Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 27th, 2010

Is Dawn Johnsen too controversial for Obama?

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It’s hard not to read something into the omission of Dawn Johnsen from those getting recess appointments.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 3:56 pm

Zu Warriors

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Just finished watching the strange Chinese fantasy that Tsui Hark created in Zu Warriors. Typical Tsui Hark fare: fascinating, vigorous action, semi-comprehensible plotline, overall very satisfying (for me, YMMV).

Apropos, it occurred to me why totalitarian/authoritarian regimes hate writers: You can’t corral the pesky creatures: they go and write fantasy and satire and such things, with plots involving re-establishing righteousness in some fictitious world in which the villains do various villainous things, and you can’t exactly object to that, still there’s something about it that’s not exactly right, etc.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

The war on Wikileaks

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A newly leaked CIA report prepared earlier this month (.pdf) analyzes how the U.S. Government can best manipulate public opinion in Germany and France — in order to ensure that those countries continue to fight in Afghanistan.  The Report celebrates the fact that the governments of those two nations continue to fight the war in defiance of overwhelming public opinion which opposes it — so much for all the recent veneration of “consent of the governed” — and it notes that this is possible due to lack of interest among their citizenry:   “Public Apathy Enables Leaders to Ignore Voters,” proclaims the title of one section.

But the Report also cites the “fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan” and worries that — particularly if the “bloody summer in Afghanistan” that many predict takes place — what happened to the Dutch will spread as a result of the “fragility of European support” for the war.  As the truly creepy Report title puts it, the CIA’s concern is:  “Why Counting on Apathy May Not Be Enough”:


The Report seeks to provide a back-up plan for “counting on apathy,” and provides ways that the U.S. Government can manipulate public opinion in these foreign countries.  It explains that French sympathy for Afghan refugees means that exploiting Afghan women as pro-war messengers would be effective, while Germans would be more vulnerable to a fear-mongering campaign (failure in Afghanistan means the Terrorists will get you).  The Report highlights the unique ability of Barack Obama to sell war to European populations (click on images to enlarge):

It’s both interesting and revealing that the CIA sees Obama as a valuable asset in putting a pretty face on our wars in the eyes of foreign populations. It is odious — though, of course, completely unsurprising — that the CIA plots ways to manipulate public opinion in foreign countries in order to sustain support for our wars.  Now that this is a Democratic administration doing this and a Democratic war at issue, I doubt many people will object to any of this.  But what is worth noting is how and why this classified Report was made publicly available:  because it was leaked to and then posted by, the site run by the non-profit group Sunshine Press, that is devoted to exposing suppressed government and corporate corruption by publicizing many of their most closely guarded secrets.

* * * * *

I spoke this morning at length with Julian Assange, the Australian citizen who is WikiLeaks’ Editor, regarding the increasingly aggressive war being waged against WikiLeaks by numerous government agencies, including the Pentagon.  Over the past several years, WikiLeaks — which aptly calls itself “the intelligence agency of the people” — has obtained and then published a wide array of secret, incriminating documents (similar to this CIA Report) that expose the activities of numerous governments and corporations.  Among many others, they posted the Standard Operating Manual for Guantanamo,documents showing how corrupt offshore loans precipitated the economic collapse in Iceland, the notorious emails between climate scientists, documents showing toxic dumping off the coast of Africa, and many others.  They have recently come into possession of classified videos relating to civilian causalities under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, as well as documentation relating to civilian-slaughtering airstrikes in Afghanistan which the U.S. military had agreed to release, only to change their mind.

All of this has made WikiLeaks an increasingly hated target of numerous government and economic elites around the world, including the U.S. Government.  As The New York Times put it last week:  “To the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States, the Pentagon has added, a tiny online source of information and documents that governments and corporations around the world would prefer to keep secret.”  In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center prepared a secret report — obtained and posted by WikiLeaks — devoted to this website and detailing, in a section entitled “Is it Free Speech or Illegal Speech?”, ways it would seek to destroy the organization.  It discusses the possibility that, for some governments, not merely contributing to WikiLeaks, but “even accessing the website itself is a crime,” and outlines its proposal for WikiLeaks’ destruction as follows (click on images to enlarge):

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 12:34 pm

Good site for habanero fans

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 11:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Sounds like a good BBQ sauce

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Kathryn Hill at the Kitchn [sic]:

When I was a kid, my mother made almost everything from scratch, including barbecue sauce. I grew up eating this barbecue sauce, and to my taste buds, no other sauce is as good as this recipe. The recipe came from my Aunt Marlyn, and it’s a combination of sweet, savory, and tangy all at once. And yes, in my family, we call it Psycho Sauce. I just made a mess of pork ribs the other night with this, and it was heaven. This sauce is really easy to make!

My Aunt Marlyn’s Psycho BBQ Sauce Recipe

This recipe fills a Mason jar [what size? – LG]. Can be used on ribs, steaks, burgers, chicken, etc. This sauce keeps in the fridge for a long time.

1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp paprika
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp catsup
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp water

In a saucepan, combine the 5 dry ingredients. Blend in the catsup until smooth – this helps to smooth out the dry mustard so it doesn’t float when the liquids are added. Blend in the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce to a simmer and stir until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 11:47 am

Billmon speaks

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Good post by Billmon:

For some years now, I’ve been morbidly fascinated by the political dark arts — especially the very dark art of disinformation: the systematic creation and dissemination of false narratives designed to discredit your opponents and/or drive undecided audiences away from their cause.

The difference between disinformation and just plain lying is in the scope of the enterprise: A lie is intended to conceal a specific truth (e.g. "I did not have sex with that woman"). Disinformation, on the other hand, is aimed at constructing an entire alternative reality — one in which the truth can find no foothold because it conflicts just not with a specific falsehood, but with the entire fabric of the false reality that has been created.  It puts the "big" in big lie, in other words.

These basic disinformation techniques were first pioneered by the totalitarian movements of the 1930s, such as the [GODWIN REDACTION] and the Soviet KGB, but they’ve been brought to their full fruition by the modern advertising, public relations and political consulting industries. Proving once again that what communism can do, capitalism can do better.

One of the things that’s always impressed me about the modern conservative movement — going back to when Newt Gingrich drew up his list of buzz words to be relentlessly associated with liberals ("corrupt," "degenerate," "depraved," etc.) — has been the movement’s enthusiastic embrace of propaganda techniques developed by the same political regimes it claims to oppose with its life’s breath.

I guess they’re trying to proving that what totalitarians can do, modern conservatives can also do better.

Karl Rove’s White House was, in many ways, the Olympian ideal of a disinformation operation — a propaganda achievement that will probably never be topped, at least in American politics (God willing). But it looks as if the House Republicans are giving it the old college try.

Thus the rather amazing press conference Minority Whip Eric Cantor held earlier today, in which the Virginia Republican in effect accused the Democrats of inciting violence against all those innocent teabaggers out there who are simply expressing their sacred constitutional right to spit on black people and fax pictures of hangman’s nooses to their elected representatives.

Others, such as Daily Kos’s Jed Lewison, have already noted the Rovian philosophy behind Cantor’s press conference — i.e. "the best defense is a good offense." But what’s going on here is actually a good deal more subtle (as in, KGB-style subtle) than that.

The specific disinformation technique in play is one I call "mirror image" (or, when I’m in a Star Trek mood, "Spock with a beard"). It consists of charging the opposing side (i.e. the enemies of the people) with doing exactly what you yourself have been accused of doing, typically with a hell of a lot more justification.

"Mirror image" was Rove’s standard response on those relatively rare occasions when the Bush White House seemed to be losing control of the media narrative.

Thus, when Richard Clarke blew the whistle on the Bush White House sleepwalking past the CIA’s warnings about Al Qaeda in the summer of 2001, the White House quickly constructed a competing story line in which Clarke himself was the official responsible for flubbing the response.

Likewise, when the Democrats began making noises in early 2004 about using Bush’s somewhat, er, questionable, accounts of his National Guard service against him, the Republicans quickly rolled out counterclaims that John Kerry had lied about his war record.

But the example I recall most clearly came during the Valerie Plame investigation, when Fox News suddenly tried to argue that Rove was the aggrieved whistleblower, and Joe Wilson and his wife where the sleazy insiders who had leaked classified information:

Rove warned [a reporter] away from the idea that Wilson’s trip had been authorized by CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney. "He gave proper guidance to a reporter who got disinformation in a leak" meant to assign responsibility to Cheney, former Bush aide Ed Rogers told FOX News.

As I wrote at the time: "This is starting to resemble that famous Star Trek episode in which Captain Kirk winds up in a parallel universe where the Federation, not the Klingons, are the evil barbarians and Spock has a nasty beard." Thus my nickname for the technique — and the title of this diary.

I want to take a closer look at what Rep. Cantor actually said this morning. I’ll skip the gratuitous reference to his own religion (because we already know how much HCR supporters loathe the Jews), as well as his tardy revelation that a bullet was shot through the window of his campaign office two days ago (which is a completely accurate description of the incident, other than the fact that it wasn’t his campaign office, but rather a building in which a couple of his campaign consultants have offices — and their windows weren’t the ones that were shot — plus the fact that bullet had a downward trajectory, which means it was either a stray shot that happened to land in that particular window, or Rep. Cantor’s consultants were targeted by a sniper in a helicopter who decided to attack at 1 a.m. in the morning, when the building was completely empty, and who still couldn’t figure which window to shoot. And, of course, the alleged window shooting happened after the Democrats had won their big HCR victory — which I suppose goes to show that those evil communists weren’t satisfied with destroying American constitutional liberty; they also wanted BLOOD.)

Anyway, if you ignore the utter nonsense of his specific allegations (which, of course, is what disinformation campaigns are all about) Cantor’s statement was brilliantly crafted –- evil, but nonetheless brilliant. This is the passage that really caught my eye:

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine in particular are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon. Security threats against members of Congress is not a partisan issue, and they should never be treated that way. To use such threats as political weapons is reprehensible. I’m not naive enough to think that letters, statements, or press releases will prevent anyone disturbed enough to commit violence from acting. But I do know that such letters, statements and press releases can very easily fan the flames by ratcheting up the rhetoric. Some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels.

Considered as a rational argument, this is, of course, absurd — bordering on incoherent. "I’m not naïve enough to think that letters, statements, or press releases will prevent anyone disturbed enough to commit violence from acting." What the fuck was that supposed to mean?

The correct answer is that it wasn’t supposed to mean anything. This isn’t about meaning. The real message of the statement is in the specific words and phrases Cantor uses — and then repeats: "threats used as political weapons," "ratcheting up the rhetoric," "fanning the flames," "fan the flames," "inflame."

These are the sound bites Cantor’s operatives hope will make the evening news tonight. Why? Because they turn reality upside down. In Cantor’s alternate universe, it’s the Democrats who are using "threats" as "weapons," "ratcheting up the rhetoric" to "dangerous levels," and "fanning the flames" of violence.

The idea is to string those phrases together in such a way as to verbally associate the Democrats with the very same conduct the Republicans are actually guilty of (i.e. incitement) without ever making the accusation directly.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 11:37 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media, Politics

The right-wing need for victimization and Israel

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As rabid and unhinged as the American Right generally has become of late, the right-wing blogosphere is, as usual, several degrees more twisted.  Here is Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff, a lawyer, protesting Obama’s treatment this week of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and comparing it to how a small African country would — and should — be treated:

One Israeli newspaper summarized the encounter this way:

"There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage.  Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea."

But Obama would never treat the president of Equatorial Guinea that way.

In other words:  Obama subjected Netanyahu to the kind of treatment that should be reserved only for Africans, said the unnamed Israeli newspaper.  But, Mirengoff hastened to add, Obama would never treat Africans that way — only Jews.  Citing Mirengoff’s post, Glenn Reynolds, a law professor, got the point loud and clear and, in the midst of offering several bizarre conspiracy theories, made it even more explicit:

WHY HAS BARACK OBAMA TREATED NETANYAHU SO RUDELY? "Obama would never treat the president of Equatorial Guinea that way."

Possibly Obama just hates Israel and hates Jews. That’s plausible — certainly nothing in his actions suggests otherwise, really.

As usual, nothing is more severe and desperate than the right-wing need to turn oneself into a victim of extreme persecution.  Do you think that Equatorial Guinea, if given the option, would choose to be treated by the U.S. Government the same way Israel is:  with billions of dollars of American taxpayer money transferred to them each year, automatic diplomatic protection at the U.N. for anything they choose to do, American-backed loan guarantees, weapons transfers on demand, one-fourth of their bulging military budget provided by the U.S., an American law requiring the Obama administration to maintain their military superiority, a White House Chief of Staff who twice served as a civilian volunteer in their army, and a Speaker of the House who proclaims — in the midst of her own government’s conflict with that foreign country — that the entire U.S. Congress "speaks with one voice" in support of them rather than their own government?  I doubt Equatorial Guinea — or any other country on the planet — would complain much or consider themselves victims if they received similar treatment from the U.S.; quite the contrary.

As Daniel Larison recently pointed out:  the Israel-as-victim polemicists "cannot point to any decrease in Obama’s actual support for Israel, because there has been no decrease of any kind."  Kevin Sullivan added:  "President Obama has done nothing to change America’s strategic relationship with Israel."  Given the endless largesse that country continues to receive, the fact that American devotees of Israel nonetheless try to depict Israel as some sort of grave victim of the Obama administration — and now even try to claim that Obama harbors hatred for Israel and Jews — reveals how endless is their sense of entitlement for that foreign country, how vast is their craving for self-victimization, how shameless is their cheap exploitation of anti-Semitism accusations, and how complete is their break from reality.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 11:33 am

Thomas More Law Center punching itself in the nose

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Ed Brayton:

The Thomas More Law Center sent out a press release on Monday indicating that they’re going to file a lawsuit against the health care reform bill. Here’s their argument:

Among the constitutional objections raised in the lawsuit will be Congress’s lack of authority to require private citizens to purchase or obtain health care coverage under penalty of federal law, as well as forcing Americans who oppose abortions to fund them with their tax dollars in violation of their fundamental rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion.

The first argument has a slim chance. It’s at least not patently ridiculous. And I actually agree that the insurance mandate is both a bad idea and an unjust one. I still think it’s quite unlikely to succeed in court. Ironically, in order to make this case, they’re going to have to ask "unelected judges" to "invent a new right" because nowhere is a right not to pay for insurance enumerated in the constitution. How "activist" of them.

The second argument, on the other hand, is simply absurd. First, because there is no government funding for abortion in the bill in the first place. But even if there was, the premise of this argument is simply idiotic. There is not a single taxpayer in this country who is not forced to contribute to government policies they find morally objectionable. If that fact really meant that the government can’t undertake a given policy, the government could do nothing at all. [My emphasis – LG]

Imagine how loudly the TMLC would ridicule anyone who suggested that the government could not go to war because it would violate the "fundamental rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion" of those who have a moral objection to the war. And this is why they are such a laughable organization.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Brad DeLong steps back and takes a long view

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The Long View…

For Project Syndicate…

We sit here in the midst of 10% unemployment in the USA, of fiscal policy that is crippled in some countries by (legitimate) fears that more deficit spending will trigger government debt crises and crippled in others by confusion between short-term cyclical and long term structural deficits, of banking policy crippled by the public populist reaction against more bailouts for the bankers, and of monetary policy crippled by a strange and sinister mindset among central bankers that fears inflation even as rates of wage increase continue to drop—people who are, as R.G. Hawtrey said of their predecessors in the Great Depression, “crying ‘Fire! Fire!’ in Noah’s flood.”

So it is time to calm myself down. And the best way to calm myself down is by taking the long view.

If all goes well in China and India in the next generation—and if nothing goes catastrophically wrong in the rich post-industrial North Atlantic core of the global economy—then the next generation will see a real milestone. For the first time ever more than half of the world will have enough food not to be hungry and worry about famine, enough shelter not to be wet and worried about trenchfoot, enough clothing not to be cold and worried about hypothermia, and enough medical care not to be worried that they and the majority of their children will die of microparasites well short of their biblical three-score-and-ten years. The big problems of the bulk of humanity will then be those of finding enough conceptual puzzles and diversions in their work and play lives so as not to be bored, enough relative status not to be green with envy of their fellows—and, of course, avoiding and quickly disposing of the thugs who used to have spears and will have cruise missiles and H-bombs who have functioned as macroparasites infecting humanity ever since the first farmers realized that now that they had crops running away into the forest was no longer an option.

How did this miracle come about?

Some say it was the disenchantment of the world: the shift from a world view that relied on prayer and the propitiation of spirits to one that believed in rational manipulation and management of nature and of society. But the Classical Greeks had natural philosophy. And the Classical Romans believed in figuring out what worked and applying it—but all they produced were some splendid works of architecture and infrastructure and a system of military training that conquered and spread their society beyond the Mediterranean.

Some say it was an agricultural revolution that allowed transfer of a large chunk of the labor force into making things. But eleventh-century China had had a bigger and earlier agricultural revolution than eighteenth-century Britain had.

Some say it was the European conquest of the Americas. But what was shipped back from America across the Atlantic to Europe and what was paid for in imports from Asia with American products was never real wealth but was instead sterile gold, sterile silver, some empty calories (in the form of sugar), and some psychoactive chemicals—coffee, tea, chocolate, and nicotine.

Some say it was the commercial revolution and the rise of the middle class. But in 1776 Adam Smith and a little later David Ricardo were looking forward to a future for Britain in which it became a lot more like China—a full country with high agricultural productivity per acre and a well-developed division of labor but a very poor and low-wage peasantry and working class ruled by very rich landlords.

Some say that it was the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century in Britain: the steam engine, the forge, the cotton mill. But as late as 1871 John Stuart Mill was writing that it was doubtful whether as yet all the inventions of the industrial revolution had lightened the day’s toil of a single worker.

It is hard looking back to avoid the conclusion that it was at the end of the nineteenth century that something really special happened—and that really special thing had three parts:

First, the coming of global communications so that ideas invented or found or applied in one part of the world could be quickly made known to and adapted to other parts rather than waiting decades or centuries to percolate across the oceans.

Second, the coming of global transportation so that any good economic idea could be turned to produce enormous profits as it was leveraged across the entire globe.

Third—and in large part a consequence of the other two—the coming of the professional inventor and the industrial research laboratory: people whose business wasn’t to make and apply a single invention, but instead to invent the process of continuous and constant invention and innovation itself.

And when all three of these happened together, we had our critical mass and our chain reaction that has brought us here.

Let’s hope we can keep it moving, and don’t spoil it.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 10:29 am

Posted in Daily life

World of Warcraft predicts the future

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Samantha Murphy interviews sociologist William Sims Bainbridge about his new book The Warcraft Civilization: Social Science in a Virtual World, in which he argues that the online game World of Warcraft portends the future of the real world:

You’ve spent 2300 hours in World of Warcraft (WoW). Is it more than a game?

Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, WoW isn’t just escapist fantasy. It’s posing alternatives to the world we actually have today. It raises questions about environmentalism and colonialism; it asks how people are going to be respectful of each other in a world in which there aren’t enough resources.

Tolkien believed that all good people could come together on the same side. This is one of the biggest questions that humanity faces: can we have a world consensus by which we’re all partners in finding a solution? Or, like the Hoarde vs Alliance situation in WoW, are we doomed to be in separate factions competing ultimately to the death? It touches on very serious issues but in a playful way.

In the past, you’ve done a lot of work with religion. What does religion in WoW tell us about religion in the real world? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 10:22 am

Spring = Rack of lamb

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Looks good, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that: it is good.

Here’s one recipe and, at the bottom, links to a handful more. Time to pick up a rack of lamb, don’t you think?

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 10:01 am

Interesting: The context for child abuse by priests

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Andrew Sullivan:

A reader writes:

I agree with your anger at Benedict/Ratzinger. His reactionary policies have been damaging to the church and to everything that it touches. The role of his American allies in the U.S. debate over health reform was an unexpected demonstration of their power to interfere with our daily life in inflammatory and destructive ways. Moreover, like everyone else I have been horrified by the stories of children whose lives were ripped apart by clerical abuse. I readily accept your argument that such abuse was often the product of sexual repression. As a non-Catholic the lex continentiae strikes me as an obvious sham, with no support in the New Testament and such regular appearance in canon law, all the way up to Trent, that refusal to abide by it seems more like the rule than the exception. As if the Counter-Reformation was cooked up by continent men. I mean– Julius III!

All that said, everybody’s rage at the hierarchy for their response to reports of child sexual abuse in the 1970s is totally anachronistic. As B.J. Nelson makes clear in his 1984 book "Making an Issue of Child Abuse" (University of Chicago Press) it wasn’t even categorized as a matter for public policy, let alone a legal matter, until the Social Security Act began funding child welfare agencies in 1962.

This was followed by a 1967 Supreme Court decision (in re Gault) which extended the protection of the Bill of Rights to minors. It was during this five-year period that laws were first passed in all 50 states mandating that child abuse (including sexual abuse) be reported. But when Congress tried to pass Federal legislation Nixon vetoed the first attempt, saying that it "would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child-rearing over (and) against the family centered approach." His position had overwhelming public support. National legislation on child abuse (sponsored by Walter Mondale) was not signed into law until 1974.

What all this points to is a bitter struggle between the American state and those of the church and other competing institutions, going on at the very moment that the molestations we are now reading about took place. The insistence of bishops on dealing with child abuse "in-house" was not only dictated by their pre-1960s conceptualization of the autonomy of the child, but were almost inevitable given their very accurate sense of a power play in the works. How could they possibly hand priests over to secular institutions that had defined, catalogued, and begun to litigate social boundaries in a way that fundamentally undermined their authority? Naturally they "swept it under the carpet," which is to say, treated it as a matter for penance, not prosecution.

Taking Obamacare as the logical conclusion of the Social Security Act, it seems amazingly providential that it came up for a vote in the same week that the news about Ratzinger broke. The bishops’ stance on universal health care and their reactions to molestation in the 60s, 70s and 80s stemmed from exactly the same resentment: of Great Society programs that destroyed their hold over family law. So the apparently incomprehensible freakout of their allies in the Republican Party over the past few days begins to make a bit more sense. Mitch McConnell is proceeding from the same calculus as Archbishop Rembert Weakland when he covered up Father Murphy’s abuse. There is a deeper game being played.

I’m not a moral relativist. I don’t think the fact that community standards change over time, are the product of new laws and social measurements, and subject to bitter struggles, means they’re meaningless. Nobody should be hurt like those children were hurt; since the church and other "traditional" institutions were promoting it, I’m proud that the American state stepped in. But we need to recognize social change for what it is, otherwise we can’t understand the behavior of those whose values and institutional commitments we oppose. The bishops were proceeding under an old standard, which was replaced by the Great Society. It’s the merits of these two *frameworks* that we should be debating.

This is getting totally lost in the personal denunciations of B16, and it’s a real loss for our public discourse.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 9:46 am

Seattle Police think they can do anything

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Digby at Hullaballoo:

Three Seattle police officers were justified when they used a stun gun on a pregnant mother who refused to sign a traffic ticket, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in a case that prompted an incredulous dissent.

Malaika Brooks was driving her son to Seattle’s African American Academy in 2004 when she was stopped for doing 32 mph in a school zone. She insisted it was the car in front of her that was speeding, and refused to sign the ticket because she thought she’d be admitting guilt.

Rather than give her the ticket and let her go on her way, the officers decided to arrest her. One reached in, turned off her car and dropped the keys on the floor. Brooks stiffened her arms against the steering wheel and told the officers she was pregnant, but refused to get out, even after they threatened to stun her.

The officers — Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones — then stunned her three times, in the thigh, shoulder and neck, and hauled her out of the car, laying her face-down in the street.

Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby two months later, but has permanent scars from the Taser. She sued the officers for violating her constitutional rights, and U.S. District Judge Richard Jones allowed the case to continue. He declined to grant the officers immunity for performing their official duties and said Brooks’ rights were clearly violated.

But in a 2-1 ruling Friday, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall and Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain held that the officers were justified in making an arrest because Brooks was obstructing them and resisting arrest.

The use of force was also justified because of the threat Brooks posed, Hall wrote: "It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment’s notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation."

They also noted that the force used wasn’t that serious because the Taser was in "touch" mode rather than "dart" mode, which hurts more. They reversed the lower court’s opinion and held that the officers were entitled to immunity from the lawsuit.

It’s hard to know what to say to something like that. It’s always strange to me to think that police officers have a right to electrocute anyone who doesn’t present a direct threat to their person, but this rationale is chilling:

"Police officers have to have the ability to compel people to obey their lawful orders," Buck said. That’s all the court recognized today. The 9th Circuit just applied the law instead of getting caught up in the otherwise unfortunate factual circumstances."

Except it wasn’t a lawful order, unless you define any order a police officer gives as being de facto lawful:

The majority’s opinion outraged Judge Marsha Berzon, who called it "off the wall."

"I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense," she wrote.

She argued that under Washington law, the officers had no authority to take Brooks into custody: Failure to sign a traffic infraction is not an arrestable offense, and it’s not illegal to resist an unlawful arrest.

Berzon said the majority’s notion that Brooks obstructed officers was so far-fetched that even the officers themselves didn’t make that legal argument. To obstruct an officer, one must obstruct the officer’s official duties, and the officers’ only duties in this case were to detain Brooks long enough to identify her, check for warrants, write up the citation and give it to her. Brooks’ failure to sign did not interfere with those duties, she said.

Oh no, she needed to be electrocuted and arrested because there was a chance that she might drive off erratically. Or shape-shift into a lizard and levitate. You just can’t be too careful. In any case, what these judges seem to be saying is that there is no lawful reason that an officer cannot taser a citizen as long as he is barking some order and they fail to comply quickly enough. No reason of any kind, not even the fact that the officers had no right to issue that order at all. That’s scary.

BTW: where are all the anti-authoritarian libertarians now? It seems as if they only care about the constitution when it comes to taxes and guns. Someone else’s right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket? Not their problem.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

RNC is uninterested in civility

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

After a week featuring some overheated rhetoric and actual right-wing violence, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine decided to reach out to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele about issuing a joint statement condemning all politically-motivated threats directed at officials.

The draft text of the statement says that while Steele and Kaine disagree on the health care bill, they would "together call on elected officials of both parties to set an example of the civility we want to see in our citizenry" and ask "all Americans to respect differences of opinion, to refrain from inappropriate forms of intimidation, to reject violence and vandalism, and to scale back rhetoric that might reasonably be misinterpreted by those prone to such behavior."

DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse told reporters that Kaine sent the letter to Steele [Friday] and then phoned him asking the chairman to release a joint bipartisan statement "condemning the threats and acts of vandalism over the past week, calling for an end to such tactics and urging a more civil tone in our politics."

The outreach was not limited to the chairmen. The DNC’s executive director and communications director also reached out to their RNC counterparts about the value of a joint statement that might help send a signal about the civil discourse.

Republicans refused. RNC Communications Director Doug Heye said Steele rejected the draft statement because "we don’t need to do anything on their schedule or on their timetable."

What a surprise.

We are, after all, talking about an RNC that recently put together a fundraising presentation filled with donor insults, offensive caricatures, and an admission that the party will rely on little more than "fear" to win. In the wake of the health care breakthrough, the RNC is desperate to make right-wing activists as angry and agitated as possible — which is why Michael Steele is describing the Affordable Care Act as "Armageddon" and demanding to see Speaker Pelosi on "the firing line."

What possible value would the RNC see in a joint statement intended to lower the temperature?

To be sure, I’m not convinced a joint statement of civility would make much of a difference. For nutjobs inclined to spit at members of Congress, cut gas lines, make death threats, hurl bricks through windows, and send faxes with nooses, party leaders urging a respectful tone in American politics would likely be ignored.

But prominent figures can set an example and establish a tone. Steele no doubt understands this, which is why he didn’t hesitate to ignore the DNC’s request.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Politics

Let’s move on the recess appointments

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), just as an institutional matter, has generally frowned upon recess appointments. Reid wants to see the Senate do its job and give nominees up-or-down votes, rather than have the White House circumvent the Senate altogether.

But in the face of scandalous Republican obstructionism, Reid has decided some recess appointments are necessary. The Majority Leader "has decided that enough is enough and would support such a move," spokesman Jim Manley said late Friday. In particular, Reid has told White House officials that he would endorse President Obama appointing Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to fill two longstanding vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

"Harry doesn’t like it, but he’ll tolerate it for the NLRB guys," a senior Democrat said.

Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin want the president to go even further, using recess appointments to advance dozens of pending nominees.

The right has a different perspective.

Despite the inability to move on those nominations, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl said the GOP would react "very strongly" if Obama bypasses the upper chamber and installs appointees without its blessing.

"They’ve already broken a lot of rules and traditions around here to try to ram health care through with the sort of arrogance of power," Kyl told POLITICO. "If they were to do that, it would make it very difficult to have bipartisan cooperation."

Reminded of George W. Bush’s recess appointments, Kyl said, "It has to be done very sparingly" and should not be done on controversial nominees such as Becker.

Kyl is one of the Senate’s dimmest bulbs, and his threat of withholding "bipartisan cooperation" if the president uses his recess-appointment power is almost comically silly.

Nevertheless, here are a few relevant details Kyl may want to consider:

1. Health care reform passed through an entirely legitimate process. No rules were broken, no traditions were ignored. In short, Kyl doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. The only tradition that’s been ignored of late is the one that allows the Senate to vote on legislation, and it’s Kyl’s party that is ignoring the way the Senate used to, and was designed to, operate.

2. Recess appointments aren’t exactly new, at least not in recent years. Clinton made 139 during his two terms, and Bush made 179. Obama’s total thus far? Zero. Two recess appointments, in this context, hardly constitutes "arrogance of power."

3. A majority of the Senate supports both Becker and Pearce. Kyl and his GOP cohorts want the president to ignore the will of the Senate — while demanding that Obama honor "the will of the Senate."

4. Kyl considered Becker "controversial," and thus ineligible for a recess appointment. But Bush used recess appointments on extremists like Charles Pickering and John Bolton, and did so with Kyl’s blessing.

I don’t doubt that Kyl & Co. will whine incessantly if President Obama uses his authority on this, but the truth is, they’re going to whine incessantly anyway.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 9:28 am

A gallery of stunning close-ups

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Thanks to The Wife for pointing out these terrific photos of dew-covered insects still in slumber. One example (click to gasp):

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 8:24 am

Posted in Daily life

Wild Orange and Spanish Leather

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I do love a perfect shave, and today’s was another. Pictured (click to enlarge) are the Simpsons Emperor 2 and 3 Super, the QED Wild Orange shave stick, Geo. F. Trumper Spanish Leather, and a Gillette New with a still sharp Swedish Gillette blade.

After the initial wash with MR GLO, I rinsed, rubbed the shave stick against the grain all over my wet beard, and then picked the Emperor 3 to use today. (I’ll go with the 2 on Monday.)

A great lather, 3 very smooth passes, and a splash of the Spanish Leather. What a smooth face I now have!

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2010 at 8:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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