KSM: opportunity lost

Sadly, the Obama administration has capitulated to the worst elements of the anti-terror frenzy crowd:

Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will be prosecuted in a military commission, a decision that reverses the Obama administration’s long-held goal of bringing the men to trial in federal court as part of its overall strategy of closing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Who better than the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer to put this all in perspective:

Holder and some of the smartest prosecutors in the country had prepared what they believed was the strongest case possible against K.S.M. Lawyers involved in the effort told me they had spent years on it, and had files filled with killer evidence, just waiting for trial. Careers had been devoted to compiling an impeccable case. By using the civilian justice system, Holder had wanted to send several important messages, among them that terrorists are criminals, not some new breed of super warrior, and that the U.S. legal system is the strongest, fairest, and most credible system in the world. A guilty verdict arrived at in front of the world, in a public trial, with ordinary citizens sitting in judgment of K.S.M., would be internationally accepted as legitimate, in a way that no military tribunal ever will be. Or so the thinking went.

Experts say that the military tribunals’ standards are far higher than they were during the early Bush days, and that K.S.M. is likely to get a fair trial in Guantánamo, too. But regardless of the reality, the forum will always seem tainted by politics, allowing the most heinous terrorist in the world to claim that he is America’s victim, rather than the other way around.

Damn I wish Republicans weren’t so reflexively stupid on the whole terrorism issue and that Democrats weren’t so reflexively cowardly.

Tenure and unilateral disarmament

So, I was catching up on Big Steve’s blog and came across this interesting piece about how some in Florida (Republicans in the legislature, I presume) are looking to get rid of academic tenure.  Not a good idea for lots of reasons, but not necessarily what you’d think:

The assertion by the folks behind this is that if everyone is on year to year contracts, then colleges and universities would be more flexible and can allocate resources where they are needed.  Sure, because we want our institutions of higher education to act like pandering politicians to the latest craze rather than having some sense of stability so that the students can actually get in year four what they plan in year one.  The other assumption is that having annual contracts will reduce costs by allowing universities to dump dead weight.  Sure, that might happen. Or universities would have to invest in scouting, evaluations, contracting, and the like so that they can remain fully staffed from year to year.  Plus for every dinosaur that is let go (and then sues for age discrimination) there is a young hotshot that either has to be placated with a bigger contract or lost to a school that would offer higher wages and/or job security.

Aye, there’s the rub.  As it turns out, studies of tenure show that it depresses wages.  Yep, lifetime job security essentially has a monetary value–people are willing to work for less in order not to have to worry about next year.  So, if you want to get rid of tenure, you might just find it will cost more, rather than less.  But that would require someone to do the work, the science, and the reading.

Very good points, indeed.  What initially occurred to me, though, was how incredibly stupid it would be for the state of Florida to take an action like this unilaterally.  Sure, they’d still keep their universities staffed due to the glut of PhD’s, but U of F and FSU would fairly quickly drop down the quality of glorified community colleges as pretty much any professor good enough to do so would find a job in another state.  Maybe if all the states did this, it could work in some ways (Big Steve’s critiques not withstanding), but were Florida to do this on their own, they’d pretty much destroy higher education in their state.  I suspect this does not actually bother Florida Republicans too much.

Shameless self promotion

Since I seem to keep being way busier than I thought I’d be despite being all done with the Congress, I’ll at least take the time to indulge in some shameless self-promotion.  Nice coverage in MSNBC’s first read– they even get a little social-science-y:

A new analysis by two political scientists shows how one vote on a big bill can affect a congressperson’s chances of winning re-election.

In the analysis, Seth Masket of the University of Denver and Steve Greene of North Carolina State University looked specifically at how the health-care bill, stimulus, cap-and-trade, and TARP affected Democrats during the 2010 midterms.

After the election, they looked at how each Democratic member voted on these four issues. They coupled that data with who won re-election and who did not.

Before coming to any conclusions, they accounted for three different factors — 1) how liberal or conservative a member’s district is, 2) the member’s voting patterns, and 3) the amount of money spent in the campaigns.

The result: “Democrats paid a substantial price for party unity in the 111th House of Representatives.” Greene and Masket cite health care as the most costly vote to the party. Their analysis found supporters of the bill typically ran 6%-8% behind opponents in the election. And 13 members lost their seats because they voted ‘yes’ on health care.

TARP, by comparison, was found to have had a minor effect on the election. The stimulus was a little tougher to gauge, since a small group of Democrats voted against it. “Our results suggest that as much as it hurt some Democrats, it may have actually helped others,” the political scientists wrote in their analysis.

Surprisingly, they found that cap-and-trade didn’t have a big impact on whether a House member won or lost in 2010. “It is certainly possible that the cap-and-trade vote harmed some Democrats in some districts, but our evidence does not show any negative impact in the aggregate.”

Masket and Greene breakdown their calculations further in a paper and explain how they reached their conclusions using regression analysis. A link is available on Masket’s blog.

Masket and Greene presented their findings at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting in Chicago this past weekend.

The email pasted below is proving to be the smartest I ever wrote– at least as far as media coverage goes:

Hi Seth,
I put my Campaigns & Elections class in groups this week to run campaigns for a few of the more interesting races.  I had a group do the CO- 4 because Kyle and I had talked a lot about that one, especially Markey’s vote on health care.  It got me to thinking about the following question:  is there any evidence that the Dems in competitive seats who did not vote for health care are faring any better then Dems in competitive seats who did vote for health care?  I haven’t come across anything addressing this, but I figured you might have.

Why are Scalia and Thomas so damn mean?

Seriously, what is wrong with these men that they have grown up to be such callous and hateful individuals.  Personally, I find it especially troubling since they are supposedly all into being Catholic (as mentioned before, one of Scalia’s many sons, baptized my son David).  Anyway, hard to read the facts of the case in Connick v. Thompson and Dahlia Lithwick’s takedown of Thomas’ majority opinion and Scalia’s concurrence, and conclude anything but these are some mean, entirely unempathatic human beings.  Of course, the law is about the law, not empathy, but these two seem ever ready to forget the fact that most such matters are still highly subjective and that the law is dealing with human beings.  The decision if the Connick case is simply morally repugnant, and one I suspect I will be ranting about for years.   Tough to do a short summary, so I’ll just copy some of the major details from Lithwick:

In 1985, John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana. Having already been convicted in a separate armed robbery case, he opted not to testify on his own behalf in his murder trial. He was sentenced to death and spent 18 years in prison—14 of them isolated on death row—and watched as seven executions were planned for him. Several weeks before an execution scheduled for May 1999, Thompson’s private investigators learned that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that would have cleared him at his robbery trial. This evidence included the fact that the main informant against him had received a reward from the victim’s family, that the eyewitness identification done at the time described someone who looked nothing like him, and that a blood sample taken from the crime scene did not match Thompson’s blood type…

Both of Thompson’s convictions were overturned. When he was retried on the murder charges, a jury acquitted him after 35 minutes. He sued the former Louisiana district attorney for Orleans Parish, Harry Connick Sr. (yes, his dad) for failing to train his prosecutors about their legal obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. A jury awarded Thompson $14 million for this civil rights violation, one for every year he spent wrongfully incarcerated. The district court judge added another $1 million in attorneys’ fees. A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. An equally divided 5th Circuit, sitting en banc, affirmed again…

But this week, writing on behalf of the five conservatives on the Supreme Court and in his first majority opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas tossed out the verdict, finding that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a lone prosecutor.

Suffice it to say that Lithwick emphatically makes the case that in no way was this the work of a lone prosecutor and it is simply a willful mis-reading of the facts to suggest otherwise.

Beyond that, there is no suggestion in either opinion that this is a hard question or a close call or even a hint of regret at their conclusion. There is only certainty that the jury, the appeals court, and above all Ginsburg got it completely wrong in believing that someone should be held responsible for the outrages suffered by John Thompson. If there is empathy for anyone in evidence here, it’s for the overworked and overzealous district attorneys.

The whole article is terrific and you really should read it (I’m going to watch my blog stats for click throughs and hold it against you if you don’t), but damn if this isn’t one zinger of a conclusion:

I don’t think that the failure at the court is one of empathy. I don’t ask that Thomas or Scalia shed a tear for an innocent man who almost went to his death because of deceptive prosecutors. And, frankly, Ginsburg’s dissent—while powerful—is no less Vulcan in tone than their opinions. But this case is of a piece with prior decisions in which Thomas and Scalia have staked out positions that revel in the hyper-technical and deliberately callous. It was, after all, Scalia who wrote in 2009 that “this court has neverheld that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” It was Thomas who wrote that a prisoner who was slammed to a concrete floor and punched and kicked by a guard after asking for a grievance form had no constitutional claim.

The law awards no extra points for being pitiless and scornful. There is rarely a reason to be pitiless and scornful, certainly in a case of an innocent man who was nearly executed. It leads one to wonder whether Thomas and Scalia sometimes are just because they can be.


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