America’s Working Poor

Time for a pop quiz.

In the United States, in 2004, guess the proportion of all rural counties and metropolitan areas where a single person working full-time at the prevailing local minimum wage would be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment at prevailing rental rates.

Ready? Begin.


OK, pencils down.

Did you guess zero? Zero is correct. In no rural county or metropolitan area in the US, in 2004, was it possible for a full-time minimum-wage earner to afford a one-bedroom apartment.


In areas representing less than 1% of all housing renters nationwide (42 counties) was it possible for a full-time minimum-wage earner to afford a zero-bedroom (studio or efficiency) apartment.

If that doesn’t provide a startlingly clear idea of how many “working poor” there are in the States, I don’t know what does. These figures are from the latest “Out of Reach” study of housing affordability.

That report also includes this map showing, for each state, the number of full-time, minimum-wage jobs necessary to afford a two-bedroom apartment at prevailing rates. You heard that right: if a household contains people earning minimum wage, the map shows the number of people who must all work full-time to afford one two-bedroom apartment. The majority of states require more than two such workers, meaning a couple both working full-time at minimum wage could not afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Washington state scores an even 2. I assume the situation is considerably worse in the Seattle metro area.

Innovative business models for photographers

I think this is a genius business model for photographers. However, for some reason, the article seems to be written with a lot of hostility towards the clients. The sub-headline is “Doting parents hire personal photographers…”

Shannon Stauffer can easily take snapshots or get retail studio portraits of her children. But instead, the Harrisburg, Pa., mother paid $1,000 to hire a professional photographer to catch them in action — all year.

What’s with the “these people could easily take their own snapshots, but noooooooooooooooo…. they have to be all fancy” tone?

Professional photographers, hoping to stand out in a crowded market and build loyal clients and more referrals, are pushing year-long contracts and day-in-the-life shoots that capture people inside the hospital’s labor and delivery room, on vacation, at soccer games and even at the office and the classroom.


It reminds me of the royal family on a very small scale. They have their own personal photographer,” said Jessie Kimmel, whose Canadian studio, This Moment Now Photographic, started offering first-year-of-life photo sessions this fall
Consumers increasingly want relaxed, more natural portraits, and the kinds of shots seen in fashion magazines and art galleries

I think this is a great business model for photographers. Young families are a natural audience for this kind of service: kids grow so fast when they’re young, it makes sense to document as much of their first few years as possible. Relaxed, candid portraits are often a lot nicer than cheapo studio work, and, on the plus side for the photographer, having longer-term on-call arrangements like this lets them better predict and manage their revenue.

Not sure why the article writeup was so snarky. I also wonder if there are photographers in Seattle doing this…

Surveying the gay marriage fight thus far

Dale Carpenter has a great summary piece on the Volokh Conspiracy about the legal fight to date over gay marriage. Definitely worth a read.

This closing overview of the progress to date, though, is heartening:

Nevertheless, by the end of next April, New Jersey will join four other states – Massachusetts, Vermont, California, and Connecticut – in giving gay couples access to all of the rights of marriage under state law. All by itself this is a significant development. Of the 300 million people who live in the United States, about 54 million (over 1/6 of the nation’s total population) will live in a state where gay couples have access to the same rights and obligations as married straight couplesOf those 54 million, about 40 million will live in a state where this result was achieved entirely legislatively (California and Connecticut). All of that has happened in just the last six years. The experience we gain and the lessons we learn from protecting gay families under the law in those states will be difficult to ignore in the years to come.

In which I take requests

A commenter asks:

I’m wondering if you could comment on this news item [link 1, link 2]

See the ad here

In reading about it, I find myself pleased that society has come pretty far in combating racism. The reason I say this is the following: I speculate that many people who are about my age (26) or younger will have NO CLUE what is racist about this ad.

In other words, if you presented me this ad and said, “This ad is causing a lot of controversy around the country. Why?”, I would say, “I dunno, I guess because it implies that Ford is a womanizer?”

Even with explanation, I still don’t really get why it’s racist.

The ad in question is a negative campaign ad run against Harold Ford Jr in Tennessee. Ford is black.

(As an aside, I would point out that this ad perpetuates the “terrorists are who we say they are” meme)

This ad is indeed making news as being racist. I’ve read several blog entries about it and heard radio coverage on NPR on my way home. Here’s my take on the racism angle. First, background:

  • Interracial relationships are a Big Issue for racists
  • This is not (yet) a dead issue in the US. The 2000 census showed that only 4.9% of all marriages are interracial.
  • Black-male / white-female marriages are particularly contentious: the idea that the most eligible black men choose white partners is referred to as the “marriage squeeze.” The 2000 census showed that black men are 2.5 times as likely to marry white women as black women are to marry white men.
  • The prospect of black men having relations with white women is particularly provocative for racists: racist literature frequently invokes the “danger” of black men “stealing our (i.e., white) women”. There are both racist and misogynist overtones here of the dangerous, animal-like black man pillaging the virtue of pure, innocent white women.

Given this background, I think the racism charge stems from the fact that this ad seems to deliberately suggest that Ford Jr. pursues white women, expecting this to trigger racist outrage and prejudice against Ford.

The idea of a black man pursuing white women is, in itself, outrageous to racists. If there are racists left in Tennessee (God forbid), then deliberately provoking this outrage is a deliberate use of racism for political advantage.

The ad is interesting, of course, because it provides plausible deniability: it can be seen simply as suggesting that Ford hangs out with women of “loose morals” (let’s ignore the misogyny there for the moment). It never explicitly calls out the fact that Ford is black, or juxtaposes an image of him and the white actress.

I agree with the commenter, though: it wasn’t immediately apparent to me why this ad struck so many people as racist. I had to think about it for a bit. I think that’s a great sign. There’s also an even more subtle possible defense of the ad: honi soit qui mal y pense.

A practical reason to vote against I-933

I-933 is a “property fairness” initiative up for vote in Washington State. It basically provides that:

  • The state government must minimize damage to (e.g., lowering the value of) private property when considering new regulations
  • If a new regulation does damage (i.e., lowers the value of) private property, the owner must be compensated, or the new restriction must be waived for the damaged property
  • The preceeding two measures are back-dated 10 years
  • The state may not pass new regulations prohibiting existing, legal uses of private property (sort of a blanket grandfather clause)

Because I’m a progressive, I’m generally in favor of environmental and managed-growth regulations, but even so, I’ve been very conflicted about this measure. If land-use restrictions vaporize private wealth, it seems only fair to me that that cost be borne by the taxpaying public, not by those unlucky enough to own affected property.

Luckily for me, though, I don’t need to sort out all my philosophical principles in order to decide how to vote on I-933. For me, the retroactivity is a deal-breaker. I-933 argues that it isn’t fair to pull the rug out from under law-abiding property owners by changing the rules on them. But the measure’s retroactivity provision does exactly that: it changes the rules of land use retroactively, creating a huge liability and financial burden for the state. If it’s not fair to switch the rules on private land owners, it’s not fair to switch the rules on the state.

The retroactivity of the bill will instantly create billions of dollars of liability for the state. Even if you would support I-933 in a forward-looking-only incarnation, the retroactivity is a sufficient reason to vote against it in this election.

The health benefits of regular sex

I’m really not sure what to make of this, from an article in Forbes about the health benefits of regular sex:

Better teeth: Seminal plasma contains zinc, calcium and other minerals shown to retard tooth decay.

Make of this what you will.

Update: I just fact-checked this with Pseudonymous Friend over IM:

maiken says:
    does this mean what I think it means?

PF says:

maiken says:

PF says:
    please send to all women at once

maiken says:

Consider yourselves notified.

De Facto Socialized Medicine Emerging?

The New York Times has an interesting article today about how some hospitals are following this line of reasoning:

  • They’re required to treat all emergency cases, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay
  • Indigent patients with chronic conditions end up chewing through a lot of emergency care
  • Those patients wouldn’t need so much (expensive) emergency care if they had access to decent preventative care
  • So, the hospitals step in and provide preventative care for free. This results in significant taxpayer savings.

As the article says:

With the number of uninsured people in the United States reaching a record 46.6 million last year, up by 7 million from 2000, Seton is one of a small number of hospital systems around the country to have done the math and acted on it. Officials decided that for many patients with chronic diseases, it would be cheaper to provide free preventive care than to absorb the high cost of repeated emergencies.

Tangentially, I was shocked to read in this article that nearly a quarter of the population of Texas is uninsured. Adding insult to injury, the requirements for the state’s Medicaid program, which is designed to provide basic insurance to the poor, are so stringent that a working parent of two is ineligible if they make more than $3,696 a year. That’s $10 a day to shelter, clothe and feed a family of three.

New Jersey Supreme Court upholds gay couples’ rights

State Supreme Courts have generally ruled against state-constitution-based claims by gay couples that their rights are being violated when the state refuses to allow them to marry. I was particularly disappointed when the Washington State Supreme Court, after sitting on the issue for more than a year, issued a flimsily reasoned ruling against gay marriage.

Today, though, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that:

same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals in New Jersey, but that lawmakers must determine whether the state will honor gay marriage or some other form of civil union.

Advocates on both sides of the issue had believed the relatively liberal New Jersey high court had the best chance of approving gay marriages since Massachusetts became the only state to do so in 2003.

But the high court stopped short of fully approving gay marriage in the state, and gave lawmakers 180 days to rewrite marriage laws to either include same-sex couples or create new civil unions.

You can read the entire ruling online. Excerpts:

HELD: Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose. The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed samesex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to samesex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.
At this point, the Court does not consider whether committed same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, but only whether those couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits afforded to married heterosexual couples. Cast in that light, the issue is not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people.
the State has not articulated any legitimate public need for depriving committed same-sex couples of the host of benefits and privileges that are afforded to married heterosexual couples. There is, on the one hand, no rational basis for giving gays and lesbians full civil rights as individuals while, on the other hand, giving them an incomplete set of rights when they enter into committed samesex relationships.
The equal protection requirement of Article I, Paragraph 1 leaves the Legislature with two apparent options. The Legislature could simply amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples, or it could create a separate statutory structure, such as a civil union.

This is a big step forward. The court here highlights the fact that there is really no defensible public-interest reason to deny same-sex couples the rights that go with the institution of marriage, other than a blind insistence that “this is how it has always been”.

As an aside, MSNBC’s web site is running this story under some fairly inaccurate headlines, I would say:

  • Currently, on the home page, the headline is “N.J. court punts on gay marriage
  • The main headline on the story page is “N.J. court stops short of OK’ing gay marriage
  • The title that gets loaded into your browser window on the story page is “N.J. rules neither for, against gay marriage

Over at Fox News’ web page, the story appears on the main page as “New Jersey High Court Leaves Gay Marriage Rights to Legislature,” and the subheading on the story page is “New Jersey’s Supreme Court has left it to the state Legislature to decide the rules for gay couples who want to marry in the state.”

Let’s be clear: the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that it violates the State Constitution for gay couples to be denied the “financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts”, and directed the legislature to “either amend the marriage statutes or enact an appropriate statutory structure within 180 days of the date of this decision.”

I don’t see how this ruling can honestly be described as “punting”, and I find it misleading to say that it is “neither for, against gay marriage.” To summarize the ruling as “leaving gay marriage rights to the Legislature” seems particularly dishonest, since the ruling does the opposite: it declares that gay couples have exactly the same rights as heterosexual married couples, and instructs the legislature that it must alter current law to recognize those rights. The only thing it leaves up to the legislature is what the institution that formally recognizes and enshrines those rights will be called. The rights themselves are decidedly not left up to the legislature.

CNN, to its credit, runs the accurate headline “Same-sex marriage wins state battle”. This conveys that the ruling did not mandate an institution called “marriage” for gay couples, but correctly points out that this is a major victory for proponents of gay marriage. The first sentence of CNN’s description is similarly accurate: “New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples.” That’s exactly right.

Surprisingly good political ad

Most political ads are junk. This one by the DNC isn’t bad. Via Shakespeare’s Sister.

Check out

I’ve added live graphics to the right sidebar showing tracking data from That site is a great, continually-updated rundown of the latest polling data for the upcoming election.

Do a majority of Americans support impeachment?

This is potentially quite significant. Newsweek is running an article summarizing the findings of a recent poll it conducted, in which it breezily mentions:

Other parts of a potential Democratic agenda receive less support, especially calls to impeach Bush: 47 percent of Democrats say that should be a “top priority,” but only 28 percent of all Americans say it should be, 23 percent say it should be a lower priority and nearly half, 44 percent, say it should not be done.

This paragraph seems to tell us that:

  • 28% of all Americans say it should be a “top priority” to impeach the President
  • 23% of all Americans say it should be a “lower priority” to impeach the President (but presumably, something that we should get around to)
  • 44% of Americans say that the President should not be impeached

As Greg at The Talent Show points out, 28% + 23% = 51%. The Newsweek poll appears to show that a majority of Americans support impeaching the President.

For bonus points, the Newsweek poll also appears to show that a majority of Americans support rolling back the tax cuts:

Rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts would be contentious too: 38 percent of Americans say the Dems should make that a top priority; 28 percent say it should be a lower priority; and 28 percent say it shouldn’t be done at all.

I’m not sure how a policy choice that two thirds of the respondents support can honestly be described as particularly “contentious”.


This letter, found by an exploring photoblogger, does indeed seem quite sad.

And so it begins

The Torture and Dungeons Act of 2006 purports to forbid any detainee of the US military from challenging the basis or conditions of their detention. If the Marines keep you in a dark hole for the rest of your life, that’s just too bad.

There are a wad of cases pending in federal courts, filed by detainees challenging their detention. But…

Moving quickly to implement the bill signed by President Bush this week that authorizes military trials of enemy combatants, the administration has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

In a notice dated Wednesday, the Justice Department listed 196 pending habeas cases, some of which cover groups of detainees. The new Military Commissions Act (MCA), it said, provides that “no court, justice, or judge” can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future.

The detainees’ lawyers will argue the new law is unconstitutional. We’ll see.

In Which God Shows Us The Way

I’m always complaining about overt religious imagery and messages in official pronouncements by the President and others. I think officials should refrain from invoking religious themes when making official statements.

So, predictably, I was peeved at this news article:

Top US general says Rumsfeld is inspired by God

The top US general defended the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying it is inspired by God.

He leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country,” said Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This guy is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No, seriously, the Chairman of the frigging Joint Chiefs of Staff:

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is by law the highest ranking military officer of the United States military, and the principal military advisor to the President of the United States.

To review, the President says we are at war against Islamic enemies, but that we have nothing against the religion of Islam, per se, and that we aren’t waging a Christian Crusade. But now the highest-ranking military official in the country says the architect of our current war is inspired by the Christian God.

That’s bound to make things better.


In Which John Yoo Dreams of Evading US Courts

This post by Marty Lederman on John Yoo’s recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal contains an interesting tidbit:

In his new book, John [Yoo] describes how in the weeks after September 11th, an interagency task force of lawyers was convened to study the wide array of legal issues related to the detention and trial of suspected Al Qaeda personnel. Presumably there were many difficult questions that the task force debated. But there was, as John recounts, “one thing we all agreed on” — namely, “that any detention facility should be located outside the United States.”

How interesting. This was the one thing that everyone could agree on. Why would that be?

Marty argues that it was assumed by all parties that locating facilities outside the US would put them beyond the reach of US courts, and this seems supported by a comment from Yoo’s op-ed piece:

The new law is, above all, a stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world. It was passed in response to the effort by a five-justice majority in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld to take control over terrorism policy. That majority extended judicial review to Guantanamo Bay, threw the Bush military commissions into doubt, and tried to extend the protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees

As Yoo sees it, the Hamdan decision was incorrect in “extending judicial review” to locations overseas. Presumably, then, before the Hamdan decision was handed down, Yoo believed that situating facilities outside the US would effectively strip US courts of jurisdiction over them.

I’ve asked repeatedly what reason could exist for locating CIA detention facilities at secret locations overseas if all our interrogation techniques are above-board. John Yoo himself has answered my question: the reason is to deliberately dodge judicial review.

It seems like a pretty straight shot from there to assume that the interrogation techniques being used are not legal. Otherwise, why deliberately duck judicial review?

Meme Watch: Lies about the Torture and Dungeons Act of 2006

To be clear, I’m talking about the so-called Military Commissions Act of 2006, which was signed into law yesterday.

Today we knock down two lies being told publicly about the law.

Lie #1: New Legislation Was Needed to Enable Prosecutions

The first lie is the common-currency soundbite that the law “clears the way for terrorists to be brought to justice”. The White House has repeatedly claimed that the Hamdan Supreme Court decision, which struck down Bush’s previous, half-baked military tribunal system as unconstitutional, barred it from prosecuting the suspected terrorists in military custody until new legislation was passed. The Military Commissions act has frequently been described as “clearing the way” or “enabling” terror suspects to be “brought to justice” via the new law’s rules for military tribunals. The clear implication is that without this law, the White House would be unable to bring terror suspects “to justice”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Supreme Court struck down the first military tribunal system, which the Bush administration invented of whole cloth, because it failed to provide a minimum level of due process, as required, among other things, by the Geneva Conventions, which require that detainees be tried by a “regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples”.

The fact is, the White House has at its disposal, and has always had at its disposal, at least two time-tested, known-legal mechanisms for prosecuting terror suspects: regular criminal courts, or military courts-martial.

Neal Katyal has an excellent article in Slate about the folly of having made up a brand new ersatz legal system specifically for terorr suspects instead of just using courts martial. In the Hamdan decision, Justice Stevens wrote that “Nothing in the record before us demonstrates that it would be impracticable to apply court-martial rules in this case.” But the White House has been bent on subjecting terror detainees to a new, parallel, lesser “justice system” that strips out basic protections for the accused. That and only that is the reason that new legislation is “necessary” to “bring to justice” terror suspects. All the military’s current detainees could have been charged and tried years ago, and the entire Hamdan case would have been completely unnecessary, if the White House had not set out to ensure that terror suspects would be tried by special kangaroo courts.

Lie #2: The New Law Doesn’t Really Allow Indefinite Detention

This lie comes to us from (gasp) Fox News. As called out by Glenn Greenwald, Mort Kondracke, a Fox journalist, said this on the air:

MORT KONDRACKE: Well, as to that human rights watch spokesperson, it’s just false that this is — you can lock them up and throw away the key is not correct. I mean, these detainees have a right to go to a military — they have been tried in a military tribunal. The case goes on appeal to the U.S. district — the Circuit Court of appeals for the District of Columbia, second highest court in the land, which reviews the evidence. And so there is judicial review of a conviction, at least, and so, you know, it’s just flatly false.

This is unadulterated nonsense. As Glenn explains, and as most of the critical coverage of the Torture and Dungeons act has pointed out, the bill does not create any obligation for the government to ever bring detainees to trial, and it forbids detainees from challenging the grounds for, or conditions of, their detention. In this way, the bill clearly creates the ability for the government to imprison people forever simply by declining to bring them to trial. In fact, most of the current “high-value” detainees that may eventually be targets of the new military tribunals have already been held for years without charges of any kind being brought against them.

As Glenn puts it:

What is “flatly false” is what Kondracke told Fox viewers about the Military Commissions Act. It is true that the Act creates military commissions and establishes rules for those commissions in the event that the President wants a certain detainee tried, convicted and punished
But there is no right for detainees to be tried before a commission, and there is no obligation for the President to bring any detainee before a military commission. If the President does not want to obtain a finding of guilt and impose punishment, he has no reason to bring them before a military commission. He can just keep them detained forever without any finding of guilt and without any punishment being imposed

The fact that this legislation expressly gives the President the power to imprison anyone, indefinitely, without ever having to justify his actions to a judge, is one of the most alarming elements of this hideous piece of legislation.

Even more on the Torture and Dungeons Act

Tony Snow today spoke about the signing of the Military Commissions Act. If you pay attention to what he’s saying on behalf of the White House, you can easily see the alarming extent to which the Executive is gleefully amassing unilaterial power, and derisively ridiculing the very suggestion that oversight and transparency might be a good idea.

On the CIA’s network of secret prisons:

Q: Tony, what are the accountability measures within this act as far as the secret prisons?

MR. SNOW: Again, we don’t talk about that program, so what I will tell you is that people — but what happens here, if you look at the law, it says that anybody who deals — who violates the law with anybody who is within American jurisdiction or administration are going to be punished. And it outlines a series of punishments and it also outlines the acts for which they could be punished.

Q: So you’re saying there are accountability measures —

MR. SNOW: Of course. For anybody who is under American jurisdiction.

It’s been repeatedly alleged that the CIA conducts its secret overseas interrogations in facilities run by foreign intelligence agencies. How much do you want to bet that this setup is expressly to be able to argue that prisoners held in the secret prisons are not, in fact, under “American jurisdiction”?


Q: The secret prisons?

MR. SNOW: [...W]hat you’re trying to do is to question me about something that we don’t talk about.

Q: That’s the point. If it’s secret, you’re going to keep it secret.

MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q: [...W]ho’s checking to make sure you’re following this law.

MR. SNOW: [...] I think, for any of you who have been out working with, dealing with the men and women who are in the American military, you’re impressed by the professionalism. The people who are involved in these programs are the most mature of folks involved in this kind of activity, and they take very seriously their professional charge. I think it is reasonable to assume that if something bad happens, you’d find out about it.

Uh… really? If something illegal happens during the secret interrogations in the secret prisons run under overseas, in secret locations, under a classified, secret CIA program, it’s safe to assume the American public will find out about it? How the hell is that supposed to happen?

Tony tries to tell us:

MR. SNOW: [...] What you’re saying is, if we can’t look over their shoulders, how do we know the law applies.

Q: Exactly. How do you — how can you enforce the law if you —

MR. SNOW: Well, again, because you do have accountability. You have outside actors looking in on every juncture. It is built in. And therefore, there are measures that are taken within this.

Q: Who are the outside actors?

MR. SNOW: They are independent of the questioning that’s going on. But they’ve also been trained in taking a look at what the proper guidelines are for interrogation under the law, trying to make sure that people do not go beyond the boundaries of a proper interrogation.

Q: You won’t say who they are —

MR. SNOW: These are people who work for the federal government who are charged with doing it.

Q: They’re not independent if they’re working for the federal government.

MR. SNOW: They’re independent of the questioning.

So, to sum up, there are “accountability measures” that apply to violations that occur within “American jurisdiction”. Pay no attention to the fact that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation program is specifically run at sites outside the country. Obviously, those two facts are not related in any way. Also, you don’t have to worry about abuses, because people who work for the executive branch will observe interrogations ordered by the executive branch to inform the executive branch when it thinks the executive branch has acted illegally by ordering the interrogations. Obviously, this poses no dilemma to executive branch employees interested in keeping their job. Oh, and and all other branches of government are forbidden from even learning about the executive’s activities, much less overseeing them.

That sounds perfect to me.

Tony Snow sums up the Iraq situation

From yeterday’s press briefing:

Q: One on Iraq again. Sorry. Just the simple question: Are we winning?

MR. SNOW: We’re making progress. I don’t know. How do you define “winning”? The fact is, in taking on the war on terror — let me put it this way, the President has made it obvious, we’re going to win.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Party That Is Strong on Defense.

More on the Torture and Dungeons Act

President Bush signed the so-called “Military Commissions Act” into law this morning. You can read the full bill here. Just as a recap:

  • The President is authorized to label anyone at all an “Unlawful Enemy Combatant” (an invented term) and hold them forever, without charge, if he chooses.
  • Foreigners in particular are forbidden from making any appeal to US courts to challenge their (potentially permanent) imprisonment.
  • If the government chooses to torture, abuse, rape, coerce, or otherwise mistreat a foreign prisoner, they have no legal recourse and are expressly forbidden from appealing to any US court.
  • The Geneva Convention protections are significantly weakened.
  • El Presidente gets exclusive authority to decide what does and does not constitute a breach of the Geneva Conventions beyond the language of the bill.
  • For good measure, nobody is allowed to cite the Geneva Conventions as a “source of rights” in any court of law.
  • Evidence obtained by torture before 2006 is explicitly authorized for use in military commissions. Evidence obtained by coercion after then can be used, too.

Jack Balkin has some commentary today, in which he argues that the new legislation hasn’t actually authorized the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques, which include the use of hypothermia, sleep deprivation, stress positions, mock executions, etc, because other legislation is still applicable. However, he argues that because all judicial recourse has been disabled, de facto, the President can now order whatever extreme measures he likes without fear.

The CIA will still be violating the law if it does what the President wants it to do. However, because the Military Commissions Act severs rights from remedies, the Executive branch has the sole power of enforcement. The President decides whether he thinks people in the Executive branch are violating the law, and even if he believes they are violating the law, the President also decides whether he will order them to stop. By now we know the answer to this question. He will not order them to stop. Quite the contrary: the President has made clear in his repeated endorsement of these “alternative” techniques (techniques that he will not name in public) that he will push CIA officials to break the law. Because the Executive branch holds all enforcement powers within itself, the only thing that prevents cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is the conscience of CIA personnel and executive branch lawyers.

And we know from the fiasco over the torture memo that the conscience of executive branch lawyers has not always been sufficient.
[The Act] is a travesty of law under the forms of law. It is the accumulation of executive, judicial, and legislative powers in a single branch and under a single individual.

It is the very essence of tyranny.

During the kabuki theater performed before the passage of this bill and pawned off on the public as “discussion” and “debate”, GOP Congressmen supposedly “negotiated” with the White House to draw up a bill that balanced civil liberties with the expanded authorities the White House insists it needs to go after terrorists. Much was made of the back-and-forth exchange of draft bills with the White House, and the negotiated bill was trumpeted as evidence of healthy and functioning checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches. This MSNBC article from that time describes GOP Senators led by John McCain as “GOP rebels”.

So, what’s the White House’s tune now that the “compromise” legislation has been thrashed out and signed? Recall that normally, the White House attaches “signing statements” to bills explaning how it will interpret them, which is usually used as an opportunity to wriggle out of aspects of the bill that the Executive doesn’t like. The White House even attached such a proviso to McCain’s original anti-torture amendment, for chrissake.

Tony Snow, from yesterday’s press briefing:

Q: Tony, is there going to be a substantial and detailed signing statement with tomorrow’s signing?

MR. SNOW: There will be no signing statement.
Q: Can I follow on Ken’s question? Why no signing statement? Is there any kind of change in policy?

MR. SNOW: Because there’s no signing statement. You have signing statements sometimes, and sometimes you just sign it.
Q: This just seems like the kind of bill where there are a lot of things to be interpreted and take a look at.

MR. SNOW: They did a really good job this time.

Q: Wow. (Laughter.)

…and today:

Q: [...T]his has been described as a compromise. The President basically got everything he wanted, didn’t he?

: Pretty much, yes.

If this legislation didn’t scare you before for some inscrutable reason, the very prospect that it is utterly and entirely “what the President wanted” should scare the crap out of you.

Beauty ideals via manipulated imagery

Dove has put out this video as part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty”. It shows the extent of the transformation an image of a model goes through for use on a billboard.

(via Unfogged)