For all their talk about fair markets and open competition, there's really only one way to get ahead in Republican America: Know somebody.
Or maybe a 25-year-old without a college degree really is the most qualified person for the $70,000/year job of "Special Assistant to the President and Personal Aide".
For all their talk about fair markets and open competition, there's really only one way to get ahead in Republican America: Know somebody.
Bill Moyers stands up for independent journalism - and himself.
I'm in hot water because my colleagues and I at "NOW" didn't play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.
I decided long ago that this wasn't healthy for democracy. I came to see that "news is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity." Objectivity is not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference.
When PBS asked me after 9/11 to start a new weekly broadcast, they wanted us to make it different from anything else on the air--commercial or public broadcasting. They asked us to tell stories no one else was reporting and to offer a venue to people who might not otherwise be heard.
But we also had a second priority. We intended to do strong, honest and accurate reporting, telling stories we knew people in high places wouldn't like. I told our producers and correspondents that in our field reporting our job was to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth. This was all the more imperative in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. America could be entering a long war against an elusive and stateless enemy with no definable measure of victory and no limit to its duration, cost or foreboding fear. The rise of a homeland security state meant government could justify extraordinary measures in exchange for protecting citizens against unnamed, even unproven, threats. I reminded our team of how the correspondent and historian, Richard Reeves, answered a student who asked him to define real news. "Real news," Reeves responded, "is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms."
It's amazing what you can learn when you read. I often feel at a disadvantage in conversations about politics because I haven't had a chance to read everything. But I'm beginning to believe that I may have read more than most. That's not to say that people don't regularly refer to books - I'm just not so sure they've actually read them.
One of my favorite examples is the book Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I'm convinced that of everyone who refers to this book, approximately 1% have actually read the book cover to cover. To be fair, I am not yet in that 1%. I have, more than once, opened the book fully determined to plow through it. Some day I will actually make it all the way through. I have, though, still read more than most people, it seems. Perhaps I'm in a 2% of people who have tried to read it.
In my brief visits with Smith, I noticed that he, unlike the characterizations of rightists and laissez faire demagogues, argued that a well run society requires economic regulation and taxation - not the usual reference to the father of capitalism. Wealth of Nations is one of those books that, once you can cite chapter and verse, (one of my personal goals*) you can use to really surprise your opponent in a debate.
The same can be said for reading Marx. Having known my share of avid Marxists, I'm pretty sure that, again, maybe 1% have bothered to read the man's work. Maybe they read The Communist Manifesto, but there's a bit more to it than that. I'm fairly certain that no Republican under 40 has ever read Marx, regardless of how much they talk about him.
Currently, I'm reading a great book - The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek. Serfdom is popular with the GOP/Libertarian crowd as a clear explanation of why socialism will lead to totalitarianism and capitalism will ensure liberty. Now, this book isn't as dense as Smith or Marx, so I don't know why these folks would not have read it; but having only made it through the first six chapters, I'm beginning to wonder why, if they have read it, they would cite it in defense of GOP/Libertarian ideology.
It is important not to confuse opposition against [central planning] with a dogmatic laissez faire attitude. The liberal argument is in favor of making the best possible use of the forces of competition as a means of co-ordinating human effors, not an argument for leaving things just as they are...It does not deny, but even emphasizes, that, in order that competition should work beneficially, a carefully thought-out legal framework is required and that neither the existing nor the past legal rules are free from grave defects. Nor does it deny that, where it is impossible to create the conditions necessary to make competition effective, we must resort to other methods of guiding economic activity.Not exactly the motto of the American Enterprise Institute.
Any attempt to control prices or quantities of particular commodities deprives competition of its power of bringing about an effective co-ordination of individual efforts, because price changes then cease to register all the relevant changes in circumstances and no longer provide a reliable guide for the individual's actions.
This is not necessarily true, however, of measures merely restricting the allowed methods of production, so long as these restrictions affect all potential producers equally and are not used as an indirect way of controlling prices and quantities. Though all such controls of the methods of production impose extra costs (i.e., make it necessary to use more resources to produce a given output), they may be well worth while. To prohibit the use of certatin poisonous substances or to require special precautions in their use, to limit working hours or to require certain sanitary arrangements, is fully compatible with the preservation of competition. The only question here is whether in the particular instance the advantages gained are greater than the social costs which they impose. Nor is the preservation of competition incompatible with an extensive system of social services - so long as the organization of these services is not designed in such a way as to make competition ineffective over wide fields.
Again, not quite the stuff of a Grover Norquist press release. Of course, Hayek foresaw this sort of misrepresentation. Searching for causes for the rise in popularity of central planning in the early 20th century, Hayek found:
...the growing impatience with the slow advance of liberal policy, the just irritation with those who used liberal phraseology in defense of antisocial privilege..."**
As the term liberal has been misused by some to mask a political ideology favoring greater government control, the term capitalist is too often today misused to mask a system of antisocial cronyism, monopolization, and corporate/government collusion. In both circumstances, these are attempts to confuse and manipulate the public - a favorite tactic of those who would convince you to buy something you don't want.
Those who would replace liberty and democracy with control over our lives by an elite few - be they communists or corporatists - know that they are fighting for a system counter to the true wishes of the people. In order to be successful, they must confuse and manipulate those over whom they wish to hold power. We who hold dear our freedom, though, are not without an adequate defense. It begins with opening a book.
* Yes, I'm a nerd.
** Emphasis mine.
In yesterday's Wall Street Journal appeared this article - In terrorism fight, government finds a surprising ally: FedEx. I highly recommend taking the time to read it.
FedEx has opened the international portion of its databases, including credit-card details, to government officials. It has created a police force recognized by the state of Tennessee that works alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The company has rolled out radiation detectors at overseas facilities to detect dirty bombs and donated an airplane to federal researchers looking for a defense against shoulder-fired missiles.
Moreover, the company is encouraging its 250,000 employees to be spotters of would-be terrorists. It is setting up a system designed to send reports of suspicious activities directly to the Department of Homeland Security via a special computer link.
FedEx's newfound enthusiasm for a frontline role in the war on terror shows how the relationship between business and government has changed in the past few years. In some cases, these changes are blurring the division between private commerce and public law enforcement.
It's not just Fedex - the article also mentions AOL, Western Union, and Wal-Mart as private corporations getting involved in domestic surveillance.
Corporations are inherently undemocratic. Decisions are made by a few at the very top, usually with little to no input from customers and workers. As long as decisions are confined to issues that are strictly business related, there usually is not much of a problem.
So do we really want to blur then line between private corporations and government? Do we really want to give undemocratic institutions authority over our lives?
Consider this incident:
In December 2001, according to court records in Illinois, a FedEx driver became suspicious after making a series of deliveries of boxes to an apartment complex in suburban Chicago. The cartons were always the same size and shape and came from the same address in Los Angeles. Worried there was something sinister afoot, the driver informed his bosses and FedEx called the police.
Suspecting narcotics or explosives, the police showed up at the FedEx depot with bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs. The dogs didn't signal there was anything illicit in the boxes. FedEx then invoked the authority granted to it by every customer, which the police don't automatically have, permitting it to inspect any package without a warrant.
Blurring the lines between government and corporation allows both to overstep their boundaries. Governments are freed from restraints placed on them by the Constitution and the people, and corporations are elevated to quasi-governmental power.
Proponents of this arrangement argue that it protects the public and business. Perhaps, but at what cost? At the cost of the very freedoms on which our nation was founded. You may gain security, but it will be security in chains.
George Will has this column in last Sunday's Washington Post. I believe there are many, on both sides of the political spectrum, who could benefit from considering Will's point.
Simple minded men like Tom Delay
"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."
and John Cornyn
...I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in — engage in violence.
do a grave disservice to the judiciary and to our nation when they treat the courts as a tool of political power rather than what they are intended to be - an independent deliberative body necessary for the proper interpretation of the law.
Court decisions are inherently political in their effect - after all, if there were no controversy, there would be no need for courts. For the same reason, there will always be a disappointed party - someone who disagrees with a court's finding. To claim, though, with no supporting evidence, that a court reached a decision not through honest deliberation, but based solely on political whim, is pathetic slander of the worst kind.
One does not have to agree with a decision in order to respect the system by which that decision was made. Dishonorable men will always cry foul when they are found to be in the wrong, regardless of the fact that our judicial system is unparalleled in the world.
As evidenced by the existence of appellate law, at times a court will be mistaken. But there exists a process by which to correct those mistakes. Time favors reasonable arguments and interpretations, and those will ultimately prevail - this is called progress.
When we select men and women to sit on the bench, we should look not at effects of decisions which we may favor or disfavor, but at the individual's record of objective reason and deliberation.
Political opportunists like Delay and Cornyn bring shame on themselves and their associates when they attempt to disparage the judiciary as a means of partisan gain. As members of the House and Senate, respectfully, they should hold themselves to a higher standard than that of extremists and paranoiacs.
A Matter of Principle
The Wall Street Journal features this editorial today which applauds Bush's position on embryonic stem-cell research based on a fairly simple maxim: tax money should not be used to fund something that some taxpayers find offensive.
He simply refused to allow taxpayer money to be spent on a practice millions of Americans consider morally offensive.
The Bush policy doesn't ban stem-cell research; it merely says that taxpayers shouldn't have to finance the destruction of embryos that they consider to be human life.
Abortion may be legal, but we don't force taxpayers to subsidize it
I look forward to future Wall Street Journal editorials calling for an end to tax money funding nuclear arms, weapons research, executions, corporate subsidies, military invasions, and "faith based initiatives".
Recently, a friend forwarded me a New York Times article ( The Unregulated Offensive, April 17, 2005) about the legal movement known as Constitution in Exile (CE). Proponents of the CE movement believe that the golden era of American jurisprudence existed during the late 19th and early 20th century – a time when Lochner v. New York decided that a New York law establishing a maximum of working hours for bakers violated the bakers’ freedom of contract. It was a time when courts regularly struck down economic regulation, and industry did pretty much whatever it wanted. Things fell apart, they say, around 1937. In the 1938 decision US v. Carolene Products, the Supreme Court found that
Congress is free to exclude from interstate commerce articles whose use in the states for which they are destined it may reasonably conceive to be injurious to the public health, morals, or welfare… Such regulation is not a forbidden invasion of state power either because its motive or its consequence is to restrict the use of articles of commerce within the states of destination, and is not prohibited unless by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
This case, CE proponents claim, opened the floodgates for economic regulation and the establishment of the regulatory agencies such as the EPA, as well as minimum wage laws, maximum hour laws, child labor laws, etc. – all, in the eyes of the CE movement, unconstitutional restrictions on personal liberty.
At the end of the article, author Jeffrey Rosen writes
If they win -- if, years from now, the Constitution is brought back from its decades of arguable exile -- and federal environmental laws are struck down, the movement's loyalists do not expect the levels of air and water pollution to rise catastrophically. They are confident that local regulations and private contracts between businesses and neighbors will determine the pollution levels that each region demands. Nor do they expect vulnerable workers to be exploited in sweatshops if labor unions are weakened: they anticipate that entrepreneurial workers in a mobile economy will bargain for the working conditions that their talents deserve. Historic districts, as they see it, will not be eviscerated if zoning laws are scaled back, but they do imagine there will be fewer brownstones and more McMansions. In exchange for these trade-offs, they insist, individual liberty -- the indispensable guarantee of self-fulfillment and happiness -- would flourish far more extensively than it does today.
The theory sounds nice – who wouldn’t want guaranteed self-fulfillment and happiness? Unfortunately, the evidence, though, is missing – their conclusions are based solely on blind faith. It's the old argument, in the face of all historical evidence to the contrary, that left to their own devices, everybody will play nice.
This reliance on blind faith reminds me of claims by those pushing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Quoth Richard Perle:
“A year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.”
There was a popular argument prior to the war that said, once we remove Saddam, the Iraqi people will be grateful and overjoyed – greeting us with flowers and candy in the streets – and Iraq will quickly transition into a western style democracy. How did they know this? Because it’s obvious! It’s natural! After all, who wouldn’t want to live in a western style democracy?
Today we are able to read the pre-war the Downing Street Memo which contains a very telling line:
“There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action because the architects of the war – Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and the rest of their pro-war cabal – just knew it would all work out in the end.
I have yet to find an empirical example of a modern economy operating under the sort of laissez faire policies promoted by the CE movement, much less a CE approved economy that doesn’t severely impair the material quality of life for a majority of its citizens for the benefit of an elite few. The ways things have played out in Iraq have been far from the rosy scenarios predicted by pre-war hawks.
This way of formulating policy, this blind adherence to faith in conclusions in contradiction to reason and historical evidence, reminds me of yesterday’s proponents of Soviet style communism. We can live in paradise, they promised, if only you trust us and believe. In the real world, though, their results fell far from paradise.
I was always taught that something worth having is worth working for, so why do we continue to look for such easy solutions to such complex problems? We are not afraid of hard work. We are not afraid to find workable solutions to complicated problems. It’s time we stop wishing on the lottery and get serious about finding honest solutions to our problems.
The new talking points say that men like George Bush are optimists, and people like me are pessimists. The tables have turned since the Cold War - those peddling wishful thinking are to be trusted more than those selling practical solutions. It’s time that we stopped listening to the Chairman Maos and the Grover Norquists of the world. They sell only fantasy; we are required to live with reality.
It has become conventional wisdom, it seems, that institutions of higher education are places of ideological indoctrination. Like most conventional wisdom, there's not much substance behind it.
Gary Pavela, director of judicial programs at the University of Maryland at College Park, writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education that
legislative mandates would not be necessary if people recognized that courts have long held that academic freedom is shared by both professors and students and, in fact, that academic freedom for students has ancient roots in scholarly life.
One passage in particular caught my attention:
Being "free to learn" means being free from indoctrination. Most faculty members want to avoid that, but drawing lines between impassioned argument and indoctrination can be difficult. Is it "indoctrination" for a professor to express a strong point of view in the classroom? Do colleges "indoctrinate" students when they require study of the language and literature of specific cultures?
To those questions, standing alone, the answer is no. Great teachers can be extravagantly opinionated, and some of the best courses are required. Yet in neither context do most students feel "indoctrinated." Why not? Because, at heart, students can sense a difference between teaching that serves as a catalyst to independent thought and teaching that serves to stifle it.
I can only think of one instance from my university education in which I felt that a Professor was not attempting to foster independent thought. The professor in question, with whom I mostly concurred, used his class more as a pulpit from which to teach his conclusions than to really generate independent inquiry. He would often lapse into a mode of the "Sigh You just don't get it" sort - counterproductive, perhaps, but a weak means of indoctrination; he certainly failed to stifle debate, if that was his aim. Other than that, though, I cannot think of a professor who would not gladly entertain arguments with which he personally disagreed as a matter of intellectual exploration.
More often what I saw was a stubborn and defensive student who came into the classroom with a preconceived notion of how horrible things were going to be. An instance that jumps to mind occurred after the first day of a lit class when a student approached the instructor and asked, timidly, if this was "an anti-Christian class" because he understood that the university was, as an institution, very hostile to Christians. The instructor assured the student that there would not be any anti-Christianity in the curriculum, and that if he felt unease about anything he could always talk to her during office hours to find a solution. Outside the classroom, there was a lively rally by one of the many active Christian student organizations.
Most of my professors, to be perfectly honest, appeared to be primarily dedicated to getting students interested and engaged in the curriculum - an often Sisyphean task. Indoctrination, of course, requires people to actually show up to class and read the required texts.
Michael Berube, professor of English at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, described an experience I was more familiar with - and the student could have been an adherent of either political extreme.
Ideologues and polemicists do a disservice to students, instructors, and education when they invent conspiracy theories to serve their cause. For centuries there have been good teachers and bad; good students and bad; legitimate studies and the ridiculous. But in reality we have not sunken into a mire of lies and political indoctrination. Time will test the teachings of hacks, and hacks will fail. In the meantime, the rest of us will go on learning.
This AP story ends on an interesting note.
Since the war began in March 2003, at least 163 members of the National Guard, plus 45 in the Army Reserve and 45 in the Marine Reserves had died in Iraq, according to an unofficial count as of Friday. The Pentagon does not release an official death toll for the Guard and Reserve.
I'm curious. Does that mean that Guard and Reserve troops are not listed in DOD casualty counts? Or does it just mean that they are not specifically identified as Guard or Reserve troops?
On a lighter note, did you watch last night's episode of Law & Order: SVU? Lame.
Though I did laugh when District Attorney Arthur Branch (played by Fred Thompson) angrily accused ADA Casey Novak of "sipping chardonnay" in her Manhattan apartment (no doubt while reading The New Yorker). I suppose Republican Senators are shotgunning Schlitz in the back of a pick-up truck? Riiiiight.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to say it outright: Senator Cornyn is a dimwit. Today he embarrasses thinking Texans with this column in the appropriately ridiculous forum National Review Online. Says Cornyn:
The agreement guarantees up-or-down votes to Justice Priscilla Owen, Justice Janice Rogers Brown, and Judge William Pryor — three well-qualified nominees who were once deplored as extreme and dangerous (as late as yesterday afternoon). The agreement is thus an effective admission of guilt — an admission that these fine nominees should never have been filibustered in the first place.
Huh? If that's true, it also follows that Republican compromise was an admission that the other candidates are unfit to serve. Of course, both conclusions are rubbish. In the past I would have, perhaps, suggested that Cornyn was being intellectually dishonest. At this point, I'm more inclined to suggest that he's not intellectual enough to be dishonest.
From there Cornyn's column devolves into a long rambling defense of Priscilla Owen that relies on his authority as a former Texas Supreme Court Justice coupled with his audience's unfamiliarity with Texas case law - hardly worth a read.
John Cornyn is a Senator. He is also an attorney. He's also a former District Court Judge, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Texas Attorney General. And this is the best he can come up with? No wonder there's such a perceived crisis of the judiciary.
University of Texas Law Professor Lino Graglia has this opinion column in today's Wall Street Journal. Graglia argues that current constitutional law is illegitimate because
The problem is that the Supreme Court justices have made the due process and equal protection clauses empty vessels into which they can pour any meaning. This converts the clauses into simple transferences of policy-making power from elected legislators to the justices, authorizing a court majority to remove any policy issue from the ordinary political process and assign it to themselves for decision. This fundamentally changes the system of government created by the Constitution.
Graglia's solution to the problem is a simple one
...the problem can be very largely solved by simply restoring the 14th Amendment to its original meaning, or by giving it any specific meaning. The 14th Amendment was written after the Civil War to provide a national guarantee of basic civil rights to blacks. If a constitutional amendment could be adopted reconfining the 14th Amendment to that purpose or, better still, expanding it to a general prohibition of all official racial discrimination, the Court's free-hand remaking of domestic social policy for the nation would largely come to an end.
And therein, I believe, lies the key to understanding Graglia's true motivations. Graglia reads the 14th Amendment through a narrow historical lens
The 14th Amendment was written after the Civil War to provide a national guarantee of basic civil rights to blacks.
and not as a set of guiding principles - only guaranteeing civil rights for blacks, not guaranteeing civil rights for all classes. His proposal - to pass a new amendment clearly defining due process and equal protection as understood through his interpretation - removes the possiblity of reading the language as a more general philosophical maxim.
I suspect that Graglia's motivation comes from a desire to allow for legalized discrimination against classes other than race - gender, disability, immigration status, sexual orientation, etc. There are serious and legitimate disagreements about how to apply constitutional law; Graglia's problem, though, appears to be simply one of how to apply his personal bigotries.
The new issue of In These Times features an interview with Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders (I). Sanders is planning a run for Vermont's Senate seat which will be vacated by Jim Jeffords in 2006, and he has a positive plan for bringing important issues to the fore of American politics.
[Sanders] The trade issue is a huge issue. We're losing millions of decent paying jobs, not just blue-collar jobs, but white-collar information technology jobs as well. We're seeing the conversion of our economy from a General Motors economy to a Wal-Mart economy. And we're also seeing the sellout of our country by the CEOs of large corporations. These CEOs, whose companies have become enormously wealthy and profitable on the backs of American workers and consumers, are now moving abroad and pushing us into a race to the bottom as fast as they can. It's simply not acceptable that these CEOs, who make 500 times what their employees earn, are reducing us to a third world economy. It's not acceptable that CEOs like Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric said, "When I'm talking to GE managers, I talk China, China, China, China, China."
[Joel Bleifuss] For years we were told how terrible communism was and how we had to be anti-communist. But now these guys love China! They love authoritarianism. They love the reality that they can pay desperate workers in China 30 cents an hour and send them to jail if they stand up for a union. Who's talking about that issue?
[Sanders] I get on FOX television, every now and then, and they made a mistake the last time I was on and allowed me to talk about trade. When I got back to the office the next day, I had 50 e-mails and 95 percent of them said, "I'm a conservative Republican and you're absolutely right about the issue of trade. Bush's policies are an absolute disaster." That's from conservative Republicans.
As I'm sure you're well aware by now, the Senate reached a compromise as to the so-called nuclear option of changing the rules of the Senate to disallow the filibuster of judicial nominations. Ideologues on both sides of the issue are unsatisfied, which means it's probably a good start.
Timothy Noah wrote in April that Democrats should have killed the filibuster years ago as it's inherently undemocratic. Noah, of course, makes the same mistake that rabid Republicans have been making lately - American democracy is not built on mob rule, even if it's your mob.
In the article, Noah directs us to Norman J. Ornstein's short piece in which he argues that
The filibuster is basically a conservative instrument; it delays government action in order to overcome intense minority opposition and to build broader popular support.
Mr. Ornstein is correct. Furthermore, in that single sentence he succinctly sums up why it is important to keep the filibuster in practice.
It Comes Down to Priorities
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has this article about educational priorities in the Texas legislature.
Under Senate Bill 422 -- legislation that reauthorizes the Texas Education Agency -- a new amendment would allow at-risk children in the state's largest school districts to use a taxpayer-supported voucher to attend private school. The amendment was added this week by Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington.
Under House Bill 10 -- legislation appropriating extra money to operate state government -- a new amendment cuts nearly $400 million to purchase textbooks during the upcoming school year.
Opponents say the moves raise questions about the education priorities at the Texas Capitol.
"I have no idea why you would fund vouchers to send kids to private schools, while at the same time not provide textbooks for kids in public schools," Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said.
But Grusendorf, chairman of the House Education Committee, has said it's time for a new approach to public education. He has called for a greater emphasis on technology in classrooms and has been a consistent supporter of vouchers.
"It's critical to give kids in urban school districts an opportunity to get out of failing schools," said Grusendorf, referring to the voucher proposal.
I love that last Grusendorf quote. Having been educated in public schools in a small Texas town, I can attest first hand that the problem of crappy schools is not limited to urban areas. Why does Grusendorf hate rural Texas school children?
All kidding aside, I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this.
But state Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that it comes down to priorities.
"We did not feel like it was a priority of the budget or the school districts to get PE textbooks in the classroom, to get art and some other textbooks," Pitts, R-Waxahachie, told the Star-Telegram in an earlier interview.
Now that's smart thinking. I mean, come on you stupid liberals, PE is taught in a gym, not a classroom. Duh. And art? Look, we're about to super-double-illegalize gays in this state, okay? We don't need to go spending a bunch of money on sissy art books.
With intellectual giants like Grusendorf and Pitts at the capitol, we can rest assured that Texas school children have the opportunity to receive the best education that money doesn't buy.
I bet these kids had too many books.
Howard Bashman asks an interesting question:
Does anyone find Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' explanation of his opinion in In re Doe (at page 40 of the PDF file), as set forth in this letter that the Justice Department issued today, to be plausible?
Now, as I often note - I'm not an attorney. I do, though, have quite a bit of practical experience in trying to back out of something inconvenient that I said earlier. It looks like the Attorney General is a real pro.
You know, I was well aware that National Review was something of a joke - a cheap partisan rag that gives column space to talentless blowhards like Jonah Goldberg. So, I didn't need David Frum to really drive the point home; but I guess if you're a partisan shill, you're a partisan shill, huh? Tonight on Hardball, Frum said that Americans want Congress to take up important issues like pensions, but the Democrats have decided that their top priority is putting liberal nut-jobs in the judiciary.
Pardon me, but what the fuck is this guy talking about?
Just to clarify, for those of you who might have just awoken from a decade long coma, the Republican party runs the show. That's right, even if the Democrats really did want to put liberal nut-jobs in the judiciary, THEY CAN'T!!!
I've got to hand it to Chris Matthews, though. He actually asked the question I've been wanting to hear every time Frist or Santorum or Delay or any of these shameless opportunists talk about nut-jobs in the judiciary: give me names. That's right, when Frum started talking about all the liberal judges that drive everyone nuts, Matthews wouldn't let him go on until he gave him names. The following is a list of names Frum came up with:
That is all. That's right, none. Zero. When pressed to explain who these crazy nut-job judges are that are driving Americans crazy, Frum came up with absolutely nothing. Actually, his excuse was even more pathetic. The man doesn't have enough class to admit when he's caught bullshitting. What did he say? "I'm putting quotes around it." Oh, okay. Is that the new talking-out-of-my-ass sign? I'll keep that in mind.
There are plenty of people who I think should not be on the bench. In fact, there have been plenty of people on the bench who never should have been there. But the idea that there's some massive conspiracy of the judiciary to impose some secret liberal agenda on the nation is, quite frankly, bullshit - as is the idea that Democrats are trying to put nut-jobs in the judiciary or, more to the point, that they even have the ability to do so. And I'll continue to believe that until I see stronger evidence than the vacuous talking points of a pathetic partisan shill.
Will there be any interesting news about Tom Craddick tomorrow? I guess we have to wait to find out.
Juan Cole has a column at Salon.com in which he explains very clearly that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the 43rd President of The United States of America lied to the American people and to the world in order to start a war.
Going to war is the most serious decision a president can make. It should never be approached in a cavalier fashion. American lives, the prestige and influence of the country, international relations, the health of its defenses, and the future of the next generation are at stake. Yet every single piece of evidence we now have confirms that George W. Bush, who was obsessed with unseating Saddam Hussein even before 9/11, recklessly used the opportunity presented by the terror attacks to march the country to war, fixing the intelligence to justify his decision, and lying to the American people about the reasons for the war. In other times, this might have been an impeachable offense.
It still amazes me that nobody seems to care about this.
Harper's chimes in on the Newsweek scandal (sic) by posting a March 2005 article, Flushed With Enthusiasm, in which a twenty-one-year-old Afghan man says:
We were not so sad when we were tortured. But when they insulted Islam it was really very difficult. They would come into the cell and search our belongings. They would pick up the Holy Koran and go through it page by page like they were looking for something. We didn’t understand what they were saying while they did this. Then they would throw the Holy Koran on the ground or drop it in the latrine. This made us very upset.
Which brings me to a point: Why are journalists pretending that claims of U.S. military personnel treating the Quran with disrespect are controversial? Yeah, torture, murder, hiding bodies - that's one thing. But putting a book in the toilet? NEVER!!!
Let's keep things in perspective here, people.
Think Progress catches Bill Frist stammering:
This morning on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer asked Majority Leader Bill Frist a simple question:
SEN. SCHUMER: Isn’t it correct that on March 8, 2000, my colleague [Sen. Frist] voted to uphold the filibuster of Judge Richard Paez?
Here was Frist’s response:
The president, the um, in response, uh, the Paez nomination - we’ll come back and discuss this further. … Actually I’d like to, and it really brings to what I believe - a point - and it really brings to, oddly, a point, what is the issue. The issue is we have leadership-led partisan filibusters that have, um, obstructed, not one nominee, but two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, in a routine way.
Uh, ummmm, uh...yeah. The Republican Party has become a party of lying, hypocritical, short-sighted, crooks. How can anybody take these guys seriously?
MP George Galloway calls Hitchens by his true name:
Before the hearing began, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens. "You're a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," Mr Galloway informed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens's questions and staring intently ahead. "And you're a drink-soaked ..." Eventually Mr Hitchens gave up. "You're a real thug, aren't you?" he hissed, stalking away.
- via Eschaton
"has had serious consequences. It has caused damage to the image of the United States abroad. It has -- people have lost their lives."
Meanwhile the Downing Street Memo suggests that perhaps Bush & co. are themselves willing to manufacture stories that result in even graver consequences.
This, of course, is an administration that has also paid journalists to promote its policies and participated in illegal covert propaganda according to the Government Accountability Office. This administration also appears to have planted phony journalists in an attempt to manipulate press briefings.
Now, the White House has appointed Republican operatives to censor the news on PBS and NPR.
WASHINGTON, May 15 - Executives at National Public Radio are increasingly at odds with the Bush appointees who lead the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In one of several points of conflict in recent months, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which allocates federal funds for public radio and television, is considering a plan to monitor Middle East coverage on NPR news programs for evidence of bias, a corporation spokesman said on Friday.
The corporation's board has told its staff that it should consider redirecting money away from national newscasts and toward music programs produced by NPR stations.
Top officials at NPR and member stations are upset as well about the corporation's decision to appoint two ombudsmen to judge the content of programs for balance. And managers of public radio stations criticized the corporation in a resolution offered at their annual meeting two weeks ago urging it not to interfere in NPR editorial decisions.
The corporation's chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, has also blocked NPR from broadcasting its programs on a station in Berlin owned by the United States government.
Remember that oil for food scandal that promised to show just how corrupt are the UN and France?
Investigators have estimated Saddam pocketed at least $2 billion by extorting the surcharges and kickbacks on humanitarian goods purchased.
While oil for food was operating from 1996 to 2003, Saddam got to choose the buyers of 3.4 billion barrels of oil that sold for $64 billion. The oil revenue went into a U.N.-controlled bank account that doled out funds for U.N.-approved sales of food, medicine and supplies to Iraq.
The illicit surcharges were typically wired into Iraq-controlled bank accounts in Lebanon, Oman and an Iraqi-front company in the United Arab Emirates, or paid in cash to Iraqi embassies and flown to Baghdad.
Of the $228 million in surcharged oil, the Democratic report found the United States imported 525 million barrels, or 52 percent of it. Among the biggest end users of this oil were Valero, Premcor, Alon USA, and Exxon, according to the report.
But investigators found no evidence that U.S. companies "knowingly purchased Iraqi oil on which an illegal surcharge had been paid."
- via CNN
It's amazing how innocent are our American oil corporations. They had no idea that they were overpaying for oil! And, really, how could they possibly know. They're just honest god-fearing men in a world of swarthy cheats and liars.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the original story was "demonstrably false" and "irresponsible," and "had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world."
"Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny," Whitman said. "Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations."
To which I can only respond: "Is there no limit to their brazen cheek?"
The Financial Times has this commentary by Bruce Ackerman regarding the so-called nuclear option. It's well worth a read.
There is more at stake than sheer lawlessness. The filibuster permits the Senate to play a moderating role within the constitutional system of checks and balances. Except when there is a decisive landslide, it requires the majority party to moderate its initiatives to gain the support of at least a few minority Senators. Mr Cheney's role in destroying the moderating role of the Senate is particularly problematic. For two centuries, the Senate president has been the pre-eminent guardian of the rules. Thomas Jefferson first put them in writing when he served as vice-president. His aim was to prevent political manipulation by the presiding officer, and Senate presidents have consistently served as impartial arbiters. In breaking with this tradition, Mr Cheney has a clear conflict of interests. As president of the Senate, he owes the institution fidelity to its rules, but as vice-president to Mr Bush, he wants to see his boss's judicial nominations confirmed. By allowing his executive interest to trump his duty to the Senate, Mr Cheney is undercutting the separation of powers.
Vicente Fox is one smooth operator.
"There is no doubt that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work, are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there in the United States," Fox told a group of Texas business people meeting in Mexico.
- via The Washington Post
Then there's also this priceless tidbit:
Although the cowboy-booted rancher Fox and President Bush, also a rancher...
Vicente Fox is a rancher? George W. Bush is a rancher? Hilarious.
Texas Senator John Cornyn is an attorney. Prior to his election as Senator, he was the Texas Attorney General. So why, I wonder, does he have such a hard time understanding the Constitution?
On The News Hour, Cornyn said:
What we are suggesting is not a nuclear option. What we are suggesting is perhaps a constitutional option. What we are suggesting is a restoration of majority rule option.
But it is nothing radical and it is indeed in keeping, not only with the traditions of the United States Senate but also in keeping with the Constitution and laws of the United States.
Nonsense. Though I am no attorney, I did pass my middle school social studies classes. One of the fundamental aspects of Constitutional law is the protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. Ours is not a nation built on the premise of populist mob rule or single party domination. Those oft referenced Founding Fathers intended, or so we are taught, a nation governed by reasoned reflection and compromise.
At The Gadflyer, Sarah Posner offers a Constitutional News Flash for Cornyn and his ilk.
The system of checks and balances that we've held dear for over 200 years -- and which your party is seeking to blow up with a touch of a nuclear button -- ensures that people with minority views, minority skin color, minority sexualities, or minority living arrangements have the same rights and privileges as a majority that may seek to deny them those rights and privileges.
The Republican talking points call Democratic filibusters obstruction. They like to say that Democrats are blocking the will of the people when they object to a candidate, even if the judicial nominee crisis is really a lie.
Republicans like Senator John McCain and columnist George Will have been trying to tell Senators Frist and Cornyn, et al. that forcing the will of the majority down the throats of the minority party will eventually backfire - the Republicans will not be in the majority forever. Perhaps, though, sensible Republicans could point out to their less nimble minded colleagues that there's an even more noble reason to trade the path of partisan aggression for one of real compromise - it's the reasonable, just, and American thing to do.
Bonesy Jones points out recent activities of The Yes Men.
Two weeks ago at a London banking conference to which they had accidentally been invited, two "Dow representatives" described a new Dow computer program that puts a precise financial value on human life.
The 70 bankers in attendance enthusiastically applauded the lecture, which described various industrial crimes, including IBM's sale of technology to the Nazis for use in identifying Jews, as "golden skeletons in the closet"--i.e. lucrative and therefore acceptable.
If this lecture is half as interesting as his class, The Rise of Christianity, it's sure to be fascinating. At $10, it's also a steal. If you have the time, I highly recommend attending.
The Story of the Storytellers
Understanding the History Behind From Jesus to Christianity
Dr. L. Michael White
May 16, 17
$10.00 for both sessions
Professor, author and major contributor to the PBS special From Jesus to Christ, Dr. Michael White returns to First United Methodist Church of Austin to explore the unfolding of the Christian era with his new book, From Jesus to Christianity. The two-night presentation shows how the historical framework of the first century shaped the ways Christianity grew and developed.
Monday evening’s presentation, Telling the Story of the New Testament and Christian Origins: Why It’s Important to Us Today, explores the first four generations of the followers of Jesus. At that time the New Testament began to be assembled as we know it, serving not only as the primary source of our knowledge of the earliest Christian activities, but also being a product of that same movement. Understanding the historical context will give us insight into some of the more problematic areas of the movement, including the separation of Judaism and some resultant anti-Semitic language, which shows up much later than most of us assume.
Tuesday evening’s presentation is entitled The Crisis that Produced the Gospels: A Look at the Political and Religious Motivations for Telling Their Story. Dr. White continues with a slide show and discussion of the First Revolt against Rome and its impact on Judaism and the Jesus Movement. In exploring this pivotal event and reactions to it, we will come to understand more clearly how the telling and
re-telling of the stories helped to reshape the Jesus Movement in fundamental ways.
Copies of Dr. White’s book will be available for purchase and signing.
Dr. Michael White is a professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds the Ronald Nelson Smith Chair in Classics and Christian Origins and the Louise Farmer Boyer Chair in Biblical Studies.
Lately, perhaps too late, we have come to recognise that the threat to the state — or what should be regarded as Public Enemy No 1 — comes not from right-wing radicalism but rather, from the impotence of politics, which leaves citizens exposed and unprotected from the dictates of the economy. Workers and employees are increasingly blackmailed by the corporate group. Not parliament but the pharmaceutical industry and the doctors' and chemists' associations dependent on it decide who must profit and reap the benefit of health reform. Instead of the social obligation which derives from owning property, maximising profits has become the basic principle. Freely elected MPs submit to both the domestic and global pressure of high finance. So what is being destroyed is not the state, which survives, but democracy.
- The high price of freedom by Günter Grass.
Some of you might remember last summer's Houston Press report about Tom Delay's multi-million dollar empty lot, Oaks at Rio Bend. You might have started to wonder if Tom Delay really cares about people. Well, rest assured, Tom Delay cares about people - really, really rich people.
Moved by the sworn testimony of U.S. officials and human-rights advocates that the 91 percent of the workforce who were immigrants -- from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed, [conservative Republican Frank] Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas.
So compelling was the case for change the Alaska Republican marshaled that in early 2000, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Murkowski worker reform bill.
But one man primarily stopped the U.S. House from even considering that worker-reform bill: then-House Republican Whip Tom DeLay.
from The Real Scandal of Tom Delay by Mark Shields
Over the weekend, Austin voters approved tighter restrictions on smoking. I voted against the ban, even though I don't smoke. My reasons for voting against the ban were predominantly twofold.
My main objection is that smoking is already heavily regulated in Austin. The only places that I go in which people are permitted to smoke are bars. While I, personally, would usually prefer bars to be smoke free, I believe that bars exist as oases of vice in the stifling desert of family-friendly daily life. Adults go to bars to drink, swear, flirt, and - yes - smoke.
The other reason I did not vote for the smoking ban is that I'm not convinced of the science behind it. While I've seen plenty of evidence to convince me that smoking is a rather unhealthy habit, I have not seen ample evidence to convince me that sitting in a room in which someone else is smoking poses a serious risk to my health. There was certianly no science cited by either side in the recent campaign, much to everyone's loss. As far as I'm concerned, if you're going to limit someone's rights, you had better have a pretty convincing argument as to why those rights need limiting. I heard nothing of the sort from anti-smoking crusaders.
That said, I have a couple of questions for the right to smoke supporters. The main argument I heard against the smoking ban was that it would hurt the Austin live music and bar industries. Was this a strategic decision? Because that seems to be one of the least convincing arguments for your side.
Today I read this:
Now is the time for the non-smokers to "put their money where their mouth is." Those who campaigned for this ban claimed that the non-smokers will come out in droves when the ban takes effect (Sept 1, 2005). If they don't, many of us in the Red River District and elsewhere won't survive.
If all of this is to be believed, I think the doomed business owners should take up their complaints not with non-smokers, but with smokers. Is smoking such a top priority that smokers will refuse to go see their favorite bands perform simply because they have to wait through the set to smoke? Are bar patrons going to stop drinking outside their homes because they have to walk outside to smoke?
In order to save these doomed businesses, it seems to me that the rallying cry shouldn't be for non-smokers to "come out in droves", but for smokers to, well, just keep patronizing those places they claim to love so much. As for the business owners, if the only thing keeping your business open is the ability of your patrons to smoke, perhaps you should re-think your business model.
In the future, I hope someone will suggest that campaigns focus a little more on reason and science, and a little less on exaggerated threats.
Last month in Arlington, Texas, local police found a man who said he had been kidnapped and tortured for several days.
Police said four men were involved in the kidnapping and torture. Officers arrested Jorge Estrada and Juan Gonzalez. Eric Cuellar and Caesar Mendoza remain at large, police said.
According to police, the victim had multiple cigarette burns on his face. He also had been punched over his entire body, police said, and he had been attacked by a pit bull.
Woaaahh, there. I thought they said torture. Cigarette burns? Punches? Dog attacks? I'd hardly call that torture. And I think U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would agree.
I'd like to see the DOJ intervene in this case and declare that the man was absolutely not the victim of torture - he just fell prey to some fraternity pranks!
BOGOTÁ, Colombia, May 7 - Fernando Botero, Latin America's best-known living artist, shocked the art world last year when he broke sharply from his usual depictions of small town life to reveal new works that depicted Colombia's war in horrific detail.
Now, Mr. Botero, 73, who lives in Paris and New York, has taken on an even more explosive topic: the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Forty-eight paintings and sketches - of naked prisoners attacked by dogs, dangling from ropes, beaten by guards, in a mangled heap of bodies - will be exhibited in Rome at the Palazzo Venezia museum on June 16.
Via The New York Times
I have two questions today.
 For any economists out there: What do Standard & Poor's lowering of the bond ratings of GM and Ford to junk and the continued rise of U.S. consumer debt mean to the prospects for healthy and robust U.S. and world economies in the (a)present, (b) short term, and (c) long term?
 For any evangelicals out there: Does one need to pay off one's credit cards before one can be raptured up to heaven?
The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware that they hold Reconstructionist ideas. Because as a theology it is controversial, even among evangelicals, many who are consciously influenced by it avoid the label. This furtiveness is not, however, as significant as the potency of the ideology itself. Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.
via - The Public Eye
For more on this and why you should care, read this post by The Poorman.
Just when you think people can't possibly get any stupider -
East Waynesville Baptist Church in North Carolina told Democrats to repent at the altar and support Bush or resign and leave. (Link directs to a video clip from the local news affiliate.)
Kansas is holding yet another evolution trial.
TOPEKA, Kan. (Reuters) - A six-day courtroom-style debate opened on Thursday in Kansas over what children should be taught in schools about the origin of life -- was it natural evolution or did God create the world?
The hearings, complete with opposing attorneys and a long list of witnesses, were arranged amid efforts by some Christian groups in Kansas and nationally to reverse the domination of evolutionary theory in the nation's schools.
And yet another militantly anti-gay Republican politician is - guess what? GAY!!!
In a statement yesterday, West elaborated.
"Allegations about my private life were twofold. I categorically deny allegations about incidents that supposedly occurred 24 years ago as alleged by two convicted felons and about which I have no knowledge," West said. "The newspaper also reported that I have visited a gay chat line on the Internet and had relations with adult men. I don't deny that."
During a brief news conference yesterday, West said he was a law-abiding citizen.
Christopher Hitchens to religious zealots: I am really drunk
Thus far, the clericalist bigots have been probing and finding only mush. A large tranche of the once-secular liberal left has disqualified itself by making excuses for jihad and treating Osama bin Laden as if he were advocating liberation theology. The need of the hour is for some senior members of the party of Lincoln to disown and condemn the creeping and creepy movement to impose orthodoxy on a free and pluralist and secular Republic.
I am more than a little frustrated with the news lately. Here in Austin, it's been a parade of idiocy on all fronts. First of all, I can't decide who's more annoying: anti-smoking crusaders or anti-anti-smoking crusaders*. In the State Legislature there is a bill to ban sexy cheerleading, which begs the question - what other kind of cheerleading is there? The other day the repugnant fantasy of sexually frustrated, intellectually dim, middle-class white boys across the country was actually outdone in bad taste by local university student Ajai Raj. Perhaps the two deserve each other - the rest of us could certainly do without hearing from either.
It's not just Texas, though, that's gone completely retarded. All morning the news networks were dominated by the American Idol scandal. If you ask me, they're missing the point. The real scandal isn't whether or not some 24-year-old kid made it with Paula Abdul - more power to both of them. The real scandal is that
Idol's ratings have risen each season since its debut in 2002; Primetime moved to Wednesday this week in hopes of capitalizing on the frenzy. Idol averages 25.3 million viewers on Wednesdays...
It reminds me of something Joe Queenan said in the PBS documentary People Like Us - If Garth Brooks sells 10 million records, I guess I just have to console myself with the thought that 90 million people didn't buy them. The alternative is too painful to think about.
* I voted against the ban because the anti-smoking crusaders started this whole mess. That, and the fact that I still hold onto the dream of having my own Legitimate Businessman's Social Club with pumped in cigar smoke.
George Will to religious zealots: Give it a rest
Some Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak. But many Christians are joining today's scramble for the status of victims. There is much lamentation about various "assaults" on "people of faith." Christians are indeed experiencing some petty insults and indignities concerning things such as restrictions on school Christmas observances. But their persecution complex is unbecoming because it is unrealistic.