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."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Note On Biden

I'm gradually changing my short list of candidates for the Democratic nomination. I started the season with my short list being Obama, Edwards and Richardson. After the debates, I'm pretty sure that Edwards is off my list and positive that Richardson is.

I'm thinking more and more seriously about Biden. I've got Meet the Press on in the background right now and Biden is very impressive. Russert was trying to press him on inconsistencies with past comments and Biden was very good. It became clear quickly that Biden actually remembers an enormous amount of detail about what he said on Meet the Press and other shows 3, 4 and 5 years ago! If we are looking for the complete opposite of George W. Bush, Biden could be it. He's very intelligent, thinks of the big picture while having a good memory for detail.

So far however, most of his public statements have been about the war in Iraq. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's looking more and more like Bush is going to insist that our troops still be in Iraq at the time of election so the war will be THE MAJOR ISSUE.

His other positions are much like his positions on Iraq. He has a very pragmatic approach to traditional Democratic positions. He seeks to make the case that investment in things like health care and good police actually save us money in the long run. That's the kind of pitch is the winning combination. So many liberals don't seem to understand clearly WHY they have the positions they have. They seem to support this program or that just for sake of doing so. Biden is actually capable of explaining to people why we need these programs.

What's more, he is willing to "put everything on the table" with regards to budgets and reform. The combination of those two approaches is key. If you understand WHY you want the programs in the first place, you may be able to acknowledge that other people may have valid ideas for taking a new approach to solving a particular problem. The traditional state run welfare state may not be the best way to solve problems of poverty etc. Democrats need to get past their support for the programs and remember what the goals were in the first place.

Biden is moving in that direction for that reason, I'm considering him more seriously than I have before.

It's a shame the media goes for money (Clinton, Obama) and looks (Obama, Edwards) first and foremost. I'd like to see the issues get more coverage.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Not quite a Summer of Love...

In the Summer of 2005, I wrote a series of posts (Summer of Love, Summer of Love Continues, and Summer of Love Rolls on) observing that Canada and Spain had recognized gay marriage, and that in the U.S., the California legislature became the first to approve of gay marriage--although the CA bill was later vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (We await the ruling of the CA Supreme Court, which on a unanimous vote in December 2006 agreed to hear challenges to the state's current same-sex marriage ban, but has yet to set a hearing date. It is expected sometime this Fall.)

Well, there has been a bit of a lull, but things may be picking up again. At the end of last year (November 2006) the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere (Israel does not perform them). And in December 2006, the South African Supreme Court made South Africa the fifth nation to perform full same-sex marriages. Then, in early 2007, French Presidential Candidate Ségolène Royal promised to legalize gay marriage in France (she made it to the May 6 runoff but is not the favored candidate to win at this point).

There is also some good news at home. On April 12, 2007, the Connecticut State Senate Judiciary Committee approved a gay marriage bill 27-15, although Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell has said she will veto it (CT already has civil unions, along with VT). On April 26, New Hampshire's state legislature passed a bill to become the third U.S. state with Civil Unions, and Democratic Governor Jon Lynch has said he will sign it. And today, on April 27, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has introduced a bill in the NY State legislature to recognize gay marriage. Spitzer is the first Governor in the U.S. to propose same sex marriage, even though advocates say it has little chance of getting past the NY state legislature.

The move toward recognition of gay marriage is picking up again slowly. It does not quite look like another 2005 Summer of Love is on the horizon, but the future looks a bit brighter now.


Democratic Debates

Hi Everyone,

The Democratic candidates had a "debate" last night. I put the "sarcasm" quotes in because to call this a debate is even sillier than it usually is. Often these things are not debates between the candidates but rather alternating questions by a moderator. This time the large number of candidates made it even more indirect. This time the candidates were not even asked the same questions. What's more the "top tier" candidates were given a disproportionate amount of the time. Now for my impressions.

I went into this undecided between Edwards, Obama and Richardson. I have to say that none of those three impressed me particularly. I have a better impression of Clinton and Biden than I did before.

Edwards: Not enough substance and the polish isn't as great as he would have us believe. His hair care gaffe sums him up too well. Limosine Liberal with a great hair cut and little experience.
Obama: Similar problem to Edwards. I'm not convinced he knows what he wants to do. I think he's much smarter than Edwards though. He keeps trying to talk about his accomplishments in the Illinois State Legislature. I think Obama is peaking too early. He's super smart and I wouldn't be surprised if it turns things around but for now, he doesn't have the substance to back up the image.
Richardson: Looked like a deer in the headlights a couple of times and he's friendly with the NRA. I'd expect more poise from someone with his resume. Combine that with the fact that he's fairly conservative and I'm not as enthused about him as I was. That said, I still think is bio/resume is compelling.
Clinton: I'm still worried about her high negatives but she came across as very confident and capable. While the other candidates were talking about their grand plans for health care, she argued convincingly about the need for less ambition and more practicality. That's experience speaking.
Biden: I like his (con)federal solution to Iraq. It has the notable advantage of reflecting the reality on the ground without complete shirking our responsibility for having screwed the place up in the first place. I also liked his one word answer to a question about whether he can reassure the American people about his ability to be President. His answer was simply, "Yes." I liked it but I fear such succinctness is somewhat out of character and I wouldn't like it if the Democrats ran another candidate that had to run against his true personality.
Kucinich: I can sum this guy up with one word - irrelevant. He's clearly running to represent the Naderite fringe that has come back into the party since 2000. He kept saying that he was against the war from the start. Great. But the House wasn't asked to authorize it. So his opposition is similar to Obama's (he was in the Illinois legislature at the time). If there is a Kucinich position you don't know just think of the most cliche stereotype about liberals you can and you'd be making a good guess.
Gravel: What is it with Alaskans and crazy old men!? This former Senator from Alaska was like a left wing Ted Stevens! He kept yelling about Vietnam and accusing the front runners of having secret plans to preemptively use nuclear weapons. At any moment I expected him to start foaming at the mouth.

Did anyone else see it?


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Real Heroes

Pvt. Jessica Lynch, the woman dramatically rescued on camera in 2003 by U.S. troops, was welcomed home from Iraq as a hero. Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former NFL player killed in Afghanistan in 2004, was awarded a silver medal and posthumous promotion for his heroic attempt to rescue his fellow soldiers from the battle. In the years since, both Lynch and Tillman's family have come forward to say that the U.S. Army lied and exaggerated these events for propaganda purposes. They did so again this week before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The U.S. Army had claimed Tillman was wounded trying to rescue others, and then was rushed to a field hospital where he died 90 minutes later. The truth--only dug up when the family refused to accept vague and contradictory descriptions--is much less appealing. Tillman was actually killed by friendly fire when his unit was mistakenly ambushed. He received three shots to the head, and he died on the spot. A witness to his death, Spc. Bryan O'Neal, testified that Tillman's last, words were, "I'm friendly! I'm Pat f***ing Tillman!"

The Pentagon then tried to cover up these facts. O'Neal testified he was ordered to lie about the incident to medics who came to the scene. Tillman's body armor was burned by the Army Ranger unit that shot him in an attempt to cover up the incident. Worse still, a 2005 investigation revealed that these facts were known all the way up the chain command to Gen. Abizaid--within days of the event--but the Army went ahead, fabricated the tale of a heroic rescue, and handed out medals.

Pat Tillman's brother, testified this week in angry, shaking voice that the story about his brother's death was, "utter fiction... intended to deceive the family and more importantly the American people." Though the Army now admits "mistakes" in the reporting, Pat Tillman's father said those, "'mistakes' were deliberate, calculated, ordered (repeatedly), and disgraceful." Wrote his father, "All the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this... they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy."

Jessica Lynch also let go her mantle of heroism. She said the Pentagon, "lied and tried to make me a hero." She said, "They used me to symbolize all this stuff. It's wrong. I don't know why they filmed [my rescue] or why they say these things." She denied that she had bravely gone down fighting, saying her gun was jammed and there was nothing she could do anyhow: "I did not shoot, not a round, nothing. I went down praying to my knees. And that's the last I remember." Furthermore, she denied she had been raped or otherwise abused at the Iraqi hospital where she was treated--in fact, she reported excellent treatment.

For propaganda, the U.S. Army and the Pentagon fabricated stories of false heroism. The real heroes here are the family, friends, and fellow soldiers who have sacrificed their own reputations to expose the way the Bush Administration has tried to manipulate public opinion to support an ugly, disastrous war.


Friday, April 20, 2007

In Other News. . . My Opinion About Everything

The US Supreme Court has given the green light to state laws that ban partial birth abortion without regard to the health of the mother.

I don’t need to go on and on about how bad this is. Courts should not be interfering with medical decisions, and I think that means end of life decisions as well. Courts should not vale one life over another, or criminalize a woman’s desire to do what is best for her and her family. I hope this is not going to be a slippery slope. But I fear that is what it is.

I give Alberto Gonzales at most a month before he resigns to “spend more time with his family”. His performance was abysmal and Congress reamed him! It was uncomfortable to listen to, but long over due. When members of your own party take you out behind the shed, you know your days are numbered. Bravo Congress!

I give Paul Wolfowitz no longer than Gonzales, perhaps even less time, before he is shuffled off to teach Economics at Princeton. Good riddance. I hope we are starting to see the downfall of the neo-cons. Rumor is that Papa Bush as well as the First Lady are horribly disappointed in this Adminsitration, especially Bush Jr. Prepare for the the First Lady to take her leave of her husband sometime in 2009. It will be splashed on the pages of People Mag right next to "Brad fights Angelina for Children" and "Katie Holmes Escapes Cruise's Clutches".

The Economist ran a nice obit for Arthur Schlesinger. He believed that the US goes through cycles of liberalism and conservatism. The liberals (i.e. Democrats) fix the messes created by conservatives (Republicans), then people get comfortable and go back to conservatives and the cycle repeats. I tend to agree. We are headed for good round of Democrat dominance. It’s how balance is restored. All things in life need balance.

The French presidential candidates ended their campaigning today and French voters head to the polls this weekend. Polls are at a 3 way dead heat with Le Pen as the spoiler. The First round will be a dead heat. My guess: Sarkozy and Royal will make it to the final round with a hair's width between them. Sarkozy will take it. Royale has big plans to liberate the state treasury of its funds to expand just about every social program there is, while claiming she can pay for it all by cutting costs. Seems contradictory. Bayrou is vague at best. Le Pen is a good single-issue, protest candidate. Sarkozy seems to have the most rational policies, but he has had to placate the extreme right. Ultimately, though, I think the French will go for him. It's a gutt thing on my part.


Monday, April 16, 2007


Though more lethal massacres happen somewhere every day, on this day, from Le Monde, to The Age (Australia), to Al Jazeera, to Xinhua (China), to Der Spiegel, to La Nacion (Argentina), to the BBC, it is the slaughter at Virginia Tech that shocks the world. I cannot put it into words yet, but somehow, against the numbing senselessness of it all, that seems a comfort.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Oh, the Trojanity!

Well, UCLA police use tazers to move students. USC threatens to suspend students (giving them 15 minutes to decide, apparently) for your basic college protest. The students at USC were protesting the use of sweatshop labor to create clothes with college logos on it. (UCLA began to insist on fair labor standards for its apparel manufacturers about six years ago). Standard student protest stuff.

I think a combination of entrenched, detached, bloated administrations coupled with the 9/11 syndrome (the new ability of any bureaucrat, public or private, to demand more power and slavish deference to silly rules because "everything changed" after 9/11). A venti latte says that USC will soon say these 15 students were a "security problem." You know, Al Qaeda in West Adams or something. Maybe Kent State was justified after all. They were undermining the war, after all.

Bully for USC in two respects: (1) this may be the first time in ages they've had students with a social conscience out in demonstrations; (2) apparently the student body is not all spoiled rich kids whose parents would raise bloody hell if USC had suspended them.

Morons. No wonder we elected Schwarzenegger...


Karl the Deleter

So, Henry Waxman (D-CA) now says that he believes Karl Rove deliberately deleted e-mails by US government officials about the political dismissal of US attorneys (which Gonzalez plainly lied about). Patrick Leahy said on the floor of the Senate today that he doesn't believe the White House when it says the e-mails are "lost." "Just like the 18 minutes of missing tape from Nixon" he said.

Them's fightin' words.

But it's not just talk. If Bush orchestrated email deletions to obstruct a Congressional investigation, that is the sort of thing you can be impeached over in this country (apparently violating the US Constitution doesn't count).


Wolfowitz... join the sleaze

Well, the sleaze continues. Paul Wolfowitz has admitted to sleeping with a top-level aideand giving her a special cushy job, with a raise from $130K to $193K pay tax free and other "guaranteed promotions." Her name is Shaha Ali Riza, apparently of Libyan father and Saudi mother (so the scandal for the wingnuts is that she's a Muslim). Now, to put the scandal in perspective, Monica Lewinsky was not being paid. Riza was.

That makes Paul a John.

So, is Bush going to give Wolfowitz another medal?

I guess Wolfowitz left his job at DoD, but he wasn't done f***ing Arabs...


Imus Shymus

I am curious what my colleagues think of the Don Imus scandal.

I have never listened to Imus. But as I listen to story on story pile up on this topic. I have mixed feelings and I am leaning toward one of them.

1. What he said about the basketball team was cruel. He shouldn’t have said it.
2. Isn’t this a tempest in a teapot? I mean had he not used the phrase “nappy haired” would people have cared? In fact isn’t the whole thing just plain stupid?

I am leaning toward number 2.

I think what I am trying to figure out is what was it that offended exactly? Was it the racial slur, the gender slur, the sexual slur, or all of the above? Part of me says the team needs to suck it up and move on. You know what they say about sticks and stones.

Imus offends everyone every time he opens his mouth. That is his thing, his appeal. He purposely avoids political correctness. I take it back; I don't he purposely avoids it, I think he is incapable of adhering to it, proved by his less than stellar apology on Al Sharpton's show. He's a schock jock and that is what shock jocks do. That is why they bear the name. From Imus’ perspective, I am sure he is as confused and I am. He goes beyond the bounds of decency every day. So how can he tell when he has gone too far out of bounds until someone screams? By then, I am sure it seems arbitary to him.

Shouldn’t the team, many of whom I am sure have never heard Imus either, just suck it up? By making a big deal of it, they have just given the guy more of a victim status than they themselves could ever claim.

Furthermore advertisers who pull adds are doing it out of fear of consumer revolt more than out of any real offense to their principles. I know CNBC would like us to think otherwise. It is hypocritical considering the amount of money Imus has made for them already!


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The New Corruption

Stories are breaking about corruption in the Student Loan business. Several universities, including Columbia and John Hopkins have suspended their financial aid advisors for conflicts of interest. Apparently, advisors have been taking kickbacks, stock options, and expense paid trips from student loan companies without disclosing this to students and families looking to take out student loans.

I can't say I am surprised. The way these loans are managed is corrupt as it is. We have discussed this on this blog before. There are many things they don't tell you. Student loans are treated as "unsecured" loans, thus interest accrues daily; when you consolidate, you are locked in at a set interest rate and you can't refinance if rates drop; only death will get you out of the loan. If you send in extra money, interest accrues until the check is processed, meaning that you have less money going to the principle. If you have a combination of subsidized (government pays the interest while you are in school) and unsubsidized loans and you consolidate, your payments go to paying the subsidized portion of the loan first, leaving the unsubsidsed portion untouched. All of these are typical practices used by the credit industry. But none of them make paying down student loans all that easy, even when you make every payment every month. As I have said before, I understand what it is to be Argentina. You pay and pay, but don't see the principle drop off. I've paid over $25K in interest and only $7K in principle over the last 10 years. It is depressing.

Here is the interesting part: banks who offer these loans get incentives from the government and they take on no risk since all student loans are backed by the government.

Student loans are an $85bil. industry controlled by only 32 companies. The Clinton Administration attempted to cut out these middle men by having the US Department of Education give students loans directly. This is a much cheaper way to go for the government and is better for the students in the end. However, a vast majority of universities have chosen not to use the Direct Loan Progam, opting instead to continue using Sallie Mae or other private lenders. Private lenders and consolidaters (who send me as much junk mail as credit card companies) have a pretty rich lobby in Washington and big expense accounts with which to woo university financial aid officers.

In a day and age where the housing market and sub prime lenders are being looked at more carefully we need to start poking needles into the lending market as a whole. Greed and coruption is driving lending industry.


Timetables Show Confidence

I am tired of the claim that we must not set a timetable for Iraq because to do so would "embolden" our enemies. There are three reasons why that makes no sense at all.

First, what exactly do the Republicans fear the terrorists would do? If the terrorists were to decide to lie low for a while, that would be fantastic: Bush has been telling us for years that all we need is a few months' respite from the violence to turn the corner. If the terrorists were to launch more attacks, such recklessness could only make them more vulnerable--and is that fear even realistic? Does anyone seriously believe that the terrorists are trying to "pace" themselves now? Aren't they already attacking our soldiers as hard as they can?

Second, it doesn't matter what the terrorists might or might not do anyway. War plans are supposed to cover all reasonable contingencies. Does Bush's "surge" require a cooperative or timid enemy to succeed? Surely we have already planned for the enemy to be well-funded and bold? (If not, we'd better get out now!) If there were some secret element to the plan, I could understand protecting that, but the plan is a simple clear and hold. They've already told us what it is. To announce how long they expect it to take would give the enemy no additional options beyond what they already have.

Third, an operational war plan of this kind naturally has goals and timetables built into it. Commanders need those so they can evaluate the plan and make adjustments. Yes, the enemy can slow you down and throw off your timetable, but nobody seriously expects large-scale organized resistance to U.S. Army's movement in Baghdad. Baghdad is a hundred or so square miles, so if it takes two days to clear a square mile, the operation will be concluded in about eight months.

To keep the expected timetable secret only betrays a lack of confidence, and that sends the wrong signal to our enemies. If Bush really believes his plan will work, he should announce the timeline and stand by it. A Commander-in-Chief owes our soldiers at least that much.


An excellent prediction

... from Atrios

The Compromise Shuffle

Here's, roughly, how it works.

Democrats loudly proclaim their willingness to negotiate and compromise, even after they've already compromised with themselves. The Bush administration loudly proclaims its unwillingness to do so.

Broderesque columnists loudly wail about the fact that both sides are unwilling to sit down over tea and negotiate and compromise.

Republicans sneak in with what they call a "compromise" which, magically, will be exactly what Bush wants, and won't involve actually compromising with the people who run Congress.

Broderesque columnists will loudly praise the non-compromise compromise put forward by the Republican party and the Bush administration.

We've been here many times before.
Anyone want to bet that he's wrong?


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Support the Troops Unless They Get Captured

The British sailors and marines are safe at home now. But they would be tried for cowardice if some neo-cons got their way (see this National Review editorial here). The article linked to is written by a British ex-pat turned naturalized American who is more ideologically eclectic than most conservative columnists. But the core values are there: hypocrisy and intolerance. See his wikipedia bio here.

This admitted illegal immigrant to the US is a fierce opponent of other illegal immigrants and amnesty (although as a currently naturalized citizen, he has benefited from what he opposes). He's also a self-described racist and homophobe who is married to a Chinese woman (now there's a foundation for healthy relationship). This guy is easily dismissed as a crank. However, I awoke this morning to CNN doing an interview with the British sailors and marines actually justifying why they surrendered to the superior fire power of the Iranian forces that captured them. He must be reflecting the sentiments of enough people out there to warrant a response. To the extent that this view is common, it is an interesting development.

These British troops were supposed to have fought to the death rather than allow their little rubber dingies to be captured by the forces of a country with which they are not currently at war. And if they were going to surrender the least they could do is force the Iranians to torture them before speaking on TV. With support like that who needs opposition!?
It lays bare the reality behind the "support the troops" rhetoric. Liberals and other opponents of the war aren't being ordered to actually support the troops themselves but rather the policy that sent them over there. The troops are there to fight and die - pointlessly if need be - and our part is support the flawed policies and deranged leaders that sent them there.

It fits with the fetishism around Sparta that is growing among American Hawks. "Come Back With Your Shield Or On It." What's next, American Bushido? Suicide charges at dawn? Are we start emulating the Japanese war time regime now?


Friday, April 06, 2007


Barack Obama's annoucment that he raised $25m in the first quarter of 2007, just shy of Hillary Clinton's $26m was a political stunner, as he started with almost no base or organization to speak of. He had nearly twice the number of donors as Clinton. Polls are also worth noting. Hillary has positive ratings around 50%, but negatives around 40-45%. Barack Obama has positives in the mid-30s, but negatives only at about 20% or so. Barely 10% of the voters are unsure about Clinton; about 1/3 unsure (or have not heard of) Obama. He has the chance to define himself; she is already in a box.

This race is looking like Clinton's to lose and Obama's to win. Others who made good money - Edwards ($13m), Richardson ($6m) - show they have the organizational prowess to be competitive until the public really becomes engaged in the process about 9 months from now.

Of course, I shudder, as do many, at the thought that raising money (from those that have money) is a sign of being a good candidate. Plutocracy is bad government. But the facts are what they are. In 2000, Bush got all the money really fast, and McCain was an underdog from Day One. In 2008, HRC is not in that favored position yet. It should be an exciting race.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Terrorist from Oz

OK, our frequent visitor, Spotted Handfish, pointed out that there has been little attention paid the first conviction of any of the Guantanamo detainees. David Hicks, an Australian who fought with the Taliban against US and allied forces in Afghanistan, was convicted of providing material support to terrorists in a plea bargain. This after spending 5 years in prison subject to a legal limbo under military authority which the US Supreme Court have said was unconstitutional. You can see a BBC story about him here.

Hicks was also a volunteer/mercenary for the Kosovo Liberation Army (see wikipedia link here). After returning to Australia he converted to Islam and went to Pakistan to "study" before going to join the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan. This guy was a disturbed and violent individual who travelled the world to join in combat with some pretty unsavory folks. What's more he was fairly open about it - calling his parents on the phone to tell them he was about to go into battle for example. That he fought for the Taliban does not seem to be in dispute. His treatment in Guantanamo however is.

He claims to have been tortured and beaten repeatedly while in US custody. Regardless of what he did in Afghanistan his case should be investigated and the facts brought forward. Given what we know about US military practices under the Bush regime, I believe him. Unfortunately part of his plea deal is a year long gag order. Why a year? Well, when you add a year to the 9 months he's going to spend in prison you have him talking the press after our elections are over in 2008. Convenient, no? Perhaps LTG can comment on how unusual it is that a convicted criminal be required to be silent about his treatment in prison prior to conviction.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bush Craps on Constitution... Again

Today, Bush made three "recess appointments." All three were rejected by the Senate - never made it through committee. Sam Fox, the a major donor of the "swiftboat veterans for truth" sleaze campaign, was appointed ambassador. Andrew Biggs, proponent of privatizing Social Security and former Cato Institute crony is now deputy in charge of social security services. And Susan Dudley was appointed to OMB's regulation arm.

Let us make no mistake. These appointments are flatly unconstitutional. The constitution provides for the president to make such appointments only when Congress, by adjourning, prevents him from getting their approval. The Senate has rejected these, and it's just on a week-long Easter break. So this isn't Bush filling a void, it's Bush circumventing the constitutional requirement of Senate approval. Bush acts as if all he need do is wait until the Senate leave town for a few days and he can abandon the 220 year requirement of Senate confirmation. This is just another example of the GOP's basic lawlessness. Bush intends to destroy the power of the Senate to confirm appointments by doing them all as "recess" appointments on holidays.

I believe Harry Reid will not take this sitting down. Expect the Senate to avoid recessing without getting promises that the President will obey the constitution during their absence. Expect his other appointees to be totally stalled until he relents. Reid is a fighter. Even Senate Republicans must fear the precedent- the idea that Senate approval is an appendage to be removed.

Next up: recess appointment for a Supreme Court justice. That has been done 15 times before. The last time that was done was 1958. But in all instances it was a genuine recess appointment - not someone rejected by the Senate, or certain of Senate rejection, but someone who was subsequently confirmed by the Senate. Only five of those appointees even took their seats before Senate confirmation. This is not a precedent for avoiding the Senate; it's a relic of a time when supreme court confirmations were not particularly political.

The only recess appointee not immediately confirmed by the Senate was John Rutledge in 1795. He was appointed by Washington and presided as Chief Justice for four months. He took the opportunity to lambaste the treaty his immediate predecessor, John Jay, had negotiated with Britain for the Washington administration. The Senate rejected him (with Washington's tacit approval).


Monday, April 02, 2007

The 300 As Propoganda

Hi Everyone,

I just saw the movie "The 300" the other day. I was struck by the propaganda of it. The message is clear - support your leaders during times of war even if it means violating your laws. Oh, and Sparta is held up as the shining example of Greek culture while Athens is mentioned (once) and referred to as "Philosophers and boy lovers" who are said to be famous for their lack of a spine.

In one scene, the Spartan elders tell King Leonidas that they can't send the entire army because their laws say they can't fight during a particular religious festival (more on this later). When this is pointed out, the elders are subjected to a lecture about how laws shouldn't stand in the way of defending "freedom" complete with the modern cliche "Freedom isn't free."

When Leonidas speaks to his men they answer with a unified, affirmative "ayo" grunt that is reminiscent of the US Army's "hua" which they use for similar situations.

Anyone who did not immediately follow Leonidas was depicted as either weak, incompetent or in league with the Persians.

As for the Persians. Like the Athenians they are depicted as homosexuals and cowards. Xerxes is portrayed as an effeminate giant with lots of jewelry and skimpy underwear. His court is a mass of squirming naked women engaging in lots of homosexual sex while mutant body guards look on. Oh, and this is interesting, in "The 300" Persians look like Africans. All the main Persian characters are played by African American actors.

Now, back to the thing about the Spartan religious festival. That festival did not impact Thermopylae. It was the excuse the Spartans gave to the Athenians for not participating in the fight to stop the previous Persian invasion of Greece. Yes, that's right. It was the Spartans not the Athenians who were reluctant to fight the Persians. The first time the Persians invaded, the Spartans demurred while the "Philosopher boy lovers" of Athens defeated the Persian army at Marathon.

Then there is the storm that the movie has destroy half the Persian fleet. In reality, there was a storm that destroyed part of the Persian fleet. But it happened after Thermopylae when the Persians were sailing down the coast to attack Athens. When they got to Athens the Athenians defeated the Persians in a decisive naval battle at Salamis. Throughout the movie the Athenian contribution to both Greek culture and Greek military success is either ignored or held up for derision (assuming a widely homophobic and anti-intellectual attitude among the films target audience).

The movie is fun from the point of view of pure hack and slash action. But the insidious message embedded in the distorted story line is deeply disturbing.

If any of you have seen it, I'd be interested in hearing what you thought.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Welfare vs "Wealthfare"

John Edwards likes to talk about 2 Americas and he is right about that. What I'd like him to talk about more is how those two Americans have been created . . . through social engineering using the tax code. Here's fun fact:

Tax exemptions for homeownership in the United States amount to a government hand out of approximately $26 bil a year. Yet fewer than 1/4 of low-income Americans receive federal housing subsidies. Three quarters of Americans, usually the more affluent, get housing aid from the government in the form of favorable tax exemptions.

Every Administration since Reagan has cut HUD. Regan and Bush cut HUD by 70%. Clinton and the Republican controlled Congress lopped off another 25%. Slumlording, warehousing (holding empty apartments off the market hoping to sell them at inflated prices to developers), gentrification, and redlining in addition to discriminatory lending policies have locked lower-middle and middle-middle class citizens out of housing and turned our urban centers into ghettos and our farmland into suburbs for the white and wealthy.

To add to the fire, banks and corporations, defense, and agribusiness, all get some form of direct or indirect subsidy.

* The Savings and Loan bail out (which we are about to repeat) costs us about $37 bil a year and will for the next 30 years.
* Agribusiness gets about $18 bil a year
* In 1997, the FCC handed out broadcast licenses for digital TV for free. The estimated value had they been auctioned was set at $20-70 bil.
* Timber industry: $427 million +tax breaks
* Aviation: $5.5 bil a year, not to mention the bail out after 9/11.
* Mining: $3.5 bil a year
* Tax avoidance through off-shoring $12 bil a year
* Defense Contractors , the top ten of whom took home $67 bil in 2002 and $108 bil in 2006).

Add it up and you get something in excess of $126-$234 bil annually.

Now I am not saying that all subsidies are bad . . . well OK, I think most of them are. They skew the entire social system. They suck up resources needed to fix social security, medical care, and education in this country. They don't provide jobs really because they help maintain inefficient industries. Secure, fair paying jobs are more numerous in efficient and competitive industries.

At 34 years of age I am scared. I am scared about how I and my generation are going to pay for nursing homes and medical care for baby boomers, education and health for our own children, our own retirements and living costs, and still be able to have some kind of decent quality of life. I find myself scaling back my life expectations more and more so that I won't be as bitterly disappointed. (Says she who sits here typing on her $3000 laptop eating from her $5 quart of ice cream.)

In 1996, Congress and the President insisted on a total reform of the welfare system. They justified this by insisting that social benefits to the poor were too expensive and created a culture of dependency. Yet the welfare system for the poor is nowhere near as costly to the government, nor as damaging as the “wealthfare”. It is the corporate interests that are suffering from dependency, not the poor.