Binky and I have already made our boundless levels of contempt for CNN known. Their coverage of the convention showed them at the typical worst. The Columbia Journalism Review has compiled this list of just some of their inaccuracies and astonishly shoddy reporting in Boston this week.
In a very troubling bit of news, Doctors Without Borders has decided to leave Afghanistan. They've heroically provided essential services for that country's people for 24 years, braving a string of hostile situations. Yet they judge the situation there today to be just too dangerous for them.
While I don't expect us to meet every promise the president made, we shouldn't forget what we've left in our wake in Afghanistan.
Two posts below, Binky expresses her shock that Pakistan suddenly managed to find an al Qaeda operative, and that this news was announced on the same day when the news would otherwise be dominated by John Kerry. She fears she has become too cynical. Well how about this Binky -- apparently the guy was captured last weekend, yet the announcement was delayed until today. Hmmm. Now that's not at all suspicious. And it's just a wild coincidence that this matches an old New Republic story asserting that the White House was strong-arming the Pakistanis into providing just such a timely capture. The whole sordid string of coincidences is summarized here.
This isn't to say that only the Bush team, or even just the Republicans, try to pull "dirty tricks". But that doesn't excuse turning the war on terror into a media event.
If like many Americans you view the happenings on The Simpsons as much more consequential to your life than anything going on at a party convention or in Pakistan, you might be interested to know that the show is apparently going to "out" at least one of its characters in an episode dealing with the legalization of gay marriage. Who's it going to be? A Perfectly Cromulent Blog has the odds.
If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Patty.
Security forces have captured a high-level al Qaeda operative in a raid in central Pakistan, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said.
Even if I don't believe it, the thought still crossed my mind. Now that's depressing.
Arthur Silber is no doubt trying to be provocative in making this point. But, that said, there is a lot to the point. By reinstituting a draft the government would be taking freedom away from millions of young Americans. In many ways it would be stealing years from their lives. There are a host of reasons to oppose the draft, but this is a fundamental one that shouldn't be ignored.
The Democratic convention seems to be drowing out all other news coverage - but other important stories are happening, from the new deficit numbers to the horrible one-month anniversary of the ascencion of the Allawi government in Iraq.
You just know that this is going to be put on bumper stickers.
OK, since commenting on the substance of the convention leaves little room for debate (Barack Obama was amazing, it's unlikely anyone else can come close to matching that), what remains to be noted about the proceedings in Boston? Well, this is what I've learned (or had reinforced so far). In terms of the coverage not on Comedy Central, The Charlie Rose show has provided far and away the most insightful coverage. Nothing else even comes close. Wolf and Judy seem to be under the impression that it's their job to provide balance to the convention (failing to note, given their enormous egos, that two people can't do that, and even if two people could it would probably have to be two people who are better-informed than they are). Tucker Carlson is petulance personified. Most sleep-inducing commentator: Peter Beinart. Weirdest commentators: Larry King and Bob Dole (it's reached a point where they seem to be phoning it in from Mars or something). And if there's one person who should never, ever under any circumstances be let near a Democratic campaign again, it is whoever is responsible for the music. Both the choices and the renditions are the worst style choices present at any convention since the campaign run into the ground by Susan Estrich decided to decorate the hall in azure, ecru and salmon instead of blue, white and red.
At first glance, the idea that who we're going to vote for is affected by what a candidate's spouse says appears somewhat bizarre. Nonetheless, it typically gives you some sense of where the candidates and the parties are coming from. Given that, it strikes me as extremely unfortunate that in today's political environment Laura Bush probably couldn't say anything this loving and accepting even if she wanted to. That makes me really sad. And it's one more reason why I hope Laura and George can spend all their time in Texas next year.
"My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call "women" at the Democratic National Convention."Crazy grandmas maybe, but hirsute?
This morning the major news sources had yet more stories about the problems with touch screen voting. In this case, the problem was lost records. From the New York Times:
"The records disappeared after two computer system crashes last year, county elections officials said, leaving no audit trail for the 2002 gubernatorial primary. A citizens group uncovered the loss this month after requesting all audit data from that election."
Now, this compounds the problems they had in that election with "lost" votes, but what it also shows is the continuing lack of "sunshine" in Florida. These lost records have only been publicized now because a citizen group (Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition) requested audit data, then passed it on to the New York Times.
Paul Krugman drew attention to not only the worst case scenario that could unfold from problems with computerized voting, but the lack of will on the part of the state to examine those problems in daylight:
"Jeb Bush says he won't allow an independent examination of voting machines because he has "every confidence" in his handpicked election officials. Yet those officials have a history of slipshod performance on other matters related to voting and somehow their errors always end up favoring Republicans. Why should anyone trust their verdict on the integrity of voting machines, when another convenient mistake could deliver a Republican victory in a high-stakes national election?"
Having been born and raised in South Florida, I'm saddened to see that rather than learn from mistakes, the state continues and compounds its problems by hand waving and obfuscation. Oh wait, it's a Bush administration. As Carl Hiassen says "The Florida in my novels is not as seedy as the real Florida. It's hard to stay ahead of the curve. Every time I write a scene that I think is the sickest thing I have ever dreamed up, it is surpassed by something that happens in real life."
Out of the Past was released on DVD last week. If you have even the slightest interest in film noir, or just the great old love story/crime dramas that used to be a staple of American Movie Classics, you should should rent this movie. It's beautifully shot, the acting is first-rate, the script is loaded with snappy banter and double entendres, it features a classic femme fatale ... I could go on and on about it. It is a true classic of the genre.
The things you learn. ESPN examines 100 years of presidents playing sports. Among the surprising highlights -- Dwight Eisenhower actually played football against Jim Thorpe.
It's probably not a good sign for the development of a democracy in Iraq that Muqtada Sadr and his followers are already boycotting the first-stage in the process.
This column by Shibley Telhami, who is pretty much always worth reading, discusses al Qaeda's goals and the degree to which they affect the likelihood of an attack during the presidential campaign. I agree with his analysis.
Yeah, that never happens does it. This op-ed by Brian Dickerson in the Detroit Free-Press on the Michigan state Supreme Court throwing out a sexual harassment judgment is interesting. I don't know whose behavior is more inappropriate in this particular case, but perhaps it wouldn't kill partisans of one camp or the other to more frequently acknowledge that both activist Republican judges and trial lawyers sometimes go too far when seeking their desired outcomes.
Given the number of political lives he's had, you'd think the man was a feline. Peter Mandelson is back. Tony Blair has officially announced that he wants him to be the UK's representative on the next European Commission. This has produced the predictable firestorm of outrage from those who like "good government" laws, are suspicious of his pro-Europe views, and resent the direction he's taken the Labour Party (that is, his central role in creating "New Labour" and, in a sense, Tony Blair). And honestly, given the trouble that any pro-Europe innitiatives will have have in winning the support of the British citizenry, I'm not sure that naming such a controversial figure is the best idea (presuming Prime Minister Blair really does want the UK to develop closer ties with the EU). That said, while he sometimes shows astonishingly bad judgment in making personal political decisions, the man has an uncanny sense of the British political winds, so perhaps having him in this post while the United Kingdom debates whether or not to approve the EU Constitution will actually prove helpful to that effort.
Whatever the policy implications, it will no doubt be intriguing to have him back in politics. One can make an argument that he is the individual who is most responsible for the rebirth of the Labour party in the 1990's (though at this point it might be reasonable to say that Gordon Brown is the one keeping it afloat). It will be interesting to see what Mandelson can accomplish in Brussels.
I'll start with a factual point that, sadly, isn't remotely surprising:
Since 9/ 11, about 90 percent of the nation's $5 billion annual investment in transportation security has gone to aviation, to fight the last war.
True, lightning can strike the same place twice - an obvious example being that Islamic terrorists attacked the WTC in 1993, and then attacked it again in 2001. But there is no reason to think that the next domestic attack will look like the last one. I'm glad the commission is making this point
Another important recommendation is their call to "base federal funding for emergency preparedness solely on risks and vulnerabilities, putting New York City and Washington, D. C., at the top of the current list. Such assistance should not remain a program for general revenue sharing or pork-barrel spending." That this is even a matter of debate shows what a ridiculous bunch of media hounds certain members of Congress are.
However, another point they make (a number of times) concerns me a great deal. They advocate a full-speed-ahead approach to the development and use of biometric surveillance equipment. This could have serious civil liberties consequences down the road. This is really opening up a Pandora's box on the government's ability to spy on the people. We need to watch this carefully.
And while I'm intrigued by their call for a National Director of Intelligence (please, please, pretty please can we stop calling posts like these "tsars"! what moron ever thought we should emulate, even symbolically, an organizational structure associated with an absolute monarchy?) I'm skeptical of how this would work in practice. For example, there is the matter of the Director's 3 deputies. One would be the CIA director, one would be the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, and the third would either be a FBI official or a Homeland Security official. So the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (presumably the most important and influential of these given the power and intelligence resources of the DOD) would get to serve two masters, the NDI and the Secretary of Defense? Gee, that sounds like a fun job. And who gets to appoint the Undersecretary?
Given that such a post as been advocated by many people in the know for years, and that the current Secretary of Defense and DCI (the two people with the most to lose in this reshuffle) are quite weak politically, this may yet come to pass. But it will be interesting to see how details like this get ironed out if such changes are adopted. We should take care to read the fine print to see if the process is really getting stream-lined.
There's political news out of North Carolina. The Democratic nominee against US Rep. Robin Hayes is a 27 year-old former Miss Raleigh! Oh wait, maybe that was the big news last week. This weekend the big news is that former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot has dropped out of the run-off for the Republican nomination for governor. That means Patrick Ballantine will be Gov. Mike Easley's opponent in November. Ballantine, a 39 year-old former state senator from the Eastern part of the state, is generally viewed as more of a threat to Easley than Vinroot would have been, though Easley is still favored in this race. Ballantine and Vinroot had both won approximately 30% of the vote in the primary last Tuesday.
In other political news from the Tar Heel state, it appears that the Republicans caucus in the state legislature will be considerably more conservative next year following the defeat of a number of key moderate Republicans.
Now I'm not going to hold my breath for this to happen. Congress tends to have little interest in reforming itself since that will inevitably entail certain members losing prized positions. An unusually strong push for changes in the structure of the House in the early 1990's ended with little more than the dissolution of a handful of relatively minor standing committees (like the District of Columbia Committee), and the restructuring that took place when the Republicans won control of the body for the first time in decades was largely cosmetic (Government Operations became Goverment "Reform"). But one of the good things about the 9/11 Commission is that its recommendations take seriously some serious structural impediments that currently impair the ability of Congress to conduct effective oversight of intelligence and security agencies (and for that matter all government agencies).
I'm not suggesting that Congress will start prioritizing its oversight role in the near future. It's increasingly been doing all it can to avoid doing that for years, and now that that would mean a Republican Congress investigating Republican-run agencies it has pretty muched stopped completely. This is a huge problem if we want our system of checks and balances to work as designed. But let's say we live in a perfect democratic world and Congress actually wanted to perform government oversight, put checks on executive branch excesses and efficiently fund government programs (that's a big leap from reality at the moment ... but go with me on this).
The current committee structure makes comprehensive oversight difficult. Many agencies fall under the jurisdiction of many committees. This means investigations could get caught up in intra-congressional jurisdictional squabbles. Perhaps even more importantly is the way Congress is currently organized to fund government programs. The authorizing committees are, more or less, charged with setting policy and conducting oversight, but the appropriations committess actually fund specific programs that are (supposedly) approved by the authorizing committees. This has been a huge impediment to conducting efficient government for years, but since the appropriations committees control government and have a huge number of members, protectors of this status quo have had the power to block efforts to merge the spending committees with the authorizing committees. The 9/11 report urges that these twisted, inefficient structural designs be reformed, at least when it comes to the oversight and funding of intelligence operations. I doubt their recommendations are adopted. Congress will likely face little retribution from the voters over this issue since 1) only a tiny fraction of congressional races are competitive now that gerrymandering has run rampant and 2) "I promise to abolish the Appropriations Committee" is not likely to be a winning slogan for any House or Senate candidate. But it's important that this kind of thing gets considered, and that the public becomes more aware of this problem in our system of government. The structure of decision making has a powerful influence on the policies that a government produces, and as currently designed, this is one of the reasons why it would be very difficult for members of Congress to effectively engage in oversight of government activities (if they wanted to).
Eliza Griswold's "In the Hiding Zone" in the July 26th issue of The New Yorker is yet another first-rate news feature in that weekly dealing with the "War on Terrorism". It's a detailed, first-hand account of the current state of affairs in Northwestern Pakistan along the Afghan-Pakistani border. It's eight pages are sobering. The level of distrust of outsiders in the area is clearly immense, the Pakistani military and political situation is enough to keep you up at night, and the degree to which all sides in the conflict act for monetary gain is unsettling (since such payments often involve mass murder or heroin sales).
But while it's disturbing, it's a well-written piece that reminds us of some things we need to always remember when considering American foreign policy practices and priorities. The Western world his deeply feared by large numbers of people who see it as a threat to their society's existence. Many countries in the world are weak states that cannot control what goes on inside their borders. And Pakistan remains a nuclear-armed powder-keg that could explode at any time. Like it or not, this is today's reality.
Aside from being sure to catch-up on the news at the top of the hour I barely listen to Morning Edition any more. Why? For one thing their features and news features rarely tell me something I need to know or am interested in knowing. Secondly, and perhaps more imporantly, some of their long-time contributors are flat-out awful. Cokie Roberts has as keen a grasp of the unbelievably obvious as UVA's Dr. Larry Sabato (another supposed expert who should be stricken from the airwaves until he has come up with an original thought), and Juan Williams interviews aren't so much interviews as lame critiques of the few people he obviously intensely dislikes, or open invitations for the interviewee to go on and on and on without any need to consider opinions or ideas they didn't write down before-hand. Hey Juan, ask some follow-up questions!
All that said, I still regularly tune in to Weekend Edition Saturday. I'm one of those people who likes Scott Simon (home-spun style, forces people to take things seriously even if it's not immediately obvious why we should, not nearly as cynical as the week-day set). And their features are usually far superior to what you hear during the week. This morning's American Radio Works documentary on hospice care both informed me and had me crying before 9AM on a Saturday morning. And if a show has me happy to be crying at 9AM on a Saturday morning that's a sign of a pretty meaningful broadcast. Yes, Dan Schorr can be repetitive and I really wish that all these show on both radio and TV wouldn't lock themselves into permanent commentators. More variety would be a good thing. But Weekend Edition Saturday is something that makes me glad we still have NPR, even if too much of the rest of the programing leaves much to be desired..
In case you didn't realize it, Louisiana is going to be the home of several key congressional elections this fall. With Senator Breaux and Congressmen Vitter, Tauzin and John retiring, practically half of its delegation in DC will be new to their jobs next January. The hottest races are likely to be the Senate contest and the races for Tauzin and John's seats. The latest numbers from Verne Kennedy's Market Research Institute:
U.S. Senate Race U.S. Rep. David Vitter (R) 36% State Treasurer John Kennedy (D) 19% U.S. Rep. Chris John (D) 18% State Rep. Arthur Morrell (D) 6% Undecided 21%
Third Congressional District Race Billy Tauzin III (R) 42% Charlie Melancon (D) 14% Craig Romero (R) 9% Charmaine Caccioppi (D) 7% Damon Baldon (D) 6%
Seventh Congressional District Race Willie Mount (D) 30% Don Cravins (D) 28% David Thibodaux (R) 22% Charles Boustany (R) 7%
I expect that the 7th will stay in Democratic hands (with State Sen. Willie Mount becoming the first woman to represent Louisiana in the US House in several years), but the 3rd, currently held by the GOP, could go either way. Tauzin is running strong on his father's name and lots of dollars. And in the end that may be enough, but I really think that seat could be picked up by the Democrats. As to the Senate race, the Democrats must be extremely careful. I think Vitter is the strongest Senate candidate the Republicans have ever run, and he might very well become the first Republican Senator from Louisiana since the 19th century. I think John Kennedy would be the stronger candidate against him, but that view seems to be a minoirty opinion. In any event, given Louisiana politics, that primary could be a barn-burner all the way until November 2.
If the media is going to let the president portray himself as a fighter-pilot war president who has much more integrity than that "flip-flopping" war hero John Kerry, I really think they should demand some straight answers to where he was and what he was doing when he was supposed to be on Guard duty. As Atrios asks, why doesn't the media care that this man who has sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to war lies about his own military record?
In the interest of giving equal time ...
Conservative party leader Stephen Harper, whose party was recently defeated by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals, announced his shadow cabinet team. Perhaps most importantly Peter MacKay, the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, is going to stay on as Deputy Leader. MacKay is an extremely appealing moderate face who appeals to many voters who fear Harper and his former Alliance Party allies are too extreme for Canada. Belinda Stronach, who was Harper's top rival in the leadership election last March will be the Shadow Minister for International Trade (a position that should be of some interest to Americans). Considering her media skills, background and connections (and yeah, her appearance doesn't hurt) she still has an extremely bright future ahead of her if she chooses to remain in politics.
In other congressional news the number of federal appealate judicial nominees being filibustered has risen from 6 to 10 over the last two days. Yesterday, a nominee to the 9th Circuit was blocked by Democrats, principally because of fears of his views on environmental matters and concerns over his qualifications for such a high position in the judicial branch. Today, 3 nominees to the 6th Circuit were blocked by the Democrats. These 3 are caught up in a long-standing partisan dispute over nominees to that Circuit that stretches back into the Clinton administration.
Also today, both houses of Congress approved the free trade agreement between US and Morocco. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor in both houses. There was an interesting split between them though. In the House all the votes against it were from Democrats (plus Bernie Sanders). In the Senate though 8 votes against it were from Democrats and the other 5 were from Republicans. Most of those votes were precitable (for example L. Graham, Dole and Voinovich all represent treaditionally protectionist states). What I think is remarkable here is that it's another example of the shockingly good party discipline among Republicans in the House. To get the vote of every Republican congressman from protectionist areas in the Carolinas and Middle West on this measure is no small feat.
Given all the debate that broke out when it looked like some actors in the government were studying the feasibility of the postponing the election if a terrorist attack threated to disrupt it, it was perhaps inevitable that the House of Representatives would take up the issue. I am very pleased that they passed (with apparently little partisan rancor) a non-binding resolution in favor of the following sentiment.
Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the actions of terrorists will never cause the date of any Presidential election to be postponed and that no single individual or agency should be given the authority to postpone the date of a Presidential election
The resolution was approved by a vote of 419-2. Opposing it were Rep. Baird (D-WA) and retiring Rep. McInnis (R-CO).
Some conservatives might find it surprising that I think they might find much to like in a film that looks approvingly at infidelity, promiscuity, narcotics use, and assisted suicide, takes swipes at President Bush and Prime Minister Berlusconi, and includes language that while completely realistic, isn’t at all the type of thing that Michael Powell wants people to hear on film. Hey, this film was even made by French Canadians! But there is much they’ll love: the negative representations of unions and the Canadian health care system, the pretty young junkie who changes her ways, the fact that all of life’s problems (short of mortality) can seemingly be solved by English-speaking young capitalist bankers. Beyond that, the central themes seem to be that family and old friends trump everything else we have in life, raising strong children is of the utmost importance, capitalism will drive socialism and/or the world of ideas into the dirt, and most intellectual theories of the past several decades have been at best stupid, and at worst vulgar. In many ways this film seems a repudiation of the beliefs and values of a certain highly-schooled middle-aged elite.
But irrespective of its ideological intentions, it's a well-made movie. It looks great, and the acting is good. If you are in the mood to see a movie that deals with family and friends reconciling, coming together to celebrate a life in the face of impending grief, you can do much worse.
For those of you interested in American political history, Charlie Peters has this article on how Wendell Wilkie won the Republican nomination for president in 1940.
Helena Cobban has this great post on Yasser Arafat and his considerable failures (as a leader, his list of failures as human being is likely much, much longer). If you want to get a handle on the level of damage he's done to the Palestinians' cause it is well worth a look.
And speaking of Iran, The Washington Post's In The Loop column has this interesting combination of comments by President Bush and Deputy Secretary of State Armitage on Iran.
President Bush, chatting with reporters Monday about Iran's alleged aid to the 9/11 terrorists, said: "I have long expressed my concerns about Iran. After all, it's a totalitarian society where free people are not allowed to, you know, exercise the -- their rights as human beings." Hmm . . . But here's Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, telling a colleague of ours in February 2003: "The axis of evil was a valid comment, [but ] I would note there's one dramatic difference between Iran and the other two axes of evil, and that would be it's a democracy. [And] you approach a democracy differently."
So it's a totalitarian democracy?
Juan Cole has some interesting thoughts on all the recent reports about supposed links between al Qaeda and the government of Iran.
Graham Allison had an interesting review in yesterday’s New York Times of Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis. This book addresses the 1994 deal with North Korea known as the Agreed Framework and is written by three men involved in those negotiations: Joel S. Wit, Daniel B. Poneman and Robert L. Gallucci. From the review it sounds like the book offers a wealth of previously undisclosed information and interesting insights from people with a great deal of first-hand knowledge.
While the deal itself could certainly be criticized on a number of counts (neither party complied with all their promises, and neither party intended to; North Korea’s secret uranium-enrichment program might not have strictly violated the agreement; it can be said that we were paying extortion money to an evil regime, even if most of the economic costs from our side were paid by Japan and South Korea, not the United States) the fact remains that it did succeed in freezing North Korea’s program to reprocess plutonium for eight years. A situation in which the North Koreans could have quickly built several nuclear weapons was averted. To me, given the stakes, that’s a success.
Of course the Clinton administration’s feverish work to block the Kim government from developing a large nuclear arsenal stands in stark contrast to the Bush administration’s North Korea policy. While Vice President Cheney talks a good game, saying “we don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it”, in reality their approach has been “we threaten the evil, huff and puff, then ignore evil while evil builds nuclear bombs”. There’s an excellent chance that one day millions of people will pay the price for this administration paying less attention to the leg of the Axis of Evil that actually has nuclear weapons and is building more, than the leg of the "Axis" that might someday have felt like pursuing weapons of mass destruction program-related activities.
Continuing my efforts to teach us all a little more about our neighbors to the North …
All the names of cabinet ministers have been announced, and there were a few clear trends in Prime Minister Martin’s appointments. Two of the most interesting involved regional representation and intra-party unity. First, the prime minister is desperate to expand support for his Liberal party in Western Canada. Though his party has a mere 15 members of parliament from that area of the country, he has named 8 of them to the cabinet. These eight include the top two members below Martin, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and Finance Minister Ralph Goodale. As the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson put it, “If you are a Liberal MP from West of Ontario and you aren’t in cabinet, you should check your pulse”. Secondly, Martin kept and promoted ministers who were personally loyal to him, and he demoted or excluded major figures who had crossed him and/or were seen as affiliated with the camp of former long-time Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien. This point is interesting in light of the fact that Martin is leading a minority government, and one of the factors frequently mentioned as having depleted the Liberal’s vote was intra-party feuding. In creating his cabinet he seems to have done little to overcome this problem.
Bloodless Coup went to the movies last night to check out Super Size Me. It is well worth a look. As far as tone and structure, it's like a considerably more polite Michael Moore movie. While it's quite amusing, it is also shocking, and I don't use that word lightly. The doctors employed by Morgan Spurlock, the movie's star and creator, were stunned at the effects eating nothing but McDonald's food had on his body. You will be too. There comes a point when you really do begin to wonder if he's going to live through the experiment.
Is this a political/message movie? Well sure, but it's probably not all that controversial: America, eat less junk food, exercise, and please, please, please get sugary, processed crap out of our nation's schools.
Wow. Isn't it weird that a sentence like that is just tossed around these days? Ah, how Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld have changed the language of international relations.
Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada is announcing his new cabinet today. There is stability at the very top. Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and Finance Minister Raph Goodale will keep their current posts. But other noteable changes have occurred. David Anderson, the Environment Minister, a former Olympian and a member of cabinets for over a decade, has been sacked. Foreign Minister Bill Graham, a former Director of the Centre of International Studies at the University of Toronto, is being moved to the Defence Ministry. Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew will take over the top slot at the Foreign Ministry. Former hockey star Ken Dryden is expected to be named to a low-level cabinet post. In general the cabinet is said to move slightly to the left politically. Many people were watching to see if Martin would use this opportunity to try to reach out to disaffected supporters of former Prime Minister Chretien. But with the possible exception of adding Stephane Dion (who may fill the Environment portfolio) to his team, it appears that Martin chose not to move in that direction.
I watched The Godfather again over the weekend. In a lot of ways this movie annoys me no end. Giving new life (and appeal) to mafia stories wasn’t a good thing. Many of the innumerable ersatz replications of these crime dramas are unwatchable dreck. And that’s before we even get into how they play up highly negative stereotypes, or the awful Marlon Brando impersonations that resulted from the film. But while its cultural progeny have included some of the most appalling things to come out of Hollywood in last 30 years, the original film itself really was an impressive piece of filmmaking. The direction and costumes were great, it featured a beautiful score, and of course some of the acting was first rate (I’d single out Brando and Robert Duvall for top honors). I suppose in the end that such a jewel was produced outweighs the unpleasantness brought on by its grotesque and ridiculous imitators.
The Kinzer article mentioned below is also interesting when considered in light of this post by Matthew Yglesias. If the European Union were to admit Turkey, the second most populous state in the EU would be composed almost entirely of Sunni Muslims. But degree to which other Sunnis would see this as engagement and acceptance by the West is unclear. After all we are talking about engaging Sunni Muslim Turks and Kurds (not Arabs) in a fiercely secular state. Some in the region might see this move as following the frequent American tactic of allying with minority groups against Sunni Arab majorities. Still, it strikes me that if one of the West’s current goals is to show a sincere interest in developing the Middle East and improving the lives of its people, more engagement with the Muslim world is a good thing, be it with Turks or Arabs.
This is an interesting article by Stephen Kinzer in the New York Review of Books on Turkish politics, present and future. Apparently the reforms of Prime Minister Erdogan are proceeding at a very fast clip. The economy is improving dramatically. Democratic rights are being strengthened. The power of the military is being lessened. He's worked to improve relations with both the Greeks and the Kurds. While there are certainly elements in Turkey that continue to distrust Erdogan and feel he will yet extend his religious beliefs over more aspects of government policy, that has yet to occur.
Inevitably much of the article deals with Turkey's attempt to join the European Union. The Turkish government has taken many steps to win admission. But will it be enough? I still have my doubts about that. But one interesting angle that the article brings up is that letting Turkey in might appeal in some European capitals where it otherwise wouldn't because those Europeans could use it as a way to strengthen their position vis-a-vis the United States. Those governments could say that their methods are the ones that will really transform the Middle East and point to Turkey's inclusion and transformation as a result of that.
Still, there remain a lot of reasons (both cultural and economic) why much of Europe is opposed to letting Turkey in. If Europe rejects Turkey's big for negotiaions again in December it will likely be taken up by Islamsists as yet more evidence that the West is not serious about helping the Muslim world develop. And that could produce dire political consequences for the forces in the region that want to build closer ties with Europe and the US.
This story in the Chicago Sun-Times points out a number of things about the state of affirmative action's effects on college admissions. One outcome that many people probably don't expect is how these programs help young people who didn't grow up in the US go to school here.
So Moqtada Sadr's newspaper is back. That didn't take long. Probably not long enough for people to have forgotten about the Keystone-Cops routine the US performed in (temporarily) shutting it down, and the hideous aftermath that followed. Between this, the news of our friend the prime minister personally murdering prisoners, and the huge bombings over the last few days, it doesn't look like news from Iraq looks good for President Bush at the moment.
Meet Johnny Isakson. If the polls and the pols are accurate he's the next U.S. Senator from Georgia. Why? Well, both Democratic and Republican operatives say that Georgia's is the most likely Senate seat to switch from D to R this cycle, and Isakson currently has a huge lead over his two opponents, businessman Herman Cain and Congressman Mac Collins. If he wins tomorrow by enough to avoid a run-off, the consensus is that he'll easily beat the winner of the Democratic primary (the likely winner being Congresswoman Denise Majette).
There are a number of interesting House primaries on the ballot tomorrow. We could, for instance, see the first African-American Republican in the US House since the retirement of J.C. Watts if Dylan Glenn wins his race in the heavily Republican 8th district (Glenn ran, and lost, twice in another district). The free-for-all in Majette's heavily Democratic 4th district will likely result in a run-off. The run-off is expected to include controversial former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. She could face Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard who would be the second "out" lesbian in Congress if she were to win in November. And several Democrats are battling in the 12th to take on Max Burns, widely viewed as one of the weakest Republican incumbents in the country (he won the seat against an extremely flawed Democratic candidate in '02). The Democratic candidates there include John Barrow, one of the best-funded challengers in the country, and former State Senator Doug Haines who is running as more of a progressive than Barrow.
David Adesnik has this odd passage in a post on David Remnick's piece on the future of Egyptian politics that I mentioned here.
I don't doubt that Egyptians hate Bush or even that they hate him much more than they hated Clinton. But is this outpouring of hatred a direct consequence of American behavior, or rather a sublimation of the intense hatred that Egyptians are not allowed to direct at their own government?
Is he seriously asking this question? It is quite obvious that many Egyptians are dissatisfied with both their government and the American government. They resent Mubarak's authoritarian rule and Bush's policies in the region (regarding Israel, Iraq, and for some, American support for Mubarak). To suggest that their disgust with the latter is fundamentally the product of their inability act out against the Mubarak regime betrays a naive view of the level of antagonism against the US that the Bush administration has fostered through a host of its policies.
My book recommendation for this weekend is Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh. If you've never read Rushdie you really should give him a try. His use of language is stunning: the little constructions he makes up, the lush, vibrant prose, the oblique references to a dizzying array of cultural, political and historical influences. But beyond the prose his stories can be deeply affecting, and they make insightful points about everything from family to religion to politics. This is a great novel.
Now it makes a lot of sense for the average American's view of the government to be closely tied to the price of gasoline. But as you see in this chart posted on MyDD the correlation between support for President Bush and the price of gas looks extraordinary.
So what does this mean for the fall campaign? It suggests that the fact that OPEC has decided to put more gas on the market could be a boon for the Bush camapign. And if you want to draw any conclusions between OPEC's decision and the timing of the upcoming election, feel free.
It's not the most earth-shattering quiz, but it is somewhat interesting. Go here for a quiz on whether you should live (or deserve to live) in a red or blue state.
My results were middle of the road. I'm hinting towards Red, but not by much. I don't know how you would get an extreme score (red or blue) without being a complete moron.
Now I know it's easy to bash television. I do it all the time myself. But looking at the nominees in just one of the Emmy categories this year (Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Judy Davis and Glenn Close) I have to wonder if the quality has improved of late. Then again, the fact that these performers were NOT associated with shows on the Big 4 networks suggests that not much has changed.
While it wasn't a complete disaster for Labour, the by-elections held this week were clearly not good news for Tony Blair's Labour government. Labour lost the Leicester South seat to the Liberal Democrats, and just barely retained Birmingham Hodge Hill. The swings against the party and to the Liberal Democrats were nothing short of enormous. While there was a not inconsiderable bright spot for Blair in that the Conservatives did surprisingly poorly in these races (Michael Howard better be watching his back), these results reinforce the fact that many Britons feel it is time for a change at No. 10.
While I realize it’s one of the hot topics of conversation this week, I don’t think it’s likely that Bush is going to dump Cheney from the ticket. There are many reasons why (not just limited to the following). Bush would likely consider it disloyal. It would appear to be caving in to critics of the administration. Given the vice president’s unprecedented power, it is hard to imagine what the Bush administration would look like without Cheney (and it might be unusually complex to dislodge him). The administration has so vociferously shot down the rumor that doing it now would require a lot of explaining. And who would he be replaced with? There really aren’t any obvious candidates that don’t raise one or more serious problems. While I think he should dump him (for both policy and electoral reasons), I just don’t see it happening.
One of the principal problems with this scenario is the question of a replacement. Yes, if Bush would be willing to ask McCain or Powell, and one of them was willing to say yes, he should do that immediately. That action would likely seriously improve the president’s electoral prospects. Nonetheless, given the frosty relations within that set, it’s a very unlikely move. I don’t think any of the other popular names that are bandied about would really increase the president’s vote total that much. In particular, Giuliani and Rice might raise as many problems as they would solve.
Finally there’s the problem of ’08. Does the president really want to name someone who will instantly take precedence in that race? There’s a very long list of would-be presidents on the Republican side of the aisle: Governors Romney, Bush and Owens; Senators Hagel, Kyl, Santorum, Brownback, and Allen; General Ashcroft; Secretary Ridge. And that’s just a partial list. Does the president really want to get involved in that fight? If he doesn’t, he has to pick someone who has the experience, image and drive to be a respected nominee, but presumably wouldn’t want to run a campaign for the top office in the land. That makes the pool of possible candidates exceedingly small. Jack Danforth would make the most sense to me. I think replacing Cheney with the current US ambassador to the UN (a former 3-term senator from Missouri) would definitely help Bush in November. But beyond that name, who is there? Maybe Elizabeth Dole? Some capable, veteran, but low-profile member of Congress? Frank Wolf?
Considering all that, I expect Cheney to be on the ticket, even though it’s probably not in the president’s best interest.
Bloodless Coup got together last night to watch Bertolucci’s The Dreamers. As our views on it differ, I expect you may see a post or comment from Baltar on this in the near future. Personally, I liked it. This is not to say it is without flaws. But if you’re looking for a movie about a young American’s awakening (sexual and otherwise) to a world he never thought existed you can do a lot worse. Of course the young American, played by Michael Pitt, never fully becomes a part of that world. He stays true to certain values he brings with him. And in a way I suppose you could interpret his actions and beliefs as a swipe by Bertolucci against what he now may view as the excesses of 1968. But in any event the tale of the young man and his relationship with the French twins is engaging and intriguing. It’s also very well-played by the attractive, young cast, and it’s beautifully shot.
Now I suppose I should make some remark about the level of nudity and sexuality in the movie and its NC-17 rating. That’s what we’re all really supposed to focus on when it comes to this movie, right? Well, there’s a lot of nudity, and some unusual expressions of sexuality. But so what? It’s all quite appropriate to the story. The ratings system is an embarrassment and a sham that, among other things, continues ridiculous norms that pervert our cultural representations of life. People interested in a story like this should expect to see these things, and not having them in the movie would have been to ignore how such a story really would have happened. Instead you’d get more of that tinselly world of make-believe that Hollywood is so happy to show in the place of reality. Yeah there’s sex. Yeah there’s nudity. But in a story like this, how could there not be?
Since I recently spent some time discussing future trends in the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, I thought I'd note this article by Hamza Hendawi discussing some similar issues in the Shiite leadership. Basically this is an extremely brief overview of the fight for leadership between clerics in Najaf and clerics in Qom, how the war in Iraq changed the power balance, and what that means for the future of the religion, including how it will deal with direct involvement in politics. The article contains a few key historical points that many Americans probably don't realize. If this article has a flaw it is that it does not provide a discussion of possible changes in the views of the Najaf clerics now that Saddam Hussein is out of power, or possible changes that may occur once Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani passes from the scene. Still, it may be a useful primer for those of you interested in this topic.
So Mike Ditka came to his senses (such as they are) and decided not to run for the Senate from Illinois. This leaves the Republicans with .... well, surely they'll find someone even though all the obvious candidates are demurring (Ditka was about choice #12).
So, at least for the moment, it continues to look like Barack Obama (who was recently announced as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention) is a lock to be elected in November.
So the Senate vote to invoke cloture and proceed to consideration of the Federal Marriage Amendment just failed 48-50 (Kerry and Edwards didn't vote, I presume they are campaigning). Now this whole affair is pathetic on any number of levels, but I suppose my first response to it is that Bill Frist is the most incompetent leader of the Senate I've seen since I started observing the Senate. Not that I mind. I tend to oppose his politics so if he's incompetent, great. But to change your strategy from voting on the amendment itself (because you know you are going to lose) to voting on cloture (so that you can at least get one vote that's a "win" on the issue) and then not get the 50 votes you need ... Frist is such an idiot.
As to the vote itself, it was a mostly party-line vote. 6 Republicans voted against the motion though -- Campbell (CO), Chafee (RI), Collins (ME), McCain (AZ), Snowe (ME) and Sununu (NH). I think they are to be commended. It's their votes that made it possible for support for this travesty to not even reach 50% of the Senate. On the other side of things 3 Democrats voted with most of the Republicans -- Byrd (WV), Miller (GA) and Nelson (NE). About them, perhaps the less said the better.
If you surf blogs you probably look at Josh Marshall's, so I'll never be in the habit of linking to posts there. But this is so outrageous I feel it has to be highlighted. I wasn't planning to pay a lot of attention to the Senate race in Oklahoma, precisely because I thought former Congressman Coburn was going to win and that there wasn't much that could be done about that. Now more than ever I'm really hoping I'm wrong. Talk about giving a level of validation to domestic terrorists. This man has no business serving the Senate.
Matt Yglesias makes some good points in this post on TAPPED. Did the CIA make mistakes? Absolutely. But in the grand scheme of things relating to the war in Iraq, how much are they to blame? It still strikes me having read thousands and thousands of pages on this admininstration that given the opportunity Bush team would have invaded Iraq if the CIA had told them it was nothing more than a land of sunshine, lollipops, and friendly spaniels. So let's fix the the problems in the intelligence community. But let's also remember that this administration had decided its course long before the infamous 2002 NIE.UPDATE: Kevin Drum makes the same general point about the president's responsibility here. In particular, he notes the fact that the UN had been on the ground for months before our invasion in March of 2003 (yes, just b/c administration officials have repeatedly lied and said Saddam Hussein didn't let the inspectors back in, well, the fact is he did) and they hadn't found any evidence of WMD.
OK, in a shameless attempt to get a little action in the comments section I’m going throw out a question. Who are your top 5 writers of short fiction? You can construe top 5 to be either the 5 “best” or your 5 favorites. As of today I’d say mine are David Foster Wallace, Charles Baxter, Frederick Busch, Alice Munro and David Sedaris. While Adam Haslett showed a lot of promise with You Are Not a Stranger Here, he doesn’t quite make my list (at least not yet).
So I've been watching this over the last few days thinking there's no way it would actually happen. But with news like this it looks more and more like the Republicans in Illinois may actually give their US Senate nomination to Mike Ditka. The mind reels. They think Ditka is less embarrassing than Jack Ryan? I've got to disagree. However, I suppose Ditka is more electable than Ryan.
No, they were not torn limb from limb by someone who snapped after hearing “Popular” one too many times. I knew they were still putting out music, and I knew that “Let Go” had gotten good reviews, but honestly it wasn’t until I saw that album lauded by Chris Walla that I took much notice. When Chris Walla talks I listen. So at that point I decided it was probably worth buying, and it turns out that was a good decision.
Is this an album of far too radio-friendly hits? No. They have moved on since “Popular”. And while some of these songs probably could have been radio hits (with the right amount of promotion and luck), Nada Surf has aged in a way that’s made their music much more interesting (dare I say “mature”?) while clearly maintaining a pop sensibility. Now I don’t think their lyrics always live up to their music. In particular, the chorus of “Inside of Love” springs to mind, though I suppose those lyrics are very radio-friendly. And to my tastes a couple of the tracks late on the album don’t live up to the rest of it. But this is definitely a solid piece of work with some very fine songs on it (my personal favorites being “Blizzard of ’77” and “Fruit Fly”). So if you’re in the mood for an album of this sort, you might want to consider surfing over to Barsuk Records.
I assume this quote (paragraph 10) is taken out of context. If it isn't this person is a moron:
"There's an arrogance in the scientific community that they know better than the average American," Ms. Lafferty said.
I'm going to assume "moron" and not "misquoted". Someone let me know if I'm wrong. By the way, I certainly hope scientists are smarter than the average American. If they aren't, then we're in a whole heap of trouble. See, that's their job. They are supposed to be smart and figure stuff out. If they were as smart as the average American we'd all still be banging rocks together and trying to figure out fire.
I suppose it is obvious, but it is worth pointing out that Ms. Lafferty the Executive Director of the right wing "Traditional Values Coalition." She opposes scientific studies on human reproduction, sociology of underage sex, the actual effectiveness of an "abstinence only" sex-ed program, and other "pseudo-science." And she's annoyed 'cause the scientists she opposes seem to "know" more than the average American. 'Nuff said.
OK, so NBC has announced what it plans to cover at this year's political conventions. Each convention will get 3 hours. That means that for the Democrats they'll cover Clinton, Edwards and Kerry. For the GOP they'll cover Bush, Cheney and the governor of California. This reminds me that the Senate really should get to passing the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow people who aren't "natural born" to run for president. Or at least I think Sen. Hatch has proposed that. He said he would. Both parties stand to benefit from this since at the moment each has an appealing non-"natural born" governor of a big state (the Democrats have Jennifer Granholm of Michigan). This ban is dated and anti-democratic. Let's take advantage of the opportunity and excise it from the constitution.
Every so often you read something that makes sense, but that you might not have thought of if you hadn't read it. I had one of those moments reading Dan Baum's "The Price of Valor" in the July 12 & 19 issue of The New Yorker. It's an interesting article on the psychological damage that soldiers suffer from being in combat. One statistic in it really leaped off the page. "During the Second World War, the American military lost more front-line soldiers to psychological collapse than to death by enemy fire." That's a harrowing number for a lot of reasons, and it makes this an issue we need to better understand. As the article shows, presently the military (and the military psychiatrists who's first job is to keep soldiers fighting, not to look after their health) and more broadly the government seem to be doing a weak job of dealing with this problem.
For another look at rarely-discussed casualties in World War II, this is an interesting site. There are quite a few tales to be discovered in this review of maritime disasters, but I think one of the saddest has to be the extraordinary number of prisoners of war who were killed when ships carrying them were sunk. Thousands upon thousands died that way.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were dealt another heavy blow this week by a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. An opinion written by Judge Posner held that under the recent Blakely decision judicial application of the guidelines violated the right to trial by jury.
Now that's the important stuff, but I wanted to take just a moment to note one the silliest lines I've read in an opinion in some time. In his dissent Judge Easterbrook writes the following: "Just like opera stars often go on singing after being shot, stabbed, or poisoned, so judicial opinions often survive what could be fatal blows". Opera stars OFTEN go on singing after being shot, stabbed, or poisoned? I had no idea it was such a high-risk profession.
People are frequently told that the world can be divided into two kinds of people. Examples? Red America and blue America. People from Mars and people from Venus. People who like Animaniacs and people who don’t like Animaniacs. It strikes me that another division may be Robert Altman people versus, say, Wes Anderson people. Do you favor Altman’s sprawling improv that tends to make his finished project look like a rehearsal, or Anderson’s in-depth demands about every last detail? Personally, I’m an Anderson man. That said, there are Altman movies I like a lot (M*A*S*H, The Player, Gosford Park), and while The Company might not quite measure up to those, it’s worth your time, especially if you are interested in the dance world.
It should be made clear at the outset that this is not your conventional movie. Basically it’s a look at the lives of dancers. Almost everyone you see in the picture is affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet, not an actor. There are times when the lead, Neve Campbell, is on-stage, yet you don’t notice her. She’s simply supposed to be a member of the company. And in this movie it’s the dancers that matter, not stars. What you see here are vignettes of dancers (mostly played by dancers). They fit together in comprehensible ways, but the plot isn’t what’s of interest here. Instead the focus is simply on getting a better feel for the lives of the people in this community.
The film has a number of highlights, most notably several performances by members of the Joffrey. These are not documentary clips. They are performances done for the movie. And some of them are spectacular. My favorites are Tensile Involvement, Strange Prisoners (choreographed by Davis Robertson, one of the dancers who acts in the movie), and the stunning White Widow (which is performed to some beautiful music that, if I remember correctly, was written for Twin Peaks). The sequence that includes Ms. Campbell dancing Lar Lubovich’s My Funny Valentine is also particularly well done.
The other highlight of the film is the romance between Ms. Campbell and James Franco. This is one of the most unusual film romances I’ve ever seen. The actors don’t even make eye contact with one another until 48 minutes of the film have passed. And after that they barely talk to one another for the entire remainder of the movie. True, Franco’s is a small role. But the understated way in which the romance is written and played is remarkable. And what Franco can do with even the least consequential of actions is impressive. He is a very fine actor.
As to the third “name” in the movie … eh, I’m not going to bother. He’s fine. As I understand it the individual that his role was based upon is a “character”, so I suppose his performance was fitting. Still, I find individuals (fictional or not) who constantly wear long scarves, are poor, platitudinous liars, and bellow with the imperious authority of Henry Kissinger to be tiresome.
I have a lot more respect for Neve Campbell after seeing this. Her acting is fine, as is her dancing (she’s much better than you’d expect). But what’s perhaps most noteworthy is how she really took the lead in putting this project together. She has both a story credit and a producer credit, and she seems to have been the central player in getting this film made. Given that this is a lovely and intriguing piece of work she is to be congratulated.
Don't know how many saw this number, but Juan Cole notes today that official Iraqi figures put 400 Iraqis dead and 1600 wounded since the offical handover of sovereignty on June 28th. Those are staggering numbers. One would think that unless the security situation improves, there won't be a government around too long.
Not that these comparisons are very useful, but if Iraq is 25 million, and we're about twelve times as large (just under 300 million according to the Census Bureau), then scaled up that would be like 4800 dead and 19,400 wounded in a week and a half for America. If that's not a crisis, I don't know what is.
It suffers in comparison, but the same Juan Cole page notes that 5 US soldiers were killed, and 20 wounded, at Samarra. One of the worst days for the US in a while.
To keep you up to date on the latest in the ever-democratizing Middle East, President Hosni Mubarak is back in Egypt. The 76-year old had been in Germany for surgery on his back. Now that he has returned he has sacked his prime minister and cabinet. Perhaps his new government will give us a clue as to what the country's leadership will look like after he leaves the scene. But in any event I think we can be sure that things like competitive elections and freedom of speech and assembly will have little place in at the least the early post-Mubarak years. Much like they've had little to do with the 23 (so far) Mubarak years. For further information on the political scene in Egypt you might want to look at David Remnick's interesting piece in the July 12 & 19th issue of The New Yorker. It's not a pretty picture.
Feel like taking a break for a couple of minutes? Feeling self-interested? Uh, I mean reflective and interested in "self improvement". Well, then why not take a personality quiz.
For the record, according to this one I am:
You are an SEDF--Sober Emotional Destructive Follower. This makes you an evil genius. You are extremely focused and difficult to distract from your tasks. With luck, you have learned to channel your energies into improving your intellect, rather than destroying the weak and unsuspecting. Your friends may find you remote and a hard nut to crack. Few of your peers know you very well--even those you have known a long time--because you have expert control of the face you put forth to the world. You prefer to observe, calculate, discern and decide. Your decisions are final, and your desire to be right is impenetrable. You are not to be messed with. You may explode.
I deny it all (but then I would, wouldn't I?).
If you're looking for the latest on the Plame investigation, here's an interesting story in the American Prospect about how Ashcroft decided to recuse himself.
The story also contains this tidbit about Karl Rove:
Rove's interview with the FBI was highly significant, sources said, in that although Rove adamantly denied having leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame, he admitted to having disseminated the information -- after it appeared in the news media -- to journalists, political activists, and other administration officials in an attempt to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. At the time, Wilson was raising questions about the veracity of intelligence information used by President Bush in making the case to go to war with Iraq. Rove, through an assistant, declined to comment for this story.
I'm so glad the president brought integrity back to the White House.
Kevin Drum, who's done an exhaustive amount of careful reporting on this issue, notes here that the latest news on the president's records being destroyed doesn't foreclose finding answers to key questions that remain on this topic.
Publius has some good comments on the July Surprise article in The New Republic. The level to which this administration values politics above of policy is mind-boggling. I don't know if this is the most craven instance yet. I mean who can figure that out, there are so many possibilities from which to choose. But this is very high on the list.
And in the spirit of the post on Pat Tillman, let's remember that even those soldiers who come back in one piece often suffer serious consequences from their service. Phil Carter has this post on recent research detailing how war-time service can lead to developing various forms of mental distress.
For all of you out there who hear the term "PATRIOT Act" thrown around a fair amount on the news but don't know that much about it, the Providence Journal has been running a good series on this extremely influential law. It's done a nice job of describing its scope and effects in terms everyone can understand. You can access the series here.
For all you seafood lovers, you can read about the Bush administration's plans to increase the price of shrimp here.
UPDATE: for a more shrimper-friendly account that suggests the effect on retailers may not be as severe see this story in the Times-Picayune.
I think it's useful every so often to revisit things we think we know from new angles, so with that I give you this story and this blog post about Pat Tillmann, the former professional athlete who was killed serving in uniform last April in Afghanistan, quite possibly shot by "friendly" fire.
I supported the invasion of Afghanistan. I would probably have supported it before 9/11. But it's worth considering the kind of people we lose in even the most uncontroversial wars. And it's a shame we only get snapshots of the lives of the famous ones. And it's even more of a shame when the media feels the need to distort the lives of men and women who've bravely given their lives for this country when their lives and their deaths don't fit into tidy little boxes or labels that match the stories the media wants to tell.
OK, since Baltar's a little interested I'll run down Allen's views of what he sees as the 4 parties in the College. These are important because while from a typical US perspective most are dominated by "conservatives" they have different priorities. And none of them has enough support to dominate the conclave. Remember that it takes a 2/3 vote to win election as pope. Well, actually John Paul II has changed that to make it just a majority vote after a certain period of time, but the consensus seems to be that it's unlikely the voting will go on that long. Anyway, I've described the main parties below.
The Border Patrol group: Theological conservatives most concerned with relativism and secularization. They are strongly focused on doctrine. Leaders of this group include Ratzinger, Dias and Schonborn.
The Salt of the Earth party: Focused on life outside the church, not as much on intraecclesiastical debates inside it. There are two wings to this group. The Right wing thinks politics and culture should be wholly ordered according to the teachings of the Church. The Left wing of this group is interested in social justice issues, globalization, debt relief, etc. As examples of the cardinals from these groups you have Rivera Carrera of Mexico, Sodano of Italy and Lopez Trujillo of Colombia on the right, and Sin of the Philippines, Fox of South Africa, and maybe McCarrick of the U.S. on the left. Rodriguez of Honduras has ties to both of these sides.
The Reform Party: Interested in letting local churches and dioceses have more independence from Rome. These are the cardinals most concerned with "collegiality", and of course depending on where the localities are they might move either to the right or the left of Rome. In this camp you've got Daneels of Belgium, Kasper and Lehmann of Germany, Martini of Italy, and Mahony of the U.S.
Did one woman's obsession take the U.S. to war? Read the story by Peter Bergen, someone who actually does know a lot about terrorism, here.
It's well worth reading the article if you don't know about Mylroie and the harm she's done, but I want to briefly note two things related to it. Juan Cole has a post here about the dangers of "think tanks" printing just about anything that supports their beliefs. Remember that there are some good reasons behind the peer-review process. Secondly, the numbers of people involved in the investigation of whether or not Iraq was involved in 9/11 almost defy comprehension. That the Vice President is not taken to task for continuing to say that Iraq was involved in 9/11 after what's far and away the biggest investigation in the history of human existence is an appalling stain on the American media.
It doesn't seem to be making many headlines, but this says it all about the role of policy versus politics for this administration:
An internal investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the top Medicare official threatened to fire the program's chief actuary if he told Congress that drug benefits would probably cost much more than the White House acknowledged.
Not only do they lie to Congress, but then they threaten to fire people who want to pass to Congress actual information so that Congress can have an actual debate about the policy. And, notes the article, it's not illegal. News flash: there are these things called ethics. They tell you what's right and wrong. You should find some. 'Kay?
One of the monstrously worrying things about this administration is the unbelievably large amount of bad precedent being set for future administrations. And this is serious, constitutional shit. Where are the checks and balances if the Executive can force the bureacracy to lie and withhold information from Congress, and the courts can't get information out of them either?
Oh, and later on in the article, the Times notes that the HHS official who did the threatening has left HHS and is now, suprise!, a lobbist for, suprise!, the some drug companies and pharmacy associations. Nope, no conflict of interest here.
OK, so Kerry chooses Edwards. This does not thrill me. What, exactly, is he bringing to this ticket? He is no better informed on any subject than Kerry (so he's not a Cheney to Kerry's Bush). He has no great foreign or domestic experience, or even much experience in politics (the US Senate is his first political job, right?). He supposedly gives a good speech. Big Whoop.
I'll vote against Bush. I'll even almost certainly vote for Kerry, but this choice is not helping me along that road very well.
In case this is an issue that matters to you, and you feel like calling your member of Congress, I bring you the following from TalkLeft:
If you're going to send only one e-mail this year to stop the war on medical marijuana users, now is the time. The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment comes to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday, July 7. It will bar the U.S. Justice Department from raiding, arresting or prosecuting patients who use medical marijuana in compliance with state law.
And yes, please note the final 5 words. This is an attempt to rein in some of the silly excesses the Bush/Ashcroft Justice Department. I hope it passes.
I read John Allen's Conclave two weeks ago. It's an interesting look at the process of electing popes, the current state of the Catholic hierarchy, the "political parties" in the church, and the leading candidates to succeed John Paul II. If, like me, you find the palace politics in the Catholic Church interesting, it's well worth picking up.
There are a lot of things in the book worth blogging on, but for now I'll just note the following. First, looking at the voting pool (all the cardinals under 80) it is immediately clear that John Paul has moved the church to the right (from an American perspective). He has appointed almost all of the cardinals who will vote in the next conclave. I think there are still 4 who were appointed before his papacy and who are under 80, including Cardinals Ratzinger and Sin. While he has named a handful of left-leaning cardinals (like the new one from Scotland, and, finally, Lehmann), almost all of the cardinals on that side of the spectrum are now quite elderly, and many are over 80. So the conclave is going to be overwhelmingly dominated by conservative (again, using the American perspective) John Paul II appointees. Now as Allen notes, there are different types of conservatives, and that could be very important in the election. However, it looks like in all likelihood the next pope is going to be someone with whom many American Catholics will have strong policy disagreements. Who would the Americans like? Well, of the supposed contenders I'd say that Cardinal Daneels and Cardinal Kasper would go down well here. But I'm doubting either one of them gets the nod.
While it seems extraordinarily unlikely to happen, personally, I'd favor the election of Cardinal Sin. Actually he has much to recommend him. But on top of that, can you imagine what the New York Post would do with that choice?
Yeah, I'm going to bitch about Cheney again. I caught the op-ed by Joan Lukey in the Washington Post's Opinion section yesterday (Sunday). I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, but bear with me here. Presidents get "executive powers" and "executive privilege". Executive powers are the things the Constitution says the Prez can do. Executive privilege is what Presidents assert to keep secret what happens in meetings and stuff. When either Congress or someone wants to know what the Prez is doing, and the Prez doesn't want to tell, somebody sues the Prez. The Prez then goes to court, asserts "executive privilege" (or, "I don't want to tell you, and I think it have a real reason to not tell you"), gives over to the court the papers, and the court decides whether it's a valid use of executive privilege, or the Prez has to cough the stuff up to the public.
This administration did something else, entirely. They asserted "executive powers", meaning that what Cheney was doing (meeting with energy industry types behind close doors and crafting legislation - yeah, that three year old story is still lurking around) was part of the President's constitutional duties, and is not subject to review by anybody including the courts themselves. In other words, Cheney not only doesn't have to cough up the papers for the plaintiffs, but doesn't have to give them to the courts to examine them either. Hey, they aren't claiming "executive privilege", they're claiming "executive powers." The courts don't have any authority over them at all, basically, is what they are claiming. And the frigging Supreme Court bought this:
With barely a nod to precedent...the majority endorsed the administration's position on this point, pretty much lock, stock and barrel. If the White House wants to withhold information when members of the public seek it, the White House may simply do so. No claim of executive privilege is required. And if there is a process for judicial review in the absence of a privilege claim, I'm not seeing it.
So, in plain english, if anyone - from Judicial Watch to Amnesty International to the GAO to the Federal Courts to fucking Congress itself - wants information from the executive branch, the Prez doesn't have to provide it. And there is no review or appeal (unless someone wants to take it back to the same Supreme Court and try to get them to change their minds).
How could the Supreme Court buy this? Would someone, anyone, explain to me how this is at all beneficial to democracy? Or good in any way whatsoever?
In case you don't regularly check Juan Cole's fine "Informed Comment" I'll point you in the direction of two fascinating posts he has up today.
Here you can read about the regional implications of the Iraqi insurgency (with a special focus on Jordan and Yemen). Here he notes a statement by Brigadier General Karpinski that we were using Israeli interrogators at Abu Ghraib. I don't have nearly enough energy to get properly outraged at that. I'd ask just how many American soldiers the president is determined to have killed in Iraq, but given his whole school playground macho man, "bring 'em on" attitude, and his disinterest in opinions that might call his own into question, it's sadly predictable in a way.
OK, so it looks like everyone expects Kerry's Vice Presidential announcement to be made on Tuesday. I would presume it will be made very early on Tuesday. I don't have much more to say about this. As I've noted before on the blog I think Gen. Clark is the best choice for the nomination. But if Kerry has some concerns about naming someone who's quite well known for doing what he can to skirt orders from time to time, that's certainly understandable. Still, I think he's an extraordinary individual and if you go back and read his speeches, the breadth and depth of his knowledge of a host of issues, and his clear concern for the future of the country, make Clark the best pick (and being a decorated general from Arkansas is nice lagniappe).
Presuming it's not Clark, of the people who are discussed most often I can live happily with Edwards, Vilsack or Graham. I will be disappointed if the pick is Cohen or Biden. I will be very annoyed if the pick is Bayh. And I will be gnashing my teeth and sputtering obscenities if the pick is Gephardt. If he pulls Nunn out of retirement, I'll be throwing things across the room, taking a break from political involvement, and burning any mail I get from the Kerry campaign.
Now of course it could be someone no one expects. I was always hoping that a few unexpected names would get some attention (the names I personally had in mind being Dennis Archer, Donna Shalala and Steny Hoyer). And who knows, maybe it'll be Franklin Raines. But if the selection really is down to Edwards and Gephardt, please let it be the (not so young) fresh face with the serious message, not the bland, Iraq war-loving, serial loser with the tin ear for both policy and politics.
OK, so if you want to play a political trivia game, this is interesting. It takes a minute to load though. For the record, I got 15 or 17 right, and on one of the one's I missed, well, I had the right winning candidate, but not the right year. As to the other one I missed ... maybe I should be a wee bit embarrassed since it was a race in my lifetime.
My book recommendation for this weekend is one of my favorite novels of the last few years, Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club. It deals with the trials and tribulations of four guys growing up around Birmingham, England in the early 1970’s. This setting allows all manner of social commentary, both funny and dark as pitch. But the deeper story is the tale of these four young men, what they learn, the choices they make, and who they become. I think Stephen Amidon’s review in The Atlantic Monthly was on target in saying that “the strength of The Rotters’ Club lies in its comic humanity”. This is a rapier-sharp coming-of-age story, both of the four principals and of the society they inhabit, but it is not remotely cynical.
Well, maybe we're not quite there yet. Let's hope that's the case. And let's hope that stories like this get people in power to distance themselve from Moon.
If you don't know about Rep. Weldon, he's a senior Republican member of the U.S. House from Pennsylvania. He's one of the major players on the House Armed Services Committee, and he might very well be its next chairman. Hope that thought doesn't keep you awake at night (even if maybe it should).
This is, or should be, criminal. One of the things about the 2000 election's aftermath that stuns me is a how little has been done to ensure that everyone's vote will count on Novermber 2.
I very much doubt I'll agree with any solution he comes up with, and I certainly don't support Jonathan Turley's idea, but Larry Solum raises an interesting point about why the Supreme Court may not be working well.
OK, so given that I don't like drag shows, maybe I wasn't the target audience for this movie. That sort of seems to have been Roger Ebert's take on it (well, Ebert thinks that the changes that have taken place in society have greatly diminished their meaning and appeal). But I did enjoy writer/star Charles Busch's last movie, Psycho Beach Party. That was a spoof of 1960's beach blanket and horror movies. And it was really pretty funny. Die Mommie Die! on the other hand is an "homage" to the melodramas of the 1950's and 1960's, and Mr. Busch's style just doesn't fit as well with that tone. While there are same game turns by a surprisingly good supporting cast, this movie languishes in 2 star territory.
The things you stumble upon. I was looking at the March/April 1999 issue of Foreign Affairs and found a really interesting article by Milton Viorst on Colonel Qaddafi and the Libyan government. The picture it paints of politics in that nation, and of Qaddafi, is much more complex and sympathetic than you'd probably expect. And this was of course long before the Bush administration supposedly taught him to behave with their threats of invasion.
That 1999 issue might also be of interest today given that it includes a reviews of 5 books focusing on terrorism titled "It Could Happen Here."