No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Some updates on past items.
- Mississippi is going with a proper ballot design after all.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the special election to replace Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) – who resigned last December – will appear near the top of the November ballot. The court ruled 8 to 1 that the ballot layout approved by Republican Governor Haley Barbour violated state election law by listing the race at the very bottom of the ballot. Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.I’m glad the court rejected it so emphatically. Now we need to work on making this kind of manipulation something to be ashamed of. No one attempts poll taxes or literacy tests anymore. Tactics like this deserve the same general opprobrium.
- Ohio is getting sued over its effort to throw out some of the absentee ballots it’s received:
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, issued a memo on Sept. 5 to all 88 county boards of election instructing officials to reject the applications if that box is unchecked because it leaves to question whether the person who filled out the application is indeed qualified to vote in Ohio. Brunner said she is only following Ohio law. She blamed the McCain camp for the confusion because it added the box to the form, which was not needed. But because it is there it must be checked or applications are invalid, her office contends.Knock it off, Sec. Brunner. Count the votes and redouble education and outreach.
- The lawsuit against journalists detained at the RNC has been dropped. I’m happy to give Amy Goodman the last word:
The St. Paul City Attorney’s office announced Friday it will not prosecute Democracy Now! journalists Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also issued a statement Friday that “the city will decline to prosecute misdemeanor charges for presence at an unlawful assembly for journalists arrested during the Republican National Convention.”…Upon learning of the news, Democracy Now! Host, Amy Goodman said, “It’s good that these false charges have finally been dropped, but we never should have been arrested to begin with. These violent and unlawful arrests disrupted our work and had a chilling effect on the reporting of dissent. Freedom of the press is also about the public’s right to know what is happening on their streets. There needs to be a full investigation of law enforcement activities during the convention.”
That was the good news at the ballot box. Here’s the bad: New tactics to exclude voters based on a novel tactic called “exact matching” of names:
Exact matching, however, could mean that a woman who recently married and changed her name would fail to match government records containing her maiden name. Voters who have double last names or unusually spelled names might also fail. Everything depends on how a state’s matching algorithm is designed.This kind of abuse of discretion is exactly the sort of bad faith that encourages calls for an inflexible, uniform national standard. It’s hard to argue for local autonomy, deference or home rule when questionable (to put it generously) tactics are used to “shape” the electorate.
This week’s reason why I have the Electronic Frontier Foundation on my Liberty Huggers blogroll:
Plaintiffs who had been pursuing a suit against AT&T have shifted their focus to government officials to circumvent Congress’s grant of immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. A class action lawsuit was filed Thursday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is continuing to pursue its case against AT&T. “Today we’ve opened a second front in our battle to stop the NSA’s illegal surveillance,” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston told reporters during a conference call Thursday….Bankston said the lawsuit’s aim is to “obtain personal accountability from the architects” of the warrantless surveillance and to say to future government officials, “If you break the law and violate people’s privacy, there will be consequences.”…Congress also has been complicit. When it adopted several amendments to FISA earlier this summer, the Democratic-led Congress gave in to Bush’s demands that the updated spy law provide immunity for participating telecoms like AT&T. Bankston said EFF is arguing that the immunity grant itself was unconstitutional and has not given up its original case, Hepting v. AT&T, but the group is pursuing the separate case against the government officials to avoid getting bogged down with the fight over immunity.I love how they keep fighting.
I like Russ Feingold, so it pains me to write this: Senator, in the face of Democratic Congress’ relentless capitulations to the President and ominous signs of another one this week maybe citizens have started taking matters into their own hands because they wish you and your fellow party leaders would just slink off the stage. And maybe if you were interested in fixing problems now we might not feel that way.
UPDATE: I forgot to include the following comment from Mark Kernes a couple weeks ago:
It’s been my observation that when Repugnicans are in power, they sound like fascists, and when they’re out of power (or going out), they do their best to sound like libertarians. It’s about time less-observant people quit being fooled by that crap.I would have worded it differently but in light of the coming Wall Street bailout it’s probably become even more accurate in just the last week.
UNPACKING JANE: On pp. 156-7 Mayer describes how James Mitchell, a former military psychologist, was apparently in charge of the interrogation of terror suspect Abu Zubayda. He had no background in the middle east, the Muslim religion or Islamic terrorism. And he spoke no Arabic. Mayer delicately uses the word “oddly” to characterize putting someone like that as a lead interrogator. When the torture of Zubayda is proposed Mayer writes:
Fearful that they would be implicated, and adamantly opposed to what Mitchell proposed doing, the FBI agents picked up and left. In the following days, reports of deliberate prisoner abuse reached the top rungs of the FBI, causing the Director, Mueller, to bar the Bureau’s personnel from participating in the CIA’s coercive interrogations. The use of these controversial methods thus deprived the United States of many of its most experienced terrorism experts. It also abandoned the interrogations of the most valuable suspects to the intelligence officials with no great interest in prosecuting them, lessening the incentive to play by the rules.The people in charge of terrorist interrogations were more interested in cruelty than in effectively extracting information with an eye on getting the suspects into a court of law. In other words, there was no desire or intent for these detainees to be handled or processed according to the rule of law.
I’ve heard this week’s crisis in financial markets as an economic 9/11. I agree completely, and think the analogy can be extended beyond just a generic catastrophic event. Republicans have done a great job of casting the attacks as completely out of the blue and unknowable. They have also adopted the unfathomably bizarre reasoning that the President has done a great job protecting us ever since the first 3,000 Americans were murdered on his watch. (This is the same tactic that allows them to claim The Surge - accompanied by an assassination and ethnic cleansing campaign - worked while ignoring the much larger strategic failures that surround it.) But as I’ve written previously there was plenty of warning before the attacks for those with eyes to see. Some in the intelligence community were desperately trying to get this lazy, indifferent administration’s attention when the red flags started popping up. The event was foreshadowed well in advance, and the biggest failures came at the very top. As then, so now. Plenty of people have been warning for years about the hazards (via Blue Girl) posed by the Republicans’ unwavering commitment to deregulation and toothless oversight. It was obvious that dismantling the structures erected to enforce a certain modest degree of prudence and good practice was not all about streamlining Byzantine procedures, modernizing the financial industry to compete in the modern global marketplace or any of that happy horseshit. It was not about creating a Randian paradise of unfettered capitalism, but unleashing the instant-gratification attitude that controls the mental six year olds on Wall Street. We created an environment that rewards the absolutely worst behavior. We knew it, the results were easy to predict and we could see it coming from a long way off. Let’s not even start with how no one could have known, or that spending some time on an autopsy is politicization - especially when the right was only too happy to politicize it when it worked for them.
And a trillion dollars is a lot of fucking money.
And please - spare me the wailing about how conservatism cannot fail, only be failed. When you postulate that government is evil you will necessarily view abuse of it as a virtue if not a moral imperative. And lofty claims of fiscal probity can self-evidently not survive extended contact with Washington, D.C. We have now conclusively seen that its claims and objectives are not practical and are essentially impossible to implement in the real world. Communism suffered the same crisis of idealism and now is on the ash heap. Time for conservatism to join it.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Over the weekend I watched a clip of Real Time with Bill Maher and was astonished by a comment from Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund (transcript below). The panel was discussing Sarah Palin’s apparent ignorance of the Bush Doctrine, and the subject turned to how knowledgeable Palin was in general. Maher brings up the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (Sarbox) as an example. Fund rejects even asking her about it, saying “Do you want to run a trivia contest or do you want to run a campaign?”
This was a remarkable thing to say for several reasons. First and foremost, Fund writes for one of the premier financial media outlets in the world! Isn’t legislation that puts noteworthy new regulations on business - itself a real novelty over the last generation - somewhere beyond Jeopardy territory? Furthermore, Sarbox is not just squarely in the wheelhouse of his supposed area of expertise, it is one of the best known pieces of legislation in the past ten years. I know I tend to be in the “political junkie” category but I think a member of a major party ticket should know at least as much about major legislation as I do.
The same is true of the Bush Doctrine. It has been much discussed in the last week; the hastily developed party line is that it actually is some kind of fascinating, multifaceted, unknowable metaphysical construct. (If true it would be the first evidence of foreign policy complexity from the Administration.) But even before all the renewed attention I think expecting a candidate to have at least an interested observer’s level of knowledge of it is reasonable. To get a sense of roughly what kind of knowledge “reasonable observer” level implied I decided to give myself an impromptu civics quiz. Since Sarbox has not been in the news recently (just like the Bush Doctrine hadn’t) I challenged myself to give an extemporaneous explanation of it from only my existing understanding of it - no news reports, Googling, Wikipedia, etc. Here’s what I came up with:
Sarbanes-Oxley is the law passed in the wake of the corporate accounting scandals of the early 2000’s. Designed to tighten reporting requirements and insure accountability via CEO signatures on SEC filings, it was intended to prevent the kind of creative accounting that led to the meltdown of Enron, WorldCom and other high profile companies.There are some quibbles with it - I neglect to mention it does not apply to privately held companies, for instance (but they don’t file with the SEC, right?) - but basically I’m happy with it. The point is, I was able to give a decent summary of a big piece of legislation based on having followed the news at the time. I probably could have done the same with the Bush Doctrine, at least mentioning the right to preemptive war based on gathering threats. These are not obscure events, they certainly are not trivia, and it is reasonable to expect anyone running for high office to be conversant in them. Again: Conversant. Not expert, just able to describe their basic outlines.
But John Fund and many others on the right are not engaging in these debates in good faith. Maher even points that out later in the show, telling Fund to his face that he thinks he is lying because he is too smart to believe his own dissembling. The dominant conservative philosophy of our time is a belief in a ruling class of elites. In practice it prefers for citizens to be ignorant of the most basic elements of policy, and nonparticipants in the process of governing. On the heels of the different tactics I highlighted last week to keep voters from actually voting Fund’s comments were a revelation. He represents those who have shaped our bellicose foreign policy and forcefully pushed for an unregulated, laissez faire economic state of nature.
They prefer undemocratic forms and seek to discourage the diffusion of knowledge. They want for us to be incurious about disastrous policies or abdications of responsibility, to dismiss our most important policies as trivia. They want for us to not ask questions even when thousands of our fellow citizens are sent to die in a faraway land, or when the financial industry melts down as it has this week. They want for us to not pay attention, or to not care. They don’t want high information voters or low information voters. They want no information, and no voting. They resent our attempts to influence our nation’s direction. They want to be left alone to shape the country as it best suits them, for us to take our lumps and theirs as well. They want for us to not bother.
Excerpt of Real Time with Bill Maher from September 12, 2008. From roughly 4:11-5:09. Cross talk, repeated words and applause not included.
BILL MAHERReturn to main text.
Let’s ask Sarah Palin about Sarbanes-Oxley. What would she say about that? “I shot one the other day. It had horns.” Do you think she knows what Sarbanes-Oxley is?
Do you want to run a trivia contest or do you want to run a campaign?
Is that trivia? Wait a second. When you’re running to live in the White House is it trivia? That’s what I mean - this bothers me. This “I’m a snob because I want to judge the intelligence level of someone who seeks the White House”? That makes me a snob? This is not American Idol. It’s not a beauty pageant, even though her answer sounded like a beauty pageant.
I went back and watched the tapes from the primaries. When something like Sarbanes-Oxley or the Bush Doctrine was introduced in those debates, they were given in context and the candidates were told what they were in reference to. Because this is not something that you’re supposed to remember off the top of your head.
That is such unbelievable bullshit!