Tag Archives: politics

politics – how humans behave when they’re negotiating power relationships

take 5 minutes — Congressmember hilariously questioned on Constitution

Yesterday Rep. Alan Grayson questioned Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia on the meaning of Bills of Attainder, in regards to one of the anti-ACORN bills / amendments floating through Congress. Delightful. I’m linking to it through Glenn Greenwald’s blog, who brought it to my attention, because Greenwald is almost always worth reading.

new US Trade Rep; same bad Hollywood favoritism

see below for update 12/19

Obama has appointed the next US Trade Representative, current U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA 31); see also Becerra’s House site. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s going to be in the pocket of tank for Hollywood, just as prior USTR’s have been.

A few notes from some fast research (“googling”):

* He’s a Dem from LA. That’s almost saying enough right there.
* The Washington Times (crazy! but it’s what news.google.com pointed me to) reports:

With strong ties to Hollywood, Becerra fought to have the film industry included in the $137 billion tax bill. He wanted to stem the exodus of film production overseas and to Canada with tax-code changes.

* Google shows him on many, many events with, for, or about Hollywood, P2P, etc.
* He’s taken money from copyright maximalist PACs, e.g., $3000, Jan-June 1995, which went waaay up over the next decade: $38,750, 2005-06 (plus $3000 printing, for a total of $41,750 from copyright industries, against $12,000 from telcos & Internet companies). In ’07-’08, he took $47,500 from Hollywood, plus $5,000 from printing & publishing. Cost-of-lobbying increases, I guess. open secrets

But, while it may be bad on the copyright-front (did we expect anything good?), it’s not necessarily all bad. Like I’ve noticed before, Hollywood copyrightists who can’t see the public interest in copyright can definitely see it in patent law. Becerra cosponsored the “Genomic Research & Accessibility Act” to ban gene patents. Michael Crichton, Patenting Life, NYT, 2/13/2007

Last Friday, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, and Dave Weldon, a Republican of Florida, sponsored the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act, to ban the practice of patenting genes found in nature. Mr. Becerra has been careful to say the bill does not hamper invention, but rather promotes it. He’s right. This bill will fuel innovation, and return our common genetic heritage to us.

He’s also done some pro-librarian work, for example, seeking to add librarians to loan forgiveness plans, e.g., by introducing the Librarian Education & Development Act of 2003 (HR 2674).LIS News 2004/6/9

And of course in other areas — human rights not dealing with access to knowledge — he’s pretty good. So, the task is to get the access to knowledge message to him …

update 12/19 So Becerra turned down the job on Monday (12/15), and instead Obama has appointed Ron Kirk, former Mayor of Dallas, and supported by tech. tech daily dose, from private list

reasonable limits on presidential pardoning power

I’m contemplating Bush’s potential pardon of his various underlings for their roles in torture or other illegal actions, and I’m angry.

The Presidential pardoning power can be and should be used for humanitarian reasons — for mercy, or for justice, when for whatever reason those are not available through ordinary means. There’s also a good argument for using it for “national reconciliation” — e.g., pardoning the Viet Nam draft dodgers, or (gag) pardoning Nixon. (Those situations are clearly distinguishable, obviously, but even though I firmly disagree with the Nixon pardon, it’s a reasonable argument.)

But the pardoning power should not be available for use to eliminate responsibility for one’s own misdeeds, and for members of the government that includes actions committed on orders. Members of the government already receive a wide variety of protections for “following orders”. Use of the Presidential pardon power to pardon those who followed one’s own illegal orders is the worst kind of self-dealing, and it places the President above the law. Since “[t]he President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” it’s clear that impeachment for such crimes was envisioned. Yet pardoning one’s underlings for their illegal activities render it virtually impossible to prosecute the superior that ordered the actions — the President thus protects himself from any such impeachment or other prosecution.

It’s regularly stated that the Presidential pardon power is “plenary” and virtually unlimited, but there must be some level of absurdity. Can the President pardon himself for, say, ordering the massacre of Congress and the suspension of the Constitution? Or bribe an investigative commission and then pardon himself for doing so? Well, yeah. Bush I showed us that they can, with his Iran-Contra pardons. So here we go again. There is just no fucking justice or accountability for members of this administration. God that makes me angry.

update 2/28: See, this is why I should save my wrath until after the fact. I could have used it so much more effectively ….

science & politics of reporting protests

Reading this account of a large “Alaskan Women Reject Palin” rally — reminds me of the massive anti-Gulf War protest in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Almost no media coverage for that protest. Almost no media coverage for this one. And yet, apparently the smaller pro-Palin rally did receive media coverage. I get “if it bleeds it leads”, but are there reasons beyond naked bias and politics for these kinds of disparities in coverage of protests?

break-break for anxiety

in the middle of a blogging break (for good reasons! welcome ada marie) i bring you this article from salon.com which is scary as fuck and makes me fear for little ada’s future:

Apocalypse Now by Mike Davis.

Davis does not buy any of the Gore-style cheerleading that we might avert a climatically disastrous future through alternative energy sources and sustainable economics. Instead, he predicts that in the new “Anthropocene” (the human-determined geological era just declared “open” by the Geological Society of London) the rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, and we will become a “planet of slums”.

escapist reading about our “leaders”

an upsetting day. so, reading the news.

Farewell to the crown, farewell, the velvet gown, won’t you all come tumbling down? Goodbye to the crown! (Chumbawamba, “Farewell to the Crown”)

Nepal votes out their monarchy and institutes a republic. Gyanendra has to vacate the palace within two weeks or face eviction. Also, he had to start paying his own electric bills a while back. Ha ha, I love that. It is balm to my troubled soul. The palace building will be turned into a museum.

The NYT also reports that former Illinois governor George Ryan, with six years left on his prison term for racketeering and fraud, will seek executive clemency from Bush.

The lawyer, James R. Thompson (also a former Illinois governor), said any larger purpose in the conviction and sentence of Mr. Ryan, 74, had been served. “The man has gone from being the governor of the state of Illinois to being a prisoner in a federal penitentiary,” Mr. Thompson said, later adding: “His career is gone. His reputation is gone.”

Ah if only that were the standard for all prisoners. Anyway I will say that Ryan did a good thing by ordering a moratorium on the death penalty after learning of wrongful convictions.

And, finally, the NYT reports on McCain’s use of Bush for fundraising:

Despite the efforts by the McCain camp to keep at arm’s length a president with an approval rating stalled at 28 percent, it is worth remembering that that 28 percent can be fiercely loyal and often wealthy. … “He is very popular with high-dollar donors,” [conservative economist] Mr. Bartlett said of the president.

updated 5/29: Also this note on how the presidential fundraising travel expenses get billed:

By blending official events with party fundraising, Bush dramatically reduces the cost of presidential travel that’s charged to the political campaigns. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab.

the missing “than”

The NYT had the germ of an interesting idea today: What I’d Be Talking About if I Were Still Running, op-eds from presidential candidates who have dropped out. It was only a germ because it turned out that the op-eds were only very short, virtually substance-less talking point-level comments. Now if the NYT followed this up with, say, articles doing journalism that examined the current candidates’ positions on these issues, comparing rhetoric to record, we might have something.

Anyway, I was browsing through these and — I should have known better but I clicked on Sam Brownback’s “A Family Crisis”. He had very little of interest to say — more of the tired “marriage is in a crisis” bullshit — but he did this nice little rhetorical dance that I thought was worth noting. He says:

Children brought up with a mom and dad bonded in marriage are, on average, far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.

Now, words like “more” or “less” are comparative terms. Good grammar requires we include the concepts being compared. Political rhetoric, apparently, permits leaving these things unvoiced. Politicians say the positive, and leave the negative for the readers’ minds to fill in. Grammatical deniability.

These children are “on average far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.” More likely than whom? The unmarried parents discussed in the editorial, sure, but also this clearly suggests same-sex parents. The “on average” lends it a bit of scientific gloss, and ties it into the false and misleading reports of research that are frequently circulated by rightwingers like Brownback.

Pretty slick way to politick.

gender and politics

My partner and I agree on one thing about the Democratic race: That sexism has played a major role in the treatment of Hillary Clinton. A friend of ours recently pointed out that if the genders were reversed — if Barack Obama were a woman, with little experience but inspiring rhetoric — Obama-as-woman would never have gotten as far as he has — the Democratic front-runner, or, at least, tied for front-runner.

What we’ve also noticed is that, although mainstream media commentators regularly bring up her gender, they have rarely if ever brought up the question of sexism. That virtual media silence has recently broken, precipitated, apparently, only by Hillary Clinton making the observations herself.

The NYT ran the numbers and showed that Clinton was indeed correct — that far more first questions in debates had been directed at her than at other candidates.

Then yesterday on WBUR, on On Point, Geraldine Ferraro was amazing. Sure, she ran roughshod over the host and some callers, but I loved it. Her co-guests were Ellen Goodman, Pat Schroeder, and Katha Pollitt! What a line-up. How many times have we had to listen to whole line-ups of men? Or line-ups of mostly men leavened with one woman? Such a rare pleasure to actually hear so many smart women talking together on air. It’s like real life, where I get to hear many smart women talking together all the time.

atheist outreach and hypocrite hilarity

check out this awesome overpass/sidewalk art at yonkis.com — you have to scroll all the way to the right, and it’s not a flip photo so do it slowly enough to notice the homo sapiens-like creatures … at the shortest point of the wall, at about the 75% mark (L-to-R).

The pointer came from pharyngula, where they’ve also been discussing atheist outreach. Elsewhere in the blogosphere people have been wondering if posting flyers on cars in church parking lots is a good way to reach out to the faithful (the “parking lot challenge”) and what kinds of flyers would be good. I posted some of my thoughts in a comment, but to sum up: (a) flyers can come in all kinds of different information, and if you’re willing for 90% or more to be thrown away you could save the life or sanity of some unhappy teenager who *wants* rationality but doesn’t know how to find it; (b) lots of other places are good to pass out tidbits of reason: bus and train ads, newspaper inserts, inserts in bookstore books, hotel bibles; (c) anybody ever do “you’re welcome for the good deed” card?; and (d) what do you say when someone says “god bless you” and you want to be polite and friendly and brief, but corrective?

… And speaking of religious people: The “abstinence-only” promoter in the Bush Administration’s foreign aid department (aka the “AIDS czar”) resigned in embarrassment after getting caught on DC madam Jeane Palfrey’s list of prominent johns. (See WPost 4/28 and ABC 4/27.) Ha ha. Oh, my anger at BS thinly-veiled with sanctimony is rarely so well matched by my pleasure at hypocrisy revealed. My cup runneth over, but I tell you — the Bush administration has produced so many of these kinds of things that it’s kinda hard to keep up.

I anticipate many more such juicy stories once her client list (which is in the hands of prosecutors and ABC?) is published, and we know more names of people who sought “massage and sexual fantasy from college-educated women”. The irony of the abstinence-only AIDS czar being one of the first to go is rich though. It is Good to start the day with hypocrites brought low. I am in a happy, happy mood.

US copyright lobby madness

The US copyright lobby (as represented by the “International Intellectual Property Alliance”, a confusingly named consortium of US copyright lobbying groups) has just done a report on the failures of the rest of the world to properly protect its members’ intellectual property. We care, because it submits this report (solicited? unsolicited?) to the US Trade Rep who basically adopts it wholesale in its annual report of what to do next. (The US Trade Rep is the strong-arm of US policy, basically “encouraging” other countries to adopt legislation and policies that favor US interests. Contact USTR lists some relevant numbers and address.)

Michael Geist (a Canadian Internet and copyright law scholar) wrote a terrific analysis of the report. He does a beautiful job of contextualizing it within the US’ climate of copyright extremism.

# For instance, the report criticizes the rest of the world for not adopting the US version of the much-criticized and highly problematic anticircumvention provisions of the 1998 DMCA.

# Second, the report criticizes countries that seek to adopt some of the consumer-friendly provisions that US law still contains (e.g., fair use in Israel; time shifting in New Zealand; compulsory licensing regimes around the world).

# Third, the report criticizes countries that attempt to promote educational, privacy, and cultural initiatives, such as copyright exceptions for students in South Korea, Brazil and Canada; privacy protections for Greece; etc. The report criticizes countries that have failed to adopt the life+70 years copyright extension — an extension which even the US Register of Copyrights, MaryBeth Peters, acknowledged was probably a mistake.

Of particular interest to me, the report criticizes Italy, Greece, and Mexico for not implementing the US version of the Section 512 takedown procedure. Greece includes some privacy provisions, and Italy and Mexico haven’t done it yet at all. Just as well, because the hastily-enacted and poorly-thought-out provisions have created a lot of problems here in the US. See Heins Beckles 2005, Urban / Quilter 2006, and Quilter/Heins 2007.

Go read Michael Geist’s article.

political grandstanding: SO annoying

I really can’t stand it when politicians engage in cheap & sleazy grandstanding, knowing that what they’re doing is actually irrelevant. I’m speaking of Mitt Romney’s “lawsuit” to get the Mass. courts to step in to force the Mass. legislature to vote on an anti-same-sex-marriage amendment. [nyt 11/25]

Cheap & sleazy political grandstanding may be characterized by (a) someone making a gesture that appears potentially functional, but (b) is actually known to be ineffective, and (c) is undertaken for purposes of making a point.

I have no objection to Romney just making the frickin’ point, already. He could, and should, decry the legislature for not voting on the amendment. Sure, it’s tedious, hateful, and boring, but it’s to the point.

On the other hand, filing an obviously meritless lawsuit, rather than just making speeches, wastes government resources. I honestly think Romney and his co-litigants should be sanctioned for filing frivolous litigation.

Not only is this lawsuit legally frivolous, but it’s stupid: Even if he did force a vote, he doesn’t have the votes!

Thanksgiving weekend research questions: (1) Does Massachusetts have a political question doctrine to get this thing done with quickly; and (2) what are the possible sanctions for filing frivolous litigation.

Update 10 minutes later:

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how to balance badly: another way that news articles can suck

Ah, a fine Sunday morning reading the paper, and trashing media bias and sloppy reporting at the NYT …

This annoying NYT article (11/12) on police witness “sanctuary” policies is a perfect example of how articles can be technically “balanced” but still really suck present an imbalanced picture.

The police witness sanctuary policies basically tell local police that, when talking with a witness (including the victim) to a crime, they shouldn’t ask about immigration status. And, yes, there is a humanitarian rationale for them that benefits immigrants in particular. But there is also a significant rationale that applies to everyone, not just immigrants: These policies protect anyone who might be the victim of a crime, not just immigrants, by encouraging everyone to come forward without fear of personal repercussions. Do you really want the one person who saw the hit-and-run, or the murder, or the burglary, or the purse-snatching, or the kidnapping … to not come forward because her immigration status is in trouble?

The article, unfortunately, never presents that very basic, fundamental argument in a clear way, and instead presents the pro-sanctuary policy arguments in only a very muddled fashion. At the same time it gives plenty of space to the well-articulated (albeit distasteful) positions of those folks willing to cut off their crimefighting noses to spite immigrants. Or something like that.

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NJ SSM decision

The NJ Supreme Court is releasing its SSM decision today @ 3pm. [available at NJSC website]

Will they help us out but energize the Republicans and lead to queers being blamed if the Dems don’t take the House or Senate? or will they fuck us over leaving everyone, but us, happy?

(And if I’m writing to a general audience comprised mostly of non-queers, should I really use the pronoun “us”? I’m doing it anyway—learn to read as The Other.)

update: A winnah!

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Who doesn’t care about political hypocrisy

Joe Conason at Salon explains why the leaders of the religious right don’t care that Republican Christian nationalists are hypocrites, and predicts that they’ll be ba-a-ack:

The leaders of the religious right don’t care whether White House hacks love them or laugh at them, because they see themselves as the users, not the used. Winning power in the Republican Party represents the work of more than two decades for Robertson, Falwell, Dobson, their ultraright comrades and the new leaders, such as Tony Perkins and Rod Parsley, who will eventually succeed them. Their radical goal is an America under the dominion of men like themselves, and the Republican Party will continue to be the most plausible vehicle for their movement. They may lose ground this year — but they will most certainly be back with renewed determination in 2008.