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."

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Great Moments in Deep Thought

To herd the cat some times you have to let them stray. Think about that. Keeping them together by letting them stray.

-Trent Lott, January 31, 2007.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Give War a Chance

This is the message of the Republicans, "Give this plan a chance." Senator Cornyn (R-TX) on the News Hour said two things: (1) if you oppose the troop buildup, cut funds; (2) if you oppose the troop buildup in any way, you are opposing the troops themselves. Both are hogwash, of course. Particularly I would like to focus on #1. Cornyn knows that a plan to cut funds might pass the Senate. He claims the Democrats are being cowards not to try, but it's all talk - literally: the Republicans will filibuster any attempt to hold such a vote. If they agree to let votes on all resolutions, they may then accuse the Democratic majority of not having the courage of their convictions to pursue the harsher resolutions.

I'm writing this because Cornyn has proven himself to be a gross hypocrite and fascist over the past several years, and I'm tired of PBS giving him a microphone. They never cut him down to size appropriately.


Chavez Power Grab

Hi Everyone,

You probably have heard of Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez. Well, he's poised to make a major power grab that would erode still further the tenuous grip on democracy that that country still has. Fueled by high oil prices, Chavez has managed to become so popular that the National Assembly is going to vote him the power to rule by decree. The story is here.

His declared intent is to use these decree powers to transform Venezuela into a kind of oil rich version of Cuba. What ever you may think about the desirability of modeling a country after Cuba, think about the means he's using to do it.

Chavez has majority support in the National Assembly. If he wanted to pass new policies, he could get the Assembly to vote his way. Certainly their willingness to grant him decree power is a good indication of their loyalty to him. But instead he's having the assembly grant him decree power. This shows that the policy changes are NOT the point. The point is the decree power itself. What's more, it is likely that his plans for using the decree powers go far beyond what he has openly admitted thus far.

I have no idea how long Chavez will be in charge in Venezuela. But every step like this he takes makes it more likely that the eventual transfer of power will be a dirty business.

It is unfortunate that Bush has us bogged down so obsessively in Iraq. Venezuela under Chavez is turning into a real threat to us and our allies. Chavez has meddled in the elections of a number of friendly Latin American countries (including Mexico) so far with mixed success. His consolidation of dictatorial power in his own country is a worrying signal of his intention to threaten our interests and those of our allies in the region.

I'm not suggesting we should invade Venezuela, but having the ability to do so would make the diplomacy easier. Thank you for screwing this up too, Mr. Bush.


Monday, January 29, 2007

On Organizational Change & Government

In his last post, Dr. S mentioned the issue of war budgeting as addressed by the Iraqi study group. I want to open this issue up a bit. Pentagon budgeting is hardly transparent.

But using emergency funding to cover war expenses has had far reaching effects on the DoD budgets. Namely, it makes it very hard to separate war expenditures from basic operations for the daily DoD activities.

For example, let’s take the Center for Lessons Learned, which opened a few years ago as part of the Military’s transformation plan. They are training people to fight wars. And they will do this regardless of whether there is a war or not. But at the same time, they are critical to the war effort now. So how much of an emergency appropriation goes to them for their role in the current war and how do you separate that from the regular budget? How do you track the funds? It isn’t clear.

To track these new funds, the Pentagon has created whole new levels of bureaucratic hell. The levels of bureaucracy have increased 4 fold. Long time DoD employees tell me that they have never seen or experienced anything like it before.

Private contractors are proving to be mixed blessing. The government has always had contractors, but now there are so many and the sums of money are so big that we are back to the days of $500 toilet seats and gold plated hammers. Contractors who are brought in as consultants encounter a lot of polite smiles but little action. Some of these contractors are honest players whose job is to help guide organizational change. The resistance to this type change is serious. Rumsfeld wasn't all wrong when he talked about the "anchor chain" in the military.

But there is some good that is happening as well. Government is trying desperately to update itself, its organizational structure, and its methods of doing things. Government is turning to private industry because it needs to become more like private industry. At the same time, private industry is grabbing the most promising employees from government to help fulfill government contracts by waving huge sums of money in front of them. Those yonger workers who to want to stay in government find themselves increasingly frustrated.

The government sector is facing 3 huge issues 1) an office technology gap 2) an aging workforce that needs to be replaced. 3) a lack of solid leadership to help make needed changes. Notice that money is not the problem. There is more than enough of that. And while we knock the philosophy of the Ayn Rands of the world, she is on to something: the ability to block needed change under the cover of "the greater good".

Due to the burgeoning bureaucracy, government institutions suddenly need electronic document management technologies because funding allocations are getting lost in the approvals process. This means that managers spend more time filling out complicated paperwork and following up as it passes through the various gates rather than leading. Bureaucracy has replaced leadership and is sucking up energy. Great minds are spent tyring to comply with contradicting rules that change daily. Decisions, if htey can be made at all, are being made based on individual ego trips rather than on logic or reason. Middle managers are ignoring chains of command and forming quiet resistance movements simply to get things done.

The whole government salary system is being trashed and replaced with a new, more flexible merit based system, which is a good thing. But older workers aren’t rotating out as they should be and they aren’t keeping up either. They either stay in place, sleeping at their desks and collecting a salary while younger workers who are ready to grasp the reins are being blocked. If older people retire, they sign back up as contractors. So the revolving door that used to belong to Congress has filtered down to mid level functionaries.

So I ask, how can you win a war abroad when you don't even have the capacity to operate effectively and efficiently at home?


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Recommendations 46 and 72

It was 4:30 AM. I had coughed myself awake and I could not sleep: another victim of flu season. So it was the perfect time to finish reading the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report. If you have not read it, I recommend it: 96 short pages of (mostly) straight talk about the mess over there. It may have been the fever, but two recommendations in particular stood out as unusual, going beyond the Iraq crisis. First, with almost no explanation, there was this little gem:

Recommendation 46:
The new Secretary of Defense should make every effort to build healthy civil-military relations, by creating an environment in which the senior military feel free to offer independent advice not only to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon but also to the President and the National Security Council, as envisioned in the Goldwater-Nichols legislation.

Wow... So we all knew the generals were under pressure to hold the party line when talking to Congress... but this recommendation states as clearly as a bipartisan panel would dare that Rumsfeld also prevented his generals from talking openly and honestly to George Bush and Condoleeza Rice (in her former job). I think I finally know why Rumsfeld got fired.

The second thing that caught my eye was not actually the text of Recommendation #72 (that Iraq war costs should be part of the regular annual budget, rather than "circumventing" the normal process with emergency supplemental appropriations) but rather the explanation for that seemingly modest recommendation.
[t]he executive branch presents budget requests in a confusing manner, making it difficult for both the general public and members of Congress to understand the requrest or to differentiate it from counterterrorism operations around the world or operations in Afghanistan. Detailed analyses by budget experts are needed to answer what should be a simple question: "How much money is the President requesting for the war in Iraq?"

The ISG report goes on to complain that the emergency supplemental appropriations are approved by "pressured" committees and the Congress after only "perfunctory review" and "minimum scrutiny." The result, says the report, is that, "the must-pass appropriations bill becomes loaded with with special spending projects that would not survive the normal review process." The report chides the administration for continuing to use supplemental appropriations, noting that, "the war is in its fourth year."

I am sure other Citizens were more astute, but I had not realized that Bush's insistence on conflating the war in Iraq with the war on terror, and his tactic of having "emergency" supplemental appropriations every year, served a real budgetary purpose for the Republicans: to use these wars as cover to grab even more pork. Makes you sick, doesn't it? Anyhow I just thought these two were worthy of special mention, as they have not, to my knowledge, been noted much elsewhere.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Great Discussion on Youtube

Hi Guys,

I was surfing the tubes this morning and found this great discussion on Bill Maher's show. Here is a link to it on youtube.

I think it's interesting for a couple of reasons. First, because they are talking about "Jesus Camp" a documentary that I never got to see here in my small, Midwestern town. Second, because they quickly depart from talking about the movie and embark on a discussion of the nature of religion itself. I agree with Bill Maher on this one quite strongly.

Take a look at the clip. It's a good conversation.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

June is Just Fine

According to the NY Times, several large states, including California, are once again attempting to gain influence over the nomination process by moving their Presidential primaries earlier in the calendar. We have made this error before.

In 2004, California moved its primary to March, which was viewed by all as a disaster--it was way too early and didn't give California a voice anyhow. Other states just leapfrogged California. So California returned its primaries back to the first week in June for 2006--the same time California had always held its primary elections since 1946. (Before that time, it was the first week in May for Presidential primaries and the last week in August for off-years.)

I cannot find any specific evidence of an attempt to move California's primary again--can anyone help?--but I strongly oppose it. Let California do its part to stay out of the fray and choose a date that is best for California's own concerns. I know that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it--but come on, will California's political parties really repeat the same mistake made three years ago?


Gerrymandering the Electoral College

Interesting tidbit. As you may know, the Congress is preparing to pass a bill that would increase the House to 437 reps permanently, adding 1 for DC and 1 for Utah. The Utah seat would be at-large until post-census redistricting (and reapportionment) in 2010. The interesting effect is on the electoral college. DC already gets 3 EV, and would not get any more under the 23rd amendment ("...but in no event more than the least populous state"). But Utah's EV would be calculated by adding the total number of reps + senators. So Utah would get +1 EV (increase from 5 to 6). This means there would be 539 EV available, not 538.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gay Science

There is a provocative NY Times article on the recent controversy over research concerning gay sheep. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the work of Dr. Roselli, who was seeking biochemical causes of homosexuality in sheep. (Apparently, about 8% of rams seek sex exclusively with other rams.) Various gay rights and animal rights groups, however, raised a storm of protest, claiming that Dr. Roselli's work was designed to find a way to "cure" homosexuality by hormone treatments. This was, of course, a wild exaggeration--although arguably the immodest way in which Dr. Roselli advertised his work may have invited some of the distortion.

But it does raise the question: Is it appropriate for scientists to investigate why some people are homosexual and others heterosexual? Consider a matrix of possibilities: nature/nurture on one side, mutable/immutable on the other. What if we were to discover that the difference arises from genetics, or from developmental conditions, or from some combination of the two? What if we discover that a person's sexuality is fixed for life, or easily changed, or somewhere in between? Suppose there are many different types of homosexuality and heterosexuality--many sets of answers to these questions?

As a gay scientist, I sometimes find myself torn between the thirst for knowledge and the fear of knowing. On the one hand, I understand some people's fears. In a homophobic society, the matrix of possibilities looks bleak: immutable nature would make us seem like freaks; immutable nurture would mean homosexuality could be prevented by rearing children differently; mutable nature would mean a drug could be administered to change one's sexual orientation; and mutable nurture would invite re-education camps for adults. But on the other hand, I know that if society welcomed homosexuality, the matrix would look much brighter: immutable nature would make us seem gifted; immutable nurture would mean parents could choose their children's sexual orientation; mutable nature would mean people could easily choose to be homosexual; and mutable nurture would mean people could learn how to be homosexual.

I guess the real message in here is that, when it comes to the science of homosexuality, it is our attitude toward homosexuals that will drive how society uses the knowledge, not the other way around. We should not sacrifice science on the altar of hate. Let's find out as much as we can about human sexuality. Because in sexuality, as everywhere else, enlightenment leads to freedom and ignorance to oppression. In other words, the truth will make you free.


Obama Unelectable?

Barack Obama, according to his campaign website, attends the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Now, I'm a fan of the UCC, but this is a particularly radical branch. All Black, all the time. Follow this link to see the Black Value System it espouses. I don't think Point 8 is going to go over well with the electorate. Fox News will have a field day with this, and it will alienate many people. Imagine taking what is written below and replacing the word "black" with "white." This is what will will hear across the country. It will detract from the implicit message of racial healing that Obama's candidacy seems to bring to many white people.

To quote from the church website:
"Trinity United Church of Christ adopted the Black Value System written by the Manford Byrd Recognition Committee chaired by Vallmer Jordan in 1981. We believe in the following 12 precepts and covenantal statements. These Black Ethics must be taught and exemplified in homes, churches, nurseries and schools, wherever Blacks are gathered. They must reflect on the following concepts:

1. Commitment to God
2. Commitment to the Black Community
3. Commitment to the Black Family
4. Dedication to the Pursuit of Education
5. Dedication to the Pursuit of Excellence
6. Adherence to the Black Work Ethic
7. Commitment to Self-Discipline and Self-Respect
8. Disavowal of the Pursuit of "Middleclassness"
9. Pledge to make the fruits of all developing and acquired skills available to the Black Community
10. Pledge to Allocate Regularly, a Portion of Personal Resources for Strengthening and Supporting Black Institutions
11. Pledge allegiance to all Black leadership who espouse and embrace the Black Value System
12. Personal commitment to embracement of the Black Value System. "

I think the UCC is a wonderful organization, and I understand the need to build up the African-American community, but I am a bit disturbed. My church has two priests, an African-American man and a white lesbian woman. They preach integration and unity, not separatism (as Paul said, "in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female..."). The congregation is about 80% white, with a high gay percentage. I'm sure Barack Obama is not such a radical as his church statement of Black Values - if he is, he is a mighty hypocrite for being so centrist - but I suspect this may make him unelectable. And distancing himself from the church will be equally hard for his chances with the black community.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Webb Kicks Ass

So, Bush delivered his State of the Union Address tonight. Just miserable. He waited nearly 40 minutes to mention Iraq, although he sometimes claims we're a nation at war, like WWII all over again. His domestic agenda was long and full of nothing. Like he wanted "comprehensive [blank] reform" repeatedly. Great. And what does that mean? Very little applause, and none for his weird health care tax code ideas.

By contrast, Jim Webb was stunningly frank. He had two distinct messages: (1) there is a class division growing in this country with excessive corporate profits and a squeeze on the middle class (he used the term"class division"); (2) and the war in Iraq was recklessly entered into against the advice of all sorts of smart people, mismanaged, and a disaster that needs a new direction "to get troops OFF the streets of Baghdad." It was clear he is very pissed that his son is over there. And it really resonated.

Two things noteworthy. First, Hillary could not have given that speech. She voted for the stupid war. Second, Webb said "it's almost like we live in two different countries." So, it's to be an Edwards-Webb ticket, is it?


Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's never too early to prognosticate!

Well, OK, maybe it is too early... But it's never too early to bloviate on a blog! So far, nine Democrats and ten Republicans have declared they will run. Here is the list, organized by the percentages from the latest Gallup poll (Jan. 12-14, 2007). Note that this poll came out before Clinton, Obama, and Richardson declared their candidacies last week.

29% - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York)
18% - Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois)
13% - (Former) Sen. John Edwards (North Carolina)
5% - Sen. Joe Biden (Delaware)
3% - Gov. Bill Richardson (New Mexico)
1% - Sen. Christopher Dodd (Connecticut)
<1% - Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio)
<1% - (Former) Gov. Tom Vilsack (Iowa)
<1% - (Former) Sen. Mike Gravel (Alaska)

31% - (Former) Mayor Rudy Giuliani (New York City)
27% - Sen. John McCain (Arizona)
7% - (Former) Gov. Mitt Romney (Massachusetts)
2% - (Former) Gov. Tommy Thompson (Wisconsin)
2% - (Former) Gov. Jim Gilmore (Virginia)
1% - Sen. Sam Brownback (Kansas)
<1% - Rep. Duncan Hunter (California)
<1% - John H. Cox (Illinois)
<1% - Michael Charles (Oregon)
<1% - Rep. Ron Paul (Texas)
<1% - Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colorado)

It should also be noted that a few undeclared candidates appeared in the poll:
Unannounced Democrats
11% - (Former) Vice President Al Gore (Tennessee)
8% - Sen. John Kerry (Massachusetts)
2% - (Former) Gen. Wesley Clark (Arkansas)
1% - Rev. Al Sharpton (New York)
Unannounced Republicans
10% - (Former) House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Georgia)
3% - (Former) Gov. George Pataki (New York)

And here is a matchup chart, from a few days later (Jan. 17) looking at head-to-head races in the general election:
Clinton ~ McCain (48-47... dead heat)
Obama ~ McCain (46-44... dead heat)
Guiliani ~ Clinton (47-48... dead heat)
Guiliani ~ Obama (47-45... dead heat)
Edwards > McCain (48-43)
Edwards ~ Giuliani (48-45... dead heat)

My predictions are, as they have been for the past few months, the pedestrian ones: Clinton for the Democrats, McCain for the Republicans. And I am predicting Clinton takes the Presidency in 2008.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nanny State Strikes Again

Last week, the news shows were wall to wall on the abductions in Missouri followed by stories that dealt in general about the emotional impact on children when taken from the parents. This matters because so many children in this country are getting abducted that it is now a rite of passage . . . .NOT.

After they were done with abductions, the next story was the poor performance of child safety seats in Consumer Reports trials, trials that have been since been shown to be in error, as if parents weren't frightened enough over the potential abductions of their little darlings ("The kidnapper would get so sick of you, he'd bring you back," as my no fear mother told us), now the state is after them.

After all the scare stories last week, NPR reported that the city of Bangor, Maine has banned smoking in vehicles to protect small children from the dangers of second hand smoke. We won't mentioned the safety hazard smoking presents. Instead, we want to protect children.

And now, as if you as parents weren't scared enough, California State Assemblywoman, Sally Lieber , is set to make spanking children illegal. Who, may I ask, is she to decide what is good parenting?

1. Children sometimes need a good swat or two.
2. Since when did children become such "cult objects" to steal a phrase from George Carlin?
3. When are adults going to remember that it is they, not children, who are in charge?
4. Since when has the state been good at "raising" children?
5. When are politicians going to realize that libertarian feelings are starting to peak in all of us?

Enough already! Leave us alone. This is NOT an issue for the law.


LTG -- help!

Okay, the liberal blogs are all over attorney general Alberto Gonzales for this exchange (video at link):

Specter: Now wait a minute, wait a minute. The Constitution says you can't take it away except in the case of invasion or rebellion. Doesn't that mean you have the right of habeas corpus?

Gonzales: I meant by that comment that the Constitution doesn't say that every individual in the United States or every citizen has or is assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn't say that. It simply says that the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended.
But a diarist at Daily Kos convincingly claims the AG is right, and after all, he is the Attorney General! So LTG or any other Constitutional experts out there -- who is right?


Student Loans

It went unnoticed by us bloggers, but last week the House passed legislation to decrease interest rates on subsidized Student Loans. This undoes what the previous, Republican controlled Congress did, which was to set student loan rates at a straight 6.8%. Prior to this loan rates had been set to the prevailing rate, capped at 8.75%. The Republicans gave into the lobby of the growing consolidation business. I get almost as much junk mail from consolidators as credit card companies. It is a little sick to see a whole industry getting fat off of the debt of young people. As I have said before, no one is considering the longer term economic ramifications of a whole generation of young professionals strapped with student loan debt.

For starters, this is cited as one reason young professionals are waiting longer to have children and buy homes. This is also in part because we are in school much longer. There are professions that require 4 and 6 year degrees, but that don’t pay much and that are critical to society: social workers (we will need them badly as the population ages), child care workers,
public defenders , city planners, teachers, pharmacists etc. Professions that were once considered trades now require college degrees. These are all vocations that will go underserved simply because they don’t pay enough to cover educational costs. We are in a consumer driven economy, but if people are paying back heavy loans, then there are many things they won’t be able to purchase. University educated Gen Xers will never be able to pay college tuition for their children or help support their aging relatives and friends if they are still paying back their own college debts. What are the social costs of that? University costs and student loans are a crisis in the making.

I chose to take on an extra degree. I wasn’t inventive enough to see how I could excel without a higher degree. I also wanted it for my own personal satisfaction. And I don’t object to paying back what I owe. I am glad that the loans were there so that I could go to school. I do object, however to how much I am paying back.

This new legislation is merely a placeholder until the more comprehensive legislation follows. However, Bush may well veto anything that makes it out of Congress.

For those of us who have consolidated, this legislation will mean nothing since those rates are locked in unless Congress decides to change the consolidation rules. In fact, I spent the last 5 years paying an interest rate that was twice the prevailing rate because of consolidation rules that prevent borrowers from re-financing their loans once consolidated. If they don't change the rules, perhaps they can offer a bigger tax deduction for those of us in repayment? Those deductions could be paid for easily by eliminating the loophole that allows businesses to avoid taxes by renting a post box in the Caymans. Let's all write our Congresspeople!


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Here we go again

In August 2006, National Reconnaissance Office Director Donald Kerr reported that a Chinese ground-based laser had illuminated a U.S. satellite. Now, China has used a ground-based ballistic missile to destroy one of its own satellites--which the U.S. interprets as another test of anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration last August released its new National Space Policy that further articulated statements put out over the past few years that reject arms control for space and consider defense as a primary U.S. mission in space. In space, the U.S. wants to be able to achieve, "deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction." We've discussed this on the blog a few times before.

According to the Washington Post, China has been trying to call a conference to address the increasing militarization of space, but one nation has refused... You guessed it, the U.S. The Bush administration explains that there is no need for such a conference because there is no arms race in space. The more likely explanation, of course, is that we don't want to stop this new arms race because--so far--we're winning.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More Troops for Everybody!

Now that Rumsfeld is gone, the NY Times reports that commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has asked for more troops. Ah yes--Bush always says he listens to the Generals "on the ground" when he makes decisions... Funny how what they say (or what we are told they say) changes when the Secretary of Defense changes.

One also has to wonder how this request conflicts with Bush's "augmentation" of troops in Baghdad. I'd like to see the Democrats champion a "surge" in Afghanistan instead.


That's more like it!

Here are some early details on The Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act of 2007. It details pretty much exactly what I want right now. Will it pass? Probably not. But it at least puts the ideas out there. If we relay it enough, you might get a lot of Americans saying "Hey, this sounds pretty good."


Bush Backs Down

In an abrupt about-face, the Bush administration has announced that they will stop their unauthorized domestic surveillance program. They will now go back to getting warrants from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) again. (At least, that's what the Bush administration says they will do now... You never can tell with those people.)

Why the sudden change of heart? The White House gave some lame, nebulous excuse that FISA now had "better guidelines" to meet the Administration's "concerns about speed and agility"... but of course Tony Snow did not explain the what those concerns were, nor what the new guidelines were. The White House also could not explain why--if a small change in process was all that was ever needed--they could not have adopted these new guidelines five years ago. As usual, they have tried to cover their tracks with more lies.

But the truth is painfully easy to read. The Bush administration cannot explain their concerns because there were no legitimate concerns: not only did the FISA court approve over 99% of all wiretap requests anyhow, but the Attorney general always had the right to issue a warrant and get approval a few days later. The Bush administration cannot explain what the new guidelines are, because there are no new guidelines of substance. In truth, the Bush administration has pulled the plug on this manifest abuse of power because Senators Leahy and Specter were gearing up to crucify Attorney General Gonzales over it.

Of course, they are still secretly going to wiretap American citizens on American soil--so it's not exactly a triumph for civil liberties--but at last, Congress has begun to check Bush's unprecedented claims of executive power. And some measure of judicial oversight--even in the form of a compliant, secret court--is better than none at all.


Operation Iraqi Scapegoat

Call me slow, but I finally figured out Bush's new strategy in Iraq. He's trying to shift the blame to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. For the next two years, the refrain from the White House will be, "Bush did everything he could, but the Iraqis let us all down."

It's an old conservative tactic: blame the victim.

No wonder Maliki told the Wall Street Journal, "I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term. I didn't want to take this position... and I will not accept it again."


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Single's Paradise

The New York Times has reported that for the first time, a majority of women are living without spouses. 51% of women, according to the times, are living single for various reasons. Perhaps they are divorced, separated, widowed, temporarily living part (he is working out of town, in the military, etc), or never married. The article claims that this may have ramifications of social policy, but doesn't elaborate. So I would like to.

For starters, we live in a society that is built completely around marriage. Work hours, social security benefits, taxes, school hours, etc. are all built around the idea that people are married, that one someone is staying at home to care for children. Women and men have managed to adapt by hiring nannies, paying for day care, etc. But with 51% of women living single and some 47% of men doing so, we may be at the point where we have done all the adapting that we can and now we have to rethink how we organize our society.

The time is coming when we will have to focus more on telecommuting so that everyone can have the option of working from home with flex hours. This would allow people to be home to care for family members in between preparing legal briefs, editing manuscripts,etc. To do this, we would have to resolve the net neutrality problem. Telecommuting would be facilitated by the installation of the promised fiber optic lines that could deliver internet speeds 40-60 times faster than what we now have, making teleconferencing much more efficient.

Schools may have to start thinking about extending their day. That would have the added benefit of increasing much needed instructional hours. That would also mean we'd need more teachers to help cover the day. Elementary schools may have to be organized more like high schools, where you have specialized teachers teaching single subjects with built in prep periods. Or hey, how about publicly funded pre-schools, like in Europe. (I am waiting for RBR to tell us of the Scandinavian paradise in this regard).

Our tax system would have to change so that single people without children aren't hit so hard in the wallet every April. Our social security system will have to change. Wives are entitled to a certain portion of their husband's social security if he dies. My mother took my dad's because it was larger than her own since she didn't work so many years. But with more and more women working, that type of system can be scaled back. And women shouldn't be penalized for taking time off to rear children. People over a certain income bracket should not be eligible for social security. Why should Oprah Winfrey get social security? I am sure she asks the same question,

Housing would have to change. Instead of 2000 SqFt homes, maybe we could have more condos and apartments available for purchase, or smaller houses as fairer prices for single dwellers. Maybe food processors will create smaller packaging so that I don't end up throwing out half of what I buy because I can't eat it fast enough.

Those are just a few things that I can imagine changing if indeed we were more willing to adjust to the new realities.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Why this Administration has no Respect for the Rule of Law

RBR sent me a note off-blog telling me of something unbelievable. I had to look it up. A deputy assistant secretary of Defense Charles Stimson has urged that major corporations boycott twelve major law firms whose lawyers volunteered to participate in the defense of the detainees at Guantanamo. He said that CEOs of major corporations (read: Republicans) should boycott these major law firms which "defended terrorists."

"And I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms."

This is a major assault on the independent judiciary, the rule of law, and all civil liberties. It is fundamental to the rule of law that each person has the right to a defense, no matter how much the government wants to get rid of him or her. Trying to deprive us of the right to hire big law firms in our defense is a huge assault on freedom. Every lawyer represents unsavory people from time to time. This is the same crap that public defenders always deal with from ignorant Republicans who don't see why you should represent "criminals" - then hire their own attorneys with glee when they are accused of tax fraud. This is also an attempt to stop lawyers at big firms from doing pro bono work for any organization that might oppose Republicans. No doubt Fox News, the Washington Times, and the National Review will help to make this happen. I can assure you that if I were to suggest to my higher-ups at my big national law firm that I do pro bono work for civil liberties, it will be strongly discouraged in a way it never would have been beforehand. I should add that there is a very long tradition of permitting lawyers to do pro bono work as they see fit. The only issues are real business issues. Law firms tend to be divided into labor or management firms, for example, and their attorneys are not expected to advocate against the interests of the major clients. But nobody has tried to launch a campaign to prevent major law firms from selling their services to bidders of politically unpopular (read: anything but far right) persuasions.

According to another website, these are the firms he named:

Pillsbury Winthrop, Jenner & Block, Hunton & Williams, Alston & Bird, Cutler Pickering, Weil Gotshal, Paul Weiss Rifkin, Covington & Burling, Mayer Brown, Pepper Hamilton, Perkins Cole, Fulbright Jaworski, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, and Venable . For those of you who don't know, these are all major law firms, some even known as "Republican" firms (firms with DC offices have to choose, generally, between representing Dems or Republicans for conflict-of-interest reasons, but they usually try to downplay these associations). I work for a firm whose name would normally be in this list.

The DoD is "distancing" itself from these comments, but won't fire the bastard. Why? Because they largely agree with him. Fundamentally, these Republicans and neocons think that democracy is too weak deal with "the real world," and that things like civil rights and the judiciary are left-wing tools that weaken us. This is what fascism really is. The belief that our safety lies in Strong Men Willing to Make Hard Choices (e.g., the TV show 24) rather than the Rule of Law, Democracy, and Liberty.


Christian Conservatives Abort McCain's Candidacy

One of the most important figures in the Christian Conservative movement, Dr. James Dobson, has announced that he will not support John McCain (R-AZ) as a candidate for President under any circumstances. The story is here.

This development is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, we've talked about McCain's prospects before. When he's come up in our conversations several of us have suggested that he might be able to win a national general election but seems unlikely to win the Republican nomination.

Second, this is an example of a party activist sacrificing electability in the general election for the sake of maintaining control of the party for his faction. This came up in our conversations about electoral reform etc.

Third, if Dobson thinks McCain is unacceptable, what must he think of the pro-life former mayor of New York City, Rudy Guiliani? This statement is a declaration that the GOP nomiation is wide open.

Finally, polls show that Giuliani and McCain are the most widely popular Republican candidates. Democrats should be very pleased at Dobson's comments. If the Christian Right uses the 2008 election to consolidate their internal control of the Republican Party, the Democrats may have a chance to put their chosen candidate up against a Republican candidate with limited appeal, easily portrayed as an extremist.


2008 Senate Picture

Hi Everyone,

CNN is reporting that two term Colorado Republican, Wayne Allard, has decided to make good on his pledge only to serve two terms. He won his past two elections by narrow margins and his seat was already high on the Democrats' list of pick up targets. The seat will be open in 2008. And the way Bush is behaving, the war in Iraq will still be an issue. Colorado is also a swing state.

Of the Senate seats that are subject to election in 2008, 21 are currently held by Republicans and 12 are held by Democrats.


The Decider Strikes Again and Again...

President Bush claimed in an interview with 60 Minutes that Congress could not stop him from carrying out his "new plan" in Iraq. He had two arguments. First, he made the political argument that if Congress tried to cut funding for the deployment he would spin it as "not supporting the troops." Second, when asked if he thought he had the authority as Commander in Chief to execute this plan despite Congressional opposition, he said, "Yeah, in this situation I do."

In other news, Vice President Dick Cheney is defending a Defense Department program to monitor the financial records of hundreds of American citizens without warrants. His defense (which I heard on the radio yesterday) was that this program was something that had been going on for "some time" and he implied that therefore we should not be worried.

So apparently the Bush administration's strategy for disrupting the Democratic agenda in Congress is to provoke a constitutional crisis or two. I sincerely hope the Democrats are ready to stand up for this fight. I can think of few more important things they could do than use the power of Congress to finally enforce some limits (any limits) on this out of control Bush administration!


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Penny for your thoughts

The Department of Defense warned U.S. contractors today about a new espionage threat: Canadian coins that contain tiny radio frequency transmitters. Apparently, three U.S. contractors were found to have such coins planted on them as they passed through Canada between October 2005 and January 2006.

Interestingly, the CIA acknowledges it has used American coins in the past to transmit data and film. Makes you wonder why all this is coming out now. It has also been noted that the transmission range could not be more than a few feet, which raises some questions. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's spy agency says it had nothing to do with it (did you know they had spies? Yeah, sure, they look all friendly...)

The lesson is clear: carrying coins is a security risk. Next time you are in Starbucks and your pockets are jingling, fill up the tip jar and don't look back. It's your patriotic duty.


And then, maybe he can run for Governor.

David Beckham is coming to the U.S. in July, 2007. He has signed a complex package worth an estimated quarter of a billion dollars with the Los Angeles Galaxy team. That's billion with a "b". Beckham is an international celebrity of the highest order and, at age 31, he still has plenty of playing time left. (And even if he does nothing but strut around the field, no doubt West Hollywood at least still will be enthralled.)

Will Beckham do for Los Angeles soccer what Wayne Gretzky did for Los Angeles hockey? Has globalization finally begun to penetrate even that most conservative of institutions, American sports? Only time will tell. But I, for one, have a feeling I'll be heading out to see my first live professional soccer game sometime this coming Fall.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Demand a Better Plan

According to the latest figures, Bush's "new" plan would boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 132,000 to 153,500. This mere 16% increase would result in a smaller force than we had at the time of the Iraqi elections (160,000). That's right: the so-called "surge" is just a ripple, the same as all previous minor adjustments.

Bush has no plans to increase economic assistance to the Iraqis themselves, only to American contractors. Bush's plan ignores the Iraqi Study Group's recommendations, including the key call for him to engage in diplomacy with Iraq and Syria. And don't even try to find any timetables or benchmarks--it's still the same open-ended commitment.

Bush had his chance to change course with at least some dignity when the Iraqi Study Group issued their recommendations in November... but he could not swallow his pride. After all this time, this is what he comes up with? The same old plan again?! Great gods above, are there no limits to this man's incompetence?!! In the most recent Gallup poll, 72% of Americans disapprove Bush's handling of Iraq--is it any wonder why? And now, once again, Bush has let us all down, especially those who have tried to stand by him. This so-called "new" way forward is a sham. For the sake of our troops, Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to stand up to this arrogant President and demand a better plan.


Score Another One for Pelosi

The House has now voted 315-116 to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over the next two years. The bill passed with a veto-proof majority, including 82 Republicans, despite insistence by Republican leaders that they would not approve it unless it also included corporate tax giveaways (the House passed a clean bill instead).

The Republicans grumble, as always, that it will "cost jobs" in face of all the evidence from all previous increases. (There has never been a problem. Republicans are just greedy.) After 10 years without an increase, this bill is long overdue. If Reid can shepherd this bill safely through the Senate, with a similar margin, then in 60 days ordinary Americans may feel the first tangible fruits of their mini-revolt in the 2006 midterm elections.


"Elections Have Consequences"

Last year, Democrats managed to block the confirmation of three ultra-conservative judges--William J. Haynes, William Myers and Terrence Boyle. After the 2006 midterm elections, Democrats hoped Bush would let sleeping dogs lie, but in a move that infuriated Democrats, Bush re-introduced the nominations in December. Now, at last, Bush has changed his tune: Bush quietly withdrew those three names yesterday. Ah yes... as McCain famously explained his support for Bush's very conservative Supreme Court nominees in 2005, "Elections have consequences."

Bush's retreat is, of course, belated concession to political reality... but might it also signal the start of the final stage of the Bush presidency? As he enters the home stretch, maybe Bush realizes he no longer must pander to the religious right. Could it be that he finally has begun to contemplate his legacy? And if he indeed has decided to pick his battles more wisely, what will those battles be?


Undecided Voter Alert!

In the past, I have made fun of undecided voters, calling them all sorts of names. But now, I am one. I will be voting in the French presidential election this year and I do not know who to vote for. I think right now there are three semi-reasonable choices: socialist Segolene Royal, centrist Francois Bayrou, and right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy. Over the next few months I will be researching the candidates and posting my thoughts on this blog. Please feel free to use this post if you have anything to tell me at the outset of my research.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

US Bombs Somali Islamists

Hi Everyone,

The US press isn't reporting this but its a top story on BBC's website. The USAF has bombed the besieged Islamic Courts Militia units in southern Somlia in conjuction with Ethiopian and Somali government attacks. US officials are claiming that several Al Qaeda leaders are with the Islamist Somalis.

I don't know what it says about our country's mind set right now that direct military intevention in Somalia for the first time since the "blackhawk down" debacle isn't newsworthy.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Universal Health Coverage in CA?

So, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed today a form of universal health coverage in California. He is being supported by the Democrats and at least tentatively opposed by the Republican minority (for now). The key points of the plan are: (1) all businesses with 10 or more employees must buy health care for them or pay 4% payroll to the state for its aid in providing health insurance; (2) 2% tax on doctors' gross revenue; (3) 4% tax on hospitals; (4) invidual mandate (all must have insurance); (5) state aid for lower income people; (6) no ability to deny coverage (cherry-picking) by insurance companies. Currently, 20% of CA residents are without health insurance, up to 1/3 in areas like Los Angeles.

This is a daring program that I hope California will support. I am amazed that Schwarzenegger is proposing new taxes and an employer mandate.


Benchmarks, This Time

All signs indicate Bush is going to escalate America's involvement in Iraq. He has changed commanders, will add 20,000 or so more soldiers, will alter counterinsurgency tactics to be somewhat more aggressive, and will attempt to increase economic assistance. In other words, he is going against everything the Iraqi Study Group said and he's going to follow the same course as before, only more so.

Will it work this time? It is hard for an armchair warrior like me to know for sure, sitting back here in a comfortable office in the U.S. But I am skeptical. Our soldiers are already working hard and I am not sure how different or how much more magically effective new tactics can be. I am also skeptical that a 20% increase in soldiers will make much of an operational difference. But still, many will argue that we should give the President one more chance to see if he can meet some of his original goals.

Not so fast, I say. If we are going to give Bush another chance, then this time we must demand real benchmarks, goals, and timetables. Bush has so far refused to set any specific goals or accept any clear metrics because he knows damned well what those would show. If Bush tries once again to avoid any meaningful criteria by which we can judge his "new" course, Congress should fight him with everything in their power until he sets real benchmarks. Neither the American public nor our men and women in uniform can afford any more lies and deceptions; we cannot afford to write this Commander-in-Chief yet another blank check.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Dear Nancy and Harry

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid,

The Democrats have now run Congress for 2 days. We, on this Blog are pleased! I am excited about the 100 hour agenda. I like the new ethics rules and I hope you will keep them in place for longer than the previous Congress. I like that you want to tackle student loan interest rates, bankruptcy reforms, the minimum wage, earmark reforms, etc.

But I have a personal request. I have been glancing at C-Span on and off and I am a bit dismayed at the number of people in the party who are using words like "revolution" and "mandate". Please make your people stop using words like that. There hasn't been a revolution. The majorities you now hold are too slim to be called either a mandate or a revolution, and you all know it. Furthermore, you are lowering yourselves to the level of the Republicans. That is what Bush tried to claim after winning by a slim and questionable majority. Members who talk about some mythical "revolution" or "mandate" sound like gloating Republicans. I ask that if they are going to insist on using such terms, they do it somewhere other than the people's floor, perhaps behind closed doors over brandy or a double scotch, away from the media.

As for the "non-partisan" promise . . . don't make it. Don't make promises you can't keep. Don't make promises that you won't keep! By saying things like that, you will do little to ease the public's unease over the quality of Congress. You'll just look like and be another group of liars. Be better. Be Democrats! Let's bring civility back, but let's remember that you are Democrats and they aren't. Work with them, by all means. But then win. Bring home the victories that we in the hard working middle class so desperately need.

Finally, quit calling the pay-as-you-go system "Paygo". It just sounds dumb and you gusy aren't so clever as the Republicans when it comes to creating buzz words. So stop. Pay-as-you-go is a nice, if impossible idea. But hey, I like that you aim high So say it as it should be said. Speak English for heaven's sake, and call it pay-as-you-go.

These are my modest requests.

Thank you for your time.

A Citizen


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Marital and the Martial

Against expectations yesterday, the Massachusetts legislature kept alive the anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution first proposed three years ago. Amendments to the MA state constitution must pass three votes in three consecutive legislative sessions before they are presented to the people (for a majority vote). The first hurdle was surmounted in 2004, and now--just hours before the end of the 2005-06 session--the amendment passed the second hurdle. The third hurdle must be overcome in 2007-08 session before the amendment is presented to the voters (earliest possible date is November 2008, but if the legislature waits until the last minute again, it could be pushed back to the next statewide ballot.)

Here is a quick timeline...
2003-11-18: MA Supreme Court recognizes a right to gay marriage in the state constitution
2004-03-29: MA legislature (joint session) by a narrow majority votes 105-92 to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage but approve civil unions.
2004-05-17: Gay marriages begin in MA.
2007-01-03: MA legislature (joint session) votes 62-134 to keep the amendment alive.

The MA legislature had postponed the vote until yesterday and attempted to adjourn before voting at all (which would have killed the amendment) but the MA Supreme Court intervened. Though they would not order the legislature to vote on the amendment, they chided the legislature for neglecting its constitutional duties... and apparently that was sufficient for the leadership to relent and bring the measure to a vote.

Still, there is plenty of good news remaining. Gay marriage is safe in MA for at least another couple of years, and the new MA legislature includes several more supporters of same-sex marriage than before. Furthermore, thee most recent poll (Nov '06) indicates that an astonishing 62% of the MA voters would NOT vote for the amendment (only 30% said they would support it).

In other interesting news, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili--the man who implemented the "don't ask, don't tell" policy--has now come out in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military. In his NY Times Op-Ed contribution, he noted that 24 nations, including Britain and Israel, now allow gays to serve openly, and that a recent survey of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan operations indicates that 75% would be comfortable interacting with gays.


More on Redistricting Reform

From today's "state of the State" speech by NY Governor Eliot Spitzer (D)
"Still, we must do more. We will submit legislation that reforms our
elections – specifically legislation that establishes an independent,
non-partisan redistricting commission. Until this happens, I will veto
any proposal that reflects partisan gerrymandering. More competitive
elections will lead to a more responsive government."

FYI, Republicans control a close NY Senate, Democrats control the NY house by more than 2/3.

Dr. S is expected to be excited. In CA, Schwarzenegger is also going to take another stab at this. The big question now is whether only blue states will go for "non-partisan" schemes, or whether red states will do as well.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Poor, Poor Judges

Justice Roberts decided to distinguish himself today by announcing that his big goal for 2007 wasn't about strengthing privacy rights, taking up abortion cases, or dampening presidential power. Noooooo. His goal for 2007 was get federal judges a "substantial" pay raise because $165,000 a year just isn't enough.

He beseeched his readers to bear with him as he made what is sure to be an unpopular case, especially in a time of war when we are all supposed to be "sacrificing". What is really bugging him is that the dean of his alma madder is now earning much more than he is.

He claims that since 1969, the average worker's wage has increased 18% while judges have seen a decline of 24% when adjusted for inflation. "Judges should not have to accept salaries that 'fall further and further behind the cost of living . . . The time is ripe for our nation's judges to receive a substantial salary increase,'" Roberts is quoted as saying. Well golly gee, show me an average working citizen whose wages are keeping up with the cost of living and I will write my senator on Justice Robert's behalf.

Now, there is part of me willing to believe that you don't attract the best and the brightest if they can go work for a New York Law Firm for three times the salary of a Federal Judge. But, since I don't think much of life time appointments, I have no problem having the less committed serve a few years and then leave to go earn the big bucks. Maybe the best and the brightest aren't what we need so much as the smart, committed and diligent? Public service is just that, PUBLIC SERVICE. And $165K with full benefits and a pension plan ain't bad. Just go ask the folks in New Orleans if that is a deal to turn one's nose up at.

And perhaps the good Justice might be a bit more precise when he says, "substantial raise". It's so, I don't know . . . open to interpretation. I mean, if the Justice is having a hard time paying down his American Express Gold Card, I am sure there is a firm in Boston or LA that would be glad to have him.

LTG, what is your take on this latest from the good Chief? Am I being unfair?