Thursday, March 31, 2005

Stifle a Liberal Professor Near You

Young Republican Profile in Courage Andrew Brock, who represents Davie County in the state Senate, has introduced a bill in the N.C. legislature, "Academic Bill of Rights," which isn't so much a Bill of Rights as it is a warning shot aimed at chilling "liberal" professors. Modeled on David Horowitz's national campaign to root out "liberal hegemony" in American universities, the Brock bill seems unlikely to move during this session. According to the N&O, "With no Democrats as sponsors and no companion bill in the House, the 'Academic Bill of Rights' is headed to a committee where two of its three co-chairmen are Democrats. It is not scheduled for a hearing."

David Horowitz's stock in trade is hair-raising stories of poor conservative college students made to eat out of toilets for expressing love of country ... that sort of over-heated fantasy propagation that wants to see every conservative as a helpless victim of evil, freedom-hating, "liberal" professors. Some of his stuff is just plain fabricated out of grievances over grades, in which the supposedly persecuted student might be said to have an ulterior motive in telling bad stuff on his/her professor.

Whatever. Reality plays a poor second fiddle to fantasies of persecution.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

On the Reservation ... and OFF

The NYTimes features today an op-ed piece by ex-Senator Bill Bradley, making some good sense about rebuilding the Democratic Party from the ground up. It's heavy on the metaphor of the pyramid, or rather an inverted pyramid, with the whole party balancing precariously on the point of a single presidential candidate. Here's part of what he said: "The trouble is that every four years the party splits and rallies around several different individuals at once. Opponents in the primaries then exaggerate their differences and leave the public confused about what Democrats believe. In such a system tactics trump strategy. Candidates don't risk talking about big ideas because the ideas have never been sufficiently tested. Instead they usually wind up arguing about minor issues and express few deep convictions. In the worst case, they embrace 'Republican lite' platforms -- never realizing that in doing so they're allowing the Republicans to define the terms of the debate."

But the more interesting op-ed in today's NYTimes is by ex-Senator and Republican John Danforth of Missouri (also ex-U.N. ambassador, soon to be replaced by Bush hardliner John Bolton), who raises his voice against the take-over of his party by the Religious Right. He knows whereof he speaks, being an ordained clergyman himself.

"The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active," Danforth says. "It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement."

Danforth mentions several initiatives advanced by the Religious Right, but he's clearly most concerned by his president's slamming the door on stem-cell research. And then there's this: "As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around."

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

It's Not Just Religion ... It's SPAM!

Religious conviction is now big business. Witness this:

"The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups." (NYTimes story here.)

The direct-mail firm, Response Unlimited, is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses.

What's next? A scrap of The True Bedclothes for a hundred bucks a pop on eBay? Tiny vials of Randall Terry's sweat?

Virginia Foxx, On the (Broken) Record

Congressperson Madame Virginia Foxx met a throng "of more than 20" persons at the Mountain House for breakfast last week (Watauga Democrat article here) and had a few things to say about tobacco quotas and Social Security. We read it so you don't have to:

WHAT SHE SAID: "Meetings are going on now to make it as close to the quota as it should be."

WHAT SHE MEANT: I don't believe in anybody getting any federal money. Except big fat corporations.


WHAT SHE SAID: "The rules are being worked out by other groups of people."

WHAT SHE MEANT: Don't call me with your complaints. There's not a thing I can do about it. Call the Democrats. Democrats probably did it.


WHAT SHE SAID: "Nobody wants to see people disadvantaged in this situation. It ought not to be overly complicated, but when you get government involved, that's what happens."

WHAT SHE MEANT: I'm not responsible for anything. Thank God I'm in the government but not of the government, if you know what I mean. You have no idea how hard it is to maintain your self-righteousness when you're making 200 grand a year. Did I ever mention to you how poor I was when I grew up?


WHAT SHE SAID: "While I can tell [your complaints] to [Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr], it's much more effective coming from you all."

WHAT SHE MEANT: Liddy Dole ... bitch won't return my calls.


WHAT SHE SAID: "Demographically, things have changed so dramatically in this country. [Social Security] is a broken system."

WHAT SHE MEANT: I got stinking rich. Why don't you try that too?


WHAT SHE SAID: "The president is trying to get people thinking about planning for retirement by saying personal accounts. We need a mindset change in the country."

WHAT SHE MEANT: I love a strong man. Those thighs, those... Wha? I mean, baseball. I'm thinking about baseball. Boring game. Boring, boring game. Have I mentioned to you lately how I love the Lord and shower with Him daily?


WHAT SHE SAID: "It'll take gas prices getting more expensive before people's attention will be caught."

WHAT SHE MEANT: Big corporations just get me hot.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Pill-Pushers Get All Self-Righteous Too

See this article in today's WashPost for the latest eruption of religious fanaticism ... so-called "Christian" pharmacists who believe that any form of birth-control is tantamount to abortion and who therefore refuse to fill prescriptions.

They wear their white lab coats like pontifical robes.

No one knows the extent of this "movement" to inflict "God" on women having sex, since many young, scared women don't complain when faced by a judgmental pharmacist. According to the WashPost article, only one pharmacist has had charges brought against him:

"Pharmacists are regulated by state laws and can face disciplinary action from licensing boards. But the only case that has gotten that far involves Neil T. Noesen, who in 2002 refused to fill a University of Wisconsin student's birth control pill prescription at a Kmart in Menomonie, Wis., or transfer the prescription elsewhere. An administrative judge last month recommended Noesen be required to take ethics classes, alert future employers to his beliefs and pay what could be as much as $20,000 to cover the costs of the legal proceedings. The state pharmacy board will decide whether to impose that penalty next month."

Wonder what would happen if a pharmacist decided it was against her "religion" to dispense Viagra?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Exterminator

Tom DeLay, who made his money spraying house foundations for termites, famously went to the wall for Terri Schiavo, forcing the U.S. Congress into a constitutional contortion for "the sake of life." DeLay accused Schiavo's husband and the courts of "an act of barbarism."

Well, now. 'Pears Mr. DeLay had his own moment of "barbarism" 17 years ago when he joined other members of his family in persuading doctors NOT to take extraordinary means to keep his own father alive (AP story in the N&O).

The congressman declined to be interviewed about his father's case, but a press aide said it was "entirely different than Terri Schiavo's."

Yeah, right. "Entirely different." In that Terri Schiavo is a perfect stranger who can be exploited for political purposes, while his father was ... well, his father, and DeLay didn't need no stinkin' federal government telling him what was best for his father.


This is now positively ancient (story came out Friday) but worth noting for its quite local connection: Richard Alan Meywes of Buncombe County was arrested in Fairview, N.C., on Thursday and charged by the FBI on Friday with "murder for hire," for an e-mail he sent soliciting someone -- anyone -- to kill Michael Schiavo for $250,000, and he tossed in another $50,000 for the death of the Florida judge in the case. (Russert on "Meet the Press" this a.m. was showing that judge's picture, which almost seemed designed to help any would-be, home-grown assassins out there successfully identify their target.)

The text of Meywes' e-mail was somewhat tortured, as though he had the foresight to attempt to deflect accountability: "It is my understanding that whoever eliminates Michael Schiavo from the planet while inflicting as much pain and suffering that he can bear stands to be paid this reward in cash." As we read that sentence, he was soliciting not just murder but a little freelance torture as well.

The e-mail also noted -- in the interests of scholarship, no doubt -- the recent death of a judge in Atlanta and the death of a judge's family members in Illinois.

We haven't found anything additional on who this Buncombe County cat is, his background, but we think it safe to assume he's the poster child of the fanatic religious right, the bunch that induced the Republican Congress & El Presidente to monkey with the constitution.

While we're on the topic of soliciting murder, the notorious anti-abortion screamer Randall Terry thrust himself into the Schiavo circus as "spokesman" for Terri's family against her husband Michael. Randall Terry is best known as the leader of Operation Rescue, which blockaded scores of abortion clinics back in the day and who arranged for the presentation of a dead fetus to candidate Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Charming guy.

For the subject at hand, it's important to note that one of Randall Terry's ardent followers, a malleable chump named James Kopp, took on the mission of murdering by ambush a Buffalo, N.Y., abortion doctor in 1998. Kopp went to jail. Randall Terry is free to agitate anew.

That agitation almost, ALMOST sparked a brawl between competing law enforcement agencies in Florida last Thursday. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sent agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to Terri Schiavo's hospice on Thursday (I mean, they were on the road!) to forcibly remove her from the premises, take her to a hospital, and oversee the reinstallation of the feeding tube. But the local cops in Pinellas Park, who've been providing security to the hospice against the Randall Terrys and their acolytes, warned they would stand their ground. To avoid what could have been a very ugly scene, not to mention a disaster, the Guv's boys turned around and went home before arriving at their destination.

The place -- as of the onset of this weekend -- had gone completely nuts. And not just Florida, obviously.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sen. Burr: No Right to Life for Waterfowl

The Sierra Club is pressuring Sen. Dick Burr (and Liddy Dole too) to get involved in trying to head off a planned Navy airstrip in close proximity to a wildlife refuge in eastern N.C. that hosts 100,000 migratory waterfowl each winter and "poses a severe risk of birds striking aircraft about half the year." The case is being litigated, and U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle issued a decision last month stopping (temporarily at least) the Navy from proceeding.

Sen. Burr piously said through his spokesman, "As long as this is in the court, the senator does not believe that congress should intervene."

Unless, of course, it's a "right-to-life" issue, since Sen. Burr seems not to have had a problem with the Senate's interfering with Florida state courts in the Terri Schiavo case. Is that because Burr is more afraid of Terry Randall than he is of a bunch of waterfowl huggers?

Home Is Where Your Hatred Blooms

Republican Commissioner of Mecklenburg County Bill James is leading a crusade to crack down on a huge threat to our democracy ... homeless voters! (James is already a party to Bill Fletcher's initiative to disfranchise over 11,000 provisional voters, but having grown bored with that success, he's apparently decided to open a new front in his war against full ballot access for everyone.) What you do unto the least of these, eh, Commissioner James?

James has spent his spare time scouring the voter registration rolls of Mecklenburg, ferreting out malfeasance. He says he's found 350 homeless registrations that list as "home" addresses such places as the Urban Ministry Center and Charlotte Rescue Mission. He wants that stopped. He wants the homeless to draw a map and specifically pinpoint the chicken coop, culvert, or packing crate where they sleep.

The Board of Elections has established guidelines that allow the homeless to list Hospitality House-type sites as "home." James claims that policy is illegal.

So how did Republicans get a reputation for meanness?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Good Neighbor U

News on the street is that Appalachian State University not only violated the Town of Boone's new tree ordinance, in cutting down two "historic" trees, but thumbed its nose at the town in the process. Told it would be in violation of the ordinance if it cut the trees, ASU went ahead and cut the trees, saying in effect, "So sue us."

It's the kind of thoughtful behavior we've come to expect from the new "corporate culture" of our home-town university.

It's just one brilliant public relations coup after another, eh Chancellor Peacock?

Anti-Abortion Group Got $$ of N.C. Tax-Payer Money

News about who got what from Speaker Black and Co-Speaker Morgan's $10 million state "slush fund" continues apace. For example, Morgan funnelled $82,000 through Stokes County Republican House member Rex Baker (who used to represent Watauga County in the state House), who gave the money to a King, N.C., anti-abortion Christian "counseling" center to pay off its mortgage. The Hope Pregnancy Care Center "mixes its counseling to women and girls with a call to accept Jesus Christ as their savior." According to the N&O, Morgan "was helping one of his closest allies, former Rep. Rex Baker, a King Republican. Baker made the request for the money last fall after he had lost the Republican primary."

Baker, who sort of sets the benchmark for public lying, denied to the N&O reporter that there was anything religious about the Hope Pregnancy Care Center: "They counsel young women as to the options," Baker said. "They are -- as I am -- very anti-abortion .... [But] I'm not aware of any religious activity."


Nothing particularly religious about urging a young woman in trouble and desperate to "accept Jesus Christ as her personal savior." Nothing at all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Democrats ... Flat-Footed as Always!

Will Rogers, who could rope an idea faster than some men can clear their throats, famously commented, "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

We're reminded of that (once again!) by this Terri Schiavo show-down. Polls are showing about a 70 percent majority of the American people thinking the Republicans are (pardon the precise medical term) "dickheads" on this issue. And where are the Democrats? Well, some of them, like Senators Reid and Harken, were trying to grab hold of the "scantity of life" express from the backside, as though riding the Republican caboose was going to get them to any destination that would have them, once they arrived.

A few House Democrats -- about 50 -- stood up and called a spade a spade.

This article in today's WashPost, about the polling on the Schiavo case, heightens the Democrats' appallingly lame reaction and the message opportunity that Republican self-righteousness has opened up. 'Course, our national Democrats can't see a target the size of a barn, much less hit it.

"...a debate that many Democrats seem eager to avoid..."

"Polls and analyses suggest that Republicans could find themselves out of step with many Americans, especially if Democrats find a more unified voice on the subject." As if!

"The poll suggests that Democrats have an opportunity to speak for a significant portion of Americans who feel the GOP is overreaching." But it takes cojones to speak, so don't count on it.

"Democrats are divided over how to respond to the emotional right-to-die issue ... and as long as there is not a 'Democratic worldview,' strongly committed conservatives will control the debate."

"Some Democrats liken the Schiavo situation to debates over gun control, in which a fiercely committed minority -- led in part by the National Rifle Association -- has thwarted legislation supported for years by most Americans."

" 'Our folks are nervous about this,' said a high-ranking House Democratic aide, one of several who would speak only on background because of the topic's sensitivity. Democrats are aware of the polls, he said, but also wary of the intensity and determination of the conservative groups -- many of them steeped in the politics of abortion -- that are demanding that Schiavo be kept alive." We're SKEERED!

"Democrats may be misreading the public's mood..."


N.C. State Auditor to Look at Slush Fund

The Republican sharks are circling Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, as everyone knew they would. And the new Republican state auditor, Les Merrit, says he'll conduct an inquiry into the $10 million secret fund that Black controlled. Not an audit, Merrit is quick to add, but an inquiry ... that could lead to an audit.

Black and his allies are hanging tough with the narrative that they did nothing wrong, and perhaps they didn't. Every story we've seen on this emphasizes that the money went to non-profits or to "governmental agencies that had policies to protect against conflicts of interest."

But still.

Parking $10 million of state funds in three agency budgets that are then exclusively controlled by Speaker Black (and former co-speaker Richard Morgan), who gives out the money to political allies to, in turn, make unasked-for grants to "worthy" programs in their house districts.... Wouldn't we be outraged if the Republicans were caught doing the same thing?

Monday, March 21, 2005

FEC Moving Forward on Plans to Regulate the Internet

The Federal Elections Commission is moving forward with what are likely to become a confused new tangle of rules to govern political speech on the Internet, and if activists on both the right and the left don't feel the same grip of outrageous power, then they just ain't paying attention.

Here's a quote to consider from today's WashPost: "We are almost certainly going to move from an environment in which the Internet was per se not regulated to where it is going to be regulated in some part," said FEC Commissioner David M. Mason, a Republican. "That shift has huge significance because it means that people who are conducting political activity on the Internet are suddenly going to have to worry about or at least be conscious of certain legal distinctions and lines they didn't used to have to worry about."

When the FEC gets to heaven, along with all those other "smaller government" Republicans, they can ram it up their gastro-intestinal track, sideways.

Less Government, My Ass!

In one of his brighter quips, George Will wrote several years ago, "Republicans are against big government ... except when they're for it" (or words to that effect -- don't make me search Google for the original wording!)

Driven by the rabidly anti-abortion Christian Right, Congressional Republicans (joined by a few registered Democrats) have made a political pawn out of a pitiful spectacle, and El Presidente got himself back to Washington from deep into his vacation in Texas, and way past his beddy-bye time, to sign one of the more hypocritical laws ever devised by the warped thinking of self-righteous men. Never mind 15 years of what Terri Schiavo's doctors all describe as a "persistent vegetative state," never mind the judicial process in Florida that involved more than one judge, never mind anything beyond the need to posture piously about the "sanctity of all life," and never mind their mantra about reducing the size and power of the federal government. The Congressional Republicans wanted to swoop in, and so they swooped.

Meanwhile, where was the "sanctity of all life" when El Presidente proposed in his budget to cut Medicaid by billions, in effect pulling a lot of metaphorical life support off thousands of people, who are every bit as dependent on the mercy of others as Terri Schiavo?

In fact, where was the "sanctity of all life" when El Presidente signed the "Texas Futile Care Law" while governor of Texas? That law expressly allowed (and still allows, according to Daily Kos) hospitals to let patients die who can't pay for extended life support.

The hypocrisy never stops. It just gets deeper.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Slush Fund City

The Raleigh News & Observer is full today of an investigative report into what some are already calling a "slush fund," for doling out favors to political allies, roughly $10 million bucks controlled by Speaker of the House Jim Black and Richard Morgan, a Moore County Republican who was co-speaker with Black last year in the state House. Call it bi-partisan corruption, or at least the appearance of corruption.

The list of non-profits that got unasked-for grants, doled out by N.C. legislators who in turn got the money doled out by Black and Morgan, all seem worthwhile enough and not very controversial. But passing out that kind of money just prior to the election last fall becomes a cause of embarrassment, if not outright scandal. And clearly the grants were intended to sway voters in favor of the legislators that Black and Morgan chose as conduits.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Back to the Stone Age

I wonder if those Europeans who lived during "The Age of Enlightenment" were aware that they were a part of a significant movement to push back the forces of ignorance and open the human mind to unthought-of possibilities?

I wonder how many Americans alive now, during The Second Term, are aware that we've entered a new "Age of Faith-Based Ignorance"? To wit:

"Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject [evolution] -- or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth -- fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures." (NYTimes story here.)

Being flabbergasted on a daily basis by the craven (on the one hand) and the intolerant (on the other) is putting increased wear on the chassis of my psyche, if you know what I mean. Being flabbergasted on a daily basis has in fact escalated lately into being flabbergasted on an HOURLY basis. Watching in the last 24 hours, for example, a pious congregation of Republican Congressmen in front of various microphones solemnly declaring that a bit of videotaped footage of Terri Schiavo makes them -- the Congressmen -- better medical diagnosticians than Schiavo's doctors ... well, it's scientifically flabbergasting.

"Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from volcanic vents in the ocean floor, is one of the recent Imax documentaries to get the know-nothing treatment. Released in 2003, the volcanoes film has been rejected in about a dozen science theaters, "mostly in the South," "because of its brief references to evolution, in particular to the possibility that life on Earth originated at the undersea vents." The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, for example, decided to censor the film after test-screening it and receiving comments from some audience members -- those good Texas Baptists! -- who found it "blasphemous."

(Doesn't that make you flash on a scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," when villagers are trying to determine if a woman is a witch, by drowning her? When life in these United States begins to resemble the plot of a Monty Python movie ... we are beyond FLABBERGASTED.)

Perhaps El Presidente would like to turn over all scientific film-making to Mel Gibson, who evidently has a way with Texas Baptists and other bizarre life forms that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations of American Know-Nothingism.

Friday, March 18, 2005

N.C. Spending on Education Ranks 40th

A new report on funding for public education by the U.S. Census ranks North Carolina 40th among the 50 states. In plainer language, North Carolina is tenth from THE BOTTOM in the amount of money it devotes to educating its children. The state's ranking dropped from 39th in 2002 and 36th in 2001. "A downward trend for three years in a row is not a good sign," said John Dornan, director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a policy organization in public education. Aside from being an authority on school funding, Mr. Dornan is also a master of understatement.

States now ranking ahead of North Carolina include Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

Senate Democrats Hang Tough

The Bush budget called for more tax cuts for the rich and entitlement cuts for the poor, particularly cuts to Medicaid. By razon-thin margins, both the House and the Senate passed their versions of that budget last night, but in the Senate, the defection of seven Republicans and the unanimity of the Democrats, took out the Medicaid cuts and put the House and Senate "on a collision course" (according to this morning's NYTimes).

It's a gratifying, not to mention unusual experience to look at the roll-call vote and see all the Dems hanging together on the Medicaid issue. And the names of the seven dissident Republicans are in many instances the same as those who voted against allowing oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, with some exceptions.

The Republicans who voted against slashing Medicaid:

Chafee of Rhode Island
Coleman of Minnesota
Collins of Maine
DeWine of Ohio (what liberal flu bug has he caught?)
Smith of Oregon (he actually led on this issue)
Snowe of Maine
Specter of Pennsylvania

But the Senate, with some Democratic help, also voted to approve a total of $134 billion in tax cuts, $34 billion more than President Bush requested and $64 billion more than the Senate Republican leadership had initially proposed. No truer commentary on this budget bill was ever spoken than the words of Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico: "We didn't know what we were doing."

None of this is law yet, and there's a real question whether it ever will be, given the substantive differences between House Republicans and Senate Republicans. As Sen. Domenici remarked earlier in the week, "It's a long process."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Goodbye-to-the-Arctic-Wildlife-Refuge Vote

Democrats attempted to remove the Republican plan to drill for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge from this year's budget and came within two votes of winning. Three Dems Senators voted with the Republicans (Akaka and Inouye of Hawaii -- what's up with them? -- and Landrieu of Louisiana), while seven Republicans voted with the Dems (with some surprises): Chafee of Rhode Island (no surprise), Coleman of Minnesota (mild surprise), Collins of Maine, DeWine of Ohio (big surprise), McCain of Arizona, Smith of Oregon, and Snowe of Maine.

Leave Landrieu to her big-oil sponsors. But the two Hawaiian senators could have won this thing for the Democrats. Why didn't they?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Campus Witch Hunt

David Horowitz has been beating the drum for conservative college students to fight back against their commie college professors, and he's been using a story about a student at Northern Colorado University to make his points about how positively unAmerican professors are these days. The NCU student was supposedly asked on a test to "explain why George Bush is a war criminal." According to Horowitz's account, the student wrote an essay explaining why Saddam Hussein was a war criminal and received an F.

Think Progress exposes the several outright fabrications in this story, and apparently Horowitz is trying to save face.

Having spent several decades teaching college students how to read and write, and having heard more than one hair-raising tale of alleged intellectual malfeasance told by breathless students against one of my professor colleagues, I could have warned Horowitz about believing everything he hears. Students often have their own motives for wanting people to believe that their professors are in league with Satan.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What Purrs Like a 240-Lb. Cat?

Antonin Scalia's current neediness to be liked is so ... alarming. The man who had a journalist roughed up for her tape-recording of one of his public speeches is, according to today's WashPost, putting on a charm offensive. Why? There's about to be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, as in Chief Justice, and Scalia wants that robe. "Scalia Showing His Softer Side," purrs the headline. The justice has evidently rolled over and exposed his ample belly for us to rub. But he just can't help but also show those fangs: "Though I'm a law-and-order type, I cannot do all of the mean, conservative things I'd like to do to the society," he told an audience at the Wilson Center yesterday. People were supposed to laugh at that line. We shudder. And we wouldn't touch that belly with a 49-and-a-half-foot pole.

Sign of the Times

From this a.m.'s WashPost: "The Bush administration, rejecting an opinion from the Government Accountability Office, said last week that it is legal for federal agencies to feed TV stations prepackaged news stories that do not disclose the government's role in producing them."

So it's official: El Presidente has and will continue to feed bullshit to the American public.

Gone Fishin' in Kansas

The fishing expedition of Kansas attorney general Phill (Double 'ell) Kline, who has subpoenaed the medical and personal records of dozens of women who received abortions at two Kansas clinics, is likely to set legal precedent. Lawyers for the two clinics are producing vigorous arguments submitted to the Kansas Supreme Court, to wit: "...the logical and natural progression of this action [Kline's subpoenas] could well be a knock on the door of a woman who exercised her constitutional right to privacy, by special agents of the attorney general who seek to inquire into her personal, medical, sexual or legal history."

One of the targets of Kline's witch-hunt, Women's Health Care Services, is run by George Tiller, who also happened to raise money to defeat Kline in his 2002 campaign to be elected Kansas attorney general, a race he won by less than 1 percent of the vote.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Armies of Know-Nothingism

Big article in today's WashPost proving the theory of evolution ... at least the evolution of the anti-evolution crowd, who've evolved to promote "intelligent design" as their counter to Darwin.

"Intelligent design" is a little more complicated than the six-day creation blitz recounted in Genesis Chapter 1, but the ultimate goal of promoting "intelligent design" is not only to turn back the clock on accepted science but to set the calendar back on culture and politics as well: "The idea [is] to sow doubt about Darwin and buy time for the 40-plus scientists affiliated with ['Intelligent Design'] to perfect the theory.... Also, by deferring a debate about whether God was the intelligent designer, the strategy avoids the defeats suffered by creationists who tried to oust evolution from the classroom and ran afoul of the Constitution."

When the mere presence of science threatens religion, there's something fundamentally weak about that religion. When the mere presence of science threatens political power, then science had better watch out. El Presidente, for example, has already delivered himself of the scholarly opinion that "the jury is still out on evolution," angering many scientists and teachers who can still tell a hawk from a handsaw.

Defeating science is just another front in the political wars, make no mistake: "To fundamentalist Christians ... the fight to teach God's role in creation is becoming the essential front in America's culture war .... If evolution's boosters can be forced to back down, [one of the promoters of 'Intelligent Design'] said, the Christian right's agenda will advance. 'If you believe God created that baby, it makes it a whole lot harder to get rid of that baby,' [he] said. 'If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die.' "

Everything's so simple when all your demons are "liberal."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Virginia Republicans Sit On Their Potts

Don't you dare miss the newest Republican purge of a "moderate" up in Virginia.

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. of Winchester has denounced "this radical, extreme, out-of-touch element in the Republican Party" that's ruling Virginia and a good deal of everything else and vowed to run for governor of Virginia as an "independent Republican" against the anointed candidate, Jerry W. Kilgore, the former state attorney general.

Last Monday the Winchester City Republican Committee declared that Potts was no longer a Republican, at least not one they recognized, and they called on Potts to resign his state senate seat. Republican big-wigs are calling on the Republican caucus in the state senate to strip Potts of his committee assignments, including the chairmanship of the Senate's Education and Health Committee. "From that perch, he has led a majority of the 15-member committee in blocking some conservative social legislation from reaching the Senate floor."

You're an apostate, Mr. Potts, and you know what Republicans do to apostates, don't you? Our advice: steer clear of any big piles of kindling.

Potts is not going easy: "They don't have the power to tell me whether I'm a Republican or not. Only God and myself have the power to do that," he said. "It's the party of my forefathers .... I will not yield...."

If Potts' principled stand attracts public support -- and it could -- his candidacy could spell trouble for the Republicans' attempt to take back the governership of Virginia. He needs just 10,000 signatures to get his name on the ballot. Said Winchester City Council President Charles T. Gaynor, "I'm a moderate Republican, and there are a lot of us around here. Russ has abandoned the Republican Party, but I'm not so sure the Republican Party has not abandoned a lot of us."

You Call It 'Incentives' ... We Call It 'Extortion'

Lowe's Corp. went before Sylva's town council in a specially called meeting and suggested strongly that if the town wanted a big new Lowe's store in its midst, it needed to "sweeten the pot." Meaning, "give us a special deal," as in the waiver of fees, a sales tax sharing agreement, or Sylva's applying for grants to benefit Lowe's.

Am I alone in finding this kind of corporate bribery not just distasteful but ... immoral?

It's a little alarming in some ways that uber-Republican John Hood of the John Locke Foundation agrees: "North Carolina's escalating use of tax subsidies to 'close deals' with potential private employers was destined to provoke the state's existing businesses. While there are many different arguments, both legal and economic, against such targeted incentives, among the most persuasive is that 'targeting' incentives to some firms inevitably means targeting other firms not for benefits but for costs."

What focuses our local discomfort was hearing on Friday the owner of a very successful local entrepreneurial enterprise tell the county commissioners that they needed to be thinking of "incentives" to keep him from moving all or part of his business to Wilkes County, which is apparently prepared to offer "pot-sweeterners" to poach our home-grown businesses. Extortion, when practiced by a Watauga County "entrepreneur," is no more attractive than that practiced by Lowe's corp. on Sylva.

Tempest in Davidson County

Last Thursday, Fred Sink, a Republican county commissioner in Davidson County, was convicted of a felony ("aiding and abetting obtaining property by false pretenses") for inducing a county employee to fix a toilet in his home on county time (the Lexington Dispatch requires free registration). Sink is a past sheriff of Davidson County, and according to Assistant District Attorney Greg Brown, Mr. Sink has taken part "in a pattern of local government corruption." Like any Republican politician convicted of wrong-doing, Sink quickly wrapped himself in Christ: "I am not the ringleader of a Davidson County Mafia," he said. "I have tried to live a Christian life all my life, and I'm going to try to do that no matter what."

Six hours later and in the exact same courtroom where he was convicted, Sink attended the county Republican Convention and apparently received the endorsement of his party to hang tough. He declared he would not resign his seat on the County Commission unless forced to, and he's appealing his conviction. Across the courtroom at the same convention sat Republican District Attorney Garry Frank, the man who prosecuted him. You could have cut the tension with a dull butter knife!

Speaking of tense Republican county conventions ... what happened at the Republican convention Saturday a week ago? No press coverage. Nothing but the rumor that Watauga County Republicans elected Spencer Mains as their chair. Why the secrecy?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

New Law on Deciding State Elections

Among other things that happened during the second half of this week ... The state House and Senate, along party-line votes, gave final approval to a new law giving themselves the right to decide contested state-wide elections. The Guv signed the law. June Atkinson, the front-runner in the still undecided state-wide Superintendent of Public Instruction race wasted no time filing a petition with the state legislature, asking it to declare her the winner.

"Under the law, the legislature would form a 10-member panel to hear the claims of both sides in the disputed election, then make recommendations. The legislature would then meet in a joint session to choose a winner."

Here's the part we like best, considering how the state's all-Republican Supreme Court stuck its collective nose into this race and disfranchised some 11,000 votes: "A loser in the General Assembly vote could not appeal to the courts. Once a candidate asks the legislature to decide the race, any court challenges would be terminated."

The Democrats in the state legislature say they have every right to make this law retroactive to apply to the election just past. Meanwhile, the Supremes are no doubt stewing. Will they want to continue the confrontation?

Elon College Poll on Taxes

(Won't bore you with details of my whereabouts Wednesday through Friday, since all-day meetings rank somewhere below watching paint dry, but on the one day when I could have done postings to this site -- Thursday -- the server was inexplicably down. What was hot news on Thursday is waaay stale by now. So we press on:)

Elon College has done state-wide polling (of 571 adults) on The Guv's tax plan and found this:

1. Nearly 60 percent are willing to jump the cigarette tax up from the current 5 cents to 50 cents per pack ... with no regrets. Apparently, a significant majority of North Carolinians are non-smokers now and don't hesitate to stick it to those who haven't kicked the habit.

2. Nearly 53 percent don't mind keeping the half-cent of additional sales tax that was passed as an emergency measure, since they associate it with budget-balancing.

3. The largest majority (63 percent) doesn't like Easley's plan to lower taxes on the wealthiest among us. Not that The Guv gives a flip.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Who's John Bolton?

El Presidente's pick to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, that's who. Ex-Senator Jesse Helms a few years ago called John Bolton "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at the gates of Armageddon." You know Armageddon, right? That favorite vacation spot for conservatives with a certain frame of mind.

Think Progress has been putting together a few salient Bolton quotes (here & here):

"If I were doing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world ... [and that member would be] the United States." [NPR, Talk of the Nation, 6/6/00]

When proponents of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty worried that its defeat was marking an isolationist turn for the U.S., Bolton said that "such fears are indications of a profoundly misguided and potentially dangerous philosophy in American foreign policy" and called them "timid and neo-pacifist." [Taipei Times, 11/20/99]

And when he was given permission to sign the letter to the U.N. that stated Washington was renouncing the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal Court, Bolton described it as "the happiest moment of my government service." [USA Today, 1/18/00]

"I just wanted to say a quick word on behalf of America's corporate giants ... they have contributed enormously over the years to our defense and to the triumph over communism, and they made a buck off of it as well. I don't see anything wrong with that. I think it's another triumph of both the capitalists and democratic sides of our system." [NPR, 5/21/99] John Bolton ... Halliburton's greatest fan?

Monday, March 07, 2005

N.C. Primary in February?

A bill has been introduced in the state senate to move North Carolina's presidential primary from May to the first Tuesday in February in 2008. It might be called (but isn't) "The Political Tourism Promotion Act of 2005," since its authors are trying to make N.C. a player in the early presidential primaries, which would also inevitably boost revenues in certain tourism-related industries, especially advertizing. It would put N.C.'s primary soon after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary (and ahead of South Carolina's, which ought to steam 'em pretty good).

Wal-Mart's Shell Game

Wal-Mart's inexorable march to own America, lock, stock, and kitty litter, shows us what The Borg of "The Next Generation" was actually a metaphor of. Wal-Mart, like The Borg faced with new defensive maneuvers by the race they intend to "assimilate," quickly learn the new defenses and develop a diabolical path around them. To wit:

In Inglewood, Calif., the company tried to circumvent the City Council's rejection of its 130,000-square-foot superstore by putting a measure before voters that would have exempted the company from the city's zoning and environmental laws. It was rejected last April by 60 percent of voters.

In Tampa last year, Wal-Mart opened a 99,000-square-foot Supercenter prototype designed to come in just below the 100,000-square-foot size caps imposed by cities and counties across the country.

After officials in Calvert County, Md., passed tough regulations last summer that limited the size of big-box stores, Wal-Mart has developed its newest innovation to skirt the rules: It plans to build a 74,998-square-foot store cheek by jowl with a 22,689-square-foot garden center. The two Wal-Marts -- each with its own entrance, utilities, bathrooms and cash registers -- would have a combined area 30 percent larger than the 75,000-square-foot limit for a single store in Calvert County's village of Dunkirk, "a cozy hamlet in Southern Maryland ringed by rolling tobacco fields" and one of the villages Calvert County officials were trying to protect.

And in case you hadn't already gotten the message that "resistance is futile," the WashPost found an academic to underscore that message: "It almost points out the futility of municipalities developing ordinances and laws that restrict the size of stores," said Kenneth E. Stone, professor emeritus of economics at Iowa State University, who has studied the company for 20 years. "There's always a way around them, and an outfit as big and smart as Wal-Mart will think of a way."

"Wal-Mart officials say there is nothing Calvert [County] can do to prevent construction of the stores." See. Just lie back, close your eyes, grit your teeth, and we'll try not to leave bruises.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Strangling Speech on the Internet

Get ready, O my brethren, for the first stumbling steps of the government toward stifling political speech on the Internet. Read this in today's NYTimes. Note that it's a Democratic member of the Federal Elections Commission who's advising calm while hinting that a crack-down is on the way: "People should not be alarmed," said Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic FEC commissioner. "Given the impact of the Internet, I think we have to take a look at whether there are aspects of that that ought to be subject to the regulations. But again, I don't want this issue to get overblown. Because I really don't think, at the end of the day, this commission is going to do anything that affects what somebody sitting at home, on their home computer, does."

Yeah? So why go there? Why start making noise about assessing active political bloggers and e-mail list maintainers as being covered by McCain-Feingold?

It's a Republican Commissioner (bless his heart!) who's been sounding his own alarm about this step in the wrong direction: "Anyone who decides to 'set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet' could be subject to Federal Election Commission regulation, Bradley A. Smith, a Republican commissioner, said."

We've thought all along that the freedom of the Web would eventually attract the baleful eye of power. But we've also always thought that American ingenuity would figger a way around whatever censorship the government decides to experiment with. We just hate the coming hassle.

Triangulation Watch

Events seem to dictate our starting a regular feature, tracking Hillary Clinton's flummoxing of the Republican cartoon they've drawn of her, and so we recommend this article in today's NYTimes, which talks about how she's already co-opted some prominent New York Republicans, on her relentless March to the White House.

Resistance is futile. You WILL be assimilated.

The Democrats' "God Squad"

Rob Christensen writes in today's N&O about the new "God Squad" that has formed among Democratic members of the U.S. House. A member of that caucus, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, was in a couple of North Carolina House districts recently dragging N.C. Reps. Etheridge and McIntyre from black church to black church.

"I think in years past those of us who are Democrats are so conscious of First Amendment rights and the separation of church and state, and so conscious of not insulting and violating people's religious beliefs, we have left that issue alone and spoke in secular terms," Clyburn told Christensen -- a sensible assessment.

God talk is not a bad thing (though I make a major exception for Hillary). In fact, maybe given the shape of the world and the fact that the opposition political party has so habitually wrapped itself in self-righteousness, God talk is flat-out demanded, since we appear to be dealing with no less than cosmic issues and can justifiably call on Higher Powers for help.

But there's also a huge stumbling block lying in the path of righteousness ... being perceived as "faking it," or worse, faking it. (An Episcopalian candidate for office whooping it up in a Pentecostal Church is bound to be a segment on "The Daily Show.")

I've spent a large percentage of my life in church, and I know in my marrow that good church people can spot a phony by a generous country mile. And they know very well when politicians are trying to use them. They decide to go along with some politicians and get "used" when the outcomes they expect are great enough to off-set the harlotry they're committing in the name of God.

Too many good church people have sold out their judgments because they want to be protected from gay people and women having out-of-wedlock sex. They want to be protected from those things because they genuinely believe those things spell the end of civilization as they have known it. What's the "God Squad" gonna do to counter that? They can't sell out principle and promise to rid the earth of what offends church people. But they can change the subject. They might well seize the moment and defend what good rural church people also cherish ... the safety nets of Social Security and Medicare, which the Republican Party demonstrably want to end, once and for all.

A social responsibility for our human community is also Biblical. More specifically, it's very Christian. Get yourself a Concordance (there are several good ones on-line) and look up how often Jesus Christ spoke of the poor (and while you're at it, take a gander at how often he bashed the rich).

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Torturers R Us

You might have noticed that I had sworn off paying attention in this space to the U.S.A.'s participation in torture, mainly because when I read about that stuff, I start vibrating like a tuning fork, and it can become violent. So I haven't done a lot of reading, closing my eyes like any good uninformed American to the repeated headlines that have documented our appalling reputation in the Muslim world.

This one sneaked up on me. Just browsing some of my favorite sites, after a week of being snowed under -- both literally and figurately -- I stumbled innocently enough on Eric Alterman's summary of Torture Incorporated, a.k.a., the Bush administration, with more illustrative links than Idi Amin would have a stomach for.

It is this stuff that makes me actively hate.

When You Did in the Closet, Does Anyone Hear?

We all know that there are gay Republicans. At least several. And many are conflicted in their loyalty to the Grand Old Party, for obvious reasons. The Log Cabin Republicans, for example, the largest club for gay Republicans, refused to endorse El Presidente in the past election, though they also didn't exactly campaign against him, far as we could tell.

Why there are gay Republicans becomes a mystery as inscrutable almost as cold fusion theory. The North Carolina Republican Party, for example, wouldn't allow North Carolina gay Republicans to set up a card table at the state's Republican convention last year. Why would you hang out politically with people who think they'll get gay cooties if they allow you in the lobby?

So reading this headline in the Washington Times got our attention -- "Republican media advisor found dead" -- and discovering that said "media advisor" was G.A.Y. but evidently still in the official party closet, according to the Times, reconfirms our impression that Kool Aid-imbibing may be more rife than we had suspected.

The "media advisor" about whom the headline was written was R. Gregory Stevens, "who recently served as co-chairman of the Bush/Cheney Entertainment Task Force," i.e., a shill for lining up even third-rate Hollywood talent for the 2nd Bush Inaugural. Stevens was 42 -- 42! -- and was found dead by actress Carrie Fisher in one of her guest bedrooms last Saturday morning. No explanation, no known cause of death.

Then the Times gets real, real coy, in that 1950s up-tight style of theirs: Mr. Stevens was "a flamboyant personality and bicoastal bachelor."

Oh. Oh, right! Might as well have written, "Mr. Stevens was out of the closet among his friends and in Hollywood but still very much in the closet as far as the Republican mullahs who are currently jerking El Presidente's chain on values and morality."

Mr. Stevens was also "regarded as something of a misfit [wink, wink] in the corridors of the buttoned-down lobbying firm" he worked for, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, the powerhouse K Street Republican outfit started by former Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour, who is currently guv of Missislappy.

It's obviously a loss when a 42-year-old, "very popular" bicoastal personality dies suddenly and without explanation. It's much sadder that he served a power structure that can't acknowledge who he was.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Saga of Erica & Jerry and the Texas Fetal Protection Act

Texas, my home state, joined a national stampede in 2003 to criminalize harm done to a fetus by third parties. Texas was, in fact, the only state in 2003 to criminalize harm to a fetus at any stage of its development. There's been a push on in D.C. to pass a federal law, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which passed the Republican House in 1999 but has languished in the Senate. (It's been renamed "Laci and Connor's Law" in honor of Laci Peterson, murdered while pregnant by her husband Scott). It would create a federal crime allowing charges to be filed against those who kill or injure a fetus during the commission of another federal offense.

Here's the catch in all this maneuvering to declare a fetus legally a person: neither the proposed federal Peterson law, nor state laws like the one in Texas, cover abortions. In fact, these laws are forced constitutionally (by the hated Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision) to explicitly exempt the acts of "any woman with respect to her unborn child" and any person "for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman has been obtained." Pay close attention to that second quoted clause for what follows.

Two stupid teenagers in Texas are playing havoc with the Texas fetal protection act, not only ruining their own lives in the process but making fools of the Texas legislature.

As stated earlier, Texas has a very strict criminal statute protecting a fetus at any stage of development from third-party harm. But in the case of 16-year-old Erica Basoria and her 18-year-old boyfriend Gerardo "Jerry" Flores, teenager baby-daddy-drama can outwit the clear thinking of even super-moralists.

Erica and Jerry were students in the Lufkin, Texas, school system. They started dating. They started having sex. She got pregnant. With twins. They both freaked out, but Jerry, who planned on going to college on a soccer scholarship, offered to put off school and help with the babies. Erica's parents urged abortion, saying their daughter was too young for two children. Jerry's mother was just as strongly opposed to abortion.

According to the affidavit that Erica later wrote for the police, when she began showing at four months, "I started hitting myself [to induce a miscarriage]. I would do this every other day, and I would use both of my fists when I did this. I would hit myself 10 or more times."

Then she turned to her boyfriend. "I said I didn't want to do it," he recalled. But she kept pleading, he said, until he agreed to step on her. Yes, he stood on her stomach. And she miscarried.

At the Lufkin hospital, emergency room workers saw the bruises and assumed she'd been beaten up. Police arrested Jerry as the culprit. After Erica confessed to what happened, the local prosecutor decided to charge Jerry with capital murder under the Texas fetal protection act, and he's in jail awaiting trial. Take my word for it: they rarely let anyone off for anything in Texas. Stupid teenagers are just fresh meat.

Under the Texas law, as indeed under the proposed federal Peterson act, Erica can't be charged. After all, abortion is legal. And as we read it, Jerry wouldn't be chargeable under the federal law either. Remember that earlier clause? Any person would be exempt from prosecution "for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman has been obtained." Not only was consent obtained; it was a plot initiated in this case by the pregnant (and incredibly desperate) girl.

So. We've got a teenager facing god knows what under a statute that considers Jerry's actions a crime while simultaneously granting Erica's constitutional right. Pause a moment and let the full force of that paradox sink in: in Texas, one person's constitutional right is another person's capital crime. But instead of acknowledging the stupidity of their state law, the Texas prosecutors are evidently just itching for any way to charge Erica too. But they can't.

"How can two people conspire to do something like this and only one of them be punished? How can that be fair?" defense attorney Ryan Deaton asked. Prosecutor Clyde Herrington said it was startling that "they completely leave the female out of the criminal penalty. It doesn't seem entirely fair," Herrington said.

No, not fair. And but one smelly blossom out of the many buds developing on this whole body of law, which is meant ultimately to prevent Erica from having any choice -- never mind the idiotic one she chose.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Freaky Thursday Round-Up

Wonkette has the right response to this bass-ackwards world we currently inhabit: blog only while drunk. But since we've been snowed-in for -- what? -- weeks and can't get to the booze store, and so far the ABC boys won't make home deliveries, not even for ready cash, we have to face life's bizarre developments unfortified.

1. Hillary, triangulating. The former First Lady, current junior senator from New York, and candidate for president in 2008 is rediscovering how important God is in her life. While I generally applaud magnificently over-the-top examples of public hypocrisy ... I need alcohol to swallow this particular load.

2. Dear Tasmanian Devil and part-time senator from West Virginia Robert C. Byrd apparently did the opposite of Hillary's triangulation yesterday and implied that the Republican national leadership is a bunch of Nazis. Senator Byrd, whom I used to lampoon when he was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee for hauling off huge chunks of the federal bureaucracy to West Virginia, has been one of the few Democrats in the Senate to stand up to the Bush steamroller. He was righteous against this war. And he was righteous on Tuesday, evidently, decrying the "nuclear option" the Republicans say they're prepared to use to shut down Democratic filibustering. Judging from the horrified gasps from the Right-Wing Gasbags ("Did you hear that! He called us Nazis!"), Byrd connected. (I was trying to melt snow-water yesterday over a pitiful campfire of broken chair legs when I saw that born-again paragon Bob Novak replaying parts of the Byrd rant, apparently so that viewers of CNN would get the impression that there was actually a human being somewhere more odious than Bob Novak.)

3. Yesterday, El Presidente's new CIA director, Porter Goss, said he was overworked, overwhelmed, and confused by his new job. Too much to do, he whined. Can't keep up, he implied. It's harrrrd, he said, imitating his boss. All by way of reassuring us, evidently, that our national security is in very good hands.

4. There's unrest among faculty members at the Chapel Hill campus of UNC, over a proposed gift of $14 million from the John William Pope Foundation to set up a new program in "Western cultures" (read: dead white males and their products). The Pope family has been prominent in right-wing Republican politics in the state, and Pope Foundation offshoot, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, has made news attacking the pinko-Commies on the UNC faculty, attacking women's studies classes, making a federal case out of UNC freshmen's reading of a book on the Koran, and other witch-hunting activities. Clearly, the administration at UNC wants their mitts on the $14 mil and are apparently willing to do what the Pope Foundation tells 'em to do to get the money. The Pope people want an escape clause that says they can withdraw the money after five years, just to keep the heat on. And at least some of the faculty -- at least the few who are paying attention -- justifiably smell a rat.

(The UNC uproar bears a resemblance to an effort a few years ago by a prominent ASU trustee to give a far smaller amount to set up an Ayn Rand Institute for the Advancement of Objectivism on the ASU campus, and clearly at that time, the ASU administration found the cash just too enticing, until a few heroic faculty members started looking into the Ayn Rand Institute. Challenged, the ASU top dog turned down the money.)

5. On Tuesday, in a city-wide primary for city council seats, the voters of Topeka, Kansas, soundly defeated an anti-gay initiative on the ballot along with anti-gay candidate Jael Phelps, a member of Westboro Baptist Church (most famous for conducting notorious "God Hates Fags" picketing at funerals). Phelps was running in the primary against Topeka's lone openly gay city council member, incumbent Tiffany Muller. Not only did the voters of Topeka reject anti-homosexual bigotry, the issues in the election brought out the largest number of voters in any city election since 1971. So, whatever's "the matter" with Kansas is not the matter with Topeka!

Easley, Champion of the Rich

An important article in today's N&O suggesting rather pointedly that when Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, says we've got to lower the tax rate on the richest North Carolinians because it's driving away corporations that want to relocate here, that he's, well, fibbing. Or at least he & his boys have failed to produce any proof of that claim:

"North Carolina should cut income taxes for the wealthy, Gov. Mike Easley says, because executives looking to relocate or expand businesses are shunning the state.
But Easley's administration has been reluctant to offer many examples of that, leading critics to say his evidence is flimsy. Several major corporate site consultants say a company would rarely use a state's personal income tax rate as the main factor in deciding where to set up shop."

And then, deeper in the article:

"When reporters last week pressed for reasons why Easley is supporting this reduction now, senior budget adviser Dan Gerlach echoed the governor's comments on losing business. 'There are a number of consultants who told us ... once they saw [N.C.'s income tax rates], they crossed us off the list,' Gerlach said. The administration has refused to identify those consultants or cite examples other than that of Louisiana Pacific, a building supply company that in 2003 considered moving its Portland, Ore., headquarters to Charlotte but chose Nashville, Tenn. Gerlach said the income tax was a big factor in losing that company and its 150 headquarters jobs. Mary Cohn, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Pacific, said she wouldn't describe it 'quite that way.' 'There are many factors,' she said. 'Tax structure is one thing, but there are the schools, the quality of life, the location with our operations, the available business space.' "

The guv and his boys are making this stuff up to stampede the state legislature.

Everyone agrees that cutting the top rates in North Carolina will benefit disproportionately the top 1 percent of wage earners. The top 1 percent of wage earners had an average income of $692,000 in 2004, and these are the fat cats that the Guv, a friggin Democrat, feels he has to coddle, while he wants to slap an additional burden on the rest of us wage slaves, including new taxes on candy, newspapers, telephone bills, theater tickets, etc.

I think we should slap a tax on the guv and his boys and anyone else heard to bemoan the plight of those making a measly half-mil a year.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Man Who Would Be Chief Justice

Everyone expects George W. Bush to appoint Antonin Scalia as Chief Justice when the current Chief, William Renquist, finally shuffles off the bench and gives up his chevron-emblazoned pontifical robes, so it's only wise to consider the judicial temperament of the Man Who Would Judge Us.

You saw the decision announced yesterday that ruled unconstitutional the execution of persons who were legally children when they committed their crimes? Justice Scalia, with Justice Thomas in lockstep, voted in the minority on that case, voted to allow the execution of children, specifically in Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia. According to Think Progress, "The practice has been disavowed, since 1990, in human rights bastions such as Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Congo and China." It's saying something that our next Chief Justice might be considered a trifle harsh in Saudi Arabia, which still practices stoning to death for adulterous women.

In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, Scalia and Thomas supported executing the mentally retarded, dissenting from the Court's 6-3 ruling that executing mentally retarded convicts constituted "cruel and unusual punishment."

Also in 2002, in Hope v. Pelzer, Scalia and Thomas dissented from a 6-3 decision to ban the Alabama practice of chaining prisoners to outdoor "hitching posts" and abandoning them for hours without food, water, or a chance to use the bathroom.

In 1992, Scalia and Thomas dissented in Hudson v. McMillan, a case in which a Louisiana inmate "was shackled and then punched and kicked by two prison guards while a supervisor looked on." The beating left the inmate "with a swollen face, loosened teeth and a cracked dental plate." The Court ruled the inmate's treatment violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, but Scalia and Thomas argued the inmate had suffered "insignificant" harm.

Alberto Gonzales, when he, too, gets the Bush appointment to the High Court, is going to fit right in with these guys.

The 10 Commandments Case

Trying to recover from a bad night of high winds and trying to keep a wood fire going, I blearily turned on C-SPAN this a.m. to catch Kelly Shackleford, a lawyer with the Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute, and the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, debate each other about the Ten Commandments cases being heard today in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lynn pretty much ate Shackleford's lunch and clearly has constitutional precedent on his side. But it doesn't matter, and I find myself wishing him off TV, along with the good atheist dad in California who wants "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance and all the other activists for separation of church and state currently sniffing out the odd granite monument to Yahweh on public property. Could you all just be quiet?

What you're doing, see, is handing the Religious Right its justification for proclaiming loudly that there's a war on religion in this country. Their particular brand of Christianity needs proof of persecution to get out of bed in the morning, and you're giving 'em proof. Nonsensical as it is.

See, I grew up in West Texas at a time when we had (Baptist) devotionals every morning in school, broadcast into every classroom. At every football and basketball game, a Baptist preacher stood up and prayed for Almighty God to smite the opposing team, if He found it favorable to do so, and I was in church three times a week without fail, and we were PREACHED AT as kids on a daily basis. We prayed before every meal, we prayed before going to bed, we prayed when we saw a black cloud approaching from the southwest. And look how I turned out.

None of that preachin' and prayin' did me any harm. And it was only its utter commonplace presence in all of life that eventually allowed me to notice other ideas and possibilities. Get it? Allow it to become commonplace, and it also becomes weak.

If someone had come in and said no more daily devotions in school, it would have inflamed a situation that was already producing its fair share of atheists and agnostics just by MANDATING religiosity as the commonplace order of the day.

I don't mind saying "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and it has nothing much to do with my own ethics, which are strong. I don't mind having "In God We Trust" on my legal tender when I buy my pinko, Commie books or go to see godless Hollywood products. I can step around the biggest granite memorial to the Ten Commandments that any tin-horn county or state official wants to install on public property. (Don't get me wrong: I'm glad that Roy Moore, the loony former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, lost his job, since I'm constitutionally protected from a nut handing down the law.)

What I can't deal with is 50+ percent of Americans believing the myth that unless they can have those granite monuments impeding traffic on public property they're somehow being persecuted for religion's sake and hence must vote for the party which promises to cast the poor and the old out onto their own devices, while squeezing working people for less pay. And -- oh yes -- starting foreign wars on false pretenses because God told the president it was all right.

I can't deal with that at all.

Republican Leadership Attacks AARP

Watching their grand scheme to privatize (i.e., phase out) Social Security sputter at the starting gate, the strong men of the Republican House have decided to attack AARP, whose 35 million members may want to notice that Tom DeLay said they are "irresponsible."

Well, AARP IS irresponsible, not for opposing the president's privatization plan, but for supporting the president's drug benefit add-on to Medicare in the late fall of 2003. And hasn't THAT turned out peachy?

No, I toss those invitations to join AARP when they arrive in the mail. Wouldn't trust 'em with my future, though I'm perfectly content to watch the side show of their opposition to Bush in this instance and the resulting mud thrown their way. For example, even before Mr. Delay and Mr. Hastert attacked AARP as irresponsible, we had learned that those nefarious seniors were more interested in gay marriage than might be deemed healthy. Welcome to opposition politics, AARP!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Bob Novak, Mr. Godly-Man

There's a profile of Robert Novak, a.k.a. "The Prince of Darkness," coming out in Esquire mag which got a sneak peak in the WashPost (here, but scroll down, past the other item about John Kerry setting up a PAC for his next pointless run for the White House). Novak apparently claims, with an apparently straight face, that he's doin' the will of God, which would then support the theory of some world religions that the Christian God is actually a minor thug doing what He can to advance the cause of wealth and privilege, the poor be damned. "I'm trying to tell the truth and taking positions that I hope are godly positions, positions that I hope are helpful to my fellow man," says Novak, but it's important to remember that "my fellow man" in Novak's lexicon refers exclusively to rich white guys with incomes in the six figures. Then there's the Valerie Plame case: "While two other reporters, Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of the New York Times, face jail time for refusing to divulge their sources in the case," writes VF contributing editor David Margolick, "the man who broke the story apparently doesn't."

Electoral Voodoo

The N&O is headlining today the coming clash between N.C.'s Supremes and the state legislature: the N.C. Supreme Court throws out over 11,000 provisional ballots in a bizarre ruling ... and the Democrats in the State House & Senate are busily passing a law this week that says those ballots have to be counted.

Meanwhile, the Wake Superior Court appears at the moment to be bound by the Supreme Court's decision and is holding court tomorrow to decide exactly how to disfranchise those 11,000. May we suggest a black cauldron and eye of newt as court accessories?

Bill Fletcher, the frustrated Republican candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who launched all this mess in his petition to the Supreme Court, "has proposed a way to delete votes from each candidate when the illegal ballots cannot be identified. The board would split the unidentifiable ballots proportionately between the candidates based on the choices of the county's other out-of-precinct voters." Did you follow that? No, neither did we. And from what we can tell, neither did the reporter for the N&O. Apparently, eye of newt is already being invoked.