International House of Dan: January 2005

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Electoral double standards

On the eve of the Iraqi election, I thought we should consider the double standard that our President applies to some electoral matters, which is an interesting reminder of the way in which we treat the Iraqis. Mr. Bush has consistently insisted that the elction will go on as planned, and he has praised the Iraqi people for voting despite ongoing and lethal attacks that threaten the lives of any who vote. When I heard the press conference I was instantly reminded of all the discussion that took place leading up to our own election, because of "chatter" suggesting that terrorists might try to strike a blow against democracy by attacking the U.S. on November 2nd. In the interest of fairness, for those who don't click the link, Condi Rice denied any intention to delay our election, but only after much discussion and speculation on the issue by the press and the American people.

I don't have too much to say about this, other than that I find it very hypocritical and telling. In the light most favorable to the administration, the terror talk in July consisted of a tiny voice simply asking "what if?", but not even such a tiny voice has spoken about this for Iraq. We heard "chatter" that someone might do something, and the idea of delaying the U.S. election was expressed by some, but the administration has been so insistent on their proposed timeline for Iraq, that despite the near-certainty that many will carry out terrorist attacks tomorrow, the idea of delaying the vote is unimaginable.

I won't go into the way we count every American loss but pay lip service to the far more frequent Iraqi police and military casualties, or civilian casualties, there are plenty of other blogs that do that. But I do find it worth note that it seems easier for this administration to stand firm on the election timeline when American voters are not the ones being threatened, and when American soldiers will (for a change) not be the main focus of insurgents. I have many concerns about the elctions tomorrow, I wonder what effect low turnout will have (or rather how bad an effect), imagine for instance if the absentee vote from abroad ends up making a big difference... that should go over well with the loser. Most importantly, I join most people in hoping for a safe day, and a better outcome for all parties to this conflict, I just have a feeling that our hopes will not bear fruit.

Many have urged delays in the vote, including Iraqi politicians, but this would never happen because our administration clings to its "measure once, cut twice" approach of sticking to its timeline instead of actually figuring out what the best course of action would be. Let's hope it goes well, and let's hope Mr. Bush doesn't have the hubris to try to spin a smooth day tomorrow into a fundraising tool like he did with 9/11. I hope that the Iraqis who risk life and limb to go to undisclosed polling places to vote for unknown candidates will be able to choose wisely. I hope nobody gets maimed on their way across town after being told they're at the wrong precinct. I hope nobody comes out of this thing with a mandate to do anything, except maybe Mr. Bush, with a clear mandate from the Iraqi people to get our troops out, and let their democracy take its natural course, that the new Iraqi government may be of, by, and for the Iraqi people.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

On the Holocaust and reparations

Note: This post is long, it deals with topics that probably need to be addressed separately. It is meant to spark thought, not imply a hierarchy of evil among human tragedies.

Sixty years ago tomorrow, Soviet troops liberated the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The United Nations met in special session Monday to commemorate the event. I know that I lack the writing ability to move one to comprehend the horrors of genocide, past or present, but I still want to ask that we take the time in our busy schedules to think, for even one minute, about the limitless capacity that mankind has to do both tremendous good, and unspeakable evil. When we juxtapose these extremes I have to believe that the good has the power to overcome the bad, that in the end, the very worst in us will always bring out the very best in us. The more severe the tragedy that befalls our neighbor, the more compelled we feel to take action, and the less we even give a conscious thought to trying to find a way not to help. We might drive by a car accident and not stop because we're running late, but who among us would entertain a thought about where we need to be at the sight of an injured child crawling from the wreckage? Clearly that example is an extreme one, just as the holocaust is an extreme example of man's capacity to do evil. But why is it that the institution of slavery, clearly a similar extreme, does not spark the same outrage in us? Why do we support reparations for Holocaust victims' families, but generally not for slave descendants? Is it a logistical matter? A time-distance matter? Is it simply because Holocaust reparations tend not to involve us?

In the case of reparations for Holocaust victims, we see matters as fairly clear. The Nazi government stripped Jewish (and other ethnic) prisoners of enormous amounts of property and wealth, and then used these ill-gotten riches to finance their escapes from prosecution for the most unspeakable crimes. Recently, the survivors themselves, or their children or grandchildren, have been able to trace their families' belongings right to the vaults of European banks, and the international community supports their efforts and criticizes entities such as the Swiss banking industry and the Vatican for their past reluctance to relinquish present wealth that was ill-acquired some sixty years ago. I, of course, join the international community in its condemnation of institutions which turned a blind eye on evil for the sake of financial gain. I support the efforts of survivors and their families to recover the property which was rightfully theirs before it was forcibly taken from them by the lowest of men. What prompts me to thought, though, is that I don't believe most of us can apply the same clear-cut standard to the matter of reparations for descendants of slaves, and I wonder why that is...

Consider Liberia, a nation whose plight we have often ignored, and dismissed, until the bodies of the dead were piled on our embassy grounds to the point where we could no longer sit by silently. Liberia, a nation settled by freed American slaves, under the "guidance" of the American Colonization Society, a group whose purpose was to remove free, U.S. born blacks and emancipated slaves (stripping both of their three-fifths citizenship, I suppose), has had a very torrid history. While the Liberians were not forcibly returned to Africa by the ACS, I am appalled that our state governments contributed financially to this, but allowed the ACS to fail in its role as "trustee" for the fledgling African nation. I mention Liberia because the role of our government in its formation, and that of private individuals of the time, is far more easily traceable than those tenuous generational links that are often cited as cause for opposition to reparations for individual descendants of slaves. Yet our national attitude towards reparations is such that we don't recognize any special onus to help the people of present-day Liberia.

We find a similar example of national nonrecognition of a moral debt owed to the people of Haiti. Our government's attitude towards this island neighbor has historically been reprehensible. From the 1820's, Haiti was forced to pay reparations of $150 million (in modern dollars this is estimated to be over half a billion, without accounting for interest or inflation) to France for having "appropriated" French property (land and slaves). The U.S. helped enforce a repressive payment regime which stripped the fledgling nation of the vast majority of its income. It was often American banks, after all, that extended Haiti the credit needed to make payments. Additionally, it is arguable that Haiti might have never been subjected to such reparations if it could have counted on some recognition from the international community. Thomas Jefferson would not recognize the island's independence, because of the implications it would have had on American slave-holding interests (how can the president receive one black man as a dignitary while holding another one as a slave?), and in fact the U.S. did not recognize the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere until 1862, nearly 15 years after (former colonizer) France had. The U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, allegedly plundering the island's reserves, and has since supported individuals and regimes which have been damaging to the island's interests. Haiti has been a catalyst for democracy in the Americas, ending slavery in the neighboring Dominican Republic (1822) and providing support and asylum to Simon Bolivar (1815). In the 1990's, when Haitian refugees tried to escape their plight by making the perilous journey to the U.S., we turned them away.

So how is it that Americans favor the return of property by foreign institutions to individual holocaust survivors, but seem unconcerned with our national policy for states that our government has seriously wronged? Certainly it's not a state/private entity issue, or else what about the news last week that J.P. Morgan Chase held slaves as collateral? They have announced a scholarship for African Americans in Louisiana, and the people seem appeased. I doubt that our thirst for justice would be satiated if a Swiss bank announced a scholarship in Poland to atone for its wartime sins. It seems irrelevant whether the wrongdoer is a state or an individual, our moral indignation seems to follow lines of perceived impact on our daily lives. Litigation is taking place on behalf of holocaust survivors against mostly foreign state and business entities, arising from unlawful enrichment as a result of slave labor during WWII, and the public seems to support these efforts, except to the extent that they are seen to encourage similar lawsuits by U.S. slave descendants.

The Holocaust was evil beyond the limitations of our language... but so was slavery. If anything, the evil of slavery is compounded by the fact that upon its demise as an institution we failed as a society to feel shame, we failed to show contrition, we failed to take action, and today we question the necessity of programs like affirmative action. There was never a time for slave reparation suits, certainly they could not have been brought by former slaves themselves in the atmosphere of segregation and state-enforced intimidation that followed emancipation. So at each incremental improvement in conditions, there remains a problem making such litigation improbable at best. Today we arrive at a point in our society where such suits can be brought with reasonable safety from being lynched for it... but now we say it's too late, because it was too long ago.

I don't know how the logistics of reparations would work in modern America, how to distinguish slave-owner descendants from those of us who immigrated recently, perhaps no such distinction should exist. I know that one who inherits property may effortlessly receive profits, but she might also incur liabilities without having done any wrong... our system is familiar with the "why should I have to pay for something my grandfather did?" argument, and it doesn't buy it. Perhaps we should all share in the burden, even African Americans, as a subtle acknowledgment that every advantage we enjoy as a nation, our mighty place in the world, our comfort and our "freedom from want" were all built upon the backs of slaves. Distribution of whatever reparation is made also presents logistical problems, perhaps the safest way to go is to make payments to organizations that will advance racial justice. Benefits perhaps shouldn't be limited to those who can prove a direct lineage to former slaves, a black Haitian immigrant today has as much trouble hailing a taxi as the descendants of Frederick Douglass. What troubles me is not that there is concern over logistics of such reparations, what troubles me is that our national dialogue focuses on whether, and not how, reparations should be made for what thus far is America's greatest breach against the laws of man and God.

It would be improper to describe slavery as a holocaust, if nothing else because a holocaust (lower case) implies destruction by fire. The Nazis used fire in the camps. They also used gas, knives, guns, clubs, smoke, water, tools, their hands, their feet, other prisoners, disease, neglect, starvation, exhaustion, deprivation, torture, chains, animals, Winter, infection, radiation, science, abuse, electricity, cruelty, poison, etc., etc., etc. Anything that could possibly have been used as an instrument of death, was. Therein lies the difference between reparations for slavery and the Holocaust, but also their frightening similarity. One is for profit-driven cruelty, the other is for cruelty-driven profit. What is tragic, if I'm right about our attitude towards reparations, is that we tolerate action to recover property that was taken as a by-product of a cruelty-driven campaign, but we do not support action to receive compensation for cruelty endured in the name of profits.

Amid concerns that goodwill towards tsunami victims is stealing goodwill from the victims of genocide in Darfur, I hope that goodwill is not a finite resource. We have seen slavery, we have seen the Holocaust, we have seen countless acts of wanton destruction and loss of innocent life, we have seen genocide rear its hideous head again in Rwanda, in the Balkans, in the Sudan, and in countless other countries we just don't seem to ever read about, and we always say "never again". Man's capacity to do evil may well have no limits, it is imperative, then, that there be no limits placed upon our capacity to do good. A great thing happened sixty years ago this week. In the end, I guess, it always does. Let's say "never again" once more tomorrow, let's mean it this time, let's back it up with action, let's right some wrongs, let's exorcise some demons and let's push the limits of "good". I promise that we can't exceed them.

"The road to Auschwitz was built by hate,but paved with indifference." (Sir Ian Kershaw)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Nearly pulled the trifecta...

So the day began well with kU getting embarrassed by Villanova, continued well with Mizzou beating Nebraska (see what happens when they stop going for threes?!?!), and ALMOST ended phenomenally with River Plate tying Boca Juniors in the Summer tournament. River dominated the first half, evened off in the second, but in the end, we just can't finish... I miss Maxi Lopez already... I must keep this short, it stopped snowing, finally, now let's see what we can do about melting the 12+ inches that have blanketed Chicago (assuming, of course, that there is no more tonight... which there probably will be).

Upcoming topics include the inauguration, Senate confirmations (or the lack thereof), the Australian Open, and incestuous Amish pedophiles (seriously, I just read an eye-opening article about that in a law magazine).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Something to take your mind off the inauguration...

I haven't quite digested all the coverage about the inauguration yet, so I don't want to get too much into that yet. I'd like to skip over the obvious (like the overuse of the word "freedom" in the inaugural address, contrasted with... well, with a lot, actually...), except to say that I was very disappointed in the protest reality going on down there. I was really psyched about the idea of protesters sneaking in dressed like "normal" people, and then turning their backs as Mr. Bush drove by. I know that some people did it, but, I was really looking forward to some great footage of thousands turning their backs as the limo went by.

In any event, this website was brought to my attention this afternoon, and I must say, it's pretty great. Basically, it's like playing 20 questions with the computer, except the questions are not limited to 20, and you have to be either a TV series character or a dictator. Ok, now that I think about it it's pretty lame, but it passes the time surprisingly well!

Other than that, it's snowing in Chicago... that's about it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sorry I've been absent...

The last couple of days I've been busy preparing a report on the outcome of Mozambique's recent presidential election for Lawyers Without Borders, and getting ready to come back to Chicago to see about a job. Wish me luck, and I should have more riveting insights into the world in the near future.

Monday, January 17, 2005

MLK Day 2005

I just wanted to take a second to provide a link to information on Dr. King and text and audio of some of his speeches. I know that this day doesn't make anyone happy. Progressives often say it is too little, a token gesture that doesn't get taken seriously. Conservatives agree that King was a great man, but are weary of naming holidays after African Americans. I guess I'm just doing my part to encourage people to take one minute, this one day of the year, and really think about the issue of race relations in America.

To help get you started, here is the second half of the "I have a dream" speech, given on August 28, 1963. The original speech is just 1,662 words and I encourage everyone to read or listen to it in its entirety. You can do so thanks to the Douglass Archives of American Public Address, properly credited at History and Politics Out Loud.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression,will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists,with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification - one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair astone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ringfrom the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi - from every mountainside.

Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring - when we let it
ring from every village and every hamlet,from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children - black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics - will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Why the Colts won't win the Superbowl...

I noticed an interesting trend over the past few months. In national competitions between teams from states that voted for different candidates, the team from the state that supported Kerry has always won. MLS Cup: D.C. (90% Kerry) beats K.C. (both MO and KS went for Bush). NCAA Football: USC (CA went 54% Kerry) demolished OU (OK was 66% Bush). World Series: Boston (MA was 62% Kerry) sweeps St. Louis (see MLS Cup, 54%). This last one is particularly annoying, because NY went 58% for Kerry, and the Yankees are (and will always be) the better team. Those are (as far as I can tell) the main sporting events of late, I'm sure there's been some lesser-known tournament to disprove the rule, but I can't think of it.

I believe this happens because God is trying to punish the working class saps who were so blinded by conservative demagoguery that despite their economic status they let their fear of gays, brown people, and Janet Jackson's nipple get the best of their vote. The weird case is the MLS Cup, because average American Joes don't care about it. This one happened either to reward DC voters, to be consistent, or to punish someone, probably me or Lamar Hunt. As far as the rest of it, believe me when I tell you that Oklahoma might have swung the other way if OU fans knew that a vote for Bush would equal a Sooner loss in the National Championship.

So who will win the Superbowl? It seems not the Colts, Rams, or Falcons...

Teddy R on G Dub (sort of)

This was sent to me via email. I had never seen it, though I understand it's quite well-known. I felt I had to share it:

This quote was part of an editorial [Theodore Roosevelt] wrote for the "Kansas City Star" durning World War I.

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."
"Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star", 149, May 7, 1918 (emphasis added by Dan).

Friday, January 14, 2005

MLS SuperDraft 2005!

Today was the MLS SuperDraft 2005, and as promised, complete coverage (a la Dan... meaning just my team) follows. Before I begin, though, let me express my disgust at Salt Lake City's franchise being named Real Salt Lake. This idiotic attempt to tie an MLS franchise to a known Spanish club is just wrong, especially since "Real" in Real Madrid refers to royalty (which Spain has... Utah, not so much). Anyway, so Utah went first today, and picked up Nikolas Besagno, a 16-year-old about whom I know very little. He'd been expected to go early, and he did. Good for him.

The Wizards did some interesting things today. In the morning they stopped live footage on FSW pretty early on, but I did get to see KC pick up Scott Sealy with #11 in the first round, which is fine, we can always use more offense. We traded our #3 pick in the second round for Sasha Victorine, from L.A., who last year started in 25 of his 26 games, for 3 goals and 3 assists (regular season) and got nothing but 2 shots starting in all 3 games in the playoffs. I'm still a little conflicted about this one, I've spent so much time heckling this guy that I might need a little adjustment... I suppose it makes things better that they moved KC to the Eastern Conference, so I guess I'm not supposed to hate L.A. as much now.

Immediately after L.A., we chose Ryan Pore, another forward (click the link inside there for stats up to 2003). I'm sure the news in KC tomorrow will mention that we did not pick up Will John, which is all Bob Luder (that's 2 links) has been writing about in the star (except when he takes time out to misrepresent Igor Simutenkov's stats... but I won't write about that until after I see tomorrow's paper), probably because Luder is out of the loop. John went to Chicago a couple of picks after the second time we passed on him.

We closed out the second round (the Wizards article is wrong) by picking up Christopher Sawyer, a goalie from Notre Dame. I guess with Tony's future uncertain it makes sense. This kid's supposed to be really good, my only concern is how our veteran defense will respond to a rookie (even in the backup role). Finally, we spent pick #47 on John Minagawa-Webster, from Michigan State. He's a midfielder with a funny name, who probably won't play, but I say it's good to get someone at middle in case we lose Klein again (not going to happen! not going to happen!). All in all a good draft day for us, I think we've fixed what was up from last year, and with most of that roster intact, we should have another good year!

Federal Sentencing Guidelines ruling

I'm going to try something new, I think I just figured out how to turn words into links...

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. Booker. Justices Stevens and Breyer delivered the opinion, holding that Sixth Amendment jury trial requirements apply to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and as a result, mandatory sentence extensions based upon facts not presented to the jury are unconstitutional. I had hoped to do some in-depth analysis of the issue of mandatory sentencing and of the Booker decision, but the opinion is 124 pages long (7 pages of syllabus, 50 or so of opinion, and the rest is dissent).

The case consisted of two consolidated appeals in which the judge learned of additional facts at sentencing, without a jury determination about those facts beyond a reasonable doubt. So a jury had ruled on guilt based on facts that could lead to a certain sentence. Afterwards, the judge relied on facts which, if true, mandated a substantially higher sentence than that possible under the jury's facts (in Booker's case, the jury thought he possessed 92 grams of crack, and convicted for possession of at least 50 grams, but his sentence resulted from a finding that he possessed about 500 grams more). The Court ruled that where the sentencing laws made the upward departure mandatory, the laws amounted to a deprivation of the right to a jury trial with regard to the facts on which the harsher sentence is based. It's important to note that the Court deemed the guidelines to be advisory, and not mandatory, and that the ruling does not affect mandatory minimum provisions in the Sentencing Reform Act.

Brooks reminds me of the Court's 2002 decision in Ring v. Arizona (this one's only about 50 pages), in which the Sixth Amendment was held to prevent a sentencing judge following a jury conviction from finding aggravating factors resulting in the death penalty.

Mandatory sentencing laws have serious flaws which can result in gross miscarriages of justice. For instance, there is ample statistical data regarding the disproportional impact that Federal sentencing laws have on African Americans. The bulk of cases to which these federal guidelines are applicable are drug cases. In what is called the "100:1 rule", crack (inner cities) is punished more harshly than powder cocaine (Wall Street) to the tune of the same sentence being imposed for 500 grams of powder cocaine as for 5 grams of crack. Just like prior legislatures, the 108th Congress had (four) bills trying to address this discrepancy, HR 345, HR 1435, HR 2444, and S 5103: all still sit in committee.

These laws, though, are not just wrong because of the race of drug defendants. The American Bar Association issued a report last year in which it raises serious concerns and calls for the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws. Among the chief concerns of the lawyers' group is these laws force judges to sentence defendants before them based, not upon their own judgment, but upon charts developed by bureaucrats. It is frightening to allow the legislature to reach so far into the realm of the judiciary, and I find it interesting that those who oppose the centralization of health care or education often favor it when it comes to this issue.

...Not that any of that matters, of course, the Court did not strike down mandatory minimums. Here are links to the ABA's and Families Against Mandatory Minimums' reaction to the Brooks/Fanfan decision.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I am man

On my way back from the gym I noticed that my left headlight was out, so I bought a set of two in case one was brighter than the other, and came home to change them. I hate it when people drive around with headlights of different brightness. Anyway, I had changed the right one before, so I figured it was no big thing, but then I saw that there's a bunch of stuff in the way of the left one (battery, etc.) and became worried. I was able to follow the directions in the manual and successfully replaced both bulbs. When I was finished, my hands were covered with... well, I guess it was dirt, and I was awash in manly hormones. I am seriously considering becoming a Republican, but I'm sure it will pass tomorrow when I take the car in for an oil change and they tell me that they have to replace something I broke trying to get to the bulb. Still, tonight, it is Dan 1, car 0. I am man.

Iraqi elections, religion and reforms at home

This should be brief. An Economist article on the upcoming Iraqi elections got me thinking about the subject, and then about our own elections, and the role of religion in both. ( The article notes something I found ironic, that Iyad Allawi is upset that some of his rivals are trying to gain votes by using religion as an issue. Interjecting religion into the election would clearly divide the electorate along deep-running faith lines, and could cloud the issues facing the voters. What's ironic is that this tactic, which worked great for Bush, could result in a political black eye for him if successful in Iraq. After all, Allawi is our choice, and despite his strengths is seen by some Iraqis as an American patsy. If he lost the election because of the fundamentalist religious vote (that just happens to be of a different religion than the fundamentalist religious vote here) that would be seen as a blow to the CPA, and as a sign that Iraq, which was mostly secular under the old regime, could be headed down the theocratic path. That's always worked well for us in the Middle East, right? Iraq's like-minded neighbors, who'd been slowly showing signs of liberalization might take a fundamentalist victory in Iraq as a disincentive to change.

What was neat about the article was this idea of unknown candidates. Granted, it's terrible that such a climate exists that political parties can't release the names of candidates for fear of assassination, but I wonder what that's like for the voters. Imagine an election in the U.S. where we voted for party platforms instead of hairstyles, where we looked at issue positions instead of personal characteristics that are unrelated to the job. What would the little old ladies in Iowa who vote against someone because he didn't like the pie at the fair have to base their decision on? I can picture both parties lining up their top figures to go across the nation, stumping for the party as a whole. The Republicans couldn't just present pro-choice, moderates like Giuliani, Schwarzenegger and McCain as "representative" of their positions, because their candidate would be held accountable to this platform. Of course in America we could never do that because the identity of the candidate would be leaked after about 10 minutes. Perhaps we could hold the primaries after the party vote, or something... Anyway, it was just a thought, one of those "what if?" ideas.

As a preview, I will try to throw something together later on the Supreme Court's latest decision on mandatory sentencing guidelines, and tomorrow there will be a full review of the MLS SuperDraft 2005 (with a focus on the Wizards, of course). Rumor has it we'll be shopping for offense, which is cool, though I have a hunch we'll be re-signing Igor as well, which would be very cool...

What's wrong with our schools?

Like any good liberal, I watched The West Wing tonight. I was relieved to see President Bartlett walking around without crutches as he spoke to Josh, and then I decided to write about education tonight instead of working on my King William's College quiz (,3604,1379479,00.html ... I like to do a few questions a night).

We read that the state of our nation's schools is deplorable (I tend to agree), and it is unfortunate that more of the Presidential campaigns focused on Iraq and terrorism than on education. It should be a sign right off the bat that we choose to worry about terrorism more than education. I don't know what the statistical probability of being a victim of terrorism is, but I'd bet a hefty sum that it's significantly lower than the chance of being directly affected by problems caused by our failing educational system (such as petty crime, or reality TV).

I began by seeking out comparisons with other nations to try to identify things that better performing countries might be doing differently from us. This article from the American School Board Journal ( is from 1996, so the numbers are old but it does present some of the pros and cons of making such comparisons. Let's assume for the sake of this post that it's okay to compare our scores to those of others.

The 2003 PISA figures suggest that Finland knows a thing or two about teaching its young.( I also found an OECD summary of a German government study looking at a small set of countries and examining how their PISA scores reflect their educational systems. It does not seek causal relations between one and the other, but rather looks to identify "universal" factors leading to quality learning, as well as factors that are more country-specific. ( Chapters 9 and 11 are especially relevant, eleven because it's the conclusions, and nine because it reports the way the target countries address socio-economic inequalities that lead to underachievement. The conclusion notes that:
In essence, the comparison brings into focus a model of a flexible school system that offers schools a high level of individual responsibility while simultaneously ensuring their accountability and maintenance of standards, through a system of output-oriented external assessments and targeted and intensive intervention where problems are greatest.
This sounds a lot like the No Child Left Behind plan (, except that upon identifying failing schools, they conduct "targeted and intensive intervention" instead of budget cuts. I highlight targeted and intensive because the blanket approach of calling for more money and more teachers, though supported by liberals, is probably not the answer in and of itself. The NEA's "Testing Plus" proposals for the reform of the NCLB are consistent with this more intensive approach. ( I'll come back to implementation in a minute.

Next, I looked at a 2002 report ( from the National Center for Education Statistics comparing U.S. schools to those of other G-8 countries (France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the Russian Federation, the U.K. and Canada). It was surprising to see how close all the figures were. Nothing stuck out as a major factor, but some trends did come to light. At the primary level, the U.S. outperforms others in student-teacher ratio (trailing only Italy) and in math and science performance, but at the secondary level, these figures change and we slip into mediocrity. We end up with the second lowest percentage of students completing secondary education, which is bad. But again, I was baffled to confirm what I'd been noticing from various sources, that there is little difference in indicators such as student to teacher ratio or expenditures per student, between the U.S. and many higher scoring countries. We actually tend to compare quite favorably in those categories.

A uniquely American feature that is often alluded to,but sparsely documented, is the prevalence of multiple choice tests. I'm not going to get derailed writing about whether standardized tests are biased, or if we waste too much time preparing kids for them. I'm just talking about the format itself, a quiz in 5th grade that only involves circling answers on a page. I couldn't find too many sources on this, but I'm fairly sure that we're the only country that uses these things so much. I can't say that the use of multiple choice tests is to blame for the state of our schools, but I know from personal experience that students will stop studying early and feel it's okay, because tomorrow's test is "just multiple guess".

There is a lot to consider and digest here, but it does tie together in the end. We fear a centralized educational system, and as the NCES data above shows we basically have the most localized schools in the G-8. This localization has serious effects when you consider that the funding consequences in the NCLB Act serve to compound the existing disparities between wealthy (high performing) and poor (low performing) districts. This gives rise to one of the many problems with school vouchers: they can drain high performing students from needy districts, further lowering scores and thus reducing funds at schools that can't afford either. By abandoning vouchers we can focus resources on fixing schools for all children, instead of simply giving up on those who most need help. If a mother can only afford enough food for one of her three children, how does she tell the other two that they must starve because she's chosen to feed the third? This is exactly the sort of decision being made by politicians who support school vouchers, education is that important. By centralizing school administration (as does most of the world), we can institute national curricula that will lower costs (ie. book printers just design one edition for all markets) and make standardized testing easier. Educators can then focus on their particular district's needs, but based on the standard curriculum. This holds nobody back, if the curriculum calls for geometry, and your students can do calculus, well... then they've already learned geometry! Additionally, with a centralized curriculum we can move away from multiple choice tests, because teachers can design more individualized short-answer and essay exams to cover the curriculum in the way best suited for their students.

Grading all these tests and all this individualized attention will of course require more money, and more teachers (sorry... I am a liberal). Might I just suggest we make education a priority at least comparable to defense? We should have a reserve-style program in place, where we pay for a teacher's education in exchange for a four year tour in some of America's neediest areas. Many of the applicants will themselves be from rural and inner city districts, and we can certainly use their help.

I'd like to wrap up with another ASBJ article (this one from 1997) which outlines some of the changes that can be made in the U.S. in order to bring our schools up to "World Class" standards. ( I found it very informative, and I think it contains some excellent observations. Conservatives will like the mention of morality class, but let's save discussion of what goes into the national curriculum for another day, except to say that judging from the way people drive around here it's not safe to cut Drivers' Ed...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Suggestions Welcome

If you have a topic you would like to see discussed here, suggest it as a "comment" on this post!

Wizards and Tigers

Some of you might have glimpsed a recent post regarding Mizzou's heartbreaking loss to OSU last night. I took the post down, which is not to say that I don't stand by my opinion that Osama Bin Laden is a Kansas fan. That being said, the game was quite good up until 3 minutes to go, when the gap started widening. Kleiza went 13 for 13 from the line (he'd been averaging around 66%), and the two teams combined for a ridiculous 89% on free throws. I believe what killed the Tigers was shooting 8 for 21 on threes, to OSU's 4 for 9, sure, we got 12 more points from treys, but it felt like a lot of those 13 we missed ended up going turning into OSU field goals. That, of course, and the fact that they shot 60% in the second half and we... didn't. Everything else was pretty even, I thought, we got outrebounded, but only by 4. They played well, though, bottom line is OSU has a little number 6 by their name and we don't. (

The Kansas City Wizards are angering up my blood again, by announcing today that if Preki is healthy he will be re-signed. ( This old fossil contributes nothing while draining our offense by having every single play go through his talentless feet in order to feed his massive ego. For proof of this one needs only to look at the 2004 season, when KC was able to win the U.S. Open Cup, lost the Supporters' Shield on goals, won the West and made the MLS Cup finals, after getting off to a sluggish start which ended once Preki was knocked out for the season. The man has many MLS records, which are due to his having played for 150 years, as well as the fact that it's easy to rack up points on assists when every single play has to go through you. My girlfriend may not speak a lot of Spanish, but she can say "Quien es este Preki? Es un queso!". The upside is that he says he will retire after this year, which does me little good considering there may be no more team after this year. The old man should just quit now and devote his energy to other pursuits, like going to Plaza bars and hitting on girls half his age that I went to high school with (I'm not saying he's ever done that, of course...). On related news, I don't like that we're not going after Meola, but I understand it. He is getting older and costs too much to keep, I just don't see why we don't apply the same logic to Preki. Also, I don't care what Gansler says about Igor Simutenkov, he is easily our best striker. If you look at the numbers, it's true that he loses out due to injury, but he still outproduces everyone else, including no shortage of game-winning goals (U.S. Open Cup, anyone?). Re-sign him, now!

Finally, there is a great editorial piece on trends in international prosecutions in today's International Herald Tribune. I encourage all advocates for global justice to check it out at

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Social Security

Editorials in the Star were weak today again, and there was nothing special in the Times, either, but I did notice a flurry of opinions on Social Security reforms proposed by the administration. A lot of editorials and letters focused on charges that Mr. Bush is hyping fears about the impending fall of Social Security. While this would not be the first time our president has created a furor over some non-existing crisis in order to drum up support for a reactionary cause, he is not entirely at fault here. After all, gay marriage and "intelligent design" would not be the top priorities in the Kansas legislature if the people of Kansas were not so monumentally misguided as to buy into the hype surrounding those issues. Fortunately I'm in Missouri, where... we... already banned gay marriage... hmm. Well, in any event, people around here generally don't actually know any homosexuals, let alone two, or two who are in a relationship with eachother, and for that matter, two who are trying to marry, yet these people are convinced that gays are to blame for everything Janet Jackson's nipple to... well, the impending fall of Social Security.

So I thought I would write about the status of Social Security today, and try to counter the disinformation campaign being waged by those who wish to privatize it. Admittedly, the trust fund is approaching the point where it is projected that it will stop paying out form surpluses. This is generally attributed to increased life expectancy and the retirement of the baby boomers. So let's assess the situation and see where we end up, yes?

First, the life expectancy has only gone up 3-5 years since monthly payments were first made in 1940. (Between 1937 and 1939, only one-time lump payments were available, the first was to Ernest Ackerman, for 17 cents). Life expectancy at birth has gone up about 14 years, but this happens when your infant mortality rate drops so much to throw off the average life span. The Social Security Administration seems to think that they considered life expectancy upon reaching adulthood, as well as the existing 65 year old population when they crunched their numbers back in the day. ( Of course, as current trends continue and the retirement age population grows, this will become an important factor. The baby boomer thing, though, is for real, it's just pretty far away. The trust fund is expected to continue at a surplus (presently about $1.5 trillion, figures vary), which would peak and begin to decline in 2026 (again, figures vary, some estimate as high as $7 trillion, others $3 trillion). The magic date is 2042, if we do nothing, that's when funds are expected to exceed income, and payments have to be cut by about a fourth. The cuts rise to 50% in 2080 (I think), but that'll never happen because once you start 25% benefit cuts for a never-larger population of seniors (who have ridiculous voter turnout rates), Congress will cut military spending if it has to in order to salvage it...

In any case, I am trying to keep this post short. What I'm saying about Social Security is that nobody doubts that we are guaranteed smooth sailing for the next 11 years. After that we can coast on for another 25 before anyone can expect any cuts. Is the thing messed up? Absolutely. Do changes need to be made to ensure it continues? Of course, but not so urgently that we find ourselves rushing for the first available option. This may be hard to do, but we have no idea what will happen within the next 11 years. Maybe there will be a post-Iraq baby boom, maybe there will be a post-Iraq! Maybe all the baby boomers will unexpectedly die of scurvy, maybe we will win the lottery. None of these things are likely to happen, certainly not as likely as a corporate scandal of the Enron variety taking place over the next 11 years, only this one will involve the privatized accounts of millions of Americans who opted out of Social Security. 2026 is also, what? 10 Congressional and 5 Presidential races away? Future administrations may have different priorities about the allocation of our nation's resources, and prevent any major catastrophe.

We need to avoid this emergency mentality that we've gotten so used to. I won't turn this into a post about our absurd rush to war in Iraq, but we need to snap people out of this mob mentality. The only way I know to do this is through education, but then again that hasn't seemed to ease my neighbors' fears that gay couples they've never met are somehow going to ruin the world unless action is taken NOW! Until I looked into it, I assumed life expectancy had shot up since the depression, and that was a reason for the problems with Social Security. Turns out it's not so simple.

As an aside, when the Tigers beat #6 OSU tonight, I will donate a percentage of any winnings I get to the Social Security Administration...

Monday, January 10, 2005

Editorial review off to a slow start... I still find a way to write too much

I was planning to take the day's paper and respond to the editorial content, figuring this would give me a frequent sort of things to write about. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Star's op-ed page was pretty lame today, and I didn't find much worth responding to. Normally I like to give links here so people can see for themselves what it is I'm writing about, but I couldn't find links to these items on the Star online. I suppose I could go downstairs and grab the January 10th Metropolitan section and give better citations for what follows, but if you can get a copy of the paper, you'll know what I'm talking about...

There were two items that got a reaction from me as I read them. The first was a letter to the editor from some lady in Texas who believes that illegal immigration is flooding our country with disease, poverty, plagues and locusts (okay, maybe not the last two). She thinks we need to crack down on it, and say "No mas!", which was oh, so cute... I have a few things to say to this woman: First of all, let's get things clear, the "No mas!" and a reference to Vicente Fox make it clear that your problem isn't with illegal immigration, it's with Mexicans. It would possibly be with "brown people" generally, but you live in Texas, so it's Mexicans. This is important to note, you'll see why in a bit.

Immigration is one of those things that I feel pretty strongly about. I don't advocate for fully open borders, but I certainly don't tolerate reactionary racism disguised as concern for national security, or job protection, or whatever. I agree with something I saw in Chicago, I believe outside Centro Romero, to the effect of "no human being is illegal." If we will talk about illegal immigration, let's think about what that is. I don't have links handy, but poke around websites like for some data on the following (granted, it's pro-immigrant, but so am I). If you've ever incurred a late fee at Blockbuster, you should understand how much of illegal immigration happens. A large chunk of illegal immigrants are illegal because of overdue, misplaced, or incorrect filings (overstayed visas, etc.). They showed up to renew their visa on the wrong date, or their attorney forgot to do it, or they didn't understand that they were supposed to, etc., etc., etc. This is like when you get a late fee because you thought the movie was due a different day, or they closed up early and you had to drop it in the box, or you gave it to someone to return and they forgot. Of course, sometimes you know the tape is due and decide you don't care, which is also the case with some illegal immigrants who just blow off their obligations and decide to stay anyway. Obviously, this analogy is imperfect, in one case, you pay a fee, and in the other you can be deported to an abusive country while your wife and children are left behind in a strange town with no source of income, but the behavior behind the wrong is similar. You may think "how irresponsible can a person be to miss their immigration deadlines?", I suppose that when they miss it because they were driving a cab 90 hours a week it makes them more responsible than the (probably) millions of good-ol' American citizens who routinely miss important things like court dates, driver license renewals, or credit card payments... and yes, video return deadlines. I've never lost a job to an illegal immigrant, but I've often been unable to find a movie I wanted to see because someone didn't return it. Let's move on to video theft...

Without drawing comparisons to illegal downloaders, we must acknowledge the immigrants who decide to circumvent our rules and, for whatever reason, just come over. Some do so to escape abuse, some do so out of financial need, I'm sure very few do it to see Mt. Rushmore, but I suppose anything's possible. These are the people the author of today's letter was probably mostly writing about. I know this because she is, after all, talking about Mexicans, who are more likely to jump the border, and not South Asians or Eastern Europeans, who are more likely to overstay a validly issued visa, but less likely to be in Texas. People like the letter's author focus their assault on these illegal immigrants, because what they do seems more "illegal" than missing a filing deadline for some form. These people, one hears, are destroying our "culture" (according to the letter). Interesting...

America is described as a melting pot, and not a mosaic. Let's think about what happens to a mosaic when you add pieces to it: over time, adding enough different color pieces, will drown out the original design, which though outnumbered is still discernible. But if you have a fondue pot and add different things to it, the composition of the whole changes. In a melting pot, the idea is that the "culture" is constantly changing as ingredients are added. It is impossible for Mexicans to destroy Texas culture, because their presence and impact on it is, by definition, a part of that culture. What the letter writer makes reference to, the "culture", is what, then? The way it was just after her immigrant ancestors came here, of course. Let's now talk about that and tie this whole long post together, shall we?

Most of us descended from immigrants, we all agree on that, but we think it's different somehow because our grandparents came over legally. We never question what legal immigration meant then, or the effect their immigration had on the existing "culture", do we? When grandpa came over, legal immigration largely meant getting here, at which point he was checked for lice, pinned with a form, given a new last name and sent on his way. This is not the case today, and the same people who glorify grandpa's triumph over the prejudices of "existing" Americans, are now quick to impose those very barriers on the immigrants of today.

Grandpa was legal, Jose is not, granted. But bear in mind that gramps didn't have to go to the consulate and wait in line every day for years until he got a meeting, and then had to keep coming back and fill out forms for years until his visa was approved, and then arrive here to find a job, and continue filling out forms and going to the consulate for years until finally one day, he was a citizen. Grandpa may not have liked brown people either, but that's because he was a bigot and that was okay in the old country, or because they were moving in next door, it wasn't because of the brown people's legal status, probably because it would have been no different than his own. Grandpa sold all his possessions one day to get the money to come to America with nothing but his clothes and a sandwich. Why do we see him as a hero for doing the very thing we would lynch Jose for doing today? Please tell me it's not only because we changed immigration laws during the cold war, we certainly didn't change lady liberty's tablet (look closely, the statue is probably on one of the 9-11 stickers on your SUV).

One last thing on grandpa. He left the old country for a very compelling reason, probably not to see Mt. Rushmore. Do you think for a second that he would have done anything differently simply because the law prevented it? How much longer would he have toiled under authoritarianism and poverty while he waited for his visa if it had been required? If he had been able to come over anyway, and live under the radar, working horrible jobs for long hours to scrounge up money, the catch being that he would be "illegal", would he have done it anyway? I hope the answer is yes, otherwise, neither grandpa's migration or America itself are as cool and admirable as we probably think they are.

The other editorial piece that bothered me was a very poorly written opinion by one of Clarence Thomas's old clerks, defending Justice Thomas's opinions against charges that they were poorly written. I didn't read the whole thing, so I'm not going to go on about it, it just bothered me that he would start sentences with plural subjects and not finish it that way. (A little example there... nice, yes?).

Not all illegal immigrants are saints, of course, but as a rule, they are not a force of darkness out to destroy us (like grandpa was). All I'm saying, people, is return your movies on time...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

New referral to the ICC, and Kansas wins...

Earlier in the week, Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, received a referral from the Central African Republic regarding crimes committed there since the Rome Statute's entry into force in July of 2002. Pending review, this case would be the third to come before the Court, joining the DRC and Uganda. It is interesting that thus far all submissions are from Africa. It could be because of the devastating nature of recent conflict in the continent, that the odds are higher for a case to be from Africa simply because that's where most crimes subject to ICC prosecution take place. This is fine for now, and it's best that the early cases be submissions by States, for this allows the Court to find its bearings in a friendly context, with State cooperation, before it must institute proceedings against hostile governments. But we should be careful not to become too comfortable with all prosecutable cases coming from Africa, lest we fall prey to what I would call "international profiling". Hold that thought...

There are other mechanisms available for the prosecution of crimes against humanity, the current U.S. administration would have the world avail itself of them, of course, because they hate the ICC (another subject for another day...). We have seen in Sierra Leone that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ( is having difficulties with the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone ( These difficulties pop up whenever the TRC approach is tried, because while there is a legitimate need for reconciliation and national healing, and a TRC can serve as an incentive to end abuses, there is also a need for justice to be served with regard to the perpetrators. Critics of the ICC will cling to the tension in Sierra Leone to claim that the TRC's criticism of the SCSL are applicable to their own concerns. The argument is basically this: a grieving mother wants to know what happened to her child, and a TRC gives the person who knows an incentive to tell her, whereas a prosecution gives that person an incentive to clam up, hoping that the body is never found so that he can avoid being convicted. I personally prefer having a court, because while a TRC does encourage tyrants to step down, a solid legal framework gives them an incentive not to ascend in the first place. Further, it is difficult to justify complete amnesty for a kidnapper in exchange for information on the victim's (or the victim's body's) whereabouts, so why should that change when there are thousands of victims? A TRC provides healing for the relatives of those who've suffered most, it provides no remedy for the victims themselves.

Anyway, back to "international profiling" and the Central African Republic. Eventually, the ICC will venture outside of Africa. When this happens, the Court will face many difficulties, not the least of which is this "international profiling". We seem perfectly fine with all referrals coming to the ICC from Africa, it's as though we tell ourselves such atrocities are made more comprehensible because they happened over there. If we read about thousands killed with machetes, we are shocked and saddened, but then something interesting happens. If we learn that it was in Africa, that shock is lessened, as if something inside us thought that it made more sense now that we know it's Africa, but if we learn that it was in Sweden, that shock is compounded. As the Court branches out and launches propio muto investigations, it must be cognizant of this factor. I am fully confident that it will, and venture to guess that the first non-African prosecution will come out of the Andean region, but that's beside the point. It is important to keep abreast of these developments, because U.S. critics of the Court may be guilty of a sort of "international profiling". The first non-African prosecution will likely see an upsurge in rhetoric from the U.S. right, and one of the big critiques will be their preference for TRC type investigations over international criminal prosecutions.

The Washington Times, last week, reported on the TRC-SCSL rift ( I bring this up in the context of the Central African Republic referral, because I want to make sure that we don't just chalk up that news to "Africa". Each new case from Africa reinforces "international profiling", and as that happens we need to discuss the various approaches being taken there, including TRC's. The Washington Times has been called a conservative publication, I tend to agree. I just think it's interesting that they ran a piece based on an African report from October on the same day that the ICC was receiving a new African referral...

Speaking of crimes against humanity, the kU basketball team squeaked by Kentucky earlier. I suppose that if they want their upcoming loss to Mizzou to be the first of the season, then so be it.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


Posted by Hello

Dan on a Zurich bound train, circa 1998. Posted by Hello

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New logo!

Thanks Erin for doing this, you are absolutely the best!!

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Gallery 31

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