Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Support the Troops"

Three items that have a similar theme caught my eye recently:

1. This post by Digby, which like anything else Digby writes, is totally worth reading and very telling.

2. Atrios makes a good catch about someone talking with a right-wing radio host... and

3. This Kelly cartoon from "The Onion" sums ups everything perfectly. Go check out all three links - there's a common theme. When wingers talk about "supporting the troops", they really mean "supporting the President", which means "follow whatever he says". The actual disdain for the troops is palpable and sad. Expect to see this theme a lot more soon, as Republicans argue that the troops shouldn't be concerned with long tours of duty without coming home very often.


What the F*** New Zealand?

OK, what's with New Zealand? I just heard on the Daily Show that New Zealand's parliament just passed a law banning the use of images from their parliament for political satire.

Now leaving aside the obvious restriction of free speech in a democratic country, you'd think that a country that makes the kiwi it's national bird and then names themselves after that bird would have a sense of humor.

What's next? No hobbit jokes?


Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Note on Michael Vick

You all may have heard about Michael Vick's arrest for running a dog fighting ring. We normally stick to politics and religion and avoid less controversial things like sports. But this sports story is controversial to draw our attention I think.

As dog owner myself I find this story sickening. Vick and his buddies were not just breeding and fighting dogs (mostly pit bulls of course), they were torturing and killing them. I heard a story on BBC radio today that described the variety of ways Vick et al used to kill dogs that didn't fight well enough. They hanged them, beat them to death, shot them, drowned them and soaked then electrocuted them. About the only thing they didn't seem to think of to kill their dogs was to use some sort of humane euthanasia. That they used a variety of means suggests to me that killing the dogs was part of the sick "fun" they were having.

I hope Vick's career is ruined. I hope his money evaporates and he is reduced to a life of misery and shame.

It is also alarming that some high profile NFL stars have come out to say that "in some social circles" this sort of thing is OK (it's not, it's not only a cruel activity, it's a violation of federal law). I forget who said it but I heard on the radio one player compare dog fighting fans to fans of dog shows saying something along the lines of "some people like to dress their dogs up with bows and hats and some people like to see who's dog is the toughest."

That this bloody and cruel past time is also thoroughly enmeshed with gambling makes this a potential bombshell for the NFL and pro sports in general.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Oversight and the Constitution

Two Bush administration officials, the current chief of staff (Josh Bolton) and the former White House counsel (Harriet Meiers) with contempt of Congress because they refuse to testify in an oversight hearing looking into the firings of the US Attorneys General.

Republicans in Congress opposed this move saying that it would only end with Bush winning and then all future Presidents would be able to do what ever they wanted regardless of any checks by Congress. I'm curious - how "do what ever they want regardless of any checks" would differ from what Bush is doing now?

While CNN's more populist personalities are criticizing Democrats for not doing anything, this is probably the most important thing that they could do. The actual firings are incidental. What is important is that Congress assert its authority as a co-equal branch of government with Constitutionally mandated responsibility for oversight and the authority to act on that responsibility.

This is a mundane sounding fight that most Americans will be easily convinced is mere partisanship. However, it is probably going to develop into the most important constitutional crisis since Watergate. If Congress can successfully reassert its oversight authority, it will apply to a whole range of Bush abuses of power.


The First of All Liberties

Today's New York Times headlines include this plainspoken one: G.O.P. Leaders Fight Expansion of Children’s Health Insurance. The Republican leadership is determined to prevent even modest steps to insure five million additional uninsured children... but it seems their members may be breaking ranks. The Senate committee voted 17-4 in favor of the proposal to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 Billion over five years.

You may consider this post a follow-up to USWest's "Sicko" post. Our broken health care system is the biggest crisis facing America today. More than 1 in 6 lack year-round health insurance, and at least 18,000 Americans die every year from lack of health care insurance. The deaths from inadequate care for the millions who have some form of coverage is far higher. Isn't it time we dealt with other threats than just terrorism?

But the Republicans just don't seem to care--all they want is to protect their rich corporate clients and cut taxes for their supporters. In a taste of the battles to come if the Democrats prevail in 2008, Minority Leader Boehner scoffed at the Senate plan as "Hillary Care," even though the plans bear no relation to each other. It appears that the Republican Party is once again adopting a scorched-earth policy against any kind of health care reform just as they did in 1992-93. As a nation, we can't afford to let them win again.


Monday, July 23, 2007

The Future of Religion

Last year, I heard an episode of This American Life (#311: "A Better Mousetrap") that still fascinates me. In Act III of the show ("What would fill-in-the-blank do?") a reporter (Brett Marlin) told how he had used focus groups to try to invent a new, modern religion specifically for Americans who are disaffected with traditional religions.

For a church, the focus group wished for an open space with flowers, individual napping spots, pleasant smells, pond and waterfalls, perhaps puppies wandering around, maybe some nice plasma TVs with soothing images. For priests, they wanted men and women in simple robes walking around, mingling with the parishioners, answering questions politely, and generally being good listeners. It was something akin to a spa, staffed by polite salespeople and uncredentialed therapists. For music, they liked new-age, meditative music--not hymns or choirs.

As for what the beliefs of their new religion would be... Well, nobody clamored for a new holy book; none of them were interested in moralizing, beyond the general notion of some kind of cosmic karma; they did not desire any particular rituals; and they were not particularly curious about the afterlife except that none of them really liked of a "hell." They were not really interested in getting "answers" or "truth" at all. It seems that all they really wanted was a religion that would make them feel good and gently encourage them to do good in their daily lives. (Not surprisingly for such a group, the idea of a "god" was nowhere in sight.)

The catch, of course, is that people often do not know what they truly want--and they understand even less what it is they truly need. A Burke Williams Monastery is not the future of religion, but it may illustrate the needs of the flock. Perhaps more than ever in this age, people need help, hope, and someone to talk to. And so I wonder if the future of religion in America is not conservative megachurches, but liberal micro-ministries. Just a thought.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Reflections on the Latin Mass

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI took a step back from the post-Vatican-II world by authorizing priests to say the Latin Mass whenever they wish. Previously, the vernacular was required except by special dispensation of the bishop. With priests struggling to make church relevant for modern parishioners, it is hard to imagine any great clamor among them for turning the mass into a ritual both longer and incomprehensible to all but a very few parishioners. Full disclosure: I am not a Roman Catholic; I belong to the American branch of the Church of England (the Episcopal Church), which decided nearly five centuries ago that it was wrong to hold public ritual in "a tongue not understanded of the people."

Still, the creeping return of the Latin Mass has relevance for the wider world, which is why I blog about it. The issue is not, by the way, that Latin is a "dead tongue." I read Latin with minimal proficiency and certainly appreciate it. I have no revulsion to Latin. Indeed, the Latin language is not inherently conservative or even catholic. It was the language of the Renaissance and much of the Reformation. It was the language in which Newton wrote. It was the medium through which American founders learned of the history of the Roman republic that so influenced them (the Federalist papers are signed "Publius", after all).

The problem is that the Latin Mass is a symbol of conservatism. It is a victory for those who equate modernity and progress with decay and disease. Clinging to the Latin rite a core mark of identity for church conservatives. And I mean conservatives: those who supported monarchy, opposed democracy and "modernism," worked hard to ban books, preached anti-semitism, and openly sought the of Papal rule over Italy. I'm not talking about the distant past here, crusades and inquisition. No, I'm talking about the very real anti-democratic nature of the Roman church of the 1920 and 1930s.

Make no mistake about it, Benedict is giving these people the nod. It's scary.

The inward focus is alarming. This turning inward and backward parallels the developments in Islam calling for a return to the Caliphate.

Most of all, the Latin Mass is a rebuke to the enlightenment. It represents mystery, secrecy, elitism, obedience, and a distrust of reason. Thomas Mann famously decried fascism as the true rebuke of the enlightenment. I see this at work here.

Turning to the Latin Mass is a statement of just how far unhinged the Western World has become since the fall of communism. During the post-WWII period, with the defeat of fascism, the West lined up (in fits and starts) behind liberalism, with a small "l." The end of imperialism and embrace of liberal democracy in Europe was part of this. I fear we have lost our moorings. In 1989, Liberal Democracy seemed to be the Wave of the Future, even the End of History.

The Right has returned with a vengeance. In the USA, biblical literalism and right-wing theology are everywhere on the rise, creating parallel institutions to the mainstream liberal democracy. Even seizing a political party, the GOP. Pronouncements about "Islamofascism" are not so far off the mark in describing the anti-liberal nature of the movements sweeping the Islamic world, except that the charges are made by those who share the underlying distrust of democracy and liberalism. Republicans today are generally older white males who believe that democratic processes, open deliberation, and "civil rights" mostly get in the way of our security.

So, when Hillary Clinton describes Bush as "the most radical President in history" she is not lying. Starting with being the first president to take office since the 19th century without winning a majority of the popular vote, Bush has paid lip service to democracy while tearing at the roots of post-WWII liberal constitutionalism. Make no mistake about it: we are having serious debates in this country about the fundamental nature of the US constitution for the first time since the 1930s.

The good news is that the majority of the American people are not moving in that direction. Commitment to racial and gender equality is gradually increasing over time, as this year's field of Democratic candidates attests. Even gay marriage, totally unthinkable 20 years ago, is now supported by nearly a third of the country, and that support is growing. The awakening of the right need not be a catastrophe, but the strong center needs to start asserting itself again, awaking from a long political slumber.

Rident stolidi verba latina (Ovid).


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Two things

1. I don't think that Ben Nelson is anyone's favorite senator here. He is a Democrat, but only jut barely. And his interview with Stephen Colbert reaffirms that -- he is against timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, leaning more on the "let's hope the President changes his mind" plan. But still, check out the video at C&L. While Nelson disagrees with the Democrats' policy, he doesn't take any potshots at them. Instead, he actually takes a few (mild) shots at the president. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'd MUCH rather have a Ben Nelson in the Senate than a Joe Lieberman. Check out the video, leave your thoughts in the comments.

Also, Colbert tries to make the following point: if you fund the war, the President can do whatever he wants with the money; he's the commander-guy. The only way to stop the war is by de-funding it.

2. If Oprah throws all her weight (not a fat joke) behind a Barack Obama candidacy, watch out. What percentage of the female vote would he get? 80%?


Friday, July 13, 2007

Another Family Values Republican

So what else is new? Another "family values" Republican shows his true colors. This time, it's Senator David Vitter (Republican from Louisiana) who has been using a D.C. madam for his private prostitution needs. Apparently, Senator Vitter admitted it was" a serious sin." What a typical right-wing jerk. Sin isn't the issue for a U.S. Senator. Breaking the law is the issue. Vitter is one of the wingnut crowd railing against "homahsekshuls" and such.

If it isn't clear by now, all of the "family values" crowd are hypocrites.

To quote a bumper sticker that should be in wider currency-
Focus on Your Own Damned Family.

Best quote from the NY Times piece, "At home, any fall for Mr. Vitter could be long and hard. "
Oh, my.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Moral Headcount on Iraq

Republicans are gradually abandoning Bush's immoral war in Iraq. Although they won't say so, the truth is that Bush lied to get us into a war, lied about how the war was going, and lies still about our chances of winning. The GOP senators and reps want this over or 2008 will make 2006 look like a walk in the park.

Senators in favor of setting some time withdrawing from Iraq.
49 Dems (50 minus Lieberman)
Hagel, Snowe, Lugar, Domenici, Warner, Smith, Voinovich, Alexander (8)
Total: 57. Need 60 to break filibuster.
Presumed to be on the fence: Sununu, Coleman, Collins, Specter.
Have made noises about September being a big date: McConnell (GOP minority leader), Lott, Sessions, Graham
Real efforts to rein in this war could begin in September.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Say "Bush" three times.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona testified in Congress today. He was appointed by Bush and served from 2002 to 2006. Prior to that he had been in a medic in the Army Special Forces and a SWAT team.

Dr. Carmona said that the Bush Administration would not allow him to discuss or issue reports concerning a wide variety of topics, such as stem cell research, sex education, mental health, etc. He said Bush Administration officials repeatedly delayed and tried to "water down" his office's report on secondhand smoke. He added that he was ordered to mention President Bush "three times" on every page of every speech.

It is disgraceful that Bush would abuse a scientific office like this. While it is frustrating that Dr. Carmona did not protest until now, I suppose his military background might have something to do with it. (Think of the retired generals criticizing Rumsfeld.) As a citizen, I am disgusted. As a scientist, I am outraged.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

What the hell happened to Alan Dershowitz?

I think he's gone insane. This article is a must-read to see how far he's sunk.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007


I saw Michael Moore's latest film, Sicko last week. I have been thinking about ever since. Like many of Moore's movies, this one glosses over several realities to make a larger point. The larger point in this film is that American's have a vaules problem. We have a highly individualistic society and as such, we fail to place enough importance on communal values.

I don't disagree with that point. European democracy is social democracy. And that, in my opinion, is closer to the enlightenment ideals than our capitalistic democracy. Just the words I used to describe the difference tell the story. So Moore's larger point is well taken. Medicine is a social good and should be treated as such.

But then there are the details. He visits a NHS doctor in the UK. The doctor who is part of "socialized medicine" drives an Audi and claims to make $150K a year. You get to see the inside of his comfortable and fashionable apartment. He explains to Moore that if he gets patients to say stop smoking, he gets paid more. So doctors get results based pay. So my question is, how typical is this doctor in the UK? If doctors are so well paid, why the shortage? And this has a whole new relevance considering this week's terrorist plots in the UK. That, and Moore fails to mention that Brits have been demanding reforms of the NHS since Blair was first elected.

Then he goes to France where he tries to counter the claim that Europeans are over-taxed for their services. He introduces us to a two-income family that claims to make $8000 a month. It is unclear if this is net or gross. But if it is net, then it ain't your typical French family. The typical French family makes about what the average American family makes annually. A more effective argument for Moore would be that if Americans counted the cost of their medical care as part of their taxes, they would find that we actually pay a greater percentage of our gross income if not the same for less. Nor does he discuss that France has double-digit unemployment because companies don't want to hire full time workers because they have to pay out extra taxes. Sounds sort of familiar, no? Nor does he discuss France's debt problem or the fact that European countries are struggling with shrinking birth rates, which then leave them with fewer people to pay for the growth in the aging population.

That said, the French get great benefits for all their taxes. My host dad was very sick and had to have very expensive treatments that would have put the average American into bankruptcy. He had 3 years worth of interferon treatments and is now in remission. He didn't pay a dime. And, yes, doctors do come to your house when you are sick. And yes, you are well cared for. I love that part of the system and would love to see it implemented here.

The French also control their government a bit more than we do. Moore also points out that we Americans are somewhat afraid of our government while European government "fear" their people. Europeans (i.e. the French in this case) hit the streets and protest and the government gives in, not to mention in that in parlimentary systems, governments can be dissolved and elections called very easily. So politicians are a bit more concerened with social unrest.

American's have always distrusted government, but I think the fear set in around the Nixon years and has only increased in the Bush/Cheney years. Further more, we hold elections at set times, we can't just see our government dissolve over night. We are stuck with it for 4 years. On this fourth of July, I say that if our Revolution had started with the violent storming of a nortorious prision followed by the beheading of the nobility, then perhaps our government would be more "afraid" of us as well.

Then he goes to Cuba. Now that is a tear-jerking moment. It is truly touching and again, Moore's larger point is well taken. But, Cuba has a special health program for foreigners. So while he asked the Cubans to treat his band of Americans they way they would the average Cuban, I question if that really took place.

Finally, Moore is focusing on those people who have insurance, but whose insurance companies have denied them care. And he is trying to get those of us with "good" insurance to think again. Will it cover us if we need it? Chances are no. He also exposes the insurance company hit men who will dig back five years into your medical history to find out that you had a yeast infection in 2002 that you failed to mention on your application form. And they will declare that this is a pre-existing condition that you should have mentioned. Since you didn't, they are revoking your coverage. Again, I am not sure how typical this situation is.

Overall, I agree with Moore that our medical system is very messed up. I agree that our individualistic, capitalistic values system contributed to the attitude that everything is for profit. Doctors should practice for the purpose of helping patients, rather than their pocketbooks. And I think there are those that do, and those that don't. I think we have a shortage of doctors in this country as well. We should be building medical schools rather than prisons and limiting the role of insurance companies. I don't think they should be traded on the stock market. This is about our health and well-being and how we care for each other. So for all the loose facts, I still think Moore is on track.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Keeping Scooter Quiet

Bush's action is much more sinister than the press seems to understand. Scooter Libby knows where the bodies are buried, and he has had to pay for an expensive criminal defense. Scooter needs money and is no doubt angry at being made the scapegoat. If Bush does nothing for him at all, Scooter might cooperate with Fitzgerald to get released early from prison. A full pardon now is also dangerous for Bush, because it would also give Scooter Libby the chance to make a "tell all" book deal for a ton of money. Gratitude only gets you so far.

Under the "Son of Sam" laws, however, a convicted criminal cannot make money from a crime he has committed, so by leaving the felony conviction in place, Libby is blocked from telling his tale for money. He has no incentive to do so for free if he is not in jail. Thus, by commuting the sentence, but hinting at a full pardon later, Bush and Cheney can basically blackmail Libby and keep him quiet, at least until the end of the term.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Oh the hypocrisy

Remember the Republican outrage about Clinton's lying to the American people about an extra marital affair? Remember their slogan back in 2001? "The grownups are back in charge?" They shouted loudly about their supposed return to ethics and morality. And they claimed that they represented a return to a respect for laws.

But today, George W. Bush commuted the 30 month prison term for Scooter Libby. Libby was to serve the term after being convicted of exactly the crime that the Republicans accused Clinton of (he was never actually charged).

The Republican party has mutated into something that goes beyond partisan politics. They need to be stopped in 2008. Democrats and independents need to sweep them from power so decisively that even their most loyal spin doctors will be forced to acknowledge their failings.


First, do no harm

The recent string of botched terror attacks seem to have been carried about by a group of Muslim physicians working and living in the UK.

One of the things that puzzles western observers is the tendency of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists to be educated people. While we are used to seeing the likes of Timothy McVeigh engaging in political violence, it is surprising for us to see doctors, lawyers and engineers getting involved as is so often the case in the Middle East.

I'm not an expert on the political psychology of terrorists and terrorism but perhaps some of our participants or visitors have something to contribute.