Monday, April 30, 2007

French election update

Segolene goes negative.

Ségolène Royal intensified a desperate final effort yesterday to tar Nicolas Sarkozy, her presidential opponent, as a dangerous tyrant whose election would threaten the peace of France.

Ms Royal, the left-wing candidate who is about four points behind the conservative Mr Sarkozy in polls, denounced her opponent for the “great violence” and “brutality” of a campaign that she maintained was frightening away voters.

She will use a critical television debate with her opponent tomorrow to contrast her “France at peace with itself” with Mr Sarkozy’s “France of the hard Right”.

Ms Royal’s line of attack, five days before the country goes to the polls, was amplified yesterday by aides and supporters. In the latest torrent of anti-Sarko vitriol, 100 stars of the arts and sciences declared that “Sarkozy embodies a hard radicalised Right . . . with all its fears and hates. Entrusting the presidency to a demagogue like this means real danger.”

Yes, it would be a shame to entrust France to someone who uses fear to manipulate voters.

It's All in the Phrasing: Concerning Scott v. Harris

First, I would like to thank DC for his kind gesture of friendship in allowing me to guest post on this finest of political blogs. I consider it an honor.

On with the legal mumbo jumbo.

The Supreme Court decided today in Scott v. Harris (an 8-1 decision with Justice Stevens dissenting) that a police officer who purposefully rams a fleeing car in order to end a high speed chase does not violate the Fourth Amendment. In simple terms, they determined that such an action on the part of a police officer is reasonable, and that (at least in this specific case) no reasonable jury could conclude otherwise. The practical implication of this is that a person injured or killed in such an incident cannot sue the police officer for acting unreasonably. On the whole, I think it is reasonable for a police officer to engage in this sort of action. As Justice Scalia put it, such chases "endanger the lives of innocent bystanders," and it is naturally the police officer's responsibility to protect said innocent bystanders. However, with that being admitted, I have trouble seeing why a jury cannot decide this based on the facts of a specific case.

This seemed to be the main crux of Justice Stevens' dissent. He noted that his colleagues had set themselves up as "eight jurors on this Court," effectively playing the role of a jury in seeing if the facts created a reasonable action. However, as Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog notes:

That description, however valid, does not do away with the reality that this decision is a constitutional holding more than it is an essay about facts, and very likely will be applied by lower courts beyond its specific factual setting.

The point here is that the Court did not simply say "This police officer in this specific case acted reasonably." Rather, it established a per se rule stating that any attempt by a police officer to end a high-speed chase by causing the fleeing car to crash is reasonable. So, it did not simply act as a jury in this specific case; it acted as the jury for all future cases of this sort.

It is the jury's job to determine how the facts add up, and whether the sum of all the facts makes the alleged action reasonable or unreasonable. I can think of any number of situations where the facts may make such an action unreasonable (or at least not obviously reasonable). For instance, what about time considerations? If a police officer turns on his siren, and the driver immediately speeds up, is that grounds for a "reasonable" ramming? Or, what if it is readily known that there are young passengers in the car? Is such a ramming still reasonable?

I know the Supreme Court likes "bright line" rules, but justice is more ably administered when the facts of any given case are presented and considered by a jury. Of course, juries do make mistakes of law from time to time (deciding one way when, as a matter of law, the opposite is clearly true), and it is perfectly reasonable and desirable for judges to step in and overturn juries' decisions in such instances. But, judges should not be establishing per se rules that will, in effect, decide cases before even considering the unique facts.

Taking on the "Stop Snitchin'" campaign in Boston

The past few years in Boston saw the rise of a "Stop Snitchin'" campaign to discourage witnesses or informants from talking to the police. Some shops have taken advantage of this by selling shirts with the slogan on it. I got into a pretty heated argument about this with a friend a couple of years ago. He felt people should be discouraged from informing on drug dealers and users because our country's current drug laws are unfair. He also suggested that it is wrong that the informant often receives a lesser sentence than the person he reports, even if he has committed a bigger crime himself.

I argued that even if one were to accept that the drug laws are unfair, it would be impossible to limit the "Stop Snitchin'" campaign to that one area. Instead, I said, it was much more likely that people would also stop talking to the police about robberies, murders, and other crimes. As for the second argument, I agreed that huge disparities in sentencing were unfair but pointed out that there has to be some incentive for a criminal to talk to the police or it would never happen.

Boston has recently seen a rise in violent crime, with the police often unable to convince people to testify even in brutal murder cases where they know there were many witnesses. I'm bringing this up because today's Boston Globe talks about a bill designed to increase penalties for youths who threaten witnesses in criminal trials. From the article:

The bill, which is supported by several key lawmakers on Beacon Hill and Attorney General Martha Coakley, would add witness intimidation to the list of crimes that would subject 14- to 16-year-olds to prosecution as a "youthful offender," which strips them of most protections of juvenile court and subjects them to adult penalties. Currently, there are a handful of offenses in this category, including serious crimes committed with a gun, while murder automatically leads to prosecution as an adult.

"We arrest kids for intimidating a witness and they're back on the street the next day," said Paul Porter, police chief in Randolph, who has seen more young teens threatening witnesses in his city. "When nothing happens, the message to the witness is, 'Why did I bother telling the police?' The next time he's threatened, you think the [witness] is going to report it?"

What do you think?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

5-star jails

When I saw the headline "For $82 a Day, Booking a Cell in a 5-star Jail" on, I guessed that it might be an adventure hotel. I didn't think it would be about wealthy people buying their way into nicer prisons:

Most of the programs — which offer 10 to 30 beds — stay full enough that marketing is not necessary, though that was not always the case. The Pasadena jail, for instance, tried to create a little buzz for its program when it was started in the early 1990s.

“Our sales pitch at the time was, ‘Bad things happen to good people,’ ” said Janet Givens, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Police Department. Jail representatives used Rotary Clubs and other such venues as their potential marketplace for “fee-paying inmate workers” who are charged $127 a day (payment upfront required).

This is either the height of immorality or a brilliant method of tricking the rich into subsidizing the correctional system. Or both.

I think the only real winner in this situation is the unibrow

First they came for the immodestly dressed women. Now they've come for the eyebrow-pluckers.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Something is rotten here

I've never been one to believe should trample on human rights in the name of homeland security. We've done far too much of that in the past eight years. However, a British court seems determined to show that is indeed possible to go too far in the other direction. Here is the situation:

Two Libyans found to pose a danger to national security are likely to be released on bail next week after a court ruled that they could not be sent back to their own country.

Siac, the special anti-terrorist court, said it was "quite satisfied" that one of the men, an Islamic extremist identified as "AS", would resume terrorist violence when he was able. The other, "DD", was also unlikely to modify his behaviour, Siac added. A map in a car at his home had marks on footpaths under a flight path to Birmingham Airport.

But the court found a "real risk" that the two men could be tortured or ill-treated in breach of the European Human Rights Convention if they were deported, despite an agreement with Libya signed in 2005. Siac warned that if they were put on trial there was also a risk of their being denied a fair hearing.

Here's a description of one of the suspects:
D, 31, is an Islamic extremist and a "real and direct threat to the national security of the UK", Siac said. He is a "global jihadist with links to the Taliban and al-Qa'eda".A map book found in the boot of a car at his address in October 2005 found markings along footpaths under the flight path of Birmingham International Airport.

And here's a description of the other one:

AS, 26, is "a clear danger to national security", Siac concluded.

"He is an Islamic extremist who has engaged actively and as a senior member with a terrorist group clearly engaged in support work for jihadist activities. He was a leading part of it before its more specific planning of terrorist violence began. That would be sufficient to make him a danger to national security."

However, Siac continued, AS also gave the group instructions after a Tunisian called Nassim returned from Iran. These were probably to plan for and to carry out violent actions directed against Western interests, probably in Europe but possibly in Afghanistan and Iraq. "The group did plan such violence and set out to achieve it. We are quite satisfied that AS will resume these activities when he is able to do so."

So let's get this straight: two Libyan nationals, who happen to be Islamic extremists, have managed to sneak into Britain. They are not just any extremists, mind you, but ones who have actively participated in the planning of terror attacks, at least one of which would have been an attack against London's Heathrow airport. The court has determined that they will almost certainly resume planning terror attacks upon release. So of course it's perfectly logical that they will be RELEASED ON BAIL.

I don't know enough about British and European law to know whether the legal reasoning is technically correct. But I do know that there is something seriously wrong with a country's legal system when it rules that foreign terrorists cannot be sent back to their own countries. This is twisting the concept of human rights so far it is hardly recognizable.

UPDATE: I've cleaned up the wording of the post a little bit to make my point more clearly.

Better late than never, right?

Matthew Yglesias is not so impressed with the timing of former CIA Director Tenet's new book criticizing the Bush administration. Excerpt:

Now Tenet flips. Not before Bush's re-election, not before the midterms, not with the country still "deeply divided" about his administration, but with his approval ratings mired in the low thirties. For people who collaborated in the disasters of 2002-2004 to turn around and tell us now how terrible everything was is the political equivalent of taking cheap shots at a fighter whose already collapsed unconscious to the mat.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Former CIA director blasts Cheney in new book

From the New York Times:

"There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” Mr. Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, “was there ever a significant discussion” about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

Mr. Tenet admits that he made his famous “slam dunk” remark about the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues that the quote was taken out of context and that it had little impact on President Bush’s decision to go to war. He also makes clear his bitter view that the administration made him a scapegoat for the Iraq war.

A copy of the book was purchased at retail price in advance of publication by a reporter for The New York Times. Mr. Tenet described with sarcasm watching an episode of “Meet the Press” last September in which Mr. Cheney twice referred to Mr. Tenet’s “slam dunk” remark as the basis for the decision to go to war.

“I remember watching and thinking, ‘As if you needed me to say ‘slam dunk’ to convince you to go to war with Iraq,’ ” Mr. Tenet writes.

This is huge. Interestingly, Tenet appears to admire Bush and focuses his vitriol on Cheney. I'm not sure I can absolve Tenet to the degree that he wants. I don't doubt that Bush and Cheney had other reasons for getting rid of Saddam, but what Tenet told Bush made the invasion all the more inevitable. It appears that prior to invasion Bush and Cheney had assumed, like many people inside and outside the government, that Iraq just had to have some WMD lying around somewhere. After all, Saddam had used them in the past. An assumption, though, is not a slam dunk, and Tenet had an obligation to say so. I don't find his distinction, that he made the "slam dunk" comment about strengthening a presentation making the case for the existence of WMD, to be particularly exculpatory.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Debate

I’ll leave the “horse race” analysis of the Democratic presidential nominee debate to the Great American Political Blog, except to say that I was surprised by how weak the frontrunners—Clinton, Obama, and Edwards—were coming out of the gate. They sounded stiff and over-coached. They did manage to loosen up as the debate continued. In any case, let's move on to a more substantive issue: foreign policy.

Obama stumbled a bit in this area. Interestingly, he characterized China as “neither a friend nor an enemy—a competitor.” He did show his bona fides on opposing the Iraq War. Hillary Clinton did a mediocre job of justifying her Iraq vote, though she did manage to a strong call for ending the war. Bill Richardson is by far the most qualified and experienced candidate in the realm of foreign policy, but did not get much of a chance to speak about it. Dodd was a non-factor on the issue. Dennis Kucinich was Dennis Kucinich: well-spoken, passionate, but unfortunately not the sort of man you’d entrust the country to. Mike Gravel railed against the “military-industrial complex” and accused the others of wanting to nuke Iran. He interrupted Obama, who handled it gracefully.

The candidate who did the best job differentiating himself without sounding like a crazy person (here’s looking at you, Mike!) was, I thought, Joe Biden. He called for a total reversal in American policy. We should look for conduct change, not regime change, he said. This comes straight from the realist school of foreign policy and is the complete opposite of the regime-change oriented neo-conservatism that has dominated the Bush administration.

Biden raised an important point: currently, we are asking the world’s most dangerous regimes to give up their weapons. Yet we have shown a willingness to invade and take down such regimes that do not possess these weapons, while North Korea is sitting pretty with its nuclear armament. What, then, is the incentive for a brutal dictator to give up his weapons of mass destruction, if they are the only thing between him and an American invasion? If you were the leader of such a regime, it’s pretty clear that you would rather go down the path of Kim Jong-Il than the path of Saddam Hussein. Sanctions are quite bearable compared to being removed from power, tried for crimes against humanity, and possibly executed. We should assume that the leaders of most nasty regimes are very good at self-preservation. That’s how they got into power in the first place. Any reasonable foreign policy needs to take this into account.

One unanswered question: what exactly does Biden meant by “conduct change.” Does he mean improving human rights? Or cooperating with the security interests of the United States? The two are definitely not one and the same.

Biden also got in the best line of the night, in response to a Brian Williams about his loose mouth and whether he could exercise restraint: "Yes." [Silence.]

"The announcement preceding the formal announcement"

Fz over at the Great American Political Blog takes issue with John McCain's recent announcement that he is running for president:

So, apparently Senator John McCain formally announced his candidacy for president yesterday.



If I'm not mistaken (and I read the New York Times, so I don't think I am), John McCain has been campaigning for president for a number of months now. Indeed, I was under the impression that he had announced his candidacy on the Late Show with David Letterman on February 28, almost two whole months ago.

What is this? Struggling candidates will re-announce their candidacy every few months in hopes of drawing media attention and gaining stature in the polls? Well, the former worked; I guess we'll have to wait and see about the latter.

Far be it from me to disagree with Fz, one of the smartest political thinkers I know. But if you watch the clip all the way through, you’ll notice that McCain is careful to qualify his statement, admitting: “By the way, I’ll be making a formal announcement in April…You drag this out as long as you can… you know, you don’t just have one rendition, you do it over and over.” While it’s quite funny to hear him describe his appearance as the “announcement preceding the formal announcement,” McCain is actually showing an admirable degree of honesty about the way these things work. I don’t think he is at fault here; if anyone is, it’s the news media, who allow these little games in the name of manufacturing 24 hours of news every day.

UPDATE: Fz responds here:
The media can only report what goes on; indeed, that is their job. However, DC seems to suggest that the media should take the high road and not "allow these little games." When did we lose so much faith in our electoral process that we started to think that the media should be more mature than the candidates?
My response: it's a fact of life that people respond to incentives. It's true in economics, and it's definitely true in politics. Change the incentives, change the behavior. If a hypothetical high-minded, mature candidate can work up a little buzz by announcing multiple times, what's the harm? I'd prefer we had a more substantive, issue-driven media, but we don't. This is no worse than putting on a miner's helmet/farmer's overalls/cowboy hat at a campaign photo-op. It's a little silly, but let's face it, running for president is an inherently undignified process anyway.

Talk about deadbeat dads

It's hard to get much lower than this.

A federal prisoner who fled the country after he was temporarily freed to try to donate a kidney to his ailing son was due in court Thursday after being arrested in Mexico with his girlfriend, authorities said.


Perkins had been released on $10,000 bond in January 2006 but failed to show up for the compatibility tests to see whether he could donate the kidney his son Destin.

Destin, now 17, eventually received a kidney from an anonymous donor. He told CNN's ''Anderson Cooper 360'' that he was doing fine but wasn't sure he could forgive his father.

''I don't know how he could lay his head down at night knowing he ran away and left me up here to die like that,'' the teen said.

Segolene being pushed to the center

An interesting article in the Guardian about how Socialist candidate Segolene Royal is being pushed to the center in the second round of the French election.

Ségolène Royal, the first woman with a chance of leading France, began re-shaping her campaign yesterday as she faced a runoff with the clear favourite in the presidential election, the rightwing former interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy.


With the candidates racing to win over the 7 million people who voted for the centrist third-man François Bayrou, party advisers said Ms Royal would stand no chance of winning if she fought a traditional socialist campaign of "left versus right". Instead she set out to reassure the centre ground she could be all things to all people, to prove, despite her critics, she could reinvent the nation.

The 84% turnout, the highest since 1965, would give any winner a mandate for change in a country plagued by unemployment, debt and social unrest, where voters are keen for renewal. Mr Sarkozy's score of more than 31.18% was the highest for any rightwing politician for three decades. Socialists hailed Ms Royal for her 25.87%, the highest for a leftwing politician since François Mitterrand in 1988. But the total leftwing vote in France was the lowest since 1969. The other six leftist candidates, whose votes are expected to transfer to her camp, polled less than 11%, providing Ms Royal with a very small reservoir to draw on at the May 6 runoff.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the German Green MEP and hero of Paris's student protests in May 1968, said a leftwing campaign would be "hopeless" for Ms Royal. He held crucial talks in the early hours of yesterday morning at the Socialist party headquarters to convince Ms Royal, whose campaign has been a mixture of leftwing economic policy and conservative social values, to move away from the traditional left. He told the Guardian: "If she tries to play it on the traditionally socialist card, she will lose, because France has veered right."

Of course, it's tough to shift to the center after running on a platform that included:
  • Raising the minimum wage to 1,500 euros a month
  • Abolishing a flexible work contract for small companies
  • Offering all young people a 10,000 euro interest-free loan
  • Raising pensions
  • Guaranteeing graduates of France's overcrowded university system employment or further training within six months of graduation
These proposal are all part of an economic plan Royal introduced in part to protect herself against attacks from the left. Let's just say I don't see this thing being very easy to pull off.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sego, Segolene, or Royal?

From the comments:

i believe the french tend to refer to mme royale as simply "segolene" (or "sego" if you want to get really familiar). interesting how we tend to refer to the women in politics by their first names (ex. condoleeza and hillary) and the men by their last.
That last sentence got me wondering. We call her Hillary... but we also called him Bill. And where does W. fit in?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Her innocence is touching

This clip is worth viewing even if you only watch the first couple of minutes. This General Services Agency administrator is under investigation because she urged government employees to "support our candidates," at a presentation urging the misuse of government resources to help the Republican campaign in 2008.

Truly it is difficult to determine the meaning of slides entitled "Battle for the Senate 2008" and "2008 House GOP defense."

Hat to tip to Andrew Sullivan.

UPDATE: Looks like this grilling won't be the last.

Iranian headscarf crackdown: not so popular

The Iranian police force is cracking down on women who push up against the country's Islamic dress code. The drive has apparently provoked a backlash:

Critics in the media also complained that the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had more important issues to deal with, citing the country's soaring inflation and high unemployment rates.

"Mr. President, I wonder if what the police, supervised by your interior ministry, are doing to women stems from a misunderstanding?" asked Masih Alinejad, a columnist in the Etemad Melli daily.

"Or are people's major problems of injustice and poverty have been resolved?" he asked.

Toyota Passes GM

Last quarter Toyota sold more vehicles than General Motors for the first time ever. According to the article,

Toyota Motor Corp.'s success is fueled by robust demand for its reliable, fuel-efficient models, including the Camry, Corolla, Yaris and gas-electric hybrid Prius.

It also comes at a time when General Motors Corp., which lost US$2 billion last year, has been forced to scale back production and cut costs in a bid to revive its sliding fortunes, even as it leads in China's booming market.

This is no surprise to anyone who's been following the automotive market for the past few years. Toyota is a juggernaut. It doesn't help that unions and health-care costs drive up production costs for GM. Toyota makes many cars in America too, but pays its workers less in non-unionized plants in the South. GM has also hurt itself by placing too much reliance on gas-guzzling SUVs for the bulk of its profits. They were caught flat-footed when prices rose. Toyota, on the other hand, began researching hybrid vehicles back when gas prices were still low.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"It's embarrassing to see the president of the United States with his head stuck in a banister"

A fine report from everyone's favorite satirical newspaper, The Onion.

French Election: Sarkozy vs Royal

The first round of the French election is finished, with a record turnout of over 85%. The two candidates with the highest vote totals have advanced to the next round. Click here for a rundown of the policy differences between conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal.

Sarkozy appears to the be the more competent of the two. Though he has his faults, at least he realizes that the French economic system is in need of serious reform. Royal, on the other hand, is running on the back of an unaffordable wish list of market-distorting policies. Also, she has gone out of her way to prove her incompetence in foreign affairs. Among her most famous gaffes: suggesting that sanctions be imposed on the Taliban (apparently unaware that they were removed from power by the US invasion of Afghanistan) and praising the Chinese legal system as "faster" than France's. (A pesky respect for human rights does tend to clog up the courts.)

More on this later.

Two very different views of Iran

First read this New York Times article about the exoneration of six Iranian militiamen who killed in the name of Islam. Then read this Daily Mail article by Peter Hitchens on his visit to the country.


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