Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Codified: "...unless p or not-p."

File this under "the Texas Legislature doesn't know how to draft laws". SB 6, the child protective services reform bill, increases the legal punishment for bigamy: it used to be a Class A misdemeanor; now (after September 1 of this year) it is a felony. But felonies fall into various degrees, depending on their severity. How serious a crime is bigamy? Here's the new version of the text:
An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree, except that if at the time of the commission of the offense, the person whom the actor marries or purports to marry or with whom the actor lives under the appearance of being married is: (1) 16 years of age or older, the offense is a felony of the second degree; or (2) younger than 16 years of age, the offense is a felony of the first degree.
So in English: it's a third degree felony, unless the second spouse is 16, or older than 16, or younger than 16. Huh.


The Senate Finance Committee has approved CAFTA. The government is pushing a rather simplistic "free trade good" line, and apparently, it's working so far. Free trade certainly offers many economic advantages. But the most open system isn't necessarily the best one; it depends on a variety of complex factors. Who will benefit from open trade? The farmers and factory workers who most need it, or megacorporations? How will workers be treated? These are important questions, and they need to be answered before it's clear that opening the markets in this way is a good idea. The Bush Administration is not interested in answering these questions. Worse -- much worse, the Bush Administration is interested in actively supressing the answers to these questions. Here's a bit of the AP story:
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Labor Department worked for more than a year to maintain secrecy for studies that were critical of working conditions in Central America, the region the Bush administration wants in a new trade pact. ... In a summary of its findings, the organization wrote, ``In practice, labor laws on the books in Central America are not sufficient to deter employers from violations, as actual sanctions for violations of the law are weak or nonexistent.'' The conclusions contrast with the administration's arguments that Central American countries have made enough progress on such issues to warrant the free-trade deal. ... Behind the scenes, the Labor Department began as early as spring 2004 to block public release of the country-by-country reports. The department instructed its contractor to remove the reports from its Web site, ordered it to retrieve paper copies before they became public, banned release of new information from the reports, and even told the contractor it could not discuss the studies with outsiders.
The administration says that they took steps to prevent the results from being known because it disagreed with them. It's described alternately as 'biased' and 'fraudulent'. Surely, if there is a case to be made, there are better ways to make it than by trying to pretend that the group they hired never gave a list of reasons to reject CAFTA. How about discussing the issue on the merits? The pro-CAFTA administration is acting like a group with everything to hide. Increased economic opportunities are great, but the facts matter. And without fair Central American labor laws in place, CAFTA will not help the people who need it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


So the Supreme Court has ruled that it's only permissible for government entities to put up religious displays if they're not really sending a religious message, as in the case of the Texas state capital, where a Ten Commandments monument stood among several dozen other secular monuments. I'm not planning to get worked up about this one either way, but (as is often the case) I am confused by the reaction of some elements of the Religious Right:
Within hours of yesterday's Supreme Court decision allowing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, Christian groups announced a nationwide campaign to install similar displays in 100 cities and towns within a year. "We see this as an historic opening, and we're going to pursue it aggressively," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition, which organized vigils outside the Florida hospice where Terri Schiavo died this year. ...Mahoney said the Texas decision was sufficient to "open up a whole new frontier" for preserving the United States' "Christian heritage."
Presumably, these Christian groups want public buildings to display their Christian monuments for religious purposes, so isn't this exactly the sort of thing that the ruling forbids? And more to the point: why would they want to display their sacred religious symbols in an environment like this? Why put your religious symbols in a position of having to be treated as non-religious? Is this really a victory for your faith?

Monday, June 27, 2005

To give your kid the edge, send him to a public school

The Dallas News reports on a study that explains away higher achievement in private schools. Indeed, the report provides evidence that most students are more likely to do better in a public school than they would in a private school.
When NAEP scores are reported, they always show private-school students outperforming their peers in public school. It's been a consistent finding for decades. But the Lubienskis were curious. Is that because private schools are really better? Or is it just because they generally enroll wealthier, better-prepared students? So they ... compared how public and private schools fared when ... socioeconomic factors were stripped away. They found that, at all class levels, public schools had a small but consistent edge over privates. Their suspicions were supported by the numbers: The reason private schools look better on paper is because they serve more middle- and upper-class kids. Or, to be even plainer: Poor kids in public schools did better than poor kids in private schools. Middle-class kids in public schools did better than middle-class kids in private schools. And rich kids in public schools did better than rich kids in private schools.
Public education is important. (So, of course, is being rich.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Saving the world with (not in) video games

This is a really good idea.

Senator Durbin's apology -- commentary and transcript

Senator Durbin has apologized for his controversial Senate comments, comparing U.S. prisoner abuse to abuse of prisoners in Soviet gulags and Nazi concentration camps. He got a ton of negative pressure against the comparison. Bill Frist said: "Shameful does not begin to describe this heinous slander against our country and the brave men and women risking their lives every day to defend it." And few on the national political scene were much friendlier. Durbin had vowed:
I'm certainly not going to be intimidated by the right-wing message machine," he said. "If I'm going to back off every time they decide their unhappy with my statements, then I really won't be doing my job. We're going to continue to follow this (and) demand that the administration be held accountable.
Apparently, he's changed his mind. I consider it a shame. If you look at Durbin's comments in context, it's pretty hard to see why they're even controversial, much less something he ought to regret and withdraw. Not a lot of people are looking at the comments in context, though. That's why I'm including the full transcript here; it's not that easy to find a full transcript online. I got it from the Congressional Reporters online. June 14, pp. S6592-S6594. I can't link to search results. I think that everyone should read the whole speech, but in the interest of brevity, I've provided an abridged version that hits the most important points and keeps things in context.
Mr. DURBIN. [discussion of energy bill omitted] Which moves me to a second topic, which is related. That dependence on foreign oil draws us into a lot of predicaments around the world. Ask the 150,000 American soldiers in Iraq today. ... It turns out afterward we were misled, there were no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear weapons, no connection with 9/11. It turns out the threats we were told existed did not exist. The American people were misled. ... Mr. President, there has been a lot of discussion in recent days about whether to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. This debate misses the point. It is not a question of whether detainees are held at Guantanamo Bay or some other location. The question is how we should treat those who have been detained there. Whether we treat them according to the law or not does not depend on their address. It depends on our policy as a nation. How should we treat them? This is not a new question. We are not writing on a blank slate. We have entered into treaties over the years, saying this is how we will treat wartime detainees. The United States has ratified these treaties. They are the law of the land as much as any statute we passed. They have served our country well in past wars. We have held ourselves to be a civilized country, willing to play by the rules, even in time of war. Unfortunately, without even consulting Congress, the Bush administration unilaterally decided to set aside these treaties and create their own rules about the treatment of prisoners. ... I believe the torture techniques that have been used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and other places fall into that same category [as the Japanese-American internment]. I am confident, sadly confident, as I stand here, that decades from now people will look back and say: What were they thinking? America, this great, kind leader of a nation, treated people who were detained and imprisoned, interrogated people in the crudest way? I am afraid this is going to be one of the bitter legacies of the invasion of Iraq. We were attacked on September 11, 2001. We were clearly at war. We have held prisoners in every armed conflict in which we have engaged. The law was clear, but some of the President's top advisers questioned whether we should follow it or whether we should write new standards. Alberto Gonzales, then-White House chief counsel, recommended to the President the Geneva Convention should not apply to the war on terrorism. Colin Powell, who was then Secretary of State, objected strenuously to Alberto Gonzales' conclusions. I give him credit. Colin Powell argued that we could effectively fight the war on terrorism and still follow the law, still comply with the Geneva Conventions. In a memo to Alberto Gonzales, Secretary Powell pointed out the Geneva Conventions would not limit our ability to question the detainees or hold them even indefinitely. He pointed out that under Geneva Conventions, members of al-Qaida and other terrorists would not be considered prisoners of war. ... After the President decided to ignore Geneva Conventions, the administration unilaterally created a new detention policy. They claim the right to seize anyone, including even American citizens, anywhere in the world, including in the United States, and hold them until the end of the war on terrorism, whenever that may be. For example, they have even argued in court they have the right to indefinitely detain an elderly lady from Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charity that helps orphans but actually is a front that finances terrorism. They claim a person detained in the war on terrorism has no legal rights--no right to a lawyer, no right to see the evidence against them, no right to challenge their detention. In fact, the Government has claimed detainees have no right to challenge their detention, even if they claim they were being tortured or executed. This violates the Geneva Conventions, which protect everyone captured during wartime. ... Who are the Guantanamo detainees? Back in 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld described them as "the hardest of the hard core." However, the administration has since released many of them, and it has now become clear that Secretary Rumsfeld's assertion was not completely true. Military sources, according to the media, indicate that many detainees have no connection to al-Qaida or the Taliban and were sent to Guantanamo over the objections of intelligence personnel who recommended their release. One military officer said: We're basically condemning these guys to a long-term imprisonment. If they weren't terrorists before, they certainly could be now. ... Secretary Rumsfeld approved numerous abusive interrogation tactics against prisoners in Guantanamo. The Red Cross concluded that the use of those methods was "a form of torture." The United States, which each year issues a human rights report, holding the world accountable for outrageous conduct, is engaged in the same outrageous conduct when it comes to these prisoners. Numerous FBI agents who observed interrogations at Guantanamo Bay complained to their supervisors. In one e-mail that has been made public, an FBI agent complained that interrogators were using "torture techniques. That phrase did not come from a reporter or politician. It came from an FBI agent describing what Americans were doing to these prisoners. With no input from Congress, the administration set aside our treaty obligations and secretly created new rules for detention and interrogation. They claim the courts have no right to review these rules. But under our Constitution, it is Congress’s job to make the laws, and the court’s job to judge whether they are constitutional. This administration wants all the power: legislator, executive, and judge. ... To win the war on terrorism, we must remain true to the principles upon which our country was founded. This Administration’s detention and interrogation policies are placing our troops at risk and making it harder to combat terrorism. Former Congressman Pete Peterson of Florida, a man I call a good friend and a man I served with in the House of Representatives, is a unique individual. He is one of the most cheerful people you would ever want to meet. You would never know, when you meet him, he was an Air Force pilot taken prisoner of war in Vietnam and spent 6 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prison. Here is what he said about this issue in a letter that he sent to me. Pete Peterson wrote: From my 6 1/2 years of captivity in Vietnam, I know what life in a foreign prison is like. To a large degree, I credit the Geneva Conventions for my survival. ..... This is one reason the United States has led the world in upholding treaties governing the status and care of enemy prisoners: because these standards also protect us. ..... We need absolute clarity that America will continue to set the gold standard in the treatment of prisoners in wartime. Abusive detention and interrogation policies make it much more difficult to win the support of people around the world, particularly those in the Muslim world. ... What should we do? Imagine if the President had followed Colin Powell’s advice and respected our treaty obligations. How would things have been different? We still would have the ability to hold detainees and to interrogate them aggressively. Members of al-Qaida would not be prisoners of war. We would be able to do everything we need to do to keep our country safe. The difference is, we would not have damaged our reputation in the international community in the process. When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here—I almost hesitate to put them in the RECORD, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report: On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18–24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor. If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others— that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator’s time has expired. Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 3 additional minutes. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. Mr. DURBIN. It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course. The President could declare the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the war on terrorism. He could declare, as he should, that the United States will not, under any circumstances, subject any detainee to torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The administration could give all detainees a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a neutral decisionmaker. Such a change of course would dramatically improve our image and it would make us safer. I hope this administration will choose that course. If they do not, Congress must step in. The issue debated in the press today misses the point. The issue is not about closing Guantanamo Bay. It is not a question of the address of these prisoners. It is a question of how we treat these prisoners. To close down Guantanamo and ship these prisoners off to undisclosed locations in other countries, beyond the reach of publicity, beyond the reach of any surveillance, is to give up on the most basic and fundamental commitment to justice and fairness, a commitment we made when we signed the Geneva Convention and said the United States accepts it as the law of the land, a commitment which we have made over and over again when it comes to the issue of torture. To criticize the rest of the world for using torture and to turn a blind eye to what we are doing in this war is wrong, and it is not American. During the Civil War, President Lincoln, one of our greatest Presidents, suspended habeas corpus, which gives prisoners the right to challenge their detention. The Supreme Court stood up to the President and said prisoners have the right to judicial review even during war. Let me read what that Court said: The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions could be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism. Mr. President, those words still ring true today. The Constitution is a law for this administration, equally in war and in peace. If the Constitution could withstand the Civil War, when our Nation was literally divided against itself, surely it will withstand the war on terrorism. I yield the floor.
The controversial part, which is typically all you get when you hear discussion of this issue, is the part I've marked in bold near the end. The country flipped out when Durbin made the comparison, and the pressure was so intense that he eventually caved in. But look at the text. Here are some things that Durbin did not say: "The United States is as bad as the Nazis." "The United States is practically as bad as the Nazis." "The United States is anywhere near the realm of being at all similar in scope of amount of evil to the Nazis." What he said was, "look at these descriptions of torture acts. If you didn't know better, you'd probably think it was somebody REALLY terrible, like the Nazis, that were doing this." That's a factual claim, and it's obviously correct. Senator Durbin has apologized for using the words "Nazi" and "gulag". He has not apologized for stating that the United States government is illegally detaining people indefinitely without providing any reason, and that in some cases, those people are left chained in fetal position in their own feces, without food or water, in temperatures above 100 degrees, for over twenty-four hours. It is absolutely scandalous where the focus has been successfully placed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Downing Street Memo

I'm glad to see it finally starting to get a little bit of national attention, but "Downing Street Memo" is still not the household name that it deserves to be. Here's a good resource. This is really serious stuff, and I wish everyone took the time to know what was going on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wacky Extremist Liberal Checklist

Focus on the Family provides a nice checklist of nutty Leftist extremist views. I scored a five out of six, although the one I didn't answer "yes" to did made me laugh. How wacky extremist liberal are you?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Questionable Praise

Suppose your children were dying of starvation, and they didn't have access to running water or medicine. They don't have food, or a roof, or a source of income, or any hope of improving their position. Somebody sees that you're in trouble, and offers you some money to try to help you out. Now suppose there's also this group of people, the X people, and you strongly believe that it's morally wrong to be an X person. Suppose, even, for the sake of argument that your moral belief is justified. Hell, I'm feeling generous; let's make it both justified and true: you know it's wrong to be X. And this guy who's offering you money, he doesn't really see much of a problem with being X. In fact, he treats X people the same way he treats other people, and sometimes he even ignores their Xness and puts them in positions of responsibility and authority. So you look at your starving children (you, personally, are generally well-fed), and then the pile of money that could help them, and then you think about how the money is coming from somebody who thinks it's ok to be X, and so you turn the money down. "No thanks", you say, "I'd rather not feed my children with money from people like you." And now you're a hero.

Houston's "Morality Clause"

Item! The Houston Chronicle reports:
Spurred on by Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl, county officials have fine-tuned policies in the hope that similar incidents can be prevented in the future. Commissioners Court was informed today that promoters will sign contracts that highlight phrases such as one requiring that performers not use facilities for any "immoral purpose."
1. Fun new game! Be on the lookout for use of Reliant Park for immoral purposes! I've got my eye on animal treatment at the Houston Rodeo, but we'll be sure to watch for political events, corporate sponsorship, and the general spending of money and time on things other than that which would maximize utility, too. 2. Bad metaethics! The Chronicle continues:
First, immorality, indecency and vulgarity are subjective concepts...
False! Or at least: too controversial to be stated in a newspaper as accepted fact! 3. Bad Constitutional Law!
...certain behaviors are protected under First Amendment freedom of speech provisions...
Freedom of speech is about what the government can't tell you to do or not to do -- there's no legal problem with signing a private contract agreeing not to do certain things. I love this state. Hat tip: Shari.

What Christianity isn't about

Free markets and property.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

If you don't like it

Texans have made a decision about marriage and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas then maybe that's a better place for them [homosexuals who want to be married] to live.
--Texas Governor Rick Perry


My computer is broken. Less blogging and little-to-no reading until it's repaired or replaced.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Family Values!

Here's an article from Focus on the Family's CitizenLink alert today. It's about media bias -- FotF argues that the media's treatment of Mark Felt, in contrast with its treatment of Linda Tripp, demonstrate a liberal bias. A million points to the person who can explain how this connects to family interest issues.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Things I'd blog about more if I had more time

Just a quick round-up, because although there's intersting news, I'm busy.Also, there's going to be a Serenity screening in Houston.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005