Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why do they do this?

In reading about the so-called Child Custody Protection Act (you know--the punishment for having sex if you're under 18 is pregnancy, no matter what) I was looking for the party breakdown of the Senators supporting the bill, and I found this table setting out how the Senators voted by astrological sign.

This is the Washington Post! A newspaper with pretentions to being taken seriously! I know they publish a daily horoscope, but really, why would any newspaper do this?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Is the Fifty-State Strategy Nuts?

I was recently in Virginia for a wedding and I had a conversation with my brother-in-law about what I thought of Howard Dean. He was asking me, and he didn't express much surprise at my statement that I couldn't stand him when he was governor because he was too conservative, even a DINO--my brother-in-law already thinks I'm a left-wing wacko.

No, what he was interested in was what I thought of Dean as national party chair, and the fifty-state strategy in particular.

I told him I'm in favor of it. I really do think that we need to reach out to people who should be our allies all across the country. In fact, we can't afford not to. I told him how I really appreciated the principle behind Dean's statement that we should be the party of the guy with the Confederate flag bumper-sticker on his pickup truck: not because we can support or even tolerate such expressions of racism, but because I think most of us agree that these expressions of racism are partly the result of feelings of frustration and marginalization that have come from economic inequality, lack of opportunity, and lack of access to real power.

My brother-in-law thinks this is a pipe dream. His reaction is that the South is gone for us, and there is no way we're ever going to get it back.

A story in today's Post demonstrates why that's not true. The story's called "Rethinking Red States", and it shows what a big difference can come from even small realignments. Look at four Southern states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina. As recently as 1994 the Democratic Party had the majority of the Senate and House delegations of these four states, and now we don't. If we could get back to where we were in 1994 we would have a majority in the Senate and we would make steps toward taking back the House.

Are we going to do this?

We don't know yet. Still, it's important to realize that we don't need to take over Mississippi, Alabama, and the other states of the Deep South--really dominate the region, the way the Party used to--to improve our position on the national scene. We can get some of these seats back, and we need to do just that.

What does this tell us in Vermont?

Look around the state. In Washington County, for instance, we have several legislative races in which the Republicans aren't fielding a candidate; there are one or two where the Republicans have a candidate and we don't. I'm sure the same thing is true across the state, even if there are some write-ins to fill the slots.

My point is that we have to do more than win our local races. Even in uncontested House districts we have important Senate elections to win. Even in safe Senate districts we're running statewide elections for Governor, Lite-Gov, Senate, Congress, and the other statewide offices. What we need to do in Vermont is the same thing Dean has shown us we have to do nationwide. It's not a fifty-state campaign in Vermont, it's a fourteen-county campaign.

Hard work wins elections. The R's haven't forgotten that, and we sure can't afford to.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

How Bush has weakened both the United States and the United Nations

I know Bush is counting on us all to forget this, but some of us remember all the way back to 2003, when one of Bush's claimed reasons for invading Iraq (without the approval of the U.N.) was that Iraq had supposedly violated U.N. resolutions, and we had to go in to enforce them. In other words, the U.N. is an important institution, its ability to pass resolutions and have them enforced is important, and if they're not man enough to do it themselves we'll do it for them.

The problem is that not only does Bush have no grasp of history (witness his reference to the fight against Muslim totalitarianism as a "crusade"), he has no sense of the future. Other countries, though, can remember as far back as three years ago, and they point out what had to be an unintended consequence of Bush's unilateral act.

This month Bush has had his panties in a twist over North Korea's testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles. (Fred Kaplan has a column here about why the result's of Kim's latest missile adventure was a good thing.) In fact, things are so bad that they were enough to even make Bush want to get the U.N. to take a stand. And they eventually did, sort of. It's just what they did before going along with what Bush wanted that is important:

China and Russia wanted no mention of Chapter VII for fear that it could be used to justify military strikes on North Korea. Opposition by both countries to the Chapter VII rubric has grown since the war in Iraq and what Beijing and Moscow see as the Bush administration’s resort to military means to remove governments it opposes. Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador, had repeatedly said he would cast his country’s veto if that reference remained.

I guess the moral here is that if you treat international institutions the way Bush has, simply a tool or an obstacle depending on your whim, when you need them to do something important they just might remember what you did last time, and you may not get what you want.

I just wonder how long it's going to be before Bush or one of his lackeys start saying that this resolution is sufficient authorization for unilateral U.S. action.

Professor Spicoli

Who's smarter: stoner Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Stanford law professor and presidential sycophant John Yoo?

Well, Yoo's take on history is basically that when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they intended to give the President essentially the same power as the king of England had to make war. Forget the Congress, forget the people, when the Constitution said the President is commander in chief that means he gets to do whatever he wants, no questions asked, no check on his power. Why? Because when they were writing the Constitution they envisioned an executive with the same power as the English king.

Spicoli has another take on it: So what Jefferson was saying was "Hey! You know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So if we don't get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we'll just be bogus too." Yeah?

Here's what legal scholar Cass Sunstein says about the question: Speaking of monarchs: Yoo emphasizes Blackstone and British practice, arguing that the United States closely followed the British model, in which the executive--the king!--was able to make war on his own. But not so fast. There is specific evidence that the British model was rejected. Just three years after ratification Wilson wrote, with unambiguous disapproval, that "in England, the king has the sole prerogative of making war." Wilson contrasted the United States, where the power "of making war and peace" is in the legislature. Early presidents spoke in similar terms. Facing attacks from Indian tribes along the western frontier, George Washington, whose views on presidential power over war deserve special respect, observed: "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they have deliberated on the subject, and authorized such a measure." As president, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams expressed similar views. In his influential Commentaries, written in 1826, James Kent wrote that "war cannot lawfully be commenced on the part of the United States, without an act of Congress."

So again, my question is, who's smarter, Yoo or Spicoli?

Friday, July 14, 2006

American Values

I just got this in the mail today and I think it's just too incredible.

Has This Country Gone Completely Insane?
Getting Busted for Wearing a Peace T-Shirt


Yesterday afternoon, drinking a cup of coffee while sitting in the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center on Chicago's south side, a Veterans Administration cop walked up to me and said, "OK, you've had your 15 minutes, it's time to go."

"Huh?", I asked intelligently, not quite sure what he was talking about.

"You can't be in here protesting," Officer Adkins said, pointing to my Veterans For Peace shirt.

"Well, I'm not protesting, I'm having a cup of coffee," I returned, thinking that logic would convince Adkins to go back to his earlier duties of guarding against serious terrorists.

Flipping his badge open, he said, "No, not with that shirt. You're protesting and you have to go."

Beginning to get his drift, I said firmly, "Not before I finish my coffee."

He insisted that I leave, but still not quite believing my ears, I tried one more approach to reason.

"Hey, listen. I'm a veteran. This is a V.A. facility. I'm sitting here not talking to anybody, having a cup of coffee. I'm not protesting and you can't kick me out."

"You'll either go or we'll arrest you," Adkins threatened.

"Well, you'll just have to arrest me," I said, wondering what strange land I was now living in.

You know the rest. Handcuffed, led away to the facility's security office past people with surprised looks on their faces, read my rights, searched, and written up.

The officer who did the formalities, Eric Ousley, was professional in his duties. When I asked him if he was a vet, it turned out he had been a hospital corpsman in the Navy. We exchanged a couple sea stories. He uncuffed me early. And he allowed as to how he would only charge me with disorderly conduct, letting me go on charges of criminal trespass and weapons possession -- a pocket knife -- which he said would have to be destroyed (something I rather doubt since it was a nifty Swiss Army knife with not only a bottle opener, but a tweezers and a toothpick).

After informing me I could either pay the $275 fine on the citation or appear in court, Ousley escorted me off the premises, warning me if I returned with "that shirt" on, I'd be arrested and booked into jail.

I'm sure I could go back to officers Adkins' and Ousleys' fiefdom with a shirt that said, "Nuke all the hajis," or "Show us your tits," or any number of truly obscene things and no one would care. Just so it's not "that shirt" again.

And just for the record? I'm not paying the fine. I'll see Adkins and Ousley and Dubya's Director of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, if he wants to show up, in United States District Court on the appointed date. And if there's a Chicago area attorney who'd like to take the case, I'd really like to sue them -- from Dubya on down. I have to believe that this whole country has not yet gone insane, just the government. This kind of behavior can't be tolerated. It must be challenged.

Mike Ferner served as a Navy corpsman during Vietnam and is obviously a member of Veterans For Peace. He can be reached at:

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Galileo J. Hawking?

Here's an interesting story I just got from eSkeptic, the online site of the Skeptics Society.

We've heard how the Catholic Church has come around, decided it's okay to believe in evolution, and even pardoned Galileo. (Although I think the previous Pope, JPII, tried to weasel out of true responsibility for the persecution of Galielo by claiming that it arose out of a tragedy of "mutual incomprehension". I don't for a second believe that there was any incomprehension, just the church's refusal to tolerate disagreement.)

Actually, that brings us up to the present, or close enough. It seems that Stephen J. Hawking, the renowned physicist, had occasion to meet JPII at a cosmology conference at the Vatican. On this occasion Hawking quoted the pope as saying, "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God." Now most people wouldn't care too much about disturbing the superstitions of others but, as Hawking put it, "I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo," After all, these guys do have a track record.

Maybe we don't have to worry about Hawking being burned at the stake, wheelchair, electronic voicebox, and all. Still, it is emblematic of religions, and the monotheistic religions in particular, to be intolerant of disagreement, so when they tell you you shouldn't even be asking certain questions or trying to find out certain information, it should be chilling. After all, if you believe their story, Adam and Eve got kicked out of Paradise because they tried to know too much.

Nice guys!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Let's not kid ourselves

That useless DINO Lieberman has finally come out and admitted that he's going to run as an Independent if he loses the Democratic primary in Connecticut, which seems increasingly likely. The problem is, even with that he won't come out and tell the truth about what he's doing.

Here's what I mean. Here's an excerpt from the letter he sent out:

I want to tell you that I have made the decision to allow signatures to be collected that will enable me to appear on the November Ballot as an individual Democratic candidate for re-election to the Senate if I don’t win the Democratic Party’s nomination in the Primary on August 8th.

Now there are two parts of this claim that are disingenuous at best. First, he says he's allowing signatures to be collected. He's pretending that he has nothing to do with it, and that it's just his devoted followers and supporters who are insisting on getting those signatures. Is there any chance that this is true? Absolutely not. If he were going to do the right thing, and accept the decision of the voters of what he claims is his party, he would come out right now and say he'll support the winner of the primary, no matter who it is. Yet here he is, pretending that it's someone else who's organizing the petition drive.

Second, he says that if he gets on the ballot he'll be an individual Democratic candidate. Again, bullshit! There will be one Democratic candidate on the ballot in November, and if he loses it won't be him. He wants to pretend that he's the one guy upholding the values of the Party, but maybe he should have thought of that before he puckered up for W.