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Planning For The Future

Tuesday, January 31, 2006
The post-mortems and excuses and rationalizations about our shellacking in the Alito confirmation fight are well underway already. The optimistic version is that we weren't going to win anyway, that Scalia received 98 votes rather than 25, that we're in the minority and have to expect this sort of thing, and that we shouldn't give up but dig in for the future.

This debacle underlined one important point for me. The Democrats have made very little progress in the last few years in learning to counter the Republican "noise machine" or to build a coherent strategy of our own. The Republican rhetorical advantage was identified years ago, but we seem to have made zero progress in combatting it. This is extremely disheartening, and just provides more evidence for the manifest political incompetence of our party's leadership. Great at policy, bad at elections - not exactly a recipe for political success.

There are two things that we are going to have to think about very seriously in the future. The first is that our resistance of creating our own, rival "machine" is going to come at a high price. Tammany Hall built a machine in New York City in the year 1800. It was challenged by reformers for the next 160 years before it was finally destroyed. The reformers refused to build their own machine, instead relying on their own moral purity (which was condescending), their superior policy positions (which were unconvincing), and the collapse of the Tammany machine (which never seemed to happen). Every time Tammany would get into trouble and lose an election, it would pull itself together and come back strong the next time. The reformers were never able to maintain any consistent success because they refused to fight fire with fire. It took massive political and technological changes to bring down Tammany. I know Democrats don't want to build anything like the machine that Republicans have - we value openness and diversity too much. But if we don't at least narrow the organizational gap, we are going to continue to get creamed.

The second thing we need to think about is what we are going to do about the Courts. For decades now liberals have relied on good judges bailing us out after we lose elections. The Theocons pass prayer in schools requirements or something and the Supreme Court strikes it down. We always had the Court backing us up. That is no longer going to be the case -the other side is going to have control. We'd better figure that out quickly, or we are going to suffer some major surprises. Three more years of Bush is going to give them a chance to consolidate their hold on the federal courts. And what if another Supreme Court Justice dies or retires, like John Paul Stevens? Or what if the Democrats lose in 2008?

We are going to have to come to grips with the reality of conservative domination of the Courts. What do we do when they nullify environmental laws, or eviscerate habeus corpus rights? What do we do when they undermine collective bargaining and the minimum wage? What do we do when they uphold religious indoctrination in public schools? As I have said several times before, when we finally do regain control, we might be forced into a major confrontation with the Courts. Do we pack them like Roosevelt? Do we try a Judge for impeachment just to send a message? Do we strip them of jurisdiction? Or do we just tamely watch them repeal the 20th century?

We need to think hard but fast about these problems, because we don't have much time to come up with solutions. As bad as things are, I have a feeling that they could get considerably worse. We all want to think that the worst is over, that they're bound to get better. A sentiment I'm sure was shared by Germans in 1932.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:24 PM

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Monday, January 30, 2006
Rude Pundit had it exactly right, and the Democrats who fucking bailed on their party - no, their country - today had it exactly wrong. I am just disgusted. Appalled. Nauseated. Hell, they haven't even MADE words for how angry I am. I looked at the list of Democrats who voted for Cloture, and they are a roll of shame, of cowards who pissed themselves in the face of a negative campaign ad that no one cared about.

These ass monkeys have forgotten that they have to give something - anything - to their base if we are turn out in November. They can't just keep saying "stay with us because we're not as bad as the other guy." They have to show us the money, that they fucking standing for something, that they are willing to stand up to these tyrants in embryo who are bedevilling our country.

Now those "Democrats" have to worry that their own base will remember what ridiculous sycophants they were, and simply not show up in November.

How can they look at themselves in the mirror in the morning? How can they accept the fact that they have handed the keys to the Constitution to a lunatic? Will all the perfumes of Asia ever wash their hands clean?

I wonder what they're going to say when their children look at them through the bars of the gulag and ask "how did you let this happen?"
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:23 PM

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What the Hell Happened?

The apparent failure to prevent Sam Alito from winning a seat on the Supreme Court tells us a lot about what's wrong with the Democratic Party, and about American politics today. Last Friday I was pretty harsh with the leadership of my party, and while I don't want to retract those feelings, I do want to qualify them. Most Democrats in the Senate are voting against Alito, and most Democrats are willing to filibuster. There are only a few Dems who are unwilling to do so out of what I believe is a misplaced fear it will be used against them in the next election. Additionally, people underestimate how difficult it is for a party in the absolute minority to "frame" any debate, or come up with any coherent strategy. If you look back at the mess the Republicans were in the 1960's, you have a pretty good idea.

Having said that, this failure is a particularly troubling one. Here was a nominee who was clearly out of the political mainstream, but there was never any public outcry against his radical opinions, and the opposition was never able to make any real headway. I think that some of the blame can be placed on the Democrats. Too many of them have been playing defense for too long, and have forgotten that there is such a thing as a "good loss." The liberal interest groups have continued to make the same mistakes when it comes to coordination and mesage discipline - it should have been easy to make up a 2-sentence summary of why this guy shouldn't be on the court, but we never heard it. And the media must take responsibility for allowing themselves to be played (yet again) by the Republicans. Their singleminded focus on the abortion, their laziness, and their eagerness to be manipulated is beginning to make me thing that the NYT and the Washington Post are turning into Pravda.

Having said that, I must say that ultimately the blame must fall on the American people themselves. We have taken our liberties for granted for far too long. We have decided that politics has nothing to do with our lives, that participation in public purposes is the job of other people, that both parties are rotten - but it doesn't matter because they cancel each other out. The fact is that when one party is in the absolute majority, it is not just up to the opposition to practice vigilance - it is up to the citizenry as well. The reality is that Democrats have been explaining what is wrong with the current administration, the media has communicated that critique (however muddled), and we as a people have just not listened. Somehow we have decided that torture, illegal wiretapping, illegitimate wars, reckless fiscal management, the abandonment of New Orleans, the botching of the War on Terror - that all of these things are less important than a President who "makes us feel safe" or "shares our values." Whatever those statements mean.

Liberals hate Karl Rove and George Bush because of their ruthless Machiavellianism and their indifference to the norms of democracy. But what is truly disturbing is that the American people do not appear to hate them. I'm not sure if this lack of response is due to indifference, self-delusion, fear, or just that we're not paying attention. But democracies are ultimately dependent on a people's willingness to govern themselves, and today I just don't see that in America.

I worry about the future. I worry a great deal.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:23 PM

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If Only Sam Alito Were A Green Plastic Lizard

Friday, January 27, 2006

By the way, do you remember when I said that if the Democrats were afraid to use the filibuster, then the filibuster was as good as eliminated anyway? Well here we go. Sam Alito is going to get on the Court because the Democratic leadership in Washington are a bunch of cowards. Bwak-bwak. It makes me sick to my stomach. They won't filibuster because they are a) afraid they will lose the filibuster entirely - when not using it is evidence that for all practical purposes they already have, b) afraid they will be labelled as "obstructionist", when they will be anyway c) are afraid of being called names by Republicans, who are calling them traitors already, and d) are afraid that it will distract from other issues. Other issues? What other issues? What's the point of setting yourself up to regain the Congress if there's a Supreme Court in place that will strike down every piece of liberal legislation for the last 100 years, including the stuff you plan on passing? What a bunch of idiots. I am completely disgusted by this pusillanimous performance. Just disgusted.

Look, if you are running for re-election for the Senate, and someone asks you why you voted against Alito, you respond that he thought it was okay to strip search 10 year old girls. Debate over. These people are so anxious to preserve their own political hides that they are willing to sell out the country, when by rolling over for the Theocons they are GUARANTEEING that they are going to lose their political hides.

Sometimes I think my dog has more sense, and he eats horseshit off the ground.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:22 PM

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Thursday, January 26, 2006
Okay. After reading this, I feel better.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:22 PM

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What To Do?

Sometimes it's very hard to be a liberal Democrat.

Last night I was chairing a meeting of a Democratic political club. It's a volunteer organization with a long and honorable tradition and I'm proud to be a member. At the beginning of the meeting a man stood up and started talking, disrupting the entire meeting. I asked him to wait (he didn't), I ruled him out of order (he kept talking), and then I lost my temper and tried to shout him down (whoops).

It was a mistake, I know, but I was determined that we wasn't going to hijack the meeting. His comments were rude and insulting. Par for the course, really. He never evinces the slightest respect for others, impugning their motives and integrity at will. Finally the only person he listens to stepped in and got him to wait until the end of the meeting, when I let him rant as long as he liked. His speech included a lot of nasty comments about me, but I let him talk - because Democrats are supposed to let people speak their piece even if they don't like what they're hearing. A lot of people were alienated by the whole thing, and I worry that some of our new members won't be returning. The man did enormous damage to the organization, but I see no way to prevent him from doing so.

This is a personal story about how I bungled a meeting, but it's a story about the single most challenging thing about being a liberal. We are committed to openness and free discussion, but the willingness of others to abuse that belief frequently turns us into a punching bag. We are hesitant to shut down others but they are quick to use our own rules and convictions against us. This problem is also one of the great unanswered dilemmas in democratic theory. How does a democracy dedicated to liberty and equality handle a confrontation with those who don't, especially when the people challenging those beliefs are its own citizens? Just look at how Hamas, which has no commitment to democracy, has used democratic elections in Palestine to win power. What do you want to guess that this is the last election we'll see?

I have no answer to this dilemma. If we oppress or ignore those who challenge our procedures, then we are engaging in precisely the kind of authoritarianism we abhor. On the other hand, if we permit others to use our procedures and beliefs against us, then we are helping our enemies destroy us.

It's a conundrum for which I have no answer. And neither does anyone else, as far as I know. When I asked others after the meeting what I should have done, they said I should have punched him or used a 2 x 4. They weren't serious. I think. The sad fact is that open discussion is reliant on an ethic of mutual respect. If the membership - whether they be of a political club or a country - doesn't adhere to those norms, even if only one person doesn't, then the entire project collapses. Democracies are much more fragile than we realize. What I am afraid of is when Americans finally do recognize this reality, it will be far too late.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:21 PM

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Give Me A Break

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
President Bush is unveiling his new plan to reduce health care costs in America. He is proposing the following:

1) Allowing tax deductions for out of pocket expenses
2) Health Savings Account, permitting people to set aside tax free shelters for medical expenses
3) Enhancing portability

Where to begin, where to begin....

The most obvious fact of this package is that it will do nothing to restrain the growth in prices. There are simply no cost control measures evident. Conservatives will argue that they way they reduce cost is by placing more of the burden of health costs to individuals, who will therefore consume less health care in order to reduce their personal costs.

So let me get this straight. The problem with health care in America is that we have too much of it? Is that why we have 50 million uninsured, 50 million underinsured, and most unhealthy population in the industrialized world? Because people are getting too much health care?

The reality is that we don't have enough health care, for all that we spend so much on it. The way to bring down health care costs is to encourage healthy lifestyles and get people to engage in preventative care. Under the Bush plan (at best), people will defer going to the doctor until there is an emergency, when costs are the highest. Smart thinking, nimrods.

The second problem with this set of proposals is that they rely on individuals being able to set aside extra cash for future expenses, or to expect a return on their taxes. Hello! Most people without health insurance don't have any disposable income to speak of! How are they going to set aside any money for these savings accounts? And what good is a preferential tax treatment on money you can't afford to spend?

I can dismiss the portability suggestion by just pointing out that it just encourages companies to shed their privately financed health insurance, putting the entire responsibility on individuals.

This is not a serious piece of public policy. It is a mixture of campaign politics and corporate cronyism. The lack of cost controls and the (minor) public subsidies fattens the bottom line of pharmaceutical companies. The discouraging of using health care benefits insurance companies, who will be able to charge people for substandard coverage that they will never use. And the The portability proposal will allow businesses to dump their health care obligations to their workers. And the fact that Bush is proposing something with the words "health care" in it will allow the Republicans running in 2006 the ability to say that they are "doing something" about health care.

But they aren't doing something about the health care crisis. They are doing something to America's citizens. Again. Assholes.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:20 PM

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Guess Which Superhero I Am?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Wow, what a coincidence! That was always my favorite superhero! (thanks, Professor Bastard!)

Your results:
You are Iron Man
Iron Man
The Flash
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
Inventor. Businessman. Genius.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Okay, so I cheated. A little. So sue me.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:20 PM

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Prancing Conservatives

I'd be the first one to confess that I don't know much about Canadian politics. Or care. But I do find it amusing that conservative bloggers get so excited whenever a right-wing party wins an electoral victory - anywhere. In the recent Canadian elections, the Conservative party finally defeated the Liberals after a dozen years in the political wilderness. America's right is ecstatic that they will have a friendly government to the north.

I'm sorry - but I'm going to have to rain on their parade. The Liberal ascendancy was broken by the weight of its own corruption. Unlike the U.S., corruption scandals actually alienate Canadian voters. The Conservatives are going to have to assemble a minority government, probably in partnership with the Quebec nationalists.

This is a victory they're going to get excited about? How right-wing a government do you think is really going to be established up there? Either the new Prime Minister will have to compromise his right-wing credential to nothing in order to maintain power, or he'll push a libertarian policy and be turned out in a few years. Not exactly a right-wing mandate.

What the Theocons are hoping for is that somewhere, anywhere, another people will embrace the kind bizarre corporate/fundamentalist alliance that we have in the U.S. But they're going to have to wait a loooooong time. Because nobody else likes that set of ideas. The only way they're going to export the Bush model is through force. No wonder they're so excited about Iraq.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:19 PM

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Students Aren't Buying Books

Monday, January 23, 2006
According to the Washington Post, college students are choosing not to purchase their textbooks because of their high cost. I don't know what effect this will really have. In my experience, it's not like they read them anyway.

Just saying.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:19 PM

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Tell us the truth, Alito: What do you really mean?

Sunday, January 22, 2006
Blogging For Choice: Today is the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade!

In June 2004, the Supreme Court dismissed the case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. In this case, Michael Newdow, the father of a 3rd grade girl, argued that she should not have to say the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, addressing the issue of separation of church and state. In a clever escape, the court ruled that he didn't have standing because he did not have custody of the child, and dismissed the case. In fact, Newdow had never married the mother of his daughter and they were locked in a custody battle.

When Dr. Brazen Hussy heard about this, her immediate response was: well, when a woman is pregnant, clearly she has custody of the fetus, and the father should have no say in what happens to it. (Yes, she has a one-track mind.)

I was entertained by the fact that conservatives believed that Newdow had no say over an existing child, but that some of them would say that he should have choices regarding a three-week old lump of cells inside his girlfriend's body.

In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the Supreme Court rejected Spawn of Satan ScalitoAlito's position that a woman should be required to inform her husband of her intention to remove an unwanted clump of cells from her uterus. This spousal notification law was judged to be an "undue burden" on the woman and thus was considered unconstitutional.

Let's ask Alito: how do you reconcile your position in Planned Parenthood v. Casey with the Supreme Court's position in the Newdow case? Either he rejects Newdow, which would prove his assertions that he would uphold precedent to be utter bullshit, or he upholds the Newdow precedent, and would have to support the most aggressive definition of abortion rights. If a man has no say in the education of a child that has already be born, how in the world can you claim that he should be part of the decision of whether it should be born in the first place?

Unless, of course, what he really means is that women are the property of their husbands. Go ahead, Alito, I want to hear you say it.

(Cross-posted at What the Hell is Wrong With You?.)
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:18 PM

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All Loki Wants...

Friday, January 20, 2006
...is to be in the bathroom. And he's all woeful when he can't.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:18 PM

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Not One Dime?

Thursday, January 19, 2006
There are very few issues about which I have stronger feelings than campaign finance reform. I believe that the current money/politics matrix is totally corrosive of democracy and encourages a powerful cynicism that makes any reform extremely difficult. It's also why I believe that the Buckley vs. Valeo decision equating campaign contributions with protected free speech is one of the most damaging Supreme Court decisions in history.

So while I am generally supportive of the lobbying reforms proposed by Democrats, I wonder at its substantive or political efficacy. Politically, I don't think one set of lobbying reforms is different enough from another to distinguish Republican and Democratic ideas in the minds of voters. Substantively, I don't banning gifts will make that much difference in the role lobbyists play. It's just a symbolic gesture.

No, the real problem is money: campaign fundraising is what distorts and corrupts the political system, not lobbying per se. Do something about campaign finance, and you are really attacking the roots of corruption. Do something about campaign finance, and you will be able to put a sharp line between us and them.

Which is what is so intriguing about the Carville-Begala proposal over at the Washington Monthly. They offer the following ideas:

1) ban all gifts to incumbents
2) raise congressional salaries to $400,000 so that the gifts aren't necessary
3) ban all fundraising by incumbents
4) require challengers to report all contributions within 24 hours
5) the federal government will give incumbents 80% of challenger funds raised
6) match self-financing (i.e. millionaire candidates) 100%, whether they be incumbent or challenger
7) incumbents who want to run for higher office

I think this is the beginning of a good proposal, assuming it passes constitutional muster. Presented properly, the Abramoff etc. scandals could finally be the opportunity to pass real campaign finance reform.

But I do have a number of qualms about the proposal. First of all, why in the world do we want to raise congressional salaries. Do congressman who make $120,000 (is it more now?) a year really need extra goodies? After all, median income is $53,000. Surely over a hundred grand is enough.

Does this plan effect primaries? If challengers to incumbents can't raise funds, then the system will break down. Further, does it apply to open seats? After all, interest groups are very good at backing friendly candidates in the initial seat, guaranteeing their boy or girl gets in, making the later ban on fundraising less important.

The ban on fundraising even if one wants to run for higher office is a heck of a penalty. It would act as such a powerful disincentive for politicians to run for higher office, meaning that a lot more amateurs would run. It would actually magnify the importance of money, since wealthy amateurs would have a tremendous advantage (and settled candidates wouldn't run at all).

These are minor criticisms - I think in outline the plan is a good one. I would prefer, however, to have a system in which anyone who filed to run for office and received a certain number of signatures (proving that they aren't a looney - or at least that they are a well-organized, popular looney), would receive vouchers from the government for television advertising, campaign staff, etc. Even incumbents would be eligible, but they would be banned from raising additional dollars (as would anyone else using the system). This would remove the problem with running for higher office, while still preserving the system.

If it is constitutional, the restriction on incumbent behavior, combined with a matching system to cope with challengers, seems to a be a pretty brilliant solution to the campaign finance problem. I wonder whether the Democratic leadership is smart enough to pick it up.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:17 PM

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Medicare Mess

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I've been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how this Medicare Part D prescription drug plan works, and after a number of headaches I think I have it figured out. Sort of. My conclusion is that it is worse than I feared. Not only can they change the drugs offered at will, not only does it forbid Medicare from using its bulk to negotiate lower costs, but it is also hugely expensive and doesn't cover much. What a plan!

Here's how the "standard plan" works. First, you pay a premium. Then you have a $250 deductible - you pay that amount before the plan covers a thing. Then you get into the good part: the next $2000 in drug costs have a 25/75 split, for up to 500 for you and 1500 for the plan. So for up to $2250 in drug expenditures, the senior pays $750 (plus premiums) and the insurance company picks up $1500, which isn't so bad.

Here's the kicker, the soon to be famous "donut hole" : the next $2850 of prescription drug costs are borne entirely by the consumer. That's right, the plan doesn't have to give you a nickel. This means that if you have $5100 in prescription drug costs a year (which many people do), then you are responsible for spending $3600 and the plan pays $1500, not including premium. In other words, for seniors with substantial (but not exorbitant) drug costs - the ones who need it the most - the plan forces them to pay 70% of the cost to prescription drug, including premiums (which could run as high as another $1200 a year).

After $5100 of costs, the medicare plan reverts to a "catastrophic coverage" system, with the insurance company picking up 95% of the tab. But essentially what we have is a catastrophic drug coverage plan with a subsidy to low-to-moderate drug consumers. At a tremendous cost to the federal treasury, I might add.

This is a ludicrous piece of legislation. The Republicans' greed and incompetence is blowing a hole in the budget, leaving seniors in a bind, and pushing responsibility for fixing this mess onto the states. To make matters worse, the folks who will have to fix this plan are the ones who screwed it up in the first place. In addition, the fallout of this disaster might compromise any future prospects for health care reform by de-legitimating government's ability to intervene in the insurance market.

Which for all I know was the whole idea.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:17 PM

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Match Point

Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Last night I saw Woody Allen's latest film, "Match Point." I was just blown away - it was one of the best Allen films I've ever seen, and the best movie I've seen all year. Don't worry, I won't spoil the story. I will say that it was a tense, extremely skillful meditation on the role of luck and choice in human affairs. The movie's opening scene presents the basic problem - how much does luck determine what happens to us, as opposed to hard work, talent, or virtue? Is it better to be lucky or good? The main character is a moral nihilist who believes that one's fate is essentially random - the good are as likely to suffer as prosper. It also challenges the idea that there is a God, based on the old "problem of evil" - if God is all powerful and good, then why do bad things happen to good people? And it does so without getting bogged down in any sort of preachiness.

What I find interesting about this film isn't just the well-drawn story, but the fact that Allen sorts through a sophisticated ethical question (perhaps THE ethical question) with a great degree of skill, and without boring his audience. The role of greek ethics, Macbeth, and Christian theology is there if you're paying attention, but Allen doesn't hit the audience over the head with it. It's a remarkable performance for a man who's been making movies for 30 years, and anyone who doesn't see it is missing out.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:16 PM

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When There Were Kings

Monday, January 16, 2006
Today is Martin Luther King Day. I won't spend time lauding his tremendous influence on the history of the country, or the eloquence of his words. Others have written about that a thousand times over.

All I want to say is that MLK demonstrated a power that liberals have essentially forgotten - that we can use politics not just to change votes, but to change minds. King confronted a country which was simply indifferent to the injustices of segregation. Through the skillful use of symbol, action, and word, he converted a large portion of the country to the cause of civil rights. The magnitude of this accomplishment is all the greater because King was not himself a member of the ruling class, but one of the oppressed.

In the debate over Samuel Alito, or the Iraq War, or the scandals, or what have you, Democrats have continued to make the same mistakes we have been making for decades. Where a King (or a Kennedy) would appeal to our best instincts to persuade us to their point of view - where they worked to shift the terms of discussion - we have been content to fight it out at the margins, accepting the terms where they are. It is no accident that while fighting the enemy on his own ground, we have met nothing but defeats.

So let's take this day to remember that more is possible than we have been content to accept. By accepting the constraints of the day, we have guaranteed that we will make things no better.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:16 PM

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Democracy Works

Friday, January 13, 2006
In New York, anyway.

I read about the cell phone records being sold on the open market at Americablog. So I talked to an Assemblyman I now in the Bronx, Jeffrey Dinowitz. He got excited and introduced legislation to ban the selling of cell phone info by brokers or the release by phone companies. He thinks it has an excellent chance of passing. If you live in New York, call your Assemblyman or State Senator and tell them to support the Dinowitz Cell Phone bill.

Here's the press release:

Assemblyman Dinowitz Introduces Legislation To Prevent Brokers from Selling Cell Phone Records

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz announced on the first day of the New York State Assembly session his introduction of legislation to prevent brokers from selling cell phone account information. The legislation also would prevent cell phone companies from releasing account information to anyone except the account holder, law enforcement officials or someone with a court order.

Data brokers and private investigators are offering cell phone records for sale. The legislation would prevent cell phone account records, including information on incoming and outgoing calls, personal information such as name, address and social security, and what type of phone and what features are active on the account like conference calling ability and text messaging, from getting into the wrong hands. The bill would also create civil penalties and establish a right of action to recover damages.

This legislation follows Assemblyman Dinowitz’ efforts last year to protect cell phone users throughout the state by enacting into law legislation (A.7180) that prohibits wireless telephone service providers from creating telephone directories without the users permission.

Assemblyman Dinowitz said, “This legislation would protect consumers from having their personal information used by others. It’s alarming to know that anyone could access your private telephone accounts. Stalkers, abusive spouses, sexual predators, scam artists, blackmailers could all have access to cell phone records. It’s imperative that we act quickly to prevent these sorts of abuses.”
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:15 PM

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Scaredy Dog


I'm not sure what he's afraid of. Maybe it's the dreaded Scalito monster!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:15 PM

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Conservative Lullabye

Thursday, January 12, 2006
The Theocons and their allies are pushing the idea that liberals are overreacting to the Alito nomination. The on-all-fours NYT said that "Overturning Roe would not make abortion illegal but would leave the question in the hands of states."

Drew at the Jawa Report develops this idea further. He argues that 1) it is unlikely that a case finding a new way to overturn Roe could be developed, 2) that Alito's vote would still leave it 5-4 in favor of Roe, and 3) that even if Roe were overturned, the voters would then have an opportunity to vote for abortion rights (or not) as they choose.

My responses are threefold

1) There are already lots of state laws out there so restricting Roe that were they upheld, Roe would be de facto overturned anyway

2) Are you really going to trust Anthony Kennedy to defend a woman's right to choose?

3) Sorry, but we don't put civil liberties up for votes. The whole point of rights is that they are there to protect the minority against majority discrimination. Asking the voters to choose to restrict their own prerogative to punish people they don't like is a self-defeating proposition. Heck, if you put the Bill of Rights up for a vote, it would probably lose! And do you think that if Roe were overturned, the conservative-dominated Congress would not immediately start restricting or banning abortion rights? Puh-lease.

Let's not pretend what this is about. Alito is allied to the movement that wants to end abortion rights. If he gets on the Court, he will do everything in his power to make that happen. As such, he cannot be allowed onto the Court. Period.

P.S. This is really funny.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:14 PM

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Paid For By The Republican National Committee

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
From the front page of the New York Times...

"Judge Alito Proves a Powerful Match for Senate Questioners"

"Alito Pledges an Open Mind on Abortion"

Seriously, why does the "I don't remember" defense and the "ducking the question" strategy amount to a persuasive position? Is Adam Nagourney getting sexual favors in exchange or what?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:14 PM

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Who Could It Be Now?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006
It's de-lurking week, so...

Please comment. Pretty please? With cinnamon on top?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:13 PM

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Dawn Eden Should Avoid Vegas

Via Feministe, a quote from Dawn Eden (whom I refuse to link to directly)...

One commonly accepted figure is that proper and consistent use of condoms will lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant to 3% in one year. Sounds good, until you do this simple calculation. If you have a 3% risk in one year, your risk over 5 years is 15%, and over 10 years it’s 30%….Now it is easier to get pregnant than to get a veneral disease (the process isn’t specifically designed to transmit disease, but it sure is designed to get a woman pregnant), so condoms are better at preventing venereal disease than pregnancy. BUT getting many venereal diseases increases the chance for getting another, so risks balloon for the more sexually active people.

WHAT?!?! Have you even been to college? This is a classic example of the Gambler's Fallacy, and represents the most boneheaded misunderstanding of statistics. The probabilities of something don't change the number of times you do it, moron!

If the chances of getting pregnant using a condom are 3%, they are 3% forever - there's no mystical accumulation of probability that takes place. If you have sex once in your life, the odds are 3%. If you have sex every 20 minutes for 50 years, the odds are STILL 3%. Or as Jill said it "Dude, Dawn Eden can’t do math!!"

Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:13 PM

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Dear NRA Member

Monday, January 09, 2006
For years now you have had a strong loyalty to the Republican party. You have explained a number of reasons why conservatives are more in line with your thinking than liberals: that liberals want to take your guns away, that we are out of sympathy with rural life, that Democrats are the party of big government, and as such are a threat to individual freedoms, among which you number the ownership of firearms.

Democrats have over the last generation been the party of gun control, and as such it is certainly reasonable for you to oppose them. But the Democratic party is changing. Many liberals like myself, after re-evaluating the matter, have decided that gun control is better left to states and local communities. There are many, many pro-gun Democrats - our party Chairman has a perfect NRA rating, for example. The evolving liberal position is that if one wants live in a community with guns, they should be allowed to. All we ask is that you give us the right NOT to live in a community with guns.

There is some truth to the claim that liberals have ignored rural areas. But I think that is changing. Environmentalists have brokered local alliances with hunters in order to preserve natural beauty for all of us to enjoy, and the resistance to big box retailers and suburban sprawl is in part a desire to preserve a valuable way of life - the small town. In this I believe we could be allies, not foes.

Now you might claim that gun ownership is an absolute right guaranteed by the Constitution. I will not quibble with you about the meaning of the 2nd amendment. For the sake of argument I will concede the point. But surely you do not really mean that gun rights are absolute. We do not let convicted felons, or children, or the insane own guns. We do not let you carry guns into banks. No right is absolute - they must be considered in light of other rights as well. We do not ask that you give up your guns, only that you do not bring them into our homes.

Many of you express a desire to keep guns on your person in order that you can defend yourself, that you may feel safe. I could quote the decline in crime statistics, or the fact that most gun deaths are from domestic disputes. But instead I would like to point out that for some people, a city full of guns makes them feel extremely unsafe. You do not wish to live in fear, but neither do they.

Finally, you have stated that limits on gun ownership are the first step to tyranny. You believe that as long as you have your guns, you are safe from the intrusive hand of government. I might ask what good your pistol would be against a tank, but the success of the Iraq insurgency would put the lie to that statement - an armed citizenry is in fact a major check on an unwanted government.

But assuming that you accept my compromise - that we have some communities with guns and others without, based on the free decision of the citizenry - then what have you to fear? I ask you, what party is truly a danger to liberty? Which party has freely engaged in wiretapping of American citizens, of torture, or secret prosecutions? Which party has muzzled dissent and suborned journalists? Which party is enamored of executive power, a power which they believe has no real limits? Which party is happy to have businesses lay claim to every scrap of personal information you possess?

You say you want to support the party of freedom. I ask you to think carefully about which party that is.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:12 PM

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My Pets Hate Me

Friday, January 06, 2006
Because I won't stop taking pictures of them with my nifty new digital camera.

But I don't care.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:11 PM

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What Will They Stop At?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

What a crappy morning - literally. I read that Bush is extending presidential prerogative in appointments even further, essentially vitiating the Senate's advice and consent powers. Then I read that he might have decided to go the whole way in imitating Nixon and spied on journalists and the political opposition. Now normally I might decide to believe that Bush is innocent until proven guilty, but then again when was the last time he didn't do something he was accused of?

And if Bush's anti-democratic antics weren't enough, I read this story about people being suckered into signing an anti-gay petition under false pretenses. Outrage over such duplicitous campaign tactics is a given. Even more shocking is the fact that it was perpretrated by people who are supposedly serving the will of God. Hello, aren't you supposed to be holier-than-thou? Whatever happened to "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness" ?

Sorry, for a moment I thought that those people were believing Christians, not totalitarian fundamentalists using the bible as a figleaf for social authoritarianism. Silly me.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:11 PM

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Sullivan Has A Good Point

Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Andrew Sullivan says that:

With George W. Bush's ascent and a fully-evolved policy of not merely coopting the South, butbecoming a Southern party first and foremost, Republicanism shifted with speedily away fromits previous principles and balance. War accelerated the process. The GOP is now afundamentalist, Christian, Southern party first - and tries to cobble some more slices of the pieonto that base. With war behind it, and gay-baiting for good measure, it still managed to pulltogether barely 51 percent of the electorate in 2004.

I agree with this analysis whole-heartedly. What's more complicated are the consequences of it. The debate between the DLC and "Kos" wings of the Democratic Party has in large part been between trying to split the difference in the South in order to stem our losses there (the DLC option) or isolating the South, consolidating our hold on the Northeastmaking and making a play for the West (the "Kos" option). Obviously it would be nice to do both at once, because a simple-minded pursuit of either option has serious liabilities. Competing in the South could be a waste of resources and inevitably shifts the entire political balance in the direction of Southern conservatism - not a direction liberals want to go. Abandoning the South means that Dems concede a huge political playing field, and it ignores the creeping southernization of the country at large.

But fear not! I think it might be possible to appeal to Southerners who aren't fundamentalist white nationalists, Southerners who have something in common with the working class populist voters in the West who are concerned with globalization, big corporations, government corruption. People that the Republicans have managed to win despite conservative hostility to their way of life. It's a tricky strategy, but with potentially greater fruits than privileging the South or attacking it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:10 PM

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What A Great Idea

Tuesday, January 03, 2006
At the suggestion of Dr. Brazen Hussy, I checked out what my resolution should be.


In the year 2006 I resolve to:

Dance randomly at work.

Get your resolution here

Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:10 PM

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Resolved: Ridicule Conservatives

Happy New Year, one and all (unless you operate on a Lunar calendar, in which case you have to wait another month). As part of my personal package of New Year's Resolutions, I am going to attempt to return to one of my original purposes for this blog - to rebut conservatives. This is harder than it sounds, given the frequency of the Theocons to either a) just post a link, b) obsess about how bad Muslims are, or c) Go on and on and on and on.

Today's entry is from Dean's World. It's short enough (and funny enough) to be worth quoting in its entirety:

If George W. Bush were a Democrat, his policies and methods of governing would be not appreciably different, but at least half his current critics would love him to death and say he's a wonderful President, and at least half his current defenders would hate his guts.

Such is the ironic nature of partisan politics, eh?

This ludicrous screed is a good example of conservative projection and false equivalence - they assume that everyone is guilty of the same sins they are. The first proposition, that Gore or Kerry's policies would be the same as Bush's, is demonstrably absurd. A quick list...

No Iraq War
No torture
No domestic spying
No packing of courts with right-wing judges
No huge tax cuts for the wealthy
No big deficits
No environmental de-regulation

I could go on for days, but you get the point. Dean's point only makes ANY sense if he is ignoring domestic policy (which the Theocons do all the time) and focuses exclusively on foreign policy - and just the War on Terror at that. I'll leave aside the strange argument that Gore/Kerry would have been as contemptuous of the international community as Bush. If we exclude the Iraq War from the War on Terror, then Dean's point is simply wrong and not absurd. But this move in effect concedes that Iraq has nothing to do with the War on Terror - something I hesitate to believe he would accept.

As for half Bush's supporters turning critical if it were a Democrat - well, that's probably true. These guys are proto-fascists, after all. Party loyalty is everything to them. As for half of Bush's critics turning supporters, I suggest they look at all the flak that Clinton took for not being liberal enough.

I'd argue that these people have short memories, except their version of the past is so malleable that I wonder if you can even call it memory. Retrospective rationalization might be a better description.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:09 PM

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