January 31, 2006

Letter Bias

First Draft points to this great letter from a reporter about stupid bias claims by idiots like Bernie Goldberg or Hugh Hewitt, who both make their living by spinning a bias tale to the nutball faithful.

What Hugh Hewitt and his fellow critics of the mainstream media don't get is that for 99 percent of the work in daily journalism, a reporter's personal political views don't matter a whit. Is there a liberal or conservative way to cover night cops? Sewer boards? High school football? I have no doubt that conservative journalists (and I know a few, and have been considered one on occasion) would cover the overwhelming bulk of their beats just as well or just as poorly as the liberal ones. Owning a gun or attending church doesn't make you a different sort of reporter. And I think, should Hewitt enlist his legions to infiltrate the newsrooms of America, they would find out the same thing.

There's perhaps a couple of dozen journalists in the country making decisions that might shape the public debate. But this idea that liberal bias has saturated newsrooms and is affecting coverage decisions makes no sense to me. I've worked at four daily's now and the only pervasive bias I've seen is toward stories that get people to buy the damn thing.

Kirkwood also makes an interesting, and I think hopelessly wrong-headed, assertion that social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights are "pet causes" of this imagined liberal media. As most rational observers have realized, no group has benefited more from the airing of these issues than conservatives, who have manipulated voters into believing the republic is teetering on the brink of a moral collapse. A real liberal agenda would mean a barrage of front page stories about income disparities, the healthcare crisis, the privatization of the military and campaign finance reform. It seems that Kirkwood is too wound up about gay cowboys to notice.

Republicans these days are all about victimization. Every single idea they push is rooted in their whipped up frenzy of persecution. Christianity is under assault or on the verge of extinction! Gays are converting our kids and want special rights! The liberal media is trying to infect our beautiful minds! You would think after a while, people would stop paying attention or at least stop internalizing everything they say as some basic unarguable truth.

Oh, sorry, I guess I'm not supposed to get angry about it. I'm just supposed to shrug and smile and be happy that I'm an American. Good Americans don't get angry about things.

Posted by Observer at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2006

Raining Inside

Well, this isn't a good sign. We had a plumbing test for leaks that came up negative. Our home inspector ran the upstairs shower for about five minutes with no apparent problems, and the tub drained fine, too. So last night, we gave D*niel a bath with no problem. But when Ashl*y tried to shower, within about 3 minutes, C*dy came running out of his room saying water was coming out of his vent and running down his window blinds. Probably at a rate of about a gallon a minute or so.

Oh well, that's why we bought this thing with a home warranty. With any luck, it'll only cost us about a $50 co-pay to get it all fixed up. We spent most of our free time today cleaning up the old place and getting it ready to show on Wednesday. Just a few things left to do to get it ready to show, not counting cleaning out the garage, which is our dumping ground for trash and things we haven't decided on yet. A couple of trips to the dump, and that'll be all done.

Then we have to unpack this place. Hoo boy.

Posted by Observer at 09:50 PM | Comments (9)

January 29, 2006

New Digs

Not bad, we now have cable modem goodness. We spent our first night in our new house last night, and it was ok. There were two annoying unknown noises, along with an increased background "white noise" that I'm not used to. Even though we're a good half mile from the highway, the sound is noticeable at night when the house is very quiet, but it is easy to tune out. I couldn't imagine living right along the highway. Yuck.

One unknown noise was the periodic chirp of a low-battery smoke alarm. What's weird is that it was louder outside than inside. This morning, I finally narrowed it down to the RV that our neighbors have parked in their driveway near our bedroom window. M*chelle said she couldn't hear it, but I'm very sensitive to weird sounds at night. We met that neighbor today, and he promised to look into it. They are a retired couple, very friendly. We also had kind of a flapping sound that would start up every time the heat came on and last for about 5-10 seconds. Pretty loud, then it would stop. I couldn't reproduce the sound this morning, so I'm hoping whatever was flapping finally flapped itself loose.

Yesterday was hell. We had all kinds of family here to help us out, fortunately, and nothing got broken during the move. I'm sore as all hell, and my hands are really beaten up. I should've gotten some gloves. It rained cats and dogs during the early morning, but it cleared up in time for us to start moving and turned in to a beautiful day. The ground around here is so bone dry that by mid-afternoon, you could hardly tell it rained even though we got about 2-3 inches. It just got slurped up.

We have a lot of work to do to get the old house into selling condition. At least it seems like a lot of work. Nail holes in walls, some tile repair, paint touch-ups, dusting, cleaning. Maids are going to help out as well as carpet cleaners. It's just hard to muster up the energy to fix up the old place, especially when there is so much that needs to be done here. Plus I'm pretty far behind in class prep and have to use tonight to catch up. Oh well, it's a temporary thing, and I know this new house is going to be awesome for us.

I talked to two of our shell-shocked former neighbors today. I wanted to be sure they understood we were moving out to upsize rather than to escape the apartment-spawned gang infestation of our neighborhood, which is sort-of true. I don't want any potential buyers of our old place talking to the neighbors and getting the picture that we are running scared or anything. If this house and this deal hadn't come along, I was fully prepared to grit my teeth and stay in the old place for years longer until we were in position to offer more money, etc. Can't necessarily say that about M*chelle, though. Heh.

Posted by Observer at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2006

Sex Sells, But...

Media Matters responds to comments about its NSA-4th amendment scandal coverage vs Whitewater coverage from last week:

We've gotten some feedback, suggesting that the disparity is because, basically, "sex sells." Of course, we heard throughout 1998 that the Lewinsky story "isn't about sex, it's about law-breaking." Anyone arguing that the Lewinsky story got such relentless coverage simply because "sex sells," however, is going to have to explain CBS' This Morning hosting Jonah Goldberg to discuss Linda Tripp -- a segment few viewers likely found "sexy."

But is it true that disparity in media coverage can be explained by the fact that "sex sells"? And, if so, does that make it right? The second question shouldn't require much attention, so what about the first?

Media coverage of Whitewater reached a frenzy, with calls for special counsels and investigations, long before the Lewinsky story broke. In the mid-1990s, Whitewater was a nearly 20-year-old land deal in which the Clintons lost money. As a January 5, 1994, Washington Post editorial explained, "[t]his should be stressed -- there has been no credible charge in this case that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong."

And yet the news media covered Whitewater as though it was Watergate, Teapot Dome, and Iran-Contra all rolled into one. A few examples:

The February 9, 1994, broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, minus commercials, clocked in at 22 minutes. Fully 18 of those 22 minutes, according to The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, were about Whitewater. Kurtz explained in a February 11, 1994, Post article:



In a highly unorthodox move, the ABC newscast devoted 18 of its 22 minutes to the Whitewater scandal, a story spectacularly ill-suited to television. "We are going to attempt something ambitious this evening," anchor Peter Jennings announced, "which is to try to explain in one fell swoop the Whitewater jam that Bill and Hillary Clinton seem unable to get themselves out of."

[...]

"Most people, and I include myself among them, didn't really understand the Whitewater deal," said Rick Kaplan, who replaced Emily Rooney last month as the newscast's executive producer. "It just didn't make sense to do it as a bunch of four-minute pieces."

[...]

"With two minutes here and one minute there you think, 'My eyes glaze over, no one's going to understand this,' " Kaplan said. "I said look, the only way to follow this is to do it all at once."

Media analyst Robert Lichter called it "a very good piece of explanatory journalism" that "tells other journalists this is important and tells the White House that journalists aren't going to ignore the story because of the special counsel's investigation." But in a recent Times Mirror poll, only 13 percent of those surveyed said they were following Whitewater very closely.

That same night, ABC's Nightline devoted its entire broadcast to Whitewater.

Whitewater was a story that, according to Kurtz, the American people weren't following closely. According to the Post, there had been "no credible charge in this case that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong." Yet ABC devoted an entire broadcast of Nightline and 18 of 22 minutes of World News Tonight to it -- and that's just one network, one day.

And it can't be emphasized enough: The public simply was not clamoring for more coverage of Whitewater. The New York Times reported on January 16, 1994:



Whitewater, with its intricate issues of banking regulation, tax writeoffs and real estate partnerships, has not so far registered dramatically with the American public, perhaps because it is too complicated. A Gallup poll taken at the end of the first week in January found that Mr. Clinton's favorable rating is 62 percent, nearly as high as the 66 percent when he first took office.

A January 1994 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that 54 percent of Americans approved of Clinton's handling of his job; 62 percent had a favorable opinion of him; only 12 percent thought he "did anything wrong in Whitewater real estate deal"; and a plurality of Americans thought an independent counsel was unnecessary.

So, the public didn't care about Whitewater and didn't think Clinton had done anything wrong. Most Americans approved of Clinton's handling of his job, and even more of them had a favorable personal opinion of him. There was "no credible charge in this case that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong," according to The Washington Post's editorial board.

And yet, that same Washington Post editorial called for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate ... well, to investigate "no credible charge."

That's right: the Post argued, in the same editorial, that there was both "no credible charge in this case that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong" -- and that there should be an independent investigation. Forget about evidence, the Post was saying there wasn't even a credible allegation of wrongdoing, but that there should be an independent investigation anyway. [...]

Now, how has the Post's editorial board addressed the current Bush administration domestic spying operation?

12/18/05: "[T]he administration appears to have taken the position that the president is entitled to ignore a clearly worded criminal law when it proves inconvenient in the war on terrorism. ... FISA has been the law of the land for 2 1/2 decades. To disrupt it so fundamentally, in total secret and without seeking legislative authorization, shows a profound disregard for Congress and the laws it passes."

12/20/05: "The snooping appears to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but the attorney general says it doesn't. ... The administration must be forced to explain itself comprehensively, so Congress can decide how to respond."

1/23/06: "The most detailed legal justification to date for the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance has emerged from the Bush administration, but the 42-page version isn't any more convincing than its shorter predecessors. In some ways -- particularly in its broad conception of presidential power in wartime -- it is more disturbing."

So, in 1994, the Post argued that there was no "credible charge ... that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong" -- but called for an independent investigation anyway.

Now, the Post argues that the Bush administration is "ignor[ing] a clearly worded criminal law," "show[ing] a profound disregard for Congress and the laws it passes," "appears to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," and "must be forced to explain itself comprehensively." The Post finds the administration's "legal justification" for the spying program unconvincing and "disturbing." And yet the Post has not called for an independent investigation.

Why not?

It cannot be because the Post considers the allegations against Bush less credible than those against Clinton; the paper itself has argued exactly the opposite. It cannot be because there is no public desire for an independent investigation -- there is. A January 20-22 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans think a special counsel should be appointed to investigate the spying program.

And what of The New York Times, which had this to say about Whitewater on January 7, 1994:

Attorney General Janet Reno seems hellbent on sacrificing her reputation to the White House's effort to contain the Whitewater Development flap. Not only has she continued to refuse, on insultingly specious grounds, to appoint an independent counsel. It now emerges that by so refusing, she has bought time for Justice Department and White House lawyers to cook up a deal to keep the Whitewater records under wraps. Moreover, those records are being handled so sloppily that when an independent counsel is finally -- and inevitably -- appointed, that official will have to spend vast energy to be sure no evidence has been destroyed.

Is no one at the White House reading the history of recent Presidential scandals? These clumsy efforts at suppression are feckless and self-defeating. This White House's attempts to maintain political control of the investigation into President and Mrs. Clinton's real estate dealings in Arkansas are swiftly draining away public trust in their integrity.

Ms. Reno insists she does not wear the White House collar, but her news conference yesterday undermined that claim. She holds out the possibility that she will seek a court-appointed independent prosecutor as soon as the House passes legislation authorizing such positions. But Ms. Reno does not have to wait. She already has the authority to appoint a special prosecutor from outside her department, and Congressional Republicans are right to insist that she do so. When the Independent Counsel Act is revived -- as it ought to be -- then this special prosecutor can give way to a court-appointed prosecutor operating with even more independence.

Now, The New York Times denounces, as it did in a December 18, 2005, editorial, "illegal government spying on Americans." It asserts that "Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing" the program as a violation of civil liberties. It concludes "[W]e have learned the hard way that Mr. Bush's team cannot be trusted to find the boundaries of the law, much less respect them."

Yet the Times does not call for a special counsel. Instead, it declares "Mr. Bush should retract and renounce his secret directive and halt any illegal spying, or Congress should find a way to force him to do it."

But what gives the Times reason to believe that Congress would do so even if it could? Five days later, another Times editorial described the relationship between the Bush administration and Congress: "Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are tenacious. They still control both houses of Congress and are determined to pack the judiciary with like-minded ideologues."

Why on earth would the Times dare to hope that a Congress under the "control" of Bush and Cheney would "find a way to force" Bush to do anything? Just this week, the Times reported that the Bush Administration "declines" to provide the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee documents it has requested as part of its investigation of the administration's handing of Hurricane Katrina, and refused to make administration officials available for sworn testimony. What makes the Times think the Republican-controlled Congress will want to "find a way to force" Bush to do anything? Or that it would be able to even if it wanted to?

What explains the Times' refusal to call for a special counsel in the case when it believes the Bush administration, led by the president himself, is acting illegally? Why was a special counsel more justified in 1994 than now?

The report goes on. There's obviously a lot more to the media bias issue than just the New York Times and the Washington Post, but it is fun to talk about those two since they are regularly held up by wingnuts as the flagships of the ultra-liberal Clinton-loving America-hating Democrat media. People believe it because they keep hearing it. It's a lot easier to get your idea across if it is simple, even if it is wrong. So you can chant "liberal media bias" all day, and when liberals like me stop and take a moment to fully explain why it can't be true, it just gives people tired-head. It's easier to just not be curious and go with the flow.

Posted by Observer at 09:21 PM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2006

Closed

We signed all the paperwork today, and everything went without a hitch. I was so excited to get the keys and openers for our new house that I wanted to start lugging stuff over there tonight. Five or six vanloads later, I'm pretty sore, but I'm also happy that we cleared so much stuff out of our old house already. Our schedule is to finish the move Friday night and the big stuff Saturday when family will be here to help, then we have a few handyman-type repairs to do to the old place and a couple of things to install in the new place.

Sunday will be unpacking, and Monday/Tuesday will be the final cleanup (with the help of maids and carpet cleaners) of our old house, which goes on the market on Wednesday. Various hookups will be taking place over the next 4-5 days, and by the middle of next week we'll be fully up to speed in our new place and praying that the old place sells quick.

Posted by Observer at 08:31 PM | Comments (2)

January 25, 2006

Wow

I think this is the best essay I've read on how the traditional media screws the Democrats in a very long time.

What's the common thread running through the past half-decade of Bush's presidency? What's the nexus between the Swift-boating of Kerry, the Swift-boating of Murtha, and the guilt-by-association between Democrats and terrorists? Why has a seemingly endless string of administration scandals faded into oblivion? Why do Democrats keep losing elections? It's this: the traditional media, the trusted media, the "neutral" media, have become the chief delivery mechanism of potent anti-Democratic and pro-Bush storylines. And the Democratic establishment appears to be either ignorant of this political quandary or unwilling to fight it.

There's a critical distinction to be made here: individual reporters may lean left, isolated news stories may be slanted against the administration. What I'm describing is the wholesale peddling by the "neutral" press of deep-seated narratives, memes, and soundbites: simple, targeted talking points that paint a picture of reality for the American public that favors the right and tarnishes the left.

You’ve heard the narratives: Bush is likable, Bush is a regular guy, Bush is firm, Bush is a religious man, Bush relishes a fight, Democrats are muddled, Democrats have no message, national security is Bush’s strength, terror attacks and terror threats help Bush (even though he presided over the worst attack ever on American soil), Democrats are weak on security, Democrats need to learn how to talk about values, Republicans favor a “strict interpretation” of the Constitution, and on and on.

A single storyline is more effective than a thousand stories. And a single storyline delivered by a “neutral” reporter is a hundred times more dangerous than a storyline delivered by an avowed partisan. Rightwingers can attack the media for criticizing Bush, can slam the New York Times for being liberal, but when the Times and the Post and CNN and MSNBC echo the ‘Bush stands firm’ mantra, it adds one more brick to a powerful pro-Bush edifice. 

These narratives are woven so deeply into the fabric of news coverage that they have become second nature and have permeated the public psyche and are regurgitated in polls. (The polls are then used to strengthen the narratives.) They are delivered as affirmative statements, interrogatives, hypotheticals; they are discussed as fact and accepted as conventional wisdom; they are twisted, turned, shaped, reshaped, and fed to the American public in millions of little soundbites, captions, articles, editorials, news stories, and opinion pieces. They are inserted into the national dialogue as contagious memes that imprint the idea of Bush=strong/Dems=weak. And they are false.

What’s so dumbfounding to progressive netroots activists, who clearly see the role of the traditional media in perpetuating these storylines - and are taking concrete action to remedy the problem - is that Democratic politicians, strategists, and surrogates have internalized these narratives and play into them, publicly wringing their hands over how to fix their" muddled" message, how to deal with Bush’s "strength" on national security, how to talk about "values." It’s become a self-fulfilling cycle, with Democrats reinforcing anti-Dem myths because they can’t imagine any other explanation for the apparent lack of resonance of their message. Out of desperation, they resort to hackneyed, focus-grouped slogans in a vain attempt to break through the filter.

It’s simple: if your core values and beliefs and positions, no matter how reasonable, how mainstream, how correct, how ethical, are filtered to the public through the lens of a media that has inoculated the public against your message, and if the media is the public’s primary source of information, then NOTHING you say is going to break through and change that dynamic. Which explains, in large measure, the Dems’ sorry electoral failures.

There are a number of reasons why Democrats allow the media problem to fester. First, the “liberal” media mantra has been so pervasive that it is still accepted as fact by many beltway insiders. Republicans have mastered the art of institutional rage against the media, Democrats have not. Second, Democratic strategists haven’t learned how to distinguish between stories and storylines. (The insidious effect of infectious narratives, the power of inoculation techniques, the concept of memetics and the role of the Internet, are alien to the Democratic establishment. And I say that having been in the belly of that establishment during the 2004 election). Third, “blame the media” feels like a cop-out.

But this isn’t about “blaming the media” or excusing other strategic mistakes on the part of Democrats, it’s about understanding what happens when skillfully-crafted pro-GOP storylines are injected into the American bloodstream by the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews, Paula Zahn, Dana Milbank, Kyra Phillips, Cokie Roberts, Tom Brokaw, Jim VandeHei, Bob Schieffer, Bill Schneider, Tim Russert, Howard Fineman, Norah O'Donnell, Elizabeth Bumiller, Adam Nagourney, Bob Woodward, and their ilk, not to mention rabid partisans like Limbaugh, Coulter, and Hannity.

To understand the methodology of the story-telling media, look no further than two situations currently occupying the energy of netroots activists: Chris Matthews’ equating of bin Laden and Michael Moore and Tim Russert’s racially-tinged, guilt-by-association line of questioning in a recent interview with Barack Obama. In each instance, the meta-theme is that Democrats are terrorist-lite traitors, and the subtext is that Bush and Republicans are the true patriots. But while the netroots is blasting away at Matthews and Russert, the Democratic establishment is petrified at the thought of offending the Gang of 500. So far, only John Kerry and Louise Slaughter have weighed in on either scandal.

"Flip-flop" took hold as an anti-Kerry theme because it was repeated ad nauseum in the press. And mind you, reporters are far too sophisticated to simply deliver the meme as an accusation; they frame it as a question, they toss it in as an offhanded remark, they run a caption that says it for them, they use the language of Democratic duality and Republican unity, they use polls for cover, they play false equivalency games, they allow Republicans to repeat the narrative unhindered, and so on. This despite the fact that Bush contradicted himself on major policy issues and was a master ‘flip-flopper’ himself. Had the media fact-checked the assertion every time it popped up and had they called Bush a flip-flopper with the same brutal, methodical intensity, the race might have ended differently. One of the few chances Americans got to test the flip-flop meme was the debates, and we all know how those turned out.

The same holds true for the Swift-boat sliming of Kerry: much has been made of the Kerry campaign’s response or lack thereof, but there’s another angle less discussed: the story was a cable staple for days and weeks, unchecked. Had the cable nets and other media outlets covered that story with more balance, more dignity, more judiciousness, more responsibility, it would have been a sideshow. And this has nothing to do with deflecting blame - the Kerry campaign should have known that their enemy wasn't a vindictive crackpot like John O'Neill, but the many 'journalists' and media outlets who rammed the story down our collective gullets.

Similarly, the media helped reframe John Murtha’s call for a dramatic shift in strategy in Iraq as a policy of “cut and run” versus Bush’s “steadfastness.” Once again, the storyline trumps the story.

To illustrate the power of the media to shape public opinion, simply imagine what would happen if the cable nets and the print media and the elite punditocracy treated the warrantless spying scandal with the same round-the-clock intensity as the Swift-boating of Kerry or the Natalee Holloway disappearance. Suppose Lewinsky-style headlines blared about impeachment and presidential law-breaking. Suppose the question of the day on every cable net was, “Should Bush be impeached for violating the Constitution?” The media can create a crisis -- and can squelch one. The media can deliver narratives, they can frame events, they can shape the way Americans see the political landscape. A disproportionate amount of power is wielded by a handful of opinion-shapers, and when these individuals tell America a story that favors the right and marginalizes the left, the remedies are few.

The most obvious piece of evidence about media bias simply comes from the scandals. The media has the power to manufacture scandals. That much is obvious from "Whitewater", which in the end was about nothing. Even partisan prosecutors had to ultimately admit that the Clintons did absolutely nothing wrong or illegal or (for the most part) even unethical. That's not to say they were pristine. Obviously, the Clintons had their ethical and legal problems, there's no disputing that. But Whitewater, specifically, was a whole lot of nothing, and yet it was trumped up into an amazing, years-long, outrageous scandal thanks to media perpetuation of the story.

So much of what Bush has done has been far worse and far more significant to our country and yet it just isn't covered. As Daou says in the linked essay, what if right now, every now, all the cable news shows were leading off with the poll question, "Should President Bush be impeached for violating the Fourth Amendment?", the drumbeat of public outrage would eventually reach Congress and force them to act. Hell, the support for it is already there (compared Bush's approval ratings now to Clinton's during impeachment, which were much, much higher).

It is the traditional media that decides what to turn into a major scandal, and they are quite simply refusing to do anything that would cripple this administration. Even the Abramoff scandal, which is purely Republican, is something they're already reporting as "pox on both houses". And then they wonder why we get mad?

It's because we understand the fucking problem, and we're not gonna take it any more. You in the media who are part of the problem are going to hear from us on the "Angry Left", and we'll vote with our feet, too. We'll consume our news from our own damn sources and let your ratings drop while funnelling money to Daily Kos or Eschaton through ad revenue. The traditional media has the capacity to be different. They have the infrastructure to do great things, investigations that require tremendous amounts of access and manpower, the experts who can educate the public. Why are they not doing this?

No matter the answer, it doesn't reflect well.

Posted by Observer at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2006

Closing the Deal

So it looks like Thursday is closing day for us, and we will move on Friday/Saturday. Everything should be hooked up at the new place by Monday, and our schedule is to have our old place cleaned up and ready to show by Tuesday, leaving a lot of our furniture behind so the place doesn't look vacant (and a lot less cluttered than it is now). My only concern is that our house is really ideal for a family with a bunch of kids, and how many families with kids are dumb enough to move right in the middle of a school year like we are? Oh well, I guess that's the realtor's (my brother's) job, to sell this place quick so we don't have to make double payments for long.

My head cold is getting worse. Today my sinuses are really starting to swell up and ache, and I may have to resort to a Doc in the Box visit tomorrow for some antibiotics. Poor D*niel has been coughing with a runny nose since 10 days ago when he had a fever for a couple of days that we fought off with Tylenol. Over these past 3-4 days, his crankiness has really been ramping up, and today when he woke up from his nap, the poor kid must've cried for 15 minutes over seemingly nothing. I figured it was time to rule out an ear infection, and I was lucky his pediatrician was willing to squeeze him in this afternoon.

Of course, by the time we got to the office, D*niel was his old self, playful and laughing and having all kinds of fun. God only knows what new germs he probably caught while playing around on all of the plastic play yard equipment in the waiting room for 40 minutes. But that's probably a moot point because the doctor did indeed find ear infection, both ears, a 7 on a scale from 1 to 10, so I'm very glad I went. We would've had an extremely unhappy camper during our move this weekend if his ear infection hadn't resolved itself by then. I hope he likes his antibiotic cocktail this time around. He's usually pretty good about taking his medicine.

Work has been extremely busy, of course, coinciding with all of this moving madness. I spent a few hours on the phone today lining up the utility shifts and so on, and I still have to write my lecture notes for tomorrow. I'm having to teach a new class this semester, basically the more complicated version of the majors class I've already been teaching for a while. The prep is a real pain, though, because I haven't practiced with this stuff in many years, and I don't feel comfortable teaching something unless I've totally mastered it and feel up to date on it.

My introductory survey class is more or less the same as usual, but I've added a little twist to it in order to fit better into a new core system we have here. That took a TON of legwork over the holidays. Not very relaxing at all, but presumably the department will greatly appreciate my efforts and give me more money come evaluation time or at least not be as mad that I do a lot of work from home consulting with students via email.

Posted by Observer at 08:11 PM | Comments (2)

January 23, 2006

Bias Headlines

The media bias situation is pretty obvious when you read headlines like "Houston TV Station to Air Anti-DeLay Ad". The idea that a TV station would run an ad critical of a powerful Republican is so amazing to the media these days that it makes HEADLINES! And what's sad is that the station wouldn't even run the original version. They asked that it be toned down first! So now we have the media acting as editors on political ads from liberal groups, and we liberals are all just supposed to be "aw shucks" happy that they will even consent to air the spot! Unbelieveable!

Imagine if a TV station refused to run an ad attacking John Kerry's military service record, even though the ad is proven with completely irrefutable documentation to be full of shit. Do you think just maybe that wingnuttosphere would be clutching their pearls and having an attack of the vapors over just how unfair and biased the whole situation is?

Posted by Observer at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

We're Not Gilligans, Mrs. Howell

Drift Glass has a good response after the Post ombudsman called the waaaahmbulance in her column today in response to all of those horrible, uncivil emails and comments she got from the horrible, unhinged, angry Left.

She acts like she's never met or heard of fuckwits like my pet troll. Good closing words here:

The easygoing days of the Left courteously letting this shit slide while the Right shells us 24/7 and the MSM shrugs and tries to pretend that both sides are equally culpable are over, Ms. Howell.

Welcome to the 21st Century where, if you want to keep the title of Ombudsman for a major American newspaper and avoid another public shellacking, you can either catch up, join up and bone-up, or you can damn well shut the fuck up.

Man, if Patrick Henry ("Give me liberty or give me death!") or just about any of the Founding Fathers were alive today complaining about the erosion of our rights, there is little doubt the right wing blogosphere would dismiss them as angry "moonbats" who want the terrorists to win.

Posted by Observer at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)

Quotes from Battle

The night before school, and all through the house...

"You can't do that! You can't do that!"

"Okay, then, I'll just play THIS! I'm gonna KILL you now, buddy!"

"NO NO NO NO NO NO NO if affects ALL cards."

"Don't touch that! HEY! HEY!!"

"No, you already did that this turn. You can't do it again. No, you can't. No. No. No, you can't."

"HO HO HO HOOOOOO. You are SO dead!"

"Oh my God, YES!"

"READ IT! LOOK! Right here! READ IT!"

"You lose! HA HA HA! ... What? Oh."

"No, you can't activate that. NO! No, you can't! NO! You have to do it during standby phase!"

"You suck!"

"Man, you're so lucky!"

"Oh, shi- ... uh ... (giggling)"

And so the boys have taken up Yu-Gi-Oh battling again.

Posted by Observer at 05:20 PM | Comments (2)

January 21, 2006

That Was Then...

Very good stuff today from Media Matters. People don't understand why I always have a bitter, sarcastic laugh in response to claims of "liberal media bias". They should do some homework.

All told, on January 22, 1998 [the day after the Lewinsky scandal broke], the Times and the Post ran 19 articles (five on the front page) dealing with the Clinton investigation, totaling more than 20,000 words and reflecting the words of at least 28 reporters -- plus the editorial boards of both newspapers.

In contrast, on December 17 [the day after the NSA illegal eavesdropping scandal broke], the Times and the Post combined to run five articles about the NSA spying operation, involving 12 reporters and consisting of 6,303 words.

On February 25, 1998, 35 days after the story first broke, the Post ran four articles and an editorial about the Clinton investigation, totaling 5,046 words, involving 11 reporters, and the paper's editorial board. The Times ran four articles, two opinion columns, and an editorial -- seven pieces in all, totaling 5,852 words and involving at least six reporters and columnists, in addition to its editorial board. The papers combined for 12 articles, columns, and editorials, involving 17 reporters and columnists, as well as both editorial boards.

On January 20, 35 days after the NSA story first broke, the Times ran one 1,324-word article about the NSA operation written by two reporters. The Post ran one 945-word article written by one reporter. Combined: two articles, three reporters, 2,269 words.

We could go on and on with comparisons like these, and bring in other news organizations, but it should be clear by now that the nation's leading news organizations haven't given the NSA spying story anywhere near the coverage they gave the Clinton-Lewinsky matter. And, based on available evidence, they haven't dedicated nearly the resources to pursuing the NSA story that they dedicated to the Lewinsky story.

So, some questions for the Times, and the Post, and ABC, and CBS, and NBC, and CNN, and Time, and Newsweek, and other leading news organizations:

1)How many reporters, editors, and researchers did you assign to the Lewinsky story when it broke? How many remained assigned to that story one month later?

2)How many reporters, editors, and researchers did you assign to the NSA story when it broke? How many remained assigned to that story one month later?

3)How do you explain the disparity?

When blowjobs are this much more important than the Bill of Rights, the media has become a tool of the state. In this case, the Republican state.

Posted by Observer at 11:56 AM | Comments (5)

January 20, 2006

Thanks Again!

Atrios and others have been following this one for a while, and it's kind of inside baseball stuff, but it has my attention. Basically, an article in the super-duper-ultra liberal Washington Post declared that Jack Abramoff, the Republican felon of the week, gave money to both parties. The ombudsman got some complaints that that's not true, and they were ignored. The complaints got louder, and the ombudsman complained about the hysterical complainers. The complaints got louder, and the Post just shut down the whole comment system.

The truth of the matter is this: Abramoff was thoroughly Republican, and his entire purpose in life was victory for Republicans. He also scammed a bunch of Indian tribes along the way. Prior to Abramoff's involvement, the tribes used to give 80-90% of their money to Democrats. In the Abramoff era, that switched so that tribes, mostly Abramoff clients, only gave about half their money or less to Democrats (Wampum has the research to back this up). Abramoff himself (and his wife) gave money to lots of lots of different politicians directly, but not one dime to any Democrat. Certainly no golf trips to Scotland, free meals at fancy restaurants and all the other perks and crap.

So how does the Marxist ultra-liberal Communist left-wing terrorist-loving Washington Post report it? Abramoff gave money to both parties.

Uh, say what?

You think maybe we could have a correction?

Nope. The ombudsman sneers something like, well, we should've said that Abramoff and his clients directed money to both parties. The implication being that Abramoff gave money to Democrats by directing tribes to do so, but in point of fact, Abramoff caused every one of his clients to give less money to Democrats than they were giving before. They kept giving some money to Democrats against Abramoff's wishes, but Abramoff isn't the only guy they're involved with.

So basically, we have a guy who is THE central cog in the Republican K-Street Project Money Machine, and the media is reporting it is "pox on both houses". This is like blaming Iraq on Al Gore or blaming the deficit on Democrats, etc. Why is it so hard for the media to just tell it like it is and say this time, right now, Republicans are the ones fucking up. Yes, the whole system is corrupt as all hell, but right now, the Republicans are in charge and are the problem.

You'd think if we had a fucking liberal media AT ALL, they could find it somewhere in their hearts to not rush out every chance they get and try to drag the Democratic party into Republican scandals. Fucking tools. And it isn't just the post. What few media outlets are picking up on this story... you know, the usual suspects like the New York flagship-left-wing Times and the "Clinton News Network", are basically following the Post's line to the hilt.

Crooks and Liars has a lot of good stuff on this, in between all the stuff where various "moderate" talk show hosts are equating Osama bin Laden and Michael Moore, and Jesus' General has a classic funny riff on the whole thing. Thank God someone has a sense of humor about this mess because I lost mine on "liberal media bias" about ten fucking years ago.

Posted by Observer at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

Why I Like Wolcott

It's because of lines like this:

With its win at the Golden Globes, Brokeback is now projected on a stronger Oscar path, and that's what's bothering Medved and likeminded lightweights, the growth of gay acceptance. Making the same pained, turd-squeezing facial expression he always makes when relieving himself of a more-in-sorrow-than-anger sentiment, Medved lamented that the other winners at the Globes included Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote and Felicity Huffman for Transamerica.

Or this, on the latest right-wing payola pundit, Michael Fumento:

Michael Fumento, last seen flailing his arms and falling backwards against a rear-projection screen like Martin Balsam in Psycho, lands intact at the bottom of the stairs and, after rubbing his sore parts, makes a manly fist and vows defiance.

Or this

Get a load of their lineup of guest speakers. It's like a cross between a Lawrence Welk reunion and Poseidon Adventure in drydock, minus a token black blogger to lend it sham inclusiveness and Carol Lynley's bottom bearing Gene Hackman's handprints as he ably assists her up every staircase he can steer her towards.

Or this

Conservatism's answer to Sundance, only without all that annoying glitz, talent, and excitement to interfere with one's viewing enjoyment, the American Film Renaissance Festival held last weekend in Hollywood alas didn't sound like much of a festival, or much of a renaissance either, unless "crudely made" but "oddly affecting" are your idea of a good time.

And James knows how to end a feud with style

And so we bid unfond adieu to Atlas Shrugs, her blogsite the source of so much amusement over the past weeks, now a toxic pit, dry and cracked. It would have been fun to keep the little feud going, in the spirit of Jack Benny-Fred Allen, but I now realize that I'm dealing with a humorless shrew whose mind isn't properly proportioned and hickory-smoked with maturity. This is the last I shall write of Lady Atlas, leaving her to languish in the obscurity in which I discovered her. Deprived of the attention she craves and the traffic I sent, she faces a future of irreversible diminishment until only a noisy dot will remain. I could have made her a star, but now she'll be reduced to playing custom auto shows and competing with Edy Williams on the red carpet. It's sad it had to come to this, but I have fancier fish to fry, and it's time to toss her back into eternal sea that swallows all.

I should probably give his book another chance, maybe just read it a chapter a day or something. I didn't like it much when I read it because the sarcasm was just too dense, like drinking from a firehose. A little bit a day, though, is very nice. Short on the kind of comprehensive, fact and link-filled takedowns that I really enjoy, but still funny.

Posted by Observer at 06:39 PM | Comments (0)

Wyly Coyotes

Some jackass from an energy company came to our front door yesterday trying the hard-sell toward getting us to switch. Well, I know from my own research that practically all of the energy companies around here are hideous to deal with (almost as bad as the cable companies). They're all owned and operated by a bunch of wingnuts who are constantly trying to manipulate the laws to maximize profits, etc. Enron was the natural extension of this, and they happened to get caught.

Anyway, I started doing some background research on Green Mountain, which we use and pay a small premium because I think it is worth it for some fraction of our energy to be renewable. Well, it's damned hard to find an objective, fact-filled article about this. Half the articles out there are from eco-freak groups saying Green Mountain isn't "green" enough by whatever impossible standard they've set up (some of them even admit there is no company that meets their standards, so ... uh ... thanks for that useful info). The other half are corporate press releases that talk about how wonderful the company is, etc.

The one fact that stands out and makes me very uncomfortable is that Green Mountain is owned by Sam Wyly, about as big a Bush supporter and financial backer as you can get. He famously bought some TV ads on his own during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns that were horrible, and everyone around Bush tried to pretend that they had no idea what was going on, etc.

Why is it so hard for just a regular, normal guy who isn't hideously corrupt to invest in renewable energy and start selling it to people? Man, I'd pay top dollar in a heartbeat.

Oh, and as a side note, we ended up asking for a few amendments on the house we're trying to buy, and the seller agreed to everything. I almost feel bad no asking for more because every proposal we've made so far has been agreed to with zero negotiation. We've had this house thoroughly checked out top to bottom now, including a plumbing test (but they couldn't test the sewer line underneath the house), and it seems fine. Definitely needs some updates. A lot of updates, but those are things we can do over the next few years.

Looks like we'll be moving in about 7-10 days, depending upon when all the financial paperwork is done. Times like these make me happy that we always have A+ credit. I'll be a lot happier once we get our current house sold. We can stomach making two house payments for a while. I mean, theoretically, I imagine we could do it for 6-8 months without killing us (wouldn't be much different from paying for all the damn windows the boys broke a few years ago), but it would sure be nice to sell this thing FAST without making a single double-payment.

Here's hoping I get a ton of extra work this summer for the cash infusion we'll need to pay for all the stuff we're going to have to do for the old and the new house during the next few weeks.

Posted by Observer at 04:23 PM | Comments (4)

January 18, 2006

Another Shocking Development

Surprise, wingnuts are claiming liberal media bias when, in documented fact, the situation is precisely the opposite. Dishonest fucks.

Posted by Observer at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

Is This Russia?

Pretty often when nutballs disparage liberalism, they like to bring up "Political Correctness" and "Thought Police", especially in relation to the campus environment. According to the eternally victimized wingnuts, their delicately flowering outlook on the world is under constant assault from liberal professors who try to reprogram them into hippies and flower children. In fact, your typical wingnuts is NOT ALLOWED to speak out on campus, constantly persecuted for presenting ideas like how we should all support the Boy King or else we want the terrorists to win, etc.

Just do a google search for some fuckbrain like David Horowitz if you don't believe me. Or campus conservatives. These pathetic shits even coopt the language of Martin Luther King, Jr. "We shall overcome," they cry. You know, these are the ones who got in on a legacy admission (affirmative action for white people that for some reason conservatives just NEVER seem to get angry about), who got an SUV for their 18th birthday from their parents, whose toughest choice in life to date has been which Greek organization to join.

You would think that if there were a movement to "monitor" the political speech of professors to make sure it doesn't stray too far from whatever is right and proper, you'd think that would really piss off conservatives who like to style themselves as the enemies of the PC police. But you would be wrong:

From an email that was just forwarded to me:

UCLA Students:
Do you have a professor who just can't stop talking about President Bush, about the war in Iraq, about the Republican Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter?  It doesn't matter whether this is a past class, or your class for this coming winter quarter.

If you help UCLAProfs.com expose the professor, we'll pay you for your work.

That's right.  Students are being paid to report on their teachers' political views.

The site is sponsored by the Bruin Alumni Association , itself a group with the apparently sole purpose of exposing and combatting an "exploding crisis of political radicalism on campus. It's endangering the very core of UCLA - the undergraduate experience."

So what exactly is the Bruin Alumni Association?  It sounds pretty official, doesn't it?  Well, its president and founder is a 2003 UCLA graduate.  Its advisory board includes former Bush Labor Secretary nominee Linda Chavez, former House Manager in the Clinton impeachment Jim Rogan, notoriously ethical and rigorous gun-control researcher John Lott, and occasional Rush Limbaugh show guest host Dr. Walter Williams.   And they're paying current undergrads to be Big Brother's watchful eye on the UCLA faculty.

(The payment schedule is "Full, detailed lecture notes, all professor-distributed materials, and full tape recordings of every class session, for one class: $100"; "Full, detailed lecture notes and all professor-distributed materials, for one class: $50"; "Advisory and all professor-distributed materials: $10")

And what is this exploding crisis of political radicalism?  

"One aspect of this radicalization, outlined here, is an unholy alliance between anti-war professors, radical Muslim students, and a pliant administration.  Working together, they have made UCLA a major organizing center for opposition to the War on Terror. "

Times like these make me think of the great Chevy Chase quote: "This isn't Russia. Is this Russia? This isn't Russia."

Posted by Observer at 07:30 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2006

Where Was This Guy...

... in 2000? It's nice to have an articulate, honest and principled Democrat speak up for himself once in a while. Of course, after his speech, Gore was instantly trashed by the usual wingnuts who didn't listen to a word. The strategy is to throw a bunch of shit at the wall and hope something sticks. All we liberals can do is hope (in vain) for the media to clearly and resoundingly call "bullshit" instead of letting the debate devolve into a "on the one hand..." fest. A more realistic hope will be for the appointment of a Patrick Fitzgerald-style special prosecutor to get to the bottom of this.

Here is Gore's response:

The Administration's response to my speech illustrates perfectly the need for a special counsel to review the legality of the NSA wiretapping program.

The Attorney General is making a political defense of the President without even addressing the substantive legal questions that have so troubled millions of Americans in both political parties.

There are two problems with the Attorney General's effort to focus attention on the past instead of the present Administration's behavior. First, as others have thoroughly documented, his charges are factually wrong. Both before and after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 1995, the Clinton/Gore Administration complied fully and completely with the terms of the law.

Second, the Attorney General's attempt to cite a previous administration's activity as precedent for theirs - even though factually wrong - ironically demonstrates another reason why we must be so vigilant about their brazen disregard for the law. If unchecked, their behavior would serve as a precedent to encourage future presidents to claim these same powers, which many legal experts in both parties believe are clearly illegal.

The issue, simply put, is that for more than four years, the executive branch has been wiretapping many thousands of American citizens without warrants in direct contradiction of American law. It is clearly wrong and disrespectful to the American people to allow a close political associate of the president to be in charge of reviewing serious charges against him.

The country needs a full and independent investigation into the facts and legality of the present Administration's program.

Gore in '08.

Posted by Observer at 04:12 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

If You Think THAT Was Long...

... I recently compiled all of the emails I sent in response to student questions for my introductory survey course this semester. The total was over a million words, 2300 single-spaced, 9-point pages in a Word document. That's about half the length of "The Lord of the Rings" and nowhere near as interesting.

Hey, at least my Rate My Professor ratings went up by a fraction of a point. That makes it all worth while, right?

Posted by Observer at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

Why Oh Why...

... couldn't the Supreme Court just let the rightful winner in 2000, this man, lead our country. Maybe then we'd have someone in office who respects the entire Bill of Rights, not just the 2nd amendment.

Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens-Democrats and Republicans alike-to express our shared concern that America's Constitution is in grave danger.

In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.

As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses.

It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored.

So, many of us have come here to Constitution Hall to sound an alarm and call upon our fellow citizens to put aside partisan differences and join with us in demanding that our Constitution be defended and preserved.

It is appropriate that we make this appeal on the day our nation has set aside to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who challenged America to breathe new life into our oldest values by extending its promise to all our people.

On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during this period.

The FBI privately called King the "most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal." The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted a long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King's life, helped to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.

The result was the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted expressly to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented to an impartial judge to verify that there is a sufficient cause for the surveillance. I voted for that law during my first term in Congress and for almost thirty years the system has proven a workable and valued means of according a level of protection for private citizens, while permitting foreign surveillance to continue.

Yet, just one month ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this long settled law, the Executive Branch has been secretly spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on "large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States." The New York Times reported that the President decided to launch this massive eavesdropping program "without search warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic intelligence collection."

During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the President went out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place.

But surprisingly, the President's soothing statements turned out to be false. Moreover, as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the President not only confirmed that the story was true, but also declared that he has no intention of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end.

At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, "On Common Sense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that "the law is king."

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint.

The rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.

A commitment to openness, truthfulness and accountability also helps our country avoid many serious mistakes. Recently, for example, we learned from recently classified declassified documents that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the tragic Vietnam war, was actually based on false information. We now know that the decision by Congress to authorize the Iraq War, 38 years later, was also based on false information. America would have been better off knowing the truth and avoiding both of these colossal mistakes in our history. Following the rule of law makes us safer, not more vulnerable.

The President and I agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in the wake of the attack on September 11th and that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting our citizens from harm.

Where we disagree is that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protect Americans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us weaker and more vulnerable.

Once violated, the rule of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws.

The President's men have minced words about America's laws. The Attorney General openly conceded that the "kind of surveillance" we now know they have been conducting requires a court order unless authorized by statute. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act self-evidently does not authorize what the NSA has been doing, and no one inside or outside the Administration claims that it does. Incredibly, the Administration claims instead that the surveillance was implicitly authorized when Congress voted to use force against those who attacked us on September 11th.

This argument just does not hold any water. Without getting into the legal intricacies, it faces a number of embarrassing facts. First, another admission by the Attorney General: he concedes that the Administration knew that the NSA project was prohibited by existing law and that they consulted with some members of Congress about changing the statute. Gonzalez says that they were told this probably would not be possible. So how can they now argue that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force somehow implicitly authorized it all along? Second, when the Authorization was being debated, the Administration did in fact seek to have language inserted in it that would have authorized them to use military force domestically - and the Congress did not agree. Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Jim McGovern, among others, made statements during the Authorization debate clearly restating that that Authorization did not operate domestically.

When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him all the power he wanted when they passed the AUMF, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as Justice Frankfurter once wrote: "To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between President and Congress."

This is precisely the "disrespect" for the law that the Supreme Court struck down in the steel seizure case.

It is this same disrespect for America's Constitution which has now brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution. And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.

For example, the President has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that, notwithstanding his American citizenship, the person imprisoned has no right to talk with a lawyer-even to argue that the President or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person.

The President claims that he can imprison American citizens indefinitely for the rest of their lives without an arrest warrant, without notifying them about what charges have been filed against them, and without informing their families that they have been imprisoned.

At the same time, the Executive Branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture in a pattern that has now been documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.

Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by Executive Branch interrogators and many more have been broken and humiliated. In the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were innocent of any charges.

This shameful exercise of power overturns a set of principles that our nation has observed since General Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War and has been observed by every president since then - until now. These practices violate the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture, not to mention our own laws against torture.

The President has also claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals in foreign countries and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on our behalf by autocratic regimes in nations that are infamous for the cruelty of their techniques for torture.

Some of our traditional allies have been shocked by these new practices on the part of our nation. The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan - one of those nations with the worst reputations for torture in its prisons - registered a complaint to his home office about the senselessness and cruelty of the new U.S. practice: "This material is useless - we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful."

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch's claims of these previously unrecognized powers: "If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."

The fact that our normal safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power is deeply troubling. This failure is due in part to the fact that the Executive Branch has followed a determined strategy of obfuscating, delaying, withholding information, appearing to yield but then refusing to do so and dissembling in order to frustrate the efforts of the legislative and judicial branches to restore our constitutional balance.

For example, after appearing to support legislation sponsored by John McCain to stop the continuation of torture, the President declared in the act of signing the bill that he reserved the right not to comply with it.

Similarly, the Executive Branch claimed that it could unilaterally imprison American citizens without giving them access to review by any tribunal. The Supreme Court disagreed, but the President engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the Court from providing meaningful content to the rights of its citizens.

A conservative jurist on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the Executive Branch's handling of one such case seemed to involve the sudden abandonment of principle "at substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts."

As a result of its unprecedented claim of new unilateral power, the Executive Branch has now put our constitutional design at grave risk. The stakes for America's representative democracy are far higher than has been generally recognized.

These claims must be rejected and a healthy balance of power restored to our Republic. Otherwise, the fundamental nature of our democracy may well undergo a radical transformation.

For more than two centuries, America's freedoms have been preserved in part by our founders' wise decision to separate the aggregate power of our government into three co-equal branches, each of which serves to check and balance the power of the other two.

On more than a few occasions, the dynamic interaction among all three branches has resulted in collisions and temporary impasses that create what are invariably labeled "constitutional crises." These crises have often been dangerous and uncertain times for our Republic. But in each such case so far, we have found a resolution of the crisis by renewing our common agreement to live under the rule of law.

The principle alternative to democracy throughout history has been the consolidation of virtually all state power in the hands of a single strongman or small group who together exercise that power without the informed consent of the governed.

It was in revolt against just such a regime, after all, that America was founded. When Lincoln declared at the time of our greatest crisis that the ultimate question being decided in the Civil War was "whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure," he was not only saving our union but also was recognizing the fact that democracies are rare in history. And when they fail, as did Athens and the Roman Republic upon whose designs our founders drew heavily, what emerges in their place is another strongman regime.

There have of course been other periods of American history when the Executive Branch claimed new powers that were later seen as excessive and mistaken. Our second president, John Adams, passed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts and sought to silence and imprison critics and political opponents.

When his successor, Thomas Jefferson, eliminated the abuses he said: "[The essential principles of our Government] form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation... [S]hould we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety."

Our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Some of the worst abuses prior to those of the current administration were committed by President Wilson during and after WWI with the notorious Red Scare and Palmer Raids. The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII marked a low point for the respect of individual rights at the hands of the executive. And, during the Vietnam War, the notorious COINTELPRO program was part and parcel of the abuses experienced by Dr. King and thousands of others.

But in each of these cases, when the conflict and turmoil subsided, the country recovered its equilibrium and absorbed the lessons learned in a recurring cycle of excess and regret.

There are reasons for concern this time around that conditions may be changing and that the cycle may not repeat itself. For one thing, we have for decades been witnessing the slow and steady accumulation of presidential power. In a global environment of nuclear weapons and cold war tensions, Congress and the American people accepted ever enlarging spheres of presidential initiative to conduct intelligence and counter intelligence activities and to allocate our military forces on the global stage. When military force has been used as an instrument of foreign policy or in response to humanitarian demands, it has almost always been as the result of presidential initiative and leadership. As Justice Frankfurter wrote in the Steel Seizure Case, "The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority."

A second reason to believe we may be experiencing something new is that we are told by the Administration that the war footing upon which he has tried to place the country is going to "last for the rest of our lives." So we are told that the conditions of national threat that have been used by other Presidents to justify arrogations of power will persist in near perpetuity.

Third, we need to be aware of the advances in eavesdropping and surveillance technologies with their capacity to sweep up and analyze enormous quantities of information and to mine it for intelligence. This adds significant vulnerability to the privacy and freedom of enormous numbers of innocent people at the same time as the potential power of those technologies. These techologies have the potential for shifting the balance of power between the apparatus of the state and the freedom of the individual in ways both subtle and profound.

Don't misunderstand me: the threat of additional terror strikes is all too real and their concerted efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction does create a real imperative to exercise the powers of the Executive Branch with swiftness and agility. Moreover, there is in fact an inherent power that is conferred by the Constitution to the President to take unilateral action to protect the nation from a sudden and immediate threat, but it is simply not possible to precisely define in legalistic terms exactly when that power is appropriate and when it is not.

But the existence of that inherent power cannot be used to justify a gross and excessive power grab lasting for years that produces a serious imbalance in the relationship between the executive and the other two branches of government.

There is a final reason to worry that we may be experiencing something more than just another cycle of overreach and regret. This Administration has come to power in the thrall of a legal theory that aims to convince us that this excessive concentration of presidential authority is exactly what our Constitution intended.

This legal theory, which its proponents call the theory of the unitary executive but which is more accurately described as the unilateral executive, threatens to expand the president's powers until the contours of the constitution that the Framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition. Under this theory, the President's authority when acting as Commander-in-Chief or when making foreign policy cannot be reviewed by the judiciary or checked by Congress. President Bush has pushed the implications of this idea to its maximum by continually stressing his role as Commander-in-Chief, invoking it has frequently as he can, conflating it with his other roles, domestic and foreign. When added to the idea that we have entered a perpetual state of war, the implications of this theory stretch quite literally as far into the future as we can imagine.

This effort to rework America's carefully balanced constitutional design into a lopsided structure dominated by an all powerful Executive Branch with a subservient Congress and judiciary is-ironically-accompanied by an effort by the same administration to rework America's foreign policy from one that is based primarily on U.S. moral authority into one that is based on a misguided and self-defeating effort to establish dominance in the world.

The common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control.

This same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the Executive Branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all Executive Branch employees.

For example, CIA analysts who strongly disagreed with the White House assertion that Osama bin Laden was linked to Saddam Hussein found themselves under pressure at work and became fearful of losing promotions and salary increases.

Ironically, that is exactly what happened to FBI officials in the 1960s who disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover's view that Dr. King was closely connected to Communists. The head of the FBI's domestic intelligence division said that his effort to tell the truth about King's innocence of the charge resulted in he and his colleagues becoming isolated and pressured. "It was evident that we had to change our ways or we would all be out on the street.... The men and I discussed how to get out of trouble. To be in trouble with Mr. Hoover was a serious matter. These men were trying to buy homes, mortgages on homes, children in school. They lived in fear of getting transferred, losing money on their homes, as they usually did. ... so they wanted another memorandum written to get us out of the trouble that we were in."

The Constitution's framers understood this dilemma as well, as Alexander Hamilton put it, "a power over a man's support is a power over his will." (Federalist No. 73)

Soon, there was no more difference of opinion within the FBI. The false accusation became the unanimous view. In exactly the same way, George Tenet's CIA eventually joined in endorsing a manifestly false view that there was a linkage between al Qaeda and the government of Iraq.

In the words of George Orwell: "We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."

Whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.

Last week, for example, Vice President Cheney attempted to defend the Administration's eavesdropping on American citizens by saying that if it had conducted this program prior to 9/11, they would have found out the names of some of the hijackers.

Tragically, he apparently still doesn't know that the Administration did in fact have the names of at least 2 of the hijackers well before 9/11 and had available to them information that could have easily led to the identification of most of the other hijackers. And yet, because of incompetence in the handling of this information, it was never used to protect the American people.

It is often the case that an Executive Branch beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be given still more power. Often, the request itself it used to mask accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has.

Moreover, if the pattern of practice begun by this Administration is not challenged, it may well become a permanent part of the American system. Many conservatives have pointed out that granting unchecked power to this President means that the next President will have unchecked power as well. And the next President may be someone whose values and belief you do not trust. And this is why Republicans as well as Democrats should be concerned with what this President has done. If this President's attempt to dramatically expand executive power goes unquestioned, our constitutional design of checks and balances will be lost. And the next President or some future President will be able, in the name of national security, to restrict our liberties in a way the framers never would have thought possible.

The same instinct to expand its power and to establish dominance characterizes the relationship between this Administration and the courts and the Congress.

In a properly functioning system, the Judicial Branch would serve as the constitutional umpire to ensure that the branches of government observed their proper spheres of authority, observed civil liberties and adhered to the rule of law. Unfortunately, the unilateral executive has tried hard to thwart the ability of the judiciary to call balls and strikes by keeping controversies out of its hands - notably those challenging its ability to detain individuals without legal process -- by appointing judges who will be deferential to its exercise of power and by its support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.

The President's decision to ignore FISA was a direct assault on the power of the judges who sit on that court. Congress established the FISA court precisely to be a check on executive power to wiretap. Yet, to ensure that the court could not function as a check on executive power, the President simply did not take matters to it and did not let the court know that it was being bypassed.

The President's judicial appointments are clearly designed to ensure that the courts will not serve as an effective check on executive power. As we have all learned, Judge Alito is a longtime supporter of a powerful executive - a supporter of the so-called unitary executive, which is more properly called the unilateral executive. Whether you support his confirmation or not - and I do not - we must all agree that he will not vote as an effective check on the expansion of executive power. Likewise, Chief Justice Roberts has made plain his deference to the expansion of executive power through his support of judicial deference to executive agency rulemaking.

And the Administration has supported the assault on judicial independence that has been conducted largely in Congress. That assault includes a threat by the Republican majority in the Senate to permanently change the rules to eliminate the right of the minority to engage in extended debate of the President's judicial nominees. The assault has extended to legislative efforts to curtail the jurisdiction of courts in matters ranging from habeas corpus to the pledge of allegiance. In short, the Administration has demonstrated its contempt for the judicial role and sought to evade judicial review of its actions at every turn.

But the most serious damage has been done to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the Executive Branch to attain a massive expansion of its power.

I was elected to Congress in 1976 and served eight years in the house, 8 years in the Senate and presided over the Senate for 8 years as Vice President. As a young man, I saw the Congress first hand as the son of a Senator. My father was elected to Congress in 1938, 10 years before I was born, and left the Senate in 1971.

The Congress we have today is unrecognizable compared to the one in which my father served. There are many distinguished Senators and Congressmen serving today. I am honored that some of them are here in this hall. But the legislative branch of government under its current leadership now operates as if it is entirely subservient to the Executive Branch.

Moreover, too many Members of the House and Senate now feel compelled to spend a majority of their time not in thoughtful debate of the issues, but raising money to purchase 30 second TV commercials.

There have now been two or three generations of congressmen who don't really know what an oversight hearing is. In the 70's and 80's, the oversight hearings in which my colleagues and I participated held the feet of the Executive Branch to the fire - no matter which party was in power. Yet oversight is almost unknown in the Congress today.

The role of authorization committees has declined into insignificance. The 13 annual appropriation bills are hardly ever actually passed anymore. Everything is lumped into a single giant measure that is not even available for Members of Congress to read before they vote on it.

Members of the minority party are now routinely excluded from conference committees, and amendments are routinely not allowed during floor consideration of legislation.

In the United States Senate, which used to pride itself on being the "greatest deliberative body in the world," meaningful debate is now a rarity. Even on the eve of the fateful vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd famously asked: "Why is this chamber empty?"

In the House of Representatives, the number who face a genuinely competitive election contest every two years is typically less than a dozen out of 435.

And too many incumbents have come to believe that the key to continued access to the money for re-election is to stay on the good side of those who have the money to give; and, in the case of the majority party, the whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization.

So the willingness of Congress to challenge the Administration is further limited when the same party controls both Congress and the Executive Branch.

The Executive Branch, time and again, has co-opted Congress' role, and often Congress has been a willing accomplice in the surrender of its own power.

Look for example at the Congressional role in "overseeing" this massive four year eavesdropping campaign that on its face seemed so clearly to violate the Bill of Rights. The President says he informed Congress, but what he really means is that he talked with the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees and the top leaders of the House and Senate. This small group, in turn, claimed that they were not given the full facts, though at least one of the intelligence committee leaders handwrote a letter of concern to VP Cheney and placed a copy in his own safe.

Though I sympathize with the awkward position in which these men and women were placed, I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program.

Moreover, in the Congress as a whole-both House and Senate-the enhanced role of money in the re-election process, coupled with the sharply diminished role for reasoned deliberation and debate, has produced an atmosphere conducive to pervasive institutionalized corruption.

The Abramoff scandal is but the tip of a giant iceberg that threatens the integrity of the entire legislative branch of government.

It is the pitiful state of our legislative branch which primarily explains the failure of our vaunted checks and balances to prevent the dangerous overreach by our Executive Branch which now threatens a radical transformation of the American system.

I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you're supposed to be.

But there is yet another Constitutional player whose pulse must be taken and whose role must be examined in order to understand the dangerous imbalance that has emerged with the efforts by the Executive Branch to dominate our constitutional system.

We the people are-collectively-still the key to the survival of America's democracy. We-as Lincoln put it, "[e]ven we here"-must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay and degradation of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson said: "An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will."

The revolutionary departure on which the idea of America was based was the audacious belief that people can govern themselves and responsibly exercise the ultimate authority in self-government. This insight proceeded inevitably from the bedrock principle articulated by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke: "All just power is derived from the consent of the governed."

The intricate and carefully balanced constitutional system that is now in such danger was created with the full and widespread participation of the population as a whole. The Federalist Papers were, back in the day, widely-read newspaper essays, and they represented only one of twenty-four series of essays that crowded the vibrant marketplace of ideas in which farmers and shopkeepers recapitulated the debates that played out so fruitfully in Philadelphia.

Indeed, when the Convention had done its best, it was the people - in their various States - that refused to confirm the result until, at their insistence, the Bill of Rights was made integral to the document sent forward for ratification.

And it is "We the people" who must now find once again the ability we once had to play an integral role in saving our Constitution.

And here there is cause for both concern and great hope. The age of printed pamphlets and political essays has long since been replaced by television - a distracting and absorbing medium which sees determined to entertain and sell more than it informs and educates.

Lincoln's memorable call during the Civil War is applicable in a new way to our dilemma today: "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Forty years have passed since the majority of Americans adopted television as their principal source of information. Its dominance has become so extensive that virtually all significant political communication now takes place within the confines of flickering 30-second television advertisements.

And the political economy supported by these short but expensive television ads is as different from the vibrant politics of America's first century as those politics were different from the feudalism which thrived on the ignorance of the masses of people in the Dark Ages.

The constricted role of ideas in the American political system today has encouraged efforts by the Executive Branch to control the flow of information as a means of controlling the outcome of important decisions that still lie in the hands of the people.

The Administration vigorously asserts its power to maintain the secrecy of its operations. After all, the other branches can't check an abuse of power if they don't know it is happening.

For example, when the Administration was attempting to persuade Congress to enact the Medicare prescription drug benefit, many in the House and Senate raised concerns about the cost and design of the program. But, rather than engaging in open debate on the basis of factual data, the Administration withheld facts and prevented the Congress from hearing testimony that it sought from the principal administration expert who had compiled information showing in advance of the vote that indeed the true cost estimates were far higher than the numbers given to Congress by the President.

Deprived of that information, and believing the false numbers given to it instead, the Congress approved the program. Tragically, the entire initiative is now collapsing- all over the country- with the Administration making an appeal just this weekend to major insurance companies to volunteer to bail it out.

To take another example, scientific warnings about the catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming were censored by a political appointee in the White House who had no scientific training. And today one of the leading scientific experts on global warming in NASA has been ordered not to talk to members of the press and to keep a careful log of everyone he meets with so that the Executive Branch can monitor and control his discussions of global warming.

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

I endorse the words of Bob Barr, when he said, "The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will."

A special counsel should immediately be appointed by the Attorney General to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the President. We have had a fresh demonstration of how an independent investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence in our system of justice. Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive Branch has violated other laws.

Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress should support the bipartisan call of the Liberty Coalition for the appointment of a special counsel to pursue the criminal issues raised by warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the President.

Second, new whistleblower protections should immediately be established for members of the Executive Branch who report evidence of wrongdoing -- especially where it involves the abuse of Executive Branch authority in the sensitive areas of national security.

Third, both Houses of Congress should hold comprehensive-and not just superficial-hearings into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President. And, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Fourth, the extensive new powers requested by the Executive Branch in its proposal to extend and enlarge the Patriot Act should, under no circumstances be granted, unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been revealed.

Fifth, any telecommunications company that has provided the government with access to private information concerning the communications of Americans without a proper warrant should immediately cease and desist their complicity in this apparently illegal invasion of the privacy of American citizens.

Freedom of communication is an essential prerequisite for the restoration of the health of our democracy.

It is particularly important that the freedom of the Internet be protected against either the encroachment of government or the efforts at control by large media conglomerates. The future of our democracy depends on it.

I mentioned that along with cause for concern, there is reason for hope. As I stand here today, I am filled with optimism that America is on the eve of a golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will be re-established and will flourish more vibrantly than ever. Indeed I can feel it in this hall.

As Dr. King once said, "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."

Gore in '08!

Posted by Observer at 03:29 PM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2006

Timing

I've been doing a million things to get ready for the beginning of the semester, and most things are squared away. I will say this, though: the week before a semester begins has got to be the DUMBEST time for a textbook rep to take a vacation. Sheesh.

Posted by Observer at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2006

LINOs

LINO = Libertarian In Name Only. These are people who claim to be libertarian (especially when it comes to the 2nd amendment) but who back the Boy King to the hilt and gladly give away pretty much every other right enumerated in the Bill of Rights. They call themselves libertarian so that the typical Moron American who doesn't bother to pay attention says, "Oh, they don't like big government, and I don't either, so whatever they're for, I'm for."

Anyway, Scott Lemieux puts all kinds of things in his post that make me wanna say "Me, too.":

I very much enjoyed Glenn Greenwald's merciless dismantling of Jonah "Search warrant? Scope requirements? Who cares?" Goldberg. And yet, in a perverse way, I have a certain respect for the candor of the Goldbergs and Bobos. Their support of Alito is, at least, explicit and logically consistent. They think that we should just pretend that the Fourth Amendment doesn't exist where the War (On Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs is concerned, and they make no bones about it. (The "some classes" is crucial, of course: Goldberg's tradeoff is about giving up other people's civil liberties. His daughter isn't going to be subject to warrantless strip searches. The sanctity of David Brooks' nice exurban home isn't going to be violated.) It's a bad position, but at least it's honest.

Much worse is that of the Yoosta-Bees who are even more annoying than their "anti-idiotarian" moniker. The Alito nomination--where the Iraq War in taken off the table, and where issues of civil liberties are paramount--really gives away the show. You would think that a reactionary-across-the-board Supreme Court nominee would be where you might see some separation between the GOP and people who allegedly vote Republican because of foreign policy but are still good civil libertarians (which has happened with some small-government conservatives.) But, of course, this hasn't happened.

See the original post for lots of delicious and useful links.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2006

The Purpose of the Cold War...

... was ostensibly so that we could win the struggle against the unchecked power of dictatorships (or the centralized power of communist societies that just never really quite got around to dispersing their power to the people for some odd reason). We were the good guys, America. We loved freedom, and we were proud of our Democracy. We didn't live in some two-bit dictatorship where people could be swept up off the streets if some thug in power thought they might be a problem, where people's civil liberties were routinely violated with little or no justification offered, where corruption was so endemic that it took enormous bribes to get anything accomplished in government.

No, those countries were the African nation-states or the banana republics of the Caribbean or the dysfunctional societies of South America. They were the oppressive societies of China and the Soviet Union. They were the can't-ever-seem-to-get-their-collective-shit-together European countries. We laughed at those countries, sometimes pitied them. We were reminded to be thankful of the country we live in, the freedoms we enjoy.

Now, with the Bush administration in power and the Keyboard Kommandos and wingnuts hailing victory with every deceptively brilliant political manuever, one wonders why we ever even bothered pretending we were any different. Glenn Greenwald knows what I'm talking about, but his blog is formatted in a weird way that I can never read, so I'm going to quote his whole post. (emphasis mine in various places)

There is a widespread, tacit assumption that no matter how apathetic and inattentive Americans become, there is still some line which they will not allow the Government to cross when it comes to exceeding or abusing the limits of government power. That assumption has taken a huge beating over the last four years, and is now in serious doubt.

Americans have sat by more or less passively by while this Administration detained American citizens and threw them into a military prison without charges being brought, without a trial, and without even allowing them access to a lawyer. Many are basically indifferent to revelations that the Bush Administration is eavesdropping on American citizens in secret and with no oversight of any kind. And worst of all, a sizable portion of the population is acquiescing to the fact that we have a President who was just discovered breaking the law, and rather than expressing shame or remorse once he was caught, has vowed to continue doing it based on the theory that he has the right to violate the law and that it's for our own good.

It is sometimes hard to put one’s finger on exactly what motivates such passive acceptance of these obvious government abuses, but Jonah Goldberg puked up a paragraph last night in the Corner which really captures everything that is rancid and decaying in our country and which casts an ugly though illuminating light on all of this.

In his little item, Jonah was talking about – and, of course, defending – the strip searching of the 10-year-old girl in the case where Judge Alito ruled that the search warrant issued to the Police authorized searching of the girl. Jonah then went further - much further -- and defended all strip-searching of all children, even without a warrant, whenever the Police thinks the kids’ parents are "drug dealers":

STRIP SEARCHES [Jonah Goldberg] I understand the need for following the procedural niceties, but as a plain moral common sense issue, if you are a drug dealer and keep drugs on the premises with your child, you get zero-point-zero sympathy from me if your kids are searched, warrant or no. It may be wrong for the cops to do it. But you are not a victim for choosing a life where you can rationally expect to expose your kids to far greater risks than a search by a polite cop. The kid's a victim -- of bad parents.

If you can stomach it, let’s review this, because it really illustrates what is going on in our country. Constitutional safeguards guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are nothing more than what Jonah calls "procedural niceties." While it would be nice and all if the Constitution were adhered to, "plain moral common sense" means that it’s actually unnecessary, even undesirable, to be restricted by such things.

After all, we’re dealing here with people whom the State says it suspects, but has not yet proven, are "drug dealers." With those people (and, of course, with "suspected terrorists"), anything goes, even before a trial and without any due process of any kind. All of this can be done strictly on the Government's say-so, even if the Constitutional "niceties" which exist to prohibit such behavior haven’t been complied with. "It may be wrong," spits out Jonah, but we should do it anyway, because these people deserve it.

Isn’t it exactly this depraved thinking which lies at the heart of almost every current controversy we have? The whole point of the Bill of Rights – really, its principal function – is to prevent the Government from punishing those whom the Government claims (but has not yet proven in a court of law) are bad people deserving of punishment. That’s why there is a sequence mandated by the Constitution before rights can be abridged and punishment inflicted – first, charge someone with a crime, then give them the right to defend themselves along with other protections of due process, and then convict them. Only then are they considered criminals whose rights can be abridged.

What people like Jonah Goldberg stupidly refer to as these "procedural niceties" happen to be the only things which distinguish our country from every two-bit dictatorship around. If the Government has the power to simply decree American citizens to be criminals -- or terrorists -- without bothering to prove it in accordance with "procedural niceties," then the Government has the power of tyranny. It means the Government can act against whatever citizens it wants without limits, strictly on the Government’s say-so. That’s why we have a Constitution - to impose those limits and to prevent the Government from exercising exactly this power. That is so obvious. It’s basic civics. It’s something we learn in the sixth grade.

There is, of course, a great irony that self-styled "conservatives" like Jonah constantly rail against the evils of disregarding the mandates of the law in order to achieve some desirable outcome. That’s the whole "judicial activism" shtick -- that these judges are evil and undemocratic because they want to exceed the law in order to achieve the outcome they like. And yet their entire world-view has come to be based on the premise that transgressions of any and all types of laws – from FISA to anti-torture laws to Constitutional guarantees of due process – are perfectly justifiable as long as they are in pursuit of some desirable outcome, usually fighting the "terrorists," but other results they like can justify these lawless transgressions as well.

Thanks to the ceaseless fear-mongering of this Administration, we are becoming – excuse the grotesque imagery -- a Nation of Jonah Goldbergs, scared and lazy creatures who sit around believing that the Government is justified – even obligated – to act literally without constraint against the Bad People, the ones who are deemed to be Bad not pursuant to any "procedural niceties" but simply by the unchecked decree of the Government. These Jonah Goldbergs love to talk tough. But they are repulsively coddled and effete, whining about every perceived petty injustice which affects them but breezily endorsing the most limitless abuses of others, as long as the "others" seem sufficiently demonized and far enough away.

This brazen willingness to glibly endorse such government abuses is a natural by-product of a personality which loudly beats the drums of war and, in doing so, boasts about how tough that makes him, only to then insist that others should be subjected to the resulting risks because he’s too busy and too important playing computer games, watching Star Trek, and wiping drool off his daughter’s chin to bear that burden. It is a mindset that is as selfish and weak as it is indifferent to the fate of others.

Such individuals want more than anything for the Government to protect them, and in exchange, are willing and even eager to give the Government unlimited power to act against those citizens whom the Government says are bad and dangerous people. It is a mindset of great cowardice which is devoid of any principles other than fear and petty selfishness. And it really is the antithesis of everything which gave birth to the United States.

Thus, the Government can and should throw Jose Padilla in a military prison without a trial and without a lawyer because George Bush has decreed that he is bad. The Government can and should eavesdrop without warrants or oversight on American citizens because it assures us it's only doing it to those people who George Bush believes are bad. The Government can and should strip search children, even without the warrants required by the Constitution, because it’s only doing it to the people who are bad. And the Government can and should break whatever laws it wants to break in order to act against those people who George Bush says are bad.

It is truly nauseating to watch the basic principles of our country, which have preserved both liberty and stability with unprecedented brilliance over the last 200 years, be inexorably whittled away and treated like petty nuisances by the depraved Jonah Goldbergs among us. It is a mindset based on a truly toxic brew of glib self-absorption, sickly laziness and profound ignorance, and it is being easily manipulated by an Administration which is demanding -- and acquiring -- more and more power in exchange for coddling and protecting the little Jonah Goldbergs of the world.

The post is further updated as Goldberg has tried several times to respond by not responding to the point or by contradicting himself. Atrios adds:

I suppose it's quite outrageous when drug dealers do such things. But that didn't, you know, happen in this case which is why we require warrants for such things. It's why probable cause matters. It's why Jonah needs to go back to 3rd grade civics so that he understands that we're not a country of collective guilt and the fact that some bad guy somewhere stashed drugs on his kids does not mean we should grant agents of the state the right to strip search all kids, include Jonah's own offspring, without warrants.

Remember, this is the party that was swept into power by proclaiming loudly and constantly how Big Government was an enormous failure, intruding on the liberties of its citizens with a nanny state, entitlement mentality. These same people, who will to their death proclaim that the gummint needs to keep their hands off of our guns, will also gladly throw out every single one of the rest of the first ten amendments (otherwise known as the Bill of Rights) to our Constitution. When it comes to the War on Terror, the government can and should have total, unquestioned power, and it you don't shut up about it, you must hate America and love the terrorists.

How did we get to the point where demanding liberties makes one anti-American?

Posted by Observer at 11:43 AM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2006

It's a Deal

Wow. We've got a deal on the new house we're trying to buy. The asking price was $163k, which was very competitive for that neighborhood, and we offered $154k. We also wrote a letter explaining to the owner that we were a family wanting to move in and raise our kids, not just speculators trying to flip the house for a profit or something. I guess the letter helped a lot, because the owner didn't even come back with a counteroffer. He just accepted our offer. That's a pretty huge change in fortune compared to buying our current house, where the guy never budged and we eventually swallowed our pride and paid the full asking price. We would've been willing to do the same on this new place, so the owner just gave us about a $9k gift.

So now comes a very hectic month, because we move in about two weeks, assuming the inspection goes well, and we have to get our own place ready to show. It would be great if we could sell our place for a little more than we bought it for, but we knew we overpaid when we bought this place because at the time, it suited us so perfectly. So if we want to unload in a hurry, we will probably have to accept less than we want.

Posted by Observer at 10:38 AM | Comments (8)

January 11, 2006

Bias (Again)

Here's a shocker. The liberal media is accusing Democrats of pre-judging Alito, of deciding on their vote before hearing their testimony. I don't doubt this is true, actually. There is a long paper trail of problems, and nothing Alito says is going to erase that.

My point, though, is that the media isn't saying the same thing about Republicans, who are clearly going to vote for this guy come hell or high water. I wonder why?

Posted by Observer at 05:48 PM | Comments (0)

Life Moves Pretty Fast

On our house-hunting trip this past weekend, I mentioned that the only acceptable place we found was one not originally on our list because it didn't fall in our price range. Well, we crunched some numbers, and I guess it is in our price range after all (about $160k), especially now that interest rates have fallen more than a percentage point since we bought our current house in June 2002. Turns out that our offer for the house will only result in a total monthly payment (including taxes and insurance) of only about $300 more than we're paying now.

For a 60% increase in square footage (1980 --> 3220) in a nicer neighborhood, 4-5 minutes closer to work/church, 10-12 minutes closer to all different levels of schools (different schools than they are currently attending, roughly equal in quality) which are all within walking/biking distance (0.5, 1.0 and 1.5 miles for elementary, middle and high school), and similar-quality home? Uh, that's a no-brainer. It's kind of ironic that three times this week, J*stin's coach has extended his practice for about 5-10 minutes past time for the bus to leave, which requires me to go down there and pick him up, a 30-minute round trip. Grrr. I told J*stin this last time that he is really making me want to move!

I took the kids over to the house last night, though we couldn't go in, just so they could see it. We want to keep them informed and on-board with the decision. The two older ones don't care. The 11-year-old, C*dy, is being negative. He is worried that he'll be the new kid at school and kids will make fun of him. He also will greatly miss his best friend in his current school, even though we will only live about 3-4 minutes further away from that kid. Plus, C*dy has it pretty good in our house, ending up with the largest of the four kid bedrooms. His room in the new house will be about the same size, plus there will be a game room on the 2nd floor.

He'll be fine once we move, but he fears the unknown a little bit. The only downside to this new place that is different from our current place is that the nearest park is a little bit further away, more of a 5-6 minute walk instead of 200 yards. But as I told the boys, ever since they broke the windows at the school, we hardly let them go down to the park anyway. And the new house has a natural basketball court in the driveway (a parking place in back of the house for a third car, much safer than out on the street), a huge plus.

The new home needs updating. All of the windows are (shudder) single-pane, and the countertops and cabinets and paneling aren't so great, but our current house is similar. There's also tons and tons of space in the attic, accessible from both the garage and a large storage closet off one of the kids' bedrooms. If this deal falls through, we looked online at other 5-bedroom houses, and they're all a whole lot more expensive, so it may be a long time before we find something nearly as good in the same neighborhood.

The biggest complication will be selling our old house for a decent price. I'd like to think, especially based on the kind of 4-bedroom crap we saw over the weekend, that our house would look pretty sweet for the price, but I guess we'll see.

Posted by Observer at 12:06 PM | Comments (2)

January 10, 2006

Jedi Academy

I guess I should try to fill in the gaps in the Star Wars timeline today, because the whole deal with Supreme Court nomination hearings just gives me tired-head. Moving forward in the timeline from Zahn's terrific Thrawn trilogy, which I reviewed previously, we have the unfortunate Jedi Academy trilogy by Kevin Anderson. This begins a chronological run of bad books that infests the Star Wars expanded universe timeline for around 5-6 years.

Technically, the Dark Horse comic book series "Dark Empire" (in which a resurrected Emperor tempts Luke with the dark side and tries to take over the Universe again) falls between these two trilogies, but most novel fans like to kind of forget about that. From what I've heard, the story is pretty shallow and doesn't mesh well with the rest of the canon. It is rarely referred to in novels other than Anderson's, so maybe we can get rid of both and all be better off. The thing is, Anderson spends a lot of time in this trilogy referring to (and spoiling) other stories. I'm not sure if he was doing this for padding or to sink his claws deeply into the canon to ensure his trilogy is an integral part of everything, but it was damned distracting.

In this trilogy, Luke wrestles with the idea of forming another academy, knowing the problems that plagued the previous one. This series was written before the movie versions of Episodes I-III, and the lack of continuity is a little embarrassing here. Luke searches for descendants of old Jedi, trying to find students capable in the Force so he can rebuild the order (inconveniently, in a temple inhabited by the spirit of an ancient Sith Lord). Meanwhile, Han and Chewie visit the Kessel system and run across yet another rogue remnant of the Empire dreaming of the glory days with a plan to conquer the galaxy with a superweapon.

There is very little of the depth of Jedi history here that makes the Star Wars story compelling. Luke is portrayed in a very vanilla fashion (very weak and passive rather than action-oriented), and none of the new characters really sticks, although one recruit, Kyp Durron, will become important later in the New Jedi Order series. Kyp has a big role to play here, but his struggle with Jedi training, light side vs dark side, is handled clumsily in Anderson's hands, with none of the spirit of Episodes V and VI and Luke's struggle.

The starkest difference between this and the Thrawn trilogy is the absence of any semblance of a compelling bad guy. Combine that with the fact that we know nothing of significance is going to happen to the good guys, and we have a "what was the point of that?" trilogy. Anderson invests a lot in trying to make the Kyp Durron storyline and the Remnants of the Empire storyline percolate, but is just isn't well-done, so the rest of the trilogy suffers without something new and interesting to build around. I would put this in the bottom third of the Star Wars books

Posted by Observer at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2006

Diphenhydramine

This explains why (for me, at least) cough suppressants suck. When I have a bad cough, I always have a hard time sleeping due to the itch in my throat. When I try to suppress, it makes my body break out into a sweat. When I give in and have a coughing fit, it relieves things for maybe 5-10 seconds, wakes me up, and then I'm back to where I was.

The only thing that works for me is stuff that makes me sleep. Apparently, doctors are now saying cough medicines are mostly useless, and I should just take Benadryl or anything with Diphenhydramine, which will relieve the cough *and* knock me out. Cough medicines that let you stay awake aren't effective because the active ingredients are in too small doses, and the ingredients that do tend to work well on coughs tend to knock you out, too.

Posted by Observer at 08:39 PM | Comments (2)

House Comments

Here are some excerpts from the notes I took during yesterday's house-hunting marathon. These are fairly representative overall of what we saw.

Sparse, cookie-cutter neighborhood.

Poor backyard, backs up against huge apartment complex.

Next door neighbor trashy. Ugly sink.

Carpeted kids bathroom AGAIN. Smoker smell.

Big sidewalk crack almost killed pregnant wife.

Filled-in pool?!? "Oh my God, the doors."

Horrible pet issues. Stinks.

Giant cable hangs down over backyard. Pool/hottub footprint in grass?

Loud country music from house in back. Nasty barn. Big traffic. Loud floors.

"Dream" kitchen? Nightmare brick. Sky blue carpet.

Horrible colors. Gigantic ceiling crack. Needs fence.

Upstairs bathroom broken into. Broken glass everywhere.

No door on master bath. Nasty kitchen. Lime green carpet.

New roof. Across the street trashed. No conversion possible to 5th bedroom.

Ugly next door, carpet, foundation. Bad stairs.

Bedroom only accessible through garage? Perfect for toddler! (sarcasm)

Big hill. Must cross unsecure pool area to get to backyard. Serial killer wall (all corkboard).

No garage. Marginal neighborhood. More huge backyard hanging cables. Tiny bathrooms.

I think this better conveys the kid of day we had. Time to massively alter our search criteria or give up. Crap.

Posted by Observer at 08:02 AM | Comments (5)

January 08, 2006

Dumps

Well, the house hunting today was very educational. We ran across an astonishing number of houses that people didn't seem very interested in selling. So many houses had carpets in horrible shape (some with pet stains like polkadots) or horrible colors, lots of easily fixable things with only a small investment of a few hundred bucks at most (or in some cases, a simple air freshening device). Makes me feel better about selling our place in the future, if it comes to that.

Anyway, we decided we don't want to look at anything that can't at least be converted easily into a 5-bedroom house (which is how our current house is configured ... we gave up our office so the 16-year-old could have his own bedroom, so now our computers are in the main, and only, living room). That knocked at least 15 out of 20 off our list (though all of them had other major flaws). The only property we would consider out of all 20 we looked at is one that we went and saw as an unplanned side trip.

It wasn't on our original list because it was about 10-20% over our price range. My brother the realtor has some hope we could talk them down, but I'm not so confident. I've looked on local police web sites and city sites and have been unable to find access to crime statistics, but I plan to look more extensively tomorrow. Now we're going to soak up all of our available free time over the next week to watch season 4 of "24". The gimmicks they use are so predictable, they're funny. We're treating it almost like Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it's still fun to watch.

Posted by Observer at 10:23 PM | Comments (1)

January 07, 2006

Home Shopping

We're going out tomorrow to look around a neighborhood (with my brother, the realtor) that is a little closer to work and our church, hopefully also a little further from the gang activity that may or may not be creeping up around here. I wonder how I could find out detailed neighborhood statistics on crime. I mean, it would be nice to upgrade our house and all, but if this other neighborhood is statistically no safer than ours, my incentive goes down some.

Posted by Observer at 07:29 PM | Comments (1)

January 06, 2006

Dark Lord

Dark Lord is James Luceno's sequel to Matt Stover's Episode III novelization. The events here occur in the weeks and months following Episode III and address some important times following that story. How does the relationship between Palpatine and Vader evolve? What happens to Luke and Leia? How many Jedi survive and what do they do? What happens politically after the end of the war, and how is everything explained to the Senate?

This book starts to answer many of those questions, and it includes conversations between Vader and Palpatine, Bail Organa and Vader, Organa and the other disgruntled senators who will form the core of the the Rebellion, interactions between the clones and the Jedi they are ordered to kill. Yoda and Obi-Wan are pretty much left out. Still, this is definitely an important book in the Star Wars canon. In that sense, it is a must read (for me).

Is it good? Eh.

Much of the action revolves around a group of Jedi who escape "order 66" and try to link up with other Jedi and wonder what the hell happened. None of these Jedi have much of a distinct or memorable personality, and the sheer number of characters is too many. I would've preferred this book focus on just one or two fleshed-out renegade Jedi instead of a group of them. None of the supporting characters in the book makes an impression.

The scenes involving Vader are the highlight of the book, and they are fairly satisfying. They only make up about 10-20% of the book, though. I like seeing Palpatine discuss the ways of the Sith with Vader. Luceno does a decent job of cleaning up some of the poorly done plot points of Episode III, trying to justify why, after his whole life as a Jedi, Anakin was so quickly and easily turned to the dark side just because of some dreams about his wife.

It also clarifies (I think) that Anakin was not conceived by mitichlorians directed by Palpatine, as events in Episodes I and III seemed to imply (remember Anakin had no father, and Palpatine claimed in the Senate balcony scene with Anakin that Sith powers enabled him to cause the mitichlorians to spontaneously create life), so that becomes a mystery again and I still don't understand that plot point (why couldn't Anakin have a regular father like everyone else who just simply died in an accident or something).

I also liked the (brief) parts that contain Organa and the original players in the Rebellion. And I liked the overall description of the state of affairs in the Empire shortly after Palpatine takes control, including progress on the Death Star, etc. All of that stuff is well-done, fits with the "aura" of Episode IV, but the main plot of the on-the-run Jedi doesn't really live up to the rest of the book. So this is an important book but just not that great.

I suppose it is a little difficult to develop a major new good guy character who influences things, because this character isn't mentioned in Episodes IV through VI (or any of the expanded universe books beyond that which are now canon) and would therefore have to be killed off at some point before Episode IV. I would really like to see this whole series of books focus on Bail Organa or Mon Mothma or some leader of the Rebellion (at least when not following Vader around). That's preferable to anonymous interchangeable Jedi who are really nothing special. There's so much potential in this era between episodes III and IV. I'm sure an author will come along soon who will take better advantage.

Posted by Observer at 07:31 PM | Comments (2)

January 05, 2006

Idaho

This guy doesn't update often enough to deserve a bookmark, but he does have his moments. Here is a heart-warming, must-read essay about how crappy Idaho is. Great post about blogs there, too.

Posted by Observer at 01:06 PM | Comments (2)

Fear Itself

Glenn Greenwald, subbing for Digby today, has an absolutely perfect essay about the War on Terror. Wow.

Among those who now recognize that the Bush Administration has not just deliberately and repeatedly broken the law, but is literally claiming that George Bush has the “wartime” power to continue to break the law, there is a growing impatience to move to the next step – to take action to ensure that there are serious consequences from Bush’s brazen law-breaking. But in order for that to happen, Bush opponents must finally overcome the one weapon which has protected George Bush again and again: fear. Fear of terrorism is what the Administration has successfully inflamed and exploited for four years in order to justify its most extreme and even illegal actions undertaken in the name of fighting terrorism.

Without pause, the Administration has sought to make Americans as frightened as possible about terrorism and has used that fear to justify its actions with regard to almost every issue. [...]

I'm omitting a couple of speech excerpts filled with fear-mongering from Bush and Cheney.

Islamic terrorists here, as always, are depicted as omnipotent villains with quite attainable dreams of world domination, genocide, and the obliteration of the United States. They are trying to take over the world and murder us all. And this is not merely a threat we face. It is much more than that. It is the predominant issue facing the United States -- more important than all others. Everything pales in comparison to fighting off this danger. We face not merely a danger, but, in Bush’s words, an "unprecedented danger" -- the worst, scariest, most threatening danger ever.

And literally for four years, this is what Americans have heard over and over and over from their Government – that we face a mortal and incomparably powerful enemy on the precipice of destroying us, and only the most extreme measures taken by our Government can save us. We are a nation engaged in a War of Civilizations whose very existence is in imminent jeopardy. All of those plans for the future, dreams for your children, career aspirations, life goals – it’s all subordinate, it’s all for naught, unless, first and foremost, we stand loyally behind George Bush as he invokes extreme and unprecedented measures necessary to protect us from this extreme and unprecedented threat.

It is that deeply irrational, fear-driven view of the world which has to be undermined in order to make headway in convincing Americans that this Administration is engaged in intolerable excesses and abuses of its power. The argument which needs to be made is the one that we have seen starting to arise in the blogosphere and elsewhere: that living in irrational fear of terrorists and sacrificing our liberties and all of our other national goals in their name is the approach of hysterics and cowards, not of a strong, courageous and resolute nation.

Isn't it funny how the ones who put on the most macho, self-reliant face to the world tend to be at the forefront of the shrieking harpy brigade. "WHAAAAT?!?!? You think we should impede our president as he fights ISLAMOFASCISM?!?!?!? Whose side are you on?!? We must let the president do whatever he wants to PROTECT US!"

There is no more important goal than exposing and undermining the cowardly and exaggerated fear which lies at the core of the Bush agenda. If, as has been the case, we are bullied into starting from the tacit premise that Islamic terrorism is a unique and unprecedented evil which threatens our very existence -- rather than one of many challenges which we must calmly face and overcome -- then it is a foregone conclusion that whoever advocates the most extreme “anti-terrorist” measures, no matter how excessive and regardless of whether they comport with legal niceties, will prevail.

If that fear-mongering premise is left unchallenged – if we are too afraid to dispute the premise that Islamic terrorism is the “unprecedented” existential threat to the United States which, at any moment, is likely to cause our cities to be in flames and our children to be glowing with radiation and therefore must outweigh every other issue and concern – then we will lose that debate every time, which is what has been happening.

After all, if it really were the case that Islamic terrorism constituted the sort of imminent, civilization-ending threat which the Administration has spent the last four years drumming into everyone’s head, then it would be extremely difficult to gin up much outrage over an eavesdropping program, warrants or not. When one’s very survival is at stake and is in imminent danger, what will matter is being protected from that danger. Everything else will pale in importance, and there will be extreme gratitude towards those who seek to save you, even if they break a few abstract rules to do it.

What must be emphasized is that one can protect against the threat of terrorism with courage, calm and resolve – the attributes which have always defined our nation as it has confronted other threats. Hysteria and fear-mongering are the opposite of strength. The strong remain rational and unafraid.

Just think about this last passage for a minute. Think of the small-minded, arrogant pricks in charge of our country. Think of how our image is being trashed around the world as nations lose respect for us (and rightfully so, because so many people are dumb enough to keep voting Republican). And think about terrorists watching our reaction, knowing how easily we can be manipulated to serve their needs.

The only thing we DID do right in response to 9/11, invading with the intent of rooting out the Taliban in Afghanistan, is now clearly in jeopardy as the Taliban uses the Iraq quagmire to slowly regain power in Afghanistan. This represents an utter failure by our country's leadership and by the prickly, incurious, stubborn fuck-up of a President.

In a rational world, the basic principle of risk is that it equals impact times probability: "In professional risk assessments, risk combines the probability of a negative event occurring with how harmful that event would be." But the Administration has spent four years urging Americans to ignore that way of thinking and instead assent to any Government measure, no matter the costs or comparative harms, as long as they are pursued in the name of fighting this Ultimate Evil.

In fact, it is now essentially prohibited in good company to even raise the prospect that the threat of terrorism is exaggerated. It is an inviolable piety that there is no such thing as overstating the terrorism risk. One is compelled to genuflect to, and tremble before, the paramounce of this Ultimate Threat upon pain of being cast aside as some sort of anti-American, terrorist-loving loon.

During the 2004 election, John Kerry accidentally stumbled in his clumsy and half-hearted way towards challenging this fear-mongering when he told The New York Times Sunday Magazine: ‘’We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance." That provoked the predictable outraged and pious braying that Democrats are unserious about the Terrorist Threat and too weak to protect our children from this unparalleled menace. And as happens almost always when Bush opponents express a view that meets with some initial disapproval, all sorts of apologetic backtracking and retraction ensued, and that topic has been basically off-limits since.

Oh yes, absolutely. If you criticize the War on Terror or the Boy King, that all of a sudden, you're an angry, unhinged liberal. "Get over it," is what we liberals have been told since the 2000 election, and look where it has gotten the country. I've had a gut full of accomodation by Democrats, of watching Republicans put party over country repeatedly, of unprecedented corruption in Congress. Anyone who ISN'T angry about this war and this administration clearly doesn't give a crap about America.

But this is a message which Americans are clearly ready to hear, if there are people willing to deliver it. We are four years away from September 11 and, despite the dire warnings of the Bush Administration, people in rural Kansas and suburban Georgia and everywhere else are beginning to realize that on the list of problems and threats which endanger their children and impede their dreams, the potential of an attack by Islamic terrorists is not anywhere near the top of that list. We are not engulfed by the Civil War or fighting World War II. And it is past time to bolster that growing recognition by pointing out over and over that the Bush Administration’s insistence that we live in never-ending fear and panic of terrorists is the opposite of the American virtues of strength and courage in the face of threats.

And it's a message which Americans can understand. Most people know individuals in their lives who live in this type of irrational, all-consuming fear on the micro-level – people who are scared before they are anything else, pathologically risk-averse, always hiding and exerting excess caution lest something go wrong. In its more extreme version, that sort of fear manifests as a life-destroying mental disorder. It is a pitiful image, and such people typically achieve very little. They cannot, because their fear is paralyzing.

The Bush Administration has been trying for four years to reduce this country to a collective version of that affliction. And it is hard to imagine what a nation which is fueled by such fear can accomplish. Hysteria and paranoia have never been the American national character, but along with the founding principles of our Republic, the Bush Administration has been attempting to change that, too.

The Administration has managed to get away with the Orwellian depiction of fear as being the hallmark of courage, and conversely, depicting a rational and calm approach as being a mark of cowardice. They were aided in this effort by a terrified national media and a national political elite who live in Washington, DC and New York and were so petrified of further attacks that they were easily whipped into a state of passive, uncritical compliance in exchange for promises of protection. But we are far away from the emotional shock of September 11, and the power of that Fear weapon is breaking down.

In order to persuade the population that George Bush must not be allowed to claim the powers of a King, literally including the power to break the law, Bush opponents must attack that fear as the by-product of weakness and cowardice which it is. A strong nation does not give up its freedoms or sacrifice its national character in the name of fear and panic. But that is what George Bush has spent the last four years urging the country to do, and it is what he is counting on -- it is the only chance he has -- for having this NSA law-breaking scandal join the litany of other scandals which have meekly and inconsequentially faded away in a cloud of manufactured fear.

Greenwald is absolutely right. We've got no hope of impeachment as long as the traditional media insists on framing the debate as pro-Bush vs pro-terrorists or anti-war = pro-terrorists.

Posted by Observer at 11:31 AM | Comments (1)

January 04, 2006

Protest Too Much

Is it just me, or is it always the most virulent homophobes who turn out to be desperately gay?

I imagine anyone showering with our pet troll would be well advised not to bend over to pick up the soap. Makes it kinda tough fighting for gay rights and all knowing it might one day help such a toad, but we liberals sometimes have to hold our noses to stick to principles.

Posted by Observer at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2006

Great Idea

Wow, this is one of the better Kos diaries I've read in a while. Jack Abramoff is the lobbyist who has basically run the slush fund for Republicans for the past several years. He's the poster boy of corruption, and he works for the Republicans. In the past, though, he has lobbied and donated to a few key Democrats for votes on Indian gaming issues, among other things.

So the Traditional Media is now trying to paint this as a "they all do it" kind of thing. The best way to counter it, and it may be unfair but it is a genius idea, is for Democrats to get together and find the one guy in the party who is the most entangled with Abramoff. Have that guy resign. It immunizes all the other Democrats with more minor ties, and it really screws the Republicans who all have much stronger ties.

And if the Democrat in question has knowingly taken dirty money, all the better. He should resign anyway. Any Democrats who have done wrong here need to turn themselves in, and let the chips fall where they may, because this scandal, if pursued legally rather than through the press (like the Plame affair) has the promise to finally break the Republican money machine for good. It would be great for the country.

Posted by Observer at 07:57 PM | Comments (2)

United Media

Greg Mitchell has an excellent column this week in Editor and Publisher. He lists all of the newspapers that called for Clinton's impeachment after he got caught lying about a blowjob. Lots of people are linking this today, including Kos. Go read the full list.

How many of these same papers do you suppose are calling for Bush's impeachment after he went on national television and said not only did he break the law but that he planned to continue doing so? Zero.

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 05:11 PM | Comments (0)

Translation quiz

My 2-year-old comes up to me and emphatically says "BEE SPROCKET!" See if you can guess what he was asking for before I finish the story.

This is followed by me asking many times "what?" and him repeating exactly that. Eventually, he grabs my finger, and in my curiousity, I allow myself to be dragged toward the kitchen. We look in the fridge together, and what he is looking for isn't there. "OH NO!" he cries. I'm still bewildered. Eventually, we gave up, which made him unhappy.

I figured out that what he's looking for isn't in the fridge any more. It's now out on the counter, one of the last remaining leftovers from Christmas.

It is the very last piece of dark chocolate fudge, or in D*niel's language, "piece of chocolate". Daniel enjoyed it with a very enthusiastic "YUM!" It's now "all gone", which brought about more unhappiness, but at least his lunch wasn't spoiled. And so the holiday goes...

Posted by Observer at 11:36 AM | Comments (1)

January 02, 2006

Us and the Press

Armando over at Daily Kos has a very good summary of our relationship with the Traditional Media vs the right's. Atrios has also talked about this today.

The thing the media doesn't seem to get is this: We on the left value the media, and we think it is critically important that the media DO ITS JOB BETTER. We criticize, but we usually at the same time talk about how to fix the problem, how to get closer to the truth, how the media can work as the honest, trustworthy, independent watchdog it is supposed to be in a healthy democracy. The right simply sees the media as something independent, which means it is not a useful tool to serve their ends (whether it be tax cuts for the rich, corporate welfare or vanity wars), and so they work to undermine the credibility of and/or seek to replace the Traditional Media every chance they get.

We just want the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. Quit trying to be everybody's bitch, trying to appeal to this crowd or that crowd, trying ever so hard not to appear "biased" (i.e. "but some experts say that 2+2 = 5..."). The fact is that, like the big networks, the Traditional Media is going to face more competition from other sources now, and the market is going to get whittled down, so to survive, you need a trademark philosophy that people can count on, that they can't get from blogs or talk radio or what have you. They need objective, credible, well-researched, investigative, useful reporting of the important facts. The more, the better. Oh, and it happens to be good for the country, which is why you are granted public use of the airwaves, by the way, you dumb fucks.

Posted by Observer at 10:48 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2006

Football Talk

Well, crap. Kind of a letdown that the Cowboys didn't even have anything to play for tonight. It sure showed in the way they played. I'm still shocked that Washington has been so good. Seattle better be careful, because if Washington wins at Tampa Bay, which is likely, they'll come in to Seattle with a six game win streak. Will Mark Brunell come back to haunt his old college town? Oh well, a week early for that kind of talk.

I was glad to see the Frogs win their meaningless bowl game. They didn't play that well, but fortunately, neither did Iowa State. I guess I'll cheer for Texas even though so many Republicans around here are doing the same. After all, I am an alum, and U$C is so easy to hate. You know the Frogs beat U$C in the Sun Bowl a few years ago, right? I mean, throttled 'em.

Oh well, let me know when the Super Bowl is on so I can watch the commercials. Blech.

Oh, poor C*dy yesterday. He had a friend over on Friday night and stayed up until the wee hours, didn't get more than a few hours of sleep. Well, he wanted to stay up until midnight to play Animal Crossing and see the New Year Party on the game. I was going to let both kids stay up until midnight anyway. We always do, but we didn't play poker this year since J*stin is still gone on his ski trip. I told C*dy he could stay up until midnight and play his game if he emptied the dishwasher twice. He eagerly agreed. I could've extracted a lot more work from him, but I'm not that evil.

Well, I went in to check on him at 11, and he was sound asleep with all the lights on. He woke up this morning complaining that he missed his chance with the game, but he pretty quickly realized there was no one to complain to.

Posted by Observer at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)