Thursday, June 29, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Women vote and run in Kuwaiti poll for first time

Kuwaitis voted for a new parliament on Thursday with women running and casting ballots for the first time in a national poll in the Gulf Arab state.


Parliament passed a law in May 2005 giving women the right to vote and stand in elections for the 50-seat National Assembly of the oil-producing country.

Officials said about 250 candidates are standing, including 28 women determined to make headway despite daunting odds of beating seasoned male opponents, many of whom are former parliamentarians seeking re-election.


Experts say female candidates have a slim chance given their political inexperience, stiff competition from men and the conservative mindset of many voters, including other women.

Still, it is progress.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Back to the NYT/financial records story.

The Boston Globe had a story yesterday (Terrorist funds-tracking no secret, some say) that points out that the information revealed in the NYT piece was not, as the critics of the Times contend, secret information:

But a search of public records — government documents posted on the Internet, congressional testimony, guidelines for bank examiners, and even an executive order President Bush signed in September 2001 — describe how US authorities have openly sought new tools to track terrorist financing since 2001. That includes getting access to information about terrorist-linked wire transfers and other transactions, including those that travel through SWIFT.

“There have been public references to SWIFT before,” said Roger Cressey, a senior White House counterterrorism official until 2003. “The White House is overreaching when they say [The New York Times committed] a crime against the war on terror. It has been in the public domain before.”

This being the case, this further underscores that there has been a rather radical over-reaction to this story.

And I would again stress, having read the article over more than once now, that it is hard to argue that there is really any shocking operational details revealed in the article.

I am increasingly of the view that most of the dramatic reaction to the original newspaper article is either 1) the result of already standing pent-up frustration against the NYT, or 2) more a reaction to the furor that erupted on blogs, on TV and on the radio, than to the actual content of the article itself. I am convinced that most people who are up in arms about it probably haven’t read the piece for themselves. The main storyline has been: “NYT reveals secret anti-terrorism program!”–which sound really bad, until you actually look into the details.

Back to the BoGlo story are some more details of significance in assessing whether the NYT‘s story on the SWIFT program and the administration’s financial network surveillance actually constitutes outing a massive secret:

Victor D. Comras , a former US diplomat who oversaw efforts at the United Nations to improve international measures to combat terror financing, said it was common knowledge that worldwide financial transactions were being closely monitored for links to terrorists. “A lot of people were aware that this was going on,” said Comras, one of a half-dozen financial experts UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recruited for the task.

“Unless they were pretty dumb, they had to assume” their transactions were being monitored, Comras said of terrorist groups. “We have spent the last four years bragging how effective we have been in tracking terrorist financing.”

Indeed, a report that Comras co-authored in 2002 for the UN Security Council specifically mentioned SWIFT as a source of financial information that the United States had tapped into. The system, which handles trillions of dollars in worldwide transactions each day, serves as a main hub for banks and other financial institutions that move money around the world. According to The New York Times, SWIFT executives agreed to give the Treasury Department and the CIA broad access to its database.

SWIFT and other worldwide financial clearinghouses “are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information,” according to the 33-page report by the terrorist monitoring group established by the UN Security Council in late 2001. “The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.”

I daresay that the information in that paragraph from a public document is not radically different than the basic descriptions in the NYT piece.

The piece details more examples of public documents and pronouncements, mostly by the administration itself, that are not that different than the details revealed in the NYT article.

As such, it seems to me that cries of “treason” and such are well out of bounds here.

h/t: Glenn Greenwald

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Alabama moved entire 2008 primary to February

When the Alabama Legislature tried to make Alabama a player in presidential politics, it inadvertently moved the state’s entire primary election — not just the presidential preference primary — from June to February in 2008.

I wholly support moving the presidential preference primary to February, but it is utterly hilarious that the legislature accidentally moved the whole primary process forward!

Ken Wallis, the governor’s legal adviser, said Wednesday the final version of the legislation moving up the presidential preference primary did far more than the lawmakers intended.

“It certainly appears it has set all primary elections for the first Tuesday in February,” he said.

The state’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Nancy Worley, said she discussed the situation Wednesday with members of the state attorney general’s staff.

“Our general thinking is the Legislature would come back and clear up that date,” Worley said.

In the rush of its final meeting day on April 17, the Legislature approved a bill that was supposed to move Alabama’s presidential preference primary from being one of the last in the nation to being one of the first. In 2008, it would go from June 3 to Feb. 5

Quite frankly, since ’08 is just House members and judges and such, having it in June is a waste anyway, because given the lack of anything interesting to vote for, nobody shows up to vote anyway.

Still, the hilarity gets better:

The Legislature left the primary runoff for state and county offices on the last Tuesday in June. That means candidates would have an agonizing runoff campaign stretching more than four months — from Feb. 5 to June 24.

Amazing–and perhaps the funniest thing I have read all day.

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By Steven L. Taylor

“It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.”–Chief Justice John Roberts in his partial concurrence/partial dissent in LULAC v. Perry.


I am not opposed, in theory, to institutional mechanisms that would enhance diversity of various types within government.

However, within the US system of representation by real estate (i.e., the single member district) I have long thought the notion of trying to guarantee a specific racial/ethnic outcomes was problematic at best and specious at worst.

For one thing, the notion that the thing that best defines us in terms of representation in government is our skin color is simply wrong. Clarence Thomas and Sheila Jackson Lee have the same basic hue, but their politics are quite different and would represent a given district in substantially different ways.

Yes, a higher concentration of blacks, hispanics or whites in a given location increases the probability that a person of that category will run for office and that they may potentially win. However, it hardly guarantees such an outcome.

Hence, the court’s opinion that partisan gerrymandering, which decreases democratic competition is ok, but diluting the Latino population’s voting strength strikes me as odd, if not a non sequitur. The reasoning is especially tortured because it would seem, in looking at the opinion, that part of the logic that makes dilution of hispanic voters a problem for the Court is because the dilution was done for partisan reason, i.e., that hispanics were more likely to vote Democratic, so diluting their voting power aided the GOP. If that is the logic, then surely that is partisan gerrymandering, which the Court seems to find acceptable, not pure racial gerrymandering. It is as if the Court is sayinf you can more Democrats out of the district in a way that would help Republicans so long as the bulk of said Democrats aren’t black or hispanic.

If we want to increase diversity in the legislature, and not just the racial kind (i.e, the ideological kind s well–which is ultimately far more important than skin color), we need to radically change our electoral system to one that promotes some serious amount of proportionality.

That, however, is unlikely to happen any time soon.

For further analysis of the case, see Rick Hasen’s post at Election Law.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Paulson Treasury nomination moves to fast Senate vote

The nomination of Henry Paulson to become U.S. Treasury secretary was quickly approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday and sent to the full Senate where a fast afternoon vote was expected.

One suspects that he will have little trouble with the full Senate.

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By Steven L. Taylor

It doesn’t seem as if the SCOTUS decision is all that radical. It would seem that the Court has again upheld the general notion of partisan gerrymandering. Further, the notion that boundaries can be redrawn whenever states choose to do so is, which is new.

The issue is about minority voting populations, and with the Voting Rights Act (Via CNN): High court upholds most of Texas redistricting map

At issue was the shifting of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into a new, oddly shaped district. Justices had been told that was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander under the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights.

As such, the scope of this appears to be narrow and sounds to be to basically uphold previous rulings.

The question that remains open, as the news trickles out, is whether the districts have to be fixed prior to the November elections (the answer is probably “yes”) and then how many districts are affected (one cannot redraw just one district).

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By Steven L. Taylor

There is no concrete information as of yet, but MSNBC is reporting the following breaking news: Court KOs part of Texas redistricting.

Depending on the nature of the ruling, it is possible that a number of Texas primaries will be nullified.

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By Steven L. Taylor

More from the BBC on the topic of the previous post, i.e., a Palestinian agreement on the borders of two-states in the region, which would, by default at least, require the PA to recognize Israel.

In the piece (Middle East | Hamas resists Israel recognition) we have this quote, which would be funny if it weren’t so sad:

However, a Hamas member who helped negotiate the agreement, Ziyad Dayeh, said Hamas support for a two-state solution was nothing new for Hamas.

“When talking about a Palestinian state in the occupied territories of 1967, it means there would be another state on the other part of Palestine. It means, yes, practically, a two-state solution, and it’s not a new thing – it has been offered by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin before,” he said.


the existing drafts of the deal make no mention of the second half of this solution – the state of Israel.

There appear to be some serious mental gymnastics being deployed by Hamas members to find a way to accept this deal without mentioning Israel in any way.

As such, the progress that such an agreement would represent is curtailed substantially.

The sad fact remains that a Palestinian state could exist, and exist soon, if Hamas and their ilk would try existing on the plane of reality, rather than in the Land of Wish.

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By Steven L. Taylor

An unexpected turn of events (at least to me), in the current crisis over Corporal Shalit is that the PA government is moving closer to Abbas’ recognition plan.

Via the NYT (Israeli Troops Enter Gaza; Bridges Are Hit):

The prospect of an invasion, threatened by Israel if Corporal Shalit was not released, seemed to have pushed the Palestinians toward agreement after months of internal fighting.

The draft agreement between the Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, and the Hamas faction of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya is based on a document outlined by Palestinian prisoners. It is described as containing an implicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist, because it calls for the creation of a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders, presumably next to Israel.

Such an accord would move Hamas closer to recognition of Israel — a significant change — and would raise the possibility of renewed Western aid to the Palestinians, which was severely curtailed after the Hamas victory in January.

If the accord backing what would amount to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is completed, it will represent a victory for Mr. Abbas, who had threatened to put the issue to a referendum next month. But Saeb Erekat, a senior Fatah official close to Mr. Abbas, said that the document was incomplete, and that Mr. Abbas wanted to review it and consult further.

While hardly the magic bullet that cures all the ills of the region, this would be a significant step in the direction of an actual settlement. Of course, the Israelis aren’t going to agree to those borders, but if Hamas actually has to accept the legal idea of Israel, that would be fairly remarkable.

Of course, there are semantic ways to remain recalcitrant:

But Salah al-Bardawil, a Hamas legislator, told Reuters, “We said we accept a state in 1967 — but we did not say we accept two states.”

Mr. Masri said in an interview: “They do exist. It’s tangible, they exist, we recognize the fact they exist. What we don’t recognize is the legitimacy of the occupation.”

And then there’s this:

The draft document also contains a clause that supports armed action against Israel, which it says should be “concentrated” in areas occupied by Israel in 1967 but not limited to them.

Even given the long-standing anger held by many Palestinians, one would think that at some point it would become blatantly obvious that peace is preferable to war–especially a war that the PA cannot win (as the current military skirmish should dramatically underscore). However, this fact seems not to penetrate the minds of many Palestinians leaders, to the disservice of their own people.

This whole situation with the kidnapping of Shalit underscores the disconnect with reality that many Palestinians seem to exist with in regards to what they would like to have happen, and what can happen.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

The Spider-Man 3 trailer.

h/t: TAM

(OTB has a link to the YouTube version if you can’t wait for the nifty HD version)

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