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Dimensions of Corruption

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

Obviously, Paul Wolfowitz’s personal corruption is both bad in itself and undermines the anti-corruption principles he’s purportedly trying to bring to the World Bank. As John Cassidy’s recent profile informs us, however, there’s another major example of his rather selective application of anti-corruption principles. First, there’s his hiring of Bush administration cronies who weren’t involved in the formal search process to crucial positions. And although he’s cut off aid to several corrupt governments, his pet invasion project is for some reason exempt from such treatment:

In building up the World Bank’s presence in Iraq, Wolfowitz is hoping that it is not too late to improve the situation there. “The bank’s role, I am happy to talk about,” he said. “Actually, in a certain sense, it tells you that there is a lot to be worked with if security can be established. This is a country whose biggest problem is how to manage tens of millions of dollars of annual revenues. I wish most of our clients had that problem.” I asked him how he could simultaneously argue that the bank should stop lending to corrupt countries and become more involved in Iraq, which now trails only Haiti in some rankings of the most corrupt countries on earth. “It’s a problem to work on,” Wolfowitz said. “I get inaccurately characterized on this governance issue as saying the bank should disengage. To the contrary, the basic point of the anti-corruption strategy is that we have to find ways to engage in countries with problems. In Iraq, there are certainly a lot of people who want to improve the system, who actually look to the World Bank as an ally in doing so.”

So giving aid to corrupt governments is bad…unless they tell you they really want to get better! Somehow I suspect that the huge personal stake Wolfowitz had in justifying the disastrous war he had such a large responsibility for is the more important factor here.

Take Violent Threats Seriously

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

One would think that the trite point above requires little elaboration, but apparently there is some controversy about the matter. Professor B, Jessica, Echidne, zuzu, Sara, Amanda, Lindsay, and Melissa (among others) explain. To distill two key arguments:

  • Worrying about some sort of Blogger Code of Ethics is, at best, a silly waste of time. Even if it’s not being conceived in the same comically transparent bad faith as the Online Integritude project, a charter of vague principles with no enforcement mechanisms will do nothing to stop the already-illegal acts of bad people.
  • What happened to Kathy Sierra is extremely serious, and it’s remarkable (in a bad way) that the most prominent progressive blogger would poo-poo it, and also ignore the extent to which women in our social and political context are considerably more vulnerable to stalking and sexual violence.

I suppose it should also be noted that having Kos stand in for the whole class of “liberal men” is gold-plated hackery on a par with saying that because one woman repeatedly uses creepy misogynist sniggering about a young woman’s body to promote her blog and strongly supports the appointment of radical opponents of women’s rights to the Supreme Court, no woman really takes feminism seriously. Kos speaks for himself, and only himself.

What Digby Said

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

This post compels me to steal Atrios’ bit.

Chicago Celebrity Sightings

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

I was rather annoyed, while eating dinner in my hotel’s retaurant, that they sat a party at the table next to me well after what I was told was the closing time, which I had hurried to make. As tuxedo- and fancy dress-clad people slowly trickled in, however, I recongized Dennis Farina. And then Joe Mantegna — now there’s a Chicago celebrity — asked me for one of my empty chairs. And then Chazz Palminteri asked me for another chair. I have no idea what the event was, but that was pretty cool.


[ 0 ] April 12, 2007 |

Awful, and getting worse. But John McCain can briefly walk around a market with air cover and 100 troops, so the surge is working wonderfully!

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Pt. III: The 2000 Election

[ 3 ] April 11, 2007 |

As indicated below, I will be conferencing in Chicago this week and lecturing in Kentucky next week, so will be popping in only sporadically. The good news is that the familiar LizardBreath of Unfogged and a new face, Bean of the terrific (and stylishly designed) a Bird and a Bottle will be here for all your blogging needs, in addition to our regular cast. In the meantime, lest the issue of our voting system seem too abstract, I will quote from Jack Balkin and Sandy Levinson’s 2001 Virginia Law Review Article, “Understanding the Constitutional Revolution“:

[Bush] and the political party that he leads seized power through the confluence of two important events that would have caused widespread outrage and produced vigorous objections from neutral observers if they had occurred in a third world country. [

The first is the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Concerned about alleged voter fraud in the 1997 Miami mayoral election, Florida state officials hired Database Technologies, a private firm with Republican connections, to purge the voter rolls of suspected felons. “Suspected,” it turned out, is the key word, because a substantial number of the purged voters turned out to be guilty of nothing more than the crime of being African-American. Although Database Technologies repeatedly warned that their methods would produce many false positives, Florida officials insisted on eliminating large numbers of suspected felons from the rolls and leaving it to county supervisors and individual voters to correct any inaccuracies. Clay Roberts, director of the state’s division of elections, explained that “the decision was made to do the match in such a way as not to be terribly strict on the name.” Indeed, the list was so inclusive that one county election supervisor found that she was on it.

It is estimated that at least fifteen percent of the purge list statewide was inaccurate, and well over half of these voters were black. When these unsuspecting voters arrived at their precincts on November in order to exercise their “fundamental political right” to the franchise, they were turned away. Any protests were effectively silenced by the bureaucratic machinery of Florida law. As the U.S. Civil Rights Commission put it, “perhaps the most dramatic undercount in Florida’s election was the nonexistent ballots of countless unknown eligible voters, who were turned away, or wrongfully purged from the voter registration rolls by various procedures and practices and were prevented from exercising the franchise.” Those voters, wrongfully excluded from the rolls, were almost certainly more than enough to overcome George W. Bush’s 537 vote margin in Florida. In addition, many African-Americans who did vote nevertheless had their ballots spoiled and thus left uncounted because they lived in counties with antiquated and unreliable voting equipment. The Civil Rights Commission estimated that black voters were nine times more likely to have their votes rejected than white voters.

Because a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, even if conclusively proved, does not give rise to a right to a new presidential election, the story of black disenfranchisement was not effectively covered in the American mass media during the December 2000 struggle over the Florida election. [cites omitted]

It’s almost impossible to overstate how much this matters.

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Pt. II

[ 0 ] April 11, 2007 |

Matt beat me to it, but this is a terrific article in the New York Times about GOP attempts to cover up the fact that voter fraud is a problem of minimal significance, hence depriving them of their ex post facto rationale for suppressing minority votes. And, for the racist-and-classist-vote-suppression double header, they also suppressed a report about the actual effects of “anti vote-fraud” law:

A federal panel responsible for conducting election research played down the findings of experts who concluded last year that there was little voter fraud around the nation, according to a review of the original report obtained by The New York Times.

Instead, the panel, the Election Assistance Commission, issued a report that said the pervasiveness of fraud was open to debate.

The revised version echoes complaints made by Republican politicians, who have long suggested that voter fraud is widespread and justifies the voter identification laws that have been passed in at least two dozen states.

Democrats say the threat is overstated and have opposed voter identification laws, which they say disenfranchise the poor, members of minority groups and the elderly, who are less likely to have photo IDs and are more likely to be Democrats.

Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,” the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.”

The topic of voter fraud, usually defined as people misrepresenting themselves at the polls or improperly attempting to register voters, remains a lively division between the two parties. It has played a significant role in the current Congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s firing of eight United States attorneys, several of whom, documents now indicate, were dismissed for being insufficiently aggressive in pursuing voter fraud cases.

The report also addressed intimidation, which Democrats see as a more pervasive problem.

And two weeks ago, the panel faced criticism for refusing to release another report it commissioned concerning voter identification laws. That report, which was released after intense pressure from Congress, found that voter identification laws designed to fight fraud can reduce turnout, particularly among members of minorities. In releasing that report, which was conducted by a different set of scholars, the commission declined to endorse its findings, citing methodological concerns.

Your 2008 Party of Lincoln, ladies and gentlemen! It should be noted as well that the use of ostensibly neutral franchise-restricting measures to suppress the vote along racial and class lines has an extensive and incredibly ugly history in this country. A lot of people aren’t aware of this, but even in its most conservative periods, the Supreme Court wouldn’t allow direct violations (or transparent evasions, like the grandfather clause) of the 15th Amendment. But the use of facially neutral techniques like poll taxes and literacy tests allowed states to disenfranchise African-Americans anyway. “Vote ID” laws, felon disenfranchisement that results in the purging of some non-felons, and other techniques repeat the pattern at a lower (but, in a tightly divided electorate, potentially decisive) level.

Hogging: Playoff Preview 2007

[ 0 ] April 11, 2007 |

With the World’s Most Dangerous Perfesser taking the Eastern Conference Preview over to the more genteel and respectable confines of Crooked Timber, I will use this venue for my half of our second annual playoff picks. I’ll be doing the Western Conference again. Last year I went a mediocre 2-2, and this year is even more problematic. The #8 seed is considerably more gifted than the iteration that was one goal away from the Stanley Cup two years ago, and yet they earned the bottom seed fair and square. But “how in the hell would I know?” isn’t a very fun answer, so I’ll try some actual predictions among these evenly matched series. To balance my prejudices, I’ll be including the picks of Big Media Brad Plumer, a fan of the most odious franchise in professional sports not located in the South Bronx the scrappy and beloved Vancouver Canucks.

Detroit (#1) vs. Calgary (#8) I’m not sure one can make useful predictions about a team you’ve seen 70+ times and have a strong rooting interest in, and I’m as ambivalent as last year. The Flames will be a chic upset pick, I suspect, and obviously one can make an unusually strong case for a #8 seed. There are similar structural problems as the ones I noted in my lukewarm endorsement of the Wings last year; the Flames still play in a stronger division, although the gap has narrowed a bit, and as Klein and Reif pointed out, the Flames awful record in shootouts–meaningless once the playoffs beging–artificially lowered their point total. And in terms of their talent, they would seem to be able to compete with everybody. Very few 8 seeds have a goaltender who won the Vezina Trophy the prvious year and had 5 playoff shutouts the year before that, and while he wasn’t quote on his game early in the year he was brilliant down the stretch. The Phaneuf/Stuart/Hamrlik/Regehr defensive front line might be the best in the NHL except Anaheim, although the latter’s health is a concern. (Lidstrom is still better than any of those four, but especially with Kronwall apparently out the Wings have less behind him.) And add to that one of the best two-way forwards in the league and several potent weapons behind him (indeed, if you had told me the kind of years Langkow and Huselius would have, I would have pegged them for about 120 points.)

But. The disjuncture between the team on paper and the merely good performance cuts both ways; one can’t watch them much without an unshakable conviction that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. In particular, and unlike the ’04 team, they have a lot of the defensive breakdowns that will kill you against the Wings. It’s too early to say that Playfair isn’t a good coach, but the terrible road record and penalty killing that is exceptionally weak for the personnel are ominous signs. And even if Detroit isn’t quite as good as they look in the standings, they’re awfully good. Hasek, when healthy, is still great even at 42, they’re very deep up front, and I still wouldn’t write off the playoff potential of Datsyuk and Lang. I don’t think they’re a Stanley Cup team, and I don’t think we’ll see the kind of ghastly meltdown (at least Althouse went down mad) the Flames had in Game 7 last year, but I think the Red Wings will exploit enough mistakes to win. And, no, I don’t want to see Todd Bertuzzi in the second round–or, for that matter, anywhere but in prison–either. RED WINGS IN 7. PLUMER SEZ: WINGS IN 6.

Anaheim (#2) v. Minnesota (#7)
In essence, this series comes down to one factor: the health of Niedermayer and Pronger. I think it’s unprecedented in my lifetime for a team to have two of three best defensemen in the league at the same time, and as their performance in the first half of the season demonstrated, they’re almost unbeatable if they’re both healthy. A big “if,” especially as the playoffs drag on, but I think they’ll handle the first round. As I’ve discussed before, few people respect Lemaire more than I (and, conversely, I will be rooting hard against Brian “why are we hiring this man? Did we run out of human beings?” Burke), and as usual he has a team that plays terrific defense but also has serious wheels, and I probably like the core up front a bit more, especially with Gaborik healthy. But it’s hard to win a series between two good defensive teams when you’re weaker on the blueline and in goal, and that’s the situation the Wild are in. Although Keith Carney has had a surprsingly good season, I think they’ll regret losing Mitchell before the series is over. DUCKS IN 6. PLUMER SEZ: WILD IN 7.

Vancouver (#3) v. Dallas (#6).
The easiest one to pick for me, in that Dallas is a similar but (I think) crucially inferior team. This will be a low-scoring series, and since I’m a long-time believer that Luongo is an elite goaltender while Turco is nowhere near an elite goaltender, I think the choice is clear. The Canucks have an underrated defense (Mitchell, in particular, is a gem) which I think can handle the Stars transition game too. I don’t see them getting to the finals unless Naslund has a big comeback, but I see Dallas being disappointing again first. VANCOUVER in 5. PLUMER SEZ: Canucks in 6. (Homer!)

Nashville (#4) v. San Jose (#5) In the wake of the Forsberg trade, Nashville was a popular pick to win the Cup; now, most of the pundits I’ve seen aren’t even picking them to get out of the first round. I’d like to buck this consensus, because Nashville is so fun to watch. But I really don’t like this matchup. Like Detroit, they benefit from having three weak sisters in their division, an unlike Detroit their defense is pretty thin. Like Calgary, San Jose is a bit of a sleeping giant, a team that looks better on paper then they played–but at a higher level of accomplishment. Thornton/Marleau is an incredible 1-2 punch up the middle, and Cheechoo looked great down the stretch. A fully healthy Forsberg might push Nashville over the top, but he didn’t look anything like fully healthy to me. Both teams have weirdly unsettled (but not undesirable) situations in net, which makes things a little tougher. And one caveat is the same as last year’s: San Jose’s defense is also a bit shaky, and I continue to believe that Hannan is enormously overrated. I think they’ll stall if they move on because of that, but I don’t think it will stop them in round #1. His disappearing act against Edmonton last year nothwthstanding, I think Big Joe will carry them at least a round. But this is also my most ambivalent pick. Sharks in 7. Plumer sez: Pedators in 6.

As for the East. I agree with Michael only on 2: I’ll take Sabres in 5, Devils in 5. Rangers in 7, Senators in 6. It would be great for the Penguins to advance further, but I think they’re a year away. I would like to address an important question raised earlier by Michael, however: peppy, friendly penguin, or mean, scowling penguin?

Millionaire Pundit Values

[ 0 ] April 10, 2007 |

Digby on the Beltway class that relentlessly sucks up to and makes excuses for Don Imus:

And I also listen to their complaints about the vituperation on the internet, how the bloggers — especially the “angry left” — are horrible people who treat them disrespectfully. And I have to laugh because I know that Don Imus can call them and their colleagues twits and pussies in Vanity Fair and they come back licking his boots, begging for more. And we know why.

They have earned their reputation — even some of the good ones, the ones who write things I like. When you sell your personal integrity for money to a racist scumbag like Don Imus, you have to expect that people are not going to treat you with a lot of respect.

Don Imus has been behaving badly and apologizing for it for many, many years. I expect he will continue to do so once he’s finished with his two week vacation. And all of these writers will once again make pilgrimages to his show and pledge fealty to him in order to sell books. Because, unlike those great basketball players he maligned so casually — they really are whores.

Indeed. Bob Raissman(via Jeralyn), who agrees that the one thing Imus will never lose is his army of sycophants promoting third-rate books, point out that the only the that will convince MSNBC and CBS to dump him is if the program will no longer be profitable. Since there’s a more sustained backlash against him than usual, this isn’t out of the question…

Normally A Scholar Is Pleased When Her Theory Is Confirmed…

[ 0 ] April 9, 2007 |

Mark Graber passes along this chilling story from the eminent political scientist Walter Murphy, author of the classic Elements of Judicial Strategy and many other major works (and a bestselling novel about a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who becomes Pope to boot!) As Murphy details the incident:

“On 1 March 07, I was scheduled to fly on American Airlines to Newark, NJ, to attend an academic conference at Princeton University, designed to focus on my latest scholarly book, Constitutional Democracy, published by Johns Hopkins University Press this past Thanksgiving.”

“When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk. At this point, I should note that I am not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but also a retired Marine colonel. I fought in the Korean War as a young lieutenant, was wounded, and decorated for heroism. I remained a professional soldier for more than five years and then accepted a commission as a reserve office, serving for an additional 19 years.”

“I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: “Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that.” I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. “That’ll do it,” the man said.”

Fortunately, he finally got a boarding pass, although after a warning that his luggage would be ransacked it was lost (coincidentally or not) on the flight home. Graber points out that Murphy is nobody’s idea of a doctrinaire liberal, but in some sense this is beside the point. Given the importance of air travel in this country, using it to harass and deny access to people who have been critical of the government is appalling, period. As Murphy concludes:

“I confess to having been furious that any American citizen would be singled out for governmental harassment because he or she criticized any elected official, Democrat or Republican. That harassment is, in and of itself, a flagrant violation not only of the First Amendment but also of our entire scheme of constitutional government. This effort to punish a critic states my lecture’s argument far more eloquently and forcefully than I ever could.”

The Profound Moral Commitments of Joe Lieberman

[ 0 ] April 8, 2007 |

Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: So, I watched the basketball game last night between — a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women’s final.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, Tennessee won last night — seventh championship for [Tennessee coach] Pat Summitt, I-Man. They beat Rutgers by 13 points.

IMUS: That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and –

McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.

IMUS: That’s some nappy-headed hos there.

Har-dee-har-har! You can see why MSNBC signed him up. (As the Media Matters story notes, this is not exactly an isolated incident.) Meanwhile, Roger points us to this story, who reminds us (the error Roger points to has now been corrected) about one of Imus’ regular guests:

Both Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, recently appeared on the show, and media figures including Frank Rich of The New York Times and Chris Matthews of MSNBC have also spent time with Mr. Imus. Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, appeared on the show some time ago to promote his book “The Audacity of Hope.”

Ah, yes, that Joe Lieberman, the nation’s self-appointed morality co-czar (with Rambin’ Gamblin’ Willie Bennett). Note to all television producers and video game developers: make sure there isn’t a hint of nudity, and use lots of racism instead, and you’ll be fine! Finding some way for Lieberman to address his number one priority–promoting Joe Lieberman–would also help.

…And here, Holy Joe proves himself once again to be a more reliable recycler of feeble right-wing spin that Arlen Specter. Bravo!

Strange Empirical Alliances

[ 0 ] April 8, 2007 |

Reacting to Phyllis Schlafly’s latest support of a husband’s right to rape his wife (another example here), the Happy Feminist makes an excellent point: Schlafly has essentially the same conception of marriage as Catharine MacKinnon. The only difference is that Schlafly sees this institution as normatively desirable, which is as serious problem since if this is true MacKinnon’s normative position is clearly right…

…as Matt says in comments, one can read MacKinnon as making an entirely (and largely valid) empirical and historical argument, rather than an argument about the inherent properties of marriage, although her structuralism can be so crude at times that there’s a lot of slippage between the two.