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Archive for December, 2005

Tu Quoque: The Inevitable Clenis Edition

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |

The latest straw being grasped at by those who seek to defend the legality of the illegal will be one of the most pathetic moves in the wingnut playbook: “Bill Clinton did it too!” This seems barely worth taking the time to refute, but two quick points:

  • Any non-hack will note, first of all, that whatever Clinton said he didn’t actually enact a wiretapping policy that conflicted with FISA. The distinction between action and words is rather crucial.
  • More importantly, who the hell cares? If Clinton actually said that he had the inherent authority to order warrantless searches, then he was wrong. Again, Bush’s actions aren’t any more legal just because some other President said so. It won’t be surprising to see this argument trotted out by unprincipled conservatives and fake libertarians, because they’re projecting: since they care more about partisan politics than civil liberties, they assume that Bush’s critics do too. Well, speak for yourself.

More on Gloseclose and Milyo

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |

I had no idea this study has had such a long life in the blogosphere. The Continental Op, after following up on my post yesterday, read the paper (Prof. Groseclose has posted it on his website, so we can all do that if we’re so inclined). He gets to the heart of why NAACP and Heritage mentions are counted and compared as if they are comparable:

To come up with their measure of bias, the authors “count the times that a media outlet cites various think tanks and other policy groups.” They note that their “sample includes policy groups that are not usually called think tanks, such as the NAACP, NRA, and Sierra Club.” Their universe consists of the 200 groups identified as “Major Think Tanks and Policy Groups” at the web site www.wheretodoresearch.com. However, that web site does not provide any information about the criteria for inclusion in its database. The posted resume of Saguee Saraf, who runs www.wheretodoresearch, notes that he authored an “internal Cato Institute policy paper” entitled “Tearing Down Big Government Brick by Brick”, served as a research assistant to Renewing the Dream, a sequel to Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, and was selected 1992 “Man of the Year” by the Cheshire (CT) Republican Town Committee–credentials that hardly mark him as an unbiased resource.

To my surprise, a similar criticism, amongst others, was noted by Geoff Numberg at the Language Log over a year ago. Given that this paper has been been through several permutations and seen many readers up to this point, it strikes me as odd that the current version contains no explanation or justification for the use of this list. Groseclose and Milyo offered a defensive response to Numberg (they take him to task for his unprofessional tone, and then call him a liar a few lines down). The bulk of their response revolves around methodological issues I cheerfully admit are well over my head, and to the extent that it’s not over my head, their response seems correct. However, their defense of the list of 200 misses the point–and the problem–by a wide margin:

Nunberg finds fault with our list of think tanks and advocacy groups used to rate media outlets. But even if our sample of think tanks is skewed left or right, this will not bias our results.
…..
When we began our study, Milyo, while searching the internet, found a list of think tanks that seemed to be a good place to start to look for data. This is the list created by Saraf. We have never met Saraf, nor do we know anything about him except what he lists on his web site. Further, when we first downloaded the list, we had not even read any other parts of his web site. In short, we knew nothing about Saraf or how his list was created. We chose the list simply because (i) it listed many think tanks, (ii) it seemed to include all the major ones, and (iii) it seemed to include a healthy balance of far-right, right-leaning moderate, moderate, left-leaning moderate, and far-left think tanks.

I’ll accept the claim that the methodology they use neutralizes any problems with right-wing shift in the list. I’m not entirely comfortable with this, but I don’t have the methodological chops to engage on this point. I’ll further stipulate that it doesn’t matter whether Saraf is a right-winger or not. The problem is that Saraf composed this list for entirely different purposes than Groseclose and Milyo use it. The problem is one of comparing apples and oranges. Think tanks and issue advocacy groups are cited for very different reasons in the media. Think tanks, in mainstream media stories, are almost always cited as authorities, whereas advocacy groups are cited at times as authorities, at times as objects of criticism, and at other times as neither, but news in itself. Think tank cites plausibly tell us something about bias in a way that a majority of advocacy group cites wouldn’t. Furthermore, if you accept the basic ADA left-right quantitative ranking system (I’m far from certain I do, given radically shifting nature of the political center and the increasingly radicalized and non-convservative nature of the modern Republican party, but I’ll assume it has some analytical value for the sake of argument), it makes a certain amount of sense to give think-tanks a number, in a way that it doesn’t make sense for groups that advocate for a particular cause. There have been a number of Republican politicians who’ve been strong allies of the environmental movement over the years, but it doesn’t make the Sierra club and more right-wing when they praise them, nor does it make NARAL right-wing to ally with a pro-choice Republican, or the NRA with a strong 2nd amendment Democrat. This is not to say that these groups aren’t ideological, but if those ADA numbers are capturing anything, they’re capturing a ideological location based on a host of issues, rather than one particular issue.

Of course, simply comparing think tank cites would hardly solve all problems. As everyone who’s paying attention knows, some think tanks have a pretty good reputation for honest, serious work, whereas others are notorious propaganda mills. There’s no good reason for moderately intelligient journalists to not know this. It might be plausibly argued that stories that cite serious think tanks (left, right or center) are trying to get the story right, while those who cite propaganda mill think tanks as authorities are at best playing the faux objectivity game Jon Stewart has skewered so effectively, and at worst are outright hacks. Treating all think tanks the same isn’t going to pick that up.

I haven’t finished reading the paper (I will, soon) But I’ve read enough to have grave concerns about the way they formulate the issue of bias/slant. From page 16-17:

Instead, for every sin of commission, such as those by Glass or Blair, we believe that there are hundreds, and maybe thousands, of sins of omission—cases where a journalist chose facts or stories that only one side of the political spectrum is likely to mention. For instance, in a story printed on March 1, 2002, the New York Times reported that (i) the IRS increased its audit rate on the “working poor” (a phrase that the article defines as any taxpayer who claimed an earned income tax credit); while (ii) the agency decreased its audit rate on taxpayers who earn more than $100,000; and (iii) more than half of all IRS audits involve the working poor. The article also notes that (iv) “The roughly 5 percent of taxpayers who make more than $100,000 … have the greatest opportunities to shortchange the government because they receive most of the nonwage income.”

Most would agree that the article contains only true and accurate statements; however, most would also agree that the statements are more likely to be made by a liberal than a conservative. Indeed, the centrist and right-leaning news outlets by our measure (the Washington Times, Fox News’ Special Report, the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CNN’s Newsnight with Aaron Brown) failed to mention any of these facts. Meanwhile, three of the outlets on the left side of our spectrum (CBS Evening News, USA Today, and the [news pages of the] Wall Street Journal) did mention at least one of the facts.

It’s accurate and true (and, one might add, rather important) but because conservatives aren’t likely to mention it we should consider it bias. There isn’t even an effort to show that the reported facts about IRS policy changes omit something important, but they don’t.

Obviously, there is a version of what Groseclose and Milyo are suggesting here that’s correct–the world is full of facts, and which ones are reported matter a great deal, independent of the accuracy of the reporting. The extensive coverage of the dissapearance of Natalee Holloway says something rather unfortunate about CNN and Fox News, regardless of the accuracy of that coverage. But what we’ve got here is a shift in the behavior of a major federal agency. The conception of bias here has grown to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine what a news outlet could do to avoid it, other than wait and see if the other major news outlets cover it as well. The definition of bias at this point is becoming so broad as to be not particularly helpful. But at any rate, since the authors have posted their paper online, you don’t have to trust me, Continental Op, jedmunds, or Jeff Goldstein, which is a good thing because I’m sure our ADA scores would indicate that none of us our trustworthy sources.

Concur in Part, Dissent in Part

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |

A commenter asked me what I thought about Orin Kerr’s analysis of the legality of Bush’s wiretaps. Kerr is a serious scholar, and I think his argument deserves a fair hearing; I also believe it is wrong, or more accurately wrong insofar as it implies that Bush’s actions should be upheld under the Fourth Amendment. To dispense with the easy half first, I of course think Kerr is correct that the warrantless wiretaps are not authorized by FISA. I think he’s too generous to this hackish, unserious argument, but since I’ve written a lot about it and we’ve ended up in the same place, there’s no reason to elaborate. I also agree that the arguments based on the Congressional authorization of force and the President’s Article II powers are even more transparently wrong. This brings is to to the final question: is Bush’s policy consistent with the Fourth Amendment?

It should be noted that Kerr does not exactly say that the searches should be upheld under the Fourth Amendment, but merely that there are “some pretty decent arguments” that the policy is not unconstitutional. I am not, however, persuaded. Kerr’s analysis rests on two precedents. The US v. US District Court–I’ve already discussed. Again, as Glenn Greenwald has discussed at length, the substantive arguments made by the case repudiate Bush’s position. It is true, as Kerr says, that Powell said that the case did not consider cases “involving a foreign power,” but 1)I don’t think that stateless terrorist groups fall into this exemption, and 2)even if they do, the opinion is merely noncommittal. It doesn’t say that such searches are constitutional, merely that the cases may be distinguishable. At best, the exception cited by Kerr means that the precedent can’t be cited against Bush; it’s not a precedent in favor of his policy.

The second case cited by Kerr is U.S. v. Ramsey. This case upheld a search of mail crossing the border based on “reasonable cause to suspect” rather than the “probable cause” required by the Fourth Amendment. Kerr argued that this case should be directly applied to wireless communications. This is highly problematic, however. As iocaste points out, the fact that the case involved physical objects was crucial to limiting the potential of the policy to violate First and Fourth Amendment rights. As Justice Rehnquist explained the facts:

Two days after this arrest of Bailey and Ward, Inspector George Kallnischkies, a United States customs officer in New York City, without any knowledge of the foregoing events, inspecting a sack of incoming international mail from Thailand, spotted eight envelopes that were bulky and which he believed might contain merchandise. The envelopes, all of which appeared to him to have been typed on the same typewriter, were addressed to four different locations in the Washington, D.C., area. Inspector Kallnischkies, based on the fact that the letters were from Thailand, a known source of narcotics, and were “rather bulky,” suspected that the envelopes might contain merchandise or contraband rather than correspondence. He took the letters to an examining area in the post office, and felt one of the letters: It “felt like there was something in there, in the envelope. It was not just plain paper that the envelope is supposed to contain.” He weighed one of the envelopes, and found it weighed 42 grams, some three to six times the normal weight of an airmail letter

The fact that snail mail has physical characteristics allows government officials to make distinctions between ordinary correspondence and mail that is likely to contain contraband. T his is not true of phone communications, and as such the precedent isn’t directly applicable; the effects of Bush’s policy are far broader. There’s an additional point to be made here as well. In Ramsey, the executive branch was applying a standard created by Congress. In the current case–as Kerr acknowledges–the executive branch is acting against a policy created by Congress. I’ll have a follow-up post about this for people who aren’t familiar with it, but when it comes to the question of the deference that should be accorded to the executive in cases of national emergency the President is generally assumed to have the greatest power when acting with Congress, and the least when acting against it. The fact that Congress has not given the President the power to conduct the searches he has conducted should also be part of the consideration when weighing the President’s powers against the prohibitions of the Fourth Amendment.

So, with respect to the constitutional argument, we have a policy that contravenes the literal language of the Fourth Amendment, and there isn’t a precedent that directly supports the policy. At best, one can argue that the precedents allow an exception to be made in certain national security cases. And this is true enough: no right is absolute, and if there was a truly compelling national security reason, we could choose to create one in this case. Which brings us back to the question: how compelling is the national security justification? And I return to my original answer: it’s not remotely compelling enough to justify creating a new exception to the Fourth Amendment. Consider the hypothetical developed by Bill Kristol in attempt to justify the policy:

A U.S. president has just received word that American counterterrorist operatives have captured a senior al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. Among his possessions are a couple of cell phones — phones that contain several American phone numbers. In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, what’s a president to do?

If the president were taking the advice offered by some politicians and pundits in recent days, he would order the attorney general to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The attorney general would ask that panel of federal judges for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to begin eavesdropping on those telephone numbers, to determine whether any individual associated with those numbers was involved in terrorist activities.

This is, of course, dishonest. What in fact the current law in fact permits him to do is to go ahead with the warrant, and then submit an application within 72 hours. And, again, given the low standards used by the FISA court Kristol’s claim that there’s a significant likelihood that the calls of numbers discovered on the cell of a known terrorist couldn’t be monitored is risible. I am far more concerned that the standards of the FISA courts are too perfunctory; to argue that they’re too stringent is an exceptionally implausible assertion with no evidence.

So, I remain where I started. I don’t believe in a de minimis standard for interpreting the Fourth Amendment, even when the President claims “national security” justifications. Congress has set up a viable alternate procedure, and has determined that there needs to be safeguards in place, further suggests that the President should not be given unchecked power in this area. And I don’t think the government and its supporters have come remotely close to justifying an exception. But I also think that the Fourth Amendment argument is moot, because the President lacks any authority to conduct these searches in the first place.

Establishment Clause Holds

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |

The attempt by the Dover School Board to force their biology teachers to teach religion rather than science has been ruled unconstitutional. It’s always nice to see that there are Republican conservatives for whom the law still matters.

…more from PZ.

But If We Define Stateless Terrorists As Foreign Armies, And Wiretaps As Free Cherry Pie Instead Of Searches….

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |

Don’t believe me about whether FISA authorizes warrantless wiretaps? Well, you may want to ask our famously libertarian attorney general what he thinks:

“Now, in terms of legal authorities, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides — requires a court order before engaging in this kind of surveillance that I’ve just discussed and the President announced on Saturday, unless there is somehow — there is — unless otherwise authorized by statute or by Congress.”

I will concede that questions of what constitutes a civil libertarian have a certain Potter Stewart quality to them. But there are some easy cases. And once you’ve gotten to the point of being so desperate to cook up whatever half-assed results-oriented interpretation you can get your hands on in order to justify warrantless searches that you’re putting forward arguments that Al Gonzales finds too transparently wrong to endorse, you’re either not a civil libertarian, or you’re a hack. There is no third category, although there may be considerable overlap between the two categories.

Getcher Hot Links!

[ 0 ] December 20, 2005 |
  • Kieran offers a taxonomy of bullshit-libertarian justifications for arbitrary executive power. The take on InstaCrocodileTears is particularly priceless: “Oh, puh-leeze. This is nothing new. It’s been going on for years–Americans have no idea how little legal protection they have from arbitrary government surveillance. That’s why I became a libertarian. I still fully support the Government’’s right to monitor, lock up, ‘render’ and torture anyone they declare is an enemy combatant, though. I absolutely still don’’t trust them to run a Social Security Program or redistribute taxes to the poor, obviously.”
  • Really good post by The Happy Feminist on getting canned. The one good thing about the fact this is the first decent job outside of grad school that I’ve ever had means that I’ve never had to go through being fired from a job I wanted to keep. Indeed, my only firing was from a dry cleaning job that I hated (and was probably not ideal for someone with allergies to cat hair in any case.)
  • Teresa on The Da Vinci Code.
  • MMF finds Rick Santorum adopting the Gregg Easterbrook definiton of “postmodern.”
  • I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of The West Wing. Lance is, or at least was, and he offers his take on the show in tribute to the late John Spencer.
  • Julian Sanchez on Abu Gonzales’ innovations in statutory interpretation.
  • BMM on Bai. I’m sure that Garance is right he’s a good reporter and a nice guy etc., but he’s just out of his depth on policy issues. Like Maureen Dowd, except that Dowd at least makes no pretense about caring about policy.

Google Earth vs. New Dehli

[ 0 ] December 19, 2005 |

I had been wondering about this. In particular, I wanted to get a look at the aircraft carriers currently in the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton. Sadly, the pictures of NISMF are at extremely low resolution, which is mildly odd given that I doubt Al Qaeda, China, Iran, or Russia could learn all that much from observing rusting supercarriers.

It hadn’t occured to me that, while the US government probably could lean on Google in order to protect certain areas, other countries could not. The Indian government is very concerned:

India, whose laws sharply restrict satellite and aerial photography, has been particularly outspoken. “It could severely compromise a country’s security,” V. S. Ramamurthy, secretary in India’s federal Department of Science and Technology, said of Google Earth. And India’s surveyor general, Maj. Gen. M. Gopal Rao, said, “They ought to have asked us.”

My guess is that Google will agree to depict certain facilities in low res, but not enough to make the Indians happy. Even more problematic, from India’s point of view, is that satellite photos are available in lots of other places, often at a higher resolution than Google Earth.

And you know what? The Indians are probably right. Google Earth and similar services may actually make the job of a terrorist or military planner easier. Anything that makes the landscape of an urban area more intelligible also makes it more vulnerable. But I really don’t see anything that could be done about it, so it’s probably not worth worrying too much.

Liberal Bias

[ 0 ] December 19, 2005 |

jedmunds at Pandagon comments on some of the apparent oddities in the UCLA study on Media Bias that has been embraced by, amongst others, our friend Jeff Goldstein. This deserves a longer post and a more thorough investigation, which I may or may not get around to at some point. I confess I’m rather skeptical about the basic methodology–inferring ideological positions based on think-tank citation patterns of politicians and media outlets. But even if we go along with that methodological orientation, I want to point to one particular item in the UCLA press release that makes me wonder:

Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants — most of them college students — to scour U.S. media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

To state the obvious, NAACP and Heritage are apples and oranges. The differences between a standard position-paper publishing, fellowship-granting think tank like Heritage, Brookings, etc and an organization like the NAACP can’t really be stressed enough. Comparative counts of limited, actual think-tank citations generally show a pronounced tilt toward the right, even if we generously grant Brookings “left” status. Including NAACP would obviously change these findings, but at this point I’m left wondering who else is included. The NRA? AARP? Needless to say, all these groups are focused on a particular set of issues. That generally allies them with one party mor often than another, but it’s hardly comparable to think tank citations. Furthermore, what standards are being used to count “referred to”? A negative story about the NAACP could certainly refer to a comment made by an NAACP spokesperson. Actual think-tank citations are generally authoritative or quasi-athoritative in nature, the same simply can’t be said for interest groups. Barring a better explanation, this seems like a pretty serious problem. Of course, I’m not a peer reviewer for the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

More on Illegal Wiretaps and Fake Libertarians

[ 0 ] December 19, 2005 |

Two more excellent posts by Glenn Greenwald on the Bush’s Administration’s illegal searches. First, he finds Hugh Hewitt citing United States v. United States District Court (1972) on behalf of Bush’s position, although the case found that the Fourth Amendment requires judicial approval for domestic wiretapping. Indeed, the Court makes an argument against Bush and his defenders quite powerfully:

These Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security surveillances may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch. The Fourth Amendment does not contemplate the executive officers of Government as neutral and disinterested magistrates. Their duty and responsibility are to enforce the laws, to investigate, and to prosecute. [cite omitted] But those charged with this investigative and prosecutorial duty should not be the sole judges of when to utilize constitutionally sensitive means in pursuing their tasks. The historical judgment, which the Fourth Amendment accepts, is that unreviewed executive discretion may yield too readily to pressures to obtain incriminating evidence and overlook potential invasions of privacy and protected speech.

So, this case is clearly an argument against Bush and the conservertarians. The only way around it is to carry on the fiction that Al Qaeda is the agent of a foreign country–which runs into the obvious problem that it isn’t–and even with respect to those cases the opinion is merely noncommittal. So to the extent that this case has relevant content, it cuts against the position of the adminsitration (and Hewitt, although of course this is a distinction without a difference.)

Secondly, he points out that the administration itself isn’t claiming that FISA authorizes the wiretap:

For that reason, Condoleezza Rice went on Meet the Press yesterday (h/t Firedoglake) and did not even attempt to argue that the Administration complied with FISA. To the contrary, Rice said that FISA was now obsolete (even though it is still sort of the law) and, based on that view, justified the Administration’s violations of FISA. Rice claimed that this warrantless eavesdropping on America citizens was authorized not by FISA, but by so-called unspecified “additional authorities that [the President] has under the Constitution and under other statutes.

So the administration is a less hackish defender of itself than Jeff Goldstein, who continues to defend the government’s actions as being authorized under FISA, approvingly quoting an argument that admits that it’s going beyond a “literal” reading of the statute and tries to claim that Al Qaeda is the agent of a foreign power, despite the fact that 1)it’s clearly not–for what foreign country is Al Qaeda an agent?–and 2)it is impossible to understand why the statute would make the distinction between foreign powers and terrorist groups if it defined foreign powers that broadly. So, amazingly, in a post in which Goldstein is upset about the fact that I questioned his civil libertarian credentials, he continues to put forward a hyper-statist statutory interpretation so implausible that not even the administration itself is trying to sell it! He also addresses the Fourth Amendment argument with a long quote from Hewitt, while ignoring the fact that the case actually repudiates his position.

So needless to say, I stand by my characterization of Goldstein’s arguments. His claims to be strongly committed to civil liberties are simply not credible, given that the plain reading of the law would clearly hold Bush’s actions illegal under both the Fourth Amendment and FISA, and to hold otherwise requires gymnast-like contortions of the law made by such well-known dispassionate supporters of civil liberties as Hugh “Harriet Miers is a solid B+” Hewitt and Mark “Who are you gonna believe about the government’s torture reports, me or someone who’s read them?” Levin. He criticizes me for not considering a comment in one of the two long threads, but it’s clear that both of the posts in question place considerable weight on the administration’s claims of legality, which is why he can’t come up from anything from the posts themselves that contradicts my reading. And he continues to think that the Administration’s assertions of legality mean something. To be clear, I have no idea whether the administration is acting in “good faith.” They may have convinced themselves that their actions are constitutional; I can’t know, and I don’t care. What matters in a democracy is whether their public legal justifications are convincing. And they certainly aren’t.

And, again, it’s worth noting here that perhaps you can make an argument that the program is legal if you want to both give FISA an exceptionally implausible (indeed, considering the statute as a whole, nonsensical) reading and to give the Fourth Amendment an extremely narrow reading. But if–like Goldstein–you’re doing this, it becomes ludicrous to claim that you’re committed to civil liberties. We not dealing with something as ambiguous as, say, the cruel and unusual punishment clause here; in this case, the civil libertarian position is compelled by a straightforward textual reading of the relevant statute and constitutional provision, while Goldstein’s hyper-statist position requires leaps and bounds that even the defenders of the arguments admit go well beyond a literal reading. And these readings would obviously greatly expand the arbitrary power of the executive. So whatever you’ve subjectively convinced yourself, when you try to make these kinds of arguments and then claim that you’re a civil libertarian, you’re not going to be taken seriously. As Jim Henley noted about another alleged libertarian who can always find a way to justify even the most legally dubious state power when it’s George Bush’s power in question, Goldstein’s succession of posts here consists of “bog-standard Republican authoritarianism, Kaye Grogan but in well-turned prose.”

If people who advance such arguments on the basis of the laughably tendentious arguments of utterly in-the-tank Bush hacks like Hugh Hewitt don’t take me seriously, I wear it as a badge of honor. Or, to put it another way, Goldstein is advancing a conception of “civil libertarian” that can encompass Michelle “In Defense of Internment” Malkin, Richard Nixon, and John Yoo. The utility of such a definition I leave to the reader.

Berube has much more:

People who support a clandestine program of warrantless domestic spying are not “conservatives” or “libertarians.” Neither are people who support the creation of a worldwide archipelago of secret torture sites. Neither are people who support the usurpation of the functions of government by the executive branch; who espouse the theory that the executive branch is the final arbiter of the legality of the actions of the executive branch; and who call for the investigation or prosecution of a free press that dares to report on the executive branch’s secret programs of domestic spying and outsourced torture

Those people, my friends, are called the radical right.

Heh-indeedy.

…as Sam notes, the White House has embraced Carl Schmitt’s Goldstein’s “we took an oath, so how can what we’re doing be illegal?” theory.

Tasteful

[ 0 ] December 19, 2005 |

I’m a big fan of the newly controversial Ang Lee. Although I don’t think it’s terribly well-regarded, I think The Ice Storm is a great movie. (I actually think I underrated it here; having screened them again recently, I would rank it ahead of Short Cuts and maybe Fargo.) Crouching Tiger you know about–and getting me to tout a martial arts movie is like getting Michael Medved to praise Brokeback Mountain—and The Wedding Banquet is entertaining enough. I even found the civil war thing with Jewel tolerable. (I did avoid The Hulk, though.) Anyway, all of this was true before I opened my Times today and note that he was wearing the gear of the noblest franchise in professional sports:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

So clearly, no matter how Brokeback turns out to be, he’s the world’s greatest living director…

(BTW, a question for my midwestern readers: the Flames’ new farm team is the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. What’s the deal with the “Ak-Sar-Ben”? Is that a suburb of Omaha?)

A Wanker Every Sunday

[ 0 ] December 18, 2005 |

Matt Bai.

The problem with bad analogies and meaningless catchphrases is that they can conceal the fact–apparently even from the author–that the underlying arguments are just utterly illogical on their face. To the extent that the workforce is becoming more insecure and workers have fewer benefits from their jobs–as the economy makes a transition from the General Motors model to the Wal-Mart model–obviously this makes having secure entitlements more, not less, necessary. To reject this isn’t to adapt Democratic principles for the new century; it’s simply to disagree with them. This is childishly obvious, which is why (as Josh notes) he doesn’t even try to explain the logic of his argument. It’s remarkable that the country’s most prestigious newspaper has a lead political reporter incapable of grasping the most self-evident political concepts.

And That Goes Double For Lieberman

[ 0 ] December 18, 2005 |

Shakes notes the latest emerging talking point, which will be to say that the Democrats approved of Bush’s illegal searches, so nobody can complain. Like Shakes, I’m pretty dubious about the candor with which the Democratic caucus was briefed. And nor do I think that it would have mattered if they had expressed reservations. The policy was not not a collaboration between the legislative and executive branch’s; it’s Bush’s responsibility, and Bush who is accountable for it.

But having said this, let’s be clear about one thing. Would I be shocked to know that some Dems knew about this and didn’t have any major problem with? I wouldn’t. The Dems’ record in standing up for civil liberties is less than stellar. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. The searches are illegal, full stop. They don’t become any more legal if Jay Rockefeller and Joe Lieberman knew about them and thought they were OK. If any Dems didn’t have a problem with it, then shame on them, but it’s not an argument in favor of the legality of Bush’s actions.

In related news, Russ Feingold’s presidential bid is looking better and better to me all the time.

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