"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Friday, August 31, 2007

Out of the Blue, Part II

The promised continuation of my earlier post on marriage (which you should read first), responding to this essay by B. Daniel Blatt:

Another argument that Blatt makes in which I see no merit:

Let me conclude, by returning to my general ambivalence on the Massachusetts vote. I would see it as a huge step if a state legislature, without being mandated by a court or pressured by interest groups, voted to extend the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. But, the General Court only acted because the a number of citizens of the state presented petitions seeking to overturn a court decision. That said, the elected legislators of Massachusetts did, to some degree, consider the issue. And they answer to the citizens whom they represent.

Again, that's the way the system works. Legislatures pass laws. Ideally, they consider the constitutional ramifications of the laws they pass, but let's be honest here: legislators have been known to ignore consititutional questions, and have even passed laws designed to slide around those questions. (One need only follow the history of legislation concerning the teaching of evolution and creationism in public schools to see how that works.) Sure, it would be wonderful if legislators, all on their own without any prompting, just decided to legalize same-sex marriage. I have a startling revelatioin for you: legislators, on their own, don't consider anything they aren't pressured into considering. Laws exist to address the needs of society (in the ideal world -- these days, "society" seems too often to mean major corporations and campaign donors), but legislators aren't always aware just what those needs are. Courts evaluate laws on the basis of their constitutional validity when citizens bring suit to pose that question. Of course the Massachusetts court only acted because citizens brought petitions -- that's the only way courts can act.

Blatt says, in the "comments" to his post (comment 12), "In this case, the court clearly overstepped its bounds. It should have dismissed the case and deferred to the matter to the legislature." This is one of the most extraordinary things I've heard in relation to this whole issue. In other words, what Blatt is saying is that the Massachusetts courts should have refused to do their job and trusted to the legislature (and keep in mind that legislatures are not the first place I would go for reliance on principle) to do it for them. This is simply incredible. The idea that the courts must necessarily defer to legislatures is a stretch. Granted, the courts will give great weight to the intent of the legislature in enacting a law, and rightly so, but we must remember that part of the reason the courts exist is that they not automatically defer to the legislature, simply because the Founders were well aware that legislatures can be wrong. It's called "checks and balances," and it is a fundamental part of our legal framework. I realize that the idea of an independent judiciary is anathema to the right, but so what? It works very well, even if some of us don't like a particular decision.

If those citizens believe that gay marriage is an issue important enough to merit a statewide referendum, then they can vote them out of office. And those who replace them can vote again on a new constitutional amendment. But, as I understand it, given the way the Massachusetts constitution works, such a referendum could not take place until 2012 — at the soonest.

There was, in Massachusetts, a general election between the first and second considerations of the proposed constitutional amendment. You can bet same-sex marriage was part of the mix. What actually happened was that legislators who opposed the amendment were retained and those who favored it were eliminated by the citizens of Massachusetts. In other words, Blatt's big "if" has already happened.

Blatt goes on to demand that same-sex couples and the "gay organizations" prove that they understand the "meaning" of marriage (which he doesn't seem to want to define). That seems to tie in with Rauch's arguments, which I will address in a later post.

There's a certain unreality in Blatt's essay -- he seems to acknowledge events without ever incorporating their meaning into his arguments. I can't really figure out the rationale, unless it's a sort of "faith-based science" sort of thing, where you start with your conclusions and pick the evidence that fits. Not the way I'm used to doing things.

NOTE: I misread Blatt's comments about Rauch's article, for which I apologize: Blatt is saying that Rauch has noted and thoughtfully responded to opponents of same-sex marriage. I still want to comment on Rauch's essay, however, because there are parts of it that bother me.

Update on Tucker Carlson

and his manly moment. From a reader at TPM:

Carlson beat up a man? A fully grown man? Please. Tucker Carlson could be beaten into submission with nothing more than a heavy thought.

Can't add to that.

Headline du Jour

Recovering Johnson Remains Determined

The possibilities are endless.

Out of the Blue

From my streaming headlines this morning, this one came right out of left field:

Hanson ruled that the state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

"Couples, such as plaintiffs, who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry or certificates of marriage or in any other way prevented from entering into a civil marriage ... by reason of the fact that both person comprising such a couple are of the same sex," he said.

It will mean another push for another state constitutional amendment, with the usual empty rhetoric from the right about "protecting" marriage by excluding people, and probably a completely inadequate response from the left.

Iowa can surprise you, though.


Here's more detail from the Iowa Independent. Here's a human angle story (the Johnson Country Recorder of Deeds is openly gay), and an OpEd about the national ramifications (Iowas being an early caucus state and all). (And note that this story was Atrios' first post this morning, which I found after I posted here. Thanks to him for the links.)

Update II:

While surfing around on this topic I ran across this older post by B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest) on the Massachusetts legislature's defeat of an anti-marriage amendment. It begins with what I consider a fundamental mischaracterization of the legislature's actions:

The more I think about the reaction of the gay groups toward the vote last Thursday in Massachusetts blocking a popular vote on a state constitutional amendment on gay marriage, the more disturbed — deeply disturbed — I become by their rhetoric and attitudes. They are gloating about denying the citizens of the Bay State an opportunity to vote on this important issue.

Blatt and I have had private correspondence about this, and he's aware of my thoughts on it: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts followed the procedures outlined in the Massachusetts constitution for considering amendments to that constitution. To characterize it as "blocking a popular vote" is a little more than special pleading. (He then immediately backpedals, claiming that he doesn't believe that the people need to vote on those questions. Which is it?) He then goes on:

What disturbs me is the rhetoric of the gay groups. They act as if Massachusetts were about to put people’s rights up to a vote. And yet the issue was not whether or not gay individuals could live freely with the partner of their choosing in the Bay State and call themselves married (if they so choose), but whether or not the commonwealth would recognize those individuals as married. It was not an issue of basic rights or fundamental freedoms, but, I repeat, of the gender composition of couples the state chose to privilege.

This, to me, is revealing of a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of government in marriage: in this country, as in just about every other one I can think of, marriage is a civil contract. There's no escaping that, and that little issue is an integral part of the semi-mythical 5,000-year-old tradition, to which the Christian Church is a relative latecomer. In point of fact, as long as the United States recognizes marriage as a "fundamental right," which it has done at least since Loving vs. Virginia (and I count that more as an affirmation than an introduction), then yes, indeed, the Commonwealth was about to put people's rights up for a vote. In the realm of fundamental rights, popular vote has never been the final authority in this country. The way Blatt outlines it, "living in sin" is fine. Gays should be happy with that, and forget being treated by our own government the same way other couples are treated. Sorry, but that argument is simply wrong. The question Blatt avoids here is whether the state has the authority to privilege certain couples over others. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that it did not, under the terms of Massachusetts' own constitution. The legislature has now concurred.

Regrettably, my time for this session is up. There's more here that I want to discuss, including the comments by Jonathan Rauch that Blatt cites. (On first, admittedly quick reading, Rauch's arguments strike me as flawed, but I need to investigate them more fully.)


"Gay" and "Not-Gay"

I'm going to have to come back to this essay later. No time this morning. There are some points here that seem right, and some that don't.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Give Me A Break

I've pretty much had it with the Larry Craig story. No, make that completely. The plot and cast are pretty much cliches at this point, and my real gripe about that part of it is why kill trees for this junk? It's the meta-story that is really pissing me off.

First, there's Tucker Carlson's heartwarming anecdote about his heroism in dealing with an incident in his youth. From Media Matters:

On the August 28 edition of MSBNC Live, hosted by MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams, Tucker Carlson, host of MSNBC's Tucker, asserted, "Having sex in a public men's room is outrageous. It's also really common. I've been bothered in men's rooms." Carlson continued, "I've been bothered in Georgetown Park," in Washington, D.C., "when I was in high school." When Abrams asked how Carlson responded to being "bothered," Carlson asserted, "I went back with someone I knew and grabbed the guy by the -- you know, and grabbed him, and ... hit him against the stall with his head, actually.":

There's a full transcript at the link. This was apparently an occasion for high hilarity on the set, even though Abrams is reputed to be gay. And how can you not admire Carlson's personal bravery and moral resolve in going to get a friend to help him beat the guy up? How . . . manly? (And please note that Carlson has since changed his story. How unusual is that?)

There there's this story from Idaho:

The Press warns residents about a notorious rest stop that police have been watching for years. Here's the lede:

"People are scrutinizing public restrooms in light of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's arrest and conviction in Minneapolis this summer. And close to home, it's not a pretty sight. Motorists taking a break at the Huetter rest stop between Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls might want to think twice before venturing near the men's restroom."

In the accompanying photo, the rest stop looks harmless enough. But the caption makes it sound like it should come with its own SWAT team: "The Huetter rest stop along Interstate 90 has had its share of problems with sexual deviants and an anonymous source tells The Press it's still happening."

"Sexual deviants"? WTF? When Idaho is the certifiable loony neo-Nazi capital of the US, they're worried about sex in men's rooms?

Oh, wait. . . . Those are the people who worry about things like that.

(I make no judgments one way or the other on tearooms, although it's not something I've ever done. The last thing I want sex to be is quick and anonymous. Frankly, though, a public john doesn't seem like such a good idea. Save it for bath houses and the back rooms of leather bars. You can always bill them as "private clubs.")

But let's clean up the discourse a bit, as vanishingly small as the possibility of that might be when you're dealing with the likes of Tucker Carlson and the loons in Idaho. News flash: We're not "sexual deviants," in spite of the purple prose of some paper in Idaho I wouldn't wipe my butt with, and you can always just say "no, thank you" (and actually, if you're Tucker Carlson, you should be flattered). As for Craig, if he weren't such a closeted bigot, it wouldn't be such a story. But then, if he weren't in the closet, he wouldn't have to look for sex in public rest rooms.

(Am I lacking in compassion? I don't think so. I know what it's like to grow up in a closet, and I know what small towns and the small people in them can be like. I also know what it is to face yourself down and finally deal with it. Been there. Got fed up and left.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Are They Cute, or What?

On the wildlife front, this story from England (where else?):

Four tiny orphaned hedgehogs are snuggling up to the bristles of a cleaning brush - because they think it's their mother.

The four inch long creatures are being hand-reared by staff at the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park in Ashurst, Hants.

Workers say Mary, Mungo, Midge and Slappy get comfort from playing with the centre's cleaning brush and enjoy rubbing against it.

That patter song from The Importance of Being Earnest keeps running through my head -- the one that starts off "A handbag, a handbag, a handbag is not a proper mother. . . ."

Barbara O'Brien on Health Care

Two posts from Mahablog, here and here. She makes some compelling arguments and points out some disturbing facts (especially disturbing to the anti-health care libertarians and money uber alles Republicans, since they have no counterarguments except that it's "socialized medicine," which isn't an argument, it's a scare tactic from the 1930s -- you know, the Reagan era).

Read these, and then think about Megan McArdle and the "immorality" of universal health care.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Real Christians

From Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin, this note about a church camp for gay kids that actually has some value.

And here's a follow-up from WCCO in Minnesota:

As reenactments of the Old Testament go, this one is a little, well, campy. But then counselor Ross Murray explained to this group of nine gay teenagers how Esther went on to reveal her Jewish heritage to Xerxes, hoping it would head off a planned genocide of her people.

"This is where Esther comes out," Murray said. "She is part of a minority culture that is going to be annihilated. When Esther came out of the closet, she put her life on the line to save her people."

Probably the thing that infuriates me the most about the Dobson Gang is the way they've perverted Christianity into a religion of spiritual meanness. Although not Christian myself, Christ's teachings are so close to the beliefs of Paganism -- at least in my tradition -- in so many ways that I find it hard to understand how anyone could not see the parallels. (My main objection to the great monotheisms is that they have excised the feminine from the divine, but that's another discussion.)

At any rate, I am always very happy to see stories like this:

Froslee said the three head counselors have been deeply heartened at the progress made by Tim Lovas, now 18, who as a 15-year-old in 2004 was struggling with depression and recovering from a drug addiction. "We were afraid he might not be around to see the second year," Froslee said.

By this past summer's session, Lovas had emerged as a leader of the campers and talked of his desire to return in a few years as a counselor. He said the Naming Project camp saved his life.

"What I understood finally from coming here, after so many people tried to explain it to me, is that God does love everyone," said Lovas, who's from Wisconsin. "God is there protecting you and watching you and keeping you safe."

This is a prime example of what I call "real Christianity."


Alberto Gonzales is only the visible face of a deep, deep infection in the Justice Department, thanks to Our Leader. Paul Kiel has a list of high-level resignations from the department this year.

One has to wonder, in regard to Gonzales, "why now?" Confidence in his integrity was never strong and eroded rapidly in the course of the US Attorney scandal. He's really the prime symbol of everything that's un-American about this administration, but he's been that for a while, and I have to wonder whether some strategic genius in the White House finally figured out that they can't afford him any more. Or maybe that happened a while ago and it's just been a matter of convincing the Deciderer to cut him loose.

At any rate, my favorite rationale for the resignation so far is that Gonzales wants to spend more time eavesdropping on his family.

As for Michael Chertoff as his replacement: has anyone figured out that his incompetence is the reason Bush wants him there? After all, can't make the president look bad, now can we?

Glenn Greenwald's thoughts on the necessary response from the Democrats on Gonzales' replacement:

This is a real moment of truth for the Democratic Congress. Democrats, who have offered up little other than one failure after the next since taking power in January, can take a big step toward redeeming themselves here. No matter what, they must ensure that Gonzales' replacement is a genuinely trustworthy and independent figure.

My guess -- ain't gonna happen. Bush will install Chertoff or a similar patsy in a recess appointment, or the Democrats will rubber-stamp his nominee. Forget Bush's "agreement" with Reid about no recess appointments. That's about as reliable as Chicago's weather. Greenwald seems to think the Democrats will retaliate if Bush violates the agreement. I don't know why he thinks that. It's not just a matter of the Democrats having no balls. They've become an essential component of the problem. They are all Beltway insiders.

I'd recommend David Iglesias.

More on Health Care (This Isn't Over Yet)

Steven Benen at C&L has done us the favor of pulling Paul Krugman on health care out from behind the NYT firewall:

Suppose, for a moment, that the Heritage Foundation were to put out a press release attacking the liberal view that even children whose parents could afford to send them to private school should be entitled to free government-run education.

They’d have a point: many American families with middle-class incomes do send their kids to school at public expense, so taxpayers without school-age children subsidize families that do. And the effect is to displace the private sector: if public schools weren’t available, many families would pay for private schools instead.

So let’s end this un-American system and make education what it should be — a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise. Oh, and we shouldn’t have any government mandates that force children to get educated, either. As a Republican presidential candidate might say, the future of America’s education system lies in free-market solutions, not socialist models.

There you have it: the McArdle model. The state forcibly taking resources from one class of citizens -- those without school-age children -- and awarding them to another class -- those with.

I'd love to see McArdle's response to that. I truly would.

More on Free Markets

I just had to laugh at this story at Eschaton:

Record low unemployment across parts of the West has created tough working conditions for business owners, who in places are being forced to boost wages or be creative to fill their jobs.

Poor things -- actually having to compete for workers by paying more. We obviously need some government intervention here.

Ted Nugent, a/k/a Macho Man

From the Chicago Sun-Times, more on that real he-man, Ted Nugent. The headline to Richard Roeper's story tells it all:

Facing a draft, Nugent bravely wet his pants

It's sort of amazing what has-been second- or third-string rockers will do to get attention, isn't it?

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Suggestion on Marriage Law Reform

In light of all the scare rhetoric on the right about ministers being required to perform same-sex marriage against their beliefs:

Everyone in this country bends over backwards to accommodate religious activists. As far as the hideous specter of same-sex marriage goes, I have a suggestion:

In most states -- all, actually, if I'm not mistaken -- clergy are automatically authorized to perform weddings. I don't see that this has any particular virtue -- they are, in all actuality, acting as agents of the state, which sort of blurs the line of state/church separation and leads to a great deal of readily exploited confusion regarding the actual role of marriage and religion in society. (Please remember that the Christian Church didn't consider marriage worth worrying about for about a thousand years, so they are really pretty much latecomers in that regard, in spite of the fact that they are now laying claim to the word and the institution itself.)

I think no clergy should have the power to perform civil marriages under any circumstances; in lieu of that total exclusion, if clergy are invested with such authority, they should be required to marry any couples permitted by law to marry.

Nothing would preclude any member of the ministry or priesthood from performing religious ceremonies, but those ceremonies would not be legally recognized in the absence of a civil ceremony.

That seems to me to simplify matters a lot. It removes the specter of violation of religious freedom, clarifies the roles of the state and religious institutions vis-a-vis civil marrriage laws, and just makes it much tidier all around.

I realize that's the French model, but then, the French are a very practical people. And they invented champagne, too.

Follow-Up on Health Care

This is what ivory-tower libertarians are advocating in terms of health care. Digby quotes from this CNN story:

An estimated 2 million babies die within their first 24 hours each year worldwide and the United States has the second worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world, according to a new report. . . .

"The United States has more neonatologists and neonatal intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, but its newborn rate is higher than any of those countries," said the annual State of the World's Mothers report.

The article focuses on infant mortality in developing countries, but it's worth noting that only Latvia among "developed" nations has a higher infant mortality rate than the U.S. The causes are not hard to figure out -- access to adequate health care, which is why the rates are infant mortality here are higher for the poor and under-educated.

And yet, universal health care in the U.S. is what people like Megan McArdle find "immoral" because, in her reasoning, it forces the "young and healthy" to care for the "old and sick." Given the complete balderdash that McArdle advances as an argument, I think that Digby's analysis is essentially correct:

I don't know why these Republicans aren't embarrassed that their great country ranks lower than every developed country in the world except Latvia, but they aren't. But then, they just lie, don't they? Here's your possible next president Rudy:

America has the best medical care in the world. People come here from around the world to take advantage of our path-breaking medicine and state-of-the-art treatments.

Well, rich people do anyway, and those are the only people who count.

I guess this argument works on Republicans who don't give a damn about anyone but themselves (most of them) and are employed. Let's hope they don't lose their jobs.

And, lest we forget who shares this sort of view, remember that it was James Dobson, among others, who protested to the National Association of Evangelicals about a call to focus on helping the poor and protecting the environment, demanding that its author be silenced or forced to resign.

I think one's arguments are known by the company they keep, like it or not.


Just to make the point very, very clear, this post by TeddySanFran at FDL is a nice capsule view of compassionate conservatism, California style:

What did Arnold veto after the budget passed with the votes of these holdout GOPs? Fifty-one line items in the budget encompassing $703,000,000 in spending — $527,000,000 of it from health and human services.

Powerful appeal? Is it powerfully appealing to cut $310,000,000 from Medi-Cal reserves, an entitlement that’ll simply get a later supplemental appropriation to cover costs? Is it powerfully appealing to cut $55,000,000 from a program that provides mental health services for the homeless? According to State Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) who wrote the bill that created this program in 2000:

"The program provides over 4,500 homeless Californians living with mental illness with permanent housing, where they can regularly receive medical and psychiatric treatment and job counseling. The program has been wildly successful according to the Department of Mental Health, reducing the number of days spent homeless by 67 percent, increasing the number of days working full-time by 65 percent, and reducing the number of days incarcerated by 72 percent.

"This is a program that works, that saves the state money in incarceration costs and that humanely treats a population that usually gets short shrift in Sacramento,” Steinberg said. “I’m extremely disappointed that the Governor used his veto power in a way that punishes the least among us.”

Read the post to see what got left in the budget. Unfortunately, no surprises.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Map

ClustrMap has changed its updating, so that I no longer have a cumulative map for more than a month at a time. It's interesting, though, to see where my repeat visits are coming from -- mostly the US, South Africa, Australia, Europe, with what seems to be fairly steady traffic from South America and parts of Southern and Southeast Asia.

And a visitor from the Canary Islands.

Who knew?

About That Ancient Tradition

This has been popping up here and there, but reader Firle sent me a link. In spite of the contumely heaped on the late John Boswell on the publication of Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, he did produce a lot of evidence. Now another scholar has provided more:

Commonly used rationales in support of gay marriage and gay civil unions avoid historical arguments. However, as Allan A. Tulchin (Shippensburg University) reveals in his forthcoming article, a strong historical precedent exists for homosexual civil unions.

Opponents of gay marriage in the United States today have tended to assume that nuclear families have always been the standard household form. However, as Tulchin writes, "Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize, and Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures."

For example, in late medieval France, the term affrèrement -- roughly translated as brotherment -- was used to refer to a certain type of legal contract, which also existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe. These documents provided the foundation for non-nuclear households of many types and shared many characteristics with marriage contracts, as legal writers at the time were well aware, according to Tulchin.

Opponents of same-sex marriage, and of gay rights in general (not to mention those other liberalities that most of us now take for granted) tend to bank on the tendency of their followers to have no sense of history. In their minds, history is not a past in which trends arose, developed, and withered away and in which vast social changes took place. It is "tradition," the unchanging universe that is central to their world view and that enables them to cite with a straight face "the five-thousand-year-old tradition of marriage" and the idea that their God created each "kind" exactly as it exists today no more than 10,000 years ago. Therefore, the "traditional" marriage that they saw as children is the traditional marriage that has always existed. The prejudices embedded in the law had the weight of that tradition -- it had "always" been that way, when in fact, for most of history it hadn't.

The rest of us look back and realize that the thirteenth century, the sixteenth century, and even the nineteenth century were very little like our own time, and that China and the Inca Empire were very unlike Rome or Britain or the U.S. We may even -- and quite justifiably, I think -- wonder why the tribal taboos of a group of nomadic herders from the ancient Middle East would be thought to be appropriate for our own time and place.

Here's a mention of the story at Box Turtle Bulletin.

And, illustrating how far we've come -- and how far we have to go -- reader PietB provided a link to this story from the Oakland Tribune. It's interesting that unions are so far ahead of our governments. But then, I suppose they always have been, at least when the governments are being run by the Oligarchy Party.

Follow-Up on Nugent

For those who are muttering about my cherrypicking random wing-nuts to typify the American right, read this post by Hilzoy at Andrew Sullivan. I think the WSJ probably qualifies as a fairly potent and "mainstream" Republican voice.

Scary Right-Wingers

Nugent isn't alone, or even the scariest -- just one of the most disgusting. Read this post by Sara Robinson at Orcinus. It fits pretty well with her series, "Crack in the Wall," that begins here.

Pay attention. In fact, I recommend you spend some time going through both Dave's and Sara's series (all linked in the sidebar at Orcinus). They've done some sterling work on connecting the dots, much more thorough and well-documented than I have time for.

In Place of Habeas Corpus

A post by Anonymous Liberal at Crooks and Liars. I don't have much to add to this -- it's pretty sickening.

One observation, however: this is happening under the administration of a man who thought it was funny to feed lit firecrackers to frogs. What did anyone expect?

Speaking of Bush and Wildlife. . . .

or the environment in general, see this notice at The Agonist. David Neiwert also points out the administration's disdain for environmental laws. (And why should those be any different?)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

About That Socialist Healthcare Proposal. . . .

I've been meaning to get back to Megan McArdle and her anti-health care screeds for a few days now. Sadly, No! has reminded me about it. For the sake of some sort of coherence when looking at a phenomenon that is essentially incoherent, here is McArdle’s first attempt to “clarify” (and I use the quotes advisedly) her original post. Sorry, but on second reading, the first post is still largely junk, full of unsupportable assertions and faulty logic, not to mention the almost palpable sneer with which she invests the term “social justice.”

From the follow-up, here is the key blunder, stated clearly:

But wholesale transfers to large classes, from large classes, are not good moral philosophy unless those classes are very well specified to the moral effect you are trying to achieve.

And here it is restated later on, with the “morality” clause elaborated:

A gigantic single-payer system is a pretty blunt instrument; it transfers money from one group, the young and healthy, to another group, the old and sick. It does not distinguish much more finely than that between the deserving and undeserving within that class.A gigantic single-payer system is a pretty blunt instrument; it transfers money from one group, the young and healthy, to another group, the old and sick. It does not distinguish much more finely than that between the deserving and undeserving within that class.

No. It doesn't. We’re not talking about a wholesale transfer from one large class to another. That is simply a bald assertion with no foundation. This is so obvious that I can’t help but think it’s deliberate. (Nor can I believe I'm the only one to spot it -- someone must have commented on it and I've just missed it somehow. Please, tell me that's so -- my faith in the blogsphere's at stake here.) That, actually, is somewhat the system we have now with Medicare and Social Security (largely due to the fecklessness of the government in various incarnations), which, one hopes, a single-payer health care system would in some measure alleviate. This is also the basis of McArdle’s major straw man, that a single-payer system is designed to force the “young and healthy” to pay for health care for the “old and sick.” These are statements without intelligence or honesty. A single-payer system means that everyone pays in and everyone is entitled to benefits. Let me repeat that: everyone pays in, everyone gets benefits. What is so hard to understand about that?

I really don’t see where questions of morality come into it at all, except for McArdle's apparent need to determine who is "deserving" and who "undeserving." Like I'm going to take her word for it.

Looking at McArdle's follow-up to her original post, the reality gaps are pretty obvious.

1) Single payer transfers money from anyone who is young and healthy to anyone who is old and sick, regardless of their need for the money.

Sadly, No. (Sorry -- couldn't resist.) As does private insurance, which McArdle seems to desperately want to hold onto by whatever means necessary, a single-payer system means that every member of the insured group pays in (taxes, in that case) and every member is entitled to benefits. That's the way insurance of any kind works. Duh.

2) For this to be moral, the entire enormous class of people who are old and sick must have some justified claim on the money of the young and healthy.

3) The large class of old and sick people do not need the money; as a group, they are wealthier than the young, healthy people from whom we are transferring the money.

Given that McArdle has completely misrepresented the system to begin with, this is so much garbage. Nevertheless: It doesn't operate in terms of groups, at least not in terms of actual payouts. Insurance premiums are figured on statistical probabilities; one assumes a tax to support a single-payer system would be based on something similar (one does hope that, truly). Now, talking about the "entire enormous class" of old/sick people is more than a little disingenuous. It's not as though the government is going to be giving flat grants to old sick people as a class, so you really can't legitimately cast the question in those terms. Perhaps, as a group, the old sick people don't need the money, but 1) I'd like to see some breakdowns on the number of elderly who are at or below the poverty line, and 2) remember, when it comes time to pay for the care, we're not talking about groups, we're talking about individuals.

4) Therefore, we must look for another legitimate claim on society's resources.

5) Another such claim might be a fairness claim: the old and sick have been terribly unlucky, so we should pay for their health care even though they don't need the money.

6) This is not a good argument. Most of the old and sick are sick because they are old. Getting old may suck, but it is not unfair; it is inevitable. All of us will become old and sick, unless something even worse happens to us to make us dead. Some of the old and sick are just sick, and have never been healthy. But to calculate the relative deservingness of the whole group, we have to weigh the bad luck of those people against the bad luck of the currently young and healthy people who will, in the future, die young. As a group, there's no reason to think that the (currently) old and sick have had worse luck than the (currently) young and healthy, although obviously some members of each group are unluckier than others.

7) A third argument we might make is that the young and healthy should pay for the care of the old and sick because they have more responsibility for the problems than do the old and sick people themselves. This is self-evidently stupid. If even 100 people who are currently old and sick smoked and dranked themselves into early debility, while all the other old and sick people in America had absolutely no causal role in their own illness, this tiny aggregate responsibility for a few cases of lung cancer and cirrhosis would, to a near certainty, be larger than the responsibility the young and healthy bear for other peoples' ill health1.

8) Thefore, as a group, the old and sick have no moral claim to massive transfer payments from the young and healthy. This tells us nothing about any moral claims individual members may have. For example, veterans could be entitled to care, regardless of need, because they incurred some part of their current illness on behalf on the nation.

9) Arguments that we shouldn't let the worst off members of society die are not valid moral arguments for single payer. They are arguments in favor of giving health care to those who cannot afford it, a much more limited project.

More garbage. I seriously question the idea of casting this whole discussion in terms of "morality." It's the sort of thing only a libertarian could come up with, particularly if she's trying to stay in the good graces of the rabid right. This whole section is nothing but straw men, smelling of many day dead red herrings. In fact, the more I look at McArdle's "arguments," the less impressed I am -- it's just one big straw man, a single-payer program sewn from whole cloth to fit no particular reality, just McArdle's philosophy. I'm afraid I have to give more credit to BradRocket's "me, me, me" comment than I had at first figured. There certainly does seem to be a large measure of self-centered special pleading going on here.

There is another argument -- not on McArdle's side of the fence, however:

Let's try one simple example: you feel obligated to take care of your elderly parents, because it's traditional, they're your parents, and you love them and want to be sure they're OK. They also took care of you when you were tiny and helpless, so turn-about only seems reasonable. It's the basis of the traditional family, after all. I mean the real traditional family.

However, sometimes medical care can be very expensive, and you're afraid you won't be able to afford it if something serious happens. You don't want to jeopardize your children's future to take care of your parents -- not to mention your own life if you should need major medical care. If you go, who's going to take care of the elderly parents and the helpless children? That's a real quandary. So the government provides a program into which you pay premiums in the form of taxes, and everyone has the assurance of the care they need. It's called "spreading the risk," which is, after all, what insurance does, save that in the case of the government-run program, you have a much better chance of claims being honored, private insurance companies having become notoriously arbitrary in that regard.* You pay your share, everyone else pays their share, your parents are taken care of, anyone who needs medical care gets it (including you and your children) and you can (hopefully) afford to send your kids to decent schools. And they will, in their turn, be able to be sure you're being taken care of when you're old and sick.

What's so hard about that?

I have a distinct sense of McArdle feeling that, as a good libertarian, she needs to be against government-provided health care because she needs to be against government-provided anything, but she can't quite come up with a solid reason against it. So we have an argument on the basis of “morality” (which itself is a travesty -- what McArdle recognizes as morality is quite bizarre) which simply can’t be made to make sense, particularly since it relies on a fantasy version of universal health coverage.

And she can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t get it. Maybe they just aren’t as clever as she is. Or maybe they're cleverer than she thought.

Sorry, but even though McArdle takes a poke at those who objected to her first two posts on the subject, the more I read through these things, the more convinced I am that, if McArdle is a true example of libertarian thought, then it really is a morally bankrupt philosophy.

By the way, BradRocket does his own, quite effective take-down. Read it. And just to refresh your memory, I had some comments on McArdle’s first post on Asymmetrical Information here. (You can ignore the part about Philip Atkinson, although I still think they make good bedfellows.)

* There is also evidence, in the form of the S-CHIPS program and some parts of Medicare and Medicaid, that the government can run an efficient and effective program. Yes, even our government.


Someone did spot the holes -- the commenters at McArdle's blog. And quite thoroughly took her to task for it, on the same basis I outlined -- straw men, red herrings and all. Strangely enough, those who rose to her defense seemed mostly to rely on arguments centering on "knee-jerk liberal do-gooderism" and not much in the way of substance. And what, pray tell, is wrong with wanting to do good?

I feel much better now.

Civil Discourse

Tell me more about the hatefulness of the left: Ted Nugent, via Crooks and Liars:

Nugent: I was in Chicago last week I said—Hey Obama, you might want to suck on one of these you punk? Obama, he’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on one of my machine guns…Let’s hear it for them. I was in NY and I said hey Hillary—you might want to ride one of these into the sunset you worthless bitch…Since I’m in California, I’m gonna find– she might wanna suck on my machine gun! Hey, Dianne Feinstein, ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? Freeeeedom!

Racists, Too

I have pointed out more than once that the right wing in this country is permeated by racism. I'm sure many people think I'm being shrill. Read this exchange between Rush Limbaugh and a caller, via Digby:

LIMBAUGH: Yeah. This is -- you're not going to believe this, but it's very simple. And the sooner you believe it, and the sooner you let this truth permeate the boundaries you have that tell you this is just simply not possible, the better you will understand Democrats in everything. You are right. They want to get us out of Iraq, but they can't wait to get us into Darfur.

CALLER: Right.

LIMBAUGH: There are two reasons. What color is the skin of the people in Darfur?

CALLER: Uh, yeah.

LIMBAUGH: It's black. And who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them? If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they're in trouble.

CALLER: Yes. Yes. The black population.

LIMBAUGH: Right. So you go into Darfur and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela -- who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders. You go to Ethiopia. You do the same thing.

CALLER: It's just -- I can't believe it's really that simple.

Digby's predicting that there will be more on this order from the right-wing media shills -- Limbaugh, Coulter, Malkin, O'Reilly. I'm sure she's right. It's never been far below the surface, after all. And there's an election coming up.

(For an added dimension on this, see Dave Neiwert's post on Jules Crittenden's unbelievable screed about who is outbreeding who. Neiwert, being much more polite than I am, talks about eugenics, but let's face it -- the foundation is racism.)

Too Stupid to Live

Speaking of the bundle of hatreds on the right, read this piece by Dinesh D'Souza, who has come up here before, and not in a good way. Then read this really lame "apology", written after the flak started flying. He calls it "an attempt at humor." Sound familiar? As "macaca," "faggot," and the like?

Sick senses of humor these people have. (The comments after D'Souza's essay are priceless.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Anti-American Right

I've been thinking a bit about my posts on Philip Atkinson's essay calling for George W. Bush to proclaim himself "president for life (available full thanks to Digby.

Now, I've seen a fair amount about the Family Security Foundation scrubbing it from their website and expunging Atkinson from their page (an I don't blame them for that -- the man's a loon), but I've seen very little about the fact that they published it in the first place. I do a lot of carping about the lack of morality on the far right, but this just points it up: they couldn't figure out that this kind of screed is unacceptable until they registered on the very negative reactions.

They just don't get it.


Thanks to Hilzoy for this follow-up on the Christianist Pentagon.

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering "freedom packages" to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which "soldiers for Christ" hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

And, as she points out, didn't they ever think about the way Muslims react to the word "crusade"? Or is it just truth in advertising?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


It happens, even to me.

Damn! It was a good post, too.

Who You Gonna Believe?

Regarding yesterday's bit about the NYT OpEd from seven soldiers in Iraq, this editorial by Paul Rickoff at Military.com.

I think I agree. After all, it's the Beltway insiders who've screwed everything up.


Where they pass anti-familiy laws that are almost as nasty and mean-spirited as those in Kansas and Florida.

And then get slapped down:

A panel of three judges -- all of them Republican appointees -- of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court ruling that Oklahoma's anti-family law violated the U.S. Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause, which requires states to honor one another's judicial judgments, including adoptions.

The appeals court also ordered Oklahoma to issue a revised birth certificate for an Oklahoma-born girl so that she is listed as the daughter of the women who legally adopted her in California.

I have to note once again the smallness and meanness inherent in laws like this, and like Florida's law banning adoption by gays. These are all incited by people who claim to follow a teacher who taught compassion, acceptance, tolerance, and other virtues that seem to be in bad odor among the Christianists.

And they really seem to hate children.

Just so you know.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Surge and All That

When you're listening to all the glowing reports and serious reassessments of the success of The Surge coming out of the mouths of those politicians and pundits and other "war critics" who have been honored by a 3-day, all expenses paid tour of the "war zone" by our military propaganda -- mmm, "rebranding" machine, keep this in mind.

What We're Fighting, Part II

Illustrations of just how far in the depths the neo-theo-corpo con world view can take you.

First, from Megan McArdle, libertarian supreme, this choice piece:

Moreover, as a class, the old and sick have some culpability in their ill health. They didn't eat right or excercise; they smoked; they didn't go to the doctor as often as they ought; they drank to much, or took drugs, or sped, or engaged in dangerous sports. Again, in individual cases this will not be true; but as a class, the old and sick bear some of the responsibility for their own ill health, while younger, healthier people have almost no causal role in the ill-health of others.

Perhaps they deserve it by virtue of suffering? But again, most of them are suffering because they have gotten old, often in high style. The young of today have two possible outcomes:

1) They will be old and sick too, in which case they are no less deserving of our concern than today's old and sick

2) They won't ever get to be old and sick, which is even worse than being old and sick.

As a class, the old and sick are already luckier than the young and healthy. Again, for individuals within that class--those with desperate congenital conditions, for example--this is not the case. But I'm not sure it's terribly compelling to argue that we should massively disadvantage a large group of people in order to massively advantage another, equally large group of people, all to help out the few who are needy, or deserving, or unlucky.

There is so much that she leaves out of her argument that I don't even know where to begin" birth defects, genetically based disabilities, accidents, diseases caused by unsafe working conditions, and on and on and on, are not the exclusive province of the "old and sick." Nor are the old necessarily sick. (And half of those who are, I think, are so because their doctors told them they were.)

Quite aside from the callous, blame-the-victim stance, this is, when all is said and done, horribly slanted drivel. Obviously the result of the kind of research that went into the rationale(s) for the Iraq invasion.

(Footnote: As a youth, I read and was impressed by Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I grew older, wiser, more compassionate, and gained a more solid understanding of what human society is about as I ran up against one hard fact: we are social animals. We are hard-wired for it, as are our closest relatives. Sociality is an adaptive trait, obviously, and once you acknowledge that, you begin to understand some of the subtleties. In the case of the "old and sick," elders play a key role in transmission of culture. It could even be argued that now, when we do our best to shunt our elders away where we don't really have to deal with them, they are still tremendously influential in shaping our attitudes, as they have been throughout our lives. We owe them. Hence I consider libertarianism and its allies not only morally impoverished, but maladaptive, and comments like McArdle's contemptible.)

It gets worse. Here's an article by Philip Atkinson, one of the luminaries of a group calling itself "The Family Security Foundations," via Digby. The title, "Conqering the Drawbacks of Democracy," is bad enough, but the text is unbelievable:

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life.

The simple truth that modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit suicide. Israel provides the perfect example. If the Israelis do not raze Iran, the Iranians will fulfill their boast and wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Yet Israel is not popular, and so is denied permission to defend itself. In the same vein, President Bush cannot do what is necessary for the survival of Americans. He cannot use the nation's powerful weapons. All he can do is try and discover a result that will be popular with Americans.

As we know, the moral base of any group with "Family" in the name is questionable. This goes beyond that:

President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become “President-for-Life” Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.

When I was learning about America and how it works, calling for the overthrow of the government was treason. Now, apparently, on the far fringes of the right, it is a valid proposal for "saving" America.

Dave Neiwert has a lot more information about Atkinson and the FSM. I suspect this group has the same value to the core NTC cons as Fred Phelps has to the Dobson Gang: he makes them look reasonable.

(Digby notes that the group has been busily scrubbing articles from the Internet. Hence, the link she provides to the Google cache is no longer good. Gee, I wonder why they'd want to do that?)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Alternate Universes

This is one of the most surreal stories I've read in a loooong time.

By the time he arrived in Prague in June for a democracy conference, President Bush was frustrated. He had committed his presidency to working toward the goal of "ending tyranny in our world," yet the march of freedom seemed stalled. Just as aggravating was the sense that his own government was not committed to his vision.

Better than science fiction. Or at least, more fanciful.

I thought journalists were supposed to be able to tell the difference between reality and sound bites.


Which seems to be in the news lately, maybe because the right is getting desperate and needs another dead horse to beat. Read this post from Dave Neiwert (guesting at FDL) on being a stay-at-home dad.

The funny thing is that, in my own life, the less I've come to worry about my masculinity, the more others perceive me as being terrifically masculine in both a "progressive" and "conservative" sense. (The telling comment was a female friend who said, practically out of the blue, "I always think of you as a top.")

Stopped me cold for a minute. I just wasn't thinking of myself that way.


What Scarecrow said.

With Democrats like this, who needs Republicans?

Also see TPM.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What We're Fighting

The neo-theo-corpocon worldview. First, Steve Benen at TPM commenting on Melanie Morgan's response to Naomi Wolf's comments on the damage done by Bush's Iraq policy and how it reflects the worldview of right-wing radicals:

This description may sound hyperbolic, but a surprising number of high-profile conservative voices actually believe that we're this close to an invasion and the replacement of our constitutional system with a radical Muslim theocracy. If you disagree -- about the nature of Islam, or the war in Iraq, or the president's national security policies, etc. -- then you are necessarily helping advance the Islamists' drive for international hegemony.

It's precisely why Morgan, instead of responding to Wolf's substantive points, quickly leapt to her reflexive conclusion: criticizing the president will contribute to the downfall of the United States and the imposition of sharia law.

Granted, Morgan is out there even by right-wing standards (she seems to be sort of an Ann Coulter on Stoli), but Benen follows up with a post on Victor Davis Hanson's reaction to Congressional critics of the policy:

[I]t is hard to recall of any war in our history -- the Vietnam hysteria aside -- that a sitting Senate majority leader declared it lost in the middle of hostilities. We have not previously witnessed senior opposition senators alleging that their own American servicemen were analogous to Nazis, Stalinists, Cambodian mass murders, Saddam's Baathist killers, or engaging in habitual terrorizing and killing of innocent civilians.

Hanson's overstating his case, of course, but the core of it is that someone has dared to criticize the Leader's war. The flaw in Hanson's lead-in is, of course, that no other war in American history, the Vietnam debacle aside, lost support so rapidly once the truth of it became known. As far as support for Iraq goes, we're talking about an extremist position.

Josh Marshall posts a comment from a reader:

Re 'You're going to look super in a burka': I think this makes sense mainly if you consider that unilateralism is in many ways the flip side of isolationism. To an awful lot of people in places like, say, West Texas [I once lived there], the outside world is seen as a vague, threatening place, full of people who want what we've got. First it was the Nazis, then the Communists, and now the Islamists; they all blur into a single, malignant Other, who need to be stopped well short of our shores [Throw in the Trilateral Commission and the international bankers for good measure]. I recall teaching history in WTX and having to explain to a student that Nazis and Communists weren't the same people; he actually thought they were, and he was a smart guy!

Just to see the depth to which this idea permeates the right, see this piece by Roger Simon, linking support for same-sex marriage to the War on Terror. Seriously!

Because I am such an adamant adherent of gay rights, women’s rights, human rights – the values that evolved out of the Enlightenment – I have to vote for the candidate I think will best carry forth that war (by whatever means appropriate at the moment) to defend those Enlightenment values. This means, unless I am very lucky, that I will not always love that person in all areas. Indeed, I may have to swallow some very bitter pills, but these are serious times, by far the most serious of my lifetime. And I was born at the end of World War II.

I never cease to be amazed – and perhaps it is my own myopia – that my former colleagues on the Left can be blind to this situation. They act as if the threat is not real and is only a blip caused by a post 9/11 overreaction by George Bush, thus ignoring virtually all of Western history since the year 800, not to mention the overwhelming demographic changes of recent decades.

There's not a lot of reality involved in this view. I mean, get serious: the United States, not only the greatest military power in the world but a country in which every third person, it seems, owns a gun, is going to be conquered by a bunch of ragged suicide bombers who can't even afford the air fare to get here?

And people seriously believe this. The really do. See Glenn Greenwald's comments on Simon's essay. His update is particularly telling:

One way to look at the threat posed by Islamic radicalism (let us call it Option A) is to see it as the Epic War of Civilizations, the Existential Threat to Everything, the Gravest and Scariest Danger Ever Faced which is going to take over the U.S. and force us all to bow to Islam.

Another way to look at it (let us call this Option B) is to dismiss it entirely, to believe there is nothing wrong with Islamic radicalism, to think it should just be completely ignored because it poses no dangers of any kind.

There are, however, other options besides A and B. Therefore, to reject Option A is not to embrace Option B.

One would have thought that logical principle too self-evident to require pointing out, but as is typically the case when one assumes that, one is proven wrong.

It's the either/or, black/white thinking inherent in traditional Christianity, wihch has permeated Western thought systems over the past two thousand years or so and resides firmly in the mindset we're talking about. You see it in every argument advanced by what passes for "conservatives" these days, from chickenhawks to creationists. ("If this is true, then Darwinism must be wrong.") It's certainly not valid logically, as Greenwald points out, but it's also not valid intuitively -- anyone with any sense knows that a question always has more than two answers.

This all sort of pinged off of a post from Andrew Sullivan about Jose Padilla's mental state:

Also he had developed, actually, a third thing. He had developed really a tremendous identification with the goals and interests of the government... He was very angry that the civil proceedings were "unfair to the commander-in-chief," quote/unquote. And in fact, one of the things that happened that disturbed me particularly was when he saw his mother. He wanted her to contact President Bush to help him, help him out of his dilemma. He expected that the government might help him, if he was “good,” quote/unquote.

I'm going to let you compare this to a comment from John Hinderaker, also quoted by Sullivan, without following the link:

"I had the opportunity this afternoon to be part of a relatively small group who heard President Bush talk, extemporaneously, for around forty minutes. It was an absolutely riveting experience. It was the best I've ever seen him. Not only that; it may have been the best I've ever seen any politician. If I summarized what he said, it would all sound familiar: the difficult times we live in; the threat from Islamic fascism - the phrase drew an enthusiastic round of applause - the universal yearning for freedom; the need to confront evil now, with all the tools at our disposal, so that our children and grandchildren can live in a better and safer world. As he often does, the President structured his comments loosely around a tour of the Oval Office. But the digressions and interpolations were priceless."

The difference is, Padilla had been brainwashed for three years.

(Thanks to Croolks and Liars for the Simon link.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Somehow, it just started registering on me that same-sex marriage is a reality for millions now. See this story, via Slap Upside the Head.

A little closer to home, Andrew Sullivan is having jitters. And a correspondent and Live Journal friend just posted a brief bit from Argentina, where he and his new husband are on their honeymoon.

That all makes me feel very, very good. Mostly because it's not so remote any more -- it's happening with people I actually know, however remotely.

More on Padilla

A little follow-up to this post from yesterday. Unlike some commentators, I'm not so sure that the jury returned the right verdict, particularly after reading these observations by Hilzoy:

Judging by the press reports, the evidence was weak and the jury somewhat odd ("On the last day of trial before the Fourth of July holiday, jurors arranged to dress in outfits so that each row in the jury box was its own patriotic color -- red, white or blue.") Moreover, the NYT reports this disquieting detail:

The jurors, seven men and five women from Miami-Dade County, would not speak publicly at the courthouse and left through a side entrance. But one juror, who asked that her name not be used, said later in a telephone interview that she had all but made up her mind before deliberations began.

“We had to be sure,” the juror said in Spanish. “We wanted to make sure we went through all the evidence. But the evidence was strong, and we all agreed on that.”

Now, having one's mind pretty much made up is before deliberations start is not unusual. Been there. Jury deliberations are more on the order of trying, sometimes quite vociferously, to reach consensus than actually making up minds. However, given the tone of the juror's remarks, I'm really wondering whether some of those minds weren't made up before the trial started. I mean, look at some of the "evidence":

To find him guilty of the murder conspiracy charge, the jury had to believe that Padilla intended, when he left the United States in 1998, to commit murder overseas.

On this point, the evidence was relatively thin.

On none of the calls does he explicitly call for killing or any other type of violence. A prosecution witness said that he attended the same training camp as Padilla -- to help defend Muslims in places where they might be under attack, not to become a terrorist.

Moreover, prosecutors never identified exactly whom Padilla and his co-defendants wanted to kill.

But in closing arguments prosecutors mentioned al-Qaeda more than 100 times, by one defense count, and urged jurors to in essence think of al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with it as an international murder conspiracy.

Not terribly convincing, particularly since, as Andrew Cohen pointed out in WaPo (from yesterday's post):

[P]eople who have followed this case closely know that Padilla ultimately was convicted on evidence that federal authorities did not believe amounted to a crime when it was gathered back before 2001.

My real concern is not whether or not Padilla is guilty of what are, all things considered, minor charges. Like a few other people, such as Hilzoy in this post and Digby, I'm aghast at the government's methods in this case and their rationale as expressed in what has become known as the "Jacoby Declaration" (pdf). As Hilzoy points out, this is an official government document, reflecting official policy of this administration and, by extension, us. This paragraph alone is chilling:

I assess Padilla's potential intelligence value as very high. I also firmly believe that providing Padilla access to counsel risks loss of a critical intelligence resource, resulting in a grave and direct threat to national security.

That's just the beginning. Remember, we are talking about an American citizen arrested on American soil. (Andrew Sullivan's correspondent notwithstanding, O'Hare International Airport is part of the City of Chicago, which is, although a hotbed of blue-collar liberalism, still an American city. In fact, Chicago's just about as American as it gets.) As Hilzoy points out:

Bear in mind that the Sixth Amendment holds that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall (...) have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." Of course, Padilla was not at that time charged with any crime, which is why one might have thought that the Fifth Amendment might have been relevant: "No person shall be (...) deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Possibly there are exceptions for prisoners of war, but Padilla was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, not in the mountains of Afghanistan.

In other words, adhering to Constitutional requirements in the treatment of American citizens is a threat to national security. Sorry, this is unacceptable, and in light of the effects on Padilla of his confinement and the application of what can only be called torture, the case should have been thrown out. See Glenn Greenwald's comments on the possibility of a "fair trial" for Padilla in light of the history of his incarceration.

Worse still, the notion that Padilla received a "fair trial" is dubious, to put it mildly, and will undoubtedly be vigorously contested on appeal. Last year, the New York Times obtained a copy of a video from Padilla's imprisonment which showed techniques that can only be described as torture -- systematic sensory deprivation and gratuitous humiliations which clearly broke Padilla as a human being in every sense that matters, all before he had been charged, let alone convicted, of anything. Whether a person subjected to a torture regimen of that severity can possibly receive a "fair trial," in light of his obvious inability to participate meaningfully in his own defense, looms darkly over this entire proceeding.

There is more on this at Majikthise, including excerpts from an interview with a psychologist who interviewed Padilla:

Also he had developed, actually, a third thing. He had developed really a tremendous identification with the goals and interests of the government. I really considered a diagnosis of Stockholm syndrome. For example, at one point in the proceedings, his attorneys had, you know, done well at cross-examining an FBI agent, and instead of feeling happy about it like all the other defendants I’ve seen over the years, he was actually very angry with them. He was very angry that the civil proceedings were “unfair to the commander-in-chief,” quote/unquote. And in fact, one of the things that happened that disturbed me particularly was when he saw his mother. He wanted her to contact President Bush to help him, help him out of his dilemma. He expected that the government might help him, if he was “good,” quote/unquote.

Lindsay Beyerstein's comment is worth noting:

By destroying Padilla, the government cheated us all out of justice. If Padilla had gotten the speedy trial that he was entitled to as an American citizen, he might have been legitimately convicted. Instead, the government tortured an American citizen and undercut the legitimacy of their prosecution.

Marty Lederman has an illuminating commentary at Balkinization, as does Jack Balkin (whom I believe I linked to yesterday).

What's interesting about this, although not in the least surprising, is that the administration is crowing about its "victory," even though this case has demonstrated that "enemy combatants" can be tried in the civilian courts, which puts the lie to its rationale for its detention policies. Glenn Greenwald has some relevant comments in the post linked above. (Read Greenwald's whole column -- it's relevant to a lot of what I've said here, and if I'd found it sooner, I could have saved myself some time.)

In the meantime, we are not safer at all, mostly not from our own government.


See also Barbara O'Brien's comments here and here especially on the right nutjob reaction.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Have you noticed that critics of a national health policy keep pointing to Britain and Canada, both of which systems are flawed? No one seems to say much about the system in France, which from all reports does work beautifully.


I don't know if anyone else has noticed this particular language shift, but it just jumped out at me again this morning, in this post by Pam Spaulding at AmericaBlog. (Pam seems to be a regular there these days, although she doesn't seem to have made it to the masthead.)

...Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and the stress of their jobs were factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide, according to the report.

I'm not sure when serving in the military became a "job," but that's what it seems to be now. When I was of draft age, it was a duty, a responsibility, an adjunct of citizenship, almost a sacred calling. These days, soldiers are no longer discharged, they are "fired."

We keep hearing reports of morale problems in the armed forces, of which the one cited in Pam's blog is one of the latest (and most extreme). Of course, this is in large part because the war in Iraq is a shambles. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that 82% of Americans hate their jobs. If the Pentagon wants to rebrand itself, maybe it should go back to being the military, and not just an employer.

Welcome to the corporate state.

Padilla: Another WTF? Moment

I really can't believe the verdict in the Jose Padilla case. It's simply incredible. I have to agree with Andrew Cohen's conclusions in WaPo:

For this jury, the simplest explanation was that these guys were up to no good. They were acting suspiciously (or at least not innocently). They were talking like spies (or at least not like relief workers). Teenagers are expected talk and text in code so that their parents don't know what they are up to. Makeshift humanitarians are not.

None of this in my view necessarily justifies today's verdicts -- but it certainly in my mind helps explain them.

For the government, it's a verdict that brings a huge sigh of relief. Now the feds don't have to worry about what to do with Padilla, the once-upon-a-time "dirty bomber." Now they can declare victory even though the people who have followed this case closely know that Padilla ultimately was convicted on evidence that federal authorities did not believe amounted to a crime when it was gathered back before 2001. Now the folks at the Justice Department can claim we are safer from terrorism even though the constitutional mess left over from the initial Padilla affair -- his designation as an enemy combatant -- could hamper terror law efforts for years to come.

Anderw Sullivan, on the other hand, can't quite keep from coming down on both sides of the issue:

I am prepared to believe that the jury made the right call. But the path to that call remains indefensible. A reader put it best:

Leaving aside the torture issue (which is a big aside) I am not that concerned that Guantanamo exists. Our military is capturing people on battlefields and they need to be placed somewhere. I do think there needs to be a better procedure to determine whether those people are POWs or illegal combatants, but I do not want the military in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere to be fighting a police action.

But the Padilla case was different. Here was a guy arrested by law enforcement inside the US (though, as he was at an airport, arguably legally outside the country). He was not captured on a distant battlefield holding a rifle or even in the process of engaging in a terrorist act. The fact it took the government three years to try him, and everything that happened in between is a travesty.

I am not prepared to believe that the jury made the right call, onsidering that the government had no case. I've served on a jury, and we came up with a verdict that dumfounded the judge and both attorneys, finding for the defendant. It was simply that the plaintiff had no case, and we could see that quite plainly. Of course, this was in Chicago -- we tend to have a rather jaundiced view of lawyers and the government here.

Without having been there, of course, I can't address specifics, but it would seem to me that the government was handed a freebie on this one.

(Sidebar: In spite of the centrality of the torture/detention issue to the Padilla case in large, I realize that in the specifics brought into court in the actual trial, there is a different order of scrutiny. In spite of that, I think we cannot forget those larger issues, so I'm pulling in two posts from Balkinization, first, this commentary by Jack Balkin, second, a comment on that post by Marty Lederman.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New blogs

Well, they're not really new, but they're fairly new here. I will eventually get my links list updated, but for your reading pleasure, I heartily recommend the following, all of which I have recently added to my own Bookmarks:

Obsidian Wings, featuring the incomparable hilzoy and publius.

The Bilerico Project, one of the premier gay sites.

The Mahablog, thoughtful and thorough.

Shakesville, Amanda Marcotte's successor blog to Shakespeare's Sister -- pungent. (Correction: Sorry, this is not Amanda's blog, which is Pandagon, also worth checking out, but Melissa McEwen's. My bad. [Note to self: Drink coffee first. Then post.])

Suburban Guerrilla, incisive and clear-eyed.

That should be enough to get you started. Enjoy.

Miles to go . . .

before I sleep.

Book review week, and I've got to do some music, too. Expect posts to be a little sketchy for a few days (unless something really pushes my outrage button).


I've found my soulmate in the blogosphere, thanks to Atrios. Check out Skimble.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Where Else But Texas?

Well, OK -- Kansas, Alabama, Missouri. . . .

At any rate, scope out this report from PZ Myers. I'm rushing right now, but I'll have more to say on this later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


is leaving. Fortunately, I don't have to make any comment at all, because Digby has done it, not once but twice

Actually, I find it hard to understand the fascination with this character. He's nothing but a sleazy political hack. Chicago is littered with them.

Sullivan on "The Gay Debate"

Andrew Sullivan on the "gay debate" (I'm hard put to figure out where to put the quotes on that one.)

Like Sullivan, I didn't see the program on Logo -- not only do I not have Logo, I don't have a TV. (Yes, strange as it may seem, television is not part of my life. I really don't miss it at all.) From all reports, it was much better than anyone expected. 'Nuff said.

There were also, from everything I can glean, no surprises. Everyone pretty much said everything we expected them to say. Sullivan, however, makes some comments that deserve analysis, both because they are right and because they are terribly, terribly wrong.

My own sense, however, is that we haven't moved the Democrats much in many years. They need and want gay money, so they will talk to us. But none of the leading candidates supports our civil equality in marriage, the Ground Zero of the movement.

First off, that's rather an amazing statement. We've moved the whole country in the past few years, and we've moved it significantly. Tell me the Democrats had nothing to do with it. As for marriage, this is, I think, another case of Sullivan touting his favorite cause. Marriage is certainly the most high-profile issue in gay rights right now, but I think calling it "Ground Zero" is overstating the case just a wee bit. Strangely enough, I agree with HRC and the major rights groups that there are much more fundamental things that we need to focus on. (This is not to excuse HRC et al. from getting left in the dust when the marriage thing hit. They never have caught up, which is unforgivable. They have also been completely ineffective in their major campaigns, and I don't think the Democrats being out of power is sufficient excuse. Going into the Bush years we had some potential allies in Congress. Why didn't we make those connections and use them?) Sullivan is right when he suggests later on that we need to be working grassroots level, which HRC no longer seems to have any interest in doing. What he doesn't mention is that we have been, and been very successful at it.

If you're for civil unions but not civil marriage, you need an argument. One is simply the semantic one that your commitment to the heterosexual meaning of the word trumps your understanding that gays are also family members and deserve not to be shunted into a "separate-but-equal" institution. But none of them will admit that. The other answer is that they do support equality in marriage but fear losing votes if they publicly say so. As president, of course, they have virtually no role in the matter - it's for the states. But they're scared of the Rove machine - still.

We need to be challenging them, and we're not. And I mean direct, face-to-face challenges on the order of "Why do you think your personal beliefs should dictate public policy?" (Of course, that's a question I'd like to put to any candidate, on either side.) One error Sullivan makes here is the idea that there is a "heterosexual meaning" to the word "marriage." Hah? There is a set of historical assumptions that we are challenging. The "meaning" he's referring to is one that has been articulated by the Dobson Gang, and our "leadership" (and that includes commentators like Sullivan) has allowed it to stand without challenge in the public discourse. The whole basis of the same-sex marriage movement has to be to remove the idea that "marriage" as a word has application limited to one man/one woman and validity limited to a religious context. This is not a new idea: if one looks at the progress of the Black Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement, and the realignment of the discourse around those movements, it's obvious. (I'd say I'm surprised at Sullivan for that statement, but I'm not: it's no secret that I don't think he examines questions very deeply.)

As for the Rove machine reference, I fear he's right. It's a carry-over from the past twenty years of Democrats behaving like whipped dogs trying to please the one who beats them. It's never going to happen. The only real answer is to bite back, but it should have happened long ago. Somehow they seem to believe that the 28% who still support George Bush are the ones who should be dictating our course, and that to lose them is to lose the country. I have news: the Democrats are never going to have those votes. Ever. The counter of course is not to cater to the memes being manufactured by that side, but to counter them with memes of our own. It will take lots of work and lots of savvy, which is not something I see in the crowd of campaign consultants who are managing to fuck up the message once again. The point is, when you see a poll that indicates an attitude that is not favorable to your position, the appropriate response is not to cater to it, but to counter it. The neo-theo-corporate cons have been doing that for decades (with the willing connivance of Washington and the press). That is why they are controlling the discourse.

If one becomes president and the Democrats maintain the House and Senate, we may get the trivial (and unecessary) hate crimes act passed. I'm not hopeful for much else in the first four years. I think the gay movement should concentrate on supporting and building on marriage rights in the states, shrewdly backing and financing inclusive candidates, Republican and Democratic, and further engaging the under-30s, who will give us equality when they have their moment in the sun. Some no-brainer reforms - removing HIV as a bar to entering the US, for example - could also be pushed. Along with wartime suspension of DADT (they won't abolish it in a first term - political post-traumatic stress disorder will strike again).

I'd like to be able to say that I think Sullivan is wrong in his prognostication, but given the behavior of the Democratic Congress, especially the Senate (although considering that Lieberman is still in office, it's questionable whether we can really say the Democrats have a majority there, no matter how slim), he could very well be right, notwithstanding the fact that there is great pressure to repeal DADT right now (which repeal, of course, the Deciderer will veto). I don't agree with his statement that passing a hate crimes bill is "trivial and unnecessary." That's just Sullivan showing his libertarian card; I've yet to see a cogent argument against hate-crimes laws, and certainly haven't seen one from Sullivan. (One can question the application in some instances -- another case of left-wing overreaching -- but the concept seems still to be solid.)

I really think Sullivan should flee his Washington-Provincetown axis for a while and come out to the rest of the country -- live in Chicago for six months, just to see what real life is like. It might make his analyses of gay issues a little less fanciful.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Health, Science, and Wingnuts

I was going to post on this story but hesitated, simply because discussions of health care too easily devolve into cherry-picking quotes and statistics (asd does any examination of any question these days), although I could very easily make a strong post.

Then I ran across this post by Liz Mair at Andrew Sullivan, which put the whole question in a different context. Mair builds her argument on this:

So Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee are creationists. Does it matter? What influence does the President have when it comes to specific educational curricula (what tends to inspire the most concern among evolutionists for creationists being in elected office)?

As is so often the case, she's asking the wrong question. I hinted at some of the problems attendant on a president who doesn't believe in the value of science -- who, in fact, sees science as an enemy -- in this post, and I think that's really the key factor. One has to see belief in creationism as an indicator of an attitude toward science in general, and, in fact, an attitude toward the rational basis of decision-making: a creationist is, by extension, not willing to accord scientific findings based on evidence any real weight in making decisions. It all devolves into questions of Biblical correctness. (Have I coined a new phrase? Perhaps, although I seem to have run across that one before, somewhere.)

So, the question in instituting a vaccination regime against HPV, for example, becomes not an issue of whether the vaccine is effective (it is, almost 100%), but an issue of adhering to the somewhat primitive sexual morality constructed from the Christian Bible, based on the rather off-base idea that removing the penalties from having sex will encourage people, and especially young people, to do it more. There's really no evidence that it will, actually, since abstinence-only sex education has proven to be such a resounding flop in that area and there is little difference, according to the evidence, between the numbers of young people who "experiment," whether they've been exposed to abstinence-only or real sex education.

To have a president who is making decisions based on this kind of thinking rather than on the results of scientific findings is scary. We've already seen the results of having NOAA, the FDA, and the CDC hampered by theistic policy hacks at critical points in the information flow. How much worse would it be with a president who doesn't even pay lip service to science?

Well, I think you can kiss any serious attempt to raise the standard of health in America good-bye, for starters. In a nation beset by obesity and its attendant ills, for example, can you imagine the CDC coming out with a recommendation that we pray away the fat? Under a president like Tancredo or Huckabee, I don't think that's so far-fetched.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Reasonably Clever. With thanks to PZ Myers.

Pastor Dan

I wasn't sure whether to make this a footnote to the post below or not, but decided finally to make a small post here. This is occasioned by this story at NYT. I wasn't impressed by the story, and the characterization of Pastor Dan as "confrontational and abrasive" and Street Prophets as practicing "calumny and condemnation" raised my eyebrows as much as it did Digby's. (Digby's post is on the theme of Christian love and compassion as practiced by the fringes of civilization.)

After reading Pastor Dan's reaction, I can only reflect that my feelings about the MSM are correct. Pastor Dan notes a few "inaccuracies" (which turns into quite a list) and also comments on what the reporter doesn't address, which really should have been the meat of the story.

And this is a surprise exactly how?

Read Pastor Dan's whole post. It's excellent.

Connecting Dots

One thing I treasure about David Neiwert and Sara Robinson at Orcinus is that they take the time to connect the dots. Herewith I recommend a series of posts on the Christianist attempt to take over the country, presented in several posts, first by Dave, then a follow-up by Sara, the back to Dave again, with a sort of sidebar by Sara linking this whole phenomenon to the white supremacists.

I've attempted to connect some of these dots myself, as in this post and this one. I'd also like to mention this story, with the observation that the program discussed here is one funded by Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

If this all starts to sound too much like conspiracy thinking, I'd like to point out a few things. In addition to the preponderance of radical Christianists in the military, we have seen the Justice Department packed with right-wing loyalists, of whom almost all are devout "Christians" of the Bush/Dobson/Robertson variety (anyone remember Aschroft's daily "voluntary" prayer meetings?); anti-science political operatives put in charge of NOAA, FDA, and the CDC, censoring public statements by scientists at those institutions (and in the case of the FDA, overruling recommendations of the scientific panels on things like Plan B and dragging their heels on implementing procedures for vaccinations against HPV); and, going back to the Office of Faith-Based Iniatives, the farce involved in the review of grant applications.

I don't know how many of you remember the seventies and eighties, when the religious right was making its first political moves, but they were grassroots. The Christianists ran "stealth candidates" for local offices -- city councils, school boards, and the like -- who ran on what was essentially a false platform and kept very quiet about their real agendas, which were pretty much what we see from the open Christianists of today: no sex education in schools, reducing availability of family planning information, negative treatment of gays (any neutral discussion was trumpeted as "promoting" homosexuality). It wasn't a chance thing: it was a deliberate strategy to take over local governments to enforce the Christianist social agenda. One sees similar tactics in the attempts to insert Biblical creation into science classrooms: proponents are advised to downplay the religious aspect of the "theory" in order to circumvent the Establishment Clause. And now they're working from the White House, the courts, and the Congress.

And yes, there are practical effects, as pointed out by Neiwert:

There is little question, scientifically speaking, that the fish kill was caused by the shutoff of water into the Klamath River. Both federal and private scientists have studied the matter, and unanimously concluded that it was caused by the loss of oxygen due to the extremely low flows. Smith should know this, and one must suspect he is fully informed on the subject and just making shit up.

Moreover, Smith also claims in the R-G interview that the fish didn't die until 18 months later. In fact, the kill occurred in September 2002, and the shutoff was in March 2002.

But the most mendacious aspect of this is his characterization of the groups he was coming to the defense of. It wasn't the Klamath Basin farmers he was defending; rather, it was a group of bellicose right-wing extremists who were claiming the loss of water for farmers was part of a New World Order conspiracy. Smith and the federal officials -- reaching to the highest levels of the Bush administration -- who kowtowed to their claims and probably broke the law in the process were in fact enabling and empowering fanatics of the most conspiratorial militiaman stripe.

The net effect was that the salmon industry in the Klamath basin was almost completely destroyed and the farmers who were the ostensible beneficiaries of the program weren't helped at all.

One essential component of the Christianist take-over is their overwhelming influence on the media. It's not just the popularity of wingnut talk radio, but the sight of CNN, NYT, WaPo, AP and any number of other outlets with their tails between their legs, idolizing idiots like Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, David Broder, and other "pundits" who have been wrong about everything while they continue to give validity and credibility to compulsive liars like James Dobson and Tony Perkins. The news is clogged with non-issues while the issues are ignored. (As a sidebar to this, I've begun to realize that I don't even bother to read the MSM any more. I subscribe to NYT, WaPo, the Chicago Tribune and am registered at a couple of other papers, but I've found their coverage to be so often beside the point that these days I follow the links from blogs to the stories, which actually enables me to survey more points of view, and sometimes get some real substance.)

I'm starting to ramble. The bottom line here is: Freedom of religion is good, but it has to apply to everyone. The corollary is that the Christianists are liars. Always.

(Footnote 1: If you chance by blogs such as Black Five or other military blogs, chances are very good that you'll run across repeated references to "warriors." Sounds noble doesn't it? It's myth-building, and I'm not against that per se. Nor am I about to deny the bravery and dedication of our troops in combat. They are doing something that I am very happy I've never had to do, and it's something that in general is necessary in this flawed world. I just want to point out that myth-building at some point leaves reality behind.)

(Footnote 2: I find it ironic that those who claim to follow a teacher who stressed interdependence, accommodation, compassion, forgiveness and love must have an enemy to justify themselves and their beliefs.)