Friday, March 31, 2006

The Politics of Assisted Decision Making

First there was this brilliant comic:

The comic has received so much attention that the cartoonist, Stephanie McMillan, is auctioning it on e-bay-- 100% of the proceeds will be divided between Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota (apparently the all share one HQ?!) and the Oglala Sioux Tribe because the tribe prsident has offered to bypass the ban by opening up a Planned Parenthood clinic on their tribal lands.

The comic has also prompted this-- life imitates art, or rather, a woman does exactly what art tells her to do, with humorous and engaging results. Here is a little taste:
I wasn't sure whether to use chorizo or bacon in my paella last weekend, so I called South Dakota state senator Bill Napoli and asked him to make my decision for me.
I wish more right-wing nutballs would catch diarhhea of the mouth like Napoli! C'mon, tell us exactly how you feel!

Somewhere, Man Ray Is Chuckling

Let's face it. Most of the news in recent years that has originated in Kansas and reached the national stage has painted a less than flattering image of the state. But lest we think that no one in Kansas is cultured, edgy, defiant and non-conformist, consider the fact that the mayor of Lawrence, Kansas recently signed this proclamation declaring tomorrow, April 1, to be "International Dadaism Month."

How can a day be declared a "month"? Very easily, if you ask devotees of the Dadaists. (By the way, April 1 is one of 13 days that received this designation.)

Read the mayor's proclamation. It's quite amusing. Yes, it's a bit silly, but at least you get the impression that the mayor knew he was doing something silly. And it's no more silly than this Virginia county's decision to declare the first week of May '05 as "Respect for Law Week."

On the other 51 weeks of the year, I guess it was anything goes.

The United States of Mexamericanada!

It's interesting that someone like Rep. Tom Tancredo has built his political career on his tough, bitter anti-immigrant stance when it's not an issue that is even a problem in the district he represents. (But it does explain why they keep re-electing him.)
Tancredo's congressional district includes suburb after suburb, an expanse of new homes, schools, shopping malls and golf courses spreading across the high plains south and west of Denver. The district is about 88 percent white, and the residents are prosperous, with a median income ($74,000) almost twice the national average. The share of Hispanic residents, 6 percent, is the lowest of any Colorado district.
Tancredo pinpoints his disgust and anger towards undocumented immigrants as something he first felt 30 years ago-- which, frankly, explains a lot.
The first time Rep. Tom Tancredo got really angry about immigration, the year was 1975, and he was a junior high school social studies teacher in Denver. The state had recently passed the nation's first bilingual education law, and Hispanic kids were taken from his class to study in Spanish.

That idea made zero sense to Tancredo, the grandson of Italian immigrants. He believed that newcomers should be assimilated into the country, as they had been for generations. The image of America as a beacon for people from all over the world uniting under one flag and one language was threatened, he contended, if the country started adapting to immigrants, instead of the other way around.
Tancredo, now 60, formed anti-immigrant views in 1975 that haven't evolved or changed in 30 years, except they've only gotten more extreme and increasingly hostile. Why? Immigrants are perceived as a threat to the white, Anglo-Saxon way. Notice he isn't preoccupied with the immigrants who must fly or take ships to get here, only the ones who can walk here. The ones that are divided from America by an abritrary border.

I wish I could relieve Tancredo and his supporters of the ignorant, nostalgic notion that all immigrants used to totally assimilate and become fluent English-speakers and embrace all things American. Immigration patterns of the past show us our immigration future-- that first generation Americans don't always assimilate well, but their children and grandchildren eventually do. America just seems to have that effect on people. What are the differences between Tancredo's grandparents and today's Latino immigrants? Are they really assimilating less? Are they really any more insular than the all of the 'little Italys' than were established a century (or more) ago?

What Tancredo and his ilk seem most worried about is the possibility that this country-- founded by immigrants, largely claimed by people who had no "right" to it-- may eventually have to become bilingual. The horror! Two languages in one head? It just can't be done! Frankly I think we'd solve a lot of these problems if the the US would just get it over with and annex Mexico, Canada too. Have we lost our spirit of conquest? Of the great American empire? Isn't the official American mantra bigger is best? Uh oh, but then we'd officially be trilingual! But then we'd have no trouble protecting our borders from infiltrating terrorists-- just expand our borders to the very edges of the whole North American continent. Then build a wall or a magical force shield or whatever. Problem solved. It will never happen but I'm sure the idea is enough to make Tom Tancredo's head explode.

I came to the conclusion long ago that if there were a way to pass legislation that would make all change just stop in its tracks, to freeze America exactly it is (or was, maybe 50 years ago, before women and blacks got all uppity) I don't doubt that there are plenty of people, namely conservatives, who would wholeheartedly support it. But guess what? There are few guarantees in life except for that we all will die one day and that change is inevitable. To fight either is a pretty futile waste of life. The best you can do is work for progress, for change that will help this nation live up to its promise of equal justice for all.

Who Is "Caring, Pious and Generous"?

All right, time for a quick quiz. Name the political figure who was recently hailed by lawyers and members of Congress as a:
"man who dotes on his friends and family"

"selfless patriot"

"caring, pious and generous ..." and

"larger figure in matters of family, faith, generosity ..."

Give up? To find out who these people are talking about, click here. But first get out your barf bag because you'll need it.

Could '02 Law Hamper U.S. Cooperation?

It appears that ex-Liberian ruler (and Pat Robertson's bon ami) Charles Taylor will be tried for war crimes with the active assistance of the International Criminal Court in Europe. But over at Tapped, Mark Leon Goldberg raises an interesting question: could a 2002 law passed largely at the behest of conservatives prevent the U.S. government from cooperating in Taylor's long overdue prosecution?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Just like a Messianic Wingnutter...

to have no grasp of cause and effect.

I just received an e-mail from Rick Scarborogh of Vision America, he organized the recent "War on Christians Conference" that was held in DC this week, and he takes claims a Big Victory for anti-gay marriage folks that didn't actually happen.
We just received word today that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a law prohibiting same-sex couples from “marrying” in the state if their "marriage" is prohibited in their home states. This comes from a Court that was the first in the nation to rule in favor of homosexual marriage.

When I first saw this ruling I ["]thought["]: “that’s odd one of the most activist courts in the United States ruled [against] homosexual marriage.” But upon further reflection, I suspect that this ruling is in part due to your efforts and the efforts of millions of Americans who are speaking out and demanded accountability for these and other activist judges.

This very week, we spoke with Conference attendees from the State of Massachusetts that have been working to remove these Massachusetts activist judges from office. Their hard work toward judicial accountability is having a tremendous impact. We should be encouraged by their example and we should all keep up the hard work. The judges are watching and in some instances are beginning to restrain themselves in response to the demands of the Constitution and the People.
Were you alive in 1913? No? Were any of your anti-gay activists? Probably not.

The court upheld a law that was made in 1913 that banned the commonwealth from performing (mixed) marriages for out-of-state folks that weren't legal in their home states. This ruling neither a victory nor a defeat for same-sex marriage or for its foes. It's not as though they just overturned Goodwin. Keeping in mind that this is the same evil MA court that ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, does this case perhaps reveal that they make their decisions based on law, not "judicial activism"?

Seriously, I suppose it's far too obvious for any anti-gay wingnutters to notice that Massachussetts hasn't fallen off into the ocean since same-sex marriage became legal. Or that there hasn't been a wave of divorce among heterosexual couples. Or that no family has been harmed by the nice lesbian or gay couple down the street getting married. Or the fact that the majority of Massachussets voters now support same-sex marriage or that national opposition to same-sex marriage is quickly declining. I know, there is just something about "facts" and "evidence" that totally escapes you, Mr. Scarborough. Maybe you should see someone about that. Also, whether you like it or not those marriages are legal now so stop with the "marriage."

Personally, speaking as a liberal lesbian activist who'd love to legally marry my wife, I'm relieved about this ruling. I'm actually thankful that we aren't going to have a year of stories where well-intentioned couples marry in MA then go home and sue their state for not recognizing it. It doesn't force the issue at this time. We know that time is on our side, so a little bit of a delay, a short stall at this point could mean a faster victory in the near future. In essence, I believe that this decision will help starve the gay boogeyman in the upcoming election and the years to come. I think it's going to be a lot harder to portray gay marriage as a threat in states like Minnesota if nothing is happening on the ground legally.

Frankly, I'd rather see much more important issues-- more critical life and death issues that impact a lot more people-- get center stage in this election cycle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Just the Beginning...

Jack Abramoff just got a nearly 6 year prison sentence.
Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison in a Florida fraud case, the minimum sentence allowed.

Abramoff and former partner Adam Kidan pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud stemming from the ill-fated purchase in 2000 of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.

The sentence won't start immediately so the pair can continue cooperating in a Washington corruption investigation and a Florida probe into the murder of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis.
Symbolically this ups the ante-- Abramoff is going to be very motivated to do whatever he can to avoid racking up too many years. It'll be interesting to see how this ripples through the GOP establishment.

Maryland Rocks!

There will be no anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment battle in the state...this year, at least.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reflections on Immigration

The immigration stories in my own family have had a very profound influence on my views of immigration. Here are just a few:

  • My grandmother's Norweigan father came to the US in the early 1920s. The family lore goes that whenever someone asked my great-grandfather how he came to America he'd tell one of two stories-- how he had stowed away on a Norweigan Army ship or that he swam. In other words, no one knows really how he got here except that we do know that he came alone and that he didn't come via official, documented channels. He did claim he came here to seek a better life although I don't discount the possibility that he was running from trouble. (He was a pretty wild alcoholic.)

  • My mother's grandparents were Irish and came over early 1900s. They both died long before I was born. I'm pretty sure they came into this country legally, I know they came in search of a better life.

  • My stepfather's father came to America because to escape pogroms in Russia in the 1920s. I don't know if he was legal either, I think he might have been.

  • My wife's grandmother was hidden in an a large oven by her family when their Hungarian bakery was raided by Nazis in the 1930s. She was discovered, barely alive, by neighbors who then sent her to very distant American relatives when she was 11. We don't know if she was "legal" or not.

    I think one of the most profound truths about immigration is that no one chooses where they are born. The vast majority of people in America are the descendents of people who came here from somewhere else, many through official channels, many not. The fact is that if we choose to vilify today's immigrants then we are vilifying many of our own ancestors. Most of our ancestors have a great deal in common with today's immigrants, or at least the immigrants that are being targeted at the moment-- they were/are all mostly non-english speaking, poor and uneducated and were/are in search of a better, safer life.

    I'm not denying that immigration today has problems, but I am rejecting the notion that today's immigrants, specifically from Mexico and Latin America, are any less deserving of a chance than anyone else's parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. Let's not forgot in our zeal to protect ourselves that one of the characteristics that sets America apart from the rest of the world is that we are a nation established and built by immigrants. We are turning our backs on ourselves, our history, if we declare immigrants to be a "threat."

    So whenever someone says something ignorant or ugly about Those People they're talking about all of us, in one way or another.
  • John McCain's Risk

    In today's Washington Post, E. J. Dionne hits the nail on the head:
    (John) McCain the Maverick fought for campaign finance reform, took global warming seriously, opposed Bush's tax cuts and spoke out against torture.

    ... McCain's problem is that political parties rarely nominate mavericks, and McCain has decided the only way he'll ever be president is as the Republican nominee. So today he cares very much about what hurts him or helps him in his own party.

    The most flagrant sign of this was his February vote to continue Bush's dividend and capital gains tax cuts, which he once eloquently opposed. "It's a big flip-flop," one-time McCain foe Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Washington Times' Donald Lambro, "but I'm happy that he's flopped."

    ... The prevailing view among McCain's lieutenants -- it's also the conventional political view -- is that since the main obstacle to his nomination in 2008 comes from the right and from Bush partisans, McCain's main task is to appease the right and make nice with Bush .... There will be plenty of time after he's nominated for McCain to don his maverick apparel again for the benefit of moderates and independents.

    All terribly logical, but it's a more dangerous strategy than it seems. ... If McCain spends the next two years obviously positioning himself to win Republican primary votes, he will start to look like just another politician. Once lost, a maverick's image is hard to earn back.

    What Our Trainers Are Facing in Iraq

    Even if Bush's invasion of Iraq had not been based on deception, the long-term mission would still have faced tough odds. This hit home to me last week when a friend forwarded me a copy of a Vanity Fair article from the December '05 issue (not available online). VF's reporter visited U.S. army officials who are charged with training the new Iraqi Army.

    As the article underscores, even when U.S. army officials are not facing snipers or suicide-bombers, they must overcome major logistical and cultural hurdles:

    The [Iraqi Army] battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Ubiasis Ridha, is a fit man in his 30s who kept up with the Americans -- but many of the other officers couldn't.

    As they explained to Captain Mark McClellan, in the Iraqi Army, officers are supposed to be fat. They said it was humiliating to have to exercise with their men. McClellan informed them that in the American army officers are supposed to be fitter than the men they command and better at using every weapon system. They looked at him as if he were insane.

    Apparently, much of the point of being an officer in the Iraqi Army is to not have to do uncomfortable or difficult things.

    This tidbit was also interesting:
    During an officer-training session, one of the Iraqi officers interrupted Captain McClellan's presentation about how to plan an operation to point out that "in the Iraq Army we lead from the back, not the front."

    The American officers didn't know what to say. The interpreter, a former professor of English who came back to Iraq in 2003, said, "Yes, and that is why you lost twice to the Americans."

    The room erupted. The Iraqi officers were furious.

    "That's not true!" one of them shouted. "They only won because of their technology, because of their airplanes!"
    Finally, I thought this was an interesting revelation -- not what we're led to expect from a country with a fairly conservative Muslim culture:
    Sometimes the culture clashes on the range took on a comical tone. Captain McClellan was disconcerted when his Iraqi [trainees] kept telling him he had a beautiful face. Some of them added their opinion that "women are for babies, men are for fun."

    "I just say, 'Thank you,' and keep back," McClellan said.
    How many of the Iraqi army trainees who were hitting on McClellan are bothered by the fact that under sharia, men who have sex with men are subject to execution?

    Revelations Like This Are No Longer Shocking

    According to NBC News:

    President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were officially on a diplomatic track regarding Iraq in January 2003, but a secret memo now reveals they were determined to go to war six weeks before invading.

    Taking notes at the meeting that day (Jan. 31, 2003) in the Oval Office, Blair's National Security Adviser David Manning, now Great Britain's ambassador in Washington. .... Manning wrote that the president had decided on war no matter what happened diplomatically, or whether inspectors found weapons of mass destruction.

    ... According to the memo, Bush and Blair also predicted a quick victory and vastly underestimated the challenge of creating a new government. .... Bush said it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Blair agreed.
    And this tidbit speaks volumes about Bush's respect (or lack thereof) for the United Nations:
    The memo also said the president talked about painting an American spy plane to look like a U.N. aircraft, hoping to provoke Saddam Hussein into firing and justify going to war.
    These notes indicate that our president sought war. He actually sought it. I should be shocked by this, but I'm no longer shocked by the picture that has emerged of the pre-war maneuvering. Disgusted? Yes. Shocked? No.

    And Bush is still shameless enough to travel around the country wearing an American flag pinned to his suit lapel. As if he gives a damn about the core values that flag is supposed to stand for.

    Monday, March 27, 2006

    Who's the Elitist?

    Last week, several bloggers criticized Tapped's Garance Franke-Ruta over the issue of proposed regulations that would affect blogs. In this post Franke-Ruta seemed to do a good job of swatting away one blogger's charge that Franke-Ruta is an "elitist":
    Note to self: never pick a fight with the 24-7 bloggers when your own site is about to go dark for the weekend. I see I am once again being attacked for suggesting something I never said about the highly charged subject of regulating online political activity.

    ... As for Matt Stoller, who for some unfathomable reason has decided that calling me "elitist" -- and, dude, you know I'm on the list-serve where you focus-group these things, right? -- is the proper approach to intimindating me into bloggy solicitude, I'd happily put my G.E.D. from the state of New Mexico up against your prep school education at St. Paul's anyday if you want to measure what it means to be a member of the American elite.

    As for college, we both went to Harvard, so I don't really see that charges of elitism fly .... Nor ought concern for regulation to be considered "an elitish fetish." Regulation has been at the heart of progressivism since early in the last century ...

    Progress in Iraq? The White House Gets Real

    When President Bush appeared one week ago in Cleveland to discuss Iraq, he used the word “progress” eight times. It’s a very popular word whenever the administration talks about Iraq.

    In his last reference in his Cleveland remarks, the president said:
    “It's my job to remind people that progress is being made, in spite of the violence they see.”
    Or, to put it another way: who are you going to believe — me or your own eyes?

    But Bush is clearly not succeeding at what he described as his job. Perhaps that’s why White House press secretary Scott McClellan has taken the “progress” refrain one step further.

    Since the American people aren’t buying this talk of progress, McClellan has decided that it’s time to decorate the noun a little. Three days after Bush’s Cleveland speech, McClellan conducted a press briefing in which he used the word “progress” 10 times.

    In 7 of those 10 references, McClellan used the term “real progress.” Y'know, just in case Americans thought the White House's prior references to progress were sheer sarcasm.

    A Rejoinder to the Media-Bashing

    Frustrated with the situation in Iraq, the Bush crew has resorted to media-bashing. Slate.com's John Dickerson responds with a commentary piece whose headline says it all: The Good News From Iraq: We can't hear it — the bombs are too loud.

    Dickerson writes:
    Press-bashing only highlights the administration's insufficient response to the underlying problem. When the basement is flooded, no one wants to hear complaints about not getting credit for the shiny new roof.

    It also does the administration no good when its allies challenge the professionalism of reporters in Iraq. Sixty-seven international journalists have died there along with 24 translators, drivers, and other support personnel — more than died in 20 years of fighting in Vietnam.

    The complaints also turn genuine media efforts to show the positive side of the war into farce when reality intrudes. In the middle of taping an NBC piece about a new school opening, a bomb went off, and as Bob Dole praised Fox for showing the positive side of Iraq this week, the other half of the network's split screen showed a burning truck.

    Of course, reporters trying to cover the good news in Iraq face a formidable obstacle — in the continual and overwhelming bad news. Journalists are kept busy covering explosions, mass killings, reprisals, and kidnappings, which a recent State Department report called "a daily occurrence throughout all regions and sectors of society."

    They also have to worry constantly about getting shot, blown up, or taken hostage themselves whenever they leave their compounds. The perpetually worsening violence makes administration officials feel they have to push the good news to counterbalance it. But [the worsening violence] also makes it nearly impossible for the press to get out and see what else is happening.

    This Is a "Moderate" Cleric?

    Concerning the fate of a Christian convert in Afghanistan, this was a story filed by the Associated Press reports:
    Senior Muslim clerics are demanding that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity be executed, warning that if the government caves in to Western pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces."

    In an unusual move, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned President Hamid Karzai on Thursday seeking a "favorable resolution" of the case of Abdul Rahman. The 41-year-old former medical aid worker faces the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic laws for becoming a Christian.

    ... "Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001.
    On a related note, Americans would do well to remember that there was a time, many years ago, when the Taliban could also have been called a "faith-based initiative."

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    Adopting Bigotry

    Recently there has been a lot of noise made in several states to ban adoption of children by gay or lesbian people. It appears to be the next, natural step after banning same-sex marriage/unions/domestic partnerships. I would not put it past the GOP to try and repackage their anti-gay family message by replace "gay marriage" with "gay adoption."

    There are a lot of obvious reasons I have trouble with gay adoption bans-- namely I'm a lesbian who is very much interested in adoption. But it's also pretty obvious that it's a proposed law based on prejudice, not evidence, and that categorically banning a whole class of people from adopting children is ridiculous. But mostly I have to shake my head at their ignorance about the current state of adoption in the US.

    There is this persistant myth in this country that domestic adoption is nearly impossible, that it takes years. Most people know about the trend of international adoption, of Americans going abroad to adopt children from other countries. But do most people know that there are people from other countries traveling to America to adopt American children and take them back to their respective countries? Canada especially, but European countries too? It all comes down to the law of supply & demand.
    Since 1995, US State Department records indicate that international adoptions by Americans have increased more than 140 percent. Couples often cite the lack of American babies as the reason for adopting from abroad.

    But the US is now the fourth largest "supplier" of babies for adoption to Canada. Adoption by Shepherd Care, an agency in Hollywood, Fla., places 90 percent of its...babies in Canada.
    ...
    [In the U.S.] children who are in the greatest demand are also in the shortest supply. Those who want to adopt healthy white babies in the US may wait as long as five years, agencies say. In contrast, they add, the waiting for African-Americans is often measured in weeks and months, especially for baby boys...It's also the case that adopting a white baby [domestically] costs more than adopting a black or biracial one. Adoption fees for healthy Caucasian babies can be as high as $40,000, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. For biracial babies, the cost is about $18,000. For African-American newborns, it ranges from $10,000 to $12,000, agencies say.
    So there you have it. There are more children available for adoption domesticall than there are available homes. So why are people acting as though there are potential families lined up around the block? (I haven't even touched on all the older children, children in foster care, or children with special needs either.)

    But the fact is that adoption is different than marriage. Marriage legally protects families, adoption creates families with children. Banning marriage doesn't stop us from marrying (it didn't stop me!) but banning adoption or foster care parenting actually hurts children. Even if one were to concede that straight, married parents were the "ideal" family, the fact is that there are children that need homes who don't have them and that a home with 2 moms or 2 dads is far preferable than no home at all. Recent polls certainly suggest that half of America "gets" that.

    On a more personal note, I am not underestimating the challenge of adopting "transracially" and I respect people's choices to adopt the kind of child they want or feel that they can handle. Even as my partner and I plan to adopt transracially I'll admit that I do have my own reservations about adopting an African-American child, although not about our family, but how we would be treated by other people in society. I personally know that we can do right by them, that our love, dedication and will is strong, and that we have many more connections to the African-American community than your average white people. The fact is that families, no matter what, are always a good mix of love, hard work, perserverence, challenge and commitment. Sometimes the challenges in some families are just more visible than in others.

    "Sorry, You Were Raped, But Not Brutally Enough"

    Okay, I realize that headline is pretty over the top, but bear with me -- it will make sense. On the heels of the comic strip about the South Dakota abortion ban that Zoe posted, this post about S.D.'s new law is guaranteed not to produce a giggle.

    A friend who supports abortion rights tipped me off to this excerpt from a news segment that PBS's "Newshour" ran earlier this month. The news segment included a bizarre and disturbing excerpt. (NOTE: State Senator Jim Napoli was the chief sponsor of South Dakota's abortion ban.)

    From the March 3 "Newshour":

    Fred de Sam Lazaro (PBS): "Napoli says most abortions are performed for what he calls 'convenience.' He insists that exceptions can be made for rape or incest under the (South Dakota) provision that protects the mother's life. I asked him for a scenario in which an exception may be invoked."

    State Sen. Bill Napoli: "A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
    So here's what Napoli is saying:

    SCENARIO 1: If you're brutally raped and a virgin, but you're not "religious," then you must carry the pregnancy to term or you've committed a crime.

    SCENARIO 2: If you're brutally raped and "religious," but you're not a virgin, then you must carry the pregnancy to term or you've committed a crime.

    SCENARIO 3: If you're a virgin and "religious," but you weren't raped and sodomized "as bad as you can possibly make it," then you must carry the pregnancy to term or you've committed a crime.

    Of course, Napoli didn't bother to define what he means by "religious," exactly what constitutes a brutal rape, or what lengths he will go to in order to determine whether the female in question is a virgin.

    There's something incredibly disgusting about all of this. It reveals that what Napoli finds disturbing about abortion is not so much the alleged taking of a human life, but the fact that someone had sex that wasn't specifically intended to create a baby within a marriage.

    One last point. As The Carpetbagger noted yesterday, those who are not religious and/or don't believe in God are loathed by large portions of our society. As proof, consider that Napoli feels quite comfortable telling a reporter that he could make an exception for a woman if she were "religious." And something also tells me that he and his S.D. allies might define "religious" in ways that might not include Muslims, Mormons, Scientologists, Buddhists and other minority religions or denominations.

    So much for church-state separation.

    See, We Do Have a Sense of Humor!


    Bloody brilliant.

    Thanks Pandagon!

    Auto(homo)erotic Asphyxiation

    I get regular e-mails from people like Don Wildmon of the American (anti)Family Association and most of the time it provokes little more than eyerolling. But the one I received today made me laugh out loud.
    On a recent episode of CBS's Without A Trace, Ford proved to the homosexual leaders the company's commitment to their agenda. The Ford-sponsored program included a scene of two lesbians passionately kissing each other.

    To see what Ford sponsored, click here. (Warning! This scene is very offensive!)
    I love the fact that they can't just talk about girls kissing, but they must share it-- with warnings! Just in case their members can't imagine what it looks like! Oh the horror! (They're kissing in a bowling alley, of all places! They may as well smear them with Mom's Apple Pie while they're at it!)

    I know groups like the AFA want their members to believe advertising that targets gays and lesbians is part of some big agenda, however, they're being deliberately naive. Gay-specific advertising by major corporations is hardly a new phenomenon, in fact most major companies do it and have been doing it for years. It's harder to find a major corporation that doesn't market to gays and lesbians than one that does, it's a growth industry all by itself.

    What AFA is truly upset about is that Ford hurt their feelings and exposed just how little clout they have. Ford decided it had more to gain by advertising to gays and lesbians than kowtowing to the Right Wing Fun Police.
    Last fall, in a meeting with AFA, Ford agreed to stop funding the homosexual agenda. However, after a group of angry homosexual leaders met with Ford, the company reneged on its agreement and announced that they would continue their commitment to support the effort to legalize homosexual marriage.
    The fact is that Ford doesn't care about gays and lesbians or whether or we can legally marry, they just want us to buy their cars. It's just that simple. This isn't about angry homosexuals or any agenda, if there wasn't money to be made from our community-- if we weren't perceived as wealthy urban trendsetters-- no major corporations would be directing ads at us.

    I have a suggestion. If Don Wildmon and the AFA are feeling left out, if they want their own targeted ad attention from Ford, they're going to have to start being perceived as modern & hip-- two words they could never claim. Hmmm, looks like someone is in need of a makeover!



    I would *pay* to see the Fab Five makeover Don Wildmon, wouldn't you? Maybe that is what Wildmon really wants-- a little special attention. It's too bad his hatred of gays keeps him far, far away from anyone who could give him any style advice. What a pity.

    At the End of His Rope

    Confession: although I generally was a well-behaved student in my k-12 school days, I sometimes did my share to drive a substitute teacher slightly batty. Thankfully, I never encountered this response. According to the AP:
    A substitute teacher (in Newark, N.J.) will spend a year on probation for tying a mock noose around a young boy’s neck during an after-school program.

    Prosecutors said Albert Coleman, Jr. wanted to punish the boy for not following instructions to do his homework. He asked the boy if he knew what strangulation was, made him stand on a chair, then put the looped end of a decorative string that was hanging from a light fixture around the boy’s neck and kicked the chair, prosecutors said.

    Coleman, 61, had told a grand jury he was only playing and that the string was never around the boy’s neck.

    ... The conviction prevents Coleman from ever working as a teacher again.

    It's Not Just a Congressional Scandal

    According to NBC:
    The influence-peddling scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff heats up again on Friday when a former Bush administration official and associate of the disgraced lobbyist appears at a pretrial hearing in federal court.

    David Safavian, the White House's former top procurement official, is charged with misrepresenting his connections with lobbyists — specifically, Abramoff — while working at the General Services Administration.

    A key event was a lavish golf junket to Scotland in 2002, mostly paid for by a charity Abramoff controlled.

    ... Safavian sought clearance from a GSA ethics official prior to the Scotland trip, but prosecutors say he did not tell the official about Abramoff's attempts to acquire federally owned properties controlled by the GSA, or about the help Safavian was providing to Abramoff in those efforts.

    La Langue des Affaires

    Reuters reports:
    French President Jacques Chirac walked out of a European Union summit briefly on Thursday when the French head of the EU’s industry lobby addressed leaders of the bloc in English.

    A French official said Chirac, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Finance Minister Thierry Breton left the room when Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, head of the UNICE business lobby, switched from French to English at a summit session with the EU’s so-called social partners — employers and unions.

    “Representing 20 million companies in 39 organizations in 33 countries, I will speak English, the language of business,” the former head of the French employers’ organization said.

    ... English, French and German are the working languages of the 25-nation bloc, which has no single official language.

    ... Nicolas Schmit, secretary of state for European affairs of Luxembourg, said ... “With all the love I have for the French language, I think there are other problems, notably in France” ...
    By "other problems," I suspect he means this.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Last Throes of a Bitter Battle?

    Despite the bitter battles over same-sex marriage in the last few years, public opinion is still shifting. Guess who is on the losing side?

    These latest findings from Pew Research Center surprised even me.
    Currently, 51% oppose legalizing gay marriage, down from a recent high of 63% just two years ago in February of 2004. The percent who favor allowing gay marriage has increased from a low of 29% in August of that year to 39% today.
    ...
    The turnaround over the past two years is particularly distinct in the change among those who say they "strongly oppose" legalizing gay marriage. Just 28% take this position today, down from 42% in February of 2004, and the decline has been sharpest among seniors, Republicans and more moderate religious groups. Fully 58% of Americans age 65 and older strongly opposed gay marriage in 2004; only 33% are strongly opposed now. Two years ago 59% of Republicans strongly opposed gay marriage, while just 41% take this position today. And both white Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants are half as likely to strongly oppose gay marriage today as they were in 2004. Opposition remains strongest among white evangelical Protestants, 56% of whom strongly oppose legalizing gay marriage, down from 65% two years ago.
    Not only is support for marriage steadily growing, but the intensity of the opposition has softened as well? Even among Republicans and seniors? Granted, passions aren't stroked on the issue at the moment, so we could see some volatility once that recommences. But I'm more interested in how people feel about issues when they aren't hearing a lot of demagoguery.

    The Big Fear has been that we are in a backlash period, that we'd backslide for a while, and that opposition against gay and lesbian rights would settle and stop shifting in our favor. Apparently not. With the exception of 2004, support for the civil rights of gays and lesbians has been steadily growing for over a decade. The same poll also found that 60% of Americans support gays and lesbians openly serving in the military, and support for adoption by same-sex couples is split down the middle, 46-48%. (In contrast, in 1999 38% supported adoption rights, 57% opposed.) Even the old "gays are all child molesters" myth seems to be at risk. Wow.

    While I don't doubt that the GOP will try to use same-sex marriage or adoption as an election-year battleaxe this fall, it's quite possible that it won't be much of a weapon in 2008 or beyond. I think it is the combination of the "shock" wearing off and reality seeping into the American consciousness. Gays don't threaten hetero marriages and New England (MA, CT and VT) have not experienced any problems since they legalized gay unions. Hey, considering so many people are *finally* seeing Bush & Co. for what they truly are, it shouldn't be that big of a surprise. (Doesn't mean I'm not still shocked, though.)

    Along the lines of Fred's earlier post, if demagoguery about gays and lesbians loses its election year turn-out edge, what group does the GOP demonize next for fun and profit?

    At the Bottom of the List

    The Carpetbagger tips us off to a newly released study "on the last minority that Americans really don't like."

    Care to guess who it is?

    Horowitz' High Regard for the Truth

    In recent months, conservative firebrand David Horowitz has been pushing his phony "academic bill of rights," seeking to neuter liberal professors at the nation's colleges and universities. Horowitz' tendency to shade or twist the truth showed at a January hearing that was held by a legislative committee in Pennsylvania.

    In this article in On Campus, Barbara McKenna explains:
    At the hearing, Rep. Larry Curry, Democratic co-chair of the bipartisan committee, asked Horowitz about a story he has been repeating in speeches and interviews for over a year, that a Pennsylvania State University biology professor showed his class Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” in the days before the 2004 election.

    Horowitz’s source, apparently, was a posting on one of his spinoffs, the studentsforacademicfreedom.com Web site. Trouble is, Horowitz has never provided any evidence that the screening occurred, and no other independent source has been able to verify it.

    “The concern I have,” said Rep. Curry, “is over the lack of good evidence—the vagueness being presented in both the resolution [H.R. 177] and the statements we’re hearing. In one instance on your Web site, you have a long story about the showing of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ Now we know that it didn’t happen. Will you retract the story?”

    “We took it off the Web site days ago,” Horowitz answered, adding, “Michael Moore has been shown to be a liar.”

    “But you asserted it as true and didn’t correct it,” Curry persisted.

    “So what!” Horowitz barked, exclaiming that he couldn’t be expected to fact-check Web postings.

    Such Charmers, These Officers in Blue

    The Washington Post reports on an online bulletin board for Montgomery County, Md., police officers that paints a rather unflattering picture of those who wear blue:
    What's up with the cop in Silver Spring who's ratting out colleagues? That was the question raised by a police officer who started a thread on the online message board of the Montgomery County police union on July 15, 2004.

    Within minutes, a flurry of responses began pouring in to the site .... They called the African American officer in question a "rat," a racist and a lazy cop who needed to "be put in her place."

    ... The message board was designed as a forum where officers could trade tips, complaints and light banter. But several officers say it has become an outlet for personal attacks -- often laced with racist language, sexual harassment and disparaging remarks about police supervisors, county leaders, immigrants and residents.

    ... The county's immigrants, a segment of the population whose trust the police department has worked hard to gain, have frequently been the target of offensive messages ..... (One post declared:) "In 20 years you'll have 150 channels of Telemundo, and you'll be paying for English-language channels ..."

    ... In August 2004, officers criticized a group of African immigrants who protested after a Montgomery officer fatally shot Peter Ayompeuh Njang, 25, a Cameroonian immigrant, on Aug. 12 in Silver Spring.

    "What I'd like to know is how many of the protesters are illegals, and how many will be arriving to the demonstration in unregistered, uninsured vehicles with someone else's credit card," one officer identified as "Status Quo" wrote.

    Does "the Cold War" Ring a Bell, Mr. President?

    Wednesday in West Virginia, President Bush provided a rather sloppy view of history. Speaking in the city of Wheeling, Bush said:
    "... I knew that the farther we got away from September the 11th, 2001, the more likely it would be that some would forget the lessons of that day. ... one of my jobs is to constantly remind people of the lessons.

    "The first lesson is, is that oceans can no longer protect us. You know, when I was coming up in the '50s in Midland, Texas, it seemed like we were pretty safe. In the '60s it seemed like we were safe."
    Uh, is it possible that Bush:
    a) never saw one of those designated fallout shelter signs that were posted on the facades of thousands of buildings across America in the 1950s and '60s?

    b) has forgotten completely about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962?

    c) has never heard the musical jingle "Duck and Cover," produced by the U.S. government and aimed at American children?

    d) is unaware of why treaties such as SALT and START were negotiated?

    e) believes the Cold War pitted Coke against Pepsi?

    f) all of the above
    Just wondering.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    A Narrow Win for Privacy

    Today at the high court:
    A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the police cannot enter a home and seize evidence without a warrant when one occupant agreed to the search after the other occupant refused permission.

    By a 5-3 vote, the high court said the husband's refusal in a case from Georgia was clear, making the search unreasonable and invalid, despite his wife's approval for it.

    The narrowly written ruling was a defeat for the state of Georgia and for the U.S. Justice Department, which had argued that the search of a residence should be allowed when one occupant consents, even if the other occupant objects.

    The court's three most conservative members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, opposed the ruling. It was the first dissent written by Roberts, who joined the court at the end of September, and Justice David Souter sharply denounced it in writing for the majority. Under the dissent's view, [Souter] wrote, "The centuries of special protection for the privacy of the home are over."

    Are Older Workers Overpaid?

    Tim Harford seems to think so. At Slate.com, he writes:
    Decades of economic studies have produced the conclusion that average wages increase with age almost until retirement, yet average productivity seems to be flat or perhaps even declining after the age of 50.

    ... I can look forward to a big bag of hate mail for reporting on this research, but I think that subconsciously we know it's true ...
    The rest of the column is here.

    GOP Planning to Unveil Pledge Issue

    In his Slate.com Has Been column, the DLC's Bruce Reed notes that conservative commentator Fred Barnes has hinted at a classic divide-and-conquer issue that the GOP plans to unveil this fall to fight off Democratic gains in the House and Senate:
    (In a recent article,) Barnes does reveal one new idea on House Republicans' agenda: "legislation to bar all federal courts except the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance."

    Conservatives don't like judges legislating from the bench, so Republicans will do the opposite: benching from the legislature. Now that they have a reliable majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans want to send the rest of the judiciary home.

    What "Compassionate Conservative" Really Means

    This article in today's Washington Post reveals that the Bush administration has steered $157 million in federal funding to groups that support its conservative social agenda.

    One person interviewed for this article was GOP Congressman Mark Souder, and he was incredibly (and shamefully) candid in explaining why federal social-service contracts have been politicized:
    Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.), chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, said the effort "has gone political."

    "Quite frankly, part of the reason it went political is because we can't sell it unless we can show Republicans a political advantage to it, because it's not our base," he said, referring to the fact that many of those receiving social services are Democratic voters.
    In other words, those compassionate conservatives in Congress are only willing to be compassionate if: a) those receiving the help are GOP voters, or b) those receiving federal funds to provide the help are GOP supporters.

    You at least have to appreciate the congressman's honesty.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    That Issue Didn't Work for All of 'Em

    Not every conservative who played demagogue on the issue of gay marriage in 2004 met with success. On Tuesday, National Journal's Congress Daily reminded us of at least one of them:
    Republican Mike Liffrig, who ran against Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan two years ago, said he is considering another bid -- this time against Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. Liffrig, a lawyer, said he would decide in the next week whether to run, the Associated Press reported.

    Dorgan was re-elected by a 2-1 margin over Liffrig, who now says he relied too much on out-of-state consultants and negative ads.

    One Liffrig ad that received attention in 2004 targeted gay marriage: It showed two men in black ties about to kiss each other, as an announcer intoned, "You can kiss our North Dakota values goodbye or you can kiss Sen. Dorgan goodbye."

    ... "I made mistakes in the past and I want to try a different approach, a totally different approach," Liffrig said ....

    Pennsylvania's Endangered Species

    As I get closer to moving back to my homestate of PA-- just in time to cast my vote against Rick Santorum! -- my reservations about Bob Casey mellow.

    It occured to me recently that if Casey successfully replaces Santorum that PA would be the only state whose senators could be described as the following: a pro-choice Republican and a pro-life Democrat. (Please correct me if I'm wrong. I can't think of another state with this unusual configuration.)

    Doesn't that mean they cancel each other out?

    Aleksandr the Gentleman


    If there were a Goofus and Gallant to represent the nations' rulers, one of the finalists for the role of Goofus would have to be the president of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

    Although the state-controlled media declared Lukashenko the winner of the recent Belarus election, international observers called the vote illegitimate. According to the New York Times, this is what transpired when reporters questioned Lukashenko at a brief news conference:

    When asked whether [Lukashenko] could assure the safety of demonstrators, whom he threatened last week with having their necks wrung, he chided the journalist for posing the question. "I see your neck is in place," he said. "Why are you so concerned?"

    Later, when another journalist asked what he had talked about with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, he was similarly crude. "About women," he answered.

    How do you say "uncouth" in Belarusian? Pat Robertson isn't the only one who knows what God is up to:

    At one point Mr. Lukashenko also suggested that Belarus, impoverished and isolated, was aided by God, noting that an intense snow squall had swirled through the capital Sunday night just as the opposition demonstrators were gathering outside.

    The Media Silently Broadcasts Administration's Lie

    Yesterday, in Ohio, Dick Cheney lied. That may not strike you as noteworthy, but this wasn't the usual lie. This was as blatant as lies come, and the vice president knew he was lying when he said what he said.

    I just heard Cheney's latest lie on NPR. Speaking at a fundraiser Monday in northeastern Ohio, Cheney mentioned Democrats' criticism of the administration's wiretapping and surveillance program. The vice president said that Democrats were advancing the position
    "... that we ought to protect al Qaeda's right to communicate."
    The Dems are saying no such thing and Cheney knows it. The media keeps acting as a vehicle for this White House talking point -- rarely, if ever, challenging this ridiculous argument about the basis for the Dems' opposition.

    At some point, the media has an obligation to clarify, to not simply act as conduit for this Dems-don't-want-to-monitor-terrorists nonsense.

    The "Nonpartisan" AEI

    The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) describes itself as "a private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics, and social welfare."

    The Republican National Committee (RNC) begs to differ. The "links" section of this RNC web page informs visitors that:
    "The GOP community is broad and diverse, and united in building a stronger America for generations to come. Several groups are working with us for the Party agenda. Find out more and get involved."
    Click on this part of the RNC web page, and what you get is a list of these groups that are aiding "the Party agenda" -- one of which happens to be the AEI.

    It makes sense. Although AEI is not uniformly conservative in its ideological messages, the RNC's reference serves to remind us that Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle and Charles Murray (of "The Bell Curve" fame) have something in common -- they are all AEI fellows.

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    If This Doesn't Make You Cry in Your Soup ....

    ... then I don't know what will. Excerpts from today's New York Times:

    BAREILLY, India — The cry went up the moment the polio vaccination team was spotted — "Hide your children!" Some families slammed doors on the two volunteers going house to house with polio drops in this teeming city's decrepit maze of lanes, saying that they feared the vaccine would sicken or sterilize their children, or simply that they were fed up with the long drive to eradicate polio.

    "We have a lot of other problems, and you don't care about those," shouted one woman from behind a locked door. "All you have is drops. My children get other diseases, and we don't get help."

    ... As the polio campaign has shown, even the miracle of discovering a vaccine is not enough.

    Not least among the obstacles is that many poor countries that eliminated polio have let their vaccination efforts slide, making the immunity covering much of the world extremely fragile, polio experts warn.

    Cheney's Remarks Diss the Elder Bush

    Vice President Dick Cheney speaking yesterday on CBS's Face the Nation:
    CHENEY: "I think what I would say about it, Bob, is that this has been a different kind of arrangement than most administrations have between the president and the vice president, primarily because I'm here to serve him; I'm not here to run for higher office. Most of my predecessors spent a good part of their time as president, as vice president getting ready to run for president and thinking about their own campaigns for president."
    Cheney may have intended to take a poke at Al Gore, the most recent vice president who ran for president, but his remarks also apply equally to Bush's father. After all, George H.W. Bush ran for president in 1988 as a sitting vice president.

    Even if Cheney had harbored any ambitions of running for president, his enthusiasm would surely be curbed by an approval rating that stands at only 18 percent.

    Threat of Civil War Is Just a "Tired" Story

    What would you call the threat of "impending civil war" in Iraq? According to Townhall.com columnist W. Thomas Smith, Jr., it's a "tired" story that the press should stop reporting on.

    By the way, Smith wants us to know that Abu Ghraib is also a "tired" story.

    Smith may consider Abu Ghraib to be old news, but he can't say the same for the abuse that reportedly occurred at Camp Nama. The abuse at Camp Nama was first reported this weekend.

    According to the AP, the military's elite Task Force 6-26 was beating Iraqi prisoners with rifle butts and engaging in other abuse at Camp Nama. Even worse, this abuse
    intensified in early 2004 and continued after photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, belying Pentagon assertions that abuse was limited to a small group of reservists at the notorious detention center.

    Totally Confused by This Poll On Iraq

    Did you catch the new poll by CNN-USA Today-Gallup released late last week on the Iraq war? It showed that Americans have turned more pessimistic (surprise, surprise) on U.S. involvement in Iraq. But there's a sequence of questions that makes the public – at least a chunk of those surveyed – look either ridiculous or uncaring.

    If you click on the hyperlink, go to the box marked "Related," click on the "interactive" link and check out the public's response to these questions:
    Question: Which comes closest to your view about the war with Iraq: You are certain that the U.S. will win, you think it is likely that the U.S. will win, you think it is unlikely that the U.S. will win, or you are certain that the U.S. will not win?

    Certain U.S. will win ......... 22%
    Likely U.S. will win ........... 32%
    Unlikely U.S. will win ......... 25%
    Certain U.S. will not win ..... 16%
    No opinion ..................... 6%
    Okay, so a majority (54%) believes the U.S. is "certain" or "likely" to win the war. But now look at the next question:
    Question: What do you think is more likely to happen in Iraq: The situation will turn into chaos and civil war, or the Iraqi people will be able to establish a stable government?

    Chaos/civil war ............. 55%
    Stable government ......... 40%
    No opinion .................... 5%
    Only 40% think Iraq will come out of this with a "stable government" – that's a 14-point gap from the 54% who felt we would "win." Clearly, there's an overlap; some people who think we'll probably or certainly "win" also see Iraq turning into sheer chaos.

    So here's my question for those people who are part of the 54% "win" majority and also part of the 55% "chaos" majority: How the hell can you define "chaos and civil war" in Iraq as a "win"?

    I'm totally confused by this. Am I the only person who considers this one hell of an inconsistency?

    Rummy's Lame "Nazi" Analogy


    On Sunday, CNN reported:
    Former top officials in two presidential administrations -- one Democratic, one Republican -- disagreed Sunday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's characterization of what would happen if the United States were to pull out of the war in Iraq.

    "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis," Rumsfeld wrote in an opinion piece published Sunday -- the third anniversary of the beginning of the U.S.-led war in Iraq -- in the Washington Post.

    Henry Kissinger, who served with U.S. forces in Germany at the end of World War II and who served as secretary of state under Republican Presidents Nixon and Ford, said the situations are not analogous.

    "In Germany, the opposition was completely crushed; there was no significant resistance movement," the German-born diplomat told CNN's "Late Edition."

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser under President Carter, a Democrat, was less charitable.

    "That is really absolutely crazy to anyone who knows history," he said. "There was no alternative to our presence. The Germans were totally crushed. For Secretary Rumsfeld to be talking this way suggests either he doesn't know history or he's simply demagoguing."
    Hmmm. I choose option B.

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    The Public: Split on Presidential Censure

    As Democrats continue to duck and run from Sen. Feingold's censure resolution, the American Research Group has released this poll (taken March 15) of public attitudes on censure:
    Do you favor or oppose the United States Senate passing a resolution censuring President George W. Bush for authorizing wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining court orders?

    Favor 46%
    Oppose 44%
    Undecided 10%
    It wins easily with Dems, but Republicans and independents both oppose it -- independents chose "oppose" by 5 points (47%-42%). But I'm actually a little surprised that roughly three out of 10 Republicans said they favor censure.

    Although religious conservatives have tremendous leverage over the party, it's easy to forget that there is a segment of GOPers who think more like libertarians -- they hate it when government exercises power in virtually any realm.

    One final observation: the poll's wording. I'm sure ARG's pollsters would have considered it too slanted to change the question to read "without obtaining court orders as required by law," but the question they used has problems too.

    Whether or not the president violated FISA is the crux issue here. But because the phrasing of the poll question doesn't make it clear that the court orders are specifically required by federal law, many Americans may simply view this as a procedural dispute -- i.e., should the president have gone about it this way or that way?

    If you buy Feingold's argument (and I, for one, do), then the president knowingly violated federal law.

    Scalia Blathers On


    Don't look now, but Antonin Scalia has hit the road again. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported on his latest speech:
    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia railed against the era of the "judge-moralist," saying judges are no better qualified than "Joe Sixpack" to decide moral questions such as abortion and gay marriage.
    If so, is his honor planning to step down? No such luck. (Sigh.)

    "Anyone who thinks the country's most prominent lawyers reflect the views of the people needs a reality check," he said during a speech to New England School of Law students and faculty at a Law Day banquet on Wednesday night.

    The 70-year-old justice said the public, through elected legislatures -- not the courts -- should decide watershed questions such as the legality of abortion.
    In Scalia's world, we'd interpret the Constitution by a majority vote of a legislature. How quaint. The Supreme Court wouldn't have much more to do than the Maytag repairman.

    Of course, if we had embraced the Scalia vision of constitutional law, the Supreme Court never would have heard the Brown v. Board of Education case, and public schools would have remained racially segregated in much of the country for many decades later.

    I'd say Scalia is one hissy-fit away from losing it.

    Health Care Reform? Start Small

    Over at Slate.com, Michael Kinsley heartily agrees that America's health care system isn't working. For example, he writes:
    ... one perversity of the current system is that you can lose your insurance either by losing your job if you've got one or by taking a job (and losing Medicaid) if you don't.
    But Kinsley urges reform advocates to push for "more modest reforms before plunging into (a) single-payer (system)." His full column is here.

    March Madness

    Cartoon by Joel Pett, Lexington Observer

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    GOP Challenger in N.Y. Is Self-Destructing

    From the moment she announced her U.S. Senate candidacy as a Republican, Kathleen Troia McFarland's chances of unseating Hillary Clinton in New York State were somewhere between slim and none. Revelations this week in the New York Post have pushed her chances much closer to "none."

    According to the Post, McFarland failed to vote in six of the past 14 general elections, and she cited the "realities of family life" as her explanation for being a civic no-show.

    After it was reported that McFarland was registered to vote at two different addresses, the GOP candidate told the Post she didn't know that it was illegal to be registered simultaneously at two addresses.

    So Much for the "Commitment in [His] Soul"

    Remember the "Milennium Challenge" program that President Bush announced in March 2002? That's okay because I had a tough time remembering it too. Rolling Stone magazine checked up on the program's progress and offered this assessment:
    Under his watch, the president said, America would increase its annual foreign aid to $5 billion. And instead of giving handouts, he added, the program would employ an entirely new model: investing in countries to spark their economic growth and holding them accountable for their policies.

    "I carry this commitment in my soul," Bush said, concluding his speech with a trademark religious touch.

    ... Over the past three months, Rolling Stone has reviewed the MCC's "compacts" with foreign countries, compared the work of similar agencies and spoken with a wide range of supporters and critics -- including many of the conservative insiders responsible for creating the program.

    Instead of hiring aid experts, the administration at first staffed the MCC with conservative ideologues. Rather than partnering with other countries, the White House operated on its own, disconnected from the rest of the world.

    ... Today, four years after the president announced his initiative, the MCC has signed compacts with six countries -- offering only $1.2 billion in assistance.

    In February, Bush released a budget for 2007 that falls another $2 billion short of his pledge, bringing the total aid to less than half of what he promised. And the new budget once again pushes back the goal, stating that the administration "expects" to provide $5 billion annually in 2008.

    Where Else, But Kansas

    (News item: The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 Wednesday to restrict access to sex education courses in public schools, limiting participation only to students whose parents "opt in" by signing an official form. It kind of makes you wonder what's next.)


    PARENTS OF KANSAS:
    Are Your Children Being Exposed
    To Participles And Gerunds?

    As unsettling as this thought may be, the answer is "yes." Unbenownst to their parents, thousands of children who attend public schools in Kansas are actually learning about participles and gerunds -- some of them as early as the 7th or 8th grades!

    If we allow this "cancer" to grow, who knows what's next? Soon, elementary school children might be exposed to sensory verbs. Middle school students might be asked to diagram sentences in full view of other students. And you know what they say: "Children who learn about insubordinate clauses soon become insubordinate."

    We believe that it's up to parents to decide when or if to expose their children to these controversial aspects of English. If you agree, make your voice heard today by contacting Steve Abrams, chairman of the Kansas Board of Education today. Tell him to put control back in the hands of parents by making English an opt-in class.

    Call the Board of Education Now!
    Steve Abrams, Chairman
    Kansas Board of Education
    Phone: (620) 442-7960

    What Would Jesus Throw?

    On a 3-2 count, I suspect the Lord would fire a blazing fastball that clocked in at 100 miles an hour. That's only slightly faster than a Roger Clemens fastball. It turns out that Jesus and Clemens may have a lot in common. From an article in today's Washington Post sports section:
    Asked if there was anything about Clemens that surprised him, after being around him during the [World Baseball Classic], Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said, "He's more like Jesus than I thought. Guys would be talking smack in the clubhouse, and Roger would walk in, and it was like the parting of the Red Sea ..."

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    If Only My Faucet at Home Did That

    The Associated Press reports:
    OSLO, Norway --It almost seemed like a miracle to Haldis Gundersen when she turned on her kitchen faucet this weekend and found the water had turned into beer.

    Two flights down, employees and customers at the Big Tower Bar were horrified when water poured out of the beer taps.

    By an improbable feat of clumsy plumbing, someone at the bar in Kristiandsund, western Norway, had accidentally hooked the beer hoses to the water pipes for Gundersen's apartment.

    Donate Your Spine to Senate Dems .... Call Now!

    In today's Washington Post, Dana Milbank paints a pathetic picture:
    Democratic senators, filing in for their weekly caucus lunch yesterday, looked as if they'd seen a ghost.

    "I haven't read it," demurred Barack Obama (Ill.). "I just don't have enough information," protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). "I really can't right now," John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters ...

    Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

    "Ask her after lunch," offered Clinton's spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.

    In a sense, they were. The cause of so much evasion was S. Res. 398, the resolution proposed Monday by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) calling for the censure of President Bush for his warrantless wiretapping program.
    Senate Democrats are so petrified about appearing to be soft on homeland security that they're literally running away from Feingold's censure motion. Yet they seem unable or unwilling to do anything else to both defend the Constitution and gain the upper-hand on the security issue.

    For example, will Senate Democrats (other than Feingold) ask why the FBI under this administration has wasted investigatory time and energy on the peaceful activities of anti-war protesters instead of monitoring potential terrorist cells?

    The President's Rapidly Falling Approval Ratings

    The cartoonist Pat Oliphant wonders if this explains Bush's plummeting approval ratings.

    G-d's Reggae Star

    He's 26 years old, and he's a Hasidic Jewish reggae vocalist -- three adjectives that have rarely stood side by side. But as Slate.com's Judy Rosen explains, the vocalist Matisyahu must have more than mere novelty working in his favor. After all, his 2005 album spent eight weeks at the top of Billboard's reggae chart.

    There aren't many profiles of vocalists that include sentences like this: "Musically speaking, Jewish reggae is not such a far-fetched idea ..."

    Care to Repeat That, Senator Chambliss?

    Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) recently tried to explain away questions that have been raised by the fact that his son lobbies the very Senate committee that Chambliss chairs. Courtesy of the DCCC Stakeholder, here is a portion of Chambliss' explanation:
    "There are a number of members of this body who have either spouses or children who are lobbyists. My son happens to be a lawyer who does lobbying. And I’m very proud of him. He works hard and does very well. I was a member of the Senate before he made the decision to become a lobbyist."
    Did anything about that explanation seem strange? If you weren't reading carefully, you might have missed it. Here's the sentence in question, again:
    "I was a member of the Senate before [my son] made the decision to become a lobbyist."
    Normally, a House or Senate member who wanted to reassure someone that a family member wasn't cashing in on daddy's position would tell you the opposite. They'd want to be able to say, "I was elected to the Senate after [my son] made the decision to become a lobbyist."

    Unless he misspoke, Chambliss wasn't saying that. Indeed, he's essentially bragging about the fact that his son became a Washington lobbyist after he was elected to the Senate. He's emphasizing the very point that makes his son's lobbying activities so ethically troubling.

    Amazing.

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Are Some GM Foods Greener?

    The research and production of genetically modified (GM) foods has generated a great deal of intense debate. But writing about GM foods in the latest issue of Newsweek, Lee Silver suggests that, sometimes at least, the "G" could stand for green:
    Farm-raised pigs are dirty, smelly animals that get no respect. They're also an environmental hazard. Their manure contains phosphorus, which, when it rains, runs off into lakes and estuaries, depleting oxygen, killing fish, stimulating algae overgrowth and emitting greenhouse gases.

    ... Doing away with the pig is not an option. Pigs provide more dietary protein, more cheaply, to more people than any other animal. Northern Europe still maintains the highest pig-to-human ratio in the world (2-1 in Denmark), but East Asia is catching up.

    During the 1990s, pork production doubled in Vietnam and grew by 70 percent in China—along densely populated coastlines, pig density exceeds 100 animals per square kilometer. The resulting pollution is "threatening fragile coastal marine habitats including mangroves, coral reefs and sea grasses," according to a report released in February by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    As it turns out, there is a solution to the pig problem, but it requires a change of mind-set among environmentalists and the public. Two Canadian scientists have created a pig whose manure doesn't contain very much phosphorus at all. If this variety of pig were adopted widely, it could greatly reduce a major source of pollution.

    But the Enviropig, as they call it, is the product of genetic modification — which is anathema to many Westerners.

    The Enviropig is one of many new technologies that are putting environmentalists and organic-food proponents in a quandary: should they remain categorically opposed to genetically modified (GM) foods even at the expense of the environment?
    Of course, I suspect that many vegetarians would take issue with Silver's line that eliminating pork from the human diet "is not an option."

    But, speaking for myself, an out-and-proud carnivore and ex-Southerner, I'd sure miss my pulled pork barbecue.

    Will Liberals Forget the Lessons of 1998?

    In this column at AlterNet.org, William Goodman, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, contends:
    The groundswell for President Bush's impeachment is growing, and last week the establishment media finally took notice.
    So where's the public "groundswell"?

    Goodman points to a Washington Post column in which Harold Meyerson wrote that the impeachment issue was "all over the blogosphere," was on the minds of union activists, and that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors "has passed an impeachment resolution."

    Okay, I'm sold -- when the SF Board of Supervisors takes a position, you know it reflects what they're thinking in Peoria.

    Goodman also refers to a Wall Street Journal article that focuses on ImpeachPAC and its founder, Bob Fertik. But the article gives no solid evidence of a "groundswell" of public sentiment in support of impeachment.

    The Journal referred to a Zogby poll late last year that had support for impeachment at 51 percent. Not exactly a resounding majority, but somewhat impressive -- until, that is, you dig deeper.

    The Zogby poll tested public support for impeachment "if the president didn't tell the truth about the reasons for the Iraq War ..." That's a big "if." And I say that as someone who personally believes Bush, Cheney and the gang lied. But many of their lies were lies of ommission and deceptive phrases. Proving that they lied is not as simple a task as pro-impeachment groups seem to think.

    The odds are that the public would view an anti-Bush impeachment campaign much like it viewed the anti-Clinton impeachment camapign -- as the most abusive form of partisanship. Let's not forget how Republicans fared in the 1998 elections after having put all of their eggs in the "basket" of impeachment.

    I sympathize with the anger of pro-impeachment groups, but, even if Bush were impeached and removed from office, consider the consequence: Cheney succeeds Bush as president. That's a prospect that I find more horrific than 3 more years of Bush at the helm.

    Liberal activists should heed the lessons of 1998 and abandon their misguided impeachment campaign. Instead, they should devote their energy to identifying thousands of new moderate-to-liberal voters who are receptive to their issues and whose votes this November could be pivotal in ending GOP majorities in state legislatures and/or the U.S. House and Senate.

    Clooney: A Liberal "and Proud of It"

    As a friend on the west coast put it, "Why does it take a movie star to state the truth so plainly?" Courtesy of Arianna Huffington's blog, actor George Clooney not only speaks but embraces the "L" word.

    Bush Reassures, But Reality Begs to Differ

    Within 18 hours after President Bush gave a speech pointing to:
    "... the progress of our efforts to defeat the terrorists and train the Iraqi security forces so they can take the lead in defending their own democracy ... and we saw the fruits of those changes in recent days in Iraq."
    ... news reports shattered Bush's "real progress" rhetoric:
    At least 63 bodies have been found in Baghdad over the last day, authorities said, sparking fears that sectarian reprisal killings are continuing at a grisly pace. Many of the victims were bound and strangled. Others suffered fatal gunshot wounds.

    John McCain's Surprise Cheerleader

    In today's Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus writes:
    John McCain and Trent Lott aren't the strangest of political bedfellows, but the two Republican senators aren't the most obviously compatible couple either ....

    During the 2000 campaign, McCain relentlessly flayed a Lott-backed, Mississippi-based ship as pork barrel spending at its worst; Lott returned the compliment by endorsing George W. Bush over his fellow senator.

    ... So Lott's current labors on behalf of the emerging McCain presidential campaign are telling -- both about the careful political groundwork McCain is laying for 2008 and about the growing unease among party activists that they will lose the White House.

    Behind the scenes -- and quite openly at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here over the weekend -- Lott has been working to burnish the Arizona senator's standing among the Republican faithful who remain skeptical of, or even hostile to, McCain.
    So what's in it for Lott?
    Lott's support for McCain may contain more than a little element of payback and self-interest -- after all, Lott was ousted from his job as majority leader by one of McCain's presidential rivals, Tennessee's Bill Frist, and McCain could help Lott regain a leadership post.
    At least until the next time Lott publicly eulogizes and praises a segregationist presidential candidate. Luckily for Lott, there don't seem to be any more of them who are still living.

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    The Unstated Religious Test

    Christopher Hitchens has written an excellent article in the latest issue of Free Inquiry (unavailable online), voicing the concern that America has turned on its head the Constitution's prohibition of a religious test for public office:
    In all the arguments about (SCOTUS nominees) John Roberts, Harriet Miers and Samuel Alito, one element was consistent. Their religious affiliation was bannered as if it were a guarantee, in and of itself, of integrity.

    ... However, along with this affirmation came a prohibition. It was, said the Right, quite outrageous to ask any further questions about the way in which a confessed allegiance might influence the application of the law.

    Any such inquiry would be construed as anti-Catholic (in the cases of Roberts and Alito) or anti-evangelical (in the case of Miers). Rather than be accused of offending any faith-based "community," the Democrats duly abstained from asking about abortion, creationism, and other salient issues that are well understood to be of doctrinal as well as legal salience.

    Quite a neat trick, when you think about it.

    And now ask yourself what would happen to a nominee for the highest court who, superbly trained, educated, and qualified, announced that he or she had no belief in any deity and thought that an ethical life could be lived without religion.

    It must say quite a lot that we already know the answer to that question.

    Mansfield's Ridiculous Oscar Explanation


    Last week, in the Washington Times' Insider Politics blog, Stephanie Mansfield reviewed the Oscar winners and offered this strange explanation for why "Brokeback Mountain" didn't win Best Picture:
    Teenagers, weary of “gay in your face” 24/7, responded more to the racial tensions and message of “Crash,” truly the best movie of the year, and perhaps in a decade. The ensemble cast — among them Sandra Bullock and Matt Dillon — gave stellar performances.

    Teenagers are why George Clooney won. Why Reese Witherspoon won. The sons and daughters of Academy members simply didn’t think Heath Ledger was deserving. They don’t see the sense of rewarding a repressed homosexual because they have grown up in a society where those men can freely find romance, love and even “marriage.”
    "Crash" was a good movie, but where did she get her intimate knowledge of how the sons and daughters of Academy members think?

    Also, isn't the conservative press constantly telling us that Hollywood is too indulgent of gay and other non-mainstream causes? Suddenly, a columnist at the Washington Times wants us to believe that the sons and daughters of Hollywood insiders don't give a damn about the historical hardships endured by gay people.

    I'm not sure what Mansfield meant when she asserted that these teens -- y'know, the ones who secretly decided the Oscar winners -- don't believe in "rewarding a repressed homosexual because they have grown up in a society where those men can freely find romance ..." The main actors who stood to be rewarded if "Brokeback" had won Best Picture or other major Oscars were Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Neither one is a repressed homosexual.

    Mansfield is incredibly shallow if she believes that teenage moviegoers -- especially those who grow up in moviemaking households -- are incapable of connecting with a character who endures a hardship that is somewhat (but not entirely) dated.

    If you carry Mansfield's argument one step further, would she suggest that no teenager who watched "Mississippi Burning" could sympathize with the African-American characters because blacks don't face this level of hostility today? Such a suggestion would be ludicrous.

    Mansfield praised Phillip Seymur Hoffman’s performance in "Capote" (about the only opinion of hers that I agree with), but she offered this strange from of praise for Hoffman: "The actor never let [Capote's] homosexuality overshadow a brilliant tour de force piece of acting." Unlike the actors in "Brokeback," she seemed to be saying.

    Mansfield doesn't seem to grasp the distinct storylines of these two films. Capote's homosexuality doesn't "overshadow" anything because the film is about his obsession with the brutal murders of a Kansas family of 4, not about Capote's sexual orientation.

    By contrast, "Brokeback" focuses on the homosexual relationship of two cowboys. The dynamics of this secret relationship can't "overshadow" the film because it essentially is the film.

    Based on her column, the only teenager that Mansfield definitely spoke with about "Brokeback" was her 20-year-old son, whom she describes as an avid moviegoer who was disinterested in seeing "Brokeback." At the end of her column, Mansfield offers a strong clue as to what her son's and/or her own disinterest is based on:
    "As a heterosexual, he is blase about the whole fuss (over 'Brokeback Mountain')."
    Of course. As heterosexuals, you couldn't possibly be expected to watch or care about a movie like that. Thanks for clarifying.

    Tell Us What You Really Think

    Gail Norton's announcement that she is stepping down as Secretary of Interior produced a lot of commentary, but none of it was as wonderfully terse as the reaction of Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife. In a news release, Schlickeisen's comment on Norton's departure was:
    "Good riddance."

    But Can't You Blame Somebody for Katrina?

    For many people, religious faith is a vehicle for gaining answers and understanding about their own lives and the world around them. The Rev. Billy Graham has spent decades reading and studying the Bible, but after touring New Orleans recently, Graham was asked by Newsweek magazine "how a loving God could let something like [Katrina's devastation] happen?"

    This was the best answer Graham could offer:
    "Well, I spoke yesterday to [New Orleans]clergy and I asked myself why, and I told them don’t know why. There is no way I can know.

    ... I didn’t mention [the Devil] yesterday, because I don’t think this is the place to talk about Satan and the Devil, because I don’t know. The Devil might have had nothing to do with this; I don’t know. But God has al­lowed it, and there is a purpose that we won’t know maybe for years to come."
    So here's the shorthand. Graham doesn't know why it happened. It could have been the Devil, but whomever or whatever it was, God "has allowed it" for reasons that Graham doesn't know (and probably won't know for many years).

    For those who are used to hearing Graham preach and gaining comfort from his remarks, there is not much comfort in these words.

    I'll give Graham a little bit of credit for simply saying "I don't know." Those three words are rarely heard among his fellow evangelical preachers who often indulge the temptation to supply their own ideologically-tainted explanations -- example: Falwell's pronouncement that God allowed 9/11 to occur because of "abortionists," gays, the ACLU, etc.

    I wish all of the people who spent so much time contemplating the "why" of human tragedies (Katrina, Darfur, the tsunami, etc.) spent just a little more time volunteering or contributing financially to groups that are trying to provide medical care, temporary housing and other basic needs to those who were adversely affected.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Iraq: Drinking the Kool-Aid

    Over the past few weeks, Donald Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials have insisted that the media is allowing pessimism to drive its reporting on Iraq. David Horsey, the cartoonist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has the last word (er, image) ....

    Landmines Aplenty in GOP House Leadership

    The conventional wisdom blames the current disarray within the House GOP leadership on Tom DeLay's decision to give up his leadership post. (DeLay may have been a liar and a scoundrel, but he definitely knew how to corral Republican House members when necessary.) But the challenges that the DeLay-less GOP leadership faces go far beyond the Hammer's departure.

    In a profile on Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, DeLay's replacement as majority leader, CQ Weekly explained the potential collision courses that Boehner faces with his GOP colleagues (subscription only):
    Boehner has made no secret of his desire to succeed his new boss (Hastert) ... so the two are circling each other somewhat warily, with Hastert eager to cement his supremacy and Boehner looking for opportunities to for undercutting that power.

    ... They come from different factions in the House: Hastert was taken under DeLay's wing ... at a time when Boehner was Republican Conference chairman and a DeLay rival in the leadership.

    ... (Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri) represents Boehner's primary rival to become the next Speaker.

    .... As Appropriations chairman, [Rep. Jerry Lewis of Calif.] has the most to lose as Boehner pushes his signature "reform" issue of limiting earmarks in spending bills. Although such curbs would limit his power, Lewis has been open to some restrictions. But he and Boehner have been rivals in the past ...
     
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