Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Chris Wallace-Dick Cheney Interview

"Tell me, Mr. Cheney.  Are you and everyone in the Bush Administration totally awesome, or just somewhat awesome?"

That's the kind of interview it was.  Or, as Sully quips, it was not unlike a teenage girl interfiewing the Jonas Brothers.

I'm talking, of course, about the hour-long interview of Dick Cheney by Chris Wallace on (where else?) Fox News this past weekend.  It was an impressive array of softball pitches.

Of course, that's all the Mr. Macho could handle.  Yeah, I said it.  Cheney is a pussy if he can't face a real interviewer.

Cheney's responses were nonsense and lies, but one of the most amusing moments was when he explained how the Obama White House was supposed to seek out the former vice president for advice on national security matters.

"I guess the other thing that offends the hell out of me, frankly, Chris, is we had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from Al Qaeda. The approach of the Obama administration should be to come to those people who were involved in that policy and say, 'How did you do it? What were the keys to keeping this country safe over that period of time?'"

Steve Benen has the best reponse:

I seem to recall the Bush/Cheney era a little differently. Cheney thinks it was a sterling success when it came to national security and counter-terrorism. Perhaps there's something to this. After all, except for the catastrophic events of 9/11, and the anthrax attacks against Americans, and terrorist attacks against U.S. allies, and the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush's international unpopularity, the Bush/Cheney record on counter-terrorism was awesome.

After the previous administration established a record like that, President Obama didn't ask Cheney for tips? The nerve.

And Benen didn't even mention all those WMDs in Iraq.  Benen adds:

I am curious about something, though. Terrorists first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, early on in President Clinton's first year in office. Six people were killed, hundreds more were injured. The Clinton administration caught those responsible, subjected them to the U.S. criminal justice system, and foreign terrorists did not strike again on U.S. soil during Clinton's terms in office.

So, at any point in 2001, did the Bush White House turn to Bill Clinton and Al Gore and ask, "How did you do it? What were the keys to keeping this country safe over that period of time?" I think we can probably guess the answer.

What struck me about the interview was this little exchange:

WALLACE: Do you think what they did, now that you’ve heard about it, do you think what they did was wrong?

CHENEY: Chris, my sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives, in preventing further attacks against the United States, in giving us the intelligence we needed to go find al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed. … It was good policy. It was properly carried out. it worked very, very well.

WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re okay with it.

CHENEY: I am.

Cue all the teabagging protesters worrying about the death of the Constitution.

Hey, where are they?  Guys?  Guys?

The Shoot

Hellphone I didn't know what was going on.

I knew I had been cast in a very small part in "Hellphone", being shot in Madison, NC.  My original part was one line, spoken into a phone, and then I die.  But a scheduling conflict preventing that from happening.  But they put into another part.  I just had no idea what part, or when it was being shot.

So every morning, I would get by email a call sheet.  And yesterday, I was on it.  I was "John" and I was to be at Dan's Coffee Shop in Madison at 6:30 pm.  That's all I knew.

I arrived there and there were already a bunch of extras in semi-formal dress.  I was in a polo shirt and jeans.  Uh-oh.

Fortunately, Jaye Pierce was there.  I just ended a show with her — The Great American Trailer Park Musical — she played my stripper-girlfriend.  Her brother is the director of "Hellphone".  She was there, with much of her family, to be extras.  She had on a snazzy evening dress.

She got a copy of the script, and it turned out to be a scene at a dance hall.  It was a "Support The Troops" benefit where people turn in their cellphones in exchange for a bluetooth phone that fits in your ear.  This is early in the film.  Apparently, outfitting most of the fictional small town with bluetooths is important for the plot — the demon can now kill them better through the bluetooth.  Or something.

Anyway, as luck would have it, I was able to get myself dressed up, pulling from my Trailer Park costume which was still in my car.  Now it was just a matter of learning my lines.  And knowing when to say them.  One of the lines was "Well, as a vet, I seriously appreciate the community coming together to support our boys."  Dummy me — it took me a while to realize I was a veteran, and not a veterinarian.

As luck would also have it, the woman playing my wife Sharon, was unable to make the shoot, so Jaye took her place.

Our scene was basically a brief conversation with the lead, Graham (played by Nathan Moore) and Elisha (a reporter who has a crush on Graham, played by Caroline Granger, a Charlotte-based actress).  I talk to Graham about the event, but he is distracted and excuses himself from the conversation.

Shooting was fun.  It was a long process though, because it was a crowd scene.  There was a band and the extras were dancing.  Meanwhile, there's several conversations going on.  So we had to shoot wide shots from various angles.  Then we had to shoot closer shots of particular conversations (including the one I was in).  And you had to remember your movements from the wider shots to the closer ones, which sometimes were shot an hour-and-a-half later. 

Again, Jaye was a big help.  She would remind me, "…and here's where you turn around after I point at the fat lady".  Of course, we had to mime a lot when the camera wasn't on us — the boom wanted to pick up the main conversation and not all the background noise.  So there was silent talking, silent dancing, etc.

The extras were, uh, interesting.  Some of them had clearly never done it before, but they were very attentive to Jason's direction.  Others seemed to be "extra groupies" — people who apparently have nothing better to do that to be extras in movies.  Some people drove from Florida and Marylan, just to be in the background of this one 3-minute scene.

Anyway, my scene went off without a serious hitch, and I managed to remember my lines.  Nathan was a great guy and a very good actor.

Jaye had her baby with her, and the baby was acting up, so she had to leave the set shortly after our close-up scene was shot.  They still had more party scenes to shoot (reflecting later on in the evening when the party had died down a little), and since my "wife" was no longer there, it stood to reason that my charactor wouldn't be there either.  So I was done at 11:30 pm.

Nice time.  Hope to see the film itself someday (my co-actor in Rounding Third, Scott Stevens, is playing the demon).  Might even get me on IMDb.

P.S.  Forgot to mention.  My charactor, John, and Jaye's charactor, Sharon, are named after Jaye and Jason's actual parents.  Waiting around to shoot, I asked Jaye if her father had any mannerisms that I could incorporate (you know, just for fun).  Jaye's niece said the he sometimes scratches his chin.  Unfortunately, I forgot to do that on most of the takes, so I'm not sure if my chin-scratch will make the final cut.

“I Don’t Know What The Public Option Is, But I Hate It”

The health care debate might be more productive if the public had a clue what the public option is.

A new survey by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates for the AARP reveals widespread uncertainty about the nature of the "public option" — a government-run health insurance policy that would be offered along with private policies in the newly-created health insurance exchanges. Just 37 percent of the poll's respondents correctly identified the public option from a list of three choices provided to them….

It is tempting to attribute these results to attempts by conservatives to blur the distinctions of the health care debate. And surely that is part of the story. But it may not be all that much of it. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to correctly identify the public option in this poll, but not by all that wide a margin — 41 percent versus 34 percent. Meanwhile, 35 percent of Republicans thought the public option refers to "creating a national healthcare system like they have in Great Britain" — but so did 23 percent of Democrats.

The poll specifically asked, "When politicians talk about including a 'public option' in healthcare reform, what do you think they mean?" Regardless of whether the respondents actually liked the idea or not, this simply sought to measure public understanding. The results found that just 37% realized that a public option would create a government-funded alternative to compete with private insurers; 26% thought a public option would create a British-style system; 13% thought a public option would create network of co-ops, and 23% simply had no idea.

The results would not have been much different if people guessed at random.

This is yet another piece of evidence in the my thesis that health care reform opponents (and even proponent) don't care to educate themselves about health care reform proposals.  To opponents, it's "Obama's" reform; therefore, it stinks.  And any piece of evidence (death panels, granny euthanasia, etc.) that conforms to that worldview is accepted without question merely because it conforms to that pre-existing worldview.

What's the solution?  Give it a better name than "the public option".  Republicans are good at this.  The "estate tax" which would have taxed the estates of people over $10,000,000 was labeled, quite simply, the "death tax".  And people took that to mean that the government would tax death — everyone's death — and that's baaaad.

So the phrase "public option" provision needs a makeover.  Maybe the "People's Choice" provision or the "U-Choose" provision?

Accusing Someone Of Politicization Is Itself Politicization

Conservatives Warn of Wellstone Effect:

Key conservative voices have begun to charge in the day after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death that Democrats are inappropriately politicizing the senator’s death, his memorial and his legacy.

Kennedy was that ultimate political creature, a “lion of the Senate,” and the last son of the archetypal American political family — his passing is inevitably political. In his final days, he focused on a narrow political goal, pleading with state leaders to change state law to posthumously fill his Senate seat with an interim appointee who would be a vote in favor of the health care legislation he championed.

So his allies on the left have made no secret of their hopes that his legacy will
serve to bolster the uncertain health reform plan, with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) even suggesting the bill be named for Kennedy.

And that has some influential conservative voices sounding the alarm and calling foul.

Yeah.  Call me crazy, but I don't think tone or nature of Kennedy's memorial service should be fashioned to cater the sensabilities of Kennedy's political opponents.  I don't think Kennedy's opponents get to decide what is and isn't an "inappropriate" tribute to Kennedy.

Changing the name of the health care bill is a fitting way to honor a man who devoted his life to health care reform.  His family would be honored; HE would be honored.  Conservatives don't get to speak for him.

Making It Local

Excellent resource here showing what passage of HR 3200, American's Affordable Health Choice Act, would mean for every Congressional district in the country.

For example, I live in NC 5th District, so my Congressperson is the brain-dead Virginia Foxx.  What would passage of HR3200 mean for my district?

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act would provide significant benefits in the 5th Congressional District of North Carolina:  up to 14,200 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 13,100 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 800 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $113 million in uncompensated care each year; and 85,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.

Why is Ginny against it?

The Man Behind The Jaycee Abduction

As you probably know now, Jaycee Lee Dugard, 29, walked into an Antioch (CA) police station earlier this week, and told authorities she had been kidnapped in 1991 waiting for a school bus in South Lake Tahoe. Authorities have since arrested two suspects for the crime.

Here's the blog of the male suspect, Phillip Girrado.

His latest entry, from August 14 of this year reads:

During the month of July 2009 JM's Enterprises, 1215 Willow Pass Road * Pittsburg CA,(925) 439-8118 was the host to a powerful demonstration, the Creator has given me the ability to speak in the tongue of angels in order to provide a wake-up call that will in time include the salvation of the entire world.

You too can witness what the world believe's is impossible to produce! email: godsdesire@rocketmail.com. DON'T MISS OUT!

Yeah, he's formed a church called God's Desire, and he's the savior, and he claims to have the ability to "control sound with his mind".

Pretty soon he's going to hear the sound of the ch-chuck of slamming prison cell doors.

By the way, I vaguely recall this kidnapping when it happened.  It was shortly after the Elizabeth Smart some other publicized kidnapping, so it made the news.  It was just one of those things that you read about for a couple of days, and then forgot about.

More Post Mortem Photography

See post below

There seems to be a lot more post mortem from the Victorian era than I thought.  I'm not talking about death bed photographs (although there is a lot of that as well).  I'm talking about dead people posed.

Mostly, it's babies, posed peacefully in their cribs, occasionally with other children surrounding the crib, like a typical family photo.

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What eeks me out are the ones where the deceased is made to look alive.  Here is a post-mortem photo where, if you didn't know better, you would think it is a family gathering (note the smiles) with a sleeping girl in the center of the room:

Lyingchild22

Or maybe it's a photo of two siblings, and one of them has their eyes closed?

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That girl looks seriously creeped out, and I don't blame her.

This next photograph was hand-tinted to give the child a lifelike appearance.  Eyeballs were also drawn on the eyelids before photographing:

Eyes

It wasn't just for the kids.  The woman in the middle of the picture below is dead.  She is propped up by her sisters..

Pm (33)

Sometimes  a simple prop is used to create the (unconvincing) illusion that the deceased is alive, but merely resting:

Sfgone_burns_02

Some were actually quite good.  In the picture below, you wouldn't expect this to be a dead woman.  The eyework isn't particularly jarring.  However, her pose is rigid.  You can see the base of the stand behind her, propping her up.  And her foot is raised off the ground (something you wouldn't do in an old-timey photo, since you had to pose still for along time).

3336075375_bc1ea45deb

Another convincing one:

431px-Deadgirlwmomsnpops

*Shudder*

The “2009 Future of American Health Survey” Sent Out By The Republican National Committee

Here it is, in pictures (click to embiggen):

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My answers:

1.  Yes

2.  Cost, but quality and availablility are right up there.

3.  Does it concern you that this survey contains biased and loaded questions?

4.  "It has been suggested…."?  By who?  Anyone with credibility and/or reason to know?  Or just by partisan hacks?  [NOTE:  This bit about Democrats using voter registrations to determine who gets health care and who doesn't sounds like nutty fringerism, doesn't it?  Sound like something you might hear from Glenn Beck.  But this is coming from the REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITEE!!]

5.  Um…. are you asking me if the only people who should get health care are people who can pay for some or all of it?  If so, my answer is "No".

6.  Yes, health care decisions should be made by me and my doctor.  I don't think there is much qualitative difference between government bureaucrats making those decisions, and insurance bureaucrats making those decisions, except that government bureaucrats don't have the profit motive guiding them, so they're more inclined to do the right thing by the patient.  Also, we can DO something about government bureaucrats.  No box for that?

7.  No.  I think we need a special tax on those making over $1,000,000 per year.

8.  Satisfactory.

9.  The Democrat's plan doesn't call for "socialized medicine".  That said, no.  Oh, and by the way….

10.  Only if those "tax breaks" will actually be used to cover the cost of health insurance for their employers, and they are not tax breaks for the sake of tax breaks.  But I have a better way for small businesses to save money.  Let the government provide health insurance instead of them.

11.  Sure.

12.  We're already into the August recess, idiots.

13.  No.  Do you believe it is right for Republicans to beat their wives and then have sex with goats?

UPDATE:

A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee is conceding that a mailing was “inartfully worded” in suggesting that health care reform could empower a Dem-controlled health care rationing system to discriminate against Republicans by depriving them of treatment.

"Inartfully worded"?  You think?!?

Creepy Post Mortem Photos From The Victorian Age

The people in the Victorian age seemed to like post-mortem photos.  I'm not quite sure what the appeal was.  Take this, for example:

Creepy1

Someone actually thought it would be fitting to have this girl pose with her dead brother.  I don't know — seems rather traumatizing to me.

Typically, a post-mortem photograph depicted the dead person in a peaceful state of repose, as in a blissful deep sleep.

But some of these post-mortem photos went further.  Sometimes they liked to pose the deceased as if he/she was living:

Creepy2

"Ah yes.  Little Jimmy.  I remember him looking outside the window…"

*Shiver*

The creepiness gets creepier.  Sometimes they posed the dead in a living tableau.  Take this post mortem photo of a fireman:

Creepy3

Yeah, he's dead.  Check out the eyes:

Creepy4

By the way, if you like the fireman pic, it's for sale on eBay.

Here's a particularly disturbing one:

Creepy5

Yeah, not disturbing, until you read about it:

This is a Petrolia post mortem photo by Robson . It was extremely expensive to have a photo taken during Victorian times. Only the wealthy could afford such a luxury. If a child or other loved one died it was a common practice to have a photo taken either alone or as in this case with the family especially if there was not yet a living likeness.If you look closely you can see a base behind the girls feet and a post would go up from that with clamps at the waist and neck and the clothing would be open at the back. The arms would have stiff wires running at the back to hold them in place. Also notice the strange placement of the hands. The pupils are painted on the closed eyelids.

Pupils painted on closed eyelids?  Let's take a closer look (click to enlarge):

Creepy6

Eww….

I guess it makes sense.  After all, back in that era, most people were photographed only once (if at all) in their lives.  If the person dies before getting around to having their picture taken, the family might want to remember that person as they were.  Hence, the post-mortem living tableau.

Post mortem photography still exists.

Conservative Kennedy Bashing

I don't want to draw too much attention to the vileness from some conservative quarters on the subject of Ted Kennedy's death – it's rather ugly.

But it confounds me that many of these conservatives like to cloak themselves in the Bible and Christian goodness.  I mean, I'm not saying that Kennedy was a saint, but if Jesus had a vote in Congress, don't you think he would support these legislative acts (all of which Kennedy lead, fight for, and/or sponsored):

  • The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996
  • State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP)
  • Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009 (Americorps)
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
  • Fair Housing Act of 1968
  • Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986 (overturning a SCOTUS decision)
  • Ryan White Care Act of 1990 (AIDS care)
  • Americans with Disability Act of '90
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • Minority Health & Health Disparities Research & Education Act of 2000
  • National & Community Service Trust Act of 1993 (Americorps)
  • Mammography Quality Standards Act of 1990
  • Military Child Care Act of 1989
  • The WARN Act of 1988 (60 days notice prior to plant closings)
  • Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act of 1986
  • Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 (vetoed by Reagan)
  • Job Training Partnership Act of 1980
  • Refugee Act of 1980
  • Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980
  • Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act – 1975
  • Title IX of Education Amendments of '72 (bans sex discrimination by schools getting Fed $)
  • Establishment of Women, Infants & Childrens ("WIC") Nutrition Program at USDA
  • Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Act of 1970
  • Older American Community Service Employment Act of 1970
  • Occupational Safety & Health Administration Act of 1970
  • The Voting Rights Act amendments of 1970
  • The Bilingual Education Act of 1968
  • The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (War on Poverty: Head Start, Job Corps)
  • The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996

But to these conservatives, Jesus probably would have been in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation — and Kennedy deserves Hell.

Bob Dylan As A GPS Voice?

Bad idea.

First of all, I can't understand a word the dude says.

Second of all, I'm going to rather intolerant of the "how many roads must a man…." and "no direction home" quips.

But whatever.

That said, here's a partial list of celebrity GPS voices already available: Mr. T, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, Gary Busey, Curt Schilling, and William Daniels (as the voice of KITT in the Knight Rider).

Morning Radio

I missed the beginning of the interview, but NPR's Morning Edition was interviewing somebody who was opposed to Obama's plan for health care reform.

The guy was exciteable and defensive, and really really contradictory.

For example, the guy said (I'm paraphrasing) that whenever government competes with private business, it always does a bad job.  He cited as examples, the post office and Amtrak.

Look, Amtrak may not be the best-run thing in the country, but it seems to be doing much better than its competition.  In fact, I don't know who Amtrak's competition is.  Do you?  In any event, to the extent that Amtrak has not fared well, it is because people don't use trains much.

And the post office?  Don't get me started.  What the hell is wrong with the post office?  As Jon Stewart recently said, a guy comes to your house, takes something that you wrote, puts it on a plane, and it gets delivered to the house of some guy in Montana, whose name and address I scrawled by hand on the front of the envelope – all for 44 cents.  No forms to fill out; no standing in line; and cheap.  How is the that the model for ineffecient government?

Anyway, then this guy in the interview, after attacking government businesses, started touting Medicare, and how it needs to be preserved because it's so great.  But then he also says he wants to cut Medicare.

The interviewer (Steve Inskeep, I think) picked up on this obvious contradiction, and put it to the guy.  That's when the fun began.

 I was really curious who the interviewee was.  It was in the NPR studio, so I figured it wasn't a random teabagger protester.

Turns out it was the head of the Republican Party:  Chairman Michael Steele.

Oy.

The folks at Talking Points Memo apparently heard the same interview this morning:

On Morning Edition today, Michael Steele gets tied in knots trying to explain how the GOP (or maybe just Steele himself?) wants to preserve Medicare against cuts, while also cutting Medicare and opposing government-run health care programs in general. It's an impossible dance for anyone, but Steele is burdened with two left feet.

Hard to believe this guy really is the head of a major American political party.

Listen to the whole interview (link):

UPDATE:  Think Progress has more….

Teddy Hagiography

Last night was literally the first evening in months where I had no rehearsals, no performances, no auditions, no theatre-related meetings, etc.  In other words, it was the first evening in months where I could veg in front of the TV.

Man, what a bleak oasis.

With nothing to grab my interest, I gravitated to the news channels, where there was, not surprisingly, an endless parade of bobbleheads talking about Ted Kennedy.

I like Kennedy, but I don't like bobbleheads.  Some of it was a little over the top.  Keith Olbermann, for example, openly mused that Teddy might be the "greatest" Kennedy of them all.  (He wasn't; Bobby was.  Had Bobby lived, the country and the world would be a much better place today — you wouldn't even recognize it.  I'm convinced of that.)

CNN, however, ran an HBO documentary called "Teddy: In His Own Words".  It was just a series of news clips and interviews, arranged chronologically, from and about Ted Kennedy.  No narration.  It was interesting and informative.  I didn't know, for example, that President Nixon had ordered surveillance of Kennedy in order to get the goods on him (this came from a Nixon tape).  He wanted Kennedy's secret service protection to include informatives who would tip the White House if Kennedy was doing something immoral.

Nixon was such a skank.

But PBS aired a re-run of The American Experience.  The subject matter was The Kennedys.  It made sense — after all, Ted Kennedy didn't just die yesterday; the Kennedy dynasty died.

KennedyFamilyII

There they are.  Joe, Rose, and their nine kids.  With Teddy's death (coming on the heals of Eunice's death a few weeks ago), they're all gone now.

The American Experience: The Kennedys is a fascinating documentary, and if they replay it in the next few days, I highly recommend it.

The last chapter of the documentary is called "The Ninth Child", and it focuses on Teddy.  Even though I had seen the documentary before, I was struck by one particular comment from an RFK advisor.  He noted the incredible pressure that was placed on Teddy after Bobby was killed.  I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like this:

Imagine what it is like to be a person where if you don't become President of the United States, you are considered a failure.  And on top of that, you're the patriarch to 16 kids whose fathers have fallen at the hands of assassins.  I can't even begin to comprehend what that must have been like.  The personal strain and pressure and self-doubt….

That was where Teddy found himself in 1969.

It doesn't excuse the alcoholism and reckless behavior, but it certainly makes it logical.

Texas (Of Course) Executes Innocent Man

Take a long look at the picture:

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That's Amber Willingham and her father, Cameron Todd Willingham.

In 1992,the Willingham house caught fire.  Amber and her two sisters perished.

Cameron, the father, was charged with murder.  He is the only person in history charged with murder where fire was the weapon.

There wasn't much evidence against him.  He was convicted largely on the testimony of Texas arson "experts" who claimed that there were twenty indicators of arson. 

By 2004, Willington has exhausted his appeals.  Much progress had been made in arson investigation techniques, and many (if not all) of the techniques used by the arson experts at Willingham's trial had fallen into disrepute.

For example, "crazed glass" — cracked but not shattered glass – was once thought to be an indicator of the use of a liquid accelerant.  But "crazed glass" is now classified by fire investigation experts as an "Old Wives Tale." Crazed glass can be caused by a liquid accellerant, it can also be caused by the rapid chilling of hot glass by water used to extinguish a fire.

"Crazed glass" was only one of the indicators used to convict Willingham, but the other so-called indicators are largely myth-based.

Despite that fact the myths of his alleged arson were well-known by 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by the state of Texas on February 17, 2004.  His last words included:

Yeah. The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man – convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.

The story doesn't end there.  Following some high-profile forensic screw-ups, the Texas Legislature in 2005 created a commission to investigate lab error, negligence, and misconduct among forensic experts.  

Their first major review was the Willingham case.  The commission hired an outside firm to review the case materials and issue a report.  Their investigator, Craig Beyler, just released his findings, and his report is bonechillingly frank:

In a withering critique, a nationally known fire scientist has told a state commission on forensics that Texas fire investigators had no basis to rule a deadly house fire was an arson — a finding that led to the murder conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

***

Among Beyler's key findings: that investigators failed to examine all of the electrical outlets and appliances in the Willinghams' house in the small Texas town of Corsicana, did not consider other potential causes for the fire, came to conclusions that contradicted witnesses at the scene, and wrongly concluded Willingham's injuries could not have been caused as he said they were.

The state fire marshal on the case, Beyler concluded in his report, had "limited understanding" of fire science. The fire marshal "seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created," he wrote.

The marshal's findings, he added, "are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation."

Way to go, Texas.

Health Insurance And The Free Market

Tthose opposed to health care reform do so because they want to keep "their" insurance.  (Forget for a moment that under the Obama health care public option, you can keep "your" insurance).

But how many people can actually claim that "their" health insurance is actually theirs?  I mean, did they select it?  Was it their choice?

I buy insurance for my car; I get to pick the insurance company.  But health care?  No, I'm on the plan offered by my employer.  As are most workers. 

In fact, most of us don't choose our insurer. Twelve percent of us are on Medicare. Thirteen percent are on Medicaid. Fifteen percent are uninsured. And 53.4 percent get our health-care coverage from our employers.

This is one of the reasons why the free market hasn't worked in the field of health care.  The real consumers of the product aren't the ones who buy it — we don't get to pick and choose our insurer, like we do with auto insurance. 

And what about employers?  Well, they don't have much incentive for helath care cost control.  Health insurance is part and parcel of employee compensation.  If employers were to pay lower premiums, that just obligates them to play higher wages…. and vice versa.  It's a zero-sum game.

So as the proxy consumers of health insurance, employers don't have a stake in the matter.

In other words, in the free market of health insurance, there is no "invisible hand" that keeps prices low and benefits high.  There's no consituency for cost control.  Which may explain why health care costs are so ridiculously high in the first place.

All the more reason why a public option should be available.

If Gay Marriage Destroys Marriage…..

then why does Massachusetts have the lowest divorce rate in the entire country?

It's been five year since Massachusetts recognized marriage equality, long enough to actually get some data on its effects (if any)

Before I go on, let's have a quote-a-thon:

"Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It [ same-sex marriage ] will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth." – James Dobson, Focus on the Family, October 2004 speaking at a rally for OK GOP Senate candidate Tom Coburn

"This is only the beginning, if we allow this [ same sex marriage ] to happen we will, in effect, have destabilized the basic institution of our society, which is marriage between a man and a woman" – Brian Camenker, President of the Parents' Rights Coalition, as quoted by MassNews, March 2000

"There is a master plan out there from those who want to destroy the institution of marriage." – Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) during the July 2004 U.S. Senate debate on the "Federal Marriage Amendment".

"The sexual revolution led to the decoupling of marriage and procreation; same-sex 'marriage' would pull them completely apart, leading to an explosive increase in family collapse…." – Charles Colson, Christianity Today, June 2004

"Marriage is the union between a man and a woman is a truth known to each one of us already, and any attempt to allow same-sex marriages is a detriment to the family unit and hurts our state and nation." – Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an August 2005 mass email to supporters

Let's see how that destruction-of-marriage thing is coming along.

The CDC compiled divorce data state by state and recently released it… you can read it here (PDF) The data covers 2000-2007, so you have about 3 years of data where gay marriage was legal in Massachusetts.

The upshot?  Massachusetts still has the lowest divorce rate in the country.  In fact it went down from 2.5 in 2004 to 2.2 the folling year (after gay marriagees were allowed). Provisional data from 2008 indicates that the Massachusetts divorce rate has dropped from 2.3 per thousand in 2007 down to about 2.0 per thousand for 2008. (For comparison purposes, the current rate for North Carolina is twice as large: 4.0 per thousand people, and the national rate is 7.3).

So what does this mean? To get a sense of perspective consider that the last time the US national divorce rate was 2.0 per thousand (people) was 1940.

Hmmm.  And you would think that conservatives would love things being like they were in 1940.

The Coburn Health Care Plan

CNN’s Rick Sanchez aired a segment from a health care town hall where a weeping constituent explained to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) her prblems. The woman in the clip struggles to even speak through her tears, but she explains to her right-wing senator that her husband has traumatic brain injuries. Their family's private insurer, she said, won't cover some of his treatments. "We left the nursing home," she said, "and they told us we are on our own." She breaks down, pleading for help.

Coburn's response is fascinating and illuminating.  First, Coburn told her that his office would try to assist her individually.  Then he added:

"But the other thing that's missing in this debate is us as neighbors helping people that need our help…The idea that the government is the solution to our problems is an inaccurate, a very inaccurate statement."

Here's the video:

First of all, Coburn runs over his own argument.  If Coburn's office is going to help this woman, then the government is acting as a solution, at least in her case.  Why, then, should people like Coburn seek to prevent government from helping in every case?  If not the government, then who?

Coburn would say, "Well, the neighbors".  That's a sweet sentiment, and naturally, I don't disagree.  It would be nice if we as a society would help out each other, and take care of the least fortunate of us.  But sometimes that is hard to do, especially when virtually everybody needs help.

This is where government comes in.  In fact, this is what government is.  Government, at all levels — federal, state, local — is how we help our neighbors.  We are the government.  Government is the place where we come together as a people and actually fix these problems en masse.  Because relying solely on charity or the good graces of others only goes so far, and obviously, that alone hasn't worked when it comes to health care.  The woman is a testament to that.

Coburn's position, ehld by an alarming number of conservative Americans, makes no sense.  As Digby writes:

Americans refuse to pay an extra penny in taxes to make sure that they and their neighbors don't go broke and wind up without any support if they get sick. But we are supposed to rely on our neighbors to come in and change our bedpans for us?

RIP Edward Kennedy

In the 1930's, Joe Kennedy knew one of his sons would be President.  That future president, everyone assumed, was to be smart, handsome, and charismatic Joe Kennedy, Jr.  But Joe Jr. was shot down and killed in WWII.  All eyes fell to John.

Joe Kennedy lived long enough to see JFK become President, as well as the younger brother Bobby become Attorney General.

But then, in the shadows, there was another Kennedy son, comprised it seemed of leftover parts from his older brothers.  As Kennedys go, nobody expected much from Teddy.  Sure, he got into Harvard, but, being a Kennedy, one has to try awfully hard not to get into Harvard.  But once there, he didn't excel.  He didn't seem to have the Kennedyesque quality.  He was, in essence, George Bush — living off of the family name.

So when he decided to run for public office in 1962 — the U.S. Senate — his older brothers urged him against it.  There stood a real chance that the young Teddy, age 30, might lose.  Worse still, he might win and be an embarrassment.

Well, he ran and he won… and sure, he won only because of his last name.

Then something happened.  He got in a plane crash and was hospitalized for several months.  He took that time to bone up on the issues and become knowledgeable.  Being in the hospital, one of his pet issues became health care.

Granted, he was still a Kennedy, with all the Kennedy personal failings.  Womanizing, drinking, etc.  This all came to a head in 1969 when he drove off a bridge on Chappaquidick, a small island off Martha's Vineyard.  The death of his car companion, a young campaign worker named Mary Jo Kepechne, was controversial enough, but the fact that Ted waited several hours to report the incident (having hurriedly gone instead to seek counsel with political advisers first) was what alienated many voters against him.

After Chappaquiddick, many said that Teddy could never be president.  By this time (the late 60's), he was the last Kennedy of his generation — both JFK and Bobby had been assassinated.  In 1980, Teddy proved the nay-sayers right; he challenged a very unpopular incumbent President Jimmy Carter, and failed to even get the Democratic nomination.

But then a funny thing happened.  Senator Edward Kennedy found himself in a unique position: a man could go no higher politically, but who was virtually guaranteed a lifelong post in the Senate (because the Massachusetts people were never going to vote him out).  This freed him up from lobbyists and others on whom other politicians rely for campaign donations.  And it allowed him to make a strong commitment to public service.

He relished it, and went after it with gusto.

That, of course, is Ted Kennedy's strongest legacy — his unflinching support for social justice, be it in the form of civil rights, education or health care.  Unrestrained by the politics of getting re-elected and free from catering to special interests, he did what most of us would want our elected leaders to do:  he did good.

Anyone who grew up with 120 miles of Boston during the past 4 decades, as I did, knows that you can't swing a dead cat without knocking over a couple of Kennedys.  I don't know how many times I've seen him speak — as a visiting lecturer, at some commencement, in a campaign for someone (it probably helped that I went to college with his daughter).  I even talked to him briefly once in a Copley Plaza restaurant (he was very gregarious).

He may not have had a stellar personal life, but when it comes to public service, he is the role model.  Like his brothers, he was born into privilege.  Like his brothers, he believed that being graced with such privilege obligates one to give back to the community, a moral tenet that seems to be lost on the Wall Street CEOs of today.

Sadly, he was never to realize his lifelong dream of universal, affordable health care, and his death yesterday from brain cancer, while expected, comes at an ironic time.  I don't think it will change the scope of the health care debate, but someday, Kennedy's dream will come true.  It may be another generation, but when it happens, I am confident that he will be recognized.  As Kennedy himself said exactly one year ago today:

“This is the cause of my life. New hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American – north, south, east, west, young, old – will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”

I've always had a soft spot for Ted Kennedy as a person.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like all those years to be the Kennedy king, singlehandedly carrying the mantle of the family name whose members included JFK and Bobby Kennedy.  I mean, that's a pretty steep curve that he's been graded on.  As Time's Joe Klein writes:

He was scared catatonic, of course. Scared of death, obviously. There was no reason to believe, in a nation of nutballs, that he would be allowed to continue, unshot. But he was frightened of more profound things as well — overwhelmed by his own humanity in the face of his brothers' immortality, convinced that he'd never measure up, that Joe and Jack and Bobby had been the best of the Kennedys.

You can actually feel that weight being thrown on Ted's back here, as he speaks one of the best eulogies I've ever heard, on the occasion of his brother Bobby's funeral:

It was probably worse after JFK, Jr. died.  It seemed clear that Ted Kennedy was the end of the dynasty, and for the first time in my entire life, I now live in a world that lacks a Kennedy on the national political scene.  Rather strange.

The last of Joe and Rose Kennedy's nine children, Ted died 14 days after his sister Eunice.

For those who despair that Kennedy's absence might make the country an unhealthier place, remember this:

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”  —Senator Edward M. Kennedy.  1932-2009.

UPDATE:  The reaction from the right blogosphere is entirely predictable.  Much call for respect and all that, but the unwashed masses (the commenters) can't seem to resist the "burn in Hell, Teddy" rhetoric.

Another meme is emerging from the right — they think it is inappropriate that Kennedy's funeral be some sort of tribute to the things that Kennedy cared about — like social justice, civil rights, and health care.  "It's about the man", they say, harkening to the Paul Wellstone funeral many years ago.

Such concern trolling is both funny and upsetting.  Of course it is about the man, but you can't separate the man from the things that the man stood for, fought for, and believed in his entire life.

UPDATE:  Kennedy debates Nixon in 1971 about health care.  Cronkite, who also passed recently, does the introduction…

Thomas Paine Weighs In On Torture

GOP Congressman Peter King — the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee — had said this today regarding Eric Holder's decision to investigate whether laws were broken by the Bush administration's torture:

"It’s bulls***. It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on.  [It's' a] declaration of war against the CIA, and against common sense…"

Yeah.  Well, one can be "not on the side of terrorists" and still condemn the torture of suspected terrorists.

In fact, one should condemn torture if one is on the side of the law.  After all, the Supreme Court in Hamdan ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all detainees, including accused Terrorists.  And the War Crimes Act makes it a felony to inflict "prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from . . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering. . . ." 

The acts mentioned in the IG Report faile the Geneva Conventions and our own War Crimes Act.  They therefore are crimes, period.  Crimes are technically "crimes against the state", so if one wants to overlook them (as King obviously does), then one wonders whose side he is on.

Just how much does King hate America?  Let's go to the wayback machine.  In his 1795 essay, which he entitled Dissertations on First Principles of Government, Thomas Paine wrote this as his last paragraph:

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

Can that be any clearer?  The measure of our society is measured by how we treat our enemies.

Of course, Paine also wrote in Common Sense that "so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king" and "in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other."  And in his Dissertations, he also wrote:

The executive is not invested with the power of deliberating whether it shall act or not; it has no discretionary authority in the case; for it can act no other thing than what the laws decree, and it is obliged to act conformably thereto. . . .

So, in what sense does breaking the law — the law of this country — amount to being pro-America?

The Torture

I don't have much to say about this

WASHINGTON – With just two weeks of training, or about half the time it takes to become a truck driver, the CIA certified its spies as interrogation experts after 9/11 and handed them the keys to the most coercive tactics in the agency's arsenal.

It was a haphazard process, cobbled together in the months following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington by an agency that had never been in the interrogation business. The result was a patchwork program in which rules kept shifting and the goals often were unclear.

At times, the interrogators went too far, even beyond the wide latitude they were given under the Bush administration's flexible guidelines, according to newly unclassified documents released Monday. Interrogators took the simulated drowning technique of waterboarding beyond what was authorized. Mock executions were held. Family members were threatened. There were hints of rape.

… other than I am not surprised.

The actual IG report is far more graphic than press reports.  The highlights include:  (1) mock executions; (2) threatened rape of family members; (3) threatened murder of children; (4) kicking and beating a detainee with a metal flashlight to death; (5) threatening naked hooded detainees with power drills; (6) blowing cigar smoke in detainees' faces until they got sick; (7) waterboarding with massive volumes of water far beyond what OLC authorized (to make it "poignant"); (8) stress positions that nearly caused shoulder dislocations; (9) scraping detainees with stiff brushes; (10) choking a detainee with one's bare hands until they nearly pass out; (11) subjecting detainees to extremely cold temperatures and water dousing; (12) "hard takedowns" (sometimes in diapers); and (13) beating detainees with butts of rifles (followed by kicking them).

I understand that Atty General Eric Holder will apppoint a special indpendent prosecutor to look into this, but that the focus of the investigation will be "low-level" CIA interrogators.  They will, of course, give the Nuremberg defense: "I was ordered to", and the Yoo torture memos will provide cover for any sort of accountability.

In the end, nothing will happen.  No repercussions to anybody, despite the fact that they broke the law.

Glenn Greenwald has the best summary of the IG report.

Remembering 9/11 In The Obama Years

It amazes me what conservatives decide to get in a tizzy about.

The latest?  Obama signed into law a measure in April that designated Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service.

OMG!!!  Here's how a conservative wrote about this in The American Spectator.  This is an actual quote, not — I repeat, not — a parody:

The plan is to turn a "day of fear" that helps Republicans into a day of activism called the National Day of Service that helps the left. In other words, nihilistic liberals are planning to drain 9/11 of all meaning.

And there you have it.  To conservatives, 9/11 means "fear" and we should commemorate that day as a "day of fear".  And we would, were it not for Obama's desecration.

Never mind that George W. Bush called for community volunteer work on the anniversary of 9/11, and the right didn't find it controversial then. Never mind that victims' families have recommended making 9/11 a national day of service for years.

And besides, if you check out the official web site set up for the day, you'll find that that they're asking people to come up with their own events. So if you don't want to help out at anti-American places like food banks and community gardens, you can organize your own event.  A pee-in-your-pants event, if one chooses.

Myth Debunking

By the way, if you want a one-stop health care myth debunking place, bookmark this.  Here's the myths they debunk:

MYTH 1: There is no health care crisis
MYTH 2: Health care reform will impose rationing
MYTH 3: Health care reform provides for euthanasia, "death panel"
MYTH 4: Health care reform legislation will cover undocumented immigrants
MYTH 5: Health care reform will raise your taxes
MYTH 6: Health proposals would tax all small businesses
MYTH 7: Health care reform would add $1 trillion-plus to deficit
MYTH 8: House bill would ban private individual insurance
MYTH 9: Obama said he didn't read House bill
MYTH 10: Co-ops are an adequate substitute for a public option
MYTH 11: Obama is pushing a system like the U.K. and Canada
MYTH 12: Obama, Dems pushing "socialized medicine"
MYTH 13: Prominent opponents of health care reform are credible
MYTH 14: Government can't run a health care program

Our Local Senator Representative Is Entering Crazy Michele Bachmann Territory

In a telephone town hall yesterday, Senator Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said:

"The Constitution doesn’t grant a right to health care, and most of us are living as much by the Constitution as we can. It also doesn’t give the federal government the authority to deal with health care. As you may know, the 10th amendment, it says if it isn’t mentioned in the Constitution to be done by the federal government, it’s left to the states or the people. […]"

Okay, well I dealt with this before.  But, for a lark, let's play in her ballpark okay?

Call Virginia Foxx's office – (336) 778-0211 — and tell her you agree with her and we should therefore end Medicare and the Veteran's Administration.

Oh, yeah, she also said this:

"I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is the fact that the federal government is trying to do too much. We need to leave things to the states and the localities. … And unfortunately, we are distracting ourselves from looking after the defense of this nation because we are dealing with issues that should, by right, be the state and individual’s."

You can also tell Senator Rep. Foxx that you agree with her on that too.  Government shouldn't be meddling with medical issues that belong to individuals.  That's why you want her never ever to support bans on abortions.

P.S. Virginia Foxx is the one who called Matthew Shepard's murder an "unfortunate incident" which occurred during a robbery.

Obama’s Media Criticism

At a town hall forum at the DNC yesterday, Obama was asked where the lies about health care reform are coming from.  After laughing and making reference to "certain" news channels (he didn't mention them by name, but we all know which ones), this is what Obama supposedly said:

"…I have to say, part of the reason it spreads is the way reporting is done today. If somebody puts out misinformation, 'Obama's Creating Death Panels,' then the way the news report comes across is: 'Today such-and-such accused President Obama of putting forward death panels. The White House responded that that wasn't true.' And then they go on to the next story. And what they don't say is, 'In fact, it isn't true.'

"You know, it's fine to have a debate back and forth — he said, she said — except when somebody else is just not even telling remotely the truth. Then you should say in your reports, 'Oh, and by the way, that's just not true.'

"But that doesn't happen often enough."

This is a problem that has been noted by many, for many years.  Even when it is not propogating, the media, rather than reporting the facts, chooses instead to report what both sides say are the facts, as if both positions are equally valid.  It exaults fairness over accuracy

If Republicans said there were flying unicorns invading Oregon, and Democrats said there wasn't a single flying unicorn in Oregon or anywhere else, the media — even the better journalism outlets — would report "Republicans say there are flying unicorns in Oregon; Democrats deny this", rather than reporting "We've investigated it, and there a no flying unicorns in Oregon."

So what Obama said isn't new.  But it's new and interesting that he said it.

Stewart vs. The Originator of the “Euthanasia For Granny” Myth

Jon Stewart is best when he stops being a comedian and just talks reason.  Betsy McCaughey, the first who equated end-of-life planning with government-influenced euthanasia, went on the Daily Show to make her case.

Rather than trading barbs, the two of them actually discussed the house bill which supposedly supports the whole "death panel" meme.  (McCaughey never suggested, and in fact denies, that the bill creates "death panels", but her original concerns about the bill were morphed into "death panels" by Palin and the rightwing media).

It was as astounding as it was educational.  Two people, with the bill literally in front of them, reading from passage of the bill and discussing what it meant.

McCaughey made a big mistake by walking in carrying a big binder, which she said was only half of the House health care reform bill.  I guess she thought it gave her the air of authority.  The problem for her was, when she starting saying that the bill would lead to euthanasia, all Stewart had to say was "Show me where".  As she flipped through to find the section which supposedly supported her, she asked if Stewart had read the bill.  Stewart responded that he knew the section she was searching for, and yes, in fact, he had read it and there's no way it says what she says it says.  He later demonstrated his working knowledge of the bill, trumping her at every turn.

Watch it if you get a chance.

For what's its worth, she was no match for Stewart.

Texas Board of Education At It Again

These guys kill me:

The [Texas] State Board of Education has appointed “review committees” made up largely of active and retired school teachers to draft new social studies curriculum standards as well as six “expert reviewers” to help shape the final document.

The standards, which the board will decide next spring, will influence new history, civics and geography textbooks.

The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.”

And liberals?  Nope.

One board member told the press that he wanted to:

add James Dobson's Focus on the Family, conservative talk show host Sean Hannity and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to the list of conservatives. Others have proposed adding talk show host Rush Limbaugh and the National Rifle Association.

To be fair, that same board member wanted to add liberal organizations to serve as a contrast, but I don't think that's the point.

I think in some high school classes, politics will arise. Civics, current events — that sort of thing.  I don't understand what relevance Sean Hannity would have to a history class though.

But in those rare occasions where it comes up, can one construct meaningful guidelines in the first place on the issue of political ideology?  Most people and institutions don't fall conveniently into a conservative/liberal scheme easily.  The ACLU, for example, often tarnished as a librul commie organization, takes dozens of case defending churches against government intrusion and defending religious liberty in public shools (so long as the school doesn't mandate or endorse that religion).  That's conservative.  Mike Huckabee is liberal on some of his viewpoints, yet the proposed curriculum wants to teach otherwise.

The proposed curriculum — aside from being biased — is simply miseducation in that it reduces complex issues and ideologies into two distinct, convenient, but ultimately not-in-the-real-world ideologies.

Texas has among the the lowest SAT scores among all the states, usually it is ranked #45 or under.  Maybe the Texas board of education should focus on, you know, that.  Just sayin'.

Yahoo’s Novel Idea To Help Stop Email Spamming

Here's the proposition:

Everybody pay one penny to send an outgoing email.

This will discourage spam, which consumes 33 terawatt hours of electricity every year.  A spam email sent to a million people would cost $10,000.

No, you say?  You don't want to pay to send email?

I hear you.  But what if it was voluntary?

But wait, you say.  If it's voluntary, then how will it discourage spammers?  They don't have to pay anything if it's voluntary.

True.  In fact, that's the POINT.  

If there's a code embedded in emails that are paid-for, then those emails will get a free pass through spam blocking software.  Then spam-blocking software can be adjusted to scan unpaid email, making it easier to catch actual spam.  In essence, paying one penny for an email creates a special class of email — "certified" email, if you want — which spam blocking software can ignore.  Then, spam blockers have a better change of identifying actual spam.

Wait, you say.  This sounds fishy.  This sounds like a way for Yahoo to make money.

Nope, says Yahoo.  The money collected will go to a charity.  Every penny.  A charity you choose.

So, instead of donating $100 to the animal sheltter, you essentially "buy" (prepay) $100 worth of one-cent certified emails (that's 10,000 emails).  You write and send an email as you normally would, but behind the scenes, a penny is deducted from that account, and the email becomes "certified". 

Sound better now?  You're not really out of pocket (assuming you were going to donate some money in the first place).

Yahoo is developing a system for this, called CentPay.  If enough volunteers do this, you can help stop spam AND you donate to charity.  But again, it is only effective if enough people voluntarily do this.

Do you think they will?

More info here.

Terror Politics

I've largely refrained from posting about the Bush White House ever since Obama became president, but sometimes my self-imposed ban is hard to maintain.

Now that Bush is out of office, we're finding that the actual illegalities are just as bad, if not worse, than imagined.  The firings of the U.S. attorneys, for example, were politically motivated and were orchestrated from within the White House.  And today, we learned that Blackwater was contracted by the CIA to conduct overseas assassination, something which clearly violates U.S law.  And later this week, we're going to learn more about our torture practices.

And also today, we learn this about Tom Ridge, the very first head of the post-9/11 Department of Homeland Security [The source? Ridge himself, in a new book]:

  • He was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings;
  • He was "blindsided" by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him;
  • He found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of FEMA ignored; and
  • He was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.

For some reason, this last one gets to me.  It's a clear admission of GOP's use of scare tactics to influence politics, in this case, a national election.  We still see that tactic used effectively today.

Also, reflect on the meaning of that last item — it was more important to the Bush Administration to win re-election than to have an accurate Terrorist Alert Level.

That's patriotism?

UPDATE:  It should be noted that the request to heighten the terrorism allert level came from Ashcroft and Rumsfeld, while the DHS's security experts and Ridge argued against.  It should also be that Ridge won.  He now writes:

"I believe our strong interventions had pulled the 'go-up' advocates back from the brink… But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington's recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility and security."

Silliest “Serious” Objection To The House Health Reform Bill

It still gets a lot of play, even among congresspersons:

"The health care reform bill is over 1,000 pages long!"

I'm not sure what that objection really means.

Are they suggesting that, because it's a huge bill, it must represent a massive government program?

If that's so, why don't they say it's a massve government program?

Or, are they complaining that the bill is so big, nobody can possibly read and understand it?  If that's so, then critics are merely exposing their ignorance or lack of education.

Let's make a comparison.  Atlas Shrugged is 1,200 pages.  People can read and understand that.

But here's the thing — Atlas Shrugged is printed in small type-face, single spaced.

This is what a typical page from HR 3200 looks like.  This is a page from the actual bill:

Housebill

You see that?  Double spaced, huge font, and margins that are actually wider than the text itself.

A typical bill contains about 160 words per page — a typical book, like a Harry Potter, book — twice as many.

In other words, the House Health Care reform bill is about half a Harry Potter book.  And a teen can knock that one out in half a day.

Yes, you may say, but that's still too big for a bill.

Is it?  A bill to reform health care?  That's pretty broad subject.  Half a Harry Potter book sounds about right, considering the subject matter.  You not only have to make the actual changes themselves – to insurance practices, to administrative practices, to doctor-patient practices — but you have to address private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — AND you have to set forth a way to monitor the reforms to make sure they actually are being implemented — AND establish procedures about enforcement for violators of the new policy, etc.  It IS a lot of ground to cover.

Yes, you may say, but the language of the bill is far more convoluted than a Harry Potter book.

And that's true.  But this is legislation — not quippy thirty second sound bites.  It's ALWAYS been written in legislative-ese. 

But it IS in English.  Don't understand what a particular term means?  There's an entire definition section (which occupies a few dozen pages of the bill). 

And a congressman with a paid staff of (one hopes) educated people can certainly figure this out.  After all, congressmen (through their paid staff) wrote it.

So the notion that the bill is really long and full of big words and doesn't have pictures is not only a specious criticism, but an embarassing one showing the ignorance or laziness of the person making the criticism.

How The Internet Sees You

I don't quite understand this:

Personas is a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit, currently on display at the MIT Museum by the Sociable Media Group from the MIT Media Lab. It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one's aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.
 
Enter your name, and Personas scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person – to fit them to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive corpus of data. The computational process is visualized with each stage of the analysis, finally resulting in the presentation of a seemingly authoritative personal profile.

Ummmmm… rrrrright.

So I tried it, entering my name.

The problem is that when the Internet "sees" Ken Ashford, it sees me and two other dudes with the same name.  So my "profile" (shown below) is really a congomeration of the Internet identity of three different people named Ken Ashford.

Internetme  

Anyway, try it out yourself.

Five [Update: Six] Predictions About Gay Marriage

Over at NRO's The Corner, columnist Maggie Gallagher is compelled to present five predictions about the short term effects of same-sex marriage in those states which recognize it.  I'll address her predictions one at a time.

(1)  In gay-marriage states, a large minority people committed to traditional notions of marriage will feel afraid to speak up for their views, lest they be punished in some way.

Bizarre.  "Punished in some way"?  What way?  She doesn't say; I don't think even she knows.

In any event, looking at the health care debate, I don't see a lot of conservative people actually cowed lately from expressing (loudly) minority views.

(2)  Public schools will teach about gay marriage.

I read/hear this a lot from conservatives.  It comes up not only with gay marriages, but generally with homosexuality — these things will be "taught" in public schools.

Everytime I hear this concern, I try to envision what such a public school class would look like.  In what class would "gay marriage" be taught?  English?  And what would be said?

It seems to me that "gay marriage" might be taught in a high school civics or current affairs course.  But what's so bad about that?  Students would be taught that some states recognize gay marriage, and some don't.  Honestly — what more can be said on the subject?

What does Maggie Gallagher think will be taught?  How to have a "gay marriage"?  Praise for gay marriage?  Really?

(3)  Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don't belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated in any way. 

Goes to my point above.  What will these parents be complaining about?

(4)  Religous institutions will face new legal threats (especially soft litigation threats) that will cause some to close, or modify their missions, to avoid clashing with the government's official views of marriage (which will include the view that opponents are akin to racists for failing to see same-sex couples as married).

This is just plain fear-mongering.  First of all, a couple of states that recognize same-sex marriages explcitly carve out exceptions for religious institutions — i.e., no church can be forced to perform gay marriages.  The states that don't explicitly have this provision are protected by the First Amendment.  The ACLU will even back the churches, should they ever be threatened with a lawsuit.  (And by the way, a lawsuit threat from who?)

By the way, you can't sue a person or a religious instutution for clashing with the government's view of marriage.  What makes Gallagher think you can sue someone for their opinions, much less their ideolofgical beliefs?  I mean, you can't sue a person for being racist, can you? 

(5)  Support for the idea "the ideal for a child is a married mother and father" will decline.

Well, this is probably true, although support for that has been in decline for decades.  And the decline has nothing to do with "gay marriages".  It has to do with the fact that the law doesn't criminalize (nor should it) single parent families.

***

When not being obscure or objectionable or just plain paranoid, Gallagher's predictions seem to be nothing more than merely saying "if SSM is acceptable, then more people will come to accept it."

Well, duh!

UPDATE

In a subsequent post, Maggie Gallagher adds a sixth prediction

I would like to offer a sixth prediction: Only a small minority of gay couples will seek gay marriages where they are available.

This is relevant to one of the core arguments now made for gay marriage: that it will help gay couples and their children achieve stability, monogamy, and (possibly) sexual fidelity.

I predict that after an initial burst of enthusiasm driven by its symbolic availability, relatively few gay couples will pursue marriage, because it makes so little sense for them.

How few? Oh, let's pull a standard out of our hats: After five to ten years (Steve can pick) after gay marriage, less than half of all gay couples in a given state will be married. I suspect it will be less than 25 percent. Let's find out.

This is probably the most offensive of Gallagher's predictions.

What she is saying is that gays won't marry because it "makes so little sense for them".  And why not?  Because gays, as we all know, have no interest in sexual fidelity.  They're just randy little whores.

A Pox On Both Houses?

Barney Frank took a protester to task after she refered to Obama's "Nazi" health care reform.  He asked the woman "on what planet" does she live, and said that trying to have a serious discussion with her about health care would be like talking to a dining room table.

Now, comes the tut-tut of the conservative media.  How both sides are engaging in uncivil discourse…

… as if there is no difference between (1) mobs of shouting angry conservatives, many of them playing the Nazi/facism card, some of them carrying guns and (2) the rare pushback against those mobs (like Barney Frank's response).

Sure, uncivility can be found on both sides, but how about a little perspective on the degree and frequency?

David Sedaris On Health Care

Not that he carries any weight, but I'm seeing his show in a month-and-a-half, and he got the question during a live chat, asking him to compare health care systems (he's lived in France for some time).  Here's his reponse:

Allow me to answer with kidney stones. I had my first one at the age of 34. At the time I was living in New York, and had no health insurance. Never in my life had I experienced such pain, but I couldn’t afford to go to the hospital, and so I passed it at home, not knowing until the end what it actually was. (I thought I was delivering Satan’s baby through my penis.)

I had my second kidney stone seven years later, in Paris. It was ten o’clock in the morning, and after looking at my options in the phone book, I took the metro to a hospital in the 15th. Two minutes after walking through the door, I was in a private room. Delicious, mind-numbing drugs were delivered to my blood stream by way of a tube and life was beautiful. I was in the hospital for four hours, and as I was leaving, I asked the receptionist how I was supposed to pay.

“Oh,” she said, “We’ll send you a statement.”
“But you never even asked me my name.”
“Really?”

A few weeks later I got a bill for the equivalent of seventy dollars, this because I’m not a French citizen, and am therefore not entitled to free care.

I got my third kidney stone a few months ago, while on a lecture tour of the United States. The hospital I went to was in Westchester county and the service was outstanding. Maybe I arrived at the slowest time, but, like in France, I was waited on immediately, and the doctor and nurses could not have been more pleasant. Again I was there for four hours, though this time the bill came to $5,800. Not including medicine.

I’m completely fascinated by the health care debate going on in the United States, especially by posters of Obama with a little mustache drawn on his upper lip. Is that what Hitler is really known for, his health care plan? To quote Bill Maher, “I haven’t seen this many pissed off old white people since they canceled, “Murder She Wrote.”

Now I live in England. I’ve just been granted Indefinite Leave To Remain, which allows me access to the NHS.

Health Care Without Republicans

It's becoming clear that trying to work out health care reform in a bi-partisan fashion ain't gonna happen.

The "public option" itself was a compromise.  Obama and most left-leaning people would prefer a "single payer" universal health care system like most advanced nations.  The single payer system would, effectively, do away with insurance companies and treat health care like we do our military – a single government program, rather than competing corporate programs.  Medicare is essentially a "single payer" health care system — except it is not available to everybody.

But "single payer" was clearly not going to pass muster with conservatives, so it was taken off the table right from the start.  So the "public option" became the administration's position.  The "public option" is analagous to the university education system — you have a public university run by the state (e.g., UNC) competing with private universities (e.g., Duke).  Just as people get to choose their own university, the "public option" provides a low-cost alternative (because, unlike the insurance companies, it is not trying to make a profit… and because, being the government, it can negotiate good deals — like cheaper drugs — from pharmaceuticals).

But no, Republicans didn't like the "public option" either.  Even THAT was too socialist.

And this past weekend, the Obama Administration floated the possibility of co-ops, which is where, instead of the "public option", you have a bunch of not-for-profit insurance companies (the "co-ops") compete with the for-profit mega-insurance companies, again to ostensibly keep down the price of health care.

But no, even that was met with GOP opposition.

So finally finally finally, the Obama Administration is realizing what some of us have already figured out: despite thei lip service to the need for health care, the Republican Party is in the pockets of the insurance companies and it doesn't want to see any kind of health care reform at all.

So why try to work with them?

Fortunately, the Democrats have a new plan.  Split the bill.

The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes.

The idea is the latest effort by Democrats to escape the morass caused by delays in Congress, as well as voter discontent crystallized in angry town-hall meetings. Polls suggest the overhaul plans are losing public support, giving Republicans less incentive to go along.

Jonathan Cohn fleshed this out in more detail.

[The first bill] would include changes to Medicare and Medicaid, new taxes on individuals or employers, subsidies for people buying insurance, and (maybe) even a public plan. Because all of these affect federal outlays, positively or negatively, this bill could go through the reconciliation process, passing with just 50 votes.

The second bill would include the other elements — the insurance regulations, the requirement that everybody get coverage, and so on. These are the pieces of reform the parliamentarian likely wouldn't allow to go through reconciliation. As a result, it would still need 60 votes. But that's not so farfetched, since these happen to be the parts of reform on which there is the most wide-ranging consensus. Plenty of Republicans support these ideas, at least in principle.

All of this is theoretical, of course. Republicans might not support that second bill if it meant handing the Democrats a victory. At the very least, they'd fight Democrats on the details. Nor is it clear Democrats themselves have enough unity to get fifty votes for the controversial elements of reform. And all of that is assuming the parliamentarian lets those controversial elements go through reconciliation in the first place That's hardly a sure thing; it will really come down to his interpretation of the rules. But even the theoretical possibility of Democrats passing reform on their own would change the dynamics in Congress, by giving Republicans new incentives to negotiate in good faith — and giving Democrats a way to enact legislation in case the GOP remains as obstructionist as it is now.

Sounds like a plan.

I guess the main point is that Democrats aren't waiving the white flag yet.  And that's something to be thankful for.

New Birther Poll Shows A Weird Mix Of Ideology And Ignorance

From Public Policy Polling:

After we conducted polls over the last couple of weeks finding significant numbers of 'birthers' in North Carolina and Virginia, we decided to take the question national but also drum down more specifically on where exactly the people who think Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States do think he's from.

Oh, this should be good.

The answer is that 62% of Americans think Obama was born here, while 24% think he was not and 14% are unsure.

Okay.  So 38% can't say for sure if Obama was born in America.  So….  where do they think he was born?

10% of the country thinks that he was born in Indonesia, 7% think he was born in Kenya, and 1% think he was born in the Philippines.

That makes 18%.  What about the other 20%?  Where do they think Obama was born if not in America, Indonesia, Kenya, or the Phillipines?

Some people who correctly believe that Obama was born in Hawaii, but… don't consider Hawaii to be part of the United States. You read that right- 6% of poll respondents think that Hawaii is not part of the country and 4% are unsure.

Shoot. Me. Now.

These people don't vote, right?  PLEASE tell me they don't vote.

And as for the remaining 10%?  Who knows?  THEY certainly don't.

So who ARE these people?  Of the 38% who can't say for sure if Obama was born in Hawaii which is part of America….

-62% are Republicans, 20% are Democrats, and 18% are independents
-57% are conservatives, 33% are moderates, and 9% are liberals
-56% are men, 44% are women
-86% are white, 7% are Hispanic, 4% are black, and 3% are other races

Well, I'm generally concerned about the state of education in this country.  Frankly, the Democrat count is higher than I expected.

Michele Bachmann on Health Care

I love her.  Here she is on Hannity last night:

Money quote:

It is not within our power as members of Congress, it’s not within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, for us to design and create a national takeover of health care. Nor is it within our ability to be able to delegate that responsibility to the executive.

Pinhead, let me tell you what your job description is.  No, let the Constitution tell you what your job description is.  It's all there in Article One.  Among other things, Congress has the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises” and to “provide for….the general welfare of the United States.”

That's a pretty broad mandate, something which the then-right-wing Supreme Court recognized and wrote about almost 75 years ago:

Congress may spend money in aid of the "general welfare." Constitution, Art. I, section 8; United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1, 65; Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, supra. There have been great statesmen in our history who have stood for other views. We will not resurrect the contest. It is now settled by decision. United States v. Butler, supra. The conception of the spending power advocated by Hamilton and strongly reinforced by Story has prevailed over that of Madison, which has not been lacking in adherents. Yet difficulties are left when the power is conceded. The line must still be drawn between one welfare and another, between particular and general. Where this shall be placed cannot be known through a formula in advance of the event. There is a middle ground, or certainly a penumbra, in which discretion is at large. The discretion, however, is not confided to the courts. The discretion belongs to Congress, unless the choice is clearly wrong, a display of arbitrary power, not an exercise of judgment. This is now familiar law.

It was "familiar law" in 1937, yet Bachmann apparently didn't get the memo.

(And by the way, nobody is proposing that national health care reform be delegated to the executive. It's Congress writing the bills now; not the executive branch).

Still, One has to wonder what Bachmann's view of America is. 

Think Progress writes:

It’s important to note just how radical Bachmann’s theory of the Constitution is. If Congress does not have the power to create a modest public option which competes with private health plans in the marketplace, then it certainly does not have the authority to create Medicare. Similarly, Congress’ power to spend money to benefit the general welfare is the basis for Social Security, federal education funding, Medicaid, and veterans benefits such as the VA health system and the GI Bill. All of these programs would cease to exist in Michele Bachmann’s America.

Theatre News: Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal To Star In “Rent” For Another Fifteen Years

The Broadway national tour of Rent starring Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal will continue into at least January 2025.

When the tour launched this past January with original stars Adam Pascal as Roger, Anthony Rapp as Mark and Gwen Stewart as the "Seasons of Love" soloist, dates had only been announced to August.

The tour's website now reveals dates to Jan. 21, 2025. Playbill.com has learned that the headliners are on board. Producers suggest that the tour's end date is tentative, and may continue for years, or even decades, beyond 2025.

5227799
Rapp and Pascal perform
"La Vie Boheme"
"I'm really glad to be doing this forever," said Rapp, sipping on prune juice.  "It's an important groundbreaking landmark in musical theater history, and it is the highlight of my career to be associated — every single day for the rest of my natural life — with it."

Some minor adjustments have been made to the choreography to accomodate Pascal's wheelchair, but otherwise, the staging remains almost true to the original production which premiered on Broadway on April 29, 1996.

Jonathan Larson's groundbreaking, Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-honored stage musical about 20-something artists and lovers struggling for connection and expression in the age of AIDS was turned into a movie musical about 30-something artists and lovers struggling for connection and expression in the age of AIDS.  Rapp and Pascal starred in the film adaptation as well.

The current tour production is about 40-something artists and lovers, along with 20-something artists and lovers, struggling for connection and expression in the age of AIDS.

[Not really]

The Reason For Health Care Reform Opposition

It's buried in this MSNBC story, but here it is:

While just 36 percent believe Obama’s efforts to reform the health system are a good idea, that number increases to 53 percent when respondents were read a paragraph describing Obama’s plans.

In other words, when you describe Obama's general health care plan without mentioning Obama, a lot more people like it.

In yet more other words, many people don't like the health care plan because it's Obama's health care plan.  They don't know what it is; they don't even care what it is.

But when you tell them what it is (without ascribing it to Obama), they like it.  In other words, many people, blinded by Obama hatred, are ignorant:

Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions — all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress.

Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly.

I don't know how you can educate people who can't see beyond their own hatred of their President.

RELATED:  A new Public Policy poll shows that 39% of Americans think the government should ‘stay out of Medicare,’ something inherently impossible.

Barney Frank’s Pushback: “On What Planet Do You Spend Most Of Your Time?”

This must have been fun:

Steve Benen comments:

There was no defensiveness, and no anger, just someone who knows what he's talking about making someone who doesn't look like a fool.

Matt Yglesias raised a terrific point: "Voters don't have a great deal of knowledge about the issues, or a great deal of interest in acquiring knowledge about the issues. But they are human beings, equipped with our species' excellent ability to read the emotional states of other human beings. If they see a politician acting defensive about his 'side' in an argument, they conclude that this critics are probably on to something. If they see a politicians acting outraged and hitting back fearlessly, they're likely to conclude that he has nothing to apologize for."

Quite right. A low-information voter, with only a passing familiarity with current events, might catch an exchange like this one. Which of the two people in this clip — the crazy person or Barney Frank — comes across as credible?

I realize that Frank has the benefit of serving in a safe Democratic seat, in a highly-educated area. Vulnerable Democratic lawmakers may not feel comfortable openly ridiculing random lunatics who ask stupid questions like Frank did.

But the point is, reform advocates can show this kind of confidence and certainty that nonsensical beliefs are nonsensical beliefs.

Yes, Barney Frank is a representative from liberal Massachusetts, and his pushback isn't going to hurt him politically.  But why can't vulnerable Democratic lawmakers exhibit this pushback behavior as well?  I think you lose as many votes by catering to the crazies as you do by calling them out.

Incidentally, Sean Hannity and Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) (The World's Shittiest Elected Official ™) tut-tutted Frank's behavior.  But they didn't show the actual clip, and they didn't mention the Obama-Hitler sign seen in the clip.  Heh.

Teabagger Yells “Heil Hitler” To Jewish Man Praising Israel’s Health Care System

Naturally, he’s offended.  At the end of the confrontation, she makes a mock crying noise, indicating that he’s a wimp.

This is pretty disgusting, even by teabagger standards.  I can’t embed it, but you can see it here .

UPDATE:  Okay, found an embeddable version…

Here’s a short interview with the “Heil Hitler” woman.  Her husband has three jobs and is uninsured.  She thinks there needs to be health care reform, but she doesn’t think the government should handle it.

Pray tell, WHO does she think should handle it?  

Oh, well.  Hard to expect a rational thought process from an irrational woman.

Texting While Driving

This is an excerpt from a half hour Public Service Announcement being shown to kids in British schools.

I think these 4+ minutes is pretty effective enough to get the point across.

Should The Supreme Court Stay The Execution Of An Innocent Man?

Yes, right?

Well, maybe not.

Here's the story of the Troy Davis case:

Twenty years ago, a late-night scuffle broke out in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah. When Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, tried to intervene, someone pulled a gun and killed the officer. Soon after, Sylvester "Red" Coles, came to the police with a lawyer, accusing Troy Davis of the shooting.

Witnesses say it was Coles, not Davis, who killed MacPhail, but once the man-hunt began for Davis, law enforcement officials wanted to believe he was the man responsible for the slaying, and pressured witnesses accordingly. At this point, most of the witnesses who testified at trial have signed statements contradicting their identification of the gunman. Other witnesses who fingered Davis have said they made their stories up, facing police threats.

What we're left with is a case in which a man was sentenced to death despite no physical evidence, based on the word of witnesses who have since recanted or contradicted their testimony.

What about the witnesses who say Cole shot MacPhail? They're anxious to say so, but their testimony was blocked by federal courts, citing a provision in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Yesterday, in a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court took the highly unusual step of ordering the lower court to hear the new evidence.

Scalia dissented, writing:

"This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

Justice John Paul Stevens responded to Scalia:

"Imagine a petitioner in Davis's situation who possesses new evidence conclusively and definitively proving, beyond any scintilla of doubt, that he is an innocent man….The dissent's reasoning would allow such a petitioner to be put to death nonetheless. The court correctly refuses to endorse such reasoning."

Stevens is right.  But here's the thing – so is Stevens.

A habeus corpus petition is a legal device that goes back to the Magna Carta.  It's what prisoners — particularly death row inmates — use when all their appeals have been denied.  Basically, it allows someone imprisoned for a crime to petition the court on the grounds that their incarceration is illegal or unconstitutional.  In effect, if the habeus petition is heard and granted, it amounts to another trial — another bite at the apple to prove one's innocence.

Traditionally, most habeus petitions aren't even heard, and when they are heard, the court considers the arguments, and usually denies a new trial.  That's because, in order to win, the petitioner must show some defect in the trial that led to conviction.  An incompetent lawyer, a bribed jury, etc.  In other words, the prisoner must show that he did not get his constitutional right to a full and fair trial.

Scalia's point here is well-taken.  Troy Davis got a full and fair trial.  Did the witnesses who pointed their finger at Davis lie at the trial?  Well, it would seem so, but that doesn't make the trial "unfair".  Why not?  Because Davis' lawyer got to cross-examine those witnesses, try to expose them as liars, etc.  He failed, but that doesn't make the trial unfair or unconstitutional.

So yes, believe it or not, "actual innocence" is not an independent ground for a new trial. 

But of course, "actual innocence" can only be determined by a new trial in the first place.  Catch-22.

It should be noted that, by the strict letter of the law, Scalia is right.  The constitution does not protect an obviously innocent man who got a fair trial and was found guilty.

Stevens and the other five judges in the majojrity are, strictly speaking, going beyond the letter of the law, expanding the scope of habeus review, and allowing a hearing on whether this guy should get a new trial.  They are invoking humanity.  Or reason.  Or both.  They're not saying he's innocent; they're just saying that he has a right to have the new evidence considered so that a court could order a new trial.

Any way you look at it, it is an interesting development in habeus jurisprudence.

Guns At Obama Town Hall Meetings

It started of in New Hampshire last week.  A guy with a loaded pistol strapped to his leg in the protester crowd.  Law enforcement could do nothing; the guy had a permit.

It's happened a few times since then, culminating this past weekend in Arizona when some anti-Obama protester showed up strapped with a loaded semi-automatic rifle.  Again, all perfectly legal.

And why was he there?  His quote: "We will forcefully resist people imposing their will on us through the strength of the majority with a vote."

Yeah, I'm troubled.  This country has a rather prolonged history with political violence, and — with the exception of some radical bombings in the 1960's — almost all of it, and certainly all of it in the past 30 years, has come from the gun-toting NRA-loving right wing crowd.

I know, I know.  Second Amendment and all that.  But this isn't a discussion about rights.  The Second Amendment, very broadly, gives one the right to have guns for self-defense.  Well, what kind of self-defense is needed by right-wingers at an Obama town hall meeting?  It's not as if liberals arm themselves to the teeth, or froth at the mouth making violent protests.

It seems to me that the presence of guns at political rallies is intended to send a subtle, subconscious signal to ratchet up the already overheated political debates.  I mean, when a guy with an assault rifle shows up at a presidential event, saying that he will resist the will of the majority, he's not talking about self-defense.  He's talking about violent overthrow of the government.

UPDATE:  Yes, these people are dangerous:

Ernest Hancock, the online radio host who staged an interview with an assault rifle-wielding associate at the Obama event in Arizona yesterday — and was himself armed with a 9 millimeter pistol — was a vocal supporter and friend of right-wing anti-government militia members who were convicted of conspiracy and weapons charges in the 90s.

And in an interview today with TPMmuckraker, Hancock said he still believes the Viper Militia case was "manufactured" by the same government that manufactured Waco and lied to its people about 9/11.

RIP Bob Novak

Some greatest hits:

He was an old-school Washington reporter.  He took a downward spiral when he became a member of the fledgling Tv network CNN in the early 1980's.  The Evans-Novak Report was pretty thoughtful, but then came Capital Gang, and the Crossfire, setting the groundwork for TV political panel yell-a-thons.  Then he became a tool for the Bush White House, outting Valerie Plame.  This led to a few on-air bad behavior incidents.  He retired last year after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In 2007, he explained what he envisions heaven to look like: “I’m going to a place where there are no blogs.”

UPDATE:  Eleanor Clift, who often sparred with Novak on The McLaughlin Group remembers Novak:

On television, we were rarely on the same side. Bob Novak reveled in his hardline views. I was one of those bleeding-heart liberals whose views he routinely ridiculed. It was the mid-'80s, and we would sometimes drive out together on Friday afternoons to the NBC studio to tape The McLaughlin Group. The top would be down on his LeBaron convertible, and he always wore his Chicago Cubs cap. I considered him a friend, and he was instrumental in getting me on the show, which at the time was all male.

His office was on the same floor as NEWSWEEK's Washington, D.C., bureau, in a building just one block from the White House. He'd been there since 1964; I was a relative newcomer, arriving a dozen years later. We shared the elevator and a copying machine and enough face time in our comings and goings over the years that I thought we were buddies. But when that red light came on atop the camera to signal that the taping had begun, more often than not, he would lunge forward, wag his finger in my face, and ascribe some terrible left-wing transgression to "Eleanor Clift and her ilk."

Birthers Still Grasping At Straws

The hubbub may have died down, but WorldNetDaily hasn't given up on Obama's birth controversy.  The latest?

Myspacebirther

WorldNetDaily considers websites to be more credible than state documents, I guess.

The online media lizard notes that Obama's Facebook page correctly lists 1961 as his birth year, as do all other online references, including earlier archived MySpace pages.  But rather than simply dismissing the current MySpace error as, well, an "error", WND thinks it apparently means something sneaky is going on.

Oy.

District 9

I'm not one for summer blockbusters anymore.

I'm old enough to see the cliches, the clunky plot expositions, the cookie-cutter charactors — all designed to show-off yet another gee-whiz battle sequence or demolition of another American city and/or landmark.  I think it was during "Independence Day" when I crossed over.  A fun movie, but really — outside of the SFX, who cared?  Did we really care about Will Smith's relationship with what's-her-name?

District 9, I'm told, is a movie which actually has charactors and a signficiant story.  And, oh yeah — aliens and great SFX.  That seems to me what the best science fiction should be — not just cool things exploding, but an allegorical message and a story that can't be summarized in ten words.

Count me in.