Archive for August, 2008

John Kerry was a revelation on Wednesday. Forceful as a nor’easter, he came out and just hammered the crap out of his Senate colleague John McCain. Here’s the video, and here’s an excerpt contrasting “Senator McCain” with “candidate McCain:”

“…I have known and been friends with John McCain for almost 22 years. But every day now I learn something new about candidate McCain. To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let’s compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain.

Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding? Talk about “being for it before you’re against it!”

Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself. And what’s more, Senator McCain, who once railed against the smears of Karl Rove when he was the target, has morphed into candidate McCain who is using the same “Rove” tactics and the same “Rove” staff to repeat the same old politics of fear and smear. Well, not this year. Not this time…”

Watch the video, because the crowd effect makes it much stronger. It got even better when the man derided for “looking French,” the man whose Purple Hearts became the butt of frat-boy pranks, turned his sights on the issue of patriotism:

“…The McCain-Bush Republicans have been wrong again and again and again. And they know they will lose on the issues. So, the candidate who once promised a “contest of ideas,” now has nothing left but personal attacks. How insulting to suggest that those who question the mission, question the troops. How pathetic to suggest that those who question a failed policy doubt America itself. How desperate to tell the son of a single mother who chose community service over money and privilege that he doesn’t put America first…

…This election is a chance for America to tell the merchants of fear and division: you don’t decide who loves this country. You don’t decide who is a patriot. You don’t decide whose service counts and whose doesn’t.

Why Democrats always get religion after the fact is anybody’s guess. They run tepid, centrist campaigns, avoiding confrontation, minimizing partisanship, and trying to win with appeals to technocratic competence and some stolen percentage of a poll-identified “swing demographic.” Then they lose, go away a few days, grow the loser beard, and come back spitting hot fire. Better late than never.

(…and some Katrina karma…)


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(Not in the order they went.)

-A lot of good things are being said about Hillary the other night.  I will admit I didn’t care for it the first time, but on second viewing she made a better impression. She certainly had the ratings (26 million says Neilson,) and conservative columnist John Fund called it “the best speech of her career.” And, as Mireille noted, they handled the rollcall just fine.

-Governor Warner was terrible. I have to agree with Pat Buchanan on this one (!) – All that post-partisan talk is fine for governing but not for getting elected. For four days, expect the GOP to slander Barack Hussein Osama (oops!) while trashing elitist liberals, limousine liberals, latte-drinking liberals, effete liberals, coastal liberals, Ivy League liberals, I can go on but you get the point. At the same time, Republicans have controlled the White House for the last 7 years, the House for 6 of those and the Senate for 4, and finally scored a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court. So yes, it does matter whether an idea comes from right or left. Yes, it does matter whether you call someone a Democrat or a Republican. As cute as it may be to govern by consensus in Virginia, it amounts to unilateral disarmament in a national campaign. Warner certainly didn’t help his 2012 credentials with his combination of Yaaaay hard-working Americans, non-partisan pablum, and weird Olympic-themed China-baiting. Bad on Warner, though I’m sure he’ll make a fine, technocratic Senator.

-Bill, well, here’s the beginning of Bill’s transcript as published in the non-partisan Congressional Quarterly:

CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen…


Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. You all sit down. We’ve got to get on with the show here. Come on.


Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be here tonight.


Sit down.


Thank you. Thank you very much.


Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


I am honored to be here tonight. Please, stop.

AUDIENCE: Bill! Bill! Bill!

CLINTON: Please stop. Sit down. Sit down. Thank you.

AUDIENCE: Bill! Bill! Bill!

CLINTON: Please sit. Please sit.

You know, I — I love this, and I thank you, but we have important work to do tonight. I am here first to support Barack Obama.


And, second — and, second, I’m here to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden…


Bill was the Big Dog last night. We progressives may dislike Penn, McAuliffe, government by focus group, the DLCers, a track record of burn-it-down campaigning, you name a problem and the Dean/Pelosi wing of the party has it with Bill. But man can he preach it. “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”  That’s the best of Bubba.

-Beau Biden, Captain Beau Biden, made the first of what promise to be many appearances on the national stage. Introducing his father, Biden delivered populism (“…turns down some fancy cocktail party in Washington so he won’t miss my daughter Natalie’s birthday party”), pathos (his mother’s death,) and policy (from the Violence Against Women Act to the Balkans.) For a six minute introductory speech, it was pitch perfect.  Right-winger Michael Barone called him “genuine and moving.” Beau Biden is your Democratic front-runner for 2028, you heard it here first.

-Joe followed with a substantially negative speech. It was time for someone to attack, and that’s Biden’s strong suit. He opened with the expected complements of his Senate colleague, and then proceeded the stick the knife in. Full transcript and video here. Shorter version: John McCain is a friend of mine; John McCain is wrong about everything.

-A note then on Brian Schweitzer, the bolo-tied teddy bear. Schweitzer went on before Hillary on Tuesday, a choice designed to maximize his exposure to a national audience. Following the tepid Mark Warner, the Democratic Governor of Montana grabbed the crowd with his High School pep rally enthusiasm. Schweitzer focused on energy issues, dropping rhymes like “coal gasification with carbon sequestration.” David Sirota collected the approving reviews:

“The Los Angeles Times said Schweitzer “was the surprise hit of the party’s national convention” garnering “rave reviews for [the] rousing speech.” Newsweek called him the “highlight” of the night. And the Denver Post reported that CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin declared “Schweitzer the night’s real winner, the Barack Obama of ’08, for his impassioned speech.”

(Video here.)  Schweitzer’s Montana is 58%-29% “right-track,” and with approval ratings consistently hovering around 70% his November re-election is a lock. Schweitzer support for gun rights leads moderates to claim him, but his ideology is old-school populist left — complete with tent-revival style:

Before nearly any professional politician had done so, for instance, Schweitzer organized the first bus trips to Canada to help seniors purchase lower-priced prescription drugs. Invited to Washington for a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser, Schweitzer stood up at the event, broke Washington’s unspoken protocol, and ripped into drug industry lobbyists, many of whom were in the room. While Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.) immediately tried to apologize to the crowd, Schweitzer’s rant became the stuff of legends back in Montana.

(Sirota has the rest here.) Schweitzer is pro-choice, strong on energy issues, a winner on civil liberties, an epic winner on civil liberties, and wants his National Guard back. There’s a reason I tossed his name at people for Vice President, and the cats over at Fivethirtyeight had similar things to say.

So Obama tonight, no pressure. And please, please, his campaign people can’t be this stupid, can they? (You’ll also get President Gore for the price of admission.)

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Iphones are oddly idiosyncratic with its quick-type autocorrect. It will change any form of fuck (fucking, fucked) to duck (ducking, duck). It also will change furries to furrows.

Most interesting of all, it changes anything with an O B M and A together to Obama. That’s right, iphones already have Obama on their spell check.

I’m pretty ok with that.

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We are entertained in the opening of this act by the verbose ramblings of the leaders of the state party leaders. The Garden State comments of the industrious sassiness of its citizenry, Mississippi keeps it short and sweet. Montana, excited by the prospect someone is actually paying attention to them, allows their kindly cattle ranching leader to go up the Butte for five solid minutes.

Then the great state of New Mexico yields to the great state of Illinois. Then the great state of Illinois yields to the great state of New York. Hilary Clinton, looking the happiest I have ever seen her, suspends the roll call but insists that all votes be counted. Nancy Pelosi runs threw the formalities, the crowd cheers and then BOOM! Love Train.

The DNC’s truely masterful sound design skills really cements the glorious spectacle of sincere party unity that boggles the mind of the pundit class. Tomorrow promises to be a truely breathtaking finale.

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Under unrelenting questioning from Jay Leno, McCain throws the POW card:

“For a million dollars,” Jay Leno asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., today, “how many houses do you have?”

“Could I just mention to you, Jay, that, at a moment of seriousness. I spent five-and-a-half years in a prison cell,” McCain said. “I didn’t have a house. I didn’t have a kitchen table. I didn’t have a table. I didn’t have a chair. And I didn’t spend those five-and-a-half years because, not because I wanted to get a house when I got out.”

I know Obama is supposed to be the one with the big celebrity endorsements, but when will McCain be forced to reject and denounce “Gasolina?”

Daddy Yankee called Mr. McCain “a fighter for the Hispanic community” and “a fighter for the immigration issue.’’ Mr. McCain, who noted that his wife, Cindy, had gone to Central High School, said, “I just want to say thank you, Daddy Yankee.’’

The New York Times suggests that “Dame mas gasolina’ is usually understood as a double entendre that has little to do with fossil fuels,” while the Los Angeles Times doubts McCain would have name-dropped the song if he had known it was “loaded with sexual references.”  Though, I don’t see any contradiction with his past treatment of women.  When asked about the sexual allusions, a campaign spokesman declined to comment.

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Here’s the highlights of the first evening:

David Gregory blathered that the Obamas are trying to make Americans comfortable with them. Because you know, we’re voting on dinner guests. Says Michelle has a “threshold test,” and that there are “questions about her.” I have questions about David Gregory, but no one asks me.

-I love me some populist Jim Webb, but tonight he name-dropped our “Jacksonian base.” Really? We’re trailing among likely Indian-killers?

-There is nothing like hearing Mike Barnicle say “I’m a strong black woman.”

-Scarborough was down on the floor concern trolling about Obama’s poll numbers when Olbermann countered with a different poll in which McCain has lost seven points among likely voters since last week. Olbermann then asked Scarborough if he could actually back up what he’s saying. It got awkward right quick.

-Bill Maher on MSNBC: “People get stupider every election cycle, they think offshore drilling is going to lower the price of gas and they think Obama the black guy with the single mother is an elitist.”

-(Former) GOP Rep. Jim Leach spoke as the token convert. Leach is a good man, even if Loebsack is better. In his losing campaign, the 30-year incumbent refused to take not only PAC money but any money raised outside of his district. He also insisted that the national GOP drop a mailer it had planned attacking his opponent on gay marriage. Leach was always a good egg and it was nice to see him somewhere he belongs.

-Teddy Kennedy is a lion. And I’m not ashamed to say he makes me cry. Go re-watch this too.

-Chuck Todd very positive on Pelosi. “Hasn’t been polarizing,” won and expanded Congressional majorities “unlike Gephardt,” “has done a lot to shift this party towards Obama.” Matthews asks whether that makes her and Clinton rivals, because Matthews sees politics as prison film. Todd notes that the two leaders of the party, Pelosi and Howard Dean, “don’t owe the Clintons anything.”

-Pelosi is a bad speaker but she got her headline quote in: “John McCain has the experience…of being wrong.” Also notes that she’s the first Italian-American Speaker of the House. We don’t really think of white ethnics as having barriers today, but it’s worth noting that her and a central-casting Irish Catholic were two of the stars of the night.

-JIMMY! Comes out with a cameo to “Georgia On My Mind.” This is worth watching.

-Gene Robinson says the press is overstating the disunity narrative. Norah O’Donnell discusses Bill’s “psychodrama,” and Pat Buchanan calls this a “deep wound” because HRC wasn’t vetted for VP. Rachel Maddow notes that the self-identified Democrat used in a McCain tv ad was interviewed and said she thought McCain was pro-choice. Buchanan counters that this “doesn’t matter,” to which Maddow calls Clinton dead-enders “post-rational.” I can’t wait for September 8.

-Tom Brokaw and Sibelius look like brother and sister.

-Michelle Obama’s brother is the head basketball coach at Oregon State. This led to the first and last time anyone shouts GO BEAVERS at a convention. GO BEAVERS!

-Michelle = Winner. She nailed it. Look at the immediate article from the often-terrible Associated Press:

DENVER (AP) — Michelle Obama declared “I love this country” Monday as she sought to reassure the nation that she and her husband Barack share their bedrock values and belief in the American dream.

In the first major address at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama said she and Barack Obama feel an obligation to “fight for the world as it should be” to ensure a better future for their daughters and all children.

The Obamas two daughters, Sasha and Malia, joined their mother on stage after the speech as Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” blared from in the convention hall.

You won’t get a better AP opener than: “Michelle Obama declared “I love this county…” Howard Fineman: “I think Michelle dug herself beautifully out of any hole she may have dug herself… it was classy, it was humble…” Fineman used the word “beautiful” four times in two sentences. These assholes matter, so yeah. Beautiful.

-General truth, Democrats pwn music. Saturday, Obama came out to U2’s City of Blinding Lights. Biden followed to Springsteen’s The Rising. Carter of course had his usual Georgia on my Mind, while Michelle rocked Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely? For comparison, John McCain tried to use Jackson Browne and got himself sued.

mireille: I wish Michelle could talk about policy
and didn’t have to shuck and jive for family and girl issues
me: Biden is like, I’d hit that. Not actually hit it, because I have a good record on violence against women.
But hit it like, you know.
mireille: quote of the night mischa

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Once in a while, (for which, read: “When we’re lazy”) we’ll be stealing content from compelling guest posters. So today we have belle absente with some thoughts on Law & Order, SVU-flavor. A brief bio then we’re off:

Ghost blogger belle absente is a first year law student at Large State University, where she studies civil rights law. Her extracurricular interests include such wide ranging topics as the private wars of tiny countries, alpaca shearing, and tentacle porn. She appreciates your understanding of her need for anonymity.

I enjoy the Law & Order franchise as must as the next guy. Really, I do. I mean I would be completely lying if I said that some part of my interest in law didn’t come from watching episodes ever since I was little, and admiring strong, confident, intelligent female ADAs.

But. My least favorite series is, unfortunately, the one that used to be my favorite: SVU. There are a lot of reasons… but there was a particularly awful episode on DVR the other night that really set wrong with me. I mean, I’ve always been aware of what a fascist Elliot is… that’s no secret. No warrants, no problem with police brutality, all force no style. And it’s not the first time he crosses the line, but it got to me worse than most of the time.

The episode revolves around the argument of whether or not it is legal (or for that matter ethical) for the state to force a mental health patient to take their medications. This is important to me and stuck with me for two reasons: 1) I’m a law student with a strong interest in human/civil rights, especially disability & mental health law, and 2) I’ve had a lifetime of experience dealing with the mental health system as it exists in this country, and I’m intimately aware of its idiosyncrasies and injustices.

It’s important to not that the episode is, as it should be, designed to locate that argument outside of the standing legal statute, the commonly cited “harm to self or others” rule of thumb. While that may seem to provide a wide berth for interpretation, it actually is fairly well defined, and (also as it should be), difficult to actually prove. At first glance this may cause some readers discomfort: shouldn’t “we”, the “sane people” be allowed to use that ‘golden rule,’ to confine individuals for no reason besides their own good?

No. We shouldn’t. Because the ‘harm’ rule is legally defined and enforceable – for their own good is not. Using the existing laws, the only way to exercise force over an individual for reasons of mental health is to prove that they are an active danger to others, or an immediate suicide risk. I say this because nowadays it is virtually impossible to commit someone on the only other legal avenue available, ie, proving that they are non compos mentis. In other words, the current laws come with a built-in safeguard against abuse of power via the burden of proof. Proving a person is a threat to others requires written statements (which are still hard to use), or actions (at which point they are criminally liable as well)… and proving someone is a threat to themselves basically requires them to be actively attempting suicide. This stuff is fairly straightforward.

But the arguments presented in the episode take it a step further and ask the question – what can the state do about patients who do not fit into the existing legal definitions? I would not be surprised if the majority of readers’ immediate reaction is to lean towards giving the courts more power in these matters. But the question bears a second look. Because when we read deeper, we can see that the question is essentially, how much power are we willing to give the courts, and thus the state, over individual human bodies and minds?

In the situation presented in the SVU episode, the person in question is a schizophrenic with information on a case – not a suspect. The patient has repeatedly indicated his refusal to take medications, and his family supports his decision. During the course of ‘interrogation,’ Elliot tricks the psychiatrist into forcing an injection of anti-psychotics, thus inducing the person to talk. When the doctor realizes what’s happened, he voices his objections and considers resigning. Cabot, the ADA, agrees with him. Elliot, however, sees no reason to question the ethics of the event.

In addition to the issue that increasing state power over our bodies and minds is, inherently, a dangerous and irreversible act, this brings up a more fundamental question: how do we define our sovereignty over ourselves, and, thus, of others’ sovereignty over themselves? And is that sovereignty a basic human right?

Or is it a privilege of those who fit within an arbitrary parameter of normalcy?

The concept of “for their own good” bears some examination. I believehope that it goes without saying that some kinds of “protection” mechanisms inherently carry with them the implication of race/class/ability superiority. These are the kinds of protections that involve force – forced hospitalization, forced medication, forced anything. Because applying this kind of force means we believe we have the right to apply it. We possess something they do not, thus making us more capable of making their decisions than they are. By othering those living with mental health concerns, we separate ourselves from them, and, on a very basic level, justify a difference in rights and privileges.

Of course this isn’t the only time the Elliot Stabler method has trod over human dignity. Yet no matter the case, his justification is always the same – essentially, spare the rod spoil the pervert. If this line or something like it isn’t repeated every single episode without fail, I will eat my non-existent hat: “I did what I had to do to catch the [insert tv new york cop slang for criminal here].” At first glance this may seem to make sense (and if you only watch the show once!), but the logic follows that if whatever you did is irrelevant because you caught a criminal, then you can do anything in the pursuit of anyone you might think is guilty of anything.

To be fair, it’s just a tv show, operating around some basic, cut-out archetypal characters. We have the benevolent but brilliant doctor, the hard-on-the-outside but secretly lonely and sensitive female cop, the cutthroat female lawyer willing for whom the ends always justify the means, and, of course, the heavy handed but well-intentioned hardworking male cop. It’s fiction, obviously, and there’s not much room to move within these archetypes. However, it is hard to imagine that a television franchise so ubiquitous in popular culture has completely escaped the eye of public morality, and it is difficult to deny that what we as a public see in some way informs our moral compass as a society. As such, the show has an obligation to handle situations like this in a more informed manner.

What it comes down to is this: in a society where freedom is enshrined in law, human choice and the entire spectrum of it beyond the rule of harm – and in this case the right to make that choice, is sacred, philosophically and legally. It is fundamental in our society that a person has a right to sovereignty over his or life, up to the point where that sovereignty interferes with either that of another person, or the state’s monopoly over force. And individuals who live with mental health issues do deserve legal protection – but not from themselves; from the people who would define “protection” as synonymous with “force”.

People have a right to protection from the system – from the abuses of the state – not within it. That is what the current law provides, the protection of a burden of proof. A burden of proof that places the same standards on every person, in every situation, every time – as opposed to the Elliot Stabler method of taking the law, and human rights, on a case-by-case basis, assuming without question that a mental health patient does not deserve the same rights and protections that First Class Citizen Elliot Stabler does.

SVU aside, I felt it was important to note that choice, the fundamental human sovereignty over one’s mind, is a right that was not given by the state to any individuals, and can not be taken away by the state; it is a right that transcends ability, age, race, or any other category, because it is an essential right, a human right.

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