Saturday, December 17, 2005


They were both self-promoting grandstanders in their way (here and here), but they both made significant contributions that are sorely needed today.

I once read that Anderson drove J. Edgar Hoover nuts by, among other things, rummaging through Hoover's trash for information he could use in a column. Proxmire, of course, brought us his "Golden Fleece" awards also (a bit disingenuous at times, but it least it showed that someone was watching how our money was being spent).


I don't care about the elections in Iraq (oh, and by the way, the only reason the Sunnis decided to participate so heavily this time around, as opposed to their failure to do so during the election to ratify the Iraqi constitution, is because they got the word that a heavy turnout would be more of a reason for us to get the hell out of the country).

What I DO care about is the fact that we have a dangerous, lunatic demagogue sitting in the Oval Office who truly feels that he is above the law.

Atrios and The Huffington Post are absolute, must-reads today (so is Brandoland).

Kill Tookie Williams Deader Than Dead

That seems to be the mentality behind most conservatives (or really, anyone who disagrees with them, if you get right down to it).

What else explains this nauseating, racist cartoon from Glenn McCoy that the Philadelphia Inquirer, in their everlasting stupidity, decided to publish this morning? How can this be anything but a sap to lizard-brain paranoia and the most base instincts you can imagine as opposed to reasoned and informed dialogue?

I suppose this is but a small step from the brilliant reasoning posited by Michael Smerconish lately that stated that Tookie Williams must die because he had the bad manners to cite Mumia Abu-Jamal in a book dedication. Surely, lethal injection wasn't punishment enough for such an offense. Why wasn't Williams drawn and quartered as a pay-for-view event sponsored by Fox television?

I will probably be linking to this great post from The Bulldog Manifesto for a long, long time that sums up the questions surrounding the Williams' verdicts and his execution, as well as a testimony to the fact that he turned his life around and made great contributions to keep kids away from the gang violence he helped cultivate in his youth.

Oh, and I suppose the person McCoy is depicting in the cartoon is Albert Lewis Owens, the 7-11 store clerk Williams was convicted of murdering in 1979. How convenient for McCoy that Lewis happened to be white. And if you think I'm making too much of this, try substituting Mark Chapman for Williams and John Lennon for Owens, or Mikhail Markasev for Williams and Ennis Cosby for Owens, and guess what? You have illustrations of totally different circumstances with TOTALLY DIFFERENT visceral effects, that's what (with the common circumstance that three different people are being murdered).

If Williams' execution had somehow enabled Owens, or any of Williams' other victims, to return to life somehow, I would have been all for it. However, the simple, basic, metaphysical fact of life, as we know, is that that is impossible. The best we can do is weigh all the facts at hand and make the best possible decision. And as far as I'm concerned, executing Williams based on what we know was a criminal act of state-sponsored murder that was no better than the crimes of which Williams was originally convicted.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nine Days To Go

This just in…

- Rep. John Dingell gets the “Holiday” spirit (glad he’s keeping his day job...obligatory hat tip to Atrios)

- Andy Williams in intensive care due to unusual shrinking accident with white turtleneck sweater

- Newly discovered documents tell the story of how Bing Crosby threatened to blow somebody’s head off if he didn’t get his “figgy pudding” PDQ!

This column from Kate Fratti of the Bucks County Courier Times provides some insight also, I think (hope you've done most of your shopping by now, but just in case...).

Toy stores no trip down memory lane

If you've not browsed a major toy store in recent years, I urge you to get right to it. Especially if you've been wondering what's wrong with today's kids.

The answer, I think, might lie in their toy selection.

What's that? You're so out of touch you think children still play with Etch-a-Sketch, pogo sticks, Matchbox cars and doll babies?

Go now. Go to the toy store.

I'm not suggesting you buy a thing. Just stroll the busy overstocked aisles and be as dazzled as I was recently by the overindulgence and weirdness that constitutes play.

For instance, you can still purchase a kid a Radio Flyer Wagon with removable sides for Christmas, but it would seem awfully quaint. Irrelevant, really. Especially when the receiver pulls it up alongside the kid who woke to find under the tree a $299 motorized C5 Corvette with working headlights, a real FM radio, horn and retractable cup holder. I kid you not. A place to put his sippy cup.

For the more outdoorsy first-grader there is the $299 Kawasaki Adventure 4x4 with a one-year bumper to bumper warranty. Or Little Tyke's rough and tough Hummer Adventure Series at $279.

While you can still buy pop-up books for your favorite little person, just know that her pals "age 6+" could be the recipients of the Little Tykes DVD Player with remote control - $79.99. Some will get the little blue 13-inch TV - $99.99.

Can you spell overindulged?

How about strange?

Remember your first diary? The one with the white patent leather cover and tiny brass lock and key to keep out creepy little brothers. Forget it.

Today's girl has Girl Tech's "Password Journal." For about $27, it comes with a voice activated spring-loaded cover. Tucked inside is paper on which to scribble her innermost thoughts. The pen has a built-in radio AND "a shredder."

Of course, if brother is determined to snoop, there are toys for that, too.

A spy tool kit by Spy Gear runs $14.99. It comes with a real "listening device" and a notebook to record conversations. There's another kit with a camera he can wear as a watch. It holds 24 exposures.

Can you spell stalker?

If he's snooping after lights-out Kids Station Toys offers a long-range night vision headband with a Batman theme, $29.99.

In the "makes-no-sense-at-all department" is FlyWheels Rapid Fire Launcher. It lets the owner shoot hard rubber wheels long distance. Just wheels.

"Like throwing rocks in the house," mused Gary, a Northeast Philadelphia man shopping for two nephews. The toy is not intended for indoors, but Gary was picturing the toy in the hands of his sister's 4-year-old who can't read those directions. The image made Gary grin.

"For five bucks, I'm measuring the entertainment value of upsetting my sister vs. the safety of their cat," he said.

I suggested something more creative for the toddler but had second thoughts. Even old standards like Play-Doh have been weirded up for this newest batch of kids. "The Chomp and Chew Diner" kit, for instance, invites the creator to form pizzas then feed them to the ugly little plastic figurines. The dough is forced up into the doll's head, which then sprouts Play-Doh hair.

If there was any comfort at all, it was the manufacturer warning to parents: "Contains wheat." Aha. Some things don't change. Kids still chomp and chew Play-Doh. What a relief.
Irving ("Bag Of Glass") Mainway (the bad toy maker played by Dan Aykroyd on the original Saturday Night Live) would be proud.

The King Of All Media Departs

It’s incumbent on me, I guess, to comment on the last non-satellite broadcast of the Howard Stern show, which took place today (broadcast on Yahoo also). As I write this, I’ll assume that you, dear reader, know nothing about him. I realize that’s a bit of a stretch, but I hope there are a handful of you out there.

I definitely have mixed emotions about Stern’s exit from “free” or “terrestrial” radio (whatever the correct term is for what is, for the most part, heavily pre-programmed and pre-filtered garbage broadcast on the frequency discovered by Edwin H. Armstrong many years ago). I wish him luck, and I thank him for the moments of entertainment he actually managed to provide. I also want to commend him for doing something with the medium that no one else thought could be done.

He has stated often that he invented the format he has followed for many years, but that isn’t true. Others in radio, such as the radio team of Hudson and Landry in Los Angeles, and to a much lesser degree Don Imus many, many years ago, dealt with the type of scatological fare that Stern trades in on a continual basis, though this content was much tamer for its time. The difference with Stern, however, is that, through smarts, guile, deception, dedication, loyalty to his listeners and a staggering amount of old-fashioned hard work on his part and that of his expert term of talent, he has managed to create not just radio broadcasting success, but a genuine movement of a fashion bordering on cult worship.

I remember when he came to the Philadelphia market in the early 80s broadcast over WYSP FM. He went head-to head with radio personality John DeBella of WMMR, who had become the top DJ for the much-sough-after 18-to-34-year-old male marketing demographic (DeBella had achieved this by dethroning a 70s-era-easy-listening radio personality named John Harvey who represented some kind of match between John Denver and an urbane, sophisticated wiseass…way too mellow as the 80s beckoned, and DeBella tore him up). One of the first things Stern did was stage a mock funeral to drum up support, which was a clever but utterly tasteless gesture to promote his show (with main sidekick Robin Quivers in tow). Stern also found a way to get a testimonial for his show from DeBella’s troubled ex-wife, their divorce having just been completed. DeBella’s ex-wife eventually committed suicide, though no one to my knowledge blamed Stern for that and Stern expressed sorrow profusely over it.

Stern of course eventually toppled DeBella, and DeBella kept his show on WMMR for a time before he was let go. After this occurred, DeBella landed on WYSP also, and Stern held a joint news conference where DeBella acknowledged that Stern was number one, with DeBella also trying to promote his show that would follow Stern. This arrangement lasted for a time until DeBella was let go from that show also. He is now the morning personality on WMGK, the “classic rock” station in this area.

I should also note that Stern has also shown moments of genuine class. DeBella’s sidekick on his show in the 80s was Mark “The Shark” Drucker, who Stern actually hired in his capacity as a radio station general manager many years ago (it’s easy to forget just how accomplished a professional in the radio business Stern really is). After the DeBella “Morning Zoo” show broke up, Drucker picked up other radio jobs in the Philadelphia area, finishing his career at the AM all-news station KYW 1060. When Drucker died of cancer earlier this year, Stern was very felicitous towards him, pointing out that, in all the years of hurling insults back and forth with DeBella, Stern never attacked Drucker because of his fondness for him as a person and a professional.

Despite all of this, I have to admit that I never gave much thought to Stern until my wife introduced me to the show. I have heard him at times when he has been genuinely funny, either in improvised moments or scripted routines. However, most of the time it is obviously that he is either repeating popular bits in the mode of “Saturday Night Live” or “pressing people’s buttons” because he doesn’t have anything else to do. At the occasion of the death of Frank Sinatra in 1998, the only “contribution” I remember from Stern on that occasion was sarcasm. He also seems to blindly champion people who are “friends of the show” such as former New York senator Alphonse D’Amato regardless of all else. I realize that it’s Stern’s right to do that, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it. Stern also frequently defends Republicans over Democrats, though I definitely don’t think that that’s intentional. I noted elsewhere that I thought Stern was wrong to chastise Mario Cuomo, and in Stern’s defense, he did everything in the world that he could to help John Kerry last year, and I don’t think Kerry even gave Stern the benefit of a phone call for Stern’s Herculean efforts (aside from showing rudeness, it was also an indication of Kerry’s essentially “tone deaf” campaign).

What I would also say in Stern’s defense, though, is that I cannot imagine how difficult it is to prepare and execute his extremely popular radio program the way he does (and getting up each day at the ungodly hour of 4 AM). During his morning broadcasts, it would not be unusual for him and his crew to begin at 6 AM and go on past 11 AM EST, especially if something newsworthy was happening (the news segment with Robin Quivers being the last one on the show, though Quivers of course contributed throughout the broadcasts). Also, Stern is a good interviewer and has a GREAT voice for radio. I cannot communicate strongly enough how exasperating it is to try and listen to a whispery, mumbling radio person amidst a kitchen full of activity on a busy morning before work and school (suffering from “NPR-itis,” I guess…are you reading this, Windsor Johnston of WRTI?). How much sense does it make when you can’t hear someone who makes their living with their voice?

One of Stern’s shining moments came on September 11th, 2001, when he stayed on the radio for hours in a state of near-total exhaustion so people had the opportunity to call in and communicate their whereabouts to loved ones, describe what was happening on that day from hell, and generally sound off. Years prior to that, Stern managed to talk a would-be jumper down from the George Washington Bridge, which he reminded everyone of today in his “last of a dying breed” farewell speech during his raucous sendoff party.

Basically, Stern is an acquired taste. I’ve always found it best to tune in periodically to find out if he has an interesting guest (which, as far as I’m concerned, he hasn’t had since James Woods appeared months ago), or if he and the rest of the group (including Fred Norris, Artie Lange, and formerly Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling) are doing or saying something funny. If they are, I listen. If not, I switch to another station or my own music. I also got a kick out of Gilbert Gottfried stopping by for the news segment. Periodically also, some of Stern’s “Whack pack” crew provide amusement (as has Richard Christy with his song parodies…he was a quantum leap over “Stuttering John” Melendez, who he replaced). Also, all of the guests on the show appear willingly to promote something. Event though ridiculous stuff often goes on with them, everyone signs onto it of their own accord.

I once had a discussion with a family member who was shocked to hear that I listened to Stern from time to time, wondering if it was in conflict with my faith. I said it was at times, but I know when to draw the line. When I thought Stern went too far (especially with the young one nearby), I turned off the radio, whether at home or in the car. Besides, there are plenty of people in public life right now claiming to be Catholic who are not acting in accordance with any faith that I was every taught or encouraged to practice (John Roberts comes to mind right away, as does Scumbag Santorum of course, and I could probably make this post considerably longer if I tried to list all of them).

However, I will acknowledge that Stern’s show frequently crosses the line of civility and good taste. However, if Stern hadn’t done that, given the times in which we live, someone else surely would have before him (EVERYONE crosses it now). Stern wasn’t the disease; he was a symptom, and remains that to a certain degree today. The last question I’ll remember hearing from Howard Stern was one he asked a guest at the rally this morning who was a dwarf: “So, how many other dwarf chicks did you bang?”

Another indicator to me that it was time for Stern to leave commercial radio, in the face of truly insane, ridiculous pressure from our government and the fundamentalist crazies who Stern rightly calls “the American Taliban,” was the fact that most of his farewell speech this morning was heavily edited by WYSP. As for us, we probably will sign up for Sirius to hear him next year, but that is on hold pending other matters. Besides, I’m happy with Preston and Steve on WMMR for the foreseeable future.

So, to sum this all up, I just want to wish Howard Stern and his crew the best (“Private Parts” was genuinely entertaining, for the most part, like the show itself) and say thanks for the good times. Anyone who succeeds at something when everyone in the world is throwing dirt all over him is OK in my book.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Too Darn Hot

This post shouldn’t be necessary, but unfortunately, it is.

As many of you no doubt know, a United Nations summit was recently held in Montreal to deal with the problem of global climate change, specifically the rise in global temperature which poses many threats to humans and other forms of life on this planet. This editorial from The Philadelphia Inquirer (registration required) sums up just far this country has to go on this critical issue.

Here is an excerpt.

"I think it's crazy for us to play games with our children's future," former President Bill Clinton said Friday at a United Nations climate conference in Montreal. "We know what's happening to the climate; we have a highly predictable set of consequences if we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and we know we have an alternative that will lead us to greater prosperity."

The majority of countries has the right idea. The world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases - the United States - is wrong. The world needs to do more to slow global warming.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin was right at the conference: "To recalcitrant nations, including the United States, I would say this: There is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it."
The rest of the editorial is quite good, and I hope you are able to read it. What follows is a fine Letter To The Editor that appeared yesterday in the Inquirer on the same subject.

Is it any wonder that the U.S. delegation to the climate-change talks in Montreal did not return phone calls or e-mail at the conclusion of the conference ("Nations to pursue limits on emissions," Dec. 11)? At least they realize that there is no way to defend the indefensible.

While the rest of the industrialized world came together in good faith to agree on a post-Kyoto framework for mitigating climate change, the U.S. delegation once again played the role of the obnoxious audience heckler.

The Bush administration's do-nothing stance on climate change, which has been financed by their friends in the fossil fuel industry, is underpinned by a belief that the American public is not really paying attention. Unfortunately, they are right. So once again, the international community will pursue binding emissions reductions without the world's most prolific polluter taking part.

Americans must awaken from their slumber and educate themselves about global warming. Staking claim to the moral low ground on this issue will have severe consequences, and history will judge this administration, and those who apathetically followed it, very harshly.

Bernard J. Enright
Limerick, PA (
But I suppose for the purposes of “fairness and accuracy,” I should present the view from Wingnuttia on this subject. Here is an excerpt from a screed by Peter C. Glover which he wrote for something called “Wires For The Bunker,” which the Inquirer featured in its “Blog Cabin” section.

...The Earth has always heated up and cooled down in cycles over the course of centuries. Welcome to the latest natural warm-up. I have yet to hear a single liberal admit they got this wrong, too... .
I will present examples later to prove how laughable that statement truly is.

For the record, I do believe we can all help to cut greenhouse gas emissions (though targets must be realistic) and that the way forward is to couple this with a program of technologically cleaner developments. But climate change per se is not solely down to man's actions. There is a God, you see - and he controls these things. Climate change is largely cyclical, and history tells us it always has been. Any modern belief system that does not factor this in is simply being driven by its own ideological agenda. It certainly is not a truly scientific one.
I’d rather have a “belief system” that is in part driven by ideology than one that is completely and utterly devoid of common sense. Trusting God and, in the process, absolving oneself of the responsibility to do good and practice stewardship is truly madness. Besides, I thought “intelligent design” pertained to man’s development, not the destruction of the atmosphere.

With this in mind, here are three examples to illustrate the urgency of this problem:

Global Warming Impact Example 1: As pointed out by the Union of Concerned Scientists in this link, the water temperature in the Gulf Coast has risen by one degree since 1970. and that alone can make the difference between a Category 3 and a Category 5 hurricane (believe it or not, Katrina was only a Category 3 when it hit New Orleans).

Global Warming Impact Example 2: The Wall Street Journal reports on how polar bears are drowning because of melting ice floes.

Global Warming Impact Example 3: According to the Guardian, the Pentagon is telling Dubya that climate change is a greater threat to us than terrorism (God only knows if he's actually listening, let alone comprehending).

Oh, but what is Bushco doing about this threat to our existence? As Molly Ivins notes, they’re expunged the data from the report they submitted based on “scientific” study (we KNOW how much Buscho just LOVES to hear a contrary point of view from people who actually know what they’re talking about, don’t we?). Her column also notes more “bait and switch” Bushco maneuvers concerning AmeriCorps (I haven’t found out much lately on how they’re funding this network of programs, but I’ll keep looking).

As the Inquirer said in its editorial yesterday,

The United States should stop stalling and make a serious commitment to slowing global warming, or, as Clinton quipped, the world will risk attending future climate-change conferences "on a raft somewhere."
Please take a moment to ask your senators to take the first step toward curbing global warming pollution by supporting the Climate Stewardship Act (click here for still more background). To take action, click on this link.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It Sure Is

Dubya speaks...

...and so do the people of this country.

He could make the speech fifty times instead of four and get the same result, so shut up already, willya?

Update 12/15: Dear God...

Update 12/16: Dubya, you bastard (note to any trolls: please spare me the rhetoric about how this has made us safer, given this administration's propensity for obfuscation, spin, and outright lies)...

And put this in the stocking for "Our Kid" also.

The blogger Hilzoy at Washington Monthy (via Atrios) has it right (think of that eleven-letter word that begins with "i").

Play Nice With The Repugs?

I’m going to piggyback on an Atrios post all over the place here, but I have to provide my take on this.

(Here are a couple of notes. First, I link to other sites where they toss around “F” bombs and other profanity with no hesitation. Personally, I think that language should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, and I know it turns off people who aren’t regular readers of a particular site. That’s as it should be. However, I also believe that other people’s content shouldn’t be censored on that basis because they may have something quite important and/or interesting to say. Second, there’s a lot of “blogger shorthand” out there referring to people by name or commenters in general. As nearly as I can tell, “Tweety” is Chris Matthews of MSNBC, and “Pumpkinhead” and “Less Than Large Russ” is Tim Russert of “Meet The Press.” This information will help as you read the “First Draft” post.)

A journalism professor at the University of Maine named Michael Socolow wrote a column for the Boston Globe about how the “conflict” between Bushco and the MSM press corps is supposedly turning off viewers. In a related vein, Marty Kaplan of The Huffington Post authored this great piece yesterday about the fire that Dan Froomkin, the ombudsman for The Washington Post, is taking for trying to hold Dubya to the same measure of accountability as the one to which his predecessors were held.

As the blogger at First Draft stated so brilliantly (you can link to Socolow' column from that post), the problem isn’t the supposed conflict between Bushco and the press. The problem is the exact opposite of what Socolow describes.

I also want to point out that I was fortunate to be taught by some great journalism instructors at Temple University. One was a former Philadelphia police office who was severely wounded in a gun battle, recovered, went back to school and got his degree in the business, and became an accomplished reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer who recently retired. Another was a reporter and editor who won a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the Attica prison riot in 1971. These guys saw more conflict than anything that could be imagined by our dear MSM cousins; I can assure you that they never retreated when it came to reporting about it, and they rightly expected their students to do the same thing.

With that in mind, let’s recall some moments of T.V. journalism where there was courageous reporting of one type or another. Listing them all could make this post ridiculously long, but there are two that come to mind immediately.

One was a little dustup between President Richard Nixon and Dan Rather. As noted in a Wikipedia article on Rather:

During the presidency of Richard Nixon critics accused Rather of being unfair in his coverage. At a Houston, Texas news conference in 1974, Nixon fielded a question from Rather, still CBS's White House correspondent: "Thank you, Mr. President. Dan Rather, of CBS News. Mr. President..." The room filled with jeers and applause, prompting Nixon to joke "Are you running for something?" Rather replied "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?"

CBS apparently considered firing Rather and its news president met with administration official John Ehrlichman to discuss the situation. According to NBC's Tom Brokaw, the network considered hiring him as its White House correspondent to replace Rather. But CBS' plans to do so were scrapped after word was leaked to the press.
I can remember another occasion with Nixon where he wandered off, so to speak, in response to a reporter's question (these days, a "handler" would have chided him for going "off message," but that's assuming anyone could have "handled" Nixon), and ended up making what came to be known as his "I Am Not A Crook" speech. What was sad was that there was a lot of truth in what he said, but sadder still was the fact that he was truly oblivious concerning the context in which he was making his remarks. It was funny to watch the quizzical looks on the faces of the reporters also. It ended up being an illuminating moment of a sort for Nixon, it was great theater for TV, and it probably got good ratings also.

I can also recall a moment on “60 Minutes” where Mike Wallace interviewed former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn after Carter’s loss in the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. During the interview with Rosalyn, Wallace noted to her that she wasn’t saying much in response to his questions and acted angry at him. Wallace asked her about it and she said curtly that she had been taught not to say anything at all about someone if there was nothing good to be said. The anger she directed at Wallace through her facial expressions and body language was palpable, causing Wallace to exclaim, “oh my.”

This is how reporters are supposed to do their jobs. As First Draft noted so well, they are supposed to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” to quote John Kenneth Galbraith.

Also, concerning Mike Wallace, I couldn’t help but note the response of his son Chris to Wallace’s rebuke of Dubya recently. That apple has certainly fallen miles from that tree, hasn’t it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'd Say This Qualifies

Here’s the latest from Ann Coulter:

When will we become as outraged over 2,000 body bags and 20,000 injured service personnel, besides the havoc we have wreaked on the poor souls of Iraq, as we were by the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair, two consenting adults? (sic)

When do we start calling for Bush and Cheney’s impeachment, two of the most evil, lying, corrupt people who have ever been the leaders of a free world? If they’re in power three more years we might not stay free. They make Nixon look like Tinkerbell. When do we demand an exit strategy, not more rhetoric?
I should point out that this was a Letter To The Editor that appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times this morning written by Ann Coulter of Bensalem, Pa., not by that other person of the same name.


Slamming Sammy

For good reason...I received this from the DNC earlier today:

In a few weeks confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito will begin in the Senate. Already serious questions are being raised about his record on important matters such as civil rights. As disturbing facts continue to emerge about Alito, Republicans in the Senate flip-flop on whether every nominee deserves an up or down vote - on one hand they were for it, but when extremist Republican activists soured on Harriet Miers, they decided they were against it. Now that the rightwing is popping Champagne corks for Samuel Alito, they are for it once again.

Keep in mind that the Alito nomination has already failed in one regard -- George Bush hoped it would help push his failure in Iraq off the front page. While this administration's botched management in Iraq has rightfully remained front and center, some disturbing trends have emerged around Alito's record.

You can use our simple letter to the editor tool to spread the word in your community:

Here are the facts. When Alito was nominated for his present job on the Court of Appeals, he made a pledge to the U.S. Senate that he would recuse himself from cases where he had a personal interest. On multiple occasions Alito has broken that pledge.

He broke his pledge in 1995 when he ruled on a case that involved his sister's law firm. And he broke his pledge in 2002 when he ruled on a case involving an investment firm where he had a six-figure personal investment.

Still more disturbing has been the series of shifting excuses for these serious ethical lapses. In the case of the investment firm, Alito's sponsors in the White House first claimed that a computer glitch failed to alert Judge Alito of the conflict. When that excuse began to be scrutinized, the explanation suddenly shifted, with administration officials arguing on his behalf that Alito didn't need to recuse himself after all.

Americans deserve a Supreme Court Justice who doesn't need a computer to tell the difference between right and wrong.

You can make sure that your local paper covers these lapses and gives Alito's credibility a serious examination by writing a letter to the editor:

And it does not stop there. On a job application for a position in the Reagan administration, Alito pointed to his membership in an organization known as the Concerned Alumni of Princeton. During his time at Princeton and when he was still promoting his membership over a decade later, this group made its name fighting integration of women and minorities on campus.

While his job application clearly points out his membership in this organization, he has now reversed course -- his response to questions from Senators last month was, "I have no recollection of being a member or attending meetings."

A person seeking a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court must be upfront and honest with the Senate -- and with the American people.

Samuel Alito has a lot to answer for -- and your letter right now can set the stage for his hearings and ensure that the American people finally get the truth:

Thank you,

Tom McMahon
Executive Director
Democratic National Committee

P.S. -- Last Friday I wrote to you about a sickening video the Republican National Committee put up on its web site. In response, ordinary people across the country raised over $100,000 for the Democratic Party over the weekend -- taking their attack and turning it into a Democratic victory. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats on the Sunday political shows called on the RNC to remove the video from its web site. Thank you for getting the word out.
I didn't see the video, by the way, but I heard it was pretty bad.

No Redemption?

So now that Stanley “Tookie” Williams is dead, let us take a moment and recognize how he turned his life around while incarcerated for his conviction of murdering a 7-11 clerk and a hotel owner, his wife and daughter.

Yes, he was a vicious hoodlum in his youth. Yes, he most definitely deserved, at the very least, to spend the rest of his life in a cell. Yes, the friends and family members of his victims were entitled to see him die as the sentence passed after he was convicted by a jury of his peers was carried out.

But didn’t his good work count for something? And isn’t it a loss for us all that he will no longer be able to write, teach, and mentor other violent, aimless young men regarding the waste and death that inevitably follows when they choose a life of gangland violence?

As I sorted through my thoughts and feelings about what this story meant to me personally (and I can only imagine how those much more closely involved with Williams feel at this moment), one name came back to me over and over in my mind (another person I never knew, but only through someone else’s interpretation of him). Partly because of this person, a precedent exists for granting clemency to convicted murders and sparing the death sentence.

The name of that person is Robert Stroud. You can read more about Stroud from this link (I read the Wikipedia article, and it looks completely authentic).

As mentioned in the article, Stroud was convicted of murdering a man who had attacked Stroud’s girlfriend at the time, earning a conviction which led him from McNeil Island in Puget Sound to the federal pen in Leavenworth, Kansas. At Leavenworth, Stroud killed a prison guard in a cafeteria dispute, and after an invalidated trial, Stroud was tried again and sentenced to death (with intervention to make sure the sentence was carried out by the U.S. Supreme Court), which was scheduled to take place on April 23, 1920.

Stroud’s mother then appealed her son’s death sentence to the President, who at that time was Woodrow Wilson. However, I believe that, at this moment, Stroud benefited from a fateful bit of good luck. Wilson had been thoroughly incapacitated by a stroke in October 1919, and for all intents and purposes, Wilson’s ambitious second wife Edith Bolling Galt Wilson was running the country (a fact hidden from just about everyone somehow, including Vice President Thomas Marshall). I believe that Stroud benefited from the fact that his mother could appeal more directly to the First Lady instead of the President (I have not been able to determine if Gault had had children prior to marrying Wilson – I think she did, but I’m not sure).

The remainder of the Wikipedia article discusses Stroud’s accomplishments after his death sentence pardon in the area of avian science, including authoring the books Diseases of Canaries and Stroud’s Digest on the Diseases of Birds. This was all captured pretty accurately I thought in John Frankenheimer’s landmark 1962 film about Stroud called “Birdman of Alcatraz” starring Burt Lancaster (though, ironically, Stroud studied the birds in Kansas and not Alcatraz). There were some Hollywood touches to be sure in the film – Stroud/Lancaster matures into a wise, genial old man by the time he leaves for the Medical Facility for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, where he died on November 21, 1963, ignoring Stroud’s violent mood swings depicted earlier that remained in his old age, and Stroud was also a generally unkempt individual, which I guess should be expected when you’re housing a bunch of birds, and that was glossed over – but there was much more in the movie that was realistic and thought provoking (in his day, Lancaster definitely championed what we would consider to be liberal causes, and probably would have been leading the fight to save Williams).

As I said at the outset, though, I think this is an occasion to pause and reflect on the good work of prisoners such as both “Tookie” Williams and Robert Stroud as part of their incarceration. It is easy to feel that that is a small payback for the violent acts that put them behind bars, and that’s a good point. However, that makes their contributions no less significant.

And how many more prisoners will follow in Williams’ footsteps if they believe that their lives will not be spared if they do so?

Update: In this post, I didn't read Michael Smerconish refuting anything pointed out here by The Bulldog Manifesto several days earlier. What I did read was some truly disingenuous association by Smerconish between "Tookie" Williams and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Are we to judge the merits of whether a man lives or dies based on the individuals he cites in a book dedication?

Monday, December 12, 2005

NOLA, Tookie, and Iraq

I think this column from USA Today qualifies as “whistling in the dark,” sadly, based on this excellent analysis from Mike Tidwell of the L.A. Times (Brendan at Brandoland has great stuff today on New Orleans and the Katrina aftermath also).

Tidwell’s column appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday (registration required), and since we have to keep the right-wing hammerheads happy (mustn’t we now?), a column appeared next to it from someone at The Heritage Foundation named James Jay Carafano. He leads off with this (referring to the Katrina aftermath):

It was, to put it mildly, a bad day for America. As one veteran responder put it, getting aid into New Orleans and other devastated areas after Hurricane Katrina hit was like "landing an army at Normandy with a little less shooting."
A “bad day”? Try a “bad week,” or a “bad month.” And for who?

So typical…conjuring up images in NOLA of lawlessness first and foremost (in particular, the “looting”…I’m putting that in quotes because, although it really happened, isn’t it safe to say by now that that was blown out of proportion just a bit? Isn’t it safe to say that because, among other things, the “story” of NOLA looters shooting at police helicopters turned out to be TOTALLY FAKE??). So easy to write this in such a way that we can take pity on those who lost their homes and likely will never be back and still feel comfortable with our prejudices at the same time, isn’t it? And so easy to absolve Mike “Horsey Time” Brown, Mike “City of Louisiana” Chertoff and Dubya in the process as well.

I should note that the point of Carafano’s column is that the worst thing that came out of the Katrina disaster was the acknowledgment that we need to upgrade the Cost Guard in terms of materiel and training. I’m serious.

Though I refused to take Carafano seriously after he led off his screed with images of crime and looting (as if everyone in NoLA is depraved and incapable of Christian acts of charity), I should note that I thought this excerpt was amusing.

The U.S. Coast Guard, a uniformed military service that is now part of the Department of Homeland Security, rescued more than 33,000 people during and after the storm, often under harrowing conditions. And the Pentagon pitched in as well. By Aug. 31, the Defense Department had started medical airlifts, and the USS Bataan had arrived off New Orleans. Almost 50,000 National Guard forces deployed to support hurricane relief, and active duty troops from the 82d Airborne and 1st Cavalry, more than 17,000, pitched in as well.

A second amphibious assault ship and an aircraft carrier arrived on Sept. 6. Twenty ships, 360 helicopters and 93 fixed-wing aircraft were in the affected area by Sept. 7. It was the largest and fastest deployment of U.S. military forces in support of a natural disaster in the nation's history.
Please note the six-day gap in between the beginning of some type of medical relief effort and the evacuation of anyone who was unable to leave.

I can almost see John Wayne's stirring, jutting-chinned countenance as he descends from a Huey onto Vermillion Street, immediately mobilizes all local, state and federal civilian and military personnel, pumps out the water, rebuilds the levees, and even has time for a Zydeco line dance while feasting on Crawfish etoufee and a Sazerac cocktail as the sun sets and the credits roll in the background.

Back in the real world, I will continue to look some more, though so far, I have found no corroboration whatsoever to back up Carafano's statements. And is Carafano referring to NOLA only or the entire Gulf region? As I said, though, I’ve spent so much time dissecting what these people say that I’m just not going to bother any more.

To change the subject, here is the latest on “Tookie” Williams.

“The Gropenator” took the predictable route after Williams’ latest appeal was rejected. This highlighted text from this story describes what is basically the thinnest of threads to which Williams is dangling at this moment.

It is possible that a larger panel of judges from the (U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) could consider the case if a judge on the court asks for what is known as "en banc" review. If a majority of the circuit's 25 active judges votes for a rehearing, a panel of 11 judge will then consider the case.

If Williams is not granted relief by the 9th Circuit, his lawyer Verna Wefald already has papers prepared for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case
I may not have stated this forcefully enough before, but I don’t casually defend someone who was convicted of multiple murder by a jury of his or her peers because I try to imagine myself as a family member of one of the victims. However, in Williams’ case, I believe that there is enough compelling evidence for him to be granted a reprieve and life in prison, mainly because of his efforts to prevent other young men from following the same path he did (as opposed to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is stone cold guilty, has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to redeem himself and in no way deserves a new trial). If I ever come around to thinking differently on this, I’ll be sure to let you know, but so far, I believe Williams’ life is worth sparing.

Update 12/16: Will Bunch seems to agree with me for the most part in this great post.

And a final note about people losing their lives due to irresponsibility from our government….Dubya, in a speech disturbingly close to my area code today, stated the Iraqi casualty count at 30,000. You can rest assured that that is a “lowball” figure (instructive to me that, so far, other bloggers that I read didn’t take him seriously enough to even comment on it).

As far as I can tell, all we can do at this moment is pray for all concerned.

Word Games Of The Worst Sort

So Bill (“Hide Muffy Before He Dissects Her”) Frist is “throwing down the gauntlet” as Sen. Charles Schumer put it regarding Sam (Sc)Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Fristy wants an “up-and-down” vote on this guy; he’s entitled to that, but shouldn’t the Senate Judiciary Committee go through the formality of screening him first?

This quote in particular from the CNN story stood out for me (and I consider the phrase "Democratic stalling" to be highly pejorative, by the way):

“Sam Alito, who has a modest judicial temperament ... is someone who deserves advice and consent by the Senate," Frist told "Fox News Sunday."
Here and here are examples of (Sc)Alito’s “modest judicial temperament,” by the way.

The reason why I’m highlighting this quote is because it illustrates either a horrible job of paraphrasing what Frist said by the CNN correspondent (possible), or it communicates to me that Frist views the “advise and consent” role as one in which the Senate counsels the president’s nominee instead of the president (likely, given the way Frist operates).

I would call that an abdication of the duties of a member of Congress, elected to, in effect, do “the people’s business.” Frist is saying to me that, for him, it is a given that (Sc)Alito will be confirmed and his duty at this point is to provide counsel to him somehow in his capacity as a U.S. Senator. If Frist sincerely believes that, then he either doesn’t know how to do his job or doesn’t care.

Actually, if I were Frist, I’d be more concerned about my financial matters these days than anything else.

Indignity Even Unto Death

After a hectic couple of days performing seasonal errands and tasks (wrestling with the tree, shopping, wrapping presents, stringing lights, squeezing in our yearly jaunt to Longwood Gardens in Chadds Ford, PA), I was trying to figure out whether or not I should write an appreciation of Richard Pryor and/or Eugene McCarthy, try to decipher the latest legal maneuvers in the Valerie Plame matter (are Rove and his lawyers going to find a way to drag EVERY MSM journo who had some familiarity with her into this mess in an attempt to save Rove's sorry butt, or is Viveca Novak the end of the line?), or comment on N.J. governor-elect Jon Corzine's "business as usual" appointment of Robert Menendez to complete his term in the U.S. Senate, bypassing other worthy candidates such as Rush Holt and Nia Gill, with the appointment of either Holt or Gill sending a message that Corzine intends to put forward a boldly different agenda than some "cookie cutter" wish list handed to him by traditional Democratic special interest constituencies in that state (and on a wholly unrelated note, I should point out that James Wolcott's latest post on the dear MSM is a "must read," by the way - hat tip to Atrios).

And then I read this (via Atrios also...that God this guy can do the digging that he does).

Imagine that you have raised a child from an infant to a fumbling toddler, playing with anything he or she can get their hands on, then to the point where they are a boy or girl settling into a school routine playing with toys guns or hiding in a woods pretending to be on "patrol," then to the point where they are a pre-teenager and they get it into their heads that they have the praiseworthy goal of serving our country in the military, possibly following in the footsteps of a family member, and as a parent or other family member you support this young man or woman by any means available to you until they graduate from high school, and then they may either complete a two or four-year degree or choose not to pending completion of service, and then they get sent off to fight a war for reasons that have shifted like specs of sand in the wind and, God forbid, they are killed.

All of the sacrifice. The late nights sitting up with them while they recover from a sickness or a bad dream. The celebration of their school or extra-curricular accomplishments. Summers at the shore, sports outings, concerts with them, or the first time at the circus. The silly jokes, the pillow fights...the hurts and bitter, angry tears. The parent-teacher conferences, the last-minute school projects. The debt, requiring a second or even a third job or assistance from family members. Trying not to lose your mind the first night they're out driving a car after they get their license. The first date or prom. All of the prayers, and hopes, and dreams of the future.

And you get a phone call telling you that they're dead, and all of their dreams die with them (and yours).

And the government in whose name they lost their lives can't even respect them enough to treat their remains properly (to say nothing of the fact that the Secretary of Defense can't even sign the letters notifying the parents of the deaths of their children).

Never forget who brought this all to you. Never forget who is responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in American history.

Impeachment should only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg here. Truly investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing those responsible could take years.

Let it take those years. Those who have died deserve no less.

Update 12/13: I kept reading this great post from David Sirota and trying to find a way to disagree with him, but I couldn't.