Sunday, September 30, 2007

Spot won't even try to summarize this one

But the title says it all:

Prosecuting Blackwater - A Brief Tour of the Law by David Luban at Balkinization.

Baked or fried?

How would you like your crow served, Mr. Friedman? Tom "Suck on This" Friedman wrote a column in the Sunday NYT wherein he admits that 9/11 made him stupid:

What does that mean? [the continuous waving of the bloody shirt] This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

Well, not everybody, Tom.

Anyway, Tom yearns for the good old days when we just worshipped at the feet of his little tin god: globalization:

I’d love to see us salvage something decent in Iraq that might help tilt the Middle East onto a more progressive pathway. That was and is necessary to improve our security. But sometimes the necessary is impossible — and we just can’t keep chasing that rainbow this way.

Look at our infrastructure. It’s not just the bridge that fell in my hometown, Minneapolis. Fly from Zurich’s ultramodern airport to La Guardia’s dump. It is like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. I still can’t get uninterrupted cellphone service between my home in Bethesda and my office in D.C. But I recently bought a pocket cellphone at the Beijing airport and immediately called my wife in Bethesda — crystal clear.

I just attended the China clean car conference, where Chinese automakers were boasting that their 2008 cars will meet “Euro 4” — European Union — emissions standards. We used to be the gold standard. We aren’t anymore. Last July, Microsoft, fed up with American restrictions on importing brain talent, opened its newest software development center in Vancouver. That’s in Canada, folks. If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can’t America?

We can’t afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.

Spot has some really bad news for you Tom. After we start a war with Iran, we may never get back to your little nirvana.

Juan Cole also comments on Friedman's apparent mea culpa.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ok people, let's get some stuff straight

It has been reported by Eric Black and Joe Bodell at Minnesota Campaign Report that Mayor Jim Hovland of Edina may enter the the 3rd District race as a DFLer. Here's a bit from Eric yesterday (Friday):

James  B. Hovland, the Republican mayor of Edina, will be switching to the DFL and is seriously contemplating entering the race for the Dem nomination for the open Third District congressional seat.

Hovland will be meeting with representatives of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shortly (possibly tomorrow) to get acquainted and talk about the race.

Spot says this is really, really good news. Hovland is a stand-up guy who would fit and represent the 3rd District very well. He is well liked by his constituents (including Spot) and a leader among area mayors. He is the kind of candidate who could turn the 3rd blue. Hovland is a public-spirited and pragmatic mayor of a community of nearly 50,000.

As part of the Edina City Council, Mayor Hovland opposed the adoption of "conceal and carry" handgun legislation. He is, Spot believes, pro-choice. He has been a persistent critic of the governor—and the governor's claque, including Geoff Michel—on transportation and the gas tax. Here is an op-ed in the Strib by Jim Hovland a couple of weeks ago:

James B. Hovland: A conflict at the helm of MnDOT?

The head of a state agency must have priorities that may not mesh with one's more-political alter ego as lieutenant governor.

James B. Hovland

Published: September 14, 2007

In the aftermath of the Interstate Hwy. 35W bridge tragedy, Minnesotans remain grief-stricken and bewildered. We have little choice but to wait patiently for forensic experts to determine the exact cause of an event that has shaken our confidence in state government. Minnesota was once highly regarded for its diligence in protecting the public health, safety and welfare; restoring lost confidence should be our state's highest priority. But how?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has made a good start by ordering inspections of all bridges of the same type as the failed bridge and taking inventory of all the state's bridges, perhaps with an eye toward raising standards for bridge evaluation. But two broader questions are as relevant and cannot be swept aside:

• Do we Minnesota voters have the collective financial fortitude to demand that all of our state elected leaders finally make the transportation commitments needed to keep us safe and competitive in the future? After two decades of falling behind, let's hope the vivid memory of a fallen bridge prompts our governor and Legislature to build a financial strategy that actually achieves the sound and wise transportation system that we and future generations need.

• Is it wise to have a statewide elected official, in this case the lieutenant governor, also in charge of running a state agency, in this case the transportation department? Should Carol Molnau be running MnDOT?

Under state law, the commissioners of departments operate within the executive branch as direct hires of the governor. While the governor is a commissioner's boss, commissioners are also charged with advocating for the best interests of citizens, as those interests relate to a particular agency. State law requires our transportation commissioner, for example, to develop, adopt, revise and monitor a statewide transportation plan in order to "provide safe transportation for users throughout the state" and "to provide funding for transportation that, at a minimum, preserves the transportation infrastructure."

But when a governor and lieutenant governor are politically aligned, and that lieutenant governor also runs MnDOT, such political kinship runs the risk of diminishing the commissioner's sworn role as a transportation advocate. Bluntly, does Tim Pawlenty have in his Cabinet a commissioner who will speak expertly and frankly about the transportation needs of the state? Does he have someone who will offer advice he may not want to hear about the sufficiency of revenues to effectively repair and expand our system of roads, bridges and transit?

The image etched in my mind is from last spring: the governor, flanked at a news conference by his hybrid lieutenant governor/MnDOT commissioner, with a flourish of his pen, vetoing a transportation bill that would have set Minnesota on a course to repair and expand its infrastructure. Only a minimal "lights on" budget was left. And the lieutenant governor just stood there, smiling.

James B. Hovland, mayor of Edina, is cochairman of the Regional Council of Mayors and is a member of the Transportation Advisory Board to the Metropolitan Council.

Spotty knows that the mayor has been one of the initiators of efforts to make Edina a more transit-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, and bike-friendly community. And a greener place, too.

Somebody who calls himself MNMark left this comment on the MNCR post about Hovland's party switch and possible candidacy:

Gee, just what we need, another phony 'Democrat'.  At least this one has the excuse of having actually been a Republican unlike all those that have pretended to be Dems.

And if he should actually win the seat will be all be surprised when he votes just like Ramstad?  And this will be an improvement because he is 'Ramstad(D) instead of Ramstad(R)?

Thanks, I'll pass.

Spot says to give the mayor another look, MNMark. Spot says that the 3rd will elect a moderate, and Jim Hovland is a good one. He matches up very well against, say, Erik Paulsen.

Spot, for one, hopes that Jim Hovland enters the race.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The power of positive thinking

Nick Coleman's column today was about "crumbling bridge" terminology. Ever since the article in the Strib a few days ago about how current engineering terminology like "structurally deficient" was scaring the public, Spot has been thinking about how the Pepsodent administration would try to soften the blow. Nick Coleman told us how this morning in Faith-based bridges:

The Minneapolis bridge was one of 70,000 "structurally deficient" bridges in the country that Americans have worried about. So government officials are going to make us stop worrying. Not by fixing bridges -- that would cost billions -- but with smoke and mirrors and baloney.

Here's their idea: Change the terms. State highway officials want engineers to stop scaring us with spooky labels. You may have thought it was the sight of cars in the water and crying people trapped under tons of concrete and twisted steel girders that scared us. Nope. It was the terminology.

So our highway departments have rolled up their sleeves and, with American know-how and a "can-do" attitude, have begun a rebranding effort to lull us back to sleep.

No more unpleasant labels such as "structurally deficient." We need something soothing.

I suggest calling them "Ready For Rapid Gravity Removal" bridges. That's what happened to our "structurally deficient" bridge. It fell down. And it killed people. Or perhaps I should say, it lowered itself into a river and some citizens were inconvenienced.

Brave leaders, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who also serves as Boss of Highway Construction, have done little more than pose for pictures while avoiding responsibility and robbing money from other overdue and underfunded highway projects to try to pony up the front money for a new I-35W bridge. They can't keep the state highway headquarters from falling down, but they are re-engineering English.

They have priorities.

One brave new wordsmith at MnDOT asked this: If car dealers call used cars "previously owned," why can't we find a term for "structurally deficient" that isn't unpleasant?

And as Nick points out, new terminology is much cheaper than actually fixing the bridges! It's that kind of innovation that will propel Governor Pepsodent far in his quest for national office, or at least a Republican nomination.

Spot was sure he had a John Ralston Saul quotation on the subject in the computer here somewhere, but he can't find it. Maybe later.

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments out here in Cakeville, boys and girls, about which Spot will have more to say later.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

ISPs as utilites

Charlie at The Great Divide and the King at SCSU Scholars have been conducting a regrettably civil discussion on the subject of the effects of government versus corporate action in restraining civil liberties such as free speech. Here's a bit from Charlie:

The King and I have a bit of a back and forth going in the comments section which I have left there in case it is getting too off in the weeds. I have little enough interest in my own arguments, so I don't expect you to show up and cheer for my increasingly esoteric points.

But still, a little more.

What King and I have both done is restated the other's arguments in ways with which the speaker doesn't agree. I did it with this:

But I find it extremely comical that an economist can overlook how corporations enjoy the protections of government — particularly through lobbying, political back scratching and the courts.

Then King responded:

Good heavens, no. I don't overlook it. I call it "rent-seeking" and I abhor it. [NOTE: Don't bother clicking on his link unless you have 10 bucks or you're an academic with a JSTOR account.] Economists have long recognized its existence and the inefficiency of it. Where Charlie and I might disagree is how to cure it.

And he returned the favor:

He would argue that there are not enough government restrictions on economic activity and seek political solutions to put more on.

And here's a little bit from King "free the money" Banaian in a comment to the post:

I will also note that AOL or any other ISP is under no obligation to provide you a forum for your political views, and this was the original point. They are engaged in commerce.

The whole thing started, apparently, because some liberal/progressive organization's blanket emails were being blocked by Charlie's ISP. The King, of course, find this perfectly acceptable because, as the King puts it, because the ISPs are "engaged in commerce." Well, that explains everything! Charlie, Spot doesn't know how you're still standing after that withering broadside!

Of course, if you follow the King's foolish argument to its logical extension, railroads could decide to limit or arrange their stops to limit some of their carriers' competition; telephone companies could decide not to provide service to some customers because they were just too much trouble; gas and electric utilities could do the same.

 Spot wants to quote John Ralson Saul (again) discussing the fate of another quasi-utility: television. Here's Saul writing in the early 90s:

The invention of the video cassette seemed to create a new element of freedom. A cassette is no more difficult to smuggle or hide than a book. Now, even in the most restrictive dictatorships, the elites who travel abroad return with cassettes. But only people rich enough to travel and to own a VCR are involved; people rich or powerful enough to ensure that they can watch the cassettes in absolute privacy.

The blatant controls enforced in some countries encourage us to think that the problem does not apply in the West. Yet in some ways our problem is worse. Nothing can appear on any of our screens without large inputs of cash from either advertisers or governments. Almost from the beginning the advertisers understood that, while they could not dictate content, it was easy to block whatever they didn't want on the air. All they had to do was not advertise it. Attempts by some networks to disarm this, pressure by selling block advertising not assigned to specific programs has tended simply to obscure the problem by forcing advertisers to be more subtle when they apply pressure. The intelligent master never forbids. He shapes things in order to avoid undermining his own interests and to avoid open conflict. Television advertisers understand this and have therefore become the champions of inconsequential entertainment.

Meanwhile, throughout much of Europe, government fenders understood from the beginning that they held controlling power. The result — in contrast to the early freedom on public television in a few countries such as the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Canada and Australia — was organized propaganda, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. But even those few arm's-length governments gradually tired of being criticized by state corporations which exercised electronic free speech. Politicians began to respond with clumsy personal attacks on specific television programs and journalists, accusing them of antigovernment bias. This approach tended to backfire because it reminded the public of the 1930s, which had begun with governmental righteous indignation against free speech and ended with dictatorships across Europe. Governments therefore turned to bureaucratic manipulation. Budget restraints and political appointments proved so effective that producers soon understood there was little or no funding for real and sustained criticism. That was already the situation on private networks.
This atmosphere gradually created self-censorship, first among management and then among senior production staff. They found them selves becoming ever-more careful and ever-more "balanced," until they began to take extreme "care" each time a public issue arose.

But those who hold power already have an advantage over both the opposition and the press, which is why serious journalists have always tended towards a critical approach which seeks out faults. Governments and corporations have budgets and experts permanently assigned to the preparation of arguments designed to contradict all unfavourable judgments. These professional answers, when placed in opposition to most criticism, will at least create confusion and, at their most successful, cancel out the effect of the attack. Rigorous balance, when applied to television, gives a permanent advantage to those in power.
Nevertheless, budgetary and political manipulations are a complicated way to control freedom of speech. The solution has therefore increasingly been to commercialize television. After all, what attracts advertisers to television is precisely its ritualistic, reassuring smoothness.

Shocking and unsettling programs do not provide an effective background for marketing products. Distinctive programming detracts from, the surrounding ads. What the sponsor seeks can be seen in the fact that ads are played at a higher sound level than the programs. On a scale of one to ten, programs vary from occasional silence to moments of maximum noise, but they run at average levels of four to six. Commercials are recorded at seven to eight, well above the program average. And while program sound fluctuates, ads hold a constant level for thirty seconds. This makes them seem even louder. The more commercial the overall television system, the more these ads tend towards eight or nine, as in the United States. But even at seven they are the dominant sound.

Ritual is a continuous and repetitive background phenomenon. Thus most programming is the background for commercial messages. The per-second production costs — what the industry calls "production values" — of advertisements are far higher than those of programming. In fact, most commercials are better television than the programs they finance, thanks to richer colour, more camera work and snappier scripting. If there is some benefit to be derived from dramatic surprise, it is saved for the advertiser.

Television networks are all about commerce, too. The network executives may have a political point of view, but part of what they are interested in is just making the whole thing run smoothly and avoiding controversy and maximizing their return. The same thing is true with the ISPs.

And that, boys and girls, is why is is foolish to think that private business will ever look out for the public weal. Some activities are so important and so necessary that we must ensure their access to all citizens. We call these things utilities. Spot cannot go out an find another gas company, nor is there much practical choice among the ISPs in the present climate.

Colorado Katie & the Norwegian Kid

Spotty, you can sure tell that Katie spent some time on a dude ranch recently.

Oh, how, grasshopper?

Well, remember on Monday how she wrote about her reunion with her college, er, chums on a Colorado ranch?

Yes, so she told us that she had been on a ranch.

Gosh, you're right, Spotty! But that isn't what I meant. What I meant was her column today. It is full of ghost towns, tumble weeds, and this:

Why is the moderate Republican ghost town emptying out? The mythmakers claim it has a sheriff -- a mean, low-down hombre with a glint of religious zealotry in his eye.

He and his posse threaten to string up any candidate with a streak of independence if he doesn't clear out of town.

I wonder if she is still wearing that ridiculous fake cowboy hat in the newsroom?

Probably. Katie's offering today was about her claim that the Republican party has more moderates that the Democratic party. And just as Gump predicted at Suddenly South, the column contained some pearl clutching over the ad criticizing General Petraeus.

Rather than waste any more of what promises to be a really nice day, Spot is just going to send you over to Norwegianity to see what the Wege has written about Katie's column today.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Put 'em up!

This, boys and girls, is the international symbol for Blackwater mercenaries ahead. It is also the new greeting for anyone meeting anybody from the US State Department in Iraq. There is an article on the NYT website with some new information about Blackwater. It turns out that the Blackwater contractors might be just a wee bit trigger happy:

The officials said that Blackwater’s incident rate was at least twice that recorded by employees of DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the two other United States-based security firms that have been contracted by the State Department to provide security for diplomats and other senior civilians in Iraq.

The Iraqis, and some US officials, seem to think so:

Many American officials now share the view that Blackwater’s behavior is increasingly stoking resentment among Iraqis and is proving counterproductive to American efforts to gain support for its military efforts in Iraq.

And it is interesting to Spot that most of Blackwater's contractors are just that, independent contractors, not even employees of Blackwater:

Blackwater was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former member of the Navy Seals, and is privately owned. Most of its nearly 1,000 people in Iraq are independent contractors, rather than employees of the company, according to a spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell. Blackwater has a total of about 550 full-time employees, the she said.

True soldiers of fortune, bound neither by military control or even the control of an employer to the mission or interests of the United States in Iraq.

This is really stupid, boys and girls.

Spot wants to call to your attention a couple of good blog posts about mercenaries. The first is by Paul Finkelman at Balkinization:

“He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.”

The was the complaint, leveled against George, the ruler of a great nation, who sent hired guns to suppress the people of an emerging nation on the other side of the ocean.

The complaint, of course, was against King George the Third, and was written by Thomas Jefferson. It is in the Declaration of Independence. Yet, in all sorts of ironic ways, Jefferson’s complaint might easily be uttered by Iraqis and Americans who sympathize with their plight.

Here's what Finkelman said about mercenary activities in Iraq:

These guards are heavily armed and appear to have no external authority over them. Their job, loosely defined, is to protect Americans and other westerners in Iraq. They do so with helicopters, armored cars, and serious amounts of firepower. According to the Times, they bully their way through the streets of Baghdad and other cities, and apparently drive as fast as 120 miles an hour in convoys on the way to the airport. They have killed scores of Iraqis, and frightened even westerners with their cowboy on helicopter tactics.

Blackwater and the other contractors have in effect created private armies or mercenaries. Congress has ordered that the Blackwater mercenaries and other private armies be placed under the same rules of engagement as the United States military. But, according to the Times, “no action has been taken, leaving the contractors in a legal no-man’s land – in effect, at liberty to treat all Iraq as a free-fire zone.” (NY Times, Sept. 23, Week-in-Review, p. 3). In practice there is no one controlling them and no one authority from whom they take orders. They are hired guns, who it appears, are accountable to no one, unless, or until, they are indicted for criminal activity. However, as the N.Y. Times noted (Sept. 23, 2007, Sec. 1; p. 14) “Even if murder charges [against Blackwater employees] were referred to Iraqi courts, it is unclear what real legal peril would be faced by Blackwater or any of its employees.” This is because in 2004, the chief U.S. civilian in Iraq, L. Paul Brenner, III issued Order 17, which, as the Times writes, give “security companies working for the United States government immunity from prosecution” in Iraq.

Iraq is surely a dangerous place. Over one hundred private contractors have been killed there. Blackwater, and other companies, guard these civilian contractors. They are the new mercenaries. They wear no national uniform; they are not really subject to traditional military discipline. And, like all mercenaries, they have no patriotic interest in the outcome of conflict. They have only three goals. They want to survive; they want to protect those they are assigned to protect; and they want to get paid a lot of money. If someone else offers them more money, they might quit the job they now have, and move to a new employer. They would not be “defecting” to the enemy, because they are not soldiers.

The dangers of using a private army are clear. Employees of various companies, including Blackwater, USA, have been charged to senseless killings, reckless killings, and just plain cold blooded killings. I hesitate to say they have participated in murders, because “murder” implies a legal regime where murder is a crime. These mercenaries seem to above the law. [italics are Spot's]

Blackwater is made up of modern-day Hessians.

The second post is by Evil Bobby, who quotes what Machiavelli believed about mercenaries:

I say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you.

Mercenaries are beyond practical control. Why do we use them? Beyond the administration's mania for privatizing everything, there is this from the NYT article linked above:

Despite the growing criticism of Blackwater and its tactics, the company still enjoys an unusually close relationship with the Bush administration, and with the State Department and Pentagon in particular. It has received government contracts worth more than $1 billion since 2002, with most coming under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to the independent budget monitoring group OMB Watch.

. . .

The company’s close ties to the Bush administration have raised questions about the political clout of Mr. Prince, Blackwater’s founder and owner. He is the scion of a wealthy Michigan family that is active in Republican politics. He and the family have given more than $325,000 in political donations over the past 10 years, the vast majority to Republican candidates and party committees, according to federal campaign finance reports.

Blackwater is just another chapter in the sorriest foreign policy expedition upon which the US has ever embarked.

He's not the baby Jesus

General Petraeus, that is. Spot heard somebody say that on the radio the other day in reference to the fake umbrage that the Senate Republicans, along with the complicity of many Democrats in the Senate, including Amy Klobuchar, have mounted over the ad: "General Betray Us." Spot wrote this about Klobuchar's vote:

Which brings Spot to the truly cowardly vote of Amy Klobuchar in favor of the Senate resolution to condemn for the ad. With her votes on the recent Iraq supplemental funding, her vote on the FISA legislation, and now this, Amy Klobuchar is proving a great disappointment to many Democrats in Minnesota. By voting for this resolution, Klobuchar simply assisted the administration is taking the public's attention away from the true debate.

[update] At Salon, Joan Walsh called the vote a "profile in cowardice" by the Democrats who voted for it. [/update]

Now the House has voted to condemn, too. The only member of Minnesota's entire House delegation to vote against the measure was Keith Ellison. Evil Bobby expresses particularly keen disappointment over Tim Walz's vote, since he got a lot of support from the netroots, including members, in his successful bid to unseat an incumbent congressman. Spot shares that keen disappointment.

Keith Olbermann took a dim view of Bush's use of General Petraeus, too. Borrowing the quote (again) from a post at Three Way News:

But a shot at General Petraeus — about whom you conveniently ignore it is you who reduced him from four-star hero to a political hack — that merits this pissy juvenile blast at the Democrats on national television?

Your hypocrisy is so vast, sir, that if we could somehow use it to fill the ranks in Iraq you could realize your dream — and keep us fighting there until the year 3000.

The line between the military and the civilian government is not to be crossed.

There seems to be plenty of betrayal to go around these days.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nearly choking on Bushmills

Last Sunday night, when Spot was just finishing an evening libation—two fingers of Bushmills, which he always drinks neat—Spot almost choked when he read this from the online version of Katie's Monday column about a college reunion she recently attended:

We came to play together but, more importantly, to talk. To jump-start our discussion, we had agreed on an "assigned reading": "On the Shortness of Life," by the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca. At our invitation, a beloved professor, now retired, joined us. We hoped he would share his wisdom.

During the day, we puffed up hiking trails and tried to outwit the trout in a nearby stream. At night, we broke out the Bushmills Irish whiskey and tackled the Big Questions.

Before we get into the column, boys and girls, a couple of things need to be made clear. First, when ones goes trout fishing, especially in the West, the whiskey to drink is bourbon, preferably Jack Daniel's. Perhaps the worm drowners drink something else, but Spot would scarcely know that. Second, if you have to try to "outwit" a trout, you are a dullard indeed. Trout have an IQ of about 6. You may startle them with artless casting or wading, or you may fail to present a tidbit they happen to be interested in at the time, but it's hardly a battle of wits.

Now that we have disposed of Katie as a sportswoman, Spot thought he would imagine what one of Katie's conversations on the porch with her school chums might have sounded like:

Katie: I wish I had caught a fish.

Bernadette: Maybe you will tomorrow. It's only been three days.

Angela: Yeah, don't be so hard on yourself! Anybody could have fallen in the water a half a dozen times and spooked the trout.

Katie: Thanks; I appreciate that. Well, shall we get down to business?

Bridget: Business?

Katie: Yes. Remember the book I assigned, er, asked you each to read? You've put me off long enough! If I can't out fish you, maybe I can out talk you! Haha!

Bridget: [muttering] There's little doubt about that.

Katie: What?

Bridget: Oh, nothing.

Prudence: We've all come a long way since our days at St. Mary's. Haven't we?

Bridget: [snorting] Boy, that's true. Nine females sitting around moping; that's so different from college.

Katie: But look what we've done to come full circle! Well, that's not exactly what I meant.

Bridget: Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Multiple husbands. Ungrateful kids. Years of analysis. For what? A dorm room with a better view!

Angela: Pipe down you two. You'll wake Sister Mary Elephant, I mean Sister Mary Elizabeth.

Bernadette: Whose idea was it to bring her?

Bridget: It was Katie's, of course. Fifty plus years old and she brings a chaperone. Jesus.

Katie: You always were the rebellious one, Bridget. And don't take the Lord's name in vain.

Bridget: And you always were the beady-eyed evangelist.

Prudence: Knock it off, both of you! You two could never get along after - - -

Katie: Bridget stole my first boyfriend. I'm glad he left you, Bridget, you trollop. You deserved it.

Bridget: You're damn lucky I took that cipher off your hands, Katie.

Prudence: My! Aren't we supposed to be talking about how short life is?

Angela: It doesn't seem like time is exactly flying by right now.

Bernadette: In general it does, though. I can remember my folks saying how the years sped by when I was a kid, but I didn't believe it. Now I know it's true.

Bridget: Bernie, do you know what a platitude is?

Bernadette: Of course I do. That doesn't mean it's not true.

Bridget: Or obvious.

Angela: Bridget have you been drinking?

Bridget: Of course. How else do you expect me to get through this wretched bonding ritual?

Angela: Bridget, you always did like the sauce. What have you got?

Bridget: Sacramental wine.

Angela: Oh, come on! You wouldn't know where to get that if you wanted it.

Bridget: All right. It's Bushmills. I'll pass the bottle around on one condition.

Prudence: What's the condition?

Bridget: That Katie take the first swig, a big one. Otherwise, nobody gets any.

Katie: I don't know that I - - -

The others: (in a chorus) Katie, you have to!

Katie: Well, I guess one swig won't hurt.

Bridget: Remember, a big one. I'm not kidding.

Katie: What? You think I can't do it? Gimmie the bottle. (takes a long pull on the whiskey bottle, her eyes growing large)

Bernadette: Katie, are you okay? You look a little funny.

Katie: (composing her words carefully) I'm fine. But I think I need to take a little wok.

Angela: Suit yourself. But it's dark out there. Be careful.

(The other women share the bottle of Bushmills and engage in animated conversation. They hear the sound of Katie retching in the bushes.)

Bridget: Never could hold her liquor.

Sister Mary Elizabeth: Is everything all right out there?

Prudence: Oh, yes, sister. We're sorry to wake you. We'll be quieter. Good night.

Sister Mary Elizabeth: Good night my lambs.

(There is the sound of a large object falling into the water, followed by a piercing scream.)

Prudence: Katie fell in the creek! Come on, everybody. We have to save her! You too, Bridget.

Bridget: Okay. But it's only a foot and a half deep, for crying out loud.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Honey, we shrunk their legal system!

In recent days, the issue of the jurisdiction of Iraqi law over US nationals has been bandied about because of the Blackwater shootings that took place in Baghdad several days ago. Spot had a post that mentioned it. Now, it appears that a diplomatic crisis is brewing over the incident, and the Iraqis are planning to bring criminal charges, even though the Blackwater contractors are theoretically "immune" from Iraqi law:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 22 — The Iraqi government said Saturday that it expects to refer criminal charges to its courts within days in connection with a shooting here by a private American security company, and the Interior Ministry gave new details of six other episodes it is investigating involving the company.

The state minister for national security affairs, Shirwan al-Waili, said the government had received little information from the American side in the early days of a joint investigation of the shooting, which involved the company Blackwater USA and left at least eight Iraqis dead. But he said that the Iraqi investigation was largely completed and that he believed the findings were definitive. “The shots fired on the Iraqis were unjustifiable,” he said. “It was harsh and horrible.”

Although Mr. Waili did not spell out what the investigative committee would recommend to the criminal court, a preliminary report of findings by the Interior Ministry, the National Security Ministry and the Defense Ministry stated that “the murder of citizens in cold blood in the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians just like any other terrorist operation.”

“The criminals will be referred to the Iraqi court system,” it said.

You don't have to be clairvoyant to see that this is not a promising development. And it's not the first time that Blackwater has been involved in shootings that have provoked Iraqi anger:

Iraqi officials indicated that they were weighing the earlier shootings involving Blackwater in their consideration of what the practical consequences of the Nisour Square shooting should be. “The American Blackwater company has made for the seventh time the same mistake against the Iraqis and in different places in Baghdad,” according to a preliminary report from the Iraqi investigation obtained by The New York Times.

According to General Khalaf, the other events under investigation are a Feb. 4 shooting that killed an Iraqi journalist near the Foreign Ministry; a Feb. 7 shooting in which three guards at the Iraqi state television station were killed; a Feb. 14 episode in which Blackwater employees are accused of smashing windshields; a shooting in May that killed one person near the Interior Ministry; a Sept. 9 shooting that killed five people near a Baghdad city government building; and a Sept. 12 shooting that wounded five people in eastern Baghdad.

Here's what the NYT article says about immunity:

Even if murder charges were referred to Iraqi courts, it is unclear what real legal peril would be faced by Blackwater or any of its employees. A provision originally called Order 17, signed by L. Paul Bremer III in 2004, while he was the top American administrator in Iraq, was later enshrined into Iraqi law, effectively giving security companies working for the United States immunity from prosecution here.

Perhaps for that reason, no Western contractors of any kind are known to have been convicted of any crimes in Iraq.

You have to love that term "enshrined," don't you ? Order 17 was put into law when the US was in charge of making law for the Iraqis and apparently has never been repealed since Iraq theoretically got its legal system back. This is a serious challenge to the US by the al-Maliki government, a government that has already fallen out of favor with the US administration. Al-Maliki shows no sign of going down without a fight.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Just checking in!

Ring. Ring. Hello? [rather loud music in the background]

Hi Sweetie! It's Mom!

Oh, hi, Mom. Why are you calling? It's - - -

Ten o'clock on a Saturday night, I know. I can hardly hear you!

[stage whisper] Turn the music down! It's my Mom! [a muffled male voice answers, indistinctly]

Who are you talking to? That sounded like a boy.

No, no, Mom. It's just my roommate. She just has a cold. A really bad cold.

It must be a bad one; her voice has dropped at least an octave. And she has such a nice voice for the chapel choir. I hope she is over it soon!

[rolling her eyes] I'm sure she will be, Mom. Why are you calling? I mean, it's nice to talk to you.

It's nice to talk to you, too. Can't a mother check in with her youngest child to see how she's doing, even on a Saturday night? I mean, you're the last one out of the nest and go to college, and it's hard for your Dad and me with no one around to hector, I mean guide, anymore.

I'm sure that true, Mom, but really, I'm fine.

Really? Are you sure you're okay?

[more eye rolling] Yes, I'm sure.

Say, wasn't that a brown person singing on your stereo?

Um, yeah. I think his name is Barry White.

That's a funny name for a brown person! But you be careful about the animal passions that a brown person's music can arouse, Missy! Do you hear me?

[eyes gyrating, nearly uncontrollably]  Yes, Mother.

Well, you know, I'm a little suspicious, after your older brother told me that he was going to toga parties, and I thought it was to observe ancient Greek culture. You can imagine how shocked I was when I found out what toga parties really were.

Yes, Mother.

You know, Sweetie, I've just been thinking about a column I wrote last week about the evils that stalk the University of Minnesota campus in the Twin Cities. A giant, er, condom, can you imagine? I mean, you don't know anything about those things, do you?

[sighs] No, Mom. You and Dad were careful to keep me away from any information about that stuff. I don't go to the U, remember? What's a condom? [snorting laugher in the background]

That's my girl! Just be sure you keep it that way!

I will, Mom.

And keep your pants on.


All right. It's just that a mother worries. Did you go to confession this afternoon?

Well, no. But I didn't have anything to confess.

Are you sure?

Yes!!! Gosh, Mom, I don't think you trust me.

Well, of course I do, Sweetie! What are you doing now?

I'm getting ready for bed so that I can go to church early tomorrow. I have a lot of studying after that.

You'll make you Dad and Mom proud! Keep your nose to the grindstone and be good. Bye!

Bye, Mom. [click]

[peals of laughter from two voices, one male and one female]

Technorati Tags:

Friday, September 21, 2007

The tyranny of Petraeus II

Here are the opening grafs of a post by Professor Sandy Levinson at Balkinization:

I have no particular desire to defend the Moveon "General Betray Us" ad, which was incredibly dumb politics. (One would like to believe that a Karl Rove mole had infiltrated the organization and persuaded them to publish the ad with that title.) That being said, I will note that I first heard that term from a graduate of West Point, a veteran of Iraq, who was taking a course from me at the University of Texas Law School. To put it mildly, I was a bit surprised at this person's candor, and I took it as a sign that at least some soldiers on the ground thought that Petraeus was something of a publicity hound who was viewed as indifferent to the fate of the soldiers under his command.

Much more serious, though, is the idiocy of Congress putting so much faith in Petraeus to offer a fully accurate assessment of what is, after all, his own policy. One need not engage in calumny simply to note that it is, as a rule, not a good idea to ask architects of policies (or bridges, or anything else) to offer unflinching assessment of their own handiwork. This is why, after all, one has independent auditors and the like. Moveon's mistake was to suggest that Petraeus was like those at Enron who were self-consciously (and feloniously) cooking the books. I doubt that. But there were lots of other people at Enron who simply wanted to believe their own hype and would always "accentuate the positive" in any ambiguous evidence. One doesn't have to be dishonorable to do that, only human.

It was surely important to hear from General Petraeus. But let me suggest that it is more important to take heed of the more independent assessments being made by other generals, retired military officers, and, yes, journalists on the ground.

Spot thinks that sums it up rather well.

Delusional eagles

There is a poster at SCSU Scholars named Janet. Spot has no idea who Janet is, but she has written movingly—she was apparently moved about writing about it, anyway—about a Gathering of Eagles. Janet flew to Washington, D.C., in a plane, not on her own, last March:

Anarchist anti-war protestors spray-painted the steps of the US Capitol in January. Another anti-war protest being organized by a coaltion [sic] of radical leftist and anarchist groups is "gathering near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial" on March 17th.

Although the organizers deny any intention to "defile" the Memorial, I will be joining A Gathering of Eagles, which plans to be present to protect the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Janet had so much fun in March that she went back to rail against the protest last weekend. Here's one little incident that Janet didn't write about:

Submitted by Rick Perlstein on September 20, 2007 - 8:08pm.

Last week I wondered whether an oily substance found on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and reported by wingnuts as anti-war vandalism might have actually been a false-flag operation intended to stir violent outrage at the anti-war activists coming to Washington for a September 15 march.

If so: mission accomplished. The pro-war fascists of Gathering of Eagles found a father of fallen Marine to beat up along the route: Carlos Arredondo, who marches in anti-war demonstrations pulling a flag-draped coffin adorned with a picture of his son. Here's one account:

As Carlos passed counter protesters, one man ripped a picture of Alex from the memorial. Carlos leaped on the man to retrieve the picture. It was at that point that approximately five others all began to attack Carlos by kicking him in the head, legs, stomach and back.

The Capitol police bicycle patrol then appeared to break up the fight. Several officers including a female officer were engaged in breaking up the fight and were able to stop any further injuries from occurring. Hannah Jones who was walking with Carlos was also assaulted.

A bystander named Ramesh witnessed the whole encounter and also retrieved the picture of Alex for Carlos. He was quite distressed at how he watched the men follow Carlos as he pulled the memorial, purposefully yelling epiphets and eventually taking Alex's photograph. Soon, an ambulance showed up as well as many concerned activists. The paramedics provided first aid to Carlos but he did not seek further medical attention. Carlos sustained bloody cuts on his shins. He also reported bruises all over his torso and head where he was kicked.

Perlstein also reports that the man who grabbed the picture of Carlos' dead son said that he was acting to "rescue" the picture, since it was being held "hostage."

Is this the sort of rabble you're consorting with, Janet?

The tyranny of Petraeus

Here is part of the general's prepared remarks to the House committees:

The progress our forces have achieved with our Iraqi counterparts has, as I noted at the outset, been substantial. While there have been setbacks as well as successes and tough losses along the way, overall, our tactical commanders and I see improvements in the security environment. We do not, however, just rely on gut feeling or personal observations; we also conduct considerable data collection and analysis to gauge progress and determine trends. We do this by gathering and refining data from coalition and Iraqi operations centers, using a methodology that has been in place for well over a year and that has benefited over the past seven months from the increased presence of our forces living among the Iraqi people. We endeavor to ensure our analysis of that data is conducted with rigor and consistency, as our ability to achieve a nuanced understanding of the security environment is dependent on collecting and analyzing data in a consistent way over time. Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology, and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.

Here was part of his recommendations:

Two weeks ago I provided recommendations for the way ahead in Iraq to the members of my chain of command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The essence of the approach I recommended is captured in its title: "Security While Transitioning: From Leading to Partnering to Overwatch." This approach seeks to build on the security improvements our troopers and our Iraqi counterparts have fought so hard to achieve in recent months. It reflects recognition of the importance of securing the population and the imperative of transitioning responsibilities to Iraqi institutions and Iraqi forces as quickly as possible, but without rushing to failure. It includes substantial support for the continuing development of Iraqi Security Forces. It also stresses the need to continue the counterinsurgency strategy that we have been employing, but with Iraqis gradually shouldering more of the load. And it highlights the importance of regional and global diplomatic approaches. Finally, in recognition of the fact that this war is not only being fought on the ground in Iraq but also in cyberspace, it also notes the need to contest the enemy's growing use of that important medium to spread extremism. The recommendations I provided were informed by operational and strategic considerations. The operational considerations include recognition that:

_Military aspects of the surge have achieved progress and generated momentum.

_Iraqi Security Forces have continued to grow and have slowly been shouldering more of the security burden in Iraq.

_A mission focus on either population security or transition alone will not be adequate to achieve our objectives.

_Success against al-Qaida-Iraq and Iranian-supported militia extremists requires conventional forces as well as special operations forces; and

_The security and local political situations will enable us to draw down the surge forces.

My recommendations also took into account a number of strategic considerations:

_Political progress will take place only if sufficient security exists.

_Long-term US ground force viability will benefit from force reductions as the surge runs its course.

_Regional, global, and cyberspace initiatives are critical to success; and

_Iraqi leaders understandably want to assume greater sovereignty in their country, although, as they recently announced, they do desire continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq in 2008 under a new UN Security Council Resolution and, following that, they want to negotiate a long term security agreement with the United States and other nations.

Based on these considerations, and having worked the battlefield geometry with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno to ensure that we retain and build on the gains for which our troopers have fought, I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq. In fact, later this month, the Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed as part of the surge will depart Iraq. Beyond that, if my recommendations are approved, that unit's departure will be followed by the withdrawal of a brigade combat team without replacement in mid-December and the further redeployment without replacement of four other brigade combat teams and the two surge Marine battalions in the first seven months of 2008, until we reach the pre-surge level of 15 brigade combat teams by mid-July 2008.

Did you follow that, boys and girls? What did the general say?

Um, we're not sure, Spotty.

That's all right grasshopper, neither is Spot. And neither were the committee members. Which is how the testimony was designed. What the general did was perform an "expert job" on the Congress. Consider this from Spot's current guru, John Ralston Saul (again writing in Voltaire's Bastards):

Their [the experts'] standard procedure when faced by outside questioning is to avoid answering and instead to discourage, even to frighten off the questioner, by implying that he is uninformed, inaccurate, superficial and, invariably, overexcited. If the questioner has some hierarchical power, the expert may feel obliged to answer with greater care. For example, he may release a minimum amount of information in heavy dialect and accompany it with apologies for the complexity, thus suggesting that the questioner is not competent to understand anything more. And if the questioner must be answered but need not be respected — a journalist, for example, or a politician — the expert may release a flood of incomprehensible data, thus drowning out debate while pretending to be cooperative. And even if someone does manage to penetrate the confusion of material, he will be obliged to argue against the expert in a context of such complexity that the public, to whom he is supposed to be communicating understanding, will quickly lose interest. In other words, by drawing the persistent outsider into his box, the expert will have rendered him powerless.

This is exactly what Petraeus did. If you examine the quoted portions of his prepared testimony, or peruse the entire thing at the link above, it makes you want to get the general a green eye shade to go with his green uniform. Petraeus' remarks were an exercise in obfuscation, laced with jargon, the words of a bureaucrat, not a general responsible for a theater of war.

Keith Olbermann thought so, too. Borrowing the quote from a post at Three Way News:

But a shot at General Petraeus — about whom you conveniently ignore it is you who reduced him from four-star hero to a political hack — that merits this pissy juvenile blast at the Democrats on national television?

Your hypocrisy is so vast, sir, that if we could somehow use it to fill the ranks in Iraq you could realize your dream — and keep us fighting there until the year 3000.

The line between the military and the civilian government is not to be crossed.

We can think of other military leaders, both civilians in the Pentagon and generals who have endeavored to mislead with their jargon and "metrics": Robert McNamara, William Westmoreland, and Donald Rumsfeld. McNamara once famously said that if it couldn't be measured, it didn't matter, and used body counts to obscure the truth of the war in Vietnam.

Questioning General Petraeus is certainly not out of bounds, and there are people, including George Lakoff, who make a case that we have been betrayed, as suggested by the ad:

Bush took advantage of certain conventions of etiquette and politeness when he sent Petraeus to testify before Congress. Those conventions hold that one does not criticize the symbolic stand-in for the military, even when the uniform-wearing stand-in is on an overt political mission that is at the heart of the Administration's continuing betrayal of trust. Decorum can be put to political use, and Bush did just that.

Which brings Spot to the truly cowardly vote of Amy Klobuchar in favor of the Senate resolution to condemn for the ad. With her votes on the recent Iraq supplemental funding, her vote on the FISA legislation, and now this, Amy Klobuchar is proving a great disappointment to many Democrats in Minnesota. By voting for this resolution, Klobuchar simply assisted the administration is taking the public's attention away from the true debate.

[update] At Salon, Joan Walsh called the vote a "profile in cowardice" by the Democrats who voted for it. [/update]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Curse the giant rubber!

You have to forgive Katie. She sent her last child, a daughter, off to college this fall. She is understandably worried about the influence of college life on the fledgling she has worked so hard to protect all these years. (Katie referred to her high school-graduating daughter in a column that is no longer up on the Strib site.)

Katie must have nightmares about the giant condom that stalks the University of Minnesota campus. She wrote about it in today's column:

Goldy Gopher is stumbling these days in his role as the University of Minnesota's mascot. Seems like every time he trots out onto the field, our football team is thrown for another loss.

Is the U scoring big in anything that counts anymore?

And how. In the U's darkest hour, a new mascot has stepped forward to lead our flagship university to a national championship. I'm talking about SHADEy, the university's giant walking condom, whose exploits were a major factor in last week's announcement by the maker of Trojan condoms that the U ranks No. 1 in the nation for its students' "sexual health."

Now of course Katie would never send her precious daughter to something as common as a public university—a Land Grant school no less—but the image still has to haunt her.

To those of us living in a reality-based world, we recognize that a lot of teenagers are having sex, although the numbers appear to be declining slightly. The same report shows that contraceptive use is high.

Katie undoubtedly prefers the abstinence-only approach:

President Bush has consistently supported the view that sex education should teach “abstinence only” and not include information on other ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. White House Spokesperson Ari Fleischer has asserted that “abstinence is more than sound science, it’s a sound practice . . . . [A]bstinence has a proven track record of working.”

In pushing an “abstinence only” agenda, however, the Bush Administration has consistently distorted the scientific evidence about what works in sex education. Administration officials have never acknowledged that abstinence-only programs have not been proven to reduce sexual activity, teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.

Related, of course, is the notion that non-marital sex should carry the risk of punishment: pregnancy or even death. Katie has written about abstinence-only sex education on prior occasions; Spot commented on one column here.

From a public health standpoint, practical measures to help young people avoid unwanted pregnancy and STDs are the only logical path.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Spot's got a question for the major

Last week while Spot was gone, Katie had a column about Peter Swanson, Big Trunk's sidekick at the saving and loan, who's going back into the army as a JAG major. Swanson is apparently headed for Iraq:

Soldiers are in the business of defending freedom. But many will tell you that they didn't fully grasp its value until they encountered a foreign land where it's in short supply.

That can't be said of Peter Swanson of Golden Valley, who will ship out to Iraq in a few days. Swanson is a corporate counsel for TCF Bank, where he practices securities and employment law. Soon he'll be stationed at an Iraqi detention facility, deciding about detainees' rights and status.

Katie and the Power Line boys are undoubtedly busting their buttons! But Spot has a question for the major:

By what authority do you think you have the right to adjudicate the status of Iraqi citizens?

The right answer is NONE.

The American Raj Paul Bremer handed sovereignty back to the Iraqis at the end of June in 2004. At that moment, the US and its "coalition partners" were no longer occupiers of Iraq. That's what the administration said, anyway.

When the US was the occupier of Iraq, it had both the authority and the responsibility for law and order in Iraq. And of course a miserable job was done in the early days of the occupation.

But now, we're there without any SOFA, or status of forces agreement. We're just vigilantes, in other words. Oh, the Iraqis want us there, you say? Show me a piece of paper with an authorized signature that says so. That makes the major kind of a Judge Roy Bean with really shiny shoes.

When a sleepy young Iraqi man is dragged out of his house in the wee hours and brought before the major, the first question out of the Iraqi's mouth ought to be: Who put you in charge pal?

There are other implications of the US being in Iraq without a SOFA. American service persons and contractors—think of the Blackwell incident in recent days—are subject to Iraqi law and the Iraqi courts. That is why American persons who are thought to have committed a crime in Iraq are spirited out of the country quickly.

Perhaps the real message here is that "Iraqi sovereignty" is a sham. Iraq has no functioning government capable of maintaining any kind of order in that country. It gives the lie to the notion of "real progress" in Iraq.

[update] There is an article in the Star Tribune on Thursday, September 20th concerning the activities of Blackwell, as well as other security contractors in Iraq, and the perception by Iraqis that they are "above the law." Blackwell, in particular, was cited as "untouchable" because its client was the US State Department. The demand of al-Maliki that Blackwell leave Iraq is likely to go unmet. Although, at least in theory, since they are not diplomatic personnel, they are subject to Iraqi justice. [/update]

[further update and correction] Spot is reminded that Paul Bremer exempted private contractors from Iraqi law when performing their duties. The question arises whether shooting up the place can be within the scope of the contractors' duties. In any event, the Iraqis are in the processing of changing this, now that they have their legal system back. Spot guesses we'll see whether they really do or not! [/further update and correction]

Mr. Coleman? NAY!

The Senate did have a vote on cloture for the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act this morning. It failed. All the Democrats and a few Republicans voted for it. But not Norm. The issue has been tabled and could be brought up again.

But Spotty, Joe Lieberman also voted Nay.

Yes, grasshopper, but he is no longer a Democrat.

At the link, you can find the vote of every senator. Keep up the pressure on Coleman.

It does seem pretty clear which party has the better understanding of civil liberties, doesn't it?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Restore the Great Writ

There will be a vote on cloture tomorrow morning, Wednesday at 10:30 AM, on the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act. There are still votes needed to overcome a filibuster on this important legislation. One of the fence sitters is, you guessed it, Norm Coleman. Please call and email Senator Coleman to vote to cut off debate and proceed to a vote on the bill.

You can reach Coleman as follows:

DC Office:

Main: 202-224-5641
Fax: 202-224-1152

St. Paul Office:

Main: 651-645-0323
Fax: 651-645-3110
Toll Free: 800-642-6041

Email webform

Boys and girls, this must be done tonight or first thing in the morning.

Just climbing the ladder

This from a post at the Big Question about possible candidates to run for Jim Ramstad's seat:

State Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he would strongly consider running. “There’s going to be a lot more intense conversation in the Michel household tonight than there was the night before,” he said. “An open congressional seat is something that comes up maybe once in a career,”

As the Enlightened Grasshopper commented on the last post, it would be very interesting to see how The Great Pretender's voting record and positions on things like abortion and gay marriage and a gas tax would mach up with the moderate Third District. There will be candidates out there with the money to do it.

As for Michel, he would, of course, see it as a career opportunity first.

Lori and Geoff, sittin' in a tree

Just as Spot was leaving town a week ago, he read Lori Sturdevant's Sunday opinion piece entitled Stepping up and swatting down the partisan divide. Here's the lede:

As frittering over the state's response to flood and bridge failure proceeded last week, a thought occurred: A bipartisan bunch of forward-looking, problem-solving legislators -- say, a "rump group" -- might be useful just now.

That's why I hung out Thursday with 13 members of the Legislature's 2020 Caucus in Rochester.

Spot hopes that you at least went to a nice place for lunch that day, Lori. Lori goes on to say:

Officially, after Thursday's Mayo session, the caucus remains mum. The session produced no official pronouncement from the group.

Of course it remains mum, Lori; the 2020 Caucus has never taken a political stand on anything since its formation a few years ago. It's a political prop. Members of this so-called caucus do not actually caucus, take positions and vote accordingly. It is meaningless showmanship, organized in part by one of the most meaningless showmen in the Legislature: Geoff Michel. Lori has given Michel so much ink over this entirely useless prop that Spot thinks Lori has a crush on Michel. She did it again in this most recent piece:

"There are a lot of ways to get things done across party lines, and I don't think an exchange of letters [referring to the governor and legislative leaders in advance of the recent special session] is one of them," sighed Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, a 2020 Caucus founder.

Pawlenty said at a news conference Friday that the latest snag was over transit funding, not over a gas-tax increase.

Here's where the 2020 crowd -- particularly Republicans like Michel -- might put their understanding of this state's demographic future to good use. They can make an argument for more transit throughout the whole state, not just the metro area, to maximize elder mobility.

Michel voted with the Republican caucus—the one he really belongs to—and against a gas tax increase every time it has come up. He signed the "No New Taxes" pledge before he and others came up with the gimmick of the "2020 Caucus." There is no daylight between Geoff Michel and Governor Pepsodent.

The idea of Geoff Michel "sighing" over a lack of bipartisanship undoubtedly provoked a gag reflex over a lot of breakfast tables in Senate 41 last Sunday.

For those of you who are interested, Spot recommends his posts about Geoff Michel as The Great Pretender. Spot also recommends them to Lori Sturdevant.

Monday, September 17, 2007

He's baaaack!

Spot is back in town. Sniff, not that anybody apparently missed ol' Spotty. Thanks very much to MNObserver and the posting geyser Gump Worsley for posting here while Spot was gone. Posting will resume its usual leisurely pace starting tomorrow. It's nice to see you all, boys and girls.

Spot is just glad he doesn't have Gump's dog food bill.

Ramstad to Retire?

From Roll Call:
In another blow to House Republicans, Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) is expected to announce his retirement this afternoon, according to Republican sources and media reports in Minnesota.

More from the Strib.

Happy Constitution Day!

We here at the Cucking Stool think that it's no coincidence that the very first day of Alberto Gonzales's unemployment is also Constitution Day.

Let's take a look at what Mr. Gonzales has done to breathe new life into this document that forms the basis of our democracy.

Over at Common Dreams, HopeMarston and Ben Grosscup have a quick rundown of the sections of the Bill of Rights that have taken a beating during his tenure:
The Fourth Amendment
Gonzales helped cover up abuses of National Security Letters (NSLs), administrative subpoenas whose power was extended by the PATRIOT Act...

The Eighth Amendment
Throughout his tenure at the White House, Gonzales actively enabled the normalization of torture...

The Constitutional Right of Habeas Corpus
Gonzales laid out a legal justification for denying the right of habeas corpus. At a January 18, 2007, Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Gonzales made the hair-splitting claim that “There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution..."

Let's review some of the more pointed commentary on the Gonzales tenure:

Can You Even Imagine How Bad it Must Have Been?

Report Suggests Laws Broken in Attorney Firings

Burning the Law in a Riot of Treason

What were the pre-2005 "other intelligence activities"?

Happy Constitution Day. Go exercise some rights.

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."
-James Madison

Update: Edited to include Preamble by Mike Wilkins.


Call your representative today. More here and here. You can read about what happened to the OTA here.

BONUS: Completely unrelated and gratuitous Fox News clip on Kathy Griffin:

I'm hoping for an all-out battle between Kathy and OJ this week.

Week 2 of Griffin-Gate

The god of YouTube is almighty:

I didn't realize there was a bonus joke in there as well.

Fox News asks the important questions of William Donohue: Why is it ok to bash Jesus?

Funniest part of the segment: listening to the blow hard Donohue swear right after both he and the host refuse to say the word "suck"; proving once and for all that the best indignation is mock indignation.

Funniest byline: Where's the Outrage? Celebs mock Christianity.

Here's another Fox clip where they honestly say that Ms. Griffin is wrong because Jesus really did have a lot to do with her winning the award.

The Catholic League is still trying its darnedest to make this thing a scandal:
“Perhaps the most defining response came from Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists. In a news release, Johnson called for a boycott of the Emmy awards. Distraught that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a private organization, is choosing not to offend 85% of Americans by broadcasting an anti-Christian rant, Johnson wailed, ‘this is something I’d expect in a nation like Saudi Arabia or Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.’ Someone needs to give her a copy of the First Amendment—it protects our right to protest objectionable speech.

“Finally, while we are pleased to learn that Griffin’s celebrity stock has plummeted as a result of her scripted speech, we also know that there are some very sick people out there who love it every time some bigot takes a shot at Christianity. To wit: the phone calls and messages we’ve received are proof positive of how visceral the hatred is, much of it aimed directly at the Catholic League. No matter, at the end of the day, Griffin lost and we won.”

Kathy Griffin: For when the gospel just isn't good enough to put meat in the seats.

Finally, I'll call to your attention last week's SIOE protest in Belgium that was banned for fear of upsetting Islamic militants. Mr. Donohue and his fellow persons of faith truly know how to get what they want.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It Truly is a Holy Day

I woke up this morning, took the dogs out to vacate whatever it is they have to vacate, watched them terrorize a garden-killing rabbit for a few minutes, got them back in their crates, filled their bowls with food, put on a pot of coffee, powered up the computer, and quick-checked my fantasy football team before finally dialing up; hoping more than anyone has ever hoped before that she would not have written a Sunday column.

It worked!!! Since I was "praying" to my Casio keyboard (and since it came through in such a completely outstanding manner), I think I have found a new way to pass my time on Sundays.

However, in the spirit of truly filling Spotty's dog slippers, I feel compelled to dive head first into something written by Ms. Kersten. Off to her blog!!! Let's go with an oldie-but-goodie; today's episode: Mother Teresa's Dark Night of the Soul.

First, our Kersten proof:
1- Mother Teresa may be the most highly admired person of the 20th century.
2- Mother Teresa embodied the saintly virtues that people admire but find it hard to achieve.
3- Mother Teresa also was depressed; this depression caused her to doubt the existence of God.
4- Since doubt is the other side of faith, Mother Teresa had a profound faith because her doubt gave her faith meaning and value.
5- Mother Teresa's great faith may have been the result of her doubts.
A few important notes.

First, Kersten's post isn't the first to take the same title and approach and run with it.

Second, Mother Teresa didn't just have a bout of the doubts; she flat didn't believe.
In one letter to Father Michael van der Peet, a spiritual adviser and close confidant, Mother Teresa wrote: "Jesus has a very special love for you.

"But as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see - listen and do not hear - the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak.

"I want you to pray for me - that I let Him have a free hand."

Cheerful in public, despite the rigours of working among the poor and dying, she was in inner turmoil, saying her life was one of almost constant "torture" and "my smile is a mask - a cloak that covers everything".

"I spoke as if my heart was in love with God - tender, personal love," she wrote to another adviser, wondering if she was involved in "verbal deception" of the millions who followed her every act as proof of God's existence.
Other letters suggest that she didn't believe Christ was present in the Eucharist and that she didn't believe in heaven.

Finally, Mother Teresa's letters show a woman with clear emotional conflict and probable clinical depression. Ms. Kersten's reaction--that doubt is the result of the "dark" feelings, and that doubt itself is a sign of great spiritual importance--is the same reaction displayed by Mother Teresa's confessors. While Ms. Kersten didn't go to the exorcist extremes of the Archbishop of Calcutta (yes, you read that right; Mother Teresa had an exorcism), her take on the situation lies somewhere between general cruelty and sadism. Mother Teresa's pain and suffering do not exist for anyone else's benefit and/or spiritual entertainment. A doubting mind is not an abnormal condition or the result of disease. Mother Teresa did not die for someone else's sin of loving the darkness of an unprovable faith. The only original sin here is the one where people pretended that her inability to make the loose ends meet is proof that they really do. (And that you should recognize this inability as either pleasurable faith or crippling guilt when it is your turn at the crossroads.) This poor woman was used by the Roman Catholic church to win souls and put meat in the seats and she couldn't make it work; she couldn't make herself believe. Somehow, people like Ms. Kersten view this sad story as a magical virtue that confirms what lies at the heart of their faith: the doctrine of, in this case, the Catholic church. Maybe an eighth sacrament should be added: Disbelief as confirmation of belief.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I took away from reading this post, and from Googling several other similar posts, is the following quote from Dinesh D'Souza, author of the bat guano classic The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and It's Responsibility for 9/11. I have altered the quote a bit (a'la Mad Libs) to show you why I think it is so interesting (scroll over the blank spaces to see the original text):
The greatness of Mother Teresa is that even when she was deprived of the spiritual satisfactions of feeling God's presence in her life, she did not waver, she soldiered on. She was not deterred in her mission. And what she didn't have by way of feeling, she compensated for by way of will. In doing so, she teaches us all something about love: it is not merely a sentiment, to be set aside when feelings come and go, but rather a decision of the will. That she did what she did in exchange for the love of God is astounding enough. That she did it all even when this love was invisible to her—if this does not constitute saintliness, I don't know what does.
Here's how I read it:
The greatness of George Bush is that even when he was deprived of the evidence for going to war in Iraq, he did not waver, he soldiered on. He was not deterred in his mission. And what he didn't have by way of evidence, he compensated for by way of will. In doing so, he teaches us all something about leadership: it is not merely a sentiment, to be set aside when feelings come and go, but rather a decision of the will. That he did what he did in exchange for the scorn of those he leads is astounding enough. That he did it all even when this evidence was invisible to him—if this does not constitute presidential greatness, I don't know what does.
I think this pretty much sums up why any remaining Republican support of the man is creepy beyond all belief. It always has been. My next question would be to ask whether or not this type of support has anything to do with the type of religious faith of his supporters. Are certain people "programmed" in such a way to be more willing to accept this type of behavior in their leaders?