Iowa, oh Iowa, Iowa, Ooooohhh Iowa

I can’t be the only Dar Williams fan out there, especially on the day after the caucuses. Especially after Iowans appear to have gone through the screen door of discretion while some candidates wake up to a nightmare/that I could not bear to see/They were out caucusing/A freezing night in Iowa/But they were not voting for me.

I’m actually on sabbatical for the next two months trying (among other things) to actually get the stupid blog book done (talk about New Year’s resolutions), so I’ve been trying to cut back on other work and focus. But what political junkie can resist the urge to comment on last night’s Iowa result? I will, however, try to keep it to TotSF appropriate topics and bipartisan snarkiness.

My take, as aways, below . . . .

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Action Alert: Senate Judiciary Mark Up On FISA — Call To Oppose Telco Immunity

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up the FISA reform legislation today, Thursday November 15.

The bottom line is that now is the time to call the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to oppose retroactive immunity for telecom companies that helped the Bush administration spy on Americans without warrant.

MYDD has this post with a call to action and announces that they will cover the cost of your phone call to the Senate Judiciary members. Follow the link to Chris Dodd’s campaign website to take action now!

[UPDATE 7:14 PM Thursday, by John]: I just got an email from Senator Dodd’s office announcing victory in the Judiciary Committee today. I’ll enter the letter in a comment below the fold.

Stay tuned . . . .

My Brothers In Pakistan

“Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice. Don’t be afraid. God will help us, and the day will come when you will see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time.”

–Iftikhar Mohamed Chaudry, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan

A man in a tailored suit, surrounded by a cloud of tear gas, hurling something at police. Mobs of hundreds of lawyers surrounding a jury-rigged loud speaker so that they can hear the revolutionary message of a deposed Chief Justice under house arrest: “rise up and spread the revolution of the rule of law!” Given our view of lawyers in popular culture today, these images seem surreal, almost comical. Lawyers? Rising as the bulwark of democracy and the rule of law? Aren’t lawyers about preserving the status quo and circumventing the law? Who can forget the cheering crowds when a giant Tyrannosaurus ate the smarmy lawyer in Jurasic Park as he fled to hide in the port-a-john? Or the lawyers as “ambulance chasers.” I have a friend and fellow progressive who would never consider voting for John Edwards because he was a plaintiff’s lawyer, even if he was about suing mammoth corporations to hold them accountable for shafting otherwise defenseless citizens. So when we see lawyers standing before armed soldiers with guns, shouldn’t we be cheering for the soldiers? After all, how many times have I heard that what you call 100 dead lawyers is “a good start?”

But ’twas not always so. Consider a different time, when lawyers like John Adams, or serious legal philosophers such as Benjamin Franklin, believed that the rule of law was a matter to die for. As one of their number so aptly put it:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

And indeed, listed as the first grievance against King George:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

Law, law, law — the Rule of Law. And of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 24 were lawyers while several others, such as Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin, had extensive knowledge and experience of the law and it practice.

It has been a long time since lawyers in this country rose in revolution to defend the Rule of Law against the encroachment of a tyrant bent on establishing the direct rule of one man. In the interim lawyers have not been idle in the defense of freedom. But even the lawyers who have forsaken profitable careers in private practice to pursue the goals of social justice or defend indigent defendants because the rule of law depends on providing a vigorous and zealous defense to everyone accused still live lives of relative comfrt and security. We forget, in a country where the rule of law has remained settled for so long we take it for granted. (If anything, we take it perhaps too much for granted, and have come to pay for our complacency.) When I speak to other activists around the world, I am reminded that people like me are “disappeared” or arrested on a regular basis. And that what protects me is that the respect for the rule of law is so deeply embedded in all of us that the idea that the industrial interests I opposed would have me killed seem like bad fiction. But for many lawyers and other social activists around the world, it happens all the time.

So I am reminded by my brothers and colleagues of the bar in Pakistan once again of the value of the Rule of Law as a bulwark against violence and tyranny. I salute those who could live comfortably off the status quo and drift with the wind of the regime, who instead rise to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. And while I hope I never come upon such a “time of sacrifice,” I also hope that I — and perhaps others as well — can appreciate why the rule of law remains a cause to inspire and thing to defend.

Stay tuned . . . .

So Much For All That “We Are A Nation of Laws” Stuff . . . .

This past month saw, practically unmarked, the anniversary of the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Richard Nixon’s refusal to turn over the secret tapes sought by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox for information relevant to the Watergate break-in. Nixon offered instead to turn the tapes over to a trusted Senator, who would provide the Special Prosecutor and interested members of Congress with summaries. The “massacre” involved firing the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General before Nixon found someone (Robert Bork) willing to fire Cox, because Cox refused to drop his subpoena for the tapes and accept Nixon’s compromise after D.C. district court Judge John Sirica denied Nixon’s claims of executive privilege.

Congress then had a choice. Whether to back down and accept the Nixon compromise on a theory that it would avoid a Constitutional crisis while maintaining a fig-leaf of Congressional oversight, or to appoint a new special prosecutor who would continue to demand the President honor the Congressional demand for the tapes. Congress chose the later, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ordered the President to respect the subpoena and turn over the tapes. A week later, Nixon resigned. At the time, many commentators and scholars saw it as a signature moment in the triumph of the rule of law and a vindication of the principle that the United States is a country of “laws, not men.”

Sadly, we now face another such signature moment. President demands not merely approval of his domestic surveillance program, but wants retroactive immunity for the phone companies that provided the Administration with customer information, lest a court determine that the telcos thereby violated Section 222 of the Communications Act and other provisions of law. Again, scholars and civil rights activists raise grave concerns about how allowing the President to defy the law creates serious concerns about maintaining the Rule of Law and respect for the Rule of Law. Again, we the people look to our elected representatives in Congress to stand firm and protect the rule of law against the encroachment of a Chief Executive convinced that he should have the freedom to act for the greater good. Unfortunately, this time, it looks like the Democratic leadership may prove a weak reed upon which civil liberties cannot trust to lean. Unless, of course, the people rise up clearly in one voice to say, in the words of Rudyard Kipling:

All the right they promise -— all the wrong they bring.
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this King!

More below . . . .

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The Value of Diversity, Or, Lessons of a Canadian Folksinger to the US Supreme Court.

The Surpreme Court has now ruled by 5-4 that school districts cannot use race as a means of determining placement to maintain integrated class rooms. Unsurprisingly, the four of the Court’s “Conservative” wing (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito) believe that any race conscious consideration by government is intrinsically harmful and would overturn the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that upheld the use of race as one of several factors to promote diversity in higher education. (Technically, Roberts only goes so far as narrowing Grutter‘s holding to higher education, but it amounts to the same thing.) Kennedy, the eternal swing vote, still affirms that diversity (including racial and gender diversity) is an important value that the government can support, without really indicating how the school systems can do so.

Reflections on the fallacy of “color blindness,” and how a completely unrelated folksong by the Canadian folksinger Heather Dale makes the point about the need for diversity and role models more eloquently than I ever could, below…

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I rarely post “me too” postings . . .

But I feel it is important to circulate this well written piece from Alpie.net. Of course, regular readers will recognize it as one of my favorite tropes, although I usually phrase it differently. Being a citizen rather than a “consumer” means making the jump from bitching about reality to trying to change it. Yes, God knows we’re all busy, trying to make ends meet, raise families, etc. etc. But, like getting enough exercise, making sure the kids do their homework, eating a balanced diet, etc., it’s something that you either make time for because you think it’s important or suffer the consequences.

Stay tuned . . .

Open Mouth, Insert Foot, and Hopefully Learn Lesson.

Generally, I try to limit myself to talking about things I know about and recognize what I don’t know about. But, like most of us, I occassionally think I know more than I do. Such is the case of my recent comment in ComputerWorld about the muni deployment situation in San Francisco. In the last few days, I’ve received a barrage of angry letters and calls from friends of mine on the ground in SF wanting to know what the Hell I was thinking when I said: “”They’ve created a mess in San Francisco where the city seems to be negotiating with Google or Earthlink and not the community.”

Sadly, I cannot even say I was misquoted or taken out of context. Matt Hamblen got my quote exactly right. It turns out, however, that I had it exactly wrong. As my angry SF friends have let me know in no uncertain terms, the City of San Francisco, Google and Earthlink have been conducting neighborhood surveys, meeting with local community leaders, and responding to this input with substantive changes.

So how did I screw up so badly? And what did I learn from all this? See below . . . .

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VA Tech Aftermath: The Usual Panic Repression With A Racist Undertone

It seem sadly inevitable. Whenever we have a national tragedy, a pattern of repression — often flavored with a racist or at least anti-nonconformist undertone — breaks out. After the Columbine tragedy, schools rushed in to expell any kid that looked like a Goth and put “zero tolerance” policies in place that did little for safety but lots to satisfy panic. After 9/11, we got to see anyone who looked even vaguely middle eastern subject to extra searches, police stops, and occassionally getting dragged away on suspicion of something or other.

Now, sadly, it’s happening again. First, lets pump up the gullible with a non-stop media orgy of “How did we miss the signs?” “Kids these days are so violent, and exposed to so many violent influences.” “Who knows where or when the next mad student will strike?” “It could be anyone! It could be the (Asian) kid next door!” etc., etc., etc. And lets keep flashing the same pictures of the VA Tech murderer over and over and over — in case anyone missed he’s Asian.

All set, than lets zoom ahead to where our latest outbreak of post-trauma panic is taking place. According to this story in the Chicago Tribune, it would appear that the police have arrested Allen Lee for “disturbing the peace.” His criminal conduct? An essay he wrote in his creative writing class disturbed his teacher, who took it to the department head, who took it to the principal, who called the police, who had young Allen Lee arrested. His father subsequently paid the $75 bail, so they obviously do not consider him an imminent threat of some undefined terrible thing.

Until last week, Allen Lee was a straight A student with a contract to enter the Marine Corps after graduation. Other than being Asian, he does not appear to share much in common with VA Tech murdered Sueng Hui Cho. Lee wrote his essay for a creative writing class, in which the teacher urged Lee and the other students to “express their emotions through writing.”

More below . . . .

UPDATE: Here is a link to the essay in question and some author commentary. I am ungenerous enough to wonder if the teacher would have found it so “disturbing” if she had not been personally insulted as a bad teacher delluding herself.

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How The Conservative/Big Business Alliance Bankrupted Air America

Few things raised joyfull cackles among Republicans in the waning days of 2006. Many, however regarded the bankruptcy of Air America as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal fall. Talk radio, it appeared, remained part of the conservative “heartland” where such liberal voices as Al Franken meet a resounding silence.

However, as reported by the New York Times, the story may have a lot more to it then a tale of silly liberals who can’t run a business and have nothing interesting to say. It appears that 90 major national advertisers engaged in a boycott of Air America programming, to the extent that they wanted their advertising stripped out of syndicated material from other sources (here, ABC Radio Network). The interesting question, of course, is why would supposedly dissinterested companies with no motivation to interefere with domestic politics want to drive Air America out of business?

Hahahahaha…..I love it when I ask silly rhetorical questions like that. For a further specualtion on what apparently went on and why I think the new, Democratic Congress might want to do a little investigatin’ into the Case of Secret Boycott, see below….

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I Co-Author Paper On Why “Free Market” BS Work So Well In Policy

I found this item on Techdirt interesting. The article links to several techno-libertarians finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of evaluating the reality that (a) countries such as South Korea, Japan, Estonia, France (and more!) are now zooming ahead of us in just about every measure in broadband deployment and adoption; (b) these countries rocketed past us after they adopted intrusive regulatory regimes and market-warping government incentives; and, (c) our supposedly superior, libertarian, deregulatory approach has not produced the competitive and productive nirvana the theoretical literature promised.

So why do “free market” arguments keep working, so much so that just about every piece of state or federal telecom reform legislation introduced right now assumes that competition happens as a result of deregulation? Why, despite all evidence to the contrary, do Democrats and Republicans alike still rush to deregulate with the religious zeal usually associated with someone who just spotted a burning bush in their back yard? As the Techdirt piece shows, this can’t be explained by the usual cynical response that Congress and the FCC are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Bells or cable cos.

So my buddy Greg Rose and I have written a paper explaining why the same arguments keep working time and again for the 34th Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (you can see a rough draft here). As an aside (in the final version, not yet posted), I explain why Lakoff and his buddies should perhaps spend a little less time on the linguistics of framing and a little more time worrying about the structure of media. To paraphrase McCluen, “whoever owns the media frames the message.” In a world where the mass media can trigger riots by showing a picture of the Pope and pulling a single line out of an academic speech delivered to an academic audience, it’s optomistic to the point of delusional to believe you can frame a message just by picking the right words.

Basic summary below . . .

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