Saturday, June 28, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: UN ‘regrets’ Zimbabwe election

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Friday, June 27, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: ‘Hanoi Hilton’ jailer says he’d vote for McCain

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By Steven L. Taylor

Add Mark Kleiman to the list of observers who don’t see radical change coming as a result of Heller.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Early turnout low in Zimbabwe’s one-man vote | U.S. | Reuters

Early turnout was low in Zimbabwe’s one-candidate election on Friday after President Robert Mugabe went ahead with the vote despite a wave of international condemnation.

Mugabe, in power for 28 years, stood alone after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew six days ago saying state-backed violence and intimidation meant his supporters risked their lives by voting.

It is, of course, shocking that in the midst of an economic disaster and election-related violence that a one-person race wouldn’t garner much participation.

Although the AP reports that the government had been sending out thugs to intimidate citizens into voting.

Meanwhile, at least one organization has called the election.

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By Steven L. Taylor

I first noted this story this morning via the BBC: Via the BBC: Colombia’s Uribe calls for vote

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has called for a referendum to determine if there should be a new presidential poll amid a bribery scandal.

The move comes after the Supreme Court called for an investigation into the legality of his re-election in 2006.

Specifically, it has been alleged that Representative Yidis Medina was bribed with a promise for jobs for supporters if she voted for the constitutional amendment that led to Uribe being allowed to run for re-election.

In condemning the Supreme Court, Uribe went to the airwaves last night and suggested the following:

“I am going to convene Congress so that it can produce as swiftly as possible legislation on a referendum, that would call the people to repeat the 2006 presidential election,” Mr Uribe said in a nationally broadcast radio and television address.

According to El Tiempo (Referendo para que el pueblo ordene repetir elecciones del 2006 anunció el Presidente

El presidente sorprendió a los colombianos al aparecer anoche por la radio y la televisión, casi al filo de la medianoche, para anunciar la puesta en marcha de un proceso dirigido a repetir las elecciones del 2006 que le otorgaron su segundo mandato.

(Translation: The President surprised Colombians appearing last night on radio and television, at roughly the stroke of midnight, to announce start of a process to order a repeat of the 2006 elections that authorized his second term).

The ET piece has video of Uribe’s announcement.

Exactly what Uribe is proposing is unclear to me and apparently I am not the only one. Writes Boz:

Confused as to what that means? So is everyone else.

Greg Weeks considers the more “brilliant” insofar as if he can pull it off, he likely would extend his term in office at least two years without having to amend the constitution yet again to get a third term:

Details remain scant, but I take this to represent a way for Uribe to get re-elected once more without having to reform the constitution yet again. El Tiempo has a similar take. Uribe says he wants to “repeat” the 2006 election, but we can’t go back in time two years, so it would seem that this election would “replace” the last one, and give him a few extra years in office.

All of which would be, in my estimation, unhealthy for Colombian democracy. It will be quite interesting to see how the Congress reacts to the request.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Sandy Levinson, writing at Balkinization, has an interesting post on the Heller decision.

First, he makes a very astute political observation as to the effects of the decision on the presidential election. Specifically, that the ruling was actually a boon to Obama:

Just imagine what might happen if Justice Kennedy had joined his more moderate colleagues, as he did just the day before in providing the all-important fifth vote to invalidate the death penalty for rapists of children. One sudders at the prospect of Sen. McCain, or some 527group, saying the current Court both wants to protect child rapists and prevent parents from possessing handguns to defend themselves and their children against such marauders. Now all that Sen. McCain can say is that “only one vote” stands between the protection of gun rights and the ability of the state to “take away your guns.” I have no doubt that Sen. Obama, who has been eager to express his respect for the Second Amendment—and who quickly distanced himself from yesterday’s Louisiana decision—will try to reassure gun owners that he would certainly not appoint anyone who did not share his respect for the Amendment.

Quite right.

Now, given that it was a 5-4 decision (as was the child rape case), the ruling will still have both sides pointing to the split on the Court, but the fuel for the political fire would have been greater had the ruling gone the other way, as it would have been a far more controversial outcome.

Levinson’s reading of the ruling matches my initial views from last night. Specifically he notes:

Justice Scalia’s opinion, if one cuts through some of the bluster, is really quite moderate—he goes out of his way to support the legitimacy of much current federal regulation

I also thought that the following observation was interesting:

I confess that I am equally dismayed by the Scalia and Stevens opinions (though, if absolutely forced to choose, I’d go with the Scalia opinion). One of the most remarkable features of Justice Scalia’s majority opinion (joined, of course, by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito) and Justice Stevens’s dissent (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Souter) is the view that the Second Amendment means only what it meant at the time of its proposal and ratification in 1789-91.


If one had any reason to believe that either Scalia or Stevens was a competent historian, then perhaps it would be worth reading the pages they write. But they are not. Both opinions exhibit the worst kind of “law-office history,” in which each side engages in shamelessly (and shamefully) selective readings of the historical record in order to support what one strongly suspects are pre-determined positions.

I find this interesting because while I have some sympathy to the “original intent” position, it has been waning for some time, and Levinson underscores here a good argument for such doubts: not only is it difficult to ascertain original intent, but it is wholly unclear that the Justices are especially well equipped at divining it. Legal scholars aren’t historians, and indeed legal argumentation and standards of evidence are quite different than those deployed by historians (and understandably so). Historians’ conclusions are often murky and tentative, while legal briefs have to advocate for a specific set of conclusions. Historians are upfront in acknowledging gaps in knowledge while lawyers/judges are more likely to only use evidence that support their views and ignore that which does not (kinda like, well, a lot of bloggers…).

A related note to the originalist position is as follows:

What is especially ironic is that the strongest support for Scalia’s position comes from acknowledging that the Second Amendment, like the rest of the Bill of Rights, has been “dynamically” interpreted and has taken on some quite different meanings from those it originally had. Whatever might have been the case in 1787 with regard the linkage of guns to service in militias—and the historical record is far more mixed on this point than either Scalia or Stevens is willing to acknowledge—there can be almost no doubt that by the mid-19th century, an individual right to bear arms was widely accepted as a basic attribute of American citizenship.

At any rate, Levinson’s entire post is worth a read.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Brown marks first year as PM

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Thursday, June 26, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

On the one hand, I fully understand that the decision in District of Columbia, et al. v. Heller in a big deal insofar as it confirms via the Supreme Court, for the first time, the notion that US citizens have a constitutional right to own a firearm. As such it puts to rest the notion that such ownership might have to be connected with the “well regulated militia” noted in the Second Amendment. I say “might” because while there has been a legal theory that the Second Amendment was specifically speaking of only the right to keep and bear arms in the context of a citizen militia, in point of fact, the laws of the land have rarely functioned in that way. Indeed, all SCOTUS did was affirm that the opinion that the vast majority of Americans hold is, in fact, correct (legally speaking) (via Gallup):

A clear majority of the U.S. public — 73% — believes the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to own guns. And almost 7 out of 10 Americans are opposed to a law that would make the possession of a handgun illegal, except by the police.

So while this ruling will clearly affect the DC law banning handguns,1 it is unclear to me that it will actually have that much of a practical effect on the vast majority of the citizens of the US or of the laws regulating certain types of guns. As such, it is a landmark case that will discussed for some decades, yet on the other it seems to me that it really was more of a confirmation of the basic status quo than it was a radical shift in the way the US deals with guns.

Along those lines I would note the following (Via the NYT): Justices Rule for Individual Gun Rights

Despite the decision’s enormous symbolic significance, it was far from clear that it actually posed much of a threat to the most common types of gun regulations. Justice Scalia’s opinion applied explicitly only to “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home,” and it included a number of significant qualifications.

“Nothing in our opinion,” Justice Scalia said, “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The opinion also said that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons would be upheld, and suggested somewhat less explicitly that the right to personal possession did not apply to “dangerous and unusual weapons” that are not typically used for self-defense or recreation.

So, aside from changing the law in DC (and a few other places), is a post-Heller America all that different from a pre-Heller America? I am not so sure.

In other words, while there has been an ongoing philosophical debate about whether the Second Amendment limited gun ownership to linkage to a militia, in a practical policy sense, this has not been the way we have behaved. On balance (with clear exceptions, such as DC), we have lived in a legal context that has allowed us the right to keep and bear arms. The issue now, I suppose, is whether Heller will lead to a substantial reduction in gun regulation. Given the portions of Scalia’s opinion noted above, it does not seem to me that that will be the case.

  1. Which, btw, didn’t mean that there weren’t any handguns in DC. []
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By Steven L. Taylor

This is of very limited interest, but it caught my eye: Ray Bradbury mourns Acres of Books

Acres of Books’ building was acquired by the city for redevelopment and the store must vacate by next May.

Funny, my wife and I were just talking about this place the other day.

Seeing as how I was only able to visit Acres of Books one in my life, and that was roughly twenty years ago, I really can’t say that this really affects me all that much. However, now that brother has recently moved back to Long Beach, it could affect him (and any prospect I had of visiting the place again some day when visiting him).

Ah well.

It was a magnificent, cavernous used bookstore–worthy of a visit by anyone how gets the chance to go by before they close. It does appear, however, that they will be relocating, but I can’t imagine that it will be the same.

Here’s a piece on the move: Acres of Books deal is finalized – Press-Telegram.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombian smugglers take cocaine under the waves

Colombians who thought they had seen everything in the war on drugs were treated to something new this year: cocaine smuggling in a submarine.

Except, the usage of submarines to smuggle cocaine by drug smugglers in Colombia is nothing new. I recall seeing a story about a “narcosub” in Colombia in the pages of El Tiempo in 94/95 and I have noted several narcosubs of recent vintage here on PoliBlog (see below).

Regardless of the lack of knowledge on this count in terms of the reporter, I always find these stories fascinating because they continue to underscore the lengths these people go in terms of their trade.

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