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

Monday, July 31, 2006

Judicial Self-Restraint ... let's be honest here

And Also: The discussion here suggests the confusion some have between law and social policy. Discussion about the limited value of Israeli "overkill" also lead to problems, some thinking (at times rightly) the critics are broadly against Israel's policies. Others simply wonder: is it simply counterproductive? This can be neutral as to the legitimacy of the opposition and so forth. Cries that people do not want Israel to defend themselves sort of miss the point. Other concerns again knock down debate on even limited questions where some common ground might be obtained.

Friends of the court need to remind the public that courts are already accountable and proud of it—accountable to the law and the Constitution, not to politicians, special interests, and rage campaigns.

-- Slate article defending judicial independence

They also have to tell their daughters about cute purple unicorns in fairyland.

This is not convincing to many people, in part because it is not true. It is hard for some to understand how a document can hold someone "accountable." The President and Congress also swear/affirm to obey the law and Constitution. So do members of state legislatures. [Art. II, VI]. The people want more than their oaths/affirmations though. They know more is needed.

Judges are also obviously somewhat accountable to politicians, special interests, and rage campaigns. Such is the case when judges are elected and have to face re-election. Some is the case when lower judges are hoping for better positions farther up the food chain. And, when judges have their positions thanks to such things, they knew who buttered their bread, don't they?

["The law and the Constitution" are also slippery things ... thus deluded souls like I can believe it means totally crazy things like securing rights to privacy and so forth]

It is true a large part of "accountability" for members of the federal judiciary must come from an ethics and professional view that stays loyal to the law. But, even there, there are other checks. Lower court judges have to answer to appeals. Judges openly make decisions, including via written opinions, which is why many are concerned when they are made sans opinions or by rulings not considered binding law for further cases. Statutory interpretation can often be overturned via new statutes. Such opinions help address where this might be necessary.

Judges are open for investigation and even impeachment. Lower federal judges can be temporarily removed from active service if judicial oversight commissions determine it is necessary. They also are influenced by public opinion and the realization that others [with power of the purse and sword] carry out their edicts.

Such is reality. 2+2 does not equal 5, even if we want to pretend that "2" really means 2.3 rounded down and 5 is 4.6 rounded up.

Sunday Thoughts

And Also: Reading Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over For Bush. Equal parts depressing and aggravating. Just love the conflicting ways Gore/Kerry and Bush were treated respecting their Vietnam service. The press' negligence is about as aggravating as people who seriously claim to care about honor etc. and suggest Bush is the more honorable one. That is simply insane.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a fairly typical summer blockbuster -- not much brains, but a fairly decent way to stay cool. The movie was a bit disappointing -- the storyline was a bit anemic (actually, lazy really), which is not too surprising given it is the second film growing out of a theme park ride. And, of course, many action movies do not have great stories.

Worse, the action was rather anemic, boring really, and things moved rather slowly. Things started with a good visual but even that was overcooked, while some key plot points were lame. Finally, there were not really any big exciting action scenes. The spectacle, art direction, and Johnny Depp's performance (more fun last time ... he really has much less to do here) stood up pretty well though. The movie also had a "see it pays to wait to the end of the credits" bit.

Not great praise, surely, but it is not like there are so many other films to watch. The movie in fact ends ala Back to the Future II -- leading up to another sequel. The cutsie leads btw are a bit lame ... Orlando Bloom especially isn't doing that well finding good roles, though I am sure these three movies alone will do pretty nicely. As a fan of the British show Coupling, even a bit of Jack Davenport amuses. I'd add that looking at the quotes in the entry linked above, there aren't many good ones. One hopes things are better next summer ... the middle BTF was pretty weak too. Anyway, the Cubs and Mets swept division rivals. So, good weekend in that department. [Glavine again did poorly though ... this is getting to be a concern.]

On the baseball front, the Yanks probably clinched another division title and maybe more (they had hitting in the past few years though, so perhaps not) with pick-ups today. It is not like another division title was hopeless even now. They had pitching problems and injuries to key bats (including two long term in the outfield), but still had at least a handful of bats and some arms throughout. And, are only 1/2 game out of first today. Since at least one of those outfielders are likely to come back for the final push, chances were good that they would do the job. Still, after really needing to work it last year, some hard work led to concerns. So, not only did they get a great bat, but also a good starting pitcher. They now have four good to very good starters and one serviceable one. And, so it goes.

Sort of tiring after awhile. One reason, along with favoring more of the personnel, I root for the Mets these days. No fan of Boston and Toronto again will be a respectable third (repeatedly losing key games that keep them there, including a blown save by their highly paid ace closer today), so it is not like I don't want the Yanks to win the East. I like underdogs, so go Tigers, though time will tell if the rookies will hold up. Still, even with all the drama, the Yanks never was in that much trouble to begin with. They stepped up and was likely to get into the playoffs by one way or the other. But, they are the Yanks. Not champs for awhile, but that is the mentality.

Doesn't mean everyone have to be happy. Some say it is good for baseball -- they challenge others and so forth. But, they are doing that now. They hit quite a bit now, thank you. They lost a game 19-6 ... even in a loss they got five runs early. They have a starting three for the playoffs. Three good to great (closer) relievers. And, to get a prime resource, they just had to pay for it. They did not even have to give up prime prospects or (heaven forbid) a useful back-up outfielder that is filling in rather well, thank you. This has been par for the course -- a few times, their rejects turn out to be useful, but quite often not. Such is the nature of economics, but again, don't tell me it's so "good for the game."

Meanwhile, how is that Clemens pick-up doing, Houston? Last time up, he went seven innings of one run ball. The allegedly good bullpen gave up six more runs to lose the game 7-6. This is pretty par for the course, though other times the team wound up losing other ways ... such as getting nearly no runs. Clemens is getting paid more than any pitcher for playing half the time. The team if anything lost ground since he came. Running out of time guys.

Not too interesting in the NYT today.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"unauthorized invasion of private right"

And Also: DL discusses invasion of privacy in a column today, including a Findlaw article I found on the mark. It suggests there is a limit to privacy rights, especially when freedom of the press is at stake. What is the corresponding constitutional right that nixes various of the aspects of privacy referenced below? Anyway, the kneejerk need to speak of a "squishy" right to privacy annoys. Is the Eighth Amendment an example of clarity?

In 1875, the Supreme Court discussed that each branch of government, federal and state "are all of limited and defined powers." The government has no power to go beyond them; "the law authorizing it was beyond the legislative power, and was an unauthorized invasion of private right." This is almost boilerplate: there clearly is a separation between "the public" and "the private," government controlling what is "in the public interest." One justice dissented, concerned that allowing courts that declared laws unconstitutional on such broad grounds "would be to make the courts sovereign over both the constitution and the people, and convert the government into a judicial despotism." He dissented alone.

Loan Assn. v. Topeka was one of many cases cited by the majority opinions in Griswold v. Connecticut. Its principles, both broadly respected unenumerated rights and particularly involving privacy, was in no way new. The concerns of the dissent (and the fact a clear majority disagreed with them) were not as well. One might add that the concurring opinions did a better job spelling out these principles. Justice White's opinion was particularly useful, including respecting spelling out the reasons why the state did not justify its prohibition. The majority was rather cavalier about that. As White noted:
An examination of the justification offered, however, cannot be avoided by saying that the Connecticut anti-use statute invades a protected area of privacy and association or that it demeans the marriage relationship. The nature of the right invaded is pertinent, to be sure, for statutes regulating sensitive areas of liberty do, under the cases of this Court, require "strict scrutiny," and "must be viewed in the light of less drastic means for achieving the same basic purpose." Where there is a significant encroachment upon personal liberty, the State may prevail only upon showing a subordinating interest which is compelling.

But, as he and Justice Goldberg noted, the interest was in no way "compelling" or narrowly tailored. Justice Harlan and Goldberg also addressed the limiting factors respecting avoiding "judicial despotism":
It will be achieved in this area, as in other constitutional areas, only by continual insistence upon respect for the teachings of history, solid recognition of the basic values that underlie our society, and wise appreciation of the great roles that the doctrines of federalism and separation of powers have played in establishing and preserving American freedoms.

And how privacy in part grew out of protections of the home:
Certainly the safeguarding of the home does not follow merely from the sanctity of property rights. The home derives its preeminence as the seat of family life. And the integrity of that life is something so fundamental that it has been found to draw to its protection the principles of more than one explicitly granted Constitutional right. . . . Of this whole "private realm of family life," it is difficult to imagine what is more private or more intimate than a husband and wife's marital relations.

A couple entries back, I referenced Prince v. Massachusetts (1944), which concerns regulating children labor. The ruling was handed down over twenty years before Griswold, and cited rulings from the 1920s to underline that matters of childrearing was a particularly "private realm," even if involved public behaviors such as where one sent one's children to school. The liberty was broadly honored, even if it was not one specifically cited by the Bill of Rights. But, broad rights of which free governments could not invade was a theme of the federal courts since the 1790s.

It also broadly honored the liberties of the First Amendment which protected "freedom of conscience" and "freedom of the mind." As White recognized, these rights were not all absolute. The state could protect child welfare. All the same, "the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder." So, the courts have to apply such laws with special care. A few years earlier, the Court noted the same applied respecting a law relating to sterilizing prisoners.

Griswold also cites Public Utilities Comm'n v. Pollack (1952), which involved the local government providing music in streetcars, which some disliked since they felt it invaded their privacy. Justice Frankfurter even felt he could not neutrally decide the question, recusing himself. Justice Black didn't think, under the First Amendment, the federal government (involved here) could force people to listen to political propaganda. But, as with the majority, music alone was not deemed a problem. "However complete his right of privacy may be at home, it is substantially limited by the rights of others when its possessor travels on a public thoroughfare or rides in a public conveyance."

All the same, it was perfectly acceptable to consider such a "right of privacy" as a colorable "liberty" claim under the Due Process of Law. As Justice White noted in a valuable footnote in Griswold, due process went beyond mere procedural concerns. The ruling also spoke of a "right of privacy" involving the home. As noted, an earlier ruling mentioned such a privacy involving questions of child raising. Logically, this would also include whether or not to have a child (or another child) in the first place. Preventing such an "invasion of private right" was surely considered basic long before then. Again, it was not suddenly "created" in the 1960s.

Justice Douglas dissented. He felt that people in effect were forced to listen, since many could only go places like work by public transportation. They should have a right to decide what to listen to. Their privacy was at stake:
The case comes down to the meaning of "liberty" as used in the Fifth Amendment. Liberty in the constitutional sense must mean more than freedom from unlawful governmental restraint; it must include privacy as well, if it is to be a repository of freedom. The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom. ... If people are let alone in those choices, the right of privacy will pay dividends in character and integrity. The strength of our system is in the dignity, the resourcefulness, and the independence of our people. Our confidence is in their ability as individuals to make the wisest choice. That system cannot flourish if regimentation takes hold. The right of privacy, today violated, is a powerful deterrent to any one who would control men's minds.

The theme of privacy secured even in a public context was also not new. Justice Douglas' dissent noted the First and Fourth Amendment aspects of privacy. This includes choice respecting religious questions, which past decisions recognized involved some freedom to preach and hand out literature in public. As noted, educating your children was a privacy right even if it involved sending them to schools, though an early aspect of the "right to privacy" was cited by Justice Brandeis respecting home schooling. And, one can buy contraceptives and abortion services.

Again, the fact these things are somewhat public in character (as is going to church), does not destroy its "private" character. People realize this in certain respects, but sometimes selectively feign amnesia respecting others. Anyway, passing upon the citation of Prince led me again to the privacy rulings, which have plenty of useful readings for those who just cannot believe what certain "judicial activists" want to do.

But, I have my doubts if such people ever read such things. So much easier to stereotype and whine.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Mike Royko

That tells me Sampson [a supporter of Mayor Sawyer who argued that not supporting a certain candidate would lead to racial unrest] doesn't understand how an election works. The person with the most votes wins. If you don't get enough votes, you lose. That appears simple and fair enough. But Sampson doesn't see it that way.

-- Mike Royko [Mike Royko: A Life in Print]

Doonesbury has a wicked column today, following up on another. The previous had ED annoyed he had to keep up with all the factions in the Middle East. This one had his advisor explaining to him that every country doesn't have a Supreme Court to fix elections when the wrong person wins. In other countries, they are stuck with the "terrorists" that a majority of the population choose. This was upsetting to him. Why don't they vote Republicans? Karl Rove clues him in: they hate America. The humor is barbed and goes beyond the tiresome (and in fact usefully simplistic ... for the other side) "he is dumb" theme.

One wonders how Mike Royko, patron saint of Chicago and newspaper columnists (the right sort), would have thought about 2000 and its aftermath. We need more pointed commentary like his these days, and not just in blogs. Frank Rich hits hard, but has a pointed headed liberal sort of vibe that is a bit tiresome after awhile. The redhead also hits home sometimes, but other times seems a bit too trivial or over the top with her at times childish sounding barbs. In fact, a NYT editor, Gail Collins, once reminded me of Royko. She used to have a column in the NY Daily News, pointing out all the foibles and idiots found in the city government. As she noted in one ad, Collins once wrote about pigeons, and received much more feedback worried about their well-being than of that of public officials.

The NY Daily News doesn't really have someone like that any more. Juan Gonzalez sometimes provides a left of center bit of truth as does a few others, but they always seem to be on a somewhat out of the way place in the paper. Surely, not on the editorial page or anything. Thus, one valuable column on immigration and civil service issues is deep in the paper, mixed in with want ads and other matters people skip over to read comics and supports. A bit of verve, especially one that takes no prisoners, is a bit harder to find these days. We need more Roykos.

I speak as someone who only had a passing knowledge of the man, but appreciated him all the same. His column used to be syndicated in the Daily News and I enjoyed it enough to purchase one of the volume of his columns. I don't believe he was there any more when he died in the mid-1990s, surely not consistently. I also checked ... no longer have the collection, but I remember some of them, a few that are also excerpted in a biography by a former editor, friend, and reference in his column, F. Richard Ciccione. For instance, his tongue in cheek review of the Roykoesque film Continental Divide, or his discussion of his new high rise (with picture pointing out the necessaries of such living) apartment. It showed his, forgive me, eclectic tastes and romantic side.* Such things appeal to me as well. I also remember a column annoyed that some moron alderman nixed honoring the writer Nelson Algren with a street sign.

The book was an enjoyable read, especially since it had a healthy citation of his columns (and love letters to his first wife ... who died way before her time). His respect for hardworking ethnic Chicagoans was also noted. I think he might have liked my dad. He too was of the first generation born in America, his family, did in his time in the military (stateside though), and was a deep believer in hard work. Such basic things puts matters in a certain perspective. I did not know he and his second wife ("the blonde") adopted two children (a boy and a girl, the latter no girly girl -- she gave him the finger before she was three), but overall the book provided a picture of Royko that fits my image of the man.

[I didn't know of his computer loving side, including his penchant of hanging out in chatrooms. He might have liked all these online message boards.]

As a fan of the Billy Goat tavern, and its "curse" on the Cubs, he would have appreciated a recent post by the Slate fray wag doodahman on the subject. And, the 2003 fiasco would have been quite understandable to him -- the book notes that it was almost hard to take when the Cubs actually went to the playoffs in the '80s, and won the first two games. But, he had more perspective them some. He would not blame that one fan alone. Like his column noting the public ultimately was to blame for Nixon, his last column noted the delayed introduction of black players to the team. The author noted that he said that it "was racism, not the Goat, which haunted the Cubs."

I think he would appreciate these times. Ciccone noted that the Chicago politics changed since the Boss Daley days and the tenor of Royko's columns changed with it. The incompetence, cronyism, and linguistic stupidity (and vulgarity) that we must deal with these days would have be quite understandable to Mike.


* The book reposts what appears to be most of a touching column, told through the eyes of alter ego Slats Grobnik, about a young married couple that clearly had very money buying a Christmas tree. They bought two cheap trees ($3), both half crummy. SG later saw a tree in their window, and it looked wonderful. Turns out, they tied the two together, and "if you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful." You know, "Like two people, I guess."

[Slats was introduced in the 1960s, when a major policy role in the poverty administration was given to a poor person. This seemed off to Slats. He was drunk for as long as he could remember, but was never offered the presidency of Seagrams.]

Thursday, July 27, 2006


A couple very good attacks on the dubious arguments for discrimination underlines my sentiment that it is good to put such things to the test. "But, in the everyday business of living, secular or otherwise, these variant aspects of personality find inseparable expression in a thousand ways. They cannot be altogether parted in law more than in life." Just one quote from a 1940s ruling respecting "the private realm of family life" that underlines what is at stake. Cheers to those who underline the specious "reasonableness" of policies that turn out to harm the children deemed their beneficiaries.

Ice Princess is an appealing look at passions, fears, and dreams through a female p.o.v. Add in a bit of wish fulfillment. Kim Cattrall also has a change of pace role that works. The mom has a good line about the daughter's hopes to go into ice skating having a ten year expiration rate. Is that really compelling for a teenager? Ten years! In fact, many adults would appreciate something wherein they can be truly passionate for a decade. Let the rest of the life be somewhat mundane ... those ten years will make a lifetime. For some, it's much less than that.
If Democrats give up the fight against Bolton, it may be because they see he doesn't matter that much. The problems lie with those who make decisions; the problems lie with Bush.

-- Fred Kaplan

The king could do no wrong. So they went after his ministers. This is the point today too. So, this p.o.v., which I read repeatedly about many picks (from Chief Justice down), doesn't hold up. Bolton surely was put in place as a symbolic (at least) placeholder for Bush. Hurting him would therefore mean something.

Clearly, anyone who goes up there will have to follow the official line. But, surely, there is some stopping point. If not, why care about anyone who is sent up there? Any boob will do. It simply doesn't matter. Such nihilism doesn't stand up in the real world. Likewise, sometimes image matters. It surely matters in international relations. Having some flamethrower who even our allies in the U.N. find distasteful is harmful. This is so even if the alternative (while Bolton's nomination was being held up, some perfectly fine professional was filling in) had to promote the very same line.

Key officials are simply not totally fungible. As to Dems soft pedaling Bolton, aren't they due to campaign for Sen. Lieberman?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Privacy and Equality Irrationally Targeted Again

And Also: Atrios had an entry today reporting an embarassing sexual incident involving the father of a notable Republican senator. Is this really something we want to do? Of course, Bill Clinton's push to save Lieberman's hide reminds one of JL's very deep concern about BC's bj. If JL wins a close primary, the Clintons might not be very popular with a lot of people. Then again, Sen. Boxer of all people was shilling for him, though wasn't really willing to take any questions. Talk about distasteful. We need new blood.

Since teens do not have the same rights as adults, it is a closer call when there constitutional rights are at stake. All the same, I generally think they deserve more rights than they are currently given. For instance, though the material is usually targeted on overbreadth grounds (protecting adults), I think teens also have a very important interest in viewing sexually themed material that so-called "anti-pornography" measures target. And, not just teens over sixteen. Thus, I find national attempts to target the material online dubious at best. The most dangerous things are child porn (child harm) and things like stalking. Such things are already illegal, aren't they?

The same theme pops up respecting regulation of teens who have abortions. Most states at least require one parent notification, which generally clearly has a judicial bypass measure (recently, the Supremes said one was required when health is involved), though the SC has never decided the matter (two parent notification, yes; consent, yes; not one parent notification). It is somewhat hard to insist that such laws be struck down by the federal courts -- one comes off as an extremist. But, even if not constitutionally dubious (I think they are), they are simply bad policy. The subset truly affected in forced notification cases are problem cases.

Sometimes, it is a good thing for children to notify at least one parent, even if they rather not. Forcing them to do so, especially if they can go to some other family member or perhaps other authority figure (like a priest/minister), leads to serious problems. If nothing else, there is no one perfect answer here. So, of course, the Senate just passed a bill that would criminalize non-parents helping teens to get an abortion in another state (interstate, thus the federal hook). Others have explained various problems with such legislation. So, I bow to their legwork. The only consolation is that the interstate travel hook, which might in fact make it harder to uphold in the long run, is more sensical than nationalized regulation of one type of abortion procedure. Small favors.

Meanwhile, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the state's marital discrimination against homosexual couples policy by a 5-4 vote. As with NY, this was in opposition to a lower judge's ruling to the contrary. So, we are left to looking at the justification. Homosexuality is not an "immutable characteristic" like race or gender (so only "rational basis" is required), something that really is questionable by this point. For instance, I know -- summer wear surely underlines the point -- my sexuality seems pretty unchanging. Anyway, of course, sexual discrimination is involved here too. As to the quip that the legislature might change the policy, but not after being forced by five judges, I guess when that latter sort of discrimination is at issue, such judicial activism suddenly becomes benign.

The discriminatory policy also "furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children's biological parents." It is lucky for women in particular that abortion rights still enjoy somewhat heightened review, so that bans cannot be justified as a means to further procreation. Are homosexuals threatening the survival of the human race? I reckon places like China, which have had so much of a population explosion problem that it pressures people to have less children, just need more gays and lesbians. Marriage also is not limited to "children's biological parents."

The only way to consider this "rational" is to ignore the harm to same sex couples and their families. Since this seems to be taken for granted to be acceptable, it might be useful to underline that intimate association and family matters have been protected as fundamental rights, and not just when heterosexuals in marriage relationships are involved. And, religiously based morality isn't enough to override them. But, perhaps, being forced to cite such canards will be useful at some point. Discrimination breeds when it is taken for granted, even without proper defense. The need to defend it by 5-4 rulings written by judges who need to do so in a halfway credible fashion is a bit tougher.

Homosexual rights groups will guard against using the state courts for the time being, one suspects, when fairly liberal areas like NY and Washington leads to such results. But, the effort is for the best anyway, and bit by bit, the road to equality will lead to more "rational" results.

Sometimes The Movie Is Better

It is trite, but true, that there are not too many good movies out there, especially in the summer months. I have yet to see Pirates yet, but it is not like there are many other things worth watching. For instance, Slate had a piece (with audio) on My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which rang true -- the ads and set-up of the movie simply does not appear appealing. Luke Wilson is a loser and Uma Thurman plays a biatch ... that is the whole point of the movie. I am not a great fan of movies about unpleasant people, especially if there is no one that is actually pleasant in the film. Anyway, movies are too misogynist as it is -- the fact we are supposed to find people like Owen Wilson so lovable underlines the point. A lovable male loser sort etc.

There needs to be more appealing movies, especially with female leads. I know the stereotype movie-goer is a male teenager, but this is a bit limiting. This is underlined by the trite sentiment that it is always hard to find five good female leads to nominate for best actress. The supporting actress role also is tough, but there always is some young thing who is the newbie (e.g., Marisa Tomei) to win that statuette. Sure, there are exceptions (in its genre way, Stick It about female gymnasts is a worthwhile mention), but still. It is particularly amazing because this country has so many more movies than many others. Thus, even today, there are three new releases ... one a major indie. As with history and law (various cases worthy of films), the area is woefully undermined for material. Let's not even go into the lack of good romances or movies that treat sex in an adult (dare one say "European") way.

Maybe, it's just me, but I have found that many of the good films of the last year or so are documentaries. For instance, my favorite movie since Beautiful City (an Iranian film) was Wordplay, a documentary about a crossword contest. The film too was largely dominated by guys (the finalists in the big finale were all guys, two who simply annoyed me ... luckily the somewhat less annoying one won) except for a cute baton twirling sort who was the underdog winner a few years back. [The celebrities interviewed were most men as well, a primary exception being two musicians.] And, of course, there is An Inconvenient Truth, which has Gore as the biggest thing, even getting Conan O'Brien all serious about global warming.

A perfectly decent summer flick was The Devil Wears Prada. David Letterman told Anne Hathaway, the modelesque star of the movie (she did a few series roles that suggest true talent, but unfortunately has a bit too perfect look about her ... she should try not to be typecast), that he liked the movie. As AH noted, he is not exactly the film's primary demographic, and nor am I. Still, as I mentioned in the past, I did enjoy the movie. The movie had its lulls, including a pretty lame set of boyfriend material. But, AH was appealing (if not having too much bite), while the supporting cast (and Streep, playing the "devil") really stole the show. The "first assistant" role, for instance, was played wonderfully. I also see her face in AOL ads repeatedly these days.

Pleasant movie with some real craft behind it ... this is the definition of a good "summer flick." They all cannot be blockbusters, which tend to be overdone anyway. For instance, an enjoyable movie last year was the sci fi film Serenity was nicely restrained, a small scale sort of effort reflecting its Sci Fi Channel roots. AH was in the enjoyable Ella Enchanted a few years back, which as with her recent film was based on book. And, like the earlier effort, the movie was better. This seems against the rules, which say that the movie cannot be better than the book. But, this is not always true. Movies need to be different from books generally speaking, but they can be better too. It is a question of how the original material is adapted for the screen.

Sometimes, it is watered down in some fashion, but sometimes the transfer works pretty well. For instance, Ella Enchanted is based on a favorite/award winning children's book. I read the thing after watching the movie, and it was a disappointing effort. [Let me add that adults can appreciate many books for young readers, just as various classics were traditionally meant to also be read by young adults -- for instance, Little Women.]

The movie is basically a road movie where our heroine -- who is under a spell wherein she has to do everything she is told (one can see why kids ate it up) -- has various adventures and falls in love as she tries to find a way to be truly independent. The book has basically the same set-up (father gets re-married, she is shipped to bordering school ... sort of a Cinderella set-up), but the center of the book has her under a spell where she accepts (or tries to) her subservient state. It is utterly depressing and the last third take-off on a typical fairy tale isn't much better. The idea is great, but the follow through is not. The movie is much more fun.

It is somewhat unfair, perhaps, for me to compare AH's latest to the book, since the problem is that I simply cannot get into it. I have taken the tack in recent years that at some point it is not worth it to struggle through books. This might be because of all the stuff read online these days -- imagine a day where a couple hours a day (at least) are not spent online. Yes, Virginia, before 1999, I did not even have Internet access. Anyway, after seeing the movie, I stopped at the bookstore in the same complex (also Target, which is a pretty good store ... diverse selection, reasonable prices) and picked up the paperback. Sort of an impulse buy, though a perusal seemed to suggest it was a good read. Nonetheless, it surely does not start well -- and if the first fifty pages of a book are not good, one is in trouble (especially the publisher). Again, the concept is good, but the book does not seem to be. And, this times its over four hundred pages of it.

The book starts on a trite and unpleasant note. Our heroine just did Europe (with a stop-over in the Far East, leading to a stomach ailment that provided a useful loss of 20lb on her 5'10 frame) and now needs to find an after-college job. Perhaps, this is a "normal" thing outside of the Gilmore Girls, but it just is an opener to suggest that this is not just some poor little college girl trying to make it out in the real world. By chance, she gets her assistant job, and in less than two weeks finds a room to share in the city. [The movie starts with her getting ready for interview at the place she shares with her boyfriend.] She starts when you know who is away on vacation (the movie, not surprisingly, sees this as filler), leading to various stereotypical newbies to the city scenes.

Tiresome. For instance, she has to go from the 59th Street subway station (around 7AM) to Madison. Now, the station has exits on Lexington and Third (the back exit, and not likely to be the one someone who took the 6 would use) and the station also takes up a few blocks north to south. Nonetheless, the streets in that direction are short, and it is rather easy to see how things go (one way 61st, the next 58th etc.). So, if she had problems finding where she had to go, it must have been east to west. The blocks on the east side are 5th-Madison-Park-Lex-3-2-1. Now, there are parts of the city that are tricky (largely under 14th), but mid-town is not. Likewise, that part of town would not be exactly deserted at that time of day. It is a good time to take the subway, though it too would not be too empty. Finally, the idea that she will be stuck asking some storekeeper who couldn't speak English except to ask her the type of coffee she wants seems dubious.

Just too cute. The movie avoids these "foreigner from Connecticut who has been living with her friend in Manhattan for long enough to know better" type scenes. Ditto her first time arriving for work. She is nervous, especially after having problems finding the place [the real problem is numbers -- too few buildings with addresses ... and entrances off the block], and she has to deal with a smart aleck security guard. In a cute line, she says that she decided to hate him. Still, the overall motif of the too innocent/polite girl from CT vs. the brusque New Yorkers also fell to stereotype. Again, she had been living in the city with her friend already for a few months. Surely, the movie was not free for stereotype, but it also didn't include this material.

And, overall, the book was dragging ... too early. Clearly, some editing would be useful. It is her first book, and the writer's goal was nonfiction, and perhaps it shows. Oh well, can't have everything. I probably will pass it on to someone I watched the film with, who always says I am too critical. Perhaps, she will enjoy it -- she likes things she experienced in some fashion before. Anyway, my Mike Royko bio came in ... maybe, it is time to watch Continental Divide again.

Nah ... the "book" was better in that case.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Douglas Speaks

And Also: John Dean's latest is already in the libraries. A few other books on our current broken system that look interesting are not, including Glenn Greenwald's Internet success about true patriotism. One might argue that it is my obligation as a blogger to purchase the darn thing, but he covers the same ground daily on his blog. This is also the value of book reviews and C-SPAN Book T.V. events -- saves time and money.

Man's age-long effort has been to be free. Throughout time he has struggled against some form of tyranny that would enslave his mind or his body. So far in this century, three epidemics of it have been let loose in the world.

We can keep our freedom through the increasing crisis of history only if we are self-reliant enough to be free. Dollars, guns and all the wondrous products of science and the machine will not be enough. "This night thy soul shall be required of thee."

-- Justice Douglas

I recently passed by a book entitled Penumbra (Amazon listed another one as well), a fiction book that did not really have anything to do with astronomy or Griswold v. Connecticut. The latter is where some concerned with the term would look, since Justice Douglas (in)famous spoke of specific constitutional guarantees have "penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance." A bit of descriptive wordplay that raises some eyebrows even when being examined in-house before the ruling was handed down. This is so even though the basic principle is really not controversial at all. It is the breadth given to it.

In one of those coincidences that people like myself live for, I soon thereafter passed mention of a c. 1951 radio clip in which Justice Douglas added his take to what seems to be a series concerning "what I believe." Since there now are a few places wherein one can find audio of oral arguments (e.g., Oyez), I have heard a bit of Justice Douglas' voice already. Not quite on the level of current justices or Justice Blackmun (an interview is available on tape in some libraries and his oral history project was excerpted on C-SPAN last year or so), but still. All the same, not quite on the level of these few minutes. So, it was nice to find -- thanks Orin Kerr etc. for the mention.

The remarks concerned "the faith of our fathers," a theme of long standing. Douglas in particular spoke of his parents, but the term traditionally often applied to the Founders and that generation. Thus, in one of my favorite speeches (performed by Sam Waterston in 2004 -- wish more historical speeches were done in that fashion), Lincoln at Cooper Union accepted Sen. Douglas' appeal to "our fathers" respecting the issue of slavery in the territories. As noted by David Zarefsky in his book on the Lincoln-Douglas debates, this served as a common language, even when the population was greatly split on their opinions on what exactly the Founders thought. Other nations explicitly worship ancestors; we do so in our own fashion, even respecting those like Jefferson who were more concerned with the public then living.*

The early 1950s is said to be the time when Justice Douglas truly grew into his libertarian phase, his presidential hopes basically crushed (I did read of his thoughts of joining Kennedy's Cabinet) and first (of four) marriages about to be over. Also, the Red Scare led him to be particularly concerned about such matters. Thus, we have his dissents in Dennis v. U.S. (communism) and Public Utilities v. Pollack (1952) (privacy). And, his remarks here spoke of such concerns, including focus more on "matters of the mind and the spirit" than respecting "material things." Those quotes are from a 1958 speech [using the word "penumbra" in the process] respecting "the right to be left alone," but Douglas' belief of the core natural right, endowed by God, to liberty was also referenced in the radio remarks.

I have underlined that Griswold was not a pure act of creation (as to judicial review/1803 see here) various times, but since the myth and confusion continues, it bears repeating. The ruling, of course, involved contraceptives, which again respected matters that did not suddenly have judicial recognition in the mid-1960s. Surely, however, the ruling was a landmark, underlining themes that were only dealt with in scattershot fashion in other rulings or in state cases. And, the question of reproductive liberties continues to be a developing issue. Mother Jones, for instance, recently had a very interesting article discussing the complexities of the stem cell issue subtitled: "How 500,000 frozen embryos are forcing us to rethink life, choice, and reproductive freedom."

And, the beat continues.


* One is reminded of the Adams-Jefferson letters. It would be interesting if Bush-Clinton (William Jefferson Clinton), who seems to be having a good working relationship respecting relief efforts, started such a correspondence. His Texas connections aside, Bush41 has a New England background, while Clinton is from the South. They also have different views, but certain shared sentiments for which common ground could be reached. Clinton also is a voracious reader, while Bush has noted he too reads a decent amount as well. The somewhat elitist leanings of one vs. the populism of the other also suggest some parallels. One can go too far, but it's a fascinating idea, isn't it?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Love of Authority

And Also: To highlight a key part of last post, property might not create fundamental rights, but it surely helps to secure them. This led some to think it was required to respect them (e.g., only property owners could vote).

They say birth is a bitch ... so, though she never had one, perhaps Condi Rice used the right metaphor when talking about the "birth pangs" of change in the Middle East. OTOH, she was talking not about pain and such, but bloodshot and horror. Now, babies can be a horror -- my teething is still mentioned (wah wah) -- but that might be an unfortunate metaphor. Then again, maybe like stem cells, these were going to die anyway. Wait ... they generally would not die in this fashion, are actual fully formed human beings, and President Bush was against stem cell funding. Something about them not being spare parts or something. I guess, with apologies, he is a believer in foolish inconsistency.

John Dean has added another useful book to the "how things are so f-up, Bush edition" cottage industry. He was on C-SPAN yesterday, or rather a taped appearance was, and I do wish he would have fully answered a question many have: don't these people know they won't be in office forever? Snarky election skullduggery comments aside, it is a serious matter. Still, one answer, other than short-sighted immediate gratification, is that they sort of think they will. After all, except for "unfortunate" breaks like Carter and Clinton (he who shall not be named), they did control the presidency since 1969. Likewise, the Democrats controlled Congress for decades, so why shouldn't Republicans? Sure, things are different these days, but it might influence their thinking.

Dean speaks of the authoritarian personality of conservatives. As GG notes, psychoanalysis and social science evidence is not as convincing as the actions themselves. Though I am sure it is of some value, I am loathe to overly psychoanalyze my opponents, trying to imagine their worldview and mind-set. This leads to some stereotyping, including appeals to the "end of the world" views of the other side, which simply put, I do not believe amounts to enough people to control events. I hate, therefore, when certain sorts go and on about this sort of thing, using it to explain the bloodshed -- hey, we are going to die soon anyway, right? This is not to say I think the other side is necessarily always rational -- I doubt it unless the word is used loosely -- but the irrationality is complex and interlocking.

Still, the "authoritarian" theme works for me. A general idea here is that there is an authority, we should trust in it, and those who do not are irrational and/or clearly malign forces. A tad bit of projecting there, perhaps? In another context, someone noted it was a sort of king/priest thing, temporal and religious authority. I simply don't see things in that light. This is where the disconnect comes in. Sure, I don't like this authority in particular. This can confuse things. But, simply put, I distrust authority as a general principle -- it does help that I have somewhat atypical thoughts about various things. Likewise, I do not think we can overly favor one "authority" over another. This seems a basic violation of equal protection. It is in effect a title of nobility. Again, for a totally ignoble group, but that is only part of the problem.

Now, I assume this is basically at the core of "the republic for which [our flag] stands," but Dean suggests there are about a quarter of Americans that do not quite see it that way. They focus on the flag, or rather, the authority over the principles themselves. This is their principle -- America is good, certain people are rightly defending it, and given the perilous times (particularly so now, but they always seem to be dangerous -- note how many always seen to be targeted by forces beyond their control ... "them" aka "liberals" or "activist judges" etc.), we need to trust certain authorities.

Likewise, given the dark world we live in, violence is clearly necessary, and deserved since the enemy is simply evil. Life is a bit more complex. But, to consider that we might be "evil" as well ... that is simply traitorous. "We" are good. Only "they" are evil. This includes those who simply do not understand the importance of authority. Now, if I fear anything, it is an overwhelming authority that supersedes civil liberties and long practiced balancing of power to promote selective ends that are promoted by people I simply do not trust.

But, again, it is a bit dangerous to focus on any particular authority. Simply put, I do not trust anyone to play outside the rules. I do not quite share Dean's sentiment that "the left" are not authoritarians ... perhaps, there is a certain clear shift in one direction, but both sides have their authoritarians and sacred cows. I distrust them both. To quote Thomas Jefferson:
Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: (1) Those that fear and distrust people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. (2) Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist; and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.

- Letter to Henry Lee (August 10, 1824)

In actuality, "the people" can be taken in as well, especially if there is a strong united authoritarian class which results in a much narrower margin of error. But, the sentiment overall is still true, especially in the promotion of equal rights for the people at large. This includes not favoring the will of authority over the rights of the people at large. Following the "will of the people" is not enough -- our republic has certain fundamental rights, based on the sentiment that even a majority cannot favor rights of some over the rights of others. Poll numbers suggest, however, that even this is not really the problem ...

the "authority" here is in the minority, but supposedly should be followed all the same. Jefferson, an authority so not totally trustworthy, is pretty right after all.*


* A certain someone has written some interesting stuff, including Rights From Wrongs, which touches upon Jefferson's views and rights philosophy overall. He also is biased in support of Israel and now insists that torture is right after all. And more. But, hey, I still liked that book and the one on the Declaration of Independence.

Really ... I quoted it in my own. Still, a tad bit inconsistent. Like, I remember once some time ago reading how you thought the courts and so forth did not properly honor "unwritten rights" (Ninth Amendment). Later, you criticized this theme, especially in respect to abortion rights, which you see, clearly led to Bush v. Gore. [Judicial activism etc.]

Fire leads to arson. Darn cavemen.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Economic Inequality/Governmental Responsibility

NYT Watch: Frank Rich had a correction noted in his column today -- he wrongly supplied the location where President Bush bought lemonade in last week's column. On a more serious note, another in a series that show us the faces behind the way "enemy detainees" are being processed can be found here. A remarkable work by the often must reads at Obsidian Wings.

But this does not mean that there are no boundaries to the permissible area of State legislative activity. There are. And none is more certain than the prohibition against attempts on the part of any single State to isolate itself from difficulties common to all of them by restraining the transportation of persons and property across its borders. ... The duty to share the burden, if not wholly to assume it, has been recognized not only by State governments, but by the Federal government as well. ... Whatever may have been the notion then prevailing, we do not think that it will now be seriously contended that because a person is without employment and without funds he constitutes a 'moral pestilence'. Poverty and immorality are not synonymous.

-- Edwards v. California

Justice Byrnes was surely FDR's least influential nomination, though he had a rich political life (including as a segregationist) off the Court. This 1941 case is perhaps his most important opinion, even if it is probably not that well known. It should be, especially given it being representative of the time, putting forth sentiments they could describe as "simple and are not disputed." [But, they surely were, and continue to be .. the very nature of what promoting the general welfare truly entails.] Congress had every power and responsibility to deal with economic problems and inequalities once deemed left to the states, if they could be dealt with by government at all. And, states themselves could not stay blind to national problems, or refuse to do their share.

The ruling also gave some basic respect to the poor. It was in fact in response to what might be called "anti-Joads" laws. Such laws tried to reduce the flow of indigents into states, especially California, thus one movie representing the time showed people unable to supply $50 being blocked entry. Recent efforts comparable to this now deemed unconstitutional measure (blocking interstate commerce of people or the national privilege and immunity of travel) is to discriminate against new residents in respect to public assistance. This too, for similar reasons, has been deemed unconstitutional.

Justice Douglas, showing signs of his later sentiments, concurred (with the support of two others) on the broader (or rather more individual rights) ground of interstate travel. Justice Jackson agreed but went further, focusing on a group an 19th Century ruling labeled a "moral pestilence," a sentiment many probably still share. He focused on discrimination against the poor:
It is here that we meet the real crux of this case. Does 'indigence' as defined by the application of the California statute constitute a basis for restricting the freedom of a citizen, as crime or contagion warrants its restriction' We should say now, and in no uncertain terms, that a man's mere property status, without more, cannot be used by a state to test, qualify, or limit his rights as a citizen of the United States. 'Indigence' in itself is neither a source of rights nor a basis for denying them. The mere state of being without funds is a neutral fact-constitutionally an irrelevance, like race, creed, or color.

The sentiment, which was later applied to other constitutional rights such as criminal defense and voting rights by the Court as a whole, in my core concern here. I admit to not focusing on economics in political discussions, since I have a certain bias toward other things. But, economic well being is obviously core to enjoying rights just as many traditionally focused on property being core to being an independent citizen. The 24A underlines the danger of tying economic status to rights by removing the possibility of poll taxes before one had the right to vote. And, attempts to require state authorized identification that amount to the same thing recently was attacked in the courts.

The opinion noted the argument in support of the laws it attacked. States have to pay via services and public assistance when masses of poor people come into their borders. But, such is the nature of the beast, the Court argued. Congress as a whole has the power to deal with the issue ... individual states cannot interfere with such national matters involving interstate movement. Furthermore, travel is an intimately American right, including between states. Unenumerated or not. Rights are not free from costs. But, costs cannot be used to unlegitimately limit rights.

The principle has not be consistently applied. Given my interests, one that stands out is selective funding of childbirth. The national government has put a thumb on the scales, favoring the health and moral choices of certain groups that find abortion generally immoral. This is so even if the health of the woman is seriously at stake. The Supremes have upheld such discrimination, saying it is not limiting the right to choose. There is no right to government assistance ... the person was poor, and the government did not make her such. California did not make Edwards poor either. But, it was not allowed to limit his rights as a result of his indigency.

Basic government services, especially those growing out constitutional rights, are also not to be denied because of poverty. Thus, the Supremes has blocked attempts to charge for divorces when the individuals involved cannot avoid the fee. The government also allows bankruptcy fees to be paid in small installments. And, of course, one has a right to a criminal defense attorney (for crimes with a certain minimum sentence) if one could not afford one. The rights are ours ... they cannot be denied based on poverty. Perhaps, one day, health care also will be deemed a basic right, one that follows this principle.

Economic inequality if attacked in almost as many ways as it arises. Thus, as Edwards recognized, there now was deemed a national obligation for things like Social Security. Since there remains an ethos that anyone can get ahead, if they work hard and so forth, the principle has a certain stopping point. Though many are loathe to consider "class" in America, many would admit they believe economic inequality at some point is legitimate. No communism here! Still, the distance between the haves and have nots (underlined by contrasts between salaries of heads of corporations and "normal" folk) is remarkable.

As is the truly amazing amount of poverty remaining in this nation. This is so especially in respect to those that do not meet the usual (often racial) stereotypes of what "poor" means. Our place vis-a-vis the rest of the developed world is especially depressing. Likewise, the self-repeating nature of economic inequality deserves more focus than usually given. In an age where Social Security and progressive taxation is under attack, perhaps it is not surprising this is underdiscussed.

Thus, studies like "Market Failures Mean The Poor Still Pay More" remain all the more valuable. This is surely the case when "pay more" means "unable to pay at all." The net effect is that "mere state of being without funds" turns into denial of rights many of us take for granted. Money becomes a "source of rights" that many deem should be universal. If this is "American," I question the definition.

And, as with structural racial discrimination, the state has some role in preventing and dealing with such inequality. The ways this will be done is unclear, is surely complex, but recognizing the problem is surely fundamental. Does the current bunch so recognize? How many would have joined the unanimous ruling of Edwards v. California?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kill Kill Kill!

And Also: His first big role was to be one of the more angry of the eleven men that Henry Fonda eventually clued in. Jack Warden, one of those great character actors that serve as the glue for good films, has died.

Proportionality and likely effects. This is the key to my title: power plants targeted after the kidnapping of a soldier. Broad based destruction levels above the clearly heinous missile attacks (by those who must have been aware of the likely counterattacks, but simply did not care, or in some fashion even welcomed them) that led to them. This will stop future attacks and terrorism, including those backed by region nations? Really? Likewise, some things simply do not scan well ...
The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran's efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

-- U.S. Speeds Up Arms Delivery For The Israelis

Why would one Arabs and others think the U.S. was strongly playing favorites? I don't know ...
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that she would head to Israel on Sunday at the beginning of a round of Middle Eastern diplomacy. The original plan was to include a stop to Cairo in her travels, but she did not announce any stops in Arab capitals. ...

To hold the meetings in an Arab capital before a diplomatic solution is reached, said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, "would have identified the Arabs as the primary partner of the United States in this project at a time where Hezbollah is accusing the Arab leaders of providing cover for the continuation of Israel's military operation."

No, we know who "the primary partner" is identified as, right? Glenn Greenwald is on the case, addressing how neoconservatives are almost drooling at the opportunity:
What is Lebanon going to look like -- let alone Syria and Iran -- once we decimate large parts of their infrastructure, kill, maim and render homeless thousands upon thousands of their citizens, and bring down their governments? Who cares. Let's just stop whining and appeasing and get on with the action. ...

That line of thought seems, at this point, to be more wishful thinking than reality. The administration is still composed largely of adherents to neoconservatism. John Bolton is at the U.N. for a reason.

Ah, John Bolton. Like a bad penny, he is back in the news -- after being recess appointed because even some Republicans thought him a lousy choice (not that having an unconfirmed U.N. ambassador was a problem -- it's only the U.N. -- not important at all at this point in time), Bolton's nomination is up again. Steve Clemons is back on the case, partly noting that his backers are pushing Jewish groups to lobby for his confirmation. Charming.

Oh, underlining the fact that no Republican senator can consistently oppose El Decider on anything of importance, Bolton's key Republican foe has gone out of his way to voice his support this time around. [Others aren't as impressed by his term so far.] So it goes. McCain has decided that success means sucking up to the person who's backers libeled his wife as a drug addict. We all know the limits of Sen. Specter's concern (sadly more than most) for executive overreaching. And, then there are the usual suspects. As Rat asks in Pearls to Swine today, "What is a 'Senate'?"


I'll end with our honorary Republican, Joe Lieberman. A sign of how low he has fallen, beyond reports of a poll that puts him behind (within the margin of error, but the trend has been bad for him), is that "let's all get along" Al Franken is getting annoyed. Franken has voiced support for him but started to note his concern that Lieberman was furthering Republican talking points. All the same, he invited both candidates on the show (separate appearances, one supposes), and JL apparently agreed to go on.

Trouble brewed though when Franken raised the topic dear to Al's heart, namely a "Truman Committee" on the war (broadly defined) ala Sen. Truman's famous investigation during WWII. Joey said sure, it sounded great, but (awww) Sen. Collins (the "moderate" whose bailiwick is involved) is being mean -- she refuses to do it. Franken rightly noted that JL surely was the perfect one to cry bloody murder, given his support for the Iraqi War and his independent Joe credentials. He hemmed and hawed, and his people have not returned calls to schedule an appearance.

I actually think he has a shot at being defeated. I did not really think so when this all began, and still think a betting man would be loathe to assume anything, but this is a tell tale sign of why so many (not just "anti-war" zealots) just plain don't like the guy.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Books: Climate and Slavery

And Also: Bill Clinton campaigning for the slumping Lieberman is distressing: this is not just about control of Congress. It is about a whole new way of looking at things. Low expectations gave us Kerry. Snap out of it! Lieberman looks lame here too: one recalls his moralistic disgust at BC's bjs while mistreatment and torture was more a shades of gray issue as shown by his support of El Decider's personal lawyer. Helping this smuck is not your finest hour, Bill.

As a new public library branch opens in my area (after talk from the Reagan years), a handful of books came in from reserves at my old local branch. This reserve process is enjoyable -- some book catches my fancy. I reserve it. I periodically check the online website to see if it arrived (it takes about a week of "transit" before it does). And, when it does (usually shortly after midnight), I receive an email. This is the triborough system -- Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island (Brooklyn/Queens is separate). Meanwhile, I have a connection in the college library system, where I can get various other books. As with the transit system and so forth, one can take such things for granted. But, it is good to remember the value of the service.

Depressed with the usual current events, I picked up a few books of historical import: Lincoln/Douglas debates and John Adams/Thomas Jefferson's correspondence on question of religion/morals. The latter is neat in that it was edit by a letter carrier, though one with an impressive educational resume as well. As someone who writes a lot of this stuff as an educated amateur, such things obviously have appeal. The L/D issue touches upon the Dred Scott decision, which leads to a further comment. One little expressed reality was that many at the time wanted the Supreme Court to decide the question of slavery in the territories. Maybe, this was an ill-conceived notion, but it was a reality. Thus, the "self-inflicted wound" should be put in context.*

All the same, I dealt with the depressing issue first, namely global warming. Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change shows signs of its origins as a magazine series. It is a small book, under two hundred pages, and basically is a collection of snapshots of the signs of climate change -- signs with which those who viewed Al Gore's documentary would be familiar.

Kolbert also discusses President Bush's refusal to truly accept the problem at hand, claiming "sound science" (an Orwellian concept also used by tobacco companies ... the European "precautionary principle" is the better way to go, but simply put, the evidence is crystal clear at this point) should guard against it. Of course, from 2000 he was "concerned" about the issue. It is apiece with the opposition to stem cell research though perhaps the personal morals angle is a bit less self-evident.

Less controversial, at least in this country, is his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. The core problem here really is widespread (a preliminary vote in the Clinton years was 95-0 against) closed-minded selfish sentiment. The protocol takes the morally and realistically sound sentiment that as a prime polluter for so many years, we simply could not expect developing countries to have equal responsibilities.

As Kolbert notes, it is like if we view the possible amount of emissions to be like a layer cake -- the U.S. consumed a great chunk of it over the years, and now wants an equal share of the rest. Yeah, the other countries did not pollute all these years, but tough luck. So sorry! Yes, (West) Virginia, the environment might require some short term economic costs. Car insurance seems pointless before the accident too.

But, as is usual, the Bushies made a bad situation worse. An example discussed took place after Kyoto, when international climate talks began to deal with the next step after Kyoto. The U.S. delegation adamantly opposed this effort, not even wanting future problems to be talked about. This is how not to deal with international diplomacy. You are always going to have issues where your interests are contrary to other nations ... this requires a certain amount of finesse and keeping open channels of communication.

The Bush way is akin to a bratty child stomping out of the room when they don't get their way. John Bolton. Thus, Clinton didn't submit Kyoto to the Senate while voicing concern about global warning. Bush bluntly withdrew from talks, ensuring that they would not influence the conversation, while using "sound science" as proof of the need for yet another report (edited politically).

Apparently, however, Bush wants the U.N. to deal with the current Israel mess. This is akin to battering one's wife, but expecting her to welcome you with a nice dinner when you come home from work. The metaphor sounds tasteless, but I think it is legitimate given the situation. [BTW, the House almost unanimously passed a resolution on the conflict voicing concern about Israel ... it is amazing that the rest of the Middle East thinks we are biased or something.]

Ah well. Had some hellacious thunder and lightening here today during a quick rainstorm. Loud!


* Many focus on the racial aspects of the ruling, but at the time the territorial issue was the really controversy. Of course, either way, slavery would have continued. In fact, even the slavery in the territories issue was basically symbolic. Missouri Compromise territory that became states obviously was no longer an issue. The remaining area, particularly Kansas, did not turn out to be ideal for slavery. This left places obtained after the Mexican War like Utah and New Mexico, which might have had token slavery, but again, would not be "slave states." On some level, Sen. Douglas -- especially since it seemed the only way to keep his party and union together -- seemed to have legitimate compromise.

OTOH, and this seems to be key respecting Lincoln as well, there was a core symbolic issue. This can be quite important. Furthermore, as a principle, an "anti-slavery" rule (even if it had no concrete effect -- free blacks potentially were the most hurt by Dred Scott, ironically enough, and few were willing to go to bat for them) was quite dangerous to the South.

Along with an administration on record saying slavery was evil, at some point slavery would be threatened where it did exist. For instance, perhaps federal mails would be required to deliver anti-slavery tracts. Border states would have more to fear from runaways. And, so forth.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Broken System

And Also: I went to a "talk to artists" sort of event (Liberal Arts) hosted by Katherine Lanphur at Barnes & Nobles yesterday. It was enjoyable, the author an especially amusing sort. KL was a co-host of the Al Franken Show, but was among the Air America departures in the last year or so, most recently Janeane Garofalo. I'm less a fan of JG, but overall, these departures (generally women, though Mark Maron also left, except for a small role) had negative effects. They served a valuable balance to the hosts, who honestly are a bit hard to take straight. Anyway, it was nice to see KL in person, and hear her infective laugh (and curse ... women cursing can be very appealing).

One thing that troubles me is that so many people do not seem to understand that the problem with the current regime, talking national politics here, is not simply a difference of political opinion. Thus, we have the usual knee-jerk business (sadly, not just from the usual morons) that this Plame litigation is akin to the Jones lawsuit.

It simply is not. Yes, just as poisoned fruit is as fruity as your kid's banana, there are facial connections. Both are in some sense "political" in nature and so forth. But, there is a core difference in this particular case, involving not a long ago weak evidenced act of sexual harassment (to the disgust of some, I actually think Jones had a leg to stand on ... something happened there), but a very troubling act of outing a CIA agent (and her classified cover) for malicious reasons. And, the tail did not wag the dog here ... actually official investigations added teeth to the charges. Finally, to get technical, it is easier to target vice presidents (Burr was indicted in office, Agnew pled) and staff members (who only get qualified immunity even for official acts) than presidents.

But, there is a petty "but they did it too" quality to the whole debate repeatedly. Simply put, "they" did not do it like this. Thus, we have people from across the political spectrum (e.g., Broken Branch on conservative congressional skullduggery, books by John Dean, Kevin Phillips, etc.) underlining the point. So, there are different degrees of disagreement, disgust, and despair in the current environment. We have reached a point where honest and fair dealing ideological conservatives look good to liberals. The sort that don't promise to step down after twelve years and run for re-election anyway. The sort that actually allows debate and amendments on legislation, which is not edited at the 12th hour before many even have a chance to read the changes. And, the sort that do not simply lie and bullshit.*

Well, not this badly, at least. The acts themselves are repeatedly distasteful, even if they were done in an upfront matter. The fact they are not only makes things so much worst -- again, it forces even those who are not personally appalled by the substance of the stuff to be concerned in a more cerebral way. And, then there are those who have some of both. Thus, we have someone I know from online (enough to care some about) discuss how the whole "snowflake" business affects him personally -- see he and his wife had a child the in vitro way. He also is deeply concerned with moral and scientific (and simply reason) matters to find the whole thing morally appalling. A prime example of someone who underlines how the current bunch are selectively moral, in fact selfishly dismissive of the moral views of a majority of the population (surely on this issue).

So, there are various ways to attack this problem. This is shown by the last two posts, the latter addressing the issue of the veto as a political/constitutional matter. It seems to me, for instance, that a primary concern for the upcoming election is moving toward rebuilding a credible central government. A first step, surely, since the Democrats have some problems themselves. This is not simply a matter of oversight and checking executive power generally, but a real attempt at simply playing fair. The powers that be, of course, will only go kicking and screaming ... crying "political!" when it is pointed out that Congress is run akin to a plantation. And, only by looking at the complete picture will be able to see the whole problem. It simply is not just that the policy is a problem; it is the nature of the system as a whole.

Pinpoint attacks are sometimes useful, but it can very well at times be a problem, since you miss the forest for the trees. And, this really plays into the other side's hands, like get bogged down in Virginia while the rest of the Confederacy continues on. The good news that the rot is so bad that even the Democratic Party might succeed. Snark!**


* There is a difference:
The liar still cares about the truth. The bullshitter is unburdened by such concerns. Bullshit-related phrases like bull session or talking shit also suggest a casual, careless attitude toward veracity -- a sense that the truth is totally besides the point. Bullshit distracts with exaggeration, omission, obfuscation, stock phrases, pretentious jargon, faux-folksiness, feigned ignorance, and sloganeering homilies. When Dubya speaks of freedom and liberation, and claims to be praying for peace as the army disgorges load after load of bombs, he is not lying. He is bullshitting. A lie would be easier to disprove. Bullshit is a committee-drafted simpleton's sermon about evildoers and terra and freedom being God's gift to all men.

-- Laura Penny, Your Call Is Important To Us: The Truth About Bullshit

** Really, some continue to whine about how attacks on Sen. Lieberman is an example of the perfect being an enemy of the good. Doctrinal purity! Oh, shut up. It is particularly pathetic since they basically need to admit that Lieberman plays into the Republicans hands, and has various unfortunate tendencies. But, hey, we need to defend him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Veto

Baseball: Life in KC -- losing two days in the row vs. the Red Sox 1-0, after a blown ball call led to a three run homer late, thus resulting in a 5-4 loss at the start of the series. The team actually is showing a pulse, having a good June, including hurting the Cards (who continue to be weak) in the progress. The Royals actually have decent veteran bats, but suspect pitching, which makes those two games particularly unfortunate. Of course, since I do not like the Red Sox, my thoughts here are not simply support for an underdog. Or, dog.

What is the role of the presidential veto? A primary one is to protect the executive role, especially from legislation that would negatively affect its privileges. But, President Bush does not need the veto for that, since he just does what he wants anyway. A key way to do this is to assume, clear statement and intent notwithstanding, that legislation does not affect executive power as your extreme views would so define the term.

Thus, we have vague signing statements that conservatives are concerned with since it is unclear what exactly what they mean. In other words, they want the guy to have the guts (you know, like a Texan) to clearly state his views. Also, we just have them doing things in secret. And, things not so secret (if not quite official) even when the legislature and courts tell you not to do so. Stonewalling, including in the courts, is also a prime strategy.*

[An aside: The President's lawyer, aka the Attorney General, let it out that the President himself stopped the investigation of the NSA by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. A letter was released to Sen. Specter recently, suggesting the charm of even restricted oversight, that the investigators "begged" (per the NY Daily News story on the case ... James Gordon Meek again doing a good job respecting an area not quite the main concern of this local tabloidish paper) to be cleared to investigate since January. As one person noted, once upon time such stonewalling had quite negative connotations ... Nixonian.]

Another reason, harkening back to early presidents, is to guard against unconstitutional laws. The President has the obligation to faithfully execute the law of the land, thus has no power to sign into law unconstitutional bills. Thus, early bills funding internal improvements were vetoed. As shown here, as well as the veto of the bank reauthorization by President Jackson, the President's view on the constitutionality of the bill might be open to debate. So, arguably, it should not be done in close cases. Likewise, the President can always challenge the law in court, especially via an "as applied" matter to deal with particularly troublesome matters.

At the time of the early vetoes, federalism made internal improvements a major concern, but there were later cases where discretion was supplied ... especially when only a small aspect of the bill was a problem. Nixon took the litigation route respecting a law making the voting age eighteen, both for federal and state offices. At any rate, President Bush has a Republican Congress, and generally found this not a problem. When things like the campaign finance legislation came to his desk, something he said was constitutionally dubious, a veto was not forthcoming. As noted, this is arguably legitimate, depending on the situation.

Finally, and more constitutionally controversial, there is a general decision that certain legislation is simply bad policy for the country at large. Though having executive and constitutional concerns, President Jackson also used this approach in his Bank Veto. As the President played a greater role in public policy, this aspect of the veto became more important as well.

The President is said to be the best representative of the people at large, not just of individual districts or states, which is open to debate. At the very least, decisions of the people's branch are worthy of respect enough to make a "line item veto" questionable, especially since it allows one person to have a special power to promote special interest legislation. The power was particularly not given in the Constitution, in part to promote compromise bills that give a bit to various sides.

But, a veto of legislation as a whole for this reason is sound to some degree. As a policy matter, and probably as a matter of separation of powers, it should be used carefully. It is a judgment call. Still, especially since it is his very first veto (for a two term president, such a long fallow period did not occur since the time of Jefferson, who also had a Republican Congress in his pocket, again up to a point [e.g., the impeachment of Justice Chase]), vetoing the stem cell funding bill is a bad judgment. It surely is when the President says that he believes such research is "murder." Obviously, it is hard to be snark-free here given his support of the death penalty, cruel wars, underfunding many things that are essential to healthy life, opposing medical procedures necessary for the well being of pregnant women, etc. (ad nauseam).

We try to be fair though. Again, I fail to see how he can allow in vitro fertilization to go on without a protest at least on the level of his Social Security "reform" road show. And, why a minority moral view such as this should trump over the will of Congress, including strong anti-abortion voices like Sen. "Murder Promoter" Hatch, in also unclear. I can respect those wary about this sort of research, though not quite understanding how they can be consistent unless they also fully oppose in vitro fertilization, which involves the destruction of loads of embryos. The research here takes stem cells from what will be destroyed anyway, with the permission of the "parents" involved, to promote potential life saving treatment.

[Bush had a photo op with "snowflake" babies that came from adopted embryos. Fine enough, but such babies arose from a technology that inherently requires procedures that destroys many more "snowflakes." And, I do not think he is pushing for the embryos to be forcibly made available for adoption. Again, there is ... to quote someone ... a full of "shit" quality to this whole matter.]

This is not without concerns, but should we leave it to the whims of one man, or the decision making of the people's representatives? After all, a small minority opposes other things, such as experiments on animals, including primates, or any number of other things the negatively affects human life.** The "life" at stake here are not constitutional persons. I personally find the term "murder" especially unfortunate given the connotations of the term. It is simply an abuse of language, which is not surprising given the source. When governmental funding is involved, moral questions will sometimes have to be addressed, and the future will only increase the complexity of the questions. Cloning etc. But, and some supportive of the current regime surely agree, this underlines the importance of having our representatives debate and decide the issues.

A conservative leaning national legislative body, including some clearly anti-abortion, agreed to this legislation. Their moral judgment is in no way clearly wrong or contrary to a majority of the population at large. The person saying so has a record that makes his judgment at the very least somewhat open to question. To be generous. The fact a small segment of the population disagrees, and thinks this akin to "murder," doesn't change this ... it also is unclear why in this particular case, as compared to any number of other areas, this minority should trump.

More abuse of language, democracy, and science. Par for the course. He could not quite wiggle out of this one, though enough Republicans (including "moderate" Sen. DeWine in a tough race) voted for it to help him enough to avoid an override.

The whole matter leaves one with a taste of disgust, but it also is simply a horrible use of the veto (surely as a maiden effort!) as well.


* This results in serious damage. Years have passed as the President's minions delay submitting to basic rules of civilized behavior respecting those detained in our prisons pursuant to post-9/11 actions. The broad term is appropriate, since we are not just talking about many people taken far from the battlefield, but also those taken in via material witness warrants, immigration violations, and so forth.

** One need not be an animal rights advocate to be more concerned with electric shocks and so forth inflicted on higher primates than studies on stem cells from "life" that will be destroyed anyway.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Respect" For Life

And Also: Dorothy Blackmun has died. My thoughts on the Plame litigation.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said today that the president would veto the measure. Mr. Snow said Mr. Bush continued to believe that federal money should not be spent on research conducted on stem cells derived from human embryos, even if they were going to be otherwise discarded.

"The president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something that is living and making it dead for the purpose of research," Mr. Snow said. ...

Despite nearly 150 veto threats during his time in office, Mr. Bush has not previously sent a single piece of legislation back to Capitol Hill, where his Republican allies control both the House and Senate. House members were so rusty about how to handle the issue that Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader, was temporarily stumped on what the exact procedure would be when pressed by reporters. The last vetoed measure subject to an override vote was a water projects bill rejected by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

-- Where Bush Draws The Line

The Republican's War Against Science spells out the difficulties rational people have these days under the current regime, but this effort takes things to new lows. In 2004, I El Decider goes the extra mile. Why he is allowing even a dime to go to in vitro fertilization (destroying of actual embryos) is unclear.

The bill does not currently have a veto proof majority, though as a general matter, veto proof majorities do support stem cell research. Some dubious bs will be offered by a few key individuals to explain why this bill is somehow uniquely worthy of being rejected. The President's concern for "life" is well appreciated, except for those radicals like Nancy Reagan who support a different path. Meanwhile, Democrats wimped out after they were accused of cynically using flag draped coffins in their advertising:
The ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for a "new direction" and displayed a staccato of images, including war scenes, pollution and breached levees as well as a photograph of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay doctored to look like a police mug shot.

The President used such visuals (involving the dead of 9/11) in political ads as well. Called upon to respond, the House Majority Leader suggested there was some sort of difference involved. Well, they are a master of nuance. For instance, cynical use of a criminal war including all the needless dead involved for political ends: perfectly fine. But, only for supporters. It's all perfectly clear.

They are hypocrites.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Personal is the Political

And Also: NY v. Chicago this weekend ... 5-1, NY. I speak of baseball, though it looked early on that it might be 4-2, since the Mets were down 5-0 (and, the Cubs pitcher hit a home run) early last night. Seemed like a good time to go home. When I got there, the game was winding down, 13-7. The Mets had an eleven run inning, eight of them unearned (two grand slams, two run homer, single). As with Friday's game, the Cubs gave them an opening (that one was a double play that wasn't) and the Mets drove thru it. With some pitching questions, this sort of thing might be useful.

I don't like to be too personal on this blog out of respect for my own privacy and generally because it is not really meant to be that sort of effort. A primary point of this blog is to discuss my views on various public issues. I am not sure how far using personal examples would advance this. It opens up questions of bias and personal sentiments vs. general arguments. This is a bit of a cheat, obviously, since personal experiences surely affect how one views the world. Likewise, I use individual examples now and again. So, I guess privacy is an important factor, and a disfavoring of using personal experiences -- however relevant and useful -- too much.

Still, bias it might be, I am somewhat suspicious about personal accounts that lead to arguments that seem a bit slanted, as if only a heartless bastard would not see it their way. This is so even if they are right. Of course, on some level, this blog is deeply personal. It is the personal musings of its author. And, though it is open to the public, it is largely for his own enjoyment. This leads me to write somewhat differently here than I might on say the Slate fray, for which I am in effect writing for a broader audience. There are shades and degrees of "personal."

Though at least one person has charged me with just submitting philosophical musings, I have been directly affected by many of the hot button issues discussed in these entries. These issues are in fact not simply important to me because of some general view of how things should work, but because they directly affect the lives of you and me. This influences my views on equal protection. My general sentiment is that in some fashion someone close or relatively close to me (if not me) fits into any number of groupings. Thus, what right do I (or anyone, really) have to illegitimately favor one of them over the other. This includes those who in some fashion I do not like too much in some fashion, including certain political and religious viewpoints.

I referenced a book on the animal movement recently, which included rules of proper advocacy. One rule, which was reaffirmed in another book on writing to change the world, is that one should respect your audience. In some fashion, you need to try to form a bridge, and not be disrespectful even to those with whom you totally disagree, who you might even actively dislike. I generally try to do that though one has one's slip-ups. I understand but at some point dislike the vitriol out there. It is emotionally satisfying, but one on one, scriptural spitting is rather lame after awhile. Also, I find using one's opponents’ arguments in some fashion against them -- tricky common ground -- can be quite useful.

The term "the personal is the political" has a lot of truth to it. Any number of public issues directly affects the lives of millions of Americans. Such is the case with health care. Thus, a tale of woe led me to be sympathetic, but also quite honestly say "this is why we need universal health care." In fact, the problem with broader -- an example of disrespect for the health needs of the general public overall, and one can assume (as shown in some countries) a national health care system that would lead to similar problems.

Still, simply put, when one cannot obtain a crucial test -- even if you wanted to pay for it ($1500, not cheap, but affordable for this person) -- something is wrong. Again, the irony -- the person (who was not properly counseled about her plan) is part of a HMO.* The lie is that it is universal health care which will lead to people not being able to get the care for which they are willing pay.

So, yes, sometimes personal experience can be used to advance one's cause. I am supportive of the anything that works approach, seeing many things as a complex whole that cannot be fully understood by looking only at one strand. The sum of their parts. I find it counterproductive to look at things only in one particular way, closing out others that might attract more people to your side. So, the personal would be part of it, sure enough.

Still, we all have our favored techniques. It's a personal thing.


* The person was further upset since this seemed so petty and purposeless. My guess was that it is a liability issue of some kind.