my pissant two cents

Friday, December 24, 2004

take a picture of your rights....

flush with victory, narrow though it was, bush and his rightwing puppetmasters are preparing for a fight to thrust ultra-conservative judges onto some of the most important positions on the federal bench.

expect it to get ugly.

according to the washington post, bush is planning on nominating 20 judges, 12 of them to appeals courts, eight to districts. this wouldn't be very newsworthy, except for the fact that several of them were nominated in his first term, but those nominations were blocked by democrats. the reason for the stonewall was their extremist positions. one, california supreme court justice janice rogers brown, is on record referring to fdr's new deal, which helped lift the nation out of the death spiral of the great depression, as "a socialist revolution." and that was among the milder marks against her.

article 3 judges, those given lifetime tenure in federal courts, are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the senate. as the rules presently hold, it takes 60 votes to overcome a senate filibuster; so, in effect, it takes 60 votes to confirm a judge. the democrats wielded the strength for filibusters on brown, texas supreme court justice priscilla richman owen (whom her colleagues on the texas court have described as an "unconscionable" judicial activist), former associate white house counsel brett m. kavanaugh (who has 14 years and zero trial experience since finishing law school) and others during bush's first term. but with republicans picking up four additional senate seats in november, that strength is waning.

the republicans are ready to beat the democrats into a procedural coma. the so-called "nuclear option" has been mentioned. in it, republicans change the rules of the senate to declare filibusters unconstitutional, thereby removing the sole bulwark against a majority in the chamber steamrolling its agenda over everything in its path. this is no small feat, and something the democrats never did in their half-century of senate dominion. but, as we have seen in the tom delay episode, republicans are not shy about changing the rules when it suits their expedient needs.

the democrats are in an interesting predicament. they can plant their feet and fight, opening themselves up for a smear campaign as obstructionists, or they can play the toothless role of the loyal opposition and rubber stamp bush's nominees. the new minority leader, harry reid of nevada, has indicated he's willing to pick a fight where it's necessary. but he's also known as a consensus builder.

if consensus means going along with the gop's pushing the federal courts ever rightward, or if opposition means nothing more than shaking one's fist, it's as good as a surrender. and this is no time for surrender. when you're talking about lifetime appointments of people who believe the social safety net built in the new deal-- or what's left of it-- is a communist plot, or who compare pro-choice advocates to nazis (arkansas district court nominee j. leon holmes), or who advocate tax-exempt status for racially discriminatory institutions (ninth circuit nominee carolyn kuhl), you're talking about a decades-long course of regression and repression.

these are not measured legal minds. these are advocates in black robes, with the authority to decide the fate, not only of the parties before them, but the fate of all those who fall under the the influence of the law. in short, it effects all of us.

should bush ram these nominees through the senate, i strongly urge you to take a picture of your rights. because you won't recognize them in a few years.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

the outrage gap

the news keeps getting worse and worse, and america is worried about "the biggest loser," and just screaming for the next season of "american idol." i've got news for you, folks: america's idol is a dolt with a messianic complex, and the biggest loser is you.

i'll tell you why. the united states is a pariah nation, if not merely on the fast track to becoming one. not unlike libya, pol pot's cambodia, and that abandoned oil platform in the north atlnatic a family claimed sovereignty for. but much worse. unlike the others, the u.s. claims the moral high ground-- in fact, claiming divine provinence-- in its war on terror that has claimed thousands of innocent victims, and made torturers of us all.

remember the germans who willfully believed the jews were sent to the east for their own safety? we're sort of like them, but unlike them we can't claim any level of ignorance of the truth. we've been bombarded with the truth, but choose to ignore it. the photos that leaked out of abu graibh, showing sexual humiliation, real and threatened violence and inhuman conditions, remove the veil of plausible deniability. and the news keeps getting worse and worse.

the aclu, the center for constitutional rights, veterans for peace and other organizations released documents that they finally received under a freedom of information act request that describe, in no uncertain terms, torture. not highjinx, not fraternity-style hazing, but torture. the accusers? not weepy, birkenstock-wearing, patchouli-smelling granola munchers, but the federal bureau of investigation.

the house that j. edgar built is claiming, through a set of e-mails uncovered in the foia request, that "interrogators" from the department of defense are torturing inmates for information. that's hardly news. what is interesting is that the defense department spooks are doing so under the guise of f.b.i. investigation. the reason is so they will be able to deny their involvement, the d.o.d. can claim ignorance, and the f.b.i. can honestly say they had nothing to do with it. one e-mail states, "if this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, dod interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the 'fbi' interrogators. the fbi will [be] left holding the bag before the public."

nice little gimmick, huh?

there's more. another e-mail describes detainees chained wrist-to-ankle in the fetal position for up to 24 hours, many of whom had urinated or defecated on themselves. Another recounts an episode wherein a detainee was kept in an unventilated room "probably well over 100 degrees" where he was found "almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. he had apparently been pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

at least one of the agents responsible for the e-mails said that he or she had documented the abuse only to protect the bureau if and when the information became public.

there were more reports. threatened executions. the firing of weapons from point-blank range aimed just past the victims. savage beatings of cuffed and shackled victims. unexplained deaths while in custody of seemingly healthy detainees. rapes of male juveniles.

pentagon and white house officials were quick to deny culpability. bush apologists were quick to point to the prosecutions of a handful of low-level soldiers in connection with the abu graibh investigation as evidence of official reprobation.

this ignores the obvious fact: someone, maybe rumsfeld, maybe bush, knows about this and has at least tacitly approved it. this is obvious. this is undoubted. this is unacceptable.

america, where is your outrage?

this is not about getting the bad guys. everybody from the red cross/red crescent to the department of defense has acknowledged that the round ups have netted mostly innocent bystanders, the hapless people who find themselves looking down the business end of an m-16, saying the arabic equivalent of "what the fuck?"

it is also not about preventing another 9/11. everybody, including the f.b.i. and c.i.a., acknowledges that torture does not render reliable information. one of the e-mails specifically notes that normal investigative techniques would deliver far more useful information.

no, this is about instilling fear. if you cavort with somebody who may be a terrorist or insurgent, this could be you. hey falluja, uncle sam don't take no guff from towelheads, so watch your step. if there's a lesson coming from falluja, it's that no one is safe while an insurgent is free. falluja wasn't destroyed in order to save it, but to make an example. like the heads on spikes at a medieval village gates, the warning is there for all to see.

the suicide bomber in mosul who took the lives of 22 americans-- and allah only knows how many iraqis-- has brought a hellbroth of hurt down on his countrymen and -women. there is a bloodlust afoot, and it will be quenched. like the nazi commissars who took ten lives for every german soldier killed by "insurgents" in occupied europe, the american occupation will exact its revenge. in one sense or another, blood will be spilled in a grisly quid pro quo.

and we are all to blame. when we do nothing, we acquiesce. when we make excuses, we condone. when we call for bloody justice, we approve.

but when we express our national shame and outrage, we save our souls. there is still time. we must save our souls.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

their idea of morals and mine are very different

i've had just about enough of the moralists on the right, and the jelly-legged democrats enabling them. the claim that "moral values" trumped the economy and the hellbroth in iraq at last month's election seems to be a golem gone amok. and people who should know better are cowering from it.

once again, the right is defining the terms of the debate. morals, apparently, only enter into the issues of gay marriage and abortion. they have nothing to do with, say, feeding hungry children, acting with compassion toward those rendered impoverished by unfettered capitalism, or healing the sick. no, my friends, it is only whom you pledge your immortal love to and whether, as a woman, you may choose your biological fate that concerns these self-proclaimed arbiters of morality.

i don't buy it.

i come from a church-going baptist family, and i know a thing or two about people who take it upon themselves to decide whether you're godly enough. i know enough to know that there aren't enough stones for these glasshouse dwellers. and i also know that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

nevertheless, there are plenty of examples of fear-based self-censorship based on the supposed march of the morality police. all three major networks refused to air public service ads by the united church of christ professing the church's acceptance of all races and creeds, including homosexuals. the problem? too controversial. wrap your mind around that for a second. non-discrimination is too hot to handle.

and let's not forget the recent broadcast of "saving private ryan." on veteran's day. the day we remember veterans and the sacrifices they made for our freedom. however, at the hint of complaint from the religious right, 66 abc affiliates dropped the film. because, apparently, when veterans of world war 2 were under fire, they occasionally used the s-word. and sometimes even the f-word. while they were being shot at. for our freedom. to use the f-word, for example.

this brings me to an interesting question about censorship. f.c.c. chair michael powell has recommended no action against stations that broadcast "saving private ryan" in its unedited form. so apparently, there was a content-based decision determining that it was not indecent to show that film, with its potty-mouthed dogfaces. however, howard stern, who studiously avoids the deadly words and instead has mastered the euphemism and scientific vernacular to get his salacious points across, is looking at millions in fines. not that i leap to stern's defense, but the first step on a slippery slope is the easiest, and once the government starts deciding whose bad words are actionable you're already en route to the bottom.

as frank rich writes in the new york times, the new liam neeson film "kinsey" has the moralists in a snit also. whether they've seen it or not, they have no doubt that the film-- a fairly nuts-n-bolts look at the zoologist who studied human sexuality with candor theretofore unheard of-- is the first step toward pagans and perverts giving how-to classes in grammar schools everywhere. not that such a thing wouldn't be better than the abstinence-only tripe being shoveled out to students today. as a columbia university survey shows, california, which foregoes federal funds to free itself from the abstinence-only chains, has seen a 40-percent drop in teen pregnancy, while 88 percent of "virginity pledge" teens have premarital sex and use contraception at far lower rates than those who make no such pledge.

i'm finding a little encouragement that a few on the left are calling for some backbone to stand up to these hypocrites. the website sent out an e-mailer to their faithful, reminding them that only 22% of those who claimed morals guided their votes held that gay marriage and abortion moved their votes, whereas 42% said iraq was their biggest concern. (this last figure is ambiguous though, since it doesn't differentiate between war supporters and opponents.) they're circulating an e-petition to remind those in d.c. that the religious right does not own morals, and that peace and justice are moral issues also. (

i'm not religious, but the words of jesus are pretty clear on casting aspersions on others and proclaiming your piety. they also speak of the moral imperative of taking care of those in need. they speak of the duty to act for peace and mercy. they speak against greed and avarice. it seems to me that jesus, whether you consider him a deity or a misunderstood rabbi, was wise and kind.

and it strikes me that his idea of morality is quite different from that of those self-elected presidents of his fan club.

Monday, December 13, 2004

bottom of the ninth

the ninth circuit court of appeals is in no danger of losing its chief claim to fame: the most overturned circuit court in the country. but it's not the worst appellation an appellate court can have. when you think about it, getting overturned by the rehnquist supreme court is like being on nixon's "enemies of the white house" list.

today, the supreme court overturned the ninth circuit on two different cases, each one letting the police get away with just a little more. each one rolling back just a bit of your freedom. each one blurring the line between paranoia and rationality a little bit more.

the first case, brosseau v. haugen, is the washington state case of a police woman who shot and seriously wounded a man who was trying to drive away when she went to his home to arrest him. the man was accused of selling drugs and stealing tools from a coworker. neither of these is a violent crime, nor of itself would justify the use of deadly force. the rule regarding lethal force had been that it can only be used in self defense or defense of others, or when there was reasonable belief that the fleeing suspect posed an immediate threat to public safety.

the ninth circuit said it was for a jury to decide whether the officer used excessive force, given the totality of the circumstances. but in a 8-1 decision, the supreme court disagreed. the majority ruled that the benefit of the doubt should be given to an officer in that situation. cops should not have to make snap decisions when their and the public's safety is on the line.

well, that's fine and all. but the facts of this case are pretty clear. the suspect was unarmed, and did not threaten the officer's safety. the decision relies on the highly arguable notion that the fleeing driver might pose a safety hazard on the road, and therefore deadly force could be justified. therefore, the justices invoked "qualified immunity," the legal doctrine that public officials, including police, cannot be sued unless there is a clear-cut violation of the law. only justice john paul stevens thought the present facts were clear cut.

qualified immunity is intended to give public officials enough leeway to do their jobs without worrying about getting sued. this sounds reasonable. but in effect, it means that only the most egregious forms of police abuse are actionable.

a similar ruling came down in another washington state case, devenpeck v. alford. there, a man was stopped on suspicion that he was impersonating a police officer. when the sergeant searched the suspect's vehicle, he found a tape recorder capturing the conversation, and arrested the man for violating the state's privacy act. when the state court threw out the charges, the man sued. interestingly enough, the suspect had greater knowledge of the law than the police sergeant, and carried a copy of the state court case that allowed him to record police officers in the course of their duties in his glove box. but the sergeant never looked at it.

this would be a case of "willful blindness," wherein somebody deliberately ignores something that would compel him to act in a particular fashion. for example: if you don't know you can't arrest a man for tape recording you, then there's nothing to stop you. this willful blindness alone should have been enough to let the suspect's case go forward.

but again, the supreme court didn't think so. in an 8-0 shutout (rehnquist did not partake in the decision), they decided that since the suspect could have been arrested for impersonating an officer, the fact that he was improperly arrested only for the tape recording is irrelevant. not even justice stevens argued this point.

one of the bitterest moments in law school is when you realize that the great notions captured in the bill of rights are phantasms. they appear to be solid, indomitable, unrelenting. but you read in case after case how those rights are minimized, neglected, and disregarded, until they are empty shells. it's like watching the heavyweight champ get beaten to death by a moth. it doesn't seem like much is happening, but eventually the big man falls.

these two cases are like the flapping of that moth's wings. a couple of more hits, and the boxer's knees wobble. a couple more, and his eyes glaze over.

how many more shots can he take before he hits the canvas?

Friday, December 10, 2004

game on?

i'm a hockey freak. i will watch hockey all day long, then go play all night long. and i gotta tell ya, this freakin' lock-out is killing me. it's been 86 days, 386 games, and the all star game gone to waste. and i'm dying.

i am looking with a little hope and a little fear at the proposal the players union gave the owners yesterday. it's 236 pages long, and has give-backs all over the joint, but the big issue is a 24% pay cut across the board. they say that will save the owners more than half a billion dollars over the next three years. the owners have claimed losing nearly two billion over the past ten years.

the numbers have been the core of the dispute. the owners claim they will lose less money by not playing during the lockout than they would if they did play. the union claims that the owners are doctoring the numbers in their favor, primarily by picking and choosing what they consider income. for example, the anschutz people who own the los angeles kings also own the staples center. what, if any, of the income from the staples center is attributed to the kings? only the accountants know....

the givebacks are a lesson in monopoly economics. it's all very simple. the nhl is the only game in town. although many players have gone to europe to play while the union and the owners have ignored each other, the pay is much lower and the competition not as challenging. in short, there's only one way to play, and it's the owners' way.

the union realized that, apparently, when they made the proposal that not only gives back 1/4 of the payroll, it also caps rookie salaries and performance bonuses. it also establishes a rather punitive payroll tax, whereby teams that spend more than $45 million on payroll pay as much as 70 cents on the dollar into a fund that gets distributed among the teams at the low end of the revenue scale.

will that be enough to get the owners to unlock the arenas? maybe. but the demand up to now has been for a salary cap. nothing short of that has been acceptable. commissioner gary bettman has been just short of spitting on previous union attempts to negotiate, holding doggedly to his salary cap demand, which he couches in terms of "cost certainty." but there seems to be some wiggle room now.

not that there isn't plenty to be steamed at the owners about.... let's not forget that they're the ones bidding on players and jacking up salaries. they also did not think far enough ahead when they expanded to 30 teams. some of the teams, like san jose, minnesota and tampa bay, have been pretty successful on the ice and on the spreadsheet. others, like florida, carolina and atlanta, have not done so well. it's those unsuccessful franchises, more than the weak canadian dollar or small-market teams, that are bringing the league down. combine that with the wild spending of teams like detroit and the new york rangers, and the haves and have-nots aren't even within shouting distance of one another.

the lesson to be taken, i think, is that expansion is a cruel bitch goddess. you can't really control it, but the appeal is so strong, especially when franchise fees get passed around. apparently, the first atlanta franchise should have been a good clue; they left town about 20 years ago and relocated to calgary. and maybe florida's not big enough for two hockey teams. carolina's owner was among those saying that he'll actually save money during the lockout. want to save more? fold the team.

the players vented some frustration in the past few days. phoenix player rep shane doan told the vancouver province that bettman's quest for cost certainty is an attempt to save his job. detroit's kris draper told the toronto sun that league expansion has priced the league out of its own reach, and now bettman wants the players to fix it.

bettman called it sour grapes.

but now the players have done their part. a 25% pay cut is a lot. even if you make $8 million a year. and bear in mind, not a whole lot of players make that much. bear in mind further that they are one shift, one trip, one awkward fall into the board away from a career-ending injury. so they are not exactly collecting free money. the work and dedication it takes to get and maintain an nhl career is nothing to sneeze at. you don't think it's hard? watch a college game, or a minor league game (lord knows i have, just to satisfy my jones in these three bitter months). there's no comparison.

the price of the owners' holding onto an all-or-nothing position may be more than a few shekels this year. it may take a long, long time to get back the goodwill of the fans. there is a small but hardcore fan base in the u.s. they were built in the post "miracle on ice" years, they watched the league grow with gretzky, and they gave a good look at expansion. then, after a stellar, epic 1994 stanley cup final between the rangers and the vancouver canucks. east vs. west, u.s. vs. canada, bruisers vs. rockets, they had the lock out. all that interest and excitement, and the league pissed it away.

calgary vs. tampa was not exactly that kind of finale, but it was a first cup for a franchise team in the sunbelt, and a gutty, tooth-and-nail battle for a small-market canadian team. old-time hockey. it took the league a long time to recover from the '94 lockout.

losing this season could very well prove fatal to all but the hardiest of fans. and teams.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

the gauntlet is thrown

although he didn't come right out and say it, former vermont governor howard dean made his intentions known today; he wants to lead the democratic party out of its doldrums and into a successful future.

in a speech at george washington university, dean spoke out about the future of the democratic party, and what it needs to do to build on its success, learn from its failure, and lead into the future. in short, he staked his claim to the party chairmanship. and he did so in a fantastic fashion. had he had half of dean's gift for firing up a crowd, john kerry would be picking his secretary of agriculture today. but that's another story....

and more power to howard dean, i say. the man can flat-out go. snake-handling tent preachers have nothing on the good doctor in the field of rhetoric. give yourself a treat and read a transcript of his statement. (check it out at

in case you don't want to look at it, here's a summary: the republicans have failed, and the democrats have failed to call them on it. democratic ideals resonate with middle america-- even red state america-- if democrats make the effort to speak directly and candidly about the party's goals. when democrats try to act like republicans, they lose. when democrats try to be everything to everyone, they lose. when democrats work with grassroots movements, they win.

and, most importantly is this, for which paraphrase will not suffice: "the way we will rebuild the democratic party is not from consultants down, but from the ground up."

if that doesn't set your progressive blood at least on simmer, you are either dead or karl rove. who is not dead. he's the undead.

dean spoke specifically about committing to every voter in every precinct. that's a mighty highfalutin goal. but nevertheless, it's a good idea. it's a small-ball way to win. the democrats have long relied on the late-inning home run to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. but lately, mighty casey hasn't gotten the bat off his shoulder, outside of john kerry's warning track power. what dean advocates is building support from the lowest levels of government, like city councils and school baords.

this is nothing new. the right made this move 15 years ago. when the religious right helped put bush 1 into office in 1989, and he failed to kowtow to their agenda, they moved to build a wide base at lower levels of government and percolate their influence upward. it worked.

(aside: i once interviewed a school board member in queens, a right-wing aparatchik with no children, who strove zealously to change the history curriculum to include books like the wonderfully alliterative columbus and cortez, crusaders for christ. it stood for the proposition that killing those indigenous people who weren't coerced into loving jesus did their savage souls a favor.)

no less a light than eleanor clift, newsweek's liberal pundit who regularly gets things right (which marginalizes her far more severely than her politics), is in favor of a dean chairmanship of the d.n.c. like a lot of people, she blames the washington insiders who guided kerry's campaign for the loss. like a lot of people, she took a shine to dean's plain-spoken criticism of bush and his stupid, stupid war. but she's got a good view of the chess match that's playing out behind the scenes.

others, like hans nichols of the hill, the ultra-insider political newsletter, have contingencied the issue to death. there are plenty of people willing to take the party chair, but what will they do with it? according to nichols, the fight will come down to dean and whomever the party bosses can get to run against him. a likely candidate is longtime democratic operative and former clinton staffer harold ickes, who has had his fingers in many pies over the years. nichols argues that a dean/ickes fight opens the door for a darkhorse candidate, one who can satisfy the middle-ground delegates on the committee.

strangely enough, dean's colleagues among the governors of the several states have not come out to back him. as i pointed out last week, they have called for a more moderate, republican-lite leader for the party. their alignment with the democratic leadership council and others looking to box out the left wing of the party could kill dean's run as effectively as they killed his presidential campaign.

should the democrats succeed in keeping dean out of the party machinery, they may very well be signing their death warrant. the democrats' failure is a long-running slide, clinton notwithstanding. (but then, clinton was a republican in all but social issues-- pro-business, pro-nafta, pro-welfare "reform" is the clinton legacy.) it's like getting devoured by a caterpillar. the first thousand bites or so don't really matter, but eventually you're dead.

the democrats need a leader to take up the fight and take it to the republicans' door. if howard dean can't be that leader, the democrats desperately need to find someone who can.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

file under "f" for "f, what the"

i have a recurring nightmare, one that snaps me awake in the dead of night, teeth clenched in mortal terror, hands gripping the linens like a young chimp clings to its mother. it involves nine tiny but acrid words. they sting like the venom of a spitting cobra, and they have longer enduring harm. those words: "chief justice scalia delivered the opinion of the court."

i have talked myself blue in the face over scalia. he is a dangerous man. he is a reactionary of the worst sort. he is a sophist who parses, dissects and batters language until it fits his feverish vision of america. that vision, i strongly suspect, includes the good old days when burning witches and heretics and denying two-fifths of the humanity of african-americans were de riguer. worst of all, for now, is the fact of his lifetime tenure. i say "for now" because that could change, for the worse and sooner than later, and the guy who's supposed keep tabs on these things says that's a-okay.

senator harry reid, (d-nv), the new minority leader, says that he is fine with scalia as chief justice. because he's a smart guy. well, ok. i'm a smart guy. but i shouldn't be chief justice, although i strongly suspect that i could do at least as well as scalia, with a lot less atavistic judicial activism.

scalia is the golden child of the federalist society. you may have heard of them. they claim to be good, old-fashioned conservatives who want to take the courts out of the lawmaking business and give the states authority to create and interpret their laws. what they really are is ravening wolves in sheep's clothing. they are free-market zealots, pushing for legalistic justifications for the neo-con domestic agenda: deregulation, deregulation and deregulation. oh, and repeal of the new deal. oh, and tax breaks for the extremely rich. and ban anything that benefits minorities. and create laws that make all of these things happen.

scalia has toed that line very well. just try to find a decision where scalia supports a decision against a corporation. try to find a case where scalia supports minority rights.

(this last one is kind of a trick question. in r.a.v. v. st. paul, scalia voted against a municipal code that banned hate speech on the basis of race, creed, color, religion or gender. his rationale was that the law did not define enough categories as hate speech. not because he opposes limiting the free range of debate, but because he's in favor of racial slurs. it's a typical scalia technique: take the result you want and work backwards to rationalize it.)

sen. reid made his announcement sunday, on "meet the press." he was asked about the supreme court, four members of which are more than 70 years old and at least three of whom are known to have suffered bouts of cancer. most recently was chief justice rehnquist, who underwent treatment for thyroid cancer just after the election. (i don't think that's a coincidence. the thought of president fredo appointing a replacement may have been enough to drive some moderates to kerry's column.)

reid spoke, however, of scalia's "ethics issues," primarily based on scalia's refusal to recuse himself from a case involving his old hunting buddy, vice president cheney. reid failed to mention scalia's refusal to recuse himself from bush v. gore, despite the fact that two of his sons were working in one fashion or another for the bush campaign.

interestingly enough, sen. reid also mentioned justice thomas, but in far less flattering terms than he offered on scalia. reid called thomas, widely regarded as a lightweight with no business on the high bench, "an embarrassment to the supreme court."

i have no love for thomas, and generally consider him a cheap knock-off of scalia, unencumbered by intellectual gravity. that's not even getting into his pornography fetish and proclivity for sexual harassment. not that i'm opposed to pornography-- just hypocrisy. but for reid-- a democrat, for crying out loud-- complimenting scalia while excoriating thomas is a bit like a bleeding swimmer cozying up to a great white and bad-mouthing a hammerhead.

i've got to hand it to sen. reid, though. while leftists are foaming at the mouth over his praise for scalia, rightwingers are foaming at the mouth for his slamming thomas. it takes something quite special to genuinely piss off the right and the left in one fell swoop.

Monday, December 06, 2004

incivility and rights

it can't be easy being justice cruz reynoso, formerly of the california supreme court, and presently-- for the time being-- of the u.s. commission on civil rights. despite a career that has had spectacular highs and decades of professional respect, he once again finds himself on the business end of a pinkslip. he's never been accused of anything but integrity and competence. in his high-profile job departures, he's been a victim of nothing more than crass politics.

as a jurist, he was widely respected as a sensible, progressive minority voice in the nation's most populous state. his list of honors would take all day to recite, and that's before you get to his honorary degrees and lifetime achievement awards. the problem was that as much as he was loved and respected by moderates and leftists, he was hated and reviled by the forces of evil.

they made him a scapegoat in california, voting him off the high court in 1987, in a purge of supreme court justices who did not unabashedly support the death penalty. they were swept aside in a massive statewide bloodlust that never really let up.

now, he stands to lose his gig with the civil rights commission, for which he has served since 1993, having been re-upped in 1999, and serving as vice-chair. monday, president bush announced that the terms for reynoso and the democrat-appointed chair, mary frances berry, had expired, and berry would be replaced as chair by gerald reynolds of missouri.

the move, however, is disputed. reynoso and berry contend that their terms do not expire until january 21, when the commission next meets. they have rules and bylaws that support that position, as does the interpretation of the staff director-- a democratic-appointee who also got pink-slipped-- which is also a likely point of contention. the white house, however, believes that the term ends from the anniversary date of the appointment. get ready for a dust-up.

why the hurry to get rid of two distinguished commissioners, just six weeks shy of a controversy-free departure?

well, start with the fact that reynolds is anti-affirmative action, calling it a "corrupt system of preferences, set-asides and quotas." bush tried to appoint reynolds to the education department's civil rights agency, but could not get senate approval. so, naturally, bush made a recess appointment of him.

but more than getting another sycophant into the bush white house, the purpose is getting critics out of it. it seems reynoso and berry signed onto a report highly critical of the bush administration's handling of civil rights issues. from the florida voter purge in 2000, to affirmative action, to fair housing and immigration issues, the bush administration has been building a bridge to the 18th century, and the two chairs of the commission did not let that slide.

of course, the republican appointees to the commission wouldn't join, so berry and reynoso, their terms just months away from expiring and no hope of renewal, called it like it is. when did that happen? last week.

it seems like georgie not only can't admit a mistake, but he can't handle when his mistakes are pointed out to him. show him his failures, and he pitches a fit. watch him brush off two real, great servants of the people, and appoint another lick-spittle to tell him how great he is.

if, as they say, you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps, justice reynoso can't leave soon enough.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

it's about to get interesting.

ohio is about to certify its election results, and then the whole shithouse is going to go up in flames, in the immortal words of jim morrison (who also said "i am the lizard king" at a time when that seemed to mean something...).

the provisional ballot count cut into president bush's presumed margin of victory, dropping it to about 118,000 votes in the crucial buckeye state. as ohio goes, so goes the electoral college. the greens, libertarians and nader people have been on tenterhooks waiting for the certification so they can make their demand for a recount. the $113,000 necessary to fund the recount is raised, and they're ready to get down to it.

they believe what happens in the recount could very well change the presumed result of the election. but i have my doubts that the recount can deal with the violations that we know happened. a recount can only look at the ballots cast, not the ones that were prevented from being cast. voter harassment and intimidation, excessive delays at polling places because of faux voting machine shortages, disappearing registration forms... let's just say that the ukraine hasn't made number one on the fraudulent election hit-list just yet.

there is no shortage of evidence of horrible offenses against a free and fair election. if this were a union vote run by the national labor relations board, the number of complaints would militate for overturning the election. of course, when it comes to letting workers determine their future in the workplace, there must be "laboratory conditions" to ensure there is no undue influence on the vote. when it's the relatively minor matter of THE FUTURE OF THE COUNTRY, something less than a laboratory will have to do.

the sheer volume of smoke sure lends itself to the idea that there's a fire somewhere. in fact, democrats on the house judiciary committee sent a letter to kenneth blackwell, ohio's republican secretary of state, who will be certifying the election. in a turn too predictable to be enraging or even shocking, following in the footsteps of 2000's katherine harris from the florida fiasco, blackwell also happens to be the chair of the bush campaign in ohio. what the committee members want to know is, just what has the honorable mr. blackwell done to figure out why there were so many problems with voting irregularities?

the letter is 15 pages long, so i'll give you the highlights:
why did warren county election officials bar reporters from observing the count, claiming a terrorism threat that the f.b.i. denied?
why did perry county report 124% voter turnout before the error was caught, and how can it be that a "double-counting" error can almost exactly double the votes?
how is it that monroe township had exactly 150% voter turnout?
how is it that an underdog democratic candidate for state supreme court pulled in more votes than the democratic candidate for president in five counties?
why are spoiled ballots so much more phenomenally common in traditionally democratic precincts than in republican precincts?
why were there fewer voting machines in the democratic city of columbus than the republican suburbs?
(for the whole thing:

the sweet, sweet irony is the lack of play these matters have gotten in the mainstream press up until now, while colin powell's pronouncements and the ukrainian supreme court's decisions about that country's electoral insanity are treated like the second coming of the velvet revolution. it seems that only countries that don't have george w. bush at the helm deserve to have free and fair elections.

we may not have thousands wreaking havoc in the streets like the ukraine. (that only happens when a hometown team wins a major sports championship. or loses one.) but we have some really smart people who seem to be asking the right questions. common cause is hosting an event on tuesday that will bring together leaders of progressive and voter rights organizations, as well as republican and democratic politicos, to discuss just what the hell happened on november 2. not just in ohio, but all across the country. there should be some interesting discussion and thought-provoking propositions. and it won't make a lick of difference.

the election won't be overturned by the recount in ohio. i don't doubt that very bad things happened, and that the election is tainted. but the recount is not likely to swing the election for kerry. the thieving ratbastards are too good at their jobs, and there's simply no mechanism for overturning the election results. the supreme court is not likely to follow the lead of their ukrainian counterparts and say the smell is too strong to let the election stand.

such a thing would be judicial activism, which the rehnquist court will not abide. unless a republican stands to benefit.

Friday, December 03, 2004

paging dr. dean....

democratic governors met in washington, d.c., over the past two days to seize the reins of the democratic party. it seems that the people who are left holding the bag after bush's budget cuts trickle down to state and local governments are trying to get back into the game. unfortunately, they seem to be going about it the wrong way.

according to all the published reports i've seen, they're trying to capture the middle ground, taking back middle-of-the-road voters that have gone republican for most of the past 40 years. this may seem reasonable, and even smart, considering they're trying to take the party away from the virtually republican, pro-business democratic leadership council that has run the party into the ground over the last several years.

michigan governor jennifer granholm says they want a centrist, preferably from a battleground or red state. someone, she says, who can reach out to frustrated republicans and moderates by "speaking the language of values."

however, in light of the apparent failure to take back the white house in november, this does not seem like such a bright idea. look at the arc of the campaign. former vermont governor howard dean was the early front-runner, primarily because he stood four-square opposed to the bush administration's war in iraq and its economic policies at home. the democratic party bosses quickly began their efforts to marginalize him, and were effective beyond their dreams. then the kerry steamroller started up and began to pick up steam, but stalled when kerry began to water down his message in an appeal to centrist voters. he also did not take the challenge when the swift boat liars made their ugly presence known.

it's important to recognize that kerry's popularity surged, to the extent you can say it did, when he was finally able to take the stage with bush at the debates and show his command of the facts and crush bush's asinine rhetoric. after the debates, kerry went back to trying to be everything to everyone, which the people who want to vote for something rightly saw as pandering. in the final days of the campaign, kerry tried to regain the offensive, but it was too little, too late.

bear in mind, also, that the people guiding kerry's campaign at the time were from the old clinton camp. they made their bones by taking a moderate-left, pro-death penalty southern governor, who had tons of street cred, and making him palatable to moderates. this was not exactly a herculean task. but remember also that clinton won a plurality in '92 against bush 1 and perot, and in '96 against the perpetually cranky bob dole.

when the candidates paid attention to and tried to harness people power in 2004, they did well. when they went republican-lite, they lost ground. you don't need to call caltech to figure out this equation.

better than a mealy-mouthed robo-governor, they should get a firebrand, someone who can inspire. howard dean had that, until the d.n.c. cut him off at the knees, and he was a virtual unknown outside of new england. could dean win the presidency in 2008? probably not. he was effectively gutted by the "war whoop" hoopla, which was about the dumbest non-scandal of this campaign or any other.

but he can bring that grassroots authority-- and dare i say street cred?-- to the democratic national committee, and move it towards the democrats' traditional base: working families struggling to get by and quite likely to be in worse shape four years from now, progressive activists in the anti-war and pro-environment movements, and people who aren't comfortable with crypto-fascist theocrats. bush's reckless borrowing and spending make him highly vulnerable on the fiscal conservative front. dean's budget successes in vermont give him the gravitas to win hearts and minds on that score.

many democratic players, including rep. robert matsui (d-ca), say dean lacks the washington clout to lead the party. but recall that the last beltway insider to win the presidency was the first bush, and the one prior to him was richard nixon. but that again speaks to the democrats' lack of vision. why do they expect that good ideas can only come from the party machinery?

the fundamental flaw of the democrats in recent history has been their lack of ideas, their inability to be "about" something. the g.o.p. has laid claim to bellicosity abroad, and "family values" at home. in practical effect, republican policies have meant shoveling money at break-neck speed into the war machine, with two-earner homes, latchkey kids, and households riven by poverty and want, if not merely the mortal terror of them.

what the dems need to do is fight for real family values. you want stay-at-home moms (or dads)? build the economy and workers rights so that families can exist on a single income. you want nuclear families to remain nuclear? remove the economic stresses at the root of the vast majority of domestic strife. you want troubled, violent youth off the streets? make it so their parents aren't too busy working or too exhausted to properly parent.

family values are ultimately economic at their root. democratic values have always been economic. put the two together, for crying out loud. if the democrats can't do that, they are seriously sick at heart.

and a doctor may be just what they need.

side note: i hate to toot my own horn, but let the record reflect that i was on the barry bonds thing long before the story broke. i rule.