Saturday, March 2, 2013

Wide appeal to SCOTUS on marriage equality

In preparation for the hearings this month on marriage equality, Thursday was the deadline for friends of the court to file their supporting briefs in the cases concerning marriage equality.

How much difference these amicus curia briefs matter is an open debate.   It's my contention that justices are human beings who live in the real world and that they cannot help but be influenced to some degree by social changes (except perhaps contrarians Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas).   It's generally accepted, I believe, that the court does not want to get too far ahead of public opinion, or lag too far behind, when making decisions that will change social institutions.

Good examples include the decisions that removed the ban on inter-racial marriage, that decriminalized sodomy, and that made it legal to sell/purchase contraceptives.   Those changes did not come from any change in the constitution, but from interpreting it differently, in part because society had changed.

So these briefs probably do make some difference -- in addition often to supplying research data or legal reasoning that the justices find useful. 

Two briefs filed this week on the California Proposition 8 case show the wide support for overturning that.   One was from the U. S. Justice Department, which closely follows the strong support for marriage equality in President Obama's State of the Union address.

The other is an affidavit signed by more than 100 prominent Republicans, including the former George W. Bush campaign manager, who was later chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman.    And there was the full page ad in the NYTimes last week with pictures of Republican celebrities who support gay marriage:   Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, and Colin Powell.  There has also been a supportive document filed from 13 states, including the nine who have legal gay marriage and four that do not.

My prediction hasn't changed:   SCOTUS will completely overturn DOMA and will decide Prop8 narrowly so that it restores same-sex marriage in California but does not [yet] impose it on other states.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Finally, the truth about the gun mania

We shrinks have always viewed this absolute NRA mania about their guns as a thinly veiled anxiety about castration.    The idea is that a gun represents phallic power (i.e. a penis) in the unconscious, and that those who feel insecure about their masculinity, or their power, feel gun control would take away their masculinity, their power, their manhood.

And that's a pretty powerful anxiety in many men.   We haven't talked a lot about this, because it arouses such defensiveness and indignation and probably wouldn't convince anybody.

But now this idea seems confirmed by an elected official who is fighting mightily to stop gun control legislation in Illinois.   Rep. Jim Sacia, from a downstate area of the state, railed against his Chicago counterparts who are pushing for gun control legislation.  Here's what he said on the Illinois House of Representatives floor this week:
"You folks in Chicago want me to get castrated because your families are having too many kids! . . .  It spells out exactly what’s happening here: You want us to get rid of guns."
From the larger context, he meant that this is a Chicago problem, with its gangs and poverty and crimes;  and they should not force the other parts of the state to submit to gun control.

But he did spontaneously use the analogy of castration.   Yep, he did.    Point made.


Bob Woodward has passed his sell-by date

Bob Woodward, along with Carl Bernstein, brought us "Deep Throat" and the explosive exposure of Watergate.   Down went Richard Nixon.

Now, decades and several books later, veteran journalist Bob Woodward seems to have passed his sell-by date.   Noted for his ability to gain interview access to top White House officials for his books on presidents and behind the scenes at the White House, he has of late seemed to slant the truth in an anti-Obama direction.

That's unfortunate, because his history and his prior books give him a certain gravitas and credibility, which multiplies the damage when he distorts the truth.  The latest flap concerns his recent accusation that President Obama was trying "to move the goalposts" by demanding new revenues in the sequestration debate.

Ezra Klein has already smacked down the goalpost claim when it was made by Republicans (see ShrinkRap, Feb. 26).

Now Woodward is claiming that he was threatened by an unnamed White House official who told him he "would regret" that story line.   Politico has obtained the email exchange between Woodward and Gene Sperling discussing a prior telephone call they had apparently had.   Here's the exchange:
Sperling:  I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall -- but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim ... My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.

WoodwardGene, You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice.
Now Woodward is taking that perfectly ordinary exchange between friends and trying to turn it into a petulant claim that the White House threatened him with: a 'You will live to regret this' warning.   And where did he choose to amplify this claim?    Fox News !!!

In return, Woodward is getting raked over the coals by responsible journalists all over the place.   It's sad when a once-respected journalist begins to lose it, as David Broder did.

But that's life.   Better to move off stage while you still at the top.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

House passes VAWA

The Senate had already passed their version of the Violence Against Women Act that President Obama had said he would sign.   The House had its own, much watered-down version, which failed to pass, even though a majority of their majority party favored it. **

Then the House took up the Senate version -- and passed it.   So it's headed for the president's desk for his signature.

In the end, 13 Republicans who are considered possible or probably candidates for the Senate in 2014 voted No.    Of those 13, six of them are from Georgia:   Reps. Paul Braun, Tom Price, Phil Gingery, Jack Kingston, Austin Scott, and Tim Graves.

Remember these names when the 2014 election heats up -- that is, if any ShrinkRap readers would vote for a Republican anyway.


** This is considered a slap at John Boehner.  It's the third time recently when he has been unable to deliver the votes from his own party for a bill that his party favors.   Not too good as a sign of his leadership influence. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who knew? Gun ownership declining.

Mary Sanchez, who writes an opinion column carried in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes that the rate of gun ownership in America is in decline since rates peaked in the 1970s.

That's not the obvious conclusion from all the furor over gun control these days.   So what gives?

It seems that fewer homes contain guns now, even though the manufacturing of guns has increased dramatically from 3.7 million to 6.1 million between 2007 and 2011.   That can only mean that fewer people are buying more guns.

Sanchez says it's like buying cell phones.   "Once you're hooked, only the newest killer version will do, prompting more frequent gun purchases."   But not everyone is hooked.  Sanchez says that the appeal is mostly to older white men.  "Younger people are more likely to play soccer than sit in a duck blind or deer stand."

What about all those news stories of women flocking to shooting ranges to practice with their pink-handled pistols?  "Gun industry fairy tales."  The rate of gun ownership among women was 14% in 1982 and declined to less than 10% in 2010.

So is it all a big marketing-lobbying strategy to make profits for the gun industry?  It seems that is part of it.  The other part (my analysis, not Sanchez's) is a combination of anxiety about economic hard times and major social changes, so that many people feel their way of life threatened.

Many blame the liberal government, specifically President Obama, and conservative politicians and the gun industry fan these flames into a paranoia that -- guess what? -- leads to stocking up on guns before the government tries to take them away.

Neat, huh?   The only trouble is that a lot of people get killed with these guns.   A lot of innocent people.   And a lot of the very people, and their family members, who bought these guns.

We have a big problem, even though the interest in guns seems in decline overall.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ezra Klein on "moving the goalposts"

Ezra Klein debunks the Republican accusation that "Obama is moving the goalposts" in demanding more revenue in a deal to break the sequester.

He points out that the sequester was a deal made in 2011 that punted the budget deadlock into the future, meaning the unthinkable spending cuts would automatically occur in 2013 if the budget didn't get fixed by then.

Because Dems and Repubs were at an impasse, something had to happen by 2013 that would -- take note -- "move the goalposts," i.e. make something happen to break the budget impasse.

Klein says there were two possibilities:   One was the bipartisan supercommittee charged with coming up with a solution.   They failed to come to any agreement even among themselves and gave up the task.

The other thing that would move the goalposts was the 2012 election.   If Romney won, that would decide it:   no new taxes.   If Obama won, then that meant that the American people had voted for the guy who would raise taxes.

Not only did Obama win, but the American people also voted for senators who would raise taxes.   And they actually gave a 1,000,000 vote national majority to Democrats in the House elections.   The problem is that gerrymandered districts meant that Democrats still didn't win a majority of seats in the House.

Nevertheless, the American people spoke.   As Klein says,
[I]t’s worth remembering that the goalposts in American politics aren’t set in backroom deals between politicians. They’re set in elections. And in the 2012 election, the American people were very clear on where they wanted the goalposts moved to.
So why are the Republicans crying foul?


Monday, February 25, 2013

The strange ways of the GOP

Close on the heels of my posting last night -- saying Dick Cheney was my top suspect for the one behind misleading President Bush, Congress, the U.N., and the American people about the efficacy of water-boarding, also known as torture -- comes this news item on Huffington Post.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) voted for the Iraq war and was the Congressman who suggested changing the menus in the House cafeterias from "French fries" to "Freedom Fries" because of the French lack of support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.   He later changed his mind about the war and has now embraced the libertarianism of Ron Paul, which includes opposition to going to war without an act of Congress.

But he's gone further now, saying that Vice President Dick Cheney "will probably end up in hell for the Iraq war."   This was in a keynote address to the Young Americans for Liberty conference in Raleigh, NC.

Not to be partisan about it, he also denounced the current drone policy as "absolutely unconstitutional."   I'm not so sure about that myself.  It hinges on whether we are actually in a declared war with a defined enemy, which would give the president the power to take them out.

Otherwise, I don't find a lot to disagree with him about on the subject of war.   Some of the strongest opponents are converted supporters.  Here's more that he said:  
"I knew that [for] those who do not fight, like myself, it's easy to be macho man, and declare war, get that son of a bitch ... I am so fed up with people who do not understand the pain of war."
Amen to that.   But . . .  a Republican denouncing Dick Cheney?   Now that's refreshing.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Historical truth in films

Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," Catherine Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," and Ben Affleck's "Argo" are all nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.   Each for a time was deemed a favorite to win, and we'll know in a few hours (probably by the time anyone reads this).  At present "Argo" is considered the most likely win (92%) with "Lincoln" in second (6.4%) and "Zero Dark Thirty" trailing in a tie for fifth at 0.1%, according to predictions calculated by Huffington Post.

It's interesting that all three deal with actual historical events involving the United States government, and each plays a bit loose with the historical facts.    Several people have pointed out minor problems with "Lincoln" and "Argo," but nobody seems particularly upset about them, relegating their deviations to the kind of dramatic license we grant to such films.

In fact, President Jimmy Carter, who was president at the time of the "Argo" incident, was interviewed about it.   He pointed out that the film gave most of the credit for the daring rescue of U. S. hostiges in Iran to the CIA, when in fact the Canadian ambassador and his government were the real heros.    However, Pres. Carter went on to say that he thought it was a good film and he hopes it wins the award.

"Lincoln" simply makes the final voting on the 13th constitutional amendment, and the events leading up to it and to ending the Civil War, seems more suspenseful and dramatic than they actually were.   Like Argo, it does not change what happened;   just the balance or the drama with which the story is told.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is more problematic and has provoked quite a controversy, because it implies that waterboarding of one accused terrorist was important in gaining information that led to the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden years later.  It is known that they had some government insiders advising them, which implies authenticity.  But several other highly placed government officials have said that that was not true, and studies have concluded that torture is not a useful mode of interrogation, in addition to being a war crime.

Now in today's New York Times, Ali H. Soufan, a former FBI agent who interrogated Qaeda detainees and is the author of The Black Banners:  The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda writes that "torture led us away from Bin Laden.   After Mr. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, he actually played down the importance of the courier who ultimately led us to Bin Laden."

He goes on to say:
Numerous investigations, most recently a 6,300-page classified report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have reached the same conclusion:  enhanced interrogation didn't work.  Portraying torture as effective risks misleading the next generation of Americans that one of our government's greatest successes came about because of the efficacy of torture.  It's a disservice both to our history and our national security.
But Mr. Soufan does not blame the makers of "Zero Dark Thirty."   He says they were misled by some government officials, who had an agenda concerning waterboarding, advised them based on their selective release of information from classified documents that gave this impression.

In fact, according to Mr. Soufan, senior officials, right up to President Bush himself, were misled about the enhanced interrogation program.   One example he gives of this misinformation is that a Justice Department memo from 2005 claimed that waterboarding  led to the capture of Jose Padilla in 2003;  but actually Padilla was arrested in 2002, months before the waterboarding program began.  But that unchecked fact was repeated by government officials as truth.  Just like the false yellow cake from Niger, which supposedly justified invading Iraq.

But here is the really shocking thing revealed by Mr. Soufan:
When agents heard senior officials citing information we knew was false, we were barred from speaking outAfter President George W. Bush gave a speech containing falsehoods in 2006 . . . I was told by my superiors:  'This is still classified.  Just because the president is talking about it doesn't mean that we can.' . . .

Meanwhile, promoters of torture get to hoodwink journalists, authors and Hollywood producers while selectively declassifying material and providing false information that fits their narrative. . . . 

The filmmakers took the 'firsthand accounts' of a few current and former officials with an agenda and amplified their message worldwide -- suggesting to Americans in cinemas around the country, and regimes overseas, that torture is effective and helped lead to Bin Laden.   There is no suggestion in the movie that another narrative exists.
So who are we talking about here?    Soufan does not name names.   My leading suspects, however, are Vice President Dick Cheney, along with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- and their minions.

Is it too late to charge them with war crimes?