Hooray — AP has called the Alaska Senate seat for Mark Begich, confirming that Ted Stevens now trails Begich by more votes (3,724) than can be made up by the remainder of uncounted ballots (2,500). That’s certainly great news; that being said, I’d love to have seen if the GOP had the balls to kick him out of the Senate. (Hell, the Dems didn’t even have the balls to kick Lieberman’s sallow corpse to the curb, something he so richly deserved after his behavior this election season.)

(And the factoid of the day: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington DC’s Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, received nearly 80,000 more votes than Stevens, and over 76,000 more than Begich. It’s a stark reminder of the size of the voting population in Alaska, a state that’s been at the center of this year’s election for many more reasons than normal.)

While completely practical (and probably wise), there’s something a bit sad about the fact that Barack Obama will more or less be forced to give up e-mail access upon his ascension to the Presidency. E-mail communication has, in many ways, completely supplanted telephone communication in the 21st century; to me, this would be like telling any of the 20th century Presidents that they had to give up the phones on their desks. It seems like there must be a way to figure this one out…

Today heralded the release of the Plum Book, which is the listing of all the 7,000-plus political appointment positions available in the U.S. Government; it’s a publication I never knew existed until I saw mention of it on the Presidential Transition website (which I, in turn, found out about via the Obama Administration’s Change.gov website). It’s mostly mind-numbing, but paging through the PDF of it today, I was pretty shocked to see the existence of Appendix 5, entitled “Office of the Vice Presidency”. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the meaning of this appendix mentioned before: the Bush Administration someone appears to be using the Plum Book to push the mostly-ridiculed idea that the Office of the Vice Presidency is part-Executive, part-Legislative. Here’s the first paragraph of the appendix:

The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).

Looking at the historical Plum Books, this appendix appears to have materialized in the 2004 edition, well before Vice President Cheney made his claim to the National Archives that his office straddled the two branches of government (that certainly makes it seem like Cheney had that lie planned for quite a while before he found a need to invoke it, doesn’t it?). It’s all the more curious because the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is responsible for the contents of the 2008 Plum Book — this is the very same committee currently chaired by Joe Lieberman and the subject of much news this past week as Lieberman’s fate is being debated. Does the Committee really agree with this interpretation of the Office of the Vice Presidency’s position in the government, or did they just unknowingly carry the appendix over from the 2004 Plum Book (which was published by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, then chaired by Republican Tom Davis)? This seems like a good question to ask the current membership of the Committee… (which, incidentally, includes Senator Barack Obama until January 20th, when he takes another job).

(Incidentally, this interpretation of the Office of the Vice Presidency didn’t make it into the official U.S. Government Manual, which has the Veep’s office squarely in the Executive Branch in multiple places, and has as far back as one is able to browse.)

Ah, gotta love when operatives start straying from their talking points. Former Reagan-era Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday to chat about his support for John McCain, and given his strong interest in foreign affairs, most of the discussion stayed squarely in that arena. But just under fifteen minutes into the interview, host Neal Conan asked Eagleburger about his comfort with McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his veep, and the answer is really priceless. (This transcript, and the emphasis in it, is my own; I’ve also sliced the bit out of the recording so you can hear it.)

[audio player]

Neal: You mentioned, obviously, experience; are you entirely comfortable with Sarah Palin as Vice President of the United States, that she would be ready to take over in a crisis if she should, terribly, be called upon to do so?
Eagleburger: That’s a very good question… [three second pause] I’m being facetious here. Look, I don’t… of course not. I don’t think, at the moment, she would be as prepared to take over the reins of the Presidency. I can name for you any number of other Vice Presidents who were not particularly up to it, either. So the question, I think, is: can she learn, and would she be tough enough under the circumstances if she were asked to become President. Heaven forbid that that ever takes place. Give her some time in the office, and I think that the answer would be, she will be… adequate. I can’t say she would be genius in the job, but I think she would be enough to get us through a four-year — well, I hope not — get us through whatever period of time was necessary, and I devoutly hope it would never be tested.

That’s probably not exactly what McCain had in mind when he envisioned his supporters going out and talking to the media about his choices…

(Note: I’ve listened to the interview a bunch of times, trying to figure out if Eagleburger said that she’s unprepared to take over the “reins” or the “brains” of the Presidency — and I’m fairly certain, from my listening, that he said “brains”, but every other person who transcribed it got “reins”, so I’m willing to go that way for now…)

There’s a huge part of me that wonders if there’s anyone at all who’s as positively passionate about John McCain’s candidacy as Charles Alexander is about Barack Obama’s.

I’m not being facetious — I’m totally serious. The past month or two certainly has made it seem that the Obama campaign brings out the most positive, optimistic, and heartfelt emotions in people, whereas the McCain campaign brings out feelings of division and outright hatred (“Muslim terrorist”, “Elect McCain, not Barack Hussein”, etc.); maybe that perception is a function of the sources from which I get my news, but I’m not terribly inclined to think so.

In any event, Charles Alexander embodies the emotion that I’m hopeful will elect the first African-American president next week.

Like thousands of others, I’m a huge fan of the things that Nate Silver is doing over at FiveThirtyEight.com — bringing serious statistics to the forefront of this year’s political analysis makes for much more interesting thought and perspective, and he’s certainly achieving that. (For good bio pieces on Silver, wander over to read this and this.) The sheer data he presents is like candy to me, and while Silver does a great job of finding the true gems in his statistical analyses and shedding light on them, I’ve found myself mining into his data to try to find other interesting tidbits.

Take the 10,000 election simulations that Silver runs every day, using the incredibly complicated model he’s developed to reflect historical outcomes, current polling data, and inter-state trends. Each day, he presents a chart with analyses of the scenarios that come out of those 10,000 simulations (it’s the chart on the right of the page, titled “Scenario Analysis”), and as interesting as each line item is, more fascinating to me is the information lurking just below the surface. For example, yesterday’s run resulted in 9,497 instances of Obama winning the popular vote, and 503 instances of McCain doing the same, both of which are interesting given how the race is shaping up. But below that, we learn that 199 simulation runs resulted in Obama losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral Vote (a la Bush in 2000), as opposed to 76 runs in which McCain pulled this off — numbers that by themselves aren’t that meaningful, but when combined with the winning-the-popular-vote numbers, show a stark reality.

How? Again, in 503 of the 10,000 simulation runs, or 5.03% of the time, Silver’s model predicts McCain winning the popular vote — but we now know that in 199 of those runs, Obama still wins the Electoral Vote (and thus the election), and in another 76, Obama wins the popular vote but McCain wins the election. So the reality is that McCain only wins in (503 – 199 + 76 =) 380 simulation runs, or 3.8% of them, a 1.2% decline from the apparent number. Conversely, Obama wins the popular vote in 9,497 simulation runs (94.97%), but he loses the Electoral Vote in 76 of those, and he wins the election while losing the popular vote in another 199; that translates into winning the election in (9,497 – 76 + 199 =) 9,620 simulation runs, which is an increase to 96.2%. That’s pretty amazing, and if Silver’s model is correct, it’s a testament to the well-known Obama campaign strategy of concentrating on electoral vote numbers as closely as it does those of the popular vote (a strategy that carries over from the campaign’s intricate understanding of delegate counts during the primary).

Similarly, take the “McCain loses OH/FL/PA, wins election” stat, which occurs in none of the 7,137 runs. Here, that numerator is certainly interesting, but for me the denominator is far more so. Trying to figure out why that number — 7,137 — is different than the 10,000 simulation runs we’ve been talking about up until now led me to the answer that sheds light on a really eye-popping fact: Silver’s model has McCain losing three of the biggest battleground states in 7,137 of its 10,000 runs, or 71.37% of the time. That’s fascinating, and a piece of information that’s not discernible from any of the more traditional polling numbers that you see on the web. (Of course, that’s not to say it’s necessarily correct, just that Silver’s model predicts that to be the likelihood of McCain losing Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.)

If you’re not spending quality time on FiveThirtyEight.com every day, you’re really missing out on a chance to view this year’s election in an entirely different light. (And I haven’t even begun to laud the On the Road series of posts on 538, which are each just plain awesome.) Only time will tell how prescient (or not) Silver’s analysis is, but from the cheap seats, he certainly looks to know his shit.

Given the GOP’s turn to calling Obama a socialist these days, I’ve been focused on explaining to folks how McCain’s own off-the-cuff mortgage crisis solution is more “socialist” than anything proffered by the Democratic Party. Others, though, are keenly noting that for all her talk of “Barack the Redistributionist,” Sarah Palin’s own way of collecting and doling out oil dollars in Alaska is one of the best examples of wealth redistribution you can find in America. In this vein, Hendrik Hertzberg has a great Comment in the latest New Yorker, summarizing thusly:

For her part, Sarah Palin, who has lately taken to calling Obama “Barack the Wealth Spreader,” seems to be something of a suspect character herself. She is, at the very least, a fellow-traveller of what might be called socialism with an Alaskan face. The state that she governs has no income or sales tax. Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (“collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist.

(Note that I, like many in this nation, don’t find anything intrinsically wrong with wealth redistribution; that’s one of the core principles of taxation as it’s been implemented for years and years across the United States. I just think the hypocrisy of the GOP, the throw-any-label-hoping-it-sticks behavior, is at the same time both repugnant and hysterical, and I love seeing them get hoisted on their own petards.)

Not that Anil needs any link love from the low-rent likes of me, but I’d be remiss in not pointing out the sheer awsomeness of his post this morning on Sarah Palin’s choice of language. As always, Anil has an amazing way of articulating something that’s difficult to parse; his view of Palin’s language as her hook into her intended audience is uniquely insightful, to say the least.

Senator Ted Stevens found guilty on all seven counts of corruption. Stunning. It’s somewhat hysterical that this is a man who once chaired the Senate Ethics Committee.

I wonder if Sarah Palin will now be willing to answer the question she’s avoided to date: whether she supports the reelection of Stevens. (Note to any and all press members who might be endowed with the right to ask her a question or two: this would make a fine one!) I also wonder if the Senate will have the cojones to expel Stevens if he somehow manages to win his reelection bid — it takes a 2/3 majority to vote to expel a member, something that hasn’t happened since the Civil War expulsions in 1862. (Bob Packwood probably would have been expelled in 1995, had it not been for his resignation in light of that fact.)

This is a good time to acknowledge the amazing work of the folks at TPMMuckraker, who’ve been on the Ted Stevens story since mid-2007; their work certainly serves as the best place to see how the investigation developed into today’s guilty verdicts.

It would seem that anything I’d want to say about the $150,000 that the RNC and McCain/Palin ticket has spent on Palin’s wardrobe over the past seven weeks has already been said by Steve Benen, so you really should go read his post. I’d imagine he’s absolutely right — if you’re a donor to the GOP ticket, and aren’t even a little bit disgusted that your money has been spent on clothing and accessories to the tune of twice the median U.S. household income, then you’re likely in the minority.

Update: Marc Ambinder has an equally great take on the wardrobe expenditures, including that that amount of money would have bought the RNC a week’s worth of television ad time in Colorado (a state that the GOP is pulling money out of right now).

Just to make sure that the game of moral equivalence is played by fair rules, Steve Benen has a great post about G. Gordon Liddy, to remind folks how incredible it is that McCain has no issue with his relationship with Liddy (“I’m not in any was embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy”) yet has spent the last two weeks vilifying a (non-existent) close relationship between Obama and Bill Ayers. The key bit:

That’s an interesting response. Liddy is, of course, a convicted felon who hasacknowledged preparing to kill someone during the Ellsberg break-in ‘if necessary’; plotting to murder journalist Jack Anderson; plotting with a ‘gangland figure’ to murder Howard Hunt to stop him from cooperating with investigators; plotting to firebomb the Brookings Institution; and plotting to kidnap ‘leftist guerillas’ at the 1972 Republican National Convention — a plan he outlined to the Nixon administration using terminology borrowed from the Nazis.” Liddy also once famously gave his supporters advice on how best to kill federal officials (he recommended shooting them in the head because they might be wearing flak jackets).

Given that the McCain campaign is now pushing out robocalls in Ohio, New Mexico, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Missouri with Obama/Ayers allegations (interestingly similar to the robocalls he felt were despicable when used against him in 2000), this seems a bit hypocritical. But given the GOP of the past month, I guess we’re learning that that’s to be expected.

It should be noted that after today’s press conference, Joe Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber) has held more press conferences than Sarah Palin, the GOP candidate for Vice President of the United States.

It’s been 48 days since Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate, and she has yet to submit herself to a standard, run-of-the-mill press conference. Not one. According to various folks who’ve done the research, this has never happened before; it’s almost as if they don’t want her being asked un-prepped questions or something…

I could not agree with Andrew Sullivan any more — it’s unfathomable to me why the press continues to cover Sarah Palin’s stump speeches when she won’t grant a single press conference to take their questions. It’s time for the media to grow a spine and stop giving her any exposure at all until she starts acting like a real candidate and allows the public to question her.

I have to say that I’ve been oddly surprised by how little work Sarah Palin’s writers are doing in trying to understand anything about the quotes they choose to include in her speeches.

In her speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin recalled a quote by an unnamed writer as such:

A writer observed: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.

It turns out that otherwise-anonymous writer was Westbrook Pegler, a rabid anti-semite who openly wished for the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was felt to be so extreme in his bigotry that he was kicked out of the John Birch society. (That, ladies and gentlemen, takes some serious work to pull off.) It’s hard to reconcile her use of Pegler with her self-professed love of Israel, given Pegler’s belief that Jews could not be the victims of persecution because persecution “connotes injustice…They are, instead, enduring retaliation, or punishment.” Lovely stuff, that.

Similarly, in her closing statement at last week’s VP debate, Palin paraphrased and quoted Ronald Reagan:

It was Ronald Reagan who said that freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.

Looking beyond the surface of that quote reveals that Reagan made that quote in a context that’s not exactly in agreement with that in which Palin used it. In 1961, when Reagan’s film career had waned and he was contemplating a move into politics, he made a recording for the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Medical Association as part of Operation Coffeecup; the recording was supposed to be played at coffee klatches organized by the wives of doctors, and warned people of the evils of… Medicare. His contention, as a paid spokesperson for the AMA, was that Medicare would be a sure step towards the United States becoming a full-on socialist nation. Here’s the full context of that quote, which you can hear on YouTube (the whole thing is an interesting listen, but the money comes at 9:30):

Write those letters now. Call your friends, and tell them to write them. If you don’t, this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day… we will awake to find that we have so­cialism. And if you don’t do this, and if I don’t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

Nevermind that Reagan’s scary socialist America never happened (or that John McCain has been covered by taxpayer-financed health care for nearly all of his adult life); given the fact that the GOP has presided over what might be the largest expansion of government in United States history, and laid claim to an evisceration of individual liberties in the wake of September 11th, 2001, it’s again hard to reconcile Palin’s idea with the notion that the it’s an encroachment of liberties by the Democratic Party that we should all fear — this is just another example of what appears to be the GOP theme this election year, repeating total fantasies enough times that people might believe them to be true. I’m glad to see that the past few weeks’ worth of polling data shows that the theme isn’t catching on.

I know that this is going to shock everyone, but it turns out that when Palin talked about her record of divesting Alaska’s investment fund of assets linked to Sudan, she was totally lying. This woman is totally, completely pathological.

Here’s both Joe Biden’s and Sarah Palin’s answers to Katie Couric asking them about Roe v. Wade, and about examples of Supreme Court decisions with which they disagree:

There really isn’t a molecule in my body that believes that someone can watch this clip, see the difference between Joe Biden’s and Sarah Palin’s answers, and believe that she’s qualified to be the number two on the GOP ticket. In every single media appearance she’s made, it’s hard to believe that Palin is qualified to be a member of the White House support staff, much less a potential resident of it.

My favorite part: where Palin says that there is a Constitutional right to privacy, and then immediately says that the states are best-equipped to handle deciding the privacy rights of their constituents. It’s pretty clear she doesn’t have any idea that Constitutionally-derived rights are inherently the domain of the federal government (or that her belief in a right to privacy is, more or less, at diametric odds with her belief about Roe v. Wade).

Quote of the day, courtesy of Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton:

If John McCain hadn’t said that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” on the day of one of our nation’s worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week.

Seems to sum it up nicely.

I’m starting to think that a nice paradigm for evaluating the behavior of the candidates for President and Vice President might be what I’m going to call the what-if-it-were-my-kid test: how would I react if I learned that my own kid were behaving the same way? Let’s try this one out:

Imagine that I get a call from my daughter’s elementary school principal, asking me to come down to deal with an issue they’re having with her. I get to her school and learn that every day for the past two weeks, she’s been spending all of recess throwing a kickball at one of her classmates’ heads. I ask her to explain herself, and she says, “Well, I asked Jane to play jacks with me, and she said no, so it’s her fault!” I’m pretty sure I know how I’d react to this attempted justification — with a stern rebuke, followed by a calm discussion of how Jane is perfectly within her right to choose what she wants to do without my daughter beaning her with an inflatable ball.

Or how about this:

For an entire semester, my kid tells me he’s doing his math homework and is sailing along in class. Every night, we go over the work he has to do, and he assures me that he’s all set with math. Then his report card gets sent home, and he has a big F in math; I set up a conference with the teacher, learn that my son only turned in a handful of his homework assignments, and am handed a sheaf of (failing) quizzes he took in class. I ask my son about it, and he swears he did all his homework and did fine on his quizzes, even when presented with the evidence to the contrary. Again, I’m pretty sure there’s only one real response to this: a stern rebuke (this time accompanied by some tangible punishment), followed by an (attempted) calm discussion about lying, trust, and consequences.

Now, why are these the two examples that pop to mind? Well, the first nicely parallels John McCain saying that he’s only running a negative campaign because Barack Obama won’t do town-hall meetings with him; you can even hear him utter this amazing logical leap here, while at at the Service Nation forum (he repeated it again the next morning on The View). The whole thing feels amazing similar to a kid claiming she’s braining classmates because they won’t play jacks with her, and it feels right to treat it with the same amount of approbation.

The second what-if-it-were-my-kid scenario is a reasonable approximation of the outright lies that continue, even today, to be repeated by both McCain and his VP candidate, Sarah Palin. From their claims on their own records to their claims on Obama’s, their campaign is now firmly based in repeating claims that are known to be false in every way one can measure truth. And I’m not being hyperbolic by saying that their lies continue even today — this morning, Palin again repeated that she was against the Bridge to Nowhere (a line that she conveniently omitted from her stump speech for the few days she was actually in Alaska, speaking to the folks who damn well know better), and spokesman Tucker Bounds repeated the lie about Obama raising taxes on the middle class, a lie so egregious that even Fox News dragged him to the woodshed the minute the words left his mouth. And again, when thinking about it through the prism of my own kid doing the repeated lying, my response is simple — the bar for trusting any claims at this point from the GOP candidates is much, much higher.

I’m really liking this new paradigm.

(Oh, and Tom Toles rocks.)

Thomas Friedman has a great op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, an analysis of the fundamental differences between the two Presidential candidates’ approaches to the campaign over the past month or two. I can’t agree with him enough on this — during the past month, with issue after issue bubbling to the top of real American life (financial market woes, natural disasters, shifts in the Afghan and Iraq war dynamics, etc.), one candidate is actually talking about his plans to address these issues, and the other is concentrating on a campaign of smears and pig’s lipstick.

The money quote comes in the middle of the piece:

I dwell on this issue because it is symbolic of the campaign that John McCain has decided to run. It’s a campaign now built on turning everything possible into a cultural wedge issue — including even energy policy, no matter how stupid it makes the voters and no matter how much it might weaken America.
I respected McCain’s willingness to support the troop surge in Iraq, even if it was going to cost him the Republican nomination. Now the same guy, who would not sell his soul to win his party’s nomination, is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency.

I mean, if even Fox News is willing to start calling McCain out on his ad tactics and campaign strategy, he’s crossed into uncharted GOP territory…

Today’s Washington Post brought us an article saying that Sarah Palin’s confusion about the Bush Doctrine was “understandable” because there are many different versions of the Bush Doctrine. To anyone who’s seen the video clip, this is one of the most hysterical contentions ever; it’s akin to saying that it’s understandable that a preschooler is confused about the right choice of investments for retirement because the issue is so complex. Sure, learned scholars might have contentious arguments about the various definitions of “the Bush Doctrine”, but Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson revealed that she’s not even in the same state as those learned scholars — in order to be able to have a discussion about the many definitions of the Bush Doctrine, Palin would have had to have even a glancing understanding that there is a Bush Doctrine, rather than some “worldview” to which Gibson might be alluding with a fancy schmancy term. Seriously, she’s operating at the level of a preschooler on this issue; you only need to see the first ten seconds of the clip to see her struggle and delay, hoping that Gibson would give her an easy out.

And for the record, I should point out that not understanding the Bush Doctrine isn’t an insult of Palin per se — she’s a governor of less than two-thirds of a million people, has literally never been a part of national or international politics, and is probably joined by at least a handful of other governors who couldn’t have an informed discussion about the Bush Doctrine. The issue here is that Palin was chosen as the GOP candidate for Vice President of the United States, and I don’t think it’s overarching to expect the folks we aim to elevate to that position to have even the slightest clue about international strategy, not to mention the stark change in our willingness to use aggression that will form the backdrop for whatever changes the next Administration makes.

For two days in a row, John McCain has said to a national audience that the tack his campaign has taken, issuing patently-false attack ads and questioning the honor of Barack Obama, is a direct result of Obama refusing to participate in town-hall meetings with McCain. What?!? I’m not even sure how to parse that — I literally have no idea what that statement means, how the two are connected, or whether McCain has some understanding of cause and effect that I don’t. Is there any rational person in this country who thinks that there are only two alternatives for running a campaign for president, having town-hall meetings or issuing blatant lies from the relative safety of an ad design studio? Is there some sort of weird playground rule in effect during this election that says that when a candidate doesn’t agree to his opponent’s demands, the opponent gets to go off the deep end? (For the record, the first time McCain said this was at last night’s Service Nation event at fair Columbia University; the second time was on today’s The View.) I would expect this kind of explanation from an elementary school kid who’s trying to justify pushing someone into a ditch or something, not from a man who’s been trying to convince us all of his deep honor and commitment to rational public discourse.

(I do have to say, though, that it was fun to watch McCain get ripped up on The View, of all things. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a candidate whose positions and statements are so untenable that he can’t defend them while sitting on the sofa of a late-morning coffee klatsch television show; is there really a question of whether or not he’d be able to defend them while sitting in the Oval Office? Nevermind the part of the same appearance wherein he claimed that Palin never asked for earmarks as governor of Alaska, another glaring and undeniable lie.)

It continues to shock me how dishonorable a once-honorable man, John McCain, is willing to become in order to win the Presidency. Fortunately, it also seems that there’s been an uptick in the press noticing this over the past day or two.

Newsweek’s Andrew Romano has a nice piece from last night on the fact-free nature of McCain’s latest “Fact Check” ad; from its claims of the Obama campaign “air-dropping” an army of lawyers into Alaska to its deceptive claims about FactCheck.org’s pronouncements on Obama, the ad is a pure lie from start to finish. (And in an ironic twist, FactCheck itself weighed in on the ad, politely calling it “less than honest.”)

The New York Times’s Andrew Rohter took a look at McCain’s battleground-state ad purporting that Obama wants to teach kindergarteners about sex and found it similarly full of shit. The ad claims that Obama had “one accomplishment” while in the Illinois legislature, a bill that teaches children about sex before they are even taught to read. That, alas, is a total lie recycled from Alan Keyes’s campaign against Obama in 2004 — the proposed law was about “age and developmentally appropriate” sex education (with the youngest kids learning things such as how to avoid sexually predatory behavior, an issue appropriate enough that the Cub Scouts also teach about it), Obama wasn’t one of the bill’s sponsors, and the thing never made it to a vote in the full legislature. And finally, the ad repeats the same lie Palin told in her convention acceptance speech about Obama having no real accomplishments; this Times article from mid-last-year is a great resource for those who’d like to understand the actual accomplishments of Obama’s tenure in the Illinois state legislature, which include the first major campaign finance reform law in a quarter-century, the state’s first racial profiling law, increased childcare subsidies, and enhanced tax credits for the working poor, and earned a reputation as a policymaker willing to cross the political aisle to achieve results.

Finally, we get to this week’s total shitshow of an “issue”, the McCain campaign’s claim that Obama called Sarah Palin a pig. It’s so inane, so ludicrous, and so totally, demonstrably false as to be laughable, but of course, it’s dominated the news cycle for nearly 48 hours. (The slogan of this week: “This waste of time and energy was brought to you by the lies and slander of the McCain campaign, mindlessly repeated by the unthinking media.”)

To those of you who’ve read me for any amount of time, there’s no doubting that I’m a reasonably solid Democrat, so it’s no surprise that I’m behind Obama in this horse race. But with that said, I spent a lot of the 1990s thinking that John McCain was a very reasonable — non-wingnut, non-neo-conservative — Republican, and that he’d likely serve our nation well were he ever to attain the Presidency. That’s why it’s so shocking to me how far he’s fallen, and how willing he’s been to dishonor the amazing legacy he could have had. Fortunately, it seems that I’m not alone in this assessment.

The Washington Post’s Michael Kinsley:

[T]hat shouldn’t let John McCain off the hook. He says he’d rather lose the election than lose the war. But it seems he’d rather lose that honor he’s always going on about than lose the election.

Time Magazine’s Joe Klein:

Now he is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I’ve ever seen in presidential politics…. I just can’t wait for the moment when John McCain — contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat — talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

The Washington Post’s editorial board:

John McCain is a serious man who promised to wage a serious campaign. Win or lose, will he be able to look back on this one with pride? Right now, it’s hard to see how.

The Washington Monthly’s Hilzoy:

I hope McCain is enjoying himself. It would be a shame for him to give up what remains of his honor without getting anything at all in return.

The message that really hit home to me was spoken by Obama when he was asked to respond to the “lipstick on a pig” idiocy.

This happens every election cycle. Every four years. This is what we do. We’ve got an energy crisis. We have an education system that is not working for too many of our children and making us less competitive. We have an economy that is creating hardship for families all across America. We’ve got two wars going on — veterans coming home not being cared for — and this is what they want to talk about. This is what they want to spend two of the last 55 days talking about.
You know who ends up losing at the end of the day? It’s not the Democratic candidate. It’s not the Republican candidate. It’s you, the American people, because then we go another year or another four years or another eight years without addressing the issues that matter to you. Enough.
I don’t care what they say about me, but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swift-boat politics. Enough is enough.

Let’s hope that enough Americans agree.

I started watching Sarah Palin’s speech a few minutes into it last night, and my take is that she’s a supremely confident speaker, and is clearly willing to go for the jugular, but didn’t give us any reason to think that she has any grasp of the issues that matter at the national level.

The first chunk of the speech was about her family, and that’s understandable — the nation still has to really meet Sarah Palin, and that’s what that was about. The next bit was about her accomplishments as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska, and this is where my incredulity meter started jumping. Palin threw out a line or two about her strong ethics reform credentials… on the same day that she stopped cooperating into the Alaska legislature’s ethics inquiry into her firing of the state public safety commissioner. She clearly implied that Alaska’s current budget surplus was as a result of her vetoes of wasteful spending, but there’s really no debate at this point that huge windfall taxes on the Alaskan oil and gas industry, taxes championed by Palin, are what’s responsible for the surplus. (Of note, these same taxes were defeated in Congress by the GOP in the lower 48; also of note while we’re talking about surplus and debt, when Palin started as mayor of Wasilla, the town had no debt, a number that ballooned to just under $20 million — or $3,000 per person — by the time she left.) And finally — and most brazenly — Palin claimed that she was against earmarks and the now-famous Bridge to Nowhere, claims that are now known to be so absolutely, positively false as to make you wonder if her press insulation was so effective this past week that she doesn’t know that there’s not a single thinking person who believes them anymore.

After all that, Palin then segued into the only bit of policy meat in her speech, a minute or two about energy; I won’t proclaim to know a ton about energy policy, so it’s hard for me to judge this. She then finished with an alternating string of attacks on Obama and honorifics about McCain, demonstrating the barracuda-like style that gave her her nickname back home.

For those so-inclined, The Washington Monthly did a nice fact-checking of the speech last night, as did the Associated Press and the Obama campaign.

If anyone doubts whether Sarah Palin is cut from the same cloth as our current Bush Administration, the fact that she is now refusing to testify in her state ethics inquiry should answer that question. Remember, the day that Palin was picked as the vice presidential nominee, she was “happy to help out in the investigation of this matter, because she was never directly involved”; two days later, she lawyered up and began making noise that she was done cooperating, and now she’s trying to shunt the investigation over to a state ethics board made up solely of folks she appointed. It’s a transparent-enough move that it stuns me she’s willing to take it, but at some point, I need to stop being stunned by how ridiculous this is becoming.

I guess that since the nation has allowed countless Bush administration folks to get away with refusing to participate in investigations into various abuses of power (Alberto Gonzales, John Bolton, Monica Goodling, Harriet Miers, David Addington, Dick Cheney, etc.), either Sarah Palin or the McCain/Palin campaign feel that erecting this new blockade is a good gamble to take. That’s disheartening on so many levels, the worst of which is that they’re probably right — why would the public take a mere vice presidential nominee to task over her non-participation in an ethics investigation when we didn’t manage to take the highest American law-enforcement officer to task for doing the same thing?

WowSarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol is pregnant. I honestly cannot imagine how shrill and neverending the GOP attacks would be if it was discovered that a teenage daughter of Barack Obama or Joe Biden was pregnant; televisions would be blanketed with never-ending ads about how worthless “liberal” sex-education programs have proven, how Democrats are encouraging promiscuity, and every other nasty spin you could think of.

In all honesty, if this was in Bristol’s plans, then this is great news for her and her boyfriend-cum-fiancé, and that’s where the personal side of this ends for the rest of us political gawkers. But given that Bristol’s mother has just been selected by John McCain to be his party’s vice-presidential nominee, it’s impossible to deny that there are a few other sides of this that remain highly relevant to the country. For me, this is just another indication that either McCain’s judgement, or his ability to vet his candidate, is much more flawed than anyone previously thought; the whole picture is one of a campaign in total disarray.

More fun that comes on the back of McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate: getting to hoist Karl Rove on his own petard. (Will that ever get old, though?) When he was on Face the Nation three weeks ago, and the Democratic vice-presidential slot had not yet been filled, Rove was asked whether the chance of Obama picking Virginia governor Tim Kaine would put Virginia into play in the election. Rove’s response will now go into the annals of truly awful foresight:

I think he’s going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice. He’s going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he’s going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He’s not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president.
With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he’s been a governor for three years, he’s been able but undistinguished. I don’t think people could really name a big, important thing that he’s done. He was mayor of the 105th largest city in America. And again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it’s smaller than Chula Vista, California; Aurora, Colorado; Mesa or Gilbert, Arizona; north Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada. It’s not a big town. So if he were to pick Governor Kaine, it would be an intensely political choice where he said, “You know what? I’m really not, first and foremost, concerned with, is this person capable of being president of the United States? What I’m concerned about is, can he bring me the electoral votes of the state of Virginia, the 13 electoral votes in Virginia?”

The video of this masterful bit of analysis is here (you can forward to around 6:10 or so for the meat), and the PDF transcript of the Face the Nation interview is here.

(Thanks go out to the Political Animal, Steve Benen, for picking this one up!)

Update: I didn’t realize that Rove has already just gone ahead and contradicted himself on this; yesterday, on Fox News, he said that being mayor of “the second largest city in Alaska” was a great qualification for her. (Nevermind that Wasilla actually isn’t even in Alaska’s top ten list, and if you ranked the entirety of Alaska alongside the nation’s most populous cities, the entire state wouldn’t be in the top ten.)

McCain’s press release announcing Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate might include one of the most baffling paragraphs I’ve read in a press release in a long, long time (emphasis added by me):

As the head of Alaska’s National Guard and as the mother of a soldier herself, Governor Palin understands what it takes to lead our nation and she understands the importance of supporting our troops.

How does being the head of a group of less than 4,000 soldiers (approximately 1,850 Alaska Army National Guard and 2,000 Alaska Air National Guard) get Palin to the point where she “understands what it takes to lead our nation”? This barely gets her to the point where she understands what it takes to lead your average New England university, or Wasilla, Alaska

(By the way, the Alaska army National Guard website is one of the most awful ever. They even kept a bunch of the sample text that came with their content management system… just awesomely awful.)

This would be an example of the wrong messenger for the message; I’d imagine that if I were a world leader, it’d be pretty hard to take seriously any plea from George Bush asking that my nation stop imprisoning political dissidents or take human rights more seriously.

While it certainly reads like a bad Vince Flynn novel plot, I admit to being a bit intrigued by the notion that there might be a secret Executive Order that attempts to override the well-known order of succession to the Presidency in the case where both the President and Vice President die or are incapacitated. Exhibit A of the argument is the fact that there’s both a secret appendix and another set of classified appendices to the 2007 Presidential Succession Act (“Annex A” and the “classified Continuity Annexes”); exhibit B is that apparently, Reagan was the one to issue the original order, and nobody knows what happened to it in the intervening years. Interesting.

Talk about an awesome, awesome graph, showing how history managed to be made yesterday. (But of course, you can’t put too much on the “history was made” part, since whoever came out of the Dem contest, history would have been made.)

On one hand, we have Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton, one the one-time lawyer for the President of the United States and the other the former White House Chief of Staff. Both of them were allegedly involved in the White House’s firing of U.S. Attorneys who weren’t willing to follow along with efforts to discredit or damage Democratic politicians in their districts, and both ignored Congressional subpoenas to provide documents and testify about the dismissals.

On the other hand, we have Roger Clemens, the baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees. He was allegedly a user of performance-enhancing drugs during much of his baseball career, and gave testimony before a Congressional inquiry into the use of drugs in sports which was directly contradicted by his former trainer.

In what can be said to be one of the most poignant statements about what’s wrong with politics and justice in America, the Department of Justice has agreed to investigate whether Roger Clemens lied to Congress, but has refused to investigate Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton for not complying with Congressional subpoenas. The fact that our Executive Branch isn’t wiling to hold its own people responsible for abiding by the law is abhorrent; the fact that this is all taking place alongside the same Executive Branch spending its time on the private behavior of athletes competing in games is just the icing on the proverbial cake.

Tomorrow’s Chesapeake Primary day, the day when DC, Virginia, and Maryland voters turn out to help choose the next Presidential candidates — and with the tight race on the Democratic Party side, the primaries really matter quite a bit. Here in the District, 15 delegates will be allocated based on the primary results, as many as Delaware, Vermont, Alaska, and either of the Dakotas, which is sort of exciting for us here normally-unrepresented folks. Given that, though, wouldn’t you think that there would be even one small tidbit of information about the election on the Washington, D.C. homepage? Alas, there isn’t; you have to head over to the DC Board of Elections subsite, and if what you’re really after is the location of your polling place, head here to track that info down.

You might have seen the National Do-Not-Call Registry popping back up in the press recently — since the Federal Trade Commission opened the list in 2003, and numbers registered on the list expire after five years, there are a ton of numbers that’ll fall off the list next year unless people go and re-register them.

I discovered one annoying gotcha, though, related to how the FTC set up the online system for registering numbers and reporting violations of the list. Consider the following three bits of info:

  • the online system doesn’t make any distinction between registering a number on the list and re-registering a number that’s already on the list;
  • the law gives telemarketers a 31-day window to continue to call people after listing their numbers;
  • the online system doesn’t let you report a company’s violation of the registry if you’re within the 31-day window.

What that means is that even if you’ve had your number on the list for years, if you re-register it, you’ll start a 31-day clock where you can’t report any violations. It’s pretty annoying, actually — but of course, it’s certainly not a reason you should avoid making sure your numbers don’t fall off the do-not-call list.

There’s nothing earth-shattering or heretofore-unknown about this Business Week article lambasting the pathetic state of the airline industry, but imagine how awful it’d be if a major news magazine had the following to say about your job performance:

When Marion C. Blakey took over at the Federal Aviation Administration in 2002, she was determined to fix an air travel system battered by terrorism, antiquated technology, and the ever-turbulent finances of the airline industry. Five years later, as she prepares to step down on Sept. 13, it’s clear she failed. Almost everything about flying is worse than when she arrived. Greater are the risks, the passenger headaches, and the costs in lost productivity. Almost everyone has a horror story about missed connections, lost baggage, and wasted hours on the tarmac. More than 909,000 flights were late through June of this year, twice the level of 2002.

Note that I’ve flown enough in the past few years to know that everything said in that intro paragraph is true, so I’m not saying that BW is being unnecessarily mean — my only point is that when something like that is published about you, you know that your failure has been a fantastic one. Of course, Blakey is leaving the FAA to become the head of Aerospace Industries Association (the trade association representing the manufacturers of airplane equipment), so she’ll go from the position of massively failing to lead the FAA to the position of lobbying on behalf of an aerospace trade group. I find that interesting, if only because she spent five years showing that she was unable to advocate for the needs of American air travelers on a federal level, and now she’s being given another chance to do exactly that on behalf of private industry. What makes anyone think she’ll be more successful?

Most of my (two or three) regular readers know I’m a huge Dahlia Lithwick fan, so it’ll come as no surprise that I think her latest missive is pretty freaking amazing. Stemming from when, in 2004, two West Virginians were thrown out of a state-government-sponsored event (attended by the President) when they deigned to show up with anti-Bush T-shirts on — and then were handcuffed, booked, and put in jail — Lithwick then takes a look at our current Administration’s history of preventing any dissenting voices from attending official White House events. She concludes with a look at the actual White House advance manual for such events, finding that it appears to have become the official policy of the United States to only allow those who are supportive of the Administration to be within earshot of the President. I guess, if nothing else, it explains how clueless Bush is that many of us out here disagree with him… but it’s a sad statement nonetheless.

I’ve got a few short takes today, to try to assuage my guilt for being a bit swamped these days (and also to get rid of a few of these tabs in my browser).

Remember the lawsuit Verizon filed against Vonage, threatening to bankrupt the upstart VOIP provider over technology the Baby Bell claimed was its own? It looks like Vonage might have finally rolled out workarounds to all the disputed tech, and also posted better-than-expected financials — which makes me pretty excited, being that I’ve been nothing but satisfied with our service from the company.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Jane Mayer’s amazing New Yorker piece on the CIA “black sites”, and it’s pretty clear that this is a must-read article for those who wish to learn how far our government has taken its torture of detainees in the all-important war on terror. The worst part of it is that at this point, there’s no question that what the public knows only scratches the surface, and that when tomorrow’s historians uncover the full details of this administration’s assaults on fundamental American liberties, we’ll either be aghast or will have long ago given up the right to express our outrage. (Let’s hope for the former.)

It’s amazing, but Apple really does look to be violating the script.aculo.us license on every single page that’s generated by the .Mac photo gallery. Either that, or they’ve struck some licensing agreement with the tool’s author, Thomas Fuchs — but seeing as how script.aculo.us is released under the extremely permissive MIT license, that’d seem unlikely for Apple to have done.

Cool — I hadn’t put two and two together, but Movable Type 4.0 is using Codepress to provide inline syntax highlighting in its template editors, and has extended the tool so that it recognizes all the Movable Type template tags. A long time ago, I bookmarked Codepress so that I’d remember to come back and take a look at it… looks like I don’t have to do that anymore. :)

Finally, this page might be dangerous for me. That is all.

What a shocker — Richard Carmona, the Surgeon General from 2002 through 2006, now acknowledges that the Bush Administration continually muzzled him on issues like stem cell research and contraception. In Carmona’s words:

The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science, or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times, we now know that despite President Bush’s proclamation that 30 months in prison was an “excessive” punishment for Scooter Libby, the Bush Justice Department has presided over the sentencing of 198 individuals convicted of obstruction of justice, and the average prison sentence received by those individuals was 70 months. I’d comment on this more if I thought it was needed, but that’s really a finding which speaks for itself.

In light of the President commuting Scooter Libby’s prison sentence yesterday, calling it “excessive”, I figured I’d link to the U.S. Supreme Court decision from two weeks ago which upheld the 33-month sentence of Victor Rita. Rita was convicted of perjury and making false statements — essentially, the same as Libby — and challenged the sentence as excessively harsh and unreasonable; the Court disagreed, saying that the sentence was well within federal sentencing guidelines and appropriate given the crimes of which Rita was convicted. Unfortunately for Rita, he isn’t a friend and confidante of Dick Cheney; I’d assume he’s pretty bitter about Libby walking around a free man…

Awesome — Cheney appears to believe that the Office of the Vice President is not a part of the Executive Branch. Does that mean that he’s also no longer the first in the chain of Presidential succession? We can only hope…

Andrew Sullivan has an entry over at The Atlantic Online that defies adequate excerpting — it’s a look at the Bush administration’s use of the term “enhanced interrogation” to describe the we-don’t-torture methods our country is using to extract information from the people we’ve rounded up and classified as terrorists. Most importantly, it’s also a historical look at how Nazi Germany coined the exact same (translated) term, to defend what turn out to be many of the exact same practices. And not to jump right to the punchline, the final paragraph of the piece is the anchor:

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture - “enhanced interrogation techniques” - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

There’s little to no doubt that as a nation, we will look back on what happened to liberty and security in post-9/11 America with shame and embarrassment; I’m just anxious for that collective realization to sink in and lead to enough institutional change up top to allow us to right the wrongs of the past four years.

Jesus, as if there weren’t reason enough to think that our current White House has not one whit of respect for the rule of law, Dahlia Lithwick’s Slate column today about the attempt to coerce an ICU-bound John Ashcroft into certifying the legality of the NSA wiretapping program should be enough to cement that fact. It really does play like a Harrison Ford thriller — the acting Attorney General finding out that Bush’s Chief of Staff and the White House Counsel intended to take advantage of Ashcroft’s heavily medicate state and then racing, sirens ablaze, to the hospital to intervene, the President overtly being told that his program was illegal and then deciding to continue it despite that fact, the whole bit. The Post has more on the whole escapade, including a damning editorial and a piece about Alberto Gonzales refusing to retract a 2006 sworn statement that the NSA program had aroused no dissent or controversy within the Bush administration (leading to speculation that there are other surveillance programs we don’t know about).

While I don’t hold a lot of sympathy for those who have been willing to unquestioningly carry Bush’s water over these past six-plus years, I actually do feel a little bad for the rank and file Republicans — I suspect that their party will find it incredibly hard to avoid being defined for years to come by the abhorrent behavior, intransigent lawlessness, and reckless disregard for the truth that’s emanated from the Oval Office since 2001.

In a little-reported incident, the Chief of the General Services Administration Lurita Doan — the woman appointed by the Bush administration as head of the agency which directs $66 billion a year in U.S. Government procurement contracts — allowed the Deputy Political Director of the White House to come in and give an overtly political presentation to 40 GSA staffers, a presentation which included lists of Democrats the GOP is targeting in the 2008 election and Republicans who would need “defense” in order to hold onto their seats. (The presentation, in PDF format, is available from the House Oversight Committee website.) Worse still, people present at the meeting recall Doan standing up at the end and asking employees for ways in which the GSA could “help our candidates.” Video from her testimony in front of the House Government Reform Committee today is already online, and it’s amazing to watch her stammer “I don’t recall” and “it wasn’t my meeting” repeatedly. If I weren’t so cynical about our current government, I’d also say that the video provides a great view of her career dissolving, but given that our Attorney General is still in command of the DoJ despite being part of attempts to pressure U.S. Attorneys to engage in political prosecutions and then overtly lying to Congress about it earlier this month, Doan is just as likely to be the future recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Are you kidding me — John McCain, a man who is seriously considered as a potential Republican Presidential nominee isn’t willing to even commit to an answer as to whether condoms are capable of preventing the transmission of HIV?!? It’s behavior like this that is the perfect answer to all the people who keep telling me that their appreciation of McCain stems from his moderate stands and his maverick nature. When the truth comes out, though, he’s just another pandering mouthpiece for both his party and his President.

I admit to not paying much attention to the whole fracas around the Boston Police Department shutting down parts of the city to “disarm” what turned out to be guerrilla art marketing geegaws, but thankfully, a bunch of other have been doing so… and they’re thus now in a position to point out the overt idiocy of the Boston Police and prosecutorial machinery. First stop is Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s post, which puts this event in the context of another genius move by the BPD, the 2006 “bomb scare” arrest of a man who was protesting by reenacting the famous Abu Ghraib photo outside an Army recruiting center. Then comes Bruce Schneier, who reminds us that the only terrorizing that was done came at the hands of the BPD, not the artists; the devices were up for over three weeks in Boston, and over ten weeks in other cities, and all of a sudden the BPD decided that it had to panic and go apeshit. And finally, Wired’s John Browne with a look at the laws involved, concluding that the only way the Boston prosecutors will be able to fulfill their promise to throw the book at the artists is if they demonstrate both that they intended to instill fear and that anyone would reasonably believe the devices to constitute some threat… something that the whole up-for-many-weeks-without-incident thing probably contradicts. (some via the inestimable Rafe)

Seriously, I love that the New York Times wrote an article about the Capitol Hill house shared by U.S. Representatives George Miller and Bill Delahunt and U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer. (And we’re reasonably close neighbors!) It’s refreshing that the four roommates have to deal with the same mundane stuff that all roommates do — who gets the groceries, which people aren’t making their beds, who deals with the vermin — yet wake up in the morning and cross the street to serve as leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress.

The government has now officially put more thought into the design of Guantanamo’s court bathrooms than the charges against its prisoners.

Dahlia Lithwick has a great year-ending list of the 10 most outrageous U.S. civil liberties violations of 2006, and it’s a good’un.

Shannon and I are in London for the holidays, so in an effort to clear off some of the tabs in my browser, here are some of the things I’ve been hoarding in my bookmarks.

  • The guy behind DallasFood.org did an amazing job over the past month figuring out the sham behind Noka chocolates, and published a ten-part series reporting his results. It’s an amazing bit of investigation, really.
  • Security expert Bruce Schneier finally weighed in on the Automated Targeting System, the U.S. government system that assigns each of us a score which pretends to predict the terror threat we pose. Unsurprisingly, he finds it a waste of money, time, and effort.
  • For those of you considering buying a .Mac account, you might want to read John Siracusa’s rant — it’s written from the perspective of a developer thinking about implementing some of the synchronization features of .Mac, but he also goes into some detail about his disappointment with the service.
  • Anil’s obit of James Brown is a must-read. So go read it.
Rumsfeld out -- buh bye!

I promise I’m not going to be doing a play-by-play of election goings-on today, but I have to admit I find it fitting that the AP got the story of Rumsfeld resigning and the press called Montana for Jon Tester at pretty much the same moment that Bush walked out to the slaughter in his press conference. (Seriously, it’s hard to see this performance as anything more than him getting beaten about the head with a shovel, from my admittedly slanted read on it.)

And for my favorite part of the press conference: it’d have to be Bush claiming, when asked whether he’d support giving DC a voting representative in the House, that it was the very first time he’d heard of the issue. Are you f*!@ing kidding me?!?

What a terrific — and late — night last night was; until around 1 AM, Shannon and I sat firmly planted in front of the TV (tuned variously to CNN, NBC, and Comedy Central) and a laptop streaming a muted CNN via the SlingBox. I don’t hesitate at all to say that I’m excited about the returns, but in all honesty, I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of the Democratic House wave last night, and holding out on any Senate celebration until the results from Virginia and Montana are finalized. (But with 99.88% of the Virginia precincts reporting, Jim Webb’s unofficial lead is 7,132 votes, a number that’s four or five times higher than Bush’s end-of-the-count lead in Florida in 2000; in Montana, Jon Tester’s lead is a hair over 3,000.) By all reports, all the Virginia numbers that are being reported out so far do include all absentee voting; the only counting that’s left are the remaining boxes in three counties and some of the provisional ballots.

For those who (like me) were looking for raw explanations of the recount rules and processes in Virginia and Montana, a good starting point is this post over at TPM Cafe’s Election Central. A more fleshed-out version is that Virginia pays for a recount for a result in which the difference is less than 0.5% (there’s almost no way for this not to occur at this point), but the recount can’t even be requested until the election results are certified, something that won’t occur until the very end of November. In Montana, the state only pays for a recount if the margin is within 0.25%, and they’ll allow a candidate-financed recount if the margin is less than 0.5%. It looks, from the certified numbers and the votes that are still outstanding, that Montana’s final tally will finish either just within the 0.5% window or slightly higher than that, so we’ll see about that as well. And as I’ve read in about a dozen places today, the kicker to this all will be watching how the various players try to manipulate any recounts, and what comes of the investigations into election fraud that have already begun in Virginia.

Again, an exciting night, but the sobering reality is that it’s merely step one of a many-step process to right this ship, and there’s a lot the Democrats can do to screw this all up if they don’t start listening to the wiser voices within the party.

One brief update on the National Campaign for Fair Elections public service announcement: apparently, the organization is doing good work today! After calling the Putnam County elections bureau, the friend I mentioned in today’s earlier post also called NCFE and was told that they’d immediately put a lawyer in the voting precinct to make sure that they stopped incorrectly mandating identification before allowing registered voters to cast their ballots. Now that’s service.

With all the voting problems people are already reporting (just take a look at Josh Micah Marshall’s excellent Talking Points Memo for examples), I suspect the NCFE will be busy today.

Shannon, after we cast our (non-representative DC) ballots.

After failing to make it to vote in the primary (I was attending on the peds oncology service, and couldn’t get out of the hospital in time!), Shannon and I woke up early squirrelly this morning and hustled our way to the polling station. Voting in DC is a bit weird; you vote for local races that have meaning, but the national races are for “shadow representatives” that functionally have as much relevance as a seamstress at a nudist colony. As a first-time DC voter, I had to show identification before I could vote, but interestingly Shannon was asked for her ID as well, and she’s not a first-time voter. (I also just heard from a friend in New York who was also barred from voting until he produced an ID, and is now pursuing an explanation from his county board of elections.) In any event, we slid our ballots into the electronic reader, ate a celebratory donut, and immediately started stressing about watching the returns this evening… here’s hoping for the sweeping repudiation of the Bush administration that’s been trending towards finality in the pre-election polls.

One public service announcement: if you have any problems voting (electronic voting machines that malfunction, officials that wrongly prevent you from casting a ballot, whatever), the National Campaign for Fair Elections has set up a toll-free hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE. The group has monitors and attorneys on-hand to help deal with problems as they arise, so it’s probably worth giving them a call with any issues.

Seriously, when will someone get enough of a backbone to challenge the idiotic continued usage of signing statements by our President? Yesterday, we had the top of the Executive Branch food chain explicitly state that he feels he has additional power to change Homeland Security’s privacy rule audits, and also that he can defy the rules Congress spelled out about the qualifications of any potential FEMA director. The arrogance is astounding — each statement says, “I know what the words of the law state, but even though I’ll sign my name to the law, I won’t abide by those words.”

The FEMA bit is plainly insane, because the text of the bill stated that any potential director of the agency had to have at least five years experience and a “demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security,” and Bush’s signing statement explicitly declares that he doesn’t intend to abide by those requirements. This is immensely galling, given FEMA’s performance during Katrina under Michael Brown, someone who clearly wasn’t qualified to have the job or manage an emergency. The text of the statement (emphasis mine):

Section 503(c) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as amended by section 611 of the Act, provides for the appointment and certain duties of the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Section 503(c)(2) vests in the President authority to appoint the Administrator, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, but purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the President may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office. The executive branch shall construe section 503(c)(2) in a manner consistent with the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.

Here’s my big question: what’s the actual difference between these signing statements and line-item vetoes? And if there isn’t any, didn’t our Supreme Court rule that the Constitution doesn’t allow for line-item vetoes? Will it take Congress changing party hands in order to get the body to stand up for its Constitutionally-vested power to define the laws that go before our President for signature?

From Talking Points Memo today (or maybe Wonkette, I have no idea who had it first) comes a photo that really hammers home the current mess in Washington:

Brown, Bush, and Foley, the whiz kids of the U.S. Government
(image copyright Getty)

(Yep, that’s Michael Brown to Bush’s right, and Mark Foley to his left.) If there’s a more representative image of this presidency out there on the wires, I certainly haven’t seen it; I’d think that it’d have to involve Jack Abramoff engaging in some sort of sex act with Bill Frist while Frist performs telemedicine on Tom DeLay.

When news of a detainee “compromise bill” started rumbling off of Capitol Hill, I was a bit suspicious that none of the media coverage contained even the slightest bit of detail about how the new legislation would deal with the major problems inherent in our current system of torturing them until they give us what we want. As the days have unfolded, I’ve read the daily paper anxious for more information, and been both surprised and alarmed that there wasn’t any. So when the U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation yesterday, I was intrinsicly hopeful that perhaps they had details that sufficiently put to rest fears that we’d continue crapping all over the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, and any other half-moral set of guidelines that dictate we as a nation shouldn’t be torturing people. Well, it turns out that that’s not quite the case — most lawmakers haven’t the foggiest clue which interrogation methods are currently used in our War on Terror, and none of them know what practices will be allowed or disallowed by the new legislation. (And yes, this includes John McCain, who apparently doesn’t actually give a crap about prisoners’ rights or standing up for what’s just.) As always, Dahlia Lithwick masterfully puts it into words, this time skipping the humor and going straight for deserved damnation.

For the five years since 9/11, we have been in the dark in this country. This president has held detainees in secret prisons and had them secretly tortured using secret legal justifications. Those held in secret at Guantanamo Bay include innocent men, as do those who have been secretly shipped off to foreign countries and brutally tortured there. That was a shame on this president. But passage of the new detainee legislation will be a different sort of watershed. Now we are affirmatively asking to be left in the dark. Instead of torture we were unaware of, we are sanctioning torture we’ll never hear about. Instead of detainees we didn’t care about, we are authorizing detentions we’ll never know about. Instead of being misled by the president, we will be blind and powerless by our own choice. And that is a shame on us all.

Update: Unsurprisingly, the Senate just voted to kill an amendment which would have guaranteed habeas corpus rights to all non-citizen detainees. (Yep, even good ol’ John McCain voted against it.) Let’s be very clear: this means that those detainees who aren’t U.S. citizens will have absolutely no venue in which to challenge their detention, meaning that there’s almost no way to review this abhorrent bit of the legislation once enacted. (Congress and the President decided to be generous to citizens — we all have been granted the kindness of military tribunals to which we can appeal our detention.) Far from fearmongering, that parenthetical statement is a particularly important bit of info, since the new law also gives the President and military pretty much sole authority over the definition of “enemy combatant”, meaning that it’s not exaggerated to say they can go so far as to declare American citizens on American soil as enemy combatants. As a result, our Congress is a hair’s breadth from ensconsing our Executive branch in virtually unfettered power to detain, interrogate, and permanently imprison anyone they so choose. Truly, completely shameful.

The New York Times now has part two of its series online on the miscarriage of New York State town and village justice. It’s as frightening as the first.

Tomorrow’s New York Times has a fascinating — and fascinatingly frightening — look at the abhorrent state of New York State’s town and village courts. 75% of the nearly 2,000 judges don’t have any formal legal training, and the state practices little to no oversight into how they run their “courtrooms” (a word deserving of the quotations, given some of the descriptions in the article). Misogyny, racism, and petty grievances take precedence over justice in a few of the towns the Times profiled, and disciplinary action is scarce to nonexistent. Let the article serve as a warning: never run afoul of the law in upstate New York.

Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins, posted a recap of his day as an election judge in Maryland on Tuesday, and it’s enough to make you wonder how a first-world democracy like the United States can behave like a banana republic when it comes to our election methodology. Avi’s precinct used the hideously insecure Diebold Accuvote-TS systems, and between technical problems, false security mechanisms, and a Diebold tech who had less than 24 hours of job experience and less than eight hours of training, Avi’s experience was disastrous. Given how fundamental voting is to the American way of government, it’s hard to concieve of a reason why Diebold and its machines are still present in elections. It’s pretty clear that an intermediate-level computer science student could develop a more reliable and secure system…

Now seems as good a time as any to dump a few links here that have accumulated in tabs in my browser over yesterday and today:

  • Michael Bronner has a fantastic article over at Vanity Fair’s website that uses the recordings of NORAD’s efforts the morning of 9/11 to paint the picture of just how unprepared our country was to deal with the attacks, and how chaotic the information flow was as it reached from the trenches up to those invested in protecting the airspace of the East coast. I guess it doesn’t surprise me how difficult it was for the commander of the Northeast Air Defense Sector to get reliable information that morning, but it’s astounding nonetheless, and in all honesty it serves as a potent argument for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the establishment of clear and decisive plans for dealing with crises on the scale of 9/11.
  • Pamela Colloff has an equally fantastic article in the latest Texas Monthly about Charles Whitman’s massacre from the top of the University of Texas Tower 40 years ago yesterday, an article that’s almost entirely told through the first-person words of people who were in the thick of it. It’s a very moving piece, and gives a voice to how shocking the event was at the time, and how different the immediate police response was in 1966 than it’d be in 2006. (via MetaFilter, which has a bunch more links to related info)
  • Dahlia Lithwick took a look this past weekend at privacy rights in the age of weblogs, using the affair between Robert Steinbuch and Jessica Cutler (the skanky ex-Capitol Hill assistant who was once better-known as Washingtonienne) as her focal point. I’m not sure if this is the first time, but I found myself disagreeing with Lithwick’s final point, that Cutler’s exposition of the affair on her weblog might have violated Steinbuch’s privacy. It seems to me that a person has every right (absent a specific contract to the contrary) to talk about that which is going on in his or her own life; it’s not like Cutler was passing on a rumor of someone else’s affair, she was talking about her own sexcapades.
  • In August of 1958, young and new-to-the-business photographer Art Kane was tasked by Esquire Magazine with taking a photo to illustrate an article about jazz. He wasn’t entirely sure how best to approach the assignment, so he started out by doing something I’m sure he felt would be a failure: he contacted as many major New York City jazz musicians as he could, and asked if they would meet on 126th Street at 10 o’clock in the morning. Much to his surprise, 57 of them showed up, leading to one of the most amazing photos I’ve ever seen. My favorite bit of the photo is the lower right corner, in which Dizzy Gillespie’s goofing off caused Roy Eldridge to turn around just as the image was captured. (via kottke)

From the Department of the Totally Batshit Insane: the folks over at Move America Forward have an ad currently running on CNN trying to drum up support for somehow censuring Jimmy Carter. Ummmm…. what??!? Of course, it’s really not as odd as you’d think, given that Move America Forward is the thinnest-of-thinly-veiled Republican Party fronts, and claims as its “chief strategist” a man who was convicted of a $200,000 fraud. It’s hysterical to think that things have gotten so frantic within the GOP that they’re now haranguing Democratic ex-Presidents, and funnier still that Clinton isn’t really available to them as a punching bag these days.

And today, TPM Muckraker presents a big, huge, gargantuan reason why it should now be obvious how foolish it was that Congress was willing to allow U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to testify about the NSA wiretapping policy without having to be sworn to an oath of truthfulness. From details that are now leaking out of the NSA like a sieve, it turns out Gonzales was lying the whole time.

It’s particularly saddening to note that this news hit on the same day we’ve learned that our Department of Justice has dropped its investigation into the NSA wiretapping program because the government refuses to grant high-enough security clearances to the DOJ lawyers. It’s fascinating, really — we now have a government which has implemented programs in direct contravention of the rule of law, and is willing to use its ability to grant or deny security clearances as a way to prevent a lawsuit into that program. Exactly how far does this all have to go before the other branches of government put their collective feet down and say that this has clearly crossed the line?

stephen is squinting at YOU!

Since a year or so ago, when Shannon pointed out my insane number of questionably old T-shirts, I’ve been on a pretty strict dire-need-only T-shirt diet. With that said, this is a shirt I’d happily add to my collection. (If you’ve been in a cave and don’t know what the shirt’s referring to, you can read the transcript of Stephen Colbert’s speech in front of the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, and even watch the whole thing. It’s way worth it.)

If this doesn’t make you sad about the hell we’ve wrought with our nation’s supposed war on terror, then I’m not sure anything will. Might I ask what harm would come of us “repatriating” these nine men by offering them instant American citizenship? (Of course, who knows whether they’d take us up on it, being that our military and Executive has chosen to imprison them at Gitmo, without cause, for over four years.)

After last month’s forced resignation of Andy Card, today’s forced resignation of Scott McClellan and retooling of Karl Rove, and [future date]’s inevitable loss of the service of Donald Rumsfeld, this is complete genius. Especially the P.S.: “We want you to know it was a hard call whether to lose you or Karl. He really agonized over it.”

Awesome — Vice President Cheney threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener yesterday, and was resoundingly booed from the moment he stepped foot on the field through the moment he disappeared back into the dugout. (You can listen yourself here, although it’s Fox News, and the producers unsurprisingly muted the crowd for a few seconds in the middle before giving in and letting us hear the disapproval.)

Over at Slate, John Dickerson has a great article arguing that the most important point to focus on in the is-it-a-leak-if-Bush-authorized-it debate is that regardless of the answer, the whole situation makes clear how hypocritical our President is, and how little we can trust the words that come out of his mouth. (Remember, Scooter Libby’s grand jury testimony only confirms something that’s been discussed out in the open for a while now.)

Since the beginning of the Valerie Plame investigation, Bush has been firmly on-record as saying that leaks of information will not be tolerated. With quotes like “If there’s a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,” “somebody in our government wanted to show off to his family, or her family, in between Christmas and New Year’s by leaking information in the press that he or she thought would be helpful to the government,” and calling the NSA wiretapping leak “a shameful act” that is “helping the enemy,” it’s hard to then argue that Bush’s choice to authorize his staff to leak information from the National Intelligence Estimate is anything but pure hypocrisy.

The sum of everything that we’ve learned about the Bush Administration — the deceit in the run-up to the war in Iraq, the approval of use of torture in our treatment of prisoners, the authorization of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens on U.S. soil (something the Administration is now saying it can do even if both participants in a phone conversation are within national borders!), the brazen lobbyist influence within the White House, and now the authorization from the Oval Office to use classified information for political ends — is so much worse than anything which occurred during Clinton’s eight years in office, and yet it was then that we as a nation found ourselves wrapped up in impeachment hearings. It’s all just stunning.

“Rep. Tom DeLay will drop out of his re-election race.” The bigger they are, the harder they fall…

If you have five minutes and 48 seconds to spare, it’s worth watching the clip of CBS News reporter Lara Logan’s interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources late last week. Journalists have been getting a lot of crap from the Bush Administration about being singlemindedly focused on the negative in Iraq; Logan does an amazing job of ruthlessly smacking down those claims, and doing so in a way that really highlights how everything truly is about the awful state of security in the country right now.

I would have done nearly anything to be at the Supreme Court for yesterday’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld oral arguments. Alas, since I wasn’t there, I’m content reading Dahlia Lithwick’s recap of the discourse, and happy knowing that if her portrayal is correct, even the Justices are growing weary of the Executive’s attempts to create a new set of rules that require no checks or balances.

There are times when I’m disappointed in our nation’s leadership, and then times when I wonder how we, as citizens, can allow our current batch of leaders to remain in office for even one second longer. Today is one of the latter times, specifically after reading that Bill Frist has threatened to restructure the Senate Intelligence Committee if it deigns to vote to hold hearings on the Administration’s use of warrantless wiretaps. The Intelligence Committee has been unique since its inception in that the rules establish a much more balanced distribution of power between the two political parties, all in the name of establishing as nonpartisan oversight as possible of our government’s intelligence activities. In a letter yesterday to Harry Reid, the Minority Leader of the Senate, Frist threatened to rewrite those rules to prevent the investigation of Bush’s eavesdropping policy:

If we are unable to reach agreement, I believe we must consider other options to improve the Committee’s oversight capabilities, to include restructuring the Committee so that it is organized and operated like most Senate committees.

To me, this feels like another example of our current ruling party changing the rules to better allow their continued lawless and unethical ways. From mid-decade redistricting in Texas to protecting Tom Delay by changing the House ethics rules to redefining such basic notions as who is a prisoner and what comprises torture, the Republican party is showing that it’s willing to do literally anything it can get away with to perpetuate its goals. You’d figure that with Bush’s approval ratings swimming in the sewer, there would be more of an effort within the party’s ranks to behave better, but I guess that there are some addictions that are too difficult to give up cold-turkey.

Reason number 2,143 that our government shouldn’t be in the business of wiretapping people without warrants: Iyman Faris, a defendant who pled guilty to plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, is now seeking to reverse his plea based in part on the fact that he was the target of warrantless wiretaps. In our current political and judicial climate, I doubt that the case will go very far, but it certainly feels plausible enough that authorities might have used evidence obtained in extralegal means to pressure a plea from Faris. To me, it all feels like an episode of Law & Order, with the corrupt cop leaving in his wake a trail of criminal appeals based on the invalidity of his testimony…

Over at the New Yorker, Jane Mayer has written what amounts to a must-read report on how the U.S. executive branch has come to condone cruelty and torture in its ongoing fight against terrorism. Alberto Mora, the recently-retired general counsel to the U.S. Navy, plays a large role in the article — he’s one of the few senior Pentagon officials who saw the shift in policy not just as dangerous, but as a violation of the most basic ideals of our country.

As [Mora] sees it, the authorization of cruelty is equally pernicious. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he told me. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America -— even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.”

No summary I could provide of the piece could do it the slightest bit of justice; it’s a long read, but well worth the time (if not the rise in blood pressure).

How predictable — Cheney is going to break his “I-shot-someone-in-the-face-chest-and-heart” silence today by talking to the Fox News crew. Meanwhile, the White House spent most of yesterday either ignoring questions about how the public was informed of the shooting or making jokes about it, and doctors have spent most of today debunking the migrating-birdshot reports (honestly, none of us here at my hospital can quite figure out how a 5-millimeter 2.4-millimeter chunk of metal would be able to travel through blood vessels and end up in the heart without first having to find its way through some 5-micrometer pulmonary capillary). This gets stranger and stranger…

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in support of airport regulations demanding the display of identification by travelers — and in support of the existence of secret laws, laws that our government can prohibit people from scrutinizing yet can impose on those same people. (The decision, in PDF form, is here.) As reflected in my feelings back when the case (Gilmore v. Gonzales) was being argued, this is somewhat disappointing; it seems perfectly contrary to the ideals of our country for there to be laws whose words exist behind lock and key, but whose force exists in the lives of each of us.

This morning, while I was slowly waking up and surfing the web (totally uncaffeinated, since the reason I was awake was to wait for our grocery delivery, which contained the all-important milk for my coffee!), I read a news story that woke me up in a hurry by getting my blood boiling. The article is about Sam Beaumont, an Oklahoma rancher who, in 1977, met Earl Meadows, fell in love, and lived for over twenty years with the man and his three children. In 1999, Beaumont had a stroke, and Meadows cared for him until he died a year later. Beaumont’s will left everything to Meadows, but the state of Oklahoma invalidated the will because it had one too few witness signatures — and (as you’d expect) Oklahoma has no common-law rules that would allow for Meadows to remain the rightful inheritor. That left everything (their ranch, all the animals) being auctioned off with the proceeds being split among dozens of Beaumont’s cousins. Oddly, though, this is now a common-enough story that it alone is barely enough to enrage people, and isn’t what made my blood pressure explode — what did that was the fact that all the cousins are now suing Meadows for back rent on the property. (The relationship and controversy are among those profiled in the 2003 documentary Tying the Knot.)

Seriously, for all those out there who feel that gay people are going to hell, my rebuttal is that there’s a very special place in hell for people like those cousins, looking to actually profit from their bigotry and closemindedness (and for certain elected representatives of the fair state of Oklahoma who spout hate on the floor of the U.S. Senate).

Ours is a government of limited power. We learn in elementary school the concept of checks and balances. Those checks do not vanish in wartime; the President’s role as Commander in Chief does not swallow up Congress’s powers or the Bill of Rights. Given the framers’ skepticism about executive power and warmaking—there was no functional standing army at the beginning of the nation, so the President’s powers as Commander in Chief depended on Congress’s willingness to create and expand an army—it is impossible to find in the Constitution unilateral presidential authority to act against US citizens in a way that violates US laws, even in wartime. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently wrote, “A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”

Elizabeth Holtzman penned a fantastic piece entitled “The Impeachment of George W. Bush” in this month’s issue of The Nation. Holtzman served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1981, and was a member of the House Judiciary Committee that held hearings on the impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1974. In the piece, she makes a reasonably strong argument for how Bush has carried on in a way detrimental to both the office of the Presidency and the nation as a whole; I’d say that it’s worth a read no matter which side of the political fence you’re on (but of course, I know better than that).

Oh, great — two more government agencies appear to have been lapping at the warrantless search bowl for the past three years. According to David Kaplan over at U.S. News and World Report, the FBI and the Department of Energy have been performing radiation monitoring at over one hundred sites in and around the Washington, D.C. area, in many cases going onto private property without warrants in order to set up the surveillance equipment. It also looks like, at times, they’ve extended the program into Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York, and Seattle, and that many of the people who have been caught up in the surveillance have been U.S. citizens.

Seriously, what does it take for the people of this country to start caring about how power-hungry our government has become?

Since I pointed yesterday to Bruce Schneier’s piece on Bush’s use of the NSA for domestic spying, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also send you his way to read today’s piece on what the spying means for privacy rights, and for the idea of Presidential power. It feels to me like nobody’s stated the issues more clearly and forcefully:

The result is that the president’s wartime powers, with its armies, battles, victories, and congressional declarations, now extend to the rhetorical “War on Terror”: a war with no fronts, no boundaries, no opposing army, and — most ominously — no knowable “victory.” Investigations, arrests and trials are not tools of war. But according to the Yoo memo, the president can define war however he chooses, and remain “at war” for as long as he chooses.

This is indefinite dictatorial power. And I don’t use that term lightly; the very definition of a dictatorship is a system that puts a ruler above the law. In the weeks after 9/11, while America and the world were grieving, Bush built a legal rationale for a dictatorship. Then he immediately started using it to avoid the law.

This is, fundamentally, why this issue crossed political lines in Congress. If the president can ignore laws regulating surveillance and wiretapping, why is Congress bothering to debate reauthorizing certain provisions of the Patriot Act? Any debate over laws is predicated on the belief that the executive branch will follow the law.

Schneier’s piece is chock-full of legal analysis and precedent that demonstrates how illegal the wiretapping efforts of the Bush Administration are, and provides tons of links to other peoples’ analysis of the program and the Administration’s stated justifications for it. One link, to Scott Rosenberg’s view over at Salon, is also worth a read, for the first postscript as much as for the rest of it.

Add my voice to the chorus recommending that everyone read Bruce Schneier’s essay about the Bush Administration’s illegal use of the National Security Agency for domestic wiretapping. If you haven’t been keeping up to speed on this story in the past week, Schneier’s piece will catch you up, and help you understand how far across the line the Bush Administration has strayed.

The thing that makes me happy with the entire brouhaha over gay marriage is that it’s continuing to expose as total crap the notion that the institution of marriage should form the basis for granting hundreds of rights to specific people. (You know — a married couple gets to inherit each others’ possessions, make decisions for each other, gain custody of children, that sort of thing.)

For example, take the Manhattan Supreme Court Appellate decision from two days ago, saying that gay couples have no fundamental right to marriage. The panel of judges came to that conclusion after, in part, finding that marriage laws are based in their ability to ensure the production of children; their words are as follows:

Marriage promotes sharing of resources between men, women and the children that they procreate; provides a basis for the legal and factual assumption that a man is the father of his wife’s child via the legal presumption of paternity plus the marital expectations of monogamy and fidelity; and creates and develops a relationship between parents and child based on real, everyday ties. It is based on the presumption that the optimal situation for child rearing is having both biological parents present in a committed, socially esteemed relationship. The law assumes that a marriage will produce children and affords benefits based on that assumption.

No matter how you feel about this notion, if one takes it as true, why then should childless heterosexual couples be afforded any of the rights of marriage? Why should the courts deem them worthy of the title, and confer upon them those things that it excludes from homosexual couples simply because the latter cannot pair up to produce children? Parse it even further — what about couples that marry, intend to procreate, but find themselves unable to do so? Should their marriage certificate be revoked?

The remainder of that paragraph goes on:

It sets up heterosexual marriage as the cultural, social and legal ideal in an effort to discourage unmarried childbearing and to encourage sufficient marital childbearing to sustain the population and society; the entire society, even those who do not marry, depend on a healthy marriage culture for this latter, critical, but presently undervalued, benefit. Marriage laws are not primarily about adult needs for official recognition and support, but about the well-being of children and society, and such preference constitutes a rational policy decision.

Why, then, do married couples get to inherit each others’ belongings well after their children have left the nest? Why don’t we make each and every right that our various levels of governments grant married couples contingent on the production of the first child, and then terminate ‘em all as soon as a couple’s youngest child reaches the age of 18? Reason: because this is all complete horseshit, an attempt to perpetuate a social custom under the guise of something with greater meaning. Until we as a society can separate the notion of a couple making a commitment to each other from the idea that that commitment has some larger (mostly religious) meaning, we’ll continue to see dubious justifications like this coming out of our courts, and continue to commit injustices against those who happen to make a commitment to someone of the same gender.

I’m jealous of the people who’ll be able to (try to) go to tomorrow’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in Gilmore v. Gonzales; to me, it really is one of those court cases that might define liberty in America.

For those who don’t recognize the case title, Gilmore v. Gonzales is John Gilmore’s lawsuit against the government for being banned from flying without providing some form of identification. It was originally filed in 2002 (then named Gilmore v. Ashcroft), and was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in northern California on jurisdictional grounds; so far, the government has refused to even disclose the text of the law requiring identification for airline travel, and has requested sealing of all government evidence in Gilmore’s case. (The Ninth Circuit denied the motion to seal evidence, the DOJ asked it to reconsider, and the court has yet to rule on that motion.) To me, the notion that we have a government which claims that there are laws by which we must abide but which we cannot read is pretty offensive… we’ll see how the Ninth Circuit feels.

Yesterday, the GAO released the report from their investigation into how the Food and Drug Administration went about rejecting the application requesting over-the-counter status for the morning-after pill, and it’s even more damning than most thought it’d be. The GAO went through all 68 applications filed between 1994 and 2004 for conversion of a drug to over-the-counter status, and found that the FDA used entirely different criteria in its determinations on emergency contraception than it had on the other 67 applications. Likewise, the FDA had never before ignored the recommendations that came from its own internal scientific review committee, and top management had never before involved itself to the extent it did in the Plan B decision. And then, there’s my favorite part: there’s good evidence that the rejection decision was made by the same high-level management officials even before the scientific review committee concluded its work. It’s a shining example of politics getting in the way of healthcare; while the FDA has issued a statement questioning the integrity of the GAO’s investigative process, it’s pretty clear that that’s just the agency’s way of expressing its anger about being caught cheating. Sad.

I know I’m hardly alone in saying this, but Senator (and Dr.) Bill Frist is a total buffoon. Yesterday, His Buffoonery publicly stated that he’s actually less interested in what our government is doing inside secret prisons than he is in the fact that the public now knows about the existence of those prisons; he then went on to clarify that he’s entirely uninterested in what goes on behind the doors of the prisons, and worries that now that the secret’s out, our nation’s security is in even graver danger. (You know, because all the other bad shit our government is now known to have done to detainees wasn’t enough to drive people to hate us, and the secret prisons really are the tipping point.) Given that the second-in-charge of his party recently lobbied John McCain — the man who was tortured as a prisoner of war for the better part of a half-decade in Vietnam — to give up on his bill calling for a universal ban on the torture of people in U.S. custody, it’s not hard to see where Frist’s ethical roots get their nourishment. It makes me nauseated; I can only hope that it disgusts enough other people to bring about real change in the government of this country.

Update: oh, great, our Senate yesterday voted to strip detainees at Guantánamo Bay of their right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a right which was upheld by the Supreme Court in Rasul v. Bush last year. So not only does our government want the right to toture the shit out of the people we’re detaining in the war on terror, it also wants to remove their right to question their detention in the first place. How far can this country stray from its founding principles before the voting public decides to notice?

How funny — it looks like the folks who run FEMA’s internet services don’t have an email server designated for the organization (see for yourself here), meaning that any and all email sent to an @fema.gov address is bouncing back as destination unknown. Seeing as a bunch of the email addresses on FEMA’s contact page live at fema.gov, it’s not only embarrassing, it’s another small measure of how the organization doesn’t quite seem to know what it’s doing.

(For those of you who aren’t such internet geeks, the best brick-and-mortar analogy for this is that it’s as if FEMA doesn’t have a mailbox or mailroom — right now, from the internet, there’s no way to get email to the organization at all. And for those of you who are big internet geeks, you probably know that the relevant RFC says that if there’s no MX record for a domain name, mail transport agents should fallback to using an A record — but the machine that lives at the A record address for fema.gov doesn’t have an SMTP server running, so the fallback is also falling flat on its face.)

FEMA chief Michael Brown resigns. Now would be the time that we all react with abject surprise and astonishment.

It makes me sad to see that the same arguments in defense of Bush we now know to be patently, verifiably, completely false are still being trotted out by conservatives in an attempt to deflect post-Katarina blame back to the local level. Listening to the radio, reading weblogs, and watching television over the past two days, I’ve counted dozens and dozens of people who still continue to claim things like that Louisiana Governor Blanco never declared a state of emergency, that Bush pleaded with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Blanco to evacuate the area and that both local leaders refused, that Bush didn’t intervene earlier (read: stayed on vacation) because he knew that “liberals” would rip him for taking control from a female governor, and that everyone would have been saved had Mayor Nagin just gotten the people onto all those buses. It’s another example of people adapting evidence to beliefs, rather than the other way around, and it makes me wonder exactly what a conservative leader would have to get caught doing to get these people to acknowledge the existence of a problem.

That being said, I’m also willing to acknowledge that there are a number of conservatives who have proven to be more willing to take a more rational view of the situation. For me, the primary evidence of this is the continued freefall of Bush’s approval rating; there are also random experiences I’ve had over the past week that provide further evidence. (For example, the hosts of the morning radio show I listen to have sadly talked about their support of Bush in the past, but this week, they called him an imbecile, questioned his judgement, talked about his inability to acknowledge his problems, and generally gave him the respect they’d give a New York Yankee.) It feels like the post-Monica era in the Democratic party, although it feels like it’s taken a lot longer and required a lot more work to get here.

In the end, Bush is a lame duck President, and doesn’t need public support for reelection. The rest of his party isn’t so lucky, though, and I’m hoping that its continued (near-unanimous) defense of him and his decisions will help Americans recognize the depth of the problems that we now face as a result of the past five years, and help start to right the wrongs in the 2006 interim elections.

From the it’s-about-freaking-time department: Michael Brown has been relieved of duty as the head of the federal Katrina response. (CBS News also has the story, and it’s trickling into the other news outlets as we speak.) It’s stunning to me that it’s taken this long, but then again, this is the man that Bush himself said was doing “a hell of a job” as tens of thousands were stranded without food, water, shelter, or medical care. (He’s also the man who seems to have lied a bit about his past and, after graduating from an unaccredited law school, doesn’t seem to have done much of anything in the legal world.)

It’s not a surprise to me that our President’s reactions to the horrors along the Gulf Coast have seemed to be something less than heartfelt or imbued with empathy, and my personal opinion is that it’s pretty easy to reconcile that observation with the fact that the majority of people whose lives have been destroyed by Katrina appear to be black, underprivileged, and relatively dependent on the assistance of their government to recover from a tragedy of this scope. I guess I never fully understood how Bush acquired those values, though, but hearing about his mother’s take on the refugees in the Astrodome today, I’m pretty sure I get it now. (Crooks and Liars has the audio, as well.) I always thought that Barbara Bush was a stately woman, but apparently she’s also a bit of an elitist, and has a terrible perspective on one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the United States.

Things that make me want to pull my hair out:

Things that make me happy:

I’ve added an MP3 of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s morning interview (transcript here) to my torrent server; it’s as worthy of your time as is Mary Landrieu’s interview. I’m with Anil, though — if I were looking for something to lessen my anger, this probably wouldn’t be the thing to help do that.

anderson cooper and mark landrieu

Today’s addition to my torrent server is the CNN video from yesterday’s conversation between Anderson Cooper and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. (Thanks to the people at Crooks and Liars for capturing the video.) If you haven’t heard anything about the interchange, it’s worth reading the transcript (it starts about a third of the way into the show) — he essentially interrupts a bit of Congressional backpatting to explain what conditions in New Orleans are actually like, and calls her on the apparent lack of a more robust and forceful response by the national government. The gem of the exchange:

COOPER: Excuse me, Senator, I’m sorry for interrupting. I haven’t heard that, because, for the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

Of course, the transcript doesn’t do nearly enough justice to the video.

It wasn’t until I saw the news about the Army soldiers being put “on alert” for possible deployment to the Gulf coast that I realized how much my anger about the post-Katrina horror had grown over the course of today. This afternoon, we’ve already heard that the evacuation of both the Superdome and Charity Hospital had to be suspended because of sniper fire, that people are literally dying in the Convention Center due to starvation and dehydration, and that efforts to get food and water to the stranded people have met with violence and total anarchy. Why are these troops merely on alert? Why aren’t they on planes and in convoys on their way to the region? Why aren’t we airdropping soldiers and entire crateloads of food and water into the Convention Center and Superdome, providing gunship escorts for the evacuation effort, and doing absolutely anything else it takes to restore even the most basic needs and dignities to all the people who are so desperately waiting for help? And then in bizzarro world, we have our President strumming a guitar with Mark Wills and our Secretary of State shopping it up and playing tennis with the celebrities in Manhattan, all while the mayor of New Orleans issues desperate pleas for help. (Does anyone else think that the response to Bush’s appearances over the past few days is going to eclipse the response to him sitting through a twenty-minute grade school reading lesson while the World Trade Centers were attacked?) I certainly hope that things get better in the next few hours and days, but it’s clear that our country wasn’t prepared for a catastrophe this great, and isn’t doing so hot trying to make up for lost time.

Trust me when I say that you should spend the few minutes it’ll take to read this transcript of a White Plains, NY court session. The quick background: appearing before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon is Michael Maschio, a lawyer for Elektra Entertainment Group, and Patricia Santangelo, a woman sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for sharing copyrighted music. And to ruin the punchline of the transcript a little bit: the lawyer keeps trying to get the judge to endorse the jackassed way the RIAA attempts to force defendants to give in, and the judge will have absolutely none of it. My favorite little snippet:

MR. MASCHIO: It would be helpful to resolve this case if the defendant would put in, under oath, a denial in writing.
THE COURT: Fine. But I’m going to give her some time to find a lawyer.
MR. MASCHIO: That’s okay. We would just like — we think it’s appropriate for her to say, yes, I did this or, no, I did not do this under oath. The other thing is that —
THE COURT: First of all, you didn’t file a verified complaint, and she doesn’t have to file a verified answer. So she doesn’t have to do anything under oath.
MR. MASCHIO: Well, okay.
THE COURT: I’m going to give her 60 days to find a lawyer. And she’s not in default. And she will not be in default if there is no answer, because, right now, there is a general denial on the record for her. Okay?
MR. MASCHIO: Okay. The other thing, your Honor, I don’t know if you want to do this. I brought a consent scheduling order.
THE COURT: No. I don’t want to set a scheduling order. In fact, I don’t want anything to happen in this case for a while.
THE COURT: I’m in no hurry to see this case resolved. So far, Mrs. Santangelo has raised enough issues, including the use of a screen name or an account name — not hers, but some other person’s — that suggests that she might have some really interesting defenses to this. And there are defenses that maybe even ought to be litigated. The whole concept of a young person using the parent’s computer access is bad enough, but if this name is not hers, she doesn’t pay for this account.

(Thanks go out to Mike Godwin — yes, that Mike Godwin — for the pointer!)

Well, isn’t this sad news: Ibrahim Ferrer died at the age of 78 today, having been in declining health for the past few months. Ferrer was one of the most recognizable lead voices of Buena Vista Social Club, and will likely always be one of my favorite musicians. Shannon and I were fortunate to get to see him at the Beacon in New York back in November of 2001, one of the more memorable concerts in my life. Sadly, our government didn’t see Ferrer in the same light, denying him a visa last year (calling it “detrimental to the interests of the United States” to let Ferrer into the country) and thus preventing him from accepting a Grammy award.

Ibrahim, you will be missed.

Reading the emails I’ve received about my Boy Scouts Jamboree post two days ago, I think I’m going to need to start including a section in my posts entitled “Arguments you might notice I’m not making”. For example, that Boy Scouts bit would contain the following list of things that I’m specifically not arguing:

  • The Boy Scouts of America don’t build character or impress values on individual scouts.
  • The BSA exists as a recruiting arm of the U.S. military.
  • There should be no way that a cent of federal money should end up in the hands of organizations which encompass any element of religion.
  • The BSA shouldn’t be allowed to exclude athiests and agnostics from membership.

If you’re looking to drop me a line refuting any of the above arguments, you can feel free to, but don’t expect me to put up a huge fight!

Reading about the fatal tragedy at the Boy Scout Jamboree, two things struck me. First of all, the death of four people in front of their entire troop really is a horrible tragedy, and given the way that it appears the four died, I can’t imagine it’ll be all that easy for some of the kids to recover from that. In an entirely different vein, though, I also realized that the Jamboree is taking place on federal land — the Army’s Fort A.P. Hill — which means that our government still feels it appropriate to give access, funding, and support to an organization that specifically excludes gay, athiest, and agnostic people. I honestly don’t understand how this can still be occurring.

Doing a little reading this evening about the state of our government’s Boy Scout support, I discovered a few interesting things. First, I learned that a judge in the Northern Illinois U.S. District Court issued a ruling earlier this month which bars government support of future Boy Scouts Jamborees. The decision is available (in PDF form) from the ACLU’s website; it contains a thorough description of how the Boy Scouts meet the standard of a religious organization, and as such, how explicit government support thus violates the Constitution’s prohibition of a link between government and religion. Seems logical to me, and would seem to put this whole issue to bed. Oh, if it were only that easy.

The other thing I learned tonight demonstrates why it’s not that easy; it revolves around an argument made by the government in the Illinois court case that has set the stage for at least one future attempt to maintain government support of the Boy Scouts. Essentially, the U.S. claimed that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — people who, as federal taxpayers, brought suit under their right to exercise oversight over the way their tax money was being spent — lack standing to claim harm because the money wasn’t spent pursuant to the clause of the Constitution dealing with taxation and government spending (Article I, section 8, clause 1). Instead, the Department of Defense claimed that their support of the Boy Scout Jamboree derived from the specific powers vested in Congress over military affairs (Article I, section 8, clauses 12-14), and as such, taxpayers wouldn’t have the same right to question the way the money is spent. The District Court judge found ample evidence that the money was spent at least in part under Congress’ taxation and spending authority, and dismissed the argument. The reason this is interesting to me is that it appears our Senate took note of this, and passed an amendment to the Defense Department spending bill yesterday, an amendment which explicitly allows the Secretary of Defense to support the Boy Scout Jamboree on the basis of it being required “for defending our national security and preparing for combat.” (To see the amendment, you can follow this link to the Congressional Record documents, click the link to page S8686, and then scroll down two or three screens to “SA 1342”, the relevant text.)

Now you see why I find this so fascinating? It’s clear that the Constitution forbids our government from supporting organizations that mandate religious faith (like the Boy Scouts), and it’s also pretty clear that there’s no way the Senate would get the country to amend that ban out of the Constitution. So in order to get around it, the Senate is trying to pass laws that aim to prevent ordinary taxpayers from having sufficient standing to bring suit — “what we do might be unconstitutional, but you don’t have the right to file a court case to demonstrate that, so we can do it anyway.” And as the final straw, they did all of it by declaring that the Boy Scout Jamboree is vital for national security.

Ignoring fundamental prohibitions built into our Constitution is pretty bad… but getting caught doing so, and then responding by passing laws which aim to restrict oversight of the unconstitutional actions, is worse.

Update: Hey, lookie there — via Rafe, I appear to have ignited a MetaFilter shitstorm. Fun fun.

Go ahead and call me partisan, but I enjoyed Matt Alexander’s piece in McSweeney’s today.

In the past two days, the New York Times has had two fantastic articles on the problems that face New York State’s Medicaid program. Yesterday’s piece detailed billions of dollars of fraud that have been committed by unscrupulous medical service providers, including a dentist that billed 991 procedures in a single day in 2003 (100 an hour!), a doctor that wrote 12% of the prescriptions for a $6,400 a month AIDS drug that went to helping bodybuilders bulk up, and a school administrator that rubber-stamped applications to enroll 60% of her special education students in speech therapy (twice the national average), thus netting the Medicaid payments for the school district. And in today’s followup piece, the Times looked into the program’s ability to investigate fraud and found it in equally poor shape. In the past 25 years, the staff tasked with finding abuse has been cut to 25% of its original size, and the amount of money recovered by investigations has gone down 70%, all of which has let the abuses found in yesterday’s article go unchecked. After today’s piece, NY Governor George Pataki ordered a complete overhaul of the program — but of course, he’s billing it as “an effort to further enhance the State’s successful efforts to control Medicaid costs” rather than “an obvious reaction to getting his ass handed to him in the pages of the paper of record.”

From Title 4 § 8(k) of the U.S. Code:

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

From House Joint Resolution 10, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this past Wednesday:

The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

I’ll just come out and admit it — I don’t understand. (And apparently, neither does John Scalzi, who’s post on cracking the amendment ends with a comment I’d love on a bumper sticker: “Real Americans don’t take away the freedoms of other Americans.”)

Slate continues its reasoned look at the current state of airport security, this time in a piece penned by Christopher Hitchens. The pullquote that sets the tone of the piece:

The time elapsed between Sept. 11, 2001, and today’s writing (1,364 days) is only slightly less than the time between Pearl Harbor and the unconditional surrender of Japan (1,365 days). And airport security is still a silly farce that subjects the law-abiding to collective punishment while presenting almost no deterrent to a determined suicide-killer.

Shannon and I have been traveling a lot (wedding planning, birthdays, etc.), and waiting to get through security at the Philly airport about a month ago, I surmised that it’s only a matter of time before we’re all standing in long lines leading to the metal detectors, stripped down to our underwear, shuffling along and hoping that we don’t get selected for random colonoscopy. At least we’ll all have a little more motivation to stay in shape…

I’m pretty impressed with Slate’s interactive primer on the use of torture as part of prisoner interrogation; it’s easy to use and has quite a bit of detail about the various practices of the U.S. government (and the official and unofficial government policies that support them) in the post-9/11 era. (Note that I was impressed even before I knew that Dahlia Lithwick had a hand in building the primer!)

How cool — Brookline looks like it’s going to go wireless! Of course, there aren’t any guarantees that the plan will succeed; attempts by other cities to provide universal wireless access have met with intense objection from the telecommunications providers that would actually have to start competing for business, providers that carry a lot of weight in the various state legislatures. (For a hilarious look at the view telecoms take of cities moving to provide WiFi access, read this account of Verizon’s CEO losing his mind during a conference call when he was asked about San Francisco’s plans to blanket the city with wireless.)

Nonetheless, it looks like there are a few factors that might make Brookline’s attempt more likely to take root. First, it seems that Brookline is looking to deploy wireless as much for city use as for public use; reading the Wireless Committee minutes and looking at the various presentations the committe has requested makes it clear that the police and fire departments, the parking enforcement department, and the various divisions of Public Works all are looking to invest heavily in using wireless communication. (And for those of you who’ve spent any time in Brookline, you know that the most important — and lucrative — one of those groups is the parking enforcement one, which very well might be able to pay for the wireless infrastructure itself!) It’s unclear whether the telecoms would have enough juice to fight a battle against such a strong interest.

Second, in my time here in Brookline, I’ve gotten the impression that the town has an incredibly strong ethic that resists bending to corporate interests. When I had an ongoing problem with my cable service, a Brookline ombudsman was able to put me in touch with a senior corporate representative of our cable company pretty much instantly, and shared with me the fairly restrictive contract that Brookline signed with the company detailing expectations of service and responsiveness. It’s vigilance like this — possible because of the small size of Brookline — that’ll probably work against any efforts by the telcos to oppose wireless plans here.

Only time will tell, but it’s neat to think that Brookline’s going to go forward with this!

Apparently, what happened with the Bolton nomination in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today was astounding even to those who spend their lives watching the goings-on of our government. (Seriously, when I got home from work tonight, Shannon was all atwitter about it! It’s what I love most about her — she’s as much of a foreign policy dork as I am a technology geek.) What happened, as I understand it, is as follows (summarized as much to make sure I understand it as to help others do so):

  • Despite some hope that two more moderate Republican Senators would see the idiocy in Bolton becoming the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, there seemed to be a firm Republican lock on getting the nomination voted onto the floor of the Senate for confirmation.
  • Democrats, concerned that there is still pretty important evidence that hasn’t yet been produced to the committee, considered objecting on the Senate floor to the Foreign Relations Committee continuing to meet while the Senate itself was in session, a move which would have forced the Committee to defer its vote on the nomination.
  • Aiming to prevent this, Bill Frist (still likely to be the only Majority Leader in the history of the Senate who illegally acquired cats from the pound and killed them to become a better surgeon) moved to shut down the United States Senate until the Committee vote could occur, and proposed that the shut down occur without a vote.
  • Harry Reid (Democratic Senator from Nevada) refused to allow that, demanding that any motion to suspend business be voted on by roll call.
  • An agreement was reached between both parties wherein the Republicans would withdraw the motion to cease Senate operations and the Democrats would agree not to object to the Foreign Relations Committee meeting.
  • Just when it looked like all was lost, George Voinovich — a Republican member of the Committee — declared that he had heard enough to be uncomfortable voting for Bolton, something which caused an out-and-out silence in the meeting.
  • With that surprise, the Republicans recognized that there was no way they were going to push Bolton’s nomination out to the floor of the Senate, and agreed to a delay to continue investigating his fitness for the position.

According to Fred Kaplan over at Slate, there’s nothing but bad that will come of this for Bolton. At a minimum, every day that goes by brings more damaging information about the man’s past; beyond that, it now appears that Bolton perjured himself in front of the Senate, and that there are members of the Cabinet who don’t really want to see his nomination succeed. We’ll see where this goes! (There are others far more qualified than me following this; Laura Rozen, Steve Clemons, Kevin Drum, and Eric Umansky are doing fine jobs of it.)

On today, the day of Terri Schiavo’s death, it’s fitting that I came across “Live Everlasting,” a fantastic essay by Garret Keizer in Harpers. It’s one of the best statements I’ve read about the interplay of medical and social norms about the prolongation of life at all costs, and highlights a lot of the contradictions made by those who wish to take decisions of life from individuals and invest them in some higher authority. There are precious few pullquotes that do the length and depth of the essay justice, but perhaps this is enough to tempt you to dive in:

From that exalted vantage point, consider Dr. Thompson’s cavalier disregard for human life. He may have hastened his patient’s death by as much as five minutes. Let’s be as reckless as he was and say five hours. But should you perchance check a mortality table, you will discover that life expectancy at birth is roughly five years shorter for an African-American baby than for a white baby. This is true for both genders. In the interests of brevity we will not go into the life expectancies of Creoles born downstream from Louisiana power plants or Pacific Islanders born on former nuclear test sites or country kids born in the back hollows of Dr. Thompson’s practice.

Holy shit — am I the only one who didn’t know that the Honorable Bill Frist, cardiothoracic surgeon and Majority Leader of the United States Senate, fraudulently “adopted” kittens from Boston animal shelters, brought them home, and killed them while practicing his surgical techniques? (Oddly, when you search his website for the word “kitten,” you find that he’s declined to include this little tidbit.)

Reading the dissent in today’s Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the Schiavo case, I think I found the words to explain what’s so offensive to me about the actions of Congress and Schiavo’s parents to date. The following quote, from the dissenting judge’s reasoning on why a preliminary injunction forcing the resumption of feeds would be approriate, is what gave me focus (emphasis mine):

In fact, I fail to see any harm in reinstating the feeding tube. On the other hand, a denial of the request for injunction will result in the death of Theresa Schiavo.

The Florida courts went through an excruciatingly detailed process to determine what Terri Schiavo herself would have felt was harmful, and ruled that there is clear and convincing evidence that she would feel it harmful to be artificallly supported in any manner. And as a result, replacing her feeding tube would be the very definition of harmful, for the very reason that it would prolong her life. I guess what I wonder is if the presence of a living will specifically forbidding the continuation of artificial sustenance would have changed the dissenting judge’s opinion on the harm of replacing the tube. Put another way: can the judge truly ignore what has been determined to be Schiavo’s ideas of benefit and harm and then substitute his own in order to decide how to proceed?

Extended more broadly, that’s exactly what all the supporters of the Congressional bill did — used their own views (or, says the skeptical side of me, the views of the various groups that support them) about good and bad, benefit and harm, moral and immoral, and then imposed those views on Terri Schiavo and the country. In the end, that idea that the views of someone other than me matter at all when I’m hooked up to life-sustaining equipment is what’s so frightening.

Two quick morning observations about the continuing Terri Schiavo abomination:

First, it’s at least a little heartening to me to see that this afternoon’s Federal court hearing is before James D. Whittemore, a Clinton appointee and someone who’s expressed an understanding of the difference between state and federal powers. We’ll see how it plays out, but at least I feel that much more secure that by putting the issue into the hands of the Federal judiciary, Congress actually has taken a lot of the politics out of the debacle.

Second, how has it not come up in the popular press that the same President who flew back to Washington to sign the Schiavo bill also put his signature on the Texas Futile Care Law while governor of that state in 1999, a law that allows hospitals to discontinue life-sustaining measures over the objections of parents? (It’s the law that led to Texas Children’s ending life support on a baby last month, after a protracted legal battle that wasn’t able to tug at the heartstrings of our elected Federal representatives.) It’s hard to reconcile the two acts on Bush’s part, other than to observe that both laws had strong support from the religious right.

Update: thanks go out to Rafe for the pointer to this great (but long) post at Obsidian Wings, which says it all much better than I could deign to.

Wow — I just found the text of the Terri Schiavo bills being considered by the House and Senate, and honestly can’t believe what I’m reading. To quote from the Senate Bill, S. 686 (emphasis mine):

Any parent of Theresa Marie Schiavo shall have standing to bring a suit under this Act…. In such a suit, the District Court shall determine de novo any claim of a violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo within the scope of this Act, notwithstanding any prior State court determination and regardless of whether such a claim has previously been raised, considered, or decided in State court proceedings. The District Court shall entertain and determine the suit without any delay or abstention in favor of State court proceedings, and regardless of whether remedies available in the State courts have been exhausted.

So, to paraphrase, the Senate is demanding the following:

  1. that Schiavo’s parents can start another lawsuit;
  2. that the Federal District Court will then have to start anew in considering the new suit, without reliance on any prior state court hearings;
  3. and that the Federal District Court cannot decline or defer to the prior decisions of state courts.

Now, to quote from the House bill, H.R. 1332 (emphasis again mine):

In hearing and determining a claim or cause of action removed under this section, the court shall only consider whether authorizing or directing the withholding or withdrawal of food or fluids or medical treatment necessary to sustain the incapacitated person’s life constitutes a deprivation of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. The United States district court shall determine de novo any claim or cause of action considered under subsection (c), and no bar or limitation based on abstention, res judicata, collateral estoppel, procedural default, or any other doctrine of issue or claim preclusion shall apply.

To paraphrase the House:

  1. the Federal courts must consider whether withholding life support deprives Schiavo of some right;
  2. the Federal courts must not consider whether continuing life support deprives her of her right to determine her own fate;
  3. the Federal courts again cannot rely on prior state hearings or decisions.

This is so much worse than I originally thought. Is there any doubt that this is a horrible violation of both separation of powers and states’ rights?

For those who are interested in a reasonable attempt to look at the reality of the Terri Schiavo case, Matt Conigliaro has an amazingly detailed information page, including a list of questions and answers that demonstrates how reductionist the media coverage (and Congressional “inquiry”) has become. Conigliaro is an appellate lawyer and has run a website for over two years focused on Florida law, and his coverage of the case over that time period has led to (relatively ridiculous) accusations of bias from both sides of the ostensible debate. Reading his numerous posts, it’s hard to see that bias; instead, he seems to be a good legal analyst, and very empathetic to both positions in what is fundamentally an emotionally wrenching debate however you look at it.

After reading Conigliaro’s chronology and Q&A section, I’m left with the understanding that every single court that has held a hearing has concluded that Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state and that there is clear and convincing evidence — the strongest burden of proof available in civil cases — that she would have wished removal of life support measures. This determination was based on more than just evidence from reports of conversations with her husband, as well, something that’s not mentioned too much in media reports of the conflict. I’m also left with the realization that every attempt to subvert the ultimate court rulings have come from the realm of politics — initially, Terri’s Law, and now, a farcical consensus bill from the U.S. Congress, something that manages to be both unsurprising and terrifying at the same time.

What I’ve been confused about — and while slightly less so, remain confused about — is what the law being rushed through Congress right now aims to do. It seems from reports that it’s a case-specific law, allowing Federal judicial review of the state court rulings in Schiavo’s case; what I don’t understand is how there’s some idea that this will lead to a different outcome. As I understand it, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has denied every appeal and dismissed every case brought by those who have tried to overturn the rulings of the Florida courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court has twice declined to intervene, once in January and once yesterday. So we now seem to have have what might be well less than a majority of our Congressmen (since it only takes a majority of present legislators, not of all legislators, to pass a law) furiously posturing, and the President himself returning to Washington, D.C. early, all in the name of likely having no effect on the ultimate outcome whatsoever.

In the end, it seems that most everyone agrees on the right for people to create formal living wills that spell out how we wish to be treated in the case of tragedies like this. In Schiavo’s case, there isn’t a written living will, but every level of court available for recourse has determined her wishes in a manner that is as legally binding as a living will would have been. In spite of this, we now have the highest elected body of legislators in the country acting to force an entirely different set of wishes. What gives them the right? What would prevent Congress — or any elected body — from acting similarly even if a formal living will existed? Therein lies the real horror of the Schiavo case; apparently, it’s one more way that some seem willing to let the lawmakers of this country intrude on the private debates and decisions of its citizens.

There are a lot of things going on within and outside our borders that affect the wellbeing of the people of the United States — we have soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq, a currency that’s plummeting in value against those of our economic rivals, two nations openly threatening (and god knows how many quietly working) to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, a health insurance “system” that openly ignores over 45 million Americans, a retirement system that might not be able to remain solvent, worsening childhood and adult obesity, and a litany of other issues that affect millions and millions of people on a daily basis.

That’s why I’m particularly glad to see that our esteemed elected members of Congress are rising to the challenges before us, and starting to hold hearings to try to come up with real solutions to the problems of America. First up: an investigation of steroid use in professional baseball, and a sham hearing to try to sidestep the Terri Schiavo rulings of every single level of court in the country.

In all seriousness, there are days when I think our country needs a do-over.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a great profile of John Gilmore, as well as the fight he’s taken up against the government’s requirements to show ID before boarding planes. It’s a more in-depth and balanced piece than the others I’ve come across, well worth the read.

Signs are pointing to this being the first year that around half of Americans file their taxes online, in part due to the success of the IRS Free File program. This program is the result of a 2001 initiative which aimed to improve electronic communication between government agencies and and other agencies, as well as businesses and citizens; one result which was explicitly mandated by the program was that the IRS had to come up with a way of providing free electronic tax preparation and filing to at least 60% of of individual taxpayers. Last year, about 3.5 million taxpayers used the program to prepare and file their returns; this year, the entry of heavyweights Intuit and H&R Block into Free File can only make that number skyrocket. Some of the Free File vendors have restrictions on who can use their services (principally based on total income or what state you reside in), but others — like Intuit’s TurboTax Free — are open to all comers.

Given that most people have pretty uncomplicated taxes, I would have to imagine that there will be a slew of people who flock to Free File this year. I’d be interested in people’s experience with the web-based preparation applications!

While checking in for his flight from London’s Gatwick Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth, Cory Doctorow found himself asked for a list of the names and addresses of every single person with whom he’d be staying in the U.S., a request which was explained as the result of some unnamed security regulation. He asked for escalating levels of detail about the unusual request, to much confusion, and eventually was told that his Platinum AAdvantage cardholder status absolved him of any requirement to provide the list. (That last part is the oddest to me — could there really be TSA directives that are as specific as making exceptions for people who are members of the elite frequent-flyer programs? If so, can AAirpass members expect to have a certain amount suspicious information ignored given their contribution to the business of air flight?)

It frightens me how much about air travel is now dictated by some functionary’s proclamation that an odd rule or occurrence is the result of heightened security. (My own, way less-significant, example: last month, Shannon and I were unable to check in online for the return leg of a flight for which online check-in for the first leg hadn’t been a problem. When I called to ask why, I was told that the representative didn’t have a definite answer, but that it was very likely to be security-related. It was clear that that statement ended the conversation, and ended any inquiry into whether there could actually be a problem with the online check-in system.) It’s all just so silly; I hope that, at a minimum, John Gilmore’s case ends up forcing a greater deal of transparency upon the security-related apparatus that has grown so prominent over the past four years.

I know that everyone’s linking to it, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Deborah Solomon’s New York Times interview with Jeanne Phillips, the chairwoman of Bush’s inaugural committee. In the middle of a snoozer of an interview, Solomon threw out two awesome zingers:

I hear one of the balls will be reserved for troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Yes, the Commander-in-Chief Ball. That is new. It will be about 2,000 servicemen and their guests. And that should be a really fun event for them.

As an alternative way of honoring them, did you or the president ever discuss canceling the nine balls and using the $40 million inaugural budget to purchase better equipment for the troops?

I think we felt like we would have a traditional set of events and we would focus on honoring the people who are serving our country right now — not just the people in the armed forces, but also the community volunteers, the firemen, the policemen, the teachers, the people who serve at, you know, the — well, it’s called the StewPot in Dallas, people who work with the homeless.

How do any of them benefit from the inaugural balls?

I’m not sure that they do benefit from them.

Then how, exactly, are you honoring them?

Honoring service is what our theme is about.

God help us.

My favorite quote from this USA Today article about the growing trend of supersized, SUV-accommodating parking spaces comes Guy Bjerke. He’s the chairman of the planning commission in Concord, California, a town which is considering eliminating compact car spaces in favor of SUV ones, and he said:

“A lot of us are frustrated trying to pull into compact parking spaces. My wife drives a minivan, and I drive a sedan. But even with those cars, some of those compact spots seem pretty small.”

Well, no shit, buddy — one should probably expect that cramming a sedan or minivan into a compact car space would be a bit tight! Next, I’d imagine that he’ll be expressing his surprise that shoving those D-sized batteries into his wristwatch is enormously difficult…

(Interesting: could this be the same Guy Bjerke who has both Radio and TypePad weblogs?)

Another equally troubling question is this: How could someone of my fundamental incapacity have come so close to heading the department of the United States government charged with protecting our country from acts of terrorism? Is anyone else horrified by this? Is anyone besides me even slightly bothered?

The McSweeney’s not-so-cloaked take on Bernard Kerik’s failed nomination is just priceless.

Between banning smiling in the picture and including an RFID chip that can be read (and snooped) from as far as 30 feet away, the State Department sure is mucking with the U.S. passport! Alas, there’s not much to be done but buy a foil-lined cover and accept that your passport picture is going to finally reflect how the typical person looks after having to deal with the hassle of international travel in a post-9/11 age.

Is it just me (and Josh Marshall), or are other people a little bit concerned about how trivially easy it was for politicians to slip provisions into the spending bill this past week without any notice or debate? For the past few days, we’ve been hearing a lot about the measure that would allow lawmakers to view any American’s tax returns; yesterday, we learned that another addition was a measure that allows health care companies to ignore state and local laws regulating the provision of reproductive health services. How many other red-hot pokers are hidden in the text of the 3,000-page bill?

Oh, jeez — it looks the first major vote-tallying computer error has come out of Ohio, to the tune of nearly 4,000 votes accidentally awarded to Bush in one voting precinct alone. Given that the current difference between Bush and Kerry in the state is 136,483 votes, and there are hundreds of voting precincts in Ohio, all it would take is 34 more errors like this and we’d have a new President. Of course, I also ask myself: why is this story currently only running on the local newspaper websites? It’s a pretty sobering indictment of our electoral process, at least when it comes to the few days after a close election.

In my limited surfing around this morning trying to find the best place to keep up with election-related news, I have to say that I’m most impressed with CNN’s Election Results page. It’s essentially one big control panel, and it provides pretty much all the information I’m going to want to track tonight as I sit there biting my nails and hoping for a change in the White House. A distant second is the offering from CBS News (for a better interface, click through the link to “Campaign 2004” in the right gutter of this page); it gets me to the same information, but it’s quite a few more clicks to get there, and always takes me away from other information that I want to see.

If anyone has any other election-day portals that are worth a look before the news cycle gets busy, I’d love pointers…

In honor of tomorrow’s election, Dahlia Lithwick anticipates the quadrillion lawsuits that will be filed at 8AM on November 3rd, and provides a do-it-yourself guide for filing your own lawsuits. Use it well!