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."

Monday, October 31, 2005


In a unanimous decision in Alaska CLU vs. State of Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Oct 28, 2005, that it is unconstitutional for the state to deny lesbian and gay state employees and retirees equal benefits for their domestic partners.

The suit was filed shortly after Alaska's voters passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2000. The plaintiffs did not seek to overturn the ban on marriage; instead, they argued successfully that same-sex couples could not be denied equal benefits merely because they could not marry. The denial of benefits, the court said, "cannot withstand minimum scrutiny."

The state had argued that denying gay employees domestic partner benefits furthered the state’s interest in promoting marriage, but the court firmly rejected that argument, stating: "Denying benefits to the same-sex domestic partners who are absolutely ineligible to become spouses has no demonstrated relationship to the interest of promoting marriage."

The court also noted that, "Many same-sex couples are no doubt just as 'truly close[ly] relat[ed]' and 'closely connected' as any married couple, in the sense of providing the same level of love, commitment, and mutual economic and emotional support, as between married couples, and would choose to get married if they were not prohibited by law from doing so." Yes, even in conservative Alaska, the courts are coming around to view same-sex relationships as a normal part of the American landscape.

Quoting Lawrence v. Texas, the Alaska Supreme court wrote, "It is the duty of courts 'to define the liberty of all, not to mandate [their] own moral code.'" You will be hard-pressed to find a clearer rejection of "judicial activism" anywhere. Makes you wonder... what would Alito do?


"Il duce" Alito

Got only one thing to say about this right-wing ideologue:
filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster...


Saturday, October 29, 2005

New Fed Chair

This story got somewhat overshadowed by the Wilson Affaire (that's for you LTG) and the Miers withdraw. But I think we should pay some attention to this. In fact, I wonder if the most powerful man in the world is really the US president. My money (pun intended) goes on the Fed Chair instead. Ben Bernanke, according to the Economist, was a favorite pick of online betters by a wide margin. He is former fed governor and reputed to be a respected monetary economist. He is Republican and currently serves as chair of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, however, it is said that his politics do not affect his economic decisions.

The Washington Post reports that Bernanke does now believe that there is a national housing bubble; the 25% increase in home values over the last 2 years is reflecting the "strong economic fundamentals" of the US economy. He sites strong job growth, incomes and increasing numbers of households as proof of the strong economic situation. Does it feel like incomes are rising and that we have strong economic fundamentals? When everyone is living off of credit cards, holding risky home loans, and failing to save, how can policy makers ethically continue to promote consumer spending?

Bernanke, like Greenspan, would not take action to spare individual homeowners should housing prices fall. In fact, he believes that the Fed should only take action if stock or housing prices start to affect inflation rates and/or economic growth rates. So he will more than likely continue Greenspan's policies.

What do the Citizens and their guests think of the new Fed Chair?

As a side note on inflation: I recently went to my local bagel shop and I noticed that they are now charging me 5 cents to slice my bagel and 10 cents to toast it. That is, in effect, a 15 cent increase in price for nothing. My hotel in Washington found all sorts of reasons to charge all of my colleagues different room rates for the same type of room. And room tax was outlandish. My DSL company is always trying to nickel and dime me. These are hidden charges that have an inflationary effect on consumers, but are never counted.


Friday, October 28, 2005

All the Vice-President's Men

The NY Times has a fascinating transcript of Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's press conference today where he outlines the charges against Libby in detail. They are neither trivialities nor technicalities. Fitzgerald said Libby's perjury and obstruction of justice were "very, very serious" crimes.

When asked why he did not indict Libby with the underlying charge of intentionally revealing the name of a CIA agent, Fitzgerald said:

FITZGERALD:The whole point here is that we're going to make fine distinctions and make sure that before we charge someone with a knowing, intentional crime, we want to focus on why they did it, what they knew and what they appreciated; we need to know the truth about what they said and what they knew.

QUESTION: Does that mean you don't feel that you know the truth about whether he intentionally did this and he knew and appreciated it? Or does that mean you are exercising your prosecutorial discretion and being conservative?

FITZGERALD: Well, I don't want to -- look, a person is charged with a crime, they are presumed innocent, and I haven't charged him with any other crime. And all I'm saying is the harm and the obstruction crime is it shields us from knowing the full truth.

I won't go beyond that.

Read between the lines. Libby prevented Fitzgerald from being able to prove what happened, and Fitzgerald knows it. The cover-up was successful, so he can only prosecute the cover up.

Fitzgerald also made a fascinating analogy to baseball.

I know baseball analogies are the fad these days. Let me try something. If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fastball and hit a batter right smack in the head, and it really, really hurt them, you'd want to know why the pitcher did that. And you'd wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, I've got bad blood with this batter... I'm just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter's head. And there's lots of shades of gray in between...

In this case, it's a lot more serious than baseball. And the damage wasn't to one person. It wasn't just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us. And as you sit back, you want to learn: Why was this information going out? Why were people taking this information about Valerie Wilson and giving it to reporters? Why did Mr. Libby say what he did? Why did he tell Judith Miller three times? Why did he tell the press secretary on Monday? Why did he tell Mr. Cooper? And was this something where he intended to cause whatever damage was caused? Or did they intend to do something else and where are the shades of gray?

And what we have when someone charges obstruction of justice [is] the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He's trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked their view. As you sit here now, if you're asking me what his motives were, I can't tell you... the harm in an obstruction investigation is it prevents us from making the fine judgments we want to make. I also want to take away from the notion that somehow we should take an obstruction charge less seriously than a leak charge.

Finally, when asked whether he knew the identity of the "senior official" (still not known) that told Novak about Plame, Fitzgerald said,

I'll explain this: I know that people want to know whatever it is that we know, and they're probably sitting at home with the TV thinking, I'm want to jump through the TV, grab him by his collar and tell him to tell us everything they figured out over the last two years. We just can't do that. It's not because we enjoy holding back information from you; that's the law.

When asked again about it, he said he would just repeat his earlier answer, "so I don't misstep and give you anything more than I should." So there is someone else, and Fitzgerald knows who it is.

The grand jury has expired but Fitzgerald's work will continue, although he said one would "very rarely" file more charges in such a situation.


Libby Cheney and the Presumption of Innocence

Hi Everyone,

Scooter Libby has been indicted (so far) for 5 counts of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice. He resigned. VP Cheney expressed his "deep regret" and said that Libby should be assumed to be innocent. I'm struck at the difference between Cheney's attitude towards Mr. Libby's presumption of innocence and that principle when applied to Jose Pedilla. Imagine an Arab American in Dearborn, MI who is accused of leaking (or covering up leaking) the identity of a CIA field operative with expertise in weapons of mass destruction. Would such an accused person be presumed innocent by Mr. Cheney and his compatriots in the Bush administration? Or would the unfortunate accused be rotting in a dog cage in "Gitmo?"

I'm sure more detailed posts will be forthcoming as this story develops. The special prosecutor is saying that the investigation is not over.

If the Democrats had control of either House, this would be grounds for a major investigation of the entire administration. It would be THE top story on every newspaper. But because the Republicans control all three branches of government accountability in this matter is extremely limited.


Iran Doing Favors For Bush

What is it with Iran and cooperating with America's far right? First it was "Iran-Contra" where the Iranian government bought weapons on the sly to help pay for a right wing insurgency in Nicaragua. Now, Iran's theo-fascist President is making public statements about how Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth (oh, and he wants the USA wiped out too but that's not being taken as seriously for some reason). This is providing American "Neo-cons" with a real "I told you so" moment. What's worse, this regime actually DOES have an active nuclear program.

One reason I was opposed to invading Iraq was that Iraq was a paper tiger. And if they weren't, they were deterrable. I still think that about Iran. But when the President of Iran makes statements like this is makes it harder for people who think like I do to convince people who want to invade them.

Now, if it's Iran that has the really aggressive agenda (Iraq's aggression was largely contained) and the active nuclear program why did we invade Iraq instead of Iran? I think it was like the old story about the man looking for his keys under the street light even though he lost them in the shadows. When asked why he was looking under the light, he said "because this is where I can see." In other words we invaded Iraq because we could and didn't invade Iran because we couldn't. Iran's conventional military is bigger and more popular with the people than Iraq's. Iran is a much larger country too, with population more widely distributed and with a more mountainous terrain.

So what does all this mean? I think the Egyptian government hit the nail on the head. Their official statement said that these statements indicate the weakness of the Iranian government. It is all too common in the Middle East for governments to whip up anti-Israeli feelings and anti-American feelings when their support wanes. Iran could be doing a similar thing here. For Iranian officials calling for the extermination of Israelis and Americans could like Stalin showing the film Aleksandr Nevsky to whip up nationalism in anticipation of an invasion by Germany. So is Iran trying to provoke a US invasion? No. They think it's coming regardless of what they do. So they are trying to play to their biggest military asset - popular support. But they're doing it out of fear (like Egypt implied).

The bad news is that Iran is a big dangerous country that feels (rightly) that they're boxed into a corner. The good news is that we don't necessarily need to invade them to fix the problem. If we back off they probably will too.

OK, that rambled a bit. Sorry.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Yet Another Republican Indicted

Hi Gang,

A Republican fund raiser in Ohio has been indicted for violating campaign finance laws. He was kiting money back and forth between accounts with the aid of several other Republican donors to enable him to exceed federal political campaign limits by tens of thousands of dollars. This man, Thomas W. Noe, is also under investigation for $13 million missing dollars from the Ohio state employees pension fund which he invested in a shady rare coin deal. That investigation led to the indictment and conviction of Ohio's Republican Governor, Robert Taft (the great grandson of President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft).

In the context of the De Lay indictment for the same type of violation and the Frist investigation, the Rove and Libby investigations this development is a reminder that the Republican Party as an organization is deeply flawed.


Possible Replacements?

Let's run down the list of possible replacements. TheWashington Post has their short list, but I think we can pare it down even further. Here's my list: Alito, Garza, Gonzales, Jones, Luttig, McConnell, Olson, Owen, Estrada, Clement, Brown, Batchelder and Cornyn. Of those, McConnell is my clear favorite. Olson and Clement, I think, would sail through the confirmation process. Alito and Garza don't necessarily make me want to throw up. That's about all the good I have to say.

The radical right wing would not approve of Gonzales, so I think we can throw him out.

This article tells you all you need to know about Priscilla Owen. I think there's no way she gets through without the nuclear option.

Most of the criticism of Janice Rogers Brown (whom the wingers adore) comes from this speech. You can find an analysis of it here if you don't want to slog through it. Frightening stuff.

Even more frightening (possibly) is Luttig's opinion in Padilla v. Hanft that LTG referred to below. It basically says that the President can throw any American in Gitmo indefinitely for no good reason.

I just wanted to get the ball rolling. Other thoughts?


Miers Withdrawal is a Major Political Defeat

I was blown over by the news this morning. This is a major political defeat for the president. Virtually every court watcher and Senate observer believed that if Bush stuck to his guns, the Republicans in the Senate would not hand their own C-in-C a massive defeat. He, and I mean by "he" Karl Rove, must have had no stomach for a fight. Why? The Plame-Leak CIA Grand Jury. That's right: after tomorrow's expected announcement of indictments, Bush and Rove may have found the Republican senators unwilling to go to the mat for him, or at least demanding, in return, a heavy price that he would have to pay (such as distancing himself from Rove, or even Cheney). Bush cannot be fighting the conservatives in his own party when he needs their support to call the indictments (a la Delay) "politically motivated." Since he can't fire the grand jury, he fired his other liability: Miers. Bush now has a carrot to offer his party for their support when his administration gets slammed by the grand jury: a nominee to their liking, a right-wing ideologue like Luttig, for example (the man who recently wrote that in the perman ent war against terrorism, there can be no limitations on the president's ability to lock up someone indefinitely, without trial, whom he accuses of being a member of Al Qaeda, including American citizens apprehended on American soil, i.e., you and me).

Personally, I think Miers should have refused to withdraw her nomination. She should have been self-interested and told W that he should be loyal to her, no matter what, as she had been to him all along. He said she was the "best qualified" person for the job, and she could have, and should have, made him stuck by it. In the end, I still believe that the Senate Republicans would not have dared defeat her nomination, and she would be on the court. If Miers remained the nominee, they would have confirmed her, and exacted as their price that Bush rid himself of the Plame Leak Scandal by ditching Scooter and Karl. And I think Bush would not have dared withdraw Miers against her will, because that would be even a graver defeat. In other words, Miers could have forced Bush to pick her over Rove. I'm sorry she didn't, for her sake.

FYI, a close relative in Dallas Miers fairly well, and they used to belong to a church together in the 1980s. According to this source, Miers helped out with a "no questions asked" STD clinic run by that church. Now she attends a more evangelical/fundamentalist church. But this relative says that Miers is every bit as intelligent and nice as we have been led to believe by Harry Reid. All moot now.


Miers Nomination Withdrawn

One of the really cool things about being in Washington is that I can scoop all the other Citizens! Gotta love the time zones!

Miers has withdrawn her nomination. Surprise, Surprise. What is interesting to me is something in her statement. She says that she strongly believes in the independence of the branches of government. And then she goes on to say that her hearings would jeopardize . . . wait for it . . . the independence of THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH . . . because it would require the White House to turn over protected documents. That is very telling of her priorities.

And then, take time to listen or read Harry Reid's comments. He actually sounds genuinely sad to see Miers withdraw. His statement sound almost like he favored her nomination. He said that he was pleased that she was not an Ivy League lawyer and that she was the type of person that the Senators wanted. WHA???? Check out this from Oct 3 Harriet Miers- Initial Reaction
He goes so far as to say he suggested Miers as a nominee! And then he says it was the far right that killed this nominee. The implication is clear. It wasn't the Democrats. It was your own fault for pandering to the extreme right. He says as much. He even mentions sexism of the far right as part of the reason. I have mixed feelings about his statement. I think that part of the reason is how contrite he sounded.

And the timing is great. Washington now will burry the story of the indictment of White House Aids in the Wilson affaire.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Can you say "Litmus Test"?

GOP senator wants written evidence that Miers is conservative

"What I am suggesting is that I'd love to see more written material that predates the nomination," said Vitter after an early morning meeting with Miers, the White House counsel.

When asked how important getting that material was to his vote, he said "It's extremely important. I don't know how to put it in a numbers term, but it's extremely important."

... oh, and this is just plain brilliant.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We're Gunning for you, Syria

If you look at the rhetoric that surrounds Syrian cooperation (or the lack of it) in the investigation of the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, it sounds a lot like the rhetoric we used before the Iraq war. Today the US and France announced joint support for a U.N. report implicating Syrian officials in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, former Lebanese Prime Minister. Reports are that the US and France are also working on a joint resolution that will demand Syria's cooperation as the inquiry proceeds. The US has already levied sanctions against Syria. France is not yet in favor of sanctions. But concerns in France about being a terrorist target and memories of its own history in the Levant may lead them to follow the US lead should Syria fail to cooperate.

What we are witnessing is a growing crisis that will have huge consequences. Syria may well fall into chaos and revolution. There is growing opposition to the ruling regime inside Syria. And this opposition in emboldened by the UN investigation. Proof that something is afoot came last week when Syrian interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan turned up dead. He was a nasty guy, a member of the ruling elite (i.e. read minority group and Baathist party official), known to be ruthless. He was quite unloved by the Lebanese because he was a key player in turning Lebanon into a Syrian satellite state. UN investigators were swirling around him in the Hariri investigation. An hour before he was found dead, he called a Lebanese radio station claiming that he hadn't passed files over to the UN and ended the call by saying, "This may well be the last statement I give." So no doubt someone took him out. The question is who and how much closer to President Assad will the UN investigation get.

This weakens an already seriously undermined government. Bashar Assad sits hemmed in by the US on one side and Israel on the other. Its Arab partners are fed up with it. Lebanese opposition is crystallizing. At home, there is growing resentment of Assad's clan. And you have some of the same players in Syria as in Iraq and Lebanon that would love to start a revolution. There are Kurds, Druz, and possibly Sunni terrorists groups that are now turning their activities onto Syria.

Stay tuned because we could be seeing the fall of yet another Arab regime, a fall no doubt hastened by covert US and Israeli action. And then we will be in another Iraq spiral where there a huge power vacuum with either the military ready to step in or civil war.


Welcome to US West

Hi Everyone,

Frequent visitors already know US West from her insightful comments on our posts. Please join me in welcoming her to The Citizens!


USA Not Alone In Having Religious Right Problems

Hi Folks,

A couple of days ago Poland elected a right wing, Catholic conservative, nationalist (Lech Kaczynski) to be their President. His main opponent, Donald Tusk, was a classical Liberal (see many previous posts by me about how Americans don't know what Liberals really are).

This man (and the Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski - they are identical twins) support radical reform of Polish politics to emphasize/preserve state intervention in the economy, Catholic-nationalism and social conservatism. Support for their party is dominated by rural Poles who are fundamentally anti-modern and opposed to Polish participation in the world economy. When Poles slip towards fascism this is what it looks like.

However, lest we in the USA get too judgmental of our Polish friends, we should be aware that Poland is only following our lead. Bush and his crowd have a very similar ideology to the Kaczynski brothers and their support comes from the same type of voter (anti-modern, rural nationalists).

Hopefully Poland's membership in the European Union will constrain some of the nuttier ideas these brothers have. They could turn out to be the Catholic-nationalist versions of Margaret Thatcher's orthodox free-marketeering. We'll find out soon enough.


"Tired of Giving In"

The LA Times has a nice piece on Rosa Parks, as do many newspapers this morning. On that fateful evening of December 1, 1955 when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Rosa Parks had not intended to get herself arrested nor was she even planning to take a stand that night. In fact, she had been going home to help plan a workshop for teenagers for the weekend. She was not a "plant" by the NAACP--as some have said to try to discredit her--but neither was she more tired than usual. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in," she later said. Said Elaine Steele, her longtime friend, "She was in her 40's. She was not a child... She was just fed up."

That act of courage cost her her job, and later--after the ensuing boycott was successful--she had to move out of Alabama entirely to avoid death threats and reprisals from the Klan and other such American terrorists. Despite the many honors she later received, Rosa Parks was never wealthy: she lived in a modest, rented home in Detroit and her final job was as a receptionist for Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) When she was 81, she was assaulted by, ironically, a black man. She suffered bruises and was robbed of less than $100.

Over the years, she received a few unusual honors. The State of Missouri has named a portion of Interstate 55 south of St. Louis the "Rosa Parks Highway," which is not coincidentally the same stretch of highway sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan. The City of Montgomery, Alabama has put a library and museum in her name on the very spot where she was arrested back on Dec. 1, 1955. The American Public Transit Association gave her a "lifetime achievement award." At age 82 she was awarded the Medal of Freedom, and was even blessed by the Pope.

But perhaps my favorite honor is this: when that anonymous, lone Chinese student faced down a column of army tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Nelson Mandela characterized it as, "a Rosa Parks moment." For a dedicated civil rights worker who--in the end--was, "just a person who wanted to be seated on a bus," now that is very good company.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Paul Hackett for Senate

Paul Hackett, a young Iraq war veteran and Marine, has just announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for Senate in Ohio, to challenge DeWine (R). He narrowly lost a special election in a reputedly very conservative district, having gained much national attention. He has the story, no doubt, for a great TV campaign. The question is, can he convince Ohio Democrats, and then Ohio as a whole, that he's got more than a flashy story and pretty face? I, for one, look forward to the effect this will have on other races, because the image of Democrats in uniform will help neutralize the standard right-wing rhetoric that progressivs are soft, wussy, an Un-American.


George Will

George Will is an excellent writer and he has a great example of his writing up now: Defending the Indefensible, about Harriet Miers' nomination. It's a very good article and well worth the read. But consider this passage:

In their unseemly eagerness to assure Miers's conservative detractors that she will reach the "right" results, her advocates betray complete incomprehension of this: Thoughtful conservatives' highest aim is not to achieve this or that particular outcome concerning this or that controversy. Rather, their aim for the Supreme Court is to replace semi-legislative reasoning with genuine constitutional reasoning about the Constitution's meaning as derived from close consideration of its text and structure. Such conservatives understand that how you get to a result is as important as the result. Indeed, in an important sense, the path that the Supreme Court takes to the result often is the result.
Guess what, George? That sort of conservatism is dead! Nobody cares what "thoughtful" conservatives think anymore. People like Will and Andrew Sullivan lament how the Bush administration has become a big government administration, pandering to the religious right and kowtowing to corporate America while installing cronies at various government positions. But when you realize that, the Miers nomination is not only defensible, it is logical.

There is a rift within the Republican party between the "thoughtful conservatives" and the "social conservatives", but here's why the rift doesn't matter: the "thoughtful conservatives" will vote Republican even if their candidate is a Bible-thumping, big government one. They voted for Bush, they will vote for Frist or whoever. Why? They have this undying faith that the Republican party will change, and that in any case, they say, the Republican candidate is better than the Democratic one. Meanwhile, the social conservatives will simply not vote unless they think their vote can end abortion or put prayer in schools, or whatever the issue of the day is. The Republicans in power can no longer afford to ignore the social conservatives; however, they can completely ignore the "thoughtful conservatives", and will continue to do so, as most of these so-called "thoughtful conservatives" are just sheep.

So Mr. Will: please stop complaining that the Miers nomination makes no sense. Instead, it's time to accept the fact that this is the way the GOP works now. And if you don't like it, it's time to reconsider party allegiances.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Insufficient, Inadequate, and Insulting

NY Times reports that the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate judiciary committee--Sens. Specter and Leahy--have sent a letter to Harriett Miers asking her to resubmit her questionnaire, because (among other things) members of the committee have found her answers to be, "insufficient," "inadequate," and even, "insulting."


I suspect Miers and Bush believe that her confirmation by the full Senate is a foregone conclusion--and thanks to Sen. Frist's repeated calls for "up or down votes" on all of Bush's nominees this past summer, I'm guessing the full Senate will get to vote regardless of what the committee does. So to Miers and Bush, it is these hearings by the Senate's judiciary committee that must seem insufficient, inadequate, and insulting.

Sen. Specter has scheduled the hearings to begin on Nov. 7th. If this letter is any harbinger of what is to come, Ms. Miers is in for the "Clarence Thomas" treatment.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What a Judge Should Sound Like

Hi All,

Today's News Hour on PBS had a story on Arlen Specter's continuing frustration with both Meiers herself, her critics in the Religious Right and her supporters in the White House. Apparently, Meiers has annoyed just about the entire Senate Judiciary Committee with her contradictory, incomplete and "insulting" answers to a questionnaire they sent her to prepare for the confirmation hearings.

In contrast they also had an interview with current Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. I disagree with some of his rulings and I found his split ruling on religious monuments on government property to be absurdly contradictory. However, his explanation of his position was at least thoughtful and eloquent. One thing it wasn't was "incomplete" or "insulting." I really have to ask if Meiers is really qualified to be a judge. We are at the point where we may need to ask, is the country better off with an obvious incompetent on the Court or with a raving ideologue? I suspect the US Supreme Court has survived both in greater number than we'd like to admit.

Still, I'd like to hear what you all think about it.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More on California's Special Election and Labor

Proposition 75 is a proposition called "paycheck protection." What it means is that a labor union may not use dues for political purposes without the express consent of each member. This proposition is limited to public employee unions only. Every time I see such a proposition, I wonder why a corporation can use money for political purposes without each employee's consent. But here, it's a public employee union, so that issue of 'balance' is a bit diminished. We're talking about prison guards, cops, firemen, and teachers. 'Specially teachers. Anyone without a tin ear for politics knows that this is Schwarzenegger hitting at his political enemies. It's about as brazen a move as prohibiting donations to any campaign of any person who once used steroids. I would support that, the anti-Schwarzenegger, anti-Barry-Bonds initiative. But I digress.

There is a real danger Proposition 75 will pass, singling out these unions for political impotence (many of which already lack the right to strike).

My larger beef is that labor unions aren't going about promoting propositions of their own, such as ones prohibiting corporations from making political contributions altogether. A corporation is supposed to make money, not indulge the personal political desires of the directors. As a matter of corporate law, then, it would follow that spending money on politics is just an improper use of corporate funds... unless the corporation "gets" something for its contribution that is good for business. Of course, that is exactly what happens, and why it should be banned.

There is no reason why the initiative process must be the tool of the right alone, but for laziness. Will Change To Win change this?


Two Russian Items

Hi All,

One of the principle architects of Gorbachev's Perestroika policy, Alexander Yakovlev, has died at the age of 81. Perestroika was a great development in World Politics. The Soviet leaders (Gorbachev, Yakovlev and others) had a choice of how to respond to the rapid economic decline their state dominated economy had imposed on their people. Many at the time expected the Soviets to be increasingly bellicose (Tom Clancy even wrote a book about a desperate USSR lashing out at NATO in its death throws). Others (like Henry Kissinger and Condy Rice) thought the USSR would continue on more or less as it always had. But Gorbachev and Yakovlev had other plans and we are all the beneficiaries!

Back to today. Recently, Norwegian fishery inspectors boarded a Russian ship that was fishing in waters near the Norwegian Spitzbergen Islands and ordered it to head to a Norwegian port for a full inspection. On its way to Norway the Russian ship suddenly changed course, kidnapping the two Norwegian officials who were trapped aboard and headed for Russian waters hundreds of miles away. Norwegian coast guard ships gave chase and have attempted to snag the Russian ship's screws to stop it. Russian officials say they are cooperating. But not only are Russian not cooperating, they are sending their own naval units to intercept the Norwegian ships and prevent them from enforcing Norwegian law. Our Scandinavian visitors will probably be reminded of Soviet naval incursions into Swedish home waters, or Communist bloc naval vessels terrorizing Danish fishing ships operating in international waters in the Baltic. One is tempted to wonder what the Russian word for "pirate" is.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Euro Reality Check

Hi Folks,

Danish papers announced today that Denmark had a budget surplus of 2.3% of its GDP. Among EU Member States, 5 countries had budget surpluses: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Estonia. This is the reality check part. When they talk about Europe, especially Scandinavia, Americans get images of "socialist" countries with bloated governments and slow growth. And yet here we have evidence that the so-called "Socialist" countries in Scandinavia are more fiscally responsible in a traditional sense than the supposedly conservative administration we have in the USA.

The Europeans get a reality check too. 10 countries failed to meet the EU requirements for low deficits. Notable among those are Germany, France, Italy, and Greece. France, Italy and Greece were governed by right wing governments last year.

Bush and the Republicans are fond of saying that the Democrats want to make American politics more European. I would say that given our own country's economic indicators that Bush is the one who has Europeanized American politics. Bush runs the US like a European from the corporatist (i.e. not capitalist) right. The Republicans don't respect the market, they respect their constituents - monopolistic industrial interests like Big Oil, Big Electricity and Big Pharmaceuticals. Market forces scare monopolists because when markets are healthy monopolies can't survive long. The Republicans aren't the party they were 20 years ago. They are more like the Italian right wing populists (Berlusconi's group) or the French and Greek Gaullists/Nationalists. Bush also has strong ideological similarities with the Bavarian Christian Social Union.



Thursday, October 13, 2005

Special Election

Let's kick off our coverage of the Nov. 8th California special election here on The Citizens.

First off, here's a handy guide to what several groups are recommending. But I'm more interested in hearing what the members or guests of The Citizens think...

So leave a comment below!


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Grand Day Out

On October 15, 2003 (almost two years ago to the day), Lt. Col Yang Liwei became the first "Taikonaut" as the Chinese launched their first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou V. The craft orbited for 20 hours and returned safely. Today, China successfully launched their second (imaginatively named Shenzhou VI). It will carry its two new Taikonauts in low Earth orbit for 5 days.

China's stated goal for its manned program is to build a space station and put a man on the moon by 2010. Meanwhile, according to a Guardian article earlier this year, Japan intends to put a robotic spacecraft on the moon by 2010, and hopes to have developed the technology for a manned moon mission by 2015. Meanwhile, NASA announced on Sept. 17th of this year a $104 Billion dollar program over the next 13 years to put a man on the moon again in 2018, starting with robotic spacecraft landings in 2008-09 timeframe.

According to an NY Times article, one PRC state television commentator speculated that, "America's strategy is to lure China into a space race, and to drain China's resources so it will collapse, without a war." But another added, "This is not a competition. There is great commercial potential on the moon."

China continues to insist its interests in space are peaceful and that there is no space race. But the more they deny, the more suspicious I become. And what's this with China speaking of the commercial potential of our moon? Do they know something we don't? Laugh all you want about the Chinese space program being 40 years behind America's... looks like they're catching up fast because we didn't capitalize on it. While our space shuttle fleet is all but grounded, China is marching ahead, and Japan is putting together its own resuable spacecraft. By the time NASA gets us there again, there could be a permanent Chinese presence on the moon. And there could be several more flags.

The moon race is on. Again. And this time, my friends, we're behind.


Fun stuff

If you haven't seen the new Harriet Miers blog, you should really check it out ...

And yes, it's a parody.


Robin Hood in Reverse. Again.

Bush's Tax Advisory Panel is a disaster in the making. Their stated purpose is to come up with a revenue neutral (the time period is not specified) plan to:

(a) simplify Federal tax laws to reduce the costs and administrative burdens of compliance with such laws; (b) share the burdens and benefits of the Federal tax structure in an appropriately progressive manner while recognizing the importance of homeownership and charity in American society; and (c) promote long-run economic growth and job creation, and better encourage work effort, saving, and investment, so as to strengthen the competitiveness of the United States in the global marketplace.

According to the NY Times, the Panel has concluded that a consumption tax (sales or VAT) is a bad idea. Apparently, if they exempted food, education, and medicine, they'd need a sales tax rate of about 87%. Instead, the panel is focusing on reforming the federal income tax. (While a proposal for a "flat tax" is still possible, apparently the panel is unlikely to come to much of a consensus on that.) The only thing they have agreed on so far is that their proposal (originally due out in July, now pushed back to November) will feature the following tax cut:

1. They will eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax entirely. This will cost $1.2 Trillion over 10 years.

This sounds great, especially if you're at the upper end of the tax ladder. And more rungs are being eaten up by the AMT every year. According to Forbes, 2.3 million people paid the AMT for the 2003 tax year, 13 million are expected to do so for 2005, and 33 million by 2010. The big question, though, is how they are going to pay for it. That's where the "Oh My God..." moment comes in. The proposals under consideration are:

A. Lower the mortage deduction ceiling from $1 million down to about $300,000.
B. Reduce the mortage deduction from 35% of interest payments down to 25% or 15%.
C. Limit tax-free health insurance premiums to $11,000/year or below (as opposed to the current system where employers can deduct every penny, and employees are not taxed on the premiums.)
D. Limit the ability to deduct state and local income taxes from the Federal income tax.

Are they insane? It would be hard to think up a set of proposals that would hurt ordinary Americans more. Here's a better idea: abolish the AMT and pay for it by closing tax loopholes and creating a higher income tax bracket rate for the millionaires for whom the AMT was originally invented. There is an extensive, if somewhat biased discussion of the AMT at this House of Representatives website.

You know, I almost wish Bush would endorse these proposals. That might ensure the Democrats retake the White House in 2008.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Social Security E-mail

One of our frequent visitors, Siddharthawolf, recently received an e-mail with the following questions and some answers:

Q1: Which political party took Social Security from the independent trust fund and put it into the general fund so that Congress could spend it?

Q2: Which political party eliminated the income tax deduction for Social Security (FICA) withholding?

Q3: Which political party started taxing Social Security annuities?

Q4: Which political party increased the taxes on Social Security annuities?

Q5: Which political party decided to start giving annuity payments to immigrants?

The e-mail then gives answers that blame the Democrats for all of these things, as you might guess.

Don't be fooled! The real answers can be found on The Social Security Administration's Website. If you have received this e-mail, write back to the person who sent it to you, and tell them that you have found the definitive answers to these questions.

And if a Nigerian businessman wants to transfer several million dollars to your bank account, you might want to view that with a certain degree of skepticism.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Oil Giveaway Backlash?

Hi Gang,

Here are some poll numbers from (see link to the right) regarding the high gas prices. Some highlights are:
64% of respondents say they are driving less.
61% of respondents think prices will increase in the near future.
61% of respondents say the gas prices are imposing financial hardship on their households.
49% of respondents think our top priority should be to encourage conservation compared to 37% who favor more production.
50% think that Bush wants more production compared to 36% who think he will encourage conservation.
79% of respondents think that oil companies are to blame "some" or "a lot" for the high prices.

In that context, the Republicans' recent energy bills (which include lots of new drilling, very little in the way of conservation or alternative fuels and massive subsidies to oil companies) are ripe for exploitation by the Democrats.


The Doctor is IN

Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats will be the next Chancellor of Germany. The Socialists and Christian Democrats have agreed to a power-sharing "grand coalition" and Schroder is stepping down. (In exchange, most of the Cabinet posts--including foreign affairs--will be occupied by the Socialists.) Quite a phenomenal rise to power for a private, shy woman who was a quantum physicist back in communist East Germany. It's hard to conceive of such a candidate triumphing in America. She has proven that she can persevere to win at the game of politics. Time will tell if she can lead a nation.


Friday, October 07, 2005

The Looting Continues

A Texas Republican has introduced a refinery construction bill in the House of Representatives that would give incentives to the petroleum industry to develop more refining capacity. This bill also re-introduces a number of anti-environmental provisions that were dropped from the original "National Energy Strategy" that the Bush Administration finally pushed through last month, after 4 years of trying.

NY Times says the new legislation, "would give regions downwind of polluted areas more time to comply with national standards on ozone levels and would limit the government's ability to prosecute utilities or refineries if they make plant changes that increase their overall emissions of pollutants." NY Atty. Gen. Spitzer (and 8 other State AGs) say bluntly that it would, "eviscerate protections of the Clean Air Act."

Once again, the Republicans are trying to exploit a national tragedy (this time Hurricane Katrina) in a cynical move to line their own pockets. Everyone knows that the so-called National Energy "Strategy" last month was nothing but a bunch of giveaways to Republican corporate donors. And now that they have another chance to try to sneak it in, why not let them all off the hook for their pollution as well? I guess the Republicans figure that the hurricanes already made such good progress in destroying the environment on the Gulf Coast that we might as well finish the job.

The pretext for this insidious little bill is that the nation sorely needs to incentivize the petroleum industry in America to increase its refining capacity. What a load of crap! What more incentive does the petroleum industry need beyond $3.00/gallon?! Does throwing more money at the price-gougers really make sense to anyone except a Texas oilman? If they really want to help solve the energy crisis, how about giving us a bill that incentivizes the automotive industry and the public utilities to end their dependence on petroleum altogether!


Bush Claiming Prophet Status Again

Hi Everyone,

Many in this country both on the right and the left believe that belief in God should be a necessary requirement for holding public office. Well, you get what you ask for I guess. And here is what you asked for. A God fearing, devout lunatic. Bush told Palestinian delegates that God told him to invade Iraq and establish a Palestinian state. The White House now denies he said such a thing but remember Woodward's reports that Bush had nearly said as much to him?

Did Mr. Bush ask his father for any advice? '“I asked the president about this. And President Bush said, '‘Well, no,'’ and then he got defensive about it, 'says Woodward. '“Then he said something that really struck me. He said of his father, '‘He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength.' And then he said, '‘There's a higher Father that I appeal to.'’"
Bush says he doesn't use God to justify the war. But he makes such a grand point of saying he asked God for advice about going to war that one wonders if he's being completely honest with himself or us. Friends I ask you. Wouldn't you rather have a level headed atheist?


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Senate Votes 90-9 to Improve Treatment in Military Prisons

Friends! Is Democracy fighting back? Is Liberty reasserting itself?

The Senate voted by a vote of 90-9 to impose stricter limits on the treatment of detainees in US Military Prisons. The measure is a rider added by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to the enormous DOD spending bill. This was added despite warnings from the President that he would veto the bill. Here is the CNN.Com article. The White House is saying Bush will be giving a "major speech" about it soon.

If Bush vetoes this bill his first veto of his Presidency will be declared to defend torture. Think about that. Think about it twice if you ever voted for this man.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005


This just came out of left field.

LTG and I have been talking about how the Bible cannot be taken literally for a while now. But I have a very hard time believing that the Catholic Church came out and said as much. Good for them. Read the article, and note this part:

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”
I'm impressed.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Military Response for the Flu?

Hi All,

A week or so ago I commented on this blog that I was concerned that the Bush administration seemed to be ensuring that the only federal agency that could do anything effectively was the military. Having accomplished that they want the military to take over everything from disaster relief to law enforcement and now Bush is suggesting that if the Bird Flu hits the US, it may require a military response. Wouldn't it be easier to cancel the highway bill pork fest and pay for the vaccine!? But why prepare when an "unforeseen" disaster would be an excuse to put the US military out on the streets nation wide! Medical professionals have been ringing the alarm bell about this flu for a couple of years now. They are comparing its potential to kill with the influenza pandemic in 1918. And now there are reports that it has mutated in exactly the way it needed to start a pandemic!

OK, that was a lot of links. But it's a complicated issue about which we've said little on this blog.




This diary on Daily Kos, I think, hits the nail right on the head. Check it out, report back here and leave a comment.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Loyal Lackey Rewarded with Plum Appointment

President Bush's decision to appoint personal counsel and long-time yes-woman Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court is another example of his leadership style: acquaintances get minor, ceremonial posts like FEMA chief, while good friends get the juicy jobs that really jazz up the resumé. It's an old tradition that goes back at least to Andrew Jackson, "To the victor belongs the spoils." I suppose we should be grateful that at least she has some excellent legal credentials, even if she brings no judicial experience to the table.

What does she think about abortion, gay rights, gun control, separation of church and state, and assisted suicide? What is her view on federalism, and to which constitutional schools of thought does she subscribe? I don't know if Mr. Bush really even cares. According to Political Moneyline, she contributed money to Gore and Bentsen in '88 (later, of course, she contributed heavily to Bush.) She's not a conservative ideologue; she's just someone who finally found the right horse to back.

Bush said he consulted with "80 Senators," but according to the NY Times, Democratic Senators complained that the conversations lasted about five minutes and were consultations "in name only." But get this: apparently it was White House Counsel Ms. Miers herself who called some of the Senators to "consult" with them. Did Bush ask her to make those calls as one last practical joke on her? The man loves to smirk at everyone.

Should the Senate confirm her nomination? In a perfect world, no. But in the real world, yes. Because if they don't, Bush will nominate a highly qualified Scalia-clone--that's the unspoken threat: give my girl a good job or I'll send in the Enforcer. So unless we discover that she has a hidden agenda, the Senate might as well confirm her and move on.

Because I'd rather have an opportunist than an ideologue on the bench any day.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Comment On Schwarzenegger

Hi Everyone,

This LA Times article about Governor Schwarzenegger describes the Governor's grab bag of policies and concludes (based on analysis from a respected Political Scientist) that Schwarzenegger is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. However, I read the story (combined with other things I know about the Governor) and came to nearly the opposite conclusion. Schwarzenegger is socially conservative/populist and fiscally liberal. Here is why I think that.

Indicative Schwarzenegger social policy positions:
1) Anti-equality re: marriage for homosexuals
2) Pro-vigilante re: illegal immigration in the desert
3) Refusal to repeal recent tax cuts (this is often seen as exclusively "fiscal" policy but really tax code structure is a social policy too)
4) Education at all levels is cut heavily (K-12, community colleges, Cal State system and UC system)

Indicative Schwarzenegger fiscal policy positions:
1) Budgets are not balanced but are made to appear so by heavy borrowing
2) Spending on favored constituencies goes up despite little demonstrable benefit to broader society (I'm talking about the governor's slavish devotion to the Prison Guards Union and the prison industry)
3) Refusal to repeal recent tax cuts (to the extent that they affect revenue, they are fiscal policy).

Schwarzenegger frequently claims to be a leader that transcends partisan identity. "I represent all the people" or "What California needs is a single strong leader for all the people" or similar comments are common from the governor. These are NOT encouraging. Such claims to personalized legitimacy is the foundation of populist/fascist ideologies not democratic politics. Corporatist populism is a common ideological position in Austria. Schwarzenegger fits in that tradition far more than he fits with the socially liberal Californians who just want their budget balanced!

Comments? Alternative Perspectives?