Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Poll: Americans Think Rich Should Pay More Taxes

A CBS News/NYT poll says: "Almost three-quarters of Americans think it is a good idea to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 per year, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. In fact, two-thirds of Americans think the tax code should be changed so that middle-class Americans pay less than they do now, while "upper income" people pay more."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rush Limbaugh Is a Socialist!!!!!!!

Well, not exactly. But, I found this sentence from The Daily Beast insightful:

It’s not at all surprising that when Rush Limbaugh (approval rating: 19 percent) lectures Americans about how Barack Obama is a socialist, well, people just might start deciding that they prefer socialism by default.

Might be a good point!

New Polls Good for Democrats

There are several new polls and studies recently released, and they are all very good for Obama, Democrats, and (I believe) America.

According to a Gallup poll:

Over two-thirds of Americans -- 71% -- have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in President Obama to do or recommend the right thing for the economy
According to the same poll, America trusts the Democratic leaders in Congress 13% more than the Republican leaders in Congress when it comes to the economy.

In other polling news, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, an lofty 71% of Americans disagree with former Vice President Cheney's statement that Obama has made the country less safe.

Finally, according to a new paper by Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz, Dems have obtained a permanent political majority in the U.S.. I will let this table, from Abramowitz's study, tell the story:

Taxes -- The Rich Don't Pull Their Weight

From The Nation:

The [new Institute for Policy Studies] report provides a good dose of historical perspective at a time when Republicans and too many Democrats fulminate at the possibility of raising the highest tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for households earning over $250,000. It notes that in 2006 (the most recent IRS data) the 139,000 taxpayers reporting incomes of $2 million or more paid just a 23 percent rate thanks to mega-loopholes; in 1955, people earning over $2 million in 2006 dollars paid a 49 percent rate. The top 400 taxpayers paid a 51 percent in 1955; in 2006 they paid just 17 percent of their incomes in federal income tax.

Health Care -- We Have the Wrong Mindset

When one discusses the prospect of universal health care, inevitably some conservative will utter the "s" word ("Socialist!").

But I wonder, why isn't American's utilization of government-owned/operated fire stations and police forces socialist?

Consider the reasons why the U.S. uses public police stations and fire stations:

1. It's a valuable service to the public from which we all benefit.

2. One's ability to obtain these essential services should not depend upon wealth

3. The private sector can not adequately provide such services

4. Because citizens do not have a choice as to when police and firefighting services will be needed, the private sector would price such services as high as possible to take advantage of the compulsion.

Notice how each of these reasons applies to the prospect of universal healthcare insurance:

1. It would be a valuable service to the public. Nothing is more important than the health of a nation's citizens. If the citizenry is unhealthy, productivity will drop, and the bills will be pushed off upon the healthy. Further, because there are so many uninsured citizens, the annual premium for a family is increased by approximately $1100. If there were universal health care, the public would benefit a great deal

2. One's ability to obtain health services should not depend upon wealth. The old saying goes, "Well, at least you have your health." The idea behind this phrase is that nothing is more important than one's health. Yet, under our privatized health insurance system, "health" is a commodity for insurers to buy and sale. It is therefore marginalized, which is immoral.

3. The private sector can not adequately provide health insurance. Prices are so high that only the middle- and upper-class can afford insurance. Further, those that need insurance the absolute most -- those with debilitating and life-threatening illnesses -- can not obtain the insurance because of their preexisting conditions. Moreover, insurers spend significant amounts of money in legal and other fees attempting to avoid coverage. It is an unjust and inefficient system, because it is privatized. The private sector is not covering Americans adequately.

4. Because citizens do not have a choice as to when they need a doctor, insurers have priced coverage as high as is permitted by the law and . Hence, the leading cause of bankruptcy is medial bills.

Thus, the reasons for our public police and firefighting services are identical to the reasons for a public health insurance system. In light of that fact, why is it that public police and firefighting services is consistent with democracy, yet universal healthcare (according to conservatives) is not?

European Model Avoids Risk of Inflation

As we know, European countries are suffering from the same economic crisis as America. Yet, Europe's efforts to slow and end the recession do not run the risk of inflation. America, on the other hand, will almost certainly suffer inflation in a few years. What's the difference?

In Europe, each country has implemented a fairly elaborate social safety net. To name just two such measures, European countries offer universal health care and robust minimum income measures. There are many others, of course.

As a result, European countries do not require a gargantuan stimulus package, because (a) human suffering is kept to a minimum through these safety nets, and (b) such government spending replaces the lack of private economic demand.

Thus, inflation is not likely to result in Europe.

Republican Wrong on Taxes!

Ari Fleischer published an op-ed in today's WSJ, in which Fleischer argued that the Bush tax cuts are good and that raising taxes would be a form of socialism. Not surprisingly, Fleischer made several deceptive claims in his piece.

First, Fleischer gives the impression that Obama's tax plans constitute a radical redistribution of wealth. Not true. In fact, Obama's tax plan would keep the tax rate for the richest Americas at approximately 10% less than it was for most of the Reagan administration. Cite.

Second, even under Obama's modest tax increase upon the wealthy, we still would have just about the lowest tax rate in 100 years. See the graph at this site. In other words, the richest Americans currently enjoy almost the lowest rates in a century, and would continue to enjoy such rates under Obama's plan. Hardly radical.

Third, Fleishcher deceptively spends a great deal of time discussing income. As Fleischer knows, that is not the proper metric for measuring wealth, as the wealthy enjoy many exclusions from income and are able to suppress income in various ways. The significant statistic net worth. In American, the top 20% of Americans hold 84% of America's wealth, which, of course, leaves only 16% of the remaining wealth for the other 80% of us. Cite. Thus, it seems justifiable that the rich carry a heavier tax burden.

Fourth, the tax cuts enacted by Bush were very damaging. Bush took a budget surplus and turned it into the largest budget deficit in the history of America. The tax cuts were a large part of that, because they drastically decreased government revenue. Cite.

In other words, Fleischer is wrong.

Fox & Friends -- Crazy Crazy Crazy

This morning on Fox & Friends, the warmongering was in full force! The hosts were speaking with a guest, and each was advocating putting American troops on the ground in Somalia in an effort to end the piracy in the region.

That is crazy. Here's why:

1. Our foray in Somalia when Clinton was President was an unmitigated disaster. The region is even more lawless now.

2. We are already fighting a war in Iraq

3. We are already fighting a war in Afghanistan

4. We don't understand the region. Thus, it would be impossible to know how to stabilize the region

5. It is unclear why non-government actors (the pirates) warrant such drastic action. True, these pirate hijackings are quite serious, but they generally present no danger to America's safety.

6. We can't afford another war

7. The world's opinion that we are too war-happy would be reinforced

8. There is a heavy Islamic movement in Somalia; if we go to war there, it will further anger Muslims.

9. Who would we fight? There the limited government in the country is powerless, save for a few discrete regions. Thus, there's no defined target

10. Could we not accomplish the same objective by paroling the waters in the area more aggressively?

11. Etc, etc, etc

It would be a terrible idea to engage Somalia in a war.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Area 51 Article, Fascinating!

The Los Angeles Times has a fascinating article on Area 51. The Times conducted interviews with several former occupants of Area 51. Apparently, lots of top secret technology was engineered (and reverse engineered) at Area 51, but there is no truth to the UFO rumors (surprise, surprise).

Worth a read!

During Great Depression, Economy Had Upticks

Paul Krugman (my favorite blogger) has an important post on the economy. You should check it out. It has an illustrative chart, too. It argues that we shouldn't get too happy by the recent uptick in the economy, because even the Great Depression saw brief periods of improved economic production.

As a side note, Obama seems to understand this. As reported by The WSJ, on Friday, Obama noted that we should be optimistic that the economy has briefly improved, but we should not be too enthusiastic, because the economic situation is still extremely dire. Thus, Obama is walking the fine line between realism and Motivator-in-Chief.

The NYT Has a Great Editorial on Health Care Reform

The NYT has a great editorial on health care reform. It ends with this (accurate) zinger:

"A bipartisan agreement would be nice, but what the country needs right now is effective health care reform."

Well said.

Obama Hurts America & American Ideals

The Washington Post notes that Obama's DOJ appealed a court order by District Court Judge Bates. The order requires that military detainees in an American-operated military base in Afghanistan receive access to the U.S. federal courts. For the following reasons, it is extremely disappointing that the Obama DOJ appealed this order.

Obama's decisions to close Gitmo and engage the world in diplomacy have made significant improvements to our reputation and moral status in the world. This recent headway is at least partly responsible for Obama's impressively convincing China & Russia to sign a joint statement condemning the North Korean missile launch. These facts are proof that a more humanitarian, diplomatic approach to governing is effective and makes us safe.

Nonetheless, by appealing this order, Obama has rejected the humanitarian approach. Instead, Obama has opted to run roughshod over foreign countries by ignoring their citizens' interest in freedom from non-substantiated and potentially capricious arrests. That is, Obama has opted to engage in the Bush-era tactics that are so unpopular and controversial abroad. Just as Bush made us less safe by angering the entire world with such actions, Obama has made us less safe. Thus, Obama should be condemned for appealing this order.

But leaving these practical arguments aside, there are moral and ethical reasons why Obama's decision is extremely disappointing.

Detainees' ability to access the federal court system should not be contingent upon their constitutional right -- if any -- to do so. Instead, America should recognize the importance of adherence to basic notions of justice, human dignity, and fair-play.

There is a reason that the drafters of the Bill of Rights created the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause: Too often, those in power abuse their power, and innocent peoples can be swept up in the government's machinery. Such abuses violate America's core principles. America was created, in part, as a rebuke of Star Cambers (definition here), sham trials, and police abuses. When we created this country, we made the fundamental choice that interests in human dignity, such as the freedom from arbitrary seizures, are more important than whatever safety can be wrought from arrests without due process.

And Obama has violated these basic notions. He has endorsed actions where America can pick alleged terrorists off the street, place them in so-called Black Sites, and detain them indefinitely, without ever offering proof of their guilt, and without ever entertaining evidence of innocence. The potential for abuse is obvious and overwhelming. In fact, such tactics by Bush resulted in the detention of many, many innocent people -- dentions that robbed innocents of nearly a decade of their life!

By appealing this court order, Obama has opted to continue Bush's mistakes. He has decided that the above-referenced interests in human dignity do not apply to non-Americans. This sort of attitude -- which was pushed by Bush -- is precisely why Obama has taken it upon himself to make efforts to improve America's moral status in the world. Yet, Obama is now repeating the same mistakes!

Mr. Obama, America is better than this! Please, drop this appeal.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Success for Obama; Neo-Cons Proved Wrong Again

In an op-ed, Charles Krauthammer criticized Obama for being too compromising with other countries, and to prove that such an approach is dangerous, Krauthammer offered as evidence the inability of the U.N. Security Council to issue a rebuke of the N. Korea missile launch. (I responded to this op-ed here) Krauthammer alleged that the Council's failure to act showed that Obama's diplomatic approach to foreign policy is "fatuous" and ineffective and weak. Other right-wingers have said substantially the same.

Well, they were all wrong! Today, Obama and other world leaders, using diplomacy, convinced Russia and staunch N. Korea supporter China to sign onto a joint statement condemning N. Korea's missile launch. Cite.

There was little cooperation between Russia, China, and America on such matters during the Bush presidency, particularly during the latter years. This is probably due to the fact that Bush -- as Krauthammer and Newt Gingrich support -- simply mandated inflexible conditions and refused to compromise. Thus, it should not be a surprise that Bush received little assistance from the world with respect to his agenda.

Obama, on the other hand, has sought to strengthen our position in the world by working with other world leaders. Obama's ability to convince Russia to sign onto this joint statement is significant, as there is no doubt that Russia was not inclined to do so. Obama's ability to convince China to sign on is monumental, as China is quite pro-North Korea.

Thus, America's relationships with Russia and China are stronger, and we have used these relationships to make us safer via the Security Council. Also, it is highly unlike that Obama would have obtained these concessions from Russia and China had he utilized the fiery, inflexible approach espouses by the right-wingers.

Diplomacy can get results. Diplomacy has made us safer. This is proof.

Great Quote on FDR From The Nation

Great quote regarding FDR found in The Nation:

FDR created the modern American state, offering a pragmatic, humane alternative to the radical individualism and anti-statism that had long hindered the fulfillment of the American promise of equality and opportunity.
FDR is my favorite President, and that quote highlights the reasons why.

Karl Rove Lies Again!

In this WSJ op-ed, Karl Rove argues that Obama is the most divisive, polarizing President of all time. In the video below, Chuck Todd explains why that is objective and absolutely false.

Todd makes several points, but the two principal points are: (1) 1 in 4 Republicans approve of Obama, whereas only 1 in 20 approved of Bush a few months after 9/11; and (2) The GOP has shrunk, and thus only the most conservative of Americans are Republicans right now; thus, if 1 in 4 Republicans still approve of Obama, it is a significant testament to Obama's widespread and general popularity.

Here's the video, a must-watch:

Karl Rove Is a Slimy, Sad Creature

As reported by Politico, Karl Rove recently engaged in a shouting match in a restaurant with an ex-GOP staffer. Read the Politico story for details.

I post this story to point out one slimy detail regarding Rove that came out. Apparantly, in the course of the argument, the following exchange occurred:

Roe: ". . . You guys [Bush et al.] wouldn't be in the White House without Tom [the Republican for whom Roe worked]. And you made these really degrading comments about him that offended a lot of people."


Rove: "Well, I have a file on the things Tom Feeney said about George Bush."

Roe: "That says more about you than me that you kept a file on Tom Feeney. This guy was so restrained in his desire to criticize the president — even against this staff's advice."

Rove: "I have a file."

Roe: "I'm right here. Tell me to my face what's in that file."

Rove: "I'll send you the file.

What a creep! It takes a real political scumbag to "keep a file" on criticisms that others levy against your party's President. Can you imagine Rove, bending over stacks of newspapers, cutting out articles that criticize Bush, and then meticulously filing them away in his office file cabinet.

Republian Party -- A Part of "No"

The Republican Party doesn't support:


2. The stimulus package (even though it contains billions in tax cuts)

3. The bank bailouts

4. The bailout of AIG

5. The auto industry loans

6. Running deficits during a severe recession (yet, when the Dems try to do something about the deficits -- like letting the tax rates return to their 2001 status -- the GOP is opposed to that, too)

7. Diplomacy with Iran

8. Diplomacy with N. Korea

9. Diplomacy with Russia

10. Ending the war in Iraq

11. Health care reform

12. Government steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions

13. Etc, etc, etc

Here's a great video from which I got the idea for this post:

How the GOP Can Resurrect Itself

I am no fan of the Republican Party. That said, it is fun to think about political strategy. If I were a Republican, I would implement the following strategy to resurrect the GOP:

First, I would change the party's position on immigration. Latinos traditionally associate themselves with the Dem Party. Yet, polls consistently show that Latinos are actually quite conservative in their economic and social positions. Thus, there must be some reason why Latinos are shunning their more natural fit, the GOP. The answer is undoubtedly the GOP's position on immigration. Irrespective of the merits of the GOP's immigration arguments, it can not be doubted that conservatives' fiery rhetoric regarding the issue dissuades Latinos from signing up for the GOP. Given the poll numbers, it seems that, if the GOP becomes a party that seeks to accommodate and welcome immigrants into this country, the GOP would score a bloc of over 37.4 million potential-voters! Also, this position would reach out to moderate Americans who are turned off by the GOP's staunch, sharp position on immigration.

Second, the GOP needs to ditch the religious right as a political base. The religious right is not a sufficiently large portion of the population to serve as a political base. Yet, the policy positions that the religious right espouses are divisive and defeat the GOP's attempts to build a larger tent. Also, if the GOP turns away from the religious right, it will not lose them as voters; after all, the religious right will never vote for Democrats.

I don't want to see the GOP come into power. But, if I were a Republican, the above would be my strategy.

Democrats Can Bury the GOP

I am going to play "Democratic Strategist" today... I believe that there is an argument that could literally end the GOP, if the Dems pushed it hard enough and long enough. The argument goes like this: (1) the current recession was caused by the rampant speculation and unregulated transactions of bankers, Wall Street, and corporations; (2) the bankers, Wall Street, and corporations were permitted to make these actions because of the recent obsession with deregulation; (3) the GOP is responsible for the deregulation; and thus (4) the GOP caused the current economic crisis.

Here are the details...

Eighty percent of the American public blames banks, financial institutions, and large corporations for the economic crisis, says a Washington Post-ABC News poll. If this outrage can be redirected toward the GOP, the Dems would profit a great deal. To redirect this outrage toward the GOP, Dems should -- and can -- make the case that the GOP allowed these banks, financial institutions, and large corporations to wreck the economy. The key is concentrating on the GOP's obsession with deregulation.

During the years leading up the the Great Depression, Wall Street was rampant with wild speculation. Men (it was only men) were getting very, very rich by placing bets on the stock market. Because the government failed to regulate these acts, the market became artificially inflated. When the bubble popped, the Great Depression resulted. Thus, a lack of oversight permitted banks and Wall Street to get greedy and destroy the economy.

During Roosevelt's presidency, tight regulations over the economy were implemented, and they remained on the books for approx fifty years (until President Reagan). During this fifty year period of regulation, speculation and other shady economy tricks were kept to a minimum. As a result, this fifty year period of regulation saw robust financial success and the creation of a middle-class; true, there were a few recessions, but they were short-lived and relatively minor.

Then came Reagan. President Reagan and his conservative compatriots failed to learn the lessons of history, and thus they deregulated the economy to its pre-Depression condition. As a result, wild speculation resumed, and the financial sector grew and grew and grew. Soon, a huge bubble formed in the 1980s, resulting in the savings and loan crisis, the biggest economy crisis since the Depression.

Yet, the GOP continued to push deregulation, and thus bankers and Wall Street continued to speculate. Wall Street invented credit-default swaps and other totally unregulated multi-billion dollar transactions. Corporations and banks bundled together loans into huge packages and sold them off, even though no one knew how much they were worth (these transactions were subject to little or no regulation). The failure to properly regulate and oversee the housing market permitted housing prices to inflate. All of these unregulated economy entities soon became far overpriced, and when the bubble burst, the current recession resulted.

This was all precipitated by banks, corporations, and Wall Street. Further, banks, corporations, and Wall Street were allowed to make these transactions only because of the GOP's obsession with deregulation.

Thus, the GOP caused the current recession.

If this argument is made as convincingly and agressively and consistently as the Dems' anti-Bush arguments, it would bring the GOP to its knees.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Republicans Will Tax Poor, Give Rich Free Pass

Check out this Think Progress post on the GOP's tax plan. Apparantly, their proposal would actually raise taxes for the middle- and lower-class, while slashing taxes for the rich.

War for Everything!

Newt Gingrich's response to the pirate in Somalia is typical:

The correct answer to piracy is to destroy it not negotiate with it Seals can retake the lifeboat Track every boat leaving Somalia
Wow! Has Newt ever seen a foreign policy issue that didn't require war and death? This neo-con ideology is unsustainable, as it would require us to wage war with everyone!

Krauthammer Publishes a Shameful Op-Ed

Charles Krauthammer's op-ed in today's Washington Post is petty and disingenuous. But, I can't say that I fault Charles too much. After all, it is a tough time to be a Republican. Yesterday, the economy saw an uptick, and Wells Fargo reported on its huge quarter earnings. Cite. These facts speak well of Mr. Obama's economic policies, which Charles and other GOPers have spent months bashing. Also, the poll numbers for Mr. Obama are strong, while the same polls show a strong rebuke of the GOP.

In light of all of this, there is no doubt that Charles is having a hard time coming up with worthwhile critiques to lob at Democrats. Thus, Charles had to resort to this loser...

Our president [went to Europe] bearing a basketful of mea culpas. With varying degrees of directness or obliqueness, Obama indicted his own people for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness, for genocide, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantanamo and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.
This deception is shameful! When Charles's cherry-picked accusations are read in context, it becomes clear -- objectively, verifiably, factually clear -- that Obama was not "indict[ing] his own people." Instead, he was meeting the world half-way -- i.e., compromising (something that Republicans believe constitutes a mortal weakness, apparently). For instance, let's look at Obama's "arrogance" comment to which Charles referred:
In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad.

On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise. They do not represent the truth.
Far from constituting an "indictment," Obama is attempting to heal the divide between Europe and America. Does Charles presume that America can force Europeans to follow us? I hope not. Instead, it takes a partnership, which Obama is attempting to build. Notice how immediately after Obama delivered the "arrogance" comment, he criticized Europe. Interesting how Charles left bit of crucial info out!

We need look no further than the Bush-era to see the disastrous consequences of Charles's thinking. The Republicans' caviler attitude to the concerns of the world resulted in deep, global anti-American sentiment. Because of this unpopularity, we have been unable to garner support for our agendas, and we are less safe.

Also, it is more than a little ironic that Charles condemns Obama's attempt to meet the Europeans half-way on these issues, and yet simultaneously Charles lambastes Obama for his failure to garner sufficient support from Russia and China on the UN Security Council. The two propositions are intimately related: Because Bush utilized Charles's heavy-handed approach to foreign policy, America defeated her ability to compromise with Russia and China. In other words, Charles's op-ed is self-contradictory.

Charles's attack is designed to speak only to the ill-informed, only to those that will read the above-quoted passage from his op-ed and actually believe that Obama set out to "indict" America. Shameful! But, again, this is somewhat understandable, because it is a very, very hard time to be a Republican.

Immigration Reform May Arouse Racist Thinking

President Obama recently announced his intent to undertake immigration reform. I applaud his courage and values, and I thank him for refusing to heed the GOP's claims that he is "doing too much." However, engaging in an immigration debate in our current economic crisis seems a bit dangerous, for the following reasons.

One hears far too often the ridiculous cry that "the immigrants are taking our job." While such rhetoric may have some merit (though I doubt it), it is impossible to deny that such rhetoric is often a pretext for racism. What's worse, this type of speech creates a snowball effect: the more that people speak in such terms, the more that other people will be convinced of the supposed accuracy of that sentiment, etc. Soon, large segments of the public hold an unhealthy disdain for immigrants, and these haters can fall back on the "taking our jobs" argument to justify their irate feelings.

This snowball effect will be exacerbated in our current economy. One of the largest negative consequences -- or is it a cause? -- of the economic crisis is unemployment. The American people know this. Thus, Americans are more likely to guard their jobs jealously, and are thus more likely to speak out against immigrants.

When you combine this snowball effect with the economic crisis and high unemployment rate, it creates a dangerous combination. Now that Mr. Obama is talking immigration reform, immigration issues enter the forefront of America's consciousness, making things even worse.

Let me be clear: I do not think that this is sufficient reason to shy away from immigration reform. For centuries, America has served as a beacon for those seeking freedom, prosperity, and basic human dignities. We desperately need a new immigration system that will permit immigrants to enjoy the fruit that our great country offers, but we need comprehensive reform to accomplish this goal in a responsible manner. I believe that these values outweigh the need to avoid anti-immigrant rhetoric and racism, and hence we should undertake reform.

But, we must also be aware that these unique circumstances will cause a spike in anti-immigration speak that can often serve as a pretext for racism. We should be prepared to stamp out such racism when it arises.

Racism Exists, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is Essential

Currently pending before the Supreme Court is Nw. Austin Municipal Util. Dist. 1 v. Holder, wherein a group in Austin, Texas has argued that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. I just read the NAACP brief in the case, and I was genuinely shocked by the voting discrimination that exists in this country. In my opinion, it is quite clear that Section 5 is still needed and, in fact, is essential.

Section 5 of the Act requires that any change in "standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting" receive preclearance from the Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C., if the jurisdiction is a covered jurisdiction within 4(b) of the Act. Covered jurisdictions are those jurisdictions that, when the Act was adopted, utilized certain tests or devices that traditionally were designed to disenfranchise minorities, such as sham reading tests. In sum, if the Attorney General determined that a jurisdiction should be classified as a covered jurisdiction, then the jurisdiction must submit a request for permission to the Attorney General or U.S. District Court for D.C. before making changes with respect to voting laws. This description is extremely basic and underinclusive, but you get the basic gist.

As noted, in Holder a group from Texas is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5. The thrust of their challenge is that Congress lacked the authority under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment or Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment to reauthorize the Act. Section 5 of the 14th Amendment permits Congress to pass laws needed to enforce equal protection, due process, and other protected rights under the Amendment. Section 2 of the 15th Amendment permits Congress to pass laws needed to protect citizens from being disenfranchised on account of race or other, similar characteristics. If Congress had the constitutional authority to reauthorize Section 5 of the Act, then that power must have come from the 14th or 15th Amendments. If the challengers in Holder can show that there is insufficient evidence of discrimination in voting to warrant Congress's reliance on the 14th and 15th Amendments, then Section 5 of the Act must fall as unconstitutional.

In other words, the case comes down to this: If there is evidence of significant discrimination in voting, then Section 5 of the Act is constitutional. Otherwise, it is not.

It seems to me that those challenging the law are mounting a silly argument, as the NAACP brief amply demonstrates. When Congress reauthorized Section 5, it compiled a significant amount of evidence demonstrating the discrimination that still exists with respect to voting. For instance, in Texas, there is a 16% gap between the voter registration rates of Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. The brief also noted that "no African-American ha[s] ever been elected to statewide office in Mississippi, Louisiana, or South Carolina." (emphasis added) These facts, and many others contained in the brief, make a strong case for the existence of wide-spread discrimination.

But the most compelling evidence of discrimination proffered by the brief is as follows... When a covered jurisdiction wishes to change election laws, it must obtain preclearance. If the Attorney General believes that the request violates Section 5, s/he may interpose an objection. Here is the evidence:

[The] DOJ interposed more objections between1982 and 2004 (626) than between 1965 and 1982 (490), including objections to at least one statewide change in every fully covered State and in most partially covered States; that between 1980 and 2000, 421 objections were lodged on the basis of DOJ’s determination that the proposed voting change was motivated by a state actor’s discriminatory purpose; and that DOJ has objected to more proposed changes from Texas than from any other State.
(citations omitted)

Those are shocking numbers. The rate of discrimination is quite high and, apparently, has increased in recent years.

In other words, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is an essential measure for the preservation of equality in voting rights, and it will be a travesty if the Court strikes it down.

Total Domination in a Debate

Abortion is not an issue about which I have much to say. It is too sensitive, and it is no longer conducive to intelligent, thought-provoking dialog.

That said, you just must see this debate between Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O'Donnell on tonight's Hardball with Chris Matthews. It pertains to Catholic pro-lifers' objections to Obama's forthcoming address at Notre Dame. Never have I seen a total annihilation on a news program quite like that levied by O'Donnell upon Buchanan. Divorce yourself from the sensitive subject matter, and just observe the total domination:


Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Terrorists" on the High Seas? No! They Are Pirates

As has been widely reported that in the sea surrounding Somalia, pirates hijacked an American ship and now hold its captain hostage.

During this a.m.'s Morning Joe, a guest requested that we cease calling the hijackers "pirates" and, instead, refer to them as "terrorists." Perhaps my objection is frivolous, but I disagree with the suggestion that we call these rouges terrorists.

Terminology packs an initial punch, but can quickly fade. Take the so-called War on Terror. That label was designed to evoke a feeling of extreme danger and imminence and full-blown war. And at first, the term accomplished just that. However, when you use a label like that, you are asking people to experience those high-stress emotions each time the label is uttered, which is asking too much and is unrealistic.

First, humans do not wish to experience such emotions constantly. Second, the long-term repetition of the label enables listeners to grow accustomed to the label's effects. Third, long-term repetition of the label allows listeners to practice suppressing the label's effects. Thus, we become desensitized to the label's desired impact. By extension, suddenly the matter for which the label stands becomes less serious.

To some extent, this has happened with the War on Terror. Notice how Secretary Clinton recently announced that the label would no longer be used. This is some evidence that the label no longer serves a useful purpose. That is, we have become desensitized to the purposes behind the label, and it is at least arguable that we Americans have become desensitized to the idea that the War on Terror is a war and not a matter for criminal investigation.

If we take the extreme step of labeling these hijackers "terrorists," instead of the more natural label "pirates," the same might occur. After all, these hijackers have not conducted themselves as threateningly and dangerously as terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. Thus, the extreme label "terrorist" is likely to grow tiresome, making Americans take the very real threat presented by these pirates less seriously.

Global Warming -- A Mere Natural Cycle?

Today, I engaged in a debate with a classmate regarding global warming. The crux of my opponent's argument went like this: even if there is alarming warming, it is all part of the natural cycle; in the past, the earth has been much warmer and much cooler; thus, there is no reason to suppose that humans are the root cause.

I see much wrong with this argument. If the temperature change is merely part of one big natural cycle, we should be able to find the natural cause of the cycle. After all, if external forces are constant, the temperature will remain constant. As you probably guessed, despite the best efforts of scientists, they can not ascertain the "natural" force causing this "natural" cycle. This failure suggests that there is no natural cause and, instead, the cause is man made.

Scientists have, however, developed a working, consistent model that actually predicts the climate changes that we are observing. This model correlated the temperature change with the 35% increase in greenhouse gas, which, of course humans caused.

Thus, the "natural cycle" proponents can not offer a workable model for their assertion. Yet, global warming proponents have developed a consistent, workable, and predictive model, and it is grounded in humanity's impact upon its environment.

The weight of the evidence is against the global warming skeptic.


Shocking Poll! Socialists v. Capitalists

Here are the shocking results of a Rasmussen poll:

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

I am quite surprised by this! I suspect that either (a) the poll is wrong or (b) the poll is tainted by the economic downturn, which has people angry at the free market. But -- people!! -- the economic downturn could have been prevented in a free market society via more, smarter regulation.

In a sense, this validates my long-held belief that Republicans who throw around the "socialist" label get nowhere. After all, if that many Americans hold such a positive -- though foolish -- opinion of socialism, then the label will not work as an insult.

Interesting Poll

Here is an interesting CNN poll (link is to the WSJ). It discusses Americans' view on Obama's recent overseas trip, including American's views of Muslim nations in general and Turkey in particular. It's worth a read.

State Secrets Privilege

The Bush administration took a lot of heat for asserting the State Secrets privilege. Now, the Obama administration has asserted the privilege. Thus, it is important to understand the privilege and its implications.

The leading case is U.S. v. Reynolds, which is a 1953 Supreme Court case. There, the Court was presented with a civil action brought by the widows of civilians who were killed while passengers on an Air Force plane, which crashed. The Secretary of the Air Force sent a letter to the trial court, stating that the crash occurred during the testing of secret electronic equipment, and that the disclosure of certain documents would frustrate national security. The trial judge denied the request for non-disclosure, and appeals went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The High Court allowed the U.S. to assert the privilege, which is now known as the State Secrets Privilege. The Court in that case was careful to note that its decision was not grounded in the Constitution. That is, the privilege upheld in that case is not constitutionally-based. Instead, the Court found that a long line of case law had established the existence of the privilege.

It was declared that "[j]udicial experience with the privilege which protects military and state secrets has been limited in this country." But, the Court said, the privilege is "quite clearly" established in the "available precedents." The Court continued that "[t]here must be formal claim of privilege, lodged by the head of the department which has control over the matter." Also, the "court itself must determine whether the circumstances are appropriate for the claim of privilege, and yet do so without forcing a disclosure of the very thing the privilege is designed to protect."

The problem with this privilege is not its mere existence. Surely, some matters are so top secret and sensitive that they should not be disclosed in court, lest our security efforts be compromised. The problem is that the Executive Branch will abuse the privilege, asserting it too often and for self-serving purposes.

How could we know whether the privilege is being abused? As noted in Reynolds, it is up to the courts to guard the fine line between meritorious and frivolous assertions of the privilege. But, there is probably no way for a court to ever be certain whether or not the assertion of the privilege is appropriate, because the court will not be privy to the sensitive information.

Only the following can be said for certain: The privilege is not inherently evil, but it should be of limited application. The Bush DOJ used it quite often, which suggests that at least some its assertions were inappropriate. And, finally, it remains to be seen how often the Obama DOJ will assert the privilege.

Collateral Consequences of War

As has been widely reported, an American ship was hijacked by Somalian terrorists. This incident was, in part, precipitated by American military actions in the region, and it highlights the unforeseen collateral consequences of war. I will argue that, as a general rule, these collateral consequences outweigh the benefits of going to war.

Under Bush, the first solution to international threats was military in nature. The thought-process behind this approach is that we are "tough" and therefore deter further attacks against America. I will leave for another post the argument over whether such an approach to foreign policy actually deters terrorism against America.

My point here pertains to the collateral consequences of war. There is no doubt that, when a nation takes military action abroad, it effects both the target country and the surrounding countries. Unfortunately, if the invader does not understand the geopolitical and psychological make-up of the surrounding regions, the invasion constitutes a reckless, irresponsibly blind action that can actually make us less safe.

Take for example the war in Iraq. Whether or not we are successful in that country, a central consequence of the war is the solidification of Iran. Iraq and Iran were competitors in the Middle East. They acted as checks on each other, preventing either from becoming too powerful, and preventing either from concentrating too much attention on the West. But the war in Iraq changed all of that. Iraq no longer presents a threat to Iran, and Iran is no longer concerned -- well, no longer as concerned -- with Iraq. Thus, during the past seven years, while Iraq was concentrating on its internal strife, Iran built itself into a more powerful global player. Now, Iran more aggressively harbors terrorists and actively seeks nuclear weapons.

It appears that we failed to understand -- or care -- about the collateral consequences of our invasion of Iraq. It is quite likely that, even if the Iraq war reduced the threat presented by Iraq, our overall global danger has increased because Iran is much more powerful.

The same can be said for Somalia. A few years ago, American-backed Ethiopian forces overthrew the Islamic government in Somalia. As with Iran-Iraq, it appears that our government failed to understand the collateral consequences of this aggressive act. This removal created a power-vacuum in Somalia. Some organization or organizations had to fill the vacuum. Unfortunately, the vacuum was filled by organized crime units. What is more, many of these organizations are Islamic extremists with connections to Al Qaeda! That is, our decision to help Ethiopia wage war in Somalia spurred the creation of terrorist organizations.

Military officials probably thought they were making America safer by helping Ethiopia overthrow the Somali government. But that is not the case. Now, several years later, we are left to deal with a lawless region of radical Islamic thugs.

Military action has consequences beyond the area in which the action is taken. This is a lesson we are yet to learn, or to take seriously.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Been Absent

Sorry I haven't blogged much today! I have been in meetings all day, and now I am rushing out of town to make another meeting. I will try to make some posts tonight, as I have several thoughts brewing. In any every, I will be back in full blogging action tomorrow!

Most Cited Judicial Opinion of All Time?

What is the most cited judicial opinion of all time? I would have guessed Brown v. Bd. of Educ., or perhaps Roe v. Wade. But, I would've been wrong!

Drum roll please.... The most cited opinion is....

Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. This opinion, wrote by J. Stevens, established the two-pronged method of ascertaining the validity of regulations. I suppose, upon further reflection, it is understandable that this is the most cited opinion, because this is an issue that crops up in law review articles and cases so often. After all, more and more our society is controlled through regulations, not statutes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Progressive v. Conservative

Merriam-Webster defines "progress" as "a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal)."

I feel that this definition perfectly highlights the basic decision one must make when aligning with a political ideology -- if one is to be a "progressive," then one will be principally motivated by a desire for changes that push society positively forward. Alternatively, if one is to be a conservative, one is disinterested in pushing forward, presumably because the conservative believes that the past or present is ideal.

But how can the past or present be ideal? Shouldn't we hope for, and work toward, improvement?

This argument is quite simplistic, and on its surface appears to be a strawman. But, at its core, I think this argument has some merit.

(This post, of course, discounts moderates)

What Causes "Wisdom"?

From the USA Today:

Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chief of geriatric psychiatry at UC San Diego[,] [says] ["]our research suggests that there may be a basis in neurobiology for wisdom's most universal traits."
[Jeste et al.] conclude that several common brain regions appear to be involved in wisdom, and suggest that the neurobiology of wisdom involves a balance between more primitive brain regions (the limbic system) and the newest ones (pre-frontal cortex.).

Wow! And here I thought that wisdom came from listening to Rush Limbaugh (joke)

In Case You Don't Know...

In case you don't know, Paul Krugman, 2008 Nobel Laureate, has a great blog on economics, to which he posts regularly. I get much of my info regarding economics from Paul's blog and NYT op-eds. It is a great blog, and worth your time.

Trend Toward Same-Sex Marriage

As reported by The Washington Post, today the D.C. City Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages formed in other states. Link.

This decision comes on the heels of the Iowa supreme court's invalidation of an anti-same-sex marriage law under the state constitution, and the Vermont legislature's allowing same-sex marriage, both within the past week. Further, as recently as 2008, Connecticut's supreme court held that same-sex marriage is protected under its state constitution.

This is an obvious trend, and I wonder: what is causing this trend? Have gay rights advocates convinced the public of the value behind their agenda? Unfortunately, that is doubtful, considering the success of Prop 8 in California (an extremely liberal state).

The more likely explanation is that these states are piggy backing off each other. In other words, no state wanted to be the first, because it would have brought about considerable national attention, much of it negative. (See Massachusetts) But, once one or two states took the leap, other states were willing to follow, because the PR ramifications were slight.

For the legislature that so acted (Vermont), this is understandable, because legislatures are accountable to their constituents, and rightfully consider public opinion. I wish that legislatures would look less to opinion polls and more toward doing what is right; but, I can understand their concern with public opinion, and I do not fault them.

However, it is shameful for a court to refuse to recognize a right -- like the right to marry a person of the same sex -- until it has gained popularity. Courts, after all, are intentionally designed to serve as counter-majoritarian entities. They are supposed to protect politically powerless or unpopular minorities from the majority's whims. Courts are designed, in a sense, to make an action when the action is most unpopular, not when it is trendy!

However, I do not want to be too harsh. It is essential that all citizens have the right to marry the person of their choice. I applaud those courts that have recognized this right to same-sex marriage, even if the recognition is far too late.

Neo-Cons Are Shortsighted, Simpleminded

Today's Washington Post contains an article entitled Report Calls CIA Detainee Treatment 'Inhuman.' The report was authored by the Red Cross, and it details our horrific, immoral treatment of military detainees. It is a very important -- but very sad -- article, but I suggest you read it. After pondering this article, I developed the following argument.

Neo-cons, like Frank Gaffney, constantly parade evidence of immense danger in the face of the American public. It is said by Gaffney and others that there are unimaginably horrific dangers facing our country, and thus we are justified to engage in torture, because it makes us safe.

I seek to establish the following: neo-cons and other hawks are simpleminded and shortsighted. They wrongly assume that taking aggressive, torture-like actions in the present -- which might possibly make us safer in the immediate present -- translates to greater national safety. On the contrary, such torture programs simply do not make us safer, and in fact they makes us less safe. The neo-cons make this error because they are so obsessed with national security, that they can not see past the immediate threat to our long-term safety. I will establish these points in the paragraphs that follow.

It has been widely reported that a large part -- or, perhaps the largest part -- of Obama's recent mission overseas was to improve America's tarnished moral status in the world. For years, we were highly regarded in the international community for our commitment to human rights and general moral uprightness, but no longer.

This moral uprightness had tremendous practical significance in the context of national security -- i.e., it made us more safe. For instance, in Operation Desert Storm, droves of Iraqi soldiers willfully -- eagerly -- surrendered to our forces, because the soldiers were certain that they would be treated humanely. After all, America, it was thought, adheres to the Geneva convention, and is the archetype of a progressive approach to human rights and dignity. Thus, our position of moral authority in Operation Desert Storm made us more safe.

There are, of course, many other advantages to our previous moral superiority. To provide another example, before Bush II, we could credibly demand compliance with international agreements regarding human rights, because there was no doubt that we adhered to the same conventions. Thus, our word on such issues carried tremendous weight worldwide.

But these international benefits of moral uprightness no longer apply to America. The entire world knows that America tortures. Years after Obama's presidency ends, foreign countries will still suspect that we engage in torture, no matter how much headway we make cleaning up our image. Gitmo will always be used as a recruiting tool for terrorists. Our Bush-era interrogation programs have galvanized our enemies and will continue to encourage previously non-militaristic peoples to take up arms against our country.

And there are yet more examples of the danger torture programs have put us in. Gitmo is abhorrent to Europeans. Our actions there were reviled, and the bitter taste it put in Europeans' mouths sustains. As a result, Americans are a target of ridicule, making travel abroad for Americans less safe.

Further, it is much harder for foreign, European leaders to muster sufficient public support to back American calls for assistance. By way of example, last week, Europe largely rejected American calls for assistance in Afghanistan. At least part of the reason is that European leaders can not convince their citizens to stand behind our goals in Afghanistan, because Europeans do not want to support torture. It is much more likely that Europeans would support our prosecution of the war on terror if we had not committed atrocities of torture, which has tainted all of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In other words, we are no longer the objective, credible moral arbiters of human dignity and peace. Thus, we can not reap the benefits of this status, making us less safe. Further, our engaging in torture caused affirmative, heated ire toward our country, making us less safe. Thus, at the risk of repetition, torture made us less -- not more -- safe in the long run.

The neo-cons, like Gaffney, do not consider these long-term effects of torture when they debate national security issues. Instead, the hawks only look to the immediate present. That is, the neo-cons would thwart the next attack at literally any cost, no matter how high. Irrespective of this approach's impact upon our immediate safety, it undoubtedly makes us less safe in the long-term, and therefore less safe overall.

The neo-cons' arguments are too simpleminded, and too shortsighted. They make us less safe.

Vermont Legislature Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Vermont is the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage, with Massachusetts, Iowa, and Connecticut being the other three. Vermont is the first state to do so legislatively. Link.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Role Reversal / Strange World

As reported by the WSJ...

Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the Pentagon's top weapons priorities...
The ambitious shake-up, a combination of defense contract cutbacks and policy changes, will stoke a smoldering debate in Congress about the importance of weapons manufacturing jobs and may mark an inflection point after the industry's record run during the Bush administration

As a general rule, I believe that our defense budget is too big; hence, I would typically support this proposal by Gates. However, these budget cuts will kill jobs, and the last thing our slogging economy needs is fewer jobs. Instead, we need more jobs, more government spending, and we can worry about the deficit and inflation later. Thus, in an unusual role reversal, I am opposed to a Republican's call for military budget cuts.

Strange world.

Frank Gaffney: Right on the Merits, a Good Debater, or Just Scary?

On today's Hardball with Chris Matthews, the opening guests were neo-con Frank Gaffney and liberal David Corn. The discussion related to the missile launch in N. Korea. Predictably, Gaffney believed that Obama was too soft, and that the administration should have shot down the missile post-launch. Corn, on the other hand, generally supported Obama's diplomatic approach. It was fairly obvious that Gaffney won the debate: he set the agenda, had more one-liners, ate up most of the time, and was generally more persuasive. Here's the video:

As anyone that knows me (or peruses this blog) will guess, I actually believe that Corn -- not Gaffney) is right on the merits. However, in this post, I don't want to discuss the merits (i.e., what America should have done about N. Korea will not be discussed). The merits are a topic for another post, such as this one. Here, I want to explore why, in my opinion, Corn is right on the merits, yet Gaffney won the debate.

The central explanation is this: The world is a very, very dangerous place, and thus it is very, very easy for Gaffney (and other neo-cons) to argue that military action is needed in most any circumstance, even when such military action is clearly inappropriate. In making this argument, I will use two premises:

- Premise (a): The world is a very scary place, full of people that want Americans dead; and
- Premise (b): Thus, America must use aggressive, military action to thwart the threat.

This argument was successfully exploited in the lead-up to Iraq, and one can understand why! Support for aggressive, war-like action is an understandable reaction to evidence of danger. We humans are programed to fight for their lives; it is ingrained in our DNA. Further, America is a nation that swells -- and should swell -- with intense national pride. Thus, threats to our citizens and-or to our nation are taken with the utmost, deadly seriousness.

Because of these predispositions, if premise (a) (the world is a scary place) is established, then premise (b) (aggressive, military action is needed) will often follow, even when, logically, it should not follow. As we all know, premise (a) is an extremely easy case to establish. There are threats -- both domestic and global -- to our safety and sovereignty everywhere, everyday. The threats come in the form of nuclear and biological weapons, or from other general terrorist threats. The threats also come from other countries seeking to replace America as the world's leader through non-military means. And, of course, there are hundreds of other threats to America that I did not list.

These facts create the perfect storm for a person's (such as a politician's) exploitation. This exploitation is exactly what Bush et al. did to make the case for Iraq. By constantly proffering evidence of premise (a) (the world is dangerous), they were easily able to establish premise (b) (aggressive, military action). True, (b) often will not logically follow from (a), but the fervor that surrounds proof of (a) makes (b) seem much more reasonable than would otherwise be the case.

In other words, I have put forth the obvious, noncontroversial proposition that it is easy to scare the hell out of people and, if done consistently, it becomes easy to manipulate the public into support for a war.

Now, back to the Gaffney-Corn debate. Even though, in my opinion, Corn's argument is correct, Gaffney won the debate on technical points. Gaffney's win is explained by the above-argument, namely, that it is tremendously easy to make the case for war. First, you offer evidence of danger. Gaffney did this masterfully by discussing the (unsubstantiated) risk of North Korea launching missiles at South Korea and Hawaii; Gaffney even -- amazingly and shamefully -- managed to argue that our a diplomatic approach to N. Korea emboldened Iran, thereby increasing the threat to Americans. After amply (and easily) establishing premise (a), it was a breeze for Gaffney to argue premise (b).

Essentially, my point is this: So often, Gaffney and other neo-cons roll over liberals like Corn, but these technical victories are not evidence that the neo-cons are right on the merits. Instead, it is an incident of the fact that the neo-cons are voicing an overly simplistic, easy, canned argument over and over and over -- the world is dangerous, extremely dangerous.

Newt Cheney (or, Dick Gingrich)

It is being widely reported that Newt Gingrich is considering -- seriously considering -- a run for the presidency in 2012. Well, we need not wonder which political demographic Newt is aiming to capture: The Dick Cheney, hard-right, neo-con segment of America's political fringe.

Last Thursday, Newt was on Fox News discussing the North Korea missile launch situation (this was pre-launch, mind you). Transcript & video here. During the interview, Newt made the following outrageous suggestion:

VAN SUSTEREN: . . . . If you were president, what would you do about this North Korea problem?

GINGRICH: I would use whatever methods were necessary for the missile never to be launched. And I think you could do it probably with unconventional methods.

VAN SUSTEREN: So that's military. Are you saying military?

GINGRICH: If necessary. If I can't find a way to bribe somebody to blow it up, I'd find a way to have either a small team go in, or a way to deliver either a laser or another kind of device.

This is a missile that is sitting there on that launch pad, and I think you could take it out with very, very minimal risk to anybody.
This is an insane idea! If we had preemptively attacked North Korea by blowing up the missile pre-launch, then we are first aggressors. China will side with North Korea, as they are strong allies. All of a sudden, a relatively minor crisis is expanded into a much more substantial foreign policy crisis. China could threaten military retaliation (that's unlikely, but it is much more likely than is currently the case), and are tenuous partnership with China will be destroyed. Further, the efforts Obama has put forth to re-gain our moral status in the world will be destroyed, because we would have preemptively attacked a smaller country that had not made an overt threat to our safety.

This sort of thinking by Newt was also espoused by Cheney and the other neo-cons. That got us a war -- based on false pretenses -- in Iraq and a war in Afghanistan, not to mention an international reputation for being trigger-happy torturers.

Perhaps there are enough neo-cons in America to elect Newt on the basis of such radical policies, but I doubt it. Further, this sort of thought will alienate all moderates and liberals, not to mention the rest of the world.

GOP Budget Seeks to Hoodwink the Public

One can not watch the news without observing a Republican blow a gasket over projected deficits under Obama's budget. For weeks, Democrats challenged the GOP to propose an alternative to the Democrat's plan.

After several weeks and much criticism, the GOP House leadership finally released the "Republican Road to Recovery," here, which is principally designed to cut taxes and slash the deficit, mostly through a five year freeze on discretionary spending.

But even with this spending freeze, it is hard to understand how taxes can be cut so dramatically while simultaneously melting away the deficit. Thus, I was not surprised to learn that the budget makes these numbers work by way of simple obfuscation.

The GOP budget allots taxpayers a choice: (1) pay under the current tax system, or (2) pay a marginal tax rate of only 10% for income earned up to $100k, and then pay a 25% tax for all income over $100k. Obviously, those tax payers fortunate enough -- read: wealthy enough -- to enjoy this tax cut will choose the the option that pays out the least amount of tax dollars. Right?

You might be surprised to learn, however, that the Republican Road to Recovery disagrees! In an obvious and intentional falsehood, the Budget assumes that Americas will decide to pay the most expensive option -- i.e., the budget assumes that the wealthiest Americans, who receive the best tax advice, will opt to pay more taxes than is required. Source.

The GOP has much to gain from this falsehood, as it hides the fact that their record-setting tax cuts will plunge the country into deep debt. By assuming that Americans, when presented with two options, will opt to pay more taxes, the GOP seeks to deceptively "inflate" government revenue and thereby make it appear that the deficit will improve.

In a related attempt to dupe the public, GOP Rep. Paul Ryan drafted an op-ed, in which he defends the GOP budget proposal and attacks the Democrat budget proposal. As reported in The Atlantic, the op-ed fabricates spending numbers and falsely attributes the numbers to the Congressional Budget Office.

One must wonder -- if lower taxes and small government actually help the deficit, then why is the GOP utilizing obvious, intentional, and shameful lies to pimp out their budget?

In conclusion, I must admit that, in my opinion, both the Democrat budget and the Republican budget will harm the deficit. There is, however, a crucial difference: the Democrat budget will help those most in need (the poor, the uninsured, the unemployed, etc), while the Republican budget will help the rich with their taxes.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Europe & Obama

A very intriguing op-ed in The Times:

T[he] feeling in Europe, and especially in France, about Barack Obama’s presidency is as clear as day: we are envious.

We are aware that the results of Mr. Obama’s economic policy are not good — not yet — and that there is little chance they will be wonderful any time soon. Here, too, the results of our leaders’ economic policies are not at all good. We know these things. Nonetheless, we are envious because Americans are so evidently proud of their president. What is worse, we feel that Americans have a kind of faith in Barack Obama. We would love to feel the same way about our presidents and our leaders.
I think this op-ed goes a bit too far. Many Americans ardently oppose Obama. Even liberals, like me, take issue with many of the President's actions (his handling of the economy, his refusal to appoint a special prosecutor to look into torture, etc). That said, I believe that the op-ed captures the basic positive attitude toward Obama, both domestically and internationally. In many ways, I am proud of our President.

Unions & the Fallacy of All or Nothing

I am strongly pro-union, but I am not blind. I recognize that one of the biggest problems for the US auto industry is union costs.

It is important that our nation permit organized labor. We know that unionization and the New Deal are responsible for creating America's middle class, and it would be a shame to eliminate -- or significantly curtail -- unions and thereby gut the middle class, all so some corporation can grow larger and its executives richer.

But, the unions in Detroit grew too powerful. Union costs make it too difficult for American auto makers to compete on the global market.

Many use this fact -- that the Detroit unions are too big -- inappropriately. Anti-union advocates commit what I call the "fallacy of all or nothing." That is, anti-unionists argue that because the unions in Detroit are too large and too burdensome, it is proof that organized labor is untenable. But that argument assumes a premise that can not be established, namely, that unions must either (a) be as large and powerful as those in Detroit, or (b) non-existent. In other words, people tend to assume that we have Detroit-style unions, or no unions at all. That is incorrect.

Smart regulation of the union-business relationship can provide healthy union membership and strong global competitiveness. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

Polling on N. Korea: Military Action Needed

From Rasmussen:

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just 15% of voters oppose a military response while 28% are not sure.
Support for a military response comes from 66% of Republicans, 52% of Democrats and 54% of those not affiliated with either major political party. There is no gender gap on the issue as a military response is favored by 57% of men and 57% of women.
IMHO: The solution for every problem can't war. I disagree with the majority of Americans, I suppose.

Irresponsible Media

In The Washington Post, Jackson Diehl argues that we should be troubled by Obama's popularity in Europe. European leaders fawn over Obama, Diehl argues, because Obama is a push-over, conceding American goals and deferring to European aims.

Here is the meat of Diehl's argument:

While the Europeans didn't get all they wanted, they succeeded in setting a framework for responding to the economic crisis that will tilt the global economy toward continental norms. The NATO summit showcased France's return to the alliance's command structure . . . . [And] [l]ess than 2,000 trainers will join the 24,000 American reinforcements arriving in Afghanistan this year.

Obama's deferential approach was manifest in his public statements . . . .

. . . .

Other leaders were less humble; in fact, they appeared eager to exploit Obama's pliability. Sarkozy deemed his demands for more statism "nonnegotiable" and threatened a walkout if they weren't heeded. (They were.)
We can instantly discard Diehl's attack on Obama's "public statements." We should be happy to have a President that avoids alienating our allies with posturing. Obama speaks in terms of compromise, which is a good thing.

The Afghanistan argument is not much better. At the outset, it was obvious that we would not convince other nations to join us in Afghanistan. The world sees that war as a loser, and the world is tired of America's constant call for additional troops. Two thousand trainers should be considered a modest, realistic success.

Most significantly, Diehl's Sarkozy comment is simply disingenuous! In fact, Sarkozy got almost nothing that we wanted! Going into the Summit, Sarkozy threatened to walk out if the twenty countries failed to establish commanding international regulations and an international regulator possessing the power to enter participating countries and enforce the regulations. Instead, Sarkozy received a mere agreement to implement some light regulations. Further, the global regulator idea was abandoned early. Yet, the situation was handled such that Sarkozy left the Summit happy. Source.

In other words, each country gave a little to get a little, including America.

Diehl's thinking appears perfectly suited for the Bush administration: American will make no concessions, and everyone else must relegate their own agendas America's. That has been a disastrous approach to foreign policy, and I am happy that the President has opted to take a more reasoned, moderate approach to international relations.

LATE UPDATE: America and the EU issue a joint statement. It is not enough, but it is a good start.

We Should Speak in One Loud Voice, Not Several Quiet Voices

As promised, North Korea fired a long-range missile several hours ago, which flew over Japan and into the Pacific. No debris landed in Japan, and the missile failed to make orbit. Source.

At a speech in Prague this morning, Obama declared, “This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon at the Security Council but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons.” The President continued, “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

As I argued in this post, Obama is striking the right tone. But, I have mounting concerns that America is missing a unique opportunity by mishandling this crisis. We should use this launch to speak in one, world-wide voice against N. Korea, and we should use this unification to convince Russia to join the opposition.

The world has roundly condemned North Korea for this launch. Japan has been on full-alert and quite critical, for obvious reasons. South Korea has been outspoken on the matter, too. Britain and France and the EU presidency have all rebuked the North's actions. And, of course, America has actively spoken out against the launch. Source.

There is simply no doubt that Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea are most affected by this launch. China is a major N. Korea ally, so we should not expect China to lash out. But, where is Russia's voice of opposition? Russia is not squarely in the North's corner, yet it is seemingly silent.

Thus, the opportunity presents itself. The North's launch has galvanized the world. Instead of each country condemning the launch in separate voices, America should implement an organized effort to join all of these countries together into a single voice of opposition. The UN Security Council is one such opportunity, but it is not enough. We need to more sustained task force, and we can use this launch as the springboard. If Obama organizes a more unified front against N. Korea, we could simultaneously put world-wide pressure on Russia to condemn N. Korea. Such pressure would be useful, because it is likely that China and Russia will attempt to veto Security Council action against North Korea.

The time is now. The world has set its sights on North Korea. Instead of firing several slingshots, we should fire one cannon. And we should use the unity to convince Russia to follow suit.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Edward Whelan Has Harsh Words for AG Eric Holder

Ultra-conservative Edward Whelan drafted a Washington Post op-ed, wherein he has very harsh words for AG Eric Holder. Holder overturned an OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) opinion on District of Columbia voting rights. Whelan used extremely harsh rhetoric to chastise Holder as going back on "the department's high standards." "[T]here's a right way to overrule OLC, and then there's Holder's way," Whelan proclaims.

For all of Whelan's bluster, he could not be bothered to make a substantive critique of Holder for the first half of the op-ed. Then, in the second half, he is only capable of mustering two criticisms: (1) Holder failed to follow proper, traditional procedures for overturning OLC opinions, and (2) Whelan believes that Holder's decision to overrule the opinion is legally inaccurate. These two -- and only these two -- critiques are enough for the affable Whelan to accuse Holder of "abus[ing] OLC for partisan political purposes" and "[p]oliticizing [j]ustice." This is an extremely slender reed on which to rest such a hefty charge!

And yet, the op-ed is chalk-full of exactly the problem Whelan projects upon Holder -- politicization:

1. Whelan began the op-ed by injecting politics: "David Barron -- a liberal Harvard law professor appointed by Holder . . . ." (emphasis added)

2. Whelan says, "The facts, admittedly, are somewhat sketchy . . . ." You mean, similar to how you accuse Holder of basing an opinion on sketchy legal authority?

3. In an attempt to demonstrate the political nature of Holder's action, Whelan constructs a hypo involving a conservative AG overturning a OLC opinion upholding abortion rights. This is significant for two reasons. First, abortion and D.C. voting rights are simply not comparable. Abortion issues are far more charged and controversial. Second, Whelan intentionally selected the most partisan issue imaginable for the comparison, thus demonstrating his on ideological bias.

Like Whelan, I wish that Holder had not taken this unfortunate action -- but good grief, Whelan overreacted! Perhaps the core problem for Whelan is itself political: as an ultra-conservative, Whelan needs to defend the Bush administration's politicization of the DOJ; thus, he is attempting to project this politicization upon the Holder-led DOJ.

h/t Volokh

Proposal for a Better School System(?)

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that California has the highest high school drop out rate in the nation, 24%. That is astonishing!

Some argue that this high rate is caused by an under-emphasis in curricula upon vocational education and an over-emphasis upon college-prep. That seems reasonable. After all, many students know that they will not go to college, and thus the incentive to remain in high school is reduced.

Perhaps the state legislature should pass a law akin to the following: High schools should use test scores and class rank to anticipate the likelihood that a student will attend college. If the student's score meets certain benchmarks, then the student is placed on a "college track," on which the student will be enrolled in college-prep courses. If, however, the student places below the benchmarks, the student will be enrolled in vocation-oriented classes, similar to a community college. One caveat: if the student or the student's parents desire that the student be placed on the college track, the student should be so placed, irrespective of class rank and test scores.

My suggestion does, however, have a serious flaw: It surrenders the goal of sending every child in this nation to college. Perhaps this flaw is fatal to my proposal? The decision is one between realism and idealism.

Do Guns Make Us Safer?

I support Second Amendment rights, but I also support strenuous gun control. Recently, I engaged in an argument with a friend regarding gun rights. My friend attacked college campus gun bans, and his argument ran like this: Perpetrators of gun violence only shoot up locales that lack guns (like college campuses); thus we should allow guns everywhere, because such a policy would decrease shooting rampages; and finally, the existence of more guns at more locales would not increase violence because permit & licensing laws limit possession to the responsible citizens among us.

There are many flaws with this argument, but I will consider only one here -- my friend's suggestion that the permit process curtails gun-related violence enough to justify permitting guns on campuses and other non-carry spots.

First, this argument presumes that the permit process is strenuous; it is not. Second, this argument wrongly presumes that permit- and license-holders must renew their permit/license so frequently that the renewal process will revoke permits/licenses from those that are initially sane but that soon turn crazy. Third, this argument fails to understand that even the most sane among us can make serious, serious errors, and that such serious errors will be amplified if Americans are allowed to carry guns around all the time, no matter the locale. Fourth, this argument inappropriately assumes it is possible to test for the type of crazy that brings about gun rampages; after all, will permit testers conduct a psychological exam on applicants? The gun lobby would never allow it!

Point in case: The New York Times reports that the shooter at the Immigration Center in NY yesterday (04.03.09) "had a New York State pistol license that listed two pistols, a 45-caliber Beretta and a 9-mm Beretta." The shooter killed thirteen.

What We Learned of Obama Via North Korea

As The Wall Street Journal reports, North Korea is expected to set off a long-range missile soon, perhaps today. Can we learn anything about Obama from this series of events?

Absolutely. Obama's actions, whatever they are, will indicate his approach to foreign policy disputes. Will he be a hawk? Will he be pushed around? Or will he take a moderate position?

It would have been easy for Obama to have used his bully pulpit in Europe to threaten North Korea. He could have used express threats -- "If you set this missile off, we will shoot it down" -- or more veiled threats -- "Shooting off this missile is an act of aggression against our country."

But he did neither. Instead, Mr. Obama made a firm, but tempered, announcement: "Should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work . . . to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity . . . ." As reported by the NYT, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs "said the launching would be a violation of Security Council resolutions, and [that] 'preparations' were being made if it went ahead."

This strikes the perfect tone, I think. The administration is not threatening immediate military action, which would undermine North Korea's sovereignty and threaten the six-way negotiations America seeks to re-engage. But, team-Obama has promised action and real consequences, which avoids appearing soft and asserts our power as part of the UN.

All in all, Obama has taken a tough tone without ratcheting the tension-level up more than is necessary. Of course, this is all subject to change if/when the missile launches.

LATE UPDATE: Chicago Tribune reports: "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week defended Japan's [desire to shoot down falling debris], saying it 'has every right to protect and defend its territory from what is clearly a missile launch.'"

This is also good news, as it shows that the administration is talking to other countries -- more interested countries -- encouraging cooperation in handling the situation. We are not along in the world, we are not the world's police, and these actions show that Clinton, Obama, et al. understand this.

Affect or Effect?

Affect or effect? I find the distinction to be clear in theory but impossible in practice.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Federalism Is a Pretext

In this opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Kollar-Kotelly invalidated on procedural grounds the Bush administration's last minute effort to lift a ban on concealed, loaded handguns in national parks. Bush officials justified the late push to lift the ban -- a rush-job that clearly violated NEPA -- in the following manner: a desire to "give greater effect to principles of Federalism." Source.

This "federalism" argument is used so often by conservatives that it takes on an air of pretext. Their answer to abortion: let the states decide. Their answer to race-relations: let the states decide. Now, their answer to gun control: federalism. With each of these issues, the success of federalism would bypass progressive federal laws in many states, thereby enacting a conservative preference. Yet, when it comes to other issues, such as the Defense of Marriage Act, conservatives prefer to handle things at the federal level, where they can sustain a conservative result. This hypocritical treatment reveals that the "federalism" argument is a pretext.

Chief Justice John Marshall argued that robust states rights would allot the passions of concentrated populations too much power, thereby harming thoughtful legislative deliberation and civil liberties. The federal government, on the other hand, is subject to the people as a whole -- people from more backgrounds than an individual state can provide -- and is therefore less likely to be rushed into arbitrary legislation. Whereas an expansive federal government weakens the absolute authority that majorities hold over minorities in many states.

Conservatives recognize these truths and wish to exploit them, thereby implementing their agenda. When you hear the phrase "principles of federalism," it is a pretext for the conservative agenda.

Hannity Is Not for the Thoughtful

Tonight on FoxNews, Sean Hannity demonstrated why only the thoughtless sheep among us would follow such a blowhard. Hannity's apoplectic conniption centered around Obama's comments during a speech in France. Hannity quoted Obama as follows:

In America, there is a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.
As presented, the statement is certainly less-than-ideal. But, this isn't the whole story! Hannity -- surprise, surprise -- failed to provide the very next sentence out of Obama's mouth, which explains the benign nature of these comments:
But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual, but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what is bad. On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common.
After intentionally distorting Obama's comments, Hannity shamelessly declared -- read: screamed -- that he was "taken back" by Obama's comments, that he takes "offense" to these remarks, and that he is "deeply offended" and wonders why liberals "hate America."

Hannity has shamelessly distorted the nature of Obama's comments. When you read the above-provided quote in its entirety, it is quite obvious that Obama aimed to reconcile our differences, particularly with regards to growing anti-American sentiments abroad. Instead of attacking European sensibilities and demanding apologies and concessions -- as Bush and, apparently, Hannity would do -- Obama sought to meet the audience in the middle: America has made mistakes, as has Europe, but we must concentrate on our similarities, not our differences.

Obama made the comments of a statesman, of a diplomat, of a leader. Also, Obama called out Europe on growing anti-Americanism -- i.e., the President defended us abroad. Finally, Obama showed more class than Bush and Hannity could ever muster.

Is Waterboarding Torture?

I recently attended a presentation regarding the appropriateness of torture. The speaker was anti-torture. During the event, a questioner suggested that the speaker wrongly presumed that waterboarding constitutes torture. Does it?

To answer, I would like to draw a comparison to the common law system. See, under our court system, matters are decided incrementally. When the system is functioning properly, courts stray no further beyond the facts at hand than is necessary to resolve the controversy. There is an important rationale behind this system: courts can not foresee and plan for the myriad of circumstances to which a wide-ranging rule would be applied. Thus, to avoid setting poorly reasoned, binding precedent, courts generally resolve matters on narrow grounds. That way, the common law is created slowly and deliberately. Judges look to the lessons learned in previous controversies, and are therefore less likely to make a mistake.

What does this tell us about the question presented -- whether waterboarding is torture? Well, if the "case" has already been decided and constitutes well-settled and deeply entrenched precedent, then we should avoid "overruling the case," i.e., backtracking on the historical status of waterboarding.

Imagine my surprise this afternoon when I discovered that its status as torture is, well, less than clear. For much of modern history, it was considered a standard interrogation technique! In fact, it is not until approx 1800 that peoples began to consider it torture. What's worse, it was used by various countries -- including Japan, France, Britain, and, yes, America -- throughout the 20th century. Source. And we of course know that America used the technique in the wake of 9/11.

Now, this history does not mean that waterboarding is not torture. But, it does mean that the frequent claim that waterboarding is "clearly torture" is probably false. In other words, this "case" has not yet been decided, and Americans are, in a sense, faced with a case of first impression.

Do I support waterboarding? Absolutely not. I am quite opposed to it. I make this post mostly out of genuine surprise -- I intended to make this post an attack on waterboarding, and I was shocked to discover the practice's history.