2008 - %3, May

Film Review: The Judge and the General

| Thu May 15, 2008 5:35 PM EDT

SFIFF_JudgeandtheGeneral.jpgNow retired Chilean judge Juan Guzman conducts a long, tedious investigation into the brutal killings and disappearances that took place during the country's Pinochet regime in The Judge and the General, an 84-minute documentary film that had its world premier recently at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The film is Guzman's journey toward discovery; of the atrocities linked to Pinochet, and to his own self-awareness as a judge in search of truth who initially was skeptical about taking on the investigation. Guzman and his crew of lab technicians, police, and government officials travel to all corners of the country to study bones of those who were killed, interview their surviving family members, and review piles of documents.

One audience member at the San Francisco screening, during an open-mic Q&A, told Guzman he was a "fraud" and that he should be ashamed of himself for taking credit for taking down Pinochet. After the loud "Boos" and hisses (and one or two claps) died down, Guzman said, "You obviously don't know what you are talking about," and applause filled the room.

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McCain Sounding Obama-esque

| Thu May 15, 2008 5:16 PM EDT

Here's a portion of that speech that David mentioned earlier today. It's kind of hard to tell which presumptive nominee is speaking.

If I am elected President, I will work with anyone who sincerely wants to get this country moving again. I will listen to any idea that is offered in good faith and intended to help solve our problems, not make them worse. I will seek the counsel of members of Congress from both parties in forming government policy before I ask them to support it. I will ask Democrats to serve in my administration. My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons.

A lot of this is admirable (who knows if it'll actually happen, but it's nice to hear), especially the last line about taking direct questions from the rank and file of Congress. But if McCain wants to "set a new standard for transparency," he might ask his wife to release her tax returns. That would meet the current standard of transparency.

Update: I would also add that the cause of political reconciliation isn't furthered by implying your opponent is a Nazi appeaser.

McCain to Social Conservatives: No Soup for You!

| Thu May 15, 2008 4:56 PM EDT

John McCain today gave a big speech to describe what the United States would look like in 2013, after four years of a McCain presidency. Boldly and confidently peering into that future, McCain sees that "the Iraq war has been won" and that "Iraq is a functioning democracy." The threat from the Taliban has been "greatly reduced," and Osama bin Laden has been captured or killed. Iran and North Korea no longer hold nuclear ambitions. Sudan is at peace. The United States economy is growing robustly. Government spending has been cut. New free trade agreements have led to prosperity at home and abroad. Public education is "much improved." Health care "has become more accessible to more Americans." The threat from global warming has declined. The border is secured. There have been no terrorist attacks against the United States.

In other words, a fairy tale.

In this address, McCain does not explain how he has managed to orchestrate all these miracles. It's nothing but a wish list. And in the news coverage of the speech, the media have focused on McCain's quasi-promise to win the Iraq war and withdraw most U.S. troops by 2013--which is certainly easier said than done. But what's most interesting about this speech is what's not in it: abortion and gay marriage.

Regarding these two top issues for social conservatives--many of whom have long been wary of McCain--the presumptive Republican nominee says nary a word. Looking into his crystal ball, he envisions no outlawing of abortion or gay marriage during his years in the White House. He doesn't even foresee an effort to do anything on these fronts. The closest he comes to addressing the priorities of the fundamentalist right is to note the appointment (and confirmation!) of federal judges "who understand that they were not sent there to write our laws but to enforce them." This is, of course, code language for judges willing to overturn Roe v. Wade and to hold the line against gay marriage. But McCain's de rigueur right-wing boilerplate hardly substitutes for a vision of a McCain-governed America in which abortion is criminalized and gay marriage banned across the land.

Any self-respecting social conservative should be enraged. On a day when the California Supreme Court has overturned the gay marriage ban, McCain's speech is insult added to injury. It goes to show that those leaders of the religious right who were suspicious of McCain were right to fret that McCain was only a fair-weather--that is, primary season--friend. In his future, their chief concerns are not even worth mentioning.

Bizarre Public Opinion Numbers on Global Warming

| Thu May 15, 2008 4:30 PM EDT

Roughly 70 percent of Americans believe there is "solid evidence" the earth is warming, according to new Pew poll numbers. Just under half think that warming is caused by human activity. That's disappointing — we've got more work to do, Mother Jones! — but not that surprising. On the other hand, try explaining this:

Over the last year and a half, the number of Americans who believe the Earth is warming has dropped. The decline is especially precipitous among Republicans: in January 2007, 62 percent accepted global warming, compared to just 49 percent now.

Or this!

...among college-educated poll respondents, 19 percent of Republicans believe that human activities are causing global warming, compared to 75 percent of Democrats. But take that college education away and Republican believers rise to 31 percent while Democrats drop to 52 percent.

Consider me stumped.

CA Gay Marriage Ban Overturned

| Thu May 15, 2008 3:59 PM EDT

The California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage today in a ruling that will make California the second and largest state to allow gay and lesbian couples join together in matrimony.

On the steps of the courthouse in Sacramento, Stuart Gaffney and his partner John Lewis, among 19 plaintiffs in the case, were ecstatic. "I'm feeling just complete joy," Gaffney said. "Rarely is a legal decision so romantic, but this one means John and I can now be newlyweds after 21 years together."

Gaffney and Lewis were among thousands of couples married by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004 in a move that was immensely popular in San Francisco but inspired a conservative voter backlash across the country that many people blamed for hurting the electoral prospects of Sen. John Kerry. That August a California court annulled the marriages and appeals have been winding though state courts ever since.

Gaffney and Lewis, star plaintiffs in the case, have compared their fight for legal status to that faced by Gaffney's parents, whose marriage in the 1950s was not recognized in Missouri under the state's strict anti-miscegenation law. Gaffney's father was Irish and his mother was Chinese. California's landmark 1948 Perez v. Sharp ruling was nation's first to overturn such laws and had become a key precedent in the gay marriage case. More broadly, the case rested upon the California constitution's promise of individual liberty, due process, and equal protection under the law.

Although the ruling doesn't validate the 2004 marriages performed by Newsom, and conservative groups have vowed to push for another ballot measure to change the California constitution to specifically ban gay marriage, for now, gay and lesbian couples are in the clear to tie the knot. When Gaffney's mother called him today, she immediately asked, "When is your wedding day?"

"We are going to get married as soon as we can because we have waited long enough," Gaffney said. "But we are going to get married with our friends and families." He paused, fighting back tears. "I'm still just sort of floating from it," he said.

The mood was jubilant that afternoon in San Francisco, where city hall had joined the case as a plaintiff. After a triumphant press conference outside the Mayor's office, same-sex couples milled about and embraced beneath the rotunda as the PA system piped in love songs. "We were on complete pins and needles, very pointy pins and needles," said Jennifer Pizer a plaintiffs lawyer on the case. "And then we got the decision and started tearing up.

"For many of us this isn't just an exercise of the law, it's about our lives--whether we're good enough and our love is good enough." Pizer could not immediately say whether she'd now be getting married. "My partner of nearly 24 years has said yes," she added, "but I should probably talk to her first before I talk to anyone else."

The marriage party could be short lived, however. Conservative church groups have already collected 1.1 million signatures in favor of the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. If the state determines that 694,354 of those signatures are valid, the proposed amendment will qualify for the November ballot. Unlike Proposition 22, the gay marriage ban that was overturned today, the new ballot measure would be immune to court challenge. The question is how many among the 63 percent of Californians who'd supported Prop. 22 have changed their views toward gay marriage since the measure passed in 2000. "I think California has come a long, long way since then," Pizer said. "I think it changed a lot of people's minds to see how much it meant to couples to be able to marry in San Francisco."

As coincidence would have it, Robert and Amy McHale, a white and Asian couple from New York, had shown up in the city hall rotunda today in wedding dress and tuxedo, completely unaware that the Supreme Court had just passed down its landmark ruling. They'd come instead to snap wedding photos. As they stood on the granite steps bathed in the strobe of flash bulbs, a lesbian activist approached to congratulate them. "Understand that you are getting married on such a blessed and auspicious day," she said.

Robert McHale's thoughts on gay marriage? "Sure, why not?" he said. "That's fine if that makes people happy. We are all about happiness."


GOP Can't Win Down Ticket by Tying Dems to Obama

| Thu May 15, 2008 2:18 PM EDT

Not in the South, anyway. As you probably know, Democrat Travis Childers won a special election on Tuesday in a conservative Mississippi congressional district, scoring a big upset for the Dems that many political observers say is a sign of Democratic victories to come. The Republicans botched one part of the strategy, apparently (from the Times, via the Stump):

But the Republican strategy of trying to link Mr. Childers to more liberal national Democratic figures fell short, as it did in Louisiana. Indeed, voters here were bombarded by advertisements equating Mr. Childers with Senator Barack Obama, a tactic intended to turn conservative whites away from Mr. Childers.... [It] may have helped Mr. Childers more than it hurt him, as campaign aides reported heavy black turnout, heavier than in a vote three weeks ago when he came within 400 votes of winning.

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Obama Attack Vid: Flag Flag Flllaaaaag

| Thu May 15, 2008 11:57 AM EDT

I guess when you don't have any actual arguments for why you should be in charge, you rely on symbolism instead.

Here's my solution. Obama changes his name to Barack Flag Pin Obama. He automatically convinces everyone of his patriotism, and eliminates the most problematic part of his name. From then on, whenever someone says, "Why don't you wear a flag pin?" Obama can respond, "I am Flag Pin!"

Why the John Edwards Endorsement Doesn't Matter That Much

| Thu May 15, 2008 11:53 AM EDT

edwards-obama-endorsement-250x200.jpg

There is a lot of talk among political observers that John Edwards' better-late-than-never endorsement of Barack Obama will help Obama among working-class (read: white) voters, as Edwards extends his populist mantle to the near-presumptive Democratic nominee. Such talk is overstated, for Obama won't need Edwards in the fall to prove he's the populist in the race. With John McCain as the Republican nominee, Obama will have little competition in the most-populist category.

Too many commentators are, for the moment, still stuck in an Obama-versus-Clinton framework. That is so three-days-ago. The race is essentially over. Obama no longer needs to do better than Hillary Clinton among Democratic working-class voters in Democratic primaries. Clinton cannot overcome his lead in pledged delegates, and Obama has surpassed her in superdelegate commitments. (Edwards' endorsement is indeed one more signal that it's curtains for Clinton, and the handful of delegates pledged to him presumably will trot over to Obama's column.) So baring any unforeseen calamities or drama, Obama is it.

That means he no longer has to worry about having more populist appeal to Democratic voters than Clinton. His concern is McCain and attracting blue-collar and white voters in the general election against the Republican nominee. Sure, Edwards can help in that mission. But in some ways, this task is easier.

Sudan: An Example of Why Cindy McCain Must Release Her Tax Returns

| Thu May 15, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

John McCain has been critical of China for its willingness to do business in Sudan. "China needs Sudan's oil," he has said. "The politics of oil impede the global progress of our values, and restrains governments from acting on the most basic impulses of human decency."

Turns out it's not just China that ignores Sudan's humanitarian atrocities in order to make a profit.

Cindy McCain, whose husband has been a critic of the violence in Sudan, sold off more than $2 million in mutual funds whose holdings include companies that do business in the African nation.
The sale on Wednesday came after The Associated Press questioned the investments in light of calls by John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, for international financial sanctions against the Sudanese leadership.

Bush in Israel

| Thu May 15, 2008 1:32 AM EDT

President and Laura Bush attended an event in Jerusalem last night to celebrate sixty years of friendship between the US and Israel. The event was hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres and honorary conference co-chairs Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul and conservative philanthropist and his Israeli physician wife. Among the evening's festivities, an interpretative dance number to "You've Got a Friend," Cold War style video interludes documenting US support to Israel at key moments since its creation, Israeli and Maryland children's choirs singing "Let It Be," and speeches by among others Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is the target of a current corruption probe.

If Bush was looking for support in his belief that public opinion is fleeting but that history will be the ultimate judge of his presidency, he found it in spades last night here, where he is widely viewed as a determined leader who understood the terror threat and was willing to act to meet its challenge. Applause interrupted his speech -- replete with famliiar references to remaining steadfast against terror and advancing human liberty -- as well as the speeches of those paying tribute to him. Among others in attendance at the conference, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, former Clinton Middle East hand Dennis Ross, former Clinton era US ambassadors to Israel Martin Indyk and Daniel Kurtzer, an Obama advisor, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, former British prime minister and Quartet leader Tony Blair, Google's Sergei Brin and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Though Bush was described as among the most supportive US presidents of Israel, some Israeli security officials have questioned not his good intentions toward their nation but the pragmatic outcomes of his policies, particularly as Hezbollah demonstrates its growing strength in Lebanon over the US-backed Siniora government and Hamas continues to launch rockets from Gaza into the town of Sderot and the city of Ashkelon. The Bush administration pushed Israel and Palestinian moderates to allow Hamas to run in 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections which Hamas then won, and it took over the Gaza strip last year.