Monday, April 30, 2007

Cheney's motive in outing Valerie Plame?

If this is true, it might explain why Cheney's office went to such lengths to try and destroy Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson.

Democratic Party candidates must directly challenge reporters' biases

Read this Daily Howler post on the shameless Brian Williams' questioning of the Democratic Party candidates for president at last week's forum.

Someone needs to just tell off guys like Williams at every turn. Attack, attack, attack every question that contains a right wing talking point that delegitimizes Democrats. Again, attack, attack, attack.

There is no excuse for such hackery from this blow dried moron. And if anyone expects a Republican Party presidential candidate forum to go the same way, with questions that delegitimize the Republican Party's principles with quotes from anti-Democratic Party letter to the editor in USA Today (!), just wait and watch.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Impeaching Bush and Cheney: Saving lives...and the Republican Party?

It disgusts me that Democrats are not simply instituting impeachment proceedings against both Bush and Cheney. Our soldiers continue to die in Iraq due to petulant posturings from the Cheney-Rove administration, which is known as the "Bush administration."

That is a principled reason to support impeaching these horrible people.

However, as the evidence continues to accumulate regarding the "toxicity" of Bush and this continued war, one might think it would occur to Republicans in Congress and around the nation that they should be at least passively supporting the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. However, that would be a "political," not a principled reason to impeach Bush and Cheney.

On the other hand, considering how the Republican Party leadership has operated over the years, especially in their politically-calculated impeachment of Bill Clinton, this should be fairly obvious a strategy for them to consider.

(Edited)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Comics who are serious about public policy and our nation

Read this interview with Lewis Black and this longer interview with Jon Stewart, and let's ask ourselves: Could Wolf Blitzer or, heaven knows, Norah O'Donnell tell us anything as remotely insightful or important?

Bonus interview: Moyers interviews Josh Marshall.

We live in an upside-down world, where comics and bloggers do the job of informing us and providing insightful analysis--while the Blitzers and O'Donnells focus on horse race analogies, gossip and Communications 101 talk about people's "perceptions." Worse, when they discuss policy issues, whether it is Social Security or Iraq, they can't basic facts straight and repeat what they hear from lobbyists at swank cocktail parties.

Blitzer, O'Donnell and most of their colleagues are incompetent and deserve nothing but derision from those who care about public policy and our nation.

Point. Game.

(Edited)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Snap shot links for folks on the move...

David Sirota has some great linked articles and posts here.

And here is O'Reilly blowing a fuse over a less than perfect edits of his quotes in the otherwise brilliant Bill Moyers documentary on the complicity of corporate media in the run up to the Iraq War II. What I found amazing was that Jane Hall, usually a loyal Fox News pundit, was fearless in pointing out how what Moyers left out was important--but the context was not helpful to O'Reilly: In fact, if Moyers had shown more context of O'Reilly's remarks, it would reveal O'Reilly's doublespeak and how he really is threatening those who criticize American foreign policy during what he calls a "crisis," not even a full, all out war.

I wonder if Jane Hall is going to be invited back to FoxNews anymore--just as Ashleigh Banfield was banished from MSNBC after criticizing corporate media power and its complicity with a lying scoundrels running the Cheney-Rove administration (sometimes called the Bush administration).

And here is an outstanding editorial (hat tip to Eric Alterman!) from the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper. Just read it. As I said, outstanding.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rich Little, Meet Frank Dell

At the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night, Rich Little astonishingly tried to take his Vegas-schtick to the elite villagers in Washington DC. He may even have committed career suicide last night, though it appears the coprorate media won't be denouncing him, just ignoring him. I felt bad for Little as I watched part of his routine (I turned it off in sadness), because Little really was a great talent way back in the 1960s and 1970s.

I don't know what possessed Little to take the gig. He didn't need it, and now...he may not get booked in Vegas as much as before.

This was, however, a case where life imitiated art. Back in the late 1950s, Lenny Bruce did this amazing comedy routine about a Vegas lounge comic named Frank Dell ("Dean of mimicry and fun antics!" is his motto), who convinces his agent to book him at the London Palladium theater--and it ends up with the comic "bombing" so bad, he starts to verbally attack the audience, which causes a riot.

The routine contains one of my favorite metaphors:

"The audience stared at him like an oil painting..."

Bruce's routine was like a more sharply drawn Jean Shepherd story, where you laugh at the situation more than any one line. But in the story of Frank Dell, you become acutely aware of the dark side of show business--and a certain strata of people in show business. Bruce skewers the whole Friars Club scene (where Rich Little often appeared in his prime), where the comics often make grotestquely scatalogical references, but think they make up for it by "later giving milk to children." (Shades of Imus...)

The older generation of Friars Club comics, such as Bob Hope and George Jessel, gruffly dismissed Lenny Bruce--and Frank Dell was his appropriate revenge.

This Rich Little meets Frank Dell story gets even weirder after reading this media account:

"Unlike previous comedians at the dinner, he had no competition from Bush, who at times has shown a deft comedic touch himself in his annual monologue.

"Bush said it was important for people in Washington 'to learn to laugh' and that the ability for a nation to poke fun at its leaders is good for democracy.

"'I was looking forward to doing a little poking myself but in light of this tragedy at Virginia Tech I decided not to be funny,' he said.

"He noted that many journalists in the room have had a tough week, reporting from Virginia Tech and said 'this dinner comes at a good time.'

"With that, he introduced Little for the laughs."


In the Lenny Bruce story, which I wish I could just reproduce orally, Bruce says (really, this is just from memory now):

"(Singer) Georgie Gibbs has been on now for two hours. She's done her Sophie Tucker tribute (and other famous singers' songs)...And then, after she's done murdering the audience, leaves 'em limp, she comes back and does this for an encore:

"'Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. You've been so kind. I was wondering, though, if we could take a moment...to remember the poor boys went to (the battle of) Dunkirk, but never came back. Boys who will never again see the brights of Piccadilly. Boys who are gone. And why are the boys gone? The boys are dead'.

"(Pause)

"(Yells) Christ, you couldn't follow that except with a leper on the Art Baker show! People are sobbing in the aisles, grabbing for their digitalis. Terrible!

"And then the emcee comes out and says--and he's sobbing!--'Ladies and gentlemen, (snif, sigh), it's time to laugh now. Come now, time to laugh. Here he is, from America, Frank Dell, Dean of Mimicry and Fun Antics."

The point of course is that no comic wants to follow someone talking about a tragedy or death--and that is what the president did to Rich Little, who was already going in front of the wrong audience. The Dinner planner were better off with Jeff Foxworthy than they were with Rich Little with that crowd.

Anyway, the White House Correspondents got what they deserved, especially after their attacks on Stephen Colbert from last year. Again, don't expect much discussion about Rich Little, which tells us the corporate media can avoid talking about something if they want to do so. Think about that with the wall-to-wall coverage about Anna Nicole Smith or this latest tragedy at Virginia Tech this past week.

(Edited)

Friday, April 20, 2007

The hollowing of America

Three. Million. Jobs.

Lost.

Since 2000.

You want to know why we may have trouble maintaining our military and economic strength through the rest of this century? Don't look to Social Security, though you could look at skyrocketing health care costs separate from anything connected with Social Security.

Look instead to the loss of our nation's manufacturing base. We have got to build what we buy and buy what we build in order to maintain our nation's economic and military strength.

Our nation's political and economic elite remain our biggest threat, as long as they continue to imbibe from the elixir they call "free trade."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Justice Kennedy disappoints in "Partial Birth Abortion" decision

Here is the opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito. The dissenters were Ginsburg, Breyer, Stevens and Souter.

Here, here and here are excellent comments from Marty Lederman and Professor Jack Balkin at Balkinization.

My comments:

1. Justice Kennedy proves once again why he confuses his own private views with constitutional doctrine. In Lawrence v. Texas, he paternalistically took away from the nation's culture the right to decide issues of private morality and public laws with reference to homosexual conduct. Unlike abortion, which mostly has had a wink and nod cultural and sometimes legally sanctioned history, homosexuality, until recently, was regularly forbidden for most of Western history and people were regularly prosecuted for such conduct. Lawrence could have been decided on Fourteenth Amendment "equal protection" grounds: The way the sodomy statute was written in Texas, heterosexual couples could easily be prosecuted for acts of sodomy, but were not--while only homosexual couples were singled out. That would have forced Texas to re-write its sodomy law for only homosexual sodomy and created a space for pro-homosexual conduct advocates to make their case about whether to allow police authorities to arrest people in their bedroom for consensual, non-harmful conduct. But Kennedy took the paternalist route, substituting his own private sense of morality for constitutional doctrine.

Now, he's done it again in the partial birth abortion decision of Gonzalez v. Cathcart, particularly where he cries tears over anecdotal evidence of some women expressing regret over abortions, without recognizing why such a ground is extremely weak in light of women who regret not having an abortion--and women who are glad they had an abortion at a given time in their lives. The argument from the ancedotal studies is no different an argument than when anti-abortion advocates say, "Well, you could have aborted an Einstein or someone who finds the cure for cancer." In response, one simply responds, "Well, maybe we aborted Charles Manson or someone who would grow up to become a criminal."* Such arguments are simply too speculative to decide most issues regarding a constitutional right to abortion, including in this situation.

2. The reason I thought the federal law on the particular second trimester procedure, "dilation and evacuation" (D&E), was unconstitutional was because no matter how squeamish I am over the actual procedure (described in Part I(A) of the majority opinion), second trimester abortions constitute less than 10% of all abortions performed, and the procedure is undertaken largely to ensure the protection of the mother's life or even reasonable health or safety concerns of the mother (See: Ginsburg's dissent, Part I(C) for medical and safety discussion). Yet, the federal law was specifically written, as Justice Kennedy's opinion acknowledges at Part I(C), without creating an exception for the procedure to be used for the "health" of the mother. Kennedy also brushed aside the compelling point that the law's language was vague and uncertain in its language, as its prohibitory language could well include similar methods for second trimester abortions that would otherwise be proper and legal.

3. I realize Justice Kennedy was in the dissenters when the Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision from 2000 with O'Connor in the majority), ruled an anti-partial birth abortion state law was unconstitutional. I just thought, with Kennedy's continuing pro-homosexuality jurisprudence, O'Connor's departure, and Kennedy's supposed fealty to stare decisis (upholding precedent), that he would hesitate to jump on board the train that is leading to a Supreme Court decision allowing a State to completely or mostly outlaw abortion again. That train just got a full and new head of steam by the rhetoric Kennedy used in the Gonzalez v. Cathcart decision.

4. I wish people would better understand Roe v. Wade, where former Mayo Clinic General Counsel, Justice Blackmun's decision understood the practicality of giving deference to science and medicine as to how abortions are performed. If one reads Ginsburg's dissent, one can better understand this point, though I wonder if Ginsburg could have said that particular point better. As Ginsburg pointed out, the consensus of the medical profession is that the procedure is safer than other procedures for a second trimester abortion. Roe tells us that, during the second trimester, or at least before the fetus' viability, the Court should give deference to the woman's life and health, not the life and health of the fetus, and again protect the compelling interest of the doctor-patient relationship. This is why the 2000 decision on such abortion procedures was correct, and the majority holding in Gonzalez v. Cathcart is wrong.

Still, it is now the law of the land, but the next line of attack on the decision could come in a few years when women who undergo alternative, and probably less safe second trimester abortions, and who suffer physical injury from those other methods, may yet prevail against this poorly drafted Congressional law. See: The Kennedy majority opinion's last paragraph about the Court being open to a review of the law on a "discrete" case and Ginsburg's point that this may be the only silver lining in the cloud regarding the decision (Part III(B) of Ginsburg's dissent).

* In stating this, I am not subscribing to the Freakonomics' economics professors who detected a link between the drop in crime rates in the 1990s from the abortion rates during the 1970s and 1980s. See here for an analysis of why that position is probably a weak link at best.

** In Doe v. Bolton (1973), the companion case to Roe v. Wade, held that an abortion may be allowed as a constitutional right to protect the "life or health" of the mother. The term "health" was not defined by the Court, and for some reason (I think cynical), anti-abortion advocates don't even bother to demand the legislature enact a reasonable working defintion.

(Edited)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jack Roosevelt Robinson and his continued relevance to our nation...and beyond

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said of Jack Roosevelt Robinson:

"He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides."

Still, my favorite story about Jack Robinson (he didn't like being called "Jackie"; too much like being called a "boy") is this story from Maury Allen's wonderful biography:

It was noted that Robinson, after home games in Brooklyn, would go out to a local golf range and hit golf balls from around 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. When asked why he would want to hit golf balls after playing an entire game of baseball, Robinson answered: "Because they're white."

I loved reading about that incident because it showed me Robinson was human, after all. He was deeply angry at those with lighter skin who taunted and insulted him, who condescended to him, and he knew he was limited in being able to fight back. He had no room to be a Ty Cobb. He knew, while he played baseball for the Dodgers, that white America was judging blacks overall by him--and often only him.

The other great biography of Robinson is Arnold Rampersad's wider in scope (and pages) biography. I loved both Allen's and Rampersad's books, each having different focuses: Allen's book contains wonderful and sometimes tough oral histories from the ballplayers and sports writers who knew Jack, and wrote movingly about the day to day life of a courageous and talented ballplayer. Rampersad's book provides us with a full measure of the man from a family, cultural and political standpoint.

It is almost always overlooked, in speaking of Jack, that Jack's brother, Mack Robinson, was awarded the Silver Medal in the 200 meter track race, in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. He finished second to Jesse Owens, another great African-American athlete. When Mack returned to the U.S., there were no endorsements or cushy jobs waiting. Here is Rampersad's fine prose telling us what happened:

"After a triumphant post-Olymics tour on the Continent, in which he set a world record in one race, Mack returned to (his and Jack's hometown) Pasadena (California). Expecting a hero's welcome, he got nothing of the kind...

"...When he applied for a job, the city treated him like any other Negro; it gave him a pushcart and a broom and the night shift as a street sweeper. Mark then irritated a number of white people by sweeping the streets decked out in his leather U.S.A. Olympic jacket. Some saw this act as provocative, but he brushed off the criticism: "When it was a cold day, it was the warmest thing I owned, so I wore it.'..."


(Page 31, Rampersad; parentheses added)

Incidentally, there is, as I've posted before, a new biography just being released about the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager, Branch Rickey, who chose Robinson to be the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the 20th Century. I'm looking forward to getting ahold of and reading that one, too!

Final thoughts: Anyone see Dave Winfield tonight being interviewed during the Dodger-Padre game on ESPN? He is outstanding and his new book could not be more timely, considering that America's pastime has continued to ignore African-Americans to the point where African-Americans have decided to ignore the pastime right back.

And yes, I agree with Zev Chafets that Jack Robinson would understand Barry Bonds. Zev and I usually don't agree on things like, oh, I don't know, maybe particular Israeli government policies and critics of those policies?

But I'd go further than Zev on the subject of Robinson and Bonds to say that Jack Robinson, if he were alive today (he died in 1972), would be rooting for Bonds to become the new home run king in official baseball statistical records (Major League Baseball does not accept Josh Gibson's hitting over 800 home runs in the Negro Leagues). Why do I believe Robinson would be rooting for Bonds? Because, late in Robinson's life, and again this comes from Rampersad, Robinson said he had grown "wiser and closer to painful truths about America's destructiveness," and had gained "an increased respect" for the Communist fellow traveler, Paul Robeson (page 216, Rampersad). Robinson had not become a Red. He just understood that being a black man in America was still tougher than being a white man--every single day.

So, yeah, I still think Bonds should get more respect, even if he is perhaps as nasty as Ty Cobb. That's what Jack Robinson was fighting about--the right for black players to be as nice or nasty as any white player.

(Edited)

Sunday book review reading: The Past is Always Present

The LA Times Book Review section is terrific once again:

Here
is a great review from Jonathan Kirsch of Jack Beatty's deeply intriguing and thought-provoking book about the rise of the monied elite in the late 19th Century--and what that history tells us about this latest Gilded Age, or Age of Betrayal, in which we are currently living.

And this review by Phillip Lopate, about the riot in the New York City theater district in 1849, over whether an American-born or English-born Shakespearean actor was most faithful to the Bard, presents an amazing cultural history that I had completely missed, but tells us much about where we as a culture have degenerated and where we have improved our civilized ways.

And, here is a fascinating look at John Donne, who went from writing ribald and erotic poems to becoming a leading Protestant minister in the last years of his life. What struck me is how often our lives are conflicted and how often our personal commitments to our families play a role in how we lead our lives. I am also struck by the intersection between religion and sex (see, incidentally, this reivew about the cult of virginity in today's Washington Post Book World) and the way in which "class" in the economic sense and "class" in the cultural sense can sometimes merge.

Speaking of the LA Times, the newspaper's owners have made a rare good decision: Hiring Jim Newton as the new opinion-editorial editor. Newton is a veteran LA area reporter who has written a wonderful and great biography of Chief Justice Earl Warren (I just finished it recently, with only one quibble about Newton's surprisingly shallow view of the Warren Commission report on the murder of JFK). He understands California politics and history and has a sensible view of the world such that I expect, or hope for a dramatic improvement in the op-ed section of the paper, which suffered under his two predecessors.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Nation magazine is great this week

The Nation magazine is hot this week! Three articles worth reading:

Here is an article that Americans concerned with our nation's future should read. There is a new consensus growing, but it needs help and discussion to overcome the "free traders" who still rule corporate owned television and radio stations.

And this article, also from The Nation magazine, tells us why corporate America likes political dictatorships as long as the dictators let corporate leaders in on the profits that arise from power. Think about this latest political crackdown in Vietnam, and the relative silence from corporate radio and television (not to mention the right wing journals) next time some elite pundit whines about Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

And finally, here is another article on a subject corporate radio and television rarely touch: Wal-Mart's latest outrages in low wage nations.

Of course, not everything in the latest Nation issue is worth reading. Nicholas Von Hoffman, who I mostly adore, has written a frankly stupid piece about Imus. Sorry Nick, but nobody is saying Imus can't scream his racist, sexist crap anywhere (there's always Saturday night on local cable access, where Imus truly belongs). All that--finally!--happened is that Imus lost his very privileged position to scream racist, sexist crap in a daily coveted time slot on two national networks: CBS and MSNBC. And he lost that coveted time spot because enough people got pissed and corporate sponsors decided it was not good business to sponsor a program hosted by a raving bigot. Von Hoffman's essay is full of cheap shots at anyone and everyone--except Imus. Example: Von Hoffman gives a negative spin to the head coach of the women's basketball team, saying that her primary motivation for going public was to help in recruiting--yet, the entire article gives the nod of a benefit of the doubt to Imus. An 8 year old can see through such a faulty argument structure. Jeez, Nick. Get an editor next time before you write such nonsense.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So it goes...and so he went

I miss Kurt Vonnegut already. He was one of the finest writers our nation has ever produced. My favorite novels of his are, in no particular order, Player Piano; Hocus Pocus; Galapagos; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Slaughterhouse Five; and Slapstick: Or Lonesome No More!, to name a few.

What I adored about Vonnegut was that he understood the need for many human beings to be useful to others and to avoid loneliness. He often wrote in what critics may call a "childlike" manner, but offered fairly profound observations regarding human nature, society and technology.

One of his favorite literary devices in several books was to say, "And so it goes" or "So it goes." With his physical life over--he was atheist, though, and he might say it's all over--we are fortunate to have his literary legacy. As the surviving members of Pink Floyd said of the band's founder, Syd Barrett, "Shine on you crazy diamond."

Update: Border's has published an interview by historian Douglas Brinkley with Vonnegut here. It's the first of two parts from a couple of years ago and reads well. Also, this article is interesting in how it describes other authors describing Vonnegut. I caught a sense that Norman Mailer recognizes others loved Vonnegut, but can't tell whether Mailer himself did. Hmmm...

Finally, this LA Times obituary by staff writer, Eliane Woo, is excellent! It is a must-read for anyone interested in Vonnegut's life and works.

(Edited)

If Imus was talking about Imus...

Based upon Imus' own personality and previous remarks (see also here and here), I can imagine what Imus would say about Imus and the fallout from his latest comments:

"Why won't that old white honky dry drunk crawl back to whatever hole he was in and just die? I mean, really, what a pathetic performance--whining about some charity work he does somehow justifies his racist crap? Did you ever see the guy? Looks like rigor mortis set in years ago. Maybe his wife is so stupid and horny she doesn't know his dick is only hard because he's already dead. Bet she's calling Larry Birkhead now that she knows at least one other male who's still alive. Dry drunk moron ought to be lynched like he'd like to see black people lynched."

There. Isn't that the level of "humor" Imus dishes out on a regular basis?

I personally can't understand how calling the Rutgers college women basketball players "nappy-headed ho's" is funny unless you are a racist.

I do have to say, however, that I agree somewhat with Fred Barnes on this one: There is no reason for these young women and their coach to have even a private meeting with Imus. He's a vile human being and his words were an insult to them. But, at the same time, they did not need to wear their hurt in public. They were and are strong enough to simply respond that he has a habit of insulting and demeaning people and move on. Let the networks and corporate sponsors, with some prodding by protests among the populace, remove Imus from the airwaves--finally. Why such insulting rantings need to be on nationwide television and radio tells us much about the state of corporate media and the level of desperation of our politicians who claim to put up with disgusting banter in order to have a discussion of public policy for a few minutes.

One more thing: Note the contrast between Tom Oliphant and Cal Ripken, Jr. The sports guys understand what the journalists don't get at all.

Addendum: That was quicker than I expected. Good riddance to Imus. Now, if the networks would only fire Michael Savage and several of these other truly hateful, fear-mongering personalities. They should be limited to cable access on Saturdays at midnight, not permitted to spew such poison on major national networks--networks which are supposed to have something they call "standards."

(Edited--changed Alternet website links as linked articles somehow disappeared from Alternet web site; plus, added "Addendum" section)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

LA Times' opinion section on fire, too!

The LA Times opinion section is also on fire (see my post below, which discusses the LA Times Book Review section being great today, too!).

1. Walter Issacson on Einstein (which helps me understand my science oriented son and his personality a bit better!);

2. Ronald Brownstein on the Western region of the US and the technological development of positive environmental solutions;

3. Ezra Klein on the return of national health insurance as a political issue, and how it was derailed in 1994. Perhaps this time politicians will listen to good folks such as David Himmelstein, M.D.

Sunday book review reading: Who is the winner of the Victim Olympics?

The LA Times' Book Review section is on fire this week. Here are three reasons why:

1. Here is a review of a new novel that satirizes the victim mongering among Jewish Holocaust organizations. I am not sure how funny this is, but if you cannot read the brilliant non-fiction work by Peter Novick, entitled "The Holocaust in American Life" (Houghton-Mifflin 1999), then perhaps this new novel is an important read for those who are scratching their heads, "What is Freedman talking about?"

For those who can stand his invective, Norman Finkelstein's "The Holocaust Industry" (Verso paperback, 2003) lays out some important information, though Finkelstein, in my view, undermines his arguments when confusing mistakes and lies and mercilessly using invective in a way that approaches Ann Coulter or Imus.

2. Here is a review that gives us a glimpse into the lives and loves of people who literally hug trees, in this case, redwoods along the California coast. I especially enjoyed this review because the reviewer kept the snarkiness to a minimum and gave these people some dignity and sympathy that is so often missing from corporate media discussions of such folks. If anything, the "tree huggers" remind me of 19th Century abolitionists who, in their zeal, become quite upset at the larger humanity. Instead of simply dismissing such persons, we ought to at least thank them for caring so much about those who we treated as property (i.e. slaves) and the majestic trees that play an important and positive role in the continuation of life on our planet.

3. Here is a review of a new biography of the legendary Gene Autry. The review is excellent because it provides us with not only information, but important insight into Autry and American culture that perhaps the author of the biography may have missed. This is the best function of a book review: To illuminate the book in question and show how the book helps us further develop our thinking on the subject of the book.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Jew and an athiest go into a Christian bar...

Michael Berube (welcome back, Michael!) has written a thought-provoking post about why religious folks in America should not let themselves be persuaded that their views are not represented in American political life. Their views are amply and loudly heard, and have been for most of our nation's history. Just ask an athiest, if you can find one besides a scientist or Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA).

Michael believes what is behind the viewpoint that religious life is disrespected is the anti-abortion issue--which may be the case with some who whine about religious philosophy not being respected in America. My sense is that the viewpoint about religious life is disrespected is broader than that. It is not "religious people" in general who are doing this whining. The whining comes, instead, from a small group of fundamentalists who cannot stand pluralism or diversity in general because it challenges their brand of religious fundamentalism. That animates their anti-abortion and anti-homosexual conduct positions, but it also includes their abject hatred and fear of public schools and science in general. It also drives their demand that their rights are being undermined because America is not a Christian nation by edict of law.

Having said that, I wish to add a coda to Michael's post:

In my experience of almost half a century on this planet, I have concluded that Americans who are Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and perhaps Muslims can sometimes understand or feel for the plight of athiests because a member of a religious minority is still standing outside a culturally accepted norm, i.e. Christianity in America--though an atheist may find himself or herself even further removed from that norm. In other words, a member of a religious minority in the US may be more directly confronted with, and then agree with the merits of religious pluralism, as well as the need for respect for another's religion, or even lack of religious belief.

I do agree, though, with Michael's point that disrespect for another's religion by atheists is rare in political life--and that the disrespect toward atheists can be dramatic when it comes to the consequences of announcing one's lack of religious faith. I believe, however, this is due in part to corporate media choosing particularly intolerant "religious" people as the "voice" or "face" of religious people, i.e. the odious trio of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Bill Donahue, the last being a strident leader of a self-proclaimed "pro-Catholic" organization. One might also note that promoters of tolerance, such as the Jewish-led Anti-Defamation League or American Jewish Congress, can be censorious of those who are not tolerant of others, but eventually such an attack may disintegrate into sophistry (Or, as Tom Lehrer joked decades ago, "I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings--and I hate people like that!").*

We are a Christian nation as far as our culture is concerned, but our laws were devised to not be a Christian nation by law. Yes, public schools, courts and official government offices are closed for Christmas, but that is not an intrusion of religion into our laws or government as much as an accomodation to the vast majority of Americans who are Christian, which is reasonable and frankly, appropriate.

* On the topic of Israel, however, those two Jewish-led groups often act like bad religious fundamentalists in attacking nearly any diversity of opinion on the subject of Israel, and are particularly tough on their fellow Jews who do not agree with their militant positions.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why Chomsky matters, part II

A couple of weeks ago, I linked to an essay by Chomsky I found reasonable and compelling. Maxspeak has today linked to another recent essay from Chomsky that is worth reading, too. It has to do with how we as a nation are led to think about Iran's conduct in the context of American leaders' actual foreign policies.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Chief Justice Roberts has no standing...

The United States Supreme Court, in a closer-than-it-should-have-been 5 to 4 decision, told the Bush Administration's Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") it must at least investigate climate change in the context of emissions from motor vehicles. The Court's majority recognized that the EPA regulates "air pollution," and that climate change is related to CO2 in the air and motor vehicle emissions.

The decision, Massachusetts v. EPA (No. 05-1120), does not require the EPA to come to a particular conclusion, but it does hold that an agency assigned a task must perform that task.

In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote an antiseptic and frankly less than candid opinion on the subject of "legal standing to sue." To read Justice Roberts' opinion, one would think the majority of Justices (Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer and Anthony Kennedy) created new law regarding the issue of legal standing to sue. In fact, in environmental legislation dating back to the 1970s and 1980s (after a 1972 decision that had held an environmental group had no standing to sue on behalf of nature), Congress loosened standing requirements (see, for example, this law review article from Duke University and its discussion of the decision of Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc., 528 US 167 (2000)).

Also, any litigator with knowledge about standing to sue issues can tell you that the concept of standing to sue is easier for courts to discuss in the abstract than in reality--and it has long been considered a confusing and ambiguous area of law. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that when a court, including "conservative" judges and "justices," wish to hear a case, they will find standing to sue. This was particularly the case with Robert Bork, back when he was on the Federal Court of Appeal. I recall reading his various decisions on standing and independently coming to the same conclusion as Ralph Nader's organization (see here for this short but interesting article on Bork giving business groups standing, but not environmental non-profits standing when it came to challenging government regulations or actions).

Having said that, when one reads and compares the decisions of Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 US 555 (1992), Students Contesting Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP) v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 412 U.S. 669 (1973) and the aforementioned Friends of the Earth, Inc. decision discussed in the Duke Law Review article (linked above), one sees that the Supreme Court majority opinion today is not unprecedented. It's not that Chief Justice Roberts is wrong to say that Massachusetts had no standing to demand that the EPA investigate climate change to protect the citizens or land of Massachusetts. The Chief Justice is wrong, however, to make it sound like the majority have completely disregarded precedent.

Jonathan Adler, a business libertarian with Volokh Conspiracy, who helped write a friend-of-the-court brief for the business libertarian Cato Institute regarding the case, largely agrees with the Chief Justice's dissent on standing. However, he admits the EPA's position, on the merits of the issue, was not tenable, particularly because Congressional and White House statements have recognized climate change as a significant concern (See here and here).

Finally, I found it amusing to read the duel between Justice Stevens and Chief Justice Roberts over a 100 year old decision, Georgia v. Tennessee Cooper, 206 US 230 (1907) (see: Justice Steven's majority opinion, footnote 17 and Chief Justice Roberts' dissenting opinion, pages 3 and 6). Roberts, however, appears to contradict himself regarding the Tennesee Cooper decision. At page 3, he states, "...the case had nothing to do with standing..." and was supposedly only about "remedies,"--which makes no sense since one must have standing to sue in order to receive a legal remedy. However, at footnote 1 of page 6, Roberts says:

"The Court seems to think we (the dissenters) do not recognize that Tennessee Cooper is a case about parens patieae standing,...but we have no doubt about that..."
(Parenthesis added)

So, Mr. Chief Justice, it's not about standing, but it's about "parens patieae standing..."? Sorry, but that form of standing is what the State of Massachusetts was claiming.

I hate to say it, but it appears to me that the four Justices of the US Supreme Court (Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas) who dissented are so opposed to any government action to investigate climate change that they are the ones who wished to apply a crabbed view of standing rules and deny what even conservative libertarians have acknowledged is a legitimate demand that the EPA at least investigate climate change issues within the purview of the EPA's charge from Congress.

(Edited)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sunday book review reading: Not an April Fool

Two excellent reviews of an important memoir by a Palestinian intellectual and activist, Sari Nusseibeh.

And here is a review of a book on a similiar or at least related topic.

Also, there's a new biography on the legendary baseball executive, Branch Richey, who once famously said: "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity." Here is a nicely drawn book review of that biography and Richey's place in American cultural history.

Here is an article on the coolest, best young adult book of 2007: Brian Selznick's "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." If you purchase any book this year, Selznick's book is the one to purchase. It is beautifully drawn and written and represents a wonderful melding of fiction and non-fiction.

The Vatican has a good point about corporate media coverage

A leading aide to the current Pope, Pope Benedict VI, has criticized "Western" media (meaning corporate media) coverage of the Vatican for highlighting the Church's views on sex (abortion and homosexuality) and ignoring the significant charity work the Church performs around the world.

And to prove the Pope's aide's point, here is the summary of the Pope's speech today from the Associated Press. To read the summary, one would think the Pope is only talking about sex. In fact, the Pope's speech was a thoughtful interpretation of one of Jesus' statements: "“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). Yes, there was the usual fire and brimstone sensibility offered in the speech, but how could the Associated Press reporter or editor miss this:

"The third area of commitment that comes with love is that of daily life with its multiple relationships. I am particularly referring to family, studies, work and free time. Dear young friends, cultivate your talents, not only to obtain a social position, but also to help others to “grow”. Develop your capacities, not only in order to become more 'competitive' and 'productive,' but to be 'witnesses of charity.' In addition to your professional training, also make an effort to acquire religious knowledge that will help you to carry out your mission in a responsible way. In particular, I invite you to carefully study the social doctrine of the Church so that its principles may inspire and guide your action in the world. May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the 'civilization of love.' The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!"

Even the fire and brimstone was tempered where Pope Benedict said: "The second area, where you are called to express your love and grow in it, is your preparation for the future that awaits you. If you are engaged to be married, God has a project of love for your future as a couple and as a family. Therefore, it is essential that you discover it with the help of the Church, free from the common prejudice that says that Christianity with its commandments and prohibitions places obstacles to the joy of love and impedes you from fully enjoying the happiness that a man and woman seek in their reciprocal love."

Catch that last sentence? Yes, it contains the still sad dig at those in homosexual relationships. But note that the Pope is admitting the existence of the common perception that the Catholic Church too often "places obstacles to the joy of love and impedes (people) from fulling enjoying...happiness..."

The corporate media's coverage of the Pope's pronouncements and religion is all too sadly consistent with its ignoring of American politics, particularly important economic policy issues, and instead defining whether someone is "liberal" or "conservative" on the basis of how that person views abortion or homosexuality.

The current Pope, recognized as a "traditionalist," has shown himself to be very interested in harmonizing science and faith.* Now, through this latest statement from one of Pope Benedict's leading aides, and Pope Benedict's broaching of the social gospel in a speech about "love," perhaps the Vatican, as an institution, may finally be recognizing that its previous emphasis on sex issues (abortion and homosexuality) have had almost as deadly an effect on the Church's well being as an institution as the sexual abuse scandals. While it is important for Church leaders to move beyond blaming the messenger (i.e. corporate media) and realize the Church has largely itself to blame, if the Church leadership was to begin emphasizing good deeds and works of human charity and dignity, the Church will likely heal itself as an institution--at least in the opinion and hope from this often heretical Jew.

For me, I will always remember, with great respect, those heroic priests and nuns in Central and South America during the 1970s and 1980s who put their lives on the line to demand justice for peasants and workers--and I will never forget that US foreign policy under Carter and especially Reagan acquiesced or supported the oppression and murder of priests and nuns in order to serve the interests of international coprorations and empire. If you are unaware of what I am talking about, you may wish to begin with the late Penny Lernoux's "Cry of the People" (Doubleday 1980), which details the beginnings of America's foreign policy actions against the Church and its rank and file priests and nuns in Central and South America in the late 1970s, and her last book, "The People of God" (Penguin ed., 1990). Sadly, unless one reads Chomsky's "The Culture of Terrorism," (South End, 1988), or other such works, one is hard pressed to find other books that engage this topic with any scholarship or journalistic rigor. See here, however, for a summary of the notorious American military school that worked hand in glove in oppressing people in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s.**

Final comment: A Brazilian priest in the 1960s once said, "If I give food to the poor they call me a saint. If I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." See this wonderful article about this legendary priest, known as "The Red Priest."

* See also my comments on Pope Benedict's speech that is only remembered for its disrespect to Islam, when in fact the speech was noteworthy for its recognition that Greek and even scientific influence was positive for both the Church and Western society in general.

** Both Pope John Paul II and the new Pope Benedict VI were vehemently opposed to these same priests and nuns from the 1970s through 1990s. The ultimate irony may be that the so-called "Liberation Theologist" priests and nuns will find some of their views vindicated as the Church attempts to survive the destructive effect of the continuing sex abuse scandals.

(Edited)