Archive for June, 2006

SCOTUS Symposium Kicks Off

Monday, June 26th, 2006

The other day I announced that I’d be participating in an end-of-term discussion of the Supreme Court. My post starting things off is up now. All the posts will be available at this link. We should start having a lot more fun once some decisions come down Monday morning. Thanks again to PG for hosting us at De Novo, and thanks to PG and Will for joining me this week. I hope BTQ readers will check it out.

UPDATE: Will’s first post is up here, wherein he offers some suggestions for the term’s most underrated case so far. And my first-blush look at today’s decisions is now up here. Finally, since we’re pretty blatantly copying them, I should link to the first entries in Slate’s similar discussion.

ALL-REQUEST: Third Parties

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Longtime Friend-of-BTQ (and soon-to-be first-time-father) Sebastian asks, “Ok, I’ve got a legitimate post request I would like your take on. Given your study of US and [Canadian] populism, what do you think of the chances in the current political environment for a legitimate 3rd party to get established. What do you think a third party would need to grow and be sustainable? (think tanks, billionaire sugar daddy, etc.).”

None of my thoughts are truly innovative or original, but here they are. I guess there might be a sticking point over the definition of “legitimate.” Does that mean a party that fields candidates in several successive elections and makes a fair showing at the ballot box? Elects state officials or Congressmen? Elects Presidents? I think it will be a minimum of fifty years before we see a President who is not a Democrat or Republican. The other hangup is the “current political environment.” I just don’t see anything now that could be the catalyst for the formation of a major third party. The Democrats and Republicans seem pretty capable of co-opting the best ideas from third party upstarts. Also, billionaires like George Soros seem to prefer to work within the established parties rather than spend their capital on a start-up. And when the big boys aren’t responsive, the disillusioned voter tends to stay home rather than seek a third way. Basically, I think we’re going to see the status quo for a while.

Some nuances to that broad statement. First, I think there is a small (10%?) possibility that the Democratic Party could be riven over Iraq. However, I think the desire for both segments of the Dems to get back in power is greater than either’s willingness to sacrifice power for principle. If the Dems get back in charge of the White House and Congress, disputes could boil over. But that depends on the situation in Iraq staying the same for a few more years. By definition, that won’t happen — in a few years, if nothing changes, it will be much easier to call it a “quagmire” and propose withdrawal.

Second, I think there is a somewhat larger (25%?) possibility that the GOP could be riven over abortion. Assuming the Supreme Court overturns Roe, state officials will have some hard choices to make. (My prediction, though, is that many would like put off those choices as long as possible, possibly through state constitutional litigation around the country.) I get the sense that the Feddies of the world are perfectly willing to sacrifice power for principle and abandon the Party if other Republicans aren’t sufficiently rock-ribbed over abortion. I think such a development would be the most fascinating development in American party politics since the birth of the Republican party. I don’t think the Life Party (what else would they call themselves?) would be able to do more than swing a few close races here and there, but that would still be significant.

Third, all bets are off if some truly outsized figure decides to run. Judging by his popularity before the 2000 election, Colin Powell might have been able to run on the Kill Whitey ticket and win. Such people are of course very rare, and even more rarely able to have coattails or spark some long-term shift in party politics. We don’t speak of the “Eisenhower Revolution,” after all, even though he was so popular after World War II that both parties courted him as their presidential candidate. But who knows — maybe President Oprah will change all that.

Goings On

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Sorry it’s been quiet here lately. I’ve been Building a Better Blog. Really. Stop laughing. Anyway, a few thoughts left over from the weekend.

1. I lost my ATM card Saturday. Well, more precisely, it was “retained” by the machine. I was driving home from dinner and thought I should pick up some cash since I was tapped out. Naturally, I passed up about three ATMs to pick the drive-up one I did. God forbid I get out of my car or something. It did seem a little run-down, like it had been used very heavily and never serviced. But I figured it was okay because it was attached to the branch, not some lone machine without anyone around to love it.

Well, sure enough, it gave me fits. The keypad was finicky, and then when I was done, it spit the card back at me. I say “at” because it didn’t spit it “to” me. The edge of the card was about flush with the slot. So I couldn’t grab it. I knew time was wasting while the thing was beeping at me and taunting me with “Please take your card” messages on the dim screen. Sure enough, before I could come up with something to pry the card out of there, the machine swallowed it back up. I didn’t even get my cash! The ATM told me “Your card has been retained. Please contact your financial institution.”

I hate crap like this. It’s all can I do to manage the hassle of having this card and making sure I have enough money to use it. But now I was in a tight spot. I use the ATM/check card as my Visa, and I have an American Express. I used to have a Mastercard, but they cancelled it because I never used it. So now I have no cash and an Amex that a lot of places won’t take. And checks, but I hate writing checks. I was bitching to a friend about this, and only then was I reminded that, oh yeah, I can cash a check at the bank. It’s not like I didn’t have money; I just thought I didn’t have a way to access it. I guess I was a little too dependent on that check card.

Anyway, I got home and called the bank. It was Saturday night, so I didn’t try the branch, and I didn’t want to wait until Monday to call them. So I called the national toll-free customer service number. The woman there told me that they treat this like a lost card because the machine has already eaten my card. Me: “You mean someone can’t just grab it out of the back of the machine?” Her: “No, sir, because your card has been destroyed.” So I had to order a new card, which won’t be here for seven to ten business days. I could have had one here in two days, but I would have to pay $16 for that privilege, and skip work to be home to sign for it. No thanks, I’ll write checks for a week.

Well, then it got strange. To conduct this transaction, the woman on the phone had to have me verify all my account info. She asked me what accounts I had with them, and I said I thought I just had the checking. But, as I later discovered/remembered, my Dad has account with them that my name is on, so that was showing up too. I’m guessing red flags were flashing all over this woman’s screen now. I had all the address, social security, etc., stuff. But that wasn’t good enough. She asked me when I got this alleged card I was allegedly missing. Not when I opened the account; she wanted to know when they sent me this actual card. I knew when it expired, but I had no idea when the last one did. Seriously, who keeps track of when their bank last issued them a replacement card?!

She actually said to me, “Sir, there’s certain information you have to give me to verify this account, and you haven’t given it to me yet.” I asked, “What about the account number?” “No, that won’t do.” Finally, exasperated, I said, “What about the card number?” She seemed surprised: “You know the card number of the card you lost?” And yes, I did, and rattled off all sixteen digits. Thank you, internet shopping! She said that did it, and she hadn’t asked me that crucial piece of information because she didn’t expect me to know the card number. So then everything was kool and the gang.

Later, I got to thinking about this. I’m sure they wanted to guard against identity theft. But the thief could potentially have stolen the card and used it to file a lost-card claim and get a new one sent to him, right? It just seemed odd that knowing the account number wasn’t sufficient, but knowing the card number was.

Oh, and the postscript. I went to the bank today to cash that check, and the tellers there informed me that, yes indeed, the tellers at the branch could have just retrieved the card on Monday morning. Their policy was to hold the cards when that happens, but that the stand-alone ATMs do destroy retained cards. So now I have to memorize a whole new sixteen-digit number for nothing.

Some quick hits:

2. A discussion on the wonderful Slog, the blog from Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper, about whether celibrichef Anthony Bourdain is attractive.

3. Two from Rolling Stone. First, the much-discussed article from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., asking whether the 2004 election was “stolen.” The conservative buzz I saw about this was that it just griped about exit polls. But there’s a lot more to it than that (in addition to exit poll statistical analysis). I think the use of “stolen” is unfortunate, and in the hands of a less, well, out there author, less willing to entertain some wild theories, there’s plenty of material here. Someone like Rick Hasen, for example. Oh, wait — Hasen points to this great response from Dan Tokaji. I agree with the basic sentiment here: Kennedy didn’t make a case that Kerry really “won” the 2004 election, or that votes were actually stolen or ballot boxes stuffed. But he does lay out a very convincing case that the Ohio elections officials did everything they could (within and outside the law) to tamp down Democrat votes and ensure Bush’s re-election. Tokaji’s bottom line: “The most important question we now face, however, is not whether Kerry really won. It is instead what ought to be done about the very real and serious problems that emerged in Ohio and other states in 2004, which Kennedy exhaustively documents, for the most part quite accurately. Unfortunately, some of the measures being implemented in the states would do little or nothing to improve elections.” Worth reading.

3. Another from RS: “Sex and Scandal at Duke.” I won’t comment much here, lest I sound like I’m whining that the sorority girls wouldn’t date me when I was at Duke, or lest it turn into Milbarge’s Treatise on Sex, Equality, Hooking Up, and Charlotte Simmons. I’ll just say it’s hard to read this story without being…not depressed. Hmm…I’ll go with disappointed. And that probably just makes me sound old and lame.

4. Thanks to Blondie for mentioning my long Atkins post in her entertaining and interesting edition of “Blawg Review,” co-compiled with Woman of the Law and Not Guilty. Lots and lots of good stuff in this Review.

5. I’ve just received the copy of Jeremy Blachman’s Anonymous Lawyer I passive-aggressively whined about last week. I have one short book to finish first, and then I’ll dig in to AL. Review to follow, as soon as I can.

Maybe we can get Capt. Kangaroo to preside

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

At Slate over the weekend, John Dickerson and Dahlia Lithwick ran a piece arguing that the Pentagon should let the fledgling Iraqi justice system try the Marines accused of massacring civilians in the town of Haditha. Dylan called it “one of the two colossal idiocies that drove me into an incoherent rage this morning.” (Only two? He must be on Ecstasy.) At The New Republic blog, Spencer Ackerman elaborated and asked, “Are John Dickerson and Dahlia Lithwick out of their frigging minds?”

I’ve never been one of the Lithwick-bashers of the blogosphere, but I come down on the side of hoping this turns into a very special “JAG” movie, and that the Marine Corps and the UCMJ prove capable of addressing what happened at Haditha. Ackerman wryly suggests the Slate essay must be a satire, because the notion of letting the Iraqis try this case is ridiculous. It certainly won’t endear the American military to the Iraqi populace, and won’t generate any long-lost credibility. As Ackerman puts it, “Their bottom line: ‘[W]e either believe in Iraqi institutions or we don’t.’ And that’s where the head scratching comes in. Of course we don’t believe in Iraqi institutions. You’d have to be insane to do so.”

So why suggest that the Iraqis try the Marines? Are Dickerson and Lithwich really “out of their frigging minds”? On the contrary, I think they realize the trial would devolve into “a circus, or show trial,” which they don’t mind because “we might remember that we can’t stop circus trials from taking place right here in the United States.” Well, if it’s good enough for us….

I think what Dickerson and Lithwick are really suggesting is handing over U.S. Marines as sacrificial lambs to the mob in an act of contrition for all our mistakes in Iraq. Most people would either see that as a mere drop in the bucket or far too high a price to pay. But even on its terms, it wouldn’t accomplish anything other than providing a distracting circus. It wouldn’t satisfy anyone.

Now, to be fair, Dickerson and Lithwick acknowledge that the Bush administration isn’t about to put Marines in the same dock where Saddam Hussein now sits. And they go on to argue that, even if it’s not to the degree of actually trying the case, the Iraqis need to have some ownership and involvement in the investigation and prosecution of the Haditha deaths. (They suggest a joint U.S.-Iraqi C.S.I. squad.) And, up to a point, I have to agree: Not involving the Iraqis at all would be almost as bad as letting them run the whole case. But Ackerman links to a story quoting Iraqis who are so “numbed” to the situation there that the Haditha incident didn’t even faze them. Why would we expect a “numbed” populace who sees such killings as “the way of life now,” and without a working courts system to reach a fair solution that would mean anything to anybody? I’m certainly not suggesting that if Marines committed a “massacre” they shouldn’t face justice. I just think that spinning off “Law & Order: Baghdad” would be a terribly futile gesture, no matter what you hope to accomplish.