It takes two sides to play the game

In a column today, Robert Novak opines about looming campaigns to derail Judge Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Mr. Novak throws around some of the usual rhetoric implying a battle for the soul of the Supreme Court and the nation. Consider:

Little of this has much to do with how Alito actually would conduct himself as a justice, but Supreme Court confirmations have taken on the characteristics of American elections. In truth, the Alito campaign is one part of a relentless, sustained struggle for control of the Supreme Court extending far into the future. Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice in 2004 declared she will do “whatever it takes” to keep conservatives off the Supreme Court. This year, when Aron was asked what she would do to stop Alito, she replied, “You name it, we’ll do it.”

At least we know early on exactly what Mr. Novak is selling. But what is the meat of the two-sided campaign?

… Alito’s dissents on criminal-search and gun-control cases are cited to turn him into a ”jack-booted thug.” This characterization might seem more credible for Alito, the son of an Italian immigrant, than for Roberts, whose father was a corporate executive.

Alito’s strategists reply with “law enforcement week,” emphasizing his endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police. To assail Alito’s decisions, said FOP President Chuck Canterbury, is “like attacking a police officer for doing his job and making arrests.”

Based on my initial reaction to a dissenting opinion by Judge Alito, which I did not characterize as support for strip-searching twelve-year-olds as the more hysterical partisans have done, I suppose I’ve attacked police officers. I also hate baseball, apple pie, and puppies. And the Fourth of July. To be more reasonable about it, I’m not concerned about police doing their job. It’s a valid, necessary function in a civil society. I just happen to believe that there should be limits, as previously outlined in the United States Constitution. That isn’t too much to expect. If Judge Alito has given indications in the past that he’s inclined to uphold police/state power, at the expense of the Constitution, then he provided that fact pattern. My only job as a thinking person is to form an opinion on the facts alone. That’s what I tried to do and what I’ll be looking to do during the confirmation hearings. Then I’ll make up my mind.

Given that Mr. Novak uses Mr. Canterbury’s statement as a support for his argument against those interested in stopping Judge Alito’s confirmation, this next bit comes as little surprise.

An Internet ad distributed by the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network to more than 10 million users this week will fire back on critics of Alito’s dissent validating the search of the young daughter of a suspected drug dealer. It contended that “left-wing extremists opposing” Alito “may have found new allies — drug dealers who hide drugs on children.” The ad is also sent on the Internet to, a conservative activist group with 1.5 million members that produced 700,000 signatures in support of an amendment opposing homosexual marriages.

I’m not sure what that last sentence has to do with anything else in his argument, other than wow, Mr. Novak must have an obsession with the topic. I’m also not sure I can fathom how that slipped past his editor. Whatever. I’ll count that sentence as a minor victory of sorts because marriage wasn’t in quotes. Perhaps he conceded the point. Doubtful, but perhaps. I digress.

Allow me to recap Mr. Novak’s central point. Fringe leftist groups are mounting unfounded attacks on Judge Alito’s nomination, turning the confirmation process into a political circus. This should be seen as a bad turn of events in American politics. I’m with him in theory, although I understand our perspectives diverge sharply beyond that. But an internet ad accusing “left-wing extremists” of siding with “drug dealers who hide drugs on children” is different from the nonsense put forth by the left? Ummm … How? By using the phrase “may have found”? I call shenanigans.

Overdue site maintenance

Short version: now offers the full-content RSS feed.

Long version: I’ve been detail-challenged with the underlying technical aspects of my site. Content to trust Movable Type to format everything correctly, I never noticed that the “Syndicate this site (XML)” link actually directed the RSS feed to index.rdf. I haven’t gotten into any depth on RSS, other than utilizing for reading blogs and news. In Mozilla’s Thunderbird, I had full content on every post, whether I used index.rdf or index.xml. I never tested the RSS feed to see what it would do in other aggregators. I should have.

Since I read The Internets from multiple locations, I decided I needed a web-based aggregator. I settled on Newsgator and migrated my list of blog and news feeds during Friday’s snow day. I tested my site since I noticed a few differences among various feeds to which I subscribe. My feeds (index.rdf and index.xml) consisted of 40-word excerpts rather than full content. I fixed what should rightly be described as an unknown, ongoing problem. The index.xml feed is now full content. If you subscribe by RSS, change your link from the index.rdf link to index.xml if you want the full content in your aggregator. (I haven’t figured out how to fix the index.rdf feed yet, so only index.xml is full content.)

If none of that made sense, ignore everything and keep reading in whatever way makes you happy.

Seeing nuance where no justifiable nuance exists

From The Corner at National Review Online comes this tidbit on torture. I won’t recap the whole discussion because it mostly veers off into a tangent about what sort of physical endangerment one would choose if captured, but there is a telling explanation made in the process. First, a basic assumption for torture from Jonah Goldberg:

And don’t tell me the analogy doesn’t work because the criminals are choosing torture of their free will. The terrorists in these hypotheticals choose torture too — when they decide not to divulge inforrmation [sic]. Everyone agrees that torture or even coercion for reason not directly tied to pressing need should never be tolerated.

Fine, terrorists choose torture when they don’t talk. What about American soldiers captured in the field of battle? If they’re tortured by their captors, do we dismiss it because they followed orders to reveal only name, rank, and serial number? Or do we denounce the torture as a gross violation of human rights and international standards of war? I agree that there’s a distinct difference between terrorists and American soldiers, but the underlying assumption of how a captor should treat a captive remains the same, I think.

As an aside, I don’t think everyone agrees that torture or coercion should never be tolerated without the ticking time bomb scenario. Many of the debates around the blogosphere reveal particularly nasty examples of people taking glee in the idea of torturing terrorists because the terrorists are bad. Modify the last sentence to “reasonable people agree” and we can move on.

Later, in response to reader reaction, Mr. Goldberg responds with this:

Moreover, innocent people would not choose torture. They would give up the information needed. Of course there is a very real and legitimate danger of torturing innocent people because we wrongly don’t believe they’re innocent, which would be awful — again just like killing or imprisoning innocent people is awful. But for the terrorist who knows that innocent men, women and children are about to be murdered and chooses to stay silent, I simply haven’t read a principled argument that makes the moral case against coercing this accomplice to murder that I personally find convincing. Contrary to what a lot of people think, that alone doesn’t make me “pro-torture.” It makes me unpersuaded by some of the more high-minded arguments of the anti-torture crowd.

I concede that that doesn’t make Mr. Goldberg “pro-torture,” but I still have a question that should seem obvious. How would an innocent person give up needed information? If he’s innocent, he doesn’t know anything to give up. How long do we torture him for withholding information before we realize he’s innocent? Does the torture inflicted remain justified after he’s no longer a suspect because he was thought to be a terrorist at the time of the torture? We know we’ve imprisoned suspected terrorists in the last four years who’ve turned out to be innocent individuals.

I simply haven’t read a reasonable argument that makes the legal case for torture compelling. That it’s also morally and politically devastating to the United States should also factor into what should’ve been a short debate. Senator McCain’s amendment should pass the Congress unchanged. President Bush should sign it.

Behold the power of The Internets

Browsing through the Congressional votes database on the Washington Post’s site today, I discovered a unique and interesting way to review legislative votes. Sure, anyone could think that organizing by party and state. I might even come up with region. But gender? I wouldn’t have thought that overly useful. And baby-boomer status? I guess age could matter. I wouldn’t use that, though. But here’s the Holy Grail (data for vote 618, H.R. 4440):

Astrological sign
Not Voting

Someone please explain to me when that might ever be useful. Other than the bored hippie constituency, maybe, I don’t get it. Just because technology rocks doesn’t mean we should use it to use it.

Congressman Tackleberry should heed the lesson

The case of the shooting death of Rigoberto Alpizar by air marshals in Miami on Wednesday took an interesting turn. We have the official line, which hasn’t changed:

“He was belligerent. He threatened that he had a bomb in his backpack,” said Brian Doyle, spokesman for the U.S. Homeland Security Department. “The officers clearly identified themselves and yelled at him to ‘get down, get down.’ Instead, he made a move toward the backpack.”

But now this emerges:

Passenger John Mcalhany told The Associated Press on Thursday that Alpizar bumped into him as he ran off the aircraft, and he did not hear him say anything about a bomb.

“The first time I heard the word bomb was when I was interviewed by the FBI,” McAlhany said. “They kept asking if I heard him say the B-word. And I said, ‘What is the B-word?’ And they were like, ‘Bomb.’ I said no. They said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I am.”

Mary Gardner, another passenger, also said Thursday she not hear Alpizar mention a bomb.

Obviously I have no idea which version is true. I’m no less inclined to assume that the air marshals acted properly. However, this is why we investigate these cases. We don’t want cover-ups on mistakes to allow the government to save face. If the air marshals erred in their judgment of the situation or disregarded the reality of the situation with a trigger-happy response, we should find out. We assume they acted properly but leave open the possibility that they did not. Should the shooting turn out to be improper, we need to know why so we can prevent it from happening again.

Just as important, this is why public officials like Rep. John L. Mica should not be so eager with glee that a man died. Unless he wants to imply that we shouldn’t bother investigating this further because the system worked better than we expected. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, though.

Congress is turning tricks again

Good news from Congress: we no longer need think that pressure from constituents or logic might influence them into some notion of sanity. Hooray! Just think of all the time we’ll save that would normally be spent bitching about how irresponsible they are. Again, hooray!

The House passed three separate tax cuts yesterday and plans to approve a fourth today, trimming the federal revenue by $94.5 billion over five years — nearly double the budget savings that Republicans muscled through the House last month.

GOP leaders portray the tax bills — for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, affluent investors, U.S. troops serving in Iraq and taxpayers who otherwise would be hit by the alternative minimum tax — as vital to keeping the economy rolling.

“Our economic policies have done the trick,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). “We are in the middle of one of the strongest economies this country has ever seen.”

In order: qualified yes, qualified yes, qualified yes, and absolutely. It might be surprising that I’d offer a qualified yes or absolutely to all proposals, yet still insist that it’s bad news. Allow me to explain.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. A friend who visited New Orleans recently on business returned with a clear understanding that the devastation is far worse than it appears on television. Something must be done. But I don’t trust Congress to do it correctly, especially when its idiocy got us into the situation where only the Federal government could fix the problem. Destroy market forces (insurance, flood walls, etc.) that would make population and business decisions more in line with the inherent risk in the Gulf Coast and a federal response is all that’s left. My reservation stems from that. Congress doesn’t get to take credit for fixing a problem it created. Also, handing out gifts tax breaks to businesses, only to exclude less-favored, “sinful” businesses, is an awful form of central planning. Let the people of New Orleans decide. But I understand that goes against every belief Congress currently holds. In the end, a qualified yes because we have little choice.

Next, concerning affluent investors. I’ve already addressed this, so I won’t go much further with the issue. Congress needs to stop thinking in terms of poor vs. rich and start thinking in terms of smart economic policy and stupid economic policy. We’re nowhere close to smart policy, but this is a small step. I don’t pretend that this is being done for the right reasons, though, so it gets a qualified yes.

Next, U.S. troops serving in Iraq. I don’t have much information on this tax break, but it “would extend a provision allowing members of the military to use their combat pay to claim the earned income credit.” Fine. At a cost of $153 million, it’s a blip in our fiscal health. It’s qualified because it’s probably more to promote a warm fuzzy feeling of helping our troops. If I gave it a no, I’d probably be unpatriotic. I wouldn’t want that. Merry Christmas!

Finally, the Alternative Minimum Tax is a travesty. Anything that reduces its impact is a bonus. Congress should abolish it immediately. No member has the brains to that, so I’ll settle for this. It doesn’t change the reality that an indiscriminate tax on taxpayers who have no intention of evading taxes (illegally), without any sense behind it, is wrong. And the rich paying their fair share is obscene. Just one more soak the rich policy, which is not soaking the not-really-rich. Get rid of it. This is a small positive step.

None of that changes my original idea that this is bad news from Congress. Cutting taxes by almost $100 billion is wonderful, but without an equal or greater reduction in spending, the deficit will grow. It’s insanity and this doesn’t make me think differently:

“By cutting taxes, you grow the economy, and you generate an enhanced flow of revenues to the Treasury,” said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Rules Committee.

I like that argument as much as anyone, but it’s not generating an enhanced flow of revenues to the Treasury I’m interested in. I want more money left with the people who earn it. The government should get what it needs, not what it wants. Does anyone believe that Rep. Dreier intends to use that enhanced revenue only on necessary, appropriate expenditures? Our tax policies should be adjusted to meet that criteria, while spending according to the revenue we’re generating, not what we hope to generate through more targeted central planning. Congress doesn’t understand that, even though it’s simple. Cut taxes. Cut spending. Reduce the government’s size and reach.

Deadly force is encouraged

Everyone knows the facts of yesterday’s passenger shooting at Miami International Airport. I’m most interested in the responses to the shooting. ersonally, I’m inclined to assume the federal air marshal acted properly. Air security is essential and any air marshal must be allowed to act on the facts before him. We need to conduct an honest investigation and learn any lessons on how to improve air marshal response in the next incident. I have no doubt that it’ll occur. What we don’t need is shameful rhetoric.

“This shows that the program has worked beyond our expectations,” said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House transportation subcommittee on aviation. “This should send a message to a terrorist or anyone else who is considering disrupting an aircraft with a threat.”

Rep. Mica needs to shut up. The death of a man is beyond our expectations? How low were they before this incident? I can’t imagine we thought air marshals would just say “Excuse me, but could you please not blow up this plane?” Rep. Mica’s statement is posturing for the law-and-order crowd and should not be tolerated. He’s taking far too much glee in this incident.

Which brings me to Bill O’Reilly. Danielle and I watched the O’Reilly Factor last night because he had part one of his interview with Howard Stern. We wanted to watch and nothing else was on. We should’ve recorded it and fast-forwarded through the propaganda.

During the opening segments, Mr. O’Reilly spoke with a “reporter” at Miami International Airport. During the discussion, Mr. O’Reilly described the shooting as (I’m paraphrasing) “if the suspect doesn’t cooperate, the air marshal is going to blast him.” The rest of the discussion consisted of the “reporter” prosecuting the case and coming to the perfect law-and-order conclusion that any action of force by security forces are justified if the risk of terrorism exists. Rather than facts, we got glee that a man died and the remaining passengers were marched off the plane with their hands on their heads. Oh, and the luggage not belonging to the dead suspect blown up by the bomb squad was just a reminder that we take terrorism seriously.

The entire debacle disgusted me. That many people were watching, absorbing the propaganda as gospel pissed me off.

If only we had a Constitution

A few months ago, I wrote about Congress deciding that no one should be left without television when digital broadcasting becomes required. It’s still on track and still stupid. Nothing new is out about this fiscal misadventure, but George Will has an excellent take on the story in today’s Washington Post. Read the whole thing, but I want to point out my favorite line when I read the article this morning on the train. Enjoy:

… the timeless truth that no matter how deeply you distrust the government’s judgment, you are too trusting.

I’d be very proud of myself if I’d written that.

Venturing into the world is sometimes cool

This morning, like all mornings, I deposited my used newspaper in the recycling bin after I got off the train. Only this time, unlike every other morning, some dude stood by the bin. The moment my newspaper hovered over the open slot, the dude stuck his hand underneath the paper as I let go. He snatched the paper for himself.

Umm… I would’ve given it to him. Asking was too much? And 35 cents for his own paper was too much? And yet, it was awesome. People rule.

On the downside, by 9am, I’d already experienced the most awesome event that would happen to me all day. Kind of a letdown. But still awesome.

You will be watching, right?

The fine folks at ABC must wonder why Alias isn’t drawing the ratings they’d like. Aside from the obvious (ummm, have you noticed Jennifer Garner in the first 7 episodes?) and the not-so-obvious (where the hell is Rambaldi this season?), could it have something to do with incompetent network executives? Perhaps hyping the show’s move return to Wednesday nights (at 10pm) following ratings juggernaut Lost would be a better idea if ABC planned a new episode of Lost tonight. Reading The Internets would be enough to let them know that fans are bored with the pace of Lost this season. Viewer motivation will be so much less with a repeat lead-in. But they can continue saying that Alias is a disappointment because fans haven’t flocked to it.

My feeling on the future of the show is simple. Fine, the show’s ending, they can use whatever excuse makes them feel better. I’ll manage. (I’ll actually be in the fetal position on Sunday Wednesday Thursday Wednesday nights, but still…) Allow Alias to resolve the Rambaldi issue and all will be right with the world. Also, bring back Vaughn, since he can’t be dead. Do that and I’ll remember ABC fondly in the future when I’m not watching on Sunday Wednesday Thursday Wednesday nights.