Thursday, December 22, 2005
I am no fan of the current president. He is a dimwit of the worst sort, refusing to acknowledge that there is reasoned disagreement over most of his policies. He has reduced the entire world to the dramatic complexity of an old movie Western- there are good guys, and they wear white; and the good guys do whatever it takes to stop the bad guys.
This dichotomy is simple enough to understand. Do whatever it takes- the ends justify the means. This is why the President could order- without apparent remorse or apprehension- the NSA to spy on American citizens, and intercept their presumably private communications. All without judicial or legislative oversight.
Of course, the ends do not justify the means. Some things are simply wrong, no matter how "necessary" they may appear. That is the essence of American constitutionalism- the Constitution doesn't grant rights to the people as much as it demarcates the outer limits where the government cannot go.
What separated us from our enemies throughout history- from the Revolution, through the Nazis and the Soviets, to al-Qaeda- is that we are free. Free to choose for ourselves a life, free to pursue wealth and opportunity, free from intrusion by the government itself. The enemies of freedom- past and present- all believe that people cannot be trusted.
That is not the American way. Our system of government, with its separation of powers, and checks and balances, guaranteed that no one figure would ever be able to turn the might of the government against the people themselves.
The President unleashed a secret police on American citizens with the stroke of a pen. In so doing, he committed a crime. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by its very terms, only permits this sort of thing against foreign powers and persons- not Americans. Even when used against foreigners the administration must get a warrant, and history shows that the warrants have been liberally granted. The President's lame justification barely holds water. Domestic spying violates everything that Americans hold dear- that we a free people, able to choose our own destinies, and that ours is a nation of laws- not men.
The President's disregard for the rule of law and his utter hubris in office demonstrate that he is not fit to serve. It's time to remove him from office. I know that Cheney will be no better, but that is not the point. Bush cannot be trusted, and if given half the chance would install himself into the White House permanently, like a tinhorn dictator Generalissimo-for-life. He is not a royal sovereign, but simply a citizen, elected to serve at our pleasure- and we are displeased.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Manufacturing Dissent Leo Durocher's sagest advice to his Brooklyn nine was "Hit 'em where they ain't." Misdirection is a basic tactic in many adverserial settings- warfare, the courtroom, and politics, to name a few. So with pressure mounting against the administration (and its minions in Congress) over such trifles as the war and domestic spying, the Republicans have fired back with the War Against Christmas.
This is a manufactured controversy, nothing more than a blatant attempt to distract public attention from the real issues facing this nation, and from the Administration's dunderheaded efforts to confront them. It's appalling and offensive, really, to create a diversion like this. It also demonstrates how completely out of touch the GOP is with the new realities of life in America.
I grew up in a East Windsor, New Jersey- a town of about 25,000 people, about 40% of whom are not Christian- we had many, many Jews, as well as numerous Asian faiths represented. We didn't say "Merry Christmas" to one another because there was a better than average chance that the person you were saying it to didn't celebrate Christmas.
America is becoming more and more like my hometown. Religious diversity is an unqualified good. Currently being mired in what is basically a religious war, understanding and respect for others is the first step to peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.
Intelligent Design Intelligently Repudiated If you haven't heard by now, a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ruled (NOTE: link is a 139 page PDF) that teaching so-called "Intelligent Design" theory violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. To which I say, Amen.
What really irks me about the resurgence of creationism (of which I.D. is, no doubt, just a gussied up version of), is the way that a small minority of Christians have coopted the term "christian" itself. These Christians, in the proper noun sense, limit the definition only to people who witness to biblical inerrancy and have a "personal relationship" (whatever that means) with Jesus- thus excluding most christians, in the common noun, small-c sense, like Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc.
Christendom as a whole is hardly in universal agreement over anything. Within several major denominations- even within individual churches- there is constant discourse over gay rights, abortion, the death penalty, and creationism. Among big-C Christians, there is no discourse- nor can there be discourse- because the answers are already given to you, and who are you, mere mortal, to question the giver of those answers?
Fundamentalism is a childlike mythos. Its pretension of certitude is a comfort to people who are unwilling or unable to admit that this is a world of uncertainty. To these people, the answers are always simple, and it boggles their minds that anyone could even question them. Abortion? Murder. Gays? Abominations. Evolution? A lie. Hurricanes? God's vengeance against a sinful city.
But to the rest of us, we see a world in which nothing is certain. The answers are never easy, and the questions are enormous. Progress means that we try to answer those questions, even if the answer is as troublesome as the question itself.
And that is what terrifies big-C Christians (or the fundamentalists of any stripe, really)- they want their sentences to end with periods, not question marks.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
So Harriet Miers got shaq-fu'd by the far right. The Administration really miscalculated here- in their strong desire to avoid a major showdown, they sent up an unknown quantity with immense personal loyalty to the President. The activists in the party, however, wanted the very showdown the WH sought to avoid. The far right wants someone who will not mince words, who will take firm positions, who will state what he believes and force the other side to make a move (i.e. filibuster).
I think they got their man. Samuel Alito, AKA "Scalito," is an avowed conservative with impeccable credentials. Yale Law School, Third Circuit, US Attorney, Solicitor General's office- no question that he has the background. I worry about his judicial philosophy, however. He wrote an opinion upholding Pennsylvania's repressive and bizaare abortion law- which opinion was overturned by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The President introduced him as someone who would not "legislate from the bench," and would "strictly interpret" the Constitution.
However, I have read a number of his opinions this morning. He has overturned murder convictions, upheld free speech and free press rights, and generally seems to get things right. Is this an instance in which a mid-level appellate judge is simply following precedent with which I agree, or is it a sign that terms like "conservative" and "liberal" are too imprecise to be meaningful when it comes to the judiciary?
The bottom line is that I don't know. I remember that I thought Justice Souter was going to be a yes-man for G.H.W. Bush- I could not have been more wrong. Souter was described as a judicial conservative during his tenure on the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and indeed he was. Remember, however, what judicial conservatism means- respect for precedent, and respect for the legislature. New Hampshire is known to be a somewhat right leaning state (by New England standards at least). Respect for a right leaning legislature, and respect for precedent equals a general distaste for broad policy making from the bench.
Once elevated to SCOTUS, however, Justice Souter remained a judicial conservative, but with considerably more lefty precedent before him. Certainly, Justice Souter is not afraid to overturn legislation or to overrule precedent- he is just reluctant to do so. I cannot recall him writing a major, world turning opinion. That is not his style; and that is the essence of judicial conservatism.
"Strict constructionism" is a buzzword, an imprecise description for a number of judicial theories that do not mean the same thing, and that do not always coem to the same conclusions Scalia's originalism, Thomas' naturalism, and Black's literalism both fall under the rubric of strict contructionism, but sometimes arrive at differing results.
What will Judge Alito do on the big bench? I don't know. Will he rewrite the rules to suit his whim, or will he do so only when it is necessary? Whatever he is, I doubt that he will simply be a yes man. He has too many years on the bench behind him, and too much respect for the Court to do that. I know that he will be confirmed, and I am slowly beginning to think that he should be confirmed- despite my reservations.
TOLD YA SO- So it's official: 2005 is now the worst Atlantic hurricane season on record. We have run out of names-resorting to the use of Greek letters- and we have a month to go before it ends. As I wrote after Katrina, it is more than a coincidence that hurricane activity has been on the rise in the past ten to fifteen years. Global warning is real and it is dangerous. Cities have been destroyed and lives are in real danger. It has crossed the threshold from environmental concern to national security concern. The administration constantly sides with business over people, with profits over security. And the profits are immense.
Leadership is the ability to foresee circumstances and adapt, it is the ability to get your people on board before there is even a board to jump on, and it is the ability to do what is right- even if it is unpopular.
By those standards, we have no leadership.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Monday, October 10, 2005
So I'm reading a book about the election of 1800, and it is called, fittingly enough, Adams vs. Jefferson. One of the things that strikes me is the way in which America keeps revisiting the basic issue that has never been fully resolved- are we an elitist society, or an egalitarian society?
In the 1790s, the issue played out as one of democracy vs. republicanism- what level of direct involvement for the people? To a Federalist, the commoners were uneducated and passionate. To a Republican (i.e. Jeffersonian), the Federalists were bent on installing themselves in a quasi-monarchy to rule over their (perceived) inferiors.
It's come up time and again in different forms- industrialists vs. labor, "eggheads" vs. practical thinkers. Underlying all this is a tone of "they think they know what's best for us/themselves." What never changes is that there will always be some form of populism, and some form of elitism. We are in the midst of one such phase right now- what Pat Buchanan called the culture wars. In New York and Los Angeles, rich, educated elites are trying to alter radically the way we live! Or conversely, those people in Kansas and Oklahoma are fighting the future, trying to impose a backward, mythological worldview on us!
It's a false dichotomy, of course, because both sides are right. Each side does want to impose its worldview on the other, because each side thinks it's right. That's why we stand for election, that's why seek to govern- because each candidate, in his/her heart of hearts, thinks that his/her way is the correct way.
What gets really interesting in this particularly bizarre political climate, is that Bush stands with the populists, despite his status as scion of a major political family. Even though Jefferson would have denounced him as an undeserving, aristocratic, puppet of the wealthy and connected, the American people generally associate him as one of their own. In the 2004 election, a pollster asked people to name the consumer brands they associated with the candidates. Kerry was associated by both his supporters and detractors with Starbucks, Heineken, and BMW- upscale, hip brands (or snobby, self-important brands if you didn't like him). Bush, on the other hand, was assoicated with Dunkin' Donuts, Bud Light, and Ford- brands with solid, Average Joe qualities.
Which gets me back to the central question- do we want an Average Joe, or the best and brighest? We go back and forth between the two, and the goalposts are always moving. When Thomas Frank asked What's The Matter With Kansas? he really missed the point- Kansas has always been a populist state. What constitutes populism changes- once it was free land and labor movements, now it's being pro-gun and anti-abortion.
It will be something else fifty years from now, but it will still be with us.
Friday, October 07, 2005
Unsrupulous? Publicity happy? Sounds like Tom DeLay to me. The only real difference between DeLay and a common criminal is that most common criminals aren't taken seriously when they deny the charges against them.
Salon ran a big piece today, pointing out that Harriet Miers comes to the Court with significant experience representing corporate interests. Although she has had vitually no exposure to the issues that social conservatives care about most deeply, she has an established track record representing big business, particularly defending against consumer class actions. Her specialty- defeating class certification. Since the Republicans have generally sided with big business and and against consumers this could explain everything.
Salon notes "Bush's Miers pick... points to an intriguing tension within the Republican Party, between its ideology-driven right-wing base and its constituency of conservative business leaders, who are eager to develop stem-cell technology, and hire and promote talented employees, whether they be gay, lesbian or straight. Some observers say the Miers nomination follows a pattern Bush established back when he was governor of Texas, picking judges that reward corporate-friendly supporters and special interests."
This is not too different from what I said in my first post here. "Fiscal Conservatives- socially liberal, anti-wasteful spending, and well-educated- are on the way out. The Republicans are increasingly the party of hand-wringing moralists and evangelical Christians. The [White Working Class] fits very well into the newRepublican paradigm. Fiscal Conservatives do not, and they are ripe for the picking."
The gnawing right-wing dissatisfaction with Harriet Miers' ascension shows that what the nutball wing of the GOP wants more than anything else is to get their way on their terms. It is not enough that Miers belongs to a right-of-Falwell church, or that she will predicatbly vote their way- they wanted someone who was openly and avowedly a religious conservative, someone who cut their teeth defending Operation Rescue for all their trespassing citations, someone who will not only allow prayer in school, but will also allow it to be involuntary.
What they wanted was a showdown on judicial philosophy. What they got was a yes-person. It's the Steve Spurrier school of thought- don't just win, when you can win by 50 and embarass the other side.
This is another example of the GOP managing to frame the debate in such a way that the left gets put on the defensive. It is now a given to most people that Republican judges "strictly construe" the Constitution, while Democratic judges "legislate from the bench." What most conservatives don't realize is that many of the rights they take for granted- like the right to raise one's children as they see fit, or to marry the person of your choice- were judicially recognized. Legislatures are often wrong, no matter how popular their decisions might be.
Of course, conservatives just as frequently "legislate from the bench," just on different issues- how else can one explain 10th or 11th Amendment jurisprudence. The difference, of course, is that those amendments deal with things in a more or less procedural way- it's not that you aren't entitled to relief, Mr. Plaintiff, it's just that you can't come by it this way. The Court has expanded those Amendments far beyond their textual or logical limits. But since babies don't die as a result, no one cares.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Harriet Miers is none of those. She is a political hack and a longtime friend of George's. A product not of Harvard or Yale (which in itself is not a problem- I have thought for some time that the Court was a little too Ivy League centric), but of Southern Methodist- apparently the second best law school in Texas (actually- both SMU and Baylor are tied for number 52 nationally). SMU is considered a little left of center by Texas standards- which makes it predictably right of common sense for the rest of the country.
Like they say in Texas, dance with the one what brung ya. So he gave us a nominee with no published scholarship, no judicial experience, and apparently no exposure to Constitutional, criminal, or civil rights law. We can expect, however, that she will toe the line- like everyone else who was promoted from within. This was one of my reasons for not opposing Roberts- he wasn't a Bush man.
The President passed over many more qualified people to promote from within, which his is usual modus operandi. Not even conservatives are pleased by this nomination- many conservatives wanted a credentialed conservative intellectual (as if!). What we got is someone who will be predictably, reliably radical.
From Harold Meyerson-
But the conservative intellectuals have misread their president and misread their country. Four and a half years into the presidency of George W. Bush, how could they still entertain the idea that the president takes merit, much less intellectual seriousness, seriously? The one in-house White House intellectual, John DiIulio, ran screaming from the premises after a few months on the job. Bush has long since banished all those, such as Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who accurately predicted the price of taking over Iraq. Yet Donald Rumsfeld -- with Bush, the author of the Iraqi disaster -- remains, as do scores of lesser lights whose sole virtue has been a dogged loyalty to Bush and his blunders. Loyalty and familiarity count for more with this president than brilliance (or even competence) and conviction.
The need for an intellectual nominee is apparent when one considers that the real goal of the right is to restrict many of our basic rights. Most Americans now consider reproductive freedom and privacy to be fundamental rights. Simply overturning Roe with the same shoddy reasoning that Justice Blackmun employed to write the opinion leaves the newly right leaning Court open the same attacks that the right has used- it's a political opinion, placing personal views above the law. As Justice Scalia terms it, it would be "results oriented jurisprudence."
Of course, the President has said over and over that he wants results. Fear not, Mr. Presaident, your actions have had results.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
If the pool of money were absolutely limitless, no politician would ever say no to any program of even arguable merit. Feed the poor? Absolutely. Missile defense? Of course. Healthcare? Yup. Bigger prisons? Check.
We simply can't do that, however. Trillions of dollars is still limited- enormous, but finite. We have to pick and choose what we fund and how much we fund it. The fight over the relative amount is the stuff of politics- while no Republican wants children to starve and no Democrat want to dismantle the military, they might disagree as to how much a program deserves. A government's funding priorities reflect its values.
The current administration made a conscious choice to fund Iraq and defund levee repair and construction. Now we have no choice but to spend billions more to rebuild a city older by far than the country itself. We could have. But we didn't.
Those are Bush priorities- Bush values.
While Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, the President was in Arizona, giving a speech to a pre-screened group of seniors (i.e. Republicans) or strumming a guitar. While the Mississippi surged over its earthen walls, ill suited to the task, Condoleeza was in New York, paying more for a pair of Ferragamos than I've paid for of the cars I've owned. While the Mayor and Governor made the best of their situations, the former head of the agency ultimately responsible for the relief effort drafted a memo calling it a "near catastrophe." And if Newsweek is to be believed, the President hadn't even watched a news story on the disaster until after it was already done.
The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.
How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.
A national disgrace, indeed.
Friday, September 09, 2005
FACT: The President declared a Federal disaster two full days before Katrina made landfall. This officially put the Feds in charge, and authorized FEMA to move "resources and equipment" (meaning anything from food and water, to manpower, to helicopters) to New Orleans. It also officially put state and local people in a subordinate position.
So when the shit hit the fan, where were the Feds? Not there. Nor would they be there for several more days. As the city descended into chaos, as the waters swelled over the earthen berms which even CNN knew couldn't last, as a once great and unique city became little more than an open air morgue, a fetid, stinking cesspool, they did nothing.
It's not like they didn't have fair warning. "We were briefing them way before landfall," [National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Max] Mayfield said. "It’s not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped."
"It's not like this was a surprise."
Of course, they really couldn't do anything. Heading up the Federal response was a man with a trumped up, if not altogether fabricated resume, who has never held a position of greater responsibility than director of judges for the International Arabian Horse Association. "Brownie" got this job the old fashioned way- cronyism. He was good buddies with his predecessor, Joe Allbaugh, who was himself Bush's campaign manager for Governor of Texas.
Brown did nothing until after the storm had already hit.
Mr. President- don't appoint your buddies (or your buddies' buddies) to an office which requires experienced and professional leadership. The dead and the homeless deserved better.
UPDATE- Turns out I might have been right. Not being a scientist, my earlier post linking Katrina to global warming was little more than one (comparatively well informed) man's analysis of climatological trends. Turns out that a climatologist from MIT has come to the same conclusion and will publish a paper in the journal Nature making that argument.
Nature is a peer reviewed, widely respected scientific journal. Watch it get dismissed as junk science.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
The press have gotten their testes back.
Q Well, let's talk about it. Are you saying the President is -- are you saying that the President is confident that his administration is prepared to adequately, confidently secure the American people in the event of a terrorist attack of a level that we have not seen? And based on what does he have that confidence?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and that's what he made clear earlier today, that obviously we want to look and learn lessons from a major catastrophe of this nature.
Q Yes, but you're telling us today there will be time for that somewhere down the road. Well, what if it happens tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: We can engage in this blame-gaming going on and I think that's what you're getting --
Q No, no. That's a talking point, Scott, and I think most people who are watching this --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's a fact. I mean, some are wanting to engage in that, and we're going to remain focused --
Q I'm asking a direct question. Is he confident --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to remain focused on the people.
Q -- that he can secure the American people in the event of a major terrorist attack?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are securing the American people by staying on the offensive abroad and working to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
Q That's a talking point. That's a talking point.
Republicans are in trouble for 2006. It seems that the best we can hope from them in incompetence. At worst, they give us cronyism and corruption. Kick 'em out in 2006. All of them, en masse.
And a quick follow-up on my essay about Katrina. It was cited in Blogcritics, and I got dissed.
CThomasEsq of DeToqueville Blvd muses about "Root Causes" for the disaster on the Gulf, laying the blame squarely on ordinary drivers (you and me) for contributing to global warming. Oh, yeah, and President Bush for not signing the Kyoto Accords.
Okay, that does it! It must be true, -I- caused Hurricane Katrina. I mean, what is it, a giant moving mass of hot air? I rest my case.He chides me and others for trying to find the reasons for the disaster at a time when there is still so much to do in terms of immediate relief. Fair enough- but you can support the people on the ground while still piecing the puzzle together. Things do not happen without a reason. Hurricanes do not form over Greenland (yet)- the Earth is getting warmer, and hurricanes requires warm water to form. If there is a better explantion, please call me on it.
And as if to prove my point, Tropical Storm Ophelia is floating off the Florida coast. Ophelia is the fifteenth named storm of this season, not counting the unnamed tropical depressions. 2005 is now the seventh most active hurricane season since records began being kept.
Statistical peak of the season will be Saturday.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Destruction of this magnitude baffles the mind. Philosophers and theologians have struggled with the question of bad things happening to good people, and we have few good answers. The more religious among us will simply shrug their shoulders and say it was God's will- and who are we to question Him? Some so-called Christians have begun to attribute the disaster to an Old Testament style God, smiting the sinful. Blame the victims, for they have brought it on themselves.
The victim never deserves the blame. Never.
Which is not to say that we are totally blameless. Hurricanes require a specific set of conditions to form, the most important of which is warm water. A simple rainstorm, occurring over the warm seas, draws up the warmth. The heat energy is released through condensation (which also transforms the vapor into liquid water). From Wikipedia-
Structurally, a tropical cyclone is a large, rotating system of clouds, wind and thunderstorm activity. The primary energy source of a tropical cyclone is the release of the heat of condensation from water vapor condensing at high altitudes. Because of this, a tropical cyclone can be thought of as a giant vertical heat engine.
The requisite heat usually takes some time to develop, which is why peak hurricane season in the northern hemisphere Atlantic, is late August to early September. To generate the necessary ocean temperatures, it takes nearly the entire summer to warm the ocean. Imagine trying to heat a bowl of water using only a 100-watt light bulb placed overhead. It will happen, of course, though not very soon. Now repeat that experiment with the ocean and the sun. This is why the ocean is warmer in October than in July, despite the (usually) much cooler air temperatures- a lot of water to heat, a lot of water to cool.
Which brings me to my point. The earth is getting progressively warmer- that is beyond dispute- and while some scientists have expressed skepticism as to the cause, the vast majority of climatologists attribute the warming to human causes, most notably the greenhouse effect.
As the mean temperatures have risen, so too have the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. In the simple terms of storms per season, six of the ten most active North Atlantic hurricane season have occurred within the last ten years (1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004). So far, the 2005 season is up to twelve named storms (Tropical Storm Lee floundering in the ocean) and a new tropical depression forming as I write this. The season will continue until November 30. Two more named storms and 2005 will tie for tenth.
Moreover, consider this. Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Florida on August 24, 1992. Katrina made landfall on August 25, 2005. These storms are statistically similar in almost every way- strength, duration, damage. This is not unexpected, given that they formed in roughly the same region at roughly the same time. There is one crucial difference- Andrew was the first storm of the season, Katrina is the eleventh (and the third major hurricane) of this season.
As to intensity, consider that a particularly devastating storm usually has its name retired, so that its historical significance can be noted. These storms killed the most people and caused the most damage. In the 1950's, only ten storms had their names retired. In the 60's, eleven hurricanes were retired. In the 70's, the number was eight and in the 80's it was only seven. In the 1990's, fifteen hurricanes had their names retired, as many as in the previous two full decades.
So far in the 2000's, the number is thirteen, and that doesn't count the hurricanes from the current storm season, of which Katrina will definitely be retired, and Dennis and Emily are also likely contenders for retirement.
I am no treehugger. I do not weep for spotted owls. I do not drive a Prius. I am, however, someone who prides himself on his intellect and rationality. I follow the evidence where it leads me, and the evidence is clear. The Earth is getting warmer and it is exacting a terrible toll.
Our "leaders," however, doubt the evidence. The Kyoto Protocol is "not based on science," says one American negotiator. The President dismissed a report released by his own EPA on the subject, and routinely ignores the scientists who shout to their countrymen, chained to the walls of Plato's cave, that it is real and that we can do something about it.
The President alone is not at fault, though. We share a fair bit of the blame. I count myself, with my 50 mile drive to work each day. I could be driving a Prius or I could take the train, and although my Honda CR-V could be much worse in the fuel consumption department, I know it could be much better.
Instead, we merrily drive bigger and bigger cars that burn more gas. We move farther and farther away from the places where we work. We supersize it, we medicate it, and complain about it- but we don't change it. Because that would meaning changing ourselves.
And that, we are simply not willing to do.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The more I learn about John Roberts, the less worried I become.
While much has been made of the positions he advocated while in practice, I tend not to consider that too much. When you're an attorney, you advocate the client's position, not your own. It just happened that his client was the President of the United States, and his client took some neanderthal positions. I should hope that if I am ever deemed fit to take the robe, the Senate doesn't run all my transcripts ("Well, you see, Judge... he didn't know that the crack was in his pocket... ummm, no I haven't figured that part out yet...").
I've read a few of his opinions, and yes, they tend to fall on the conservative side of the line. He doesn't appear to be a flaming ideolouge, and for what it's worth, I agreed with a good bit of his reasoning. I don't see him finding new rights, but I don't see him undoing much of the last 50 year's worth of civil liberties either. I think privacy is safe, although he might not expand it much. Roe will probably also survive, if limited somewhat (I don't think that these partial birth laws will get overturned, but then again that may not be so bad- politically, the costs of defending partial birth abortion might outweigh the benefits).
Roberts is such an enigma and so apparently blandly affable that he will be confirmed by a very wide margin. The White House screwed this up, though- they should have named a flaming wingnut to force a filibuster. This would have made Frist exercise the nuclear option, and the WH would have had substantial cover ("See- they wouldn't even give one nominee a fair up or down vote!"). Instead, the Dems will cast confirm Roberts, giving them the cover to filibuster the next guy ("See- when you named a reasonable Judge, we approved him quickly!")
Oh- I have to go. My dig just piddled on the carpet. More on this tomorrow.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Of course, this is BS, and today in Salon they call it out as such. "Luskin's beef: The language Cooper used in a July 17, 2003, Time.com story about Joseph Wilson was misleading. (The article appeared just days after Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife in his column, which sparked the federal grand jury whodunit.) Luskin, citing the narrow scope of the conversation Rove and Cooper had, denies the White House ever declared a "war on Wilson," as Cooper's article suggested."
Salon actually compares what Cooper wrote in the smoking gun email to what appeared in print, and finds that Luskin is speaking out of his ass. Which, to be fair, is what we attorneys do sometimes- I just don't do it to a national magazine. In any event, what Matt Cooper wrote in print is consistent with what was described in the email- without attribution beyond merely describing "government officials," Cooper wrote that the Niger trip was not authorized by the VP, but by the CIA. True, no? Yes. Moreover, he in no way described a WH plot to destroy Joe Wilson or Valerie Plame.
I have a feeling that what we know is merely the tip of the iceberg. This things goes deep. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
They must be terrified.
At this point, they have shut down all official comment on the matter. The one email we know of doesn't reveal anything that amounts to a crime, and as I pointed out yesterday, if the entire scandal amounted to this one missive then the WH would have proudly answered everything to show that there is no there there. That they didn't leads me to believe that they couldn't.
So, what does any protege of Turdblossom do? Exactly what the master taught- smear, smear, smear. Attack the critic and the criticism won't matter. The talking points amount to little more than a pathetic attempt to discredit a loyal and honorable public servant who called "bullshit" on the Administration's fraud with a body count. And they don't really do anything to clear up the real issue- did Rove intentionally blow a covert op's cover?
Of course, the legitimate press will have to pull a Bill O'Reilly with the GOP hacks- if they won't answer the question asked, but instead stick to their talking points, you have to kick them off the show. O'Reilly has done that numerous times to Dems. Gander, this is goose.
This administration is a criminal enterprise- they lie, they cheat, they steal (elections). They have sent American youth off to war on a fraud, where their above the law attitude trickled down into the barracks at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. Electrodes to the scrotum, hoods over their heads- look good for the camera, Lynndie.
Some Spanish judge should hand down an indictment for war crimes. Hey, Karl- I hear Slobodan Milosovich is looking for a new celly...
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
The single email that we know of is not enough to constitute a crime. It's too vague- Valerie Plame is not named for one thing. If this was all there was to it, the White House would have come clean yesterday. "See, there's no there there." They didn't, which leads me to believe that they couldn't- not without either 1) admitting that Rove had, in fact, committed a crime; or 2) lying. The Adminstration can't really do either, for obvious reasons.
So, they fell back on that old chestnut, "No Comment."
The calls for Rove's resignation/termination are starting to come in. Dubya will not fire him, nor will Rove resign. Their egos are too big for that. More than anything, Dubya rewards loyalty. Alberto and Condi got promotions, Rummy kept his job, Paul O'Neill got the shaft. Rove has stuck with the President through hell and highwater. Dubya will stick by him.
2006 can't come soon enough.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Their source(s)- it's not entirely clear if they have the same source- work inside the White House. The only obvious benefit in outing a deep cover operative was to embarass a high ranking American diplomat who criticized the Bush Administration. The source is a deep insider who apparently used the press to advance the faulty (fraudulent?) justification for war in Iraq. In fact, Lawrence O'Donnell announced last week that the source is Karl Rove (how he knows that is an open question). Rove, of course, is Dubya's brain- a Machivellian political strategist who would smear his own mother to gain a couple of percentage points- if it is Rove, it might as well have been the President himself.
Obviously, the press relies on whistleblowers and anonymous sources. The people in power have the power, after all. When the upper echelons of government cut corners (or worse), it is dangerous for some insiders to go on record and tattle. Recent events should bear this out. This case is different from Watergate, however, and maintaining anonymity only protects the wrongdoer.
Mark Felt, perhaps selfishly, used his promise of anonymity to bring down a crooked President. He pointed Woodward and Bernstein in the right direction, and they connected the dots. In this case, the promise of anonymity advances the cause of prevarication and deception. Someone criticized the President by name, so someone in White House hides behind the journalistic shield to bring down the critic. I don't know if it is Rove, but it is his style- after Bob Novak ran the column outing Valerie Plame, Rove called Chris Matthews and told him that she was "fair game." Attack the critic, and the criticism doesn't matter.
I applaud the journalists for standing tough in the face of incarceration. It takes guts and integrity to stick to your guns in those circumstances. This case is not the reason for the principle, however, and I wonder if it would have been gutsier to name names.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
"I will let my legal experts deal with the ramifications of legal opinions," Bush said. "I will try to assess their character, their interests." While Bush initially considered announcing his pick next week, aides said there's talk of delaying the decision to protect the nominee from prolonged attacks from the left or right. Either way, Bush wants the new justice approved and on the bench in early October.So he seems to equate good character with a particular theory of constitutional construction. I'm always amazed at the ineffable stupidity of strict constructionists. It means what it says, they argue. Take the commerce clause, the source of much judicial explication since the earliest days of the Republic. "The Congress shall have power... To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Seems simple enough right? Except that the words "commerce" and "regulate" are not really defined. Moreover, there are many instances in which intrastate activity affects interstate commerce.
Bush said the criteria for the job is simple -- "I'll pick people who, one, can do the job, people who are honest, people who are bright and people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench to legislate from." Bush was mum on who meets such criteria.
A strict constructionist would have no problem with these issues- interstate commerce means exactly the same thing today that it did in 1789- what the Framers knew of commerce is what controls. This, of course, is hogwash. The Constitution was written in a world lit by candlelight and coal fire, where merchandise rarely left the city it was made in, let alone the State. The people made goods in their houses and sold them to their neighbors. It was a world which had neither transportation nor communication. It was a world in which almost everyone was self-employed.
This is not the world we live in today. Wal-Mart decides in its Arkansas home office to set up shop in Middle of Nowhere, Indiana to peddle goods that were made in China and India, imported at Los Angeles, and trucked through 25 states on its way to the new store. The new stores displaces the local merchants, who also sold goods made elsewhere. Wal-Mart deposits their money in a local bank, which deposits its money in another bank, which in turn deposits its money in a Federal Reserve Bank. Everything is fluid, everything is moving.
The Framers may have a vote on the issue, but a veto? C'mon! Anyone with half a brain can plainly see that this is exactly the situation in which there needs to be Federal control. Fifty states with fifty different sets of laws makes absolutely no sense.
Of course, I shouldn't worry. He'll name someone of good character.
Monday, July 04, 2005
However, I wonder if this is the best way to choose our jurists. The Framers of the Constitution envisioned an appointment process that was closer to a dialogue between the President and the Senate- a process of advice and consent. Instead, we have a process in which the President names his choice, and the Senate approves or denies. This is not at all what they had in mind.
It's also obvious that the Framers didn't trust the people with a say in the matter. Under the original text of the Constitution, the Senate was chosen by staste legislatures- their constituency was the state as such. It was not until the 17th Amendment that the Senate was directly elected by the people. The House of Representatives didn't have a vote, because of the fear that the people would be fickle and passionate. The House, directly accountable to the people, could elevate a popular demogogue, a pop star or a ballplayer (Johnny Damon, perhaps?) to the highest court in the land (or the Cabinet, also nominated a similar way).
I live in a state where the judges are elected. Although judicial terms are 10 years, judges are nevertheless aware that unpopular, though legally correct decisions may come back to haunt them. As a result, we have an appellate judiciary that is mildly regarded in other states. New Jersey selects their judges like the Federal system, but that after seven years the Senate gets to reconfirm (or not). California appellate judges are nominated by the Governor and confirmed by a commission, but at the next election, the voters have an opportunity to vote the judge out.
Both Jersey and California are considered excellent judiciaries, and other states look to them for guidance. Elected judges are less well regarded. But the fact of the matter remains that United States judiciary is considered to be the most independent and influential in the world. Judges will sometimes make unpopular decisions. It simply goes with the turf. Life tenure empowers judges to rule without fear of reprisal. The appointment process also helps to keep unqualified single issue candidates from the High Court (Roy Moore, perhaps?). Federal judges are far more qualified to the bench than most state court judges.
I think the answer is to amend the Constitution. Create a judicial nominating commission. The commission would consist of officials from all three branches of government. The commission would have a free hand to name a candidate. Their candidate would be submitted to Congress where both houses would get a vote, and the President could veto, just like a bill. There's the carrot, here's the stick- if the political branches have taken no action on the nomination within a set time- say 180 days- then the nominee is automatically confirmed to the bench.
The benefits of this idea should be obvious- nomination by committee will discourage lightning rod nominees. The candidate will have to be very well qualified and a consensus builder to survive two houses of Congress and a Presidential veto- think O'Connor, Breyer, Lewis Powell, and Charles Evans Hughes. Don't think Scalia, Brennan, or Rehnquist.
It probably wouldn't depoliticize the process entirely, but it would make a difference- and it would fill up long term vacancies on the district courts, where there is more work to do- pleas to take, settlements to approve, etc. As it stands now, the process is broken.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Admittedly Ken Lay didn't annihlate a sovereign nation, but the similarity is there. Enron management had a goal- keep the stock price at X per share, and do whatever you have to do keep it there. W also had a goal- war in Iraq by March, 2003- and do whatever you have to do to get us there.
Of course there were some problems with that. The world community tends to look disfavorably upon such things as unjustifiably warmaking. So what did they decide to do? According to the head of the British Secret Service, they cooked the books.
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action....
It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran....
"The intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy."
In other words, the policy was decided- they just needed to facts to justify it. I tend not to believe that there is such a thing as objectively verifiable truth. Truth is simply the agreed upon version of events, and such agreements change over time. This memo is different- the Administration didn't look at intelligence and spin it toward a particular interpretation. The Administration fabricated it. We gotta keep our stock price up, let's figure out how to do that.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
My depression was the side-effect of a medication I was taking. Ironically enough, it was an anti-depressant, prescribed for an off label use. I'm on new meds, and since getting the medication, my head is clear as a bell. I'm back to being happy and motivated. And it feels good.
So I'm back to fighting the good fight. Bring it on!
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
McCain. The big winner. The really big winner.
While extremist right wingers deplored the deal, just about everyone else loved it. Running a country as large as the United States isn't easy- partisanship has its place in policymaking, but when it comes to the business of governance itself, there is simply too much to lose to have allowed a house of Congress to close up shop while the President and his hatchet slip a roofie into the national Red Bull and vodka.
What people love about McCain- hell, what I love about McCain- is that he is beholden to noone. Politicking is about branding, same as in cars and colas. Bush was "Decisive Leadership," while Kerry was "Careful Reflection." McCain is "Principled Maverick;" doing the thing he thinks is right, no matter who else agrees or disagrees with him. This is not unlike the Karl Rove spin on the President (a decisive man of principles), except for the fact that the President is in more pockets than a Times Square hooker when the disability checks come out. McCain is nobody's pocket.
Of course, the bulk of Republican activsts feel like McCain stabbed them in the back, making it that much harder for him to win the Republican nomination in 2008. He certainly has more name recognition than any of his possible primary opponents- and far more than any possible Democrat except for John Kerry, Al Gore, and Hilary Clinton (in none of those cases is the name recognition a plus). McCain- a man whose love of country is unquestionable- has just won the Presidency in 2008, if he can get past the primaries against people with half the qualifications and a tenth the integrity.
The Republicans have to be careful. Control of all three branches of government is a recipe for backlash- which has already begun. The social conservatives do not mask their contempt for anyone whose worldview differs from their own. Their attempts to install a theocracy of (a particular brand of millenial apocolyptic) Christitanity are naked, unbridled efforts to expand and enlarge their power base- not to serve God. McCain, who is neither overtly religious nor particularly interested in the social consertive's pet issues (abortion, gay marriage, Terry Schiavo), will not have that wing of the party's support. Between 25 and 45 percent of the primary voters- out of play.
Slightly off topic- a three way race in 2008. Frist vs. Hillary vs. McCain.... hmmmmmm. Social conservatives obviously back Frist and latte liberals get behind Hillary. The middle gets in back of McCain. A little electoral math and I could see a three way tossup. Hmmmmmmmm...
Of all Republicans, I do not fear McCain's leadership. I do not necessarily agree with him- recent comments he's made praising Bush on the the war made me wince- but I believe that he will make all his decisions with the best interests of the nation at heart, and after having listened to all the evidence (unlike the current President). An informed, cautious leader- one can only hope.
Monday, May 23, 2005
The Gang of 12, of course, are six moderates of each party, headed informall by John McCain (R-AZ). McCain- war hero, patriot, early 2008 front runner, and scourge of Bushies everywhere. Even though McCain has been hated by the right wing of his own party since 1999, he is loved by just about everyone else. Including me, for what it's worth. He is the biggest winner in this debacle.
The big losers in this are Frist, Reid, and Bush. They wanted a showdown, and couldn't get their own people in line. Both parties are run by the fringes now- the middle just took back some ground.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Relativism is simply the acknowledgement that different circumstances require different treatment. There is no absolute right or wrong, only murky uncertainties. Its opposite, absolutism, sees no uncertainty- regardless of circumstance, right is right and wrong is wrong.
This of course is nonsense.
Consider the two extreme hypotheticals of abortion politics- the rape victim and the woman who just doesn't feel like having a kid. An absolutist sees no difference between the two, while a relativist recognizes that there is a world of difference between the two. The circumstances are different, therefore they should not be judged by the same standard.
Absolutism has given us the likes of Eric Robert Rudolph and Fred Phelps, the Bolsheviks and al Qaeda. We really need to do away with it- absolutely.
Monday, May 02, 2005
Yet, every network continues to run the puff pieces. Jennifer Wilbanks was found alive- huzzah. Why we ever cared at all escapes me, but why we continue to care is simply baffling. And we do care- according to CNN this past weekend, the Wilbanks story was the most read piece online. So naturally, they pushed it on the air. The 24 hour news cycle needs content like a junkie needs junk (thank you, William S. Burroughs). The viewers latch on to non-stories, like Terry Schiavo, the Pope, Jennifer Wilbanks, and now Laura Bush's stand-up routine.
The truth is that everything in this country depends on laziness. Politicians are lazy- "raise the flag and lower the taxes" is easier to sell than fixing the problems. The media are lazy- finding it easier to trump one family's embarrassment into a national circus. Viewers are lazy- the whale in the Delaware and the Michael Jackson trial are easier to follow than the intricacies of foreign relations, or the looming energy crisis.
Democracy depends on an informed electorate, and the role of informer-in-chief has traditionally fallen to the press. However, in an age when the world is absolutely awash in information, we are increasingly ill informed. I am beginning to think that it is by design.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay intensified his criticism of the federal courts on Tuesday, singling out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s work from the bench as “incredibly outrageous” because he has relied on international law and done research on the Internet.
I agree- it is outrageous that a Supreme Court Justice would do his own research. What really irks me about this comment is the arrogance about how international law has no place in American jurisprudence. That may be the case in Texas, but in the Constitution of these United States, international law is federal law. (See Article I, Section 8, "Congress shall have power to define and punish... Offences against the Law of Nations." See also Article VI, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." See also The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677 (1900) ("International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.")
Essentially, DeLay believes that any reference to anything other than the simple letter of the law is treasonous. He goes on to note that there are a “lot of Republican-appointed judges that are judicial activists.”
Like Mr. Justice Scalia, perhaps?
What? Scalia? The bulwark of "strict constructionism?" Surely he, of all judges, sets aside his personal opinions and decides cases on the plainest reading of the Constitution itself!
Not hardly, numbnuts. The Times today ran an editorial citing the times has Scalia has used his robe to undo and undermine the explicit instruction of Congress, voting to overturn the Gun Free School Zones Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Moreover, "strict constructionism" is a fallacy. The concept that the Constitution should be narrowly construed to limit its application to the "plain meaning" is a red herring. There are, indeed, times when the Constitution means precisely what it says- in a Federal civil trial, if you're suing for more than $20, you have the right to a jury.
Or do you? A strict constructionist would say, simply, twenty bucks is twenty bucks. However, there is a perfectly valid and rational argument that the Seventh Amendment means "twenty bucks in 1789 dollars," about five grand today.
Most of the questions are rarely that specific. What does the "equal prtection of the laws" mean? What constitutes due process? What is "liberty," as that term is meant by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments? What is interstate commerce? These are terms that require explication, and to do that we have judges.
What it really boils down to is the tension between the branches of government that has been ongoing, more or less continuously, since the founding. What scares me about its current incarnation, is that DeLay has the people who could do something about it (i.e., Congress), in the palm of his corrupt, clammy hands. He has raised the possibility that Congress could obliterate all Federal courts inferior to the Supreme Court, an unrealistic possibility, but one that I think would in fact be constitutional.
Courts must be independent. Life tenure exists to shield the courts from the passions that inflame the political branches. Sometimes, judges must make unpopular decisions. Brown v. Board of Education was vehemently despised in the South- it still is in many parts. It was also the right decision. The thought that a judge should be impeached for applying the law is a terrifying thought- they had "judges" in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, too. None were particularly noted for their independence.
Then again, I think Tom "That Petulant Worm" DeLay has modeled his leadership style after those two nations.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
He also saw fit to point out that he has never been "found" to be in violation of law. That's a classically legalistic word, suggesting that people should not question his methods until he has been convicted. I should remind you that DeLay was one of the leading figures pushing for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and he was never "found" to have done anything when DeLay was calling for his head.
It's about time that the Democrats fought back. What's more, we need to use DeLay to our advantage next year, running attack ads depicting Republicans as little more than DeLay hatchet men- much like they did when Newt Gingrich was speaker. To the extent that people know about Tom DeLay, they generally loathe him.
With good reason, I'd say.
Monday, April 18, 2005
I'm better now, and I'm back on the saddle. You can thank Tom DeLay for that. This petulant worm with the weatherman hair has been ruling the House of Representatives like a petty feifdom. When he doesn't get his way, he pouts. Consider his remarks on the future of the judges who dared to called the Terri Schiavo False Hope Act for what it was- a unconstitutional encroachment on the power of the judiciary, a co-equal branch of government. DeLay threatened the courts with their comeuppance.
Yet the only comeuppance delivered thus far has been DeLay's. He has been exposed for what he is- merely corrupt, more interested in his own power than in the good of his country. Democrats need to keep the attack up and get this cancerous buffoon out of the Capitol.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
This Terri Schiavo thing infuriates me. I have nothing but sympathy for both sides- I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been for husband, and I also understand the parents' position. No one wants to bury their child. However, about 19 judges have heard this case- each one has consistently found that Terri's express wishes were not to be kept alive artificially. That really should have ended it.
Congress, however, saw an opportunity to appease the religious right, to energize the base. Cynically, the party that for years has fancied itself the party of small government and states' rights tried to take the matter out of the state's hands. These people cut short their vacations, worked into the wee hours on a weekend, and passed a bill that applies to exactly one person. The President, predictable as ever, signed it into law.
We are a nation in the midst of a war that is going badly. Our dollar is now about equal to the yen. Jobs are disappearing overseas. And Congress cuts short its break to intervene in the tragic yet completely personal dispute over someone who is the functional equivalent of a doorstop. The only part of her brain that works is the medulla oblongata, which regulates the involuntary functions- in her case, heartbeat and lungs. She is gone, and she's never coming back. Is this what the President means when he talks about the Culture of Life? She's alive, in the sense that plants are alive, but she is not living.
I absolutely understand why her parents do not want to let go. I also understand why her husband has to. Congress? That I do not understand.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Conservatives believe that big government impinges upon freedom. They may also believe that big government imposes large costs on the economy. But, for a true conservative, whatever ends they think smaller government may bring about--greater prosperity, economic mobility for the non-rich--are almost beside the point. As Milton Friedman wrote, "[F]reedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself...."
We're accustomed to thinking of liberalism and conservatism as parallel ideologies, with conservatives preferring less government and liberals preferring more. The equivalency breaks down, though, when you consider that liberals never claim that increasing the size of government is an end in itself. Liberals only support larger government if they have some reason to believe that it will lead to material improvement in people's lives. Conservatives also want material improvement in people's lives, of course, but proving that their policies can produce such an outcome is a luxury, not a necessity.
In other words- just because privatizing Social Security will not actually save the system or make anymore richer doesn't mean that they won't do it; because it was never about those things in the first place. It was always about attacking the size of government.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Oh, and North Korea. They're not just a third world nation lorded over by a grown up Cartman with a bizarre fondness for Members Only jackets in beige. They're a third world nation lorded by a grown up Cartman with a bizarre fondness for Members Only jackets in beige with nukes.
On top of that, several conservative commentators have opined lately that the USA is headed toward full-on fascism. Not even a right wing pseudo-journalist gay prostitute in the press room can cure that kind of existential angst. What have we wrought, oh Lord? What have we done to displease You?
Things used to be easy for me- every time things went awry, every time the shit hit the fan, I could always count on a few simple things to get me through- donuts, The Daily Show, porn- but now, nothing. I don't even count the days until 2008- I just slump in my chair idly waiting for something to happen. It could be a small thing. It could be the second coming. All I know is that we're stuck with GWB and there's not a goddamn thing we can do about it.
Please bear with me- I'm in a funk.
Friday, February 11, 2005
Clearly my favorite story of the week is Gannonpot Dome. So it would seem that the Bushies have found a way to keep the liberal media in check. They gave daily press passes to a right wing fake reporter with a fake name who worked for a fake news organization. He was uncovered when he asked a obviously partisan question on Social Security that described Democrats as "divorced from reality." He allegedly worked for Talon News, an agency that fronts for GOPUSA and only employs Republican activists, not professional journalists. I guess that's one way to get your message out.
North Korea has nukes. Super. We will no doubt be invading Manitoba to divert the world's attention.
Howard Dean is back, heading up the DNC. This is a good move- he's from outside the beltway, he has a kind of goofy charisma that John Kerry lacked, he's not afraid to stick his neck out. Exactly what the Dems have been missing lately.
That's really all for now- I will probably do some real blogging Sunday.
Friday, February 04, 2005
Should this party retain its lead and ascend to power, these two historically warring nations can resolve their differences and unite in their hatred of the United States. Just in time for the invasion of Iran, which Condi says is "not on the agenda at this point"(emphasis added). Meaning that it will be as soon as we've cleaned up our present quagmire.
George Dubya's Rolling Misinformation Tour 2005 The Pres hit the road yesterday, to hype up his Social Insecurity Fiasco. Oddly, he only seemed to visit Red States with Democratic Senators who have vowed to stop him. Coincidence? I think not. And despite the oft stated assertion that young people generally support the plan, the Times found many who did not (note- they conducted man on the street styles interviews in the bluest of Blue States, Boston, Mass).
More media outlets are analyzing the plan in detail, and are finding what the Post found yesterday- it's just a loan to government, immediately paid for with massive new Federal borrowing, followed by benefit cuts on the back end. This plan will not save Social Security as much as cripple it for good, and Progressives need to keep the pressure on the President and the Congress to dump it.
All parties agree- doing nothing is not an option, but the system can be saved with good ideas in more or less its present form with a minimum of difficulty. Despite the President's assertion in teh SOTU that he will listen to all ideas, he immediately stated that he would not consider raising the payroll tax. That's too bad, because Salon notes in the above piece that raising a two percent increase would keep the system afloat.
What would two percent mean? The payroll tax is split 50/50 between employer and employee, so two percent would actually be borne by the worker as a one percent raise. For a worker making $50K (simply to keep the math easy), 1% equals an extra $500 per year. Assuming that the worker receives 26 paychecks per year, he would pay an extra $19.24 per check.
And that's without benefit cuts. How much more could be saved if we also raised the retirement age? If we means tested benefits? If we invested the Trust Fund in something other than Treasury bonds? Fix the system- don't dismantle it.
How Hard Could It Be? That is the slogan for Kinky Friedman's campaign to become the Governor of Texas. Kinky, one of my favorite people in the universe, is the writer/humorist/musician who rose to marginal obscurity in the 1970s with his country band The Texas Jewboys, and went on to write a series of hysterical mystery novels in 1990s. Kinky draws his inspiration from former pro wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who the Kinkster notes, " didn't realize that wrestling is real and politics is fixed."
The Times writes, To get on the ballot he needs 45,000 signatures, none from anyone voting in a Republican or Democratic primary. But he voiced confidence, saying, "There's so much apathy; that leaves me a lot of people."
Two Passings Of Note Max Schmeling passed away at 99, prompting me to ask, was Max Schmeling still alive? Seriously, Max Schmeling was a true giant- even though the Nazis touted him as the pinnacle of Aryan supremacy, he fought them every step of the way. He refused to join the party, he saved some Jews from the camps, and when the Nazis ordered him to divorce his Czech wife, he refused that as well.
And Ossie Davis, the actor and activist, has passed away at 87- he will be missed.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
It would seem that few commentators have noted the frequent appeals to young Americans. That's too bad, because for all his talk about the troubles of partisan politics, his speech was a blatant play for young voters. It's no secret that a majority of young Americans support fiddling with Social Security, while older voters are more skeptical and those facing imminent retirement adamantly opposed. But since older voters only have so many elections in front of them, the future, it seems, is with the future.
Hence, the President wants to toy with Social Security sooner rather than later, or at least make the effort. Young voters would be well advised to get off this bandwagon- the proposal is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The plan is not the 401(k) style nest egg builder that it sounds like. According to the Post, here's how it works.
- A worker elects to divert 4% of his FICA total wages into the personal account, up to $1,000 per year.
- The taxpayer may not choose how to invest the money- it must go into a conservative mixture of mostly government bonds.
- Upon retirement all the money that accrues in the account is his, but his Social Security benefit would also be reduced by the amount of the worker contributed into his account as opposed to traditional Social Security.
A "senior administration official" quoted in the Post explains, "The person comes out ahead if their personal account exceeds a 3 percent real rate of return, which is the rate of return that the trust fund bonds receive.... So, basically, the net effect on an individual's benefits would be zero if his personal account earned a 3 percent real rate of return. To the extent that his personal account gets a higher rate of return, his net benefit would increase."
If the rate of return in the account mirrors the rate of return of the Social Security Trust Fund, then there is no gain and no loss. For what it's worth, the Congressional Budget Office projects a rate of return of 3.3%- a fraction higher than the Trust Fund's growth.
In the meantime, the federal government has control over your money, and since it has limited the investment to government bond funds it amounts to little more than a loan to the Feds at the interest rate they have chosen. One other thing- if the account does worse than the rate of return of Trust Fund, then the taxpayers loses that money.
It's a gamble with the system. True, something needs to be done to ensure Social Security's long term viability, but the President's plan is little more than a roulette table where you only allowed to bet on black or red. You'll never get rich that way, and green zero will still come up once in a while.