Monday, July 30, 2007

Islam and the burqini issue

I was tempted to post something about this when I first read about it, but I didn't. Now, however, I just watched a diavlog about it and it makes me want to get back to the issue.
The issue is the burqini. Never heard of it? It's a bathing suit that covers a woman's entire body, except for the face, hands, and feet, designed for Muslim women to wear to the beach.
So in this diavlog Jackie Shire is talking about the ambivalence she feels in reading about these things, and the conflict she feels between the idea that feminism means wearing and doing what you want, and her concern that women should not be made to feel that their bodies are something to be ashamed of, or that they need to cover up.
I say she shouldn't feel any ambivalence. The issue here isn't whether women are going to be allowed to wear what they want. The burqini, like the burqa, is about one thing: oppression of women. It is entirely of a piece with Islamic laws that say women can't drive cars, or be outside of their father's home without a male relative. As Americans we should all be feminists: we all agree, or should agree, in the equality of the sexes, and the issue here is not the outward expression of religion in public, but in whether we will support Muslim men's structure designed and operated to oppress women.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We aren't likely to see too many women wearing these things, but we will see more and more women wearing burqas, hijabs, and other concealing, restricting, cultish clothing.
And we should think very hard about what it means.

The rap on Obama

I'm drawn to Barack Obama. Ever since I read about him in the New Yorker I had the feeling that he is a star, and I think that his supporters have the same kind of excitement about him that people of my parents' generation had about Kennedy in 1960.
I haven't decided on him, although I would say that I'm leaning toward either Obama or Edwards.

And yet, he has shortcomings, not just for serving as President, but also as a candidate. This article in Slate explores the problem. The subtitle says it all:
What's he ever done?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

They said it, I didn't

That lying sack of shit

We've had terrible AG's before: John Mitchell, Watergate felon; Ed Meese, born crony and sleazeball; Holy Roller John Ashcroft. Still, nobody compares to Fredo.

Take a look at Josh's latest video selection.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Redbaiting by Hillary?

That's the impression that I got watching this answer, especially as she talks about Castro and Chavez. See for yourself.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Profile in Courage

I've written before about how the Supreme Court reversed course and granted certiorari in a case challenging the detention practices at Guantanamo.

Today the Times has a profile of Stephen Abraham, the lawyer and reserve army officer whose statement was crucial to that decision. As "a political conservative who says he cried when Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency," it's quite likely that Abraham wouldn't fit in among readers here. Still, it's also clear that he is someone that the Bushies just can't understand: someone with principles that outweigh his political affiliation with the administration.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's journalism, people.

There are a couple of stories illustrating the fact that people don't really understand the whole point of journalism.
First, there's news from Spain that should give everyone pause who has been attacking the censorious impulses of Islam (or Islamofascism, if you wish). The Spanish government has just passed a law that provides payment for people who have kids. It's understandable: like most countries in Europe, Spain is trying to confront a falling birth rate, and they figure handing out pesos for procreation (I know it's really euros, but that would ruin the alliteration) is one way to address it. A Spanish news magazine ran a cartoon on its cover. In the cartoon, a smiling Prince Felipe tells his wife Princess Letizia, who is kneeling on the bed in front of him: "Do you realize that if you get pregnant it will be the closest that I come to working in my life!" Now, the government has ordered the seizure of all the magazines that were printed because it insults the royal family. Judge Juan del Olmo of the National Audience wrote in a court order that the cartoon on the cover of El Jueves showed the royal couple in a "degrading" posture that may have broken laws that protect the royal family and the dignity of the crown. The laws carry a maximum prison sentence of two years.
Predictably, copies are showing up on eBay.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, home of the free press, Harry Potter fans are whining pitiably because the New York times had the temerity to review HP7 in its pages before the official release date of July 21. The outcry, which has been encouraged, if not created, by a Harry Potter fan site, attacks the Times for violating the author's and publisher's wishes that the book not be read or reviewed before they got the maximum publicity value out of their midnight marketing blitz.
To its credit, the Times stands up for its right to publish journalism. Comments on the paper's comments section seem to be running at least ten-to-one against the paper, with commenters making such cogent, well-reasoned arguments as, “Why do you think it is good journalism to make my 11 year old daughter cry?”

What do these stories have to do with each other? True, I haven't seen anyone burning the Times in effigy, or calling for the assassination of Michiko Kakutani, so I guess that's a good thing. Still, people on both sides of the Atlantic should pay attention to the need for a free press, especially in times of national crisis. The release of Deathly Hallows isn't a national crisis, but this controversy surely demonstrates that people have no conception of the idea that the point of journalism goes beyond telling people what they want to hear, and helping big corporations goose their book and movie sales.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A new Bush power grab

The Washington Post has a new story about a massive new power grab by the Bush administration.

Specifically, they have now officially determined that they are above the law:

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

You will remember that the House Judiciary Committee is moving toward charging Bush officials with contempt of Congress for refusing to testify at committee hearings, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is moving in the same directiong, albeit with regard to other officials.

The question occurred to me, though, as it may have occurred to you, to wonder how Congress pursues contempt charges, since prosecutions are generally brought by the executive branch.

It turns out there is a federal law that applies to this situation.

Whenever a witness summoned as mentioned in section 192 of this title fails to appear to testify or fails to produce any books, papers, records, or documents, as required, or whenever any witness so summoned refuses to answer any question pertinent to the subject under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee or subcommittee of either House of Congress, and the fact of such failure or failures is reported to either House while Congress is in session or when Congress is not in session, a statement of fact constituting such failure is reported to and filed with the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, it shall be the duty of the said President of the Senate or Speaker of the House, as the case may be, to certify, and he shall so certify, the statement of facts aforesaid under the seal of the Senate or House, as the case may be, to the appropriate United States attorney, whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.

2 U.S.C.A. § 194

It's very clear: the duty to bring contempt of Congress charges is mandatory upon the Department of Justice--they have no discretion to fail or refuse to do so.

This isn't how the Bushies see it, though. "A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

In other words, the President is above the law.

This really seems like the most egregious corruption of government power since the Saturday Night Massacre.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

How to Talk

Cross-posted at Green Mountain Daily:

You need to read this. Washington Monthly asked Theodore Sorenson to write the speech he wants the Democratic nominee to give next year at the Democratic National Convention. As you probably know, Sorenson was a pseechwriter for JFK and worked closely with him through his presidential campaign and term of office. Since one of the big areas in which we have been faulted has been failures of communication, Washington Monthly asked Sorenson to "write the speech of his dreams".

I think this is great. Seeing the speech as written reminds us that when they hear what liberals really stand for, Americans are liberals, and the idea of America is a liberal value. This speech attacks the incompetency and corruption of the Bush Administration without acrimony, and lays out the values and goals of a new Democratic Administration in a way that is understandable and compelling.

The American people are tired of politics as usual, and I intend to offer them, in this campaign, something unusual in recent American politics: the truth. Neither bureaucracies nor nations function well when their actions are hidden from public view and accountability. From now on, whatever mistakes I make, whatever dangers we face, the people shall know the truth—and the truth shall make them free. After eight years of secrecy and mendacity, here are some truths the people deserve to hear:

We remain essentially a nation under siege. The threat of another terrorist attack upon our homeland has not been reduced by all the new layers of porous bureaucracy that proved their ineptitude in New Orleans; nor by all the needless, mindless curbs on our personal liberties and privacy; nor by expensive new weaponry that is utterly useless in stopping a fanatic willing to blow himself up for his cause. Indeed, our vulnerability to another attack has only been worsened in the years since the attacks of September 11th—worsened by our government convincing more than 1 billion Muslims that we are prejudiced against their faith, dismissive of international law, and indifferent to the deaths of their innocent children; worsened by our failure to understand their culture or to provide a safe haven for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees displaced by a war we started; worsened by our failure to continue our indispensable role in the Middle East peace process.

We have adopted some of the most indefensible tactics of our enemies, including torture and indefinite detention.

We have degraded our military.

We have treated our most serious adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea, in the most juvenile manner—by giving them the silent treatment. In so doing, we have weakened, not strengthened, our bargaining position and our leadership.

At home, as health care costs have grown and coverage disappeared, we have done nothing but coddle the insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care industries that feed the problem.

As global warming worsens, we have done nothing but deny the obvious and give regulatory favors to polluters.

As growing economic inequality tarnishes our democracy, we have done nothing but carve out more tax breaks for the rich.

During these last several years, our nation has been bitterly divided and deceived by illicit actions in high places, by violations of federal, constitutional, and international law. I do not favor further widening the nation’s wounds, now or next year, through continuous investigations, indictments, and impeachments. I am confident that history will hold these malefactors accountable for their deeds, and the country will move on.

Instead, I shall seek a renewal of unity among all Americans, an unprecedented unity we will need for years to come in order to face unprecedented danger.

We will be safer from terrorist attack only when we have earned the respect of all other nations instead of their fear, respect for our values and not merely our weapons.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Do you ever picture yourself in this situation?

For some reason you've been invited to the White House, and you finally have a chance to tell the president what you think about him and his policies. The pressure is on: you're there representing yourself and your family, it's a big honor to be there, and there is tremendous pressure to be good, and respectful, and be polite when you're spoken to.

Oh yeah, and you're seventeen.

Pretty hard to stand up on your own two feet and tell the big guy off, isn't it?

That's why I find these young scholars so inspiring.

The 141 Presidential Scholars were being honored at the White House. One of them, Mari Oye, from Wellesley, Mass., describes what happened: "The president walked in and gave us a short speech saying that as we went on into our careers, it was important to treat others as we would like to be treated. And he told us that we would have to make choices we would be able to live with for the rest of our lives. And so, I said to the president, 'Several of us made a choice, and we would like you to have this,' and handed him the letter." It was a letter Mari had handwritten. It read:

"As members of the Presidential Scholars class of 2007, we have been told that we represent the best and brightest of our nation. Therefore, we believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions. We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants."

What kind of a nut is Mitt Romney?

The Mitt Romney issue is becoming bigger as he looks like a more and more promising candidate. I don't mean whether we want to elect a president who can finance his whole campaign by himself, or even what the hell is going on with that hair. No, the obvious question, that hardly anyone is talking about, is how anyone with half a brain can be a Mormon.

Matt Yglesias has a nice discussion of this point on Blogging Heads this week. The point is pretty straightforward, and I've written about it before: in a way that is different from other religions (except Scientology, which is in the same category as Mormonism), Mormonism is based on a palpable fraud. For instance, the history set forth in the Book of Mormon contains all kinds of demonstrably false stories about the people, technology, and politics of pre-Columbian America, and they were all just made up by an itinerant charlatan, who had tried and struck out with a number of other scams before he hit on one that finally worked. Matt says, "I really do think that I could prove to you that the Book of Mormon is not the inspired word of God, and that the guys who founded the religion were frauds who made it up in historical times, in a recorded manner. . . The whole thing is a remarkably crude and obvious forgery . . ."

So what, you ask? If nothing else, you have to question whether someone who really believes in the tenets of Mormonism has enough critical intelligence to hold important elective office. Our recent history demonstrates that a credulous, incurious, uncritical president is a disaster. Assuming that Bush really believed all the claims he made before he invaded Iraq (and I don't really assume this), the only way that could be true is because he was constitutionally uninclined to question implausible claims, even when much smarter people around him, like Colin Powell, were trying as hard as they could to get him to take another look at the true facts.

So if you believe in the stories in the Book of Mormon I don't see how you are at all different from someone who believes that Elvis Presley is working as a cashier at a Seven-Eleven in DesMoines, and if you'll believe that, what else will you believe?

Go and listen to the diavlog.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tolerance in America

Support our Troops

Read this report from ABC News. Just outrageous.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Ya gotta love this, right?

First off, here's the story about Senator David Vitter, a "pro-family" Republican from Louisiana who has just been scooped up in the "D.C. Madam" case.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) apologized last night after his telephone number appeared in the phone records of the woman dubbed the "D.C. Madam," making him the first member of Congress to become ensnared in the high-profile case. . . .
On his Senate Web site, Vitter says he is committed to "advancing mainstream conservative principles" and notes that he and his wife are lectors at their hometown church.
Lucky for him, he says both God and his wife have forgiven him, although I'm not quite sure how he knows.
While he was running for Senate he angrily denied a story that he had carried on a long-running relationship with a New Orleans madam, but now that story also appears to be true.
NEW ORLEANS -- New allegations tie Sen. David Vitter to a high-priced brothel in his hometown, one day after he publicly apologized for his connection to an alleged prostitution ring in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

The irony of this case is not just that he has made a career out of being a committed family guy, but also that he got his start in Congress by replacing Bob Livingston, Newt Gingrich's successor as Speaker of the House, after Livingston got called on his own sexual pecadilloes.

Vitter was the first senator to endorse Giuliani, who famously met his third wife while cheating on his first wife with his second wife.

But that's not all. Today the Orlando Sentinel has a story that Bob Allen, a Republican State Representative from Florida, has been arrested for soliciting male prostitutes.
TITUSVILLE - State Rep. Bob Allen was arrested Wednesday afternoon at a local park after offering to perform a sex act on an undercover officer in exchange for $20, police said.

Allen, R-Merritt Island, was booked into the Brevard County jail in Sharpes on a charge of solicitation to commit prostitution, a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in the county jail and a $500 fine.

I don't know much about the guy, but I'd happily speculate based on his ability to get elected as a Republican in Florida. I did find a number of bills he has sponsored, including one to stiffen (oops--sorry!) laws against lewd and lascivious conduct; one to increase penalties for indecent exposure; and one to encourage family education regarding the dangers of sexual solicitation and abuse.

We can thank Larry Flynt for at least the Vitter story, and who knows how many more to come?
Flynt hunts for political sex scandal
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON- Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt offered $1 million Sunday to anyone who could provide proof of an illicit sexual encounter with a high-ranking government official.

In a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post, Flynt asked for "documented evidence of illicit sexual or intimate relations with a Congressperson, Senator or other prominent officeholder." He said he would pay up to $1 million for material that could be verified and published in Hustler.

Flynt ran a similar ad in October 1998, during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to the impeachment of President Clinton.

The publisher took credit for the demise of Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who admitted he had had extramarital affairs after word got out that Flynt was investigating him. Livingston announced his resignation in December 1998, days before he had been expected to become speaker of the House.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Lies from Gonzalez

The Post has another story documenting another set of lies from Fredo today. This one relates to internal spying, and demonstrates that lying and secrecy seem to be self-perpetuating.

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse," Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Next step: This looks like another job for Pat Leahy, doesn't it?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The beginning of the retrospective

Although there is still a year and a half left of Bush's reign, commentators have started discussing the historical significance of the Bush administration. Never mind that he's the worst, most corrupt, president in history, we've survived incompetence and corruption before.

No, the key here is the absolute war on our constitutional system of government that Bush has carried out, and this week's events have once again demonstrated how these attacks have worked. We have already seen Bush's use of "signing statements" as a means of undermining or sidestepping the Congress. He has made it clear that nothing that the legislative branch can do can limit his executive power.

Now, his statement this week on the Scooter Libby free pass demonstrates that he has the same attitude toward the judiciary. Here's what he said: “I respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.”

Again: "I have concluded".

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of American government knows that the trial and sentencing of those charged with crimes is a power of the judicial branch, and there are good reasons for that. Reasons like protecting the innocent from over zealous or politically motivated prosecutions, and like sheltering the criminal justice system from favoritism and undue influence.

In other words, it isn't up to the president to determine the justice of a sentence, it is up to the courts. If there were an argument that the sentence was unjust and excessive, Mr. Libby would be free to make that argument as part of his appeal.

In this case, though, by commuting the sentence, specifically based on his own determination of what is a fitting punishment, Bush has announced to the world that his executive power knows no bounds, and that, as in the case of signing statements, he will rule as he will, by fiat, unbounded by the rule of law.

I don't ask whether the United States can survive this corrupt autocrat. I do ask whether our democracy can.