Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Sunday, 20 August 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 34, for the week of August 20, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week, six extended commentaries on current events - on whether can you win a war after the fact by saying you won, and a detailed review of the very odd race-baiting scandal in Virginia (the senator said what?), the argument for abolishing August as really bad things happen in August, a review of the big dispute in conservative circles on God and their view of politics, extensive notes on the big legal story of the month (and the one that is silly), and some notes on what politicians do when they cannot use logic to argue they should be reelected. In short, the usual.

The International Desk lights up again this week, unexpectedly - Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, is in New York, in Queens and Manhattan, with words and great photos.

The local photography this week covers some really spiffy architecture from Hollywood's Golden Age, and on the other end of things, the shocking pink walls of the world famous home of Trashy Lingerie. Throw in some nightmare faces and odd murals and you'll get a feel for this end of the world, and for automotive buffs, there's one of those ultimate California cars to round things out. Then take two pages of botanicals and one abstract and you'll be fine.

Our Texas friend is back with more of the weird, of course, and the quotes this week are on winning - but not the usual ones.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Winners and Losers
Race: A Minor Incident Turns Major as People Put Two and Two Together
The Dog Days: Everything Turns Sour in the Heat
Conservatism: What's God Got To Do With It?
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Paris: New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens (and More)

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Architecture: Fine Living in Hollywood's Golden Age
Color: Pink Trashy Walls
Faces
A Bicycle: A California Bird
Cars
Botanicals: Hibiscus
Light: Adventures in Backlighting
One Shot

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of August 20, 2006 - Are We Winning?

All that took some time of course. Commentary here will resume tomorrow - Monday, August 21, 2006 - the birthday of Count Basie (1904) and Aubrey Beardsley (1872).

Posted by Alan at 19:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 19 August 2006
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things
Topic: Political Theory
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things
Okay, the week ended with the president making some remarks to the press. He had met with his top people at Camp David to discuss the economy, a summit on how well things were going and how to convince the American people - whose real wages had been flat or worse for five years, unless they were top executives, and who were being pressure by ever increasing costs for healthcare and gasoline (to get to the jobs they were afraid of losing as this and that moved offshore) - that things were going just fine, and they'd get theirs sooner or late, so to speak. Many are afraid they will.

But the three wars kept coming up in the questions - the first war in Afghanistan that seems to be heating up again, the second in Iraq where things are quickly disintegrating and here's trouble on the Kurdish-Turkey border now, and the recent war in Lebanon.

The third, where the president had earlier declared Israel had won a stunning victory over Hezbollah, was the issue. No one else in the world saw it that way, not even the Israelis, where the government might fall as most think nothing was accomplished in the month-long dismantling of Lebanon - Hezbollah is doing just fine. They didn't think they'd won.

This called for some explaining, so the president said this -
The first reaction, of course, of Hezbollah and its supporters is, declare victory. I guess I would have done the same thing if I were them. But sometimes it takes people a while to come to the sober realization of what forces create stability and which don't. Hezbollah is a force of instability.
On a Friday afternoon before a long weekend no reporter was going to point out that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has previously said this -
For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East - and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course.

As mentioned in these pages, that seemed odd, saying instability is a good thing and, as she said later when we did our best to block any immediate cease-fire in the Lebanon war, this was the "birth pages" of a new Middle East, so the war was good in a lot of ways. The president had followed her lead and said much the same thing - the previous stability in the region had just made people frustrated, so they flew airplanes into three of our most iconic buildings, so we needed to shake things up and, logically, there'd be no more of that. It made little sense, but the press likes to give him the benefit of the doubt - just report what he says and don't smirk. Let the readers and viewers make of it what they will.

But these Friday remarks were funhouse stuff. Instability is good. Got it. But Hezbollah was and is a force for instability and that is, of course, bad, really bad. But Hezbollah lost the war, really, which is good, so Hezbollah can't be a force for instability any longer. That's really good. Yeah! But then we wanted instability, actually. That's how things change for the better. But then…

Just where is this going?

Bill Montgomery comments here - "The bottom line, which an odd member of the punditburo might even reach one of these days, is that this is an administration that no longer makes any sense at all - not even on the most formal, semiotic level."

Well, the public makes sense of things as best they can, and perhaps doesn't expect anything like sense for the leadership we have. After a while you just throw up your hands and give up.

The public decides what it thinks is going on, and what matters, on its own, as in this -

A Pew Research Center poll released Thursday found "no evidence that terrorism is weighing heavily on voters - just 2 percent cite that as the issue they most want to hear candidates discuss, far fewer than the number mentioning education, gas prices, or health care." The center continued: "And while roughly a third of Americans (35 percent) say they are very concerned that if Democrats gain control of Congress, they will weaken terrorist defenses, even more (46 percent) express great concern that Republicans will involve the U.S. in too many overseas military missions if the GOP keeps its congressional majorities."
So it doesn't matter what's said on the lawn at Camp David - things cost a lot more than ever, the pay is effectively lower, and they worry all the guys in power now are just cooking up more wars.

Perhaps the Republicans should be worried, if the polls are right - which they say they say just cannot be.

But if the polls are right, something must change. Otherwise they're gone, swept out of power.

What must be done? See Digby at Hullabaloo with Jungle Drums.

This is a long item on the only thing to do now is play the race card, and it's argued convincingly.

Way back when, at the time of Hurricane Katrina, he had written this -
There's one other little way to gin up base conservative voters that we can already see developing on the shout fest and gasbags shows. But this is one that the leakers know very well mustn't be mentioned to writers for Time magazine. They are already dusting off their old tried and true southern strategy manual and after more than 40 years it's like a favorite old song - they just started regurgitating their coded talking points without missing a beat. They'll need to. This happened deep in Red territory.

On This Weak, George Will basically said that the problem in New Orleans is that blacks fuck too much. Or rather, the problem of the "underclass" can be traced to so many "out of wedlock births." I think it's pretty clear he wasn't suggesting that abortions be made available to poor women. (If Bill Clinton thought he neutralized that line with welfare reform, he was sadly mistaken.) As far as the right is concerned, it's all about that old racist boogeyman "dependency." Last night on the McLaughlin Group, Pat Buchanan was foaming at the mouth about "the welfare state." He was in his element, getting his "we're gonna take our cities block by block" Pitchfork Pat mojo back. These are code words. They aren't about class - although they will certainly claim that's what they're talking about. These are code words for blacks.

… Immigration had already reared its ugly head out of nowhere, and now this. I believe the Republicans already see the elections of 06 and 08 as an opportunity to revert to a tried and true code saturated "law 'n order" strategy. The War on Terrorism has been losing its juice for sometime - and Iraq is nothing but an embarrassment now. It's time to go back to what works.

For those who think that we are in a post racist world because George W. Bush appointed blacks to his cabinet, think again. The modern Republican Party was built on the back of an enduring national divide on the issue of race. George Bush may not personally be racist (or more likely not know he's racist) but the party he leads has depended on it for many years. The coded language that signals tribal ID has obscured it, but don't kid yourselves. It is a party that became dominant by exploiting the deep cultural fault of the Mason-Dixon Line.
And the current item adds this -
… then there's Senator George Felix "Macaca" Allen. He's just a stone racist, but I think it's worth noting nonetheless that he knew he could play the race card among his supporters in "the real world" of Virginia. You didn't have to know what "macaca" meant to know what he was saying (and I would guess that more than a few of his supporters know very well what it meant.) His face in that video shows a barely leashed anger, the tight smile, the sarcastic edge - and his supporters all got the point, laughing and tittering at his nasty little aside. Nobody has asked what purpose it served for Allen to point out this guy videotaping the event in the first place. I assume Allen's supporters thought he was with the campaign not with Webb, and even if they did I doubt they would have thought much about it. But Allen, either out of personal pique or political calculation (or both) brought this lone dark-skinned person to the attention of his audience and identified him with the opposition. He did that for a reason and I suspect it's because the word has gone forth that race is on the table in this election. (The fact that he's even more brain-dead than Bush is what did him in - he pulled it on a guy who was videotaping him. Jesus.)

This is happening because the Republicans are on the run and they have to pull out all the stops to GOTV [get out the vote]. Mostly, however, I think it's an attempt to neutralize Katrina. Let's face it, there is nothing the Republicans can do to improve their image when it comes to their performance last September. It was a national disgrace and we are going to relive the whole awful scene in living color on the first anniversary. Their only hope is to stoke enough under-the-radar racial resentment to mitigate the damage. I suspect they have been thinking about this for the past year and carefully laying out all the little racist signposts we've been seeing over the past few months.

Katrina remains very damaging for Republicans unless they can find some way to kick in the racist lizard brain. They are very good at tickling the primitive, tribal side of human nature - in fact, that's all they are good at. Subtly and not so subtly playing the race card is one of their specialties and I think it's pretty much all they have left in their hand to play this time out. (Immigration is another racial card for this cycle although I think it's really aimed at '08.)

… And it remains to be seen whether they can find a way to touch once again that deep, unexamined part of the American psyche that Katrina revealed - not hatred, but fear of African Americans. Fear, after all, is the GOP's stock in trade.

I doubt it will work. I think we have come too far for racism of that kind to last beyond a single moment. It reared its hideous head briefly during the crisis but I don't think Rove can bring it back with standard racist appeals. His problem is that it's all he's got.

Keep your eyes open, though, for signs of this phenomenon. It's clear to me that this is the GOP subtext of the election. It's quite amazing when you think about it. Bush ran as the Republican who was beyond racial politics, known for his outreach to Hispanics and African Americans. But when it comes down to it, racism is really the heart and soul of the modern Republican party, the essence of their electoral strategy and the underlying sentiment that drives their appeals to "tradition" and "religion." We'll see if they can crank up the old macaca machine and make it work for them one more time.
So when things don't make sense, or cannot be explained without some rolling their eyes, some smirking, some laughing out loud - and most just walking away and thinking it might be time for a new leadership team - you play the last thing you've got, the last card in your hand.

Will the Ace of Spades slapped on the table win the hand this time? It seems it's all they've got.

Posted by Alan at 17:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006 17:50 PDT home

Friday, 18 August 2006
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
Topic: The Law
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
As we out here in Hollywood all know, Americans are fascinated by the law, even if in an odd way. The old Perry Mason show is long gone but Dick Wolff became a very rich man with "Law and Order" and its spin-offs. That's a mini-industry out here, propelling various actors and actresses to fame and fortune they never expected, and made the late Jerry Orbach a hero with the real-life cops on the streets of New York where it is filmed. That's more than the role as the tight-assed father in Dirty Dancing ever did for him. Sam Watterson retired from real acting to play the district attorney in the series, trying to prove this and that to a puzzled jury each week, and Senator Fred Thompson retired from politics to play his boss. Who needs Washington? The general rule seems to be play a lawyer and argue your case, and become a star - Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow in "Inherit the Wind" to Tom Cruise (before he went all scientology) as the conflicted JAG lawyer in "A Few Good Men" and all the rest. Folks eat it up. They watch.

And then there's the real world. There's the nasty Nancy Grace on CNN Headline News saying who is really guilty in real cases, and why, and a there's whole cable channel - Court TV - for those who need this sort of thing all day, all the time. From OJ to Michael Jackson, we all tune in to the case of the day, or at least many do - more than enough viewers to sell the advertising slots at a fine rate.

So what were the big cases that fascinated folks in the middle of August, 2006?

Just glancing at the news, the winner, by maybe a ten to one margin, was this - "The breakthrough arrest of a suspect in the long-unsolved murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey started to look distinctly shaky yesterday, as legal experts and former investigators in the case poked holes in the confession of expatriate schoolteacher John Mark Karr and even Colorado prosecutors said they were proceeding cautiously."

Well, it had sex, and dead child, and a pervert. Karr was arrested in Thailand on Wednesday and was paraded before reporters. He claimed he was with the kid when she died in the basement of her family home in Boulder in 1996 and that her death "was a horrible accident for which he took responsibility." The Thai officials said he had admitted drugging her and having sex with her before she died, but then that just didn't match the autopsy results - no drugs or alcohol in her system. The former Denver prosecutor said "this confession seemed delusional" and added - "He looked like a drugged-out Lee Harvey Oswald." The Thai immigration police backed off - he had only told them whole encounter was "a blur." Sorry about that.

The case is ten years old. The mother, once a suspect, and who dressed the kid like a little hooker and entered her in beauty contests, died a while back. And the case is not very significant in the greater scheme of things. Outside the family, whatever happened is, really, nobody's business. It's certainly a bad business, but means little. It's just titillating and slightly freighting entertainment for those whose lives are a bit dull. If you live a life of "quiet desperation" it's best to import some nasty stuff you can safely contemplate, as it has nothing to do. It fills the time.

The loser, by ten to one, receiving far less coverage, was this - a federal judge ordered all entities to stop participating in warrantless surveillance because the National Security Administration's program is unconstitutional. The president had to stop that stuff - it violates First and Fourth Amendments by monitoring communications without warrants and "interfering with the ability of journalists and scholars to do their jobs." She ordered an immediate halt to it all. You want to tap phones and read email? Get a damned warrant, just like it says in the constitute, and use the system set up by law in 1978 for such things. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor up Detroit (US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan) was blunt - although she dismissed the argument that data-mining should be subject to obtaining warrants, saying perhaps those could not be discussed without revealing state secrets. The administration had boasted about the phone and email business, and said they had the right to break the law and ignore the constitution. They hadn't said anything about data-mining, so maybe that was off limits to the plaintiffs - secret stuff.

But the thrust of the matter was clear - listen all you want, go after the bad guys, but follow the law. If you're dealing with US citizens, the rules are you get a warrant. It's kind of a no-brainer. Do your job, but don't jerk us all around, saying the law just doesn't matter any longer.

This is not sexy, and it's not titillating stuff, but it kind of does matter to everyone. If laws don't matter any longer we're in a world of hurt, unless you implicitly trust the authorities in power. Some do. Some don't.

An this decision is the first ruling by any court on the legality of the NSA program - one that was secret until it was revealed, so to speak, last December by the New York Times. And it rejected every single argument the administration made to defend its "right" to eavesdrop without warrants. And too the court also rejected the administration's claim that mere "adjudication by the court "of the legality of this NSA program would risk the disclosure of "state secrets." They say that all the time about stuff they don't want reviewed in any court (see this). But that didn't fly here. They'd already talked about it quite enough, and no more details were actually necessary.

The decision has already been appealed by the administration to the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals, conservative-leaning some say, and the parties have agreed that the Michigan District Court's order will be stayed until September 7 - it won't be enforced. We'll see what happens then.

But to be clear about what this decision means and what it does not mean - it does not prohibit eavesdropping on terrorists. It prohibits illegal eavesdropping in violation of the clear law in the matter. The White House is saying this is a real blow to the administration's efforts to fight terrorism (see this press release), but doesn't explain how the law was getting in their way. They seem to assume everyone knows it was.

But just what does everyone know? Some perspective is in order. But where do you go for that?

There is Erwin Chemerinsky. He's been at Duke since July 2004, but spent twenty-one years out here, not in Hollywood but at the University of Southern California Law School - a professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics, and Political Science. His four textbooks are standard. In April 2005, was named by Legal Affairs as one of "the top 20 legal thinkers in America." There's also the 2003 President's Award from the Criminal Courts Bar Association. the 2003 Freedom of Information Award form the Society for Professional Journalists, the 2001 Community Service Award from the Anti-Defamation League, the 2001 Clarence Darrow Award from the People's College of Law. Take that Spencer Tracy. And he's argued the big cases - Van Orden v. Perry (a challenge to a Texas Ten Commandments monument) and Tory v. Cochran (a First Amendment case concerning the permissibility of injunctive relief as a remedy in defamation cases), and in the Supreme Court Scheidler v. National Organization for Women (suit for injunction to stop violent protests of reproductive health care facilities) in November 2005. He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the hearings of Samuel Alito for confirmation to the Supreme Court in January 2006. He might know something.

And he says this -
The Constitution is the winner in Thursday's decision by a federal judge in Detroit to invalidate the National Security Agency's program of warrantless wiretapping. The Bill of Rights is a constant reminder that the ends do not justify some means. Surely, there would be less crime and more safety if the police could search anyone's person or property, at any time, without a level of suspicion that meets the legal definition of probable cause. But a society that values privacy and dignity does not accord the police such authority, even when the objective is fighting terrorism.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor followed basic constitutional principles in ruling that the NSA must not engage in warrantless electronic surveillance. The core requirement of the Fourth Amendment is that, subject to narrow exceptions, police searches and wiretaps must be authorized by a warrant issued by a judge and based on probable cause. The framers of the Constitution were deeply distrustful of executive power and wanted to make sure that searches and arrests were authorized by a neutral magistrate.

Federal statutes reaffirm this by requiring the government to obtain a warrant when it engages in wiretapping. Under these laws, the government usually goes to federal district court for the required warrant. Or, if the person it wants to listen in on is thought to be acting at the direction of a foreign power, then the government goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The law is explicit: The government must follow one of these two procedures before engaging in electronic surveillance.
That's clear. Why was there even an argument about it? The administration decided against meeting the requirements for a warrant and probable cause mandated by the Constitution and specific federal statutes. The judge had little choice here. The president has no such power.

But here's the problem -
Under the Bush administration's argument, federal law enforcement could seemingly go into anyone's home, at any time, without a warrant by claiming that it might better catch terrorists. There is simply no obvious stopping point, and that's what makes the president's claim of broad executive power so alarming. Nor is there any reason to believe that warrantless wiretapping is needed to protect national security. The administration could have gone to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves more than 99 percent of all government requests for warrants. Under the procedures of that court, it even could have gotten the warrant after the surveillance had been done.
But they didn't. The obvious question is why. Put on your tin-foil hat and work on that a bit.

Chemerinsky goes over the argument that the Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of Military Force, that authorized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and notes the Supreme Court shot that down in the Guantánamo case (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) - it did not provided the necessary authority for it to set up those special military commissions to try the folks there and could be taken to override specific statutes and treaties. The thing gave the president permission to use troops and take military actions - it said nothing about special military commissions, and it this case, it said nothing about eavesdropping electronically on US citizens. Neither is military force. That's kind of obvious.

As for the flak coming down now -
Judge Taylor's ruling has been criticized because it did not offer a full explanation for why the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping is unconstitutional. And the judge herself has been derided for overstepping the judiciary's proper role. But critics would have objected to Taylor's opinion no matter how it was written. As for the notion that the judge went too far, it is precisely the role of the federal courts to interpret the Constitution and to determine if it has been violated.
She was just doing her job.

And he offers this perspective -
The most important thing to keep in mind, in weighing Judge Taylor's ruling against the government's arguments, is that no administration in memory, and perhaps none ever in American history, has so frequently claimed that it can ignore the Constitution, as well as federal statutes and ratified treaties, to pursue important goals. Lawyers for the Bush administration have argued that the government can engage in torture in violation of federal statutes and treaties in the name of national security. They have claimed the power to detain American citizens as enemy combatants without complying with the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. They have argued that the administration can ignore federal statutes and the Geneva Conventions in imprisoning individuals indefinitely in Guantanamo.

It is the role of the federal courts to say no to such actions. Judge Taylor did exactly that on Thursday. Now it's up to the federal court of appeals and the Supreme Court to back her up.
We'll see what happens. Suddenly Joe Lieberman's breaking with his party to support the nominations of Alito and Roberts matters more now.

But what does this guy know? In a smug and nasty editorial here the Washington Post says the ruling just wasn't sufficiently thoughtful. The warrantless wiretapping program "exists on ever-more uncertain legal ground" but this ruling was "neither careful nor scholarly, and it is hard-hitting only in the sense that a bludgeon is hard-hitting." Maybe something you need a bludgeon?

The Wall Street Journal just gets hysterical here - they accuse this judge of gunning for a "Civil Libertarian of the Year" award and then complain that voters will have no way to hold her accountable for "any Americans who might die as a result" of her ruling. And she was appointed by Jimmy Carter way back when (1979) and she's black. She must have an agenda and doesn't care of we all die. Damned liberals.

Then there's this in the National Review - "Virtually every intelligence agency in the world is pursuing al Qaeda operatives and intercepting their communications. In Judge Taylor's perfect world, only the US - the primary target of al Qaeda - would be forbidden to do so." Of course that's not what the ruling said - the intercepts were not forbidden at all - but they have to feed their readers that red meat.

And there was Rush Limbaugh with this - "Make no mistake: this enemy is all over this country. It's all over the world, and this same type of surveillance program that was used by Bill Clinton and a number of other presidents, nobody beefed about it, nobody complained about it. This is liberals, ladies and gentlemen. This is leftists."

Clinton never ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans' telephone calls. There was that warrantless search of Aldrich Ames' home, a search that occurred before FISA was amended to require warrants for physical searches. But what's the point of arguing?

Friday, August 18, the president himself spoke, saying it was really naïve to believe in these special time he should follow the law, with this - "I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live." Sure the fancy-pants lawyers and people who read books know the law and the constitution, but he knows the real world. He has no use for such things. Of course he's banking on the cowboy thing - people don't like thinkers and readers, they like doers who cut through all the crap. And that may work. It's worked for six years.

And who's arguing against that? Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and best-selling author of How Would a Patriot Act? - he worked at the New York firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and left to co-found the law firm of Greenwald Christoph & Holland, now Greenwald-Christoph. He has litigated cases with constitutional issues, but then he's openly gay and splits his time between Brazil and New York City - because only Brazil, and not the United States, recognizes his same-sex relationship with his Brazilian partner as the basis for emigration. Are you going to trust that sort of fellow?

Still he says this -
This ruling … has critical implications for the administration's efforts to change the law so as to legalize its warrantless eavesdropping activities. Sen. Arlen Specter, working in collaboration with the White House, has introduced legislation that would effectively eliminate all restrictions on the president's power to eavesdrop on Americans. That bill would make the process of obtaining warrants optional, rather than mandatory, and it would all but kill off judicial challenges to the legality of the president's eavesdropping.

But the court's ruling today strongly suggests that the Specter bill would be just as unconstitutional as the president's current eavesdropping program. This is because the court found warrantless eavesdropping generally to be a violation of the Fourth and First Amendments. Thus, Congress cannot authorize warrantless eavesdropping via legislation - Congress cannot authorize activities that are unconstitutional - which would preclude enforcement of the Specter bill.

Still, commentators of every ideological stripe have quickly agreed that this opinion is argumentatively weak and thus vulnerable on appeal with respect to several critical issues. The court, for instance, barely explains why warrantless eavesdropping violates the Fourth Amendment, and its discussion of why such eavesdropping violates the First Amendment borders on the incoherent. And with respect to the most difficult hurdle the plaintiffs faced - whether they have "standing" to challenge the NSA program in light of their inability to prove that their conversations were monitored - the court made the best case it could as to why the plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed, but it relied on reasoning that is far from decisive.

Nonetheless, the political significance of this decision cannot be denied. The first federal court ever to rule on the administration's NSA program has ruled that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans in several respects, and that it violates criminal law.

And in so holding, the court eloquently and powerfully rejected the Bush administration's claims of unchecked executive power in the area of national security. The court observed that "it was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights ... We must always be mindful that '[w]hen the President takes official action, the Court has the authority to determine whether he has acted within the law.' Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 703 (1997)."

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration has insisted that nothing can restrict the president's decisions in any way with regard to national security, including laws enacted by the coequal branch of government, the Congress. Such a theory is wholly alien to the most fundamental principles that have defined this country since its founding. The court's decision today reaffirms that even in times of war, the president is bound by the rule of law and constrained by the protections guaranteed to Americans by the Bill of Rights. And that the Bush administration simply has no justification for acting outside the parameters of the law.
Well, if that writing is a little too dense, watch CNN's Jack Cafferty here be a little more succinct - the man broke the law, on purpose, and told us he did -
You know Wolf, it seems like were having this discussion about this judge's ruling sort of in the abstract, as if there's no precedent for what the judge decided. The judge in effect upheld the ruling of the FISA court which says that 'if you want to wiretap phones you need a warrant to do so'. The court was created by Congress in 1978 I think it was and the law of the land says, "Get a warrant". The actions of the administration have ignored the law of the land in that regard. So it's not a discussion in the abstract. It's not hypothetical. There are laws on the books against what the administration is doing and it's about time someone said it out loud.

This Federal district judge ruled today President Bush is breaking the law by spying on people, in this country, without a warrant. The judge said the President is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act FISA, passed by Congress 1978, specifically to prevent this kind of abuse of power. It was being done before. That's why the FISA court was created in the first place.

So what does this mean? It means President Bush violated his oath of office, among other things, when he swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It means he's been lying to us about the program since it started, when tells us there's nothing illegal about what he's doing. A court has ruled it is illegal. And it means a 75 year old black female judge in Michigan has finally stepped in and done the job that Congress is supposed to do, namely oversight of the executive branch of government. But the gov… but the Congress is controlled by Republicans. They are controlled by the President, and they have done nothing in the way of oversight.
If someone would do their job it might be impeachment time?

See Glenn Greenwald here -
… judicial decisions are starting to emerge which come close to branding the conduct of Bush officials as criminal. FISA is a criminal law. The administration has been violating that law on purpose, with no good excuse. Government officials who violate the criminal law deserve to be - and are required to be - held accountable just like any other citizens who violate the law. That is a basic, and critically important, principle in our system of government. These are not abstract legalistic questions being decided. They amount to rulings that our highest government officials have been systematically breaking the law - criminal laws - in numerous ways. And no country which lives under the rule of law can allow that to happen with impunity.
My, my, things are heating up. And conspiracy theorists wonder if Karl Rove worked with the Thai police on the timing of the arrest and confession of that strange man in Bangkok. That got most of the press. But no, that's just a lucky coincidence.

What's going to happen? We'll pay attention to the odd man who may have killed the little tarted-up beauty queen ten years ago, but may not have done that at all. It's even more scandalous that the noseless Michael Jackson and the little boys. We have our priorities. Everyone lives in Hollywood.

__

Reference:

The ruling on the NSA program is here and the stayed injunction stopping it here. Both are in PDF format - you'll Adobe Acrobat Reader, or an equivalent, to review them. A few regular readers are attorneys. These might be of interest.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006 22:32 PDT home

Thursday, 17 August 2006
Conservatism: What's God Got To Do With It?
Topic: Political Theory
Conservatism: What's God Got To Do With It?
Yes, years ago Tina Turner had a big hit with "What's love got to do with it?" - and then she went off to live in the south of France in a sort of Josephine Baker move. The song (lyrics here) touched a chord in people. It's that cynical, disillusioned thing - everything you call love is physical and the rest is emotional crap. You just need to know the emotional stuff really is powerful and unavoidable - but it's crap nonetheless - and all it does is hurt you. So get over it. The lyric suggests that last part is hard.

The political analog now may be the dialog playing out in conservative American political circles, where, as the Republicans seem to be in deeper and deeper trouble as the midterm elections approach, everyone on that side of things is wondering just what went wrong.

One of the ideas floating around is that the conservative movement may have just gotten too mixed up in religion, at least in the evangelical, fundamentalist, born-again, anti-science kind of religion.
In terms of conservative political governance, the question is actually being raised. What does God have to do with conservative values - the values that inform how things should be run? How did He get in there? And should He be in there at all? What up with that?

The Tina Turner in this case is Heather MacDonald, dropping her bomb in the August 28, 2006 issue of The American Conservative with this, a major article arguing that the conservatives should make some room for the skeptics in their midst, those for whom their God and their religion is a private matter, and really kind of irrelevant to how the country should be run. And some might even be atheists. Is there room for them - or is that heresy? Do we have a "big tent" here, or just a tent meeting?

MacDonald basically suggests the conservative God business is rather silly, or at least not very logical. She notes that when Attorney General John Ashcroft left office in November 2004 he carefully and sincerely thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11 - they did their job and that made all the difference. But then he said it really wasn't them - the real credit belonged to God. If you thought about it, it ultimately must really have been "God's solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland." Well, maybe that's more faith without evidence than it is "thought" - but you see what he was getting at. God did the job, and there were no more attacks.

MacDonald is having none of it -
Many conservatives hear such statements with a soothing sense of approbation. But others - count me among them - feel bewilderment, among much else. If God deserves thanks for fending off assaults on the United States after 9/11, why is he not also responsible for allowing the 2001 hijackings to happen in the first place?
The answer that "God's funny that way" just won't do. She applies logic and you see the problem. Just what is the God up to?

She senses nonsense here. Ashcroft and the like have made the movement seem just stupid, although she doesn't put it quite that bluntly. She merely thinks maybe folks with different views could make things better for the conservative side. She considers herself a "skeptical conservative" - and she'd like back in the movement.

Here's her main argument -
Skeptical conservatives - one of the Right's less celebrated subculture - are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.

Conservative atheists and agnostics support traditional American values. They believe in personal responsibility, self-reliance, and deferred gratification as the bedrock virtues of a prosperous society. They view marriage between a man and a woman as the surest way to raise stable, law-abiding children. They deplore the encroachments of the welfare state on matters best left to private effort.

They also find themselves mystified by the religiosity of the rhetoric that seems to define so much of conservatism today. Our Republican president says that he bases "a lot of [his] foreign policy decisions" on his belief in "the Almighty" and in the Almighty's "great gifts" to mankind. What is one to make of such a statement? According to believers, the Almighty's actions are only intermittently scrutable; using them as a guide for policy, then, would seem reckless.
Well, the alternative is to base your policies, foreign or domestic, on the best facts available as to what happening, carefully thinking through the alternative actions available, and using your best judgment to decide what to do, or not do. Of course that kind of bypasses God, and He might be offended. Still, that's how things used to be done.

And here's the kicker -
The presumption of religious belief - not to mention the contradictory thinking that so often accompanies it - does damage to conservatism by resting its claims on revealed truth. But on such truth there can be no agreement without faith. And a lot of us do not have such faith - nor do we need it to be conservative.

Nonbelievers look elsewhere for a sense of order, valuing the rule of law for its transparency to all rational minds and debating Supreme Court decisions without reverting to mystical precepts or "natural law." It is perfectly possible to revere the Founding Fathers and their monumental accomplishment without celebrating, say, "Washington's God." Skeptical conservatives even believe themselves to be good citizens, a possibility denied by Richard John Neuhaus in a 1991 article.
Of course that's just a subset of the argument, so often made, that an atheist and agnostic cannot be "moral" - a claim as old as the hills, made over and over in spite of the clear evidence of quite good and moral nonbelievers in every culture and throughout history.

As for what has been said over and over for the last six years - what makes conservatives superior to liberals is their religious faith, "as if morality is impossible without religion and everything is indeed permitted" - she's just not buying it.

There's this argument -
Skeptical conservatives do not look into the abyss when they make ethical choices. Their moral sense is as secure as a believer's. They do not need God or the Christian Bible to discover the golden rule and see themselves in others.

It is often said, in defense of religion, that we all live parasitically off of its moral legacy, that we can only dismiss religion because we are protected by the work it has already done on our behalf. This claim has been debated ad nauseam since at least the middle of the 19th century. Suffice it to say that, to many of us, Western society has become more compassionate, humane, and respectful of rights as it has become more secular. Just compare the treatment of prisoners in the 14th century to today, an advance due to Enlightenment reformers. A secularist could as easily chide today's religious conservatives for wrongly ignoring the heritage of the Enlightenment.
Now that's getting down to basics. The evidence is that secular government makes things better, and faith-based government makes things worse. When you think about the why and how of how the Untied States came to be, she almost makes those excluding her and the other skeptics seem, well, un-American.

Her wrap-up -
A secular value system is of course no guarantee against injustice and brutality, but then neither is Christianity. America's antebellum plantation owners found solid support for slaveholding in their cherished Bible, to name just one group of devout Christians who have brought suffering to the world.

So maybe religious conservatives should stop assuming that they alone occupy the field. Maybe they should cut back a bit on their religious triumphalism. Nonbelievers are good conservatives, too.
As you see, she's a trouble-maker. This kind of was heresy, and it spilled over onto the pages of the National Review, in The Corner, where the hot topics of the day are discussed.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for the magazine - who also writes for The Weekly Standard, Policy Review, The New Republic and First Things - was all over her case, saying there were so few non-believers on the conservative side that they just weren't worth worrying about. The religious conservatives were the ones who really mattered - so be a nice kid and just go away. She was just an oddball.

And her response -
Plenty of conservatives have arrived at those core values through close observation of human society and history, by plumbing the wisdom of philosophers and poets, or simply through a sound upbringing. It is just not the case that only Bible study could lead people to conservative, disciplined lives."
But he was having none of that. He is, after all, the author of The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life, with a blurb form Ann Coulter on the cover. You get the idea. He's the deep religious thinker on the conservative right (see his interview with Steven Colbert here where Colbert urges him to write the sequel - "The Party That Eats Their Own Children.")

It seems the battle lines are drawn - skeptics versus believers, death versus life, reason versus faith. There is no middle ground. Read your Bible.

Here MacDonald responds to the very odd Jonah Goldberg (you remember, his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, advised her friend Linda Tripp to secretly tape her phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky in order to protect herself from reprisals from the Clinton Administration) -
I agree with Jonah that the truth claims of religion are "slippery." Yet I hear them made all the time. A recent article on The Da Vinci Code in The American Spectator stated that it was a matter of "historical fact" that Jesus was born of a virgin and ascended to heaven after the crucifixion. I simply don't know what to make of that statement or its appearance in a powerful, justly respected journal of conservative opinion. It does not conform to what I thought was a common understanding of "historical facts." Ditto when the president claims that freedom is God's gift to humanity. He is not talking here about free will. I see little evidence in the Bible that God advocated the democratic government that we are bringing to (or imposing on) Iraq, not to mention the gender quotas that we fixed for the Iraqi National Assembly. The Bible seems to be relatively easy about slavery, patriarchy, and despotic tribal leadership; its concerns lie elsewhere. And if the freedom that we have created in the West is indeed God's gift, it sure took a long time for us to open it. If it turns out that our conception of political freedom is in fact a human creation growing out of very specific cultural soil, that may explain why it is not blossoming forth as we expected it to following the invasion of Iraq.
Heather is not playing nice.

In all that dialog at The Corner the oddest may have been this from Andrew Stuttaford -
Conservatism is being changed (to use a more neutral word) by the greater role that an explicitly religious activism is playing within it. Specifically, it's easy to discern a strain of conservatism emerging (and within the GOP and the administration it has emerged a long way) that more resembles European Christian Democracy (or, in its more robust forms, Gaullism) than the small government, skeptical, 'leave me alone' conservatism that brought so many into the fold and which (for what it's worth) I, for one, prefer.
So the problem isn't religion at all, it's that Bush is turning into a Gaullist? Oh, the irony. The conservatives want to turn us into religiously-centered big-government France, circa 1959 or something. That's amusing, non?

The odd man out here of course is the devout Catholic but quite gay, HIV-positive but old-fashioned conservative, Andrew Sullivan, who says this -
It may be that turning conservatism into a religiously-centered Southern-based, big-government movement makes electoral sense. I doubt it. But my objection to it is not that it hinders Republican dominance, but that I disagree with it. I believe in a separation of church and state, balanced budgets, low taxes, law that is as neutral as possible between competing moral and religious claims, and a "leave-me-alone" presumption when it comes to government power. And I'm sick of being told that excludes me from being conservative any more. I venture to suggest I'm not the only one.

No, there are many who feel that way. They're Democrats. You know, they're the folks who believe on looking at the available and quite empirical evidence at hand and figuring things out - what is best to do or not do. Most are quite religious, but they don't push it, as it's not what matters in, say, environment policy, or healthcare policy, or dealing with trade matters, or with those out to harm us. God may want is to work these things out ourselves, after all, using our brains.

It's that Enlightenment thing - Jefferson's God was the deist God so popular in the Enlightenment, the watchmaker who set things in motion and moved on to whatever was next, assuming we'd work things out down here ourselves just fine without Him.

Well, Sullivan endorsed Kerry last time around, so who knows?

He is, however, writing a new book - The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. The first part should be interesting, the second part quite Quixotic, as in noble, hopeless but silly battles, tilting at windmills and all that.

One chapter of this upcoming book is supposed to be on what he calls the "fundamentalist psyche," about which he says this -

I don't think you can understand the actions of this administration - i.e. make them make internal sense - without understanding the depth of the president's fundamentalist mindset. He's a fundamentalist convert and an alcoholic. Faith is the one thing that rescued him from a life of chaos. So fundamentalist faith itself - regardless of its content - is integral to his entire worldview. And fundamentalism cannot question; it is not empirical; it is the antithesis of skepticism. Hence this allegedly "conservative" president attacking conservatism at its philosophical core: its commitment to freedom, to doubt, to constitutional process, to prudence, to limited government, balanced budgets and the rule of law. Faith is to the new conservatism is what ideology was to the old leftism: an unquestioned orthodoxy from which all policy flows.

Cheney and Rumsfeld, however, do not strike me as the same. They're just bureaucratic brutalists, thrilled to have complete sanction to do as they please because they have the mandate from the leader-of-faith. Bush and Rove provide the fundamentalist voters; Cheney and Rummy get on with the war they want to wage. If they have to condescend to Bush's recently discovered faith in democratization, they'll humor him, while they bomb, wiretap and torture along what they think is the only path to security. They are enabled by the Christianist; but they're just plain old "bomb 'em to the stone-age" reactionaries.

Sooner or later this guy moves to the other side. He joins the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment. Count on it. He just needs to understand how reasonable the other side can be.

Ah, maybe he isn't coming across. Reasonableness is, as it always has been, relative. At least the other side gives it a go now and then, and doesn't dismiss the whole concept.

In any event, this flare-up inside the conservative movement is interesting. There's something authoritarian in it all, as John Dean pointed out in his new book, and cruelly exclusive. But at least they're organized and unified. They're not Democrats.

It's just too bad they roped in God on their side. It makes you wonder why He agreed.


Posted by Alan at 22:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006 19:18 PDT home

Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens
Topic: World View
Our Man in Paris - New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens
Our Man is Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, who this August isn't in Paris at all. One leaves Paris in August, of course. At least the Parisians do.

So Ric is in the Big Apple. Well, actually he's not in Manhattan. He's across the East River in Long Island City, Queens. Oh, you know - Astoria, Hunters Point, Blissville, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills and Bowery Bay - where you'll find the former Silvercup bakery, now home to Silvercup Studios, where they film The Sopranos for HBO. And there's the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, and the largest fortune cookie factory in the United States, owned by Wonton Foods, producing four million fortune cookies a day. That place.

This is not Paris, but Ric is having a fine time -
Arrived here with 100 degrees at JFK. No air-conditioning. But now New York has settled down to best summer weather many can remember. Coney Island doing fine. Had my cheesecake at Junior's. Been on the terrace of the Athens Cafe in Astoria, twice. Dancing on dirt at Flushing town hall - plus fancy eats for cheap. Man, New York City at 85 degrees, 35 percent humidity, 10 mph breeze - very, very fine. No need for Florida.

Here, Long Island City's very own and unique Water Taxi Beach, right across from 34th Street. Blindingly white sand blitzed most photos - overexposure! The photos - beach entry, beach flag, and beach cocktail area.

Here they are -

New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's grab from Google Earth - Manhattan on the left, the East River in the middle, and Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens, from about 6,750 feet up.

New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens - Google Earth image grab


Posted by Alan at 18:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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