Monday, December 22, 2003

Lagniappe: I Wish You A Merry Christmas, and Hope You'll Wish Me A Merry Something Back. - What does one say to a stranger during holiday times when paths cross and a greeting is appropriate? Is Merry Christmas during Christmas season enough? Or is wishing someone a Merry Day the proper, politically correct, liberal thing to do? Well, I have an interesting take on what the liberal's greeting should be? You'll probably be surprised!

Though I don't get overly agitated at the PC tendency to remove the meaning from holiday celebrations, I do think this growing practice is an unwelcome tendency in our society. In fact, I don't think it is even a liberal tendency. Rather, from my point of view, a true liberal holiday greeting would be the opposite. Let me explain. ...

I don't care if you're Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or Pagan; if you are celebrating something, let me know what it is. I might not celebrate it with you, but at least I know you're not just commemorating a day for the day's sake! Think about it, if someone tells a Christian: "Happy Hannukah" or "Happy Ramadan" of "Happy Solstice", isn't that much more meaningful than a happy "holiday"? So, I never refrain from wishing people a Merry Christmas. It's who I am and I have a right to wish this to people. It's not horrible, you know.

Now, if I know someone is not Christian, then I will make every effort to add "Happy Hannukah" or "Happy Kwanza" after my "Merry Christmas" - but I can only wish people the joy that I experience on days special to me, and if they get offended by that joy because I don't know what is special to them ... well, that is their problem. Does this make me conservative? No, not at all. In fact, I think the multicultural diversity of liberalism should encourage the many blessing that come from all festivals, faiths, and days of celebration. Amen!

And ... Merry Christmas!

Lagniappe: What Does God Know? - What prompts this post is a discussion/friendly debate that I had last night with my brother, who is visiting from Berkeley where he is studying towards his Master's Degree in Theology. (By the way, my brother is a member of the Society of Jesus, a catholic religious order more commonly know as the "Jesuits." My brother is not a priest, but rather a religious brother.) In any event, the discussion we had last night centered around the question: What Does God Know? This is a question that has been discussed around the dinner table at my home many evenings. So much so that my 5-yr-old daughter has memorized my pat answer to the question. Before I give you my answer, I should let you know that both my brother and my wife (not to mention my daughter, who is inclined to side with them) do not agree with me on this issue. So, what is my answer to that interesting question? Well ... I say: "God knows that which is knowable." Seems fairly inoccuous; but its implications are critical, because it implies that there are certain things which God simply cannot know.

I don't believe God knows the future of human behavior. I don't believe God knows from the moment of our birth what our life actions will be and whether we are destined for heaven or hell or purgatory or whatever. I believe that God is omnisicient, but only in term of what is knowable in the context of my faith in the notion of free choice. If God knows our destiny, how is it that we have any choice or freedom at all? Now, my wife and brother say that we cannot understand the mystery of God omnisicience coupled with the existence of true free choice because we think as humans do, and not God; but I argue that even this position is the product of a human thought process that leads one to the notion of mystery and faith. My belief is that we can only know and understand things through the prism of our humanity and our human faculties, and so we must rely on our best efforts to lead us to understanding. For me, this means that we must rely on our faith informed by our reason. And my reason informs my faith that God knows the infinite possibilities of our choices, but he does not know (and does not compromise free will by thus knowing) what it is that we will choose in those moments of our life.

Because, if you buy into the notion that God knows our choices, and where we will be, the possibility of redemption through an act of free choice is not possible. We either have the ability to turn from evil and repent from sin at any point in the eternal existence of our soul (even after death), or we have no choice in the matter. If God knows that from the moment of our creation that we are destined for heaven or hell, then how is it that we are free to choose either the path to heaven or to hell. In a sense, it is already chosen for us because it is predetermined.

My brother argues that God is always with us in the context of our choices, and I don't disagree; but being with us and being in full knowledge of the infinite possibilities of choice does not mean that God knows which of those possibilities we will choose.

Let's move to some examples. We humans may not know if life exists on other planets in other galaxies; but if such is true, then God certainly knows it, since he is the creator. God knows all things that can be known. He knows what will happen to the arctic penguin when the leaf falls from the tree in the tropical rain forest. God knows how the bird's chirp in Louisiana affects the sleeping patterns of the Prime Minister of Japan. All of this, I believe, is "knowable" because it doesn't affect human free choice and will. However, if I get drunk at a New Year's Eve Party and make the mistake of driving home afterwards in bad weather, does God know that 10 minutes later drive into a tree and break my back? If I have free will and free choice, He can't. Why? Because it presupposes that within those 10 minutes, my ability to exercise free choice is no longer operational. I can't believe this. Why is it not possible for me to get into the car, drive for five minutes, realize that what I am doing is dangerous, and pull off into a parking lot to call for a cab or to sleep off the drunkenness. Of course, it IS possible for me to choose this.

Now, my brother would say that God is with me at every instant and every fraction of an instant and so is knowledgable of my choice as I make it. In other words he knows what I am going to do when I do it. But this still begs the question: who makes the choice? Something must come first. Is the choice and God's knowledge of it at the moment of choosing one and the same? It can't be, because then it is not fully free. I must make the choice distinct from God's knowledge in order for it to be fully my own free choice.

So I always end with the compromise: God is omniscient. He knows all that which is knowable. I don't pretend to define that which is knowable; but I do believe that God cannot know the unknowable. I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Kingfishery & Kingcakery - We fans of the New Orleans Saints are truly patient sufferers with loads of blind faith in God. We've been praying for almost 40 years now to get to Football's promised land, and we are still waiting patiently for God to deliver us. Well, we're not at 40 years yet, so I guess we can't expect deliverance for another couple of years. Let's hope that we receive our just rewards for 40 years of faithfulness like the Israelites did during their Exodus from Egypt and their long 40 year march towards the promised land. How bizarre can it get ... the Saints are delivered a miracle that scores a touchdown to bring us one point from tying the Jaguars and heading into overtime, only to see Carney miss the chip shot extra point. The Saints lose another heartbreaker and season-breaker, 20-19.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Lagniappe: PETA terrorism - I'm all for the promotion of kindness to animals. And I'm even sympathetic to some of the work that PETA does on behalf of animals; but this tactic by PETA is simply intolerable. This is nothing more than psychological terrorism, and is no different than the anti-abortion terrorists who parade around with six-foot pictures of aborted fetuses at family events where children are traumatized. Funny, that! Protect the unborn children by traumatizing the already born kids. [Hat-tip to Conservative Blogger, John Hawkins for bringing this to my attention first.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Kingfishery & Kingcakery: New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes on Gay Marriage - In deference to a a request from one of my very few regular readers, affectionately known as "Pops," and as a member of good-standing in the Catholic faith, I have agreed to blog my reactions on the following editorial written by Roman Catholic Archbishop Hughes in the Clarion Herald, the local Archdiocesan Offical Newspaper. In this editorial, Archbishop Hughes writes:

When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided this past week that marriage is any committed relationship between two people of any sex, these judges, whatever their motivation, turned away from the truth and took a step that contributes to a terrible moral darkness.
I just don't see how these judges turned away from the truth. The "truth" of the matter is that a man and a woman can marry for whatever reason - be it convenience, money, love, etc. Even convicted mass murderers are allowed to marry from their prison cells, bestowing all the legal rights, privileges, and blessings on the couple which come from the act of marriage. The other "truth"of the matter is that people are born gay. Gay people are also loving people who may very well be incomplete creations of God without the fulfillment that comes from an intimate relationship afforded by the institution marriage - and not only the legal benefits of marriage, but also the grace that the sacrament of marriage confers upon the partnership. What is morally "dark" in my mind is to arbitrarily deny the grace of the sacrament of marriage to two people of any sex involved in a committed relationship, for that, ultimately, is what marriage celebrates and sanctions. All the other arguments given to exclude gay couples from the institution of marriage are straw man arguments, which I will address at a later point in my reflections on the rest of the Archbishop's editorial. Archbishop Hughes continues:
What does the Church say marriage is? "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament." This teaching is taken directly from the Second Vatican Council, the Code of Canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It reflects God's revealed word in Scripture, handed down in our tradition. Please note that according to this truth, marriage is rooted in nature and, therefore, not a mere social construct. It involves a man and a woman and, therefore, is heterosexual. It has as its purpose both spousal happiness and procreation and education of children. This natural reality is raised for the baptized to a sacrament as a sign of Christ's spousal relationship to his Church.
Here, Archbishop Hughes narrowly interprets the Church teaching he cites. Of course the matrimonial covenant is something "by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life." But nowhere in this teaching is this covenant exclusive of gay couples. I must assume that the Church, which makes exception for infertile heterosexual couples, doesn't interpret this "covenant" as narrowly as Hughes suggests. Marriage IS rooted in nature. So is homosexuality. So, given this, what is so unnatural about homosexual marriage, especially to homosexuals? In fact, for gays, desiring marriage to their same-sex partner, is about as "natural" as can be. It is only "unnatural" to heterosexuals. Also, if marriage has as its purpose both "spousal happiness" and "procreation and education of children," then the only possible disqualifier here is the inability of gay couples to procreate. Gay marriage certainly can contribute to spousal happiness, and gay people are certainly able to education children well. And even the procreation argument has its flaws. Gay people CAN procreate, though perhaps not with their gay partners. They certainly can mother or father children. And so the procreative power exists, in ways not that much different, for instance, from a woman who cannot give birth herself because of some genetic deformity, but who can procreate through the use of a surrogate carrier. And even if we assume that the procreative power doesn't exist, why then can infertile couples marry? The fact is that there is no argument that can be made within the context of current Church law that proscribes marriage for gay couples that should not also proscribe marriage for certain heterosexual couples. Likewise, there is no good argument that justifies marriage for certain heterosexual couples, that cannot also be used to justify marriage for a homosexual couple. Hughes continues:
Some, of course, will raise the issue of tolerance. We tolerate people, not half-truths or lies. Christ calls us to include all in our lives, to love others with whom we disagree, even our enemies. But he enjoins us to resist untruth that comes from wolves in sheep's clothing. A half-truth is the more deceptive. We are to be wise of serpents, gentle as doves. We are to proclaim the truth in love.

When life and love, even efforts to promote justice and peace, are divorced from truth, then the foundation of our human society crumbles. Guigo, the saintly founder of the Comaldolese, once wrote: "The truth does not need us to defend it. We need the truth. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life." Christ's kingdom is one of truth. Let us pray whole-heartedly: "Thy kingdom come!"
Think about the patronizing tone of Hughes's "tolerance" argument. When Hughes says that we tolerate people, not half-truths or lies, he implies two things: first, there is something about the nature of God's creation of gay people that is somehow perverse, and requires tolerance like we tolerate pesky mosquitoes or the oppressive heat during the summertime; second, he implies that homosexuality in itself is a half-truth and a lie. How is this? Some people are homosexual and they are born that way. That is not half-true, it is completely true. And homosexuality is not a lie. Does God create, sustain, and love a lie? And with regard to Hughes's first implication about "tolerance," I'd just like to say that gay people do not need to be "tolerated," they need to be embraced and loved for the creation that they are, made in God's image. Hughes is treading on shaky ground. He is basically arguing that good Catholics need to reject the essential reality of the human condition and the requirements of intimacy and loving relationships for significant part of God's human creation. Furthermore, Hughes is arguing that God's grace as manifested through the sacrament of marriage is exclusive to people for no other reason than sexual orientation. I honestly don't believe Jesus would deny such grace to loving, monogamous, gay couples.

Well, that's my reflection on Archbishop Hughes's opinion. I know it goes against the thinking of "Pops" who solicited my impressions; but I've got to be honest to my conscience and take issue with Hughes on what I think is his wrong position on this subject. I welcome your thoughts and comments, too.

Lagniappe: On the Capture of Saddam - Let me go on record as saying unequivocally that this is a great accomplishment - for Bush, for his administration, for the Iraqis, and for the world. No ifs, ands, or buts. The U.S. military has managed this whole capture with the honor, dignity, and respectfulness that our soldiers represent and stand for. My hat is off to George Bush and to his team for the way they relentlessly pursued this evil man. I admired George Bush’s statement that Saddam will now receive the very justice he denied his own people for so long. The fact that Bush speaks of justice and not retribution is so impressive and consumately statesmanlike. George Bush deserves all the credit that this accomplishment will bring to him.

Any liberal that tries to minimize the importance and success of this capture - and all subsequent efforts to bring this evil man to justice - just because it redounds well on Bush, is not a friend of good and a foe of evil. An evil has been conquered, and that is a good thing. Period.

Has this changed my moral and political beliefs? No. I still personally don’t think the killing that comes with war is moral. And I still believe in liberalism as the most correct political and ideological orientation. And I am not planning to vote for Bush in the next election. But, Bush is the man of the hour. Good for him, good for America, good for the world.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Lagniappe: Collective Bargaining, U.S. Style - So, the Iraqi's have figured out one of the great lessons of democracy and capitalism. If the pay isn't worth the risk, you walk. Then, when the situation for the capitalist gets dire, you collective bargain. And Iraqi's stand to get a nice pay raise for going AWOL. My, they're learning fast!!

Lagniappe: Why keeping the French, Russians, and Germans out of the largesse loop regarding Iraqi reconstruction is self-defeating - First, to those who say it's US taxpayer money, so why not parcel it out exclusively to our "friends." Well, it's not really American Taxpayer money going over there. It's the U.S. Treasury Bondholders who agreed, by their bond purchases, to finance the amount we borrowed for Iraqi reconstruction, whose money is going to Iraq. The American Taxpayer won't pay out on this debt for many, many years. And, Surprise! ... These bondholders are not just Americans, but, I would guess, also French, Japanese, German, Russian, Canadian, Mexican, etc., investors. So, without our erstwhile anti-allies, we wouldn't have been able to float the loans to line the pockets of Halliburton. Also, politically speaking, the US needs Russia, France, Germany, etc., to help with Iraqi reconstruction by debt forgiveness. You cut these folks out of the money loop, you just shoot yourself in the foot and prolong the real expense of the Iraqi occupation (i.e. loss of American lives.) I tend to agree with those who say that this posturing by Bush is primarily election-year politics. He's throwing a bit of political red meat for his base in an election year. When one looks at this whole scenario dispassionately and with the ultimate goal of a peaceful, democratic Iraq in miind, the Bush exclusionary policy regarding contracting for Iraqi reconstruction makes absolutely no sense in terms of the goal of efficient, cost-effective, and speedy Iraqi reconstruction efforts - and not only in restoring the Iraqi economy, but also in facilitating the essential consolidation of Iraqi democracy. I just don't see how cutting the non-coalition world out of Iraqi reconstruction largesse is the way to "win the peace in Iraq" -- as much as it might be the way to "win some votes at home." Call me a cynic, but that's how I see this petty gamesmanship by Bush.

Lagniappe: It's Craptastic - It's Craptastic, one of the League of Liberals' ex-members and currently a member of the Liberal Coalition has posted a nice little piece on the need to get our troops home from Iraq. Let's hope this sensible little piece wins the New Blog Showcase this week.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Lagniappe: Sugar Bowl - College Football Championship in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl: LSU Tigers vs. Oklahoma Sooners. Should be LSU Tigers vs. USC Trojans. The BCS sucks. I don't care how good Oklahoma is. The intangible called "HEART" sets champions apart, and laying down and losing your last game of the season, well ... it just ain't championship material. LSU and USC clawed their way back from mid-season stumbles and delivered when it counted most. Oklahoma sold the farm. I'll tell ya ... an LSU victory over Oklahoma won't be as sweet as an LSU victory over USC would have been. 'Nuf Said.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Why We Won't Homeschool Our Children

School Board: Why we won't home school our children - My wife and I seriously considered home schooling for our children. Ultimately, we decided against it; but for a reason that is a bit different than what one normally hears from home schooling critics, though the reasons most often listed by this group (social skill development concerns, etc.) certainly helped to inform our decision as well. But, I also agree with those who say that the social skills argument against home schooling is not a very convincing argument on its own. In my experience, home-schooled kids are perfectly capable and pleasant social beings, they just socialize in a way that we don't usually associate with conventional child social behavior. The problem my wife and I ultimately had with home-schooling can be gleaned in this comment by a home school advocate and practitioner, which I find to be fairly typical for homeschoolers:

There are so MANY options out there now for kids outside of school for this involvement in some form of greater supervision. A variety of sports, boy/girl scouts, karate, drama and dance, church involvement..and normal hanging out with other kids (again, homeschool families network like crazy and go out of their way to plan "get togethers.")
In my mind the two cautionary elements in this comment have to do specifically with the phrases "greater supervision" and "to plan 'get togethers.'" Both detract from a child's ability to have his or her "own" learning/life experience. All aspects of such a child's life are planned, supervised, and guarded. And all activities that such children do are tinged with parental sanction and approval. Not that this is bad, necessarily, but it certainly is a "conditioned" experience. And in my mind, this leaves little room for children to learn to deal on their own with self-control, moral behavior, and difficult problem-solving - minus the watchful, protective, sheltering gaze of the protective parent (or parental figure).

I think it is true that the most important teaching about social interaction and even the process of learning comes in the context of the home and in the way parents raise their children to think and behave ... BUT, children need an opportunity to put their discerning abilities to the test WITHOUT the umbrella of the parental and "home" cocoon. And the classroom of a good, respectable school (whether private or public) is, in my opinion, the best place for kids to come into their own.

In the end, my wife and I sent our child to a public, foreign language immersion, state charter school. It's worked great for our child so far.

Lagniappe: Geaux, LSU Tigers! - LSU over Georgia at halftime, 17-3. Sugar Bowl and National Championship, here come the Tigers! Even though I'm a Tulane Green Wave fan and will cheer on Tulane every time the two go head-to-head, as a Louisianian, it's still good to see LSU doing so well this year. Geaux, Tigers!

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano: Surprise! Pinochet is not Insane! - His supporters called the interview a "public relations gaffe," his detractors called it evidence that he has always been mentally fit to stand trial. It appears that the need to bring Pinochet to justice is in the news again. I've always hoped the General would be held to account for the human rights atrocities committed under his knowing regime, but at 88 yrs old, it's almost worthless to pursue the cause. Almost. I still want the Chileans to do the right thing and make him accountable for his crimes.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery:The Recent Louisiana Governor's 'Race' - The indomitable and often abrasive James Gill has a post mortem on the Louisiana gubernatorial election in which he discusses the issue of race as a deciding factor in dark-skinned Indian-American Bobby Jindal's loss to white Cajun Kathleen Blanco. In short, he doesn't buy the race argument as an explanation of Jindal's loss. The clincher ending paragraphs say it all:

But if racism was a factor, it was hardly the only one. It was not uncommon during the campaign, for instance, to hear voters, with no qualms about Jindal's race, wondering whether he was ready for the big time. In the end, he did pretty well for a candidate making his first run for public office at the relatively tender age of 32.

And there is always the outlandish theory that 52 percent of the voters might actually have thought Blanco was better qualified to be governor.
Food for thought.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Lagniappe: Giving Thanks - Reflecting on the many blessings in my life, I have much to give thanks for. I am thankful for faith, which brings inner peace and a sense of purpose, if nothing more. I am thankful for my own family ... my wife and two lovely daughters. They are thanksgivings every day of the year. My life would be utterly empty without them. I am thankful for my extended family. We stick together no matter what. Political preferences aside, we are always there to support one another. This is a rare thing among families these days. I am thankful for my health and for the good health of my family. I am thankful for friends and colleagues who make my daily grind not that much of a grind at all. I am thankful for this country, where it is possible to pursue happiness and achieve dreams. There is so much to be thankful for. And it's good that we have a day to reflect and give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Kingfishery & Kingcakery - It's not often that you hear the winning team talk about racial hate-speech on the field. But some LSU Tigers are saying just that about the behavior of some of their adversaries on the Ole Miss Rebels football team. Seems like the good ole' boys from Mississippi are taking their cues from the example of Sen. Trent Lott when it comes to race-tinged talk on the gridiron.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Lagniappe: The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage - As a liberal who supports gay marriages for all the right reasons, I must say that David Brooks' op-ed in the New York Times on the subject is quite impressive. His argument in support of gay marriage reiterates what I have said in other places about my willingness to accept civil unions that provide equal benefits under the law to gay couples which marriage does for heterosexual couples as the lesser of two good options. Though I can live with civil unions, I still think that gay marriage is the preferred and better course of action between the two.

For example, on a recent blog comment board I wrote:

Civil unions are fine, and ... I can accept them as satisfactory from the purely legal perspective of providing the same access for monogamous gay couples to equal and non-discriminatory rights and benefits that accrue to heterosexuals trough marriage. The good is not the enemy of the better. But this solution is still an incomplete and partial one in my mind. Why? ... Because I don't think monogamous gay couples should be denied the special grace that I believe comes with marriage. Civil unions are less than marriage, and there is simply no good reason in my mind to deny monogamous gay couples this grace - especially when there is absolutely not one shred of concrete evidence that allowing gay couples to marry would in any way harm the world and the people in it.
After making this post, I recevied a follow-up question: "Why do you think civil unions are worse than marriage?"

I responded:
For two reasons: first, those who oppose gay marriage but support civil unions are differentiating the value of one relative to the other - with marriage being somehow more valuable than civil unions. Otherwise, why wouldn't people just have civil unions instead of marriage, or why even make this distinction? This leads me to the next reason, which is the more important of the two: marriage brings with it a special and privileged psychological and emotional relational element to the parties involved and with the larger society that civil unions wouldn't. People of faith might call this special element "grace." If given the option for a civil union or a marriage, each affording the same legal benefits, what would you think couples are more likely to choose? I think marriage. Why? Because there is an added societal value to marriage as an institution that provides more than just legal benefits. This is what the whole fight is really about, is it not? And I can't see setting up a "separate but equal" (which, as we know, is certainly separate but never really equal) societal institution that condemns gay couples to what would essentially be the second-class institution of the two.
This is essentially what Brooks is saying when he talks about marriage as "contingency," and he should be applauded for it. [Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for alerting me to Brooks' column.]

Blog Banter - League of Liberals Blogger Anarchy Xero is posting on the rising U.S. death toll in Iraq. It's worth a look.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano: Double Victory in Guatemala - Although now almost two weeks past, there is good news on two fronts in the democratic transformation of Latin America. Ex-Dictator General Efraim Rios Montt was handily defeated in the first round of the Guatemalan presidential elections. He didn't even muster enough votes to finish in contention for a run-off. In an apparently clean democratic election, Guatemalans voted decisively in large numbers to say "no" to the man responsible for the worst ethnic genocide in Guatemala's recent history. But the added bonus is that General Rios Montt, by running for president, had to abandon his position in the federal legislature which deprives him of immunity for prosecution for human rights abuses. Now, it appears that Rios Montt will have no way to avoid answering in a court of law for the human rights abuses his administration perpetrated on the long-suffering Guatemalan Indian communities. For another good take on this, see this report by the Chicago Tribune's Hugh Dellios for more details.

Blog Banter - The patricidal Lyle Menendez enjoys all the legal rights and benefits of marriage - minus sex - (and so does his new wife) while serving a life sentence in prison. Once again, Andrew Sullivan uses this absurdity to drive his point home in a scathingly convincing way about the injustice of restricting marraige exclusively to heterosexual unions.

Kinkfishery and Kingcakery: More on Race in Louisiana Politics - Jarvis DeBerry has a very sensible column in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on how the race issue flowed through the recent gubernatorial election in ways that corrupted ALL groups - black, white, whatever. He gets to the point:

So you had some black people who seemed to be counting on a racist response because they thought it would help their candidate win, some Jindal supporters convinced that the "nonwhite" label harmed their candidate and some xenophobic residents pleased with what they think was this paper's gaffe for using that label in a headline.

No wonder racism is still with us. We seem incapable of living without it. We seem to call upon it if we think it will suit our purposes.
It's a very good column. Read the whole thing.

Lagniappe: Markey's Mark - The New Orleans Jesuit High School Blue Jay Football Team's Chris Markey just keeps on posting incredible numbers. For three weeks running now, this phenom has had 300+ offensive yards to his credit. The boy's almost a 1000 yard rusher in just three weeks! As a Blue Jay alum and former football player myself, I just had to comment about this kid's performance. He's perhaps the most impressive HS player I've seen in Louisiana HS football since I've been following the sport. Kudos, Chris; and good luck to the Blue Jays as they make the run for the state football championship.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Lagniappe: Shock and Awe(ful) - To all my liberal friends out there, I apologize if the following offends you; but I just can't seem to write off the disappointment and outrage I feel at what conservatives are calling the collusion memos. I understand that this is coming out of a decidedly conservative and partisan organization, but Senate Democrats are not contesting the authenticity of these memos. The following is a comment that I posted on the comment board of this blog post of Conservative Blogger JunkYardBlog.

Don't get me wrong: I am a fierce critic of conservatism and a die-hard defender of liberalism, and I will continue to be so; but I've just got to be morally and intellectually honest and speak out on this matter, which has really, really disappointed me. Read Mr. Preston's blog first, and then consider this, my comment:

Again, I am stunned. This is not an arsenal, it is a nuclear explosion.

This kind of politicking is intolerable. The Democrats have a lot of explaining to do, and no hemming and hawing and diversionary tactics. Either they admit that this is the dirty politics of Washington, which all politicians play (which still doesn’t justify it in my mind); or they admit that they are crass opportunists not really interested in nominee qualifications and borderline racists. (I say borderline because I just scanned the memos and didn’t find where the recommendation was made to block Estrada specifically because he was Hispanic - but I don’t doubt it’s there given the awful tenor of the memos.)

Bryan, you say “live by the leak, die by the leak” and you are dead on 100% right. But one of the worrisome implications here is that this is normal politics as usual in Washington regardless of party affiliation - it’s just that leaks bring this nastiness to the surface.

This makes me want to advocate for 100% transparency in the course of politics - that nothing, and I mean nothing, not even for “national security” reasons, gets shielded from public scrutiny. I know this is an unreasonable position and probably even unwise, but shenanigans like what the Senate Democrats are doing here make me feel this way.

I am horrified. This is not what I expect out of liberalism. Perhaps I am too much of an idealist when it comes to the nuts and bolts of politics; but I think I have a healthy appreciation for pragmatism. This whole situation, however, does not seem born out of pragmatism, but rather absurdity.

Do all politicians behave this way in private when “confidentiality” is supposedly secured? Is there no integrity left in politics?

But in spite of my outrage and disappointment with this, I can assure you that this won’t shake my faith in liberalism as the right vision for America.
I would most certainly welcome anything liberals can tell me about this incident and these memos that would salvage my respect for the behind-the-scenes behavior of these Democratic Senators and their staffers in Washington.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Blog Banter - Andrew Sullivan is right on and in top form regarding the Massachusetts Supreme Court's 4-3 decision in support of gay marriage.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery: Grace on Blanco - Stephanie Grace of the New Orleans Times-Picayune weighs in on the Blanco victory for the Louisiana Governorship. Some relevant pieces of her column:

Consider the similarities [between the 2002 Landrieu and 2003 Blanco campaigns]: Like 2002, Louisiana was the last state to go to the polls in a year marked by a string of Republican triumphs. Like 2002, the Republican candidate seemed to have a corner on the momentum for much of the race. Like 2002, the Democrat struggled when she talked conservative, but thrived when she switched gears and played up differences with her opponent and her opponent's party. [Emphasis added.]

Last year, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was the one facing a tough battle, and she started her primary campaign against three well-known Republicans by emphasizing her centrism and frequent support for President Bush. The tactic didn't get her the majority she needed to avoid a runoff, so Landrieu, who presumably figured out that voters looking for a Republican were going to just vote for the Republican, started emphasizing issues that would motivate her own base. [Emphasis added.]


Blanco and her backers also stepped up their portrayal of Jindal as extreme on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, a strategy aimed at getting the moderates and liberals who were drawn to his energy and resume to reconsider. [Emphasis added.]Jindal's well-oiled campaign finally faltered and didn't do enough to counter the barrage.
As I mentioned before, Democrats should always remember that winning Democratic candidates in this State emphasize their liberal credentials and work to motivate the base. Shifting rightward is a sure-fire strategy for failure in this State. The Democratic Candidate for the Presidency next Fall should remember this. ... And I predict and guarantee that WHEN Hillary Clinton runs for President in future elections on the Democratic ticket, she will handily win Louisiana's electoral votes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Lagniappe: The Kiss of Death - Whenever New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin makes an endorsement, put your money on the opposite pick. My howler of the week: Some New Orleans Saints fans held up signs at the Superdome before the Saints/Falcons matchup this past Sunday which said (paraphrased): Mayor Nagin, please support the home team and publicly endorse the Falcons!

Kingfishery and Kingcakery: Mayor Ray Nagin and a Lapse of Ethics - Black Democratic Mayor of New Orleans not only crosses party lines, but also engages in questionable uses of public funds in doing so:

Tuesday November 18, 2003

By Frank Donze
Staff writer

Did Mayor Ray Nagin step over an ethical line by using City Hall's Web site to post a copy of his endorsement speech for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal and a subsequent letter explaining his decision to cross party lines?

Nagin's staff doesn't think so.

But a reading of the state law addressing how tax dollars can be spent on politicking appears to raise questions.

The applicable section of the Constitution says "no public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization."

Nagin spokesman Patrick Evans says nowhere in the speech or the letter did the mayor tell anyone to vote for Jindal, who lost to Democrat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco in Saturday's runoff.
"So many people were asking about the mayor's decision-making process, posting it on the Web was just an efficient way to disseminate that information," Evans said.

But if the mayor never said, "Vote for Bobby," the message he gave in his Nov. 3 speech was unmistakable. Throughout it, Nagin heaped praise on Jindal, citing his "intelligence and credentials" and his "track record of accomplishments and success."

"This is what I found," Nagin wrote: "Kathleen Blanco has no specific plan for improving the future of New Orleans. She had no plan for Charity Hospital, where I was born. However, I was very impressed with the details and thought that went into Bobby Jindal's blueprint for New Orleans and Louisiana."

Nagin staffers said the message was directed to members of African-American church groups, traditional Nagin supporters and citizens who contacted the administration with questions about the endorsement.

A copy of the letter appeared on the city's Web site about 10 days ago and remained there Monday.
Original story linked here. And I thought Nagin was supposed to be rooting out this kind of corrupt behavior.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Kingfishery and Kingcakery: Bobby Jindal and the Race Factor - Jeffrey Gettleman has a follow-up story on the Louisiana Governor's election. What peaked my interest was how the story ended. Here's the final few sentences:

"Up until now, no one in the Indian community has really been interested in politics," said Bhavna Pandit, a marketing manager from New Orleans. "But Bobby's got people thinking it's good to have a voice, it's good to strive for more than just financial security, it's good to become a player in this country."

Most Indian-Americans are Democrats, including Ms. Pandit.

"But that doesn't matter," she said. "Bobby is one of us. And blood is thicker than water."
I wonder ... does this mean Republicans will take votes based on racial preference rather than ideology? Do the reasons for the vote matter, or is it just the fact of the vote that counts no matter how it is won? Based on GOP tactics in the past few statewide elections, I'd say the latter. Very interesting, indeed.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Kingfishery and Kingcakery: Democrat Kathleen Blanco as Governor - Today is a glorious day! First off, today is the Lord's Day. Second, the weather in the Big Easy was perfect. Third, we're celebrating the LSU football team's thrashing of Alabama as the Tigers begin their homestretch run towards the National Title. Fourth, the Saints even their record to 5-5 and score a thrilling, come-from-behind overtime victory over the hapless Atlanta Falcons. Fifth, a Democrat has retaken the Louisiana Governorship, held by the GOP for the last 8 years. While all of these events make today a special day, I want to focus on the last item a bit and share with you some of my post-election analysis of Blanco's victory.

The most comprehensive coverage of the post-Election news in the Louisiana governor's race can be found in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans. For the main story of the day, click here. For another locally-originating story, check this out. Of course the national press has reported on this as well. This is how Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times reports the outcome; and this is Lee Hockstader's take on it in the Washington Post. In the Conservative Press, the Washington Times has posted this report written by Robert Buckman.

In my opinion, Katahleen Blanco's victory is a sweet win. The Conservative press has chosen to emphasize Blanco's relatively conservative positions; and even some ultra-progressive liberals (see the discussion thread at Lib-Blogger Atrios's Posting on the Blanco win) are talking about Blanco's victory as a hollow win for liberals. As a progressive liberal, I celebrate Blanco's win and I think her win bodes well for a variety of reasons.

First, one must think of Blanco's victory as a death blow to the Louisiana State GOP. After Mary Landrieu's stunning Senate win in last Fall's election cycle, the Louisiana GOP has been reeling. And with Blanco's victory over Indian-American conservative Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana State GOP has gone down for the count. Even if Blanco turns out to be nothing more than a conservative Democrat indistinguishable from any Louisiana Republican, that still does not compensate for the fact that the Louisiana GOP hasn't been able to push and sell its own candidates successfully. Furthermore, the Blanco win brings the Governorship back to the Democratic Party after 8 years of Republican stewardship. This has tons of potential positive implications for other aspects of politics as well -- for instance, the Governor's powers of appointment to Congressional Vacancies before terms are completed means that any such necessity will result no doubt in a Democratic appointment. Furthermore, Blanco's chances for moving into John Breaux or Mary Landrieu's Senate seats have just improved. While these are all good things for Democrats both statewide and nationally, Blanco's victory is good news for Democrats in other ways as well.

Let me comment on the discontent among some progressive liberals about their feelings on Blanco's relatively conservative platform. I think this discontent is misplaced for one very, very important reason. Kathleen Blanco was only catapulted over the top not by drifting to the Center, but by tilting towards the liberal Democratic base. This was a lesson Blanco learned from Mary Landrieu's campaign last fall. Let's not forget that Mary Landrieu had positioned herself in the Senate primary race as a compromiser and as someone who was able to work with President Bush on issues important to the President. She emphasized her support for Bush's tax cut program and she emphasized other points of convergence beteween her and Bush. But this approach left a lot to be desired, and Mary Landrieu was only able to mount a successful come-from-behind run-off campaign against her GOP challenger (Suzanne Haik Terrell) by abandoning this "collaborative" stance, firing her campaign leadership, and hitting back hard against the GOP establishment by firing up her liberal base. Landrieu won BECAUSE she abandoned her moderate credentials and emphasized her liberal ones. She did not win because she was a relatively conservative Southern Democrat, but rather because she refashioned herself in the run-off as an oppositional liberal. Blanco followed this same pattern. And, in fact, one could easily argue that Blanco only managed to gain the last-minute advantage because she emphasized the liberal side of her positions (i.e. in favor of abortion to protect the mother's health, social justice in health care reform, etc.) rather than trying to be GOP lite. So, the lesson to be learned is that Democrats win in Louisiana by being liberal - not by being conservative. This fact should not be lost on the Democratic nominee for the Presidential race next fall ... and I would even venture to say that Louisiana is not alone in this regard in the South. I suspect that Democrats in the South would fare better in electoral contests, the more they emphasize their liberal credentials.

The next point I'd like to make is that National GOP firepower does not work in Louisiana. Landrieu won in spite of the entire weight, force, and presence of the national GOP on behalf of her competitor in the run-off election. Louisianians don't particularly care for their politicians to be stooges to National Party leaderhsip. For this reason, Jindal was smart not to bring in national GOP firepower; but it wasn't enough to catapult him beyond only minor inroads into the traditional democratic base -- particularly the black voter base.

This leads me to another not-so-savory point about Louisiana politics. An election pitting the white woman against the minority, dark-skinned man simply does not enthuse the race-conscious and patriarchal mentality of the white conservative (republican and democrat) Bible-belt rural regions and white-flight suburbs of New Orleans. I think these folks stayed home today, as evidenced by the fact that Blanco picked up significantly more of the white vote in conservative regions than one might have expected, while retaining more than 90% of the black vote. Sad to say, but I think race conscious conservative (either Republican or Democrat) Louisianians who did go to the polls today, in all likelihood went with the white woman as the lesser of two evils. Jindal put up high numbers in the more enlightened and less race-conscious conservative white suburbs of the state's major cities, but it wasn't enough to offset the more traditional race-conscious areas of white rural Louisiana, who tipped the balance in favor of Blanco in just the vast majority of rural Parishes in the state. (See this analysis of race in the election results.) For results divided by Parish votes, see this breakdown. By my count, Blanco won 52 out of 63 Parishes; and in at least 3 or 4 of the parishes she lost, she lost by only a couple hundred votes.

I'd also like to point out that this run-off election was merely a follow-up of last month's elections in which a Democrat won the Lt. Governor's race with an outright majority in the open primary; and Democrat Charles Foti handily defeated Republican (and failed Senate candidate) Suzanne Haik Terrell for State Attorney General.

All of this bodes extremely well for liberals and for Democrats - not only in Louisiana, but nationwide. And let's also not forget that this is the last major election until next year's Presidential Race. Democrats should ride this momentum. And Bush, Rove, et. al. should take note.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Liberal Lighthouse - In The Times-Picayune, Steve Kelly's editorial cartoon for Nov. 14 says it all ... At a press conference stand GW and Bremer. GW announces: "In a fundamental shift on Iraq policy ..." Bremer concludes: "We've decided to have one." click here to view it. Update 11/16/03: Well, the link only works for the current day's cartoon, so if you didn't have a chance to look at it on 11/14, you'll just have to imagine it.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Sobering report from the moderate Andres Oppenheimer of The Miami Herald. Bush is not only losing Latin America, he's taking you and me and the country's reputation down with him.

Liberal Lighthouse - "If they need help filibustering themselves, we'll be glad to pitch in." Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Tom Daschle, as Senate Republicans began 30 hours of narcissistic blowharding through the night Wednesday on President Bush's blocked judicial nominees.

Lagniappe: Roy Moore for Senate! Roy Moore for President! Roy Moore for God! - Kicked off the bench, Alabama ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore is cocky and defiant. And conservatives have the audacity to say that the fringe "loony" left is taking over the mainstream of the Democratic Party. I have yet to see the rightwing bloggers weigh in on this subject. Until they reject Judge Roy Moore and purge him from the GOP, why should Democrats worry about what the left thinks of Michael Moore or Al Sharpton who, in spite of their faults, don't carry nearly the weight of authority over lives and the administration of the rule of law than does Roy Moore? This has got to be an embarrassment to the rational right.

My favorite little tidbit in this article:

Many of Mr. Moore's supporters were outraged that an unelected panel had removed an elected justice.

"They're undoing a democratic process here," said Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. "It smacks of third-world countries. It smacks of dictatorship."
Yeah, Patrick ... and defying the rule of law and declaring yourself above it certainly doesn't smack of third-world dictatorship. Hugo Chavez would blush.

Lagniappe: League of Liberals New Blog Showcase - Check out League of Liberal blogger And Then...'s thoughts on the rhyme and reason for the Senate Republican sleepover - full of pillow fights, puff makeovers, and giggly moot court sessions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Lagniappe: All Saints' Day - In an appropriate follow-up on Gertrude M. Jones's incredible obituary, Times-Picayune columnist Lolis Eric Elie tracks down the family of Ms. Jones and gives us a follow-up of her story. She's not the radical lefty one might have expected. It's nice to reaffirm that decent, hard-working people have such firm convictions and can prove to Conservatives that one can be a solid American and still think Bush is just bad for the U.S.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Lagniappe: Haunting Bush from the Grave - Check out this obituary published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on October 2, 2003.

Word has been received that Gertrude M. Jones, 81, passed away on August 25, 2003, under the loving care of the nursing aides of Heritage Manor of Mandeville, Louisiana. She was a native of Lebanon, KY. She was a retired Vice President of Georgia International Life Insurance Company of Atlanta, GA. Her husband, Warren K. Jones predeceased her. Two daughters survive her: Dawn Hunt and her live-in boyfriend, Roland, of Mandeville, LA; and Melba Kovalak and her husband, Drew Kovalak, of Woodbury, MN. Three sisters, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren, also survive her. Funeral services were held in Louisville, KY. Memorial gifts may be made to any organization that seeks the removal of President George Bush from office.
All I can say to Ms. Gertrude Jones is: YOU GO, GIRL!!!

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Daniel Drezner has a relatively informative little piece at The New Republic Online concerning Latin America's threatening position to globalization and free trade regimes. He is fairly optimistic, but I should mention that resentments to "unfair" free trade regimes run high. Trade not only has to be mutually beneficial, but it also needs to be perceived as somewhat equitable in terms of the distribution of these "mutual" benefits as well.

The "Weak" in (National) Review - Can anyone wade through Bill Buckley's latest piece on NRO, in which he takes up the theme of illegal immigration, and tell me what in the heck this man is trying to say?!? His piece asks the question why can't we enforce illegal immigration laws. And for the life of me, I can't find the shred of an answer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Lagniappe: The Bush/Rush/Addiction Trifecta - George Bush is apparently giving new life to his "faith-based" initiatives. In an AP Newswire report, we read the following:

"The best way to help the addict ... is to change their heart," Bush said in a reference to how he stopped drinking at age 40. "See, if you change their heart, then they change their behavior.
I wonder if we'll see a soft-n-fuzzy Rush return to the airwaves after his treatment. Will his heart be changed? Bush is not talking simply about kicking a habit, but changing one's life outlook. Will Rush be a changed man? I doubt it. But we'll see.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Lagniappe: Parsing Rush - Not to pick on a man when he's down, but let me give Rush a taste of his own medicine. Below is Rush's statement (directly from his website) on his drug addiction with my comments interspersed:

Rush Limbaugh Statement on Prescription Pain Medication Stories

October 10, 2003

You know I have always tried to be honest with you and open about my life. So I need to tell you today that part of what you have heard and read is correct. I am addicted to prescription pain medication. I first started taking prescription painkillers some years ago when my doctor prescribed them to treat post surgical pain following spinal surgery. Unfortunately the surgery was unsuccessful, and I continued to have severe pain in my lower back and also in my neck due to herniated discs.

I am still experiencing that pain. Rather than opt for additional surgery for these conditions, I chose to treat the pain with prescribed medication. This medication turned out to be highly addictive.
So, even before he assumes personal responsibility, he cleverly primes his audience to think of the drug as the powerful subject of his addiction. It's not Rush that has the problem, see. Rather it's the medication that has the problem. All of a sudden, and quite unexpectedly, his painkillers "turned out to be highly addictive." Gasp! One never would have known this about painkiller medication.
Over the past several years I have tried to break my dependence on pain pills and, in fact, twice checked myself into medical facilities in an attempt to do so. I have recently agreed with my physician about the next steps.
So, in the past, did he not agree with his physician? Makes one wonder if his physician counseled him extensively before the public exposure of his problem about proper action to beat his addiction, but that he consciously and purposefully resisted or rejected this advice until recently. Sounds like a man in denial, not someone who has been trying on successive occasions to kick the habit.
Immediately following this broadcast, I am checking myself into a treatment center for the next 30 days to once and for all break the hold this highly addictive medication has on me.
Here, again, even before he assumes responsibility, he points the finger stealthily at the medication. Twice, now, Rush has hinted that he has a problem, but that the origin of the problem is the medication, not himself.
The show will continue during this time, of course, with an array of guest hosts you have come to know and respect. I am not making any excuses. You know, over the years athletes and celebrities have emerged from treatment centers to great fanfare and praise for conquering great demons. They are said to be great role models and examples for others. Well, I am no role model. I refuse to let anyone think I am doing something great here, when there are people you never hear about, who face long odds and never resort to such escapes.

They are the role models. I am no victim and do not portray myself as such. I take full responsibility for my problem. At the present time the authorities are conducting an investigation, and I have been asked to limit my public comments until this investigation is complete. So, I will only say that the stories you have read and heard contain inaccuracies and distortions, which I will clear up when I am free to speak about them.
But you are free to speak about them, Rush. You just choose not to, in order to cover your rear.
I deeply appreciate all of your support over this last tumultuous week. It has sustained me. I ask now for your prayers. I look forward to resuming our excursion into broadcast excellence together.
Good luck, Rush. It's been a nice ride. I won't miss you.

Monday, September 22, 2003

School Board - The Washington Post's Paul Hill takes a balanced approach to the idea of school choice and the federally-mandated DC voucher program. I am a supporter of school choice, but I still think a federally-mandated voucher program is not the best solution to a clear problem for the crisis in our public school system. As Hill rightly points out, voucher supporters should recognize that there is nothing inherently magical about the voucher program, and that, in fact, there are major crippling obstacles to implementing a voucher program that could only worsen an already critical situation. I would also like to point out that any voucher program would STILL be a federally-mandated government program; and so it is a mistake to think that politics and government bureaucracy would not be involved in the implementation of such a program. Unless a voucher program is for all, and not a select few, the task of deciding who gets to buy in and who gets to watch on the sidelines does not seem like such a good school choice program to me. Also, ALL schools hoping to receive voucher money should be accountable to fair admissions policies and standards - making the "choice" of education that voucher recipients would hope to get a real choice. This means eliminating any racial, religious, gender, testing, etc., preconditions for admission. But, in the end, I'm willing to let voucher supporters have their shot at it. I think it's the wrong solution; and so I can't, in good conscience, support it. But out of respect for those who do support it, and who really have the good intention of improving on a problem recognized by all, I can't, also in good conscience, deny the voucher movement's right to have the chance to prove me wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Liberal Lighthouse - Zowie!!! Robert Scheer expresses what I think is a growing cynicism and awareness on the part of the Bush Administration to lie first and backtrack later. He's got a point. The fact that this happens much too often among supposedly smart people makes it seem less coincidental than calculated. Bush is destined to be known in history as much for patronizing deception as any prior President.

School Board - I have been participating in a very interesting exchange with Bryan Preston on his conservative blog's comment board with regard to the whole school voucher debate. This debate has firmed up in my mind what I think is the hypocrisy of conservative support for the whole school voucher program. In essense, it seems that conservatives supporters of school vouchers lament the sad state of affairs of the public education system and want individuals to be able to use tax dollars via vouchers to put into the bank accounts of private schools. But these very same conservatives, who generally have a problem with government handouts to the poor, don't seem to mind it so much if these handouts really don't go to the poor, but to the endowments of their preferred private schools. Check out my exchanges with this conservative blogger to glimpse the typical conservative arguments in support of school vouchers and the inconsistencies that this argument entails. The most delicious and gratifying way to challenge conservatives is to use their own arguments against them. It's hilarious to see Bryan Preston protesting the tax exploitation of the poor and having to defend himself by arguing against the very conservative line of reasoning he so often employs against liberals.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Liberal Lighthouse - Michael Kinsley of Slate tells it like it is with regard to GW's hubris and the $87 billion, 1-dead-U.S.-soldier-per-day Iraqi nation-building plan.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Lagniappe - It's been a while since posting, but August is madness month in the academic world. Just a quick comment: The Conservative punditocracy and blogosphere has been deathly silent on the Ten Commandments Judge and the damage he is doing to his party in Alabama and to the hapless Attorney General of Alabama, Bill Pryor. I DARE the conservative punditocracy and blogosphere to go on record (one way or the other) regarding this fringe Chief Justice in Alabama. And I do feel bad for Pryor. Senate Republicans made him the "Catholic" judge - and now he has to decide between enforcing his "religious" convictions and defend Judge Moore, or obey the law and offend the very conservative theocratic support network that branded him the "Catholic" judge in the first place.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Lagniappe - I've been away for the past week in El Salvador and so haven't had the opportunity to post. Not to say because I didn't have internet access in El Salvador; but just that I didn't have the time. I have been busy now trying to catch up on all my favorite blogs and news sources and will hopefully be rejoining the fray. But, in my profession, August is a busy month and so I'm not sure how regularly I can post.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Lagniappe - I wonder if that $30 million fee for "services rendered" given by the Bush Government on behalf of the U.S. taxpayers to one Iraqi snitch (presumably a Baathist opportunist) that led to the killing of Udai and Qusai will be subject to appropriate income taxation and returned to the U.S. treasury. Thoughts on this? One also wonders if this $30 million could be turned to no good and be used to nip at the heels of the U.S. in other unsavory ways.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Liberal Lighthouse - My favorite Christian anti-war slogan, which I've seen on bumper stickers, goes something like this: "When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I'm pretty sure he meant that we shouldn't kill them." Remember this the next time your pro-War Christian friends drool over the deaths of America's enemies.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Lagniappe - Talk about a disaster in the making! Apparently, GWB is thinking of turning over post-War Iraq reconstruction to James Baker, one of his daddy's cronies, and part of the very crew that let Saddam off the hook in Gulf War I. Now why in the world - I repeat, why in the world - would GWB turn over an increasingly poor policy of post-War reconstruction to someone whose record is even worse!?!?!

I can think of three possible reasons: (1) When in trouble, turn to daddy. Daddy knows best. (2) The man who helped spearhead the Bush 2000 election coup d'etat ought to be able to turn a coup in post-war Iraq, no? (3) Well, Baker's in tight with the Saudis, and maybe he can get them to be a bit more helpful in stopping anti-American protests and attacks against US Soldiers in post-war Iraq?

It is all the sign of desperation and a lack of credible ideas. Get the man on the defensive and he runs to Papa.

Lagniappe - No wonder why there are so many intelligence screw-ups in the Bush Administration. Apparently, even the safety and security of covert intelligence officers are not immune to the Bush "loyalty" test. Check out this incredible story in which two senior administration officials blow the cover of a covert operator working on the WMD beat to a Conservative news columnist:

"If what the two senior administration officials said is true," Wilson said, "they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships and operations." What's more, it would mean that "this White House has taken an asset out of the" weapons of mass destruction fight, "not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile."
Apparently, Bush will destroy his own intelligence capabilities and will endanger his own covert agents if they dare to be associated (by marriage, nonetheless!) with a harmless bit of mild criticism - if you can even call it criticism. Makes me wonder if Bush really does care about the security of America. Seems he'd rather sacrifice the security of America on the altar of petty partisan payback. What a desperate, petty, vindictive, little man.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Lagniappe - A couple of posts ago, I expressed my relief that the deaths of Udai and Qusai should mean hopefully more safety for our soldiers. Then I followed this post with a comment on the resurgence of the Shining Path terrorists in Peru. Now, today, I read in the Washington Post that three American soldiers involved in the attack that claimed the lives of Udai and Qusai have since been killed by Iraqi retaliators. Click here for the WaPo article. Where am I going with this? Well, I am moving towards the vague anxiety of a sense of hopelessness that no matter how thorough and complete our rout of evil in Iraq and elsewhere is, there will always be more evil ready and waiting in the wings to emerge and attack. It is a war, ultimately, that I am not sure we can win - at least in the traditional uproot and attack way. If the Shining Path can come back to haunt the streets of Lima after being so completely decimated, and if American soldiers will still be killed in combat long after Saddam, Qusai, and Udai are out of the picture, how do we "win the peace" to use a phrase that still has only vague meaning for me. I don't know. It doesn't seem like a militarized solution works. Nor does ignoring the emergence of tyrranical dictatorships. Something bigger, something like changing environmental conditions and cultural orientations that breed violence and tolerate repression must take place. But how? And is it our place to be doing this the world over?

Liberal Lighthouse - Nicholas Thompson's article in Salon gets at an interesting irony in the latest rounds of attack-and-defense regarding Bush's SOTU "Uranium in Africa" statement. YatPundit suggests (and thanks to YatPundit for pointing me to the Thompson article in Salon) that we hold Republicans to the same "liar" standard that they held to Clinton. His strategy to Democratcs that we should drum this point over and over again is a good one.

As for me, I am enjoying the pickle that this current debate on the Bush/Clinton truth-equivalence presents to Republican, Bush-defending, Clinton-despising moralists. It seems to me that if Republicans maintain the position that Clinton is a liar, why would it come as a surprise to them if he exaggerated the intelligence on Iraqi WMD programs that led him to order military action against selected Iraqi targets in 1998? Seems to me that Republicans are missing the irony here. They are basically putting Bush and Clinton on the same moral ground here - which must mean either one of two things: either Bush and Clinton were BOTH liars, or Bush and Clinton were BOTH telling the truth. If the former, then Bush should be held to account by Republican moralists as a liar (as YatPundit suggests). If the latter, then Clinton obviously wasn't such the "liar" he was made out to be.

Can it really be true that Bush supporters are now becoming Clinton apologists, too? I love this little hole the Bush-supporters have dug for themselves. They have now based their defense of Bush by saying he only did the same that the "nasty, lying, conniving" Clinton did!

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - It appears that the Shining Path terrorist group is making a comeback in Peru. Will Bush turn his sights southward to deal with this emerging threat? One question we should be asking is how is it possible for an organization that had been all but wiped off the face of the earth to resurface now? Violent repression of such groups apparently does not work over the long term. There must be other ways to take the wind out of the sails of these groups. We need to look at other ways. Violence is never the solution.

Lagniappe - I can't say that I'm shedding any tears now that Qusai and Udai are confirmed dead. This is welcome news not only because there is less evil in the world now, but also because our troops are safer now. I really have experienced a feeling of some relief for the security of our soldiers because of this latest bit of news.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Ginger Thompson, of the New York Times, has a wonderful little piece on Mexican ex-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. All in all, it is a fairly positive look at a man that is considered one of the country's most corrupt politicians of the post-Revolutionary 20th Century Mexico. The article seems to gloss over the really seedy and base aspects of the Salinas sexenio (a term Mexicans use to describe their country's 6-year presidential term). Such events include widescale corruption, extortion, murder, and - some would say - gangsterism. But Salinas really was a very popular President in Mexico throughout his six years in office - and his popularity emerged very much out of his very macho and quite effective leadership style. (You would never think this by looking at a picture of the man - a small, bald fellow.)

As someone who has studied very closely the Salinas regime's foreign policy, I have argued in the past that the impressive reforms carried out by Salinas in the foreign policy realm, particularly in foreign economic policy, were possible principally because of Salinas's dogged and persistent determination to push his reform agenda AND to wage a very intensive and successful public relations campaign to convince the Mexican people of the correctness of his chosen policy direction. I think Mexicans respond well to decisive and forceful leadership, even if at times this leads to the types of abuse of power that the Salinas administration carried out. And this might explain, as Thompson suggests, why Salinas is witnessing a comeback of sorts from the deepest recesses of Mexican anger and resentment over his administration's abuses.

From a moral and ethical viewpoint, I find Salinas to be an ugly fellow; but I cannot but admit that he, like Napoleon and Kutuzov as depicted by Tolstoy in his epic novel War and Peace, fits the "Great Man" theory of historical change. I do believe that Salinas, through sheer force of his own leadership, changed Mexico's relationship with the world in remarkable and impressive (and I would argue positive) ways. Before Salinas, Mexico was still quite xenophobic and insular, suspicious of the foreign. After (and because of) Salinas, Mexico is boldly open to the world and has embraced an internationalism that has served Mexico well on so many levels, but which could not have been imagined a mere 10 years ago.

I will be very curious to watch how Salinas (still a young 55 years-old) will evolve in the Mexican political dynamic over the next 10-15 years. He could very well yet show a staying power in the long term that could rival Plutarco Calles. Stay tuned and pay attention to any stories you come across that profile this man.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Lagniappe - The latest Bush Administration efforts to squelch the criticism of the case for war simply doesn't fly. It is clear that no matter how the White House tries to spin this issue, the fact is that the Administration was looking for a way to circumvent the dampening effects that intelligence uncertainty would have had on the rush to war. The Administration clearly knew what the intelligence was, but tried to find a "technically unassailable" but nonetheless misleading way to sell the war to the American public by creating fear that Iraq was inches from a nuclear capability and was looking for the "yellowcake" to realize their nuclear ambitions. Those who defend Bush by saying that his claim in the SOTU was "technically" true are no different than those who defended Clinton's claim as "technically" true that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman Ms. Lewinsky." But even aside from this bogus defense of a misleading presentation, one can only conclude that Bush and his upper level Administration officials were duped by bad intelligence (in which case the incompetency of the Administration is all the more evident) or that Bush knew that the intelligence was uncertain but didn't care (in which case the sleazy authoritarian nature of this administration is apparent). In both cases, Bush comes out smelling like a rotten egg. This thing right now reminds me of Ronald Reagan's pathetic efforts to try to clear the air about his knowledge (or lack of such) regarding the Iran/Contra scandal. It was a sad, pathetic image of the President then, as is this effort at damage control by an equally pathetic President now. Funny that Bush had to call in the foreign troops (Blair) to try to convince the American public that he's an upfront guy. What a new low in patronizing condescension ... getting a Brit to scold us Americans and to tell us how to think about an American President who essentially and purposefully misled us.

One final note: I don't think the intelligence we had was flawed. I actually think it was quite accurate in its questioning of the "uranium purchase in Africa claim." What our executive leadership did with this intelligence is what was "flawed" about the whole thing. We had good intelligence ... good enough to question the claims as dubious. Why wouldn't the President listen to this intelligence? Why did he choose to manipulate the intelligence he had in such a dishonest and misleading way? Conservative bloggers and pundits have nothing to say about this because there is no defense that can be made for it without making them look silly.

Lagniappe - I'm just back from Mexico and I'm brimming with thoughts and commentary on Mexico's political future. Let's just say for the moment that the Mexican people are in a funk and are really down on the country's democratic renovation. In part, it's because Fox is perceived as a failure at governing. He sells a good line, but is really devoid of an original and workable idea. In part, it's also because democracy is not delivering anything except gridlock and a corresponding economic malaise. Most people think more so than ever before that all politicians, regardless of party, are incompetent and prone to corruption. Hence, the high level of voter apathy and a dismal 40% voter turnout. I've always maintained that democracy works only in societies that have sufficient resources to be able to weather its slow, deliberative process. In the developing world, where the ability to deficit finance an economic recession is almost impossible, and where social welfare programs are insufficiently funded or available, there is no wiggle room for the economic inefficiency of political gridlock in tough economic times. Well, I'll have more to write at another time. I just wanted to let my few readers know that I'm back in town and that the Upchuck will liven up again.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Liberal Lighthouse - I'm not in Mexico just yet! Once again, MoDo's got the MoJo. I'll just leave you with that.

Lagniappe - I will be out of town for about a week visiting my second favorite country, Mexico, (My first favorite, of course, is the U.S.) on a research trip. I'll likely have only very sporadic access to the internet, and will probably not be blogging until I return. However, at least I'll be able to bring back some fresh reactions from the Mexican streets about the most recent elections. Hasta pronto!

Friday, July 11, 2003

Lagniappe - Well, now we know who has the cojones in the Bush Administration. I still think that Bush, Cheney, Rice, or Rumsfeld should have known this. And I still wonder why the DIA, the actual preferred intelligence agency of the Bush Administration, didn't say or know anything about this. To hang it all on Tenet and the CIA just doesn't fly with so many other cross-intelligence checkpoints and supposedly smart people in place. Makes one wonder ... if Bush is so certain about his claims regarding Iraq's WMDs, where does this certainty come from? If it comes from the CIA, well we've got all the more reason to doubt its credibility now. If it comes from other intelligence sources, then blaming this current intelligence fiasco exclusively on the CIA seems a bit dishonest, don't you think?

Lagniappe - What ever happened to "the buck stops here"? It appears that Bush is refusing to accept responsibility for the lies coming out of his own administration. What Bush is doing to the CIA is cowardly. No matter how he parses things and finger-points the blame on someone else, it is ultimately his administration that screwed up. It is ultimately his speech that contained the lie. The lie came out of his mouth. Bush, ultimately, shoulders the blame. That's what a real man/cowboy would do. It's part of leadership. He got caught in a lie and now his wounded pride is making him run for cover. I knew he was a liar before this. His lies have been charted quite eloquently at The New Republic over the past months. But now he's a coward, to boot. His "Bring 'em on" rings hollow the moment he starts to finger point and make Tenet and the CIA the patsy. If it is true that neither Bush, nor Rice, nor Cheney, knew of the doubtful nature of the claim, this administration is more inept than at first imagined. And what about this parallel Defense Intelligence Agency that Rumsfeld was employing? Did they acquiesce in the lie, too? What a loser. The fraud of this man's presidency is beginning to show, and his tightly-knit little cadre of deceivers will begin to unravel with some rapidity now. Watch and see.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Andres Oppenheimer finally weighs in on the results of the Mexican mid-term elections. He's not so pessimistic about what this means for Fox's ability to get some things accomplished. He basically argues that even though Fox and his PAN party lost big, there were two things about the election that may lead to compromise and action. First, the big rate of voter abstention (60%) was a wake-up call to all politicians that they need to somehow find a way to re-engage the public trust in them. Compromise and movement on the domestic policy front may just do that. Second, the winners of these midterm elections, the PRI and the PRD, now need to show that they can deliver the goods as well. Working with the PANista Fox to get some things accomplished seems even more imperative now than before.

I think Oppenheimer may be on to something, but I'm not nearly so optimistic. I think the PRI and the PRD would be quite happy to have the same results come 2006, and if this means stonewalling the Fox reform agenda in Congress and dealing with a high voter absention that apparently has hurt the PAN the most, then why not repeat this successful electoral strategy in 2006? Furthermore, what Oppenheimer doesn't address at all is that Fox will still need PANista support in the national legislature to carry out any compromise reform agenda with the PRIistas and the PRDistas - and the poor showing of the PAN in this last election may very likely be attributed among rank-and-file PANistas to Fox's poor leadership of the party. The sour grapes and intransigence to compromise will most likely come from the PAN making a willingness to compromise on the part of the PRI and the PRD basically irrelevant. I think the next year will be quite revealing on this subject.

On another point, Oppenheimer has echoed what I wrote in a previous post: watch out for ex-Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda. Looks like he's got a good platform and a legitimate alternative party from which to run a 2006 presidential campaign. He could be a very appealing anti-establishment party candidate.

On a peripherally related issue, the Washington Times has a curious little article on the evolution of the United States as the 6th voting district in Mexican national elections. I guess it's not too strange given that the conservative leanings of the Washington Times might see this evolution as a good little bit of US influence (bordering on the old "manifest destiny" imperialism of yesteryear) seeping into the Mexican political system. But to have a usually anti-immigrant newspaper spin this without the usual xenophobic hyperbole seems a bit strange - especially since the Mexicans resident in the U.S. and campaigning for public office in Mexico have been leaning towards the leftist PRD. As I said, a very curious little article.

Kingfishery & Kingcakery - The Times Picayune of New Orleans has good follow-up to the AP story on specialty license plates and the issue of free speech rights. Again, this more detailed story confirms my opinion that the ruling is sound and that legislatures do not have the right to abridge free speech in this way. Check out the story here.

Lagniappe - I just stumbled across a great lib-blog from a New Orleanian. YatPundit has a great blend of the national and local - and the ideological leanings of the blog are right on! After a quick review of YatPundit's most recent posts, I was introduced to one of the more clever nicknames for Ann Coulter that I have yet seen - "AnnThrax". Classic! I'm not sure if YatPundit came up with this moniker alone, but I am grateful that YatPundit introduced me to the term. Check out the site. You won't be disappointed.

Blog Banter - Another great "Bushism" from Jacob Weisberg over at Slate: "'I've got very good relations with President Mubarak and Crown Prince Abdallah and the King of Jordan, Gulf Coast countries.'—Washington, D.C., May 29, 2003"

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Hugh Dellios of the Chicago Tribune has some very good articles on Mexico's recent elections. To read them, click here, and here, and here.

Kingfishery & Kingcakery - Court rules that the state must allow Pro-Choice license plates to be available alongside Pro-Life ones, or to bag the specialty license plate program entirely. From an interesting report off the AP Wire. I'm reprinting it in full here because the link will not likely last:

Federal judge blocks Louisiana specialty license plates

The Associated Press
7/9/2003, 6:05 p.m. ET

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A federal judge has blocked the state from issuing specialty license plates, a victory for abortion-rights activists who challenged the Legislature's decision to allow an anti-abortion plate without authorizing one for the other view.

In a decision filed late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval said the plates, which show a cartoon of a pelican carrying a baby, constitute a public forum covered by free-speech rights.

"If the state built a convention hall for speech and then only allowed people to speak with whom they agreed with their message, the state's actions would be in contravention of the First Amendment," Duval wrote. "There is no significant difference in the case before the court."

The Legislature and the governor approve specialty plates, which are sold for $25 and raise money for diverse groups and causes including universities, wildlife conservation and the Girl Scouts. There are nearly 150 of these plates in Louisiana — each with the cartoon emblem of the touted group, like a black bear or LSU, instead of the standard state-issued design about the Louisiana Purchase commemoration.

Motorists already driving with specialty tags will be able to keep them.

Duval's order does not block the special plates for handicapped motorists. It also does not cover the personal plates, sometimes called "vanity" plates, for which individuals pay extra to display their own names or initials instead of the state-assigned license number.

Attorney General Richard Ieyoub said the state will appeal. In the interim, he said he hopes the court will allow the tags to continue to be sold so that no money will be lost while waiting for the final court ruling.

William Rittenberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs, noted the ruling does not ban specialty plates in the future, but merely the way the state now authorizes them.

"The ruling in no way means the state can't have a law for these kinds of plates," he said. "It just means that if they have a law, it's got to be a law for everybody."

Rittenberg said the state could pass a law similar to other states which allow specialty plates to be issued if a certain number of people request them.

"It seems like a weird decision to take away the free speech rights of everybody else who has a specialty plate," said Steven Johnston, spokesman for Gov. Mike Foster.

Duval blocked the sale of the "Choose Life" plates in 2000, saying they amounted to viewpoint discrimination. But the tags went on sale last fall after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Duval.

The appeals court said the suit would be dismissed unless it was turned into a challenge of the entire system by which specialty tags are handed out.

The plaintiffs have complained that the funds generated by the "Choose Life" plates are unfairly distributed because pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood get no money.

Planned Parenthood, along with other groups and individuals, claim the plates represent a symbolic union between the state and religious groups opposed to abortion, violating the constitutional ban against state-sponsored religion.

In his ruling, Duval said the ruling was not about the abortion debate.

"It is about the First Amendment and the constitutional guarantees that have been the bedrock of this great nation," Duval wrote. "To gloss over this most basic right of citizens of the United States is to invite a ride on the slippery slope to losing those rights."

Simon Heller, an attorney for another plaintiff, the Center for Reproductive Rights, said it was not the intent of the challengers to stop specialty plates.

"It really recognizes what I hope will be clear to the Louisiana Legislature, that they can't set up this system by which they decide which people get to express their views on license plates," Heller said.
I don't buy the Planned Parenthood separation of church/state argument, but the equal free speech argument makes a lot of sense to me.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Lagniappe - I'm just wondering ... When will Conservative truth-sniffers ever admit that George W. Bush lied? That the administration's war effort is based on a measure of deception? Is it not a lie if you admit it? Is it a "justifiable" lie, and so thus doesn't deserve criticism? Or does the conservative nose only sniff out liberal lies? It is so obvious to me and to so many other people that the blinders are on Bush defenders. The only irrational explanation that I can arrive at is that people have been so shell-shocked by 9/11 that, like the battered wife who believes her husband's claims of love for her in spite of her bloodied nose and black eyes, they just don't want to see the lie.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Ginger Thompson, of The New York Times, writes about the PRI in Mexico and discusses its apparent resiliency. It is an interesting read, and the subject is very news-worthy, but my two cents worth on the PRI is that it is not an old wolf in refreshed sheep's clothing, but a reformed party with vestiges of its corrupt patronage past lingering. I happen to believe that the PRI will never be able to practice the type of corrupt politics of the past. Its success in the recent election may be due partly to its reputation as a provider (as Thompson's article points out), but it also is due to a belief among voters that the slap on the wrist of the PRI in the last presidential election pushed the party to some genuine reform, from which it really can't turn back without risking alienation of the voters it has apparently "won back." I think it is healthy and good for Mexican democracy that the PRI is still a viable party, and can still compete for voter allegiance even as an opposition party.

The 'Weak' in (National) Review - Byron York attempts to debunk the charge that Halliburton was privileged in receiving the contract to put out oil well fires in Iraq because of its connection to Dick Cheney. York makes an interesting argument that the contract awarded was legal and consistent with already established practice. Fine. I'll agree with his argument, and even agree that Waxman's claims were hyperbolic, if not wrong. However, what York doesn't address is the bigger issue of whether or not the awarding of the contract to a Halliburton subsidiary was ethical. It may be an unfair price for Halliburton to have to pay, but it's just as unfair in similar ways to expect public officials to divest themselves of certain stocks/holdings/positions on boards, etc., because of the need to remove any shred of potential impropriety (even where none exists) from their public dealings. Dick Cheney's association with Halliburton, as unfair as it may seem, should disqualify Halliburton and its subsidiaries from government contracting precisely because the perception of impropriety will always be there. No matter how York tries to legitimize Halliburton's right to compete for government contracts, the perception that the company will receive favors from, and preferential access to, the White House will never disappear. No one in their right mind would think that Cheney's post as ex-CEO of Halliburton is not a plus for Halliburton when it comes to competing for government contracts. Again, it may sound unfair, but the overriding need for transparency in the way our government awards tax dollars and the avoidance of even a whiff of potential cronyism means Halliburton should be out of the running. Period.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Liberal Lighthouse - The evidence mounts that the Bush Administration out and out lied about Iraq's nuclear capability. Why is this receiving no attention from conservative moralists and pundits? Isn't it patently obvious that the Bush Administration lied? Maybe the war was still a necessary thing, but at least admit the lie used to justify it.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - In Mexico, the pro-business, conservative National Action Party (PAN) loses big in the midterm elections. Both the PRI and the PRD post big gains. The PRI victory could mean a return to the days of the dinosaurs, or it could mean a resurgence of the neoliberal, technocratic wing of the erstwhile ruling party. The bigger news is that the leftist PRD seems to have successfully shed the uninspiring leadership of a bland Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and has rallied around a platform and a leadership in Manuel Lopez Obrador that could really shift around the political landscape, tilting it leftwards, come the next presidential election in 2006. PANista President Vicente Fox is now a lame duck, who will have to capitulate whole hog to get anything done in the legislature. Mexico will lurch leftward (albeit in a pragmatic way, much like Lula in Brazil), and watch how this will complicate the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico in 2006 if Bush is into his second term. If Bush couldn't cozy up to Fox, I shudder to see the chilliness that will seep into the relationship under a Madrazo or a Lopez Obrador presidency. Watch out for the ex-Foreign Minister, Jorge Castaneda, as he builds up his credentials for a run at the Presidency. If you want to see some graphics, check out this link at Reforma. The most interesting development is the remarkable turnaround made by the PRI in the states bordering with the US, traditionally strongholds of the PAN. I'm not quite sure what this means, but it can't be too good for the PAN.