Category Archives: Rule of Law

Rep. Ted Vick DUI charge moves forward

A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance was telling me about meeting a couple of people that morning, and when one of them turned out to be Rep. Ted Vick, my acquaintance said, “Oh, I’ve heard of you.”

Rep. Vick, in this telling, rather ruefully replied, “I suppose you have…”

We all have our burdens to bear. No matter what I do or where I go (in South Carolina, that is), I get, “You’re the newspaper guy, right?” Sometimes these conversations take the form of the way Robert Duvall was addressed on the street in “Tender Mercies” — “Hey, mister, were you really Mac Sledge?” Yes, ma’am, I guess I was…

But that certainly beats being a lawmaker of 8 years, a committee chairman, and yet what people remember when they see you is the news stories about DUI charges.

Anyway, I got to thinking about all of that when I saw today that a judge has denied Mr. Vick’s motion to dismiss that latest charge:

Vick’s attorney, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, argued last week to drop the charge because police did not capture the reading of Miranda Rights on videotape as required by state law.

Marcus Gore, an attorney for the S.C. Department of Public Safety, said the reading was off camera because Vick wrestled the arresting office away from the police cruiser and out of view of the dash camera…

That’s a new allegation, to me. If that was in the previous news stories, I missed it.

Happy side-effect of SCOTUS ruling on Prop 8 — undermining government by plebiscite

I thought this was an interesting sidelight on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that advocates of Proposition 8 had no standing to defend the law made by referendum:

SACRAMENTO — Activists on both sides of the bitter fight over same-sex marriage managed to agree on one thing in the wake of Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The justices, they said, set a worrisome precedent by giving elected officials undue power over ballot initiatives.

The court essentially voided Proposition 8, a measure placed on the state ballot by foes of gay marriage and passed by voters in 2008. The justices said supporters of the initiative had no standing to defend the measure after state leaders — who opposed the law — had refused to do so.

Their reasoning drew a testy dissent from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Sacramento native, who wrote that the decision “disrespects and disparages” California’s political process — a staple of which is the ballot initiative.

The court, Kennedy wrote, did “not take into account the fundamental principles or the practical dynamics of the initiative system in California.”…

I read that, and I think, “Good.” Nothing worrisome about it. Anything that undermines California’s chaotic government-by-plebiscite process is a good thing for representative democracy (a.k.a., “The American Way”).

Everybody’s writing about this now. I first saw the subject raised in the WSJ, this morning, and here’s the Washington Times take on it:

DENVER — The Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday on Proposition 8 unlocked the door for same-sex marriage in California but also may have stifled the voices of the state’s voters…

No, it didn’t stifle anything. They still get to elect their representatives, and that’s how things are supposed to work in a republic.

Whether it’s the definition of marriage in California, or the Confederate flag flying on the State House grounds in Columbia, or more routine, everyday laws, they are far better made through the deliberative process of representative democracy, as imperfect as that is.

There is almost no issue that is best defined as an option between “yes” and “no,” which is all you get in a referendum. True, as our politics have become more and more polarized, far too many issues get defined as “yes” or “no” even in our supposedly deliberative bodies. And that’s a tragedy.

But the cure for that is not to dumb things down further by reducing them to “yes” or “no” on a ballot voted on by people who haven’t even had the opportunity to interact with each other through ordered debate.

So anything we can do to move away from that trend, in California and the rest of the country, is a plus.

Left and right both wrong about Voting Rights Act

The left and the right are both wrong about the Voting Rights Act.

I agree with the right, and disagree with the president and other Democrats, that it’s a good thing that the Supreme Court has struck down the provision requiring South Carolina and other pariah states get preclearance of any change in voting procedures.

That requirement was fundamentally unjust. It assumed a guilt on the part of these states, and required them to prove their innocence before they could conduct their own voting business in ways other states were free to do without undergoing such procedures.

This was wrong. It condemned people who had absolutely nothing to do with past discrimination — all those who were guilty have long, long ago left office, and most are dead. Everyone in public office, appointive or elective, today has spent his or her entire career, if not entire life, in a world shaped by the provisions of the Voting Rights Act. It is completely unjust to require that some people, and not others, labor under the burden of greater suspicion because of the accident of where they happen to live.

If someone did enact new voting lines or procedures, and they in some way violated the Act, then they were subject to being accused of doing so, and having to answer for it. That will still be the case without preclearance. And that is the way it should be. Individuals, and governments, should have to answer for what they do wrong, and not be automatically punished with suspicion over everything they do.

So… preclearance has been an unjust burden, as conservatives say. And it’s particularly hard to justify such an injustice in a time when, for instance, minority voter participation is better in Mississippi than in Massachusetts.

However… where the right is wrong is when it says that the Voting Rights Act is a huge success, particularly for minorities, and that it has moved us racial discrimination in our politics.

On the contrary, under the Voting Rights Act, we have a new kind of racial tension in our politics. Conservatives rail at Democrats, saying the liberals only want to keep the thumbscrews on the South so they can draw more minority-majority districts. And perhaps they do, if they are fools. For in fact, the drawing of such districts has been a tremendous boon to white Republicans.

White Republicans in South Carolina seized power in the early ’90s by giving the Legislative Black Caucus more districts that were likely to elect black legislators. The way this was done was by putting as many black voters as possible into a few districts, and given the racial patterns common to both black and white voters, those districts had a greater tendency to elect black candidates.

But the truth, which for some reason is not painfully obvious to everyone, is that you can’t make some districts super-black without making surrounding districts super-white. What this meant was that for each new “black” district, you created several districts far, far more likely to elect white Republicans. Not only that, but a certain kind of white Republican — one far less likely to give a damn about the concerns of the black citizens who live in other districts.

So, you get two kinds of people — those from majority-minority districts, and those from ethnically cleansed white districts — who are elected BECAUSE of racial considerations, and who know that.

And the way they start to engage issues starts to reflect that. You can see it in debates over public health, education, and all sorts of things that we desperately need to be considered with regard to the good of all the public. Instead, what we get is a few lawmakers elected from districts with a high poverty rate (which tends to correlate to race, although it’s certainly not a one-to-one relationship). They tend to see the value in, say, expanding Medicaid (especially when the federal government is picking up the tab).

But they are outvoted by people from suburbs who can honestly say that their constituents don’t care about such things, and who can afford to treat the whole thing as an abstract, ideological issue. They can dismiss health care reform designed to provide care for the uninsured for something as frivolous as the fact that the name “Obama” is attached. Their constituents are largely fine with that. That is to say, enough of them are to keep electing the same kinds of representatives.

And so we don’t get policies designed for the benefit of the whole state. Because neither kind of gerrymandered district “looks like South Carolina.” Neither represents whole communities, but rather subsets of communities, defined by race. So relatively few legislators see themselves as there to serve a broad range of people in different circumstances, with different viewpoints.

It’s great that we don’t have poll taxes. It’s great that minorities who were marginalized are now so engaged with the political process. In those respects, the Voting Rights Act is a great success.

And we have seen success stories that give us hope for a future without elections that are predetermined by the skin color of the electors. Barack Obama’s two election victories offer that kind of hope.

But on the district level, our politics are still largely defined by race. And there, the Act has not been such a boon.

Aw, Jeez, Edith — here we go with the ACLU again

Consider that headline my tribute to Jean Stapleton.

There are some things that bring out the Archie Bunker in me, and the ACLU suing the government for doing its job is one of them:

 WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its “dragnet” collection of logs of domestic phone calls, contending that the once-secret program — whose existence was exposed by a former National Security Agency contractor last week — is illegal and asking a judge to both stop it and order the records purged…

Oh, and for those who don’t think the government is “doing its job” in this case — well, yes it is, by definition.

On a previous thread, Mark Stewart wrote:

The issue is not whether bureaurocrats’ believe that data mining Americans’ communications is the most appropriate way to “protect” our country; rather it is whether Americans have decided that such “protection” is in the best interests of our society.

And we have not…

On the contrary, Mark — we have.

We’ve decided it through our elected representatives, which is how it works in a representative democracy. This is not a direct democracy; nor should it be.

We’ve had years and years to decide whether we want to elect people other than the ones who decided to follow this course, and we’ll have more such opportunities in the future.

Again, I stress that the fact that the government was doing these things is not new information. We’ve had this discussion before. It’s just that some new details have brought it back into headlines, and a lot of people who weren’t paying attention before are startled.

Jenny wins; Sanford admits to being in contempt

Of his divorce decree, that is:

By BRUCE SMITH — Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Newly elected Congressman Mark Sanford and his ex-wife have settled a complaint that said he was at her home without her permission in violation of their divorce agreement….

Under the settlement, Sanford admits he was in contempt of the divorce decree then and on previous occasions. The judge agreed to withhold sentencing Sanford as long as he complies with the provision in their divorce settlement that he not enter his ex-wife’s Sullivans Island, S.C., home without her permission.

Sanford also agreed to pay her $5,000 in fees and court costs…

As to the matter of his showing contempt for the people of the 1st District, and them just eating it up, that’s another story.

He’s all yours, Lowcountry, and welcome to him.

AP: Tsarnaev clammed up after hearing Miranda warning

The Associated Press reported this yesterday. Somehow I missed it until now, but it’s interesting enough to go ahead and take note of:

BOSTON (AP) — The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings acknowledged to the FBI his role in the attacks but did so before he was advised of his constitutional right to keep quiet and seek a lawyer, U.S. officials said Wednesday.BostonSuspect2

Once Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was read his rights on Monday, he immediately stopped talking, according to four officials of both political parties who were briefed on the interrogation but insisted on anonymity because the briefing was private.

After roughly 16 hours of questioning, investigators were surprised when a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the hospital room and read Tsarnaev his rights, the four officials and one law enforcement official said. Investigators had planned to keep questioning him…

Authorities say they have more than enough evidence without a confession, but they no longer have a font of information on the Tsarnaev brother’s actions, plans or associations.

Which sort of makes this a perfect way of raising yet again the question which so divides the left and right of the political spectrum: Should terrorism be treated as a crime, with emphasis on what it takes to get a conviction, or should we shove prosecutorial considerations aside in order to get information to prevent future attacks?

In a way, we got both approaches here, and perhaps the best of both: A few days of interrogation that led to a preliminary conclusion that the brothers acted without confederates and that now that one is dead and the other in custody, there’s no further danger. Now, the prosecutors can do their thing.

And maybe that’s the way to do it. But I’m sure some would argue that he should have heard his Miranda rights immediately, while others would like to have him continuing to sing to investigators. The latter seems the preference of our own Lindsey Graham, according to Politico:

… Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who had been calling for Tsarnaev to be tried as an enemy combatant rather than as a criminal, on Thursday slammed Attorney General Eric Holder and said he sympathized with the FBI.

“This is the Eric Holder crowd basically refusing to embrace interrogation techniques available to us to make us safe,” he said on “America Live with Megyn Kelly.” After reiterating that Tsarnaev should have earned enemy combatant designation, Graham added, “I know that the FBI agent and the counter terrorism experts have to be incredibly frustrated that they could not continue to interview this suspect about what awaits us as a nation. This was a big mistake.”

What do y’all think?

What Lindsey Graham said about bombing suspect

There’s been a lot of overwrought reaction to Lindsey Graham’s suggestion that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be tried by military tribunal rather than under our criminal system.

For instance, there was this writer over at Forbes who moaned, “Why is it that those who spend an inordinate amount of time professing their dedication and fealty to the United States Constitution seem to always be among the first to toss our founding document out the window the moment it becomes inconvenient to their desires?”

Which is a grossly unfair mischaracterization of Lindsey Graham and what he said.

What did he say? The main ideas can be found in a series of Tweets starting Friday night, and continuing through this morning:

If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.

If the #Boston suspect has ties to overseas terror organizations he could be treasure trove of information.

The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to “remain silent.”

The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to “remain silent.”

The Obama Administration needs to be contemplating these issues and should not rush into a bad decision.

I appreciate the hard work and bravery of our law enforcement and intelligence communities. #Boston

Now that the suspect is in custody, the last thing I want is for him to remain silent. #Boston

It is vital he be questioned for intelligence gathering purposes about possible future plots. #Boston

We should be focused on preventing possible attacks over the coming hours and days. #Boston

The least of my worries is a criminal trial which will likely be held years from now. #Boston

The Law of War allows us to hold individual in this scenario as potential enemy combatant w/o Miranda warnings or appointment of counsel.

The goal is to gather intelligence and protect our nation which is under threat from radical Islam. #Boston

I hope the Obama Administration will seriously consider this option. #Boston

Just put out this statement with @SenJohnMcCain about #Boston suspect and #Miranda warning. http://www.facebook.com/USSenatorLindseyGraham …

It is clear events we have seen over the past few days in Boston were an attempt to kill American citizens & terrorize a major American city

The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise….

Under the Law of War we can hold #Boston suspect as a potential enemy combatant not entitled to Miranda warnings or appointment of counsel.

Just released this statement with @KellyAyotte @SenJohnMcCain and @RepPeteKing about Boston / enemy combatant.. https://www.facebook.com/USSenatorLindseyGraham

American citizens who take up arms against our nation or collaborate with our enemies HAVE been held as enemy combatants.

The questioning of an enemy combatant for national security purposes has no limit on time or scope.

In a case like #Boston, it could take weeks to prepare the questions needed to be asked & months before intelligence gathering is completed.

An enemy combatant is entitled to a habeas hearing before a federal judge with appointment of a counsel. Usually, w/in 30 days of capture.

As to any future trial, if this suspect is an American citizen, he is NOT subject to military commission trial. #Boston

Under the Law of War, suspect must be humanely treated, consistent w/ the Detainee Treatment Act, domestic law, and the Geneva Conventions.

A decision to NOT read Miranda rights to the suspect was sound and in our national security interests.

I could care less about the trial – a first year law student could do this trial – I want to gather intelligence. http://www.mediaite.com/tv/lindsey-graham-on-bombing-suspect-take-up-arms-against-america-and-you-can-be-killed-or-captured/ …

Graham spoke with @foxandfriends earlier this morning about enemy combatant status for Boston suspect.
http://www.iqmediacorp.com/ClipPlayer/default.aspx?ClipID=2cc05f9e-32ee-4024-b64c-c9941c890f05&PN=bt9sZFac%2bKA%3d …

The reason you see some repetition in those Tweets is that Graham was responding to comments by others, and reiterating points.

As it happened, so far Graham’s wishes have been followed — the prisoner has not been Mirandized, and apparently has been interrogated to the extent that his wounds (he was shot in the throat) will allow. It is not necessary to consider him an “enemy combatant” to withhold the Miranda warnings, under the public safety exemption — in other words, to gather the intelligence that Sen. Graham values.

As to his being considered an “enemy combatant” — well that’s a war of words that Republicans have been carrying on with Democrats for 12 years now. Republicans prefer the rules of war; Democrats prefer to treat terrorism as a cops-and-robbers thing.

This case seems to be to dwell in sort of a twilight area — and arguments to treat it as war and as crime both seem to have some legitimacy.

Tsarnaev — the one who still lives — is a citizen. And not a citizen off in Yemen somewhere working with al Qaeda, whom President Obama might kill with a drone (just to help us remember that Democrats, too, have gone far beyond the bounds of due process in pursuing what can only be called a war — else there’s no justification for such actions). He’s a citizen who went bad like the Columbine killers.

His brother’s recent fascination with radical Islamism does suggest something that fits within the “War on Terror,” but I think we need to see more evidence that these attacks were somehow coordinated with a hostile foreign organization before we consider this something other than a mass murder. Perhaps such evidence will emerge.

When he is criminally prosecuted on state and federal charges, I wonder if there will be a charge — along with multiple counts of murder and many more of attempted murder — having to do with bringing Boston to a halt? I wonder what that cost, in terms of lost economic activity. This is on my mind after reading about the guy who we are told ran off naked on acid, and all the resources devoted to trying to find him. How much more did the Tsarnaev brothers cost the city, state and federal governments, plus untold thousands of businesses?

But I digress. By the way, while I was traveling over the weekend — driving to Memphis and back for a wedding — Bryan Caskey already did a post on this subject, which you might want to check out.

AP says there are no more ‘illegal immigrants’ in the U.S.

But Doug and others who’ve been yearning for this day shouldn’t get overexcited. AP says we still have an “illegal immigration” problem.

It’s a matter of style.

Most news organizations in this country follow The Associated Press Stylebook quite religiously. Except for a few local exceptions here and there, so did every paper I ever worked at.

And AP style just changed. Those who follow the guide are no longer to call anyone an “illegal immigrant,” or refer to people as “illegals.”

Romenesko quotes from the statement today from AP explaining the change:

The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally…

The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)…

… we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.

We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.

So we have….

Here’s the way the entry in the Stylebook reads now:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

There’s a certain logic to this, but I think the AP is going about a step too far. I can see not describing humans as “illegals.” It’s lazy, and unless a person has been declared an outlaw in the full meaning of the term (is that even possible in today’s legal system), the person himself is not illegal.

But by doing away with “illegal immigrant,” AP is eliminating a perfectly clear and accurate way of describing one aspect of a person. I doubt the service would balk at “recent immigrant,” or any other accurate modifier used with the word “immigrant.” “Illegal immigrant” is a quick, accurate way to describe a characteristic of an individual that is important to the story (else it wouldn’t be mentioned at all). I see no reason to inconvenience thousands of writers and millions of readers by forcing them into less direct ways of communicating the same concept.

Does anybody out there read ‘terms and conditions,’ ever? If not, it gives me hope…

I almost ignored the essay in the WSJ today about simplicity, because it started out with something about Henry David Thoreau. I’ve never been a fan. I don’t like anything about Walden. Life can indeed be simple if you isolate yourself from society — simple, but not worth living. (I say this as a person who is given to self-absorption, but that’s not a quality I like in myself, which causes me to react viscerally against Thoreau.) Also, it’s hard to avoid snorting in contempt at anyone who thought “modern” life in the first half of the 19th century had too much hustle and bustle in it.

But my interest was engaged a few grafs on, when I got to this bit:

Do you know anyone who stops to read “click-through” agreements on websites in the middle of performing a task? One company, PC Pitstop, deliberately buried a clause in its end-user license agreement in 2004, offering $1,000 to the first person who emailed the company at a certain address. It took five months and 3,000 sales until someone claimed the money. The situation hadn’t improved by 2010 when Gamestation played an April Fools’ Day joke by embedding a clause in their agreement saying that users were selling them their souls…

For a long time, I’ve meant to write a post asking, “Does anybody out there ever read those ‘terms and conditions’ agreements that you have to click ‘Agree’ to in order to proceed?” I tell myself that no one does, but I was a bit leery of posting the question because everyone might respond, “Of course we do,” at which point I would know for sure that what I’ve often suspected in the past was true: I’m on the wrong planet.

If it turned out everyone else was reading them, it was going to make me feel guilty every time I clicked “Agree” without reading all that crapola. It wasn’t going to change my behavior — I’d rather go to Room 101 than read a single one of those monstrosities. But it would make me feel bad. A little.

Those things always come up when I’ve already been substantially inconvenienced, having been forced to go through unanticipated steps in order to get on with whatever I was trying to do when the process started. You know those nightmare traps, in which you’re trying to do A, but realize that you can’t do A until you’ve done B, and then it turns out that B can’t be accomplished without first having completed C, etc. Those 20,000-word masterpieces of unreadability only come up when you’re fuming your way through G or H, and you’ve had it.

Besides, I couldn’t read one if I tried — not if by “reading” it, you mean get anything out of it. The surface of every letter in such documents is polished, then coated with grease, so that my brain can’t grab ‘hold of them. I can only read them on proofreading level. I don’t know if everyone experiences this or only someone who’s spent a lot of years as an editor, but there’s a certain level of reading on which I can catch spelling, punctuation and even grammatical errors, but when I’m finished, I can’t tell you what I just read. That’s as deeply as I can go into those kinds of documents.

The authors of the essay in the WSJ note with justice that much of the unnecessary complexity of life — the sort that’s too much to deal with — is caused by lawyers and technologists. On the one hand, lawyers try to protect their clients by covering every base to an absurd degree. Then there are those people who think everything can be quantified — people like “Clive,” a character created by John le Carre, of whom he wrote, “He believed that facts were the only kind of information and he despised whoever was not ruled by them.”

But you know what? If everyone else — or at least a goodly proportion of the populace — clicks through all those things without reading them, it gives me some hope for the world.

I tend to lump in this sort of complexity with the lack of trust in the world. I wrote a column back in the ’90s that was sort of my Unified Field Theory of public life. I said everything that was wrong with society resulted from the fact that we didn’t trust each other. Overly lawyered, too-complex-to-read contractual agreements are monuments to this problem. As I wrote in 1995, “A lack of basic trust of each other explains why… We have so many laws, and so many lawyers. We trust nothing to common sense…”

One of the great ironies of this is that so many people come to hate government because they get fed up with bureaucracy and overly complex rules. And yet the reason we have all those excessive rules is that someone insisted that we add them because they didn’t trust government just to use good judgment.

But I just realized something about those agreements I click on without reading: They show that I trust the entity that posted the agreement. I know I’m not signing away one of my grandchildren or my house or whatever, because I know that society wouldn’t stand for that. I know that if the agreement for this software that millions of others have downloaded meant that I was selling myself into slavery, I would have heard about it. Society, that thing too many of us distrust, wouldn’t have stood for it. So, even more than the entity that drafted the agreement, I’m trusting society as a whole. I’m trusting the village, or the wisdom of crowds, or whatever you choose to call it.

Which makes me feel better about the world, and about myself. And about everyone else who clicks on “Agree” without reading the agreement, and gets on with life. It makes me feel better about the world I live in.

Court rejects ‘penny’ challenge; bus improvements can begin

Well, it’s about time:

The State Supreme Court has denied an anti-tax group’s protest of the results of the Nov. 6 penny sales-tax referendum, paving the way for delayed improvements to the bus system.

In a short, to-the-point order dated Thursday, the court denied the request by Michael Letts to overturn the vote increasing the sales tax to 8-cents-on-the-dollar.

“It’s about time the community was allowed to do what they voted to do in November,” Bob Schneider, director of the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, said Friday.

Frannie Heizer, CMRTA attorney, said a copy of the order was forwarded to the SC Department of Revenue, and that she would expect collections of the additional sales tax to start May 1, as originally planned.

Schneider said he’s prepared to institute basic route improvements to bus service by June 1…

Now, when our new, public-transit-riding Pope comes to Columbia, he’ll have a way to get around…

Sorry, but ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ wasn’t Best Picture

The Wall Street Journal editorial board has been upset with U.S. senators Feinstein, Levin and McCain for criticizing the makers of “Zero Dark Thirty” for making it look like torture was essential to getting Osama bin Laden.

Now, the editors blame the senators for the movie’s poor showing at the Oscars:

As no one should forget, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain wrote letters to Sony Pictures and the CIA charging that “Zero Dark Thirty” was a “grossly inaccurate and misleading” portrayal of the interrogation of al Qaeda detainees. Ms. Feinstein’s intelligence committee opened an inquiry into what the CIA told the filmmakers, and the letters coincided with a media attack led by those great believers in artistic free expression at the New Yorker magazine.

Well, mission accomplished. The film was among the best reviewed of 2012 and has done well at the box office. But the attacks had their desired effect of intimidating Hollywood. Director Kathryn Bigelow was denied an Oscar nomination and the film won only a single (shared) award for sound editing. The Oscar ceremonies were Sunday night.

A day later, Reuters reported that the Senate is dropping its investigation of the film and CIA cooperation with the filmmakers…

The WSJ’s reasoning seems to go like this: Feinstein and Levin are liberals (McCain and his experienced-based objections to torture are conveniently forgotten). Hollywood is full of liberals. So Hollywood was cowed into stiffing ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ by fear of straying from liberal orthodoxy. Or something.

But the editors are ignoring something: “Zero Dark Thirty” didn’t deserve Best Picture honors, or Best Director. It was good, even important (important enough that I don’t blame senators at all for taking a political stand on it). But Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” which did win the Best Picture honor in 2009, was a more impressive, highly original film.

And the torture scenes? Speaking artistically and not politically, they went on too long. Long enough that it’s perfectly understandable that someone who doesn’t want our national defense to depend on the mistreatment of prisoners to think a political point was being made, and to object to that point. If this had been a work of fiction, devoid of political content, I think most critics would say the interrogations scenes were a drag on the storytelling.

I actually think the point being made by the filmmakers was neutral. I don’t think they were saying torture is good or necessary. I thought they were just saying (oversaying), it happened. And it sorta kinda maybe helped find bin Laden. It’s something to throw into the mix of how we feel about all that. War, including asymmetrical war, is filled with moral ambiguities.

I think they thought it would have been dishonest to leave out that part. Maybe they were right. In any case, they did not make this year’s best picture. Not this time.

Now, changing the subject slightly — what should have been Best Picture? Well, I can’t judge that, because I haven’t seen “Argo.” But I can say with all confidence that I wouldn’t have given it to “Zero Dark Thirty” in the same year that “Lincoln” came out. And if a director was slighted this year, it was Steven Spielberg.

John Yoo on the Obama administration’s drone memo

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When I first read of the Obama administration’s drone memo earlier in the week, I idly wondered what John Yoo would think of them.

You remember him. He’s the lawyer who wrote the “Torture Memos” for the Bush administration.

Well, now I don’t have to wonder, because he wrote what he thinks of the latest development in The Wall Street Journal today.

The general thrust of his piece is that the great flaw in the current administration’s justification for its drone program is that it’s based not in the assumption that we are at war with al Qaeda, but on the assumption of so many on the antiwar left that terrorism should be treated as a crime. As he puts it, “the Obama administration is trying to dilute the normal practice of war with law-enforcement methods.” Which means you have to go through extra gyrations of rationalization to order a drone strike.

I’ll let others argue over that. What intrigued me was the ethical question Yoo raised at the very end of his piece:

Rather than capture terrorists—which produces the most valuable intelligence on al Qaeda—Mr. Obama has relied almost exclusively on drone attacks, and he has thereby been able to dodge difficult questions over detention. But those deaths from the sky violate personal liberty far more than the waterboarding of three al Qaeda leaders ever did.

That’s something else I’ve been thinking about: Which is worse, taking someone captive and mistreating him, or killing him?

There’s the related question: Is the killing of our enemies with essentially a deus ex machina from the sky, with no risk to Americans, rather than facing them in battle, the morally preferable course? OK, most Americans would probably say “yes,” to that one, but let’s address the first question: Is killing preferable, morally and ethically, to capturing and torturing?

And no, those aren’t the only two options we have. But that’s the question Yoo posed, and I find it an interesting one.

Graham plants himself squarely in pro-gun territory

Lindsey Graham, widely expected to face a challenge next year from right out of the 1830s, has responded to President Obama’s gun proposals today with words that place him safely in NRA territory:

Graham Expresses Opposition to President Obama’s Gun Control Proposal

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement in opposition to President Obama’s gun control proposal.

“The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is heartbreaking and beyond words.  However, the gun control plans brought forward by President Obama fail to address the real issues and I’m confident there will be bipartisan opposition to his proposal.

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“One bullet in the hands of a homicidal maniac is one too many.  But in the case of a young mother defending her children against a home invader — a real-life event which recently occurred near Atlanta — six bullets may not be enough.  Criminals aren’t going to follow legislation limiting magazine capacity.  However, a limit could put law-abiding citizens at a distinct disadvantage when confronting a criminal.

“As for reinstating the assault weapons ban, it has already been tried and failed.

“Finally, when it comes to protecting our schools, I believe the best way to confront a homicidal maniac who enters a school is for them to be met by armed resistance from a trained professional.”

#####

But take heart, gun control advocates: At least he doesn’t want to arm teachers, right? Not unless that’s what he means by “trained professional.” I initially took it to mean “cop,” but can we be sure?

What should happen to teachers who have sex with students?

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 8.29.24 AM

Boyd Brown picked at my friends at The State the other day over the above headline, which inevitably makes one think, “And in related news, Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim“… In The State‘s defense, they caught it and fixed it — I can’t find it anywhere online now. (That’s the awful thing about the 24-hour news cycle. Used to be, you had a chance to catch these things before anyone saw them. Now, even when you catch it, it’s already out there and somebody has preserved it.)

Of course, this is no laughing matter, however much our inner 8th-grader may snicker. There are serious issues at stake. I was intrigued by this angle, raised in a long letter to the editor yesterday:

Don’t prosecute Dreher teacher for having sex with students

The two young men whom a Dreher teacher allegedly or admittedly engaged in sexual intercourse were above the age of consent. There are no allegations of coercion, intimidation, payments or rewards offered or given in return for sex.

Had the teacher been a neighbor or a family friend, a Mrs. Robinson if you will, there would be no crime.

I believe it is unconstitutional to have one law for teachers and another one for everyone else. An act should either be a crime if anyone does it or it should not be a crime…

Of course the teacher should be decertified, fired and counseled. But she never should have been arrested, she should not face prosecution, and she should fight for the right of teachers to not be made criminals for what other women can do without a threat of prosecution…

What do y’all think? Should this be a criminal matter, or merely an administrative one for the district’s H.R. folks to handle?

Personally, I’m not a bit bothered, at least in theory, by the existence of a “double standard” whereby teachers are treated differently from other folks. They hold a special public trust, and should be accordingly accountable to the public.

I just don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other as to whether that accountability should extend to criminal prosecution. Perhaps some of y’all can clarify my thinking on that…

Biden says Obama will issue executive order on guns

Wow. I don’t know whether Joe Biden is being — excuse the seeming pun — a loose cannon again, or whether the president is really considering this (or both), but I pass it on:

(Reuters) – Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the White House is determined to act quickly to curb gun violence and will explore all avenues – including executive orders that would not require approval by Congress – to try to prevent incidents like last month’s massacre at a Connecticut school.

Kicking off a series of meetings on gun violence, Biden said the administration would work with gun-control advocates and gun-rights supporters to build a consensus on restrictions. But he made clear thatPresident Barack Obama is prepared to act on his own if necessary.

“We are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing. It’s critically important that we act,” said Biden, who will meet on Thursday with pro-gun groups including the National Rifle Association, which claims 4 million members and is the gun lobby’s most powerful organization…

“There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven’t decided what that is yet,” Biden said, adding that Obama is conferring with Attorney General Eric Holder on potential action…

It this is true, this would be a stunningly bold move by the president on an issue of great concern to the nation that our Congress has demonstrated for decades that it is unwilling or unable to address.

But, wow: The reaction he would likely engender from the really serious pro-gun people out there hardly bears thinking about. On the one hand, this shouldn’t be a shock to them, since they (and only they) have believed all along that “That Obama’s gonna come after our guns” — even though, before Newtown and his pledge to do something in response to it, the president has shown little or no interest in their guns. Which is why they went on a gun-and-ammo shopping spree after he was elected.

But that doesn’t mean their reaction won’t be visceral to any unilateral action by the president, however limited. It would be, to them, the realization of their darkest forebodings.

So is the president really willing to go down that road? Maybe. And maybe Joe doesn’t know what he’s talking about…

Wait a second. That was the Reuters story. In The Washington Post, Biden sounds a lot more definite about this:

Vice President Biden vowed Wednesday that President Obama will use executive action where he can to help stop gun violence as part of  the White House’s response to the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn.

“The president is going to act,” Biden said during brief remarks to reporters before meeting with victims of gun violence and firearm safety groups…

Why have BOTH parties wasted our money on Voter ID?

This just in from Lindsey Graham and Trey Gowdy:

Graham, Gowdy Defend South Carolina Voter ID Law

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and U.S. Congressman Trey Gowdy (South Carolina-4) today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder renewing their request for documents pertaining to the Justice Department’s costly opposition to South Carolina’s Voter ID law.

Last Friday, the Washington, D.C. District Court issued a unanimous decision awarding South Carolina certain litigation costs incurred while defending its Voter ID law against a Justice Department challenge.  The case cost the State of South Carolina an estimated $3.5 million.

“Not only do we strongly support the Court’s decision to award costs, we request follow up on our previous letter regarding the reasons why this costly litigation occurred in the first place,” wrote Graham and Gowdy.  “If some, or all, of the costs associated with these actions could have been avoided by following the recommendation of career Voting Section experts, then we would like to know the reason why they were overruled.”…

Good question. Of course, it would be just as good a question to demand that our governor and legislative majority why they have insisted on passing and then defending in court a completely useless Voter ID bill.

As I’ve said so many times before, I remain completely unconvinced by either Republicans’ claim that there is a need for such a law, or by Democrats’ claim that it constitutes an intolerable burden. Every taxpayer dollar that either party has caused to be spent on the bill has been a waste, in my book.

First sex offenders, then gun permit holders…

Click on this image of the map to get to the original article.

Click on this image of the map to get to the original article.

Chip Oglesby (the guy who very kindly gave this blog a whole new theme this week, just because y’all complained about the comments format in the previous new one) brings this to my attention today.

The L.A. Times is reporting on a contretemps precipitated by another newspaper, on the East Coast:

It’s getting hard to find a public official in Putnam County, N.Y., who thinks putting the names of gun permit-holders on a map does anybody good.

On Thursday, a flock of officials gathered at a news conference to announce their support for County Clerk Dennis Sant’s decision to refuse a public-records request by the White Plains-based Journal News for a list of licensed handgun permit-holders, whose names and addresses are public record under law.

The state’s top open-records official previously told the Los Angeles Times that county officials would be breaking the law by refusing the newspaper’s request.

On Dec. 22, the newspaper published online an interactive map that included the names and address of people who had pistol permits  licensed by Westchester and Rockland counties. The map led to so much outrage that the newspaper has hired armed guards to protect its newsroom. Reporting on one recent incident, the newspaper said it received a suspicious envelope containing white powder on Wednesday evening, which was deemed to be nontoxic.

The Journal News also wants to publish a similar map for Putnam County, but officials have resisted. On Thursday, there was no indication of the battle easing after Putnam County officials said they’re prepared to take the fight all the way to its conclusion, according to statements released by the office of state Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican who represents the area…

This raises all sorts of questions, mainly about privacy in an age in which very little privacy exists. Also about the principle that so many newspaper editors like to go on about, which holds that “the people have a right to know” pretty much anything that an editor gets it into his head to publish.

Do the people have not only a right, but a need, to see this map? And does it outweigh any presumed privacy that a gun permit holder might feel entitled to? I mean, it’s one thing for permits to be public information, so that an individual holder could be looked up. It’s another to publish a map, holding these people up to… I don’t know what, really. Because I don’t really understand what practical purpose the map serves. Is it intended as a sort of sociological study of the county, to satisfy someone’s curiosity as to where permit holders are most likely to live?

I’m curious to know the editors’ thinking on that, because without knowing that, I don’t know what to think. Going by this story, the editors haven’t been forthcoming on that point. But the publisher said, “We believe the law is clear that this is public information and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it. We’re troubled that county officials have apparently switched their position since we first requested the information.”

In response, a critic of the newspaper’s position says, “The Journal News has really come up with the perfect map for the perpetrators and for the stalkers and for the criminals. They have yet to give us a cogent reason why, except for the reason that they can. I am sorry — that is not acceptable.”

Frankly, I’m not persuaded either that the editors had a clear, thought-out reason for using that portion of their newshole for this purpose. Nor am I convinced that anyone has been harmed by their doing so. But that’s the way it is with so many things that people get really, really stirred up about…

Questionable claims for the AR-15

AR15_A3_Tactical_Carbine_pic1

Just read an interesting piece over at Slate, by a guy who calls himself “a Second Amendment supporter” (although, living in NYC, he doesn’t own a gun — but I guess that’s as close to pro-gun as Slate gets), discussing the claims that the AR-15 is a great weapon for hunting and home defense.

Which seems doubtful to me on both counts. This writer, Justin Peters, cites most of the reasons I already thought that. If I were into hunting, I’d use a rifle (or for birds, a shotgun), rather than a weapon that, as Sean Connery’s Raizuli would say, “fires promiscuously.” A matter of sportsmanship. For home defense, a pistol seems far more practical than a long gun, even a carbine.

But then I’m not trying to sell “modern sporting rifle” to the public.

Here’s the core of the article’s argument:

But the AR-15 is not ideal for the hunting and home-defense uses that the NRA’s Keene cited today. Though it can be used for hunting, the AR-15 isn’t really a hunting rifle. Its standard .223 caliber ammunition doesn’t offer much stopping power for anything other than small game. Hunters themselves find the rifle controversial, with some arguing AR-15-style rifles empower sloppy, “spray and pray” hunters to waste ammunition. (The official Bushmaster XM15 manual lists the maximum effective rate of fire at 45 rounds per minute.) As one hunter put it in the comments section of an article on americanhunter.org, “I served in the military and the M16A2/M4 was the weapon I used for 20 years. It is first and foremost designed as an assault weapon platform, no matter what the spin. A hunter does not need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt, if he does he sucks, and should go play video games. I see more men running around the bush all cammo’d up with assault vests and face paint with tricked out AR’s. These are not hunters but wannabe weekend warriors.”

In terms of repelling a home invasion—which is what most people mean when they talk about home defense—an AR-15-style rifle is probably less useful than a handgun. The AR-15 is a long gun, and can be tough to maneuver in tight quarters. When you shoot it, it’ll overpenetrate—sending bullets through the walls of your house and possibly into the walls of your neighbor’s house—unless you purchase the sort of ammunition that fragments on impact. (This is true for other guns, as well, but, again, the thing with the AR-15 is that it lets you fire more rounds faster.)

AR-15-style rifles are very useful, however, if what you’re trying to do is sell guns. In a recent Forbes article, Abram Brown reported that “gun ownership is at a near 20-year high, generating $4 billion in commercial gun and ammunition sales.” But that money’s not coming from selling shotguns and bolt-action rifles to pheasant hunters. In its 2011 annual report, Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation announced that bolt-action hunting rifles accounted for 6.6 percent of its net sales in 2011 (down from 2010 and 2009), while modern sporting rifles (like AR-15-style weapons) accounted for 18.2 percent of its net sales. The Freedom Group’s 2011 annual report noted that the commercial modern sporting rifle market grew at a 27 percent compound annual rate from 2007 to 2011, whereas the entire domestic long gun market only grew at a 3 percent rate…

Just before that excerpt, Peters cited what I suspect is the biggest appeal of the AR-15: “because carrying it around makes you look like a badass.”

Indeed.

Your ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ scoreboard

1134604 - Zero Dark Thirty

OK, I think I’ve got it straight now.

I had thought that the official GOP position was that “Zero Dark Thirty” was the result of an unholy relationship between the filmmakers and the Obama administration, meant to aggrandize the latter.

I had seen Sen. John McCain’s criticism of that film as overlapping somewhat with that position, although I also saw it as consistent with his principled, and very personal, opposition to torture.

I was vaguely inclined toward emphasizing the latter reason for McCain’s objections over the former, because I had heard that Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin were joining McCain in his criticism of the movie.

Anyway, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal stepped in today to straighten me out and clarify the partisan battle lines over the film:

You know it’s a bad day in America when Hollywood seems to have a better grip on intelligence issues than the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the top two Members at Armed Services. The film depicts the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs, used on the detainees held at the CIA’s so-called black sites, and hints that the interrogations provided at least some of the information that led to bin Laden’s killing.

What Ms. Bigelow intended by depicting the EITs is not for us to explain: This is an action flick, not a Ken Burns documentary. Yet the mere suggestion that such techniques paid crucial intelligence dividends—as attested by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former CIA Director Michael Hayden, among many others—has sent Mrs. Feinstein and her colleagues into paroxysms of indignation. They even have a 5,000-plus-page study that purports to prove her case…

One day, perhaps, some of our liberal friends will acknowledge that the real world is stuffed with the kinds of hard moral choices that “Zero Dark Thirty” so effectively depicts. Until then, they can bask in the easy certitudes of a report that, whatever it contains, deserves never to be read.

So, in the never-ending partisan argument, which requires that everyone take one of two (and only two) directly opposing positions, apparently opposition to the movie is officially a Democratic, liberal position, and John McCain’s agreement with that position is designated as just one of his “maverick” positions.

Whatever. I still sympathize with McCain’s objection to our nation embracing torture on any level.

And… I still look forward to seeing “Zero Dark Thirty.”