Friday, September 12, 2003

If Rupert Murdoch Owned Mastercard

then Josh Marshall might be defending a law suit today. Hilarious. Trenchant. Tragic.

Silvio, Arnold. Arnold, Silvio

Already met? Great, then you'll have lots to talk about . . .Seems that Berlusconi, like Schwarzenegger, has something of a fetish for fascists. Now to be fair to Berlusconi (and Mussolini) Il Duce, as early 20th century fascist dictators go, wasn't the worst of the lot. (Indeed, Italy's Jewish community suffered the third-lowest percentage of murders in all of occupied Europe. Only Denmark, famously, and Bulgaria, somewhat paradoxically, saved a higher percentage of their Jews.) But still, Berlusconi's assertion -- that Mussolini didn't kill anyone -- is absurd. Unlike Schwarzenegger, who still supports Waldheim, Berlusconi at least had the manners to backpedal. (and for what it's worth, I don't think Arnold should bother renouncing Waldheim now. It would be such an obvious cave-in to pressure, with so obvious an ulterior motive, as to be meaningless).

Monday, September 08, 2003

Harvard Made Him Do It

How else to explain Al Franken's apology to John Ashcroft?. In his fabulous new book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, Franken lampoons the hypocrisy of the right's "just say no" approach to teen sex. In writing the book, Franken sent a letter to Ashcroft (on Harvard stationery, as Franken was then a Harvard fellow), claiming that he was writing a book called Savin' It!, on the administration's abstinence education program. He solicited the famously mammophobic AG's contribution to a a chapter in this work called "Role Modelin' It", in which prominent Americans recounted their "abstinence stories." Of course, Franken wasn't penning a book called "Savin' It." He was writing the hilarious and trenchant Number One Bestseller, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. (I have a number of issues with the book, but that's another post).

Volokh thinks Franken actually owed Ashcroft the apology that The Smoking Gun posted. I think Franken's apology is a sign of just how sinister Ashcroft's Justice Department has become. The key passage in Franken's apology is this:

My biggest regret is sending the letter on Shorenstein Center stationery. I can assure you that no one at the Shorenstein Center had knowledge of the letter before I sent it. I am very embarrassed to have put them in this awkward and difficult position, and I ask you not to hold this against the Center, the Kennedy School, or Harvard in general.

The entire reason for the letter is right there in that paragraph. Harvard feared it would suffer Ashcroft's wrath, and forced Franken to issue the mea culpa. What exactly was the harm to the AG from the "Savin It" letter? He was satirized? So what? That comes with the teritory when you're a public figure. Volokh thinks this satire crossed the line because it touched on Ashcroft's sex life. Hello? President Clinton had his sex life minutely examined, not by one satirist, but by the whole comedy community, and by a High Inquisitor (does anyone else picture Ken Starr in drag when reading of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter V?) who cost the fisc some half a billion dollars. And Clinton wasn't pushing abstinence as public policy. Ashcroft is. So his hypocrisy vel non on matters sexual is absolutely fair game. I think it deeply disturbing that Harvard -- an institution with no small amount of power -- felt compelled to kiss derriere on this one.

Franken did owe the Shorenstein Center an apology, though. Just because he was a fellow at the time, did not give him the right, in my view, to use the Center's name and imply its imprimatur on the ploy. And Franken didin't need to have it either. He knew that no member of the administration would respond to his request for an abstinence story. None of them could. That's the whole point. Didn't matter whether the letterhead said Harvard or Franken or Hogwarts.

Methods of Madness

Eugene Volokh points to this article about the Utah Sentencing Commission's solicitation of the Mormon Church’s view on proposed legislation that would eliminate the firing squad as a permitted method of execution in that state. Somewhat fuller discussions can be found in Utah’s Deseret Morning News and Salt Lake Tribune.

Volokh’s view, which I think is correct, is that the solicitation of the Church’s opinion does not violate the Establishment Clause. I’d be more concerned if the Church had commented negatively on the legislation, and the Commission thereafter withdrew it. That course of events would raise the specter of the Church being given veto power over, rather than merely input on public policy initiatives. I think Volokh’s post draws this same input/veto line. Utah presents unique problems in drawing the line, however, given the religious homogeneity of the state’s population (some 70% of the state’s population are Latter Day Saints) and the stress the religion itself places on obedience. Hardly the type of problem, alas, that is easily explored in a blog . . .

Another interesting aspect of the Commission’s soliciting the Church’s view is the complete absence from the Sentencing Commission’s minutes on the subject (discussed in the April, August, and September meetings). Utah’s open meetings act, like that of most states, provides that minutes must be kept of open meetings, and must include inter alia “the substance of all matters proposed, discussed, or decided.” (Utah Code § 52-4-7(1)(c)) Seems to me, vague as that provision is, the discussion of the LDS Church’s view on the proposed legislation ought to have been included. At least the press was on top of it