The Sideshow

Archive for July 2002

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Wednesday, 31 July 2002

20:51 BST: Permalink

London monthly sf meeting notice: The meeting will not be held at the Jubilee, but at the Silver Cross in Whitehall. Here's the map.

20:40 BST: Permalink
Tim Wilson notes that a bunch of Confederates are getting together for a meeting, and says:

I know it's likely that these "Confederate" folks are going to talk up how they're all about "Southern heritage". They'll try to play their "states' rights" cards. But the fact remains that the right the states who seceeded from The Union were concerned about at the time was the right for their white citizens to own slaves.
Actually, it's worse than that, you know. Those southern states wanted to impose their laws on other states. Like the runaway slave thing: If a slave runs away from a slave-holder to an anti-slavery state, whose laws apply? In the slave state, the slave is property that must be returned, but in the northern state, this person is a human being who can not be property. So if your slave ran away from Tennessee to Wisconsin, and you wanted to go to Wisconsin and claim your "property", you had to violate Wisconsin law to do it. "But," you might say, "in Tennessee this is my property." And Wisconsin could rightly say, "This isn't Tennessee." So the southern slave-holders really hate it when the north welcomes runaways and refuses the return of this "property", and they want the Federal government to intervene to force the north to accept the imposition of the laws of other states. Got it, now? The whole "states' rights" thing is pure scam, and always was.

20:00 BST: Permalink
Atrios has an excerpt from this convocation speech by Keith Olbermann, delivered in 1998 when he was the host of the top-rated show on MSNBC cable. It's really worth reading.

There are days now when my line of work makes me ashamed, makes me depessed, makes me cry. And it occurs to me that this moral sensor has been fine-tuned within the walls of this campus. Forty years ago the great news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow got up in front of the convention of the radio and television news directors and announced that without moral direction all this great medium would become was "wires and lights in a box," and there are days when I wish it would still be even that idealistic.
19:09 BST: Permalink
If Krugman's stuff was impassioned speeches at the end of movies, it would be gratifying, but since it's real life, it's just plain scary. Like yesterday's article, Our Banana Republics:

The other — further revelations about the way dishonest budgeting by former Gov. Christie Whitman crippled the state's finances — has dire implications for all of the state's eight million people, who face the prospect of higher taxes on their houses, more potholes in their roads, fewer teachers in their children's classrooms and worse medical care for their parents. This story received no national coverage at all.

Experts already knew that the Whitman administration had used creative accounting to justify a series of tax cuts. Last year New Jersey Policy Perspective, a local think tank, released a study of fiscal policies in the 1990's titled "Take the Money and Run." Among other things, the state stopped contributing to its pension funds. This made the budget look a lot better, but created a financial hole. In an attempt to fill that hole Governor Whitman violated the basic principles of pension funds by having them engage in stock arbitrage, borrowing money to speculate on the market.

Now the state's taxpayers must make up for an investment loss of $22 billion, most of a year's tax receipts. But don't cry for New Jersey; Mrs. Whitman wasn't alone in her misbehavior.

For one thing, many corporations with pension plans used a similar trick to inflate their bottom lines. As the current issue of Business Week explains, the pension time bomb involves large numbers; I'd say it's the equivalent of at least 50 WorldComs.

Furthermore, Mrs. Whitman's policies were by no means the worst among the states. That honor may fall to Tennessee, though Alabama, where a cash crunch stopped all jury trials for awhile, may run a close second.

The fact is that in recent years many states have been run like banana republics. Responsibility gave way to political opportunism, and in some cases to mob rule. When Tennessee considered a tax increase last year, legislators were intimidated by a riot stirred up by radio talk-show hosts. Only when lack of cash forced the governor to lay off half the work force did the state, which has the second-lowest per capita taxes in the country, face up to reality.

The only reason Tennessee doesn't look like Argentina right now is that it isn't a sovereign nation; since the federal budget was in good shape until recently, there's a safety net. And the federal budget was in pretty good shape because the Clinton administration, unlike state governments, behaved responsibly. Budget projections were honest — if anything, too cautious — and boom-year surpluses were used to reduce debt.

But the responsibility era is over. Even as state governments face up to the consequences of cooked books in the 1990's, the Bush administration is following in their footsteps.

See how bad it is? It's not that long ago that Krugman would have done anything to avoid crediting "the Clinton administration" for the health of the economy - he would have made sure to say it was Greenspan. But that option is gone now that Greenspan has proven to be only as good as the administration he serves.

00:06 BST: Permalink
Bartcop links to a Jimmy Breslin story about how conservatives defend your free speech:

Dr. Susan Block's Los Angeles sex therapy show, "Sex for Wisdom," has been censored week after week on a TV station owned by the Rigas family's Adelphia Communications. The Rigases say they are good and she is bad. Yesterday, Susan Block watched the glorious sight on television of the whole Rigas family walking around in handcuffs.

"Why, we had a show on handcuffs two weeks ago, and they wouldn't run it," Susan Block said. She said to her assistant, David Brando, "Do you think they understand bondage now?"
The stock market people are so dizzy that they said all day yesterday that the prices were going up, up, up because of the pictures of the Rigases in irons.

Susan Block thinks that the Rigases belong in prison for something far more important than massive theft: censorship. She has a half-hour show that has been on community-access cable stations in Los Angeles since 1992. She has discussions, then visuals. "I like wild sex in an interesting historical context," she says. She likes Professor Mark Gordon, who lectures on the erotic world of sex before the Nazis took over Berlin.

A year and a half ago, Susan Block says, she had porn star Teri Weigel and her husband on for their 14th wedding anniversary. "They had wild sex."

This was before the Rigases took over. The general manager of the stations was Bill Rosendahl. He was a Los Angeles liberal. He looked at cassettes of the 22-minute Dr. Susan Block shows when they were turned in and always said, "Fine." When they turned in the show with porn star Cumisha, who walked on the set and immediately took off all clothes, Rosendahl said, "great."

Then the Rigases bought all available Los Angeles cable. Rosendahl immediately sent the cassettes to the new owners in Coudersport, Pa. The Rigas family viewed the shows and sent them back to Rosendahl with notes.

"We can't run a show like this," Rosendahl, liberal no more, told Susan Block.

"What's the matter with them?"

"The Rigases said these shouldn't be seen by American families. I agree."

Susan Block wrote on the Internet, "The cable company is based in a tiny backwater town called Coudersport, which, according to a New York paper, is the next possible home of the Aryan nation. John Rigas and Sons rule the town like a Greek mafia, surrounded by lawyers. They tried to force their morals on every place that had their stations. The only morals they did not try to force on us was their quaint notion of what to do with other peoples' money. Steal it."

The Rigases then had a rule for Dr. Block shows. She could say anything but could not show images. When she talked about the body and started to show images, the screen went black.

Susan Block began to write in big white letters on the black, "This is what censorship looks like."

It is against all law for some small-town bum like Rigas to censor anything, but he went ahead and did it and Susan Block had no fortune to fight him with.

Tuesday, 30 July 2002

23:08 BST: Permalink

Music News

I can't help myself: *snicker*

Springsteen reviewed:

"The Rising" is loaded with melodic, high-octane arena-ready songs: hard rockers, evangelical anthems and tender ballads that ought to sound right at home among his classic material, which is the best news of all.
20:09 BST: Permalink
Rittenhouse Review has found a truly offensive article by Michael Novak and taken it apart. I guess, unlike us wild, unvirtuous libbies, Novak didn't grow up learning songs about the roads that never saw sun nor sky:

Rumble of rock and the walls closed round
Living and the dead men two miles down.

Eight days passed and some were rescued
Leaving the dead to lie alone
All their lives they dug their graves
Two miles of earth for a markin' stone.

In the town of Springhill you don't sleep easy
Often the earth will tremble and roll
When the earth is restless miners die
Bone and blood is the price of coal.

17:45 BST: Permalink
Once upon a time, the Democratic Party right wing actually wore sheets. Most of them have since bolted to the Republican Party, and good riddance, but ever since the GOP lured them away with their Southern Strategy we've been handicapped by a group of people who insist that the way to win elections is to abandon the rest of the Democratic program as well. The Nation has a good article by Robert L. Borosage up about this bunch, The DLC Comes to Manhattan. Here are some greatly abridged highlights:

1. At a time when the public thinks big business has too much influence in Washington, the DLC's mission is to increase the influence of business in the Democratic Party.

2. New Democrats joined with conservative Republicans in contributing to the current mess. DLC icon Senator Joe Lieberman and other New Dems joined with Gingrich and Republicans to pass securities "reform," a centerpiece of Gingrich's Contract With America, over President Clinton's veto. The measure, which the DLC touts to this day, made it harder for shareholders to hold executives and accountants liable for misleading reports. Clinton is surely right to now point to this measure as contributing directly to the current scandals.

New Democrats in the House and Senate, led by the ethically challenged former New Dem co-chair Representative Jim Moran, worked with Republicans to frustrate Arthur Levitt, Clinton's chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, in Levitt's attempt to ban auditors from doing consulting for the companies they audit. As Clinton notes, this led directly to the Enron scandals, in which auditors had every incentive to ignore shady off-the-books maneuvers.

And Lieberman, the DLC's favored candidate for President, made the fight against honest accounting of executive stock options his personal mission. Honest accounting, urged by such "radicals" like Alan Greenspan and Warren Buffett, would have tempered the abuse of stock options; as things stood, executives had a multimillion-dollar incentive to cook the books in the short term so they could cash out. Lieberman continues to block efforts for this reform to this day, but now claims, in his best Claude Raines imitation, to be shocked that stock options have been abused, and haven't been used to redistribute wealth, as he thought.

3. New Dems joined with Republicans in diluting efforts to clean up the current mess. New Dems in the House offered bipartisan support for the Republican accounting reform bill that was certified as harmless by the accountants' lobby.

4. Led by Senator John Breaux, New Democrats have helped to block a real prescription-drug benefit for seniors.

5. The DLC champions privatization of Social Security as a centerpiece of its program for the new century.

6. The DLC trumpets the corporate trade agenda, scorning efforts to build environmental and worker rights protections into trade accords.

Since the DLC is infamous for taking credit for every victory and blaming others for every defeat, its leaders are not likely to admit that they've been wrong.

Never mind their policies, what is most loathsome about the DLC is their contribution to Republican spin. These are the nominal Democrats who provide the "bipartisanship" for far right Republican programs that repels the Democratic rank and file. They are the ones who insist that Gore "lost" because he was "too left wing" - notice that even Lieberman uses phrases (not just once) that suggest Gore actually lost the election, and did so because of his policy prescriptions. They do everything they can to blur the distinction between the two parties, and they have disproportionate sway over the direction that the Democratic Party takes in both its rhetoric and its mistreatment of liberals.

Since Nixon's victory in 1968, the conventional party wisdom has been that the Democrats lost because they were "liberal" and had to repudiate pretty much all of liberalism if we wanted to win elections. The result has been a pull to the right that has alienated many of the party's core supporters. Jimmy Carter's victory was taken as proof of this: the first presidential candidate to declare himself a born-again Christian, Carter nevertheless was able to win support from Democrats solely because everyone was so sick of the Republicans and wanted to punish Ford for pardoning Nixon. But Democrats disliked Carter's conservatism and their fire dimmed long before the rabbit jokes started and the Iranian hostage crisis began to drag on; he couldn't bring Democrats back to the polls, and in 1980 Reagan was able to win the presidency.

This has, obviously, been a disaster for Democrats, especially where the White House is concerned. Dems were not helped when our candidates showed up weak on the personality scale - Dukakis' wimpy response to the death penalty question in the debates is probably what killed him; not his position, but his lack of fire. But there were signs that reality was peeking through when Clinton, despite his visible social liberalism, was allowed to win the party's nomination. I think it's pretty obvious that the social liberalism Clinton displayed had a great deal to do with what made Democrats willing to support him in spite of his conservatism - he looked a lot more like "one of us", and he wasted no words on trying to prove he was more virtuous than the rest of us. He was, unlike his Republican opponents, a normal guy from humble roots who did ordinary things like sharing a home with his family. This was in stark contrast to people like Reagan and Dole, who preached "family values" but cheated on their wives and eventually dumped them and their children.

But the party left was never entirely comfortable with Clinton's DLC credentials and by his second campaign was more than a little unhappy with his illiberal caving-in to the Republicans on civil liberties issues. He had charisma, and he had Carville, but he, too, had a tendency to give the DLC wisdom far too much credence. It was DLC types in both the party and the press who seem to have convinced him, after all, to make what must have been the biggest political mistake of his presidency: to dignify questions about Monica Lewinsky with a response.

Joe Lieberman, one of the more self-deluding characters in the party, was also its greatest weakness over the last few years. Aside from being a major shill for the worst corporatists, he was doing everything he could to prove that he was no free-loving, rock'n'rolling '60s liberal. Lieberman can share the credit for all those Democratic votes that went to Nader. His attack on Clinton during the Lewinsky mess disgusted liberals, as did his constant harping on the evils of Hollywood and his blatant religious bigotry. Republican attacks on Clinton's morals clearly energized many Democrats to come out for their party, but those were the very people Lieberman was sneering at. Every time he opened his mouth he alienated more young voters - voters who happen to enjoy popular culture and many of whom actually do believe in free expression. His greatest moment of triumph was stupidly buying RNC spin about counting the ballots in Florida - on national television - thus setting the scene for illegal absentee ballots to be counted in Republican counties only. You don't often hear it said in public, but it's true: The worst mistake Gore made in the 2000 campaign wasn't his "swing to the left", it was Joe Lieberman, who still apparently believes that it's social conservatism and corporate sucking-up that brings out the Democratic vote. He probably thinks the conservative elements of Clinton's program were the only reason anyone voted for him, and that Gore won all those votes not because he was to the left of Bush, but because he didn't get caught sleeping with the wrong woman.

What really saved Clinton's electoral bacon, as we all know, was Ross Perot, who drew the attentions - and the votes - of people who really did want to see America's checkbook balance. Ironically, Clinton delivered this in a way Republicans have clearly been uninterested in doing, but many Republicans nevertheless see Clinton's victories at the polls as "illegitimate" because they believe that the combined Perot-Bush and Perot-Dole votes really represent Republican majorities. This would make sense if the Republicans were still the party of fiscal responsibility, but as long as they claim Reagan as a hero president, this won't wash - it was precisely Reagan's fiscal irresponsibility that made Perot seem so attractive to his Republican supporters. Bush2, who promised even more thriftlessness, could hardly be their standard-bearer.

But Democrats, by and large, were voting for the up-beat, blue-jeaned liberal who used a Fleetwood Mac tune as his theme song; while the Republicans desperately clawed for a return to a dead and hated past, Clinton's campaign said, "Don't stop thinkin' about the future." Even Gore was stronger in this respect than Bush - he loves the Grateful Dead and the Beatles, and his wife plays on Zappa records. But with Lieberman egging him on, Gore let that aspect of his background be down-played.

Back in the present, the DLC hates Al Gore because he took a "swing to the left" at the Democratic convention. (Of course, Lieberman and the rest also hate the fact that if Gore stands again, he is likely to get the nomination they all want so bad.) They refuse to acknowledge that he also jumped in the polls and was headed for a landslide as a result of that swing - that he, in fact, won the election with more votes than any Democrat has ever received, and did so despite the pull from the left from Nader and the libels against him in the press. They are the source of much of the anti-Gore spin that has permeated the air since 2000. They are not going to give a break to someone who is more liberal than Gore. If they are giving nice spin to someone who right now seems more liberal, you can be sure they either aren't so liberal or that they are being groomed for the (harmless) VP place on the ticket - they aren't going to allow anyone to be the nominee unless they believe he is one of them.

02:41 BST: Permalink
I followed a link from Atrios to this article on the Left Behind series and was irritated to see that they are such record-breaking best sellers. It's not that they're best sellers that I mind, but that they are outselling all other novels.

Something must be done. I've been wracking my brains for an appropriate series that could and should replace it, and I think I have it: Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. They're well-written, they've got heart and humor, and there are lots of them. If you're short of time, I liked the first two a lot but The Last Continent is the one to skip, and don't miss Small Gods, The Truth, and Thief of Time.

Monday, 29 July 2002

19:35 BST: Permalink

I didn't send it, Guv.

I've just had a couple of e-mails from nice people - one of whom I have never corresponded with and whose address isn't in my address book - warning me that I allegedly have a virus. A couple of error messages of the "your mail has been rejected because it has a virus" type have also come in showing headers allegedly from me - and clearly not from anywhere near my machine. (They're from ".kr" - is that Korea?) These infected e-mails were mostly addressed to other bloggers, most of whom I do recognize (and the ones I recognize are mostly liberal/Dem types), and unsurprisingly contain these terrifying characters in the header:

X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express
I wouldn't be caught dead using Outlook Express, or any other mail client that automatically encodes/decodes mail. I'm all ascii, all the time. I normally assume that anything that tells me it's a MIME message is spam. Ditto HTML mail. Real people don't use that stuff in e-mail, do they?

Clarification (01:53 Tuesday): I wasn't asking a question; I know that some viruses are designed to exploit OE's default settings and send mail out from a victim's address book - but OE has never been installed on my machine and my mail reader doesn't have those weaknesses. (That's why I am so snide about Outlook Express.) I also know that some people are nasty enough to send viruses to people deliberately, using someone else's address. Stay with me now: The headers in the bounced versions of this mail supposedly from me actually show an envelope from and were sent with Outlook Express - in other words, it could not have come from me.

16:35 BST: Permalink
An article in yesterday's Washington Post points out once again that abstinence-only sex education leaves much to be desired:

While helping young people delay sexual intercourse is a laudable goal, this ideologically driven grant is based on unproven public health interventions. It stipulates that programs it funds must teach young people that sexual activity outside of marriage can have "harmful psychological and physical effects" and that "a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity."

Less than one quarter of D.C. households consist of married heterosexuals; less than 20 percent have children. Yet the federal government apparently thinks that the remaining majority of people in the District ought to be celibate, and the city apparently has agreed in its grab at the carrot of federal funding.

The most egregious thing about the grant is that the programs it funds are not permitted to discuss contraception -- including condoms -- other than to point out their failure rate. A score of the most popular abstinence-grants programs nationwide even undermine condom use by claiming that condoms fail one out of six times -- despite mountains of studies showing that, when used consistently and correctly, condoms are more than 90 percent effective in protecting against pregnancy and HIV infection.

That "more than 90 percent" is a bit of an understatement. Programs that provide good information and positive encouragement to trust condoms usually have effectiveness statistics as good or better than the textbook stats for the effectiveness of The Pill in preventing conception. Of course, The Pill itself does better still in that kind of program, but the point is that condoms are pretty damned reliable if used properly and consistently. (Use them every time - and I do mean every time - and never, ever use an oil-based lubricant, and they pretty much always work.)

Hey, this is a drum I will beat every chance I get: Good, comprehensive sex education works to reduce STDs and unwanted pregnancies. It's really not an accident that the US has higher rates than Europe does - and, despite what you may have heard, European young people do not start having sex as early as American teenagers. Abstinence-only programs are not sex education, they are anti-sex education, and they are a very bad idea.

14:28 BST: Permalink
Paul Krassner has details on his site about the "suppressed" Homer Simpson intro to his album, complete with streaming audio.

12:18 BST: Permalink
Buzzflash interviewed Joe Conason, and asked about what I still regard as what should have been the biggest scandal of the Whitewater investigation:

BuzzFlash: We've talked with Gene Lyons and David Brock, and want to talk with you, about one of the little details that gets lost in the memory of the average person. There are probably only a few hundred people in the U.S. that can recall this, but it's in your book and David Brock's book. We're talking about the moment when former Senator Faircloth of North Carolina and Jesse Helms met with David Sentelle.
As one of the few hundred people who have never forgotten it, let me heartily recommend you read this interview.

10:00 BST: Permalink
My thanks to Chris Bertram for the tip-off to the URL for my letter in response to the porn article he cited last month.

And also thanks to Lenny Bailes, who provided an uncomfortable but effective solution to the offline browsing problem. What I don't understand is why I needed one in the first place - I hadn't changed any settings to make it stop doing what it was doing before. But hey, that's Windows.

Sunday, 28 July 2002

19:24 BST: Permalink


Nathan Newman notes that I praised ACLU but omitted to mention National Lawyers Guild, and he's right, I should have. I also should have mentioned Feminists for Free Expression, who were instrumental in killing the federal version of the Dworkin-MacKinnon anti-porn legislation.

Nathan is also discussing an article in The Economist about the failure of the telecoms, thanks to competition.

From Ray Davis at Bellona Times:

Twenty years ago I encountered Academia and ran away squealing like a libertarian.

But now I return.

What brought me back? One goal. One goal I have in mind. One monochromatic battle of darkness against light. I hate that stupid fight.

For I will never rest until an end's been put to high-resolution bitmaps and our cultural heritage has been saved by eight-color grayscale GIFs (or until I reach early retirement, whichever comes first). For every effin' U. teaches its baggy-jeaned tots and cane-wielding toddlers that strict two-color black-&-white is how digital archiving must be done, thus destroying all they digitally archive, and the U.s do more digital archiving than anyone, for they have much to destroy.

Rittenhouse Review has been culling links again (but I'm still there!) on the grounds that some of the crackpots listed were just making the page take too long to load. This is a position with which I thoroughly sympathize. However, I was a bit concerned by this paragraph:

And yet, the links continue to include numerous conservative publications and columnists, the latter group including, among others, Pat Buchanan, Linda Chavez, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, Michelle Malkin, William Safire (though hanging by a thread), and George Will.
I realize that the man who is known to the Media Horse as "William Safliar" can be a crackpot, too, but frankly I can't see why he alone is "hanging on by a thread" when George F. Will isn't. There have been plenty of times when Safire was the sole dissenter from right-wing spin-of-the-week, and Will really doesn't measure up.

Ethel the Blog is less than flattering toward a couple of well-known names:

That we even have to test for the moribundity of "Wired" each month is due to their endless techno-stock hyper-hyping, their large monthly "toys for boys" sections that come off as not much more than Maxim without the tits, and their apparent contractual obligation to write at least one worshipful profile of George Gilder per year, with this year's model also appearing in this issue. Gilder is perhaps known best among those who aren't techno-droids as the author of Wealth and Poverty, a paean to Reagan-era trickle-down economics that still inspires tumescent approbation amongst a certain crowd. The most entertaining, and perhaps unwittingly correct, quotation from Gilder in the article is one he uttered about Global Crossing a few years ago, "It will change the world economy."
Diane E. has posted an old Andrew Sullivan article that, if he had any integrity, would embarrass him, but then if he had any integrity this stuff wouldn't happen in the first place. And she says:

Sullivan doesn't care about principle, it's just sucking up to power that he cares about. It's a Daddy Complex thing. Or maybe the Cinderella Complex thing.

Or...maybe we should put a new entry in the DSM for a whole new psychological complex: The Sullivan Complex, which characterizes guys with PMS (paralyzed masculinity syndrome) that need a Big Strong Man to suck up to.

Diane also reminds me that it's time to post my monthly reminder that I'm not British (I only live here), I'm not male, and yes, Avedon is my first name.

I love these: "Knickers in a twist." "Panties in a bunch." And now this one from T.C. Mits:

It seems that the Family Policy Network has it's undies all up in a bundle over the Summer Reading Program for incomming freshmen and transfers at the University of North Carolina.
This is, of course, about the controversy over the presence of a book about Islam on the UNC summer reading list. I'm rather amused by the idea that it's offensive to "force" students to read about things they may not like. When I was in school, I had to learn about Nazis, and no one asked me if I liked them. As a matter of fact, I didn't like Nazis at all. (Quick quiz: The school I went to was run by (a) Nazis (b) Jews. Don't think too hard, it's not a trick question.) In college I had to read about the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Harry Anslinger, and union busting, and I didn't like them, either. It would have been pretty stupid to be offended that my teachers were trying to educate me.

TCM also finds a neat little quote from last Monday's Crossfire:

BEGALA: Just goes to show you, the Republicans were right: They all said if I voted for Gore, we'd have an idiot in the White House, the deficit would return, the stock market would collapse and the economy would tank. Well, I did vote for Gore and we did -- well, you get it.
Feoreg went to see the Farnborough Air Show, and Charlie stayed home:

The afternoon continued much like any other summer weekend afternoon, until I turned on the TV at about 5pm to check the news headlines. I was half hoping to see some footage of the air show. What I saw instead was horrific: a Sukhoi-27 fighter ploughing into a mass of spectators and exploding in a fireball! The news presenter intoned portentiously: "seventy-eight die and over a hundred are injured in one of the worst ever disasters at an air show, when a Sukhoi fighter jet crashes into the crowd." (At this point I was hyperventillating and feeling faint.) She continued: "the air show, in the Ukraine --"
17:05 BST: Permalink
Vicki Rosenzweig prevented me from missing this piece by Molly Ivins about one of my favorite hobby-horses:

Bob McChesney, the media critic and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, sums it up nicely: "The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was one of the most important of the last 50 years. It was also the most corrupt and undemocratic bill of the time: It was of, by and for special interests. Most of the congresspeople who voted for it didn't even know what they were voting on."

He understates. The bill actually was written by industry lobbyists, each of the several components of telecom snarling at one another like wolves over a piece of meat as they ripped up 70 years' worth of regulatory experience. The wolves united once the bill hit the floor to push it through. We few, we happy few, who raised Cain about it at the time had it condescendingly explained to us that the magic of the marketplace would take care of all our doubts.

Here's what the magic has done in just one area:

Before President Reagan, a radio company could own 12 stations nationally and no more than two in any one market. After the first round of de-reg in the '80s, that was changed to no more than 28 nationally and no more than four in one market. The '96 law changed that to as many as you could acquire nationally and eight in one market. The result, we were told, would be increased competition. Sure.

Since then, almost two-thirds of American radio stations have been bought, always by ever-larger entities. Clear Channel owns 1,200 stations nationally, and two or three companies own almost all of them. In all the major cities, we are down to a duopoly or triopoly in radio.

Same thing with the phone companies. Whenever big companies start talking about how something will provide better products and services because it will increase competition, it's always time to worry, because competition is the last thing they want.

Now connect the dag-nabbit, bobberty-doggin' dots here. This is not a business scandal. WorldCom is not just a corporate failure. This is about government. The government of this country has been bought by campaign contributions from corporate special interests. This is about the nexus between big corporations and government, the American keiretsu, the Establishment.

From Washington we hear nothing but petty, provincial yapping over whether this hurts the R's or the D's. The R's blame it all on Bill Clinton; the D's blame it all on the greedhead Republican Congress. But this is about much more than the next election, or the one after that.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. Because if we don't, it's going to get worse. The FCC is now chaired by the anti-regulation Michael Powell, who is determined to do for newspapers and television what has already been done to radio and cable.

01:45 BST: Permalink
Housekeeping & tech junk

1. Yes, yes, I somehow typed "Senate" when I meant to say "Congress" in the headline below (now fixed). How embarrassing. Thanks to all the nice people who wrote to tell me that I'm a dimwit wake me up.

2. Over the last several years I've become pretty dependant on our household's really ace sysadmin/tech support guy, but last week he disappeared forever in a puff of smoke and the next day I came in and found my whole back-up system had exploded and I don't know what to do with it. What do you know about Retrospect and the HP SureStore 5000?

3. And IE is still driving me crazy. I don't know why it suddenly stopped letting me browse offline, but it did, a few months ago, and it's a real inconvenience. The really annoying thing is that when I try to explain to other people what's wrong, they think I mean something else that I could only mean if I were completely unfamiliar with using IE. They say things like, "Did you try setting it to Work Offline from the File menu?" Well, of course, I don't have to "try" it since I've been doing it for years - in fact, if I don't set it to Work Offline before I go offline, IE will keep trying to dial out again even if I'm not touching the keyboard. I'm not trying to get it to do something new I creatively thought up, I'm just trying to get it to do what it always did before. The point is, IE behaves as if my cache is empty, even though I only closed the page I'm looking for mere minutes ago and it's still in the History. I think it's automatically deleting stuff, but I don't know why. As near as I can tell, this is an undocumented bug, and maybe re-installing Windows would fix it, but I'm just not ready to jump into that right now without a net. (Yes, I've reinstalled Windows before with no problem, but I always knew there was someone to hold my hand immediately if something went wrong, and I'm nervous that way. Right now I feel like an orphan.)

4. And I just broke one of my favorite coffee mugs. It's been a bad week.

Saturday, 27 July 2002

17:55 BST: Permalink

It is hard to pick the stupidest part of this Charles Krauthammer article about how liberals are stupid...

To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.

For the first side of this equation, I need no sources. As a conservative, I can confidently attest that whatever else my colleagues might disagree about -- Bosnia, John McCain, precisely how many orphans we're prepared to throw into the snow so the rich can have their tax cuts -- we all agree that liberals are stupid.

We mean this, of course, in the nicest way. Liberals tend to be nice, and they believe -- here is where they go stupid -- that most everybody else is nice too. Deep down, that is. Sure, you've got your multiple felon and your occasional war criminal, but they're undoubtedly depraved 'cause they're deprived. If only we could get social conditions right -- eliminate poverty, teach anger management, restore the ozone, arrest John Ashcroft -- everyone would be holding hands smiley-faced, rocking back and forth to "We Shall Overcome."

Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything.

Liberals suffer incurably from naivete, the stupidity of the good heart. Who else but that oracle of American liberalism, the New York Times, could run the puzzled headline: "Crime Keeps On Falling, but Prisons Keep On Filling." But? How about this wild theory: If you lock up the criminals, crime declines.

Accordingly, the conservative attitude toward liberals is one of compassionate condescension. Liberals are not quite as reciprocally charitable. It is natural. They think conservatives are mean. How can conservatives believe in the things they do -- self-reliance, self-discipline, competition, military power -- without being soulless? How to understand the conservative desire to actually abolish welfare, if it is not to punish the poor? The argument that it would increase self-reliance and thus ultimately reduce poverty is dismissed as meanness rationalized -- or as Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) put it more colorfully in a recent House debate on welfare reform, "a cold-blooded grab for another pound of flesh from the demonized welfare mothers."

...but this is surely a contender:

Liberals, who have no head (see above), believe that conservatives have no heart. When Republicans unexpectedly took control of the House of Representatives in 1994, conventional wisdom immediately attributed this disturbance in the balance of the cosmos to the vote of the "angry white male" (an invention unsupported by the three polls that actually asked about anger and found three-quarters of white males not angry.)
Huh. Even if we accept Krauthammer's suggestion that "liberals" invented the idea of the "angry white male", is 25% of men a small fraction of the population? Certainly not for voting purposes. It is probably a larger group than the much-valued "swing-voters" who are alleged to decide elections.

The "angry white male" was thus a legend, but a necessary one. It was unimaginable that conservatives could be given power by any sentiment less base than anger, the selfish fury of the former top dog -- the white male -- forced to accommodate the aspirations of women, minorities and sundry upstarts.
Notice how Krauthammer confuses "the conventional wisdom" with "liberals". The alleged "wisdom" was coming from some members of the media - that would be the same media, by the way, that never permitted the Clinton administration the traditional "honeymoon" period and almost instantly started writing about the failed Clinton presidency and how deeply hated this particular president was. After a lifetime in which the deep antipathy liberals felt toward the likes of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush - presidents who had committed real crimes - had not been considered worthy of mention in The Newspapers of Record, liberals were stunned that this kind of thing was being written about a new president. We were being told with remarkable frequency what a useless, irrelevant, degenerate, cynical and dishonest man Clinton was. There were even articles helpfully pointing to Internet gathering places for Clinton-haters; this subject alone probably received more ink in the first years of Clinton's presidency than the entirety of left-wing publications had garnered from the mainstream media in the previous two decades. Yet Krauthammer thinks that journalists who went out of their way to talk about the hate movement against "Slick Willie" and his conniving lawyer of a wife can be confused with "liberals".

Can it be that Krauthammer is stupid enough to have missed this? Plenty of conservatives overtly (and sometimes violently) express their belief that liberals are evil rather than stupid. The idea that the Clintons and their liberal minions were smart, sneaky, cleaver bastards and bitches who were intentionally doing evil was closer to the surface than any left-liberal criticism of Republicans had ever been without a few hundred thousand people at least having to march on Washington to manage to get a headline out of it. The Clintons didn't even have to do anything to generate stories about how evil and hated they were.

What is not discussed in Krauthammer's article is the fact that liberals distinguish between some conservatives and others - people who really thought Bush would live up to his campaign promises to give raises to military personnel, or not to drive us into deficits, or not to hurt Social Security, are miles away from the Republican leaders who pretended to believe those things but who intended all along to turn their back on those promises the moment Bush was in office. Just as people who sang "God Bless America" last year with tears welling in their eyes and sincere grief and love in their hearts are miles away from White House spin-masters who try to pretend that cuts in the capital gains tax are necessary to America's national defense against terrorism. And libertarians who thought liberals were the biggest threat to civil liberties are very different indeed from the Republican leaders who exploited that belief while doing everything they could to promote the War on Some Drugs, the seizure laws, the attack on habeas corpus, censorship, and so on.

Yes, conservatives like Krauthammer no doubt think liberals are stupid because we believe that human beings are capable of being more than thugs, pirates, and murderers. But that doesn't blind us to the fact that plenty of conservatives are lazy, greedy, nasty, and stupid. We realize that some are smart enough to get rich and powerful but not decent enough to do so with even a modicum of integrity, and we also realize that many decent conservatives are, well, self-deluding and/or just plain dupes. Frankly, I can think of no other explanation for the fact that some people can still say with a straight face that Al Gore was trying to "steal the election" by trying to get all the ballots counted. What kind of mind could create such spin, and how much of a dupe do you have to be to believe it?

05:34 BST: Permalink
Liberalism seen in Congress!

It just shows you how preoccupied I have been all week that I missed this amazing news from Elton Beard:

Rep. Barney Frank, defender of states rights. No, really. Representative Barney Franks (D - MA) has introduced H. R. 1344 (PDF), the well-named States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act.
And then he provides an update:

No rush. The States' Rights bill noted below was actually introduced last year, and has since been superceded by H. R. 2592 to boot (oops). As of this writing, that legislation has 37 cosponsors (with the most recent sponsor having been added 06/05/2002) of which 33 are Democrats, 1 is an Independent and 3 are Republicans.
Well, it was news to me, too. And, you know, I bet I'm not the only one. Gee, I wonder why the Republican leadership forgot to attack all those wild, drug-fiend liberals this time? (Okay, I'm lying; I don't wonder at all.)

Elton also notes that the CNN quick poll shows 90% support for the bill.

03:00 BST: Permalink
Ted Barlow has reposted a fine analysis of some of the reasons to oppose the GOP's Social Security privatization plan. Good stuff.

02:30 BST: Permalink
A couple from Gene Lyons:

Fuzzy Math Revisited

One lonely dissenter was New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "Mr. Bush has made an important political discovery," he wrote. "Really big misstatements, it turns out, cannot be effectively challenged, because voters can't believe that a man who seems so likable would do that sort of thing." Indeed, happy throngs of Bush supporters echoed his imbecile taunt of "fuzzy math."
Orwell's Example
A more subtle controversialist than Kelly (although who isn't?), Appleyard even goes so far as to concede that America and Americans have been known to make mistakes before demanding to know "whose side are you really on?" Put that way, of course, there's only one conceivable answer: not Osama bin Laden's. But that's not the end of the discussion. It's the beginning. The real message of Orwell's work, as well as of his heroic personal example, is that intellectual integrity is more far crucial to an embattled democracy than orthodoxy. Without vigorous dissent, there's no creative thinking. Honest people can change their minds; demagogic bullies, alas, almost never do.
(That second one is via Tapped, and it's worth reading their entry, too.)

Friday, 26 July 2002

15:10 BST: Permalink

Robert Scheer is sloppy, but so is Spinsanity's Ben Fritz:

The lead, for instance, implies that the time Cheney has spent at secure locations following September 11 has actually been an attempt to avoid political scrutiny. "Vice President Dick Cheney," Scheer writes, "has spent most of the past year in hiding, ostensibly from terrorists, but increasingly it seems obvious that it is Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the media and the public he fears." The accusation that Cheney was hiding from the SEC before its investigation of Halliburton was revealed is, of course, ludicrous. And, more generally, Scheer is using an irrelevant fact to set up Cheney as defensive and vulnerable.
Does the quoted sentence say he was hiding only from the SEC for the last year? What about all the other questions Cheney has been refusing to answer since the early days of this administration? This, after all, is the guy who has even refused to answer questions from the GAO about his secret energy policy meetings, not to mention the questions from media and the public. You remember way back in February when John Dean was wondering why Cheney was so busy looking like he had something to hide? And that was only in the latest round of a game that had been going on since well before 9/11. Cheney has in fact been hiding things for a very long time, even before Haliburton became flavor of the month.

14:11 BST: Permalink
Online Media

Moose & Squirrel tipped me off to this Brian Wilson concert (free registration).

And here's a patriotic Flash animation.

Thursday, 25 July 2002

16:30 BST: Permalink

The American Prospect has posted an article by Richard Just about both the death penalty and the importance of taking your case to the grass roots before you go to court, Natural Causes:

Atkins v. Virginia and Ring v. Arizona -- the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions restricting who can receive the death penalty and who can impose it -- are important for all sorts of reasons, but none quite as central as the fact that the rulings themselves aren't so important at all. At least not in the sense of importance that most Americans generally attach to Supreme Court rulings: These were not daring thunderbolts of judicial intervention aimed from on high, but rather decisions dictated, in many ways, from below. To be sure, for members of the anti-death-penalty movement, Atkins and Ring are confirmation from the top of the legal system that things are moving slowly in their direction. But evidence of such progress has been playing out in the court of public opinion for quite some time. Atkins and Ring -- which, respectively, ban the execution of the mentally retarded and stipulate that only juries, not judges, can impose the death penalty -- were merely symptoms that something in the politics of capital punishment has been changing in America. And perhaps still is.
I can remember the days when something like half of all Americans opposed the death penalty. In those days, people believed in rehabilitation, so it didn't seem as crazy. It was also understood that a justice system based largely on revenge didn't really meet our requirements.

Understand this: people can be rehabilitated, and are all the time - even the most vicious, violent people can be helped. Whenever someone sets up a small, experimental program to rehabilitate violent people - kids or adults - the results are astonishingly good. And then buried. Because there seem to be a lot of people who have a stake in making people think that rehabilitation can't work, that virtually every single person in prison is genuinely a hopeless case.

Prison rehabilitation programs, while far from perfect, used to at least hold out some hope. Most of them weren't very good, but at least we didn't assume that someone was lost forever as soon as they went inside. And plenty of people have recovered their lives, or built new and better ones, after time in prison.

Somewhere along the way complaints about the haphazard and sometimes half-hearted implementation of rehab programs turned into a meme that "rehabilitation doesn't work". I've heard this even from people who seem like they should know better. Yes, a lot of people, including me, have pointed out that many rehabilitation programs are virtually useless, but that doesn't mean all rehab programs are useless. Good faith implementation of well-designed rehabilitation programs still works. The problem is that, increasingly, the programs were poorly designed or undertaken in bad faith. Some programs seemed designed to fail, others looked to have been sabotaged. (And what on Earth did they think they were doing at Vacaville with that weird program that turned out "Colonel Cinque" and his big plan to create the Symbionese Liberation Army?)

Over the last 20 or 30 years, we've created a world that is bereft of forgiveness. We write people off the first chance we get, and we do our best to make sure they never recover from a mistake for which they are caught. It's not simply that we don't believe they can recover, but we don't want them to - we resent the idea that someone can do something horrible but then go on to repent and become a productive member of society. We want them to suffer forever.

It's not that I don't have any sympathy with this view - truthfully, I have a lot of trouble finding any forgiveness in my heart for murderers. Certainly, when I was raped, I wanted to kill the guy the most violent way I could think of (none of this due process stuff), possibly involving the use of my teeth. I think that kind of anger is normal. But, the thing is, I don't think you can have a civilized society if you let that kind of thinking drive your laws. Those emotions are raw, crazy - natural, but wholly destructive.

If we choose those emotions as our driving force, we choose barbarism. We have to be better than that.

15:40 BST: Permalink
Two items worth looking at over at Consortium News:

An Agnew-Nixon Solution?
It is growing obvious to many Americans – from Wall Street to Main Street – that George W. Bush is not up to the awesome job of the presidency of the United States. Though his united-we-stand poll numbers remain high, there can be little dispute that his 18 months in office have been among the most disastrous in U.S. history.

From Bush’s swearing-in despite losing the national popular vote, through the first act of war on the U.S. mainland in modern times, to the shattered confidence in U.S. securities markets and the resurgence of the national debt, the slide has been steep and seemingly unstoppable. In particular, Bush appears clue-less what to do about the economy.

Still, no one seems willing to ask two relevant questions: What further damage can the nation expect over the next 30 months of Bush’s term? And is there a constitutional way to spare the country that experience by easing Bush out of office, especially given that a plurality of American voters wanted Al Gore in the White House, not Bush?

Just asking the questions might help focus the thinking of Bush's economic advisers and give them a fresh incentive to review some of their faltering policies.

Twice as Bad as Hoover
George W. Bush is shattering records for the worst first 18 months in office for a U.S. president as measured by the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500. In his first year-and-a-half in the White House, Bush presided over a 36.9 percent decline, almost twice the percentage drop of Herbert Hoover, the president who led the nation into the Depression.
05:10 BST: Permalink
I should have gone to Jim Henley's site first before posting about the Steve Earle thing, and he's since added more on the subject.

Now he's talking about liberal weblogs and wondering when we are going to field our version of Instapundit - someone who posts frequently the way Glenn Reynolds does. (It's not going to be me, I'm telling you right now.)

I suppose the combination of Blogspot's recent problems and the fact that Jim, who is also not on Blogspot, mentioned me favorably Monday has something to do with my having reached a new high in hits for the last couple-few days. (Still not the kind of numbers you write home about, folks.) Jim was referring to my having made a defense of civil liberties against Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett's current round of attacks, even though I'm not a Tory, thus proving that liberals can, indeed, do such things. (Don't kid yourself that Tories do it all that often, Jim.)

Well, I'm not a Labour supporter either, I must point out. And though on some days I'm a sort of welfare anarchist, on most days I'm just basically a member of that group of people who understands that the criticisms of libertarianism and the criticisms of socialism are both right; that is, I'm a liberal. And the thing about us dyed-in-the-wool liberals, see, is that we just hate having big, powerful institutions breathing down our necks.

Now, Jim alludes to why a lot of people in the libertarian camp don't think of this as a liberal thing:

It's worth noting that at the last DC blogfest, a genuinely nice fellow who consults for the Republican Liberty Caucus told me that there is simply no commitment to liberty by liberals any more at all. Avedon Carol is an entirely sufficient refutation of his claim.

This is why libertarians make a mistake if they put all their eggs in the Republican basket. It is true that Bill Clinton's administration was a disaster for civil liberties and property rights. Republicans opposed Clinton on some of this because they were out of the White House. It made sense for libertarians to support them in those efforts. (Even though they fucked up the Waco hearings bigtime and the Ruby Ridge hearings were saved by the intervention of much-despised Patrick Leahy, a Democrat.)

Many people make the mistake of thinking that because civil liberties were encroached during the Clinton administration, it was Clinton, and Democrats, who were the party of attacking civil liberties. I kept running into this meme on Usenet - principally in alt.censorship - and wondering where people got that idea, since the Republicans had been attacking civil liberties all along and in fact a lot of this rubbish really took off during Republican administrations. This was most notable on the subject of censorship - I have previously referred to the way the Republicans managed to support the Computer Decency Act while giving the impression that it was purely a Democratic bill (even though, in the end, more Democrats than Republicans actually voted against it. Not a lot of Democrats, mind you, but not one single House Republican voted against it, and only one Republican Senator did - and then he co-sponsored CDA II). It did take me a while to twig that there were actually a whole lot of people out there who were all in favor of civil liberties and apparently unaware that some of the same "liberals" they hated had been the most ardent defenders of civil liberties for the last 40 years - usually in opposition to programs that had far more support from Republicans.

A lot of these young "conservatives" seem to have come to political awareness during the Clinton administration and not noticed all that history. Or that, for example, the commission that was put together specifically to try to find an excuse to ban pornography was the Meese Commission, under Ronald Reagan, and it was pretty overwhelmingly stocked with Republican social conservatives. Nor had they noticed that the attempt to impose the so-called "feminist" Dworkin-Mackinnon anti-porn ordinance in Indianapolis was organized entirely by Republicans, including Phyllis Schlafley - it passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats uniformly opposed, and it was liberals, including local feminist activists (who hadn't been notified about the hearings in the first place), who finally got the thing overturned. Similarly, the federal version of the bill died when several NOW chapters raised public objections to it. But libertarians seemed convinced that Republicans were the party of free speech.

And then there's the American Civil Liberties Union, a hot-bed of liberals (yes, really) who are regularly trashed by the Republicans for having liberal ideas like defending your Constitutional rights in court. Michael Dukakis was attacked and derided for being a "card-carrying member" of the ACLU (which did not, in those days, have cards, but as a result of this they had to start issuing them because people kept asking for them) - part of that whole liberal, permissive, rights-loving, trouble-making clique on the left, you know. Yes, my friends, as recently as 1988, the Republicans were openly saying, as a major part of a presidential campaign, that there was something wrong with caring about your civil liberties.

Then along came Clinton, and suddenly civil liberties were important! Yet, at the same time, the ACLU was still bad, because they didn't seem to defend the 2nd Amendment as hard as they did other rights. Buncha liberals, you see.

Say what you will about their position on gun-control, it's interesting that the ACLU was attacked so vociferously by Republicans - and not just for their weak support of the right to bear arms. We were and are still being told that the ACLU is bad because they "want to remove God from schools", or because they want to "coddle criminals" by defending your Miranda rights, or because they defend (*gasp!*) pornography. They protect your rights because they are liberals.

Real, fiery liberals, alas, make the Democratic leadership nervous, so we don't much hear from them through the party these days. We make the Democratic leadership nervous because the Republicans always attack us for our card-carrying liberal views, so they want us to shut up. The Democratic leadership is pretty conservative, anyway, so this isn't terribly surprising. Aside from that, if we criticize the government's abuse of our Constitutional rights these days, we are "anti-American". (Jim, why do you hate America?)

But the notoriously liberal ACLU was and still is the organization that does the most to defend your civil liberties, and the Republicans have smeared them eight ways from Tuesday and continue to do so. The libertarians point to their 2nd Amendment stand and think that's reason enough to dislike them, but I can't agree (and anyway, I think the gun control movement will sink once we get rid of the War on Some Drugs, against which the ACLU has been campaigning all along).

Just remember: The Republican leadership and their flea pack didn't attack Clinton for harming civil liberties, they attacked him for stupid things like having possibly inhaled, for getting blow-jobs, and for having a wife named Rodham. Everything else, they pretty much made up, but they never really went after him on civil liberties - that subject barely made a dent in the public discourse. This was perhaps the most infuriating thing about the way the Republicans went after Clinton: They forced liberals to defend him, because they were attacking him for being a liberal.

Well, damn, I wrote all that and was about to post it when I noticed that Brad DeLong said it all much better and shorter already. But then he kinda took it all back and said:

But the truth is, Maguire's right. The civil liberties-loving political left is being cowardly. So if the TIPS program does not become part of our daily life, I and the rest of the country will owe a profound debt of gratitude to... I can't say it... it's just too much... it won't come out... to... to... Dick Armey and company.
Actually, I bet if journalists bothered to phone up the ACLU and other civil liberties-loving lefties, the papers would suddenly be full of the words of outraged liberals in defense of your Constitutional rights. What does it mean that they can only be bothered to quote Dick Armey, hm?

Wednesday, 24 July 2002

18:33 BST: Permalink

Tapped finds another example of the hereditary disease of Bushitis, previously seen in such frightening examples as his father's infamous, "Message: I care." Well, at least Bush2 added an object to his sentence:

SHADES OF POPPY, AGAIN. Ignore all the other things Bush said yesterday in his speech about the accounting bill. Focus on the things he's saying that people will remember, to his detriment.
Bush has been quick to express sympathy for people who are suffering financially in what his aides say is an effort to avoid one of the mistakes of his father, President George H.W. Bush. For instance, President Bush said his biggest concern about Sunday's record bankruptcy filing by WorldCom Inc. is the effect on the employees. "I worry that people will lose work," he said.
That's the best he can do? "I worry that people will lose work"? Way to go, buddy.
Tapped made another good point Monday in response to Andrew Sullivan's claim that Howell Raines is "hyper-liberal" because he doesn't like Bush. Well, sure, if it's particularly conservative to like a stupid, ignorant, lazy, incompetent manager, and even want one to be president.

It's a funny thing: Most of the people I associate with who call themselves "conservatives" would almost certainly despise Bush if they had to be around him. Of course, my conservative associates are pretty smart people who feel a certain responsibility to honor their commitments, so I don't think they'd appreciate having to put up with a towel-snapping ignoramus in their midst who delivers noogies and sneers at people who like to read; even less would they enjoy having to work for such a man while he alternates being on vacation with giving contradictory orders and changing policies every five minutes so that no one can ever do their own work with any confidence that they'll get anywhere with it. And I'm sure if their CEO produced the kind of crocodile tears exemplified by the quote above, there'd be a lot of bitter laughter around the water-cooler over it.

I used to know a guy who was a little bit like Bush when I was in college. He wasn't a towel-snapper and he wasn't as mean, but he obviously didn't much like to read. He skated on his good looks rather than his father's wealth, and yes, he was a cheerleader (who once complained that people just didn't appreciate the hard work he put into holding those girls up). At least he wasn't a politician, so he was free to be sincere, and I can't really say that Bush reminds me of him - Bush is neither pretty enough nor nice enough to remind me of this guy. But when he was losing an argument, he would resort to personal insults and be unaware that all he'd really accomplished was to lose the respect of people in his audience who might otherwise have sympathized with him. He was one of those people who had real trouble understanding when he was being asked a hypothetical question, and who also thought it was very important to show that he was too good. So, in an argument in class, when a woman was trying to explain why it's hard to know how to respond to men who hit on you in public places, and she said, "Suppose you see me sitting in there and you walk up and make a pass at me -" he instantly had to interject, "I wouldn't make a pass at you." That kind of thing (which is almost as bad as what Bush does with reporters who are just doing their jobs). And yet, he was obviously trying to understand things, obviously being genuine, so we all cut him a little slack. He was, after all, pretty harmless. But as far as I can tell, not one person in that class, regardless of their politics, their looks, or their intellectual interests, had any real respect for that guy. I'm sure none of them would have voted for him for president.

During the 2000 campaign one of the weird conversations that turned up in the media was the "Who would you rather sit next to on an airplane?" question. The answer was supposed to be that you'd sure rather be sitting next to Bush than Gore, 'cause he'd be more fun to talk to. But is that really true? Would you want a seat-mate who delivers noogies and gives you a stupid nickname? I know I wouldn't, and I bet most of my conservative friends and associates would feel the same way. I think I would rather have been talking to Al Gore, maybe about things he's supported that I don't agree with - because, at least, he might understand what I was saying - and no noogies.

Now, here's the thing: To most overt liberals, Al Gore isn't really liberal; he's what used to be known as a conservative, but without the racism. So there's nothing at all liberal about liking Al Gore; you might like him personally and disagree with his politics, or you might support him for partisan rather than policy reasons, but it's not about liberalism per se, since none of the two major parties' candidates in the 2000 race were liberals. Meanwhile, a conservative might very much like Gore precisely because he's, well, conservative, and dislike Bush because his policies are fiscally irresponsible and his actions and statements often blatantly embrace unconstitutionality. Disliking Bush because he is a lying, incompetent embarrassment is obviously non-partisan and has nothing to do with one's political philosophy. The only reason to like Bush is if you really, really think that bankrupting the government and removing even the most prudent restrictions from both the criminal justice system and the business sector are really cool ideas.

Ah, but those are conservative positions, I hear some of you say. And, indeed, they are exactly the things liberals have long opposed conservatives for. On the other hand, they are also the things that Clinton was criticized for - even by conservatives.

So we have this question: If conservatives hated Clinton for his violations of civil liberties, shouldn't they hate Bush even more? If conservatives didn't trust the Clintons because they didn't produce a file instantly, shouldn't they distrust Bush-Cheney, who simply refuse to produce any information at all, even more? If conservatives advocate fiscal responsibility, shouldn't Bush horrify them?

See, as a liberal, I disliked Clinton's violations of civil liberties, so as a liberal, I dislike Bush even more. But when it comes to bankrupting the treasury, my conservatism kicks in, so now I actually have conservative reasons to dislike Bush. Libertarians, of course, have been known to indulge fantasies of how emptying the treasury stops the government from spending on stupid programs like the War on Some Drugs (yeah, right), so I guess they don't need to hate him for that, but they could at least have the decency to really hate his administration's continued commitment to the War on Some Drugs - and stop pretending that the Attorney General serves at the pleasure of someone other than his president.

14:41 BST: Permalink
Neil A. Lewis in The New York Times says Ashcroft's Terrorism Policies Dismay Some Conservatives:

WASHINGTON, July 23 - Many religious conservatives who were most instrumental in pressing President Bush to appoint John Ashcroft as attorney general now say they have become deeply troubled by his actions as the leading public figure in the law enforcement drive against terrorism.

Their dismay comes as several Bush advisers have begun complaining that Mr. Ashcroft, with his lifelong politician's fondness for attention, has projected himself too often and too forcefully. More significantly, they say privately that he seems to be overstating the evidence of terrorist threats.

Most striking, however, is how some conservatives who were Mr. Ashcroft's biggest promoters for his cabinet appointment after he lost his re-election to the Senate in 2000 have lost enthusiasm. They cite his anti-terrorist positions as enhancing the kind of government power that they instinctively oppose.

"His religious base is now quite troubled by what he's done," said Grover Norquist, a conservative strategist and president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Mr. Norquist, who holds regular lunches with a cross-section of conservative leaders and is influential with White House and Congressional Republicans, said, "If there hadn't been this big-government problem, Ashcroft would have been talked about as the Bush successor. Instead, the talk is that `too bad we pushed for him.'"

Ken Connor, the president of the Family Research Council, said that while he still applauded Mr. Ashcroft's stands on abortion and child pornography, he and many other religious leaders were dismayed by the changes instituted at the Justice Department.

"It's important that we conservatives maintain a high degree of vigilance," Mr. Connor said. "We need to ask ourselves the question, How would our groups fare under these new rules?"

Well, it's nice to know that conservatives have noticed there's something wrong with Ashcroft, but the oddest thing about this article is the number of people who seem so surprised that a man whose Senate career was full of examples of his contempt for Constitutional rights and even common sense has somehow, mysteriously evolved into an Attorney General who shows contempt for Constitutional rights and even common sense. Like this well-known gentleman:

Senator Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania and a former Judiciary Committee colleague, put it this way: "There are several positions that Attorney General Ashcroft has taken that Senator Ashcroft would vehemently oppose."
Oh, really? Which ones? Did Senator Specter ever look at any of the legislation Ashcroft proposed while he was in Congress? He holds the record for introducing awful new Constitutional amendments, he writes laws that explicitly forbid speech that is incontestably protected, he is hostile to almost every individual right save gun ownership.

Some people entertain the fantasy that Ashcroft's current program of destroying our rights and protections is a reaction to 9/11, but of course there's little in his post-9/11 campaign that he hadn't proposed before. 9/11 was just his opportunity to do what was unacceptable before.

Tuesday, 23 July 2002

06:20 BST: Permalink

Max has a guest poster sitting in who is doing some interesting stuff. Here's a taste:

Let me restate the above as a question: does the perennial poverty debate and its restricted scope serve to foreclose political contestation of the uncontestable core value of work? Rather than strengthening the so-called work ethic, such political pornography offers a surrogate -- an ersatz work ethic, a smugly accusatory they-don't-want-to-work ethic.
06:10 BST: Permalink
In a series of little-noticed executive orders intended to ease the tax burden on corporate America, the Bush administration has implemented a number of new policies that will provide corporations with billions of dollars in tax relief without the consent of Congress.
06:00 BST: Permalink
Alex Frantz's prediction comes true:

[Andrew Sullivan's] abstention from frantic attacks on the New York Times lasted for exactly 36 hours, 26 minutes, and 14 seconds - and for exactly 0 full length posts, as I predicted. At 2:00 am today, Andrew's first full length post since his pledge to abstain from swingin' at the Raines was released to an eager world, containing 6 items: 3 attacks on the Times, 2 criticisms of conservative critics of homosexuality, and a quick mention of Osama Bin Laden.

Personally, I blame Andrew's early relapse on Bill Clinton. Ever since he lied about that blow job, the helpless Beltway media has been unable to refrain from lies, half-truths, and generally asinine conduct. Granted, this started 20-odd years ago before most of them had ever heard of Bill Clinton, but he may very well have been getting blow jobs back then too, so it's still his fault.

03:00 BST: Permalink
Teresa Nielsen Hayden has some interesting thoughts on conservative Christopher Caldwell's new insight into how good our corporate "presidency" is looking:

It's painful watching a conservative inching toward that realization. Spare a kind thought for conservatives and their ideals: Not because they hold them, but because they believe their leadership holds them too. They get seduced and abandoned oftener than a babe who has nowhere to go when the bar shuts down.
She sure has a way with 'em, don't she? And there's more!

It's as though the guys who are running things are reading the Wall Street Journal, but what they're feeding the voters is the Weekly World News . They get us all exercised about fluoridated drinking water or politically correct nomenclature or whatever the flavor of the month is, and there's a lot of sound, fury, and general fizzing about it; but when it's over, nothing has changed. Meanwhile, while we we're distracted by this nonsense, the people who're supposed to be our public servants are selling us out to the special interests for bribes, campaign contributions, and other considerations. The officials who do the selling make a good thing of it. The outfits that do the buying then turn around and gouge almost unimaginable sums out of the economic life of the republic.

Up at that end of the business, nominal party affiliation doesn't matter. They talk about free enterprise, or at any rate some of them do; and they all talk about democracy. But they don't believe in it for a minute. They belong to a club. You're not a member of it and you never will be.

02:50 BST: Permalink
Music News

George Harrison was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. Eric Idle made the speech:

When they told me they were going to induct my friend George Harrison into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame posthumously: my first thought was - I bet he won't show up.
(Thanks, Patrick.)

On the more stupid side of the road, Steve Earle (who Patrick also turned me on to a while back) is now being attacked by the right-wingers for a song on Jerusalem written from the viewpoint of John Walker Lindh. Glenn Reynolds actually thinks this is not nuts. Matt Welch disagrees. And Atrios has never heard of Steve Earle, but thinks the argument is silly on its face:

As for this statement "If Anyone Still Thinks that no one on the Left identifies with every enemy of America..." Well, I'm sure there are people who identify themselves as Left, Right, Center, and Martian who have just about every opinion imaginable. But, we all knew that.
Meanwhile, the smart person might go to Earle's site and read what he has to say about Jerusalem rather than taking other people's word for it.

Monday, 22 July 2002

23:29 BST: Permalink

I suppose it is inevitable that I'm sitting here with my eyes tearing up while listening to Beach Boys music - mostly stuff from Pet Sounds, which contains some of the most beautiful love songs ever. This is at least partly inspired by having watched a special on Brian Wilson and his little band the other night on BBC2. Which, eventually, made me think about something. A couple-few weeks ago I read this interview in The Guardian in which for the thousandth time someone talked about how poor old Brian obviously did too many drugs:

The next 45 minutes are the most excruciating I have experienced in 20 years of interviewing. The mystery is that I'd read of numerous encounters with him before my own, yet nothing had adequately prepared me for the extent to which he has been so clearly damaged by his nervous breakdowns and years of mental illness, exacerbated by his use of hallucinogenic drugs and the subsequent doses of prescribed medication he must rely on merely to function.
At least that paragraph implies that he wasn't just an addled ex-acid head, but it wasn't until I watched the TV special that I realized how often I've heard how Brian Wilson was just a casualty of '60s drug culture. That was it - it was the drugs, folks, the damn pot and LSD and all that. And it wasn't until the other night that I understood that the big freak-out, when he suddenly started living in bed for three years, didn't just follow a lot of drug use, but came on the heels of one very significant betrayal: His father had sold all of Brian's songs, without even telling him.

Man, that'd sure knock the wind out of my sails.

22:35 BST: Permalink
I missed this letter in the NYT but Bartcop quoted it from a correspondent over the weekend:

To the Editor:

Re "Court That Ruled on Pledge Often Runs Afoul of Justices" (front page, June 30), about the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit:

In the calendar year 2001, the Ninth Circuit terminated 10,372 cases, and was reversed in 14, with a correction rate of 1.35 per thousand. The Fourth Circuit, reputedly the most conservative circuit and the circuit with the second-largest number of cases reviewed by the Supreme Court, terminated 5,078 cases and was reversed in 7, making a correction rate of 1.38 per thousand.

U.S. Circuit Judge, 9th Circuit
San Francisco, July 1, 2002

So much for the 9th Circuit having the record for reversals.

Sunday, 21 July 2002

23:45 BST: Permalink

What is happening on his head?

Oooh, I wish I knew, I wish I knew.

(Thanks, Max).

20:20 BST: Permalink
Not much like justice

This kind of thing worries me.

Under plans unveiled last week in the Criminal Justice White Paper, courts will for the first time be allowed to study evidence in serious crimes not only of previous convictions but behaviour patterns shown up by acquittals. For example, a man who has been repeatedly accused and acquitted of date rape may see former witnesses recalled in a later case.
You can see the problem. On the one hand, there are guys walking around with 15 or more acquittals for rape - you just know they're guilty, but justice demands that each case be tried on its own merits, so you can't bring those prior indictments up in court.

But the trouble with being able to mention them in court is more than just that they prejudice the jury, although they do that as well. The big trouble with this, as with suspension of the double-jeopardy rule, is that it encourages the criminal justice system to do sloppy and corrupt work. If the cops and prosecutors don't have to prove their cases, it encourages them to bring up charges without evidence because they know that if they keep doing it, the fact of their own repeated (potentially false) accusations becomes "evidence".

The cops and courts already use sleazy tactics to punish people who they know have done nothing wrong. They make big splashy raids on people that generate headlines about, say, the bust-up of a major child porn ring, with the names and pictures of the accused (and pictures of their homes, and their addresses, and the names of their employers), on evidence so flimsy that most anyone in the country could be found to have the same "evidence" around the house - but they're really after the victim because he's gay, or is an activist who has annoyed someone powerful. Exoneration never gets the same kind of headlines. A single sex crime charge can itself completely disrupt your home and career, and that's bad enough, but imagine - after all that damage has been done - finally winning an acquittal only to learn that as far as your record is concerned, it's not much different from having been found guilty. And they can keep doing it over and over until some jury thinks they've seen a preponderance of evidence of a "pattern" of illegal behavior.

It all seems so obvious that it should go without saying, but that's the problem - when we go without saying these things, people forget them. It's not good enough to use vague phrases like "civil liberties" when addressing problems like this; it's got to be spelled out, over and over again, so that each generation learns it anew and has no opportunity to forget or believe it's been superceded by "modern" ideas.

13:00 BST: Permalink

Here's an old picture of me.

Here's an interesting article about Carol Gilligan and "difference feminism".

Here's a new blog called In Arguendo.

Which leads me to the blogroll issue. I'm stingy about links because I know the more I add, the fewer hits go to what's already there. I've added enough now that I had to find some way to break them up, but I couldn't really decide who should and shouldn't be counted as VLWC. If you think you should be elevated, do let me know. Please don't write and ask me to trade links - I don't do trades, I have a special magic formula that no one but me knows.

And this one won't go on the list at right, but it's being added to the FAC links and I thought you might like to have a look: the Free Expression Policy Project site, which has, among other things, a letter from my pal Marjorie Heins to the AMA in response to their announcement about how research proves that violent media causes violence. (Research does no such thing.)

Friday, 19 July 2002

15:12 BST: Permalink

In their latest entry fact-checking Ann Coulter, Tapped quotes this astonishing paragraph from her book:

[T]he press maintained radio silence on stories embarrassing to Gore. For example, … Al Gore couldn't pick George Washington out of a lineup. In a highly publicized stop at Monticello during Clinton's 1993 inaugural festivities, Gore pointed to carvings of Washington and Benjamin Franklin and asked the curator: 'Who are these guys?' He was surrounded by reporters and TV cameras when he said it. Only one newspaper, USA Today, reported the incident.
Tapped points out that in fact dozens of papers carried the story (and that Ann misquotes Gore). What Tapped failed to point out was what really underscores just how wrong Annie is on how well the press treated Gore: As usual, the story itself is not true. But it was never corrected and Coulter still believes it. Gore did say, "Who are these people?" However, he wasn't referring to the images of Franklin and Washington, but to some actual walking, talking strangers who had entered the room.

14:30 BST: Permalink
The news from the eye hospital is that it's not macular degeneration and there's a chance I'll recover the central vision in my right eye. Or not. But I don't need either one to see that John Ashcroft still needs to be removed from office. Hell, even Richard Cohen can see what's wrong with the man he calls Spotlight John:

I couldn't care less that John Walker Lindh, agreeing to a plea bargain, is going to get 20 years in jail for fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He's just a screwed-up young man, that's for sure, but the jails are full of such types and, mostly, I feel no sympathy for them. I have only one regret in this case. Lindh's attorneys should have bargained for John Ashcroft's resignation as attorney general.

A trial also might have revealed that Lindh was mistreated by Americans after his capture. He was turned over to U.S. troops Dec. 1. He had been shot in the thigh. On Dec. 7, Lindh was transferred to a Marine base outside Kandahar, where he was questioned by the FBI, and on Dec. 14, he was moved to the Peleliu, a U.S. ship in the Arabian Sea. It was only there, two weeks after his capture, that the bullet was removed.

In all likelihood, Lindh would have lost a jury trial and been sentenced to life in prison. He was, after all, an armed enemy soldier. But much of the rest of what Ashcroft said about him -- not to mention the fact that Spotlight John chose to make almost every significant announcement about the case himself -- amounted to an exaggeration. Just about the only time Ashcroft chose to keep his mouth shut was when the plea bargain was announced. For once, the AG was not in makeup.

For Ashcroft, this is beginning to look like a pattern. First comes the hype and then comes the disappearing act. It was Ashcroft who announced from Moscow that someone named Jose Padilla had been arrested on the suspicion that he was involved in a plot to explode a dirty bomb. The attorney general said the United States had "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot" that could have caused "mass death and injury."
Ashcroft is a hype artist who, when it suits him, plays fast and loose with the truth. It's impossible to scan his schedule of public appearances and not wonder whether he is angling to return to the Senate from where he was ousted by Mel Carnahan, who died shortly before the election and whose wife, Jean, was named his successor. Just for the record, Ashcroft handled what had to be a tough loss with grace.

As is often the case with conservatives who decry big government and Washington interference, Ashcroft makes an exception for himself. Not only does he drop in like Batman whenever his PR people tell him evil is lurking, but he has reached down from his perch at the Justice Department to overrule local prosecutors in death penalty cases. The Supreme Court and various state governors may be having qualms about capital punishment, but not the AG. Twelve times he has ordered sappy U.S. attorneys to seek the max even though they, the vaunted local officials most familiar with the cases, decided otherwise.

Thursday, 18 July 2002

14:30 BST: Permalink

Chris Bertram is more restrained than I am on the subject of David Blunkett's latest bombshell. If anyone wonders why British writers are so scathing whenever the US government lowers the bar on civil liberties, this is why: It is almost guaranteed to lower the bar worldwide, and especially here. You just wouldn't believe how often I hear, "Even the Americans are doing it," as a dismissal of civil libertarian complaints. Hey, if they can do it in The Land Of The Free, they can do it anywhere.

Chris enumerates the rights Blunkett is violating further and notes that some of it has been done before:

1. Right to trial by jury. Arguably very important. But if the principle is not breached for summary trials involving penalties of up to six months it is hard to see how extending the period to a year does constitute such a breach. Not so "fundamental" that Conservative governments have supported it all circumstances: the "Diplock Courts" in Northern Ireland are the obvious exception.

2. Innocence until proven guilty. This is not only a long-standing principle of English law but is also guaranteed by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But it does admit of exceptions, notably where an act is generally prohibited but permissible to certain authorised persons (such as permit holders). There it is permissible to make the defendant prove that they were in fact authorised to act as they did. I don't know whether the matters Lilley refers to fall under this description, if not they are liable to fall foul of the Convention.

3. Habeas corpus. Important, but abandoned by British governments in time of war and civil emergency. Instances of abandonment include the recent detention of foreign Al-Quaida suspects and internment in Northern Ireland (arguably the British government's biggest single mistake in N. Ireland policy).

4. Double jeopardy. I can't think of any actual or theoretically justifiable exceptions here.

I've been saying for years that David Blunkett is a creep. For a long time I was the only one saying it, because most people are too wimpy to come right out and call a blind man on these things, but every time he turned up in the news it was for saying something reprehensible. Well, now do you believe me? (And I'm not just saying that because I'm waiting for my ride to the eye hospital.)

01:12 BST: Permalink
I love Brad DeLong's reaction to Mickey Kaus' latest fantasy about welfare reform:

Yes, People Should Make Sure Someone Edits Their Weblog

Does Mickey Kaus really think that Wanda Dunn, 37 year-old African-American Stone Mountain web designer, would be on AFDC if not for the mid-1990s welfare reform?

Miscegenation, By Mickey Kaus

...the increase in black women dating white men.... Why the shift?... [I]sn't there another possible factor, something that happened in, say, the mid-90s, something like ...(the suspense must be killing you) ... welfare reform?... when you're working the virtues of pooling your income with a male earner are now far more obvious than in the days when that could cost you your AFDC check. If there aren't enough "marriageable" black men around... then women expand their "options," as one African-American Web designer puts it: "I'm not going to sit on a porch in a rocking chair, all alone at 80 years old because of color," says Wanda Dunn, a 37-year-old Stone Mountain Web designer...

01:00 BST: Permalink
It's funny, the author of this piece in The Economist seems to have bought a lot of the Campaign 2000 spin - the whole "reinvention" thing, the idea that his make-up turned voters off, etc. - but there's one that didn't sell: the idea that Gore "lost" because of his swing to the left:

AL GORE won dismal reviews for his decision to reinvent himself, in the middle of the last presidential campaign, as a people-versus-the-powerful populist. Didn't Mr Gore realise, his critics argued, that he was squandering his greatest asset, the fact that he had been vice-president during the longest boom in American history? Didn't he realise that a man who inherited his father's Senate seat wasn't a very convincing champion of the oppressed? And didn't he understand that all he needed to do to win was to present himself as Clinton without the sleaze?

Some of these charges may still ring true, but the statistics have never confirmed the theory that Mr Gore's populism was suicidal. After all, he won more votes than Bill Clinton ever managed (51m compared with 47m). And remember that his speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which he first revealed his new religion to the public at large, put him ahead of Mr Bush in the opinion polls for at least a month. Whatever the merits of running as a populist during a boom, Mr Gore's campaign is now looking more far-sighted by the day. Even the briefest reading of the press cuttings produces some choice quotations. Mr Gore gave warning that his rival was being bankrolled by "a new generation of special-interest power-brokers who would like nothing better than a pliant president who would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits"; that these special interests were determined to "pry open more loopholes in the tax code"; and that "when powerful interests try to take advantage of the American people, it's often other businesses that are hurt in the process." The people who would benefit from Mr Gore reining in the corrupt moguls would be "the small- and medium-sized companies that are playing by the rules and earning profits the old-fashioned way."
Why are Democrats so reluctant to praise their former champion? Many are still nervous about populism. They worry about reviving their party's reputation for business-bashing, a reputation that Mr Clinton spent a decade expunging. And they think that Mr Gore's brand of populism is exactly the sort that the party needs to avoid: a populism of the heart rather than the head, of grand rhetoric rather than concrete proposals, of sabre rattling rather than scalpel precision. You can search his campaign speeches in vain for ideas about accounting reform and outside directors—and that is certainly not because of any aversion on Mr Gore's part to tedious detail.

The other reason for the silence is an intense power struggle within the Democratic Party. Many of the party's biggest names are quietly positioning themselves for a run for the White House in 2004. People who see themselves as potential presidents, such as Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate, and Dick Gephardt, the minority leader of the House, can hardly be expected to trumpet Mr Gore's achievements as a fortune-teller. John Edwards, a photogenic senator from North Carolina, and Russ Feingold, an inveterate campaign-finance reformer, are both busy developing their own brands of populism.

I still think Gore is the best and most electable candidate the Democratic party has at the moment. Since I know they're never going to nominate anyone I really love, I don't have a problem with that. The only thing Gore's done lately that really worried me is that he talked about strategy. Talking about strategy is a dumb idea, and one that seems to have infected the whole damn party leadership. I want all the Democrats to stop talking about their own strategies right now.

00:50 BST: Permalink
Now here's a guy who really knows how to take lemons and make lemonade out of 'em:

BERLIN (Reuters) - Forget palm-reading. A blind German psychic claims he can read people's futures by feeling their naked buttocks.

Clairvoyant Ulf Buck, 39, claims that people's backsides have lines like those on the palm of the hand, which can be read to reveal much about their character and destiny.

"The bottom is much more intense -- it has a much stronger power of expression than the hand in my experience," Buck told Reuters on Tuesday. "It goes on developing throughout your life."

By running his fingers along a number of lines on the surface of a client's posterior, he says he can tell them about their future monetary success, family life, health and happiness.

It's too bad he's not American - he's got all the makings of a Republican presidential candidate.

00:37 BST: Permalink
A question I've always liked is, Where are those Americans who supposedly back Bush?

A recent column in The Washington Post by prime pundit David Broder suggests, perhaps for the first time in the mainstream media, that Americans may be developing some serious doubts about the Bush administration’s "War on Terrorism."

The response I generally hear is, "Well, duh!" For quite a while, folks have been complaining that they don't understand the high poll ratings for Bush’s policies because no one they know supports them.

An associate reports from Kansas City that he made a sign saying, "Bush is lying about 9-11!!" and stood in the city center displaying it to passing traffic. He says, "In three hours, I was only flipped off once; 90 percent of the those who acknowledged me were cheering and honking and saying, 'I knew it all along.'"

At first I thought, "Sure, you're a lefty activist in Oregon, who else do you talk to?" but then I got to that third paragraph and thought, "Really? KC?"

Is it a scam the press is pulling? Like that game the Daily Mail plays where they pretend to speak for everyone, and then everyone thinks they're the only one who disagrees? Maybe it's true.

Wednesday, 17 July 2002

18:35 BST: Permalink

It probably wasn't fair of me to quote the first part of Bruce Baugh's ruminations on regulatory capture and just leave the impression he's treating the situation as hopeless. In fact, he's written further on the subject:

The real question for those who accept that any enterprise might ever need legal constraints on its behavior - that is, for everyone except pure anarchists - is, can we compensate for the systemic temptations toward regulatory capture? The answer is, not easily.

We can have laws and regulations made by people who don't know what they're talking about. This is more likely to happen with legislation passed in response to some particularly visible tragedy, but even there the laws are more likely to reflect the agendas of staffers and people they deal with than to reflect just plain rectocranially inverted ignorance. Regulation is an ongoing affair for someone, who will be putting years and years into interpreting and applying the principles established in the laws. The lawmakers go on to other things; the regulators settle in, and they're going to end up learning something about the field.

There are a couple of obvious cases where things didn't quite happen that way - at least, not at the start. The SEC regulations weren't designed by someone who didn't know what he was doing, they were designed by a man who had gotten rich off of exploiting the lack of regulations and once said words to the effect of, "This shouldn't be legal, but I'm going to take advantage of it while it is" - Joe Kennedy. And his regulations seem to have worked pretty well for quite a while, until we suddenly found ourselves with a generation of wise-guy businessmen who apparently believed that the standard responsibilities, requirements, obligations and risks were for suckers - and who nourished their own cadre of journalists and politicians to put their philosophy into practice.

But Bruce goes on later to say that the situation is not as grim as it might seem:

So let us say that the problems summed up under the heading "regulatory capture" are essentially not solvable, that any effort at regulation is vulnerable to them and that in the long run every effort goes sour in one or more of these ways. Is this a counsel of despair?

I don't think it is. I think it's really a counsel against unjustifiable optimism. There is no ideal configuration of people and policies which lets us say "we'll get all of what we want out of this and none of what we don't want". But then that's honestly not a deeply surprising conclusion. Most things in life are that way, and the problem is that we're the heirs of a bunch of screwed-up ideas about what's politically possible.

Most of you, I expect, are accustomed to the notion of imperfection in your own lives. You aren't precisely as fit as you'd like to be. If you have someone you love and share your life with, you probably know things about the people you love that make them seem like a bit less than fresh arrivals of Heaven untainted by this world of woes. You know that your friends make mistakes. You have to make apologies yourself. Your business doesn't go perfectly. And knowing all this, if you're like most people, you nonetheless make an effort to live your life reasonably well, with due attention to your obligations and due effort to protect your rights. There's not much in daily life that many of us dismiss as not worth doing at all just because we can't do it perfectly. Well, politics isn't immune to any of that. So you should go ahead and pursue your vision of a just and moral polity, while keeping in mind that imperfection happens - and, here's the key part, designing with failure in mind.

I know some libertarians who seem to believe that you should never try to do anything good because there are always unintended consequences that you don't like. Thank goodness Bruce isn't one of them.

(Bruce's site has moved, by the way, to

Tuesday, 16 July 2002

15:12 BST: Permalink

Jeff Cooper joins the speculation about Vermont's governor as the next Democratic presidential nominee:

Matthew Yglesias takes issue with a Washington Post article stating that Vermont governor and likely presidential candidate Howard Dean is following Jimmy Carter's 1976 campaign model. Matthew believes that Dean's real role model is Jed Bartlett. An interesting suggestion. Although I haven't yet chosen a favorite candidate (anyone but Gore is my current preference), I must admit that I'm intrigued by Dean, about whom I've been hearing for a few years from my mother, a Vermont resident. There are some definite parallels between Dean and Bartlett, even beyond their New England governorships. But much as I love The West Wing, I've never been able to believe that the American voters would elect Bartlett president. And I have to think that Dean knows better than to model his campaign on a fictional character.
I disagree. I think a horny version of Jed Bartlett was pretty much who Americans thought they were electing in 1992, as a matter of fact. And in 2000, the plurality of Americans thought they were electing a less folksy version of Bartlett. Actually, Gore is in many respects just as folksy as Bartlett, but the press did their best to hide that fact from the public.

But, Jeff, you're making the same mistake Gore made in 2000 - you're letting the conventional wisdom sway you. No one in their right mind should be buying the "anyone but Gore" line unless they want to see Bush stay in the White House. "Anyone" would include the intolerable Joe Lieberman, for example. It would also include all those Democratic Senators who let Ashcroft slide into the AG seat, who sang those awful renditions of "God Bless America," and who put their hands on their hearts to show their opposition to your Constitutional rights. Gore is still the cleanest and smartest guy in the running, and anyway, he won last time, no matter what anyone tells you.

15:00 BST: Permalink
Me, too.

Camilla Parker Bowles remained unruffled when Sharon Osbourne used the f-word in front of her, it emerged today.

"Oh, it's quite all right. We curse quite a lot around here," the Prince of Wales's companion said during last month's Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace.

02:50 BST: Permalink
Charles Dodgson has returned this week, I'm pleased to say, and has further thoughts on Scalia's remarkable mouthings. Asking that you imagine yourself back in the Clinton administration, he says:

In the middle of this, imagine that a well-known, stridently liberal Supreme Court justice gives a speech saying that democratic values --- most clearly represented in America at the federal level by Congress --- are actually a corrupting influence on society. (You'll have to imagine a well-known, stridently liberal Supreme Court justice, but work with me here).

I'd like you to think about what, say, Newt Gingrich would have had to say about that. William Kristol. Bill O'Reilly. Rush Limbaugh. Imagine the recriminations. The furor.

02:00 BST: Permalink
It's all of a piece

David Broder says:

The confidence crisis that has overtaken the Bush administration has many dimensions, but at bottom, it comes down to a single question: Can you take this president's words seriously?
I suppose that's the best we can hope for from The Washington Post. But things are looking up.

"It is utterly fabulous," said Patrick, "to see even neocon Marty Peretz digging this deep into the muck of Bushness." Indeed:

Nonetheless, what makes this kind of selling legally acceptable (if not exactly morally correct) is the obligation to report in a timely fashion the sale (or purchase) so outsiders know what insiders are doing. But Bush didn't do that. As the SEC has found, he failed to notify the authorities (and, through that notification, other stockholders and the public) on a timely basis that he had, in fact, sold stock. The SEC nevertheless declined to press charges, a decision that becomes more interesting when you realize, as The Baltimore Sun has noted, that the Commission's then-general counsel, James R. Doty--the man who supervised the legal inquiry into Bush's behavior--was also the lawyer who had facilitated the sale of the Texas Rangers baseball team to George W.'s partnership. And Bush was selling his Harken stock to pay off his debt to the bank that had financed his share of the Rangers' purchasing price.
That's just for starters. And Matthew Yglesias, looking at the same piece, really gets down to the cheese:

I've really been struck by the fact that conservative pundits and bloggers, all of whom seem to grasp the truth about Saudi Arabia, don't seem to be able to see that it's George Bush — not some PC liberals — who's been maintaining the Big Lie of the War on Terrorism. Not only does Bush not recognize that Saudi Arabia is an enemy (indeed, perhaps the most dangerous enemy) of the United States, he insists it's a friend.
00:30 BST: Permalink
Jim Henley has discovered that Opera 6 allows you to forbid pop-up windows but doesn't let you distinguish between good and bad windows. Jim, use Mozilla! I use it, and it only kills unrequested pop-ups. That means I get the comment pop-ups (and others I ask for) but never have to see the stuff that jumps in your face when you don't want it.

I still use IE to get things like the NYT, though. For some reason Mozilla completely ignores my logins. But I gather that's just something that's happening here. Other people haven't complained of the same problem.

Monday, 15 July 2002

16:00 BST: Permalink

Religion and Politics

I'm a bit confused by Martin Wisse's permalinks but I think this one goes to the post where he looks at drug laws in the news. Before lamenting the Supreme Court decision allowing drug-testing in schools, he notes an article from ABC about religious people who object to the War on Some Drugs:

The article then goes on to tell about other Christians and Christian groups coming out in opposition to the War against Drugs, some because they don't see the danger in drugs like marihuana, but most because the war leads to unnecessary suffering and doesn't work. One example cited is how closing down needle exchange programs for the sake of "Zero Tolerance" helps spread HIV and AIDS. It's heartening to see support for alternative ways of dealing with drug abuse broadening.
These people exemplify what I think of as the real American Christianity, the faith-hope-charity one that's actually based on the teachings of Jesus rather than some nasty combination of Leviticus and Pauline doctrine (frequently mixed with bizarre interpretations of the rantings of John the Hallucinator). In their vision of Christianity, there is no conflict with expecting the state to serve the community rather than the other way around. Love thy neighbor; let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone; as ye have done unto the least of these, ye have done onto me. This view actually fits quite neatly into a Constitutional framework in which our rights, whether endowed by a "Creator" or a product of government "by the People", can always be justifiably defended. The state can and must act to benefit the People - the public welfare - but is neither the instrument of God nor does it usurp God's prerogatives. Separation of church and state can be maintained with no insult to God.

The opposing view is well represented by the creepiest thing that's been on the net all week, the appalling words of the unforgivable Antonin Scalia, as Sean Wilentz reports:

Earlier this year Antonin Scalia decided to share some aspects of his worldview with the public. His inspiration seems to have been the death penalty: recent debates with his colleagues on the Supreme Court and his general reflections on the legitimacy of the state taking to itself the power to kill a citizen. Justice Scalia spoke on these matters at the University of Chicago Divinity School in January, beginning with the ritual disclaimer that "my views on the subject have nothing to do with how I vote in capital cases"; his remarks appeared in the May issue of First Things: The Journal of Religion and Public Life. They are supplemented by his dissent to the court's decision on June 20 that mentally retarded people should not be executed. Justice Scalia's remarks show bitterness against democracy, strong dislike for the Constitution's approach to religion and eager advocacy for the submission of the individual to the state. It is a chilling mixture for an American.
Mr. Scalia seems to believe strongly that a person's religious faith is something that he or she (as a Roman Catholic like Mr. Scalia) must take whole from church doctrine and obey. In his talk in Chicago, Mr. Scalia noted with relief that the Catholic Church's recent opinion that the death penalty was very rarely permissible was not "binding" on Catholics. If it had been, Mr. Scalia said, this teaching would have led the church to "effectively urge the retirement of Catholics from public life," given that the federal government and 38 states "believe the death penalty is sometimes just."

Mr. Scalia apparently believes that Catholics, at least, would be unable to uphold, as citizens, views that contradict church doctrine. This is exactly the stereotype of Catholicism as papist mind control that Catholics have struggled against throughout the modern era and that John F. Kennedy did so much to overcome. But Mr. Scalia sees submission as desirable -- and possibly the very definition of faith. He quotes St. Paul, "For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."

"The Lord," Mr. Scalia explained in Chicago, "repaid -- did justice -- through His minister, the state."

So, aside from believing in what amounts to the Divine Right of Government, he is one hell of a great rationalizer. A Catholic has to accept everything except the injunction against the death penalty or get out of public office. The support for the death penalty that 38 states have shown overrules the Church's teachings in a way that the Constitution itself does not.

This view, according to Mr. Scalia, once represented the consensus "not just of Christian or religious thought, but of secular thought regarding the powers of the state." He said, "That consensus has been upset, I think, by the emergence of democracy." And now, alarmingly, Mr. Scalia wishes to rally the devout against democracy's errors. "The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible," he said in Chicago.

Mr. Scalia is right about one thing. Modern democracy did upset the divine authority of the state. That has usually been considered by Americans to have been a step forward. The great 17th-century dissenter Roger Williams declared that government derived no authority whatsoever from God, but was "merely human and civil." Thomas Jefferson put matters bluntly in 1779: "[O]ur civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than on opinions in physics or geometry."

That view prevailed among the framers at Philadelphia in 1787. Throughout their debates, even when they prayed for divine guidance, they rejected the idea that political authority lay with anyone or anything other than the sovereign people. The only extended discussion of religion in the Federalist Papers has James Madison listing zeal in religious opinion as one of "the latent causes of faction" that cause men "to vex and oppress each other" and that need institutional checks.

The framers couldn't have been more clear about the place of God in government, but Scalia wants to pretend to be a Constitutional Constructionist while simultaneously dissing the very foundations of our democratic republic. But his Christianity also leaves much lacking, as well:

Such a belief in the worth of people independent of religious considerations (whether their own or those of the state) has distinguished secular democracy. This seems to irritate Mr. Scalia. It seems to indicate a humanist egotism that might lead a person to think individual lives are so valuable that it is not the privilege of the state to take them. "Indeed, it seems to me," Mr. Scalia said in Chicago, "that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe, and has least support in the churchgoing United States. I attribute that to the fact that for the believing Christian, death is no big deal."

This might imply that the death penalty would have little deterrent effect for the faithful. It might also imply that devout Christians have fewer moral scruples about disregarding the Old Testament's injunction against killing. ("For the nonbeliever, on the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence," Mr. Scalia said sarcastically. "What a horrible act!") But that is not quite Mr. Scalia's point. He wants us to know that Catholics and perhaps other religiously minded people have the moral sense to hold their own wills as slight things compared to those of God and His minister, the state -- with the partial exception of judges.

Wilentz suggests that what Scalia really wants is to get "secular humanists" off the bench, but the twists and turns the man goes to in order to justify a position that is actually not consistent with his church's position seems more pointedly a dedication to the death penalty itself. "Vengeance is mine," God said, but Scalia wants to reserve that right to government. He points to countries where Christianity is actually the state religion and where laws against blasphemy are even enforced from time to time and calls them non-Christian to "explain" why they have too much reverence for life, but then:

In Chicago, Mr. Scalia argued strenuously that in America a judge who morally opposed the death penalty ought to resign. "Of course," Mr. Scalia said, "if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty -- and if that fails, lead a revolution."

But leading a revolution would inevitably bring some interference with the application of laws, not to mention all the other atrocities that typically attend revolutions. Only a judge could think it better to play Robespierre than to issue too ambitious an opinion.

So. It's okay for the state to kill people because they will live after death. If you believe in a hereafter, the death penalty is acceptable because it doesn't "really" end your life. But if you don't believe in the death penalty, you shouldn't be in public life because the DP is part of our law, and our law trumps your moral views. Except in the places where our law explicitly excludes religion, in which case it is wrong, and only religious people (who believe in the death penalty) should be allowed to sit on the bench.

Scalia's logic is breathtakingly simple. He believes the law should enforce his own views and bow to no one else's. He claims to be speaking from a Constitutional and religious perspective, but in both cases he simply picks and chooses the bits he likes and disparages the rest. Scalia is someone who seems to think making exceptions to suit his own purposes is always justified, just as he did when he refused to recuse himself from a case in which his own family members were among the plaintiff's team, and voted with a ruling completely inconsistent with all precedent solely because it served his partisan purposes, which declared itself - a Supreme Court decision! - to have no bearing on future cases but to be exceptional.

The ugliness of Scalia's views are bad enough, but the stunning inconsistencies make me wonder how any rational person can still doubt that he should be removed from the bench.

Sunday, 14 July 2002

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Yuval Rubinstein detects a trend:

Many left-leaning bloggers have been mercilessly flogging Mickey Kaus over his "violent left" ruminations in Slate a few days ago. Although these ripostes have been a source of amusement (thanks, Eschaton), I think there is a broader issue that needs to be looked at. It is obvious by now that, whatever his protestations to the contrary, Kaus is most certainly right-leaning in his political orientation. Thus, along with fellow-minded pundits who have made a similar ideological shift in the past few years, does this signify a "third wave" of neoconservatism?
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Damn. Oh, Damn it.

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I always think it has to be a joke when someone talks about how watching violent movies makes people violent. Movies aren't real. This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to slap someone:

IDAHO FALLS — A Bonneville County magistrate says a gay father has a choice: stop living with his partner or lose visitation rights with his children.
Quick quiz:

More children are killed by:

a) gay parents
b) parents who believe, "Spare the rod and spoil the child."

Saturday, 13 July 2002

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I'm not sure I can agree with the sort of moral equivalence Brendan Nyhan seems to be implying between Republicans who try to claim that Clinton is somehow the reason for corporate malfeasance and Democrats who fail to give complete details of how Republicans had a lot to do with corporate malfeasance.

But during the press conference and a later appearance on "Inside Politics," in which he said that DeLay and Gingrich "contributed to the environment" in which corporate malfeasance has occurred, Gephardt offered little evidence to back up his assertions, saying to the press corps that "we are going to lay this out in detail for you" at some unspecified later date. He did say that Congress has "done things to affirmatively unwind regulations that should not have been unwound," but his evidence was a vague list of those regulations -- accounting, tax, corporate governance -- and of blocked legislation. If Republicans stymied reforms that would have prevented recent scandals or supported reforms that caused them, Gephardt should say so specifically and offer clear supporting evidence.
Is this an appropriate criticism? I'm not sure that talk shows and press conferences are places where footnotes are normally provided. The newspapers are actually full of those details at the moment, anyway, and the citations can easily be found all over the net. (Besides, providing details is a good way to give Republicans the opportunity to accuse you of being brainy, so why bother? As long as it appears in some document from no one in particular rather than out of your own mouth, you at least have the opportunity to escape that charge.) A similar criticism of Daschle comes next:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., also offered lots of rhetoric and not much substance. In his press conference Friday, he criticized the "laissez-faire attitude" of the Bush administration, saying that it "helped create the kind of environment that exists today, an environment that ... all that is required is self-policing." He also said the Republicans in Congress "dismantled the regulatory environment that we had and in large measure created this sense of laissez-faire, of just total unwillingness on the part of enforcement or regulatory agencies to play a role. And I think that is the price we're now paying for the difficulties that we've experienced." According to the New York Times, he also pontificated about Republicans creating "a deregulatory, permissive atmosphere": "It's as if the line between right and wrong, legal and illegal, acceptable and unacceptable, was so little enforced that it became blurred." Again, if there are specifics to be offered, Daschle should offer them. Isn't the SEC responsible for most enforcement of securities law? Wasn't it part of the Clinton administration until January 2001?
Again, Daschle is just summing up the headlines here, not offering a new critique or new evidence. The Clinton administration was in fact trying to strengthen enforcement, and the Republicans passed weakening legislation over his veto. The current occupant of the White House appointed an SEC head who was actually part of that Republican effort. It's not a mystery what Daschle is talking about and the documentation is easily to hand.

These accusations are being refined into overheated jargon -- here's the Associated Press yesterday on controversy over Bush's sales of stock in Harken Energy Corp., which resulted in an SEC investigation: "Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri called the 1989 transactions by Harken and Bush 'very Enron-esque' and said they were symbolic of how Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, whose former employer Halliburton is also now under SEC investigation, had helped create a business climate ripe for accounting fraud."

But few people even knew of the Harken case until this week. Had WorldCom executives researched the president's business history and decided to take their inspiration from him? This argument by analogy is a cheap attempt to pin the blame on Bush. His past actions aren't proof that his administration encouraged or allowed illegal accounting since he took office.

And his administration isn't in court defending against the charge of "felonious encouraging of a climate", so "proof" is a bit much to ask for in this context. But it's also disingenuous to say that executives had to have researched Bush and Cheney's business history in order to think they thought these things were okay - after all, a lot of these people knew each other, they were helping each other out and recommending accountants to each other and having drinks with each other and probably sharing information about how to play the game generally, and the climate amongst them in their country clubs and offices probably had a lot more impact on their joint practices than anything Clinton was doing with Monica Lewinsky did. Not to mention the fact that these were in large part the same people who had been involved in weakening SEC regs in the first place. What did they do that for if not to create this same climate?

In response to all this, a number of Republicans have fought back by reversing the Democratic claims and suggesting that the "climate" of malfeasance was created by Clinton, blaming the former president for creating a "tone" of dishonesty that somehow led to fraudulent accounting, as Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz and Joshua Micah Marshall have noted.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh, unsurprisingly, has again led the way. According to Kurtz, on Wednesday he said, "Who taught us how to get around laws? A, Ronald Reagan. B, Bill Clinton. Who taught us how to have his way with words and women? Who taught us, my friends, how to lie under oath and get away with it? Who taught us that oral sex isn't sex, and now kids across the country in grade school try it out?" Limbaugh also pointed to the Whitewater scandal, saying that "the president of the United States got away with all kinds of things and inspired others to try [it] themselves."

Er, isn't the difference here obvious? What did we learn from Clinton about getting around laws? Well, mostly that only Republicans are allowed to do it. Limbaugh's multiple-choice question is particularly ironic since of course it was during the Reagan administration that the first serious round of attacks on the SEC weakened it - again, driven by Republicans and unopposed by their man in the White House. Clinton, meanwhile, didn't commit any crimes, so the charge that he "taught us how to get around laws" is a false one; what we saw there was that if you don't break any laws, the Republicans will behave as if you did anyway.

There is what I think is a not insignificant difference between what Gephardt and Daschle, on the one hand, and what Steve Forbes, Kate O'Beirne, Andy Sullivan, and various Republican operatives are saying: that the charge against the Republicans is true.

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Argh, there is too much to read, I can never catch up. But who can resist? Scoobie is delicious fun going after Coulter (and Drudge) full-time (and provides the news of a a fresh Jack Chick tract). And there's Jody and Maddy, Brew (mercifully going on holiday for a bit), Lean Left, Adam Magazine....argh!

Friday, 12 July 2002

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This is Peter Beinart's article on the absurdity of blaming Clinton for the behavior of corporate criminals, and it's pretty good, but along the way it made me go off on a tangent about things that confuse me. For example, here are some arguments I've heard:

  • Structural errors such as welfare payments discourage people from improving themselves and thus enable self-destructive and non-productive behavior that leads to generational poverty.
  • Poor people are poor because they are naturally lacking in intelligence, talent, and industry.
I've run into conservatives who claim to believe only the first proposition, but in my experience most conservatives believe that both are true. But how can this be? If some people are just too inadequate to succeed, what is the virtue of forcing them off of welfare to go out and fail on a daily basis, live in the streets, sleep on sewer grates, commit petty crime, or whatever marginal alternatives will be left?

I also wonder, of course, why it's only necessary to make poor people prove themselves by taking their structural supports away. If smart, industrious people are so sure to rise to the top regardless of their background, why shouldn't, say, a George W. Bush be required to sever all connection to his wealthy, connected parents and struggle his own way up through lousy, under-funded schools without ever knowing that he can make his way through life by telling people that his dad is somebody important? And why shouldn't other lazy, untalented people be offered the same opportunities to get rich without doing anything that George Bush had? Why should only the poor be required to endure the character-building experience of being forced to sink or swim without outside help? This puzzles me.

Meanwhile, "conservative blogger Gary Farber" links to this Bruce Baugh article:

"Regulatory capture" is the name Kolko and others applied to a particular phenomenon: when regulators serve the interests of those they're allegedly regulating in the general public interest. It was known before Kolko's work, but regarded as a dysfunctional aberration that sound policy reliably enforced could take care of. Kolko put the heyday of Progressive regulation under close scrutiny and argued that in fact regulatory capture wasn't just common, it was the norm. He found no important exception to it emerging, and usually emerging very early on in the history of a regulatory agency. As the phrase "triumph of conservativism" suggests, Kolko argued that whatever liberal reformers may have intended and whatever the public may have believed, business interests took control of the actual regulatory process early on and made it work for them.
It's been a third of a century since these ideas entered into historical discourse and became part of historians' shared understanding of how America has worked. For historians, they're as established as the names of the presidents - there's room to argue about the significance of particular details, but the overall pattern is clear and strong. And while it's ludicrous to expect people at large to know everything professional historians do, it's also ludicrous to proceed with calls for actions without looking at the consequences of past efforts in that direction. At this point, anyone calling for fresh regulation can and should be required to show how they propose to deal with the problem of regulatory capture - and if they cannot, the rest of us should refuse to go along, because good intentions are no excuse for assigning power in ways that produce results we know we don't want.
So when you try to set up an arrangement where someone is guarding the hen-house, sooner or later the foxes somehow end up with the job. One answer I've heard is: Just don't bother trying to guard the hen-house. And, certainly, this does sound slightly better than actually inviting the foxes into the hen-house on the mistaken notion that they are not foxes and will keep the foxes out, only to have them turn round the minute you're not looking and say, "Dinner is served!" Hm.

It all sounds so hopeless, doesn't it? I mean, we just have to let the robber barons run things because, well, they will anyway. The rest of us, one way or another, are just going to be suckers who can't expect to be dealt with honorably or humanely. It's okay if they break their contracts with you because, you know, they can pay better lawyers and buy the judiciary and stuff like that. Might makes right, Big Property trumps small property, and if the only property you've got is your mind and body and what you can eke out in the daily grind, you just have to take what they will let you have until they decide you're not worth paying anymore, when you can die of exposure, hunger, or thirst without even a thank-you for helping make someone else rich first. (It's all you deserve for having failed to scam your way into immorally vast wealth in the first place.)

But wait a sec - we started getting guards for the hen-house because the foxes were getting in and eating everything anyway. If we stop guarding the hen-house, this still happens. And, you know, for a while, the guards we got seemed to be making things better, until the foxes figured out how to get to be guards. Can't we find some way to just start over whenever the foxes take over?

Or something. Something other than just give up. Because we've tried having nothing, and it didn't work.

Lenny Bruce used to do a routine about how laws came into existence. A guy is sleeping and someone craps in his face. And he says, "Hey, I was sleeping, and I got a face full of crap!" So they make a rule: Eat in Area A, Sleep in Area B, Crap in Area C. (I think I remembered that right.)

To me, that pretty much covers the basics of why we have laws, regulations, whatever you want to call them. All this talk of "morality" is beside the point. The main reason we have most laws is because, basically, you want to be able to eat and sleep without getting a face full of crap.

Anyway, the guy goes to sleep in Area B and.... "Hey, I thought we had this rule, and I'm sleeping in Area B, and I get a face full of crap!" So then someone hires people to enforce the rules. ("I'd do it myself but...I gotta work with these people.")

Well, you get corruption in the cop-house, too, from cops who are on the take to the endless array of politicians who lean on the cops and prosecutors to play politics with criminal cases. And yet, one very seldom hears the argument (from "serious" people) that, well, if you have cops you get corruption, so let's just not have laws and cops and stuff. (What are you, some kind of anarchist?)

I suppose you could argue that small-time, funny-colored criminals should do hard time, so you have to have cops, but executives at large corporations shouldn't have to suffer just because they steal the pensions of thousands of honest folk who worked hard for years only to end up sleeping on sewer grates. I sometimes suspect that this is what some people in certain large, pale buildings are aiming for. (Is it okay if they steal from people who are already rich?)

Yet, churlish as it is of me, I just can't help wanting to see these huge-scale, white-collar thieves on a chain gang.

Thursday, 11 July 2002

16:40 BST: Permalink

Wealth and dopiness

On AOL Instant Messenger the other night, Patrick hailed me long enough to tell me that Clarion was exhilarating and exhausting, and to give me a URL for a must-read piece in The New Republic by Alan Wolfe. It's a review of two books, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips, and Stupid White Men by Michael Moore. Most of the article is devoted to the first of these; it begins:

As Lord Bryce noted in 1888 in The American Commonwealth, the American way of choosing presidents rarely produces politicians of quality. Subsequent events vindicated his point: in the half-century after his book appeared, Americans elected to the presidency such undistinguished men as William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. An era that included two wars, the assumption of an empire, a stock market crash, and the beginning of our greatest economic crisis was also marked by as mediocre a political leadership as we have had in our history.

Two features stand out in this roll call of incompetence: the presidents with the lowest reputations over the past hundred or so years were all Republicans, and they were all guided by the conviction that their job was to side with the powerful in any potential conflict with the poor. Our current president is a Republican whose policies favor the rich. His political guru, Karl Rove, is a great admirer of William McKinley and his strategist Mark Hanna. Will this administration, therefore, take its place among the worst presidencies of modern times? In his recent book Public Intellectuals, Richard Posner mocks anyone who makes predictions about such matters. Forgive me, then, for making this one: George W. Bush will be lucky if his presidency ever rises to the level of Taft's or Harding's.

A strong case can be made that the Bush administration is the most pro-business presidency that the United States has ever endured. In 1952, Charles Wilson, President Eisenhower's secretary of defense, opined that the good of the country and the good of General Motors could be entwined. Often ridiculed, his statement is, in comparison with the policies of the present administration, a model of statecraft. General Motors, after all, was unionized, so what was good for it was also good for huge numbers of American working-class families. And automobiles, its major product, offered to the upwardly mobile Americans of the period a dramatic opportunity--in that age before the politics of smog--to improve their living conditions.

The companies that the Bush administration confuses with the public interest, by contrast, stand out for their rapaciousness in a generally vicious business climate. Enron, to which the president was unusually close, not only destroyed the retirement prospects of its own workers, it also schemed to cause deliberate discomfort to California's energy users--a no-holds-barred approach to doing business that foreshadowed the hideously ugly efforts of this administration to issue frequent and confusing warnings of potential terror attacks when confronted with perfectly appropriate questions about its preparedness for the big attack that took place on its watch. And Halliburton, which now faces an SEC inquiry into its accounting practices during the time that the firm was run by Vice President Dick Cheney, is one of many companies that would presumably benefit from the administration's energy policy, discussions of which it has gone to some length to keep out of the public's hands. The business of the Bush administration is not just business, but sleazy business. America's worst firms picked America's most complaisant politicians (and vice versa) because they knew that they could work with each other.

A serious look at a serious book and the milieu from which it comes, though certainly not without its criticisms. Of course, Stupid White Men is something else, and Wolfe's approach changes somewhat when he gets there.

I have to admit that I've always been a bit baffled by the critical successes of Roger and Me. I'd heard things that suggested it was a good, clever movie, but I was surprised when I saw it. It seemed to me a pretty shallow approach to attempting to engage with the problem of corporate executives who make big decisions that affect our lives but who are nevertheless unaccountable to us. Or whatever it's about - I'm not really sure. As near as I could tell, it was about some guy who made a project of being annoying toward someone who didn't want to have to pay attention to him. It didn't really seem to me to have much to say.

Still when his TV show was broadcast here, it seemed promising, beginning as it did with a blast at media concentration and using an individual case to highlight the failure of powerful HMOs to fulfill their obligations to their customers (and, not incidentally, save a guy's life). But after that it appeared to devolve into scattershot shtick that seemed aimed not so much at critiquing our problems as simply expressing contempt. It was neither informative nor energizing. Similarly, what I've heard about his book makes me wonder why it's doing so well. Wolfe's analysis doesn't make me feel better about it:

The contrast with Michael Moore could not be greater. Instead of analyzing an issue, he personalizes his opponents, even charging Prescott Bush with ties to the Nazis (which he admits that he cannot prove) or asking his grandson the president whether he is an alcoholic and how this may be affecting his job performance. Rather than searching for a credible cause, Moore resorts to some of the most outlandish appeals to gender and racial identity politics that I have ever seen, as in this: "Women? They deserve none of the blame. They continued to bring life into this world; we continued to destroy it whenever we could." If this book is what passes for a political manifesto, then Tom Paine is truly dead. Moore peppers his book with factoids, weird memos, open letters, bizarre lists, LOTS OF SENTENCES IN CAPITAL LETTERS, and name-dropping accounts of how he happens to know some members of the Bush family personally. It is meant to be satire, I suppose; but the only person skewered is Moore, who proves himself to be the only stupid white man around. Anyone bent on redistributing income in favor of the rich could not get a luckier break than having a critic like Michael Moore.
Sounds a bit like Ann Coulter, really. Not really very promising. Then again, if it worked for the right wing, can it work for the left? Well, probably not, because the right for the most part manages to hurl all of its hatred (and lies and innuendo) toward the left while voting for a single party when the general election came around. Moore, being a Naderite, aided the Bush campaign considerably by doing his bit to help blur the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans among the people to whom it should matter, thus splitting the vote that could have made it impossible for Team Bush to spin its way into the White House. That they did it once is bad enough, but Wolfe quotes Moore in this book as promising to do it again. Frankly, I find it all pretty unforgivable.
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The Rittenhouse Review is back, thank goodness, and with a rousing dissection of a review of Coulter's book:

The liberal media are at it again. Attacking books written by conservatives who have been virtually silenced by a conspiracy hatched by the left-wing ideologues that control this country’s television and cable networks, major daily newspapers (particularly those in the Northeast), newsweeklies, radio stations, and publishing houses.

The victim this time? Ann Coulter. And this despite the fact -- the footnote-able fact -- that Coulter’s book sits on top of the bestsellers lists.

Oh . . . wait a minute. Scratch that. We got it wrong.

Further down the page, a lovely tribute to what sounds to have been an amazing woman. Condolences, James, and welcome back.

Also: The return of Ted Barlow! Yay!

12:15 BST: Permalink
Tuli Kupferberg advises that there is an interview with Gore Vidal in LA Weekly:

The second law of thermodynamics always rules: Everything is always running down. And so is our Bill of Rights. The current junta in charge of our affairs, one not legally elected, but put in charge of us by the Supreme Court in the interests of the oil and gas and defense lobbies, have used first Oklahoma City and now September 11 to further erode things.

Wednesday, 10 July 2002

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Jane Ehrenfeld writes in The Washington Post about who will get left behind in the voucher scheme.

And E.J. Dionne gets to watch A Midsummer Night's Talk Show:

A strange thing happened to my television the other day when a cable channel was reporting on why, back in 1990, George W. Bush filed a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission 34 weeks late. My screen went blank and then came back to something called the Coyote Network and a show called "Firing Squad," hosted by Chris Reilly.

At first the news seemed exactly the same, about a president who sold $848,560 in shares of Harken Energy Corp. two months before the company announced a big loss and the stock price dropped. As a company director, the president was supposed to file a timely report on the sale.

A decade ago, the president blamed the SEC for losing the relevant document. But at a news conference last week, his spokesman blamed the company's lawyers for a "mix-up."

I was ready to hear what this strange channel made of Bush's actions when I realized the discussion was ever so slightly different. It was exactly the same story, but the president under fire was Bill Clinton.

An oddly familiar Clinton spokesman called Lanny Begalaville was trying to defend his man. "The president has denied any wrongdoing, and I believe him," Begalaville was saying. "This is like getting caught driving 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone."

Begalaville was facing off against a southern Republican congressman called Tom Starrbarr. Starrbarr, who also looked familiar, was having none of this.

"What happened here is so typical of Clinton," Starrbarr said. "He tells one story and when that one proves false, he tells a completely different story."

Reilly, the host, clearly didn't like Clinton, and he egged Starrbarr on. "Isn't this a story about a president who never takes responsibility for anything?"

"Chris, you're absolutely right," Starrbarr said with a big smile. "I'd contrast this president with George W. Bush. Remember what Bush said when he was running for reelection as governor of Texas back in 1998?"

Back in real life, we recall, the Clintons provided all relevant documents to the various investigations of Whitewater, and were exonerated. But then, they hadn't done anything wrong.

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Josh Marshall has a stupifying story up about - oh, hell, let him tell you:

Here's an interview with Dr. Sari Nuseibeh published at the Al Bawaba website in which Nuseibeh defends himself against the charge that he has betrayed the Palestinian people by organizing and signing a statement demanding an end to suicide bombings against Israel.

Here is a story in today's New York Times about how the Israeli Public Security Minister Uzi Landau today ordered the shut down of Nuseibeh's Jerusalem offices because he was "undermining Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem."

He's also sarky about Bush being the voice of corporate responsibility, and gives Harvey Pitt a lashing, but points out that Pitt is really just a convenient scapegoat, having been, "really no better or worse than the entire administration. He's a pretty good advocate of what was -- until a few weeks ago -- the administration's stance on corporate government and oversight."

17:45 BST: Permalink
Patriotic gore

Tim Blair can't read:

Vaaara is off to Fiiinland, leaving in his wake a link to someone who equates talk-back radio with terrorism and an argumentum ad logicam brazenly deployed to knock down an argumentum ad populum.
Er, no, Tim, I was equating having people blow your head off or bomb your place of employment or send you anthrax threats (because they are "pro-life") with terrorism. I even had a little anecdote about having my fan-belt cut. We didn't usually worry about immediate threats to ourselves at the clinic because we only did referrals, but it hardly escaped our notice that our colleagues were being threatened and hurt. Obviously, it escaped Tim's.

And the argument was in the context of a much wider milieu in which anyone on the "left" is hectored to decry any over-the-top statement by anyone (no matter how obscure), on the "left" and yet when Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy are the targets of anthrax threats, not even the most "respectable" members of the right or the Republican Party can even move themselves to condemn the equation of these Democratic leaders with Satan, Saddam Hussein, and terrorists - an equation made not merely by writers no one ever heard of, but by Republican politicians.

It's amazing how many righties expect every single person who is on "the left" to carry the can for any and every dumb thing anyone on "the left" does, and frequently everything else, too, while they expect us all to turn a blind eye to the fact that their own side is teeming with every kind of authoritarian, racist, and theofascist nut-job in the book. I suppose some of them think they can escape this by simply disavowing everyone else and calling themselves "anti-idiotarians", but unless they are attacking the idiots on both sides of the divide with equal fervor I can't help thinking this is just another excuse to attack lefties.

Respected members of the right say some astonishing things about "the left". One of the continuing canards is that we were big supporters of the Soviet Union right up until its demise. Chris Bertram talks about that here and here, but I want to go further: The fact of the matter is that the only people I knew who seemed to be surprised when the USSR turned out to be a mess were on the right. Everyone I knew on the left regarded it as largely a nightmare - a repressive, authoritarian state where not much seemed to work and efficiency wasn't even a dream anymore. Right-wingers seemed to think it was coldly efficient; it was the Evil Empire, not the broken-down rattle-trap it so obviously was. Moreover, many righties seemed genuinely disappointed to find it wasn't more. I couldn't help suspecting that they admired their vision of The Evil Empire, the place where "the grown-ups" really knew how to keep the lower orders in their place.

As I read the writings of an earlier generation of leftists, many were excited by the early days of the Soviet Union and had high hopes for it, but for quite a few these hopes were dashed soon after the initial stages. Though many members of the American left continued to support socialism, most quickly concluded that the promise of the Soviet experiment had been betrayed; socialism might work, but not the way they were doing it. Stalinism was heartily condemned and by the 1960s I knew not a single person who wasn't repelled by it. Certainly none of the old leftists I knew in the '60s and '70s still had any faith in the USSR. But the American "new left" was new because they weren't much interested in communism at all; that was what the phrase "Never trust anyone over 30" was about - we weren't part of that generation of leftists. To be on "the left" in the 1960s in America meant, largely, to believe in the American ideal and to oppose repressive government that treated Constitutional rights as no more than nice phrases - some of that ceremonial stuff like "under God" in the Pledge is supposed to be, we're now told. Anyone who is familiar with the lyrics of Phil Ochs' songs can get the drift.

Come take a walk with me through this green and growin' land
Walk through the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk through the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk through the sun and walk through the rain

From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?

Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

For here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all!

Hm, now that I think of it, it sure looks like it's time to give "Mississippi" another re-write:

And here's to the laws of Richard Nixon
Where the wars are fought in secret, Pearl Harbor every day
He punishes with income tax that he don't have to pay
And he's tapping his own brother just to hear what he might say
Ah, corruption can be classic in the Richard Nixon way
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of
Richard Nixon find yourself another country to be part of

And here's to the churches of Richard Nixon (and Billy Graham)
Where the cross, once made of silver, now is caked with rust
And the Sunday morning sermons pander to their lust
Ah, the fallen faith of Jesus is chokin' in the dust
And Heaven only knows in which God they can trust
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of
Richard Nixon find yourself another country to be part of

And here's to the government of Richard Cheney Nixon
In the swamp of their bureaucracy they're always boggin' down
And criminals are posing as advisors to the crown
And they hope that no one sees the sights and no one hears the sound
And the speeches of the President are the ravings of a clown
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of
Richard Nixon find yourself another country to be part of

You don't write things like that unless you're a true believer.

04:00 BST: Permalink
In a very good article taking on the RIAA about free music downloads, Janis Ian agrees with me:

Realistically, why do most people download music? To hear new music. Not to avoid paying $5 at the local used CD store, or taping it off the radio, but to hear music they can't find anywhere else. Face it - most people can't afford to spend $15.99 to experiment. That's why listening booths (which labels fought against, too) are such a success.

You can't hear new music on radio these days; I live in Nashville, "Music City USA", and we have exactly one station willing to play a non-top-40 format. On a clear day, I can even tune it in. The situation's not much better in Los Angeles or New York. College stations are sometimes bolder, but their wattage is so low that most of us can't get them.

One other major point: in the hysteria of the moment, everyone is forgetting the main way an artist becomes successful - exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to shows, no one buys CDs, no one enables you to earn a living doing what you love. Again, from personal experience: in 37 years as a recording artist, I've created 25+ albums for major labels, and I've never once received a royalty check that didn't show I owed them money. So I make the bulk of my living from live touring, playing for 80-1500 people a night, doing my own show. I spend hours each week doing press, writing articles, making sure my website tour information is up to date. Why? Because all of that gives me exposure to an audience that might not come otherwise. So when someone writes and tells me they came to my show because they'd downloaded a song and gotten curious, I am thrilled!

Terrific and informative article with details about just how badly the recording companies cheat artists out of their due. (Thanks to Jack Heneghan for the tip.)

02:30 BST: Permalink
More Pledge stuff

Libertango reminds us that a substantial minority of Americans support the Pledge decision and that many of us hold beliefs (including Christian beliefs) that make saying the Pledge problematic. Defending the 9th Circuit's decision, he also says, in his comment section:

That standard has been used since a decision the Supreme Court issued in 1984, Lynch v Donnelly, written by Justice O'Connor. Here's how she put it at the time:

"The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition in two principal ways. One is excessive entanglement with religious institutions . . . . The second and more direct infringement is government endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community."
In other words, the Court currently interprets "respect" as meaning that Federal law should neither restrain anyone's beliefs, nor promote anyone else's.

This makes sense in practical terms -- majorities are always temporary, and today's emboldened "overwhelming majority" may well be the minority that needs protection tomorrow. This is why all civil rights cases, if you stop and think about it, are not only a way to be fair to current minorities, but also a way for current majorities to hedge their bets regarding mistreatment by future majorities.

Of course, to think such thoughts requires a mild amount of enlightened self interest, and the jury is still out as to whether we truly think that way on a societal level (he said wryly).

Again in comments, he also refers to one of my favorite bits of the teachings of Jesus,
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Meanwhile, Bartcop received a message from the Bizarro world defending religion in public life:

If the Bible, to you, is a "fairy tale", the Constitution is also one. They both require faith. Since they were both made up as a convenient contrivance to acheive a predetermined end, both are mere fables.

The Constitution worked perfectly, as long as religious white GUYS were in charge. Witness this nations ascension to the apex of civilizied development. It was when we began to take seriously the words contained therein that we started to lose our direction. We lost control of our women first. Then our niggers.

No one can embarrass me about being a liberal when I know the other side is full of folks like that guy.

In The Washington Post Arnold R. Isaacs joins the chorus of those saying the plaintiff should not have sued but:

Rather than suing, that father in California could have told his daughter: "Yes, in a perfect world, we wouldn't have the pledge in this form, and you wouldn't have to feel uncomfortable hearing 'under God' in the classroom every morning. But neither law nor life promises to protect you against uncomfortable moments, especially if you choose to think for yourself and adopt beliefs or ideas different from those of most of the people around you. In this case, the harm is minimal. It may be wrong by our lights, but it's something we can live with."
Of course, that misses the point. What if the father just plain doesn't want his daughter indoctrinated with someone else's religion in the first place? If the kid comes home believing her classmates' religion because she picked it up in school, it's small comfort, isn't it?

Still, he says:

However the courts finally rule, I feel quite sure the Pledge of Allegiance case will do nothing to promote religious freedom or a spirit of pluralism or respect for my right to hold different or unpopular ideas . Quite the opposite, if the national paroxysm of self-righteous apoplexy over the judges' ruling is any indication.

The common expectation appears to be that, in the end, the pledge will be upheld. The grounds will presumably be that its reference to "one Nation under God" represents what some legal theorists in past cases have called "ceremonial deism" -- meaning, I now know, a ritual expression reflecting established traditions of patriotic speech, but not an official endorsement of religious belief. The concept makes sense, even if it does turn words of religious faith into empty sounds. As a nonreligious American, I can live with that. As a man who cares about the meaning of words, I'm a little dismayed that so many religious Americans can.

Elsewhere in the Post, Andrew Cohen warns of The Dangers of Holding Judges in Contempt:

President Bush called the federal appellate ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance "ridiculous." On the Democratic side, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said that it was "just nuts." West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a fellow Democrat, said the judges who wrote the decision were "stupid." And Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, said it was time "for Congress and the president to stand up to courts that have arrogated so much power to themselves."

If you haven't read the ruling by 9th U.S. Circuit Court judges Alfred T. Goodwin and Stephen Reinhardt -- if you only listened to the media bloviators -- you could be forgiven for thinking that the pledge itself had been banned forever from American life by two anti-Christian, liberal zealots bent on destroying the fabric of our society. That isn't close to the truth. First of all, the Supreme Court will get a crack at the case, if it wants one. For now, the 2-1 ruling only affects the recitation of the pledge in the public school districts in the 9th Circuit's nine-state jurisdiction and then, only those districts that have policies requiring recitation.

Nor was it fair, for that matter, for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to denigrate the decision by labeling Goodwin, the senior judge of the two, a "liberal." Goodwin is a World War II veteran, a cowboy and a Nixon appointee. And a strict interpretation of the First Amendment is hardly liberal. Why was it proper for Congress to insert "under God" into the pledge in 1954 for expressly religious reasons but improper for the judicial branch to rely upon the Establishment Clause in declaring it unconstitutional in 2002? The precise role of the federal judiciary is to ensure that the Bill of Rights protects individuals from the tyranny, or merely the temporary whims, of the majority.

But none of those nuances mattered last week. It's hard to remember a time in our recent history when federal judges were subjected to so much disrespect and vitriol from virtually every corner of America. It's not a good sign. The Framers of the Constitution gave federal judges life tenure precisely because they wanted them to be immune from public pressure. Our leaders should -- and do -- criticize judges. That's their First Amendment right, too. But they shouldn't ridicule judges with ad hominem insults when those judges render unpopular decisions. That's what judges are paid to do.
President Bush, in criticizing the pledge ruling, promised to appoint "common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God." That kind of statement goes beyond mere criticism; it undermines judges' constitutional authority and questions their integrity. With all due respect to the president and Congress, where's all the due respect to the third branch of government?

Whoever is to blame for this sad state of affairs, the result is a dangerous assault on the credibility and authority of judges. Judging from the outcry over the pledge case, this offensive against the sensibility of judges is clearly shaking the trust and confidence that people have in the ability of the judiciary to render fair and honest decisions. It's got to stop. It's time for the president and members of Congress to once again express their disagreement with judicial decisions in a more respectful way than by calling judges "stupid" or their decisions "ridiculous."

As the legal war on terror becomes more intense -- and as the administration asks all of us to sacrifice some individual liberties for collective security -- we are going to need a strong, independent judiciary to check the president and Congress. That's why this judge-trashing trend is scary, and counterproductive. The judicial respect and authority our political leaders are so cavalierly tearing down today won't be easy to rebuild.


Richard Cohen drives home the point about the coercive effect of group recitations of the pledge:

After a lifetime in journalism, I can tell you that some members of Congress are religious skeptics. Some are even agnostics or atheists. That's true of society in general and it is no less true of our national leaders.

Yet, not one questioned the consensus. Not one stood up for that school kid in California -- not one. If these men and women, adults with immense influence, were cowed into acting like 8-year-olds in the classroom, then how can we expect real 8-year-olds to assert their constitutional right to delete the phrase or not recite the pledge at all? What kid can stand up to that kind of pressure? Certainly, no member of Congress could.

Tuesday, 09 July 2002

14:30 BST: Permalink


Julian Bond's inspirational speech

Ann Coulter's book hammered by right-winger

Bob Herbert says Bush reminds him of Pig-Pen

Matt Welch says "Dubya losing the benefit of the doubt "

14:23 BST: Permalink
Charlie and Feorag are paying homage to the taxman. As tradition calls for, I congratulate Charlie and wish Feorag good luck. But mainly, I remind them that while we can't make it to Amsterdam, they are, as always welcome to stay in our front room again.

And speaking of Feorag, she has a creepy story up from the Philadelphia Inquirer about a man who stabbed his son over 100 times because:

"The guy was giving me problems. That is why I kill him. Sir, what if he really is the devil?" O'Hara asked homicide detectives, [Assistant District Attorney Jodi] Lobel said.
00:05 BST: Permalink
I just saw this shocking notice in the July Ansible:

Avedon Carol is namechecked in a London Review of Books personal ad: a dentist 'seeks mercurial amalgam of Dinah Washington, Lucille Bogan, Audrey Hepburn, Avedon Carol and Wendy Kaminer to revive heart shot full of Novocaine with impacted wisdom and regular soft tissue examinations ...'

Monday, 08 July 2002

22:20 BST: Permalink

Uncertain Principles finds more Republican projection and points out that if you really want to blame a president for promoting the idea that irresponsibility is acceptable, it's not Clinton who deserves the hit:

The real shame here, though, is that they're not too far off. Not that I'm saying Clinton was responsible (really, do you think good conservative-type businessmen would take their lead from Clinton?), but I do believe that the tone for the current rash of executive malfeasance was set by a past occupant of the Oval Office (not the current one, either). I mean, let's look at the defenses offered by the principal figures in the Enron case: Ken Lay was "duped" by the senior managers, while Jeffrey Skilling "claimed not to know the details of Enron's problematic partnerships." Or look at the Worldcom case, where they're engaged in frantic buck-passing.

The true origin of this behavior has its roots farther back than the Clinton Administration. These people are following the spiritual lead of Ronald Reagan. I mean, think about it-- here we have the chief executives of major corporations disavowing all knowledge of the shady dealings carried on by their underlings, and putting the blame off onto subordinates and contractors (who will undoubtedly wriggle out on immunity deals and go on to profitable talk radio careers and maybe run for the Senate, in the manner of past high-profile felons).

Say what you will about Clinton, but nobody ever claimed he was ignorant of what went on in his White House. Not even his ardent defenders. If you want a cultural antecedent for the current round of CEO's using ignorance and gross incompetence as an excuse for their blatant malfeasance, you've got to go back to the Eighties, and put the blame on Ronald Reagan.

Indeed. During the '80s it really bugged me that people had started talking like the laws of gravity had been repealed and there was no downside to the Thatcher/Reagan economy. Then when that all went ass-up and you'd have thought people would have learned from it, they just blamed it on Bush1 and Major for not carrying on their predecessors' program. Along come the '90s and you'd swear this time people had to have learned something, but at that point we were seeing the most overblown rhetoric yet about how the law of gravity really had been repealed and now the economy could never go bad again!

I'm actually pretty mad at Clinton and Gore for talking up the so-called "surplus", which wasn't a surplus at all and should not have been touted as one - thus giving Bush2 the excuse to give away this imaginary money. But the guy who kept telling us to spend like there's no tomorrow wasn't Bill Clinton. Clinton and Gore actually talked and acted like you ought to be responsible with the nation's money, and they certainly never gave any hint that they thought cheating your employees out of their pensions in the name of your own personal wealth was a good idea.

Elsewhere on the same page, there's a useful response to Steven Den Beste on teachers and tenure, and another on school vouchers in general. Like Orzel, I can't put any faith in the pro-vouchers arguments, and he discusses some good reasons to doubt them.

12:20 BST: Permalink wants you to read an article:

Cornering the World's Water

This is what Bush's corporate hegemony really means. Soon we will not even be able to drink water or draw a breath without being held up. A handful of transnational corporations, backed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are now aggressively taking over the management of public water services, dramatically raising the price of water to the local residents and profiting especially from the Third World's desperate search for solutions to its water crisis. Some are startlingly open about their motives. The decline in fresh water supplies and standards has created a wonderful venture opportunity for water corporations and their investors, they boast. The agenda is clear: water should be treated like any other tradable good, its use and distribution determined by the principles of profit.

Sunday, 07 July 2002

20:30 BST: Permalink

Ananova reports Placard-carrying gnomes take to Jersey streets:

Garden gnomes carrying placards have mysteriously appeared on roads on Jersey.

They've been spotted by motorists at various locations, but the reason behind their appearance is a mystery.

The gnomes' placards carry messages such as "Justice not Jail", "Generation Why" and "Elves Presley".

It's not known who or what the gnomes are protesting about.

No group has taken responsibility as yet but it looks to me like the peaceful island of Jersey is suffering the evil machinations of the international conspiracy known as the shadowy Gnome Liberation Front.

20:12 BST: Permalink
Richard Dawkins has a fascinating article on Frederick William Sanderson in The Guardian that should definitely go into your file on education, but here's a timely quote I just loved:

How often did you hear that sort of thing in a religious service? Or this, his gentle indictment of mindless patriotism, delivered on Empire Day at the close of the first world war? He went right through the Sermon on the Mount, concluding each Beatitude with a mocking, Rule Britannia:

"Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Rule Britannia!
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth. Rule Britannia!
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Rule Britannia!
"Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness sake. Rule Britannia!
"Dear souls! My dear souls! I wouldn't lead you astray for anything."

Sanderson was the schoolmaster of whom H.G. Wells wrote, "I think him beyond question the greatest man I have ever known with any degree of intimacy." Dawkins says that the biography written by a group of Sanderson's own former pupils is what really drives that point home.

19:46 BST: Permalink
Now Jim Henley seems to be taking me to task for having a lone nut theory rather than a paranoid/conspiracy theory about Anthrax Man. And, again, I seem to have meandered off point, but I'm not sure I have enough attachment to the argument to keep at it.

Saturday, 06 July 2002

20:00 BST: Permalink


From Nathan Newman, another jaw-dropper:

Right Joins Big Laden in Attacking NYC-
Some rightwingers are actually calling for launching an economic boycott of New York City. Joining their fellow Taliban, they think New York is a bed of religious sin due to its friendliness to gay unions.
...Can you imagine the media backlash if some liberal groups had called for boycotting Oklahoma for its conservative politics after the McVeigh bombings there?
Brad DeLong has a response to the idea that people who fail to watch the ads during television shows are "thieves", with a list of other pernicious practices that deprive advertisers of their due. These include things like inviting friends over to watch pay-per-view and blocking pop-up ads (as a Mozilla user, I am GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY!), and, my favorite:

Watching MTV if you are older than 35 or Matlock reruns if you are younger than 40. Advertisers buy ads to reach a particular demographic. If you aren't part of that demographic you are, effectively, a thief.
Brian Linse at AintNoBadDude notes that Wal-Mart has discovered that guns they've sold have been used in the commission of crimes so now Wal-Mart is going to require background checks for gun purchases.

And The Daily Howler has a new format that is looking suspiciously blog-like. I hope that means it'll be back to updating more frequently.

03:35 BST: Permalink

One nation, under Deism...and Farber

Just a bit of a round-up: Yes, I did read some of the right-wing blogs that commented negatively on the Pledge decision (and that cheered for the magnificent waste of time and tax dollars in the Congressional resolution over it), but they didn't come up with anything less lame than the stuff I discussed last Friday and frankly I'm not in the mood to beat that horse anymore at the moment. (This could change in mere minutes, of course: Keep it up and I'm bound to notice eventually.) Meanwhile, Armed Liberal made a fairly disappointing statement that pretty well underscores the point that it's at least anti-social and probably unAmerican to insist on equal respect for your religious beliefs if they don't happen to include public displays of piety on behalf of monotheism. And forced recitations in school of the Pledge in its current form goes a long way to teaching us that message from childhood.

I'm not going to quote from this item on warbloggerwatch at all because there are certain people who I'd just as soon not have dropping by (but go read it for a thrill); however, it raises a point I was wondering about myself and had planned to mention: why are people who are still angry that the North won the war so gung-ho to force school children to pledge to the "indivisible" republic? Or is it just that they know full well that kids are really just pledging to Richard Stands and his invisible nation?

On the side of Good, Elton Beard has picked up the point about how supposedly "under God" isn't really a meaningful breach of the First Amendment ("because it's just a shtick and not really a religious reference") and says that's fine with him as long as we define a meaningless official meaning of the ceremonial "God". He also notes that, depending on which poll you check, anywhere from 10% (Fox news) to 36% (CNN Moneyline) of Americans support the 9th Circuit's decision, but 99% of your representatives in the Senate voted to condemn it - the one who didn't vote was Jessie Helms (and this is only a guess, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't just too busy fighting alongside the JLA to prevent a world takeover by Braniac to rush back to DC and stand up as the sole Senate voice for the separation of church and state). Take note, Democrats: every Democrat in the Senate went on the record in opposition to the perfectly correct 9th Circuit decision. Every one of them stood up to oppose your Constitutional right not to have other people's religious beliefs shoved down your (and your children's) throats. This includes not just my two used-to-be reliably liberal Democratic Senators, but all of your favorite picks for the next new Great Liberal Hope for the 2004 presidential election. Speaking as a patriot, that disgusts me.

Oh, yeah, on Tuesday Gary Farber wrote something about the point I'd already raised Friday regarding the dynamics of requiring children to be indoctrinated in religion in school or else start their own personal classroom holy wars. He also linked to good pieces in The National Review by Matthew Hoffman and Jonathan Cohn. Three hours later he wrote to me to express disappointment that I hadn't commented on his apparently many entries on the subject. I say "apparently" because, although he used the phrase "any number of my pledge entries", I've only noticed two previous posts, one of which is just a quote from the same Crossfire transcript I also quoted from before I noticed Gary's entry, in which he doesn't add much in the way of commentary, and the other was the one condemning Cal Thomas (who deserves all the heat he gets, but he deserved it long before this) - both posted on Sunday. So I guess I missed his other posts - especially the one where he linked to my commentary about the pledge, which must be why he was so surprised that I didn't mention him reciprocally.

He also seemed to be upset that I "revealed" a UPI story that contained information he already knew. I understand that I'm not the only blogger who has committed such sins and been taken to task. Strangely, he doesn't have the same complaint when almost everything else I post is also about stuff that was in the papers many months or years or decades ago. Think, Gary: Why do you imagine I find it necessary to mention that Nixon committed serious abuses of power, even though I suspect you may have seen this in the mainstream media at the time? Am I claiming it is a state secret that Bush pardoned his co-conspirators in Iran-Contra? Don't you feel a bit stupid assuming that everyone who reads blogs, some of whom are only 30 (or younger) themselves, is fully aware of every word that has been printed in The New York Times in the last 30 years? (And why don't you blog this stuff, too, since you get more right-wing readers than I do and some of them no doubt still think that Nixon was unfairly hounded out of office and Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich is the most egregious presidential pardon in history?) By the way, the fact that Gore got the most votes in Florida was also in the NYT, and yet, strangely, not everyone knows it!

To add insult to insult, Gary gleefully remarked in a post Thursday that no one but him was blogging because it was the 4th. News flash, Gary: those of us on this side of the water who weren't away on holiday and wrote a boat-load more than you did are not actually "non-existent".

Jeez, he insults me three times and then comes fishing for compliments. I guess The New York Times hasn't had an article yet on why that's a dumb strategy.

Thursday, 04 July 2002

16:40 BST: Permalink


Gah, I'm supposed to be a good writer, how can it happen that I was so unclear that Jim Henley completely missed my point? No, no, Jim, it's nothing to do with all that! I don't believe any government was behind the anthrax attacks! What I believe is that some right-wing loony who happened to be in a position to do so decided - quite privately - to attack some of the right's favorite hate objects.

But first, a digression. Edward Monks' article on the demise of the Fairness Doctrine (which is very good and everyone should go read it right now) talks about how just two networks dominate radio, and their voices are unrelentingly right wing:

For anyone old enough to remember 15 years earlier when the Fairness Doctrine applied, it is a breathtakingly remarkable change - made even more remarkable by the fact that the hosts whose views are given this virtual monopoly of political expression spend a great deal of time talking about "the liberal media."

Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society, where government commissars or party propaganda ministers enforce the acceptable view with threats of violence. There is nothing fair, balanced or democratic about it. Yet the almost complete right wing Republican domination of political talk radio in this country has been accomplished without guns or gulags. Let's see how it happened.

Talk radio, along with a number of conservative newspaper columnists and talk shows on both broadcast and network television, recite Republican talking points with one voice, and the most prominent message of those talking points is that anyone who is not a Republican or right-winger is a liar, a coward, a traitor, a degenerate, a destroyer of all that is good. It is unremitting hate speech, and it has an effect. I don't think there's any question that the rise of right-wing hate media and its dominance of the airwaves has helped to focus the hatreds of right-wing loonies. Constantly reminded that liberals are evil, that Tom Daschle is kin to Satan and Saddam, that Patrick Leahy is using his power to stop the inclusion of righteous men in our judiciary, that the vast liberal conspiracy is trying to force Good Honest Businessmen to hire the lazy, the weak, and the perverted, that Democrats "play politics" with everything while upstanding Republicans are just trying to do what's right, yes, I believe some right-wing fruitcake, under the influence of an entire leadership and media of right-wing fruitcakes, has decided to take matters into his own hands, just like they do when they bomb abortion clinics and shoot gynecologists. Why should I not believe it? It's hardly as if they haven't been doing it for years.

I know a lot of people like to pretend that 9/11 marked the advent of terrorism in America. Well, it didn't. Conservatives had the luxury, apparently, of not noticing that some of us were being terrorized all along - by Good Red-Blooded Christian Americans. The Aryan Nations don't just hate the government because it's government, they hate it because they believe it has been taken over by liberals and - that's right - Jews. Maybe I didn't think about it much, either, until the night that cop pulled my fan belt out from under the hood and showed me where it had been cut and asked, "Do you have any enemies?" It took me a moment to remember I'd been to see my doctor that day, in the same medical office building on Rockville Pike that holds an abortion clinic that is frequently the target of anti-choice demonstrations. I pointed to my pro-choice bumper-sticker.

"Liberal" organizations have been getting anthrax threats for a long time, long before 9/11; at Planned Parenthood, it is routine. So why wouldn't the idea of a domestic, right-wing terrorist be the first, rather than last, likely scenario in a new round of attacks on targets that are identified by right-wing pundits as "liberal" - the media and two leading Democrats?

But our leaders, our media, and our punditocracy in general were mysteriously unwilling to entertain the notion that American right-wingers could possibly have been involved. Instead, every stretch imaginable was made to try to shoe-horn the facts to fit a theory that it was Al Qaeda, or Iraq, behind it all. And therefore not one of our leaders was prepared to say the obvious: Hate propaganda was in all probability doing its work. No one wanted to say that at a time when identified "liberal" targets are being attacked, it's wrong to promote the view that Tom Daschle is in Satan's pocket, is in alliance with Saddam; it's wrong to continue to purvey propaganda that makes the media and Democrats into hate figures.

(Note: I said "wrong", not "should be illegal".)

Jim explains this as follows:

That's because everyone was decrying germ warfare against Americans in general! Why would anyone, Republican or otherwise, prominent or not, condemn the attempted murder of "two Democratic leaders" more than the actual murders of a mailroom worker, a nurse, and three other admittedly non-prominent victims?
Really? If "everyone" was so concerned, why not pay attention to little things like who had a history of using anthrax against Americans and who the actual targets were? Surely it's not invisible to an observer that the people who did die were what McVie called "collateral damage" - that the intended victims were people who had been publicly identified by hate radio as "liberals". Aiming invective at Al Qaeda and Saddam when the likely culprit is your neighborhood right-wing American fruitcake smacks of a decided lack of concern for both the targets and the actual victims. And while all this decrying of bioterrorism was going on, even more decrying of Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy was occurring in advertisements paid for by the Republican Party and individual Republican campaigns, not to mention on Fox and hate radio.

Don't you get it? We've been told we're at war, and Americans have been identified as The Enemy. This has been going on continuously since 9/11 - the ACLU, people in "Blue States", and Susan Sontag are a fifth column; people who criticize American foreign policy or any part of Bush policies are "helping the terrorists"; the Democratic Party are traitors; we should kill a few liberals.

Yes, a right-wing pundit recommended that "we" should kill a few liberals, but I guess that's not as crazy, as deserving of immediate repudiation, as Tom Dashcle - who was decried by the Republican leadership - asking for an investigation into what went wrong on 9/11. Ann Coulter was not fired for advocating the murder of Americans, but for attacking her editors publicly - and she continued to appear on television and have her columns published elsewhere. Criticisms of Coulter - most of them appearing outside of the mainstream media - are nothing compared to the attacks made on Dan Rather for hinting at something less than admiration for Bush's performance on 9/11 (and two newspaper columnists were fired for making similar comments). The Attorney General of the United States, rather than advising calm or expressing opprobrium at violent rhetoric (or looking for Anthrax Man in the locations he is most likely to be), also prefers to attack Democrats for asking questions. Upholding the Constitutional separation between church and state comes in for a roar of condemnation from Congress and the White House; calling for the murder of Americans does not. One is hard-pressed to escape the feeling that terrorism is not so much a problem for the Republican leadership and the right as it is an excuse to turn up the heat in their war against Americans.

03:30 BST: Permalink
And I'm still not over it.

Hundreds Suspected of Voting Twice, says Newsday:

NEW YORK -- More than 850 people are suspected of having voted in two different states in the 2000 presidential election, including 402 in both New York and Florida, officials said Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Elections confirmed that it is investigating the allegations of double-voting and has asked the Republican National Committee to provide any information it has.

RNC spokesman Kevin Sheridan said the committee is cooperating and is preparing a list of names it recorded as voting twice to hand over to city election officials.

Details of the investigation were first reported Wednesday in the New York Post.

Preliminary RNC research has uncovered 858 instances of people who appeared to double vote in various combinations of 11 states; the New York-Florida combination was the largest with 402.

"We suspect there are many, many more," Sheridan said.

Wednesday, 03 July 2002

20:15 BST: Permalink

Expect a terror alert soon

Are things going sour for Bush? In yesterday's NYT, Richard W. Stevenson was already heralding the warning in Looking Anew at Value of a Corporate Pedigree:

WASHINGTON, July 2 — George W. Bush is the first president with an M.B.A., and his administration once proudly promoted its corporate experience as evidence of how it could bring boardroom smarts to governance and policy.

But as the hard-charging, profit-producing, globe-conquering chief executive of the 1990's gives way in popular culture to the disgraced, book-cooking defendant of the post-boom era, the political appeal of a corporate pedigree is no longer so certain.

It could hold particular peril for Mr. Bush and his team as they respond to the wave of corporate financial scandals by taking a hard line against executives found to have misled investors. In essentially saying there should be a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to corporate ethical breaches, the president has opened the door to a re-examination of his own business record, as well as the records of Vice President Dick Cheney, members of his cabinet and other administration officials who have logged time in the corner office.

While Mr. Bush and other officials have always said they have nothing to hide, they are already finding their effort to position themselves as guardians of investor trust complicated by questions about their own handling of accounting issues, stock sales and the like.

Just today, Mr. Bush was asked about his sale of stock 12 years ago in the Harken Energy Corporation, a company whose board he had joined after selling it another company he had run. Mr. Bush sold the stock as it was falling in value, and before the company publicly disclosed a loss that sent the stock down further.

And Mike Allen on today's Federal Page in The Washington Post says Memo Cited Bush's Late SEC Filings.

Things are heating up.

20:00 BST: Permalink
I thought this was the Torygraph, but Owen Boswarva woke me up and pointed out that it's the Australian Daily Telegraph:

THE world outside the US is now getting used to the fact Americans have a fraudulently elected nitwit as their president, but George W. Bush excelled himself this week with a "long-awaited" definitive speech on Middle East policies that stretched even the weirdest imaginations.
18:35 BST: Permalink
Forward into the past

Tapped is recommending Barbara Ehrenreich's NYT piece, Two-Tiered Morality, about being a low-wage worker, especially at Wal-Mart. Ehrenreich's research involves more than just talking to people:

Extreme submissiveness to authority is another desirable trait. When I applied for a job at Wal-Mart in the spring of 2000, I was reprimanded for getting something "wrong" on this test: I had agreed only "strongly" to the proposition, "All rules have to be followed to the letter at all times." The correct answer was "totally agree."

Apparently the one rule that need not be slavishly adhered to at Wal-Mart is the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that employees be paid time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Present and former Wal-Mart employees in 28 states are suing the company for failure to pay overtime.

A Wal-Mart spokesman says it is company policy "to pay its employees properly for the hours they work." Maybe so, but it wasn't a policy I remember being emphasized in the eight-hour orientation session all new "associates" are required to attend. The session included a video on "associate honesty" that showed a cashier being caught on videotape as he pocketed some bills from the cash register. Drums beat ominously as he was led away in handcuffs and sentenced to four years in prison.

The personnel director warned us, in addition, against "time theft," or the use of company time for anything other than work — "anything at all," she said, which was interpreted in my store as including trips to the bathroom. We were to punch out even for our two breaks, to make sure we did not exceed the allotted 15 minutes.

It turns out, however, that Wal-Mart management doesn't hold itself to the same standard of rectitude it expects from its low-paid employees. My first inkling of this came in the form of a warning from a co-worker not to let myself be persuaded to work overtime because, she explained, Wal-Mart doesn't pay overtime. Naïvely, I told her this was impossible; such a large company would surely not be flouting federal law.

I should have known better. We had been apprised, during orientation, that even after punching out, associates were required to wait on any customers who might approach them. Thanks to the further requirement that associates wear their blue and yellow vests until the moment they went out the door, there was no avoiding pesky last-minute customers.

Now some present and former employees have filed lawsuits against Wal-Mart. They say they were ordered to punch out after an eight-hour shift and then continue working for no pay. In a practice, reported in The Times, that you might expect to find only in a third-world sweatshop, Wal-Mart store managers in six states have locked the doors at closing time, some employees say, forcing all present to remain for an hour or more of unpaid labor.

I'm sure that any minute now the Bush administration will put a stop to Wal-Mart's law-breaking by eliminating the laws so they won't have to break them anymore. One of the charades the Republican aristocracy runs is the pretense that they want to return us to the allegedly better aspects of the 1950s. Actually, what they are building is the worst aspects of the pre-union days when most working men spent 12 hours a day, seven days a week, at work, and their wives were home all day changing and washing sheets and preparing big breakfasts and dinners for the single men they had to rent beds to in order to keep afloat. For factory work, they can run it like the old steel mills, where the men alternated shifts and the women had to prepare two breakfast, each followed immediately by dinner, and change and wash the sheets twice-daily, for the men who rented their beds in shifts as well. As it was then, the air can be black, while the people who have brought us this libertarian dream can relax on their country estates secure in the knowledge that their managers will fire anyone who makes waves and call in the Pinkerton's to break a few legs if any talk of collective bargaining starts to gain credence.

13:26 BST: Permalink
Making Wars

More on Bush and Iraq, from Scott Ritter in The Los Angeles Times:

President Bush has reportedly authorized the CIA to use all of the means at its disposal--including U.S. military special operations forces and CIA paramilitary teams--to eliminate Iraq's Saddam Hussein. According to reports, the CIA is to view any such plan as "preparatory" for a larger military strike.

Congressional leaders from both parties have greeted these reports with enthusiasm. In their rush to be seen as embracing the president's hard-line stance on Iraq, however, almost no one in Congress has questioned why a supposedly covert operation would be made public, thus undermining the very mission it was intended to accomplish.

It is high time that Congress start questioning the hype and rhetoric emanating from the White House regarding Baghdad, because the leaked CIA plan is well timed to undermine the efforts underway in the United Nations to get weapons inspectors back to work in Iraq. In early July, the U.N. secretary-general will meet with Iraq's foreign minister for a third round of talks on the return of the weapons monitors. A major sticking point is Iraqi concern over the use--or abuse--of such inspections by the U.S. for intelligence collection.

I recall during my time as a chief inspector in Iraq the dozens of extremely fit "missile experts" and "logistics specialists" who frequented my inspection teams and others. Drawn from U.S. units such as Delta Force or from CIA paramilitary teams such as the Special Activities Staff (both of which have an ongoing role in the conflict in Afghanistan), these specialists had a legitimate part to play in the difficult cat-and-mouse effort to disarm Iraq. So did the teams of British radio intercept operators I ran in Iraq from 1996 to 1998--which listened in on the conversations of Hussein's inner circle--and the various other intelligence specialists who were part of the inspection effort.

The presence of such personnel on inspection teams was, and is, viewed by the Iraqi government as an unacceptable risk to its nation's security.

As early as 1992, the Iraqis viewed the teams I led inside Iraq as a threat to the safety of their president. They were concerned that my inspections were nothing more than a front for a larger effort to eliminate their leader.

Those concerns were largely baseless while I was in Iraq. Now that Bush has specifically authorized American covert-operations forces to remove Hussein, however, the Iraqis will never trust an inspection regime that has already shown itself susceptible to infiltration and manipulation by intelligence services hostile to Iraq, regardless of any assurances the U.N. secretary-general might give.

The leaked CIA covert operations plan effectively kills any chance of inspectors returning to Iraq, and it closes the door on the last opportunity for shedding light on the true state of affairs regarding any threat in the form of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

And on Israel and the Palestinians, this from UPI (via Kill Your TV):

Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.

01:22 BST: Permalink
New Bush Scandal

(WASHINGTON, D.C., July 2, 2000: Special to MWO) In a shocking new development in the mounting corporate corruption scandals, it has been revealed that George W. Bush violated securities regulations at least four times in the 1980's and 1990's -- including one violation that occurred while Bush was completing precisely the sort of stock-dump swindle which his Enron executive buddies allegedly pulled off last year.

The Securities and Exchange Commission discovered aspects of Bush's rip-off at the time. An internal SEC report, dated April 9, 1991 and later obtained and released by the Center for Public Integrity, noted that Dubya had established a pattern of violating SEC reporting regulations. The report also announced that SEC investigators had opened an investigation into Bush's insider stock dumping the year before.

But suddenly, under then-President George H.W. Bush's hand-picked SEC chairman, the agency halted its probe of Dubya, brought no charges, and deep-sixed the case.

Now, in light of George W. Bush's denunciation of exactly the sort of practices that he himself used to build his fortune, the Bush Administration is in deep crisis.

Washington political observers are saying that only a full-scale probe of Bush's past corporate criminal activities -- and the possible cover-up of those activities by his father's appointees -- can restore confidence in Dubya's shaken administration.

The case goes back to the younger Bush's involvement with the Harken Energy Corporation twelve years ago. [more]

Tuesday, 02 July 2002

22:50 BST: Permalink

Hand on your heart

Looks like Avram was ahead of us all on the Pledge:

Here's to good friends. Tonight is kind of special. The beer we'll pour must be something more somehow, under God. So tonight, let it be Lowenbrau.

I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony, under God. I'd like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.

Ask any mermaid you happen to see, what's the best tuna under God? Chicken of the Sea.

On the more serious side, David Corn says:

The response to the court's decision exposed the fundamentalism that weaves through American public life.
It's no surprise that Falwell would use the occasion to preach fundamentalism and hatred (at least, hatred of judges). Or that flag-waving pols would wrap themselves in the pledge. Or that Bush, the son of a president who made the pledge a key issue in his 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis, would follow suit. But after Bush had a night to ponder the court's decision -- you think he read it? -- he took pledge-mania fundamentalism a giant step further. At the G8 summit, he opened a press conference with Russian president Vladmir Putin by saying, "We need common sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God and those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench." That is a major -- and stunning -- policy declaration. Bush was announcing a new litmus test for judges. It's not just whether you're a conservative or constructionist (or meet the political needs of Karl Rove, Bush's uberstrategist). The question is: Do you believe in God, and believe that secular law follows the law of God? In other words, there are no atheists -- or agnostics -- in Bush's chambers.

Did Bush realize what he was saying? Is he going to ask all potential judicial nominees to tell him their view of God and the derivation of rights? How is this fundamentalism -- only believers need apply -- different from that of America's enemies?

The 9th Circuit Court panel's decision surely will not stand. Few judges -- or justices -- are going to challenge the nation's basic attitudes toward God and patriotism, no matter their constitutional obligations. But praise these two appeal judges -- Alfred Goodwin and Stephen Reinhardt -- for rendering a gutsy decision and for flushing American fundamentalism into the open. Francis Bellamy would probably tip his hat to them -- and then cry over what his pledge has become.

On Crossfire, after a breathless bit of zaniness from Ann Coulter, two of the three House members who voted against the resolution on the Pledge explain their reasons. Michael D. Honda (D-CA):

I'm a Christian and I believe in the Pledge of Allegiance. It's an allegiance to our flag and to our country. But there's a firewall, and that firewall is a principle of separation of church and state.

Last night I was visiting the Jefferson Memorial and there is a quote there that brings it home for -- at least for me. And it said that I am for freedom of religion but I'm against all maneuvers for any movement -- legal movement -- to have one sect stand over another, and I think that that says it quite concisely.

And Bobby Scott (D-VA):

Well, what I was thinking was that it was ridiculous to delay consideration of the military construction budget, Medicare, prescription drugs under Medicare, trying to fix the budget mess and crisis that we're in right now, to deal with something that we couldn't do anything about.

Now, I tend to agree with the minority decision in that case, but the idea that we're going to take time, every time we disagree with a Constitutional question ruled by the court, it would be absolutely ridiculous. It's not the first time. We do it all the time up here.

But the fact is any time somebody has their rights vindicated by the Supreme Court or any court on a Constitutional basis, it's going to be unpopular. And so having a stream of members make a spectacle out of themselves, saying how much they disagree with the decision -- of course they disagree with the decision.

(And then keep reading through the final segment, in which Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice unwittingly makes the case against school vouchers when he argues that it's no problem because if a religious school happens to be teaching things you don't like, tax money won't go to that particular school.

And also:

CARLSON: I mean, who cares if a high school student gets a drug test? I mean, why is this...

CARVILLE: Because who cares if they knock your door down?

Just watch those conservatives defend your rights!)

20:00 BST: Permalink
I've gotten behind in reading John O'Farrell. I have to admit, British humor columnists, though they can be pretty good, don't compel me the way a lot of other things do, but they have their moments. Like in Live from Downing Street ...:

This government is fed up of being accused of an obsession with the media. So they're starting regular briefing sessions to be reported on the telly, on the radio and in the newspapers. "No more spin!" said the press releases arriving in every newsroom in the country. "Policy before presentation!" said the hot air balloons all over London.
But the weird one - look, I know this guy is writing a humor column, but how did I miss a story like this?

It's no wonder that ITV Digital couldn't get anyone to pay for their various channels. Not when you can watch live footage from US spyplanes for free.

This week it was revealed that for the past six months it's been possible to watch transmissions from American spy planes with an ordinary satellite dish. What would normally require a secret video link was being broadcast unencrypted across the world via a commercial TV satellite, with a live connection to the internet just in case one or two terrorists had failed to catch the current US troop movements on their telly.

This bizarre lapse in security was discovered last year, but the broadcasts have still not been halted. If you failed to spot the whacky adventures of the American army listed in your copy of TV Quick, don't worry, you can still catch the omnibus edition that goes out on Sunday. If the US military wanted to keep the information top secret, they could at least have switched transmission to Channel Five. If they'd stuck it between Barney and Friends and Family Affairs then maybe no one would have ever seen it.

Hm. Maybe that isn't all that funny. How about this from The Sydney Morning Herald?
The world is leery of America's big plan for the Middle East. It was redrafted 28 times and, says Paul McGeough in New York, it's still no good. There are wily statesmen and then there's George W. Bush. What was he trying to do? It was one thing to sit down with Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and decide that the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, had to go, but then to go and tell everyone in the Rose Garden? Four days later the US President stands alone.

The broad European and Arab support he claimed on Monday is not there and even the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is not buying his deal-maker proposition - that if the Middle East peace process is to be kicked into gear, then Arafat and his cronies have to be kicked out of office.

So Bush upped the ante. At a meeting of the leaders of the G8 nations in Canada on Wednesday, he threatened to withhold US aid to the occupied territories and he let it be known he would not accept a democratically re-elected Arafat. And he even equivocated - which is to say that he did not rule out US military action - when reporters asked if Arafat and his colleagues now qualified for the pre-emptive strikes that the US has threatened against terrorists and those who give them a haven.

This is dangerous talk, especially as it came on the same day that a key Bush defence adviser, Richard Perle, publicly urged his leader to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq, because it would be a wonderful incentive for the people of Iran to revolt against the mullahs.

"I'm never ruling out military ... all options are available," the President told the reporters.

There is quiet anger and resentment from London to Tokyo and across the Middle East at what Bush has done and, just as importantly, how he did it. It didn't have to be like this. Bush didn't have to go public to set about seeking his objective. The wise leader uses diplomatic channels, not a bugle.

Nope, that's not funny at all.

18:30 BST: Permalink
Taking the Pledge

A new suggestion has come along that you substitute the words of your choice for "under God" in the Pledge if you are forced to say it. I'd like to be in the classroom where an audible minority of students say, "under Allah" or "without God" or some other variation.

Someone in IRC who calls himself "bacteradio" suggested last night that an illuminating substitute for "God" might be "Clinton's penis". I believe it was Bartcop who thought "Tubesteak Messiah" (a term given us by Atrios) was even better. It's certainly tempting to exploit the obsession the right wing seems to have with the Demo-stud and his organ, but in all probability even the most partisan Democrats would hesitate to instruct their children to deal with the issue in these terms.

Still, you'd think by now they'd have gotten tired of it, but as many have noted, the wielder of The Mighty Democratic Organ is now being blamed for all the business scandals that occurred thanks largely to deregulation legislation that he refused to sign but which, alas, had veto-proof majorities. MWO quotes from a Politically Incorrect transcript that seemed to be unavailable when I clicked on it:

Genevieve: God forbid, while he's chasing interns and --
Bill: Thank you for falling into my trap one more time.
Tim: Look into my eyes, you will now be distracted by an affair.
Bill: Exactly.
Genevieve: No, no, no... The point is -- when you turn your back on the chief executive of the country and act like what he's doing behind closed doors is okay, what are you signaling to other people in the country? ...
Bill Clinton had an affair, so all crime and sin by others is now Clinton's fault. Not that it is explicable that anyone can claim that Clinton's affair was ignored. As a person who doesn't have cable and pays no attention to celebrities, I have no idea who this Genevieve Woods is aside from being a crackpot, but she's not the only one, and how can anyone say this stuff? At least if you want to blame a president who got away with it because people "looked the other way", blame GHW Bush, who lied much more explicitly about a long-term affair without it becoming a federal case. Or more appropriately, blame the current occupant of the White House, who was rewarded for lying his way into a neck-and-neck race against a real candidate and then, having lost the election, lied his way into the idea that he'd really "won" and into the White House itself while the media in virtually its entirety looked the other way - or aided and abetted. Just as it is doing right now when he is hip-deep in every kind of malfeasance, neglect, and exploitation.

It's hard to fathom a lack of, um, moral clarity this intense. These seem to be people who have no real ideology other than to hate the Democrats and particularly the Clintons. They call Clinton a degenerate because he had an affair, yet have no criticism of the impeachment managers themselves who were all having affairs. They claim it's "the lying, not the sex," but aren't the least bit bothered when the Bushistas openly lie about far more important things, commit real perjury, and even are convicted of crimes. They express outrage at the fact that Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, but are fine with the fact that Bush1 pardoned his co-conspirators and now they are part of the Bush2 government. They say they hate Clinton for being a draft avoider, but seem oblivious to the fact that most of the Vietnam vets in Congress are Democrats, and are unconcerned that George W. Bush himself was probably AWOL during the war. They insist they are more patriotic than Democrats and more concerned with national security, but they don't seem to mind that George Bush's administration ignored terrorism warnings from allies and even from avid Clinton-hater Louis Freeh. They profess to be horrified by the fact that some civil liberties were lost under the Clinton regime, but they never seemed to object to the Republicans who pushed for those changes, and they are virtually silent on far worse suspensions of our rights occurring under this administration. They assert that they hate Clinton because he "sold" secrets to the Chinese, but are not bothered that the secrets got into Chinese hands during the 1980s, before Clinton took office. They insist that people should take responsibility for their own weaknesses and crimes, but are willing to write off enormous crimes and enormous damage to the nation's economy and stature because, hey, Clinton "got away with" having an affair.

And how did he get away with it, exactly? He was impeached, he was dragged through the mud, he was disbarred, his every action was dismissed as political - including his attempts to fight terrorism and get the nation interested in the subject - so what was it that failed to happen? He wasn't drawn and quartered? Tarred and feathered? Burned at the stake? What?

He didn't hurt the economy, he didn't steal anyone's pension, he didn't leave us vulnerable to terrorist attacks, he didn't lie about his economic policies or embarrass us diplomatically and alienate our allies, he didn't exacerbate the situation between Palestinians and Israelis, he didn't violate the democratic process, he didn't even commit a crime, but he, alone of all presidents, is the guy who should have been run out of town on a rail?

Projection of this magnificence should have a name all its own. They are obsessed beyond any limits of sanity. These are people who want us to "get over" the theft of a presidential election, but they can't get over the awe and mystery of what's in Clinton's pants. Tubesteak Messiah, indeed.

14:30 BST: Permalink
Over at Unqualified Offerings, Jim Henley takes back his earlier misgivings about Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, whose recent article he recommends. He's haggling with a reader over scenarios in which a domestic anthrax mailer is either working for Iraq or trying to influence defense policy in Washington, but personally I think it's significant that Anthrax Man didn't just mail to the media and "congress (which holds the federal purse strings)" but to Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. No one who is working for Iraq has any reason whatsoever to go after the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, nor is Leahy the appropriate person to frighten into supporting an attack on Iraq or defense-related spending. Daschle, yes, but both the Iraqi-attack and scare-attack scenarios make more sense if aimed at someone who is actually working on intel/defense rather than someone whose power and influence lie in being the head of a purely domestic committee.

It still seems pretty obvious to me that Daschle and Leahy were targeted because of who they are: because they were important Democrats. Whether it was an attempt to murder them or frighten them, I think this was about domestic politics and probably explicitly partisan. I don't think it's an accident that these two men were targeted for attack at precisely the time that Rush and other hot-heads were making them into right-wing hate figures. However, I suppose it's credible that someone at Fort Detrick took it into his head that this would be a good way to soften Democrats up on bioterrorism spending and they just picked the two most familiar names from current media hate campaigns.

(Moral Clarity note: In any case, it looked like the Republicans had launched hate campaigns against these two Democratic leaders and someone had then tried to kill them, yet not one prominent Republican stood up to decry murder attempts on two Senators. My moral compass says that trying to assassinate Daschle and Leahy is significantly More Bad than being Noam Chomsky; where's the outrage?)

Another interesting post at Unqualified Offerings cites Ran HaCohen on who settles the West Bank. This is subsidized housing much more easily affordable than those expensive places within Israel and plenty of people end up there because economics push them there, but:

The subsidy programs continued through Likud and Labor governments alike. When settlers have asked for similar assistance to get the hell out, they've been turned down - by Likud and Labor governments alike.

Which leads to HaCohen's intriguing Modest Proposal:

Jews in America and world-wide should therefore use their money to support settlers who wish to leave the occupied territories and return to Israel. This should not even be a "political" issue: the settlers (and their children) are held hostage by the Israeli government, exposed to deadly violence. You do not have to be a dove to support people's right not to live in the middle of a battle-field (unless they want to). Sums and conditions can be negotiated, using as guidelines the compensations paid by Israel to the settlers evacuated from Sinai when it was returned to Egypt.
(It's a puzzle: Why can't Salon have a thoughtful non-lefty like Jim Henley instead of a raving loony like Horowitz? I suppose there is a "know your enemy" argument for the latter but if that's what they're up to they should warn their readers, and meanwhile, it furthers the corrupt meme that lefties don't want to contribute to his salary merely because he has "a different point of view" rather than because he is a poisonous jerk. Lefties will disagree with a number of Henley's positions, too, but I suspect he will engage their brains rather than just their adrenalin, and that can only be to the good. And Henley isn't nearly the sucker Jake Tapper is.)

Avedon Carol at The Sideshow, July 2002

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Is the media in denial?
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And, no, it's not named after the book or the movie. It's just another sideshow.