Senators of both parties said Thursday that Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's choice for the Supreme Court, had told them he believed the court might have gone too far in separating church and state.
Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that Thursday in a private meeting Judge Alito expressed empathy for "the impression that the court's decisions were incoherent in this area of the law in a way that really gives the impression of hostility to religious speech and religious expression."
Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, said after his own meeting with the judge that he, too, was "very satisfied" that Judge Alito had said he believed the court had erred by going too far in prohibiting government support for religion at the risk of hampering individual expression of religion.
"He indicated that people have a right, a very distinct right, to express their religious views," Mr. Byrd said.
Although the senators said Judge Alito had not told them how he would rule in specific cases, their comments were the first indication of his views concerning one of the most contentious issues before the court.
Many liberals and religious minorities view the court's jurisprudence on separation of church and state over the last 50 years as a bedrock principle of American life. But anger over the court's rulings against school prayer, government displays of the Ten Commandments and other public forms of religious expression also played a major role in the birth of a conservative Christian political movement.
Nice to see where Alito's head is on this. In fact, you can't conceivably have enough separation between the state and religion -- ask the Puritans. It really ought to be as absolute as possible, given the practical realities of conflicting interests, but the Supreme Court and the Bush administration have been chipping away at that wall for years now, and the last thing we need is more weight on the chisel.
Yet another reason that Alito should be filibustered -- and whoever is nominated after him, if they hold the same views.
During his stretch on the 3rd U.S. Circuit of Appeals, Alito issued two rulings that saved government-sponsored religious displays from constitutional challenges.
Alito also wrote the majority opinion in a case forcing a New Jersey public school district to allow Child Evangelism Fellowship to use school resources to disseminate its religious material to students. The judge also joined a dissenting opinion in a case that invalidated a public school policy permitting students to vote on whether to have prayer at graduation ceremonies. Alito would have allowed majority rule on prayer.
In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down organized prayer at public school-sponsored football games in a case called Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe., Cornyn told The Times that he discussed the Santa Fe ruling with Alito and that the judge “did commiserate with me a little bit. I hope that he will be able to give the United States Supreme Court’s ruling some coherence, because frankly they are way out of step with what the founding fathers intended.”
High court nominees are usually very reluctant to discuss specific cases during the confirmation process. That Alito did so could be a sign that he is a far-right judicial activist eager to overturn decades of settled church-state law.
These unnerving insights into Alito’s judicial thinking should give all defenders of separation of church and state pause. They only add to a growing concern that the Bush administration’s goal is to tilt the high court sharply to the right. That process could take a great leap forward with confirmation of Samuel Alito to a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.
Many important cases in recent years have been decided by just one or two votes, often with Justice O’Connor casting a decisive vote to uphold critical rights and liberties. Confirming additional far-right judicial activists like Samuel Alito to the Court would threaten hundreds of Supreme Court decisions that protect privacy, civil rights, religious liberty, reproductive choice, clean air and water, worker rights, consumer safety, educational opportunity, and much more.
Most churches in American realize that keeping the government and religion separate is for their benefit, since it allows the free practice of all religions without interference, and without needing to compete with a state-sponsored entity that would, inevitably, have an advantage. Unfortunately, the fundamentalist right and their Federalist Society buddies are convinced they can ride that tiger and have their religion come out on top, so they don't shy away from the fight -- in fact, they relish it.
To the extent that Alito, presumably from entirely different motivations, would help the fundies to win that fight, he's dangerous and his nomination must be stopped.
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
John F. Kennedy Commencement address, Yale University, New Haven, Conn. (6/11/1962)
Chris Mooney has a good review, on the CSICOP site, of a new book about alien abductions:
Scores of "nonfiction" books, pseudo-documentaries, movies, and television programs notwithstanding, there is no good evidence to support claims that scores of Americans are regularly being kidnapped from their beds at night by alien beings. That's the conclusion anyone applying a rigorous scientific methodology to such claims must reach--and it's the conclusion of Harvard researcher Susan Clancy, who has studied alleged "abductees" in detail. But in her humane and funny memoir Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (Harvard University Press, 2005), Clancy doesn't simply pose as another debunker. Discounting the factual validity of abduction claims is, for her, just the first step in a deeper and much more meaningful inquiry--the attempt to understand how it's possible for ordinary people to actually believe something so outlandish in the first place. It's here that Clancy not only demystifies a baffling cultural phenomenon, but also delivers insights into human nature itself.
In Clancy's account, a number of separate factors help set the stage for a transition into full-fledged abductee-hood. The first is the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, the widely prevalent but little understood condition in which REM sleep--the phase in which most dreaming occurs--simply malfunctions. Our bodies are paralyzed while we undergo REM sleep, and for good reason (lest we act out our dreams and injure ourselves). But in some small number of cases we can actually start to wake up before paralysis wears off, and yet still remain in a dreaming state.
What results is hallucination, often of some extremely scary stuff. In sleep paralysis you wake up in bed, feel paralyzed, and tend to sense a terrifying presence in your room. Sometimes you see something; sometimes you hear noises or even feel electrical shocks throughout your body. From alien abductee accounts, it is quite clear that many of these individuals have not only experienced sleep paralysis, but hallucinated terrifying alien visitations.
But sleep paralysis, alone, cannot fully explain how to grow an ordinary everyday American into an "abductee." Clancy herself has experienced sleep paralysis (so has this reviewer), but neither of us claim that aliens dropped by our beds one night for a little light probing. The next step in the initiation into abductee-hood comes when the individual who has experienced a bout of sleep paralysis goes searching for an explanation of what happened--an internally satisfying way of rationalizing a shocking experience.
At this point the abductee-in-training may be rescued by someone who can explain sleep paralysis. Or, he or she may instead fall prey to the "cultural script" of alien abduction, a narrative that is extremely prevalent in the national media and consciousness, and constantly being reinforced. In a helpful chapter, Clancy delves into explaining where this script comes from, showing that mass abduction claims have always come after media treatments of alleged abductions, whether in movies, pseudo-documentaries, or "nonfiction" books. It's a case study in the power of suggestion at work.
But sleep paralysis and the abduction "script" don't adequately explain how so many Americans can have such wacky beliefs. Clancy has to go further, because abductees themselves do. In their quest to understand what has befallen them--and often already suspecting alien abduction--many go out and get themselves hypnotized, whereupon they proceed to "remember" much more detail about their alleged visitors.
The trouble is, hypnosis isn't a reliable way of recovering memories. Rather, it's a great way of getting false memories planted by a suggestive hypnotist or therapist, who may already be a believer in alien abduction and asking leading questions. These false memories seem extraordinarily real; indeed, Clancy and colleagues have found that in recalling their traumatic "experiences," alien abductees feel powerful emotions not unlike those of war veterans.
And it's not just hypnosis that prompts false abduction claims. It's also the people being hypnotized. Clancy's research shows that alleged alien abductees are more likely than the general population to be fantasy prone; i.e., they have "fertile imaginations, day-dream a lot, and report very rich visual imagery." Such characteristics make abductees unusually susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Meanwhile, and relatedly, abductees are also more prone to create false memories to begin with. Shown a list of words--"sour," "candy," "sugar," "bitter"--they were more likely than other subjects to falsely remember that a related word ("sweet") had also been on the list.
By this point in Abducted, Clancy has woven together an impressive array of interlocking factors--sleep paralysis, the cultural script of alien abduction, hypnosis, fantasy proneness, a proclivity to create false memories--that have considerable explanatory power when it comes to accounting for the phenomenon of alien "abduction" in modern America. But she still isn't satisfied. For as she notes in a crucial passage,
….this analysis is still insufficient for an understanding of the phenomenon. As the abductees themselves would say, "If you're telling me it didn't happen to me, that I made it up, why in God's name would I want to?"
Why indeed? [...] [I]t turns out there's a very obvious reason why abductees would want to make all this stuff up. They're getting something very profound out of it. It's not just media attention; it's spiritual payoff. Some subjects even told Clancy that being abducted was the best thing that had ever happened in their lives; as one puts it:
The journey has enabled me to discover my place in the universe. I had felt abandoned, reduced to nothing but a sperm sample. Yet today I feel a tremendous expansiveness. In my total aloneness, I have discovered a oneness with the beings.
What are abductees getting from their experiences? Why, human meaning, of course. The sense that there are alien beings out there who, despite violating any number of ethical rules governing human subject experimentation, nevertheless somehow have our best interests at heart. Beings who are wiser, have greater powers, are beneficent caretakers over the human race, and help a select few of us understand how we all fit into the big cosmic picture. Beings who are, in short, our modern day version of angels.
I would like to have known, from Mooney's review, how Clancy dealt with the claims made in the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack's book Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, in which he, apparently (incredibly!), validated the objective reality of the abduction experience -- which may be part of what the abductees were looking for in the first place. Nevertheless, even without that information, Mooney has convinced me that this is a book worth reading.
Read the whole review here, or order Clancy's book from Amazon.
In another CNN-related subject, they've ousted Aaron Brown, the only anchor/host there that was worth anything (I mean: Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, Paula Zahn, Larry Fucking King, Daryn "I am Rush Limbaugh's Sex Toy" Kagan, Soledad O'Brien?), and replaced him with Anderson Cooper.
Cooper's not the worst of the lot, by a long shot, but his reporting is very subjective and touchy-feely. In a way he's a little like Geraldo Rivera, but less conservative and much less strident -- an "I-feel-your-pain" kind of Geraldo Rivera. Watching him whine and whimper his way through his live reports during Hurricane Rita, moaning about how frightening the sound of the wind was, and how lonely he was with all the lights off, was quite embarrassing, he was so pathetic. (How lonely could he be, with a producer and a cameraman and a soundman to keep him company, and power in his uplink van? Shit, they probably had snacks and beers in there.)
But I can't say Cooper's as bad as Blitzer, or Zahn, or Kagan, or the unwatchable and nearly brain dead Larry King, so the problem isn't that Cooper is getting more airtime, the problem is that Aaron Brown was the only anchor at CNN (and one of very few in the business these days) who did not sex-up the news, who tried on occasion to look at least a little bit behind the conventional wisdom, and who rarely employed the annoying "balanced card" approach of putting two loud-mouthed opposing partisans on the air together to scream at each other and calling the resulting information-free result journalism.
He was no Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite, but he was one of the better ones we had. I hope he turns up somewhere.
Digby tears apart the b.s. floating around the rightwingosphere, where Clinton's take on Iraqi WMDs while he was in office is being equated with Bush's lying about them in the run-up to the war. First, there's the inconvenient fact that when Clinton took offensive actions against Saddan, everyone who was anyone in the GOP yelled and screamed that it was a case of "Wag the Dog" -- they claimed that Clinton had fired missiles at selected targets in order to distract everyone from the blowjob scandal. They did not support the action and, indeed, actively opposed it.
Clinton said the usual boilerplate about Saddam being a dangerous guy and how he wanted to get weapons of mass destruction and how we had to be credible with our threats of force to keep him in line. And when Saddam stepped way out of line in 1998 he ordered the massive bombing operation that got all the Republicans' panties in a twist because it happened at the time of the all important fellatio impeachment.
Clinton said that American policy was that if Saddam took certain threatening actions, we would use force.
Bush and Cheney said that Saddam might take threatening actions, so they had to invade.
That's quite a different threat assessment. Clinton never suggested an invasion and occupation to deal with Saddam, his policy was to contain him with threats and judicious use of force when he provoked us. And apparently it worked. There were, after all, no weapons of mass destruction and he had perpetrated none of the other actions that would have led to a need for further use of force as of 2002. [Emphasis added --- Ed]
The obsessive fascination that the right wing shows for Clinton (both Clintons, actually) is amazing, almost as interesting, and potentially revealing, as their tendency to project their own lack of ethics and morality on the Democrats. When they are in ascendancy, almost everything that goes wrong is traced back to some fault of Clinton, and, now that they are deep in a serious trough of unpoularity and disapproval, they're trying to claw their way back up by associating themselves with Clinton, or using him as an infantile excuse: "See, he did it too!"
Unfortunately for them, it doesn't play, and the attempt makes them look both weak and hypocritical.
The true irony is that it now appears that Clinton managed to accomplish what Bush said needed to be done, with a heavy bombing campaign during his own impeachment. (Talk about multi-tasking.) Bush came along and spent billions of dollars, stretched our military beyond its capabilities, destroyed our international credibility and got tens of thousands killed to accomplish something that had already been done in 1998. What a cock-up.
The Clinton administration was, of course, far from flawless, but we'll be seeing this kind of thing more and more, where a direct comparison of the Clinton and Bush II administrations is deeply, deeply damaging to any hope of Bush's salvaging a meager reputation in the future.
Update: Publius explains the deep magic behind the use of Bill Clinton's name by the right.
“Why did they say Bill Clinton?” I asked. “And why is that all they said?”
“Because the invocation of his name equalizes all critiques. It doesn’t matter what Republicans do, the invocation of Bill Clinton makes everything equal again. He is critical to the balance that keeps the universe from unraveling.”
In a post on TPM Cafe about Grover Norquist and TABOR legislation, Mark Schmitt writes:
One of the great strengths of the Republican Party heading into the Bush era was the number of big-state Republican governors and the perception that they knew how to govern. People like Gingrich could spout their ideological bombast, but in Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere the face of the Republican party was governors who seemed to know what they were doing. Sure, some of them swept problems under the carpet and then stomped up and down on it, and some mastered the art of consequence-free tax cut politics, but they put on a good face. The perceived-successful Democratic governors circa 1997 you could count on one hand: Governor Hunt in North Carolina, Dean in Vermont, Kitzhaber in Oregon and a few others. Peter Beinart argued in the Wall Street Journal early in 2004 that the reason Dean seemed so strong was that there were no other viable Democratic governors, and that was very true. It's easy to say that Kerry made a poor candidate because Senators traditionally make poor candidates, but how many alternatives were there?
There are now, though, and the situation is completely reversed. I was in Arizona the other day when a poll came out putting Governor Napolitano's approval rating at 65% -- she's the anti-Bush, but not the only one.
This shift is as important as anything that happens in Congress because governors are where presidents come from, and they are also where Senators come from. The only sure way to beat an incumbent senator is with a popular governor, and over the next few years some of these red-state governors will be the key to taking back the Senate. And governors are also the face of government to most people, and if they are competent and seem to have the right values, their party will be seen in the same light, as will government itself.
I want to highlight this passage because we all need keep it in mind when it comes time again to choose the Democratic nominee for President, for the 2008 election. As I wrote before the last election (originally in May 2003):
It's conventional wisdom that being a Senator is a natural stepping stone to the Presidency, but recent history doesn't bear that out. Take a look at what our recent Presidents did before taking office in the White House:
Bush -- governor of Texas, frontman, business failure, drug abuser, AWOL National Guardsman Clinton -- governor of Arkansas Bush -- VP, head of CIA, ambassador, etc. Reagan -- governor of California Carter -- governor of Georgia Ford -- VP, congressman Nixon -- VP, senator, congressman Johnson -- VP, senator, congressman Kennedy -- senator, congressman
In other words, you have to go back 34 years, to 1968, to reach a president (Nixon) who earlier served as senator, and 42 years to get to a senator (Kennedy) who was directly elected to the presidency without first passing through the vice presidency.
Let's please remember this, it could conceivably be the difference between re-taking the White House in 2008, and starting the process of putting this country back on track again, or another four years of disastrous Republican retrenchment and mismanagement.
Sometimes (well, to be truthful, in these days, many times) I despair about this country:
This month, the following things were readily available to any teenage girl who stepped into an Albertsons store: at least four brands of condoms. A recent Men's Health magazine article called, "Six Secret Ways to Turn Her On." Cosmopolitan's tips on how to make your own sex video.
Unavailable in any of Albertsons' 2,500 locations was the October issue of Seventeen Magazine.
The grocery chain pulled that issue from shelves earlier this month. The reason? An article on women's anatomy.
The article, titled "Vagina 101," shows a drawing of a woman's genitalia with arrows pointing out the clitoris, the labia majora, the labia minora, the hymen and the anus. It provides a short description of each part of the anatomy, under the headline "Owner's Manual." On the second page, the author addresses what's normal and what's not.
The Idaho-based Albertsons' corporate office issued a statement saying it pulled the October issue after receiving complaints from customers who considered the article "inappropriate." The company has refused further comment.
We live in a country where the promise of sex is a potent sales tool, be it for perfume, cars or TV shows. That's what makes this situation stand out: Suggestiveness passes muster, but anatomy gets ejected.
Leafing through the article, Charlotte Ladd, 16, said she couldn't see what the big deal was. "It's ridiculous," she said. "If they have a problem with it, they can just skip over the article. But it's information that we need to know." [AP]
We don't have Albertsons here in NYC (that I'm aware of), so I can't do anything myself about boycotting the chain, but people who live in other parts of the country might consider taking their business elsewhere.
Holding open five-minute votes indefinitely until they get the results they want; (CBR)
Preventing Democrats from offering amendments to legislation; (CBR)
Assembling conference committees without Democratic participation; (CBR)
Shutting down committee hearings went they start to become politically inconvenient; (CBR)
Having the Senate leader of one party (Frist) campaign against the Senate leader of the other party (Daschle) for the first time in American political history; (CBR)
Ending the traditional courtesy that a home-state senator of a judicial nominee could put a hold on the nomination; (AB)
Stopping the tradition of anonymous floor holds on judicial appointments; (AB)
Halting the traditional courtesy that at least one minority-party member of the Judiciary Committee should agree to move a nominee out of committee; (AB)
Ceasing the traditional courtesy of allowing the minority party to request information about the progress of a Senate investigation, such as the one into the failures of pre-war Iraq intelligence; (AB)
Terminating the traditional courtesy that the President discusses Supreme Court nominations with the minority-party leadership before making a nomination; (AB)
Threatening to change long-standing Senate rules regarding the filibuster; (AB)
Shutting Dems out of bill-writing and budget reconciliation processes; (AB comments)
Designing bills specifically to ensure that there is no bipartisan support; (AB comments)
Refusing to hold hearings for judicial nominations, or delaying them indefinitely, in order to prevent them from being voted on; (unfutz)
Ignoring longstanding bipartisan agreement that there would be no more than one controversial judician nominee scheduled for hearings at any one time; (PFAW)
In a posting by Stuart Buck on The Buck Stops Here, the first LEXIS citation for the nickname "Scalito" for Judge Alito is given as a National Law Journal article from 1992:
Judge Alito is described by lawyers as exceptionally bright, but much more of an ideologue than most of his colleagues. It's a trait that has led some to nickname him "Scalito," after the acerbic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Credit for the coinage is claimed in the post's comments by journalist Shannon P. Duffy:
I'm the one who nick-named Alito "Scalito." The National Law Journal article you refer to was written by Joseph Slobodzian. At the time, he and I were both reporters covering the federal courthouse in Philadelphia - he for the Philadelphia Inquirer and I for the Legal Intelligencer. He did some freelancing for NLJ and we had several discussions at the time he wrote that article. I knew as soon as it was published that my nickname would stick, but I never would have guessed just how popular it would become.
I don't believe "Scalito" itself is derogatory of Alito's Italian-American ancestory, but it could be seen that way if it's used carelessly or in conjunction with Italian-American stereotypes. As long as the purpose is to point out the similarities between Alito and Scalia, it's a perfectly legitimate shorthand.
Alito is the kind of "restrained" jurist who isn't above striking down acts of Congress whenever they offend him. Bush noted this morning: "He has a deep understanding of the proper role of judges in our society. He understands that judges are to interpret the laws, not to impose their preferences or priorities on the people."
Except, of course, that Alito doesn't think Congress has the power to regulate machine-gun possession, or to broadly enforce the Family and Medical Leave Act, or to enact race or gender discrimination laws that might be effective in remedying race and gender discrimination, or to tackle monopolists. Alito thus neatly joins the ranks of right-wing activists in the battle to limit the power of Congress and diminish the efficacy of the judiciary.
Update: Thanks to loyal reader Ivan Raikov in comments for pointing me to this excellent post about Alito on Bitch Ph.D.:
Alito is the guy we need to filibuster.
Now, let me remind y'all of something. I didn't say the f-word about Roberts or Miers. I said I didn't support them, and I said that we shouldn't support them, and I said that the Dems should oppose them. But I didn't say "filibuster." And I even said I was "cautiously optimistic" the day before Roberts' nomination, when rumors were floating Edith Brown Clement's name (check out the July archives for confirmation). So, while I oppose pretty much everything the Bush administration has ever done, I've tried not to be all knee-jerk about it.
But from what I can tell, this Alito guy is bad, bad news.
Definitely go to the post for the extensive list of reasons why that it so, and also the links to other sources of information at the end.
Update:Publius has an interesting discussion of what it means to be "too conservative" and where Alito fits in.
Hunter (who's getting to be my favorite front-page poster on dKos, after Kos himself) has what I think is a pretty good summary of the effects of Reid's manoeuvre this afternoon:
First, obviously, it forced the Senate to agree to finally investigate the massaged and/or bogus Iraq War intelligence, after stonewalling the investigation for over two years.
Second, it shows the American people that the Democrats are serious about the Republicans' ongoing dismissal of critical national security matters, even if Republicans like Frist and Roberts have proven over the last two years they aren't trustworthy or responsible about pursuing them. And that Democrats are also dead serious about the Iraq War, and investigating any frauds or manipulations used to send us into the quagmire.
It absolutely nails the Republicans to the wall on Plamegate. [...] [B]y demanding a response to Senate obstruction efforts, Reid squarely brought the national discourse back to the ongoing now-criminal obstruction efforts in the White House -- a criminal obstruction that had in the last days been made into a talking point praised by Republicans as a Republican victory over the investigation. And it masterfully highlights the fundamental dishonesty of a Republican Senate with no intentions of getting to the bottom of either of them. Frist squealed like a stuck pig at even the mere thought of having to discuss either matter.
It completely disrupted and short-circuited the nasty, Swift Boat hackery of the Republicans attempting to defend the far-right Judge Sam Alito. The Republican spin machine isn't the only group capable of setting the parameters of the national debate.
Perhaps most importantly, it fires a huge warning shot into the Republican efforts to break Senate rules to disallow filibusters. Remember, Reid did similar parliamentary moves during the last discussion of Senate-busting "nuclear" rule changes by Republicans. So this is just a little punch to say "You want to mess with the rules? We can make your legislative lives into an unworkable living hell, if you're not willing to play by the rules. Think about whether you want to fire those shots."
That is, in fact, why it was called the Nuclear Option by the original Republicans to propose it... because the Senate revolves around the basic comity of allowing the majority party to set the debate. But that's not because of the rules -- it's because of the gentlemen's agreement of the minority party. If the Senate goes nuclear, bye-bye gentlemen's agreement. Bye-bye to the ability of the Republicans to set the terms of legislation.
And finally, it made Bill Frist look like an utter amateur. Whining like a stuck pig, Frist made it perfectly clear that he isn't nearly the political tactician his lockstep demands for party loyalty require him to be. Today, Reid made Frist look like a complete fool -- actually, Frist mainly did it all by himself. This further weakens him and his own hold on his party. [...]
Oh, it also strikes me that this is also a perfectly executed response to Bush nominating Alito yesterday with zero Democratic input. You don't warn us what you're going to do? Then we won't warn you either. Surprise! A lot hinges on at least a begrudgingly tolerated comity between the minority and majority party. If that goes, then the Republican agenda gets driven into a procedural ditch for the indefinite future.
That's an awful lot of value to get out of one parliamentary tactic.
I thought that Jay Rosen's reaction to the Libby indictment was interesting (from Salon):
As to how this case affects the media: I don't buy it that the underground relations between reporters and officials will become chilled. Sources have self-interested reasons to leak. Those are unchanged. From what I can tell, your typical Washington journalist will bargain away the public's right to know the name of the source in a second, if there's a promise of getting something good from it. "Former Hill Staffer?'" "Sure, no problem." That's unchanged. I think the commerce will go on, and we'll continue to know almost nothing about it, unless there is an extraordinary intervention like a special prosecutor.
There's a direct connection between, on the one hand, the effectiveness of the Bush bubble, the utter emptiness of the White Housing briefing, the impossibility of getting an actual answer from Scott McClellan, the concentration of power in a man -- Dick Cheney -- who is almost never interviewed, all of which evacuate the very idea of "the public record," and, on the other hand, the ability of confidential sources to set terms with journalists "off" that record, especially by pitting the most competitive reporters against each other. Sources will continue to set the terms. And all this is part of the Bush team's successful effort to push more and more of its own politics into shadow areas marked by secrecy, deniability and the impossibility of putting questions to the people with power. [Emphasis added - Ed]
Who started it -- who was the first person to use "frog-march" in relation to a possible result of the Fitzgerald Plamegate invesitigation?
The answer seems to be Joe Wilson himself. On August 26, 2003 Kevin Drum had a post (originally on Calpundit but now archived on Washington Monthly) in which Joe Wilson is quoted as saying (via Mark Kleiman and Pacific Views):
At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.
Shortly thereafter, on September 28th on Slacktivist, Fred Clark posted an entry defining the meaning of "frog-march":
[T]o carry (a resisting person) face downward by the arms and legs; (hence now solely) to propel (a resisting person) forward, as by seizing his collar and the seat of his trousers or by pinioning his arms behind his back.
So it looks as if we have Joe Wilson to blame for inciting fantasies of frog-marching.
Now I'll have to look into who's responsible for inciting fantasies of Bush being impeached, or measured for an orange jumpsuit, as a result of the Plamegate invesitigation.
I didn't think it made much sense to go all the way after Roberts, but Alito is an entirely different matter. One the one hand, I think some commentators are overestimating by several orders of magnitude the current political weakness of the Bush administration, and therefore predicting more fracturing of the Republicans than I think is reasonable to assume. The bottom line being Republican Commandment #1 -- Thou shall do no harm to a fellow Republican -- it's more than likely that they're going to circle the wagons in response to a strong Democratic attack on Alito, rather than fracture and begin fighting amongts themselves.
On the other hand, at this point we actually have very little to lose by going after Alito very strongly, and, potentially, a great deal to gain -- and every reason in the world to try and stop him. (He's so hard right that he's earned the nickname "Scalito", for being even more right-wing than Scalia.)
[T]he million-dollar question is whether an all-out war over Alito makes winning legislative seats more or less likely. Nothing else matters. And I predict it will make it less likely. Court fights are necessarily culture war fights, and polarization along culture war lines are usually better for conservatives.
The bottom line is that progressives are winning the war right now. Bush is in retreat and the GOP is extremely vulnerable in ‘06. An all-out culture war over Alito would take everything else out of the headlines and completely change the current dynamic. In the end, I’m just not sure it’s worth it. And I sure as hell don’t want to be watching the election returns in ‘06 thinking back, like Faulkner’s 14-year old boy, about the failed “Alito’s Charge” that changed the dynamic and cost progressives the war.
I think that the current moment affords the Democrats the greatest amount of political "cover" that they've had in the past 5 years, and to fail to utilize it for fear of the potential blowback from a fight against Alito would be a big mistake.
I don't want to overestimate Bush's political weakness -- too many other folks are doing that, and it's perilous -- but it *is* true that he's never been weaker than he is now, not only in terms of his control over the Republicans in Congress, but more particularly in relation to the general public. That gives the Democrats what might be a unique opportunity to attack, and they should take it.
Who knows how long this downturn will last, Bush could, conceivably, build his popularity back up again, there could be another terrorist attack and we'd once again see the "rally 'round the President" effect, any number of things could happen to bump him back up again. If we fail to seize the moment, another may not come. (And certainly, another opportunity to change to makeup of the high court won't come *unless* we mount an attack.)
As for blowback -- I think that most folks really don't pay a lot of attention to the Supreme Court, just like they don't pay much attention to scandals in the government. (They already believe that everyone in the Federal government is corrupt -- that's been the message of the right for a long time -- so seeing Scooter Libby indicted doesn't mean squat to them.) A political fight over Alito will be seen as just that, a political fight in far-off Washington. It won't have much, if any, affect on the mid-term elections, which are generally much more about local concerns than they are about national ones. Even if the election gets successful nationalized by one side or the other [or both], squabbling over Supreme Court justices just isn't going to play that much.
So -- time to stand up for principles and try to hold the line with Alito.
I've been musing a bit lately on the difference between an accumulation of facts and a theory which explains those facts and provides a framework for them. This musing was brought on, of course, by my continuing to follow the Dover, Pennsylvania "intelligent design" trial. (See the sidebar for links related to Kitzmiller v Dover.)
One of the defense witnesses was the "intelligent design" advocate Michael Behe (whose testimony I discussed earlier here). Behe is a trained and practicing biochemist, and yet he does not accept Darwinian evolution theory. As a biochemist, Behe will certainly know an awful lot of facts about biology, much more than I ever will, but without a theory that fruitfully ties those facts together (or holding to a false theory that cannot serve to provide a useful framework for those facts), Behe will never really understand biology, no matter how large his accumulation of facts might get. He'll have a lot of information, but he won't have any real knowledge, and he'll certainly never achieve biological wisdom.
Science is built upon facts, as a house is built of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science that a heap of stones is a house.
Henri Poincare Science and Hypothesis (1905)
[I]solated facts don't make an education. Meaning doesn't come from data alone. Creative problem solving depends on context, interrelationships, and experience. The surrounding matrix may be more important than the individual lumps of information.
Clifford Stoll Silicon Snake Oil (1995)
Facts may accumulate without theory; but they will prove to be unstable and of little profit in the end. Theories may flourish if their basis lies not in scientific fact but in opinions and interpretations acceptable only to the members of a limited faction; but they will be bad theories.
This is not something that holds only for biology, psychology or the sciences, it's true in other academic endeavors as well. A Marxist historian, for instance, could well outstrip every other historian in knowing masses of accumulated facts, but because those facts are interpreted through a strongly biased theory, the analyses that results will frequently be useful only up to a point. Certainly, Marxist analysis can provide some novel interpretations that can make us think again and see situations more freshly, but when put to the test, the built-in biases that are part and parcel of the theory, which are, in fact, their warp and woof, without which it wouldn't be Marxist, overwhelm the analysis and make it problematic and less reliable.
If we're looking to historians to interpret the past for us, for help in understanding the present and determining what we should so in the future, it wouldn't do to rely on theories which lead to erroneous conclusions.
(I think the same point can be make regarding Freudian analysis, that it occasionally throws up interesting ways of looking at human behavior, but, because it lacks a credible theory to explain that behavior, its usefulness is of a limited sort, and more inclined to be invoked in a literary manner than a scientific one.)
Another issue involved in looking at facts and theory is the nature of the information which is being accepted as "fact", and utilized in that way.
[Some schools of history assert] that all "facts" claiming objective existence are simply intellectual constructions. In short, there is no clear difference between fact and faction. But there is, and for historians, even for the most militantly antipositivist ones among us, the ability to distinguish between the two is absolutely essential. We cannot invent our facts. Either Elvis Presley is dead or he isn't. The question can be answered unambiguously on the basis of evidence, insofar as reliable evidence is available, which is sometimes the case. Either the present Turkish government, which denies the attempted genocide of the Armenians in 1915, is right or it is not.
Where there's a fact vacuum, pseudo facts, opinion, and outright fantasy come rushing in.
Kurt Anderson "The Age of Unreason" in The New Yorker (3/3/97)
Anderson's remark seems very well applied to what's happened in recent weeks in regards to the Fitzgerald investigation of the Plamegate scandal. The investigation was, laudibly, remarkably leak free, which lead to an absence of hard information. The ensuing vacuum was quickly filled by not only material leaked by the witnesses' representatives, but also all sorts of bizarre and outlandish speculations about what where the investigation was going, what Fitzgerald was after, who was going to be indicted, and what would be the ultimate result of all the revelations which were sure to see the light of day. While some of the initial speculation was built on a foundation of fact, the accumulated architecture of the castle in the air that resulted from layer after layer of guesses, intuitions, speculations and hypotheticals, all glued together with healthy globs of wish fulfillment, was, to say the least spectacularly fantastic.
(One of the fantasies that I found particularly unrealistic and outrageous was that "Fitzmas" would see all the members of the White House Iraq Group frogmarched -- that was the word that was used -- out of the White House in handcuffs, into waiting paddy wagons! And this came from a person who fancies herself an historian and an acute observer of politics and interpretor of current events!)
It's not news to any of us that we're living through a pretty awful period of American history. We've got an administration in office which is hell-bent on re-making the country for the benefit of their corporate clients, undoing most of the political and economic progress that's been made over the last 70 years. They control not only the Executive, but the Legislative and, when pressed, the Judiciary. Their support comes from social reactionaries who themselves have a program that rolls back our social progress and aims to turn us into a close approximation of a theocracy. The party in power uses, with great skill, propaganda techniques and wedge issues to divide and conquer and keep themselves in control.
In short, we're pretty much fucked, at least for the time being.
In such a dilemma, it's not unexpected that people would prefer to believe in fantasies that tell them, for instance, that Fitzgerald's investigation will lead to Bush's being impeached, and it's hardly a surprise that people will react with anger when it's pointed out to them how unreasonable and unlikely such an outcome would be. Nor is it a suprise that they would prefer to forget about those fantastic predictions after it indeed turns out that they're unfulfilled, and then try to pretend that they never happened. Happiness, it seems, at least to some people, is a state best achieved through ignorance, since the wisdom that knowledge can bring is too hurtful.
Of course, I can't see it that way. I much prefer to have a take on the world that is as close to realistic as I can get it, and to that end, I prefer to rely on the judgment and analysis of people who respect facts and who utilize a coherent and rational theory of the world to interpret them. Lacking that, however can we claim to be "part of the reality-based community"?
Time flies, it's almost November, which means that Thanksgiving is around the corner, soon to be followed by Christmas and New Year's -- and that means that, all too soon, we'll be subjected to all those end-of-year wrap-ups that everybody does. (It makes reading the newspapers all that much easier, 'cause you can just skip 'em.)
But even worse that the wrap-ups are the psychic predictions for the coming year. Year after year, people claiming to be psychics make crazy predictions about what will happen in the next 12 months, and year after year, some people believe them. I would like to think that the believers might not be so likely to be taken in if they remembered, or had their memories refreshed, as to what the psychics said the year before, because their batting averages are 0.000 -- they almost never get anything right.
For instance, this piece from the Skeptical Inquirer looks at the predictions make in 2003 for 2004, and finds them decidely off the mark.
It's silly, I suppose, to try and hold those so-called "psychics" to their predictions, since it seems clear that what they write is selected as much for its outrageousness and entertainment value as for any expectations of being fulfilled. I mean -- Osama bin Laden being killed by a comet? It's really impossible to take that seriously.
But despite the silliness of the psychics' progostications, it's never a bad idea to hold people to their word as expressed in public -- if nothing else, it helps to keep everyone honest. An awful lot of our social transactions are predicated on trust, and keeping track of what other's say and predict is one way of determining who is trustworthy, and whose analyses are faulty and unreliable.
Ed Brayton has an interesting post about "intelligent design" proponent William Dembski. It seems that Dembski refers to people that read what he writes and then criticize it on the Web as his "Internet stalkers." As Brayton comments:
The nerve of these people, actually analyzing and critiquing the work of a scholar!
Indeed. You would think that reading what a person wrote, analyzing it and commenting on it would be a perfectly reasonable mode of discourse, a way to go about determining if that person's work was a valid representation of reality, whether it was based on facts or fantasy, and if it could be helpful in any way in predicting what might occur in the future, or in suggesting experimentation or exploration which could help do so.
Some people obviously prefer that their statements be accepted at face value without being tested or countered, and then immediately forgotten if they turn out to be unreliable or untrue.
We've got exactly two choices here. Either the White House outed a covert agent because they handled sensitive and classified information so incompetently that it was distributed throughout the administration and into administration-selected leak receptacles without anyone realizing that the classified information was, duh, classified...
Or, they did it on purpose. I say "they", because we know that even though Libby is currently the only one indicted, the public record already shows, at minimum, Karl Rove as being one of the other administration figures that discussed Plame's classified CIA status with multiple reporters. That little tidbit ain't going away, regardless of how it's spun.
I find it really quite amazing that, even with the results of the Fitzgerald investigation mostly all in, the liberal blogosphere is still awash with rank speculation about Fitzgerald clearing up the Niger dilemma, Fitzgerald determining for certain that Bush & Company lied about the war, even (still!) that the final result of the investigation will be the impeachment of Bush (a nice trick to pull off, with a Republican-controlled Congress!). All this and more is still being written, and it's the bunk.
In actuality, Fitzgerald is about -- 100% and totally, and regardless of what many of my fellow liberals would like to believe he is about -- prosecuting a possible leak of classified information and the possible outing of a CIA agent whose status was classified. He was quite clear on this in his press conference, and the results of his investigation -- so far, a single indictment for 5 counts of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice -- speak to that as well. That clear and obvious fact should be apparent to anyone who heard his press conference and reads the indictment with a clear mind unclouded by the piles and piles of speculation that have been put out about this investigation.
I think perhaps that many liberals, having put so much into their speculative house of cards, now have a vested interest in all that speculation coming true, and in Fitzgerald being the messianic figure who will bring down this terrible administration and let us get on about putting the country back together, but while some of the accumulated information that's been touted by the speculators may well be true, and a lot of the vast structure of speculation could be valid, it's more than obvious that it's not at all where Fitzgerald's head is. If there was any doubt about that before, his press conference should have put it to rest.
The fact is, when Fitzgerald was being extolled as a straight-arrow, that was absolutely correct -- but the implications of that don't seem to have sunk in for a lot of folks.
Fitzgerald is an honest and uncorrupt prosecutor whose goal it is to fulfill the mission that has been given him -- and nothing more. He's not going to solve the Niger dilemma, he's not going to expose the lies behind the war, he's not going to lead Bush to impeachment, he's not even going to frogmarch the members of the White House Iraq Group into waiting paddy wagons, as some ridiculously predicted. He's so straight-forward that it's an open issue right now whether he's going to indict anyone (Libby or Rover or anyone else) for the outing of Valerie Plame, the very crime he was tasked to investigate -- not because it didn't take place, or because he doesn't know how it happened, but because he seems not to be certain that he can get a conviction, and his straight-arrow prosecutor's conscience tells him that it's not right to indict if he doesn't think he can prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
That kind of man, the kind I saw at that press conference, is nobody's fool, and nobody's stooge, and he's not the sort of person to skew his investigation to fulfill the fantasies of a bunch of liberals chaffing under the rule of Bush and Company.
Because, and this is something I really think some people don't understand at all, it's entirely irrelevant to Fitzgerald's case whether Bush & Co lied about the war or not.
Let's do a little gedankenexperiment. Let's assume, for the moment, that Bush & Co were not lying about the WMDs, and the yellowcake and the aluminum pipes and so on, all the evidence for Saddam being a danger and the justification for the war. Just assume that all that hogwash was actually true, and that Joe Wilson, for whatever reason (it's irrelevant to the experiment) lied about yellowcake and Niger, and went public in the Times and berated the Administration. Now, assume again, that EVERYTHING ELSE HAPPENED AS IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. That is Cheney, Rove and Lobby (and whomever) hatched up a plot, they talked to reporters, outed Wilson's wife as a CIA agent, in an effort to trash Wilson, etc. etc. etc. Everything's the same except that Wilson lied and Bush & Co didn't. There's an investigation started, Ashcroft recuses himself, Fitzgerald is brought in, all just the same.
Here's the thought experiment: would these changed circumstances -- i.e. the Administration telling the truth and Wilson lying -- make any difference to Fitzgerald's investigation?
The clear answer, obvious to anyone without an axe to grind, is decidely "NO", because Fitzgerald is not about the war or who lied about it, Fitzgerald's all about who leaked the name and if it was a crime -- and it would be a crime even if the Adminstration never told a single lie about the war and Wilson was a dirty rotten prevaricator. It's not even relevant to Libby's intent when leaking the information, because the intent in question is a much more limited one, not at all connected with the broader issues of who lied and whether the war was justified.
So, please, people should stop bringing in stuff that is perfectly extraneous to what's going on in Fitzgerald's investigation, and continuing to speculate on what he might do. He's been perfectly clear, as clear as any man can be while laboring under strict grand jury secrecy, about what he's doing and the scope of his investigation. His scope is: did someone leak classified material, was it a crime, and did any impropriety or illegality take place during the investigation of the former. Period.
I still have hope, that within that very restricted purview, and with his understanding of the facts of what happened, Fitzgerald will eventually indict Rove, and, possibly, even bring some indictments for the underlying charge.
Update: In opposition to the view I expressed here, that Fitzgerald is tightly focused on the specific event he's been tasked to investigate, Elizabeth de la Vega makes the argument that he's focused on bigger game:
Complex cases usually take years to proceed through the courts. In addition, the indictment released today describes a chronology of close to two years and a complicated set of facts. Obviously, Fitzgerald is taking a "big picture" approach to this case. This mirrors his approach to previous cases. In December 2003, for example, Fitzgerald announced the indictment of former Illinois Governor George Ryan on corruption charges in Operation Safe Road, which began in 1998. In that year, the investigation of a fatal accident revealed that truckers were purchasing commercial licenses from state officials. Indictments were announced in stages, culminating in the indictment of Ryan, who was the 66th defendant in the case. In the Libby case, the allegations suggest he was merely one of many officials -- including an unnamed Under Secretary of State and "Official A," a Senior White House Official -- who were involved in revealing classified information about Joseph Wilson's wife Valerie Plame. No other individuals are named as defendants, and they should not be considered so at this point, but the complexity of the indictment suggests that the investigation may follow a pattern similar to that used by Fitzgerald in the Illinois corruption case.
Not surprisingly, I don't find this a terribly convincing argument. It's entirely based on drawing an analogy between two cases which are not comparable because Fitzgerald's authority in each of them is distinctly different. In the Ryan case, Fitzgerald was acting as U.S. Attorney, with general responsibility to investigate and follow the facts where they lead, and charge and prosecute for whatever crimes he came across, just as is normally the case. Fitzgerald's responsibility in the Plamegate case is much more restricted and specific: his brief is to act as the surrogate for the Attorney General in the
investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity
authority to investigate and prosecute violations of any federal criminal laws related to the underlying alleged unauthorized disclosure, as well as federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, your investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses...
And that's it.
To reiterate, his job is to investigate the outing of Valerie Plame, and prosecute any crimes that may have been involved, and, in addition, he can prosecute any crimes which obstructed his investigated. With such a tight and specific charge, there's really no chance at all that Fitzgerald is going to range far afield in the way that de la Vega predicts.
I think this is something crucial that's been almost entirely lost in the brouhaha over "Fitzmas", that Fitzgerald was *never* going to go after all the things people were speculating he would, because it's not the job he was given to do -- and he takes that limitation seriously.
Update: This piece by Marty Aussenberg argues that the purpose of Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby was to squeeze him in order to flip him on Cheney. That would go along with my estimation that Fitzgerald's focus is very tightly on crimes connected with the outing of Plame, but against my earlier argument that Rove would be the upper limit in issuing indictments.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.