Friday, March 30, 2012

The Most Painful Irony

Critics of the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin have engaged in a struggle to cast the shooter George Zimmerman as the hero and victim of a crime. It's no surprise that if you desperately believe that people should be able to kill other citizens with impunity that you'll do anything to a notorious killer. The defenders of Zimmerman are asking for armed vigilantes to roam the streets, and for us to pretend that they are above the law.

But you know that already. What you may have missed was the article "Roseanne Barr Twitter Joins Vigilante Crew" courtesy of The Smoking Gun. Image capture as of 2:30pm EDT on Friday.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Romney's Silver Lining

ABC released a poll that is either bruising or reveals a very bruised Republican frontrunner. Mitt Romney's favorability rating is 34/50 (or -16). The poll finds that he is weak in his base, and has an unfavorable of 52% among self-identified independents.

I promised you a silver lining in the title, so here it is: President Obama's favorability among independents is also fairly poor. It's 46%. There's probably some overlap between the independents sour on Obama and Romney (after all, 16% of Americans are yet to form an opinion of Mitt Romney). The upshot is that independents may sit out the 2012 presidential election. If they do, the electorate will look more like 2004 than 2008, where President Obama brought a lot of new independent voters under the Democratic tent.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daily caller engages in Murdochism

Debbie Wasserman Shultz's communications director received a threatening email the other day, which read, "I'm giving you until 10 am tomorrow morning to answer this question, [sic] then I'm reporting that [The chairwoman of the DNC] is not supporting Eric Holder." The staff cried foul and forwarded the email to Buzzfeed, which published the accompanying story. It reads like blackmail, but there may be a more innocent motive at work here.

Perhaps there is some precedent to using this sort of tactic. A pivotal story scene in All the Presidents Men unfolds along this tactic. (Disclaimer: I don't have a copy of the book handy, so I'm describing the film, which will tend towards more dramatic but factually inaccurate sequences).

Woodward and Bernstein published their biggest mistake of the Watergate story. Their source was refusing to speak to a certain question, and they attempted to work out an impromptu code: 'if you're still on the phone in ten seconds, that's a yes?' The source hung on the line for ten seconds, and the Washington Post published unconfirmed reports about the Nixon administration's coverup, alleging more than they could prove. So what went wrong? The source reversed the code; he was trying to tell Woodward that the story was not quite right.

The journalistic precedent for 'if you don't respond, we have an understanding' is terrible. It led to the paper publishing a calamitous story. It's from an at least partially fictionalized universe. And of course the technology difference means that even if it had been a legitimate practice at that moment, it no longer is; telephone conversations are cooperative enterprises. Email that demands a response, 'or x will say y about you' is certainly more threatening than asking a question and using a silent code. The explanation that this was a poor imitation of a bad practice is a weak one.

Boyle did not appear to go that route. Instead, he pushed the bounds of self-awareness and severely crippled his eventual civil defense by attempting to normalize his email:
Boyle, in an email, defending his warning.

"I've sent several inquiries to the DNC on this," he said. "They've had ample opportunity to respond with an indication that they support the attorney general. I wanted to give Brad plenty of time to respond before we reported, correctly, that the DNC would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support for Eric Holder."
This is a common practice rooted in the culture of the Daily Caller, it would seem. Boyle describes a routine of borderline extortion and drumbeat of inaccurate reporting at the Daily Caller, ostensibly supported by the the editorial staff. It's an ethics-free zone. This must be what working at the Sun or News of the World was like before the arrests. Rupert Murdoch may not own the daily caller, but they sure emulated his management style.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom is a term that has been thrown around a lot recently, and typically, the side throwing it around has been Team GOP. It was recently invoked in a political fight against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Religious Freedom been a canard in the fight against teaching science in public schools, and is a plank of the modern Home Schooling movement. Indeed, it seems that Religious Freedom is a fairly sophisticated dog whistle for Republican voters who want to believe that the President does not share their religious beliefs.

Religious Freedom is a common theme in the courts, as well. In February, a federal judge struck down an administrative rule from the state pharmacy board requiring pharmacies to stock and provide prescription contraceptives on the grounds that the rule prevented pharmacists from the free expression of religious beliefs, if those religious beliefs included a prohibition on providing contraceptives to people with prescriptions. The judge believed that this was a violation of the first amendment free exercise clause, but failed to consider or weigh patients' constitutional rights, see Griswold v. Connecticut. Regardless, I want to highlight a more recent judicial decision over 'religious freedom' that elucidates the slippery nature of the phrase.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"I'm not a doctor..."

Every time someone asks me for medical advice, I always start off with the phrase, "I'm not a doctor." The implication is that I'm not entirely trustworthy on the subject, and that what information I offer (or fail to offer) may be a serious error. The logical inverse, of course, is 'I'm a doctor, so you can trust that you'll be getting the full story,' barring highly unlikely scenarios.

Right wing legislators are assaulting faith in medical professionals this year. A number of bills have required that doctors provide inaccurate information to pregnant women regarding the developing fetus. Now the Arizona Senate has passed a bill that would immunize doctors against malpractice suits for failing to tell women about known pre-natal abnormalities. This would include obvious damage to the fetus, or even problems that can prove fatal to the woman.

It's about time that Republicans put down their toy stethoscope and religious props and utter four simple words: "I'm not a doctor." And even if they do hold the requisite training and certifications, "I'm not your doctor" would suffice.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Libertarian Palace Intrigue- Koch v. Cato

Last week, David and Charles Koch launched a lawsuit against their best known puppet organization. The billionaire brothers are suing their libertarian Cato Institute for full control. The Volokh Conspiracy has the full details about the history of the takeover from inside Cato.

It seems that the "libertarians" working there object to being bought out by their sponsors during an election year for the primary purpose of "defeating President Obama."

It's quite a reflection of the modern Republican party. What genuine activism and intellectual effort goes into propping up the more serious aspects of Republicanism is a cheap trapping to the actual owners of the party. They neither respect nor value the work of their underlings. Party insiders, truly the core of the modern conservative establishment, get the wool yanked from their eyes; Cato scholars suddenly recognize that they are not employed in an intellectually honest venture. Their only purpose is to serve the interests of Koch Industries.