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

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Contentious exchange?

Update: Legal Fiction and others said that Kerry did a pretty fine job with some pratfalls (which Bush didn't really take advantage of; in fact, many say he looked rather outmatched -- well, Kerry was the one on the debate team) along the way. I came home [I didn't avoid it or anything -- my nights are a bit less free these days] and heard that (no shock) the Yanks just won their division, which also meant the debate was about over. No great loss, probably, since even a good debate was unlikely to be too fascinating. And, I respect these people's opinions. Anyway, good marks might be of limited value, but it's better than the alternative.

The Democratic nominee goes into the first presidential debate in Coral Gables, Fla., trailing in most head-to-head polls and lagging as well on most of the personal qualities voters look for in a president. ...

[T]hree national polls released this week by well-established organizations -- Pew, Gallup and ABC/Washington Post -- all showed Bush with a substantial lead. Equally important, they showed voters were increasingly skeptical of Kerry's leadership abilities on Iraq, terrorism -- and even the economy, an issue long thought to cut his way.

-- NY Newsday

Just how bad the situation is rather debatable, and I am not a poll watcher at any rate. All the same, what planet are these respondents on? Apparently, they think our exalted leader is more qualified, and with allies supporting torture promotion, who wouldn't be? Anyway, the debates are Sen. Kerry's chance to convince some potential voters to get a freaking clue.

I honestly don't want to watch these things, though next week's Cheney v. Edwards match-up sounds so downright weird that it might be worth watching. Why can't we just do it Celebrity Deathmatch style, which is not only much shorter, but probably more entertaining? As I mentioned before, these guys' annoy me -- President Bush just drives me nuts, especially since he's so full of shit. Oh, his view of things also tend to be pretty wrong. And, I know enough about both to determine who to vote for. Yeah, this is for swing voters, who will apparently be as influenced by non-issue related post-debate spin as what the two say.

NOW with Bill Moyers had an interesting piece on how the debates ["a contentious exchange between two parties"] themselves do not provide much in way of substance. This tendency was given a large assist by the Commission of Presidential Debates, who took over the duties from the League of Women Voters', when the latter group failed to accept secret agreed upon pre-debate rules set by the candidates. As a person who studied the issue noted:
It's a glorified bipartisan press conference. They get a question from a moderator that they selected and they can predict… they've memorized the response to. They issue a memorized sound bite which fits a very nice perfect 90-second response slot that has been stipulated in the contract.

Their opponent cannot challenge their answer because they're prohibited by the contract. The moderator can't challenge their answer because they can't ask follow-up questions.

I can catch the latter half of the debate tomorrow night (or catch it on tape, of course), but why should I? The debates among the Democratic candidates during the primaries had a value -- I didn't know too much about the candidates, found them fairly interesting to watch, and relatively painless. The only value for me personally this time around is to judge for myself how good the candidates are performing. This is of some relevance, but probably not enough for me to actually watch the damn things.

The piece did suggest the importance of debate style. Many still gnash their teeth at the friendly comments during the Cheney/Lieberman debate, including when Cheney mentioned that he did well in private life without government support (via Halliburton, which relied greatly on governmental contracts). And, the Gore/Bush debates sometimes were pretty friendly as well:
BUSH: Yeah, I agree.

GORE: I agree with that. The Governor and I agree.

BUSH: I think the administration did the right thing.

GORE: I agree with that.

LEHRER: You have a different view of that?

BUSH: No, I don't really.

That probably convinced a bunch of future Nader voters, hmm?


Anyway, there are some great baseball races going on. The NY Mets did their part in making the Cubs lives miserable, but heck, someone had to, right? Today's role players in that department were the Reds. Likewise, playoff hopefuls are having pitching problems all over the place (Pedro again had a bad outing -- are the Tampa Bay Devil Rays his daddy too?).

Mets talk -- it annoys me that they left Met rookie Heilman in for the seventh inning today, which was his downfall. The guy was pitching on three days rest and did a fine job for six. While I'm on the subject, why not let Trachsel try for a .500 season on Sunday? It's not really his "spot," but Glavine (designated starter) pitched (mediocre) in yesterday's doubleheader as well. Anyway, the team had another bad season, though one really only expected that they'd win around ten more games. And, talk of the veterans quitting and so forth aside, injuries to key players damned the team as much as anything else.


Elections: A good piece on the importance of having a paper trail for touch screen voting machines. I wonder if the court which denied a challenge to no-paper trail voting was upset it did so after an unauthorized voting machine was found in a Baltimore bar. Another interesting article concerns the abuse of the power of eminent domain, which in part helped you know who.

On Good Morning America, Kerry continued his recent stream of good moments by clarifying his "I voted for the $87B before I voted against it." He noted that it was an inartful moment during a long campaign, and the basic point was that he thought a tax on the rich should have been used to pay the bill. [During the Clinton Years, we had a "pay as we go" system ... now, we have a credit card system.] Since this was not done, it was one of those moments that a senator had to stand up and be counted. Therefore, Sen. Kerry voted against it as a protest vote.

This is what people are talking about -- it is not that his positions are necessarily wrong; it is that Sen. Kerry failed to put forth a message that the general public can comfortably grasp. Helped by a skillful smear campaign by the other side, the public is wary about the guy. It is asking a bit to begin with to say that an incumbent is doing such a lousy job that he has to be voted out of office. Combine this with the fact that many actually like the guy (or want to), you need to do a good job to sell yourself.

Sen. Robert Byrd's book Losing America is an important addition to the anti-Bush (and yes, he definitely doesn't like the guy) library because it spells out how the administration threatens the separation of powers. Sen. Byrd is like the guardian of the realm, the Senate, and be it fiscal policy or the power to go to war, he explains how not only did Bush and company sneer at the role of Congress (and the courts), but Congress generally let him do it.

Well, in a democratic republic, the people themselves also have an essential role, the importance of our leadership notwithstanding. Are we letting the administration and their allies seize control while we look the other way? How many are ignoring the dangers of leaving these people in office for ultimately shallow reasons? Ill advised choices of a man that we should have known was inferior in 2000 (liking to have a drink with someone is not generally a qualification for the presidency) were as much to blame as hanging chads.

And the Bushies are taking advantage of the people's laziness by giving them a Chinese Menu of excuses why they can vote for the guy:
There's the Bush message, which is that everything is fine; there's the Cheney message, which is that everything is fine other than that the Democrats are giving aid and comfort to the enemy by criticizing the president; there's the Powell 'tough but principled and optimistic' message; the Rumsfeld "we can take 'em and who cares about their freakin' election" message; and the Senatorial tough love message: "We think the president is making some serious mistakes and we're concerned, but we still support him and you folks are savvy enough to know that he'll take our advice once the politicking is over and he's won the election."

With the exception of the Bush Stepford voters message, it's an ala carte menu for voters who aren't happy with Bush and aren't comfortable with Kerry; just pick the one that sounds best and buy it. And it's clever, because with Kerry you only get the one choice, not four or five. So when Chuck Hagel or Lindsey Graham or John McCain says that the president has to be straightforward with the American people about the tough road ahead, well, he already is. It's just he's doing it through the people that are asking him to do it.

Of course the plot falls apart if anyone pays attention to more than one of the entrees, but a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest, li la li.

Yes, it helps when Kerry/Edwards is able to adequately show why drinking the kool aid is the road to ruin. But, the people themselves have some responsibility too. For instance, one person (Kerry supporter, though hard to tell at times) made me so angry recently by criticizing those who are upset at the civil liberties record of the administration. "It's not Nazi Germany." Yes, Virginia, Bush isn't killing six million Jews ... all is well! Bloody insane.

The election shouldn't be so close. We let this situation occur. And, a democracy means the people themselves have some responsibility on the outcome. If we are fooled or if we in fact welcome it, ultimately some of the blame falls on us. American voters, the ultimate masochists.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Elizabeth Edwards

Those Darn Republicans: I recently discussed the new Vanity Fair piece on Bush v. Gore, noting that it had a powerful section on the Florida's mistake laden felon lists, which leads to the wrongful disenfranchisement of thousands. [As one civil rights lawyer noted: "Voting is kind of an irrational act anyway. It’s easy to discourage people from doing it."] This is a continuing problem, as shown by a list (released only after a court order) that singled out blacks, but not Hispanics. This was said to be a mistake arising from the method used in the "data mining." Legal Fiction points to a dogged effort by a local paper to suggest yet again things look a lot more suspicious, especially since Republicans might have benefited around 2.5 times more often than Democrats.

Talking about seedy political tactics, see TPM on Karl Rove's past activities

Many Democrats find John Edwards very appealing, though some might honestly admit that he is a bit slender on the experience side (no fair comparing him to Bush!). A reader of Four Trials gets a sense why -- Edwards seems like a down to earth guy, someone who could be your neighbor, and attached to the values that this entails. His energy and positive style matched with a "two Americas" economic message (focusing on the value of work, which can appeal even to many conservative sorts) has wide appeal.

A trial lawyer might not be an attractive character to some, but one that is a child of a mill family and defended ordinary victims is a bit different. And, the tragic death of his son only adds to the general appeal. This is someone who one can relate to and feel can do the same. His wife fits in nicely. Elizabeth Edwards is personable, smart (the two met in law school), and has a totally down to earth look. And, though she is a smart career woman, her decision to have more children promotes a maternal image that does wonders.

She also is quite on message:
Two stops in Michigan today left me really heartened about this election -- our voters are so incredibly motivated. I mean really -- when people on corners jump up and down and pump their fists for wives of candidates, I'd say they are motivated. I started to type "race" instead of election in the second sentence, but such language connoted a game, and this is anything but a game. This is a fight for decent, honest leadership dedicated to making the lives of all Americans better -- things that ought to be a given now have to be won in an election. But they are not, and so we fight on. ....

She [mother of soldier] sits at home at watches the images of chaos and disintegration on television, watches the unspeakable horrors by emboldened and horrible enemies, and she hears her president, her son's commander-in-chief repeat and repeat in rallies and the Rose Garden that we are on the right track, that the situation in Iraq is improving. This is not credible leadership, and most of all, it is not the leadership that Beverly's son deserves. Work a few extra hours just for Beverly, would you? Don't just say you will; do it.

The Kerrys provide their own strengths, but turns many people off. I myself admire Teresa, who seems like a wonderfully complex woman, but many see her as foreign and disconcerting. Sen. Kerry also has a lot to offer, but is sometimes painful to watch given his trouble truly connecting with the public. Therefore, it is essential that the ticket have some balancing force, which the Edwards can provide. The key thing, one that some miss, is that persona is central. Howard Dean or (heaven help us) Joe Lieberman just didn't have one that would appeal to the electorate at large, even if one finds their basic positions appealing. [Some might disagree!]

Hillary Clinton still turns so many people off, though some people such as Sen. Byrd go out of their way to note she is doing a good job in the Senate. Thus, for good or ill, the importance of political wives is clear. Elizabeth Edwards is a big plus to the ticket.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Hiding From Humanity

Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law by Martha Nussbaum might be a bit too philosophical to appeal to the general reader (including me at times). All the same, it's general thesis is sound and achieved with some interesting discussion along the way. A book of this nature is often good because it provides a broad summary of many concepts that informs much more than its narrow focus suggests. Likewise, there are many interesting sidebars, including John Stuart Mill's emotional crisis.* It also has applications to current events.

Professor Nussbaum argues that shame and disgust are improper influences on criminal law because the emotions are especially arbitrary and likely to harm powerless groups. Disgust arises from a fear of contamination, shame often a result of general fear of basic human weakness. Both might be necessary to some degree, but too often they are used to hide from imperfections that are basic to humanity, and at times not imperfections at all.

For instance, homosexuals are but one group that serves as a sort of scapegoat to protect us from threats to "normal" gender relationships. Relationships that are often more "magical thinking" than true to life (e.g. shame and disgust has promoted stereotypical views on women). The net result is stigma, a major threat to the equal dignity she argues our citizens should each receive. Similar concerns caution us not to even use disgust as a reason to enhance infamous crimes. For instance, it might lead us to assume they are committed by "monsters," when in fact the drives involved are in us all.

Nussbaum does feel that emotion has an important role to play in our public life. For instance, anger is a totally proper emotion (if used with the right amount of perspective) because it suggests there are certain things in life that are very important and should not be deprived wrongly. As she notes:
Disgust, I shall argue, is very different from anger, in that its thought-content is typically unreasonable, embodying magical ideas of contamination, and impossible aspirations to purity, immortality, and nonanimality, that are just not in line with human life as we know it.

And, though shame is usually troubling, guilt is not. Guilt focuses on the wrongful act itself, not on the person, which makes it much less arbitrary.

Prof. Nussbaum ties this altogether to attempt to provide a basic liberal philosophy. She finds Mill useful, but flawed. To my amateur eyes, Nussbaum seems a bit too critical of his overall approach. For instance, as a good liberal, she is loathe to count out hate crime laws. All the same, the troubles of line drawing and the dangers involved in trying just to shut down hate speech suggests this is not the place to attack Mill.

Nussbaum also is wary of his utilitarian approach to individual liberty. First, she feels it is too fact based, and opens up the possibility that the promotion of truth and societal well being can be accomplished by selective harm to certain groups. I'll accept this when I hear an explanation of how this truly can be done. The seriously disabled might be a troubling case, but we often quite underestimate the value of such individuals, and familial ties alone would probably factor in. In general, stigmatized groups such as homosexuals (e.g. Whitman) and the disabled (e.g. FDR) are deprived at our peril.

Second, Nussbaum basically uses a form of the "people should not be a means to an end" argument. My rejoinder is why do we feel a person should have certain basic rights? We do so for a reason: because it has been shown to be the best way to protect the well being of us all. The rights aren't just there for their own sake. And, Mill's philosophy requires giving free reign to self-development, and thus is quite concerned with the individual. Individual liberty promotes societal well being.

Finally, I'd toss in, that just because Mill might have been too closed minded about certain groups (too stridently in her view because society must treat all with respect, especially in disputed areas like religious faith), but I don't think his philosophy mandated him to be. This is not to say John Stuart Mill's philosophy might not be limited in certain ways. All the same, I do find a basic truth to it that influences the way I look at the world.

Anyway, this is but a sidebar of my own. Overall, Nussbaum skillfully puts forth an argument that we are imperfect beings, but does not see this as a bad thing. It is but the true nature of our humanity, one that is only confused when we rely on shame and disgust to guide our law. And, doing so is liable to interfere with the equal dignity and respect that should be the basic foundation of our society. A society of imperfect beings that requires assistance ("primary goods") in various cases to truly pursue happiness.

The ultimate ends are clear, even if there is some debate on how to get there.


* A footnote in passing mentioned that a certain appeals decision went the "wrong" way because the deciding vote was confused by mental problems. Assisted by someone who is familiar with the players involved, I learnt that the author is a colleague of the other two judges, one of whom probably informed her of the situation. The judge said to be confused was elderly at the time and his vote did not match his judicial leanings. Interesting trivia, though I think it was a bit improper for her to toss it in.

"Path To Florida"

Scotusblog here and here provides Vanity Fair's article on Bush v. Gore gratis. The piece is broken into four parts: early post-election day events, Supreme Court follies, disenfranchisement of black voters, and reforms/touch screen machines.

As William Baude notes, the piece is slanted (I'd say with reason, but some comments will turn people off, and will unfairly lead some to reject the whole thing), but it is more than the Cosmo clone he claims it to be.* And, the piece is not just worthwhile for the inside the court material (and not just liberal clerks contributed). In fact, some of the non-court stuff provides the most interesting read. This is so in part because most of the earlier stuff has been gone over repeatedly, including in the cottage industry of books and articles the opinion created.

The piece summarizes those infamous thirty six days, but I will focus on some of the stuff that might be news to even some that are somewhat familiar with the events. The article points out, in reply to a major criticism of Gore's strategy, that a losing candidate had seventy-two hours to challenge the count on a county-by-county based on perceived errors or wait until the election was certified to pursue a statewide recount. He could not just ask for a statewide recount right away.

The article doesn't suggest, however, that it might have been smarter to wait and do just that. Others have noted that the Florida Supreme Court's early extensions turned out to be counterproductive given there wasn't enough time at the end of the game (and it added fuel to those who said it changed the rules, though Florida precedent supported bending over backwards and they weren't alone in thinking Katherine Harris did not act in good faith). This is a bit of 20/20 hindsight, and the article highlights something I don't recall being much mentioned at the time.

The piece suggests Justice Kennedy was the swing justice on this matter, appropriately Florida was in his circuit. It was a role he apparently fully welcomed (the article portrays him as a pompous jerk), feeling the election controversy had to be heard by the Court (though he admitted Bush was weak on the law). A shocked clerk found Justice Stevens on the golf course while the conservatives quickly signed on to grant cert. Justice O'Connor was a negative vote early on "and was merely looking for the grounds." Kennedy eventually found them, writing the eventual per curiam -- so late in the day in fact that it gave the libs less time to respond to its reasoning.

Meanwhile, the liberal and conservative clerks were passionately divided long before Bush v. Gore to the degree they "read different newspapers, went to different movies, [and] ate different kinds of food." A Scalia clerk's visit to his former classmate in Stevens' chambers ended badly, but overall the liberal clerks felt powerless throughout. Their shock at "something illegitimate" being done led some to break "an obligation [of secrecy]" they would have honored otherwise. Justices Kennedy and O'Connor received most of the criticism, Rehnquist and Thomas deemed more "unobtrusive." They also felt liberal justices were outfoxed and at times didn't show enough guts, like when Justice Ginsburg took out a footnote (the only mention of the subject) referencing problems of black voters.

The Supreme Court material is distressing, but the section about de facto black disenfranchisement is probably the most striking. For instance, we read about Gore campaign manager's sister being asked for three forms of identification before being allowed to vote. "It was the most painful, dehumanizing, demoralizing thing I've ever experienced in my years of organizing." A U.S. congresswoman had to wait two and a half hours before being allowed to cast her vote. Thousands of students she registered were not on the rolls. Machines in many poor (often black) districts used a cheaper optiscan systems that didn't let voters correct mistakes.

And, the whole felon issue (still a mess) is discussed in detail. As the piece notes (slanted? perhaps. wrong? no), this has a more "sinister" cast. The problems with the system used to determine felons (those who did their time but by state law still deprived of the right to vote) were repeatedly shown to be flawed, but not corrected. The article notes how this was not just the concern of Jesse Jackson or the like, but poll supervisors as well. Depriving those who have long ago done their time (for felonies such as cashing two welfare checks illegitimately or intercepting police communications) is bad enough. Use of cut rate felony mining techniques long after they are shown to be woefully shoddy is just criminal.

The final section starts with a discussion of the many important reforms passed by the Florida Legislature. The core remaining problem is the use of touch screen voter machines (push-card voting now banned), which were chosen by various counties (Miami-Dade and Broward being most important), even though optiscans was preferred by a blue ribbon panel. The article does some good legwork to explain how a major lobbying campaign with certain shady aspects had a major role in the decision. And, the new secretary of state (Kathleen Harris was elected to Congress!) went out of her way to actually prohibit manual recounts for touch screen machines. The article suggests this optimism that no errors will occur is somewhat dubious, especially if one is concerned about hackers.

There is a lot more in the article, including some of the dubious goings on during the recount crisis that might not be news to some, but remains well worth remembering. Jeffrey Rosen also counsels us (free registration required) that it might happen again. We are told to "get over it" -- what is that thing about forgetting history ...


* Baude's comments are curious. I don't know how seriously to take his claim that Bush v. Gore was the first Supreme Court opinion he ever read. Likewise, it's fair to say the article sometimes has a harsh tone, but unfair to quote a comment about Justice Thomas without noting it was in place to suggest clerks actually found him "quite personable."

Questioning a detail on Justice Kennedy's carpet (a rather thin reed to imply other details are open to question at any rate) requires more than a picture of it in 2002. Finally, except perhaps Kennedy (to be generous and the picture drawn matches that of other serious legal reporters), how did the article make him respect the justices more?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

"Breaking the News, Then Becoming It"

I said that I would not reference the whole Vietnam issue again, but the latest CBS follies supplies an excuse. This won't be treated like the proverbial wet dream as it has been by certain media sources, including the National Review. They have a multi-part feature on the issue, and milked the story for all its worth. This sadly has not been atypical. Tina Brown provides some excellent commentary:
The New York Times betrayed the passive-aggressive guilt complex that lingers after the Jayson Blair fabrications by playing the CBS story above the fold on Tuesday's front page and the beheading of an American hostage in Baghdad below the fold, at the bottom. A Manhattan news factory screwed up big time -- and it wasn't us! Will Dan lose his job? That's the big news. An American hostage losing his life -- that's the small news.

Some perspective must be put here, and Dan Rather is just the latest person in the press that helped pervert it, though to be fair, various stories reaffirmed the basic truth. The problem is that just because something is out there, it doesn't mean we are focusing on it:
Documents or no documents, everyone knows Bush's dad got him out of Vietnam. Everyone knows he thought he had better, funnier things to do than go to a bunch of boring National Guard drills. (Only a killjoy like John Kerry would spend his carefree youth racking up high-minded demonstrations of courage and conscience, right?) Like O.J. Simpson's infamous "struggle" to squeeze his big hand into the glove, the letter was just a lousy piece of evidence that should never have been produced in court. Now because CBS, like Marcia Clark, screwed up the prosecution, Bush is going to walk.

Or maybe not. There are lies floating around that are a lot bigger than anything CBS or Bush is saying or hiding about what happened thirty-odd years ago in Texas and Alabama. They're about Iraq and they're about now, and Kerry is finally talking about them coherently enough to have a chance of getting some traction.

One would hope so. This latest incident of press error, including the Bushian refusal to admit error even when warning flags were present from the very beginning, is noticeable for its blatant nature. But, oh, how easy it is to miss the point. The true point is that the problem is so much deeper. This was a case of cheating to convict someone you already know is guilty. The administration with a big assist from the press cheated to bring us to war based on a similar philosophy, but one in which the underlining truth of the matter was not only much more important but of more dubious veracity. What is worse? A greedy attempt to snatch a "scoop" or to go to war?

So, we sneer at Dan at our peril, though for those who were too enthusiastic about his story, a bit of egg on their face is probably deserved.*


* I previously quoted Daily Kos wisely just noting the memoranda might have been real. Others gleefully said Rather surely wouldn't do something as stupid as not truly investigating the story. These people deserve much of the "I told you soes" that they have received. It is often wise to be careful to not to overstep, especially when it is totally unnecessary to do so.

Our Man In Iraq

Baseball: The Mets lost, but not before Kris Benson upped his salary for next year by pitching another great game, while Glendon Rusch (miss him) matched him for the Cubs. Pedro yet again lost in the eighth, like not only in the Game Seven last October, but in various games of yore (often vs. David Cone, this time against the updated version, Mike Mussina). A ninth inning run helped, but extending Pedro too long was key. Not that I care -- who other than Bostonians actually like these guys?

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to somebody in the United States who questions whether or not getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth the cost of more than a thousand lives now and billions and billions of U.S. dollars?

PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, I assure you if Saddam was still there, terrorists will be hitting there again at Washington and New York, as they did in the murderous attack in September; they'll be hitting also on other places in Europe and the Middle East. ...

Here we have a US-installed foreign head of state, whose travel schedule is determined by the US State Department, visiting the US to buoy the president's election campaign and spouting demonstrable lies in order to support a retrospective rationale for war that the White House wants Americans to believe but lacks the gall to state explicitly.

-- Joshua Marshall

Legal Fiction adds some more evidence about why we should be disgusted at all of this. This includes key Republicans, not just Dick Cheney and George Bush, suggesting that anyone who calls into question Allawi's comments (and wild eyed optimism as to conditions in Iraq) somehow "undermine our young men and women who are serving over there" (Sen. Hatch). LF also has a a poetic take on Kerry71 challenging Kerry04.

Naomi Klein also has been of interest to me lately as recent posts might suggest. For instance, I recently saw a documentary she made with her husband entitled The Take, which concerns a workers movement in Argentina to "expropriate" closed businesses. Its website as well as some articles posted there can provide you with some more details, but basically, it is a small lesson of hope for those harmed worldwide by ill advised heavy-handed capitalism.

Argentina is but one nation whose central government chose or more likely were pressured to choose a form of capitalism run amok that would even be seen as unwise in this country. The shock therapy turns out badly, the usual victims arise, and rebellion from below is seen as dangerously radical. This film suggests yet again Klein has a point -- globalization and the growing power of international capitalism is dangerous without careful safeguards, respect of democracy, and basic human rights.

The film is also a good companion piece to her recent piece in Harpers that suggests related problems are arising in Iraq. The connection is made early in the piece:
But before the fires from the "shock and awe" military onslaught were even extinguished, Bremer unleashed his shock therapy, pushing through more wrenching changes in one sweltering summer than the International Monetary Fund has managed to enact over three decades in Latin America. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank, describes Bremer's reforms as "an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world."

Klein is an economist, but her piece suggests a sadly consistent theme: the inability of those who carry forth our policy in Iraq to truly understand (or respect) the society they are fucking up. [Pardon my bluntness; The Take portrayed various protests with slogans sure to include some variant of "screw you."] This is seen by a policy that tries to force democracy by foreign military action, furthering discontent, hatred of America, and terrorism in the process. It also is shown by trying to totally reconstruct the Iraqi economy by privatization and foreign capital:
The tone of Bremer's tenure was set with his first major act on the job: he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers. Next, he flung open the country's borders to absolutely unrestricted imports: no tariffs, no duties, no inspections, no taxes. Iraq, Bremer declared two weeks after he arrived, was "open for business."

Klein explained how unfortunately some of the plans were just a tad illegal, though given the war itself was deemed a violation of international law by the head of the body ideally most concerned about the matter, perhaps this isn't too relevant. All the same, we decided to use our surrogates (puppets) to do the job for us. This would be legal. Economic disorder, including of the sort mentioned above, however ironically led to violence that made the planned economic reforms (sic) untenable. Moqtada al Sadr also took advantage of the situation:
Moqtada al Sadr has cannily set out to succeed. In Shia slums from Baghdad to Basra, a network of Sadr Centers coordinate a kind of shadow reconstruction. Funded through donations, the centers dispatch electricians to fix power and phone lines, organize local garbage collection, set up emergency generators, run blood drives, direct traffic where the streetlights don't work. And yes, they organize militias too. Al Sadr took Bremer's economic casualties, dressed them in black, and gave them rusty Kalashnikovs ...

Klein notes that "the CPA pays up to $1,000 per imported blast wall [concrete walls that protects selective areas from attack]; local manufacturers say they could make them for $100." Just one example how another way is possible. For instance, an Iraqi Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild the country we did so much to break ("you break it, you own it") with local resources and control might have helped greatly. Such a plan would have not seen Iraq as some neoconservative playground (one packed with twenty-somethings whose major qualifications seems to be support from the Heritage Foundation), but as a country with a long tradition of capitalism but one tempered with (local) government sector support.

The Bremer plan just seems part and parcel of the imperialism that isn't even done very well. Klein ends up with a sadly too likely prophecy:
After an endless succession of courageous last stands and far too many lost lives, Iraq will become a poor nation like any other, with politicians determined to introduce policies rejected by the vast majority of the population, and all the imperfect compromises that will entail.

Sounds a bit too familiar.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Odds and Ends

"The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote as early as today to extend three tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of this year — an increase in the tax credit for families with children, an expansion in the number of taxpayers in the lowest 10% tax bracket, and tax relief for married couples."

There is some dispute as to how equitable this tax package is, but the ultimate problem is that it continues the fiscal irresponsibility endemic to those now in power. Those who challenge such cuts, and few probably will do so across the board, are said to "effectively be placing a tax increase on millions of working families next year" etc. Who pays the bill, though? Ah well. Dean tried to discuss this, but we see how far he got.
In addition to liking these folks, I respect their creed. Conservatism teaches us useful things: an appreciation of tradition, family and religion; a wariness of great big plans to improve the world; and an attentiveness to the unintended consequences of well-intended actions.

- E.J. Dionne, buttering them up before stabbing them in the throat

This amuses me. The implication tends to be that liberals do not appreciate these things. They clearly do, they just do so differently. For instance, liberals respect more than a narrow definition of "family and religion" and find some neocon programs that allegedly do so are actually often counterproductive. Finally, if "tradition" means following various constitutional norms and ways of doing things, yet again, neocons often do not really come off looking too well.
The House will propose moving cybersecurity offices from the Department of Homeland Security to the White House as part of the intelligence reorganization, according to draft legislation obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. The bill, expected to be introduced Thursday, would place cybersecurity into the White House budget office.

The change reflects frustration among some Republican lawmakers about what they view as a lack of attention paid to cybersecurity by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This story caught my interest because I recalled that Richard Clarke, once he determined no one in the Bush Administration really wanted to pay attention to his concerns about Al Qaeda, decided to focus on cyberterrorism. Certain sorts, including I believe Christopher Hitchens, ridiculed his concern, which now appears not to be too trivial. The sanctity of electronic voting seems to be part of this general concern as well.

Sibel Edmonds is still fighting as well. Go girlfriend!

Schiavo Case: Separation of Powers etc.

GOV. JEB BUSH v. MICHAEL SCHIAVO, GUARDIAN OF THERESA SCHIAVO unanimously (and not surprisingly) overturned a recent law passed by the Florida legislature that allowed the governor to intervene after the states courts granted her husband's request that her life support be removed. The law was so narrowly written that it was clear that it was a clear case of "special interest" legislation, which made the violation of the general principle that "separation of powers precludes the other two branches from nullifying the judicial branch?s final orders" particularly troubling.

Gov. Bush said afterwards that "I'm disappointed for the moral reasons of the taking of innocent life and without having, I don't think, a full hearing on the facts of what her intent was. We will review what the ruling says, we will make a determination of what steps can be taken, and if not, we will let the action of the Supreme Court stand." This talk of "taking of innocent life" belittles the right of a person to determine one's own view on the sanctity of life, including not being forced to live in a PVS. And, it is rather unclear that the courts didn't provide a "full hearing on the facts."

The opinion spelled out in detail the repeated and careful review of the facts, including by the appeals courts. For instance:
We have repeatedly examined the videotapes, not merely watching short segments but carefully observing the tapes in their entirety. We have examined the brain scans with the eyes of educated laypersons and considered the explanations provided by the doctors in the transcripts. We have concluded that, if we were called upon to review the guardianship court?s decision de novo, we would still affirm it.

Nor was the husband just trying to get it all over with so that he could marry the women he formed a relationship with while his wife was in the hospital. This is surely a major reason why a serious rift grew between him and Theresa's other family members, who felt there still was hope. It also might offer some reason to mistrust his judgment if nothing else was there to back it up. All the same, as the opinion says:
In the final analysis, the difficult question that faced the trial court was whether Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo, not after a few weeks in a coma, but after ten years in a persistent vegetative state that has robbed her of most of her cerebrum and all but the most instinctive of neurological functions, with no hope of a medical cure but with sufficient money and strength of body to live indefinitely, would choose to continue the constant nursing care and the supporting tubes in hopes that a miracle would somehow recreate her missing brain tissue, or whether she would wish to permit a natural death process to take its course and for her family members and loved ones to be free to continue their lives.

The guardianship court therefore did not necessarily "take an innocent life," especially if Theresa Schiavo did not wish to live in such a state. The law must decide what she wanted, "independent of her parents and independent of her husband," and let its ruling be colored by "popular clamor." Gov. Bush's opinion on the sanctity of life is also not the ultimate test, though the law broadly gives him power to intervene, even beyond what she herself wished. The Court noted:
"the Act does not even require that the Governor consider the patient?s wishes in deciding whether to issue a stay, and instead allows a unilateral decision by the Governor to stay the withholding of life-prolonging procedures without affording any procedural process to the patient."

So, why this after the fact law that interfered with the judicial process? One based on a principle that has a potential to interfere with final decision making, depending on what public opinion demands, much broader than this particular issue. The public felt the courts decided things wrong on a issue for which they were morally concerned. After all, if a court allegedly made a bad decision in a death penalty case, you do not generally see such a clamor for a special law to override the opinion. Or, a court that refused such a request, which many could feel was as troubling, depending on their moral views.

This is a dangerous, if quite unremarkable, thing to desire. It is why we have separation of powers and an independent judiciary in the first place. One that sometimes has to make life and death decisions that never can be totally provable one way or the other.

A final thing emphasized by many is the idea that the husband is a bastard. He basically is seen as wanting to get rid of his wife so that he can have a happy life with a new mate. Money won in a previous medical malpractice lawsuit (now used for her care) would also be inherited by him once his wife died. The trial and appeal courts did not believe evidence was in place that this was truly the issue, and the latter notes there is some talk by both sides of giving the money to charity. Anyway, the guardianship court makes the final decision just to handle such conflicts. The court did not just rely on the sayso of the husband, but "statements to her friends and family."

Let's note that the evidence does appear to be on his side (as compared to the claims of some other family members) that his wife has been tragically without "life" for years in many of the ways that word is so defined. Likewise, when one gets married, they also set up a situation in which a spouse is given great powers to make decisions for them, even when their other family members (or the community) disagrees. Finally, who is to say the wife would not want her husband to be happy and be with another women in this situation? Various movies have been made in which critically ill wives try to find replacements to care for their husbands once they are gone.

So, yes, the husband's judgment might be somewhat impaired, but so very well might be those challenging him. Likewise, his relationship with the other room does not per se make him as bad as so many wish to make him appear. Finally, the courts are in place to balance the various biases and evidence to determine an equitable result. Selectively overriding it in this case threatens separation of powers, the sanctity of marriage, and quite possibly the wishes of Theresa Schiavo. The wishes of whom the independent guardianship and appellate courts are in place to protect.

The Florida Supreme Court decided things correctly.

Goss in, Senate Dems Show Little Spine

The LAT has an interesting article on the results of tort reform in Texas that led me to highlight it as a particular example of how to successfully take advantage of the fact that the people on the whole support the Democrats on issues. I add that they a shot on character too, if they do it right.

The Senate did as expected and quickly (and by a large majority of 77-17) confirmed the President's appointee for CIA head, Porter Goss. As the NYT noted:

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, a Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said today that as chairman of the House intelligence panel Mr. Goss had said and done things that "seemed designed to protect the administration" while placing blame on Democrats for intelligence failures.

Mr. Rockefeller, acknowledging that Mr. Goss had pledged in his confirmation hearing to set partisanship aside as director, said in today's debate: "I must vote on his record. I cannot vote on his promise."

Goss went out of his way to criticize Kerry, questioned the need of a 9/11 Commission, and for the longest time provided little true oversight over the intelligence agencies. He was seen by many as way too political, especially given the need for the CIA to regain the trust of the American people and prove it is properly independent of the President.

This might be too generous; as one person suggested "one source of the Democrats’ difficulties in articulating a coherent case against Goss is the overabundance of reasons that he’s a bad choice: There are questions of partisanship, questions of competence, and questions of temperament." In other words, probably not the best choice, and one Democrats could have showed some spine and opposed. In fact, quite often competence alone could be a useful way to attack the Bush Administration and their allies, a strategy perhaps better than cries of partisanship or similar appeals that can be tarred as emotional and subjective. [Updated paragraph]

After all, there is no pressing need for a permanent director before the election. The hope, of course, is that John Kerry is elected, allowing him to choose his own. This is no gimmee and a somewhat similar strategy backfired in 2002 -- the Democrats gave Bush his authorization (without even a token safeguard added) and lost the Senate in November anyway. Sen. Carl Levin voted against him, raising concerns about political pressure. Sen. Clinton did so as well, while Kerry and Edwards did not vote.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Television Talk

Though I guess it might not be the worse thing in the world, the degradation of television quality is somewhat troubling. This problem is reflected by the number of forensic dramas out there, many clones of the original, as well as the whole reality programming boom. Toss in lame comedies and tired long running series (Friends ended about three years too late), and you have the vast majority of the line-up.

Jack and Bobby showed promise with its premiere episode, but followed up with one in which the older son got on his mother's back for smoking pot (clearly this cannot be portrayed without clear denunciation!) and the younger son (and future president) got all upset. Emotional dramatics ensued, though I didn't watch much of them. I fear such emotional dramatics will be a running theme, but will retain hope for the time being.

The little known WB comedy Grounded For Life remains a kernel of hope that television can provide light entertainment with some finesse. Its time slot, 8:30 on Fridays (used to be 9, also used to be a FOX show) is not totally ideal, though it has some connection to part of the show's target audience. GFL concerns a couple (in Staten Island, NY) who started a family young (think high school) and still aren't quite sure they ready to be adults. Good acting, including a high school daughter ever insecure about her status, makes it worthwhile, even if the writing is sometimes mixed. [The new season began with a new child on its way -- a tired plot device.]

The show handles some serious subjects with a light touch, including the daughter eventually going out with the next store neighbors' son, who was hopelessly enamored in her. They eventually hooked up when Lily decides to lose her virginity on her sixteenth birthday, but discovers her "ideal" boyfriend is actually a bit of a brainless jerk. The wife's breasts also was the subject of an amusing episode in which Lily told others they were fake because she was embarrassed by them. The husband's continual guilt when his former high school nun comes around is also an amusing running joke.

Gilmore Girls also remains a favorite, though last season was a bit of a hit and miss affair [West Wing on the other hand was mostly miss]. The show ended last season with the Gilmore women all having to deal with some relationship issue. Rory lost her virginity to her first love, Dean, who unfortunately is now married. Lorelai kissed Luke, the gruff coffee shop owner who was a subject of flirtation for years [played by the man who Elaine found "spongeworthy"]. And, Emily Gilmore (the grandmother) is finding her marriage not very rewarding, now that her husband seems not to see her as an equal partner anymore. The two basically separated. The great-grandmother died, but um, nevermind about that.

[continued, including a discussion of its slightly twisted sexual dynamics, here]

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kerry On Dave

Interesting article: The "Girlie Men" Slur and Similar Insults: How They Show the Persistence of Sex-role Stereotypes spells out some more problems (other than stupidity) to the macho posturing of many Republicans.

Kerry was on Regis and Kelly this morning (also Dr. Phil), but I read about it too late to tape it. I did watch him on David Letterman last night, the same day Kerry made a good speech in New York that discussed how President Bush made a mess of Iraq. Thankfully, he didn't come in on a motorcycle like he did on Jay Leno. The first impression one got was somewhat unpleasant. Sen. Kerry had this fake looking smile made worse by his usual stiff expression. Of course, President Bush in my opinion doesn't do much better, though for different reasons.

The interview itself (sorry, image counts in politics, even if we do not want it to dominate) went pretty well. His opening joke was a bit iffy and Top Ten lists supplied by guests rarely go well, but Kerry did have some nice light moments. An audience that showed so much appreciation at some points helped him, it almost sounded like a rally. It would be interesting to see how he did on the morning talk show circuit, especially sitting on that stool Regis/Kelly provides.

Dave started off focusing on the horse race aspects of the campaign, including polls and Kerry hiring new people. Kerry did a good job explaining how the new hires were not a sign of trouble, but just additional staff for a different part of his election campaign. Right around the time when I started to get tired of this line of questioning, Dave did focus on the war.

This allowed Kerry to get in some good shots at Bush and to explain how he would do things differently. Kerry noted that he could not tell exactly what he would do, since he didn't know how things would be on the ground next January. He did point out the need to regain the confidence of foreign leaders and tossed in a somewhat off topic AIDS proposal (Bush did enough on this subject to make this a dubious issue to use, even if some felt he didn't do enough). Kerry lacked specifics.*

This was fine though when he said he had a "four point plan," I expected a bit more. Kerry did say that if things went well, some troops might be coming home next summer, which doesn't sound very good really, but is probably realistic. So if Kerry won in 2000, would we be in Iraq now? Kerry first said (blurted out?) "no," but apparently thought better of it. Annoying.

He decided to go the nuanced route, but basically came around to the same stance. In other words, the authorization was to give inspectors a chance to do their jobs. Yes, we thought there was WMDs at first, but time would have shown that we were mistaken, and war would not have been necessary. Thus, Bush misused the intelligence he had. This works fairly well, and answers the "everyone thought there was WMDs" (not quite true) argument in the process. It also matches Kerry's style of thinking, which is important because a campaign must fit its candidate.

[I am somewhat upset that some other issues were not discussed, but his campaign is focusing on those that were, so that's okay. I'd add that I still find him stiff and not very inspirational, but on a lowered expectations basis, the interview put him in a fairly good light.]

The interview along with his speech might have actually caught some of the attention focused on Dan Rather admitting his source on the Killian memo story was iffy. Some are suggesting that he resign unlike his subject, who was misled and misled the country into war. This double standard is at least consistent -- the usual suspects loved to talk about Rather without underlining (as was shown in various media stories along the way) the basic facts the alleged memoranda helped prove remained the same. More evidence how, at least as used, this whole issue was a bit of a non-starter.


* The Washington Post summarized: "John F. Kerry's four-point plan for Iraq proposes ambitious solutions to accelerate the military transition, refocus reconstruction and ensure that democracy takes root, all while lessening the burden on the United States by bringing in greater foreign aid and support."

The analysis provided suggested his plan sounds good, but the likelihood it will succeed is questionable and is a bit lacking in detail.. I would suggest that this is probably the safest route to take given the necessity of leaving your options open, especially when the likely state of affairs in January is so unclear. The best bet probably would be: "Yeah, it's not much, but at least I didn't get us into this mess." Only the impolite will add: "Yes, you only authorized it."

True Costs and Proper Oversight

"Secrecy undermines the ecosystem of transparency that is vital for democracy's survival. When official secrecy dominates a political system, structural corruption thrives."

-- Steve Clemons [discussing Rep. Waxman's report on how the Bush Administration increased secrecy in several key ways]

Our form of republican democracy honors government by the people not only by the election of representatives to serve our interests, but by various techniques to protect our welfare. George Soros spoke of "an open society, which is based on the recognition that nobody has -- is in possession of the truth, and therefore you need a critical process."

Congress has a special role in this "critical process" as shown by various Republican senators criticizing on Sunday talk shows how our policy in Iraq is being carried forth (BTC News is an excellent source on the depressing ongoing problems of our foreign policy). This might be too little, too late -- the true test was before the war began. I wondered how much will it cost, will the aftermath of the "mission accomplished" defeat of Saddam himself make our "success" debatable, and was the war really necessary for some of the reasons given (WMDs, fighting terrorism, etc.)?

Clemons also wonders if Congress has provided enough oversight on the true cost of the war: "With such little oversight from Congress and most of the media, the Pentagon is getting away with making affairs in Iraq look far less horrible than they are." His immediate concern here is a true accounting of American "casualties," including those who were medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan.

[I'd add this does not factor in the costs and pressures to the families of personnel, including the loss of pay and benefits inflicted on those in the National Guard. Or the loss of possible homeland defenders or forces that might be better used than to fight misguided, perhaps illegal, wars.]

A recent UPI article noted that this latter group (nearly 17,000 by their reckoning) were not considered "casualties," which might be right as a labeling matter, but not so much as a "able personnel" issue. We also should add those who were not evacuated, but needed some sort of medical attention, sometimes making them unfit for duty for some amount of time. Finally, true cost should include medical treatment received by returning veterans, listed as over thirty two thousand. This includes over five thousand with mental problems, eight hundred of whom became psychotic. This last category is particularly striking:
A military study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July showed that 16 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq might suffer major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Around 11 percent of soldiers returning from Afghanistan may have the same problems, according to that study.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi civilian death toll is currently listed by one leading source as around thirteen thousand. This is in addition to the 1,019 dead and 7,245 wounded American forces.

Official Pentagon "casualty" numbers, that is.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Laura Flanders etc.

"During the Clinton impeachment imbroglio, I suggested Americans needed to think about constitutionally resignable offensive. European politicians who screw up resign. Americans might benefit by following their example."

-- Mark Graber

Sports: Pretty good sports day on Sunday. The Yanks humiliated Pedro, eventually winning 11-1. Again, even those who hate the Yanks really should have trouble liking the Red Sox, especially this guy. The Mets got swept, but Todd Zeile got his 2000th hit, and Aaron Heilman pitched great (lost 1-0). The Giants managed to hang on 20-14, finding it hard to lose with +6 on turnovers. And, the Jets won, though they too allowed it to remain close until late. My Chicago connections should also be glad that Chicago had a big upset in Green Bay.

Laura Flanders is my favorite host on Air America, given her English accent alone puts her ahead of the curve. She is as strong of a believer in progressive causes and anti-Bush as the rest of them, but manages to do so in a less strident way.* Flanders also often provides thoughtful discussions on politics, the news, and the arts (this week she had two performers from the play Guantánamo). Finally, besides being a long time activist, she is also an experienced radio broadcaster, so she knows how to sustain a lively show. Archives of her show can be found here.

Part of her charm probably grows out of her progressive activist background -- Flanders is often more concerned with the issues per se than just being anti-Bush (also, her book Bushwomen suggests the depth of her anti-Bush coverage) or pro-Kerry (she edited The W Effect: Bush's War On Women, which isn't just critical of Bush, but has deeper concerns).

I don't know if she's registered, but Flanders is more likely to be a Green than a Democrat. I bet she is a fan of Naomi Klein, the globalization activist that was cited a few times yesterday, especially on the value of protest. Both can be a bit much to take after awhile (standard line), but I consistently find something of interest while listening to the The Laura Flanders Show.

Odds and Ends: Isn't heavy rain wonderfully refreshing? Children under ten who are too concerned about clothes, especially boys, really have to get their priorities in order. Watch out for snerts on message boards -- it's often a lot easier to be lazyishly sarcastic than intelligently polite. And, naps are wonderfully refreshing, especially since you often take them because of a big enjoyable meal or a late night (or early morning) that was worth the loss of sleep.


* I don't think any show does a good job providing a multifaceted conversation; it is generally various shades of liberal. Some on Air America are Deaniacs, so they have that perspective on their side. Some are just too kneejerk anti-Bush or lay it on too thick, while the morning shows have about the right mixture of humor and liberal sensibilities.

Al Franken is a tad too kneejerk pro-Kerry, including angrily disagreeing with anyone who dislikes his vote to give Bush authorization to go to Iraq. Franken wrote a book on how Bush and company are liars that cannot be trusted. There apparently was an exception: when Bush promised to use the authorization wisely, Kerry was correct (even knowing what he knows now) to trust him. That's just plain sad as is Franken's (his co-host is rarely heard) belief there is just nothing really wrong with Kerry's campaign. Just not realistic, Al.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Edwards: The Democratic Bush?

"The normal order has been reversed. The Democratic nominee is the candidate expected to satisfy the base, while the running mate appeals to swing voters and independents."

-- Chris Suellentrop

It is fine that Edwards is used to target swing voters and bleed away potential Bush voters as Suellentrop discusses is his column. This is an important strategy, one that the Republicans love to use as well -- the idea is not necessarily to get people to vote Republican, but to get disgusted, and not vote Democrat. The votes for Republicans are thus but gravy in many cases.

The Republicans, however, do more. They also provide a good brand identity for their candidate, one that might appall many, but then not everyone likes Survivor either. This brand identity* is not just shown to a select few voters, but helps the candidate across the board, including in national press coverage. Cheney, with a more negative identity, is therefore able to be used to attract the base.

Edwards needs to be used as more than a selective special weapon. Many in the party across the board really like the guy, though many feel he is too green to be presidential material. This provides a good potential to energize the voters, who do not just want a platform (which favors Kerry) or a reason to dislike Bush (ditto). They want someone, a personality, to believe in as well. In other words, Edwards balances the ticket in more ways than one.

This is what many mean when they wonder where Edwards is hiding. It isn't that they want him to be more negative ala his opposite number Dick Cheney. They want him out there energizing the party, sort of like Barack Obama. And, not just in the backcountry somewhere.

So, things are different ... from the Republican ticket. For the Democrats, the head of the ticket brings the experience and gravitas, while the running mate brings the sunny personality, but unfortunately is inexperienced in the executive department. Edwards is sort of the George Bush of the Democratic ticket, which seems the proper way of doing things, doesn't it?


* Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and Fences and Windows as well as a writer for The Nation, has a lot of interesting things to say about brand identity. The Corporation (documentary) does as well.

Bushocracy: Do What I Say, Not What I Do

Cellular: I just saw this film with someone, and we both enjoyed it for what it was: a silly, but well put together, action flick. A science teacher (Kim Bassinger, good as a woman in jeopardy) is kidnapped, and a slacker with a cell phone is her only hope (along with nebbish William Macy, yet again being the master of the character role). Besides being the ultimate product placement movie, it knows how to entertain. You know, as long as you don't take it seriously. Still, we might be ready for a movie like this with a black or hispanic woman with a key role instead of as a tossaway victim.

Our language has been taken hostage. Words like patriotism, freedom, and democracy have been bound and gagged, forced to perform indecent acts through the abuse of slogans. Freedom will prevail. ...

Democracy's only agenda is that we participate and that the majority voice be honored. It doesn't matter whether an answer is right or wrong, only that ideas be heard and discussed openly.

Terry Tempest Williams

So, President Bush is going to give a speech to the U.N.? What are fifty ways to say "bullshit?" Bush is the master of "do what I say, not what I do." We can foresee some wonderfully empty words on liberty and democracy by the head of an administration that in a myriad of ways proves how little it thinks of either. Diplomatic -- the ability to take bs without laughing out loud.

Terry Tempest Williams'
words, part of an eloquent speech that is also found in her new book The Open Space of Democracy, are correct -- democracy in this country is more than majority rule. It is a set of rules that include an ability of each person to be heard and their basic interests protected in some basic ways. And, what troubles (aggravates) me greatly about the national government these days is its repeated inability to follow such rules in even basic ways. For instance:
Chairman Barton (R-TX) denied repeated requests from Committee Democrats to conduct a fair debate on the resolution which seeks information regarding Vice President Dick Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force. For the first time since he took over as Committee Chairman earlier this year, Representative Barton denied Committee Members the opportunity to make opening statements.

Of course, the United Nations are more concerned about the "illegal" war (in the opinion of Secretary-General Kofi Annan) in Iraq. It takes a certain amount of guts to go the organization you belittled and ignored and ask for assistance, now that things are going badly. The Administration has actually done some good in dealing with the troubles in Sudan, inadequate as it might be. But, how will we have the international help and respect we need if we do not earn it by our actions over time?

Likewise, talk of liberty and democracy ring a bit false when matched against mistreated prisoners, including the ongoing failure to have truly legitimate hearings in Guantanamo Bay. Or, without admitting error, releasing a citizen long held without a trial, but only if he goes to Saudi Arabia and gives up his citizenship. Or, after accusing a sympathetic chaplain to such individuals of espionage and then adultery, but eventually deciding to give him an honorable discharge.

Well, they did the right thing (sometimes; after months or even years of pressure) in the end, right? I really cannot take anything some of these people take seriously. The true test of character is how a person's words match their actions. A test this bunch failed big time.


Update: I read a good essay by Naomi Klein that notes: "The message [an attempt to "sell" democracy as a brand] may have proved more persuasive if those values were better reflected in the Bush administration's communications with the outside world - both in its image and, more importantly, in its policies. Because as President Bush rightly points out, diversity and debate are the lifeblood of liberty. And they are enemies of branding." The themes found in the article are also discussed by her in an interview found here.

I'd add that part of the problem is that there is a certain disconnect here -- they believe in "democracy" and all, but how it is defined and "put in place" (sic) suggests that it is very different from how many others would define it. This is so even if the people think they believe in the same words being said. This suggests why many, like myself feel cheated -- as Klein notes, the brand (democracy) is fine, it is the product being sold that is broken.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

National Guard: The True Second Amendment Issue

Silver City is not as good as director John Sayles' best works, but it is an improvement from his last couple films. It's charm is not the too broadly drawn Bush clone (running for governor in Colorado), but the down on his luck former reporter hired by the campaign to send a message to three people who might have tried to embarrass them with an unfortunately placed corpse. The reporter does a lot more than that, and the movie shines when we see the people he meets along the way, including the candidate's sister (Daryl Hannah, again showing talent as a character actress).

Sayles generally has something to say in his movies, and a bit too often the message overwhelms the story with characters just in place to deliver it. This film has shades of this, but has enough of a sense of place, lovely music, and such a good supporting cast (with a decent story) that it ends up as a fairly enjoyable experience. [Update: More comments.]

William Saletan has an interesting article in Slate today that argues that the war in Iraq has misused the National Guard, which is supposed to be in place for domestic security. This dovetails well with the Democrat's emphasis on the need for a better system to protect homeland security. And, how we are misplacing our limited resources, and thus threatening our well being.

Sadly, when both Bush and Kerry spoke in front of the National Guard, Bush's argument that fighting in Iraq was "necessary to defend America" got better applause. This is sadly expected. Who wants to accept that you and your fellow members are suffering for a mistake that might even be counterproductive? And, perhaps, they were restrained by chain of command, though I bet many weren't too enthusiastic. It's a message that has to be sent though, and hopefully, the public at large are more accepting.

I'd add [extended discussion] that this has constitutional implications with the Second Amendment as a primary concern. The National Guard is the modern day organized "militia," and it is quite true that it was intended to have a domestic function (upholding the laws, defending against insurrections, and repel attacks). And, the Second Amendment only strengthens this limitation of its function, helping to insure that the federal government doesn't use the militia as a glorified army to do its bidding.

This, not an assault weapon ban, should be what Second Amendment enthusiasts are truly worried about.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Epitaph on a Tyrant

"Nobody sees war. Editors back in London or Paris or New York don't let anyone see war because it's so horrible. How can you run a video clip of a mother dying, watching blood spurt out of her arteries? How can you do it? No one ever sees war except people who are there."

-- Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges was a subject of a book I read recently on war reporters as well as on C-SPAN talking about the topic, so when Paul Krugman referenced his name in a column, I was familiar with him. I don't know if I ever read any of his dispatches, since I really don't pay attention to bylines. It is only right though, if Sherman was right that war is hell, that a reporter with divinity training guides the way. How he did so while retaining his sanity is another story.

Hedges discusses the horrors and lies of war, but also suggests that war is dangerous in large part because it supplies a sick form of meaning to our lives. It is not love necessarily, but death at times serves as a replacement. He reminds us the importance of basic humanity and love, even in cruel times, though their opposites quite often win in the end.*

[The below discussion was written by Michael Parker, but fits my thoughts rather well.]

Epitaph on a Tyrant

When Chris Hedges, author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, was held captive in somewhere sixty miles north of Basra, his captors stopped to fill their canteens in some muddy puddles. Hedges explained that he knew that the water purification plants had been destroyed. He knew, because of this, the effect that water would have on their bodies, and those of the women and children who were also seeking water. It was at this time that Hedges remembered Auden's "Epitaph on a Tyrant," a poem he had memorized back in his youth.

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after

And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;

He knew human folly like the back of his hand,

And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

-- W. H. Auden

As I searched the web today for the entirety of the poem, which, to my surprise is complete as shown above, I found this highly thoughtful and noteworthy commentary by Aseem Kaul. Kaul writes:

Perfection is the word. In six simple lines, Auden paints a portrait of a tyrant that is both human and absolute. Auden's tyrant is not a political machine - no mention is made of his military aspirations or his place in history. Instead we have a tyrant who is frightening precisely because he is so ordinary - he laughs, he cries, he seeks perfection, indulges his interests. He is not even the motive force behind the destruction he causes - he means no harm to the children, it's just that the momentum of his tears causes them to be destroyed.

What makes tyranny so terrifying is the idea that the fate of an entire country and all its people is governed by the magnified yet frail ego of a single individual. And that's exactly what this poem captures.

As I read Auden I think of the concept of awareness, how many people simply have no notion of how their actions or words effect those around them. It's nearly cliche to say that the single beating of a butterfly's wings creates a whirlwind on the other side of the world. But the concept is totally figurative. Our deeds, whether positive or negative, set in motion a chain of events that are likewise positive or negative in motion. This poem was a wonderful find today.


*Hedges quotes Macbeth to make this point:

LADY MACDUFF: Whither should I fly?
I have done no harm. But I remember now
I am in this earthly world; where to do harm
Is often laudable; to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly: why then, alas,
Do I put up that womanly defence,
To say I have done no harm? - What are these faces?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It's National Defense, Stupid

Book: I added Inside the Pentagon Papers edited by John Prados & Margaret Pratt Porter to the side panel, and discuss the book, including lessons that we can apply to the current day, here.

BTC News, Talking Points Memo, and Legal Fiction (seconding TPM) are but a few of the bloggists out there that state the obvious -- the presidential election this year will center on national security. It is all well and good to examine how else a Kerry Administration will be much better than the current bunch of clowns in fiscal policy and all the rest, and it's part of the debate, but national security is the key. It was key in 2002 as well, though the Democrats tried to punt (vote for the Toss The Car Keys To The Drunk Resolution), and win on economics. Morons.

Senator Kerry on some level recognizes the fact. For instance, one reason why Dean was deemed a bad choice (aside from his personality) is his lack of national security experience. Sen. Edwards also had that problem, and it almost amuses me when some think he would have been a credible candidate in this environment. But, what does JFK do? Focus on his Vietnam experience, ignoring that hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens served in a war, many a helluva lot longer than he. Many also spoke out against the war they fought in.

[Update: I do not mean to deny that his experiences are beneficial. Combat experience as well as eloquently protesting a war deemed to be unjust compares well with supporting such a war but thinking nothing of getting special privileges to get out of it. The point to be underlined is that it is but one aspect of his biography, is not unique, and deemed by many (rightly or wrongly) as ancient history. Also, strategically, it didn't turn out that well for him. Finally, the lessons he learned didn't quite include the dangers of giving too much authority to those that cannot be trusted with it.]

This also led to the ongoing, and apparently never to end, big debate over what happened when many voters were not even bloody born yet! The chance (and this will leave some with egg on their face) that the infamous Killian memos might be recreations only makes things worse. But, scream many, the guy is guilty! Keep it up ... it will be as pointless as it has been. The amount of precious time this issue has wasted is atrocious.

The true national security issue is what is going on now. It comes in at least two central forms. One, at best, the War on Iraq was a good idea that was done very badly. Two, even if he was a good person to handle things right after the attacks (if fear, war, and macho posturing was the way you wanted to go), the long haul requires a more (ahem) nuanced approach. And, the current occupant in the job just is not equipped to handle the job. If Kerry did a better job spelling out some of this work in the Senate (including against a bank favored by terrorists) instead of focusing on his service thirty years ago, we might better understand why he's the better man for the job.

Kerry does, in his imperfect fashion, discuss how Bush handled things badly. Kerry explains how the resolution was meant to allow Bush to force inspections, not to go to war. The senator's failure to accept responsibility for giving away the store (with firm words to the robbers not to be good) rings hollow, but he does have a point. Bush himself said the power was needed to keep the peace, that he wouldn't act without a vote from the UN, and so forth.

All the same, Kerry needs to hit hard, and across the board. To give but one example, as a candidate, Bush criticized President Clinton for being too soft on authoritarian Russia. Soon enough, President Bush bonded with Putin, and the leader's anti-democratic policies were largely ignored, helping to lead to some troubling developments. Other examples of support of despots for pragmatic reasons (admittedly our policy for years) can be found.

Kerry's ill advised remarks against attempts at democracy in Cuba and criticism of Hugo Chavez (the Bush Administration rushed to support those who attempted a coup against him, their platitudes about democracy and freedom shown to be only that) are a couple examples of how he's far from ideal. But, we have to accept the possible, and the Bush Administration has a lot to answer for. We cannot concede national security to the Republicans or expect that making it a wash will be enough (though it might be for many voters). Nor should we.

The Bush Policy, including it's simplistic emphasis on war (and war on Iraq in particular, something Legal Fiction shows is just plain counterproductive, though the war profiteering alone didn't help. Why not give the chunk of the contracts to locals?), needs to be refuted strongly and in detail. In a democracy, ultimately, the people themselves need to be held responsible. And, if Bush is re-elected, they will deserve some degree of the blame, as they did in 2000 for having misguided priorities. But, their leaders are supposed to help them out. This applies to wannabe leaders, such as Kerry.

The opportunity is there. Let's see if he can take it.

Judge Edith Jones Attacks Roe

[Update: Edward Lazarus adds some useful commentary on this subject here.]

Norma McCorvey ("Jane Roe") failed in her attempt to re-open Roe v. Wade over thirty years after the abortion decision was handed down. The appeals court (Fifth Circuit, one of the most conservative, and known for its individual rights view of the Second Amendment) via Judge Edith Jones (Reagan appointee, on Bush41's short list for the Supreme Court) relied on the principle of mootness. Texas law has changed, it now upholds the right to abortion, so McCorvey cannot defend a law that no longer exists.

The attempt itself obviously had little chance of success, though in a few rare cases, the Supreme Court did allow the method used to re-examine settled law. Why it would work here, however, is unclear. The Casey decision, which is really what controls abortion law these days (references to Roe notwithstanding) reaffirmed the foundation of the opinion in 1992, if anything strengthening it. A few years ago, Casey was clearly upheld when the Supreme Court examined a state partial birth abortion law. What changed since 1992 or rather 2000?

Suffice to say, nothing. The basic principles that made Roe v. Wade correct in 1973 did not change at all either, though the author of the majority of McCorvey's case of all people attempted to say otherwise. Yes, Judge Edith Jones also concurred, and basically put forth an anti-abortion screed and rebuke of the Supreme Court for not re-examining the core backbone of Roe. Justice Scalia would be proud.

The tone of the concurrence is suggested right away when she quotes Justice White in saying that the original abortion decisions were an "exercise of raw judicial power." And, the emptiness of her reasoning also comes through. The original cases were class actions -- it can be accepted that there were continually women affected by the regulations at stake, even if Roe herself was not pregnant by the time the case reached the Supreme Court.

Compare this to McCorvey's thirty years after the fact attempt to revive a long repealed law. Finally, there is a way to submit the "facts" supplied. A state can pass anti-abortion legislation. Casey itself is an example of a successful case of a state passing such legislation, clearly clashing precedent notwithstanding. The Court eventually re-examined said precedent based on a new view of things.

What "evidence" did McCorvey offer that "goes to the heart of the balance Roe struck between the choice of a mother and the life of her unborn child?" First, some women "have suffered long-term emotional damage and impaired relationships from their decision." Women who chose childbirth did as well. The same would apply to women who badly chosen their spouses. This is far from trivial -- the right to marry allows one to choose some truly bad characters, and many women for one reason or the other (partly because they are pregnant) did so. And, the horrible results can be shown in the domestic violence reports alone.

Second, it is claimed that many times, women do not get enough counseling. Casey specifically loosened Roe to underline that laws that require said counseling (including a 24 hour waiting period) are legitimate. This again suggests trying to overturn Roe is ridiculous, given abortion law has gone through significant changes since 1973. Anyway, the attempt is an almost bizarre case of a tossing out a right because some aspect of how it is carried out is ill advised. An example of overkill.

Next, "the sociological landscape surrounding unwed motherhood has changed dramatically." First off, the idea that no "longer does the unwed mother face social ostracism" suggests the naïveté the opinion wants the reader to have of real life. Likewise, the suggestion that now there are fully adequate social welfare programs to care for them, ignoring the current reality that the "end of welfare" and so forth makes the current era in some ways less sympathetic.

Also, it can be agreed that various things are better these days, but there still remains various reasons why the right is so important. Fears of being an unwed mother is surely not the only reason a woman might want to have an abortion, and it never was. The burdens on her body, life choices, and yes, the interests of others in her family and community, continue to be present. And, Casey reaffirmed this. What new facts are we supposed to be looking at here?

The same for medical knowledge on fetal development. We haven't learnt anything specifically new since 1992. The statement in a footnote quoting a suggestion that the unborn is "sensitive to pain from the time of conception" is not only amazing, it would also potentially outlaw various sorts of contraceptives. The complexities of fetal development have been long known, but abortion is still deemed an important option for women to have. Again, a lot has changed since 1972, and the courts have been aware of it. Any number of opinions upholding the right to choose an abortion belies the idea that they only exist because said facts are ignored or denied.

Judge Jones' answer to such facts is disdain. In her eyes, obviously, the Casey Court were "disinclined ever to reconsider the facts" (apparently using the myriad of briefs that discussed them for scrap) and "conclusionally" decided nothing really changed. Casey itself belies the fact, including its references to changes in maternal health and fetal viability.

Likewise, since Pennsylvania did "challenge the trimester ruling" successfully in Casey, Judge Jones' assumption otherwise is unfounded. Legislatures pass laws in the face of court decisions too often to accept her claim that it is hopeless to do so. They do not really need her help or her preaching that the courts are interfering in "social policy," and not only in this area. Her consistency in this concern for judicial restraint is probably somewhat dubious, if she follows the norm of other judicial conservatives.

Judge Jones' is no "dispassionate observer," and her little jeremiad is likely to only convince the already converted.