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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed by Sherrod Brown

Katrina: Why did we hear about President Bush "cutting his vacation short" before he actually did so (he actually did today, on Day Three)? And, given he cut it short by two days, who gives a shit? Likewise, how about all the National Guard personnel and other resources in Iraq that could be helping the citizens here? Or, cuts and other lack of emphasis (admittedly not just by the Bush White House ... locals had a laissez faire attitude about a possible natural disaster) of homeland security? Mother Nature can be quite a bitch, huh?

Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has written a brief against "free trade" and it is a good counterweight to CAFTA and all the other efforts that go the other way. Efforts that ultimately, as shown by the votes in CAFTA, face strong opposition, opposition that has potential to grow even stronger. In my own view, "free trade" is a nice ideal, but as Tina Rosenberg discusses here, we do not have it ... and what we do have leaves something to be desired. Rep. Brown underlines the point in a more forceful matter and spells out the Myths of Free Trade:
-- Americans Believe in Free Trade
-- Free Trade Agreements Are Necessary To Fight The War On Terrorism
-- Free Trade Is An Extension On American Values Abroad
-- Free Trade Leaves Most People Better Off -- In Rich And Poor Nations Alike
-- Free Trade Will Bring Democracy, Human Rights, And Freedom To Authoritarian Nations
-- The North American Free Trade Agreement Has Been A Success
-- Free Trade Is A Great American Tradition

The numbers suggest that the American public is unsure about "free trade" as currently expressed in our trade policy, specifically concerned with certain measures that are worse when one determines that free trade is the panacea so many of its advocates suggest. The second myth appears to me just another way use 9/11 to promote bad policies. As to promoting American values and success overall -- you know the good ones -- the problem is not free trade overall, but the form we use today. And, the trade imbalance -- worsening according to the book -- does not suggest we (as compared to corporations) as a nation are benefiting so much by the status quo.

First, "free trade" was never truly our policy, especially in the first hundred or so years of our history, which had many moves to protect domestic industries.* It is not really the case today -- the encyclopedia nature of these trade policies suggests otherwise. Second, there is a way -- really there seems to be -- to have free trade successfully. It's a question of definition, to use that overused term. The trade should promote "freedom" -- it is unclear how allowing multinationals to sue nations for passing environmental regulations does this or looking the other way when China uses prison slave labor.

Global trade is surely a necessary part of the 21st Century. Workers in Third World Nations flock to the lousy factories that are discussed in this book -- people flocked to factories in this nation in the late 19th Century. This does not mean that they were being exploited and worker rights etc. were not of fundamental importance. And, our government secured such rights and protections, just as a national health insurance plan is of fundamental importance today.

It is quite possible to have trade agreements with other countries and further such goals as well. The EU Union type NAFTA organization that protects not only industry interests but also human interests proposed by Brown is a good idea. The book overall is a passionate book written by a true believer with hope for the future. This is the sort of passion that I want in my leaders, a notable contrast from the likes of Sen. Kerry ... the sort that notes that he believes in side agreements to protect workers, agreements that have the value such afterthoughts deserve. People with their heart perhaps in the right place, but will not catch the nation's hearts.

The potential is there, if people just seize it.


* One of the best parts of the book explains how free market idol Adam Smith was not quite as laissez faire as many of his so-called followers suggest. The state of the Christian Right these days suggest this follows a familiar theme.

I would add that the lack of notes is a questionable choice, resulting in various cites and quotes that cannot be checked. I know few actually do that sort of thing, but sometimes they are useful.

Roberts: No

The Alliance For Justice has put out an over hundred page report on the record of Judge John Roberts, explaining its opposition to his confirmation. Its summary:
Judge Roberts’ consistent record suggests that he would limit Congress’ long-standing ability to address nationwide problems, restrict the courts’ historic authority to vindicate individual rights and legal protections, expand the powers of the president and law enforcement and lower the wall separating church and state. This record raises a number of serious concerns that warrant in-depth exploration at Judge Roberts’ hearing.

Early on, it quotes former Acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, who recently stated, "[i]t does not seem unfair for a senator to associate a nominee with the most fundamental legal policies of an administration in which the nominee chose to serve in a senior policymaking position." This is what I really hang my hat on: the claim that his strongly conservative views while a part of the Reagan and Bush administrations does not really reflect his judicial ideology seems to me at best facetious. Dellinger's essays over at Slate not surprisingly reflects the arguments he submitted while Solicitor General. One simply does not hold true that one is chosen to top policymaking positions based on brains alone. It surely is not the case in the Reagan and Bush White Houses.

And, Roberts' views in those roles simply are too conservative and executive power friendly for my tastes. A few too many "so-called" fundamental rights and limited views on promoting equality. A few too much support for selective jurisdiction stripping proposals to promote conservative views. And, a few too much support of executive power. Governmental restraint, including for judges, suddenly goes to the wayside (including vis-a-vis local action) when the executive is involved with these people.

The report is a rather impressive act of advocacy, especially given the time restraints, and the fact that it is generally for a rather limited audience. My not so revolutionary prediction is that it won't convince that many people, surely not enough to defeat the Roberts nomination. Hopefully, it and other similar efforts, might affect the debate including some of the questioning during the hearings. And, maybe, just maybe, a fairly straight Democrat vote against the confirmation.

I do not care if he might be "the best we can do" -- a 60-40 vote will not mean a worse person will be confirmed, right? It will just underline that the Democrats oppose the sentiments supported by Roberts, apparently a smart/nice guy, but one whose views leave a bit to be desired. And, while voting against him, the Dems (except for the usual suspects ... and who knows, maybe a Republican or two) can say why. The report provides some fodder.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Kelo Again

And Also: Good use of a puff piece. Another reason why doing one's job is not part of the Bush Administration's job description (unless the job is following the Bush line) (Halliburton Edition).

Michael Dorf takes up Justice Stevens relatively uncontroversial remark that two recent rulings clearly followed the Constitution, but that the actual policy decisions were in his opinion unwise. This is expressed now and again in opinions themselves, often dissents, in which the justice says "if I was a legislator ..."

And, people of all ideological stripes tend to do it now and again. The principle fairly straightforward, Dorf spends the final third of his column defending Kelo. In effect, he says that Stevens should agreed with both the constitutional principle and the legislative policy. This part of the essay leaves something to be desired, especially given his "this is fairly obvious" tone.
Everybody concedes that if the stadium will be owned by the city, then its construction constitutes a public use that will support the power of eminent domain. But, under the rule of the Kelo critics, if the city wants the stadium to be built and owned privately, then the use is no longer "public." Does that make any sense?

If you think it does make sense, suppose the city itself builds the stadium. Is it forbidden from ever selling the stadium to a private party? If not, how long must the city wait before making such a sale before facing litigation contending that its temporary ownership of the property was merely a pretext for a Takings-Clause-violating private-party-to-private-party transfer?

I'm not sure if "everyone" thinks that the government can take private property in this fashion for the "public" use of running a sports stadium. A few do think this was concerned with court buildings and the like. This is why the question of sale is not so obvious -- eminent domain was not chiefly concerned with this sort of thing.

It does make sense to require the stadium to be run publicly in some fashion. What if the owners just sell the stadium in two years and leave for fresher pastures (perhaps go to Baltimore)? I assume that sale too might be required to further "public use," though that seems a questionable reduction of property rights. But, this underlines the point that some middle ground might be available, if "public use" is deemed to have some actual meat to it. The opinion's tone seems to suggest otherwise.

Finally, public amusement is a lot closer to"public use" than simple economic development. This answers in part the transfer question.
Given the vocal criticism that economic libertarians (and others) have leveled against Amtrak, do they really want to advocate an interpretation of the Fifth Amendment that would lock in government ownership of railroads and other public projects facilitated by the power of eminent domain.

This doesn't really follow. The railroads and such would probably be intimately regulated, though, since the land is being taken for "public use." Anyway, again, this is a big step away from economic development per se. Ditto with the reference to government supported health insurance and the like. The Constitution arguably supports this under its General Welfare Clause etc. Libertarians might not like it as a policy matter. But, that kind of makes Stevens point.
Unlike the use of the eminent domain power, the use of the powers to enter into contracts and impose taxes do not trigger the protections of any specially-tailored constitutional provision.

You mean besides the Contracts Clause? Again, this might be true to an extent (though surely there are limits on taxation -- the libertarians surely think so), but a constitutional argument would be that this is just a flaw in the text. The Takings Clause itself is a "specially-tailored" provision that guards against certain actions.
Second, although Kelo was the first Supreme Court case in which a private home was taken in a forced sale to be conveyed to a private developer, the principle that public use means public purpose--regardless of whether the ultimate transferee is public or private--has been well established for decades. Yet there is little evidence of widespread abuse of the power.

The first statement tempers the second -- this sort of thing in particular is not "well established." It is the FIRST time the Supreme Court decided the matter. As to the absence of "widespread abuse," I do not know what he means. Surely, critics have horror stories. And, Kelo will only open the door wider.
Yet, at the same time, that publicity has sparked an even greater response in the other direction; local, state and national politicians eager to keep their jobs will not lightly use their eminent domain power, now that they see the intense public hostility towards forced sales of homes to private developers.

It's nice that the public, helped by the conservatives in power (though various liberals are upset too), recognize the potential problem. But, I wonder if Dorf would suggest a threat to the First Amendment would be so easily answered. Anyway, such outrage often has a short life, things eventually returning to normal.
Fourth and finally, the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause is not the only constitutional protection for homeowners.

This not only goes against the statement above that economic policies generally do not have specific limitations placed on them, but in practice, such protections are applied somewhat haphazardly. A blatantly inequitable decision might be handled, but even them not all the time. This final point would be a bit more reassuring if Justice Kennedy's concurrence was the opinion of the court, the limits put on eminent domain a bit more forthrightly applied.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Iraq: What's the Best We Can Do?

BTC News has an excellent piece on the state of our troops in Iraq as well as the complicating factor of private security companies, a sort of outsourcing of the war. A NYT Magazine piece is referenced:
And the private security companies are, almost surely, eroding elite sectors of the military; the best-qualified troops, the men most desirable to the companies, are lured by private salaries that can be well more than twice their own. The Special Forces have lately responded with re-enlistment bonuses of up to $150,000. It's not enough.

We have heard a bit about this issue in the news, especially when four private contractors were cruelly strung up by insurgents (insert correct name here). Nonetheless, actual open debate and planning have been somewhat lacking:
Yet it is hard to discern who authorized this particular outsourcing as military policy. No open policy debate took place; no executive order was publicly issued. And who is in charge of overseeing these armed men? One thing is sure: they are crucial to the war effort. In April 2004, within a few months of Triple Canopy's arrival in Iraq, its men were waging a desperate firefight to defend a C.P.A. headquarters in the city of Kut. The Mahdi Army had launched an onslaught. ...

Back in October of last year, a Congressional bill demanded that the Department of Defense come up with a plan to manage the security companies -- to investigate individual backgrounds and inculcate rules of engagement and enforce compliance. ... Nine months have passed. The Pentagon has now promised the document any day; there's no telling whether it will change anything -- what guidelines it will give, what level of commitment will be behind them. ... It was hard not to think that the infant government of Iraq would be left mostly on its own to control the thousands of private gunmen that the American-led occupation has introduced to the country. It was hard not to think that the companies would be left to govern themselves.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole has some good ideas [which include a realistic view on the value of oil security] on what our next steps will be. This might be taken to mean that some of them will be since after a point even unrealistic backassed backward policy has to face up to reality, while others will be done in a haphazard messy way if at all. This is why I tend not to dwell on this situation too much -- it was wrong from the beginning, and even good results are often hard to contemplate.

This is why I'm about to read a book on the Prohibition movement in the United States ... either that, or because this sort of thing drives one to drink.

Georgia Photo Id Voting Law

And Also: Jon Stewart's book on America has a somewhat distasteful "match the robe to the justice" feature in which each justice is nude (and anatomically correct).

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday approved a controversial Georgia law requiring photo identification to vote at the polls, and its opponents immediately vowed to challenge the measure in federal court. ...

Nineteen states require voters to show identification, but only five request photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those states - Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota - allow voters without a photo ID to use other forms of identification or sign an affidavit of identity.

There has been some angry blogging about this law, including those that basically imply that "The Justice Department has just given Georgia the go-ahead to disenfranchise anyone who doesn't have a driver's license." But, that's not true. First, though the coverage simply does not tell me what they are, there are six acceptable forms of photo identification.* Second, one is allowed to submit a provisional ballot and show id later.

Third, though it is noted that only about a third of the counties have places to get them, those without a driving license can get a non-driver's license identification -- free of charge if they are poor, elderly, or only going to use it to vote. No id is needed to vote ("no-excuse") absentee, a logical way for older black voters to vote. Finally, efforts are underway already to have "roving" license boards going to nursing homes and the like to deal with those who vote and might not have driving licenses.

The basic problem seems to be that the law is not necessary, as noted by the Secretary of State, and failure to point out one case of voting fraud that such a law would prevent. Likewise, it is seen as a racist throwback with comments like "Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said he could not forget those who 'bled, sweated and died' for his right to vote and serve in elected office" fairly prevalent in some quarters. Finally, the FEC in the past as well as a few court decisions have noted that these measures disproportionately burden minorities.

The law on some level appears to me legitimate. It is generally a good idea to have an official photo id, since these days so many places require them. This raises the availability problem -- that it is harder for some voters, especially the elderly (who also would be more sensitive to this issue given past limitations), to get them in Georgia. And, apparently, some efforts are being made in that department. The provisional ballot is an important, if still possibly risky, check as well. I truly wonder how many would be harmed.

But, the key thing seems to be the symbolism. The need for an id card to vote is a red flag, especially for those who suffered a history of discrimination. Thus, other states with photo id requirements were sure to insert exceptions and other means of identification. The fact there is no major, or even minor, problem of voter fraud helped by this law also makes it problematic. Thus, even if the class of people who will suffer is relatively small, the cost/benefit ratio is low.

The uniqueness (another state apparently also recently passed this sort of law, and a few others might follow) of the law also is troubling. Federal approval was a dubious move and might be overturned by the courts. And, yes, the support by the state Republicans was questionable, and worthy of flagging. But, symbolism aside, I'm not sure how many will be that upset about the law.


* This is just plain wrong. Let us say we take someone like a person I know who does not yet have a driver's license, but until recently had an active college id to a county community college. Does this count?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Few Thoughts

Iraqi Constitution As I consider our own, others are trying their hand at writing a new Iraqi Constitution. Since our own experience is being used by some as a comparison, a few points: our original (Articles of Confederation) was written during a war, but took years to ratify (1777/81). Also, the control of oil revenue is interesting -- except for overall reserves, our way is private ownership. Do conservatives oppose this and the affirmative action program that requires a minimum number of women in the assembly? And, what of this 2/3 of each section having a veto? We needed 9 states of 13 to ratify our Constitution!

Morning After Pill: "Federal drug regulators have once again rejected an application to allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill, saying that they need 60 days to gather public reaction to the plan." Two senators, including Sen. Clinton, put a hold on the nomination of the FDA commissioner to force a ruling, and one was promised by Sept. 1. I guess this counts, huh?
The agency's decision comes in the wake of years of study and wrangling. The F.D.A. initially approved the drug as an emergency contraceptive that would be available by prescription only in July 1999. In April 2003, Barr Laboratories filed an application to sell the pill over-the-counter. A committee of independent advisors voted, 23-4, in December 2003 to approve the application.

Although the agency usually follows the counsel of its advisors, Dr. Steven Galson, a top agency official, said then that he decided to reject the application because he said Barr had provided little information about how young teens might react to easy availability of the drug. He said that he was worried that young girls might engage in riskier sexual behavior if they knew they could get the drug.

As noted in a piece that discussed the seedy nature of a leader of the four that opposed the decision, this is dubious at best. The likelihood that availability of another contraceptive would have much effect on the sexual habits of young teenagers, especially since they already could get it with a prescription and parental consent, is suffice to say low. If you want, limit its availability in respect to those under sixteen. But, this mixture of ideology and medicine policy is wrongheaded. Cut the BS, and follow the norm -- 23-4 indeed.

Plame Summary: The Los Angeles Times has a very good extended account of the events that sometimes has an accurate dubious tone such as:
What role Plame played in securing the mission for her husband has become a noisy sideshow to the substantive questions his trip raised about prewar intelligence. It is not clear why Plame's role would have been relevant to Wilson's uranium findings. But it was very important in the campaign to discredit him.

And ...
Wilson seemed a credible critic: His diplomatic leadership as charge d'affaires in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq just before the 1991 bombing of Baghdad had earned him letters of praise from President George H.W. Bush.

That made him dangerous to the administration. ....

Within 24 hours, the White House reversed its view of the damage Wilson could do. He began to receive the attention of Rove, a man with a reputation for discrediting critics and disciplining political enemies, and of Libby, a longtime Cheney advisor and CIA critic. ....

This approach depended largely on a falsehood: that Wilson had claimed Cheney sent him to Niger. Wilson never made such a claim.

You know information that might have been relevant in 2004. Oh vey. Anyway, even for those that have followed the events, such a comprehensive overview is worthwhile and should be encouraged.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Upholding One's Oath To Do One's Job

And Also: John Dean argues that Robertson's comments might very well be an actionable "true threat." I don't buy it. There should be a more direct one on one intent and possibility of harm. It surely can't be legal under the First Amendment to prosecute an opinion that some evil dictator should be "taken out" or the like. I'm not sure where such criminality of opinion would stop. A closer question might be if he had a dissident from Chavez's country on the show (or if he was visiting this country) and said the same thing. Dean might be right that Pat's literal conservative brand of law would stretch things that far. But, that's something else.

Justice Stevens publicly called the policy behind the medicinal marijuana bans and broad definition of "public use" to include seizure of private property for economic development "unwise" but constitutional. Nothing new about that -- in the 1970s, in a dissenting opinion, he noted personal opposition to minimum wage laws but argued that the federal regulation constitutionally can be applied to state employees.

The theme is well know, most famously perhaps when Justice Kennedy noted that he personally opposed flag burning, but burning a flag in protest is constitutionally protected. Texas v. Johnson. The overall theme, conventional wisdom (so to speak) aside, is fairly uncontroversial. Justices do not just vote their policy choices, but what they feel the Constitution demands. Anyway, again, those glasses Stevens is wearing are freakening huge.

Bob Herbert on the other hand explains how doing one's job is likely to get you in trouble in the Bush Administration. To wit:
The Bush administration is replacing the director of a small but critical branch of the Justice Department, months after he complained that senior political officials at the department were seeking to play down newly compiled data on the aggressive police treatment of black and Hispanic drivers.

His senior status did allow him to look for another government job. The trend is well known for those willing to see it. For instance, various scientists have complained and expressed concerned that reports have been edited to remove politically controversial facts (e.g., the true breadth of the harms of global warning). Opposition to the accepted view during the lead up to the war was seen as a problem, if not a reason to out one's spouse. A park's official lost her job for speaking out respecting the problems in that department. And, the persona non grata status of Colin Powell in some quarters for limited dissent is also known.

It is good to know at least some people truly stay loyal to their oath/affirmation to support the Constitution and their job requirements as spelled out in Art. VI for all federal officers. Sad that this does not include certain top ones.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Venezuela: Robertson and Bush Together

And also: NYT discussed a study that holds that fetal pain is not present until around the 29th week. From my reading, it seems to me that the general consensus was that it might be sometime around viability, though some say earlier. So, it was a bit striking it was so late. Not sure how something like this can be quantified exactly. Still, since at least 99% of abortions occur before the 25th week, the study caught my eye.

[Note: Incorrect link removed; the latest update is that he "apologized" for making a statement that grew out of his desire somehow to deal with a desperate situation, but also brought up a German who said that he would have a moral need to kill Hitler if given the chance. Wink wink.]

Rev. (sic) Pat Robertson, like the Ministry of Information for Oceania, went on television today to say that he did not say what he said. The problem, apparently a regular one, is AP reports misquoting him. He really -- ignore the audio heard on Air America and so forth -- did not say we should assassinate the elected president of Venezuela. He only said we should "take him out," which could be done by kidnapping and the like. You know when he prayed that certain justices of the Supreme Court would retired with the help of God.

The only thing one can be amused about -- though I did tell someone recently this sort of thing does amuse me in a dark sort of way as does so much in the world these days -- is that his show at times is followed by the Gilmore Girls on the Family Channel. GG is a "family" show too, and it was a good addition to the network, but simply put the two girls reject most things this smuck stands for. I also hear that certain "family" groups (the sort that make it a four letter word) are "too busy" to respond to his remark. Now that we have learnt it was all a big understanding, maybe they will comment.

The comment did call to mind the administration's stance on Venezuela: they don't like the leader, who is a pal of Castro and not a big fan of this administration. One wonders why. Not really. During an attempted coup, one our own government might have been involved in some fashion (how early 1970s), the Bush Administration was announcing support of the new leaders while the old ones were still resisting. The resistance was portrayed (from the legitimate government's point of view) in The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, a pretty good documentary.

I also recommend The Take, concerning take over of failed businesses by the workers in Argentina. The two are connected, as readers of The Nation (and Norma Klein and her hubby) might know, by the fact that President Chavez is a resister of the so-called "neo-liberal" movement in which corporations and so forth are given loads of power vis-a-vis the people themselves. Poor nations, even those with a lot of potential oil wealth, require social welfare checks.

This is one of them, even though the outspoken elite class is (rightly) worried about the outspoken demands of the poor masses (further complicating things, there is also something of a color line between them). Chavez is a supporter of a strong and ideological style government, but this should not be a big turnoff for this administration. It also is nothing special in Latin America in recent years. The true difference is that the players have changed, including their willingness to blindly support the U.S. This is what Robertson et. al. is so afraid of.

But, his moronic anti-Christian words (something some Christian groups have noted) is useful not only to show what his sorts are made of, but also to recall 2002. The time when a democratically elected government was overturned by force and propaganda, and the United States supported the rebels, even before the dust settled. It was a disgusting, if little remembered, thing to do. But, given the sorts behind the coup, it was not THAT much different than supporting what PR said.

Secret Way To War aka BS City

Rummy Reference: Dan Fielding, a character on Night Court, referenced Donald Rumsfeld in a 1984 episode of that show. I wonder how many sitcoms have toss away Rummy references these days.

I caught a Mark Danner NY Review of Books article on "The Secret Way to War" (with special emphasis on the Downing Memo -- remember that?). This is an appropriate coda to my recent post on the 10/02 Blank Check and the reasons given for it. In part, the article notes:
"Iraq, the President said, still had the power to prevent war by "declaring and destroying all its weapons of mass destruction" —but if Iraq did not declare and destroy those weapons, the President warned, the United States would "go into battle, as a last resort."

It also notes that the Brits recognized "three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or [United Nations Security Council] authorization" existed to justify the war. The second not really currently operative, though:
[It] might have been given as a reason for intervention in 1988, for example, when the Iraqi regime was carrying out its Anfal campaign against the Kurds; at that time, though, the Reagan administration— comprising many of the same officials who would later lead the invasion of Iraq—was supporting Saddam in his war against Iran and kept largely silent. The second major killing campaign of the Saddam regime came in 1991, when Iraqi troops attacked Shiites in the south who had rebelled against the regime in the wake of Saddam's defeat in the Gulf War; the first Bush administration, despite President George H.W. Bush's urging Iraqis to "rise up against the dictator, Saddam Hussein," and despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of American troops within miles of the killing, stood by and did nothing.

It's useful to remember these things now that the question "why" is being asked and Dubya is traveling to Idaho to sell his war policies. For instance, Samantha Power (a new advisor to the new senator from Illinois) was on some educational channel recently discussing our role in promoting human rights. She cares about the issue, as suggested by her book on the subject of genocide. But, she was against the war in Iraq, partly because of how it was handled, partly because of fears of blowback. And, partly because it was not really in response to current atrocities. The deaths of 20K civilians (on our consciences) to answer deaths a decade or two ago (after one of which, we increased our aid to Saddam) just does not cut it.

So, the move was to go to the UN. And, ignore them, apparently. Mind you as spelled out in Presidential Power by Louis Fisher, authorization from the UN won't do it either -- you need constitutionally based authorization. Such authorization, or the shadow thereof, was tied to UN backed inspections and invasion to uphold its dictates -- even if the UN itself opposed it. So, the UN justification doesn't work, and we are left with self-defense. The term is elastic, though the aspects emphasized (currently a CNN documentary examines how dubiously this was done) are fairly straightforward. WMDS and such.

So it goes. Btw Pat Robertson is an schmuck, but the government should not target him for his stupid views. It is not the same as the Janet Jackson boob controversy (also stupid) in that it deals with opinion not explicit images.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Sisterhood on CD

Gaza Pull-Out: Few quick thoughts. (1) These few Jewish settlers are being paid something like 300K to be removed from their settlements. (2) A few thousand Jews got prime real estate, while hundred of thousands of Palestinians were squeezed into the rest. (3) This land is probably smaller than one of the medium sized neighborhoods in my city. All the disputed land (including Israel) is but a tiny sliver of real estate. It's amazing really. (4) Why was only one side of the issue focused upon by much of the coverage?

I saw Sisterhood The Traveling Pants with someone a few months ago, someone a bit more in the book's targeted demographic (though not exactly). Overall, I enjoyed it, partly because the young leads (teens or those in their early twenties) were very good, partly because of pretty good writing. For those not in the know, it concerns four lifelong friends, teens who are apart one summer for the first time in their lives. They are connected by a pair of secondhand jeans, jeans that make them feel powerful and remarkably fit each of their quite different bodies perfectly. A nicely fitted pair of jeans will be beloved by teenage girls everywhere.

I saw the original in the bookstore awhile back, and it looked good. So, I reserved the CD version from the library to hear it read. Books on tape are quite popular these days, including for joggers and drivers. Stuff on tape etc. as well as online audio is nice in my view as a means to relax, rest my eyes, and still be informed and/or entertained. For instance, I listened to the Shawshank Redemption (somewhat different from the book, such as Red being white). The key is a good narrator, someone who might be able to change tones and so forth with the different characters. The person there did a good job.

As did the one here. Angela Goethals, a twentysomething (though her photo on the box makes her look 15 -- intentionally?) actress that some of the novels (the original followed by sequels) might recognize though I do not, was quite good. The audio was recorded years before the movie, but strangely her inflections sound like at least two of the characters in the movie. The book turns out to be pretty much like the movie, though a few things were changed.

The changes come in three categories: neutral/geared to movies (e.g., doing away with a non-important character), an improvement (e.g., a bit more dialogue for Bailey, the sick one), and not that good of an idea (another matter involving Bailey). The overall effect was a wash: both the book and the movie was pretty good with a few questionable parts. In fact, besides one change involving perhaps the weakest of the four subplots, the major changes come toward the end. Anyway, Goethals is the draw here, and she was very good.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

"Misleading" 2000/2004 Election Discussions

One More Thing: The NYT has a piece on the Intelligent Design movement today. This came to mind: science is the attempt to understand, as far as it is understandable, God's control of nature. You know, if you believe in God. Biblical farmers knew this and used their knowledge of animal husbandry and so forth. Morality is another class. Facially, this is far from controversial if one is a "believer." To the degree evolution is supposed to be secularist, it just doesn't follow. Unless, as an Onion piece suggests, studying the standard laws of gravity is somehow problematic as well since we don't remind ourselves God controls everything etc. Complications put aside for another day: just a quick thought.

A few letters in this week's NYT Book Review call Judge Posner for task respecting his latest NYT Book Review essay, this one on modern media. He showed his intellectual asshole side -- some wanted the guy on the Supreme Court; the place has enough people a bit too full of themselves already, thank you, and I again feel sympathy for the people who have to come into contact with him in a professional way.

[Update: Krugman furthers my point by defending himself in a follow-up editorial. I was a bit more specific -- adding bits in brackets. I'd add Krugman is too cautious in saying that Bush "would still have been declared the winner" (unless the overseeing judge revised his order) if the Florida Supreme Court ruling stood. A few too many factors could have kicked in to be that sure of oneself. His point about prettifying history, however is right on the money. Hasen might have a follow-up too, I guess, but I think the below comments are useful since his viewpoint is representative of others.]

Rick Hasen, who has a well received blog on Election Law, unfairly (imho) criticized a recent "misleading" Paul Krugman column. The column referenced a new book on the elections of 2000 and 2004, which also apparently discusses the problems of federal elections these days as a whole. Krugman noted that the author argued that a full manual recount would have clearly resulted in a Gore victory. This was misleading to Hasen because Gore did not ask for such a recount and (here, he wasn't sure) the undervote recount that was authorized would have brought a Bush victory, according to press accounts etc.

Krugman did not say otherwise. Hasen fails to note that the actual recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court was not asked for by Gore either: Gore focused on undercounts in a few counties with faulty machines, but the court authorized a full [manual statewide] recount [of all ballots in which a machine failed to register a vote for President]. Also, Hasen fails to note reports that the judge appointed to be in charge might very well have included overvotes as well. Hasen also suggests Krugman implies that Ohio was stolen too:
Krugman also makes claims about the vote being stolen in Ohio in 2004. From what I have seen so far (including the Conyers report), I am not convinced that intentional action by state officials cost John Kerry the vote in Ohio.

Krugman cites the "less cautious" (Krugman's words) Conyers report as saying that there were many problems, but not enough for a Kerry win. He does not imply that he thinks that report was wrong to think this. Krugman cites the stolen Ohio argument to in effect show that those who think the system is broken are not all the same. In particular, the book he cites separates 2000 and 2004. It is interesting that Hasen speaks of "intentional action" (what does this mean? it implies unintentional action might have, which is a compelling statement). Still, Krugman receives enough unjustified criticism from the usual suspects for Hasen not to add himself to the mix.

Hasen also sets forth a few general reactions. First, noting that even Judge Posner (who he fails to note supported the Supreme Court action in effect out of distaste with trusting the people with the messy recount) acknowledges the point, it is "pretty clear" that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote for Gore. The problem is that not "all" of them translated their intent to votes that could be counted by existing voting technology.

Fair enough. Next, he says that for "all practical purposes, the Florida count was a statistical tie." From this, he suggests various things (legal or otherwise, including the Nader candidacy, partisan state election officials, and the oversea military vote not being counted via actual Florida regulations at the time) could be point to in various counterfactuals. And, finally, "From all of this, I don't think the question of who 'really' won Florida (opposed from the legal conclusion that Bush won) is one that can be answered in any sensical way."

This doesn't follow. The "misleading" tie argument actually helps Bush and Posner sorts a great deal. Though a structural argument can be made that the federal courts should not have stopped the count (the process was primarily left to the states and Congress), a "tie" would mean the end result didn't really matter. Sure, the Supreme Court helped stop the count etc., but since it was a tie, there is at best a 50/50 chance that the wrong person benefited. What's the big deal? And, stopping the count had other values, so heck, we come out ahead.

I'm not sure what "practical" purposes he is talking about. Statistically, it is clear that Gore won. One can be "pretty sure" about this, perhaps even via a clear and convincing standard (some would go up a notch). To point to but one issue, the overvotes went Gore's way by a ratio of about 2:1. Now, using current voting law, an election official might not be able to take this into consideration. But, he uses the word "statistically." If the vote went to Congress, could they not determine that an equitable result would be a Gore victory? Arguably, their "count" could take statistical probability into account. Confusing.

Also, why cannot we discuss who "really" won? The question would turn on how we define the term. Gore might have statistically been ahead beyond the margin of error, and in some real sense it wouldn't matter. He's not President. But, since various factors can be pointed to that suggest it is much more likely that he won than Bush, Hasen's statement is dubious. In fact, he himself points out to the intent of the voter -- wasn't that actually the legal standard?

Annoying really. Actually, maybe next time you can actually read the book being cited as well as not disparaging an editorial for doing something it actually didn't do, especially one that adds force to the "2004 was not stolen" brigade by someone the stolen faction respects.

War Powers

And Also: I heard a bit about this patriotic march thought up by the Bush Administration, including the need to sign up for it in advance. Can't have ordinary riff raff come by, right? The NYT editorial staff added another wrinkle -- it is set for 9/11. You know, the start of football season. Isn't that annoying? No seriously, they are mixing 9/11 with the war with Iraq, honoring our troops on that day. But, hey, anyone who thinks they are implying the two are intimately linked (Saddam and 9/11, wink wink) is imagining things. Since at least a full 1/3 of the nation is against war, why must they combine the two like this? No shame comes to mind.

I am taking off from Slate for the month of August, but their writers are popping up all over the place. First, a new political editor is now apparently a semi-regular on the Al Franken Show (Air America), putting forth middle of the road sort of stuff that allows middle of the road sort Franken to be annoyed at the guy giving Bush too much credit.

Second, just this morning, I heard a Slate writer discuss his book (The Genius Factory) on the Noble Prize sperm bank (actually, the three Noble Prize winners who originally signed up backed down, so was mostly a "smart guy" bank) on another Air America show (Satellite Sisters, a syndicated show run by five sisters who join together from various areas, including Russia, by satellite). I actually remember reading his account on the story, asking people who might be willing to share information to write in, and it was interesting to hear an update.

Also, of course, the writers pop up in the NYT a lot -- Dahlia Lithwick sometimes has editorials, and was a guest columnist a while back (the guests tended to be better than the regulars they replaced especially where Thomas Friedman was involved), and often pop up in the NYT Book Review. Today, Christopher Hitchens (okay, stop sneering, you know who you are) actually has a fairly straightforward review of three books involving our relations with 19th Century pirates. Also, Emily Bazelon reviews Peter Irons* book, War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution.

This caught my eye since I am about to read Presidential War Power by Louis Fisher (written in the mid-1990s), which seems to have a similar point of view, one I generally share. One difference appears to be that Fisher is less supportive of judicial intervention, at least to the extent of forcing the hand of judges to decide. But, Fisher doesn't dwell on the point, and I have yet to read Irons' book -- so that's just a general thought.

Fisher does note an interesting component of the first law authorizing use of the national militia: the President might call out militia when other means are not available to execute the laws of the land. Nonetheless, the President had to receive verification from a federal judge to have such power, and this was done in respect to the "Whiskey Rebellion." Interesting idea.

Anyway, Bazelon suggests Irons' arguments (and liberals like him) are based on a strict reliance on text -- the power of Congress to "declare war." Not necessarily. Taking my views personally, I consider it textual and structural. You cannot just rely on text most of the time, since it has more than one possible meaning, and other text etc. makes it basically impossible. Such is the case here. The problem with "presidential wars" is overall a matter of separation of powers: the Constitution splits the war power among the branches, giving Congress significant responsibility. The President generally "executes" policy set forth by Congress, or at least, that's roughly the idea. The War Clause is but an expression of this basic idea.

I'd add that Bazelon is right to note that our history suggests that controlling presidential discretion in this area was a hard task from the beginning. This was surely the case not only because the executive department was always in session (even while in Idado), while Congress was not, but also because the President ran the military and had to deal with events as they came in an age of poor communication. [Akhil Amar, cited by Bazelon, adds that the executive has intelligence that Congress does not have. She says this matter of factly, which is almost amusing given recent realities. The verification process noted above comes to mind once more.]

So, President Madison was given broad authority to deal with pirate raids, since specific instructions were somewhat impractical. This was a seed of current blank checks, though much narrower and in a different situation. But, really it was 20th Century moves that brought in the current situation.

Sounds interesting.


* Irons was involved in an interesting project wherein he edited some audio from key oral arguments, which the Supreme Court only accepted after first trying to stop him from doing so. I have the various collections, which are geared for the general public, and are quite educational. My problem is there are enough glaring errors in the commentary (the guy is a law professor and was assisted in at least the first one by a legal assistant) to warrant notice. And, I'm just an amateur.

He also wrote books on the Japanese internment (involved in having the original rulings overturned), the mixed success of integration, and (his preference showing) a book comparing Brennan and Rehnquist. All are fairly enjoyable books, if again, having a clear point of view.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Again, We Go Back to 10/02

There was a political cartoon in my local paper in which Cathy Sheenan has a sign asking why her son died, and Uncle Sam replies (to her "I didn't think of that") to allow the Iraqi people to do the same thing she is doing. The implication being that we went over there for freedom, including to allow the people there to have the right to protest. My cynical thought was that the reason apparently was so that thousands of Iraqi moms can cry out to President Bush "what is the noble cause that justified the death of my son?"

A big "fu" btw to the NY Daily News editorial board that felt it necessary to smear her by apparently the worse epithet available, namely comparing her statements to Michael Moore. No, Moore is a fathead who makes a pest out of himself for purposes of political theater that do turn out to be more right than wrong most of the time. This mom is a regular sort who is mourning the death of her son and believes he died in the promotion of a corrupt cause. As noted by the editorial, some other moms of those killed in this conflict disagree. But, both sides are worthy of our respect. Respect the likes of the editorial board (the paper overall fairly liberal) just cannot bring themselves truly to offer.

A progressive leaning blog included a discussion of a piece in defense of humanitarian imperialism (the white man's burden philosophy, cynically put) in connection to the Iraqi War. In part, it argues that humanitarian reasons were offered before the war began, so it is not wrong to argue that these factored into the mix. I replied that the actual authorization* focused on other threats, namely WMDs, so general humanitarian sentiment was somewhat besides the point. Furthermore, it was unclear to me how we have the authority to enforce UN resolutions in ways the actual UN opposed.
Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolutions of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait

Someone accused me of revisionist history because humanitarian concerns were referenced in the "whereas" clauses in part as a sort of general threat to our security. But, the point was a minor blow to my argument. It can be said that the "threat" the actual authorization clauses dealt with was phrased in a vague enough way that some argument can be made that humanitarian concerns factored in. You know, if you ignore the actual events as well as the main content of the resolution.

Whereas clauses are horatory, but might provide insight to the actual authorization. But, even the clause pointed out to me focused as much on Iraqi handling our own forces and Kuwaiti property (yeah, that's why we fought -- property disputes) than treatment of its own citizens. And, spoke of working "with" the U.N., not against the Security Council's own judgments.

Seriously, the "threat" was weapons and Iraq's alleged failure to properly supply inspections and the possibility (reaffirmed by Powell's now infamous U.N. show and tell) they had WMDs. The whereas clauses are primarily concerned with such matters, not spelling out humanitarian offenses or Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow war widows to ask him why their sons died fighting Iran or the U.S. In fact, as another reply noted, (1) the situation there in 2002 was better than some other trouble spots and (2) our invasion in various respects was not the best way to deal with such concerns, especially if we take a worldwide approach to the problem.

Recently, some compared the NARAL ad to the Swift Boat Vets campaign against Kerry, raising once more the debate over its airing. This debate over actual reason behind the war is about as tedious. One last thing. The essay suggested not being totally forthright about one's humanitarian aims might be legitimate if done for a good cause. This tends to be a bad policy, even if we are supposed to accept misleading rationales for war, since hey, "they" know better than us easily fooled dweebs anyway.


* The ultimate flaw in the authorization was that the President was given broad discretion to decide when force was necessary within broad contours that quite arguably was not even met. Our Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war ... if they can just delegate it away, what's the point?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Protecting "Potential" Life

Update: The NYT (whose editorial comment on the Gaza Strip withdrawal was on point -- a bit on whose land it really is and so forth) piece on this story adds a couple important details. First, given the complexity, the abortion cost $3000 (perhaps ten times more than one might) and the husband had an under 20K salary. Also, the Justice Department was worried about a "slippery slope." I guess anencephalic fetuses can be added to stem cells, while war dead and torture (lite or otherwise) continue to be not an issue.

Doe v. Rumsfeld underlines the problematic nature of some aspects of current anti-abortion law as well as the limitations of the courts in dealing with the problem. The facts:
In July 2002, Jane Doe, the pregnant wife of a naval enlisted man stationed out of Everett, Washington, learned during a routine checkup with her obstetrician that her fetus was anencephalic. ...

Anencephaly is an ultimately and unequivocally fatal birth defect. Approximately one-third of anencephalic fetuses carried to term are born alive. Fewer than two percent that are born alive survive more than seven days. There is no cure for anencephaly and even extensive medical intervention and continuous life support will not prolong the life of an anencephalic infant more than two months.

Following the initial diagnosis, Doe obtained a second opinion, which confirmed her obstetrician's assessment. Doe consulted with her doctor, medical staff, counselors, and her family. She and her husband then made the difficult decision to terminate her pregnancy.

The government paid for the abortion in midst of a challenge, but sued for compensation per a law against funding for abortions in such cases except when the life of the mother is at stake. A law that was expressly not covered in this specific situation per a federal regulation that interpreted it. The law was in place and upheld by the Supreme Court, to "protect potential life." The fetus here had more chance of dying in vitro than surviving, and if born would in alllikelihoodd die in under a week. The potentiality of such life, therefore, is rather questionable.

But, it is a fair reading of the statute, which expressly does not consider such extreme situations. The government only funds abortions for military wives when the woman's life is in danger, which is not at issue here. This is a major problem with such laws, deemed by some totally appropriate because of personal opposition to abortion. But, few are completely against abortion, and even a few exceptions amounts to thousands of pregnancies and parents affected. And, this is not even a pregnancy as a result of rape. No child is likely even to be born. The Supreme Court ignored such realities and upheld the law, even if a woman's health is significantly at stake. So, I take seriously this closing statement:
We depart from our analysis only to observe that while recognizing that the foregoing discussion may seem at times callous and unfeeling, we express our deepest sympathy for the families who must face this difficult ordeal. It is the nature of the legal analysis, the commands of stare decisis, and the deference we must afford congressional judgment that require the result we reach here today. We remain confident, however, that the law commands it.

Taken together, "the law" does not, but a lower court judge do not have as much discretion. It must follow the precedents before them, and along with the statute itself, this situation is not covered. Blame Congress and to some extent the Supreme Court, but not these three judges.*


* They do have discretion when citing precedent that justifies their reasoning. I'm not sure if two of the cites used to underline their "de novo review" authority were particularly fitting given the situation: United States v. 2,164 Watches, More or Less Bearing a Registered Trademark of Guess?, Inc., Knievel v. ESPN. The first one is surely one of the more funny case titles I have seen lately.

We're Special, Ok?

And also: One thing that stands out in my mind is the misguided sentiments of some that support of President Bush for some singular reason (like the appeal of his alleged forthright nature) should overshadow the fact that he will stock the bureaucracy with those who will act in ways said supporters will oppose. A recent National Labor Relations Board ruling that is troublingly broad in limiting worker fraternalization is just a recent example.

When the United States ceased to be a part of the British empire, and assumed the character of an independent nation, they became subject to that system of rules which reason, morality, and custom had established among civilized nations of Europe, as their public law. . . . The faithful observance of this law is essential to national character.

-- James Kent, early constitutional scholar

Such "laws of nation," or international law, were partly written down as part of agreements and domestic law (per an express congressional power), partly a matter of regular practice, and partly developed by the courts in such areas as admiralty law and treatment of citizens in foreign lands. So, there was some degree of comity, non-binding agreement that respected fellow sovereigns, while also securing one's own sovereignty. Current policy respecting the International Criminal Court is not quite so balanced:
Three years ago the Bush administration began prodding countries to shield Americans from the fledgling International Criminal Court in The Hague, which was intended to be the first permanent tribunal for prosecuting crimes like genocide. ...

Most of the penalties, outlined in a law that went into effect in 2003, have been in the form of cuts in military training and other security aid. But a budget bill passed in December also permits new cuts in social and health-care programs, like AIDS education and peacekeeping, refugee assistance and judicial reforms.

The linked article focuses on various Latin American countries who refuse to be bribed to give special treatment to the United States. As noted by an expert in the article, there is but a "glimmer" that the ICC treaty will kick in -- our country would have to be shown to have been shielding someone guilty of a crime against humanity. Perhaps, the fear is that we have? A nameless state department official supplied the administration view -- the brave forthright Bush Administration too chickenshit to go on record. Anonymous sources being a favored method of speaking to the media.

But, the fact remains that the usual alleged potential victims are often already secured:
Many officials argue that existing treaties already protect American soldiers. The new agreements go too far, they say, by adding protections for ordinary Americans, like tourists, and non-American contractors who work for American companies. ...

[I]n Colombia, where the American military has rotated 8,000 soldiers in the past five years as part of its largest mission in the region, a new immunity agreement two years ago has upset some officials. Colombia already had a 1974 treaty protecting American soldiers from criminal charges.

"These treaties say that everyone in Colombia must respect the law, Indians, Chinese, the Colombians," said a Colombian senator, Jimmy Chamorro, who considers them illegal. "Everyone except the Americans."

Furthermore, even some official sorts are starting to admit the heavy-handed policy threatens our self-interest. Drug control, potential oil sources, the importance of the Latin America overall, and so forth all counsel that we have good relations with our neighbors to the South. Recent CAFTA legislation has not many more friends there. Refusing aid dollars out of fear that someone will be charged with crimes against humanity (not that anything we did even approaches that ... say in Cuba ...) is pretty ill advised, especially since there is a middle way.

But, hey, we're America. We are special.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Elizabeth Edwards Supports A Fellow Mom

Now That's Just Mean Dept.: After winning in the Kelo eminent domain case, New London is not only offering subpar 2000 market rates for compensation, but threatening to charge (after apparently promising not to) the losing parties back rent. The named defendant, Susette Kelo, who owns a single-family house with her husband, learned she would owe in the ballpark of 57 grand. We can trust localities to play fair, right? Meanwhile, John Roberts is not a big fan of comparative worth, etc.

Cindy Sheehan had to leave her vigil to care for her mom, but recently received some support from someone else who lost a son, Elizabeth Edwards (wife of John):
Cindy wants Casey's death to have meant as much as his life - lived fully - might have meant. I know this, as does every mother who has ever stood where we stand. And the President says he knows enough, doesn't need to hear from Casey's mother, doesn't need to assure her that Casey's is not one small death in a long and seemingly never-ending drip of deaths, that there is a plan here that will bring our sons and daughters home. He doesn't need to hear from her, he says. He claims he understands how some people feel about the deaths in Iraq.

The President is wrong.

Whether you agree or disagree with every part, or any part, of what Cindy wants to say, you know it is better that the President hear different opinions, particularly from those with such a deep and personal interest in the decisions of our government. Today, another voice would be helpful.

Two things. I always felt that Elizabeth Edwards seemed like a strong asset, a firm voice that also appeared on some level to be an ordinary mom. She is sort of an anti-Hillary in some respects though as strong of a voice on many levels. Elizabeth is a great asset to have, and I hope her health problems are truly conquered.

Second, though I still wonder if her appeal is totally appropriate, I do not wish to imply that Ms. (Mrs.? Mom?) Sheehan's efforts are not useful. They are eminently so, giving a personal face to the case against the war as well as those just against how the administration (and many more) fucked it up. She asks for a meeting and explanation why the war was worth it, but surely, on some basic level her appeal is symbolic.

[Powerfully so, given the assholes defaming her. Will a key Republican voice say strongly and publicly, "lay off"?]

It is a rhetorical appeal, especially given who is being asked. And, since this country needs the right "face" before being able to grasp certain points, the person asking the question matters a lot. On that, we have a lot to be grateful for. The singular focus on the ultimate person to blame is justified as well. One might suggest this should be applied across the board, including re Plame:
No one outside the White House knows for certain the extent of President Bush's involvement. But one thing is clear: The press's assumption of ignorance is misguided, especially in light of George W.'s long history as a political operative. Allan Lichtman, a noted presidential historian, says the "presumption in presidential politics" should be "that the president always knows." It's not too late for responsible reporters to ask the right questions.

The article basically notes Bush's history as a political operative/s.o.b.; times have not changed, just his pay scale and how much damage he can do with other people's money.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Night Court

Note: The picture in the last entry doesn't always show up on my browser. If you click it, all is well.

TVLAND [correction] had a Night Court marathon over the weekend to honor its addition to the schedule.

I really enjoyed this show when I was younger (it was on in my formative years, so to speak) and some of the episodes shown suggest why. For instance the Wheelers* were on a four part episode in which Christine (Markie Post), the defense attorney, became a judge. It was when the ensemble cast at its prime, before the last couple seasons when the show kind of lost some of its steam. The jokes were a mixed bag, but the cast was great and on their game. The talent involved suggests why certain shows that are not always that funny are enjoyable, sometimes even past its prime (Friends, however, overstaid its welcome by about three years).

Many episodes could be summed up thusly:
This episode pretty much sums up everything the show did, for good or ill: huge laughs, an absolute willingness to go for any kind of joke no matter how old, corny, or vaudevillian (and I mean those words as compliments), a blisteringly fast pace up until the big "serious" speech at the end, and an attempt to put some kind of social-commentary face on the whole thing (each of the guests represents some cross-section of society: the yuppie couple, the proud single mom, the old-fashioned couple adjusting to new realities, and the immigrant couple). It's like one of Weege's Barney Miller scripts rewritten by Paul Henning.

The show was actually equal parts swarmy (especially the prosecutor, Dan Fielding) and corny -- there was continuously some scene that felt more appropriate on Seventh Heaven, though in a Night Shift short of way. For instance, over the weekend there was a heartwarming (so to speak) episode where gruff (with a heart of gold) Roz reaches a mixed up teenager who just was involved in an armed robbery. Or, when Judge Harry Stone helped some defendant or maybe Bull (the bald bailiff with the heart of a kitten) with some personal problem. It was a weird mixture, low brow mixed with overdone sentiment.

But, it did basically work. No work place comedy really works on the same level these days. The 1980s and early '90s in my opinion had some pretty good television, at least on the pure simple enjoyment level, much more than today in most cases. Honestly, as I probably noted here already, I just don't like much of the original programming that is on. The best bet often is late night repeats and maybe some pay stations, only some of which I get (like Showtime -- Weeds sounds good, but I don't get it). Night Court repeats are a good addition to the mix.


* This couple still cracks me up. As one admirer notes:
The episode also features the show's most famous recurring characters, Bob and June Wheeler (Brent Spiner and Annie O'Donnell), a perpetually luckless couple from West Virginia. Except that when they first appeared, the stereotyping provoked a lot of angry letters from West Virginia, so when they reappeared in this episode (having bought a hot-dog cart that got destroyed by the hurricane), they announced that they lied: they were not from West Virginia, but from Yugoslavia. ("Isn't the accent obvious?") They became so popular that they were supposed to become permanent characters, but Spiner got the part on Star Trek and put an end to that.

Spiner also played John Adams in a revival of 1776. O'Donnell appears to still get some t.v. guest shots -- none quite like June Wheeler, I bet.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


[Click for full size]


Baseball: In the "that is how it goes" and (soon after) "well, we knew that was going to happen" department, we have the Mets Thursday afternoon loss.

Tied 1-1, a fly ball in the seventh resulting in a horrible collision that broke some facial bones of one Mets outfielder while the other left the game because of a relatively (considering the fate of Mike Cameron, who had to be taken off tied to a cart) minor shoulder injury. This resulted in a triple with one out. A second out was recorded but the third only came after the go ahead run was scored. Two outfielders down, the third one got hit in the knee (but staid in the game), putting two on with one out. The double play was expected. So was the 2-1 loss.

Football: The Jets won their first pre-season game though it went down to a goal line stand (for the tie). TMQ is back, including his various features, including complaining about science fiction: "My departing Star Wars complaint concerns the point that it's fine for sci-fi to be improbable, but not fine for special effects to violate laws of physics." I am unclear about this. The "fi" does not stand (think "hi fi") for "fidelity" but "fiction." Fiction violates various laws of reality. One considers this part of the definition of the term, more or less (need not be, but like deus ex machina machinations, it can be). Silly.

9 Songs: I also caught the artistic film 9 Songs. Not porn, just a "NR" film with a lot of explicit sex. "Porn" works on several levels, though the movie has a story and some serious intentions not connected to hard ons and such (the movie in fact is not very good for that purpose), and exactly has real music (thus the title). First, it is told from the male's point of view. Second, the couple are a pair of young white things with interesting jobs.* She is thin enough to be on your average late night porn, though her breasts (small) aren't fake. Thus, the film deals with a tiny sliver of real society.

And, the sex is boring. Now, yes, generally sex between real people is not always particularly exciting [finding a film (not talking porn here) where the true pleasure and excitement of sex is even suggested is rather tricky -- it's a bit sad], so the fact these two are boring is realistic. But, the problem is that we just get relatively quick shots (except for one fantasy bondage scene) of the sex which results in little context. I guess this "music video" or montage style (resulting also in a relatively short film) was intentional, especially given the title (the scenes basically are set between songs that apparently are about obsession -- the words weren't too clear to me).

Still, if we are finally going to have a non-French film about sex, actually spending a bit of time with real characters would have been nice. The woman basically is a cipher of sorts, a young thing that has the habit (unlike the guy) to say "fuck me" or the like. At least the guy gets to narrate and be pretentious about looking at ice and stuff. This sort of film gave some reviewers a hard-on (mentally speaking) since it has a director with some talent, and one can supply some symbolism to the whole affair. Yeah ok. It basically is boring -- one barely even sees much chemistry between them. A waste.

I wonder how that Natasha Richardson movie about a woman who risks all to have an affair with a mental patient is like. Or, that new cruel satire with Selma Blair playing a small role ... her in a high school uniform might we worth at least a rental price. Anyway, along with The Aristocrats, 9 Songs is an overrated piece of adult filmmaking.


* I believe she works at a club, though it's a bit unclear. She's an American living in Britain, thus adding to her charm. His is connected to Antarctica, resulting in some pretentious dialogue and rather lackluster scenery shots.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

NARAL Didn't Really Falsely Target Roberts

Update: Mark Kleiman has a good take, while Majikthise provides some good links. Why the likes of Gadflyer insists to supply a single-minded "anti" view therefore is unclear, especially since it criticizes the criticism while doing so. I disagree with Majikthise on the "stay loyal" sentiment a bit -- people like the reality based community since we can have some in-house debate. But, the kneejerk "this is just a 'slimy' move" sentiment is stupid. NARAL pulled the ad (the reference in the comments kinda suggests why), but slight editing would have made it completely aboveboard. And, guess what -- singling out NARAL for hitting below the belt advertising is patently inflicting a double standard. But, hey, what else is new?

There is some controversy over a NARAL advertisement, which I do not think is airing in my area (anyhow, I have yet to see it), against the nomination of John Roberts. The advertisement concerns Roberts' advocating the first Bush Administration's position in a case known as Bray v. Alexandria. A bit of background not always provided (including by an airheaded Al Franken refutation of the ad, which he did not see or apparently fully understand, and Eugene Volokh's coverage of the debate) by critics, since I myself recall the media coverage of the events.

A federal judge issued an injunction in response to a summer of violent protests at clinics in Wichita, Kansas, protests by nationally based anti-abortion groups that he recognized overwhelmed local police resources. The injunction grew from a Reconstruction law that gave the federal courts such power to deal with private groups who interfered with the federal constitutional rights of others, especially when such civil rights was invaded for racial or some other class-based reason. Early cases interpreted this too narrowly, in effect letting private terrorist level violence continue, while states did nothing (on their own volition or because they had inferior resources). The states had the power and responsibility to safeguard local citizens, but wink wink, they tended not to do so in certain cases.

It was not the Supreme Court's finest hour. "But in Bray , Roberts wanted to continue a century of crabbed, limited understanding of those Reconstruction statutes and limit them to race-based violence, even though nowhere in the Reconstruction statutes was the federal power to restrict private violence limited to race-based violence." Again, reliance was to be left to state officials, even if federal constitutional rights were at stake, and either by inaction or lack of resources, they did not adequately handle the situation. Michael Bray, a defendant in the case, had been convicted several years earlier for his role in bombing abortion clinics. Quite arguably, the federal judge had the authority to act as it did.

The Supreme Court agreed with Roberts that the judge did not. The Supreme Court did not really vote "6-3" as an article by Linda Greenhouse in the NYT [and Factcheck.org's ad rebuttal] notes -- Justice Souter dissented in part, holding the defendants should have the chance to defend the injunction on a separate ground. Likewise, as importantly, Justice O'Connor dissented, in particular, noting since women have abortions, the injunction was "class based." Justice Stevens also dissented, underlining the national threat that was being targeted as well as noting the freedom of travel was also threatened.

John Roberts, again generally as an advocate (uh huh), supported a more narrow view of national power. The ad tied him with the protestors, thus some of the ire of the opposition -- poor Roberts defended a statutory construction of a law and misguided liberal advocates blamed him for anti-abortion related violence. You know, they just don't understand the limited role of the president's lawyers, and the judiciary as a whole. But, this is a bit too fast and loose as well. The law has consequences. Advocacy of reduced federal power, even when the alternative might threaten constitutional rights and overwhelm local forces, does as well.

Yes, the ad should suggest there is some degree of separation between Roberts and protestors. But, that sort of advocacy also traditionally elides certain nuances -- thirty second spots does not supply much room for analysis and footnote sort caveats. Advocacy for and against nominees has some degree of simplification, and it is fair to suggest some wariness of this situation. Nonetheless, the ad has more than a kernel of truth -- it points to the real world effects of the law, effects that do factor in its analysis.

[This is the sort of "support" the ad spoke of ... it did not mean (as few viewers would think) that Roberts somehow supported the violence itself. But, the federal intervention (which was not necessary -- the justice department was not involved or anything) did help "Bray." Federal inaction does as well, which is why a federal law was passed to protect clinics. Reality still holds true, does it not?]

Denial of fundamental truths resulted in the wrongful gutting of the Reconstruction law involved once before. Roberts helped promote a somewhat lesser gutting of the terms, one that furthered the remarkable continuance of citation of 19th Century precedents that should be dead and buried by now. And, he was selected in part because that reflects his general legal philosophy. On that point, the ad was correct.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Too Easy

And Also: Thankfully looking quite healthy in his gigantic glasses, Justice Stevens made some on the point (and pointed) remarks about the death penalty and political gerrymandering (representatives are able to choose their constituents instead of the other way around) at the annual Thurgood Marshall Award Dinner on Saturday night.

A few issues that the progressives have taken a bit too far.

Paul Hackett: This outspoken Iraqi War vet had a good showing in a special election to fill a slot in a heavily Republican Ohioan district. Nonetheless, again, he is an Iraqi War vet, Ohio Republicans are having loads of problems these days, and his opponent was apparently a pretty lame yes woman. So, yes, he is a good rallying point for progressives, but even when everything seemed to be aligned right, it turned out to be a loss. So, it was nice and all, but let's tone things down a tad, k?

Cathy Sheenan: Okay, you can hate me for this, but the mom of a solider killed in the war is also getting on my nerves a tad. She is down in Texas demanding that the President -- who she hates per their last meeting -- meet with her again and explain why her son died. Her son died in a misguided and poorly run war to overthrow Saddam Hussein and help establish a regime friendlier to our country. Evidence of WMDs was exaggerated to further the process. And, yes, we care about Iraq in large part because it is in the center of an important oil producing area, our major energy source.

Are we supposed to find this shocking? Or, rather, what is the confusion? The basic value of this campaign is to make the President look like an asshole and make him suffer a bit. This is not, mind you, necessarily a bad thing. But, over there are I guess a few thousand (one would guess around three thousand) parents who lost children in the war. Why aren't they all there with her? In fact, why not a bunch of them? She serves as an important symbol of what is being done here, but seriously, why should the President meet with her? Why her in particular? Is she the appointed representatives of all the other parents?

Gas Prices: The energy law is a bit of a joke, including the failure to seriously include a plan to start the road toward alternative fuels or serious conservation measures. But, what is this big business about gas prices? First, there is the idea that President Bush is somehow personally to blame. Second, and yeah I generally take public transportation, but high gas prices is not exactly a horrible thing. The prices unevenly fall on certain individuals, but for the population at large, we can use some incentive to conserve and cut down on wasteful uses of energy.

And, guess what? Security in the Middle East is in part a matter of safeguarding reasonable fuel prices. But, we are not supposed to even think like that. OTOH, what would happen if gas prices rose a bit because we decided to rely less on such sources or had to pay more because Iraqi leadership less friendly to us resulted in higher prices? The public would be whining, including various anti-Bush voices. As Laura Flanders of Air America actually admitting in passing, the prices are not really so high all things being equal. Maybe, we can put them to better use, using the increase for some sort of regulatory tax if the prices do eventually go down.

Too easy targets: It's fun and all, but targeting assholes on the Right, even when they really do not speak for party as a whole, is a bit too easy. Yes, "they" do it too, but at some point beating a dead horse gets tiring. For instance, James Dobson compared stem cell research to human experiments performed by Nazi Germany. Patently ridiculous and crossed the line. But, top Republicans support the research in some fashion. [Their hedging, often amusing, is surely fair game.] So, repeating the point ad nauseam is excessive. Ditto Novak's "outburst" (a joke -- he cursed and stomped off the set -- bfd) when dealing with James "hey, he is a bit of an asshole" Carville.

When a top Republican (though his leadership role is stupidly often not mentioned) like Sen. Santorum (up for reelection in 2006) makes a stupid comment, sure ... same with Bush or some other top idiot. But, sometimes targeting shrill ideologues people already know are nuts or assholes is of little value. Fun and all, and they are the base of the party -- a base the party too often lets off easily. Still, enough already.

Learning How To Share

Baseball: Note to announcers -- please stop suggesting the Mets really have a chance to get to the playoffs. Tonight's loss underlines the stupidity of the suggestion until further notice. Not beating a pitcher the Texas Rangers (whose staff includes Kenny Rogers and some other guys) felt a need to release, especially when Pedro starts, is just sad.

The passing of the new energy bill brings to mind the battle over the Cheney Energy Task Force materials. Cheney refused to share, even when the General Accounting Office requested limited materials in its investigations, and possible (ha) outside influence on federal energy policy was given a free pass. Another recess appointment, this time for Douglas "bad pre-war intel" Feith's replacement pointed to way to this tidbit:
Levin launched his inquiry in June 2003, after Armed Services Committee Republicans declined to participate. Last October, he issued a 46-page report that faulted Feith for misrepresenting to Congress the view of U.S. intelligence agencies about the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. Levin complained at the time about the difficulty he and his staff had obtaining documents for the inquiry, saying in an Oct. 6 letter to Rumsfeld that the Pentagon's "delays and refusals are intolerable and unacceptable."

Since then, Levin has received additional documents, a number of which needed CIA clearance. But according to Levin's staff, the Pentagon continues to withhold two sets of documents: one referred to as "advisory and deliberative materials and internal legal analyses"; the other said to be for use in possible prosecution of foreign nationals.

It turns out the major reason why the appointment was held up was that Levin put a hold on it to try to force the administration to provide the documents. This also apparently was the reason for the recess appointment of Peter Flory as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Not supplying proper documentation influenced the delay of the Bolton nomination while now (see, e.g., the Daily Kos) the administration is holding up release of information on John Roberts.

When those who complain about the use of holds and such to interfere with presidential power, the answer often is that the legislature has powers too. This includes individual members or their parties overall who attempt to force the President to supply necessary information. And, the importance of this sword over the executive's head is why both parties recognize the power Sen. Levin practiced. A power that can be abused, but this is why a supermajority can get around it. In this case, the justification for such an override is dubious.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

RIP: Akilah Amapindi

Update: Over the years, this has been one of the few posts that has received repeated hits. With this in mind, and given there is now a comment, let me add two new links since the news articles cited are not available via the ones provided below. I'd add, given recent debate, the health insurance matter also is relevant. I'm glad she is still in the minds and hearts of many.

A small local story suggests a life tragically shortened. Akilah Amapindi, born in Jamaica, was twenty-three and a native of Staten Island, New York. She was a 2004 graduate of Kenyon College in Ohio, and traveled to Nambia so she could get to know her father. Akilah just met him four years ago and also took advantage of the trip to advance her radio training. She interned for the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation and was able to anchor the network's 5 p.m. news bulletin several times. Unfortunately, Amapindi also went into the bush to retrace the steps of the first Namibian president, who recently left office.

Though U.S. officials told her she did not need to worry about taking anti-malaria medicine in the city, the situation was different in the countryside. Ms. Amapindi was scheduled to be a panelist at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) convention in Atlanta when she began feeling ill. Her mother came down for the funeral of her only child. The money she makes as a nurse's assistant is not enough to pay the costs of flying her daughter's remains back north. She does not want her child cremated. Amapindi also had no health insurance, losing her mother's coverage after graduation.

Peter Jennings died, and though I really do not watch network news, he appears to have had a career that is worthy of the accolades he is receiving. [Liberal talk show host Mike Malloy just praised him as fair, which is high praise coming from him.] John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet Magazine also died. Akilah Amapindi never had a chance to make her mark and that is a shame. The short time she was here suggested just how much she had to offer. I knew nothing about her before reading the story, but felt a pang of loss all the same.

Monday, August 08, 2005

New Republic Time

Good if Scary Read: Dangerous Doses by Katherine Eban, discussing a fight in Florida against the illegal sale of prescription drugs. The underregulated industry, helped by two administrations delaying the launch of a federal law that would do something to fight it, encourages the sale of unsafe often on some level black (or "grey") market drugs. High drug prices encourage the practice. Focus on international risks (you know, like Canada) missing the danger at our gates for one far ashore. This is why we require real regulation!

Conservative intransigence means that, if the Democrats don't take up the fight, no one will, and the country will remain frighteningly vulnerable. The irony, of course, is that Bush's reelection can be attributed to the American people's trust in him to keep them safe--a trust based largely on his belief that the character of states matters. After all, his emphasis on democratization covered up the evaporation of the administration's original casus belli in Iraq, and it provided an optimistic vision of the future in which the war on terrorism will be won by virtue of our virtue. Most important, his description of the war on terrorism as a battle between freedom and tyranny--a battle, in effect, between good and evil--appealed to the public's need for narrative in politics. ...

And they must explain that, in contrast to Bush's fantasy, in which the earth is cleansed of evil, theirs is a story--all the more optimistic because of its realism--in which the concrete goal of securing and destroying fissile material can be accomplished through concrete steps.

-- J. Peter Scoblic

The rest of the article explains this "fantasy," how the neo-con worldview just does not work too well in fighting the international nuclear threat.

Randi Rhodes on Air America underlines how the Bush Administration is full with a bunch of crooks (in some cases quite literally: these include some old Iran Contra hands who were convicted and at best got off on appeal on immunity grounds). There are also the Negropontes and Roves who are in effect crooks on account of past and present activities. But, the administration sells the other side as the illegitimate ones. The immoral ones. Alanis Morissette had less ironic things in her song of that name.
Roberts comes across as nothing if not conservative in the thousands of pages of documents he wrote as a Reagan-era legal adviser. Roberts favored a highly restrictive interpretation of the Voting Rights Act. He concluded that Congress had the authority to pass so-called court-stripping legislation in order to prevent courts from imposing busing as a remedy for segregation. He took a dim view of a Justice Department decision granting restitution to people discouraged from applying to jobs for reasons related to race. He argued against an affirmative action program on the grounds that it led to the hiring of unqualified candidates.

So says Noam Scheiber in his latest New Republic piece on John Roberts. But, that was then, this is now, right? The fact is, however, that this administration has a bunch of retreads in key policy decisions for the specific reason that their policies are still thought of as quite valid. You know, from Dick Cheney on down. Why should Roberts be different? Something to ask him about in his hearings. Listening Leahy et. al.?

I leave one last tidbit, on the principle that Roberts just was an advocate for his client (somehow he was not an "advocate" for Democrats*) for the end. This is simply amusing:
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham argued that Roberts was merely advising a "client": "I've represented rapists, murder[er]s. ... You shouldn't hold it against me the thoughts of my client."

Lindsey Graham ... Democrat? On the subject of southern senators, John Edwards is out there again, full of energy as usual. I like the guy, though his stance on the war was naive if not simply wrong. He now is taking the "I was tricked" route, which suggests he was not fit to be President (all things being equal) in 2004. I can be cynical, but many out there, not all sleazeballs, were fooled too. It's a learning experience. Still don't buy Clinton. He might have potential in 2008.


* But, some might say, the next Supreme Court justice defended homosexuals!! Unlike certain senators from Pennsylvania, this does not quite mean he is singlemindedly supportive of one overall worldview. Anyway, he is just an advocate, right? He doesn't have base principles.