Saturday, January 28, 2006

Pure speculation

I am very interested by the kerfuffle about James Frey's pseudomemoir. To take the most objective view of this, what does it matter? Sure it's offensive to be lied to, but what he has now admitted to lying about really doesn't matter much; I haven't read the book, and even if it were true it wouldn't appeal to me. The excerpts I've seen appear to be appallingly badly written--overheated, self-congratulatory, and dealing primarily in caricatures and stereotypes. It's also pretty insignificant stuff: recovery porn, presumably redeemed by being true, but ultimately of no more value than "Behind the Music" or those innumerable unsolved crime shows on TV.

Yet people are outraged. For that matter, I'm outraged.

But why?

This is just a theory, and I don't expect I'll ever know the truth of it, but maybe people are mad because they are so tired of being lied to. As Josh Marshall pointed out yesterday,

What is the point is this line from President Bush from yesterday's press conference: "You know, I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him."

That's just one small example, but the only way to avoid hearing at least one lie a day from Bush is to avoid hearing him say anything.

So enter James Frey, telling lies in a world where people have heard enough. Where the so-called liberal media can step up and show that they can, after all, recognize a lie and challenge the liar. So they land on the odious James Frey and ignore the real malefactors. It's like a morality play: the liar is caught, exposed, and shamed, and all's right with the world.

Except Bush and his lackeys (or is he the lackey?) lie to us every day, and the so-called journalists do nothing about it.

Who's a terrorist?

We know what a terrorist is, right? Above all, a terrorist is someone who threatens a noncombatant to achieve a goal. Like those guys who have captured that American freelance journalist and threaten to kill her if a number of Iraqi women in U.S./Iraqi custody aren't released, right?

So what does this make the United States Army? The Army doesn't seem to dispute the report that we have been seizing Iraqi women, at least two of them, to get their husbands to surrender. The best we can say, apparently, is that they aren't being held in "long-term" detention. Still, this statement is pretty chilling:

''The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing,'' the intelligence officer wrote. She was held for two days and was released after he complained, he said.

I guess we've really figured out how to persuade the people of Iraq of the merits of the American system, haven't we?

Friday, January 27, 2006

What do we do about it?

My son Adam and I got this post from my brother after he read Adam's post about sustainable development in Montpelier, and I asked him if I could post it. I think he captures what many of us are feeling about how to integrate meaningful activites into our lives.

He writes:
I just finished reading your piece about that land Sabin’s Pasture and it really hit me. I’m really grateful to know people like you and your father who will speak up about things. Most of us go through our lives without much response to what’s happening around us. Right now it’s really cold here (in the single digits and teens) and homeless people are dying. We raise our eyebrows and move on. In Montpelier some small piece of land is about to be developed and we shake our heads and move on.

[My wife] says, “What’s the value of freedom of speech when people with money or power do what they want anyway?” To a degree she’s right; might usually gets its way. But freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee changes; it offers the possibility for change. I like that.

But let’s get back to you. Better to say, to me. I’m sitting in a warm office, typing this semi-clandestinely, because I share an office with at least one person who is willing to report anything to our boss. This is a huge company, a subsidiary of an even bigger corporation. My pay is decent. The benefits are good. I’m not selling, I’m teaching English, nothing reprehensible. I’m not a workaholic. I go home and spend time with my wife and kids.

But when I get home I’m tired. I don’t have the energy for other things lime my writing or little projects (like starting up a neighborhood newsletter) or helping to revamp the English department at my children’s school.

One thing I could do is quit this job, take on more translations and work totally freelance. On the other hand, I would still be busy and tired at the end of the day. I’m not sure how to resolve this situation–ho to support my family and engage in meaningful activities?

How I solve the problem isn’t the most important thing at this point. What’s important is that I read stuff that you and John write and I say, “sonuvagun, they’re right.” Whether I make the next move or not is my business. The big thing for me right now is that you and John did your job. You moved me an inch.

So thanks.

Who served?

Before they get too far in swiftboating Murtha it might be worthwhile to keep this list handy. It's familiar territory, but when the R's start attacking the patriotism of everyone who dissents from their evil war, it's good to have the response.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Where is Democracy? Part 2

One of my first posts on this blog asked the question Rational Resistance: Has Democracy Outlived its Usefulness?

Now, a story in today's Los Angeles Times makes this point even more clearly than most of us could have imagined. It turns out that while they were spying on Americans, maybe you, maybe me, the Bush Administration was arguing against a proposal to give them expanded power to conduct surveillance, reasoning that the power they already had was all they really needed. Their comments at the time were telling:

"We have been aggressive in seeking FISA warrants, and thanks to Congress' passage of the [Patriot Act] we have been able to use our expanded FISA tools more effectively to combat terrorist activities," he said. "It may not be the case that the probable cause standard has caused any difficulties in our ability to seek FISA warrants we require."

They also said that they were not convinced that moving from a "probable cause" to a "reasonableness" standard would be constitutional.

Thus, as Pat Leahy points out, while they are now claiming that the FISA requirements are too burdensome for them to follow, just a couple of years ago they were saying exactly the opposite while violating FISA.

The Justice Department now admits that the reason they lied to Congress about this was that they wanted to avoid a public debate on it.

So I'll ask again: Where is our democracy? And who has stolen it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Seeding the Grass Roots

I wanted to pass along to you a notice I just got from Democracy for America. They have organized a series of training events for grassroots activists. They already have thirteen scheduled.

I'm still figuring out how I can get to one (unfortunately I can't do the one in my hometown this weekend), and I urge everyone to register and go.

With Sam Alito moving one step closer to the Supreme Court today, it is even more clear that our country is moving in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, this is an election year. We have a chance to elect Democratic majorities in Congress and win governerships, state legislatures and local offices across the country. With lots of shoe leather and hope for a better future, we can win the elections we need to take our country back -- but it takes skills.

Most of these campaigns will be tough battles that will take smart, well-trained activists executing sound strategies to win. That's why the DFA Training Academy is gearing up for its most ambitious year ever -- with 13 trainings planned for the first half of 2006.

Click on the city nearest you to sign up:

Jan. 28-29: Montpelier, VT
Feb. 4: Glens Falls, NY
Feb. 11-12: Elizabethtown, KY
Feb. 25-26: Philadelphia, PA
Mar. 11-12: Sierra Vista, AZ
Mar. 18-19: Stockton, CA
Mar. 25-26: Memphis, TN
Apr. 8-9: Moline, IA
Apr. 22-23: Miami, FL
May 6-7: Asheville, NC
May 20-21: Portland, OR
Jun. 3-4: Columbus, OH
Jun. 10-11: Denver, CO

The DFA Training Academy is a unique opportunity to work closely with top-notch political operatives and experienced grassroots veterans on the fundamentals of developing a message, communicating with voters, and building the army of volunteers needed to win.

We have the power to change this country, but the forces lined up against us are powerful. That's why we need to train. The more people at the grassroots who know how to run and win elections means the sooner we can put our country back on track. So, join a DFA training today:

Over 4,000 activists have graduated from the DFA Training Academy in the last two years - and they are on the front lines of the fight today. One of those graduates is Val Keehn who recently wrote:

"The two-day DFA training that I attended this past summer in Cazenovia, NY was very comprehensive, informational, and inspirational. There was no fluff.....just reality about running an effective campaign. The one message that stuck with me throughout my own campaign was 'campaigns are won door-to-door and face-to-face with the voters.' DFA had a huge impact on my attitude as a candidate."

Val took the strategies and tactics she learned home to her campaign in Saratoga Springs. Today, she is "Mayor Valerie Keehn." And her success is just a taste of what's in store for 2006.

So, if Sam Alito on the Supreme Court upsets you as much as it does me, I hope you'll sign up for a DFA Training Academy event near you today. Running the best campaign possible is a prerequisite to victory. And training is essential for running a great campaign.

You have the power, now get the skills. I hope to see you soon.


Arshad Hasan
DFA Training Academy Coordinator

Would they dare do it?

Harevy Silverglate has a good piece in this week's Boston Phoenix in which he considers the idea that the Bush Administration might actually prosecute the Times for revealing their illegal wiretapping activities. It's worth a look.

Hillary for President?

I don't know a single Democrat who wants Hillary Clinton to run for President, do you?

You know who wants her to run? Rush Limbaugh. The Republicans. That's who keeps up the drum beat that she's going to run. They know that she's their biggest fund raiser, that her name on a direct mail campaign is money in the bank to them.

I've never been quite sure why the wingers hate her so much; maybe it's because she's a strong woman. (For that matter, it's always been hard to understand why the Republicans hated Bill Clinton, the most conservative Democratic President since Woodrow Wilson or before, either, but that's another story.) Still, they hate her, and they know that she's a polarizing figure, and they are pretty confident that she'll lose every state if she runs, so naturally they want her to run. The question is, why should we listen to them?

Here's what Molly Ivins has to say about her.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A question of priorities

Amy Goodman read these two stories today, totally straight, no comment.

Maybe no comment was necessary, but just for a little thought experiment, before reading the story, just ask yourself which crime is deserving of a sentence of imprisonment:

==>Pouring blood inside an army recruiting station;
==>Killing an Iraqi prisoner in your custody.

Okay, time's up. Now here's the answer:

Military Jury: No Jail Time For Interrogator Who Killed Iraqi
In other Iraq news -- a military jury in Colorado ruled last night an Army interrogator who killed an Iraqi general would not have to serve any time in jail. The interrogator -- Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. - killed the Iraqi man after putting a sleeping bag over his head, wrapping him in electrical cord, sitting on his chest and covering his mouth. Over the weekend the military jury convicted Welshofer of negligent homicide which carries a maximum prison term of three years. But the jury chose instead to fine him $6,000 and ordered him to spend the next 60 days restricted to his home, office and church. The Los Angeles Times reports soldiers and officers inside the courtroom broke out in applause after the jury announced Welshofer would not be jailed for the killing.

Peace Activist Gets 6 Months in Jail For Recruiting Station Protest
In upstate New York, a peace activist has been sentenced to six months in jail for pouring blood inside a military recruiting station in March 2003 in order to protest the invasion of Iraq. The man, Daniel Burns, 45, was one of a group now known as the St. Patrick's Four. The other three members will also be sentenced this week.

Sustainability in Montpelier, Vermont

Here in Montpelier we've been having a debate for several years over how and whether to develop a large parcel of land, adjacent to residential neighborhoods and close to downtown, to meet the community's needs for housing and open space. These are the comments of my son Adam, a committed environmentalist and lifelong resident of Montpelier, and he asked me to post them for you all to read.

Adam McCullough

It must be admitted that all things are connected. This is a fact of nature as well as a fact of the economy and culture. Therefore the actions taken to develop Sabin's pasture will indubitably have large impacts on the rest of Montpelier and indeed the rest of Vermont. It is folly to think that a part can change without affecting the whole. This interrelated nature of our town is the reason why I believe it is completely justified for the people of Montpelier to have a say in what goes on inside it.

That being said, here is my input and I hope that it is taken to heart. Though the effects aren't obvious, the deforestation of Sabin's Pasture has had many. This process of development has already taken its environmental toll. The equipment used to complete the project and the project itself have caused massive amounts of soil erosion, which not only reduces the quality of soil on the pasture itself, but harms wildlife habitat, and clouds the nearby Winooski with dirt that chokes out fish populations and other life forms found in the river. The land is changed visually affecting the views from countless locations in Montpelier.

The issue has had many social effects as well. I know from personal conversations with my friends that those who saw that land as their backyard feel a sense of being robbed. I've heard one person say "it’s like our childhood is gone now" This isn't the only sentiment either. I'm sure that other Montpelierites who own large tracts of land are afraid of being told what they can and can't do on their own land. Also the issue has taken tremendous amounts of time and effort from the city council and the zoning board and the housing committee and from all other interested parties. Obviously, even though this project has made very little progress towards its ultimate form: a housing development in Sabin' Pasture, it has already had far reaching environmental and social effects.

At this point I do not believe honestly that Sabin's Pasture can be "saved" in the sense implied by the bumper stickers, however it can be used as a method of saving Vermont. Too much of this country has been commercialized, franchised, advertised, and melted down. The United States is called a cultural melting pot, but from all I've seen I would more closely compare it to a crucible. Cowboys get their hats and belt buckles at the Gap these days I'm afraid. I firmly believe that the reason we live in Vermont is because it is not like the rest of the country. And we don't want it to be.

My vision for this development could be thought of as a new declaration of independence. A declaration of energy independence and a protest against the rampant consumption that has become the American way. I'm referring to a sustainably minded, community oriented development that reduces consumption in a big way and gives business to Local Environmentally conscious contractors.

There should be solar panels on all the roofs and windmills on the hill tops to not only power the people of Sabin's Pasture, but also to develop Montpelier without raising our energy consumption. Also each home will be equipped with energy star appliances, solar water heating, hay bail constructed walls so the energy used to heat the houses will stay inside the houses. Motion sensors for the light switches so when no one is around the lights will be off. Composting toilets so the development won't need to be attached to the sewers. There should be room for a garden in each yard, and a big meeting hall where there can be dances, concerts, banquets, and meetings. There will be a bulk foods catalog distributed to all the residents so they can order what they need and then pick it up from the meeting hall when it is brought there by a truck. It would be better to have one truck drive in, than for all of the residents' cars to trek to the store.

And the construction of the place will be an opportunity for education, allowing Montpelier students to study the process and help with the project (especially useful since Mr. Brown's tech ed position was cut from the middle school)

And, there would be a grand playground. The reincarnation of Union Elementary's fun zone, built by volunteers and enjoyed by all for years to come. A great use for tires that would otherwise go to waste.

You might say that this development would encroach on personal liberty, but I would strongly disagree. There are plenty of places in this country where you could live in a state of disconnection from the land. There are many states and many houses where you can live in ways that harm the earth, and the surrounding community. Therefore to develop in a sustainable way, will be not an encroachment, but an opportunity.

We can't drop this

Eric Alterman (you should be reading him every day) tipped me off to this story in the Times last week. I'm with him in saying that we can't let this drop: there is more proof that the Bush administration was lying to get us into war in Iraq:

The headline reads:2002 Memo Doubted Uranium Sale Claim. That's right, more evidence that as early as 2002 the highest levels of the intelligence community doubted any attempts by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium from Niger. Among other reasons, the newly declassified documents point out that making this sale, "would have required Niger to send `25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers' filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border." The investigation was prepared by the State Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency and it discloses a multitude of factors that made this kind of sale unlikely, and it was released by Colin Powell almost a year before Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech.

As I say, we can't drop this.

Monday, January 23, 2006

There's a reason we call them rights

I couldn't let the anniversary of Roe v. Wade pass without saying something about it. It's become popular lately to talk about the problem with Roe was that it was imposed by the Supreme Court, so the people who didn't like the result felt that the power structure had run over them. Supposedly this led to much stronger resistance than we would have had if the political process had been allowed to work and abortion had been addressed gradually. By this theory, supposedly we were well on the way to a country in which abortion was generally legal and accepted and we wouldn't have had the massive division that has encouraged domestic terrorists bombing family health clinics and killing or threatening doctors.

I've got a problem with this theory. Sometimes if something is right it's just right. I don't recall white liberals telling Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus until they were ready to let her ride where she wanted, do you? I don't remember hearing anyone saying that women should have waited for the right to vote until each state decided to let them, do you?

Actually, I do remember that there have always been people who have been "moderates" when it comes to other people's rights. It's just that in retrospect we know that they were wrong, and I think the same is true about abortion. I was going to school in New York when it was legal there and illegal in most of the rest of the country, and they were already organizing anti-abortion groups. I don't think trying to convince conservative Christians to go along with it would have gotten legal abortions any faster; if anything, I'm sure there would still be many states where abortion is still illegal--pretty much the states where it's on its way to become de facto illegal again today.

The right to abortion is important, both because it means women controlling their own bodies and more importantly because it means women controlling their own lives. Even with Scalito on the Court, we need to protect it. We need to remember: you don't play politics with rights.

The Kleptocracy, Chapter 4

Remember when the R's took over, and at a minimum they were going to run the government like a business? You know, the first president with an MBA, grownups in charge?

Well, it just seems as though we've been through this before. We've had the loggers getting their trees practically for free (actually for less than free when you count what the taxpayers are paying to build roads for them). We've had the cattle ranchers getting to graze their herds on land that we own, also dirt cheap.

Now, we have a second round of double dealing with natural gas leases. As I said, if they're going to run the government like a business, the least we should expect of them is that they could collect their bills, right? But as an article in today's Times points out, the gas companies are making more and more money but because of how they state their profits, their payments to the government have not gone up in concert with their profits. And if their rents had kept up with their real profits they would be paying $700 million more than they actually did.

I don't fully get all the details, because I don't have any advanced degrees in counting funny, but apparently it comes down to two or three main points: 1. they profits they tell their stockholders about aren't the same as what they admit to the Interior Department; 2. the system they set up to report their profits is so Byzantine that almost nobody can understand it; and 3. their pals in the Administration are telling the government auditors to audit less, and even firing auditors who do too good a job at collecting the money we taxpayers are owed.

Oh yeah, I said a second round. Actually, last time it was the oil companies. They got caught doing pretty much the same thing just five years ago. Back then they agreed to pay up $438 million, but not because they did anything wrong, of course. This time around it's probably a lot more money, because we own a lot more gas than oil. Of course, we'll probably never know the real amount because of the cutbacks in audits.

Maybe this isn't as important as Iraq or torture because nobody got killed. Still, when the government sells oil and gas that belongs to us taxpayers, we should at least get paid for it, right?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Telling the Truth

Garrison Keillor has a good piece in today's I would encourage you to take a look.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Culture of Life?

From McClellan’s briefing today:

The President remains fully committed to building a culture of life, a culture of life that is built on valuing life at all stages. And that's the President's commitment.

Let’s see, let’s see, “culture of life”. Oh yeah. . . .

Old and sick people can’t get the drugs they need.

Schools don’t get the money they were promised under No Child Left Behind.

Food Stamps are slashed.

Ditto subsidized housing.

Now that’s what I call a culture of life!

Monday, January 16, 2006

King and Alito

Is Alito's confirmation a foregone conclusion? With Democrats like Diane Feinstein opposing the use of the filibuster, and members of the Gang of 14 scrambling to show why the confirmation of this extremist conservative who evaded every question put to him does not constitute extraordinary circumstances, it would seem so.

Nevertheless, on this day, when we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, it is worth considering why someone like Alito is even thought to be eligible for this position.

There are many things that could be said about him, but right now I'll just mention two:

1. His involvement with Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Maybe he really was involved because of the problems with ROTC, as he claims, even though the ROTC problem was largely resolved before they got going. Still, the true character of Concerned Alumni of Princeton can be discerned by this comment from its main financial backer, Shelby Cullom Davis, who wondered "Why should not a goal of 10 percent to 20 percent women and minorities be appropriate for Princeton's long-term strength and future?" Doesn't it seem legitimate to push Alito a little more on this?

2. His opposition to the principle of one-man-one-vote. Given that the Court will be ruling on reapportionment cases for the foreseeable future, this seems like something that we need to know a lot more about.

There are certainly reasons to take either position on the filibuster, and in my view the strongest consideration against trying the filibuster is the treachery of the so-called moderate Republicans in the Gang of 14 and the likelihood that they will back out of their commitment and support the nuclear option when the point is finally raised. Still, since we seem to be faced with a nominee who will be pursuing an agenda to roll back rights every chance he gets, I don't think we should roll over for him.

Martin Luther King and the War

Juan Cole has a great post up today considering what King's positions might have been on the Iraq war. Back in 1967 the United States was, as it is now, engaged in an illegal war of aggression and public support for the war had been declining. Nevertheless when King, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke out against the war, many liberals who had supported him when the targets of his activities were Southern racists suddenly decided that he was stepping out of his place, and the moral force of his arguments could not be applied to American foreign policy.

In this post Juan Cole examines the positions King set out in his 1967 speech opposing the Vietnam War and applies them to the current conflict. It's definitely worth a look.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Alito and the "unitary executive"

In these days of imperial presidential power, the new buzzword around the Judiciary Committee is the unitary executive and how Scalito feels about it. When I was watching the tail end of the testimony yesterday it seemed that Alito gave Dick Durbin the slip when asked about this topic, explaining that the unitary executive is simply the theory that the President, as head of the executive branch, is empowered to speak for and direct the positions of officials in all departments and levels of the executive. Nothing sinister, nothing to get excited about. Durbin seemed to take this explanation at face value and moved on to his next point.

The real problem, however, is not the unitary executive, but another doctrine the Bushies are fond of, commonly known either as "departmentalism" or "coordinate construction" . This doctrine, which also sounds unexceptional, holds that all branches of the government, and not just the judiciary, are required to follow the Constitution, and to make sure they don't do anything that violates it. Hard to argue that the President shouldn't follow the Constitution, right?

The problem is when you combine the President's obligation to follow the Constitution with a President who believes that there are essentially no constitutional limits on presidential power, and that the Congress has no authority to limit presidential power. In that case, as enunciated in hundreds of signing statements (bogus statements issued in conjunction with signing a bill into law, basically the Pennsylvania Avenue version of signing with your fingers crossed), even when Congress passes a law and the President signs it, if it contains assertedly invalid limitations on the President's power, it is invalid and the President's power is in no way constrained.

Thus, when Bush negotiated a limit on the government's authority to torture people it doesn't like, and Congress passed a law in good faith reliance on this agreement, Bush issued a signing statement that he would construe it, "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power." In other words, he would continue to do what he wants, regardless of what the law says or what he agreed to.

The other trick that ScAlito has been using on this topic is that whenever anyone asks him about the President's obligation to obey the law he agrees that of course the President is required to obey the Constitution and laws. Again, since the Constitution is superior to any laws enacted by Congress, and we know that they claim that the Constitution prohibits any laws enacted by Congress limting the power of the President, this agreement is really saying the opposite: there is nothing the Congress can do to stop the President from what he wants to do

It's becoming clearer and clearer that if Alito is confirmed he will be a reliable tool for President Palpatine and his unitary executive.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

More from the so-called liberal media (SCLM)

We're used to hearing the wingers whine about how all the mainstream media, including CNN, are so far to the left because they are just shills for the Democratic Party. Of course we know this isn't true, as Eric Alterman proves every day.

Here's yet another example. The other night Wolf Blitzer has Howard Dean on, asking him about a range of topics, and here's what he asks him about Jack Abramoff:

BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to bribery charges, among other charges, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, should the Democrat who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?

Of course, Dean came back with the right answer, which is that no democrat got any money from Abramoff. It's just not true, yet Republicans are trying to spin it as one of those "pox on both their houses" stories, like Victor Lasky, the Nixon apologist who wrote It Didn't Start with Watergate

The segment of the interview on Abramoff is all the way at the bottom, but it's worth a look.

I also have to say that even though I didn't have much use for Dean when he was governor, he has correctly grasped the principle that the role of the opposition party is to oppose.

Good job, Howard.

Read any good mail lately?

I can imagine that the Bush regime might claim that there is some ambiguity as to whether electronic communications are entitled to full Fourth Amendment protection, both because they are not clearly "papers, persons, and effects" and because of the exigency involved in instantaneous communications. I haven't heard them make this claim, but one could imagine that they would.

Mail, however, is another question. We already had postal service at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted, and there is no question that the privacy of the mails was well within the scope of protected activity when the Fourth Amendment was adopted. For that matter, we even had international mail at that time. What, then, will they say about this report, which reveals that they've been opening mail when they think they need to to protect national security?

And, given what they've already done, and how they've justified it, how can we trust any of their explanations about anything?

The plan for 2006

We have to win this year. The longer the Republicans are in control the worse things get. I don't see how we can tolerate their lies and corruption.

Here is one plan to win this year.

Monday, January 09, 2006

No agenda?

Scalito had the first day of his confirmation hearing today, and as reported by the Times, he made some interesting statements about the proper role of a judge as opposed to an attorney:
"The role of a practicing attorney is to achieve a desirable result for the client in the particular case at hand," Judge Alito said in remarks that lasted about 11 minutes. "But a judge can't think that way. A judge can't have any agenda. A judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case. And a judge certainly doesn't have a client.
"The judge's only obligation - and it's a solemn obligation - is to the rule of law," he continued. "And what that means is that in every single case, the judge has to do what the law requires."

It's very hard to disagree with what he says, but it's worth investigating whether his decisions bear out these statements. One would think that, if he were simply following where the law leads him, regardless of his political preferences, the law would sometimes lead him to take positions that don't align with his political views. Doesn't that seem obvious?

The opposite appears to be true, however. In this report from Yale Law School, we see that in opinions in which his positions are least restrained, those in which he was concurring or dissenting so he didn't have to attract the vote of a colleague, certain trends are evident:

. . . [H]e rules in favor of institutional actors and defers to agency decisions in many settings while showing skepticism toward individual litigants’ claims; he appears to support a narrow view of civil rights, prisoners’ rights, and workers’ rights but a broad view of religious freedoms; he appears willing to uphold legislative restrictions on abortion; and he is willing to limit congressional power. When able, he has sought to move the law to achieve the broad philosophical purposes articulated in the memorandum he submitted in November 1985 as part of his application to become Deputy Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel.

I think the full report is worth reading, but any claim to his being a neutral or evenhanded jurist seems pretty bogus. I would like to see Senators on the Judiciary Committee challenge him on this point, and ask him to show them even one case in which his disinterested pursuit of "The Law" has led him to a conclusion that does not advance his own political preferences.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My Lai Hero Hugh Thompson Jr. Dies at 62

Some of you may be too young to remember another illegal imperialist war, but this story is a reminder that even in the midst of mass murder, nobility is possible.

Every single day

I swear it--every single day we hear of something worse than the day before. Still, this is hard to top.
Extra Armor Could Have Saved Many Lives, Study Shows. It's a story from today's Times, and it makes clear that 80% of the Marines who have died in Iraq from wounds to the torso could have survived if they had had more body armor, which the Pentagon "declined to supply" despite calls from the field to supplement the armor it supplies.

Can anyone tell me why this is not simply and literally criminal?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

O'Reilly on Letterman

Dave just got me to do what I would never voluntarily do: watch Bill O'Reilly on television. I couldn't imagine why he would give a platform for that right-wing whack job, and I was frankly pretty pissed off. Still, I had to watch, and I'm glad I did. Dave actually took him on in a way that you never see from "legitimate" news reporters.

Here's a sampling: (I've tried to use direct quotes, but I wasn't recording it so I can't promise I have every word right.)

On the “War on Christmas”:
“I don’t believe you.”
"I don't feel threatened."

On Cindy Sheehan:
“I’m very concerned about people like yourself who don’t have nothing but endless sympathy for a woman like Cindy Sheehan. Honest to Christ! Honest to Christ!”

On the war in Iraq:
"The President himself less than a month ago said we are there because of a mistake made in in intelligence. . . So why are we there in the first place? . . .
I agree with you that we have to support the troops. They are there, they are the best and the brightest in this country. . . .
That does not eliminate the legitimate speculation and concern and questioning of why the hell are we there to begin with?”

On being fair and balanced:
“I’m not smart enough to debate you point by point, but I have the feeling that about 60% of what you say is crap.”

I've always thought that Dave got it about Bush, and once again this confirms it.

You can watch part of the interview here.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Clearly Illegal

I don't have a lot to add to this, but the ACLU has issued a report conclusively demonstrating that the government's program of spying on Americans is illegal.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


That's how Byron Calame, the Public Editor of the Times, describes the efforts of Times management to explain their decision to withhold their story about illegal spying on citizens by the National Security Agency for over a year. What's more, when he tried to get explanations from Managing Editor Bill Keller and Publisher Pinch Sulzberger he was "stonewalled."

Many commentators have been critical of the Times' decision to sit on the story for over a year, with others arguing either that there were valid national security reasons to withhold the story, or that the delay enabled the Times to do more reporting, which made the story they ultimately published stronger.

Calame makes two critical points, which seem to militate against these arguments. First, his reading of the wording of the Times' explanation leads him to conclude not that they were working on it for that year, but that the story was essentially done and sitting on the shelf for a year, and that events led them to bring it out and publish. Second, he infers, quite reasonably in my view, that if the story had not been ready to go before the 2004 elections the Times would have fallen all over themselves to make that clear; their failure to do so suggests that it was done, and that they could have run the story before the election. We obviously can't know if the news would have made a difference in how the election came out, but as close as it was I think it was extremely irresponsible for the Times to withhold the story.