Thursday, March 31, 2005


If you've met me in person, imagine me as mad as you've ever seen me. Then imagine that multiplied by ten. Then you'll have some idea of how much this article pisses me off.

Oliver called me up and told me about this. Evidently, leaders of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are getting together in Jerusalem today. They're putting away the pugilist tendencies for a while. And for what cause? World peace? Talking about the peaceful coexistence of their religions in the land which all hold holy?


They want to make sure everybody knows it's not okay to be gay.

Now imagine me throwing up.



Josh Marshall pins the tail on Bush's primary phase-out constituency.


Monday, March 28, 2005

Let the pandering officially begin!

So now the news networks are officially in the business of letting us know about God, too. MSNBC's got its own "Faith in America" section, and if CNN covers Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life) anymore, he'll need a restraining order.

In an interesting side note, I noticed a lifely debate/round table discussion on the PAX Network on Saturday eveing wherein purported experts debated whether or not the resurrection happened.

So here's my take on faith, I guess.

Faith's a very personal thing. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed, it's certainly a very personal thing. Not just for yourself, but for everyone. That's why people get so upset when others proselytize. It's all well and good to have your own faith, but when you go trying to push your own personal views on someone else, it infringes on that intimacy that they want to have with their faith. That's why, I think, so many people are so uncomfortable with the unabashed, unapologetic displays of religion in recent days. Ostensibly, at least in the Pledge and the Ten Commandments cases, it's the separation of church and state, but I think it goes a little deeper than that; those who don't want faith shoved down their throats may be themselves faithful, but they don't want their own faith to infringe upon that of others, and neither do they want others to infringe upon their own.

As for Christianity, my view's pretty much the same. It's a personal thing, and there's nothing in the Bible prescribing mandatory attendance at church every week. Or what church that should be. Or that you should automatically submit to being told by someone what the Bible should mean to you. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, he says this: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." He doesn't say, "No one comes to the Father but by me, and you should kick anyone's ass who thinks differently." He doesn't say, "No one comes to the Father but by regular church attendance with the requisite 10% tithe and submission to the church hierarchy who knows what God says better than you do."

I feel like it's entirely possible to be a good Christian without attending church regularly. Hell, I think (minus the whole believing in Jesus part) it's entirely possible to be a good Christian without even giving a second thought to Christianity. It's about living your life well and being good to others. And that's what most people do.

But some, most notably those among us who claim to be the most faithful, or at least the most vocal about their faith, are the quickest to act in ways that are antithetical to Christianity. "Love thy neighbor," they say. Unless he's gay. Or an abortion doctor. Then it's okay to let him know on a reegular basis that he's going to hell, or hurl replicas of aborted fetuses at his workplace. Respectively, of course. They draw what laws they choose to draw from the Old Testament, ignoring of course the dietary laws and other prohibitions that aren't important to them. It's hypocritical, and it's an easy way to use Scripture to mask an already-held, long-passed-on hatred.

OK, I'm done for now.


Saturday, March 26, 2005


I'm going to go off on a tangent here and make a non-political post.

I just had a discusison last night with my roommate's girlfriend about tipping. We were out at a restaurant, and my roommate's mother (who is from Holland, and thus not familiar with American tipping customs) asked him how much she should tip. The girlfriend stepped in and said that she usually tips about 10%, and I was pretty much aghast at that, especially as a former waiter.

I made the point to her that waiters make considerably less hourly than minimum wage, and that their tips are what they live from. She was well aware of that, but considers tips to be for exemplary service, above and beyond the norm. Moreover, she said, she doesn't like that they don't make minimum wage, but it's not her job to pay their salary.

But I'd argue the opposite. The way that tippable positions stand in the United States today, it is our job to pay their salary. Legislation has lowered their wages to below the minimum not because we deem their jobs to be the lowest of the low; rather, it's because we've deemed that they can reasonably rely on tips to make up the rest of that money. But when somebody decides that they don't like that and so aren't going to abide by it, then it undermines the whole idea.

What's more, it gets really awkward and terrible for the other people at the table, who don't want to be part of a party that shortchanges on a tip. So the people who've already tipped more end up tipping even more because they feel bad and want to make up for the cheapskate. This has happened to me more times than I can count.

Bottom line, in the US, when you're planning to go out for dinner, it should be implicit that a base level tip should be included in what you're projecting to be the price of your meal.

What do you think?


Friday, March 25, 2005

Social Security again

I just wanted to point out that I haven't yet gotten any comments on my post further down the page about Social Security, and whether investment of the Trust Fund at large in a higher-yield portfolio would be possible. Distributed risk, higher return, doesn't seem bad to me.



Overreach, anyone?

New poll numbers are out, and Bush's approval ratings are in the mid to low 40s. This since the rise of gas prices, the steady decline in support for his Social Security plan, and the Schiavo debacle.

I guess political capital's spending power is in recession, huh?


Joe Scarborough, come on down!

Congratulations, Joe Scarborough! In the media circus surrounding the Schiavo case, I've had the chance to see a lot of news programs about it, mostly in the mad dash to try to get away from having to hear about it. I've watched some MSNBC, some FOX News, a little bit of CNN, a lot of internet stuff, and a smattering of The Daily Show. And Joe Scarborough, I'm proud to say, your coverage has been the worst of all! Well, I can't vouch for all of the nutjob bloggers out there, but I'd have to imagine that in the non-internet media, you're the worst. So congratulations!

Joe couldn't be here this morning, so I'll read a prepared (by Fargus) statement:

Thank you so much for this award. You spread misinformation and lies for years and years, and then when it finally pays off, you almost don't even know what to say.

I really tried hard to enforce that strict journalistic tenet of shutting people up who didn't agree with me. Franken tried to pull that crap, talking about some law in Texas, some baby getting murdered against the wishes of its mother, in accordance with a law signed by George W. Bush. As I reminded him, "I'm not married to the guy!" Heh, that shut him up.

But some other jackass tried to bring it up the next night! Can you believe it? So I told him that I wasn't going to let him sit on my show and read the Texas Constitution! Take that! And back to Franken for just a second, I'll be damned if I'll allow him to correct me on my own show! Facts or no, it's my show, and I can say what I want!

Last but not least, I want it to be known that I've really tried to use the last segment of my show, the opinion segment, to rally support among the community for ignoring the judiciary when we don't like what they say. Y'all thought it was just a crazy blogger's dream, but I'm working hard to make it a reality. "It's time for us to take our judiciary back," I said, and you all knew that what I really meant was that the current judiciary is illegitimate. How can we be expected to obey rulings that we don't like?

Well, Joe, I guess you've said it all. Keep up the monumentally atrocious work.


Plame case not a crime?

Maybe I'm just not up on the ins and outs of the law--in fact, I know I'm not. But this post from some blog that I found doesn't seem to jibe with the reality that we've been looking at for what, the last year and a half?

There was a huge-ass flap concerning Bob Novak's (Douchebag for Liberty) revelation of Valerie Plame's name and identity as an undercover CIA operative. For those of you who don't know, Plame is the wife of former US ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson was quite outspoken in his criticism of the administration, and shortly thereafter, Novak wrote a column that screwed his wife. Not literally, though I'm sure he would have gone there if he could have, just to stick it to an infidel like Wilson a little more.

But anyway, people were up in arms about this, and about who leaked this sensitive information. There wasn't even question about whether or not it was criminal; just about what to do about it. It seemed that every reporter who touched the story was under scrutiny. Except Bob Novak, of course. That gargantuan tool seems to enjoy some sort of immunity in even the investigative press. I guess they're a bit worried about turning on themselves.

But how is it now that we're starting to hear, in the blogosphere, whispers that this may not have been a crime? Is this really how things go? Are the bloggers just going chronologically backwards and retroactively thinking up excuses, issue by issue?


Thursday, March 24, 2005

I'm back

Hey, I'm back. I wasn't able to post anything for a couple of days, and to my regular reader(s), if you've been disappointed, I apologize.

I don't have much to say. Just that I get more and more disenchanted with religion the more I see stuff like this Schiavo case played out. Bill Frist is morally reprehensible as a doctor who feels that he can make a better medical diagnosis based on a clip show designed to play to the heart than can doctors who have actually examined Terri Schiavo. Tom DeLay is morally reprehensible for embracing this cause so readily simply to divert attention away from his own mounting problems. George W. Bush is morally reprehensible for putting so much attention on this, but hypocritically allowing a baby to die in Texas last week (under the provisions of a law that HE SIGNED) against the wishes of its mother because the hospital deemed its care futile.

That's all I have to say about that.


Monday, March 21, 2005

And another thing...

This isn't really anything specific--I've written more posts than I'd said I would about Terri Schiavo, and it's all you can find in the news today--but it's something that's bugged me a lot lately.

People (and this includes both sides of the aisle, and I'm not excluding myself from time to time) feel entirely justified in pigeonholing media outlets based on what they perceive as their bias. I put up the results of a Washington Post poll the other day, and those results appeared to be damaging to the conservative position, but they were rationalized away just because they came from the Washington Post and its perceived liberal bias.

So that's the first part. It's dangerous to feel like you can ignore anything that doesn't come from someplace you like. You've got to evaluate everything equally, seems to me.

But here's the other part. Many people (and again, I've done it too) feel entirely justified using those media outlets to back up their point when they happen to agree with them. Too often, I see conservatives cherry-picking articles from the New York Times or the Washington Post, citing that even they agree with the conservative position. In many liberal circles, this is why The New Republic has lost a lot of credibility. Many liberals even go so far as to call it "...even the liberal New Republic."

What I'm trying to say is that you can't have it both ways. You can't make a blanket statement saying that a media outlet is biased in everything it does, and then turn around and say that your point is even stronger because "the other side" even agrees with you. If they're biased in everything they do, they're biased in everything they do, and their agreement with your position is somehow compromised. If you're going to use something that they wrote/reported as concrete evidence of your position's correctness, then you have to give at least some weight to their other reporting as well.


Presumption of Life

Bush: "...our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."

Unless someone's convicted of murder. Then we gone fry that sumbitch.

Again, I completely understand that you can be for the death penalty and for saving Terry Schiavo with no apparent conflict of interest. No problem there. Just like you can be pro-choice and against the death penalty.

But the hypocritical rhetoric being spewed about the "inalienable right to life" is making me sicker by the second.


Sunday, March 20, 2005


Congress is holding a special session on Sunday aimed at saving Terri Schiavo's life. The Senate and the House have to vote on it, and they will. So here's my question: how come important stuff can take years and years to do, but when it comes to a clear-cut case of where something should be the authority of the state of Florida, Congress has no trouble getting together and rushing something through?

I didn't even know that they were capable of rushing things through.


Saturday, March 19, 2005


Hypocrisy floors me. Simply floors me.

There's a lot of people who are condemning the actions taken by Judge Greer in Florida, allowing the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. They're "pro-life," seeking to end "132nd trimester abortions," as one wit put it. They'll claim the Declaration of Independence's assertion that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights, one of which is the right to life. They say that man does not have the right to decide in matters of life and death, and that the removal of the feeding tube is an affront to God. They're going to the federal government and trying every last-ditch effort they can think of to get this judge's ruling overturned.

These are, in large part, the same people who snarl viscerally at the barest mention of Scott Peterson's name. People who wouldn't mind killing the man with their bare hands. There's no mention of the Declaration with Peterson, and no mention of his execution being an affront to God, as it's carried out by Man.

These are, in large part, people who purport to be against government involvement in personal lives. Yet they're trying to get the US Congress to intervene with something that they don't like. They call themselves pro-life, yet they seem to want to watch another man die, when he's done something they don't like. I guess he wasn't endowed with the inalienable right to life by their Creator, huh?

These are, in large part, people who champion personal rights, but in practice denigrate the right to privacy that the Peterson, Rocha, Schiavo and Schindler families should have enjoyed.

Let's get this straight right now: this Schiavo issue isn't an "important" issue, as far as it affects people directly. It affects the families, and it's not really setting any important judicial precedents. What it is doing is testing the waters for near-future battles of religion and government. The proponents of keeping Schiavo alive are, in large part, believers in the healing power of prayer, and in the intervention of God in their personal lives. They believe that God will intervene in the life of Terri Schiavo. This issue affects only the families directly, but it's sort of like a referendum on where the public stands on their belief in God. I think that we're in for a lot of battles over religion in the coming years; this is just a little taste.


Terri Schiavo

I feel like I should have something to blog about, and this is what was all over the news all day. But like Harry Shearer said over at Talking Points Memo today, it really should be none of our business. This is a personal tragedy for a few people that's been thrust into the public sphere, and that's not really fair. So I thought that I'd instead write a positive post about FOX News and their coverage that I saw today.

I was in Greenbrook, NJ picking up my car (I had to get the catalytic converter, front brake pads, and rear sway bar bushings replaced) at the dealership, and they told me it was going to be another two hours. So I walked with my friend Eli over to a local bar to pass the time over a couple of White Russians, and FOX News happened to be on the television. The main story that they were covering was the Terri Schiavo story, of course, and they had a panel of four people: the anchorlady, Michael Smerconish, another lady, and R. Lee Ermey.

The lady and Smerconish were on the same page. I know, from listening to him guest host O'Reilly's Radio Factor over the summer, that Smerconish is a conservative. I'd guess that, in the name of fairness and balance, that the lady on the panel was a liberal (though I'm not entirely sure). R. Lee Ermey was there in the name of some organization, but I didn't quite catch what it was. Anyway, the panelists were sticking pretty strictly to the legal issues involved, and I was very happy to see that. Smerconish and the lady panelist both chided conservatives for being the "party of less government," but running straight to the government to try to help them solve this problem. Ermey objected to the method of the proposed death of Schiavo. But all of the panelists, as well as everybody I've heard (both on TV and personally), was very clear in saying that they'd not want to live if their "life" was like that of Schiavo.

Shepherd Smith came on after that, and he was also very good on the issue. He was very clear to issue a correction, saying that Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state," not a coma as had been previously said. He was very clear to say that that nobody has ever come out of a persistent vegetative state. He said that what this taught him was that it would be smart for all of us to have living wills, which I think is a very good idea to avoid being tossed around like a political football.

Bravo, FOX News. Bravo.


Thursday, March 17, 2005


The Senate passed its budget today. So what does that mean?

Well, the Senate and the House have to agree on a budget for it to get ultimately passed. What today's vote means is that the Senate has chosen its first budget draft. The House has also proposed its own fiscal outline, but the two are quite different. The Senate's plan has excised some of the budget cuts that Bush had called for, while the House's plan calls for many more spending cuts. The House has chided the Senate for irresponsible spending, most notably in Medicaid (which Bush had proposed be cut).

So what does this all mean? I have absolutely no idea. I know that the two houses of Congress have to agree on a budget, but I also know that sometimes a budget doesn't pass, and that that's not a catastrophic thing. I don't understand for a second why that should be.

If anybody's got any idea, please throw a comment up there and enlighten.



Y'all should notice that I've added two polls to the page. One is up in my profile, and it's a movie poll. I'll try to change that one every week or so, if there's enough votes. Right now it's "What's the best Back to the Future movie?" Next week's will be about the best Indiana Jones movie. Basically, just a fun poll.

Now down on the left, in the sidebar, between "Recent Posts" and "Archives," is the other poll. I made it so that you can only vote once a year, I think, becuase I'd like to get a fairly accurate picture of what kind of people visit my blog. So go vote in both of them!



There's a startling new report in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine which claims that within the next 50 years, obesity will shorten the average life expectancy by two to five years.

Now reading through the article, they've already made the requisite connection with Social Security, which is good. Here I thought I was going to be innovative. Oh well. But it is a good question. Skeptics say that even if the average life expectancy is lowered by rampant obesity, it will be more than countered by medical advances in the same period.

But it's already started, the report contends. It says that if obesity had been at "normal" levels in the recent past, then the average life expectancy would be four to nine months higher than the current record high of 77.6 years. As a mathematician, I guess that says to me that the skeptics are essentially right. Though life expectancy is lower than it would be without obesity being so rampant, it's still higher than it's ever been, indicating that there are other factors which are more than balancing out the variable of obesity.

But still, I wonder if the Social Security actuaries are using too rosy an outlook for life expectancy in their calculations. Because even if medical measures more than balance out the obesity, and the life expectancy continues to rise, it certainly would not be as sharp or dramatic a rise.


Bush on Wolfowitz

Thanks to The Daily Show for bringing this bit of a Bush press conference to my attention (any emphasis mine):

Question: Paul Wolfowitz, who is the -- a chief architect of one of the most
unpopular wars in history, is your choice to be --
President Bush: (Laughs) That's an interesting start.
Question: -- is your choice to be the president of the World Bank. What kind of a signal does that send to the rest of the world?
President Bush: First of all, I think people -- first, I appreciate the world leaders taking my phone calls as I explain to them why I think Paul will be a strong president of the World Bank. I said he was a man of good experience. He helped manage a large organization. The World Bank's a large organization; the Pentagon's a large organization. He's been involved in the management of that organization. He's a skilled diplomat, worked at the State Department in high positions. He was ambassador to Indonesia, where he did a very good job representing our country. And Paul is committed to development. He's a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job in the World Bank. And that's why I called leaders of countries, and that's why I put him up.

I don't pretend to know much about the World Bank, and I'm a little ashamed of that. Maybe I'll do some reading today. But to imply that a manager of one large organization is qualified to head up any other large organization is a bit daft, don't you think? Oh well, chalk it up to a Bush gaffe, I have no problem with that.

The bloggers have been going nuts trying to figure out what this means, though. Kevin Drum supposes that it's a message to the rest of the world that if they're hoping for conciliatory measures, then they know where they can put those hopes. Matthew Yglesias thinks that it's more a "kicking upstairs," so to speak. Getting Wolfowitz into an ostensibly higher position, but also distancing himself from him.

I'm not going to engage in such speculation because again, I don't know enough about the whole thing to speculate on what it means. But I do have to wonder what kind of bank this is if somebody with no economic credentials can be chosen to head it up.


Social Security Question

Here's an open question to anybody out there that might have thoughts on it. When it comes to Social Security, why isn't the possibility of reinvestment at large in higher-yielding interests being discussed?

The issue for most of the Democrats is distributed risk, but that issue is taken care of simply by the system's collective nature. If you have investments where you get a higher average yield with a higher risk, but that risk is dissipated among a hundred million people, you're still not operating a system with any individual risk.

The issue (they claim) for a lot of the Republicans is the low rate of return on the Social Security taxes. But this kind of idea could boost the rate of return, since the payroll taxes would be invested in higher-yielding portfolios.

Now the way I see it, this kind of system would have more advantages than just distributing the risk and raising the rate of return. It would also help with the solvency debate in two key ways. First, the Trust Fund would be allowed to grow faster. If coupled with a raise of the payroll tax cap, this idea could potentially move the 2018 date (the date that we need to start dipping into the Trust Fund) back by more than the 6 or 7 years of just the cap raise alone*.

Second, if the Trust Fund stoppped investing in Treasury Bills and instead invested in assets that were easier to liquidate, like stock and bond portfolios, the argument that the Trust Fund is simply full of IOUs would lose all of its clout. The federal government would have to tighten its pursestrings in the short term if it were no longer able to pilfer the Social Security surplus, but by the time 2018 (or whatever it may change to) came, we wouldn't be in the same spot of having to raise taxes, borrow, or cut spending in order to pay off the T-bills that the Trust Fund currently possesses.

As I think about it, one possible detriment to this plan is that when the Trust Fund started being drawn upon, perhaps it, being so massive, could cause some kind of fluctuation, some kind of destabilization in the market. But maybe not. I don't really know enough about it.

So anyway, I welcome any comments on this, even if they're just to tell me I'm crazy and I don't know what I'm talking about**.


*Note: By moving the 2018 date back 6 or 7 years, the 2042/2052 date doesn't just get moved back 6 or 7 years; it's significantly more than that, since those 6 or 7 years are ones in which the Trust Fund is growing, and therefore will have considerably more assets to pay out when it needs to start paying out. Therefore, moving 2018 back to 2024 or 2025 actually moves 2042/2052 out past 2079.

**Please don't leave comments of this type.

FCC Chair

I'm certainly not the first to talk about this, and as such I don't really have much to say. The link pretty much speaks for itself.

Evidently Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council has enthusiastically endorsee the chairmanship of Kevin Martin over at the FCC. Y'all see why this is a problem? If you didn't know, the Parents Television Council (which is what the link above goes to...the article in question is proudly displayed on the front page) is one of those hyper-conservative media watchdog groups that decries filth by making its members watch it all day and tell everybody about it.

OK, so maybe I do have a little something to say about it. If you don't want "filth" around, and if you find it distasteful and corrosive to the human soul, isn't it somewhat counterproductive to bring all sorts of attention to it by filing millions--and I do mean millions--of complaints to the FCC? Isn't it terrible that you've got the entire population of the "pro-values" PTC watching MTV's entire Spring Break coverage, just in hopes of chronicling everything that's wrong? Won't that be corrosive to the members' souls? What if their kids walk in on them watching these terrible shows? Will they be confused when, the next day, they hear their parents loudly denouncing the television they just saw them watching the night before?

I think the thing to do would be (and I'm only writing this because I know no self-respecting members of the PTC--not to mention very few self-respecting members of society at large--actually read this blog) to launch an intense, targeted campaign against one, maybe two things at once. Instead of flooding with millions of complaints about thousands of shows, and instead of flooding e-mail inboxes with thousands of form letters that don't delete the line that says "Your Name Here," why not tell the membership to all watch a specific show one night, in the hopes that there will be something indecent contained therein, and then have them compose their own e-mails? Seems like it'd be more effective than trying to target the whole field at once.

But mayabe none of that will matter under Martin, who's strongly supported not only increased fines from the FCC, but an in-depth investigation of even the non-Janet related parts of last year's Super Bowl halftime show, as well as the bill proposed in the Senate that would extend FCC regulations to cable television and satellite radio.

Goodbye, Will & Grace; hello, Touched by an Angel (but not there, and with a chaperone present).


Wednesday, March 16, 2005


If I'm not mistaken, I don't think I've ever written an entry concerning the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, or the obsession that many conservatives have with drilling there for oil. I did read Sean Hannity's book, though, and if I were to take that as my only source, I could conclude that as soon as ANWR is opened up for drilling, Jesus Christ will descend from Heaven with his angels and usher in a new era of energy independence that will last for 1000 years.

I may be exaggerating just a little bit.

But today the Senate voted to open ANWR to drilling. Thing is, it was done all sneaky-like. You might think that, with something like this, they'd propose it and let it get voted up or down. But that's not the way that it is, it seems. See, the Republican senators attached a rider to the budget to authorize the drilling, and the budget is immune to filibuster. Some Democratic senators brought up a motion to strip the budget of the ANWR provision, but it was voted down 51-49. That's awfully close, especially considering that there's 55 Republicans in the Senate. I guess 4 of them weren't feeling it today, or something.

They've been trying to open up ANWR for years and years, through straight votes, and it always failed. This sort of sneak attack wasn't even possible, since the Senate only just picked up three additional seats in favor of drilling. That meant that the last vote likely would have gone 55-45 in favor of stripping the provision, in a situation like this. But 51-49 is the barest majority with which you can pass legislation, and it's not nearly enough to block a filibuster.

The silver lining on this cloud is that the provision isn't technically passed yet. It's tied to the budget, and the budget has to be approved by Congress (which it wasn't last year) to be passed. But now a bit more about ANWR.

The pervasive claim by pro-drilling advocates is that the "footprint" made by the drilling site would be no more than 2,000 acres out of a 19,000,000 acre refuge. If you're playing along at home, that's just over one hundredth of one percent. Not too bloody much, right?

But what about the roads that will have to be built to get to and from this "footprint"? What about the houses of workers there, and the network of pipelines that will have to extend from the footprint out to the Alaskan National Pipeline (I think that's what it's called)? The 2,000 acre claim is pretty deliberately misleading, I think.

From the figures I've read that haven't come out of the mouth of Sean Hannity, or of other FOX News employees echoing Sean Hannity, the cost of getting up there and getting the oil isn't going to be worth the payoff, for how much oil there is. I'll see if I can't come up with some figures about that and post them in a comment sometime later.


FOX News is my Favorite

So now, evidently, from acclaimed author Mark Levin (advertised on such worthy, mainstream, middle-of-the-road sources as NewsMax and WorldNetDaily) comes the assertion that Supreme Court Justices are overstepping their bounds to look to learn from other countries. Here's the key bit:

But it's become very, very popular now. It's also popular in Europe, where the justices go to vacation or relax during the summer, meeting with other justices. Sandra Day O'Connor has even written about this in her book. They talk about the need to look at other societies; we can learn from other societies.

They are not supposed to learn from other societies. They are supposed to apply the law, the Constitution of the United States. We'll leave it to the senators and the congressmen to learn from other societies.

Here, again, is that question of the immutability of the Constitution. If all these people have to do is sit there and apply the law, not to interpret it, then why do we need people at all? Why can't all the parties involved in a case get together, sit down with a copy, and conclude what must be so clearly written there?

Let's face it: it's clear that there are many different interpretations of at least some passages in the Constitution. That's clear from the fact that people disagree on it. But it just so happens that one of those views, the view of Levin and Justice Scalia, happens to preclude the possibility of the other views' correctness. That's something that my view doesn't do, personally. I allow for other possible interpretations of the Constitution, but I believe in my interpretation, and I believe that I can make a convincing argument for why I believe in it.

That doesn't matter to Levin and Scalia, because their view says that there's only one true interpretation, and that following any other interpretation is counter to the will of the Founding Fathers, and is indicative of our society's moral decline into judiciary relativism.

Let me write that last graf again, replacing and adding a few words.

That doesn't matter to Levin and Scalia, because their view says that there's only one true interpretation [of the Bible], and that following any other interpretation [of the Bible] is counter to the will of the Founding Fathers God, and is indicative of our society's moral decline into judiciary religious relativism.

Sound a little bit like Constitution worship? Deification of the Founding Fathers? I think so.


Senate Antics

Democrats in the Senate, under the leadership of Harry Reid, have threatened to slow down or stop the legislative process if Republicans change rules to enact what's known as "the nuclear option." For those of y'all who don't know what the nuclear option is, I'm glad you asked.

There is a system in place in the Senate (as any discriminating viewer of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington will no doubt know; Jimmy Stewart is the man) called the filibuster. That system has been modified from when it was originally conceived. Initially, the Senate had no rules on how to stop debate. Any senator could start a filibuster, and there was no way for the rest of the Senate to stop it. In case some of you haven't seen the movie I mentioned above (in which case I say "shame"), a filibuster is when a senator gets up and takes the floor for an extended period of time in order to block legislation. Typically the senator will make a speech about something unrelated to the legislation at hand, because who can talk about the same thing for over 24 hours (the length of time that Strom Thurmond famously filibustered against the Civil Rights Act of 1957)?

In 1917, a cloture rule was enacted, which meant that at any time, two-thirds of the present Senate membership (meaning those present at the time...hence, if only 60 senators were present, they'd need 40+ votes as opposed to the 67 they'd need if the entire membership were present) could vote to cut off debate and force a vote on the legislation at hand. In 1949, the rule was changed to two-thirds of the entire Senate membership, meaning that if only 60 senators were present, then they stood no chance at all of cutting off debate. In 1959, the rule was changed again, back to what it originally was in 1917. In 1975, the rule was revised from two-thirds of the voting senators present to three-fifths of the entire Senate membership.

So in the last 88 years, the system of debate in the Senate has been rethought a number of times. And here we are, on the cusp of changing it again. The so-called "nuclear option" is a Republican idea, championed by Bill "You-might-get-AIDS-from-tears-and-saliva" Frist, M.D., which would change the rules on cloture once again. This time they're not talking about two-thirds or three-fifths, though. They're talking about a simple majority. Fifty-one out of a hundred votes would close all debate on an issue and force a vote. Why is this significant?

You might be thinking to yourselves, "Well, that's a good thing. Senators shouldn't be able to hold up the process because they don't like what's going on, especially if they're in the minority." But such reasoning is antithetical to what we do here in our country. It's antithetical to the ideals of our Republic, which offer protection to the minority in cases where they stand the chance of being overwhelmed by the majority. The problem is that in a two-party system, either the Senate is deadlocked (party-wise), or one side has a majority (excepting, of course, anomalies like Jim Jeffords, an independent senator from Vermont). The filibuster is there to offer protection and a voice to a minority. Not just a small minority, but a large minority. Bigger than 40%. We're not talking about 5 senators being able to get together and hold up business. We're talking about better than two out of five senators getting together and making their voices heard.

Do I like the idea of holdups in the legislative process? Nope, I don't. But I also don't like the idea of a precedent being set where 40% is not a big enough group to get its voice heard, or to have an impact on things.

And the most absurd thing of all is that Republicans have used the filibuster when they were in the minority! This certainly seems a bit short-sighted, at least to me. They must really think that they've got a hold on the Senate until the end of time, because if they didn't think that, they might be tempted to realize that this could potentially affect them too, when the pendulum begins its long, slow swing in the other direction.

Which it will.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Slanted coverage?

There's a story going around on the major blogs and news outlets about coverage during the presidential campaign being much harder on Bush than on Kerry. The study says that 12% of coverage on Kerry was negative, but 36% of coverage on Bush was negative. It also says that while 20% of Bush's coverage was positive, 30% of Kerry's was positive. It also said that 20% of stories on Iraq were positive, while 25% were negative (a far cry from the insistence that the media only reported the bad).

Now I don't have reason to doubt the conclusions of this study, so I'm not going to do that. And I'm not going to go expounding on ideological lines. But I'd just like to raise the question that the reports I've read haven't. But the study says that it examined 16 newspapers, 4 nightly newscasts, 3 network morning news shows, 9 cable programs and 9 Web sites (This is all through the course of 2004). But it doesn't say how much coverage there was given to each candidate, relative to one another. Were there exactly as many stories about Bush as about Kerry? I find that a little hard to believe, but I think it'd be a relative statistic, as it'd push the margin of error up or down depending.

The other thing, which my conservative readers will probably come down on me for, is that when there's a race between an incumbent and a challenger, I wouldn't expect for a second that the coverage of them would be exactly the same. The President is obviously receiving a lot more scrutiny about the job that he's doing at the time as well as about his campaigning for re-election. The incumbent's just got the election.

Maybe I'm missing something, but this study, upon a little deeper inspection, doesn't really seem to say all that much.


Why do we have a Supreme Court?

An interesting article, this one.

Justice Antonin Scalia has this to say:

The Constitution is not a living organism, for Pete’s sake, it is legal document, and like all legal documents, it says some things and doesn’t say others [...] What was 'cruel and unusual' and unconstitutional in 1791 remains that today. Executing someone under 18 was not unconstitutional in 1791, so it is not unconstitutional today.

So why, I'd ask, do we need a Supreme Court at all, if it's so clear? If it's so cut & dry? The article speculates that Scalia may be campaigning for Chief Justice, but it would be of an impotent court, I'd think, if his vision were the reality.


Gay Marriage

Y'all have probably heard that a judge in California ruled the same sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Particularly take a look at the last three of those eleven links, for a conservative perspective (from a "family organization," Concerned Women for America, and the Jawa Report). Personally, I know that everybody reading this probably knows what I think about this issue, but I'll lay it out anyway.

I've not heard any justification, absent religion or spite, as to why we should deny the right to marry to any two people who love one another. People like to talk about the "sanctity of marriage," which doesn't really seem to mean so much in this age of skyrocketing divorce rates, Jennifer Lopez, and Britney Spears.

The typical conservative arguments against gay marriage are usually one of the following:

  1. God doesn't sanction homosexuality.
  2. Homosexuals have the same rights of heterosexual marriage that heterosexuals have, so it's not an issue of equal rights.
  3. Marriage is not a fundamental right, but a fundamental restriction of rights; therefore it's stupid for gays to go looking to restrict their rights.

Let's look at these point by point. The first argument makes a good case for a second, until we come to the realization that religion has absolutely NO place in our laws. So the first argument is null and void straight out of the gates.

The second argument has going for it that it's factually correct, but its logical contradictions when paired with other assumptions make it fall apart about halfway down the track. When you're arguing for the sanctity of marriage at the same time as trying to argue that homosexuals should just stop whining and marry somebody of the opposite sex since they can, isn't that a contradiction? Where's the sanctity in a heterosexual union that at least one party doesn't want to be a part of?

A sub-argument that I didn't address above, since it's too absurd to really give consideration, is the procreation angle. Marriage is about procreation, they say, and gays can't procreate. Hence, no gay marriage. But we routinely give marriage certificates to heterosexual couples who are infertile. Fertility and the ability to procreate is not a prerequisite for marriage.

Another argument that I didn't put above, becuase of its absurdity, is the argument that this will lead to a rash of insincere "gay" marriages on the part of people who aren't actually "gay," just looking to get the legal protections afforded by marriage. Again, I can't help but laugh when this argument's made. If you've ever met any dudes, you'd pretty much know that getting married to another dude is something that they're not going to do unless they're gay, no matter how OK with homosexuals they may be. This is not to mention that there's no restriction on heterosexuals marrying for reasons other than love. You don't have to take a "love test" to get married, right?

That leads me to the third point above: Marriage is not a fundamental right, but rather a fundamental restriction of rights. This one gets the closest to the finish line, because it makes a baseless assertion that you would have to look up in order to confirm or deny. So if you want to believe that we shouldn't have gay marriage, then this argument is perfect for you. It lets you sound like you know what you're talking about without having to look up the facts that show you're wrong. In fact, there are myriad legal protections offered married couples, not least of all (and quite relevant in view of what else is going on these days) the increased Social Security benefits due them.

I'm convinced that this whole debate is predicated by the fact that the government and religious institutions have decided to use the same words for their unions: marriage. When religious people think of "marriage," they think of a union under the eyes of God, by the laws of Scripture. So regardless of the fact that government's idea of "marriage" should really have nothing to do with that, the word ties the two up together in the minds of a lot of people. So we need a different word for the government's definition of unions between two people. Civil unions? Sure, fine. Whatever. But we need to stop pretending like this isn't discriminatory.

Sorry, I don't mean to keep harping, but I need to talk for a second about the other argument against gay marriage: the omnipresent slippery-slope argument. Pardon my French, but what a piece of rhetorical bullshit that argument is. By its logic, I think I could probably effectively argue that we can't do anything because it might lead to something else that we don't want.



Monday, March 14, 2005

Unfair and Unbalanced

Looks like FOXNews once again has people breathing down its neck. This report from the Washington Post (subscription required) says that during the Iraq War, 73% of reports on FOX included the reporters' opinions. Compare that to 29% at MSNBC and 2% at CNN.

"We report, we decide what you decide."


P.S. Thanks to mcSey for the link.

The Economy!

OK, so I'll admit that I don't know too much about the economy. I took Economics 101 my freshman year in college, but it was at 9:00 in the morning, and the chairs were really comfortable. I mean, I got an A, and I did well on all the tests, and I even had a subscription to the Wall Street Journal for six weeks, but those facts are a bit deceiving. The tests were incredibly easy, and the grade hinged mostly on them. That explains the A and the tests. Oh, and I promptly threw away the Wall Street Journal as soon as I took it out of my mailbox every day. Without fail.

But that doesn't matter, because Economics 101 was pretty much basic stuff. Supply and demand, you know, the basics. It wouldn't have given me any kind of huge advantage in understanding to have paid more attention, or even to have been awake more of the time. But I'm interested now, and I'd like to learn more. And I'd like to think that I have been.

I stumbled upon this article on MSNBC last night, and I put off reading it until this morning, because it was long, I was tired, and I knew I'd want to write something about it. It's called "Bottom Dollar," and it's about the sluggish state of the dollar compared with other international currencies, and the role that our economy and trade deficit play in that situation, and in the world economy at large.

So here goes my little riff on what I understand of the economy, and what I understand of the dollar and why it's falling. One thing to keep in mind is that currency isn't just straight-up value. Since currencies can rise and fall against each other, based on relative strengths of economies, the currencies themselves become commodities. Some people, like George Soros, can profit greatly off of currency exchange speculation.

The US economy is huge, and the consumption rate of the US populace has driven the trade deficit. See, people in the US want more than we have to give, so we've got to buy it from other countries. Hence, the dollar is put out there into the international market. The trade deficit is the amount more that we import than we export, and it's something like $650 billion this year. So that means that there's $650 billion floating around there in the international market. But like I said, currency is a commodity, and increasing supply decreases demand (and, consequently, price). So running such a huge trade deficit floods the market with dollars, and since there's so many dollars floating around, they're subsequently devalued just like any other commodity.

So why don't we just stop running such a trade deficit? Well, that's the rub, isn't it? The whole world's economy pretty much depends on the US trade deficit to prop up the rest of its economy. Asian countries in particular make a lot of money from exporting to the US. If the US stopped buying so many goods from other economies, those other economies would falter simply because so much of their worth is in exports to the US.

But it would seem that the balance would naturally shift towad equilibrium. When the dollar falls, in order to get its value back to where it should be, the US should (it would seem) increase exports and decrease imports. In fact, it would better serve the dollar and the economy at large to do this. The world could afford more US exports on a weakened dollar, and the US could afford less international imports on a weakened dollar. I'd think that this would happen fairly naturally, until it swung a little too far in the other direction and then began swinging back the other way.

But there's other complicating factors, such as this one: the currencies of a lot of Asian countries (including China, excluding Japan) are "pegged" to the dollar. That means that as the dollar rises, those currencies rise. As the dollar falls, those currencies fall. Relative to one another, a dollar is always worth 8.28 Chinese yuan, no matter what's going on with the pound or the euro or the yen. So there's no incentive for imports and exports to and from those countries to change at all, I'd think, since our economy is in a kind of symbiosis with theirs. But pressures from other floating currencies' strength relative to the dollar would certainly push the US to increase exports and decrease imports across the board, even to the economies with currencies pegged to the dollar.

So what's the upshot? Well, the trade deficit is there and getting bigger all the time, despite what conventional economic wisdom would tell us. Again, lots of reasons for that, and probably the biggest one is just that other countries make so much money from exporting to the United States, and there's still demand for those exports. But why are we still able to do it, considering the weakened dollar, with little perceived change? I mean, why haven't the prices of foreign imports risen drastically? The article postulates that some countries have opted to reduce their profit margins in order to maintain the same volume of trade with the US, which seems to make some sense.

But who knows how long it can last?


Friday, March 11, 2005

Rick Santorum is evil

It's already been defeated, thank God, and not that it ever really stood much of a chance, but holy crap.

Rick Santorum's "minimum wage" bill would have made all businesses that make under $1,000,000 a year exempt from having to pay minimum wage (which would have been raised by $1.10 in another part of the bill). It would have made overtime pretty much a thing of the past, by allowing companies to declare it "flex time" and take it out of the worker's schedule later. So if I worked 45 hours this week, they could just give me an hour off each day next week, and we'd be cool. Except that they'd've saved 7.5 hours worth of wages. Usually, 7.5 hours worth of wages isn't that much to the employer, but it can be a hell of a lot to the employee.

Additionally, the bill would have paved the way for prohibiting states from making minimum wage provisions above and beyond the federal level (which is still stuck at $5.15; I saw that increase, from $4.75, when I was working at McDonald's in high school). It would do this by first prohibiting states from legislating mandatory wages for tipped workers. Currently, there's a $2.13 federal minimum wage for tipped workers, but under Santorum's bill, small and medium restaurants could be exempt from paying any minimum wage at all, and thus could make their tipped workers work from tips alone. This one hits home for me because of those three weeks I spent as a waiter. Sometimes people just don't tip well. It may be because they're jerks; it may be because they're older people (sorry, don't mean to stereotype, but it's true) who've got a different conception of tipping. But tips are not commensurate, in the broader sense, with the level of service you provide as a waiter or waitress. I guess "server" is now the PC term.

Like I said, this bill was defeated, but 38 senators voted for it. That's a little bit too close for comfort, in my book. They were all Republicans, but the bankruptcy bill that just passed the Senate tells us that when it comes down to where they're getting their money from, nobody's in the little guy's corner anymore.


Two things

One: Josh Marshall already posted this link on Talking Points Memo, but for those of you who don't read him, here it is. And for those of you who aren't going to read that, here's a little summary: Bush's Orwellian rhetoric has ramped up a notch, with his now claiming that his proposed "personal private add-on accounts-ization" (or something...I may have messed up that last part) are like a safety net for the riskiness of Social Security. The dude's seriously delusional.

Two: Either I should get a job doing this, or some of these political commentators have been plagiarizing from me. Again, I've been saying for a long time (and my dad can back me up on this, having had innumerable conversations with me on the subject) that the Social Security issue is much more about the ideology than the numbers, and that it's a case of those who like the idea versus those who don't. Well, turns out that's exactly what this article at The New Republic (also posted by Josh Marshall) says as well.

So now that I've got support in that opinion from both sides (AEI and TNR), that makes me correct, right?


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Lebanon again

Lordy, I hope this isn't a harbinger. Much as I opposed Bush's war in Iraq, and much as I oppose his taking credit for the upheaval in Lebanon, I think that it's a good thing that the Lebanese were taking steps to get out from under the Syrians.

But now the old, fiercely pro-Syrian prime minister of Lebanon has been reappointed by Assad after a 10-day absence.

While I think that the initial reaction of the pro-Syrian government was to quit, I'm afraid that they're getting bolder, realizing after the last few days that they've got a lot of support (as evidenced by the half-million attended rally). They may also have concluded that there's nothing that the US will realistically be able to do to them, tied up as the US army is in Iraq.

I just hope that they're realistic about changing things for the better there, and that things don't go back to business as usual.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

AEI Article

I don't agree with almost any of the details in this article from the American Enterprise Institute (a prominent conservative think tank), but I do agree very much with its thesis. In fact, it's the same thesis I've been advancing, albeit from the other side, for a while now.

"Forget about the projections of fiscal calamity or paradise. We have known from the beginning of the argument the central fact: the two sides like different things. "

The author goes on to make his case for why Bush's proposal is good, and to criticize the Administration for their approach to the Social Security issue (playing a game of numbers instead of talking about what they really want). He even likens the approach to the Administration's handling of the Iraq war, which I agree with as well. I could have a lot more respect for the Administration if they had actually said at the beginning, "We're going to liberate the Iraqis. A lot of you might not like it. Tough. We think it's right." Instead, if that indeed was the real reasoning for going to war, they felt like they had to trump up technicalities instead of trusting people to make their own decisions.

The battle over Social Security is going the same way. If their actual concern is whether or not we should have Social Security, then they should be secure enough in their position to talk about it honestly, instead of trying to say that they want to "strengthen and save" the system.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005


I think it's good that things have been progressing the way that they have with the Lebanon situation, even as I think it's premature for the US to take credit for it. I just hope things there keep on the right track. Amid all the good news we're getting about Lebanon's renunciation of the oppressive Syrian regime, there's this report that a half million Lebanese attended a pro-Syrian protest.

For the sake of the Lebanese, for the sake of the region, and for the sake of the US (since Hezbollah doesn't seem to like us very much), I hope this is just a flash in the pan, and not something that re-emboldens the Syrians.


Bruce Lee

I went out to a little Italian place for lunch today, and I got a sandwich called the Bruce Lee. Now I don't know what Bruce Lee has to do with grilled chicken, ham, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard on Italian bread (Eli's suggestion: it kicks ass), but it certainly was good.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Man on the run

I ran across an article on MSNBC talking about Bush's agenda, and I couldn't help but think that the man's on the run. I mean, he's fighting this Social Security battle so hard that he's having to drop other parts of his agenda, like the fight to make his tax cuts permanent.

I can't help but think that pouring all your effort into the one area for which public support is waning steadily is a hell of a way to flush some of that fabled "political capital."


This man is still President?

Turns out that the Westfield visit was an interesting one. I really wish I could have gone.

Bush's rhetoric seems to have changed, according to this article. Instead of talking about carved-out accounts from Social Security, he's talking about them as "add-ons." This is mischaracterization of the highest order. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has already gone on about it, but I'd like to, at least for my 3 readers who don't read him.

When this whole thing initially started, the Administration was coming out in favor of "privatization." That word tested badly, so without changing the policy that they were supporting, they decided to call them "private accounts." Seemed, after a while, like the word "private" was the killer, so they started calling them "personal retirement accounts." Let's bear in mind, though, that the definition of "privatization" and the definition of "personal retirement accounts," so far as they were defined by the Administration, are identical. Not similar, not sort of alike, but identical.

Now another idea that was being floated by some members of Congress was for so-called "add-on" accounts. These would be actual personal retirement accounts created outside of the Social Security system that would allow workers the type of control that Bush has been talking about with his proposal. Let's be really clear here, though. "Add-on accounts" is a term for accounts created outside of Social Security. That's not disputable. They're called "add-on accounts" because they add money onto what you would get from Social Security.

Well, evidently "add-on" tested better than "private," because in his appearance in Westfield, Bush made this dubious claim:

It's your money, and the interest off that money goes to supplement the Social Security check that you're going to get from the federal government. Personal accounts is an add-on to that which the government is going to pay you. It doesn't replace the Social Security system.

The most insidious thing about this particular quote is that it stands to confuse even people who have payed relatively close attention to the Social Security debate. Obviously it'll confuse people who don't know any more than what he's telling them, but to the others, who know what "add-on accounts" are, this statement seems like a fundamental, major policy shift. Which it's not. When Bush talks about "that which the government is going to pay you," he's talking about the reduced Social Security benefits that you'll get if a partial privatization is enacted. But he's talking about it as though Social Security will remain intact, and his plan will give you money on top of that.

He knows what he's doing. It's deliberate, it's misleading, and it's despicable.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

Wisdom of the ages

Y'all should check out this post from my dad's blog.

In fact, just check out the whole thing. You'll laugh, and laugh again, and then laugh when you're done. My old man certainly does make me proud.


Thursday, March 03, 2005


So I noticed that when Darren posts comments on Harvey's blog, his picture comes up. I decided that I wanted to have a stupid picture come up when I posted comments over there, so I guess y'all'll just have to deal with it until it rolls off the page.

Posted by Hello


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Oh well

So much for my hopes of seeing the President. Here's the article explaining why.

Bush is coming to Westfield, NJ, on Friday, two towns over from mine, and I have Friday off. He's coming to talk about his Social Security plan. Now I didn't plan on causing trouble, of course, because I didn't feel like getting arrested, and also because the man's technically my boss. I figured that those two things combined would be enough to keep me from doing anything. But I did figure it would be quite valuable to go and see what the whole thing was about, see what he had to say (not in a "maybe he's got a point" way, just more in a "hearing the rhetoric" way).

But alas, "town hall meeting" doesn't really mean "town hall meeting," at least not when you've got this joker in town. The invites are mostly being given out to special supporters directly by the White House, and the scant few given to the district to distribute are being given to supporters, says Representative Ferguson, because they'd be the ones interested in hearing Bush's plan. They only want "constructive criticism."

Not actual criticism.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Social Security: Musings

So I figured I'd just riff a little bit on my thoughts on the Social Security debate of late.

I very much dislike the dishonesty of the debate from the Bush side. From what I've heard running in the background of the debate, many from the right dislike the very idea of Social Security. They view it as socialist. They view it as entitlements. They view it as welfare for the elderly. They don't want the system operating in any country that they're a part of, because they ideologically oppose what they see as its underpinnings.

Here's the problem: It's overwhelmingly popular among the general population of the country. People don't want to see Social Security phased out. They don't want to see people left to fend for themselves in retirement. They like the idea of the retirement floor being something that can help them more easily keep their head above water. So what's the solution?

Well, the solution is to propose a plan which will end up crippling Social Security past the point where it can be fixed, so that it can only be phased out, all under the guise of "strengthening and saving Social Security." These private accounts play into peoples' thinking that the government is a bunch of bureaucratic ninnies, and that any average Joe can do things far better than the government ever could. That's it. That's the whole reasoning behind those 30-some percent of people who support the plan. They're hoping to make themselves millionaires in retirement off of all this fabulous investment opportunity (which everybody can do, obviously, hope you enjoy the sarcasm).

But Bush's plan does nothing to address the problem that he is claiming needs to be fixed, and is therefore the reason that the whole system needs an overhaul. He says: X needs to be changed because of problem Y. I propose we replace X with Z, which still has problem Y, only bigger.

How do people accept that logic?