Friday, June 21, 2002

Also on Salon.com, David Horowitz has a paranoid rant about left-dominated college campuses. Personally, I don't think it matters much who the professors are. I'll give you an example. I went to Rutgers College in New Brunswick, New Jersey. East Coast state school, founded in 1766, considered "the other Ivy", and generally regarded as a fairly left-leaning institution. And sure enough, I had a political science professor who was a self-described Communist, and an economics professor who once ran into Steve Forbes on a train and upbraided him for his ludicrous flat-tax proposal. The student body had its share of liberals, as well. We had an annual parade organized by the gay and lesbian groups on campus, and there were frequent student protests on the steps of the dining hall, often critical of U.S. military actions overseas.

On the other side of the coin, however, was a very active, very visible College Republicans club, and no College Democrats club at all. The campus newspaper had four columnists each semester. Most of the columnists wrote about a variety of issues, but every semester there was one columnist who wrote near-exclusively about politics, and he was always a conservative. It wasn't always the same person, but there was always a conservative voice prominently positioned in the student newspaper, who single-handedly provided almost all of the paper's political commentary. In fact, I knew one of the holders of that position. We had some classes together, including that political science class with the Communist.

So, even if Horowitz is correct, and my experience with his journalism leads me to suspect otherwise, my response is: so what?
Ok, now I'm officially psyched up for "Minority Report", which opens today and will most likely steal the top box office position from "Scooby Doo" with a take somewhere in the vicinity of $50 million. Here's a great article about it from Salon.com (free section). The author of the article, Andrew O'Hehir, is much more fair and appreciative of "A.I." than most. He claims, and I emphatically agree, that "A.I." will become more highly regarded as time goes by. O'Hehir also delights in this new darker side to Spielberg, which also excites me. I've enjoyed most of Spielberg's work, but even "Saving Private Ryan", which I enjoyed immensely, has at its heart a very bland and saccharine view of the world.

Be sure to also check out Roger Ebert's review. Both articles mention the disturbing similarities between the central conceit of the film, and the current activities of the Justice Department.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Looks like Dick Cheney doesn't like lawmakers criticizing pre-September 11th intelligence failures. He says that these leaks are a national security concern. I think it's another case of political CYA. Even if Cheney does have a legitimate point about these leaks, the Bush Administration has bent over backwards for months to suppress investigation and criticism, so his credibility is absolutely shot. I refuse now to give him the benefit of the doubt on this, because Cheney has abused that trust too many times before. But you can make your own minds about it.

Also, the Administration is once again denying that this information obtained by the NSA on September 10th, by itself, could have prevented the attack. Given the time frame involved, I'm actually inclined to believe them on this. But think about all the other information the Administration had, or ought to have had. We know about that August 6th briefing in Crawford, Texas, which warned of a looming major terrorist attack on U. S. soil, and which included references to hijackings. We know that various hints and clues were floating around the various intelligence agencies. We know that the idea of using an aircraft as a missile was a known aspect of the al Qaeda playbook, and we know that the World Trade Center was on every short list of possible targets. And, had it been translated promptly, the White House might have known the precise date of the attack.

It seems obvious to me that the attack was preventable. We also know that the Bush Administration showed very little interest in terrorism before September 11th. It was most definitely preventable.
The Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. The Associated Press story can be found here. The ruling was 6-3, and guess who dissented: Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas. This is a huge victory for everyone who believes that it is sick and vicious to execute someone who does not understand (and, indeed, has no capacity to understand) their crime. I also fail to see what purpose execution serves. It doesn't protect society from dangerous criminals any better than lifetime incarceration. At least in the case of the mentally retarded, it obviously has no deterrent effect. All in all, this is a magnificent turn of events that restores a little bit humanity to this country's criminal justice system.
What a shock! The White House has endorsed the Republicans' prescription drug benefit plan. Here's the story in this morning's Washington Post. The argument is mainly over money. The Democrats are saying that their plan provides more coverage to seniors, which it does. The Republicans are arguing that the Democrats' plan is far more expensive than their own, which it is. It all comes down to priorities. We are in a budget crunch right now, as you know. Why? The short-term reasons are the recession and the so-called war. While I think we could all accept running a bit of a deficit during such extraordinary times, the budget problem is much, much deeper than that, thanks to the Bush tax cut.

The portions of the tax cut which have already come into effect are the most progressive and the most economically beneficial portions of the tax cut. The easy answer (from a policy standpoint, not a political standpoint) is to freeze the tax cut and use the money saved for far more pressing priorities, like prescription drugs benefits for seniors. But thanks to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who bleats like a stuck pig at any mention of cancelling a tax cut on the very rich (which is no different from a tax hike on you and me, he says, self-righteously), this option is only being talked about by very safe Senate Democrats who aren't running for President, like Ted Kennedy. The rest of the Democrats are occupying various areas of the compromise position.

And, as I said last week, remember that full and permanent repeal of the Estate Tax that the Republicans tried hard to pass. That would have cost significantly more than even the expensive Democratic Prescription Drug Benefits plan. So, let's keep all of the political posturing in perspective, all right?
This is the most frightening story I've ever read. It's from yesterday's Washington Post. "Prisoners declared enemy combatants do not have the right to a lawyer and the American judiciary cannot second-guess the military's classification of such detainees, the Justice Department argued yesterday in a brief to an appeals court."

I hope they don't get away with this. This is worse than I ever thought possible. This President has got to be stopped.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Here's a chilling commentary by former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter about the real motives behind the very public authorization of "covert" efforts to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He raises some really excellent points. I'm officially agnostic on the Saddam Hussein question. I think he's, to use our President's terminology, a bad guy. But I think the international politic cost of going in on our own is very high, and given this Administrations refusal to pursue "nation-building," I have a very low expectation that it would actually improve matters at all. Plus, we've got these other priorities like the Israel/Palestinian conflict and bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.

But I would be willing to support the overthrow of Hussein by covert or overt means if someone would take the trouble to lay out a case for it. For that matter, if a strong case could be made, then the international political cost I mentioned would be lessened. So why, then, hasn't the Bush Administration made the case? I know the White House says that Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction, but they said the same thing about Cuba, with approximately zero evidence.

So what's the story here? Why this animus against Saddam. The fires were still burning at the WTC site when pundits and politicos alike began trying to pin 9/11 on Hussein in order to justify military action. They failed, yet here we still are. What gives? Is this just cleaning up Daddy Bush's mess? No, it can't be that. I'm cynical, but I'm not that cynical. There's got to be something I'm overlooking.

It probably has to do with oil. Everything else seems to.
Check out article from the Internet Movie Database about the next steps in Britney Spears's movie career. I haven't seen her film debut, Crossroads, but based on reviews and box office, it wasn't awful. Don't think it's my kind of film, but, whatever. In slightly more up-market movie news, Roger Ebert sat down with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise to talk Minority Report. Ebert really seems to have loved it. I'm mostly psyched for this. While I think Spielberg is over-rated and Cruise is hit-or-miss, Ebert is usually reliable. EXCEPT when it comes to effects-driven sf, it seems. He loved the J. Lo vehicle The Cell, which was excruciatingly bad.
Yesterday's Washington Post has this little gem reminding us all that the golden days of the surpluses are gone, gone, gone. Another article about Congress raising the debt-limit!! The Senate passed it, but they didn't raise it as much as the White House wanted (sorry, which is the spend-a-holic party?). The House is having fits because the Republicans want to add an amendment to an otherwise unrelated bill, so they can deflect some of the media attention, and they don't have to publicly vote specifically for raising the debt-limit. The Democrats, of course, want the Republicans to stand proud and admit that the budget has been thoroughly buggered. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is warning of the impending doom is action isn't taken on this immediately. It'll be interesting to see how it goes.
The Bush Doctrine: warn of impending problems; ignore all possible solutions. This doctrine has been applied to Global Warming, of course, and now to Afghanistan, as shown in this article from TomPaine.com. Anyone think of any other examples?

Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo has been pretty well obsessed lately with figuring out who Deep Throat is. Well, to be honest, so am I. He's convinced it's Pat Buchanan, and he makes a case for it (scroll down). I'm really hoping it isn't, just because Pat Buchanan is such a loathsome creature and Deep Throat is such a mythic, heroic figure. I'm still hoping it turns out to be, in a shocking twist of fate, Hal Holbrook. Actually, my serious best guess, L. Patrick Gray, didn't make John Dean's final cut. Ah well...
Check out this deliciously sarcastic piece by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. Especially check out the howler of a typo in the last sentence. That is, either a typo or a really bad "Bush don't speak good" joke.
It's probably not a good idea to start a blog a few days before going on vacation, but... uh, well... I have no excuse. Nevermind. I'm back with this article from the Washington Post, which TAPPED pointed out to me. It looks like another big victory for the Senate Democrats, who have, for the time being at least, beat back Senator Brownback's backdoor cloning ban. According to Daschle, the SenDems are hoping to get the votes to pass their much less stringent cloning ban, which would protect therapeutic uses of the procedure while banning the protection via cloning of actual babies.