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The 9/11 Tribunals Are A Disaster

[ 78 ] April 21, 2014 |

A very useful, if enraging, account.  One important takeaway:

The Obama administration had hoped to prosecute the 9/11 case in a New York criminal court. But it reversed course in the face of security fears and criticism that the government would grant constitutional rights to terrorists.

While the military tribunals have been plagued by delays, the department has successfully prosecuted several terrorism cases in civilian courts. Most recently, prosecutors in Manhattan won a conviction against Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the most senior adviser to Osama bin Laden to be tried in civilian court in the United States since 9/11.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. noted that the New York case had proceeded from capture to conviction in about a year. “It is hard to imagine this case being presented with greater efficiency or greater speed,” he said.

The arguments made against giving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a civilian trial were horrible at the time and look even worse now. Dave Cullen has more on the current disaster.

The Aristocrats!

[ 131 ] April 21, 2014 |


One of the many awesome things about being rich in America c. 2014 is that you don’t have to pay for lots of things — which when you think about it is kind of ironic! Such as, for example, real estate ads.

It is definitely the most eclectically renovated house in Frenchtown, right up to the peak of its cupola, now crowned by a copper roof. The formal circular driveway that once dominated the front lawn has been replaced by a colorful meadow of wildflowers and berry bushes. In place of the attic, there is the 1,400-square-foot “Skybrary” (translation: library in the sky), a mystical aerie carved and customized for Ms. Gilbert by an imaginative carpenter, Michael Flood. In the basement, a terra-cotta honeycomb from Brazil holds 500 bottles of wine. Buddha statuary is a recurring theme in the garden.

Ms. Gilbert wrote her most recent best-seller, “The Signature of All Things” (Viking Adult, 2013), a historical/botanical romance, while ensconced at her 15-foot-long acacia slab desk in the “Skybrary.” A king-size “napping bed” is tucked in a corner, 11 windows resemble a ship’s portholes (hawks, not fish, go floating by outside), and the original ceiling beams are dangerously low. A flight of stairs leads to the intimate cupola, with its 360-degree views.

“I really believe that whoever buys the house will do it because they have an emotional attachment to this enchanted space up here,” she said of the attic.

Downstairs, the main hallway is flanked by an office/library and a country kitchen with a wood-burning stove, tin ceiling, plank floors and a marble-topped center island with a Bertazzoni six-burner range as its centerpiece. The kitchen, after the removal of a wall, flows into the living room, which faces west toward the river. The dining room across the hall from the living room has south and west exposures, and pocket doors that separate it from the library, or not. The powder room has an automated Japanese toilet/bidet and an exotic Balinese lava stone sink.

The Buddha statuary is an especially nice touch. You see this all the time in Boulder: somebody has a two million dollar house (built using exclusively sustainable eco-friendly materials naturally), and there’s a tastefully understated statute of the Buddha in the front yard, to remind passersby that they can escape suffering by ridding themselves of desire.

See also.

The National Popular Vote

[ 159 ] April 21, 2014 |

Hendrik Hertzberg notes that a 10th state has signed on to the National Popular Vote initiative:

On Tuesday, the State of New York took a baby step—or maybe a giant leap!—toward making the United States of America something more closely resembling a modern democracy: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill joining up the Empire State to the National Popular Vote (N.P.V.) interstate compact.

As I’ve explained many times (fifty-one, to be exact), N.P.V. is a way to elect our Presidents the way we elect our governors, our mayors, our senators and representatives, our state legislators, and everybody else: by totting up the voters’ votes—all of them—and awarding the job to whichever candidate gets the largest number. And it does this without changing a word of the Constitution.

Impossible, you say? No. Quite possible—even probable—and in time for 2020, if not for 2016.

As Hertzberg says, it’s instructive that while all 50 states have an independent executive and for better or worse 49 states have also chosen to copy the bicameralism of Congress, none has copied the electoral college. And no other liberal democracy uses it either. This makes sense, since given modern democratic norms it’s utterly indefensible. It was premised on two key assumptions (nonpartisan elections and the need to substantially filter popular control over representatives) that are are not only anachronistic in 2014 but we so immediately untenable it’s very likely that a constitutional convention meeting in 1802 would have chosen popular vote to elect the president. The electoral college has many obviously terrible elements — the potential to elect a non-winner in the popular vote contrary to basic democratic principles, rendering major states like New York, California and Texas irrelevant to presidential elections — without any serious corresponding benefits. Nobody uses it anywhere else because there’s no case for keeping it other than pure inertia.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going anywhere. Silver is probably right about this:

Here’s the problem: All the states to have joined so far are very blue. Until some purple states and red states sign on, the compact has little in the way of territory to conquer.

As the chart below indicates, the relationship between whether a state has joined the compact and how it voted in 2012 is nearly 1-to-1. The seven states where President Obama won by the widest margins, along with D.C., have joined. So have three others — New Jersey, Illinois and Washington — where Obama won by at least 15 percentage points. But none below that threshold have done so.

To succeed, NPV needs support from the elites of both parties, and as of now it doesn’t have it. While as Silver says it’s not obvious that having a presidential election system that actually meets contemporary democratic standards structurally benefits either party (unlike, say, D.C. statehood) Republicans right now seem to see the NPV as an attack on the legitimacy of the Bush presidency. Probably the only way to create bipartisan action to work around or abolish the electoral college would be if both parties get screwed by the EC in successive elections. 150,000 more votes for John Kerry in Ohio in 2004 and we might have been rid of the thing, but as of now we’re probably stuck with it for a while more.

Post-WPSA Blogging

[ 40 ] April 21, 2014 |

Apologies for the light blogging recently, as I was in my beloved Seattle for the Western Political Science Association conference. I can report that it was a little harder for the political scienitists to be the biggest geeks in the hotel this year, but we managed to prevail:


SEK’s Game of Thrones Recap

[ 202 ] April 21, 2014 |


You can read my full recap here, but just in case you want to know where I come down on the episode’s most controversial issue:

Speaking of still being alive, Jaime Lannister is, and he’s a man, and he has needs. In a reversal of the Jaime-is-becoming-a-better-human-being plot, here we have a sex-starved Jaime raping his sister over the body of their dead child — in other words, we have a return to the incestuous relations that make King’s Landing the city we love to hate.

As for whether it’s a rape, director Alex Graves told Alan Sepinwall that “it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” Which means, yes, it’s rape.

So, there’s that out of the way…

Lawyers, Guns & Money podcast: Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 3: “Breaker of Chains”

[ 11 ] April 21, 2014 |

SEK & Steven Attewell on the new episode of Game of Thrones. Enjoy!

Audio available here.

Purchase Steven Attewell’s Race for the Iron Throne: Political and Historical Analysis of “A Game of Thrones” at that link. You know you want to!

Basketball in New York

[ 35 ] April 20, 2014 |

Tonight’s British Pathé film features footage of your 1939 NCAA Basketball National Champion Oregon Ducks. Of course.


[ 92 ] April 20, 2014 |

Happy Easter, if you’re into that sort of thing. At the Farley household we’re celebrating with Cadbury Mini-Eggs, which for my money are the best Easter-related product available.

And also bourbon, of course. If anyone knows any good Resurrection-related cocktails, tell us in comments…

Rubin Carter, RIP

[ 44 ] April 20, 2014 |

Rubin Carter, the boxer wrongly convicted on murder charges thanks to racist police, a racist jury, and the testimony of two thieves who later recanted, leading him to serving 20 years in prison, has died.

So this new FDA proposal is environmentally unfriendly and raises the price of beer?

[ 39 ] April 20, 2014 |

In that case, why not support it?

On Giving Up

[ 138 ] April 20, 2014 |

English environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth is infuriating. He’s fought for environmental causes for 20 years and now he is totally giving up and saying that fighting against climate change is pointless so let’s just accept the earth’s impending destruction. To me, this is a prime example of the problem with an environmentalism that isn’t fundamentally about protecting people and integrating everyday people into your concerns. It’s not that Kingsnorth is wrong about the way we are going as a planet. But thinking of climate change as a tipping point is less useful than a sliding scale. What he does not seem to care much about (at least from this article) is environmental justice. Let’s take one issue. The hotter things get, the more cockroaches will develop in substandard urban housing and the higher asthma rates for the people of color who are forced to live in such places. Part of environmentalism should also be seeking justice for these people, pushing for policies that might not be enacted in time to save most frog species but that might save human lives (and possibly some frog species too). Things can get better or they can just continue getting worse and even if the Earth loses half of its species in the next century, it could lose 90% of species if people quit fighting and just go into mourning instead of seeking to work toward change.

Giving up is just self-centered nihilism.

Harding Greets Indian Chiefs

[ 31 ] April 19, 2014 |

The great British newsreel company Pathé has placed a mere 85,000 of their films on YouTube. I am going to highlight some over the next week. Such as Warren Harding greeting various tribal chiefs in 1921.

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