Friday, September 16, 2005

To boost its sagging ratings in middle America, NBC is going with new "family values" shows, like "Three Wishes", in which country singer Amy Grant does favors for the deserving poor. You can understand why they might be concerned: actual viewers from the region interviewed for this Times story couldn't name a single show from last season on the NBC. Thus the conclusion that those shows don't appeal to their values.

NBC shows they used to like included "Seinfeld" and "Friends". Shows on other networks they liked last season included "CSI", whose characters occasionally take a break from investigating freak crimes in Vegas to get involved with the freakishness there themselves, and of course, "Desperate Housewives."

So, it's clear that NBC's problem is that they aren't broadcasting shows with the right values. It can't just be that last season, they were broadcasting crap.

Judges at confirmation hearings don't like to discuss how they'd rule on some hypothetical case. There's a legitimate reason --- a similar case that actually did come before them might be different in some crucial detail, and they don't want to be bound by statements they made without knowing about that. But that's an excuse that doesn't apply to cases that have already been decided. So for those, they need other excuses.

At his confirmation hearings, Clarence Thomas weaseled out of offering an opinion on Roe v. Wade by claiming that he had never thought about it --- not even at the time the decision came down, when he was in law school. If he didn't care enough about constitutional issues then, or subsequently, to look into Roe, you'd think that by itself would disqualify him from his current job --- but evidently, a majority Democratic Senate disagreed.

John Roberts can't offer that excuse. At his confirmation hearings, he has proved, if nothing else, that he has followed the Supreme Court's work in great detail. He just won't say what he thinks of it, because... well, for some reason, he just doesn't want to. And so, reports the Times, many legal observers are as frustrated as the Senate's Democratic members themselves at his evasions.

But the Times also reports that there are things that he doesn't evade:

Judge Roberts provided substantial information, at least at the level of theory, about the right to privacy. He said it existed, located it in various constitutional provisions including the 14th Amendment and gave some examples of what it requires. He endorsed a 1965 decision of the Supreme Court holding that the right to privacy guarantees that married couples may use contraceptives.

But his adamant refusal to answer other questions frustrated Democratic senators and liberal scholars.

"From Bush v. Gore to the Second Amendment to separation of church and state to abortion," Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at Duke University, said of Judge Roberts, "he was masterful at saying a lot but avoiding answering the key questions."

So, he offers an opinion on the Griswold case, on regulation of contraception, but declines to state a view on Roe v. Wade, on regulation of abortion. And legal observers are frustrated by his vagueness on the latter issue.

It must be a sign of my naivete on these issues that I think he might have given them a hint.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

With the New York Times putting its op-ed columnists behind a for-pay wall next week, it's time to see what I'd be missing by not signing up. Multiple Pulitzer-winner Tom Friedman offers this:

Indeed, Singapore believes so strongly that you have to get the best-qualified and least-corruptible people you can into senior positions in the government, judiciary and civil service that its pays its prime minister a salary of $1.1 million a year. It pays its cabinet ministers and Supreme Court justices just under $1 million a year, and pays judges and senior civil servants handsomely down the line.

A valuable observation. Surely, if we tripled the salaries of our Senators, we'd wipe out corruption, as their positions don't allow for corruption on a scale vastly larger than that. And the well-connected Friedman also has insightful commentary from well-placed observers on the local scene:

"In the areas that are critical to our survival, like Defense, Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs, we look for the best talent," said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy. "You lose New Orleans, and you have 100 other cities just like it. But we're a city-state. We lose Singapore and there is nothing else. ... [So] the standards of discipline are very high. There is a very high degree of accountability in Singapore."

Another columnist might note that if the reverse were true, the authoritarian Singaporean government would jail Dean Mahbubani for saying so. But Friedman is too lofty to get caught up in such minor details. He has a point to make --- that Singapore prepares for typhoons better than George W. Bush does for hurricanes, and that the reason for our slovenliness in that department is that we won the Cold War. Yes, reader, that is indeed the reason he advances and argues for --- an insight that truly could not be reached by any mind other than that of Tom Friedman.

Contrast that with the kind of commentary you get for free on the innernut. Sure, you might be missing live reports from the scene, or vast compendia of available data from official and unofficial sources, or biting satire at the follies of the day, or trenchant critiques of official rhetoric, or the ill-noted detail that the one thing the White House did quickly was demand repair of oil pipelines, or the crusty New York voice of a woman who's just fed up. But you won't get Friedman's lofty, global perspective. And who wouldn't pay money for that?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Mark Danner:

Four years after we watched the towers fall, Americans have not succeeded in "ridding the world of evil." We have managed to show ourselves, our friends and most of all our enemies the limits of American power. Instead of fighting the real war that was thrust upon us on that incomprehensible morning four years ago, we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination, an ideological struggle that we defined not by frankly appraising the real enemy before us but by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions. And we have finished - as the escalating numbers of terrorist attacks, the grinding Iraq insurgency, the overstretched American military and the increasing political dissatisfaction at home show - by fighting precisely the kind of war they wanted us to fight.

We let the man who brought the towers down get away at Tora Bora, while demonstrating the limits of our own power in a fight that was totally unrelated in Iraq. That war was not a fitting memorial for our dead. Nor are efforts by the Bush regime to link the two, which continue to this very day.