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 I have a couple of comments;

one concerns care in interpreting poll responses in cases of questions which call for a response in which the respondant can reasonably be supposed to be subject to the feeling that a fully candid answer may reflect badly on him-- and this is true even though the interview is usually an 'anonymous' one done by telephone-- that is, even though the respondant is confident that his responses shall be part of an aggregate in which he is anonymous.

 My favorite standard example of this problem concerns polls which ask respondants to declare whether or not they believe in God, in Heaven and Hell, in miracles such as the immaculate conception, etc.  My view is that in practically every such poll, the results may be safely assumed to under report the actual proportion of people who do believe in the things just listed.  That is for a fairly common-sense reason: in answering such questions, there is little or no reason to imagine that those who do not believe in these notions shall reply falsely that they do.  On the other hand, there are always some proportion of the public which is reluctant to admit their religious beliefs out of the concern for the impression that would make on the interviewer; thus, in an random telephone poll, they'll report that they do not believe in such things even though in fact they do.

  Stating one's opinion on such sensitive questions as whether or not the US--as a people or a government--should be responsible for their actions abroad, and, more importantly, should be liable to be held accountable by some real or potential independent authority is just the sort of question that is liable to elicit false statements of approval or agreement, as in "Yes, I believe the US govt., etc., should be held legally accountable for..." .  Again, my hunch is that such polls shall always over-report the number of responses which conform to the socially-accepted and respectable response, thus masking the true number of people who in fact do not hold these respectable opinions.

My second comment concerns the notion of what we are talking about when we speak of "the United States" does, or did, this, that or the other; for all practical purposes, the "United States" really only exist as a present-day collectivity of people.  Though that seems obvious, it is not necessarily always what people have in mind when they argue over what the US (or any other nation, for that matter) once did or is now doing, or what they have to been proud or ashamed of.

  To illustrate this, many people are proud of what they think of as "their nation" having done in the past.  As in, for example, "the US won the Second World War and liberated Europe."  Many people easily accept that what some of their forebears did once upon a time is a matter which reflects positively on their own present-day worthiness.  They do not, somehow, accept the converse, that the disreputable acts of their forebears should be regarded as reflecting poorly on them--as they disavow any responsibility for such acts of long past generations.

  Of course, a nation is, for better or for worse, the sum of its present-day population's acts and beliefs, broadly speaking.  It is of no account what some generations of Americans may have done long ago in determining, especially, whether or not "the United States is a democratic nation".  It may very well have once been--or, that is, the American people of another time may very well have been more or less "democratic" than are the American people of today.  But the only meaningful question is, "What are Americans doing now?  Not, "What is the best and most noble thing we can point to about ourselves from the past?" and claim that as exemplary of what "we really are" today.

  What we really are today is of course to be determined by what we really are doing (or not) today.

  By that measure, we are perhaps not such a free and democratic nation as we may like to believe.  But that doesn't prevent people from taking as their ideal of what their nation is, the glorious portions from its most respectable past.

  Finally, about the treaty obligations of the US; I had an interesting (to me) discussion with a member at Dailykos on this very topic.  I argued that, according to the terms of the US Constitution, when the Senate ratifies a treaty, and the president signs it into law, it becomes the law of the land and has the same force and authority as the various provisions of the US Constitution itself.  Not so, replied the other person.  As he claimed to know, under a long ago ruling of the US Supreme Court, the provision of the Constitution which makes treaties part of the law of the land along with the federal Constitution, is interpreted as meaning only that the several states of the United States are legally bound to respect the treaty's terms.  Interestingly, by the Court's ruling, I learned from this fellow in the Dailykos that the US government--that is the federal government is not bound by any treaty from the moment that said treaty's terms come into conflict with a subsequently passed law of the United States.  Thus, apparently, if the US have obligations under the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war, it is the opinion of the Supreme Court, according to this ruling--I've now forgotten which one and can no longer find this exchange in the archives of the Dailykos, sorry-- that those obligations become null and void as soon as the Congress passes and the president signs any legislation to the contrary.  All of that came to me as flatly incredible.  My view has always been that the treaties were valid and in theory enforcable even if in fact that was not the case;  here I learn that, no, all that counts is what the last-passed and enacted laws may say on any given treaty issue.

 Amazing!  So, I asked the other fellow, "So, tell me, whether or  not the Supreme Court's case law is as you've described it to me, do you personally agree that this is how things ought to be ?

  At that, he ran out of time to answer and explained that he wouldn't be able to answer.  There ended the discussion.  I'm really sorry I couldn't link to it.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:35:04 PM EST
As he claimed to know, under a long ago ruling of the US Supreme Court, the provision of the Constitution which makes treaties part of the law of the land along with the federal Constitution, is interpreted as meaning only that the several states of the United States are legally bound to respect the treaty's terms.  Interestingly, by the Court's ruling, I learned from this fellow in the Dailykos that the US government--that is the federal government is not bound by any treaty from the moment that said treaty's terms come into conflict with a subsequently passed law of the United States.
Bullshit, or else I can't understand why Texas insists on flaunting the obligation to put any foreigner that is arrested for a crime in contact with the consular representation from their home country and nobody does anything about it. There are many cases of foreigners on death row who did not have proper legal representation and were never given the option to contact their embassy/consulate. I forget whether there have been any executions, but I think at least of Mexicans there have been.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:42:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm... there is something to that...
The United States takes a different view concerning the relationship between international and domestic law than many other nations, particularly in Europe. Unlike nations which view international agreements as always superseding national law, the American view is that international agreements become part of the body of U.S. federal law. As a result, Congress can modify or repeal treaties by subsequent legislative action, even if this amounts to a violation of the treaty under international law. The most recent changes will be enforced by U.S. courts entirely independently of whether the international community still considers the old treaty obligations binding upon the U.S. Additionally, an international agreement that is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution is void under domestic U.S. law, the same as any other federal law in conflict with the Constitution, and the Supreme Court could rule a treaty provision to be unconstitutional and void under domestic law, although it has never done so. The constitutional constraints are stronger in the case of CEA and executive agreements, which cannot override the laws of state governments.

The U.S. is not a party to the Vienna Convention. However, the State Department has nonetheless taken the position that it is still binding, in that the Convention represents established customary law. The U.S. habitually includes in treaty negotiations the reservation that it will assume no obligations that are in violation of the U.S. Constitution. However, the Vienna Convention provides that states are not excused from their treaty obligations on the grounds that they violate the state's constitution, unless the violation is manifestly obvious at the time of contracting the treaty. So for instance, if the US Supreme Court found that a treaty violated the US constitution, it would no longer be binding on the US under US law; but it would still be binding on the US under international law, unless its unconstitutionality was manifestly obvious to the other states at the time the treaty was contracted. It has also been argued by the foreign governments (especially European) and by international human rights advocates that many of these US reservations are both so vague and broad as to be invalid. They also are invalid as being in violation of the Vienna Convention provisions referenced earlier. (wiki)



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:46:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 Yep.  Like I say, outrageuous !

  You tell me: is Uncle Sam a member in good standing of the community of law-abiding nations ?

  LOL!

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:56:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This says nothing about being a member in good standing, or about abiding by law. It does spell out the basic attitude towards the community of nations, and about international law.

You could say that the US is not in good standing is, for instance, it did not pay its membership dues to the UN (oops), or if it had disregarded unfavourable rulings by the World Court (oops), or if it had carried out wars of aggression after seeking and failing to obtain Security Council authorisation (oops)...

The basic attitudes spelled out in the quoted paragraphs are: US law is above international law. Within the conceptual metaphor of "the community of nations", this attitude is asocial [in a libertarian individualistic kind of way], maybe anomic or even sociopathic. This still does not say anything about how "well adjusted" this asocial individual is. I would say that after 9/11 it's clearly become maladjusted.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 08:19:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually the USA is a party to the Vienna Convention itself.
It opted out of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 2005.

The protocol requires signatories to let the International Court of Justice (ICJ) make the final decision when their citizens say they have been illegally denied the right to see a home-country diplomat when jailed abroad.

The United States initially backed the measure as a means to protect its citizens abroad. It was also the first country to invoke the protocol before the ICJ, also known as the World Court, successfully suing Iran for the taking of 52 U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979.

But in recent years, other countries, with the support of U.S. opponents of capital punishment, successfully complained before the World Court that their citizens were sentenced to death by U.S. states without receiving access to diplomats from their home countries.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:50:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Could you go into wikipedia and correct the article with a reference?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 03:40:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]

 Actually, in the very case you refer to or another one with essentially the same set of facts (as Texas was not the only state found to have "forgotten" to notify the (usually Mexican) defendant's consular officials of his arrest, the State of Texas was found to have violated the law in failing to notify, and the "relief" granted the appellant was that the conviction was voided and returned for re-trial.

  Thus, the appellant won only a new trial, I believe, under the theory that, had the consular officials been aware, they may have been able to offer assistance that may have changed the outcome--this is according to my faulty memory as I have not gone to the trouble of checking FindLaw on this case; but it seems to me I read a news report that the State of Texas was ordered on appeal to start respecting the treaty obligations to notify consular officials of the arrest of Mexican nationals--which happens often in Texas, of course.

  I say, good for the appeals ruling! and Shame on you, Texas!

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:54:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I partially agree with the misreporting. People are more likely to respond in what they consider to be "acceptable". (In the words of our favourite clown Michael Moore: "Everyone here approves of what the president is doing. Ma, Pa, the kids, even the dog. You approve, dog!")

However I think your example about religion is precicely the opposite of what's happening. But do ask me again when you have an atheist president (or a few Governors. No, Jesse Ventura does not count! :) )

by Number 6 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 05:58:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I know, I can't spell.
"Precisely"
by Number 6 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 05:59:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 My point, if correct, would suggest that there are actually more, not fewer deeply religious --read, superstitious and credulous believers in miracles--people than are indicated in even rigorously and methodologically sound polling suggests there to be.

  Therefore, if an atheist US president were to be elected, the first thing I'd do is to quickly check on the most basic laws of physics to see if these, too, were suddenly no longer operative.

  Before Americans knowingly elect an avowed atheist to the presidency, rocks will float up from the ground into the upper atmosphere.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 03:03:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for clarifying this.
Looks like I read it backwards and upside down. :)
by Number 6 on Thu Jun 1st, 2006 at 04:44:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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