About Me

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

Monday, December 31, 2007

A Human Face Among the Statistics

As the family of Fredia Ann Veitch, 30, reeled with grief, new details emerged about Leyritz's partying with a Playboy model in the hours before the tragedy early Friday.

- NY Daily News story on former Yankee World Series Hero

The word "tragedy" has a specific meaning in literature to stand for an unfortunate occurence by those who do not mean to do harm. Shades of irony and "s/he meant well." The word more generally means some seriously bad thing that happens, including those without any good or bad guys (e.g., harm from a hurricane, even without the maladministration of the likes of Katrina).

The word still seems a bit inapt here -- Leyritz, who once "bragged"* that he hit a home run after a night on the town with the help of some of the substances the Mitchell Report targeted -- apparently drove intoxicated and killed a mother of two young children. This is not really a "tragedy," but a horrible act of stupidity. I keep on seeing PSAs on television against "buzzed" driving ... since the model suggested he was buzzed but not drunk ... maybe new ones should be made showing that picture. No, that would probably be a violation of privacy.

Still, her death provides a warning for this time of year. It also provides a window into the tabloid leaning journalism of papers like the NY Daily News. Better than the New York Post, and having some journalistic qualities (the op-ed pages have gone to the dogs of late, though), it still is sure to have some tabloid material. This includes (and this article was not an exception, which honestly is a bit tacky, though I assume they can say it has some news function to show what he was doing beforehand or something) some excuse at showing sexy pictures of some tart. OTOH, the coverage also put a human face on the victim here.

This served a useful function, and probably deserves to be done more often in a range of things in which a human face will hit home. Aiming at our emotions was always an aim for tabloids, but not without some value. Fredia Ann Veitch is not just a statistic, but a human face no longer with us.**


* Akin to some remarks in an article about his use of HGH about Andy Pettite's piety, this is from the NY Daily News coverage that can show some bite.

** A striking tidbit from the coverage was that the husband did not at first tell a neighbor how the wife died, since in effect it did not really matter -- she was dead, the rest just details. The details matter, but this greater truth does as well.

Week 17

And Also: Glenn Greenwald today talks about the hopes of "handful of retired, mediocre politicians" to get my mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to think about running an independent run for President. You know, as a rich big daddy savior (shades of Jean Harlow?). And, since he was once a Democrat until it was no longer politically useful, he has the above the party fray thing going for him, though of course as a Republican (see GG's piece) he did help them out the last few years. Anyway, comes to me that when GG yesterday cited candidates whose supporters are upset about the current political situation, he left out Dennis Kucinich. This is not a unique situation, especially since a Paul sympathizer like him should like DK's opposition to Bush et. al.

Week 17 had some interesting action other than the Giants decision to fold in the Fourth Quarter. A few games actually mattered, two wild card spots open, and the AFC third seed technically so (Oakland had to win ... in fact, even if they did, the Steelers still lost -- thus have the indignity of losing both to the Jets and Ravens). The Bears again affected the playoffs, already pushing Green Bay to second seed (Dallas lost today, big, so might have still lost if they played their regulars all the way ... they finished up one game up on GB in the seeding race), knocked the Saints from the playoffs early. The week before, the Eagles -- also playing some role in the playoffs -- beat the Saints as well. So, after starting off 0-4, the Saints ended on a losing note, after an up and down final twelve games.

The Bengals won (the Ravens going for a tie already gave Miami their win, so Miami played normally ... to lose), so ended their disappointing season on a decent 7-9 note. Not good, but much better than one might think from their record early on. Houston also had their best record in their short history -- 8-8 -- with a win. The Jets, playing their former head coach's team, won in OT ... playing Kansas City, who started off credibly ala the Ravens, but who ended with a stream of losses. KC scored late and had one more shot when a penalty pushed back the winning field goal to a somewhat iffy 42 yd, but showed their losing ways again. Jets 4-12, finale 13-10.

Another low scoring game showing questionable offense (also a problem for the 8-8 Eagles, out of the playoffs in large part thanks to the Giants), following a 10-6 loss against the superior Titans. The Titans had another low scoring game, mostly against the Colts back-ups, in part thanks to Vince Young getting hurt (apparently, not too badly) early. Another familiar face, former NY Giants QB Kerry Collins (who led them to their last Super Bowl appearance), came in and helped (a 50+ field goal helped) them get into the playoffs (knocking off the Browns, who won, but lost the key game the week before) in the last game of Week 17. Earlier, the Redskins overwhelmed the Cowboys -- Owens resting, and playing back-ups part of the game -- making the Vikings' loss (even a win wouldn't have gave a team, thought a shoo-in a few weeks ago, the final wild card spot) in OT largely irrelevant.

Of some interest as well, Tampa Bay -- which some seem to think will be a tough one for the Giants -- lost again, in effect leading them to limp to the playoffs. Onward to Wild Card weekend. Oh, cannot forget about the Falcons winning ... I think the defense had the day off, since there was a combined over eighty points as the Jaguars rested (to a degree) for their game next week -- the AFC clearly has a tough bunch, if this is the fifth seed.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

More Unrest ... Without the Bloodshed

To add a bit to my comments yesterday, Glenn Greenwald raged against the machine again today, in particular at those who want to use "bipartisanship" to enable the ongoing destruction of the constitutional values some of us hold dear. The anger and unrest, and the words remind me of 2004 when some idiots (too harsh?) kept on saying "hating Bush" (defined as being very upset about all the bad things he and his enablers done) was "childish," shows up in the various campaigns:
The campaigns of Edwards,* Mike Hucakbee and Ron Paul each, in their own ways, signify that there is some intense unrest and deep dissatisfaction with our political establishment, and this has to be quashed by the concealing device known as "bipartisanship." But it is also an attempt to ensure that nothing of any significance is exposed, that none of the lawbreaking and corruption of the last six years -- which they all enabled and cheered on -- sees the light of day.

I have noted by displeasure at his focus on Ron Paul, in particular, a failure to truly supply a complete picture of the man while denying expanded coverage suggests any special support. It was not his finest hour. But, a few times, he did suggest that the Paul phenomenon is expressed in other campaigns, where the candidate didn't give revisionist accounts of the Civil War, wanted a federal amendment to ban abortions, supported DOMA, wants to end Social Security as we known it, and so forth. Not that Huckabee (sic) is particularly ideal either, but McCain (St. Courage) has bowed down to the fundamentalists too, he was just more phony about it. McCain's serious foreign policy credentials suggests experience only takes one so far. One does almost feel sorry for Republican voters. Still they do have the transvestite candidate.

As to the "bipartisanship" (might one call it the "Lieberman" path? or is he the "tri" guy?), the term is like "compromise" -- it need not be a bad word, if the path does not take you into the abyss. One requirement should be that the other side should have to give up something real, the failure to do so warranting refusal to cooperate. Consider the deal that ended the "nuclear option" threat over filibusters of a handful of judicial nominees. What exactly did the Democrats get out of it? Nearly all of the disputed nominees were confirmed, and in some extreme circumstances, the fourteen who signed agreed that there would be a right to filibuster. The circumstances apparently in the judgment of each senator, arguably giving the power to the majority that the whole process was meant to check.

The fact that, like the bullies they are, these people do not want to share is at the heart of the problem. The public wants serious change in Iraq and the election of 2006 was a reflection of the general trend. But, Republicans -- put aside enabling Bush Dogs -- en masse did not want to share. Even a few refused to support honestly wimpy limitations on the President's carte blanche authority to f-up in Iraq. Let's put blame where it is deserved. Thus, call for "bipartisanship" should be targeted at the REPUBLICANS. Those who cry foul at what is going on are on the right path. And, to raise Obama again, let's hope he realize it is not some neutral "system" that is at fault, but certain forces therein. Some don't quite think he gets it enough. Others take their comments with a grain of salt.

As to my Sandy Levinson footnote, Glenn Greenwald and others are so angry because they think "the system" now furthers lawlessness. They think the "Constitution" ... cf. the rights and privileges of Englishmen the colonists thought were being tossed by the wayside while obviously the crown and Parliament disagreed ... is being broken. Their Constitution. A Constitution that opens up a path with the right leadership, choices, opportunities and luck to a different way. A way not like this:
Their chief weapon to protect those privileges is immunity from the rule of law, and most of our political controversies -- over presidential power and state secrets and executive privilege and torture and eavesdropping and these CIA videos -- really share the same root: the effort of the establishment to maintain their immunity from impropriety-exposing legal proceedings and, thus, from political consequences.

Some think this is compelled by the Constitution and how things do/must work. I think not. Not this badly. The Constitution was there in 1998 too. Sure, it led to a stupid impeachment, but like fire, such power is supposed to be able to be used for the good too. Instead, since our fingers were singed, we are eating raw meat now. The means to heat it is there though ... no need to invent something else or settle for maybe leaving some of it in the sun for awhile. Yuck. Makes one want to be a vegeterain.

Still, in this country, elections do not generally include assassinations -- the events after FDR was elected aside -- so there is something to, right?


* Flashback to 2004 as well: GG references the ridicule of Edwards' self-made wealth via defending those screwed over by corporations. For those who believe in that sort of thing, he was a self-made man -- via work and education, he rose from humble mill town origins with respect for the Lord (and concern for "gay marriage") along the way. Like Mike Huckabee, however, the real deal is not as good as faux representations.

** See also some comments here, including some by Dilan Esper, who also explains why he labels HC as a right wing conservative:

1. Has supported EVERY single war proposed in her adult lifetime, including the murder of 3,800 brave American service members in Iraq and war with Iran.

2. Opposes a single payer national health care scheme and wants to force poor people to buy coverage rather than provide something that should be a right to all citizens.

3. Supported throwing millions of poor women off welfare.

4. Attacked an intern making a truthful claim that her superior exploited her at the office as a "stalker" and a tool of a "vast right wing conspiracy".

5. Supports the Bush policy of refusing to talk to world leaders and demonizing anyone who challenges US hegemony.

6. Wants to continue the Iraq War forever in the form of a residual force fighting "terrorists", i.e., those Iraqi populations who oppose the American occupation.

I'd say that makes her a hard right conservative.

But, hey, if you oppose her too strongly, you are helping the conservatives win! BTW, #4 is mostly right -- there was a "conspiracy," even if Monica Lewinsky did not deserve to be victimized to fight it. I'd add this whole deal about her being a bad catch because she is fat or something is also a very crude shot.

Ironically, another person I enjoy online -- a true blue liberal -- has written that HC should be supported, in part as a symbol to his daughter on what can be possible. But, hatred by the people you hate is akin to the whole "enemy of my enemy" deal.

Giants Fail and Obama Concerns

And Also: The Giants played to win ... for three quarters. Then, they let the Pats walk all over them, and then took for-ev-er to score to make it a three point game. And, a miracle onside kick recovery rather unlikely even in a regular game, hand the game at the end too. I'm not satisfied. No "moral victory" for me. A bloody field goal would have meant something. But, they only scored (after going up 28-16) again way too late. 38-35 to me is rather worse than a less close game, especially since you tasted it late enough to matter. And, if you don't play it all the way, don't tease your fans.

It's about here ... next Thursday, the Iowa caucus is upon us. This is followed by New Hampshire and a slew of other races, including New York in February, in rapid succession. The focus in the media still seems mostly to be H v. O on the Democratic side, even though the race in Iowa is very close. And, there is some concern about Obama from progressives, the sorts who do not think HC is the best option. Atrios summarized things thusly:
Shorter Candidates

Obama: The system sucks, but I’m so awesome that it’ll melt away before me.

Edwards: The system sucks, and we’re gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.

Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

This is my knee-jerk feeling as well. I'm open to have it tempered, but it is not just an empty fear either. I have referenced the Krugman take that Obama is not aware that you cannot just go above the fray ... you have to choose a side, since there are sides. There is a wrong group, and thinking you can be above the fray and to appeal to "one America" ala his speech in the Democratic Convention in 2004 is somewhat naive. See also, a recent column by Joe Conason, which was referenced here not too long ago as well. JC surely favors Clinton over Edwards, but he in effect raised similar concerns from a slightly different angle. [See his second from last Salon piece; his most recent raises another red flag.] These are people who's judgment I trust, and they are not alone.

To be honest, it is not like I think Edwards is the IDEAL candidate, particularly because I still am not sure if he has the experience and gravitas for the job. But, we take what is given, and since all the Republican choices are no gos, you go with the likely Democratic options. Dodd's latest move against telecommunication immunity is great, and he's above Clinton surely in my book, but you also have to look at the fact he is definitely a longshot. At best. And, if Obama is going to weenie, see also the fact he wasn't there to help Dodd -- not the first time he didn't use the bully pulpit of the Senate for good -- I question it. Ditto, remember calls for "electability" in 2004? -- many suggest Edwards is the one they favor in the general. And, to be blunt, I'm mad, and want someone who acts like he is too.

And, look here -- in a Krugman approved blog entry -- to get an idea of what "system"* is involved and what "party" must be fought. [Interesting piece on the "Powell Memo" cited as well.] The entry is particularly useful in that it provides a long view, reminding us that we are not just up against one group of dubious characters, but a group that took advantage of a long term strategy. [Such "why" analysis is a major value of blogs, especially to get an overall feel of such issues.] One that better helps explain why they were able to seize the day when the opportunity opened in front of them. I often do not look at the long haul and big picture in such a fashion, but there is surely enough truth to the account supplied.

More evidence why the Democrats have to take the opportunity here -- various things leaning their way (including retirements) and some openness (and desire) for a different way, and not choke. Or settle. Well, the true beginning of the road to November will begin momentarily. Let's see.


* Sandy Levinson: "Like John Edwards, [David Broder] is willing to say that 'our system is broken' without ever recognizing that relationship between our system and our Constitution."

I doubt Edwards, especially given his service as a senator, is unaware that the Constitution affects how things are done in D.C. It still does not quite explain why this last president was so much worse than most others. Edwards also is probably aware that pushing for constitutional change is a bit of a non-starter. If anything, the first step would be to convince the current system is so broken that it needs change. You do not really skip the first step, pushing for change before a need for it is accepted.

And, citing the veto power does not convince. Our Constitution provides Congress (and others) a means to restrain the President, if they have the wherewithal to use them. The Constitution alone is not at fault for the failure to do so. Check out the blog piece. Is the problem the "Constitution," or a "certain system" that was allowed to be bred under its terms? And, trusting the people to demand better leaders who do a better job at promoting the ends of the Preamble has been done before.

Or, does SL want him to promote his little pipe dream of a people's convention as if this was 1787?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Out of Range (Gun Book)

And Also: The Ravens' choke makes tonight's game more important than it could be (the Giant's win total, less so for them), but why must it be on both CBS and NBC? It already is on a local channel, which occurs when a pay station has the game (here the more obscure NFL Network), and probably some with a satellite could point their dish to get it in various cases too. So, the need for network simulcasting is somewhat questionable as is ... so why TWO stations? Anyway, one NY Daily News sports writer thinks an upset is possible ... everyone else, including the advice columnists, think not.

Charlie Wilson's War underlines the fact that those who wish to keep informed sometimes are overwhelmed by the number of longish books out there, all competing with your limited reading time that also needs to take into consideration other works such as T is for Trespass ... Sue Grafton's latest in her alphabet mystery series (which I have read since the mid-1980s). Blogs and articles do provide a way to keep track of things, and for the eclectic reader, that does provide a necessary resource. Book reviews also provide a useful summary -- some more informative ones (e.g., NYT, various news magazines) even have theme reviews that supply an overview of a few with a similar theme.

Still, there are various short to medium sized books out there for the general reader and those who want a bit more, that provide a good resource to keep informed. For instance, the "opposing viewpoints" series was a favorite when I was in school, including the amusing political cartoons found therein, providing quick essays on both sides of a diverse number of issues of the day. They still are quite useful and easily found at your local library. There are also series on the American presidents (written by a diverse group, not just historians), various landmark Supreme Court cases (e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut and Marbury v. Madison) and extended essays by the likes of Bill Moyers and Gary Hart on topics of current importance.

Out of Range: Why the Constitution Can't End the Battle Over Guns by Mark V. Tushnet is part of the general trend, itself part of the "inalienable rights" series that also includes thus far a book on the Constitution in the time of national emergency and one on racial justice. This thin (135 pages) but informative volume tackles the Second Amendment at a timely moment -- it would not be a bad idea for those interested in the upcoming Supreme Court argument on the D.C. regulation (the lower court ruling referenced in the book) to read Tushnet's account. It is a quick read, and though its length does not make it totally well-rounded, the book does provide a fair account of both sides of the debate.

I do think the book left a few things out, and size alone does not really justify that. It is somewhat debatable, I guess, if it's okay to not toss in James Madison's reference to an armed citizenry in the Federalist Papers, or an early 19th Century constitutional commentator (not Joseph Story) often cited for referencing the same point in promotion of the individual rights view. Thomas Jefferson also has an important cite to the "well disciplined militia" in his first inaugural address. Other examples can be suggested. It seems less so to not even mention the Brady ruling (Printz v. U.S.) and only supply a drive-by cite of the guns near schools case (Lopez), surely since Justice Thomas cites the Second Amendment in the former case. And, guns are not just about the Second Amendment.*

Tushnet argues that an originalist view leans toward, though not totally conclusively, an individual rights view. However, other techniques arguably lean the other way ... probably a bit less conclusively. Since even an originalist view (along with state constitutions with clear individual rights provisions, at least per common interpretations by their courts) leaves one open to some sort of regulation, Tushnet's conclusion is that there is no clear solution by an appeal to the Constitution. Not that many on both sides would agree, thinking their appeals downright conclusive. He also is rather dubious on the benefits of regulations as a whole, though accepts that small steps might be useful.

Tushnet argues that it boils down to a type of culture war, which is probably true on a diverse number of constitutional issues. He also notes that to the degree an originalist view helps the individual rights side (again, only up to a point, and not conclusively), it should be realized that pure originalist is simply not how we usually do things anyway. Tushnet cites Justice Breyer's book on Active Liberty:
They read the text’s language along with related language in other parts of the document. They take account of its history, including history that shows what the language likely meant to those who wrote it. They look to tradition indicating how the relevant language was, and is, used in the law. They examine precedents interpreting the phrase, holding or suggesting what the phrase means and how it has been applied. They try to understand the phrase’s purposes or (in respect to many constitutional phrases) the values that it embodies, and they consider the likely consequences of the interpretive alternatives, valued in terms of the phrase’s purposes.

In fact, it seems to me that an "originalist" (as in what the Framers etc. originally figured would be done ... I realize the term can be defined in various ways) interpretation would follow a comparable line. Those who wrote, voted for/ratified, and so forth the Constitution were familiar as to how law and constitutions worked. When deciding what a constitutional provision meant, they did not just try to study the understanding of the people at the time of its creation. And, when they did, "understanding" was often a broad thing, the particulars often debated without agreement on many things.

Likewise, the test of time and precedent also mattered. It simply was not a matter of "original understanding," may the heavens fall. As an account of James Madison's acceptance of the Second Bank of the U.S., after opposing the first on constitutional grounds, notes:
As President, Madison signed the Second Bank Bill into law even though as a representative in the First Congress he opposed the bill because he believed Congress had no constitutional right to establish a national bank. But although he had voted against the First Bank Bill, by the time he was required to sign the Second Bank Bill as President of the United States, he recognized that "Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, and (most importantly, by failing to use their amending power) the American people had for two decades accepted the existence and made use of the services of the First Bank," and he viewed this widespread acceptance as "a construction put on the Constitution by the nation, which, having made it, had the supreme right to declare its meaning."

Madison also had a comment as to how the meaning of statutes would only develop over their use and interpretation as well that Breyer would probably like. Anyway, I think such a path would benefit the individual rights view in some degree. The people as whole accept that view, if with limits and "reasonable" regulations. Top Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 supported that view and a "living Constitution" ruling would reasonably strike down the D.C. statute at least in part, or at least interpret it in such a way to recognize some individual right to own a firearm for self-defense.

As Tushnet notes, the D.C. law is a fairly extreme outlier anyway, and a pragmatic mild ruling is left open by the Constitution as well. Maybe, it would be a good idea if some of the justices -- let's say Kennedy, Souter and Breyer -- read the book too!


* Tushnet briefly suggests the Ninth Amendment might protect a right to self defense, but since a good argument can be made that the Second Amendment is primarily (if not solely) concerned with a particular use of weapons, this matter warrants a bit more discussion. As Saul Cornell, cited by Tushnet at various points, notes the militia and the common law right of self-defense in fact developed on different tracks. In fact, the Supreme Court's wording of the question posed for the D.C. case suggests self-defense is not a matter of the state-regulated militia as such.

In fact, there might be some confusion as to the Fourteenth Amendment as well, the "state's rights" component of the Second Amendment of particular concern here. Tushnet does cover this a bit, but it is quite logical to argue that the Second Amendment guards against federal tyranny by allowing states a check via their own militia. States, not a free-standing body (the Shay's Rebellion suggested the problems with them), would "regulate" such groups. Shades of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, this provides a check in cases of federal tyranny. And, "the people" suggests all groups would serve this civic republican function. Thus, individual ownership, but some regulation is legitimate.

State constitutional provisions that might be more individual rights minded arguably dealt with somewhat different concerns. OTOH, even there, the "militia" can be a state regulated group in which the people at large -- not armies -- provide domestic security. The Fourteenth Amendment (are you listening, Ron Paul?) is more individual rights focused with the Equal Protection Clause an added wrinkle (disfavored groups might benefit from being armed or having the right to join militia). It is only via incorporation that the Second Amendment would be applied to state laws in this area.

Focusing on the "Second Amendment," thus can confuse things.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War (Film)

And Also: I realize that the Giants must look toward the playoffs, but past experience suggests they just might get very far. So, fans can still care about them beating the Pats. And, implications from more than one WFAN host aside, I actually still remember (and care about) when they ended the Broncos perfect season, even if it was a decade ago. Ok?

A lot can be said about Charlie Wilson's War, at least, it can be discussed from various angles. An added tidbit arises from the assassination of Bhutto, since the execution of her father was referenced in the movie. Another more amusing reference was to investigations that involved Wilson from that enthusiastic prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani. Other tidbits ... unlike some, I think Julia Roberts does a good job as a rich conservative fundraiser, Tom Hanks really does look like the real deal, and West Wing fans might enjoy to know the guy behind that wrote the screenplay.

I have yet to read the actual book -- the film is no documentary, though the accounts so far suggest it is fairly accurate as such things go. The book is pretty long, as is the time period (the better part of a decade), so the movie can at best give you an overall feel of the situation. And, it does a good job -- given the limitations of a Hollywood motion picture -- in doing so from various angles. The human face, the dangers of mixing religion into the conflict and aid, the dangers of "winning" but not worrying about the aftermath, and so forth. It's a superior piece of work, though not quite definitely must see good.

The true nature of the conflict and "Charlie Wilson's War" was obviously greatly compressed, which should be kept in mind, but such is often the nature of the medium. Before watching the film, h/t BTC News, I read this piece. The article suggests two core problems, but it is unfair to suggest the film is a sham because of them ... in fact, I think the article exaggerates them. And, it bears repeating, any film is likely to have some comparable decision (or many) that is worthy of criticism without ruining the overall work.

And, the article -- cited by others as suggested by the h/t -- really is based on one quick scene involving the funding of the rebels. The scene suggests the funds (at least the funds and training involved at that time) would go to one particular group, who another group doesn't much like (a tribal issue expressed by an off-color joke). The article is upset at the implication of tribal divisions leading to an inability of the different groups to form a united government, but the movie simply did not do that with a brief reference. Furthermore, there are tribal splits ... heck, in a fashion, we have them as well. This is so even if the reference was put in to make some group that might want to send that message happy.

More troubling, the article suggests the scene papers over the fact that our funding of the rebels led to money and arms going to less than savvy sorts, leading to the Taliban and so forth. First off, the movie -- notable particularly for a somewhat light (e.g., Wilson's "jailbait" sexy staff members) movie that surely is meant to be feel good overall (Soviets lost etc.) -- ends on a dark note. The CIA agent tells CW a parable about how certain acts might or might not be a good thing, depending on what comes next. And, we know what came next, don't we?

In fact, a bit of thought will suggest where some of those Taliban arms came from. The movie also had a scene where Wilson and the CIA agent looks on uncomfortably while another member of Congress riles up the locals in part with religious imagery. So, Tom Hanks might have said something about not wanting to bring up 9/11, but the movie makes it somewhat hard to not think about the general events. And, the fact that at one time, funds would be focused on one group does not mean no funds or arms would go to others. In fact, that is a bit ridiculous, since that one group could not defeat the Soviets by themselves.

And, the scene was quick. The movie in fact did not go into the particulars -- aside from the fact that it would be channeled covertly (leading to the locals being less likely to associate it with the U.S.) through Pakistan -- on how the funds and arms would be delivered. The one scene might have pleased some group, as suggested by the piece, but it really does not stick in your mind to any degree. Much more was spent dealing with a Jewish arms dealer, including some discussions while a (Baptist) belly dancer kept an official busy. The particulars are important, but I disagree that the film should be deeply criticized for "tricking" us.

I'm sure the film could have shown some more depth in various ways, but that article was at least somewhat misleading in its criticism. In context, the film actually deserves some praise, though one-sided (something implied by the very title) major motion pictures should be taken with a grain of salt. As someone who watched me wanted to know, how much of this was true? Enough to make it worthwhile and thought provoking, was my response.

The issue of aftermath and consequences alone is worth the price of admission. But, we learn that daily anyway, I guess.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Sunday Thoughts

And Also: More Paul stuff [h/t TPM] ... as to Abe, not only does it take at least two to tango on the war, he actually raised the issue of compensated emancipation and even border state leaders didn't bite, plus slavery in British West Indies wasn't quite the same as the American South. [More.] Krugman again attacks (the tone suggests the word is suitable) Obama, noting in part that campaign finance reform cannot be viewed simplistically -- unions are not quite corporations.

There are a lot of bad football teams out there as well as good ones with some problems, but it does make for some interesting and meaningful games to the very end. Week 16 was no different, though there was the usual ... Pats won (scored early, let Miami score once, didn't run up score), Jets lost (another game underlining they have a credible defense ... in a game the Titans had to win, the Jets lost 10-6 ... a blocked extra point and interception on third and goal (they gave up a field goal after a penalty opened up the shot for more) being the difference ... and the Falcons, Oakland an the Rams also showed why they have sucky records.

But, even after losing a key game in part because their veteran coach didn't realize you couldn't call back to back time outs (pushing a game winning field goal much closer), the Redskins beat the Vikings, meaning they in fact have a good shot at the playoffs. SF lost because Tampa Bay, in a game that mattered for positioning, couldn't get a late two point conversion. The Bengals, off nineteen second quarter points (thirteen on turnovers with about a minute left), threatened the Browns playoff shot, gaining some revenge for a game they lost by something like 50-45. The Giants, as noted, won, but were down 14-0 early, blew a shot to score at the goal line, and fumbled at the Bills 10. Rain and snow added to the fun. But, the Bills are suspect too, and gave some early Xmas gifts to the Giants' defense.

All in all, pretty fun, with next week having meaningful games too, including a couple playoff spots, a perfect record, and some positioning. BTW, I also mentioned that I got the audio for The Trial. I have listened to about ninety minutes and do not like early plot developments. It starts well with Joseph K. waking up to find out he is arrested, which the strangers who accost him (taking his breakfast, suggesting they give up his clothes, but later letting him go without incident so it's a good thing he didn't, etc.) and fail to tell him why exactly he is in trouble. Not that he should worry too much about it for now, mind you. Good beginning. But, then he suddenly -- rather too soon -- goes a bit off the edge. He acts strangely to his landlady and a lady tenant at his building.

And then, he rants at his first (apparently) official hearing, after they seem to think he is someone else. In fact, K. acts strangely beforehand. He is sent to a building for a hearing, it looks very strange, but for some reason he doesn't want to ask where to go. So he sets up this subterfuge of looking for some carpenter so that he can get a look inside the various rooms. Why exactly K. does something this stupid is unclear at this point. Likewise, since K. has already acted strangely, it hurts the flow of the plot. If someone ranted like this (and he does rant, including suggesting an official was giving signals to the crowd), it is totally natural for authorities to find him suspicious and not quite take him totally seriously. It is very well possible that there could be a mistake, a possibility they wanted some other guy, and a rational person would -- once at the hearing -- try to determine as much.

Pardon me for criticizing a classic, but it seems to me that it would be better if he was a bit more rational early on, find out that it doesn't really get him anyway, and thus slowly he goes mad at the absurdity of it all. Or, if the idea is that he eventually accepts absurdity as rational or at least the norm that one should just accept the best one can, that too does not require him to lash out in this fashion so early in the proceedings. But, in a 7.5 hour performance, again the narrator is quite good, K. is also almost halfway there by the 1.5 hour mark. It is like someone, before they even set foot in jail, ranting at a preliminary hearing after a somewhat upsetting experience with the police one morning at their apartment ... an experience stressful surely, but over early enough that you can still go to work.

On the DVD front, I checked out the special features for The Notebook. I really enjoyed this movie, even if it the plot is something of a corny "chick flick," but those things can be good if done right. I also enjoyed A Walk To Remember, as well as both books that the movies were based on [I listened to the audiobooks]. I did not listen to the whole commentary, especially since there are in fact two -- the director and the writer of the original book with an editor adding remarks for the "deleted scenes" feature. Both are interesting in their own fashion, the writer somewhat more pleasant of a listen. And, we learn some interesting things, like that the book in fact was sorta based on way the author's wives' grandparents met; the author meeting them when they were old and ailing long time lovers.

The movie is a must see because of the young leads (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, the latter having less chance to shine over recent years than the former) -- as my movie review book notes, they show the heat of young love without cynicism or "ironic distance." Hmm ... that sounds nice, but do you quite know what it means? If it means the characters play it direct and from the heart, sure, that works. James Garner and Gena Rowlands (in several of the director's dad's films) are no slouches either, but those two make the movie. As usual, it is important to have some good support, including the woman RG is with after WWII before the love of his life comes back. The actress, who apparently never did a film before, is very good in a small role. Anyway, good film.

Have a happy holiday ... the music for the morning -- Jane Monheit's Christmas album, "The Season."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Politics, Sports and The Dangers of No Margin For Error

And Also: Some person -- who read it in the original German -- suggested I made a bad analogy to The Trial. So, I borrowed the book on tape ... well, the first twenty minutes is pretty good, including the narration work. Meanwhile, the Bears helped Dallas get the #1 seed and Buffalo collapsed, letting NY (via a truly messy game) get in, and perhaps help Pats go 16-0.

The fact that some disagree, and do so strongly, with some of GG's remarks about Ron Paul (see yesterday) is only natural -- we all disagree sometimes. A critical mass, to further what end exactly is unclear, does agree upon some basic points. It is akin to those who note that those in our society agree on much more than we disagree, that is, about basics like the baseline rules of democracy, free speech and so on. Florida and Ohio was only possible (I retain my feeling Kerry lost Ohio, but enough occurred to be concerned either way) because of the closeness of the race overall. If Bush lost Florida by even five percent, it would have been much harder to push things over in his direction.

This underlines the problems with things being so close in Congress, since there is very little (in the Senate, none) margin for error. Life cannot work that way very well. Take yesterday's Cowboys/Carolina game, where Carolina's fourth QB (starter injured early, back-up too, Vinny Testaverde came in and was both iffy and hurt, leading to an undrafted guy to start the last two) did a quite credible job. But, the game arguably turned on two plays/calls -- a 4th and short early on that the Cowboys barely got (perhaps with a good spot) and a pass interference call that the announcers thought was a gimmee. This directly led to ten points. 20-13, Cowboys.

On the subject of sports, both people at Salon and some at the NY Daily News have current pieces questioning the value of the Mitchell Report. I wrote my immediate thoughts earlier, but I'm wiling to believe that the report was flawed and incomplete. Doubts and cynicism lingers. Bill Madden at the News btw referenced the integrity clause in Hall of Fame balloting. He notes if we want to toss it, let's not just do it sub silento. You know, all those who want to have Pete Rose, as if the integrity of the game really does not matter since he was such a great athlete. I personally still have this idea honor and integrity still mattes somewhat in the "national pastime," and if the integrity of the game is seriously violated, it should mean something.*

Mark Gruber has an timely piece highlighting the importance of not biting off more than one can chew as well as some of the compromises made over the year in the pursuit of beneficial ends. Consider the compromises made by FDR, including welcoming some undesirable elements into the "New Deal coalition." Populists including those from segregationist friendly areas and often rather racist elements from the North as well. Still, they agreed upon some basic things, and we benefited from the coalition. There is potential out there, with the right strategy and leadership, to go in a good direction. Consider a comment from Charlie Savage's piece on the candidates' view of executive power:
"It's fair to say that the Democrats, Senator McCain, and Representative Paul are united in supporting a reinvigoration of checks and balances and the reassertion of a meaningful congressional role in national security affairs," said Shane.**

There is reason for realistic optimism. But, we must be careful. Of course, there is differences on how to go about it -- thus my doubts about candidates others think are the best option. The devil is always in the details ... strategy important too.


* It does matter if something is against the rules or not, though for some reason a lot of the coverage and analysis does not really clearly remind how they developed. For instance, at what time did steroids (or particular substances) clearly become against the rules? How did the rules change over the last decade, aside from the current punishments for failed testing?

I honestly am not really clear on the contours of this, but it seems rather important to clarify just what is at stake. It seems a basic question, as is the basic effects (which are at times referenced, but not too often) of the substances involved. Yet again basic questions are left to those -- few in number -- who have the wherewithal to research the question. [Insert journalism jeremiad.]

Also, how valid is it for Congress to have people come and testify in open hearings? Can they do this in any situation, no matter what the possible loss of reputation and livelihood? Rather open-ended power, even if justified. Cf. Watkins v. U.S. (and Whalen v. Roe, perhaps). Anyway, since Bush Administration officials are not involved, I guess testimony in open Congress is appropriate.

** The Q&A is interesting and providing such a summary -- in their own words too -- of candidate views is a wonderful resource. Given recent discussions, this interplay with Ron Paul -- the need for clarification itself of note -- is of particular interest:
8. Under what circumstances, if any, is the president, when operating overseas as commander-in-chief, free to disregard international human rights treaties that the Senate has ratified?

Well, he never has the right to violate any human rights, but because he should obey the constitution, not because of the international treaty. But so I would get to that point but not because of the treaty but because of the Constitution.

Well, but the Constitution only has force on US soil, right, so the question is what happens when he is operating overseas? Do these other instruments bind him if the Senate has ratified them?

If he's overseas and the treaty is in effect and would protect human rights -- see I keep thinking well we shouldn't be over there. So if we're there -- and I can't see myself being over there - well, okay, the answer would be that he would have to obey the treaty.

The first answer is accurate enough in a fashion -- human rights tend to be secured by the Constitution, but in various cases they might be clarified and strengthened (without abridging constitutional rules in the process) via treaties. And, constitutionally, treaties are the law of the land. This suggests Paul's focus on the dangers of federal power, even though from the start, some aspects of federal power was deemed fundamental -- it was the very point of a federal Constitution.

The second Q&A is also notable. The question has a false premise -- can a President enslave troops overseas? Obviously not. But, this "off American soil, carte blanche" fiction is a big problem these days. In fact, even Paul is somewhat iffy in another question as to habeas for those off U.S. soil, accepting it as to Gitmo, but unclear about other situations. BTW, some of the questions warrant short answers ... a clear "no" or "of course not" ... and Dodd's approaches are appreciated.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Progressive Favs Smackdown

And Also: The World's Fastest Indian (motorcycle, that is) was on TMC ... charming movie, Anthony Hopkins is great as usual, and the DVD is good too. The writer/director, who worked on the real deal a few decades ago, has a nice commentary. Meanwhile, I also watched Marie Antoinette -- the book looks good -- is a mixed bag. Nice to look at, well acted, but drops off about an hour in. BTW, is this right? Vinny isn't starting for Carolina tonight? Shoot ... would be nice to see him again.

In a past column, Paul Krugman worried that Sen. Obama's "middle way" was naive because there simply are some people who you cannot really compromise with, they are simply wrong. Given PK's views and personality, it makes sense (as one person noted ) for him to lean toward Edwards. Another progressive favorite (and former Air America regular) made his views on Obama known if anything more bluntly:
Should Obama hope to continue to enjoy his free ride, he should consult his old mentor Joe Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut who used to be a Democrat. Conservative commentators and right-wing media outlets always loved Lieberman for his willingness to echo their talking points on subjects such as school vouchers and Social Security privatization. When he agreed to join the Democratic ticket as Al Gore's running mate in 2000, the Weekly Standard and the National Review, among others, suddenly discovered how despicable Lieberman actually was. Having abandoned the Democrats altogether, he is now fully rehabilitated.

But Obama and his supporters must cherish no illusions about what will happen to him if he vanquishes Clinton. He will need the same kind of armor that she has worn proudly for years. What the right likes best about him is that he doesn't seem to own any.

The "no illusions" part is true enough but the "doesn't seem to own any" part is a cheap shot. The column focuses on the sneakiness and Clinton loathing of conservatives (JC wrote a book on their attempts to destroy Clinton in the '90s), but simply has nothing to back up that last point. Surely not enough to end a column on it. Meanwhile, another person I usually agree with (and also is sometimes on Air America), Glenn Greenwald, is on his over the top Ron Paul kick again. He wants to convince that he is only trying to focus on RP's stance on executive power and Iraq as well as his overall principled views, but why not focus on Dennis Kucinich then? He has all that plus believes in both the Fourteenth Amendment, the modern state and has much less baggage.

I think Ezra Klein has the better of the argument, but don't worry, the Pauliacs are on the case -- see the comments in both cases. This includes "pro-choice" sorts, see an early reply to today's GG's passionate (to be nice) latest who leans toward someone who wants states to ban abortions, even if a federal amendment is necessary to do so.* See also, the reply to EK's rejoinder today from a "liberal" who supports Ron Paul -- who caucuses with Republicans and is not even an "I" like Bernie Sanders -- even though he opposes much (including Social Security, which people like Atrios is upset at Obama for saying is in "crisis," and thus giving ammo to the other side) of what s/he stands for.

Unbalanced accounts like Glenn Greenwald, including the wounded replies to critics who apparently just do not understand what he is saying, helps such a myopic view. The answer to poor coverage, especially when so many see RP as a light in the wilderness (myopically or not), is not that. See even his "updates" to today's entry in which he references the "perceived flaws of Ron Paul" ... but, hey, do not read into that to suggest that it is quite arguable he doesn't have quite a lot of them! Noooo! That is not what GG is trying to say at all.

You just are missing the point. GG himself cites Paul's dubious views on certain issues to underline the fact he is not a knee-jerk Paul supporter. But, that comment underlines the problems with his posts, that have something to say, but does in a way worthy -- his ire notwithstanding -- of criticism.


* RP, like another base favorite, Howard Dean, is a physician. The differences of the two on the issue suggests that alone does not decide a matter, but it has seriously affected Paul's opposition. OTOH, talk about "two pound" fetuses does not really justify banning abortion long before that point. Or, selectively supporting bans on one particular procedure, even when a women's health is involved.

And so on. Ron Paul's disrespect for privacy rights, see his support for DOMA, goes beyond abortion. This suggests -- see one GG comment today -- it is a bit off to talk about the "fetish" of supporting Roe as if the ruling is just about abortion, not privacy, equality (see Casey in particular), etc.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Baseball, Watergate, Dems, [Ron] Paul etc.

And Also: A U.S. District Court judge granted a preliminary injunction respecting a Florida law that prevents citizens from being registered if their names and Social Security or driver's license numbers on their registration applications do not match exactly the information in other government databases. This overinclusive "prove you are innocent" sort of thing gives one 2000 flashbacks.

Edward Lazarus' column on the Mitchell Report had this to say about those who questioned releasing the names of some involved:
Mitchell's report comes with no sanction attached, weakening the claims that criminal-law evidentiary rules and standards should have been used. He did not have the power to punish anyone. In fact, he called on baseball to refrain from handing out punishments, except perhaps in the most egregious cases. In these circumstances, what Mitchell owed to the accused players was an opportunity to confront the allegations leveled against them. And Mitchell offered exactly that: He gave every named athlete the opportunity to confront the evidence against them and to present their own evidence. Virtually to a person, the athletes declined to do so.

No sanction? Sounds like the Bush Administration. To be fair, there was some sanction, including lose of jobs (Gonzo, anyone?) as well as some actual criminal prosecutions (they are starting to add up, actually), and a list will suggest that the "Bush Crime Family" label by the former Air America host Mike Malloy is rather accurate in more ways than one. It just is that breadth of the problem makes relatively minor victories, and pretty late in the day at that, pretty underwhelming. Such is the net feeling after Dodd's threat to filibuster the telecommunications immunity bill (the disfavored bill, Intelligence Committee vs. Judiciary, actually has various other problems) has led to but a postponing of the fight to after the holidays.

Not quite Sen. Durbin saying that giving into the administration on occupation funding will provide a chance to avoid the matter -- while giving you know who a victory (Durbin didn't quite add that) -- to next May or June. Still, a bit lame. Rachel Maddow tonight went down the list of some things, including raising the minimum wage, ethics reform, energy reform and other matters -- even with filibusters -- that the Dems did manage. But, simply put, executive power and the occupation are THE issues of the day. The fact Dems managed to do something is appreciated, but sorry, people have the right to be pissed. One can say why it is happening -- "Democrats" don't control Congress or whatever, but that is just analysis.

[See recent columns of Glenn Greenwald and some of the others linked here to read about the immunity bill, how Dodd's move came from the grassroots and so forth ... the Durbin reference came from an AP story on the Dems giving in to funding without strings that I passed in my local paper today.]

Dodd's move is particularly notable since he has a history of playing by the gentlemen rules of the Senate, even though we are now led by scoundrels. Glenn Greenwald* noted the fact when posting an interview he had with Dodd -- he noted Dodd's heart was in the right place and all, but failed to realize just how inapt old rules of the game were under present conditions. Dodd himself admitted the problem with this path per his failure to filibuster the Military Commissions Act, which very well might have meant something since not too many over a filibuster proof majority voted for the measure. Dodd also has a pedigree here ... his dad was a Nuremberg prosecutor, but did not think the importance of final justice included depriving even them with basic safeguards. This included, apropos, a trial over a summary executive action.

But, still ... victories, especially showing that "we the people" matter, should be honored. See also, the real investigatory work of Rep. Waxman, who has a job to do -- a sort of ombudsman -- and does it so well that even some targets admit that he is fair. It is not his job to punish ... it is not his fault that there has been no credible impeachment efforts or more moves to provide proper consequences for the actions investigated. Waxman, however, puts things on the record. Consider Valerie Plame coming and testifying ... under oath ... what a concept!

The press also has this role, and sometimes actually does its job. For instance, Charles Savage has done yeoman work underlines the abuses of executive power. All those blogs that bash the "MSM" ... and Talking Points Memo et. al. suggests this is only true up to a point ... tend not to do original reporting. And, let us not kid ourselves that there was some golden age of reporting, at least for any long length of time. It's like those who becry the state of politics today in campaign donation laden land, ignoring the nastiness of past campaigns long before the 1980s. In a book on Woodward and Bernstein, we read how Woodward becried members of the press as "stenographers" while working on the Watergate story. Apparently, we have gone in full circle.

[The book is recommended; h/t in part to Feministing for encouraging the read.]

Those days also had a select committee to investigate the President. A perfect storm, however, was necessary -- a Democratic Congress, an unpopular President and a country that -- for various reasons -- was ready for the take-down (including Vietnam suggesting the perfidy of the executive). Cf. Iran Contra, which was quite impeachable, but in effect served as a backhanded pass to executive tyranny. And, we have some of the same clowns involved in the current mess, Congress -- again controlled by "Democrats" -- largely letting them off the hook.

But, the idea in part with that Ron was on his way out and all, and maybe cleaned house a bit as well. Apparently, the whiting out of impeachment from the Constitution as a serious possibility -- outside from the spare federal judge -- also is far from new.


* GG is back on his defend Ron Paul kick today, attracting Pauliacs (see also, BTC News' unusually heavy comment stream here). He uses a bit of a strawman and/or easy to attack hyperbole on Paul's anti-abortion legality stance, using "pro-life" (see here for an idea why the quotes are probably advisable to some degree) Sen. Reid (not big friend of many of his readers btw) as evidence of the problems with single issue politics. But, a Senate Majority Leader simply does not compared in many ways -- least being the "first among equals" nature of the role -- than the POTUS.

GG favors Paul because of his anti-executive tyranny views and his own libertarian leanings. He also suggests the MSM does not properly address this anti-establishment candidate, but except for a recent post on Huckabee, is somewhat selective about that angle. And, he should be aware that (1) the fact RP focuses on having states ban abortion is not exactly prime for many people (2) did support various federal moves and his power of appointment [e.g., judges] / bully pulpit matters too and (3) people oppose him for various reasons, making it harder to elide past his pro-life views.

GG appears to have a blindspot here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jets Lose ... Miami Wins ... BF Breaks Another Record

The conditions made it -- fwiw -- not pathetic, but Chad (Clemens out early) and company still lost, a late reversal (adding insult to injury) clinching the deal. [Giants lost too, by more vs. an inferior team.] Miami stopped the Ravens from winning at the goal line, watched them miss a shot at winning in OT and won themselves. Justice would have been the Ravens beating the Pats too, keeping a "16" on one side of the ledger from both teams. Oh, that guy from Green Bay broke the passing record.

Mitchell Report: Part of the Solution? A Push in the Right Direction?

And Also: "We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way." Yes, our representatives help us look like losers to the rest of the world yet again, this time on the issue of the UN climate change deal. TPM has more on the children we have "leading" us. Reality leads the U.S. to have to make some choices that leave a bit to be desired, but there is something to be said for doing so with a bit more finesse.

I don't really have too much (deep) to say about the Mitchell Report, except that it was important for an outsider (though some suggest his minority involvement in the Red Sox, small as it is, taints him) with such national and international prestige as George Mitchell to look into the matter. The report, which I have gotten a taste on from local sports radio and media coverage, surely isn't a complete overall study of the matter. The seventy or so names listed are stock fill with marginal players, and do not include some obvious ones like Bonds. OTOH, marginal players would be the sorts more likely to use them, to get the extra push. Several caught under the testing regime, for instance, tended to be more marginal players, and various minor leaguers wanted some edge to get to the majors.

But, it provides an official conclusion that there is a serious problem, even if it was set up as a sort of CYA move to avoid congressional action. BTW, reports that Congress will have hearings starting next month is troubling as Mitchell notes ... there should be more time to digest the report and provide a means to provide reasoned judgment. The holidays only complicate the time factor. Mitchell himself does not want the report to be used for payback or criminal charges. He sees it as a sort of truth commission, I guess, which is a useful way of going about it. A short interview given with the NY Daily News gives a flavor ... he comes off as someone you want to be a public servant, balanced, modest, experienced, and willing to make hard decisions that just might be wrong.

Helped by the fact that only Giambi (of the Yanks, and under pressure, in part because of his grand jury testimony) among active players willingly contacted them, the report is skewered to a few places per some key insiders who testified on the matter. This helps explain the number of NY players, though only a few of them really amount to much. There is also some conclusions based on the testimony of a key person, leading to an opening for players to deny. Clemens, the big fish here, seems to be taking that tack to start. Andy Pettite, the "good guy" [no sarcasm really ... hard to dislike the guy) many are probably the saddest about, admitted to taking a growth hormone for a couple days to help an injury.

Mike Lupica is not impressed. Likewise, an article on Pettite in today's Daily News is rather pointed. It starts with a reference to "bible toting Yankee Ace Andy Petite," later noting he wrote a book entitled "Strike Zone: Targeting a Life of Integrity & Purity," and spoke of his "pious" nature. A "HYPOCRITE!" (if not "LIAR!") undertone is not exactly an out there inference here. A fan favorite, the departing catcher of the Mets, Paul Lo Duca also was listed. I guess because he is on the way out, and has a reputation as a bit of a bad boy type (at least, mouthing off), there isn't much coverage on him around here. The list did have a few other key names, including Gagne, the once light's out closer with a weak year after an injury, who the Brewers -- suggesting the insanity these days -- picked up for $10m for a year contract.

I have a feeling that many fans will not be too impressed with the report -- such with the case for many calls to the WFAN local sports station -- unless something special in addition is done next season. The overall expectations probably should be modest -- seeing it as part of the solution, part of emphasizing that there is a problem, even when only part of the evidence is examined, with a "wall of silence" in place from the players. BTW, it is logical for the player's association to be suspicious, but Mitchell's advice to not use this as a club suggests they very might have overplayed their hand. Some cooperation could have done wonders, none blacking the reputations of much more than the small subset -- serious as it surely is -- of players who violated the rules.

We shall just have to wait and see. One top sports talk host warned that sports just might be getting too real ... the dark side of reality is invading what is supposed to be an outlet. Michael Vick. Murder of a beloved player. Sexual harassment against the Knicks. Steroids and human growth hormone. Cheating in cycling and the Olympics. Our shame, what is left of it after the cynicism sets in, is well placed. The fact that sports is also supposed to be a family entertainment, heck even a place for children to find role models (not a ridiculous idea ... school sports are supposed to be character building enterprises) only underlines the problem.

Is this the sort of thing -- just one of matter things out there* -- that led Carter to say we were suffering a bout of malaise?


* I constantly passed, and finally took out, the book Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror by Steven H. Miles M.D. It is one of those deals where I know the basics, but am provided with specifics to re-inforce them, and cement my general sentiments on the matter. It basically is a type of homework assignment. Fittingly, it is likely to lead to a lot of depression from readers, as long with some other emotions, one more way our current policy is poisoning us.

The text is under two hundred pages, well sourced (often with official documents), and powerful stuff. It not only looks at things from a somewhat different (medical) perspective, but provides a general overview of what happened as of early 2006 as well. This includes (bluntly) "torture" and criminal homicide, in various cases of people (not that this matters on a core level ... inhumane treatment is not justified if common criminals are involved) that simply did not do anything wrong. This fact is constantly elided over, ignoring blatant violations making it easier to enable the road to tyranny.

[The word to many seems hyperbole, including some alleged "originalists" whose gods thought the likes of taxes to assist religious institutions -- taxes which people could apply to the church of their choice in most instance -- were "tyranny." See also the list in the Declaration of Independence. The originalists role playing games, however, are quite creative, so they can ignore such things. And, self-righteously say they are "compelled" to do so.]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kent Jones Goes Too

The latest in a bunch of moves that made Air America p- me off ... the "business decision" to fire Kent Jones from the Rachel Maddow (with the exception, up to a point, of Thom Hartman, the only full time host worth consistently listening to left on the station) Show. I was not at home, but let out a sigh when I heard the news earlier this week. Touching final goodbye last night -- the usual ending of the show with a Kent Jones report (and a "pet story") particularly fitting. What a lame move. The station, like the Democratic Party, yet again is seen as the enemy by the base. Charming.

NY Daily News Tidbits

And Also: A pet peeve is lax fact checking. I just opened up a book about efforts to help black laborers to read a reference to a favorite of mine, Edwards v. California. The law professor/author wrote how "the opinion" was written by Justice Jackson, Douglas writing a concurrence. In fact, Justice Jackson also wrote a (very quotable) concurrence. Justice Byrnes, who only wrote a few opinions anyway, wrote "the" opinion. Any ruling with a two word sentence ["There are."] is of some note.

Various things caught my eyes in today's NY Daily News ...

Court Stuff:" "Death Row dog free." A state appeals court ruling freed "Duke" from a shelter that he wrongly was held in for three years, a result of mistaken identity in a mauling attack. If the conviction was upheld, the dog would have been killed. Later, we read of the "slinky shrink" who allegedly slept with a incarcerated gang member ("improper therapy") "strutted into court yesterday in a miniskirt and go-go boots." She rejected a plea deal, which the article suggests means she thinks the evidence weak. OTOH, given her outfit, maybe she just is not too bright.

Also in dress related court news, a 19-year-old female "tottering on 4-inch black heels and wearing skintight slacks and a matching top," (ah, tabloid reporting) was released on bond pending her trial for alleged involvement in a hate crime. Her picture (top only, suggesting a restraint in dressing that apparently was not there) accompanied the article. It is not problem-free to include names of alleged (legally innocent) individuals in such sensitive crimes, but to include a picture in this case? Particularly, dubious.

Animated/Comics: The paper did not think much of the new Chipmunks movie, finding it not very funny and overall rather lame, but did have a funny typo: it listed the movie as "Alvin and The Chipmonks."

For Better or Worse had another well written story arc this week, this time involving Liz and his boyfriend's daughter, meeting the mother (the father has custody) in the mall. The cartoonist appears to be working somewhat part-time these days given all the classical strips (at times via flashbacks), but still provides great material. The Flying McCoys, which has an amusing strip enough times to be worth a look, has one today.

Sports: A convention of the Texas High School Coaches Association "could KO speech" ... entitled "My Vigorous Workout, How I Played So Long." The speaker? Roger Clemens. Sadly, the top Late Night hosts are out because of the writers' strike, but that sort of thing writes itself. More on the Jets/Pats coach fued ... snow is schedule, so maybe that 20 something line for the Pats won't be met. Sigh ... when losing by only 10 or so seems a bit too much to hope for, things are sorta bad, huh?

The Diamondbacks got Dan Haren, meaning there is one less replacement for Glavine out there for the Mets. ex-Met (and Cub) Cliff Floyd is going to the Devil Rays. Shawn Estes (best known as a Met for trying to hit Clemens in retaliation, but missing) and Glendon Rusch (another ex-Met and Cub) received minor league Padres contracts. GR was a gamer ... hope he does well.

TV: The NFL Network has a prime match-up ... Cincy at SF, the battle of the disappointing teams.* Miami has the lowly Ravens as perhaps their best shot at avoiding 0-16, but they end their year going against the Bengals. An excellent tearjerker (the young leads are very good) is on CBS tonight ... The Notebook (I reserved the commentary and special feature laden DVD). This leaves the chick network Oxygen with The Sweetest Thing (a bit of an ironic title), which I actually rented in a hotel once. Good to see Christiana Applegate, but sorry, not that good film.

[Connection: A character in The Notebook is named "Duke," which is also the name of the dog mentioned above.]

Hallmark has the latest in the "Love Comes Softly" series (based on the books; began well, later films with mostly different cast members, mixed bag), Love's Unfolding Dream, repeating earlier films as well. I'll end with a "this just to annoy me" moment. I went to tape something (it's on tomorrow too, so it isn't too bad) a couple days ago, and found out there was a problem with the signal. This happens sometimes with Dish Network when the weather is bad. The thing is that it appears only that channel was out. The channel? The Hallmark movie channel. The Hallmark channel, however, was fine.

I growled and watched Corner Gas on WGN. And, I will tape it tomorrow instead, unless something else goes wrong. Oh, and luckily I saw that the movie (The Devil's Arithmetic, which someone wants me to tape) was on. For some reason, it was not listed in the Dish Network television schedule.


* I have seen ads for alcholic beverages on television for drinks other than lite beer, but that is the beverage favored on sports friendly times. More than one brand at that. That and "male enhancement" products. Do men with problems with their manhood watch a lot of football these days? Or, are these products so hard to sell that limited ad dollars needs to be focused on them?

I like my beer from the tap myself, but if I bought the stuff, lite would not be my option. If you drink enough beer for the calories or alcohol to matter, the difference shouldn't matter much anyway. We are not talking no-calorie beer here. [Update: And, what happens? There is a regular beer commercial during the football game ... at least NFL Network has them, I guess.]

Friday, December 14, 2007

Religious Tests

And Also: Sen. Reid helping [see Glenn Greenwald et. al.] the telecommunications immunity crowd is offensive, but where are all the Democratic presidential candidates (other than Dodd)? The candidates do oppose immunity, but we deserve some special move ala Dodd's filibuster campaign to underline just how bad things are going. The alternative is summer patriots like Sen. Graham. Dodd is right: "Leadership is demonstrated through action."

The Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes only government action, the law is also meant to be a teacher. In the same way that civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moral norm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race - changing the practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next - so the constitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizens understand that such tests are profoundly un-American.

-- Charles Krauthammer

My Xmas* present to CK is to show that even he sometimes have something worthwhile to say, today's column overall worth reading. This includes his damning Mitt Romney for confusing the difference between reminding the religion has some role in public life (just ask Martin Luther King Jr.) and giving it a special favoritism. Some, even legal minds who wrote a book on the subject ["demanding the very kind of religious test oath that the Constitution explicitly forbids"], don't quite see the at times subtle difference.

But, even if it is not illegal, a de facto religious test is a bad idea. It is not bad to privately discriminate -- you can not marry someone because they are black or have blond hair. You can even not be their friend. Still, it is socially problematic -- surely the latter -- if you act in this fashion. Nonetheless, as Dr. Newdow noted (his latest can be listened to on C-SPAN on Saturday night at 7 P.M. EST or downloaded from the website), you are unlikely to be voted into office in most places if you are an atheist. Mitt Romney is aware that not being a Christian also is problematic.

[Update: The hearing in question was a Ninth Circuit hearing, Judge Reinhardt the top lib involved, challenging "In God We Trust" ... the motto and use on coinage. Newdow was quite good, but a previous Ninth Circuit precedent ... which he tried to avoid with Supreme Court precedent that obviously did not address the issue in particular (and included some dicta suggesting the practice is okay) ... might be an ready out for the panel.

Van Orden, the Texas Ten Commandments case [the other helped him, given it held the state could not selectively honor monotheism], suggests four justices oppose his stance with Justice Breyer's deciding vote going against him too ... this is the sort of alleged de minimis issue he can suggest isn't really divisive etc. enough to violate the First Amendment. Newdow is right on the general matter and attempts to suggest "God" isn't sectarian annoys -- religious choice involving God, or rather those who think mixing God and money in this fashion is bad, is a certain category of religious belief. It very well is "sectarian."

BTW, Newdow noted he too belongs to a "religion," including rituals and ceremony. One more vote for my broad definition of the term, I guess. Finally, there was the idea that the motto reflects our basis of rights in nature's God. First, many in this day of age think rights are based in human need and experience, not God per se. The developments since 1789 suggests the greater diversity. Second, the means used matters. Newdow himself noted that the motto alone, without the currency that provides personal effects, probably would not be something he himself could challenge in court successfully. But, like "under God" in the Pledge, the motto is often used in a way that involves each one of us, including those who not only disbelieve in God, but in mixing God and state in this fashion.

This doesn't mean he will win. But, it does mean he has a point.]

Religious belief, however, remains of some relevance. It is on some level hard to separate religious beliefs and moral and ethical concerns that clearly are relevant to public policy. Religion, to cite the last link, tends to be more than "worship, ritual and the answer to transcendent questions about the nature of God, life after death." It is some ways affects questions of policy. Just think of the sacraments -- matters of life and death and marriage are both "religious" in many ways, but public policy involves questions in both areas. It can negatively -- like other things -- affect the ability to govern. And, also interest group politics, as people from various areas of the country can relate.

The power of evangelicals in the Bush Administration has led to some troubling results, including on our policy as to contraceptives, and denying that religious faith had anything to do with the matter is dubious. I once mentioned my "concern" that the faith of some negatively affected policy. This led to a "gotcha" that I was a religious bigot. Said person, I dare say, would not think being concerned about certain Muslim beliefs was wrong. To ignore the dangers as much as the benefits of religion really belittles its power. This does religion no favors in the long run, really.

[Many books discuss how religion affects politics these days; two I found interesting are Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg and God & Country by Monique El-Faizy. The second provides a more general discussion of evangelicals while the first with a subtitle "The Rise of Christian Nationalism" has a more political flavor. Other books like Middle Church by Bob Edgar and even Jimmy Carter's books, suggest religion can be a positive influence in political affairs. Sen. Obama surely thinks so.]

Various things factor in here. One is that it is often problematic when candidates make intimate matters of religious faith an important matter of their public campaign. A liberal might not be happy if someone promoted the idea that homosexual activity is bad, but s/he knows that it's protected conduct. The "bad" and "illegal" split is confused in this country, and the true consistent libertarian sort is hard to find (Ron Paul has supported some anti-abortion moves like a human life amendment).

They would not like if the person (or their religion) thought that either, but there is a difference between private faith and public advocacy. We all have some views that could not become public policy because of constitutional or other limitations. And, just because part of our religion includes something others might find troubling, it does not mean as a whole that is who we are ... or how we would govern. This starts to suggest where a line can be drawn. We should not stereotype and be wary of assuming religion is a total proxy for public policy, but it does matter, especially as part of a general mix of influences.

I linked to an essay by Prof. Marci Hamilton, a law professor who has written much on how religion has received too much favoritism, resulting in some horrible results such as looking the other way in abuse cases. Putting aside the fact that it was long been recognized that religious freedom does not mean religion trumps harm to minors etc. (e.g., Prince v. Massachusetts, 1944, involving underage labor and religious activity), she has a point, though sometimes promotes it in an unbalanced way. So, just because religion is somehow involved, the conversation should not cease.

Religion is a touchy issue for a reason, but as with equality generally, the test should be due care to avoid using stereotypical reasons to discriminate. We often, with cause, use religion as proxy for public policy. This suggests why public comments and such matter -- we should give people a benefit of a doubt, surely at least to some extent, but if they make it an issue, it is not our fault. Likewise, if their actions suggest their faith results in negative policy choices, we can note the fact. People do not act in a vacuum; religious faith has something to do with it, especially if we define the term broadly to include moral beliefs that go beyond generally accepted understandings of God and such.

Freedom of religion includes making religious choices, so it includes choosing not to have faith in God, or deciding the evidence is not there to do so. I have said in the past that I think "religion" includes a general overall stance on universal questions, the meaning of life and so forth, but some find this too broad. No matter, "religion" and public life includes not belonging to a recognized religious faith. And, moral beliefs overall factor into the debate, beliefs the are central foundations of public policy.**

It rankles a bit that certain progressive sorts rail against Romney and suggest that religion should not be an issue in politics, but do not note that other progressives constantly make shots at religious conservatives, ridiculing their faith. It is not just the policy choices, but those darn fundamentalists per se that are at issue. Ditto comments on the "Catholic Supreme Court" and how this you know will lead to conservative results. You mean like Lawrence v. Texas (written by a Catholic, following in the footsteps of another on that issue, William Brennan)?

Religion will have a place in politics, but it is one in which we have to tread carefully. On that issue, the House voted on "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith," the final vote: 372 (Yeas) 9 (Nays) 10 (Present) 40 (Not Voting). This is one of those bland things that most do not find fault with, though it used by others (including judges/justices) as justification for much more serious governmental establishments. After all, Presidents put forth days of prayer, thanksgiving proclamations, and the like.

And, the House officially announced it "recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world." The resolution does talk about how "they" (Christians) view things, but is it really a good idea to single out Christianity this way? A handful did not think so, and probably a resolution without a few of the phrases found in this one would have been the better path. Or, just maybe, have a general resolution about the holiday season, recognizing the multitude of faiths as a whole. Will each get this treatment?

I think Justice Stevens handles things nicely here. Holiday reading along side of the "Night Before Christmas" and the second chapter of Luke, perhaps?


* I used "Kafka" in a discussion of the procedures used for prisoners in Gitmo and elsewhere and one person suggested (having read it in the original German or whatever) that I didn't really understand the point of the book. Uh huh. Allusions of that sort do tend to be used loosely -- Oedipus, after all, did not know he was married to his mother or that he killed his father at the time. So, the "Oedipus complex" is a bit of misnomer. And, "Xmas" really is not a way to provide a secular word for "Christmas" since the "X" is but an abbreviation ala the Greek letter for "Christ" that in point of fact keeps the "Christ" in "Christmas."

** When Mitt Romney said that freedom requires religion, religion requires freedom, the ire of some (including Krauthammer) arose from the fact that he probably meant religion as in faith in a supernatural force of some kind.

And, many in the days of the First Amendment did think that sort of religion was required, since the law can only do so much, the rest lies in the goodness of the citizenry. They defined "religion" as "[v]irtue, as founded upon reverence of God, and expectation of future rewards and punishments." [See Stevens opinion] Some thought government needed to be involved, thus fearing Jefferson's separatist views. But, even without government, many still thought "religion" was fundamental.

Since most have some sort of faith in God that guides their life, it is fundamental. And, for those who do not, they have something that guides their life, something above the usual, that is on some level of "God," and that too is important. But, do the people Romney wants to reach want to be that inclusive?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Bit of Spine

Two Republicans (Specter/Grassley) actually showed a bit of principle by voting to approve contempt resolutions against Karl Rove and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten for failing to comply with subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney firings probe. Time for the matter to go to the full Senate (and House as to Miers and Bolten). The fact this, which the betting person would suggest is likely to amount to not much, is notable is sad. OTOH, h/t Glenn Greenwald, the House did give Christians their props. Mitt Romney should be happy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Some Guideline Guidance

And Also: A snapshot that suggests how things go matter. A dog dies [not mine], a death not too surprising given her health and age. But, the location and timing of the death led to problems. The death sad, but more easily accepted than the complications (purposely left unsaid here). You can accept, if with some unease, much, but sometimes how it goes down rankles. And, at times, this complicates the acceptance, which in another situation would have been much easier.

First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirate's code to apply and you're not. And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.

-- Pirates of the Caribbean

A bit more on the recent Supreme Court decisions. The issue at hand can be said to be unintended consequences. In the 1980s, with an assist from Stephen Breyer, Congress decided to set up a federal sentencing commission "with power to promulgate binding sentencing guidelines establishing a range of determinate sentences for all categories of federal offenses and defendants according to specific and detailed factors." [To quote an opinion that upheld the institution, Scalia alone dissenting.]

This was thought to be a means to provide a fairer means of sentencing, both more rational and less likely to be arbitrary in part depending on the defendant (which can have racial implications, suggesting why some liberals liked the idea).* Meanwhile, the drug epidemic had a new evil -- crack cocaine. Again with some support from liberals (if less of them), crack was deemed so dangerous that it warranted a 100-1 ratio (based on weight) when applying punishment as compared to powder cocaine, which did not have paltry punishments connected to it either. This leads to a three to six times greater sentence. To quote the recent ruling:
Congress apparently believed that crack was significantly more dangerous than powder cocaine in that: (1) crack was highly addictive; (2) crack users and dealers were more likely to be violent than users and dealers of other drugs; (3) crack was more harmful to users than powder, particularly for children who had been exposed by their mothers’ drug use during pregnancy; (4) crack use was especially prevalent among teenagers; and (5) crack’s potency and low cost were making it increasingly popular.

The sentencing guidelines system, as summarized in this opinion by Souter from last year's Rita ruling, led to various problems. One problem had more to do with the corresponding use of mandated sentences that in various instances (see crack cocaine) led to unjust results. Thus, the crack cocaine ruling amounted to a difference of 15 and 19 years, given mandated sentences, suggesting a core problem is not even addressed by the ruling. And, it is not even drugs per se -- the companion case involved Ecstasy and the statute (if not the guidelines -- which suggested 30 to 37 months) left open probation. A sentence the Supremes held as reasonable. Well, maybe under its sentencing jurisprudence, but probably not in a big picture way.

Another issue was that the guidelines often relied on various "factors" that judges decided, pursuant to weaker standards of proof, on their own. IOW, though a jury might convict a person for "x," said person might be liable for x+1 based on facts solely decided on by judges. And, this could mean a much higher sentence. Sentences that district judges often had little wiggle room in practice in handing down, since going beyond the guidelines left them open to reversal. In an rather ironic case (involving Rodney King's attackers), the Supremes did caution some discretion, but the net result tended to be restraint.

This was after all a goal, but it did feel to many that sentencing judges could not do their jobs -- a prime one fitting a sentence to an individual offender, something no mathematical scheduling formula could always do with precision. Meanwhile, the crack vs. cocaine discrepancy was deemed a bad idea too. The Sentencing Commission itself held that crack just wasn't that more harmful, the policy tended to penalize low level dealers more than big guns, and simply looked bad (especially since it disproportionately affected minorities). [Again, the Supremes summarized the matter in yesterday's ruling.] In fact, after the ruling, the Sentencing Commission retroactively reduced the guidelines by about seventeen percent. [See this article.]**

So, to cut to the chase, the Supremes held that judges could not sentence a defendant to a term higher than facts [except a previous conviction] decided by the jury would allow. A trick here is that many crimes have a range of punishment to pick from, so in practice, the judge very well might still be deciding facts on his/her own. Another wrinkle complicated things. When the Supremes decided the matter as to federal sentencing, a majority (5-4) decided that if judges could not decide "factors" on their own, federal sentencing guidelines had to be voluntary. But, the district court had to be "reasonable" about their use. FYI, Justice Breyer decided this, after noting that he didn't agree with disallowing judges to decide various facts on their own. So, I think it's really his revenge, honestly.

The latest rulings basically said "reasonable" is a pretty low bar, even if an earlier ruling said that if the district court basically assumed the guidelines were fine as a general matter that too was probably "reasonable" too. One can go on, but simply put, this has led to a lot of confusion and arguably nullifies a major point of the sentencing law behind the guidelines. Stevens thought so too, but joined in after awhile to stay loyal to precedent as did Scalia. Thomas, Alito and Souter, not so much. Souter made a sound point in the latest round:
I continue to think that the best resolution of the tension between substantial consistency throughout the system and the right of jury trial would be a new Act of Congress: reestablishing a statutory system of mandatory sentencing guidelines (though not identical to the original in all points of detail), but providing for jury findings of all facts necessary to set the upper range of sentencing discretion.

Expecting this Congress to do something this sensible is probably asking too much, so basically we have a regime now that appears to give district court judges broad discretion [the footnote below suggests the various objectives of sentencing are open-ended enough that "reasonable" is a low test, especially if probation when three years is suggested does the job], if they want it. If not, they can still let the guidelines guide them. Mandatory sentences in various cases will still lead to cruel results, but often enough there will be a lot of options to pick from.

And, this is just a tip of the iceberg discussion, but the broad discretion given to district court judges appears to suggest the Supremes thinks things are a bit messy as well. A "let district court handle it, we are done with this issue" flavor seems to be there. Thomas might be right this has a bit too much policy to it, Alito that so much discretion very well might ignore the policy behind certain statutory sentences, and Souter that the "solution" (which was a split the baby deal anyway that apparently only Justice Ginsburg was completely happy about) leaves something to be desired.

[Update: I made this comment because of the split here, but CJ Roberts was not on the Court (nor was Alito, but he dissented this time around, underlining his concerns), and concurred without comment here. BTW, Scalia had a pretty dry concurrence, showing sometimes his um wit is kept in check. His pal Ginsburg showed a bit of it in the third ruling, starting her concurrence thusly: "It is better to receive than to give, the Court holds today, at least when the subject is guns."]

But, c'est la vie people.


* To quote a summary: "Congress set forth a guideline system to be personable for the specific case and placed 11 factors to consider when sentencing: grade of offense, aggravating circumstances, nature and degree of harm, community view, public concern, deterrent effect, current incidence. Another 11 factors were established to summarize the defendant: age, education, vocational skills, mental and emotional condition, physical condition, previous employment, family ties and responsibilities, community ties, role in the offense, criminal history, and degree of dependence upon crime for livelihood. Congress prohibited the Commission from addressing: race, sex, national origin, creed, and socioeconomic status."

** The Administration was -- shocker -- against this move. The mandatory sentences remain, so we are talking about a couple years, eight instead of ten years, let's say. And, often enough, non-violent offenders. This is simply not that big of a deal, honestly, and accepted here by a commission 7-0 with support of federal judges. But, knee jerk get tough on crime tactics are required, I guess.