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, June 27, 2007

Alba Go Bragh!

Hi Everyone,

It's official, England now has a Scottish Prime Minister. It's not the first time. This marks a landmark event. This continues the longest run of Labour government in British history.

Gordon Brown, like Tony Blair, comes from the "third way" faction of the Laobur Party. He wants to emphasize things like health care and education but don't expect a return to the Pre-Thatcher statism of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The one area where we can expect real change is Iraq. The last thing Brown wants to do is face election (which must happen before 2010) with British Troops still in Iraq. Of course, that's a long time and by the time 2010 rolls around, the American political situation may have solved his problem for him. That said, a Republican win in 2008 or a win for an anti-withdrawal Democrat (like Hilary Clinton) would be a problem for Gordon Brown.

Look for Brown to try to extricate Britain from Iraq and then use the resulting boost in his popularity to call a snap election and ensure a complete 5 year term for himself.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

News Flash: Cheney Abdicates

As if things couldn't get any funnier . . .or more twisted . . .

Under a presidential executive order put in place–by the Bush White House no less–– executive branch offices are required to turn over information to the National Archives about their handling of documents, namely data on the number of documents they classify and declassify.

The Vice-President does not wish to comply and thus, has abdicated from the Executive Branch. Vice-President Dick Cheney now considers himself part of the Legislative Branch. You know, there has to be something quite damning in this energy meeting notes, his war meeting notes, his Plame-gate notes, for him to go to such lengths to hide it all. I mean his actions all but condemn him. Could you even act more guilty?

It is probably silly of me to even give the VP's argument the dignity of acknowledgment by referring to the U.S. Constitution, but:

Article II Section 1: "The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected, as follows . . "

The XXV Amendment explains Presidential succession, which goes first to the Vice President. Seems pretty Executive to me.

Article II Section 4: "Section 4. The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Maybe it is time to invoke Art. II Sec 4.

I love the Democrats' response. They have decided to try and cut his office’s budget. Rather than fund his office as part of the Executive branch, they would like to fund it as the office of the Senate President, a much more modest sum. . Brilliant move.

So if the Democrats succeed, would this mean the "Angler" would loose his secret service personnel? Legislators don't get bodyguards, nor do they get to use Presidential helicopters or planes, nor do they have offices in the West Wing . . .

This is a big week for Cheney who is subject of a four part series in the Washington Post that pretty much exposes him as the Oz behind the curtain. His refusal to comply with the executive order comes on the heels of the CIA's release of papers from the 1970s, the "Family Jewels", that explain how the intelligence services spied on American citizens among other things. Yep, I’ve said it before, we are living on the set of “That 70’s Show” or is it “Groundhog’s Day”?

Just a footnote to all of this: Here is a great Op-ed about how our intelligence services are being privatized. It says that contractors now claim a whopping 70% of the budget allotted to the intelligences services.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus...

In a 5-4 ruling (straight conservative vs. liberal/moderate split) the Supreme Court upheld the suspension of a student who unfurled a banner proclaiming "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" while standing on school property, watching the Olympic torch relay go by. Here is what I understand.

1. All justices agreed that, under normal circumstances, the banner is "unquestionably" protected free speech.

2. Even the dissenters conceded that, "the pressing need to deter drug use supports [the school's] rule prohibiting willful conduct that expressly 'advocates the use of substances that are illegal to minors.'"

3. The dispute was that the majority felt the banner could reasonably be interpreted to be supporting drug use, while the minority held that (a) "speech that can be reasonably interpreted as supporting" drug use is not the same as "conduct expressly advocating" drug use, and (b) the obscure phrase was not intended to promote drug use anyhow.

Now I can see how an un-hip, out-of-touch high school principal (is there any other kind?) might assume the banner advocated drug use. I can see how parents might think so as well. But in the context of the situation, where the students waited for the cameras to come by before they unrolled it, it was just a media stunt, never intended to persuade anyone to use drugs. The student always maintained it was just a phrase he got from a snowboarding sticker that he thought would be cool to put on a big banner. The student said he was trying to push the envelope of free speech and mock the heavy-handed administrators.

It was dumb to take down the banner--and it also proved the student's point about their overly rigid rules--but if that were all the administrators had done, I would have thought, oh well, bad call, but that's life. But the principal also suspended the students for 5 days and then tacked on an additional 5 days when they refused to name other people who helped make the banner. That kind of intimidation is wrong.

It should not be the student's burden to refrain from questionable speech just in case it might be interpreted by grown-ups as crossing the line. Students should be encouraged to speak freely! The burden falls to the administrators to step in when--and only when--they believe it has definitely crossed the line. Err, if err we must, on the side of freedom. I am curious to know what the free speech gurus on this site think of that.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Foot-Dragging Association

The FDA issued new rules today concerning the marketing of vitamins, herbal pills, and other dietary supplements. For the first time (!) manufacturers of these concoctions will now have to test their products to show that they actually contain the ingredients claimed on the labels. An LA Times article notes that the new rule took, "13 years to develop"--or in other words, the supplements industry fought even this meager level of oversight successfully for over a decade.

The largest group of these products--protein powders, testosterone boosters, creatine derivatives, thermogenics, etc.--are peddled by modern day snake oil salesmen as supplements to improve athletic performance. Millions of people cheerfully shell out billions of dollars annually for these products. What is most interesting to me about this phenomenon is that the athletes who ingest these special pills and powders, supposedly chemically formulated to give them an extra advantage, for some reason do not equate this with "cheating" or "doping."

Moreover, no major sports regulatory body bans these dietary supplements either. It is certainly true that the supplement manufacturers spend a lot of money to lobby and protect their industry, but the fundamental reason why the supplements don't get banned is that they just don't work. If they worked, they would destabilize the sports like steroids threaten to, and there would be an uproar--a clamor for action. Chemicals that actually do enhance athletic performance are banned right away.

With the new regulations, you can now be assured that the product which claims to contain 200 mg of ginkgo biloba actually does. Unfortunately, you still have no assurance that ginkgo biloba actually does any of the miraculous stuff the manufacturers claim it does. Which leads me to wonder... If it took 13 years for the FDA just to make manufacturers of supplements list their ingredients correctly, how many decades will we have to wait before the FDA finally requires them to show their products work?


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Karma Chameleon

Ok who does Bloomberg hurt if he runs for President? And what happens now that you have 2 New Yorkers and now possibily a third in the race? And how long before someone calls him a cameleon? He was Democrat, changed parties and ran as a Republican. Now he is going to change to Independant. Gee, wouldn't that be seen as waffling?


Saturday, June 16, 2007

G8 and Open Secrets

UM . . . HELLO! Is Bush pouring a real beer here? No wonder he spits food and slurs.


Leaning Towards Edwards

Hi Gang,

I've been busy getting ready to move into my little house on the prairie but I have had time to see a couple of Democratic presidential candidates speak. I've seen Obama twice and Edwards now once. I liked Edwards a lot more than Obama.

Obama is great on the big picture stuff. Very inspirational. But he not just weak on details, he fails completely to be specific on any policy whatsoever.

Edwards moves seemlessly between nuts and bolts details about the costs and benefits of his health care policy and the inspirational stuff that Obama excels at. Edwards also seems much more aware of what the Republicans are going to throw at whoever the Democratic candidate is.

I'm not quite ready to decide who I'll support/root for but I'm really leaning towards Edwards now.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Thoughts about Gaza

After a week of fighting in Gaza that nobody wanted to call a civil war or an insurrection, there is a new political reality: Hamas has conquered Gaza. Fatah controls the West Bank, but Hamas controls Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, helped prompt the crisis by dissolving the Hamas-led government. Abbas was fatlly undermined by the West, who refused to help him at all so long as he tried to negotiate with Hamas. Now that he's lost big time, Olmert and the USA are reaching out to him. Once again, the Bush strategy of refusing to talk to bad guys has failed. The NY Times reported a masked Hamas gunman shouting into a media microphone, "Condoleeza Rice, now you will have to talk to us!" Gee, did it need to come to that before we would talk to the elected representatives of the Palestinian people? You talk to the democratically elected representatives you have, not the ones you wish you had.

Well, I find that comment fascinating, and a measure of comfort. Even Israel is not sounding the armageddon alarm bells. Hamas wants power, respect, and authority. For all its nasty rhetoric, it is capable of pragmatism. The economy is an unbelievable wreck. Unemployment is the norm, not the exception. Schools and hospitals do not function. Nothing does. ? Can Hamas control Gaza? It has been ungovernable since the Israeli pullout in 2005, if not well before then. If Hamas can control Gaza, that's a step towards stability in the region.

A spokesperson recently said that Hamas won't recognize Israel because Israel does not yet recognize a Palestinian state. Well, recognition, schmecognition. Power is power - are they going to talk to one another or not? If not, what do happens then? Does anyone think that the situation is going to improve if Hamas and the Gazans become more isolated and desperate?

The worst result today is the end of democratic legitimacy in the Palestinian Authority. We had a hand in this. The USA and Israel so crippled the government, refusing even to let it collect tax revenues, that it collapsed. Offers to change course now (Israel today called giving money to a Fatah-led government an "opportunity") is too little, too late. Is there any prospect that Hamas will now surrender Gaza to a newly elected Palestinian Authority if it loses the election? A lot less than last month, that's for sure.

Abbas has one card he can still play. He can declare independence outright and call for an election for a national assembly. That might just have enough legitimacy on the Arab Street to force Hamas to stand down in Gaza.

At least the fighting has stopped for now.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chalk one up for the good guys.

In a previous post I discussed the effort to stop gay marriage in Massachusetts... and I am now happy to report that--after a three-year struggle--that bid has been defeated! The attempt to amend the MA State Constitution failed today when fewer than 25% of the legislators were willing to support it. (And that is a phenomenal statistic in itself.)

The practical effect of today's vote is that opponents of gay marriage will now have to start the process all over again, and they could at the earliest get such a measure on the state ballot in 2012... but since support for such an amendment is so low in the state legislature, gay marriage looks safe in MA for the foreseeable future.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Black Sites and Turkey Saber Rattling

The Council of Europe and Amnesty International have said that they suspect that there were at least 800 flights over Europe that could have been transporting prisioners to black sites in Romania and Poland. Below is a graphic put together by Le Monde.

The circles shows the number of flights using European airports between Sept. 2001 and today.

The light orange colored countries are those suspected of housing the prisions (Romainia, Poland, Tchez Republic,Kosovo).

The circles and stars are the locations of U.S. Military bases in Europe.

The accusations have to be verified, and this probably won't happen. No one really wants to know because the Council of Europe would then have to consider taking measures, meaning kicking those countries with secret prisions out of the EU. This is really all they could do. We all know that isn't going to happen.

In other news, Turkey is augementing its presence on its Southwestern border with Northern Iraq. This could get very interesting.


G8 Summit

G8 Summits always bother me. They are an excercise in greed, it seems. They are designed to promote the business interests of the developed world. They make the typical non-promises, such as the renewed "dedication" to giving $60 bil in aid to Africa for HIV. Of course, they didn't say when the aid would be delivered. Gotta love that.

President Bush didn't attend the meeting on Africa because he had a sick tummy. That said, he still made it too lunch and dinner. We all know how much President Bush likes to eat. Read on.

From this morning's NYT Online edition:

Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, said Mr. Bush awakened “feeling very much under the weather,” and decided to “dial it back a bit” by meeting Mr. Sarkozy in his room. The president rested until noon and then rejoined the leaders for lunch, and expects to continue on with a planned trip to Poland for dinner with that country’s president, Mr. Bartlett said.

“He’s not 100 percent but he felt well enough to return to the talks,” Mr. Bartlett said. He said the ailment was likely a stomach virus, and not a reaction to the summit food.

OK, someone in PR really screwed up, either that or someone at the NYT has a sense of humor.

I refer you to this visit to Germany on July 2006, "And I guess that's about all -- we discussed a lot of things, in other words. And thank you for having me. I'm looking forward to that pig tonight."


Friday, June 01, 2007

Ginsberg Rising

A friend of mine brought this article in yesterday's NYT on Justice Ginsberg to my attention. I have not yet read her dissent in last week's case, "Ledbetter v Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co". I have not read the ruling either. But from what I have heard about it, I believe the decision may be detrimental to pay equality for women. This comes at a time when sociologists, economists, and political scientists are all recognizing that we have to change the structure of such things as social security, educaiton, and the normal work day in order to level the playing field for women. Despite the fact that 50% of the workforce (if not more) is female, the system has not adjusted. Instead, women have had to adjust, have had to put up and get along. And this has placed additional stress and strain on men, particularly fathers. And this is, from what I have read, the crux of Justice Ginsberg's dissent. This comes on the heels of her powerful dissent on the Partial Birth Abortion case. Is she the only guardian left for women's legal rights? When will society and the law understand that when you alienate half your population, no one really wins?

In addition, she is showing her colors for the first time in her 15 years on the bench because she has come to understand that the collegial way of doing things is no longer working and that the Court is now a political rather than deliberative legal body. That, I think is even more saddening.

LTG, what is your take on this?