Friday, June 29, 2007

Consensus at last!

With all the focus (including, of late, here) on the clear "moderate liberal" v. "twisted reactionary" fault line at the Supreme Court, little attention has been paid to an area where all those nasty differences just seemed to melt away: business cases. AP brings the word:
[J]ustices often found common ground when ruling on commercial issues such as shareholder rights and antitrust law. Seventy percent of the 30 business-related cases decided by the court over the eight-month term that ended this week produced majority votes of 7-2 or greater.

The justices' conformity in financial cases has resulted in a very business-friendly court. They have issued rulings that will make it harder to sue companies for securities fraud and antitrust violations, and have shielded businesses from large damage awards in tobacco lawsuits and other cases.

This "has been our best Supreme Court term ever," said Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's litigation group. Of the 15 cases decided this term in which the Chamber took a position, the court sided with the Chamber 13 times. ...

The court ruled against corporate America in just two cases, both dealing with the environment.
And if being praised by the US Chamber of Commerce doesn't tell you everything you needed and probably more than you wanted to know about the fawning devotion that liberals and reactionaries alike have to Big Business, I can't imagine what, short of video of them on their knees, chanting "Exxon-Mobil is God and Rupert Murdoch is His prophet," would.

And note well that I said the devotion is to Big Business, to corporate America, not to "The Market." Because in another decision announced Thursday, the Court said in the now-classic 5-4 split that manufacturers can set minimum retail prices for their products - that is, they can essentially engage in a form of price-fixing. That decision overturned 96 years of precedent and judicial practice holding that such price-fixing was per se a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

This Court does believe in a regulated market - they just want to make sure it's the economically powerful who get to do the regulating. Again, there is the intellectual consistency, the consistent favoring of the already-powerful.

Footnote: Another case of the same 5-4 divide, which I didn't comment on at the time, came in May when the Filthy Five dismissed a claim of pay discrimination filed by Lily Ledbetter against Goodyear Tire & Rubber. The reason, they said, was that she hadn't filed the complaint within 180 days of the discrimination, as required by the law.

To reach that really twisted decision, they had to declare that the discrimination consisted of the first act of pay discrimination - and only the first act. That not only means that an employer who successfully conceals illegal pay discrimination for six months can after that continue to discriminate against that employee without consequences, but the decision required - guess what - overturning tradition if not precedent, under which each discriminatory paycheck was regarded as a continuation of the same offense.

The fact is, precedent means nothing at all to the rightwing bozos now in the ascendant on the Court. I believe they should be impeached, tossed, and then brought up on charges of lying under oath during their Congressional testimony on their nominations. I know it won't happen, but the image of Roberts in the dock is a pleasant one on a dark night.

Footnote to the preceding, Paging John Roberts Div.

It might be, it would seem at first glance, just another minor matter, just another case of the sort that rumble through the court system every day.
Mychal Bell, 17, the first member to be tried of the "Jena Six" - the name given to the six boys charged in a Dec. 4 fight at Jena High School - was convicted today[, Friday,] of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit the same.
Yes, at first glance just another minor matter - or it would be were it not for the background.

I first heard about this through a link to The Big Con, a blog at the website of the Campaign for America's Future.
In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a "whites only" shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree. [Emphasis added.]
The white boys responsible for the racist threats were dismissed with a slap on the wrist by a school administration that treated it as a harmless prank. Not surprisingly, Jena's black residents didn't see it that way. Racial tension soared and fights began breaking out, with both blacks and whites being attacked by white and blacks.

Last December 4th, as reported by the BBC program "This World" a month ago,
racial tension boiled over once more at the school when a white student, Justin Barker, was attacked by a small group of black students.

He fell to the ground and hit his head on the concrete, suffering bruising and concussion.

He was treated at the local hospital and released, and that same evening felt able to put in an appearance at a school function.
In fact, the hospital report (visible at 2:13 into this video) describes a "R periorbital bruise" - a black right eye - and some abrasions. Despite that, District Attorney Reed Walters, who previously told black students at the school that he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen," charged the six black students involved with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit second degree murder.

The charges were later reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy, both felonies. And now the first of the six has been convicted on those charges by an all-white jury. He could be sent to prison for 30 years.

For some added perspective, consider this: A few nights earlier, one of the other defendants had his head cracked open with a beer bottle by a white. His assailant was charged with simple battery - a misdemeanor.

So, Injustice Roberts. what precedent should be overturned to stop this sort of discrimination?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Courting disaster, take two

In a surprise to I expect exactly nobody, the Supreme Court has ruled that public schools may not use race as a criteria, even one among several, in determining to what particular school a child is assigned. The vote, in a surprise to I expect exactly nobody, was 5-4, with the usual suspects providing the turn-back-the-clock majority.

As the BBC noted,
[t]he decision, one of the most important civil rights rulings in years, may affect millions of children in the US.
The case, which combined two appeals into one, involved school choice programs in Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky. In Seattle, CNN explained, race was one of several "tiebreakers" in cases where there are more applicants to a school than there are places. In the case of Louisville, which is part of Jefferson County, county officials
requir[ed] that most public schools have at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent African-American enrollment. The idea was to reflect the whole of Jefferson County, which is 60 percent white and 38 percent black.
This is what Solicitor General Paul Clement told the Court, arguing on behalf of the Bush administration (which supported the suits against the plans) constituted "very stark racial quotas." A range of 15%-50% is a "stark quota?"

What makes this all the more maddening is that the Louisville plan arose from federal court oversight; when the plan was instituted it had to meet federal court approval as one with the aim of putting an end to unconstitutional racial segregation. After that oversight ended in the late 1990s, county officials voluntarily continued the plan in order to prevent the district from becoming re-segregated. That is, it was a plan approved by a federal court to overcome segregation which succeeded after decades of effort and was being continued for the specific purpose of maintaining that success. And the Filthy Five just booted it. Which should tell you all you need to know.

That this was the plan, that the wingnuts on the Court set out from the beginning, indeed went out their way, to attack the very basis of school desegregation plans is undeniable. As the New York Times noted,
earlier, when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was still on the court, the justices had denied review in an appeal challenging a similar program in Massachusetts. With no disagreement among the federal appellate circuits on the validity of such programs, the new appeals did not meet the criterion the court ordinarily uses to decide which cases to hear. It was June of last year before the court, reconfigured by the additions of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, announced, over the unrecorded but vigorous objection of the liberal justices, that it would hear both appeals.
That is, the Supreme Court usually would only hear such a case if there were differences among appellate courts to be resolved. But there weren't. The Court ignored its own standard practice in order to undermine school diversity plans.

As chillingly revealing as that is, it wasn't even the worst of it, as both the language and facts of the battle for equality continue to be smirkingly expropriated into the service of the agenda of the reactionaries. Chief Justice John Roberts not only had the astonishing gall to claim the mantle of 1954's Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ruled "separate but equal" schools are unconstitutional, he wrote
"What do the racial classifications do in these cases if not determine admission to a public school on a racial bias?"

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," he added.
Yes! Why haven't we seen this before? Of course! The way to end racial discrimination is to pretend it doesn't exist! All that blocks us from a blessed world of true racial harmony is trying to do something about racism! I see it all now! Thank you, Justice Roberts, you make perfect nonsense! And in case you don't get the full impact, note that by his argument, every law against racism, every program to promote integration, every affirmative action program, all of them are now up for grabs - or, more properly, have been turned into clay pigeons for the right-wing's next round of political skeet, which, I project, will come sooner rather than later.

It's with good cause that Justice Stephen Breyer said “This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret.”

Meanwhile, school officials seek to find ways to continue to work for diversity, insisting that while they cannot use "race-specific" rules, they can use "race-conscious" ones. As examples, Gary Ikeda, the general counsel of Seattle Public Schools,
said "race-conscious" programs would include magnet schools, recruiting families to specific schools, and allocating teachers and resources "for the purpose of promoting racial diversity."
Officials in Seattle and Louisville are apparently relying on Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurring opinion in which, despite rejecting the two specific programs, he said that
under narrow circumstances race can still be considered by school officials.

"This nation has a moral and ethical obligation to fulfill its historic commitment to creating an integrated society that ensures equal opportunity for all its children," he wrote. "A compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation, an interest that a school district, in its discretion and expertise, may choose to pursue."
It's a thin reed to cling to, but his rejection of Roberts' "all-too-unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor" does put a roadblock in the troglodytes path toward a "colorblind Constitution" where, in accordance with Roberts' words, actually doing anything about racism is in effect impermissible.

Footnote: In fairness, I should mention that at a debate at Howard University in Washington, DC,
[a] historically diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates - a woman, a black, an Hispanic and five whites - denounced an hours-old Supreme Court affirmative action ruling Thursday night and said the nation's slow march to racial unity is far from over.
The circumstances - a debate at an historically black university hours after the Court ruled - surely made such comments inevitable, but still, better they were said than not.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Courting disaster

Updated A string of recent rulings by the Supreme Court has revealed the clear existence of the long-expected "conservative" majority. I put "conservative" in quotes for reasons which will become apparent later. But first, the rulings.
The Supreme Court liberated corporate and union political spending, limited students' speech and shielded the White House faith-based program from legal challenge Monday in 5-4 rulings that pointed up the court's shift to the right. ...

Five justices - [John] Roberts, [Samuel] Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - formed the majority in each decision. The court's four liberals, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens, dissented each time.
The campaign finance ruling rejected a provision of the McCain-Feingold law that barred interest groups from running radio or TV ads that mention a candidate's name within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The decision, which essentially overturned a 2003 Supreme Court decision upholding McCain-Feingold, was declared by the majority to be a matter of free speech.
"Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor," Roberts said.
A noble sentiment - which got tossed out the window in the case of Juneau, Alaska, high school student John Frederick, who in 2002 displayed a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at an event noting the passing of the Olympic torch through the city. School principal Deborah Morse claimed the banner advocated illegal drug use and suspended Frederick for 10 says, sparking a civil rights lawsuit.

Writing for the majority, Roberts said that even though the banner might have been nothing but “gibberish,” as Frederick maintained, it was still proper for Morse
to decide both that it promoted illegal drug use and that “failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge, including Frederick, about how serious the school was about the dangers of illegal drug use.”
So much for the tie going to the speaker.

A couple of the justices emphasized the narrowness of the ruling, saying it applied only to speech advocating drug use - or, more properly, as speech some official somewhere could interpret as advocating drug use. Leaving aside the issue of my inability to find the footnote to the First Amendment that says "does not apply to speech about drugs," Breyer, while voting with the majority to toss the lawsuit, said he was doing it on the basis of "qualified immunity." Under that principle, government officials are largely immune from suits for damages. While I doubt that was really intended to apply to a high school principal, Breyer's point was that the Fearsome Five justices didn't have to address the free speech issue at all, so even as they praised themselves for their restraint, they actually were putting a new and unnecessary restriction on the First Amendment rights of students, which apparently now extend no further than how some school official interprets how your "message" lines up with "school policy."

The First Amendment is also the home of the Constitutional basis of the principle of separation of church and state, which took a hit in the third case. There, the Court blocked a suit by a group of atheists and agnostics who objected to the White House program specifically designed to aid so-called "faith-based" programs in getting a share of federal money, a program which on its face would appear to promote religion over non-religion, which is also a Constitutional no-no.

Not any more, it seems: The Court found that ordinary taxpayers can't challenge the program. Which does leave the question of who could.

Looking at these cases, Digby declared
I'm awfully impressed with the intellectual consistency of the Roberts Court so far, how about you?
But I think that her sarcasm is misplaced. To see why, just consider one more ruling: On Monday, in another identically-divided 5-4 ruling, the Court also
limited the obligation of federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize federally listed threatened or endangered species.

In two combined cases - EPA v. Defenders of Wildlife and National Association of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife - the court reversed an appeals court decision that required the U.S. EPA to consider the protection of listed species before handing Clean Water Act permitting authority over to the states.
This is despite the fact that, as Carter Roberts of the World Wildlife Fund noted,
[i]n a previous ruling, the court had given the ESA "first priority" over all other federal action. ...

As Justice Stevens wrote in the dissent, the Supreme Court "offered a definitive interpretation of the Endangered Species Act nearly 30 years ago," but today "the court turns its back on our decision.... and places a great number of endangered species in jeopardy."
That is, the Supreme Court, the "oh we are so non-activist, we are so committed to precedent" Supreme Court, overturned nearly 30 years of jurisprudence regarding the ESA for the purpose of favoring developers over not only endangered species but over the very idea of the right of the public to regulate use of land as it sees fit by freeing those developers from as much regulatory restraint as the current case allowed. And it did it by, in the words of Rodger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife, "ignor[ing] the clear intention of Congress when they enacted the Endangered Species Act."

Taken together and contrary to Digby, there is a clear intellectual consistency to the decisions: All four decisions, consistently, using whatever shift in logic was required, ignoring whatever precedents may have stood in the way, spoke firmly, decisively, in favor of power, indeed of a hierarchy of power: Power of corporations over the state, of the state over the individual, of favored expressions over the disfavored. Consistent decisions in favor of the power of money, the power of arbitrary authority, the power of convention.

The courts, the very institutions of our society, of our government, that are hypothetically supposed to be places where the weak can challenge the strong on equal ground, are instead and now increasingly places to simply reaffirm the strength of the already strong. Places to endorse, to celebrate, power.

Which is why I put the word "conservative" in quotes at the top of this. This is not a "conservative" court in any classic, any reasonable, hell, any rational sense of the term. It is a reactionary one. Its ideological roots do not lie in Barry Goldwater but in George Lincoln Rockwell.

There are still dark times ahead to be survived.

Footnote: You may have noticed there is no link to the World Wildlife Fund. That's because on its home page it's promoting a new "partnership" with Coca-Cola. Since we have been boycotting Coke for over two years now, I see no reason to plug its "partners."

Updated with Another Footnote: Okay, be fair, give them this:
Putting its recent ruling on student speech into practice, the Supreme Court on Friday rejected a school district's appeal of a ruling that it violated a student's rights by censoring his anti-Bush T-shirt.

A seventh-grader from Vermont was suspended for wearing a shirt that bore images of cocaine and a martini glass - but also had messages calling President Bush a lying drunk driver who abused cocaine and marijuana, and the "chicken-hawk-in-chief" who was engaged in a "world domination tour."
Clearly, the t-shirt could not be claimed to be "advocating illegal drug use," which was the excuse used by the Court to throw down Frederick. And the Court did reject the appeal.

I still wonder about the "advocating illegal drug use" business. Is it the drug use part that's the issue, so that if the banner read "Watch TV Nude 4 Jesus" the decision would have been different? Or is it the illegal part, so that if the banner had read "Cigarette Puffs 4 Jesus" it would have been okay but had it read "Resist War Taxes 4 Jesus" it wouldn't have been? Or does it have to be both together and if so why does that narrow expression fall outside the range of protected speech if speech about drugs or about illegality isn't?

School's almost out

Via Tim at Green Left Infoasis, whose comments on last Friday's post about immigration are worth reading, I heard a bit of news I missed: A Congressional vote last week to finally close the infamous School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (officially WHINSEC but to some and more naturally, WHISC), failed. The vote on the McGovern-Lewis Amendment, which would have eliminated funding for the abuse academy, lost by the distressingly small margin of 203-214. A switch of just six votes would have marked this particular torture training for elimination.

The failure was made possible by the votes of 42 Democrats who
shamefully chose to join Republican Representatives in voting for the school, whose graduates have been responsible for genocide, assassinations, torture and other human rights violations throughout Latin America for decades,
as the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center put it.

Some of those "no" voters have appeared on lefty heroes lists for one reason or another, folks such as Henry Cuellar, John Dingell, John Murtha, and Ike Skelton. Perhaps this will serve as a reminder that while in politics false in one does not mean false in all, truth in one means only that: truth in one. (Also, Marty Meehan and Charlie Rangel were among those who did not vote. Perhaps they had good reasons. People should ask.)

Joao Da Silva of the School of the Americas Watch, which has worked for years to get the school shut down, blamed a large-scale lobbying and pressure campaign by the Pentagon for the failure of the amendment.
“There were Representatives this week that committed to vote to cut funding for the SOA/WHINSEC, and then shifted their vote,” said Da Silva. “Those people need hear from all of us, loudly and in public.”
On the other hand, Da Silva emphasized they gained new support from Republicans (23 voted for the amendment) and the margin by which the school survives in the House is "rapidly dwindling." A year ago, the margin was 15 votes.

Some Latin American leaders are souring on the school: Venezuela, Argentina, and Uruguay have dropped out and Bolivia says it will be doing so gradually. Last month Costa Rica, which has no army, announced it would no longer send any of its police for training there.

It's like water on the stone - and the rock is wearing down to sand. It seems to me that SOA will soon be DOA - or, if you prefer, WHISC will soon be whisked away.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Geek humor

From Flatuloon in comments at AmericaBlog:

An astrophysicist walks into a bar and says to the bartender, "Gimme a Mexican beer."

Instead of offering the beer, the bartender starts shouting "Okay, everybody out! Right now! Out you go!" and herds everyone out into the street.

"Damn," the astrophysicist says sadly, "I should've seen that Corona mass ejection coming."

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Give me your tired, your hungry...." Who writes this crap?

Something I think I have not written about before - at least I don't recall posting anything here about it - is immigration. That's my failing, because it's something that none of us can legitimately ignore and the issues surrounding it are ones which too many of us on the left have allowed to be framed by the right and the nativists by default. Last week, David Neiwert, the estimable proprietor of Orcinus, wrote that
[t]he immigration debate, for those progressives deeply involved in it, has felt rather like waiting for Godot - we know our fellow progressives are going to be coming along any day now to join the journey toward effective reform. Still, we sit and sit, checking our watches as the clock ticks down, and we wonder.
As well they might and I am as guilty as anyone else. It's generally agreed that one reason for the silence is that there is no clear progressive position on immigration, no clear set of principles that can be easily applied to determine a course of action. Some are looking to define a progressive stance based on such shared principles, which is a good thing. But I tend to think that something is being left out of that discussion, specifically that I think many of us have been stymied less by a failure to apply our political and ethical principles than by an internal conflict:

Your heart says "open borders" but your head says "Not practical and I don't mean not politically practical I mean not practical practical."

Okay, but that means embracing some sort of restrictions, which in turn means some measure of enforcement against those who violate them.

But that in turn implies punishment not only of employers and other exploiters, but also of those who are simply trying to improve their lives but can't get around our considerable restrictions.

At that latter prospect, the heart rebels. The head replies "But without enforcement, limitations mean nothing." And the argument collapses back to the very beginning: If you can't have open borders and can't have non-open borders without penalties for those you don't wish to penalize, what do you do? And there we, at least some of us, sit.

One possible exit might come from the example of a woman I knew some years ago who was conflicted about abortion: She did not want women or doctors punished for having or performing abortions but she was also morally opposed to them and wanted to stop them. How she dealt with that conflict was by focusing on reducing the call for abortions: She recognized that most abortions occur because of need, not choice (especially not casual choice) and so worked for widely available sex education and birth control, improved adoption services, better and more accessible pre- and post-natal care, improved aid to poor mothers, and the like. She accepted she would not stop abortions, but did seek to minimize the number of them by reducing the need.

The lesson for us is that I think one aspect of our work on immigration, one progressive principle we can apply, is that if we're going to oppose "illegal immigration," we should do it primarily by attacking the causes: by arguing for fair trade over "free trade," by supporting local economies against globalization, by providing genuine debt relief, by fighting for international labor and human rights; the list could be lengthy and I won't add to it right here. The idea is that the better chance people have to attain a decent life where they are, the less likely they are to undertake the danger, expense, and hassle of leaving their homes and often their families to go to a strange country where they are often exploited and live in constant fear of discovery and deportation.

That's obviously not, nor is it intended to be, a complete program. But it is one facet I think we tend to overlook and one that should exist in conjunction with whatever domestic approaches we use, approaches which must include a clear and, just as importantly, doable path to citizenship for undocumented workers. By contrast, the "path" offered by that proposed immigration bill that is what really got a lot of us thinking about this was more like a narrow ledge alongside a sheer cliff. As noted by the New York Times last month,
[t]o become full legal residents ... illegal immigrants would have to pay a total of $5,000 in fines, more than 14 times the typical weekly earnings on the streets here, return to their home countries at least once, and wait as long as eight years. During the wait, they would have limited possibilities to bring other family members. ...

“It’s almost impossible to bring your family,” [Elías Ramírez] said, rattling off information he had gleaned from a Spanish-language newspaper. “You have to go back first, and what are you going to do in Mexico while you are there and there is no work? I’ve been here 20 years and I still work and support my family, so why would I do any of these things?”
Meanwhile, standards being pushed for legal immigration would drop favoring family ties, preferring instead high-skilled, English-speaking applicants. Low-skilled workers would be dumped into a new "guest worker" program where they could be legally exploited, perhaps by the same employers who illegally exploit them now, while effectively being barred from obtaining permanent resident status by the changed standards. Which means that for many, that so-called "touchback" visit would be a one-way trip.

There are those on the right - and, truth be told, some on the left - who argue that undocumented workers shouldn't be allowed to "jump ahead" of those who "waited their turn." But on the other hand, why shouldn't some consideration be given to those who have already established ties here, already established a life here; why should they be tossed to the end of a line of which they may literally never reach the front?

I freely admit to not being as informed about this as I should be, something I hope to remedy in the weeks ahead. I also hope I can correct my silence on the issue. For now, though, I'll just mention one more thing, one more thing we should address in some way: the unpleasant fact that a real root of the opposition to "illegal immigrants" here is straight-forward xenophobia. That is, it has less to do with law or fairness or concern for American workers or even "illegal immigration" than it does with just keeping out "the other."

For example, a week ago, to almost no media notice,
[t]he House amended the Homeland Security funding bill Friday to withhold emergency aid from U.S. "sanctuary cities" that shelter illegal immigrants.

The 234-189 majority was a victory for U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who has failed to win passage for similar measures seven times, The Rocky Mountain News reported. Fifty Democrats voted for the amendment.
That is, not only are the "outsiders" to be punished, but any city that tries to protect them will be punished as well, punished for what they have every legal right to do, punished for, that is, siding with the enemy.

And just in case we're tempted to think that the enemy is "illegal aliens" - as in "I have nothing against legal immigrants but these people are breaking the law! :snarl:" - the fact is, increasingly there is suspicion against all foreigners. The Christian Science Monitor's valuable Daily Update on Terrorism and Security reported 10 days ago that
[s]tudying in the US may have just gotten harder for foreign students attending or hoping to enroll at American colleges and universities.

The Boston Globe reports that the FBI's Boston field office recently issued a warning to all area colleges and universities, advising them to protect any sensitive research from overly inquisitive students. Warren Bamford, the special agent in charge of the office, told the Globe that agents will visit numerous New England colleges in the next few months as part of a national outreach. The office has also offered to brief faculty, students, and security staff on how to spot "espionage indicators." ...

The Boston Herald notes that Mr. Bamford says the government is not trying to encroach on free speech. Rather, he argues, the agency wants to ensure that universities know how to protect their potentially sensitive research.
Protect it, that is, from "overly inquisitive" foreign students, who should be regarded as potential spies.

And of course there's the story of Yaderlin Hiraldo, who illegally entered the United States in 2001 to reunite with her husband. He applied for a green card for her, which alerted authorities to her "illegal" status. She now faces deportation and would be barred from applying for a green card for 10 years. So much for trying to get square with the law.

Oh, who and where is her husband? He's Army Specialist Alex Jimenez, who is now MIA in Iraq.
Her attorney is seeking a hardship waiver, which so far the government won't grant.
And so much for compassion.

(Thanks to Kevin Hayden at The American Street for the link to the Hiraldo story.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Help me out

I make no claims to be well-informed on current pop culture, so I need a little help here.

In several bits about the silliness over the Clinton campaign picking a song, I've seen statements to the effect of "Celine Dion? Oh, Nooooo!" The reaction didn't seem to be about the song or about that she's French-Canadian, but about her.

Now, I'm not a Celine Dion fan and contrary to most of those fans, I don't think she's hot. But I do think she's got a very fine voice: Good control, good range, good phrasing, with enough inflection to give it style instead of being just a technical exercise.

So what is the deal here? Is she just the latest holder of the Anti-Hip Chair, the position formerly occupied by such as Barry Manilow, Extreme, and Air Supply, where people gain hipness points (and avoid getting cultural cooties) by declaring at any opportunity how much they hate them? What's going on?

Help me out, someone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Again with the little things

Crooks and Liars has video from C-SPAN displaying some of the hate mail the network got for offending the delicate sensibilities of Michael Savage.

It seems that some trade publication called "Talker's Magazine" for some misbegotten reason gave the revealingly-aliased Savage a "Freedom of Speech" award. The jerk didn't even have the class to show up; instead he sent them a DVD of his speech - which, by the way, he now peddles on his website for $22.

Because the speech wasn't delivered live, C-SPAN declined to cover it. Poor widdle Savage was so upset by this that he sent his robo-minions scurrying to express their Master's displeasure. C-SPAN, with a straight face but I'm sure some delight, cited some examples of their communiques on the air.

Okay, but there's still that little thing, the kind of little thing that gets me because it sometimes means more than the big thing, and you are warned in advance that what follows is rather rambling but carries hope the idea gets across: When you watch the linked video, note how many times the emails invoke accusations of "Marxist" or "Leninist" or "communist." I mean, what decade are these people living in? And it's not just there; I've seen the same thing crop up in other places in other circumstances, other accusations of anyone criticizing (or, as in this case, merely not fawning before) their particular bigoted right-wing nutcase bloviator being "communist."

There is a segment of our population that is so desperate for enemies, so desperate for someone, anyone, to play that role, that if necessary and lacking some other tag to immediately hang, they will fall back on the cheapest, hoariest, moldiest labels they can find. It's as if they don't really see "communist" or "terrorist" or "fascist" or any of the other old or new epithets as separate terms but all just synonyms for the catch-all "enemy."

It would be easy to laugh them off, even mock them - and they do richly deserve mockery - but while it's easy to dis them, we can't dismiss them, because they represent a real danger, a danger to civil society, a danger even to a functioning society. They are the hard core of hatred - no, not so much hatred as anger, as rage, as blind fury as a product of frustration at a world that no longer makes sense to them, that they can no longer comprehend, a fury that needs someone to hate, someone to blame, some target, some cause, for their sense of dislocation, a fury tapped and channeled by greedheads like Savage and the rest of his diseased ilk for the benefit of their own bank accounts and who keep upping the ante toward eliminationism as they ride that fury right into their Rolls-Royces and seven- or eight-figure incomes. Scam the rubes, tell them who to fear, tell them who's to blame, and so who to rage at. Tell them it's homosexual activists. It's anti-American protesters. It's terrorists. It's activist judges. Big government. The Thought Police of political correctness. Liberal media. It's whoever is convenient, now including - I should say re-including - "illegal" immigrants and sometimes immigrants, period. They're all "enemy." And it's all "their" fault.

Yes, of course this is nothing entirely new. Yes, of course there has long been the fear of the foreigner, the "outsider," the "other." Yes, people have felt stressed and confused in previous times. Yes, sometimes there were threats that seemed very real and direct, for example World War II, and at other times there were threats that seemed to just hang in the air, like the Cold War aka the Red Menace. And yes, many times those fears, drawn from threats whether real or imagined, have been manipulated to direct concern away from the right targets and toward the wrong ones. But it remains true that we have gone from a people assured that "the only thing we have to fear is, fear itself" to a people assured that about the only thing we don't have to fear is fear and in fact we should be afraid of not being afraid.

Why the change? I suggested a reason about two weeks ago, quoting something I'd written years before:
Just a generation or two ago, we as a people had a certain native, even naïve, confidence that things would get better. Not necessarily any specific, identifiable thing, but, well, you know, things. More recently, that confidence has faded, to be replaced by the fallback position that “things” can get better. Now, even that limited faith has failed us.
Before, our generalized fear and confusion, our disorientation in the world, could be balanced by our individual hope. For many, perhaps most, of us, that seems to no longer be true. And so the fear grows, unalloyed, fed by the Satanic spawn of the death of the Fairness Doctrine, giving rise to the fury that remains a seething undercurrent in our society and our political discourse - indeed, listening to the GOPper presidential debates, with all their pandering to the cheering mobs in favor of torturing "illegal" foreigners there and expelling without mercy "illegal" foreigners here, I wonder how long it will remain an undercurrent, how long it can comfortably and profitably be manipulated by the power-hungry and the greedy, how long it will be before the next Eric Rudolph, the next William Krar, the next Timothy McVeigh, the next, that is, "hero."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cold as ice

This is a few days old but I just learned of it and I think it bears mentioning. The individual case, in isolation, may not seem important but what it signifies and exemplifies, is.

From Lawyers, Guns, and Money we learn of a Supreme Court decision this past Thursday in which by a bare 5-4 majority the Court
overruled two precedents to throw out an appeal to a murder conviction as being outside of the deadline.
The deadline, in this case, meaning the time limit to file the appeal.

The basic facts are not in dispute, as noted by David Souter in his dissent.
The District Court told petitioner Keith Bowles that his notice of appeal was due on February 27, 2004. He filed a notice of appeal on February 26, only to be told that he was too late because his deadline had actually been February 24.
It's worthy of note that even opposing counsel had not raised an objection to the filing of the appeal on technical grounds. The issue did not appear until the Appeals Court tossed the appeal.

The narrow legal issue on which the Supreme Court ruled was whether or not the time limit was "jurisdictional," in which case the District Court could not extend it. According to the two precedents, both cited by Souter, the answer should have been no. The majority disagreed, preferring the narrowest possible interpretation of technicalities. So even though it was the District Court that made the error, it was "TS, Mac, you're screwed."

There were a fair number of comments about the case at LGM, including some who tried to justify the decision on the grounds that it was up to defense counsel to know the law and to know that what they were specifically told was wrong and should be ignored. But even those discussions, as informative about some arcane aspects of law as they were, were in their own way every bit as bad as the actual decision and every bit as revealing of the philosophical rot at the core of our "justice system" as presently practiced. Because in all the discussions about technicalities of the law, about how the lawyer "should have known," about how the judge "should have known," one thing kept getting forgotten if indeed it was ever remembered:

Neither the lawyer nor the judge are the ones who suffer as the result of their screw-ups!

It's the defendant who suffers, someone who was once a living, breathing human being but now appears to exist as nothing more than a legal concept, a disembodied, free-floating, philosophical point whose humanity, indeed whose name, doesn't even appear in the discussion.

Yes, yes, I know the smug, evasive, legal-system-self-serving cliché that courts are about "the law, not justice." But if in the face and fact of such a result, one which when we recall a real person's life is really affected is manifestly improper, manifestly wrong, if in the face of that courts are unable to make an exception, unable to slip even a pinkie onto the scales of justice, then we have gone far beyond the elevation of form over substance, of procedure over people, we have sliced justice into "just ice."

And there is a reason that both cruelty and indifference are associated with being cold.

Just do it

Former White House Counselor Dan Bartlett, told CNN on Thursday that the "good thing" about the Bush presidency, and the thing that got him re-elected, was that he "tried his best" to do good.
You may not always agree with him. But I think he's demonstrated that he's doing something - the things that he is doing, however bold or aggressive or wrong-headed that some people think they are, he's doing what he thinks is best for this country.
Bartlett, who may be on to something, reminded me of something I wrote in May 1986 after Ronald Reagan had ordered a bombing attack on Libya because of it's supposed involvement in bombing a disco in Germany frequented by US GIs.
It wasn’t long before a war-level fever was being whipped up among Americans, one so intense at times that, had it been our style, we probably would’ve been jamming the streets chanting “Death to the Infidel!” We Americans, despite all our supposed sophistication and worldliness, are still prepared to use mass violence when faced with events we can’t control or won’t understand. Our ability to deal with frustration is very limited, and frustration leads to rage.

A, perhaps the, quintessential Americanism, submitted for your approval (with apologies to Rod Serling, but it makes me feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone): After Jimmy Carter remarked in the wake of the killing of Qaddafi’s daughter that if someone killed Amy he’d be more likely to swear vengeance than back off, a newspaper columnist called him “an embittered loser who still doesn’t get it,” adding (here it comes) “history will judge” if Reagan was right or wrong, but “at least he did something.”

That’s it: Do something. Never mind if it’s right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, sane or insane, effective or ruinous, do something. Americans can’t stand feeling helpless - and there’s one of the dangers to the future that the attack on Libya symbolizes, because uncontrollable events will surely continue, even increase in number.

That cultural tendency, of course, isn’t limited to Americans, and neither is the one of valuing pride over practicality, image over intelligence, face over the future. But sharing a tendency doesn’t excuse it, and it was that latter notion that was the immediate spark for the raid. ...

And so we had our blood-letting, our orgasm of national pride; our rage at the world is now temporarily spent. ...

And when the next bombing, the next set of murders takes place, we will of course see no connection between it and our bombing of Libya, just as we saw no connection between the disco bombing and our repeated humiliation of Libya in the Gulf of Sidra. Americans, to quote something I wrote in 1980, suffer from “a political insanity that clouds our national vision and distorts our national judgement...a disease of the soul of a society and the minds and attitudes of its leaders, one that, like a child, sees no connection between its actions and others’ reactions and thus constantly sees itself as the innocent victim no matter what the facts.”
Keep that in mind when listening to news about Iraq or Iran and ask yourself if in that coverage anything bad that happens or might happen to any American or American interest is any way connected to anything we have done or are doing - with the exception, of course, of "bringing democracy" and "providing security" - and how much of it revolves around the idea that we've got to do something.

Thanks to TalkingPointsMemo for the link.

Friday, June 15, 2007

No, I don't

At some point it should be said and I suppose this is as good a point as any.

I do not support the troops.

Not even a little.

As people, as individuals, deserving by their very nature, by their very existence, as human beings of love and decency, yes, I do support them, most definitely and very likely well beyond the support they do and would get from those who scream "support the troops" the loudest, particularly those who increasingly let slip that the phrase really means "support the war," support the death, the terror, the carnage.

But not as "troops." Not as occupiers. Not when they exist, as Colin Powell recently said, for the purpose of "apply[ing] state violence."

Not when as far back as 2004 there were documented accounts of "widespread" abuse and torture of detainees, including electric shock, mock executions, burning with lit alcohol, and prisoners forced to kneel - legcuffed, handcuffed, and hooded - for up to 24 hours.

Not when the Pentagon's own survey of soldiers in Iraq just last fall showed more than 1/3 of them approving of torture, 2/3 saying they would not report a team member for abuse of civilians or destruction of their property, and less than half thinking non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect.

Not when one in 10 in that survey admitted they themselves had mistreated civilians.

Not when they engage in massacres at Haditha and war crimes in Fallujah.

Not when we know that Abu Ghraib was not an aberration.

Not when we know that Abu Ghraib had its roots in Guantánamo, where our paragons of honor and virtue took part in subjecting prisoners to beatings, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other "stress and duress," now doubly euphemized to "enhanced interrogation techniques."

And not when their superiors cover for them, lie for them, conceal for them, not when those superiors regard the complaints of Iraqi civilians as "outlandish" and not worthy of investigation - while killed American soldiers are "fallen angels."

And not when those superiors will even celebrate what a good job they are supposedly doing, as when Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, acting Army surgeon general, actually called last fall's Pentagon survey good news because more people admitted approving of torture than admitted having done it: "Not acting on those thoughts" proved the military's "leadership."

Now, yes, of course, it is proper and right that we call the higher-ups to account, that we make clear how they have sanctioned, even encouraged - sometimes tacitly, sometimes by suggestion, sometimes openly - the brutality, the abuses, the crimes. What's more, it's easy and natural to sympathize with those who are back home and now are haunted by the memories of what they did. It's even possible to sympathize with, beyond that, to understand, the situations the soldiers were in, the pressures to go along, the emotional desire to wrap themselves into the psychological climate surrounding them.

But while sympathy and understanding may eventually lead to forgiveness, they do not and must not lead to acceptance, to endorsement, to support. Over three years ago, I wrote this in response to the argument by a lawyer for one of the Abu Ghraib defendants that their client should not be held responsible because they had not received "proper training" about the treatment of prisoners:
Well, dammit, so what? Who the flaming hell cares? What kind of "proper training" does it take to realize that it's wrong to do things including

"[b]reaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee,"

along with stacking them naked in a pile, forcing them to simulate oral sex, forcing them to masturbate while you point, laugh, and take pictures?

I don't have to read the Geneva Convention to know that's just wrong. Just no excuses, no finessing, no evasions, flat-out wrong. And it can't be excused on the grounds of inadequate supervision.

I said it before: War brutalizes, war dehumanizes, war hardens the soul and drains the spirit. It turns you into what you say you oppose. It turns ordinary people from "a small town in Virginia" into brutes of a kind they likely would have claimed was impossible just a few months earlier. But at the same time remember that this came to light because one person refused to countenance it. One person, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, refused in at least this case to surrender to the dehumanization of war and reported it instead of reveling in it.
Conscience can stand against the tide.

I sympathize. As best as I can, not having lived through it, I understand. I support, I embrace, the human beings inside the uniforms.

But I do not support the troops.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Well, okay, there is more good news

South Carolina has now done it. Montana, Washington, Oklahoma, and Maine already have. New Hampshire is expected to become the sixth on Friday.

Done what? Rejected outright the federal Real ID act. That act, passed in 2005 as part of a military appropriations and tsunami relief act with little debate and no hearings, demands that states in effect collude with the federal government to create a de facto national ID card by requiring them to issue driver's licenses that comply with strict federal guidelines - otherwise they could not be used as identification for federal purposes such as getting on a plane, entering a federal building, opening a bank account, collecting Social Security, or applying for federal benefits.

And it's not just those six: 11 more states have passed bills or resolutions opposing Real ID, nine more have seen such legislation pass one chamber of the state legislature, and in 12 more states, bills have been introduced and are awaiting action. Altogether, 38 of the 50 states.

The reasons are not hard to see: Real ID's requirements place enormous, expensive burdens on the states while simultaneously placing enormous, dangerous burdens on privacy. Under Real ID, states could not issue a driver's license unless it first verified by use of a federal database the applicant's full name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and citizenship or immigration status - and, usually was presented with a photo ID.

The license itself must include the person's full name, address, gender, date of birth, signature, digital photograph, and an identification number. It must contain security measures designed to prevent tampering or duplication, and use a "common machine-readable technology, with defined minimum data elements." All that information, likewise, becomes part of that federal database - the information in which would be available to states, law enforcement agencies, and perhaps private companies.

On the purely practical level, states are also angry about the costs imposed. For example,
[Massachusetts] Attorney General Martha Coakley plans to argue before the Legislature's Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs that the two-year-old Real ID Act would unduly burden Massachusetts. ...

In a letter sent last month to the Department of Homeland Security, [Registrar of Motor Vehicles Director Anne] Collins said the stricter federal regulations would cost the Registry an extra $100 million in the first year and $40 million each year after that, three times the current funding level. The Registry of Vital Records and Statistics would have to find an additional $19 million in the first year and $360,000 above its usual budget every year thereafter. That would be more than five times the current funds commanded by the agency.
That $40 million extra the program would cost per year, by the way, is equal to the entire amount the Real ID Act provides to aid states in making the switchover.

Fortunately, just at the states' rebellion is spreading, so are peoples' doubts about any such program. According to a recent poll commissioned by the ACLU, people are doubtful of such a government database, against private use of the information in it, and don't see the need for a license like that described in Real ID to "fight terrorism."

None of which, of course, matters to the führers at the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland.
Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said residents will be at a disadvantage if Massachusetts fails to adhere to the law.

"Citizens from those states who don't comply with the Real ID Act are going to be dissatisfied with their leadership when it comes time for implementation," he said. "There are going to be practical impacts on their daily lives."
And those impacts are liable to increase. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) reports that the immigration bills include provisions
broadening the uses of REAL ID cards and licenses, which do not exist. Both bills create a national employment eligibility verification system, which would use REAL ID cards for identification and eligibility verification. The Senate bill forbids the use of non-REAL ID cards in the verfication system after 2013. Both bills permit the DHS Secretary to prohibit the use of certain documents for employment verification. This would give the DHS Secretary the power to mandate the use of a national ID card, such as the REAL ID card, as the sole acceptable document for employment eligibility verification in the United States.
In a phrase, without this card, you couldn't get a job. (Or, recall, get federal benefits.) This is bad for states, bad for people, bad for privacy, bad for limits on government power. It's just bad.

I'll give the last word to Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who signed Montana's law rejecting participation in Real ID in April:
Montanans don’t want the federal agents listening to their phone conversations, rifling through their papers, checking on what books they read and monitoring where they go and when. We think they ought to mind their own business.
Footnote: For more information, you might check, an ACLU project on the issue, and the Privacy Coalition's page on it. I've previously posted on Real ID on March 12 and April 6.

So much for the good news beat

In another demonstration of whose interests are actually primary in our national economy and political debate,
the Supreme Court ruled today that states could bar [unions that represent public employees] from using forced dues for political purposes unless individual employees gave their explicit approval,
the Los Angeles Times reports.

In the 1970s, the Court held that contracts with public employee unions could require all employees covered by those agreements to pay dues (or fees in lieu of dues) to be used to cover the costs of collective bargaining. In 1977, the Court added the restriction that such agency fees collected from non-members could not be used for political purposes against their wishes.

In response, some affected unions set up "opt-out" arrangements where such objecting non-members could declare they didn't want their fees used for non-bargaining purposes. That, of course, was not good enough for the union-haters, who demanded an "opt-in" process where a non-member's fees could used for other purposes only if that person specifically approved of it. Usually, the demand was that the opt-in had to be for each activity, not just for a general "non-collective bargaining" category.

The Washington Supreme Court upheld an opt-out plan, but today SCOTUS overturned that decision in a ruling that had some truly bizarre - or perhaps, more accurately, revealing - aspects. For example, in Antonin Scalia's majority opinion, agency fees in general were called giving "a private entity the power, in essence, to tax government employees." What's more,
[r]equiring unions to obtain an explicit approval from a dissident teacher before spending their dues money is a "modest limitation ... on the union's exercise of this extraordinary power" to collect forced dues from all teachers, Scalia said.
Utter, utter, bullshit. This is no "modest limitation," the whole purpose of this business is to damage the ability of public-sector unions to engage in advocacy by limiting their funds and imposing onerous record-keeping requirements: Note that under an opt-in program, unions will have to keep track not only of what money goes where but whose money goes where. It's just one aspect of the old "defund the left" crap. The purpose, that is, and one which SCOTUS has now endorsed, is to tilt an already-tilted playing field even further in favor of corporations, whose ability to spend on behalf of their own lobbying and advocacy cannot be restricted except by the depth of their pockets - because to do otherwise is offensive to their "free speech" even as their speech is being enabled to drown out others.

Indeed, Scalia's opinion seemed positively to invite states to go further: In addition to referring to an "unusual" and "extraordinary power" and to fees as a "tax," he declared that states could "eliminate agency fees entirely" if they so chose. And the decision itself, while not immediately invalidating similar arrangements in other states, does make it unlikely they would stand against the legal challenges I have no doubt are already being plotted.

One other thing: It's not just states, it's other employers as well. While the case was limited to public-sector unions, there is absolutely nothing in the decision or its "logic" that would restrict its extension in subsequent challenges to private-sector employees covered by union contracts, challenges undertaken "in light of this recent ruling."

For those of you who might be tempted to mutter "Scalia" or "that's what you get for electing Bush," it's important to note that the ruling came down 9-0. It was unanimous. Some might say that means the legal principle at issue was clear; I say it's the social and economic principles involved whose clarity is on display.

Let me be among the first to say...

A proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was defeated today by a joint session of the [Massachusetts] Legislature by a vote of 45 to 151, eliminating any chance of getting it on the ballot in November 2008. At least 50 votes were needed to advance the measure. ...

"In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure," [Governor Deval] Patrick told reporters after the vote. ...

Opponents of gay marriage face an increasingly tough battle to win legislative approval of any future petitions to appear on a statewide ballot. The next election available to them is 2012.
In November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state had "failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason" for denying marriage to same-sex couples sufficient to override the principle of equal treatment. At the time, I predicted that
lawmakers are now going to rush rush rush to introduce and push through an amendment to the state constitution that will specifically bar same-sex marriages.
Which they did try to do, after first asking if a weaker, watered-down "civil unions" bill would do and getting slapped down by the SJC in no uncertain terms:
"The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal," four justices wrote. "For no rational reason the marriage laws of the commonwealth discriminate against a defined class; no amount of tinkering with language will eradicate that stain. The bill would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits."
Constitutional amendments such as that sought by the bigots and Bible-thumpers are not easy to come by in Massachusetts: First, the proposal has to get the support of at least 1/4 of state legislators at a Constitutional Convention (a joint session of the Legislature organized to consider the proposed amendment) in two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and then be passed on a statewide referendum. Last year it passed the Convention - this year it did not, thanks to some hard lobbying and the admission of at least one legislator that he changed his mind after same-sex marriages started and, well, life went on as usual and society did not rip itself apart in raging controversy.

That the amendment failed is a measure of how far we've come; that a legislator could be surprised that same-sex marriage did not bring about the collapse of civil society is a measure of how far we have yet to go.

But for the moment: HOORAY!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Footnore to the preceding

Quote of the week, via TalkingPointsMemo:
"If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I'd close it," he said.

"And I would not let any of those people go," he said. "I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well then they'll have access to lawyers, then they'll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn't that what our system is all about?"

- Colin Powell on "Meet the Press," June 10
Of course, a Footnote: Nearly 31/2 years ago, I asked:
Remember when we used to think that Colin Powell, no matter his politics, was a man with some degree of honor?
I took to calling him Colin Powerless. Reading the transcript of his "Meet the Press" appearance, I got the impression of a man with genuine regrets and who is thinking of his place in history and hopes to reclaim some of the honor and respect he sacrificed in the pursuit of slavish loyalty. I actually felt kind of sorry for him.

I know you've seen this...

Updated ...and I don't usually spend a lot of time (or sometimes any time) bringing up things that are being more than adequately covered elsewhere, but there is little enough opportunity for good news, so I wanted to take advantage. As the New York Times for June 12 describes it, a federal appeals court delivered
a stinging rejection of one of the Bush administration’s central assertions about the scope of executive authority to combat terrorism.

The ruling came in the case of Ali al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar now in military custody in Charleston, S.C., who is the only person on the American mainland known to be held as an enemy combatant. The court said the administration may charge Mr. Marri with a crime, deport him or hold him as a material witness in connection with a grand jury investigation.
But it may not, the court ruled, declare civilians in this country to be “enemy combatants” subject to indefinite imprisonment by the military.
“[M]ilitary detention of al-Marri must cease,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the majority of a divided three-judge panel. ...

“We refuse to recognize a claim to power,” Judge Motz added, “that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our republic.”
The reach of the case is not that great; only two other people - Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla - were in the same situation of being civilians held within the continental US as "enemy combatants." And because of that narrow application, it has no bearing on the prisoners at Guantánamo or any of the US's secret prisons worldwide. (Sidebar: This is the latest news about Padilla's trial.)

However, the decision, the full text of which can be found here in .pdf format, does not stand alone.
“Last Monday, two military judges handpicked to preside over the Guantánamo Bay trials rejected the claim that a presidential order alone was sufficient to give the courts jurisdiction over the detainees,” said Jennifer Daskal, advocacy director of the United States Program of Human Rights Watch. “And today, one of the nation’s most conservative courts squarely rejected the president’s unprecedented assertion that he, alone, could hand out the label of ‘enemy combatant’ without any sort of independent court review.”
It should be noted that the ruling of course has nothing to do with Marri's guilt or innocence. Perhaps he has committed crimes. But if he has, he should be charged and tried, not just disappeared.

And that's the point: It's the principle that's at issue here. The principle of innocent until proven guilty. The principle, even more to the point, that Constitutional rights are just that: rights, human rights, not privileges to be granted or taken away at the discretion of the powerful.

As noted, Judge Motz noted the government had several options regarding Marri, including trying him, deporting him, and holding him as a material witness - as a matter of fact, I'll add, it could even free him if it doesn't have enough actual evidence to charge him.
But the military cannot hold him, Judge Motz wrote. “The president cannot eliminate,” she wrote, “constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen...."
And unless we want to change the first line of that statement attributed to Martin Niemöller to "First they came for the 'enemy combatants,'" we should all be going "a-damn-men."

Footnote: Project Disappeared is "an attempt by diverse human rights organizations and activists to keep the memory of the disappeared alive and search for justice." It's worth a look, especially as we recall that the disappeared include these folks.

Another footnote: The case, as I'm sure you realize, is not over. The administration has already said it will appeal the decision to the full court panel, which in the past has been, let's just call it, not overly hospitable to claims similar to Marri's - specifically, Jose Padilla's. Look for this to wind up at the Supreme Court.

Updated to include the link to the decision; thanks to Glenn Greenwald for the info.


Yep, I remember him. He helped establish a style of creative, attention-grabbing bits that showed not only how science could be cool but it was involved in things all around us.
Don Herbert, who explained the wonderful world of science to millions of young baby boomers on television in the 1950s and '60s as "Mr. Wizard" and did the same for another generation of youngsters on the Nickelodeon cable TV channel in the 1980s, died Tuesday. He was 89. ...

"Over the years, Don has been personally responsible for more people going into the sciences than any other single person in this country," George Tressel, a National Science Foundation official, said in 1989.

"I fully realize the number is virtually endless when I talk to scientists," he said. "They all say that Mr. Wizard taught them to think."

I don't know the first thing about his politics or his personal life, but as an educator, Mr. Wizard done good.

On this day in history

Today, June 12, is an anniversary. A nice round anniversary: the 25th. The silver.

I tried to find what the media said about this anniversary. I looked at the web pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the International Herald Tribune. I checked the BBC. I checked Yahoo News and Google News. I checked's This Day in History. I looked at the History Channel.

Nothing. Not a word. Not a breath.

What anniversary? The 25th anniversary of the largest peace demonstration in US history: June 12, 1982, the day that somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people gathered in New York City on the occasion of the Second UN Special Session on Disarmament, showing their support for a nuclear freeze and nuclear disarmament.

Ignored. Banished from memory. Unworthy of comment, unworthy even of being included in lists of events that managed to find space for such major occurrences as the premiere of the movie "Cleopatra." Which should tell us a lot about us and our media.

In fact, it's so depressingly revealing that I really don't feel like taking the time to go into the history of the demonstration and the nuclear freeze movement that gave rise to it, so just go read this post I did two years ago.

Footnote: This is the nuclear news for today, a tale of workers denied benefits.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Here we groan again

Remember how just the other day I was going on and on about how the American Dream, the generations-old notion that however much you had to struggle you could believe your children would be better off than you are, was fading away?

Not for everybody.
A new Associated Press calculation shows that compensation for America's top CEOs has skyrocketed into the stratospheric heights of pro athletes and movie stars: Half make more than $8.3 million a year, and some make much, much more. ...

The high cost of chief executive pay has drawn criticism in recent years as salaries rose, stock options paid off like lottery jackpots, and perks like chauffeured cars and private jets spread. ...

The top 10 earners were in disparate industries, but they all had one thing in common: They were paid at least $30 million each in 2006. ...

Of the 386 companies in the AP list ... only six reported their CEOs made less than $1 million last year. ...

A recent report by the Congressional Research Service helps to put the executive pay issue into a real-world context. CEOs make, on average, 179 times as much as rank and file workers, double the 90-to-1 ratio in 1994, according to the agency's calculations.
That ratio was as "low" as about 42:1 in 1980, but particularly soared during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s until by 2000 it was estimated at a jaw-dropping 525:1. When the boom went bust, average CEO pay dropped by double digits in both 2001 and 2002. That drove the ratio down, but it was something of a false shift: The average pay dropped largely because the very top-level players got smacked down, but that's not the only measure. That is, even as
average exec pay plunged by a third [in 2002], the median pay for our 365 CEOs [surveryed] actually rose by 5.9%, to $3.7 million,
said Business Week in 2003. [Emphasis added.] And, as the AP noted, that median is now $8.3 million a year - a 180% increase over the last six years.

As for the rest of us, well, here's an additional bit of real-world context, courtesy of a Congressional Research Service report from February:
During the past several decades, average pay for non-management workers has stagnated, after adjustment for inflation, falling slightly since the early 1970s.
And one more, again from the article:
If the minimum wage had risen at the same pace as CEO pay since 1990, it would be worth $22.61 today, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.
Do these comparisons matter? Not according to S. Randy Lampert of Morgan Joseph & Co.:
"Compensation is only excessive when it exceeds industry norms and the stock performance has been underwhelming," he said.
Or, more bluntly, no matter how stratospheric their pay is, top corporate bosses are not overpaid - because all the other corporate bosses have equally obscene incomes. So it's just the "industry norm," they'll smirk.

Of course, that's a norm established by, in the words of J. Richard Finlay of the Centre for Corporate & Public Governance in Toronto, "a small clique of like-minded directors, most of whom are themselves past and current CEOs with a vested interest in perpetuating a failed, but to them, remarkably generous, system."

But woe be to those who point out the obvious: To do so is to be guilty of that most heinous of social crimes, that of "engaging in class warfare." And the CEO's much prefer going after an unarmed opponent.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Need for a classical education

Logic was once part of the core curriculum of schooling. Maybe there's something to be said for that sort of classical education. This is from AFP:
Asked their views on whether human life is a result of God's creation or a product of evolution, one quarter of Americans chose both conflicting theories, a [USA Today] poll suggested Friday.
The results were indeed confused:
- 39% of those polled said creationism is "definitely" true
- 35% said evolution is "probably" true
- 27% said creationism is "probably" true
- 18% said evolution is "definitely" true
"All told, 25 percent say that both creationism and evolution are definitely or probably true," USA Today said.
Which is simply nonsensical. Creationism is the notion that the creatures of the world were sneezed out of the nostril of a giant walrus - wait, no, that's a diferent one - uh, I mean that they were created in more or less their present form by a mythical sky being less than 10,000 years ago. Actually coming up on 6,011 years less a couple of days ago, if you accept Archbishop Ussher's chronology.

Evolution, on the other hand, is the scientific theory that life as we see it today developed over millions of years, gradually becoming more complex and more diversified over that time. There simply is no way both could be even "probably" true, much less "definitely."

So how can anyone hold such a patently illogical position? One way could be compartmentalization, just never thinking of the two things at the same time, avoiding what psychologists call "cognitive dissonance," the awareness of a conflict between two ideas or feelings. (That link, by the way, inadvertently brings up some problems I have with a fair amount of psychological research, but I'll only discuss that if anyone is foolish enough to ask.)

But here's another one: People don't know what the hell the terms mean! They have a sense or they've heard something somewhere and so have some vague notion of what they think creationism or evolution is or isn't. So someone could say "Yes, I'm a creationist: I believe God created the heavens and the Earth - but once that was done, evolution took over and did the rest." Or they could say, as I actually have heard argued, "God did create all the creatures of the Earth - but not in their present form; they have changed some over time. Evolution affects the form of a species but it can't lead to the existence of new species. So I believe in both." Of course, in both cases, the speaker actually believes in neither.

That's not to say those beliefs aren't sincere, but it is to say that the words creationism and evolution mean something and the ideas those words express - one-time divine intervention by an omnipotent being versus continuing change over time in response to natural processes - are completely incompatible.

And the fact is, people don't know what evolution means, what it involves. To most people it's some vague thing about how "we descended from apes" and something about "missing links." I sometimes truly despair of that ever changing when I read statements like this from the AFP article, which came immediately after describing the poll results:
The polarizing issue of how life came to be has worked its way into US classrooms in recent years.
Jee-zus effing K-rist! That is not what evolution is about! Evolution does not address the origin of life! That is a separate field of study called abiogenesis. Evolution is about the processes by which the forms of life change over time in interaction with their environments. If even the people who are supposed to be informing the general public about relevant matters can't get even that most basic fact straight, I - I just don't know.

Actually, I do know something: Two good sources for keeping up with news related to evolution, creationism, and Ignorant Design are The Panda's Thumb and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

Footnote: I actually wanted to put in a good word for the often-maligned Archbishop James Ussher. He was actually a very smart man and a dedicated and well-respected scholar. His problem was that he could not rid himself of the chains of dogma even as the roots of a new way of viewing the world were being set: The years of his life overlapped by at least a few those of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, William Gilbert, Isaac Newton, William Harvey, oh my, the list goes on and on, René Descartes, Christiaan Huygens, Robert Boyle....

Footnote to the footnote: Jason Rosenhouse, who covers evolution v. creationism news at ScienceBlogs, has a post about the use of Wikipedia. I pretty much agree with the conclusion that Wikipedia is okay for subjects that are noncontroversial, such as the biographies of long-dead scientists. I also find the science articles are pretty sound, at least in those areas where I know enough to have some chance of judging. But it must be used with care.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

All dressed up and nowhere to go

The Center for Constitutional Rights has charged that there are more than 30 refugees currently detained at Guantánamo who have been cleared for release - some of them years ago - but who now
face the impossible choice of returning to torture and persecution in their home countries or remaining detained indefinitely at Guantánamo
because, shamefully, no nation in the world has agreed to take any of them in. One nation, Albania, has previously accepted eight, but the remaining 30-plus have nowhere to go.
Many are men who fled persecution in their own countries yet ended up in Guantanamo because they were captured or sold for bounty in the chaos of war.
The US has refused to allow entry to any of them even though they have been found to pose no threat. Or, more exactly, no threat to the security of the nation. They would be, however, a threat to the security of the Shrub team, which for years branded the prisoners at Gitmo the “worst of the worst” and “hard core, well-trained terrorists” who were properly beyond the reach of courts, law, treaties, and human rights. Having these innocent people running around the country telling their story, why, that could threaten to undermine the Bushites' ability to scare the citizenry into submission. And we can't have that, now, can we?
Attorneys with CCR called on the U.S. government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other traditional resettlement countries to come up with a plan of action and implement it promptly.

"The U.S. admits it has no reason to hold these men, but the inaction of the international community has left them stranded," said Shayana Kadidal, managing attorney of CCR's Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative. "The prolonged detention of these men is unconscionable."
For years now, the US has illegally imprisoned, abused, and tortured people in a concocted legal limbo supposedly free from all oversight or control in a Kafkaesque mockery of any principle of justice. As CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren says, the US has an ongoing responsibility to those it has wronged.

However, it should also be said, as CCR indirectly does, we are not alone: It's time for those countries that denounced, decried, or even merely tut-tutted about Gitmo to put their refugee resettlement where they mouths are. That is, it's time for the nations of the world, presented as they are with the opportunity to get some innocent people out of our legal black hole, to put up or shut up.

The report, including stories of a few of the men, is in .pdf format at this link.

: The first sentence of the Agencie France Presse (AFP) article on this, found on Yahoo News, is misleading. It says CCR "criticized a US decision to transfer a group of former inmates to Albania." The actual complaint is that Albania, the poorest country in Europe with a rudimentary refugee system that can't offer those sent there proper assistance, is the only option these prisoners have other than remaining at Gitmo because nowhere else will take them.

Can't let it go

This goes back to that "why people don't vote" business that kicked off the dispute I had recently about 3rd party voting. Recall that part of my argument was that many people are disaffected from voting. It's not just a matter of being too lazy to pay inattention; for a good hunk of the potential voting population, it's truly a matter of "what's the point?"

Rasmussen Reports says that according to a telephone survey done the first week of June,
[f]ifty-six percent of Americans believe that most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote for either cash or a campaign contribution. That view is held by 60% of Republicans, 49% of Democrats, and 59% of those not affiliated with either major party. From a generational perspective, those over 65 are a bit more trusting than younger adults, but even 41% of the nation's senior citizens believe most Congressman are willing to sell their vote. ...

[J]ust 16% believe most Congressional votes are not for sale.
In fact, by a plurality of 39%-34%, members of Congress rank lower than used-car salesmen in trustworthiness.

One upside is that other Rasmussen surveys have found that about half of voters would consider voting for a 3rd party Congressional candidate and nearly three-fifths believe it would be good for the US to have a competitive 3rd party. Now if we could just get people to break out of the "but ya gotta take the lesser evil" trap.

Footnote: In fairness, I should point out that these kinds of surveys can suffer from what might be called the "out there" factor. It has happened in previous such surveys that when people are asked their opinion of Congress, it ranks very low - but when they are asked their opinion of their own representatives, those rate considerably higher. That is, a common belief is, "It's not my members of Congress that are the problem, it's all those other members of Congress." The problem is never close to home, it's "out there." Cynicism and vagueness often go hand in hand.
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