Saturday, April 30, 2005

CRITIC AND A FAN Mel Gussow, theater critic and "champion of playwrights" is dead at 71.

Friday, April 29, 2005

INSANE That's the only way to characterize the custom Craig S. Smith explores in his report from Kyrgyzstan--a must-read--in Saturday's New York Times.
More than half of Kyrgyzstan's married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as "ala kachuu," which translates roughly as "grab and run." In its most benign form, it is a kind of elopement, in which a man whisks away a willing girlfriend. But often it is something more violent.

Recent surveys suggest that the rate of abductions has steadily grown in the last 50 years and that at least a third of Kyrgyzstan's brides are now taken against their will.

The custom predates the arrival of Islam in the 12th century and appears to have its roots in the region's once-marauding tribes, which periodically stole horses and women from rivals when supplies ran low. It is practiced in varying degrees across Central Asia but is most prevalent here in Kyrgyzstan, a poor, mountainous land that for decades was a backwater of the Soviet Union and has recently undergone political turmoil in which mass protests forced the president to resign.

Kyrgyz men say they snatch women because it is easier than courtship and cheaper than paying the standard "bride price," which can be as much as $800 plus a cow.

Family or friends often press a reluctant groom, lubricated with vodka and beer, into carrying out an abduction.


Once a woman has been taken to a man's home, her future in-laws try to calm her down and get a white wedding shawl onto her head. The shawl, called a jooluk, is a symbol of her submission. Many women fight fiercely, but about 80 percent of those kidnapped eventually relent, often at the urging of their own parents.

The practice has technically been illegal for years, first under the Soviet Union and more recently under the 1994 Kyrgyz criminal code, but the law rarely has been enforced.


Brutal as the custom is, it is widely perceived as practical. "Every good marriage begins in tears," a Kyrgyz saying goes.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

NUCLEAR OPTIONS Senate Republicans have expended a lot of energy arguing that the filibuster of judicial nominees is unprecedented and out of step with Senate tradition.

But when you cut through the rhetoric, what's their legal justification for implementing the nuclear option?

The Senate, after all, is an institution bound not just by tradition and precedent, but by rules: It couldn't send a bill to the President that had received only minority support on the floor. Or decide to deny senators from Nebraska the right to vote on farm legislation.

So what's the nuclear option's legal basis?

Republicans have a pair of arguments open to them. And neither is particularly attractive.


First, Republicans could reject the notion that Senate rules persist from one session of Congress to the next: While a 60 vote super-majority may have been required to terminate debate at one time, they might argue, that procedural standard now lacks force because it wasn't re-adopted during the current session of the Congress.

This is an unappealing case to make for a host of reasons. But chief among them is that the Senate has operated--and continues to operate--as if rules passed long ago remain in force.

So it's no wonder that Republicans rarely make this argument explicitly. (That said, Senate Republicans do hint, occasionally, that they shouldn't be bound by disruptive, arcane strictures approved long ago in an entirely different context.)


The second, more promising argument open to Republicans is that the filibuster of judicial nominees is flat-out unconstitutional. When Republicans deign to offer a justification for the nuclear option, this is the one they tend to trot out.

But this rationale doesn't hold much water either, for two reasons.

First, here's Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2 of the US Constitution:

Clause 2: Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.
And here's Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2:
Clause 2: He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
The Senate is allowed to make up its own rules, the Constitution tells us, and judges are appointed with that body's advice and consent.

And so the filibuster of judicial nominees--a parliamentary maneuver protected by the Senate rules--can only be seen as unconstitutional if the word "consent" in "advice and consent" is read to mean "support of a bare majority during a floor vote."

But that seems like a pretty specific reading of a general term. And it's exactly the kind of aggressive, creative constitutional interpretation that we'd expect conservatives, under normal circumstances, to rail against.

So for most of us, that ought to settle it.

But the "constitutional" justification is suspect for a second reason, one that's both more complicated and more important: Contrary to what Republicans in the Senate have been implying, implementing the nuclear option involves more, procedurally, than getting 51 senators to affirm that the filibuster of judicial nominees is unconstitutional.

This fact has been given scant attention by the press, but it's worth taking a moment to unpack.

The problem Republicans face is that constitutional challenges to the rules are themselves subject to filibuster under current Senate rules. And naturally, the nuclear option's opponents are prepared to filibuster this challenge.

So the Republicans, in order to achieve their ultimate goal, will need to rule not only that the filibuster of judicial nominees is unconstitutional, but that the filibuster of constitutional challenges to Senate rules is unconstitutional as well.

(This is a step, incidentally, that the independent, Republican-appointed Senate Parliamentarian has publicly refused to endorse.)

Think about what that means: The Senate, whose rules require a two-thirds majority for rule changes, will have effectively struck down not only a particular rule. By pushing through the nuclear option, it will also have obliterated the procedural framework by which it does business.

Because, in a post-nuclear Senate, it will take only 51 votes to declare any Senate rule unconstitutional, on the one hand, or constitutionally-mandated on the other. To put it simply, in a post-nuclear Senate the rules of the Senate will be whatever 51 senators say they are.

(If this isn't what Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) had in mind as the "nuclear" aspect of the "nuclear option" when he coined the term, it should have been.)

Republicans will argue, of course, that they don't have anything nearly this ambitious in mind: All they want, they'll tell us, is a narrow, specific procedural change.

But what they want and what they will have achieved are two different things.

I suspect that if just Republicans around the country had a clearer idea about this implication of the nuclear option's implementation, it would be an even less popular idea with Americans than it is today.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall, as usual, has more.

BUSH IN PRIME TIME Let's hope the President faces some tough questions tonight. A few I'd like to hear:
1. According to the State Department, there were 175 terrorist incidents in 2003--a record at the time. In 2004, the number of incidents more than tripled to 675. What new steps have you taken in recent months, outside of Iraq, to win the war on terror?

2. The country is running up massive deficits. Yet you have failed to veto a single spending bill since you took office in 2001. What steps are you taking to restore fiscal discipline?

3. Tony Perkins, of the Family Research council, believes that judicial review was "never envisioned by the Founders." Majority Leader Tom DeLay also seems to hold this view. Do you agree with Perkins and DeLay?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

CLEARPLAY WATCH The President has signed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act into law.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

GOING NUCLEAR Josh Marshall has some thoughts on the nuclear option, and the dangerous position Majority Leader Frist has backed himself into:
If you think ending the filibuster is the 'nuclear option', just watch what happens when Bill Frist rings up James Dobson and says, "Sorry about the judge thing. The Democrats won't let us."

At that point you can start with the horizontal mushroom clouds coming out of Dobson's ears and it's pretty much a chain reaction through the rest of Wingnut Nation from there on.

That means two things. First, Frist probably just isn't in a position to accept the 'compromises' Democrats are floating. And I suspect they know that. Second, should he accept such a compromise, it will unleash something close to a civil war on the right flank of the Republican party--a development with possibly grave consequences for Republicans in 2006 and thereafter.
Marshall is right: Frist has virtually no room to maneuver. That's a serious handicap in a high-stakes political fight.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

CLEARPLAY WATCH The Salt Lake Tribune--the hometown paper of ClearPlay, CleanFlicks and several other DVD filtering companies--comes out against the Family Movie Act.

The Tribune even gets a bit snarky:

If you have not seen Kate Winslet's breasts, you have not seen "Titanic."

Those offering a gadget that omits such key moments from 1997's Best Picture and other selected DVDs are bluffing if they suggest otherwise. But, once President Bush signs the bill passed by Congress Tuesday, that company will not be breaking copyright law.

As hot and bothered as Hollywood's elite directors are about this bill, it is more farce than tragedy. It's just too bad that the long-standing collaboration of law and creativity contained in our Constitution is what's being goofed on.


The Constitution, which even before the Bill of Rights stressed the need for creators to own their works, is offended by the idea that people can profit by altering the copyrighted works of others without those others' permission.

If there is a demand for altered versions of Hollywood movies, and there is, those who alter them should get permission from the copyright holders to do the altering, as happens when movies are edited for broadcast TV or airliners.

Or they can follow the legal route that has kept Mad magazine in business all these years. They can clearly, and correctly, label their work as satire.

Friday, April 22, 2005

In 1966, when the Neil Simon musical "Sweet Charity" opened on Broadway, a waiter in one scene asked a customer, "A double Scotch, again, sir?" In the revival, soon to open at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, the waiter asks, "Gran Centenario, the tequila?"

Madison Avenue has come to Broadway.


"Commerce and art always merge, unless it's some hermit who takes his creative ability into a cave," said Barry Weissler, who is producing the revival of "Sweet Charity" with his wife, Fran. "Picasso was a brilliant artist who was extremely commercial. He understood how to sell and market his work. And it kept his prices up."

"Are we so pure that we can't accept a commercial adjunct to what we create?" Mr. Weissler asked rhetorically. "I don't think so."


Mr. Arana and Mr. Weissler said that Mr. Simon, whose approval was necessary to rewrite the line, agreed to the change. A representative for Mr. Simon said yesterday that he could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

SANDERS FOR SENATE Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Vermont's popular, colorful congressman and the only "Democratic socialist" in the House of Representatives, is likely to run for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring James Jeffords (I-VT), the New York Times reports.

The Vermont Democrats are likely to sit out the election in deference to the left-leaning Sanders.

More on Sanders here.

COBURN WATCH The Senator's chief of staff, Michael Schwartz, isn't wild about the federal judiciary:
I don't want to impeach judges. I want to impale them.
No word on Schwartz's position on judicial immolation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

CLEARPLAY WATCH Having won approval from the Senate in February, The Family Movie Act has now passed--by voice vote--in the House of Representatives.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

Hollywood executives have complained that ClearPlay's technology represents unauthorized editing of their movies. They maintain that ClearPlay should pay them licensing fees for altering their creative efforts.

The Directors Guild of America sued ClearPlay in federal court in Colorado alleging copyright violations. The company's chief executive, Bill Aho, said he expects the lawsuit will be dismissed after Bush signs the bill into law.
From ClearPlay's press release:
"This is tremendous news for ClearPlay and a real victory for families," said CEO Bill Aho. "This ensures that parents will have the tools to control the movie content their families and children see in their own home. And it means ClearPlay has a clear path to more significant business development opportunities."

Monday, April 18, 2005

DELAY ON WOMEN From the Majority Leader's remarks, Saturday, before the National Rifle Association's annual convention:
Wanna empower women in America? Give 'em a gun.

CLEARPLAY WATCH The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) comes out in favor of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act:
The studios oppose the ClearPlay language, but support the legislation in general because it includes several unrelated proposals favorable to Hollywood.

The Senate passed the bill in March; the House is expected to approve its version in a few weeks. "We think the good far outweighs the bad," said [MPAA spokesman] Feehery.

BARNEY FRANK ON TOM DELAY It really is this simple:
Hey, look, let me be very straightforward here. I, 15 years ago, had a problem because I behaved inappropriately. The ethics committee stepped in. Newt Gingrich had a problem. He was reprimanded; the ethics committee stepped in. The difference between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior. Mr. DeLay changed the ethics committee.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

SUPER MAJORITY Seven senators control the fate of the filibuster--so says Daily Kos.

UPDATE:The National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters--which the Washington Times bills as, "a group of more than 150 conservative organizations"--is being chaired by Manuel Miranda. Yes, that Manuel Miranda.

Friday, April 15, 2005

CALL THE ROLL Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) rejects Marbury v. Madison. But is he the only one?

It would be interesting to know who else in Congress thinks Chief Justice John Marshall and his colleagues stepped out of bounds.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

JUDICIAL REVIEW Tom DeLay seems to have some issues with Marbury v. Madison:
The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.
People who are passionate about this country, and passionate about the basic political framework we've inherited from the Founders--liberals, moderates and especially conservatives--need to join the debate about first principles that's currently going on, quietly, in Washington.

Let's hope the good guys (which in this case includes Chief Justice Rehnquist and just about everyone to his left) come out on top.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

THE PRESIDENTIAL IPOD As usual, Billmon has a point.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

BREAKING NEW GROUND Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is a disingenuous hypocrite.

But the architecture and scope of his hypocrisy is truly something to behold:

I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in--engage in violence.
--Senate floor, April 4, 2005
But the problem with the way that Senator Schumer approaches a judicial confirmation process and his colleagues on the Democratic side is they are politicizing the process. They are threatening the independence of the judiciary by insisting that people commit to making certain decisions once they assume the bench.
--Fox News Sunday, April 10, 2005

Saturday, April 09, 2005

STRAIGHT OUTTA BROOKLYN The "Police Blotter" column in the current edition of The Brooklyn Papers leads with the following notice:
A burglar removed property from a vehicle belonging to a Department of Homeland Security agent in Downtown Brooklyn on April 1.


The special agent, 33, told police he left the vehicle at 11:30 am, but when he returned at 1 pm, the passenger-side window was smashed.

Among the items stolen were an unsecured H & K magazine firearm loaded with bullets, a Homeland Security credit card and an address book containing the names of other agents, police said.

BILLMON TAKES THE CAKE The anonymous blogger shares his thoughts about a spate of recent incidents on college campuses involving liberal students, conservative pundits and flying food:
I mean, what's the point of pouring a bottle of salad dressing on a rancid old ham like Pat Buchanan? You could dump a barrel of Roquefort on the guy, and he'd still taste like shit.
There's more.

Friday, April 08, 2005

STAGE TO SCREEN THE BOX (the short film based on a short play by CONTRAPOSITIVE editor Dan Aibel) will have its big-screen debut on Saturday, April 23 at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, as part of the Artivist Film Festival.

Tickets are available here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

ON THE TUBE Billmon is watching TV so you don't have to.

PINTER BACK ON? The playwright revises and extends some recent remarks, which seemed to suggest he was done with the theatrical form for good:
I’d like to correct that straightaway. I said something casually. It was not a declaration of policy or intent, it was just a very practical matter. I haven’t written a play for six years, and I think it’s unlikely that I’ll write another one. My writing, such as it is, is going into other things, mainly poetry. That’s all there is to it.
So the door seems to be open after all.

Monday, April 04, 2005

MOVIE OF THE MONTH The BBC's 1979 small-screen version of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLIDER, SPY is as successful a LeCarré adaptation as one could hope to encounter.

The mini-series--bursting with a labyrinthine plot that uncompromisingly tracks the novel's storyline--boasts careful attention to detail and a simple, unadorned visual approach that lets LeCarré's spy story stand front and center.

And then there's Alec Guinness as George Smiley: He gives a stellar performance, one that does justice to a character whose traits and idiosyncrasies have been built up and fleshed out over more than one thousand pages across several novels.

There are things, of course, that the adaptation can't convey: A viewer unfamiliar with LeCarré's work might not realize that the novelist is a student of bureaucracy as much as he is one of spycraft: His knack for capturing the complexity of inter-agency turf fights and intra-organizational feuds is inevitably lost when several hundred pages are boiled down to a six-hour movie.

But this is less a fault of the production than it is a limit of the visual medium.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.