Dr. George Tiller, age 67, was assassinated this morning at his church in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller's abortion clinic had been a national focus of anti-abortion protest in the early 1990s. An anti-abortion activist had attempted to assassinate him in 1991 as well, but he survived his wounds.
Fortunately, the vast majority abortion opponents are as horrified by this murder as the rest of us... Yet we have to take strong steps to keep it that way. Attorney General Eric Holder must treat this as an act of domestic terrorism, for that is precisely what these shootings are: an attempt to frighten abortion providers. A suspect has already been arrested, and if he is found guilty, the courts must make an example of him. We simply cannot allow terrorism--especially that which pretends to a religious purpose--to take root on our soil. The folly of looking the other way can be seen all over the world from New York to Northern Ireland.
Moreover, the Obama administration must use every tool at its disposal, including those granted to in the Patriot Act, to investigate the network of anti-abortion groups in Kansas for ties to the suspect. Any person or group who rendered material assistance to a terrorist must be held accountable. Unless and until we can be certain this is the act of a single person acting alone, we must assume this act is not isolated and that the terrorists are plotting to strike again.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Dr. George Tiller, age 67, was assassinated this morning at his church in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller's abortion clinic had been a national focus of anti-abortion protest in the early 1990s. An anti-abortion activist had attempted to assassinate him in 1991 as well, but he survived his wounds.
Posted by Dr. Strangelove at 6:59 PM
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I don't know very much about this nominee. Nobody really does. Her biography is now well known, however, which isn't the same thing as knowing her. I do wish, however, that President Obama could find a nominee for a major post who didn't go to Harvard or Yale. Seriously. I know he values his Ivy League education as a symbol of meritocratic worth, and that makes sense for his generation and experience, but I feel like it is really overdone with him. Those schools produced a lot of mediocre people too. Like his predecessor.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 5:41 PM
This is a random thought that struck me when I heard this morning's announcement of Sonia Sotomayor as Obama's nominee for Justice Suitor's seat on the Supreme Court. I know nothing about Judge Sotomayor other than what I heard today. The commentary that I have heard throughout the day has been "oh, what an inspiring story." or, as one MPR host said in the form of a compliment, "She didn't put on airs. Her suit was very simple. You chould have walked into her office and thought she was a secretary. Black suit and yellow blouse." (I have massive issues with such observations, by the way. Gee, justice Alito is so simple. He wore a white shirt and black suit. It wasn't even Armani! His tie was a subdued blue. What else to you flippin' wear when you are a lawyer???? Geeze.) Later, as they dig into her record, this type of fluff will be replaced with more cogent commentary, I am sure.
But tell me, is this part of a strategy that Obama is using? Sell the story before all else and worry about the tough stuff later. Or is it show Americans that the American dream is alive and well by picking people with inspiring "only in America" stories? I am sure that Judge Sotomayoer is a fine, qualified judge. But I find the propoganda strategy rather transparent, even if it is effective.
Posted by USWest at 3:29 PM
In a 6-1 decision today, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the voter-approved state constitutional amendment that eliminated the right of gays and lesbians to marry. However in a 7-0 decision, the California Supreme Court also held that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place before the election will remain valid. It is a small comfort, but a comfort still.
In his lone dissent, Judge Carlos Moreno argued that one should not be able to eliminate the right to marry by simple majority vote, nor should one be able to eliminate any fundamental right that way, because such rights truly are "fundamental" to the constitution. One cannot remove one of the structural supports for a house and claim that is it merely a cosmetic change. Here are three excerpts from Judge Moreno's opinion. (I stripped out the case references and footnotes).
[T]here is no “underlying” principle more basic to our Constitution than that the equal protection clause protects the fundamental rights of minorities from the will of the majority. Accordingly, Proposition 8’s withdrawal of any of those rights from gays and lesbians cannot be accomplished through constitutional amendment.
Under the majority’s reasoning, California’s voters could permissibly amend the state Constitution to limit Catholics’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, condition African-Americans’ right to vote on their ownership of real property, or strip women of the right to enter into or pursue a business or profession. While the federal Constitution would likely bar these initiatives, the California Constitution is intended to operate independently of, and in some cases more broadly than, its federal counterpart. The majority’s holding essentially strips the state Constitution of its independent vitality in protecting the fundamental rights of suspect classes... As discussed, denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, by wrenching minority rights away from judicial protection and subjecting them instead to a majority vote, attacks the very core of the equal protection principle.
The majority’s holding is not just a defeat for same-sex couples, but for any minority group that seeks the protection of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.
While I agree strongly with Judge Moreno's argument, I am not surprised that it is the minority view. In their lengthy opinion, the majority of the court took pains to remind us that the previous case which recognized the right to marry also recognized many other rights for gays and lesbians, and those other protections remain intact. I still am very grateful to the California Supreme Court for their earlier ruling and, even here, I believe these judges--mostly conservative Republicans, don't forget!--still did all they felt they possibly could do to protect gays and lesbians.
The rest is up to us, the voters of California, and also our elected leaders. Equality California, which led the fight against Prop. 8, announced today it will indeed field an initiative to repeal Prop. 8 and restore the right to marry for November, 2010. So, just as a handy financial tip, if you have any savings left, you might want to buy stock in companies that do direct mailing in California. It's going to be the mother of all initiative battles, I am sure.
Posted by Dr. Strangelove at 12:41 PM
Monday, May 25, 2009
There are two items to this post.
1. Abbreviated history of Churches and taxation in America.
Perhaps the history helps explain our current situation. Nondiscrimination laws were nonexistent in the first century of the republic, and in colonial days. The jurisprudence that later developed around non-discriminaton laws (what republicans call "activism") to protect the minorities from majority rule, did not yet exist. Also, the First Amendment was not applied to the individual states until the end of the 19th century, so several states, including Mass and VA, had state-supported churches into the 1830s.
What was on their minds was what became John Marshall's dictum, "the power to tax is the power to destroy." So the way dreamed up to protect churches was to forbid taxation of them. When the modern income tax code was adopted in the 1940s the policy was left in tact.
Money changes everything, though.
If you look at who pays income taxes, you will see that the power of the personal deduction for charitable giving did not become salient until the 1970s. Also, churches were always political in many ways, but could easily avoid direct endorsement of a candidate. Until the 1980s when TV ads became the norm for even small campaigns, the cost of running most campaigns was so small that campaigning in churches consisted of candidates being invited to talk to the congregation, not congregations shopping for candidates with their money and volunteer base. The 1980s abortion politics began to intersect with church activism. Then, the 1990s saw a dramatic invasion into politics by right-wing "christian conservative" churches, esp. the Southern Baptists, became the organizing locus for volunteer and fundraising efforts for the GOP - particularly in the South.
So you now have a situation where one political party relies heavily on churches for organization and funds (the Republicans) and this stands largely at odds with a tax code that envisioned churches being largely non-political (being, at most cause-oriented rather than party-oriented).
Now that so many churches are so political, and the dollars matter, you get something like Liberty University kicking a political party off campus saying it is un-Christian. The tax exemption is no longer separating church and state, but interfering with church activities that they now define as including political action.
2. How Churches Operate
What's the "dollars and sense" reason for not taxing churches? Churches are not profit centers. I am the chairman of the board (title: senior warden of the "vestry") of my rather well-off parish in Los Angeles. We get about 1/3 of our income from endowments, 1/3 from member pledges, and 1/3 from rent of a portion of our property to a children's day school (the church orginally ran its own school on the property 40 years ago). We are, therefore, much much better off than most churches. Normally we can afford two full-time clergy and a full range of programs.
Even so, we run on a shoestring. About 11% of our income goes to the diocese for our fund of the "mission share" (divided between charity and administration), which feels like a substantial tax as it is. We have to maintain a very large physical structure - sort of like a mini-convention center, with a worship sanctuary, a fellowship hall, sunday school classrooms, office space for clergy, choir practice areas, and so forth. We do this without "sales" of any kind. Members are asked to pledge a percentage of their income, if they can (the norm is probably in the 3-4% range, but it's a bit tough to calculate). If the government took a third of our income in taxes, it would be like wiping out all of our pledges. To run the institution with $200K less would be crippling. I cannot imagine how a poorer church would survive. If we also had to pay property tax on the building - a big space in a downtown urban area - that would cost at least another $40K/year, raising our effective tax burden to about 40% of our total income. Ask yourself how easy it would be for you and your friends to pool enough money to buy and decorate a large space like this where the "business plan" is to give away as much as possible and rely on donations. We have something around $2K-$3K monthly in utilities, depending on weather and usage. These are big costs to spread around.
And, of course, if the donations to the church were not tax-deductible, the amount of pledge support would go down (we don't know by how much, but it would be a hit). Certainly, the larger donations to the church endowment (gifts in wills, for example) would evaporate.
The difference between this and 'entertainment' is that, among other things we don't charge admission and don't sell products. We want members to pledge a % of their income, but we don't do audits, and large numbers of people attend who do not join. A major unspoken function of the institution is to provide a nice 'theater set' for Christmas and Easter celebrations for the hoards of non-members to attend, where they ritually reaffirm some thin Christian identity and might explore the possibility of returning. This behavior varies, of course. Since Mormons do audit members and require a tithe, some of this does not apply to them. Unlike the Roman Catholics, we do not charge for most priestly services (weddings, funerals, baptisms). Jewish congregations typically charge for high holy days (it is something like selling seats at a stadium, with the "best" seats being mor eexpensive). These are all somewhat different fundraising mechanisms, but most American religious groups rely on the total-volunteer-donation model I have suggested.
I don't want to detail all the charitable activities the church also produces, but we give away something like a sixth or a seventh of our total income (including what goes to the diocese). For example, the Good Friday offerings always go to the church in Jerusalem (it's basically charitable support for Palestinians). None of this accounts for the large amount of free labor provided by parishioners.
All in all, it's a tight budget even at a relatively wealthy church. In poorer, rural areas it's even harder. Taxing churches would destroy the financial model that almost every church is built on. Most churches are not businesses, in other words. Perhaps some churches are like businesses and we should consider that. For example, perhaps the rent we charge for the school should be taxed at some rate. There is a reason why churches used to be tax-supported institutions - because running them on voluntary donations is really hard.
I should add that the average size of major-denomination parishes in this country is about 120 pledging members. For reasons relating to human interaction, it seems that a single pastor has a hard time growing an organization beyond that size without extra clergy support. Beyond that size, the relationships become too anonymous. Larger churches usually have a multiple-clergy model. What we normally do - two clergymembers - is the hardest financial model of all, because our membership is not much above the average. We can't afford the second one right now given the endowment's decline by nearly 1/3 in value and the hit that pledges are taking in this economic crisis, so we were lucky that the second pastor voluntarily got a new job (left the parish) just before the financial crash hit last year. Otherwise I just don't know how much more deferred maintenance on an aging 40-year-old building we can do.
I don't consider running the church operations itself to be a business. But where there are sales (e.g., rental property or running a school) perhaps those shoudl be taxed like the business enterprises they really are.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 10:21 AM
Saturday, May 23, 2009
So there have been two developments in South Asia with regard to the global terrorism problem. The first is the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. The second is a series of see-saw developments in Pakistan.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 5:24 AM
Friday, May 22, 2009
As an atheist, I have little love for the tax-exempt status that churches enjoy. Nevertheless, it troubles me that a church should jeopardize its tax-exempt status if a sermon is deemed too specifically political. Something about that sounds very wrong to me.
The magnificent First Amendment to our Constitution protects the freedom of religion, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of speech--especially political speech. So when a priest addresses his congregation about the intersection of politics and faith, is that not triply protected speech? And was not the tax-exempt status of religious institutions carved out precisely to protect churches from just this sort of government intimidation or suppression via the tax code?
Furthermore, the Supreme Court recognizes that contributing financial and material support to a political candidate is another form of exercise of free expression. So should not churches be able to do this as any other organization could? It seems to me somehow that the Bill of Rights has been turned on its head. Instead of liberating religious institutions, it has become a tool to bind and muzzle them.
Posted by Dr. Strangelove at 9:56 PM
So Liberty University, a "conservative christian" school (i.e., not a real university) in Virginia has just banned a small Democratic Party club from campus. Another outrage from the far right. I really hope the Obama administration acts quickly to remove their tax-exempt status, as this is exactly the kind of politicking that non-profit organizations are not permitted to engage in if they wish to be tax-exempt.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 10:39 AM
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Totally non-political rant here.... Express aisles in grocery stores should be based on age of costumer not just the number of items. A 70 year old with 4 items, 4 coupons and paying by - scoff - check takes far longer than a 35 year old with 20 items and an ATM card. So I propose that express aisles be changed from "10 items or less" to "25 items and 60 years old or less." If age discrimination is an issue we could accomplish the same goal buy making it "25 items or less, no coupons, ATM only."
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 5:52 AM
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
So the word out today is that from the 1930s through the 1980s, the Roman Catholic church in Ireland ran a large number of "reform" schools that the government reports were places of "ritualized beatings," consistent efforts to make children feel "worthless," and routine rape, where sex offenders were (as in the USA) just moved to other institutions. The most heartbreaking part of the report is that the victims, now mostly in their 50s and older, recall that they just wished for a single kind word now and again, but none was ever forthcoming.
Naturally, the Roman Catholic priestly orders and hierarchy call this all lies and exaggeration, or say it is the responsibility of long-dead administrators. They are unwilling to take responsibility for the crimes - civil, moral, spiritual, and religious - that were perpetrated. It doesn't matter to me if the RC church claims to have changed (has it? really?) if they won't fess up to what they've done. Nobody can really be said to have "changed" unless are willing to admit what they did wrong. This is not about a "few bad apples." It's an organization that STILL refuses to take seriously the idea that molesting boys and girls is not just a sin or "weakness" but a monstrous crime that destroys children and cannot be tolerated. It's an organization that for years thought that bad kids needed the devil beaten out of them, and won't admit that was horribly, horribly wrong, hurtful, even sinful, and still won't apologize for what it did. Obviously, I'm furious. I can only wonder what actual church members will think if they are ever told of this.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 9:11 AM
The rejection of Propositions 1A-1E by voters illustrates the basic problem with the California Constitution: the initiative system is broken. Of the more than 500 amendments and revisions approved by voters over the past century, the 2/3 requirement for the budget is the most harmful--but there are hundreds of little disasters that add up to make the bloated California Constitution one of the very longest in the world.
It is time to re-write the California constitution wholesale. It is time for a third constitutional convention here in California (1849 and 1879 were the previous two). Check out Repair California for some interesting information on the process and its history.
Under Article XVIII of the current constitution, the Legislature may vote by 2/3 majority to place a referendum on the ballot to create a convention to revise the state constitution. Afterward, the voters would need to approve the revision by simple majority for it to take effect. Unfortunately the legislature cannot achieve a 2/3 vote on anything substantive--the best they can do is churn out rat-eaten compromises like Props. 1A-1F.
There is another possibility: Repair California thinks a voter initiative could give the voters the right to call for a convention directly, and that we could then do so on the same ballot... But that seems iffy to me.
So I say we first pressure the legislature to pass a "clean" bill providing for a third constitutional convention. Failing that, we can Repair California's initiative process. And failing that... Is there a legal mechanism for a revolution--or is that the contradiction in terms it sounds like? Is there any precedent for a state creating a new constitution by extra-legal or "revolutionary" means? (Is the creation of West Virginia an example?) How could we do this?
Posted by Dr. Strangelove at 8:47 AM
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The voters of California have, by close to 2/3, voted down all five budget referenda put on the May 19 special election. I think I voted for two of the five, but I was happy to see all five fail. We are all sick to death of this broken budget process. The Economist this week came out in favor of a new constitutional convention in California. The voters are basically saying one thing: let it burn. The voters don't know what the solution is, but we know this all sucks. And the voters aren't playing ball anymore. I think we may finally see some action on a constitutional convention or prop 13. Something big has to give. We in California have the world's sixth largest economy and enormous wealth. We can make government work. One way or another. Sometimes a little revolution, now and again, is a good thing.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 9:54 PM
A recent comment by an anonymous contributer on an earlier thread asserted that there was no middle class in the USA. "There are only two ways to be in the US. Rich or dirt poor." LTG responded that the middle class is being "sorely squeezed and impoverished." I think LTG was mainly referring to the increasing cost of living and stagnant incomes of the middle income brackets here in the US. He refereed to things like the cost of housing and education (which are especially problematic in overpopulated and badly governed California). While he exaggerates (rather dramatically) the amount of debt when he says it takes $100,000 of debt to get through state university, the average amount of debt for college graduates is about $20,000 which is bad enough! Of course, $100,000 is closer to what the debt levels are for professional school graduates - and this may be what LTG was thinking of. This all got me thinking about what the situation with income disparities is in the US. It is fairly clear to anyone who observes US society these days that income disparities are getting worse. But there are several ways for income disparity to get worse and which way it's getting worse matters.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 9:45 AM
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
When I was in law school, the class that disturbed me the most was contract law. That's right. I was unfased by the "hairy hand," the dead parent's leg, and other horribles of torts class. Criminal law was rather quaint, really. You got tested on whether you could recall that the medieval definition of burglary was the breaking and entering of a dwelling house at night. If the law school exam omitted the breaking (door was open) or it was a garage, or it was twilight, it wasn't burglary. For me, there was no "paper chase" or 1L moment from any of that.
Contract law was what messed with my worldview, demonstrating how fundamentally rotten people can be. The bones of contract law are doctrines, both ancient and modern, that are pure common law overlaid with twentieth century nonsense about plain language and market custom. The meat of it is relationships gone horribly, horribly wrong. Brothers, long-time partners, family members, people screwing one another over for small sums of money. I like to say that a useful way to think about negotiation is the difference between selling a car to a friend and selling one to a stranger. When selling a car to a friend, both parties are - or should be - fundamentally interested in the deal that is fairest. When selling one to a stranger, we can and do take some, but one hopes limited, advantage of one another's ignorance, gullibility, or desperation. (Peacemaking, btw, must be like selling a car to a friend; it fails when the haggling approach is used). One of my favorite cases in contract law was an old Campbell's soup chestnut. Campbell's used to have contracts to pay farmers a lump sum for all the carrots they grew on X acres. You know, something like "You got fifteen nice acres of carrots there, Farmer Ted, I'll buy seven." This way, farmers knew in advance what they would get even if the harvest failed, and Campbell's could negotiate a deal that, building in the risk, would amortize across farms to a lower average carrot cost. Either that or they were all lazy. Anyhow, farmers, they later discovered, would transplant carrots to the other side of their property shortly before harvest time to deprive Campbell's of a small (say 5%) of what it should have made, at enormous effort that could not possibly have been worthwhile. Clauses had to be later added about not moving vegetables. Then there's the uncle who promised the nephew $1000 if he graduated college, reassured him repeatedly of this, then welched. (Uncle wins). There's a saying that "hard cases make bad law." This is truest in contract alw.
I mention this because this libertarian/jungle version of contract law we learned in law school and continue to pump over the airwaves is no longer accurate, although it is dominant in the minds of those who speak of "freedom of contract." In your lifetime, unless you are a businessman/woman you will probably get to negotiate no more than a handful of contracts in your life, of all the thousands you will sign. Almost every contract we sign is presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by very powerful corporations. Old-fashioned contract law does have some acknowledgement of the power relationships that produce these one-sided deals, but limited.
This is what the current credit card regulation controversy is all about. "Freedom of contract" cry the banks. If people don't like these terms, they can go elsewhere. Of course, you can't negotiate the terms. You can't say, "Yes, I'll take this, but I want a .5% lower interest rate and to be governed by Indiana law, not Delaware law, and I want voluntary arbitration, not mandatory." In fact, the market simply doesn't provide any possibility for negotiating or choosing between alternatives for 99% of the terms in any of these contracts. They are pretty much all standardized. You may get to choose a better rate, but you can't choose to avoid things like the right to change the rate at any time. All those terms are fixed across the industry. This is why it makes sense for the government to simply step in and regulate the terms. We have to live in the real world, not a legal make-believe world where we pretend that signing up for telephone service or a credit card is about the "meeting of the minds" between two somewhat equal parties. You can choose to forego credit cards, as you can choose to forego television, telephones, automobiles, or underwear. Calling such regulation socialism is just silly.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 9:53 PM
The Washington Post announced new survey/study results today showing that some 40% of children (2007) are now being born out of wedlock. This is a substantial increase over the past 30 years. It is up from 34% to almost 40% since 2002 alone. Signficiantly, says the report, most of the change appears to be taking place among women in their 20s. The figures are striking in that it is women in their early 20s - those born in the 1980s -- that are leading the change. "Sixty percent of those who had babies between 20 and 24 were single, up from 52 percent in 2002, and nearly one-third of those giving birth at ages 25 to 29 unmarried, up from one-fourth in 2002. Nearly one in five women who gave birth in their 30s were unmarried, compared with one in seven in 2002." The most interesting coment is that this figure is putting the USA more in line with Europe, where out-of-wedlock births account for 44% (UK), 50% (France) and 55% (Sweden).
I don't know what this means for our country, but it must mean substantial changes to come in the median or typical family. I wonder if some of this is not to be laid at the feet of the wedding industry. Weddings today are viewed as very expensive affairs costing $10-$20K at the low end, with $30K-$40K being quite normal. The inflation has been striking of late. The cost of these affairs is beyond the reach of a large number of Americans, particularly young ones. We have also moved to a new era in who pays for weddings. The 1950s norm was that a marriage was between two people who were little more than teenagers with no financial support of their own; the wedding was paid for by the bride's parents. That has changed in very many ways. Combined with a general slackening of social norms concerning marriage, many couples may be forgoing weddings for financial reasons too.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 12:06 PM
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
So if you watch pundit based TV, you've heard the Republicans waxing outraged about this series of jokes by Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents' dinner. Leaving aside the problem of the White House and the supposed "Fourth Estate" being cozy chummy, the jokes are funny and the Republican outrage over them is ridiculous.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 4:48 AM
Monday, May 11, 2009
Today, the Secretary of Defense Gates asked for the resignation of General McKiernan, the top general in Afghanistan. Last week, Presidents Zardari and Karzai of Pakistan and Afghanistan were in Washington for high-level summit meetings. Coincidence? I think not. I wonder what their objection to him was.
Moreover, what do we do now? Pakistan is in danger of becoming a failed state, which is really saying something with nuclear weapons. Its two main non-islamist political parties are locked in a deadly and petty personal struggle between Sharif and Zardari, giving the Islamists space to grow. Simply put, the Taliban in Pakistan has a coherent vision of the future; the other parties don't. That is a serious problem. Yet Pakistan, with its active lawyers who struggled repeatedly for establishing the rule of law, has something terrific going for it. Too bad neither of the main political parties will buy into their cause.
Here's the sad part. I suspect the army will likely stage a coup again within the next year. They will have to, they will think, because they do not want to see the Taliban forces challenge them for physical control of the country, yet the civilian leadership can't get its act together to oppose them. This is just more downward spiral. The USA must seize the opportunity here. (see the Simpsons joke in the title). Hamid Karzai said that the US needs to show moral leadership. We need to show we are better than the terrorists, he said. I think he's onto something big. The way to win in this area is for the non-Islamist forces, the pro-Democracy forces, to combine and express a coherent vision for both countries, and since the US army will have to help out in this battle too, probably in both countries, it has to get its act together. Word travels quickly of atrocities and slowly, but effectively, of good treatment. When the people learn in villages that US/government forces treat them well but the Taliban treat them badly, this is how the tide turns. We are already outsiders, so we start at a deficit. We must be better than the Taliban just to be viewed with equanimity. If we give in (a la Cheney and Rumsfeld) to frustration and torture, to the idea that you have to fight on their level, we will lose surely and hard. It is imperative, therefore, to end the abuses at Baghram airbase and change US strategy 180 degrees. Bottom line: we have to start acting like the good guys. We have to show the moral superiority of democratic forces.
I am reminded in this vein of how we "won" in Germany after WWII. This is a complicated story, but it involves above all a generosity of spirit (and money, food, etc.) and a willingness to work with locals. In Germany we saw not revanchism, but a real genuine liberal democracy arise out of the ashes. There are wonderful stories of German POWs deciding to stay in America or returning home to tell people that they were well treated and well fed. The Nuremberg trials were the victor's justice, to be sure, but they were not show trials. Acquittals happened. Most of all, the top brass were held accountable, and the little people were largely forgiven. We worked with existing non-Nazi parties that survived the war clandestinely, but the real triumph was in these (the SDP etc) not being viewed as "collaborators." German intellectuals invested themselves in the process of creating a new Germany. Famously, 1946 was declared "Year Zero" by leading literary figures who bought into what the Allies were selling. Economically, we helped rebuild the country we had just bombed to smithereens. The projects of NATO and the European Union integrated Germany rather than isolating and injuring it. The result was a place where ambitious young Germans - and it is the young and ambitious everywhere who lead revolutions - bought into the new Germany.
Now is the time for a "Marshall Plan" for the Hindu Kush.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 12:22 PM
Saturday, May 09, 2009
"I'm not a member of any organized party. I'm a Democrat." - Will Rogers.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 7:01 AM
Friday, May 08, 2009
So a number of people are grumbling that the Obama administration is dragging its feet on doing anything about gay rights. This is correct; he is. Some suggest that he is doing this out of conviction, i.e., that really doesn't care about gay rights. More on that in a minute.
Other suggest that he is doing this out of political expedience. The administration's fear is that broaching social issues now will destroy the post-2006 Democratic coalition that invited rural Democrats who disagree with urban Democrats on social issues to join the party if they were generally in line with the economic issues. The payoff to rural Democrats for not supporting Republican candidates or legislative initiatives on social issues is that the Democrats will deprioritize social issues altogether. Obama wants to keep this coalition together to pass health care reform and education reform, among other things. Gay rights can come later, right after the 2010 midterm elections but far enough in advance of the 2012 elections to defuse the issue.
Still others see this as just more evidence of the idea that Obama really doesn't care enough about gay rights to give that a proper priority. Just sit in the back of the bus and wait. This is hard to deny also. Human rights are a top priority, not a low one. I can't blame those who are angry at him for being asked, yet again, to sacrifice their rights for the "greater good." They fear that Obama will always find something to prioritize over gay rights.
Both sides are right about this. That's what makes it agonizing. Obama is probably correct about the effect on his economic agenda of attacking the "don't ask don't tell" policy now, and the liberal wing is correct that continuing to enforce that policy (just expelled another gay man this week) and DOMA is horrific.
If Obama follows through on gay rights after the 2010 midterm elections, that will be enough for me. I think even most gay folks are willing to wait another couple years in exchange for getting what they deserve. It's an unfair trade, but not a wholly unreasonable one. But the calculus for me changes if the Obama administration continues to sell gays short to pursue other agenda items. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, justice too long delayed is justice denied.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 12:59 PM
When Specter (link is to summary Specter's ideological positions) left the GOP is was widely believed he did so because he though he could not win a primary contest against a Club For Growth backed, conservative like Pat Toomey (link is to summary Toomey's ideological positions) but could beat him in a general election. But there was wide speculation (hope?) by Republican spokespeople that former Governor, Tom Ridge (link is to a summary of Ridge's ideological positions) would run for the Republicans against Specter and that he would defeat Specter. Ridge has a reputation for being a "moderate" like Specter. But this isn't happening. Ridge not only has refused to run for the Senate in Pennsylvania, he's refused to say he would vote for Toomey against Specter in a general election even when pressed on TV and now he's announcing he's moving his permanent residence to Maryland - going "beltway" Tom?
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 11:02 AM
Thursday, May 07, 2009
The results of the bank "Stress tests" are supposed to be released today. We've only been hearing about these tests since what . . . January.
I doubt that the stress tests will tell is much that we don't want to hear. That would be deadly for the fragile markets. The bad news is that there is still too much debt sloshing around and many of the measures that have been taken thus far are band aids. Here is a pretty good article The Market Ticker, a blog I found through Patrick.net.
In addition to comments on why banks are not foreclosing on houses, he points out in his article that rising interest rates by credit card companies are an attempt to milk the paying customers in order to make up for losses on everyone else. Be, it won't work because paying customers will pay off balances and close the cards. And the ones who can't pay will default. "36% interest charged against someone who is paying zero because they defaulted is still zero."
Posted by USWest at 7:21 AM
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
I found something interesting online today and thought I would share. It is a study of religiosity in the US by state. This Gallup polls asked people if religion played an important part in their daily lives and ranked the states by the percentage who said yes. You can look a table of top ten most religious and ten least religious. And if you scroll down they have a nice map.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 1:47 PM
Maine became the fifth US state to recognize gay marriage today, the second to do so by legislative action rather than a court order. The measure does not go into effect immediately, however, and if opponents gather 55,000 signatures in 90 days--which Maine's Democratic Governor admits is likely--the measure will have to survive a referendum this Fall.
Nevertheless, this is a huge step--especially as the Governor had previously expressed opposition to gay marriage but changed his mind, now saying flatly that a civil union is "not equal" to a civil marriage. New Hamsphire's Democratic Governor will almost certainly be presented with the same choice in a matter of weeks. I hope he follows Maine's governor. New Jersey and New York are next, hopefully later this year.
We are also all waiting for the ruling from the California Supreme Court regarding the final outcome of Proposition 8. But their decision in this case not matter for long. All of the major Democratic candidates for Governor of California next year support gay marriage and want to repeal Proposition 8 in 2010. The passage of Proposition 8 has not discouraged but galvanized supporters of gay marriage. The future looks brighter today.
Posted by Dr. Strangelove at 11:08 AM
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
The Senate today voted to permit Specter to remain on all the committees on which he currently sits, thus changing the Democrat/Republican split on these committees in favor of the Democrats, but Specter was required to give up his committee seniority and be the most junior member of each such committee, at least until 2010. Likely many Democrats are also upset at Specter's vote against the Democrats' budget and his (supposedly joking) support for Norm Coleman. Democrats are going to make Specter prove his loyalty and earn their support in the 2010 election - he can't just use their good name for free but vote to filibuster important bills. Lieberman has been getting a free ride because his vote was needed in the 2006-2008 Senate. I hope they get tougher, much tougher, with Lieberman also.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 9:44 PM
Monday, May 04, 2009
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 4:12 PM
Sunday, May 03, 2009
This is a post inspired by a recent Washington Post series of commentaries called “10 Things to Toss Out”. Among the things that various commentator’s mentioned tossing out were: West Point, NAACP, Tenure, the White House Press Corps, “Muslim World” as a term. See a synopsis of the reasoning below the fold.
Me, I’d throw out the following:
1) Self-serve. Let’s put service back in capitalism and give people honest work to do.
2) Customer loyalty cards and rebates: Give everyone a good deal and they’ll come back. I don’t feel clubby just because I have your loyalty card. I’m not loyal. You either have the best deal in town, or you are the only one in town. I am not interested in saving 2% or getting CVS bucks to spend on your website. And skip rebates. Either give me the sale or don’t. Rebates are a dishonest discount where they company is hoping you will get too busy to put
3) Fox News: Fair and balanced my ass. Nothing more than a propaganda outlet for blowhards.
4) Pharmaceutical advertisements: This is turning what was once considered part of the normal human condition into a disease. If you get heartburn, take Tums or drink vinegar. You don’t need a $50 pill or a 4 hour erection. And if your kid likes to play and move around, she doesn’t have ADD. If your kid has no talent, that doesn’t mean he has a learning disability, maybe he just dumb or you are just too lazy to deal with him.
5) Built In obsolescence. I don’t need to buy a new computer every 2 years, a new stereo every 3 years, or a new TV for every room of my house. And just because you think you have “improved” something doesn’t mean you have.
6) The gun lobby: It’s based on a total misconception of constitutional law, and like most lobby groups, is too ideological and reactionary for its own good.
7) Credit rating agencies. Corrupted thus useless.
8) Wars on anything other than countries: War on Terror, War on Drugs; War on poverty . . . all failures. All never ending. All justifications for very poor pubic policies, and all meant to score political points at the expense of real improvement.
9) Female Genital mutilation and all forms of sexual abuse.
10) Fundraisers for public schools: Public schools are public. Fund them properly. Ensure their quality. Turning our little children into peddlers so they can get a PE teacher is exploitation.
What would the Citizens get rid of? Start your lists!
1:West Point (Thomas Ricks) “After covering the U.S. Military for nearly 2 decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the Services academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them us more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools.”
2: The NAACP (Jonetta Rose Barras): “The Organization is as anachronistic as colored-only water fountains and white-only bathrooms. It racial focus perpetuates the evils it claims it want to eradicate, and its audiovisual rendering of America as ‘tem vs. Us’ abets the nation’s balkanization . . . it could expand its definition of ‘colored’ to more than just blacks.” Or it could help the black community to address its own self-defeating attitudes.
3.Tenure (Francis Fukuyama:: “The rational for tenure is still valid. But the system has turned the academy into one the most conservative and costly institutions in the country. . . . the system also hamstrings younger untenured professors, making them fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline . . .” He goes on to say that there should be some form of mandatory retirement in academia as well as an end to tenure. “Academic freedom can thrive in thiank takes and research institutions.” And he points to the lack of tenure in places like the U.K. and Australia.
4. White House Press Corps (Anna Marie Cox): “too often the White House briefing room is where news goes to die.” She points out that most major stories that have broken as far back as Watergate have come from outside the White House Press Corps. White House Press corp have released the following over the last few months, “Pocket Squares are back! The president is popular in Europe. Vegetable garden! Joe Biden occasionally says things he probably regrets. Puppy!” “Let the beleaguered journalism business prove its worth by providing something you can’t get by watching the White House’s YouTube Channel.”
5: “Muslim World” (Parag Khanna): “Just as there has not been any meaningful ‘Christian World’ since the Holy Roman Empire, there ahs been no unified “Islamic World” since the Middle Ages. . . . By using the term ‘Muslim world’, we only elevate the likes of Mullah Omar or Osama bin laden, whose rhetoric turns archaic Islamist fantasies into self-fulfilling prophecies. Speaking to all Muslims is speaking to none of them.”
Posted by USWest at 6:53 PM
Saturday, May 02, 2009
In advance of the "Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights" now moving through Congress, every credit card company on the planet is suddenly ratcheting up the fees and raising interest rates, in hopes of grandfathering them in. It has become an epidemic of porcine proportions. Congress needs to put a new provision in the Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights to reset rates and fees back to where they were in January 2009.
For example, this week I got a note from Bank of America informing me that they were raising all my credit card fees and--get this--that any transaction "processed" overseas has now been defined as a "foreign" transaction, with a minimum 3% surcharge of course, even when the transaction is entirely in USD and all goods and services purchased were in the US. They provided no explanation.
Another example: last week Chase suddenly raised the interest rate on a friend's credit card from 10% to 30%. My friend called several times to find out why, and finally some manager "explained" that he had been five days late on a payment earlier this year. Although this was the only time he had ever been late in almost ten years, the manager explained that since his account had formerly belonged to Washington Mutual before the merger last year, Chase is now treating him as new customer with no credit history.
But the worst credit card company in the nation right now is American Express--and that's saying a lot. Yesterday I got an letter from American Express reducing my credit limit to $1000. No reason was given for the reduction, just some boilerplate about "difficult choices" and "difficult economic times." I have never missed a payment and never carried a balance on this card--never. It is just a slap in the face. You can bet I will never use that card again.
And I am hardly alone in finding American Express especially nasty, even in such a crowded field of nastiness. LA Times columnist David Lazarus wrote of similar experiences with American Express all over the country in his most recent column: American Express' risk-cutting poses its own risks. Lazarus notes that American Express received $3.4 billion in government bailout and now, "turns the screws on long-standing customers and seems determined to show as many as possible the door."
As Congress finally is moving to protect consumers from this kind of fraud and abuse, the recently-bailed-out credit card companies complain that such regulation will prevent them from extending additional credit with reasonable rates and fees. Of course, any reasonable rates and fees will not be affected by the regulation. This crap has got to stop.
Posted by Dr. Strangelove at 10:06 AM
Friday, May 01, 2009
Justice Souter's retirement means that President Obama will make his first Supreme Court appointment in the first year of his presidency, putting him on track with Ronald Reagan, who made three appointments (O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy). If Obama is re-elected, which is at least an even possibility based on recent history, this means he can replace any justice who retires or expires before January 20, 2017. If none retire before that time, the justices will be:
Currently, the only justice over 80 is Stevens - by 2016 there will be almost five of them if none retires. Realistically, Stevens and Ginsburg will leave the court within the next eight years (he because of age and she ill health). Obama will, therefore, have the ability to make over the liberal wing of the Court.
Whoever is nominated next will change everything on the Supreme Court, however. It is a small institution and personal connections matter. Right now real progressive views are expressed only by Ginsburg. When she has an ally, perhaps a woman, it will change the personal dynamics on the Court. It will shift the center of gravity to the left.
But what of the balance of power? That probably falls to Scalia or Kennedy to decide. Whether they grimly hang on in hopes of a Republican President is not clear. Scalia is more motivated to do so than Kennedy, the current swing vote. After 30 and 28 years on the bench both may simply wish to retire. That will be the real battle royale of Supreme Court appointments.
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 1:04 PM
I was watching Joe Scarborough this morning (gotta find out what the conservatives are thinking about Specter, Souter etc) and saw this ad on TV. I think this ad nails it - at least for an Iowa audience. I don't know if the Anti-Prop 8 people ran similar ads in California or if they did if they were effective. My instincts tell me this will be a hugely effective ad. And it is well timed. The movement to change the Iowa constitution depends on energy based on anger right now. If this can take the wind out of those sails even a little, it makes it that much more unlikely that the forces of intolerance will be able to sustain the anger for the several years (at least!) they must now wait to do anything about it.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 5:12 AM