Tuesday, January 31

Coretta Scott King: Dead at 78

It seems somehow symbolic that her death coincides with putting Samuel Alito onto the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, January 25

Let's Draw a Comparison, Shall We?

Take a look at this article, which states that:
Hundreds of officers and health care professionals have been discharged in the past 10 years under the Pentagon's policy on gays, a loss that while relatively small in numbers involves troops who are expensive for the military to educate and train.

The 350 or so affected are a tiny fraction of the 1.4 million members of the uniformed services and about 3.5 percent of the more than 10,000 people discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy since its inception in 1994.

But many were military school graduates or service members who went to medical school at the taxpayers' expense — troops not as easily replaced by a nation at war that is struggling to fill its enlistment quotas.
Now let's look at this one:
Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.
So here is the question: how much longer can this administration pretend that it cares about our troops? Is it worth getting rid of thousands of soldiers for no valid reason in order to satisfy bigots? Does this complete and utter idiocy do anything but damage the military?

Belafante on Blitzer

Check out this transcript of Belfante on the situation room. Notice the part where Blitzer tries to accuse Belafante of blaming Jews for the holocaust.

I think Blitzer is losing his mind.

[...]
BELAFONTE: Well, Mr. Blitzer, let me say this to you, perhaps, just perhaps had the Jews of Germany and people spoken out much earlier and had resisted the tyranny that was on the horizon, perhaps we would never have had...

BLITZER: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, are you blaming the Jews of Germany for what Hitler did to them?
[...]

Sunday, January 22

Gay Families Celebrating Easter? The Horrors!

MSNBC has this report, which talks about how same-sex couples are trying to sign up to be part of the White House Easter Egg Roll:
Three months before the annual Easter egg roll at the White House, the usually festive event is already taking on a divisive edge because of plans by gay- and lesbian-led families to turn out en masse in hopes of raising their public profile.
This has, apparently, made some right-wingnuts angry:
On conservative chat rooms, some critics of Family Pride suggested the White House could make the egg roll an invitation-only event, as it did in 2003 when attendance was limited to military families. Other critics said conservatives should mobilize to outnumber gay families at the egg roll.
My favorite part of that paragraph is the last sentence. Let's see it again: "Other critics said conservatives should mobilize to outnumber gay families at the egg roll."

Is this a challenge of some sort? Outnumbering gay families? That's sure to show them!

Will it somehow demonstrate that gay families are, in fact, a minority?

Perhaps it's just their way of demonstrating their hatred without actually calling anyone "queer."

Tuesday, January 17

Thomas, Scalia & Roberts: Activist Judges

There is no logical fashion to interpret the Federal Controlled Substances in the fashion that Ashcroft interpreted it. This was pure fabrication on Ashcroft's part. Thomas, Scalia and Roberts, however, chose to try to create a law out of nothing in today's Supreme Court decision.

This is why we know that this nonsense about "Activist Judges" is exactly that: nonsense. Complete and utter crap.

Saturday, January 14

Ah, those late night production sessions

Not a spoof!

At least this sorry episode produces one smile.

Forecast: Pathetic and Inept, with Occasional Flurries of Competence

Watching the Alito hearings is just disappointing. Even when they have a good question, Democrats can't seem to get it together enough to make the point in a way that the public can understand.

So we're really down to the question of whether they can pull something out of their hat that they can use to justify a filibuster against Alito's confirmation, and even though, to me, they have every possible reason to filibuster him, they're not selling it right and some key (read: old-time) Democrats are abdicating their responsibilities on it. (this is one reason I've suppored a supermajority requirement for federal judiciary confirmations: not 50%, but 60%; with such a requirement, Bush would be forced to listen to Democrats, even as a minority party).

Alito's going to help overturn Roe v. Wade, not through a single vote, but through a slow series of whittling away at it, whch has been the plan all along. The intelligent anti-choice folks know that this is the only way to achieve it without losing at the ballot box.

I like seeing what Reid's been doing with respect to Delay and corruption in Congress, but that pales in comparason to the Supreme Court we're about to get. If the Democrats don't make this about wiretapping and Alito's history of deference to the executive branch, we're all screwed.

Friday, January 13

Someone's had too much coffee

Remember that very powerful bomb that was planted in a Starbuck's restroom by a terrorist the other day? They had to evacuate neighbors from their apartments?

Police initially said the device found in the store's bathroom Monday was powerful enough to seriously injure or kill someone if it had exploded. Police evacuated about 100 people from the Starbucks and apartments above it.

Turns out the "terrorist" was a homeless man and the "powerful bomb" was a flashlight with dead batteries.

I get being nervous about terrorism. I really do. But whatever happened to probable cause? Come on - flipping out over a flashlight? Making announcements to the press about the power of a bomb when you haven't yet verified that it even is a bomb? Is it still September 12?

If you're worried about bombs in coffee shops, then please be vigilant. Please be safe. But please don't be ridiculous!

Saturday, January 7

On Israel, Iran and the Succession ...

Ariel Sharon is a dead man still breathing, his era has
passed, and a new day is coming for Israel. That sounds
callous, I suspect, but let's be clear - I hope Sharon
can recover but the prognosis is terrible. I'm a realist,
and it would appear that new (old) leadership will
come to the fore.

His deputy, Ehud Olmert, is a likable man according to
reports, and experienced, but without Sharon's national
stature and probably unlikely to take Sharon's new
party Kadima to victory in the upcoming elections, which
as I recall are to occur in either February or March. Even
though Olmert is the apparent heir apparent for Sharon,
this writer believes he'll get swept away during the next
election cycle in Israel.

It would seem at this distance that the leading candidates
to replace Sharon in the long term are two previous Prime
Ministers, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. Looking
them up today, Peres had announced a month ago that he
was leaving his forty year allegiance with the Labor party
to join Sharon's Kadima effort. With Sharon's impending
demise, will that committment stay in place? Netanyahu
has stated in recent weeks that he believes Israel ought to
attack Iran before Iran gains nuclear weapons capability,
an idea which is also (rumored to be) being noised about
by Washington, if one can believe the press in Germany
(at the least, the American press has seemingly not picked
up on this).

One would suggest that _some_ kind of peace process
would appear to be more likely if Peres is elected (albeit
nebulous, it's not at all clear what Peres would do if
elected and assuming he's even running), and that the
possibility of an ugly war is more likely in the Netanyahu
case. However, in neither case is it at all clear what
Israel's long term policy would be, or how the general
electorate of Israel will react to the death of Sharon, or
what Sharon's passing from the scene will mean in
terms of Israel's relationship with Mahmoud Abbas'
embattled Palestinian organization, or the potential for
Hamas to win the (scheduled for 25 January) Palestinian
elections which may or may not occur at month's end.

Abbas may be willing to negotiate with Israel, but one
suspects the alleged terrorist organization Hamas will
not be so willing and that doesn't even begin to address
all the other outfits plying their terrorist ways in the
Palestinian territories, such as Hezbollah. If Fatah had
a bad name for terroristic behavior Hamas has a worse
one. Either candidate will have to deal with whoever
wins the Palestinian elections, assuming that they are
even held (which looks less likely, especially if Sharon
dies any time soon, which, unfortunately, does look
likely).

Something has to give as far as the Palestinian situation
is concerned, and preemptive war with Iran will _not_
solve that problem, in fact it may create a bigger one. A
member of POLITICS suggested the other day that Iran
had to be taken out before it became a nuclear power, and
suggested a "cost-benefit analysis"made it clear that more
benefit than cost would occur from such attacks. I surmise
that war with Iran will reverberate badly for both Israel
and the United States (Israel will not make such attacks
unless they have the backing of the Bush administration,
and I believe that backing already exists).

Sharon's probable demise opens up a seeming black hole
of bad choices to be made by all parties concerned no
matter who ends up succeeding the dying Prime Minister.
I'm sure the millenarists and neo-cons are hopingIsrael
does go to war, but one suspects that it will be _at least_
a two-front conflict. Does anyone really expect the
Palestinians to be quiescent while Israel goes at Iran?
Does_anyone_ see the long-term potential repurcussions
to such a conflict? One's immediate guess is no. I also
suspect that the cost-benefit analysis is skewed, and
that the cost will be much higher than anyone guesses.

One reason is that the chances are better than even that
if such a conflict unfolds (and I would say the odds of it
happening are about 5-1 right now), the world may see
the first use of some kind of nuclear weapon since 1945,
and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Does anyone
realistically looking at this scenario really believe the
mullahs in Iran will be toppled if Tehran is attacked?
Iran has 63 million people, Israel has about six million,
and Iran will not take an attack lying down. Their
populace will rally to the government if Israel goes to
war. They are fairly heavily armed, and though
not as good as Israel militarily, they will fight back, as
will organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and the
death toll will be bad.

Peace seems farther away than ever, and all because
an overweight man in his seventies is dying in a
Jerusalem hospital. Sharon's family and his country
have all my sympathy, the road ahead looks pretty
damned rocky when he finally passes from the scene. VMS

Sunday, January 1

Is Joe Lieberman the Future of Liberalism?

In case nobody's presented him with a suitable award yet; I think that Joe Lieberman is clearly the leading candidate for the prestigious, "Grover Norquist Domesticated Democrat of the Year Award." The award was conceived based upon Norquist's remarks to a Washington Post reporter:

"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such."


Rumor has it that the gratuity this year may include a cabinet post from the White House , while, in the most heartening development that I've seen in several years, it appears that the progressive grassroots may attempt to deliver
Lieberman a large, full-featured clue-by-four.



Could it be? Could the progressive community actually take down some of the spineless, supine wretches that have cashed in the slender dime's worth of difference that once existed between the two parties - and take out the Democrat political consultants who have destroyed the receipt and stolen the change?



And how did the progressive community become so marginalized in the first place? I have some theories, but first I'd like to digress a bit...



I've been thinking about this since the latest revelations of another of Bush's impeachable offenses (the warrantless spying) came to light. The nearly insurmountable obstacles to getting Congress to investigate even the most egregious of the Bush administration's offenses highlights how marginalized progressives have become and how little representation they have in any branch of government. Also significant is how conservatives who once might have been considered principled about limiting the intrusive powers of government are shackled and gagged by party discipline. They shy away from standing up on their hind legs and protecting their own power by defending the Constitutional prerogatives of Congress against encroachments by the executive branch. They seem even less interested in risking the wrath of the party apparatus by standing up for the the rights of citizens and the rule of law.



The whole topic of Bush's excesses, public opinion and tipping points reminds me of other episodes of executive overreach, particularly in the Wilson administration. The Wilson administration engaged in terrible excesses , created an enormous propaganda machine to sell a war to the public and persecuted political opponents, even jailing the candidate of another party for "sedition." The candidate, Eugene Debs , managed to win almost a million votes in a presidential election while cooling his heels in jail.



A number of interesting comparisons between the Wilson and Dubya eras pop into my head. First, there's the vesting of extreme power in the executive and the willingness of the public and much of the Congress to play along. The Senate in 1919 unanimously passed a resolution pressuring the administration to "inform it whether [it] had yet begun legal proceedings against those who preached anarchy and sedition." The biographer of Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer wrote that:



after passage of the Senate resolution, Palmer decided that the "very liberal" provisions of the Bill of Rights were expendable and that in a time of emergency there were "no limits" on the power of the government "other than the extent of the emergency." -- more here


Second, there's the identification of internal enemies of the state and the use of extraordinary measures against them. (From the same source as above):

"During the months following the "Palmer raids," a group of distinguished lawyers and law professors prepared a report denouncing the violation of law by the Justice Department. They included Dean Roscoe Pound, Felix Frankfurter, and Zechariah Chafee, Jr. of the Harvard Law School, Ernest Freund of the University of Chicago Law School, and other eminent lawyers and legal scholars. The committee found federal agents guilty of using third-degree tortures, making illegal searches and arrests, using agent provocateurs, and forcing aliens to incriminate themselves."


Another interesting parallel was the use of the military and military intelligence within the US and the blurring of distinctions between foreign and domestic intelligence-gathering:



"Parallel to the Justice Department and Immigration Bureau operations, military intelligence continued its wartime surveillance into the post-war era. After a temporary cut-back in early 1919, the Military Intelligence Division resumed investigations aimed at strikes, labor unrest, radicals, and the foreign language press. The American Protective League disbanded, but its former members still served as volunteer agents for military intelligence as well as for the Bureau of Investigation. While the military did not play a significant role in the "Palmer raids," troops were called upon in 1919 to control race riots in several cities and to maintain order during a steel strike in Gary, Indiana, where the city was placed under "modified martial law." Following the 1920 round-up of aliens, J. Edgar Hoover arranged for mutual cooperation between the GID and military intelligence. Reports from the Bureau of Investigation would be shared with the military, and investigations conducted at military request. In return, military intelligence agreed to provide Hoover with information from foreign sources, since the State Department had refused to do so and Hoover was prohibited from having agents or informants
outside the United States."


Third, and in many ways most interesting, is the tipping point in public opinion. In 1920 at the height of the public fear engineered by A. Mitchell Palmer and his stenchly henchman, the young J. Edgar Hoover , Palmer declared that a communist insurrection was imminent on the First of May, creating a public panic. When the revolution failed to manifest, public opinion began to turn against the Red Scare tactics. In the aftermath, both Wilson and Palmer failed in attempts to obtain the Democratic Party's nomination to run for the presidency in 1920. The election of 1920 and the public's embrace of Harding's "return to normalcy" was in many ways a repudiation of the Wilson administration. It seems to me that when historians look back at the Dubya era, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction or validate any of the neocon rationales for embarking on the Iraq war will likely be identified as the tipping point in public opinion.



The swing of the political pendulum is a messy thing, affecting both babies and bathwater , diminishing both, but fully disposing of neither. In the wake of the Red Scares the ACLU was born and wriggled in the tub. Unfortunately, J. Edgar Hoover was left to dirty the water and leave a nasty, filthy ring, menacing the public and civil liberties for decades afterwards. While public interest in protecting civil rights and liberties was renewed, unfortunately, memes were set in the public mind, organizational structures were built and patterns were set for later repetition.



An interesting thing to consider is that the groups that were targetted for attack, anarchists, communists, socialists, organized labor, women's rights advocates and advocates of racial equality all continued to be harassed, infiltrated and disrupted for years to come by the government. The more radical groups were neutralized first, and perhaps among them there were indeed a few people who were not interested in political change through civil persuasion. Unfortunately, the government didn't stop there. The government that was formed to protect your life, liberty and property engaged in tapping Martin Luther King's phone to dig up dirt and tried to coerce him to commit suicide on the eve of recieving the Nobel Peace Prize. J. Edgar Hoover and his agency considered MLK a threat to America:

"We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security... it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees." -- William C. Sullivan, head of COINTELPRO, in a memo written shortly after King's "I Have a Dream" speech of August 28, 1963


By the mid 1950's the government worked up to infiltrating and attempting to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the activities of an extremely broad range of dissenting political and social movements and their leaders as well as popular culture figures like John Lennon. This campaign went on for more than a decade before it was exposed and allegedly terminated.



It seems to me that the effect of this history of government neutralization of challenges to the established order has been to steadily diminish the ability of Americans to freely engage in a social conversation, organize themselves politically or express themselves artistically without reprisals or fear of them. As the Church Committee report put it:



"Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that...the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propogation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence."


Given the Pentagon's recent domestic spying actions, it appears that the government hasn't learned much since the 1920's; it still has a little trouble
discerning what is dangerous.



It strikes me that in these days of terror threats and mounting rhetoric about how "liberals," while perhaps well-meaning are dangerous because they just don't understand what it takes to stop dangerous, radical, Terriss groups.



“To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends,'’ -- Attorney General John Ashcroft, Dec. 6, 2001 before Senate Judiciary committee


"Liberalism is a mental disorder that has undermined our families, our society, and our national security" -- Michael Savage, Newsmax.com interview 2/1/03


The likely end result of targetted assaults on "liberal" groups and individuals will be the further narrowing of the diversity of political beliefs that can be espoused and championed by candidates for office and a chilling effect on free expression by citizens.

By the time Bush and his minions are done, Joe Lieberman may represent the "extreme liberal" viewpoint and be the standard-bearer of liberalism.



It seems to me that now is the time America needs some fire-breathing, stand-and-fight progressives. It's time to let the current crop of spineless
wimps know that they will either have to fight for us or pay for their perfidy at the polls. They can stand with us, shoulder to shoulder or toe to toe.



I think we better get busy, we don't appear to have time to mess around.