Tuesday, July 31, 2007

President Bush threatening to veto a plan to expand children's health insurance? What a shocker

President Bush threatening to veto a plan to expand children's health insurance? What a surprise:

The Senate plan would expand children's health insurance by $35 billion over the next five years, while the House is expected to take up a competing proposal later in the week that could boost the initiative by $50 billion during the same time frame.

Bush, however, has vowed to veto either plan, saying that the new coverage would encourage people to leave their private insurers for a government-run program. The White House reiterated its opposition yesterday, condemning the Senate bill as essentially extending "a welfare benefit to middle-class households" earning up to $83,000 a year.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Senator Orrin G. Hatch -- an influential Utah Republican and one of two original cosponsors of the SCHIP bill that became law in 1997 -- said "mistakes" by the administration "have caused us a lot of problems here."

"We are trying to do what is right by our children, who are currently not being helped by our healthcare system," Hatch said. "If we cover children properly, we will save billions of dollars in the long run. Even if we didn't [save billions], we should still take care of these children."

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Jr., a Republican from Kentucky and a lstaunch White House ally, said that while the children's health insurance program has been a "tremendous success," the Senate legislation was far too generous.

Silly Orin Hatch! Apparently Hatch, and the other Republicans supporting this bill, didn't get the memo. In today's Republican Party, "family values" means "being afraid of gays," not "giving children health insurance." That's for Democrats like Ted Kennedy. President Bush and Sen. McConnell couldn't care less how effective the plan is, or how many billions of dollars it will save. They're more afraid of the slippery slope. They think it will lead to "government-run health insurance." First health care for old people, then children-- the next thing you know, every American might think they deserve medical care! Then we'll end up like all those other countries!

I can't help but post the World Health Organization's rankings of the world's healthcare systems:
1 France
2 Italy
3 San Marino
4 Andorra
5 Malta
6 Singapore
7 Spain
8 Oman
9 Austria
10 Japan
11 Norway
12 Portugal
13 Monaco
14 Greece
15 Iceland
16 Luxembourg
17 Netherlands
18 United Kingdom
19 Ireland
20 Switzerland
21 Belgium
22 Colombia
23 Sweden
24 Cyprus
25 Germany
26 Saudi Arabia
27 United Arab Emirates
28 Israel
29 Morocco
30 Canada
31 Finland
32 Australia
33 Chile
34 Denmark
35 Dominica
36 Costa Rica
37 United States of America
Hey, what's the difference between all those other countries and America? They have government-run health care systems!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mitt's Three-Legged Stool

Mr. Romney has long described his view of conservatism as a "three-legged stool," the legs being a strong military, a strong economy, and strong family values. If you take one of the legs away, the stool doesn't stand. He demonstrates in a video provided by the Times.

I know politicians tend to over-simplify things to sound appealing to voters, but this is simply absurd. To describe the proper approach to American government as a "three-legged stool" leaves a lot to be desired. Aren't there other things than military, economy, and "family values" required to make a strong country? How about good schools? Good healthcare? Fair voting practices? Protection against corruption? Hell, why not throw in respect for the Constitution? But, if we admit this, removing the "family values" leg would not make the stool collapse, as the other legs would be sufficient, Mitt Romney's oh-so-effective stump speech would be ruined, and rationality would reign over us all.

If only.

It seems pretty clear to me that abandoning government enforcement of "family values" (which I read as bigotry) would not ruin America. After all, respect for Constitution should allow everyone to pursue their own notions of family values. But that's not adequate, apparently. We all need to have Mitt's family values.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cindy Sheehan to Take On Nancy Pelosi

Apparently the famous (or obnoxiously infamous) anti-war has decided to run against Nancy Pelosi as an Independent in the next election. See ABC News. Why? Because Pelosi has wrongly taken impeachment of the table. Fair enough; maybe it shouldn't be off the table, but there is a rather large problem with running a one-issue campaign and making that issue impeachment.

The next House election is in 2008, when there also happens to be a presidential election. The newly elected Congress will begin its session on January 3, 2009, leaving 17 days left in Bush's second term. At that point, I think we can just wait it out.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. After all, the idea may very well be simply to hold Pelosi accountable for taking impeachment off the table rather than to actually launch impeachment proceedings. That works to weaken Sheehan's case. Instead of "I will work to impeach Bush," she would be saying "I would have worked to impeach Bush." I know that San Francisco district is mighty liberal, but it isn't liberal enough to go for that.

More importantly, I've never supported the impeachment of Bush. First, if impeachment proceedings were brought and he were found guilty (of what, I don't know), we would have Dick Cheney as President, and I surely don't want that. Second, I just don't see what he would be charged with. The President can be charged with "high crimes and misdemeanors." Unfortunately, "being a bad President" and/or "lying to the American public" do not fit into that category (as a side note, lying to the American public while under oath does fit under that category as perjury - hence the Clinton impeachment).

A Catholic's Paradise: No, Not Heaven, Ave Maria, Florida!

Perhaps you have heard that the founder of Domino's Pizza, Tom Monaghan, is developing a Catholic planned-community called Ave Maria in Naples, Florida to exist alongside the new Ave Maria University. The general idea is to provide a place for good Catholics to coexist with other good Catholics. But, this raises quite a few legal questions.

How exactly can one enforce "good Catholicism" in a community? Monaghan has suggested that commercial leases would not be given to anyone who would distribute contraceptives, pornography, or perform abortions, prompting a quick response from the ACLU. I imagine the community will try to find some sort of loophole to ban these things, but the ACLU will be watching them closely.

The town is planned to have two schools: one private parochial school and one public school. I imagine the ACLU will be keeping an eye on that public school, as well. After all, if parents are insane enough to actually drag their children into a planned Catholic community but for some reason can't send them to the parochial school, they will still want the same "character education" (read: prayer in classrooms) that the parochial school instills. I don't doubt that this public school will raise First Amendment concerns.

Beyond legal questions, this poses some sociological and philosophical questions. Is this kind of living appropriate? Is trying to make believe that the world is Catholic healthy? How will this kind of community affect children? Will this make issues of tolerance even worse in this country? I think the answers are no, no, badly, and yes. I see nothing wrong with wanting to be around similar people, but that is what clubs, organizations, and churches are for. If Catholics want to be around Catholics, go to Church. Don't drag your families to some sort of Catholic utopia. I don't compare people to Nazis very often because it is generally a dirty trick, but this seems rather Nazi-esque. Sure, there is no genocide, but the goal is the same: eliminating people who are different. It's not healthy. Not at all.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Some Musings on the Youtube Debate

CNN held a debate tonight in which viewers submitted questions via Youtube. Of course, CNN got to choose which questions were asked, but still, it was revolutionary... or so CNN tells us.

My favorite point of this two-hour debate came right at the end. There was a ridiculously naïve question posed asking each candidate to say something good and something bad about the candidate to his or her left (it was naïve because Gravel was the only one to actually criticize the candidate to his left). The ever-classy turned to Dennis Kucinich and said, “the thing I like best about you is your wife.”

And I see why.

And she's British! I can’t explain how he wound up with her. Maybe they got stoned and spun into each other at the latest Phil Lesh concert.

On to some specific thoughts on each of the candidates. Mike Gravel. I'm torn about Gravel. He has some legitimate points, and he isn't afraid to speak his mind, but he's really wasting our time. He seems to spend all of his time complaining about how little time he gets. Granted, this is a legitimate point. As Chris Dodd's "Talk Clock" shows, Gravel got the least amount of time in this debate:

And in an earlier June debate:

So, Gravel has a point, but shouldn't he be spending his time making other points besides how little time he gets? This sort of attitude antagonizes the moderator, as could be told when Anderson Cooper was much more willing to let other candidates speak past his call of "time."

To defend Gravel for a second: saying that soldiers in Vietnam died and that soldiers in Iraq are dying in vain is not un-American. Saying that they died in vain is not a criticism of the soldiers; it is a criticism of the policy. It isn't saying "You soldiers failed." It is saying "Your leaders failed." If someone thinks that a war is not worth fighting, then any soldier dying in that war is dying in vain. But, it doesn't sound nice.

Chris Dodd. I wouldn't say Dodd hurt himself (after all, he's been hurting pretty badly as it is), but he didn't help himself either. From waffling on gay marriage (not providing a sincere reason for refusing to go beyond civil unions) to simply sounding like a lecturing old man (approaching Gravel-esque, even), Dodd simply did not seem strong.

John Edwards. I thought it was funny that Edwards said that he did not like Hillary Clinton's jacket. Overall, I think he performed okay. Just okay. He seemed awfully caught off-guard on the gay marriage issue, but his response did sound sincere, unlike Dodd's. He said, rather convincingly, that he has personally wrestled with the issue, but that his religion should not dictate American law. Fair enough. He needs to drop the "son of a mill worker" thing. We heard it in 2004, and it obviously didn't work. It seems unbelievably phony these days. However, he did have a very good "Youtube-style" campaign video (every campaign had to provide such a video):

Hillary Clinton. As front-runner, Hillary generally played it safe, and tried to downplay differences between the candidates, calling the Democrats "united" (sparking a "We are not united!" from Mike Gravel), and saying that any of the candidates would make a great President. However, she still managed to impress me. I think she is getting a lot better at not seeming stone-cold. She spoke with force tonight, but seemed human and passionate. Policy-wise, there was some waffling, like her refusal to say that she would meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When Obama said that he would meet with them as President, Clinton basically said that she would not meet with them without appropriate planning. Well, yeah. Appropriate planning was assumed! But, I am beginning to change my feelings about Hillary. I think she would make a great President.

Barack Obama. I think it's going to be extremely difficult for Obama to gain ground on Clinton without attacking her - besides stressing that he was against the war from the beginning, that is. I don't think saying that he has always been against the war is going to do much these days. It may help him slightly, but people want to move forward, and he will have to show why his Iraq strategy is better than Clinton's. He had some good attacks on special interests (as did Edwards and others, for that matter), but that is not truly setting him apart. I think he's going to have to try to sell himself as a "Washington outsider," to turn his inexperience into a good thing.

Bill Richardson. Richardson is the so-called "resume candidate." He has had an amazing career in American and international politics, but he simply does not have the ability to really connect with TV viewers. He seems uncomfortable in front of a camera, which is a real shame, because he has some great ideas (e.g. sacking No Child Left Behind) and would make a great President.

Joe Biden. I think ol' Joe actually helped himself this time around. I think his humor actually struck a chord this time instead of just making him sound like a sleazeball. And he came across as an authority on foreign affairs (particularly Iraq). Still, he has no chance of breaking out of the bottom tier.

Dennis Kucinich. He sounded like he as hosting an infomercial. It was obnoxious. He kept repeating, "Text peace, 73223" throughout the debate. Apparently these text messages will be sent to President Bush and this will bring the boys back home.


Evangelicals and republicans: strange bedfellows?

I was reading this very long (but very interesting) article about Ron Paul in the Times, and one passage really struck me:

“I was annoyed by the evangelicals’ being so supportive of pre-emptive war, which seems to contradict everything that I was taught as a Christian,” he recalls. “The religion is based on somebody who’s referred to as the Prince of Peace.”

We hear the "this is un-Christian" argument all the time in American politics, but rarely is it directed at the evangelicals. Indeed, it is typically left to the evangelicals themselves to throw that argument around. But, it's refreshing to hear someone say it like it is, and it raises an important question. How much of the Republican party's platform really is Christian?

Now, I should note that I am no religion scholar. I was born and raised a true-blooded agnostic. The only times I have attended Church have been weddings and funerals. I have never read the Bible, but I still think I have a relatively decent grasp of the kind of vision Jesus Christ had for the world, and despite my religious leanings, I agree wholeheartedly with that vision, because here's the deal: it's a liberal vision.

Let's consider, say, taxes. While I cannot point to a specific passage, it seems that Jesus would have generally supported a Robin Hood style "take from the rich and give to the poor" type class system. I have a hard time believing that Mr. Christ would have been a hard-nosed free-market Capitalist. So, it seems to me that the "Christian" system of taxation would be a graduated tax, taxing the rich at a higher level than the poor, for the improvement of the whole community, not a flat tax.

By the way, I realize how silly it is to think about what sort of taxes Jesus would have supported, but I think it's a worthwhile endeavor anyway.

Along similar lines, I don't think Jesus would have supported the "Get a job!" mentality that so many Republicans have when it comes to the existence of the welfare state. The welfare state (while it may very well have flaws) seems to be a shining example of Christian charity.

Abortion. While Jesus may very well have been "pro-life," the definition of "pro-life" has to extend beyond the moment a baby is born, or for that matter, the moment someone sinks into a coma. It seems that the only time Republicans want to "protect life" is when a fetus is in the womb or someone is in a vegetative state. What about all the time in between? Is it pro-life to see to it that a baby is born, but then to kick the mother and newborn out of the hospital for wont of insurance? Is it pro-life to allow poverty to thrive? Is it pro-life to send young men and women off to a foreign country to die for no real reason?

I don't think so, but hey, I'm just a stupid agnostic, right?

Gay rights. I think it's funny that Christians (I'm generalizing, of course, so I apologize to all of you progressive/liberal/sane Christians out there) put so much emphasis on homosexuality being a sin. I'm not arguing that it isn't, but there are plenty of things that are sins that are not as despised as homosexuality. Adultery, for instance. Senator David Vitter has admitted to being an adulterer, but I have yet to hear of evangelicals clamoring for his resignation. But, can you imagine how they would've rallied if he had announced he was gay? The point is this: Jesus taught tolerance, not just for some people, for everyone.

Immigration. "Love thy neighbor."

Free speech. Jesus was a revolutionary. He was counter-culture. To think that he would support the silencing of a vocal minority for the "comfort" of the majority seems absolutely absurd.

This all shows why I am so fundamentally opposed to organized religion. This guy Jesus (or the authors of the Bible) had some marvelous ideas, but once they got mixed in with power and politics, they got corrupted. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that Democrats are by any means above this kind of twisting. My point is this: religion and politics have to mix, because people's opinions are informed by their religion. However, people need to take a long hard look at what their religion truly stands for. I don't mean that they need to listen to their priest when he says that pro-choicers can't take communion. I mean that they need to seriously look into the core of their religion and see what the fundamental goals and values are. They need to trust themselves as interpreters of the Bible; not their priests or pastors, and certainly not politicians running for President. They might be surprised what they find.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the Benefits of Judicial Dishonesty

Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate has an interesting article praising Antonin Scalia's candor in discussing precedents he would like to overrule.

Yes, someone at Slate has praised Antonin Scalia.

No, this is not the apocalypse.

So anyway, Justice Scalia has mentioned that he would vote to overrule New York Times v. Sullivan, which set relatively strict standards for bringing a libel suit (in particular, it established that supposed victims must show that an author of false statements had been acting with "actual malice"). Most Court watchers will say "Hey, Justices can't pre-judge cases like this! He should recuse himself!" Perhaps he should if such a case comes up, but that isn't really the point. Ms. Lithwick argues that this sort of pre-judging isn't inherently bad. Sure, if the two options are pre-judging and principled decision-making, then the latter is clearly better. But she argues that (and I agree that) the options are more like boisterous prejudice and silent prejudice. In other words, the justices act with ideological goals in mind, but most keep them to themselves. Fair enough. So, if these are the choices, she thinks that the out-spoken model is better, because

I'd rather hear the battle plans than not. It's precisely the sort of candor that has been most lacking at judicial confirmation hearings, where each nominee instead takes the fashionable line that precedent is all but sacred.

While I agree that confirmation hearings as they exist now are largely a waste of time, I'm not sure if shouting that the Court is just a bunch of ideological hacks is a good idea either. If we imagine a Court full of Scalias, we would have nine justices saying "I think this case should be overruled; I think this way about this issue, etc." While this honesty may be refreshing, I think there is something to be said about the "Judicial Myth": the belief that judges are somehow "above politics."

The Judicial Myth grants the Court a certain amount of institutional respect; it is viewed as not engaging in the kind of dirty politics that the elected branches so often engage in. I mean, come on, it seems a lot easier to respect John Roberts than Joe Biden, and I'm a Democrat! I think if members of the Court began speaking out about political issues prior to actually getting a case, the Court would lose that prestige. Of course, one can argue, "but Fz, if the Court really is just a bunch of ideological hacks, shouldn't it lose its prestige?" Yes, if that were true, it should. But, it isn't. The Court is engaged in politics, yes. And the Justices all have ideologies, yes. But, the kind of politics they engage in is inherently different than the kind the elected branches engage in. When we hear the term "politics," we generally think of it pejoratively. We don't think of politics as the debate between two sides of an issue, which is what it really is, or at least should be. We think of special interest groups, and lobbyists, and DC Madams. While I wouldn't be surprised if Clarence Thomas's phone number showed up on the DC Madam's list, the Court avoids this sort of politics. Its area of politics involves dealing with inherently political issues. And, like all Americans, judges have deeply-felt opinions on political issues. These opinions will naturally inform their jurisprudence. But, this doesn't mean they're all ideological hacks.

It means they're human.

As long as we have humans serving as judges, we will have to deal with the idea that they actually have opinions about things. However, even though this seems sort of obvious, it does not follow that judges should go on spouting those opinions. While it may be interesting to find out what is truly lurking in the mind of Samuel Alito, it would be harmful to the judicial process. I think it would give the false impression that judges do not make principled decisions. And while I disagree with Scalia on many, many issues, I must admit that his decisions are principled. He may be eager to overrule certain things, but this is because he has put in a lot of intellectual energy thinking about these things. Hell, I would be more worried if a judge didn't think about issues until a case came before him. I think that pre-judging (or at least pre-thinking) is not a bad thing. But, I don't think many people would agree with me on that. If they hear judges saying what they want to overrule, they would not think "this is an expression of principled legal thought," they would think "this is an expression of politics," with all its pejorative glory.

So even though the Court is a political actor (a principled political actor) , we definitely do not want the public thinking that the Court engages in "politics." So, Supreme Court Justices should keep their damn ideas to themselves.

More like, “don’t ask, don’t HELL!”

A brief introduction for our friends at Ursinus: those of you who follow me and Fz’s Communism for Dummies column are probably familiar with our ongoing feud with the Internet sinkhole that is Conservapedia. I did not provide the link for their site because a) giving them more web traffic, even negative web traffic, only encourages them, and b) anything bad that can be said about Conservapedia has already been said. Far be it from Fz and I to beat a dead horse.

Instead, let me reveal to you a little-known fact about our feud. We received an email from a Conservapedia sysop who was irrationally angry about a tiny little mention we made in one of our columns that anyone who vandalized Conservapedia would receive 77 virgins in Heaven. Or something like that.

Now, that in itself is not really worth noting. What is worth noting, however, is that said disgruntled sysop made it a point to mention his considerable stint in the U.S. Navy. This struck us at first as an odd thing to say (something along the lines of “Hey! My irrelevant career qualifies me as an intimidating figure, unhampered even by the anonymity of the Internet!”), but, after we stopped laughing, we soon realized its dire implications. Ladies and gentlemen, there are conservatives in our military.

I was just as shocked as you.

Now, I cannot imagine that recruiters don’t screen for this kind of behavior early on in the application process. What that means, then, is that conservatives are hiding their political affiliations – going into the closet, if you will – in order to infiltrate our armed forces. This clearly cannot stand. Can you imagine the damage that would be done to troop morale if conservatives were allowed to work alongside our normal soldiers? There’d be mutinies left and right! Not to mention, of course, that banning conservatives from the military is really in their best interest, too. Were a solitary conservative soldier put in with a company of liberal soldiers, the harassment and hazing that would inevitably result would not only endanger the conservatives’ life and well-being, but ultimately our way of life, as such disunity would dissolve the cohesive bonds which make our armed forces the effective fighting machine it is today.

On behalf of the American people, I am calling on you, our country’s military recruiters, to throw out your policy of “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” in regards to a soldier’s political affiliations and institute strict background checks and screenings to keep conservatives and lesser Republicans from trying to defend America. Be especially wary of those who have voted for Bush, those who advocate things like “strict constructionism,” “Reaganomics,” or “Jesus,” and especially Toby Keith fans. Remain vigilant - the fate of the nation may depend on it.

A New Contender for the Republican Nomination

Some people think Fred Thompson is the hot new thing in the race for the Republican nomination. However, they are overlooking a new contender who has surged into the lead. Who is this dark horse, this man of mystery? Is it Ron Paul? After all, Paul, the anti-war libertarian, has received more than half of all campaign contribution from members of the military to Republican candidates:

52.53% Ron Paul
35.4% McCain
7.9% Romney
5.2% Giuliani
2.2% Hunter
2.6% Others

Shocking, no? Sadly, Paul still lingers at the bottom of the actual polls. He is not the dark horse of which I speak. Instead, I'm talking about "None of the above." That's right. According to the latest AP-Ipsos poll, almost 25% percent of Republicans chose "None of the above" when asked which candidate they prefer. That's higher than Giuliani, Thompson, Romney, McCain, or any of the other Republican hopefuls. I can only hope that Mr. "None of the above" has the cajones to withstand the inevitable barrage of negative attacks that are sure to follow the release of these new numbers. Good luck, my friend!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Al Sharpton is at it Again (and pictures of Beyonce HOT HOT HOT)

I never thought I would link to FOX News on this blog, but I could not help myself. Al Sharpton went on to Hannity and Colmes and whined about tmz.com's use of the term "roboho" to describe Beyonce Knowles' get up at the BET Awards. First of all, I don't think tmz was too out of line here:

But, hey, the Reverend was there. He knows what he saw!

I happened to have been there that night, because it was the night I did a tribute to James Brown at the BET Awards, and the outfit was a totally clothed outfit. You cannot see anything but her face.

Maybe he had to run to the bathroom during the part shown above. But regardless, the debate focused on two issues. First, whether saying that her outfit was a "roboho get up" is saying that she is a roboho, and second, how exactly free speech plays into this.

Rich Lowry, filling in for the absent Mr. Hannity, asked the Reverend "
If a robot were to dress like a prostitute, isn't that the kind of outfit it would wear?" I would have to say the answer is yes. But, this does not mean that I think Beyonce Knowles is either a robot or a prostitute. Indeed, she is neither. She is a performer, who occasionally dresses up like a robotic prostitute. And there is nothing wrong with pointing that out, especially in the context of a joke. Well, the Reverend thinks there's something wrong with it and any use of the word "ho" in any context. Will he go after Santa Clause next?

Har har.

Anyway, the Reverend argues that people are free to use the word "ho" as they wish so long as he is free to express offense. But, as we have seen in the past, Sharpton goes well beyond expressing that he is offended. He campaigns for people who use the word to lose their jobs (or, to make a verb out of a proper noun, he Imuses people). This is not simply engaging in a simple debate about semantics. This is seeking to eliminate a certain set of words from the English language and to punish anyone who does not follow along. He states his goal less harsh tones:
We in the National Action Network have been embarked in a decency initiative.... We're getting ready to do a 20 city vigil where we have asked for the 'N' word, the 'H' word and 'B' word to not be used.

Oh, and just in case you didn't know what the National Action Network means, he provides a helpful explanation:
With the word “National” representing the scope of our activities, and “Network” reflecting the methodology of expansion.

Thanks for clearing that up, Rev.

Of all the problems facing the black community (although the Reverend is quick to say he isn't playing the race card - but the problem is that in Rev's 52-card deck, they're all race cards), the Reverend has chosen this, the use of the term "ho" in off-color jokes, as his crusade. You know, I used to have some respect for the Reverend, when he talked about real political issues and said things that other political figures wouldn't think of saying. He may not have had any relevance in American politics, but at least he was interesting. Now, he's just wasting his and our time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sweeping Tuberculosis Under the Carpet

Remember Andrew Speaker?

Remember how he had tuberculosis?

Remember how he threatened the lives of others?

Well, meet Franklin Greenwood. Franklin, a fifty year old citizen of Arkansas also has tuberculosis. You see, he had been held in isolation at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science after X-rays found he had a disease in his lungs that was pretty consistent with TB. However, there was a slight problem. On July 1st, Mr. Greenwood jumped out of his third floor apartment and escaped. According to one health official, there were going to be no plans to inform the public that Mr. Greenwood was on the loose:

"We never would have gone public. This is not our initiative," said Dr. Joe Bates, deputy state health officer. "This is an exceedingly rare experience and we don't have a standard protocol, but its always worked well for us to deal with it like we did with in this way -- find the person and get them under treatment."

That's excellent. I'm really glad the state of Arkansas has the best interests of their citizens in mind. Let the crazy man with a deadly illness that can potentially spread and kill others roam free without warning. What a splendid idea that would've been. Of course, while the Andrew Speaker story is still getting plenty of press (according to Google News Search, there are two thousand or so stories featuring his name), the Franklin Greenwood story has gotten only a minuscule amount of coverage (88 links).

Considering this was a major, major fuck up that is still unresolved (he hasn't been caught yet, folks), you'd think the media could try a little bit more and cover a story that has current relevance.

In Defense of the New York Times (and John Edwards [and liberalism])

The Times has a pretty standard article about John Edwards' trip to New Orleans. It discussed his stated purpose (poverty, of course), listed a few questions from reporters about non-poverty issues (i.e. Louisiana's sad excuses for representatives - particularly Senator Vitter and Congressman Jefferson), and gave his smooth-as-ice responses. It didn't criticize; it didn't cheer. It just told. But, it elicited this response from a reader:

Did he ride into New Orleans in his Porsche, or his private jet?

The Champion of The Poor…as he lives as far away from the poor as possible?

Absurd…only a liberal hallucinator would go for this non-sense…the same crowd that accepts statements like “we voted against the war before we voted for it.”

…same crowd that calls the Iraq war a quagmire, even though we destroyed the 5th largest military in the world in a matter of days, and the amount of casualties sustained thus far is far below any figure that military planners even imagined.”

Liberalism and Islam are the recipe to the destruction of America.

…feel proud liberals.

The NY Times is undermining this nation everyday…this article continues the madness.

I've defended John Edwards against this attack before, but it bears repeating. Someone does not have to be poor to stand up for the poor. Just as it took action on the part of white people to make the goals of the civil rights movement a reality, it will take action on the part of astronomically wealthy people (the only people capable of reaching the highest seats of government) to make any attempt at ending poverty (which is probably a naive goal anyway, but we'll let that slide).

Next, this ridiculous Iraq claim. It isn't a quagmire because we beat the Iraqi army in a matter of days and we didn't have as many casualties as some people thought? First, no one is claiming that the Iraq war is a quagmire because of the Iraqi army. After the first week or two, the war had absolutely nothing to do with the Iraqi army. And second, the quagmire-esque state of a war is not measured by deaths, it is measured by how much progress is being made or is capable of being made. There are plenty of wars in American history that had heaps of casualties but were not quagmires. This guys arguments simply don't deal with the quagmire argument.

At all.

I love that this guy thinks that liberalism and Islam are the harbingers of the destruction of America. Oddly enough, the combination of the two (i.e. Liberal Islam) would solve many of our problems. I, for one, fail to see how equal rights, fairness, and/or worshipping Allah will destroy America, but his conclusion, "...feel proud liberals" has an air of authority, so I'll accept it.

Even if you are a conservative and are offended by the Times' slightly liberal slant (which is nowhere near as noticeable as Fox News' conservative slant), it is a big stretch to say that it is undermining the nation, and that a simple article explaining a candidate's appearance somewhere is "madness." God, what would this guy say if he saw the op-ed page?

Gilmore is Out!

You may be asking yourself "Who is Gilmore?" And hey, that's exactly the reason he just dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for President. See the Times.

Gilmore wasn't the first to go, though. Remember back when Tom Vilsack was vying for the Democratic nod? Ah, those were the days. Even though Vilsack's decision to step down didn't create a domino effect, causing other presidential hopefuls to realize how much time and money they're wasting while embarrassing themselves and their families in the process, I wonder what effect Gilmore's will have. I mean, how long are Tom Tancredo and Tommy Thompson and Mike Huckabee and Joe Biden going to stick around? (I leave out notables like Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, and Mike Gravel because they're either there "providing a voice that isn't being heard" or fucking insane).

It is my most sincere hope that Gilmore's decision will cause other candidates to evaluate themselves and say "Hey, you know what? I'm wasting everyone's time here. What a tool I am!" Because honestly, debates can mean something. They don't have to be Chris Matthews looking like a Border Collie being outrun by the sheep he is trying to round up. They can provide useful insights into the candidates' thought processes, and more importantly, their policy proposals. But, as it is now, they look like Brit Hume leading a game of Seven-Up with a class of kindergarteners. It's downright pitiful, and it doesn't have to be that way. If some of these clowns would just realize that their own vain pride is not enough to win an election, this election process might take an important step toward being taken somewhat seriously.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Too Good Not to Post

Check out this music video/editorial cartoon from Nick Anderson at the Houston Chronicle (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan). It's too good not to post. It's also a bit disturbing, so be warned.

CNN defends Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Remember the Michael Moore-Sanjay Gupta controversy? Dr. Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, claimed that Moore fudged the facts in SiCKO by saying that Cuba spent only $25 per person per person on health care. Of course, it turned out that Moore did no such thing; he had given the correct figure, $251. Outraged, Moore went on Wolf Blitzer's show and gave CNN a well-deserved tongue-lashing. Then Moore posted a long response on his website (here and here) detailing the problems with Gupta's review of SiCKO. I decided to be a citizen activist (as opposed to my usual habit of getting outraged and forgetting to do something about it), and sent off an email to the CNN Situation Room email address requesting that the network issue an apology to Moore.

Now CNN has posted a point-by-point rebuttal to 11 problems Moore pointed out in Gupta's review. Some of the counter-arguments made by CNN are convincing, mostly the ones where they claim that Gupta was actually agreeing with Moore. Two of them merit further discussion:



CNN: (PAUL KECKLEY-Deloitte Health Care Analyst): "The concept that care is free in France, in Canada, in Cuba -- and it's not. Those citizens pay for health services out of taxes. As a proportion of their household income, it's a significant number ... (GUPTA): It's true that the French pay higher taxes, and so does nearly every country ahead of the United States on that list."

"The Truth" (from Michael Moore's Web site):

"SiCKO" never claims that health care is provided absolutely for free in other countries without tax contributions from citizens. Former (member of the British Parliament) Tony Benn reads from the NHS founding pamphlet, which explicitly states that "this is not a charity. You are paying for it mainly as taxpayers." "SiCKO" also acknowledges that the French are "drowning in taxes." Comparatively, many Americans are drowning in insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays and medical debt and the resulting threat of bankruptcy -- half of all bankruptcies in the United States are triggered by medical bills (Medical Bills Make up Half of Bankruptcies, February 2005, MSNBC).


On Moore's Web site "Prescription for Change" (http://www.michaelmoore.com/sicko/health-care-proposal), item one is a call that "Every resident of the United States must have free, universal health care for life."

One of Gupta's overall critiques of the film is that Moore leaves viewers with an impression, as he does on his Web site, that universal health care comes without cost. In fact, substantial taxes are required to pay for such programs around the world.

This is the worst argument CNN makes in the rebuttal. SiCKO repeatedly compares the per-capita health care cost in various countries. It certainly does not give the impression-- and neither does Moore's website, as far as I can tell-- that medical care appears without any money being spent, like a magic pony. No adult would believe such a thing, and SiCKO doesn't say that's how it works. The movie does not deny that universal health care is funded with taxes. It does point out that health care is free at the point of use. If you're sick, you go to the doctor and you don't get charged a thing. You don't get bankrupted by your medical bills. Next point:



CNN: "But no matter how much Moore fudged the facts, and he did fudge some facts..."

"The Truth" (from Michael Moore's Web site):

This is libel. There is not a single fact that is "fudged" in the film. No one has proven a single fact in the film wrong. We expect CNN to correct their mistakes on the air and to apologize to their viewers.


Gupta believes picking and comparing numbers from different places and times to suit an argument is not the best approach to a complicated issue like this one. Again, as pointed out earlier, by mixing types of data and time periods in some of Moore's comparisons, Gupta felt that the film effectively fudged points that could have been made just as compellingly by comparing data from the same source and time period.

Previously, CNN pointed out that Moore, at least at one point in the film, compared Cuba's health care costs in 2005 to America's in 2007. He did that because he was using the most recent figures for each country, but still, it's not good statistics. A half-point to CNN here.

Despite having at least one decent defense, CNN and Dr. Sanjay Gupta do not come out looking good. The "universal health care isn't a magic pony" criticism is transparently ridiculous, and they have already admitted that they made a wrong "transcription" of Moore's numbers about health care costs in Cuba. Hopefully they will be more careful next time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Al-Qaida Mad As Hell (And Not Going To Take It Anymore)

According to this Associated Press article, Al-Qaida, like the demonic car in Stephen King’s Christine, has managed to successfully rebuild itself:

A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts says that al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001. A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the document _ titled "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West" _ called it a stark appraisal. The analysis will be part of a broader meeting at the White House on Thursday about an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate.

This is not news we can take lightly, America. If we are to interpret this report correctly, we are at as great a risk of suffering a terrorist attack on our soil as we were just before 9/11. But our President would rather sit on his hands than take the bold, effective measures we need in a time like this. That is why we, the voters, need to start a massive letter-writing campaign to our congressional representatives, urging them to authorize a massive military effort to stop these terrorists before they can hit us. Specifically, we need to launch an invasion of Afghanistan.

It’s right there in the article; al-Qaida’s stronghold is the volatile region along the Afghan-Pakistan border. I have no doubt in my mind that an invasion of Afghanistan would successfully route out these terrorist elements and disrupt the well-oiled terror machine currently operating there. Should stragglers try to take refuge over the border, a combined effort on the part of the United States and our allies in Pakistan would no doubt be able to squeeze out these rats in their cave and eliminate them.

All it would take is determined, calculated effort on the part of our leaders to get this done. But alas, the current Administration would rather worry about trifling matters like immigration reform, stem-cell research and the war in Iraq to bother with the real issue at hand – terrorism. That is why we need to tell Congress, in no uncertain terms – get our troops out of Baghdad! And put them in Kabul!

The problem in Iraq is that Bush and the cabinet are... insufficiently hawkish?

I kid you not, that's the argument being made by William Kristol (and, apparently, Lathryn Jean Lopez):

War is hell and war deserves everything you've got left in you. So onward and upward, but let's rally for the fight.

A few minutes ago, Bill Kristol expressed a similar sentiment (stressing the moving forward part), while on Laura Ingraham's show, wishing Cabinet secretaries would engage in the fight for victory. He encouraged the president to embrace hawkishness, predicting it could not only rally folks toward being victory-minded but could also have the added benefit of being a real "shot in the arm" for the Bush administration.
In Washington, pundits can be consistently wrong about pretty much everything and still be considered Very Serious People. That's why William Kristol still has a job. What's truly bizarre here is Kristol's apparent belief that Bush has not yet "embraced hawkishness," and that doing so now would somehow be a "shot in the arm" to the administration. What does this even mean? Should Bush give a speech in which he confidently reiterates his adamant support for the war? How would that differ from every speech in the past four years? Will administration officials stand around water coolers having conversations like, "Hey, did you know the President supports this war? Before, I thought he was a waffler on Iraq. Now he's 'embraced hawkishness.' I'm inspired!"

Even stranger is Kristol's belief that cabinet officials should do more to "engage in the fight for victory." (Have they just been twiddling their thumbs the past four years?) I suppose the Secretary of Health and Human Services should slap on some body armor, grab a gun, and head out for Baghdad. Of course that's not what he means. Instead, he thinks the Secretary of Health and Human Services should slap on his Victory Mindset and lobby Senators to support the war. Come on, Secretary! Be a Courageous War Hero like Gen. William Kristol of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Politicizing the Surgeon General

The New York Times has an article regarding the political pressures faced by Richard Carmona, President Bush's Surgeon General from 2002-2006. While it shouldn't be surprising (given the way we've seen other supposedly non-partisan officials being politically manipulated), it is still frightening.

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name.

Some of these are somewhat understandable (not to say excusable), given that the Bush administration promotes abstinence-only sex education and what not. But, I didn't think that even the Bush Administration would stoop so low as to call into question the legitimacy of the Special Olympics just because the Kennedys are associated with it. But, they did just that. Indeed, one top official told Dr. Carmona, "Why would you want to help those people?" So, the Surgeon General cannot support the Special Olympics because it would "help" the Kennedys? This is one of the most ludicrous, immoral arguments I have ever heard, and that's saying a lot, because the Bush Administration makes boatloads of them.

The Surgeon General is supposed to be the nation's top doctor. We are supposed to be able to look to him for sound advice regarding any and all health issues. We shouldn't have to worry that he is simply a pawn of the appointing President. Health issues are more important than politics. But, as it has been shown many times in the past, nothing is more important than politics to the Bush Administration.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

McCain campaign deathwatch

How many more setbacks can John McCain's struggling campaign take?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican John McCain's top two aides quit his struggling presidential campaign on Tuesday, dealing a sharp blow to the Arizona senator and casting doubt on the future of his 2008 bid.

McCain said he would push ahead with his White House run despite the departures of manager Terry Nelson and longtime chief strategist John Weaver, which was announced as he took the Senate floor to defend President George W. Bush's strategy in Iraq.

Sorry, Senator, but it just doesn't look like it's going to happen. You are too pro-war and (deadly in the Republican primary) too pro-immigration to win. Now, turnarounds have happened before-- as you have pointed out, Kerry's campaign was considered doomed before he turned things around in the primaries. But it will take a real miracle to change the momentum in your campaign. Joe Sudbay at AMERICAblog points out the sad irony here:
In 2000, the Bush team destroyed McCain's presidential aspirations by running a fiercely negative campaign against him. In 2008, the Bush team destroyed McCain's presidential aspirations because the Senator remained fiercely loyal to the failed policies of the failed presidency of George Bush. George Bush is primary reason John McCain will never be President. Although, John McCain himself deserves a lot of credit, too.
I can't deny, Senator, that you're a man of principles. Unfortunately, they're the wrong ones.

Michael Moore gives Wolf Blitzer and CNN a well-deserved tongue-lashing

Check out Michael Moore rip Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

Michael Moore has a perfect right to be angry. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, claimed that Moore fudged the facts in SiCKO by saying that Cuba spent only $25 per person. That's a serious charge, especially because Moore is often accused (with some justification) of being one-sided. The thing is, Moore didn't say that Cuba spend only $25 per person: he gave the correct figure, $251. Gupta later admitted that he made what he calls an "error in transcription," or something like that. For a segment supposedly devoted to fact-checking, that sort of thing is unacceptable.

Moore will be on Larry King tonight with Dr. Sanjay Gupta at 9:00. Tune in. I'm sure the sparks will fly!

Monday, July 9, 2007

On Supreme Court Polling

Rasmussen Reports has a poll that asked respondents to rate the Supreme Court's performance as Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor. The responses aren't that important for the purposes of this post (but, for the sake of curiosity, they are 9, 31, 35, and 23 respectively), as I'm more concerned with the question itself.

It puts too much faith in the American public, to be blunt about it. The fact of the matter is that most Americans can name zero Supreme Court Justices. For proof, see this. In December of 2005, 57% of respondents could name no sitting Justices. Here are the percentages of people who could name individual Justices in 2005:

O'Connor: 27%
Thomas: 21%
Roberts: 16%
Scalia: 13%
Ginsburg: 12%
Kennedy: 7%
Souter: 5%
Breyer: 3%
Stevens: 3%

Now, I don't want to be mistaken here; I do not expect people to be able to rattle off the Supreme Court Justices, and the ability to do so is not necessarily correlated to knowledge of Court decisions, which is more important. However, there is no denying that the public is ignorant of what goes on in the Supreme Court aside from those few cases that are controversial enough to warrant coverage on local news stations (in this last term, probably only the partial-birth abortion and affirmative action cases). And I'm even okay with that. I don't expect people to know or care about the kinds of obscure cases I discuss on this blog. However, I think these polls are absolutely ridiculous. They ask people questions about a topic about which they know next to nothing. It is like if someone asked me how the food in Paris is despite the fact that I've never been out of the States, and instead of saying "Oh, I don't know," I said "Oh, it's fabulous!"

Polling is a dubious business. It forces people to make up their minds about things they may not be sure about and tries to pass itself off as scientific. With that said, I should note that I still rely on polls when conducting election analysis. But, I think election polls are an entirely different beast than approval rating polls. But, they have their own problems, too.

How can liberals take back the Court?

Linda Greenhouse over at The New York Times has an interesting article about what Democrats and liberals can (or cannot) do to reclaim the Court. The prospects seem grim. As she points out, the average age of the liberals is 74, whereas the average age of the conservatives is only 61. Even if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2008 and again in 2012, there is no guarantee that he or she will even get the chance to replace a conservative with a liberal. It is likely that the next President will get to replace John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter, all liberals. Certainly, replacing these Justices with youthful liberals would be nice, but it wouldn't change the balance on the Court at all. So, liberals have to think about the long-term.

Unfortunately, thinking about the long-term is incredibly difficult when it comes to the Supreme Court. Liberals have to attempt to reverse a trend 40 years in the making (indeed, of the last 15 Supreme Court Justices, only two have been Democrats); they have to attempt to convince the public that "strict constructionists" are not the ideal Justices, which will no doubt be difficult, for at least two reasons. First, there is a lot of public apathy regarding the Supreme Court. So, it would be difficult for the Democratic party to try to motivate voters to vote on the basis of the future of the Court. This has been done in the past with some success when Nixon ran on a platform of opposition to the liberal Warren Court (although, it should be noted that three of his four nominees went on to support the Roe v. Wade decision). Ever since that election, the Court has been trending more conservative. Of course, Republicans like Nixon and Reagan had an advantage, they could argue "These liberals are taking God out of the classroom! These liberals are allowing criminals to run free! These liberals want to kill your babies! These liberals are legislating from the bench! Etc." These arguments, while rather simplistic in their understanding of the Court, have been very powerful in the past few decades. Indeed, most Americans don't want a liberal Supreme Court. So, liberals have a daunting task; convincing the American people that they want what they clearly do not.

I, for one, don't think it can be done. But, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Court is in the hands of conservatives forever. I think the only way to get a liberal Court is to make the Court a non-issue in presidential elections. If Democrats can distract Americans with other policy considerations, they can win elections, but when the focus comes directly on the role of the Court in American politics, conservatives will win nine times out of ten.

So, for liberals to have a shot at "taking back" the Court, a Democrat must win in 2008 and be re-elected in 2012, and another Democrat must win in 2016. After all, Scalia and Kennedy can probably stick it out until 2016 (they'll only be 80, which isn't that old for Supreme Court Justices). Any long-term plan attempting to reshape the constitutional vision of the American public is bound to fail. Democrats simply need to win elections.

Perhaps I shouldn't say "simply."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Spain is NOT about to be overrun by Muslims.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Take this article by Aaron Hanscom at PajamasMedia, claiming that Spain is just another European country that is "hollow at its core," about to be overrun by Muslims.

Why do I say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? Well, the fact is that Hanscom is clearly not ignorant about Spain. His wife is Spanish, he has visited Spain, he has spoken to quite a few Spaniards, and he is aware of current trends in Spanish politics. However, he has mistakenly let anecdotal evidence (like a conversation with his wife's uncle) convince him that Spain is going to be overrun by Muslims. Now he is afraid to move to Europe:

Then there was the discussion I had with my other brother-in-law and his girlfriend in Madrid. They asked my wife and me if we ever considered moving to Spain. We told them that our fear about the future of Europe was a main reason we never gave it serious thought. They agreed that tensions with Muslim immigrants would only increase in the future. However, they both still clung to the idea that Spain would be safer if it continued to keep its distance from the United States.
Hanscom, please reconsider your decision! The numbers simply don't support the theory that Muslims are going to take over Spain any time soon. According to the latest municipal census by the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (Jan. 1, 2007), the largest, and fastest growing, group of immigrants in Spain are Europeans from other EU countries.* This is largely due to a surge of immigration from Eastern Europe following the recent entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU. These Europeans recently overtook the second largest group of immigrants, South Americans, in size. Together, EU nationals and South Americans account for about two-thirds of all the immigrants in Spain. Let's not forget that South Americans tend to be heavily Catholic, have a high fertility rate, and speak Spanish (except for the Brazilians).

Immigrants from countries outside the EU, like Moroccans, actually make up a shrinking percentage of the immigrant population. Even if all Africans were Muslims, which they aren't, they make up less than 20% of the Spanish immigrant population.

Spain is not being overrun by Muslims. Now, I don't mean to dispute that Islamic radicalism is a problem. Look at Britain. Nor do I think Spain does a particularly good job integrating immigrants (it doesn't.) And it's true that Europe's low birthrates are causing lots of problems. But Hanscom's overheated article shows how easy it is to let a compelling narrative-- Europe is collapsing! The Muslims are coming!-- convince us of something that simply isn't true.

*The reason I am so intimately acquainted with Spanish immigration statistics is that I am a summer research fellow at Ursinus College, writing a paper on immigration in Spain and its effects on the Spanish economy.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Politics of Transformers

The politics of Transformers? "What politics?" you might ask. Perhaps you only see Transformers as a butt-kicking, if slightly cliched, action movie. Well, my friend, you are hopelessly naive. Just ask Libertas:

The films politics are decidedly pro-American, pro-military, and even *gasp* pro-freedom. Bay’s affection for the American military is obvious in every scene they’re in. They are uniformly portrayed as heroic, extremely competent, selfless, and even kind to Arab children. The theme of the film is spoken out loud more than once: No sacrifice, no victory. And the Autobots have come to liberate us from the terrorist Decepticons because the Autobots believe freedom is the right of everyone. Yes, there is a gentle, somewhat affectionate jab at Bush, but Jon Voight’s Secretary of Defense makes it clear at every turn that the President is running the show.

Steven Spielberg and Bay both exec produced, but make no mistake about it, this is a Michael Bay film all the way; from the booming score to the editing and camera shots. It’s not smart (why does Sam have to save the world by getting that cube to the top of a building when an Autobot could do it in two seconds?), it’s far from perfect, but you’ll have a great time and more than a few hearty laughs despite the lulls. And after all the relativist junk we’ve been suffering through, it does mean something to watch the fight for freedom portrayed with valor, good and evil distinguished, and the dreaded-until-needed military industrial complex save the day.

Am I complimenting the film’s politics because I agree with them? Maybe. Regardless, the world view presented in Tranformers is more than just one that I happen agree with, it’s also new, refreshing, daring, and counter-culture — which counts for something in storytelling.
In the comments, Planetsuz adds his take:
... [I]t was great in one scene when the covert ops guys with the John Turturro character are at odds with the Army soldiers. To defuse the situation Jon Voight says to the covert agents, “You better do what he says. These guys don’t lose.” or words to that effect. Could that be a statement to Harry Reid and all of the Democrats who keep dishonoring our military by saying we’ve lost in Iraq?

I agree completely. Let's face it: Transformers had to be a conservative movie. If liberals had been in charge, humans would have been down on their knees worshiping Megatron faster than you can say "surrender monkey." Then the Cube would have turned every Best Buy and Radio Shack in the country into a Battlebots arena. (If you saw the movie, you know what I'm talking about.) Unfortunately, it turns out that one of the screenwriters of the movie has a blog. And this is what he has to say about the matter:
All this reveals is two thing -- first, this sort of culture score-carding is idiotic. It's way, way beyond wet-brained. The Variety review, for example, pointed out how Optimus Prime sounded like Bush when he said "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings." What the reviewer plainly does not know is that is the Big Guy's catchphrase, and if I'd left it out of the first draft a mob of people in cardboard transforming costumes, led by Seth Green and his now full-sized and deadly Robot Chickens, would have gibbed me. I didn't sit there and say "You know what, I should use this movie as a way to express the righteousness of an international crusade of liberation and nation-building." And although I can't speak for Kurtzman and Orci, I don't think that was their gig either.

Second, hopefully this may slooooowly spin you around to the idea that being "pro-American, pro-military and even *gasp* pro-freedom" are not just conservative values. Progressives are also pro-American, pro-military -- in my first draft, the Army guys actually have bigger role, although they're a little grungier and working-class than all shiny and model-y -- and *gasp* pro-freedom. We just believe you serve these values in different ways. Demonizing each other is a way the Bastards in Suits try to jkeep the game going, and keep their little scams in place, so we don't suddenly notice that we're all on the same side, we all support the troops. we all rather like each other, and despite our many disagreements maybe we'd like all the professional hate-mongers to bugger off now, please.
Darn. And I had thought I had another True-Blue Red-Blooded Conservative movie to put in my collection next to Patton.

New York Times on Scooter Libby

The New York Times points out the obvious in the Scooter Libby case:

Until he commuted the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. on Monday, President Bush had said almost nothing about his philosophy in granting clemency while at the White House.

As governor of Texas, though, Mr. Bush discussed and applied a consistent and narrow standard when deciding whether to issue pardons and commutations. And that standard appears to be at odds with his decision in the Libby case.

Mr. Bush explained his clemency philosophy in Texas in his 1999 memoir, “A Charge to Keep.”

“In every case,” he wrote, “I would ask: Is there any doubt about this individual’s guilt or innocence? And, have the courts had ample opportunity to review all the legal issues in this case?”

In Mr. Libby’s case, Mr. Bush expressed no doubts about his guilt. He said he respected the jury’s verdict, and he did not pardon Mr. Libby, leaving him a convicted felon. And Mr. Bush acted before the courts had completed their review of his appeal.

“As governor, Bush essentially viewed the clemency power as limited to cases of demonstrable actual innocence,” said Jordan M. Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas who has represented death-row inmates.

“The exercise of the commutation power in Libby,” Professor Steiker continued, “represents a dramatic shift from his attitude toward clemency in Texas, and it is entirely inconsistent with his longstanding, very limited approach.”

Michael Ledeen draws the wrong conclusion from a horrific crime

I think it's very important to respond to the argument Michael Ledeen makes here, in a post about a horriffic crime committed by al-Qaeda in Iraq:

The horror of the terrorist onslaught rarely is brought home to the American public. Indeed, it is sometimes so grisly that not even American troops in the field can even talk about it without swallowing hard. Listen to Michael Yon, in his latest update from Diyala Province. This is really something:

Speaking through an American interpreter, Lieutenant David Wallach who is a native Arabic speaker, the Iraqi official related how al Qaeda united these gangs who then became absorbed into “al Qaeda.” They recruited boys born during the years 1991, 92 and 93 who were each given weapons, including pistols, a bicycle and a phone (with phone cards paid) and a salary of $100 per month, all courtesy of al Qaeda. These boys were used for kidnapping, torturing and murdering people.

At first, he said, they would only target Shia, but over time the new al Qaeda directed attacks against Sunni, and then anyone who thought differently. The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11 years old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

No doubt it works, terror does work. It just seems to me that anyone involved in such activity isn't really entitled to high-priced legal defense in American courts. Guantanamo is way too good for such animals. Or have I missed something? Anybody feel like asking Andrew Sullivan?

Yes, Mr. Ledeen, you have missed something. I understand perfectly your revulsion at this this terrible act. But the conclusion you draw from it is wrong. If I understand your reasoning correctly, people who commit horrific crimes do not deserve legal representation. But how can we determine who has committed the horrific crime? That's the job of the legal system. The main reason people receive legal representation is that there is a need to figure out who is guilty and who is not guilty before delving out punishment.

Child molestation is a sickening, stomach-churning crime. But we don't say toss everyone who is accused of child molestation into a prison without legal representation (or fly them off to a secret prison and torture them). If we did that, we'd sweep up a lot of innocent people with the guilty. The same holds with terrorism. I don't think accused terrorists deserve legal representation because terrorism isn't a terrible thing. Rather, I think accused terrorists deserve representation and access to the legal system because we still need to figure out who is a terrorist and who isn't. Once we have that figured out, then we can break out the righteous punishment.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Chinese Food and Drug Administration official sentenced to death

Poisonous pet food, counterfeit medicine, dangerous toys, toxic toothpaste- it seems like you can't turn on the news these days without seeing a segment about yet another fake and/or deadly Chinese product. China's brand image is taking a serious beating. Apparently the Chinese government intends to do something about it:

For the second time in three months, a former high-ranking official at China’s top food and drug watchdog agency has been sentenced to death for corruption and approving counterfeit drugs, the state-run news media said on Friday.

Cao Wenzhuang, who until 2005 was in charge of drug registration approvals at the State Food and Drug Administration, was accused of accepting more than $300,000 in bribes from two pharmaceutical companies and helping undermine the public’s confidence in an agency that is supposed to be safeguarding the nation’s health.

Mr. Cao’s sentence was handed down by the No. 1 Intermediate Court in Beijing, less than two months after the same court sentenced Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration to death for accepting $850,000 in bribes to help steer drug companies through various approval processes.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

The "unique case" of Scooter Libby

As Fz points out, Bush's long and heartfelt contemplation of the Libby pardon goes against his record in Texas. Andrew Sullivan digs up more, from the archives of the Atlantic:

On the morning of May 6, 1997, Governor George W. Bush signed his name to a confidential three-page memorandum from his legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, and placed a bold black check mark next to a single word: DENY. It was the twenty-ninth time a death-row inmate's plea for clemency had been denied in the twenty-eight months since Bush had been sworn in. In this case Bush's signature led, shortly after 6:00 P.M. on the very same day, to the execution of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded thirty-three-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old.

Gonzales's summaries were Bush's primary source of information in deciding whether someone would live or die. Each is only three to seven pages long and generally consists of little more than a brief description of the crime, a paragraph or two on the defendant's personal background, and a condensed legal history. Although the summaries rarely make a recommendation for or against execution, many have a clear prosecutorial bias, and all seem to assume that if an appeals court rejected one or another of a defendant's claims, there is no conceivable rationale for the governor to revisit that claim. This assumption ignores one of the most basic reasons for clemency: the fact that the justice system makes mistakes...
Sullivan interjects:
The number of people George W. Bush sent to their deaths without a second's thought is higher than any living governor in the United States. And yet it took a perjury conviction of a white, wealthy, connected apparatchik to awaken the president's sensitivity to injustice:

A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.

Gonzales declined to be interviewed for this story, but during the 2000 presidential campaign I asked him if Bush ever read the clemency petitions of death-row inmates, and he equivocated. "I wouldn't say that was done in every case," he told me.

Yet the prospect of Scooter Libby serving 30 months in prison sent the President leaping for a pen to sign a pardon. Whatever happened to equal justice under the law? The White House doesn't know what that means. And if you don't believe me, just ask them (as a reporter did at a White House press conference):
Q Scott, is Scooter Libby getting more than equal justice under the law? Is he getting special treatment?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by "equal justice under the law." But this is a unique case, there's no doubt about that.

It's a unique case, all right. But not a complicated one, as Joshua Marshall points out here:

Setting aside whether Scooter Libby should spend 0 days in jail for what most people spend from 1 to 3 years in jail, the key here is that it's inappropriate for the president to pardon or commute a sentence in a case in which he (i.e., the president) is a party to the same underlying crime. Because it amounts to obstruction of justice.

It's really not that complicated.

No, it's not.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Fourth of July!

I'm sneaking in this Fourth of July post right under the wire. I hope you all enjoyed your barbecues and fireworks. And any of you who went to Transformers saw an excellent movie! I know I enjoyed it. I'll leave you with this story from Matt Yglesias:

I think I've never blogged this story before, and it's pretty funny. I was in Russia during the summer of 1998 on a program involving maybe a dozen other American high school kids. We were all living with Russian families that had kids enrolled in the advanced English class in this one high school in Nizhny Novgorod. For several days in early July, the Americans were all sporadically busy thinking about how we would mount a July 4 celebration. Eventually, we found some sparklers, some peanut butter, and I guess maybe some stuff from McDonalds.

It was only near the last possible moment that this one Russian dude got to asking what it was we were celebrating. "Thees fourth July is for eendependence day?" Yes, of course. "Eees eeemportant holiday in U.S.?" Yes, of course. "Americans make eemportant day for movie? Will Smeeth fight the aliens."

Happy Independence Day

Americans must observe this year’s Fourth of July with a note of somberness. The country is divided politically in a manner not seen since the Sixties. We are closing out the sixth year of an increasingly bloody and unpopular War on Terrorism. At home, heated debates are taking place over the balance between civil liberties and security. In doubtful times such as these, many are looking into the past and wondering how the Founding Fathers would have handled such a predicament. In the absence of their leadership, we must look for bold new solutions for the ills of our modern era.

With the indulgence of Misters DC, Fz, and GJ, I have one of these bold solutions, one that, in my opinion, has a high chance of success. It is my belief that the United States needs courageous and forceful leadership, the kind of leadership that, because of our current structure of government, cannot be offered by a President. What the United States needs now is a king.

Only a monarch has the political and moral authority to push through all the mealy-mouthed jabbering that renders our legislatures impotent and enforce the laws which will keep this nation safe and, more importantly, on top. When New York City was under attack on 9-11, did then-mayor Rudy Giuliani call a town council meeting to deal with the chaos? Nay! Using sheer political brawn, and with the sweat from the brow of the executive branch, he single-handedly turned what was could have been the most tragic day in American history into a celebration of American resolve and durability – a day we have come to call Patriot’s Day in his honor.

America, we need an autocrat. Those bleeding-heart lie-berals in the ACLU might whine and moan, but, as they are all atheists, they forget that America, throughout her history, has been a nation beloved by God. And the Lord will not hand over His promised land to some sniveling megalomaniac with a Napoleon complex. When Americans are united in a common cause, it is a cause that has been blessed by the Almighty. If we, as Americans, choose a king to lead us, he will be a king worthy of God’s endorsement. He will have a divine mandate, and rule as God intends a nation to be ruled; and what can the ACLU say if they have a problem with God’s will?

Moreover, such a reorganization of our government would not even require a huge movement of personnel or money, just a few creative name changes. The role of president becomes, obviously, the role of King; the Cabinet becomes assorted Princes, Dukes, and Earls; and Congress becomes a Parliament for the expression of grievances of the common folk, which can be called and dissolved at the King’s demand. To keep it super-convenient, we don’t even need to choose new people to fill these roles. Prince-Regent Cheney has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say?

We are in a dark place, America. As we celebrate our nation’s 231st birthday, quick action is our only hope for survival. In 1776, we threw off the yolk of King George the Third; this Fourth of July, we need King George – the Second, that is.

More on Scooter Libby

I have taken so long to provide a post on Scooter because Dave beat me to the punch and really, what else is there to say? I'm not one of those wackos who thinks that for whatever reason Libby was the definition of a true patriot (I suppose anyone associated with the Bush Administration is a true patriot in some people's eyes). So, I obviously don't have a counter argument. But, perhaps there is more to say about this anyway. A respected professor of mine directed me to this post by Sanford Levinson on The New Republic's blog, Open University.

As DC points out below, Bush has not used his pardon power very often as President, and indeed, did not use it very often as Governor of Texas, or as Levinson says,

as Governor of Texas he exhibited almost blithe disregard--enabled, to be sure, by his lawyer Alberto ("Fredo") Gonzales--of the poor wretches condemned to die under a notably slipshod system of Texas criminal justice.

So, he didn't pardon any people wrongly sentenced to death by Texas's "justice" system, but all of a sudden he has boatloads of compassion for someone who was sentenced to (and fully deserves - 30 months is not "excessive" for this sort of crime) 30 months in prison? I don't buy it. Team Bush/Gonzales have always fought for tougher criminal sentencing. Indeed, this isn't compassion. This is paranoia. Levinson quotes George Mason, one of the founding-era patriots who opposed the pardon power:
the President of the United States has the unrestrained Power of granting Pardon for Treason; which may be sometimes exercised to screen from Punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the Crime, and thereby prevent a Discovery of his own guilt.

Could Bush be doing something similar? Certainly, Scooter is not guilty of treason, but as Levinson notes,
The best explanation of the pardon is not compassion but, rather, fear that Mr. Libby might be tempted to provide more information about the cabal to turn the presidency (and vice-presidency) into "regal," if not out-and-out dictatorial, authorities totally independent from any scrutiny or accountability. This is simply one more illustration of the mendacity and corruption at the heart of the Bush Administration.

In other words, Bush has to look out for those who know damaging secrets. If Bush hadn't commuted Scooter's sentence, and if he ultimately does not pardon him completely, would Scooter be more inclined to reveal more of the dictatorial secrets of the Bush Administration?

I suppose the world may never know.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Thinking about Hillary.

Larry Sabato over at the Crystal Ball has a fantastic post entitled "The Hillary Dilemma." A lot of this post is sort of stating the obvious, but I think people need to hear it over and over again.

There is something about Hillary--the person, not the politician--that upsets and repels tens of millions of Americans. Fairly or not, she is seen as cold, calculating, and ruthless, an off-putting combination of characteristics.

Indeed, this has led to some rather frightening polls where she is concerned.

ABC News Poll - April 18, 2007
Definitely would not support:
Clinton 45%
Obama 36
Edwards 35
ABC News Poll - April 18, 2007
Definitely would not support (inds. only):
Clinton 45%
Obama 29
Edwards 39
Gallup Poll - May 24, 2007
Favorable/unfavorable (all adults):
Clinton 53% / 45%
Obama 55 / 20
Edwards 56 / 24
Gallup/USA Today Poll - June 5, 2007
Favorable/Unfavorable (all adults):
Clinton 46% / 50%
Obama 53 / 25
Edwards 44 / 32

So, even though she is the front-runner (and pretty overwhelmingly so according to the latest Rasmussen Reports poll) among the Democratic contenders, a lot of people hate her. So, if she does happen to win the Democratic nomination, this is a very bad way to start a general election campaign. As Sabato points out,
The final several percent of swing voters needed to get Hillary Clinton over the top in the general election will vote for her only with the greatest reluctance, more as a way to stop a Republican than as an endorsement of her. That is a shaky way to start a Presidency.

So, if somehow the Republican tide turns and people stop hating them (or one of the candidates actually has enough guts to distance himself from the Party), Clinton's campaign is on very shaky grounds. Her campaign slogan might as well be "I'm not a Republican!" And we saw how well that worked in 2004...

And a Hillary presidency would be troubling simply from the standpoint of democracy.
How is it that the country is on the verge of filling its highest office for the sixth consecutive term from one of two families? That every President from 1989 to 2017 may be a Bush or a Clinton is a national disgrace. What has happened to the American Republic?

I don't know, but I truly hope that Democratic voters are wise enough to see these issues and vote for Obama instead.

Bush commutes Libby, delights the "Party of Law and Order"

So Bush commuted Scooter Libby's prison sentence yesterday, and the "Party of Law and Order" cheered him on. Some of the best commentary on this case comes from Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy:

I find Bush's action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don't know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby's treatment was very special indeed.
What's particularly outrageous is the way that Republicans have portrayed the Libby sentence as "politically motivated." Kerr points out the obvious:
I find this argument seriously bizarre. As I understand it, Bush political appointee James Comey named Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame leak. Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Fitzgerald filed an indictment and went to trial before Bush political appointee Reggie Walton. A jury convicted Libby, and Bush political appointee Walton sentenced him. At sentencing, Bush political appointee Judge Walton described the evidence against Libby as "overwhelming" and concluded that a 30-month sentence was appropriate. And yet the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.
But for the case to have been purely political, doesn't that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee?
My personal favorite defense is that Libby's perjury didn't matter because no one was convicted in the case, sort of a no harm no foul defense. But where were these enlightened Republicans when Bill Clinton lied about his affair?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Why did Bush and Putin stand together against Iran?

From the New York Times:

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin projected a united front Monday against Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

''When Russia and the United States speak along the same lines, it tends to have an effect and therefore I appreciate the Russians' attitude in the United Nations,'' Bush said. ''We're close on recognizing that we got to work together to send a common message.''

Putin predicted that ''we will continue to be successful'' as they work through the U.N. Security Council.

What can we credit for this sunny development?
Earlier, Bush and the Russian leader piled into a powerful speedboat navigated by Bush's father -- former President George H.W. Bush. Under a bright morning sunshine, Putin and the Bushes roamed close to the shoreline around the Bush family's oceanfront estate for about an hour and a half.
Ah, male bonding.

Obama and McCain: two campaigns moving in opposite directions

Barack Obama has surged ahead of Hillary Clinton in fundraising:

Sen. Barack Obama outraised Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by $10 million in second-quarter contributions that can be spent on the Democratic presidential primary contest, aided by the contributions of 154,000 individual donors.

Obama's campaign on Sunday reported raising at least $31 million for the primary contest and an extra $1.5 million for the general election from April through June, a record for a Democratic candidate.

Clinton's campaign announced late Sunday that she had raised $21 million for the primary. With general election contributions added, aides said her total sum would be "in the range" of $27 million. Candidates can only use general election money if they win their party's nomination.

Clinton has a strong lead in national polls, but Obama is competitive with her in several keys states and is leading her in South Carolina. Interestingly enough, while Obama is doing quite well on the internet, that's not what's putting him over the top:
It's not the internet, but instead it's Obama's strategy of having paid events has been the boon needed to skyrocket his donor numbers. I've not seen a story on the phenomenon that he's created, but the paid venues have got to have provided Obama with tens of thousands of donors to add to his overall numbers. It's the speaking-venue donors (similar to a rock concert), not internet donors, that's leveraged the donor numbers for Obama; and alongside the astounding high-donor numbers that have sky-rocketed his total raised, it's combined to create a compelling narrative that gives a strategic advantage to Obama.
I guess it's easy to raise lots of money when this is how people react to you:
The scene is a grass-covered hillside at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

The sun beats down and anticipation builds like beads of sweat.

In the back of the crowd, folks are squinting. It's nearly a football field's distance to the stage. In between, it's a solid sea of people, some swaying to the rock music.

Any minute now, they expect to see the senator pop up on-stage. But Obama doesn't take the easy route. A buzz grows in the back of the huge gathering. Thousands of heads turn.

There he is. There, there ... He's way in the back in a bright, white shirt. He's slowly making his way down a narrow pathway through the humanity. People reach to touch him. He touches them back.

Finally, he hops up some stairs, gives hugs to the VIPs and steps onto a simple platform, where he'll spend much of the next hour talking about the state of the union, the fate of the planet and this moment in history that he -- and they -- are supposed to seize.

Obama might cut the slightest physical profile in the race to win the nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. But his speaking voice projects the most gravity.

"As I approached this campaign, I had to ask myself, 'Why now? Why us?' " Obama tells the Iowa City crowd, which has grown as quiet as a church congregation. "The answer is because the country is calling us. History beckons us."

There's silence as he denounces the "cynicism" he thinks has taken over the society, cheers when he talks about hope.

The crowd is hushed when he talks about the environment, and applauds when he talks about enacting tougher, California-like pollution standards.

Folks roar their approval when he talks about health insurance for "every single American."

A tense silence takes over when he talks about the war in Iraq. Then the crowd raises its voice along with him when he alludes to rival candidates serving in Congress and says the war "should have never been authorized."

Without naming Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, he has tried to set himself up as the one major candidate who was on record against the war before it started.

By the time he leaves the stage, the people in the grass are riled up and swaying to the Motown song, "Your Love is Lifting Me Higher."

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the picture is looking grimmer and grimmer for John McCain:
John McCain's campaign, trailing top Republican rivals in money and polls, is undergoing a significant reorganization with staff cuts in every department, officials with knowledge of the shake-up said Monday.

Some 50 staffers or more are being let go, and senior aides will be subject to pay cuts as the Arizona senator's campaign bows to the reality of six months of subpar fundraising, these officials said.

Once considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, McCain came in third in the money chase behind Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, raising $13.6 million in the first three months of the year. He is struggling to reach that total in the second financial quarter, and wasn't expected to match it.


His popularity among Republicans has dropped since the start of the year. He has become intimately linked to the unpopular Iraq war, and, in recent weeks, he's drawn criticism from already wary conservatives for his support of Bush's immigration reform bill. He declined to participate in an early test of organizational muscle in the leadoff state of Iowa this summer, and, he's fighting the perception that he's yesterday's candidate.

McCain's support in national polls has slipped. He is in single digits in some surveys in Iowa and South Carolina, trailing Giuliani, the former New York mayor; Romney, the ex-governor of Massachusetts, and Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator who's not yet in the race officially.

Put a fork in him.