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Saturday, December 31, 2005
Tropical Storm Zeta has formed in the Atlantic, the 27th and certainly last storm of the busiest season on record. Had he formed one day later, he would have been Alberto--midnight tonight closes the books on the 2005 season (which technically ended a month ago) and opens up 2006. God willing, it will be a good deal slower.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Friday Random Ten
I'm Too Much
1. "My Ass is in The Bronx," Soul Coughing
2. "Gravel," Ani DiFranco
3. "S-E-X-X-Y," They Might Be Giants
4. "Selfless, Cold, and Composed," Ben Folds Five
5. "Feel Me Dying," The Blue Up?
6. "Boxing," Ben Folds Five
7. "Katmandu," Bob Seger
8. "Come Alive," The Blue Up?
9. "Heat Miser," Swamp Zombies
10. "Falling," Semisonic
The 2005 Golden Brownies
Ah, 2005. A year. A year that is now over with. In an ongoing tradition, we here at Blog of the Moderate Left Enterprises like to look back with fondness on the year that was. Without further ado, here are our winners and wingers from the year that was.
Rick Kahn Award for Worst Political Speech
This award, named in honor of Rick Kahn (the first recipient of this award for his disastrous Wellstone eulogy) is given to that person who gave the most devastatingly bad address in the past years. This is a tough category, of course, and a few honorable mentions need to be given out first:
Mike Brown, "It's Everybody Else's Fault"
You have to feel bad for deposed FEMA head Mike Brown. Well, you would, if you didn't read stories about him blowing off Kathleen Blanco during Hurricane Katrina so he could grab some chow at a swanky Washington restaurant. But let's face it: Brown was horribly, unconscionably, and impossibly in over his head. Having Mike Brown in charge of FEMA would be like putting me in the cockpit of a 747--if nothing's going on, it's fine, but if either of us actually had to do something, disaster was a given.
At any rate, Brown was brought before the Congressional "investigation" into Katrina, one that was being run exclusively by the Republicans for the benefit of Dear Leader. And yet somehow, in rambling, bitter testimony, Brown managed to anger even his fellow partisans by pointing fingers at everyone not named Mike Brown. Any hope Brown had of rehabilitating his image was destroyed. Ah, Brownie, you'll always have the Arabian Horse circuit. Oh wait, you got fired from that, too.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), "The $400 Million Euphemism"
When Gov. Tim Pawlenty realized that there was no way to balance the budget without taxes, he had to break out in a cold sweat. After all, he was the darling of the right, a guy who'd signed the "No New Taxes" pledge, and doing his job as Governor would mean becoming a "flip-flopper."
But Pawlenty hit on a stroke of genius. In a press conference and in negotiations, he hit on the idea of a tobacco "fee." Not a tax. Really. Just a $.75 a pack...fee...that the state would...collect...but definitely not a tax...really.
Of course, one successful lawsuit later, and suddenly Pawlenty's "fee" has become a "big problem." But hey, Timmy, at least you didn't go back on your word--technically.
George W. Bush, "Strumming While New Orleans Floods"
Larry Summers, "Them Womenfolk Don't Like the Science"
Larry Summers may or may not be a good president for Harvard, but he obviously doesn't know science. His inane musing that women may not have the same aptitude for science as men was just bizarre. It's not that he raised the issue at all--discussion is good, even about uncomfortable subjects--but that he in fact raised the issue without having any actual data other than a slight sense that he might be right. He wasn't.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, "Terri Schiavo Lives"
Bill Frist's diagnosis as a Doctor was clear. The patient was alert. She was able to follow a baloon with her eyes, able to communicate. She wasn't in a coma. Of course, after the patient's death, autopsies indicated that she had no visual cortex, but whatever.
But the winner is not even close. This year's Kahn goes to:
GEORGE W. BUSH, "HECKUVA JOB, BROWNIE"
If there was one speech over the last year that George W. Bush could take back, it wouldn't even be a whole speech. It would just be one line--when he defended Mike Brown, saying he knew Brown was doing a "heckuva job." Within days, it was obvious Brown was doing a "terrible job," but Bush's stamp of approval was already there--and it became impossible for Bush to cleanly dismiss Brown as he desperately needed to do in order to stem the crisis. The result was that Bush tied himself to Brown--and Brown, like any good anchor, pulled Bush down.
Biggest Loss for American Politics
AN INDEPENDENT CONGRESS
The continued subordination of Congress to the Presidency will have repercussions for years to come. For most of the history of our republic, Congress has played, if not an adversarial role, than at least a mitigating role on the presidency, even when Congress and the president were controlled by the same party. That is not true anymore--with a few minor exceptions, Congress has become a rubber stamp for the president, willing to change rules and procedure at a whim if it can help him. There were some minor hopeful signs at the end of the year that this might be changing--but I'll need to see more before I believe it.
Biggest Loss for Minnesota Politics
THE DECISION OF ALAN PAGE NOT TO SEEK THE U.S. SENATE
Alan Page never would've had a better chance to seek the Senate than 2006; the Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and former Viking is enormously popular, well-respected, and would've made a fine senator. Alas, Page decided to stay in St. Paul, where he will be able to remain a Supreme Court Justice for as long as he wishes; he's an asset to the court, but it would've been nice to have him in Washington.
Best Year Politically (America)
2005 was a bad year. Period. Oh, yeah, the Democrats are semi-ascendant, but not really; it's more like everyone's lousy. That may be enough for the Democrats to retake Congress in 2006; heck, lousy is better than incompetent and corrupt. But nobody's much inspired right now. Let's hope 2006 changes that.
Best Year Politically (Minnesota)
HENNEPIN COUNTY ATTORNEY AMY KLOBUCHAR (DFL-Minneapolis)
Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar didn't enter 2005 expecting she'd end it as the DFL frontrunner for U.S. Senate. After all, another Democrat, Mark Dayton, was ensconced in the seat and while his popularity may have been waning somewhat, it wasn't so bad that a DFLer would challenge. Certainly not an up-and-comer like Klobuchar.
Well, what a difference a year makes. Dayton dropped out, and almost overnight, Klobuchar found herself in the catbird seat, ahead of not just all her opponents, but agaist the presumptive GOP nominee, Mark Kennedy. Of course, in politics, eleven months is a lifetime--and Klobuchar will need a great 2006 to win. But 2005 was pretty good for her so far.
Worst Year Politically (America)
REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX)
It's not just that the Bugman lost his position as House Majority Leader when he was indicted. It's not just that Jack Abramoff appears to have flipped, setting up an even worse 2006 for Delay. No, it's the fact that after all his shenanagans, Delay now finds himself losing in his own gerrymandered district, and finds his caucus disinterested at best in defending him. The hammer falls.
Worst Year Politcally (Minnesota)
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN)
Poor Gov. Timmy. It was a rough year. He got outmaneuvered by the DFL, had to agree to the $400 million euphemism, and saw polls by the end of the year indicating that he would lose to Mike Hatch if the election was today. Furthermore, David Strom and the True Believers weren't fooled by the "fee," and have turned on Timmy with a vengeance. Pawlenty is a talented politician, and you can't count him out--I continue to believe he'll win reelection. But that's a less sure bet than it was a year ago, and Pawlenty exits 2005 substantially weaker than he entered it.
The Golden Brownies
Until this year, these awards were called the Feckes, but this year, we have to honor Mike Brown for his incredible incompetence. Henceforth, these awards shall be known as the Golden Brownies, because of the heckuva job we do with them.
My Big Prediction for 2005 in Review:
Here's what I said would happen this year:
Social Security "Reform" will be to George W. Bush as Health Care Reform was to Bill Clinton: an albatross. The GOP will pull apart as the public decides that some Big Government Programs are a-okay. Bush's proposals will fail to be enacted entirely, presaging bad things for the GOP in the 2006 mid-terms. Meanwhile, in Iraq, elections will go off in January, but the resulting diminutive Sunni share of the government will fuel sectarian violence in Iraq. Osama bin Laden will continue to survive, spitting out occasional bits of bile. al Qaeda will not hit the United States, but will pull of something spectacularly evil overseas.I have to pat myself on the back--that's 100% correct. Social Security reform is off the table, the GOP is hobbled, Iraq is still chaotic, OBL is still breathing, and al Qaeda pulled off the bombings of transit in London. Spooky.
My Big Prediction for 2006
Amy Klobuchar will defeat Mark Kennedy for Senate, 54%-45%. Tim Pawlenty will edge Mike Hatch in the governor's race, 51%-48%, marking two decades of DFL futility. The Democrats will retake the Minnesota House by a few seats, though, setting up four more years of gridlock.
Nationally, the Democrats will not retake either house but will gain significantly in both, further eroding the GOP's ability to function. Tom Delay will be acquitted in Texas, but it won't matter as he'll be indicted in the ongoing Abramoff scandal. Karl Rove will also be indicted for his role in the Plame Affair. The furuor over wiretapping will reappear with a vengeance, apropos of nothing, in March. This time it will not be easily dismissed. And an additional scandal will embroil the Bush administration as it follows the trajectory of the Clinton, Reagan, and Nixon administrations.
Meanwhile, we will finally start withdrawing toops from Iraq, throwing Iraq into chaos. Osama bin Laden will still be breathing at the end of 2006, but Fidel Castro will not. There will be fewer Hurricanes in 2006 than there were in 2005, but still more than usual. Conservatives will use this to claim that global warming is fake. And al Qaeda will pull of something of note in the west, but not in the United States.
Headline You Will Never See
Bush Pardons Rove
And Finally: Mike Tice will be fired, and the Vikings will go nowhere in 2006; the Twins will continue their slide into 1995esque territory; the Timberwolves will win their division but lose in the first round of the playoffs; the Wild will continue to be mediocre at best; Flip Saunders and the Detroit Pistons will win the NBA championship; the Chicago White Sox will repeat in baseball, and my beloved Chicago Cubs will finish fourth in the NL Central, 23 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Well, this sounds fun:
KIRKUK, Iraq - Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Wolcott on Decapitation Porn
It's today's must-read.
We're Gonna Score
Okay, I don't get it. '87 Twins closer Jeff Reardon has been charged with armed robbery:
Reardon, 50, walked into Hamilton Jewelers at the Gardens Mall about 11:50 a.m. Monday and handed an employee a note that said he had a gun and the store was being robbed, according to the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department.
I don't even know what to say. What the heck happened there? You'd think he could've pawned his ring or something.
Monday, December 26, 2005
I am finally done with the first draft of my novel.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
Friday Random Ten
If I Told You Once, I Told You Once, and Once Was All that You Needed
1. "Medicine Hat," Son Volt
2. "The End of the Tour," They Might Be Giants
3. "Busting Up a Starbucks," Mike Doughty
4. "Give Judy My Notice," Ben Folds
5. "Numb," U2
6. "Sugarfree Jazz (Jazz-Free Sucrose Mix)," Soul Coughing
7. "Atmosphere," Son Volt
8. "Galaxy of Emptiness," Beth Orton
9. "Heat Miser," Swamp Zombies
10. "Suckerpunch," The Refreshments
Scalito advocated overturning Roe v. Wade.
I agree with Amanda--it's incredibly disingenuous for the right to keep arguing that Alito is not necessarily anti-Roe. Look, folks, if you want to debate the overturning of Roe v. Wade, then let's dance. But if not, then it's time to start endorsing pro-choice justices.
So is Ahmed Chalabi a Sore/Loserman? Because even if there's a whole bunch of fraud, I'm thinking it's going to be hard for him to go anywhere with less than 1% of the vote.
Poor Ahmed. Poor, poor Ahmed.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
"Don't come in where I drink? Don't come visit a bar when I'm in there."
Who said that? Why, Christian warror John "One in the Skull for Me" Gibson, of course, when someone dared suggest that the War on Xmas was, well, pretend.
Games Without Frontiers
Kevin Drums, on the games Bush plays:
This is the most infuriating aspect of George Bush's approach to terrorism: that he treats it as a partisan weapon instead of a genuinely serious business. Chemical plants really are a prime target for terrorists, but Dick Cheney doesn't want to annoy his corporate pals, so plans to address it get shelved. WMD counterproliferation really is important, but it's not very sexy and doesn't serve any partisan ends since Democrats support it too. So it's ignored and underfunded. Detention of enemy combatants when the enemy is an amorphous group like al-Qaeda is a genuinely vexing issue that ought to be taken seriously, but the Justice Department treats it like a child's game, inviting barely concealed rage from a conservative judge who thought this was supposed to be serious stuff.
Exactly right. And it's tragic, because the truth is, there are people out there who would like to hurt us. Badly. But the right has been more interested in backing Bush than asking the question--are we doing enough? Are we doing the right things?
All I know is that the cronyism of this administration is breathtaking. When the accounting is taken fifty years from now, Bush will be regarded as another Harding or Grant--a corrupt plutocrat who put the needs of his donors above the needs of the country. I just wish that day of reckoning would come sooner.
I Work for a Living
Atrios is right. There's no particular reason why white collar workers--especially reporters--are more entitled to a decent middle-class life than blue collar workers. Indeed, I'd wager a number of blue-collar workers deserve far better pay. They certainly work harder.
Somewhere along the way people started believing that a college education entitled them to a better life than some guy who drives a bus. Guess what? It doesn't. A bus driver in New York makes more money than I do? Good for them. I don't want their job--it's too damn hard. But that tells me right there that they probably deserve what little they get. After all, in New York, $55,000 a year isn't even upper-middle-class.
A Dozen Lawmakers
Abramoff is close to flipping, and looks to be willing to sell the politicians he owns out at a reduced rate. Well, what else is he gonna do with them?
So you'd think from the media coverage that New Yorkers were absolutely furious about the transit strike. Every story I've seen has shown transit workers striking followed by angry, bitter commuters swearing a blue streak. So what do you think support for the union is? 5%? 10%?
In a WWRL poll, 71% of respondents blamed the MTA and only 14% blamed the transit workers, which Bishop said he found "a little surprising. I would have thought it would have been more even."
Now, okay you say--but that just asks whose fault it is. Whose side are New Yorkers on?
The union's, 52%-40%.
Now funny, you'd think that "balance" would show man-on-the-street interviews in equal numbers from union supporters and opponents. Especially with our crazy leftist media. Funny, that.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Holy Fucking Shit
Vox Day says something uncrazy:
America was founded on the principle that it is right to sacrifice blood for liberty. It is telling that the Bush defenders make precisely the opposite argument, that it is right to sacrifice liberty in order to avoid the shedding of American blood. In this they are, like the Dear Leader, avowedly anti-American.
Bart: But what's really amazing, is that this is exactly what Dad said would happen.
Lisa: Yeah, Dad was right.
Homer: I know, kids. I'm scared too!
Bush Administration: But Paperwork is Hard!
This is their best excuse?
"The whole key here is agility," he said at a White House briefing before Bush's news conference. According to Hayden, most warrantless surveillance conducted under Bush's authorization lasts just days or weeks, and requires only the approval of a shift supervisor. Hayden said getting retroactive court approval is inefficient because it "involves marshaling arguments" and "looping paperwork around."
Because when you can't come up with a good reason why you're spying on American citizens, the best answer is...just do it anyhow.
Man, it would be funny if it wasn't so scary.
You know, I haven't really commented on the Sue Ek debacle, but sheesh--when your best defense was "I was too stupid to understand the form," you're not inspring much confidence in your potential as a leader.
Now Sue's mom will take over in the race, which begs the question--are there any Republicans in 15B who aren't named Ek?
I love Big Brother.
Solstice is the Reason for the Season
There is a reason that Mithras' birthday was celebrated this time of year. A reason that Bacchus' birthday, the Saturnalia, Jesus' birthday, and the New Year come this time of year as well. At 18:35 UT today (12:35 CST) in the Northern Hempisphere, the Sun's slow ebb reaches its nadir, and begins its slow return. For those of us who live in northern climes it is a not insignificant day; the sun will not rise today in Minneapolis until 7:47 AM and will have set by 4:35 PM, a meager eight hours and forty-eight minutes of daylight. And Minnesota is in the pink compared to, say, Stockholm, where the sunrise doesn't come until 8:44 AM and sunset is already complete at 2:48 PM--just over six hours of daylight.
It is no wonder that millenia ago, our forebearers saw this day as especially meaningful--the moment at which the Sun began to make its triumphant return. Thus Mithras--the Sun God--was reborn on this day, to grow and prosper, rising until July, when he slowly began to wither and die. Thus the Son God, Jesus, has a story that--calendar be damned--fits well with the idea of Sol dying, and being resurrected. An infinite cycle, repeated; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end.
And so today, we celebrate the day that is the progenitor of all our winter festivals, the Winter Solstice--and await again our planet's rebirth into the light. Happy Solstice.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
At the very least.
The $400 Million Euphemism
Thanks, Gov. Pawlenty. Your semantic games have cost the state of Minnesota $400 million. Yes, yes, I know, you couldn't call it a "tax" because you signed the Taxpayers' League pledge--which was a stupid thing to do, but hey, your call--but by pretending that a tax wasn't a tax, you've now taken the budget and shredded it.
Thanks, Gov. Timmy. That's some fine leadership. As House Minority Leader Matt Entenza (DFL-St. Paul) said, "This is what happens when you get cute with the truth."
PZ will be happy--the Intelligent Design folks have lost their bid to have their "controversy" taught:
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ruled today that the Dover, Pennsylvania school board can't force the teaching of intelligent design, a theory that claims that the universe is too complex to have developed randomly and must have been designed by a superior power. The board in October 2004 ordered that intelligent design be introduced alongside the theory that life evolved by natural selection.
Obviously--well, unless you're Hindrocket. Still, nice to see a victory for the good guys.
UPDATE: PZ is joyous, actually. Go read.
Smartie Asks a Question
Smartie has a question for all the fair-weather libertarians:
Try a thought exercise for a moment. Imagine if, following the Oklahoma City bombing, Bill Clinton had personally authorized secret wiretaps and FBI spying on not only the Militias, but also on other right-wing groups like the Federalist Society, the John Birch Society, the College Republicans, etc. Would you feel that was justified based on the fact that a right wing domestic terrorist organization had just killed hundreds of Americans? Why or why not?
Smartie, Smartie, Smartie. That's totally different! See, Bill Clinton was a Democrat, while George W. Bush is a Republican. See? Completely different!
Sheesh. What do they teach kids in school these days?
Alter is a must-read:
Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate?he made it seem as if those who didn?t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda?but it will not work. We?re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
As they say in the business, read the whole thing.
Lies and the Lying Liars
Bush lies about wiretaps. But of course he did. His lips were moving.
The Violence Against Women Act has been re-upped. Unless you're one of the slopeheaded morons who thinks that preventing violence against women is somehow "anti-male," this is a good thing.
Spying On Everyone
Was the reason Bush did his end-run around FISA that he wanted to deploy some version of Echelon domestically? (For those uninitiated into conspiracy theory, Echelon is a data mining program that the NSA uses overseas to monitor all sorts of telephone and e-communication in order to gather intelligence.) As Kevin Drum notes, "The problem is that Echelon has been around for a long time and no one has ever complained about it before ? so whatever this new program is, it's something more than vanilla Echelon. What's more, it's something disturbing enough that a few weeks after 9/11 the administration apparently felt that even Republicans in Congress wouldn't approve of it. What kind of program is so intrusive that even Republicans, even with 9/11 still freshly in mind, wouldn't have supported it?"
This would fit the bill--data mining on a massive scale, combing through every email which routes outside the country--which could be, well, every email given the nature of the internet.
Do you like the idea that your email may have gone through the NSA meatgrinder? No? Well, one doubts such a program would have better than 25% support at most. But Kevin makes a strong case that something along these lines is exactly what occurred. If so, this goes far beyond a simple case of wiretapping and into a full-scale frontal assault on American liberty.
It is beyond time for this to come out. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." More to the point, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are natural rights, which this nation has for two hundred and twenty-nine years now placed at a premium higher even then our security. I have said before, and say again: I would far rather be a victim of a terrorist attack than see my nation surrender our essential liberties.
It is time for the Bush administration to come clean. And time for everyone, even Bush supporters, to start asking serious questions about what it is we want our country to be. As for me, I swore on September 11, 2001 that I wouldn't let the terrorist bastards change my life--for that is surely what they want. Would that our leaders had promised themselves the same.
Monday, December 19, 2005
That's all that separates people with light skin from people with dark skin. A one-letter gene mutation in one individual who migrated out of Africa and into Europe thousands of years ago. One gene. That's all that separates whites from blacks.
So knowing that, can we at long last end the fiction that we are anything other than one race, indivisible? No, sadly, I doubt we can. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
One of the first candidates I ever volunteered for was Russ Feingold--I made calls on his behalf as a freshman at UW--Madison. That was a good decision on my part, as Russ Feingold's threatened filibuster has blown up the Patriot Act. That's a good thing--as Bush's recent escapades show, it's hard to believe that expanding government power for this administration is anything other than dangerous.
America is not perfect, but we like to think of ourselves as ever approaching those goals. It says so right in the founding document of our government--"In order to form a more perfect union." We've been trying to find our way to perfection one bitter struggle at a time. And while our progress has not always been neat and tidy, it has been inexorably in the right direction.
The Constitution lies at the center of our flexible, wonderful system of government. The system of checks and balances is a fluid one, and during the course of our republic the executive, legislative, and judicial branches' powers have ebbed and flowed relative to each other--but none has ever gained ultimate control. The system was designed by men who feared government as much as they loved it--they wanted a government that could not be swayed by a madman, or a runaway legislature, or an out-of-control court.
And they succeeded. While only two presidents have been impeached--and neither removed--the courts and legislature have been able to curtail presidents when they have reached beyond the scope of their Constitutional and statutory powers. When Congress has tried to run roughshod over the president, he has been able (with the courts) to hold them at bay. When the courts have gone too far in one direction or another, the public has reacted at the ballot box--and thus imposed its will, indirectly, on them.
This is not to say that there haven't been some serious problems, however. There have been several Constitutional crises, some major, some minor. The most recent, of course, were Watergate, when the President of the United States attempted to cover up a crime, Iran-Contra, when the President tacitly authorized his subordinates to do an end-run around congress, and Monicagate, when the President misled investigators in a civil suit. All have something in common--a President attempting to avoid following the dictates of another branch of the government. And all three have something else in common--the President lost every one of those fights.
"But Jeff," you say, "Clinton and Reagan got off!" Yes, they did--rightly so in Bill's case, questionably so in Ron's. But more fundamentally, they lost their bids to do what they wanted to do--Bill to keep his affair with Lewinsky quiet, Ron to avoid doing what congress told him to do. In the end, the rule of law trumped what the president wanted to do.
Only time will tell how latest Constitutional crisis will play out, but George W. Bush, like his two-term predecessors, has tried to do something Congress told him flatly he couldn't do. This has been justified, of course, with "wartime" and "9/11" and "hey, what if we don't wiretap and then they nuke Detroit?" And those are all nice-sounding reasons.
But the truth is that if all Americans had a camera in their home--monitored remotely by police--that crime would plummet and terrorism would be nearly nonexistent. And yet absolutely nobody would find that an acceptable state of affairs, because it would be a dramatic imposition on our liberties.
The government has been prohibited from warrantless wiretapping of American citizens for a very good reason--because before those wiretaps were made illegal, the government conducted such taps with reckless abandon, and used the information gathered for blackmail and political purposes. The government interfered with citizens excercising their Contitutional rights to assembly, to speech, to petition the government--because they could.
When Congress in 1978 chose to create the Federal Intelligence Security Court, they did so to allow the president and the executive branch the ability to spy on foreign terrorists, and even Americans, if they could obtain a warrant. One can argue whether the FISC itself is questionable Constitutionally, but even a radical civil libertarian like myself can appreciate that it exists at a point of tension within the Constitution between liberty and security. But it exists there at an endpoint--as at least a cursory check on federal power.
Former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) said, "Well, the fact of the matter is that the Constitution is the Constitution, and I took an oath to abide by it....And I don't really care very much whether or not it can be justified based on some hypothetical. The fact of the matter is that, if you have any government official who deliberately orders that federal law be violated despite the best of motives, that certainly ought to be of concern to us." Indeed. Because government officials are beholden to the law. That is the fundamental principle of American democracy--that no man, no woman is greater than the government and the people they serve. The president is expected to follow the laws of the land whether he's testifying in a civil suit, supervising the investigation of a burglary, or engaged in support of anti-Communist rebels. And if he doesn't, he gets hammered, and deservedly so.
The Bush administration has shown, repeatedly, that they view the Constitution as an unfortunate roadblock that prevents them from doing what they want to do. That the Bush administration has chosen to believe that it cannot operate with even a minimal check against its power is not just shameful, it is anti-American.
9/11 was a terrible tragedy for our nation. But we have endured other tragedies, and we will endure others in the future. We can either choose to go forward as Americans, or as something else. Americans believe, as Thomas Jefferson so famously wrote, in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we no longer believe in liberty out of fear for our lives, then we may be something new, but we are no longer Americans.
I refuse to believe that the nation whose young men charged the beaches in Normandy now must surrender its basic ethic because four years ago, a madman blew up some buildings. We are more than our lives, more than our cities. America has always believed we are approaching perfection--a shining city on the hill that serves as a beacon of freedom and liberty to the world. I would die to defend that America--die willingly, and without hesitation. Over five thousand of my fellow citizens already have. They did not die that we could shred the very fabric of our democracy. Time will tell how serious this crime (for it is a crime) is. But is impossible for me to view the actions of President Bush as anything but contrary to his oath of office--and if Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached for lying in a deposition, then I can't help but believe that George Bush deserves to be impeached for choosing to ignore the law of the land.
Well, I'm experimenting with CafePress again. Last time around I didn't sell anything, so we'll see about this time....
Friday, December 16, 2005
Friday Random Ten
My Name to You is Just Another Word
1. "All I Want is You," U2
2. "Chaos Streams," Son Volt
3. "My Ass is in The Bronx," Soul Coughing
4. "Misinformed," Soul Coughing
5. "The Only Answer," Mike Doughty
6. "Caryatid Easy," Son Volt
7. "Misfit Man," Swamp Zombies
8. "Wandering," Ben Folds
9. "Ana Ng," They Might Be Giants
10. "Ponte en Cuatro," Los Amigos Invisibles
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The Reason for the Season
It is an accident of history that the west is primarily Christian. Looking at history, it's easy to see how we could have ended up Mithraists, or Mandeanists, or Muslims, or Pagans, or Zeus-worshippers. Had not Constantine I chosen Christianity as the state religion of Rome, it is likely that we'd be anything but Christians.
Christians, of course, see this as the hand of God at work, the turning of Constantine's heart from Sol Invictus to Christianity. They're allowed to, of course; those of us nonbelievers are more likely to think that the Christianity of today is as much a product of luck as sense.
I am not a Christian. I was raised a Methodist, but slowly came to the realization that I could not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was literally the Son of God. Now, if one is honest, one knows that wouldn't have made me a particularly unusual Christian; I know dozens of Christians who don't believe in Christ's divinity. But to me, it felt dishonest to be a part of a church whose core tenet I could not honestly profess. In my twenties, I converted to Unitarian Universalism, and have found that church to be a better fit for my faith, which is very nonspecific.
That said, I have long believed there is quite a bit of Christianity that justifies its place as one of the worlds great religions. The philosophy of Jesus is a very sensical and just one--treat one another as you'd want to be treated; help the poor, the sick, and the needy; turn the other cheek; get the moneychangers out of the temple and focus on God. These are fundamentally sound teachings, and while I don't believe they came from a God, I believe they did come from a particularly good man, and that as a whole Jesus' Christianity should be a force for good.
* * *
A close reading of the Gospels tells us that there is almost no chance that Jesus was born on December 25, 0 AD. The history and the timeline are all off, as is the description of the conditions at the time. It's more likely that Jesus was born in October of 4 BC. So why do we celebrate Christmas when we do?
Well, because Constantine decided it would be that way. December 25 was the day of the Feast of the Saturnalia, the birthdate of both Mithras and Bacchus. It was by its very proximity to the Winter Solstice a natural time for celebration, and the Saturnalia was a big one. Constantine chose Christianity, but he wanted it to be acceptable to the people, and so he borrowed a bit. He kept the Saturnalia, with its gift exchanges and drunken revelry, and changed it to a celebration of Christ's birth. For your average Roman, little changed. Instead of officially celebrating Mithras or Bacchus, they were now celebrating Christ, but that wasn't any reason to cancel the party.
And so Christmas remained for well over a millenium--a sort of winter Mardi Gras. The spirit is reflected in the sixteenth-century carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas":
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
That was Christmas; drunken revelers going from house to house, demanding food and libations, a raucous, rollicking good time and/or near riot, depending on your point of view. No wonder Oliver Cromwell banned it.
* * *
There is tremendous irony in the claim that today, secularists are not showing the reverence toward Christmas that our Founding Fathers did. Early Americans were unlikely to care much about the holiday; they celebrated it in the traditional style if at all. It was outlawed for a time in Massachusetts. Congress was in session on Christmas Day. No, not until the nineteenth century did Christmas as we know it start to flourish. And it was due to two men--Charles Dickens and Santa Claus.
Dickens' A Christmas Carol, published in 1834, laid out the spiritual template of the holiday as a time of redemption, conviviality, good will toward men, and charity. One will notice, however, that A Christmas Carol is rather light on Christ. It was not Christ who saved Scrooge, but four spirits. Note also how Christ's birthday is referenced in Fred's praise of the day:
"There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew, "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
Fred speaks of Christmas' "sacred name and origin," not of Christ Himself. It is a telling passage. Indeed, though Bob Cratchit requests the day off, it is not seen as beyond the pale that people might work the day; certainly, Scrooge is able to procure a Christmas goose with little trouble.
Nevertheless, A Christmas Carol was a work worthy of its hundred and seventy years of fame; it portrayed Christmas as less frenetic and more family-oriented, less bacchinalia and more season of giving. It helped to catalyze the transition of the holiday.
The other major factor, at least in America, was Thomas Nast's 1860 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," also known by its opening line, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Nast didn't create St. Nick, but he borrowed liberally from European traditions, especially the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas. The poem is explicit in this being a children's holiday. And in a country torn apart by civil war, it offered a template for some semblance of home and family celebration.
After the war, in America and Britain, the progressives aggressively pushed Christmas as a time for home and family, believing that it would be a force for moral good. Shopkeepers, no fools themselves, began to push the idea of gift-giving as an end in and of itself. Modern Christmas had been born.
* * *
If it seems that Christ is but a bit player in the development of Christmas, you've been paying attention. The holiday that ostensibly celebrates Christ's birthday is almost purely pagan or secular in origin. That's not to say that Christ isn't worth celebrating. He has a perfectly good holiday celebrating his death and resurrection. It's called Easter, and bunny-and-eggs notwithstanding, it's primarily celebrated, as it should be, as a memorial to Christ's sacrifice.
But Christmas is not, has not, and will not be about its namesake. It is a good holiday--one that celebrates family, friends, and togetherness, charity and humility. But it doesn't really celebrate Christ--other than by virtue of the fact that He was all for those things, too.
US to Canada: Drop Dead
I thought in general, it was bad form for American ambassadors to meddle in the internal politics of one of our closest allies. Then again, it doesn't appear to be new behavior.
I suppose it's of a piece; if they could, the Bushies would warn Americans to tone down their criticism of America, too.
If Planned Parenthood Really Cared, They'd Put Her on "Nancy Grace"
So a girl is raped at age 11, and goes to Planned Parenthood. They treat her, check her for STDs, and at her request, do not notify her parents or police. Yeah, the bastard skated, but then again, an 11-year-old got medical treatment and care, and she now sounds like a well-adjusted 17-year-old. And it's hard to say that an 11-year-old should be put through a rape trial against her will, so hey, all in all a net plus for Planned Parenthood, right?
Well not if you're "true crime" expert Steve Huff:
My first thoughts after following the links Dawn provided in her blog entry were quite simply this -- if Planned Parenthood wants to continue in existence and thinks it is doing good in this world, they need to take a look at what the definition of 'good' is. I realized that I didn't have to touch on the thorny issue of abortion much at all. Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, with that joyous little testimony from a victim of forcible child-rape, handed its critics all the ammunition they could have wished for. And frankly, I will go so far as to say that if they get a terrible drubbing from the right and the middle-right in our country, they more than deserve it on this score.
Yep, that's right. If you treat a child and she doesn't want to be forced to go to police, the best thing to do is shame her! Shame her for getting herself raped! She was probably asking for it, what with her "Kim Possible" t-shirt and all.
Now, I'll say again: it would probably have been good had she testified, and the sonofabitch gone to jail. But of the things that are important for a victim of rape, healing is number one, followed distantly by vengeance. And while in an ideal world a girl would go to her parents in that situation, I know nothing about her family or her life. The girl had a 17-year-old boyfriend at age 11. That doesn't augur well for a stable homelife.
But Planned Parenthood is evil. I mean, they have to be. They treat rape victims like humans, possessed of free will.
So It's Come to This
Activist Judge Cancels Christmas:
In a sudden and unexpected blow to the Americans working to protect the holiday, liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled the private celebration of Christmas unconstitutional Monday.
Yes, of course it's from The Onion. I'm just wondering if Bill O'Reilly will lead with it on the Factor tonight.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
And now he's all worked up about Christmas being stolen. What is this, the fucking Fairytale Network? It's a national fucking holiday and we're spending gobs of our hard-earned tax dollars on wreaths and lights for your special Santa day. But these bastards are all "But they call them Holiday trees!" Here's a clue: no, they fucking don't. Ok, maybe in a couple places, like on FOXNews.com and at the White House, but if Christmas is under attack, I'm Kris fucking Kringle.
As the Wingnutty Perfesser would say, read the whole thing.
It Took Me Four Days to Hitchhike From Saginaw
You know, with Bruce Tinsley now bringing his trademark sledgehammer-like wit to the WoC, I think it's time for me to explain something to conservatives. It's going to be hard, because I know you've been told about it for a long time, but it's time you knew the truth.
There is no War on Christmas.
I know, you've probably suspected it for some time now. Maybe it was when Bill O'Reilly resorted to making stuff up that you first began to suspect. (Just for the record, students in Plano, Texas can wear red and green to school, and people in Saginaw, Michigan can wear red and green out and about.) Or maybe it was when President Bush sent out a "Happy Holidays" card.
Whatever the reason, you've begun to suspect that "Happy Holidays" maybe means "Happy Christmas, Haunukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, Solstice, or whatever else it is you celebrate," rather than "Screw You, Christian." Maybe you've realized that when you wished your Unitarian neighbor "Merry Christmas," they respond "Merry Christmas to you!" instead of "There is no God!"
Yes, it's true, there are a number of stores noting that this is the "Holiday" season, not the "Christmas" season. That is primarily due to a few factors.
Now, you may say, "But Christmas is the big Enchilada! The squeaky wheel! The sine qua non of holidays!" Well...yes, it is. And that's why radio stations switch over to an all-Christmas format starting in July. In case you haven't noticed, Christmas isn't exactly lacking for organized support. Indeed, it's the only Federal holiday that isn't secular in origin. There's no Federal holiday on Yom Kippur, last I checked.
Of course, you may complain that "Christmas" is sort of secular and, well, "non-Christian." That's hardly new, and not exactly the fault of the secularists. If you're closely reading your Bible, you may note that the high holiday for Christians really should be Easter--another holiday that continues not to be under assault from anyone.
I know, you want a War on Christmas. For one thing, it distracts from the War in Iraq, which isn't exactly fun. For another, it helps you continue to transform yourself into the sort of whiny interest groups that you derided as "politically correct" during the 1990s. And yes, I'll admit that a tiny percentage of my fellow nonbelievers get their hackles up when wished a Merry Christmas.
They're morons, of course. I'm not a Christian, but if you wish me a Merry Christmas, I'll no doubt respond in kind. Because at this time of year, it's best to put aside our differences and accept things as they're meant. Someone wishing a Merry Christmas simply wishes to express good thoughts and kind wishes. So does someone wishing a Happy Holidays. Both are nice, both are friendly, and both are only diminished when some jerk takes those wishes and pretends they're meant as an insult.
So don't be jerks, my friends. Instead, when someone wishes you a Happy Holidays, wish whatever you want back. But if you have to resort to warfare--at this time of year--then you need to go back and reread your Bible. You obviously missed Matthew 6:5-6.
Get Well Shakesis
Shakespeare's Sister is going to the hospital with random numbness in her face, which can't be good. Here's hoping it just turns out to be Bush Rage Syndrome.
Ahmadinejad an Insane Nutball
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is obviously batshit insane. Among his assertions today? The Holocaust never happened, that this "myth" is held as "higher than God," and that the US, Canada, or Europe should create a Jewish homeland.
So. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Giving Kim Jong Il a run for his money as most insane leader with a nuke.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Something Is The Reason For the Season. Possibly.
Via PZ, some great Unitarian holiday carols, including this timeless classic:
God rest ye Unitarians, let nothing you dismay
The Death Penalty at Work
If you think that a person who fires a gun in self-defense while his door is being knocked down, only to find he's accidentally killed a cop who was not so much following the "knock first" part of the warrant, is deserving of death, then don't click this link.
Eugene McCarthy, 1918-2005
Minnesota has long had an outsize presence on the national stage. The current generation of American liberals remembers the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, of course. Moderates and independents had former Gov. Jesse Ventura. And conservatives have been able to point to both Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Sen. Norm Coleman as rising starst.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale won the Democratic endorsement for the presidency in 1984--not that it helped him much. Former Gov. Harold Stassen unsuccessfully sought the 1948 GOP endorsement for president, after signing the UN Charter on behalf of the US. And of course, there was Hubert H. Humphrey, a former senator and Vice President, co-founder of the DFL, and the 1968 Democratic nominee for president.
But it can be argued for all the luminaries who floated through Minnesota politics over the past century, the man who had the most impact was a five-term representative and two-term senator named Eugene McCarthy, who died on Saturday at the age of 89.
In 1968, Vietnam was going about as well as Iraq is today, only more so. The country was starting to turn against the war, especially the Democratic party. But given that then-President Johnson was a Democrat himself, it seemed unlikely that much could be done about it.
Enter Gene McCarthy, a liberal Democrat with a calm midwestern bent--including a very Minnesotan wry sense of humor--and a simple message: the war is wrong. It must be stopped.
He rode his message and a cadre of youth support to a stunning 42% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, enough to do what nothing had done to Lyndon Baines Johnson before--mortally wound his political career.
McCarthy's strong showing pulled then-Sen. Robert Kennedy into the race, and forced Johnson from it. In a single primary in a small northeastern state, McCarthy ended a presidency.
Ultimately, that was to be McCarthy's high water mark. His fellow Minnesotan, then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey, would enter the race once Johnson withdrew. Humphrey, not McCarthy, would ultimately win the nomination after the assassination of Kennedy. And the Happy Warrior would ultimately go down to defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon that November. Though McCarthy would seek the presidency four more times, he would never again seriously challenge.
Nevertheless, Eugene McCarthy's influence cannot be understated. He literally changed the course of American politics, and--though I doubt it was his intention--brought to a close a period of liberal hegemony in American politics. Not until Bill Clinton in the 1990s would the Democrats enjoy two consecutive terms in office. They have not yet enjoyed longer.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Gary Barnett Fired
In a just world, Gary Barnett would've been ridden out of town on a rail, not paid $3 million to go away. Still, it's great that the football coach who once famously responded to a rape accusation by a former (female) player by noting that she wasn't a good kicker and used sex parties and strippers as recruiting tools is out as Colorado's football coach. Barnett is a lousy human being, and I hope he never gets another job in football.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
They'd be Merry, but They're Hebrew
At last, someone calls it like it is. Who's behind the War on Christmas? The Jews! Why not? They also killed Kennedy and were behind 9/11, so why not a War on Christmas, too?
The people I feel for are those persecuted American Christians. Being sometimes wished a Happy Holidays is totally worse than what Chinese Christians or Saudi Shi'a or Jordainian Jews go through. Poor American Christians. I feel really bad for them.
Fitzmas Comes but
Ruh-roh, Karl, it looks like Fitz is ramping things back up.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Weicker for America
One of my all-time favorite politicians, Fmr. Gov. Lowell Weicker (I-CT), is contemplating a challenge to Joe "Mentum" Lieberman as an anti-war candidate. Weicker was a GOP Senator until he lost his seat to Lieberman in 1988. Lieberman challenged from the right.
What party Weicker would be in now is anyone's guess; he served his Gubernatorial term as a member of A Connecticut Party, the spiritual kin to the Independence party in Minnesota. He's certainly too liberal to be a true Republican. He actually might have a chance if he challenged Lieberman for the Democratic nomination, but most likely he'll run as an independent.
If so, great. Lieberman deserves a challenge. If I lived in Connecticut, I'd be voting for Weicker.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Tom DeLay is toast. Oh, and in his district, his generic re-elect is a staggering 36%. And 55% of his constituents believe the charges against him are "probably true."
Godspeed, bugman. At least K Street should have a cushy post for you after January of 2007--assuming you don't have another cushy spot arranged for you in a Texas prison.
The War On Christmas is declared.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I Find Myself Haunted by a Spooky Man Named Me
1. "Gramophone," Son Volt
2. "Follow," Semisonic
3. "Blind Hope," Son Volt
4. "High Life," Counting Crows
5. "Lookin' at the World Through a Windshield," Son Volt
6. "How to be a Lady," Erin McKeown
7. "Piece of Dirt," They Might Be Giants
8. "Happy," Swamp Zombies
9. "Buddha Rhubarb Butter," Soul Coughing
10. "This Bouquet," Ani DiFranco
Friday, December 02, 2005
Hurricane Epsilon became the fourteenth hurricane of the 2005 season, which technically ended on November 30. While not expected to threaten land, Epsilon continues to add to the worst-of-all-time 2005 season, as the 27th named storm of the season (previous record: 21) and the fourteenth hurricane (previous record: twelve). 2005 also featured three Category 5 storms (Katrina, Rita, and Wilma), another record.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Derbs: Gay Sex Bad, 15-Year-Olds Hot
Ah, John Derbyshire. I just don't know what to make of you. You're so crazily anti-gay that Andrew Sullivan named an award after you, yet you were sane about Schiavo, which is great. Now, you declare that women are most attractive from ages 15 to 20, questioning whether Jennifer Aniston (!) is even attractive anymore.
John Derbyshire: gay sex is a crime against nature, but if your girlfriend can drink legally, she's past her prime. All righty then.
Worst Person in the World!
It's an O'Reilly sweep. Happy holidays, Bill!
The first human face transplant has been performed in France.
Ethicists are predictably handwringing. "The face is just the mostest personal thing" they mumble, which is true enough, I suppose. But if you took my face and put it on someone else, it would look different because of the underlying bone and muscular structures. And while the face this person receives won't be "her" face, it will be "a" face, which would be an improvement on the one that she was born with, as that lacks nose, lips, and chin thanks to an attack by a dog.
I've no doubt that heart transplants were greeted similarly. But in the end, this woman has a chance at a more normal life thanks to the sacrifice of the person whose skin she now wears. Like all organ transplants, this is a triumph over death, the opportunity to save others thanks to one person's sacrifice. To me, there's no question--it's a wonderful thing. It's why I'm a donor. And if some day, when I die, they can use my face or hands or heart to make someone whole, they're welcome to 'em; I won't need them anymore.