When Sects Collide

One of Sullivan’s readers makes a good point:

The Unitarians have been marrying same-sex couples for some thirty years, and likewise some congregations of the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, and I’m sure a number of other religious groups I don’t even know. Why do the fundamentalists get to discriminate with the force of civil law against the U/U, the UCC, and the rest? When did they get the right to have their religious interpretation enshrined in civil law at the unavoidably explicit expense of the others’  interpretation?

Which is why government has to stay neutral on matters of religious doctrine.

Pardon Pool

The folks at ProPublica speculate on who Bush will pardon on the way out. Michael Milken and Scooter Libby top the handicapping. They do not touch on the possibility of a blanket pardon.

Getting Medieval


Well, the Somalis are at it again, seizing yet another large vessel. Meanwhile, our JCS chairman is slack-jawed at the audacity of it all, pronouncing himself “stunned” that the pirates could range so far and wide for prey. One would think that our Navy hasn’t fought any ship-to-ship battles late … oh, right.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the US should reprise the Reagan-era tanker reflagging and slap Old Glory on a few of the tubs floating off the Horn. There’s also the old “letters of marque and reprisal” option that’s enshrined in the Constitution to permit the commissioning of privateers. For there record, here’s part of what the US Code has to say about dealing with piracy:

§ 382. Seizure of piratical vessels generally

The President is authorized to instruct the commanders of the public armed vessels of the United States to subdue, seize, take, and send into any port of the United States, any armed vessel or boat, or any vessel or boat, the crew whereof shall be armed, and which shall have attempted or committed any piratical aggression, search, restraint, depredation, or seizure, upon any vessel of the United States, or of the citizens thereof, or upon any other vessel; and also to retake any vessel of the United States, or its citizens, which may have been unlawfully captured upon the high seas.

§ 383. Resistance of pirates by merchant vessels

The commander and crew of any merchant vessel of the United States, owned wholly, or in part, by a citizen thereof, may oppose and defend against any aggression, search, restraint, depredation, or seizure, which shall be attempted upon such vessel, or upon any other vessel so owned, by the commander or crew of any armed vessel whatsoever, not being a public armed vessel of some nation in amity with the United States, and may subdue and capture the same; and may also retake any vessel so owned which may have been captured by the commander or crew of any such armed vessel, and send the same into any port of the United States.

§ 386. Commissioning private vessels for seizure of piratical vessels

The President is authorized to instruct the commanders of the public-armed vessels of the United States, and to authorize the commanders of any other armed vessels sailing under the authority of any letters of marque and reprisal granted by Congress, or the commanders of any other suitable vessels, to subdue, seize, take, and, if on the high seas, to send into any port of the United States, any vessel or boat built, purchased, fitted out, or held as mentioned in section 385 of this title.

It’s all there in Title 33 (“Navigation and Navigable Waters”), Chapter 7. Bottom line, this is one where the president doesn’t have to ask permission.

Good thing, too. In addition to possibly contributing to more economic turmoil, piracy could one day prove a genuine security threat:

Security specialists are concerned that pirates might someday seize a tanker carrying pressurized liquefied natural gas, or LNG, then blow it up or sell it to terrorists.

“If it was an LNG tanker seized, we’re looking at something potentially catastrophic,” said Candyce Kelshall, a specialist in maritime energy security at Blue Water Defence, a Trinidad-based firm that provides training to governments and companies combating piracy. “An LNG tanker going up is like 50 Hiroshimas.”

Newsweek: Bush Might Be Reluctant To Pardon

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball play the on-one-hand, on-the-other hand game regarding speculation about pardons:

Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, whose prison sentence for lying in the CIA leak case was commuted by Bush last year, has not submitted a pardon request to Justice. But speculation is rampant that Libby’s allies will press Bush for one. There is also talk that Bush will be asked to grant prospective pardons for CIA officers and others who played a part in the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques in the war on terror. According to one legal source, who asked not to be identified because of the issue’s sensitive nature, White House counsel Fred Fielding has warned applicants the president is likely to frown on “political pardons.” But another Washington lawyer, who also asked not to be identified because he represents a pardon applicant, said Bush might be more open to considering pardons for CIA officers because they were executing his policies.

Turley on Blanket Pardons

Law prof Jonathan Turley, I see from my referrer log, agrees with me that a blanket pardon for Bush administration officials involved in torture is a Constitutionally dubious idea:

A “blanket pardon” would raise serious constitutional and criminal questions, though there is some precedent in the Kennedy and Carter administrations. A traditional pardon is a public document naming individuals who are pardoned for specific crimes. One possibility being discussed is the use of a blanket pardon that would not individually name people but cover anyone associated with the unlawful programs. It would be a terrible precedent, if upheld. A president could pardon the world at the end of an Administration — gutting any accountability for criminal acts.

One of his commenters suggests this needs to be addressed through a Constitutional amendment:

I have thought about this since the Scooter Libby disaster, and would propose one that would be something like “A president may not pardon or commute any one in his/her administration for crimes committed during the administration.”

I agree — and think a blanket pardon would touch off a massive, world-wide controversy with unforeseen political costs for the US. It would invite third-country prosecutions of the Pinochet variety.

Never Trust Air You Can’t See

The city motto of Los Angeles seems to be China’s national ethos as well, as the smog problem in Asia gets worse:

The brownish haze, sometimes in a layer more than a mile thick and clearly visible from airplanes, stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. In the spring, it sweeps past North and South Korea and Japan. Sometimes the cloud drifts as far east as California.

The report identified 13 cities as brown-cloud hot spots, among them Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Tehran and Seoul, South Korea.

To be fair, it’s obviously not just the Chinese who are contributing to such a large-scale problem. But it illustrates that Bush was onto something when he administered the coup de grace to Kyoto on the grounds that it excluded China and India. Meaningful environmental treaties have to take in the big developing economies too.

Blanket Pardon?

Mark Benjamin at Salon thinks Bush is planning a wide-ranging pardon of all in his administration who might’ve been involved in torture. That’s certainly been a possibility all along, and the president’s pardon power is wide-ranging. But I should think it’s at least arguable that it has to be exercised on behalf of specific, named individuals. That makes a long-shot court challenge to an all-encompassing pardon for a class of individuals at least theoretically possible, if someone can be found who has standing. That’s probably a bigger uncertainty than the actual merits.

Sonar, Subs & Whales

Galrahn dives into the Supreme Court’s USN sonar decision. I haven’t read the opinion yet but respect G’s technical expertise. Start your research here. I will say I consider the opinion a good thing. You don’t want to go into ASW not knowing how to use active.

Michigan Cracks Down on RIAA Snoopers

Amid all the complaining about the RIAA’s unlicensed snooping into file-sharing, Michigan’s legislature has passed a law that, yes, says firms engaging in “computer forensics” must obtain a private-investigations license.

What Palin Says About McCain

Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan both see the pick as rash and impulsive:

The Palin pick reflects the most dangerous tendencies in McCain’s foriegn policy–the tendency to react, to overreact, to crises, without thinking it through. It also reflects a defiant, adolescent “screw you” attitude toward governance.

I’m not so sure about that. You can’t govern if you can’t get elected, and I’m not sure McCain thinks he can be elected unless he changes the game. What worries me, though, is that his method of changing the game may be risky in a way not even Sullivan and Klein are seeing. Palin, I’m growing more convinced, is a play to rural voters partially sympathetic to the GOP. That makes it also a bid to tip anywhere from two to four states (Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and maybe New Mexico) firmly into the GOP camp and thus decide the election. Ohio — a mixed bag between rural and urban — would constitute a bonus. 

The risk in this strategy is the possibility of another popular-vote loss for the GOP. And I’m not talking a thin margin like George W. Bush’s 543,895-vote loss in 2000, either. Obama with his organizing prowess could roll up a couple million votes more than McCain thanks to his vote-getting potential in the major cities. 

If that comes to pass, and Obama still loses the electoral vote, the calls for a constitutional amendment will be immediate and impossible to ignore. But Republicans won’t go along with that, as passage of a popular-vote amendment would likely sink their presidential prospects for at least a decade or so.

Such an impasse would make the wrangling we saw after Clinton’s plurality wins in 1992 and 1996 and Bush’s electoral-vote-only win in 2000 seem like mere child’s play. And yet McCain and his team are accepting that risk.

The folks at 538 at the moment believe there’s only a 2.55 percent chance of McCain’s winning without carrying the popular vote. Those are small odds. I don’t know if they’re small enough.