Archive for the 'Law & Politics' Category

Hello Halo

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Boy, the photogs do like that angle. (From here — but really from a Google News thumbnail. I don’t read that rag.)

Update [Thu 03:27]: Boy, there are some fun thumbnails today. For instance, I wonder how the reviled Ralph Reed feels about this juxtaposition:

And say what you will about Google’s choice of algorithm-over-editors, at least it brings us some interesting news outlets:

Dog Flu Diet and Diseases? Really? (Seems like ad bait to me.)

Ralph’s ‘A’ Team

Sunday, July 16th, 2006

Ralph Reed is loaded for bear, says NYT (emphasis added):

In addition to endorsements from former Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat who has aligned himself with the conservative Christian movement, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, a presidential hopeful eager to improve his connections to religious conservatives, Mr. Reed claims to have 6,000 volunteers on the ground, including more than 70 home-schooled children from 10 states.

I hope he mentions it in speeches: “My opponent has not even revealed how many home-schooled children volunteer for him! Fellow Georgians, this is an outrage!”

Read This

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

I’ll write something later, after I get some sleep. But it will be probably be light, fluffy, and just this side of meaningless. It definitely won’t be as good as this:

I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties,” Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) remarked at yesterday’s Hayden confirmation hearings, “but you have no civil liberties if you are dead.” This comes via Dave Weigel and nicely encapsulates at least three different pieces of horribly misguided rightingery.

First off is the sheer cowardice of it. Sure, liberal democracy is nice, but not if someone might get hurt. One might think that strong supporters of civil liberties would be willing to countenance the idea that it might be worth bearing some level of risk in order to preserve them.

Second is just this dogmatic post-9/11 insistence on acting as if human history began suddenly in 1997 or something. The United States was able to face down such threats as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany without indefinite detentions, widespread use of torture as an interrogative technique, or all-pervasive surveillance. But a smallish group of terrorists who can’t even surface publicly abroad for fear they’ll be swiftly killed by the mightiest military on earth? Time to break out the document shredder and do away with that pesky constitution.

Last, there’s the unargued assumption that civil rights and the rule of law are some kind of near-intolerable impediment to national security. But if you look around the world over the past hundred years or so, I think you’ll see that the record of democracy is pretty strong. You don’t see authoritarian regimes using their superior ability to operate in secret and conduct surveillance to run roughshod over more fastidious countries. You see liberalism prospering — both in the sense that the core liberal countries have grown richer-and-richer and in the sense that liberal democracy has consistently spread out from its original homeland since people like it better. You see governments that can operate in total secrecy falling prey to crippling corruption. You see powers of surveillance used not to defend countries from external threats, but to defend rulers from domestic political opponents.

The U.S.S.R., after all, lost the Cold War, not because we beat them in a race to the bottom to improve national security by gutting the principles of our system, but because the principles underlying our system were actually better than the alternative. If you don’t have some faith the American way of life is capable of coping with actual challenges, then what’s the point in defending it?

On the Marketing of Marches

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

Monday there was a big immigration-related rally here in Chicago. I decided that sounded both interesting (a lot of people) and annoying (a lot of people) so I came up with a plan: go check it out, but later, when things were relatively calm. (OK, this was less a conscious decision than a function of that fact that I don’t get up too early.)

Anyway, I went down to Grant Park around 3 and wandered around. I took my camera, and since I’m pretty conflicted about the whole immigration issue, I paid special attention to the signs.

Here’s what I saw.

The very first thing that caught my eye was this guy, walking along near Millennium Park. I’m really not sure what his deal was. He just strolled along the edges of the park, proudly holding this flag high. I won’t speculate on the symbolism.

Half a block from him was Mr. Jingle Bells (cropped to allow a hint of the gorgeous Pritzker Pavilion):

Again, draw your own conclusions about this message.

On the same corner:

Doesn’t Jesus love everybody? How does that help narrow it down?

I have to admit, by this time — just a few minutes in — I was feeling apprehensive. Was everything going to be this confusing?

I needn’t have worried. A few strides later and I happened across this fellow:

Here’s a message with some punch. Good contrast for the key words, with special bonus points for “forced.” He manages to evoke both the touchy-feely “melting pot” clichés as well as the flip side: slavery. The Bush/cronies line feels a little shrill, but is nominally on point, as it addresses security issues.

My only quibble is with syntax: they’re not “forced descendants”, they’re descendants of forced immigrants.

Here’s another guy with a similar message:

Here, the “this country is made up of immigrants” message is familiar, but I was totally drawn to the protester. What’s up with the mask? (More on that in a minute.) Also, check out the sign in the background: “We Are Workersing Not Criminals!” I saw a few others that read in this exact way; I don’t know if they were printed in that fashion or modified after the fact. Regardless, it’s a strange choice. Would you willingly hold a sign identifying yourself as a criminal?

Back to Mr. Mask. Here’s the front of his sign:

That’s certainly a more provocative message, but does it merit an attempt to disguise his identity? (Note also that this was actually written on top of another, milder message: “Look around you! What do you see? Immigrants!”) The whole mask thing really undercuts the message for me. It makes me think of CNN and firebombs and all sorts of unpleasant things. Not a wise choice.

This is much better. The choice of a chef’s hat is fun and evokes a skill, carrying with it a not-so-subtle reminder that many of these people are hard at work behind the scenes. The “We Love USA” message is similarly open and friendly.

This guy had the same idea:

It’s misspelled, but it’s sweet. I think this is particularly effective because it’s polite and slightly subservient. Couldn’t be more different than the masked man.

Nearby, I saw this gentleman:

He’s working a “we were here first” theme, which I’ll come back to later. For the moment, though, notice the discarded placard near his feet: “We Also Have a Dream!” This is an interesting approach, because it references the struggle (and legitimacy) of the American civil rights movement.

Other signs took the same approach, even invoking MLK:

But are immigration quotas really the same thing as Jim Crow laws?

Some others went a lot further back in time than the ’60s for inspiration:

I call this the “stolen”/”we were here first” theme:

As I see it, there are two major problems with this argument. First, you get into something of a reductio ad absurdum situation. Which governments stole, and which were legitimate? The Spanish? Aztec? Mixtec? Zapotec? Mayan? How far back do you want to go? It seems there are others with a claim:

Secondly, let’s be real here. Is this about living in Denver, or is it about making a living in the richest country in the world?

And on the subject of work, let me show you my pick for least effective sign of the day:

If you spend any amount of time reading up on immigration issues, you’re bound to hear that immigrants “do what Americans won’t” — and since many come from poorer companies (Mexico’s per-capita GDP is a quarter of the USA’s) they do it for cheap. Except: how are these not connected? Supply and demand is the most basic economic principle there is; just increase the pay and you’ll be surprised what Americans will do.

And so what if that makes some goods more expensive? In fact, just imagine the beneficial side effects of more expensive fast food! Or, for that matter, having to cut your own grass… After all, nobody ever said a cheap Big Mac is an inalienable right.

Oh, did I mention a “right”? I’m not the only one:

Typo aside, this sign was one example of the most common themes at the event: “rights”/”justice”/”fairness.” This included everything from speeches (“unfair treatment and unfair wages”, “fair and just immigration reform”) to Statue of Liberty iconography:

Closely linked was the concept of families:

(I saw a similar T-shirt depicting a family with one member missing, the word ‘Deportado’ over his/her outline.)

…and basic humanity:

Except I can’t help thinking that, while it’s indisputably true that “no human being is illegal,” so too is it true that there are illegal acts, with forseeable consequences. If a man sneaks across the border, later brings his family, then is discovered and sent back home, isn’t he ultimately responsible? (After all, by definition it’s impossible to deport citizens.)

Or, perhaps, after a certain amount of time America is his home, and the law should be changed to recognize that.

It’s a tough question.

Stephen Colbert, American Hero

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Stephen Colbert at the podium

If you have not seen Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ dinner, you must.

No, seriously. It’s amazing. Colbert has, uh, “nerves” of steel.

As you watch it, remember the president is sitting one chair away. That’s called speaking the truth to power, folks.

Update [Mon 03:57]: Higher-quality torrent (scrub to 52:25, unless you want to watch Bush make the same fucking joke about how he can’t pronounce “nuclear”) and lower-quality YouTube also available.

Emphasis on “Little”

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

When I saw this [via TPM], I figured I had to be reading it wrong:

“Our strategic reserve is sufficiently large enough to guard against any major supply disruption over the next few months,” [Bush] said. “So by deferring deposits until the fall we’ll leave a little more oil on the market.”

The amount of remaining oil that was scheduled to be delivered to the reserve was 2.1 million barrels in May, which would supply about two hours of the average 21 million barrels of oil the United States consumes each day. “Every little bit helps,” Bush said.
Bush unveils plan to counter high oil prices

So hold on now. The president is saying he’s going to allow the oil companies to hold back petroleum reserve deposits until the fall — fair enough. Except (at least as far as May is concerned) that represents just 1/310 of the average usage? Then who the hell cares?

Clearly this is a P.R. move on the part of the Administration, but I have to say the Reuters story is also rather weak on context. If you look at Wikipedia’s entry on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, for example, you’ll see that the reserve holds some 727 million barrels, and is currently full (a process that took years from the 2001 order.) However, according to the “drawdowns” section, there’s only about 10 million barrels outstanding.

So, assuming demand in May is typical (entirely unlikely, but hang with me), that’s May/June/July/August = 4 * ~600m barrels/mo = 2.4bn barrels consumed. And we’re deferring 10m barrels to get back out in the market? Wow, that’s almost 0.5%! Amazing.

…or maybe I’m missing something altogether. It would be nice if Reuters took a little more time to explain.

Data Not Found

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Here’s something that I don’t get.

The people in this White House (like many before them) have often claimed that they don’t govern by polls. Here’s just one representative sample, from Bush in 2005:

THE PRESIDENT: Polls? You know, if a President tries to govern based upon polls, you’re kind of like a dog chasing your tail. I don’t think you can make good, sound decisions based upon polls. And I don’t think the American people want a President who relies upon polls and focus groups to make decisions for the American people.

Yet on the flip side, they love to make blanket statements that announce what the American people ostensibly want. Hell, Bush tacked one on the tail of that answer! Here’s another one, from Monday’s press briefing:

MR. McCLELLAN: [in response to a question on domestic wiretapping …] The American people have made it very clear they support the President’s efforts to defeat the terrorists and prevent attacks from happening.

As here, this is always presented confidently, usually without the slightest bit of data to support the assertion.

So here’s my deal: just once, I’d like to see a reporter respond to the stock “the American people want…” phrase by asking “well, given that you don’t follow polls, how do you know?”

(And for bonus points, the followup: “Did Jesus tell you?”)

Corpse Cheney?

Friday, March 10th, 2006

Just finished watching Corpse Bride, and I have to tell you: when one character (a mean, humorless old man) was forced to grind out a smile…
Finnis Everglot, from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

…it just seemed so familiar somehow:
Dick Cheney

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Last week, CBS2 ran a story about how (IL) Gov. Rod Blagojevich did a “Daily Show” interview without even realizing it was fake news.

Following the story package, I watched the anchors joke with each other about how a) Blago could have asked any “kid” about the show to get the real story, and b) the governor would probably fire an aide as a result of the embarassment.

I don’t know about the “kids” part (remember that dust-up awhile ago when O’Reilly made disparaging comments and Comedy Central revealed that adult “Daily Show” viewers are 78% more likely to have a college degree than the average adult?) but I think the staff change idea might not be so bad.

I say that not just because somebody failed to brief the man, but also because his official re-election site is… wait for it…:

Rod for Illinois? Who thought that was a good idea? When Senator Richard J. Durbin runs again, is he going to use

Freedom Fries, Anyone?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

Oh for shit’s sake:

Iranians turn on Danish pastries in cartoon row

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Not content with pelting European embassies with petrol bombs to protest against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, Iranians have decided to rename the “Danish pastries” relished by this nation of cake lovers.

From now on, the sweet, flaky pastries which dominate the shelves in Iran’s cake shops will be known as “Roses of the Prophet Mohammad,” the official IRNA news agency reported as pressure on Denmark over the cartoons took on a new dimension. […]

Also: Iran is a “nation of cake lovers”? Big surprise. I expect you’d be hard pressed to find a country that wasn’t…

Peeling Back PRI’s Mask

Monday, December 19th, 2005

After discovering the Pacific Research Institute’s existence (and heavy hand) in the “Spectator” story, I wanted to find out more about where the group gets their cash. Easier said than done.

Since PRI is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, it’s possible to review their financial statement (known as a Form 990) with a service such as GuideStar. But since they’re not classified as a private foundation, they don’t have to file the Form 990-PF variant which actually lists contributors.

It’s possible to find out where some of the money comes from by scouring the records of public corporations. For example, lists almost a quarter-million in contributions from ExxonMobil for PRI’s climate change programs. They also have an amazing/scary Flash tool that allows you to see the major “thinktanks” that get Exxon cash and shows how the key players are interconnected.

But you’re not getting the full story, because many of these organizations — themselves fronts for corporate machinations — are just fronts for other groups. For example, I selected one ExxonSecret-listed group at random, “United for Jobs.” (The site described them as a PRI “coalition partner,” whatever that means.)

A peek at the United for Jobs site shows that the group’s main issues are energy prices, carbon caps, CAFE standards, and mercury, an impressively narrow focuses for a site that’s all about jobs. And who’s “United”, anyway? A click on the mammoth “Take Action” banner hints at the answer: you’ll be dumped into a form letter decrying the proposed tax on windfall oil profits (and taxes in general.)

That’s getting closer to the story, but there’s more to learn. Where is this group based? The site gives an address of 1920 L Street NW, Suite 200, DC. Using the Amazon Yellow Pages trick from before, I punched in that address to see what else might call that building home. Amazon returned a few groups that shared the suite number, including the “Small Business Survival Committee” and the “Islamic Institute.” The real occupant, though, was what I assume to be “United’s” creator: Americans for Tax Reform.

ATR is a whole other rats’ nest, so I’ll leave it at that. But suffice to say it’s no easy matter to discover who’s really pulling the strings…

Pawlenty of “Dead Canadians”

Friday, December 16th, 2005

Two years ago, when Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) was pushing for a drug plan that involved importing drugs from Canada, his critics brought up the issue of tainted drugs. Pawlenty’s memorable answer: “My first response to that is show me the dead Canadians. Where are the dead Canadians?”

A few months ago, the (sleazy) “American Spectator” published an article that picked up the question:

There are now dead Canadians. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police this month charged Abadir Nasr, former owner of King West Pharmacy in Hamilton, Ontario, with selling counterfeit Norvasc. Five people who filled their heart medication prescriptions at the pharmacy died of heart attack or stroke. At press time yesterday evening, Gov. Pawlenty’s office did not have a comment.

That’s from “Unsafe at Any Dose”, a “Spectator” article reprinted on (tagline: “Think your drugs are from Canada? Think again.”) The site comes courtesy of PhRMA, the same pharma lobbying group of thriller novel fame.

The “Spectator” article makes a few good points, but a healthy dose of context is lacking. For example, author David Holman notes that “Drug reimportation is a sovereignty question. Americans would surrender quality control and market forces to the countries from which we import.” Very true. But to take this argument to its logical conclusion, we must of course argue that Canada’s healthcare system is significantly inferior to our own, with demonstrably weaker drug safety regulation and enforcement.

That may very well be true, but again Holman’s evidence is weak. He notes that “experts convened on Capitol Hill Tuesday by the Pacific Research Institute and the Center for Medicines in the Public Interest detailed how foreign drug markets are compromised by counterfeit medicines.” He neglects to mention that PRI and CMPI are in fact the same organization, with donors which include Philip Morris, Pfizer, and… PhRMA. (Not to mention the Sarah Scaife Foundation, controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife, who backs the “Spectator.” Nice and neat, eh?)

I trust that in their Capitol Hill testimony, the Pfizer/PhRMA/PRI experts also mentioned that counterfeiting is a serious and growing problem in the United States as well. In 2001, CBS reported “at least 66 deaths and hundreds of severe reactions” to a counterfeit antibiotic (see “Faking It: Counterfeit Drugs on the Rise“) In an extensive 2003 story, Chemical & Engineering News examines the shady practices used by some of the 7,000 secondary drug wholesalers in America.

So our house is far from in order, a fact to which Holman devotes a scant 8 word clause: “Though counterfeit drugs aren’t absent in the U.S., our market cannot very well bear opening the floodgates.” Perhaps he’s operating on orders from the global Pharmaceutical Security Institute, whose rep said this last December:

“It is necessary to keep fake drug information confidential for commercial reasons…to avoid media leaks and to prevent the possibility of rival drug companies taking unfair commercial advantage of a victim company.” He explained, “At the outset, we [the PSI] were against having data online that anyone could interrogate…If a patient came to harm as a result of a counterfeit product, the company’s good reputation is in danger of disappearing, together with a loss of confidence in the products… The one thing we were trying very hard to do was to keep it [data] out of the hands of the commercial people in any of the companies…The importance of meeting sales’ targets is such that you can even find cut-throat competition between different operating divisions of the same company, let alone between two companies competing in the same market with similar drugs.”

Lovely. So, to recap: Holman would prefer we tar Canada, Niger and every other country with the same “counterfeit” and “lax” brushes, while essentially ignoring the same problem in the States. Coincidentally, both positions are precisely how the drug industry likes it.

Oh, hold on. I missed one. Holman also quotes an author who argues that drugs are cheaper in Canada because Americans pay for the R&D in the first place:

The industry can price its products according to basic economics in the American marketplace, financing overall production. “Drug companies can tolerate price controls in developed countries like Canada as long as the prices cover marginal costs, and the country represents a small share of the market,” Pipes writes.

That book, by the way, is Miracle Cure: How to Solve America’s Health-Care Crisis and Why Canada Isn’t the Answer by Sally C. Pipes.

Its publisher? None other than the very same PhRMA-backed Pacific Research Institute. Another fact Holman neglects to mention. Surprise, surprise.

Update [4:15a]: This 2003 Canadian Medical Association Journal article, which predates the Norvasc fatalities, strikes back at the PhRMA line with two themes: 1) “to my knowledge there has not been a single counterfeit issue within Canada” — if true, this year’s 5 dead Canadians really might have been the first and only — and 2) “there’s a larger potential for a US citizen to be exposed to counterfeit drugs by purchasing them within the United States than by getting them from Canada.” Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if both of these were actually true, but since this guy works for the “Canadian International Pharmacy Association,” his interest is as vested as our friends at PRI.

We Shall Underwhelm

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

George Bush steps to the podium at the U.S. Naval Academy with a PLAN FOR VICTORY:

Bush at a podium, with posters

Victory where? Well, just check out this original-size crop of the plan’s cover (see also full version, PDF original):
'National Strategy For' in small, small letters; 'Victory in Iraq' in huge letters

I’m not sure what those small letters say, but the big ones are talking about Iraq! You know, where we accomplished our mission:
Bush with 'mission accomplished' banner in background

Wait, though. That photo is from May 1, 2003. This document comes 30 months later. So we accomplished the mission before we had a strategy? Amazing! This government has real accomplishments. Except…

The most remarkable thing about the document President George W. Bush released today, titled National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, is that it was released today (and written not much earlier—it’s authored by the National Security Council and dated November 2005).

It is symptomatic of everything that’s gone wrong with this war that, after two and a half years of fighting it (and four years after starting to plan it), the White House is just now getting around to articulating a strategy for winning it.

To put this in perspective: From December 1941 to August 1945, the U.S. government mobilized an entire nation; manufactured a mighty arsenal; played a huge role in defeating the armies, air forces, and navies of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; and emerged from battle poised to shape the destiny of half the globe. By comparison, from September 2001 to December 2005, the U.S. government has advanced to the point of describing a path to victory in a country the size of California. [from The Good News—Bush Finally Has a Plan]

And is it any great surprise that this new speech/booklet effort, which works very, very hard to burn the word “VICTORY” into our consciousness, actually avoids defining it at all?

In the speech, Bush says (as he has said many times before), “We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission.” But what is the mission? At one point he says, “When our mission of training the Iraqi security forces is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation.” However, a bit later, he says the mission will be complete “when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy,” and he adds, “I will settle for nothing less than complete victory.”

So, which is it: Our job is done when the Iraqis can fight the bad guys on their own—or when the bad guys are defeated? Those are two very different standards, involving very different benchmarks of progress. [Ibid.]

No, I thought not.

P.S. Since I’m referencing the subject, I’d also like to mention my 1 May 03 post, “Bush League“, and also one of my personal favorites “SARS Attack!,” with the “suckling” line that still makes me chuckle…

The Term is “Terrifying”

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Like a growing number of Americans, I take comfort in the fact that each day, the end of G. W. Bush’s reign inches ever closer.

So you can imagine how I feel about this ad I encountered today:
Ad reading 'Want Unlimited Terms?' with Bush's picture

(From this article in “Venture Capital Journal.”)

I’m not even sure what the ad sells, but I do know that guy and the words “unlimited terms” don’t belong in the same universe.

Always the Last to Know

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Why do Congressional websites exist? They just seem to serve as a final resting place for old press releases and cheesy, toothy photos. On the issues I really want to hear a Rep’s opinion on, they’re strangely silent.

For example, Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Republican from California’s 50th, today admitted taking bribes for attempting to influence DoD, plead guilty, and resigned from the House. Quite a day, but on his Web site it’s still blissflully 18 Nov., where there are podiums to stand behind and deals to be announced.

Coincidentally, on that very day in November, the House’s newest member, Jean Schmidt (Republican, OH-2), made a legendary ass of herself, then retracted her remarks, then apologized, and was subsequently lampooned on SNL. Schmidt’s site blithely ignores all this and pretends it’s still the 17th.

Of course there was the Thanksgiving holiday in there, but it’s Monday, and everybody should be back to work — including the investigators at the Justice Department who are investigating the ever-widening Abramoff scandal. The investigation has touched several lawmakers, and may get many more, but for the moment Rep. Bob Ney (Republican — surprise, surprise — from OH-18) is the most visible, identified as “Representative #1” in recent court plea documents.

Naturally, Ney’s site makes no mention of the Congressman’s growing legal troubles, preferring to focus instead (as of this writing) upon “Relief for [the] Domestic Pipe Industry.”

On November 18th, of course.