Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Women's de-lib

The Supreme Court made an amazingly short-sighted decision today.

The justices, voting 5-4, rejected a $360,000 award to Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. worker who said that almost two decades of discrimination meant her salary was 15 to 40 percent lower than what her male counterparts earned.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act typically gives workers 180 days from the time of the alleged discrimination to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236.

$550 is quite a disparity, and I don't buy into the argument that a "poor performance evaluation" caused her to be paid less than the lowest-earning male counterpart, especially one with less seniority. But, of course, that's not the provocation for the five justices (including the wretched Samuel Alito, who replaced Sandra Day O'Connor) making that decision. No, they stuck to the "letter" of the Civil Rights Act, saying that since the 180-day deadline had passed, Ms. Ledbetter's statute of limitations had expired and thus she was not eligible for any remuneration.

How could she have discovered the disparity within the time frame that she was still an employee? When was the last time any employee ever went around to his or her fellow employees and compared their salaries? As far as I know, that's still considered a very rude and over-reaching question. And I know of no set procedure, elaborated by any federal or state government, in place to assist workers in investigating incommensurate wages. You face your evaluation and you accept what you get, or you can leave. To me, that posits the final frontier for discriminatory practices, precisely because there's no oversight in that area and no recourse for any potentially wronged employee.

As some have noted, apparently Congress can change the language of the statute to close up that loophole. If Congress can't stop this war, they at least have it within themselves to eradicate legal wiggle room for corporate miscreants.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dangerously wrong.

From a Seattle P-I article about a gang of protesters dressed in prison outfits and wearing mascot heads of Bush, Cheney, and others:
But not everyone finds the costumes humorous. Nadine Gulit, a spokeswoman for the local group Operation Support Our Troops, has seen the chain gang at protests in the Seattle area, and she believes the demonstrators are in poor taste.

"They're very offensive for anyone," Gulit said. "They're wasting their time ... They don't seem to realize that Bush is a soldier, too. He's our commander in chief."
Uhm, no, Nadine. No matter how well he plays dress-up, George W. Bush is not a soldier, he's a civilian. Elected, civilian leadership of the military is one of the most important principles of our government; it helps ensure the people will control the military, and not vice versa.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Changing the status quo won't happen in a heartbeat

The upset over the "cave" on the Iraq war spending issue is pretty much reaching a climax, which is understandable. The Democrats have done a dodge-spin-parry on the issue of timetables for withdrawal in favor of fostering domestic spending, a prospect that sets Republicans' teeth on edge:

The bill includes the nearly $100 billion that President Bush requested for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as billions in domestic spending, including $6.4 billion in hurricane relief and $3 billion in agricultural assistance.

Republicans were unhappy about the added domestic spending, but said they were relieved the final measure did not attempt to set a timetable on the war.

While this is not an excuse, I can almost understand their logic. Bush and the Republican party have abandoned our country's infrastructure pretty heavily. The Democrats moved into Congress with all the glassy-eyed shock of a homeowner discovering his house is built on a sinkhole and is loaded with termites, bad plumbing, toxic mold and hazardous electrical wiring. Oh, and the roof's missing.

So they're going from room to room, picking up assorted trash, figuring that will help until the roofers finally become available (hopefully) on January 20, 2009. No, we really can't wait that long, but better late than never, right?

All right. This is business as usual. And believe it or not, this isn't being said in a pox-on-both-your-houses way. It's the way the status quo feels the game has to be played when your opponent won't abide by the rules. It's probably also the way they feel when the right wing is defining all the terms in the corporate media. (Blow Job Bill is going to be such a strain on Hillary, haven't you heard? This is important!)

However, the victory of getting the House and the Senate to fund some badly needed domestic relief is not enough for throwing billions of dollars and thousands of lives down a rathole. Perhaps we should thank them for their concern for the needy in America, and then shout in their ears "BUT WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?!" That's our function. Support the positive aspects, and then directly, firmly, and constantly, force their hand with our combined strength. We're the coalition that funds the ideals of the Democratic party. We're not the "left"; we are the people. And we have a long slog to take over from the unconcerned rich, the overfunded religious zealots, and the mindless sheep. This is our only house, so we have to work hard to fix it.

Markos put it pretty well:

I have news for you guys -- this won't be the last disappointment we'll ever suffer. Heck, politics is about perpetually fighting battles, and no one -- no one -- has an undefeated record....

That doesn't mean 'stop being angry'. It means, 'stand tough and fight back'.

Democrats are weak and spineless

Apparently, Congressional Democrats decided they'd better totally cave in to Bush on war funding, stripping timelines out of the funding bill, because otherwise Big Scary George Bush would have--gasp!--called them names.

From the New York Times, by way of TPM Cafe, which has some great commentary on the matter:

Democrats said they did not relish the prospect of leaving Washington for a Memorial Day break — the second recess since the financing fight began — and leaving themselves vulnerable to White House attacks that they were again on vacation while the troops were wanting. That criticism seemed more politically threatening to them than the anger Democrats knew they would draw from the left by bowing to Mr. Bush.

So let me get this straight.

Bush is now the least popular and least trusted president since Nixon. A huge majority of the country wants out of his war. (In fact, a substantial majority wishes the Bush presidency were "just over.") The Democrats, last year, seized power precisely because Republicans ran on "the Democrats are weak on security and don't support the troops" and got creamed.

Did I miss something? Have we stepped into some kind of time warp where it's still 2003, and all Bush has to do is swagger and call Democrats names and everybody will swoon and vote Republican? Because if not, this is moronic.

And...I'm sorry..."the left"? A large majority wants the war ended. I'm getting really sick of everyone--Democrats, Republicans, the media--acting as if war opposition is a "left wing" position. It's a majority position. So, basically, Democrats are afraid that if they don't defy the will of the majority and capitulate to a president the majority loathes, the majority will think they're weak because the guy they loathe said so.

If that makes no sense to you, welcome to my nightmare. Grow a spine, Democrats. This is really important. Also, maybe you need new calendars, because it's not 2003.

Review: The ½ Hour News Hour

Last night I watched The ½ Hour News Hour. This is Fox News Channel's answer to The Daily Show. I'd previously panned the pilot, as did many critics, but you should never really judge a show by its pilot. I gave it another chance. It still sucks.

Now, some people will think I didn't like it because it's right-wing, but I can laugh at stuff I don't agree with politically. I find The Savage Nation laugh-out-loud funny, for example. (Granted, the humor there is largely unintentional, but trust me, if Michael Savage were doing exactly the same show but intending it as parody, he'd be a comedy genius.) The ½ Hour News Hour didn't make me laugh. It didn't offend me, either. It just bored me.

Part of the problem is the cast. The anchors don't sell the news show concept; instead of acting like real news anchors, which should be part of the joke, they self-consciously ham up the punchlines and wag their eyebrows at the audience. If this makes you think of SNL's Weekend Update, you've got the right idea.

The main problem here, though, is the writing. The jokes are mostly lame one-liner zingers. The best sketch in the entire show, a fake commercial for a "Road to Surrender commemorative plate set," is just a rehashing of a tired conservative talking point. What makes The Daily Show engaging is there are real insights underlying the humor. It makes you look at politics and the media in a different light. There's none of that here. There's also none of The Daily Show's pointed media criticism, and it's missed -- Jon Stewart skewers other media personalities even more often than he skewers Republicans, and his show is much better for it.

Okay, so the sketch comedy is awful. The show could have recovered from that if it had something else to offer -- guest interviews, or maybe Daily Show-style field correspondents talking to unsuspecting lefties. But there's none of that here. Just awful news one-liners interspersed with awful sketches.

Look, there are funny conservatives out there. Fox needs to go find them and get them to rescue this piece of junk. What's P.J. O'Rourke doing these days?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The sinking bipartisan ship

It seems to me like much of the Washington establishment fetishizes bipartisanship for its own sake. Like the absurd notion of a "unity" ticket in 2008, premised, apparently, on the idea that after six years of war, lies, mismanagement, and malignant neglect of pretty much every really serious matter in the world, our biggest problem is that Democrats and Republicans aren't being nice enough to each other.

Or like how David Broder, the "dean" of the Washington press corps (a word I'm always tempted to spell with a silent e in this context), glowed with praise for the Iraq Study Group before they'd even issued their report, not in anticipation of any Iraq solutions he thought they were going to propose, but because both Democrats and Republicans were involved, and therefore it was a victory for bipartisanship. That whole little matter of stopping a misguided war...that was creepily secondary.

What I'd assumed all along about this was probably not very charitable: that much of the press establishment is more concerned with harmony at their cocktail parties than with the business of the country.

But...David Ignatius in the Washington Post writes that...

The wild cards in this new effort to craft a bipartisan Iraq policy are the Republican and Democratic leaders, President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They both say they want a sustainable, effective Iraq policy, but each is deeply entrenched in a partisan version of what that policy should be. America is in a nosedive in Iraq. Can these two leaders share the controls enough that Iraq will become a U.S. project, rather than George Bush's war? There's a bipartisan path out of this impasse, but will America's leaders be wise enough to take it?

This is really kind of staggering, isn't it? For one thing, he suggests that the current attempt by George Bush to run out the clock in Iraq until the end of his term, by repackaging strategies that have already failed, is some sort of honest attempt to reach "bipartisan" middle ground. As if the Bush administration had not spent the last six years acting as if Democrats were a communicable disease.

And Ignatius equates Bush's insistence on staying in Iraq forever with Pelosi's attempts to stop him from doing that (inadequate though they may be thus far), and reduces the ideological clash--which, bear in mind, is about life and death--to a matter of "partisanship." People in one party want to do one thing, people in the other party want to do another thing, and they haven't found some middle ground they can agree on; therefore, to Ignatius, the problem must be excessive partisanship, to which the solution is always bipartisanship, and then everything will be just fine.

So it's not just that they want bipartisanship because that makes their cocktail parties less hostile. Ignatius, at least, seems to want bipartisanship because he thinks it's a magic bullet. Partisanship is always the cause of every problem, and bipartisanship is always the solution.

Personally I think that's asinine. If a Republican tries to take my lunch money and a Democrat stops him, that's "partisan strife." If the two of them decide to team up and take my lunch money together, that's "bipartisanship."

It comes down to this, really: if both parties are going to conduct themselves with even a modicum of reason and good faith, it's always worth trying to find solutions everyone can more or less get behind. But when one party goes criminally insane, the other party is not obligated to meet them halfway. Personally, I'd really prefer they didn't.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The rats flee

One of the more maddening features of the Bush presidency is that a lot of very smart people (and no, I am not being sarcastic) in the media have seemed for a very time not to get what was happening. They're sometimes critical of individual things Bush does, but overall they seemed to miss the fact that there was something rotten at the core of this presidency, and to dismiss anyone who suggested there was as "shrill" and "extreme."

So I think it's significant that the recent testimony of former Deputy Attorney General Comey prompted former Bush apologist David Broder to write this during an online question and answer session:

The president clearly thought and acted as if he were above the law, or could bend it completely to his will. What happened was sickening, appalling on all the levels you describe.

Also, it prompted the Washington Post, Broder's employer and an outlet that has long enabled Bush's excesses by excusing or dismissing them, to editorialize:

Why is it only now that the disturbing story of the Bush administration's willingness to override the legal advice of its own Justice Department is emerging? The chief reason is that the administration, in the person of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, stonewalled congressional inquiries and did its best to ensure that the shameful episode never came to light.

I wonder if we're seeing a sea change in the media, one that might in turn lead Democrats to more vigorously pursue, and the public to support, actual consequences for the simply inexcusable behavior of this simply inexcusable administration. A bird can hope.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It's another Watergate every day with these bloody people

And I do mean "bloody" in the literal sense.

To recap former Deputy Attorney General Comey's testimony:

(i) he, OLC and the AG concluded that the NSA program was not legally defensible, i.e., that it violated FISA and that the Article II argument OLC had previously approved was not an adequate justification (a conclusion prompted by the New AAG, Jack Goldsmith, having undertaken a systematic review of OLC's previous legal opinions regarding the Commander in Chief's powers);

(ii) the White House nevertheless continued with the program anyway, despite DOJ's judgment that it was unlawful;

(iii) Comey, Ashcroft, the head of the FBI (Robert Mueller) and several other DOJ officials therefore threatened to resign;

(iv) the White House accordingly -- one day later -- asked DOJ to figure out a way the program could be changed to bring it into compliance with the law (presumably on the AUMF authorizaton theory); and

(v) OLC thereafter did develop proposed amendments to the program over the subsequent two or three weeks, which were eventually implemented.

Leaving aside, for now, the jaw-droppingly sordid tale of Bush trying to get a drugged-up and hospitalized John Ashcroft to sign off on a program he had already said he would never sign off on...people, this is pretty much the dictionary definition of an impeachable offense. I would say almost certainly not the only one Bush has committed...but now we have sworn Congressional testimony from one of Bush's own high political appointees at Justice to the effect that the president knowingly committed an impeachable offense, for years, despite the fact that most of his own Justice Department was so convinced it was illegal they were prepared to resign en masse.

And yet, it's taken the press years to express any outrage or anything worse than mild dissatisfaction over this or any other Bush transgression. And I still frequently hear people who should know better say "yes, well, Clinton lied under oath too; they all do it."

I've been thinking a lot about why it seems to be so much harder for people to get as outraged over scandals that involve illegally spying on the American people, lying the nation into a war, firing prosecutors for failure to politicize their offices, etc. than to get angry that Clinton didn't want to say on the witness stand that he was having an extramarital affair. I mean, Bush has lied for years about breaking the law with regard to matters of substance, and of direct relevance to people's lives. Clinton lied once in response to a totally inappropriate question, about a matter that had nothing to do with anything.

Here's what I think the difference is: there really was no high-minded excuse Clinton could offer. He got caught red-handed doing something most people would agree is sleazy and unethical, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with our lives or his job performance. So there's kind of an instinctive angry response.

Whereas Bush, I'm sure he and his supporters would say, lied in the service of the greater good. Broke the law to keep us safe from the big scary terrists. "He only lied to us with our best interests at heart" shouldn't be a mitigating factor, but I get the feeling it instinctively is for some people. It explains why Oliver North, whose felony conviction for lying about illegal sales of weapons to Iran to fund a right-wing insurgency in Nicaragua (also illegally) was only overturned on a technicality, was able to rehabilitate himself: people think "well, the things he did, he did out of a genuine patriotic interest in the good of the nation."

But, look. This president has violated the law, the constitution, and the trust of the nation. Called on it by his own Department of Justice, he ignored them and kept doing what he was doing. His administration feels perfectly free to ignore congressional subpoenas.

If there are no consequences for doing this, why shouldn't future presidents act like monarchs? Our system only works if there are consequences for this sort of executive power grab.

The nation will be damaged, maybe permanently, if Bush is not held to account for his actions over the last six years. Impeach the bastard. Now.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Tornados determined to strike inside the United States

The cleanup effort in Kansas, in the wake of that F-5 tornado, is being hampered by the fact that much of their emergency equipment is in Iraq.

Boy, I'm sure glad so many of my fellow Americans voted for Bush because only he knew how to keep us safe from disaster. That's sure working out well. Sigh.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Atheist proselytizing

Kevin Drum remarks on the sudden flood of books making the case for atheism. I've noticed the same trend. (I've read some of the books myself.)

Personally, I think atheists are just the latest minority group to stand up and say "okay, look, we're sick of being treated like we don't count."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The New McCarthyism

The right-wing blogosphere has been all atwitter that the Virginia Tech shooter might have been a Muslim. (And, by extension, that the mainstream press is deliberately covering this up for reasons of political correctness.) Their "evidence" seems to boil down to his attack unfolding in a similar way to some terrorist attacks and the absence of any mention of his religion in the media. Have we really reached the point where the default assumption is that any criminal is a Muslim?

To me, the rise of a sort of new McCarthyism has been the single most disturbing thing about post-9/11 politics. During the 1950s the American public was jumping at their own shadows, afraid a communist was hiding around every corner. Every negative event was carefully examined for hints that commies might have engineered it. People hinted darkly that the press might be involved in the conspiracy. Important political figures were accused of links to the Red Menace.

Now it's Islamic Fundamentalism that has us eying each other suspiciously. We're harassing dark-skinned photographers, and accusing Presidential candidates of having gone to fundamentalist madrassas.

What was lost in the panic back then was that the vast majority of communist party members were peaceful and completely harmless -- just like the vast majority of Muslims are harmless today. It troubles me that as a society we seem unable of recognizing that simple fact, even given a historic example that's within living memory.

Entry in which I pay Karl Rove a compliment

Apparently Karl Rove is an atheist. So says fellow atheist Christopher Hitchens.

I know something which is known to few but is not a secret. Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesn’t shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, “I’m not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.”

I don't care for Mr. Rove. But that is, in my opinion, a very good way of putting it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hail to the commander decider guy

Remember when we kept hearing that this guy was Churchill reborn?

By the way, in the report it said, it is -- the government may have to put in more troops to be able to get to that position. And that's what we do. We put in more troops to get to a position where we can be in some other place. The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear -- I'm the commander guy.

From here, via Atrios.

Grownups simply do not, in the middle of presiding over a war, say "I'm the commander guy." Period.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Happy fourth anniversary

Four years ago today, George W. Bush took a ride in a military jet to an aircraft carrier off the San Diego coast, and declared the Iraq conflict over.

At the time, all the triumphalists in the media--and there were so many--confidently predicted that this corny, staged, and, as it turned out, premature photo-op would go down in history as the defining moment of the Bush presidency.

We can certainly hope so.

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