The seismic events of the last few days ends, in some respects, the phony war of the first year of Obama's presidency. As is the case in truly fracturing democracies, the opposition simply does not and cannot accept the fact that it is out of power.
...But the truth is that these forces have also been so passionate, so extreme, and so energized that in a country reeling from a recession, the narrative -- a false, paranoid, nutty narrative -- has taken root in the minds of some independents. Obama, under-estimating the extremism of his opponents, has focused on actually addressing the problems we face. And the rest of us, crucially, have sat back and watched and complained and carped when we didn't get everything we want. We can keep on carping if we want to. But it seems to me that continuing that... is objectively siding with the forces of profound reaction right now.
The prescription: Physician, heal thyself.
Troubling news from Fairbanks, Alaska, where tempers are flaring in the drive-thru lane.
The Associated Press reports a man who hit a Taco Bell manager in the face with a double-decker taco has been sentenced to one day in jail and one year probation.
This was no random taco assault. The assailant, Warren Strickland, claims Taco Bell miscreants spit in his food because they couldn't get his $1.49 taco right. The manager accused him of lying to get free food.
Strickland also has to pay a fine and -- constitutional lawyers, take note -- is banned from Taco Bell for a year.
Next time, Warren, just throw it on the ground.
Mark Helprin has a new piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal warning against repeating the mistakes of the past while reacquiring some old habits as the country emerges from the Great Recession:
How things will turn out is anyone's guess, but it would be nice if, as in the quiet during and after a snow storm, Manhattan would reappear to be appreciated in tranquility; if cops, firemen, nurses, and teachers did not have to live in New Jersey; if students, waitress-actresses, waiter-painters, and dish-washer-writers did not have to board nine to a room or like beagles in their parents' condominia; if the traffic on Park Avenue (as I can personally attest it was in the late 1940s) were sufficiently sparse that you could hear insects in the flower beds; if to balance the frenetic getting and spending, the qualities of reserve and equanimity would retake their once honored places; if celebrity were to be ignored, media switched off, and the stories of ordinary men and women assume their deserved precedence; and if for everyone, like health returning after a long illness, a life of one's own would emerge from an era tragically addicted to quantity and speed.
Two news items in California, both outrages committed in the name of environmental and species protection at the expense of real people and genuine prosperity.
• First item: "'Two Gates' proposal for delta is put on shelf"
According to the Modesto Bee and the Associated Press, the U.S. Interior Department has put the brakes on a pilot plan that would have placed two removable gates in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta aimed at preventing the threatened delta smelt from getting mulched by water pumps. Under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act, federal courts have drastically slashed the amount of irrigation water delivered to farmers in the drought-plagued Central Valley. The result? A government-made dust bowl.
"Department of Interior officials say the project had to be put off so experts could review the science underpinning the project," the AP explains. Meantime, unemployment in some areas tops 40 percent as fields go fallow. Thank goodness for El Niño!
Modesto Bee columnist Jim Boren wonders why Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza, the two Central Valley Democrats who represent the area hurt most by the drought, continue to support President Obama's agenda. Reconsidering their support, Boren writes, is "probably the only leverage Costa and Cardoza have with an administration that has gone back on its word on finding ways to help San Joaquin Valley farmers get increased water supplies."
Maybe so. I can think of a few other questions: Where are Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein? Where is Nancy Pelosi and why do Costa and Cardoza remain loyal to her? What took them so long to become active on the issue? And why do the people continue to vote for those clowns?
• Second item: "Environmentalists sue over state attack on moth"
This one is a bit more complicated. The state agriculture department is trying to stop the light brown apple moth from infesting berry crops, which are a huge economic driver for the Golden State. (California strawberries alone are a $1.8 billion industry.)
The Sacramento Bee reports that two Northern California groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday to stop the agriculture department from using a chemical pheromone to disrupt the male moth's pursuit of the female. According to the story:
A lawyer for the Pesticide Watch Education Fund out of Sacramento and San Francisco and the Davis group called Better Urban Green Strategies (BUGS) said he doesn't know for sure what sort of environmental threat the substance called pheromone might present. Rather, attorney Donald B. Mooney said, the state's exemption of itself from California Environmental Quality Act review is an abuse of the process.
"All the lawsuit seeks is that they comply with CEQA before they initiate the program," Mooney said.
Now, CEQA is a nightmare law. How bad is CEQA? The law is so onerous that even Jerry Brown criticized it in a speech last year. (Don't worry, Brown didn't renounce his green fanaticism; he was just pandering to the crowd.) So the lawsuits are certain to delay any effort to control the spread of the moth.
State agriculture officials say the pheromones pose no threat to public health. Trouble is, the state may be exaggerating the threat of the moth.
"We're talking about a pest that is a superficial feeder. It just causes light scarring on fruits and doesn't really affect ornamental plants at all," Jeff Rosendale, owner of Soquel Nursery Growers, explained to MetroSantaCruz.com for a 2007 story about the controversy. "The berry growers haven't said there's a really big problem and the apple growers haven't said anything. I don't think we'd even know it was here if it hadn't been discovered by a retired entomologist."
Given the high economic stakes, however, agriculture officials and regulators don't want to take any chances. So either the state is overreacting with an expensive program yielding mixed results and placing onerous additional burdens on growers and sellers, or environmentalists are putting California's multi-billion dollar berry crop at risk with their CEQA lawsuits. In any event, farmers take a hit, the economy continues to suffer, and consumers lose.
How in the world will the republic survive the Supreme Court's decision today? Sen. Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who favors free speech except when it matters, vowed (in so many words) to unleash a terrible vengeance in retaliation.
"In the coming weeks," Feingold said, "I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible." (Trust me, that's as much a threat as it is a promise.)
And New York's Chuck Schumer assailed the court's "activist and far reaching decision," which, he claims, "opens the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy." Schumer, who knows a thing or two about special interest money, and his colleagues would have Americans believe that the court's modest decision Thursday fundamentally alters the way campaigns are financed in America. But all of the hemming and hawing about "opening the floodgates” ignores the reality that the floodgates have always been open. The flood of money and influence-peddling had simply flowed through different channels to the same destination.
As Roger Pilon counsels at Cato's At Liberty blog, let's all take a deep breath and dispel one big myth about what the justices did and didn't do: "(C)orporations still cannot...contribute directly to campaigns." More importantly, Pilon writes, this business of curtailing the First Amendment in the name of preventing "corruption" should be put away once and for all.
Half of our states, states like Virginia, have minimal campaign finance laws, and there’s no more corruption in those states than in states that strictly regulate. And that’s because the real reason we have this campaign finance law is not, and never has been, to prevent corruption. The dirty little secret — the real impetus for this law — in incumbency protection. How else to explain the so-called Millionaire’s Amendment, which the Court struck down in 2008. That little gem in the McCain-Feingold “reform” package exempted candidates (read: incumbents) from the law’s strictures if they were running against a self-financed “millionaire,” who could not be prohibited from spending his own money campaigning. Thus, the nominal rationale for the incomprehensible edifice we call “campaign finance law” — to prohibit corruption — suddenly disappeared if you were running against a millionaire. Well, the Court, fortunately, saw right through that. And a majority on the Court saw the light in today’s decision, too. The First Amendment is not a “loophole.” It’s the very foundation of our democracy, and we are the stronger today for this decision.
Today’s Court overturned the will of the people as expressed through Congress and the president — typically a hallmark of “judicial activism” charges lobbed like hand grenades by conservatives. And it departed from the Court’s own long-expressed understanding of the Constitutionality of such laws. Departing from precedent is not not activist.
Two points. First, Justice Kennedy discusses the weight of precedent on this case at considerable length in the Court's majority opinion. Down a couple of espressos and have at it!
Second, Joel forgets -- as many conservatives have conveniently forgotten when it suited them, too -- that the judiciary is a co-equal branch and that the will of the people must be reasonable and constitutional to prevail. The bottom line is precedent should not be binding always and evermore if a decision is wrongly decided or misapplied. Otherwise, we'd be stuck with Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson.
My old boss John Temple, the man who dreamed up RedBlueAmerica.com and who is responsible for unleashing the vaunted Boychuk-Mathis juggernaut upon the world, is moving to the fever swamps of Honolulu in the godforsaken climes of Hawaii to become editor of a new publication called Peer News.
Here's how John spins this grim development on his blog:
Today Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay, announced that I’m going to become the first editor of Peer News, a Honolulu-based local news service that will produce original, in-depth reporting and analysis of local issues in Hawaii.
Pierre and Randy Ching co-founded Peer News Inc. in 2008 “with the goal of empowering citizens and encouraging greater civic participation through media.” I learned of the project in November when a friend pointed out Pierre’s blog post about his search for an editor. He wrote: “We believe that a strong democracy requires an engaged society supported by effective news reporting and analysis. And, we believe that this can be done in a profitable, sustainable way.”
I share those beliefs, and when we began talking I became excited about the opportunity to work as a member of their team. I’ve collaborated with many great people in the newspaper industry over the years, but my new colleagues come at these challenges from a fresh perspective and with a record of accomplishment in the online world. I’ve enjoyed my freedom since the Rocky Mountain News closed last February. I’ve been writing here and elsewhere, speaking, consulting, traveling and learning new skills. But as I wrote in a column for The Wall Street Journal last summer, "I genuinely miss being part of a larger entity with a purpose." That I now will have the opportunity to help build one from scratch, to create a new news culture with such talented partners, makes me very happy.
Okay, okay, I guess that qualifies as extraordinarily good news.
Peer News is worth watching closely as old media companies struggle to survive and nonprofit groups experiment with different models in places like San Diego, Washington D.C. and Seattle. In this sluggish and uncertain economy, it's heartening to see some new media capitalists venturing boldly into the marketplace with experimental for-profit models of their own.
And, oh by the way, unemployed journos: John's hiring. "Hawaii experience or background is a big plus." Hmmmm. I'm a California guy who mostly writes opinion on state and national issues, but I do make a killer chi-chi...
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a key provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law that restricted corporate campaign contributions to election campaigns.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission centered on a challenge to the FEC's 2008 ruling that prohibited showing "Hillary: The Movie" on cable television during Clinton's presidential primary campaign. The FEC said the movie was essentially a campaign ad -- one financed by corporations in a manner outlawed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
We should be thankful for the court's decision today, and not just because it bumps the "news" that John Edwards is the father of Rielle Hunter's love child. The McCain-Feingold law was and is an unconscionable assault on free political speech. As I wrote in the Scripps-Howard column when the Court heard rearguments in September:
The Supreme Court has said repeatedly that Congress may, in fact, abridge freedom of speech if there is "a compelling state interest" and "a narrowly tailored remedy." But there is no justification for McCain-Feingold's restrictions. The rules have become so complicated and far-reaching that the government in March actually suggested that under current law it could ban other media, including books. That way madness -- and tyranny -- lies.
Eliminating the corrupting influence of money from politics has been the stated goal of campaign finance reforms for at least a century. The reforms Congress passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal and again with the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 have, of course, done no such thing. Instead, campaign finance reform has empowered bureaucrats, courts and political incumbents.
The Court didn't go as far as I would have liked, but did go further than I expected, overturning at least two precedents (Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and parts of the court's very first decision on McCain-Feingold, McConnell v. FEC).
As many courtwatchers expected, the mercurial Justice Anthony Kennedy was the court's swing vote in the case. "If the First Amendment has any force," Kennedy wrote for the majority, which included Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, "it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."
Brother Mathis is unhappy with the outcome (and, yes, his headline is overly provocative). He writes: "Big corporations (and, to be fair, big labor unions) will now rule the discourse to an even greater degree."
On the contrary, corporations and unions -- both of which are in a bad odor with most voters, depending on party -- will remain as subject to scrutiny and equally as adept at avoiding it as ever. The court ruled, with only Justice Thomas dissenting, that McCain-Feingold's disclosure requirements remain in force. And yet even with those requirements and myriad rules and restrictions, the current campaign-finance regime hasn't prevented Big Oil, the Military-Industrial Complex, Big Labor, the Trial Lawyers and sundry K Street moneymen from acquiring elected officials as their wholly owned subsidiaries. What it has done, rather, is create an elaborate regulatory charade that rewards insiders and raises significant barriers to outsiders.
Nobody should expect today's decision in Citizens United v. FEC will alter the fundamental inequities of the reigning "reforms." But to the extent that one fetter to political speech is now lifted, that is reason for celebration.
Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy notes the court's rationale for upholding McCain-Feingold's disclosure requirements: "While disclosure requirements may also burden political speech, Justice Kennedy explained, such requirements may be justified by the government’s interest in ensuring that the electorate has information about spending on elections and campaigns, and the specific disclosure requirements at issue are constitutional as-applied to Citizens United. The opinion also includes a substantial discussion of stare decisis, and why such considerations counseled overturning prior precedents."
No doubt that's why Nick Nyhart of the Public Campaign is so dour: "This decision will force candidates for Congress to spend even more time dialing for dollars and attending gala fundraisers instead of focusing on the challenges facing our country. It will increase members of Congress's fear of political reprisal for votes cast or policy decisions made that may be in the best interests of their constituents but are opposed by deep-pocket lobbyists. Congressional schedules will be pitted against the calendar of campaign fundraisers."
But Ilya Shapiro, writing at the Cato Institute's blog, dismantles the tired old argument by Nyhart and others that the First Amendment doesn't really mean what it says. "Today’s ruling may well lead to more corporate and union election spending, but none of this money will go directly to candidates — so there is no possible corruption or even 'appearance of corruption.' It will go instead to spreading information about candidates and issues. Such increases in spending should be welcome because studies have shown that more spending — more political communication — leads to better-informed voters."
My friend Doug Bandow adds at the American Spectator's blog (answering Khabalox): "No one likes 'special interest' spending on elections. But if the government is going to have the power to tax, regulate, and destroy individuals, companies, and industries, they must have the right to influence who gets elected to the government."
Finally: Joel and I are supposed to be talking to Steve Hayward on the podcast this weekend, but maybe we really ought to be talking to his better half.
Republican Scott Brown has won the special election in Massachusetts to fill the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy. Brown -- who, contrary to the opinion of certain execrable MSNBC talk show hosts, is no rabid right-winger -- serves two purposes, and two purposes only: He stops the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care catastrophe and he blocks the Waxman-Markey cap-and-tax nightmare.
Let us dispense with a couple of myths about Senator-elect Brown. He was not the Tea Party candidate. Yes, Tea Party organizations supported him to the tune of around $300,000. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more. To argue that Brown is the first Tea Party "victory" is to overestimate the fractious and disparate Tea Party movement's influence.
Scott Brown is not a conservative. Do not confuse his appeal to conservatives as being properly conservative. He's a Republican. Worse, he is a Massachusetts Republican, meaning he's part of an embattled brood with which just over one-in-10 Commonwealth voters identifies. Sure, he might qualify as conservative for the Massachusetts electorate. But do not think for a minute that Brown is another Jim DeMint or Jon Kyl.
Forget the stupid, calumnious campaign attacks -- none of that stuff should be taken as factual anyway. Brown voted for MassCare and he supports some form of cap-and-trade, just not the Waxman-Markey bill. He's generally pro-choice, but opposes late-term abortions. In most states, he's a moderate or perhaps even a liberal.
I predict with metaphysical certitude that many of the people who supported Brown's campaign and cheered him Tuesday night will be denouncing him as a RINO by Labor Day. But as long as he blocks the two worst elements of the Obama agenda, as our own Poochucker put it so beautifully, "he can be as RINO as he wants to be for all anyone cares."
The question then becomes what Brown's victory means for Republicans this year. Knowing the GOP, the party bosses will completely misinterpret the results and continue to confuse mere opposition with advancing an agenda of their own. Republicans do opposition exceptionally well. After all, they've had so much practice at it. Opposition might even propel Republicans back into the majority. But this is a populist moment. Shrewd Democrats are as likely to exploit the public's mood as Republicans. It would be foolish for Republicans to assume that just because voters oppose Obama's more hubristic policy initiatives, they therefore support Republicans and their ideas. The problem is, nobody knows what the hell those ideas are.
Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen offers some grim ruminations on the geopolitical implications of the Haiti earthquake:
Very rapidly, President Obama needs to come to terms with the idea that the country of Haiti, as we knew it, probably does not exist any more.
In what sense does Haiti still have a government? How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place? How long will this governance last? What will happen to Haiti as a route for the drug trade, the dominant development in the country's economy over the last fifteen years? What does the new structure of interest groups look like, say five years from now?
Is there any scenario in which the survivors, twenty years from now, are better off, compared to the quake never having taken place?
Perhaps the president can ponder some of those questions on the plane trip to Massachusetts this weekend.
Jerry Brown, who isn't "officially" running again for governor of California (even though he is), is as corrupt as the next pol. That isn't to say Brown takes bribes, or trades favors for campaign contributions. It is merely to point out the obvious: He is happy to dive into the rough and tumble of politics and he isn't above dishing dirt about his enemies. The difference between Brown and most politicians is that he's so unabashed about it.
As the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci reports:
Bronstein, in the account on Brown's gubernatorial candidacy, reported that "earlier this year Brown himself called me to plant a possible story about Newsom selling a condo for a suspiciously high price in a distressed market."
"I thought, Come on, really?,'' writes Bronstein. "But while to some people a request like that might speak to pettiness and self-absorption, to me it shows he's still got that perfect paradoxical mix: He's a dreamer who knows how to reach for the sky with one hand but who isn't above keeping the other in the deepest political weeds."
Brown didn't deny the allegations, and quipped that one of the numerous books about him was titled, "High Priest and Low Politician."...Read it,'' he told the hosts. "They're trolling for stuff on me all the time. The public record is the public record, and it comes out."
"Some people pretend they don't do that. But they hire their henchmen....and they whisper, whisper into the ear of the various reporters. And you find out that most of these reporters' stories derive from the opposition campaign. That's kind of the dirty little secret of the news media,'' he told KGO.
"Most of the political news is dug up by the oppositon research teams and then handed over to the media, and then put out as though the journalist found it and it's news. When it's really just part of the ongoing war between the candidates,'' he said. "If you're not prepared for it, you gotta get out of it."
Asked if he has "henchmen,'' Brown said, "No, I don't..but the others do....look, anything anybody can say, I'll say it..hopefully with some discretion and some good taste."
The takeaway? Jerry Brown does his own wetwork. Pass it on. And watch your back.
Pat Robertson, televangelist and erstwhile presidential candidate, said something stupid yesterday about the earthquake in Haiti. The press, being lazy and addicted to cheap controversy much the way Joel Mathis is addicted to cheap vodka, breathlessly reported what Robertson said. Then a million pundits and bloggers poured forth with righteous indignation as pundits and bloggers are wont to do.
No, I'm not going to link to any of it. And neither should you.
Let the record show that Infinite Monkeys imposed a media blackout on Pat Robertson before anyone heard of Satan's Caribbean holiday, demonic Halloween candy, or other such rot. You can only do so many Pat-Robertson-is-an-idiot-so-please-shut-up posts before they start to fall flat.
I'm violating our four-year-old ban to remind people of it, and to encourage others to adopt the same policy. Instead of condemning Pat Robertson -- whose influence extends no further than the TV screens of a few hundred thousand dowagers and shut-ins in a vibrant country of 350 million people -- we should be ignoring him.
We used to talk about "public servants" without sneer quotes or sarcasm, but it's hard to do that now. With special privileges and gold-plated retirements, state government employees in California, New York and elsewhere have become a protected class of citizen. Steven Greenhut, late of the Orange County Register, writes in the February issue of Reason how our public servants became our public masters.
Greenhut focuses largely on the massive unfunded liabilities taxpayers are incurring through public employee pensions. (Not surprising, since he has a terrific new book out on the subject.) It's a bipartisan scandal that threatens to bankrupt cities and states. And what's worse, public officials are completely blasé about it.
Here's Greenhut's telling of what happened a couple of years ago in Fullerton, California:
In the midst of California’s 2008–09 fiscal meltdown, with the impact of deluxe public pensions making daily headlines, the city of Fullerton nevertheless sought to retroactively increase the defined-benefit retirement plan for its city employees by a jaw-dropping 25 percent. What’s more, the Fullerton City Council negotiated the increase in closed session, outside public view. Under California’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, even legitimate closed-session items such as contract negotiations are supposed to be advertised so that the public has a clear idea of what’s being discussed. But the Fullerton agenda for that night only vaguely referred to labor negotiations.
Four of the five council members—two Republicans and two Democrats—seemed to support the deal. But Republican Shawn Nelson, a principled advocate for limited government, didn’t appreciate the way the council was obscuring not only the legitimately secret details of the negotiations but the basic subject matter. He called me at the Register (where I worked at the time) and, without revealing details of the closed session, shared his concerns about the way the public had not been alerted. After I wrote about the secret, fiscally reckless deal, the recriminations came down in a hurry: on Shawn Nelson.
Not surprisingly, the liberal council members were furious that the public had been informed about what was going on. But some conservative Republicans, including a prominent state senator, Dick Ackerman of Irvine, were angry as well, because Nelson’s willingness to talk embarrassed a Republican councilman whom the GOP was backing for re-election. When I later bumped into Ackerman at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, he laid into me about Nelson’s supposed violation of the Brown Act. Some officials and bloggers actually called for Nelson to be prosecuted. Local union mouthpieces and fellow council members portrayed the whistleblower as a common criminal, even though he was merely acting in the spirit of the open meetings law and showing the kind of fiscal responsibility you would hope to see in public officials.
In its embarrassment, the city council voted against the deal at the last minute, but only after council members publicly chastised Nelson, accused me of libel, and vowed to come back for more when the timing was right. One Republican councilman couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about, given that the council enhances public employee pay and pensions all the time.
The anecdote appears early in the piece. The whole story is teeming with such outrages. Take your blood pressure meds before reading.
Greenhut is a diagnostician. He offers little in the way of prescriptions and is coy with his prognosis. "Bigger government means more government employees," he writes. "Those employees then become a permanent lobby for continual government growth. The nation may have reached critical mass; the number of government employees at every level may have gotten so high that it is politically impossible to roll back the bureaucracy, rein in the costs, and restore lost freedoms."
Is there any solution that might be palatable to libertarians? One possible answer appears in a related piece by Bill Eggers and John O'Leary titled "Five Reasons Why Libertarians Shouldn't Hate Government." I found plenty to dislike and disagree with in it, but one point made perfect sense to me: "Until small-government types better master the nuts and bolts of the public sector—how to design policies that work in the real world and how to execute on large public undertakings—their initiatives to downsize government will continue to disappoint."
By the way, just as Dan Weintraub left the Sacramento Bee to start his own Web site with nonprofit foundation support, Greenhut left the Register last autumn to launch an investigative journalism site in Sacramento under the aegis of the Pacific Research Institute. CalWatchdog.com is live and making trouble. Check it out.
Petitions for more than 60 ballot initiatives are circulating in California today, and just about every one of them has no business going before the voters.
About a month ago, I'd mentioned a couple of measures I thought worthy of ridicule. At the time, our friend Khabalox asked in the comments: "What's the problem with (the) proposal to make it illegal for holders of public office to knowingly deceive the public? Seems like a good idea to me."
I replied: "I'm glad you asked! Briefly: Lying to the public is bad, but the title and summary are open to interpretation and there are First Amendment implications that the author clearly hasn't thought through. I'm working on an op-ed on it right now. Not sure where it will appear, but all will be explained in time."
The time is now. The place is the Sacramento Bee. The piece is about the whole farcical initiative process, not just one farcical initiative. Go read it. (But, for the love of God, avert your eyes from the mugshot.)
Ben and Joel are joined by the man Andrew Sullivan dubbed a "conservative contrarian," Conor Friedersdorf, a writer whose work has appeared all over this great big World Wide Web of ours.
He writes regularly for the Daily Beast and Politics Daily and is currently blogging at True/Slant and The American Scene -- the latter of which has given us a number of young conservative luminaries like Ross Douthat, Reihan Salaam, Peter Suderman and others. He's also written for The Atlantic, worked as a substitute blogger for Andrew Sullivan and was one of the key figures in the late and much-lamented Culture 11.
Topics discussed in this podcast:
• Are full-body scanners that can peer under your clothes a good idea to tighten airline security?
• Where do you draw the line between privacy and security?
• Can the United States ever be completely impervious to terror attacks?
• Should Americans be taking self-defense classes so they're ready to encounter terrorists?
• Why is Friedersdorf picking fights with Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Glenn Reynolds and other high-profile conservatives?
• Is Friedersdorf a conservative?
• Is editorial writing at a high-profile newspaper still a good career choice?
• What should we make of this populist moment in American politics?
• Who do you actually meet at Georgetown cocktail parties?
• What lessons can we learn from the demise of a smart and unpredictable journal like Culture 11?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "You've Gotta Be Insane To Fly In Small Private Planes," Mojo Nixon.
• "I'll Fight" Wilco.
• "How Am I Different?" Bettye LaVette.
• "Let Down," Lullabye Radiohead.
• "Living For The City," The Dirtbombs.
SELF-PROMOTION ALERT! Christine Flowers, the Daily News columnist, is substitute hosting the late shift at the Big Talker 1210 this week -- and she's graciously invited me to come on the show during tonight's 10 o'clock hour to discuss our competing views of the indiginities to be suffered in the name of airline security. You already know my take: the TSA can't be trusted not to abuse intrusive powers and there are limits to how much privacy travelers should sacrifice to fly around the country.
Her take? Here's her recent column:
Like mandating full body scans at security checkpoints. Sure, the ACLU (Attempting to Create Loopholes Union) calls it a violation of our "privacy." But terrorists don't have privacy rights, and the rest of us can probably deal with having a snapshot of our undies taken if it saves lives.
So: That should be fun!
Wry Mouth posts a short screed on the Obama Administration's alleged support of taxing "Cadillac" health insurance plans, catty-corner from Joel's blog.
The key seems to be this: to provide for the General Welfare of the people, it is important to strike a balance in insurance options for the general public. There is such a thing, you see, as having too much healthcare coverage, just as there is such a thing as having too little. The surest course to general contentment, goes the reasoning, is to make some options less desirable. That way (I guess), everyone picks the one or two options the government is prepared to support. It makes things less confusing.
Call it the "Fast Food Menu" approach to governance. So long as you stick with the numbered Meal Plans, you can get by fairly easily.
I confess that after the (successfully thwarted) Christmas Day airline bombing attempt, I intentionally avoided reading anything about it - particularly after I heard rumors of new rules being proposed by the TSA. You see, I travel a LOT for my job and didn't need my holiday ruined thinking about how much more miserable my next trip was going to be. Further, my family is getting ready to take an international vacation in a few weeks, increasing my potential travel-related anxiety considerably.
But a few days ago Assignment Editor Ben, knowing how much I travel, asked that I write a post about how a libertarian with anarchist sympathies deals (copes?) with significant amounts of air travel in a post-9/11 world. Several others have written posts and articles about the new policies, how we should react, how we shouldn't react, who's to blame, etc. There have been several posts on this very blog (and on Joel's) analyzing the event and its aftermath from various angles. I'm going to try not to retread most of that analysis. Rather, I'm going to write two posts that focus on my personal experiences - this one, the first, describing my experiences from September 11, 2001 through my last trip just a couple of weeks ago, and the second after my family and I return from Europe describing what, if anything, has changed. Throughout, I will try to explain how someone (myself) who is so rigid in his beliefs about liberty can endure constant government manhandling without going completely insane.
Please click read more below for the first portion of my story.
With apologies to James Taranto: Life imitates South Park! The AP reports that a Japanese whaler plowed into the Bob Barker, part of the growing fleet of vessels operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. You know, the Whale Wars people. This wouldn't have happened if Stan Marsh had been at the helm, you may rest assured. Besides, how do we know it was a really whaling ship and not those scurvy dogs from The Deadliest Catch?
(Warning: The clip contains language commonly heard among sailors and is not safe for work.)
"Ain't nothin' gonna stop us!" Although it's mighty tempting to crow about this week's high-profile Democratic departures (including Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter), I hope John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP leadership have seen "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...
Barack Obama's health care "reform" is on the cusp of passing. It is, as more than one pundit has proclaimed, "the greatest social achievement of our time." And what are the Democrats who fought hard for this historic legislative triumph doing? They're making a hasty retreat for their ships standing by, that's what.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced Tuesday he would retire rather than seek a fourth term in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Dorgan had planned to run again, you understand. But then a publisher offered him a two-book deal and there is a fortune to be made lobbying for energy interests -- or, as Dorgan put it, "I would like... to work on energy policy in the private sector" -- that he decided it was in everyone's best interest that he bow out. And the likelihood that Dorgan would be trounced by more than 20 points at the hands of a Republican candidate not even officially in the race? That had nothing to do with it. Nope. No sir. Besides, he also wants to teach. So there's that.
Sure enough, the Washington Post is reporting that five-term Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut will announce his retirement on Wednesday.
As the Post's Chris Cilizza notes, Dodd's departure, although highly satisfying to people like me, is not necessarily good news for Republicans. "Without Dodd as a foil, Republicans chances of taking over a seat in this solidly blue state are considerably diminished," Cilizza writes. "Former Rep. Rob Simmons and wealthy businesswoman Linda McMahon are battling it out for the Republican nod but either would start as an underdog in a general election matchup with (State Attorney General Richard) Blumenthal."
All travelers flying into the U.S. from foreign countries will receive tightened random screening, and 100 percent of passengers from seven terrorism-prone countries will be patted down and have their carry-ons searched, the Obama administration was notifying airlines on Sunday.
All passengers from countries on the State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list – plus all passengers from Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen, will receive “full body pat-down and physical inspection of property,” the official said.
The countries on the State Department list are Cuban, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
“All international passengers will be screened and the majority of passengers will be screened using threat-based or random measures, the official said. “ These are designed to be sustainable measures that are a significant increase in our security posture.
This isn't racial profiling as such -- not all brown people will be stopped and patted down before getting on a plane to America -- but it does appear to be an intermediate step toward the kind of profiling that conservatives have been demanding for a long time. If you're Pakistani (or a Nigerian or Yemeni, etc.) you're getting patted down no matter what happens. I need more time to reflect and read before posting a more complete response, but I'm not sure that this intermediate profiling step is all bad. "State sponsor of terrorism" of list is more solid -- and specific, and narrow -- a criteria than "all dark-skinned people are scary." Still, it is a step and we should be aware of the road we're on. (And we should note the irony that our first black president is taking that step when George W. Bush didn't.)
Unless I'm missing something, though, it's kind of difficult not to notice that Saudi Arabia isn't on the list of countries isn't it? Seems like an enterprising reporter ought to be asking questions about that.
Still, there does to be some "fighting the last war" thinking going on here. It's true that the failed Christmas Day Crotch Bombing was almost-committed by a Nigerian coming to the United States on an overseas flight. But the planes that hit us on 9/11, lest we forget, all originated from domestic airports. And the stringent security measures now being announced don't seem to take that into consideration. I suspect there's some political weighing of the scales going on here.
I don't think we'll get all the way to full racial profiling during the presidency of Barack Obama. But I do predict that before his first term is over, we'll see these measures used domestically -- and on a wider array of foreign-born residents. I'm just not an optimist.
*UPDATE: The NYT reports that Saudi Arabia is on the list. Makes sense.
Well, that guy has nothing on the poor bastard in Illinois that police Tasered not once, not twice, but 11 times. While he was having a seizure.
Police officers from two Chicago suburbs are being sued after one of them allegedly Tasered a man having a diabetic seizure because the diabetic involuntarily hit the officer while being taken to an ambulance.
Prospero Lassi, a 40-year-old employee of Southwest Airlines, filed the lawsuit (PDF) with a federal court in Chicago last week, following an April 9, 2009, incident in which Lassi was taken to hospital following a violent diabetic seizure -- and being Tasered 11 times while unconscious.
That day, Lassi's roommate found the man on the floor of his apartment having a seizure and foaming at the mouth, according to the statement filed with the court. The roommate called 911 for help, and police officers from the Brookfield and LaGrange Park police departments arrived to help with the situation.
As police officers were helping the paramedics move Lassi to an ambulance, Lassi -- still in the midst of the seizure and described as "unresponsive" -- involuntarily smacked one of the officers with his arm.
"Reacting to Mr. Lassi’s involuntary movement, one or more of the [officers] pushed Mr. Lassi to the ground, forcibly restraining him there," the complaint states. "[LaGrange Park Officer Darren] Pedota then withdrew his Taser, an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt a person’s control over his muscles, and electrocuted Mr. Lassi eleven times.
As I wrote in response to Joel's post, I hope the federal court ruling doesn’t lend credence to the effort to ban law enforcement from using Tasers altogether. I don’t dispute for a moment that police have abused Tasers. But I worry that in their absence, police would be even more inclined to use their nightsticks and guns.
That said, those two cops in Illinois shouldn't just be fired and sued for what little they have. They should go to jail for assault. They give good officers a bad name.
To call Patterico a thorn in the paw of the LA Times is to say that "paw" means the whole body and "thorn" means flesh-eating disease. He's been running his annual "Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review" for the last seven years, and his 2009 run-down of bias, willful distortion and general stupidity at the LA Times is quite comprehensive. I recommend reading the whole thing if you're interested in a detailed breakdown of the meltdown of one MSM lion.
Here are a few highlights ...
On "WHITEWASHING THE ACORN SCANDAL":
Peter Dreier wrote a fact-challenged op-ed claiming that Giles and O’Keefe had received assistance at only two ACORN offices. (The documented number was at least five at the time the op-ed appeared.) Dreier also incorrectly claimed that “not a single person who signed a phony name on a registration form ever actually voted” — although one person who did was later convicted only of false registration and not voter fraud.
On the "SYCOPHANTIC COVERAGE OF OUR HERO BARACK OBAMA":
- The paper uncritically reported that opposition to Obama’s health care plan was fueled by angry mobs of right-wing extremists. Typical of editors’ attitude was this strawman from a front-page “news analysis” which claimed Obama “has seen the healthcare debate sidetracked by false warnings that government ‘death panels’ would be employed to snuff out Grandma.” Naturally, genuine concerns about rationing of health care were not discussed in this polemic.
- When Obama held a town hall meeting on health care, he declared: “I have not said that I was a single-payer supporter.” This was an easily provable lie, and editors failed to tell readers about it.
- The paper dutifully ran a picture of doctors in white coats — an image designed to lend credibility to Obama’s health care plan — and didn’t tell readers that the White House had passed out the coats beforehand to any doctor not already wearing one
On "ANTI-REPUBLICAN BIAS AND ANTI-TEA PARTY SENTIMENT":
- Stimulus plan good . . . tea parties bad. And inconsequential. When KFI’s John and Ken hosted a taxpayer revolt that drew 8000-15,000 people, the paper refused to cover it, for transparently phony reasons. Editor David Lauter responded to hundreds of angry readers in one e-mail — and failed to use a “bcc” line, meaning he shared each angry reader’s e-mail address with all the others. If you’re thinking: “What a moron!” then you have plenty of company.
- They did, however, find space to cover one tea party . . . a toddler tea party given by Katie Holmes and Angelina Jolie. The paper later did a fact-challenged hit piece on John and Ken.
Editors acted as stenographers for Ahmadinejad after his dubious re-election.
On "THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY:"
Editors claimed that Sen. John Cornyn said he “would probe deeply into Sotomayor’s past comments and rulings to see if her heritage colors her ability to make fair decisions.” This was a lie, as Cornyn said no such thing. Editors then sent the false claim down the memory hole.
And on, and on, and on ...
As a former newspaperman who now edits an online publication (and writes for several), reading Patterico's take-down of the LA Times makes me think: I can no longer rely on the MSM standard as "good enough" for publication. My standards must be (and are) way higher.
Police went to a southwest Houston apartment to break up a disturbance but ended up finding something else, KPRC Local 2 reported Wednesday.
A woman called police on Monday and said a man was forcing his way into her apartment in the 5300 block of Elm Street.
When officers went inside, they found something that made them concerned enough to call the bomb squad.
They found an AT-4 shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. It can shoot a missile nearly 1,000 feet through buildings and tanks.
"It gives infantrymen the advantage with an ultra-light weapon that can stop vehicles, armored vehicles as well as main battle tanks and fortifications," said Oscar Saldivar of Top Brass Military and Tactical on the North Freeway.
That type of rocket launcher has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The man reportedly had jihadi literature, too. Robert Spencer finds these details alarming: "Rocket launcher? Check. Jihadist writings? Check. But no worries -- the Feds found no ties to terrorism!"
Well, that's typical. And it's hardly a crime to possess jihadist propaganda. But wait... what? How is it the man won't be charged with a crime for having a battlefield weapon in his apartment?
Because it was disarmed and deactivated, of course -- a detail we learn four paragraphs from the end of the story. I really hate it when the media buries inconvenient information like that. And this is one case where I think Spencer may have gotten a bit caught up in the TV report's sensationalism.
Believe me, I know what I'm talking about when it comes to disarmed rocket launchers. I read recently that the spent LAW tube I had when I was a kid has since been outlawed. I got rid of mine years ago in a move. But what a stupid law. The only thing dangerous about it was the fiberglass lining the inside!
Update: Confederate Yankee echoes my point above. His headline is perfect: "Houston Wets Itself Over Glorified Pipe."
Xeni Jardin has an update on the two bloggers being hassled by the Transportation Security Administration for posting the new airline security directive following the attempted Christmas Day terrorist bombing in Detroit. Go read it.
Update: Oh, and while you're at it, you might as well read Annie Jacobson's story, which includes an interview with Steven Frischling. (He sure seems accessible!) Jacobson wrote the book on TSA incompetence.
Our friends at Lake Superior State University have released this year's list of 15 overused words and phrases that should be banished from our beleaguered public discourse. Although it's difficult to argue with the vast majority of the school's picks, last year's list was notable for including "monkey," which drove Dr. Zaius into a poo-throwing frenzy. Nevertheless, Lake Superior has established a pretty good track record over 35 years, and the 2009 list features only one word -- app -- with which I would quibble.
The 2009 lexicographical legion of dishonor features:
• Shovel-ready: "A relatively new term already overused by media and politicians."
• Transparent/transparency: "In reality, political transparency is more invisible than obvious!"
• Czar: "First it was a 'drug czar' [banished in 1990]. This year gave us a 'car czar.' What's next? A 'banished words czar'?"
• Tweet (and all variations): "Pointless…yet has somehow managed to take the nation by storm. I'm tired of hearing about celebrity X's new tweet, and how great of a tweeter he or she is."
• App: "Is there an 'app' for making this annoying word go away? Why can't we just call them 'programs' again?"
• Sexting: "Any dangerous new trend that also happens to have a clever mash-up of words, involves teens, and gets television talk show hosts interested must be banished."
• Friend (as verb): "'Befriend' is much more pleasant to the human ear and a perfectly useful word in the dictionary."
• Teachable moment: "What might otherwise be known as 'a lesson.'"
• In these economic times: "Overused and redundant. Aren't ALL times 'these economic times'?"
• Stimulus: "It is no longer a grant, it's stimulus money, stimulus checks, etc."
• Toxic assets: "Whatever happened to simply 'bad stocks,' 'debts,' or 'loans'?"
• Too big to fail: "Just for the record, nothing's too big to fail unless the government lets it."
• Bromance: "Have we really reached the point where being friends has to be described in a pseudo-romantic context? Just stop it already!" (Not soon enough for me!)
• Chillaxin': "It should receive bonus points for its ability to exhort the opposite reaction from the receiver."
• Obama (as prefix or root): "Obamanomics, Obamanation, Obamafication, Obamacare, Obamalicious, Obamaland... We say Obamanough already."
Any other nominees?
Here's the last Scripps-Howard column of 2009: Is America successfully deterring terrorism?
Joel says: "A state-centric solution to disrupting and defeating non-state actors is doomed to fail because terrorists don't need the state. Like the crazy new airline rules, the war in Afghanistan amounts to using a sledgehammer to swat a fly that's not even in the same room."
I say: "What we have is a massive federal government that does a great job of wasting billions of taxpayer dollars to maintain the illusion of security. What we need is a government that worries less about treating every airline passenger as a suspect or offending the sensibilities of foreigners and concentrates more on saying no to people from countries that would do us harm."
Thanks to everyone who actually read the column this year. Joel and I enjoy writing it, and we get a kick out of seeing it appear in papers all over the country. (We're also big in South Korea.) We're thinking about trying some different things in 2010, and we're likely to tie the column in more closely with the podcast. We're more blessed than cursed to live in such interesting times.
...from bloggers who post information about the agency's latest hamfisted security measures.
Travel blogger Chris Elliott on Sunday posted the full text of "SD 1544-09-06 authorizing pat-downs, physical inspections" in the wake of the failed Christmas Day crotchbombing. On Tuesday, Elliott was paid a visit by Special Agent Robert Flaherty of the TSA, who served him with a subpoena. Elliott dutifully posted the full text of the subpoena on his blog as well.
"So if I’m reading this correctly, the TSA wants me to tell them who gave me the security directive," Elliott wrote on his blog Tuesday. "I told Flaherty I’d call my attorney and get back to him.
"What would you do?"
I'd do what Elliott did: Lawyer up, and disclose as much as I safely could to shame the powers-that-be into dropping this preposterous investigation.
The feds, naturally, are acting deadly serious with the bloggers even as they bungle national security in the wake of a near-catastrophe in Detroit. "Security Directives are not for public disclosure," a TSA spokesman said in a statement published by TPMmuckraker. "TSA's Office of Inspections is currently investigating how the recent Security Directives were acquired and published by parties who should not have been privy to this information."
TSA agents also visited Steven Frischling, who blogs for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and who posted the same directive Sunday around the same time as Elliott. Frischling described his experience to Wired magazine:
"They’re saying it’s a security document but it was sent to every airport and airline... It was sent to Islamabad, to Riyadh and to Nigeria. So they’re looking for information about a security document sent to 10,000-plus people internationally. You can’t have a right to expect privacy after that.”
Frischling... said the two agents who visited him arrived around 7 p.m. Tuesday, were armed and threatened him with a criminal search warrant if he didn’t provide the name of his source. They also threatened to get him fired from his KLM job and indicated they could get him designated a security risk, which would make it difficult for him to travel and do his job.
“They were indicating there would be significant ramifications if I didn’t cooperate,” said Frischling, who was home alone with his three children when the agents arrived. “It’s not hard to intimidate someone when they’re holding a 3-year-old [child] in their hands. My wife works at night. I go to jail, and my kids are here with nobody.”
Frischling, who described some of the details of the visit on his personal blog, told Threat Level that the two agents drove to his house in Connecticut from DHS offices in Massachusetts and New Jersey and didn’t mention a subpoena until an hour into their visit.
“They came to the door and immediately were asking, ‘Who gave you this document?, Why did you publish the document?’ and ‘I don’t think you know how much trouble you’re in.’ It was very much a hardball tactic,” he says.
For anyone who questions whether these two bloggers stupidly helped terrorists obtain sensitive security information, read that first Frischling quote one more time. We're sharing security directives with countries that either harbor or finance our enemies.
Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin recounts her own experience on an international flight over Christmas weekend and points out: "As soon as airlines and airports began implementing the directive—and that began before the bloggers posted their copies—the contents of the directive were no secret. So why the strong-arm tactics?" To which Glenn Reynolds answers: "They’re sending a message, the way the Bush Administration didn’t with other leaks."
I would note, too, that as the TSA was playing "hardball" with an American blogger, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, was cooling his heels, licking his wounds, and happily exercising his "right to remain silent" in a federal prison cell. Prudence might dictate interrogating Abdulmutallab to learn more about other would-be bombers who were training alongside him in Yemen or perhaps glean information about his handlers in London and Amsterdam.
Or maybe it's no big deal? That's probably it. No doubt there is plenty of time for the feds to get to the bottom of all that after they plug this embarrassing leak at the TSA.
(Hat tip: Ed Carson at Investor's Business Daily.)