Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, April 28, 2012 12:02 am

Product review: Sol beer

What with Cinco de Mayo coming up (a/k/a Amateur Night for gringos), if anyone offers you a choice between a bottle of Sol beer and a bottle of horse pee, take the horse pee. And then hit the guy in the head with the Sol bottle. The horse pee has substantially more character than the beer.

Friday, April 27, 2012 11:59 pm

I’m starting to think that Obama might not actually have to run a campaign

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 11:59 pm
Tags: ,

I say that because one of the first rules of politics is that when the other guy is destroying himself, don’t interrupt him. And Mitt Romney? Is destroying himself:

Yeah, all you folks who lost your jobs, got bankrupted by your medical bills, whatever, just do what this guy did and borrow twenty thousand bucks from your parents and start a fast food chain.

(And why am I not surprised that the chain in question, Jimmy John’s (at which, by the way, I will never eat again), got busted for illegally firing workers for union activity?)

I thought we’d seen it all when Bush 41 went speedboating in 1990 while U.S. troops were packing up to head for the Middle East and gas prices were shooting up. Then I thought we’d seen it all when Bush 43 ignored New Orleans and told the guy who was trying to warn him about al-Qaeda, “OK, you’ve covered your ass.” But holy crow. It’s not just that R-money doesn’t have a clue. It’s that he doesn’t have a clue which universe to find one in.

(h/t: Angry Black Lady)

Friday Random 10, First-Friday-of-break-and-we-haven’t-done-this-in-forever edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 11:29 pm

2 Cellos – Highway to Hell
Bob Dylan – Girl from the North Country
Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear the Reaper
AC/DC – Shake a Leg
Fountains of Wayne – Leave the Biker
Gin Blossoms – Perfectly Still
Graham Parker & the Rumour – Protection
Lou Reed & David Bowie – Dirty Blvd/White Light, White Heat
Scotty – Draw Your Brakes
Dreams So Real – Heaven

lagniappe: Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

I’ve got a couple of Sols chilling — hey, they were free — and I think I’m gonna get my blog on. Could be a long night.

Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:11 pm

A journalistic milestone

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 7:11 pm
Tags: , , , catches House Speaker John Boehner in a lie — and says so in so many words.

Sure, the writer is a freelancer. But editors let that story go out.

I’ve long thought that news media ought to call liars liars more often.

A decade of candles and fireworks

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 5:37 am
Tags: ,

Ten years ago today, Blog on the Run was born. You don’t know, and probably don’t care, why. That’s cool.

To mark the occasion, I’ve created a Greatest Hits page, stuff that I think has held up well and/or that I’m particularly proud of. It’s a short list, although I might add to it at some point.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by and contributed to the conversation over the years, but most especially to my friend Fred Gregory, who has been practically a co-host. He and I see eye to eye politically on practically nothing, but in our respective ways we each honor God, country and family, and we honor that honor in one another.

Kind of like these guys …

… although which of us is which depends on the subject, the time of day and how much we’ve each had to drink.

Here’s to another 10 … and, in the wake of a grim decade for our country, to better days for all of us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 6:40 pm

We tried it your way. Again. It didn’t work. Again.

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 6:40 pm

Everyone in America who has been screaming about OMGZ Teh_Deficit!!11! needs to sit down and shut up now.

As I and a lot of economists, some of them Nobel laureates, have been pointing out, America’s biggest problem NOW is not the deficit. It is lack of consumer demand, which is caused by joblessness. Deep, extended joblessness. In such an environment, cutting deficits, particularly by cutting spending, is only going to make matters worse.

Don’t believe me? Fine. Look at Britain, where they tried this asinine stunt and now find themselves not only still plagued with high unemployment but also officially in a double-dip recession.

(Helpful graphic from New York Times)

We. Need. Jobs. We. Need. Stimulus.

Our deficit problem is primarily a problem with our health-care system, the world’s most expensive and among its most wasteful, and the ’01 and ’03 Bush tax cuts. We fix those problems, we’ve got surpluses as far as the eye can see.

America: Land of opportunity?

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 6:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

Well, if, by “opportunity,” you mean, “scraping by and desperately hoping not to get sick”:

That’s right, folks: We’ve got a higher percentage of our work force working for less than two-thirds our median wage than any other industrialized democracy, and yet one major party insists that the answer to all our economic problems is more tax cuts for the wealthy and the other major party refuses to call this policy out for the batshit insanity that it is.

And you wonder why people are marching in the streets.

Monday, April 23, 2012 6:35 am

Why does income inequality matter?

Because it’s a matter of life and death:

If the recent trend of growing inequality in life expectancy continues through the next three decades,
then workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution can anticipate substantial reductions in the
expected length of retirement if the normal retirement age is increased in accordance with this
schedule. A male worker born in 1973 retiring at age 70 can expect to live 13.8 years in retirement, a full year less than the expected length of retirement for a worker born in 1912 …

Sunday, April 22, 2012 2:23 pm

Ratf*cking for the new millennium

Filed under: Evil,Journalism — Lex @ 2:23 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This is at once one of the most sinister and one of the most puerile things I’ve ever seen anyone do:

A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites.

Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names.

The timeline of the activity tracks USA TODAY’s reporting on the military’s “information operations” program, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan — campaigns that have been criticized even within the Pentagon as ineffective and poorly monitored. …

If the websites were created using federal funds, it could violate federal law prohibiting the production of propaganda for domestic consumption.

“We’re not aware of any participation in such activities, nor would it be acceptable,” said Lt. Col. James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman.

Note the alacrity with which the Pentagon promised to get to the bottom of this. Oh. Wait.


Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:29 pm

Pepper-spraying: OK, we waited for the facts to come out …

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:29 pm
Tags: , , , ,

… and they are even worse than it appeared.  The section headings alone are brutal:

Section I – Deficiencies in the Decision- Making
Process and Substantive Mistakes at the
Administrative Level ………………………………………………………………. 10

A. There Was a Failure to Investigate Whether or Not
“Non- Affiliates” in the UC Davis Occupy
Encampment Were Present ………………………………………….. 10

B. The Administration Decided to Deploy Police to
Remove the Tents on Nov. 18 before Considering
Other Reasonable Alternatives…………………………………….. 11

C. The Scope of the Police Operation to Remove the Tents
Was Ineffectively Communicated, Not Clearly
Understood by Key Decision- Makers, and,
Accordingly, Could Not Be Adequately Evaluated as
to Its Costs and Consequences ……………………………………. 12

D. There Were No Clear Lines Delineating the
Responsibility for Decision- Making between
Civilian Administrators and Police……………………………….. 14

E. There Was Confusion as to the Legal Basis for the
Police Operation ………………………………………………………… 14

F. The Leadership Team’s Informal, Consensus- Based
Decision- Making Process Was Ineffective for
Supporting a Major Extraordinary Event……………………….. 15

Section II – The Conduct of the Police Operation………………. 17

A. The UCDPD Failed to Plan for the Intended Action
According to Standard Operating Procedures ……………….. 17

B. Notwithstanding the Deficiencies in the Operations

Plan, the Incident Was Not Managed According to
the Plan …………………………………………………………………….. 18

C. The Decision to Use Pepper Spray Was Not
Supported by Objective Evidence and Was Not
Authorized by Policy…………………………………………………… 18

D. The Pepper Spray Used, the MK- 9, First Aerosol
Projector, Was Not an Authorized Weapon for Use
by the UCDPD ……………………………………………………………. 19

E. There is a Breakdown of Leadership in the UCDPD………… 19

F. Other Police Procedural and Tactical Irregularities………… 19

Section III – Individual Responsibility…………………………………. 21

A. The Chancellor Bears Primary Responsibility for
the Decision to Deploy the Police at 3 p.m. Rather
than During the Night or Early Morning, Which is a
Tactical Decision Properly Reserved for Police
Authorities ………………………………………………………………… 21

B. The Chancellor Bears Primary Responsibility for
the Failure to Communicate Her Position that the
Police Operation Should Avoid Physical Force……………….. 21

C. Many Members of the Leadership Team, Including
the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor Meyer, and Vice
Chancellor Wood, Share Responsibility for the
Decision to Remove the Tents on Friday and, as a
Result, the Subsequent Police Action Against
Protesters………………………………………………………………….. 22

D. Chief Spicuzza Bears Individual Responsibility for
Failing to Challenge the Leadership Team’s
Decision on the Time of the Police Operation and
for Not Clarifying the Role the Police Were
Expected to Play During the Operation. She is also
Responsible for Numerous Deviations from Best Police Practices Both Before and During the
Operation as Detailed in the Kroll Report……………………… 23

E. Officer P Bears Individual Responsibility for
Abdicating his Duties as Incident Commander………………. 24

F. Lt. Pike Bears Primary Responsibility for the
Objectively Unreasonable Decision to Use Pepper
Spray on the Students Sitting in a Line and for the
Manner in Which the Pepper Spray Was Used………………… 24

And that’s not even the whole table of contents. (Also, via Balloon Juice, this commentary by Brad Hicks is illuminating.) This was an administrative and legal clusterfail of galactic dimensions.

At least the campus police chief is no longer in denial. She quit yesterday. Unfortunately, the best-known pepper sprayer, Lt. John Pike, remains on paid leave, and UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, whose nod-and-a-wink instructions to the campus police in direct contravention of the advice of the university’s legal department allowed this to happen, is still on the job. She should have been fired when the incident happened. She definitely should be fired now, and I hope she gets the crap sued out of her.

So all you fascists who were so unhappy because I concluded that the actions of the university and its law enforcement were objectively wrong, screw you. The only thing this report makes clear is that multiple indictments of state employees should have occurred over this. And screw anyone else who thinks pepper-spraying nonviolently resisting protesters in the United States of America should draw any response other than termination and a criminal assault charge.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 9:23 pm

They. Just. Lie. (And how to stop them.)

I mentioned some time back about how Rachel Lee of Vote for Marriage NC flat-out lied to the Greensboro City Council when she spoke in favor of Amendment One, which voters will decide on May 8.

Now, via Southern Beale at First Draft, comes this interesting anecdote:

Economist Arthur Laffer, a leader in the private efforts to eliminate Tennessee’s inheritance tax, told a state legislative committee Monday that FedEx president, chairman and CEO Fred Smith told him last week that “he’s gettin’ out of this state” if the bill repealing the tax doesn’t pass the legislature.

Laffer, who gained fame as a supply-side advocate in the administration of former President Ronald Reagan, moved a few years ago from California to Nashville, where he is chairman of Laffer Associates, a consulting firm, and Laffer Investments, an institutional investment management firm.

He made a 25-minute talk to the House-Senate Fiscal Review Committee Monday in support of legislation that phases out Tennessee’s inheritance and estate taxes by 2016.

Laffer has been a world-class bullshitter for more than 30 years. He lied about the “benefits” of the Reagan tax cuts and he’s lying now.

So here’s my proposal: Everyone who speaks before an elected body, in any capacity, has to be put under oath that he or she will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, on pain of five years in prison for perjury. And then start locking some liars up.

It won’t fix everything that ails our politics, Lord knows. But it will end some of the most egregious abuses and provide some salutary examples of what happens when you try to screw your fellow citizens and the system of government our ancestors died to create and defend.


Friday, April 13, 2012 8:52 pm

We knew the Catholic bishops have no morals. Now we also know they have no shame.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:52 pm

Tossing away two millennia of moral authority is a tough act, but with its multi-decade spree of child-raping and the associated blackmail, extortion and obstruction of justice it has committed, the RICO Act Roman Catholic Church has scored a perfect 10, right down to sticking the landing (of a cardinal, Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, in Vatican City where he can’t be extradited).

That’s bad enough. Now, deigning to insult our intelligence after warping children’s souls, American bishops are couching their efforts to deny insurance coverage to their non-Catholic employees in terms of religious liberty — and likening their effortst to those of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail. Not only that, they also hold up as an example of religious liberty the Second Vatican Council — the same Second Vatican Council they’ve been working for almost half a century to undo.  No, I am absolutely not making this up.

I think irony’s liver just escaped out of irony’s anus and ran off screaming into the night.

The document goes on to confuse “religious liberty” with the concept of getting government money to provide certain services but expecting government not to attach strings to the money. Uh, wrong, guys.

They even take James Madison’s name in vain — Madison, who was opposed even to the idea of a congressional chaplain — to argue that any interference with their desire to mess around with other people’s liberties is, itself, an abridgement of their own liberty. There’s a word for that, boys: theocracy. And we voted with our feet and our rifles on that more than two centuries ago.

Now, why don’t you shut up about denying other people health care and run along and turn state’s evidence to put your kiddie-diddling brethren in prison

Marc Randazza: American hero

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 7:32 pm
Tags: ,

I had vaguely heard of the attorney Marc Randazza through his work against the copyright trolls at Righthaven, work that ended almost as satisfyingly as The Shawshank Redemption.

But Popehat points out that Marc Randazza, as a lawyer and as a person, is a Doc Holliday for the 21st century, a loyal friend and a dead shot, First Amendment litigation-wise. This is a litigator who dropped a brief containing a history of penises on the Patent and Trademark office in support of a client’s desire for a phallic-looking trademark, including this sentence, with which even the priggiest bluenose would find it hard to argue: “One may invoke the symbol of strength, the phallus, without it being a literal tallywhacker.”

Ken at Popehat recites other reasons to love Randazza and also links to other people who love him. He also blogs.

Unfortunately, I suspect we’re going to need more Marc Randazzas in coming years. Large corporations, never content to do with their own money what they can spend taxpayer money on, will, I predict, increasingly attempt to use government leverage to silence speech with which they disagree. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m right, Randazza and those who do the kind and quality of work he does will be in more demand than is good for them or the country.

Ken modestly does not place himself in their number, but on the basis of this post, in which he willfully and intentionally violates a new Arizona law about online behavior and then dares that state’s legislature to have him arrested, I think his modesty might be misplaced:

You’ve been swept up in the moronic and thoughtless anti-bullying craze and consequently passed a bill that is ridiculous on its face, a bill that criminalizes annoying and offending people on the Internet. That’s like criminalizing driving on the road.

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

After annoying and offending the legislature in violation of its shiny new law and giving it some anatomically and geographically improbable suggestions, he concludes:

There. I’m a criminal in Arizona. Send some of your cops to collect me. I know it may be temporarily confusing for them, as I’m not brown, but perhaps they can manage.

Come get me.



To paraphrase James Goldman, when ridicule is all that’s left, the ridicule matters.

Vote Against Amendment One

For those of y’all who aren’t from around here, North Carolina will vote May 8 on a proposed amendment to its constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, and refuse to recognize any other type of civil arrangement. Not only does this push the state even farther into the marriage business, a place I’ve believed for years it has no business, it also would undo arrangements some localities have here that allow for domestic partnership benefits and would eliminate the possibility of civil unions. (Same-sex marriage already is banned by statute.)

It’s bad business, it’s facially violative of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, and it’s bigots and bullies being mean just because they can. (In a state with double-digit unemployment, this is how our GOP-controlled legislature chose to spend its time.) I was born here, I”ve lived in this state all but 18 months of my 52 years, I’ve been listening to this shit my whole life, and I am sick and tired of it.

A lot of my friends and neighbors took part in this video. It calls North Carolina to be its best self, something with which this state has struggled all my life, and the victory, when it comes, will be all the sweeter for that struggle.

And here, recorded just yesterday, is a cover by Triad musician Jeffrey Dean Foster, whom those of you of a certain age will remember as guitarist/singer for the late, lamented The Right Profile:

UPDATE: I do not entirely agree with the sentiment my friend Fec expresses here, but I know where it comes from and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally feel this way myself:

It is obvious to those of us who value all our brethren that the Christian fundamentalists give us no choice but leave them behind in the pursuit of a more just society. I’m going to keep saying this because it is true: just as they seek to demonize those not like them with hatred and lies, so then must we judge the social retards as evildoers. Life is hard and we have difficult choices to make. The easiest one is to disregard those who go out of their way to unnecessarily make life harder, especially for those who are already suffering the most.

It isn’t just states that struggle to be their best selves. It’s also you and I.

They just make sh*t up, ex-gay-therapy edition

Filed under: Reality: It works,Sad — Lex @ 5:40 am

Ill and aging, the psychiatrist who claimed in 2001 that therapy could turn gay people straight now admits that he was wrong:

The psychiatrist behind a prominent 2001 study declaring people can go from gay to straight has retracted his original claims.

Although the research is still cited by anti-gay organizations as proof that so-called ex-gay therapy works to change someone’s sexual orientation, the study has endured scientific criticism for years.

Now, Robert Spitzer, who led the research, told American Prospect that he wants to publish a retraction.

“In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct,” Spitzer said. “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”

Spitzer’s confession was part of writer Gabriel Arana‘s account of growing up gay, and struggling to change his sexual orientation by undergoing therapy.

Arana interviewed Spitzer, 79, who is now retired and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, at his home. He asked Arana to print the retraction of his study “so I don’t have to worry about it.”

Well, props to him for finally being honest. Too bad it comes only after he has done untold damage to untold numbers of people.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 5:58 pm

Good news: life on other planets. Bad news: It’s hungry.

As the self-appointed keeper of news about large reptiles, I feel obliged to warn you that anthropophagic dinosaurs on other planets might actually be a thing:

New scientific research raises the possibility that advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe. “We would be better off not meeting them,” concludes the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Chemicals. Um, yeah, some barley-flavored C2H5OH would go real good about now.

Marion Kirby and the neighborhood giants

Filed under: Sad,Salute! — Lex @ 6:21 am

Congratulations to former Page High School and Greensboro College head football coach Marion Kirby, who is among five people who will be inducted May 14 into the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame. [Disclosure: I work for GC.]

That’s not especially surprising, given not only Kirby’s coaching career but also the fact that his game-winning field goal in 1960 gave Catawba County’s Lenoir-Rhyne University its only national championship in football.

But what was most interesting for me was what Kirby had to say about how his upbringing shaped his career:

All of my education except for my year of graduate school at East Carolina was here. I went to Viewmont Elementary, Westmont Elementary, Highland Elementary, Hickory Junior High, Hickory High and Lenoir-Rhyne College and I walked to every one of them.

“Over the years. I’ve realized how fortunate I was to grow up where I did. My backyard was connected to (the late) Clarence Stasavich’s family’s backyard, (the late) Frank Barger lived in an apartment condo at the end of the street.

“Luke Beam, the great band director at Hickory High, lived two houses up and C.O. Miller, whose name is on the YMCA, I could hit his front porch with a rock.

“So it occurred to me that as a youngster I had a lot of really great male role models in my life, and I’m really humbled to have grown up on the shoulders of giants in my neighborhood.”

And I wonder: How many of our boys today are growing up with those kinds of giants in their neighborhoods, those male role models who lead, mentor and inspire?

Probably not nearly enough of them.

Monday, April 9, 2012 8:50 pm

The NY Times should just die already, moronic sports editor edition

If you’ve ever wondered why newspapers are dying, here’s a significant clue:

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The golf writer for the New York Times told a website Thursday she wouldn’t want to cover the Masters again until Augusta National invites a woman to be a member.

“If it were left to me, which it seldom is in the power structure of writer versus editor, I’d probably not come cover this event again until there is a woman member,” Karen Crouse told “More and more, the lack of a woman member is just a blue elephant in the room.”

Contacted by The Associated Press, Times sports editor Joe Sexton said the comments were, “completely inappropriate and she has been spoken to.”

So, after some poking around the Times’ website, I submitted the following email to Joe Sexton:

Dear Joe:

Resign. Just quit. You’re doing the craft of journalism no damn good whatever, and I say that with some sense of perspective, having devoted a quarter-century of my life to it.

Gee. So Karen Crouse had the unmitigated gall to point out that the sponsoring organization of a major event on her beat is run by a bunch of Neanderthals. Until fairly recently, publicly remarking on such a fact was considered “journalism.” It was also considered “holding the powerful accountable,” “refusing to truckle to sexist shitheads” and “introducing a desperately needed note of reality into an industry and a national conversation that has grown lethally surreal,” among other things.

If you were an editor worth the name, the “words” you would have had with Karen Crouse would have been, “Good work. Here’s a raise.”

Oh, I’m sure that, coached by Times Co. lawyers and PR people, you could give me a nice talk about “ethics” and the appearance of objectivity and all that other happy horseshit. And all that stuff might even work on a half-bright marmoset who had never heard of Judy (“I was proved f–king right”) Miller and is never subjected to the factual inaccuracies, contextual ignorance, economic illiteracy and sociopathic contempt for the nonwealthy that makes up the Times op-ed page these days. But don’t try that shit on anyone else. You’d be wasting the very expensive time of your legal counsel.

In conclusion, Karen Crouse has a lot better idea of the ethics, values and duties of journalism than you do. Depriving Augusta National of the oxygen of publicity is not only the right thing to do, it might well be the most effective thing to drag the club, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.  The fact that she listened to your “talking to” and apparently didn’t shove a pica pole up your hindquarters also suggests she has a higher level of patience than anyone this side of Mother Teresa.

You want to know why newspapers are dying? Look in the mirror.

With richly deserved contempt,


I will give him credit for this: He responded promptly.

Always a delight to receive the thoughtful observations of a principled reader such as yourself.
Nice getting to know you, and thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.

Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, but not his own math

Dean Baker eviscerates both James B. Stewart of The New York Times and Rep. Paul Ryan’s massive tax cuts for rich folks disguised as a federal budget:

What Stewart tells us is reasonable is that the budget calls for cuts in entitlements and tax reform. He then asks who could disagree with this.

One has to wonder whether Stewart has looked at the Ryan budget. First, on taxes the only specifics are cuts in the tax rates paid by rich people and corporations. None of the offsetting tax increases are specified.

If this sounds like a sensible opening gambit, let’s imagine the equivalent on the opposite side. Suppose that we proposed to increase Social Security benefits for the bottom two income quintiles of retirees. Suppose that we also proposed increased spending on infrastructure, research and development, and education.

Suppose the left-wing Ryan budget wrote down that these spending increases would be offset by unspecified reductions in government waste. We then told CBO to score it accordingly. Is this a good starting point for further discussion? …

Even more to the point: Is there anyone who has been paying attention for the past 20 years who believes that if some leftist proposed such a budget as Baker hypothesizes, the mainstream media (forget Fox) wouldn’t go utterly batshit calling out the many problems, miscalculations and flawed assumptions contained therein, including but not limited to some that were not flawed or miscalculated at all (Politifact and Factcheck, I’m looking at you)?

The Ryan budget is proving to be a wonderful Rorschach test. We have people who want to be part of the inside Washington conversation who praise the budget’s courage and integrity. Then we have people who believe in arithmetic who call it what it is: a piece of trash.

Why does this matter? Because people who ought to know better are running round calling Paul Ryan a serious thinker, when in fact he is either unable or unwilling to do fifth-grade math, and because there’s a nontrivial chance he will be Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Sunday, April 8, 2012 9:05 pm

He Is Risen: An outsourced reflection, a prediction, a prayer

I spent this weekend finishing up a final project for one of my courses for the semester. Save a proofreading, it’s done, and I can turn it in two weeks early. Which is good, because the project in the other course is going to kill me, but that’s not today’s point.

What’s today’s point, and yesterday’s, and, really, the point for all of Holy Week and the point for all time for anyone who claims to be a Christian or just admires Christ as a historical figure, is the radical nature of what Jesus asked us to do and who he asked us to be. I’ve read volumes on that subject over the years, and despite my misanthropy, recent dearth of church-going and occasional proclivity for PG-13 language here, I take it seriously.

And I’ve found few pithier summaries than this one, posted on Good Friday by Charlie Pierce. He responded to a temporal event in a specifically Roman Catholic context with small-c catholic truths that show no sign of dimming after 2,000 years:

… the liturgies of Holy Week … are the most moving because the one thing they’re not about is authority.

Authority is the villain during Holy Week. Secular authority, in the person of Pontius Pilate. Religious authority, in the institution of the Sanhedrin. What matters most throughout the season is the individual conscience. As Garry Wills never tires of pointing out, Christ did not make priests. He did not make a Church. And he sure as all hell didn’t make a Pope …

What stands out in the Holy Week services is humility in the face of unreasoning authority. What stands out, ultimately, and whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, or think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey imported from the Egyptian mystery cults or somewhere, is that, in the story of Easter week, unreasoning authority loses. It loses badly.

I am under no illusions about what life is going to be like in this country in the coming decade or two. Our bankers are going to insist that the rest of us kiss their asses and give them our money, and no one is going to stop them. Our church leaders are going to continue to engage in the decades-long continuing criminal enterprise of protecting child abusers and enabling history’s biggest thieves. Our police officers are going to use sexual humiliation to subjugate us and pepper spray and worse to keep us from exercising the rights our ancestors (and some of our contemporaries) died to obtain and protect, all in the name of protecting unreasoning authority. And our so-called leaders are going to continue to ignore the protests that the Earth itself is voicing in the plainest language, because, as Upton Sinclair famously observed, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends upon his not understanding it.

And, make no mistake, the pain will be widespread and it will be awful. We or people close to us will lose jobs, homes, health, even lives. And as bad as it will be here, it will be worse still in other places, many already enduring suffering unimaginable to most Americans.  I’m old enough not to care so much anymore about myself, but I’m terrified for my kids.

But, as cynical and pessimistic as I am, I also have faith — literally, the belief in and hope for something of which no evidence is visible — in this: Every single theft, every single swindle, every single assault, every single official lie, every act of abuse and dereliction of duty, every sin of commission and sin of omission by our unreasoning authorities, will, by engendering actions by Americans, others, or even God’s creation itself, bend the long moral arc of the universe just a tiny fraction closer to justice … in this world or the next.

Amen. Be armed, but go in peace.

Saturday, April 7, 2012 12:46 pm

Strip-searching, forced nudity and fascism

Filed under: Evil,I want my country back. — Lex @ 12:46 pm

Last Monday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality strip-searching anyone who is ever brought to jail for whatever reason isn’t just disturbing in and of itself — a guy was strip-searched who had done nothing wrong, because “outstanding” warrants for his arrest actually had been dropped years before.

No, it is disturbing because authoritarian states, and states that are becoming authoritarian, have a long history of using forced nudity and sexual humiliation to quell resistance and dissent, to engender fear and submission on the part of the populace. I frequently disagree with Naomi Wolfe, but she gets this point dead right.

Remember this?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 8:22 pm

Just Die Already, Washington Post, Ruth Marcus ahistoricity edition

In the place, time and culture in which I was reared, it was considered rude to draw attention to the fact that members of the fairer sex might have had the unmitigated gall to have survived on the planet in excess of four decades. Indeed, acknowledging the passage of three decades since a gentlewoman’s birth was permitted only on the occasion of her 30th birthday, whereupon she was then presumed to be 29 for the remainder of her days.

I’m so over that now.

I am 52 years old. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post is, I believe it is fair to say, older than I am, which point I mention to highlight the fact that in both her recent criticism of President Obama for criticizing the Supreme Court and, in the same piece, her defense of that court — in whose recent oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act one could effortlessly find some of the most mendacious arguments in recent American jurisprudence — this one-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize demonstrates that she is a contextual liar, a lousy reporter, an incipient dementia patient or just batshit insane and, in any of those cases, unfit to hold her current job, because even during her adult lifetime, other presidents have said much worse things about the courts.

First, here is what President Obama said during a news conference:

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.  And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.  Well, this is a good example.

Marcus called the president’s remarks “rather unsettling” and added:

… Obama’s assault on “an unelected group of people” stopped me cold. Because, as the former constitutional law professor certainly understands, it is the essence of our governmental system to vest in the court the ultimate power to decide the meaning of the constitution. Even if, as the president said, it means overturning “a duly constituted and passed law.”

Of course, acts of Congress are entitled to judicial deference and a presumption of constitutionality.  The decision to declare a statute unconstitutional, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1927, is “the gravest and most delicate duty that this court is called on to perform.”

But the president went too far in asserting that it “would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step” for the court to overturn “a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”  That’s what courts have done since Marbury v. Madison.  The size of the congressional majority is of no constitutional significance. We give the ultimate authority to decide constitutional questions to “a group of unelected people” precisely to insulate them from public opinion.

I actually agree with her in principle, and if this discussion were only about principle, her column would be unremarkable. But it isn’t only about principle, as any halfway conscious follower of the Supreme Court must know, because Obama’s remarks were not delivered in a vacuum.

A former constitutional law professor himself, he appears aware, as Marcus does not, that the conservative wing of the current court has abandoned its longstanding pretense that its rulings were based not on rightist ideology so much as on wanting to avoid “judicial activism” — making law from the bench rather than soberly assessing the constitutionality of congressional legislation and overturning it only when it violated the Constitution.

Now, that group — John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, with Anthony Kennedy and on-again, off-again member — is behaving as if the authority to decide major constitutional questions even at the expense of overturning legislation is not Holmes’s “grave and delicate duty” so much as it is Archimedes’s lever to move the world — back to a place and time in which the wealthy and corporations called the shots, a time both economically inefficient and thoroughly un-American.

And this trend is not new, not anything that could have sneaked up on Marcus; Jeffrey Rosen identified the trend five years ago in The New Yorker. After last week’s oral arguments on the health-care law, Jonathan Chait comments:

What made Rosen’s piece so shocking was that, for decades, judicial activism had been primarily associated with the left — liberal judges handed down broad readings of laws to expand rights, enraging conservatives who believed they were taking upon themselves decisions better left to democratic channels. Their complaints were not wholly unfounded — even if you support, say, abortion rights, as I do, the notion that the Constitution requires the right to an abortion is quite a stretch of judicial activism. The whole conservative legal and political movement had come to orient itself around opposition to judicial activism, which actually remains the term Republican politicians use to disparage liberal judges.

The only thing Rosen truly failed to anticipate in his piece was how quickly Republican judges would pivot from impassioned defenses of judicial restraint to judicial activism when the opportunity arose to deploy it in their party’s behalf. In the piece, he described Antonin Scalia as a fierce opponent of this movement. Scalia, wrote Rosen, “was not in favor of striking down laws in the name of ambiguous and contestable economic rights.” At one point Scalia attacked the movement to read economic rights into the Constitution as a “threat to constitutional democracy.”

The spectacle before the Supreme Court this week is Republican justices seizing the chance to overturn the decisions of democratically-elected bodies. At times the deliberations of the Republican justices are impossible to distinguish from the deliberations of Republican senators.

The blogger NYCSouthpaw explains exactly how Scalia, in particular, has flip-flopped dramatically in a relatively short time. In the 2005 case Gonzalez v. Raich, Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion that a 1937 case, National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Lauglin Steel Corp., gave Congress the right not only to regulate interstate commerce but also to regulate things that, while not commerce themselves, could substantially affect interstate commerce. The court in that case found that Congress had the power to do so under the “necessary and proper clause” of the Constitution, which basically holds that Congress can do anything not otherwise banned by the Constitution if it is a “necessary and proper” way to carry out constitutionally permitted responsibilities.

Scalia made that argument in support of prosecuting a guy in California who was growing marijuana in his own back yard for his own personal use, so as you can see, he took a very broad view then of what Congress can do to regulate “interstate commerce.” Writes NYCSouthpaw:

So, two things to note that Scalia says [in his Raich concurrence]:

  1. Activities that substantially affect interstate commerce are not, themselves, commerce.
  2. A 1937 labor rights case, NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., permits the regulation of activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce (i.e. not commerce).

Now look back up at Scalia’s exchange with [Solicitor General Donald] Verrilli [during health-care act oral arguments].  That 1937 case, Jones & Laughlin, is the very one that Verrilli is referring to.  Verrilli uses Jones & Laughlin to try to persuade Scalia that the Supreme Court often extends Commerce Clause authority to new areas that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce (in that case, unions, in this case, health care).

But Scalia shuts him down, saying that “there was no doubt” that “what was being regulated” in Jones & Laughlin “was commerce.”  That’s the flip flop.

For a good recent example of the court’s situational jurisprudence, one need look no further than Citizens United — not only for the substance of the ruling, which not only continued but expanded the conflation of speech with purchased audience begun by the court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, but also for the unseemly and actually unprecedented way in which the court practically begged other parties to bring challenges to the law as it then stood. Normally, the Supreme Court lets cases  “ripen” — letting real litigation involving real people work its way through trial courts and appeal courts in the ordinary course of time. As Henry Aaron, senior economics fellow at the Brookings Institute, points out, the argument that the act’s requirement to buy health insurance constitutes a “tax” normally couldn’t even have been litigated, let alone gotten to the Supreme Court, until someone had first actually been made to pay for insurance. And that requirement doesn’t take effect until 2015. (Granted, the ACA cases appear to have been heard on a somewhat accelerated schedule once appeals courts ruled, but only because proponents, opponents and the justices alike all saw benefit, for various reasons, resolving the contradictions among the appeals rulings quickly. And it is hard to argue that the American people, many of whose lives will be dramatically affected by the outcome either way, were harmed by that acceleration.)

Marcus, with her Harvard Law degree and her years of covering the Supreme Court for The Washington Post and her near-Pulitzer-worthy status, either is unaware of this context of conservative justices’ recent behavior, or she is deliberately ignoring it.

She also appears historically unaware — almost a capital offense among students of Supreme Court jurisprudence — that Obama is far from the first president to gripe about unelected justices. That griping has continued without surcease at least since Marbury v. Madison 200 years ago, a case of which Marcus, at least, claims to be aware. But Marcus, like many denizens of what blogger Digby likes to call The Village — the Washington government/media establishment that vigorously defends any encroachment on the privileges of wealth and power, leaning Republican although it’s frequently less a matter of partisanship than of differences with those who are Not Our Kind, Dear — criticizes Obama’s recognition of reality without the slightest hint of acknowledgment that far worse has gone before. Consider this remark from then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980:

The former California governor, campaigning in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday, blasted the court’s most recent abortion ruling as “an abuse of power as bad as the transgression of Watergate and bribery on Capitol Hill.”

Yeah, because engaging realitically with the practical ramifications of a law is just like felony bribery, burglary, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. (Also, isn’t it quaint how Republicans a generation ago acknowledged that Watergate really was a crime rather than a liberal media coup? But I digress.)

(UPDATE, 4/6: And how could I forget this not-so-golden not-so-oldie from Newt Gingrich, which Marcus appears to have let go by without comment, let alone criticism? Newt Gingrich pledged not only to “abolish whole courts to be rid of judges whose decisions he feels are out of step with the country” — which is constitutional, but only if Congress legislates it and the president signs off or allows the bill to become law without his signature; Congress also can, of course, impeach federal judges individually and remove them from office without affecting the existence of the judgeships themselves  — but also to “send federal law enforcement authorities to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to justify their decisions before congressional hearings,” which is unconstitutional on its face.)

That’s bad enough. But then consider Marcus’s expert’s summary of what the justices actually did during oral arguments:

I would lament a ruling striking down the individual mandate, but I would not denounce it as conservative justices run amok.  Listening to the arguments and reading the transcript, the justices struck me as a group wrestling with a legitimate, even difficult, constitutional question.  For the president to imply that the only explanation for a constitutional conclusion contrary to his own would be out-of-control conservative justices does the court a disservice.

Contrast that analysis with this one from Amy Davidson of The New Yorker. Granted, Ms. Davidson has never come within sniffing distance of a Pulitzer Prize that I know of, but unlike Marcus, she appears actually to have been present at the arguments and/or read the transcripts:

Here’s where a person could lose just a little bit of patience with the Supreme Court: in the midst of an exchange with Deputy Solicitor Edwin Kneedler, Justice Antonin Scalia saw an obstacle he didn’t like:

JUSTICE SCALIA: You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?


JUSTICE SCALIA: And do you really expect the Court to do that? Or do you expect us to give this function to our law clerks?


JUSTICE SCALIA: Is this not totally unrealistic? That we’re going to go through this enormous bill item by item and decide each one?

The twenty-seven hundred pages make up the text of the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act. Put aside, for the moment, the matter of the mandate and “severability” and “community ratings” and all the rest. If the Justices—or their clerks—need to read through a law to figure out whether it’s constitutional, it shouldn’t matter whether the law is twenty-seven pages or twenty-seven thousand (those numbers are divisible by nine, so they can split them up). Perhaps that’s a civilian’s view, and that’s not how things work in the Court these days. … But it’s a good bet that there are many, many Americans whose chronic illnesses or health crises have generated far more than twenty-seven hundred pieces of paper, from doctors and hospitals and labs and insurers and, in too many cases, ultimately from collection agencies. Even if you’re covered, the broken state of the health-care system has meant hard work, and hardship, for millions of people.

One might be inclined to give Scalia the benefit of the doubt on a bad joke here, if not for the fact that, as Davidson’s colleague Ryan Lizza noted, he actually didn’t know what was in the bill:

2. Justice Antonin Scalia: “All right. The consequence of your proposition, would Congress have enacted it without this provision, okay that’s the consequence. That would mean that if we struck down nothing in this legislation but the—what do you call it, the corn husker kickback, okay, we find that to violate the constitutional proscription of venality, okay? (Laughter.) When we strike that down, it’s clear that Congress would not have passed it without that. It was the means of getting the last necessary vote in the Senate. And you are telling us that the whole statute would fall because the corn husker kickback is bad. That can’t be right.” (N.B.: The so-called Cornhusker kickback was repealed by Congress only days after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.)

Sadly, that wasn’t the only example.  I know no more about insurance than any other insurance agent’s son, but it was clear even to me that the conservative justices either didn’t know or were pretending now to know how insurance works. Put simply, and this has been the case since the English began colonizing North America, it is a mechanism for spreading risk. But don’t take my word for it; Aaron at Brookings, linked above, discusses it in pretty simple language:

Several of the justices, notably Scalia and Alito, responded to the externalities argument by saying that every economic transaction creates similar externalities. “If I don’t buy a Volt, I raise the price of Volts,” said Scalia. Alito said much the same thing. So did Paul Clement’s brief for the plaintiffs.

This response was and is bad economics. It is true that every commodity is produced along what economists call a “cost curve”—raising output may lower average or marginal unit costs by spreading overhead or achieving economies of scale, but it may also raise costs by forcing up the cost of inputs or incurring diseconomies of scale. None of this occasions concerns about fairness or free-loading or, to use the economist’s term, “externalities.” But the cost shifting that occurs when uninsured patients fail to pay their bills does; it causes one group—the insured—to have to pay part of the cost of services others use.

Perhaps the most glaring instance of the failure to appreciate what an externality really is came from Justice Alito who at one point challenged the solicitor general by positing that the cost of all of the care currently used by those who are uninsured is less than would be the cost of the insurance they would be forced to carry. That being the case, Alito asked, how can one say that the uninsured are shifting costs to the insured? This query is painfully detached from an understanding of what an externality really is, how insurance works, or what the impact of insurance would be on service use.

Kevin Outterson, a Boston University law professor who co-directs the No. 2 health-law education program in the country, is even blunter:

On Tuesday, several Republican Justices and the Solicitor General displayed remarkably limited understanding of the nature of health insurance risk pools. If a healthy person stays out of the pool, the average costs for those left in the pool are higher. That’s not true for underwritten insurance products (such as life or auto).

So at least several of the justices didn’t understand the very nature of the industry upon which they were being asked to rule.

That’s bad enough. What worse, and has been widely remarked upon, is that not only were the justices ignorant of the industry, they were ignoring decades of settled law with respect to what Congress can and cannot do under the Constitution’s grant of power to regulate interstate commerce, spouting discredited right-wing talking points during the oral arguments and in general behaving so ignorantly that even Charles Fried, the notably liberal (that’d be irony) solicitor general during President Reagan’s second term, felt obliged to call the court out on both its tea-party talking points and its lack of principle in this Q&A, which Marcus might even have read, inasmuch as it was published by The Washington Post:

Ezra Klein: Tuesday’s arguments seemed to focus on the question of a “limiting principle.” So is there a limiting principle here?

Charles Fried: First of all, the limiting principle point kind of begs the question. It assumes there’s got to be some kind of articulatable limiting principle and that’s in the Constitution somewhere. What Chief Justice John Marshall said in 1824 is that if something is within the power of Congress, Congress may exercise that power to its fullest extent. So the question is really whether this is in the power of Congress.

Now, is it within the power of Congress? Well, the power of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce. Is health care commerce among the states? Nobody except maybe Clarence Thomas doubts that. So health care is interstate commerce. Is this a regulation of it? Yes. End of story.

Here’s another thing Marshall said. To regulate is “to make the rule for.” Does this make a rule for commerce? Yes!

EK: The Court seemed to see it as considerably more complicated than that.

CF: There’s all this stuff that got in there about creating commerce in order to regulate it. … But quite apart from that, what is the commerce? The commerce is not the health insurance market. The commerce is the health-care market, as [current solicitor general Donald] Verrilli said a million times. And it’s very hard to deny that.

There is a market for health care. It’s a coordinated market. A heavily regulated market. Is Congress creating the market in order to regulate it? It’s not creating it! The market is there! Is it forcing people into it in order to regulate them? In every five-year period, 95 percent of the population is in the health-care market. Now, it’s not 100 percent, but I’d say that’s close enough for government work. And in any one year, it’s close to 85 percent. Congress isn’t forcing people into that market to regulate them. The whole thing is just a canard that’s been invented by the tea party and Randy Barnetts [i.e., extreme libertarians; link added — Lex] of the world, and I was astonished to hear it coming out of the mouths of the people on that bench.

And yet Marcus and her Post editors seem to think that this behavior, called out far and wide by conservative and liberal legal experts alike, constitutes “wrestling with a legitimate, even difficult, constitutional question.”

You know, it’s one thing for a fascist, racist, lying demagogue like Rush Limbaugh to call the president a thug (a word which, these days, tends to have unmistakably racist connotations) for daring to draw attention to this pattern of behavior on the part of the nation’s highest court. It’s quite another for someone who is supposed to be one of the most capable and credentialed observers of that court to write a column so contextually lacking as to constitute a major — indeed, fatal — distortion in order to make an invalid point.

But that’s what passes for journalism today at The Washington Post, which is why Marcus needs to find another line of work and the Post needs to go ahead and die.

UPDATE: And James Fallows catches the AP going all Politifact on us. Sheesh.

“I’ve just taken care of everything, except my husbands.”

Filed under: Fun,Sad — Lex @ 7:23 pm
Tags: ,

The little old lady from Pasadena Orlando is finally parking her car:

After 576,000 miles — more than a trip to the moon and back — in the same 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente, Rachel Veitch is stepping on the brakes due to age-related macular degeneration in both eyes.

She realized her vision had completely failed her in early March after running a “bald-faced red light,” Veitch told

“I am legally blind, so I can no longer drive my lovely Chariot,” she said by phone. “They don’t have to take it away, I would not dream of driving that car again.” …

She credits her near-obsessive dedication to the car as the main reason why it’s spent nearly half a century in her care.

“When I buy gas, I write down the mileage, the date and how many miles per gallon I got,” she told in 2009. “I’ve never been a destructive person and I’ve just taken care of everything, except my husbands.”

(h/t: Fred)

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