Megnut

Political

Examining thirty-three years of Roe

Usually I can't read any article about abortion because no matter what side it supports or stance it takes, I get angry about something. But today, on the thirty-third anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there's an op-ed in the New York Times, Three Decades After Roe, a War We Can All Support that frames the debate in a way I can get behind. The premise: everyone acknowledges abortions are bad and that we'd like to reduce the number of abortions, the real issue is how to do that.

The problem with using restrictions to reduce the number of abortions isn't that the restrictions are judgmental. It's that they're crude. They leap too easily from judgment to legislation and criminalization. They drag police officers, prosecutors and politicians into personal tragedies. Most people don't want such intrusion. But you lose them up front by refusing to concede that there's anything wrong with abortion. You have to offer them anti-abortion results (fewer abortions) without anti-abortion laws.

The pro-choice path to those results is simple. Help every woman when she doesn't want an abortion: before she's pregnant. That means abstinence for those who can practice it, and contraception for everybody else. Nearly half of the unintended pregnancies in this country result in abortions, and at least half of our unintended pregnancies are attributable to women who didn't use contraception.

It seems like a fitting time to reexamine this issue and discuss better ways to address it. For too long both sides have been polarized and unable to even discuss the topic of abortion in any reasonable manner.

American Experience on John Adams

I caught the premier of American Experience's John & Abigail Adams the other night and really enjoyed it, though the program's tagline ("Meet the original power couple") is discouraging. President Adams was a very interesting fellow, and I've been intrigued by him since I read Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis a few years ago.

An examination of Adams is especially timely now with so many issues arising with regard to executive power in the US. John Adams wrote the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which established three branches of government. It was largely the basis for the Federal Constitution when it was later drafted. He believed the separation of powers in government was critical to maintain democracy, and that left unchecked (esp. by the judiciary), the executive branch could move towards despotism.

I highly recommend watching the program if you've got two free hours. It's not just informative but also entertaining, and has catapulted John Adams to the top of my list of favorite founding fathers.

Placing Sept 11 in historical context

Over the weekend there was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times by Joseph J. Ellis, Finding a Place for 9/11 in American History. First he questions the threat of September 11 to national security, "in the grand sweep of American history" and finds, "it does not make the top tier of the list." And as such, he questions whether the broad changes to domestic and foreign made in its name are justified. Second, he examines when such changes have been made (e.g. 1789's Alien and Sedition Acts and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII) and finds:

In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing.

It's ridiculous that in the effort to "win" the war on terror, we're scraping the constitutional protections that make America the great country that it is. And as Professor Ellis writes, history will likely show that once again, we've overreacted.

Investigating the Bush presidency

Carl Bernstein (who forever is linked to Dustin Hoffman in my mind) has an essay on the Vanity Fair site calling for, Senate Hearings on Bush, Now.

After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned.

The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard.

There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived.

He makes a pretty compelling case, and I hope Congress wakes up one of these days and decides to take some action.

The last abortion clinic

Yesterday I watched Frontline's The Last Abortion Clinic. Unlike some other abortion-related news reports or documentaries that pick a side or person to profile, this program examined the abortion debate from the context of the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Casey changed the standard of review for laws regulating abortion from the Roe v. Wade trimester framework (abortions legal in the first trimester and the ability of states to regulate in subsequent trimesters) to an "undue burden" standard. The majority wrote, "An undue burden exists, and therefore a law is invalid, if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability."

Since Casey, states have enacted more than 200 regulations limiting access to abortion (parental notification, twenty-four hour waiting periods, etc.), testing the limits of "undue burden." This documentary looks at abortion in Mississippi and its neighboring communities, and the effects of the regulations. It was astounding how much has changed since Roe and Casey. There is now only one abortion clinic left in the entire state of Mississippi.

You can watch the entire report online at the website, and I highly recommend it, regardless of what side of the debate you're on. The site also has lots of ancillary information that is excellent, including an examination of the six major Supreme Court decisions on abortion and a map of abortion regulations by state.

Rehashing the same stale file sharing argument

Over on Dangerousmeta I saw a link to this Op-Ed by Daniel Henninger from the Wall Street Journal,Can Justice Scalia Solve the Riddles Of the Internet? Without profit even the digital world will break down. Having recently read the excellent profile of Justice Scalia in The New Yorker (which frustratingly doesn't appear to be online), I was curious to read the article. I was disappointed to discover it rehashed the same old fallacious arguments about people "stealing" music online, and worse, that it got mired in questions of morals.

One would expect the article, beginning with its subtitle, "Without profit even the digital world will break down," to espouse a pro free-market stance (it is the Wall Street Journal, after all), but one only has to read half of the piece before Mr. Henninger begins to crow for old business models to be locked in place by the government if "the people" (Pirates, I'm looking in your direction...) won't follow the old rules:

[T]here will always be another wave of digitized aliens hacking through the copyright walls. There has to be a better way.

There is. It's called right and wrong.

It may seem quaintly old school to suggest that people should stop downloading culture without paying simply because it's the right thing to do. But that may be the best option available.

For starters, if "the people" don't solve this problem themselves, Congress will, and you won't like the solution--unless you enjoy the tax code.

Why it's up to "the people" to solve a problem that's surely not theirs I don't know. Worse, the presumably pro free market writer Mr. Henninger, (who is the deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page) threatens/encourages/suggests government intervention rather than identify the real source of the problem: the media companies themselves. Instead he hints that downloaders may just well be a bunch of Commie freeloaders!

I would push this even further; it requires a moral or at least philosophical commitment to the legitimacy of profit. Absent that, there's no hope.

If only Mr. Henninger, the RIAA, and those enamored of their old business models predicated on tangible media would stop litigating for the past, they would see there's a whole lot of hope out there.

According to this Pew Internet & American Life Project March 2005 Data Memo (warning: pdf):

Current file downloaders are now more likely to say they use online music services like iTunes than they are to report using p2p services. The percentage of music downloaders who have tried paid services has grown from 24% in 2004 to 43% in our most recent survey.

There are two things happening with online file sharing:

1. It's the market's way of saying not that it doesn't see profit, per se, as legitimate but that the prices charged, for example, by BMG for Shakira's CD don't reflect its perceived value.

2. People are willing to pay when there's a means available for them to do so that embraces what's great about the digitization of media (easy access, portability, recommendations/sharing with friends and family, etc.).

Just because large companies chose to ignore this technology rather than embrace it doesn't mean the market should as well. The market is actually working as it should, and consumer demand is driving the development of stores like iTunes. The people/market aren't wrong, it's the companies who'd rather litigate instead of catching up, or leading.

What if big media companies -- instead of pouring millions into lawsuits like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer v. Grokster -- invested money to:

1. Digitize all the content in their catalogs, and offer it for sale through iTunes or some other online music store of choice. During the 2003 Eldred v. Ashcroft case, the Supreme Court found that 98 percent of all copyrighted works are not commercially available. Digitize all that, and suddenly there's a whole lot more to sell.

2. Continue to explore and expand ancillary revenue streams from all the album extras like concerts and merchandise. I seem to recall from a New Yorker article that this is where a lot of the money comes from anyway, and a large amount isn't from CD sales.

3. Embrace the web -- not just to create a distribution mechanism for the digital bits, but also for the fans. Create lively sites for each artist, populate them with real consistent content, create conversation space for aficionados (what fans have already done with sites like green plastic radiohead, a fan site for the band Radiohead) and build the traffic. Make money off of the ad revenue.

How hard is it to adapt and evolve one's business model to the changing time? I think that's what irks me the most about all this -- taking it to the courts to ensure that because something once was, it should (be legislated to) always be. All this "copyright" is just code for "profit."

P.S. What about a bumper sticker that says, "Your failed business model is not my problem"?

P.P.S. In retrospect, this is such a stupid article, I can't believe I wasted any time responding to it, when I could be enjoying the glories of Paris!

Supporting the US troops abroad

Over the Christmas holiday I discovered anysoldier.com and was surprised I hadn't stumbled across it sooner.

Sergeant Brian Horn from LaPlata, Maryland, an Army Infantry Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade was in the Kirkuk area of Iraq when he started the idea of AnySoldier to help care for his soldiers. He agreed to distribute packages that came to him with "Attn: Any Soldier" in his address to the soldiers who were not getting mail. Brian is no longer in Iraq but Any Soldier Inc. continues with your support.

Any Soldier Inc. started in August 2003 as a simple family effort to help the soldiers in one Army unit, thus our name. However, due to overwhelming requests, on 1 January 2004 our effort was expanded to include any member, of any of the Armed Services, in harms way.

We now have 981 Contacts (872 Army, 8 Navy, 42 Air Force, and 59 Marine) helping approx 43,570 soldiers!

There's a list of contacts, including recent emails, and a list of suggested items to send. You can even purchase care packages that have already been assembled with soldiers' needs in mind. I spent a long time just reading the emails from soldiers, it gives you a better sense of what it's like over there than reading most news articles. So if you received some money for Christmas and you're not sure how to spend it, consider getting something for Any Soldier and making a soldier's day.

No smoking gun in Iraq

In fact, there was no gun at all! In news that I'm sure surprised no one, the US announced the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- the justification for our pre-emptive invasion of that country -- ended after two fruitless years. The New York Times opines in its editorial Bulletin: No W.M.D. Found:

The search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq may have been one of the greatest nonevents of the early 21st century, right up there with the failure of the world's computers to crash at the end of the last millennium. That Y2K scare at least brought us an updated Internet. Fear of the nonexistent W.M.D. brought us a war.

No matter how the Administration spins it, the ends do not justify the means. Lies, scare mongering, and faulty intelligence have no place in a democracy, regardless of whether a democratic Iraq is the ultimate outcome of the war.

This tactic has been so successful for President Bush that you can see it being applied once again, now to Social Security and its current 'crisis' (though projections show benefits will be solvent until 2042, see Democrat disputes Social Security 'crisis'). Americans, I beg of you, in the words of Chuck D: Don't believe the hype!

Saving the already-saved Social Security system

I received some feedback via email regarding my post, No smoking gun in Iraq from January 13th. One reader wrote:

Gee, I remember back in 1998 the Clintons and just about every Democrat in Congress were screaming that the budget "surplus" should only be used to "save Social Security." If you believe Social Security needed saving back then and doesn’t now then you must believe it has already been saved. Well, who saved it? Clinton didn’t do anything, so the only answer can be George W. Bush. So following the logic of the Democratic talking points that Social Security is not in crisis (which you have clearing bought into for whatever reason) to be consistent historically you must be willing to admit that someone saved Social Security already and you should be able to tell us who that was. Further you must be able to tell us what transpired in the last six years in the Social Security budget to take it from needing to be "saved" to no longer being in crisis. Are you willing to blog on that a bit?

I could blog on that for a bit (and address the issue of conflating talk of long-term Social Security reform with "crisis" and an immediate push towards privatization), but it's a lot easier to point everyone to someone who can do a much better job of it than I: Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker. In this week's Talk of The Town, Unsocial Insecurity Mr. Hertzberg writes:

"This is one of my charges, is to explain to Congress as clearly as I can: the crisis is now," Bush proclaimed at an "economic summit" a month ago. He does indeed have some 'splaining to do. This year, the Social Security system--the payroll tax, which brings money in, and the pension program, which sends money out--will bring in about $180 billion more than it sends out. It will go on bringing in more than it sends out until 2028, at which point it will begin to draw on the $3.5 trillion surplus it will by then have accumulated. The surplus runs out in 2042, right around the time George W. Bush turns ninety-six. After that, even if nothing has changed, the system's income will continue to cover seventy-three per cent of its outgo.

That's using the Social Security Administration's economic and demographic assumptions, which are habitually pessimistic. Using the assumptions of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the surplus runs out in 2052. And if one uses the economic growth assumptions that Bush's own budget office uses when it calculates the effects of his own tax cuts, the surplus runs out in--er, maybe never.

I do support some kind of Social Security reform, if only to ensure that the surplus never runs out. But I question the language of "crisis" and the rush to privatization -- a solution that Hertzberg points out that even White House officials and The Comptroller General of the United States, David M. Walker, say does nothing to eliminate the long-term gap and maintain the solvency of the fund.

The return of the manifesto

A new site's recently launched called ChangeThis which hopes to, "challenge the way ideas are created and spread." They propose to do this by creating and disseminating manifestos on various topics of interest and importance.

We're betting that a significant portion of the population wants to hear thoughtful, rational, constructive arguments about important issues. We're certain that the best of these manifestos will spread, hand to hand, person to person, until these manifestos have reached a critical mass and actually changed the tone and substance of our debate.

I've been a fan of manifestos for a long time, and Kill Your Children (about the dangers of sugar) was very interesting. But I can't help but wonder why all the manifestos they offer are Adobe PDF files. They certainly look beautiful -- nice colors and font treatments -- but they're kind of a pain because you have to download them and launch another program to view them.

It seems to me that if the goal is to spread the manifestos, they should be presented in the easiest-to-spread manner possible, like plain text or HTML. Great manifestos of the past (Communist, Cluetrain) were about substance. They didn't look great, but they spread like crazy. That's not to say a nice looking manifesto won't also spread, of course, but I believe they won't spread as effectively because of the additional hurdles to read and distribute them. All told, I still look forward to seeing how it progresses and what topics they chose to address. It's an optimistic endeavor, and I love optimistic endeavors! [via evhead]

Photos from the RNC

In case you haven't been checking in with my Slower.net widget (bottom-right corner of the screen), you should be aware that Elliot's been posting some amazing photographs from the Republican Convention in New York City over at Slower.net. His work raises many important questions, including, "What is it with Republicans and hats?" Surely the following photos demonstrate the decisive issues facing our country: Ugly red hat, Why wear one hat when you can wear two, Cowboy up #1, Cowboy up #2, My giant American red hat, My American red hat #2. Maybe the whole red/blue America is really just a question of headwear.

Big on Jesus, small on everything else

Oh, God - "The Jesus Factor" asks what's behind the president's religious beliefs is a brief Slate review of a new Frontline documentary (premiering tonight) that examines President Bush's religious views. It sounds pretty interesting, if only to get a sense of where he's coming from. But I was surprised to read a pretty astounding figure buried in the article.

[O]f the $100 million so far dispensed to faith-based charities by the Bush administration, not one dollar has gone to a Jewish or Muslim organization.

What?! I've always been irritated by the use of federal money for faith-based charities, but to find that it's only going to Christian charities is even more egregious. Argh!

The Economist says Fire Rummy

There's no shortage of news articles about abuses of prisoners in Iraq. And now several publications, including the New York Times and The Economist are calling for the resignation of US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Economist's op-ed, Resign, Rumsfeld has a clear premise, "Responsibility for errors and indiscipline needs to be taken at the top."

The scandal is widening, with more allegations coming to light. Moreover, the abuse of these prisoners is not the only damaging error that has been made and it forms part of a culture of extra-legal behaviour that has been set at the highest level. Responsibility for what has occurred needs to be taken-and to be seen to be taken-at the highest level too. It is plain what that means. The secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, should resign. And if he won't resign, Mr Bush should fire him.

Sounds about right to me.

Personal Democracy conference

On Monday, May 24th in New York City there will be a
Personal Democracy Forum to, "bring together political figures, grassroots leaders, journalists and technology professionals to discuss the questions that lie at the intersection of technology and politics -- to take a realistic look at where we are now and where we are headed." Alas, democracy as we know is not free. The one-day forum costs between $50 (student) - $195 (general admission) to attend. Ouch, that's a lot! I wish more things in the US were like the way they are in Europe, where unemployed people can get in for free, or at least have some discount. That said, it looks to be an interesting line-up of speakers.

How is this even possible?

Bush Unsure if Name Leaker Will Be Caught: I don't get it. How can Bush think we'll find Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but doesn't believe we'll find a snitch on his own staff?

Q & A with NYer author Seymour M. Hersh

In an online-only accompaniment to his article, The Stovepipe ("How conflicts between the Bush Administration and the intelligence community marred the reporting on Iraq's weapons"), in this week's The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh answers some questions about the Bush Administration and the intelligence surrounding the weapons of mass destruction. Very good and important stuff.

Using language to dominate politics

There's a really fascinating interview with UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff discussing how conservatives use language to dominate politics. Reading this makes me realize that Democrats are going to need to do a lot more than just hold Meetups and have blogs to win anytime soon. Also Lakoff has the best quote I've read in a long time about why we pay taxes and why we should pay taxes.

Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there's an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers. This is a huge infrastructure. The highway system, the Internet, the TV system, the public education system, the power grid, the system for training scientists -- vast amounts of infrastructure that we all use, which has to be maintained and paid for. Taxes are your dues -- you pay your dues to be an American. In addition, the wealthiest Americans use that infrastructure more than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people don't. The federal justice system, for example, is nine-tenths devoted to corporate law. The Securities and Exchange Commission and all the apparatus of the Commerce Department are mainly used by the wealthy. And we're all paying for it.

I guess if Republicans continue to relieve us of taxes, they'll eventually relieve us of the infrastructure our taxes fund. [via jason]

War flow review

It's been several months since I made the American War with Iraq Justification Process flow and it's time for a revisit. Looks like we've made it all the way to the end case, "The war is to liberate the Iraqi people." Now all I need to do is insert another box after it saying, "Hawks gloat, It was always about liberating Iraqis, America pretty sure it's great but soldiers are still dying and their tours of duty are being extended and at home their veterans benefits are being slashed." Whooh, that's a long one!

What the hell is going on?

So here's what I don't understand...say you're the President of the United States. And you give a very important speech, such as the State of the Union. And it happens that something you say turns out to be untrue. Wouldn't you be upset? Wouldn't you want to reassure the American people that what happened was an egregious error? Wouldn't you publicly say something along the lines of, "A speech to the American public carries the heaviest burden of proof. Though CIA Director George Tenet has apologized for the factual error in my speech, I would like an investigation into how such a mistake could have happened. Processes will be reviewed, the American people must never be deceived, and as your president I assure you this will never happen again." Etc. Unless of course, you meant to put that lie in there in the first place...

Similarly, there's an astounding quote from President Bush in an article from yesterday's Washington Post, President Defends Allegation On Iraq. In addition to claiming that the intelligence he receives is "darn good," Bush also claims Hussein wouldn't let inspectors in!

Defending the broader decision to go to war with Iraq, the president said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.

I feel like I'm living in a crazy world where people are just re-writing history as they go. Read the entire Post article for a good look at the Administration's changing story about the whole affair. [via Tom Tomorrow]

USA does Village People

Because I rarely post those totally goofy yet entertaining things that people send around in email, I will this time. If you haven't seen it, here's a Flash movie of Bush, Rice, Powell and Rumsfeld doing the Village People. About Iraq. Honest to God.

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