Impeach Gonzalez

Honestly, its his boss who really and truly deserves to be impeached (next post), but as that's never going to happen in this political world, we can hold out hope that at least that pathetic excuse for an Attorney General is held to account.  Law professor Frank Bowman lays out a very compelling case for Gonzalez's impeachment in Slate.com:

Congress could and should impeach Alberto Gonzales. One ground for doing so, as I have previously suggested
(subscription required), is the attorney general's amnesiac
prevarication in his testimony before the Senate and the House. But if
Congress wants more, it need look no further than the firing of David
Iglesias, former U.S. attorney in New Mexico. The evidence uncovered in
Gonzales' Senate and House testimony demonstrates that he fired
Iglesias not because of a policy disagreement or a management failure,
but because Iglesias would not misuse the power of the Department of
Justice in the service of the Republican Party. To fire a U.S. attorney
for refusing to abuse his power is the essence of an impeachable
offense.

After providing the requisite details about the shenanigans in the firing of Iglesias (which you should read if you are not familiar with), Bowman explains that Gonzalez has already hung himself with on the record statements:

Showing that Gonzales knew that the only real reasons
for dismissing Iglesias were improper ones is critical to the case for
impeaching the attorney general. Remarkably, Gonzales has effectively
admitted as much. In his testimony, Gonzales provided three
explanations for his decision to fire Iglesias: 1) Iglesias “lost the
confidence of Senator Domenici,” 2) Karl Rove and President Bush
complained, and 3) “the consensus recommendation of the senior
leadership.”

The last explanation is misleading…Thus, when Gonzales said to Congress, “I was not
surprised that Mr. Iglesias was recommended to me, because I had heard
about concerns about the performance of Mr. Iglesias,” he was
admitting, however grudgingly, that he knew Iglesias was being fired
either for failing to bring voter fraud cases or failing to indict New
Mexico Democrats before the 2006 election.

Gonzalez deserves more than the “no confidence” vote that's been talked about.  He deserves to be fired.

Mmmm, Kangaroo

Faced with an overpopulation of Kangaroos, the Australian government has decided to cull (i.e., kill a bunch) them:

CANBERRA, Australia — Authorities said Monday they want to shoot
more than 3,000 kangaroos on the fringes of Australia's capital, noting
the animals were growing in population and eating through the grassy
habitats of endangered species.

The Defense Department wants to
hire professional shooters to cull the kangaroos at two of its
properties on the outskirts of Canberra, where some areas have as many
as 1,100 kangaroos per square mile– the densest kangaroo population
ever measured in the region.

The Defense Department said the 6,500 kangaroos at its two sites
were not only threatening their own survival, they were destroying the
habitat of endangered species including the grassland earless dragon,
striped legless lizard and golden sun moth.

Officials have
conducted periodic culls of the fast-breeding kangaroo, which is
Australia's national symbol but also a pest in agricultural areas,
eating pastures intended for livestock.

Reading this made me think of a recent Quirks and Quarks podcast I listened to that made a very compelling case for Australian farmers giving up on livestock and instead hunting kangaroos for meat.  It is actually much better stewardship of the Australian environment.  Kangaroos have evolved successfully for millions of years to thrive in this environment whereas imported livestock have not and therefore place much greater demands on the environment and are much more likely to die.  An interesting point to think about. 

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Fallwell died today.  If you cannot say anything nice about somebody….

The voter fraud fraud

As it turns out, the rather shameful politicization of the Department of Justice has largely centered upon US Attorneys unwilling to prosecute bogus claims of voter fraud.  As reported in the Post:

Nearly half the U.S.
attorneys slated for removal by the administration last year were
targets of Republican complaints that they were lax on voter fraud,
including efforts by presidential adviser Karl Rove to encourage more prosecutions of election- law violations, according to new documents and interviews.

Of
the 12 U.S. attorneys known to have been dismissed or considered for
removal last year, five were identified by Rove or other administration
officials as working in districts that were trouble spots for voter
fraud — Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee; New Mexico; Nevada; and Washington state. Four of the five prosecutors in those districts were dismissed.

The Post article goes on to fall into journalistic mushiness (i.e., pretend objectivity) by writing how “Republicans say…” and “Democrats respond…”  However, there is no simple middle ground in this.  The simple truth is that Republicans have been trumping up charges of voter fraud for years to try and suppress minority and elderly turnout that benefits Democrats.  In contrast, a nice article at by Garett Epps at Salon explains how Karl Rove has been using unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud for years for purely political purposes while entirely lacking evidence that this is is a legitimate problem:

Republicans do cherish their little practical jokes — the leaflets in African-American neighborhoods
warning that voters must pay outstanding traffic tickets before voting;
the calls in Virginia in 2006 from the mythical “Virginia Election
Commission” warning voters they would be arrested
if they showed up at the polls. The best way to steal an election is
the old-fashioned way: control who shows up. It's widely known that
Republicans do better when the turnout is lighter, whiter, older and
richer; minorities, young people and the poor are easy game for hoaxes
and intimidation.

The latest and most elaborate of these jokes is the urban legend
that American elections are rife with voter fraud, particularly in the
kinds of poor and minority neighborhoods inhabited by Democrats. In
2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that fraudulent voting
would be a major target of the Department of Justice. As the New York
Times reported last month, the main result of this massive effort was
such coups as the deportation of a legal immigrant who mistakenly
filled out a voter-registration card while waiting in line at the
department of motor vehicles.

But the administration has remained ferociously committed to suppressing voter fraud — as soon as it can find some…

One of the aims of the abortive purge of U.S. attorneys was to
punish those who refused to toe the line on the new emphasis on alleged
voter fraud. A few fired prosecutors would serve as examples to the
rest ?- either move to criminalize the election process or face
dismissal.

But the assault on voter fraud was a solution looking for a problem…

Voter fraud is clearly a bad thing.  But in modern America, there is vanishingly little evidence for widespread voter fraud.  Rather, Karl Rove and his minions are using it as an excuse to suppress Democratic turnout, and now it seems, get rid of US Attorneys who do not want to participate in their schemes. 

UPDATE: A few hours after originally posting this, I discovered an article at Slate entitled, “The Voter Fraud Fraud.”  Great minds…  Anyway, it really goes into the details of the Republican hackworks that turned a government report from, “widespread… agreement that there is little polling place fraud” into “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud in elections.”  Definitely worth a read.  

Shameless

Kevin Drum gets it exactly right in this post about Alberto Gonzalez:

One of the great discoveries of the Republican Party over the past
decade or two is that an awful lot of the rules we take for granted
are, in reality, just traditions. Like redistricting only once a
decade, for example, or keeping House votes open for 15 minutes. And
what Republicans have found out is that if you have the balls to do it,
you can just ignore tradition and no one can stop you. It's that simple.

Traditionally, presumably a basic respect for the way things are done, and lacking that, good old shame, have kept both parties in line.  But, sadly, as Alberto Gonzalez proves beyond a doubt, too many contemporary Republicans have no shame.  Of course, getting in a habit of ignoring traditions means that one can easily get in the habit of ignoring laws as well.  Which is why Slate has introduced its rather handy (and sadly, quite extensive) guide to Republican scandals.

I’m famous in Spokane!

I'm generally reticent to tout my own political science research, but I am pretty excited that it has made it into the Spokane Spokesman Review, the Kansas City Infozine, and “Politically Speaking,” a political blog at the Sioux City Journal.  Not quite the Washington Post fame of my colleagues, but I'll take it.  I like the Kansas City Infozine version best; its short, so here's the whole thing:

Even though both Republican and Democratic political candidates touted
the importance of “Security Moms” and “NASCAR Dads” as voting blocs in
the 2004 election, new research suggests that these blocs do not
actually exist. According to a study in Social Science Quarterly,
mothers are more concerned about social welfare than national security,
and fathers as a group do not vote any differently than men without
children.

“During the 2004 presidential campaign, many high-profile media outlets
ran stories about 'NASCAR Dads' and 'Security Moms,'” say study authors
Steven Greene and Laurel Elder, associate professors at North Carolina
State University and Hartwick College, respectively. “The 'NASCAR Dad'
stories implied that fathers were a conservative bunch, and that
Democrats needed to move to the right side of political issues to have
a shot at winning their votes. 'Security Mom' stories implied that
post-9/11, mothers had become more supportive of President Bush because
of his stance on national security.”

Greene and Elder's research indicates that the hype was wrong. While
mothers voted somewhat differently from single women, their main
concern was social welfare, not national security. In addition, fathers
did not vote as a group, and thus do not qualify as a political
demographic. According to the authors, this dispels some important
myths surrounding how parenthood affects voting. It also highlights
misleading media coverage that may have affected election outcomes.

“It is disturbing that images and voter categories that have no basis
in empirically reality would be perpetuated,” says Greene. “The more
time spent on stories discussing voter groups with no basis in
empirical reality, the less time spent on policy positions, the
differences of the candidates and the actual opinion of the American
public.”

If you read only one blog post

on the travesty of Guantanamo and the need to restore Habeas Corpus, you should probably read this tour de force by Glenn Greenwald, but since you are here, you can hopefully make it to the end of my shorter one.  Interestingly, I was already planning on blogging about Habeas today because I recently finished listening to “This American Life's” amazing “Habeas Schmabeas” episode on podcast.  Lucky for me, the New York Times and Washington Post both have editorials on the subject today.   If you care at all about our democracy, you really, really should listen (that means you, Mom, if you can figure out how) to the “This American Life” episode.  I've long known what a sad and sordid tale Guantanamo actually is.  Dick Cheney goes on talking about “the worst of the worst” picked up “on the battlefields of Afghanistan” when we've actually learned that so many of these people were turned in for huge sums of money just for being foreigners.  Nonetheless, to have the whole story put together in such a compelling manner and listening to the first-person accounts of several former detainees declared “no longer enemy combatant” is just such an amazing indictment of the Bush administration.  How incredibly sad that America has become a country that will lock you up on the barest suspicion and not even give you the chance to challenge the legality of your attention.

Hopefully, this will change.  The time is now for Democrats in Congress to do the write thing and restore Habeas rights.  As mentioned, Glenn Greenwald had a masterful post on this today.  The New York Times had a really excellent editorial, here's some key bits:

President Bush turned habeas corpus into a partisan issue by
declaring that the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, even innocent ones, do
not deserve a hearing. Lawmakers who objected were painted as friends
of terrorists.

But let?s be clear. There is nothing
?conservative? or ?tough on terrorism? in selectively stripping people
of their rights. Suspending habeas corpus is an extreme notion on the
radical fringes of democratic philosophy…

Consider some of the other wild-eyed liberals calling on Congress to
restore habeas corpus: William Sessions, director of the F.B.I. under
the first President Bush; David Keene, head of the American
Conservative Union; the National Association of Evangelicals; David
Neff, editor of Christianity Today, founded by the Rev. Billy Graham; a
long list of other evangelical leaders and scholars; and nearly two
dozen sitting and retired federal judges.

I'll give Greenwald (and Thomas Jefferson) the last word:

More significantly, whether a country permits its political leaders to
imprison people arbitrarily and with no process is one of the few
defining attributes dividing free and civilized countries from lawless
tyrannies. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it in his 1789 letter to Thomas Paine: “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor
ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the
principles of its constitution.” To vest the President with the power
to imprison people indefinitely with no charges is fundamentally to
transform the type of country we are.

Teens and condoms

A common trope of the anti sex education forces is that providing access to condoms will lead to promiscuity.  Never a very persuasive argument, but now there's some good data casting this line of reasoning in serious doubt.  As it turns out, in a survey of over 4000 sexually-active teens those who used condoms had no more partners than those who did not use condoms.  There was one big difference in the study– much less incidence of sexually transmitted disease in the group that used condoms.  

Darryl Hunt

In a recent post about DNA, race, and flawed eyewitness testimony, I mentioned the new documentary, “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” which I had yet to watch.  I watched it this weekend and it was a terrific documentary and an incredibly powerful and disturbing indictment of our justice system.  In honestly made me ashamed to be a North Carolinian, where this horrible travesty took place.  In short, Darryl Hunt, a Black man, spent 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of a white Woman– a crime which any honest, objective person could see from the start he had nothing to do with.  The most shameful aspect of this case was when, 9 years after the crime, DNA testing clearly showed Hunt to be innocent, but an NC Appeals court judge and then the NC Supreme Court had the audacity to claim that this finding of fact would have been unlikely to have changed the verdict at the trial.  Not until 2004, when a new DNA search found a match with the actual killer, were charges dropped and Hunt released from prison.  This case is just one more sorry example of prosecutors pursuing convictions instead of justice.  I feel like every student in law school should have to watch this film.  If you get a chance, you should definitely watch this film.  As sad and disturbing as this sordid tale is, the dignity with which Hunt handled his unjust incarceration was truly inspiring to behold.   

What planet is Romney on?

I've read in a few places that according to Mormon theology you can eventually become a god with your own planet.  Mitt Romney appears to be on his own already.  From a speech today:

“It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking,” Romney
told the crowd of more than 5,000. “In France, for instance, I'm told
that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where
either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how
different from the Europe of the past.”

Needless to say, there's no truth whatsoever to this.  As further explained by Ana Marie Cox:

Via The
Plank, where they note that the whole seven-year-contract with option
to renew is, in fact, a plot point in a novel by fellow Mormon Orson
Scott Card.*

UPDATE: I have spoken to an actual former citizen of France, who tells me that he has no idea
what Mitt is referring to here. “It's the former length of the
presidential term,” he guessed, “and there's a thing like a civil
union…” That lasts seven years? “No.”

I'd also like to note how truly bizarre it is that the WP printed
this quote completely uncritically and without comment, as if
seven-year marriages in France were something we all had heard of and
accepted as true.

*UPDATE: Card's book with the seven-year marriage contracts? It's
called “The Memory of Earth,” and it is a fictionalization of the Book
of Mormon set in outer space. Of course, Romney could believe
the French are aliens. And, yes, Romney laid down this thunderous
helping of nuttitude at Regent's University, Monica Goodling's alma
mater.

I'd like to reiterate Cox's point.  How could the Washington Post just publish an outlandish claim like this without comment?  Just consider it yet another example of the fact that what bedevils the mainstream media is not liberal bias, but sheer laziness. 

Race, Eyewitnesses, and DNA

This week marked the 200th person exonerated by DNA evidence.  Sadly, many, many of these persons spent many, many years behind bars based on unreliable eyewitness testimony.  I think the saddest part of this is to stop and think about all those who surely languish unjustly behind bars where there was not DNA evidence to exonerate them or such evidence has been lost or destroyed.  My guess would be that these 200 are just the tip of an iceberg.  Sadly, race plays a really big part in this:

Of those exonerated after a rape conviction, 85 percent were black men
accused of assaulting a white woman. In contrast, black men are accused
in 33.6 percent of rapes or sexual assaults of white women, according
to a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics study of victims.

“What it says to me is that, ultimately, if you are a black man charged
with sexually assaulting a white woman, the likelihood that you will be
convicted, even if you are stone-cold innocent, is much, much higher,”
said Peter J. Neufeld, a co-director of the Innocence Project who
asserted that the 200 exonerations “are the tip of the iceberg.”  (by the way, I actually came up with my own tip of the iceberg metaphor before reading it here).

Kevin Drum has a succinct summary, so I'll just borrow his:

This is all part of the dirty little secret of the criminal justice
system: eyewitness testimony is close to useless. And it's especially
useless when identifying a person of a different race, when the light
is bad, and when you're under stress ? all of which usually come into
play in violent crimes. What's more, it doesn't matter if the person
making the identification is really, really, sure: the confidence of
the ID is pretty much uncorrelated with whether the ID is actually
correct. Not quite like Law & Order.

You can see the problems of race and eyewitness testimony in action in one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, “Murder on a Sunday Morning.”  HBO just released a new documentary that gets at the same issues, “The Trials of Darryl Hunt” which I have DVR'd but yet to find time to watch.  Its been very well reviewed. 

Phallo-science

Its been a while since I've written about scientific research on phalluses of the animal world, but this week's story from The New York Times is too good to pass up.  Salon's Will Saletan has a nice summary:

Male ducks are evolving fantastic phalluses to inseminate females with fantastic oviducts. Unlike other birds, male ducks can grow “phalluses as long as their entire body.”
The organ “expands into a long, corkscrew shape,” in some cases a
“spiraling tentacle.” Now scientists have discovered that unlike other
birds, female ducks have oviducts complicated by “pockets and spirals.”

As the Times article points out, this is actually a fascinating case of co-evolution:

Dr. Brennan argues that elaborate female duck anatomy evolves as a
countermeasure against aggressive males. ?Once they choose a male,
they?re making the best possible choice, and that?s the male they want
siring their offspring,? she said. ?They don?t want the guy flying in
from who knows where. It makes sense that they would develop a defense.?

Female
ducks seem to be equipped to block the sperm of unwanted males. Their
lower oviduct is spiraled like the male phallus, for example, but it
turns in the opposite direction. Dr. Brennan suspects that the female
ducks can force sperm into one of the pockets and then expel it. ?It
only makes sense as a barrier,? she said.

The lead scientist studying all this has interesting theory on why she figured this all out:

Dr. McCracken, who discovered the longest known bird phallus on an
Argentine duck in 2001, is struck by the fact that it was a woman who
discovered the complexity of female birds. ?Maybe it?s the male bias we
all have,? he said. ?It?s just been out there, waiting to be
discovered.?

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