Tuesday, July 8, 2008
By TOM DANEHY
Antonin Scalia is a fraud.
This man who claims to have studied the Constitution his entire life and to have dedicated his professional career to upholding the document exactly as it was written has, through some of the clumsiest legal verbiage ever put down on paper, shown his true stripe, that of an opportunist laying in wait. In doing so, he joins the sad historical pantheon of people who, through happenstance and circumstance, wound up with too much power and not enough heart.
By providing the only written opinion for the 5-4 majority in the Washington, D.C., handgun case, he wiped away just about everything he has ever said or written about what he claimed to be his beloved Constitution. If this is the way he treats the things he loves, I feel sorry for his wife.
Scalia had always come off as the unashamed martinet, a Napoleonic little twit who was smarter than everybody else in the room. I've got no problem with people who disagree with me, as long as they walk their own talk. In his writings and speeches, Scalia always claimed only to care about the Constitution. He said that he went by what it said, not by what people thought the Framers had meant. He bristled at those who used the term "living document" to describe the Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth, he argued; the Constitution was perfect as-is, and its meanings were clear, and its writers had written down exactly what they had meant to say.
That would have been fine with me had he been a man of his word. But his actions belied his words. This "man of integrity" went duck-hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney and then refused to recuse himself when a case came before the court with Cheney smack-dab in the middle of it. Then Scalia nibbled around the edges and cherry-picked facts to bolster his wafer-thin case for handing George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. (When questioned about that case these days, he invariably snaps, "What, that? That's old news.")
Even so, when I saw him on 60 Minutes a few months back, I listened intently as he spoke of his devotion to the Constitution and how he held it in such high regard. Now all I can think about is Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup, asking: When a man's defining moment comes along, how will he handle it? Scalia's defining moment came last week when he had the opportunity to state clearly what the Constitution says (quite clearly). Well, the moment played him. He swung and missed. He evacuated himself, then sat down to play in the dookie. He spiraled out of control like those he has been quick to heap derision upon in the past.
He made stuff up; he distorted facts; he wove new "rights" out of thin air. And that was only in the first couple of pages. Then things got seriously weird. He spent pages on British history, this after he (and his right-wing political and talk-radio buddies) went out of their way to ridicule that approach in others' written decisions. He referred to common law, which, while important, is not in the Constitution! He then deigned to tell us that not only did the writers of the Constitution get the Second Amendment wrong; he knows why they got it wrong, and he feels it's his destiny to set it right for all time.
Building a case for a prosecution that likely won't happen
In Standard Operating Procedure, a definitive account of what happened at Abu Ghraib published by Penguin Press, author Philip Gourevitch writes of the American interrogators who so degraded the humanity of prisoners:
"Even as they sank into a routine of depravity, [the interrogators] showed by their picture taking that they did not accept it as normal. They never fully got with the program. Is it not to their credit that they were profoundly demoralized?"
The much more compelling question—in view of the extent to which Abu Ghraib and other American war crimes have degraded us around the world—is whether the president and all the others at the top of the chain of command ever felt themselves in the least demoralized by the results of their orders.
And, even more important, will these perpetrators ever be put on trial as a deterrent to future presidents, Defense Department and CIA heads, and their eager lawyer-accomplices in these crimes?
General Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, in his recent memoir Wiser in Battle, writes that George W. Bush's 2002 memorandum—that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to our "detainees" suspected of terrorist ties—"constituted a watershed event in U.S. military history. . . . And that guidance set America on a path to torture." (Emphasis added.)
Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, signed by the United States and thereby part of our law, guarantees that any detained person has the right to be free from "cruel treatment and torture; outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."
This right applies whether the detainee is a prisoner of war, an "unprivileged" belligerent, a terrorist, or a noncombatant. Moreover, this right is in effect "in all circumstances" and "at any time and in any place whatsoever."
Making good on a promise to a friend to summarize his views on Christianity, Thomas Jefferson set to work with scissors, snipping out every miracle and inconsistency he could find in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
In a letter sent from Monticello to John Adams in 1813, Jefferson said his "wee little book" of 46 pages was based on a lifetime of inquiry and reflection and contained "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man."
He called the book "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." Friends dubbed it the Jefferson Bible. It remains perhaps the most comprehensive expression of what the nation's third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence found ethically interesting about the Gospels and their depiction of Jesus.
"I have performed the operation for my own use," he continued, "by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter, which is evidently his and which is as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dunghill."
I was at a playground with my daughter the other day, reading "The Two Kinds of Decay" by Sarah Manguso (good book) and watching my girl as she stood at the perimeter of children playing and studied them, exactly as I did when I was a kid, working up the nerve to plunge into the fray. She is braver than I—she plunges. I tended to retreat and have been backpedaling ever since.
I was sitting on a bench in the shade with the nannies and mommies, most of them on cell phones, talking about problem men, problem cleaning ladies, problem mothers, and the woman sitting next to me got up to go see to her child, and then stopped and came back and got her purse out of the stroller and took it with her. I was offended. I am an author, not a purse snatcher. Does a purse snatcher sit on a bench reading the latest Manguso book?
When she came back I wanted to tell her, "I am not a crook," but remembered Richard Nixon saying that and how the very words immediately told you what a liar he was, so I sat and brooded, and then it occurred to me that if you play it cool and don't talk to people, then people are entitled to assume the worst. I hadn't said so much as "Good morning" to her and so she was wary.
The willingness to put yourself out there and let people poke you and examine your teeth and look in your ears and up your nose and trot when they tell you to trot is what good politicians have in common, unlike us writers who are secretive brooders, observers on the perimeter, and what's notable about Barack Obama is that he is both: He has the self-confidence but also the smarts and integrity to put himself down on paper. His is the only candidacy I can think of that was launched by an autobiography. Usually that comes later and is written by a ghost.
by Wes Unruh
Fortunately there was a radio show with a contact on a cellphone who were able to cover the event as it happened. Look for the July 3rd episode, with the above victim account taken from a few minutes in during the second hour: Hour 1, Hour 2
My initial coverage: Police Fire Pepper Spray Into Crowd In Attempt To Start Riot
Here's a short video clip of the gathering before the event happened:
I find the way the RFLL is covered in the various news articles fascinating:
Before Attack - News Coverage: 'Om'-ing in Wyoming
Current News Reports:
President Bush's economic stimulus package, which appears so far to have been ineffective in stroking the economy to life, is giving an unexpected raise to the porn industry.
An independent market-research firm, AIMRCo (Adult Internet Market Research Company), has discovered that many websites focused on adult or erotic material have experienced an upswing in sales in the recent weeks since checks have appeared in millions of Americans' mailboxes across the country.
According to Kirk Mishkin, Head Research Consultant for AIMRCo, "Many of the sites we surveyed have reported 20-30% growth in membership rates since mid-May when the checks were first sent out, and typically the summer is a slow period for this market."
by Dan Savage
That's NPR-speak for, "He was a racist piece of shit."
Jesse Helms was also a homophobic piece of shit who did everything he could to torment people with AIDS during the darkest hours of the AIDS epidemic—and now he's dead.
I realize that the death of a prominent piece of shit puts people on the radio and teevee in an awkward position. We're not supposed to speak ill of the dead… and any honest accounting of this piece of shit's career requires us to speak very ill of the dead indeed. So perhaps simply noting the piece of shit's passing—briefly, and just the facts—would be the prudent thing to do. It would certainly be better than inviting a few people on the radio to discuss the piece of shit's life and accomplishments at the precise moment when decorum requires us to put the nicest possible gloss on the piece of shit. To polish the turd, as it were.
Waking up to a discussion of the highlights of Helm's career and listening to the oh-so-polite NPR host and his oh-so-polite guests dance around the issue of race—never mind the gay or AIDS issues, which weren't even mentioned (well, not in the section I caught; I literally woke up to this)—until the host delicately observed in admiring tones, "He used race very effectively," and the guest chuckled and agreed, well, let's just say that's was a very unpleasant way to start the day.
Health care enforcers admit they knew they'd be outgunned in court
Health care enforcers admit they knew they'd be outgunned in court
by Shaya Tayefe Mohajer
California regulators admitted Thursday that for more than a year they didn't even try to enforce a million-dollar fine against health insurer Anthem Blue Cross because they knew they would be outgunned in court.
In early 2007, the Department of Managed Health Care pledged to fine the state's largest insurer for "routinely rescinding health insurance policies in violation of state law."
But it never did.
The department's director, Cindy Ehnes, said Thursday that, when it comes to rescissions, the agency has succeeded in forcing smaller insurers to reinstate illegally canceled policies and pay fines, but Blue Cross is too powerful to take on.
"In each and every one of those rescissions, (Blue Cross has) the right to contest each, and that could tie us up in court forever," Ehnes said of about 1,770 Blue Cross rescissions since Jan. 1, 2004.
"They have the largest number of rescissions, so as a practical matter for the department it does present some practical challenges that are different from a Health Net (of California) or a PacifiCare," referring to providers who, along with Kaiser Permanente, have made settlements with the state to reinstate health care coverage.
That means that although Anthem Blue Cross has the highest number of alleged illegal rescissions, it may face the least regulatory consequence simply because of its sheer size and its skill in legal intimidation.
Anthem Blue Cross, a unit of WellPoint Inc., acknowledged Thursday that it had seen the March 22, 2007, announcement of the $1 million fine, but noted that "Anthem Blue Cross has not been fined by the DMHC."
"The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will stay at War with that mysterious enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. Guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. All Bush knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it."
- Hunter S. Thompson: published Sept 12, 2001 -
Former congressman Curt Weldon is helping broker deals between Russian and Ukranian weapons suppliers and the Iraqi and Libyan governments as part of his new job with a private American defense consulting firm, Wired.com has learned.
Weldon, who is currently being investigated by the FBI over alleged corruption during his time in office, visited Libya in March to discuss a possible military deal, according to a letter describing the trip from Weldon to Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold. In May, Weldon, together with Ringgold and another company representative, traveled to Moscow to discuss working with Russia's weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East.
Both trips were part of the company's effort to tap into the growing -- and often legally murky -- market for selling weapons from former Eastern Bloc countries to the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The Russians want to sell weapons to Iraq directly, but "must go slow on Iraq because of political reasons" and want to work with an "intermediary" like Defense Solutions, CEO Ringgold subsequently wrote to colleagues. "They have not spoken with any American company that can offer the quid pro quo that we can or that has the connections in Russia that we have," he boasted.
Ingrid Betancourt arrived in France today after being held captive for six years in the Colombian jungle, amid claims that a ransom was paid to free her.
The Colombian government said that she was freed in an audacious operation after the military tricked Farc into handing the French-Colombian politician over without a shot being fired.
But quoting "reliable sources", Swiss Radio reported that a ransom was paid of around $20m (£10m).
It said that the US, which had three citizens among those freed, was behind the deal and that "the whole operation afterwards was a set-up".
The station reported that the wife of one of the hostages' guards was the go-between, having been arrested by the Colombian army.
If proved true, the allegations would be hugely embarrassing for the Colombian government which was showered with praise for the efficiency of the operation. Many commentators had predicted that it would even spell the end of Farc as a credible force.
MISSOULA, Mont. -- The Bush administration is preparing to ease the way for the nation's largest private landowner to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of mountain forestland to residential subdivisions.
The deal was struck behind closed doors between Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co., a former logging company turned real estate investment trust that is building homes. Plum Creek owns more than 8 million acres nationwide, including 1.2 million acres in the mountains of western Montana, where local officials were stunned and outraged at the deal.
"We have 40 years of Forest Service history that has been reversed in the last three months," said Pat O'Herren, an official in Missoula County, which is threatening to sue the Forest Service for forgoing environmental assessments and other procedures that would have given the public a voice in the matter.
Despite popular belief, critically acclaimed movies actually sell better.By Erik Lundegaard
It's almost a given these days that movie critics are elitist, while moviegoers are populist. When the highest-grossing films get panned by critics, what good are critics? As publishers across the country dump their reviewers, this is not exactly a rhetorical question.
Believe it or not, though, critically acclaimed films generally do better than critically panned films at the box office—if you measure their performance in the right way.
Here are the highest-grossing movies from 2007, along with each film's rating from Rotten Tomatoes, a Web site that quantifies critical opinion. (In the Rotten Tomatoes vernacular, films that garner positive reviews from at least 60 percent of critics are considered "fresh," while those below 60 percent are considered "rotten"):
You hardly need the Rotten Tomatoes rating. Four of the top five films are sequels; the fifth a sci-fi flick based upon a 20-year-old cartoon, which was itself based upon a toy. None is exactly Citizen Kane. Or even Jaws.
But here's something else they have in common: They were the only five films in 2007 to open in more than 4,000 theaters. Beyond the cause-and-effect question—do people see what studios make available and market, or do studios make available and market only what people want to see?—the popularity of a movie, via box office grosses, is to a great extent a self-fulfilling prophecy. So is there a better way to judge a film's popularity?
By MICHELLE FAUL
Nigeria. Rwanda. Uganda. Ethiopia. Gabon. Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe has plenty of competitors for the title of "least democratic in Africa."
But while he has been singled out for condemnation by the West, leaders of other autocratic states in Africa have largely been able to avoid sanctions and isolation. Many have friends in Western capitals. Or play a strategic role in the war against terrorist groups. Or sit on oil.
With corrupt and authoritarian governments close to the norm on the continent, it is not surprising that African leaders ignored Western demands that they censure Zimbabwe's president at a summit this week and some welcomed him with hugs.
As Mugabe himself has asked: How many African leaders can point a clean finger at him? How many held a better election than his one-man runoff that followed a campaign of violence against his foes that induced the opposition leader to quit the race?
While some African leaders have condemned Mugabe, many admire him for thumbing his nose at the West and pointing out its perceived hypocrisies, like the Bush administration appealing for human rights in Zimbabwe while facing criticism over the U.S. prison at Guantanamo.
"We Africans should learn a lesson from this," Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said in praising Mugabe's election to a sixth term.
"They (the West) think they can dictate to us and this is not acceptable. Africans should stand for Zimbabwe. After all, what did the West do for Africa?" said Jammeh, a former army colonel who seized power in a 1994 coup.