Vol. 9, No. 6
In this issue:
1. The Terrorist Surveillance Program Program
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Senate Republicans both got exactly what they wanted from Gonzales' appearance before the Judiciary Committee: political cover. The Bush administration gets to say that it has testified openly about the wiretap program, and senators, particularly those running for re-election, can cite the hearing as a form of dissent from the White House's interpretation of executive powers. Left wanting were Democrats, who did not get much of use from Gonzales to outrage anyone who is not already outraged.
That is because the administration has built a plausible sounding defense of the program, even if that defense does not comport with the facts. Case in point was Gonzales comparing the wiretap effort to a string of early-warning radar stations. Congress, after all, had never passed a law setting up a court that would vet executive requests for radar stations.
The Bush administration simply regards any judicial check or oversight on the president's war-fighting ability to be illegitimate, and it is acting accordingly. One hearing, or a hundred, will not change that policy.
2. Budget Season, Pork Season
Almost overshadowed by the wiretap drama was the release of Bush administration's spending plan for 2007. The budget would axe almost $15 billion from some 141 government programs, a nice chunk of change and certainly worthwhile, especially when programs are zeroed-out, never to return. But the heavy lifting is still going to be on the tax front.
Bush's budget makes the tax cuts on dividends and investment income permanent, opening the way for a class-warfare assault by Democrats eager to portray the cuts as a sop to the rich. But Bush can point to good economic performance numbers, low unemployment, and every-increasing revenue flowing from the lower rates.
As for exploding entitlements, the less said the better, as the White House cannot really reverse what was putting motion by the Medicare drug-benefit fiasco. But a new determination from the House leadership to cut back on spending earmarks (i.e., pork) might produce some modest improvement in the overall picture.
3. The Post-Literate World
Outrage over cartoons-the worldwide Muslim upset as well as the smaller negative reaction to a Washington Post portrayal of a wounded serviceman that brought a protest letter from the Joint Chiefs-confirms the power of images to connect with primal feelings and emotions. Done properly such works can convey and condense information, connecting with readers on an almost pre-cognitive level. If they are funny, all the better.
On the funny front, the dozen Danish cartoons are mixed bag, including not a little bit of an insider nudge-nudge on some obscure local angle. But the one featuring an Islamic heaven all out of virgins for the arriving suicide bombers is a wicked, inspired piece of work. It holds up an altogether irrational notion for ridicule, which is always a provocative step.
The image that got the Joints Chiefs worked up falls a little short in the funny department, basically due to overreach. It depicted a hospitalized solider, bandaged and missing limbs being told by "Dr. Rumsfeld" that he was merely "battle hardened" now. This, of course, was a reference to Rumsfeld's stubborn insistence that the Iraq war is not depleting the U.S. military. Fair enough. But the grievous wounds of the soldier were not needed to make this valid point.
4. Quick Hits
Quote of the Week
"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology." -President George Bush in the State of the Union Address.
Special Weapons and Tactics Everyday
SWAT teams are being deployed for just about everything these days, with deadly results.
Email Postage: Is it Finally Here?
Yahoo Inc. and America Online are exploring a service that would charge senders .25 to 1-cent for each email a sender sends to users. Pay the fee and you'll escape the firms' junk mail filters. This assumes, of course, that spammers and scammers cannot pay the fee.
Ad Along the Rooftops
All those space shots of your neighborhood got you creeped out? At least one guy thinks there is market for roof-top ads waiting to explode with photo-mapping of buildings becoming so common.
5. New at Reason Online
The Lost Boys
The same old song about "a different voice" for male students. Cathy Young
The Crimes of Pot Justice
When marijuana arrests might be death sentences. Brian Doherty
Jack Abramoff and Me
An incredibly nuanced and ethically unimpeachable disclaimer. Jonathan Rauch
And much more!
6. News and Events
Get liberated with Ronald Bailey's brave new book for a brave new world!
In his new book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution, Reason's Ronald Bailey examines the scientific and ethical controversies surrounding everything from stem cell research to therapeutic cloning to longer life spans to genetically modified food.
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