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Monday, July 31, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

On Sunday the NYT (So Big and Healthy Grandpa Wouldn’t Even Know You) noted the following:

People even look different today. American men, for example, are nearly three inches taller than they were 100 years ago and about 50 pounds heavier.

And I think I can safely say that airplanes, especially the commuter jet I rode in from Montgomery to Atlanta, are designed for 1906 man, not 2006 me (certainly, at least, not for my 6′2″+ and 210 lbs).

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

I am about to head out on a week-long trip to Peru, and will have limited access to the net at the start and end of the week.

As such, Team PoliBlog (Steven L, Bryan S., Brett Marston, Matthew Shugart, Chris Lawrence and occasionally me) will be taking over this space until early next week.

So, enjoy! (and my thanks to the Team for the help).

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Saturday, July 29, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

This time, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Delegate from DC:


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Thursday, July 27, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

The ongoing discussion of surveillance in the war on terror and the question of oversight (for example, from today’s NYT: Administration and Critics, in Senate Testimony, Clash Over Eavesdropping Compromise) reminded me of a something I meant to write a while back.

I have been a skeptic and a critic on the question of how far the executive branch should go in regards to the war on terror, especially in terms of domestic actions, such as surveillance. I have argued that the administration has appeared more than willing to push to envelope in these areas and the the Congress has been overly docile in asserting adequate oversight.

As such, the issue becomes: why worry? After all, the goal is to protect us, yes?

A laudable and popular goal, to be sure.

However, protecting society from the scourge of drug abuse is a laudable and popular goal as well. Yet, we find that in the pursuance of this laudable and popular goal that there has been an increase in the use of paramilitary tactics by police SWAT units seeking to serve warrants on suspected perpetrators of drug crimes. A CATO study by Radley Balko puts the number of raids at 40,000/year. At a minimum there is a legitimate question as to how far we should want, or how much we need, the militarization of police activity. Indeed, as the study notes, even with the increase in the tevchnology and firepower available to he police in the last several decades, like many other expenditures in the war on drugs, it is not the case that drug use has been curtailed.

Beyond the question of whether militarization of the police is good thing, there is the simple fact that some of these raids go awry as police zealously attempt to do the right thing, although perhaps too zealously-see the interactive map of botched raids. There is also this stat from page 43 of the PDF of the report:

Criminologist Peter Kraska says his research shows that between 1989 and 2001, at least 780 cases of flawed paramilitary raids reached the appellate level

The interactive map from the cases detailed in the study show 292 events, including 143 raids on an innocent suspect and 40 deaths of innocents between 1985-2006.

Yes, ultimately we are talking about a relatively small number of events-however, the odds of a citizens being involved in one of these incidences is higher than being involved in a terrorist attack on the US.

I will say that while the Balko study is interesting, it would be more useful if there were systematic statistics regarding abuses.

The issue at hand, however, is that the abuses in question were perpetrated while the state was pursuing goals that were considered worthwhile and were endorsed, at least in a generic sense, by the populace.

The bottom line is twofold: 1) the motivation behind a policy isn’t the test of whether that policy is a good idea, and 2) the people who run the government, like the rest of us, are far from perfect. Both of these factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding how much power that the government ought to have in the war on terror.

A postscript to this discussion is to mention of another example of a laudable and popular goal leading to abuse. In this case, the goal is the rooting out of child pornographers. Alex Knapp, blogging at OTB, noted this Salon piece a little while ago: They called me a child pornographer:

As usual during the trip, we took several photos. Because I forgot my digital camera, I bought a disposable camera at a gas station on the way to the campground. I took pictures of the kids using sticks to beat on old bottles and cans and logs as musical instruments. I took a few of my youngest daughter, Eliza, then age 3, skinny-dipping in the lake, and my son, Noah, then age 8, swimming in the lake in his underwear, and another of Noah naked, hamming it up while using a long stick to hold his underwear over the fire to dry. Finally, I took a photo of everyone, as was our camping tradition, peeing on the ashes of the fire to put it out for the last time. We also let the kids take photos of their own.

When we returned on Sunday, I forgot the throwaway camera and Rusty found it in his car. He gave it to his wife, whom I’ll call Janet, to get developed, and she dropped it off the next day with two other rolls of film at a local Eckerd drugstore. On Tuesday, when she returned to pick up the film, she was approached by two officers from the Savannah Police Department. They told her they had been called by Eckerd due to “questionable photos.”

The entire piece, including the recounted fear of a parent who had to live with the very real possibility that his children would be taken from him if bureaucrats deemed his vacation pictures to be something that they were not, is worth a read and will likely give any parent a knot in their stomach.

The reason we tend to think that expansion of government power is a good thing in these cases is that we assume that the power will only be applied to the bad guys (i.e, drug dealers, child pornographers and terrorists), not the innocent. However, as noted above, the people who run the government aren’t perfect, and mistakes are made. And when mistakes are made, serious consequences are possible.

As such, it hardly seems extreme to think that we need serious consideration of whether a) expanding executive power is necessary and b) if we decide that such an expansion is needed, that power checks and balances be put into place. Further, the above examples illustrate that government error can lead to government abuse, so before powers are expanded, the issue of how they can be abused should be first and foremost in our minds, rather than an afterthought. Like the physician who swears an oath to do no harm, it would be nice if those in government would consider what harm that their good intentions might cause.

I fear that that type of logic is not be applied in Washington on this topic these days.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Former Deputy Secretary of State (and former Assistant SecDef in the Reagan administration, amongst other things) Richard Armitage was on NPR this morning discussing a potential international peace-keeping force in Lebanon, and he is quite skeptical that such a force could be assembled.

He noted that while a lot of people are talking about such a force, no one is “putting their hands in the air” to volunteer to serve. He further noted that the difficulties inherent in being part of force whose job it would be to disarm/keep disarmed Hezbollah will likely cause states to not put said hands in the air.

He also stated that the figure of 10,000 troops as the basis for such a force came, as far as could tell, “out of thin air.”

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Well, given my lack of blogging you’d like to think that I got a ton done on the book today, wouldn’t you?

Well, today was a Day of Distractions, so while I did accomplish the feat of getting C2 into a complete, readable format, I still feel like it wasn’t the most productive of days, writing-wise.

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Monday, July 24, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I was just re-reading part of a draft that I wrote this morning and I came across this sentence:

An easy summation of this situation is not easy

To which I then have to say to myself: “Gee, ya think?”

I will now go re-write that sentence.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Speaking of the Colombian conflict, here are two charts that I put together yesterday for Chapter Two of my book:



(Click for a larger image)

The rate is per 100,000 persons. A noteworthy point of comparison is that the murder rate for the infamous civil war known as La Violencia (the peak of which was 1948-1958) was lower in some years than the current rate (and far lower than the late 1980s through to the early 2000s).

The next graphic has the comparative murder rates for Colombia, the US and the World for the 1970-2002 periods:



(Click for a larger image)

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

The crowds today for the run-off primary in Alabama were HUGE. I literally had to wait and wait and wait, and then had to forcibly remove a fellow who was taking too long voting.

It was a ZOO!

(or, maybe I was the only one voting and was outnumbered at least 12:1 in the poll-worker to voter ratio-it is so hard to keep track of what really happens in life.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

I thought that, à la Michele Dion, I would give some reports on my writing progress (such as it is). If anything, it gives me something to blog.

I am currently working on a manuscript about Colombian democratic development. The working title is Voting Amidst Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia. I am currently under contract with University Press of New England.

Things go well, although not as quickly as one would like (indeed, I have already missed the original deadline…).

In terms of progress yesterday:

-I added five-plus pages to Chapter Three (although some of that was writing and analysis from last week).

-I realized that Chapter Two (on Colombian constitutional development) should be Chapter Three (which was a discussion of Colombian democracy).

-I wrote some notes (and text) for Chapter One.

-I made some useful notes concerning Chapter Four.

Indeed, it was a fairly productive day, and would have been more so, had I not run out of mental energy in the afternoon.

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