About Me

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

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia!, I heard promos for the show (the "in" thing, after Cats closed) enough, and pass by the theater repeatedly. So, I was ready to see the movie, though some local critics didn't like it too much. Though it had a few lulls, and the finale didn't quite do it (drawn out), overall the movie was fun. This is so even if watching women around the age of Meryl Streep (her trio seemed a bit too old for the roles, but they were fine) bouncing around might not seem your cup of tea. A plus for those with a soft spot for romance and mom/daughter issues. Time to buy the soundrack! Lots o'songs.

24: Fiction and Constitutional Meaning

And Also: I referenced the al-Marri ruling recently, but should have added links to my two extended posts on his case. Unfortunately, only four judges took my side, the swing in the en banc hearing just saying he required a better chance at the habeas hearing. This overturned the more sensible original panel ruling.

This fictional counterterrorism agent—a man never at a loss for something to do with an electrode—has his fingerprints all over U.S. interrogation policy. As Sands and Mayer tell it, the lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Bauer more frequently than the Constitution.

-- Dahlia Lithwick, "The Bauer of Suggestion: Our torture policy has deeper roots in Fox television than the Constitution"

The fact that 24 influences societal understandings and even policy is understandable -- culture and influential works of fiction does that. And, these days, there are certain shows that are really "in" and influence how we think. This includes such shows like The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Law & Order, and others. The "Dirty Harry" movies were big in the '70s, film noir reflected and influenced thought post-WWII, etc. Ditto Westerns, etc.

This underlines the power and possible dangers of fiction in our society, including its representation of reality. This goes back some time, such as Shakespeare (with the Bible and some ancient philosophers, surely a top influence of the mind-set of the Founding Generation).

The "constitution" is not just bare words like "cruel" or "due process," but an overall understanding of our means of government, something that is influenced by many factors (and develops over time, partially because of this). This includes, of course, fiction, an important part of culture.

In fact, apropos to DL's book list, Inventing Human Rights: A History by Lynn Hunt suggests the growth of the novel went hand and hand with the development of a rights consciousness. The novel provided a character who the reader could empathise with, an "other" separate from yourself, and far away in fact, but also "close" and personal. The novel provided an intimate portrait, so much some feared "good" women might be harmed by them.

And, sentiment for a person, an individual, is core to recognizing personal/human rights. Harm to their person, especially torture, brings out a feeling of horror that is almost a personal attack. We can see this by fans of reading overall, who can get very into the characters, in effect they become like friends or at the very least alive. People like Danielle Steel can do well for themselves by taking advantage of this.

Anyway, the importance of fiction underlines why even what is deemed rather trivial can be troubling. Katherine Heigel, for instance, made some critical remarks about Knocked Up, which seems like a trivial film, but reflects a broader theme of the goofball guy as hero, the woman going along, even when the smart thing might not to do so. Likewise, some have spoke in favor of the Eva character in Wall-E (a good film), as a strong character, though others are upset (again) the film is seen thru a male p.o.v.

I myself didn't really like 24 when it first came out, the violence getting a bit repetitive, and that was only after a few hours! Many like it, to each their own, but a filmed version of someone being on speed all the time doesn't really do it for me. It turns out to be a sort of violent porn, good in short bursts (so to speak), but tiresome overall. Unfortunately, the mindset of those in control was different.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Delusion or Too Thin Gruel?

The "dare not call it impeachment" hearing today had the Republicans damning the Democrats for not canonizing Bush instead of investigating his wrongdoing and raising the "i" word. The second party had a witness wondering why everyone is so upset and another who thought impeachment is only for those who abuse their office for utter personal gain. If this is what we are up against, even thin gruel from the Dems will be better -- that is, actually sorta sane. With Dems against impeachment, the Republicans couldn't show a shred of a spine? Not be such knee-jerk assholes? Guess not.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Same Old Talking Points To Avoid Just Desserts

And Also: After blowing a three run lead in the ninth (Santana, eight innings), the Mets win by three vs. the Phillies. This up/down, losers!/winners deal will continue, I bet. Still, yesterday was particularly bad. Army Wives was good this week -- the new actress playing CJ's younger daughter had a few good scenes. Very touching conclusion in the bar.

Some see a brighter prospect in Barack Obama, should he be elected. The plus with Obama, says the former Church Committee staffer, is that as a proponent of open government, he could order the executive branch to be more cooperative with Congress, rolling back the obsessive secrecy and stonewalling of the Bush White House. That could open the door to greater congressional scrutiny and oversight of the intelligence community, since the legislative branch lacked any real teeth under Bush. (Obama's spokesman on national security, Ben Rhodes, did not reply to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.)

But even that may be a lofty hope. "It may be the last thing a new president would want to do," said a participant in the ongoing discussions. Unfortunately, he said, "some people see the Church Committee ideas as a substitute for prosecutions that should already have happened."

More on the excesses of this administration, surveillance edition. And, "excesses" means violation of the law, including constitutional law. That counts too. But, some seem to think people should have a pass. Even that this will help promote investigations, as if pardons are some sort of quid pro quo thing, not one less reason to help. Immunity for torture, immunity for breaking FISA, de facto immunity on most everything else. Except for a few small fry. Depressing.

Also, stupid. Cass Sunstein, who somewhere along the line departed ways with Martha Nussbaum (e.g., Liberty of Conscience), and married Samantha Powers. A pair of Obama advisers, one who apparently didn't put a foot in their mouth yet. Anyway, as GG notes (both were on Democracy Now! recently), CS is of the "let's not be intemperate" school. Oh, blanket pardons would be in bad form (and, apparently, there is little point), and on some level extreme crimes should be punished. It just seems that is just some token comment, the important thing is to trust Obama and investigate some.

The stupid. Well, putting aside his spin job on Obama's FISA vote, there is the words against impeachment. Same all b.s. There are pragmatic grounds against the move, but people like him find it hard to limit themselves to that. They have to raise the specter of "President Cheney," as if you can't impeach both (Cheney as or more guilty anyway) or that we seriously think Bush will likely be removed. The move honors the rule of law, forces full investigations and more, and the other side has to defend the guy. I just read about the horrendous Emmett Till case. The state prosecuted, even though it had almost no shot. There was a value to that.

CS also spoke about another impeachment so close together with another. The Clinton impeachment was such a good move. It hurt Clinton's reputation, burdened Gore, and the Republicans retained power. Sure they overstepped eventually, but that didn't do it. Also, it served as a sort of vaccine -- those too involve some weak virus to prevent a bigger disease -- against using impeachment against a real set of crimes. It's such a bloody joke. It's like a bad prosecution being used to justify not bring one when the evidence is clear. Can't have another one so close.*

Of course, you can toss in the "it's the end, anyway" line. But, that also is b.s. in that the whole thing was just some sort of running out the clock affair ("off the table" until it's too late to matter). Anyway, that doesn't quite work. As a nation of laws, seriously we are, there is a principle involved. And, a message. Immunity and being satisfied with some strong words (and potshots, ala Pelosi) sends a message too. Priorities. Politics. Surely not principle. The limitations of human governance won't disappear when Obama comes into power. (Knock on wood)

Can't be all carrots. If there are so little sticks now, how about when the President has a better shot at arguing he is not a total loser. [See Talking Points Memo et. al. for the latest McCain follies. No Bush II is enough for me, but every bit helps.]


* Heck, you can add that Clinton did break the law (he did lose his law license and pay a fine ... he and Libby can cry over some beer, maybe) in some fashion, so some "technical" breach apparently isn't enough. It's all political differences, right, though back then many wanted Bill to step down. Anyway, this sort of stupidity warrants some fine too, with me getting a finder's fee of some sort.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


New books on the side panel. Saw a good documentary, Trumbo, concerning a blacklisted screenwriter ... movies like Roman Holiday were written with a "front." Based on a play by his son, it shows his skills as a writer, including his humor (one bit on masturbation had the audience in tears). Major stars provide good readings. One criticism might be that it didn't really examine his political background pre-blacklist -- the point that it is private is fine, surely, but it is known. Also, why wasn't his other daughter interviewed?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Total Failure" at What?

And Also: I cite U.S. v. Stevens below, a federal appellate ruling refusing to uphold federal law banning depicting of animal cruelty when put in interstate commerce for profit. The majority recognized "animals are sentient creatures worthy of human kindness and human care" while the dissent cited a House finding that of the "widespread belief that animals, as living things, are entitled to certain minimal standards of treatment by humans." Still, especially the material that was historical, this doesn't justify such a speech ban.

"God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States -- a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject," Pelosi told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview.

"Total failure" at what?

He went to war, with a complacent (and largely toothless) Congress repeatedly going along, giving him the money he wanted, even token strings blocked. The previous presumptive Democratic presidential nominee went along at the key moment. The actual one voted against occupation funding without strings as a token matter, after mentioning he ("we") didn't want to deny money to the troops in the field (riding fascist spin didn't start in the "keep us safe" vote on FISA ... again, Dodd, Feingold, et. al. should be damned by him for voting not to keep us safe). And, stuck the next President with dealing with his mess, Obama supporting keeping troops in the Green Zone, and more based on the facts on the ground, including open-ended things like regional security. Some failure.

Bush also was no "total failure" at executive power, the recent FISA amendment but the most recent case of the Cheney view of getting us back to more Nixonian mode that old Tricky Dick vet with which is more comfortable. It took the Supreme Court (5-4, two of dissenters confirmed with the help of various Democrats) to negate a bill that stripped habeas corpus, a third of the Dems in the Senate supporting it, the "opposition" left to Republican stalwarts. Past war crimes were immunized via a congressional act, that again gained support from more than a handful of Democrats.

And so forth. [See 7/18] The excesses on some level robbed the executive of "credibility," but again, some failure. A note on a bit from one of the congressional hearings on such matters. Walter Dellinger, former solicitor general in the Clinton years (so clearly a lib ... I snark), was on deck yesterday. A Republican wondered why torture was not allowed, while the death penalty (or assassination of Bin Laden) was. Now, to me, this is not very complicated -- we allow the death penalty in this country, but don't get to (legally) torture (as defined by law) the prisoners. One baby faced congressman actually couldn't figure the "hell" difference between torture and executing rapists of children.*

WD focused on congressional choice (Congress decided to declare torture illegal) and the fact Bin Laden does not have constitutional rights when not in U.S. custody (he ignored the fact that the U.S. itself might still lack certain power -- a core issue, e.g., with Art. I., sec. 9, and international law overall). Fine, but on some level some line has to be drawn. He was asked if torture to prevent the death of Daniel Pearl would be morally and/or legally okay.** WD actually hesitated and admitted it probably could be morally acceptable. This is too big of a step on the road to perdition: it simply is unclear that some act of torture is the sin qua non to information. Also, why stop with foreigners? Why not -- not that these people would -- torture alleged murderers here? And, the act itself is verboten. Why not suggest rape to stop a death?
MR. DELLINGER: No, because there are circumstances in which the president can constitutionally decline to comply with an act of Congress where it would impinge upon the core of his responsibility.

REP. LUNGREN: So the core of the responsibility of Franklin Delano Roosevelt meant circumstances to protect this nation against our enemy, Germany, correct?

MR. DELLINGER: Yes, but --

REP. LUNGREN: And the core of the president of the United States at the present time, at least reflected in these actions, is to attempt to protect us against the terrorist threat that we have at the present time, correct?

MR. DELLINGER: That is correct.

This is obscene. Congress has, for example, the express power to define and punish war crimes (via regulating the armed forces or fleshing out international law). This, as does the Constitution itself, tempers the breadth of executive discretion. The end doesn't justify all means. A top law official under the last Democratic President, however, gave fodder to those who would argue otherwise. In fact, an example given to him involved reprisals -- the whole point of reprisals, disfavored these days, is that normal international rules do not apply when the other side violates them (tit-for-tat). IOW, it is not a breach anyway. Overall, the "core" role of the executive is to uphold the Constitution, not "protect us." Idiot.

All of this makes this far from surprising:
That poll showed that its approval rating had reached an anemic 14 percent, while more than 70 percent of those polled said they disapproved of the job Congress is doing.

The House speaker said she doesn't consider those numbers a negative referendum on the Democrats in charge, saying she thinks they stem largely from Congress' failure to end the war in Iraq.

"Everything I see says this is about ending the war -- 'I disapprove of Congress' performance in terms of ending the war,' " she said. "In the House, we, of course, have over and over, five or six times, sent to the Senate legislation for a time certain to reduce our deployment in Iraq and bring our troops home safely, honorably and soon. We haven't been able to get it past the Senate or the president of the United States.

True up to a point, probably, but the continual weak-willed way it dealt with other issues helped the case. And, the Senate inaction is damning, but it is not like the House is helpless. If it actually wanted to, the House could very well make the Senate's job difficult. Likewise, of course, on FISA and other issues, the House left something to be desired. In fact, even the House's Iraq bills are far from ideal -- it is truly damning their fairly weak limits on presidential control of the Iraq occupation was defeated by their co-branch.

The whys are a separate issue, and the Nader route of saying the hell with middle of the road paths reckless. But, let us not ignore that it is understandable on some level ... enabling war criminals who recklessly are the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths, thousands of our own citizens (plus many more injured, mentally and physically) leads to the very human lashing out at those you think actually have some shred of a conscience on such matters. Bloodless cries to recognize pragmatic reality, or even angry lashing outs against some disgust, really is in bad form.

[On Democracy Now!, Jane Mayer referenced the fears of some that the Bush Administration's policies would lead to criminal prosecutions. How amusing -- Congress apparently cannot even find out what happened, it being somehow protected even though privileges cannot be used to aid and abet lawless action, making its power to define/punish violations of the laws of nations (e.g., torture) etc. toothless at best.]

Once, Molly Ivins voiced the reality that you have to support some losers to prevent something much worse -- she knew what she was talking about, given the nature of Texan politics. [Only a small subset, surely now, truly disagree, even if they have no desire to like or sugar coat it.] And, in real life, you can only do so much. Even great moves forward like Brown v. Bd of Education and the Civil Rights Acts on their own only did so much. Recognizing what is done, how things can be worse, and how having certain people in power gives you at least a chance to succeed is very important.

All the same, I'll largely leave the cheerleading to others. Surely, when Pelosi -- who as an accessory to executive torture and mistreatment by being informed of it and not doing anything about it (among other sins) -- speaks about a "total failure" she helped. There are too many signs the President, who the public truly does think of as something of a sick joke, continues to succeed. This insult to injury is no failure.


* Putting aside those who do think the death penalty is a form of torture, the dissent to a ruling striking down a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty says it well:
While sometimes the line between cruelty to animals and acceptable use of animals may be fine, our society has been living and legislating within these boundaries for centuries, since the advent of the first anti-cruelty law. Although an imprecise analogy, we would posit that preventing torture to humans is an undisputedly compelling interest despite the fact that under certain circumstances it is legal to put a person to death.

[As an aside, this ruling is cited, a sorta weird one in which Thurgood Marshall is criticized by John Paul Stevens as not protecting the rights of prisoners enough. This includes citing an infamous ruling upholding the death penalty after a failed electrocution. OTOH, the ruling looks like a strategic move to declare a broader point, by an unanimous vote, the specific loss less important in the long run. The Brethren suggests Justice Brennan also took this tack, as does strategic refusals of certs.]

** Have not read her book yet, though did see the movie partially based on it, but doubt his widow supports torture in her husband's name.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Smug, Simply Untrue, Blaze of Executive Overreaching, etc.

And Also: The de facto "bill of attainder" label of "enemy combatant" can lead to even citizens to be seized from U.S. soil as long as some vague habeas ruling is available. So said the swing vote in the latest Fourth Circuit ruling on al-Marri. We are not talking combat. We are not talking P.O.W. camp. No, we are talking solitary in some hole somewhere for executive allegations. Try the judicial process ... given his status (long term legal residential alien), al-Marri probably can be charged with treason too.

As I noted in my piece on the two conservatives on Bill Moyers last week, there are principled parties in that group out there. The fact they reference the "smug" nature of the current administration, that the "rule of law deserves better," talk about "a blaze of executive overreaching" (investigation will help "vindicate the Constitution"), oppose the "simply untrue" things they say (suspicious of "the special interest voices that paid by contribution for special 'access' "), and allege deputies like Yoo simply don't understand the nature of attorney-client privilege as applied to the OLC ("for the institution not the person") underlines the fact.

This gives a flavor of the emphatic nature of a recent piece by Douglas Kmiec, "Chair & Professor of Constitutional Law, Pepperdine University [a conservative school]. Previously, he was Head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the administrations of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush." The guy's conservative bona fides are being evident, except to the degree he dares to question el jefe. The essay denounces the excess use of executive privilege, while recognizing some special flexibility to the executive given the times.

And, some dispute on the particulars, like the nature of torture. This is fine as far as it goes, if there is some underlining principle, which is woefully absent on any consistent basis among the conservatives actually in power. The new torture czar's inability to admit that waterboarding is torture and the like (thanks again Chuck!) underlines the point.* The latest is his advising that the President and Vice President allege privilege (in tell tale smug form) to block investigation of the Plame outing. You know, the covert agent whose mission was to deal with WMDs. Why do these people hate what we stand for?
A lingering sense the Church ought not be in the business of bloodshed led Innocent [IV] to stipulate that inquisitors should subcontract interrogations to secular authorities and major hemorrhages, amputations, and death were to be avoided -- but the squeamishness would not last. ...Water torture, sleep deprivation, and prolonged isolation were always the most popular methods.

-- The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson by Sadakat Kadri, discussing 13th Century practice

There are ever more books out there underlining the torture and mistreatment (not the same thing, but often equally illegal, in part based on international law) done in our name. Same old, same old. And, like school where you repeated are provided a refresher course on past lessons, it is unclear how much we learnt from the past. Waterboarding, after all, was damned in the past ... including when done against "those people" after the Spanish-American War. Water "torture" was the subject of woodcuts in the Middle Ages too, but that was some time back. Before you know it, especially with the "well, they are gone, so you can trust us" mentality, the turn of the 21st Century will be as dark in the recesses of our memories as well.

And, dwelling on it (you know, a couple years back) is just bad form, and the Blue Dogs don't really like it. So ...


* Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) whose support was key in his confirmation. BTW, as to torture and the like, DK suggests any possibly classified information requested from Yoo in his recent testimony to Congress could probably be handled via a secret session.

Cf. some who seem to think a "classified" tag (known to be rather overused) suddenly means the executive has sole authority, including from court review (the fact the "state secrets" doctrine arose from a CYA matter that later perhaps didn't involve classified information at all underlines the problem).

Wagner Chokes for the Whole NL This Time

Great game? Well, if you forget who won. The AL. Again. Except for a tie, where this was headed (15th, last AL pitcher started on Sunday), they won every time for over a decade. NL ahead. Top pitcher on the Reds couldn't get another out. Ahead again. Wagner couldn't get one out (Mets just swept Rockies ... insult to injury). Uggla couldn't field or hit in the clutch. And, the AL got the sacrifice by about a step. I care who won. And, given this might help the Red Sox ... not too pleased. NL got into one too many late game jams.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rules are there for a reason

It is troubling that alleged rapists and the like have their pictures plastered in the news while the accusers are kept private. The concern for the rights of those accused of heinous offenses (or even convicted, see the child rape ruling) is underlined by the Central Park jogger (to be local) and JonBenet Ramsey being surely victimized by people later deemed innocent by prosecutors.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Far Left"

And Also: Naomi Watts' early effort, Ellie Parker, concerning the struggles of an actress trying to get a break (as was the case for NW, when the film began being made), is a good rental. A bit episodic, but something different, and overall, she is quite good in it.

Largely accord on this Daily Kos diary (see also here) on a NYT article about the "far left" upset with Obama. You mean, like the paper's own editorial staff?!!! BTW, he did not "flip flop" on the death penalty. Look at his damn book. If some think he did ("don't all lefties like him?"), fine, but a credible article would note they are mistaken. Obama's response to Heller is more of a spin job, a rather lame one, though understandable given the restraints of a Supreme Court ruling. But, the article cannot dwell on such things, since it is a typical "they say" piece.

[And Also, see the comments here for some parsing of his comments in the book that suggests Obama did flip somewhat at least on the death penalty point. But, as my reply suggests, I think that is a stretch. Surely, in context.]

There is also some debate in the Daily Kos comments as to the constitutional weight of the FISA amendment. One suggests he didn't vote to change the Constitution, which can only occur via the amendment process, but just for a bill. As the diary author noted, this is naive. The Constitution develops over time and executive/legislative action influences the process, the Supreme Court often loathe to interfere. This is particularly the case when it comes to executive/legislative power as well as what is "reasonable" for Fourth Amendment purposes. The term clearly is influenced by legislative action and societal understandings. See also, "cruel and unusual."

I a bit more wary on the negative effects, since when you hurt your base, the blowback might very well pop up in troubling ways -- for instance, less work and monetary support. Likewise, in swing states, concerns he is just another weak willed politician can be problematic. The effect on media coverage also is evident. Still, the "damn him" part is my sentiment too -- it really pisses me off that many will respond to critics like me -- concerned with the Constitution and all that other tedious stuff -- with a snide "yeah, like where do you have to go?" Show a bit more respect for the core of your parties, assholes.*

Not that it helps that the Green Party (who actually votes some local officials from time to time) went out and nominated Cynthia McKinney (the libertarians? Bob Barr). Anyways, the "far left" headline rankles. Particularly so since those outside it like Jonathan Turley, Glenn Greenwald and John Dean are wary too, while those who lean conservative are as well, even if it is just to sarcastically note his apparent cynical hypocrisy. Fraudulent framing is sure to negatively affect Obama's path, particularly because how the media and other usual suspects (is the new term, "The Village?") treat him is deemed an important factor to take into consideration.

So, it's like some sort of perpetual motion machine.


* The article has a photo of a couple young progressive activists. Such individuals provide a yeoman effort in loads of cases, including in support of candidates not likely to win, all the time. The tend to passionate believers in party principles, or what they think they are, and snide comments like that basically spit on their efforts. One of the two in photo voices disappointment, but understanding, the usual loyal spouse sentiment:
We’re frustrated by it, but we understand,” said Mollie Ruskin, 22, who grew up in Baltimore and is spending the summer here as a fellow with Politicorps, a program run by the Bus Project, a local nonprofit that trains young people to campaign for progressive candidates. “He’s doing it so he can get into office and do the things he believes in.”

"Loyal spouse" sounds a bit snarky, but it can also be wise, if the loyalty is deserved. Or, sometimes, when it is necessary.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Moyers: Meds and Conservatives

And Also: Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" is now among repeatedly played songs on a Top 40 station I favor. Its subject matter has a bit of bite and it's catchy too. Made me actually to go out to buy the whole CD (One of the Boys), admittedly because it was on sale at Target (given CDs can be close to $20, $8.99 is a great buy). Pretty good ... gender matters turns out to be a favorite theme. BTW, ordered a book Wednesday night from Amazon, got it Friday!

Laura Flanders, the progressive journalist, now has a television show (Grit TV) comparable to her old radio show that I regularly listened to online (via Your Call radio). It is available on Dish Network through Free Speech TV, also a source for Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! program (she comes off a bit too strong and the voices on the show are fairly predictable, but it's an important resource), a weekly show addressing gay issues (Gay TV) and other useful programming. For those who think alternative voices are available, especially media talking heads, Flander's media segment might help. And, I like her offering a forum for amateurs to send videos showing their activism in practice. The show, like DN and others, is repeated several times over the week.

I don't really get my news on t.v. these days, though once upon a time was a fan of 20/20 and David Brinkley on Sunday mornings (the old pro balanced people like Sam Donaldson and George Will, who have great blowhard potential). Nonetheless, I do from time to time watch Flanders and others, especially over the weekend. For instance, Bill Moyers comes on not only Friday nights at 9 (EST), but also Sunday nights at 7. These are lulls, and it is quite easy after dinner or even a football game (can catch the last half, at least, in most cases) to watch the show. Or, some of it. In fact, the last book I read was a direct result of an interview on his show, Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves Into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs by Melody Peterson.

The book has a neat cover photo of a bowl of pills, a sort of breakfast cereal deal (some milky white liquid medicine could be added, perhaps?), a potentially lethal (so says the book) type of fruit loops. And, with the help of money (bribing disk jockeys, problem; bribing doctors? voluntary ethics concern) and a great sales job, they are pushing physicians to be their enablers. A bit from the Moyers' interview with that author:
Petersen reports that almost 65 percent of the nation now takes a drug available only by prescription. Aggressive marketing has turned what were once normal life events into maladies that can be treated with a pill. With our consumer-driven culture, she says, America was ripe to become "a perfect medicine market," where the power of marketing can take an obscure niche drug and turn it into a best seller.

The main theme of the book is the way industry promotes drugs, basically as if it just one more thing we can overconsume (an actual need not necessary) without really any danger being involved. This includes rabid advertising (definitely taken to a new level even in recent memory and largely unregulated vis-a-vis other countries), off label uses, "me too" drugs that are of very little value (and often not worth the cost, in money and health problems), and Bush-like secrecy of just what is going on. In fact, the administration's use of faux news programming (and press fed stories) pops up here too, including industry funded and even ghostwritten articles and research. And, the cost is particularly important because of its affect on health care overall.*

On a separate topic, Moyers had a pair of conservatives on last night, who are part of the effort to save the brand. [As an aside, since the transcript is online, one need not watch each program; some video clips are lost in the process.] I couldn't take them totally seriously for a few reasons. First, the older one is concerned with separation of powers, and how the current batch of Republicans are ignoring it. But, it is not like Nixon and Reagan was so grand in that department. Cheney surely wasn't. Next, the younger one focused on federalism. States being controlled by fundamentalist sorts and the like really doesn't impress me. And, small government? Conservatives aren't libertarians.

If the conservatives want to get some respect, one thing they could have did was vote against the FISA amendment bill. Reckless power give aways to reckless executives is not "conservative," is it? Bob Barr doesn't think so. They would SUPPORT subpoenas of the like of Miers, Bolten and Rove. Robbing the legislative branch of the power to investigate credible (to be overly conservative) problems in the executive branch -- you need not agree btw with the critics when you support the power to ask questions and investigate -- is not "conservative," is it? Heck, even Jesse Helms was protective of congressional power in that respect. And, overall, strongly oppose corruption and incompetence in government.

Where is such things among Republicans in Congress, even a dissident factor? They are like lemmings over there, even among safe seat back-benchers. The fact they are not 100% reprobates aside, as a whole, they act in lockstep. This is not to say that the conservative movement lacks honest voices of dissent, including those who people like me would disagree with much of the time. But, until their alleged representatives in Congress show some spine and principle on a steady basis -- and like a baseball team that loses big and finally rebuilds, the elections might help here -- voices of reform will sound a bit lame.

This includes those that want us to believe "conservatives" were consistently so much better in the past than they are now.


* From the NYT review, we learn some of her recommendations:
Look at the pens and tissue boxes in your doctor’s office. If they feature drug ads, then a drug company representative has been courting your doctor, trying to influence the ways in which that doctor issues prescriptions. Don’t trust paid celebrity drug endorsements. Be aware that your symptoms may be caused not by illness but by medication, especially when more than one medication is involved. Ms. Petersen urges more study of these interactions, particularly on the part of police officers who can assess drunk drivers but not overmedicated ones.

“Our Daily Meds” also advocates more supervision of doctors' research articles, many of which are ghostwritten by drug company spokesmen. It calls for drug watchdog agencies that are not overseen by the government, since government officials can so easily be lobbied. Most drastically, she advocates prison time for executives implicated in pharmaceutical crimes

Ultimately, she suggests it is up to us, the consumers. And, too often, victims. Educate yourself, don't buy the hype, and be careful. Don't be a victim of irony.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"nation of men, not laws"

And Also: American and the Courts on C-SPAN last Saturday replayed Scalia's appearance with Brian Lamb in promotion of his new book on legal writing and such. He had to defend Bush v. Gore again -- he can't just say it was a tough case, but justices have to rule how they deem fit. He has to say we should forget about it, claim a key part was 7-2 (Breyer joined Stevens in full and Ginsburg dissented too ... um ...), claim we know it would go Bush's way anyway (nope), etc. Still, looks pretty good for a guy over 70.

Barack Obama's surrender on the FISA fight was a perfect example of giving in when fighting back could have accomplished so much more. Obama surrendered both his base and his convictions (He's a Constitutional law professor, for fuck's sake!) to please the chattering class of so-called "centrist" pundits and weed carriers who demand repeated obeisance to Republican and corporatist aims in order to appear Sensible, Serious, and Respectable. With a word, he could have roused his supporters and activists to fight this thing to the bitter end, and assured his place in history as an avatar of real change. Instead, he folded, and now it's hard to see him as anything more than a typical politician who promises whatever's politically convenient at the time.

-- Open Left

To add insult to injury, Sen. Clinton voted against the bill. Explain her away as a safe nay vote, we still have Senate titans like Feingold and Dodd strongly against this travesty, apparently because (to take the lede of Sen. Obama's original statement on why he was voting "yea") they don't care about keeping America safe. Plus over a hundred Dems in the House. Put up or shut-up when the chance to show some courage and principle arises. How sweet it was when the House Dems actually blocked this thing a few months back. But, it was but a cruel tease, and in place until 2012! Obama earned some disgust here fair and square, even if he doesn't think we matter.

Of special note, is the lies and bullshitting we have to take -- I don't like to be lied to or bullshitted, Mr. Obama. Not alone in that, either. Okay? BTW, a special "fu" to Rachel Maddow's fill-in, who let some apologist (whose family member works for a telecom!) get away with calling in and giving the "it's all about money" (non-profit public interest law firms) and 9/11 (lawless spying years after, though laws mattered on 9/12 too) talking points without comment. If you don't have the facts, facts repeated repeatedly by the usual sources on this topic, on this day in particular, you do not belong on a liberal talk show.

We are a nation of men, not laws, today. Weak men. One last thing. The depths of this legislation is underlined by the fact that the immunity provision was included even though we don't even know what exactly went on. An amendment to only provide immunity once a real investigation (and even then, in-house) occurs was voted down. It is therefore not surprising that even experts aren't quite sure what this legislation will mean in practice. There is an overall black box flavor to it all.

Our Democratic Congress and nominee in action! Timely book recommend: The Intruders: Unreasonable Searches and Seizures from King John to John Ashcroft by Samuel Dash. (He died shortly after publication, so cannot update the title.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Obama's Move to the Center?

And Also: Interesting baseball weekend, especially with the Mets stressing you out during their three of four vs. the Phillies. Not that I care, but there was also a great tennis game. And, Army Wives had a very good episode, with several good subplots. A bit iffy as a whole so far this season, but that episode was basically good from start to finish.

The meme these days is that Obama is spinning to the center, the more critical saying he is flip flopping and so forth. It should be underlined that on various issues, Obama's positions have been consistent. In his book, Obama supported the death penalty in cases society deems heinous (e.g., rape of children). Working with religious community groups was an important building block in his rise to power. He has not been as anti-occupation as many (Glenn Greenwald suggested yesterday, the majority of the American people) would like. And so on. This sort of thing turned people off before, and those who think these sort of things are new get more informed.

[I don't know his past comments on guns, but the standard line for Dems these days is an individual rights view with regulations, so supporting Heller would not be that surprising either ... but as the NYT said, if Obama supports local regulations, that was what the handgun ban was -- not a top down federal law, but akin to Chicago banning handguns.]

But, those who want to take Obama off the hook really have to get a clue too. The key point is the FISA amendment, which some just want to ignore. The problem is threefold. One, on the merits, bad. Both on civil liberties and as a check of Bush/executive power. Dodd's great floor remarks underlines the point. Two, he promised to filibuster a bill with immunity, so he comes off as a phony. Ditto his past comments on warrants etc. -- now, not so important, huh? Finally, politically, it's a bad call -- he framed ("keep us safe" / "compromise") things using the Republican playbook. Various comments on message boards and the like, however, are of the "get over it" variety.

You can take this from Broder-like commentators, but TPM message boards? Boards that in effect call the critics anti-Obama or whiners? The framing issue is what really upset someone over at TPM and is an ongoing theme at Glenn Greenwald's abode. This is a problem with a response to a question on late term abortions -- he opposes them for "mental distress." See here for extended discussion, but again, problematic on more than one level.

First, and foremost, it walks into Republican framing. This is especially the case if you actually look at the numbers involved here (two clinics perform third trimester abortions, but surely emergency procedures are performed elsewhere). And, as with FISA, it leads to "compromises" that do a lot more than the bare words or intention of a statute might. See, the "partial abortion" ban. Second, there are various situations when it is a bad position. For instance, fetuses with severe fetal abnormalities that do not endanger the woman's physical health or children who are victims of sexual abuse.

And, there is the mix of positions that can be somewhat problematic and/or might [also] be a matter of framing. Let's not be shocked that the media can be pro-McCain or wants to make a story out of what turns out to be fairly bland statements. The sign of a good candidate is one who can handle such things. So, I would not take Obama totally off the hook for saying he will 'refine' his Iraq policy per facts on the ground. If you want to call the press or whatever you want to call the likes of Chris Matthews and AP reporters (TPM is a good source for McCain coverage, including his fans in the media) of a certain sort idiots, but that's how things work. You have to use your words carefully.

Ditto, those that complain about the media without also saying "uh, why is McCain so gung ho about saying Obama now supports McCain's position?" Maybe, because no one likes McCain's position? IOW, the idea is not just to complain, but frame things the right thing for your side too. Finally, Obama's facts on the ground include things like stability. Uh huh. That suggests how -- if you want -- you can always find some reason to keep troops there. And, a self-fulfilling prophecy arises.

I'm not part of the "St. Obama" brigade [e.g., one of the abortion posts cited just "loves" him], so try to look at his campaign with a nuanced eye. There are things to be concerned about, including "compromise" meaning sacrificing basic liberties, sometimes for nothing much in return. This is sometimes is the basic definition of "centrist," a concept that should not leave such a bad taste in one's mouth. But, given how the national government handled things of late, with a special nod to the Republicans, it is a brand that requires more faith than some are willing to supply.

I think we are ready for it ... more importantly, it is the best we can hope for at the moment. But, the devil is in the details.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pagaent and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans - all Americans
Free forever more

How quiet, how quiet the chamber is
How silent, how silent the chamber is

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

- John Adams (1776)

This film is on TCM tonight at 11 (EST). The DVD has a good commentary track. I also saw a revival of the play some years back. Enjoyable too.

Clueless Slate Writers, Misinformed Consent, etc.

And Also: Happy Fourth of July. This country is all about not settling, demanding our rights to life, liberty and happiness are truly upheld. So, continual muckraking and the like on my part is as good as firecrackers and barbecues to honor this holiday, no? BTW, NYT announced Jesse Helms died. Who knew he was still alive? He is labelled a "conservative." Does the term no favors though it probably does him some (one can think of other labels).

A regular at Lawyers Drugs and Money references the "progressives/liberals/Democrats are wrong, but not quite for the reason you think" flavor of many pieces at Slate, particularly focusing on William Saletan's "advice" to promote abortion rights.* Now, some time ago, I recognized the skills of those who professionally had to act even if done so in a rather bad way. Simply remembering those lines (how those on stage do it, even if they miss a few, is especially hard to fathom -- newbies must have cheats of some sort) is amazing.

The same might be said about those who write articles -- you try to do it (well, they do have editors) on a consistent basis, even if it is true various aspects leave something to be desired. Anyway, there is probably something to the idea that some editors and publishers aren't too concerned if the material leaves something to be desired. Various reasons. First, given all the content, there simply cannot always be consistently good material. Second, many readers accept this or in some fashion do not rebel. Third, some readers like responding to the stuff -- see Slate fray (it's fun, I got to say) -- and tend to continue reading all the same (with limits -- see Kausfiles). Finally, some do eat it up overall.

Still, one can justify this stuff only so far. First, there are seriously good blogs (hint on my style: I cite Glenn Greenwald a lot, but it is just meant to serve as a convenient example, suggested by how many things he himself cites; I also like citing a court opinion to get a flavor of what I'm saying since it too expands out to other sources) by many who actually do other things too (GG apparently is doing this full time now, but that wasn't always the case). The amount of material they provide underlines "it's hard" is not a great excuse. Second, for all those who criticize, many go along with the wrong-minded stuff. Finally, simply, if it's wrong, it's wrong. This especially includes those from sources like Slate that have the veneer of consistently liberal.

Last time, I briefly cited the magazine's two pieces on Wesley Clark -- when a question made it a perfectly relevant statement to make -- saying that McCain's service record doesn't necessary give him the executive experience necessary to be President. HORRORS! Focusing on the "gaffe" over the substance, and adding some alleged reasons for it, those articles are helping McCain to promote a false message. I note as well that some want to take the Obama camp off the hook as well, see also the FISA issue. But, as my link last time noted (expressing an event also cited by TPM, Digby, GG, Balloon Juice, Lawyers Drugs and Money, etc., all trustworthy sources), his own spokesman said Clark did something wrong. Something Obama didn't agree with. What exactly?

[Much less clear is claims Obama is backing down on his Iraq policy. His wording might cause some to distrust him -- mistrust not helped by some of his actions on FISA, the Iraq Occupation, etc. -- and healthy distrust is pretty much a good thing when it comes to executive power. Still, this seems about right. Responding to simplistic framing will be a continual concern for his campaign.]

Anyway, this entry was directly inspired by that new trend -- Slate hands writing NYT Book Review pieces. The latest was Jack Shafer on Arianna Huffington, and it fits in the above narrative fairly well. This isn't too surprising -- he is a self-interested party, a subject of part of what AH is criticizing -- the MSM. A reader might miss the point by reading the review, since it doesn't really let us in to the (admittedly fairly obvious) point that there is a clear conflict of interest here.

Either way, the review is dubious on various points overall, missing the point on such things as the media bury the lede (the fact certain info is mentioned doesn't mean it is emphasized as compared to other material), the repeated examples of the Democrats -- even while in power -- enabling Bush, and the fact that yes, Jack, McCain is not that much of a sign of the Bush Republicans losing, even if some conservatives don't like the guy. And, is Shafer serious when he says that "accusing the Democratic Party of pussyfooting after it has retaken both houses of Congress and now knocks on the White House door with a liberal candidate doesn't scan" ... where the hell has he been?

Now, AH probably trusted too much in McCain in the past -- a closer look probably would suggest he didn't change too much deep down. And, polemics tend to be somewhat overheated, leading to some patronizing cynicism. But, Shafer's "why is she so upset" routine is annoying.


* One major point made by LDM is that we should take the realistic likely result of abortion policies and decisions, as well as their potential scope, over some rosy-eyed view of things. Thus, Casey et. al. does not necessarily lead to the likes of Kennedy's "partial birth abortion" ruling, but by weakening the level of scrutiny required and welcoming many more regulations, the result is unsurprising. This results in things like the "misinformed consent" ruling that twists precedents in ways that sadly is not only predictable, but probably not too opposed by those who supported the weakened Casey path.

[OTOH, even some against abortion find the ruling troubling, on pragmatic and free speech grounds. The various posts on the XX blog over there, including the piece on Eve from Wall-E, btw, good reading]

The dissent in the federal appellate case is good reading, including cites to the likes of Scalia and Thomas to underline the slanted moralistic script [talking about embryos being "life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being"] physicians are required to read under the law, as well as a reminder that the same attorney "here unsuccessfully advocated for a common law rule [in a New Jersey case] requiring physicians to make strikingly similar statements to their patients."

I'd add that requiring physicians to tell women that they have an "existing relationship" with their embryo is dubious too. What does that mean? Do women have relationships with their fertilized eggs too?

Obama Quickies

See Glenn Greenwald on how Obama (dis)respects the 4th Amendment. And, other "oh come on" moves, including the response to Clark's comments on McCain. Compare. Even if some think the fact they are "true" doesn't matter too much or claims that they are attacks sorta makes them attacks. [moved from 4th of July post]

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Book/Film Update

A few good things that I happened to come across by chance. I pass a Borders most days on the way home, so check out the selection around once a week. The way to go is to reserve any good books at the library -- NYC is a big system, and you can have a book coming from any branch from three boroughs (Queens and Brooklyn are separate). This provides a convenient process -- pick up the book that has come in, drop off what I have read, watched or listened to, and then do some other Saturday morning errand. And, you just might find something else there (e.g., You Know Where To Find Me) of interest.

[There are also a ton of Starbucks and not a few Dunkin Donuts around, too much of the latter apparently, since they are going to close six hundred or so. I finally bought a Starbucks coffee -- nothing special, but $1.75 is relatively normal for a 12oz. One Dunkin Donuts is convenient in particular both because it takes credit/cash cards and because it is near the subway. OTOH, not a big fan of knowing how many calories are in some of that stuff. Over 500 for a muffin? Really?]

Anyways, recently, I saw Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian, a Vermont based fiction writer with whom I am not familiar. The title is of course a pun -- a small town divorcee/school teacher (Allison) falls for her college professor (Dana -- nice unisex name), who eventually lets her into the fact that he is really a transsexual about to have a sex change operation. This causes various difficulties, largely to the school teacher. All the same, the book has a nice set-up in which we see things through the perspectives of Allison, Dana, Will (Allison's ex) and Carly (their college age daughter). It's good to see things through different people's eyes generally, and this revolving first person narrator works fine.

And, the book as a whole is a good read too, in large part because of the characters. The story is not totally predictable, which is nice, though nothing too horrible happens or anything. The dad is in public radio, and that sort of gives a flavor of the main characters (middle class, at least somewhat liberal, etc.). As a review says, a bit too nice, but I guess sometimes we want a bit too good to be true characters, even if it hurts the dramatic edge a bit (there is a bit more edge than suggested by the review). Overall, I personally think sex is not sexual orientation -- it is something deep inside of you. Even if people think one can ignore it. And, along with NIMBY, the book suggests even beyond homosexuality, transsexuality is still a taboo. [The book was written before civil unions.]

On another front, I largely saw WALL-E by chance as well, this time because of the few places that takes a free movie ticket I have plus the limited selection of movies for me to watch generally. On first glance, the movie didn't look promising, some sort of cutsie ET thing or something. But, overall, it is a very good movie. One plus is that it has the courage to have chunks of almost silent stretches with WALL-E (waste collector on a worn out earth, hundreds of years in the future, with only a cockroach for company) going about alone (and lonely). You basically have a mix of live action (so to speak) and animation, an overall creative mix. And, the animated short at the beginning was cute.

Charming romance too -- a little too cutesy toward the end (his mate is EVE, who is programmed to look for signs of life), but the scenes of the lazy fat humans (animated except for some taped material) hits a nerve too. As does the fact that deep down they are good souls, wanting a connection with others and to "live" not just exist. Overall, good movie-making as well as enjoyable family entertainment. On some level, parts of it are rather sad, but the same probably can be said about other works too (teen caught in a tower? beloved mom died young and dad chose unwisely to replace her?).

As with treats, movies need not be too saccharine to still be good for children too. BTW, I caught Persepolis on DVD ... for all the extras, including behind the scene stuff and Q&E. It's nice to see the author ... she's a cutie. The DVD was supposed to have an English version of the movie (that is, English voices ... it is animated), but I didn't see it. Anyway, it would probably lose some of its charm that way -- the movie has an interesting look, and the foreign language soundtrack (French) adds helps the overall feel.

How about those Rays? 2.5 in first now! Best record in baseball! If nothing else, even a major collapse should not prevent them from being over .500, which I don't know if they ever was.