Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Saturday Fairy Tale

Far away and long ago lived an emperor who had no clothes. He strutted about butt-naked and his faithful sycophants all said that his clothes were marvelous indeed. This because the emperor had declared that anyone calling him naked was going to be sued for treason and was then going to be hanged from a lamppost in a public square until thoroughly dead.

The common people of the country could see that the emperor was naked (it was hard to avoid...), but they were too busy to hang off lampposts and too hungry to last through the torture that preceded the hangings. So they were mostly quiet and pretended to love the silk of the emperor's codpiece, too.

But one day a boy, dirty and hungry but clothed in something at least, saw the emperor's cavalcade drive by. The emperor stood up to pat the boy's bald head (the boy suffered from alopecia*) and suddenly the boy could see the emperor's bare nether parts.

"Hey, look at those peas-and-carrot! I've eaten bigger!" the boy shouted.

A silence fell, so deep that one could cut it with a table knife.

What happened next? Perhaps the scales fell off the eyes of the sycophants? Perhaps the naked emperor was tarred and feathered and chased out of his once-realm? No, sillies.

Everything went on just as before, except that the little boy was tortured and then sent to a secret prison for those who speak of peas and carrots in public.
*Alopecia: an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. Not to be confused with philobaldia, the love of bald heads that some recent emperors have.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Biased Quiz Of The Day And Some Feminism

Courtesy of ABC and John Stossel's 20/20:

Do you think voucher programs and school choice would improve public education?
Yes, the competition will lead to better schools for our kids.
No, we just need to increase public funding for our schools.

Not a scientific survey. For entertainment only.

Note the loading of emotionally positive terms into the Yes-choice. Note the "just" framing of the No-choice which also uses stilted language.

It is stupid to ask whether someone thinks that competition would lead to better schools without giving quite a long explanation of what, exactly, might happen with the voucher system. Consider just these points for starters:

Most voucher schemes would allow private and religious schools to accept vouchers. Madrasas, say, could be funded by U.S. taxpayers. But private and religious schools don't have to accept students they don't want to, so they could simply go cherry-picking in the marketplace and leave the public schools with the most demanding and needy students. And if they accidentally picked up any trouble-makers they could kick these out, to be collected by the local public schools. Then in the next round the assessments would show how much better the religious and private schools are doing, and the scene would be set for the abolition of public schools.

If the voucher schemes were limited to only public schools some similar arguments would apply. Think about the students of a school located in a nice, middle-class area. These students are not going to have the problems poor children are going to bring to school with them, and they are going to do better on all the assessments. The middle-class schools will continue getting more students, presumably, and the schools in poor areas will close. Then all the poor children will be bused long distances every day, assuming the schools will have them. It's very biblical. We would take from those that already have very little and give to those that already have a lot. Sort of like the Republican ideas in general.

The parental choice markets are not the only markets that we need to analyze. The market for teachers is also important. How would the voucher scheme affect that market? Its first impact would be to add the pressure on teachers to perform "better", to focus their teaching on the "right" things, such as standardized tests. This would make being a teacher less attractive. Most people go into education as a career because they like teaching children, not because they like marketing and test-coaching.

If I am correct about this, fewer people would choose teaching as a career, and many current teachers would leave the field. Schools would then have to pay more to attract the needed labor force. Which would cost the taxpayers more. The alternative would be to increase the number of students each teacher teaches, but that would make the job even less desirable and the process would continue.

These are not the only possible problems with the voucher solution. Another one has to do with the whole parental choice idea, especially if unassisted and when it comes to parents who are, say, recent immigrants or not very educated themselves. How many people do you know that judge colleges purely on the basis of their football teams? My point here is that judging the quality of a school is actually quite difficult to do, even for those who have the tools needed for that task.

There is a hidden feminist lesson in all this. One of the open secrets behind the whole school quality discussion is that the government is trying to go on running schools on a shoe-string, a strategy which worked as long as there was an ample supply of very intelligent women who had few career choices outside teaching, social work and nursing. This was the case until the 1960's. But then other career paths opened up for women, and teaching paid less than most of these. The consequence was a shortage of qualified teachers and in some places a reduction in the standards required of them.

The change I described happened forty years ago. For some reason we still pretend that it never took place. My prescription for fixing the schools is simple: pay teachers more.

The wingnut prescription seems to be to try to find some way of paying nothing, or as little as possible. Why they imagine that a market would lead to this outcome without any quality reductions puzzles me. But most things about wingnuts puzzle me when I'm bothered to think about them.

Houston Teachers' Pay To Be Tied To Test Scores

This article caught my mind while looking for something else. Houston has decided to reward merit by paying teachers more if their students do well in tests:

The pay incentives are to be based on three components, or "strands."

One will reward teachers based on how much their school's test scores have improved compared with the scores of 40 other schools with similar demographics around the state. Another will compare student progress on the Stanford 10 Achievement test and its Spanish-language equivalent to that of students in similar classrooms in the Houston district. The third measure will be student progress on the statewide Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, as compared with that in similar Houston classrooms.

About half the district's teachers will be eligible for stipends in all three categories, for a total of $3,000. The system's 305 principals with the best-achieving teachers could earn as much as $6,000 in merit pay, and the 19 executive principals and five regional superintendents will be eligible for up to $25,000.

The linked article discusses many negatives with this plan: it encourages teaching the test only, it doesn't reward Special Education teachers or art teachers. But the article doesn't really describe the worst aspect of the scheme: Just imagine if we decided to do the same with physicians' pay. Pay physicians more if their patient's vital readings improve.

It's easier to see the problems in tying the reward to the "results" in that case, and the two cases have the same problems. Both patients and students enter the system with varying abilities to improve, and the outcomes for both patients and students depend not only on the doctor or the teacher but also on themselves and their families.

What this system will reward is teaching the cream-of-the-crop students, and it will give teachers an incentive to try to get rid of poor students if at all possible. It will also reward those that learn to game the system, by cheating, if necessary.

A Cunning Plan

If it gets really bad in our bright new future blogs might be censored as treasonous and anti-SovietAmerican. It could happen, you know. There are some current attempts at censoring our speech though I'm too lazy to link to them right now.

I'm not too lazy to have a cunning plan. Should the worst happen, this blog will be all about Olympus, but that will stand as code for real political events in the U.S.. So Ares will stand for George Bush and so on. Won't that be fun? I can write rubbish and it will mean something. Sort of the reverse of so much that is written today about this administration.

Among Possible Presidential Duties: Breaking the Law

According to Chris Matthews, our yellow-headed Tweety bird, it might just be the case that the American President's duties include breaking the American laws. Media Matters for America gives us the relevant clip:

From the January 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: I'm asking you, you're our guest here. You're from NSA, you've been there. Do you have any evidence that we're spying on regular, you know, just regular political Americans, who maybe have views on all kinds of things? Or are we limiting it to people who are actually engaged in conversations or emailing with people in highly suspicious situations in the Mideast?

TICE: I can't say one way or the other, and I can't go into the details of how NSA does their business; it would be classified. But the question arises: Why would you do this beyond the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court?

MATTHEWS: Because, apparently, when you want to do this mining by going by topic rather than by who's on the phone, you would never get a court order.

TICE: That's true. That's true.

MATTHEWS: Well, then, how can you do it?

TICE: Well, I -- all the Middle East -- a large broad-brush approach could be used where you -- you know, if you have a haystack of information, you suck it all in to try to find the needle.

MATTHEWS: We're under attack on 9-11. A couple of days after that, if I were president of the United States and somebody said we had the ability to check on all the conversations going on between here and Hamburg, Germany, where all the Al Qaeda people are, or somewhere in Saudi [Arabia], where they came from and their parents are, and we could mine some of that information by just looking for some key words like "World Trade Center" or "Pentagon," I'd do it.

TICE: Well, you'd be breaking the law.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. Well, maybe that's part of the job. We'll talk about it.
We'll be right back with Russ Tice. You're watching Hardball on MSNBC.

Bolds are mine. If breaking the law is part of the Dear Leader's job then we no longer live in a democracy. I'm not sure what to call the resulting governance structure: Tyranny? Dictatorship? Whatever it is, democracy it ain't.

Osama bin Laden has succeeded past his wildest dreams. He is indeed destroying the cultures that he so hates, by making "freedom" something only available in Iraq and by turning the process of democratic decision-making into a farce. Good going, Tweety.

News from the Olympus

I visited my divine pals on the old home mountain. I partied a little, went to a cocktail bash held by some naiads (they had a wet bar) and met a few interesting monsters. After all that I have decided to go on a diet: no more than one wingnut is going to be devoured per week. By me. It's my New Year's Promise.

If the above paragraph makes no sense to you, be content. You don't want to know about the monsters and how they tasted. They had been on some weird diet themselves, Atkins or some such. All lard. Ugh.

Back to the party news: Ares is back in circulation, having been released by the succubi who snared him at Nascar races in Tennessee. He thought that they were Bible-reading wingnut ladies, in for the ride of their lives with him, and perhaps they were. But it was poor Ares who got ridden... He is so modest these days, the poor boy, though he still dreams about converting George Bush to Ares-worshipping. George loves illogical and poorly planned wars so I can see Ares's point.

Ares's droopiness ruined my tentative plans of re-igniting our little flame, and I ended up mostly circulating and picking up gossip about various divinities. Did you know that Thor has been spotted amongst the mortals? He is half-crazed and not very visible, but the neo-Nazis have worshipped him enough to make him almost-materialize. That is how making gods and goddesses work: if enough people believe in us we become real. Except for me. In my case it is the snakes that keep me going, and there has been no snake Enlightenment so I should be safe for a few more millennia. Safe from evaporating. That is what happens to dead gods. And whatever evil tongues say that son of a goat, Zeus, is still evaporated. May he stay so.

Other than that it was godly life as usual. Aphrodite had a new boyfriend she was dragging along. The poor guy needed some sleep, desperately, but he was dying of fatigue with a smile on his face. Athena has applied for a job with the Hudson Institute, a wingnut think-tank. A daddy's girl to the last breath, our Athena. But she won't qualify because she hasn't written any books that smear feminists and she hasn't broken the law like Scooter Libby. So I nailed a nice smile on my lips and listened to her ramblings about her great future career as the head of the Independent Women's Forum (google it), and I nodded and I urged her on. It was fun.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


This is the week for Echidne's moral sermons, it seems. Today's topic is boredom. The advertizing industry in the United States has been successful in turning most Americans into creatures which crave instant satisfaction and constant entertainment. Or that is how I will begin because I want to thunder about this concept that boredom is an undesirable trait in life.

The Alito hearings are boring, we are told by various journalists. The journalists deserve to be entertained, I guess, not just do their jobs. And the readers and watchers and listeners deserve to be entertained, too. If it's not entertaining, change the channel. Yet all the time the forces of Gilead are sharpening their spears and adding to their power over our lives. But they do it in a boring way so look elsewhere.

Boredom really bad thing. Professors are now expected to tapdance across the podium or students will fall asleep. Soon I expect my dentist to sing a little ditty while she pokes around in my maw. I can always take my beautiful teeth and my credit card and go elsewhere. So better keep me entertained.

Politics doesn't work very well with a citizenry trained in expecting entertainment. But bread and circuses works for those in power; they have no real interest in making politics interesting for the non-wonks. Don't buy it if it isn't entertaining! Too bad that you buy it whether it is entertaining or not.

Boredom is an essential part of life, and better than some other parts of life. There is no way of sailing through totally unbored unless your life is short and violent. The proper approach to boredom is to crack through it and pay attention.

End of sermon.

The Tears

Alito's wife cried in the hearings. What does this mean? Was it her migraine headache that made her cry? Or what Lindsay Graham said when she started crying? No, it was the rude Democrats attacking her husband for hours on end.

Alito's wife cried in the hearings. What does this mean? Women are emotional and should be closed out of public life? The only valid emotion is rage? Wingnuts like to see women crying and use this to their advantage? The media will run with this because the hearings are b-o-r-i-n-g and who on earth cares about the tears that Alito will cause sitting on the bench?

I sympathize with Ms. Bomgardner. It must be hard to hear your husband's beliefs and qualifications questioned publicly. But that is what the nomination hearings are for. What on earth are family members doing at the hearings in the first place? Is their presence so important that from now on nobody can ask a nominee a sharp question because it might upset the minor son or daughter of a nominee? How are we going to ask about something like pornography?

And the Republicans are using all this for misdirection. Look elsewhere! Nothing here to see! Just a b-o-r-i-n-g man being nominated to take us into Gilead. Then there will be plenty of tears for all of us. But they won't be televised.

Today's Action Alert

The National Women's Law Center urges you to call your Senator and to tell him or her that Alito is not your choice. Go here to find out how to do it.

Getting What You Deserve

The Alito hearings have brought up the argument that there should be no questioning of Alito, and certainly no filibustering, because Bush "won" the elections and the wingnuts won and they can nominate whomever they want. The spoils of war. A country consisting of winners and losers. One of the worst aspects of the two-party system, I think.

Then there is the slightly different but ultimately the same argument that people wanted Alito on the bench because they voted for Bush who campaigned on these issues. It is the same argument in the sense of telling us "losers" to shut up and offer our necks for the victor, but it is also slightly different because it makes an argument that can actually be studied for relevancy, and that is the one about Bush running on the issues that Alito represents.

He did run on the anti-abortion issue, true. But he didn't really go around telling that blacks and women shouldn't have good jobs or that ten-year old girls should be stripped naked in front of police officers if they and their mothers happened to visit a suspected drug dealer's house at the time when the police had a warranty to strip-search the drug dealer only. Yet these are the kinds of things that Alito supports.

It can be argued that Bush ran for all oppressive and vile things and that his base knew this. He talked to them in code about this, but it was in code for the very reason that most Americans would have vomited if they had known what he was proposing. Thus, to argue that the voters who picked Bush wanted Alito is far-fetched and mostly wrong. What most of them probably voted for was the sitting president at a time of war. Traditionally war-presidents are not kicked out and does Bush know this. We are most likely to have eternal war from now on.

The war is also used to change the basic nature of democracy: the arguing. The most recent wingnut interpretation of political debate is that there should be no disagreement with the president on anything. Disagreement is treason. The winners take all. We have always been at war with Eurasia, and Alito hearings are boring.

Wanna Know Whom I Call?

John Aravosis at Americablog just bought the cell phone records of General Clark for the time period of a few days last November. It seems that anyone can do this with just the number and a credit card. We could all compete with the NSA on terrorism watch! Also, we could find out all the dirt on public officials and politicians...

What John did was unethical, and that was the point of doing it; to show that our privacy is unprotected provided that the other side has our number and some money.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What Should We Call Him?

Sam Alito, I mean. Like a beloved child he needs a use-name. The left blogosphere has called him Stripsearch Sammy and Scalito, and these are good, but only for those in the know about Alito's legal opinions. We need something stickier, something easily grasped and funny.

Bob has blogged on some possibilities and links to other blog posts on this important question. What do you think of them? Can you suggest any others that we have overlooked so far?

Something Alito Will Never Experience

Is sex discrimination at work. Martha Burke has written an excellent article on why Alito's nomination is bad for employed women:

Alito's confirmation, if it happens, could also have profound implications for working women, only from the opposite point of view. Like the other seven men on the Court, he's never experienced sex discrimination firsthand, so he doesn't see it as a problem. His record is clear -- big business rules.

During his 15 years on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, he compiled a stunning record of backing corporations over workers in sex and race discrimination cases. He has bragged that he is "particularly proud" of his work in opposing affirmative action, and never expressed regret for joining a militantly anti-woman club dedicated to keeping women out of Princeton. This mindset does not bode well for female employment rights.

One case that could come before the Court in the near future just happens to be the largest sex discrimination suit in history, Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Current and former female employees of the nation's largest employer are seeking class-action status to pursue pay and promotion discrimination claims. They've won in lower courts, and Wal-Mart is of course appealing. If the case reaches the Supremes a vote against the women could effectively torpedo female workplace rights for a generation.

Burke also notes that the Judicial Committee holding the hearings on Alito has exactly one woman member. One out of eighteen. To decide on putting the eighth man on the court of nine Justices.

But the most important point in the article is the one I highlight in my title for this post. There are things that men or whites in this society do not experience, and having eight men and one woman and only one black Justice on the Supreme Court will not provide a balanced menu of possible human experiences.

Your Tax Money At Work: Harassing The Poor

Another totally illogical and cruel practice:

Tax refunds sought by hundreds of thousands of poor Americans have been frozen and their returns labeled fraudulent, blocking refunds for years to come, the Internal Revenue Service's taxpayer advocate told Congress today.

The taxpayers, whose average income was $13,000, were not told that they were suspected of fraud, the advocate said in her annual report to Congress. The advocate, Nina Olson, said her staff sampled suspected returns and found that, at most, one in five was questionable.

A computer program selected the returns as part of the questionable refund program run by the criminal investigation division of the Internal Revenue Service. In some cases, the criminal division ordered that taxpayers be given no hint that they were suspected of fraud, the report said.

Most of the poor people whose returns the computer flagged as fraudulent were seeking the earned income tax credit, a benefit for the working poor. The credit can return all of the income taxes and Social Security taxes withheld from the paychecks of poor people. Without the credit, many poor people coming off welfare and going to work would receive less money because of taxes taken out of their paychecks and the loss of health benefits, I.R.S. data and other government documents show.

The average refund sought was $3,500, which under the rules for obtaining the credit means that the vast majority of those suspected of fraud were single parents or married couples with children. The maximum benefit for singles is less than $400.

Ms. Olson said the I.R.S. devoted vastly more resources to pursing questionable refunds by the poor, which she said cannot involve more than $9 billion, than to a $100 billion problem with unreported incomes from small businesses that deal only in cash, many of which do not even file tax returns.

I am so angry that I can't really write about this. But the practise of harassing the poor in this way is both stupid, for how much money could we ever get that way?, and cruel, because the most powerful nation in the world doesn't even bother telling the poor what has happened to the prayed-for refund, the refund that has probably been used a thousand times in imagination, for things like shoes and car repairs and, yes, perhaps even booze. It's not a fun life, being poor, and the last thing you want is the IRS on your back like that.

Do You Remember When...

George Orwell's 1984 has the protagonist, Winston Smith, work in a job where he changes the past newspaper records to accord with the newest interpretation of events. Anything that actually happened but is no longer deemed desirable to have happened goes into the Memory Hole: a slit in the wall of Winston's office. When the government starts a new war any evidence of the fresh foe having once been a bosom buddy is erased. Hence the famous quote from the book: "We have always been at war with [add the name of the current enemy]."

This is all chillingly familiar in the new faith-based world George Bush has built us. "Facts" change overnight, and nobody seems to remember the old ones. It is not that many years ago that conservatives thundered about the big government. It was the Democrats who were seen as the spendthrifts. Today the situation is reversed and this causes little astonishment or surprise.

Winston Smith would find all this familiar: We went to war because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Then we didn't go to war for that reason at all, but for the Long March of democracy! No, I got it wrong: We went to war to build a bigger and smarter mousetrap in Iraq so that we would have no mice at home! No. It's democracy and purple fingerprints we want!

History changes the minute it is over, events slip into the Memory Hole, and every dawn the journalists accept the administration's most current construction of history. Revisionism at its finest, because it is not only the public history that is continuously being reinterpreted, but the participants appear to have blank slates for their own memories, too, slates which can be rewritten with any new message from the Bush administration.

All this is frightening, of course, and very frightening when I read some pundits tell me that looking at the past is a waste of time, that we should storm ahead, into the bright new future. But how do you even understand what future is if you no longer have a reliable past, no longer possess a memory of the real events? Wouldn't this future just hover there, like a bright balloon, not moored to anything? Wouldn't it be as fragile as a balloon, too, and as childish?

Perhaps memory is what really distinguishes children from adults. Adults have more memories, and because of that adults have the ability to learn from experiences on a much wider scale. If we as a society condemn our collective memories into the Memory Hole, can we ever really grow up?

There are days when I think that this is the greatest sin of the current administration: that they have made the Memory Hole much bigger. Imagine what you would be like without any memories at all. How would you cope? What or whom would you love? I fear that the same thing can happen to a country which refuses to have real memories, and that would be a terrible crime, on par with those in Orwell's 1984.

Something To Read

This Kos diary and especially the attached comments are worth reading for what they say about the impact of wingnuts like Alito on women's lives and more widely on the lives of all of us. For example, when they have taken away the reproductive choices that availability of abortion provides (which I admit are less than real in vast areas of the country already), do you think that they will just sit back and relax?

No. Next they will remove our access to contraception and the federal laws against sex and race based discrimination at work. When Alito is asked about the Commerce Clause it is partly because the laws banning sex and race discrimination rely on that. Wingnuts want to get rid of these laws. Then the blacks will stay in their place and the women in theirs. It is as simple as that, the wingnut religion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tierney's Fatherhood Initiative

John Tierney is the Men's Rights Activist on the New York Times. Or an activist for anything that can possibly be seen as putting women down. A weird guy.

His last column recommends gender equality in pregnancy. No, Tierney is not offering to carry fetuses to term in the linings of his stomach. He argues that men should have the right to a "financial abortion". In other words, if a man gets a woman pregnant he can then argue that he doesn't want the child and may skip paying child maintenance. I couldn't figure out if Tierney would extend the "financial abortion rights" to men who happen to be married to the women they have impregnated, because by the column's end he has backed off from this idea, noting that it has a few teeny weeny problems. Like totally ignoring the rights of the child.

This is what Tierney says on the issue:

Judge Samuel Alito is a reactionary - at least according to feminists horrified by his notion that a woman can be required to notify her husband before an abortion. But Alito's critics in the Senate face two big obstacles this week if they try to make that label stick.

The first is public opinion. Most Americans tell pollsters that they think a husband should be notified before an abortion, and the Pennsylvania law that Alito approved was hardly a draconian version of that principle. It merely required a woman to say, without presenting any proof, that she'd told her husband. If she said she feared physical abuse, she was exempted.

The second obstacle is the logic of feminism. Spousal notification has been denounced as retrograde by the same advocates who have been demanding gender equality in the workplace and at home. If men are expected to be parents with equal responsibilities, shouldn't they at least be allowed to discuss whether to have a child?

This is an easy question for those on the pro-life side of the abortion debate. They'd like men to be not only notified of pregnancies, but also given veto power over abortions.

Being pro-choice, I don't agree with that position, but I admire the logic. It's a gender-neutral policy: if either parent thinks it's wrong to end the pregnancy, then the pregnancy must proceed.

If the pro-choice side adopted a gender-neutral policy, then either the man or the woman would have the right to say no to parenthood. I don't know of anyone advocating that a woman be required to have an abortion, but there's another right that could be given to a man who impregnates a woman who isn't his wife. If the woman decided to go ahead and have the child, she would have to notify him and give him the option early in the pregnancy of absolving himself of any financial responsibility for the child.

I bolded out the bit which shows Tierney's true colors. First, pro-lifers don't believe this; they believe that nobody has the right to terminate a pregnancy. The most extreme ones believe this to be the case even if the mother will die giving birth. Second, that Tierney added no mother's-health exemptions to his statement demonstrates that he doesn't think at all about how the child is actually created: in the mother's body, at the expense of her energy and at her pain and possible risk of death. In many countries giving birth is still the major health hazard women face.

And this is where we come to the problem with Tierney's whole argument: the process in which he demands equal dibs for men takes place in a woman's body, and it is she who bears the risks. Until the day comes when prospective parents hand over their sperm and egg to the laboratory technician when they want the child everything Tierney says is academic.

Now to something more serious: The question whether current abortion laws are unfair to men. There are two different questions in this, I believe, and they are the right of men to become fathers and the right of men not to become fathers. I'm not sure if any of us has the "right" to be a parent, actually, but until parthenogenesis is perfected for humans every single person wanting to be a parent must find someone else to contribute; either by the direct addition of sperm or eggs or via some form of adoption. None of us can legally force this other contributor to contribute, and that includes men.

But it is really the right of men not to become parents that Tierney speaks about, and I do have a lot of sympathy for a man who is led into having unprotected sex in the belief that his partner is taking oral contraceptives and then finds that he is going to be a father, with a monthly payment for the next eighteen years. A lot of sympathy. It is wrong to con people into parenthood.

Though doesn't this sound familiar in reverse? How many times have I read or heard about a man saying that he will pull out in time, that one never gets pregnant on the first time around and so on? Having sex is a risky business if you are absolutely sure that you don't want to be a parent, and anyone concerned about this would be well advised to take care of contraception themselves. This is actually a lesson many women learn quite early in life, and it is a good lesson to all our daughters and sons.

The Word-Perfect Alito

If true, interesting:

In the first hours of Samuel Alito's Senate confirmation hearings on Monday, Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, may very well have irreparably compromised himself.

At the hearing, Graham told Alito, nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, that he had already decided in Alito's favor. "I don't know what kind of vote you're going to get, but you'll make it through. It's possible you could talk me out of voting for you, but I doubt it. So I won't even try to challenge you along those lines."

That certainly ought to be the case. Graham is one of a group of Republicans who have been coaching Alito behind the scenes. The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire reported before the hearings began:

"On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the 'gang of 14' who sits on Judiciary, joined a so-called moot court session at the White House."

I'd love to know what took place in this moot court. Did they practise how to be really boring and bland while uttering the most spine-chillingly extreme plans for this country?

Deep Thought for The Day

By a Republican, of all things:

"We simply have too much power," says Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaking of lawmakers' ability to target tax dollars for particular projects, contractors or campaign donors. "We Republicans have abused that power badly over the past several years."

And, I might add, the Republicans will continue to abuse that power badly if they retain absolute control of all three branches of the government. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and so on.

Combine this with the hearings on the Alito nomination, hearings, which are aimed at getting a believer in the absolute power of George Bush into the Supreme Court of the United States. And then ask yourselves what the outcome might be.

Alito, the Absent-Minded Judge

I'm worried about Alito's bad memory. How can he keep large amounts of judicial information in his mind if he has trouble remembering the events of his own life?

Fact Check: Fact Check: Judge Alito and the Concerned Alumni of Princeton

Today, when asked about his involvement in a Princeton campus group formed in opposition to the admission of greater numbers of women and minorities to the university, the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, Judge Alito said, "Well, Senator, I have wracked my memory about this issue, and I really have no specific recollection of that organization." [1/10/06]

Judge Alito elaborated: "And the issue that had rankled me about Princeton for some time was the issue of ROTC. I was in ROTC when I was at Princeton, and the unit was expelled from the campus, and I thought that was very wrong. I had a lot of friends who were against the war in Vietnam, and I respected their opinions, but I didn't think that it was right to oppose the military for that reason." [1/10/06]


Judge Alito touted his involvement with the Concerned Alumni of Princeton when applying for a political job with the Reagan Justice Department. Now that he is being considered for the Supreme Court, he is distancing himself from Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

* In a statement promoting his conservative credentials attached to a November 18, 1985 application for a promotion within the Justice Department, Judge Alito said he was "a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, a conservative alumni group," including it as one of only two group memberships mentioned in the statement.

And what did the Concerned Alumni of Princeton care about? The adjective "Concerned" should tell you that these alumni cared about something very conservative, along the mode of the Concerned Women of America. Specifically, they didn't want to see Princeton become coed and they didn't want to have minorities on the campus:

The Concerned Alumni of Princeton University was founded the same year Samuel Alito graduated from Princeton, 1972, and was well-known for favoring restrictions on the admission of minorities and women to the University.

Can a leopard change its spots? Or does Alito still mull over the horrible events of the 1960s? Does he want to "correct" them?

I have no idea, but appealing to a faulty memory is not an adequate answer.
Via MyDD.

So Little Time, So Many Anti-Feminists

There is a new book on the enormous power and horrible effects of feminism, by one Kate O'Beirne. It has a really long title to make sure that even the most stupid reader gets that this book is about Hillary Clinton and how she is destroying the America we all love. Or which we must leave if we don't love it. That sort of shit.

I will post more on Kate's little rant later on, when I have actually had time to learn what she is saying. But I can speculate, even without reading a word, that she blames feminists for most everything that has ever gone wrong, and that she doesn't care to use proper evidence to support her claims. Because this is how the gals' auxiliary of wingnuttery does the deed they are paid for, the one task (other than childbearing) that women must do in the wingnut-world, and that is to bash other women, to nail down the heads that are trying to stand up. It's like all women are nails and all men are hammers, except for women like Kate O'Beirne who can also be hammers as long as they tell how good the nails have it. If you get my meaning.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Wilder Donkeys

Atrios gave his wanker of the day award to Joe Klein, a pundit whom I hadn't read before. I have now made up for that deficiency, and in my humble opinion Klein's wankership award is well deserved, especially as he is supposed to be the token liberal columnist on Time's rolls.

Think of the fact that he calls me a wilder donkey. Well, not me personally, but people who argue the way I have been known to argue. This is what he says about us:

But these concerns pale before the importance of the program. It would have been a scandal if the NSA had not been using these tools to track down the bad guys. There is evidence that the information harvested helped foil several plots and disrupt al-Qaeda operations.

There is also evidence, according to U.S. intelligence officials, that since the New York Times broke the story, the terrorists have modified their behavior, hampering our efforts to keep track of them—but also, on the plus side, hampering their ability to communicate with one another.

Pelosi made clear to me that she considered Hayden, now Deputy Director of National Intelligence, an honorable man who would not overstep his bounds. "I trust him," she said. "I haven't accused him of anything. I was, and remain, concerned that he has the proper authority to do what he is doing." A legitimate concern, but the Democrats are on thin ice here. Some of the wilder donkeys talked about a possible Bush impeachment after the NSA program was revealed.

I bolded the relevant bit so that it is easier for you to see what I mean. And what, exactly, are the "concerns" which pale in comparison to our donkey stampedes? This is what preceded the above quote in Klein's diatribe:

The liberal reaction is also an understandable consequence of the Bush Administration's tendency to play fast and loose on issues of war and peace—rushing to war after overhyping the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program, appearing to tolerate torture, keeping secret prisons in foreign countries and denying prisoners basic rights. At the very least, the Administration should have acted, with alacrity, to update the federal intelligence laws to include the powerful new technologies developed by the NSA.

Do you think that I might have misunderstood Klein? Perhaps he is writing satire? Going to war on false pretenses, torturing people and keeping secret prisons in foreign countries all pale before what?

Klein must be joking. For later in the article he states:

Most polls indicate that a strong majority of Americans favor the [Patriot] act, and I suspect that a strong majority would favor the NSA program as well, if its details were declassified and made known.

In fact, liberal Democrats are about as far from the American mainstream on these issues as Republicans were when they invaded the privacy of Terri Schiavo's family in the right-to-die case last year.

Klein may suspect whatever he likes but the truth is that a slim majority of Americans disagree with him:

Over the past three weeks,
President Bush and top aides have defended the electronic monitoring program they secretly launched shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, as a vital tool to protect the nation from al-Qaida and its affiliates.

Yet 56 percent of respondents in an AP-Ipsos poll said the government should be required to first get a court warrant to eavesdrop on the overseas calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens when those communications are believed to be tied to terrorism.

Can Klein really be a Liberal? If he is counted as one in this new faith-based world then what am I? Oh, I forgot. I'm a wilder donkey.

More Dignity

I was kidding when I wrote in my previous post about dignity that the word must have been passed down from the top wingnuts. But after listening to the Alito hearings I can only conclude that it was handed down, to be used, often and often. - The evidence on one central wingnut beebrain is mounting.

Clearly, this dignity business is the start of something new and beautiful: a different drinking-game. One gulp for each time when Alito's dignity is mentioned. Two if it is combined with something about him being a classy guy.

If you don't drink you can do the same with chocolates!

Opinions on Alito Vary

It's almost like the old saw about opinions on the shape of the earth varying. According to Washington Post:

A majority of Americans favor the confirmation of federal appeals court judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court and an even larger proportion believe Alito would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court ruling that legalized abortion, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As hearings begin today in the Senate on his nomination, the survey found that 53 percent of the public says Alito should be confirmed to serve on the court--virtually identical to the proportion that supported John Roberts' confirmation as chief justice four months ago. One in four--27 percent--say Alito should be rejected by the Senate.

But one in five Americans remain undecided about the nominee, who is expected to face tough questioning this week by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee over his past writings on abortion, affirmative action, and the constitutional limits on presidential power.

The survey also found that most Americans expect Alito, if confirmed, would not vote to strike down Roe v. Wade. In the weeks since he was appointed by Bush, abortion rights advocates have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to Alito. They fear he may be the fifth and decisive vote on the court to overturn Roe--a decision that would instantly inflame national debate over an issue that already is one of the most divisive in American politics.

Instead, the survey suggests that the public expects Alito to follow a middle course on the court.

Middle course, indeed. How do people end up with these opinions? Let me guess: They look at Alito's pictures and see no horns on his head or rivers of bile flowing out of his nostrils, and they have to pay the bills and the son is in trouble with the sports coaches and the daughter just had her tongue pierced and the old arthritis is bothersome again and maybe the job isn't as secure as they thought, what with the Bush boom and all. They don't have time or interest for this stuff and, besides, the future is still in the future and can take care of itself.

This is how the world crumbles, by the way. Not with a big bang but with a tiny whimper, made up of the millions of uninterested and tired sighs.

Those who have the leisure and the interest to follow politics more closely have a rather different opinion on Alito:

LEADERS of the Christian right gathered in a Philadelphia church on Sunday night to build support for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on the eve of his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Conservative religious leaders want to follow their success in the elections of 2002 and 2004 by winning a fight over a Supreme Court nominee and defeating their Democratic and liberal adversaries.

The Alito nomination, which polls show a majority of voters support, is opposed by many organisations on the left.

Republicans and Democrats agree that if Judge Alito succeeds Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court is likely to shift to the right, especially on abortion issues and in disputes over the separation of church and state.

The "Justice Sunday III" speeches by Focus on the Family's James Dobson, former Moral Majority chairman Jerry Falwell and the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins were broadcast on several Christian television networks and directly into churches across the country.

"The threat to our religious liberties has not diminished," Mr Perkins told journalists. He cited rulings against the Pledge of Allegiance, restrictions on the public display of the Ten Commandments and a decision barring the Indiana House of Representatives from beginning sessions with prayers that refer to Jesus Christ.

"These are not theoretical threats. They present a clear and present danger to religious freedom in our country," Mr Perkins said. "We are not interested in creating a theocracy in America, we have no interest in a church state. What we want is a church that is free to speak the truth."

Don't believe Perkins. He does want a theocracy in this country, and getting Alito on the bench is part of the master plan. As was the anointing of the seats in the hearings room.

My opinion? Alito will increase the power of the radical religious clerics and the president and he will do his utmost to overturn Roe, to gut our privacy rights and to remove barriers against sex and race discrimination. But other than that, yeah, he is a guy with class...

Today's Word: Dignity

Do you think this came down from the top wingnuts, too? George Bush's speech on the Alito hearings started like this:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I just had breakfast with Judge Alito. I told him I think he conducted himself with such dignity and class in the weeks leading up to the confirmation process, which begins today.

What did he expect Alito to do? Throw somersaults? And what is this reference to "class"? I thought all the rich wingnuts were totally opposed to class warfare.

Then Atrios posted this, also in the context of Alito hearings:

Miles O'Brien, just now:

The Senate is a dignified place, but there's also talk about a filibuster. How dignified could that be?

I have become allergic to "dignity" because the anti-feminists, especially the radical religious clerics, love to talk about the "dignity of women". That is what they promise to us, in lieu of equality and fairness and being treated like a human being. I'm not sure what they mean by "dignity" but I suppose it's that pedestal stuff, in payment for agreeing to be submissive.

But why is dignity brought out in the context of the Alito nomination? The only explanation I can think of is an attempt to forestall filibustering by the Democrats.

The Costs of War

How many lives were lost this weekend?

When we economists talk about costs we mean the value of what is lost because resources were used in one way rather than in the next-best alternative use. This meaning of costs is not the one accountants use. Accountants are interested in only those costs that the institution they work must pay. Economists tend to be interested in the costs of some activity wherever they happen to fall, or at least in a wider definition of costs than the accounting one. For example, while a U.S. government cost accountant would calculate the costs of taking care of the war-wounded based on what the government will pay, an economist would add the costs that the rest of the society must pay towards the treatment of the wounded veterans.

Linda Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz have written an article about the costs of the Iraq war using the economic definition of costs. Their final conservative estimate puts the total measurable costs of the Iraq war at one trillion dollars. One trillion dollars. And this estimate does not include the value of foreign lives lost or any of the costs falling to Iraqis or other nationals but Americans. It also doesn't include some hard-to-measure costs of the war. How would you put a monetary value on the loss of American prestige in the world?

All this means that the trillion dollar total is an underestimate of the true costs of the war. But it is a much bigger estimate than anything the U.S. government has come up with. The government estimates would not take into account the costs that fall to the families of the military personnel, for example, or the impact the war has had on oil prices. Or the economic value of the American lives lost in the war. Neither do the government estimates appear to allow for the future costs of this war, in the form of greater health care costs of the wounded veterans. But even allowing for these differences the administration estimates are still far too low. The important question to ask is whether the administration even knew what the true costs of the war would be, even if costs are given the narrower accounting definition. And if they did know the magnitude of these costs, did they believe that the war was worth them? And how do they justify spending like this while trying to make the tax breaks for the wealthy permanent?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Slick Seats

Religion has entered political space in a big way, medears:

Insisting that God "certainly needs to be involved" in the Supreme Court confirmation process, three Christian ministers today blessed the doors of the hearing room where Senate Judiciary Committee members will begin considering the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito on Monday.

Capitol Hill police barred them from entering the room to continue what they called a consecration service. But in a bit of one-upsmanship, the three announced that they had let themselves in a day earlier, touching holy oil to the seats where Judge Alito, the senators, witnesses, Senate staffers and the press will sit, and praying for each of the 13 committee members by name.

"We did adequately apply oil to all the seats," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, who identified himself as an evangelical Christian and as president of the National Clergy Council in Washington.

I get visual images of large bottoms sticking to the chairs and only removing themselves with an audible "plop". I get visual images of dark stains on the backsides of politicians. And of large dry-cleaning bills, all sent to Rob Schenck.

For the sake of fairness they should now let me and my snakes enter the rooms and put some counterspells in place. I could send Ares over, too. And Aphrodite. If we are going to have religion in politics my folks are definitely interested and ready.

Frank Rich In Righteous Anger On Snoopgate

Rich's New York Times column is behind a paywall. You, my dear readers, have paid for me to get past it so I can comment on what happens on the other side. In hindsight this was not the cleverest of arrangements, and I may decide to stop blogging on articles that are only available for some.

But not before I give you the gist of Rich's newest. He's blowing hot and cold and saying most excellent things about the president's defence of the illegal wiretapping of Americans:

That the White House's over-the-top outrage about the Times scoop is a smokescreen contrived to cover up something else is only confirmed by Dick Cheney's disingenuousness. In last week's oration at a right-wing think tank, he defended warrant-free wiretapping by saying it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Really? Not with this administration in charge. On 9/10 the N.S.A. (lawfully) intercepted messages in Arabic saying, "The match is about to begin," and, "Tomorrow is zero hour." You know the rest. Like all the chatter our government picked up during the president's excellent brush-clearing Crawford vacation of 2001, it was relegated to maƱana; the N.S.A. didn't rouse itself to translate those warnings until 9/12.

Given that the reporters on the Times story, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, wrote that nearly a dozen current and former officials had served as their sources, there may be more leaks to come, and not just to The Times. Sooner or later we'll find out what the White House is really so defensive about.

Does Rich have something more than guesses as the ground for the last sentence? If so, I would have loved to hear it.