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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Legislatures are, and should be, obliged to fashion rules delineating the search and seizure authority of government officials. General rule of law, structural due process, and separation of powers principles frown on broad legislative abdications. In cases of borderline reasonableness, the less specifically the legislature has considered and authorized the practice in question, the less willing judges and juries should be to uphold the practice.

- Akhil Amar

Congressional Responsibility: An important theme raised during the enemy combatant oral arguments was the role of Congress. Congress surely could pass legislation that makes crystal clear that enemy combatants can have basic rights with U.S. citizens or those picked up on our soil would likely have some more. After all, by the Fourteenth Amendment, citizens of the U.S. have certain privileges and immunities, which Congress has the power (and obligation) to help secure. U.S. citizenship might be alienable, but Padilla and Hamdi surely still have that special rank.

In fact, arguably, current legislation is in place protecting citizens, surely those seized on U.S. soil. The same is probably true as to the Gitmo detainees; a habeas corpus law has been on the book protecting noncitizens since George Washington was in office. The congressional authorization of force probably isn't enough to override such laws, even if they had such power to deprive the constitutional rights of citizens. The fact is, however, Congress has no obligation to leave things so hazy. When basic rights, and this includes the Gitmo detainees, are being ignored, they have a role and obligation in protecting them. Said legislation is clearly legitimate and would help salve the feelings of those who think the details and balancing are too complex for judges to make themselves.

Congress, however, for years has been under the impression that it's too hard to worry about such things. They are under the assumption that trusting the executive is largely enough in matters of foreign policy, and now in many cases domestic matters are included as well [e.g. the Patriot Act]. So, they give executives broad powers or leave chunks of white space, allowing Congress to have it both ways. Sen. Kerry has a lot of fun doing this -- he can support legislation or war resolutions, but give his own reading of them. When the President violates his view of things, Kerry can get all upset. He is far from the only one who plays this game.

I think it is about time to realize that trusting the executive to be reasonable is no long tenable. It never really was, but it's crystal clear now. Congress has an obligation to use their powers properly as well. Legal scholar Akhil Amar argues the people and their representatives have a large constitutionally based role in assuring basic liberties (see opening quote). Such rights are not to be left to the courts or the will of the executive. It is a core responsibility they have surely not properly fulfilled.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Separation of Powers: The solicitor general opened his Cheney Energy Task Force oral argument by saying it was a case about the separation of powers. Quite true; it is a case about the proper reach of the power of the judicial branch and that of the people themselves (the Tenth Amendment speaks of the reserved powers of the people as well as the states). It also is a case about checks and balances, including the role of the other branches and the people themselves to check and balance the executive. Various cases involving the closing immigration hearings to the press show other "powers" are involved as well. It's so useful to be able to use your opponent's argument against them, don't you think?

This theme can also be applied to the enemy combatant cases involving U.S. citizens, oral arguments held today. It seems that the justices are quite combative in these cases (toss in the Cheney case ... and "enemy combatant" to many of us, including those undisclosed locations), not just Justice Scalia. Perhaps, they know the stakes and the basic exciting drama being carried forth here, a drama that shows the wonders of a free country as well as the dangers. The justices did seem wary about the challenge to the Cheney Energy Task Force, though the nature of the case would allow them to rule narrowly. If so, perhaps the next time around, you know who will be out of office. [Update: As to today's arguments, see here on how they want to "trust us."]

[How about Justice Scalia? Not surprisingly, he basically seemed to be his usual self. He is a long time supporter of executive privilege, so seriously, one sounds silly suggesting his friendship would influence his ruling in any major way. He asked a couple tough questions to the other side. The whole point, conveniently ignored, is "appearance of impropriety." The rule doesn't suddenly disappear if one is likely to rule a certain way anyway. Let's hope this isn't a 5-4 ruling in support of Cheney.]


The Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote rejected a charge of political gerrymandering, though leaving things open for future charge. [It was a plurality opinion; see here for a good account.] The current climate is a dangerous threat to true democracy and the principle that legislators, surely representatives, should not consider their seat as some sinecure. And, districting should be able to done in some neutral way, not some computer generated gerrymander system that can result in every seat becoming "safe." If we add the new habit of mid-decade re-districting, also done for partisan ends, we have a mess on our hands. The system never was truly impartial, but at some point, it gets to be too much.

Maybe, the judiciary isn't place to go for a solution, at least not the federal judiciary. Justice Kennedy's concurrence intelligently warns of the complications involved. Still, this too hurts the integrity of the "powers" of government in such a way that raises key First Amendment concerns as well -- a realistic chance that one's vote will matter should not be blocked by districting for the benefit of a particular political group. Thus, he notes: "That no such standard has emerged in this case should not be taken to prove that none will emerge in the future." As Justice Stevens notes, the alternative are legislatures that are not "bodies which are collectively responsive to the popular will."
Odds and Ends: I might continue using the box format when I include mini-essays like the one below. I also posted it on the Slate fray, but thought it not so long that a full post here in a smaller font would be unwieldy. I would also note the recent orals led to a slew of excellent posts on the fray board.

The "voluntary" nature of "under God" in the Pledge might be suggested by what happened when a member of Congress left it out when reciting it. I am a bit ashamed that David Letterman has stooped to Fear Factor type material, in particular, days of guys with stupid names chewing glass. Friends is about over, the last season one long goodbye party, and it's around three years too late. The show jumped the shark when Chandler proposed to Monica (or vice versa). Finally, David Brooks is whining that the country isn't stopping all activity while major fighting goes on in Iraq. Does this apply to bashing Kerry's military record or only things that might hurt the President?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

As Linda Greenhouse recently pointed out in The New York Times, the legal arguments the administration is making for the secrecy of the energy task force are "strikingly similar" to those it makes for its right to detain, without trial, anyone it deems an enemy combatant. In both cases, as Ms. Greenhouse puts it, the administration has put forward "a vision of presidential power . . . as far-reaching as any the court has seen."

That same vision is apparent in many other actions. Just to mention one: we learn from Bob Woodward that the administration diverted funds earmarked for Afghanistan to preparations for an invasion of Iraq without asking or even notifying Congress.

What Mr. Cheney is defending, in other words, is a doctrine that makes the United States a sort of elected dictatorship: a system in which the president, once in office, can do whatever he likes, and isn't obliged to consult or inform either Congress or the public.

- Paul Krugman

A Vision of Power: This is the title of Krugman's editorial today that examines the broader themes of the Cheney Energy Task Force Case that was heard in the Supreme Court today. The case in its particulars is somewhat complex, including the reach of the relevant statute and the inside baseball nature of the mandamus (right to get court relief, including accelerated appeal by the government) arguments, which can lead one to ignore the big picture. It is useful first off to read some background on the case itself and the disputing arguments of privilege. All the same, it is also important to know the possible limited reach (exaggerated by many on the other side) and the fact that the Government Accounting Office also has been stonewalled. John Dean, including in his new book, has also written a lot about this last item.

Thus, an open society at its core requires critical debate, respect for differing views, and a realization that you can be wrong. Likewise, it requires a free flow of information, especially information that affects public policy. The problem is that this administration rejects all of these criteria. They are true believers, are suspicious of views that call said truth in question, and are very secretive.

I discuss in the above excerpted post the true reach of this case. It is but one example of the extreme secrecy this administration desires, one that might be arguable if it they showed some sense of scale (see, e.g., here for how absolutist their stance on "enemy combatants" truly is). As I discuss in the excerpted post, this particular case involves openness in making public policy. Nothing to sneeze at. This, as one reply noted, requires some secrecy and freedom of action. As does each branch of government. The operative word is some, and this administration wants too much. At some point, they no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt. Their overall principle seems all too clear, as is the importance of figuring out some middle path. It is not too unfair for the other side to not want to give an inch and mistrust the government, if their opposite numbers again gives us no reason to trust them.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Congrats to the launching of The Interested Observer ... good luck! Her first post suggests what I have been suggesting for a while -- let's allow Castro protect the rights of the Gitmo detainees. We don't have ultimate sovereignty after all; it's not just because we are ignoring the rights of the detainees. btw it's sure to be about politics and law, so for now, I put it basically in the middle of the two categories.

Politics: I took a quickie political quiz; the results can be found here. I include a range, since a few questions could have gone either way. A fuller quiz can be found here. Suffice to say, I'm on the borderline of libertarian and left/liberal. Seems about right. As to politics, I discuss 10 hypocritical attacks on Kerry and touch upon a possible plan of attack here. It turned into a religious debate. Worthwhile, and I thank my two sparring partners.

Teresa Heinz Kerry says she's pro-choice but believes abortion is "stopping the process of life," it was reported yesterday.

"I don't view abortion as just a nothing," said Heinz Kerry in an interview with Newsweek, in which she took a side in the long-festering debate over when life begins. ...

"My belief - and I maybe am very wrong - is that women, generally speaking, do not want to have abortions," Heinz Kerry said.

"With the exception of people who are mindless - and there will always be mindless people of both sexes - most women wouldn't want to," she added.

Heinz Kerry once said that she was "not 100% pro-choice," but told the magazine that now the issue is black and white for her.

"I ask myself if I had a 13-year-old daughter who got drunk one night and got pregnant, what would I do. Christ, I'd go nuts," Heinz Kerry said.

-- Teresa Heinz Speaks Out

Shades of Gray: The unfortunate thing is that comments like this are seen as somehow controversial. It is a clear example of how simplicity overwhelms reason. Few who support legal abortion truly think no "life" at all is involved or that the procedure is "nothing" special. Also, many who support abortion rights think it is at most a necessary evil, and oppose it in certain cases on a personal level. They are not really "100% pro-choice." It is troubling that we have to speak in "black and white" terms or fear some sort of "gotcha" or "give an inch, they will take a mile" problem. Finally, yes, someone can be morally against something, and think individuals should have a right to moral choice (especially if the alternative would result in a more problematic situation) in the matter. Free will and all that.

To continue on a similar thread, I find it troubling how economics dominates our political campaign. It is deemed important for Kerry and other Democrats to focus on economic policy ("domestic policy" often amounts to just that). This seems a rather Marxist way of looking at things, but it both sides do it -- cutting taxes is the main driving force of the Republicans these days, other than perhaps imperialistic war (the rich and war, two things Jesus was quite supportive of, right Dubya?) .

I personally, putting aside the fact I never really had much $$$, consider liberty, integrity, honesty, humor, humility, openness, and a whole slew of things more important than the green stuff. I remember reading libertarian theorist Friedrich Hayek's The Road To Serfdom (small volume -- my sort of philosophical book), in which he warned the poor that government assistance and regulation will at a certain point rob them of their freedom. It might give them a certain degree of security, but at what cost? I thought it a powerful warning. Is freedom now a matter of money, reduction of liberty for our security, and killing people overseas? It's so sad.

Humor: Laura Flanders had a funny question to an lesbian activist at the march yesterday. (Good job Laura, going there, and being back with great sound clips for your evening show.) She asked if the President has given bush a bad name -- this was almost as funny as hearing the conservative talk shot host/daughter of a preacher she had on say "crap." I think it too underreported that our President, the boss of John Ashcroft, has a last name that can be seen as obscene. Given his presidency, it is quite fitting in fact.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

March for Women's Lives: Accounts suggest that today's march in support of abortion rights in Washington D.C. was successful in way of numbers. The march was not only for those who are personally against abortion but for the right to choose, but in general to address the rights and needs of women here and globally as well. The basic idea still was to protect Roe v. Wade, though in actuality it is really the more recent Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) case that is involved. In fact, it does a better and more eloquent job in many ways in stating what is involved.

Men and women of good conscience can disagree, and we suppose some always shall disagree, about the profound moral and spiritual implications of terminating a pregnancy, even in its earliest stage. Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. The underlying constitutional issue is whether the State can resolve these philosophic questions in such a definitive way that a woman lacks all choice in the matter, except perhaps in those rare circumstances in which the pregnancy is itself a danger to her own life or health, or is the result of rape or incest.

This is from the second section of the opinion, apparently written by Justice Kennedy. The overall themes that give life to the opinion was similarly show in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy law.

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

Both opinions ended with the sentiment first expressed in Casey that: "Our Constitution is a covenant running from the first generation of Americans to us, and then to future generations. It is a coherent succession. Each generation must learn anew that the Constitution's written terms embody ideas and aspirations that must survive more ages than one." Quite true, and the rights and needs of women are important not just because they are our friends, neighbors, family, spouses, and children. They are important because in some larger way they are the rights of us all.

Note: Many participants of Air America were involved in the march, including Laura Flanders (weekend host, 7-10pm EST). She also is a long time journalist, author, and has a daily show out of California. I really enjoy her show, especially her tendency to have interesting guests, and to be a bit less hyper at times than some other Air America hosts, while still truly being a strongly progressive voice. The last two nights she had conservative guests in the mix, and it really helps to supply a well rounded discussion.
Muslim Refusenik: A etymological summary of the major monotheistic religions might go like this. Judaism - a religion of a people ("of Judah"); Christianity - a religion in honor of the "anointed one"; and Islam - a religion of believers who "submit" to Allah. There is a certain troubling passivity and closed mindness to that last one, but it all too often appears to be the case.

One such exception is Irshad [often a masculine name, it means"guidance, direction"] Manji, the author of The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. An emigrant to Canada from Uganda at age four (for the same reasons as those West African Asians in Mississippi Masala) , she had independent reasoning (known as itjihad, the right to question) at an early age as well. An activist, feminist, lesbian, and passionate speaker (caught her on C-SPAN ... the book is meant to be a sort of letter to Muslims, and you can hear her passion through the words of the book as well), she also is open minded -- she will give her faith a chance, if it reforms itself and accepts self-criticism.

A valuable perspective that in some ways is shared by an important core of believers. This is the sort of person Thomas Friedman dreams about. She shows the value of multimedia by using her website to supply source material, a chance for feedback, and further information. There are many reviews and links to on air interviews, and a positive one by National Review fits as good as any: "This will be tough medicine for many of the world's Muslims, but it's the only way they will be able to save their religion from its darker angels." In fact, I felt she was a bit too harsh against the "traditional Muslim line" at times, but such passionate dissenters within, those who don't want their faith seized from them, often are the best hope of troubled institutions all around.

[Her first book, Risking Utopia: On the Edge of a New Democracy "chronicles how young people are redefining democracy in an age of fluid media networks, social values and personal identities. Risking Utopia has inspired courses in Canadian schools as well as discussion clubs as far away as Johannesburg and Hong Kong." A taste of some of her critics, can be seen by another reviewof the book. Sounds like a good book, anyway!]

Saturday, April 24, 2004

A nice day to go to town to give blood. The charm of the city when the weather is warm is well known by guys in particular. I passed a sign for "wearable art" (okay ...), "conservative foot care" (sheesh! biased), and "Butler Motor" transport (servants need transportation too). The blood center was nicely renovated from the last time I went and apparently has a resident preacher from the nature of a monologue in the snack area. I also mentioned a question on the form about same sex intercourse among men (once since 1977 is enough -- even if we were drunk?), which basically nullifies the ability of most gay men from giving blood. The person I asked turned out to be a gay male -- my "gaydar" is somewhat weak, I guess. No problems -- give blood, it's important, and a fairly easy way to donate to your community.

Memory Hole: The importance of the release of the photos of coffins coming home is clear -- we must be aware about the losses of war. Also, the photos do not violate privacy -- personal information was removed. Anyway, as some note, the flags and everything have a rather patriotic air to them. Next, why didn't a member of the mainstream media make such a FOIA (a law guess who opposed) request? Finally, what is the business of confusion on some of the photos with some actually of victims of the space shuttle tragedy? Sheesh. [Update: Memory Hole explains the mix up here. It's the government's fault, apparently.]

A Question Of Trust: As Legal Fiction says [4/21, a nod also to his emphasis on the importance of the executive as a whole (especially, in November), not just its leader, 4/23], the enemy combatant cases basically falls on how much you trust the executive -- he doesn't, Professor Eugene Volokh and others do. Though it just isn't a matter of personnel, I don't understand Prof. Volokh's trust (Congress' role gets second shrift), his concerns about judicial administration of such cases aside, these days especially. The Volokh Conspiracy has their libertarian impulses, so know the dangers of executive power.

Also, the Professor's reasoning on other issues is IMHO patently false. (1) He spends time justifying the label, which is partly besides the point given even "enemy combatants" have some sort of rights. In fact, he notes POWs have rights and some of these defendants might be POWs. (Or innocent, I would add.) If so, I guess they are SOL. (2) The emphasis on "civilian courts" is misleading, since the basic hearing the Guantánamo Bay detainees desire could easily be done via military courts. (3) Using the example of civilians harmed by bad bombing campaigns as another case where there's no judicial discretion is a bit nutty. It's not quite the same thing, and in fact their leaders would have some sanction if the rules of war were violated. Various individuals here are stateless. Overall, I thought the reasoning built on sand, and had trouble not being annoyed, given the stakes.

[Update: POW comment added; also I listened to some of the oral argument on C-SPAN. A couple justices were rather adamant that the 1950 decision that seems to be on point actually was probably overruled. Interesting underreported wrinkle. Justice Stevens at one point was rather passionate on the point. Justice Souter was passionate on the sovereignty point, which the government ultimately relied on -- we protect the Cuban iguana! Are you saying Gitmo is comparable to the battlefield and postwar Germany! The detainees clearly have three, probably four votes, and pretty good shot at have five (I forsee multiple opinions). In fact, and this should be underlined, Solicitor General Olson had a rough time of it with only Chief Justice Rehnquist and Scalia (patently so) clearly supportive. Weird moment -- Justice Breyer calling him "Ted."]

One More Thing: Legal Fiction notes that his hesitancy to trust the executive in the enemy combatant cases is not just based on the personnel now in place. Separation of powers and checks and balances are basic to our system. Well said - as I note here, there is a tendency to make everything a partisan issue, when the principle of the thing often is more important. When things are made partisan, both sides often lose perspective and it just becomes a matter of name calling.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday recalled that "as a
young member of Congress back in the 1960s, still in my 30s, I
was a co-sponsor of the Freedom of Information Act."

"Now we all recognize that that Act causes government officials
occasional pain," Rumsfeld said in a speech to the Newspaper
Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper
Editors, "but in my view, it has been a valuable Act in helping
to get the facts to the American people."

"Our great political system needs information to be
self-correcting. While excesses and imbalances will inevitably
exist for a time, fortunately they tend not to last."

"Ultimately truth prevails," Secretary Rumsfeld said.

let's hope so, Don.

Déjà Vu: Consistency can be a good thing, unless one is consistency bad. Such is the situation for the NY Mets, which again aren't hitting, again have key playerinjureded, again are wasting efforts by starters, again are getting sloppy in the field, and again struggling even against the dregs (e.g. splitting, barely, a four game series vs. the Expos) of the league. They lulled fans with a good first couple weeks, but it was only a bait and switch. The time is now to say -- put up or admit "my entire team sucks" should bembroidereded on the back of their uniforms. If a 2-5 record vs. the Pirates (first road series win, sweep in fact, since last summer) and Expos (perhaps the worst team in baseball at the moment) doesn't do it, what will?

Today, Seo must have felt like it was old times again - he had a good game, after a lousy first start, going six and giving up three runs (two on an two out home run in the first). The Mets scored one run (solo homer) in this span, the height of shame being when they loaded the bases with no outs (on a walk off Maddux no less), and Piazza (the count 2-1) grounded to the pitcher. Double play, no runs in inning. Root canal is not as painful as this sort of thing. Fans do not expect miracles. They expect at least one run in this situation though. They expect a team that looks like they can beat the local softball pick up squad. In fact, they as fans have the right to demand it. And be angry when it is not provided. To expect more from people paid millions to actually know how to play the f-ing game!

Other Issues: John Dean continues fighting the good fight with an article addressing one of the lesser known ways President Bush's penchant for secrecy harms our society, this time addressing his efforts against access to government archives. I share Virginia Postrel (even if she along with Andrew Sullivan was one of the few who thought the President did a good job at that press conference) that stuff like this is governmental paternalism run riot. Nor is it unique to her state -- the city of NY has tons of these piddling regulations, resulting is such things as tickets to pregnant women who rest on stairs. Such pettiness is what eats away at our basic right to be left alone like barnacles on the bottom of a boat.

The Wounded: Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy have storylines this week concerning wounded family members. BD, football star, coach, and reservist, lost a leg. We saw him first going in and out of consciousness and later learnt he lost half of his leg. Rob Wilco's cousin also lost his leg. While Doonesbury focused on the heat of the moment (and later we will see him dealing with his injury), Rob showed the family side of things. He wondered why his cousin was coming home in the middle of the night -- shouldn't it be a time when people are better able to meet him? (a secretive government sort said sshhh ... some photos of coffins coming home, can be accessed here and directly here ... what happens when one leaks one out, here) Later, he greets his cousin in a loving way (see above) and I just saw Friday's clip has them discussing the Red Sox. The power of the strip's storyline is only added by the fact it usually isn't this serious. The cartoonist wants it to speak for itself -- he's not giving interviews. Powerful stuff.


March For Women's Lives: Molly Ivins explains the importance of the march in Washington DC this coming Sunday in support of the reproductive freedom. The fact abortion is still legal in this country (and, ads notwithstanding, not by a 5-4 vote ... Casey would be 6-3 today) does not mean we can be complacent. Lost of funding, abstinence only education, "partial birth" abortion (truly a 5-4 matter), parental consent laws, bans on Medicaid abortions (ignoring the moral rights of many who think abortion is the most moral choice in various situations), etc. still harm many of the most at risk women.

And, it's not just a woman's issue. Reproductive rights affect us all, since women are our wives, siblings, mothers, friends, and fellow human beings. If women are forced or pressured to make bad choices, many more than themselves will be harmed. Ultimately, we are talking about the autonomy, the very freedom, of the women themselves. This is deemed in various cases to be "selfish" as if freedom, our very birthright in this nation, is selfish. Notwithstanding this, the wider issue is the basic right of freedom, especially in matters of family life. We cannot let the state define what "family" means no more than we can allow it to limit the basic autonomy of its citizens. [I discuss this in more detail here.] This is what is at stake, what has to be continually underlined, and why the march is quite important. Success!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

For our Executive Branch to be trusted -- and trustworthy -- it must hold individuals personally accountable for the way they handle power. Power without accountability is tyranny. Thus, to the extent that the Commission takes a pass on naming names, it will not only disserve the U.S.'s national interests, it will also disserve our fundamental freedoms.

If this Administration carries on with the same roster after these hearings, it makes the mistake of elevating loyalty above the need for great persons to fill terribly difficult jobs. There is a crying need for this Administration to acknowledge that people run this government, and some of them were inadequate in the face of the growing terrorist threat. If the United States were a corporation, every head would have rolled after 9/11. Would that the market's discipline could be translated into the accountability necessary to make the government better than it already is.

-- Marci Hamilton, The Bush Presidency and Power

Power and Responsibility: Many are upset the President et. al. don't want to admit their mistakes. It is a core thing that drives many against him, and is one of the top things that bothers me. It isn't a matter of politics, not liberal or conservative ... it's practical. We have to hold them up to the American ideals. In America, we are responsible for our actions. If we fail at our jobs, we are fired. They failed. Re-election would be a perversion of the basic rules of the game. Republicans especially care about standards. Re-electing this administration would be the most rank from of affirmative action.

Politics aside, for the good of the country, accountability must be demanded and accepted. The alternative is not just tyranny but our downfall. [more]
Guantánamo Bay: Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Guantánamo Bay detainee cases. An account can be found here, some comments and relevant links from me can be found here, and audio of the oral argument here. My basic question is: do we want to live in a nation whose government can argue that they have no obligation to determine those they detain are legitimately held? The question seems obvious, but then, so does the question: Must President Bush Go? Sadly, it is not obvious to many people.


Film: Ella Enchanted is based on a well loved children's book. I did not read the book, but the film adaptation did a good job providing fun family entertainment. Anne Hathaway stars as a young woman "enchanted" with a "gift" of always being obedient, surely a potent threat in the eyes of children. She falls in love with a callow if good hearted prince (he says she need to do what she does not wish to do), who is unaware that his ward is an evil ruler that is mistreating the kingdom (forcing elves to be musicians, making giants near slaves, and so forth -- pretty serious overtones there). It was a fun, good hearted movie, from the lilting opening narration by Eric Idle on. The movie is not just for kids -- adults will like it as well. ...

This sort of movie [Man On Fire] is violent porn -- a cute girl is kidnapped in some forsaken land, so we get a pass for not being sickened by the violence (no need to take into consideration these people have families, including cute little girls too, or the possibility of mistake or overkill ... cf. I Spit On Your Grave, which actually shows the wife and two children of one of the men who "got theirs."). ... [more]

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

"I came under the influence of Karl Popper (ph). His philosophy of open society sort of came home to me because he made the point that there is a similarity between a Nazi regime and communist regime because they both believe that they have the ultimate truth. .... [The alternative is] an open society, which is based on the recognition that nobody has -- is in possession of the truth [radical fallibility, human uncertainty principle], and therefore you need a critical process. And you have to respect other people`s opinions and interests and find a way for people with different views to live together, which is, of course, democracy. And that`s the society we live in."

-- George Soros, Booknotes interview re The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power. I supply an extended review of the book here.

Cohen Strikes Again: During the lead-up to the war, I was annoyed that Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen was particularly snarky [I'm overusing this word lately around here -- can't help it] about France and leaning toward the war. He's doing his penance lately writing column after column against the President, this time in response to Bob Woodward's book on the war (the second one, this time less sympathetic). The article is a powerful brief against the President, arguing Richard Cheney is basically pulling the strings [John Dean argues Cheney is basically co-president].


Shoutout: I signed a guestbook of a good site and many have clicked my site url, and I want to return the favor. A word of warning -- it is a naturalist site, which is kind of how people use "erotic" to mean "good dirty stories." The thing that struck me was its use of poetry and nice photography (many, um, nature scenes) to give it all a sense of class and was a good job in general. Point is, though it's not quite my cup of tea, naturalists have as much class as people in general -- yet another example how "normal people" show their bodies in ways "normal society" are somewhat uncomfortable about. The site also links to some well shot photography; good use of b&w prints. So, thanks for visiting y'all, and leave some comments if you'd like!

Monday, April 19, 2004

War News: Bob Woodward was on 60 Minutes promoting his new book on Gulf War II. Lots of coverage on juicy tidbits such as:

About that, Woodward told Mike Wallace in the 60 Minutes interview, "(At) the end of July 2002, they need $700 million, a large amount of money for all these tasks [related to planning for Iraq War]. And the president approves it. But Congress doesn't know and it is done.

"They get the money from a supplemental appropriation for the Afghan War, which Congress has approved. ... Some people are gonna look at a document called the Constitution which says that no money will be drawn from the treasury unless appropriated by Congress [Art. I, sec. 9]. Congress was totally in the dark on this."

The President disrespects constitutional values to promote his own agenda, secrecy, and so forth? Ignores Congress' key constitutional role (Art. I, sec. 8) in military policy, such as by regulating its funding? [sentence added] Shocking!

As is this article, that notes: The president said that as United Nations envoy, Mr. Negroponte had done an admirable job "speaking for the United States to the world about our intentions to spread freedom and peace." Not a word in the article on the strong protests to the appointment based on "Negroponte's record of support for death-squad activity, evasion of legal restrictions, and deceit as Ambassador to Honduras." Or his lack of knowledge of local languages. "Freedom and peace" indeed.


Conflicting Gorelick Memo Views: here and here. Her selection might have been ill advised, but this is separate from the whole "wall" issue, which has been exaggerated, the "anti" side here notwithstanding. I hold to that opinion.


Legal: I give my views on death penalty case with soap opera particulars but all too typical legal themes here. Another interesting ruling was handed down by the Supremes today. U.S. v. Lara allows the federal government to prosecute a person for attacking a federal officer after an Indian tribe already convicted -- separate sovereigns.

Maybe so, but I hold true to my belief that it's still double jeopardy. The person still was twice put in jeopardy for the same offense. The tribe let the guy off pretty easy and a federal employee was involved. This is a problem, but one that can be dealt with an agreement between the tribe and the federal government to give the U.S. the option to have the sole right to try the offender because their interests are clearly at stake. If we accept the idea of dual sovereignty, Justice Stevens' brief pro-Indian concurrence is well said.

Sports: Lousy weekend for NY teams, who were 1-6, but fun for Lori Brown on hand with friends for a special bacholorette party. Sounds like my sort of woman.

Note ... I was going to discuss George Soros' lastest book, but too much on my plate! Will deal with it later on. Also, Get Fuzzy and Doonesbury have similar war related story lines this week. I found this article right after posting this day's entry. Warning, it has a spoiler. The Get Fuzzy storyline is noteworthy given the strip is usually not as serious.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Rush Limbaugh: I generally look at things as part of a big picture, finding one thing connects to another, resulting in an interlocking whole. This seems to me a good thing, though the joys of complexity sometimes results in one getting lost in the morass of detail. Rush Limbaugh's troubles appears to me to fit the bill. Is he a hypocrite for being so strongly critical of illegal drug users [and supportive of destructive strict drug laws as compared to saner alternatives] and civil libertarians of a sort, when he too appears to be an illegal drug user and is now arguing his medical privacy was violated in a way that is probably no worse a threat to liberty than others he sneers at? Or are there differences? Just what is involved here?

The complexity and wider picture his alleged prescription drug abuse (and general selective human failing targeting) opens up might not be immediately clear, if we take the shortsighted approach. This is a failing befalls us all, so do not assume I'm unaware that other examples can be used. All the same, here a Rush listener might ignore the connections that Oxycontin or "hillbilly heroin" has to general drug abuse. Oxycontin is a potent narcotic used and abused to deal with pain as is its illegal cousins. And, the abuse of prescription drugs to deal with general malaise that drives many illegal drug abuses is well known. Hopefully, the connections and complex issues involved is seen by more people once "one of their own" is affected. All the same, just calling him a hypocrite without connecting the dots might result in people talking past each other. A danger that is all too clear these days.


An Eclectic Bunch Of Interesting Articles: An explanation of utilitarianism that appeals to my philosophy of life can be found here. Some of the reasons why health care should not be seen just as some capitalistic good can be found here; the surrounding "fray" discussion points out some reasons why our current health care system is inefficient and ultimately destructive to the economy. On Friday, Balkanization explained how the Republican view of the 2nd Amendment might be "republican" (trust the people with arms to protect against governmental abuse), but the Iraqi Constitution (which they seem to support, perhaps unwisely?) arguably does not. I examine or cite three subjects examined by the weekend papers here.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Wonkette hits the NYT

This Guy Is Our President?: After a bad baseball afternoon (for NY and Chicago, that is), I offer a few sundry remarks. Brad DeLong uses a perhaps too perfect (and some say a bit apocryphal, but so fitting) story as a prelude to a sentiment I'm feeling more and more these days -- "Never yet has a grownup looked me in the eye and said, 'George W. Bush is qualified to be President of the United States.'" Oh, some claim to think so, but deep down, I really wonder if they truly think so. His father, heck, you thought so. You might oppose his politics or the tactics of his family, but he was qualified. I'm sorry -- this guy is not. [more]

Talking about not qualified, I read a pretty unconvincing anti-gay marriage essay in the New Republic recently. Such articles get me talking to the author, since I get annoyed at their reasoning abilities. I transformed this into a more um sane dialogue by writing comments to each of his "points." You can see what I came up with here.

Have a nice weekend, all.
Bell and Whistles: My site traffic doesn't really warrant it, but I like the Holoscan comments/trackback system, so decided to toss it in a month earlier than I planned. Thus, you can comment or email, as you prefer.

How Unfortunate! On the subject of complexity, it annoys me when things are blamed on one individual -- for instance, 9/11 is Bin Ladin's fault, so let's not look into our missteps. Or rather, let's ignore (de-emphasize) the wider forces of discontent that is the true danger. The alternative is misguided narrow focus on a person like Saddam Hussein or select evil doers, when the underlining forces that allowed him to stay in power is also a major problem, perhaps the core problem. Many on the President's side would agree with this, since they sometimes make the generalization that we cannot trust those in the region with democracy. I find this an exaggeration, but it has some truth in it -- remember the people of Iraq allowed Hussein to stay in power, even given all the horrible things he did. Why? Well, because the society did not develop enough to demand a more civilized system of leadership. We shouldn't damn them too much either. After all, we supported such leadership for years. [more]

Various: I guess Bin Laden might still be alive, huh? Timothy Noah's column (and fray commentary) today on an interesting aspect of Sen. Kerry's tax plan is instructive. Economic policy is of somewhat limited value, it is often largely used for (somewhat misleading) rhetoric effect alone, and who knows if Congress would accept the plan anyhow? I'm not sure what to think of the President's acceptance of Israel's plan for peace, but it does seem one-sided, and thus likely to be trouble. [see, e.g., Legal Fiction's coverage]

The importance of the "wall" between the FBI and CIA in investigating prior to 9/11 has been exaggerated. The wall, for instance, could be breached if there is "reasonable" evidence that a serious crime "may be committed." [Those that want to totally knock the wall down also ignore history (1/2).] There might be a reasonable argument that Commission Member Gorelick, involved in setting the policy (which Ashcroft continued), should recuse herself in its investigation. On the other hand, why was she appointed (an appointment okayed by the President, along with others with thier own conflicts of interest) if it is so troubling? To those who oppose the Commission per se, I offer this eloquent defense. As well as the opinion that, yes, it is political (thus the party affiliations of each member), but would the alternate not be?

And, Mets baseball (putting aside the injuries, hard losses, and the like) is starting off in a respectable fashion -- Glavine is doing well, newcomers are showing life, and the team as a whole just might have a pretty good year. Splitting the first six games against Atlanta (banged up) helps as well. The Yanks had a bit of a rough start, but Kevin Brown is 3-0. Yes, all against Tampa, but they count too, right? Both teams, especially the pathetic Mets eighth, left something to be desired today, though.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The whole point of Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment is that Congress can by legislation protect more than the "Supreme Court's own interpretations" of what the Constitution standing alone means to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. ...

And, in fact, those who are worried about both judicial overreaching and excesses of congressional power should understand the power limiting nature of this interpretation. The alternate view not only limits the power of Congress in select cases, but encourages the courts to find certain rights as constitutionally obligated -- after all, it is the only way they would be protected, if Congress didn't have the option to voluntarily protect them. An option that could be limited or expanded as need be, not written in stone, and determined by more democratic means.

-- from The Benefits of Congressional Discretion

My Complexity Principle: A basic principle of mine is that though there are some basic principles we should honor, few things are truly as clear-cut as many make them out to be. This leads me to have strong views on various matters, but somewhat complex ones, and respect for those who I feel have thoughtful opposing views. I try to retain courtesy to all, but if I feel the opposition is promoting their views in a shoddy matter, it bothers me. This to some degree also applies when I actually agree with those who use this method. Its negative aspects are ultimately to some degree counterproductive.

Take the above excerpt of broader remarks of mine that I cited yesterday. I would use it, for instance, to argue the Supreme Court was wrong to strike down federal legislation that allows individuals to sue state employers for allegations of discrimination based on disability. This does not mean I support a particular law on policy grounds (I think the disability law in general to be too vague and broad) or that Congress should have overreaching powers. All the same, I understand how someone can take the argument to its logical conclusion and so argue. For instance, to argue abortion rights should be left up to the legislatures. Thus, it turns on a number of factors that are open to debate.

[Justice Clark once remarked that the argument "that deprival of liberty may be less onerous than deprival of life [is] a value judgment not universally accepted." He did so to promote liberty, to extend the right of counsel that once was only given to defendants in death penalty cases. I myself generally rank "life, liberty, and property" in that order. This is part of the reason why even if I'm sympathetic of some criticisms of Democratic tax policy, I cannot support their opponents as long as they threaten our liberty in general -- freedom over money, say I.* All the same, I cannot ignore (1) money is sometimes important to freedom and (2) my ranking is not a "self evident truth."]

It's useful to remember this, and the opposite view (a dangerously simplistic assurance of truth) is what is partly so troubling with the administration in office. Or rather, and this is important, the ethos that guides it. It is this spirit that truly has to be targeted, not just one man or even one set of individuals. This is partly why targeting the President alone is wrongheaded. He and those around him have their own problems, surely, but they ultimately serve as but means to an end. Sometimes they are even right, for as it is true that we all make mistakes, we also all do things right. It is the overall worldview that is a problem, and targeting an individual alone is wrongheaded. We need to set our sights higher while making sure to defend our own worldview with reasoned argument with at least a touch of humility to our own limitations.

* Election races, including this year's presidential race, often center on economic policies. This does not really appeal to me for this very reason -- not only do they tend to be exaggerated and/or flawed (in part because the government only has so much control over the economy), but often because other things are more important to me.


Various: Bush Makes Three Mistakes While Trying To Cite One, "you infected email" scam, and Captain Yee reprimand dismissed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Tax Day Cometh
President Bush Press Conference: I did not watch it, given my general distaste for such things, especially when I cannot bear to listen to a person talk. Anyway, a new episode of Gilmore Girls, one of the few reasons to watch network television these days, was on. All the same, apparently, I missed some high humor (see, e.g., Balkinization). His inability to think of something he did wrong was a priceless moment as well. Surely his handlers realized such a question would be asked? The performance was so bad that even conservative journalist William Kristol was upset. Some argued that the speech he gave was good [maybe not], but a speech is just words without more. Let's not ridicule his general speech patterns either (Slate's Bushisms are tedious; people we respect also twist the English language -- it is not per se a character flaw). After all, there is enough there to challenge without taking the cheap shot route.


Book Recommendation: The subject might seem as distasteful as people found my discussion of seeing a rat in a fast food bag in the subway a few months ago, but Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan was quite a good book. The book also has no pictures of rats other than one on cover of a drawing of Manhattan Island in roughly the shape of one. It is written by a nonprofessional, is easy reading, has many interesting sidebar stories of human history, and is perfect for trips to work. I have seen rats on the tracks of the NYC subways, but unfortunately did not see one during reading this book.


Constitutional Musings: I get a chance again to describe how detaining people in Guatanamo Bay is different than precedents used to justify it, and besides common justice requires we respect some basic due process again here (in response to this article). I discuss an interesting article entitled "The Danger of the Drafters' Intent: Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Need to Limit Congressional Power" here. My response includes an argument for broader congressional discretion and the dangers of the current Supreme Court's doctrine that limits it in ways not originally intended.

Update: A few more sources for the GB case. The original version of the article and a lecture on the international law aspects of the case. This includes the argument the original grant of the territory was only for the purposes of a naval station, so there is no right to set up a prison complex of this sort at all. An interesting, if probably not likely to succeed, argument.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

How time flies -- the youngest is a teenager in For Better Or For Worse. How funny Get Fuzzy is -- look at the mouth alone of Bucky in the first panel. lol. Today's strip was almost as good.

Paul Gross Edition: Caught an amusing and surprisingly serious (and seriously Canadian) movie on the Dish last night -- Men With Brooms -- one of the few movies about curling out there, most likely. I saw it in the video store once, and though it had some actors I enjoy (Paul Gross, Molly Parker, and Leslie Nielsen), the box made it sound like a stupid comedy. As noted, it's a bit deeper than that, and those who remember Paul Gross (who co-wrote and directed as well) from Due South will be surprised at some of the edgy language and such. Might be something y'all will enjoy if you are looking for a small but enjoyable film.

"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam": More hearings in the 9/11 Commission and apparently John Ashcroft was his old snotty self (see, e.g., Balkinization), but I'm skipping over that today. The Latin epigraph translates as "They leave everything behind to serve the Republic," and is in honor of the hundreds of dead, many more wounded, and others in harms way. It is the subtitle of a Robert Lowell poem, For the Union Dead. I do not know of Lowell, but the epigraph seemed fitting given the times.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Update: Justice Scalia's apology regarding marshals seizing recordings from reporters in the audience as he gave a speech led me to write this. In general, it helps put things in context. To update again, various people were upset at his request that electronic media respect his "First Amendment" right not to be broadcast. Ahem. He doesn't have such a right -- Justice Scalia might be talking about courtesty and privacy, which is good and all, but it's somewhat different. A textualist like him should know the power of words. I shall also toss in this discussion on one concern of mine -- the common (and probably unconstitutional) way this country avoides the Art. II rules for treaties.


Air America Edition: I caught some of "Unfiltered,” the late morning show on Air America. The team had good chemistry and provided an intelligent mixture of voices [black, Brit, and lesbian, lol]. It is useful for some to ridicule the network, but I suggest you listen to the various shows to decide for yourself. Don't let isolated instances or certain annoying personalities lead to hasty generalizations. Tariq Ali, author of the well-written Bush in Babylon, was on this morning -- this is a guy we should hear from more. His opposite number, Christopher Hitchens, was on last night. I find the guests the best part of AA thus far.

I listened to an interesting discussion on veteran benefits (or the lack thereof). One troubling aspect of this war is the use of the National Guard, which is generally considered the modern day "militia," a body that was not really meant for extended foreign military service. [For a more expansive view of the term, see, e.g., here.] During the War of 1812, most of the militia ("civilians primarily, soldiers on occasion," to quote U.S. v. Miller) didn’t even want to cross into Canada. As one caller said last night, you sign up for whatever reason, but don't quite think you will be going to war. Surely not a war in which your term of duty is extended. The effect this will have on nonprofessionals basically is unclear.

One "professional" was John Kerry, who currently is getting in trouble because he is a Catholic but believes in legalized abortion. This makes him roughly like one of three American Catholics (at least), including the now deceased Justice Brennan. It is not hypocritical to not want to legally force your moral choices on others. As one Catholic near and dear to me said, it does look bad, but yes, she too wouldn't legally force her moral views on others. Call Kerry a hypocrite? Try looking in the mirror.

Talking about looking bad -- the number of pictures of Condi Rice looking annoyed alone almost makes one sympathetic. My local paper has a picture of her holding an umbrella and standing with an annoyed look on her face as President Bush (on vacation again ... parts of Iraq are hellholes, but various reporters might say the same thing about Crawford, Texas) tried to explain away the 8/6 memo. This is compared to his belittling those who wanted too much evidence before acting against the WMD threat.

Algebra will tell you that when x+2=4, x=2. This isn't high school, George, it is more like grade school -- connect the dots. Talking about school, here's a vocabulary word for Dr. Rice: "perjury." Historical document? I'm thinking talk of impeachment (sure, it's not sexual, but we are being screwed here; and yes, executive appointees are impeachable) from voices other than Ralph "I'm not a spoiler goddamnit" Nader might just be appropriate. As we know, the administration tends to ignore and/or edit scientific studies that they don't like. Logic isn't their strong part either or historical analysis. Or economics. They do like English ... or playing with the English language at least.


Happy Birthday ... Claire Danes and David Letterman. Oh, and when you are up 10-1 in the eighth, you shouldn't have to bite your fingernails in the ninth, okay Mets? Luckily, I did not see or hear that part of the game. Sheesh.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Actually, there is an explanation for Powell's inaction, and it has little to do with his uniformed past. True, he is a military man, accustomed to falling in line; as Caspar Weinberger once put it, "Colin is essentially a good soldier. He does his duty and carries out orders." Habits formed over a lifetime are hard to break, and Powell's natural inclination is to swallow his differences and salute. Yet it's the fact that those differences are never strongly held that mainly accounts for Powell's inaction. He has opinions but few, if any, real convictions, and there's no ground he won't cede in the interest of expediency and ambition. Says Richard Kohn, "He's a man with no core of ideology, vision, or principle other than to serve the United States."

- Colin Powell Misoverestimated

Tapped Blog Edition: Tapped has a lot of good stuff lately, especially since they address various themes I myself like to express. Arianna Huffington addresses the importance of blogs [you can add message boards and the like] to passionately keep alive stories that the mainstream press report and soon go on to the next story. Only by passionate (and/or diligent) repetition and sifting through various sources (a hard job, one I respect immensely from doing it myself in a small way) will the public truly "get" things.

One issue so discussed is how the Bush Administration corruptly ties together various threats as if they are a united whole. Also, the fact that an administration that is supposed to be made up of grownups that are not afraid to aggressively fight our enemies turn out to be strangely passive in various ways (especially Dr. Rice). Their incompetence is obviously a main theme, especially given the other side is loathe to admit error. Finally, some follow the theme of the quoted article and suggest the public (and even libs) honor the "good guys" like Colin Powell too much.

As to Dr. Rice, to update my Instapundit rebuttal [see 4/9], I offer this from the LAT: She is already engaged in a semantic tangle with critics of her repeated claim that Clarke never presented her with a plan for combating Al Qaeda. In her testimony last week, Rice acknowledged receiving a memo from him soon after taking office, but characterized it not as a plan but rather a "set of ideas." No wonder William Safire, a conservative, is also "Mr. Language Person" -- you need to be with the semantics prevalent in this administration.


Googling: For some reason, an old citation of something I posted over in the Slate Fray a year ago now shows up on Google. I have this idea that references to me or my material are out there, but inferior search capabilities are not letting me find them. This is a problem given my ego.

Nevertheless, F.B.I. information since that time [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The F.B.I. is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. C.I.A. and the F.B.I. are investigating a call to our embassy in the U.A.E. in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

-- last paragraphs of the "historical" document, Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. (8/6/01). The memo (and watch out for this dodge) is not especially damning standing alone, except if we remember the attempt to spin it as purely historical ... the rest of the memo is historical, but the history was active and ongoing.

Or if we forget, like those 70 full field investigations, it was but one of many reasons to fear domestic attacks from Al Qaeda, including hijackings and Al Qaeda operatives actively working in country over some span of time. This is why the Clinton Administration ended up so concerned about Al Qaeda, including domestic threats. Where was the evidence the Bush Administration was as well? The memo was no "silver bullet," but in no way was it as trivial as some might wish it to be.

Other News: Further "explanation" why "security" for "Justice" Scalia includes targeting the press. I discuss the Newdow/Pledge Oral Argument here. I give my preliminary remarks on Air America here.

Update - NYT Edition: (abtract of opinion piece) The Story Line in Iraq: "What we need desperately in Iraq is a clear mission, a believable strategy for success, a morally viable exit plan and international involvement." Well, sure ... and with a lot more money, talent, and Susan Sarandon, maybe I'll be Tim Robbins. I also would like to live in Thomas Friedman's fantasy land ... (direct link to his column not supplied, since it is likely to be misunderstood as parody). Thanks to BTC News for the link ... I used to like Tom until he truly went off the deep end in the "good intentions only take you so far" department. Maybe, he should listen to his wife some more.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

August Sixth Memo Surprise: I think it useful to top post the point mentioned yesterday -- the infamous 8/6/01 Memo was not really news, as I note here [nor is the Washington Post article the only mention]. Great job of amnesia guys and gals! I also reply to various attempts to explain it away, especially those who wish to ignore that in context that memo suggests the Bush Administration should have knew more than it later said it really could be expected to know. Also, my final comments in the thread defend an attack on the 9/11 Commission, which some cynically see as some useless politically corrupted redundancy.

Update: I briefly note it in the cited thread, but another word on the "it's just a historical document" argument: "But the briefing, based on intelligence gathered three months earlier, said there were various reports starting as early as 1997 and continuing till May 2001 that Bin Laden wanted to attack in the U.S. with bombs. It also said the FBI was running 70 terror-related probes on American soil." [etc. ... see linked story] The memo standing alone is not as damning as its place in context, but please, attempts to belittle it as nothing are wrong too.


I continually complain that I wish the Democrats could find a better candidate. My view was that the candidates had to combine into one "mega-candidate" like those cartoons where various do gooders join together to form one mega-hero. See here for a representation of sorta what I meant.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Rice Spin: If you want to do more than just praise Dr. Rice's testimony without admitting its (and her) deficiencies, there are various other ways to spin it. You can say that there was no chance to prevent 9/11, so this is all illegitimate 20/20 hindsight and misguided. This allows you to cover up or ignore any mistakes, missteps, or cover-ups. You can snipe at Bob Kerrey, including his mea culpa about supporting the Iraq War given what it wrought. This allows you to cover up the good points he made as well as the fact several other members of the commission challenged Rice in a much better fashion. Or, you can suggest that others criticized Rice too much, this allows you to ignore the basic truths by (to steal a turn of phrase) swatting at flies.

A bit more on Kerrey's comment about Iraq, which was not a question, and he specifically said that she need not comment on it. He also prefaced his general remarks by saying that he is not damning his targets per se for he too probably would have made mistakes, but he just wanted to examine said mistakes. He also stopped clapping that grew from his Iraq comments. Anyhow, Dr. Rice later on brought up a speech Kerrey made earlier that suggested dealing with Saddam -- a cheap shot that drew applause, applause she did not quiet. Was this, to quote one person, "not appropriate" as well?

[One person also raised an important question. Dr. Rice said that most of the chatter implied there would be an attack overseas. Well, what did they do about those threats? After all, it still is a rather big problem, as past overseas attacks on us showed. Another had an excellent essay arguing she is not really a national security advisor; she is a lackey of others who actually advise the President about national security. Stories relating to just what information were out there suggests this very well might be true. Note the criticism by "Thomas" and the replies, more likely to come given the holiday, as a counterpoint. One I just don't think holds up. Finally, a great (if modest) heads up by BTC News today noting that the infamous title of the 8/6/01 memo was in the news (and forgotten) some time ago. She also comments on the Daily Kos comment debate that I mentioned on 4/5.]

The Rice Testimony has brought out the sad example of "biased Bush supporters who should know better given their general views" again. The worse kind are those who use sarcasm and biased tactics to promote their views, making it hard for the other side to respect them as reasonable critics. I discuss Instapundit doing this here.

Other Tidbits: Ewww. A good article over at Slate regarding the hysteria of the Supreme Court having a "decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind" (to quote the Declaration of Independence) by reference to wisdom from foreign courts and nations. They do the same with our practice without threatening their own sovereignty ... the hubris and fear that compels some to attack when we do it is troubling.

Pet Peeve Alert: The NY Mets started the season in Atlanta, losing two out of three (nice opener, two hellish games) in usual fashion -- something was missing, this time mainly relief pitching and a few lucky breaks. You get over 20 runs, you win more than one of three, okay? This was followed by a blown lead tonight. They had a shot to go ahead again in the ninth, but the Expos made a great play at the plate. Listen up home team announcers. METS FANS ARE PRIMARILY WATCHING.

This appears as obvious as the fact the team is damned over the last few years, but apparently not. Each time announcers, as if they are neutral national announcers, excitedly call a heartbreaking play (again, for the home town fans) without realizing the value of injecting just a tad of "oh too bad" in it, I am shall we say f-ing pissed. I'm not a neutral fan, respecting the talents of each side, okay? If a potential go ahead run is cut off in the ninth, I am aggravated. I don't need the announcer to further my aggravation. They won in the 11th, but believe me, such things go the other way for this team much of the time as well.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Rice Testimony: Preliminary reactions can be found multiple places, including over at Slate, here, here, and here. The last link takes you to my own thoughts. I use Daily Kos' comments as a preface, which puts a negative spin on her remarks. On the whole, I have a bit more of a mixed reaction, though my main theme would be that I was glad such testimony as well as the whole commission itself was available for the public to benefit from their efforts.

Bob Kerrey might get a lot of criticism for prefacing his remarks today by saying that the war in Iraq looks to turn into a tragic quagmire, but so be it. It also sadly looks more true than not. When some snidely say that Sen. Kerry's path might result in Saddam Hussein still being in power (no gimmee), a proper reply might be that we also have a lot less dead and injury, especially if we considered the dead Iraqis (400 casualties in one recent battle alone). No matter what happens, such people aren't any less dead. I continue to see the "well, we need to finish this thing or we will look bad" line troubling too. True or not, at some point it must become a self-defeating enterprise.

Legal News: Legal Fiction has noted that the most important way to obtain true equality for homosexuals is to tell stories of what happens when we do not have such a regime. The brief challenging NY for withholding their right to marry is mostly that -- stories of the defendants and the injuries they face because they are not allowed to marry. The tragic story of a local army wife shows that sometimes even those against abortion must act to protect themselves or their future children. Also, Justice Scalia apparently is still hesitant about the freedom of the press. [See also here.]

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Eight years later, she moved into government, serving the president's father as senior National Security Council director for Soviet affairs, where she made her reputation as a concise and incisive briefer, someone who could help a busy president cut to the heart of a problem. ...

"Condi is not a moral relativist," said Coit D. Blacker, director of Stanford's Institute for International Studies and a Rice confidant. "She has very strong views that are informed by a certain kind of religiosity…. She thinks through issues carefully, seeks divine guidance, makes a decision and sticks to it. Other people might call that being stubborn."

-- read the whole thing

Rice Preview: The excerpt suggests the good and bad sides of Dr. Rice. Her intelligence, leadership skills, and personal ethics are things we wish in public officials. On the other hand, her experience and knowledge quite arguably is not of the sort appropriate to the post-Cold War Era. Likewise, her moral vision might very well be laudable, but it reflects a troubling aspect of this administration -- a certitude that is especially problematic when one uses it to promote a questionable policy.

One can see how the President's moral vision appeals to her, but if anything, we have seen it is a vision that needs to be checked, not just encouraged. [Dr. Rice was called in to school the candidate on foreign policy, but reports also noted how the candidate drew her in with his moral certainty. Was she was perhaps both a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome and a willing enabler?] Who among "The Vulcans" serves this role?

Prediction: She might say some stuff that is used by the other side to show the administration's complicity. All the same, the (wicked) limits placed in the ground rules as well as the actual shades of gray of the events themselves might very well result in no true smoking gun that will damn the administration arising. [Time will tell, but it's often better to be temperate in one's predictions.] Either way, I think at least half of the injury to the administration was and continues to be self-inflicted. With enemies like these, sometimes you don't really need friends.
A Bit More: Sherry Colb has a good column on lying and the importance of testifying under oath. The final Opening Day ended on the same theme as the others ... the underdog Mets did well in Atlanta, winning 7-2 in a good team effort. Cle/MN went extra innings AGAIN ... this time it lasted to the 15th. Painful really -- the Indians lost both, after gutsy performances from various pitchers and such. Tampa Bay beat the Yanks again with the Opening Day starters repeating the result of the first game. Ex-Yank Andy Pettite didn't do well either in his first game as an Astro; the fact he was the one up there at the plate twice when the bases were loaded didn't help. And, the Tigers are 2-0 (vs. Toronto), after being 0-9 last year.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Dad and McCain A Bit Upset: Reports are coming out again that the President's dad didn't really support the current war in Iraq either ... a recent statement of annoyance by him about how the "elites" (as compared to the masses he is part of?) were criticizing the his son aside. The guy is a born again Christian -- what happened to the Fourth (Fifth) Commandment? Oh, wait -- sources in the Administration say dad was with Dubya from Day One. And, if you can't trust the official line ... next you'd be telling me Lynn Cheney wrote a feminist book supporting lesbians and free love. Or that Laura Bush killed her ex-boyfriend in a car accident. Come on now!

Sen. McCain also recently noted his party has lost its way. This suggests why it could be GREAT if the guy actually somehow was Sen. Kerry's Vice President. Not that this rush to select one isn't a bit silly. Anyway, honestly, some of the choices leave something to be desired, including Gephardt (yuck) and Edwards (nice guy, bit green, and his anti-free trade comments were a bit over the top ... and I voted for the guy).

It's true as well that McCain is um conservative and all, but we need some unity government to bring about real change. Besides, half of this conservative stuff is not too much different from what someone like Clinton supported. And, if the Republicans lost their way and all, how could he support the re-election of their leader? Simply rhetorical -- I'm sure such people find ways, though the effort involved this time around might be a bit more than usual.

Odds and Ends: I'm sure regular sorts were sooo happy to find out that Jennifer Lopez's mom (thanks to divine intervention of some sort) recently won big in the slots. For fans of General Tao/Sesame Bean Curd (Tofu), I offer here as is a good spot as well as a place down the way from 10 Downing St. (NYC). Talking about food, Virginia Postrel links to a good article on grape tomatoes -- yummy! In honor of National Poetry Month, I offer this -- I came upon it doing some research, and if one can get passed the nature of the photos, the photography and poetry of the site is well done. Also, you can check out my discussion of Possession.

Monday, April 05, 2004

A Bit More ... A lot of upsets as MLB begins the season in earnest. Cheney threw out the first pitch today, but the Cubs won anyway. And, I rearranged my link list ... I add Daily Kos given the recent controversy and its popularity/value and Wonkette because it made me laugh each time I recently checked it out.
President As CEO: The NYT had a long article [summarized here] on the President's environmental policies and how he used the power of the executive to make policy even without congressional approval. Now, the article is somewhat reassuring, since it suggested the limits of such power, but it also suggests the power (and therefore danger) of presidents often happens largely behind the scenes in the administration of broad (and at times easily corruptible) laws. This is part of the area where even someone like Noam Chomsky sees some differences between a Bush and a Kerry.

Other News: The California Supreme Court upheld the second degree murder conviction of a defendant unaware the slain woman was pregnant at the time (she was around twelve weeks ... the law covered over eight weeks and did not call a fetus a "child" -- two improvements on the recently passed federal law in this area). One judge dissented, partly because the law is not clear enough on the question. The ruling and dissent is useful reading given the recent events on the national stage.

I also discuss my philosophy that the closing of a newspaper in Iraq because of vague concerns that it was dangerous to security was overblown and to some degree hypocritical, in part because we allow our press to print incitements to war that turn out to be based on false and/or misleading facts here. The opening quote is from today's "Today Papers" feature in Slate.

"Marathon" is almost pure metaphor, and pure poetry; from the subway stations to the passing trains to the hardware of the tracks themselves, each shot is composed like a portrait, which, as a whole work, it is: a portrait of a certain urbanite mind and a city whose tolerance of anonymity provides a perfect stage for compulsion, neuroses and the fulfillment of hidden needs.

-- review excerpt

Marathon is a remarkably simple film (filmed in B&W) that is the most recent of the director's pictorial valentines to his adopted land. A story mostly without dialogue, it tells of a young woman who is involved in one of her "marathons" in which she tries to do as many crosswords as possible in one day. She thrives on noise, in particular the NYC subways, which is a major subject of this film, especially since the woman herself is a bit of a cypher. As a resident of the city, I too wish to honor the subways, which some time ago was even a subject of a short speech I gave for class. Having been in several subway systems by now, I don't know if mine is particularly special, but it is surely an amazing experience. The diversity of faces is perhaps the most special part of it though the fact such a large and greatly used system runs relatively smoothly (I took it the afternoon of 9/11) is admirable as well.

The federal government has eased a ban on editing manuscripts from nations that are under United States trade embargoes, a move that appears to leave publishers free once again to edit scholarly works from Iran and other such countries.

-- it's about time this ridiculous policy was addressed

A new generation of celebrities has taken up the cause [against the return of Canada's Baby Seal Hunt], including Paris Hilton, Christina Applegate and Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys pop group

-- celebrities like to speak up against cruelty against cute animals, but don't hold that against the cause

"His pieces ... in Slate are a mishmash of imperial justifications and plain bombast; the old elegant style in dead."

-- a former fan of Christopher Hitchens, qtd in Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq by Tariq Ali.

The book's Appendix on Christopher Hitchens alone might be enough for some Slate fraysters to read this book, but it is worthwhile on the whole. Mostly a brief history lesson on how the lastest war is but a continuation of eighty or so years of colonialist oppression, it includes regional poetry and blunt talk (e.g. the Iraqis helping the occupiers [i.e. us] are "jackals") to powerfully make its points. Although apparently many don't seem to think it relevant, a basic concern I have/had about the war was that I felt it was basically an imperialistic act. The push by some for us to dig in even deeper (compelled by recent events ... which might lead to more such events ... etc.) would only aggravate the problem. This book, if somewhat too heavy handed at times, is recommended for those who wish to read up on this p.o.v.

The passion of the book can be somewhat compared to an ongoing blogsphere controversy. A popular liberal bloggist (Daily Kos) who knows a thing or two about the military and such, has gotten in some trouble recently because of his blunt remarks about not caring about the the deaths of the "mercenaries" in Falluja. The last two links will put things in a bit of perceptive (it grew from his anger at the general ignoring of the sufferings of regular soldiers and so forth) notwithstanding a right leaning blogger who called him "scum" (and using it to suggest advertisers boycott the site), various centrist sites comparing him to the likes of Ann Coutler, and John Kerry's blog taking his link down.

As a comment on the latter blog notes, this lack of "spine" is upsetting, even though the cynical political reasons behind it are understandable (bloggist Atrios requested not to be linked to his blog either). It is the sort of thing that bothers me about Kerry campaign in general -- a flawed candidate that doesn't quite have the backbone I want, bending to what is deemed political expedient. Anyway, the targeting of the statement is over the top. I think the author of the comment has earned the right to say it, even if it is dead wrong, and blogs are supposed to be a place where now and again you can be blunt and passionate. This includes being bluntly and passionately wrong. The tendency to exaggerate "gotcha" comments or events like this, which as here are often not as horrible as suggested anyway, is something that must be opposed whenever possible.