Monday, March 12, 2007

Geaghan: Monday snippets

Politicizing justice

Politics and the legal system are hardly strangers, but the Bush administration seems unable to distinguish the two. With congress investigating, Paul Krugman has also picked up this theme in some of his recent columns. Some excerpts:
"The Gonzales Eight were fired because they wouldn’t go along with the Bush administration’s politicization of justice. But statistical evidence suggests that many other prosecutors decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.

"Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.
In other words: Of the 375 investigations or indictments of candidates and elected officials, only 17.8% involved Republicans. Either the process is rigged, as Krugman charges, or Republicans are 5.6 times less likely to be corrupt than other politicians. I wonder which it is...

Krugman continues:
"How can this have been happening without a national uproar? The authors explain: 'We believe that this tremendous disparity is politically motivated and it occurs because the local (non-statewide and non-Congressional) investigations occur under the radar of a diligent national press. Each instance is treated by a local beat reporter as an isolated case that is only of local interest.'

"And let’s not forget that Karl Rove’s candidates have a history of benefiting from conveniently timed federal investigations. Last year Molly Ivins reminded her readers of a curious pattern during Mr. Rove’s time in Texas: “In election years, there always seemed to be an F.B.I. investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press. After the election was over, the allegations often vanished.” [March 9, 2007]
UPDATE: The full Shields/Cragan study is available online thanks to e Pluribus Media. Unlike the Krugman article, which requires a NYT subscription, it's free.

Swiss imperialism on the march

Early this month, meanwhile, an international incident occurred in the Alps that was shockingly ignored by media everywhere: Switzerland invaded Liechtenstein, its neighbor. Peter Stamm, writing from Winterthur, Switzerland, comments on the Swiss incursion in the NYT:

"MOST Swiss newspapers didn’t even bother to report that on March 1, 170 Swiss Army troops crossed the border into Liechtenstein.

"Not that we see that many invasions here in the Alps, but it soon became clear that this was simply an error in orienteering. The incident occurred in bad weather and in the middle of the night, when Switzerland is hard to tell apart from its neighbors. 'It was all so dark out there,' said one of the misdirected recruits.

"The incursion caused no political stir, and was played down by the civil authorities as well as the army. Aristocratic titles may be forbidden in Switzerland, while the head of Liechtenstein is a hereditary monarch; and Liechtenstein does let people get behind the wheel who would classify as drunk in Switzerland. But there remain far more commonalities than differences between our two countries.

"We speak the same dialect and spend the same francs, and we go from one country to the other as though there were no border. Many Swiss view Liechtenstein as a kind of 27th canton, even if the principality has acted more and more independently in recent years: it joined the United Nations 12 years before we did and became part of the European Economic Area ­ which we Swiss have yet to do.

"But there’s really no reason to invade, especially considering that Liechtenstein possesses neither a nuclear program nor any weapons of mass destruction. In fact, it hasn’t even had an army in nearly 150 years.

"The fact that our infantry units lost their bearings will hardly surprise anyone familiar with the Swiss Army. Nor should it come as a shock that although the invaders were armed with rifles, they had no ammunition. As a rule, the assault rifles (every soldier keeps his weapon at home) are used only for suicides and the occasional violent crime. In the service, they mostly function as ballast for long marches ­ one of the Swiss Army’s most popular pastimes.

"Switzerland has been neutral for 500 years, and these days it’s hard to imagine who might attack us or what enemy the army should prepare to fight. Thus over the course of the past several decades the army has acquired an increasingly quaint character. Carrier pigeons were used until 1994, and the bicycle units were disbanded only four years ago. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that the high command realized that two-thirds of the more than 20,000 fortifications scattered throughout the country were unnecessary and could be closed.
In addition to these 20,000 "fortifications," there are 261,418 bomb shelters in Switzerland. During the cold war years, Swiss law required these elaborate 8-by-11-foot shelters in every home, complete with filtered ventilation. Since 1990 or so, the number of new shelters has fallen dramatically (though 6,000 were installed last year). My friends in Geneva and Zurich, like many Swiss families, have always used their shelter as a wine cellar, for which it is perfectly suited. As they liked to joke, they could always go into their shelters and get drunk while awaiting nuclear armageddon.

Stamm continues:
"The Swiss Army has really been in crisis ever since a 1989 plebiscite in which more than a third of voters declared that Switzerland no longer even needed a military. That was the same year we lost our one halfway credible enemy ­ Communist Eastern Europe, which the army liked to call Redland during exercises.

"Nowadays, the army tries to legitimize its existence by offering emergency relief and auxiliary support at sporting events. But compulsory military service remains as inviolable in Switzerland as the monarchy is in Liechtenstein, and so the only way to decrease the number of troops has been to shorten the time of service or declare as many draftees as possible unfit for service.

"This has enabled a substantial downsizing of the army during the past 12 years, from 600,000 personnel to a still respectable 240,000. Likewise, since the cold war, military spending has declined to 9 percent of the national budget from 35 percent.

"Because Swiss politicians are giving the army increasingly less money, economical means must be found to keep the troops occupied. Shoes being cheaper than ammunition, the rank and file just keep on marching. Switzerland may not have the most powerful army in the world, but it does have the most stalwart marchers. If the planet ever runs out of oil, our soldiers will be the last ones moving.

"Invading Liechtenstein was admittedly a foolish thing to do, but at least the Swiss Army has shown it knows how to bring a failed military action to a happy conclusion. You just turn around and sneak back home as quickly and quietly as you can before anybody notices.

"And the next day you call on the head of the foreign territory and offer a formal apology."
George, are you listening? It might just be that simple...

PHOTO #1: George and Al yucking it up.

PHOTO #2: The Swiss army on maneuvers. And next... Monaco?

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