Saturday, June 30, 2007

Glasgow attack

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I wasn't going to post on today's attack at Glasgow Airport until more was known, just as I haven't yet posted on the discovery of two unexploded car bombs yesterday in London, but here's the latest from the BBC:

A car on fire has been driven at the main terminal building at Glasgow Airport.

Eyewitnesses have described a Jeep Cherokee being driven at speed towards the building with flames coming out from underneath.

They have also described seeing two Asian men, one of whom was on fire, who had been in the car.

Strathclyde Police said two people had been arrested and detained in connection with the incident.

The airport has been evacuated and all flights suspended following the incident at 1515 BST.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has chaired a meeting of Cobra -- the emergency committee.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the national terrorism threat level had been raised to its highest level of "critical", meaning an attack was expected "imminently".

For a Q&A of what is known so far about London and Glasgow, see here.

We'll have more as more is known, along with reaction from news outlets and from around the blogosphere. Stay tuned.

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What do Americans think of the Iraq War?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not good things, it seems:

A CBS News poll shows Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the Iraq war, President Bush and the Congress, as well as the overall direction of the country.

More Americans than ever before, 77 percent, say the war is going badly, up from 66 percent just two months ago. Nearly half, 47 percent, say it's going very badly.

While the springtime surge in U.S. troops to Iraq is now complete, more Americans than ever are calling for U.S. forces to withdraw. Sixty-six percent say the number of U.S. troops in Iraq should be decreased, including 40 percent who want all U.S. troops removed. That's a 7-point increase since April.

Not good -- as in: the war is not going well and is in fact going rather badly. But what is good about what the American people think about the Iraq War is that more and more of them are coming to see the war for what it is and are not buying the spin from the warmongers. And what is becoming clearer and clearer is that those warmongers are waging this war against the will of the American people. They may not care, so utterly consumed are they by their own delusions of grandeur and righteousness, but, as the midterms of '06 showed us, the will of the people is ignored at one's political peril.

American democracy may not be as strong as it ought to be -- the warmongers and their ilk, with Cheney running the show and ruling without oversight, may have done their best/worst to drive a stake through it -- but America is still a democracy. And the people are speaking.

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Breaching borders

By Carol Gee

A shrinking earth -- As national borders become more and more permeable, the earth seems to be shrinking. There is good news and bad news in that. The bad news is that all this global change seems to be happening at an alarming rate. The good news is that countries about which we worry are able to change as they get new and better information. National borders are permeable to news. China's tightly censored information ministry is quite cognizant of climate change, for example. The latest news on energy saving measures that work has been able to get through the Chinese government. Making rapid adjustments produced this headline: "Air-con limits for China workers," from the BBC News (of 6/27/07). To quote from the story:

The government has decreed that they cannot use air conditioning to take the temperature below 26C (78.8F), the official Xinhua news agency reports.

Until recently, the Chinese solution to providing energy in buildings was simply to build more power stations.

Now they are building two a week and still cannot satisfy demand, so they are focusing on saving energy, too.

Borders penetrated -- National borders do not always provide needed protections. Those of us who eat more fish as a way to good health have been forced to take a second look at our foreign food sources, namely China. There are times when border protections need to be enhanced. An article in the International Herald Tribune of 6/28/07 was headlined, "Farmed fish from China subject to scrutiny in U.S." To quote from it:

Imports of five species of farmed Chinese seafood will be detained until they can be shown free of potentially dangerous antibiotics, U.S. government health officials said Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration said it would detain the catfish, basa, shrimp, dace and eel after repeated testing has turned up contamination with drugs unapproved in the United States for use in farmed seafood.

. . . Beyond the fish, federal regulators have warned consumers in recent weeks about lead paint in toy trains, defective tires and toothpaste made with diethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient more commonly found in antifreeze. All the products were imported from China.

Ideas sneak through borders -- National borders have become more permeable to different political philosophies and ideas. China's government can no longer trust its great wall to maintain Communism in the face of migrating free-thinking philosophies from the decadent West. On 6/26/07, this headline intrigued L.A. Times readers: "Marx loses currency in new China." It leads a fascinating story by Michael Landsberg. Quoting just a bit from the article:

Teaching socialism is mandatory, but learning it is monotonous for today's students, who revere money more than Mao.

. . . Still, it isn't easy to find students who will expressly renounce Marxism.

It may be because they know that to succeed in China, it helps immensely to be a member of the ruling Communist Party. It may be because Marxism and Maoist philosophy are so deeply woven into the fabric of Chinese life that students take them for granted, the way some American students accept a constitutional democracy without thinking too deeply about the alternatives. It may be because they truly believe in Marxism, and see the current period as a necessary stage on the path to true communism.

Climate ignores man-made borders -- No arbitrary national borders can ever protect the earth's environment. We are all in this "tiny lifeboat" together, according to Garret Hardin. One of the most fascinating sections of Landsberg's L.A. Times story is about teaching Chinese Junior High students about the earth's environment. Note that the curriculum, amazingly, was developed in part by British oil company, BP. To quote further from the above article,

. . . At the school, students are participating in a pilot program to learn the fundamentals of environmentalism, as part of a "values" class that used to contain a strong dose of Marxist ideology.

Tian Qing, a professor of environmental education at Beijing Normal University, said this was one of 30 schools in Beijing, and a larger number scattered around the country, using an environmental curriculum developed in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund and the British oil giant BP.

. . . Talking over tea at the Education Ministry's modern offices in central Beijing, education official Zhou laughed a bit about today's students.

"They don't believe in God or communism," he said. "They're practical. They only worship the money."

Border gates open -- Even North Korea's inpenetrable borders can be breached. Halfway around the world, this so-called "enemy" country is showing a surprising capacity for change. In an amazing turnabout in recent months, this mistrustful nation has admitted nuclear inspectors from the IAEA. Today's headline, "IAEA team completes N Korea nuclear tour," is from London's Financial Times:

The inspectors’ visit will bolster hopes that Pyongyang will make good on its pledge to shut down the 5 megawatt reactor and reprocessing plant at Yongbyon, the source of the plutonium used for last year’s nuclear test.

Price at the border, fuel oil -- It took the United States far too long to decide to talk to remote and faraway North Korea. But finally the world dragged us along towards a practical deal. The forces of diplomacy overtook the reactionary, rigid neocon forces that held sway over our current president's mistrustful view. Now we are in "trust and verify" mode. And this is the resulting headline, "North Korea to shut plutonium reactor in 3 weeks" from Quoting the story (with highlights):

• Agreement reached after surprise visit by U.S. envoy
• Reactor was to have been closed in April, but separate dispute stalled plan
• $25 million of frozen North Korean money has now been freed

. . . Christopher Hill -- the chief U.S. negotiator at international talks on North Korea's nuclear programs -- said they were looking at a three-week time frame for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor, when asked by reporters on his arrival at Tokyo's Haneda Airport.

. . . North Korea is to ultimately get aid worth 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil and other political concessions when it disables the reactor.

Boundaries will constantly change - Because all this global change seems to be happening at such an alarming rate, I will be revisiting this subject once a week via the "Other Nations-Sat" label of the S/SW blog.


  1. Climate Change - BBC News
  2. Environment - Reuters
  4. News from the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  5. Sierra Club - E.D. Carl Pope's blog, "Taking the Initiative"

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Red panda blogging

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, red pandas. And they are extremely rare.

Two of them were born early Tuesday morning at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. As the CBC is reporting, there are likely "fewer than 2,500 red pandas alive in the wild because the animals' natural habitat in China, India and Nepal is being destroyed. Forty red pandas are being raised in zoos. The Valley Zoo has joined an international breeding program in an effort to keep the species alive." These as-yet unnamed cubs, born to Koko (father) and Lala (mother) are currently being hand-raised (and -fed) by an animal health technologist, Sandy Helliker.

Amazing. Just amazing.

For more, see the Edmonton Sun, which also has video. Here's a photo from the Canadian Press (another photo is here):

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Sign of the Apocalypse #49: The return of Girl Power

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This is an easy one, isn't it?

(Take a deep breath. Exhale.)

The Spice Girls have announced that they have reunited for a world tour (and to kickstart their moribund careers, and to make a ton of money), and, from what I can tell from my (admittedly brief, because I can only take so much) survey of worldwide media reaction to this devastating development (with respect to the health of our civilization), Girl Power is back, baby, back!

How sad that these four largely talentless women -- with Mrs. Beckham by far the worst of them all (the others at least have some talent other than abject narcissism and gross self-absorption) -- have been allowed, by their enablers in the worldwide entertainment media, to present themselves as the collective embodiment of "Girl Power," some phony manifestation of neo-feminism that is really nothing other than a slick marketing ploy to sell the Spice Girl brand.

"Girl Power is back and stronger than ever," they declared, and one recoils in horror.

And -- alright, alright, fine -- they're not that bad, I admit, certainly not as bad as, say, Britney, the worst of them all, and Jessica, right there with her. And maybe I'd be less negative if they weren't so obviously and so desperately trying to sell their brand, to attract the spotlight that long ago moved on, their 15+ minutes finally, finally over -- and if Mrs. Beckham, a loathsome creature, much like her overrated husband, had been booted out. The other four make up a cute quartet, after all, especially Ginger and Baby. Why retain the wart?

But I've already written too much. In the end: Who cares? Not I, not so much. And maybe their message of "Girl Power," however phony, will help more, or be less destructive than, than the debased and repugnant "hit me, baby" eroticism of Britney and her ilk. (Eroticism? No, surely not. More like self-objectification.) Yes, yes, I'd rather the world's girls emulate four of these five women than those other pop whores.

Still, a SOTA it is. And here they are:

Photo from the Globe: "Spice Girls, from left, Victoria Beckham, Melanie Brown, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton and Melanie Chisholm pose following a press conference in Greenwich, England, to announce the band's world tour."

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Brown v. Board of Ed. is dead. Long live racial integration.

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Chief Justice John Roberts insists that the Supreme Court did not overturn the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling from 1954, but, honestly, what else are we to make of the Court's 5-4 decision "striking down voluntary integration plans in the public schools of Seattle and Louisville," as Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog puts it? (See also the Post.)

I tend to be liberal on issues of race, that is, against race-oriented public policy, but Roberts's assertion that "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race" seems to me to be hopelessly naive. Racial discrimination is not the product of race-oriented, or racialist, public policy. Racial discrimination may or may not be worsened by any given racialist public policy, and racial discrimination ought to be avoided in public policy, but racial discrimination in a more general sense antedates public policy. There is racial segregation not necessarily because racial groups have been legally segregated but because of a complexity of factors including racism itself, the grouping of people by race according to primacy afforded racial identity. And how is such racial segregation to be overcome other than through efforts -- as here, voluntary efforts -- at integration? Do Roberts et al., the Court's right-wing majority (with Kennedy), suppose that the best thing to do is simply to wait -- for eons -- for race and racial (self-)identification to be overcome?

The Times is right, in its editorialization. This is "Resegration Now": "The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation’s schools to integrate. Yesterday, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality."

Pre-Brown America, here we come.


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The immigration reform bill is dead. Long live immigration reform.

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've already said what I've wanted to say about the immigration reform bill. It was a sensible attempt to deal with one of the most challenging issues facing the United States today. But because it was sensible, and good, it aroused the ire of the extremists, and particularly the xenophobic extremists of the right, which is much of the Republican Party these days, and certainly most of the wingnut blogosphere. And those extremists are cheering, for the bill is dead:

The most dramatic overhaul of the nation's immigration laws in a generation was crushed yesterday in the Senate, with the forces of the political right and left overwhelming a bipartisan compromise on one of the most difficult issues facing the country.

With 53 senators against moving on to a final vote and 46 in favor, supporters fell dramatically short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the delaying tactics and parliamentary maneuvers that have dogged the bill for weeks.

But let us be clear, once more. This front-page article in the Post makes it seem as if left and right, Democrats and Republicans, were equally responsible for killing the bill. But it was not so.

The bill was killed by a 53 to 46 vote. This was a vote on a cloture motion. The majority of 53 voted against "moving on to a final vote". Democrats voted 33 to 15 for moving on to a final vote. Republicans voted 37 to 12 against moving on to a final vote. (You can find the details of the vote here.)

The 12 Republican dissenters included such moderates and mavericks as McCain, Lugar, Graham, Snowe, Gregg, Hagel, Martinez, and Specter. Whereas it is more difficult to label the Democratic dissenters (although some of them are so-called moderates like Webb, Bayh, and Tester, other so-called moderates voted with the majority of the party), it is clear that the overwhelming bulk of the mainstream of the Republican Party, a mainstream well to the right of the rest of the country, is against sensible immigration reform.

Democrats were hardly united in support of this bill, but Republicans deserve most of the blame for killing it. And for that, no doubt, they will be vigorously applauded by their xenophobic base.

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Burmese brutality

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which on principle and almost without exception remains politically neutral (the genocide in Rwanda was the notable exception), has "denounced what it says are major human rights abuses by Burma's military government," according the BBC. Specifically, the Red Cross "highlights repeated abuse of men, women and children in communities along Burma's border with Thailand, including murder, violence, and the destruction of food supplies".

(Whereas the Red Cross usually remains neutral, organizations like Doctors Without Borders, founded by Bernard Kouchner, the great French politician and diplomat, are more aggressive in their explicit opposition to the regimes that engage in human rights abuses. For more on this, read Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists; or, the Passion of Joschka Fischer and Its Aftermath, a brilliant examination of the Generation of '68 and the transition of many of the key figures of that generation, like Koucher and Fischer, from militant radicalism to liberal anti-totalitarianism (and interventionism, as in Kosovo and, for some, Iraq).)

For more on Burma as an "Orwellian state," see here. For more on Burma's ruling military junta, see here. And see also the excellent discussion of Burmese politics, culture, and economics in Amy Chua's World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability" a fascinating and provocative book that, in my view, strikes just the right balance between the ideological extremes of laissez-faire neoliberalism and the class-oriented anti-globalization movement.

For now, however, the Red Cross deserves our praise for speaking out against the ongoing tyranny in Burma.

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Everybody, give a big hand!... Let's welcome NBC's David Gregory to The Freak Show!

Guest post by J. Thomas Duffy

Boy, this one nearly knocked me off my seat.

No doubt, the blood sugar may have been a bit low, the morning caffeine hadn't kicked in yet, and there was the inevitable letdown of seeing the Cheneypalooza end last night.

What was this dizzying, shocking, surprising entity that provided this momentary dysfunction?

NBC's David Gregory thinks we just need to "strip away" Ann Coulter's inflammatory rhetoric to listen to her points.

Boy, David, as Desi would say to Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do.

Do we have to get John Fund, Dorothy Rabinowitz, or Richard Cohen to meet up with you, offering instructions on pulling your head out of your ass? Or can you manage that on your own?

Are you miffed that the slobbering, fawning, drooling Chris Matthews didn't included a rap segment on his show with The Coulterzilla the other day? Something you could have just happened to drop by on, and flash those same suave moves you displayed when dancing with Karl Rove?

And this isn't the first time you've used the Rightside/Freak Show smear points in your reporting.

This talk with Elizabeth Edwards... You dragged out the now-ever-so-tired slam of the expensive haircut, and the paid speeches (though, to be "fair and balanced," no mention of Rudy 911 and his gold-mine speaking tour), and then chided Mrs. Edwards that she should have pushed aside all the bullshit Coulterzilla was firing at her and paid attention to "the point she's trying to make" behind it.

To her credit, Mrs. Edwards, after laughing at Gregory, delivered a crisp response that basically said, "Hey, if you want to side with Coulter, and you don't like my husband, don't vote for him."

Interesting also, in defending Coulterzilla, Gregory left out of the interview how Coulterzilla, just a few days ago, put forth "if I’m going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I’ll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."

What was the point behind that one, Gregory?

So David, are you going to go for the gold watch with the Peacock Network, or do we soon see a Press Release fired out on you joining Fox News?

You certainly seem to be going out of your way to impress them.



-- Mrs. Edwards responds to Coulter; June 28: She talks to NBC's David Gregory about the clash with Ann and how she hopes "people will speak out" against hate speech (Video)

-- Edwards equates Coulter’s words to racist ones; Presidential candidate’s wife calls commentator’s remarks ‘hate language’

-- NBC's Gregory repeated Coulter falsehood on Today

-- Ann Coulter Loses It, Calls Elizabeth Edwards a "Harridan"

-- Losers

-- Bloggers Are Foul-Mouthed Cranks

-- Bashing Elizabeth Edwards

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Going wild

By AviShalom

What is a "wild" crop? One that is not cultivated, correct? That certainly is my understanding of the word, wild. As far as I know there is no labeling standard for the various products that are called "wild," and thus cultivated fruits can be in processed foods that are labeled wild.

Now, what if a beer is called Wild Hop Lager and bears the USDA seal that it is organic? As far as I know, there are no hops growing in the wild that are used by brewers anywhere, but you might assume that, even if the hops in this beer were cultivated, they at least would have been cultivated organically. Reasonable assumption, no? Uh, no. The hops in question are grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Of course, if you noticed that that Wild Hop Lager was produced by mega-factory brewer Anheuser Busch, you might be less surprised at the misleading labeling. The USDA has interpreted the Organic Foods Protection Act of 1990 as allowing various ingredients that constitute a stipulated maximum percentage of the total product to be produced non-organically without disqualifying the product itself from bearing the USDA organic seal. And that list is about to be expanded, and the percentage of allowable non-organic ingredients in a product is about to be increased (to 5%).

What a shame that the USDA is allowing such debasing of the value of the organic label that products can have significant non-organic ingredients. Certainly hops are a significant ingredient in beer, even if a little goes a long way. (Well, not for me, but then I am hophead. I could eat them raw and have been known to enjoy a cup of hop tea now and then.)

I remember some years ago when there were discussions among organic producers about the mixed blessing of the then-budding mass interest in organic products. Of course, those of us who grow and consume organic products want the concept to spread--for both our own interests and those of the planet. But we knew it was inevitable that government agencies would begin to relax standards at the behest of the big-time processors and retailers, who can hire better-connected lobbyists than the committed organic growers can. An
article from earlier this month in the L.A. Times, from which the not-wild, not-organic hop lager story comes, suggest that this relaxation of standards is very much underway.

My own advice is not only to look for the "organic" label, but to favor relatively smaller producers who specialize in organic whenever possible. If it is local, even better.


This is my first post at The Reaction, and I am grateful to Michael for inviting me to join his distinguished blogging team. This post also appears at my own blog, Fruits and Votes, which is (mostly) about what it says it is about, though it generally leans much more to the Votes end of things, as I am a political scientist who specializes in elections and electoral systems. I thought I would introduce myself here with one of my Fruits posts (or "plantings," as I like to say). I am also an organic grower myself. And I am posting here under my Hebrew name, though if you know F&V or visit it, you will easily see my real everyday "secular" identity. I have commented here frequently in the past as "MSS."

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By Creature

Libby, I got your number. Found it plastered all over the ThinkProgress bathroom wall. You really are a dirty boy. Shame. Shame.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)


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Congress and the war in Iraq

By Carol Gee

(stories from Newsgator Online- see title link above)

What is Congress doing right now about the war in Iraq and related issues? Analysts see a growing number of Republicans beginning to listen to their own constituents' negative opinions. Republican legislators are no longer unquestioning of their President. In particular Senator Richard Lugar's change of heart seems to have caught the attention of lots of Congress watchers. CNN Politics has a a good analysis of what this might mean, headlined: "Senators' dissent over Iraq might trigger a different surge" (6/27/07) -

Story Highlights:

• Two notable Republican senators ask President Bush to change course on Iraq
• Analysts say prominent senators' opinions could sway others
• CNN/Opinion Research poll shows GOP support for war at all-time low
• Observers say to expect more defections as Iraq report, elections near

. . . Two respected senior GOP senators this week publicly asked the president to look for a way out of Iraq. One of them -- Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana -- is the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

. . . Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, is jumping straight to what he calls Plan "E" for "Exit."

. . . The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, are to issue a report in September on what impact Bush's surge of troops into the war is having. Analysts say that report will be pivotal on both the country's and Congress' outlook on the war.

. . . This week, Republican congressmen Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Frank Wolf of Virginia are calling to reconvene the ISG to review Iraq policy and offer new recommendations.

Congressional oversight is also in play this week. Democrats and perhaps many Repuublicans voting in the 2006 elections decried the failure of their Congress to conduct any oversight of the White House during and after the war in Iraq was started. Congress has been very busy holding hearings on a wide range of issues since the start of the year. And, fortunately, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are looking in a bipartisan way at the one of the most vital issues facing the nation - that of illegal spying on American citizens. The Financial Times (6/28/07) reports that,

The probe is part of a growing range of congressional investigations against the Bush administration since the Democrats seized control of Capitol Hill in January, creating the impression of a White House under siege.

While Democrats are leading the push for information about the domestic surveillance programme, the three most senior Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee also voted in favour of issuing the subpoenas.

. . . The bipartisan nature of the investigation reflects unease in both parties about the Bush administration’s aggressive use of executive power and its heavy influence over the Justice Department.

Further subpoena info - Senator Leahy has been very focused on the issues surrounding domestic surveillance since news of the program's existence emerged last winter. (See my previous South by Southwest post [11/26/06] on the subject, "Spooks, spies - eyes and ears in the skies.") This very tough and effective Committee Chair's current efforts focus on the role of office of the Vice President and of the Justice Department. "Senate subpoenas WHouse documents in spying probe," Reuters reports (6/27/07). To quote,

A Senate chairman heading an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program subpoenaed documents on Wednesday from the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney's office, the National Security Council and Justice Department.

Setting up a possible courtroom showdown, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy gave the administration until July 18 to turn over specified materials that the White House last week declared off limits and highly classified.

. . . Leahy's panel, on a bipartisan vote of 13-3, authorized the subpoenas last week in another attempt to determine the administration's legal justification for warrantless surveillance begun shortly after the September 11 attacks.

. . . Bush and Democrats are at odds over revisions he wants in the FISA law, and some lawmakers question if the administration has actually ceased warrantless surveillance.

Untruthful testimony? The White House has come under a great deal of fire from this Congress because of failures of the United States Department of Justice. There has been more smoke than fire, in my opinion, in the U.S. Attorney scandal. I believe that Congress wasted a great deal of effort with those hearings, though there is still potenial for further investigation into the Attorney General's lack of truthfulness in his committee testimony. In a current vein, Senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin are "seeking a probe of a Bush judge," according to a (6/27/07) Reuters story.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy on Wednesday sought a federal investigation into whether a White House lawyer turned appeals court judge testified truthfully to Congress about the Bush administration's detention policies for enemy combatants.

. . . On Tuesday, Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin asked Kavanaugh to explain apparent discrepancies between his testimony and reports that he participated in a 2002 White House meeting about the detainee policies.

We look to the September deadline - Congress is not on hold until General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker make their reports to the nation on the progress of the Iraq war in September. The Senate is right now attempting for the second time to pass immigration reform legislation, a very tough challenge. The next big effort to change the direction of the war will come up with pending legislative authorizations for war spending. The Washington Post had the story (on May 25) detailing plans for next steps. It seems that Congress will be facing the best chance for making an impact by cutting off funding for the war. To quote from the story,

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, announced that he will remove Iraq war funding from the 2008 Pentagon spending bill that is expected to reach the House floor in July. Instead, Murtha said he will bring up a separate Iraq funding bill in September, when Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to deliver a key status report to Congress.


  1. Senator Luger's floor speech - transcript
  2. "Democratic Accomplishments in Face of Obstructionism"
  3. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont - official web site
  4. Senate Judiciary Committee - Subpoenaes - C-SPAN
  5. - Federal Legislative Branch

    cross-posted at South by Southwest

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Angela Merkel's boobs

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Controversy is raging over a rather provocative image of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's breasts on the cover of a rather provocative Polish magazine. The image is below. But first, here's the BBC:

German politicians have condemned a computer generated photo of Poland's leaders sucking the German Chancellor Angela Merkel's bare breasts.

The image appears on the cover of the Polish weekly Wprost, and is titled "Stepmother of Europe".

A Polish council overseeing ethics in the media said the montage overstepped "the limits of good taste".


The mocked up image shows Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, nuzzling at Ms Merkel's chest.

Is the image "tasteless," as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier put it? Well, that all depends on your particular taste, doesn't it? I actually find the image rather amusing, and extremely effective. Does it not get its point across effectively? I would go so far as to say that it's rather brilliant political satire. The fact that it has provoked such controversy, and that both sides, Polish and German alike, are crying outrage, only attests to its effectiveness. It has done what it was meant to do. And here it is:

And here's another Wprost cover I found. It's an image of Erika Steinbach, a Christian Democrat (CDU) member of the German Bundestag, riding former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Since this didn't make much sense to me, and may not make much sense to you, let me quote from the Steinbach entry at Wikipedia:

Steinbach's position as head of the Federation of Expellees arouses much controversy in some countries which were occupied by Germany during the Second World War.

Steinbach's public pronouncements have been criticized for causing a deterioration in German-Polish relations due to stirring up controversy regarding the rights of Germans who were expelled from Poland after World War II. This controversy has led to Steinbach's negative reputation in Poland, where she and the Centre against Expulsions are frequently associated with Nazism. One example of this was a 2003 cover montage of Polish newsmagazine Wprost that depicted her riding Chancellor Gerhard Schröder while wearing an SS uniform.

Um, okay. She doesn't seem to be a Nazi, not given her advocacy for human rights and humanitarian aid, but I can see how she might be a rather controversial figure in a place like Poland. And I can also see how the Federation of Expellees has provoked controversy, and perhaps the criticisms are well-founded. Anyway, here's the (also extremely effective) image:

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Hippo blogging 2

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Another great hippo photo, this time from Yahoo! Canada:
Anais, the mother hippo, keeps an eye on its son Aldo, a three week-old pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis Liberiensis), at the Vincennes zoo, outside Paris, Tuesday.

For more on Also, see here. For Hippo blogging 1, see here.


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Back in the saddle again

By Capt. Fogg

ell, back in the Executive Branch at least.

"Two senior Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the rationale had been the view of the vice president’s lawyers, not Cheney himself," says The Politico.

Nice try Uncle Snarley; no lawyer is that dumb, unless it's one of those faith-based kind we find around the white house these days. You're going to have to take that subpoena and answer some questions or come up with another reason to claim you're above and beyond accountability for ignoring the constitution. I can't wait to hear what it is, but here are some possibilities:

  • He's not an American.
  • He's not human.
  • He forgot about the Constitution
  • Clinton made him do it.
I'm sure he'll have something equally as creative.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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The unabashed bigotry of Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter

By Michael J.W. Stickings

If you want to know why much of the rest of the world hates America, you don't have to look any further than Fox News. Sure, America's mighty military, economic, and cultural imperialism is cause for concern, but what about the bigotry that is spewed day after day and night after night on that purveyor of partisanship and untruth? Gays, blacks, Muslims, you name it. There are so many Others in Fox's crosshairs, but there is more than enough bigotry there to go around. Consider this -- yet another example -- via Think Progress:

This past weekend, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) delivered a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of his Protestant denomination, the United Church of Christ. In the speech, Obama argued that faith in the United States has been "hijacked" by "the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us."

[Monday] night on Fox's Hannity and Colmes, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter responded to Obama's comments by implicating him as a terrorist. Coulter remarked, "Anyone named B. Hussein Obama should not use the words 'hijack' and 'religion' in the same sentence." Host Sean Hannity added that Obama’s remarks were part of a "black separatist agenda."

As I repeated again and again in my recent post on Chris Matthews's phobia of the sisterhood, I'm not making this up. It's all for real. Coulter did yet again make an offensive remark about Islam and Hannity did yet again make an offensive remark about blacks. They and their kind just keep on rolling out the hate -- sensationalist language to arouse their hateful audiences, which are rather large on the right (given how popular they are).

Do they believe it? Are Coulter and Hannity genuine bigots? Maybe, maybe not, but I suspect so. They may play up how they say what they say in order to shock, but this ongoing routine of bigotry is no act. There is sincerity to their bigotry, and they mean it. There is theater about it, to be sure, but the act, such as there was any act, has been internalized so completely that it can no longer be distinguished from reality. And yet I doubt even this. The bigotry seems to come too naturally to them for it to be mere internalization of an act. Coulter can say that she wishes John Edwards "had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot -- and she did say this on ABC's Good Morning America on Monday (see Crooks and Liars) -- and there you have it, yet more of the same, the same that keeps coming over and over. All you have to do is watch Fox News or any of the other media outlets that for whatever reason -- fear, ideology, ratings -- provide a public platform for such bigotry without seeming to care much about the consequences.

At least -- at least -- there was Elizabeth Edwards, who called in to MSNBC yesterday to challenge Coulter's "personal attacks" and "language of hate". And what did Coulter do? The predictable: deny, then attack. Again.

When your language is the language of hate -- that is, when you are a bigot through and through -- what else are we to expect?

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Health care as a public good

Guest post by Greg Prince

Interesting stuff from Sully:

I guess some readers are a little shocked by this statement:

I see no problem with the wealthy having access to better care than the less wealthy.

It seems to me that this is equivalent to saying: I see no problem with living in a free society. Even if Michael Moore achieved his dream of corralling us all into a British-style healthcare system, private medicine would still endure in America. In fact, you'd have to make it illegal to prevent the wealthy having access to better care, newer drugs, faster service, better doctors. I know some leftists would gladly prevent the successful from getting better healthcare, but it won't happen in a free country.

At a fundamental level he's correct. Health care isn't a right, it's a collection of goods and services for which eventually a bill comes due.

But that's not the whole story.

The right wing is working itself into a frothy lather in anticipation of Sicko, the new Michael Moore movie. Yes, yes, Moore is an asshole propagandist and presents an attractive target to his critics, but it will be unfortunate if they focus on Moore and not on the issue of health care in America.

Because health care, though not a "right" in meaningful terms, is absolutely a public good. And, as it's a public good, we can't afford to continue down the road we're on.

Let's be blunt and honest about things here. When it comes to the health care dollar, the United States spends more and gets less for it than anywhere else in the developed world. A shocking number of people lack easy accessibility to even basic medical and preventative services. Costs are skyrocketing and it's coming home to roost, affecting not just patients and hospitals but even our competitiveness in the business world as the marketplace goes global.

Lots of things are public goods -- roads, the airwaves, telecommunication networks, etc. We know from practical experience that doesn't mean the private sector can't be part of the solution. But it does mean there needs to be an appropriate investment in government oversight and regulation to make sure the public interest is being met. It does mean we can do better in spreading the cost of care out so nobody has to worry about financial ruin from an unforeseen emergency. And in some cases it might even mean the government is in competition with the private sector -- if the really believe competition is good for all, they should say, "Bring it on!"

It means we accept the premise that "being human" implies a certain level of shared responsibility within our society such that people are cared for and we are honest and up front about what it takes to do that. I grow tired of critics who use personal anecdotes like "My dad suffered from XXXX and spent however long in the hospital and was taken care of even though he is poor and nobody that wants treatment in America goes without..." when we all know damn well that the cost of his dad's treatment was made up through accounting tricks and overcharges to other patients. And whatever "dad" says, we all know people who have suffered because of inadequate care.

There is no free ride, let's be honest, but let's create an infrastructure that's above board and prevents people from falling through the cracks. Sully's right, the rich by definition will find a way to do what needs to be done, but this isn't an issue because of a fraction of a percent of the population. It's the rest of us -- and our nation's economy -- who are driving the discussion.

We get the usual whining about "socialized medicine," but there are myriad systems out there, and there isn't a single meaningful definition. Having lived in Europe, I know full well there's no pot of gold at the end of the health care rainbow. But at some point quantifiable results have to enter into the picture, and, whatever system they have adopted, a common feature is they spend less per capita and get more in terms of lower infant mortality rates, lower rates of lifestyle diseases, longer life span, etc.

We don't have to endorse every single policy in every single country to recognize they're doing some things right, and we'd be foolish to not learn from them where appropriate.

Of course, the Darwinian capitalists, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, and many others have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. But the principle of a safety net is ingrained well in the civic consciousness. People "get" it. They understand why it's appropriate and even necessary to have the kind of society we want to live in. What we haven't done well is figure out how health care ties into that.

Recognizing the nature of the discussion is that of health care as a public good is an essential first step. But just as important, we have to do a better job holding our elected representatives’ feet to the fire. What are their plans? How do they propose to move forward?

A lingering lesson of the Hillarycare debacle is that it isn't safe for candidates to address health care head on. That needs to change. We should demand better.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kidnapping in the CAR

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's a horrific story from a horrific part of the world:

Armed gangs are seizing children for ransom payments in the lawless north of the Central African Republic, human rights body Amnesty International says.

Some parents have paid up to $4,000 for their children to be freed -- other minors have been killed, Amnesty says.

The region is a "free-for-all" for rebels, soldiers and armed bandits, a researcher who has just returned says.

CAR has accused neighbouring Sudan of backing the rebels, with attacks coming from Darfur. Sudan denies the charges.

Says one Amnesty researcher: "News is clearly spreading to criminal elements throughout the region that they can have free rein in northern CAR, as there is an almost total absence of any authority." Meanwhile, CAR civilians are "fleeing 'from the frying pan into the fire" by heading to Chad and Sudan" -- "More than 280,000 people have fled their homes in the past year." Both sides, government forces and rebels alike, seem to be killing civilians, though of course this is being strenuously denied.

Kidnapping and genocide. So much more of the same for a continent rife with problems that are so enormous as to seem insoluble. Which, however, is no excuse for doing nothing.

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Children are our future

By Creature

Torture is like, so, not cool:

President Bush was presented with a letter Monday signed by 50 high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program urging a halt to "violations of the human rights" of terror suspects held by the United States. [...]

"The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights," deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

After the ceremonies the high school seniors enjoyed an afternoon by the White House pool as they breathlessly awaited the arrival of Dick Cheney who carried news of their upcoming, all expense paid trip, to the sunny isle resort of Guantánamo Bay.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The General, the Angler, and the Diplomat

By Carol Gee

Q&A -- The question: What does the investigative reporting of Seymour Hersh, The Washington Post investigative series on Vice President Cheney, and the new book Statecraft by Ambassador Dennis Ross have in common?

My answer: When certain secrets come out the country benefits:

Secrets in the past -- It was important to learn, for example, what the consequences were to someone in the military chain of command who exposed the Abu Garaib prison scandal. The past of Abu Garaib still haunts us. The secret story has been a Seymour Hersh trademark and his invaluable gift to the nation. Please take the time to read this chilling Abu Garaib expose. His latest is in The New Yorker's "The General's Report" by Seymour M. Hersh (June 25, 2007). To quote just a bit of it:

If there was a redeeming aspect to the affair, it was in the thoroughness and the passion of the Army’s initial investigation. The inquiry had begun in January, and was led by General Taguba, who was stationed in Kuwait at the time. Taguba filed his report in March. In it he found:

[quote] "Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees... systemic and illegal abuse."

Taguba was met at the door of the conference room by an old friend, Lieutenant General Bantz J. Craddock, who was Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant. Craddock’s daughter had been a babysitter for Taguba’s two children when the officers served together years earlier at Fort Stewart, Georgia. But that afternoon, Taguba recalled, “Craddock just said, very coldly, ‘Wait here.’ ” In a series of interviews early this year, the first he has given, Taguba told me that he understood when he began the inquiry that it could damage his career; early on, a senior general in Iraq had pointed out to him that the abused detainees were “only Iraqis.” Even so, he was not prepared for the greeting he received when he was finally ushered in.

“Here... comes... that famous General Taguba—of the Taguba report!” Rumsfeld declared, in a mocking voice. The meeting was attended by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (J.C.S.); and General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, along with Craddock and other officials. Taguba, describing the moment nearly three years later, said, sadly, “I thought they wanted to know. I assumed they wanted to know. I was ignorant of the setting.”

Secrecy in the present -- It has important since this administration came to power to finally learn how Vice President Cheney has been operating - as the Secretive Veep. The Washington Post's new series this week is dynamite stuff, so much so that quite a bit of it has been quoted in the mainstream media. It was thus a familiar story to me. The series is called "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency" (6/24/07). To summarize the Post's excellent work:

Dick Cheney is the most influential and powerful man ever to hold the office of vice president. This series examines Cheney's largely hidden and little-understood role in crafting policies for the War on Terror, the economy and the environment...

Over the past six years, Cheney has shaped his times as no vice president has before. This article begins a four-part series that explores his methods and impact, drawing on interviews with more than 200 men and women who worked for, with or in opposition to Cheney's office. Many of those interviewed recounted events that have not been made public until now, sharing notes,e-mails, personal calendars and other records of their interaction with Cheney and his senior staff. The vice president declined to be interviewed.

Two articles, today and tomorrow, recount Cheney's campaign to magnify presidential war-making authority, arguably his most important legacy. Articles to follow will describe a span of influence that extends far beyond his well-known interests in energy and national defense.

Secrecy in the future? I hope that it will be only the amount necessary to actually preserve national security. In the future it will be important to rebuild the competence and stature of the executive branch of government. It is no secret that the 2000 and 2004 elections have been disastrous for U.S. foreign policy. After election next year, the new president will need the best help available to build an effective and competent diplomatic corps to clean up the inherited foreign policy mess left by this administration. Dennis Ross makes no secret of his goal for his new book, Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World. To quote Booksite:

How did it come to pass that, not so long after 9/11 brought the free world to our side, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles? In this thought-provoking book, the renowned peace negotiator Dennis Ross argues that the Bush administration’ s problems stem from its inability to use the tools of statecraft— diplomatic, economic, and military— to advance our interests.

Ross wants the next chief executive to have the benefit of his years and years of experience and insight into the art of effective diplomacy. Ross, in my opinion is one of the best. I highly recommend reading his book, or at least listen to him on C-SPAN or watch a short CBS Video.

Remembering my bias in favor of Dennis Ross' wisdom, but in a spirit of fairness, I offer this link to a lengthy critique of Ross' work by Richard Landes.

Also in the future -- On 6/20/07, Carl Hulse at The New York Times wrote a piece on a Congressional request for a GAO investigation of Bush's signing statements. Still-fierce elder statesmen Senator Robert Byrd and Representative John Conyers are the ones pushing for this investigation.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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The cover Republicans need?

By Edward Copeland

Dubya has lost one of the most respected Republican voices in Congress on foreign policy matters. Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar took to the Senate floor last night to say that there must be a new course in Iraq, surprising many who figured Republicans would wait until September to start breaking with the White House on the war.

In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.

Lugar went on to say both parties need to give in order to get Iraq to any sort of viable conclusion, emphasizing the need for downsizing the military presence and pursuing diplomatic and economic solutions.

Even if the results of military operations improve in the coming months, there is little reason to assume that this will diminish Sunni ambitions to reclaim political preeminence or Shia plans to dominate Iraq after decades of Saddam's harsh rule. Few Iraqi leaders are willing to make sacrifices or expose themselves to risks on behalf of the type of unified Iraq that the Bush Administration had envisioned. In contrast, there are many Iraqi leaders who are deeply invested in a sectarian or tribal agenda. More often than not, these agendas involve not just the protection of fellow Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, but the expansion of territorial dominance and economic privileges. Even if U.S. negotiators found a way to forge a political settlement among selected representatives of the major sectarian factions, these leaders have not shown the ability to control their members at the local level. After an intense year-and-a-half of bloodletting, many sub-factions are thoroughly invested in the violence. We have the worst of both worlds in Iraq -- factional leaders who don't believe in our pluralist vision for their country and smaller sub-factions who are pursuing violence on their own regardless of any accommodations by more moderate fellow sectarians. As David Brooks recently observed in the New York Times, the fragmentation in Iraq has become so prevalent that Iraq may not even be able to carry out a traditional civil war among cohesive factions.

Lugar's lengthy speech even brought up the sad facts of the U.S. dependency on foreign oil and lack of initiative on mileage standards and other energy issues.

Incredibly, cars in America today get less mileage per gallon than they did twenty years ago. Meanwhile, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and fully electric cars are at or nearly at commercialization, yet there is not enough incentive for consumers to buy them or producers to make them on the mass scale necessary. For fiscal year 2008, the Administration requested just $176 million for new vehicle technology research -- an amount that was less than what was requested five years ago. Given that other developed nations have made great strides in improving fuel economy, this is fertile ground for rapid improvement. In fact, achievements on this front largely would be a matter of generating and sustaining political will that has, thus far, been disappointing.

Now comes the big question: Will Lugar's words open the floodgates and give his fellow lawmakers the courage to challenge the White House or, even more unlikely, wake the administration up? Since Darth Cheney considers himself his own branch of government now as president of the Senate, will he seek to punish Lugar for his reason?

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A man without a realistic plan: Bush, Iraq, and Strategic Reset

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the Center for American Progress comes this report:

With the Iraq war well into its fifth year, the Bush administration still lacks a realistic plan for the Middle East and Iraq. The United States must reclaim control of its core national security interests by taking active steps to stabilize the entire Middle East and abandon the delusions at the heart of President Bush’s policies. Otherwise, U.S. security will continue to suffer by weakening the U.S. military and draining resources away from destroying terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda.

No, really? You don't say?

Actually, it's a solid report, full of penetrating analyses and sound recommendations, and I recommend that you all read it. And for some serious commentary, I recommend Matthew Yglesias, Taylor Marsh, and Steve Benen. As Steve says: "It’s not only excellent, it should reshape the Democratic approach to Iraq."

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXI

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the BBC:

-- "A number of senior Sunni tribal leaders are among 12 people killed in a suicide bombing at a hotel in central Baghdad."

-- "Elsewhere in Iraq, at least 27 people died in a blast in Baiji, in the north, and eight people were killed in a blast in the southern city of Hilla."

So how's it going, General Petraeus, sir?

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A Marx-free China?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Marxism is still taught in the schools, but who cares?

Mao is out, Mammon is in.

Welcome to the new China.

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Circumcision barbarism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Female circumcision -- i.e., genital mutilation -- is still extremely common in countries like Egypt. See this disturbing piece in the Toronto Star: "In 2005, 96 per cent of Egyptian women between the ages of 15 and 49 who had ever been married reported that they had been circumcised when young."

Yes, it's still a world gone crazy.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Hard balls

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Chris Matthews may be scared shitless of feminists and their sisterhood lunches, but he sure likes wingnut sexpot Ann Coulter: "She sells books," he remarked, defending her upcoming appearance on Hardball. I guess bigotry is less ball-shrivelling than empowerment.

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Pissing on the First

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Capt. Fogg commented earlier on the Supreme Court's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" ruling. For more on that ruling, see the The Washington Post, which calls it "[the Court's] most significant ruling on student speech in almost two decades". John Cole is right to refer to the nanny state: "I guess we will just let the strict constructionists explain their position on this one. Apparently the founders were in favor of every kind of speech except those that got in the way of government aims."

But pissing on the First Amendment was not all the Roberts Court got up to yesterday. Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog looks at the Court's other terrible rulings, which included weakening endangered species protections and campaign finance restrictions, and protecting Bush's faith-based initiatives program (more pissing on the First). See also The Carpetbagger Report, where Steve Benen sums up the rulings and offers this overview of what happened:

Ultimately, the high court sided with conservative interests across the board. In each instance, the ruling was 5 to 4, and the minority was made up of the same four left-leaning justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, and Stevens). Alito wrote two of the opinions, and Roberts wrote the other two.

Had Kerry won Ohio in 2004, the right probably would have lost in each of these cases. I guess it’s one of those elections-have-consequences moments, isn't it?

Yes, sadly, it is. But it isn't just Kerry in '04, it's Gore in '00 -- he won, didn't he? And so we're stuck not just with an ongoing war in Iraq and the obliteration of American credibility and leadership around the world but a right-wing Supreme Court that will continue to soil the Constitution long after Bush has left office in disgrace.

Makes you feel all warm 'n' fuzzy, eh?

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Bong Hits 4 Jesus

By Capt. Fogg

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


If you're one of those who doesn't know the names of anyone on the Supreme Court, much less the name of the chief justice, perhaps it's time you learned. Perhaps you might wish to reflect on another loss for America to the forces of the Right. You voted for these people, you'd better learn to like what you got because we're stuck with them for a long, long time.

In the words of a TV judge from Texas, "what part of abridge didn't you understand?" Chief Justice Roberts probably knows what it means to "abridge." It means to cut short or to curtail, which is exactly what has just been done by the Supreme Court ruling today concerning the constitutional right of Joseph Frederick to fly a banner expressing a somewhat enigmatic statement he claims he got from a bumper sticker: Bong Hits 4 Jesus. The courts sided with a disciplinarian high school principal who suspended him for ten days for doing it and another five for quoting Thomas Jefferson as saying "speech limited is speech lost."

Jefferson was right, the constitution is explicit and the judges appointed by our activist President have taken another step toward creating the sort of government Jefferson thought it would take the blood of patriots to overturn. I hope he isn't right again, but if the supreme court will allow someone to be punished for expressing an opinion in the public streets, they have today joined the ranks of the enemies of freedom and further established the illegitimacy of our current government.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)


Update: For more, see The Garlic's Bong Hits 4 Roberts. -- MJWS

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