sell your soul to sign an autograph

There’s a special election being held in Massachusetts today.

See, after a nine-term senator died of brain cancer – and let me tell you, nothing restores my faith in representative government than the son of America’s most popular political dynasty drowning a woman after driving while drunk, then going on to serve another seven terms – a seat opened up in Congress. This would merit nothing more than a historical footnote, except that this puts the Ruling Party’s balance of power at its most precarious point ever, at least since winning the Presidency and a majority in both Houses. So the Ruling Party nominated Massachusetts’ attorney general to run for the Senate seat, a prosecutor who (successfully) lobbied for a demonstrably innocent man to be denied parole, defended the most tragicomic overreaction of emergency personnel in the first decade of the War on Terror, and argued (unsuccessfully) before the Supreme Court that defendants should have no right to cross-examine the lab experts whose evidence may condemn them. The Opposition Party, never one to offer substance when style might serve, nominated a former centerfold who supports increased troop presence in America’s Least Winnable War (three-way tie), supports torture, and gives the same reluctant, caviling, yes-but-wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if support to a woman’s sovereignty over her own reproductive organs that any hardcore Opposition Party member who doesn’t advocate anarchy must give.

This election wouldn’t be half as critical were it not for the health care reboot bill trundling its way through Congress. If the Ruling Party maintains its tenuous hold on power (with the President and the majority in both Houses and all that), they just might manage to pass a bill that funnels money from the working poor to insurance companies by making health insurance mandatory. This bill was inspired by Governor Mitt Romney’s health care reboot in 2006, which the Opposition Party candidate voted for and still defends. But he opposes the current national plan. Meanwhile, the Ruling Party candidate drew some flack for saying that private morals were not a sufficient reason to deny someone contraception. And yet she would probably be called on to support the current health care reboot bill, which states that being on the “public option” is sufficient reason to deny someone an abortion. So we have one candidate who supports expanding health care coverage, except when he doesn’t, and one candidate who believes no one should be denied access to abortive medicine, except when they can be.

“But Professor,” people tell me, “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” You think I’m complaining?


but I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passe

Time to troll the week’s headlines:

  • I’ve never registered to vote because, for other reasons, I want to stay off of jury duty rolls in Massachusetts. Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder whether that’s really the right tack. My one vote is so insignificant as to be statistically discountable – but think of the havoc I could wreak on a jury! That’s just eleven other people! And they can’t leave the room!

    I remembered this malicious little thought when I read an op-ed in Time by the writers of The Wire, the greatest show that the medium of television has yet produced: Ed Burns, David Simon and George Pelecanos. Quoted (emphasis mine):

    “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right,” wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy — the flawed national policy of his day. In a similar spirit, we offer a small idea that is, perhaps, no small idea. It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn’t resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do — and what we will do.

    If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun’s manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

    Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience.

    But, in order to get on the jury duty rolls, I need to register to vote anyway. So who do I talk to about that?

  • Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks the war’s responsible for the U.S. recession. His reasoning:

    “The Fed has flooded the economy with liquidity and the regulators looked the other way when very imprudent lending was going up,” Stiglitz said. “We were living on borrowed money and borrowed time and eventually a day of reckoning had to come, and it has now come.”

    The war has also altered how the United States has reacted to its current economic troubles, he said.

    “When America’s financial institutions had a problem, they had to turn to the sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East for recapitalization, for the bailout,” he said.

    “The reason was obvious. The war had led to high oil prices. The war had meant that America had to borrow more money. There weren’t sources of liquid funds in the United States. The sources of the liquid funds were in the Middle East,” he said.

    I don’t expect to shake the man’s Nobel laurels at you and silence the argument there. But if you still thought wars were good for the economy – and you forgot that the “economy” is a thermometer, not a thermostat – then ask me about the Broken Window Fallacy sometime. Or Google it. That’s what I’d do if I had to explain it to you. Which I don’t. Because Joe Stiglitz just did. I forget the point I was trying to make, except that there’s no good reason for American troops to be stationed in Iraq at present.

  • I continue to sit agape at Cracked‘s transformation from “MAD Magazine knock-off” to “prime source for clever online essays.” Here, for instance, are seven insane conspiracies that actually happened, like the Tuskegee experiments, MKULTRA, Scientology’s “Snow White” project and President Bush’s grandfather’s (alleged) plot to kill FDR. If you haven’t had enough yet, you can read about the South American coup that the CIA conducted on Chiquita Bananas’ behalf. And if you can still handle the jive, read David Wong’s much-linked article on the monkeysphere.

    Holy shit, dude. If I could be so profound.

  • My favorite entry in the Funny/Tragic file this week has to be Mukasey’s Paradox:

    In his twisting of legal principles, the attorney general has succeeded in creating a perfect paradox. Under Mukasey’s Paradox, lawyers cannot commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president — and a president cannot commit a crime when he acts under advice of lawyers.


    Once in office, Mukasey still had the nasty problem of a secret torture program that was now hiding in plain view. Asked to order a criminal investigation of the program, Mukasey refused. His rationale left many lawyers gasping: Any torture that occurred was done on the advice of counsel and therefore, while they may have been wrong, it could not have been a crime for CIA interrogators or, presumably, the president. If this sounds ludicrous, it is. Under that logic, any president can simply surround himself with extremist or collusive lawyers and instantly decriminalize any crime.

    However, this is only half of Mukasey’s Paradox. The other half occurred last week when Mukasey refused to allow contempt charges against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers to be given to a grand jury. Bolten and Miers stand accused of contempt in refusing to testify before Congress in its investigation of the firings of several U.S. attorneys in 2006. Mukasey wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that their refusal to testify could not be a crime because the president ordered them not to testify under executive privilege.

    Under this logic, no official can be prosecuted for contempt as long as a president ordered them to commit the contempt — even if the president’s assertion of privilege is clearly invalid or incomplete. In this case, many experts have expressed skepticism that all or any of President Bush’s assertions of privilege in this case would be upheld.

  • I’m going to shotgun these last few: John McCain declares there’s “strong evidence” for a link between vaccinations and autism (note: there isn’t); a blindfold test confirms that Monster brand stereo cables are no better than coat hangers at conducting sound; readers of the Freakonomics blog come up with a six word motto for the United States; and Dubai may own a quarter of the world’s construction cranes.

  • To end on an upbeat note, here are some publicity stills from the set of Watchmen. Based on these, I can say with certainty that it’ll be a kickass first 75 minutes. No question. After that it’s anyone’s guess.

Have a good weekend, folks.