Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Pope's dignity

Immersed as we are these days in questions of mortality, dignity, and privacy; the balance between the promise and limitations of modern medicine and the desire to control one's fate, what to say about Pope John Paul II and what seems to be his imminent death? And his demand that we observe and appreciate his trial?

BagNews Notes has been observing and uses images taken over the weekend that probably best illustrate both the pope's ordeal and his struggle to maintain his dignity.

Since we're not Jeff Gannon...

...we're not going to take this on all fours.

Please visit the agonist and this letter to which some of the greatest names in the blogosphere have affixed their electronic signatures. And please call or write the National Press Club to express your outrage at their cluelessness and obsession with anal sex. Having unmasked myself in this cause, it's the least you can do.

Bush's selective grief

Bush and the Exterminator wet the front of their shirts with grief for a woman they did not know or ever meet in any particular mental state.

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday urged the country to honor Terri Schiavo's memory by working to "build a culture of life" while House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said "the men responsible for this" will be called to account.

The Florida woman, who suffered severe brain damage after a heart attack 15 years ago, died Thursday. The feeding tube that had been keeping her alive was removed with a judge's approval on March 18.

DeLay appeared to condemn judges who at both the state and federal level declined to order that Schiavo be kept alive artificially.

"This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change," the Texas Republican said. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another."

DeLay is going get "the men responsible for this." AKA, judges. I hope that whatever judge is picked to judge DeLay in the many corruption trials he seems more and more likely to face remembers this irresponsible and hubristic statement.

Meanwhile, a tribe in Minnesota is still waiting for a personal message from the president regarding their grief and sorrow.

The world: Getting better every day

Cool costumes
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Admittedly, I know about as little about Central Africa as I do about quantum physics, but surely this is good news?

Rwandan Hutu Rebels Denounce Genocide, Halt War

ROME (Reuters) - Rwanda's main Hutu rebel group announced Thursday they were ending their war against Rwanda and for the first time denounced the 1994 genocide of Tutsis that has been blamed on many of their members.

I can't make out from the Reuters story if there is anything else at play here. Certainly it puts Rwanda on the defensive and is aimed at forcing the government to provide guarantees, but that doesn't seem like a bad thing.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the leaders of the city's three major faiths have put aside their differences and joined peaceful denunciation of gay-i-ness.

International gay leaders are planning a 10-day WorldPride festival and parade in Jerusalem in August, saying they want to make a statement about tolerance and diversity in the Holy City, home to three great religious traditions.

Now major leaders of the three faiths - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - are making a rare show of unity to try to stop the festival. They say the event would desecrate the city and convey the erroneous impression that homosexuality is acceptable.

"They are creating a deep and terrible sorrow that is unbearable," Shlomo Amar, Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi, said yesterday at a news conference in Jerusalem attended by Israel's two chief rabbis, the patriarchs of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, and three senior Muslim prayer leaders. "It hurts all of the religions. We are all against it."

Abdel Aziz Bukhari, a Sufi sheik, added: "We can't permit anybody to come and make the Holy City dirty. This is very ugly and very nasty to have these people come to Jerusalem."

Behold the power of the International Gay Agenda! Perhaps announcing a Gay Pride Parade in Baghdad is just the thing to bring everyone together peacefully and bring an end to the insurgency in Iraq.

Republican ambitions

This guy sounds like an up-and-comer in the Party of DeLay.

GLENSHAW, Pa., March 30 (AP) - A state legislator was charged on Wednesday with lying about a white powder that he claimed was inside a letter from a critical constituent.

The lawmaker, Representative Jeffrey E. Habay, said that he got the letter at home in May and that it contained a suspicious white substance, raising fears of possible anthrax contamination.

The United States Postal Inspection Service said the substance was harmless.

Mr. Habay, a 38-year-old Republican, was charged with falsely incriminating another, fictitious reports, solicitation to commit perjury and "facsimile weapons of mass destruction," court documents show.

Mr. Habay said the envelope came from George Radich, one of five constituents who had asked a court to audit Mr. Habay's political action committee. Mr. Radich insisted that the powder was not there when he mailed the letter and that he never tried to hide his identity.

In an unrelated case, Mr. Habay is awaiting trial on charges of using his staff to campaign on state time, theft of service and conflict of interest.

Wow. Accusing a "critical constituent" of sending anthrax. That's novel. Perhaps even Howard Fineman would find that to have an "odor" about it.

Domestic terrorism

Another crucial victory for Homeland Security:

SAN JOSE, Calif. - An animal rights activist was arrested on a domestic terrorism charge after seven years on the run in connection with the release of thousands of minks from commercial farms.

Peter Daniel Young, 27, could face life in prison if convicted of all charges, including conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce and animal enterprise terrorism, according to court papers.

Young fled soon after he was indicted in 1998 and was arrested March 21 at a coffee shop in San Jose, authorities said.

He and Justin Clayton Samuel, 26, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Wisconsin in the release of minks from farms in Wisconsin, South Dakota and Iowa, FBI agent Mike Johnson said Tuesday. They were accused of freeing thousands of the animals.

Federal authorities suspect Young is affiliated with the activist group Animal Liberation Front. A telephone message left at the group's office in Canoga Park was not immediately returned.

According to a police report, Officer Ian Cooley witnessed Young attempting to steal music CDs from the cafe. Young was arrested and found to be hiding a handcuff key taped to his belt, according to the report. A fingerprint search turned up the outstanding warrant.


Life in prison for releasing minks? Stealing CDs from a Starbucks? Am I missing something here?

Ironically, I was just reading a post by David Neiwert about the DHS's priorities when it comes to domestic terrorist groups -- they are focusing all their efforts on animal rights and ecoterrorist groups while ignoring the far more deadly threat (to, you know, the citizenry as opposed to caged minks and SUV dealerships) of white extremist groups.

Now comes a report from Congressional Quarterly that makes clear just how badly the federal agencies supposedly in charge of confronting terrorism have skewed their priorities:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not list right-wing domestic terrorists and terrorist groups on a document that appears to be an internal list of threats to the nation's security.

According to the list -- part of a draft planning document obtained by CQ Homeland Security -- between now and 2011 DHS expects to contend primarily with adversaries such as al Qaeda and other foreign entities affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement, as well as domestic radical Islamist groups.

It also lists left-wing domestic groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), as terrorist threats, but it does not mention anti-government groups, white supremacists and other radical right-wing movements, which have staged numerous terrorist attacks that have killed scores of Americans. Recent attacks on cars, businesses and property in Virginia, Oregon and California have been attributed to ELF.

DHS did not respond to repeated requests for comment or confirmation of the document's authenticity.

The report makes clear that this is, by nearly any standard, a gross misappropriation of priorities, especially when it comes to the level of actual threat represented:

Domestic terror experts were surprised the department did not include right-wing groups on their list of adversaries.

"They are still a threat, and they will continue to be a threat," said Mike German, a 16-year undercover agent for the FBI who spent most of his career infiltrating radical right-wing groups. "If for some reason the government no longer considers them a threat, I think they will regret that," said German, who left the FBI last year. "Hopefully it's an oversight."

James O. Ellis III, a senior terror researcher for the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT), said in a telephone interview Friday that whereas left-wing groups, which have been more active recently, have focused mainly on the destruction of property, right-wing groups have a much deadlier and more violent record and should be on the list. "The nature of the history of terrorism is that you will see acts in the name of [right-wing] causes in the future."

Here's a reality check for the Department of Homeland Security: After the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, through Jan. 1, 2000, there were over 40 serious cases of domestic terrorism -- some of it realized, some of it thwarted -- committed by right-wing extremists.

These were not petty or mere property crimes. They included the bombing of the Atlanta Olympics and abortion clinics by Eric Rudolph; a plan to attack a gathering of military families in the Midwest; and a plot to blow up a California propane facility. In every instance, the planned or perpetrated act involved serious violence in which potentially many people could be killed or injured.

Since that time, the rate has declined dramatically, but the cases keep occurring with some regularity, and the lethal nature of the threat has if anything become worse. Since 2000, we're talking about an actual anthrax attack; plans to set off cyanide and sarin bombs; more planned bombings of abortion clinics; and threats against federal judges. All emanating from either lone wolves or organized extremists from the far right.

These are not torchings of SUVs and vacant condos or trashing of research laboratories, which are bad enough, and certainly a problem worth confronting on a level deserving the actual threat they pose. But the level of violence, and the lethality of the threat posed, is of another order altogether when it comes to right-wing extremists.

Neiwert notes that the report does indicate that eco-terrorists have been much more active than the militias in recent years, but discounting the threat hate groups pose is a dangerous game to play. And makes you wonder: is the Bush Dept. of Justice and DHS reluctant to go after groups that may have links to anti-abortion groups, in other words, a key element of the Republican "base?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Blogger has been quite blogged the past few days, and I am sad to report, a number of brilliant, witty posts have been lost. No matter how side-splitting or emotionally wrenching, dear Reader, these posts are ephemeral.

I especially mourn -- and you should too -- the loss of my take on the latest journalist vs. blogger scandal, which I entitled, "Rough Trade" -- a National Press Club panel on how blogging is at the intersection of journalism and sodomy.

"Hezbollah": English for "Republican"

It's one thing for Christopher Shays to say that some members of his party want to create a theocracy, but when John Danforth -- former Republican Senator, Bush's ambassador to the UN, and Episcopal minister -- says it, then it's hard not to be truly alarmed by who's in power these days.

He writes today in the Times,

BY a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube.

Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond. But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party.

Christian activists, eager to take credit for recent electoral successes, would not be likely to concede that Republican adoption of their political agenda is merely the natural convergence of conservative religious and political values. Correctly, they would see a causal relationship between the activism of the churches and the responsiveness of Republican politicians. In turn, pragmatic Republicans would agree that motivating Christian conservatives has contributed to their successes.

High-profile Republican efforts to prolong the life of Ms. Schiavo, including departures from Republican principles like approving Congressional involvement in private decisions and empowering a federal court to overrule a state court, can rightfully be interpreted as yielding to the pressure of religious power blocs.

Not only that, Danforth writes, some Republicans are bat shit crazy, as well.

In my state, Missouri, Republicans in the General Assembly have advanced legislation to criminalize even stem cell research in which the cells are artificially produced in petri dishes and will never be transplanted into the human uterus. They argue that such cells are human life that must be protected, by threat of criminal prosecution, from promising research on diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes.

It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law.


During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.

All this lamentation is soothing to Democratic ears, but it's kind of meaningless. Fiscal conservatives in the Republican party have made their pact with the thugs who are their party leaders. They can complain, they can be shocked by the tremendous overreach in the Schiavo case, but until they are willing to defy their party leaders and vote against their ever more intrusive agenda, social conservatives will continue to push that agenda and their masters in the religious right community will continue to demand more.

Billmon is, as usual, essential in understanding the dilemna. For Republicans. For the country.

But marriage, as we all know, is a sacred bond, and while some GOP politicos may regard this as a marriage of convenience, the religious right tends to focus on the " 'til death to us part" bit. Without the grassroots muscle of the Christian conservatives, George W. Bush doesn't get elected, not even once, and the Republicans probably don't control the House and Senate. And the more important GOTV becomes (and in a closely divided, media-saturated elecorate, it's very important) the more indispensable is the party's alliance with the "End Times Conservatives."

So Danforth and the "mainstream" Republicans can whine all they want about intolerance and sectarian agendas and the need to get back to good old-fashioned conservative economic values. The reality is that the modern GOP and its business paymasters need the religious right the way Terri Schiavo needed her feeding tube.

Meanwhile, on the same editorial page as Danforth's essay, Bill Bradley explains why the Democrats have been unable to do much about it. Unlike Republicans, who have gradually been building a powerful infrastructure since 1964, Democrats must rebuild theirs every four years. For Republicans, it doesn't matter any more who is at the top of the ticket (which explains George W. Bush), but for Democrats, the party structure must be rebuilt in the image of the next candidate.

You've probably heard some of this before, but let me run through it again. Big individual donors and large foundations - the Scaife family and Olin foundations, for instance - form the base of the pyramid. They finance conservative research centers like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, entities that make up the second level of the pyramid.

The ideas these organizations develop are then pushed up to the third level of the pyramid - the political level. There, strategists like Karl Rove or Ralph Reed or Ken Mehlman take these new ideas and, through polling, focus groups and careful attention to Democratic attacks, convert them into language that will appeal to the broadest electorate. That language is sometimes in the form of an assault on Democrats and at other times in the form of advocacy for a new policy position. The development process can take years. And then there's the fourth level of the pyramid: the partisan news media. Conservative commentators and networks spread these finely honed ideas.

At the very top of the pyramid you'll find the president. Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine.

It is not quite the "right wing conspiracy" that Hillary Clinton described, but it is an impressive organization built consciously, carefully and single-mindedly. The Ann Coulters and Grover Norquists don't want to be candidates for anything or cabinet officers for anyone. They know their roles and execute them because they're paid well and believe, I think, in what they're saying. True, there's lots of money involved, but the money makes a difference because it goes toward reinforcing a structure that is already stable.

To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate.

Well, I hope Bill is wrong about Ann Coulter, because if she believes half of what she says, she should be wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet. But taken as a whole, these two opinion pieces make for a terrifying picture. The party in power is in thrall to radical clerics while the opposition party spends most of its time in opposition with itself.

Just how stupid are MLB officials?

This stupid.

Dr. Elliot J. Pellman, the medical adviser for Major League Baseball whose recent testimony to Congress praised baseball's steroids policy and challenged its critics, has exaggerated his educational and professional credentials.

Dr. Pellman, who is also team doctor for the Jets and the Islanders and a former president of the National Football League Physicians Society, has said repeatedly in biographical statements that he has a medical degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

But Dr. Pellman attended medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico, and he received a medical degree from the New York State Education Department after a one-year residency at SUNY Stony Brook, state records show. He does not hold an M.D. from Stony Brook, according to Dan Rosett, a university hospital spokesman.

In papers sent to Harvard University for a seminar and to the House Committee on Government Reform, which held the hearings on steroids in baseball two weeks ago, Dr. Pellman identified himself as an associate clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

But he is an assistant clinical professor, a lower-ranking and honorary position that is held by thousands of doctors, a medical college official said. Dr. Pellman does not teach at Albert Einstein.

The New York Times reviewed Dr. Pellman's credentials after his nationally televised appearance before the House committee on March 17. He was added to the hearing at the request of Major League Baseball and staunchly defended baseball's steroids policies.

In interviews this week, Dr. Pellman, 51, said he had not tried to mislead anybody about his credentials. He characterized the errors as minor and said he would correct them. And he primarily blamed other people, including his secretary and the Jets, for the discrepancies.

"In a way, I thank you, because those discrepancies are not important enough to be there, and they have all been fixed," he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

But Dr. Dan Brock, director of Harvard Medical School's Division of Medical Ethics, said, "If I told you I graduated from medical school in the United States, and I went to Guadalajara, then I think I would have deliberately misled you, so I would say that was unethical."

First, they send Congress a "rough draft" of the new testing policy, which contains an odd error. Then they proceed to testify in a manner that shows they were completely unprepared for what should have been pretty obvious and expected line of questioning.

Now we find they relied on a press bio from the NY Jets (another organization known for its stellar competence) for their "expert's" credentials.

For all the bloviation about steroids, records, and asterisks, it isn't steroids that are "ruining the game," it's MLB's clumsy bungling of the issue at every turn.

High Times

It's refreshing to know that High Times is still publishing. In fact, it has abandoned its strategy of a few years ago to become more of a celebrity-fueled, lifestyle magazine and gone back to its roots.

Two doors down from Bloom, Cusick is in his office, a confusion of dog-eared stacks, crumpled scraps of paper, and upturned books. A visitor with rectangular specs and a hooded sweatshirt embroidered with the name of his former company, Seedless, stops by; Cusick exalts him as a former "bong baron" who got shut down during Operation Pipe Dreams.

Cusick calls people like him "heroes," the "Rhett Butlers of our time." He sees the Department of Justice's assault on glassware manufacturers and bong impresarios as another bomb in an ongoing barrage, a stoner-versus-state clash that forces his publication to serve as a kind of drug-war soldier's manual. "We're more like Stars & Stripes magazine than Vanity Fair," Cusick says. "We're in a time of war, this is a war journal, and we should have our war face on. We should understand our readership, understand that their rights are being taken away, they're going to jail, their families are being destroyed. It's easy to forget all that stuff."

Another of Cusick's heroes is the inventor of the Whizzinator, a prosthetic penis on a belt that excretes synthetic urine for drug tests. There's a full-page ad for the equipment in High Times, a crotch shot with a marijuana leaf superimposed over the fake phallus. "Someone once said, 'That's vulgar.' No, no, no!" insists Cusick. "High-school students getting drug-tested – that's vulgar! The Whizzinator? Now that's sublime !"

I do believe its employees may be violating New York's smoking laws, though. They better be careful. Even if the DEA is a subscriber, New York's smoking cops are not to be trifled with.


The three happiest words in The New York Times this morning:

Crosby Completes Roster

The consensus among those who cover the Yankees was that Damian Rolls would win the final spot in the Yankees opening day lineup because of his ability to play both the infield and the outfield and because Crosby still has options.

Trouble with that "consensus" is that Damian Rolls cannot hit a baseball. Never has, at any professional level. Yes, the Yankees have -- with the Red Sox -- the most potent offense in baseball, but should Bernie Williams be injured or continue to have trouble with what Steve Goldman calls "the writhing anaconda" that serves as his spine, the Yankees would have trouble winning games by sending eight batters and one sure out to the plate.

Furthermore, it's nice that a Yankee farm hand gets a shot with the team for a change, and not be assigned to the Columbus gulag while another aging never-was takes up room on the bench.

There is joy in the Bronx today.

Meanwhile, Randy Johnson gets ready for his debut in Apocalypse 2005.

"Archrival?" Johnson said with a laugh after yet another question about Boston. "It sounds like we're reading a comic book or something. It sounds like we're watching "Superman" or "Spider-Man 4."

Bobo's world, continued

Um, about those values...

A Boy Scout big shot has been caught with a stash of kiddie porn - graphic photos of young boys he swapped with other cyber-smut collectors, authorities revealed yesterday.

Douglas Smith, 61, who was national director of programs at Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Texas, is expected to plead guilty in federal court today.

His arrest was a blow to the 95-year-old organization, which had its offices raided three weeks ago by federal agents seeking Smith's computer.


Smith worked for the boy scouts, which has 3.4 million members nationwide, for 39 years and he had a high-ranking job at headquarters since 1996, officials said.

Just five months ago, he wrote a letter to a legal magazine blasting opponents of the boy scouts' ban on gay scout leaders.

"Some intolerant elements in our society want to force scouting to abandon its values and to become fundamentally different," he wrote.

The boy scouts' ban on gay leaders was upheld on free speech grounds by the Supreme Court in 2000.

Damn those intolerant elements!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

So-called liberal media, Vol. XXIX

Noam Scheiber is a senior editor at the "liberal" New Republic. Today in the Times he writes,

The Democratic base, by contrast, consists of a coalition of minorities, Hollywood celebrities, latte-sipping liberals and an army of dedicated do-gooders - advocates for women's rights, for civil liberties, for the poor, and for the homeless, labor groups, environmental groups ... [sic] you get the idea. They are exactly the kinds of people who could be expected to support a "generalized program of global good works."

With friends like Noam, do we really need any enemies?

Somersby is right. Weird.

Academic freedom on the march!

Roy Odroso wonders whether the bill recently passed in Florida, which would give students the freedom to sue any classroom "dictator" who doesn't sufficiently respect their beliefs regardless of how insane, is a career opportunity or a reason to stock up on bartering goods.

I'm thinking the latter. But wait, perhaps there's hope for Crazyland.

Polls show the public overwhelmingly opposed to intervention by Congress and President Bush in the case of Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose family has been bitterly split over the decision to remove her feeding tube. But the religious conservatives who pressed hard for politicians in Tallahassee and Washington to act to have the the tube reinserted could play a pivotal role in the races for governor and Senate.

At the same time, public opposition has been mounting against the president's plan to let younger workers divert a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into private investment accounts. The president's proposal is particularly unpopular among seniors, and so candidates in the senior-rich state are especially vulnerable to the charge that such a change could endanger benefits.

"It may be that we tried to load the wagon with too many watermelons," said Tom Slade, Florida's former Republican Party chairman. "There's not … a lot of good news on our side of the aisle at this minute."

The conflicting dynamics in Florida are crucial for national Republicans as they seek to enhance their power in Washington and state capitals across the country.

Meanwhile, if you don't like the inconvenient facts your kids' teachers are a-teachin', use it as an opportunity to spread the faith.

For several months, Brett and Cristina attended a Christian parenting class at the church, where they discussed things like how to help their kids handle science class in public school. (''If the teacher is up there teaching evolution as fact,'' Brett told me, ''there's nothing wrong with you asking very pointed questions, and it's a great opportunity to share your faith.'')

Holy hucksters, Batman!

Well, what did you expect?

WASHINGTON, March 28 - The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups.

"These compassionate pro-lifers donated toward Bob Schindler's legal battle to keep Terri's estranged husband from removing the feeding tube from Terri," says a description of the list on the Web site of the firm, Response Unlimited, which is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo's father. "These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!"

Privacy experts said the sale of the list was legal and even predictable, if ghoulish.

"I think it's amusing," said Robert Gellman, a privacy and information policy consultant. "I think it's absolutely classic America. Everything is for sale in America, every type of personal information."

The mind, as Christopher Hitchens (less crazy then usual these days) is fond of saying, reels.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Bob Dole's Law

Submitted without comment.

If female pharmacists suddenly started refusing to dispense Viagra or Cialis to men, Congress would reconvene in the middle of the night and George Bush would make another midnight run from Crawford to sign the Tentpole Act of 2005 (also known as Bob Dole's Law).

Defending speech is a tough job

Fox sure doesn't make it easy to try to defend free speech against the FCC.

"Certainly broadcasters and cable operators have significant First Amendment rights, but these rights are not without boundaries," he wrote. "They are limited by law. They also should be limited by good taste."

He emphasized that view when he dissented from a decision by the commission in an indecency case over an episode of the "Keen Eddie" show. In that case, decided last November, the agency did not to [sic] penalize Fox for an episode in which three men hired a prostitute to get semen from a horse for the artificial insemination of another horse.

"This order involves a television program that the majority admits 'contains references of a sexual nature that were broadcast at a time of day when children were likely to be in the audience,' " he wrote in that opinion. "Yet the majority concludes that the program, in which a prostitute is hired to sexually arouse a horse by removing her blouse and to 'extract' semen from the horse, is not indecent because the prostitute is 'never seen actually touching' the horse. Despite my colleagues' assurance that there appeared to be a safe distance between the prostitute and the horse, I remain uncomfortable. I respectfully dissent."

"Uncomfortable." Eh, eh.

And what, exactly, is meant by "safe distance?"

Well, if Fox is truly going to be fined every time they exhibit bad taste, then we call all exult as Rupert Murdoch pays enough in FCC fines to shore up the Medicare shortfall, but I doubt that will really happen.

But, um, I believe "Keen Eddie" is intended to be a comedy. Haven't seen the show so I don't know the context of the particular scene to which Kevin Martin refers to, but I am guessing it was being played more for a laugh than for titillation -- the idea that a couple of blokes would think that a horse could be aroused by the sight of a woman's breasts is mildly amusing, I guess.

And that sort of sums up why this story annoys me. The Times does not ask a couple of basic questions. First, what did the ultimate arbiters of taste on TV rule on this show? In other words, did audiences watch it and was it renewed? No, and no (it got picked up by Bravo!, or, the network that brings you Monty Python's Flying Circus and 23-1/2 hours of dross). I thought, after all, that Republicans generally left it up to the market to decide, not the guvmint.

Second, how 'bout some other examples of what makes young Kevin "uncomfortable." I mean, prostitute + horse + semen is pretty easy. Moreover, since he seems to be fast becoming a virtual FCC commissioner, what else is Brent Bozell complaining about?

The Carpenter and The Hammer

Suitable for framing.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Women's voices

Guest blogging on Political Animal, Garence Franke-Ruta, gets around the Estrich vs. Kinsley hysteria and focuses on why it is important for more Democratic Party women to be heard in the op ed pages.

It's worth a look.

Murky morals

I thought the blogosphere would explode with articulate, or, not-so-much, indignation at Brooksie's column yesterday, but I haven't spotted any outrage out there, yet*.

It is one thing to say that this case brings out the opposing "core beliefs" of "social conservatives" and "social liberals." Although even that is not quite so cut and dried, judging by poll results and conversations I've had. Many social conservatives are siding with the husband on this one, and many liberals are conflicted.

Though very few seem very conflicted on the total inappropriateness of the actions of Congress and les Bush freres in the Schiavo case, of which Brooks says nothing. He's apparently cured of his shrill, unholy madness of a few days ago.

But when Brooks transmutes, like bread into Jesus made flesh, the words "core belief" into the loaded word, "morals," then I have to differ strongly.

Social liberals warn against vitalism, the elevation of physical existence over other values. They say it is up to each individual or family to draw their own line to define when life passes to mere existence.

The central weakness of the liberal case is that it is morally thin. Once you say that it is up to individuals or families to draw their own lines separating life from existence, and reasonable people will differ, then you are taking a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste.

Wait a second. It is not "up to individuals or families" to draw that line. It is ultimately up to the doctors and nurses who care for the patient. Yes, the family is consulted and, in the case of living wills, the patient's own wishes come into play (though I have heard it said that this is less often the case than we're led to believe). But it's the doctors who decide a case is hopeless, as they did in Terri Schiavo's case (I am talking about those doctors who have actually examined the helpless woman, not those who can diagnose by video).

You are saying, as liberals do say, that society should be neutral and allow people to make their own choices. You are saying, as liberals do say, that we should be tolerant and nonjudgmental toward people who make different choices.

What begins as an appealing notion - that life and death are joined by a continuum - becomes vapid mush, because we are all invited to punt when it comes time to do the hard job of standing up for common principles, arguing right and wrong, and judging those who make bad decisions.

You end up exactly where many liberals ended up this week, trying to shift arguments away from morality and on to process.

If you surveyed the avalanche of TV and print commentary that descended upon us this week, you found social conservatives would start the discussion with a moral argument about the sanctity of life, and then social liberals would immediately start talking about jurisdictions, legalisms, politics and procedures. They were more comfortable talking about at what level the decision should be taken than what the decision should be.

Then, if social conservatives tried to push their moral claims, you'd find liberals accusing them of turning this country into a theocracy - which is an effort to cast all moral arguments beyond the realm of polite conversation.

Give me a break. I have not heard any one accuse any one else of trying to turn this country into a theocracy as an argument to let Terri Schiavo die. There are plenty of other areas to point to as examples of the theocratic movement in this country.

Once moral argument is abandoned, there are no ethical checks, no universal standards, and everything is left to the convenience and sentiments of the individual survivors.

What I'm describing here is the clash of two serious but flawed arguments. The socially conservative argument has tremendous moral force, but doesn't accord with the reality we see when we walk through a hospice. The socially liberal argument is pragmatic, but lacks moral force.

Making this a "morals" argument is disingenuous if you are unwilling to put it into the context of the overall behavior of many of those who would demand her feeding tube be reinserted:

-- Congressmen who cut Medicade and Medicare, then pass a bill in the middle of the night that "helps" only one dying person in this country, ignoring the rest.

-- Presidents who decide to "err on the side of life" after having mocked the pleas of a condemned woman.

-- Religious leaders who have whipped this into a crusade to try to bolster their own visibility, not to mention finances.

On and on.

Now, I am not condemning the morals of the Schindlers and their attempt to keep their daughter alive, though it is not a moral view that I would share after watching a loved one lay in a vegetative state for a decade and a half. I am not condemning the morals of the people keeping vigil outside her hospice (though I do condemn those who've threatened violence), but I wonder where these people are when a mentally retarded man is executed.

But Brooks is trying to condemn my morals. By bringing accusations of "thin morality" into feelings about dignity and privacy, he's trying to frame (there's that word again) "liberals" as people who are essentially pro-euthanasia.

"Morals" are rarely bright-lined, as Brooks unfairly suggests. That is why we have "laws." That's why a decades' worth of legal decisions in Florida and the Supreme Court trump whatever "morals" David Brooks likes to claim and with which he condemns his opponents. Brooks is trying to use the Schiavo case as a bludgeon to hammer us godless heathens who prefer to rely on medical tests, legal precedent, and the consistent outcomes of a heavily adjudicated case over the moral pronouncements of Randall Terry. Or a New York Times columnist.

Then, of course is the classic Brooks conclusion:

No wonder many of us feel agonized this week, betwixt and between, as that poor woman slowly dehydrates.

In one short sentence he is able to deflect attention from consistent polling that indicates most people aren't really so agonized about this case, AND, remind readers that liberals are evil murderers.

His philosophical arguments may be dunderheaded, but in his portrayal as a thoughtful, fair conservative even as he sticks the knife in the backs of his political opponents, he's a genius.

*UPDATED 3/28: Guess I wasn't looking very hard.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Ad Nags and Not-George -- a match made in Hacklandia

James Wolcott does this a lot better and more articulately than me (oh, just go read him, you'll be much happier and will have spent a much more productive ten minutes).

Still here? Okay, I'll try.

The Times and their Johnny on the Hackspot, Adam Nagourney has a piece on Jeb Bush that is so sickeningly awful, so obviously ghosted by Bush's flaks, that it would literally stink up the already pretty foul NY Times "Washington" section. But -- BAD LANGUAGE ALERT -- it's not inside section A. It's on the FRONT FUCKING PAGE OF THE NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES!

In a Polarizing Case, Jeb Bush Cements His Political Stature

WASHINGTON, March 24 - Gov. Jeb Bush's last-minute intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, even after the president had ended his own effort to keep her alive, may have so far failed in a legal sense, but it has cemented the religious and social conservative credentials of a man whose political pedigree is huge and whose political future remains a subject of intense speculation.

Jeebus, this is at least the second "last-minute intervention" to reinsert Terri Schiavo's breathing tube. He did the same thing two years ago. Since that time he has done nothing for -- or, as the case may have it, against the poor woman or her family. He has not tried to arbitrate an agreement between Mr. Schiavo and his in-laws, nor suggested legislation that would address these types of difficult custody/right-to-life cases. He has simply waited, knowing that before too long, he'd get another chance at cementing his political visibility. He was using the poor woman in October 2003, and he's using her now.

Back to Hack Adam.

On one level, the Florida governor's emergence as the most prominent politician still fighting, despite a string of court and legislative defeats, to have a feeding tube reinserted in Ms. Schiavo was very much in keeping with someone who has repeatedly declared a deep religious faith.

I'd have to be a cynic to question the religious commitment of a politician from a Southern state who has "repeatedly declared a deep religious faith," wouldn't I? Or just a decent reporter?

Several associates noted that he had been devoutly religious longer than President Bush, and even critics said his efforts - prodding the Florida Legislature and the courts and defying much of the electorate - were rooted in a deep-seated opposition to abortion and euthanasia rather than in political positioning.

Yet inevitably, the events of recent days have fed the mystique of Mr. Bush as a reluctant inheritor of perhaps America's most famous dynasty since the Adams family two centuries ago.

"Several associates" would say that, now, wouldn't they Adam? And odd, isn't it, that Nagourney doesn't name any of those "critics" who are so moved by Jeb's deep seated opposition to abortion? We'll have to take that one at face value. Ah, but the Dane-like references to the governor and his "mystique," reluctantly taking the mantle of power from his father and brother, would please the Bard himself. It's so moving, so somber, so monarchical.

"Mystique." Unbelievable. That fat piece of corrupt shit has a mystique, alright.

He has assumed a very high profile in this polarizing case just as Republicans are contemplating the void that will be left when President Bush begins his walk off the stage in two years or so. At a time when many of the most frequently mentioned possibilities to lead the party are moderates like John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the governor now certainly has a place, if he wants it, as a prime contender in what is shaping up as a fight to represent a conservative wing that has proved increasingly dominant.

"He has strongly identified himself with the Christian conservative movement," said Matthew Corrigan, a political science professor at the University of North Florida. "If the Republican Party is looking for someone with good ties with the Christian conservative movement, he is the one who is going to have them."

IF the Republican Party is looking for someone with good ties with the Christian conservative movement? Good lord, man. Did I really read that in the New York Times? Today's Republican Party is looking to create a theocracy in this country. And what was that, "if he wants it," crap? This whole thing has the oily feel and sulfuric smell of Karl Rove.

"He's got no - as far as I know, and I really believe him - he's got no future political ambitions," said Cory Tilley, a longtime adviser. "And even if he did, he would be doing exactly what he is doing now. This is very clearly an issue that strikes at his core beliefs."

I guess making further cuts in Medicaid strikes his core beliefs as well. That's something he has control over when it comes to helping his state's "most vulnerable." But that might have meant raising taxes on its least vulnerable, and that, coincidentally, might not play well in a future Republican primary.

Anyway, Adam has some tough reportin' to do.

Some Democrats were skeptical, however.

"This is less about Terri Schiavo and more about shoring up the Republican base, and that's a shame," said Scott Maddox, who is departing as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party and is a potential candidate for governor. "Politics has to be in play here."

But that was just a moment of rational thought by our crack political reporter and analyst. Soon we're back to the comfortable realm of a puff piece for In Touch Weekly.

At times this week, it almost seemed as if the Bush brothers were working in tandem; the governor's decision to re-enter the case once the White House had dropped it in the face of repeated judicial rebuffs may have saved the president criticism from the right. (Paradoxically, the governor himself was pummeled Thursday by some conservative activists, who demanded that he have state authorities physically seize custody of Ms. Schiavo and reinsert the tube.)[emphasis, ya know, added]

It seemed that way, eh, Adam. You're a sharp cookie, remembering all of them accusations of election result-fixin' from oh, five years, back, or maybe this piece of back scratching from 2003.

But it just seemed that way. It would be unseemly to imply otherwise. Rove. Party of two. Rove.

"Jeb Bush is not doing this for political reasons, in my opinion," said Jim Kane, chief pollster for Florida Voter, a nonpartisan polling organization. "Jeb Bush is smart enough to know that he is not going to gain anything from this, and he's probably going to lose something."

Give me a goddamn break. Nagourney's piece is an obvious example of what he's going to gain, a free pass with the fundies come '08. Karl Rove believes Bush won a second term because of those people, and he knows the GOP needs a replacement who will make sure that the religious right gets to the polls on time, instead of staying at home, which they did when an earlier leading light of this "political dynasty" was running for reelection.

Jeb, George, Tom, and Bill may have overplayed their hand on this one. Blinded by the "mandate" of November '04 and confident of the fealty of "values" voters, they overreached into an area of personal life that the majority of Americans would prefer politicians stay out of. But just because they misread how the majority of Americans would feel, doesn't mean they've done this out of deeply held religious feeling or because they are -- and this is what Nagourney can't quite, quite come out and say -- "courageous." They did it to get another anchovy from the radical clerics. And with their sanctimony and pandering, they may just have unleashed something that's out of their control.

If I hadn't read this "report" in the print edition of the New York Times, I would have thought some rascal had hacked his or her way into and posted a spot on Adam Nagourney satire.

Billmon takes a diamond shot to the forehead

The Whiskey Bar reopened not that long ago, but Billmon himself has not been writing much. Instead, he's been posting the quotes and writing of others to draw parallels, illuminate paradoxes, and basically lead his readers to water but let them drink it for themselves.

He explains why he stopped writing and why he's been performing the blog equivalent of a street mime. His "thinking out loud" is quite interesting.

And that’s when it hit me – as if, to quote Col. Kurtz, I’d been shot in the forehead with a diamond – that Kerry was almost certainly going to lose the election, that the American people really were going to ratify torture and murder as instruments of state policy, and that all the facts and all the rational arguments and all the moral outrage in the world weren’t going to persuade them otherwise.

What I finally had to confront was the fact that truth alone is impotent in the face of modern propaganda techniques – as developed, field tested, refined and deployed by Madison Avenue, the Pentagon, the think tanks, the marketing departments of major corporations, the communications departments of major research universities, etc. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, the peculiar vulnerability of historical truth (which means political truth) is that it isn’t inherently more plausible than outright lies, since the facts could always have been otherwise. And in a world where the airwaves are overloaded 24/7 with the mindless babbling of complete idiots, it isn’t very hard to make inconvenient facts disappear, or create new pseudofacts that reinforce whatever bias or cultural affinity you want to cultivate – particularly if the audience is already disposed to prefer your reassuring lies to discomforting truths told by strangers.

But he found himself to be addicted to blogging, and decided that futility was not a good enough reason to close the liquor cabinet and shut down the Whiskey Bar. And, anyway, he concludes with a sentiment to which I couldn't agree more: If we're all going to hell in a handbasket, we may as well enjoy the ride.

Ralph Nader, wingnut

Is Ralph Nader trawling for votes among the fundies?

The courts not only are refusing her tube feeding, but have ordered that no attempts be made to provide her water or food by mouth. Terri swallows her own saliva. Spoon feeding is not medical treatment. "This outrageous order proves that the courts are not merely permitting medical treatment to be withheld, it has ordered her to be made dead," Nader and Smith assert.

The medical and rehabilitation experts are split on whether Terri is in a persistent vegetative state or whether Terri can be improved with therapy. There is only one way to know for sure- permit the therapy. That is the only way to resolve all doubts.

Spoon-feeding? Therapy?

I've known for years that the little man is a megalomaniac, far more interested in seeing himself on TV than seriously advocating for consumers. I hope this is just another cynical but mad ploy on his part to peel away fundie voters from Jeb Bush in '08, since Bush has proven to be such a week appliance for them. After all, even Nader must now know that progressives hate him and the Greens will no longer have him. But if it's not a ploy, then Nader's megalomania has morphed into lunacy and dementia.

"'Flaunt' the law"

But the point is, the temple of the law is so sacrosanct that an occasional chief executive cannot flaunt it once in a while, sort of drop his drawers on the courthouse steps and moon the judges, as a way to protest the complete disregard courts and judges have shown here, in this case, for facts outside the law.

We report. You decide.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

They're gonna make someone pay for their "culture of life"

The General points us to a legal case so distasteful, it can only have been hatched in the fever brains of the Bush Justice Department.

When she learned that she was carrying a baby with almost no brain and no chance of survival, a devastated young Navy wife from Everett pleaded with a federal court in Seattle to force her military medical program to pay for an abortion.

"I could not imagine going through five more months of pregnancy, knowing that the baby will never survive or have any kind of life whatsoever," the woman, then 19, told a federal judge in August 2002. "I understand that even if the baby is born alive, it will probably die after it takes a few breaths. I am really terrified of the prospect of giving birth, then watching the baby die."

She won her case and had the abortion. But more than two years later, the federal government continues to fight her, trying to get the woman and her sailor husband to pay back the $3,000 the procedure cost and trying to cast in stone a ban on government-funded abortions.

The case of Jane Doe. v. the United States will be argued before a federal appeals court next month. Like the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, involving a severely brain-damaged adult, this matter involves questions of what is human life, when can family decide to end it and how far can the government go to block that decision.

Federal lawyers have aggressively appealed the Navy wife's case, often using moral arguments against abortion. The case focuses on the Hyde Amendment regulations, which forbid use of public funds for abortions except if a mother's life is endangered, or in cases of incest or rape -- but not for lethal fetal ailments.

After a lengthy tug of war in which Jane Doe's case bounced between two courts of appeal, on the East and West coasts, arguments will be heard April 6 before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in San Francisco. (Editor's Note: The original version of this story contained an incorrect court date.)

"It's a sleeper case that no one is talking about because it's so far from over, but when it hits, it's going to be a big one," predicted Maureen Britell, former executive director of the now-defunct Voters for Choice lobby in Washington, D.C.

What makes this even more enraging, our great moralist and "I'm not a neurologist, but I play one on TV," Doctor Frist, had a strong point-of-view on anencephalic babies 16 years ago.

Frist wrote a book in 1989 called Transplant where he advocated changing the definition of "brain dead" to include anencephalic babies. Anencephalic babies are in the same state as Terri Schiavo except that she suffered a physical trauma that put her into a vegetative state while the anencephalic babies are born that way.

This remarkable discovery buttresses the argument that Frist's advocacy for Schiavo is wholly political. How does he explain this remarkable inconsistency? Here is the relevant passage on Frist as quoted by the New Republic in 2003:

"And, although Frist writes frequently about the ethical issues surrounding transplants--for example, the question of when death begins--he approaches these issues in starkly scientific terms, with little patience for religious objections.

"Near the end of the book, for example, Frist suggests changing the legal definition of 'brain death' to include anencephalic babies, who are born with a fatal neurological disorder but show just the slightest hint of brain-stem activity. Such a change would make it possible to harvest their organs for transplant--something the Catholic Church and pro-life groups oppose. 'Three thousand anencephalic babies were born a year, enough to solve our demand many times over--but we never used them.'"

So many things at play, hypocricy, forcing the poor to pay for someone else's strident moral values, political machinations, and on and on.

Oh, and Henry Hyde.

No freakin' escape...

...from these benighted people. I just typed in a mistaken URL in my browser (forgot the "dot" after "www"), and was sent here.

I fear this type of organization and reach.

Goldwater Conservatism, RIP

Via Yglesias, a passionate lament for the death of modern conservatism.

When Terri Schiavo is finally allowed to slip past her cruel fate and move on to a better place, she will not be the only one to have died this month. At another gravesite, this marker should be erected:

Barry Goldwater's Conservatism in America

Reality and reason on life support

When can we pull his feeding tube?

"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America," the Texan congressman told a meeting of the Family Research Council.

Dismissing medical findings that Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state," he declared outrage that "Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death for two weeks."

Insanity. Sheer, wearisome insanity. Even George W. Bush sees the writing on the wall on this one, and has gone back to whipping up fears of cat food and a life of working as a Wal*Mart greeter for the rest of your retired years.

The Schiavo case is just the latest and most extreme example of how the rules of debate have -- not just shifted -- they've gone right over the top, and you can hear the screetch of reason's metal skidding across the road and into the ditch. "Intelligent Design," Holocaust denial, Social Security "crisis," the list goes on. Instead of debate, we get lunacy to which, if we don't argue against, we're seen as acquiescing. But if we do argue against it, we've effectively given legitimacy to a position that has absolutely no basis in reality.

Yesterday, in an affidavit supporting a petition by the Florida Department of Children and Families in the case, Dr. Cheshire said it was more likely that Ms. Schiavo was in a "minimally conscious state."

"Although Terri did not demonstrate during our 90-minute visit compelling evidence of verbalization, conscious awareness or volitional behavior," he wrote, "yet the visitor has the distinct sense of the presence of a living human being who seems at some level to be aware of some things around her."

Mr. Bush called Dr. Cheshire a "renowned neurologist," but he is not widely known in the neurology or bioethics fields. Asked about him, Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, replied, "Who?"

Dr. Cheshire, who graduated from Princeton and earned a medical degree at West Virginia University, did not return calls to the Mayo Clinic seeking comment. The clinic said in a statement that his work on the Schiavo case was not related to his work at the clinic and that the state had invited his opinion. "He observed the patient at her bedside and conducted an extensive review of her medical history but did not conduct an examination," the statement said.

Dr. Caplan said that was not good enough. "There is just no excuse for going in and making any pronouncement about the state that Terri Schiavo is in unless you're going to go in and do some form of technologically mediated scanning that would overturn what's on the record already," he said.

Dr. Ronald Cranford, a neurologist and medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota Medical School who has examined Ms. Schiavo on behalf of the Florida courts and declared her to be irredeemably brain-damaged, said, "I have no idea who this Cheshire is," and added: "He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say she's not vegetative."

He said there was no doubt that Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state. "Her CAT scan shows massive shrinkage of the brain," he said. "Her EEG is flat - flat. There's no electrical activity coming from her brain."

[Breaking news. Can this really be the end of this entire ordeal? Or will the same Supreme Court that put a Bush in the White House (no jokes about persistent vegetative states, ok), now be accused of being a bunch of "activist judges?"]

The description of Publius's blog, which, sadly, he's shutting down for now, says it best:

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over." Thomas Jefferson, 1798

I, for one, am running a little short on patience lately.

Sanctity of marriage?

I am assuming...hoping...that Dahlia Lithwick is joking when she refers to Mickey Maus as her "colleague." Yes, he too -- inexplicably -- writes for Slate. But "colleague" would imply that his blatherings are in her league. They most certainly are not.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Garden of Earthly Delights...figurines!

From Garden of Earthly Delights
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Tipped off by Steve Goldman's Pinstriped Blog, I invite you to visit this place, selling figurines and other objet d'art taken from works by Brueghel, Arcimboldo, and, my favorite, Hieronymus (Jeroen for short) Bosch.

Wish I'd thought to make ceramic figurines out of details from some of the most memorable pieces of art.

Reality DeLayed

The Washington Post confronted Tom DeLay with a statement from yesterday's Center for American Progress "Progress Report:"

"At every opportunity, [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay has sanctimoniously proclaimed his concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo, saying he is only trying to ensure she has the chance 'we all deserve,' " the liberal Center for American Progress said in a statement Monday, echoing complaints of Democratic lawmakers and medical ethicists. "Just last week, DeLay marshaled a budget resolution through the House of Representatives that would cut funding for Medicaid by at least $15 billion, threatening the quality of care for people like Terri Schiavo."

DeLay spokesman Dan Allen fired back: "The fact that they're tying a life issue to the budget process shows just how disconnected Democrats are to reality."

Yes, I guess he means disconnected from the reality of our current GOP leadership in Washington. I mean, geez, do those fuzzy liburols really think an important guy like Tom DeLay is going to take a break from his sanctimonious blather about "protecting life" and, you know, actually fulfill his responsibility to legislate -- or put forth a budget -- for the greater good of the country? Naive.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the Schiavo affair is making plain the widening chasm between "process conservatives" and "cultural conservatives."

"My party is demonstrating that they are for states' rights unless they don't like what states are doing," said Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, one of five House Republicans who voted against the bill. "This couldn't be a more classic case of a state responsibility."

"This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy," Mr. Shays said. "There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them." [emphasis added]

Good for Chris. Shays, you may recall, led what became known as "Shays Rebellion" when he publicly argued against changing the ethics rules that forces a House Leader to lose his leadership post if indicted, as Tom DeLay is likely to be.

But this is clearly a real issue for GOP moderates and fiscal -- rather than cultural -- conservatives. Shays is about as anti-DeLay as they come, but he came under withering attack by his democratic challenger in 2004, who called him a "DeLay Republican." The attack was pretty effective as Shays underwent his toughest race as an incumbent. And the attack is proving that Shays got the hint from his constituents about "getting along and going along" with GOP leadership against the more moderate values of his constituents.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A belated Vegacura Day to ya!

As many of the Vega's Dear Readers know, March 16 is the traditional date on which Vegacura Day is celebrated all across the world.

The date was chosen in part for the auspicious events that seem to have -- almost magically -- chosen to occur on March 16. For instance...

The Generall Court of Election began and held at Portsmouth, Rhode Island on the 16th of March, 1641.

James Madison was born in 1751.

Congress approved legislation establishing West Point on this date in 1802.

Nothing much happened in the aptly named "Boring 19th Century," but in 1926 the first liquid fuled rocked was successfully fired.

The first celebration of Vegacura Day outside the United States occurred in a small Vietnamese village known as My Lai 4 in 1968.

And of course, Ollie North and John Poindexter were indicted for their role in the IranContra "kerfuffle" in 1988.

Oh, and I forgot, that classic in scientific comedy of manners, "Effect of RNA from Normal Human Marrow on Leukaemic Marrow In-Vivo", was published in the journal Nature on March 16, 1963.

Important events, I'm sure you agree, on the same coincidental day of what is often an otherwise pretty bleak month.

But now, via James Wolcott, we learn from the chief economist of MorganStanley that this past March 16, in the year of our Lord 2005, may have been the biggest, most important Vegacura Day yet!

Tipping points are a great concept, but virtually impossible to identify ahead of time -- let alone when they are occurring. It is only with the great luxury of hindsight that we can look back and know that the proverbial bell has rung. In my view, March 16, 2005 could end up in the running as a possible tipping point for America. Suddenly, the US has taken on a very different aura in an increasingly unbalanced world: The confluence of a record current account deficit, a disaster from General Motors, and yet another new high for oil prices all speak of an increasingly precarious role for the global hegemon. World financial markets have barely begun to sniff that out.


In the end, of course, there’s far more to this story than economics. As I noted recently, history is replete with examples of leadership tests that pit a nation’s military prowess against its economic base (see my 28 February dispatch, “The Pendulum of Global Leadership”). Yale historian Paul Kennedy has long argued that great powers typically fail when military reach outstrips a nation’s economic strength. In that vein, there’s little doubt that America is extending its reach in this post-9/11 world. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the opening salvos. The Bush Administration’s recent nomination of two leading neocons to key global positions -- John Bolton as America’s ambassador to the UN and Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank (also announced on March 16) -- are more recent examples of a White House that is upping the ante on its “transformational” projection of global power. In Paul Kennedy’s historical framework, America is extending its reach at precisely the moment when its economic power base is weakening -- a classic warning sign of the fall of a Great Power.

So, my friends, in years to come when you and and your family come together to celebrate Vegacura Day, and as tradition dictates, the youngest asks, "Why is this day different from all other days?" Now you can reply, "Because this is the day on which the cracks in the foundation of the Empire that was America began to creak and groan."

Social Security in the "Information Age"

Much has been written about the recent set-to between Joe Klein and Paul Krugman regarding Social Security, when Klein triumphantly left Krugman speechless with the claim, "private accounts [are] a terrific policy and that in the information age, you're going to need different kinds of structures in the entitlement area than you had in the industrial age."

Yglesias and Josh Marshall asked whether anyone anywhere had read or heard Klein explain why the Industrial Age program known as Social Security was irrelevant or unsuited to the so-called Information Age. To-date, Klein apparantely hasn't been forthcoming with any examples.

There's a reason for that. Daniel Gross, writing in the Times on Sunday, explains that to the contrary, private accounts are in fact much less suited to our current times than is Social Security.

The reason is that income volatility -- the change in a family's income from year to year -- has always been pretty unstable, but in the past few decades it has grown even more like a nausea-inducing amusement park ride. And the volatitily is worse for those who can least afford it.

Volatility - the degree to which the value of an asset deviates above or below the general trend - is a concept with which investors are familiar. Some stocks can prove more risky - or more rewarding - than others because they rise or fall by a greater degree than the market as a whole, while others tend to track the overall market's performance closely. But the concept of volatility is less well understood when it comes to income. As we learn more about income volatility in the information age, some scholars say, Social Security - an insurance program designed for the industrial age - may be even more essential.

Economists have long thought income volatility didn't matter much; that families could absorb it by taking a second job or a spouse returning to the work force. Trouble is, that's already the case. Also, in the past families tied up a lower percentage of their income in big ticket debt, such as their home mortgage. Nowadays, though, people are spending as much as 75 percent of their income on paying off mortgages, home equity loans, health care, auto loans, etc. -- which aren't easily shed. As Harvard's Professor Warren says in the article, "If you lose income suddenly, you can't decide to sell off one bedroom or decide to cover only half of your family" with insurance.

Add to that the fact that fewer workers are now covered by employer-sponsored defined benefit pension plans and health insurance, and you've got a pretty obvious need for a program that's appropriate for workers in Klein's "Information Age."

It's called Social Security.

Blogosphere to NY Times: Release David Brooks!

All of the blogosphere...well, one or two sites...are reeling from the effects of reading Brooksie's column this morning.

Ralph Reed, meanwhile, smashed the tired old categories that used to separate social conservatives from corporate consultants. Reed signed on with Channel One, Verizon, Enron and Microsoft to shore up the moral foundations of our great nation. Reed so strongly opposes gambling as a matter of principle that he bravely accepted $4 million through Abramoff from casino-rich Indian tribes to gin up a grass-roots campaign.

As time went by, the spectacular devolution of morals accelerated. Many of the young innovators were behaving like people who, having read Barry Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative," embraced the conservative part while discarding the conscience part.

If David Brooks is going to become intellectually honest about the greed heads in the GOP, then we lefty bloggers are going to lose one of our most reliable pinatas.

The case of the missing polls

Salon's Eric Boehlert asks, why have news outlets from Fox to the Washington Post, from ABC News to the New York Times, been ignoring the results of their own polls on the subject of Terri Schiavo?

It is as baffling to me as it is to Boehlert. But it is important, because by assigning the results to the proverbial dustbin of history, these news organizations are ignoring what must be concluded from the polls -- that many, many Congressional Republicans are far outside the mainstream of American public opinion. In many cases, whether because of pandering or fervent belief, they are far to the right of their own "base" on subjects pertaining to one's privacy and family matters.

The Schiavo episode highlights not only how far to the right the GOP-controlled Congress has lunged -- a 2003 Fox News poll found just 2 percent of Americans think the government should decide this type of right-to-die issue -- but also how paralyzed the mainstream press has become in pointing out the obvious: that the GOP leadership often operates well outside the mainstream of America. The press's timidity is important because publicizing the poll results might extend the debate from one that focuses exclusively on a complicated moral and ethical dilemma to one that also examines just how far a radical and powerful group of religious conservatives are willing to go to push their political beliefs on the public.

In the rare case where someone from the right has ventured to discuss the poll results, they have tried to downplay the significance with the usual suspect: bias. The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr is being downright disingenuous when he claims that the ABC News poll results highlighted yesterday were driven by biased and "leading questions." Anytime someone doesn't like the results of a poll, they can always make such a claim. And I would agree that it is a dangerous thing to base public policy on polls for that very reason. But in this case, the poll respondents would have to be living in a media-free utopia to not be intimately aware of the sad particulars of this case. They weren't replying to "biased" or "leading" questions. They were speaking about something they'd actually given a lot of thought to as it pertains to their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Monday, March 21, 2005

"Fool me once...won't get fooled again"

Wow. Despite all the pandering by Frist, DeLay, Bush and the rest of the cynical crew previously known as Republicans; despite a media that has showed the same few seconds of the Terri Schiavo video that her parents want us to see, over and over, and has repeatedly echoed the claim that this is a "values" issue; despite DeLay's and the Wall Street Journal editorial page's unbelievable and corrupt efforts to paint Michael Schiavo as some kind of an abusive husband; despite Scottie McClellan's implications that wanting to see this sad spectacle brought to a merciful end means you're opposed to "a culture of life;" despite all of that, the American public ain't buying it.

Not only does the majority of those polled support removing the poor woman's feeding tube and believe that it is inappropriate for Congress to get involved with this case, but remarkably, those calling themselves "Conservatives" and/or "Evangelical Christians" are seeing right through the cynical smokescreen.

GOP GROUPS – Views on this issue are informed more by ideological and religious views than by political partisanship. Republicans overall look much like Democrats and independents in their opinions. But two core Republican groups – conservatives and evangelical Protestants – are more divided: Fifty-four percent of conservatives support removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube, compared with seven in 10 moderates and liberals.

And evangelical Protestants divide about evenly – 46 percent are in favor of removing the tube, 44 percent opposed. Among non-evangelical Protestants, 77 percent are in favor – a huge division between evangelical and mainline Protestants.

Conservatives and evangelicals also are more likely to support federal intervention in the case, although it doesn’t reach a majority in either group. Indeed, conservative Republicans oppose involving the federal courts, by 57-41 percent.

Conservatives and evangelicals hold these views even though most people in both groups – 73 and 68 percent, respectively – say that if they personally were in this condition, they would not want to be kept alive.

Regardless of their preference on the Schiavo case, about two-thirds of conservatives and evangelicals alike call congressional intervention inappropriate. And majorities in both groups, as in others, are skeptical of the motivations of the political leaders seeking to extend Schiavo’s life.

As Kevin Drum notes, this whole circus was intended for the GOP's "base." And I have heard over and over on radio and TV that the GOP's "base" is "demanding that Terri Schiavo's life be saved." Well, apparently the "base" is a little closer to the mainstream than we've been led to believe. At least on the issue of not wanting to see the life of a person whose brain is severely damaged needlessly prolonged. And apparantly the "base" is made a little uneasy when politicians cynically intrude on a private matter in their name.

John Negroponte still haunted by death squads

John Negroponte, Bush's appointee for the job of intelligence director, continues to deny any awareness that death squads were operating in Honduras while he was ambassador there in the 1980s. I dunno, but I'd say the Washington Post is calling him a liar.

The disappearances continued after Negroponte became ambassador. The Valladares report cites 17 disappearances and kidnappings in 1982, 20 in 1983 and 18 in 1984. There were 26 disappearances in 1985, but they were mainly the work of the contras, rather than Honduran security forces, the report says. The kidnapped included trade union activists, journalists and professors opposed to the military authorities.

The embassy played down the problems in the annual human rights reports on Honduras that it was required to submit to Congress, according to declassified cables collected by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research group. In 1982, for example, the embassy recommended including a sentence asserting that there was "no evidence of systematic violation of judicial procedures" by the Honduran police.

"Allegations to the effect that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras appear to be totally without merit," the embassy cable added, reflecting a position Negroponte has maintained ever since.

In an interview, Binns noted that reporting about killings and disappearances "would have made it much more difficult to sustain our economic and security assistance" to Honduras.

A 1997 report by then-CIA Inspector General Frederick P. Hitz on CIA activities in Honduras contains numerous references to Negroponte's concerns about the possible "political ramifications" of negative human rights reporting. It cites several instances when reports were "suppressed" or given very limited circulation because of fears that they "would reflect negatively on Honduras." Hitz quoted an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency as saying that "the Embassy country team" wanted to keep human rights reporting "benign" in order "to avoid Congress looking over its shoulders and to keep Congress satisfied with the ongoing implementation of U.S. policy." The analyst's name was redacted.

Raymond Burghardt, head of the embassy's political section under Negroponte, said he never felt any pressure from Negroponte to "pull our punches or delude anybody in Washington as to what the real situation was." But he did not contest references in the 1997 CIA report to attempts by Negroponte to "manage perceptions" of Honduras in Washington at a time when the political debate about Central America was highly partisan.

I particularly admire Negroponte's defense that death squads weren't operating in Honduras because the number of disappearances didn't rise to the level of El Salvador, our other ally in the war against the Sandanistas.

Rendering Curt Schilling

Bizarro-world. A private Gulfstream owned by one of the owners of the Red Sox and used by the team has also been seen in such non-baseball locations as Guantanamo Bay, Milan, Cairo, Andrews Air Force Base.

In case you are wondering, this isn't the same plane that was offered to John Kerry's legal team on election night. This plane is owned by another Red Sox partner named Philip H. Morse. Morse, the wealthy former owner of a catheter company, is listed as the sole officer and director of a company called Assembly Point which Dun and Bradstreet describes as a "religious organization" that is somehow involved with "churches, temples and shrines."

Now this seems like it would be a good topic on which the congress could hold fruitful "baseball" hearings. They could call Curt "Bush shill" Schilling in just for fun and harrass him about whether he knows anything about his pals in the Bush administration using one of the Red Sox owners' private planes to transport suspects to countries where they can be tortured with impunity. And if he refuses to appear maybe the committee could charter the plane to take him to one of those countries that have been so helpful to us to see if he changes his mind.

Every time I think I'm beginning to become unhinged, events unfold that remind me that, no, it's not really me.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Madness marches on

I just have to think Joe Strummer is rolling in his grave every time a General Motors* commercial plays during the NCAA tournament.

* Corrections: The Vega regrets the earlier reference to "Chevrolet." The surviving members of The Clash (or whoever owns the rights to their songs) must have charged so much GM is using the tune as a corporate tool, not just for an individual marque (the Pontiac commercial for the "G6 -- I call it "Woman's Pointy Shoe Fetish" -- seems to be getting the heaviest airplay).

Also, changed the headline, for no reason at all. Updated at 7:38PM

Good news, bad news in Asia

The Medium Lobster tours the blogosphere this afternoon...

Laura Rozen calls our attention to a good news, bad news situation from the Washington Post. The bad news is that the Bush administration has been lying to its Asian allies, saying that North Korea sold nuclear materials to Libya. The good news is that North Korea didn't sell nuclear materials to Libya! The bad news is that Pakistan did. The good news is that Pakistan is a praiseworthy exemplar of democracy!

Doctor Rice's trip to Asia has led to some strangely contradictory headlines.

Based on Rice's recent pronouncement, is China friend?
U.S. pushes China to return North Korea to nuke talks

Or foe?

Rice stresses need for China arms embargo

It's difficult to say.

Mutual suspicion ahead of Rice's China visit

It'd be kinda good to clarify this, because China has certainly long since become our banker.

Until now, the U.S. has been able to dazzle currency traders with its deficits-don't-matter poker face. Yet it's clearly losing its ability to keep investors -- and central banks -- in check. Once central banks here in Asia turn on the dollar, the U.S. is in for some very turbulent times as bond yields surge.

The risk can be seen in China's evolving incentives to alter its dollar peg. The U.S. has been using its strength to push China to boost the yuan, thereby reducing its trade advantage. Yet it's the risk of instability and big losses on dollar holdings that may ultimately force China's hand. So it's U.S. weakness, not strength, that's turning heads in Beijing.

The Bush administration lies to them about N. Korea, yet demands they re-enter talks with Pyongyang, blusters about arms sales, and threatens them about trade balances, the administration seems to think China is in no position to fight back. That's obviously not the case, and the first example may be the unfortunate people of Taiwan, as China gets more aggressive in opposing Taiwan independence. The second example may well be a sell-off of dollars.

It's becoming the M.O. for Bush & Co. During the run-up to war in Iraq the Pentagon ran a simulated war game. But it was discontinued when the virtual Iraqis didn't just surrender, and instead retreated to mount a guerrilla war. So the administration continuously acts under the belief that other countries are not actors in their own fate. Bush is assuming that China will simply do what he wants them to do.

Governor Bush and futile medical care

Apparently, George W. Bush's commitment to the "culture of life" is a relatively recent development.

Kleiman points to two cases in Texas in which the hospital has or is about to withdraw the feeding tubes on patients who, unlike Terri Schiavo, are -- or were -- conscious, but considered terminal by their doctors. Life support is being removed over the objection of a child's mother and a 68 year old's wife. Of course, there is another factor: the patients' ability to pay ongoing medical costs. I don't pretend to know the facts of either case, and don't wish to suggest that the doctors are in any way evil, but it underscores the faux-ness of the outrage shown in Washington over Terri Schiavo, who has been in a vegetative state for 15 years.

The White House announced late Saturday that President Bush, who was vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., would make an unscheduled return on Sunday to Washington, where he would remain until early Monday in anticipation of signing the measure.

Cutting short his vacation? Gosh, he wouldn't even do that in August 2001.

Geeking it up in the House of Reps

Murray Chass says it all:

A Sign-Off Question

Members of the House committee alternated between telling the player witnesses how wonderful they were and asking them pointed questions and making harsh comments about baseball's reluctant testing policy. But the representatives were at their best when, in the lounge adjoining the hearing room, they asked players for their autographs and in at least one instance posed for a picture with a player.
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