Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Media Fails to Report Major World Event

I found it today on page A3 of the Los Angeles Times. CNN and FOX are not bothering to report the news:

The head of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) went to Beijing for a summit with the Chinese President Hu Jintao. It was broadcast on live TV on both sides of the Taiwan straits. They agreed to work to end hostilities, push for direct transportation, and permit Taiwan to join organizations like the WHO (a 180 degree reversal for Beijing).

Of course, the nationalists are not in power. Taiwanese President Chen Shue-Bien was forced to bless the event, giving his rival the spotlight. What a fantastically brilliant move by the Chinese to offer real peace to the Taiwanese (after raising threat ante with the anti-secession law) through the Nationalists, thus sidelining and isolating the pro-independence factions. It is very shrewd, and signals that China is willing to use all manner of political machinations, rather than brute force, to handle its issues with Taiwan. Very clever. And who would have thought the Chinese communists could get the KMT to be their agents to undermine the Taiwanese government?

Let's just say that the picture of Hu and Lien Chan shaking hands in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing is unbelievable. But no, all that's on TV today is some woman in Georgia who faked a kidnapping to avoid her own wedding. So Hu and Lien Chan can talk, but Georgia brides can't say to their families or fiancees, "I'm feeling overwhelmed." The pastor said on TV that he felt betrayed. Cold War? You ain't got nothing on southern family and religious pressure on women.


Friday, April 29, 2005

United at Last

Bush's budget squeaked past the House (214-211) and the Senate (52-47) yesterday, against unanimous Democratic opposition, joined by 1 Independent in each chamber, 15 Republicans in the House, and 3 Republicans in the Senate: Sens. Chafee (R-RI), DeWine (R-OH), and Voinovich (R-OH). (What's with Ohio?) Kudos to Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Reid for keeping the votes in line. Of course in this case, since the GOP budget proposal was simply awful, it may have been an easier task to herd the kittens than usual.


Bush Lies Again on Social Security

Bush says:
"I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off,"

He means:
For the top 70% of wage earners, benefits will be cut. For the bottom 30%, they will stay as they are now.

See how he makes it sound like he is proposing an increase? I am so angry, I can hardly speak (thus, I blog). The Washington Times says he is proposing an increase. They are liars. CNN and Washington Post talk of "fixing" the problem. Only the NY Times is accurate in reporting: "Bush proposes cut in Social Security benefits."

Fox News reports the truth 2/3 of the way through its article, but adds "currently, all retirees face a reduction of benefits to 73% of current levels when the trust fund goes broke in 2041." That is another lie. The law as it stands does not mandate cuts. In fact the reverse is true: the law reuires current benefits must be paid! Bush wants to break the law rather than add funding from the general fund. Or just borrowing the $$ as he does for everything else!!!!!!

The Bush administration projects the trust fund will hit zero in 2041. Unless funds are increased from some source, they project a need to cut benefits which could be done at 27% across the board... if projections are accurate 35 years out. Remember the projections of $5 trillion surpluses just 5 years ago. The fact is that by raising the "cap" we can resolve all problems. The "cap": currently, the payroll tax is 6.5% of income up to $90,000 - beyond that, no tax!. Why, exactly, should professionals like me stop paying Social Security taxes midway through the year? I would gladly pay SS taxes on more of my income if that would guarantee retirement benefits for all, rather than raising the retirement age or cutting benefits. I mean, I like the extra money in my pocket, but to take that money at the expense of others is wrong. I don't think any Republican has ever uttered that phrase. Take what you can get, right? That's the difference between us. What a ridiculous idea to suggest that those of us in our 30s pay so that boomers can get full benefits, while we get benefits that will be dramatically less (do the math: increase a theoretical benefit of $30K/year by 3% over time in one column, 2% in another -- see the difference it makes over 40 years).

That's what I mean when I say I vote on moral values.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Rule XIV

According to the Christian Science Monitor, we may soon be hearing a lot about Senate Rule XIV.

Senator Democratic leader Harry Reid gave no signs of backing off the filibuster threat. For the first time, he also laid out plans for a post nuclear-option Senate. "I have always said we wanted to make sure that the Senate went forward, but we're going to do it on our own agenda," he said.

In recent days, Democrats have been quietly putting their own bills on the Senate calendar. Using an obscure Senate procedure called Rule XIV, they plan to move these bills onto the agenda if Republicans "pull the trigger" on the nuclear option. By tradition, it's the Senate majority leader who sets the Senate agenda.

"By invoking the nuclear option, they will have shattered the comity in the Senate, so Democrats won't be bound by the usual way of doing business," says Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democrats.

These bills include legislation to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions by increasing funding for family planning, giving more help to disabled veterans, renewing pay-as-you-go provisions to curb federal deficits, guaranteeing overtime pay for workers, and raising the minimum wage.

So what is Rule XIV? Basically, it is a way around unanimous consent and the Senate Majority Leader setting the agenda. According to a standard reference, a bill technically can be introduced by anyone... the penalty for lacking unanimous consent is that the bill, "shall be placed on the Calendar under the heading of 'Resolutions and Motions over, under the Rule,' to be laid before the Senate on the next legislative day... before the termination of the morning hour."

This gives me hope that, if the nuclear option should be employed, the Democrats can avoid the charge of obstructionism--perhaps even make the Republicans look bad by forcing them to fight one Democratic initiative after another. Good news for the good guys: the Democrats can use tactical nukes in response to the "nuclear option."


In Denial

Reuters (Tokyo):

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill declined to say whether he thought the stalled multilateral talks would resume before the end of June, when a full year will have passed since the last round of inconclusive discussions.

``I don't want to speculate on when the talks would get going, nor do I want to give an artificial deadline, except to say that it's very important that we get the process going that can address this issue,'' Hill said after meeting Japanese officials.

``We cannot have a situation where a country like North Korea is developing nuclear weapons,'' he said. ``We believe the six-party process is the best way to solve this.''

Um, someone really should tell the Bush Administration that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. CIA says it could be as many as a dozen warheads. And just today, the NY Times reports that the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says North Korea has mastered the ability to put its nukes on missiles. The game has changed but our play has not; the US sounds like an old broken record, still calling out for six-party talks after that approach has already manifestly failed.

So why is the Bush Administration in denial? And why won't we talk to the North Koreans directly? I suspect it's because--since North Korea actually does have WMD--use of force is not an option... and Condoleeza Rice is now learning the hard way what Powell did: it's really hard to be a successful diplomat when you are fundamentally forbidden to yield or compromise on anything.


Triple Threat

Statistics on global terrorism were released today. Washington Post says that from 2003 to 2004, the number of incidents of significant terrorist acts (those resulting in casualties) tripled, 175 to 651, and the total death toll also tripled, from 625 to 1907. It's not straightforward though, because one reason for the increase--the reason the State Dep't refused to release this data (instead, the National Counterterrorism Center did, to avoid criticism it was withholding data)--was that the methodology had changed: specifically, the number of intelligence analysts assigned to compile and collect the data went from 3 part-timers to 10 full-timers.

Great. So what we now know is either (a) there has been a big increase in terrorist attacks, or (b) the government has been grossly underreporting terrorist activities for the past few years, because they weren't really trying. Or more likely some combination of both problems. Either way, one thing is clear: the good guys are not winning the war on terrorism. The blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the administration, which has spent over $200 Billion putting our troops in harm's way in Iraq, creating a hotbed of terrorist activity where none had previously existed, rather than using even a fraction of that money to increase security around the world.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Science and the law

RbR and I had an interesting conversation recently concerning the relationship between science and government that I thought I would share with everyone.

It all happened in 1888, when a doctor from Indiana named Edwin J. Goodwin claimed to have been "supernaturally taught the exact measure of the circle, in due confirmation of scriptural promises."

Nine years later, he somehow convinced his representative, Taylor Record, to introduce House Bill #246 in the Indiana House of Representatives. The bill was confusingly written, but it offered the state free use of Goodwin's mathematical findings. He seemed to think that all the current knowledge about circles was wrong: "Since the rule in present use [presumably pi equals 3.14159...] fails to work ..., it should be discarded as wholly wanting and misleading in the practical applications," the bill declared. It then launched into some murky and self-contradictory conclusions about areas and circumferences that have absolutely no basis at all in math.

What happens next gets silly. The bill was first referred to the House Committee on Canals. When they realized that it shouldn't be there, it was referred to the Committee on Education. The committee recommended that it pass -- lawmakers don't have time to read everything -- but the state superintendent of public instruction was a backer of the bill! Well, it's easy for a bill to pass committee. But then it was sent to the full House ... where it passed unanimously (67-0).

The bill was passed to the senate floor where it got wrapped in red tape and sent to the Committee on Temperance. Its committee chairman recommended it pass (again!) but thankfully the newspapers got word of the bill and wrote some predictably sarcastic editorials. Finally, as a local newspaper reported, "Although the bill was not acted on favorably no one who spoke against it intimated that there was anything wrong with the theories it advances. All of the Senators who spoke on the bill admitted that they were ignorant of the merits of the proposition. It was simply regarded as not being a subject for legislation."

You can read more about this here.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, I think this is eerily similar to current events. It's easy to laugh at a moron who introduces legislation that flies in the face of known science, but it's not so funny when public schools are legally allowed to teach such stuff to schoolchildren.


The Republican Vision For America

Hi Folks,

In case you weren't paying attention here is an update on what the Republican vision for America is. If you thought the Republicans were the party of small government and low taxes you're wrong. They are the party of crazy crack pot populism, censorship and government control of human reproduction.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed a bill yesterday allowing Floridians to shoot people on the street with their concealed handguns if they feel threatened without having to try to get away first. The bill is called the "Stand Your Ground Bill."

There is a company out there that makes a digital device that automatically censors DVDs you rent or buy so that all that offensive sex and violence goes away. Think about it! Now God fearing Christians can see "Braveheart" without all the violence to get in the way of the plot (one wonders what this device would do to "The Passion"). Or they could watch "Sex In the City" reruns without any discussion of sexuality. For now its just something you can buy. How long before these things are mandatory? Ask your local Republicans.

In other news, the Republicans in the House are considering a bill that would make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion to avoid a state law requiring parental notification.

Anyone out there alarmed?


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

No deal

Frist Says He's Not Interested in Deals

Republican leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he isn't interested in any deal that fails to ensure Senate confirmation for all of President Bush's judicial nominees.

(My emphasis)

Now who looks like the obstructionists? The Dems offered a deal, and the Republicans said no. Bush has nominated 200 judges, and the Democrats have blocked 10. That's a 95 percent success rate, and yet the Republicans want 100 percent. Incredible.

...and by the way, everyone, was this the correct thing, tactically speaking, for Frist to do? Did the Democrats offer the deal expecting it to get shot down? Oh, the possibilities...


Monday, April 25, 2005

Gay Rights and the Law: a Different View

Before the widespread availability of contraception in the 1960s, western society, indeed all society, confronted a huge problem: how to curtail sexual behavior which, if unchecked, would lead to large numbers of babies born to teenage girls. The answer of most cultures was simple: massive repression. Confine sex to marriage; limit marriage. It makes sense. Even today, much of American high school and college is designed around delaying parenthood.

Many cultures, particularly Romans and Greeks, encouraged homosexuality among young men because it delayed fatherhood and allowed career development. A Roman patrician would likely have a young man or two as a lover whom he would promote and ultimately adopt before the man married and had progeny - and new homosexual lovers of his own. Illegitimate children were not a big problem in such a society, as they could be adopted. Romans, by the way, are known to have widely practiced "intra-crural" sex (rather than anal sex) which is insertion of the penis between the thighs. Usually the younger man provided the service to his patron, but it was reciprocal as well. If the young man was very heterosexual in his proclivities, prostitutes (who knew how to abort) were common. There were also primitive condoms of lambskin. Coitus interruptus has a Latin name for a reason, too. Roman promotion of cult of virility stood alongside a reality and acceptance of widespread homosexuality. And a world where being a eunuch was a life choice. I remember my own shock at reading Ovid's passage on Narcissus and reading "multi illum iuvenes, multi cupiere puellae" which (poetically untangled)means, "many young men and women desired him." That was a very different world, and for reasons hinted at below, one we are unlikely to return to, although the Roman Catholic church claims we are returning to this (a statement by a Cardinal recently stated this directly).

The question for us is why sexual repression came to include such obviously useful homosexual sex as well. The answer, I suspect, can be seen in a contrast between Roman family law (for patricians) and family law as it developed in the Middle Ages, under the barbarian regimes (German/Frankish). In fact, the glossators on Roman law who begain in the 1400s to "revive" it struggled mightily with differentiating Roman customs from our own. In Roman law, the pater familias had the power of life and death over every member of his family - younger siblings, children, adoptees, wives of male children, grandchildren, etc. Similarly, the pater familias owned everything; the others owned nothing. The fortune passed to the next male in line, whom the pater familias often ADOPTED (see: Julius adopting Augustus). And the adoptee was often such a young man who had performed sexual services. Thus heterosexual marriage was not critical for transmission of property.

In the middle ages, however, the customs of the Germanic tribes and Franks that replaced Roman authority were that illegitimate children could not inherit at all. Women could own property under other conditions (see Queen Elizabeth II) Similarly, property was divided among male heirs equally (thus, Charlemagne divided his kingdom roughtly into thirds: France, Germany, and a middle region - the Alsace/Lorraine). Without marriage and procreation through marriage, none of this worked. Not only does homosexuality have no place in such a world, but it threatens the "point" of marriage - to ensure the passage of property to a new generation. Marriages are also contracted at a very young age in such a society, so there is no intermediary period where homosexuality is 'useful.' And there is no imperial bureaucracy in which one needs a patron to advance -- one *advances* by marrying well.

We live in the embers of such a world.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Why I Think the Senate Republicans Will Back Down

Hi Gang,

I've come to the conclusion that despite any threats by V.P. Cheney or President Bush or even from the Senate leadership, the Republicans in the Senate will NOT implement the so called "nuclear option." (no Lisa, it's pronounced 'nucular')

I'm certain of this because this situation resembles a repeated prisoners dilemma - a game theoretical model that has been studied intensively by economists, political scientists and mathematicians for decades.

The set up is as follows: Two players are in a game situation with each other. Each player must chose between cooperating and defecting (without knowing what the other player is choosing). Since there are two players with two choices each, there are four possible outcomes: both cooperate, player 1 cooperates but player 2 defects, player 1 defects but player 2 cooperates, and both defect.

Player 1 prefers the outcomes in the following order from favorite to worst:
1) player 1 defects but player 2 cooperates
2) both cooperate
3) both defect
4) player 1 cooperates but player 2 defects

Player 2 prefers the outcomes in the following order from favorite to worst:
1) player 1 cooperates but player 2 defects
2) both cooperate
3) both defect
4) player 1 defects but player 2 cooperates

If these two players are interacting only once, they have a dominant strategy to defect on each other. This is because I defect you cooperate is better than both of us cooperating. Also if you defect on me I prefer to also defect. This logic works when the two players interact only once or if they are interacting repeatedly but with a known number of repetitions (the last repetition is just like a single shot interaction, so defect/defect rules. Since the last round is defect/defect, the second to last round is essentially the last round for cooperation, which means they both defect then too...and it cascades back to the first round).

If these two players are interacting repeatedly and indefinitely, they can cooperate with each other so long as they value the benefits of future cooperation more than they value the benefits of current defection. This cooperation will also only continue if the two players adopt one of the following strategies:

Grim Trigger: "I will cooperate with you in the first round and every round thereafter so long as you cooperate with me. But if you defect against me, I will defect against you in the following round and forever thereafter."

Tit-for-tat: "I will cooperate with you in the first round and every round thereafter so long as you cooperate with me. But if you defect against me, I will defect against you in the following round but then return to cooperating the round after that if you cooperated when I defected."

When people's value of the future diminishes to, these strategies will no longer support cooperation (because the threats of future defection ring hollow). So there are basically three ways for cooperation to fail. First, the two players recognized that there interaction is about to end (finite repetition). Second, the incentives for basic game change such that they aren't playing a prisoner's dilemma anymore (rules change). Third, one or both of the players mistakenly believe they have been defected against when in fact cooperation occurred (bad information).

If you are interested in more about the prisoner's dilemma check out this website or this one.

So how does this relate to Congress?

The Democrats and Republicans can keep the filibuster for judicial appointments or end it. Assume that over time, power alternates between the two so if the Republican's remove the filibuster now, the Democrats will have the chance to reinstate it or keep it removed when they return to power some time in the future. They have the following preferences.

1) Republicans do not allow filibusters, Democrats do allow filibusters
2) Both Republicans and Democrats allow filibusters
3) Neither Republicans nor Democrats allow filibusters
4) Republicans allow filibusters, Democrats do not allow filibusters

1) Republicans allow filibusters, Democrats do not allow filibusters
2) Both Republicans and Democrats allow filibusters
3) Neither Republicans nor Democrats allow filibusters
4) Republicans do not allow filibusters, Democrats do allow filibusters

Since the Republican party and the Democratic party are both extremely stable over time, both parties' leaders know that interaction will continue for the foreseeable future but do not know exactly how or when it will end. The leaders of each party in the Senate expect to be in the Senate for long terms (6-12 years at least and longer for many of them). Democrats are responding to the threats to end the filibuster with counter threats to react strongly and without reservation (i.e. the Democrats are playing "Grim Trigger").

So what is driving this? Why do the Republicans even bring it up?

Explanation 1: Its mainly the White House. The Bush administration is only going to be around for another 3 and a half years and so have no value for the future...they want to get what they can when they can. But the Senate Republicans have a longer time horizon and simply following Bush's lead hoping the Democrats give in.

Explanation 2: Term limits have shortened the time horizon for Senate leaders. Because they only serve a term or two, Senators no longer think of what is going to happen in the Senate 10-15 years in the future.

Explanation 3: The Republicans regard the Democrat's use of the filibuster as a defection from the norm and are - in their view - only threatening their own Grim Trigger.

The news I've heard makes me think that Explanation 1 is the most accurate. It was Bush who originally nominated these people. It was Bush who re-nominated the same people knowing they would be filibustered. Right from the start, Republican Senators have said that ending the filibuster for judicial nominations would be a mistake.

What do you guys think?


Friday, April 22, 2005

Japan Says Sorry....again...maybe...sort of

Hi Everyone,

Japanese PM, Junichiro "The Hair" Koizumi, expressed his country's "deep remorse" over the events related to World War II (i.e. routine commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Japanese troops). Japanese leaders have made similar apologies in the past, each time, the precise context and wording of the apology is picked apart by language experts looking for clues that it wasn't really sincere. I don't speak Japanese but apparently apology-ology in that language makes the passive voice "mistakes were made" and "I'm sorry you were offended by what I said" stuff in English look like child's play. It looks like we're in for a couple of days or so of deconstructing this apology before the PRC government decides whether to accept it or not. The PRC government has never regarded past apologies as sufficient and, given the usefulness of Japan bashing to the Chinese Communist Party, I doubt they'll accept this version either.


Don't mess with Texas!

Say what you will about the Republican party, but it is impressive how they run things. The Dems have a big umbrella-like policy, where different viewpoints are more or less accepted. But boy, in the Republicans? Try to prevent a UN-hating guy from being ambassador to the UN, and this happens to you.

I'm impressed.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Nuclear Option Hypocrisy

U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2 [excerpted]:
[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

So if the Republicans are right that "advice and consent" means no filibuster, then this applies to all nominations. In fact, the ambassadorship of James Hormel was filibustered by right wing Republicans because he was gay. In 1968, conservative Republicans filibustered the nomination of Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It's the sex, stupid.

Atrios wonders out loud why, with so much bad stuff in the world, the Catholic church seems obsessed with the issue of sex, especially gay sex. I don't know about our readers, but this one seems obvious to me. The church views homosexuality as a sort of tidal wave, taking the old morals and replacing them with the new ones. It's the kind of thing that has always been around (hey, wasn't the guy who painted the Sistine chapel gay?) but in the last few years has become rapidly more accepted.

Yeah, there are other sins out there, and certainly ones that have more basis for being a sin in the Bible. But it must seem to the church that the walls are caving in around them and they have to do something about it. As to the question of why pre-marital sex and contraception are so important to them, I guess it's the same idea. But that's a little more ridiculous, as I can't find any reference to that in the Bible (not even in the red words, and them's the most important words right there).


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

Hard not to be sick to one's stomach. Pope Ratzinger is a truly offensive man who really believes that Jesus of Nazareth came to earth in order to build a fantastically powerful and wealthy corporation ruled by absolute despots who would grind down the poor to fill its coffers, subjugate women, and teach that all who do not submit are going to hell. John Paul II and his recent predecessors recoiled from such language and ideas. JPII authorized this sort of statement it only once in his papacy -- a document written by Ratzinger and issued during a significant phase of JPII's Parkinson's disease. Ratzinger wasn't happy that JPII held talks with Jews and Muslims. So he takes the name of some of the most corrupt Medieval and Renaissance popes. Yuck. Ratzinger is a Bavarian who was 18 when American tanks conquered his hometown. So you know where he's coming from. I guess JPII was more forgiving than we realize.

But here is Ratzinger in a nutshell: Will condoms prevent the spread of AIDS? Forget it - let innocent children can be born with AIDS and die in agony. Will overpopulation cause disease and misery in the Third World? Let it come. And we'll keep beating the drum on abortion and hatred for gays while we look the other way on pedophilia. Pedophilia is a small price to pay, I guess, for the Majesty of the Church. I can see schism or mass defections in North America.

To the faithful, I say this: if the holy spirit has abandoned the Roman Church, fear not: she will not abandon the world.

It's been a while since the Inquisition. I guess the Devil wanted his job back.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Sino Japanese Relations

Hi Everyone,

In previous posts I have suggested that the Chinese Communists are essentially a nationalist/authoritarian party now instead of a communist party. They are trying to "ride the tiger" of Chinese (Han) nationalism. They have replaced the ideology of Marx and Mao with devotion to nationalism. I've suggested in the past that this could be a problem for the PRC government some day...what would they do if the nationalist feelings stopped being so easy to control?

Well, for the past several weeks large crowds of Chinese nationalists have been protesting against Japanese consulates and businesses. There is a lot for Chinese to be angry about. Japanese nationalism is alive and well and the Japanese equivalent of "Holocaust Denial" is accepted as the majority opinion and dominates the school books. For example, Japan and Japanese people routinely deny that Japan used biological weapons against Chinese civilians (weaponized strains of bubonic plague used by the Japanese during their occupation of China still kill Chinese people today) but Japanese history books deny this.

The current wave of protests is moving from anger of Japanese views of the 1930s and 1940s and is now being directed against Japanese (and Japanese looking) businesses. The protests are continuing despite seemingly sincere calls by the Chinese government for them to stop.

This brings me to two observations: First, the Chinese government seems to be on the verge of losing control of the nationalism they have been using a crutch to prop up their corrupt and inefficient regime. Second, China should take care to see that Japan does not start to pull its billions of dollars of investment out of China and redirect it to Mexico. The Mexicans would welcome the investment and the increased wealth in Mexico would be a great boon to the American economy.

What do you all think?


Friday, April 15, 2005

What James Madison Intended

The Religious Right often claims that the Constitution never intended a separation of church and state such as has been enforced by the courts. They claim that the founding fathers never intended this and that this is something imposed on us by "activist judges."

Instead of just taking their word for it, let's look up what the founders actually particular let's look at what James Madison (the author of the constitution and former President of the United States) said about it.

Some highlights are:

People often say the founders were not advocates of total separation. Here is what Madison actually wrote about it. "I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others. (Letter Rev. Jasper Adams, Spring 1832)."

Madison's opposition to the establishment of Congressional chaplins, "Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In the strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation? The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain! To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the veil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor. If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents shd discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense. How small a contribution from each member of Cong wd suffice for the purpose! How just wd it be in its principle! How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine right of conscience! Why should the expence of a religious worship be allowed for the Legislature, be paid by the public, more than that for the Ex. or Judiciary branch of the Gov. (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820)"

This quotation contradicts the usual conservative cry that the founders didn't sweat the little stuff. They did! The modern "minor sects" would be atheists, scientologists (dare I say...Muslims) etc.

Then there is this quotation: "Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform (Annals of Congress, Sat Aug 15th, 1789 pages 730 - 731)."

This quotation contradicts the argument that establishing religion is OK so long as it is done ecumenically. Madison opposed it on principle not out of practicality.

The religious right and Republicans represent forces that have been opposed to the Constitution from the very beginning!


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Conservative Justice Update

Eric Rudolph will get life in prison instead of the death penalty as the result of a plea bargain. After he pled guilty, his attorneys handed out an 11 page manifesto written by Rudolph justifying his bombing attacks and murders as legitimate responses to abortion and homosexuality.

Attorneys for accused terrorists from the Middle East have been indicted and convicted for disseminating such calls for violence.

While prominent anti-abortion groups denounce the violence they are well known to have direct and indirect contacts with groups that advocate violence and such violent groups are often splinters from the more "main stream" anti-abortion/homophobic groups. Such loose and indirect contacts are used by the Bush administration to seize property of Arab/Muslim Americans, detain them, summarily rescind their immigration status and deport them.

The double standard is disgusting. It is precisely because of the tendency to enforce laws in this uneven manner that the constitution is so important.

Yet more evidence that we are not dealing with the old fashioned, stuffed shirt, small government Republicans anymore. These are people with strong sympathy for ruthless theocrats and nationalists who are willing to kill to prove that their religion is the correct one.



The more I learn about him, the scarier he gets. Check out this interview with the Washington Times, an outfit that, by all rights, should make him look good. My favorite part? The part where he lists horrible things the judiciary has done, such as judicial review, separation of church and state, and the right to privacy.

(For those of you unfamiliar with neo-con double-speak, that last one really means abortion rights.)

I hope he keeps his name in the press as long as possible. Any publicity is bad for him right now.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Conservative Justice

Timothy McVeigh: death penalty (Clinton-era)
Scott Peterson (killed wife and fetus): death penalty
Eric Rudolph (four bombings with two dead, but only at abortion clinics, gay bars, and the olympics): plea bargain.(Bush-era)

Enough said about how Republicans view right-wing terrorists and Christian terrorists. Or about who is tough on crime and who is not. Although I'm not a big fan of the death penalty, if that's the yardstick of whether a crime is really bad (and conservatives think it is) then failing to pursue it for Rudolph is pandering to the fascists who think Rudolph was 'justified' somehow. A statement needed to be made LOUDLY with Rudolph that bombing is not an acceptable means of carrying on domestic politics. Not in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s, and not today. Or have I just pointed out why Republicans in the South want to go easy on a bomber?


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Bullets from Heaven

In an earlier post, I warned about the next potential Space race--a race to establish a permanent military presence in Space--and now reports that the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has begun to move ahead openly with plans to do just that.

"Emerging threats round the world indicate the need for developing a space-based layer" of defensive systems, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, the MDA director, said April 11 at the 3rd Annual Missile Defense Conference in Washington. The agency would like to "maintain options for a space-based test bed" and... begin experiments by October 2006.

Contrary to popular belief, the Outer Space Treaty (OST) does not ban all weaponry in orbit. It specifically forbids any military use of other celestial bodies, and bans WMDs in orbit, but does not forbid other weapons in orbit. Not that this White House would give a fig for nonarmament treaties anyhow. The interesting question, though, is: if this is what they are willing to go public with now, what have they already done that we don't know about? And how about our enemies?

There are no provisions for verification in the OST, but if there were any treaty that could get by without them, it would be the OST. All you have to do is look up. Amateur astronomers could be the citizen's defense force of the 21st century. Still, there is a lot of sky to cover, and without a significant effort to search it, camouflaged (relatively dark) objects could remain hidden for years. Could this be why, despite many dire warnings of potential catastrophes, the US government has never funded a significant program to search for near-Earth asteroids? Conspiracy mongering? Probably... but then again, maybe not.

The truth is out there.


The WSJ goofs again

Has anything good ever come out of the Wall Street Journal? Check out the article. In it, James Taranto makes fun of John Kerry, who had the audacity to claim that there was GOP voter suppression in the last election. Kerry says:

Leaflets are handed out saying Democrats vote on Wednesday, Republicans vote on Tuesday. People are told in telephone calls that if you've ever had a parking ticket, you're not allowed to vote

Taranto, thinking that's untrue, suggests that Kerry may have taken an article from "The Onion" and passed it as fact. Ha ha.

Except, of course, it's true. See for instance this article.

It's so hard to police all the conservative web sites for errors. I guess this is my little contribution.


Friday, April 08, 2005

Backlash against Republicans

From a Gallup Poll: April 1-2

"Do you approve or disapprove of Congress' involvement in the Terri Schiavo case?" N=1,040, MoE ± 3.

Approve 20%
Disapprove 76%
Unsure 4%

"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the Terri Schiavo case?" N=1,040, MoE ± 3.

Approve: 34%
Disapprove: 53%
Unsure: 13%

Gallup Poll 4/08/05:
"Do you think the Bush Administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, or not?"
Yes,Misled 50%
No,Did Not 48%
Unsure 2%

This is a substantial increase from only 1/3 thinking he misled last summer.


Three Cheers for the CA Senate!

The LA Times reported yesterday that the CA Senate rejected Schwarzenegger's remaining nominee, Kathleen Smalley, for the California State Teachers Retirement System Board. There were 5 nominees originally, sitting on the board awaiting Senate confirmation, but Schwarzenegger fired the other 4 of his nominees after they voted to oppose his own plan to replace public pensions with 401k-style accounts in February. It was a 10-2 vote to condemn the plan soundly, with one of the two dissenters being a direct representative of the administration, and the other being the woman the Democrats nixed yesterday.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) was refreshingly up front about the Senate Committee's reasons. He did not issue some pretense--the kind of lie that has become so commonplace in our Culture of Deception. Instead, Perata said Smalley was "very qualified," but that if Schwarzenegger required his appointees to follow administration policy, Senators would use the same criterion in casting their votes. "You can't have it both ways. She is a battlefield casualty in a fight over public pensions."

IMHO, this is exactly the sort of (typically) below-the-radar fight that is so important. These appoinments are crucial and I applaud the CA Senate for showing real backbone. Schwarzenegger must learn that the Governorship is not a dictatorship, and independent boards are vital to our system.


Papal Poverty?

I've been amused lately by all the reports about the Pope's poverty. The man who lived in a palace, flew in a private jet, rode in bullet proof cars and died in a private, fully equipped hospital room in his palace attended by the best doctors in Europe, claimed to have no possesions in his will. He is being burried in a "simple cyprus coffin."

The Catholic Church is among the wealthiest organizations on the planet. The Church collects and spends hundreds of billions of dollars every year! And the decisions about how all that money is collected and spent are based on the principle that the Pope is the divinely appointed, infalliable monarch of the entire Church - so the Pope is the controller of all that wealth. The one limit to the Pope's control of all that wealth is that when he dies his will can't specify who inherits it.

What do you think are the political implications of this? The Church spends millions defending and relocating criminal priests. The Church interfers in the politics of many countries - either by giving moral legitimacy to dictators (as in Central and South America for decades), or by threatening to excomunicate progressive politicians. Is the Chruch poor? Does it matter if we think it is or isn't? If the Church is wealthy and presents an image of poverty (as in the case of the recent pronouncements about the late Pope), what should we think of its motives?


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Who Shall Rule Britania?

Hi All,

Tony Blair has called an election for May 5th. Labour has been down in the polls for the last year (largely due to the unpopular deployment of troops to Iraq). Normally, Blair would have waited until Labour's support surged in the polls but current British law requires that elections be held at least every 4 years and the clock was running out for Blair's government.

The lucky thing for Tony Blair is that the main opposition party, the Conservatives or "Tories," also support the war in Iraq and voters support Labour more than the Tories on most domestic issues.

That brings us to the Liberal Democrats. This is the inheritor of the great Liberal tradition in British politics. They began as "Whigs" and as the Liberals they were in government often in Victorian/Edwardian period. But since World War I, the Liberals have been a third party struggling to survive in a "first-past-post" (single member district) electoral system. The Lib Dems are the only party in Britain to have opposed the war in Iraq. And they support full rights for immigrants. They have largely abandoned (or at least suppressed) their economic liberalism in favor of social liberalism.

My hope is that Labour will lose enough support to force a coalition with the Lib Dems but not so much support that the Tories regain power. At the very least it would be a rare coalition for British politics and give political scientists like me something to fuss about for a decade or so.

So what do you think? Who shall Rule Britania?


Tom De Lay's Campaign Against the Constitution

NPR is reporting that Tom De Lay is so upset that the courts did not support Congressional Republican's demand to keep Terri Shiavo's body alive that he has asked his minions to look into ways to get the judiciary more answerable to Congress and or punish the judges who didn't vote the way he wanted. De Lay is of the opinion that the Shiavo case shows that the judiciary is "out of control and unaccountable." I'm sure LTG would agree with me that this is exactly what the Constitution independent judiciary that is not accountable to politicians or under their control!

Comments? Discussion?


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Prayer for a New Pope

May the new pope acknowledge that God bestows his grace equally on women and men, and recognize this in granting the all sacraments to women, including ordination the priesthood, bishoprics, cardinals, and even the throne of Peter.

May the new pope acknowledge that protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox Christians are real Christians and work for restoration of the whole church (not, as the Vatican declared in 1999, that they are "not proper churches" and that there is no salvation outside the Roman church).

May the new pope recognize that celibacy is a medieval tradition that has outlived its usefulness, and allow priests to pursue love as they find it, even to marriage.

May the new pope recognize that homosexual persons are sons and daughters of God, as He made them, whose sexuality is a gift and who have the right to love and live with one another in committed relationships.

May the new pope recognize that contraception and family planning are not evil, and permit especially the poor and desperate in Africa with facing an AIDS epidemic and too many children to wear condoms.

May the new pope open his heart to the victims of pedophilia in the church, recognize the pain they have caused, and encourage priests to have a healthy sex life in their service.

May the new pope oppose dictatorship not merely where it threatens the church, but everywhere, including Africa and Central America.

May the new pope advocate against the death penalty as strongly as he has against abortion, and insist that no American bishop speak out only against those opposing criminalizing abortion while turning a blind eye for political reasons to those who support the death penalty.

May the new pope recognize that a dogmatic insistence that life begins at conception has no authority in scripture or history, and permit women to have early term abortions, particularly when they are victims of rape or incest.

May the new pope advocate on behalf of debt relief and support for the poor with the same insistence that has been reserved for abortion, demanding that the energy that has been put into opposing abortion be, instead, put into serving the poor and the third world, and supporting the dignity of work and the living wage for all.

May the new pope see protection of the environment as part of God's work, and teach that pollution is a sin.

May the new pope acknowledge the many sins of the church in the crusades, the inquisition, and silent acquiesence to the Nazis during the holocaust, and seek repentance and renewal.

May the new pope not value the treasure or traditions of the church above its mission to minister to the world.

May the new pope recognize that no human is ever infallible.

We can only hope for a new spirit of renewal in the Roman church, not just a turn to right wing doctrine.


Friday, April 01, 2005

John Paul's Legacy?

Hi Everyone,

All joking aside, the breaking news today seems to be that the Pope is near death. "Grave Condition" is the term being used and Papal spokesmen are breaking down in tears at press conferences.

In the next week or so we are going to be buried in hour long specials on CNN, MSNBC etc about the legacy of this Pope. Who are we to blow against the wind?

What do we think his legacy is? In the Church? Religiously? Politically?