Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap discuss -- wait, you knew this was coming . . . -- South Carolina Governor Mark Safford's affair with his Argentinian mistress.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Once an asshole, always an asshole

As if the world needed any more evidence that Richard Nixon will always maintain his standing as the most narcissistic, sociopathic and morally bankrupt person ever to serve as president of the United States, new transcripts of the secret White House taping system made famous by Watergate give new meaning to the old phrase, "Once an asshole, always an asshole."

Commenting on the Court's decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), Nixon expressed some "concern" about a constitutional right to abortion, concerned that it might lead to "permissiveness." But what concerned him even more was this:
“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape.”
More here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The burning building theory of constitutional law

Last October, about a month before the presidential election, I wrote a piece for this blog called, "The abortion conundrum." My point was to suggest that the time had come to acknowledge that a constitutional right to abortion was not in danger, regardless of who was elected. Very briefly, I argued that seeing the "abortion-and-the-Court" debate as one that boiled down to the presidential selection of Supreme Court justices failed to take into account the complexities of judicial selection and confirmation. A moot point now, suppose John McCain had been elected. How high on his list would finding justices prepared to overturn Roe/Casey be, given that the voters who would have put him over the top were probably more inclined to support abortion rights than not? How prepared would a Democratic majority in the Senate have been to confirm a nominee with demonstrated opposition to abortion rights? Getting past that, how eager would that new justice be to provide the vote to overturn a right that had been incorporated into the social fabric of the nation for 35 years? Where was the clear constitutional mistake? Did the five Republican-appointed justices who comprised the majority of the seven-person majority in Roe, including Lewis Powell, Potter Stewart and Harry Blackmun, really so radically misread the Constitution or, more importantly, the political sensibilities of a nation that, in 1973, had begun to institutionalize the seminal changes in the status of African-Americans, women and other minorities that had begun in the 1950s?

Keep going. How eager would Republican governors like Charlie Crist of Florida be to sign legislation prohibiting abortions deemed constitutional under Roe and Casey? How willing would any governor interested in re-election or simply in maintaining political leverage outside of this narrow question be in alienating wide swaths of voters who might like Republican economics but cringe at the power of the Christian Right in their party? And how many doctors would stand for a state legislature's decision to wrest control of their medical practices? Do governors really think there is something advantageous about turning on the evening news to see doctors and female patients being led out of a medical building in handcuffs? Or worse, negotiating the blinding speed with which information is distributed on the Internet, including You Tube and other real-time websites and blogs?

Beyond the drama surrounding a post-abortion rights world, I also offered this take on the justices' approach to the abortion question:

Have you ever been in a conversation where you insisted that you'd go back in a burning building to retrieve your favorite things, rescue your or your children's cat, climb the fire escape to help the kindly old gentleman who lives four doors down from you and always remembers your birthday or to save the wheelchair-bound elderly woman who is always there for you when you need to discuss your personal problems? Of course. We all have. Yet, would we actually go back into the building to save a cat, rescue a person who isn't related to us or retrieve family photos? The only honest answer is that we don't know. Until you are actually faced with a choice that, until that point in time, has only been an abstract point of discussion, you really have no idea what you are doing to do.

My point, which I abbreviate here and made better in my previous post, is that, despite the misguided assurances of so many political scientists that we can "predict" the outcome of Supreme Court decisions by cobbling together sophisticated mathematical models that take into account personal attitudes, social background, political party, the number of questions the Justices ask the advocates appearing before them and so on, there are sometimes cases, arriving at a certain point in time and so fraught with social and political consequences, that put the Court in a similar position as the people standing outside the burning building. For lack of a more clever description, I refer to cases like Casey and yesterday's decision in the Court's most closely watched case of the term, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder (2009) as examples of the "burning building" theory of constitutional law.

In fairness to political scientists, lawyers commenting on the Court's decision to leave Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in place seem, as a whole, schocked -- as in, Casablanca . . . Rick's Cafe . . . gambling, prostitution in a bar "shocked" -- that the same five member bloc that equated "voluntary" desegregation in the Parents Involved decision of two terms ago with the state-imposed system of racial segregation declared unconstitutional 53 years before in Brown v. Board of Education, did not coalesce to strike down the various requirements of Section 5, including the "bailout" and "preclearance" issues. Even Dahlia Lithwick, who covers the Court for Slate and is by far the best at making sense of what the Justices do and why of any of the mainstream correspondents who cover that beat, seemed stunned that the Chief Justice Roberts of April's oral argument in NAMUDNO. Click here for her comparison of Roberts at oral argument with the kindler, gentler Roberts who wrote the Court's majority opinion. Several other excellent legal commentators, including Tom Goldstein at SCOTUS Blog, see Roberts's opinion as an exercise in "judicial minimalism," or the deeper-rather-than-wider approach to constitutional decision-making that first gained traction about ten years ago in Cass Sunstein's influential book, One Case at a Time: Judicial Minimalism on the Supreme Court. Sunstein's basic thesis was this: judges should approach cases from the narrowest perspective possible to minimize judicial intervention in the "democratic process," and leave the tough choices to Congress or the states (or, as in NAMUDNO, other "political subdivisions," such as cities, towns and counties). Judicial minimalism recognizes a place for judicial correction of legislative mistakes, provided those mistakes infringe upon constitutional rights; but takes the gloss of traditional liberal dependence on "enlightened" justices as Platonic guardians (think Ronald Dworkin) of our constitutional rights. Judicial minimalism, as a theory, is really not much more than an updated take on John Hart Ely's Democracy and Distrust (1980) of almost 30 years ago. But Sunstein, like Ely, had (and has) came at "liberal judicial activism" from the critical perspective of a liberal law professor with influence in high places. Sunstein, like Ely, might have a soft spot for the liberal progress engineered by the Warren Court. But he was the liberal's anti-Dworkin, and that made him appear less dangerous to conservatives and more politically appealing to post-modern Democrats like Barack Obama (who, of course, hired his former colleague at the University of Chicago law school after the election to work in the White House).

Four years ago, John Roberts appeared before the Senate judiciary committe and, disavowing his sterling, life-long and not-so-hidden credentials as a social, political and judicial conservative, embraced judicial minimalism as his preferred approach to deciding complex constitutional cases. Four years later, Roberts's record is hardly one that heeds to the "minimalist" philosophy. Not only did his opinion for the Court go much further than it needed to in Parents Involved, it demonstrated a lack of respect, even ignorance, at times, for the nation's history of forcible racial discrimination. On other constitutional questions involving free speech, religion and abortion rights, Roberts has not hesitated to climb aboard the conservative train determined to align the Constitution with the policy preferences of the right-wing of the Republican party. And why not? That's exactly why he was selected, his cynical insistence that he was simply there to "umpire" disputes on the "law" notwithstanding. No reasonable person with an understanding of law and politics should have believed him then, and no one, not even someone as smart as Dahlia Lithwick, should believe him now.

So why did Chief Justice Roberts back off his tough talk at NAMUDNO's oral argument and conclude that it was unnecessary for the Court to decide the constitutionality of Section 5? How was able to get the Court's four moderate-to-liberal justices, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, to join his opinion? These are, after all, the same four justices who have repeatedly dissented in the Court's string of voting rights cases making it harder for states to design majority-minority districts. (Side note: the Bush administration filed an amicus brief in NAMUDNO asking the Court to let stand a lower court's ruling leaving the Section 5 requirements in place. Why? Since the late 1980s, Republican justice departments have accepted the quid pro quo in many of the states covered by the 1965 law, exchanging solid African-American districts designed to elect black Democrats for white, suburban districts that have sent white Southern Republicans to Congress, thus breaking the back of the New Deal alignment between Northern and Southern Democrats that harkened back to Reconstruction. Republicans exceed the number of Democrats representing districts in the former Confederacy, although that moved in the opposite direction in the 2008 election. Every Republican is white; every African-American representing a Southern congressional district is a Democrat. This is no accident).

I think the answer is fairly self-evident. Too much was at stake in this case, coming down just eight months after the election of the first African-American president of the United States, for Chief Justice Roberts to risk his reputation over. Just four years into what promises to be a long turn at the helm of the nation's highest constitutional court, Roberts would be forever saddled with the monicker as having been the chief justice who presided over the demise of the nation's most important civil rights law. His opinion contains none of the moral equivalencies between race-based remedies and the pre-Brown system of America's public education system, which radiated the stench of state-imposed segregation far beyond the Southern states. Roberts spoke respectfully of the 1965 law's successes, which he called "undeniable," and acknowledged that it took that law to kick-start the 15th amendment's promise that the right to vote shall not be conditioned upon race, color or previous condition of servitude. And, quite honestly, his criticism of the current status of the law compared with the conditions that existed when the law was passed are quite reasonable. In fact, if the worst thing to come out of this case is that Congress has to clean up Section 5 and bring the "preclearance" requirements into line with the changes that the law helped create, that's actually a positive development. A Democratic Congress with 41 African-American members in the House and the nation's first African-American president are in a much better position to satisfy the Court's concerns about Section 5 than had this decision come down in the early 2000s or during Newt Gingrich's reign of terror in the 1990s. The lawyers reading the Court's opinion are right about one thing, though: Congress had better move quick.

After years and years of criticizing the 1965 law, a record that goes back to his time in the Reagan justice department, a department that was the most hostile of any presidential administration to the rights of African-Americans since the modern civil rights era began in the early 1950s, Roberts blinked at the opportunity to turn a professional lifetime of caustic rhetoric on race into the big victory that conservatives, in government and in the right-wing public interest bar, have wanted for years. No, this wasn't some legal theory driving Roberts's decision . . . judicial minimalism or, as disgruntled dissenter Clarence Thomas suggested, an ill-timed use of the "doctrine of constitutional avoidance." Rather, Roberts's rhetoric caught fire, and he chose to stand outside rather than enter a building that, engulfed in flames, would have burned his reputation to the ground.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Chief Justice Roberts blinks

Earlier today, the Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Roberts writing for an 8-1 majority, declined to pass judgment on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most important piece of civil rights legislation that Congress has ever passed.

I plan to write something for tomorrow after giving the Court's opinion and Justice Clarence Thomas's dissent another reading. For now, you can get the Court's opinion here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Red State Update

Jackie takes a stand on gun violence in America, while Dunlap argues that Americans should not give up their First Amendment rights because of gun nuts.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Domestic terrorism

Just a little over three weeks ago, former Vice-President Dick Cheney and President Barack Obama gave "dueling" speeches on national security, terrorism and American compliance (or lack thereof, in Cheney's case) with the rule of law, both at home and abroad. Obama spent most of his speech attempting to persuade his supporters and critics that he would not back down from "foreign" terrorist threats; but neither would he "compromise" what he called "American values," which, in Obama-speak, can loosely be described as a hybrid between John F. Kennedy cold warrior toughness with a baby-boomer sensitivity to human rights, the rule of law and a belief that the United States cannot promote democracy if it stoops to the level of its enemies. The latter point is particularly important. A nation that wants to promote liberal democratic principles, which include not only a commitment to free and fair elections but an equal commitment to civil rights and liberties, must lead by deed as well as word. To emphasize the importantance of this latter commitment, Obama gave his speech at the National Archives, which houses the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

About a mile or so a mile away, Cheney gave a speech before a group of like-minded well-wishers at the American Enterprise Institute, an organization charitably described by the mainstream media as a "conservative think-tank." Twenty years in Washington has left me with a decidedly different impression of AEI. Not much thinking goes on over there. Rather, AEI functions as a disapora for right-wing propagandists killing time between Republican administrations. Lots of "serious" talk about the Framers' original intent, why free markets cure all problems, including bathroom mildew and funny car noises and, naturally, why war, or, at minimum, a "military response," is the solution to any sort of bad behavior by any country that either doesn't like us (Iran, North Korea, Canada) or network of "bad guys" that qualifies as a terrorist organization (al-Qaeda, SPECTRE, Nancy Pelosi-Barney Frank-Harry Reid). Since the November 2008 presidential election, the former vice-president, having spent a good deal of his two terms accusing anyone who didn't agree with him or the Bush administration of "treason" or indifference to "terrorism," has been touring the right-wing media or appearing before right-wing audiences like AEI to criticize the Obama administration's approach to national security, which, sadly, appears to sympathize far too much with the "terrorists" by insufficiently torturing them and suggesting that the United States should treat the world's Muslims with respect rather than as a 1.8 billion person sleeper cell.

I didn't read the full transcript of Cheney's speech until just recently. Dishonest, accusatory, replete with double-talk and shamelessly self-congratulatory, Cheney's remarks are so appalling on so many different levels that only what the brilliant political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow calls the "Rightwingoverse" can possibly ascribe any seriousness to them. But one passage caught my eye, perhaps because I had read Cheney's speech so closely in conjunction with the most recent terrorist attack perpetrated on American soil -- the murder of a Holocaust Mueseum security guard by an 88 year-old white Christian American-born terrorist. I'll get to that in a minute. But first, read Cheney's remarks:

To put things in perspective, suppose that on the evening of 9/11, President Bush and I had promised that for as long as we held office – which was to be another 2,689 days – there would never be another terrorist attack inside this country. Talk about hubris – it would have seemed a rash and irresponsible thing to say. People would have doubted that we even understood the enormity of what had just happened. Everyone had a very bad feeling about all of this, and felt certain that the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksvillewere only the beginning of the violence.

Of course, we made no such promise. Instead, we promised an all-out effort to protect this country. We said we would marshal all elements of our nation’s power to fight this war and to win it. We said we would never forget what had happened on 9/11, even if the day came when many others did forget. We spoke of a war that would “include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.” We followed through on all of this, and we stayed
true to our word.To the very end of our administration, we kept al-Qaeda terrorists
busy with other problems. We focused on getting their secrets, instead of sharing ours with them. And on our watch, they never hit this country again. After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed. (Italics mine)

Along the way there were some hard calls. No decision of national security was ever made lightly, and certainly never made in haste. As in all warfare, there have been costs – none higher than the sacrifices of those killed and wounded in our country’s service. And even the most decisive victories can never take away the sorrow of losing so many of our own – all those innocent victims of 9/11, and the heroic souls who died trying to save them. (Italics mine)

For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings. And when the moral reckoning turns to the men known as high-value terrorists, I can assure you they were neither innocent nor victims. As for those who asked them questions and got answers: they did the right thing, they made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.

Less than two weeks after September 11th, 2001, Bruce Ivins, a research scientist at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, which is located about 45 minutes north and west from the White House and about 20 minutes south from the presidential retreat, Camp David, began mailing anthrax to news outlets in New York and elected officials in Washington. By October 16th, the first victim to come into contact with an anthrax mailing died. By the time Ivins's terror campaign came to a close, six people died and dozens more were sickened. Naturally, the Bush administration assumed that the anthrax terrorist was somehow affiliated with al-Qaeda, and Cheney led the charge: "I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked [to the September 11th attacks]," adding that the United States had ample evidence that bin Laden's followers were trained in how to spread biological and chemical weapons.

Missed that one by a mile, didn't he? Bruce Ivins sat, almost literally, in the president's backyard, and the Bush administration couldn't figure out where and how a terrorist attack launched within two weeks of September 11th originated or who did it. The Department of Justice finally tracked the attacks to Ivins, who committed suicide in late July 2008 after he learned that the FBI was about to arrest him for the anthrax attacks. For four years, the FBI pursued another research scientist named Stephen Hatfill, who was exonerated in August 2008 and awarded a settlement of almost $5 million for the damage done to his reputation and career as a result of government's wrongful prosecution.

I remember well the immediate period after the first anthrax letter turned up in NBC's New York offices. Work-study students in our office were opening mail with sanitary gloves and surgeon's masks, as if that would have prevented anyone from getting sick or dying. Families in my neighborhood sealed their mail slots and left letters for postal carriers asking them to leave the mail in a cardboard box on the front steps. My children's public school no longer accepted any mail from "unofficial" sources. And the list goes on and on and on. Ivins's planned, thought-out and carefully calibrated decision to attack innocent citizens by mailing deadly germs in an envelope brought the Bush administration's repeated warnings that al-Qaeda would use "weapons of mass destruction" to kill Americans to life. But once the administration lost interest in pursuing the source of the anthrax terror attacks, largely because it couldn't pinpoint it, you ceased to hear the word "terrorism" associated with anthrax. An occasional article might refer to Ivins's anthrax mailings as an "act of bioterrorism." Since Ivins did not have an "al"- prefix attached to his name or hail from a Muslim country, he was more often classified as just good old-fashioned homegrown American nutcase.

* * * * * * * * * *

During the eight years of the Bush administration, from January 20th, 2001 to January 20th, 2009, approximately 105,000 Americans were murdered by someone wielding a firearm. By any definition, the decision of one person to kill another person is an act of terror. Let's go further and say that any person who rapes, robs, sexually assaults, sexually abuses or beats to near death another person commits an act of terrorism. Over the past twenty years or so, many state legislatures and even Congress have defined some of these acts as "hate crimes." Hate crime legislation generally has a two-fold purpose: (1) to gather information on "targeted" crimes, i.e., those motivated by "animus" on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, sex, etc. so that law enforcement agencies can better locate and police these crimes and (2) to permit government authorities to ask for harsher sentences for crimes classified as "hate crimes."

The Bush administration position on "hate crimes" legislation? It opposed every such bill submitted to Congress, including the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would have authorized the federal government to pursue harsher penalties against the perpetrators of anti-gay violence.

On guns, the Bush administration continued the long-standing Republican tradition of supporting the right of Americans to arm themselves to the teeth. But Dick Cheney went an additional step that no other administration official, Republican or Democratic, had ever taken on guns: that the right to own a gun was guaranteed by the Second Amendment. In 2008, when the Supreme Court declared D.C.'s handgun control law unconstitutional on Second Amendment grounds, the Bush administration argued to strike the law down, but stopped short of saying that the Second Amendment guaranteed a right to own a weapon. Cheney was unhappy with the administration's more nuanced position, as reflected in Solicitor General Paul Clement's brief, so he signed on to brief submitted by over 300 members of Congress asking the Court to declare the D.C. law unconstitutional per se.

Indifference to the approximately 13,000 murders that take place in the United States every year is doing everything within his power to prevent terrorism? Or is American murdering another American not an act of terror?

* * * * * * * * * *

Think about that one for a minute. The vice-president of the United States freelances a legal position beyond the legal argument that his boss's Justice Department is taking before the Supreme Court. I looked to see if there was any precedent for that. There isn't.

* * * * * * * * * *

In late May, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a 24 year-old man from Little Rock, Arkansas, once known as Carlos Bledsoe, walked into a local armed forces recruiting center and started shooting at soldiers in front of the building. Authorities determined that Muhammad had "political and religious motives" to kill personnel working at the center. He is being tried for first-degree murder and 15 counts of engaging in a terrorist act.

On May 31st, Scott Roeder walked into a Wichita church and shot Dr. George Tiller, a local physician who, until then, performed late-term abortions. Roeder's thought out, religiously and politically motivated decision to kill a civilian doctor was not the first time that someone opposed to legal abortion had taken a shot at a doctor who performed abortions. Since 1989, there have been 23 attempted murders or murders of persons who work at abortion clinics -- 24, if you include Roeder's murder of Tiller -- and thousands of attempted bombings, assaults, break-ins, acts of vandalism, anthrax hoaxes (which soared, by the way, after Ivins lanched his anthrax terror attacks through the mail). Not a single person charged in any of these crimes has been charged with commiting an "act of terror." That includes Roeder, who is being charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault.

* * * * * * * * * *
Just to see what would turn up, I googled (that is a verb now, right?) "shooting day care center united states."  On the first three pages, I found shootings, some lethal, that had taken place at day care centers in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, a small town in Michigan, a town I had never heard of in North Carolina, a town in Alabama, another town in Texas and . . . and . . . more shooting in more cities and towns across the United States. I was going to google "shootings public schools United States" to see how often the Columbine scenario has played out across the country since that awful day in April 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold slaughtered 13 teachers and classmates and then killed themselves in an act of carnage that horrified and shocked the country. Eight years later, Cho Seung-Hui, a Virginia Tech undergraduate, turned his guns on 33 teachers and students before killing himself.  Neither massacre was described as a terrorist attack or an "act of terror." They were alternately described as "mass murders" and "mass shootings," which they certainly were.  But had the shooters been individuals of Arab surnames or self-identified with some "terrorist" group or cell, these events no doubt would have been labeled as "acts of terror." Since they weren't, they get demoted to "mass shootings" that "horrify and shock" the country, even though killing sprees like these have a long and ignoble history in the United States.

"American exceptionalism" is one of those manufactured myths that has a strong hold on the social and political culture of the United States.  "Exceptionalists" believe that the United States is somehow better than any other country at pretty much everything, with the exception of maybe soccer, ice hockey and designing and manufacturing cars, for no other reason than Americans say so.  The professed basis for American exceptionalism is our historic commitment to liberal democratic institutions, the protection of individual rights and the absence of formal constraints on economic and social mobility. The truth is much more complex and often not very pretty.  This is a topic deserving of its own post, and that day may well soon come.  For now, though, Americans can rest assured that their country stands at the top of the mountain in one place for all the world to see: the United States is by far . . . by far  .  . . the most violent democratic nation in the world.  For sheer volume, no other nation comes close to the annual rate of approximately 12,500 murders per year that we do. But there's more --  Americans kill each other at a higher rate per capita than in any other country in the world.

Exceptional, eh?

* * * * * * * * * *

So let the deep-thinkers of AEI nod their heads as the former vice-president huffs and puffs about his "success" in making the country safe from terrorism. Nod away, boys (and they are mostly boys, offset by the occasional female scholar who warns against the evils of feminism, affirmative action, Hollywood and judicial activism while extolling the virtues of the free market from a perch funded by institutional donors and wealthy benefactors and thus largely insulated from those very same forces), as you're about the only people left who still believe that the Bush administration did anything positive during the eight years it unleashed one disastrous policy after another on the country. Let Dick Cheney take all the credit he wants for "preventing" people with Arab surnames or Islamic sympathies from entering the United States to kill innocent Americans.  The ownership of language is a privilege that accords with political power.  Now that the Bush administration is just an unfortunate memory, albeit one that has and will continue to have terrible consequences, perhaps we can now disengage the word "terror" from the convenient and stilted definition that the Cheneys of the world (and their enablers in the mainstream media) gave it and recognize the word for what it really means and the broad range of horrific, violent acts right here at home to which it equally applies.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Poor little rich hipsters

Not even the Trustafarians are exempt from this recession. Have Chucks, a PBR, skinny jeans and a healthy disdain for conventional produce . . . but nowhere to go.

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap review the weeks events, including President Obama's speech to the Muslim world, Dick Cheney's possible book deal and what he'll tell the world, and Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Racists outraged by racism

Earlier in the week, I asked a friend of mine who hosts a popular on-line "chat" program for a well-trafficked on-line newsletter/magazine/whatever something like this is called, whether his colleagues in the establishment Washington media truly understood the irony, if not absurdity, of asking such Republican celebrities as Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan and Glenn Beck, or air-head frat boys like Tucker Carlson, to comment on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's comments about how her ethnic heritage and background affect her approach to law and constitutional rights. In the case of Limbaugh and Buchanan, that's like asking Adolf Eichmann whether he thinks Woody Allen's movies are too Jewish. As for Gingrich, he's Exhibit #1 for the old Lyndon Johnson adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity for a politician, just no publicity. Naturally, if you add in an occasional albeit inexplicable observation that one day we will have a student exchange program, funded by the private sector, of course, with our Martian friends . . . in our lifetime, you become, in the eyes of the establishment media, an "interesting" person with "big" ideas. Not ideas that have any relevance to reality, or are the least bit workable, or are actually thought through. As long as you don't mention such phrases as "election cycle," "the process," use adjectives like "train wreck" or "Draconian," or mention how some obscure small state governor, like "30 Rock" Kenneth the Page act-a-like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, or a one term small town assemblyman represents the future of the Republican party or is a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomintion in 2012, you qualify as a Beltway intellectual. Newt the Frewt is an intellectual like Mark Russell is a political satirist or the Capitol Steps are a comedy troup -- only in Washington.

As for Tucker Carlson, who knows why anyone would want his opinion about anything? Yet, and not suprisingly, there are those who do. Then again, these are largely the same people who thought Sarah Palin, who was the future of the Republican party either slightly before or after Bobby Jindal was the future of the Republican party -- I honestly don't remember who came first -- was hot.

No, really, Palin had Washington men getting all weak-kneed in their penny loafers and Washington women trading in their Spectator pumps, Hermes scarves and Talbots suits for something more racy to keep their men in check, like a Land's End skirt or outdoorsey and rugged, like an L.L. Bean Gore-Tex jacket with a silver triangle on the back.

. . . back to my friend. His answer: "I get 300 calls on a live chat for almost any guest I choose. For Newt, I get 5,000. It's all show business; not journalism."

At least he's honest. But isn't there some line that even a huckster like Gingrich, whose career long ago devolved into a "Spinal Tap"-like self-parody of himself, can't cross before being placed on that dreaded "DO NOT CALL" list of former administration officials, political strategists, kidnap victims and Capitol Hill insiders? Gingrich's public statement that Sotomayor was a "racist" for commenting in an old speech that her experience as a Latina woman gave her insight into certain issues that differed, by and large, from a white man revealed far more than his own stupidity. The episode also revealed the tired pattern of the establishment media relying on the same old hacks, frauds and has-beens for "commentary" on matters about which they know nothing or, even if they know something, are uniquely unqualified to assess.

Oh, there's so much more to say. But Joe Conason at Salon says it all much better here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Downbeat at 75

Downbeat, America's oldest magazine devoted to coverage of jazz, celebrates its 75th anniversary this month.  The July issue, available to subscribers but not yet in stores, features interviews and profiles on musicians culled from 1934 to the present. There is a great profile on Benny Goodman's decision in the mid- to late 1930s to integrate his band and then subsequently dare promoters and club owners not to hire what was then then the nation's pre-eminent swing band; another one with Louis Armstrong, who believed that "bebop" might well ruin the audience for jazz; critical comments on Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, who were viewed initially by the mainstream jazz press as heretical and anti-musical; a terrific feature on Dave Brubeck, who responds now to articles written about him dating back to the early 1950s; a long piece on Sonny Rollins; and much, much more.

You can pick up some features on-line by clicking here. The 75th anniversary edition should be available in about a week or so.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bill O'Reilly's crusade

Bill O'Reilly is never one to apologize for his outrageous, often racist, sexist and homophobic commentary. For years, he has targeted the Kansas physician, George Tiller, who was shot dead in his church yesterday by an anti-abortion rights lunatic, for special derision. Read here this excellent piece on Salon by Gabriel Winant, and then contemplate why such purveyors of such wretched vile like O'Reilly, Limbaugh and the like are considered "mainstream" voices who command a place in the Republican hierarchy.

And if you're thinking of responding, "Hey, Limbaugh and O'Reilly represent the outer-fringe of the Republican party and not the core of the conservative movement," think again. Yes, I'd be concerned if the words, "Newt Gingrich" and "Rush Limbaugh" were mentioned in the same breath as "party leadership." But the fact is that Limbaugh and Gingrich, who have never had a serious thought between them about anything, are the current faces of the Republican party.

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap discuss whether Sonia Sotomayor is a racist, the Rush Limbaugh-Rick Sanchez challenge and Grandma's "dirty talking" on iTunes.