July 2004
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Month July 2004

Patio drinks…

OK, sometimes this blog gets a bit serious. Not tonight. I’m kicked back at the Sambar, on the patio soaking up the gorgeous weather, and waiting for a friend to make it over the bridge. The drink is a “Jasmine” — a blend of gin, Campari, Cointreau, and lemon juice. I expect the rest of the evening to be unproductive, with any luck.

Do Florida republicans trust voting machines or not?

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been urging people to trust the touch-screen voting machines, installed since 2002:

”They’re not new; they’ve been used already and they’ve been used correctly,” he said. “Miami-Dade County purchased these machines, there is a flaw in the auditing related to it, a minor flaw that has only occurred once. They have the obligation to fix that up and they will. I have total confidence in Miami-Dade County’s ability to carry out this election.”

The governor suggested Democrats are seeking to energize their core voters by raising questions about the accuracy of the voting machines. The Kerry campaign on Thursday said it has hired a Miami lawyer with experience from the 2000 disputed presidential election to monitor voting irregularities.

”Every time that liberal Democrats say that the election is in question, every vote should count, it is an effort to try to mobilize their base and that’s it,” Bush said. “And it should be discounted, deeply, because it is purely politics.”

Damn those liberal Democrats. We just can’t seem to discuss an issue without using it as an opportunity to “energize our base.” Unlike the Republicans, who never use public issues to whip their supporters into a frenzy…..

And we just can’t seem to get over the 2000 election, and trust that the votes this year will be fully counted and that funny business won’t occur.

Oh….wait. Neither do the Republicans in Florida, because they circulated a flier urging people to use absentee ballots instead:

The GOP urged some Miami voters to use absentee ballots because touch screens lack a paper trail and cannot “verify your vote.”

That’s the same argument Democrats have made but which Bush, his elections director and Republican legislators have repeatedly rejected.

“The liberal Democrats have already begun their attacks and the new electronic voting machines do not have a paper ballot to verify your vote in case of a recount,” says a glossy mailer, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida and prominently featuring two pictures of President Bush. “Make sure your vote counts. Order your absentee ballot today.”

What is the voter to believe? Is this an admission that neither side trusts the current generation of voting machines? Personally, I vote absentee ballot anyway, to ensure that a busy schedule or work travel doesn’t impede my ability to vote. So I’m not worried about my vote. But I work in the software industry, and knowing a bit about the internals of many software products, I think we can and should do better in designing voting machines. Diebold and others have not designed with voter confidence in mind, at least not to the degree that I’m willing to bet my country on it.

Possible early reports of Zarqawi capture in Syria

Doesn’t seem to appear in the U.S. press yet, but Al-Bawaba quotes Kuwaiti sources as saying that Zarqawi has been captured on the Syrian border with Iraq. If true, it’s obviously a terrific development given his role in fomenting chaos and internecine fighting within Iraq. Al-Jazeera has the story as well, but nobody’s sounding like the identification is yet positive.

Paul Berman and the conflict between liberal society and totalitarianism

A planned series of posts on conflicts within liberal democracy are paused for the moment. It’s been a busy week with work, the Democratic Convention, and some family things to handle.

Over the weekend, however, I finished Paul Berman’s excellent book Terror and Liberalism. Berman’s essay argues the “liberal hawk” position on military action against Afghanistan and Iraq, and argues it well. Far better than Christopher Hitchens has managed to convey in his Fighting Words column on Slate. Berman asks us to understand Islamism and Baathism as two varieties of classical twentieth-century totalitarianism; Baathism a product of Naziism going back to 1943, for example. 1989 represents a watershed year in Euro/American relations, as totalitarian regimes around the world began to fall. In our ignorance of the Muslim world, however, we lacked the ability to detect totalitarianism when we saw it. And thus, we failed to oppose it as we had opposed it in forms ranging from the extreme left to the extreme right. From Fascism to Naziism to Stalinism to the religious authoritarianism of Franco.

Berman is not kind to the Bush Administration for its numerous failures, but unlike most commentators from the left, he asks us to consider whether our automatic rejection of the war is misplaced. Whether we should think more deeply about the underlying issues, and not be distracted by the immediate politics.

I’m finding myself susceptible to Berman’s argument, which helps explain some of the ambivalence I’ve felt in analyzing Hitchens’ work on the war. I am coming to agree with Berman and Hitchens that the left has under-analyzed the war, either because of an automatic pacifism or because our opposition to Bush has blinded us to any deeper arguments for his actions. Of course, it’s easy to understand why the latter occurs. If Bush had been able to articulate the deeper nature of the struggle, instead of rotating through a series of proximate excuses, we might have seen the conflict in its historical context: the century-old struggle between liberal society and the forces, both right and left, that seek to impose a authoritarian vision on society. THAT fight is well worth showing up for, well worth sacrificing for, and still ongoing both abroad and at home.

More on this later, but I would highly recommend Berman’s book as Democrats and progressives move beyond opposition and consider what, precisely, we expect from the Kerry Administration once we put them into office this November.

An expert’s take on jurisdiction stripping

In previous posts (here and here) I’ve tried to understand the constitutionality of HR 3133. The bill would strip jurisdiction over DOMA cases from Federal courts. I learned that Congressional control over jurisdiction is a complex and poorly defined area of constitutional law, and I came away with no clear understanding of HR 3133’s constitutionality.

Eugene Volokh offers an expert’s view on his blog this week, with a link to course notes by Gary Rowe. The latter are especially useful to frame the various positions, and well worth reading.

Convention impressions

Clinton is still the Democratic Party’s best statesman, and his speech was both clever and rousing. Barack Obama, however, blew the doors off the convention hall. I’ve only seen short press items and haven’t been blown away, but in a full speech he really gets going.

Thus far, it’s fairly predictable in theme: hammer home John Kerry’s basic themes, allude to Bush Administration failures at a high level but don’t attack in detail, create hopeful vision about Democrats returning America to basic civic values. All necessary, but largely beside the point. The convention’s value in the election will hang entirely on Kerry’s ability to connect, rouse, and inspire on Thursday evening. I’m betting he’s going to do well and get a “convention bump,” but not a massive one.