Thursday, October 23, 2003


CNN reports 300 illegal immigrants working for a Walmart contractor are being rounded up across the country by US officials.

There's not the slightest chance this is in any way an administration attempt to appeal to nativist sentiment and take attention away from the 386000 newly unemployed this week, is there?


I have a bad one, and am spending the rest of the week asleep.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


Mark A. R. Kleiman has more on the fairly lightly sourced story that US troops had destroyed a village orchard as collective punishment for opposing the occupation - something that would be a war crime, if true. The further information Kleiman has provides an alternative account of what happened: the orchard really was used for attacks; full compensation was paid; it was essentially a compulsory purchase, which is not of itself necessarily a war crime, or indeed necessarily a bad thing. However, it also seems to show that something like the destruction of the orchard actually did happen.

I mention this to emphasise one point Kleiman makes: this is in any case a political blunder. And how. The very very worst thing that the occupying forces can do is anything that makes the occupation look like Gaza or the West Bank: to do so will invite further loss of control, further casualties, and considerably greater difficulties in stabilising and reconstructing. And this strategy, even if legal, even if done for the best possible reasons, looks a lot like Gaza or the West Bank, and looks a lot like (even if it in fact isn't) collective punishment. It's hard to think that ny alternative solution to policing the orchard wouldn't have been better.


From Linda Greenhouse's Supreme Court roundup in the NYT

Without comment, the court turned down the most recent challenge to the execution of those who committed their crimes before the age of 18. The appeal was filed on behalf of Nanon McKewn Williams, a Texas inmate who was sentenced to death for a murder when he was 17. The appeal, Williams v. Texas, No. 03-5956, argued that trends in state legislatures and around the world indicated a need for the justices to revisit the issue for the first time since 1989, when the court upheld death sentences for juveniles.

This, it seems to me, is the sort of issue the Court in its oddly liberal current mood might revisit, although it is certainly more awkward given that the current rulings about the age limit (at 16) are products of O'Connor's 1980s jurisprudence. If an appropriate case comes up, I think they will tinker yet again with the machinery of death and set an effective age limit of 18, over furious dissents by the three musketeers, with O'Connor and possibly Kennedy joining some sort of mushy opinion that fails to explain exactly why they are doing what they are doing. But it makes me think of a research question that I've considered in the past couple of years: what are the effects of the long-term stability of this Court's membership. (They have now served nearly a decade together, making them the longest-lasting Court since the early 19th Century, and not too far off beating that record of eleven or so years.) Are rulings of the last ten years less likely to be overturned, ignored or distinguished into insignificance than, for the most part, the previous decade's rulings have been? Are the Justices more certain of each others' views and therefore able to bargain more effectively (or efficiently) than in an ordinary court? On the average, a Court contains one member appointed in the past two years, about whose views the other Justices must be a little less certain; does the absence of a new kid on the block matter? Does it encourage the Justices perhaps to behave worse to each other, knowing that there is no newbie to try to bring over to ones own side? There are all kinds of questions raised by the stability in the Court's membership, and thus far I haven't seen a paper or article on the subject at all. I think this will turn out to have been an interesting period when the archives are eventually opened...

Monday, October 20, 2003


Just in case you didn't already believe that the world is in the hands of someone very dim indeed:

Officials Correct Bush on Indonesia in the WaPo. The story:

Bush said on Indonesian television that new military programs could be launched because Indonesia had cooperated in an investigation into the killing of two U.S. citizens last year in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua.

The comments caught U.S. officials by surprise. Asked to explain Bush's remarks, a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "We want to move ahead with increased military-to-military cooperation with Indonesia, which is in both of our interests.

"Progress in building a broader military-to-military relationship with Indonesia," he said, however, "will be pinned on continued cooperation from Indonesia on the investigation into the murders of two Americans" near the town of Timika, in Papua. "The investigation is moving forward due to the improved cooperation by the Indonesia government."

No new programs are currently planned or have been approved, other administration officials said, contrary to what Bush's statement implied.

So, this wasn't just a dumb statement to an Indonesian government official who might be easily guided right by a diplomatic correction; this was a dumb statement to the entire, 100 million or so, population of Indonesia. Cool.

Sunday, October 19, 2003


Slacktivist is deconstructing the Left Behind series. It's dirty work but someone has to do it; at a high enough level of analysis, the works themselves are less ... polluting. And of course they are a tremendously important cultural phenomenon, at least at the Father Coughlin level, maybe even more important.


There are some blogs which post a lot, and some which post more rarely but are still interesting and useful. Intel Dump, for example, usually has only one posting a day. But it is reliably a fascinating piece which uses the author's two sources of particular expertise, in law and in the US military, to shed light on some underobserved phenomenon, news story, or development, and the reader who is less expert in either will learn a lot.

This is all apropos of saying that the Dump has two articles this weekend which are serious good news/bad news stuff.
The first is to say that the rule of law still applies: eight marines have been charged with various offences concerning the mistreatment of military prisoners, although it's early days to draw any conclusions about what happened.

The second, which the Dump reports without comment, is that what Juan Cole reported, via the Arab press is true: one of the US military police killed on Thursday was the Lt. Col. commanding a military police battalion. Unless my memory is failing, this fatality is by a long way the most senior US officer to be killed in Iraq since the invasion began; it's hard to say that as such this event is more significant than any of the other casualties, but it is a depressing marker on the road.


Needlenose points out a New York Times story about the President's unwillingness to negotiate over the terms of aid to Iraq:

"He said, `I'm here to tell you this is what we have to do and this is how we have to do it,'" said Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, one of the few Democrats who attended the Tuesday afternoon session. When she raised a question, she said, "He looked at me and said, `It's not negotiable, and I don't want to debate it.' " Republicans who attended did not dispute Senator Landrieu's account

Swopa at Needlenose sees this as a matter of political presentation (albeit one that carries the danger of appearing arrogant), but I think there is a bit more to it. There is a reason that politics in the US system has such a strong norm of going-along-to-get-along, and it's not that the people involved are necessarily inclined to engage in this because they (unlike Bush) are weak. It is the institutional logic of the system that it is very hard to get everything you want for an extended period; periods of dominance (even Presidential dominance) are limited in time and relatively rare. Where the President tries to set policy unilaterally then it often results in damage to the Presidency as much as to his opponents: Nixon's White House would be the classic example of a Presidency trying to route round Congress rather than negotiate, but some of the errors of the first part of the Clinton administration (93-5) fall into this category. Again, the consequences of behaving like this are not so much immediate defeat - in all likelihood, the President will get what he wants out of the conference committee - but of political power in the medium term. A President who is careless with reciprocity and fails to observe the transactional norms of politics will often find himself in a situation where he needs reciprocity himself: breaking those norms in order to appear more leaderlike is just not good politics.


Doonesbury nails down the White House's strategery on linking 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.

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