Friday, February 29, 2008

The un-natural John McCain?

Fascinating issue bubbling up about John McCain, covered by Carl Hulse of the New York Times ( about whether John McCain's birth in the Canal Zone means that he doesn't qualify as a "natural-born" citizen of the United States. There is some delicious irony for Democrats in seeing the possibility of a Republican candidate denied the ability to ascend to the Presidency due to a court-based remedy.

I suspect that, ultimately, McCain would be found to qualify as a proper candidate. If the ultimate Democratic nominee is smart, they would wait for this issue to gather whatever steam it will, then come out and talk about how they view McCain as an American hero and they don't view it as an issue. Rest assured, SOMEONE will raise it as an issue, probably in court, so the Democrat can stay above the fray of it all and still get the possible home run if the courts would find McCain to be ineligible.

It's possible that in order to have standing to raise the issue. If so, then all I can say is, hellooooo, Ralph Nader. Maybe his candidacy will be relevant after all.


McCain’s Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out
WASHINGTON — The question has nagged at the parents of Americans born outside the continental United States for generations: Dare their children aspire to grow up and become president? In the case of Senator John McCain of Arizona, the issue is becoming more than a matter of parental daydreaming.

Mr. McCain’s likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president and the happenstance of his birth in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 are reviving a musty debate that has surfaced periodically since the founders first set quill to parchment and declared that only a “natural-born citizen” can hold the nation’s highest office.

Almost since those words were written in 1787 with scant explanation, their precise meaning has been the stuff of confusion, law school review articles, whisper campaigns and civics class debates over whether only those delivered on American soil can be truly natural born. To date, no American to take the presidential oath has had an official birthplace outside the 50 states.

“There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent,” said Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. “It is not a slam-dunk situation.”

Mr. McCain was born on a military installation in the Canal Zone, where his mother and father, a Navy officer, were stationed. His campaign advisers say they are comfortable that Mr. McCain meets the requirement and note that the question was researched for his first presidential bid in 1999 and reviewed again this time around.

But given mounting interest, the campaign recently asked Theodore B. Olson, a former solicitor general now advising Mr. McCain, to prepare a detailed legal analysis. “I don’t have much doubt about it,” said Mr. Olson, who added, though, that he still needed to finish his research.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of Mr. McCain’s closest allies, said it would be incomprehensible to him if the son of a military member born in a military station could not run for president.

“He was posted there on orders from the United States government,” Mr. Graham said of Mr. McCain’s father. “If that becomes a problem, we need to tell every military family that your kid can’t be president if they take an overseas assignment.”

The phrase “natural born” was in early drafts of the Constitution. Scholars say notes of the Constitutional Convention give away little of the intent of the framers. Its origin may be traced to a letter from John Jay to George Washington, with Jay suggesting that to prevent foreigners from becoming commander in chief, the Constitution needed to “declare expressly” that only a natural-born citizen could be president.

Ms. Duggin and others who have explored the arcane subject in depth say legal argument and basic fairness may indeed be on the side of Mr. McCain, a longtime member of Congress from Arizona. But multiple experts and scholarly reviews say the issue has never been definitively resolved by either Congress or the Supreme Court.

Ms. Duggin favors a constitutional amendment to settle the matter. Others have called on Congress to guarantee that Americans born outside the national boundaries can legitimately see themselves as potential contenders for the Oval Office.

“They ought to have the same rights,” said Don Nickles, a former Republican senator from Oklahoma who in 2004 introduced legislation that would have established that children born abroad to American citizens could harbor presidential ambitions without a legal cloud over their hopes. “There is some ambiguity because there has never been a court case on what ‘natural-born citizen’ means.”

Mr. McCain’s situation is different from those of the current governors of California and Michigan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jennifer M. Granholm, who were born in other countries and were first citizens of those nations, rendering them naturalized Americans ineligible under current interpretations. The conflict that could conceivably ensnare Mr. McCain goes more to the interpretation of “natural born” when weighed against intent and decades of immigration law.

Mr. McCain is not the first person to find himself in these circumstances. The last Arizona Republican to be a presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, faced the issue. He was born in the Arizona territory in 1909, three years before it became a state. But Goldwater did not win, and the view at the time was that since he was born in a continental territory that later became a state, he probably met the standard.

It also surfaced in the 1968 candidacy of George Romney, who was born in Mexico, but again was not tested. The former Connecticut politician Lowell P. Weicker Jr., born in Paris, sought a legal analysis when considering the presidency, an aide said, and was assured he was eligible. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. was once viewed as a potential successor to his father, but was seen by some as ineligible since he had been born on Campobello Island in Canada. The 21st president, Chester A. Arthur, whose birthplace is Vermont, was rumored to have actually been born in Canada, prompting some to question his eligibility.

Quickly recognizing confusion over the evolving nature of citizenship, the First Congress in 1790 passed a measure that did define children of citizens “born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States to be natural born.” But that law is still seen as potentially unconstitutional and was overtaken by subsequent legislation that omitted the “natural-born” phrase.

Mr. McCain’s citizenship was established by statutes covering the offspring of Americans abroad and laws specific to the Canal Zone as Congress realized that Americans would be living and working in the area for extended periods. But whether he qualifies as natural-born has been a topic of Internet buzz for months, with some declaring him ineligible while others assert that he meets all the basic constitutional qualifications — a natural-born citizen at least 35 years of age with 14 years of residence.

“I don’t think he has any problem whatsoever,” said Mr. Nickles, a McCain supporter. “But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if somebody is going to try to make an issue out of it. If it goes to court, I think he will win.”

Lawyers who have examined the topic say there is not just confusion about the provision itself, but uncertainty about who would have the legal standing to challenge a candidate on such grounds, what form a challenge could take and whether it would have to wait until after the election or could be made at any time.

In a paper written 20 years ago for the Yale Law Journal on the natural-born enigma, Jill Pryor, now a lawyer in Atlanta, said that any legal challenge to a presidential candidate born outside national boundaries would be “unpredictable and unsatisfactory.”

“If I were on the Supreme Court, I would decide for John McCain,” Ms. Pryor said in a recent interview. “But it is certainly not a frivolous issue.”

The embers of tyranny

Excellent article by David T.Z. Mindich of AlterNet (, discussing how Germany fell into Adolf Hitler's hands not through revolution, but by an election. It is a cautionary tale of how free democracies can fall into tyrranies through the use of fear and power.

Sound at all familiar to the current President?

There are problems, of course, with the analogies. Calling the Germany of the 1930's a "strong democracy" is probably unfair, given that they had just been defeated in WWI and really only had democratic institutions in place for 20 years or so, plus were dealing with the crippling financial and emotional repercussions of Versailles.

But the point is still valid - freedom is not something to be taken for granted. Look at the types of abuses the current President was able to fear-monger his way into after 9/11 - Guantanamo Bay, warrantless wiretapping, the war in Iraq, and many others. We've spent seven long years in the shadow of 9/11, and the Bush-Cheney-Rove team using that dark day to consolidate their hold on power.

In many ways, I think we're finally out of that period. The current President's approval ratings and the defeat of Rudy Giuliani speak volumes to us being in a post-9/11 culture. But the template remains, and we must be aware of it and ready to rise up again if it comes.


On a cold January morning in 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as chancellor of one of the world's great democracies. While the world has duly noted its 75th anniversary last month, it is not the cold January morning but a hot February night that should command our greatest attention. It was 75 years ago this week that the parliament building, the Reichstag, was set ablaze. As the Reichstag burned, Hitler was busy converting the chancellorship into a dictatorship.

As we engage in the democratic process of picking a new president, a look back at Hitler's dizzying rise is an instructive reminder of the fragility of democracy, then and now.

During the period of long simmering fears over an amorphous international threat -- communism -- German opposition forces were willing to give Hitler the chancellorship despite his capturing only a minority of votes during the recent election. But it was the Feb. 27 Reichstag fire, a fire that the Nazis accused a Dutch Communist of setting, that sent the country on a quick road to fascism. Within 60 days, Hitler had begun the process of arbitrary arrests, warrantless surveillance and searches, incarceration without charges, suspension of habeas corpus, the implementation of torture, the mustering of a private army, and was pushing through the passage of the "Enabling Act," which gave Hitler and his henchmen the power to ignore the legislative branch and write laws themselves.

We are not a fascist country. Nobody is contemplating the mass arrest or elimination of Communists, Jews, or any other groups. To compare our secret prisons, our warrantless spying, our suspensions of habeas corpus, our torture, our mercenaries, and our "signing statements" that flout legislative laws to theirs is a dangerous oversimplification. To compare Bush to Hitler -- Hugo Chavez-like -- insults the memory of Hitler's victims.

And yet, the parallels are worth noting. As the fire raged in the Reichstag, and Hitler was fanning the flames of fear, Germans made a decision that can be summed up by words from Benjamin Franklin's 18th century aphorism: they chose to "give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety" and they received neither. What the Reichstag fire reminds us is how tenuous democracy can be. Today, we still live in a democracy, and we still live freely, as the Germans did before the Reichstag fire. But what will America look like after -- God forbid -- another 9/11 or the equivalent of the Reichstag fire?

Sandra Day O'Connor once said, "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship. But we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings." Marc vander Heyden, the former president of my college, a man whose Belgian family hid another family from the Nazis, used to warn students and faculty that "we are always one generation away from barbarism." In Germany, it took less than a generation; it took a maniac, a fire, and terrified country to tip a democracy into dictatorship.

Two recent books seek to explore the fragile state of our democracy and they both argue that our essential liberties have started to erode. In her careful book, The End of America, Naomi Wolf looks at ten steps taken by all countries that abandon democracy for fascism. They all "invoke an external and internal threat, establish secret prisons, develop a paramilitary force, surveil ordinary citizens, infiltrate citizens' groups, arbitrarily detain and release citizens, target key individuals, restrict the press, cast criticism as 'espionage' and dissent as 'treason,' [and] subvert the rule of law."

Wolf shows how the Nazis were clearly making this shift in a small window of time 75 years ago. She also argues, methodically, that we, too, are seeing activity in each of the ten areas. Wolf is careful not to call us a fascist country. But, she says, we may be on the verge of a "fascist shift" that involves larding the executive branch with unprecedented and dangerous power.

Charlie Savage, a Boston Globe reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reports on George Bush's "signing statements," wrote a book whose title explains its thesis: Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy. The Bush administration's actions, when taken together, add up to a massive attempt to expand the power of the executive branch at the expense of everything else, he writes.

Given the high stakes -- a potential shift away from the democracy we cherish -- what are the questions we should be asking about our presidential candidates? Jay Rosen, a media critic and blogger, argues that one of the failures of American journalism is its embrace of the horserace model of reporting, at the exclusion of everything else. Rosen proposes a different focus, one that will ask: "Does your candidate support ... unbuilding the Bush Presidency?"

Here's the good news: After the withdrawal of Mitt Romney, who infamously said he'd "double Guantanamo," all of the remaining frontrunners would bring us back from the precipice. Responding to questions by Savage, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain said that they would eliminate signing statements or use them sparingly. Although McCain's recent vote to allow waterboarding is a puzzling exception, all three have spoken out against torture.

Here's the bad news: As Savage points out in his book, even if the next president overturns the executive branch's newly assumed powers, the precedent remains. Savage quotes Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration: "The theory used by the administration," Fein said, "could equally justify mail openings, burglary, torture, or internment camps, all in the name of gathering foreign intelligence. Unless rebuked, it will lie around like a loaded weapon ready to be used by any incumbent who claims an urgent need." When Franklin Roosevelt enacted military tribunals in the Second World War, he used Lincoln's actions as a justification. When Bush did so, he cited Lincoln and Roosevelt.

Since 9/11, we've asked our politicians to tell us how they will protect us. We should also ask them to provide detailed plans about how they will protect our democracy and our civil rights.

In the next two months, as we exercise and celebrate our rights in a democratic society, we would be wise to remember the two months, 75 years ago, when a fire helped to turn a democracy into a dictatorship. The clouds of the Reichstag fire cast a shadow of darkness over Germany, a shadow that can still chill us, and instruct us, today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A sense of perspective

Great story by Gregg Doyle of ( about Kentucky men's basketball coach Billy Gillespie being involved with raising money for pediatric oncology. The story goes on to talk about a whole bunch of other major sports figures, and all the good they do as well.

It's easy to lose track of, but it's a good reminder that there are a lot of good, selfless acts in the world. We lose perspective when we get caught up in a 24/7 news cycle that feasts on the negative. That's not necessarily a "there's no good news" criticism, as I think much of the attention to the negative is justified. We all might be sick of Roger Clemens, but the story is still important to cover.

But it's easy to get jaded, and stories like this remind us not to.


Gillispie reminds us that sports people are human beings, too
Feb. 28, 2008
By Gregg Doyel National Columnist

A video fell into my electronic lap this week, and not the kind of video you see in sports these days. It's not video of an NFL champion illegally taping another team's sideline. It's not a baseball superstar testifying before Congress. It wasn't shot from a police cruiser.

Billy Gillispie was caught on tape -- and it's good. This video was a reminder that the sports people we write about and read about and scream about aren't always the two-dimensional characters we like to imagine. This video was a reminder and a lesson, and while it's a reminder I'll probably forget at some point, for now it feels good to remember, and to know.

Billy Gillispie isn't just a famous basketball coach. He's something better -- he's a human being.

Extrapolated further, that means they're all human beings. That's the reminder. That's the lesson. And this is not me preaching to you. This is me preaching to me, driving home the point inwardly, after watching this home video taken within hours of Kentucky's 63-58 victory against Arkansas on Saturday.

The video starts with Gillispie greeting roughly 500 Kentucky students nearing the end of a 24-hour marathon to raise money for the UK Pediatric Oncology Clinic. Pediatric oncology is fancy talk for "children with cancer," and there's nothing fancy about that. Gillispie wasn't trying to be fancy, wasn't trying to be a star. He was just trying to thank the students for raising nearly $415,000 to help children with cancer.

One student had walked over to Rupp Arena to invite Gillispie to the event. He agreed to come, then walked on stage and was given a microphone. Gillispie tried to say a few words but couldn't. He paused. The crowd laughed. The crowd misunderstood. Gillispie wasn't trying to be dramatic. He was trying not to burst into tears.

"I'm going to have a hard time getting through this deal," he finally said. "They just asked me to come over, and I'm kicking myself in the rear end for not knowing what was going on the last 24 hours."

Gillispie went on to thank the students, saying, "What you're doing, what you've done the last 24 hours, that's what makes life worth living, because you're giving someone else a chance to have a better life than they might have."

Gillispie then turned and gestured to the children, some of them bald, on the stage.

"Y'all are big stars," Gillispie told the college students, "but here's the real big stars right here. These young people right here have more courage than all of us put together. They keep fighting, and the parents are tougher than nails, just tough every single day."

And so went another day in the life of Billy Gillispie. Wake up. Beat Arkansas in front of 23,000 fans at Rupp Arena. Talk about it to the media. Go to a cancer-fighting rally. Hug a kid. Cry. It was just a few moments, but how many of those moments happen without our knowing about it? How many other moments in how many other famous lives?

Dayton coach Brian Gregory does grunt work for a local charity, Secret Smiles, that donates beds to poor families. He goes out in a truck and delivers a bed. He doesn't introduce himself. He's not there as the Dayton head basketball coach. He's just a guy and a truck.

For years Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has saved the best seat at Cameron Indoor Stadium for a Duke fan with Down Syndrome, putting the man behind his own chair on the bench. I don't know the man's name or his connection to Krzyzewski. Neither Coach K nor the school wants to talk about it. It's not about publicity.

Florida coach Billy Donovan once interrupted a 2003 press conference to take a phone call from a U.S. soldier in the Middle East, a regular Joe from Tampa who liked the Gators. Donovan later gave the soldier's family game tickets and behind-the-scenes access during the NCAA Tournament. He never told the media.

North Carolina's Roy Williams holds an annual clinic for Special Olympians during the season. Illinois' Bruce Weber and Gonzaga's Mark Few take their teams to a hospital to visit kids fighting cancer. Louisville's Rick Pitino helped start a homeless shelter in Owensboro, Ky.

When he was at North Carolina State, Herb Sendek befriended a boy with brain tumors. The kid, Gregory Parrish, was a staunch Wolfpack fan getting treatment at a Duke hospital in 2004 -- so staunch that he turned down tickets to a Duke game because he liked N.C. State. Sendek heard about that and invited Gregory to a game. Soon Gregory was in the 2004-05 team picture. He rode the team bus, hung out in the locker room and sat behind the bench, and when the tumors took his eyesight, his father called out play-by-play. When Sendek left in 2006 for Arizona State, he told Gregory before he told the media. When Gregory died a few months later, Sendek came back to Raleigh to speak at the funeral, where everyone reminisced about the time Gregory was scheduled for brain surgery and told the doctor to make it quick -- the Wolfpack had a game coming up. Two days later, Gregory was behind the bench in a red wig.

These are great stories. They don't always end well, but sometimes they do. Saturday night, for example. Saturday night in Lexington ended well. Gillispie struggled through his unprepared speech before leaving with a sentence he certainly hadn't planned to say:

"If it'll do any good ..." Gillispie started, then stopped and shook his head. "I love this. I love people. I love tough people. I love tough people that won't ever give up. And if it'll help, I'd like to give a check for $10,000."

Stunned, the 500 students erupted into loud cheers, but Gillispie had nothing else to say. He gave a small wave, handed away the microphone and walked quickly off the stage. As the video fades to black, I'm not sure if he had tears in his eyes. But I'm positive I did.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dr. Jarvik, fired

Interesting article from the New York Times editorial page ( about Pfizer pulling their Lipitor ads featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik, one of the inventors of the artificial heart, as the public face of the cholesterol-reducing drug. Apparently the ads were, shall we say, not the most truthful.

I thought the ads were creepy from day one, and I'm glad they're gone. But I really wish we could go back to a time when prescription drugs couldn't be advertised on television. I really, really don't think it's good medical practice to create a demand for a prescription drug, and then have patients applying pressure to doctors to prescribe the magic pills.

The pharmaceutical business is dirty enough getting doctors to sign on and prescribe drugs for patients (anyone else wonder why so many drug reps are attractive young women?), but it's even worse when the demand for a drug is created not by it's medical effectiveness, but by seeing a TV ad for a guy throwing a football through a tire.

And, for those uber-free marketeers who think the government shouldn't have any business regulating business, here's another in those long line of pesky facts to show that consumers do, in fact, need and deserve some protection from the large corporations of the world.


February 27, 2008
Lipitor’s Pitchman Gets the Boot
Pfizer has been relying on the reputation of Dr. Robert Jarvik, one of the pioneers in designing artificial hearts, to bolster sales of Lipitor, its cholesterol-lowering drug. Now that a Congressional committee is investigating the credibility of those ads, the company has dropped Dr. Jarvik as its pitchman. It was a telling reminder that consumers, besieged by drug promotion ads on television and in print media, need to take what they see, hear and read with a very large grain of skepticism.

Pfizer turned to Dr. Jarvik because Lipitor, the world’s best-selling drug, is losing market share to Zocor, a generic competitor that costs a lot less. The company has spent more than $258 million advertising Lipitor since January 2006, most of it on the Jarvik campaign.

The trouble was, its very first TV commercial with Dr. Jarvik was downright deceptive. It suggested that he was rowing a racing shell across a mountain lake when he was not, in fact, rowing. A stunt double was at the oars. And while the commercials have Dr. Jarvik enthusing over Lipitor “as a doctor and a dad,” he is actually an inventor and researcher. He has a medical degree, but did not go through residency training and is not licensed to practice medicine or prescribe drugs.

The commercials also fail to note that Dr. Jarvik only started taking Lipitor about a month after he started touting its virtues under a contract that would pay him a minimum of $1.35 million over two years.

Rather than fight with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Pfizer folded its tent and ended the ad campaign. The committee plans to continue its investigations of the Lipitor marketing campaign and of possible deception in other drug advertising aimed at consumers. We encourage the committee to delve deeply.

Meanwhile, drug companies would be wise to find pitchmen who have the credentials — and the athletic skill — to back up their claims, without having to rely on stunt doubles.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sarah Pavan's dismissal

Disturbing article from the Daily Nebraskan by Sam Erb ( giving some details as to why Nebraska head volleyball coach John Cook dismissed Sarah Pavan, Nebraska's most celebrated female athlete, from the volleyball team.

The source has to be taken with a little grain of salt, as apparently the interview that started all the problem was written by the same author. But, boy, this is akin to Reggie Bush getting thrown off the 2005 USC team for not getting along with his teammates. I'm anxious to hear the rest of the story, because it's hard to imaging a player of Pavan's stature being thrown off the team for what's being currently reported. And if Cook allowed the situation to get to the point where Pavan had to be booted to keep the rest of the team happy, then there's some huge problems in the 'Husker volleyball leadership, gaudy records and national championships be damned.


Pavan interview upsets NU volleyball coach
Sam Erb - Special to the Daily Nebraskan
Editor's note: Sam Erb is a reporter for Redwire, a magazine published by UNL's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Sarah Pavan, the most decorated female athlete in NU history, has left the volleyball team under circumstances that have a former teammate and some Husker fans critical of the coach and the Athletic Department.

Last week, Coach John Cook told Pavan she could no longer practice with the team after an interview the four-time All-American gave to Redwire, a magazine published by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In the article, Pavan said with each award her volleyball skills attracted, she felt more alone, frustrated and cut off from teammates, some of them envious.

She said she felt misunderstood - disliking the limelight and the phony camaraderie of high-fiving after every point - and had spent hours crying on the leather couches in the coach's office.

The article quoted Cook as saying some teammates may have had a problem with Pavan's intensity because "women want to be the pack and bond together. On men's teams it's different, they don't care."

Shortly after the article was published, some teammates harshly criticized Pavan for revealing what she said was the downside of being the best player on a team full of competitive, world-class athletes. Not long after, she was informed she could no longer practice with the team.

Pavan, a senior who has a 4.0 GPA in biochemistry, was later told she could rejoin the team if she agreed to a number of conditions, including a full apology to her teammates. Pavan declined, touching off more frustration and loneliness for the 2006 National Player of the Year.

"I hope people will stop judging Sarah for telling the truth and how she honestly feels," said Rachel Holloway, the setter on Nebraska's 2006 National Championship team.

"I'm proud of Sarah for being honest, and if it hurts other people maybe they should look at themselves," added Holloway, an All-American who left the Husker volleyball team and the university earlier this year and transferred to Alabama University.

The sudden dismissal of Pavan, the 2006-2007 Collegiate Woman of the Year, also has rankled a number of Husker volleyball fans.

"I just think it's really sad. It's really too bad. I just thought they would be more supportive of her than that," said Lynette Bendig, a volleyball fan from Fremont.

Dylan Otley said he has been a fan since the 1995 National Championship Husker volleyball team visited his elementary school. He said he found a certain irony in the way the situation has been handled.

"Beside the fact that the article is about team unity and that there is so little of it in her opinion, and then to kick her off for not being a team player, it's absolutely ridiculous that they would be able to do that in good conscience," said Otley, a senior math major at UNL.

Contacted last week, Coach Cook said he was disappointed with the outcome of the Redwire article. He said it cast the volleyball program in a negative light.

Asked to clarify Pavan's status with the team, Cook said he preferred not to dwell on the past and that the team was focused on preparing for next season. "There is no more story," he said.

Cook, who has won two national championships at Nebraska and sports a seven-year record of 217-15, strongly discouraged any more reporting on the issue.

"If you don't stop doing it," Cook said, "I'm going to call over to the journalism college and get this straightened out."

Shamus McKnight, NU's volleyball sports information director, asked to know if there would be another story, what it would be about and who would be contacted.

"Usually I know ahead of time who is going to be interviewed, so I can prepare them," McKnight said.

Meanwhile, not everyone connected to the team was disgruntled about Pavan's departure.

"I'm not that upset about it," said Rich Kern, an officer with the Match Club, the volleyball team's official booster club. "I guess in some respects it doesn't bother me, because she is no longer a playing member on the team."

That sentiment is not shared by Tammy Cheatum.

Cheatum is a fan who waits in line all night to buy her season tickets each year. An elementary school teacher, Cheatum makes the three-hour trip from Orchard to Lincoln for every home game, then turns around and drives another three hours to get home. Pavan, who recently signed a three-year professional contract to play in Italy, is one of her favorite players.

"You just don't have players like that come along," said Cheatum, "It's devastating to think that the love of the sport is being taken away.

"Someone who wants to help benefit the sport is being sent away."

Bill Clinton v. abortion protesters

Nice piece from Jill Filipovic of Feministe (, catching a quote from Bill Clinton taking on pro-life hecklers at one of his wife's rallys.

Now, I haven't been shy in voicing my disappointment and disdain for Mr. Clinton's hatchet-man role in his wife's increasingly desperate campaign. Watching the Clinton machine try to grind Barack Obama up has reminded everyone of why the nation had "Clinton fatigue" in 1999. But, after reading this quote of Mr. Clinton's response to the abortion protester, I'm reminded how powerful and eloquent a speaker Mr. Clinton can be. And the message that he's saying - that pro-lifers aren't being honest with their argument, and that the practical effect of their position is supported by the tiniest fringe of American politics - is something that is lost in our short attention span culture.


Clinton to Hecklers: "We disagree with you. You want to criminalize women and their doctors and we disagree. I reduced abortion. Tell the truth! Tell the truth! If you were really pro-life, if you were really pro-life, you would want to put every doctor and every mother, as an accessory to murder, in prison, and you won't say you wanna do that, because you know that you wouldn't have a lick of political support. Now, the issue is, you can't name me anybody presently in politics that did more to introduce policies that reduce the number of real abortions, instead of the hot air putting out to tear people up and make votes by dividing America. This is not your rally."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ending the "War on Terror"?

Fantastic article by Michael Hirsh of Newsweek ( calling on Barack Obama to make the case to end the "War on Terror" as the overarching philosophy of our foreign policy. Hirsh makes the point I have thought for some time - that using the "War on Terror" phrase literally is nothing more than an attempt by the current President to place the country in a never-ending war footing that will allow more power to be taken by the Government. Indeed, it is exactly the type of Forever War that George Orwell wrote about in "1984" that is critical for an authoritarian rule in order to maintain control over the people.

As the brillian political strategist, Grand Moff Tarkin, said in "Star Wars Episode IV:A New Hope" - "Fear will keep the local systems in line."

Are we really, finally, at a point in our history where the fear-mongering of the current President and his minions can be ended? I hope so, but I will believe it when I see it. I suspect we won't hear discussions about ending the "War on Terror" from the Democratic nominee until AFTER the election - and if John McCain wins in November, I can guarantee you won't hear about it at all.


Memo to President Obama
Never mind Iraq. Just end the 'war on terror.'

By Michael Hirsh
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 12:31 PM ET Feb 21, 2008
Using bold rhetoric that often makes his followers rapturous, Barack Obama has declared over and over that he will be the president of "change." But is Obama brave enough to bring about a really radical change? Will he end the permanent "war" George W. Bush has left us with? Will a candidate or a President Obama be willing to go so far as to question whether "the war on terror"—the framework for nearly every discussion of U.S. foreign policy today—is truly the pre-eminent challenge of our time?

Obama has come close. He has repeatedly called the war in Iraq a needless distraction, and he has accused Bush of "lumping" all sorts of enemies together. "It is time to turn the page," Obama declared last August in a defining speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won." But Obama's rhetoric still suggests that he too will be spending his term as a war president. And his "comprehensive strategy" for that war, while it calls for "getting out of Iraq and onto the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan," still implies that the Illinois senator believes the war on terror should be the overarching framework for his foreign policy.

Let's think about this for a moment. A small group of ragged America-haters, who had one lucky day of mass murder nearly seven years ago, will continue to define the foreign policy of the lone superpower for years, possibly decades to come. There's something wrong with this picture. Yes, we can all agree that 9/11 was one of the worst moments in American history. And we can certainly agree that Al Qaeda must be completely eliminated. But the group has never come close to duplicating 9/11; even the train bombings in London and Madrid that were attributed to Al Qaeda-inspired cells were minor by comparison. Are Al Qaeda and its ilk still really our number one challenge? What about global warming? What about the emergence of China, the resurrection of Russia, the decline of the dollar, the slackening of free trade, the spread of debt and disease, and the persistence of ethnic cleansing? What about the virus of "ethnonationalism," as Catholic University scholar Jerry Muller calls it in one of those big, defining lead articles—titled "The Clash of Peoples"—in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs? As Muller writes, the often violent dissolution of artificially constructed nations into ethnic subgroups is continuing in Europe and other places, especially Africa. Just this week the province of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, provoking renewed violence by Serbs. Kosovo's move inspired one Palestinian negotiator to declare that maybe that wouldn't be such a bad idea for his people, either.

Bush said this week that he supports independence for Kosovo. But the back story is that for a decade since the Kosovo war the U.S. government has sought to avoid this outcome for fear that it would lead other ethnic subgroups in other countries to do the same thing. Indeed, some of America's knottiest foreign-policy problems involve the threat of "a state too far"—the unilateral declaration of independence in places such as Taiwan, Tibet, the Palestinian territories, Kosovo, Chechnya, and among the Kurds in Turkey and northern Iraq. In each of these cases Washington, in order to prevent conflict, is actively seeking to avert a declaration of independence (Taiwan, Tibet and the Kurds), is trying to avoid the issue altogether (Chechnya), or has been covertly blocking attempts to make it happen too soon (Palestine). And in the global echo chamber we are finding that these movements tend to study and cite each other as precedents. And they often invoke Woodrow Wilson's promises of "self-determination" after World War I, meaning that in some ways one of our main problems in the 21st century will be to deal with the implications of our own American ideas. One of the crowning ironies for U.S. policymakers today is that the right we asserted so eloquently for ourselves in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence—the right of a people to "dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another"—is, in practice, no longer something we recognize for other peoples.

None of these broad trends has made it into the headlines of the campaign yet. As E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post has pointed out, John McCain has fully embraced, even expanded, Bush's concept of a broad-gauge war on terror, declaring that "the transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical extremism." But McCain has not said why he thinks that is, and Obama has not questioned this premise. Perhaps, like most Democrats, Obama suffers an insecurity complex about his national security credentials—especially going up against a Republican lion and war hero such as John McCain. Some Obama aides admit that he could put himself in political peril if he backs away from the "war on terror" construct. One top adviser to Obama conceded to me this week that "we have not as a party had this debate [about the war on terror]. We had an opportunity to have it in 2002, but it lasted about a day." Why? Because the Dems didn't want to look softer than Bush on terror.

It is a debate that only Obama can start. McCain won't bring it up. Nor will Hillary Clinton. Apart from being on the verge of oblivion politically, she is too fully vested in the war on terror, having voted in 2002 to authorize the war in Iraq as part of it. And if that debate doesn't start, we as a country will be effectively doomed to a "war" that has no prospect of ending. Bush has gradually expanded his definition of the war on terror to include all Islamic "extremists"—among them Hezbollah, Hamas, and other radical political groups that have no ties to Al Qaeda, ideological or otherwise. In doing so the president has plainly condemned us to a permanent war, for the simple reason that we will never be rid of all the terrorists. It is also a war that we will wage by ourselves, since no other nation agrees on such a broadly defined enemy. As Princeton scholar G. John Ikenberry has written, "It is perhaps a paradox—and one that is fitting for the strangeness of our current age—that we will need to end the war against terrorism because we cannot end terrorism."

The rational policy would be to replace the overblown "war on terror" with what we should have been engaged in every day since 9/11: a war of annihilation against Al Qaeda, an all-out effort to rid the earth completely of the small, lunatic group that attacked us on that day. This is a task we should apply ourselves to fully, at long last. But it is absurd to assign the term "transcendent challenge" to such a band of murderous anarchists, who have about as much hope of achieving their grand dream of turning the Mideast into an Islamist caliphate as scientists have of proving one day that the moon is made of green cheese. Terror cells may be spreading, but their ideology, such as it is, keeps dying every time it is exposed to the open air. Even in the tribal regions of Pakistan, safe haven to the newly regrouped Taliban and Al Qaeda, voters last week turned out radical religious parties because of their ineffectiveness. Al Qaeda and related terror groups are hardly the "heirs" to communism and totalitarianism, as Bush has described them.

Ironically, only if the next president downgrades the war on terror to a far more focused military and policing effort to destroy Al Qaeda completely—winning back all the natural global allies we've lost, placing groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in another category entirely—can he finally achieve the goal of making sure another 9/11 doesn't happen. But to do that we need to rethink the war on terror entirely. Is Barack Obama up to it?


Show trials in an American gulag

As if there was any doubt that the "trials" the current administration is proposing for the prisoners (I refuse to call them "detainees" anymore) at Guantanamo Bay are nothing more than mockeries of justice, this posting from Ross Tuttle of The Nation ( should clear the remainder up. No further comment, I think is necessary. Just something else to be angry about, and more reasons why a Democrat MUST win the White House in November.


Secret evidence. Denial of habeas corpus. Evidence obtained by waterboarding. Indefinite detention. The litany of complaints about the legal treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is long, disturbing and by now familiar. Nonetheless, a new wave of shock and criticism greeted the Pentagon's announcement on February 11 that it was charging six Guantánamo detainees, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, with war crimes -- and seeking the death penalty for all of them.

As the murky, quasi-legal staging of the Bush Administration's military commissions unfolds, a key official has told The Nation that the trials are rigged from the start. According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo's military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees in an attempt to foreclose the possibility of acquittal.

Colonel Davis's criticism of the commissions has been escalating since he resigned this past October, telling the

Washington Post that he had been pressured by politically appointed senior defense officials to pursue cases deemed "sexy" and of "high-interest" (such as the 9/11 cases now being pursued) in the run-up to the 2008 elections. Davis, once a staunch defender of the commissions process, elaborated on his reasons in a December 10, 2007, Los Angeles Times op-ed. "I concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system," he wrote. "I felt that the system had become deeply politicized and that I could no longer do my job effectively."

Then, in an interview with The Nation in February after the six Guantánamo detainees were charged, Davis offered the most damning evidence of the military commissions' bias -- a revelation that speaks to fundamental flaws in the Bush Administration's conduct of statecraft: its contempt for the rule of law and its pursuit of political objectives above all else.

When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes -- the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department. "[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions.'"

Davis submitted his resignation on October 4, 2007, just hours after he was informed that Haynes had been put above him in the commissions' chain of command. "Everyone has opinions," Davis says. "But when he was put above me, his opinions became orders."

(Reached for comment, Defense Department spokesperson Cynthia Smith said, "The Department of Defense disputes the assertions made by Colonel Davis in this statement regarding acquittals.")

"That he said there can be no acquittals will stain the entire [tribunal] process," says Scott Horton, who teaches law at Columbia University Law School and who has written extensively about Haynes's conflicts with the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) corps, the judicial arm of the Armed Forces, which is charged with implementing the military commissions. According to Horton, Haynes tried to cut the JAG corps out of internal debates over the detention and prosecution of detainees, knowing it was critical of the Administration's views. In private memos and in public Senate testimony, high-ranking officers of the corps have repeatedly expressed concerns about the Administration's advocacy of "extreme interrogation techniques."

"The JAG corps consists of a group of rigorous professionals, but Haynes never trusted them to do their job," says Horton. "His clashes have always had the same subtext -- they want to be independent, he wants them to do political dirty-work."

Haynes, a political appointee and chief legal adviser to Defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, was nominated in 2006 by the Bush Administration for a lifetime seat as a judge in the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. But his nomination never got out of committee, primarily because of the opposition of Republican Senator (and former military lawyer) Lindsey Graham and other members alarmed over Haynes's role in writing or supervising the writing of Pentagon memos advocating the use of harsh interrogation techniques the Geneva Conventions classify as torture.

Currently, in his capacity as Pentagon general counsel, Haynes oversees both the prosecution and the defense for the commissions. "You would think a person in that position wouldn't be favoring one side," says Colonel Davis.

Told of Davis's story about Haynes, Clive Stafford Smith, a defense attorney who has represented more than seventy Guantánamo clients, said, "Hearing it makes me think I'm back in Mississippi representing a black man in front of an all-white jury."

He adds, "It confirms what people close to the system have always said," noting that when three prosecutors -- Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr and Capt. Carrie Wolf -- requested to be transferred out of the Office of Military Commissions in 2004, they claimed they'd been told the process was rigged. In an e-mail to his supervisors, Preston had said that there was thin evidence against the accused. "But they were told by the chief prosecutor at the time that they didn't need evidence to get convictions," says Stafford Smith.

At the time, the military wrote it off as "miscommunication" and "personality conflicts." And then there were changes in personnel. "They told us that the system had been cleaned up … but I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same," says Stafford Smith.

The terrible irony is that even if acquittals were possible, the government has declared that it can continue to detain anyone deemed an "enemy combatant" for the duration of hostilities--no matter the outcome of a trial. And most of the 275 men held at Guantánamo are classified as "enemy combatants" while the hostilities in the "war on terror" could be never-ending.

Says ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner, "The trial doesn't make a difference. They can hold you there forever until they decide to let you out." The one person to be released from Guantánamo through the judicial process, Australian David Hicks, pleaded guilty. As Wizner wrote in the Los Angeles Times in April 2007, "In an ordinary justice system, the accused must be acquitted to be released. In Guantánamo, the accused must plead guilty to be released."

Still, the trials serve a purpose for the government, in providing the semblance of a legitimate judicial process. According to defense attorneys involved -- and many of the former prosecutors, like Davis -- the process is political, not legal.

"If someone was acquitted, then it would suggest we did the wrong thing in the first place. That can't happen," says Horton sardonically. "When the government decides to clear someone, it calls the person 'no-longer an enemy combatant' instead of just saying they made a mistake."

He adds, "For people like Haynes, justice is meant to serve the party."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Big Bang, or lots of Bangs?

Interesting article on by Brandon Keim ( interviewing Neil Turok, a physicist who argues that the Big Bang theory should be replaced by the theory of an infinite universe or universe of universes.

I love the really thick physics and discussions of string theory and other good stuff in here, but I include it to show how religion and science can merge. One would think that a scientist arguing for the existence of an infinite universe would lend some credence to the existence of an infinite God. After all, scientists had resisted the idea of anything being infinite because such an existence violates all kinds of causality laws and creates all kinds of problems.

But, of course, the Catholic Church is upset with Turok's work, claiming that it negates the concept of creation.

And it proves the point more than anything, that science and religion can be folded and manipulated however you choose to either support your pre-determined position or to create a delightfully effective boogeyman, George Orwell style. After all, fundraising for hard-right Christian groups goes way up when they send out flyers about those "evil secular humanists" trying to "drive God out of the classrooms" by "teaching science."

Maybe it's a stretch to connect those two dots, but it's what came to mind when I read this article. Plus, the science in it is cool. Enjoy.


For decades, physicists have accepted the notion that the universe started with the Big Bang, an explosive event at the literal beginning of time. Now, computational physicist Neil Turok is challenging that model -- and some scientists are taking him seriously.

According to Turok, who teaches at Cambridge University, the Big Bang represents just one stage in an infinitely repeated cycle of universal expansion and contraction. Turok theorizes that neither time nor the universe has a beginning or end.

It's a strange idea, though Turok would say it's no stranger than the standard explanation of the Big Bang: a singular point that defies our laws of physics, where all equations go to infinity and "all the properties we normally use to describe the universe and its contents just fail." That inconsistency led Turok to see if the Big Bang could be explained within the framework of string theory, a controversial and so-far untested explanation of the universe as existing in at least 10 dimensions and being formed from one-dimensional building blocks called strings. Within a school of string theory known as m-theory, Turok said, "the seventh extra dimension of space is the gap between two parallel objects called branes. It's like the gap between two parallel mirrors. We thought, What happens if these two mirrors collide? Maybe that was the Big Bang."

Turok's proposition has drawn condemnation from string theory's many critics and even opposition from the Catholic Church. But it's provoked acclaim and wonder, too: He and Princeton University physicist Paul Steinhardt published Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang last year, and Turok -- also the founder of the South Africa-based African Institute for Mathematical Sciences -- won 2008's first annual TED Prize, awarded to the world's most innovative thinkers.

Turok spoke with about the Big Bang, the intellectual benefits of cosmology and his bet with Stephen Hawking.

Wired: In a nutshell, what are you proposing?

Neil Turok: In our picture, there was a universe before the Big Bang, very much like our universe today: a low density of matter and some stuff called dark energy. If you postulate a universe like this, but the dark energy within is actually unstable, then the decay of this dark energy drives the two branes together. These two branes clash and then, having filled with radiation, separate and expand to form galaxies and stars.

Then the dark energy takes over again. It's the energy of attraction between the two branes: It pulls them back together. You have bang followed by bang followed by bang. You have no beginning of time. It's always been there.

Wired: But isn't there still a beginning?

Turok: Imagine you have a room full of air, with all these molecules banging around. The vast majority of time, these molecules spread uniformly -- but once in a trillion trillion years, they all end up in the corner of the room. If you look at the room and run the clock forward, they'll eventually make themselves uniform: But it would reverse, and you'd watch them flying into the corner. Then they'd fly out again.

If this is right, it means that time runs forward for a while. Then there's a random state without an arrow of time, then time runs backwards, and then time runs forward again. That's the bigger picture: We're still very far away from understanding it, but that would be my bet.

But my main interest is the problem of the singularity. If we can't understand what happened at the singularity we came out of, then we don't seem to have any understanding of the laws of particle physics. I'd be very happy just to understand the last singularity and leave the other ones to future generations.

Wired: How do you test this theory?

Turok: If the universe sprung into existence and then expanded exponentially, you get gravitational waves traveling through space-time. These would fill the universe, a pattern of echoes of the inflation itself. In our model, the collision of these two branes doesn't make waves at all. So if we could measure the waves, we could see which theory is right.

Stephen Hawking bet me that we'll see the signal from inflation. I said that we won't, and he can take it for any amount of money at even odds. So far he hasn't named an amount. He's richer than me, so he's being nice.

Wired: You've said the standard explanation of the Big Bang is Rube Goldberg-ian, but this seems like quite the convoluted contraption, too.

Turok: The structure of the sandwich was forced on theorists by mathematicians: It's basically the only way you can make the equations consistent and avoid infinity. The extent to which we believe it derives from the mathematics. We're not smoking something and making it up.

However, I feel that the main role for these scenarios of the early universe is to stimulate our thinking. I don't necessarily believe any of them. The most important thing is that the only intellectually honest way to study such questions of cosmology is to make the most precise model you can. I think of the whole thing as a giant intellectual exercise, a stimulating exercise, to make us better appreciate the universe.

Wired: It's stirred a lot of emotion for an intellectual. When Alan Guth criticized you and your theory at a conference, he showed a picture of a monkey. Is this sort of vitriol normal?

Turok: The monkey was maybe a bit exaggerated. But I'm actually good friends with Guth, and I'm sure he did it as a joke. I meet him regularly at conferences, and he's a reasonable guy. The field is driven by reason. The inevitably human things that come into it don't matter in the long run.

In the end, bad ideas will not survive. If you have a good, clean idea that's elegant and precise and agrees with observations, it'll get through.

Wired: The Catholic Church hasn't been very receptive to your ideas, either.

Turok: I think they like the Big Bang for obvious reasons. It's a creation event, and they find that appealing. Whereas if you talk to most physicists, they'd prefer that there was not a creation event, because there are no laws of physics that indicate how time could begin.

I'm not motivated by [theological considerations]. I'd be perfectly happy with a mathematically precise description of how time began. I see science and religion as being two completely different things. I don't see science as relevant to the question of whether or not there's a God.

If the world is cyclical, in a sense you still need a policeman to enforce the laws of physics. If you need a God to do that, fine -- but I think that's a belief in why the world is the way it is. Science studies how the world operates, not why it's here.

Wired: To many people, science is valuable because of the metaphors it gives us -- a poetry of the natural world. Does your work resonate that way with you?

Turok: We need poetry as well as science, but it's completely irrelevant to the science. That doesn't motivate me either. I just feel incredibly lucky and honored to think about these problems and try to make models that may or may not be relevant. It's a fantastic privilege to ponder these questions -- even if we don't succeed, even if all we do is appreciate how hard the problem is, it brings us together. The world is an incredible miracle, and we have to do whatever we can to appreciate it.

Wired: Whatever you find, though, it's not going to have much everyday importance.

Turok: No, but one of the extraordinary things about the field is that whatever culture people come from, they all love this stuff. The popularity Hawking has achieved is due in part to him being an exceptional individual, but it's also because the questions and the science are inherently fascinating.

It's been amazing to see students from all over Africa, from countries that have been disaster areas for 30 years, come to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and try to best Einstein.

The side effects are quite good, too. I teach math to hundreds of students every year, and because the stuff we work on is high-powered and rigorous, we add to the intellectual environment. Many of the brightest students love to do this. It's like the Apollo moon program, which had a huge spinoff in technology. So even though this kind of science and thinking has no intrinsic economic value, it's hugely motivating and quite cheap.

Wired: With all your work with students from Africa, what do you think of James Watson's remarks on Africans evolving to possess less intelligence than other racial groups?

Turok: I think he's nuts. My students are highly motivated and have a very high success rate. If he really believes they're inferior, he should just come to the institute. I guarantee that if he spends an afternoon with these students, he'll revise his opinion.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Bible and basketball

Interesting article from (of all places), courtesy the Associated Press (,2933,330642,00.html) about a religious school in Missouri not allowing a female referee to work a game because, they believe, a woman should never be in a position of authority over a man.

I share this in part because the Biblical passage from Paul's first letter to Timothy, read literally, means the school is correct. Here's the language:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:11-13, NIV)

Now, there's a lot of stuff in Paul's letters that doesn't exactly translate well into the modern world. I'm not at all convinced that Paul's statement to Timothy should carry the weight of a directive today.

But I'm surprised this particular passage isn't used AGAINST a literal Biblical interpretation more often. In my opinion, I don't think this passage is consistent with the God that I know. And I don't think you HAVE to read the Bible in such a way to make this a rule that's applicable now.

Literalists generally are pretty choosy about which portions of the Bible they want to take literally. Passages like this one are really good for certain men to use to retain power and dominance within a community. And that's about as un-Christian thing to do as I can think of.


KANSAS CITY, Mo — Kansas activities officials are investigating a religious school's refusal to let a female referee call a boys' high school basketball game.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association said referees reported that Michelle Campbell was preparing to officiate at St. Mary's Academy near Topeka on Feb. 2 when a school official insisted that Campbell could not call the game.

The reason given, according to the referees: Campbell, as a woman, could not be put in a position of authority over boys because of the academy's beliefs.

Campbell then walked off the court along with Darin Putthoff, the referee who was to work the game with her.

"I said, 'If Michelle has to leave, then I'm leaving with her,"' Putthoff said Wednesday. "I was disappointed that it happened to Michelle. I've never heard of anything like that."

Fred Shockey, who was getting ready to leave the gym after officiating two junior high games, said he was told there had been an emergency and was asked to stay and officiate two more games.

"When I found out what the emergency was, I said there was no way I was going to work those games," said Shockey, who spent 12 years in the Army and became a ref about three years ago. "I have been led by some of the finest women this nation has to offer, and there was no way I was going to go along with that."

Shockey noted that referees normally don't work Saturday games, but he agreed to officiate because his daughter's basketball game slated for that day was canceled.

The Activities Association said it is considering whether to take action against the private religious school. St. Mary's Academy, about 25 miles northwest of Topeka, is owned and operated by the Society of St. Pius X, which follows older Roman Catholic laws. The society's world leader, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in the late 1980s.

Gary Musselman, the association's executive director, said the organization will not make a decision until it confirms whether St. Mary's Academy has a policy of not allowing female referees to work boys basketball games.

If that is indeed the school's written policy, Musselman said, the association could decide to remove St. Mary's Academy from the list of approved schools and take away its ability to compete against the association's more than 300 member schools.

St. Mary's Academy officials declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

St. Mary's Academy is among 30 schools on the list that are not full association members but compete against schools that are. Musselman said St. Mary's Academy plays one or two games per season against member schools but has no more scheduled this school year.

He said if removed from the approved list for next school year, St. Mary's Academy still would be able to compete against approved schools that are not members of the association.

Musselman said the association hopes to resolve the matter sometime this week. He said he sent a letter to the school's principal, Vicente A. Griego, the day of the incident but has not heard back from him.

Putthoff and other supporters of Campbell said they believe state activities officials will handle the situation properly.

Campbell did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

However, she told The Kansas City Star that she was "dumbfounded" by the incident but that she is not angry at the school. She said she does not want the situation to go any further than it already has.

"This issue was going to come up eventually," said Campbell, 49, a retired Albuquerque, N.M., police officer who now lives in Ozawkie, Kan. "I just happened to be the person who was there this time.

"It's kind of a sticky situation. It needs to be looked at carefully, slowly, with all the facts."

Putthoff said he has called games at St. Mary's Academy off and on for 10 or 12 years, but doubts he will officiate at the school again.

"Out of defense to Michelle, I'm probably going to decline to go back there," he said. "We have to support our fellow officials."

Campbell, one of about five female referees in the Topeka Officials Association, has been officiating games for about two years.

"We don't support any institutions that would discriminate against any of our officials," said Steve Bradley, president of the Topeka group. "We support Michelle 100 percent.

"Michelle works hard. She cares about what she does. She is not a person who's on a crusade. She's a good person. She's a good official. You will not find a person who's more serious about doing a good job than Michelle."

Musselman said this was his first time dealing with a situation in which a school turned away a referee because of gender.

"We view officials not as male or female, Hispanic or African-American or Asian-American. We view officials as officials," Musselman said. "Discrimination against our officials is something we can't be party to."

Still, he said, the association wants to be fair to everyone involved and gather all the information before taking action.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The End of Conservatism?

Interesting article from Newsweek by Fareed Zakaria (, one of my favorite authors. While I think the generalizations are a bit broad, the basic concept is I believe sound: that conservatism as we know it was born in the 1970's due to specific issues and concerns at that time, and that if those same 70's-era solutions are applied today, they will not be successful. I do agree completely with the point he makes that the "fundamental" conservative things that the current President has done are incredibly unpopular (namely the war in Iraq and the tax cuts for the wealthy), and the "apostasies" to "true" conservatism (such as prescription-drug benefits and immigration reform) are exceedingly popular.

The article strikes me a bit as wishful thinking, or at least as reactive thinking. Remember, prior to 2006 there were legitimate discussions about a "perpetual Republican majority." But the underlying thoughts of the piece are good. And, quite honestly, the title gives me a bit of a warm fuzzy inside anyway.


Conservatives are a gloomy bunch at the moment. Many believe that their party—the Republican Party—has lost its way and that it has done so by abandoning its principles. Aside from his foreign policy and Supreme Court appointments, conservatives find little to love about George W. Bush. His signature domestic policies include a vast expansion of government-financed health care (prescription-drug benefits), and increased funding for education while halfheartedly promoting vouchers and school choice. Bush also signed into law campaign-finance reform and supported a proposed immigration bill that would have allowed illegal aliens a path to citizenship. The Republican Congress is even worse, having indulged in an orgy of irresponsible spending. And now the party is set to nominate John McCain as its presidential nominee, a man who on several key issues has broken with Republican orthodoxy and voted with Democrats. For conservatives, a return to principles is the only way to be returned to power.

David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, begs to differ. "On the contrary," Frum writes in his smart new book, "Comeback," "the evidence suggests that a more consistent, more principled, more conservative administration would have been even more soundly rejected by the public than the unpopular Bush administration ever was." As Frum documents, every Bush policy that conservatives decry is in fact wildly popular. Public support for prescription-drug benefits ranges from 80 to 90 percent. And every Bush policy conservatives favor is regarded by the public with great suspicion. A majority of Americans regard the Bush tax cuts as "not worth it," and would prefer increased spending or balancing the budget to cutting taxes. In the one area where Bush remains unfailingly popular with conservatives—foreign policy—public support has also collapsed. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who believe that military force can reduce the risk of terrorism dropped sharply between 2002 and 2006, from 48 percent to 32 percent.

Conservatism grew powerful in the 1970s and 1980s because it proposed solutions appropriate to the problems of the age—a time when socialism was still a serious economic idea, when marginal tax rates reached 70 percent, and when the government regulated the price of oil and natural gas, interest rates on checking accounts and the number of television channels. The culture seemed under attack by a radical fringe. It was an age of stagflation and crime at home, as well as defeat and retreat abroad. Into this landscape came Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, bearing a set of ideas about how to fix the world. Over the next three decades, most of their policies were tried. Many worked. Others didn't, but in any event, time passed and the world changed profoundly. Today, as Frum writes, "after three decades of tax cutting, most Americans no longer pay very much income tax." Inflation has been tamed, the economy does not seem overregulated to most, and crime is not at the forefront of people's consciousness. The culture has proved robust, and has in fact been enriched and broadened by its diversity. Abroad, the cold war is won and America sits atop an increasingly capitalist world. Whatever our problems, an even bigger military and more unilateralism are not seen as the solution.

Today's world has a different set of problems. A robust economy has not lifted the median wages of Americans by much. Most workers are insecure about health care, and most corporations are unnerved by its rising costs. Globalization is seen as a threat, bringing fierce competition from dozens of countries. The danger of Islamic militancy remains real and lasting, but few Americans believe they understand the phenomenon or know how best to combat it. They see our addiction to oil and the degradation of the environment as real dangers to a stable and successful future. Most crucially, Americans' views of the state are shifting. They don't want bigger government—a poll last year found that a majority (57 percent) still believe that government makes it harder for people to get ahead in life—but they do want a smarter government, one that can help them be safe, secure and well prepared for political and economic challenges. In this context, conservative slogans sound weirdly anachronistic, like watching an old TV show from ... well, from the 1970s.

"The Emerging Democratic Majority," written in 2002, makes the case that perhaps for these broad reasons, the conservative tilt in U.S. politics is fast diminishing. It gained a brief respite after 9/11, when raised fears and heightened nationalism played to Republican advantages. But the trends are clear. Authors John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira note that several large groups have begun to vote Democratic consistently—women, college-educated professionals, youth and minorities. With the recent furor over immigration, the battle for Latinos and Asian-Americans is probably lost for the Republicans. Both groups voted solidly Democratic in 2006.

Political ideologies do not exist in a vacuum. They need to meet the problems of the world as it exists. Ordinary conservatives understand this, which may be why—despite the urgings of their ideological gurus—they have voted for McCain. He seems to understand that a new world requires new thinking.

© 2008 Newsweek, Inc.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Inside Hillaryland

Fascinating article by Joshua Green of The Atlantic ( about the most recent shakeup in Hillary Clinton's campaign, which gives an insight both into the inner workings of the campaign, and of the management style and ability of Ms. Clinton herself. Interesting that the "experience" candidate has such issues managing even her own campaign. How would that translate to, as she puts it, "being the CEO" of the United States?

Of course, now she's "in the solution business." This week. If the poll numbers don't get better, we'll see what new clever slogan comes out next week.


How Hillary's campaign managed itself into a ditch—and how it might get itself out

by Joshua Green

Inside the Clinton Shake-Up

Like so much involving Hillary Clinton, Sunday’s departure of her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, has gotten tons of attention, but its larger significance has been somewhat misunderstood. I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last two years reporting on “Hillaryland,” as Clinton’s inner circle is known, for pieces like this one and this one, and also, infamously, for one that did not run when GQ magazine opted to kill it after learning of the Clinton campaign’s displeasure (full story here). The latter piece focused on the inner workings of Clinton’s presidential campaign and Solis Doyle’s controversial role in it, and I’ll draw on what I learned then to try to add perspective to recent happenings.

For the many people in and around Washington who obsess over the latest machinations in Hillaryland, the firing of Solis Doyle—and she was fired, several insiders confirm—is a big deal, but for reasons somewhat different from what the media coverage has suggested. Her title of “campaign manager” implies a loftier role than the one she actually played. She is the furthest thing from a Rove-like strategic genius (Mark Penn inhabits that role for Hillary), so her leaving doesn’t signify an impending change of strategy, as some reports seem to assume. Rather, Solis Doyle, who began as Clinton’s personal scheduler in 1991 (and who, as it happens, coined the term “Hillaryland”) was Clinton’s alter ego and was installed in the job specifically for that reason. Her performance in Clinton’s past races and especially in this one reflects all the good and the bad that the alter-ego designation carries. I’ve always felt that the most revealing thing about Solis Doyle is her oft-repeated line: “When I’m speaking, Hillary is speaking.” It is revealing both because it is true and because it conveys—and even flaunts—an arrogance that I think is the key to understanding all that has gone wrong for the Clinton campaign.

Such arrogance led directly to the idea that Clinton could simply project an air of inevitability and be assured her party’s nomination. If she wins—as she very well might—it will be in spite of her original approach. As one former Clinton staffer put it to me last spring: “There was an assumption that if you were a major donor and wanted to be an ambassador, go to state dinners with the queen—unless you were an outright fool, you were going to go with Hillary, whether you liked her or not. The attitude was ‘Where else are they going to go?’”

It’s important to emphasize that Solis Doyle was not the architect of the Clinton strategy. It was devised and agreed to by many of the campaign’s top staffers, and the candidate herself signed off on it. But in all my reporting and personal experience with the campaign, Solis Doyle probably embodied it more than anyone else. It’s not unfair that she lost her job; but it is unfair that no other senior staffers appear to be in danger of losing theirs.

No one could have predicted Barack Obama’s sudden rise, though the Clinton campaign was slower to recognize it than most. Solis Doyle’s failure is another matter. As much as Clinton touts her own “executive experience” and judgment, she made Solis Doyle her campaign manager because of Solis Doyle’s loyalty, rather than her skill, despite a trail of available evidence suggesting she was unsuited for the role.

To understand how this happened, it’s helpful to know a bit about the history of rivalry and factionalism in Hillaryland. The self-mythologizing tale most often told by its inhabitants is that during Bill Clinton’s administration, while his advisers were leaking left and right as they jockeyed for primacy and influence, Hillary’s were fiercely loyal. “My staff prided themselves on discretion, loyalty, and camaraderie, and we had our own special ethos,” Clinton wrote in her memoir, Living History. “While the West Wing had a tendency to leak, Hillaryland never did.”

But when Clinton ran for a New York Senate seat in 2000, that began to change. Without the drama of Bill Clinton’s administration to occupy the media, the spotlight fell squarely on Hillary’s advisers, who now included not just the loyal White House cadre, but others who had been added to her team, like Penn and Dwight Jewson, an advertising consultant specializing in branding who had helped sell Doritos, Red Wolf Beer, and the Taco Bell Value Menu. The arrival of these outsiders complicated the ever-shifting pecking order in Hillaryland, suddenly putting it on full display and making it more consequential than ever.

As Clinton stagnated in the polls that year, a turbulent divide opened up within her own camp over how to respond to her image problem. Tensions flared between advisers such as Penn and Mandy Grunwald, her media consultant, who wanted her to stick to the issues, and others, such as Jewson and Harold Ickes, who thought she should confront her chief shortcoming—the notion that she was power-hungry and calculating. As Michael Tomasky revealed in his fine memoir about the campaign, Hillary’s Turn, Jewson conducted a series of focus groups to see why Hillary wasn’t selling and learned that women saw her as “savvy, pushy, cold … back-stabbing … self-centered.” One woman compared Hillary to her mother-in-law. The battle between the camps intensified to the point that it began to go public, most notably when someone leaked Penn’s internal polling data to The New York Times Magazine . Penn and Ickes regularly erupted into shouting matches and eventually stopped speaking to each other, communicating instead through an intermediary.

With her staff’s squabbling threatening to torpedo her campaign, Clinton dispatched Solis Doyle to New York in August to serve as an enforcer and get things under control, which she largely managed to do. The leaks were contained, the play-it-safe camp of Penn and Grunwald ultimately prevailed, and Clinton herself did too, after Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the race. By squashing rivalries and imposing discipline, Solis Doyle distinguished herself in the eyes of the candidate.

After the race, Solis Doyle was put in charge of fund-raising and later became campaign manager for Clinton’s Senate reelection bid in 2006. She earned a reputation as a contentious, domineering boss. Along the way, many of the staff members who worked under her left or were forced out, including several high-powered members of Clinton’s inner circle, such as Kelly Craighead and Evelyn Lieberman, the deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton famous for banishing Monica Lewinsky to the Pentagon. The frequent turnover in the fund-raising shop was a significant measure of Solis Doyle’s unpopularity. Clinton staffers are notably loyal, and turnover among them tends to be much lower than it is among the staffs of other politicians. Fund-raising under Solis Doyle was a glaring exception, chalking up the kind of body count you’d expect from an episode of The Sopranos. She was infamous among her colleagues for referring to herself as “the queen bee” and for her habit of watching daytime soap operas in her office. One frequent complaint among donors and outside advisers was that Solis Doyle often did not return calls or demonstrate the attention required in her position.

Concerns about Solis Doyle have preoccupied many in the campaign for several years. Clinton insiders say that her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, launched an unsuccessful bid to remove Solis Doyle while on vacation with the Clintons two years ago. Two top campaign officials told me that Maggie Williams, Hillary’s former chief of staff (and, as of Sunday, her campaign manager), also sought and failed to have Solis Doyle removed two years ago. Last year, some of Bill Clinton’s former advisers, known as the “White Boys,” lobbied to oust her, too.

But because of Solis Doyle’s proximity to Hillary Clinton, because she demonstrated the loyalty and discretion Clinton so prized, and because no one appeared capable of challenging Clinton’s presumed status as the Democratic nominee-in-waiting, nothing was done. “What Patti has that is real power is the unquestioned trust and confidence of the candidate,” Paul Begala, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s campaigns, explained in an on-the-record interview last year. “That makes her bulletproof.”

It’s important to put all this in the context of the time and to remember how strikingly different the political landscape appeared then. Going through my reporting notes yesterday, I came across a quote that was given to me at the time by a close friend of the Clintons that seems comically misguided today but nicely captures the attitude that prevailed in Hillaryland in 2006, and suggests why Clinton might have been unwilling to move against her loyal servitor. “She is piggybacking the only black president the United States has ever known,” the Clinton friend piously lectured to me. “Given African Americans’ prominence in the Democratic Party, people who talk up other candidates don’t understand the impact that her husband will have. He won’t passively sit back in this election. He is going to be an activist and he will get on the phone to black ministers and they will be there for her.” (He had an impact, all right.)

This belief in Hillary’s unassailability fostered a complacency that may cost Clinton more dearly than anyone could have imagined. But at the time, no one recognized what was happening. Instead of launching her presidential campaign, even informally, Clinton and Solis Doyle insisted that no one so much as mention the possibility of a White House bid until after she’d been reelected to the Senate—a move insiders now concede was a serious tactical flaw that allowed Barack Obama’s campaign to take off unchallenged. The error wasn’t simply letting Obama get a head start in raising money. It was failing to realize that the world of political fund-raising had changed dramatically since Bill Clinton had last run for president, in a way that put a premium on different kinds of fund-raisers than the ones to which the Clintons had ties. Campaign-finance reform had banned the large, six-figure “soft-money” contributions the Clintons once relied on from people like Ron Burkle, Steve Bing, and David Geffen. In their place, small, “hard-money” donations took on far greater importance, and a new generation of fund-raisers able to corral many people to write four-figure checks suddenly became the true prize. But many of them—people like Mark Gorenberg, Alan Solomont, and Steve Westly—were not as well known to the Clintons. “I think of the difference as being between ‘writers’ and ‘raisers,’ ” Gorenberg, a venture capitalist who was John Kerry’s biggest fund-raiser in the 2004 election, told me last year. Like Gorenberg, many of the new hard-money fundraisers are tech moguls who hail from a wealth center, Silicon Valley, that barely existed during Bill Clinton’s last run.

With Hillaryland in silent mode, Obama got first crack at those donors. “Not a lot, but some people, were losing sleep about Obama as early as last winter, keeping an eye on his moves and tracking his hires and outreach,” a Clinton insider admitted to me last spring. “There were two reasons nothing happened. First, by admitting he’s a factor, you’re giving him the credibility that you don’t want him to have. Second, everybody thought he would flame out. They didn’t think he could pull a money team and enough talent together to mount a serious challenge.”

Of course, Obama did just that, relying on the new donor class Clinton had ignored. “When Obama came along,” an embittered Clinton aide told me, “suddenly you had your choice of rock star.”

Even after grasping the magnitude of the threat, the Clinton campaign didn’t react quickly and stuck to the strategy of trying to project an aura of inevitability. Here, too, Solis Doyle was disastrous; her lack of skill in areas other than playing the loyal heavy began to show. The first public sign of this came just after Clinton’s reelection to the Senate. Even though Clinton had faced no serious opponent, it turned out that Solis Doyle, as campaign manager, had burned through more than $30 million. As this New York Times story makes clear, the donor base was incensed. Toward the end of the Senate campaign, Solis Doyle did her best to bolster the impression of the inevitability of Hillary’s nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate, spreading word that Clinton’s Senate reelection fund-raising had gone so exceptionally well that $40 million to $50 million would be left after Election Day to transfer to the incipient presidential campaign. But this turned out to be a wild exaggeration—and Solis Doyle must have known it was. Disclosure filings revealed a paltry $10 million in cash on hand; far from conveying Hillary’s inevitability, this had precisely the opposite effect, encouraging, rather than frightening off, potential challengers.

Rather than punish Solis Doyle or raise questions about her fitness to lead, Clinton chose her to manage the presidential campaign for reasons that should now be obvious: above all, Clinton prizes loyalty and discipline, and Solis Doyle demonstrated both traits, if little else. This suggests to me that for all the emphasis Clinton has placed on executive leadership in this campaign, her own approach is a lot closer to the current president’s than her supporters might like to admit.

The extended denouement that began after the Iowa caucuses and finally culminated with Sunday’s departure reinforces this supposition. By all accounts, Solis Doyle’s firing became imminent after the first loss, as the extent of the damage sank in. (My colleague Marc Ambinder has provided plentiful detail on this here and here.) She’d been dispatched to Iowa to oversee operations in the final weeks before the caucuses, and Clinton still finished third. She’d been placed in charge of the campaign’s relationship with John Kerry and hoped to get an endorsement, but he’d chosen to back Obama. And of course, the campaign had hemorrhaged money, which Solis Doyle had managed to conceal. The ax was expected to fall the day after New Hampshire (Solis Doyle opted not to depart on her own after Iowa), but it didn’t happen until weeks afterward because Clinton put off making the crucial decision—just as her alter ego was often charged with doing. (The best blow-by-blow account is this prescient New Republic piece by Michelle Cottle that was read avidly inside the campaign because it’s so accurate.) Even then, Solis Doyle’s departure took a near-mutiny to bring about. Williams and Lieberman left their jobs last week; this finally seemed to have influenced Clinton to oust Solis Doyle.

In one sense, Solis Doyle performed exactly as Hillary had hoped. Somewhat to my surprise, the longstanding fissures in Hillaryland never truly erupted when Clinton came under presidential-campaign pressure, certainly not the way they did in 2000. For all the chaos and disillusionment with Clinton’s performance so far inside the campaign, very little of it had leaked to the press until just recently. And despite her late start, Clinton did not lag on the money front: she has raised $175 million since winning her Senate seat in 2000, which should have been enough to fund a formidable campaign, even one that dragged on as long as this one has. That the money was so obviously mismanaged and Clinton was essentially left helpless to compete in last weekend’s primaries and caucuses is the reason Solis Doyle ultimately had to go. The problem, as before, was mismanagement—only this time against a worthy enough opponent that the cost was obvious to everyone.

Even at this late date, Clinton has a clear path to winning the nomination if she can prevail in Ohio and Texas, as she’s expected to. Solis Doyle’s replacement, Maggie Williams, is thought to possess many of the skills her predecessor lacked, while enjoying a relationship with Clinton that is every bit as close. Every reaction I’ve gotten from inside the campaign has been exuberance at Williams’s arrival—followed by concern over whether the change was made too late.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Justice Scalia: Torture, could be o-tay

I know, it shouldn't be surprising, but the egomaniac that is Antonin Scalia has weighed in on what may or may not be torture. The post is by Amanda Terkel of Think Progress ( some reason, he's focusing on the Eighth Amendment rather than Federal statutes outlawing torture. Actually, again, not at all surprising given his fetish for "original intent" of the Framers.

On the upside, though, this could be enough to get him recused off any cases before the court regarding detainee torture ...

Very frustrating, and one man who makes it very difficult to use the noun "Justice" before. Read and see if you are at all bothered by it.


Today in an interview with BBC Radio's Law in Action, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia defended torture, claiming that it is not necessarily barred by the Constitution:

Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to find out where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited under the Constitution? Because smacking someone in the face would violate the 8th amendment in a prison context. You can't go around smacking people about.

Is it obvious that what can't be done for punishment can't be done to exact information that is crucial to this society? It's not at all an easy question, to tell you the truth.

The BBC interviewer, however, objected to Scalia's use of the so-called "ticking time bomb" scenario to justify government torture. "It's a bizarre scenario," he said. "Because the fact is, it's very unlikely you're going to have the one person who can give you that information. So if you use that as an excuse to commit torture, perhaps that's a dangerous thing." Scalia responded:

Seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say that you can't stick something under the fingernails, smack them in the face. It would be absurd to say that.

As the BBC interviewer pointed out, ticking time bomb scenarios -- where a detainee has knowledge of an imminent attack -- are incredibly rare, despite Scalia's fascination with them. U.S. Air Force Reserve Colonel Steve Kleinman, a longtime military interrogator, testified to the House in November that torture would be "unnecessary" even in such scenarios. Furthermore, intelligence experts say that torture is "ineffective" because it "often produces false information."

Sharon at Human Rights First looks at Scalia's arguments on torture's constitutionality.


BBC: Tell me about the issue of torture, we know that cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited under the 8th amendment. Does that mean if the issue comes up in front of the court, it's a 'no-brainer?'

SCALIA: Well, a lot of people think it is, but I find that extraordinary to begin with. To begin with, the constitution refers to cruel and unusual punishment, it is referring to punishment on indefinitely -- would certainly be cruel and unusual punishment for a crime. But a court can do that when a witness refuses to answer or commit them to jail until you will answer the question -- without any time limit on it, as a means of coercing the witness to answer, as the witness should. And I suppose it's the same thing about "so-called" torture.

Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to find out where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited under the Constitution? Because smacking someone in the face would violate the 8th amendment in a prison context. You can't go around smacking people about. Is it obvious that what can't be done for punishment can't be done to exact information that is crucial to this society? It's not at all an easy question, to tell you the truth.

BBC: It's a question that's been raised by Alan Derschowitz and other people -- this idea of ticking bomb torture. It's predicated on the basis that you got a plane with nuclear weapons flying toward the White House, you happen to have in your possession -- hooray! -- the person that has the key information to put everything right, and you stick a needle under his fingernail -- you get the answer -- and that should be allowed?

SCALIA: And you think it shouldn't?

BBC: All I'm saying about it, is that it's a bizarre scenario, because it's very unlikely that you're going to have the one person that can give you that information and so if you use that as an excuse to permit torture then perhaps that's a dangerous thing.

SCALIA: Seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say that you can't stick something under the fingernails, smack them in the face. It would be absurd to say that you couldn't do that. And once you acknowledge that, we're into a different game. How close does the threat have to be and how severe can an infliction of pain be?

There are no easy answers involved, in either direction, but I certainly know you can't come in smugly and with great self-satisfaction and say, "Oh, this is torture and therefore it's no good." You would not apply that in some real-life situations. It may not be a ticking bomb in Los Angeles, but it may be: "Where is this group that we know is plotting this painful action against the United States? Where are they? What are they currently planning?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Christians" not being very Christian

Disturbing post by Chris Hedges of Truthdig ( about those on the "Christian" right using "reformed" terrorists to convince people that Islam as a whole is evil, and that we should be working hard to either convert them all or eradicate them from the face of the earth?

Sound familiar to anyone? The Inquisition, what a show ...

Don't sleep on this nonsense. When Mitt Romney dropped out of the '08 race, he said it was because we were at war with this vast Islamic conspiracy. Mike Huckabee has called "Islamofascism" the most dangerous threat the United States has ever faced.

Hmm. The Soviet Union could have incinerated the planet with a phone call, but those on the Right think that a guy living in a cave in Pakistan is more dangerous?

Of course not. But keep in mind, authoritarians need an Enemy in order to govern properly. Much like Big Brother in 1984, the state cannot continue to exercise control and oppress its' people without having them afraid of The Enemy. When Communism collapsed, the authoritarian Right had no more Enemy to djinn up fear against. After 9/11, the authoritarian Right was given a boogeyman back. Who cares if we're put in a position where we say a guy in a cave is more dangerous than the Soviet nuclear arsenal? If we can get people afraid enough to allow us to spy on them, set up a gulag off our shores, torture people, kidnap people, detain people indefinetly, and all the other auspices of totalitarianism they seem to love, then so much the better.

When you hear those on the right talk about the threat of terrorism (and make no mistake, there is a threat), keep in mind what it is they are trying to do to you.


Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani are the three stooges of the Christian right. These self-described former Muslim terrorists are regularly trotted out at Christian colleges -- a few days ago they were at the Air Force Academy -- to spew racist filth about Islam on behalf of groups such as Focus on the Family. It is a clever tactic. Curly, Larry and Mo, who all say they are born-again Christians, engage in hate speech and assure us it comes from personal experience. They tell their audiences that the only way to deal with one-fifth of the world's population is by converting or eradicating all Muslims. Their cant is broadcast regularly on Fox News, including the Bill O'Reilly and Neil Cavuto shows, as well as on numerous Christian radio and television programs. Shoebat, who has written a book called Why We Want to Kill You, promises in his lectures to explain the numerous similarities between radical Muslims and the Nazis, how "Muslim terrorists" invaded America 30 years ago and how "perseverance, recruitment and hate" have fueled attacks by Muslims.

These men are frauds, but this is not the point. They are part of a dark and frightening war by the Christian right against tolerance that, in the moment of another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would make it acceptable to target and persecute all Muslims, including the some 6 million Muslims who live in the United States. These men stoke these irrational fears. They defend the perpetual war unleashed by the Bush administration and championed by Sen. John McCain. McCain frequently reminds listeners that "the greatest danger facing the world is Islamic terrorism," as does Mike Huckabee, who says that "Islamofascism" is "the greatest threat this country [has] ever faced." George W. Bush has, in the same vein, assured Americans that terrorists hate us for our freedoms, not, of course, for anything we have done. Bush described the "war on terror" as a war against totalitarian Islamofascism while the Israeli air force was dropping tens of thousands of pounds of iron fragmentation bombs up and down Lebanon, an air campaign that killed 1,300 Lebanese civilians.

The three men tell lurid tales of being recruited as children into Palestinian terrorist organizations, murdering hundreds of civilians and blowing up a bank in Israel. Saleem says that as a child he infiltrated Israel to plant bombs via a network of tunnels underneath the Golan Heights, although no incident of this type was ever reported in Israel. He claims he is descended from the "grand wazir" of Islam, a title and a position that do not exist in the Arab world. They assure audiences that the Palestinians are interested not in a peaceful two-state solution but rather the destruction of Israel, the murder of all Jews and the death of America. Shoebat claims he first came to the United States as part of an extremist "sleeper cell."

"These three jokers are as much former Islamic terrorists as 'Star Trek's' Capt. James T. Kirk was a real Starship captain," said Mikey Weinstein, the head of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The group has challenged Christian proselytizing in the military and denounced the visit by the men to the Air Force Academy.

The speakers include in their talks the superior virtues of Christianity. Saleem, for example, says his world "turned upside down when he was seriously injured in an automobile accident."

"A Christian man tended to Kamal at the accident scene, making sure he got the medical treatment he needed," his Web site says. "Kamal's orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist were also Christian men whom over a period of several months ministered the unconditional love of Jesus Christ to him as he recovered. The love and sacrificial giving of these men caused Kamal to cry out to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob acknowledging his need for the Savior. Kamal has since become a man on a new mission, as an ambassador for the one true and living God, the great I Am, Jehovah God of the Bible."

This creeping Christian chauvinism has infected our political and social discourse. It was behind the rumor that Barack Obama was a Muslim. Obama reassured followers that he was a Christian. It apparently did not occur to him, or his questioners, that the proper answer is that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim, that persons of great moral probity and courage arise in all cultures and all religions, including Islam. Christians have no exclusive lock on virtue. But this kind of understanding often provokes indignant rage.

The public denigration of Islam, and by implication all religious belief systems outside Christianity, is part of the triumphalism that has distorted the country since the 9/11 attacks. It makes dialogue with those outside our "Christian" culture impossible. It implicitly condemns all who do not think as we think and believe as we believe as, at best, inferior and usually morally depraved. It blinds us to our own failings. It makes self-reflection and self-criticism a form of treason. It reduces the world to a cartoonish vision of us and them, good and evil. It turns us into children with bombs.

These three con artists are not the problem. There is enough scum out there to take their place. Rather, they offer a window into a worldview that is destroying the United States. It has corrupted the Republican Party. It has colored the news media. It has entered into the everyday clichés we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. It is ignorant and racist, but it is also deadly. It grossly perverts the Christian religion. It asks us to kill to purify the Earth. It leaves us threatened not only by the terrorists who may come from abroad but the ones who are rising from within our midst.