Thursday, June 23, 2005

Picklerize This

I guess Nedra was busy on other things, so she didn't get to write the AP story on the flag desecration amendment passing the House. Let me give it a shot
..."Ask the men and women who stood on top of the [World] Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment," said Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican of California, who failed to mention that he is under fire for an apparent million dollar bribe he received from a defense contractor.
How did I do?
I've now been blogging long enough that topics I addressed when I started are coming up again. I wrote about this before the Democratic primaries late in 2003, and except for the events prompting me to write, nothing has changed,"First of all, there is the problem itself. How often does anybody burn an American flag in this country? Is this really a big problem? Is it of such great moment that it requires that the fundamental document on which our National Government rests, a document that has been amended but 27 times since its conception, only 17 times since the adoption of the Bill of Rights be amended again to address it? How can anyone seriously argue that this is the case?

Secondly, I take issue with the sanctification of the flag that this amendment would create. For many people, the flag is already a sacred relic. To those people, the flag apparently symbolizes something so powerful, so essential to how they feel about themselves and their country, that to deface the flag itself is to assault those things that they hold most dear, to assault they themselves. It is to attack the things the flag symbolizes for them, be that the United States itself, the Constitution, freedom, liberty, whatever. Because of the gravity involved in amending the Constitution, because of the seriousness of that act, I dearly hope that those Presidential candidates, indeed that all politicians and public figures who advocate such an amendment count themselves among such people. But I have to point out to these people that burning or trampling on or otherwise defacing the flag is only to burn or trample the flag. The flag is but a symbol. Burning an individual flag destroys that flag but it does nothing to weaken those things the flag represents, it does nothing to weaken the country, to lessen freedom or liberty, to assail the Constitution. On the contrary, I believe that an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit flag burning constitutes a greater assault on those things than the burning of one or a thousand flags ever could.

As I mentioned, in over two hundred years, our constitution has been amended but 27 times. The vast majority of those amendments came about out of recognition that in the drafting the Constitution, either the Federal or State governments were given too much power and control over the life of its citizens. There are a handful of amendments that limit action citizens or states may take against the Federal Goverment or individual states. Most amendments, though, have aimed to limit the reach of government, to expand the freedom and liberty of its citizens. The most famous exception, the Eighteenth Amendment, establishing prohibition, was a spectacular and misguided failure, leading to its being repealed fourteen years later by the Twenty first Amendment.

The implication of an amendment such as the proposed flag burning one, is that we the people have too much freedom, too much liberty, too much freedom of expression and that it must be curtailed. I beg all the candidates and all citizens to challenge this notion. And I beg them to consider the further implications. Would such an amendment be the only step, or only the first step down the path to restricting our rights to express ourselves politically. Will there be others?"

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

STFU Donny

Over in the comments at You Forgot Poland!, I came across this Which character from the Big Lebowski are you?" quiz. To my relief, I was the Dude.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


So, Joseph Biden announced today that he plans to run for President in 2008. At every public appearance he makes from now on, somebody needs to ask him how his support of this year's Bankruptcy Reform Bill reflects Democratic values and the needs of Democratic voters.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Just Give the Press One More Chance to Get This Right

Remember last summer, when various media outlets looked back over their coverage of the run-up to the war in Iraq and admitted they'd not done such a good job of covering events as they unfolded, that perhaps they should have been more skeptical, perhaps applied some basic analytic skills to the facts at hand. At the time these admissions that they'd missed the story were coming out, I wasn't convinced (and I was hardly alone in this) they amounted to much,
"There's nothing I see in the lame mea culpas coming out of the press for the last few months, or from the various investigations into pre-war decision making and intelligence gathering that leads me in any way to believe anybody would behave any differently faced with a similar set of circumstances."

Now the press has a chance, a chance that's been percolating in front of it for about 7 weeks now, to redeem itself. They have a story they could sink their teeth into, with high level intrigue and deception. Of course, following this story would open up old wounds, exposing again just how inept the press was back 2002. So how are they handling this? Are they redeeming themselves for their earlier failures, or are they compounding them? What do you think?

Seeking Peace in the Culture Wars

Yesterday, Paul Galstris at Washington Monthy ran an OP/Ed by retired Republican Senator John Danforth of Missouri that appeared in yesterday's New York Times. In his piece, Danforth makes the case that moderate Christians need to do more to assert themselves, to establish that they too are indeed Christians and not represented by the extremists on the right who insert themselves in the name of God into every political and cultural issue that arises. He also draws a causal link between the "inicreased activism of the Christian Right...and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality." Those who are driven by their moral certitude and superiority are not inclined to compromise.

Speaking for moderate Christians, Danforth, an Episcopal minister, concludes,
"For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics."

This is the kind of thing, coming from moderate Republicans (they do still exist, just not in positions of prominence in their party), that we need to see more of in public discourse. Since 9/11 in particular, the Republican Party and Christian political activism have come to be seen as twin pillars of non-inclusive extremisim. Both have embraced the philosophy that if you're not entirely in agreement with them then you are the enemy. Danforth rejects this,
"We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics."

Interestingly, some of the comments at the Washington Monthly reflected the same kind of intoerance coming from the left that Danforth is decrying from the right. Because Danforth supports causes and people the commenters rejected, they reject his message. How can we hope to regain any sense of national identity and common purpose if we reject any who fail to agree with us on all issues? Men and women of goodwill can and will disagree with us much of the time. It is from the areas in which we find agreement that our political dialog and relationships should grow, not the areas in which we disagree. I'm not saying we should embrace those who have no regard for the truth or respect for democratic processes. We should not mistake those people, though, with those who sometimes find themselves in agreement with them on isolated issues.

This wasn't the first time Danforth weighed in against the current political activities of "Christian" extremists in this country and their relationship with the Republican Party. This piece (the link here is to - no regisration required) ran in the times on March 30, 2005:

St. Louis - 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.

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.

I do not fault religious people for political action. Since Moses confronted the pharaoh, faithful people have heard God's call to political involvement. Nor has political action been unique to conservative Christians. Religious liberals have been politically active in support of gay rights and against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. In America, everyone has the right to try to influence political issues, regardless of his religious motivations.

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.

When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another.

Take stem cell research. Criminalizing the work of scientists doing such research would give strong support to one religious doctrine, and it would punish people who believe it is their religious duty to use science to heal the sick.

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.

The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.

Danforth is trying to assume a role as a moderator in the culture wars. Since these are wars that cannot be won, we need to encourage him.

Trivial Matters

When told that the "runaway bride" had negotiated a TV deal so she could profit from her little episode, the intrepid DA who bravely prosecuted her, thereby protecting the people of Gwinnett County from, well, nothing of any significance, wearily intoned, "I guess that says more about this whole case than anything else that has happened. I'm really sort of disgusted by the whole thing."

He then asked if anybody was interested in the mini-series he's working on, "The Man Who Brought the Runaway Bride to Justice."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Back, as if From the Dead

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Scaramouche! We've missed you.

Indefinite's not just for foreigners

Paperwight has an update on the status of Jose Padilla. Not sure update is the correct word here. Padilla, an American citizen. has been held by the Bush Administration for 1133 days without being charged with anything.

Go read.

Anti-Lynching Resolution

The Law Dork asks why some Senators didn't want a roll call vote on the resolution apologizing for a century's lack of Congressional action to stop lynchings and why six southern Republican senators never even co-sponsored the resolution.

Any answers out there?

Wow ! Michael Jackson Acquitted

It happened just yesterday, and already it's on the front page (top headline!) of the newspaper. With a separate analysis, an editorial and an op-ed piece. All in the same day! And yes, just a day after it happened. Isn't a free press remarkable?

Imagine how the press would cover something really important, say the discovery of a British Government memo suggesting the Bush Administration, months before going to Congress or the UN to lay out a case for waging war (at which time we were assured the Bush Administration had pursued every option short of war) was set on going to war with Iraq and needed to "fix" the intelligence to justify it and another memo addressing the need of the British to make such a war look legal. There would probably have to be a whole special section to cover something of that gravity.

To be serious for a moment, it's not as though the war in Iraq is a life and death matter, or even that it personally affects many Americans. Or even that, at the time the war started, there was any evidence to the press that this was something people cared about.

We bloggers really ought to mind our own business and trust the judgment of the news professionals.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Health Savings Accounts

In one of a series of articles carried in today's Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Mark Downing, an insurance broker discussing Health Savings Accounts, had this to say,
"It will be tough sell for companies because it is a health insurance plan; it is not a health care-providing plan. But the reality is that if you can afford $50,000 for an SUV, don't come whimpering about a $3,000 medical bill that saves your life."
Well, I see. To an extent, I agree with that sentiment, but I wonder how relevant it is to the problem. I'm not sure how many people driving $50,000 SUVs are fighting for medical insurance right now, though. I wonder how many of those who are struggling without insurance or with insufficient insurance can afford $3000 in medical bills in a year (in addition to their premiums). And I gotta wonder why anybody would take their business to this mook, with that attitude, in the first place.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Burning Question

The Lennon Report, discussing Phillip A. Cooney's editing of Council on Environmental Quality reports, asks, "At what point are you so entrenched in rationalizing your Republicanism that this does not offend you?"

That's the question, applied in so many situations in the last few years, that keeps coming back up, isn't it?

Oh My

Happy 60th Birthday to Adrienne Barbeau.

(original Freudian slip corrected)

Friday, June 10, 2005

And Today's Scandal is...

The scope and energy of the Bush Administration's efforts to screw America is staggering. A review for this week.

A Few Good Men?

John at Blogenlust (when not blogging Ann Coulter Nude) offers a solution to the armed services' recruiting woes.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

More Thoughts on Amnesty International and Gitmo

As with the Dan Rather affair, where they deflected attention from the charges that Bush hadn’t fulfilled his TANG duties to the possibly falsified documents and Dan Rather’s perceived liberal bias, the Republican press and flak monkeys, with the always eager acquiescence of the mainstream media with its so-called liberal bias, has largely managed in the last week to divert attention from the disgrace of the prisoner program we run to Amnesty International’s supposedly inflammatory and improper comparison of this program to the Soviet Gulag.

The comparison of the detainee camp at Gitmo and the others scattered throughout the world to the Soviet Gulag is inexact. We haven’t imprisoned or killed millions and we haven’t pressed the prisoners into slave labor. We have, however, imprisoned thousands in camps, many not as well known as Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, we have snatched people off the streets and held them incommunicado, without access to counsel or a trial, we have shipped prisoners to countries that will hide and torture them for us, so many in fact that the CIA has developed a quite extensive air force for this purpose. It is those aspects of the Bush Administration’s prisoner program, its “enemy combatant” detention program, that prompted and earned the Amnesty International comparison to a Gulag.

That these things are not more extensive than they are and that we know of them at all is due not to the restraint and open air policies of the Bush Administration, for such things don’t exist, but to a press that has at times defied expectations to search for and publish and air the story and to a US court system that has shown in this area an admirable independence from and lack of deference to the Bush Administration (as it was designed by the founding fathers to do). Left to its own devices, the Bush Administration would have kept all of these matters in the dark. There would not even be any talk of trials (despite a Supreme Court order to try these prisoners, the Bush Administration has so far failed to do so; trials for the prisoners remain in the “planning” stage) and there can be no doubt that the excesses of the Administration in these matters would be even greater.

Ironically, one of the rhetorical traps defenders of the Bush Administration have fallen into is the one they accused AI of, that of false moral equivalency. They fault Amnesty for not criticizing the insurgents and their treatment of prisoners, whom they often murder, as severely as AI criticized the US for its failings. Whether the people who raise this objection are too dim to recognize the inaptness of the comparison or bright enough to do so but too dishonest to discard it is irrelevant. It’s a bit similar to the objection raised when Abu Ghraib first came to our consciousness and the moral among us complained of those cases of prisoner abuse. The right cried then that Abu Ghraib may have been bad (though few among them would concede even this), but it wasn’t as bad as the horrors Saddam visited on his people. In both cases the Administration’s defenders miss the point. The United States, though diminished by Bush policies, is by far the strongest nation, both economically and politically, in the world. It is also a nation with a long history of dedication to and action in the service of the ideal of justice. We have been as a nation, as we like to think of ourselves, special. We have demanded that we be treated specially. Now there are some who are whining because they think Amnesty International is holding us to a higher standard than gangs of murderous thugs. Well, the nerve.
As a nation, we’ve not always lived up to our ideals, not by a long shot, but most Americans like to believe that we have usually tried and most Americans have enough integrity and devotion to those ideals to be ashamed of those times we have failed to strive to live up to that tradition. The revelations of the evil of Abu Ghraib and the abuses elsewhere in our camp system are not despicable merely because they exist, but also because this Administration and its defenders are not only not ashamed of these things, but they try defend these things while trying to shame those who would point them things out.

My main objection to the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the injustice of Gitmo and the other detention camps is that they are, on their face, immoral. A close second, though, is that they have degraded the United States. The extent of this degradation is revealed in no small part by the defense of these things by Americans who wish to be taken seriously. Though it seems likely to me that these same people and their kind would probably have similarly leapt to the defense of Saint Ronnie had the need arisen (silly me, of course they did, and continue to do so, in defense of Reagan’s Central American policy. You remember; the one that looked the other way while agents of our client states murdered clergyman and other political enemies and murdered and raped nuns.), I cannot imagine anybody leaping to the defense of Clinton, Carter, or Ford if such actions had been exposed as the handiwork of their administrations. These presidents would have been excoriated, and rightly so, by the left and the right. Americans of all persuasions would have loudly and often proclaimed that this President, this government, these people who carry out his will, do not represent me. That widespread revulsion is not present under Bush and its absence degrades us nearly as much as this administration’s actions.

Some of those who have criticized AI in the past week have done so, they say, with a heavy heart. It is so sad, they say, to see this organization demean itself and sacrifice its hard-won credibility in its clearly partisan unfair attack on Bush. Other critics don’t even give AI that much credit, ignoring or simply being ignorant of AI’s thirty plus year history of exposing human rights abuses by governments around the world, regardless of those governments’ political leanings. AI is an organization that has no armies, no power of government behind it. It has only the ability to unearth and publicly air the misdeeds of governments. It has done so in Cuba, China, the former Soviet Union, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and nearly every other nation on the planet. It has done so, quite famously, in Iraq, while some of those who now castigate AI were busy selling arms to or buying oil from Saddam. The hypocrisy of those who now criticize AI for its choice of words would be appalling if it weren’t so insignificant compared to these people’s utter shamelessness and immorality.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A Little Blegging, if You Don't Mind

Well, the rush of people coming to my site who have googled "ripley IQ game solution" seems to have abated, so I guess I have to actually post some new content to attract and keep readers. Nuts; that seems so much like work.

Here goes, though. Let me tell you a story. I have a friend, a co-worker, who recently turned 30. A few years ago she discovered a lump in her breast. It was sensitive to the touch and when she next saw her doctor she mentioned this lump to her. The doctor wasn't much impressed, not the least because of my friend's age; she was just in her late twenties at the time, a rare age for a woman to get breast cancer. Over the next couple years the sensitivity of the lump increased and eventually became downright painful. My friend went to another doctor who was concerned and referred her to a specialist, who examined her and recommended that it be removed immediately. When our boss called us into her office to tell us of the diagnosis, we were shocked. We knew of the lump, and we were aware of the possibility of what it might be, but none of us expected it to be that dire. We were wrong. My friend underwent surgery in the spring of 2004 to have the lump removed and later had her lymph nodes removed. That was followed by months of chemo. She moved back in with her parents during this time. She lost all of her hair and about 30 pounds (she was already thin), but retained a remarkable fighting spirit and positive attitude. In January of this year, after being gone for almost seven months, she returned to work. I can't tell you how happy I've been to have her back, and how grateful that it seems to have been caught in time. It was a tremendous wake up call that any among us can be stricken at any time. It's something that can, and usually does, affect all of us, and it's something that all of us can help fight in some way.

Anyway, out of guilt, shame, friendship, some other altruistic motive foreign to me, or some combination of the above, I've agreed to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer on July 9 and 10 in San Francisco. The Walk is intended to raise funds to support the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade's misson of providing access to care and finding a cure. If you are so inclined, please go here to sponsor me for the walk and aid in this fight.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Rumsfeld - Amnesty International Smack Down

Ole Ms. Malkin has her panties in a bunch over the Amnesty International criticism of our own little Gulag at Gitmo. In her blog she refers to a report of Secretary Rumsfeld's response to AI's report in which he suggested AI that would have been better off focusing on the past abuses of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Maybe he has in mind something along the lines of this, and this, and this, and, finally, this (oops! how did that get in there?).
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