Thursday, February 13, 2003

Still Waiting for the Compassion. George W. Bush campaigned throughout 2000 as a "compassionate conservative". This is probably the most memorable of Rove's skillful double-speak slogans. The first word of that phrase was aimed directly at political independents, moderates, centrists, and so on. And you can't fault him on it. I mean, who opposes compassion. Well, as a matter of fact, George W. Bush opposes compassion, at least where the federal government is involved. You see, the second word of that phrase, which was aimed at every aspect of the Republican base (from the Reagan Republicans to the Christian Right to the Racist Right), has turned out to be far more important to Bush's political agenda.

See, for instance, this column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times today, shows how Bush's words and his policies are still miles apart. Indeed, I remember thinking to myself after the Obscenely Huge Tax Cut for the Fantastically Wealthy of 2001 was passed, "Will the 'compassionate' part start now?" It hasn't yet, and I'm still waiting.

But this hasn't put the brakes on Bush's language of compassion. Oh, especially recently, while his underlings are busy preparing to reign death and destruction on the heads of thousands of Iraqi citizens, Bush has been touring the country talking about compassion this and compassion that. Nevermind his budget, which cuts a heck of a lot out of the compassion department. Nevermind the fact that he still hasn't found the money to pay for his own education bill (which is great in two ways: a) it shows him breaking a promise and abandoning education entirely, and b) it was a bad bill). Nevermind that he's pulling back on afterschool programs for kids, cutting back on welfare-to-work programs, all while the economy is iffy and the job market is in the shitter.

That's bold leadership if ever I saw it. Again and again I am reminded of Helen Thomas. Worst President Ever.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Osama and Saddam. Liberal Oasis today tells us that they've finally had it with Colin Powell. I think, after yesterday's disgusting performance, a lot of people will feel the same. Yesterday, of course, we heard a tape made by Osama bin Laden in which he expresses support for the Iraqi people in the coming war with the United States of America. Colin Powell, even before the tape was released, told us that this proves the previously unprovable, that Iraq is linked with al Qaeda, and that this should put to rest the question of justification for war. I'm not surprised the White House made this argument, but I am surprised that it came from Powell. It's an obvious lie, and I always thought Powell was smarter than that.

But Terminus, how can you say it's a lie? It's Osama bin Laden himself expressing spport for Iraq, isn't it? Well, no, not exactly. He's expressing support for the people of Iraq. His tape contains no shortage of bile directed at Saddam Hussein, whom everyone agrees to be a vile and odious man. What's actually going on here, as Colin Powell himself understands very well, is that Osama bin Laden wants a US/Iraq war as much as Bush does. Bin Laden wants regime change as much as Bush does. Why? Because both Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush want exactly the same thing... an opportunity to install a new government in Iraq in their own image. Bush wants a pro-Western democratic government in Iraq. Osama wants an anti-Western theocratic government in Iraq. What actually happens as the dust setles is anyone's guess. There are legions of militant, extremist Muslims both inside and outside Iraq waiting to take advantage of the carnage and the anti-American sentiment to push their agenda of a fundamentalist Muslim Iraq. The irony is that the post war Iraq could be far more closely tied to al Qaeda than the current Iraq. Osama knows this, and he knows that his best chance for getting control of Iraq lies with using the United States to depose Saddam.

How can we fight against this outcome? Well, we've got to make sure that our puppets rather than bin Laden's puppets come to power in postwar Iraq. But wait! If we're going to be installing a democracy in Iraq, won't the people choose their leaders themselves? No, of course they won't. The United States won't let Iraq choose it's own leaders if we think that there's so much as a chance that they'll choose anti-US leaders. We can't afford to let Iraq become democratic, because right now it's filled with oppressed militant Muslims who want to extract revenge on Saddam and his Baath party for brutalizing them for so long.

This war is definitely going to go badly for Saddam. It's very probably going to go well for the United States. But if the post-war goes well for al Qaeda, then we will be in a far worse situation than we are right now. It's the post-war we have to worry about. And it's the post-war that no one in the White House is talking about.
John Ashcroft: Menace to Society. Listen, I'm a liberal, and like all liberals I hate John Ashcroft and continue to curse the feeble Democrats who allowed his confirmation to the position of Attorney General. But it's not all bile and irrational rage, there's a reson for it. In fact, there's buckets of reasons. Here today is simply two, both posted today on FindLaw.com (an indispensible resource for knowledgeable legal commentary). First, we have Sherry Colb's take on the Ed Rosenthal prosecution. Remember, Ed Rosenthal has recently been convicted of growing and distributing marijuana. The jury, believing him to be a typical drug dealer, convicted him. In fact, he was not a typical drug dealer. He grew his marijuana exclusively for medicinal purposes. He didn't buy it from illicit sources, he didn't sell it to anyone for recreational use, and it is impossible to argue that his actions harmed anyone at all, ever. Why was he even prosecuted? Thank John Ashcroft. Sherry Colb is a law professor at Rutgers Law School in Newark.

Next we have Jake Kreilkamp's fascinating article on Ashcroft's crusade to force northeastern states to execute more people. This is an outrage, and this alone would result in Ashcroft's immediate dismissal if we were currently governed by a president who gives a flying fuck about law or justice. How it works is that prosecutors cut a deal wth a criminal defendant that says "If you rat out your bosses, we won't try to execute you." This is a good deal for everybody, except the defendant's crime bosses. The prosecution gets a) a conviction, and b) dynamite testimony against the bigger fish to help convict them too. Society benefits because all of these guys are off the streets. The defendant benefits because he is not executed. But John Ashcroft is not happy. He says, "We got the info, let's execute the bastard anyway!" Nevermind that the prosecutors signed a deal in good faith, and that it is common practice for the Attorney General to respect these signed agreements, John Ashcroft is hungry for blood (or, perhaps, for the sweet fragrance of electrified flesh). Especially if the defendant comes from an inferior race. 90% of the victims of Ashcroft's interventions so far have been minorities. This article was written by a student at NYU Law School, and it's making me angry just thinking about it.

This should be a front-page story in every major newspaper across the country. Ashcroft's crusade to execute as many blacks and hispanics as possible is not only morally obscene, it's also counter-productive. If you care about putting criminals away so that they can't hurt people, cutting deals like this is a crucial tool you want to have on your side. Ashcroft's practice of invalidating these deals after the fact is going to cause defense attorney's to resist cutting these deals for their clients, which means the police will have to settle for convicting low-level operatives and will miss the chance to break-up the big crime rings. Who benefits from that? Crime lords. Isn't that special?

John Ashcroft: Bigoted Racist, Insatiably Power-Hungry, and Irredeemably Stupid. Menace to society.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Media Bias: The Truth Behind the Co-ordinated Republican Whine Campaign. Eric Alterman is a columnist from The Nation and MSNBC.com (his weblog, Altercation, is linked on the navi-bar to the right). He's just come out with a new book called What Liberal Media? (click the title for the book's website, which includes its opening chapter and appendices). Of course, he's now doing the political chat-show circuit. Well, sort of. He did Crossfire last week, against L. Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Center, but he got dropped by Bill O'Reilly at the last minute, presumably to give Bill more time to tell the son of a man killed on 9/11 to shut up and to use an indefensible racial slur on the air. Now, TAPPED is bringing to our attention the fact that MSNBC put Eric up against a trio of conservative opponents. That's right, three Republicans just to take on one guy and his book. Of course, this doesn't seem quite so unfair when you realize that Eric's book is a slam dunk debunking of the haggard old lie that keeps Bozell in business. Seriously, the only people who think that the media is liberal (including several dear friends of mine) are people who simply don't pay attention.

TAPPED points out that Bernard Goldberg, author of a sloppily researched and thoroughly discredited year-old book about media bias gets a full hour, one-on-one, with Chris Matthews Wednesday night, and Alterman gets a few minutes up against a team of scornful opponents. Oh yeah, feel the bias, baby! [Oh yeah, TAPPED has the details on the discrediting of Goldberg's book, so don't take it from me... follow the link. Also, take some time to check out both the MRC website and the WLM? website. Don't just take it as gospel from people like Bozell, Goldberg, and Ann Coulter (author of another thoroughly discredited book on the same topic). And don't take it as gospel from Alterman, TAPPED, or me either. That's the beauty of poli-blogging. The sources are here. All you have to do is point, click, and read. Take advantage.]

UPDATE: Eric Alterman will be on Bill O'Reilly's program tomorrow night. I encourage everyone to watch.
The Fiasco Waiting to Happen. Ok, a lot of bloggers in the neighborhood (that is, the ideological neighborhood) have been talking about problems with eectronic voting machines. Some suspicious things have been happening in some elections, and both sides are making allegations (or at least, voicing suspicions). The short version of the story is that some electronic voting machines make it difficult, if not impossible, to check the results. So far I haven't seen anything that I would call direct evidence of vote tampering, but that's not the point. At least, not yet. Assume for a moment that there was serious vote tampering in some election last November. With many of these electronic voting machines, it would be impossible for anyone to check. This is a serious problem, and as the title of this post points out, it's a problem that I think everyone in the country is going to learn a lot more about before it gets fixed. I hope you enjoyed the Bush v. Gore debacle as much as I did, because I predict that there will be many more three-ring circuses involving disputed election results unless the federal government steps in to deal with this.

To get yourself up to speed on this issue (and get ahead of the curve, so that you already know the ins and outs of the issue even before the major media really start taking an interest), start with this post on a blog I've recently discovered called Balkinization. The author, Jack M. Balkin, is a distinguished professor of Constitutional and First Amendment Law at Yale University. He also, as it happens, is a co-author of Processes of Constitutional Decision Making, which is the case book I'm currently using in my Constituional Law course. Anyway, this post gives you a nice overview of the issue, and also supplies links to several news sources and bloggers who have discussed it previously. Read this stuff, it's frightening. It's obviously frightening to democrats. The 2002 midterm elections provide lots of circumstantial evidence that vote tampering has already taken place. In Georgia, Senator Max Cleland enjoyed a wide lead that deteroriated steadily until election day. Last minute polls show that his challenger, Republican Saxby Chambliss, led by a single point. In the end, Chambliss won by a significant margin. Looking at the vote distribution county by county in Georgia, the results are peculiar. [Follow the first link on the Balkinization post for more information.]

Let me reiterate: I'm not claiming that the Georgia Senate election was stolen. I just saying that the results were peculiar, and that they are unverifiable. But it isn't just sour-grapes Democrats who should be afraid of this. I've also heard some stories about irregularities in New Jersey which favored Democrats. It doesn't matter which party benefits from illegal vote tampering, voters of all political affiliations should be outraged.

You'll never have a fair election. In every election, ethics are overlooked, laws are evaded, and people fight tooth and nail to win. This is inevitable. The concern with many of these new electronic voting systems is that they open up a whole new avenue of election-rigging unlike anything we've ever seen before. And if it's done well, it's undetectable. Something has to be done to protect against this, and soon. The first step is finding out what's going on. Follow the links, read the articles.