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Sunday, January 25, 2004

What planet does Howard Dean live on?

There are very few politicians who are as glib and clever and articulate as Bill Clinton.  Our current President, whom I support and admire, certainly does not have these as his strongest qualities.  One makes allowances; and one recognizes that these qualities, while nice, aren't the most important attributes of a successful President.  Moreover, when you've got the press following you around day after day, microphones always on, questions coming a mile a minute, you're bound to mis-speak — to say something less than clever, and probably wrong, on occasion. 

But even making allowances, you have to wonder just how to explain this kind of stupidity:

Dean, who charged to the top of the Democratic field last year on his blunt opposition to war in Iraq and to the Washington Democrats who supported it, said in Manchester the living standard in Iraq "is a whole lot worse now than it was before."

Where does this man get his facts?  Where does he get these crazy ideas?  Even if you leave out "fear of having your tongue cut out" and "fear of being fed feet-first into a tree-limb shredder" from the concept of "living standard"  — even if you discount the whole concept of "freedom" to zero, which isn't exactly a calculation most Americans (or most Iraqis!) would agree with — what possible facts could Howard Dean be talking about? 

From the same press account:

"I would never defend Saddam Hussein. He's a horrible person. I'm delighted he's gone," he said, but asked: "Would there not have been a better way to get rid of him in cooperation with the United Nations?"

That would be the same United Nations whose resolutions and sanctions Saddam flouted continuously for over a decade?  Or would that be some other United Nations, King Arthur bests the Black Knightperhaps, to which the French don't belong?

This isn't lying.  It's too counterfactual to take seriously.  It's too fundamental to just be an "error."  It's not just mis-speaking.  This stuff has to make one seriously wonder if Howard Dean has slipped over the edge into "delusional."

Before our eyes, Howard Dean is becoming the Black Knight from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."


Update (Mon Jan 26 @ wee-small-hours):  Notwithstanding its headline — "Howard Dean Says Iraqis Worse Off Now" — another news story provides some context which could be read to suggest that Dean was referring only to dead Iraqis' living standards:

"You can say that it's great that Saddam is gone and I'm sure that a lot of Iraqis feel it is great that Saddam is gone," said the former Vermont governor, an unflinching critic of the war against Iraq. "But a lot of them gave their lives. And their living standard is a whole lot worse now than it was before."

If Dean was indeed referring only to dead Iraqis' living standards — even leaving aside the oxymoronic quality of that concept — then his statement goes from colossally counterfactual to merely insipid.  Under either interpretation, it's still a bizarre thing to say.  In fact, the additional context makes it sound as though Dean is lamenting the Iraqis who died while trying to defend Saddam's regime.  I suspect he didn't mean that either, and was trying, very ham-handedly, to refer to innocents. 

Whatever.  I think Dean's been successful in getting across his central theme:  If Dean were the President of the United States, Saddam would still be the President of Iraq.  I'm content to let the voters make of that what they will.

Update (Mon Jan 26 @ even-wee-smaller-hours):  The New York Post has the whole quote but also reads it as though Dean was referring to living Iraqis' living standards.  As, apparently, do those — including Dean's rivals — whom the Post quotes as disagreeing with Dean:

A spokesman for candidate Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), who also voted for the war, said: "I don't think anyone can argue that living under a brutal regime is better than not living under a brutal regime."

John Edwards, meet Atrios and his moonbats.

Posted by Beldar at 11:16 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 23, 2004

Poodles and other first-class bitches

Japanese soldier welcomed by Iraqi boy -- 22 Jan 04 (Reuters pix)Australian blogger Tim Blair is a favorite of mine, and this post — savaging Maureen Dowd's latest insult to America's "Coalition of the Willing" allies in Iraq, among whom Australia is nobly prominent — is particularly good. 

As of my linking it, Blair's post is up to 137 comments, quite a few of which also are pretty good.  Who knew that so many in Oz still remember the Battle of the Coral Sea?

I've blogged recently about just how slimey MoDo is, and also about how much it bugs me when the President's opponents dis our allies.  But Maureen Dowd's post-State of the Union column yesterday is a new alignment guaranteed to annoy the hell out of me and most of the rest of the civilized world (with the conspicuous and near-sole exceptions of France and Germany):

You wonder how many votes he [Bush] scared off with that testosterone festival: the taunting message, the self-righteous geographic litany of support? The Philippines. Thailand. Italy. Spain. Poland. Denmark. Bulgaria. Ukraine. Romania. The Netherlands. Norway. El Salvador.

Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?

A gaggle of poodles and lackeys?  I know this crap was published on an "opinion" page.  But just how far would someone have to go to deliberately insult dozens of our country's allies before the New York Times finally whistled a foul?

The saving grace, as is made absolutely clear by Blair's post and most of his commenters, is that the citizens of our allies like Australia are themselves sufficiently enlightened — sufficiently acquainted with the occasional embarrassing episodes that attend an absolutely unfettered free press — that they can put the rantings of an idiot like Dowd into the appropriate context.  They have their own barking moonbats.  And they understand what it means to say, "Maureen, I'll defend to my death your right to say what you just said.  But sheesh, Maureen, could you possibly be a bigger fool and a bigger tool?"

Posted by Beldar at 07:27 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dog or blog?

In response to Scheherazade's question, if forced to choose, I'd keep the dog.   I'm not sure that my blogging makes the world a better place or me any happier, but my dog definitely does both.  (Hat-tip to Prof. B.)

Posted by Beldar at 06:38 PM in Weblogs | Permalink

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Australians rock; MoDo is still slime

Professor Bainbridge quotes and links a compelling piece from Australia's The Age newspaper, written by their New York correspondent, Caroline Overington.  I'd come across the same article before, but what she wrote that jumped off the page at me was something rather different than what Prof. B quoted:

I remember sitting on a small plane, travelling from North Carolina to New York, when the war was a few weeks old. I was reading USA Today and, as I opened it to study a map of Iraq, one half of the newspaper fell into the lap of my fellow passenger. I turned to apologise, but he said: "No problem. Actually, do you mind if I have a look?"

Together we studied the picture, trying to work out how far the Americans were from seizing power. It was clear from the diagrams that troops were near Saddam's airport, and close to the centre of Baghdad. I turned to my seat mate and said: "I don't think this is going to be a long battle, after all."

It was only then that I noticed, with horror, that he had started to cry. And then I noticed something else: a photograph, wrapped in plastic, pinned to his lapel. It was a picture of his 20-year-old son, a young marine who died in the first days of the war. The man's wife was sitting across the aisle from us. She had a round bowl on her lap, filled with water and some drooping tulips. The movement of the aircraft was making the water slop around. She was trying to wipe her hands, and her tears.

The couple told me they had just been to a private meeting with Bush to discuss the loss of their son. At the time, it was already clear that Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction.

"But I never thought it was about the weapons," my seat mate said. And, although I can't remember his exact words, he also said something like: "We have always stood up for freedom, in our own country, and for other people."

(Emphasis added by Beldar.)  The White House has never publicized such meetings, or even permitted the fact that they've taken place to be leaked, ever.  But I'd bet my left arm there have been many such, conducted by the President himself or by his high-level designees.

However, this made me remember a New York Times op-ed written by Maureen Dowd on November 6, 2003, entitled "Death Be Not Loud," that consisted entirely of  character assassination:

Who can blame poor President Bush? Look at his terrible dilemma.

There are those who say the chief executive should have come out of his Texas ranch house and articulated and assuaged the sorrow and outrage and anxiety the nation was feeling on Sunday after the deadliest day in Iraq in seven months. An attack on a Chinook helicopter had killed 15 American soldiers, 13 men and 2 women, and wounded 21.

There are those who say Mr. Bush should have emulated Rudy Giuliani's empathetic leadership after 9/11, or Dad's in the first gulf war, and attended some of the funerals of the 379 Americans killed in Iraq. Or one. Maybe the one for Specialist Darryl Dent, the 21-year-old National Guard officer from Washington who died outside Baghdad in late August when a bomb struck his truck while he was delivering mail to troops. His funeral was held at a Baptist church three miles from the White House.

But let's look at it from the president's point of view: if he grieves more publicly or concretely, if he addresses every instance of bad news, like the hideous specter of Iraqis' celebrating the downing of the Chinook, he will simply remind people of what's going on in Iraq.

So it's understandable why, going into his re-election campaign, Mr. Bush wouldn't want to underscore that young Americans keep getting whacked over there, and we don't know who is doing it or how to stop it.

The White House is cleverly trying to distance Mr. Bush from the messy problem of flesh-and-blood soldiers with real names dying nearly every day, while linking him to the heroic task of fighting global terror.

It's better to keep it vague, to talk about the "important cause" and the "brave defenders" of liberty.

If he gets more explicit, or allows the flag-draped coffins of fallen heroes to be photographed coming home, it will just remind people that the administration said this would be easy, and it's teeth-grindingly hard. And that the administration vowed to get Osama and Saddam and W.M.D., and hasn't. And that the Bush team that hyped the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq has now created an Al Qaeda presence in Iraq. And that there was no decent plan for the occupation or for financing one, no plan for rotating or supporting troops stretched too thin to guard ammunition caches or police a fractious society, and no plan for getting out.

As the White House points out, Mr. Bush cannot fairly pick and choose which memorial services to go to, or which deaths to speak of.

"If a helicopter were hit an hour later, after he came out and spoke, should he come out again?" Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, told The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller, explaining Mr. Bush's silence after the Chinook crash. The public, he added, "wants the commander in chief to have proper perspective, and keep his eye on the big picture and the ball."

The ball for fall is fund-raising. President Bush has been going full throttle since summer, spending several days a week flying around the country, hitting up rich Republicans for $2,000 checks. He has raised $90 million so far out of the $175 million he plans to spend on a primary campaign in which he has no opponent.

At fund-raisers, Mr. Bush prefers to talk about the uptick in the economy, not the downtick in Iraq. On Monday, arriving for a fund-raiser in Birmingham, he was upbeat, not somber. As Mike Allen of The Washington Post reported in his pool report, "The president, who gave his usual salute as he stepped off Marine One, appeared to start the day in a fabulous mood.... An Alabama reporter who was under the wing shouted, `How long will U.S. troops be in Iraq?' The president gave him an unappreciative look."

Raising $1.8 million at lunch, he stuck to the line that "we are aggressively striking the terrorists in Iraq, defeating them there so we will not have to face them in our own country." He didn't want to depress the donors by mentioning the big news story, the loss of 15 American soldiers, or sour the mood by conceding the obvious, that the swelling horde of terrorists fighting us there will not prevent terrorists from coming after us here. Maybe we should all be like President Bush and not read the papers so we don't get worn down either.

Perhaps the solution to Mr. Bush's quandary is to coordinate his schedule so he can go to cities where he can attend both fund-raisers and funerals.

The law of averages suggests it shouldn't be hard.

If there were perfect justice in the world, Maureen Dowd would have to crawl in sackcloth and ashes to the doorstep of the couple from Ms. Overington's story and give them the opportunity to kick her several times in the abdomen in front of an international television audience.  They'd refuse, of course — and if there were perfect justice in the world, their refusal would only make the burning, bubbling pains running up and down Maureen Dowd's entire GI tract feel worse, much worse, as she crawled on bloody knees back to Times Square from North Carolina.

Posted by Beldar at 12:10 AM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Steroids and the State of the Union address

Two bloggers I admire and usually agree with, Daniel Drezner and Pejman Yousefzadeh, both ridiculed the portion in the second half of Dubya's State of the Union address last night regarding steroid abuse by professional athletes, and many others in and out of the blogosphere have as well. 

Here's the relevant blurb from the speech itself, with the prior paragraph included for important context about drug-testing in other circumstances:

One of the worst decisions our children can make is to gamble their lives and futures on drugs. Our government is helping parents confront this problem, with aggressive education, treatment, and law enforcement. Drug use in high school has declined by 11 percent over the past two years. Four hundred thousand fewer young people are using illegal drugs than in the year 2001. In my budget, I have proposed new funding to continue our aggressive, community-based strategy to reduce demand for illegal drugs. Drug testing in our schools has proven to be an effective part of this effort. So tonight I propose an additional 23 million dollars for schools that want to use drug testing as a tool to save children's lives. The aim here is not to punish children, but to send them this message: We love you, and we don't want to lose you.

To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message — that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.

And here's my reply to those who ridiculed this as being inappropriate for a State of the Union address (which I've earlier left in comments on Drezner's and Pej's blogs as well):

Re steroids:

Dubya is indeed a former big-league sports team co-owner, but with the additional credibility of speaking from the best bully pulpit in the universe. With less than one minute in an hour-long speech, he threw down the gauntlet to challenge all sports team owners (and players and unions, but mostly the owners) to take the obvious steps to fix an epidemic. They would have to be nuts to ignore him. Having been so challenged, they can fix the problem if they have the will to do so.

Benefit to the American public, especially the youth who care nothing for politics but look to professional athletes as their role models: Incalculable, but potentially very considerable.

Cost to the American taxpayer: ZERO. New federal agencies required to administer the program: ZERO. Legislation that must be passed to implement the program: ZERO.

Your beef with this is ... ? What, you're pro-steroid? You think the health of America's youth is too trivial an issue to be worth one minute of the State of the Union address?

You guys have no grasp of strategery, and you keep misunderestimating Dubya. One doesn't have to be a nukular physicist to see what Dubya was up to here.

I simply think Dubya is ahead of the curve on this one.

Note, too, in the preceding paragraph that the proposed cash "for schools that want to use drug testing as a tool to save children's lives" is, by federal budget standards, chump change, but more importantly, part of an optional program (unlike testing for No Child Left Behind) for those schools that want it.  That is a small, but important and very sweet, distinction.

Posted by Beldar at 11:02 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (2)

'I have a scream' redeemed: Hugh Hewitt has written the best speech Howard Dean will never give

Hugh Hewitt is clever, and sly, and a fine writer to boot when he sets his mind to it.

I take the liberty of copying so liberally from this post of his simply because I think it deserves repetition and preservation.  "Fair use" at its outer edges — and hopefully he'll forgive if it's beyond that point, for my motives are sympathetic (and certainly nonprofit).

Howard Dean almost certainly won't ever make this speech.  But he would if he knew what was good, and good for him.  He'd make it with his sleeves rolled down, his coat on, and his hands folded together atop the lectern in front of him.  He'd actually smile, rather than (as a perceptive reader emailed me) baring his teeth:

Now, about Howard Dean.  Almost everyone has him dead and buried, but as Fred Barnes pointed out last night, there's a debate Thursday night, and that's Dean's big chance to pull a return of the vampire.  He has to use his time to resurrect himself, and at least rehab himself so that a place on the Dem ticket isn't out of the question.  All Dems should hope for this, because the prospect of a column of bitter and heading-Green Dean Dongs isn't pretty when it comes to the fall math.  Dean as Veep is in fact about as good as it gets for Dems, and an Edwards-Dean, Clark-Dean ticket plays most of the notes that need playing (though Hillary can't be happy with that thought.) 

So how does Dean pull it off?  Simply put: Combine self-deprecating humor with anger at the media, which will play on the good humor and fair-mindedness of the non-Dean Dongs while firing up the loyalists.  Here's my draft, but my guess is that every Democratic scribbler not employed by other candidates is working on the same material as we speak:

No matter how the first opportunity to talk Thursday night is presented to Dean, he's got to kidnap that moment to his central purpose of dealing with the Monday-night meltdown:

"Before I get to that, Brit, I'd like to finish the roll call of the states I began on Monday night, and I don't want to forget Guam, so I may need a little more time. (pause for laughter).   I will, however, omit my imitation of a muppet being strangled since I have already given Howard Stern and every right wing kook radio host all the material they ever need. (Pause for laughter).  Seriously though, I have to put your question aside for a moment, and I am going to have to insist on three minutes here, because there's a problem in this country, and it is the political media, and it takes three minutes to outline.  I am sure my colleagues will not begrudge me the time, and I'll give it back later."

"On Monday night I spent 15 seconds trying to fire up my volunteers who had a disappointing night — congratulations John and John, but overconfidence is a dangerous thing, as I've learned — I spent 15 seconds pointing at signs and recognizing people from faraway states who'd driven thousands of miles in some cases to stand on corners in sub-zero temps, and I fire them up and try to show that I am not down for the count because they're not down for the count, and television, radio, Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh and your network, Brit, try to turn me into a deranged psycho. Fred Barnes called me cracked, for goodness sake.  I've been a medical doctor treating crisis cases in emergency rooms for twenty years, and a governor making life and death decisions for ten years, and the American media, threatened by my message that big corporate interests are out of control — and there is no bigger corporate interest than Fox — decides to marginalize me using a quarter minute of tape."

"Now this process of Karl Rove orchestrated, media-led destruction of the loyal opposition has been going on for months now, but it is going to end here in New Hampshire.  The voters of New Hampshire have been around the block a few times, and they know what's going on, and crucially, they know what's at stake. If the media knocks me off, then it will be John Kerry's turn and we will hear endlessly about his protests of the Vietnam War and his quote "French tastes" close quotes, but we won't hear about John's genuine and moving heroism in the face of brutal fire.  We'll hear about John Edwards being a plaintiff's attorney fueled by plaintiff's attorneys all over the country as though serving the severely injured is a bad thing.  We'll hear about General Clark's anonymous enemies in the Pentagon and we'll overlook his leadership in halting genocide.  All of this and more, because all of us threaten the money, Brit, we all threaten the money.  This president has made it very lucrative to be Republican, Brit, and those of us who get wind in our sails come under fire, and its not fair."

"So right at the start, let me say, I am not the most experienced candidate on the stage tonight, but like most doctors, I'm learning fast.  The media had its fun with me, but now its the voters of New Hampshire's turn.  And then it will be the turn of the voters in South Carolina, Arizona, Delaware, oops, there I go again.  But if I may close this way.  I was always an admirer of Maggie Thatcher: She once lectured this president's father that it wasn't a time to go all wobbly. Well, to my supporters and all democrats out there, it isn't a time to go all wobbly.  It is a time to focus on winning this election and that means focus on the passion we need to get the job done."

Yeah, its good stuff.  I did the ghosting thing for a lot of people for a lot of years, and it is easy to rise to a  set-up.  The hardest part for Dean will be handling the emotion well, and forcefully but carefully demanding his time, as Reagan demanded his microphone.  Dean has been taking a beating, and Americans love it when Rocky gets up off the floor and won't stay down just because he looks like hell.  Wait and see.  Wait and see.  It is a real test for Dean, like the real tests of a presidency, so it might be a golden moment.

Comments are open for a few days on this one, if you'd like to ponder in public why Hewitt wrote this.  I definitely have an idea of my own on that score.

Posted by Beldar at 10:47 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Dubya always says "nukular," not "nuclear."  In tonight's State of the Union address, he mangled this word about six times in 45 seconds.  This isn't new.  He said "nukular" when he was the governor of Texas and throughout the 2000 campaign.

This undoubtedly annoys a substantial number of potential voters, probably numbering into the millions.

If George W. Bush continually reshaped himself to fit what pollsters tell him about how to avoid turning any voters off, he would stop saying "nukular."  He would find the best speech therapist in the world and hook himself up to electrodes and a videocamera and undergo whatever aversion therapy it took to strike that mispronunciation from his vocabulary.  He'd show up for a speech, and say "nooo-cle-ur" smoothly in a sentence, and every newspaper reporter in the room would flinch and look at each other in surprise.

Some people believe that because Dubya says "nukular" instead of "nuclear," he's stupid.  They'll continue misunderestimating him right into a second term.

And the most spectacularly unsuccessful President of the last half-century was in fact a nuclear engineer in the Navy.  He was very smart, and could say the word correctly, but he chose to squander his time as President on such matters as supervising the schedule for the White House tennis courts.

But for me, strangely, Dubya's mispronunciation of "nuclear" has become comforting.  It's such a small thing, but it's in character.  What you see is what you get; he is by far the most genuine politician I've ever seen, and he doesn't care about this mispronunciation because he has bigger fish to fry.

The primal noise at the conclusion of this sound clip, however, scares me.  What was going through this man's mind when he made that noise?


Update (Wed. Jan 21 @ 1pm):  The Curmudgeonly Clerk argues eloquently, with impressive citation of authority, that Dubya's pronunciation of the word is "just as valid" as the "primary or original pronunciation of 'nuclear.'"  I'm persuaded; those who hold a grudge against President Bush for other reasons probably won't be, though.

Update (Wed. Jan 21 @ 3pm):  A commenter on the Clerk's post points out that Prof. Eugene Volokh has also "discussed this ad nausem."  The links are here, here, and here.  Ah, the blogosphere!  Someone emailed Prof. V, by the way, to point out that (contrary to my recollection) Jimmy Cah-tah used the same pronunciation that Dubya does.

Posted by Beldar at 11:21 PM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 19, 2004

Snarky Beldar surveys what the Deaniacs are saying to each other ...

From this thread started on Dean's campaign blog by the semi-famous Zephyr Teachout:

The thing I don't understand is...what happened? The Perfect Storm! All those letters! Dean was ahead of Geppy for so long...all those enthusiastic crowds at the rallies...what happened? How on EARTH could anyone prefer John (johnkerry) Kerry?

I would like to make a joke about voters committing Hairy Kerry, but I don't feel up to it.

John Kerry, by the way, served in Vietnam and looks French.

Thank you, Zephyr.

But note: it's the "enormousness" of what we're doing, not the "enormity." There's a big difference!

Even in tough times, your faithful blog commenters must continue to insist that we use the right words!

Zephyr's sentence that prompted this comment:  "Its painful that it has an effect, but it does have an effect -- there are so many people who have been inspired by the stormers, and by you, and by Dean, but so many others who have never had a chance to really understand the enormity of what you are trying to do." e•nor•mi•ty: "(1) The quality of passing all moral bounds; excessive wickedness or outrageousness. (2) A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage."  I applaud this comment!  I adore usage mavens!  But I'm disappointed that inappropriate apostrophe use (or non-use) apparently is okay in "tough times."

I don't care! Let's all remember that this is just another poll... WE MUST KEEP FIGHTING! Write more letters- better letters- that address the issues and indicate what other campaigns have been trying to do to us... let them know what we stand for! Let them know what they have at stake if we don't get their votes! This is important! DO NOT LET THIS STOP YOU! Do not hang your head! Do not feel ashamed! BE MOTIVATED! If they think Iowa was a fight, they haven't seen anything yet!


Yes, more letters, better letters!  Die, you other-candidate-supporters, die!

kerry won so im all done i,=m not voting this years

Speaking just for myself — i,=m still voting this years, but not for Dean.

You people are so weird. You are a tiny little cult of tin-foil hat wearing twenty-somethings in cool glasses. No real democrat wants your guy!!!! Get over it!!!!!! I know many people who say they won't vote if Dean gets the nomination (although that looks unlikely). Start a 3rd party. Please.

This guy gets points from me because he could spell "weird," putting him in the top 0.01 percent of blogosphere comment posters.  However, more than three exclamation points is always excessive.

I have to say, I can't help but be a bit sad. I really thought that we would do much better in Iowa than it looks like we are going to. I have to say, also, that I felt like the Dean campaign kind of implied that we would do better than we have. That isn't to say that I don't still support Dean, I do - strongly. But I have real fear now that all the volunteers, cash and rallies in the world may not be enough to get Dean into office. Maybe Americans are just not quite ready yet for someone who I believe is truly different, truly a man wanting to represent the people, instead of a politician. Maybe the American public would rather stick with the devil they know.

Yes, that's clearly the explanation.  Edwards is possessed by the Devil.  Kerry is the Devil.  Americans are known worldwide as being Satanists.  Dean's mistake was revealing how central his religious faith is to important decisions in his life (e.g., bike-path politics).

Guys...don't panic! This is just the beginning...it's only Iowa. Dean is ahead in lots of other states (30% to 2nd place Gep 16% in MI). Dean has the most money. It's always been the candidate with the most money who is their party's nominee. The other candidates will fizzle without funds! So chill out. Dean is #44!

Such commendable idealism!

I think this is our wake-up call. I got down with the first results, but was inspired to see the Gov speak. This is a movement to change the country, and it will be a long, hard slog.

Losing has one big advantage: the trolls are all at Kerry's blog!

Well, except for the lurkers like me.  I love this:   "long, hard slog."  Another poster later used the same phrase, again without a hint that he intended any irony.  I'm calling QUAGMIRE on these guys!

We did it ! we beat that slime Gephardt!

Yes, and it's quite impressive that the two candidates who wrapped up the organized labor endorsements — Dean and "that slime" — finished a distant third and fourth.  Of course, it is Iowa.

Way to go Iowa!!! Way to vote for buisness as usual. This could have been an oppertunity for real change, but instead you voted for just another MK.1a standard bought and payed for politician.

Remember this moment when the sheep voted for the wolfs.

I donate and continue to work for Dean, but right about now, Canada or Europe looks pretty good.

Again, a genuine American patriot speaks.  You are likely to feel very much at home in Europe, especially in France.

I want to congratulate the winner of the caucus. I am a Howard Dean supporter, he stood up for all of us, the democrats, in time when no other candidate did. John Kerry and all the other candidates do not have my respect. They copy Howard Dean in every aspect, they attacked like gangs our Howard Dean and that is something I never expected coming from the democratic party and something I will never forgive. If Howard Dean get crush by the establishment, the media it is up to the voters to stand up and defend our candidate, otherwise they deserve GWB four more years. I will never stand up for another person unless it is Dean. I we loose in our effort to get our government back, I will unite to the person I am most angry about, George W Bush, and I will give so much money and resources to him until the democratic party gets crush in the general elections. And to MRS. Clinton, we all know you are behind the scene working against HD, so you are the nominee in 2008 but we do not forget and I assure you that the same effort I put in trying to get HD the nomination I will put to try not to nominate you.

That last quote was a post by — I kid you not — "MD for Dean."

Anyone notice on the leaderboard all pics of other candidates smiling and Dean not? Dean needs to smile 75% of the time so they cannot use that "angry Dean" bull.

Hmmm, what about letting Howard be Howard?  Actually, he scares me a whole lot more when he smiles, but that's just me.

Dean must stop letting other people define him! The bashing stuck to him, and it blocked his message from getting through. Now they comment "where is his wife?" What drivel. Howard, don't let them define you. The answer is Howard and his wife ar EXACTLY like millions of working couples in this country; she's a working proffesional soccer mom, not a stuffy 1st lady old fart in pearls. Let he be what she is, no appologies. And when Kery or Liberman steal a platform plank, CALL THEM ON IT! And when they say stupid insulitn comments in a debate, don't answer. Say "Is that the best question you can come up with? Why are my corrospondence records sealed until a judge can review them? Really, Joe, peaople acn see through that kind of nonsense question." HOWARD, DON'T LET OTHERS DEFINE YOU! YOU ARE THE SMART ONE WHO BROUGHT THE DEMOCRATIC DEBATE TO THE LEVEL IT IS AT THIS YEAR. GO HOWARD GO!

I quite agree with that last comment about bringing the Democratic debate to the level it's at.


LEAVE, NOW. OR CHANGE YOUR NAME TO THAT YOUR PARENTS GAVE YOU. Delete this post and it’s your loss. I’m into the Dr. a significant amount financially.

So what have you got against Birkenstoks or Volvos?  And I wonder if Dean's Secret Service protectors will have to investigate that ominous closing warning.

On the Fourth of July 2003 I first met Gov Howard Dean here in NH. I had a momentary face to face with him and being so inspired after listening to him speak I looked him eye ball to eye ball and said, "Governor, go out there and kick some butt". He looked back at me very seriously, tapped me on my chest with his forefinged and said, "With your help I will"! I have been volunteering since and will continue to do so. I you're in NH we need your help!

Aha.  It's a "forefinged" — and it's clearly dangerous!  That's why he's been pointing it!  "Everyone get down, he's got a forefinged!"

Is anyone listening to me? I'm trying to use capital letters to get attention. IRAQ IS THE KEY! What happened to the pre-war intelligence investigation???

If we let public opinion continue to favor the president on the issue of Iraq, WE WILL LOSE. If we can turn public opinion on Iraq, WE WILL WIN.


(sorry to put so much pressure on you, but DEAN MUST WIN!)

Yes, the path to the Presidency is definitely to make it absolutely clear to every voter in America that Howard Dean, moreso than any other candidate, wanted to keep Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq.

You know who did this to you don't you? The blizzard of historical dirt? The planted hostile questions by hitherto friendly media? Let me give you a hint: He used to be President and you kept him from being impeached.

Well, technically, he was impeached, just not convicted in the Senate.  Small distinction, but it kinda meant that Al Gore didn't run for President from the White House as an incumbent.

Bill Snyder says that it was the capture of Saddam that led to Dean's numbers dropping. Does he believe that the American people are that stupid? Interesting the media would never take any blame in hurting Dean's numbers with the crap they've been reporting. I agree with AZ4Dean, we've got to do something with the media. But what? I'll do anything to get them to stop.

Yes, someone is clearly out of touch with America.  The capture of Saddam obviously made America no safer — and couldn't possibly have harmed the Dean campaign.  In fact, I've heard that Gov. Dean is planning to attend church — er, mosque with Saddam next weekend, and an endorsement is in the works.

1. Dr. Dean needs a make-over...he needs to drop a couple thou on a BEAUTIFUL suit or two...

2. He needs a new hair do...sad to say, but we live in a society that gauges a man in public on his looks...now is the time to step up...

3. Especially when you got 2 guys with good hair and good suits STEALING all your lines...something needs to be done about this...what i don't know...

4. But this is a beuty contest of sorts...let's bump up his physical attributes and then he'll be damn near perfect...

That one was from "wende in sf," in case you're wondering.

If there is problem here, it is not with us -- it is with the people of Iowa. It seems they don't appreciate real class when they see it.

Yes, it's the S-factor.

It struck me when on CNN, Bob Dole mentioned that Pat Robertson had come in second in Iowa: Iowans are really crazy people. I hate to put down the people in a whole state, but lets be serious. When the people of Massachusetts, where Kerry is a Senator, also prefer Howard Dean it should tell you something. Kerry cannot win in November.

The fact that Iowans have decided to have this crazy caucus system shows how little respect they have for actual democracy.

I agree with Howard Dean. We got our ticket. We have come through the mad house. Now on to the real states where everyone isn't so psychotic.

Psychotic Iowans.  Heh.  That would explain all the plane-loads of cornfed blonde people flying to Syria to sneak across the border into Iraq to fight democracy.  Yup.

Now Kerry will get front runner title and the media will start calling him the northeastern liberal. They will uncover his banking connections and telecommunication deals. They will find things out about his voting record. They will attack his hair. It will help to take the heat off of Dean for awhile.

How can the Dean campaigners win in New Hampshire unless they can decide whether John Kerry has good hair or bad hair?

I was just remembering a piece of history that may resonate for some of you. In December of 1777, Washington's troops at Valley Forge were hungry, cold, ragged, and cramped. "An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, sick and discouraged," wrote New York's Gouverneur Morris of the Continental Congress. The Marquis de Lafayette wrote: "The unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything; they had neither coats nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and their legs froze until they were black, and it was often necessary to amputate them." Six months later they were a disciplined, self-confident, and dignified legion. Let's all remember that Revolutions don't happen easily or overnight. And none of us is naked, frozen or starving. We march on, we march on, and we don't stop until we win.

This one surprises me.  How could someone know this much about America's history, take obvious pride in it — and yet still support the candidate who would have left Saddam in power in Iraq?

Fascinating stuff, though.  I love the internet.

Posted by Beldar at 09:41 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Pickering appointment

All of the Democratic Presidential candidates have condemned President Bush's recess appointment of Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit, including some who were among the unanimous US Senate that voted to confirm him to seat on the US District Court in Mississippi he's vacating.   But as usual, Howard Dean was the farthest over the top in his criticism:

"I think the president's appointment of Charles Pickering to a recess appointment is an ultimate hypocrisy," Dean said while campaigning in Iowa. "Yesterday he went and saluted Dr. King's birthday. Today he appoints a racist to the Supreme Court."

Dean immediately corrected himself, saying he meant to say the federal bench, not the Supreme Court.

Yet I wonder whether Gov. Dean can share with us even one incident from his own personal life in which he's ever displayed the kind of personal courage in support of civil rights that Charles Pickering has:

In 1966, Sam Bowers, the Scripture-quoting imperial wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, led a gang of Klansmen to firebomb the home of Hattiesburg NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer, killing him.

Pickering, then serving as Jones County prosecutor, could have avoided the trial, as the slaying took place in a neighboring county. But Jim Dukes, the prosecutor who presented the case against Bowers, asked his colleague to testify to Bowers' violent character, and Pickering agreed — despite the risk of Klan reprisals.

"He was putting himself at risk of bodily harm, social ostracism and economic destruction," Dukes said. "These were turbulent times, and testifying against the Klan was not a popular thing to do."

Pickering lost a race for a state House seat later that year. Bowers -- whose trial ended in a hung jury and who was not convicted until 1998 -- took credit for beating him.

I defy Dean, NY Sen. Chuck "Fingered in the Eye" Schumer, or anyone else to read the article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from which I copied this blurb, plus two related articles, and then to argue with a straight face that Charles Pickering is a racist.  (Throw this article into the mix as well.)

Of course, if you don't give a flying fig about the facts and all you want to do is oppose and thwart the President at every turn, then you're perfectly willing to distort and slander the record of a good man in the process.  These people have no shame, and Dean and Schumer in particular are race-baiting demagogues.

Posted by Beldar at 03:46 PM in Current Affairs, Law (2006 & earlier), Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Moon, Mars & beyond

Quick — name a king and queen of Spain from any era!

And when did they reign?  Pick at least one year when you know they were on the throne.

Ferdinand & Isabella, right?

Why are they the only pair of Spanish monarchs who jumped to mind?  They did lots of other things while they ruled Spain, some admirable and some definitely not.  For instance, they unified their kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, captured Granada from the Muslims, drove the Jews from Spain, sponsored and promoted the Spanish Inquisition, refined and expanded the mechanisms of Spanish government, began the long struggle with France for the control of Italy, and laid the foundations for what became for some time the most powerful empire in Europe.  But what are they commonly known for?  How are they remembered in history?

"In Fourteen-ninty-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ...." 

They sponsored the voyage that resulted in the discovery of the Americas by Europe — "the New World."

Five hundred years from now, John F. Kennedy will be remembered not for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis or his role in involving the US in Vietnam, but for setting the goal of putting men — American men — on the moon.

My reaction to President Bush's new vision for the American space program?

Yes, please!  More, please!  Faster, continuously — show that you mean it, and fund it adequately.  It is our destiny to do this — not just America's destiny, but mankind's.

I was born the month after Sputnik; I am almost exactly as old as the Space Age.  I dearly hope that I won't outlive it.

Posted by Beldar at 07:28 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink

Licenses? We don' need no stinkin' licenses!

At least this careless physician's patients aren't likely to sue her:

A Travis County medical examiner who performed dozens of autopsies last year with a delinquent license said Thursday she never received a mailed postcard notifying her that the license needed renewal.

"If they indeed sent a postcard notifying us to renew online, it was not received by me, and I'm terribly sorry that it did not enter my thought process during that time," said Dr. Elizabeth Peacock, Travis County deputy medical examiner.

Peacock's annual medical license expired in February but wasn't renewed until June. She performed autopsies for 11 weeks with a delinquent license, including those for 11 of the 19 immigrants who died after being locked in a trailer found in Victoria.

Posted by Beldar at 12:22 AM in Humor | Permalink

Friday, January 16, 2004

The fat lady clears her throat on Texas redistricting: Supremes refuse to block Texas map pending appeal

The US Supreme Court's first action in the appeal of the three-judge panel's decision approving the Texas Legislature's 2003 Congressional redistricting — a case known as Session v. Perry before the panel, and now pending before the Supreme Court under the name Jackson v. Perry — has been to deny an emergency request for a stay of the three-judge panel's order pending its appeal, according to an Associated Press report republished by the Dallas Morning-News, the Houston Chronicle, and of course the ever-vigilant Howard Bashman's How Appealing legal blog.  From the Chron:

The Supreme Court refused today to block a hard-fought Republican redistricting plan in Texas that could cost Democrats as many as six seats in Congress.

The justices will announce later this year whether they will consider an appeal from congressional Democrats and others who claim the map dilutes minority voting strength. In the meantime, they rejected an emergency appeal that sought to stop the state from using the new boundaries in this year's elections.

As is unfortunately typical, this AP report gives a misimpression when it suggests that the US Supreme Court has discretion to refuse to hear the appeal on its merits.  Cases like this one — in contrast to most cases, which the Court decides on their merits only if it first grants a discretionary "petition for writ of certiorari" — are "direct appeals," taken "as of right" without first going through the normal intermediate appellate route, the United States Courts of Appeals.\note1/

The Supreme Court already has pending under submission a similar challenge to partisan gerrymandering from Pennsylvania in Vieth v. Jubelirer, which was argued on December 10, 2003.  If they followed their normal practices, immediately after that oral argument, the Justices presumably took a preliminary "conference vote" on whether to affirm the lower court's decision in Vieth — thereby presumably leaving intact the very permissive standards regarding partisan gerrymandering as established in Justice White's 1986 plurality opinion in Davis v. Bandemer — or whether to write some new restriction against partisan gerrymandering into the law.  The senior Justice in the provisional majority has presumably assigned himself or one of the other Justices voting with him to write a proposed majority opinion reflecting their decision in their post-argument conference.  Unless something very dramatic happens to change the voting line-up from the conference — rarely, but occasionally, a very persuasive proposed dissenting opinion can end up causing Justices to change their provisional votes — Vieth has already been effectively decided.  But only the Justices will know the result until all the proposed majority, dissenting, and concurring opinions have been circulated, final votes have been cast, and the final decision announced.

The three-judge panel in the Texas case ruled — quite correctly, I believe — that the Texas Legislature successfully stayed within the bounds permitted under Bandemer when it redistricted in 2003.  I also believe that if the US Supreme Court intends to write dramatic new law in Vieth that overrules Bandemer and substantially restricts partisan gerrymandering in any important way, then the same Justices who cast preliminary votes to that effect after oral arguments in Vieth almost certainly would have voted to grant the Texas plaintiffs' motion for an emergency stay pending appeal.  If they know the law is about to change in a way that would make what the Texas Legislature did in 2003 illegal, then they almost certainly would have voted to ensure that the 2004 elections in Texas would take place either under whatever new law they intend to announce in Vieth, or else under the pre-existing 2001 map — rather than permitting the 2004 elections to proceed under the Legislature's 2003 map that was approved by the three-judge panel applying the Bandemer plurality standard.

By contrast, if a majority of the Justices have already made the preliminary decision after oral argument in Vieth either to leave Justice White's plurality opinion in Bandemer substantially in place, or to replace it with an even less restrictive standard — for instance, a ruling that such issues are "nonjusticiable political questions," as Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor urged in their dissent in Bandemer — then those same Justices would have voted against staying the result of the three-judge panel's decision in Texas.  They would vote against staying the panel's ruling from Texas because they have already concluded that ruling will almost certainly ultimately be affirmed under the result they've already reached in their still-secret conference vote in Vieth.

Thus, my bottom-line reading of the tea leaves: Today's ruling makes it very unlikely that the Supreme Court is going to reverse the rulings that permitted partisan gerrymandering in either the Pennsylvania or Texas cases.

Another AP story that appears on the CBS News website includes this quote:

Gerry Hebert, who represents Texas congressional Democrats, said Friday: "I still remain confident that justice will prevail. It just didn't today."

Lawyer Hebert, who's been over-the-top in his public pronouncements since he first showed up in this fight, is going to have to have the fat lady actually sit on him before he gets the point, I think.  Earth to Gerry:  Justice just did prevail.

Likewise, the Austin American-Statesman has a quote with this bit of wishful thinking:

But Nina Perales, a lawyer for Hispanic civil rights groups challenging the map, said the court's decision not to grant a stay does not indicate how it might rule when full-blown appeals reach it.

"A stay is an extraordinary remedy, and not getting a stay doesn't really give you much of a clue on how the Supreme Court feels about your case," Perales said.

Normally I'd agree with Ms. Perales.  But the fact that Vieth was just argued last December 10th makes this far from the ordinary situation, and the stakes involved — a likely net swing of several Congressional seats — make it impossible that today's ruling was a casual or routine one by the Court.


\note1/I've explained this in more detail here. If you take a look at the docket sheet in Vieth, for instance, you'll see an entry dated June 27, 2003, which says "PROBABLE JURISDICTION NOTED." That's the Court confirming for the record that yes, this is a case they have to take as a direct appeal as-of-right. In ordinary cases in which the Supreme Court has discretionary authority whether to consider a case on its merits or not, that line would either say that the petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari was "granted" or "denied" (as with the January 12, 2004, entry from a random case shown here, for example).


Update (Fri Jan 16 @ 8:30pm):  The Supreme Court's website has been updated to include this order (.pdf file, 2d page), which reads in full:  "The application for a stay or injunction pending appeal presented to Justice Scalia and by him referred to the Court is denied."  Justice Scalia presumably could have acted alone in deciding this emergency motion in his capacity as Circuit Justice for cases arising out of the Fifth Circuit (which includes Texas).  That he instead referred it to the entire Court is no surprise, however, given the nature of the case and its stakes.  That the entire Supreme Court considered and voted on the stay motion is yet another fact that bodes ill for the Dems.


Update (Sat. Jan. 17 @ wee-small-hours):  The Brennan Center has most of the briefing filed in the Supreme Court with regard to the stay application here in .pdf form (hat-tip to Rick Hasen's Election Law blog).

The El Paso Times quotes Texas state senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso):

"I fear for the Voting Rights Act in the future," Shapleigh said.

But Democrats now have few options, he said.

"Ours is a nation of laws. The Supreme Court has ruled. It's time to move on," Shapleigh said. "The lines drawn by the Legislature will be the lines for congressional races."

I found no surprises in other media reports from the San Antonio Express-News, Washington Post, and New York Times; and the Austin American-Statesman and Fort Worth Star-Telegram pretty much just regurgitate the AP story.  In particular, I haven't seen any major-media reports that recognize the possible significance yesterday's ruling in the Texas case may have for the Pennsylvania case as well.


Update (Sat. Jan 17 @ 5pm):  UCLA Law School Professor Stephen Bainbridge was kind enough to link this post with some encouraging words that will prompt me to toast him with the next good glass of wine I drink.

Prof. Rick Hasen has also been kind enough to link this post and give his take on my tea-leaf reading.  He think I am probably overstating the significance of the Court's ruling yesterday:

There could be factual issues that distinguish Vieth from the Texas case, meaning that the Justices could decide the Texas redistricting is permissible even under a new standard that might be crafted. Or, more likely, the Justices may not be willing to inject more uncertainty into the Texas redistricting process this year, leaving room to make changes for the 2006 elections if necessary.

That is not to say that the Court is in fact likely to give more teeth to partisan gerrymandering in Vieth. Reports from oral argument suggested the Court is likely to either solidify the toothless Bandemer standard or to hold partisan gerrymandering claims nonjusticiable altogether. Indeed, in reviewing the content of the 2004 election law supplement, I was reminded that the two Justices who wanted a hearing in a similar Michigan case — O'Lear v. Miller — were Justices Breyer and Stevens. It appears from the Vieth oral argument that they were the ones pushing for a stronger partisan gerrymandering standard. Probably they attracted two more votes to revisit the issue, but do not have the votes to overturn Bandemer.

In a comment to this post, GregV also follows up on a dialog he and I had been engaged in before yesterday's ruling on a comment to a post over on Charles Kuffner's excellent Off the Kuff blog.  (Yesterday was also the filing deadline, and Kuff also has a good update on who's filed where under the new map in light of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling.)  GregV's questions have certainly pushed me to look harder at the tea leaves; whether I'm actually seeing anything there or just imagining, I leave to you, gentle readers. 

But let's get our fingers busy counting votes:

For Scenario #1, you can postulate Stevens, Breyer, and Ginsburg as your core voters pushing for more federal court power to rein in hyperpartisan gerrymandering — God knows under what kind of standard, but something with more teeth than Bandemere.  It would stun me for Rehnquist, Scalia, or Thomas to buy into that.  Although O'Connor is frankly more likely to have changed her mind since 1986 than Rehnquist (both dissented in Bandemere, arguing that partisan gerrymandering is a nonjusticiable political question outside the ken of federal courts), remember that she's the only Justice who's ever been a state legislator (majority leader in the Arizona state senate); this ought to be something she hangs tough on, if there's anything she sees as a matter of absolute principle.  I certainly could imagine both Souter and Kennedy agreeing to sign on to something tougher than Bandemer in theory.  But if both of them had so voted at the conference after Vieth was argued, why wouldn't they have joined Stevens, Breyer, and Ginsburg to grant the emergency stay motion from Texas?

I tend to discount Scenario #2, simply "majoritizing" Bandemer, or a Scenario #4, as Prof. Hasen proposes, in which the Court remains split with no majority on anything.  Why would the Court bother to grant oral argument in Vieth if that's all they intended to do?  Unless someone leading the charge for one view or the other already believed they had the crucial fifth vote, why not just leave Bandemere in place?  They could have just summarily affirmed in Vieth and saved themselves the trouble (and in the case of Scenario #4, the embarrassment)!   

As for Prof. Hasen's suggestion that there are distinctions between Vieth and the Texas case which might explain why the Court would refuse to interfere in the Texas case while still possibly going beyond Bandemer's toothless restrictions in Vieth, I've now skimmed most of the briefing from both.  Prof. Hasen's a specialist in this field, and has probably read the briefing more thoroughly than I have.  But it seems to me that if anything, the Texas plaintiffs — deliberately and knowledgeably, because there are common counsel for the plaintiffs in the two cases (Paul M. Smith et al. of Jenner & Block) — tried to raise additional grounds in the Texas case, chiefly the "twice-in-a-decade" argument (which the three-judge panel, in my judgment, spent the first quarter of its opinion unanimously nailing to the wall and dissecting until it was dead, dead, dead!).   If a majority of the Court already intends to write new law in Vieth saying that really, really intense political gerrymandering is to be limited somehow, I frankly don't see how they could ignore the Texas case:  if you are going to demonize political gerrymandering, then Tom DeLay just had a star turn as your Darth Vader figure in the Lone Star State, and the panel opinion in Perry completely hinges on the court's fact-finding that partisan goals to create a durable, reliably Republican majority were the sole and overriding basis for the just-passed district map.

For Scenario #3:   If one assumes that O'Connor and Rehnquist haven't changed their minds since 1986, and that they've persuaded, say, Scalia and Thomas to their views on nonjusticiability — not a stretch to imagine at all — then they'd only need one more vote to get to five.  I figure there's no way that Stevens, Breyer, or Ginsburg could be persuaded of nonjusticiability — they've rarely met a claim they didn't like, nor hardly ever agreed to limit the powers of the federal courts vis-á-vis the states.  Nevertheless, If O'Connor and Rehnquist picked up either Souter or (more likely) Kennedy, that could be their fifth vote. 

So yes, based on yesterday's ruling in the Texas case, I'm tending toward predicting a 5/4 or 6/3 decision in Vieth overruling Justice White's plurality from Bandemer and holding that claims of pure hyperpartisan gerrymandering are nonjusticiable political questions — as opposed to claims based on race, which still are going to be red meat for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Simultaneously with their announcement of their decision in Vieth, the Texas case (Perry) will be summarily affirmed.

So there.  I'm all the way out on the limb!

Posted by Beldar at 04:42 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), Texas Redistricting | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Governor Howard Dean — Oath-Helper!

I don't think Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean has been shown to coddle wife-beaters.  But I disagree in this instance with a quartet of prominent bloggers who dismiss as meaningless a recent news report regarding an affidavit then-Gov. Dean filed in the divorce proceedings of a Vermont state trooper who later admitted to at least five separate occasions of spousal abuse.

What's been alleged, and what hasn't

Andrew Sullivan and Michael J. Totten both describe this ABC News article from yesterday — entitled "Dean's Trooper: What Did He Know About Abuse Allegations; When Did He Know It?" — as a "smear piece."  The inference, of course, is that this story must have been leaked/distributed by a rival Democratic campaign.  InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds says he doesn't see why ABC ran with the story.  And leftie blogger Atrios not only dismisses the ABC News story as a "pointless hit piece," but has two posts that attack Chris Vlasto, one of the three names listed as writers on the ABC News story.  (Atrios' commenters so far generally blame the Republicans for the "hit," rather than another Dem campaign.)

Certainly the formulaic Watergate-style headline suggests that Dean is somehow culpable.  ABC's lede is indeed an indictment-by-implication:

In his presidential campaign, and as governor of Vermont before that, Howard Dean has taken a tough, zero-tolerance stand on domestic violence, accusing the Bush administration of not being committed to the issue. Yet Dean said he had no idea that one of the men closest to him was repeatedly abusing his wife.

The New York Post has picked up the ABC story today with the shorter but more inflammatory headline, "Wife-Abuse Stunner," and this breathless lede:

Democrat Howard Dean last night faced a charge of intervening to help a wife abuser in a child-custody case, as polls showed his lead collapsing in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

But Totten concludes that "[a]ccording the article, Dean didn’t know anything," and Sully likewise opines that "this kind of irrelevant piece of guilt by association is truly beneath contempt." 

Totten's close reading of the ABC News story is mostly correct:  There's nothing in the ABC News story, nor in the NY Post piece, which would indicate that Dean's affidavit was untruthful, or that he had any hint that Trooper Madore would in fact turn out to be an spouse abuser — although the ABC News story does report that a friend of Madore's wife had phoned Dean before a few days after [ed.: corrected per commenter mwb's remark below, thanks!] he wrote his affidavit to warn that Madore was "not a good father," in response to which Dean hung up on her. 

Indeed, although it's not clear what involvement, if any, Dean had in the process, it appears that Madore was disciplined for offenses relating to his domestic abuse while Dean was still in office.  According to a story from August 19, 2003, in the Barre-Montpellier Times-Argus:

Madore was a State Police lieutenant and was head of former Gov. Howard Dean’s security detail. He was fired in December 2000 after an internal affairs investigation determined he had violated department rules.

According to court papers, the internal investigation determined he had lied under oath about extra-marital affairs during his divorce hearings, committed domestic assault and lied to investigators looking into the allegations.

Ironically — given its more inflammatory headline and more explicit linkage of the timing of the story to Dean's perhaps-faltering campaign hopes — the NY Post piece makes the real problem here more clear than did the ABC News story, so I'll quote at greater length from it:

ABC News reported that in 1997, Dean took the highly unusual step as Vermont governor of intervening in a custody case for state trooper Dennis Madore, who headed his security detail for nine years.

At the behest of Madore's lawyer, a close friend, Dean filed an affidavit claiming the cop was "a firm but gentle disciplinarian" and "a wonderful parent," the report said.

Dean has denied knowing of the abuse, but the wife's lawyer — former Vermont Attorney General Jerry Diamond — said that raises questions about Dean's judgment in inserting himself into the case.

The cop later admitted five separate instances of abuse, and his wife's lawyer said she suffers posttraumatic stress after "years of abuse in which she had been struck, had been pushed, shoved in front of the children."

The trooper's lawyer — Dean pal Phil White — was informed of the abuse charges more than two months before Dean intervened, the report said.

When Vermont's WCAX-TV asked about his role in 2001, Dean said he knew nothing about the charges and added, "I don't think it's my business as an employer to go rummaging through anybody's divorce papers."

The wife, Donna Madore, "was shocked that the governor would do something like that," said her lawyer, a self-described Dean supporter.

ABC said Dean — who as governor urged zero tolerance of domestic abuse — declined repeated requests to comment.

A few things jump out at me from the Post article:

  • First, there's nothing necessarily fishy or inconsistent about the fact that the husband's lawyer, White, had been already been alerted to the abuse allegations before Dean submitted the affidavit.  The fact that allegations have been made is a long way short of allegations having been proved, and Madore's admissions apparently came substantially after Dean's affidavit.  Indeed, from the extremely brief quotes in the two news stories, it appears as though the affidavit related more to Madore's role as a parent than as a spouse.  Even if he suspected the spousal abuse allegations might be true, Madore's lawyer had no ethical or other obligation to refrain from submitting evidence that Madore was a good father.

  • Second, the reference to WCAX-TV asking about Dean's role in 2001 strongly suggests this is "old news" that's indeed been recycled now by someone — and notwithstanding the paranoia of Atrios' commenters, given the timing, it was more likely one of Dean's political rivals in the Democratic Party.

  • Third — and most importantly — the Post article does a better job than the original ABC News piece of nailing the significance of this whole episode.  It's not that this shows that Dean was being hypocritical in arguing for "zero tolerance" of spousal abuse while simultaneously vouching for a known wife-beater's character; the facts don't show that, at least so far.  Rather, what this shows is colossal bad judgment by then-Gov. Dean in injecting himself and his subjective (and wrong) opinion about the character of an employee into that employee's civil domestic relations matter.

Hence the great irony of Dean's comment that it's not an employer's business "to go rummaging through anybody's divorce papers."  He's right, of course.  But far less is it a sitting governor's business to be vouching for the character of one spouse over another in a divorce case!

Why governors ought not be oath-helpers

Obviously I'm curious about what was in the remainder of the three pages of the affidavit, and I'm only guessing at its overall contents. But my strong hunch, as a practicing trial lawyer, is that it was what we would call an "oath-helper affidavit."  Purely and simply, Dean was suggesting that Madore ought to be believed when he claimed to be a good father because Governor Howard Dean said so.

Ordinarily, "oath-helper" testimony is of minimal usefulness to a judge or jury trying to decide disputed facts, and indeed, its admissibility has been sharply curtailed by modern rules of evidence.  The main reason it's of limited value is that the oath-helper is very rarely in a position to give very much non-hearsay testimony about objective historical facts; the oath-helper's raw opinion is deemed to be unhelpful, and perhaps unfairly prejudicial, to the fact-finder who's trying to resolve disputes regarding those historical facts.

Here, for example, despite the fact that this trooper "headed Dean's security detail for nine years," there's no reason to think that they were close personal friends or that they had any other type of relationship that would give then-Gov. Dean a very strong basis for personal knowledge. I doubt, for instance, that the affidavit says, "I've eaten dinner with Trooper Madore and his wife an average of three times a week at their home, slept frequently on their couch, and become intimately acquainted with the most personal details of their marital relationship based on what I've seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears."  If I'm wrong — if Gov. Dean somehow had a commanding view into the Madores' family life from somewhere other than the back seat of his limousine — then perhaps his testimony could have had considerable probative value in tending to disprove allegations of spousal abuse.  But that certainly doesn't fit with the image of Dean from other media reports, which describe him and his wife as very private, very cool, not anti-social but unsocial and unlikely to attend events that didn't involve their children. 

No, instead, Gov. Dean's affidavit was probably being offered for two reasons:

  • The first possibility — the traditional oath-helper premise — is actually more innocuous:  The affidavit was being offered on the theory that Howard Dean's (mostly uninformed) opinion about his subordinate's character is especially valuable because, after all, lookit, Howard Dean's the governor!  Hey, and he's a doctor too!  (As if doctors can look into the hearts and minds of their limo drivers to detect hidden signs of spousal abuse, huh?)  This doesn't necessarily display any corruption or even insincerity.  Dean may well think that his opinion about others is somehow more valuable and accurate than other people's opinions; that just means he has a huge ego, which isn't exactly any secret.

  • But the second reason why a lawyer might want to offer an affidavit like Gov. Dean's — a far more troublesome and powerful reason — would be to convey a veiled and implicit message to the trial judge: "Hey, do you know who you're dealing with here? The one guy in the State of Vermont who fills vacancies on the Vermont Supreme Court is telling you that he has a dog in this fight!  We want you to keep that in mind as you're deciding this case, Judge."

That, my friends, is at least an appearance of impropriety.  It's exactly why state governors ought not be doing what Howard Dean did in the Madore divorce case.  And Gov. Dean should have known better.  It would have been the wrong thing to do even if it had turned out that he was a good judge of character.  That Gov. Dean in fact turned out to be a poor judge of character only makes the stink stronger.

Whether the more devious and improper message was intended or not, I know I'd be absolutely livid if the governor of my state filed such an affidavit in a case I was handling. I absolutely agree with this quote from the wife's attorney, Jerry Diamond:

It was a highly unusual move. "I'm sure that there are very few cases on record where a governor might have done that," he told ABCNEWS.

So my conclusion is not that Gov. Dean supports wife-beaters, or doesn't care about spousal abuse. Rather, my conclusion is that this was an instance of very bad judgment when Howard Dean was governor.  Dean willingly assisted a lawyer for one of the litigants in using Gov. Dean's name and position in what appears to be an attempt to exert improper influence in a pending family-law case.

However, I do wonder if this incident, or others like it, were perhaps what oversensitized Dean into his "Dukakis-when-asked-about-Kitty's-rape" moment recently when he seemed reluctant to make a public statement about whether Osama bin Laden deserves the death penalty.  I seriously doubt that the Madore affair actually made Howard Dean doubt his own skills in drawing judgments about people, but it might well have made him a bit more shy about offering opinions about people (other than Dubya, of course) in public — to the point where, by trying to avoid an appearance of impropriety or prejudgment/interference, he ended up looking like a narrow-minded pedantic twit to the 99.999 percent of the public who is already fully convinced that hanging's too good for Osama.


Update (Jan 15 @ 3:45pm):  James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web calls the ABC News article a "ludicrous hit piece that tries to paint Dean as condoning domestic violence," and suggests that "this is the sort of thing that can lead to a backlash against the press and in favor of the targeted candidate."  Certainly it's led to a backlash among all the bloggers I've linked so far from both the right, center, and left.  But I continue to think that — perhaps because of the sloppy way ABC News reported it and overhyped it — they're all missing the point of the episode.


Update (Jan 15 @ 4:45pm):  Mickey Kaus at Slate likewise ridicules ABC News:

I can't quite believe ABC ran with that Dean "affidavit" story (as Drudge tactfully calls it). There's no evidence presented that Dean knew of the actions of the former employee involved, certainly not before he filed his affidavit. Nor is it even really clear exactly what those actions were. Read it yourself. ABC (Mark Halperin, you too) should be ashamed. The network doesn't just report the story--it hypes the story (in the attempt to make it a story).  If I were Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, I'd have tried to kick ABC off the plane too.


The people who write ABC News' The Note must have thought the anti-Dean "affidavit" story by their own networks' "Investigative Unit" was as sleazy a piece of junk as everyone else did. They gave it about as little play as they could without courting dismissal--burying a one sentence link on page 8 of a 13 page report.... The upshot of this Pravda-like reading: The Note's Mark Halperin, the network's Political Director, thinks someone else in his organization has very bad judgment. He's right!

(Ellipsis in original.)  Very cute, Mr. Kaus can be.  But I still think (yes, I'm repeating here) he's missed the point.


Update (Jan 15 @ 5:15pm):  "Captain Ed" of "Captain's Quarter" definitely gets it, and explains it from a slightly different angle than I do, but very eloquently.  (Hat-tip to Hugh Hewitt for this pointer.)  And "Blogs for Bush" also has a short squib that appears to get it, too.

My quick take on the three numbered "issues" in Update II of Captain Ed's post:

  1. Bingo, you're dead on.

  2. I'd have to look at the specific language of the affidavit to conclude that Dean's testimony was on matters on which he lacked personal knowledge.  The only quotes in the popular press so far are the very general ones about the trooper's fitness as a parent, and they're phrased as matters of pure opinion without any allegation of specific facts that would, indeed, need to be based on personal knowledge. 

    Usually, with a cooperative witness who's willing to give a voluntary affidavit like this one, if the witness has more detailed personal knowledge, the interviewing lawyer will extract it and include it in the affidavit because it makes the testimony vastly more relevant and powerful (as compared to Dean's pure opinion, which is border-line admissible if that).  The failure of the ABC News story to quote any such specific facts makes me doubt that they were there, which in turn makes me doubt that Gov. Dean had a personal-knowledge basis for saying much if anything about this trooper either as a father or as a spouse.  But if the purpose was to use Dean's name and office — either for traditional oath-helper purposes or for the more ugly one I've postulated — then the lack of personal knowledge on Dean's part is no drawback.  It's not what he actually knew that was important to this lawyer, but rather, who Dean was.

  3. Likewise, without seeing the affidavit in full and hearing more details of the telephone call than are reported in the press, I couldn't draw the conclusion that Dean had a duty to report the phone call.  If the caller had said, by contrast, "Trooper Madore punched his wife in the face at least three times and sent her to the emergency room," you might have a very different situation.  And it still hasn't been demonstrated that Madore was an abusive or bad father — his admissions are to instances of spousal, not child, abuse.

Posted by Beldar at 10:15 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, January 11, 2004

What's in Flat Howard's pocket?

I have to admit that I'm intrigued by an aspect of Flat Howard that the mainstream press seems to have missed.  What I really want to know is —

Flat Howard's left coat pocket

  • Is that a banana in his left coat pocket, or is "Flat Howard" just really glad to see us? 

  • Or is he emulating Al Gore and just confused about which pocket is which?

  • Or is he just getting his fashion tips from Dennis Kucinich now?

Actually, I really don't want to know.

Posted by Beldar at 03:05 PM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Rhetorical questions that are just too hard for the New York Times to answer

Today's NYT Sunday magazine has an interesting article about how the US occupying forces in Iraq are conducting counter-insurgency operations.  About midway through, it quotes "Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, [a] deputy chief of one of the largest Sunni tribes and a member of the American-appointed Governing Council":

''The United States is using excessive power,'' he said when I visited his residence in Baghdad. ''They round up people in a very humiliating way, by putting bags over their faces in front of their families. In our society, this is like rape. The Americans are using collective punishment by jailing relatives. What is the difference from Saddam? They are demolishing houses now. They say they want to teach a lesson to the people. But when Timothy McVeigh was convicted in the bombing in Oklahoma City, was his family's home destroyed?''

Al-Yawar continued: ''You cannot win the hearts and minds of the people by using force. What's the difference between dictatorship and what's happening now?''

Well, duh. 

Putting bags over the faces of detainees is not rape.  It's also not attaching the detainees' genitals to car batteries; it's not feeding them feet-first through tree-limb shredders; it's not dropping their children out of flying helicopters; it's not cutting out their tongues and leaving them to bleed to death while tied to a stake in a public street; and it's not shooting them in the backs of their heads, tumbling their corpses into mass graves, and then charging their families for the costs of the slugs. 

And yes indeed, we routinely prosecute accomplices of terrorists in the US, including family members and friends — ask Terry Nichols, currently serving a life sentence for the support and assistance he gave McVeigh, or lesser-known accomplice Michael Fortier.  If McVeigh's mom had done what they did, she'd be in prison too.  And assets used in furtherance are indeed subject to forfeiture.

So "what's the difference" between us and Saddam?  The NYT seems to think this is a serious, difficult question. 

Can this reporter be so out-of-touch with reality that he failed to laugh in the face of the nutcase who asked this question?  Are his editors equally delusional?  What kind of thought processes could they have used in publishing this crap?  "Well, let's see:  we have bags over faces to help prevent escape attempts during transportation — that's roughly the moral equivalent of dropping nerve gas from helicopters to wipe out thousands of women and children, isn't it?  Yeah, let's just leave that question hanging — let the readers decide!"

Posted by Beldar at 11:57 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink

Why do Dems dis the Brits?

I understand that — with the exception of Joe Lieberman — Democratic presidential candidates feel compelled to criticize President Bush's conduct of the Battle of Iraq as part of the War on Terrorism; and I understand that one of their consistent memes is that President Bush erred in failing to secure UN (or at least NATO) approval and active cooperation for our Iraq operations.

But I just become livid when I hear those candidates refer to us as having had a "phony coalition" in Iraq — either now, or earlier during the major combat operations.  (My immediate outrage is at John Kerry's use of that exact phrase on "Meet the Press" this morning; he's used "fraudulent coalition" and similar terms in other speeches.  Similarly, Clark claims there's "no coalition," and Dean claims "we should have gone in with a real coalition" but instead acted "unilaterally.")

Even if they made it clear in their comments that their focus was limited to those earlier major combat operations last spring — which might somewhat justify them effectively ignoring countries that supported our position but contributed no significant numbers of combat troops — how can these Democratic candidates continually piss on the graves of the brave British soldiers who fought shoulder to shoulder with our own?  How can they so carelessly trivialize and insult our best ally in the world?  Would it so dilute their anti-Bush message for them to insert a parenthetical — "I acknowledge that we were joined by the British; I acknowledge that Tony Blair not only agreed with George W. Bush, but committed his country's troops along with ours" — in characterizing the forces that went to war?

Posted by Beldar at 10:45 AM in Global War on Terror, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The blogosphere digests yesterday's court ruling upholding Texas redistricting

I've written more about the 2003 Texas redistricting battle — in the Legislature, the courts, and the arena of public opinion — than I have about any other topic since I started blogging late last summer.  For those who've followed the story, this has been political theater of the highest (and lowest) caliber, with twists and turns aplenty, heroes and villains, comedy and drama, perfidy and steadfast perseverance.  And having been so immersed in it, I admit to being surprised and slightly puzzled when folks from out-of-state seem to be sort of slow to snap to the huge national political implications of what's been happening.

Thus, I'm fairly surprised that National Review Online's realtime multi-writer blog, The Corner, has so far managed only one twenty-word post on yesterday's ruling in Session v. Perry.

By contrast, UCLA law professor and blogger Stephen Bainbridge snapped to the national significance:

This is a VERY big deal. It means a likely shift of up to 7 House of Representative seats to the GOP. Given how few House seats are truly competitive, the recent debate among the Democratic presidential candidates as to which one of them has the best chance of rewinning Congress for the Democrats would seem to have been mooted.

VodkaPundit Stephen Green recognizes that this is a big deal but — perhaps due to a key factual misapprehension — makes an observation that I, and many of his knowledgeable commenters, think is way off the mark:

What the Republicans have done is throw away 200-plus years of national precedent: we only redistrict after a census. Should the Democrats take charge, even for a single session, you can bet they'll go for some sweet, sweet payback.

Short term gain: Republicans will get 5-7 new safe seats in Texas.

Long-term loss: This will come back to bite them on the ass.

Damage done: Now every state will be going through nasty redistricting fights, every time the majority changes. Currently, we only have to go through these fights every ten years, and usually only in states which gain or lose seat in Congress. "Now," said the sage, "things will be worse."

Now, it's true that the first twenty pages of yesterday's decision was devoted to finally putting to rest the Dems' claim that some provision in the US Constitution, federal law, or state law barred "mid-decade redistricting."  And the panel also noted (at pp. 20-21) that the Dems had made policy arguments that "may be" persuasive — for instance, that "frequent redrawing of district lines will undermine democratic accountability and exact a heavy cost on state independence as federal congressional leaders exert their influence to shape state districting behavior" — but that such policy arguments ought to be directed to Congress, rather than to courts in the first instance.  So yes, there's nothing — except tradition and simple aversion to continuous political blood-feuding — to prevent other state legislatures from redistricting more than once a decade.  But that was also true before the 2003 efforts in Texas; it's always been true.

What's significant, as various of VodkaPundit's commenters immediately pointed out, is that the 2003 redistricting was the first successful legislative redistricting in Texas since the 2000 census.  We have not violated the "one redistricting per decade" tradition, but rather have vindicated the very important constitutional principle that it's (small-d) democratic state legislatures, rather than panels of unelected and ill-equipped federal judges, whose duty it is to do redistricting in the first place — once each decade.  Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was widely quoted after the third and ultimately successful special session of the 2003 Legislature as saying that even if the courts overturned the plan it had just passed, he had no intention of revisiting the subject of redistricting before the 2010 Census' results are in.   Perhaps VodkaPundit didn't simply didn't know these facts, and likewise didn't understand that the alternative of not redistricting was to leave in place a pro-Democratic gerrymander dating back to 1991, and to ignore the intervening 2002 election in which Texas voters eliminated the divided state government that had allowed the Dems to deadlock the 2001 attempts to redistrict.

James of Outside-the-Beltway grasps and articulates these distinctions.  And Patterico's Pontifications also links to my post from last night with kind words for my analysis, which I appreciate.  Likewise, Kevin Whited provided has provided some apt analysis and a kind link to my post, although he professes (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I think) to have become bored with the whole topic months ago.  Mark Hardin also has a post up in which he laments the ugly face of racism.  And Owen Courrèges shares my annoyance with the Chronicle's misreporting and was also kind enough to provide a link to my post from last night.


Update (Sun Jan 11th @ 2:30pm):  Hugh Hewitt also gets it for the Weekly Standard and on his own blog.  The Corner and NRO appear to remain uninterested, which continues to boggle my mind.

Posted by Beldar at 03:45 PM in Law (2006 & earlier), Texas Redistricting | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

But what about the rights of Mister Britney Spears?

I am one of those dirty old men who is fascinated with Britney Spears.  (Daniel Drezner appears to be another.)  And somehow I find it touching, even endearing, that Britney decided during a New Year's celebratory revelry in Las Vegas to wed a boy of her own age from her hometown, and even poignant that she quickly relented to obtain not a divorce, but an annulment.  (Her initial decision may have been influenced by more than holiday good spirits: compare her signature on the application for the wedding license, reportedly obtained in the wee small hours, with her signature on the annulment application.)

One must marvel at the efficiency of the Las Vegas family court:   her application, filed at 10:12 o'clock a.m. on January 5, 2004, had been granted by written order filed at 12:24 o'clock p.m. on that same day.  This was no doubt facilitated by the approval of her short-time spouse, whose signature appears on the Decree of Annulment.  Yet his signature is as the "Defendant in Proper Person," which is to say, pro se and without the appearance or representation of separate counsel.  (Ms. Spears' attorneys, who also signed off on the decree, quite properly are identified as representing only her.)

Which leads one to wonder (at least if one is both dirty old man and lawyer): between January 3rd and 5th, did Ms. Spears really have no income?  Do none of her recording deals compensate her on the basis of records sold per day?  Does she get no advertising endorsement fees based on the play of her Pepsi commercials? 

Nevada, where the couple was married, and Louisiana, where they both purport to reside, are both community property states.  Absent a pre-nup to the contrary, her income during the marriage, if any, presumptively became community property.  The application for annulment alleges that "Plaintiff Spears is not currently pregnant," which the groom presumably may be in a position to know something about without professional assistance.  But what about the assertion that "there is no community property to be divided by the Court"?  Is that really true, and was the unrepresented groom adequately assured of that proposition?

I ask these questions with tongue planted firmly in cheek, if you can't tell.  Just as I'm touched that her impulsive act was with a hometown boy rather than some other media star, I'm willing to assume — and I want to believe — that the young man in question wasn't after two days of her superstar income, but genuinely just wanted to make her happy.  I'll grant them both credit for the maturity needed to bail out promptly and with as little fanfare as possible.  And if I had the chance, I'd buy the young man and myself a pair of cold beers to cry into while I told him about my own divorce, which took something longer than two-and-a-quarter hours.

Posted by Beldar at 10:42 PM in Current Affairs, Humor, Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


This is fair (and very funny) criticism!  I'm vaguely flattered that Another Rice Grad would notice, especially at that time of the morning.

Posted by Beldar at 09:58 PM in Weblogs | Permalink

Texas redistricting Plan 1374C is legal, sez court in Session v. Perry — map decisions made "in spite of, and not because of," their effects on minority voting

I've spent the last two and a half hours plowing through the 127-page opinion of the three-judge trial court panel in Session v. Perry, the consolidated challenges to the Texas Legislature's 2003 Congressional redistricting law as reflected in Plan 1374C. 

My preliminary conclusion is that the panel majority pretty much got things right.  And I feel a great deal of sympathy and empathy for all three judges on the panel and their law clerks:

  • As it's developed, voting rights law is a dog's-breakfast of subtleties and contradictions — a body of law that makes antitrust or securities laws seem straightforward and simple by contrast.  This court was not writing on a blank slate or anything remotely close to that.  Rather, Circuit Judge Higginbotham and District Judges Rosenthal and Ward had to try to harmonize and apply a tangle of precedents that sometimes seem to have almost nothing in common with one another except for their good intentions and their collective opacity.

  • Moreover, the facts these judges had to deal with are voluminous and fiendishly complicated — and the large number of parties, each with its own team of self-important lawyers providing its own slant on the law and the evidence, doubtless compounded rather than eased that problem.

  • Compound that with pressure — the certain knowledge that what you're writing has to be written and released quickly, and that there is a one hundred percent certainty that it will be scrutinized, picked apart, and distorted both in the popular press and in an appeal-as-of-right to the US Supreme Court — and the prospect of creating a jeweled Swiss-watch of an opinion, an elegant piece of writing that both whirs smoothly and sings, becomes very small indeed.

Nevertheless, from a stylistic standpoint, I am gravely disappointed at the panel's work product — as, I suspect, are the judges and law clerks themselves.  Both the majority and dissenting opinions badly needed a good editor to make what they were doing and saying clear, comprehensible, and (most importantly) digestible in smaller chunks. 

The unfortunate result is that the popular press and punditry — and hence the public at large, who certainly can't be expected to parse these 127 pages — are not given the tools necessary to reach an informed opinion about either the majority or the dissent's bottom-line results.  So those who thought redistricting was an abomination before this ruling will almost certainly continue to think that — and those who didn't, won't.

The Dallas Morning News has the best of the initial press reports, and the Houston Chronicle's report also attempts to give specifics, albeit in a more jumbled fashion.  The Austin American-Statesman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and San Antonio Express-Times have so far done little more than report the outcome.  Blogger Charles Kuffner, who's done the blogosphere's best job of consistently collecting timely links relating to the Texas redistricting struggle throughout, disappointedly notes the ruling and promises "plenty more" on it tomorrow.

The closest the majority opinion comes to a grand and overarching explanation is this:

We hold that Plaintiffs have failed to prove that the State statute prescribing the lines for the thirty-two congressional seats in Texas violates the United States Constitution or fails to comply with § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  We also reject Plaintiffs' argument that the Texas Legislature lacked authority to draw new districts after a federal court drew them following the 2000 census.

Translation:  The State wins and the Plaintiffs lose on all the claims the Plaintiffs had asserted.  That much is abundantly clear.  But what's missing is an elegant, eloquent paragraph or two right up front that explains why.  Instead, we get this:

We decide only the legality of Plan 1374C, not its wisdom.  Whether the Texas Legislature has acted in the best interest of Texas is a judgment that belongs to the people who elected the officials whose act is challenged in this case.  Nor does the reality that this is a reprise of the act of the 1991 State Legislature weigh with the court's decision beyond its marker of the impact of the computer-drawn map.  The extraordinary change in the ability to slice thin the lines brings welcome assistance, but comes with a high cost of creating much greater potential for abuse.  Congress can assist by banning mid-decade redistricting, which it has the clear constitutional authority to do, as many states have done.  In Texas, the phenomenon is new but already old.  The larger lesson of 1991 and 2003 is that the only check upon these grasps of power lie [sic] with the voter.  But, perversely, these seizures entail political moves that too often dance close to avoiding the recall of the disagreeing voter.  We know it is rough and tumble politics, and we are ever mindful that the judiciary must call the fouls without participating in the game.  We must nonetheless express concern that in the age of technology this is a very different game.

Huh?  The first two sentences are fine, and indeed appropriate.  Starting with the next sentence, however, this just gets weirder and weirder.  With all due respect, "the impact of the computer-drawn map" is not a real issue here, folks, any more than the impact of the word-processing software that allows judges and their clerks to create and edit these 100+ page opinions.  The "phenomenon" is "new but already old"?  What kind of Carlos Casteneda mumbo-jumbo is that?  And what exactly are the "political moves" that "too often dance close to avoiding the recall of the disagreeing voter"?  I'm sorry, this stuff is just bizarre nonsense that doesn't belong anywhere in a judicial opinion, and especially not in on page two in a highlighted position.

If you want to find the nub of the majority's rationale, you have to dig deeper, down to page 24:

There is little question but that the single-minded purpose of the Texas Legislature in enacting Plan 1374C was to gain partisan advantage....  With Republicans in control of the State Legislature [after the 2002 election], they set out to increase their representation in the congressional delegation to 22.  As we will explain, all that happened thereafter flowed from this objective, with the give-and-take inherent in the legislative process along the way.  The result disadvantaged Democrats.  And a high percentage of Blacks and Latinos are Democrats.

(Emphasis added by Beldar.)  There ya go.  Those are the key facts found by the court based on the evidence presented at the trial, and from those facts flows the conclusion that the Plaintiffs should lose.  As to the significance of this finding and the result, the best "big picture" explanation is on page 28:

While keenly aware of the long history of discrimination against Latinos and Blacks in Texas, and recognizing that their long struggle for economic and personal freedom is not over, we are compelled to find that this plan was a political product from start to finish.  The myriad decisions made during its creation were made in spite of, and not because of, its effects upon Blacks and Latinos.  To find otherwise would frustrate the fundamentals of Washington v. Davis and inject the federal courts into a political game for which they are ill-suited, and indeed in which they are charged not to participate under the most basic principles of federalism and separation of power.  Concluding that the [racial] purpose requirement of the Equal Protection Clause was met on these facts would pass redistricting from the state legislatures and redistricting boards to the federal courts....

(Emphasis added by Beldar.)  That is the high-point of clarity and elegance in the majority opinion.  Would that it had been on page one or two.

District Judge T. John Ward dissented in part.  It's important that dissenting opinions, to be effective, be short and punchy and crystal-clear.  His, unfortunately, isn't.  He apparently agrees with the majority that the Plaintiffs' Equal Protection Clause claims weren't proved, and that legislative redistricting in 2003 (notwithstanding the 2001 judicial redistricting) was okay.  He agrees that no Voting Rights Act violation was shown as to Districts 18 and 30; also concurs in the majority's judgment rejecting claims surrounding Districts 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 11, 17 & 24; but dissents insofar as Judges Higginbotham and Rosenthal rejected the Plaintiffs' claims regarding District 23 on grounds that the new map impermissibly "traded off" the rights of minority voters in former District 23 for those of minority voters in new District 25.  I'm unpersuaded, but I will also confess that by the time I got to the twenty-seven pages Judge Ward tacked onto the end of the majority opinion, I was running out of intellectual gas to process any more. 


Update (Weds. Jan. 7th wee small hours):   I just re-read the newer version of the Houston Chronicle's article and I'm fairly miffed at reporter R.G. Ratcliff for (again) letting his liberal biases show through.  The subheadline reads, "Legislative process draws justices' rebuke," and his first sentence reads, "A federal court Tuesday upheld a Republican congressional redistricting plan against claims that it harms minority voting rights, but it sharply criticized the process of adopting the map as a threat to the system of fair elections."  Leave aside that there are no "justices" anywhere in sight — the panel comprised two US District Judges and one US Circuit Judge, each of whom would promptly correct you if you referred to him or her as "Justice."  What's important is his gross error in describing anything in the opinion as a "rebuke" to the legislative process or a "threat to the system of fair elections."  That's just wishful thinking and a complete fabrication. Even in the weirdest part of the opinion (which I quoted above), none of the judges say there is a "threat to the system of fair elections."  To the contrary, both the majority and dissenting opinions say that if Texas voters don't like the Legislature's efforts at redistricting, they can fix the problem at the polls by electing different state legislators.

The fact that the opinion is long or confusing doesn't justify just making stuff up that you wish it said!

Update (Weds. Jan 7th 11:35am):   Due to popular demand I've enabled comments for this thread.  And Kuff, as promised, has lots of good quotes and links with press reactions to yesterday's decision and the political aftermath regarding who's now going to run against whom and where.

Posted by Beldar at 08:47 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), Texas Redistricting | Permalink | Comments (0)