Monday, February 28, 2011

Just a Flesh Wound …

I’ve had worse.

Uh, minor head injury – putting the 2011 vehicle sticker on our rear license plate; had a little run in with the spare tire hanger on the back of our old (and I mean old!) Pathfinder. Nothing that a trip to the emergency room, a little super glue, and a quick Tetanus shot can’t fix.

But there won’t be any log blog posts this evening.

(Pictured above: Me, with ice pack, feeling sorry for myself.)

Update: Here’s a schematic of the spare tire hanger I hit my head on. That piece marked 57231 that juts out from the back – that (I think) was what did the most damage.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

On the Air Again with Tim Corrimal and Friends – Episode 157

Episode 157 of the Tim Corrimal Show is now up. This week, Tim and I were joined by returning guests David of the Blue Eyed Blog (@My1BlueEye on Twitter) and Sarah Cosgrove of Mashrabiyya (@s_a_cosgrove on Twitter), and new guest Ian Boudreau (@iboudreau on Twitter), to discuss the decision by Pres. Obama and the Justice Department to cease defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court; the union protests in Wisconsin (and elsewhere); and the uprising in Libya against brutal dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Since I wrote a lengthy blog post on the DOMA decision earlier this week, I won’t reiterate those points here. But I will say this. If you still believe Pres. Obama’s Republican opposition acts in good faith, you’re out of your ever-loving mind:

Newt Gingrich said in an interview with conservative website Newsmax that he believes President Obama’s decision to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act is a potentially impeachable offense. The former Speaker of the House -- and presumptive candidate for president -- stopped short of saying congressional Republicans should call for articles of impeachment against Obama. He did say, however, that if a hypothetical President Sarah Palin similarly rejected congressional legislation, she would be crucified by the left.

At the outset, notice the falsehoods Gingrich tells in the Newsmax interview. First, he says that Pres. Obama supported DOMA during the presidential campaign. The President flatly did not. During the campaign, Pres. Obama said he preferred civil unions to full marriage rights for gays and lesbians, but he expressly opposed DOMA itself:

I also believe that the federal government should not
stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and
lesbian couples — whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage.
… I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Next, Gingrich inaccurately says Pres. Obama has unilaterally decided not to enforce the law. Again, that is flatly untrue, and Gingrich must know it’s untrue. Attorney General Eric Holder, in his letter to Congress indicating that the Obama Administration would no longer defend DOMA in court, explicitly stated:

Notwithstanding this determination, the President has informed me that Section 3 [of DOMA, 1 U.S.C. § 7] will continue to be enforced by the Executive Branch. To that end, the President has instructed Executive agencies to continue to comply with Section 3 of DOMA, consistent with the Executive’s obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality. This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.

Even Glenn Greenwald, a fairly vigorous critic of Pres. Obama on gay rights issues in the past, agrees that despite the Administration’s correct decision not to defend DOMA in court, it must “continue[ ] to enforce the law until it’s repealed or struck down.” That, of course, is exactly what the Obama Administration is doing.

And therein lies the absurd irony of Gingrich’s assertion that by refusing to defend DOMA in court, Pres. Obama may have committed an impeachable offense: The President, of course, has taken an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The President has determined (correctly, as it turns out) that DOMA violates the Constitution. So, by refusing to defend in court a law the Administration believes is unconstitutional, but continuing to enforce it until such time as the courts – who, of course, have the final say – make a determination as to whether that law passes constitutional muster, Pres. Obama is acting in a manner that is entirely consistent with his oath of office.

Years ago, my late brother Tom described the Gingrich-led impeachment of Pres. Bill Clinton as an attempted bloodless coup. If that sounds harsh, consider the fact that anyone with rudimentary Google skills could’ve learned the truth about the President’s decision not to defend DOMA in a matter of minutes. That Gingrich nonetheless peddles falsehoods about it strongly suggests that he and his fellow travelers on the right no longer care about the truth. Or the constitution. Or the results of elections. Rather, they will seize on a controversial but courageous decision by Pres. Obama as an excuse to try to overturn the results of the last presidential election.

Because, it seems, they are overtly hostile to democracy itself.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Breaking: NPR Acts Like News Organization, Calls Out Glenn Beck’s Loony Obsession With Elderly Woman

Will wonders never cease. NPR’s All Things Considered takes a break from its non-stop coverage of attacks on Pres. Obama from the right (and the left) to consider Fox “News’” fear-monger-in-chief:

Glenn Beck calls her one of the most dangerous people in the world.

“I’m about 5-foot-6,” Frances Fox Piven tells Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. “I’m 78 years old. My hair is partly grey. I’m quite thin.”

Piven is a professor at the City College of New York. Back in 1966, she and her late husband, Richard Cloward, wrote an article for The Nation outlining a plan to help the poor of New York and other big cities to get on welfare.

In their research, they found that not all the poor who were eligible to receive welfare actually did. They advocated that all the nation’s eligible poor should apply. They felt such a strain to city budgets would force Washington to address the poverty problem.

Forty-five years later, Beck took to the airwaves of Fox News and his own radio program, warning the public about the obscure article.

“Let me introduce you to the people who you would say are fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system. They’re really two people,” he said, “Cloward and Piven.”

Soon after Beck made her infamous, Piven says hundreds of death threats poured into her e-mail account and conservative blogs. Things like, “‘May cancer overtake you soon!’” Piven says. She ended up asking the FBI and state police for help.

While Piven acknowledges that Glenn Beck has never advocated violence against her, she still feels Beck’s screeds led directly to the threats against her life.

“It’s a lunatic story, but it’s a story that nevertheless is clear,” she says. “You can get your hands around it. This woman is somehow responsible for the upsetting changes in your small town where the factory closed down. I don’t blame them for being upset. It is upsetting. But I blame Glenn Beck for telling them a factually untrue, crazy story about why those changes occurred.”

Remarkably, none of this appears to be Pres. Obama’s fault.

Either NPR has finally figured out who its real enemies are in Washington, or Glenn Beck has gone so far off the reservation that they figure it’s safe to criticize him.

The real question, though, is: What’s the over/under on the number of George Soros references that’ll appear in the comments section. I’m going with 25.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Scenes From Your Revolution

My friend Seth (@SethP23 on Twitter) went to the Atlanta Save the Dream Rally and shot a video:

The best line is from Jose from Alabama: “We don’t have to wait for 2012. This is 2012 – it starts right here, right now!” You’re darn right it does.

Elsewhere, John V. Moore of the Windy City Watch blog documents the Chicago rally on his Tumblr page, JVM’s Raw Feed. Hey, Fox “News” … we’re on to you:

The revolution starts … now!

The great Steve Earle, with the title track from The Revolution Starts Now (2004). Song of the day.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Your Friday Clash Song: The Hillsides Ring With “Free the People” …

“Spanish Bombs,” from London Calling (1979).

When I heard that Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, ordered his air force to strafe peaceful protesters in Tripoli and elsewhere, it brought back this horrifying image of Gen. Francisco Franco bombing Guernica during the Spanish Civil War:

It was market day in Guernica when the church bells of Santa Maria sounded the alarm that afternoon in 1937. People from the surrounding hillsides crowded the town square. “Every Monday was a fair in Guernica,” says José Monasterio, eyewitness to the bombing. “They attacked when there were a lot of people there. And they knew when their bombing would kill the most. When there are more people, more people would die.”

For over three hours, twenty-five or more of Germany’s best-equipped bombers, accompanied by at least twenty more Messerschmitt and Fiat Fighters, dumped one hundred thousand pounds of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the village, slowly and systematically pounding it to rubble.

And that, naturally, made me think of the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs,” because it seems it’s always this way when you’re fighting fascists: They kill indiscriminately to cling to power (or, in Franco’s case, to seize power), because nothing threatens a fascist like ordinary people attempting to be free.

The hillsides ring with “Free the people,”

Or can I hear the echoes of the days of ’39

With the trenches full of poets

The ragged army, fixing bayonets to fight the other line

Spanish bombs rock the province

I’m hearing music from another time

Spanish bombs on the Costa Brava

I’m flying in on a DC-1o tonight

Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito

Yo te quiero, oh mi corazón

Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito

Yo te quiero, oh mi corazón …

Likewise, as the events unfold in Libya I’m reminded of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), which I must’ve read, I don’t know, 28 years ago; and, specifically, I’m reminded of how the international community turned its back on the republican government of Spain and the wide-ranging coalition of ordinary Spanish citizens who stood up to Gen. Franco’s brutal onslaught. Without international intervention, the free Spanish government fell in 1939 and Franco’s dictatorial reign lasted thirty-six years.

We can only hope that the international community doesn’t turn its back on Libya’s freedom fighters today.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Glenn and Me: Just Like Old Friends

Sometimes when my fevered imagination gets the better of me, I think Glenn Greenwald and I could be good friends if we knew each other in real life. The kind of friends who drive each other crazy, who bicker all the time over virtually everything but still like each other because deep down each knows the other wants what’s best for the country. I’ve always had friends like that, friends of virtually every conceivable political persuasion from just about any point along the political spectrum. And sometimes it seems like the hardest ones to get along with are fellow liberals who, like me, tend to think they know everything.

I’m reminded of this passing fantasy – hey, not that kind of fantasy – reading today’s piece by Mr. Greenwald on Salon: “Partisan Bliss.”

The premise of today’s piece is that even though everyone on the left seems to agree that Pres. Obama did the right thing by deciding no longer to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, the President’s supporters are (once again) a bunch of hypocrites because they have, in the past, supported the President’s decision to defend DOMA (and/or other odious Clinton- or Bush-era policies) in court:

For two years now, the Obama DOJ has been defending the constitutionality of DOMA in federal courts around the country. In response to objections from gay groups, Obama officials -- and their supporters -- insisted that the President had no choice, that it’s the duty of the Justice Department to defend the constitutionality of all laws enacted by Congress, and that it’s dangerous for the President to pick and choose which laws to defend or not defend. That’s actually a reasonable position; there is a genuine danger in having the President selectively defend Congressional statutes (although many past administrations have refused to defend particular laws where they believed they could not in good faith do so). Although I believe it is appropriate in rare cases for the DOJ to refuse to defend a statute or even affirmatively argue for its unconstitutionality (provided it continues to enforce the law until it’s repealed or struck down), there is a valid concern on the part of those who argue -- as Obama supporters did for the last two years -- that it’s never appropriate for the DOJ to refrain from defending a statute or, at least, that it would be wrong to do so in the DOMA case.

But for those loyal Obama supporters who spent two years defending the administration’s DOMA position on this ground: if they have even a minimal amount of intellectual honestly, shouldn’t they now criticize the President’s reversal, this new refusal to defend DOMA? If they really believed what they were saying for the last two years -- that a President is required to defend the constitutionality of all statutes -- then shouldn’t they be vocally condemning Obama now for doing exactly that which they insisted he has no power to do? Of course -- as the torture photo and civilian trial controversies also demonstrated -- one of the joys of partisan fealty and devotion to a leader is that one need not have any actual beliefs or positions: you get to say whatever you need to say at any given moment to justify the leader’s conduct, even if it completely contradicts what you said months or weeks earlier in service of the same objective. Justifying the leader’s behavior is the sole prism through which the entire political world is viewed; one is blissfully liberated from the need to formulate any actual views or principles.

This, it seems, is a constant theme for Mr. Greenwald: That there are armies of mindless drones out there for whom “[j]ustifiying [Pres. Obama’s] behavior is the sole prism through which the entire political world is viewed.” And I suppose people like that probably do exist. They’re not called “Obamabots,” though; they’re called “sycophants,” and they exist in close proximity to virtually every politician who’s ever existed. Creepily loyal hangers-on are a curious byproduct of our democracy, and there’s never been an American president who didn’t have them. Even today, there’s a small but fiercely loyal cadre of George W. Bush supporters – people who ask, with a straight but deluded face, whether we “Miss [him] Yet?” Heh. Really?

But the thing is, I see no evidence that Pres. Obama has any greater or lesser number of sycophants than any other president. Certainly, Pres. Obama has no more mindless, reflexive defenders than Bill Clinton had, yet liberals walked in lock-step behind Clinton for eight years while he gave us NAFTA, welfare “reform,” Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell … and, yes, DOMA. If anything, after our experience with Clinton I’d say liberals are, in fact, pretty wary of anything any Democrat does or says – and that includes Pres. Obama. Which is fine with me, because I figured out a long time ago there are no perfect Democrats.

So what Glenn Greenwald is talking about – i.e., those who “say whatever you need to say at any given moment to justify the leader’s conduct, even if it completely contradicts what you said months or weeks earlier in service of the same objective” – represents, at best, a very narrow slice of the political left, even among those of us who generally do support the President. In reality, even those of us who consider ourselves to be his supporters take a close look at every decision he makes. We’ve agonized over the mistakes he’s made (like, as Mr. Greenwald points out, his failure to stick to his guns when it comes to trying terror suspects in civilian courts). And when it comes to DOMA, most of us have agonized over the very issue that Mr. Greenwald touches on: We hate – hate – this law, yet we recognize, as does Mr. Greenwald, that “there is a valid concern on the part of those who argue … that it’s never appropriate for the DOJ to refrain from defending a statute.”

In fact, I said just yesterday that while I can’t criticize Pres. Obama for refusing to defend DOMA in court because I likely would have made the same decision were I in his shoes, I also see the inherent danger in the decision not to defend DOMA: That it will serve as precedent for the next Republican president’s decision not to defend, say, the Affordable Care Act against legal challenges on constitutional grounds. Without patting myself on the back, I think my approach is actually fairly typical of Pres. Obama’s supporters: We recognize that he’s been handed an enormous heap of problems to wrestle with – problems that were not of his making, but were mostly caused by his two predecessors – and he’s struggled to deal with all of them. He’s made missteps, to be sure, but he’s also had significant accomplishments. So, rather than attack him at every turn, some of us at least try to appreciate the difficulty of tasks he’s faced.

And the decision whether or not to defend DOMA in court was precisely that kind of extraordinarily difficult decision. There never was an easy answer to that question, and so I’m not inclined to bash Pres. Obama or his supporters for struggling with it, even if it meant changing their minds over the course of the past two years.

I’m sorry that some of us lack the absolute moral and constitutional certainty of Glenn Greenwald, and I mean that in as non-sarcastic a fashion as possible. I actually respect Mr. Greenwald’s absolute certainty, even though I rarely share it. It would be nice, though, if Mr. Greenwald would have the same kind of respect for those of us who, in good faith, wrestle with some of these admittedly difficult issues and are less certain – rather than accusing us of lacking principles.

In other words, I don’t think we on the left should go all Bolsheviks-vs-Mensheviks on each other every time we disagree.

So whaddya say, Glenn? Are we pals?

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Solidarity With Wisconsin’s Unions: Revenge of the ’80s Version

Oh, come on. Who doesn’t want to rock the BusBoys every so often. “American Worker” from their 1982 album of the same name. Little known (or little remembered) fact: Huey Lewis had a big hit with “Heart & Soul,” which originally was a BusBoys’ song from the American Worker LP.

So there you go.

And then, there’s this:

“Minimum Wage” recorded live in 1985. The original studio version is on the 1980 LP Minimum Wage Rock & Roll.

On, Wisconsin!

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The President’s Bold But Risky Move on DOMA

Oliver Willis reports that Pres. Obama’s Department of Justice has issued a formal decision indicating that it will no longer defend the odious Defense of Marriage Act in court. In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, Attorney General Eric Holder writes:

After careful consideration, including review of a recommendation from me, the President of the United States has made the determination that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 530D, I am writing to advise you of the Executive Branch’s determination and to inform you of the steps the Department will take in two pending DOMA cases to implement that determination.

While the Department has previously defended DOMA against legal challenges involving legally married same-sex couples, recent lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA Section 3 have caused the President and the Department to conduct a new examination of the defense of this provision. In particular, in November 2010, plaintiffs filed two new lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in jurisdictions without precedent on whether sexual-orientation classifications are subject to rational basis review or whether they must satisfy some form of heightened scrutiny. Windsor v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-8435 (S.D.N.Y.); Pedersen v. OPM, No. 3:10-cv-1750 (D. Conn.). Previously, the Administration has defended Section 3 in jurisdictions where circuit courts have already held that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review, and it has advanced arguments to defend DOMA Section 3 under the binding standard that has applied in those cases.

These new lawsuits, by contrast, will require the Department to take an affirmative position on the level of scrutiny that should be applied to DOMA Section 3 in a circuit without binding precedent on the issue. As described more fully below, the President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

So, to translate from lawyer to English, what the Administration is talking about is this: Under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that no State shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” and the implicit “equal protection component” of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the government is prohibited from engaging in illegal discrimination. But equal protection under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibits more than just obvious sins like race and sex discrimination; it prevents the government from drawing irrational distinctions between any groups of similarly situated citizens. So, when the government decides to treat Citizen A and Citizen B differently, it has to show that a “rational basis” exists to justify that disparate treatment. If, however, the government attempts to draw a distinction between Citizen A and Citizen B based upon a “suspect” classification like race or gender, it needs to demonstrate more than a mere “rational basis” for that type of discrimination because distinctions based upon “suspect” classifications like race and gender are, in equal protection parlance, subjected to “heightened scrutiny,” or “strict scrutiny,” in order to pass muster. As Attorney General Holder’s letter to the Speaker explains, where the government seeks to treat people differently based upon suspect classifications, “the government must establish that the classification is ‘substantially related to an important government objective.’ Clark v. Jeter, 486 U.S. 456, 461 (1988).” (For further explanation of the “rational basis” and “suspect classification” tests, see here and here.)

Moreover, while the certain of our federal Circuit Courts of Appeal have addressed the issue (as the Attorney General’s letter notes), the Supreme Court itself has yet to decide whether sexual orientation should be treated as a suspect classification like race or gender for purposes of equal protection analysis. For example, in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 538 (2003), the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law criminalizing certain same-sex sex acts, but based its ruling on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, rather than the Equal Protection Clause, holding, “the Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.” In Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), on the other hand, the Court struck down on equal protection grounds a Colorado ballot initiative that voided state and municipal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, holding that the ballot initiative “fail[ed] … even [the] conventional inquiry [i.e., the rational basis test].” Consequently, the Court did not need to address the question whether sexual orientation warranted treatment as a suspect classification.

In any event, the Attorney General’s letter to Speaker Boehner goes on to say that previous cases challenging DOMA had been filed in federal circuits where the Courts of Appeals had already determined that sexual orientation was not a suspect classification, and therefore the Administration felt it could argue that DOMA passed muster under the less stringent rational basis test. But these two new cases – Windsor and Pederson – were filed in the Southern District of New York and in the District of Connecticut, respectively, both of which fall within the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals; and the Second Circuit has yet to determine whether sexual orientation should be treated as a suspect classification. So, because there is no binding precedent in the Second Circuit requiring the application of the rational basis test, the plaintiffs in these new cases could, and did, argue that sexual orientation should be treated as a suspect classification subject to strict scrutiny. And that led the Administration to take a hard look at the issue … which, in turn, led it to determine that these plaintiffs are correct: That sexual orientation should be treated as a suspect classification, and, consequently, that DOMA violates equal protection.

That may seem like a lot of legalese – and it is – but I cannot stress this point strongly enough: For a President and his Attorney General to state that sexual orientation should be treated like race and gender for purposes of equal protection of the laws represents an enormous sea-change in gay rights law. No President before now, and few, if any, federal courts, have ever suggested that government discrimination against gays and lesbians should be held to violate the Constitution in the same manner as discrimination on the basis of race or gender. You and I may think that (and if you don’t, you should), but for that to be the official policy of the Executive Branch – and for the Executive Branch to advocate that position in Court – is truly remarkable.

So, Pres. Obama, take a bow.

But here’s the hard part. Presidents have traditionally defended laws passed by Congress against legal challenges even if the president personally disagrees with those laws, because that’s generally the president’s job: To enforce laws passed by Congress irrespective of the president’s view of those laws. As the Attorney General explains:

[T]he Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense, a practice that accords the respect appropriately due to a coequal branch of government. However, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because the Department does not consider every plausible argument to be a “reasonable” one. “[D]ifferent cases can raise very different issues with respect to statutes of doubtful constitutional validity,” and thus there are “a variety of factors that bear on whether the Department will defend the constitutionality of a statute.” Letter to Hon. Orrin G. Hatch from Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois at 7 (Mar. 22, 1996). This is the rare case where the proper course is to forgo the defense of this statute. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute “in cases in which it is manifest that the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional,” as is the case here. Seth P. Waxman, Defending Congress, 79 N.C. L.Rev. 1073, 1083 (2001).

So, the Administration’s position is that even though one could make good faith (i.e., non-frivolous) arguments in favor of DOMA’s constitutionality, the Administration has concluded that those arguments are not “reasonable,” in its judgment, and therefore it is refusing to continue to defend the Act in court.

This is an extraordinarily tough call. I completely agree with the Administration’s analysis of the issue, from start to finish. I’m convinced that DOMA is unconstitutional, and I’m convinced that sexual orientation should be treated as a suspect classification for equal protection purposes. But knowing that there will be other constitutional fights on the horizon involving other statutes that I’d like to see upheld – most obviously, the Affordable Care Act (which was just recently upheld again, this time by a federal court in Washington, D.C., making three decisions in favor of the law and two against) – I can’t help but think the Administration has effectively thrown the gauntlet down, all but daring the next Republican administration to refuse to defend key elements of Pres. Obama’s legislative agenda against legal challenges. After all, Republicans claim the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional (an argument the latest District Court opinion flatly rejected), and a future Republican administration could argue, like Pres. Obama’s done with DOMA, that the arguments in support of ACA are unreasonable, making it “the rare case where the proper course is to forgo the defense of [the] statute.”

So rightly or wrongly, that’s a cat that likely cannot be put back in the bag.

I can’t judge Pres. Obama too harshly on this issue, though, because I know in my gut I probably would’ve done the same thing with DOMA. It just makes me think we sure as hell better get this guy reelected in 2012 if we want any of his successes to survive in court.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It’s Spelled M-U-R-D-E-R-I-N-G T-H-U-G, But It’s Pronounced “Gaddafi”

Libya, it seems, is on fire. From Al Jazeera English tonight:

International condemnation is growing in response to reports that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is using tanks, helicopters and fighter jets to quell the most serious challenge to his 42-year rule.

Nearly 300 people are reported to have been killed in violence in the capital, Tripoli, and across the country as demonstrations entered their second week .

Joining a lengthening list of high-level desertions, Abdul-Fatah Younis, the interior minister and an army general, announced his renunciation of his post and support for the “February 17 revolution”.

In a video aired by Al Jazeera on Tuesday, he was seen sitting on a his desk and reading a statement that urged the Libyan army to “join the people and respond to their legitimate demands”.

Just hours earlier, Gaddafi vowed to fight on and die a “martyr” in a 75-minute-long speech broadcast on the north African nation’s state TV.

“I am not a president to step down ... This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post,” he said.

“I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired ... when I do, everything will burn.”

He called on supporters to take to the streets to attack protesters. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs ... Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them.”

Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that today’s defiant speech by Gaddafi will parallel former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s February 10, 2011 address, in which the latter vowed he would not step down only to exactly that the very next day. Mubarak may have been stubborn and full of himself, but Gaddafi appears to be clinically insane. So the likelihood that Gaddafi will evaluate the situation rationally and depart his office without a bloodbath is, I think, tenuous at best.

Meanwhile, my friend Allen McDuffee of the Think Tanked Blog and Governmentality (@allen_mcduffee on Twitter), reminded me of this earlier today, from the July 5, 2006 edition of the Washington Post:

Last summer, Stuart A. Levey, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, was about to depart Libya for Turkey when his travel plans abruptly came to a halt. At the airport, Libyan officials directed Levey to an aircraft idling on the runway.

Aboard, Levey and his aides found themselves inside the private plane of Moammar Gaddafi surrounded by what one official described as an “homage to Austin Powers.” Outfitted with shag carpeting, gold-plated safety belts and wide, white leather seats, the plane took off on an unscheduled flight from Tripoli to the coastal town of Sert.

An hour later, Levey’s team was in black sedans speeding across miles of empty desert toward Gaddafi’s man-made oasis. “It was like being in some kind of James Bond movie,” Levey recalled in a recent interview. “There was a pool and a pond, a couple large tents and Gaddafi sitting out in a cabana, under an umbrella.”

Levey was wearing a suit and tie. The Libyan leader was wearing track pants, a fishing cap and orange sunglasses. The surprise meeting was their first, and much was riding on Levey’s impressions: He had just spent several days assessing whether Libya should be taken off the list of states that sponsor terrorism. They two men spoke for an hour -- Gaddafi from prepared remarks, Levey off the cuff.

It must have gone well. A few days later, the State Department announced that Libya was coming off the terrorism list, 18 years after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, took 270 lives, most of them American.

It was an odd, frustrating moment for those of us who came into our political adulthood in the age of Ronald Reagan, when Muammar Gaddafi was the international boogieman. Gaddafi was, seemingly forever, the face of Islamic terrorism, at least in the eyes of the U.S. He was Yasser Arafat and the PLO and Hamas and Hezbollah rolled into one. In April, 1986 then-Pres. Reagan said of Gaddafi:

Well, we know that this mad dog of the Middle East has a goal of a world revolution, Moslem fundamentalist revolution, which is targeted on many of his own Arab compatriots. And where we figure in that, I don’t know. Maybe we’re just the enemy because — it’s a little like climbing Mount Everest — because we’re here. But there’s no question but that he has singled us out more and more for attack, and we’re aware of that.

So when, in 2005, the Bush Administration abruptly decided that Gaddafi, once the “mad dog of the Middle East,” was no longer a threat (this, after having expended countless American and Iraqi lives ousting Saddam Hussein, once our ally and bulwark against supposed Shia extremism from Iran), it reinforced the idea that the whole business of declaring one country to be a terrorist state and another country to be our ally in the fight against terrorism was an arbitrary chess game where the United States switched sides at will, oblivious to how those decisions affected the lives of millions of innocent people in the region.

And so, here we are. Libya, another pawn in the neocon’s global chess game, is on fire; and Gaddafi, whom we’ve alternately demonized and propped up, says he’s prepared to slaughter his own people to cling to dictatorial power. And nobody knows how this one is going to end.

It’d be nice to think American presidents would learn from incidents like this to stop using other countries as pawns in an absurd international game. Why is it that I feel less than optimistic that that will come to pass?

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dear Columbia Undergraduates: Please Turn In Your Liberal Credentials at the Nearest Commune

Let me tell you something, youngsters. I’ve been a liberal since long before you were born. So, I get a little tired of the shrillest among you trying to define what it means to be liberal.

Okay, wait. Let’s back up a step. I’ve got nothing against youthful liberalism; in fact, I was a youthful liberal once – when Ronald Reagan was president. I was your age back then, so I know all about youthful liberal idealism. In spades. But maybe you need a few grey hairs before you realize just how completely unacceptable this is:

A wounded Iraq war veteran and Columbia University freshman was jeered during a meeting about bringing ROTC back to the school, the New York Post reports.

Anthony Maschek, a wheelchair-bound Purple Heart recipient who was shot 11 times during his time in Iraq, was hissed and booed at when he spoke in support of ROTC during the Feb. 15 town hall meeting. Some students shouted “racist” during Maschek’s testimony, during which he stated, “It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war. It doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting. There are bad men out there plotting to kill you.”

To be frank, I don’t really know what Mr. Maschek meant by “[t]here are bad men out there plotting to kill you,” nor do I know what that had to do with the debate about allowing ROTC programs to return to Columbia. Assuming the “bad men” he’s referring to are al Qaeda or other similar terrorist networks, our current military entanglement in Iraq has nothing to do with them and never did; and as for Afghanistan – the original rational for which was to strike back at al Qaeda and its symbiotic host, the Taliban – there’s a strong argument that that war now serves only to create willing terrorists and therefore makes the United States less safe.

That, however, is just a difference of opinion, albeit a difference of opinion over a very important issue as to which I’d expect people to have strong views; it doesn’t justify hissing and booing a man who did his time over there and who suffered severe injuries because of it. If you don’t like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (I don’t), by all means feel free to say so. And if you want to have an honest, intelligent debate with anyone – including someone who served in the wars – of course that’s your right.

But if you act like a jackass in the process, you make us all look like jackasses.

Here’s the thing, youngsters. Somehow you’ve got the idea that being liberal and being opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan means you’ve got to be anti-military. And more than being anti-military in the abstract sense of, I don’t know, disliking the institutions of the military, you seem to think you have to prove your liberal cred by being rude and insulting and, frankly, malicious, towards anyone who’s ever served … including a guy who left his ability to walk behind in the Iraqi desert. Which means you need a damn civics lesson.

So, let’s review. People who enlist in the military take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; [to] bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and [to] obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [them], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” That means that if you enlist in the armed forces, you don’t get to choose which military campaigns you participate in; you don’t get to simply opt out of a war if you think it’s not properly justified (as in the case of Iraq) or if you think, justified or no, the costs outweigh whatever theoretical benefit could come from it (as in the case of Afghanistan). Of course, you have an obligation not to follow unlawful orders, but so far as I know no one has ever successfully argued that that means a soldier or marine can refuse to deploy because he or she thinks the president lacked sufficient justification to go to war, or because he or she thinks a particular war was a bad idea.

In other words, the people responsible for making the horrible decision to go to war in Iraq (and the just plain bad idea to go to war in Afghanistan) are (or were) in Washington, D.C. Period. You blame the politicians for those horrible or bad decisions. You don’t blame the men and women in uniform

Let me say that again: You don’t blame the men and women in uniform.

But anyway, if you believe that having a military is necessary to protect our country in the 21st Century – and make no mistake about it: I believe exactly that – then this is what you end up with: You end up with young men and women who are willing to take that oath, willing to join the military and thereby potentially risk their own lives to do something that we (or at least I) believe is necessary to do; and it seems to me the rest of us should be pretty damn glad there are people willing to do that, whether or not our political views happen to mesh.

And another thing: If we’re going to have a military, why wouldn’t we want to have at least some of our military personnel get an Ivy League education? I understand why Columbia and other institutions banned ROTC programs while the military persisted in discriminating against gay and lesbian service members. If an institution had an across-the-board antidiscrimination policy the military shouldn’t have been entitled to special treatment, and I applaud Columbia and other schools for sticking to their guns. But Congress (finally) did the right thing and repealed the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy last December, and the armed forces are now in the process of implementing the repeal. So the time has come to allow ROTC programs back on all college campuses – especially the most prestigious – because in the long run the military and the country as a whole are better served by having highly educated, highly trained military personnel.

Which brings me to the real point of this discussion. When, exactly, did we liberals decide to shun not only the institutional military but the individual men and women who serve? When did we decide America should be segregated into those who serve in uniform and the rest of us who are – what? – supposedly better than they are? If you ask me, all we’ve done is to cede the military – and not just its leadership but its rank-and-file membership – to the other side of the political aisle, and I don’t see how that’s good for anybody.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On the Air Again with Tim Corrimal and Friends – Episode 156

Episode 156 of the Tim Corrimal Show is now up. Tim’s guests this week are Andy Wienick (@awienick on Twitter), who has a new blog called Andy’s Bloviations, along with first timers Bryan (@FoldsOfFlab on Twitter) and Ben (@officiallyben on Twitter).

We began the show discussing the GOP’s new bread and circuses agenda, which focuses almost entirely on divisive social issues like revoking equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, attacking abortion rights, defunding Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio, and undermining unions and collective bargaining rights – all red-meat issues for the far right – as a means of distracting the public’s attention from the GOP’s inability to solve our ongoing economic crisis and create jobs. Among other clips, Tim played the stirring audio of 19 year old University of Iowa student Zach Wahls testifying before an Iowa House committee about his lesbian parents and the remarkable normalcy of his family – you can watch the entire video here – and the equally moving comments of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) on the floor of the House of Representatives, in which she discusses the agonizing decision she made to have an abortion in the midst of a troubled pregnancy where her health was in serious jeopardy.

And it was that latter clip that led me to do something I’d sworn to myself I would not do, which is to comment at length about the issue of abortion in a public context. For those of you who don’t know this is the third blog I’ve had over the years, and in both this and the previous iterations of my blogging existence I’ve scrupulously avoided the topic, not because I don’t have strong opinions about it but because I have many close friends and relatives with wildly divergent views on the subject and I’ve simply never wanted to offend any of them. The truth is, as strongly as I feel about abortion, personally, it’s one of the few issues where I feel like I really get where the other side is coming from. As quaint as it may sound, I really do respect the views of both sides of the abortion debate, and I respect how passionately both sides cleave to their respective positions. So while I do, in fact, take sides, I don’t want to demonize (or, maybe more importantly, antagonize) people who feel differently than I do.

But, anyway, now that the cat’s out of the proverbial bag, I suppose I’d better try to clarify the points I made rather clumsily on the show. My two biggest problems with the “pro-life” view (and don’t take the quotation marks to be sarcastic; I just don’t think that label is very accurate) are these: First, that most conservative Christians who oppose abortion rights frame their position as an absolute religious imperative, even though the traditional biblical law really doesn’t support that position; and, second, that basing one’s objections to abortion on the notion that life begins at conception or that a developing fetus is “human” in precisely the same sense that you and I are human is an extremist view that is both unnecessary to support the anti-abortion view and leads to completely untenable results.

In any event, on a less controversial note, we then turned our attention to the protests in Wisconsin and Fox News’ attempts to demonize union workers who are simply seeking to protect their existing legal and contractual rights. I previously explained my view of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and my support for the protesters here, here, here, and here (the last two with appropriate music, to boot!) … so, I think I’ve said enough about that subject for now.

Anyway, enjoy the show!

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Another Sad Ending

I really hate doing this. Particularly on a Saturday evening when there are more enjoyable things to do. But, unfortunately, I feel obligated to say something whenever this kind of thing happens.

Here’s the story. Friday night the local news media in Chicago reported that Dave Duerson, a former safety for the Chicago Bears who played on the 1985-86 Super Bowl Championship team, was “found dead” at his home in Miami. A man in good physical condition, dead at the age of 50; no signs of foul play; awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Hearing that, I had this uneasy feeling I’d been down this road before; and today, Peggy Kusinski of our local NBC affiliate, WMAQ-TV, confirmed what I’d suspected:

Former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson died from a gunshot wound to the chest, according to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner. 

His death has been ruled a suicide.

In a text message to loved ones, Duerson asked that his brain be left for NFL research, emphasizing he wanted the “left side” checked out in particular. 

Chris Nowinski, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine, received a call from a friend of the Duerson family Thursday night. He made arrangements to have the brain prepped in time for research and sent to Boston University.

It would be maudlin to speculate about his reasons, and in many respects the reasons are irrelevant. It says something about the man’s character that even when he was contemplating the worst thing in the world he thought of helping other football players, who are at a particularly high risk of brain injuries like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, by donating his own brain for scientific research. Beyond that, any more comment on Duerson’s particular case would be irresponsible.

But setting aside the particulars of Duerson’s case, I can’t let the suicide of a prominent figure go without commenting on the subject generally. Because, unfortunately, I’ve been there. I won’t dwell on my personal story here, other than to say that I lost my brother John to suicide in 1991 – a long time ago, and so there’s really no need to talk about the details. Still, having gone through it myself I feel like I have a responsibility to be open about it, mostly because even now, even in 2011, suicide one of the few remaining subjects that’s basically off limits.

And let me tell you something: That doesn’t help.

So (and again, without reference to Duerson’s situation), here are some hard facts about suicide – things that we should be, but generally aren’t, willing to talk about. From the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

In 2007, there were 34,598 reported suicide deaths in the U.S., according to the latest available data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, the suicide rate increased 3 percent from 11.2 suicides per 100,000 population in 2006 to 11.5 in 2007. The rate has fluctuated since 2000, ranging from a low of 10.4 in 2000 to a high of 11.5 in 2007, with a mean rate of 11.0 (see chart below). The 2007 suicide rate is the highest since 1995.

Current rates for every age group between 25 and 84 have increased. The most significant increases occurred in individuals aged 25 to 34 (12.3 in 2006 to 13.0 in 2007), 45 to 54 (17.2 to 17.7), and 55 to 64 (14.5 to 15.5). The rate of 17.7 for 45- to 54-year-olds is the highest for any age group in the country, while the rate for 55- to 64-year-olds showed the greatest increase from the previous year.

Suicide rates for those 45 to 64 have increased significantly since 2000. The current rate for the 45-54 age group (17.7) is the highest since 1977, while the rate for those aged 55 to 64 (15.5) is the highest since 1990.

Which means:

Every 15 minutes someone dies by suicide. It remains the 11th leading cause of death in this country. Though suicide attempts are not reported, it is estimated that close to one million people make a suicide attempt each year.

And, perhaps the most important point is this:

Research has shown that 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death, most often unrecognized or untreated depression.

So, I guess if there’s anything you should take away from this story it’s this: Even if you haven’t personally been touched by suicide, it happens so frequently there’s a chance someone you know has been touched by it; and there’s even a chance you will be in the future. And because most suicides stem from treatable illnesses, not talking about it, or pretending it doesn’t happen, or won’t happen to anyone you know, is really a bad idea.

I know it’s an uncomfortable subject to talk about. But guess what. It’s even more uncomfortable to live through. I’ve got about 20 years experience with that.

Meanwhile, whatever lead to Dave Duerson’s suicide, I hope his family – and especially his kids – get through this. I would say, “get through this unscathed” … but I know that’s not possible.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.