Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Republican Scandal, Hmmm?

Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, caught red-handed. And he's not alone.

What viewers should understand is that a little-noticed AP story last November showed that Reid accepted thousands of dollars from an Abramoff client — the Coushatta Indian tribe.

The Coushattas sent a $5,000 check to Reid's tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund, the day after Reid interceded via letter with Interior Secretary Gale Norton over a casino dispute with a rival tribe. A second tribe represented by Abramoff sent an additional $5,000 to Reid's group. Reid in total received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related contributions between 2001 and 2004.

Before the Democrats get on their high horse regarding GOP finance scandals, let us remember that 90% of Senate Democrats took money linked to "Republican" lobbyist Jack Abramoff. That includes nearly $100,000 by Sen. John Kerry and $12,950 by fellow presidential wannabe Hillary Clinton.


That goes against some pretty tough talk by Dean and even Reid himself! The more Democrats try to inquisition against the Republicans, the more they may be asking for return-fire. My whole idea of trying to vote every incumbent out of office in 2006 looks more and more the only way to get rid of the corruption.

Who Needs Scientists?

Many don't know about Dr. James Hansen. He's a NASA Scientist who studies, among many things, climate change. Recently, he made some comments about global warming that contradicted the administration line, and was reportedly put through the ringer in all sorts of ways by some furious appointees. Anyone who follows Bush administration science policy knows this is nothing new, but people in his own party are being perturbed. Enter House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY):

It ought to go without saying that government scientists must be free to describe their scientific conclusions and the implications of those conclusions to their fellow scientists, policymakers and the general public. Any effort to censor federal scientists biases public discussions of scientific issues, increases distrust of the government and makes it difficult for the government to attract the best scientists. And when it comes to an issue like climate change, a subject of ongoing public debate with immense ramifications, the government ought to be bending over backward to make sure that its scientists are able to discuss their work and what it means.

Good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of intimidation. Political figures ought to be reviewing their public statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available science; scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy.

NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him. Even if this sense is a result of a misinterpretation of NASA policies - and more seems to be at play here - the problem still must be corrected. I will be following this matter closely to ensure that the right staff and policies are in place at NASA to encourage open discussion of critical scientific issues. I assume you share that goal.


This is part of a letter to the NASA Administrator and contains all sorts of not-so-subtle threats for some of that dreaded Congressional Oversight! Tim F. at Balloon Juice has some ideas of other people (some of whom are Boehlert own colleagues) might be good witnesses to call in.

Rise and Fall

Virginia (and even blue-state Maryland, for that matter) continue their anti-gay crusade, while DC takes the opposite tack.

Mayor Tony Williams signed a bill elevating the director of the office of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affairs to the mayor's cabinet.

Williams formed the office in 2004, but the D.C. Council didn't pass legislation making it a part of the government last year.

Williams says the cabinet-level position recognizes that the gay community is an important part of the city.


I think this is a mixed bag. It is truly excellent to recognize the city's large gay population and their needs, but I think they could do better by actually doing more and pushing for equality (in terms of marriage, unions, and other economic rights such as inheritance) instead of more of an identity-politics type gesture like this. Here at HHS, we have an Office of Women's Health, an Office of Minority Health, and more, but I wonder how much segregating these offices from the rest of the organization detracts from their effectiveness as opposed to incorporating their missions into EVERY agency and program. But that just shows my bias towards more broad-based government programs.

In all, this is a good move to make for its symbolic value. And it really sticks it to DC and Maryland, which are doing more both legally and symbolically to attack and deny GLBT rights.

Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

The filibuster was snapped, and the vote was a blowout. 72-25, Alito has been put forward for the cherished up-or-down vote. There's a lot of things that I think this highlights. So, as is the customs of our times, I'm going to make a bulleted list.

1) John Kerry is an impotent jerk. The theatrics Kerry pulled over his e-mail listserv and in literally phoning in a filibuster rallying cry from Switzerland were par for the course when it comes to this perennial loser. How much lower can Kerry sink? And has he gotten it out of his head yet that running in 2008 is going to be an embarassment for everyone involved, especially him and the voters? This proved that Kerry is as ineffective as he's always been, and hopefully he'll take that to heart.

2) The Gang of 14 worked, and then some. The so-called Gang of 14 compromise to save the filibuster actually worked. There was no need for Bill Frist's old chestnut, the "nuclear option", and certainly the hysterics of wingnuts about the compromise as some sort of ideological sell-out and an opportunity for the Democrats to betray everyone were misplaced and a little ridiculous in retrospect. This filibuster didn't even come close to living, and so the "extroardinary circumstances" part of the Gang of 14 compromise actually gets some definition.

3) Democrats picked their battles smartly, for once. Hopefully this will continue. The complete destruction of this filibuster showed that some Democrats have some sense, and know that they had already lost the Alito fight. I for one am sad Alito is going to make it to the bench, mostly because I think we might as well call the Pope over and crown a new Emperor if he does considering the blank check Alito will give the Executive Branch to do whatever it wants. But that's beside the point. The confirmation hearings were the place Alito needed to be wounded if he was going to be stopped, and the Senate Dems failed spectacularly. In this situation, public opinion had to be turned against Alito early, and it didn't. No filibuster was going to change that situation. It was likely only going to embarass the participants and give Bush a chance to talk about "obstructionists" tonight during the SOTU. The 19 Democrats that said no to the filibuster realized this, even though I'm sure a great many of them plan to vote against Alito.

That's all, in summary. The filibuster was a bad idea, and it was overwhelmingly rejected for that reason. Alito is a bad idea too, but there was just no getting that message out there. It's way too late.

UPDATE: He's in. That's that, I suppose.

Monday, January 30, 2006

An Utter Dose of Pessimism

As a counterpoint to Chainz' piece, I have to link to this. I want to share Chainz' optimism and hopes about Hamas, but the more information I get about the real people who are going to have power (especially this maniac, virtually guaranteed a seat in Parliament UNDER FATAH, supposedly the moderate faction) the more damning this all looks.

UPDATE: This Hitch piece is also pretty dead-on scary.

There Is Something Worse

For so long I've wondered what could possibly be worse than a George Allen Presidency. I think I've found it! It's enough to give you nightmares.

Refreshing!

I guess quagmire means "off the charts improvement in quality of life," hmmm?

Locals say that the combination of stability, reconstruction and investment has led to better education, health care and general quality of life.

"Najaf shows a degree of revitalisation never seen before," said Bassam Darwish, a local shopkeeper whose shop, destroyed during the fighting in 2004, was rebuilt by the US military. "We have power, clean water and good health services, which were suppressed during the Saddam years."

Until recently, certain districts of Najaf received less than three hours of electricity daily. Today, however, most homes enjoy more than 20 hours of power every day.

Roads linking outlying districts to local schools, largely destroyed in earlier fighting, have also been repaired in the past two months.

According to officials at the Ministry of Education, infrastructure improvements have led to an increase in school attendance, with thirty percent more children attending primary school than in 2004.

"Our children are more interested in studying and more concerned about the future of the country," said Zaineb Hashuan, a senior ministry official. "It's a good sign."

Local health, too, has improved considerably thanks to recent development.

"We have reached a good state of health in our city," said Dr Hassan Azize, a clinician at Najaf's main hospital. "Pharmacies are full of medicines, and new examination equipment is working day and night to decrease disease in our city to almost zero."


Najaf is being labeled one of the safest places in Iraq, this after the catastrophic battles between U.S. and forces and Muqtada Al-Sadr. Quagmires don't sound so bad, suddenly. No mattter how much naysayers want to parrot it, Iraq is making progress. (H/t: Sullivan!) I guess that's why Iraqis are more optimistic about their futures than Americans.

Does Anyone Else Find It Odd?

I know Ana Marie Cox has been MIA from Wonkette for ages, but now that the new editors are definitely in place and they are definitely guys, should it still be called Wonkette?

Safeguarding Our Nation's Privates (Screw You, Taxpayer!)

Often, because I am a red-tape slinging bureaucrat at the Department of Health and Human Services, I get no respect. I describe what I do for a living and people show some mock interest, immediately asking "Where?" And when I answer you can see either two things 1) disappointment or 2) downright scorn. Reaction 1 usually comes from liberals who think this Department has basically been ruined over the years because it's not a bastion of socialist nationalized healthcare, and Reaction 2 usually comes from conservatives who wish it didn't exist. Often I get questions from my family members like "why not work for Homeland Security?" Wow, that's a much more cogent mission everyone can get behind. I often ask myself the same question. And with this story, it appears there are even more benefits to working there!

The DHS computer network is such an ineptly run mess that it's unknown how many of those 65 million porn alarms are really caused by Homeland Security employees looking at naked pictures.

An expensive network of programs are used to constantly spy on all employee computers, but it all works so poorly that nobody can tell the difference between one cubicle drone looking for "oral sex" pictures or another typing the word "behavioral," Washington Technology reported today.

What is known for sure is that porn alarms are going off at an explosive rate.

In July 2004, for example, the DHS network was logging 5.4 million "security events" per month. Less than a year later, when Inspector Skinner collected information for his investigation, that number had skyrocketed to 21.6 million per month.

The report concludes that Homeland Security has a laughably vulnerable computer network that is pounded by a steady stream of virus and hacker attacks while DHS employees engage in highly unprofessional and dangerous computer activities.


Here's the report. Apparently not only do you get to have a job some people think might be useful, you can actually not do said job and search for porn all day! Boy. Why am I WORKING for God's sake? Let this be a reminder to Security nuts. Just because a Department has a nice testosterone-drenched name like Homeland Security or Defense doesn't mean it's any more useful/functional than pinko Departments like mine.

Friendly Fire

There is a Newsweek article that describes the internal battle in the Justice Department over the Vice President’s attempt to strengthen the executive branch after 9/11. There are a few things to take away from this article. First, I wonder when people are going to be concerned that the Vice President is setting policy in this administration. I am not going to complain that there is a Republican in the White House – but why couldn’t the GOP have nominated someone that could run his own administration?

More importantly than having a puppet president is the fact that there was a battle over this, and without those few high-up appointees in the DOJ, we might not have been able to have a debate on the so-called torture memo or NSA spying. And those political appointees were not what my father would call “liberal weenies” either. They were solid conservatives who believed that we need strong defenses to protect against terrorism, but were not willing to let the President / Vice President do it illegally. It should also be noted that former Attorney General John Ashcroft backed the lawyers in the DOJ instead of ignoring their advice and caving in to Dick Cheney.

And finally, from a public administration perspective, the political appointees in the Justice Department carried out their battle with the Office of the Vice President internally. Even now that two of the dissenters are no longer in the Bush administration, they refused to comment for the article (a loyalty similar to what Colin Powell has shown). When working in government, there is always the incentive to run to the press every time you disagree with your superior’s policy decisions. It was nice to see that they stood their ground without using the press.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

More Than a Feeling

Although I have been more optimistic about Hamas entering the political process than I probably should be, I haven’t been good at articulating why. At a basic level, it is just a gut feeling. There is something nagging at me that Hamas entering politics is a positive step. But it has only been recently that I have really understood why I feel this way.

First and foremost, I think change in a situation like this is necessary. For too long both sides have been able to accept the status quo. Of course they claim they don’t like the current situation, but it is rare when major steps are really taken to move towards peace. That is why I was supportive of Ariel Sharron’s wall, and his unilateral pullout of Gaza. Both of those policies have been criticized by members of this blog, but I can no longer hold out hope for perfect solutions nor tolerate the way things exist now. I like big changes that shake people from going about their lives with their heads down and force them to take a long look at what is going on around them.

But there is more to Hamas’ victory that leaves me optimistic. Lately, I have suggested that involvement in politics might moderate Hamas, although I have also hinted to the fact that this hope might be naïve (and others have said the same thing). But what is exciting is that Hamas can no longer hide in the shadows. The popularity of their policies will be very apparent every time they face election. Reckless actions couldn’t be punished by disapproving Palestinian people in the past, where now they can vote Hamas out of office.

Also, talks by Hamas of forming a Palestinian army may seem frightening, but I would much rather see them as a formal military whose actions would warrant legitimate responses instead of keeping them as an underground militant organization that is difficult to identify and fight. Let’s remember that both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas were able to blame their inability to control Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) for breaks in cease fire agreements. But with Hamas in power, these claims will not be in any way credible (although most would argue that weren’t believed before either).

Since the election results have been announced, Hamas has been making statements to the press, and those statements have been far less extreme than I had expected. For example, although they don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, they have recognized the reality of Israel’s presence and are willing to deal with them. These comments are much less troubling than what is coming out of Iran for example.

In the end, I feel like this development will leave the peace process no worse than it has been recently and quite possibly better. Hamas is no longer underground and will now be forced to defend its decisions in dealing with Israel. If it doesn’t form a Palestinian military, attacks by Hamas can be effectively considered attacks by the Palestinian government, and dealt with accordingly. And let’s not forget, their domestic agenda is much more likely to help the Palestinian people than anything Fatah might have attempted, and maybe in time would provide fewer angry young men willing to become suicide bombers.

Friday, January 27, 2006

SOTU STFU?

Bruce Reed defends the choice of Kaine for Democratic response to the SOTU, with gusto! Here's the funniest bit:

If I could award an Emmy for the Ten Most Excruciating Minutes in Television, the opposition party's response to the State of the Union would be the runaway winner. No matter which party is responding, which leader reads the teleprompter, or which hokey backdrop is chosen, the effect is the same: the ten-minute equivalent of your local TV station's Ted Baxter giving one of his just-my-opinion commentaries.


Amen. Who watches it anyway?

Google. . .iRepress!

This is too good. Get ready to laugh to death. (H/t: Dean's World!)

We (Don't) Have a Diplomatic Solution!

This seemed halfway heartening in the Iran standoff:

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick had urged the Chinese leadership on Tuesday to join the United States and other nations in taking urgent steps to make sure Iran does not expand its nuclear research program into weapons production. China agrees that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, he said afterward, but differs with Washington over how to prevent it and how fast a solution has to be found.

Without mentioning the United States or its European allies directly, Quan urged other countries to pursue a solution to the crisis through more negotiations, and said China's leaders view the Russian suggestions as a good place to start. Larijani, at a news conference later, said that, in this regard, the views of China and Iran were "very close."

"The Russian idea is fruitful, but it needs to be discussed more, and we are in the process of this negotiation," he said, adding that another round of talks had been scheduled with Russia for mid-February.


All were on board for the Russian proposal of Russia providing Iran with enriched Uranium and holding onto the by-product (plutonium used to make bombs). Iran, if they want their nuclear reactors for "peaceful purposes" should be fine accepting the Uranium. But we all know there's nothing "peaceful" about Iran's nuclear program. This confirms it:

A Russian proposal to carry out sensitive nuclear fuel work outside Iran to allay fears Tehran is seeking the bomb is "not sufficient" for the Iranians.

"The Russian proposal is not sufficient for Iran's nuclear energy needs," Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA on Friday.

"The Russian proposal has certain capabilities, but this capability is not sufficient for Iran's nuclear technology," he said on his arrival back from China, where he has been discussing the mounting crisis.


Russia's proposal was quite generous. It would've provided Iran with enriched Uranium, that they could use for nuclear power. It even would probably reduce the costs for them of having to purchase uranium from elsewhere and enrich it on their own using non-optimal technology. The fact that they are balking from the proposal, which the Quartet (US, EU, China, and Russia) all were getting behind, shows they have no interest at stopping at energy. Everyone knows this, but if the Iranians reject the Russian proposal (or for that matter drag out negotiations) it's a clear sign their intentions are solely focused on nuclear weaponry.

Yet another in a long line of diplomatic solutions has been axed, and this one was nothing but beneficial to Tehran. I don't hold out hopes this crisis, and the disaster of Iran obtaining a bomb, will be solved diplomatically. Iran is showing now as before they're deadset on a bomb, accept no substitutes, damn the consequences.

Santorum: The Ultimate Flip-Flopper

Turns out Ricky has amnesia when it comes to the K Street Project. Casey is going to beat him so bad he'll vomit biblical passages. John Cole has done all the legwork, and it's pretty damning.

Here's one:

Rick Santorum, January 17, 2006:


SANTORUM: Well, I don’t know what you mean by Senate liaison to the, quote, “K Street Project.” I’m not aware of any Senate liaison job that I do for the K Street Project.

What I’ve done is I do host meetings, you know, once or twice a month with members who represent a variety of different groups in Washington, D.C.


Reported in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, 6/18/2002:

Santorum’s objective in completing the Project was clarified by Senate Republican Conference spokesman Robert Traynham, “Sen. Santorum’s objective is very clear and that is to find experienced, talented individuals who are going to assist Senate Republicans in advancing the president’s agenda.”


Santorum had enough problems already. Being part of the whole Abramoff apparatus isn't going to help him any.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Prince "Dirty" Harry

Usually, when one things of Princes, especially of the British variety, you might think of a bunch of tea-drinking, toff, playboys who where fancy clothes, drive expensive cars, do nothing for a living, and perhaps get lots of action from supermodels. Basically James Bond but without the whole spying and saving the world part. At least that's what I think of. Apparently England's Prince Harry is doing more than making up for any royal layabouts, though.

Prince Harry, completing his army officer training, has chosen to join a regiment which could be deployed in Iraq.

[snip]

Harry hopes to become an armoured reconnaissance troop leader at the forefront of army operations.

In an interview to mark his 21st birthday in September, Harry insisted he would be willing to serve on the front line once his training days as Officer Cadet Wales are over.

"There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country.

"That may sound very patriotic, but it's true. It's not the way anyone should really work."

The last British royal to see military action was Harry's uncle Prince Andrew, who flew as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War in 1982.


A frontline battle Prince? Since when did Iraq turn into Lord of the Rings? (h/t: Wonkette(ish), with a choice picture!)

Border Wars

Seriously. John Cole blogged about this story yesterday:

Men in Mexican military-style uniforms crossed the Rio Grande into the United States on a marijuana-smuggling foray, leading to an armed confrontation with Texas law officers, authorities said Tuesday. No shots were fired.

The men retreated and escaped back across the border with much of the pot, though they abandoned more than a half-ton of marijuana as they fled and set fire to one of their vehicles, authorities said.

The Mexican government denied its military was involved.

The confrontation took place Monday and involved three Texas sheriff's deputies, at least two Texas state troopers and at least 10 heavily armed men from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, said Rick Glancey of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition.


This is some pretty scary stuff. First because of the use of military uniforms in the operation and second because this escalated into a big gunfight. Today we're at least getting some confirmation that the Mexican military was not, in fact, involved.

Mexico insisted Wednesday that men in Mexican military-style uniforms who crossed the Rio Grande River and sparked an armed confrontation with Texas law officers earlier this week were drug smugglers, not Mexican soldiers.

Mexico’s presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said the FBI supported that view, but he gave no evidence of the claim.

“These were not Mexican soldiers,” Aguilar said at a news conference. “It is known that these are drug traffickers using military uniforms and they were not even regulation military uniforms.”


But there is this little nugget:

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, Calif., reported Tuesday that the incident included an armed standoff involving the Mexican military and suspected drug smugglers. The incident follows a story in the Bulletin on Jan. 15 that said the Mexican military had crossed into the United States more than 200 times since 1996.

In a news conference, Rick Glancey of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, said three Hudspeth County deputies and at least two Texas Department of Public Safety troopers squared off against at least 10 heavily armed men from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

U.S. officials who pursued three fleeing SUVs to the Mexican border saw what appeared to be a Mexican military Humvee help one of the SUVs when it got stuck in the river, he said.


I think both of these people are right. I don't think the Mexican military is officially doing it, but there's some evidence that they're receiving aid from someone in the military. The Humvee and uniforms didn't come from thin air. There's a chance they could be stolen, or any number of other things, but it clearly doesn't look good. If these incidents continue, as they do apparently have precedent, the politics of immigration is only going to heat up and be evermore important in 2008.

Goring

This just speaks for itself.

Imagine this sales pitch: Babe, it's a movie about global warming. Starring Al Gore. Doing a slide show.

With charts.

About "soil evaporation."


Apparently it got a standing ovation. I wonder if most Sundance attendees are liberals?

Brilliant. . .Only the Opposite

Roy Blunt, current Acting Majority Leader, has taken a great next step in winning the election for Majority Leader. He's pissed off right-wing bloggers. Good work, Roy. Enjoy your has-beenitude. My feeling was that bloggers weren't leaning in his direction anyway. He's basically Diet DeLay, and Shaddegg has been both better in his PR since he announced and has been courting bloggers (AND he's not obviously corrupt and is more conservative, to boot). This is Roy's death-kiss, I think. If he somehow still wins Majority Leader, I won't expect bloggers to treat him very kindly.

Hats Off, Chainz

It looks like Chainz was right. The intervention of American money into the Palestinian elections did little to help Fatah, and might've helped Hamas.

The radical Islamic group Hamas claimed victory Thursday in voting for the first Palestinian parliament in a decade, saying it won a clear majority of seats and had the right to form the next government.

The claims, although unconfirmed officially, were followed by the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and the rest of his cabinet. Resignation was a formality following parliamentary elections, but Qureia acknowledged that Hamas had likely won a majority in the 132-seat legislature and should be given the opportunity to form the next cabinet.

"This is the choice of the people," Qureia told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "It should be respected."

If confirmed by election officials in a Thursday evening news conference, the Hamas victory would end the governing Fatah party's decade-long control of the Palestinian Authority. It would also severely complicate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' policy of pursuing negotiations with Israel under a U.S.-backed peace plan known as the roadmap, which conflicts with Hamas' platform in several key respects.

Hamas officials in Gaza City, where their victory was greatest, said the group has no plans to negotiate with Israel or recognize Israel's right to exist. Europe, Israel and the United States classify Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, as a terrorist organization.


So the major political party and probably the government of nascent Palestine is a terrorist organization. The magnitude of this doesn't need to be emphasized too much, as it's blatantly obvious. What is most interesting about this though is whether Hamas will mature into a political entity or stick to its current suicide-bomber and violence-laced agenda. If so, expect nothing to happen in the whole Israel vs. Palestine mess. With Queria and Sharon both out of the picture now, and Hamas emboldened, no real advocates for peaceful co-existence are in the picture. Maybe Hamas will mature into a political party independent of violence. Perhaps they will continue to be dedicated to the destruction of Israel, but maybe in some peaceful way? Yeah, sounds dubious to me too.

I Guess We'll Need to Use a Lot More Pam

Why oh why does everything that makes life easier end up killing you?

PFOA -- a key processing agent in making nonstick and stain-resistant materials -- has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals and is in the blood of 95 percent of Americans, including pregnant women. It has also been found in the blood of marine organisms and Arctic polar bears.

The voluntary pact, which was crafted by the Environmental Protection Agency, will force companies to reduce manufacturing emissions of PFOA by 95 percent by no later than 2010. They will also have to reduce trace amounts of the compound in consumer products by 95 percent during the same period and virtually eliminate them by 2015.

The agreement will dramatically reduce the extent to which PFOA shows up in a wide variety of everyday products, including pizza boxes, nonstick pans and microwave-popcorn bags.


Dupont has even agreed to the EPA's challenge. While most of this is about the emissions and by-products of Teflon production, there are still problems with the trace amounts. Chances are, since Teflon pans aren't that old, we're really going to start seeing the after-effects, if they are significant, on people in the next few decades as people who have been served food in Teflon containers and cooked in Teflon cookware their whole lives may develop related cancers. But who knows? It's difficult to tell. I know one thing, when the teflon starts to flake off whatever I'm using I'm going to replace it INSTANTLY.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Another Free Speech Issue

Since we're getting embroiled below, I figure I should bring up another case of laws abridging free speech. I know a few commenters are outraged about censoring funeral protestors, but I doubt they'll come to the aid of corporations trying to advertise, though I don't see how one is different from the other.

"Look!" exclaims my 3-year-old daughter, pointing excitedly at a box of cookies in the supermarket. "It's Dora! And Boots!" I nod and smile. "Yes, it is," I say, and we move on.

I do not feel injured by this exchange. But according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a D.C.-based health nanny group, if I lived in Massachusetts the incident would be worth at least $25 in statutory damages.

Using that sort of reasoning, CSPI, the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and two Massachusetts parents who would rather sue multinational corporations than stand up to their own children are seeking billions of dollars in damages from Viacom (which owns Nickelodeon, home of Dora the Explorer) and Kellogg, maker of sugary breakfast cereals and other food products CSPI thinks your kids shouldn't eat. The plaintiffs say it's not about the money.

I believe them. This lawsuit, which CSPI and its allies plan to file under a Massachusetts consumer protection statute prohibiting "unfair or deceptive acts or practices," is really about censorship. By threatening onerous damages, CSPI aims to achieve through the courts what it has unsuccessfully demanded from legislators and regulators for decades: a ban on food advertising aimed at children.

The lawsuit argues that Viacom is on the hook for $25 "at a minimum" every time a kid in Massachusetts sees one of its characters attached to a "nutritionally poor" food product, or sees an ad for such a product on Nickelodeon or in another Viacom outlet. By CSPI's reckoning, Kellogg owes $25 whenever a child sees one of its ads, so an Apple Jacks commercial on Nickelodeon is worth $50 per viewer every time it airs.


Perhaps the absolute free speech advocates below can either agree with the absurdity of this, or explain to me why funeral-goers should have to remain subject to protestors hurling obscenity at their deceased love-ones but children have to be protected from the speech of advertisers? This is why I get so cynical during free speech debates. Those who often claim unlimited free speech rights for protestors are quick to swing the swords of political correctness and censorship against displays of religion and commercial interests.

How is this Massachussetts law any different from the Missouri one? Both attempt to regulate speech. I don't see any difference.

Democrat Armageddon, Part Deux

Matt Yglesias:

A well-executed campaign of fear-mongering on national security beats even the best domestic social policy message imaginable. Democrats can't put their heads in the sand about the NSA and Iran and expect better health care policy to save the day.


E.J. Dionne

By not engaging the national security debate, Democrats cede to Rove the power to frame it. Consider that clever line about Democrats having a pre-Sept. 11 view of the world. The typical Democratic response would be defensive: "No, no, of course 9/11 changed the world." More specifically, there's a lot of private talk among Democrats that the party should let go of the issue of warrantless spying on Americans because the polls show that a majority values security and safety.

What Democrats should have learned is that they cannot evade the security debate. They must challenge the terms under which Rove and Bush would conduct it. Imagine, for example, directly taking on that line about Sept. 11. Does having a "post-9/11 worldview" mean allowing Bush to do absolutely anything he wants, any time he wants, without having to answer to the courts, Congress or the public? Most Americans -- including a lot of libertarian-leaning Republicans -- reject such an anti-constitutional view of presidential power. If Democrats aren't willing to take on this issue, what's the point of being an opposition party?


Both of them are dead right. A lot of Democrats continue to rejoice over the possible corruption schemes against the GOP, but expecting the other team to screw the pooch isn't going to result in wins in 2006. Democrats STILL have failed to deal with National Security issues in any constructive way. Every time something happens in Iraq we get defeatists who want immediate withdrawal (who are correctly painted as people who want to "cut and run") or some sort of dissembling Kerryesque straddle about failed management of the war effort. That won't win. Focusing on domestic policy alone, won't win. Believe it or not, there are major Security Threats taking place right now when it comes to Iran, not to mention a lot of other simmering pots on the backburner like Sudan, Israel/Palestine, and North Korea. Democrats have no answers to these problems, nor even a coherent way to talk about them without resorting to Vietnam analogies and snarkiness in regard to Iraq.

Google.cn

Access to a 100+ million (and growing!) user market in exchange for one paltry little thing called freedom of information.

Fair trade?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Gag Me State?

Missouri should really change its nickname from the Show Me State to Gag Me State. The Missouri State Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that would restrict protests at funerals. The legislation was a direct response to a Kansas group that targets and protests at military funerals. Fueled in part, no doubt, by good intentions toward the families who have lost loved ones in the Iraq quagmire (there, Mr. P, I’ve used that dirty liberal term for the conflict), this legislative action reeks of First Amendment violations.

It falls into the “freedom of speech is only good as long as we like what you’re saying” category of policy- and law-making. The Spc. Edward Lee Myers' Law treads the thin line between what is lawful and what our delicate cultural sensibilities find to be acceptable. The American Civil Liberties Union gets a lot of flak for defending the former while standing up to those who favor the latter.

Should people be allowed to protest at funerals? Should they be allowed to interrupt this sad, private event?

Don’t look at me! I don’t know. I’m just asking!

I wonder what really initiated this legislative move. Was it respect for the deceased and their grieving families? Was it the sanctity of this final rite of passage into the great beyond? Or was it something broader, something more political in nature that sparked this sanction?

After all, the legislation seems to be primarily motivated by protests at the funerals of military personnel who died fighting a very controversial war. Emotions are running high, and patriotism – even the blind kind – seems to be the most praised value by many politicians and certainly by the current administration. From putting peace activists on the TSA no-fly lists to indiscriminately arresting protesters at anti-war rallies, the powers-that-be have made it clear that speaking out against the war in Iraq can have dire consequences for the conscientious objectors.

So, could this law be just another gag order? And if it is, what does this say about our civil liberties? Are we allowing them to be suspended, sanctioned, outright dismissed when they create embarrassments and difficulties for those holding political power?

Oh, yeah, there is another fact I forgot to mention. You remember that Kansas group I mentioned earlier, the one that gave impetus to this legislation? Well, the group is actually the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, and it believes that the military deaths in Iraq are a punishment from god for homosexuality in our country. Quoted in a Fort Wayne newspaper, the leader of the group said, “"We picket all the funerals of the soldiers God sent home in his vengeance and wrath.” In addition to protesting at soldiers’ funerals around the country, the church group also protests at other events, such as the Fort Wayne performance of “The Laramie Project,” a play about Matthew Shepherd, a gay college student beaten to death in a hate crime in 1998.

Huh. It looks like this new Missouri legislation may be taking a stab at curbing hate speech. But what is hate speech? Who defines it? After all, what is hate speech to me may not be hate speech to you.

But I digress.

What interests me more here is the following: does it matter who is protesting at funerals and why? Did you feel differently about the issue considering the case of anti-war protests versus the case of anti-homosexuality protests? Should the law discern between the two, and if so, why?

But wait! The First Amendment did not say that Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of speech except when certain people were offended.

So where does this conundrum leave us? If a state can pass an anti-protest law in response to one (albeit very ignorant and hateful) group today, would another state pass an anti-protest law in response to another group tomorrow? And then another? And another?

And when does it stop?

As I said, I don’t know. I’m just asking.

Another Medal for Carter

The New York Review of Books has a good review of Jimmy Carter’s latest book, Our Endangered Values: American’s Moral Crisis. And the review takes on even more meaning after reading about the anti-abortion protestors that marched through Washington yesterday.

In his book, Jimmy Carter talks about how anti-abortion advocates care about making abortion illegal without also being willing to make abortions more rare. A perfect example of this is a t-shirt on one of the protestors, "Sex is good, the pill is not."

While I can understand someone’s aversion to abortion, I don’t understand how they also try to limit access to contraceptives and sex education. Here is a great quote from Jimmy Carter’s book as published in the NYRB:

Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

I don’t get the impression from pro-life activists that they actually feel much compassion towards the unborn, and even less compassion once the child is born. And I am not just talking about crude jokes referring to coat-hangers. There are rarely calls to increase funding for child services but many calls to end, or reduce funding for, welfare programs like WIC. If this movement encompassed a whole spectrum of improving the lives of the innocent, then maybe I could see their cause as just.

Wait Until Next Year

At first I didn’t think this was a good idea. After all, why would it be any better to allow Sudan to head the African Union next year? I can’t imagine that anyone believes that the Sudanese government will end the conflict in Darfur by then. After thinking about it a little more though, I realized that the conflict might actually be over by then because the Janjaweed might have finished their job of killing, raping, and purging non-Muslim Africans from lands in western Sudan. So if the conflict is over, there should be no obstacles to Sudan taking over leadership.

Sarcasm might be hard to pick up when it is in writing, so I will tell you flat out that yes, I was being sarcastic. Africa will never make any progress as long as it continues to side-step major issues like this one. Sudan has no business heading the African Union this year, next year, or any year in the foreseeable future (even if the conflict ends naturally as I described above). Allowing them to do so will take away any small amounts of credibility the organization has. If the African Union wants sole responsibility for dealing with conflicts on the African continent, it has to show that it has the will to actually confront these major issues. Delaying the confrontation for another year, does not send this message.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Shhh... It's a Secret

Apparently the Bush administration, through USAID, is supporting the Palestinian Authority, and coincidentally Fatah, in upcoming parliamentary elections. Their goal is to oppose the radical terrorist / political group Hamas. Although I am not opposed to legal American involvement in foreign democratic elections, there are some things about this that bother me.

First of all, if word spreads in Palestine that the US is supporting Fatah, it could give a huge boost to Hamas. No Palestinian political group wants to be painted as a stooge of the American government.

Furthermore, with Hamas running on an anti-corruption platform, their election could help to reform the government. Right now, it seems that Hamas is more responsive to what the Palestinian people want in their goverment, as can be seen in their rising poll numbers.

Granted, I do understand the threat that Hamas could present to the peace process if they received a large share of the parliamentary seats. What we could have is a highly efficient Palestinian government that is violently anti-Israeli. But I still think it would be better for all sides if we kept our influence out of the elections.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Democrat Armageddon

Guess what? All Hillary's posturing is NOT paying off! Polls pitting her against McCain in 08 don't look good.

Hillary vs McCain 52%-36%, McCain's favor
Hillary vs. Generic GOP 41%-39%, Hillary's Favor
McCain vs. Generic Dem 36%-29%, McCain's Favor


2 Lessons:

1) Hillary barely beats Generic GOP, within MARGIN OF ERROR! Not good at all. The Republicans could go with McCain or someone obscure and probably win.

2) Democrats actually would fare better against McCain if they ran an obscure (MARK WARNER!) than if they ran Hillary.

Bottom Line: Hillary is bad for the Dems. And if Republicans ended up choosing McCain they'd likely take the White House in a landslide.

H/t: Kaus!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

For Pete's Sake

Since I joined this blog, I have been trying to reconcile my feelings on steroids in baseball specifically, and cheating in sports generally. As events have unfolded, I recognize that my feelings have changed. I was quick to come to the players’ defense during the Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, but as time has passed, I have felt more angry at the lack of honesty coming from the players.

I still don’t think I have a clear position on this issue. I definitely resent that Mark McGwire doesn’t want to be candid about his use of performance enhancing drugs. But I don’t know if that should keep him out of the Hall of Fame completely or even prevent him from getting inducted on the first ballot.

I recognized my inconsistencies recently when I read an interview with Pete Rose on ESPN’s website. For so long I have been completely against Rose ever getting into the Hall of Fame or being allowed back into baseball. He broke one of the cardinal rules of the game by betting on baseball while he was still involved. For a decade after he was banned from baseball by then commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti (father of actor Paul Giamatti), Rose tried to maintain his innocence. Only recently, through the release of a book, has he taken responsibility and admitted he had bet on baseball. After reading the article, I came to feel a little differently about him. He comes off repentant, but while also expressing the right reverence for the game and an understanding of why different people feel differently about his situation.

When I think back on all the great memories Mark McGwire has given me, I become more willing to forgive him. And I know I would definitely forgive him if he actually owned up to what he did. So maybe my unwillingness to forgive Rose (as well as Shoeless Joe Jackson) is based on the fact that they were before my time. Those who saw how hard Rose played every day might understandably want to see him take his honored place in Cooperstown, New York.

The argument for Rose's reinstatement in baseball and eligibility for the Hall of Fame is even more convincing if you think of gambling as an addiction and think of all the other players that are in the Hall despite their own character flaws and battles with different addictions. Integrity of the game is so important to fans, but so are the experiences we take away from it. Mickey Mantle could have been an even better baseball player had he taken care of himself. Instead, his expectation of dying young gave him a reckless attitude that showed some disrespect for the game (often playing hung-over). But he was still a larger-than-life athlete, and had given so many great memories to baseball fans. I could actually go on and on about the flaws of many Hall of Fame players; Ty Cobb was a racist; Gaylord Perry was a known spitball pitcher.

In the end, I think my feelings are changing. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a memorial to the game of baseball and the athletes that have done the most to make this game great. There is inherent problem when you have someone who has given to the game, but also taken away from the game. Since we don’t expect players to be perfect, maybe we should punish players who take away from the game without making the punishments permanent. Maybe there should be no such thing as a cardinal sin in baseball. Maybe Rose and Jackson's time is finally approaching.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Whoa...

I never expected the Catholic Church to take the side of Darwin in the battle between evolution and Intelligent Design. Maybe I should have known that even the Catholic Church can recognize ridiculous American arguments when it sees them. Here are some gems from the article:

The author, Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, laid out the scientific rationale for Darwin's theory of evolution, saying that in the scientific world, biological evolution "represents the interpretative key of the history of life on Earth."

He lamented that certain American "creationists" had brought the debate back to the "dogmatic" 1800s, and said their arguments weren't science but ideology.

[edit]

Intelligent design "doesn't belong to science and the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside Darwin's explanation is unjustified," he wrote.

"It only creates confusion between the scientific and philosophical and religious planes."


I know this will not change anything in America because American conservatives only listen to the Pope when it is convenient (abortion) and ignore him when it isn't (death penalty).

Maybe Not the Best Idea

Tim Kaine will be providing the Democratic response to the SOTU. I have mixed feelings about this. And it isn't the kind of weird lefty mixed feelings Pandagon has when it says this:

Kaine ran an unnecessary gay-baiting campaign against an even-worse homo-bigot Jerry Kilgore in the Virginia governor’s race, and Kaine has pledged to sign off on an onerous marriage amendment that enshrines bigotry into the state’s constitution.

However, I’m willing to take the did-he-really-gay-bait-the-heinous-Kilgore issue off of the table, since it’s noise that will distract some people from the larger issue, which is what Kaine represents as the new face of the party. The gay residents of Virginia were stuck with two pro-marriage amendment choices for governor because it reflects the political lay of the land there. I feel for folks there.

Any gay Dem should be sick to their stomach at this pick. Kaine is just another Republican-lite clone from a Red state, and that’s where the Dem leadership has indicated it wants to move the party. We are on notice — homos are going to be tossed overboard — again — in search of the elusive win. They haven’t figured out that voters need and want to see a party that has values it actually believes in and is willing to defend — and they won’t get a dime from me with this bullsh*t.


HA! First this makes me chuckle profusely because it's wrong on so many levels. Kaine is a bit red on social issues, it's true, but he's never expressed hostility toward a lot of gay issues like gay adoption and only the thinnest against civil unions. That's pretty much mainstream in most of the Democratic party. Sure, he's gone against marriage, but how many Dems in Governor's mansions, Congress, or the Senate have actually come out politically in favor of Gay Marriage to the point of proposing legislation? I think I hear crickets chirping. Let's also not forget that on the issue of the Death Penalty, Kaine is decidedly liberal. And this of course ended up being the issue Jerry Kilgore tried to kill him on and ended up crucifying himself with when he did over-the-top attack ads. But that's neither here nor there.

Kaine is a great choice in a lot of respects. He's a decent speaker, he can think on his feet, and he comes with the whole package of being a former Catholic missionary and such. He'd be superb to blaze against Bush on any domestic issue, having massive experience in state and local government issues like health care, education, and other things that tend to be Democratic strengths. And he's pulled such things off in practice. That said, I highly doubt this SOTU is going to be about domestic issues. If the Dems can continue to think they can be a domestic issue only party, which the selection of Kaine suggests, they are going to get clobbered in 06 and 08. There's a fair chance Bush will talk a lot about Iraq, and he even might bring up the pressing security issue right now: Iran. All of which Kaine will have precisely zero to talk about. Maybe Kaine will be able to pull it off, but I've never seen him talk about Foreign Policy. He's definitely a domestic guy, with all state and local government experience, and a career as a criminal defense attorney. As a missionary he was international in some respects, but not in any security sense. So he has zero credit.

The Dems needed a real jack of all trades to respond to what may be a strong SOTU, especially someone strong on security who will be able to rebut and offer alternatives to those issues on Iraq and Iran. And that's not what Tim Kaine is.

The Blowback

Want a view of how bad the situation with Iran could really get? This is it.

I personally believe that we're very likely to see at least 10 million dead in the Middle East within the next two decades, with an upper limit near 100 million. I do not believe pre-emptive action will be taken against Iran. I do, however, believe the extremist mullahs in Iran mean exactly what they say. They are steeped in an ideology that believes suicide/murder to be the holiest and most moral act possible. They have been diligent in laying strategic plans for an offensive Islamic War against Israel, America and the West. Plans backed by 25 years of action, and stated no less clearly than Mein Kampf. I believe that Ahmedinajad's talk of 12th Imam end-times and halos around his head at the UN aren't the ravings of an isolated nut, simply an unusually public (and unusually noticed) expression of beliefs that are close to mainstream within their ruling class. That class of "true believer" imams and revolutionary guard types have been quietly consolidating their control over all sectors of Iranian society over the last few months, and I do not believe anyone in the world today has both the will and the capability to stop them. A key pillar of The Bush Doctrine is about to fail.


The piece is lengthy, lucid, and link-rich with evidence to support its thesis. Anyone who is not deeply troubled about this situation is in denial. (H/t: Insta).

Dawn of the Political Dead

National Review has a New Blog! It's called Reconcilable Differences and is done by Kellyanne and George Conway. Here's a sample:

As is reflected on the official website of the Arkansas Judiciary, the five-year suspension of the law license of one William Jefferson Clinton of Chappaqua, New York, expires on Thursday. (The suspension, you may recall, was a condition of a settlement between then-President Clinton and Independent Counsel Robert Ray on January 19, 2001, the day before Mr. Clinton left office.) The New York Sun reports about it all here, and notes that, as is typical in most states, applications for readmission to the Arkansas bar after a suspension, even a relatively long one like Clinton's, are routinely granted. But the article observes that he may have difficulty gaining admission to another state's bar, such as that of New York or of the District of Columbia, on reciprocity grounds, since he hasn't practiced law in quite a while — meaning that he might have to take a bar exam or two if he wants to practice outside Arkansas. Somehow I can't see that spectacle coming to pass.

Today, by the way, is the eighth anniversary of the deposition testimony that earned Mr. Clinton his suspension.


Why this is such a newsworthy event to me is a bit odd. Does anyone really think Clinton has to care about practicing law ever again? Aren't there more lucrative activities? But anyway, this may make you wonder why the author is so Clinton-obsessed and longs for the glory days of battling Clinton in the 90s. Well, Glenn Greenwald has a verbal morning star of an answer.

How does he describe it in a nutshell?

National Review has created a museum dedicated to the Republican political gutter of the 1990s in the form of a new blog hosted by two of the trashy lowlifes who worked during the entire Clinton Presidency to turn our national political dialogue into one big Jerry Springer Show.


On George:

Since the early-1990s, George Conway has been a partner at the prominent Manhattan law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he worked with rejected Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada (I was an Associate at that firm for a couple of years after law school in the mid-1990s but had minimal personal interaction with Conway and, to my recollection, none with Estrada). Conway came to be celebrated in Republican circles when it was uncovered that, while at Wachtell Lipton, he had been secretly working to bring about the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit (which ended up being summarily dismissed by a federal court as so lacking in evidence that no reasonable jury could ever find in favor of Jones), and had deceitfully concealed his work from his own partners. He also secretly worked with Linda Tripp and helped engineer her initial meeting with Ken Starr.

This great and courageous crusader for his political principles hid his work on the Paula Jones case, covering it up because he was petrified that his corporate clients and law firm partners would discover the company he was keeping. Out a fear of offending them, and knowing that his partners would not approve of the work he was doing, he worked secretly in the dark alleys late at night to bring about the trashy, lowly scandals which became a Republican obsession.


On Kellyanne:

Conway's wife and now co-blogger, Kellyanne, is a perfect match for him. Having spent the latter half of the 1990s (before she married George) peddling herself around as one of the soldiers in the army of young, blondish, mascara-drenched Republican loyalists who made a career for themselves digging into Bill Clinton’s sex life, she now runs around creating groups like "Women for Alito" and mindlessly reciting GOP talking points on Fox.

Bob Somerby at Daily Howler has described Kellyanne as "one of our most disingenuous pundits," and has documented multiple untruths she has spewed.


Read more of Greenwald's character assassination of these two clowns. They want to give it out, they can get it back. Greenwald is on point. National Review was something I respected, despite it's hackery, as being more of an intellectual conservative establishment. What do they need a gossip blog about Democrats for? And, if you read the postings, that's mostly what it is. High-level thought, it's not. It isn't even smokescreen repetition of tired talking points. But perhaps they hired these two trash-talkers in case Hillary runs, in which case they'll be part of the grand (and probably successful) Republican effort to force everyone to refight the battles of the 90s again. As an aside though, I just discovered Greenwald's blog recently through John Cole, and it's so fantastically awesome no matter what your political slant is you'll appreciate it. Greenwald is a liberal, but more in the self-reflective Matt Yglesias mode.

UCLA Disastre!

Peep this, yo. In the grand tradition of Concerned Alumni everywhere, the Bruin Alumni Association is undertaking an effort to ideologically purge the UCLA faculty of suspected "radicals." This Conservative group starts out on the website with the notion that they're really just after intellectual bullies, people who try to spend time in the classroom indoctrinating students with their beliefs specifically in an off-topic manner. While the project may sound harmless enough at first glance, we all know that the mission statement and the reality never meet. There's heavy evidence that what this group is really doing is attacking Profs whose work they don't agree with, not even necessarily "radical" work either, just not necessarily conservative. I would link to all the evidence and the great points of blogospheric opinion on the matter from both left and right, including that of the UCLA profs themselves, but The Debate Link already has. So take a look, it's a great piece.

First of all, I grow weary of these Conservative tirades about the "radicalness" of the Academy (or somesuch tripe). I guess that might be because when I was in undergrad there was a Government Professor who always wore black. Why did he always where black? Because it was during the Clinton administration and he was in "mourning". The day Clinton got impeached was the only day he didn't wear black because he was "hopeful." I also had an economics Professor who was skeptical about whether or not it is legitimate for the state to build roads, because the private sector could probably do it better. Maybe those are not the norm, but whatever, my point is I had so many really conservative professors that it's tough for me to see these screeching cases of bias.

Somewhere Out There

Can't help but chuckle at this bit by all-time anti-union Kaus:

I tempted fate by returning to the allegedly friendly Culver City branch of the state DMV, this time at 5:00, the end of the work day when the bureaucrats are frazzled. I was confronted at the information desk by a large, surly-seeeming woman who promptly ... smiled a large, beautiful smile and asked "How can I help you." Then she helped me. ... Scary! ... A few minutes later I was forced to take the bus from my mother's house to my mechanic's garage, in a relatively gritty section of Santa Monica. At rush hour. In L.A! The bus ... well, it arrived within seconds and the driver charged through traffic like a lancer. I got across town in 10 minutes. ... I'll snap out of it, but at the moment I only want to be assisted by unionized civil servants.


That's right, sometimes government employees can do a good job. Though, it's the exception more than the rule.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Government Stay Out (Wal-Mart Shape-Up)

Although I oppose the recent Wal-Mart legislation that was passed in Maryland, I don’t want my opposition to give people the wrong impression. I disagree with the legislation because I don’t think Wal-Mart is doing anything that warrants legislation. Its decision to provide wages far below that of its competitors, and its decision not to provide health insurance to many of its employees, makes it deserving of scorn and boycotts, but not government intervention. And if their practices are anti-union, then they should be taken to court under current law.

But make no mistake that I am against their practices. The way they treat their employees is not an attempt to remain profitable and I don’t believe that they are paying their employees what the employee’s service is worth to the company. Any economic arguments are bunk in my opinion because they are using their power to keep wages in their company artificially low. They would remain profitable if they actually paid the employees what they are worth.

So the bottom line is this, I am against the legislation, but I am also against Wal-Mart’s practices.


*Note: I think this situation is in some way similar to the Supreme Court case of PGA Tour v. Casey Martin. Although I think the PGA Tour could have allowed Casey Martin to use a golf cart without compromising on the integrity of the game, I don’t think government had any role in that dispute.

Getting All Derrida On His Ass

The Bin Laden tape (possibly) is an interesting story. But most interesting is this bit:

"We do not mind offering you a long-term truce with fair conditions that we adhere to," he said. "We are a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat. So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war. There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America."

The speaker did not give conditions for a truce in the excerpts aired by Al-Jazeera.


Hmmm. What happened to all the rhetoric about chasing infidels out of the holy land and the destruction of the West? Is this a kindler gentler bin Laden? Aside from the merits of the question of a truce (which seems kind of absurd when it comes on the back of a threat) this is revealing. I think Al Qaeda has a PR problem. Especially in Iraq, there's mounting evidence of "red-on-red" violence between Sunni insurgents and the foreign jihadists Al Qaeda exports because of the number of innocent Iraqis killed in their suicide bombings. There's enthusiasm for elections (noted by massive turnout) that Bin Laden demanded Muslims boycott, coincidentally in his last submitted tape. Could he realize that his viewpoint may be getting unpopular?

No doubt this is all a ruse and I don't believe a word Bin Laden or whoever might be posing as him actually says, but I think it's rooted in the fact that Al Qaeda is facing a real and substantial problem getting support in the Arab World given that its viewpoints have already become antiquated. In its striving to commit as much violence as possible and to stop all the nascent engines of democracy and change, it has looked like (big suprise) the bad guy. Not saying either people love America, they obviously don't, but Al Qaeda has shown itself as a dead-end cause offering no alternative worth supporting. Hence the desperate rhetorical shift. Also, hence the need to freshly scare people.

Cards On the Table

I couldn't think of a better way to fix Congress.

ReadtheBill.org is a new national organization dedicated to forcing Congress to post all proposed legislation online for 72 hours before it goes to the floor of Congress. We call this the "72 Hours of Sunshine Rule". It is needed because Congress has degenerated into chaos. The House of Representatives still has a rule on the books requiring proposed legislation be available to members for three days. But the House waives this rule routinely and rubber stamps huge bills in the middle night, clueless of their content or cost. Senate rules are fuzzier but the result is the same. This chaos in Congress costs every American. Provisions and giveaways slipped through Congress are one reason that the U.S. has a national debt of $8 trillion. These sneaky provisions also invite plain-old corruption.


Abramoff Abramoff Abramoff. . .is only part of the problem. Lobbying, corruption, and pork are as old as Congress itself, and part of the reason involves the ability to hide things until it is too late. This sort of reform would help on so many levels, it's hard to begin articulating them all. Citizens would have more of a chance to mobilize in opposition to something. Legislators or their staff might actually get a chance to read legislation carefully before voting on it. The plain old checks and balances of grass roots groups fighting each other would become more pronounced and fair, and truly good legislation would have time to get support before someone managed to kill it in committee. And so on. I say if the GOP or the Dems should they take over (increasingly unlikely) should think about real measures like this that get at the actual root causes of Congress' problems.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Turbo-Fisk

I've often thought the liberal blogosphere (except for Mr. Drum) has been pretty damn deluded about the situation with Iran. However, I could never put it in the sort of words that IR master Dan Drezner has. Watch him eviscerate Yglesias, Atrios, DeLong, and Marshall. And all on ground no one would expect: Iran is not a repeat of the Bushies actions in Iraq. As a matter of fact, the policy up until now has been a true multilateral approach.

Read and learn:

Now, I certainly have had my doubts about this administration's foreign policy competence in the past few years. Given the administration's policy to date on Iran, however, this line of argument strikes me as pretty much bulls**t.

Consider what the U.S. has done vis-à-vis Iran:

1) Deferred to the EU-3 on negotiations towards Iran;

2) Backing away from having the IAEA refer Iran's noncompliance to the UN Security Council unless and until there was overwhelming international support from key members in that organization for the move;

3) Sharing their intelligence about Iran's nuclear ambitions with all the relevant governments;

4) Endorsing a Russian compromise proposal that would have allowed Iran to continue a nuclear energy program;

5) Securing the support of China and Russia in ratcheting up the rhetoric towards Iran.

The approach the Bush administration has pursued towards Iran -- multilateralism, private and public diplomacy, occasionally deferring to allies -- is besotted with the very tropes that liberals like to see in their American foreign policy. I'm still not sure what the end game will be with regard to Iran, but to date I can't see how a Kerry administration would have played its cards any differently than the Bush team.


They can't stop Drezner's ninja powers of rationality, and he throws in a few neat verbal and logic barbs just for the sake of it. It always struck me as odd, and probably a sign of the Condi Rice dominance in Bush Foreign Policy, that Iran was treated so differently. And, if anything, it should maybe have been the other way around. (H/t: Sullivan!)

It's A Man's World After All

Only twelve hours after pushing something the size of a melon through a bodily opening the size of a lemon, a Houston woman had to leave the hospital, and heavily medicated, take a 2.5 hour firefighter promotion exam. Why? She had been waiting for two years for the chance to take the exam, and then found out it was going to be held shortly after her due date. And she had no other choice.

She asked to be allowed to take the exam at the hospital, but she “was told there could be no exceptions, except for firefighters on active military duty.” Undeterred, she even considered inducing labor a couple of days early, but the doctor advised against it due to likely medical complications.

Despite all the obstacles, she took the exam and got 104 out of 110 questions right!

Her success, however, does not undermine the fact that this is still a man’s world. To all my friends out there who tell me that sex discrimination is no longer an issue, and that feminism is ever so passé, consider this: why isn’t “giving labor” considered a good enough excuse to have the firefighters’ promotion exam administered at a different location?

I do not think that they (the firefighters, etc.) were consciously trying to keep a woman from taking the exam and getting promoted in this largely male profession.

However, I do believe that their failure to consider this woman’s predicament and their failure to make reasonable accommodations clearly illustrate the passive sexism still present in our society. By passive, I mean that they did not actively make it difficult for her to take the test (i.e. they did not purposely set the exam date to coincide with her labor), but they blindly and passively supported the sexist status quo that only (or I should say, largely made accommodations for male firefighters (firefighters on active military duty are mostly men).

So tell me now, should the women's lib movement be allowed to die?

Well Surprise Surprise

The ruling for the NH abortion law is down from the Supreme Court, and I don't think anyone is shocked what it is coming from the Roberts Court. The law is upheld, but I think there are two surprises here.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that a lower court was wrong to strike down New Hampshire abortion restrictions, but steered clear of a major ruling on the volatile issue.

The opinion was written by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a key swing voter at the court on abortion whose retirement could start soon if the Senate confirms nominee Samuel Alito.

The New Hampshire case had been expected to be much closer at the high court.

But instead, justices ruled narrowly. They said a lower court went too far by permanently blocking the law that requires a parent to be told before a daughter ends her pregnancy.


That's right, it's unanimous. It's also a narrow ruling, so no major upheavels yet. Nor do I expect there to be until Alito is on the court, and even then I think they are going to proceed down the wise path of quietly eviscerating Roe without overturning it.

The Living Dead Wage

One of the most asinine ideas about how to bring the Democrats back from the dead is trumpeting the idea of the "living wage." While this is a vague term, it's obviously meant to be something much higher than current minimum wages, and wants to insure some basic level of affluence and quality of life. This is an honorable goal. However, the instrument of the Living Wage is so profoundly flawed that it's likely to run roughshod over labor markets and cause disasters unheard of. And, yes, I'm linking to a Hack Central Station article for the second time this week. If I'm an "uptight conservative" as someone labeled me yesterday, I just can't help it. Tim Worstall assembles a damning pile of evidence against it.

One of the more interesting pieces he cites has to do with the UK effort to implement a living wage. The NYT article that inspired this TCS rant cites approvingly the Card and Krueger research that tries to prove minimum wage increases are a-okay. Problem is, they use relatively small, or "modest" changes which usually don't do much. The counterexample, the UK's effort, which matches many of the living wage proposals currently on the table, says otherwise. The report on it from the UK's Low Pay Commission, provided this damning piece of information (check pg. 250 and 251 of the report for it):

37% overall of firms cut workers (4% increased)
31% cut basic hours of employees (3% increased)
28% cut overtime hours (3% increased)
63% increased prices (3% decreased)


In other words, the impact of the law has been a complete trainwreck, resulting in people losing their jobs, having their hours cut back, and the price of goods and services has risen. To anyone who knows basic economics, this should come as no surprise. Labor markets have an equilibrium, and artificially raising the price of labor to businesses will 1) make them less efficient, and 2) reduce their demand for labor. Or worse, in a country like the U.S., it could increase their demand for illegal/undocumented immigrant labor (or cash on the spot off the books labor).

Worstall discusses a recent Florida ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage, and how those who passed it celebrated it as a huge Democratic political victory. Well, that's all it is. A political victory that is more like a pyrrhic one as it is unlikely to help those worst off. Some workers will benefit from the increased wages, but many will have their hours cut, negating the effect completely, or may be laid off because of it. The lesson? Worstall tells it like it is:

We have a worthy goal, improving the incomes of the poor (and yes, I do think it’s a worthy goal). There are a number of ways we could do this, the above rises in minimum wage and expansion in the EITC being just two of them. The latter would be more efficient, produce greater gain for less pain. The former would, at the level being argued for, cause real and sustained pain to those very low income groups that we intend to help.


If Democrats continue to push the living wage for political gain, they do it at the peril of those they would help, instead of promoting the sounder policy of the EITC. The EITC accomplishes all of the minimum wages goals, with much less of the abuse of labor markets, so why not push that? Obviously because then government would have to pay for it, instead of shouldering all the costs on businesses and workers hurt by it. And because it's not as sexy to make a change like this via tax policy instead of ramming government regulations down the entire private sector's throats. But, what can you do. Superficial stuff like this is what continues to keep the Democrats stuck in the 70s when it comes to economic policy, and going deeper into it every day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More On Wal-mart

Beyond LB's brilliant declaration against the Maryland Wal-Mart Law, Arnold Kling has this brilliant paragraph:

Liberals see the market as an arena in which evil corporations inflict their greed on innocent victims. I wish you would see that motives matter less than consequences. I wish you could see that greed is at work when laws are passed that regulate markets, because regulations always produce winners and losers. I wish you could see that those winners and losers are often not who you think they are. I wish you could see that competitive behavior and free choice are forces that operate in the market as a check against greed. Finally, I wish you could see that greed is most difficult to restrain when it is exercised through the medium of government.


That really gets to the core of it. The rest of the piece is dead-on about what will really happen because of the Wal-mart law, and why it's likely to hurt everyone involved.

The Interminable Chronicles of Democratic Idiocy, Second Edition

Bullseye!

Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday called for the rebuilding of a "chocolate New Orleans" that maintains the city's black majority, saying, "You can't have New Orleans no other way."

"I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day," Nagin said in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech. "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be."

Uptown is a reference to a mostly white part of the city.

Pressed later to explain his comments, Nagin, who is black, told CNN affiliate WDSU-TV that he was referring to creation of a racially diverse city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, insisting that his remarks were not divisive.

"How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about," he said.

"New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive? It is white and black working together, coming together and making something special."


Perhaps Nagin was a bit too carried away in the MLK celebration, but even with that into account it seems beyond the pale. And, to those who are somehow not struck that this is insane, just imagine a white mayor making a similar statement about a city maintaining a white majority. Your outrage bubbled up yet? It's ludicrous that a mayor should be commenting on his ideal of what his city's ethnic and racial makeup should be,and it seems profoundly in bad taste given the spirit behind Dr. King's whole approach and legacy. He tries to dissemble a little bit with his explanation, but it's not very convincing and is obviously an attempt to paper over what he really meant.

Also, if you read on, he proceeds to have a lot of Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson moments, blaming the U.S. presence in Iraq for the cause of the Hurricanes. Seriously, how does this guy have any credibility left? (H/t: Balloon Juice!)

UPDATE: For a complete list of Saint Nagin's sins, check out Pandagon, who has the whole catalog.

The Interminable Chronicles of Democratic Idiocy

Great news for renewable energy fans!

After two years of trouble with the legislative effort to institute his “Million Solar Roofs” plan, Arnold Schwarzenegger hit pay dirt today when the California Public Utilities Commission enacted the California Solar Initiative or CSI. This CSI involves not forensic pathology but the biggest solar energy program in the country, roughly $3 billion in rate-based customer incentives over the next decade to install solar power devices to generate 3000 megawatts of electric power, the equivalent of a half-dozen big new power plants, on the rooftops of one million homes, businesses, and public buildings. That’s ten times the solar power now harnessed in California.


What one should focus on, besides the fact that one of the greatest environmental actions in the State's history was done by a Republican governor, is the first sentence. "Two years of trouble with the legislative effort." Who would control such legislative efforts? It's the Democrats of course, who have shown no restraint in their efforts to maim Schwarzenegger politically even when he's clearly trying to accomplish something Democrats should be behind. Here's the guts of it:

In late spring of 2004, Schwarzenegger looked around and asked his staff what happened to the bill to fulfill his campaign pledge to solarize California buildings. A bill was hastily put together, but died a relatively quick death.

In 2005, things were better organized, and the solar roofs plan became Senate Bill 1, a bipartisan venture between liberal LA state Senator Kevin Murray and conservative Orange County Senator John Campbell (now California’s newest congressman). SB 1 took flight from the Senate on a wave of bipartisan support, environmentalist backing, and acclaim from editorials around the state, only to run afoul of opposition from organized labor and Democrats in the Assembly who were determined to deny Schwarzenegger an image-boosting win as he pushed his ill-fated “Year of Reform” initiatives in the hotly contested special election.


Way to go, Democrats. Nice job derailing a sensible environmental plan for partisan gain. (H/t: Kaus!)

Here We Go Again

Iran is a real threat. Only an out-of-touch peacenik would deny it. Their President Ahmandinejad has again and again argued that Israel must be wiped off the map, and coincidentally so should the U.S. Iran has ignored El Baradei's IAEA to a degree that makes Saddam Hussein look, in retrospect, like a team player. Iran has sheltered Al-Qaeda and long aided groups like Hezbollah, such that if anyone doesn't believe nuclear weapons would find their way to these terrorist groups they're deluding themselves. So why am I not happy that all the major Security Council powers have agreed that something must be done and that the country must be sent before an emergency meeting of the IAEA?


Putin also cautioned against what he called any rash moves in dealing with Iran, a close economic partner of Russia and China. "The Iranian nuclear problem requires a very accurate approach without rash or erroneous moves," Putin said. "Russia will continue to cooperate with European and U.S. colleagues in promoting a solution to the issue. Russia, Germany, our European partners and the United States -- we all have very similar approaches to the Iranian problem."

Iran's ambassador to Russia praised Putin's proposal on Russian television, according to the Associated Press. "As far as Russia's proposal is concerned, we consider it constructive and are carefully studying it. This is a good initiative to resolve the situation. We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly," Gholamreza Ansari said.

U.S. and European officials said the scheduling of the Feb. 2 IAEA meeting would give Iran time to suspend its enrichment-related work and seriously reexamine the Russian offer. U.S. officials also said they hoped the outcome of the London meeting would be seen as a clear message both to Iran and to other members of the IAEA board that the five permanent members of the Security Council -- China, Russia, France, Britain and the United States -- were united on some basic aspects of the Iran case.


Note that the U.S. is also trying to get the IAEA meeting pushed slightly ahead of the SOTU speech (K. Drum is right again). The Russian proposal calls for Putin's people doing the uranium enrichment for Iran, and passing it along. However, that's unlikely to completely prevent the creation of nukes as once the uranium has been enriched it can still be used to make a bomb. Russia's proposal does nothing but add a few steps to the Iranian's bomb-making ambitions, and as Iran has already resumed enrichment it's unlikely they will do anything but ponder Russia's proposal to buy more time. The fact that Putin signals that the process should be "slow" is most disturbing of all, meaning Russia will likely stop any attempt to bring the action before the Security Council. So, all we get in the end is El Baradei writing angry letters when, in El Baradei's own words, Iran is months from a nuke. In any case, Iran has remained steadfast that they won't cave in to any kind of pressure.

But beyond all the difficulties with Russia's stalling and Iran's enrichment in getting collective action on this horrible threat is a not-too-suprising foe: Kofi Annan.

Annan worked furiously to undo European and American efforts to bring Iran before the Security Council. Reminiscent of his 1998 comment after visiting Saddam Hussein, "I think I can do business with him," Annan told reporters on Thursday: "I had a 40-minute conversation with Mr. [Ali] Larijani, the Iranian negotiator of the nuclear issue. ...He in turn affirmed to me that they are interested in serious and constructive negotiations..." He later explained, "the negotiations relate to the EU3," Britain, France, and Germany.

Trouble is, that a few hours earlier the EU3 had issued a statement saying "we have decided to inform the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors that our discussions with Iran have reached an impasse." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had also told reporters: "The United States fully supports the decision announced today by the [E3-EU]...the basis for negotiation is no longer there, because what the Iranians did was to unilaterally destroy the basis on which the negotiations were taking place..."

Following the secretary-general's news conference, rumor has it that France's U.N. ambassador complained to Annan directly, but Annan was said to be livid — not at Iran — but at the criticism.


As far as obstructionists and oppression-lovers are concerned, you can't get much better than Kofi Annan. I say all this because we can expect that Iran will likely get the Iraq treatment, or worse, at the UN. And that is a sad thing, not only because everything that was alleged about Iraq is demonstrably true about Iran, but because very soon once nukes are in play the options on the table grow more scarce and more dangerous.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The War Lexicon, Part I: 'frE-d&m (n)

On the last day of 2005, I took an out-of-town guest to see the Vietnam Memorial. A small Christmas tree stood by the path, decorated with cards of remembrance for those who died in the eight-year conflict. Personal messages scribbled on the mournful ornaments promised fallen soldiers that they will be remembered – and thanked them for protecting our freedom.


My sadness at seeing the names of the dead thousands etched into black marble was suddenly tempered by anger: was it really our freedom they died protecting in Vietnam? Is it really our freedom that the soldiers in Iraq are fighting for today? What does the word freedom mean anyway?


Or better yet, what has it come to mean today?


There used to be a time when saying freedom felt like taking in a deep, cleansing breath of air. Exhale and feel at peace. Today, the word is heavy, laden with contradiction, oppressive like a heavy boulder trapping us between the proverbial rock and a hard place.


Freedom has been overused and abused, its meaning perverted by public figures seeking to capitalize on blind patriotism, a sentiment waning in the midst of rising death tolls in Iraq and economic hardships at home.


It seems that the less palatable the situation in Iraq becomes, the more freedom is sprinkled over speeches and death-count announcements. Is it just an attempt to sweetly coat the all-too-bitter pill we're asked to swallow each day?


A case in point: in January 2004, President Bush's approval rating soared to its highest level ever at 59%; he used the word freedom eight times in his State of the Union Address, or once per every 6.75 minutes of speech. In January 2005, one year and over 800 American war casualties in Iraq later, the President used the word freedom twenty-one times in his State of the Union Address, or once per every 1.4 minutes of the speech. His approval rating plummeted shortly thereafter, reaching the all-time low of 45% two short months later.


The word freedom is used to placate the public, to reassure us that there really is a reason for war, for destruction, for death.


As it has been continually forced down our throats and used to constrain our collective conscience from reaching beyond the Wag the Dog realities of the current political situation, the word freedom has ceased to exist in the sense described by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: "the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action." The juxtaposition of its original purpose and its current applications could not be more mind-numbingly contradictory.


How could we let this happen? How could a word so noble be so quickly cheapened? How and when did we let freedom go?


In his 1963 I Have a Dream speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. evoked freedom in its truest, purest form: freedom as foe of oppression; freedom as a guiding light that would lead our nation out of its darkest years of racism, hatred and violence; freedom as a banner behind which all people could stand and proclaim in one voice their right to equality, respect, and a peaceful co-existence.


That August day, freedom rang through the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, but it did not stop there. It rang through the radios and television sets all across America, and it rang through classrooms and backrooms and boardrooms all around the world! Most importantly, for the next four decades, it rang and resonated in the ears of women and men who have worked to make all of us a little better – a little wiser, more peaceful and, I hope, more accepting of our vastly diverse world.


Sadly, that ring has been silent as of late. There are still times – those rare moments when the mainstream media and the closed-minded political pundits who pollute our airwaves pause to catch their breath – when you can hear a faint echo of freedom’s ring emerge from the fringes. It softly whispers in the ears of pro-peace activists, and conscientious objectors, and all those who can see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize the deadly quagmire we are in today.


Yes, freedom whispers and it wails – it cries for its loss of innocence, its loss of vigor, its loss of relevance… After all, it falls on deaf ears all too often these days.


Well, I am tired of the whisper. I am tired of straining your ears and hearing nothing but muffled moans. Aren't you?


It is time, my fellow Americans, to reclaim freedom. It is time for a revision of the Bush-Cheney dictionary, for a collective spell-and-grammar check of our political value system. It is time to return meaning to those holiday cards at the Vietnam Memorial.


It is time to make freedom ring once again. And this time, let's bring some amplifiers.