36th my ass

February 15th, 2009 by Steve

It seems that a recent survey of 65 historians ranks George W. Bush as the 36th best president out of a total of 42. A fairly pitiful performance I’ll give you, but still . . . we’re supposed to believe that six presidents were worse than him?

I’m not buying it.

The daily doom: worse than we thought edition

February 15th, 2009 by Steve

To repeat myself, yet again: Does a day ever go by anymore without another terrifying revelation about global warming?

(Washington Post) Scientists: Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates

CHICAGO, Feb. 14 — The pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, scientists said Saturday.

“We are basically looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations,” Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Field, a member of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said emissions from burning fossil fuels since 2000 have largely outpaced the estimates used in the U.N. panel’s 2007 reports. The higher emissions are largely the result of the increased burning of coal in developing countries, he said.

Unexpectedly large amounts of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere as the result of “feedback loops” that are speeding up natural processes. Prominent among these, evidence indicates, is a cycle in which higher temperatures are beginning to melt the arctic permafrost, which could release hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, said several scientists on a panel at the meeting.

John McCain: liar or fool?

February 13th, 2009 by Steve

I find myself wondering what John McCain would be doing right now if, God forbid, he’d won in November. Would he really be leading the country down the drain with his current economically illiterate tax cut only approach to — his word not mine — stimulus?

To put it another way: is McCain’s current grandstanding against stimulus spending the product of despicable dishonesty at a time of national crisis or just profound ignorance?

Who knew?

February 13th, 2009 by Steve

It seems that getting caught deliberately sending peanut products contaminated with deadly salmonella to market can be bad for business. Who knew?

My God, insider pundits are idiots

February 13th, 2009 by Steve

Driving in to work today, with my radio dutifully tuned to NPR, I suddenly found myself swearing up a storm: and not a single driver had cut me off, given me the finger or splashed muddy water onto my windshield. No, it was the voice on the radio that set me off.

They were talking about Judd Gregg — you know, the guy who just made an absolute fool of himself — withdrawing his name for commerce secretary. And insider conventional wisdom was flowing through my radio thicker (and in an even more disgusting fashion) than filth streaming from an open sewer. It seems, according to the official media talking points, that this has been — “yet another” — tremendous blow to Barack Obama. His attempts at bipartisanship are failing miserably — and because of this the Republicans are resurgent, having, in all their tiny minority glory, found their voice again.

All of which raises an interesting question: is finding one’s voice a good thing when you sound worse than, say, Tiny Tim?

I mean, give me a break. The vast majority of the American electorate, at least at this moment, can’t stand Republicans — and nonsense like this, whatever the major media thinks to the contrary, just makes it that much worse. Although, like most liberals, I’m less than enamored with Obama’s “post partisan” crusade, I do have enough sense to know that “winning” or “losing” on this subject has to do with public perception, not with how successful Obama is in actually winning over the collection of nuts who we euphemistically refer to as congressional Republicans.

And what again is the public’s perception of today’s GOP? Well, to be honest, I really can’t use that kind of language on a family oriented blog like this.

It’s getting to the point where I can barely stand tuning into conventional news sources, even comparatively worthy ones like NPR. It just does too much damage to my soul to listen to these overpaid and over-pampered talking heads mindlessly repeated vacant talking points — conventional “wisdom” that even the average goldfish would realize is nothing more than pure BS (I mean, really, how much Cokie Roberts is one mortal supposed to take?).

It puts me in mind of a song from long ago (and of a mind to change the words a little). Here’s the original version:

Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

Except for present purposes, let’s modify the lyrics like this:

Little Pundits

Little pundits on the boob tube
Little pundits made of ticky-tacky,
Little pundits, little pundits,
Little pundits, all the same.

They all blather out the same blow
Not a new thought in the bunch though
Baseless rumors at their hands grow
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all sound just the same.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I hope the revolution isn’t televised. I don’t think I could stand the color commentary.

Bipartisanship at last: thanks to Rush

February 12th, 2009 by Steve

True, bipartisanship has proven to be a bit of a bust when it comes to the stimulus package. On at least one other subject, however, Democrats and Republicans seem not only to be singing the exact same song, but singing it in perfect harmony. Both are thrilled to death to see Rush Limbaugh becoming the public face of the GOP.

Now, before we liberal Democrat types snicker too much, we need to remember that Rush really did play a large role in leading the GOP out of the wilderness (if never into the light) and onto the road to congressional dominance during the early Clinton years. Who knows? Maybe he can do it again.

As for myself, though, I ain’t betting the farm (or the small vegetable garden, which, metaphorically speaking, is all I have left after Bush destroyed the economy) on that happening.

Rush is just so 1993.

Sarah Palin on Mitch McConnell

February 11th, 2009 by Steve

If you’re searching for an explanation for why Republican governors like Charlie Crist wholeheartedly support Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, whereas Republican Senators, like Mitch McConnell, feverishly oppose it, perhaps the best answer can be found in a slight modification of Sarah Palin’s words:

“I guess a governor of a state is sort of like a Minority Leader of the Senate except that you have actual responsibilities.”

Michael’s bong: and relearning forgiveness

February 11th, 2009 by Steve

Unless you’ve been on Mars, tripping out on a giant bong hit or similarly preoccupied, you’ve no doubt heard (more than you want to) about Michael Phelps’ fall from grace. It turns out that the famous Olympian (how many gold medals did he win again — 34, 78, 197 . . . ?) likes relaxing with a puff of marijuana from a giant bong. And he’s also not that careful about who takes his picture when he’s doing so.

Unfortunately, one of his “friends,” — emphasis on the “” — decided it would be a cool deal to score some quick cash by selling a photo of the event to a tabloid. Another of his “friends” decided he could score some really big cash by selling the bong in question on eBay — bad idea.

As a result, Phelps lost his Kellogg’s endorsement contract: no more snap, crackle and pop for Michael! He’s also been suspended from swimming competition for three months, a penalty a very publicly repentant Phelps calls fair.

And how does the public respond? Well, based upon my very unscientific sampling of an incredibly biased pool of respondents, it seems to me that America right now is filled to the brim with people who want to post a YouTube video screaming: “LEAVE MICHAEL ALONE!!” 

America has forgiven Michael Phelps his youthful indiscretion with gusto: and it didn’t think twice before doing so. I personally suspect that grandstanding South Carolina sheriff — the one who says Phelps may face pot possession charges — is seriously misreading the politics of this thing. People, even the generally conservative folks in South Carolina, simply don’t want to go there.

And I have to admit that I absolutely love seeing this: not the part of Phelps getting in trouble, or of the drug use, of course. No, what I love is watching another of the not infrequent examples of where ordinary people prove both more forgiving and generally all around wiser than so many of our society’s designated spokespersons.

It makes me think our culture may be growing — learning how to forgive again.

Forgiveness, the practice of giving people who fu*k up in some way a break, has been out of style for a long time now. Draconian drug laws, an increasing tendency to treat kids as adults in criminal procedure, prisons bursting at the seams with nonviolent offenders, zero tolerance policies in school and so much more all tell the same story. No breaks, no way, no how. 

For far too long, we seemed to have forgotten in this country that a capacity to forgive — the willingness to sometimes bet on the come, to give someone a break he or she doesn’t deserve — just because that person, like you, is a human being, is one of the most important attributes of true humanity.

We can only hope that America’s response to Michael Phelps is a harbinger of more forgiveness to come.

Paul Krugman: blogger extraordinaire

February 10th, 2009 by Steve

Lots of hotshots start blogs. They tend to follow a predictable pattern: at first, the celebrity bloggers blog here and they blog there: very soon, however, most of them blog nowhere. Looking specifically at The New York Times, for example, Frank Rich has a blog: he never posts — never. 

But then there’s Paul Krugman — blogging machine. Today, February 10, for instance, the Pulitzer Prize winner has put up (so far) 10 — count ‘em 10 — substantive posts. I’ve been following his blog fairly closely (though I’ll admit some of the technical economic stuff makes my head spin). And contrary to all usual expectations for a celebrity blog, Krugman’s production keeps rising.

The man clearly loves to blog.

Apparently no one has told him what a silly, unwashed bunch bloggers are.

Toward justice for torture

February 10th, 2009 by Steve

Seeing the Obama Administration adopt the Bush Administration’s position on the State Secrets privilege, thereby denying torture victims due process, is tremendously disheartening. But perhaps some semblance of justice is still possible. 

First a little background. The State Secrets privilege is one of a number of evidentiary privileges (rules that protect confidential information from disclosure in legal proceedings) recognized by the law. Such privileges are generally supposed to be narrowly applied, since they are in derogation of the common law rule that in judicial proceedings the search for the truth is supreme.

In the case of the State Secrets privilege, however, the Bush Administration succeeded in getting courts to apply the rule in an extraordinarily broad fashion. They actually convinced courts to completely dismiss lawsuits, thereby denying the plaintiffs their day in court, based upon the perceived risk the litigation in question could expose state secrets to public light.

And now, in a staggeringly disappointing (if more understandable than some claim) development,  the Obama Administration has officially signed onto this Bush Administration position on the privilege hook, line and sinker, at least in one case. Here are the ugly details:

(The New York Times) Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets

SAN FRANCISCO — In a closely watched case involving rendition and torture, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.

In the case, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights for the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries, where they say they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed because even discussing it in court could threaten national security and relations with other nations.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.

“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.

Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”

Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.

Not surprisingly, this has produced a lot of hand wringing among civil liberties groups and more generally in the blogosphere. And while I join in their disappointment, I have to confess to finding myself feeling a little less dogmatic about it than do many. This just isn’t as easy a call as it sounds. Speaking as a civil trial lawyer, I know personally that civil discovery can be an unwieldy and unpredictable process.

It would be disingenuous to claim that litigation of this nature would pose no risk at all of unintended disclosure of state secrets — say during a deposition. This risk, while subject to being significantly mitigated, is real. Does that justify throwing lawsuits out of court completely? In my opinion, no. But it isn’t as clean an issue as some are suggesting. It just isn’t.

But none of that takes away from the profound injustice denying injured parties a hearing represents.

Most of the people blasting the decision are doing so on the grounds of governmental transparency — accusing Obama of continuing Bush’s practice of trying to hide the ball on torture. While these concerns are legitimate, I have a somewhat different bone to pick. Courts and lawsuits, after all, aren’t the only way of bringing information of public wrongdoing into the public light (although they can be important ways): I think the jury’s still out on how far Obama will go to protect Bush’s dirty laundry.

Assuming — and, yes, the current signs aren’t as encouraging as I wish they were — that Obama ultimately agrees to some mechanism — be it criminal prosecutions or a truth commission of some sort — to investigate torture under the previous administration, the interests of public disclosure will be satisfied. And this will be true regardless of whether lawsuits go forward.

But even if that happens, the rights of those tortured will not have been vindicated. And that’s the great injustice I see here, the denial of fair play to individuals who have been subjected to torture, good government concerns be damned.

And what that means, to my mind, is that if our government insists that the sanctity of protecting State Secrets requires prohibiting traditional lawsuits by people subjected to torture (to be clear, a conclusion I disagree with), then the government is morally compelled to come up with an alternative mechanism to provide individual justice. And justice in this context must mean both compensation and public vindication — a monetary award and a public acknowledgement the person in question was tortured.

Using an administrative law “court” would be one possibility. This would allow the government to assure greater secrecy (and, yes, a little less due process) by restricting access to sensitive information. Perhaps some documentation and testimony would be reviewed solely by the “judge,” with counsel denied access: and, yes, this would be procedurally unfair when viewed in the light of our adversarial system of justice, but at least the information would be reviewed by an independent tribunal.

Assuming meticulous care were used in selecting truly independent and honorable “judges,” some fair degree of justice would likely flow from such a process.

At the same time, any damages awarded by such a congressionally authorized administrative tribunal could, by specific legislative decree, be made payable in installments, subject to a forfeiture clause. This would make certain that a large verdict wouldn’t end up in the hands of a terrorist organization (like it or not, a lot of the people tortured weren’t Boy Scouts).

Personally I favor full justice for torture victims, including a jury trial with all the fixings. But if that isn’t going to happen, some alternative must be found.

To simply slam the courthouse doors shut doesn’t begin to cut it.