Saturday, January 08, 2005

Celebrity candidates, round 2

Six weeks ago, I wrote:

What we need to do, I think, is to consider casting the role of President.

Yep, I'm advocating that we give in utterly and completely to the triumph of style over substance and groom a figurehead that people will like and vote for.

A man, of course. White, of course, but vaguely ethnic would be good. (We're trying to get ourselves back into the game, and need every advantage we can get.) Someone not too liberal, of course, and without any history of radical politics behind them. Someone who mostly plays parts that are lovable or likable, or at least radiates "I'm a good guy" even when playing a bad one.

Not Rob Reiner -- someone with hair and in good physical shape. Doesn't have to be an "A" list star, could be someone on the "B" list, as long as their Q rating is pretty high, and they've got solid name recognition across all demographics (see Reagan for what may perhaps be the ideal level of stardom). No one too old (under 65), but not too young either (over 45, which a President has to be anyway).

The name that jumps to mind is, of course, Martin Sheen, but I think his playing a President on TV would be a distinct liability (in a way that making movies with monkeys was for Reagan), too easily the butt of late-night comic jokes. Warren Beatty and Robert Redford are probably too identified with liberal causes, but they're in the right ballpark as well.

In 2008, we can't allow another persona gap with the Republicans.

A couple of days ago, this appeared in Variety:

Dems need charisma

Moore urges party to embrace H'wood for '08


Michael Moore urged Democrats to hightail it to Hollywood, harness some star power and steer clear of "wonks" if they want to win the White House in 2008.

"When they run a rock star like Bill Clinton or a movie star like John Kennedy, they win. When they run the wonks, they lose. If I ever hear Evan Bayh ... ," Moore told a roomful of acolytes, including Faye Dunaway, Eli Wiesel, Nora Ephron, Tovah Feldshuh, James Toback, Jon Kilik and IFC Entertainment prexy Jonathan Sehring. He spoke at a lunch in Gotham after the New York Film Critics Circle named his Bush-bashing "Fahrenheit 9/11" best docu of the year.

"Who is our Arnold," he asked, and "when are we going to stop being embarrassed to ask this question?"

The Democrats, he said, must embrace Hollywood -- run to it. Dems, he griped, unlike Republicans, "don't know how to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. ... Republicans love Hollywood (and) they have the best scripts and the best sets" -- like President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch.

Moore insists America loves celebrities and actors and will vote for them whenever they have the chance -- it almost doesn't matter who (Arnold, Regan, Gopher on "Love Boat," Sony Bono, Fred Thompson) -- or, he joked, "how many naked pictures there are of them groping women."

Moore has suggested Oprah Winfrey as a candidate. He mentioned Caroline Kennedy. If not, he said, "I always ask the question, who wouldn't go for Tom Hanks? Everyone knows Tom Hanks won't set policy, just as Bush doesn't set policy.

"Don't listen to pundits saying Americans hate Hollywood. Like Hollywood opens a movie, we need to open a candidate next time around."

Given some of the opinions he's expressed, I'm not certain that having Michael Moore agree with you means much of anything, but on the other hand, Moore is an excellent propagandist who knows whereof he speaks when it comes to persuading people (even if he, like all of us on this side of the divide, lost the election). When he talks about what it takes to get to people, perhaps it's worthwhile giving some credence to what he says. (That it happens to be what I said is, of course, totally irrelevant.)

Round 2.5 The editors of Washington Monthly look at 13 unusual possible Democratic candidates, including such celebrities as Tom Hanks (everyone's favorite exemplar), Bill Cosby, Lance Armstrong and Tom Brokaw.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/08/2005 03:46:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, January 07, 2005

Quotes for today

There are few things more dangerous than a mixture of power, arrogance and incompetence. In the Bush administration, that mixture has been explosive.
Bob Herbert
"Promoting Torture's Promoter"
New York Times (1/7/2005)

People who are especially bad, and know that they are ... may be drawn to religion because they harbor a desperate hope that it has some power to make them virtuous -- to name their demons and to cast them out. But if they are ... clever ... they can find ways to pervert their own faith, and make it serve whatever bad intentions they had to begin with.
Neal Stephenson
Quicksilver (2003)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/07/2005 04:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Back to work

Just a note to say that later today I'll be going into rehearsal for my next project (a short workshop of The Me Nobody Knows prior to a possible future Broadway revival), so my volume of posting will probably fall off a bit.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/07/2005 03:56:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, January 06, 2005

No constraints

Digby again. The guy's good. Here, he quotes himself:

This is the big story of the second term. Bush himself is now completely in charge. He did what his old man couldn't do. He has been freed of all constraints, all humility and all sense of proportion. Nobody can run him, not Cheney, not Condi, not Card. He has a sense of his power that he didn't have before. You can see it. From now on nobody can tell him nothin. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, doesn't it?

Yep. All we can hope is that it provides the rope we need, and that the miniscule nicks we can see in the obliviousness of the American press corps are a harbinger of their taking again their necessary role as a countervailing political and social force, and that the Democrats will reconcile themselves to their essential powerlessness within the system and take their necessary role as the opposition party and start to really oppose Bush in ways that make sense.

We're going to need all these parts: Bush overreach, Democratic opposition and journalistic muckraking if there's any chance that we're going to survive the next four years and come out with a country that's anything like the one we went in with four years ago. Without them, we may as well resign ourselves to another couple of decades of neo-Gilded Age social deconstruction, corporatist hegemony and increasing isolation from the rest of the world (not to mention the continued loss of power and influence in the world).

But, hell, maybe I'm wrong, maybe everything will be hunkey-dorey under the guidance of our dear leader.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/06/2005 03:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Is Bush heartsick?

Not a question about his lovelife, or his moral sensitivity -- Eliot Gelwan has the run down on a site that speculates that Bush may suffer from atrial fibrillation, and that the mysterious bulges seen in his suit during the debates wasn't machinery for feeding him answers, but was instead a wearable defibrillator meant to help keep him alive.

Update: Eliot writes, in comments:

But the more interesting implication of his having atrial fibrillation is the possibility it is contributing to a vascular dementia, i.e. cognitive impairments, which are being concealed from the people whose fate he holds in his hands.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/06/2005 02:21:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Making the switch possible

[Given some of the information I've posted in the updates below, this should probably be more appropriately titled "Making It Possible". -- Ed]

With the Republican party having shored up its power and control of the Federal government, the radical conservatives who run the party will need less and less to cede any power or influence to the small number of moderate GOP officials among them, who are mostly concentrated in the Northeast. Because the right has a firmer majority to work with, it'll be less often that they need the votes of the moderates, and those folks are bound to become disheartened by being constantly slapped aside.

When that happens, there's the potential for some of them to make the switch that's natural, one that I've been astounded for years hasn't occured to more of them sooner, and change to the Democratic party. Doing so would certainly present a significant opportunity to break the back of the conservative stronghold on American politics that's now in effect. It's surely a long shot, but it's one we shouldn't overlook the potential of.

Kos is right when he writes that "[M]oderate GOPs -- those creatures who are pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-gay rights, and supportive of fiscal sanity -- have a more natural home in the modern Democratic Party," but the thing is, they're never going to be tempted to make the move if, in an effort to reform the party, it moves too far to the left for them to be comfortable inside of it. Then could happen if we concentrate too much on ideological reform instead of structural, procedural, operational and personnell reform.

Right now, the party is a liberal center-left coalition that's primairly dedicated to progressive policies, but (collectively) in a moderate way. It's also, as we saw again to our sorrow, a party that loses close elections. This is the problem to be solved. If, in an overreaction to losing the election, and anger at the perfidy of some of the "centrists" in the party (like some folks connected with the DLC), the party lurches to the left (which is where my own personal politics lie), it will become a party that loses elections by much larger amounts, because there just aren't enough people of the liberal persuasion out there who are not already in some way attached to the party, nevermind how loosely. (That self-identified conservatives outnumber self-ID'ed liberals is not an insignificant thing, it puts us some steps behind the starting line at the very beginning of the race.)

This is why I've been opposed to significant ideological tinkering as part of the reform effort. I opposed it when jettisoning the right to choose and gun control were proposed, eliminating long-held liberal values, and I opposed it when dropping support for the so-called "war on terror" was proposed, pushing the party closer to a completely pacifist stance. Neither of these ideas were worthwhile considering, because when it comes down to it, it's not our policies and programs that are at fault, it's our politicians, procedures and presentation.

I'm not suggesting that we "move to the center" or "lurch to the right" or become "lite Republicans" or give in to the DLC's corporatist agenda, I merely think we need to work on what's broken first, and win some elections, before we start tinkering with the ideology of the party. Any effort to narrow it down, either by dropping long-held liberal values or focusing too tightly on the views of a small segment of the coalition, are going to hurt us in the end, because the numbers just aren't there to support those moves. I think that Chris Bowers was right when he proposed opening up the coalition, and wrong when his proposals would constrict it.

Update: Publius on what kind of reform the party needs: the ability to inspire.

(See also my plea for a "return to Capra", which effectively means a return to populism -- the good kind -- and the "language of upward mobility and opportunity" that Publius refers to.)

Update: Digby:

Let's not kid ourselves about the base of the Republican party, the dittoheads, the alleged Christian Right. A vast number of them are primitive tribalists at best and racists at worst. There have always been many Americans who are racists and many of those have always been and remain very political. It is part of our national psyche. They are now fully sewn into the fabric of the Republican party's big tent (as they once were the Democrats') and they wield considerable clout.

Right, and since those people are now part of the core of the GOP, it's our job to steal people away from what has now become its powerless periphery, and in this way create a more powerful and coherent coalition of rationalists motivated by the very best in human values, not by the worst.

Update: Thanks to my friend Shirley, here's a link to an article in The Economist about the decline of meritocratic upward mobility in America:

Whatever happened to the belief that any American could get to the top?

THE United States likes to think of itself as the very embodiment of meritocracy: a country where people are judged on their individual abilities rather than their family connections. The original colonies were settled by refugees from a Europe in which the restrictions on social mobility were woven into the fabric of the state, and the American revolution was partly a revolt against feudalism. From the outset, Americans believed that equality of opportunity gave them an edge over the Old World, freeing them from debilitating snobberies and at the same time enabling everyone to benefit from the abilities of the entire population. They still do.

To be sure, America has often betrayed its fine ideals. The Founding Fathers did not admit women or blacks to their meritocratic republic. The country's elites have repeatedly flirted with the aristocratic principle, whether among the brahmins of Boston or, more flagrantly, the rural ruling class in the South. Yet America has repeatedly succeeded in living up to its best self, and today most Americans believe that their country still does a reasonable job of providing opportunities for everybody, including blacks and women. In Europe, majorities of people in every country except Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia believe that forces beyond their personal control determine their success. In America only 32% take such a fatalistic view.

But are they right? A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.

The past couple of decades have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, argues that between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%—and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth.

Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack.

Most Americans see nothing wrong with inequality of income so long as it comes with plenty of social mobility: it is simply the price paid for a dynamic economy. But the new rise in inequality does not seem to have come with a commensurate rise in mobility. There may even have been a fall.


Ed Fitzgerald | 1/04/2005 10:08:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The same fight, over and over again

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Theodosius Dobzhansky

From Robert Parks' "What's New" newsletter:


It's been 145 years since Darwin published Origin of Species, perhaps the world's greatest scientific discovery. No other idea has connected so many pieces of knowledge. It's now 80 years since the Scopes trial. If any doubts about evolution remain, you might suppose that DNA analysis would sweep them away. We can now measure how closely we are related to every creature on Earth. We share half our DNA with yeast. So genetically similar are bonobos to humans that, but for the inability of bonobos to talk, they might demand a seat in the UN. Yet, in Dover, PA, a town much like Dayton, TN, the school board voted to require that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution. The school board will lose in court, but we must ask ourselves why science has been so spectacularly unsuccessful in explaining such obvious truths to people.

This should be construed as yet another warning that it's vitally important for liberals, progressives, skeptics and rationalists of all kinds to get involved in politics on a local level. The conservative revolution drew considerable power from the influx of fundamentalists onto local school boards, and the progressive correction isn't going to happen unless we do the same now.

It's not going to be enough to reform the Democratic party at the top, or to concentrate on Presidential candidates, Senators or even electing people to the House. "Netroots" has to translate as well into local activism, fielding personable, non-confrontational, electable candidates in races for local offices, school boards, town councils and county legislatures.

Local background on the Dover controversy here, here and here. Coverage from The Panda's Thumb is Googled here, and from Chris Mooney's blog here.

Update: Digby links to an article about a soon-to-be-opened Museum of Creation in Kentucky, containing exhibits showing dinosaurs and men living together, and the creation of the Grand Canyon by The Flood.

Ignorance marches on, and proudly.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/04/2005 08:57:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


5,000 Americans missing?

This Australian news story seems pretty incredible:

Americans unaccounted for
From correspondents in Bangkok
January 4, 2005

AS MANY as 5000 Americans are still unaccounted for a week after the world's deadliest tsunami pounded a dozen countries across the Indian Ocean, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said today.

Mr Powell told reporters aboard his plane en route to Bangkok that the confirmed toll of Americans still stood at 15 with a defence department worker listed as missing.

"The number of private citizens or citizens unaccounted for still lingers around 4-5000," he said, adding the figure was based on phone calls from relatives or friends inquiring about their whereabouts.

Mr Powell said this did not mean they were necessarily casualties in the catastrophe.

But he added: "We can't ignore the very distinct possibility that there are Americans within this number who have lost their lives. We just don't know that".

[via Digby and Seeing the Forest]

Just a remiinder that the official New York 9/11 death toll is 2,752.

Update: Link fixed.

Update (1/5): AP reports that the official count is 36 Americans dead, but an additional 3,500 are not accounted for. I have to wonder how many of those are missing (i.e. it's known they were at the scene but they cannot be found, and should therefore, 10 days later, be presumed to be dead) and how many are truly unaccounted for (they were in the country at the time but may have gotten out, etc.).

There's also this background information on tsunamis from the New York Times.

The devastating tsunamis created Dec. 26 by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that killed as many as 150,000 people on the shores of the Indian Ocean caught the world off guard, including most tsunami experts.

"Here is something that we didn't foresee," said Dr. Costas E. Synolakis, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Synolakis said that experts would now take a closer look at the Indian Ocean and that he expected that they would find geological evidence of earlier tsunamis, which would allow scientists to estimate how often they occur. "We're going to have a much better idea of what the hazard is," he said, "because right now we don't know."


Videos captured of the tsunami seemed to pale next to the cataclysmic imaginings of Hollywood movies, but "looking at the videos, you would be fooled," said Dr. Synolakis of U.S.C.

For one, those who tried to videotape more imposing waves might not have survived. But also, unlike an ordinary wave, which quickly dissipates and rolls back out, a tsunami is a long sheet of water. "Behind the wave is a change in sea level coming in," Dr. Synolakis said. "The wave is coming and coming and coming. A three- or four-meter tsunami can be quite devastating."

One cubic yard of water weighs nearly a ton, and tsunamis come ashore at speeds of about 30 miles an hour. An oncoming tsunami can hit a building with millions of pounds of force, said Dr. Peter E. Raad, a professor of mechanical engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"And that's before you put anything in the water," he said.

Trees, automobiles and pieces of concrete all become lethal projectiles as they are swept along by the rushing water.


Tsunamis caused by underwater landslides can be even more destructive. In 1998, seismologists were surprised when a modest magnitude 7.0 earthquake off Papua New Guinea was followed by a 30-foot-high tsunami that killed more than 2,100 people. The earthquake, it turned out, had caused nearly a cubic mile of sediment to give way.

Three-dimensional maps of the bottom of California's Monterey Bay show several sections that have given way - and others that have cracked and may collapse in the future. Some scientists have suggested that the outer edge of the East Coast's continental shelf is also prone to cave-ins.

Others, including Dr. Steven N. Ward of the University of California, Santa Cruz, have warned that the volcano Cumbre Vieja in the Canary Islands off northwestern Africa could be nearing one of its periodic collapses. As the volcano grows through eruptions, the sides become unstable and eventually fall into the ocean. During the last eruption in 1949, a two-mile-long crack opened up and one side of the volcano slid 10 feet.

"Geologically, we're getting close to the end," Dr. Ward said. "It's really the cycle of life for these volcanoes. They grow too big, they collapse."

In Dr. Ward's computer models, when Cumbre Vieja collapses - and that may not happen for hundreds of thousands of years - about 100 cubic miles of rock will slide into the ocean at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour, and the splash will generate tsunamis 300 feet high crashing into the northwestern coast of Africa. Waves 40 feet high will reach New York. Other scientists have pointed out that such catastrophic landslides are very rare - Cumbre Vieja last collapsed 500,000 years ago - and that there is no geologic evidence of such mega-tsunami in the past. They suggest that the landslides will not accelerate quickly enough to produce the waves Dr. Ward envisions.

[via Follow Me Here]


Coincidentally, one of the cable channels on my system (The Science Channel, I believe, although it might have been The Discovery Channel) ran a program on the landslide-created mega-tsunami theory just a week or so before the Indian Ocean event.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/04/2005 01:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


On the flip side

Mark Durrenberger, of Non Sequitur ("Lately, I've been asking more questions than I've been answering. This suits me fine."), would like me to answer my own post giving 5 reasons why 2004 was a bad year with one naming "5 good things that happened this year (to you)."

I'm game, I'll give it a try, but, frankly, I'm going to have to give it some thought (it's been that kind of a year).

Later for this.

Update (1/4): While I was mulling this over, Mark sent me some suggestions, which I think are pretty darn good:

  • You got to spend more time in bed this year. (because of the heart attack)

  • You got to see your wife regularly (because she wasn't working too much)

  • You survived a heart attack.

  • You have at least one new blog reader (me)

  • You motivated at least one new blogger (me again - with your electoral vote tracking)

  • You did a great job compiling the electoral vote predictions from around the web. (A thoroughly professional site!)

That's a great job of looking at the bright side -- I think I need to work a bit harder at it. Thanks, Mark.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/04/2005 01:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, January 03, 2005

No fraud, just utterly depressing

Too many of my recent posts have been of the form "So-and-so is exactly right" or "nails it" and "gets it," followed by a lengthy excerpt -- but here's another one anyway: I agree totally with Kos's take on the half-baked theories about fraud in Ohio throwing the election to Bush:

Us liberal bloggers like to brag that we live in the "reality-based community". It's kind of hard to be reality-based when people are claiming that Kerry won with no hard evidence to the contrary. Was there fraud? Sure. There always has been. Was the GOP ready to steal the election if necessary? No doubt. But they didn't have to steal this one. This wasn't 2000. Bush rode his fucked up war to victory, whether we like it or not. History will judge us right, but until then, we're stuck with the results.

Now, I was open minded at first, letting the fraudsters do the analysis, ready to pounce if the smoking gun was found. But after myriad diaries crying wolf, claiming that this was the evidence to seal the deal, well, it got old. Then it got counterproductive, then it got embarrassing.

All the crying wolf is hurting the cause for electoral reform. This has been painted as a partisan issue pushed forth by wacko liberals who think Kerry won the election when Bush won. What do we need?

  • Extend election day to at least a week. Keep ALL polls open during that time, not just a few at county HQ.

  • Get rid of partisan election officials. A more ridiculous and inherently unfair system can never exist. It is the King of Conflicts of Interests.

  • Implement a national standard for voting and fund it.

  • Get rid of touch screen voting machines. A paper trail is useless, as a machine could easily be programmed to cast the vote for candidate A, while printing a receipt with candidate B's name on it.

  • Select optical scan machines. The technology allows for quick tabulation of the votes, while retaining a paper trail for random audits and full recounts.

  • All precincts that reported lines longer than one hour should be required to add voting machines before the next election.

  • The pitiful state of voting infrastructure in poor and minority areas is literally criminal, and redress should be sought both in the legislatures and in the courts.

  • Ditch the electoral college.

And so on. That's just stuff off the top of my head. These are all non-partisan issues. But the Ohio Fraudsters have not just made the issue highly partisan, but they have cried wolf so many times that it's easy for opponents to dismiss ALL of these issues.


...[T]he fraudsters have had two months to make the case that Kerry won the election and have failed to do so.

If we want to talk fraud, then by all means, do so. Reform? The system obviously needs it. But "Kerry won" nonsense? I'm sick of it. ...

George Bush won. It may not have been "fair and square", not when you run a campaign based on lying about your opponent's record, but he did get more votes than our guy, both in the popular column, and in the Electoral College. We hate it. it sucks. But it's reality.

I've been saying this fairly consistently since shortly after I got over the shock of the election results, that I'm willing to look at any evidence of fraud at levels significant enough to have been determinative, but no such sufficient evidence has ever been brought forward.

I think I understand why it's happening -- it's fairly natural to look towards misdeeds in a Bush win considering that's precisely how he obtained the White House in the first place, but it's usually best to look at the evidence and then reach a conclusion about it rather than gathering your evidence with the conclusion already in mind. If we didn't know that already, it should have been made obvious when the Bush White House did precisely that in the run up to the Iraq invasion.

But more than unwillingness to apply the scientific method (which can feel unnatural to people who aren't used to it), I think another factor is a disinclination to look at what the results of the election tell us about a sizable portion of our fellow citizens -- that they are able to make a very bad decision about an extremely important matter, and are, apparently, immune to rational arguments, the facts and figures which support them, and the evidence of their own senses. They prefer, I guess, to vote on the basis of their preconceptions (also known as "ideology") their prejudices, and, most of all, their fears, and enough of them did so to put us in the pickle we're heading into for the next four years.

As long as folks can choose to believe that Bush won through fraud, they don't have to face a much more awful reality: that many of the people who share our destiny with us are just not very good at being aware and intelligent citizens. That's one of the drawbacks of democracy, which is not a perfect system, just better than any other that's come up.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/03/2005 11:10:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Iraq: The bumpersticker


Ed Fitzgerald | 1/03/2005 10:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Perks of the job

Another mark against Clarence Thomas, from the L.A. Times:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts since joining the high court, including $1,200 worth of tires, valuable historical items and a $5,000 personal check to help pay a relative's education expenses.

The gifts also included a Bible once owned by the 19th century author and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, which Thomas valued at $19,000, and a bust of President Lincoln valued at $15,000.

He also took a free trip aboard a private jet to the exclusive Bohemian Grove club in Northern California — arranged by a wealthy Texas real estate investor who helped run an advocacy group that filed briefs with the Supreme Court.

Those and other gifts were disclosed by Thomas under a 1978 federal ethics law that requires high-ranking government officials, including the nine Supreme Court justices, to file a report each year that lists gifts, money and other items they have received.

Thomas has reported accepting much more valuable gifts than his Supreme Court colleagues over the last six years, according to their disclosure forms on file at the court.

The Ethics in Government Act of 1989 prohibits all federal employees, including the justices, from accepting "anything of value" from a person with official business before them. However, under the rules that the federal judicial system adopted to implement that law, judges are free to accept gifts of unlimited value from people without official business before the court.


The Times reviewed the disclosures of all nine justices for the years 1998 through 2003, the only period of time for which disclosure forms were still on file at the court. They reported receiving cash, which they usually gave to charity, but kept or used various valuable items, mementos and club memberships.

In that six-year period, Thomas accepted $42,200 in gifts, making him the top recipient.

Next in that period was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who accepted $5,825 in gifts, mostly small crystal figurines and other items. She also reported an $18,000 award in 2003 from the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, but listed it as income. The money was for the society's Benjamin Franklin Award for Distinguished Public Service. She gave other cash awards to charity.

Third was Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who accepted a $5,000-award from Fordham University — the only gift he reported for the six-year period.

In addition, The Times obtained a full set of disclosure forms for Thomas' 13-year tenure on the court, as well as forms dating to 1992 from Justice Antonin Scalia, 1993 for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 1996 for O'Connor. (The official disclosure forms are removed from the public file after six years.)

Since joining the court, Thomas reported accepting gifts valued at $47,745. He also reported other gifts without citing a dollar value, ranging from "small gifts and flowers" to free plane trips and accommodations from friends.

Ginsburg has received a number of large monetary awards since joining the court in 1993, which she reported giving to charity. In 1996 she received $100,000 from the philanthropic Kaul Foundation and distributed the money among 26 charities and nonprofit organizations, including law schools, women's organizations and theatrical companies.

Justices earned $194,300 this year and will get $199,200 in 2005, modest compared with some private-sector lawyers. They are permitted to earn as much as $23,000 more through outside activities, such as teaching.

But membership on the court offers perks in addition to the prestige and power unique to the role of the high court.

[Thanks to Shirley]

I'm at a loss to understand why Justice of the Supreme Court are allowed to accept any gifts from anybody, since every American is potentially someone who might have business before the Supreme Court.

It's not as if we don't pay these guys decent salaries. They're not sky-high by today's standards, but there're not chicken feed either, and if they can't live on what they're paid, perhaps they ought to take the advice often thrown out at the poor and give up their hobbies and pleasures in order to afford to put food on the table.

(One of the little noted drawbacks of over the top CEO compensation is that it puts subtle pressure on high government officials, like the President and members of the Senate, to push to have their salaries increased. These people think of themselves as being among the movers and shakers of the world, just like those business leaders, and want to be compensated in a similar manner. As CEO salaries and perks go up, HGO salaries get pushed up as well.)

Once again, by accepting gifts with a monetary value 8 times that of any other Justice, Thomas has confirmed that he is, indeed, an embarrassment to this nation.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/03/2005 08:58:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Not a very good year, overall

My top 5 personal reasons why 2004 sucked, big time.

5. Bush won.

4. I had a heart attack, at the ripe old age of 50.

3. My wife spent a good part of the year unemployed.

2. My Dad died, from Alzheimer's disease.

1. Bush won.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/03/2005 04:53:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Unchristian behavior

Via Eliot Gelwan's Follow Me Here weblog, Bill Berkowitz points out a strange lack of compassion from prominent fundamentalist Christian organizations:

It took President Bush three days to ready himself to go before the television cameras and make a public statement about Sunday's devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck southern Asia. Even though he was late, and much more money will be needed, the president pledged at least $35 million in aid to the victims of the disaster. But, as of December 30, some of the president's major family-values constituents have yet to be heard from: It's business as usual at the web sites of the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and the Coral Ridge Ministries.

These powerful and well-funded political Christian fundamentalist organizations appear to be suffering from a compassion deficit. Organizations which are amazingly quick to organize to fight against same-sex marriage, a woman's right to choose, and embryonic stem cell research are missing in action when it comes to responding to the disaster in southern Asia. None of their web sites are actively soliciting aid for the victims of the earthquake/tsunami.

In fact, there is no mention of the giant earthquake and tsunami that devastated southern Asia. There are no headlines about the dead, injured or the tremendous damage; there are no urgent appeals for donations; there are no phone numbers to call; there are no links to organizations collecting money and providing aid for the victims.


The web sites of the same organizations that organized a campaign to block Arlen Specter from ascending to the chairmanship of Senate Judiciary Committee within hours of his post-election night warning to President Bush about radically conservative judicial nominees are now silent.

Digby gets it: what we're seeing here is a manifestation of a "lack of basic human decency" on the part of these people.

A reminder to please give what you can.

Update (1/4): AMERICAblog looks at websites of the "religious left" and sees a distinct difference.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/02/2005 11:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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Ed Fitzgerald | 1/02/2005 06:03:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Why we're losing the war

Stewart Nusbaumer, editor of Intervention magazine, who started Veterans Against the Iraq War, wrote recently:

Like the Vietnamese, the Iraqis will not fight a war that allows U.S. war technology to be effective; and the U.S. is incapable of defeating the Iraqis because its counterinsurgency warfare is ineffective. So the war will drag on. But the Iraqis understand that they do not have to win the war against the United States, merely not lose the war. They have learned to stay clear of the overwhelming firepower of the U.S. military and to survive another day, another month, another year.

[Thanks to Breeze]

OK, this is exactly right, and points out something that we all should be wary of. The US is losing the war in Iraq not because the policy choice of invading Iraq was bad (which, under the circumstances, it was), but because the way it has chosen to wage the war is bad. That is, we're not losing because we're fighting an unjustified and immoral war, we're losing because we're fighting that war (whatever its moral status) poorly.

Some people get this mixed up, I think, and tend to think (or at least speak and write as if it should be taken for granted) that the unjustness of the war is the reason we're not winning it, but that's merely a inverted variation on the "God is on our side" argument, i.e. the one that says we can't lose because God supports us (and God, obviously, wouldn't support an immoral war, so therefore the war must be moral).

The moral and ethical status of a war has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one wins or not, until one reaches the point where necessary resources are denied to the armed forces by a disapproving society -- and even then it's the people's response to the immorality which is the cause, not the immorality itself.

The brutal fact is that if you've got the manpower, and the material, and the right strategy and adequate tactics, you will win your war whether it's a good war or not. Unfotunately for us, we went into this conflict without everything we needed, a fact that became apparent upon the fall of Baghdad, when we didn't have the troops necessary to stop the looting there.

(I suppose you could make an argument that if a country, or that country's leader, is so full of hubris that it launches into an unjust and unjustified war, that would naturally lead to an inadequacy of the resources necessary to win, but while that may be empirically true in this case, I don't see that it's necessarily true in all cases -- and, certainly, the inverse isn't true at all: the planning for war could well have been superior even if the errant decision to make war was taken humbly.)

Postscript: A correspondant objected that, at least in modern times, it's rare for foeign invaders to win. My response:

Perhaps so, but not for reasons of the morality or justness of their action -- it's because it's tremendously difficult, in general, for a conventional force to win against an unconventional one (an insurgency or a guerilla operation) which has the support of the indinginous population. So, once again, it's not rightness or morality which is the determinative factor, it's a question of circumstances, operations, strategy and tactics, and that was my point. The locals don't win because they've got God on their side, or they're more moral, or whatever, they win because they're the locals and that gives them an advantage.

It's also worth pondering that the reason they have an advantage is that in modern times, countries are very, very aware of the international response to their actions. They may publicly disdain it or try to ignore it, but they do continue to care about what people think about what they're doing. This holds them back from fully committing themselves to a scorched earth policy and a regime of absolute repression under which they would have a much better chance of suppressing an uprising or insurgency.

It is, in fact, the very commitment of the modern state to some minimal vestige of moral responsibility which gives an insurgency their strongest weapon in an asymmentrical war. It is this that makes it unnecessary for them to "win" in military terms, in order to, eventually, win in political terms. Countries (mostly) don't go around invading each other for the purpose of taking them over entirely, as once was the case, it's now more a matter of dealing with specific situations and then withdrawing as soon as possible.

More (1/3): In response to another correspondant:

Consider this gedankenexperiment: Make believe, for the moment, that Bush's "evidence" turned out to be true, that there were indeed biological and chemical WMDs and a burgeoning nuclear program in Iraq. Suppose also that it turns out that Saddam was indeed an imminent threat to us, that he planned on attacking us quite soon.

All these facts would mean that the invasion was indeed justified and that the war was arguably just and moral. However, as part of this hypothetical, also assume that everything about the invasion went precisely the way it did in real life: the same manpower levels, the same shock and awe, the same inability to protect the infrastructure of Iraq from looting, the lack of planning for the post-invasion period etc. etc.

If everything happened just the way it did, except that we found WMDs which Saddam intended to use, it's intuitively obvious that we'd still be facing the same kind of insurgency, and the same amount of hatred from the populace. Those things were engendered by the fact of the invasion and by the way it was done, and changing the moral quality of it wouldn't change that response from the Iraqis who are involved in the insurgency. (It would make a difference to the Western world, of course, and we might therefore have more willing help in keeping things under control and getting the security situation stabilized, but it wouldn't change the depth of the feelings of the people who are involved in fighting us.)

So, there's my point again, that the reason we're losing the war isn't because it's a bad war (which it is), it's because it's a bad war waged badly.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/02/2005 01:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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