Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Nutsack" unleashed

A quick note today. I found a really interesting media/pop-culture item today on Jeff Jarvis's Blog.

The FCC has decided that 36 complaints about indecent language on television were not, in fact indecent. Feel free to say "dick, ass, penis, vaginal, nutsack, three-way, hell, damn, breast, nipples, can, pissed, crap, bastard, and bitch" the next time you are on television. In fact, try to work them all into one sentence. (There may be prizes for anyone who does this successfully)

My favorite passage is a ruling on Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

In another scene from this film, a male and a female character are in bed together, but no sexual or excretory organs or activities are depicted or discussed.

There is almost a tone of sadness in this statement . . .

Hey, things are loosening up again @ the FCC (they also recently ruled that the F-bomb was ok as long as it is in Saving Private Ryan.

Maybe we'll get some more breasts at the Super Bowl this year after all!

Tin Foil Out

Friday, January 21, 2005

An open letter to evangelical Christians

If you are a “moral values” voter and you’re reading this post (as unlikely as that may seem), I have a few things to straighten out for you. You know those two issues that filled you with the holy spirit and sent you to the voting booth in November? The two evils that Bush was ordained by God to eliminate?

[dramatic music]

Abortion and Gay Marriage.

Well, I’ve got news for you. Your guy isn’t very likely to do much to outlaw either. First, his interest has waned considerably on these issues since November (funny that), and he knows (and always has known) that the chances are slim to none that he’d even be able to do much anyway.

You been 'hoodwinked and bamboozled' (as Malcom X would say). You were willing to endorse tax cuts for the rich, the gutting of your Social Security system, a $10 trillion bill for your children to pay, and an immoral and unjust war for issues that this president (or any president) has very little chance of affecting.

Abortion Rights

Hoping to pack the Supreme Court with Roe-v-Wade haters? Don't hold your breath. The current tally on the abortion issue in the court is 6-3. You have Justices Renquist, Thomas, and Scalia firmly opposed to abortion rights, and you have O’Connor, Stevens, Ginsberg, Souter, and Breyer firmly in favor. Justice Kennedy is a bit of a wild card. He has voted several times to uphold the “right to privacy” that Roe v. Wade is based on, but has shown some willingness to place limits on abortion (although he is unlikely to vote to overturn it).

Bush is most likely to be able to make only one appointment to the court—to replace Justice Renquist who is quite ill, and he has an outside shot of replacing O’Connor and Stevens. Renquist’s replacement does nothing to affect the likelihood of overturning Roe v. Wade, and the justice that is confirmed may be less likely to make a decisive move (Renquist has said that Roe was a “mistake” many times). Even though I am certain that Bush will at least try to nominate someone who is hostile to Roe, it’s unlikely that that nominee will make it through the Senate (as Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) famously said shortly after the election).

Even if Bush somehow gets a conservative anti-choice justice though the Senate, Supreme court justices have a funny way of thinking for themselves once they are appointed for life to the highest court. Keep in mind that 7 of the 9 current justices are Republican appointees.

So what happens if O’Connor and Stevens retire and Bush somehow manages to get the court packed with enough conservatives to be a threat to Roe v. Wade?

He will still have an uphill climb—Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for 32 years (today is the anniversary, in fact) and the Supreme Court has historically been reluctant to completely reverse its own decisions. There is a principle that justices have applied in cases concerning Roe v. Wade called “stare decisis” (latin for “to stand by that which is decided”), which means that justices will need overwhelming evidence of a need to overturn the decision, even if they would not have voted for Roe in 1973. For you football fans out there, think of it as the NFL’s replay rule. You need to see something on the replay that definitively contradicts the ruling on the field to reverse a call.

Ok. Now let's assume that all of these unlikely events occur. Bush gets two more conservative justices on the bench, and Roe is overturned 5-4. Abortion is illegal in America, right?


Overturning Roe v. Wade puts abortion rights back in the hands of the individual states (where it was pre-1973). True, several states will outlaw abortion (some even have laws on their books waiting for the court to act), but many will not. Safe, legal abortions will likely remain available via a short car ride to a sympathetic state (or a long car ride if you live in the South).

In my opinion, the only thing that overturning Roe v. Wade will really do is confirm for the rest of the world that we have taken another large step towards theocracy. A quick look at world abortion laws shows that we'd suddenly have more in common with Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia than with our traditional European allies. With a few exceptions (heavily Catholic Ireland and Poland) the members of the European Union have moved further and further towards more freedom and choice for women. Thanks to Bush, we're already moving ideologically closer to the developing world.

In a recent poll in the New York Times 43% of Americans expected most forms of abortion to be illegal throughout the United States by the time Bush leaves office. I have to believe that this group is made up of both evangelical Christians and discouraged pro-choice advocates. The truth is, however that there is practially zero chance of criminalizing abortion in all fifty states in the next four years, and there is very little chance that there will be any change to the current law.

I had a co-worker who was an evangelical Christian. He was, however, committed to voting for candidates that he thought would work for better health care, reducing poverty, and other Christian values. He urged his fellow Christians to avoid being "one issue voters" and vote for candidates who would encourage social justice. I urge you to do the same.

In addition to the question of abortion's legality, there is the real question of how to reduce the need for abortion. Despite what the pro-life movement would have you believe, there is no such thing as a politician who is pro-abortion. It's tragic that we live in a world with hard choices that must be made about the quality of life for a mother and an unborn child. I think that every most reasonable people would prefer to live in a world where abortions are not necessary. We do not, however, live in such a world. Abortions will be performed in this country. They were
performed before 1973 (mostly illegally), at a rate of anywhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million a year before Roe v. Wade. If you are serious about reducing the number of abortions, vote for politicians that will fight the root causes that force women to make this choice: Poverty, lack of education (about sex and in general), hopelessness, and, yes, the lack of "family values."

The solution does not lie in limiting a woman's right to choose, but in presenting her with more viable choices for keeping her baby or avoiding pregnancy in the first place. Don't confuse criminalizing a problem with stopping it.

Gay Marriage

Here's the other "wedge issue" that drove evangelicals to the polls in vast numbers. This is, and has always been a purely political manuver by the Bush team. They had no intention of going ahead with a Constitutional amendment to ban Gay marriage. Bush made this clear this week, when he backed off his "committment" to the amendment. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post summed it up best, I think. An excerpt:

There is no reason to press for the amendment, Bush told two Post reporters on Air Force One, because so many senators are convinced that the Defense of Marriage Act -- which says states that outlaw same-sex unions do not have to recognize such marriages conducted outside their borders -- is sufficient. "Senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously . . . Until that changes, nothing will happen in the Senate."

Are we supposed to believe that this information was unavailable before Election Day? Or that Bush was simply exploiting passions on this hot-button issue without really intending to follow through? If I was an evangelical Christian who felt strongly about this issue, I'd be plenty mad. And liberals can be forgiven for concluding that Bush was just interesting in demonizing them on the issue.

Funny how he can pick up more seats in the House and Senate, and then announce, after the election that he suddenly realized that he couldn't get the amendment through. Come on, Bush LIED to you, evangelical moral values voter. He wanted you to come to the polls and put him in office, and he would say anything to get you there. Anyone who had taken a government class knew from the beginning that the odds of 2/3 of each house of Congress and 3/4 of state legislatures voting for this bigotted amendment were a million to one. Count the blue states, people!

Not only was it unlikely to pass, but wildly unneccesary, as John Edwards pointed out in the VP debate:

I want to make sure people understand that the president is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that is completely unnecessary. Under the law of this country for the last 200 years, no state has been required to recognize another state's marriage. Let me just be simple about this. My state of North Carolina would not be required to recognize a marriage from Massachusetts, which you just asked about. There is absolutely no purpose in the law and in reality for this amendment. It's nothing but a political tool. And it's being used in an effort to divide this country on an issue that we should not be dividing America on.
Hmm. Seems like he was right all along.

Please, please, please think about these things before you vote next time. The President, and the Republican party know the political realities here. They know that they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of criminalizing abortion nationwide, or banning gay marriage through a Constitutional amendment. But they rely on the fact that you don't know the facts. Don't let them use your fear, religious views, and homophobia to make you vote against your interests. If you are poor or middle class in this country, you have no excuse for voting for someone who wants to give handouts to corporations and the richest one percent--the "moral" issues that the Republicans embrace will have no effect on you.

To paraphrase John Stewart:

People who live in red states are very worried about terrorism and gay marriage when they don't have any of either. Here in New York, we have both, and we voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry.

Tinfoil out

Tin Foil Hat back on for a second term

Loyal readers (or "reader" as the case many be). I have taken a bit of a hiatus in the last week to contemplate a second term for Mr. Bush. I will be posting twice today about the fears that I have for the next four years, and the things in which I take comfort.

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 14, 2005

" . . . a Confession, a Regret, Something"

"Regrets . . . I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention. "

--Frank Sinatra, "My Way" (written by Paul Anka)

""I don't know if you'd call it a regret, but it certainly is a lesson that a president must be mindful of, that the words that you sometimes say. … I speak plainly sometimes, but you've got to be mindful of the consequences of the words. So put that down. I don't know if you'd call that a confession, a regret, something."

--George W. Bush (written by ???)

The president has had a startling revelation. Only four years after assuming the position of "leader of the free world," (*shudder*) he has discovered that his words have consequences. Perhaps in another four years, he'll say that starting pre-emptive wars on shoddy evidence might have been a mistake that turned world opinion against us.


This most recent, stunning, sort-of-apology came as the long awaited follow-up to a question that a reporter asked him in an April press conference:

"After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?
At the time, the President responded with the witty and reassuring:

I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. (Laughter.) John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet [. . .] I hope I -- I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.

Asked again in the October presidential debates (he has now, it seems, had 6 months to prepare for the follow up question). He replied:

Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I'm not going to name them. I don't want to hurt their feelings on national TV.(LAUGHTER) But history will look back, and I'm fully prepared to accept any mistakes that history judges to my administration, because the president makes the decisions, the president has to take the responsibility.

The only mistakes HE'S made are in appointing others--way to take responsibility George.

So now, finally, almost 10 months after he was asked to discuss even one mistake he's made post-9/11, we get two examples:

He regrets saying about Iraqi insurgents: "Bring 'em on."

'Bring 'em on' is the classic example, when I was really trying to rally the troops and make it clear to them that I fully understood, you know, what a great job they were doing. And those words had an unintended consequence. It kind of, some interpreted it to be defiance in the face of danger. That certainly wasn't the case."

Actually, I think that people were offended by this for two reasons (1) American troops were the people to whom "'em" would be brought. When "'em" were brought, they brought with 'em things like improvised explosive devices, mortors, RPGs. To date, 'em have killed more than 1,400 American soldiers. (2) We have a US president who says things like "Bring 'em on."

He regrets saying that Osama Bin Laden was "Wanted Dead or Alive."

One first wonders if Bush regrets this statement becasue, now, more than three years later, Mr. Bin Laden is still "wanted" and is most assuredly alive. Again, the most distressing thing about this statement was that the leader of the free world (*shudder*) sounds like Steve McQueen when he should be emulating, say FDR or JFK.

Recalling that remark, Bush told the reporters: "I can remember getting back to the White House, and Laura [Bush] said, 'Why did you do that for?' I said, 'Well, it was just an expression that came out. I didn't rehearse it.'

It's nice, I suppose that Bush is finally making half-hearted apologies (?) for the things he says. Maybe now, he'll make some for the things he DOES. If he can't think of any, then he'll be happy to know that the kind folks at the Center for American Progress, have provided him with 100
to jog his memory. Sadly, I don't think that this is an exhaustive list either.

Tin Foil Out.

Monday, January 10, 2005


First of all, let me say that I am not one of those people who buys into the "slippery slope" theory. You know what I mean--those who say that we are headed for a police state because we have to wear seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, or those who say that we are headed for anarchy because of woman's right to choose and gay marriage.

I do, however have some strong reservations about where this country is headed under the rule of the Republican party. I was sad to learn, for instance, that Congress recently passed a "doomsday plan," that allows for Congressmen who survive a terrorist attack or natural disaster to run the legislature without a quorum. This seems to violate Article 1, section 5 of the Constitution, and some critics have said, rightly, that this law, provides a broad definition of "catastrophic circumstances" that would allow a small number of legislators to pass laws or declare war in the event that a majority of congressmen could not make it to the capitol. If this law were in place on 9/11/2001, it could be interpreted to mean that once the planes hit the World Trade Center, any congressmen who were in town at the time (even if there were only 2 or 3 of them), could go to the Capitol and start enacting binding legislation.

This alone, while troubling, is not the worst thing that has happened to the Constitution in the last few years. It seems that since the 1960s and 70s, we have been drifiting towards more andmore governmental control of our private lives.

Let me make a historical case:

Pre-9/11 assaults on personal liberty. After a period in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when a number of court cases defined civil liberties--giving much more freedom to individuals and restricting the power of the government to intrude on people's private lives. For instance:

  1. Roe v. Wade--Gave women the right to terminate a pregnancy. Also defined the "right to privacy."
  2. Miranda v. Arizona--Defined rights for citizens accused of a crime limited police powers to question and search a suspect.
  3. Draper v. U.S. --Defined "probable cause" and restricted indescriminate searches of suspects.
This move to limit police powers and expand personal liberty defined the term "free county" to me as a young American citizen. I came to see the United States as a place where freedom was encouraged by the goverment, and checks and balances on police powers kept that freedom from being stolen from us.

At these same time, however, there was a strong undercurrent in the government that was attempting to limit personal liberty. First, the expansive "War on Drugs," declared by Richard Nixon in brought a series of laws and court decisions that, in my view, violate the Constitution and greatly expanded the power of the Federal government. Alexander Shulgin, a former DEA chemist and pro-drug activist, noted in a lecture to students at Berkley University that the 1978 Psychotropic Substances Act, took away a number of civil liberties from suspected drug offenders, including the right to due process.

If you are reentering the country from abroad and the stub of a marijuana joint is found in your coat pocket, the immigration authorities can seize your passport. If I, as a person with sufficient authority, discover that you have a $23,000 savings account in the local Wells Fargo Bank, and I think the money came from drug transactions, I can and will seize this money. I no longer haveto file a criminal charge or even a criminal complaint, and I certainly don't have to wait until you are convicted of an unlawful act in a court of law. I merely have to state that, in my opinion, there is a preponderance of evidence that you have been naughty.

In other words, if you are suspected of a drug offense, you can have your property seized by the goverment, before the trial, and it will not be returned to you, even if you are found innocent of the charges. In fact, the government does not even have to charge you with a crime.

This statue has been upheld countless times in US courts despite (in my opinion) its clear violation of the the Constitution's fifth amendment:

No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

I'm not sure how it could be more clear than that.

The War on Drugs has also led us to ignore the ban of the use of the military in civilian law enforcement as stated in the Posse Comitatus statute. We routinely use the military (AWACs surveillance planes, troops and helicopters in Columbia, etc.) to detect drug shipments and bring drug offenders to justice.

9/11. Once police powers were broadly defined for drug offenses, it became easy, via the USA PATRIOT Act to apply the same anti-constitutional logic to suspected "terrorists." The Patriot Act allowed for increased surveillence of US Citizens , and fewer restrictions on detaining US citizens and seizing their assets. USA PATRIOT II, which will soon come before Congress, will expand these powers even more, letting the government hold US citizens indefinitely without a trial, and defining "terrorism" so broadly that civil disobedience could be construed as terrorism.

Also, since 9/11 the Bush administration has attempted to say that torture is permissable when interrogating terrorism suspects and that US citizens can be held indefinitely as "ememy combatants." Thankfully, public outcry and the cooler heads of some judges have reversed some of these abuses. Like I said, I don't believe in the "slippery slope" theory, but let's hope that 9/11 wasn't our Reichstag Fire.

Whether it's drugs, terrorism, or fictional weapons of mass destruction, Republicans have used national crises to chip away at civil rights and justify military or police action. This is nothing new, of course. Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War, FDR approved placing Japanese Americans into internment camps during WWII, but never has it been done so deliberately, with so little provocation. Not to diminish the tragedy of 9/11, but the "War on Terror" (at least with Al Queda) is not even close in scale with the conflicts of the Civil War and World War 2. Yet our liberties continue to be stripped away.

I was in Seattle for the anti-WTO demonstrations in 1999. I watched as people who were lawfully protesting the event were subjected to tear gas, pepper spray, and mass arrests. I saw the creation of an illegal "no protest zone." In that moment, it becme pretty clear to me that Constitutional protections do not protect us from abuse. We may be able to go to court AFTER the abuses have happened, and seek damages, but at the moment of protest, the government can do pretty much anything. The Constitution only protects us if our leaders respect and use it, otherwise, they can create laws that violate our most fundamental liberties.

We have an administration that seeks to curtail civil liberties at every turn. The only thing that we can do is be diligent and yell and scream like crazy when they try to take away our rights.

-Tin Foil Out

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Democratic Senators to Challenge Ohio's Electors

It will be interesting to see how big a splash this makes. Several sources (including the Brad Blog) are reporting that at least six Senators have joined John Conyers' challenge of Ohio Electoral college votes:

Senator Barbara Boxer will stand to challenge, and will be supported by at least the following Democratic Senators: Hilary Clinton (NY), Harry Ried (NV), Barack Obama (IL), Dick Durbin (IL) and Christopher Dodd (CT). [from The Brad Blog]

Notably absent is Sen. John Kerry (boo!).

So, as I discussed in a previous post, this seems to be largely a symbolic gesture--since the outcome is decided by a simple majority of both houses of Congress (and this majority is, indeed, made up of simpletons). But, if it generates enough press, it might at the very least tarnish Bush's "mandate," and in the best case scenario, might create enough public outcry to get rid of partisan election officials and paperless electronic voting machines.There have been reports (that I'm not taking too seriously) about Republicans being concerned that absences by members of the House and Senate today, might:

  1. Prevent a quorum. Delaying the certification of election results until there are enough Congressman there to vote, or
  2. Actually give the Democrats a majority of votes in Senate--enough to disqualify Ohio's electors

Even in the "in your wildest dreams" scenario, all that could happen is that Ohio's electors are not counted, and then, I believe, the election goes to the House of Representatives (Bush wins no matter how this plays out).

Kind fun, though. No? It's the first sign of life from the Democrats (except Kerry--boo!) since the election.