Thursday, March 03, 2005

News for March 3rd: Stone Tablet Edition

The Supreme Court’s hearing another doozy of a case. Here’s hoping they make the right call, but reading what the Justices said, I have to think they’re going to go the other way. For example, Justice Kennedy:

“You are telling us the state can't accommodate religion. You are asking religious people to surrender their beliefs.”

Hello, strawman. That’s not the argument at all. They’re just saying don’t put your religion in front of everyone else’s.

I don’t think you can put the Ten Commandments up in a court, even as a “precedent of law”. If you did that, you’d also have to include the Code of Hammurabi. Let’s get that clear: the argument that the Ten Commandments are the precedent of American law is absolutely ridiculous. Last I checked, we were free to commit adultery and covet our neighbors’ stuff (hell, that’s what America is all about!).

Oh, and please, take a look at where Scalia’s head is. Check this out:

“When someone walks by the commandments, they are not studying the text. They are acknowledging that the government derives its authority from God.”

That’s an absolutely reprehensible statement. Is he talking about a monarchy? It sure sounds like it.

Take Two Tablets
The Supreme Court picks through the rubble of its Ten Commandments jurisprudence.
By Dahlia Lithwick
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2005, at 5:03 PM PT

Imagine a bunch of elderly, black-robed medieval clerics absorbed in a scholarly dialogue on the number of angels (better make that "secular" angels—candy stripers or maybe Hell's Angels) able to dance on the head of a pin. You'd have a good idea of how oral argument went this morning in the pair of cases involving displays of the Ten Commandments on state property.

At one level everything appears scholarly and doctrinal. Until you realize that the doctrine is a mess, and the justices are so tangled up in old tests, old glosses on old tests, and new glosses on new tests that they don't even know how to talk about the Establishment Clause cases, much less how to resolve them. Perhaps the court is waiting to resolve the chaos until there are as many different Establishment Clause tests (legal scholars currently count about seven) as there are commandments.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." That ban has been interpreted to sweep in state and local governments as well. The disaster-on-stilts the court has used to determine whether such an establishment has taken place is known as the "Lemon test," vomited forth upon the land in a 1971 case called Lemon v. Kurtzman. That test asked whether the government's conduct had: (i) a secular purpose; (ii) a principal or primary effect that neither enhances nor inhibits religion; and (iii) did not foster excessive entanglement with religion. Subsequent courts have dealt with Lemon either by modifying its various prongs (as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did in a 1984 crèche case called Lynch v. Donnelly), manipulating it to produce desired outcomes, or ignoring the test altogether. At least six of the sitting justices have openly questioned the utility of the Lemon test. But of the alternative tests, nothing has so far proved more workable. As a result, the court spends the morning sorting among the rubble of discarded tests—all smashed up like Moses' tablets—and deconstructing hopelessly narrow, fact-specific old case law.

More at Slate.

So yesterday’s news about a delay in social security? Bush rejects that, and not only does he reject it, he’s going to drag Mr. Scaremonger himself, Dick Cheney, into his updated plan. Watch for them to go into full-on crisis mode. I predict Dick Cheney talking about the economy collapsing.

Bush Rejects Delay, Prepares Escalated Social Security Push

By Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page A04

President Bush plans to intensify his campaign to win public and congressional support for restructuring Social Security, warning that it would be a bad idea to delay action as the Senate Republican leader has suggested and politically unwise for lawmakers to oppose private accounts, White House officials said yesterday.

Despite polls showing support for the plan slipping, Bush is confident he is winning the first phase of the public debate over Social Security and has no plans to significantly alter his strategy for enacting the most dramatic changes ever to the venerable system, said senior White House officials who have talked to Bush. Several congressional Republicans, however, said they do not share Bush's optimism and questioned his strategy for enacting changes this year.

One day after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the Senate might not meet Bush's year-end deadline, the White House announced plans to step up its effort to pressure lawmakers into action by dispatching Bush, Vice President Cheney and other administration officials to 60 events in 60 days. Cheney, in particular, will assume a larger role in the effort, including attending town hall meetings with GOP lawmakers.

More at The Washington Post.

And oh, gee, what a surprise. The cronies in Congress are refusing to investigate the cronies in the CIA:

In recent weeks, the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence panels have asked their Republican chairmen to investigate the CIA's detention and interrogations. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has declined the request from Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.).

Ah, it must be good to run everything. Right into the ground.

CIA Avoids Scrutiny of Detainee Treatment
Afghan's Death Took Two Years to Come to Light; Agency Says Abuse Claims Are Probed Fully

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page A01

In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.

The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said.

As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature.

By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.

After a quick autopsy by a CIA medic -- "hypothermia" was listed as the cause of death -- the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said.

"He just disappeared from the face of the earth," said one U.S. government official with knowledge of the case.

The CIA case officer, meanwhile, has been promoted, two of the officials said, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the matter. The case is under investigation by the CIA inspector general.

More at The Washington Post.

I hate to argue against something based on how difficult it is, as I believe Americans are already generally lazy enough and don’t want to bother to get the facts to actually deal with something, but the following is a somewhat valid argument against social security, and I suspect it’s driving a lot of the resistance to social security deform.

The Hassle Factor
But I don't want to manage my own Social Security account!

By Thomas Geoghegan
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2005, at 1:27 PM PT

Of the Bush plan to establish individual Social Security accounts, a lawyer friend of mine complains: It's one more damned thing I'd have to manage. I've got enough to handle already.

Isn't that the real issue? Let's forget the funding problem. Or even the risk of ending up with a lower benefit for retirement. Under the Bush plan, we'd be partly responsible. We'd have to hatch our own nest eggs. It's one more job the Republicans would give to us.

This is my gripe against the Bush plan: I've already got enough to do.

Millions of Americans, I'm convinced, are against it for only that reason. We don't want to have to think about Social Security. "But people worry about it now," you might say. Oh, sure, at these presidential drop-in discussions in Fargo, N.D., a cop or cook will say, "I worry Social Security won't be there for me." But come on, they don't really worry. If they did, they'd open a damned savings account.

In real life, we ignore our Social Security. That's the glory of it. We have the freedom not to think about it. With all the time I have not to think about my "private" account, I can turn on the Cubs game. Or open up Kafka.

I can even pray, if I want.

Privatization is one more damn thing to distract and upset me. I read a bit less (as Laura Bush reads more). I volunteer a bit less (as her husband lauds us for volunteering more). In one way or another, I spend less time being responsible for other people because I'm more responsible for me.

I don't like it.

More at Slate

Finally, here’s a piece from the Raising Kaine blog concerning the Virginia Governor’s Race. The interview was great; I suggest any Virginians give it a listen. Potts is right on the money.

Potts Pans Kilgore and "Dr. No" Republicans
On yesterday's "Virginia Politics Hour" on WAMU radio, Russ Potts slammed Jerry Kill-more better than we at RaisingKaine every could. It's worth listening to the Potts interview, which is both informative and entertaining. Here are a few highlights.

More at Citizen Kaine.

Finally, your quote of the day:
The 20th century has been characterised by three developments of great political importance. The growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda against democracy. ~ Alex Carey, Australian social scientist.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:05 AM