Thursday, March 31, 2005

What I Need Is A Good Defense...

Haven't blogged in a while, for obvious reasons. But I'm sure that Dad would want me to go on writing, so here goes. This one's for you, Dad - as is all the rest of the crap I put up here. If only it were worthy...

Anyway, I'm back in North Carolina for a couple of days - long enough to learn that I am a dangerous criminal. Why? I'm living with someone I'm not married to. (Being engaged doesn't count.) That's illegal in North Carolina, and a Pender County woman lost her job with the sheriff's department because of it. (Incidentally, the Triangle stopped caring about this law a long time ago.) The woman is suing to have the law taken off the books.

Still in the endless circus of NC politics, there's a bill before the General Assembly that would make it illegal for colleges to discriminate against someone for their political beliefs. This is one of conservatism's sacred cows - apparently, there's some huge liberal conspiracy to keep conservatives out of academia. Conservatives still believe this despite the fact that there is no evidence of someone being denied a job at a university because of their political beliefs. Nor is there evidence of systematic discrimination against conservative students. At UNC, when a student was castigated by a professor for making homophobic statements in class, the professor was swiftly (and rightly) punished by the administration. To my knowledge, no conservative has ever demonstrated that they got lower grades for speaking their mind - indeed, in my experience, professors like students who disagree with them in class. If there's a lack of conservative viewpoints being heard in the classroom, it's because conservative students are too chickenshit to speak up. Yes, professors are overwhelmingly liberal - but that can be described by conservatives' reluctance to enter academia, rather than by some invented liberal malice.

And in the department of Democrats Behaving Badly, House Speaker Jim Black attempted to sell a state-owned building to a private developer for $1. I wish I could get that kind of deal. This kind of giveaway is shameful whatever your view on publicly owned land; developers should have to pay to acquire property just like everyone else. Fortunately for us part-owners, Governor Easley did something right for a change and challenged Black on this giveaway.

Into national politics, where I want to touch on the so-called "pharmacists' rights" movement. Seems pharmacists want the green light to deny treatment to patients who request it, especially where it concerns birth control. Their own organization refuses to permit such denials, so they want government to require licensing boards to license pharmacists who, for whatever reason, don't want to do their job. In this case, I trust the pharmacists to set ethical standards for their own profession. If they want to require that their members abide by the Hippocratic Oath and not deny treatment to those in need, so be it.

One last thing, which is of little import to non-newspaper-geeks out there. The Associated Press has decided to offer an alternative lead to all of their stories. They will continue to offer the straight lead giving the reader the basic information of the article, but will allow papers to choose another lead that attempts to snazz the article up a little. It's scary that newspapers have to snazz up issues of national importance in order to distract people from the Michael Jackson case. And I'm not sure that I like an alternative that gives journalists and papers another opportunity to let personal opinion seep into their stories.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Thoughts of the Day

Thank you, Congress, for deciding that you have the right to make medical decisions for me. Sorry, Mom, Dad, and Danielle, but you'll have to clear your decisions regarding me with Tom DeLay first.

Also, according to a new book, judicial decisions expanding equal rights to all Americans creates "de facto judicial tyranny." So it's more tyrannical to tell someone they can do something than to tell someone they can't. Interesting.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Don't It Always Seem To Go...

Before we begin: Drilling in the ANWR is now approved, 51-49. Just what we need - something else to encourage us not to concentrate on finding alternative sources of energy.

So while all the media's efforts regarding the Supreme Court seem concentrated on the utterly unimportant Ten Commandments issue, there's a couple of other recently-decided or soon-to-be-decided cases that might actually affect the way we live our lives. To wit:

The least important is a little-noticed case (it was on the back page of the N&O, and didn't make the Post to my knowledge) saying that some intel agents who got screwed by the CIA couldn't bring a suit against them because their work had to remain classified. This is a bit sketchy. It tells me that my right to petition the government for a redress of grievances somehow is subject to "national security" concerns (by which I mean the whim of whoever's in power). The right to sue is one of our basic civil liberties - it prevents us from being exploited by ruthless people (like the CIA). A lawsuit with merit, like the lawsuit in question here, shouldn't be kept out of the courtroom for any reason. Otherwise, the CIA could operate pretty much with impunity, which leads to undeniably bad things. Personally, I think that if the CIA doesn't want something revealed, it shouldn't screw over the people to whom the secrets are entrusted. Either way, Earth to Justices: ever heard of a closed courtroom? That way, your "national security" can be maintained, and justice can still be served.

The CNN article on it is here.

The other one is even scarier, and fortunately it's gotten some media attention (though not much). I call it the Big Yellow Taxi case, since essentially it would give state and city governments power to pave your personal paradise and put up a parking lot. The government of New Haven, CT (I think) proposes to use "eminent domain" power to take land from working-class citizens and give it to private developers to use for a shopping center. The question is whether this constitutes the "public use" for which private property can be taken under the 5th Amendment.

Personally, I'd like to see eminent domain go the way of the dodo, though since it's written in the Constitution I know that's not going to happen. What worries me, though, is that "public use" is being stretched way beyond its borders here. I can understand the need for eminent domain in road-building and the like (though I still think the government should just buy the land like anyone else. Everybody has a price). But for use in private enterprise? Just because the public would shop there doesn't justify it. Basically, a Court decision in favor of New Haven opens the door for this scary scenario: if a developer wants your land, he can use his/her government connections to get it. You don't get to choose whether or not to sell or to negotiate price. Corporate America says jump, you say "how high?"

This is an outrage that needs to be stopped - and unfortunately it's in the one branch of government that doesn't respond well to public outrage. Keep your fingers crossed, folks.

Another thing: Paul Wolfowitz? The World Bank? Sure, he gets to ruin countries financially, but he doesn't get to blow stuff up, so I don't see how he'll fit in...

Friday, March 11, 2005

So Much For Your Cedar-Planked Canoe

Coming as it did on the heels of two successful popular uprisings - the Rose Revolution in Georgia (the country) and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine - America was looking hopefully towards the Fiesta - er, Cedar - Revolution in Lebanon. Americans, more than anyone else, had caught Revolution Fever. We enjoyed watching these mass spectacles, possibly because we ourselves don't have the balls to participate in them anymore.

Well, it seems we have a regular Cedar Counter-Revolution on our hands. About twice as many demonstrators came out this week to protest, oddly enough, in favor of the Syrian occupation. Seems they think that this "Cedar Revolution" is just trading one form of tyranny for the other, and Syria hasn't been all bad, really. At least they're Muslim.

It came on a day when Bush was praising the Lebanese for showing their faith in democracy and issuing a withdrawal order to Syria. Jon Stewart said it best: apparently, Bush's foreign policy goal is to spread irony throughout the world. Looks like Bush is going to have to choose which is more important right now - letting Lebanon's people choose for themselves even if the decision looks stupid to the neocons, or trying to force Syria out whether the Lebanese care one way or the other.

And here we see the naked truth: our actions in Iraq have hurt the cause of democracy more than they have helped. Because of the invasion, America - and anything that America supports, such as the Cedar Revolution - becomes tainted. We've made people over there afraid of America, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Fear of America can be manipulated by clever politicians such as Assad and his Hezbollah patsies. The result is a bunch of people who are convinced that if they let go of Syria, America will just step in and start pulling the same strings.

What surprises me is that Bush doesn't understand how Islamists can use fear to their advantage. The Bush election strategy makes brilliant use of fear; namely, evangelical Christians' fear of modern culture and middle-class America's fear of terrorism. Shouldn't Bush see the parallels, and stop doing things that would make people scared of us? You know, things like invading countries at the drop of a hat? I suppose that would be too much to ask of an administration that hasn't been able to connect the dots on anything.

Quick hitters:

The bankruptcy bill. Republicans are going to make it harder for someone who got seriously ill to get their life back on track, while doing nothing about the ease with which rich people can evade their creditors. All as a big giveaway to the credit card companies who are - surprise! - big campaign contributors. You didn't hear about it because the media care more about the Ten Commandments than actual worthwile topics of conversation. To all you working-class Republicans out there: you put these guys in there. Now you're getting screwed while the people you elected channel money towards big campaign contributors. But at least gays aren't gonna get married, right?

John Bolton. Talk about your absurd appointments. Isn't this sort of like putting Fred Phelps in charge of the Human Rights Campaign? I don't trust the UN as far as I can throw it either, but seriously. We should at least pretend like we're trying to get along with everybody.

The Ten Commandments. It's a fun issue to debate, but I don't, quite frankly, give a fuck. All I'm saying is that if a lack of government support is a threat to your faith, you've got some pretty damn weak faith.

Terrence Boyle: I think Democrats were blocking him simply out of habit. So he's a little conservative (except, apparently, on environmental issues). He'll fit right in on the 4th Circuit. Save the political capital for, say, John Bolton.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

What's Behind the Ballot Boxes?

Palestinians picked their leader for the first time ever. Lebanon's people brought down the Syrian puppet running their country. Egypt has its first shot at a real election in who knows how long. The Iraq election looks like it might not be a total disaster. And Saudis are voting - at least for show.

All of which leads to the question: are the neocons smarter than they look?

The whole idea behind the new neocon policy is that democracy will spread if we give it a little help - military or otherwise - every now and then. They claim that the war in Iraq brought democracy to the Middle East, and that we are the reason for the events I just listed. The critics, I note, have been eerily silent.

Consider me one of the critics.

I'm not sure I buy the bit about democracy being contagious in the first place. Arabs have been voting in Israel since 1949. Turkey's been voting since 1922 or so. Why hadn't it caught on until now? Besides, if you buy the argument the neocons are selling, the Iraq war becomes superfluous anyway: Palestine's elections, which were certain to occur after Arafat's death, would have catalyzed democratic movements throughout the region.

I personally think there are a host of factors leading to the Mideast votes. Call me cynical, but I'm chalking the Saudi Arabia and Egypt votes down to the old trick of making people think they have power to keep them calm. I'll continue to do that until I see Mubarak or the Saudi Crown Prince turn over power because of the results of an election. I'm hopeful but not optimistic. The reason for Palestine's vote was already mentioned - Arafat's death.

As for Lebanon, I think the mass demonstrations in the wake of the assassination of Hariri would have happened with or without our invasion of Iraq. After Israel's withdrawal in 2000, Lebanon had enjoyed relative calm - and had only one other foreign force bothering them. Hariri was able to keep the Christians, Muslims, and Druze away from each others' throats long enough to get them united against the common enemy to the north and east. And when Hariri was assassinated and the blame somehow fell on Syria, well, it was an excuse for the Lebanese to do what they've been wanting to do anyway - lose the puppet.

Of course, now Bush feels emboldened, despite the fact that he might have had nothing to do with the spread of democracy in the Middle East. He's going after Syria now - the evidence linking them to Hariri's assassination and to the recent Tel Aviv bombing is about as existent as the WMD evidence at this point. Whee.