Friday, December 28, 2007


By now, I am sure you have heard about the death of Benazir Bhutto and maybe even the assassination attempt on another opposition party leader (ex-PM Narwaz Sharif) that same day in the same city-- Rawalpindi.

Rawalpindi hosts a large garrison for the Pakistani army, which used to be lead by Pres. Musharraf. This isn't to say Musharraf or Musharraf's government is directly responsible. After all, much of the military was barely under his control when he went into Waziristan. But the security for Bhutto and Sharif was like JFK driving around in a convertible with the top down in Dallas.

Pakistan is holding (or was going to hold) its parliamentary elections on the same day as the New Hampshire primaries--January 8th. It seems as if someone or some groups didn't want either former PM to became the next democratically elected leader of Pakistan. Musharraf has called for several days of mourning over Bhutto, which is basically a stalling tactic to decide what to do and essentially suspend any political campaigning against him.

Also remember that this is a country with nuclear weapons pointed at the world's largest democracy (India) with radicial Islamic groups not only in western Pakisan--including Ossama bin Laben Tailban forces--but also infiltrated into the military. This is a country that already was in the midst of a quasi civil war with an on again off again war with India over Kashmir. Musharraf has also seen his share of attacks against his life...and that was before these bombings happened.

If I had a vote in their elections, I would choose Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, National Law Journal's lawyer of the year. He stood up to "Busharraf," and told him he couldn't suspend the constitution just to stay in power longer. As a result, Musharraf fired him and jailed him, along with lots of other lawyers who protested. In fact, the one glimmer of hope in that country is the lawyers movement, who have become leaders in a grassroots effort to restore democracy to Pakistan. American lawyers (via the ABA) have linked arms with this attorney in support of the rule of law and democracy. It makes me proud to be a lawyer.

But the facts on the ground don't look good. Things appear to be on the verge of complete chaos. Somehow, despite billions of dollars and high level intervention--we have two more failed states in the world since 2002: Iraq and Pakistan. (Afghanistan has basically remained a failed state, but changed management)

All in all, it is hard to feel optimistic about the immediate future of Pakistan and the region as a whole.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

thought of the day

Could we please dispense with the notion that any of these presidential candidates' "plans" will actually become law? The news media and rival campaigns like to dig into the numbers of various "plans" on health care, taxes, etc. and claim they don't add up. Of course they don't.

These schemes are cooked up by a bunch of wonks who don't have access to real budgetary numbers. And even those real numbers are always just estimates. Every campaign waves a magic wand to find savings via efficiency in their make for a nice even number for a total cost of some policy proposal.

In the law, there is concept known as a "legal fiction"--something that everyone knows isn't true, but all these smart lawyers look the other way because it is much for convenient to assume that fiction for one reason or another. For example, everyone knows a corporation isn't a person, but under the law, corporations are treated (for the most part) as a person.

Do we really need the political fiction that any of these plans are going to be passed as is in the first hundred days of the next president's term? For example, maybe it is a terrible policy/political idea that Obama's health care plan doesn't mandate coverage, either by employers or by individuals, but wouldn't his plan have to go through Congress first? And wouldn't Congress consist of House Members and Senators interested in health care like Hillary Clinton, who could change the Obama bill to include a mandate?

Even in 2001, with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress (and Democrats with 50 senators), Bush's tax cut was altered to expire in 2011 and reduce the overall number slightly.

I can't think of a single policy proposal offered by a successful presidential candidate since FDR (and maybe LBJ) that was passed as proposed by Congress.

So we all should think of the candidates various plans on the important issues of the day as wish lists, ones that will be tweaked even during the transition period, let alone after consults with Congressional leaders. These wish lists tell us something about what kind of president a candidate will be, but won't tell us how they will compromise and negotiate their plans with Congress.

So could the national media and rival campaigns please stop pretending like they know nothing about how the legislative process works (or doesn't)? Because such posturing really is contributing to the public's ignorance of civics.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

the legislators are coming

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Kawanzaa, etc. That big storm on Christmas Eve tweaked my Christmas plans and led to family tensions, but I guess that is part of the holidays too.

Anyway, on to the subject of this post. Every January and February, the legislature arrives from all 6 corners of the state to pass new laws and budgets. Now that the renovation of the capitol building is nearly complete, they are ready to tackle some big and small topics.

Even in Utah, Mark Twain is right that "In the West, whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting."
HB51 would give municipalities and public water suppliers the ability to keep unused water rights for up to three decades.
Doing so would raise the ire of farmers and ranchers, who have to fight to keep their unused water rights every five years. Why, they ask, shouldn't cities and water districts be held to the same standard?
Under current law, if any water right has not been tapped for five years, it must be forfeited and put to good use. Those holding those rights, whether they be cities, districts or individuals, generally can keep them - if they periodically apply to the state water engineer.
City officials and water suppliers want to hold on to those rights for at least 30 years.
That way, they can plan for future growth without taking a chance that their five-year applications could be denied - particularly if water supplies decline.
Farmers, in the proposed bill, would be required to reapply more often - every seven years.
This bill should be an interesting one to watch, as it will pit rural Utahns against their formerly rural brethren in places like St. George. Even if I wasn't in a strictly non-political job, I wouldn't touch this debate with a ten foot pole.

Next up, the small: a culture war issue.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, is drafting a bill that would require the display of the American flag and a copy of the Declaration of Independence in every public school classroom in Utah.

"This started off because a friend of mind did a little bit of research on college campuses and he couldn't find anybody who could tell him what the Constitution was, let alone what was in it — and these were college students," Christensen said.


The bill does not require the Constitution be displayed in classrooms, but Christensen said he might add that provision, and maybe the Bill of Rights, to the bill's requirements.


Many schools have a "freedom shrine" of historically significant documents. State law requires elementary students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily, though parents can excuse children from the exercise. Secondary schools are encouraged to do so weekly; the Granite Board of Education, for one, requires as much.

State law also requires schools to post the national motto, "In God We Trust." Several school districts received donations to buy framed depictions of the phrase; Christensen believes a similar outpouring would follow his bill.

The state core curriculum also includes flag education for elementary students and U.S. history and civics for older children.
Does putting up the U.S. Constitution (and the Bill of Rights), "In God We Trust," the pledge of allegiance, and U.S. flag provide civics lessons? Personally, I think if Sen. Christensen's goal is to create a more educated and civic-minded generation of Utahns, he would be better off requiring more civics in lesson plans at the primary and secondary education levels.

When I taught law at East High last spring, most of the kids had no idea about their 4th Amendment rights (let alone their article 1, section 14 rights), nor what the 1st Amendment meant for them. They all knew some basics about the branches of government, but didn't know about committees (especially the Rules Committee), amendments, and conference committee. Now I don't remember a "In God We Trust," a constitution, or a flag in the room, but there are plenty of flags all over the school and on every big building near East High, and I really doubt either would have been of that much help. My co-teacher (a fellow law student who was once my boss when I interned for Jim Matheson) and I handed out constitutions for everyone, but I doubt they read those. And those constitutions had a much better chance of being glanced at than one mounted on the wall.

Now the legislature has blunt instruments to implement solutions to complex problems like "why don't our kids are about democracy anymore?" But like I said, curriculum-based civics is going to be much more effective than display-based civics.

On a final note, as a Jazz fan, I say who cares and good riddance to whiny baby Gordan Giricek. This guy loved being a star on a barely make the playoffs team, and hates it that he is now a bench player due to all of the new talent on the Jazz in the last few years. Suck it up and try to win the 6th Man of the Year award, don't just sulk.