystery/suspense because I often find it too formulaic, but Abrahams has great way of tweaking conventions and creating novels that are compulsively readable, but funny and thought-provoking, too.

Surgeon General

You know, I sometimes feel a bit like a broken record going on about just how awful Bush's administration, but most of the news reports just scratch the surface.  And as I've mentioned before, I think we are truly dealing with an historically bad presidency.  One of the most prominent and consistent flaws of Bush's presidency is the politicization of everything.  Ideology always trumps facts and reality.  The latest example comes from Congressional testimony from the previous Surgeon General.  The lowlights:

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells,
emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global
health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to ?water
down? a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last
year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke
could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times
on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make
speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend
political briefings.

And, if you are not yet bewildered by the political operatives in the White House who want our Dear Leader constantly mentioned, it does not get much worse than this…

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the
Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization?s
longtime ties to a ?prominent family? that he refused to name.

?I was specifically told by a senior person, ?Why would you want to help those people?? ? Dr. Carmona said.

The
Special Olympics is one of the nation?s premier charitable
organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long
been deeply involved in it.

That's right.  Senior Bush officials have politicized the Special Olympics.  I wonder if they kick puppies, too.

Breathtaking Ignorance

Check out this recent quote from George Bush when addressing the issue of access to health care:

“The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private
insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America,”
he said. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

It is truly amazing that we could have a president so flip and just plain stupid.  I was going to explain how, just in case it wasn't clear, but the fine folks over at The American Prospect  have already done that:

So. Except that emergency rooms are not conveniently located in
neighborhoods all over the country, emergency rooms are not well suited
for the provision of primary care and tend to charge rather heftily for
those services, emergency room care fails to provide the kind of
continuous care that is really needed and the real intended customers
of emergency care (people with emergencies) will have longer waiting
times than necessary if the same places are also used for primary care.

Neither are emergency rooms going to provide preventive care or
prenatal care for the poor, for example, and it is highly unlikely that
the care the poor receive in emergency rooms is timed correctly from
the point of view of best health outcomes. I suspect that people wait
until they just can't take the pain any longer before going to an ER.
This means that illnesses are more advanced and treatment less likely
to succeed than if primary care was provided in the communities of the
poor…

In sum, emergency rooms are an expensive, inappropriate and unreliable way to provide primary care for the uninsured.

Obviously, my family had to spend some time in the hospital last week, but if we did not have insurance, I doubt we would have taken Alex to the ER last Monday.  We do have insurance so we were able to go the pediatrician and discover that his pulse oxygen was at unhealthy low levels and that he needed more aggressive treatment for his pneumonia.  Surely, his two days at Wakemed were expensive, but if we didn't have insurance, we probably wouldn't have ended up in the ER later in the week with a much more advanced pneumonia requiring a longer stay and much greater expense.

Larouche!

I've come to accept that most of my students have no idea of who I am talking about when I mention any political figure before the era of George W. Bush.  Robert Bork, Dan Quayle, Bob Dole– that's okay.  But what saddens me is that they have no idea who Lyndon LaRouche
is– undoubtedly one of the more entertaining (not that he tried to be) political figures of the 1980's.  Larouche has run for president every year since 1976, but at the age of 85, he's finally decided to give it up.  Larouche is a convicted felon, totally paranoid, and completely nuts.  He recently granted a phone interview to The New Republic (apparently he feels in-person interviews are too much of a security risk).  Some highlights from the article:

After running in every presidential
election since 1976–and supporting everything from colonizing Mars, to
bringing back the gold standard, to building a giant land bridge across
the Bering Strait–LaRouche has decided not to go in for a ninth bid in
2008…

His enemies list has had a large
and distinguished membership–it's probably the only one to include
Henry Kissinger, Harry Truman, Queen Elizabeth II, Jane Fonda, and most
nineteenth-century British empiricists–but lately it's focused almost
exclusively on Al Gore, whose antiglobal warming crusade he treats with
special contempt. LaRouche, his colleagues say, is unambiguously
“pro-civilization” and regards anything that hinders growth as a threat
to life as we know it…

The prospect of darker times is a subject
LaRouche brings up a lot. In the course of an hour-long conversation,
he warns that “the worst financial crisis in modern history [is] in the
process of hitting” and “the world financial monetary system” is
“disintegrating very rapidly”; that “civilization may not be here when
we come to our senses”; and, rather cryptically, that we are
approaching a “Tower of Babel.” And, just as he has done for decades,
LaRouche maintains that he is the only one with the qualifications to
save us from an unappealing fate.

I was pleased to read that Larouche, having giving up on older generations (who actually know who he is), has focused his energies on building the Worldwide Larouche Youth Movement.  Apparently, the recruit college kids to drop-out and devote their lives to a cult-like following of Larouche.  Now, maybe some of my students will actually know something about him– I can even think of a few I wouldn't mind seeing sign up :-)

How Republicans support the troops

Senator James Webb (D-VA) introduced legislation in the Senate to require that troops in Iraq get the same amount of rest time state-side that they served in Iraq before they have to be sent back for another tour.  Despite support from virtually every Democrat, seven Republicans, and every member of the Senate who has actually served in combat, the Republicans shot it down with a filibuster.  Wouldn't want to actually support the troops by letting them not spend their entire lives in Iraq.

McCain is toast

In my role as purely a Political Scientist observer of politics, I have to say that I find the implosion of John McCain's campaign fascinating (news report here; inside scoop here).  In this interesting column, Slate's John Dickerson speculates as to whether McCain can stage a comeback.  In my books, he's done.  The media probably play their most outsized role in shaping the context of presidential nomination campaigns. In the way in which the media set expectations for candidates and declare winners and losers they have a very real effect on who succeeds and fails in the overall process (as wonderfully explained in Thomas Patterson's terrific Out of Order).  The problem for McCain is that he has in all likelihood now assumed the mantle of “likely loser” in the media's conventional wisdom.  Once the media has a negative narrative for you, it is almost impossible to break out of.  As if yoking himself to our failed Iraq policy isn't enough, the poor fundraising and personnel turmoil that have characterized McCain's campaign of late means that he has largely been written off by the media as someone with a real chance.  Once that happens, a candidate is done for.  

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