Monday, October 31, 2005

Big Government Conservative? Blech!

Way, way down in this article of puffery from Judge Alito's alma mater, Princeton (not surprising, but puffery just the same) is this tidbit from his still-friend, FoxNews commentator and rightwing judge, Andrew Napolitano:

"Napolitano also said he wasn't surprised that Bush chose Alito.

"'Sam Alito is just what George Bush is looking for: a big government conservative who will almost always side with the government against the individual, and the federal government against the state,'" Napolitano said.

"Napolitano said he was optimistic about Alito's chances of becoming a Supreme Court justice. 'I think Sam will be confirmed,' Napolitano said. 'He will come across as a less charming, less warm Roberts...There's no way they'll filibuster.'"

"...will almost always side with the government against the individual..."?! That's an endorsement?

As I said before, this is the moment for so-called "moderate" Republicans and "true blue" Democrats to filibuster a judicial nomination. As Tristero says over at Digby's place, with Tristero's usual harsh language, we must continue to remind people that the Terrible President is hugely unpopular and that a hard-right nominee is something opposed not merely by "true blue" Democrats, but probably a third of those who voted for the Terrible President in 2000 and 2004. That's my own guess, but it's based upon the circle of Republicans I have seen and known in Southern California for the past 20 years.

Outside reading: Julian Sanchez's self-described semi-defense of Alito is definitely worth reading. However, after viewing several of the cases, Julian's piece reaffirmed my view that Alito has a crabbed view of the federal government when it seeks to enact social legislation (the Family Leave/Medical Act decision) and a deferential, if not expansive view of government when it comes to the power of the police to strip search 10 year olds (Doe v. Groody). I note that several times, in cases involving deportee rights, civil rights, and other personal rights issues, including abortion, Alito's position was not merely rejected by the majority (including the US Supreme Court in the Casey decision), but essentially ridiculed as either "ignoring precedent" or "redefining accepted standards" or analysis. This is the Terrible President's idea of a guy who is not a judicial activist?

The fact that Julian Sanchez can't decide whether to support or oppose Alito shows, once again, that most so-called libertarians are more comforable with real jack booted government in the form of expansive police power--but are willing to use the rhetoric of "jackboots" to describe the Social Security administration. Note, for example, that Julian likes the fact that Alito was crabby on the Family Medical Leave Act to the point where he is wondering whether he can live with Alito's expansive and deferential treatment of the police in Doe v. Groody. I hate picking on Julian again--see this post--because his analysis is largely valid as to the the Daily Kos and a couple of culturally liberal interest groups being somewhat sloppy about Alito's positions. I hope I'm not being too sloppy myself in expressing my views on Alito. In my previous post this morning, I was going to work and just relying on the summary from the People for the American Way, which was no better than the ones Julian reasonably criticized.

The bottom line remains, however: Filibuster this guy because he is clearly of the hard right and to the right of O'Connor. The Terrible President did not receive a mandate for this guy. It's that simple. And Arlen Specter should be leading the way here--if he has enough guts. If the far right can stop Miers, then the "moderate" right can stop Alito (with Democratic Party assistance).

P.S. As a Jewish guy with an Italian heritage on my Mom's side and having grown up in New Jersey, I do admit I'd probably personally like Alito. But business is business and I think Alito would understand. If not, them's the breaks. Capeesh?

(Edited, again)

Let the filibuster begin...

Judge Samuel Alito is truly more right-wing than the departing O'Connor. Click here and here for People for the American Way's latest.

Alito has a crabbed view of the Commerce Clause and federal power in general (O'Connor did for awhile, but was softening), is most definitely anti-Roe v. Wade, possibly against the entire right to privacy under Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), and fairly reliable for a pro-corporate view of the judiciary.

This is the time to filibuster. The Terrible President's poll ratings are still very low and placating the far right is not a prescription for him to get back those who consider themselves "moderate" and who gave the Terrible President the benefit of the doubt in their votes for him in 2004.

Let the Republicans try to kill the filibuster as we approach the Congressional elections of 2006. They are boxed in. If they succeed, they scare the so-called "moderates" into voting Dems into Congress who are not against abortion rights. If the filibuster holds, then the Dems show the Terrible President that he must pick someone who is not a far-right Scalia-clone.

The key for the corporate media pundits is going to be Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter. Rhode Island Republican Senator Chaffee is not likely to oppose Alito here because he is running in a Republican primary next year--though he will lose feminist support as soon as he wavers toward Alito. Specter and perhaps Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins will not vote for cloture. Oh, and don't expect any help from the non-maverick "maverick", Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. However, if Chaffee and McCain refuse to vote for cloture, watch out. This may also be the time the Republicans split on the filibuster "nuclear option," too.

Overall, I could not support Miers and I knew that meant a right winger. But as I said in this other post from last night, the far right blew several of its talking points that had protected Roberts, even when he was nominated for O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court.

This is a time for toughness for Democrats on Capitol Hill. It is why they said people should vote for them, particularly in the so-called "Blue" states. Can they be counted on...?


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hard to rebuild a country with an insurgency going on...

This article in the NY Times gave me more hope than its headline led me to believe. Note the following:


"Some 1,887 of 2,784 rebuilding projects have been completed, by the American government's own count, and progress has been made in coming up with estimates for how much it will cost to complete the remaining work. Those estimates are needed to determine how many of the projects will have to be cut.

"The projects include water treatment plants, oil pump stations, electricity generators and power lines, police stations, border posts, schools, clinics, roads and post offices. Aside from the security bills, rising materials costs, delays and repeated changes in the priorities in rebuilding have contributed to the financial challenges.

"'I think that the report confirms what we have been saying for some time - that we continue to make progress in rebuilding Iraq,' said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman.

"Regarding the shortcomings detailed by the report on the ability of the United States government to gauge that progress, Colonel Venable said, 'There's a war going on, so not everything can be known, but there's certainly a desire to discover' more complete information.

"A spokeswoman for the State Department, which now largely oversees the rebuilding effort (says), 'We welcome and value the independent oversight.' She spoke under department ground rules that require anonymity. 'Their objective findings have helped improve transparency, accountability and efficiency as we work with the Iraqi people to establish an independent, stable and prosperous Iraq,' she said.

"The five electrical substations examined by the inspector general's office, which is led by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., were built in southern Iraq at a cost of $28.8 million. "The completed substations were found to be well planned, well designed and well constructed," the report says. Unfortunately, the system for distributing power from the completed substations was largely nonexistent.

"'No date for installing the distribution system was given,'" the report says.

"Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who travels extensively in Iraq, said problems like that illustrated why the official American government statistics on competed projects could seldom be taken at face value.

"'All too often,' Mr. Rubin said of the numbers, 'the goal in the bureaucracy is to cover their own backside rather than to actually make sure the money does good.'"

(end snip)

Note that fellow Rubin is from the pro-Iraq War II American Enterprise Institute. He strikes me as unduly snarky here. We can't expect any of these projects to succeed much in the face of the insurgency, yet they have had some success. The article notes, however, that mismanagement and the high death and wounded claims of contractors, American and otherwise, causes much of the Iraq rebuilding money to be taken away for military and death and hospital payments. See also, this sad article from the LA Times about US priorities in health care being scaled back.

The overriding fact remains that too many Iraqis in central and southeastern Iraq want us out and are too often passively supporting the insurgents. And as I've said, that's where the (non-Kurd) Sunnis live--and these were the people most oriented toward the West and the US. Why we want to strengthen Shi'ite fundamentalism has always eluded me when we should have had Al Queda as our main priority ("he" said for the um-teenth time...).

I still say...Get out now. I cannot justify as a citizen why someone's loved one has to die for a so-called "continuing" cause that was based upon misleading statements about the urgency of the threat and poor post-war planning (Um, "he" says that alot too!).


Arctic Refuge drilling. As bad as you thought...

The New York Review of Books contains an excellent overview of the Terrible President's proposal to drill in the Arctic Refuge area. Two key paragraphs in an article that are well worth reading:

"The administration's proposal to drill in the wildlife refuge is currently buried in revenue provision of the budget bill, where by law it cannot be filibustered. It has provoked intense opposition. Critics point out that the claim that the oil developmen of the 1002 Area will affect only two thousand acres is based on the disingenuous argument that only the actual posts and building pads on which the drilling structure are erected would count as a disturbance, not the roads or pipelines or other facilitie that would be built above the tundra. They argue, moreover, that Cheney's assurance that not more than two thousand acres would be disturbed is predicated on the notion that whatever oil might lie beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is concentrated in a single small area. In fact, the Geological Survey specifically predicts that the oil in the wildlife refuge is 'expected to occur as several accumulations rather than a single large accumulation.' Extracting this oil would therefore require an extension of the web of roads and pipelines that already cover the one thousand square miles of the adjacent lands of Prudhoe Bay.

"Cheney's figures about the oil in the refuge are also misleading. The Energy Information Administration, the statistical agency of the Department of Energy, estimates that, at its peak, the production there could amount to 940,000 barrels a day, not 1.3 million. Even if leasing of drilling rights in the refuge's oil fields were to begin right away, moreover, the peak of production Cheney refers to wouldn't be reached until 2025. At that point, the percentage of US oil consumption that the wildlife refuge might provide is perhaps a more relevant consideration than the percentage of production. The United States currently imports close to 60 percent of its oil. By 2025, that figure is expected to rise to 70 percent. At that point the refuge's oil wells would be contributing just 4 percent of US consumption. This is not an insignificant amount but it also suggests that if the wildlife refuge is our leading onshore oil prospect, we'd be well advised to start looking for some other solution to our energy needs."

Why a Mahattan Project for solar and wind power, or further pushing and subsidizing purely electric vehicles isn't seen as connected to the war against terrorism that stems from the Middle East is beyond me. If that seems obtuse, think about it this way: How often would our leaders apologize for Saudi repression--and Saudi leaders' tacit and often active financial support of terrorists--if the US didn't need Saudi oil?

Something to think about...


No place left to go for Right Wing

Mark Shields (!) writes a great and tough-minded column that shows why the Right Wing in America shot down all of their objective minded talking points along with Miers, to wit:

1. Bush can nominate who he wants;

2. We must have only up or down votes;

3. No questioning of a nominated judge's religious beliefs as a clue to his/her jurisprudence;

4. President Bush opposes quotas.

Let's just keep the above in mind when Bush nominates his replacement for Miers and the Republican leadership and spokespeople start to sing their old pre-Miers tunes.

If "agent" includes "officers," then Plame was a "covert agent" (update: mabye not...)

(Rewritten and edited)

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly offers an excellent summary of some of the legal analysis of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But I must say that he and others are reading the statute too narrowly.

First, he is concerned that the statute requires proof that one subjectively know the information leaked could be used to harm the US government or help a foreign nation. But the statute merely says one must have "reason to believe [the information] could be used to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation.” (Italics added) Contrary to what Kevin and others may believe, the phrase "reason to believe" is a legal phrase of art and means that a trier of fact (judge or jury) determines whether a reasonable person, not the particular person, could believe a disclosure "could be used to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation."

Fitzgerald recognized this distinction when he said during the press conference:

"(We) need to know at the time that he transmitted the information, he appreciated that it was classified information, that he knew it or acted, in certain statutes, with recklessness."

(Fitzgerald could, however, be worried about the overbreadth of the statute from a First Amendment perspective...It's awfully broad in merely requiring that the information "could" harm US interests or help a foreign power, isn't it?)

But overall, Kevin and another blogger, at Begging to Differ, are on stronger ground in questioning whether Fitzgerald thought he could prove Valarie Plame was a "covert agent" because the term is so narrowly defined in the particular statute. Further, here is what Fitzpatrick stated on the subject in his press conference:

"Let me say two things. Number one, I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert. And anything I say is not intended to say anything beyond this: that she was a CIA officer from January 1st, 2002, forward.

"I will confirm that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003. And all I'll say is that, look, we have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent."

If Fitzpatrick is concerned he did not have enough to show Ms. Plame was a covert agent as defined under the statute, then he should have explained why. Let's first stipulate Plame's position in 2003, which was "an operations officer in the spy agency's directorate of operations--a clandestine service." (See Daily News, October 2, 2003) See also: This October 8, 2003 article from the Washington Post.

Now, let's review the portion of the statute defining the phrase "covert agent" in the statute as it relates to those agents who are US citizens:

"The term “covert agent” means—

(A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency—

(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and

(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States; or

(B) a United States citizen whose intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information, and—

(i) who resides and acts outside the United States as an agent of, or informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency, or

(ii) who is at the time of the disclosure acting as an agent of, or informant to, the foreign counterintelligence or foreign counterterrorism components of the Federal Bureau of Investigation..."

Kevin rightly notes that Plame has apparently, per press reports, resided in the US since 1997. In 2003, that would be six years and therefore, take Plame out of definition "(A)" of the term "covert agent." Boy, must Libby and Rove et al. be happy to know that techincality of five years was in the definition!

I originally thought this morning that subpart (B) could help, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized that the prhase "the foreign counterintelligence or foreign counterterrorism components of the Federal Bureau of Investigation..." means that both "foreign counterintelligence" and "foreign counterterrorism" refer only to the FBI. As Plame did not work for the FBI as far as we know, Fitzgerald likely realized he was a just short of proving liability under that statute--but probably and only because the phrase "covert agent" is so narrowly defined. She was definitely covert in the sense that the information was "classified" and the sense the term "covert" is used outside the particular statute.

There are other problems with the statute too, as I discussed in my original version of my post this morning. The term "agent" is not even defined in the statute. This might not seem like such a big deal at first because we know, in the corporate world, that the president of the company is an officer, agent, and employee at the same time. Why get any more complicated here?

But note the title of the statute is:

"Protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources"

Interesting that the statute separates "officers" from "agents" when "officers" are not identified in section 421, which is the substantive portion of the statute describing what is prohibited (outing a "covert agent").

It gets weirder, though, because, while the single word "agent" is not defined, in the same definitions section (section 426), the terms "officer" and "employee" are defined through a reference to other sections of the statutory chapter in which this statute is placed. In neither definition of the terms "officer" or "employee" is the word "agent" used.

So is "agent" merely a person in the field, even though it is not so defined that way? Are we saying that once one becomes an "officer", someone higher in the hierarchy, that person is no longer protected from disclosure? A fair reading of the statute is that "agent" includes "officers."


As a civil libertarian, I am wary of such acts as these. Not because they are not needed, but because too often these acts are used against unarmed dissenters of official policy, not to stop true criminal acts against one's nation. There is little doubt that if Jane Fonda was caught the way Libby was caught, we'd see no caution on the part of the official establishment in DC in wanting to see her thrown in jail or even executed for treason. This is what Nathan Newman is talking about here.

I haven't had time this weekend to study other acts such as the Espinoage Act of 1917 to see if Libby, Rove et al violated that statute--or any other statute on substantive matters. If Fitzgerald, however, thought the agent protection statute was unduly vague or unconstitutional, he'd have done a public service in saying so. It would provide momentum for a policy discussion to find more effective ways to protect classified intelligence service employees, while safeguarding civil liberties in being able to expose illegal government conduct or dissent from official government policies.

(Rewritten and edited)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dodger Blue Skies

For those who are neither baseball fans or do not, as our family does, bleed Dodger blue, please feel free to ignore this post...

Finally! The current Dodger owner Frank McCourt shows some sense and fires the incompetent Paul DePodesta. I thought Kevin Malone was bad, but De Podesta takes the prize as the worst general manager in the last 50 years.

Trading Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota showed a spectactular failure of judgment and a fundamtental ignorance of the importance of team chemistry. Worse, De Podesta was beyond foolish in signing often hurt players such as J.D. Drew and Derek Lowe to long term contracts--and thinking you can have two hot heads (Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent) on the same team at the same time.

McCourt needs to do several more things:

1. Clean out the roster of most of these veterans, biting the bullet on the De Podesta-big contracts by trading for young players, including guys ready to come up from AAA farm leagues.

2. Immediately hire the "Bulldog" Orel Hershiser. The Bulldog will get the young guys excited and excitement by players means plenty of grit--and pleasant surprises, even if there is not as many immediate wins.

3. Hire a true traditional baseball oriented general manager Hershiser approves of and wants to work under; and THEN:

4. Like George Steinbrenner, get out of the way and show up in a few years for a major league baseball championship or at least a National League championship.

Fitzgerald hit triple, chose to stop at first base

Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall), the Washington Monthly, among others, have covered the facts very well. (And Josh is keeping his eye on an even larger ball). My comments regarding the indictment are as follows:


Patrick Fitzgerald, who said people are fond of baseball analogies and then offered his own, has proven a very cautious prosecutor. This is not bad in and of itself, but the truth is that he chose to "stop at first base" when he had enough evidence to indict Libby and most likely Rove for the felony crime of outing an undercover CIA agent. As a former federal prosecutor explained here, the prosecution under this statute is not as difficult as most people make it appear--particularly with the information that has been released thus far (see Josh Marshall above).

If Fitzgerald is confident that Libby lied, then a jury can find that a person who lies about one material fact can find that everything such a person says can be disregarded. This is a bedrock jury instruction in both civil and criminal prosecutions. A more aggressive prosecutor would have brought the felony substantive charge with these procedural felony charges. This was the prosecutor's judgment call, however, and my criticism of Fitzpatrick is therefore somewhat muted, though it remains a criticism nonetheless.


If, as Mark Kleiman and some others believe, Fitzpatrick thinks he'll be able to go back to the well for future indictments, he has underestimated the Terrible President and his crowd. If Libby's defense is that "I was too busy to tell the truth about something connected to the most important foreign policy matter my boss, Dick Cheney, was pushing," then Libby obviously believes that if he can stave off conviction and serving time until after the congressional elections of 2006, then lame duck president Bush Jr. will pardon him as lame duck president Bush, Sr., in December 1992, pardoned Weinberger, Abrams, and others from the Iran-Contra scandals.


This is not a "Martha Stewart" indictment, however. I have believed, from the start, that the prosecution of Martha Stewart was an example of vindictive judgment by a prosecutor more interested in headlines and "getting" a celebrity than any wiser use of limited legal resources to vindicate an important public policy. What Martha Stewart did was miniscule compared to the corporate malfeasance of others (including true insiders at ImClone who were never indicted) that was going on at the time of the prosecution of Stewart. This perspective does not belittle the charge of obstruction of justice or perjury. It does however constitute a deep criticism of the motives and judgment of the prosecutor in the Stewart case.

What happened in the Joe Wilson-Valarie Plame situation is that top level people in the White House decided to put at risk a CIA agent who worked at a then-undisclosed CIA front, and which agent was undercover at that front. The reasons range from (1) petty and vindictive against the CIA's agent's husband (who was a highly valued employee under Bush's father's administration) for not toeing the son's administration's party line to something (2) even more explosive--the fact that the CIA agent's husband may have opened, through his criticism, a line of investigation into whether the White House knew it was citing unreliable evidence as to whether Saddam Hussein even attempted to purchase nukes in the late 1990s.

This strikes me as far more serious than $45,000 in stock savings on a stock tip from one's broker, which is the gist of the Martha Stewart prosecution.


Nathan Newman and I had a brief discussion over whether a law that prosecutors have never had confidence in is worth having. With Fitzgerald deciding to "stop at first base," I now agree with Nathan. It is time for all good citizens to revisit "the CIA agent protector" law and investigate whether other laws already protect agents from disclosure (such as anti-espionage laws) and whether we should be protecting whistle-blowers better than we do.

Nathan, however, believes the focus of Fitzgerald's chosen line of prosecution will be on the overall political acts of the Bush administration, presumably due to the vindictive sensibility one gets from the information that has come out thus far. Possibly, is what I say. I think the issue of the motive of vindictiveness comes out even more clearly when the indictment inludes the CIA agent protector law. Nathan is a bright fellow and I deeply respect his perspective.

Regardless of what happens in the judicial process, now is the time, in the legislature, for hearings on repealing the CIA agent protector law in order to find a beteter balance of protecting our nation's undercover agents and yet, allow for protecting whistle blowers when there is official government malfeasance. A hearing on this is timely and effective when several Republicans and their supporters may be wondering this, too.

There is already a left-right coalition against elements of the PATRIOT ACT. Why not at least try to revive that coalition in this instance? I remain skeptical of this proposal's success, admittedly.


Overall, I hope that the principles of protecting CIA agents' identities and the need to protect those who leak information concerning illegal government policies are reaffirmed through this prosecution, as Fitzgerald stated at his October 28, 2005 press conference. Otherwise, I await the Republicans welcoming back Philip Agee with hearty apologies and saying, "All is forgiven."

(NOTE: In the recent past, Barbara Bush had to back off on the charge that Agee had outed a CIA agency chief in Greece who was later killed by Greek anti-government terrorists.)

(Slight edit)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Windfall profits tax anyone?

Read here.

Once again, we recall the immortal words of comedian Robert Klein from the 1970s:

"It's supply and demand. We have all the supply--and we can demand whatever the f*** we want."

Off by one day...

Miers is out.

I thought a couple of weeks ago that the Terrible President would announce something to limit coverage--such as having Miers withdraw--assuming Fitzgerald announced indictments regarding the Plame scandal.

Oh well. Looks like Fitzgerald announces his intentions tomorrow.

Still, I wonder if the Terrible President is planning something else for the nation to talk about if Fitzgerald announces indictments.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wal Mart Brings New Meaning to Trimming the Fat

Via Nathan Newman's Labor Blog, this NY Times article reveals an internal Wal Mart memorandum that proposed holding down health care costs by making all of its hourly employees work part time and do physical work on the job.

As we reflect on the psychopathic, anti-social environment in the top tiers of Wal-Mart that produces this sort of a memorandum, let us remind ourselves who represent five of the top ten American billionaires. Ah, yes. Members of the Walton family.

Wal Mart is a traitor to America and a betrayer of our nation's best values.

UPDATE: LA Times article provides further information regarding Wal Mart memo and a backgrounder on its failure to provide medical coverage its workers can afford.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Politicizing criminal conduct

So the new buzzword from the White House to FoxNews to their Stalinist-style fans in the Republican Party is: "We abhor the criminalization of politics."

Um, excuse me on at least two counts:

1. When Republicans finish reading Joe Conason's and Gene Lyon's "Hunting of the President", say "I'm sorry--really, and, to prove it, I am making a donation of $100 to the Democratic Party", then we can start to talk about whether politics is being criminalized by a still-potential prosecution by a Republican (Fitzgerald) against other Republicans for violating a law pushed through by the President's Republican father (himself a former CIA Director and former President)--and conspiracy and perjury indictments concerning an investigation into whether that law was violated.

2. The outing of Valerie Plame is a crime if the perpetrator knew or likely knew he/she was outing an undercover agent to a reporter or the public. Outing an undercover agent is not anything like the usual leaks that have gone on for time immemorial in DC or any other government agency--most of which concern non-national security or non-security classified policy. It is also different than outing torture (as Sy Hersh has done) or exposing an illegal war (as with the US invasion of Cambodia). Outing an undercover CIA agent can only be compared to publicly disclosing information regarding troop movement if such movement is classified as top secret and one learns of it through a leak from a government official.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has a very insightful analysis of why the Rove-Cheney cabal went into action against Joe Wilson and helps us understand what I have wondered, too: Since Wilson only said he found no evidence Saddam had actually purchased nukes, which the president's State of the Union speech did not allege, why the need to out Wilson's wife? Kevin's analysis is very persuasive at this point.

So,in case we have to deal with our right wing or Republican friends, let's remember what we're talking about: The conduct of Rove, Libby, et al. is potentially a crime. To attack Fitzgerald or the process at this point is to politicize and, worse, defend criminal conduct. The right wing defenders of the Terrible President and his henchmen therefore have it backwards. It is not the criminalization of politics. "Criminalizing politics" is what the Republicans did in the 1990s in going after President and Mrs. Clinton for private sexual conduct by Bill Clinton, making a bad money-losing investment in Arkansas and firing people at the White House Travel bureau.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Soda, schools and childhood obesity

This article discusses a new report from the University of Maryland that shows the impact of removing soda and high sugar content fruit drinks from schools is probably negligible in terms of limiting the number of children who are obese. The study was funded by...The American Beverage Association.

Despite its funding source, it is still a valuable exercise to understand how the study was conducted, which is helpfully described in the article (the study does not appear on the web yet as far as I could find):

"The authors of the current study stated there is little scientific evidence to support such a policy, and set out to analyze the existing literature. To this end, they used the tool of 'risk analysis,' which, Forshee said, 'has not been applied as widely as it should be in nutrition policy.'

"The idea was to apply the tool to a controversial area in nutrition policy (soft drink sales in schools) as a way to demonstrate that it might have wider utility.
Forshee and his colleagues used two federally funded data sets, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2000 (NHANES), and one data set from the National Family Opinion consumer research firm.

"The researchers used the largest association between school soft drinks and body mass index (BMI) they could find, which was a .24 unit change in BMI for every one serving change in soft drink consumption.

"Even using this upper-end figure, Forshee said, 'there was no statistically significant association and, in fact, regular carbonated soft drinks accounted for less than 1 percent of the variance in BMI.'

"Consumption of soft drinks from school vending machines was also quite low, with estimates ranging from half an ounce to two ounces per day per student. Adolescents drank five times as much at home." (Italics added)

The italicized portion reveals the authors have used an "average" in a misleading manner. I state this because, earlier in the article, we had learned that childhood obesity was in about 10% of the children population of the US in the late 1980s, but had grown to 15% by the year 2000. (Separate the question of how that trend has been measured. Let's just assume its accuracy for today.)

With that relatively small, but growing population of obese children in mind, let's remind ourselves that a soda can is not 1/2 an ounce to 2 ounces. A soda can contains 16 ounces or sometimes 20 ounces. Further, note later in the article where it states:

"With current consumption of such drinks at 2 servings a day for males and 1.2 a day for females, it's unlikely that such a policy in schools will make a 'meaningful difference in BMI distribution of the population,' the authors wrote." (Italics added)

Hmmmm...If our public school children are only consuming two servings a day, then a small group of children are getting most of those ounces of soda from those vending machines. Therefore, a ban on soda and high sugar content fruit drinks could have a beneficial impact on the consumption of sugar if 1 of the 2 servings occurs at school. Further, assuming there is a relation between obesity and drinking soda, which epidemiologists will know more than I, the authors, if they were not being paid by the American Beverage Association, might have been able to see that the following conclusion is at least as reasonable as theirs:

Banning soda in schools is not likely to adversely affect any children, who may not be drinking soda in any event at school. However, for those children who drink even one can of soda per day from vending machines at school, the beneficial effect of a ban on soda vending machines at schools could reduce, by half, such children's sugar consumption.

In all, I am glad the American Beverage Association helped move the debate forward. The authors of the study should be commended for at least reviewing additional data. However, the authors' conclusion is sadly a rather poorly reasoned conclusion.

For our family, we have no soda in our house. We let the kids have a soda as a treat perhaps two or three times a month in a restaurant. As for fruit drinks, we have become more discerning than we were. We try now to choose fruit juice that contains less than 30 grams of sugar per 8 oz. serving. Coca-Cola has 27 grams per 8 oz. serving, however. See: Coca Cola's web site here, which claims that orange, apple and grape juices have essentially the same sugar content. I originally wrote on my blog at 6:30 a.m. this morning that Coca Cola was being misleading here. However, this evening, when looking at our newly purchased orange and apple juice, I have to say I was wrong and Coca-Cola is correct. The differences are not that great after all. I thought the label on our jucies was based upon 16 ounces, but it's based upon 8 ounces. Thus, the apple juice we normally buy has 19 grams of sugar at 8 ounces per serving, which is about 10 grams less than Coca-Cola. On the other hand, the orange juice we purchased today has just as much sugar as Coca-Cola.

In the end, however, banning soda and fruit juice vending machines from public school grounds is still a reasonable policy. It will probably be most helpful to those children most at risk of obesity and may lead to more nutritional habits in at least some of our nation's children.

(Edited and corrected in next to last paragraph)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

It's a magical world, but can Bill Watterson come out and play?

A wistful article on the creator of Calvin & Hobbes, who makes JD Salinger look like Paris Hilton.

In a just world, Paris Hilton would be a recluse and Bill Watterson would keep drawing Calvin & Hobbes.

"Very High Morale" or Just a "High" Headline Writer?

The headline of an Associated Press article proclaims:

"US Troops Maintain High Morale in Iraq"

The article gives the lie to the strongly stated headline--and mostly contradicts the headline outright. It's worth reading as the soldiers who spoke are putting their lives on the line for our nation.

I don't buy the "it's just their job" argument some assert regarding our misnamed "volunteer" army (one of the soldiers in the article used this argument, though). My view is that when a soldier in combat is supposed to be just doing a "job", it denigrates the sacrifice being asked of that soldier. It makes it sound as if what soldiers in war are doing is no different than being lawyers or burger flippers.

I note none of the persons quoted in the article said anything resembling, "Well, I sure wish that Michael Moore would just shut up because he depresses me." Perhaps some feel that way, but usually morale is about what's going on in front of the soliders, not 6,000 miles from the battlefields.

Instead, the article does state in part:

"When you get attacked everyday then it's tough to maintain morale," said 1st Lt. Doug Serota of Birmingham, Ala., as his unit spoke to residents about plans to rebuild an irrigation system in a calm Shiite village north of Baqouba. "I've always said it's not necessarily fun being here, but there are many, many things that are rewarding."

"Even better are the phone lines and Internet connections to home.

"Just getting the soldiers to talk to their wives and families is the best morale booster," added Serota of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment.

"There are some who say .... they're all hard" and want to be in combat, said PFC Sean Rolling of Boston, as he sipped a coffee milkshake in a fortified coffee shop during a break between missions. "But they all just want to go home."

Godspeed to all soldiers to come home alive from this terrible war.

Interesting perspective on assassination of former Lebanese premier

There's a new blogger in town, "Professor" Victorino de la Vega (a pseudonym as Amarout where he "teaches" is from Thomas Moore's "Utopia"), who was kind enough to comment to my earlier post on the Syrian involvement in the assassination of a former Lebanese premier. I reprint his post on the subject from his own blog below:

"I’m fed up with all these self-proclaimed Lebanon “experts” avidly commenting excerpts from the Mehlis report as if it were some kind of exercise in exegesis.

"OK: some Marxist/Syrian “Mukhabarât” thugs might have contributed to the killing of one of their former protégés… and, after all, so what?

"Rafiq Hariri was a notorious Saudi-sponsored fraudster and embezzler who had stolen billions from the Lebanese government’s coffers with the complicity of resident Syrian Gen. Ghazi Canaan who skimmed his infamous “khamseen” percent commission for the big boys back in Damascus and Qardâha.

"Faux “sheikh” Hariri was most likely killed in a settling of accounts between rival Syrian mafia gangs: that type of crime happens every now and then in Palermo and in the south side of Chicago without eliciting the appointment of a German special prosecutor or impromptu meetings of the UN’s Security Council!

"Contrary to the tall tales peddled on Fox News, Future TV, Al-Nahar-al-Wahhabist and other Saudi and/or Hebrew controlled media outlets, “sheikh Rafiq” was no “disinterested defender of freedom”

"Actually, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Saddam’s Iraq and the French government were the only members of the international community who stood squarely on the side of Lebanon’s sovereignty while the country was being ripped/raped by Syria and Saudi Arabia: in those days, the White House courageously looked the other way while Syrian generals tortured at will from Beirut to Zahleh and “sheikh” Rafiq handed no-bid government contracts to his family’s construction firms and organized Oriental orgies cum crystal waterpipes and deluxe Lebanese sex slaves for his Saudi masters."

Wow. I do recall that Saddam was against Syrian control of Lebanon for the same reason he gave $25,000 to families of suicide bombers in Israel: Saddam was in fact close to Hezbollah, which, when it was not fighting Israeli military forces in southern Lebanon (which the Israelis occupied), was fighting Syrian forces. So even "standing with Lebanon's sovereignty" was itself problematic, wasn't it? The layers of betrayal and violence in the Middle East remains, in my opinion, an outgrowth of Western colonialism and the greed that comes from oil revenues that enables and emboldens Saudi monarchy misconduct throughout the Middle East.

A question to the Professor, though: "Hebrew controlled media outlets"? Is the Professor meaning to speak of Israeli controlled media outlets? And would that really include Ha'aretz, which is pretty tough on most Israeli governments, especially compared to how other media sources treat the governments in which they reside.

A bit of my own views of Israeli government conduct was posted here.

Addendum: Dr. de la Vega responded to my inquiry in the comments, saying he should have said "Israeli" or even "Likud". He also correctly chides me for my misstatement about Hezbollah and Saddam. Saddam's $25,000 checks were distributed to families of suicide bombers in Israel through the Arab Liberation Front. More importantly, Hezbollah supported Iranian Shi'ites, not Iraqi Ba'athists.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Judy loses friends and lovers

On the saga of Judy Miller:

I normally do not indulge in the kind of personal snark others enjoy, but the Judy Miller saga is one I have had slight difficulty refraining from such snarkiness.

First, there is this article from New York magazine that traces her rise in a somewhat sexist, though still valid manner in terms of her being a brown noser for power.

Then, there is the peculiar behavior and comments by Miller's husband, Joseph Epstein, during the time she was incarcerated. Did he know what was going on and was already distancing himself? If so, what happened to your loyalty to your spouse, Mr. Epstein? Of course, maybe she wouldn't heed his warnings of embedding herself with the neo-cons any more than Bill Keller, Miller's editor at the NY Times (see that New York article again, I guess).

And the Scooter Libby letter to Miller that makes a veiled reference to their meeting in Aspen for a national security conference? Maybe, just maybe she had a romantic rendezvous with Libby, amdist the mendacious reporting on weapons of mass destruction and outing CIA agents...If so, then maybe this explains Epstein's strange behavior about his wife. Maybe he didn't know anything regarding the Plame issue, but did have some inside scoop about his wife's activities with Libby at a conference in Aspen...Ah, the tangled web of speculation and gossip.

Again, I don't have an interest in writing about such things because human beings' private lives are often complicated. I always thought Jesus had it right about not judging people's private lives and ensuring that, when it comes to sex, we ought, at least most of the time, to be tougher on the hypocritical public moralists than the private sinners they wish to expose. A sense of humility ought to be our primary default position, in my semi-humble view.

But I just can't help wondering about the peculiar letter from Libby and the peculiar behavior of her husband during her jailing. Count this as at least an early acknowledgement for next Yom Kippur of speculating and gossiping, though.

Final thought: When Maureen Dowd says snarky and mean things about anyone, I can't help but start to feel sorry for that person. If MoDo felt this way about Miller as MoDo now reveals, MoDo should have spoken up long ago. MoDo is far closer to a Judy Miller than she would ever admit. Her attacks on Clinton and Gore, as well as her disdain of public policy, and now the Terrible President originate from "in-crowd elitist" attitude that too many Times' reporters and DC reporters have.

Interesting read at Reason mag on Guiliani and "liberalism"

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason magazine has a great food-for-thought article about a new book about Guiliani. Cavanaugh rightly notes that one can greatly overstate Guiliani's success in reducing crime--I did not know, for example, that crime rates had gone down in three of the last four years of predecessor Mayor Dinkins' reign. He also backs into admitting that maybe the old "root cause" liberalism of the New Deal--give people jobs and crime goes down--may not be so discredited anymore.

A final thought: I got a kick out of Cavanaugh's phrase "mugged by reality liberals." I wonder if he and his friends have a mugged by reality conservativism or libertarianism. The basis of it is the joke from the late 60s: "What is a conservative? A liberal who's been mugged the night before."

The "conservative" version is: "What's a civil libertarian? A conservative who's just been indicted." This version first began around the time so many Reagan administration members were the subject of criminal investigations.

I suppose the "libertarian" version is: "What's a left-winger? A libertarian who just lost his health insurance."

Despite the above, Reason magazine remains a valuable resource--even if I don't agree with significiant portions of its contents from week to week. In my continuing quest for balance, though, I am adding it to the link list.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Late Thursday reading...

Syria is involved with the assassination of a former Lebanese premier and...what? No call for sanctions yet? No call for suspension of Syria's membership from the UN with a demand for reparations to Lebanon? There is a part of me that would like to convene the UN in special session to agree to forcibly remove the Syrian president, but...then again, the world is preoccupied with another nation or two in the Middle East already...and meanwhile, we have this place in South Asia to worry about and this guy our Terrible President once promised to keep on hunting down...

And in the "read it and weep for our nation" department, Human Rights Watch has issued its report on the "firsthand acounts" of US torture of Iraqi detainees. The NY Review of Books has published an excerpt here. This scandal went to the top of the US military and the White House, but those who took part cannot claim immunity, either. The ones who spoke up are truly heroic as it is tough to step out of the pack in a situation our soldiers find themselves in every day, wondering if this day will be their last.

And finally, another article from NY Review of Books; this one, on Iran. Well worth reading as we find more to be hopeful about young folks in Iran taking on the mullahs, but, as with any nation, people want to possess nuclear bombs--even if they oppose the regime that is building them.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Iraqi constitution appears to pass

Per the Yahoo/AP report this evening, the Iraqi constitution appears to have passed.

I have consistently worried about the secular oriented Sunnis in and around Baghdad. One of the reasons I opposed the Iraq War II from the first "selling" of that war in September 2002 was because I noted the Sunnis had a love/hate relationship with Saddam because he was the one standing in the way of Shi'ite control of Iraq.

When the Terrible President unleashed his war against Iraq in early 2003, I then took the Powell position of "You break it, you own it." However, by the fall of 2003, I could no longer justify that view as I saw two choices, either (1) add more troops to secure Iraq in a formal and possibly tough occupation or (2) pull out.

The one hope that I did have this summer of 2005 (see this post) was that the Terrible President's aides had been pushing the Shi'ites for a federated Iraq. The sadness, however, is that the Sunni leadership and Ba'athists do not support this because it leaves oil revenues in the hands of the Shi'ites (Shi'ites and much of Iraq's oil is in the southern region of Iraq).

I continue to believe Iraq's best alternative is a federation where the science and business oriented Sunnis in and around Baghdad create a "research triangle" to develop or distribute modern technology (not, gulp, military technology), add new wealth to their nation, and learn to live without controlling the receipt of oil revenues--which, in a federation, should flow somewhat throughout the entire Iraqi society in any event.

If the Sunnis don't accept this or don't cooperate with the current Iraqi government to fight the largely former Ba'athist insurgents (said insurgents now assisted by al Queda and other sundry terrorist groups), Iraq is more likely to move toward civil war. In saying this, I note there are growing violent actions by Shi'ites against Shi'ites, which may further de-stablize Iraq.

Final point: Some say if Iraq is divided into Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurd regions, such a division would "entrench sectarianism." If that's the case, then so does a Shi'ite majority that controls the oil without a federation, if I correctly hear Sunni complaints. The truth is that "modern" Iraq was created by Western colonial powers after World War I. That there are simmering regional disputes there for centuries is what is the problem--and it is why the Iraq War II has been a dangerous, wasteful diversion from fighting and subduing al Queda.

Condi Rice: al Queda not enough of a problem

Condi Rice, on Meet the Press today, certainly copped to the lie that she, the Terrible President, Mr. Other Priorities, Crazy Rummy, and the rest of the gang (including one Judith Miller) have been pushing about not really wanting war with Iraq in 2001 and 2002 and that it was a last resort. Here is John Amato, he of, sumamrizing and discussing Rice's admission.

However, I would add that there is something even worse in this admission that is consistent with how Rice and others viewed al Queda before 9/11/01. If we recall Richard Clarke, he had developed a strategy to go after al Queda after the Cole incident in late 2000 and Clinton had approved it--but would leave it to the incoming Bush administration to implement it if it chose. And who can forget Sandy Berger's warning to Rice during the transition talks from the Clinton to Bush White Houses? Here is the saved Newsweek article from May 27, 2002 when this information first went "mainstream" and here is a key paragraph from that article:

"By the end of the Clinton administration, the then national-security adviser Sandy Berger had become “totally preoccupied” with fears of a domestic terror attack, a colleague recalls. True, the Clintonites had failed to act decisively against Al Qaeda, but by the end they were certain of the danger it posed. When, in January 2001, Berger gave Rice her handover briefing, he covered the bin Laden threat in detail, and, sources say, warned her: “You will be spending more time on this issue than on any other.” Rice was alarmed by what she heard, and asked for a strategy review. But the effort was marginalized and scarcely mentioned in ensuing months as the administration committed itself to other priorities, like national missile defense (NMD) and Iraq."

Now, we have her admitting that al Queda, even after they bombed the Pentagon and the WTC, is still not a sufficient priority to directly confront. And we're supposed to shrug our shoulders and say, "Boy, that bin Laden just can't be caught, can he?"

It is breathtaking that anyone can still attack Noam Chomsky for merely supporting international criminal laws to apprehend bin Laden in a police-like action and still think the Terrible President is tougher in the war against al Queda.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Embrace "culural liberals" or tell them "Sorry, I just wanna be friends"?

Katrina Van Den Huevel, the editor of The Nation, informs us about an important study (pdf download) by Princeton Political Scientist Larry M. Bartels who has taken time to analyze National Election Study data that Bartels says proves that working class white voters have not left the Democratic Party. He says instead that to win these close national elections, Democrats must expand their appeal to economically better off white voters. Specifically, Bartels states that:

"...if the idea is to appeal to a large class of white voters who have become noticeably less Democratic over the past half-century, the place to find them is in the middle and upper reaches of the income distribution. These affluent white are more liberal on social issues than working-class whites, and if anything they have become increasingly liberal on social issues over the past 30 years. Moreover, their views about soical issues are more closely connected to partisanship and voting behavior than those of working-class whites--and they have become much more closely connected since the 1980s." (page 31 of Bartels' analysis)

Despite Professor Bartel's effective challenge to Thomas Frank's analysis in "What's the Matter with Kansas?", Bartels' almost total reliance on the National Election Study data causes him to overstate the problem with Frank's analysis--and simulataneously causes Bartels to overstate his own conclusion restated above.

First, Bartels' analysis, for all its bluster against Thomas Frank, significantly admits Frank is correct that there has been an erosion of white working class voters from the Democrats to Republicans in the American South. Says Bartels: "Indeed, in the case of low-income whites the erosion is entirely confined to the South." Yes, Professor. That is precisely how the Democrats are losing close national races and it is why there are so many damned Republican Congressman--the South now consists of more right wing cultural kooks who are economic elitists than during the period of the 1930s through the 1960s, when the white Southern Democratic Party leadership had to at least mouth the rhetoric of the New Deal in between their denunciation of blacks, "commies" (mostly not communist when names were sought), Jews, and other good folks.

Professor Bartels' "thesis" is less a conclusion than a mere restatement of what the Dem strategy has been since the tenure of former Democratic Party Congressional whip Tony Cohelo, the criminal bastard, who gave political-AIDS to the Democrats through corporate money-fusion, and has left the Republicans controlling the White House and Congress--and framing the political commentary through corporate-owned media.

Bartels' article is unfortunately narrow. This is unlike Frank, who wrote his book not merely to find a way to help Dems win at least close elections, but also to propose and create a better set of public policies designed to restore a more equal distribution of power and wealth in our nation to where it was before, say, 1973 (see: Kevin Phillips' "The Politics of Rich and Poor" (1989) for starters on the varied statistical and historical analysis that leads to Frank's book).

In any event, Bartels' conclusion doesn't look as strong as when one first reads his article because the South is where Dems lose national elections. However, let's look at the NES data upon which Bartels relies. Here, I don't posit an answer, but my analysis below should cause Bartels not to draw the sweeping conclusions he has drawn.

Professor Bartels (see pages 11 and 12, footnote 12), uses the NES "working class" "annual family income" cut off of "less than $35,000." Even if Frank agrees with this, I don't. I see a more practical and therefore accurate cut-off number for working class "annual family income" as "less than $50,000." Why? Because income at that level for such families can fluctuate such that they'll be up to $50,000 in some years, particularly election years like 2004 when even Republicans prime the economic pump. Then, in years such as 2005, they may go below $35,000 if one of the adult family members loses his or her job, is injured or gets sick for awhile--or gas prices get out of hand.

Here is Bartels' discussion of the economic triad structure of income in America per the NES:

"Obviously, the exact proportions of the sample in each group vary somehwhat from year to year...In the 2004 (NES) survey...31.0% of the rsepondents reported family incomes of less than $35,000, 25.7% reported family incomes between $35,000 and $70,000, and 31.1% reported family incomes in excess of $70,000. the remaining 12% declined to report their income, and I have not included them in any of the three income groups."

While this last sentence shows Professor Bartels being careful, we both are poorer for our analysis as that 12% becomes a "wild card." In any event, looking at the triad structure, we see an eroding middle and the bottom 1/3rd still not doing as well as they would if there was, in the private sector, more than the current 8% union-representation. Anyway, if we go with my $50,000 working class annual family income cut-off and, then, look at the depth of analysis and charts Professor Bartels has designed, one can see that, even outside the South, a change of the "working class" cut off to even $40,000 would likely begin to undermine Bartels' conclusion stated at the beginning of this post and begin to support Frank's thesis.

Am I saying I KNOW the answer if the $50,000 cut off is used? No, I don't. What I am saying is that a reasonable upward change to the "annual family income" cut-off will likely lead to a conclusion that supports most of the other data Thomas Frank gathered and analyzed in his book. Bartels' analysis, therefore, is helpful, but it does not get us to the promised land because it relies too much on NES analyses.

In addition, Bartels has assumed that simply because the NES data show that non-well-off voters think they are voting for economic issues, they must in fact be voting consistent with their pocketbooks. Even Bartels has not believed that in the past, as in his infamous and admittedly elitist "Homer Gets a Tax Cut" (again, pdf) essay from 2004. I find that in national elections, with wooden, elitist candidates such as Gore (that's Gore before he lost and found himself a born-again populist) and Kerry, working class voters are more likely to vote on "character" issues as framed by the national media. While the national media may have been disappointed with Bush's performance as president even in 2004 (hence negative stories on Iraq and the economy), it was fairly clear the national press corps had little use for Kerry and hated him almost as much as they still hate Gore. Also, once the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, it's been tough to convince voters to jettison their local represenatives until a crisis happens. Thus, I am less confident in the NES data than Bartels in assuming that what people tell a pollster (and the NES is a poll) and how people actually vote is somehow the same.

Is therefore Bartels wrong in the sense that an Ann Coulter or even an Al From of the DLC is wrong? No. Bartels is wrong because he writes as if the NES data conclusively proves Frank is wrong. Again, the South is precisely where the Dems lose elections, which is why a coherent economic populist position will help Democrats solidfy themselves in other States and finally get some traction again in the South.

Ironically, 2006 and 2008 look better these days, but not because the national Democrats have found any solution, either Bartels' or Frank's. The national Democrats such as "Hillary Biden" will, however, seize upon Bartels' report to continue doing what they are doing. But what they are doing is continuing to blur the two parties on economics--with, again, the only salvation being that the Republican leadership are proving both their corruption and their incompetence in running government--whether it's responding to Hurricane Katrina, pursuing a government by and for Haliburton, or the tax cuts that correspond with cuts for soldiers' equipment and programs for the poor and working classes, etc.

Bartels' article is still a must read. Why? Because, as I said, he moves the debate forward in showing us why Thomas Frank should have at least discussed in some detail the NES data. That data is not discussed in Frank's book's index and frankly (pardon the pun) I don't recall discussion of it in his book. Therefore, hats off to Professor Bartels, even as I say, "Sorry, professor. I still think the Dems' problem largely resides on K Street, in the offices of the DLC, and the national political consluts (consultants) who tell Dems to attack their base while diluting the Democratic Party's best message."

(Editing, but not in overall content or substance)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Yawn...Clintonoids miss the point--again

Via Karmic Inquisition and the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum, I read the Washington Post article by two Democratic Leadership (Corporate) Council talking heads on what ails the Democratic Party.

As usual, they want a retreat from something they call "liberalism." While they talk about dropping gay marriage--agreed, as I don't see why we fight over a word if we're for civil unions among consenting adults--and opposition to parental consent laws--can we talk about that in terms of the actual experience with those laws, at least?--they get all misty eyed talking about "nothing less than a 21st Century economic and social policy." Huh?

For these Clintonoids, that mostly means jettisoning unions and embracing coroprate trade deals.

Ironically, as folks such as Kevin Phillips and Thomas Frank have pointed out, such a retreat from economic populism (aka New Deal politics) is what makes Dems look so weak on what should be their strongest platform: Supporting working families in cities, rural areas and suburbs. It is precisely what causes working folks, at least those who are both white-skinned and religious, to feel at least the Republicans speak to their cultural concerns or fears.

I agree with Kevin Drum. It's no use arguing with the DLC on these things. They are putzim who I wish would just leave the Dems, join the Republicans and work with Arlen Specter types to take back the Republican Party.

Instead, I say the Democrats must field candidates who want to walk into and engage Christian church goers in their churches with a platform that is based upon the following: (1) Make it easier for workers to organize at their workplaces so workers act collectively, not through mine-field lawsuits (kudos to Thomas Geoghean for writing what I have myself written about within my RFK novel), (2) Pass a plan for national health insurance, (3) pass (after repealing tax cuts for those above $200,000 and increasing, not cutting the estate tax) a nationally funded, but locally enacted, child care programs, (4) pursuing trade deals that support workers and the environment, (5) lessening the power of money in campaigns through public financing, and fill in your own blank here.

On foreign policy, we ought to be pro-soldier and state clearly we only send our loved ones to war as a last, not first, resort, that we don't manipulate intelligence data, and we finish the job of going after the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11/01, not continuing the diversion and disaster of the current administration's wrongful invasion in Iraq. And one more thing: We should not be menacing a mere potential Peronist like Hugo Chavez in oil-rich Venezuela while continuing to cozy up to far more repressive leaders in Saudi Arabia. To agitate against Chavez, who is both popular and popularly elected, on the basis of saying you support "democracy," while smelling the underwear of Saudi princes, is the height of cynicism and hypocrisy.

I don't see how out of touch that is with most Americans, especially if one reviews polls on American opinions about national health care, child care, wanting to join unions, and views about Iraq, for starters.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Terrible President is not our enemy, but he is incompetent in fighting the war against terrorists

My friend Adam says it is the "lefties" who think the "REAL" enemy is George Bush, not Hamas.

No, that's not correct.

What people such as me and plenty of others (Eric Alterman, Molly Ivins, Atrios, Kevin Drum, Marc Cooper and Jonathan Schell come immediately to mind) have said consistently is that the Terrible President has conducted a foreign policy that plays into the hands of the Islamicists and Iran's hardliners, who do support terrorists. As an American citizen, I can't overthrow Hamas, Al Queda et al. or even the Iranian government. I can call for the impeachment of the Terrible President, and do.

The Terrible President's diversion into Iraq and the refusal--yes, refusal--to get Zarqawi in 2002 and 2003 were decisions the Terrible President made which has led our own military and intelligence communities to conclude that the worldwide terrorist web has become more powerful than before. Is that the "left" now, too?

If anyone thinks Clinton's suck up to the Saudis after Khobar Towers was bad (assuming Louis Freeh is correct in what he says about Clinton in Freeh's new book), any detailed review of the Terrible President's relationship with the Saudis would make most Americans quite ill with rage.

Most people who are called "left" in this nation are not in Galloway's camp, even as Atrios and some other bloggers heartily enjoyed Galloway's witty take down of Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN). Let's name names if we're going to make broad brush statements about "lefties". Otherwise, such comments are merely a way to attempt to generally de-legitimize the "left". In that regard, I thought, in our previous posts and discussions these last two weeks, I had made a compelling case for leaving Iraq and that it is the right wing which should be on the defensive about its patriotism--IF such right wing insists in continuing to call into question the "left's" love and support of our nation.

I hope I'm not being too rough here or painting too broadly in reverse. We're all entitled to flame, and I do on occasion mee-self. But if we're going to try to catch each other and hold open our dialogue, I thought I'd point this out.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

When the Plame-gate indictments come down, what will be the diversion story from the White House?

I wonder what story the White House will "break" to the media on the day Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald issues indictments--indictments that may include Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and others such as possibly John Bolton?

And will it matter if Fitzgerald identifies the Terrible President and Mr. Other Priorities as unindicted co-conspirators?

Some ideas kicking around in my noggin:

Some Al-Queda "senior official" is captured. Or maybe some Iraqi insurgent "leader".

Harriet Miers withdraws her nomination and Edith Jones or Edith Clement is nominmated in her stead. Prissy Owens? Too Texan? Janice Brown? Only if the Terrible President is an unindicted co-conspirator and needs the screaming banshees from Rush to Michael Savage to Sean Hannity back on his side.

A new treaty with North Korea.

Announcement of significant troop reductions from Iraq, perhaps.

Feel free to think of more.

Maybe...nothing. But this administration has shown itself very adept at planning and knowing when to leak and not leak important announcements, good and bad.

No shit, Sherlock...

Tony Blair who, with the Terrible President, inaugurated a pro-Iran policy by overthrowing Saddam, has just learned that some of the weapons the insurgents are using may be coming from...the deuce, you say, Iran and Hezbollah.

Thank you, Tony, for that brilliant insight.

Maybe one day you'll realize that the Iranians have been happy to let Chalabi and the US and British governments do what the Iranians have wanted for the past 25 years: Help Iraq become a Shi'ite theocracy.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Of Roberts and Miers


Looking sharp and first-rate in his first oral arguments. I like the guy, even though I'll disagree with his holdings far more than agree. It reaffirms why I said he should be confirmed to replace Rehnquist. Funny, though: I may wind up agreeing with him on federal-preemption of state laws that allow assisted suicide. However, I need to read the briefs and perhaps other analyses along the way.


Well, I was clearly wrong about my first instinct that Harriet Miers had not seen the inside of a church during her adult life. But it appears that, before her religious conversion or awakening, Miers fit the stereotypical secular-big-law-firm-tough-as-nails-married-to-her-work partner. Then, one evening, she literally broke down on the floor and prayed with another law partner (later Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hech) to start a personal relationship with Jesus.

If Marvin Olasky and his brother can assume that Justice Souter changed his "conservative" credentials out of vanity (These putzim have no clue about Souter's opinions on the NH Supreme Court or his devotion to the mostly liberal-minded Oliver Wendell Holmes), we should be allowed the following assumptions or conclusions:

1. Miers' permanent political conversion from Dem to Reep as Texas Republicans consolidated their control of that State; and

2. Her slavish devotion to the medicore, meanspirited Terrible President--whom she very weirdly calls "one of the most brilliant men she ever met"

are both part of a very cynical dance toward power.

Congratulations to the otherwise odious George Will and others normally supporting the Terrible President who are against this nomination. Now, it's time for a great left-right coalition against the insider, corporate-dominated DC establishment and shoot down this nomination.

Final thoughts of the evening:

If Miers tries to say during her hearings that she has never told anyone about her constitutional law views of the right to privacy, abortion, gay rights, commerce clause, federal power, separation of church and state, and never bothered to think much about it, then she should be rejected outright. How can someone aspire to the US Supreme Court without thinking about these issues in a deeply felt way?

Unlike some others, though, I am less concerned about her only being counsel of record in a few appellate decisions. She appears to have been a seasoned and (some say "tough") commercial litigator and managed a fairly large law firm. But again, with a career outside the bench, if she is not essentially an auto-didact about American history or a deep and knowledgeable reader of constitutional law, why put her on the Supreme Court of the United States?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Remembering Richard Feynman...again

This article by Freeman Dyson in the NY Review of Books made reflective and enjoyable reading on this Rosh Hashanah and start of Ramadan holiday. Dyson is a emeritus professor of science at Princeton who is himself an icon within what is loosely called the "scientific community."

Who is Harriet Miers, Part II

Atrios links to a summary of the Republican talking points for Miers. The key phrase is that Miers will be a blank check for government authority to override civil liberties. Atrios is right to call this ominous, as both Miers and Roberts have the same views on this subject.

I wonder if the religious right is capable of entering into a coalition with economic populist left groups, starting with organized labor, to oppose Miers. Here is Americablog quoting from the infamous right wing mass mailer, Richard Viguerie, who wrote an email to his supporters. They better start thinking about it before the liberal-left fractures, too.

This may become the weirdest fight against a court nominee ever. Why? Because I think Miers will not overturn Roe v. Wade or the right to privacy--and these right wingers know it. Once that becomes fairly clear, the feminists will split between those who only care about abortion and those, like say, a Barbara Ehrenreich, who are perhaps even more concerned with general civil liberties overall and stopping corporate clones who want to overturn the ability of the executive and legislative branches from enacting any future New Deal sort of legislation.

I can hear the voice of Gloria Steinhem if it turns out Miers won't overturn Roe v. Wade: "Confirm Miers! If we don't, and she is rejected, Bush will nominate an anti-Roe candidate, the Democrats will filibuster--and lose. It's Nader in the Bush-Gore race--again!" Maybe. But unlike Nader, where we were hoping for 5% or enough to throw the election into the House of Reps, the more likely scenario is that the Dems can filibuster and win--as we will now be in the 2006 election campaign and Republicans and libertarians are thinking, better the Democrats than these reckless moronic Republican congressmen we've elected. I also think the Dems should use the filibuster...ahem...liberally...and they'll find the Republicans may be hesitant to pull the trigger during an election campaign.

Again, Miers' nomination could be a masterstroke strategy by Rove or just the Terrible President deciding "To hell with the religious right!" and revealing his full corporate fangs to them (non-Republicans have known who the Terrible President's true base is since before he started occupying the Oval Office, of course). Either way, I'll say it again: This is gonna be some hearing process.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Who is Harriet Miers?

So far, the phrases "corporate lawyer" and "Bush crony" come to mind. The Washington Post has a profile here and reactions here.

I was struck by Senator Harry Reid's (D-NV) laudatory quote regarding Miers and thought, "What's that about?" Then, I found this New Yorker article that says (scroll down or use "find" with the word "Miers") and noted that he told the White House how much he enjoyed working with Miers when the Roberts nomination was coming up. Sigh.

I'd say the chances are strong that she thinks the commerce clause of the US Constitution should be curtailed, which would make her an anti-originialist there. I think she would be a reliable pro-corporate vote as, being single, no kids, and just a "pit bull in size 6 shoes," as the Terrible President once described her about 10 years ago, essentially heartless. I also think she'll be unable to understand arguments that favor civil liberties. Finally, I don't have any sense she's been in a religious institution (church or synogogue) in her adult life and I understand the worry in the hearts of religious conservatives.

My advice: If I was in a progressive group, I'd be calling religious conservative groups and saying, "Maybe there's a way to work together to stop this one if she's just going to be a corporate clone." This could prove to be a masterstroke by Rove if she is an unknown on abortion, et al. or perhaps we are seeing a rebellion by the Terrible President to ignore his religious right and just going on his most favorite attribute of people he knows: Loyalty.

A final thought comes from the Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein here. I am not saying I agree with Bernstein on just about anything, but his perspective is both important and interesting.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

New film on Edward R. Murrow

Ed Murrow was a hero of mine since I first saw his "See It Now" news reports of the 1950s on PBS around 1972 or so. My Dad filled in some information (Dad being a former history teacher who was already politically aware through the Red Scare of the late 40s and 50s).

There is a new film coming out about Murrow and his confrontation with the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). Is it likely to be as subtle as I would want it? No. But I can tell you from viewing the trailer, David Strathairn is a dead ringer for Murrow and his inflections are perfect. Strathairn comes from the stable of actors around John Sayles and played key roles in Sayles' Matewan and Eight Men Out (Never seen Matewan? Just rent it, though Amazon says the DVD version sucks from a technical standpoint for some weird reason).

George Clooney, who co-wrote the screenplay, is playing the legendary CBS News Producer Fred Friendly, and Robert Downey, Jr. is playing Joe Wershba, an unsung CBS News assistant producer. Friendly would be joyously laughing if he lived long enough to know a Hollywood "hunk" would play him in a movie about him.

I hope the film can meet the modern test of excitement as this era seems distant to those not knowing the era well. The era is somewhat tainted by the narrative that makes it sound as if Joe McCarthy was so evil as to be seen merely as an exception in American history. Every era is different, but the chill of the 1950s has analogies throughout American history, sometimes worse than other eras, sometimes less oppressive than other eras where freedom of expression was chilled. One can also overstate oppression in American history, something that may upset Howard Zinn, who I still generally like.

If someone wants to rant about how McCarthy was correct because some of the accused were Communists, we can have a longer discussion. Suffice it to say that Commie does not equal traitor, something that the evidence continues to show in bold print for the most part. Murrow courageously exposed McCarthy, even if, as some argue, McCarthy was already biting off more than he could chew in bringing his nightmarish-circus-like inquisition to the US military screaming about Communists in the top brass. The trailer at least shows the pressure CBS faced in directly challenging the Senator.

Best book on the subject of McCarthy and the era of the early to mid-1950s? My two nominees are: The late Ed Bayley's McCarthy and the Press (1981), which should be required reading for every journalist major and every journalist in America,* and David Oshinsky, "A Conspiracy So Immense" (1983).

* My wife and I were privileged to be friendly with Ed and Monica Bayley during their retirement years in Carmel, CA. My wife and I adored their energy, knowledge, humanity and kindness. They were both extraordinary people and the kind of people Americans would know about in a better broadcast media culture.

UPDATE: Crooks and Liars' proprietor got to see an advanced sceening and gave it a hearty approval. Can't wait to see it myself!

Oh yeah, THAT!

From one of the best on line political cartoonists:

Here is Mark Fiore's latest, "Oh yeah, THAT!"

Also, check out the often profane, but emotionally powerful Get Your War On! ("Get your war on" is not for kids and can frequently be...well, "sick" in that high altitude Lenny Bruce sort of way).

Dialogue with Karmic Inquisition on Iraq and related issues

My email to Adam Sullivan, my friend and proprietor at Karmic Inquisition. Links will be added later as I have to take the kids to Sunday school. Adam responded to my post on military recruitment and the Terrible President.

Italicized parentheses in post to follow are edits:



Please re read my post (Blackberry reading is sometimes not the best for complete understanding--I know that myself). I am not sure where we disagree on most things you are discussing in your response. I get that you agree that recruiting isn't going well. I can't tell if you disagree with my point that the high re-enlistment numbers may not be due to a love of country. Recall your original post on the subject was that the high re-enlistment numbers were due to so many soldiers wanting to support the "cause" of a stable, "open government" Iraq (the word "free" is so often a loaded term when used in corporate dominated media and discourse).

Now, on to your points:

1. I have been called a "duties liberal" rather than a "rights liberal." I accept that qualifier behind the word "liberal" (I hate being called "liberal"). I have no problem with national ID cards (heck, the Soc Sec #s are essentially that anyway), for example, and also support a "closed" union shop. And I have not opposed a draft on philosophical grounds. I disagreed with Charlie Rangel (D-NY)'s call for a draft in late 2003 because I saw it as a political stunt about a serious matter and I did not want to put more of our children and loved ones in harms' way with an administration recklessly led by (extra word deleted) the Terrible President. I do, however, put the burden on those who want to commit our military to serious combat missions in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, et al to explain how they plan to do this with the current solider counts. Those who push for the simultaneous wars doctrine must explain how they get there without more soldiers or else they lead me to conclude that they are reckless about our soldiers' lives and just as importantly our nation's security.

2. Now that we have established my philosophical support for a draft, I move on to your frankly culturally elitist defense of a non-draft (I hate the term "voluntary" as Private Jessica Lynch was (not) a "volunteer" in the sense that she was primarily motivated to join the military the way our sons would be if they made that as a true choice). In your post, you denigrated our nation as a bunch of "privileged" "slackers." I accuse myself of these thoughts from time to time, but I refrain from this thinking because I immediately remind myself that this is an over-generalized sociological construct that tends to disappear in the face of a crisis. Contrary to many pundits, I believe there is, and has been for some time now, a pent-up altruism among most of our nation--as we see from the grass roots response to Hurricane Katrina. People do want to help, but feel, based upon the economic situation they personally face and long hours at the office (and the fear of stepping out in a climate where the boss says, "How come you're spending so much time out there on 'causes'?"), they can't help. A draft makes sense as a GENERAL proposition (again, I'm not pushing a draft under these circumstances) the reason a union can make sense and the way a trial before a jury can make sense. When first you're being called to form a union or get called for jury duty, your first reaction is to say you don't want it. Then, when you realize you've got to do it, lo and behold, you and other people, step up, step forward and do a tremendously effective job for little or no money. Yes, people are often inert, but we do, as a mammalian species, step up after awhile. I would want to have a serious discussion and perhaps a change in public policy on the draft when we are not fighting a highly controversial and problematic war. Otherwise, I am cutting off my nose to spite my face if I do as Congressman Rangle does--which is why he has not pushed his legislation after all, isn't it?

(BTW: Your point is well-taken about the anti-war movement letting ANSWER do the work of putting on "anti-war rallies." I'm working killer hours and don't want to burden my family further with getting permits and planning for an anti-war rally in San Diego nor do I make time (I won't say I don't "have" time) to travel to DC to do that planning. I have vented my anger, publicly at my blog, at the progressive organizations for not tasking some of their respective staffs to organize anti-war rallies so that we don't have to deal with ANSWER. I think the comments from David Corn and others on the "left" are going to have a positive effect here. At least I hope!)

3. Overall, none of this really gets to the point of whether our nation should stay or leave Iraq. I have responded I think persuasively to your direct arguments against my position as to why we must leave Iraq. Appropos of this discussion, see the LA Times article from yesterday (Saturday Oct 1) where the military attempts to state with a straight face that we must have less US troops in Iraq so as to let the Iraqi military handle matters. But we already know from the JCS presentation last week that the Iraqis have essentially one operating battalion. So let's be clear: What the military is saying is draw down and get out sooner than later (If Howard Dean said this, he'd be called a coward who wants to "cut and run"). With the military's admission, and it is an admission of significance, we are now past any mainstream disagreement over (larger public) policy here. We are now into semantics and very narrow public policy making.

Two perhaps final thoughts:

I want to be clear that this reply is not "a pox on both houses" response, which is so often favored by those of us who wish to engage in dialogue and remain friendly. I think we can engage and be honest where one "side" is more correct than the other in terms of public policy. With reference to the Iraq War, the reasonable "left" (not many liberals there, I'm sorry to say) has been correct about: (1) the WMDs not being there or little being there; (2) no serious connection between Saddam and bin Laden; (3) there being no reason to have diverted us from fighting Al Queda by going into Iraq in 2003; and (4) the poor planning and execution of this war by the Terrible President. With the military's admission in testimony before Congress, we now know the left was again correct that our presence in Iraq serves to undermine (1) the re-development of Iraq's police and military capability and (2) Iraq's ability to control or vitiate the insurgency.

Second, I thank you for protecting my integrity and saying I should not have negative motives impugned to me. But really, it is insulting that those of us on the left are still on the defensive about our patriotism. At this point, it is the Terrible President and his supporters among the 101st Fighting Keyboarders who should be on the defensive about their integrity and their devotion to our nation's best interests. They are the ones who have supported policies that have made our nation weaker. They are the ones who supported the Terrible President's manipulation of intelligence estimates and undermined morale in the intelligence communities. They are the ones who supported going to a war without necessary armor and troop levels--which has more than anything else led to a loss of morale within our military. They are the ones who supported lies about what happened during this war to Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. Most Americans, including many on the "left" side of the political divide itself, have grown so accustomed to the formula "left=unpatriotic" that we can't see how ridiculous and insulting it is to have to defend one's personal motives and integrity during a public policy dispute. It places those of us who favor a New Deal society at a distinct disadvantage in terms of debate and I, at least, refuse to take any crap about it any longer. I appreciate your having my back, but I'm loaded and armed myself as well-- but, again, thank you!