Thursday, August 31, 2006

Do The Right Thing

I know the cause in Darfur has been previously championed here at TPS. So I thought it was appropriate to note today's latest development.

The Security Council voted to create a peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region, despite the Khartoum government's strong opposition. But the troops will not be deployed until Sudan consents. The U.N. wants to replace and absorb an African Union force in Darfur, which has only enough money to exist until its mandate expires on September 30. It has been unable to halt the humanitarian crisis in the lawless west of the country, which the U.S. describes as genocide.

The resolution calls for up to 22,500 U.N. troops and police officers and an immediate injection of air, engineering and communications support for the 7,000-member African force. The measure, drafted by Britain and the United States, is designed to allow planning and recruitment of troops for an eventual handover. The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003, when non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government. In response, the government mobilized Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of murder, rape and looting.

Fighting, disease, and hunger have killed some 200,000 people driven some 2.5 million into squalid camps. Rebel groups have splintered and are now conducting similar atrocities against civilians. Bloodshed has only increased since the government signed a peace agreement with one rebel group in May and Sudan is planning to send some 10,500 troops into Darfur, which the West fears will lead to full-scale war.


I think most would agree this is a worthy use of the UN's ability to coordinate foreign aid and international peacekeeping. These processes are never easy. And lately the UN's reputation in this department has become greatly tarnished. However, if we are going to continue to support the United Nations (including leaning on that body heavily with regards to Iran), then what better opportunity to get it back on track by using its diplomatic resources to do something about genocide?

Hopefully, the hands of this international force will not be tied because surely potential forces will encounter some resistence in various forms. However, unlike the situation in Iraq, I believe these troops would be empowered by a clear awareness of their mission, and by always knowing the good guys from the bad. Those who have seen the film Hotel Rwanda will recall the frustration experienced by peacekeepers who witnessed genocide but were powerless to stop it. And despite the fears of some, I think involvement in Darfur carries only a limited risk of broad escalation. Even the Arab world hasn't shown much desire to defend the Sudanese government, which once gave safe harbor to Osama Bin Laden.

So I give Ambassador Bolton credit for getting this resolution to a favorable vote. Only the condition that Sudan consent to the mission before it may start gives me pause for concern. A test for this contraversial diplomat. We shall see.

N.B. - I'll give much credit to the ex-Regian on this blog who can spot the infamous Regis reference in this post.


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Thanks, Rummy...

...for making it clear that your resignation will be tendered by the end of the year. Afterall, this geezer has finally gone off the deep end. I usually shy away from knee-jerk by nature. But with such a narrow-mided view of reasonable debate on fighting the War in Iraq, I now have no choice but to agree with the Cindy Sheehans of the world that this guy is so out-of-touch that he's dangerous.

Speaking to several thousand veterans at the American Legion's national convention, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld likened critics of the Bush administration's war strategy to those who tried to appease the Nazis in the 1930s.

In unusually explicit terms, Rumsfeld portrayed the administration's critics as suffering from "moral or intellectual confusion" about what threatens the nation's security.


So people like me are just Neville Chamberlains. And those Iraqis engaged in civil war are actually the new Adolf Hitler! Wow - what a misguided read of history. Apparently this man doesn't believe in degrees of evil. Personally, I'm very cautious in comparing anyone to a sicko dictator who directly murdered 6 million innocent people who weren't even fighting. Not to mention everything else Hitler did to push the world into total war. Seriously, I think there's only a few people in all of history who land on that level of satanism, and they probably fall a little short of the Fuhrer.

And I guess Republican Congressman Chris Shays is the latest unpatriotic facist-loving wimp. He's been a supporter of the War in Iraq since 2003. He's made 14 trips to Iraq in the past 3 years. He's met with every leading Iraqi politician. And now he's admitted that our actions in Iraq have become counter-productive. But Rummy says that makes Shays another Hitler-appeasing fool. So why is the administration still working so hard to re-elect Shays in his tight November race?

Rummy, you keep pushing people like me more and more to the Democratic side. I hope leading GOPers condemn his words, but I don't hold my breath. Senator Jack Reed countered this latest desperate attack perfectly:

Sen. Reed, D-R.I., a former Army officer and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Tuesday that "no one has misread history more than" Rumsfeld.

"It's a political rant to cover up his incompetence," said Reed, a longtime critic of Rumsfeld's handling of the war.

Reed said he took particular exception to the implication that critics of Pentagon policies are unpatriotic, citing "scores of patriotic Americans of both parties who are highly critical of his handling of the Department of Defense."


Well put, Senator.


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Response to Comments About Solutions to the “Pork Problem”

G-Veg asks in the Comments to my previous post for some solutions to the "pork" problem. My answer exceeds the space for comments, so I’ll post it for all to see.

By solutions, we have to first decide if we are talking about actual solutions or merely politically palatable solutions? If the latter, than legislation like the Corburn-Obama bill is about the best you're ever going to get. If, however, you want actual solutions, well good luck. Most of those, as I indicated toward the end of my previous post, are what I call "process solutions." Nevertheless, since the question was asked, I'll list a few just so you don't think I'm making them up:

1) Tighter budget rules that will force members to complete appropriations bills by set legal deadlines. Such restrictions will go a long way towards preventing so-called "omnibus" legislation that so frequently becomes a proverbial Christmas tree for "special interest" projects and other "pork." It's a well-known, but never reported fact that once a bill gets over 500 pages long, it's a sure bet no one will read it all before voting "aye."

2) Longer deadlines between committee action and floor action to allow Members the chance to scour appropriations bill for "pork" projects. Often there is only 24-48 hours, at best, for non-appropriations members to review the committee's bill before votes on the floor.

3) Open rules in the House to allow amendment and debate on appropriations measures. This will reduce the influence of the appropriation committee members because their "pork" projects will be subject to more scrutiny and amendments to strike them from bills. Conversely, it will, however, greatly increase the time required to debate and consider spending measures.

4) Stronger supermajority voting rules for points of order. This will prevent budget act waivers and other procedural moves that permit additional spending without really considering the impact on the overall fiscal health of the country.

5) Subject conference reports to points of order if they contain measures that are not in either the committee passed bill or in the floor enacted measure in at least one chamber. Often the most egregious "pork" projects are inserted at conference committee because what comes out of conference is not subject to further amendment.

That’s just for starters. There are plenty more, but as you can see they are not the kinds of things campaigns are won and or lost on. Moreover, many of my suggested reforms face the problem that they are incapable of being implemented permanently because they are changes to the rules of the body. Rules changes, at least in the House, are requried to be adopted by majority vote at the start of each Congress. That doesn't mean the rules can't change during a Congress, but any such changes only last as long as the current Congress is in session unless approved by the next Congress. So even if you got one Congress to enact some of these “reforms” the next group 2 years later could change their minds without anyone really noticing. The Senate, on the other hand, considers itself one continuous body because only 1/3 of the members stand for election each Congress; therefore, they can change their rules at any time.

Why not just get Congress to pass a law requiring enactment of some of these “reforms” you ask? Well, there is the principle that one Congress cannot bind a future Congress. For example, the 109th Congress cannot pass laws that dictate how members of the 112th Congress must deliberate or vote on specific legislation. This principle, while fundamentally sound, limits the ability for the body to undergo massive change without some inside institutional pressure to do so. The last time such an event occurred was 1995 with the start of the 96th Congress when the GOP took control. They, as you may recall, instituted numerous rules changes to correct the ills that they had experienced as the minority. Some of them were positive, like term limits on committee chairs, but others were not so grand and have made the body even more majoritarian than it previously was. Hence, Speaker Hastert’s “majority of the majority” rule, which unofficially states that no legislation will be considered by the House unless a majority of the GOP majority is in favor of passage. Since the House has some 220 Republicans, what this means is that effectively 110 members control the fate of national legislation (give or take a couple as I can’t seem to remember exactly how many GOP’ers there are). Combine that with the Rules Committee’s now extensive ties to the House leadership, and you get a system in which legislation cannot pass or be offered without overwhelming GOP support. Hence, no minority majorities in this House, which makes amendments, even ones with significant bi-partisan support, difficult to come by.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. The “pork” is here to stay and there is unlikely to be a significant ground swell of electoral dissatisfaction that will change that. Look, I mean even after the numerous bribery scandals that have permeated the House (1 conviction, (Randy Cunningham) 2 resignations (Bob Ney, Tom DeLay), and at least one continuing investigation into alleged bribery and other wrongdoing (William Jefferson)), these guys still can’t agree on a so-called “lobbying reform” bill. And, mark my words, they won’t agree on one, and after this election cycle all will be forgotten and things will return to “business as usual.” A gloomy picture I know, but it’s the reality of life in Congress, for better or worse.


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Monday, August 28, 2006

A Couple Items of Interest (at least to me)

First, the New York Times has an interesting article about wages and productivity.  Essentially the article cites U.S. government data to show that real wages are failing to keep up with the increased productivity that the US labor force is producing.  In other, simpler terms, were all doing more but getting paid less.  Meanwhile, corporate profits are rising, and the wage index (wages + the value of benefits like health care) is falling, yet another sign, according to the article, that the economy isn’t a strong as many, including the President would like you to believe.  

Now, I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with what I perceived to be “in-between the lines” of the article.  Namely, that the economy is horrific, corporate America is gouging the worker and were all screwed as the cost of living increases while wages fall, but I do think there is some merit to the raw data presented.  More importantly, and more interesting to me is that it confirms something that I’ve often argued both in the main blog and in the comments.  You can’t judge the US economy, or any economy for that matter, by one specific set of data points.  In other words, if I look only at “economic growth,” whatever that means, I get one picture of the economy.  In this case, it’s a particularly positive one, which is why the Administration continues to rely on it so much when discussing the economy.  On the other hand, the data in the NY Times piece has some disturbing elements to it, ones that should disturb many people about the sustainability of these so-called “good times.”  

Which story to believe you ask?  Both I say.  The economy is a complicated, dare I say evolving system that can change at a moments notice.  Inflation, economic growth, stock prices, bond values, futures markets, wages, unemployment, housing purchases/sales, consumer confidence, consumer spending, and savings rates: all of these economic indicators/factors, if considered in isolation, will give you a slightly different perspective on the relative state of the US economy.  That’s my problem with much of the economic commentary that goes around the media these days.  If, let’s say, GDP is up to 4% this quarter, that will be news story; accompanied, of course, by the Administration cheerleading, as it probably should, and a whole bunch of predictions about the political ramifications of a robust economy.  That’s all well and good, but it’s only one small part of the story, and in reality means nothing without careful consideration and analysis of the other factors as well.  

The only thing that bothers me more about economic reporting is the credit/blame that the President gets for the success/failure of an economy.  This, as I’ve noted before, is bogus on both accounts.  Presidents are not responsible for the state of the economy period, end of story.  Clinton is no more responsible for the growth in the 90’s than Bush is for the growth now.  Clinton no more caused the recession in the early 00’s as Bush did when he took office.  No amount of administration spin can change that fact, the sooner we stop thinking that they can, the better off we all will be.  This, however, is another post in its entirety.  

My second note of interest comes from this post by Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy about “pork barrel” spending and the proposed Corburn-Obama sunshine provision that is currently stalled by anonymous hold in the U.S. Senate.  Essentially the Corburn-Obama bill would mandate the creation of a public database for all government contracts and federal grants, so that people could see exactly how their tax dollars are being spent.  The idea here is that sunshine will stop, or at least curtail, the rampant “pork barrel” spending projects passed as riders by Members of Congress (i.e., the “bridge to nowhere”).  The theory being that if people could actually see what was going on they would be more pro active and either write their elected officials or “vote the bums out of office.”  A nice theory; and I don’t oppose the proposed law, but to think that it is in any way a panacea, is at best naïve and, in my opinion, fundamentally misunderstands the way Congress works.    

This is at best a band-aid on a very open and very bleeding wound.  It may stop some bleeding, but like all bad wounds, much more invasive measures (stitches to continue the metaphor) are required.  In this case, what is necessary are fundamental rule changes to the way the Appropriations process works.  I won’t get into too many details, but provisions like this remind me of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, part of, I think, the “Contract with America,” which was designed to prevent Congress from imposing mandates with extreme costs on the state and local governments.  Great in theory until you realize that the provision contained a waiver by which Congress could simply vote, by majority in the Senate, and by Rule in the House, to ignore the Act’s requirements and impose the mandates anyway.  Such the same is likely to happen to the Corburn-Obama reporting requirement.  Smart and savvy Appropriation’s staffers will simply draft their pork provisions either to avoid scrutiny by using benign labels that don’t raise red flags, or they will simply include language waiving the requirement that the spending be reported.  Either way, you have a nice provision that ultimately won’t amount to a hill of beans with respect to curbing abusive spending by members of Congress who need to be reelected every couple of years.  

There are answers to this problem, but they mostly involve detailed reforms of the PROCESS not the end results to be sustainable.  Changes like that take time and insider influence, neither of which anyone appears to be willing to stomach.  Until they are, band-aids like this one are all we have left to feel like Congress is actually trying to fix the many problems they’ve created.


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At least they let her keep the playbook...

Now estranged Florida GOP senatorial candidate Katherine Harris has resorted to typical GOP garbage in trying to save her own ass. "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris said, amongst other gems. Gays...check. Abortion...check. What's next, Fidel's WMD? Maybe she can go work for the another now-notorious mustache-bearing hanging chad expert who has graduated to a not-so small job at the UN...


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Some Freedom in Gaza

Many TPS readers may be aware of my broad criticism of the handling of the "War on Terror". Indeed blending it with the War in Iraq has produced so many disastrous results. However, with today's news of the release of Fox News reporter Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig in Gaza, I want to praise one important aspect of the war on terror. I give the Bush administration and its State Department credit for continuing the policy of a refusing to negotiate with those who kidnap Americans. For it is this long-standing tradition which more than anything has led to the release of these journalists.

It's not an easy thing to do to officially turn a government's back on efforts that could be made to free citizens held by terrorists under the worst of conditions. But were the US to negotiate with these or any other kidnappers (including those in Iraq), all the cliches would then apply to future incidents - it would be a slippery slope, have a snowball effect, etc. If concessions were made to gain Centanni's freedom, surely more would be taken hostage at a greater rate wherever terrorists may lurk.

The conditions experienced by Centanni and Wiig were certainly unpleasant.

Centanni said that during his capture, he was held at times face down in a dark garage, tied up in painful positions, and that he and Wiig were forced at gunpoint to make statements, including that they had converted to Islam.

As usual, the kidnappers initially demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the U.S. by midnight Saturday in exchange for the journalists. This demand was rejected and actually pretty much ignored by the administration. All Americans wanted the journalists' release and I'm sure arms were twisted behind the scenes. But it is important that these thugs realize we will not jeopardize our efforts fighting legitimate terrorism even to save the lives of innocent non-combatants.

You have to admire Centanni and his commitment to his craft. It is certainly not shared by this blogger. My ass would be back in America immediately and I'm pretty sure I'd never go back to Palestine.

Centanni told reporters, "I hope that this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover the story because the Palestinian people are very beautiful and kind-hearted."

Journalists are usually an intrepid bunch. The kidnappings of the 1980's didn't scare them off and I'm sure this incident won't either. But I am very glad to see this diplopmatic policy paying dividends in the Middle East.

It does make me wonder, however, how this relates to the recent Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, which was triggered by the kidnapping of 2 Israeli soldiers? Because those sides were already in a state of conflict with both sides holding prisoners, perhaps it's not directly analogous. But in another sense, Israel did send the message that if Hezbollah (or Iran) wants to push them into war, it would only take the kidnapping of 2 individuals to get it done. Maybe that is why the world questioned if their reaction was too strong. Afterall, nobody now claims the US "cut and run" by not bombing Gaza in retaliation for Centanni's and Wiig's kidnappings. We merely said "fuck off" and it worked. May not work everytime, but apparently neither do all-out Iraq or Lebannon style wars.


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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lie-berman?

Captain Ed's post at The Captain's Quarters got me thinking about Senator Joe Liberman's ongoing Connecticut Senate campaign.

Lieberman is exploring the many facets of independence in American politics, and the people who forced it on him still express surprise and anger over it. The only surprise here is that they're surprised.

My thoughts on the matter are murky. Not that long ago, I believed party power-brokers would talk Senator Joe into stepping aside gracefully and then his support of the President would be rewarded with a cushy cabinet position. However, that now seems unlikely. Lieberman appears true to his word that he's staying in the race.

I'm an Independent. And I have so many problems with both parties. The thought of an independent senator should intrigue me. But this one doesn't. At least no more so than the presence of Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) or Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) already does.

It's because just like Jeffords or Sanders nobody believes that Lieberman is embarking on a quest to prove there is a 3rd way in American poltics. He just wants to save his job! And this is a rare instance where he can because the Connecticut GOP is so powerless that they can't run a decent campaign even on a split-the-vote strategy. Despite having a GOP governor and a couple of congressmen, no Republican in Connecticut actually supports their own nominee for the Senate seat, Alan Schlessinger. Granted, the guy looks like a dweeb. He's even admitted to large gambling losses just months before the election. But he did win the primary. Is the Connecticut GOP a legitimate politcal organization anymore?

That's why I can't get too excited about Lieberman running or even possibly winning as an Independent. It just smells fishy. Isn't this the same guy who Republicans chided mercilessly just 6 years ago during the "Sore-Loserman" campaign? But now he's suddenly the answer to the problems in American poltics? And, on the other side, if Lieberman really believes his party has left him, then why doesn't he have the guts to leave his party? Or why doesn't his party step up to the plate and show him the boot by promising no chairmanship in a Democratic Senate?

For me, it only adds up to one conclusion -- Lieberman is another hack who likes the power of being a Senator. He realizes there is a good chance the Senate will be evenly divided after the election, or perhaps the Democrats will gain a slim majority by only one vote. If that happens, Senator Joe could give his party affiliation to the highest bidder in the same manner of the spineless Jeffords following the 2002 election. He could go Republican? He could go Democrat? Lie-berman will be looking to see who makes the best offer. Win or lose, Captain Ed, I just can't get too excited about this particular "facet of independence" apparently being explored.


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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Time for a Change?

It won't be the lead on the news (for surely the tragedy of JonBenet Ramsey's murder some 10 years ago is more important than our troops dying?), but 2 more U.S. soldiers were killed today in Iraq. As with all our fallen heroes, I'm saddened for their sacrifice and pray for their families left behind. I found it a bitter irony that the government of Iraq announced today the release of 55 suspected terror-related detainees who had been held for the past 2 years with no charges, no trials, no lawyers.

So I wanted to reprint this piece from DNC Chairman Howard Dean that appeared today at DailyKos. I didn't support Dean in 2004, but I did attend a rally during the primary season in which he spoke before a good crowd in Atlanta. I found Dean to be a dynamic speaker who comes across as sincere, even if he does shout "ARRRGHHH" from time to time. I may not agree with Dean on many issues, but I don't doubt his principles nearly as much as I have come to question the sincerity of this administartion.

People have had enough. This administration cannot be trusted with our security. Democrats are going to reclaim American leadership with a tough, smart plan to transform failed policies in Iraq, the Middle East and around the world.

We will double the size of Special Forces to destroy Osama Bin Laden and terrorist networks like al Qaeda. We will implement the bipartisan 9/11 Commission proposal to secure America's borders and ports and screen every container. And we will fully man, train, and equip our National Guard and our police, firefighters and other first responders.

When it comes to national security, the Republicans have not led. We will.

---Gov. Howard Dean, M.D. [via email]

P.S. We are spending $8 billion a month in Iraq. That's $2 billion each week, $267 million each day, or $11 million each hour. For what we spend in three weeks, we could make needed improvements in order to properly secure our public transportation systems. For what we spend in five days, we could put radiation detectors in all of our ports. And for two days in Iraq, we could screen all air cargo.


And so, rhetorically, I ask the hawks.... would it really be so disastrous to give the other side a chance to straighten out some of the mess George Bush has made? I'm sure they could leave something of a mess in other areas too. But I also like what I'm hearing from Dean on security. Write him off as another liberal dove if you will, but he proved to me that he was anything but typical in 2004 when he boldly stated he wanted the votes of those with Confederate flags on their truck's bumpers too. I don't have one, but I might if I had a truck! And I'd sure like to see that Iraq money put to better use in providing us real security here in America.


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Whew!

Final Score:
Science, Logic & Separation of Powers: .75
Morality Police, err Food & Drug Admin: .25



At least we were able to ensure the 17-year olds will not be having sex...to bad about those 18-year old whores--I guess it was just too late to save them.


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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Modern Rules of War

When, exactly, did Amnesty International become recognized experts on what constitutes "war crimes?" On a related note, it is now, apparently, a "war crime" to target infrastructure. (I suppose it is a good thing that this was not the rule when NATO reduced Serbia to rubble.)

In my freshmen year of college I joined the college chapter of Amnesty International and dutifully wrote my letters to beg for the freedom of political prisoners. In fairness, who wouldn't want to work for the release of those who are imprisoned solely for their beliefs?

The problem is that Amnesty's definition of "political prisoner" is so broad as to be meaningless. This become startlingly clear to me when I found Mumia Abu Jamal on the list. It dawned on me that I was taking Amnesty's word for it that the persons they identified as "political prisoners" were not merely criminals like Mumia. I never wrote another letter or attended another gathering.

Amnesty wants the world to take notice of their findings and sanction Israel for "war crimes." What gives the organization any credibility to make such determinations?

Historically, infrastructure was considered fair game in a conflict. How could it be otherwise? Our own interstate road system was designed for the rapid movement of men and materials throughout North America during the Cold War. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a standing road or other piece of infrastructure that would not be adapted to military use during conflict. It is likewise difficult to imaging an opponent failing to take out that infrastructure, if given the opportunity.

Jeff... You have talked a lot about the changing nature of conflict and I think you are getting at the guerilla war as being the future of human conflict. God I hope not; if so, we can't seriously restrict opponents from destrying infrastructure or identify such actions as "war crimes," for, if they are "war crimes," then what isn't?

Or... maybe that is Amnesty International's point.


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Beating A Dead Horse

As a leading Bush basher and Iraqi war opponent here at TPS and a few other blogs, I continue to feel vindicated by recent events following the taunts by my former GOP allies over the past couple of years.

Firstly, Joe Lieberman calls for Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld to resign on Meet The Press this past Sunday in a desperate attempt to distance himself from Bush. Then Georgie Boy himself completely stumbles through a press conference at the White House yesterday. I think even supporters now may admit that the President seems so flustered about Iraq that he borders on incoherence at times. Did you see him attempt to explain to the press how he didn't mean to suggest Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 after somehow implying just that? Later that same day word broke that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had indeed met with reporter Bob Woodward in June 2003, the same time the reporter has testified that an administration official talked to him about CIA employee Valerie Plame.

And the bad news continues for the White House. Longtime hawk and Iraqi war supporter Senator John McCain is not surprisingly distancing himself from the President. Today he criticized Bush for misleading Americans into believing the conflict would be "some kind of day at the beach." Maybe someone was listening to those of us harping on Republican statements like "Mission Accomplished" and the Iraqi insurgency being "in its final throes" afterall. Finally, new poll numbers on Iraq were released today by CNN. Just 35 percent say they favor the war in Iraq and 61 percent oppose it - the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago.

Bad stuff. Jeez! I almost feel like I've beaten this dead horse enough. I almost feel bad for Bush. Almost. You can get up now, Georgie Boy. Pretty soon you can get back on that horse and ride it all the way back to Crawford. We won't miss you!


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Monday, August 21, 2006

Swimming In Stupidity

I live in NW Charlotte County, FL, about 1/2 mile from the Sarasota County line. That marks the end of Congressman Mark Foley's turf and the beginning of the 13th Congressional District being vacated by the witch known as Katharine Harris. For my neighbors 2 streets down in the city of North Port, I can think of several reasons not to vote for candidate Tramm Hudson for this solidly Republican seat in the September 5th Florida primary: Hudson is the "big money" guy in the race, he's slung a lot of mud against fellow candidates, and as the outgoing head of the Sarasota GOP he's linked closely to Harris.

That Mr. Hudson is racist is certainly not a reason. The campaign recently made national news when RedState broke this story and posted the accompanying video of Tramm's words during a recent speech.

In 1984 we were in Panama. Our unit was doing a two-week training down there. I commanded an infantry company and we were practicing crossing a river. You know, an infantry company has 140 some-odd soldiers. A large number were black. I grew up in Alabama and I understand and I know this from my own experiences that blacks aren’t the best swimmers or may not even know how to swim. But we were crossing this and wanted to make sure every soldier could swim and if they couldn’t we’d get them across the river.

We had the line across the river and we were making our passage way and one of the black soldiers with his ruck-sack on his back, his weapon and fell from the line and he let go. Sunk down to the bottom of the river. And I’ve got to tell you, it took my breath away. Two of the sergeants manning the boats immediately jumped into the river and pulled that soldier out form below. They gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitations and we called in a medivac helicopter to take him to the hospital. That soldier could have died. I believe it was divine intervention.

So what does one make of Hudson's story from his Army days? I suppose he hoped to convey his belief that faith has a strong role in the lives of our servicemen. Like any good commander, he was naturally concerned about the safety of his men during tough training in Panama. Hudson appears to be genuinely giddy that a fellow soldier who came so close to death miraculously was saved.

But guess what? Those same words make Tramm Hudson a racist in our ridiculously PC society because he generalized (correctly) that many blacks don't swim well or can't swim at all. After the story broke, Hudson quickly issued a strong apology. He expressed his regret for hurting so many people's feelings. Too bad. Another Al Campanis. It may have been political death, but oh-the-respect I would've gained for Tramm if he stood firm and defended his harmless words.

Never mind that a New York Times article from June 19 2006 stated "black children drown at rates up to five times higher than white children" and "62 percent of the African-Americans surveyed [by the CDC] said that they had limited swimming skills." The NY Times isn't racist, it's liberal and may make the same generalization free of any fallout. Just like when Bill Cosby or Jesse Jackson preach about the breakdown of the black family in the inner city. It's ok because of the color of their skin. Never mind that they live in luxury in the wealthy surburbs of LA and Chicago, of which I and my low-income white family could only dream.

No, Hudson's a Republican. Even worse, Tramm's originally from Alabama. You know he better keep his mouth shut if he wants to get to Congress. White Men Can't Jump....but don't you say anything about a black man not swimming!

Statistics aren't racist, people. They used to be truths, that is until the civil rights, equal rights, human rights, and every other rights movement decided to rewrite the meaning of a good chunk of the English dictionary. That's not to say these movements didn't also achieve noble things, but just like Martin Luther King himself, they're far from the picture of perfection that liberals make them appear to be. I admit, treating an individual like a statistic is not always the best thing to do. But that doesn't make it racist. In fact, in this case it probably saved a man's life. Airport security, anyone?

What is worse in today's world: that soldier dying or having to admit that sometimes unfavorable racial stereotypes are true?

Yeah, I took some "white guy" comments over the years playing pick-up basketball in Atlanta's urban East Point and College Park neighborhods. And guess what? I loved it. Especially after nailing an open look on a backdoor cut to the hoop. But I still couldn't jump!


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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Offense offered. Offense taken?

It has been said that one should never give insult unintentionally. Apparently Chavez follows this advice.

Setting aside the absurd claims that he has "captured" spies and returned them to the US and that the US is preparing for an invasion, the use of the term "gringo" to refer to us is probably not an accident. He meant to offend. So, are we offended? Probably not.

It is interesting that those of Northern and Eastern European descent are rarely offended by derogatory terms and negative stereotypes. It is not merely that there is no remedy to such prejudicial behavior... We are often not even offended.

Call me a "cracker" and I will laugh. Use the term "gringo" to sum up my entire being, thoughts, feelings, and value as a human being and the shot lands far clear of the target. Furthermore, movies like "White chicks" and the comedy of the Chappele Show (sp) are watched as much by "whites" as by "blacks." But, use a term like sp*&# or ni**#$..., terms no less offensive according to the dictionary, and one will be properly pilloried.

Perhaps derogatory terms only have resonance when used by "persons in power." So my use of the term sp*&# is offensive precisely because I am a college educated, Middle-class "white" guy. Only, this doesn't really explain things.

My grandfather never completed the 6th grade, couldn't read or write, and never earned more than a couple-thousand dollars a year in profit from his 50 acres in Tarborough, NC in his entire life. He was as poor and uneducated as any "colored" person in America. I daresay he knew and used the term ni**#$ to describe "black" people. Was it any less offensive because he lacked power or influence? I doubt it.

So, what is the difference?

Why is it OK for a South American dictator to lump all of us together into one offensive term but aweful for any "white" person to use similarly offensive terms to describe him in return?


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Thursday, August 17, 2006

So... The President doesn't have the authority to break the law?

Let me get this straight...

In the post-Nixon era, Congress decided to restrict the Executive Branch's authority to eavesdrop on US citizens. It is, therefore, illegal for the Administration to tap into conversations without judicial oversight. The Administration sought and obtained modifications to FISA following 9-ll, but decided that it was undully cumbersome and ill-adapted to the War on Terror. Therefore, citing its "inherent powers," the Bush Administration authorized the secret interception of communications and, when caught having violated the law, audaciously claimed that the President can ignore laws that infringe on his Constitutional authority because no such law is really binding. In this context, a law that oversteps the Legislative powers need not be challenged through the recognized judicial processes because it is not REALLY a law anyway... It is more of a "suggestion."

(And MQAblog and Deuce wanted to impeach Bush for Iraq? Boy did y'all miss the boat!!!)

It is an amazingly brazen argument that the Administration is making. Were it only an argument, not an accomplished deed, it would be a mere footnote in Constitutional history. But... its not.

The Bush Administration broke the law. Let me repeat that... because it bears repeating... The Administration BROKE the law!!! I don't mean they stretched it or manipulated it, they knowingly, with malice of forethought, bent FISA over a barrel and went to town on it.

I wonder though... is the silence of the people, the opposition, and the GOP a sign of the times? Are we so enamored with power and audacious, outrageous conduct that even the violation of law is accepted?

There is a lot of recent history to suggest that the answer to that query is a definitive "yes." Can our Republic survive in a world where the power to do something is equivalent to the authority or right to do something? Have we reached the point that we no longer expect lawful behavior from one another?

Uggh... What a world.


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Monday, August 14, 2006

So Who Won?

A quick post in order to pose the question for readers' comments, "Who won?" A ceasefire is reached in Lebanon after a full month of fighting. Will it last? If not, how long before fighting breaks out once again? And beyond the destruction south Lebanon, what was accomplished?

I've traditionally been an advocate of Israel's right to take pro-active steps in its self-defense. But I felt differently from the very beginning of this latest conflict. With the U.S. already so vulnerable in the Middle East after the debacle of Iraq, I feared Israel's actions would only serve to put us in a weaker position in fighting terror.

And I think it has done just that. Hezbollah can claim to have looked Israel in the eyes and not blinked, a feat which no other Muslim fighting force had accomplished in the past. Hezbollah brought the fight to Israel and defended its homeland while under invasion. I certainly don't support the Islamists' cause here, but I do note that it is now Israel who is left to retreat. Iran and Syria can only grow more confident in the ability of groups like Hezbollah to effectively fight Israel and America on their behalf.

Finally, if you're not as sure as I who won here, I ask this final question. Will Islamic radicals get MORE support or LESS support following the result of this latest conflict? Israel's goal was to cripple Hezbollah. Instead, I'm afraid they just become its greatest recruiting tool ever.


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On Profiling

In the comments to a previous post GipperClone responded to my rather feeble attempt to be glib by noting that, in his opinion, political correctness has once again gotten the best of us and that we should begin to profile Muslims when screening passengers at airports.  So as not be accused of misrepresenting his views, I’ll quote them directly:

The only people who would blow up a plane are Muslims. While I am not saying that all Muslims blow up (or would blow up) planes, I am saying that all of the people who would blow up planes, or blow up buildings, or detonate themselves in crowded markets, or cut people's heads off on live video feeds, or send their own kids to die as suicide bombers, are Muslims -- or at least that is what the last thirty years of reality has taught us.

To be perfectly honest there is some practical truth to GC’s position.  In fact a lot more than many of us are comfortable admitting.  While he clearly over exaggerates his points – namely by failing to note that the Unibomber, Oklahoma City bombings, the  Atlanta Olympic Bombing, and the failed “shoe bomber” attempts all would seem to be in direct contradiction to his assertions – nevertheless there are issues here worth exploring.  Security at airports is awful on a good day, and after any major breach or thwarted breach of security it only gets worse, albeit for a relatively short period of time.   The question is what do we do?  

I’m not sure that profiling is the answer; of course I’m not sure that it isn’t the answer either.  I agree with the notion that we need to be more selective with respect to who is screened and who is not.  That said, I sure wouldn’t want to be in the meetings that attempts to set those criteria, nor can I think of anyone who would.  Therein, I think, lurks the real problem.  It’s not “political correctness” that is making things difficult, it’s our own inability to accurately describe and detect the kind of person or people who would want to bring about massive death and destruction by hijacking or otherwise downing an airplane full of passengers.  Assume that society decides that profiling is necessary and a “good” thing.  How do we do it?  Do we screen by race, religion, income, destination, physical appearance, or some combination of all the above?  It is one thing to say all Muslims should be screened and no one else because right now they pose the greatest threat, but how do we tell the difference between Muslims and anyone else?  Sure, it’s easy in some cases, as some Muslims dress or act in ways that make them easy to spot in a crowd at JFK.  Others, however, are not so outwardly obvious about their religion.  And of course once profiling starts they will simply alter their appearances or enlist followers who blend in with the non-threat profile.  Moreover, how do we distinguish Muslims from other religions that employ very similar dress and mannerisms, i.e., Hindus or Buddhists?  If I didn’t know that both GC and Paul to be Catholic I wouldn’t be able to tell that just by looking at them.  Similarly, if they didn’t know I was Jewish, they wouldn’t be able to tell just by my physical appearance.  So do we make people disclose their religious affiliation when purchasing an airline, bus, or train ticket, or is there another way?  Even if we did those things, what would prevent people from lying or simply omitting the answer claiming no affiliations or only “peaceful ones” like Quaker?

These are hard questions and I know I’ve only barely scratched the surface.  Note, I’ve not raised any “legal” arguments against profiling.  Largely because I think the practical problems are enough to give many of us pause and force at least a lengthy discussion about the ramifications of such a policy.  That said, however, I don’t necessarily think that the legal obstacles are insurmountable, especially given the rather lax Fourth Amendment treatment that airline searches have been given in the past.  While there will be some very loud legal opposition, I’m not sure that it would ultimately be sustained. Given the current state of law, I’m forced to conclude that reasonable profiling policy that can be practically justified and fairly enforced would probably withstand legal scrutiny; hence, the legal/constitutional concerns are secondary to my analysis.

I’m not yet convinced that we can easily overcome the practical problems with a profiling policy, but I’m willing to entertain thoughts and suggests and honestly state that I can be persuaded.  I think something needs to change in our security system, I just don’t know precisely what or how to accomplish it.  Simply recognizing that one group of people pose a grave threat isn’t sufficient and, in my opinion, oversimplifies the problem.  At the same time, screening every grandma and grandpa at the airport who are merely going to visit their newborn grandchild isn’t a productive and efficient use of our limited resources either.  So I put the questions to you all, thoughts and comments are eagerly anticipated.  


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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Identity

Mark Steyn has written yet another insightful column, and this one touches upon an issue being discussed on this blog I believe. In it he discusses what he terms pan-Islamism. Here's the crux of the argument:
The pan-Islamists do act. When they hold hands and sing "We Are The World," they mean it. And we're being very complacent if we think they only take over the husks of "failed states" like Afghanistan, Somalia and Lebanon. The Islamists are very good at using the principal features of the modern multicultural democracy -- legalisms, victimology -- to their own advantage. The United Kingdom is, relatively speaking, a non-failed state, but at a certain level Her Majesty's government shares the same problem as their opposite numbers in Beirut: They don't quite dare to move against the pan-Islamists and they have no idea what possible strategy would enable them to do so.
I do have one small issue with the column. Steyn notes that 81% of British Muslims primarily identify themselves as Muslim, while only 7% identify primarily as British. This does sound bad, but then again, if asked I'd probably identify myself as Catholic before American. Now, obviously Catholics - contrary to popular belief - do not seek to take over the world and stamp out the infidels, so the rest of civilization need not much fear Catholic identity. Also, I'd wager that though I would answer that I am a Catholic first and foremost, I have much wamer and fuzzier feelings towards America than British Muslims feel towards Britain.

All in all, I think Steyn's observations are basically correct. But that one statistic does not necessarily trouble me in the sense that I think religious people should identify with their religion first over their country, though - again - Steyn's right to worry.


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Double Talk

I couldn't resist another quick Iraq war post when I saw this story. To his credit, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace stood before 1,300 troops today on his first visit to Fallujah to hear what was on the minds of Marines doing battle with the insurgency.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Marines get the same double talk we get back home:

How much more time, one Marine asked, should the Iraqi government be given to achieve the political unity necessary to stabilize the country?

"I guess they have as long as it takes," Pace replied, quickly adding, "Which is not forever."

Pace argued that setting a deadline by which the United States would withdraw its support would risk pushing the Iraqis into political decisions that are unviable. On the other hand, he said, "You do not want to leave it open ended."


As long as it takes but not forever? No deadline but not open ended? Did George Bush write those lines himself? Afterall, "there's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."


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None Of The Above

We've had some good and very serious debate on terrorism and the Iraq War of late. So I wanted to take a break and showcase the lighter side of politics. This gem off the newswires recently caught my attention:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A man running for governor and the U.S. Senate does not have the right to use his middle name, "None of the Above," on the November ballot, a court ruled Friday. David Gatchell filed a lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court after the State Election Commission voted to nix his middle name from the ballot.

He argues that a number of state gubernatorial candidates - such as Walt "Combat" Ward and Carl "Twofeathers" Whitaker - have been allowed to include their nicknames on ballots, and that his middle name has been widely reported by news media and is known across the Internet.

Gatchell, 58, also ran as an independent in the 2002 governor's race on the platform that Tennessee election ballots should include a "None of the Above" choice for voters who don't care for any of the candidates. He won less than 1 percent of the vote. Nevada is the only state to offer a choice of "None of the Above," beginning in 1976.


Ah, populism at its finest. I'm curious of the reaction from our resident critic in that department. But I love the balls of this dork Gatchell running as a challenger for Governor and Senator simultaneously. Is that even legal? It does make a good point, however. I always lose respect for real politicians who hedge their bets in the same manner. Joe Lieberman, are you listening?

And how about how the writer seemingly discounting Gatchell getting "less than 1 percent of the vote?" Such wording implies he actually received some votes other than his own. Personally, I don't care if he got half of a half of a half of 1 percent. That's a victory in my mind. Imagine being able to cast a vote that literally reads "None Of The Above?" Like a SAT question. Sweet. I'm jealous that I can't do so here in Florida!

N.B. - I realize this is the 1000th post here at The Political Spectrum. Even though this is only my 19th entry (hey, it's almost 2 percent!), I think it's somewhat appropriate that the "Johnny Come Lately" write the 1000th entry because for most of the past 2 years I've been a TPS reader myself. And I happen to think this is a great blog and want to congratulate its creators on the achievment, even though I'm quickly realizing I'm the only contributor here who consistently catches arrows from both ends of the spectrum!

But that's fine with me. Because I read blogs like Captain's Quarters and Daily Kos on a daily basis. And they're always interesting reads. Yet speaking as an independent, neither matches my current approach to politics. I think the Republicans are wrong 50% of the time and that the Democrats are mistaken the other 50% of the time. And I dislike how the majority of other quality, politically-themed blogs invariably become very clannish to one particular mindset.

However, this never seems a problem here at TPS. And I think everyone wins because of the existence of a forum for such diversity - writers, readers, and commenters alike. When we get into it, any and all sides better duck and be prepared to come out swinging. And I love that. There's rarely an issue that can't produce some kind of back-and-forth. I think we all have earned the right to say, "If only the politcal debate in the halls of Congress could match the energy and intellect seen here." I applaud my colleagues who have created this fun atmosphere. Let's keep it going!


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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fasting to bring the troops home

So... Cindy is in the hospital because she hasn't eaten in 37 days. I suppose Starbucks isn't particularly nutritious. Would that all of the moonbats would take up the cause and starve themselves.

I don't get it. She embraces Chavez, praises Castro, starves herself, and rails about the injustice of the Administration... All to honor a man who bravely reenlisted, while engaged in a conflict, to serve his country. Can't she see that she is merely a pawn for political interests who couldn't care less about her loss?

It is sickening.


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Friday, August 11, 2006

My Rant - I'm Sick of It!

I'll begin this rant by commending the work of British intelligence in foiling the recent Islamic terror plot on transatlantic flights. And I also understand the need for implementing new travel restrictions both in the UK and here in the US. But I do have a few additional thoughts on the matter.

I'm officially sick of the war on terror. I don't care who is winning and who is losing. We're all losing. I think a new approach is needed. I don't expect Bush or any other presidential frontrunner to actually take this approach, but here's my suggestion nonetheless. Let's give up. I mean it. I'm ready to give up on that pathetic little corner of the world altogether. I would withdraw all troops from the Middle East immediately. They don't want us there. And I'm sick of US lives and money being wasted there.

But what about oil? Firstly, as Iraq proves, our oil rescources are not even benefitting from our presence in the Middle East. It's still as tenuous as ever. These nations will continue to sell us oil because what else are they going to do with it? If they want Western money (and even Bin Laden wants that) they'll continue to offer oil to the West at rates we can pay.

What about the message we'd be sending to the terrorists? I actually like the message. It basically says "fuck off." Because the real emeny of people like al Quada is not the US. Instead, it is pro-Western governments in the Muslim world. I'm sick and tired of US troops and now US citizens serving as surrogates for their real enemies. If we pull out of the Middle East, Muslim governments will have no choice but to crush these groups for their own self-preservation. And we all know that they'll use successful tactics that we'd never be bold enough to employ even in our darkest moments in Abu Gharib. If not and if the people in that corner of the world honestly want terrorists to represent them, so be it. They can do whatever they want with that armpit of the world which appears to want to live like it's the year 1200.

I guess I'm just pissed and I don't know what to make of all this shit. But I will continue to value my freedom over my security, even if that apparently makes me different from most Americans. And remember, people, here's yet another example where a liberal Labor government in the UK led by a Bill Clinton clone, Tony Blair, is leading the fight against terror and doing a good job. More proof that there are alternatives to the GOP.


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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

And You Thought SCOTUS Was Out of Control

Our Supreme Court has got nothing on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), who yesterday issued a ruling based entirely on the location of one comma in a 14 page telecommunications wiring contract.

The sentence at issue is as follows: “[The Agreement] shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until termination by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Seems pretty simple and straightforward, right? By its plain meaning, the contract is valid for the initial 5 years and afterwards can be continued for additional 5 year blocks unless either party gives one year written notice of termination. Not so fast said the CRTC. According to them, the second comma after the clause “and thereafter for successive five year terms,” means that the one year written termination provision applies to the initial 5 year contract term.

Huh?

Yeah, you read correctly. The CRTC basically ignored all logic and common sense, not to mention the intent of the parties, in making this absurd ruling. Is the sentence the most articulate, best drafted one in the history of the English language? No, it’s a bit awkward, but the second comma notwithstanding, its meaning is perfectly clear, and no amount of bad grammar changes that fact. There is no other way to read this language than the one I suggested. The second comma is a pause, and a perfectly reasonable one at that. It cannot be read to create a separate clause in the sentence, nor can it be read to make the one year termination provision apply to the initial 5 year period of the contract. In law, grammer should never, I mean never, trump intent, especially obvious intent such as expressed by this provision. Absurd, absolutely absurd I say, not to mention inexcusable. This, I submit, is why people by and large hate lawyers. And well, to be honest, when we do things like this I tend not to blame them.

Like I said, and you thought our courts were awful. Oh Canada!!


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Marijuana research findings

I don't have any interest in revisiting our debate on marijuana at this time, but here's a brief article on some recent research findings, surely to be ignored by the multiple arms and agents of the USG, lest they ignore all those chronically-ill and suffering seniors who become pot dealers...



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Make it three

I figured I'd throw in my two cents on the elections last night. I was pleased with all of the results. Cynthia McKinney is a disgrace, and it's good to see her get the boot. I'm sure Johnson will vote no differently from her, but it's almsost un(in?)fathomable that he'd be as kooky. Au revoir, kook. And I'm also very happy to see Walberg beat the pro-choice Schwarz.

As for Lieberman, as I wrote here last month, I cannot blame left-wing Democrats for ousting someone who they feel does not represent their interests on one of the major issues of the day. Just as I as a conservative applaud the defeat of an incumbent moderate in my own party, and also hope to see another left-wing Republican go down to defeat in Rhode Island, I would expect a left-wing Democrat to applaud Joe's defeat (though, as I mentioned in my previous post, Lieberman is himself a left-winger, just one who supported and continues to support the Iraq war). But, like mouldfan, I don't think we can extrapolate a general pattern off of this one election.

So what happens now? Jeff might be right about Lieberman deciding not to run as an independent. Even if he does, he's not a sure bet to win the general election. Not everyone who voted for Lieberman last night is guaranteed to follow him, and he might rub some people the wrong way if he does decide to run. But odds are that we would win if he did run. The same coalition of moderates and conservatives that helped him win in 1988 against Weicker would probably work together once again (though maybe not so openly this time). And if Lieberman wins - presumably against organized Democratic party resistance to his candidacy - will he then caucus with the Democrats or Republicans? He may very well decide to caucus with the GOP, meaning that the great initial victory of the nutroots actually winds up being essentially a Republican pickup in a deep blue state. Now that would be irony, Alanis.


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Elections and Thier Meaning (or Lack Thereof)

Well Jeff sort of beat me to an election roundup already, but that’s not really what I want to write about. I’ve stayed mercifully silent about the whole Lieberman-Lemont Connecticut Senate race basically because I didn’t find it all that interesting. Now that the results are in, I couldn’t be more pissed off. No, not because Lieberman lost, as I said, I’m not at all vested in the outcome, but rather because of the national brew-ha-ha that the race, and its results have caused.

I swear to god (ironic given my previous expressions of devout atheism) that if I hear one more pundit, Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Martian say that Ned Lemont’s victory in Connecticut last night means that the so-called “left-wing” of the Democratic party has firmly taken national control, I’m going to throw something at my computer/TV/radio. It was a single primary in a single state for crying out loud! I know all the numbers, only something like 4 incumbent Senators have lost primaries in the last 25 years or so, but give me a break, it was still one primary election in one state. Moreover, the results only contained about 350,000 votes (which, of course, amounts well less than 1% of the 50 million plus people who voted for John Kerry in 2004). Back off. More importantly, get a clue.

So here are my beefs. First, let’s get something straight, Connecticut voters speak for the people of the state of Connecticut ONLY! In fact, these voters, because it was a primary, speak for an even smaller group of people; namely, registered Democrats in Connecticut. The voters who voted for Lemont over Lieberman didn’t speak for Republicans, non-registered Democrats, or even Independents. They spoke only for that sub-set of the entire electorate. Their preferences cannot be aggregated across the country. They do not, in any way, shape or form, speak for any other Democrats outside of Connecticut, just like other Democrats don’t represent or speak for Democrats in Connecticut. This was not a Presidential primary, where momentum, media attention, and most importantly fund raising in state B is closely connected with success or failure in the primary of state A. These candidates have no place else to go, no other voters get to judge them, and, as such, the power and meaning of any results is severely limited, notwithstanding what the media and pundits would have you believe.

Voting, like individual preferences for economic goods and services, cannot be aggregated. By this I mean that the sum of individual preferences for anything cannot be tallied up to be reflective of a whole group of people. Voters in Connecticut preferred Lemont over Lieberman, fine, that doesn’t mean anything for voters in Maryland, California, Alaska, Rhode Island, Mississippi or anywhere else. You can’t make those kinds of claims, they don’t withstand scrutiny. We’ve all heard of the “median voter theory,” which simply put holds that politicians cater most directly to those voters right in the middle as they are likely to swing the election results one way or the other. Makes sense right, especially given that we know that the electorate is roughly 30-40% Republican, 30-40% Democrat and 20-30% Independent (or undecided, depending on your take), so median voter theory says that you focus on the 20-30% who are independent/undecided because as they go so go the results. Well here’s the kicker, median voters are different in every election. They represent different factions depending on geography, economic status, and the issues that are central to the race. The median Democratic primary voter in Connecticut is going to want different things than the median voter in the Connecticut general election, and the median voter in just about every other election that you can think of naming. About the only thing that last night’s results tell us is that the median voter in the Connecticut Democratic Party is further to the left, and apparently more anti-war, than Joe Lieberman. That’s it, end of story. Gee, didn’t we already know that little fact. Last night tells us absolutely nothing about voters in any other election anywhere in the US. It doesn’t mean all Democrats are loony anti-war nut jobs (though many are), it doesn’t signal the purging of moderates from the Democratic Party (except for the one who lost), and it doesn’t signal a takeover of the party by any fringe group of bloggers who happen to have devoted far too much time, effort, and energy to a small blue (deep blue) state’s primary election (trust me, I’m sure their own take on their influence will be highly overstated).

I have no idea if Ned Lemont will make a good United States Senator or not. I don’t live in Connecticut so I don’t really care all that much. From a national perspective, Connecticut is a very, very blue state, just like much of New England, so replacing Lieberman likely isn’t going to make much of a difference. Lemont will caucus with the Democrats, likely be a solid vote on major party legislation, and generally tow the party line. I don’t think he’ll be a Clinton or Obama in terms of fundraising, but few are. So look, please do me a favor, let’s can the national predictions based on one result in one primary. After November and we see where we all stand we can talk about trends and patterns, but not until then, thank you.


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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Taste of Elections

Confident that it would make for some good debate here at TPS, I wanted to post a brief wrap-up of the major primary elections from Tuesday. Naturally, I begin with the Connecticut Senate race where Democratic challenger Ned Lamont defeated incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman by a 52% to 48% margin. Firstly, we should note the historic nature of this vote and how it only adds to the likelihood that 2006 will prove to be a watershed election, as some of us have been saying for 18 months now. Lieberman is only the 4th sitting senator to lose a primary for reelection since 1980. Even various senators suffering harsh downfalls like Daschle, Packwood, and Robb managed to avoid that fate.

Personally, I'm pleased to see Lieberman rejected by his own party. And I give Connecticut voters credit for not buying the typical incumbent tactics like "I know how the system works." Bullshale. A good senator can become a power broker in his or her 1st term in office. And a really good one can accomplish their goals in 1 or 2 terms and still know when it is time to walk away. Anyway, blame should be shared for the administration's failures in Iraq. George Bush indeed chose that the Iraq War should define his presidency - for better or for worse. Those in Congress had a choice too. And the ones who backed Bush with few questions raised and little oversight offered (such as Senator Joe) should now bear some responsibility too.

Apart from the issue of Iraq, I don't see much difference between sending Lamont or Lieberman to the Senate. Let's see how the idea of Lieberman running as an Independent in the general election plays out. I still think that Joe's too much of an insider to go through with it. I wouldn't be surprised if a deal is brokered that keeps him out of the race. Lieberman could end up with a plush cabinet position to wind up his career in DC and reward his support for Bush's Iraq policies. And don't let the public comments of Republican strategists fool you here. Neither party EVER wants to see any candidate successfully buck the very system that supports the whole racket. The GOP knows the Connecticut race is unwinnable to their candidate under any and all scenarios that may play out later this fall.

The other result getting significant press is the defeat of Cynthia McKinney in Georgia. I wouldn't read too much into this result. McKinney's DeKalb County district again grew tired of her antics. They've done it before. The vote had nothing to do with McKinney's stance on the Middle East, nor with any other issue of substance. This district is solidly Democrat and the vote only reflects an overflow of embarrassment from that notorious right hook the Congresswoman threw at a Capitol policeman a few months ago. But voters have short memories. If funding to the district grows dry, don't be surprised to see Cynthia sent back to Washington. I'll miss her there myself. And I fear for the residents of Georgia with her back in the Peach State. Perhaps K Street will come calling and keep Decatur safe?

Finally, this is my favorite result from the primaries that took place in 5 states yesterday:

In Michigan, Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz, a moderate who supports abortion rights, was defeated by conservative Tim Walberg, a former state lawmaker. The race has drawn more than $1 million from outside groups; Schwarz has received support from President Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

With Bush and McCain having unsuccessfully rallied to Schwarz's defense, the GOP must see this as a vulnerable hold in the general election. That being the case, much like in Connecticut, I'm glad Michigan voters rejected the usual crap from party leadership and took a stand. If it's a toss-up then let the general race be one that involves principle - rather than insider power and big money. Walberg may well have a tough time of it this year. But it will be candidates like him who will be needed in the future once the Republican party finally decides to clean out its own house, or, more likely, once the voters decide to do it for them this November!


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Friday, August 04, 2006

Grumpy Old Man



Did you see yesterday's heated exchange between Senator Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld? It was a good one. I don't think I've ever been more impressed with Hillary Clinton. Come to think of it, it may be the only time I've ever been impressed with her.

Senator Clinton on Thursday called on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign, hours after excoriating him at a public hearing over what she called "failed policy" in Iraq.

I can hear the critics at TPS already. Yes, I'm well-aware that Hillary is coming over to the good side on the issue of Iraq a little late. And I hope the decision to back the administration's flawed policies comes back to haunt her during the 2008 election, just as it surely will Senator McCain and other leading GOP contenders. But I give Senator Clinton credit for at least making her stand now. If nothing else, even Republicans should respect the political saavy of Ms. Clinton and ought to note the timing of her changing tune.

The defense secretary rejected some of her specific criticisms as simply wrong and said the war against terror will be a drawn-out process. He said he never glossed over the difficulties of the fighting.

"I have never painted a rosy picture," Rumsfeld aid. "I've been very measured in my words, and you'd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I've been excessively optimistic."


Don't you just love hearing the 70-something-year-old Rumsfeld talking about having "a dickens of a time." It's cute - except when you realize that this man's failures have indirectly contributed to thousands of American deaths. C'mon Rummy. Are you really going to make me do that Lexis-Nexis search to find the hundreds of "rosy pictures" you indeed painted from 2003-2005?

Like the infamous "Mission Accomplished," for example. Or your mocking of the press for asking about the chances of "guerrila warfare" or "civil war" back in 2003? That Lexis-Nexis search is heating up already!

No, our mission remains no more accomplished in Iraq today as in 2003 when George Bush declared a victory in front of that ridiculous banner. Even your own top generals are now admitting that a civil war is likely. And there's no need to detail further the tragedy of how many American boys have died since 2003 fighting what is very much a guerilla-type war. But I agree with Hillary in that at least one mission can still be accomplished with your resignation, Mr. Rumsfeld.


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Two Strikes for DeLay

Well the news isn’t good for Texas Republicans seeking to game the electoral system by replacing Mr. DeLay on the general election ballot. Yesterday, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Texas GOP’s appeal, 3-0, thereby affirming the district judge’s opinion. I posted on the district court decision previously and since very little of the 5th Circuit’s opinion differs (with the exception of a much lengthier discussion of standing to sue) substantively, I won’t rehash the legal nuances.

Needless to say the prospects for success on further appeal do not look good. The Texas GOP has two options (well technically three, as they can petition for reconsideration by the panel, but that is rarely if ever successful, especially with a published opinion): They can appeal to the full 5th Circuit (en banc); or they can appeal directly to the United States Supreme Court, which because the Court is in recess, means petitioning to the Justice assigned to the Fifth Circuit (I don’t know who that currently is, I thought it was Justice Thomas, but since Justice Alito’s confirmation that may have changed, I’m not sure) who will decide whether the case is forwarded to the full Court for consideration, or rejected. The merits of the appeal are not particularly good as the issue is straightforward, there are no Circuit splits that I’m aware of, and there has been almost total unanimity among the lower court judges who have considered the evidence and relevant technical legal issues.

I’m really not sure why the legal concepts involved are so difficult for the Texas GOP to grasp. Mr. DeLay is not constitutionally ineligible to serve in Congress until it is established that on Election Day he does not live in the district for which he was elected. Determinations of eligibility prior to Election Day are unconstitutional and as a matter of law purely speculative. As such, they create a qualification for office (namely a pre-election residency requirement) that the Constitution does not specify and that the states cannot change.

As I see things, this anguish was caused by DeLay himself who opted to run in the primary election back in March before deciding to step down so as to deny his same-party opponents (whom he apparently does not like) the opportunity to succeed him. Had DeLay refused to run in the primary none of this would have been an issue. Given the state of the law, DeLay has several options. He can run, win, and serve another term. Albeit DeLay would likely face diminished seniority and status, as well as the prospect of a restarting ethics investigation into his previous activities. Alternatively, DeLay can refuse to run, win anyway, and be declared ineligible to serve by the House when they convene for the 110th Congress in January. DeLay can also run and lose given that he hasn’t been raising money or making campaign appearances for several months (I don’t see this as likely given his incumbent status, popularity, and the fact that it is a heavily republican district. Besides, you really think the GOP would let DeLay lose, of course not; they’d pony up the necessary money in a heartbeat, as the Democrats would, if the situation were reversed). Either way, it doesn’t really matter to me, I just find it amusing that there is continued insistence that the Texas GOP can simply replace DeLay on the ballot because he is ineligible, despite the fact that 4 federal judges (including one Edith Clement, who if you’ll remember was on the short list for the SCOTUS seat that eventually went to Justice Alito) have told them they cannot. Oh well, the slogan says that everything is bigger in Texas; I guess that goes for hubris as well.


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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Global Warming and the Compact Clause


In my perusing of National Review’s The Corner, I came across a post by Iain Murray questioning the recently announced agreement between the State of California and the United Kingdom with respect to global warming research and technology.  Mr. Murray’s post questions how these respective governments, specifically California, are going to square the agreement with Article 1, section 10, clause 3 of the United States Constitution, more commonly referred to as the “Compact Clause.”  This is an interesting question that actually has a very simple answer.  

 Article I, section 10, clause 3 of the Constitution states that:

[n]o State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

     This provision of the Constitution has been the subject of much Supreme Court litigation.  In fact, early Supreme Court interpretations of the Compact Clause appear to support Mr. Murray’s literal reading, holding that the words “agreement and compact” differed from the word “treaty” and, therefore, “were designed to make the prohibition more comprehensive …. The word ‘agreement,’ does not necessarily import and direct any express stipulation; nor is it necessary that it should be in writing.”  See Holmes v. Jennison, 39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 540, 570-572 (1840).  The Court went on to hold that the clear intent of the framers could not be exercised, “unless we give to the word ‘agreement’ its most extended signification; and so apply it as to prohibit every agreement, written or verbal, formal or informal, positive or implied, by the mutual understanding of the parties.” Id.

     More than a half century later, however, the Supreme Court decided Virginia v. Tennessee, 148 U.S. 503 (1893), and retreated from its earlier strict application of the Compact Clause.  The Court held that the unqualified prohibition of compacts and agreements between States without the consent of Congress did not apply to agreements concerning matters that have neither the tendency to increase the political powers of the contracting States, nor the intention of encroaching upon or impairing the just supremacy of the United States. This more lenient interpretation was affirmed in 1978 when the Court held that the States did not enhance their political powers in such a way as to encroach into the power of the Federal Government by entering into the Multi-state Tax Compact. See U.S. Steel Corp. v. Multi-state Tax Comm’n, 434 U.S. 452, 471 (1978).  Thus, the Court upheld the agreement as one not requiring congressional consent.  See id. at 479.  

     Hence, the relevant inquiry is not whether California and the UK have entered into an agreement, but whether that agreement increases the power of the State government or somehow encroaches or impairs the supremacy of the United States.  It is difficult for me to see how this type of agreement does either.  Simply being at odds with the Administration’s position on global warming is not likely going to satisfy the conditions that would trigger the Clause’s application.  Presumably, CA conducts its own global warming research, funded by its own state funds, which, of course, makes the results entirely sovereign from the federal government.  Thus, CA can do what it wants with this information or product without any fear of impinging on the sovereignty of the federal government.  Even if so-called co-mingled or wholly federal grant funds are expended on the research and development, I have a hard time accepting that those facts would change the legal result.  An R&D agreement does not expand the power of the State or diminish the sovereignty of the federal government, plain and simple.  

     The fact is states enter into compacts or agreements with foreign countries all the time.  Ever travel to a foreign country (i.e. Canada) by automobile?  What legal agreement permits one licensed in an American State (remember there are no federal driver’s licenses) to drive internationally in a sovereign nation like Canada and vice versa?  It’s actually not a treaty, but a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which has been in place for quite some time and has never, to my knowledge, required or received congressional approval.  Almost all states have similar agreements with many other western countries.  MOU’s like these are what allows Americans to drive cars in England, and the English to rent cars for vacations here.  I could go on, but I think you get the point.  MOU’s are not treaties as they are not “legally binding” and according to State Department cannot contain legally enforceable language, nevertheless, they serve a functional purpose and many of them exist.  

     Simply put, an MOU appears to be what California and the UK have in place for global warming related research and technology.  As such, it does not appear to violate the Compact Clause and Mr. Murray has little to be concerned with.  


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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Now that's a stretch

In doing research for my dissertation, I'm reading Randall Holcombe's From Liberty to Democracy: The Transformation of American Government. It's about the growth of the federal government, and I came accross this passage discussing whether states could secede.

Using the Constitution as a guide, the clear answer is yes. Article VII of the Constitution states, "The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same." With thirteen states unified and governed by the Articles of Confederation, this article provides for the secession of up to four states if nine agree to the new Constitution. Thus, any state that did not want to be governed by the Constitution was given the option of leaving the Union. The Consitution specifically and explicitly allows states to secede from the United States in Article VII, so the Constitution was written envisioning the possibility that some states might want to leave the Union if they did not agree with the decisions of others in this specific circumstance.
It was at this point that I closed the book and put it away. That has got to be the worst argument I have ever heard for the constitutionality of secession. There might be legitimate arguments for it - but this was not it, not by a long shot. First of all, if you're going to argue that the "Consitution specifically and explicitly allows states to secede from the United States," the language better be darned explicit and specific, and the language of the Constitution certainly does not explicitly allow states to secede.

Second, the Constitution says that the ratification of nine states is sufficient to put the Constitution into force. There is nothing in the document that implies, however, that once a state ratifies the Constitution it can suddenly back out. It provides states the option to not join the Union, but it's a tremendous leap of logic to claim that once joined, the states can change their minds. (It can also be argued that though the Constitution did not provide for unanimous consent, the Framers did expect all states to fall in line and ratify once the ninth state did so.)

Well, at the very least, this little passage saved me 150 pages of reading.


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Gibson, Hitchens and other stuff

L'affaire Gibson is one of those things I didn't really want to touch because, to be honest, I'm not even sure what I feel about it.  I tend to lean in the direction of people like Chris at Ratzinger Fan Club, Rich Leonardi, and Thomas at American Papist who have a more charitable attitude, though I understand Gerald Augustinus's hostility, especially as it relates to Gibson's schismatic brand of Catholicism.  (And now Jimmy Akin has some very interesting thoughts on the matter, which I tend to agree with.) In the end, though, an attitude like "I just don't think you can apologize for something like that" seems unfair, for with God anything is possible.  I also tend not to fully susucribe to the "in vino veritas" position which holds that alcohol is a truth serem.  Not quite.  It loosens one's inhibitions, but I'm not sure it really reveals what a person truly feels in the depths of one's heart. 

But the incident has me thinking about some issues which are related.  Getting back to Gerald's post, he takes note of Christopher Hitchens' bromide against Gibson.  As usual when it comes to matters religious (or quasi-religious), Hitchens is a blithering idiot.  There's really not much to say to someone who would call The Passion of the Christ a pogrom.  But Hitchens' little snit here calls to mind an objection Jeff had to my post from last week where I approvingly cited Hitchens.  I have to admit, I didn't look forward to citing Hitchens for precisely this reason.  Generally speaking, I have been loathe to use Hitchens as an authority on war-related issues because I know how disgusting a writer he is on other matters.  But in that particular case I found Hitchens' argument persuasive and convincing. 

So that leads to a dilemma - should one ever cite a writer or source that one generally finds loathsome?  For example, Mark Shea has criticized Andrew Sullivan on many a moral issue, but when it comes to torture - an issue where they happen to fall in-line together - Shea turns to Sullivan as moral authority.  Stopped clock and all, you might say.  So what's the limit?  Must we agree with a writer on all things in order to utilize them as a source?  Of course not.  Who ever agrees with anyone else on every matter?  But if you find that a particular writer is often unfair and shoddy, it might be best to find another authority even if you find yourself in agreement on certain issues with said writer.  It's just a thought.

Similarly, Ross Douthat explores how we should react to an artist's biases.  Should an artist's personal prejudices render his art meaningless?  Douthat argues that it should not.  Thus, we should judge The Passion without taking into account Gibson's apparent anti-Semitism.  I tend to agree, though I would qualify that and say it shouldn't matter if the personal opinions have no baring on the art.  For example, Wagner may have been an anti-Semite (I am not sure that he was, though I know Hitler appropriated his music), but that means nothing as to how one should interpret his music.  In the case of Gibson's movies, his personal biases are slightly more relevant as we have to wonder how they might affect the tenor of his pictures.  So, I wouldn't say we should completely judge an artist's work in a vacuum, but on the whole, his personal biases should be of secondary importance.

Finally, and most importantly, the worst thing about this incident is that it has detracted from an obviously more serious anti-Semitic incident - the brutal murder of six Jews in Seatttle and the hands of a Muslim fanatic (and we won't get into the Hezbollah-Israel conflict).  That incident has been relegated to the back pages, if it's covered at all, and yet the drunken ramblings of a movie star receives non-stop coverage - and here I am, guilty as anyone.  That's the real tragedy in all this.



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More on Taxes, Specifically the Gas Tax

Since you all (or at least some of you) didn’t believe me before about raising taxes on oil and gasoline to achieve a specific purpose, I’ll give you the thoughts of Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, hardly a “liberal” about anything.  This excerpt is from his excellent Becker-Posner Blog, the full text of which can be found here.

“From the broad national standpoint, we should welcome high gasoline prices because it is in the national interest to reduce our consumption of gasoline, and high prices will do that, dramatically so in the long run when more substitution is possible. The burning of gasoline in vehicles creates pollution and emits carbon dioxide that contributes significantly to global warming; and curtailing driving in order to reduce the consumption of gasoline would alleviate traffic congestion. Furthermore, a large part of the world's oil supply comes from nations such as Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia that are actually or potentially unstable, hostile to the United States, or both, and it would be prudent to reduce our dependence on such suppliers. And in fact output has fallen recently in the first four nations in the list, which has contributed to the price spike.

But the best way to keep gasoline prices high may be through heavy taxes, which might actually reduce the cost of oil and hence the incomes of the oil-exporting nations (which is in the U.S. national interest to the extent that those nations are indeed hostile, as Iran notably is). If, by increasing the price of gasoline, taxes reduce consumption, the price of oil will decline because the average cost of oil increases with the quantity produced. Just as an increase in demand will cause higher-cost oil to be produced--oil that would not have been economical to produce when the market price was lower--so a reduction in demand will cause that higher-cost oil to be withdrawn from the market and so the average price of oil will fall. In effect, income of the producing nations will be transferred to the consuming nations in the form of gasoline taxes imposed by those nations.”

I think he’s got a point; it’s at least a policy worth considering along with other ideas, of course.


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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

And For the Right

With Fidel Castro in the hospital and Cuba back in the news, I saw this on Lou Dobbs tonight. Sure, I know there's a lot more to the issue, but these numbers sure do raise questions. And it's especially odd when you consider the different ways we treat these 2 nations who comprise 40% of the world's 5 remaining Communist states:

China - population 1.3 billion
Cuba - population 11 million

China - Army of 1.3 million
Cuba - Army of 60,000

China - trade surplus with the US of $200 billion
Cuba - trade deficit with the US of $370 million

"We believe that the Cuban people aspire and thirst for democracy and that given the choice they would choose a democratic government," US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormacks said today.

Are not the Chinese thirsty too? I understand that we can't influence a nation of 1.3 billion half a world away as easily as we can one of 11 million only 90 miles away. But I do think we can (and should) do more with China to promote freedom and discourage oppression, even if still avoiding a general crusade for Chinese democracy.

Cause we sure do love those cheap hats, watches, and radios from China that are on sale now in your local Wal-Mart!


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Equal Time for the Left

Shame on Senate Democrats. Shame on the party of Bill Clinton who famously said abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Perhaps they only believe in the "legal" part of that trio, afterall? State restrictions involving parental notification are well-established as being within constitutional bounds under Roe and Casey. However, although Democrats reject states' rights in all other forms (including the very decision of whether abortion should be legal in a state), suddenly those same Senate Democrats are gung-ho for a state's self-determination when it helps promote abortion by using state lines to avoid otherwise legal restrictions on children having abortions.

From Bob Novak's latest column linked above...

Public signs of rare bipartisan cooperation on the superheated issue of abortion last Tuesday proved an illusion, when the Democratic leadership blocked a bill to strengthen state restrictions.

Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, sponsor of a bill prohibiting transportation across state lines to avoid a state's parental notification or consent laws, worked out one amendment with liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. Such a bill had passed the House many times, but never before won Senate approval. The 65-to-34 vote was approved by 14 Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (but not Boxer).

However, when a routine motion was made to send the measure to a conference resolving differences with the House bill, Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin objected. Since polls show 80 percent national approval of this kind of legislation, Ensign has called for public pressure against Democratic obstruction. If that does not work, attempted parliamentary maneuvers would be long and difficult.


I can't believe this issue is even under consideration. So let's see: You can't drink until you're 21. You can't own a gun until you're 18. You can't drive a car until you're 16. And we're not concerned about the deprivation of individual freedoms because we as a society have to protect our children. But when it concerns getting an abortion, let us not treat a child like, say, a child! Are you crazy? You should be able to have an abortion anytime you want. Just tell Mom that you're going to Jenny's house for a sleepover and you get your little butt across that state line. The good doctor will then take of you and nobody will ever know it happened.

Except maybe your conscience and God. But who cares about them anymore? And so the great tragedy of our time continues.


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You Reap What You Sew...on both counts

http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/08/01/floridasenate.harris.ap/index.html


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