Impeach Cheney?

The Washington Post ran an amazing series this week about the unconstitutional and unprecedented power grab that is the Dick Cheney vice-presidency.  I've been too lazy to pore through the voluminous series for the best bits, figuring that at some point, somebody else would do that and I could summarize them.  I waited a few days, and former Reagan administration official, Bruce Fein, has done the job in Slate.  The highlights:

Under Dick Cheney, the office of the vice president has been
transformed from a tiny acorn into an unprecedented giant oak. In
grasping and exercising presidential powers, Cheney has dulled
political accountability and concocted theories for evading the law and
Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III. The most recent invention we know of
is the vice president's insistence that an executive order governing
the handling of classified information in the executive branch does not
reach his office because he also serves as president of the Senate. In
other words, the vice president is a unique legislative-executive
creature standing above and beyond the Constitution. The House
judiciary committee should commence an impeachment inquiry. As
Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable
offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney's multiple
crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify…

The vice president asserted presidential power to create military
commissions, which combine the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor
in the trial of war crimes. The Supreme Court rebuked Cheney in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Mr. Cheney claimed authority to detain American citizens as enemy
combatants indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay on the president's say-so
alone, a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XVI's
execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille. The Supreme Court repudiated Cheney in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

vice president initiated kidnappings, secret detentions, and torture in
Eastern European prisons of suspected international terrorists. This
lawlessness has been answered in Germany and Italy with criminal
charges against CIA operatives or agents. The legal precedent set by
Cheney would justify a decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to
kidnap American tourists in Paris and to dispatch them to dungeons in
Belarus if they were suspected of Chechen sympathies…

In the end, President Bush regularly is unable to explain or defend the
policies of his own administration, and that is because the heavy
intellectual labor has been performed in the office of the vice
president. Cheney is impeachable for his overweening power and his
sneering contempt of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Not that it will happen, but it beyond the shadow of a doubt that Cheney deserves impeachment far more than Bill Clinton ever did. 

Immigration and clueless media coverage

I could have put this in at the end of the previous post, but I thought it deserved its own.  The Washington Post story I linked to that details the failure of the immigration legislation is an absolutely classic example of how reporters distort the story in order to prove just how objective they are.  What we call “he said, she said” bias.  Basically, reporters figure if they blame both Democrats and Republicans equally nobody can accuse them of bias when sometimes one side is much more truthful than the other.  That's a bias against the truth.  In this article, it really seems that both parties doomed the legislation.  Here's the lede:

The most dramatic overhaul of the nation's immigration laws in a
generation was crushed yesterday in the Senate, with the forces of the
political right and left overwhelming a bipartisan compromise
[emphasis mine] on one of
the most difficult issues facing the country.

While this is certainly technically true, as both Democrats and Republicans voted to defeat the measure.  The larger truth that this was really a defeat at the hands of Republicans, does not appear until much later in the story:

The outcome was a major blow to Bush, dealt largely by members of his
own party. The president made a last-ditch round of phone calls in the
morning to try to rescue the bill, but with his poll numbers at record
lows, his appeals proved fruitless. Thirty-seven Republicans voted to
sustain the filibuster, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), along with 15 Democrats and liberal Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.). Thirty-three Democrats, 12 Republicans and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted to cut off debate and move to a final vote.

The first sentence of that paragraph would have been a much more honest way to present the story.

Immigration policy and racism

One of my readers said to me in an email “I'm a little upset that I haven't read anything about immigration in your blog.”  So as to avoid any further distress to Jessica, here goes.  Seems like an appropriate day as comprehensive immigration reform died an ignominious death in the Senate today:

The bill's opponents painted the fight as a battle between U.S.
citizens and a government that has grown insensitive to an
illegal-immigrant invasion that threatens the nation's fabric.
Proponents said the Senate had succumbed to the angry voices of hate,
venom and racism.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
(D-Mass.), one of the bill's architects, compared the fight to the
Senate's long struggle for civil rights legislation against
segregationist opponents.

“You cannot stop the march for progress in the United States,” he said.

To that, Sen. David Vitter
(R-La.), among the bill's most aggressive foes, snapped: “To suggest
this was about racism is the height of ugliness and arrogance.”

I've got news for Senator Vittner, it may be the height of ugliness and arrogance, but it is, at least in part, true.  Just out of pure political science curiosity Mike Cobb and I ran some analysis on immigration policy attitudes a few months back using NES data.  There's a fairly good measure of prejudice as respondents rate Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics on intelligence, trustworthiness, hard-working, etc.  Subtracting the mean scores for Hispanics as the target group from the scores for Whites gives a pretty good measure of prejudice.  Put this variable into a regression model predicting attitudes towards immigration policy, with all the requisite control variables, and you find that, among Whites, the prejudice measure predicts attitudes towards immigration policy better than about anything else.  Not to say other factors, e.g., conservative ideology, education, etc., do not matter, but ethnic prejudice appears to outweigh all of them.  As far as our Republican Senators go, they “doth protest to much” on this point. 

Race, schools, and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled today that school systems cannot take race into account in deciding where students attend school.  Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the Court's opinion, wrote:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote.

Hard to argue with that.  Yet, the Louisville school system relied on a largely voluntary system that only prevents schools from being more than 50% black or less than 15% black.   It must be a lot easier to get the Supreme Court decisions you want when you ignore the facts of the case.  Perhaps even worse, Roberts tried to argue that this decision was in keeping with the spirit of Brown v. Board of Ed.  Not so, writes Walter Dellinger in Slate:

The idea that the principle of Brown condemns the valiant
efforts of, say, the Louisville community to maintain schools attended
by both black and white students seems profoundly wrong to me. The
Louisville school system (I keep using Louisville, because I know that
case better) takes account of the race of students to keep each school
integrated. They don't try to replicate the one-third-black percentage
of the district as a whole in each school, but they do take race into
account where that figure would otherwise fall below 15 percent or
above 50 percent. Good people, black and white, in Louisville have
refused to give up on the public schools. They know that sharp
imbalances in the race of a school population leads to “white flight'
from the schools and that using race to keep schools integrated is
essential to the viability of public schools…

Looking at today's cases from the vantage point of the Brown
decision, the idea that the Supreme Court would condemn the valiant
efforts of the Louisville community is extraordinary. The people of
Louisville want a community that is not separated by race, beginning
with a school system in which white and black children learn to know
one another.

Brown condemned a
system of Southern racial apartheid, a system of racial domination and
subordination. It is the worst form of literalism to believe that the
cases now before the court can be decided by the fact that the phrase
“classifying by race” can be used to cover two radically different
notions. Only by blinding oneself to history and common sense can one
assume that the use of race to maintain the monstrosity of the Jim Crow
regime of the South and the use of race to achieve an integrated
society in Louisville are one and the same.

I will be curious to see if either system involved in the case attempts a system similar to what we have here in Wake County, NC.  Rather than integrating schools by race, the county has a goal that no school will have more than 40% of students receiving a subsidized lunch.  By substituting socio-economic status for race, it seems to do a fairly good job of racial/ethnic integration without too much controversy.  I am honestly surprised more places do not follow this model.  Given this Supreme Court decisions, such plans may be the way of the future. 


The rightward path of the Supreme Court

It is pretty clear that George W. Bush will have a very lasting legacy for the damage he has done to the state of our democracy and his disastrous foreign policy.  On the bright side for him, he will also leave quite a legacy in the changes to our Supreme Court through his appointments.  A recent slew of cases have all been decided 5-4 on the conservative side of the ledger.  Here's the take of the Washington Post's Andrew Cohen:

Let's stay with our baseball theme today.

Legal and political conservatives hit for the cycle Monday morning
when they “won” four long-awaited rulings from the United States
Supreme Court. The Justices further chipped away at the wall that separates church and state, took some of the steam out of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, neutered federal regulators in environmental cases to the benefit of developers and slammed a high school kid who had the temerity to put up a silly sign near his high school.

Each of these decisions help establish the true conservative bona fides
of this Court. It is more conservative than it was last term, when
Sandra Day O'Connor sat in one some of the cases. And was more
conservative last term than the term before that, before Chief Justice
Roberts and Justice Sam Alito joined the Gang of Nine. In fact, the
Court now is is so entrenched on the ground of the legal right that,
aside from the global warming case decided earlier this year, it is hard to point to a single major ruling this term that could or would give succor to legal liberals or even jurisprudential moderates.

On the whole, the Court's four liberals are a lot older than the 5 conservatives.  So, it appears that for the next few decades, so much for the little guy.

What Conservatives Really Believe

After taking a long look at the Media Matter report discussed in the previous post, I asked myself, what would the results look like if we restricted the analysis just to those who actually label themselves “conservative.”  Are we conservative compared to most other modern democracies?  You
bet, but the degree of our conservatism is way overstated by the very
successful efforts of Conservatives to demonize the term “liberal” over
the past 20 years or so (I blame Bush's dad).  The fact that
self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals causes
many to conclude we are a Conservative nation, but the truth is most American have but the vaguest clue what “liberal” or “conservative” really mean.  Chances are then, conservatives aren't really all that conservative.  I did some quick analyses with the 2004 National Election Study data (the gold standard for us Political Scientists) to see what self-identified “conservatives” actually believe about issues.  Conservatives only what “small government” in the abstract.  Ask them about a real issue and they are all for spending money on it. A brief summary of results (all percentages are for “conservatives” only):

  • 47% favor increasing social security spending, 45% keeping it the same, and only 7% decreasing it.
  • 53% favor more spending on public schools, 35% the same, and 12% decrease
  • When it comes to crime, a whopping 59% favor spending more money
  • Only 15% would decrease federal spending on “child care” (clearly a “liberal” policy)
  • 57% oppose school vouchers
  • 80% think the rich pay the right amount (42%) or not enough taxes (38%)
  • Of course, despite all this 68% believe “the less government, the better”

So, basically conservatives have no idea what they are talking about.  They want to maintain or increase spending on virtually every government program except welfare (a tiny portion of the budget), yet are convinced that we need “less government.”  Maybe there would be more “liberals” if they were willing to hold such patently contradictory beliefs.

Liberal America?

I recently came across a fascinating report, “The Progressive Majority” at Media Matters which documents the fact that America is not nearly so conservative as most people believe.  This report relies on a wide variety of reliable and non-partisan media polling and National Election Study data to make a pretty compelling case.  Some visual highlights below:

Its worth taking a few minutes at the original report and just scrolling through all the tables.  In their totality, they make a pretty compelling case.  More on this topic in my next post. 

Giuliani and National Security

You probably have not heard about the fact that Rudy Giuliani skipped out on the Iraq Study Group in order to give lucrative $100,000+ speeches because “the liberal media” has largely not seen this as a story worth your time.  Slate's Fred Kaplan explains why it should be:

Rudy's choice?to go for the money?speaks proverbial volumes about his priorities…

But?given a chance to elevate his standing, serve the country, and
get educated on the nation's most pressing issue?Rudy went for the

Why did he accept the appointment in the first place? Many
blue-ribbon panels are pro forma assemblages: Big names fill the
roster; lowly staffers do the work. Giuliani may have signed up, fully
aware of the gig's political value?then dropped out upon learning that
it would cut into business…

Asked about the omission [of Iraq in his 12-point campaign plan],
Giuliani said that the idea was to address issues that will still be
with us in January 2009. “Iraq may get better, Iraq may get worse,” he
said. “We may be successful in Iraq, we may not be. I don't know the
answer to that. That's in the hands of other people.”

First, what
a bizarrely evasive comment, even by politicians' standards. Second,
does Giuliani have the slightest doubt that, whatever happens in the
next 19 months, Iraq will remain one of the most urgent topics that a
new president will have to confront?

The fact is, Giuliani has no idea what he's talking about. On the campaign trail he says
that the terrorist threat “is something I understand better than anyone
else running for president.” As the mayor of New York City on Sept. 11,
2001, he may have lived more intimately with the consequences of
terrorism, but this has no bearing on his inexperience or his scant
insight in the realm of foreign policy. He is, in fact, that most
dangerous would-be world leader: a man who doesn't seem to know how
much he doesn't know.
[emphasis mine].

As to the fact that most of the media is completely ignoring the story, I enjoyed Ana Marie Cox's sarcastic commentary:

If the GOP base is okay with Rudy as an abortion-providing, gay-loving,
gun-confiscating, adultery-committing, ferret-hating disciplinarian (because
he's a disciplinarian!), what about the ISG incident is supposed to
turn them off, exactly? That he skipped meetings about Iraq to squeeze
millions out of 9/11 nostalgia? That he apparently showed no interest
in helping to solve the most important foreign policy puzzle of our
time? HE WALKED THROUGH THE RUBBLE, DARNIT. How many times do we have
to show you him looking brave and dusty before you stop ASKING
QUESTIONS????? TEH 9/11! TEH 9/11!!!!

The 4th Amendment and You

Today was the penultimate day for my Intro to American Government class, and as always on this day, I covered Civil Liberties.  Class discussion of the 4th Amendment– a damn fine amendment– is always fascinating and depressing as every semester I am guaranteed to hear more than one story from students about having their 4th amendment rights egregiously violated.  In short, the 4th amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable search and seizure.”  The absence of this amendment would mean a police state, where police are free to search anyone at anytime based only on their own vague suspicions.  Sadly, it sounds like police officers do this far too often despite the Constitutional prohibition.  The problem for citizens is that if you are unconstitutionally searched and then charged with a crime, you are still out months of stress and anguish and thousands in legal fees before you can finally get a court to void the unconstitutional actions of the police officer.  One thing I have learned for sure is that police officers do not like hearing from college students that they know their rights.  That's pretty much a one-way ticket to jail.  Generally speaking, I am grateful for the good job most police officers do protecting the public, but it is pretty darn clear that many of them let that power go to their truly incredible power over individual liberty go to their head and abuse that power.  Something tells me there's not nearly as much oversight of this as there should be.  

Bush v. Good v. Evil

As my regular readers now, Glen Greenwald has pretty quickly become about my favorite blogger for his insight into George Bush's presidency.  He's got a new book coming out and Salon has excerpted a portion.  I think he has a very compelling central thesis that nicely ties together so much of what is wrong with the Bush presidency.  It is worth excerpting a good bit:

One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is
convinced of his own righteousness — who believes that, by virtue of
his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade
against Evil — is that the moral imperative driving the mission will
justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become
convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential
war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system,
accept any limitations — moral, pragmatic, or otherwise — on the
methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves
be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet
Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete
with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is
unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring
off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war
against Evil.

Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that
those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the
particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral
or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are
employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such
objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen
the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything
other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of
Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that
reason alone.

It is from these premises that the most amoral or even most
reprehensible outcomes can be — and often are — produced by political
movements and political leaders grounded in universal moral
certainties. Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune
from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral
monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such
unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading
a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of
understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.

These principles illuminate a central, and tragic, paradox at the
heart of the Bush presidency. The president who vowed to lead America
in a moral crusade to win hearts and minds around the world has so
inflamed anti-American sentiment that America's moral standing in the
world is at an all-time low. The president who vowed to defend the Good
in the world from the forces of Evil has caused the United States to be
held in deep contempt by large segments of virtually every country on
every continent of the world, including large portions of nations with
which the U.S. has historically been allied. The president who vowed to
undertake a war in defense of American values and freedoms has presided
over such radical departures from the defining values and liberties of
this country that many Americans find their country and its government
unrecognizable. And the president who vowed to lead the war for freedom
and democracy has made torture,
rendition, abductions, lawless detentions of even our own citizens,
secret “black site” prisons, Abu Ghraib dog leashes, and orange
Guantánamo jumpsuits the strange, new symbols of America around the

In sum, the great and tragic irony of the Bush presidency is that
its morally convicted foundations have yielded some of the most morally
grotesque acts and radical departures from American values in our
country's history. The president who insists that he is driven by a
clear and compelling moral framework, in which the forces of Good and
Evil battle toward a decisive resolution, has done more than almost any
American in history to make the world question on which side of that
battle this country is fighting. The more convinced President Bush
and his followers become of the unchallengeable righteousness of their
cause, the fewer limits they recognize. And America's moral standing in
the world, and our national character, continue to erode to previously
unthinkable depths.

And less you think Greenwald is just a “Bush hater” he dedicated his blog yesterday to rebutting critics from the left who just as simplistically insist that “Bush is evil” and than explains everything.  I've yet to read a better argument for all that is wrong with the Bush presidency. 

How is your gaydar working?

David France (who, coincidentally interviewed me for an article on the neuroscience of partisanship yet to appear in GQ) has a fascinating new article in New York Magazine about all the biological differences between gay and straight men.  The hook is that maybe your gaydar (the ability to pick out a gay person based on superficial characteristics) is based on certain elements of physical reality.  Exactly a year ago I wrote about scientific research that found that handedness is tied to the direction the hair on the crown of your head swirls.  Turns out the swirl of your hair is even tied to sexuality.  Roughly 8% of straight men swirl counter-clockwise, as opposed to 23% of gay men.  If you followed the previous link, you realize that this also means gay men are more likely to be left-handed than are straight men.  Sexual orientation also appears to be correlated with the relative length of your ring and index finger and even the pattern of your thumbprint.  Amazing stuff.  It also, of course, matters socially and politically.

But every discovery in this field ignites a new discussion of morality.
Politically, there is something very powerful about the notion that
sexual orientation is a matter of biology, not choice. In poll after
poll, of the one third of Americans who believe homosexuality is
socially influenced, in other words ?a choice,? about 70 percent think
being gay is ?not acceptable.? But for those who believe it is
biologically mandated, the statistic reverses, and four out of five
Americans find gayness ?acceptable.?

Its fascinating stuff.  And just for the record, my hair swirls counterclockwise and my ring finger is longer than my index finger :-).  On a slightly related note, the BBC has a really fun interactive website on how all these subtle biological differences relate to male/female differences. 

Paying Taxes makes you feel good

Very interesting new research about the science of altruism.  In short:

Knowing your money is going to a good cause
can activate some of the same pleasure centers in your brain as food
and sex, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

who participated in a study got a charge knowing that their money went
to a charity ? even when the contribution was mandatory, like a tax.
They felt even better when they voluntarily made a donation,
researchers found.

As John Tierney discusses in his essay on the research in The New York Times, this rebuts much of the conventional wisdom that there is no “pure altruism,” because all seemingly altruistic actions are taken either a) to make the doer feel good about him/her self; or b) to make the doer more likely to be the recipient of altruistic action.  A brief summary:

We are so convinced of our goodness that we recoil at the
philosophers and social scientists who have come up with less uplifting
explanations for our behavior. (What is it with these nasty academics?)

Kant considered acts motivated by sympathy as not praiseworthy,
because they make the do-gooder feel better. Psychologists have
similarly argued that ?empathy altruism? is ultimately selfish, because
of the emotional benefits it provides to the giver.

sociobiologist Robert Trivers worked out the mathematics of ?reciprocal
altruism,? whereby our urge to be nice ultimately serves to propagate
our genes by inducing others to cooperate with us. If you know that
even Simon Cowell cannot help being altruistic, you are more inclined
to give him help when he desperately needs it.

Some economists
have attributed altruism to the ?warm glow? effect ? the pleasurable
feeling of playing Lady Bountiful and basking in public admiration.
They?ve argued that there is no such thing as ?pure altruism.? But now
the pure variety has been spotted in the brains of students, at least
according to the new paper by a psychologist, Ulrich Mayr, and two
economists, William T. Harbaugh and Daniel R. Burghart, all at the
University of Oregon.

Tierney, formerly an conservative columnist on the Times op-ed page, does make one comment that I just cannot let go…

There were almost equal numbers of egoists and altruists, and their
brain scans correlated with their altruistic behavior. The altruists
chose to donate $20 on average, while the egoists gave just $11.
Unfortunately, the researchers did not ask the students in either group
for their political preferences, so we cannot even begin to speculate
who is stingier, Democrats or Republicans.

Cannot even begin to speculate…”  Oh, I think we can definitely speculate and I think we all know what the answer would be.

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