Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Word Cloud

Happy New Year to everyone who has read, shared, followed, subscribed, commented or otherwise supported Fair and Unbalanced.  For fun, I created a word cloud generated from all of the 2010 blog posts (beginning in mid-October, when it all began).  Here is hoping that "Republican" will be a little less prominent in 2011's word cloud.

The Year in Death

The New York Times editorial Still Cruel, Less Usual, notes the ebbing tide of the death penalty this year:  "States are putting fewer people to death, and juries continue to favor the punishment of life without parole over execution when given the choice."  It cites the Death Penalty Information Center's report of 46 executions in 2010, which is 12% fewer than 2009, and down from 85 executions in 2000.

The reasons for the decline include concerns over questions of innocence given the growing number of exonerations (see Must Read), as well as the staggering cost of pursuing the death penalty in times of state and local budgetary crisis (the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice established that death penalty cases cost at least three times more than non-death cases).  And then there were the executions that could not be carried out because of the shortage of a lethal-injection drug. (See Lethal Lifesavers, Hide and Seek, Drug Problem).

The Times also points out an encouraging trend of "electoral victories by candidates who oppose the death penalty, like the new governors of California and New York and the re-elected governor of Massachusetts, suggest[ing] that it’s not a voters’ litmus test or political third rail."  (See Tough on Crime).

And, speaking of California, while we have gone another year without any executions thanks to the continued litigation over the lethal injection process, as the Los Angeles Times reports, the State "continued to buck a nationwide trend away from costly and litigious death sentences in 2010," adding 28 new prisoners to death row, which at 717, is the largest in the country.

Internationally we remain grossly out of step. Cuba just commuted the sentence of that nation's only death-sentenced prisoner.  In November, the UN Human Rights Council held a hearing on the United States’ human rights record, in which the U.S. delegation heard repeated calls from several countries to abolish the death penalty.  The United States is consistently one of the countries that carries out the most executions every year.  In 2009, the countries with the most executions were Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China and the U.S., and 2010 will likely put us in similar company.  (See We Are the World).

46 executions is 46 too many.  The Times editorial concludes:  "We can only hope the country is closer to putting its shameful experiment in state-sponsored death behind it."  Let's do more than hope -- support and join Death Penalty Focus, the ACLU of Northern California, and other groups that are dedicated to ending this "brutal anachronism."

End of the Year Wingnuttery

President Obama announced that the United States will become a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007, but  opposed by then-President Bush.  The Washington Post reports that the U.S. is the last major country to sign on to the Declaration, which was endorsed by 145 countries in 2007.  Obama declared that "the aspirations it affirms -- including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples -- are ones we must always seek to fulfill."  While not legally binding, the UN describes the Declaration as setting "an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet's 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization." 

But to the far right, of course, this is all a secret plot.  The Christian conservative group American Family Association claims that Obama "wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians.  He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords."  The conservative Web site World Net Daily asserts that the treaty "could accomplish something as radical as relinquishing some U.S. sovereignty and opening a path for the return of ancient tribal lands to American Indians, including even parts of Manhattan."  Adding to Obama's suspicious motives is the fact that back in 2008, during the presidential campaign, he was adopted into the Crow Nation, and bestowed with the name, “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

I suppose the good news is that the recent vitriol about Obama's plan to transfer New York and other parts of the country back to North America's Indian tribes means there is no longer fear that he is really a Muslim.  The bad news is the level of discourse on such "liberal" topics as human rights remains so abysmally low.

The Story of Yo La Tengo

Those of you who are devoted followers of this blog know that I feature a Yo La Tengo song every Friday.  This band really resonates with me, and not only because Ira Kaplan, the band's leader, is a big Mets fan, and the band's name happens to come from a classic story in Met lore (which Ira and former Met Ed Kranepool explain here).

Yo La Tengo combine an original, capitvating sound, great songwriting and an encyclopedic and enthsiastic knowledge of rock and pop music, with humor, irreverence, and passion.  Based in Hoboken, New Jersey, YLT consists of Kaplan on vocals and guitar, his wife Georgia Hubley on drums and vocals, and since 1992, James McNew on bass and vocals.

Their "8 Nights of Hannukah" tradition at Maxwell's in Hoboken encapsulates their generous spirit, sense of fun and stellar musicianship.  (I wish I could have been there).  Each show includes a comedian to open, and a wide array of musical guest stars (The National and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy appeared this year).  As described in The Jersey Journal, the "deadpan trio's experimental yet harmonious cornucopia of shoegaze, noise, toe-tapping pop, lo-fi and even rhythm and blues" perform while the menorah sits atop the speakers, candlelight flickering against the red of the curtains shrouded in a wall of sound," with "fan requests each night determining a charity that will benefit from the proceeds."

Their website explains the parameters of their upcoming tour, which includes spinning a carnival wheel to determine each night's first set, that could include Q's & A's from the crowd, the band and crew acting out a classic sitcom, or a setlist with only songs starting with "S."  But, to be sure, the band is not just about gimmicks.  YLT boasts, as one music critic put it, "adventurous eclecticism, defiant independence, and restless creative ambition."  They have "explored the extremes of feedback-driven noise rock and sweetly melodic pop, shading its work with equal parts scholarly composure and fannish enthusiasm."  Ira Kaplan has described the band's process of songwriting as starting with a long jam, finding a song within the jam, and only then figuring out the song on acoustic guitar.  They are sort of like a jazz band that doesn't play jazz.

My initial foray into the band's music was their album Fakebook, released in 1990, which includes several covers of mostly obscure (at least to me) songs, as well as some great originals.  Fakebook is perhaps Yo La Tengo at their most accessible, and a great place to start.  After that, my favorites include, but are not limited to:  I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997), I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006), And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000), and Painful (1993), as well as their latest Popular Songs (2009).  

Check them out -- or just tune in here on Fridays.  [Related posts:  If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo -- Mr. Tough, The Summer, I Feel Like Going Home, Today Is The Day, Sugarcube, Tom Courtenay, Here to Fall, Autumn Sweater, Femme Fatale, Our Way to Fall]

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo

My friend Raoul pointed me to this What's In My Bag segment with YLT's Ira Kaplan and James McNew showing off their encyclopedic musical knowledge and eclecticism at Amoeba Records in San Francisco.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: The National

Mistaken For Strangers by The National

Southern Strategy

Haley Barbour is hardly outside the mainstream of the Republican Party.  He is the Governor of Mississippi.  Before that he had a long career as a lobbyist and political operative.  He worked on President Nixon's 1968 campaign in which the "Southern Strategy" was devised to exploit racism and appeal to Southern white voters who had long voted Democratic. Barbour later became chairman of the Republican National Committee.  He is a media favorite and considered a legitimate Republican candidate for president.

But there he was, in an interview with the Weekly Standard, extolling the pro-segregationist Citizens Council, which he claimed kept the KKK out of his hometown of Yazoo City and successfully integrated the public schools without violence.  Rick Perlstein writes that Barbour's recollections are "deeply confused, mostly wrong, and indicative above all of a cynical man who has made a lucrative career of exploiting racial trauma when it suited him, or throwing it down a memory hole when it did not; which is to say, an archetypal Dixie conservative."

Citizens Councils were founded in the mid-1950s in direct response to Brown v. Board of Education, with the goal of thwarting attempts at racial integration. In the Huffington Post, Derrick Johnson, Mississippi NAACP President, responded to Barbour's reminiscences:  "It's beyond disturbing -- it's offensive that he would try and create a new historical reality that undermines the physical, mental, and economic hardship that many African-Americans had to suffer as a result of the policies and practices of the White Citizens Council."  While it may have been true that the Citizens Councils often opposed the Klan, various scholars told the Huffington Post that this was not because the Councils favored racial integration but out of concern that the overt violence of such groups would hurt the local economy.  Citizens Councils used other methods to sustain segregation, particularly economic terror and harassment to intimidate blacks. 

Barbour appeared to remember little about the trauma, intimidation, violence and racism in his community.  He recalled that he "grew up in a town that was like a family."  As for the burgeoning civil rights conflict, "I just don't remember it as being that bad." A few months ago, Barbour gave another interview where he spoke glowingly about attending the University of Mississippi in the mid-1960s, when Old Miss was forced to integrate, describing it as "a very pleasant experience."  Thus, as Perlstein states, "At every important turn in the story, Barbour emphasizes how little he remembers of this most intense period imaginable in his beloved home town -- it really was no big deal, he insists."  He forgets "the entire bad-faith stew of race, sex, and corrupt plutocracy -- and its public repression in images of towns like 'families' and happy Negroes until outsiders stirred things up -- that defined his formative years."

But Barbour is not ignorant.  His forgetfulness and revisionism are part of a clear political calculation, one that attempts to downplay the racism with which he was steeped in the 1950s and 1960s.  Joan Walsh explains that "the story of his rise in national politics is the story of the rise of the South in the GOP.  Race, and the ugly reaction of many white Southerners to integration and civil rights, is at the heart of this story."  Barbour can't run from this story so he creates an alternate version in which he "and his generation of white Southerners built the modern Republican Party on a unifying, post-racial philosophy."   This is exemplified in his contention, made in an earlier interview, that it was the old Democrats who clung to segregation while the Republicans working for Nixon paved the way for civil rights in the south.   

As Digby points out, Barbour's offensive remarks on race (which also include his response to the controversy over the Virginia Governor's failure to mention slavery in honoring Confederate History Month as not amounting to "diddly") are a "dog whistle" to the Tea Partiers and other white conservatives who he needs to win a Republican primary.  This is a time-honored strategy of Republicans; one used expertly by Ronald Reagan when he launched his first presidential campaign by giving a speech on states' rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a city known for one thing -- the slaying of three civil rights workers by white supremacists in 1964.  As Bob Herbert once wrote about Reagan's speech, "he was tapping out the code. It was understood that when politicians started chirping about “states’ rights” to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you."

Barbour is tapping into that same code 30 years later.  Perhaps the only difference is his lack of subtlety, as reflected in his quip back in 1982, when unsuccessfully running for the Senate, warning an aide that if the aide persisted in making racist remarks, "he would be reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks."  Good Ole Haley probably doesn't remember that one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Better Late Than Never

Filibuster reform is "the single most important thing we can do on a single day to change Washington. It would make a huge difference in the rest of Barack Obama's first term, and might make a difference whether he has a second term."  -- Rachel Maddow

Remarkably, all 53 returning Democratic Senators signed a letter urging Majority Leader Harry Reid to change the filibuster rules.  As reported in the National Journal, the letter "expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction [by Republicans] and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses."

The filibuster won't be eliminated completely and it is not yet clear what specific reforms will be implemented.  However, with rare party unity, it looks like Democrats may make substantive changes that will streamline the process and force Republicans to actually filibuster.  The blueprint for the changes appears to be coming from a proposal by Sen. Jeff Merkley, which as Ezra Klein reports, filibusters "would require continuous debate on the floor of the Senate, and they would only be allowed once the bill is on the floor."  This would be a significant change from what happens now when one party (i.e., Republicans) merely has to threaten to filibuster to stop a bill as long as it musters enough votes to overcome cloture (41 votes to end filibuster debate) without ever having an actual debate.  Klein says that the Democrats also want to reduce the dead time between calling for a vote to break a filibuster and actually taking the vote.

Given the sanctity of Senate rules, the fact that all returning Democrats favor reform shows how truly outrageous the Republicans have been in abusing the current rules to hold the government hostage to their right wing agenda.  CNN confirmed the truth of President Obama's assertion that "You had to cast more votes to break filibusters last year than in the entire 1950s and '60s combined."  Even the Democrats have had enough.  It's about time.

[Related posts:  Vermont's Finest ]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Courting Failure

Goodwin Liu
The Democrats actually used the filibuster effectively to thwart some of George W. Bush's more extreme judicial appointments.  But then they blinked.  In 2005, Republicans threatened to employ the so-called "nuclear option," which would have changed the Senate rules to preclude filibusters for judicial nominees.  Seven Democrats joined seven Republicans to form the "Gang of Fourteen," and signed an agreement in which the Republicans in the gang would not vote for the nuclear option and the Democrats would not filibuster except in "extraordinary circumstances."  In practical terms, this meant that Bush was able appoint the conservatives he wanted to the bench and the Democratic minority, without the seven members of the gang, could not stop him.  Thus, five nominees who had originally been filibustered, and several other conservatives, became federal judges, and, perhaps most significantly, Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court was permitted an up-or-down vote.  He was confirmed by a vote of 58-42, with enough Senators voting against him to have successfully filibustered and prevented a vote on his confirmation.

Which brings us to the current term, in which Republicans, in stark contrast to Democrats during the Bush Administration, have effectively stalled votes and used the threat of filibuster to thwart a record number of nominations.  Notably, Obama's nominees are not mirror images of Bush's right wing picks.  Almost all who have been denied a vote were approved unanimously or nearly unanimously by the Judiciary Committee.  As I previously wrote, Vacant and Lame, Obama and the Democrats have been far too passive in pushing for votes on these judges, most of whom were not controversial, so that as of a week ago there were 38 judges awaiting confirmation.

Now, in the waning days of the session, the Democrats cut another deal that rewards Republican obstructionism.  Republicans have graciously agreed to confirm 19 non-controversial nominees and in exchange Democrats will allow four who Republicans deem are too liberal to lapse.  The others will presumably be renominated next term without any assurance that Republicans, with more Senators, will be any less recalcitrant.

What is most troubling is that the four nominees who the Democrats have agreed to jettison without a fight are hardly radical, and would have been excellent additions to the federal bench.  Goodwin Liu is a particularly bitter loss.  He was nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and is highly regarded in the legal community.  The Times, in a recent editorial, argued that Liu, is an "exceptionally well-qualified law professor and legal scholar who would be the only Asian-American serving as an active judge on the Ninth Circuit," and that "his potential to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy seems to be the main thing fueling Republican opposition to his nomination."

Ed Chen, now a federal magistrate, was nominated to be a district judge in San Francisco.  Opposition to Chen stems from the fact that he was an ACLU attorney before becoming a magistrate, where his work included fighting discrimination against Asian Americans.  The other two district court nominees who were defeated are former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler of Wisconsin and Jack McConnell of Rhode Island.  McConnell, was opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his willingness to represent victims of lead paint poisoning.  Butler was deemed an inappropriate choice because of his rulings that ended compensation limits for medical malpractice victims and allowed poison victims to sue all lead paint manufacturers if they didn’t know which one made them sick.  Butler's decisions so disturbed business interests that they spent $1 million to prevent his reelection to the state supreme court.

As put by Marge Baker of People For the American Way: "It's deeply disappointing that so many qualified nominees will be refused a vote."  As most of those confirmed were approved by the Judiciary Committee unanimously, "winning approval for these19 nominees in the full Senate is a consolation prize at best, especially given the absence of any significant opposition to most of those confirmed."  Furthermore, by capitulating on Butler, McConnell, Liu and Chen, the Democrats "let Republicans block qualified nominees without even putting their opposition on the record."

With a large majority in the Senate, the Democrats allowed Republicans to stymie their tepid efforts to confirm Obama's judicial nominations.  Compounding this failure was President Obama's inexplicable failure to push his worthy, and mostly non-controversial nominees.  Now, in the last days of the lame duck session the Democrats feel compelled to cut a deal in order to fill at least some vacancies on the federal bench.  As Baker contends, "in the next Congress, the White House and Senate leadership have to make judicial nominations a far greater priority and prevent this kind of backlog from building up again. That means calling up nominees and taking cloture votes early and often."

[Related posts:  Active Engagement, Vacant and Lame]

Monday Jumpstart: Devotchka

The Clockwise Witness by Devotchka

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #13

John Coltrane, Tadd Dameron with John Coltrane (1956).  I figured you don't need me to tell you that John Coltrane was one of the greatest and most influential jazz musicians, period.  You also probably don't need me to tell you about his truly incredible albums from the late 1950 to mid-1960s, particularly Blue Train (1957), Giant Steps (1960), My Favorite Things (1961), Ballads (1963), John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963) and Love Supreme (1965).  So, here's one you may not know.  Coltrane recorded Mating Call with pianist Tadd Dameron, who was considered "the most influential arranger of the Bebop era" and was also a brilliant composer.  This session of six Dameron elegant compositions was recorded at the time Coltrane had been playing with in the wonderful Miles Davis Quintet and just before truly launching his solo career with the albums noted above.  It includes the great Philly Joe Jones on drums and John Simmons on bass.  Coltrane is given plenty of space, and he takes full advantage of it.  This album is an overlooked gem.

[Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12]

Friday, December 24, 2010

If It's Christmas It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo . . . (It's Christmas Time)

It's Christmas Time by Yo La Tengo

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Conservatives Hate Government

Historian Rick Perlstein has written an interesting article entitled Enemies of State, in which he explains how "historically, nothing has terrified conservatives so much as efficient, effective, activist government."  As he puts it, Republicans have long understood that "governing well in the interests of the broad majority brings compounding political benefits for the party of government."  "The mortal fear" for Republicans, Perlstein says "is that if government delivers the goods, the Republicans have no future."

This fear turns into hysteria, which we certainly have seen in the portrayal of Obama's mild efforts at regulation and reform as socialist or worse.  Perlstein demonstrates that such propaganda by the right has been pervasive since at at least the1930s.  While originally these "education" efforts were less effective because the organizations behind them were seen for what they were,"extremist and plutocratic," there has been increasing sophistication over time "by which anti-government sentiment severed itself from that taint."  Thus, "the ideology of industrial barons comes no longer to look like the ideology of industrial barons; it becomes popular folk wisdom instead. One word for this development is: 'Reaganism.'” 

More recently, according to Perlstein, "it took the rise of the religious right to devise ways to transmogrify government into an active and existential evil in and of itself. In turn, however, an increasingly sophisticated Washington D.C.-based conservative movement has turned moralistic piety to serve the larger pro-business conservative cause."  What we are left with is that "in the minds of larger and larger segments of the public, government becomes an actively destructive force: always the problem, never a solution."

Living Legends

Bob Feller
Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, died on December 15th, at the age of 92.  In a time before radar guns could measure the speed of a baseball, Feller's fastball raced a speeding motorcycle, and won.  

Feller's death led me to wonder who of the Golden Era of Baseball is still around, and it is quite an impressive list.  Here are the players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame that were born in the 1930s or earlier, and played in the 1950s or earlier (in order of age):
1.  Bobby Doerr.  Born in 1918, the oldest living Hall of Famer.  He was a great hitting and fielding 2nd baseman for Red Sox.
2.  Monte Irvin.  Stellar Negro Leagues player before being signed by the SF Giants.  He didn't play in the majors until he was 30. Irvin was part of the first all-Black outfield, with Mays and Hank Thompson.
3.  Stan Musial.  Stan the Man was one of the greatest hitters ever, somewhat overshadowed because he played his entire career in St. Louis.  He won the MVP 3 times and was an All Star 24 times.  The current great Cardinal Albert Pujols refuses to be called El Hombre out of deference to Musial.  According to Pujols, "Stan is The Man. You can call me whatever else you want, but just don’t call me El Hombre.”
4.  Ralph Kiner.  A powerful home run hitter for the Pirates, Kiner famously said, "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, single hitters drive Fords."  Beloved by Met fans as part of the part of the original broadcasting team, he still makes occasional appearances in the booth. 
5.  Red Schoendienst.  Scrappy, switch-hitting 2nd basemen who mostly played for the Cardinals. I remember him vividly as the Cardinals manager for their great World Series teams of 1967 and 1968.
6.  Yogi Berra. With all of Yogi's famous sayings (although, as he put it, "I really didn't say everything I said"), it is easy to overlook the fact that he was one of the greatest catchers ever to play the game.
7.  Duke Snider.  Although Brooklyn's loyal fans tried to argue that he was the best of the NY center fielders of the era, he comes in third after Mays and Mantle.
8.  Whitey Ford.  Great Yankee pitcher on great Yankee teams.  He has the highest winning percentage of pitchers with at least 300 decisions.
9.  Ernie Banks.  I remember him as a slugging first baseman, but before my time, he was a shortstop who won the NL MVP back-to-back in 1958-1959.  Epitomizing his love of the game is his great quote, "It's a beautiful day for baseball, let's play two."
10.  Willie Mays.  Perhaps the greatest player ever.  I'm sorry I never really saw him in his prime. When he came to the Mets in 1972, he had little left, but he did contribute to the 1973 team that made the World Series.
11.  Jim Bunning.  More recently a crazy Republican Senator from Kentucky, as a pitcher, he won 100 games in each league.
12.  Hank Aaron.  I can till remember sitting on my grandmother's couch in Florida and watching Aaron hitting his 715th homer to pass Babe Ruth.  [more after the break]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: Broken Bells

The High Road by Broken Bells

Crossing the Line: An Update

John Adams
About a month ago, in a blog post entitled Crossing the Line, I wrote about the legal challenge to the Obama Administration's policy of targeting an American citizen for assassination.  The ACLU and CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) brought suit on behalf of the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric with ties to Al Qaeda and allegedly hiding in Yemen.  I was particularly incensed by the criticism of the legal team that brought the lawsuit as having crossed some line by representing a suspected terrorist. 

The judge ultimately dismissed the case without reaching the merits, finding that the father did not have standing to sue.  But it is worth taking note of the New York Times Dec. 12th editorial entitled Judicial Scrutiny Before Death, which argued that despite winning in court, "the administration should remain very worried about the moral implications of its policy," which the district court judge "sharply questioned" despite dismissing the lawsuit.  The Times noted that, as the judge wrote, one of the many unanswered questions remaining is whether "the Executive [can] order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization”

The Times stressed the importance of judicial scrutiny, and suggested creating a court that operates in secrecy, "like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wiretaps on foreign agents inside the United States."  Thus, at minimum, "the government could present its evidence to this court behind closed doors before putting a terror suspect on its target list."  As the Times concluded, "The government may have won this legal battle on technical grounds, but the underlying civil liberties violation is still going on."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Is It Good For?

Ambassador Trentino:  I am willing to do anything to prevent this war.
Rufus T. Firefly:  It's too late. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield. 
 -- The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup
With all the fighting going on in Washington, recall that straight and gay men and women are risking their lives in a real war in Afghanistan.  Last Thursday, President Obama tried to appear upbeat as he spoke to the press after release of the annual strategic review of the war, but there were plenty of caveats.  Obama said that there has been "significant progress," but "this continues to be a difficult endeavor."  He asserted that the war is “on track” toward achieving its military and political goals, but acknowledged that that progress was coming “slowly and at a very high price” for the Americans fighting there.  The report's assessment maintained that Obama's troop surge has "arrested" the "momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years," but cautioned that "these gains remain fragile and reversible."

David Corn writes in Obama's Afghan Tightrope Walk, that the President has put himself in a difficult position by "selling the war as critical for US national security, while assuring the public that the end game will begin soon."  In terms of the latter, Obama tried to minimize our efforts as merely trying to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda, rather than nation build, with the ultimate goal of handing the job over to the Afghans by 2014.  But, as Patrick Cockburn reports, according to a recent CIA assessment, large parts of Afghanistan are in danger of falling to the Taliban, and Pakistan continues to provide the Taliban secret support by allowing them to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven.  Corn notes that the so-called minimalist approach outlined by Obama and Secretary Gates, includes the daunting task of establishing functioning local governments in nearly 400 districts to counter the Taliban, and "is still costing the United States over $100 billion a year and entailing the deployment of well over 100,000 troops."  It really isn't minimalist at all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What Krugman Said

Paul Krugman has a typically great column today, When Zombies Win, in which he puzzles over how the conservative myths and failed economic policies of the recent past -- less big government, less government spending, less federal regulation and more tax cuts -- have gained credence again:
Part of the answer, surely, is that people who should have been trying to slay zombie ideas have tried to compromise with them instead. And this is especially, though not only, true of the president . . . [who] has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing myths.  He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.

None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways that can do quite immediate harm. Right now Mr. Obama is hailing the tax-cut deal as a boost to the economy — but Republicans are already talking about spending cuts that would offset any positive effects from the deal. And how effectively can he oppose these demands, when he himself has embraced the rhetoric of belt-tightening?  Yes, politics is the art of the possible. We all understand the need to deal with one’s political enemies. But it’s one thing to make deals to advance your goals; it’s another to open the door to zombie ideas. When you do that, the zombies end up eating your brain — and quite possibly your economy too.

Buzz Kill

Rep. John Boehner
The repeal of DADT is no small victory.  It took enormous effort and skill to overcome the forces of discrimination, divisiveness, bigotry and ignorance in the Senate.  Unfortunately, with every step forward, it seems that Congress has to take a step or two backwards.  The DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for a few hundred thousand young people brought here illegally as children, failed to pass.  Despite a 55-41 majority in favor of the bill, unified Republicans (with 3 defectors), abetted by five scurrilous Democrats, prevented an up-or-down vote.  Republicans also blocked a vote on the Zadroga 9/11 Heath and Compensation Act, which would have provided health benefits and compensation to 9/11 rescue workers.  And so far, only four of 38 pending judicial nominations have been confirmed.  (And, as previously noted, the Democrats caved on the Obama tax cut compromise and were blindsided by Republican refusal to vote for the Omnibus Spending Bill.)

None of this should be controversial.  The DREAM Act initially had bi-partisan support, having been introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch.  As for the Zadroga bill, Jon Stewart brilliantly skewered the hypocrisy of Republicans for having endlessly exploited 9/11 for their own ends, and then preventing a vote on providing health monitoring and financial aid to sick 9/11 workers.  Republicans (with the help of Democratic ineptness) have stalled confirmation of judicial nominations despite the fact that many sailed through the Judiciary Committee by unanimous or nearly unanimous votes.

The Democrats deserve credit for their dogged and savvy maneuvering in repealing DADT.  It is very unfortunate that, with majorities in both houses, they failed to use the same resourcefulness throughout the term, and particularly in these past weeks to get other important work done.  Filibuster reform is critical to change the climate in Washington, but Democrats still have to be a lot smarter and more aggressive to counter an increasingly extremist opposition that, as this lame duck session has proven, refuses to govern unless it will be politically beneficial to their party. 

[Related posts: Strange Bedfellows, Piercing the Earmark Charade, No Se PuedeLame and Lamer, Vacant and Lame, This Should Be Easy]

Monday Jumpstart: The Shout Out Louds

Walls by The Shout Out Louds

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #12

Kenny Dorham, Quiet Kenny (1959).  Dorham was a famously underrated trumpet player.  He has been described as "an eloquent, soulful player with a beautifully understated tone," and Quiet Kenny is Dorham at his best.  The album, with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Art Taylor on drums, is a great set of standards and original compositions.  It starts off with Dorham's great bop composition Lotus Blossom and ends with a swinging version of Mack the Knife, with some great ballads and blues in between.  For a less quiet, more swinging set, try his 1961 album, Whistle Stop, with the great Hank Mobley on saxophone.

[Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11]

Corporate Takeover: An Update

 Back in October I wrote in a post, Corporate Takeover, about a study by the Constitutional Accountability Center, which concluded that the current conservative majority is significantly more likely to favor corporate interests than the most pro-corporate member of the Court twenty-five years ago.  A front page article in today's Times by Adam Liptak, Justices Offer Receptive Ear to Business Interests, cites this study, as well as a new one by scholars at Northwestern and the University of Chicago, which analyzed decisions since 1953 and concluded "that the a percentage of business cases on the Supreme Court docket has grown in the Roberts years, as has the percentage of cases won by business interests." 

The Times' article details the various influences on the Court that have led to this result, and does a particularly effective job in demonstrating the the role played by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in getting the Court to hear business cases and to rule in favor of business interests.  Remarkably, however, the article ignores the Justices themselves and their active involvement in conservative and  pro-corporate causes.  This allows Liptak to conclude that despite the studies' numbers, "determining whether the Supreme Court is 'pro-business or anti-business' can be difficult."

Hardly.  In Activist Judges, I wrote about Justice Samuel Alito attending a major fundraising event for the notorious right wing magazine American Spectator.  As ThinkProgress reported, Alito was also the headliner at its annual gala in 2008, and has been involved in other fundraising events for conservative groups.  I also cited a ThinkProgress report that "Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have also attended secret political fundraisers."  Such activities would have violated the Code of Conduct for United States Judges except for the fact that the Justices have exempted themselves from these ethical rules which govern other federal judges.  Nevertheless, the Justices' participation in activities supporting these conservative groups calls into serious question their impartiality, and undermines the notion suggested in the Times article that the statistics do not conclusively establish the pro-business leanings of the present Court.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Strange Bedfellows

Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford in The Frisco Kid
“We’ve come to a point in our history, I hope, where neither race nor religion, ethnicity, or gender, or sexual orientation should deprive Americans of serving the country as the patriots they are.”  -- Sen. Joe Lieberman
"Today is a very sad day. . . When your life hangs on the line you don't want anything distracting it. Mistakes or inattention or distraction cost Marines' lives. I don't want to permit that opportunity to happen . . . "  -- Sen. John McCain

By a vote of 65-31, the Senate voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, finally ending a 17-year old policy that forced gays and lesbians who wished to serve our country and put their lives on the line to stay in the closet.  Under DADT, 14,000 members of the armed forces had been forced to leave the ranks.  After the filibuster on repealing DADT was broken, President Obama lauded the Senate for taking this "historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend."

I have loathed Joe Lieberman ever since Al Gore decided he needed to counter Clinton's sleaze by choosing this sanctimonious windbag as a running mate.  He was an awful VP candidate who played a significant role in Gore's failed strategy on the Florida recount.  Since then I have come to despise him even more.  Among other things, he was a staunch supporter for the Iraq war, outspoken and influential in opposing filibusters of Bush's controversial judicial nominees, and a tireless campaigner for John McCain in the 2008 election.  He also helped to undermine more expansive health care reform.  But, I've got to give Lieberman a lot of credit for his strong and skillful efforts to end DADT.  As Greg Sargent points out, he prodded moderate Republicans to come on board, kept the process moving, made critical public statements supporting repeal, and went a long way to counter the nonsense of his good friend John McCain.

McCain, on the other hand, is a pathetic bigot.  He was the most vocal opponent of repealing DADT in the Senate.  First, he said he needed to wait until the military brass supported repeal, and when they did, he needed to wait for the Pentagon's internal study; and when that the study demonstrated that most servicemembers are indifferent to gays and lesbians openly serving, this still wasn't good enough.  At this point, the great patriot and former military man threatened to filibuster the defense spending bill if the amendment repealing DADT wasn't stripped from the bill.  When DADT repeal became a stand alone bill, he continued to make completely specious and incoherent arguments that barely disguised his homophobia. His final nonsensical rant was that repeal would cost lives because having openly gay comrades would be distracting in combat.

For once we can celebrate that Congress did the right thing by defeating John McCain and the forces of discrimination.  The next thing we must do to honor these brave Americans is to bring them and their straight fellow servicemembers home.

[Related posts:  Holy @#$%^!, Lame and Lamer, What's With Arizona, More on DADT, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Be Lame]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Piercing the Earmark Charade

The Republicans defeated the Omnibus Spending Bill, ostensibly over earmarks, which comprise less than 1% of the bill, hundreds of millions of dollars of which were requested by Republicans themselves. Of course, the issue really isn't earmarks.  A temporary funding bill now has to be passed, putting off spending issues until the next Congress, when Republicans will have more leverage to gut social programs, which as Greg Sargent points out, is what they are really after.  It is refreshing to see the mainstream media call out the Republicans as hypocrites on earmarks, as the video below shows.  It would be better still if they would explain to the public what is behind the hypocrisy.

Code Pink

Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel Clerk: No.
Clouseau: [bows down to pet dog] Nice doggie.
[Dog barks and bites Clouseau on the hand]
Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.

-- The Pink Panther Strikes Again

Blake Edwards died on December 15th at the age of 88.  Pauline Kael has described his "love of free-for-all lunacy," and that was certainly evident in the great Pink Panther movies he directed and co-wrote, which starred Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau.  I particularly love the first three in the series:  The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), and The Return of the Pink Panther (1975).  The next two, The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), are fun and have some great moments, but they are a little over the top, even for me.  (Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) made after Sellers death with footage from earlier film doesn't really count).

The first three are simply brilliant, with A Shot in the Dark being the best of them all.  These movies are slapstick at its best, with gag after gag involving a combination of physical mayhem and verbal absurdity.  Sellers is oblivious as he blunders from one scene to the next, mangling phrases in his preposterous French accent, and turning the most innocuous situations into comically disastrous ones for himself and everyone around him.  It is nothing short of genius.  What is so compelling, I think, is how he valiantly tries to maintain his dignity by refusing to acknowledge the damage he has wrought, and then, against all odds, he somehow foils the bad guys in the end.  Edwards described wanting to create the character of Clouseau  as "a real clumsy, accident-prone, well-intentioned, but idiotic character," and decided that the one thing that could make him succeed was having him never give up: "He never figured he could lose, never figured that he could fail."

So, here's to Blake Edwards for giving us such unforgettably hilarious scenes, like this one from Return of the Pink Panther :

[A beggar sits in front of a bank playing an accordion. There is a monkey sitting next to him as Inspector Clouseau walks up.]
Clouseau: Do you have a le-sanz (license)?
Beggar: What?
Clouseau: City ordinance 147-B prohibits the playing of any musical instrument in a public place for the purpose of commercial enterprise without a proper le-sanz.
Beggar: I don't understand.
Clouseau: It is against the leu (law) for you to play your musical instrument.
Beggar: Leu?
Clouseau: What?
Beggar: You say, it's against the leu?
Clouseau: Yes. Unless you have a proper le-sanz.
Beggar: What kind of license?
Clouseau: A le-sanz that permits the playing of any musical instrument in a public place for the purpose of commercial enterprise.
Beggar: Commercial enterprise?
Clouseau: Yes. You play that thing and people give you the muhnay (money).
Beggar: People give the monkey the money.
Clouseau: It is the same.
Beggar: Oh, no. I am a musician and the monkey is a businessman. He doesn't tell me what to play, and I don't tell him what to do with his money.
[Through the window of the bank, you can see that it is being robbed].. . .
Clouseau: Then the minkey's (monkey's) breaking the leu.
Beggar: But he doesn't play any musical instrument.
Clouseau: City ordinance 132-R prohibits the begging.
Beggar: How do you know so much about city ordinances?
Clouseau: What sort of stupid question is that? Are you blind?
Beggar: Yes.
[Clouseau is subsequently questioned by his boss, Inspector Dreyfus]
Dreyfus: The beggar was the lookout man for the gang.
Clouseau: That is impossible. How can a blind man be a lookout?
Dreyfus: How can an idiot be a police officer?
Clouseau: Well, all he has to do is enlist...
Dreyfus: Shut up! 

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo (With a Girl Like You & Our Way to Fall)

This is from a video from La Blogotheque.  YLT first performs a cover of the Troggs' With A Girl Like You before doing Our Way to Fall

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Co-Equal But Separate: An Update

A Supreme Court spokesperson has confirmed that Justice Scalia has accepted Rep. Bachmann's invitation to speak at a Conservative Constitutional Seminar for the new class of conservative members of Congress.  I was being facetious when I suggested in my post below that perhaps Scalia should teach about the Separation of Powers.  Turns out this is precisely what he will talk about.  Who needs The Onion?

Co-equal But Separate, Right?

This comes from Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose grip on reality is somewhat tenuous, but, for what it's worth, she told Lou Dobbs that the incoming conservative members of Congress will be taught a course on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  According to Bachmann, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has "graciously agreed to kick off [the] class."  Now, there is no question that these folks have a lot to learn about the Constitution, but having a sitting justice of the Supreme Court school members of the legislature on constitutional interpretation is pretty disturbing.  Maybe the first session should be about the separation of powers.

Lethal Life Savers

"You guys in Arizona are life savers. Buy you a beer next time I get that way."
--  Scott Kernan, CDCR undersecretary, to deputy director of AZ Dept. of Corrections upon receiving 12 gms of sodium thiopental for Albert Brown's execution.

 As has been widely reported, there is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the lethal injection "cocktail," which has caused a crisis for states determined to carry out executions.  In late September, California officials rushed to execute Albert Brown before the October 1st expiration date on California's last dose of the drug.  Executions had been stayed in California since 2006, while litigation over the myriad problems with the lethal injection protocol was proceeding.  When it was disclosed that the motivation for abruptly seeking an execution date for Brown and short circuiting the lethal injection case was concern over the drug's expiration date, the federal courts halted the execution

Hospira, the only U.S. company that manufactures sodium thiopental, made clear that they could not produce more of the drug until 2011, but California admitted subsequent to the cancellation of Brown's execution that they had obtained additional quantities that did not have a lapsed expiration date.  This spurred the ACLU of Northern California to file a lawsuit to obtain records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) about its acquisition of the drug, and on December 8, they received many of the requested documents.

What the documents reveal is the unseemly portrayal of government officials acting like drug addicts in desperate need of a fix.  Beginning in August 2010, as reported in the Washington Post, "California prison officials went on a frantic two-month search."  They called almost 100 hospitals without success, and sought the drug from Texas authorities who refused to part with their ample stock.  Then they "scoured the globe," even searching for a source in Pakistan.

State officials finally found a trading partner in Arizona, who agreed to give them 12 grams.  An AP article summarized the deal that went down.  An Arizona warden provided a California prison official 24 vials of sodium thiopental, and the agent then drove to southern California where he handed the vials to another prison official, who transported the drugs to San Quentin Prison, where the death chamber is located.  By the time the drugs were obtained, however, the Brown execution had been called off.  (The documents also show that California subsequently acquired 521 grams of the drug manufactured by Archimedes Pharma of Great Britain, although that shipment is currently being held on the East Coast pending clearance from the FDA).

Unfortunately, because several documents have been redacted we still don't know all the people or companies involved in this grotesque business.  Another unanswered question is why the rush to execute Albert Brown.  Brown is one of about a half-dozen men who have lost challenges to their death sentences in state and federal court and who, assuming an adverse outcome in the lethal injection litigation, will have run out of legal remedies, barring a grant of clemency or some other eleventh hour reprieve.  It is difficult to understand why the state couldn't simply wait until the lethal injection case was fully resolved and a new batch of drugs was obtained through the U.S. manufacturer sometime in early 2011.  A spokesperson for the prison stated that "we have always said we were actively seeking a new supply of sodium thiopental," but this response does not explain the frenzied worldwide search.

In a recent post, I discussed an important essay written by former Supreme Court Justice Stevens in the New York Review of Books, On the Death Sentence.  Stevens explained that the death penalty persists largely because of political and cultural forces.  The New York Times, in a recent editorial, agreed with Justice Stevens that these are "'woefully inadequate justifications" for the death penalty.

With regard to politics, the election in California of a slate of Democrats who personally oppose the death penalty shows what little resonance remains of the bumper sticker argument that being tough on crime requires being staunchly pro-death penalty.  That leaves the cultural power demonstrated by America's appetite for violence and revenge.  This phenomenon, however, has been tempered by the fact that, as outgoing Chief Justice Ronald George conceded, the death penalty in California is dysfunctional.  As the death row population tops 700, while questions persist about race, innocence and fair application of the death penalty, and the reality about the enormous cost of resolving all of these cases in times of budgetary crisis becomes clear, the ambivalence about, if not downright opposition to, capital punishment in California is growing. 

Whether it was in service to a cynical and misguided political calculation or an increasingly tenuous cultural imperative, what we are left with is the spectacle of California officials in a mad scramble to obtain lethal drugs from anywhere it can to ensure that an execution it hastily scheduled could go forward.  How shameful.  The state's addiction to state killing is nothing more than, as the Times put it, a "brutal anachronism."  It is time to end it.

[Related posts:  Evolving Justice, Hide and Seek, Drug Problem, Banality of Evil, Tough on Crime]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holy @#$%^&*!

The 111th Congress will last through January 3, 2011, and there is a lot left to do, including ratifying the START treaty, repealing DADT, passing the DREAM Act and the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and confirming some of the more than 30 judicial nominees that have passed the Judicary Committee.  I have certainly had to cancel vacations because of the exigencies of my work as have people in countless other professions, so I don't get what the big deal is about working through the holidays.  Maybe it is because I am not of the Christian faith, but I find it thoroughly baffling that it is considered unreasonable, indeed, sacrilegious, to suggest that Congress work past Christmas to get their work done. 

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to call the Senate back after Christmas, Sen. John Kyl protested that Reid was "disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians."  Sen. Jim DeMint said that it would be "sacrilegious" for the Senate to hold a vote on the START treaty in the days just before Christmas.  After feeling compelled to assure everyone that he was a good Christian, and that he did not need to be reminded "of the importance of Christmas for all of the Christian faith, for all their families, all across America," Reid responded, "where were their concerns about Christmas [when they were posing] filibuster after filibuster of every piece of legislation during this entire Congress?"  Indeed.

It might not be for me to say, but it would seem that the "Christian thing" for Congress to do would be to do whatever it takes to make the country safer, provide equal rights for gays and lesbians, ensure a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children, provide health care for 9/11 workers who became ill, and ameliorate the vacancies that are plaguing the federal court system.  So, for Christ's sake, take Christmas off and go to church, but then get back to work.

[Related posts:   Vermont's Finest, Lame and Lamer, Vacant and Lame, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Be Lame, Does the GOP Want to Destroy the Country In Order to Save It?]

The Media and the Message

On Monday night, Rachel Maddow made a great point, in my view, about the "Beltway Press" as she calls it, or "The Villagers," as it is referred to derisively in the lefty blogosphere.  Maddow played extended clips from Bernie Sanders' filibuster, during which he forcefully made reasonable, persuasive and well-documented arguments about the gross unfairness of the tax cut deal, providing a statistical analysis of the growing income disparity in this country, demonstrating the falsity of the Republican contention that tax cuts for the wealthy will create jobs, and undermining the misleading claims about who is covered by the estate tax.  Maddow then explained that notwithstanding the important things Sanders had to say, the media ignored the substance and instead focused on the fact that this quirky old man ranted for over 8-1/2 hours on the Senate  floor. As she put it:
We've seen this happen again and again and again. Whenever liberals become central to U.S. policies, become central to U.S, politics, the beltway media that's responsible for covering what happens in Washington, loses their ability to stay focused enough on what liberals are saying that they stop covering the debate itself, and instead cover the facts that liberals are complaining about something. And they do it in a generic way that helps you understand nothing of the real debate.

[Related posts:  Vermont's Finest, Anger Management, No Se Puede, Lame and Lamer, Let's Make a Deal]

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: Radiohead

Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead @ 1997.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Co-equal But Separate, Right?

This comes from Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose grip on reality is somewhat tenuous, but, for what it's worth, she told Lou Dobbs that the incoming conservative members of Congress will be taught a course on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  According to Bachmann, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has "graciously agreed to kick off [the] class."  Now, there is no question that these folks have a lot to learn about the Constitution, but having a sitting justice of the Supreme Court school members of the legislature on constitutional interpretation is pretty disturbing.  Maybe the first session should be about the separation of powers.

You Never Know

Mookie Wilson
So, the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, and now possess what promises to be one of the greatest pitching rotations in history (Lee, Roy Halliday, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels).  This doesn't mean the Phillies will beat out the Mets or anyone else next season.  The beauty of baseball is that with 162 games, anything can happen. To paraphrase former pitcher Joaquin Andujar, "there is one word in [baseball] that says it all, and that one word is, 'You never know.'''  At least the Yankees didn't get him, and besides, the Mets did sign Mookie Wilson to be their first base coach.

Engaged Activism or Active Engagement?

After the watered down version of health care reform was signed into law, the right blathered on about the act's unconstitutionality, and several Republican Attorneys General filed lawsuits.  After fourteen of these cases were dismissed, including two which rejected on the merits (as opposed to procedural grounds) that the law was unconstitutional, Judge Henry E. Hudson, a federal district judge in Virginia, held that the individual mandate requirement of the act is unconstitutional.  Putting aside the fact that the issue could have been avoided had health care reform included a public option (and that the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea), Judge Hudson's decision offers a prime example of the new judicial activism.

According to Judge Hudson, who was appointed by George W. Bush, requiring Americans to obtain health insurance exceeded the regulatory authority granted to Congress under the Constitution's Commerce Clause.  Judge Hudson's ruling appears to be deeply flawed (Yale law professor Jack Balkin describes the opinion as "pure sophistry"), but that may not matter given that the case will move to the ideologically conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and then, most likely, to the Supreme Court.

As I have previously written, Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan have aggressively pushed for the appointment of extremely conservative judges – i.e., politically conservative, not conservative by judicial temperament -- while Democrats have been less focused on ensuring the appointment of liberal nominees or blocking extreme right wing Republican nominees.  This has resulted in a sea change in the federal courts, which now boast a strong majority of Republicans.  As we have seen with Judge Hudson's health care ruling, the implications for public policy are dire.

Emblematic of conservative Republican judges, Judge Hudson, as the Washington Post previously reported, has long been active in Republican politics.  He even owns a large share of a Republican consulting firm.  But despite Hudson's conservatism and political activism, his nomination sailed through the Senate where he was approved by voice vote in August 2002.  (In a stark contrast, there are currently 34 pending judicial nominees who have already been approved by the Judiciary Committee but have been stalled by Senate Republicans).

Which brings us to the meaning of judicial activism.  Judicial activism has been described as "legislating from the bench," and reaching rulings that substitute a judge's personal views for those of the democratically elected branches of government.  Republicans have long condemned as judicial activist rulings they did not like, particularly those that have upheld rights of criminal defendants and civil plaintiffs, and protected privacy and individual liberty.  But now that they can claim a large majority of the judiciary, they have embraced judicial activism, although they won't call it that.  Thus, as E.J. Dionne has written, conservative judges are overturning "decisions made by democratically elected bodies in areas such as pay discrimination, school integration, antitrust laws and worker safety regulation."  The current Supreme Court, as the Times wrote back in 2007 uses judicial activism in service of conservative ideology.  And, as Dionne put it,"[i]f anyone doubted that the Supreme Court's current conservative majority wants to impose its view no matter what Congress or state legislatures decide -- or what earlier precedents held -- its decision in the Citizens United case should end all qualms."

A couple of weeks ago, conservative columnist George Will, anticipating Judge Hudson's decision, argued that holding the health care reform's individual mandate requirement unconstitutional should not be considered judicial activism.  Will attempted to distinguish the judicial activist, who he claims "creates rights not specified or implied by the Constitution" and what he calls the "engaged judge," who "defends rights the Framers actually placed there and prevents the elected branches from usurping the judiciary's duty to declare what the Constitution means."  What a relief.  I was worried that Judge Hudson's unprincipled and result-oriented ruling was a product of judicial activism.  It turns out that unlike the 14 other federal judges that rejected similar challenges to the health care law, Judge Hudson was merely acting engaged.

[Related posts:  Vacant and Lame, Corporate Takeover, Activist Judges,