Sunday, July 19, 2009

Times Op-Ed: Giveth and Taketh Away

Last week was very bad and very good in the New York Times Op-Ed pages.  One day it descended into knee-jerk idiocy, the very next it rallied.

My take on liberalism is that it is the political philosophy which looks out for the little guy; defends the rights of the poor; seeks equality for all against the weight of class and race.  Yet on July 16, 2009, the Op-Page ran a piece entitled "The Right to Arm Public Housing."

The upshot of the opinion piece was that a bipartisan amendment attached to a bill related to expanding Section 8 housing that would allow residents of public housing to keep guns in their homes was doing the bidding of the gun lobby, and that declaring public housing gun free zones has been wise common sense.

This is one of those opinion pieces that someone should have read aloud before publishing, just to make sure it doesn't sound crazy.  Because this opinion isn't fit for toilet paper.

Let's see: poor people, who probably don't have other homes, are not permitted to possess a legal firearm in the home they have, as is their Constitutional right under the Second Amendment.  And the reason: because it is public housing.

This opinion turns liberal ideas and ideals on their head.  Where are these people supposed to keep their legal guns, should they choose to exercise their Constitutional right?  What if someone who lives in Section 8 housing wants to defend themselves, or, gasp, take up hunting?

What if someone with legal firearms in their possession falls on hard times, like in a recession, and is forced to move into public housing?

It's not as if anyone with nefarious purposes in their hearts is going to follow a gun ban, so why come down on the law abiding?

Can we, for expediency sake, suspend other Constitutional rights in public housing?  Perhaps the Fourth and Fifth Amendments have outlived their usefulness when it comes to the inner city poor?  Maybe they don't need a right to an attorney, or to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

So, there it is, the New York Times making a case to disarm the poor.

I have been a Times reader for over a decade.  In that time I have never read an Op-Ed piece extolling the virtues of legal gun ownership.  It is truly a losing battle for the left, as evidenced by the type of Democrat elected to Congress and the Senate since 2004.  This is something the Times should just drop.

And then, when my faith in the brainpower behind the Time's Op-Ed page was at an big time ebb, the next day restored some of it.  "Illegal and Pointless" was the title of a piece which took our late president to task for the illegal wiretapping and domestic spying which took place after September 11, 2001.  

As I wrote recently, this spying, in addition to being a criminal act, was also without the merit of actually working, as the inspectors' general report released recently has shown.

The Times opined that the two reasons for the Bush Administration's criminality were that they wholesale panicked after 9/11, and also that Dick Cheney, the paragon of moral and legal virtue, "preyed on that panic to advance their agenda" of an unfettered Executive Branch.

Okay, for all those baloney artists running around these days saying that fascism is a a child of the left [Jonah Goldberg, looking at you], THIS IS WHERE FASCISM COMES FROM!  Fascism is the alignment of political, industrial and religious power under a powerful central executive government, usually under a personality cult.  It is what Hitler was, Mussolini before him, and Franco, and of course, Saddam Hussein.

And apparently, so is Dick Cheney, at least in his own mind.

And of course, a central player in giving after the fact legal cover is the eminent legal theoretician John Yoo, recently voted "Most Deserving of Being Disbarred."  If you don't recall, Mr. Yoo is the guy who wrote those memos saying it was alright to torture people, and the laws saying it's a crime don't matter.  And he was also the guy that wrote the memos saying that the Bush Administration could ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as it was outdated.

Gee, I was unaware of that section in Article II.  But since John Yoo said it, it must be Constitutional.

Can you imagine the level of hem and haw if a Democratic president abrogated such a law?  This is not something small, like receiving fellatio from an intern.  This is the type of law put in place to prevent the already massive powers of the President from being abused domestically in a way which would necessarily transform the very fabric of this nation and the nature which it interacts with its citizens.

And because we cannot trust the powers that be to do the right thing, either at the time the choice to do so is made, or even in the aftermath, when such choices should be investigated and prosecuted after the fact, the Founders of this fine nation, the so called Last Best Hope, saw fit to arm its citizens.

Remember that, New York Times.  

Monday, July 13, 2009

In Memorium

It was one year ago today that my little cousin, Christopher Nowak, was killed by a drunk driver while crossing a street on the Jersey Shore. He would have turned 23 last Sunday.

His family and friends have set up a memorial fund in his name, and any donations would be appreciated. Contact information is:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bush Administration: Manufacturing Fear to Breach the Constitution

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." - 4th Amendment to the Constitution.
The text of the Fourth Amendment is rather plain, unlike some others whose meaning has caused great controversy over the years of our Union.  Yet it is the Fourth Amendment, which arguably limits the power of the government vis a vis the governed more than any other, or at least at its most personal level, has been dealt some mighty blows, perhaps beyond repair. 

Aside from the bevy of terrible caselaw since Prohibition and the War[s] on Drugs, I present to you the most recent, and  outright disturbing news issuing from the intelligence community regarding the and and policies of our late administration.

In addition to manufacturing the threat of Iraq to gain the extra-Constitutional power to wage preemptive war, George W. Bush and friends manufactured threat assessments to gain the extra-Constitutional power to spy on American citizens without seeking a warrant.  And further, it appears that the argument of efficacy, so recently used in defending torture, can't be used this time around because apparently these methods, such as warrantless wiretapping and email interception, did not help very much.

As the Saturday edition of the New York Times, upper right, above the fold, tells: a Congressionally mandated report from the inspectors general of the Department of Justice, the National Security Agency [NSA], the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense and the Office of National Security has been partially released, and it informs us that the secret extrajudicial wiretapping program began shortly after September 11, 2001; it was not handed over to the likes of John Yoo at the Office of Legal Counsel for weeks in order to ascertain its legality; and most damning - the high level officials had difficulty citing specific examples of the wiretapping program contributing to successes against terrorists in the form of either thwarted plots or actual arrests.

In fact, the secrecy surrounding the program was cited as a core reason for its ineffectiveness.

Even more damning, and yet no longer shocking, was the revelation that White House officials had provided paragraphs to analysts working on the terrorist threat assessments, which were then inserted into the threat assessments, in turn used by the White House as justification for its extra legal and extra Constitutional acts.

Of course, seeing that "change" has come to Washington, the article, by Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, was based upon materials which were made available on Friday afternoon - the classic time when material the President wants most people to ignore is made public.

What this means is the the high crimes, the lies, of the Bush White House are even greater than heretofore known.  And the cost to our freedom has yet to come due.

I have, in the recent weeks, seen a lot of material out there on the "con" side of the argument to universal health care, or even against the so-called government option.  A lot of these arguments, hyperbolic or not, seem to center on fear of socialism, and at their worst, that such a thing would be Orwellian in its final form.  I have even heard a resurfaced vinyl record of Ronald Reagan from the '60's say as much.

Yet a lot of the same people would fail to see the very Orwellian ramifications of the overall Bush Administration effort.  I don't think these people actually have read, Orwell, to tell you the truth, because if they did we would have marched in the streets en masse a long time ago.

What the Bush Administration did was secure the ability to make war where it wanted, when it wanted; to be able to seize and imprison anyone sua sponte indefinitely by naming them an enemy combatant, the definition of which it maintained it was the sole arbiter; it could spy on anyone, anywhere, without the very reasonable constraints of the Fourth Amendment; and it successfully politicized the Department of Justice which likely conducted politically motivated prosecutions.

That's terrifying.  

And I am not even bring up the issue of no bid contracts to the firms the Vice President was the former CEO of, or which prominent members of the Executive Branch were shareholders in, or such quaint matters like adherence to The Geneva Conventions, The Convention Against Torture, CIA black sites, and the use of private contractors in the place of either military or intelligence community personnel to perform "enhanced interrogations."

And the real kick in the pants is that these warrantless wiretaps and widespread interception of our emails - that's you and me - added nothing to our national security posture.  In fact, in the words of Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon: "I believe this report shows that their obsession with secrecy and their refusal to accept oversight was actually harmful to U.S. national security, not to mention the privacy rights of law abiding Americans."

And just when you thought the lies and prevarications were over, the Sunday edition of the Times, top right corner, above the fold had this headline:


It looks like the former Veep, who was unable to keep his mouth closed before Michael Jackson died, ordered the CIA to withhold the existence of an anti-terrorism program from Congress, and kept at it for 8 years.  What this program did, or was about, is still undisclosed.

Now that's freedom!!

Isn't it refreshing that for once all the bad things we've heard about Speaker Nancy Pelosi are not true?

And keeping Congress in the dark for so long could very well have been a breach of law.  But that's nothing new when speaking of the Bushies.

Speaking of illegalities and accountability: the cat might be out of the bag at Justice, which may be to the consternation of President Obama.  For now President Obama has been stalling or backpedaling from investigating possible criminal acts of his predecessors, to at best stay out of the messy results, and at worst so he can have all that power the Bushes stole.

But Eric Holder is doing his best to be the top law enforcement agent in the nation. It was leaked Friday that he is considering assigning a special counsel to investigate the allegations the United States tortures terrorism suspects after September 1, 2001.

If they do, I just pray they don't stop at the Lindy Englands, and go all the way to the top.  I want to see the real perpetrators frog marched for their crimes.  The ones in suits, the ones who fabricated the legalities and the ones who gave the orders.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Pay Professionals?

In the July 7, 2009, New York Times Op-Ed pages, it was opined that when a wild herd, in this case elk in North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park, needs to be culled, it is better to have professional sharpshooters than citizen hunters.  Why?

Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan was right to call for a public elk hunt as a "common sense" solution.  This is doubly true as hunters would certainly be effective in culling the herd, as well as contributing to the public coffers.  Perhaps in the form of a hunting tag lottery, like Pennsylvania has for its elk herd.

The Times opines, without setting out a foundation, that sharpshooters are a safer and less expensive way to limit the herd, as they will only take cows, and hunters mostly take bulls.  But this begs the question of what limits would be placed upon a public hunt.  Maybe the bag limits would require cows only.

I also think that paying people to do something that other people will pay for the privilege of completely undermines the argument that using professional sharpshooters would be cheaper.  Rather, it lays bare the Times' opinion as meritless.

Additionally, what would be done with the meat of these professionally culled elk was not even raised by the Times.  But any self respecting hunter would make sure they harvested at least some of the meat [elk are rather huge, so packing out 400-500 lbs of meat may not be realistic].

So lets give a cheer to Senator Dorgan for his common sense, and a jeer to the Times for its lack thereof.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fox News and the Myth of Equal Time

Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, which came into existence in October 1996, has touted itself as the "Fair and Balanced" cable news outlet. Since that time the quality of both news and political discourse have devolved terribly. Is this all Fox News' fault? No. But Fox News is instructive in one way as to an important dynamic these days.

While Fox News denied any bias, it is clear that the unstated purpose behind the channel is to promote the conservative viewpoint. In so doing Fox has promoted several conservative pundits, including but not limited to the wildly popular Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.

In promoting itself as "Fair and Balanced," to the point of unsuccessfully suing now Senator Al Franken over the use of the phrase, Fox implies that all other news outlets, print, cable, broadcast or otherwise, are not fair and balanced. This has buttressed and reinforced the overall feeling among conservatives that their viewpoint is not being represented in such mainstream news outlets as CNN, NBC and the New York Times.

Of course, there is no such thing as a conservative or liberal view of the news. There is only news. The myth of the "liberal media" is perpetuated by those who are in the position to benefit from it: those who are getting called out by the media, and those who want to profit from selling their own slanted news.

One should, as a practice, gather their news from as many sources as possible, in order to insure you are getting the best news. I for one am a newshound. I love reading newspapers and love cable news, and a guilty pleasure of mine has always been the political punditry shows.

The first of such shows watched, from back in the college days, was Crossfire on CNN. This show had Bill Press for the left and Robert Novak for the right. And while the shows at times became heated, you could tell that Bill and Bob were friends.

Since those halcyon days the phenomena of Fox News has grown, and now Fox is allegedly the biggest cable news operation going. I chalk this up to there being only one Fox and the fact that it caters to a certain viewpoint, whether or not that it is valid. And Fox has done a great disservice to journalism as a whole, as well as the American people, and to the political system.

By creating and perpetuating the myth of a "liberal media" Fox has undermined all other news sources. Sure, there are liberal commentators on the editorial and opinion pages of just about every newspaper in America. But there are also conservative columnists. And in any newspaper worth its salt, whether it be a tabloid or broadsheet, the news editors and the editorial editors are separate offices.

A favorite target of Fox News and the conservative punditry in general is the New York Times. The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch's conservative tabloid, even has an occasional column call "Times Watch." I guess you really are an important journalistic institution when other papers report on your reporting. Anyway, The New York Times is roundly roasted on a regular basis by such journalistic luminaries as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly. They say the most amazing things about the Times - that it is treasonous, that it is communist, that it only reports news from a liberal perspective.

Now I will be the first to admit that the Times' editorial page is skewed heavily to the left. But that is simply not true about the news reporting pages, which make up some 95% of the paper. And every time someone tells me that the Times is a skewed and slanted news outlet, my invariable challenge to point to one substantial article on a political topic that was wrongly reported due to a left leaning political bias invariably goes unanswered.

For the sake of argument, where was the liberal media during the Monica Lewinsky scandal? Or during the run up to the Iraq War? In both situations, years apart, the so-called "liberal media" did not do its job and analyze the positions of the newsmakers, and rather, just restated what it was told, variously by Newt Gingrich and his henchmen, or the Bush White House and theirs.

But I didn't come to talk about the myth of the liberal media. Rather, I want to talk about the myth of the concept of equal time. And no, I am not speaking of the "Fairness Doctrine." Rather, I am speaking of the phenomenon, spearheaded largely by Fox News, or the split screen and/or competing experts on a given topic, which during a given news or commentary segment are given equal time.

At first glance you might think that I might be crazy, given all that was said above. However, my point is that by so doing, news outsets, and most famously Fox, create the illusion that there are always two sides to every story [usually one more liberal and the other more conservative], and both deserve equal weight, times and consideration.

However, such is intellectually dishonest.

The best case in point is the [incredibly] still ongoing debate of Creationism v. Science. Anytime this debate comes up on Fox there is always, always, always someone from one of the groups like Answers In Genesis on one side and a confounded paleontologist or geologist on the other. And then the discussion proceeds as if these sides are deserving of equal weight.

Of course, anyone who believes that the world was made in 6 days, or that the concept of an intelligent designer should be taught in a science class, is dead wrong when it comes to discussing science and scientific concepts. They should also not use the tools brought to them via the scientific method, namely television, the internet and radio. Admittedly, I for one am not a scientist. But I do understand basic concepts such as the scientific method of hypothesis, controlled testing, results, and replication.

Another good example is when some topic of gay rights, be it marriage or adoption, is being discussed. On one side you will have an advocate, and on the other you will invariably have someone from Focus On the Family, who invariably cites specious and otherwise unreliable "study" that shows the homosexuals are terrible in some way. No matter that medicine and psychology have come around since the 19th century to recognize that homosexuality is genetic and otherwise a naturally occurring phenomenon throughout mammals, and that homosexuals have contributed mightily to our present civilization at every turn in every epoch.

Perhaps the most grotesque outgrowth of this phenomenon is the conservative version of otherwise everyday things. While not outwardly conservative, the Creation Museum is an excellent example, inasmuch as it blames modern secularization and the Theory of Evolution for most of modern man's ills. If that isn't conservative politics, I don't know what is.

What do the people, Answers In Genesis, know that literally thousands of years of human scientific discovery and experimentation doesn't? The only answer is the King James version of Genesis word for word. And it galls me that they are willing to challenged the decades of industrious work of the scientific community with their truly unsupported beliefs, all the while taking advantage of the profits of science. It is truly a testament to how far we've come as a species that we can afford such backwardness in our society.

Another example is the website called Conservapedia. This is the "conservative" counterpart of Wikipedia, and touts itself as "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia." Check it out: The "Article of the Year: Evolution" is bylined as stating: "Discover what Wikipedia, the public school systems, and the liberal media don't want you to know about the creation v. evolution issue."

You can go to the page entry for homosexuality, and while there are literally hundreds of citations, few of them are of any sort of scientific literature, and when there are they are often taken out of context. Look for yourself:

Type in a search for "news" and you literally get this: "The news is a list of current events presented by the media. News may be on television (such as Fox News), in a newspapers (such as Wall Street Journal), on the radio (such as Rush Limbaugh Show), or on the Internet." Go see for yourself: How many of those are owned by Rupert Murdoch?

Search for "liberal" and the first line is "A liberal (also leftist) is someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self centered reasons." Feel free to check my work: All joking aside, how is that a "reliable" definition of liberal? Divisive, certainly. You can look up the definition for "conservative" for yourself.

The fact is is that there is not always two sides to every story. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But we are not entitled to our own facts. To set up, as the creators of Conservapedia, a divergent series of viewpoints not based on facts but on their own biases, is a terrible thing, and damages our society deeply.

And this is not a liberal v. conservative matter, per se. I believe that the dynamic that has been so successfully used by outlets like Fox News, that there is always a second and equally weighted view, is damaging to our collective thought process. It's as if we could debate whether water were wet, or if burning someone at the stake wasn't inhumane. There are some things which are facts: there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; Joseph McCarthy was not acting in the best interests of the country in stirring up the Red Scare in the 50's; Jimmy Carter was a terrible President; Bill Clinton did have sex with that woman. These matters are not up for debate.

And the damage comes in these forms: 1) we undermine the so-called Fourth Estate, that is a vigorous and free press as a check upon our government, which leaves us more open to the quiet seizures of power that all of us, right and left, properly fear, as people will reflexively not trust the media when they really need to; and 2) we undermine our own solidarity by moving into separate camps which detest each other as there is no common ground, and in so doing undermine our ability as a people to think clearly and act together as a nation.

And yes, I have exclusively taken the right wing to task in this post. And before my right wing friends come along and complain that I am not evenhanded, there are two things I want considered: 1) it is the right wing derivatives of long standing mainstream institutions of great integrity I am pointing out the weaknesses and dangers of, and 2) I am not news, I am opinion.