(probably more than you want to know)

I can't decide if this is going to ruin my Julianne Moore fantasies, or make them much better.


blog comment of year (seattle edition)

It is this one:

Driving around with a ginormous assault rifle laying on the trunk of your car = embarrassing.

Walking around with a tiny pocket knife in your hand = deadly.

...in reference to this, compared with this.

(In fairness to SPD, I think the department handled the aftermath of the Ian Birk case more or less correctly...he's not an officer anymore, and the bar for criminal charges against an officer for committing homicide in the line of duty is very, very high. But still, the choice of words here is...unfortunate...)


know hope

From The Stranger:

By the look of things, [Washington state is] about to become ground zero in the national battle to legalize marijuana. Tomorrow [This] morning at 11:00 a.m. in the Downtown Seattle Library, a well-organized new campaign called New Approach Washington will roll out the details of a still-partly-mysterious marijuana legalization initiative. So far they're only saying it would "authorize the Liquor Control Board to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana for sale to adults 21 and over in state-licensed stores."

It appears to be an unprecedented attempt to replace marijuana prohibition with a fully regulated marijuana industry...

The backers look powerful. And given that it will be filed in mid-summer, this would be an initiative to the legislature (which goes to lawmakers in Olympia early next year and to the ballot in 2012)...

This could win. This could be the big fight with the federal government. It will certainly stir the debate. It may go to the Supreme Court in a challenge of federal preemption. And these guys are serious.

The "powerful backers" include a former U.S. Attorney.

This could be fun.


az swat team cleared with magical forensics

No surprises, here.

The SWAT team that gunned down a former Marine in his Tucson, Ariz., home was cleared today of any wrongdoing in the incident.

Jose Guerena, 26, was killed in a hail of bullets from the SWAT team, which broke down the door to his home on May 5 while trying to serve a search warrant as part of a home invasion probe.

Guerena did not fire a single shot in the incident, but Pima County Chief Criminal Deputy Attorney David Berkman said in the report issued today that the five SWAT team members were justified in using deadly force because the former Marine pointed his weapon at them.

This territory is well-worn by Radley Balko, so I won't waste time recapping all the reasons why a breaking down someone's door in the middle of the night to serve a damn drug warrant is a really bad idea, or how someone who has no reasonable expectation of having this happen to them (i.e., someone who is not in the habit of engaging in behaviors for which they call in the SWAT team) might reasonably assume that the masked, heavily armed men breaking into his house in the middle of the night constitute a serious threat to himself and his family, and react accordingly.

What galls me about this particular case is this:

"A close examination of the rifle revealed it appeared to have been damaged by being fired upon from such an angle that it must [em. added] have been pointed toward officers,"

This is pure bullshit.

If you have multiple people firing at (and hitting) you, your position (and therefore the position of anything you are holding) can change rather rapidly. He could have been in the process of dropping the gun, falling to the floor, or any combination of things that could result in bullets striking the gun he was holding in a (presumably) parallel, grazing fashion.

Which isn't to say that Guerena didn't point his gun at the officers--the only person that could tell us that for sure is conveniently dead--just that you cannot prove such a thing by merely analyzing the way the officers' bullets hit his gun. And to assert so makes the officers' version of events seem that much more suspect.


a few thoughts on tracy morgan

I listen to and watch a lot of stand-up comedy. I'm kind of a comedy nerd, actually. I've even done a couple of open mic nights myself, and have plans to do more in the future. Which is to say, I enjoy it as pure entertainment, but if someone is really, really good, then I also tend to dissect what they do and how they do it. How they pace themselves, how they construct a bit as variation on a theme, how they set something up and come back to it much later in a way you don't easily expect, etc.

And personally, I don't have much patience for comics that just "tell jokes". In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a (good) comic working today that just does joke after joke, with the possible exception of Zach Galifianakis (and even he takes a break from the one liners to do an awkward lip synch or piano bit.) But I digress; my point is, modern stand-up comedy as an art form involves exploring ideas, telling stories, and in some cases pushing right up against the bleeding edge of people's sensibilities.

Getting a laugh involves being willing to say what nobody--or at least most people--don't or won't say.

I really wish that Tracy Morgan's bit that has caused such an outrage was easily available, because I'd like to hear it in the context of his act. As reported, it doesn't sound like it was very funny. And indeed for many people, joking about violence against your (hypothetical) gay son is a bridge too far, because actual violence of that sort is just too common for this to be a laughing matter. Fair enough.

But I'm just too damn in love with comedy (and free speech) to say that any subject is always wrong, always off limits, always untouchable. Which isn't to say that some jokes aren't in extremely bad taste. Many are. Sometimes, this is what makes them funny. Sometimes, it's what keeps them from being funny. And the line there isn't all that well-defined.

Except...in one way it is. The thing that appeals to me most about stand-up is its purity. Success (and failure) in stand-up are completely unambiguous: either people laugh, or they don't. If you construct a highly conceptual, multi-layered bit with perfect timing, and it falls flat--you failed. If you tell a dick joke and get a laugh, you succeeded.

So I think it's important to keep that in mind when considering Tracy Morgan: he went to the edge, and fell off. It happens. But the difference isn't the words he used, or the subject, or even what's in his heart with regard to gay people. It's that the joke simply didn't work. People didn't laugh...and if they had, you'd never have heard about any of this.

I have no idea what Tracy Morgan really thinks about gay people. Nor do I particularly care. In any case, I hope he doesn't end up in "rehab".

Because that time would be much better spent working on better jokes.

war powers, ct'd


I'd argue that the years since Kosovo have shown a desperate need for the Congress to regain control over the vital issue of war and peace. The Founders put it there for a reason. And yet we have turned the president into an emperor who can launch wars at a moment's notice and face little Congressional bowback.

And this is not an abstract question any more. Obama is now engaged in two illegal wars - in Libya and in Yemen.

There was no Congressional debate or vote on these wars - and one is being waged by the CIA with unmanned drones. I think we have learned a little about what happens when you give the CIA carte blanche to run a war with no accountability except to a president who has a vested interest in covering up errors.

And Boehner is correct that Obama owes us an explanation of his views on the power of the presidency. Can he declare war at will? Are these wars not-wars under his definition? What then qualifies as a war for Obama?

I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that many supported Obama to end wars - not to extend one, try not to quit another too quickly, and add two more for good measure. And Obama is a sophisticated and learned Constitutionalist. He must have thought about this question. What is his answer?

The administration has answered this, after a fashion, at least in the case of Libya. Short version: congressional approval is unnecessary because the US role is "limited" and the operation is under NATO command. This seems like pretty weak tea to me. I'm no expert on the War Powers Resolution, but I don't think that there is anything in it that makes the requirement to consult congress contingent on the particular command structure or scope of the operation.

The use of drones in Yemen is also troubling, if only because there may very well be no precedent or applicable statute governing the deployment of an entirely unmanned force. If so, this needs rectification sooner rather than later. The placement of American troops into harm's way is certainly the main reason war should approached judiciously and with checks on executive power, but it is not the only reason.


i didn't watch the gop debate tonight

I don't suppose the War Powers Act came up?

(If you just came over from Gino's, the post you need to read is one down.)

guest post

--by Dave from the comments section

President Obama's decision to avoiding seeking Congressional support for his military action in Libya has the potential to create a significant constitutional crisis, and in this case a crisis would involve people with guns and that is obviously is quite dangerous.

I'm a naval officer. I generally don't like making partisan political arguments and I am essentially prohibited from making such statements in public. Even though I have pretty strong political opinions, I'm okay with that; a staunchly non-partisan military is one of our country's great accomplishments. Unlike everyone else is the country, I have people who have explicitly sworn to obey my orders. So I really need to be careful about what I say … my comments could be construed as undermining the constitutional order. And since these people who swear to obey my orders have access to guns, well, that's a big deal.

So saying this could theoretically land me in a bit of hot water, but it needs to be said.

That constitutional order is very important. As a commissioned officer, I have sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Not to obey orders, but to support the constitution. And while that constitution names the President as the military's commander-in-chief, it also grants a significant war-making role to Congress. And Congress, empowered to both declare war and to regulate the naval and land forces, has exercised that power in the form of the War Powers Act. And my sense is that the administration, by continuing military operations in Libya beyond the 60 day limit without congressional approval, is violating that Act. So what is an officer to do?

I don't think the answer is clear. I might breezily state that a good military officer should refuse any orders dealing with Libya. Legally defensible perhaps, but generally not a good habit to get into. The armed forces should not get into the practice of parsing the constitutionality of orders, especially those from the top.

But, the War Powers Act remains. If the intent was for the armed forces to just obey Presidential orders, congress would have included the part from the enlistment oath about obeying orders in the officer's commissioning oath. They left that out on purpose, creating in the contest of Libya a bit of an ethical quandary.

And let me dispense with the notion that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional so it shouldn't be followed. Well, that might be the administration's take (they've been a bit nebulous on that point).Certainly that's what Yosemite Sam thinks. But that's not for individual members of Congress, or the administration to determine. And it certainly isn't for individual military officers to determine. Of course, George Will quickly dispenses with this line of thought. Responding directly to McCain's previous quote, Will asks: “Oh? No law is actually a law if presidents and senators do not "recognize" it? Now, there is an interesting alternative to judicial review, and an indicator of how executive aggrandizement and legislative dereliction of duty degrade the rule of law.”

So while the War Powers Act might be a bad law, it is certainly a law and it would seem obvious that until told otherwise by the judicial branch, or it is repealed by the legislative branch, it should be obeyed. And that puts the military, especially the military officer corps, in one hell of an ethical bind. And ethical binds like this should be avoided at all costs, because the people who face the prospect of resolving those conflicts have large numbers of armed individuals sworn to obey their orders. So the resolution might not be pretty.

In other words, our American tradition of a military subordinated to the civilian authority depends as much on the civilian leadership respecting the rule of law as it does on the military's respect of the civilian authority. I generally believe that the civilian authority has done that … until now. To avoid the prospect of losing a congressional vote over its Libyan adventure, the Obama administration has done serious damage to our civil/military tradition and has placed our military leadership in quite a quandary.

Have no doubt; the military will continue to follow the administration's orders with respect to Libya. For one, most military members find the idea of disobeying orders to be distasteful at best. And perhaps more importantly, most military members have mortgages so high-minded constitutional arguments pale beside the prospect of being summarily dismissed from the service and facing the civilian economy, which I've heard is having some problems of late.

Of course, as Leoben says, all this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. Andrew Jackson became cross-threaded with Congress and the Supreme Court when he ordered his Postmaster General to disobey a congressional mandate concerning some postal contract. In Kendall v. US ex rel Stokes, the Court pointed out that subordinate member's of the executive branch have as their first duty a responsibility to the Constitution and not simply to the President. Of course, Jackson eventually fired Kendall when he complied with the Court's order, which would have really sucked for him if the concept of the 30 year mortgage had existed in 1838.

Back here in the 21st century, there are plenty of villains to go around. I do not think that Congress has a responsibility to approve the Libya adventure in order to avoid constitutional ambiguity; to argue so would turn the legislature into a rubber stamp. But I do think that this is the inevitable consequence of a half-century of Congressional dereliction with regard to executive power in general and specifically with presidential war-making. The Cato Institute published a very good book discussing this issue in depth.

I do think that the media shares some blame; the self-appointed fourth branch of government would be doing the country a much greater service investigating this issue instead of titillating over lewd tweets. And that goes as much to Fox News and the editors of the Weekly Standard, who apparently have never met a war they didn't like, as to CNN, MSNBC, the NY Times, etc.

I am particularly disappointed in the continued silence of the Secretary of Defense.

And of course, the ultimate responsibility lies with the President. He should, in the name of Constitutional government, seek to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, even if it does result in some political setbacks. Such decisions would seem to illustrate the difference between politicians and statesmen.


mea culpa

Not so long ago, I wrote:

Long story short: Newt is an asshole. One of the most off-putting, arrogant, condescending personalities I've ever encountered. To meet him is to dislike him.

His run will be mercifully short once the good people of Iowa and New Hampshire get the chance to realize this.

Well, it looks like I got that wrong. It now seems that the people Newt really needed to win over were not the voters of NH and Iowa, but his own staff:

Newt Gingrich’s top staff quit en masse Thursday, throwing into question whether his already troubled presidential campaign can continue.

Two sources close to the situation confirmed that campaign manager Rob Johnson, strategists Sam Dawson and Dave Carney, spokesman Rick Tyler and consultants Katon Dawson in South Carolina and Craig Schoenfeld in Iowa have all quit to protest what one called a “different vision” for the campaign.

If it seems like I am enjoying this, it's because I am.


civilization's moving parts

Eli Sanders is covering a truly horrific murder trial for The Stranger. Today he writes:

If you pull way back, and look at the people who created this moment, and the parade of witnesses for the prosecution—just their job titles, not their names or faces—you see the component pieces of civilization, the human architecture that actually creates the conditions for abstract notions like justice and mercy and safety.

The police officer who's seen thousands of bloody crime scenes in his life, and knows the first thing you have to do at the aftermath of a chaotic stabbing is secure the area and ask: Where's the bad guy? Which way did he go? What did he look like? The firemen who wait down the block until the policemen have secured the area, then rush in, rubber gloved and blue smocked, to save and comfort whoever they can. The canine unit that tracks the scent. The emergency room physician who swabs the survivor for evidence and, for a time, with the survivor's best interests in mind, withholds the information that her partner has been killed. The coroner who autopsies the deceased. The crime lab that processes the evidence. The detectives who track down the leads. The social worker who comforts the victims' families. The Metro bus driver who notices the suspect getting off his bus. The patrol officer who races over and arrests him. The state psychiatrists who treat the suspect. The attorneys who prepare his defense. The attorneys who prepare his prosecution. The judge. The bailiff. The jury.

It's taken all of them, and many more people, nearly two years to create this proceeding: A fair trial.

This should give you pause when people speak dismissively of due process, or of "legal technicalities"...of whether certain people deserve such consideration or not. A system of justice is foundational to civilization itself, and it is hard-won.

The people who are willing to so readily cast that aside for mere vengeance are a much greater threat to our civilization than any one murderer, rapist, or terrorist could ever be.



What exactly is Palinization?

As I define it, it is the culmination of many years of unfortunate decisions regarding child rearing -- ill-conceived self-image programs, rewarding mere participation, the alienization of punishment, and the emergence of political correctness.

It is the failure of the education system; the dumbing down of America.

It's the self-righteousness and vitriol of religious factions.

The loss of civility due, in-part, to an erosion of communication skills.

It's the lies of politicians and corporate executives. The slow decay of integrity and honesty.

it's unreality television.

And, it's an uninformed and ignorant electorate; partially the result of a deficient media.

To which I will add: It's the predictable consequence of voters and pundits choosing to support a politician primarily because of how much they appear to irritate the "other side".


i fear sane drugs policy might be like the metric system

Which is to say, the entire rest of the planet will adopt it before we are even willing to consider it seriously.

Dan Savage writes:

The Global Commission on Drug Policy released its report this week. Dirty hippies like George Schultz and Kofi Annan declared our five-decade War On Drugs a failure that has had "devastating consequences" for societies, governments, and individuals. The commission called on governments to stop treating drugs users like criminals, to legalize some drugs, to provide more addiction services, and to go after criminal networks, not small producers. The Obama administration's reaction:

"Making drugs more available, as this report suggests, will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe."


And for what it's worth: there wouldn't be an Obama administration to react to this report if the president, back when he was using illegal drugs "frequently," had been swept up by the same criminal justice system he's defending today.