Tuesday, February 28, 2006
AP Bias Shines Through
The Associated Press should know better, since its headline is intended to make at-a-glance newsreaders think that the newly constituted Supreme Court is on the warpath against abortion. I have not read the decision yet, but I am going to go out on a shaky limb and guess that it does not give protesters (of abortion or any other subject) carte blanche to damage people's property and intimidate or even harm people. It merely says that a federal statute designed to prosecute mobsters and drug traffickers cannot be used to silence people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
Heck, the article even acknowledges that Justice Alito did not factor into the decision (although it ominously drops that factoid in at the end of the story . . . as if to say, "Geez, if the Court can make this dastardly decision without Alito . . . imagine what it can do with Alito").
Normally, this is where I would pile on and slam the mainstream media, but for the most part, the headlines and articles hit the right note in that they merely pointed out that the decision was essentially placing boundaries on RICO. Those news sources that pick up the AP wire (like Forbes) both used the same idiotic headline, but for the most part, there was an attempt to tell it right. (Click here for a list of current headlines and stories on the decision. As a caveat, the headlines seemed fair when I last checked this link. Since they update frequently, the tone may change in one direction or another.)
My kingdom for a fair AP headline.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Feminism gone astray
One of the deeply troubling things about this kind of assertion is that it makes the choice to have and care for children seem foolish and offensive. It is elitist and cruel to connect child-rearing with ignorance and weakness.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Another Point of View
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
And the HUGE welfare stimulus package comes next, right?
Everybody agrees on the problem. In fact, everybody, generally agrees that the solution at issue--abortion--is an awful thing that should be avoided. So why not find ways that we can all agree on to make the problem go away so that the need for the solution is all but marginalized (i.e., to when it is medically necessary).
NB* - And to be clear, we've had enough debates wherein we've called each other murderers and religious crackpots, so let's keep this one to legal/policy discussion and leave other crap out of it.
Maybe I'd go to law school if I got to read more stuff like this
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Now I think I need some port
One of my concerns, however, is mixed messages. And the message is, it's okay for a British company, but a Middle Eastern company -- maybe we ought not to deal the same way. It's a mixed message. You put interesting words in your question, but I just view -- my job is to do what I think is right for the country. I don't intend to have a fight. If there's a fight, there is one, but nor do I view this as a political issue.Now, gee Mr. president, why would we deem it necessary to deal differently with Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates? I can't possibly think of any reasons why we should view the countries differently. After all, didn't Great Britain supply two of the September 11 hijackers? Doesn't the UK suppress its laborers and prevent them from striking or unionizing? Doesn't Great Britain have a shady past when it comes to funding Islamic fascists?
No? Oh, well . . . shoot. Nevermind then.
BTW, in case any were still left wondering how to view this port deal: hint - Jimmy Carter supports it.
''The overall threat to the United States and security, I don't think it exists,'' Carter said on CNN's The Situation Room. ``I'm sure the president's done a good job with his subordinates to make sure this is not a threat.''RUUUUUUN!
A Public Service Announcement
First of all, if you are at a bluish kiosk and the message blinks "Smartrip only," and you hold in your hand what is a thin, paperish substance - this is not a Smartrip. You will not be able to trade in your paper card, because, once again, this is not a smartrip. No amount of trying to jam the paper into the machine will convince the machine to change its mind and accept your paper card.
Similarly, if you have been standing in line immediately behind this person for several minutes witnessing said person fail to trade in their farecard, and you also do not possess a Smartrip card - guess what? You, too, will unable to perform a transaction at this machine. The machine will not take a sudden look at you and say, "I like this guy. I'll permit him to do a tradein." No, you see this is a machine, and it tends to have the same uniform rules until the overlords of Metro change its mechanics.
There are all sorts of guidelines about purchasing Smartrip cards on the web, but seeing as how you are still using paper cards you must therefore also probably only have a dial-up connection, I'll spare you the pain of trying to download instructions.
Finally, if you are standing at the next kiosk and it is flashing "No bills," this is not a sign that the machine does not favor the Buffalo football franchise. You see, a bill is another word for cash. I'm actually a little surprised you are standing at this particular machine since you never seem to have bills, or cash, when you are at the local CVS and you hold up the entire freaking line so that you can buy a Snickers Bar with your credit or debit card. Anyway, this particular machine, because it is evil and so is Metro, is not taking your cash at the present moment. No matter how many different slots you attempt to stick your money into, it will not take your damned money. You can try putting it into the little crevices at the bottom, but it still will not work.
Now, if you are without a Smartcard, and you only have cash, you are now - as we like to say here in DC - completely fucked. But that's life, go get a helmut.
Thank you. The preceding public service anouncement has been paid for by the New World Order.
Hippocratic Oath? Try Hypocritical Oath
The planned execution of a man convicted of raping and murdering a 17-year-old girl was delayed until Tuesday night after two anesthesiologists refused to participate because of ethical concerns.
. . .
[T]he anesthesiologists issued a statement through the prison saying they were concerned about a requirement that they intervene in the event that Morales woke up or appeared to be in pain.
"Any such intervention would clearly be medically unethical," said the doctors, who have not been identified. "As a result, we have withdrawn from participation in this current process."
The American Medical Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the California Medical Association all opposed the anesthesiologists' participation as unethical and unprofessional.
Fascinating. I wonder if these same doctors would have any qualms about severing the limbs off of, and sucking the brains out of, an unborn child in the womb.
Monday, February 20, 2006
An Anti-Semitic "historian" goes to jail. Why should we care?
The Associated Press refers to David Irving as a “Right-wing British historian.” This is a bit of a misstatement. Among his false claims is that there were no Nazi gas chambers in Auschwitz and the assertion that most of those who died in the concentration camps “succumbed to diseases such as typhus rather than execution.” (AP) He has echoed Goebbels in saying that Hitler was not aware of the Final Solution. He’s not much of an historian and the possibility of 10 years in jail brought out a much more conciliatory tone. He attempted to recant some of his earlier claims, but the court did not seem impressed.
My first instinct is to say “so what?” I mean, we have our own manipulators of history. Denying the Holocaust is pretty standard fare for White Supremist groups and David Duke became a national political figure on the back of this lie. Why should we care that another liar goes to jail?
We, correctly, made a big deal of the RIGHT of publications to display religious cartoons. As a Catholic, I have had to suffer through malicious cartoons for the better part of three years now. It is generally accepted that the law provides for a robust freedom of speech, tempered only by exigent circumstances and malicious intent. Plainly stated, we defend the right to say horrible things, to insult, offend, humiliate, and injure. Where, in this context, do laws against revisionist history rest?
And this isn’t merely a European hypocrisy. We have our own version in terms of “hate crimes.”
Conceptually, the attachment of additional penalties for crimes on the basis of intent, where intent is already taken into account in the grading or definition of the offense, is an attack on free speech. Take, for example, an unlawful killing or an assault. We have already taken into account intent when we charged the individual. What is the attachment of an assessment of the defendant’s state of mind in engaging in the crime, other than a means for penalizing distasteful thoughts?
I have heard the argument that these laws exist as a disinducement to others who have such thoughts. In essence, by penalizing the thought as well as the action, we discourage like-minded individuals from acting on their inclinations. This is a cop-out.
The disinducement is the penalty for the crime. The penalty already takes this, worthy, societal goal into account. (Witness the effects of racial and sexual discrimination suits in the workplace.)
My point is that this relatively new type of law is in direct conflict with one of our deepest and most carefully protected liberties… Free Speech. I’d love to hear some thoughts on this topic.
W vs. Reagan
There is also the philosophical problem. Bush has done real violence to the principle of limited government with all of his talk about how the government has to move when someone is hurting and his aim to leave no child behind. Some of his programs are, I think, easily defended on the merits. But that doesn't change the fact that as general philosophical issue, Bush has conceded that the government is there to help in a way Reagan never would have. Sure, Reagan made exceptions to his general anti-government position. Sometimes they were pragmatic, sometimes they were legitimate exceptions (conservatives aren't uniformly opposed to all government interventions), and some times his deviations were hypocritical, at least in the eyes of some. But such hypocrisy was the tribute conservatives must sometimes pay to politics. Bush has conceded much of the fundamental ground to liberals when it comes to the role of government. Now the argument about governmental problem solving is technical -- "will it work?" -- rather than principled, "is it the government's job?"Whereas Jonah emphasizes the philosophical problems with Bush's conservatism, John Derbyshire has what I think is a more devastating of President Bush:
At the time of the Roberts and Alito nominations, and especially when Harriet Miers was put forward, the following point was much made: That the modern American conservative movement, by arguing, publishing, educating, and persuading across many years, had nurtured a cadre of conservative judges ready to be called on when vacancies appeared on the Supreme Court. Much of the unhappiness about Miers arose from a belief that all this careful husbandry was going to waste.I think Mr. Derbyshire is onto something, though I think they are both basically correct. I have debated on this blog and many others that George Bush is not a conservative in the traditional sense, though he is certainly to the right. He does not qualify necessarily as a neo-conservative, though he reflects some of the quasi-utopianism of that branch of conservatism. Bush has almost established his own branch of conservatism, one that will hopefully not be repeated by any future Republican president.
I think there's something of the same feeling with GWB. Reagan came out of an America whose commanding heights, cultural and political, were held by liberals. Yet he was a true conservative, of great principle and conviction. In the later America from which GWB emerged, conservative ideas were much more accessible & widespread, and there was a wider, deeper pool of real conservative from which the GOP might have chosen its presidential candidates. Yet here is a guy from that much-improved background, who is insouciant to, perhaps (I wouldn't personally rule it out) ignorant of, two of the most fundamental principles of modern conservatism: fiscal restraint and government limitation. He is also distressingly naive on some key points of foreign policy, apparently believing, for example, that Vicente Fox is a friend of the USA, that Palestinian Arabs "yearn for freedom," and so on.
That GWB put forward Harriet Miers as a plausible candidate for SCOTUS is bad enough. Worse is the suspicion, among many of us limited-govt, national-issue, and fiscal conservatives, that GWB is Harriet Miers, and that Bill Buckley and the other great nurturers of US conservatism over this past half century may have labored in vain.
But while we hope for another more pure conservative in the future, it's hard to wonder who will be a truly ideal candidate. John McCain has been credited by some as being an anti-big government type, but he is hardly disagreeable to large amounts of governmental regulation. Rudolph Giuliani is a tough law and order type who is much more socially conservative than some give him credit for being, and may actually be a truer example of a conservative than we realize. But there are obvious difficulties with his candidacy, not the least of which are his opinions on abortion, gay marriage and gun control. And though Senator Allen comes closest to being in the mold of Reagan, he might not be the surest choice. In fact, when all is said and done, the closest any right-wing political figure might be to being both a true conservative and someone who also possesses the intellectual gravitas is Newt Gingrich. Newt is one of the most intellectual politicians of the recent era, and he seems to be the kind of person that could restore the right to its traditional roots. But there's this whole thing about his character and the hostility the public might feel - for right or wrong - towards him. In the end, it's a challenge to think of any prominent conservative - either among the intellectual class or among the political class - who might satisfy the bulk of the right.
Though George W. Bush might be a disappointment in many respects, Andrew Stuttaford notes this little tidbit from Andrew Sullivan:
It will take a generation to undo the damage that Bush has done to conservatism, America's fiscal health, and the whole idea of limited government. My prediction: we will see huge tax increases soon after Bush leaves the scene. He will insist they are a betrayal of his legacy. They will, in fact, be the logical consequence of everything he has said and done. Once they get past their loathing, big government liberals may well look back on the Bush years and wonder at the miracle of how he did what they spent two generations failing to do.I have my issues with President Bush, but this is horescrap, and for two reasons. For one thing, I think Sullivan greatly exaggerates the future threat of tax increases. Yes, the deficit is a great problem, and one made worse by President Bush's big government conservatism. There is the potential for a weak-kneed President attempting to over-compensate for this deficit problem, but we can also hope that a true conservative will take the reigns and realize that the solution is not saddeling us with a larger tax burden, but in actually cutting back our obscene spending ways.
The second problem with Sullivan's statement is that he is the one issuing it. Andrew Sullivan critiquing President Bush's conservative bona fides is a bit like, well, Andrew Sullivan calling out someone for not being a true Catholic. Years from now we will consider the pro-abortion (in the first trimester), pro-gay marriage, pro-stem cell, etc. ad infinitum Andrew Sullivan as the greater betrayer of fundamental conservative principles than George W. Bush.
Chavez makes his next move
Sunday, February 19, 2006
A movie for the whole family
Seems much more like a Disney Channel flick to me.
Saddam Tapes Revisited
I have since learned that their goal was not to break the story, but to doctor it. Bill Tierney, the former U.S. intelligence officer and U.N. weapons inspector who obtained the recordings (which have been repeatedly authenticated as containing Saddam's voice) and gave them to ABC News in good faith, has stated the following:
"What you heard on ABC News was their translation," former U.N. weapons inspector Bill Tierney told ABC Radio's Sean Hannity on Thursday.
"They came up with something different on a key element regarding terrorism in the United States," Tierney insisted.
In the "Nightline" version of the 1996 recording, Saddam predicts that Washington, D.C., would be hit by terrorists. But he adds that Iraq would have nothing to do with the attack.
Tierney says, however, that what Saddam actually said was much more sinister. "He was discussing his intent to use chemical weapons against the United States and use proxies so it could not be traced back to Iraq," he told Hannity.
In a passage not used by "Nightline," Tierney says Saddam declares: "Terrorism is coming. ... In the future there will be terrorism with weapons of mass destruction. What if we consider this technique, with smuggling?"
For those of you with a low regard for NewsMax, do not take their word for it. My understanding is that you will be able to have access to transcripts of the full 12 hours of audio recordings at the conclusion of the Intelligence Summit, which is set for tomorrow. (For those of you with the time and patience to check this all out for yourselves, you can find some of this information already online at the Intelligence Summit's website. For those of you with a fluency in Arabic, you can also listen to the original recordings.)
Hat tip to Digital Brownshirt and Ace of Spades.
Thankful that I live in the West
We can enjoy this:
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Friday, February 17, 2006
Annan's Words of Wisdom
This little episode kind of reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in the movie Tombstone. In this particular scene, Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), Virgil Earp (Sam Elliott), and Morgan Earp (Bill Paxton) are making their way to the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral to confront some troublemakers who were illegally in possession of firearms within city limits. As the foursome makes its way to the corral, they are confronted by the corrupt, pro-thug Sheriff Behan (John Tenney), who tries to forestall the coming confrontation, but to no avail.
After the shootout unfolds and several gunmen are killed by the deputized Earps and Holliday, Behan approaches Wyatt Earp and announces that they (meaning the Earps and Holliday) are all under arrest. Wyatt squints, walks up to the dapperly dressed Behan, and says, without flinching: "I don't think I'm going to let you arrest us today, Sheriff." Behan, being spineless, backs down and walks away.
Annan gives an "order." The United States says we are pretty much not going to change a damn thing. Annan wimpers and oozes away. Parallel, anyone?
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Chavez buys security against democracy in the form of "reservists."
Sounds like a repeat of Nicaragua.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Oh, Look At That! WMD!
Regarding the substance, looks like the left was wrong . . . again. (For my previous post on this subject, entitled "This Could Change Everything," click here.) (The post is archived, so you can find it by scrolling about halfway down the page.)
Your apologies for being grievously wrong can be sent, in writing, to this address.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
"The power of the text compels you!"
Will that dog hunt again?
Monday, February 13, 2006
Editors Resign Over Paper Cowardice
Several members of the editorial staff of the New York Press resigned last week over their publication's refusal to publish caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which had originally been published in the Danish daily, Jyllands-Posten. (I will assume that readers know the basics of the excessive Muslim reaction to the publication of the caricatures in the weeks and months since. The subject has been much discussed, both here at TPS and elsewhere.) The editorial staff had sought to not only educate its audience about the source of the hubbub, but also criticize competing media outlets for refusing to run the caricatures along with their stories of Muslim "rage." Naturally, any such story would, for the sake of consistency, require that the caricatures be published alongside editorial content.
As reported by New York Newsday:
[City Hall bureau staffer Azi] Paybarah told The Associated Press that the package of stories about the cartoons was put together on Monday and was read by management. On Tuesday, toward the end of the day, the editorial team was told that the cartoons would not run.One has to feel for this editorial board. Here is a group of people who, unlike the rest of clowns in their supposed industry, were intent on actually presenting a complete, thorough, and honest story. They logically reasoned that they would be doing their readers a disservice by not showing the caricatures, and therefore chose to do so in the name of full disclosure and journalistic integrity.
Since the package would have included criticism of other newspapers for not running the cartoons, for the Press to do the same would have made the writers appear to be hypocrites, Paybarah said. There also was concern about editorial control, he said.
Newsday went on to describe the idiotic response of New York Press management to their refusal to publish the pictures:
In a statement, New York Press General Manager Peter Polimino said the newspaper had come to the same conclusion as many other "responsible newspapers and media outlets" that have chosen to not run the cartoons.Of course, how silly of me. I mean, why would readers actually want to get a full perspective of a multi-faceted story? Why not just keep feeding readers the view of the story that you want them to have, right, Mr. Polimino? Without your all-knowing guidance, people might actually see for themselves that the Muslim reaction demonstrates a distinct reflex against free speech generally and journalistic freedom specifically. (I am going to go out on a limb and say that the New York Press had no problems publishing photographs of the crucified Jesus Christ in urine or the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung. Maybe that is because New York Press management knows that Christians won't react violently to blasphemy, but Muslims will.)
"We felt the images were not critical for the editorial content to have merit, would not hinder our readers from making an informed opinion and only served to further fan the flame of a volatile situation," the statement said.
I am the first to assail the hypocritical bias of the mainstream media, but in my opinion, the (former) editorial staff of the New York Press deserves credit, not only for having the correct perspective on the story, but also for having the courage of their convictions to resign in the face of management's DNC-esque cut-and-run behavior. Imagine how much better our world would be if there were more journalists like them -- you know, ones who actually believe in free speech.
Another MSM Non-Story
I will let the inanity of this story speak for itself, adding only that it is apparent that the people who are ostensibly reporting on this story know absolutely nothing about hunting procedure or hunting safety.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Is Senator Specter’s Brilliant Idea Constitutional?
At first glance there appears to be two major constitutional problems with Specter’s idea: First, it would seem to violate the principles of separation of powers by unduly encroaching into powers that are within the prerogative of the Executive Branch and; second, it appears to be a call for an “advisory opinion” by a federal court, which, according to Article III of the Constitution, federal courts do not have the power to issue.
I’ll start with the separation of powers issue, in part because it is both the easiest argument to make and the least legal in nature. Generally speaking, the discretionary decision to pursue a matter in the courts of the United States is an “executive power.” Take, for example, the prosecution of criminals; this is considered an inherently executive function. Prosecutors, District Attorneys, State’s Attorneys, and Attorney’s General are all “executive branch officers” whether at the local, state, or federal level. They all generally answer to the highest executive in their branch of government. We’ve all heard the phrase “prosecutorial discretion” (and I know that one my co-bloggers is intimately familiar with it), which essentially means that it is up to the executive to decide whether or not to pursue a particular case. Legislatures have little control over this process. While legislatures can pass laws and regulations making certain behaviors subject to criminal prosecution, it is commonly accepted that legislatures cannot themselves engage in prosecution. Nor can legislatures pass laws that would force executive officials to take on specific prosecutions. As an inherently executive function, the decision about whether to take a matter to a court is something that Congress cannot encroach without unduly aggrandizing their own powers at the expense of executive power. Intuitively, given the tri-partite structure of our government this makes sense, which is why it was a bit surprising to hear Senator Specter make such a suggestion. While the executive could voluntarily submit the NSA program to the FISC if it wanted to, it seems fairly clear that Congress cannot pass a law requiring them to do so.
On the other hand (I know, I know there is always another hand with me), Congress is not wholly without recourse in this instance. Article I grants Congress the power of the purse, and as such the Supreme Court has given Congress expansive authority to set conditions on the use of said money. See South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987). While Dole dealt specifically with Congress’s ability to condition federal money with respect to the States, its principles appear to be relevant here. In other words, Congress could potentially condition the continued funding of the NSA on the executive receiving a ruling on the program’s constitutionality from the FISC. It’s unlikely that Congress would de-fund the entire NSA; however, they could prevent the President from spending any federal funds to carry out this specific NSA program until the executive got a ruling from the FISC. Moreover, Congress could prevent NSA officials from receiving salaries, benefits, or reimbursement for expenses, if necessary to ensure compliance with its wishes. Politically I know that this is an unlikely scenario, but I feel compelled to point out that what Specter proposes is not necessarily a violation of the Constitution, at least not with respect to the principles of separation of powers.
Now it’s on to, in my opinion, the more interesting part of Senator Specter’s proposal; namely the issues regarding “advisory opinions.” Article III of the Constitution extends the judicial power of the United States to only “cases” and “controversies.” Throughout its history, the Supreme Court has interpreted this requirement in a number of ways, imposing some constitutional requirements, such as the “doctrine of standing” on persons bringing matters before the Court and attempting to have them qualify as “cases” and/or “controversies” that the Court can decide. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83 (1998); see also Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962). In addition, the Court has also adopted some “prudential” restrictions on the exercise of its judicial powers. The doctrines of “ripeness,” “mootness,” and “political question,” are all examples of non-constitutional prudential (self imposed) limits on the exercise of judicial power. Historically, it appears that the Court has also adopted a prohibition on the issuance of “advisory opinions, however, as I will show there is far from a clear precedent for its application.
The prohibition on advisory opinions appears to date all the way back to 1793 and Chief Justice John Jay. In 1793, noting constitutional separation of powers principles and functions, Chief Justice John Jay and the Supreme Court refused to grant the request of President Washington and Secretary of State Jefferson to construe the treaties and laws of the United States pertaining to questions of international law arising out of the wars of the French Revolution. See 3 Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay 486-489 (H. Johnston ed., 1893). According to Chief Justice Jay, “[t]hese being in certain respects checks upon each other, and our being Judges of a Court in the last resort, are considerations which afford strong arguments against the propriety of our extra-judicially deciding the questions alluded to, especially as the power given by the Constitution to the President, of calling on the heads of departments for opinions, seem to have been purposely as well as expressly united to the Executive departments.” Id. at 448. Although the Court has generally adhered to this policy of refusing to issue advisory opinions, there appear to be several examples of “advisory opinions” issued by the Justices. For example, it appears that the Justices, responding to a letter calling for suggestions on improvements in the operation of the courts, drafted a letter suggesting that circuit duty for was unconstitutional, but they apparently never sent it. See 2 G. McRee, Life and Correspondence of James Iredell 293-296 (1858). The letter was apparently never forwarded to the President. Writings of Washington, see id. at 31-32 n. 58. When the constitutional issue was raised in Stuart v. Laird, 5 U.S. (1 Cr.) 299, 309 (1803), it was passed over with the observation that the practice was too established to be questioned. In another instance Justice Johnson relayed to President Monroe, apparently with the knowledge and approval of the other Justices, their views on the constitutionality of internal improvements legislation. See 1 Charles Warren, The Supreme Court in United States History 595-97 (rev. ed. 1926). Finally, Chief Justice Hughes, in a letter to Senator Wheeler on President Roosevelt's Court Plan, appears to have questioned the constitutionality of a proposal to increase the membership and have the Court sit in divisions. See Reorganization of the Judiciary: Hearings on S. 1392 Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 75th Congress, 1st Sess. (1937), pt. 3, 491; see also S. Tyler, memorirs of Roger B. Taney 432-435 (1876) (noting Chief Justice Taney's private advisory opinion to the Secretary of the Treasury that a tax levied on the salaries of federal judges violated the Constitution).
Despite these examples, it nevertheless appears that none of these so-called “advisory opinions," have been considered or relied upon as formal declarations of the Court, nor does it appear that they were required by any legislation of Congress. Many scholars have noted these examples and have gone on to contend that the Court would no doubt have developed the rule against advisory opinions as a logical application of the case and controversy doctrine.
Unlike the separation of powers argument, I can think of no alternative to the prohibition on advisory opinions that would pass Constitutional scrutiny. Thus, it seems that Specter’s proposal would violate Article III’s requirement of a case and/or controversy. Some may point to the “Exceptions and Regulations” clause of Article III, however, that likely only extends to jurisdictional issues, and does not allow Congress to enlarge the grant of judicial power extended by the Constitution. As always, I’m open to suggestions and revisions of my research and analysis and look forward to the informed comments of my cohorts.
Not Steele-ing the moment
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Reid's Hypocrisy Comes To Light
Is it now fair to say that this is no longer an exclusively Republican scandal?
The Obama Obsession
After laying the groundwork for the senatorial feud, the article said the following:
The McCain letter represents the first time any senator -- or any local, state or federal official of note from either party -- has publicly criticized Obama.Gasp!
Apparently, the good folks at the Chicago Sun-Times have been chronicling the criticisms of their home state's junior senator. The scope of certainty of the statement seemed bizarre, and it is said with an almost chiding tone. All of which begs the question: Just what makes Obama so special?
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I know very little about Barack Obama beyond only the most general information. (Congressional webpages concentrate on his educational and legislative experience, while Wikipedia gives a more in-depth view of his parents' history and upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia.) Anecdotal commentary (which I cannot cite) portray him as a bright and optimistic individual with a strong work ethic. The picture painted is that Obama is the best thing to happen to the Democrat Party since sliced bread (well, you know what I mean).
But Obama's talents (real or perceived) are only part of the story. At least one of the real reasons Obama is receiving such glowing praise from Democrat quarters is that his party is in desperate need of a prominent minority personality who might actually make it appear that the reality is matching party rhetoric.
For years, the Democrat Party has relied upon -- and also taken for granted -- the huge number of black voters in the United States. Election cycle after election cycle, in the 40 years between 1960 and 2000, nine out of ten black voters had gone into the voting booth and cast their vote for a Democrat over a Republican. Their reward for doing so had been negligible. Some black communities, especially those in large urban areas, remained in shambles -- and yet they kept voting for Democrats. Blacks that had actually contributed to the party's growth had been rewarded by being relegated to posts at the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Education -- and yet they kept voting for Democrats.
Then along comes this dunce from Texas who not only has close ties to the Hispanic community due to his governorship, but also appoints blacks and Hispanics to real positions like Secretary of State and National Security Adviser. And in the 2004 presidential election, this same dunce managed to shave some votes off of the previously-guaranteed-nine-out-of-ten minority bloc of votes; while not a whopping percentage of votes, it was statistically significant, and was also enough to make the difference in certain swing states.
To be blunt, Obama's rhetorical rise among Democrat power movers is their feeble attempt to reassert their ironclad gip over minority voters by promoting the cult of personality. Obama may be talented, and he may ultimately be a great senator (and, it is no doubt hoped by his supporters, great presidential contender), but he was being worshipped before he even formally announced his candidacy for the Senate. And he is the lone rising black star in a party that prides itself as fighting for the black community and civil rights.
Obama may be great, but the question is: Will Hillary make him her Secretary of State . . . or Secretary of the Interior?
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Islam, My Perspective
The world of the Prophet Mohamed (Prophet) was chaotic in the extreme. Small tribes, some nomadic, some fixed rural, and some sharing towns and villages. The Quran was designed to overcome this tribalism and unify the Arab peoples under a single, overarching philosophy. As a “law,” it is really quite general in its application. It allows, and appears to have been designed to allow, for local variation.
The good news, from the perspective of Islam, is that this general applicability permitted Moslem overlords to conquer non-Moslem areas and seamlessly drop Islam on top of local policy and law. In some ways, this is an approach that we should find familiar in that, where local policy or law did not conflict with the Quran, it was permitted to remain in force. The tremendous variation in dress, language, titles, and power structures that we see from the Congo to China and Morocco to the Philippines is a testimony to this Quranic accommodation. The preservation of ancient learning and adaptation in math and science during the 1000 CE to 1450 CE Caliphates owes its existence to the flexibility of Islam prior to the rise of Christendom. (We shouldn’t forget that, Islamic culture, learning, art, architecture, science, and philosophy is the backbone of our own intellectualism.) It is precisely the flexibility of the application of Quranic law in establishing local law and policy that made this possible. (Think Moorish Spain or the early Ottoman Empire.)
There is a downside to this though… By not dictating the MEANING of the Suras (Quranic verses) during the life of the Prophet, the next generation of spiritual and temporal leaders began to squabble about very fundamental issues such as the steps one had to take to become a Moslem, the duties of each portion of society: women, slaves, children, servants, brothers, fathers, and, most importantly, WHO’S interpretation held precedence.
So long as North Africa, the Middle and Near East, and the southern half of Asia were economically significant, Islam was used to preserve relative peace among Islamic peoples. Quranic sura were generally interpreted to support the power structure throughout the “Moslem world.” The two centers of interpretation became Mecca and Baghdad. (Before jumping on this assertion, I humbly acknowledge that this whole post is an oversimplification and, on this particular point, many communities ignored both as a place of proper interpretation of the Quran, preferring provincial interpretations.)
The separation of Sunni and Shiite Islam occurred within an hundred years of the Prophet’s death. By 1000 CE Shiite Islam had split into dozens of mystical traditions. By 1800, Sunni Islam had broken into several versions of Islam, some militant, some very conservative (in the sense of supporting the ruling powers). Everything began to go terribly wrong in about 1600.
Decadence and perversion had undermined the legitimacy of the Caliphates (loosely, “kingdoms”) and “Christendom” was pressing in on the Moslem world on all sides. Economic sources of power such as the spice-trade had faltered or, more correctly, been consumed by European and Asian merchants. (I read a paper a number of years ago that attributed the fall of the Caliphates to the failure to embrace sea-travel as the primary mover of goods. The author argued that overland had become so slow and subject to loss [carrying charges, banditry, taxation] that Asian merchants were only too happy to trade in the camel for the schooner.) As the economic sphere collapsed, infighting among the various power centers took off. This encouraged European meddling during the 18th and 19th centuries until, by 1900, the Moslem Umma (community) had ceased to exist.
In its place was a powerless and economically isolate group of subject powers with loose alliances to distant European powers. On Europe’s part, the Middle and Near East were barely of interest. The real battles were over Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. On the eve of WWI, the Middle East, the Near East, and North Africa were critical only as military acquisitions to slow the encroachment of other European powers on one’s colonial possessions.
Islam, during this period, was quietly going through a radical transformation. With the establishment of militant societies such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, groups of mainly poor, urban youth were beginning to strike at the governments of the Moslem world. Noting (justly) the huge disparities between the lives of the rich and poor and that those disparities were based upon the connection of powerful families to foreign, non-Moslem forces, these societies drew a connection between “foreign” and “persecuting.”
The reaction of the rulers in countries so challenged was to 1) state that they were secular and to limit the practice of Islam to a private sphere (Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Libya, and, to a lesser extent, Egypt) or 2) to embrace a particular version of Islam and assume the authority of religious interpretation by the strict adherence to Sharia law. (For the record, we keep throwing around the term “Sharia law” in the blogsphere as though it is one, single legal code. It is not. The Quran is the central text on which the varied religious-centered Sharia laws revolve.) Examples of these countries are Afghanistan, Sudan, Jordan, the Emirs, and, most significantly, Saudi Arabia.
The dynamic between religion and politics is not so clean-cut as this and many of the “secular” states drew their strength from being “Islamic.” However, across the board, the key to power in Moslem states was still definitively “foreign.” It was their relationship with European powers, through WWII, that kept them in control. (By way of narrative, I have tried to imagine what being a powerless Moslem youth in Cairo in 1945 would have been like… No work, no national prestige, Europeans visiting my country for its quaintness and lording their wealth over me, while I have no future. I’ll bet the Muslim Brotherhood would have seemed damn attractive.)
Following WWII, the exploitation of oil resources exacerbated the problems and led to the overthrow of Iran’s secular government. Throughout the Moslem world, oil resources were assumed by the governments and used to purchase security and intelligence networks of great sophistication. These resources were turned on their own people because the governments correctly saw the threat that these unallied Muslims represented to their power. The West’s response was to bolster the governments with money and arms in order to contain the Islamist threat. This brought Western powers, already despised as the architects of the fall of the Moslem world, into direct opposition with dispossessed Moslems everywhere. Worse still, this was at least four generations on. Four generations of Moslem anger against their powerlessness and alienation.
The two factors that crystallized the problem for Moslems, in my opinion, were the “creation” of Israel and the US-Soviet conflict.
From the Moslem perspective, the Israeli problem is entirely of the West’s making. Historically, the Jewish state was abolished by the Romans and never truly recovered. Jews emigrated throughout the Moslem Caliphates prior to 1700 and there were few Jews in “Palestine” on the eve of WWII. Following the war and due as much to Soviet oppression as the holocaust, Jews began to move, without legal authority, into Palestine. (Palestine was a mess prior to this, with authority loosely shared between the British, French, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and the chaos created a vacuum that Jews fleeing Europe were able to exploit.)
Some immigrants purchased land, some squatted, and some were “granted” land by the foregoing authorities. This was a sensational story in the Moslem world and it became a direct affront with the intervention of the United Nations and the sanction by the West.
The “creation” of Israel was perceived to be the resolution of the “Jewish” problem in Europe by deporting them to Palestine. It was seen as an outrageous example of Moslem powerlessness and European arrogance. Getting stomped in two Israeli wars exacerbated this feeling of powerlessness. Adding millions of stateless “Palestinian” refugees to the already overflowing numbers of poor and dispossessed in the Middle East was the final straw. Hatred of Israel and her Western protectors became part and parcel with the cry for “justice” against 500 years of Christian aggression.
Against this backdrop, the interplay with the Cold War and the insidious effect of socialism/communism forged a wedge between the mass of Moslem people and modernity. Their rulers were perceived as mere puppets of the Soviet Union and the US (in my opinion, this perception is an accurate one) that was played out most directly in Afghanistan. (The number of “holy warriors” that volunteered to die in the cold in Central Asia is a testimony as to how desperate for respect and opportunity Islam had become.)
Furthermore, the West added insult to injury by: supporting the Shah against a popular uprising, supporting Israel in the illegal seizing of land in Sinai and Golan (the UN says it was illegal, not me, so don’t jump too hard on this point), the arming of the secular Baathist regimes of Iraq and Syria, the arming of militant groups in Lebanon and Khurdistan, the admission of Turkey into Europe on the condition that it essentially outlaw the public practice of Islam (this is a far more complex situation than I think Moslems perceive it to be, but this IS the perception), and the cooperation with brutal security and intelligence networks throughout the Moslem world that engaged in torture and murder. There is much that the West has contributed to the equation and not all of the charges leveled against us are unfair or overstated.
Philosophically, a significant shift in the interpretation of Islam had occurred. Whereas, under the Caliphates, the schools in Baghdad and Mecca had interpreted the Quran in ways that were flexible (to support the expansion of Islam) and conservative (to support the administrations of the Caliphates), new schools of thought began to gain precedence. It is important to note and has been completely overlooked in TPS posts that the Saudi approach to Quranic interpretation is directly opposed to the militant form of Islam that we have been discussing. This should not be a surprise since militant Islam has the potential to undermine the House of Saud.
In opposition to religious interpretation that supported a decayed and destroyed, intellectualized version of Islam, Wahabists, in particular, taught that all rules not specifically found in the Quran were corrupt. One of the important points here is that Wahabism comes from Pakistan, not Saudi Arabia. It came to Saudi Arabia and adopted the credibility of Meccan authority in the late nineteenth century.
Wahabism is peculiarly adapted to speaking to the poor and dispossessed. It is anti-intellectual in that no text can be considered other than the Quran. It is readily accessible in that the only language that can be used to discuss religion is an old form of Arabic, thereby excluding all of the Concordia from the Caliphates. It is “justice” oriented in that it requires self-sacrifice and equality among Moslems. And, it is definitively anti-Western.
This is where Paul’s and GC’s contentions about the nature of Islam as “violent” come in to play.
Whereas the New Testament does not contain injunctions against unbelievers, the Old Testament and the Quran do. In the West, Christians and Jews gloss over the orders to separate from or kill non-believers, lest they infect the community. (Note that we periodically encounter modern “Christian” heretics who embrace this idea.) We concentrate on the good aspects of faith and relegate the evil ones to the past. In one sense, it is, as TP contended, the decision to view our faith through a lens of modernity.
Christianity is particularly immunized against the correlation with evil practice because Christ was so explicit in his instructions to love one another and selective in the application of ancient Judaism. (We could debate this ad infinitum, but Christ was clearly doing something new.) Paulist teaching of the universality of Christianity also helped maintain Jesus’ teaching.
Nonetheless, we should not forget that Christianity has been used for great evil. Forget the Inquisition and Crusades as examples. They represent as much political and economic movements as anything else. I’m talking about the down and dirty persecution of the Reformation period. Catholic peasants, without anything to gain, burning Huguenots in France. Anglican city folk without any economic interest dragging teenagers from their houses for public beatings and burnings, merely because they were Quakers. Beheadings of priests. Burning of whole villages in Germany because they were Anabaptist. 1400-1700 in Europe ain’t pretty folks and it is just as inconceivable to the “modern” mind, or should be, as the present religion inspired violence.
Wahabists, by allowing for purely local interpretation of the Quran and by excluding more than a 1000 years of Concordia, created an extreme interpretation of the Sura. Take, for example, the Burka. The Quran requires that women maintain their modesty in dress and avoid displays of immodesty in their behavior. Saint Paul says much the same thing.
The Burka was unknown outside of Pakistan prior to 1800. However, the dress, not required by the Quran, has become the Wahabist interpretation of the modesty Sura. So too, the Quranic requirement that non-Moslems submit to Moslem rule that was interpreted so broadly in Moorish Spain was interpreted, by Wahabists, to require that one convert to Islam and observe their interpretation or social laws or be cast out. Resistance to such conversion makes on an enemy of Islam, under this interpretation, and an assault against Islam requires that Moslems defend their faith, even if such defense requires the death of the attacker.
In the last 50 years, Wahabists have grown by leaps and bounds. Saudi Arabia has a lot to do with this. The House of Saud, recognizing the danger that militant Islam represents for their continued rule, made a very practical bargain with the Wahabists… “Leave Saudi Arabia and we will build schools (Madrassas) and mosques for you in other countries.” This had the duel purpose of acting as a steam-valve and creating a foothold for Saudi intelligence and security forces in other countries. This move probably preserved the kingdom. However, the cost to the world was huge.
From 1970s on, Wahabist madrassas and mosques have been preaching that the ONLY Islam is militant, culturally united, opposed the existence of separate nation states, opposed to science, opposed to democracy, and opposed to the West.
Their influence can be felt in even the most conservative Moslem voices today. Take, for example, the standards of the Saudis, the Baathists in Syria, the Khomeini in Iran, the Taliban, the Black Moslems in America, and the Moslem revolutionaries in South-East Asia. This corrupt version of Islam has been exported throughout the world at the direct behest of Saudi Arabia. But, at its root, it is an extreme version of Pakistani Wahabism.
Paul and GC are right to be concerned and they are correct to attribute the widespread anti-intellectual, violent, militant, and anti-Western actions of Islamists to the very interpretation of Islam that is being taught throughout the world. TP is right in stating that Islam, at its root, is no more “violent” than any other religion and that the violence and anger of successive generations of Moslems is being expressed through a religions prism that does not speak to the original interpretation of Islam.
The real question is… What do we do about it?
GC points out that hand-wringing and trying to understand one who sets themselves in dogged opposition to your very way of life is dangerous. Paul points out that the unchallenged religious militancy is undermining the West. TP points out that we have to understand the root causes for which Islam is the answer if we are to address the problems. Do I have your arguments right guys?
I don’t know the answer. But, let me offer a few suggestions on how we can make things better…
1. There are moderate voices in Islam, that the West keeps at arms length for fear that there is an hidden agenda. Surely we can distinguish the moderates from the extremists and give voice to the moderates. This can’t be a government action because the very act of supporting the movement will drive a wedge between the moderate movement and a people suspicious of the West. Only the media, academics, and religious leaders can lend credibility to moderate Islam.
2. Time for “Radio free Islam.” We already have a mix of, primarily, military intelligence radio-stations in Central Asia and the Middle and Near East. We need a greatly expanded program such as that which undermined Communism in Eastern Europe. Putting militant Islam in the same context as Communism (worldwide conspiracy of power-hungry, elitist, bastards for whom personal liberty is a direct affront), there is, and must be, a deep abiding hunger for freedom. NOTHING can destroy totalitarianism and despotism of the mind more than concepts of freedom. This is the soft-underbelly of the beast.
3. Spend money on countries that have been our friends. I am thinking here of Turkey, the Philippines, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Egypt. The Marshall Plan created an economic powerhouse in Central Europe that showed Communism to be a dead-end. It was impossible to look across the Wall in 1985 and not see that Communism had failed. Our starving of moderate and well-run Islamic states because they have few resources of interest to us is misguided, short cited, disloyal, and foolish. Force the Islamists to offer an economic plan and their anti-intellectual shortcomings will become painfully obvious.
4. Treat Palestine and Israel with an even hand. I hate to agree with Europe on anything, but the US has been far too dismissive of Israeli actions in the past and the concerns of Palestinian refugees worldwide. Palestinians can’t travel (passport problems), get jobs (no economic system in place except a welfare apparatus), or advance their children. This is true whether they live in Gaza, the West Bank, or are refugees in third countries. Maybe we can’t bring “peace to the Middle East,” but we CAN treat the concerns of a displaced people with even-handed respect.
5. Create a separate directorate of Middle and Near Eastern affairs within the Department of State. I don’t mean a “desk.” We already have that. I mean a director and a separate group of intelligence operatives and analysts, diplomats and economists, religious and political scholars, and humanitarian aid policy makers that can coordinate an overarching and cohesive policy in the region.
Now that I look at this post, I recognize that it is inordinately long. For our TPS community members that are better informed than I am, sorry for rehashing stuff you already know. Hopefully, for others, this post puts the problem in some kind of perspective.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
As they say, it's all in how you play the game. Some might say it's all about control and if you can take it. And there is a lot of truth to that, for the team that protects the ball is likely to win the game. Turnovers are brutal in these important games.
In other regards, though, the game is about pain, and who's gonna make it. The Steelers have a thunderous defense, and I expect them to apply a lot of pressure on Seahawks' quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. But the Seahawks also possess a reltively unheralded defense, and if they can contain the Steelers one-two running back combination of
Ultimately, though I think Seattle has a fine team, their foundations are crumbling. In the end, I fear that Shaun Alexander will be left dangling like a man from his attic, prone to heavy punishment.
Steelers 34, Seahawks 17.
All right then. It's time to play the game.
Time to play the gaaaaaaame.
Just a helpful reminder
but that does not mean that we are fundamentally different. What's important, most of all, is that we value our children, and only hope to instill in them values that really matter.
Most importantly we all equally value peace, and are all striving to promote the message of love around the world.
HT: Michelle Malkin for the pics.
Update: As usual, Mark Steyn brings his A-game today. A couple of excerpts:
Denmark! Even if you were overcome with a sudden urge to burn the Danish flag, where do you get one in a hurry in Gaza? Well, OK, that's easy: the nearest European Union Humanitarian Aid and Intifada-Funding Branch Office. But where do you get one in an obscure town on the Punjabi plain on a Thursday afternoon? If I had a sudden yen to burn the Yemeni or Sudanese flag on my village green, I haven't a clue how I'd get hold of one in this part of New Hampshire. Say what you like about the Islamic world, but they show tremendous initiative and energy and inventiveness, at least when it comes to threatening death to the infidels every 48 hours for one perceived offense or another. If only it could be channeled into, say, a small software company, what an economy they'd have.
Thus, NBC is celebrating Easter this year with a special edition of the gay sitcom "Will & Grace," in which a Christian conservative cooking-show host, played by the popular singing slattern Britney Spears, offers seasonal recipes -- "Cruci-fixin's." On the other hand, the same network, in its coverage of the global riots over the Danish cartoons, has declined to show any of the offending artwork out of "respect" for the Muslim faith.
Which means out of respect for their ability to locate the executive vice president's home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
For Parents Out There
The website, www.mapsexoffenders.com, states its affiliation and purpose better than I could, so, in its own words:
MapSexOffenders.com is part of Orbizon Inc., a privately owned web development and technology company based in Orem, Utah committed to building interactive, easy to use websites that aid users in a variety of ways. All of our websites are user friendly and provide a vast amount of information in an accessible format.
The purpose of this site is to inform the general community of sex offenders in their area in a straightforward way. Sex offender registries have been on the internet for many years, but they are hard to find and even more difficult to use. MapSexOffenders.com is simply a map so that the data can be easily viewed. Each sex offender is highlighted on the map and you can zoom in to view the offender, address, and other information. The map also links to the state registry for additional information such as the vehicles offenders drive and their convictions. Parents concerned about their neighborhood or those who are moving can use this free service to make sure they are in a safe neighborhood.
MapSexOffenders.com maps all sex offenders in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. It is our goal to map all 50 states in an interactive, easy to use design.
I am not a parent yet, but for those of you who are, I encourage you to plug in your zip code and see what happens. You may be as horrified as I was to learn that sex offenders can and do live in very close proximity to dozens of schools, parks, and other venues where children are known to congregate. (One would think that, of all the laws that state and local governments pass, one of them would forbid sex offenders from living in areas that would permit close contact with children. To my knowledge, there is no such law, at least not anywhere in this country.)
No parent should be without this protective service.
Movies - good and bad
And you know what? It is not that bad a movie. Oh sure, it's a tad gory and a litle silly - but it's also a freaking vampire movie, so what should you expect? And as far as vampire movies go, this wasn't at all bad. In fact, I would wager to say I've plenty of movies worse than this one. Heck, I've seen Oscar winners worse than this picture. Given a choice of The English Patient, Titanic or Underworld 2, I'll go with the latter all the time.
Part of the problem is that these movies are all reviewed by the same people. The same douchebag who actually enjoys drek like The Thin Red Line will undoubtedly sneer at movies like Underworld. It's understandable how some can be taken in by such incessantly annoying "artsy" movies, but therein lies the problem.
There are different genres of movies. I'm not just talking about comedies, dramas, etc, but rather movies that take themselves seriously and those that do not. The bar is obviously lower for the latter, but that does not mean that non-serious movies often don't even fulfill their own low expectations. Michael Bay should never be allowed within a hundred miles of a movie studio. I am forever scarred by movies like Godzilla, Jurassic Park 2, and Batman and Robin. But while these movies often fail, when they fail it's sort of an innocent failure. You watch the movie, walk away regretting having spent ten bucks on such putridness, then forget about it.
But serious movies that fail linger. It's bad enough that they're bad, but they're annoying in their badness. You laugh at the ridiculousness of Armegeddon, but I was actively angry halfway through Cold Mountain. You can't even enjoy the horribleness of such flix, but instead you have to endure the heavy handedness of the movie and suck it up. Believe me, Elaine Benes was not the only person just wishing that the main character of the The English Patient would just die already.
Even more infuriating is that movie critics actually laud these films. I want the head of anyone who actually enjoyed Chocolat delivered to me on a silver platter. Oooooh, what a stirring message: people can only enjoy life when they're doing what they're not supposed to. Good God, what insipid crap, and yet it gets a best picture nod.
Looking at the list of best picture nominees it's not difficult to understand to why Hollywood is in trouble. They applaud themselves for trite bullshit like Munich, but the rest of the America is lining up to see The Chronicles of Narnia. Again, I'm not one to put a ton of stock in public opinion, but sometimes the masses are in fact right. We go to movies to be entertained, not to be lectured - badly. That's not to say that a movie can't be both deep and good, but so many modern filmakers are so terrible at what they do that when they try to be deep and profound, they miss horribly. They miss more than Michael Bay missed the mark in Pearl Harbor, and that's an awful lot girl.
Anyway, that's a long way of saying that if you're into vampire movies, then you'll probably enjoy Underworld. If not, then you might want to see something else - like Big Momma's House 2.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Reforming Congress (for Real)
I can hear the questions now, so exactly how do we save the institution smart guy? Well, first we have to identify the problem, which is not as easy as one might think. Is the problem lobbyists? Not exactly, though they don’t really help anything. There have been lobbyists since the inception of government, if what you mean by lobbyists are people who have specific interests in mind and access to those with power. Money, for sure that is a problem too, but again there is nothing really new about that. In some sense trying to take money out of politics is a bit like trying to get blood from a stone. Try all the alchemy, chemistry, or modern science you want, it isn’t going to happen. Corruption, also bad and needs to be weeded out, but again that’s not really anything new or novel. There has always been corruption and eventually it always gets caught and punished. The problem here is that much of what might be considered “corruption” is not illegal, thus it flies beneath the radar of both the authorities and the public and eventually becomes entrenched as “business as usual.” That leaves us with what I think is the biggest culprit, and also the most fixable; namely, the rules of the institution itself.
Let me explain. Too few people beyond Capital Hill truly understand how the grand institution of Congress works. Ah you say, but we see it on C-SPAN all the time we know how it works, Members get up speak about nothing important for a few minutes and then vote aye or nay, if the ayes have it they win, majority rule, what could be simpler. All of this is true, and without a doubt C-SPAN is a wonderful public service that has shed more sunlight than anything on Congress in the last 30+ years, but like most things you see on TV, what you see is not exactly what you get. I’ll make my point with a bit of trivia combined with civics you don’t get in your average high school classroom. What is the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives? Many of the most knowledgeable folks out there will respond without hesitation Ways and Means. Why? Likely, they say this because they know that all the “money” bills have to clear that committee. Taxes, spending, you name it, if it involves dollars and cents Ways and Means has jurisdiction. Powerful yes, but wrong, they are not the most powerful. Armed Services, one might say. Well, also very powerful, especially in this day and age, as all military and national security legislation and issues are before Armed Services, but also wrong. Last guess and the ultra political junky might be tempted to say House Government Reform. Why, what do they do? Well, technically they can do everything. Government Reform’s jurisdiction is so broad that they can pretty much do anything they want and then some. How do you think the baseball steroids issue got before them? Simple really, they (Tom Davis, baseball junkie) wanted it, so they got it. (Little known fact: House Government Reform is the only committee where the Chairman acting on his own, sua sponte if you will, can issue a subpoena for testimony or documents, all other committees have to first get a majority vote before they can take the same action.) Anyway enough with the guessing, the most powerful committee in the House, by and far is the Rules Committee.
Here’s why: The Rules Committee controls the floor. They control what bills get to be voted on, what amendments can be considered, how much time for “debate” there is, and what the structure of the proceedings will look like. That’s real power. For example, the Rules Committee has a controversial bill before it one where both sides have entrenched positions and lots of disagreement. The bill is 85 pages long and members have submitted 200 amendments. The Rules Committee has several choices as to how this bill will come to the floor. It can offer, which it rarely does, an “open rule,” which would permit all 200 amendments to be considered with say 5 minutes of debate for each side on each one. They can also offer a “modified rule” which only allows a few amendments, selected by the Rules Committee of course, and offer limited time for debate on each one. This is generally the tactic used by the Rules Committee as it maximizes their influence. Typically, the Rules Committee will prevent the most controversial amendments from being considered. In addition, they will often also prevent otherwise popular, leadership opposed amendments from being brought to the floor, as well as prohibit secondary amendments and other parliamentary tricks from being used to add or subtract additional amendments to the bill. Finally, it allows them to structure everything around a central amendment usually called a “managers amendment,” which is offered either by the leadership or the committee chairman with jurisdiction. Last the Committee can use a “closed rule,” which is exactly what it sounds like, no amendments, limited debate, and swift floor action. Admittedly, I have simplified these examples considerably, but as you can hopefully see, the party that controls the Rules Committee controls the House in many ways more effectively than either the Speaker or the Majority Leader.
Conversely, the Senate has nothing like the House Rules Committee. In the Senate the Rules Committee is responsible for different elements of the Senate Chamber and functions more like the House Administration Committee. While the Senate Rules Committee is influential, it is not nearly as powerful as its House namesake. This is not to say that the Senate rules don’t also suffer from major defects. Probably the most notorious is the “anonymous hold,” which allows a single Senator, regardless of party and without requiring a stated public reason, to prohibit floor consideration on just about anything. All that said, the most egregious rules violation in either chamber has to do with Conference Committees. As most may know, when the House and Senate each pass similar, but not identical measures on an issue, the bills go to a Conference Committee, who “works out the differences” are reports a single identical bill back to each Chamber for consideration. Neither Chamber permits the amendment of bills reported out of conference. It is an up or down vote, thus, even if there is one provision that is not acceptable a member has to weigh whether it is worth attempting to scuttle the entire bill simply to make that point. This is why “controversial” measures are often attached in conference to “must pass” legislation such as supplemental spending measures, defense bills or other legislation considered containing essential items of public interest like tax cuts.
I have gotten a bit off track, but the diversion was necessary to make my ultimate point. Namely, the key to reform in Congress is not lobbyists, money, or corruption, but changing the rules in each Chamber to make things more transparent and more difficult to maneuver around. Restricting the floor privileges and gym access of former Members of the House is nice and sounds good, but really means nothing. Even changing the so-called “revolving door provisions,” which prohibit members and staff from lobbying their former employers for one year, is ineffective if you don’t also alter the underlying structure in each chamber. With all of this in mind, I offer the following rule reforms that would be more productive in stopping the perceived ills of Congress than anything that we have seen thus far.
- Restrict the availability of the “modified rule” and “closed rule” in the House to only legislation that has been reported out by a 2/3 or greater majority of the committee of jurisdiction. This will force the individual committees to do more of the amendment process before reporting a bill to the floor. Too often committees restrict or limit the amendment process saving the most important and controversial amendments until the floor where they are the only options permitted by the Rules Committee, while other amendments of equal importance are left out. If the Committee fails to reach at least a 2/3 consensus, it likely means there are additional amendments that need consideration to and those should not be prohibited from reaching the floor of the House for debate and consideration.
- Prohibit Conference Committees from adding measures that were not previously included in either the House or Senate versions of the bills. This will prevent the last minute tack on of controversial or questionable legislation that cannot be amended. It’s a simple rule; if it wasn’t in the House or Senate bill originally it cannot make a first appearance in the Conference bill. The fact is that many, many of the so-called “earmarks” are added in conference, and thus this rule change would also likely cut down on the current abuses of that practice. This will also force more measures to be worked out on their own merits rather than simply being pulled from the floor and attached to “must pass” legislation at a politically sensitive time.
- Require that all committees publish written reports detailing not only those amendments that were accepted but also those that were rejected. While the House has a committee reporting requirement for every bill reported, the Senate does not, hence there are rarely if at all committee reports from Senate originating bills. The House reports are themselves virtually useless because they merely regurgitate in summary form the text of the legislation itself without adding any explanatory statements. Bills that fail to have committee reports that accurately and completely describe the legislation and any amendments either accepted or rejected shall be subject to parliamentary procedures that can effectively scuttle further consideration of the legislation either by the Rules Committee or on the floor.
- Elimination of the “anonymous hold” in the Senate. Senators who wish to “hold” legislation must make their intentions known on the record in a floor statement, or via submission of a written statement to the Congressional Record.
- Permit the hiring of permanent professional ethics committee staff and limit their removal to only “for cause.” Currently neither ethics committee functions properly, and neither is actually capable of investigating members or fellow staff for fear of political repercussions. The hiring of professional staff and giving them “for cause removal protection” insulates them from the inherent politics of ethics investigations and will allow them do more effectively do their jobs. This will aid in the development of ethics rules, precedent and institutional memories as staff will stay in place for longer periods of time and will be able to effectively monitor and report on the ethics of the Members. Members will still have a final vote on all ethics matters, but this way they will get more objective, non-partisan, honest staff advice and investigation results.
While I sincerely doubt that any of these proposals have a chance in hell of being enacted, I hope that at least someone will raise these issues so we can stop dealing with the fluff like gym access and start at least having a debate about the real issues that are imperiling our legislature and what can be done about it to save the institution. You can’t take the politics out of Congress, and nor should one try, but there are real reforms that are possible that would make the place better, more accountable and more efficient. If only the Members would do this on their own there approval ratings would improve, quality of work and legislation would improve and the institution would be better off than it currently is, regardless of which political party is in control.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Muslim Furor Over Freedom
According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer:
(By the way . . . has anyone been able to find these images of Mohammed online? For all the stories about what is happening in Europe, I cannot find a single image of any of the caricatures. Or did McCain-Feingold ban that type of free speech also?)
French and German newspapers republished caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday in what they called a defense of freedom of expression, sparking fresh anger from Muslims.
The drawings have divided opinion within Europe and the Middle East since a Danish newspaper first printed them in September. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry.
The cartoons include an image of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle. The front page of the daily France Soir on Wednesday carried the headline "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God" along with a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper reran the Danish drawings.
. . .
Angered by the drawings, masked Palestinian gunmen briefly took over a European Union office in Gaza on Monday. Syria called for the offenders to be punished. Danish goods were swept from shelves in many countries, and Saudi Arabia and Libya recalled their ambassadors to Denmark.
. . .
Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because of "these pictures that have disturbed us, and that are still hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims."