Thoughts of an American Centrist

Thursday, April 28, 2005

More Proof of Global Warming

Brand new scientific research is now lending some additional strong evidence to the claim that human actions are directly causing global warming, (that's not to say that the uber-anti-environmental forces will acknowledge any validity for this very thorough and convincing study).

Hopefully, this will catch people's interest and hold it for more than a day. I'm fairly convinced that the only way we're going to get real governmental action on global warming in this administration is for massive popular support for such a measure. Unfortunately, those who have vested interests in keeping the sky as the limit for spewing major amounts of greenhouse gasses into the air (read: power plants, big oil, and other key GOP supporters) have gotten very good at sowing the seeds of doubt on this issue. Fortunately, more and more of us are starting to catch on.

I'll Believe it when I see it

There is much buzz among the moderate blogs and commentators out there about a possibly third party rising (see here and here).

My response: I'll believe it when I see it. The last time one of the major parties was supplanted began with the 1850's Republican Party gaining power (slowly), finally culminating in the election of Lincoln in 1860 (a year in which 4 parties captured at least one state), a scant 73 years after the Constitution. It's been 145 years since that date, and both parties are now pretty well entrenched.

There have been three times in the past century where a third party candidate has been able to capture a significant portion of the vote (1996 doesn't count, in my book).

In 1992, Ross Perot got some 15% of the vote, but captured no states' electoral votes. Not only that, it has been calculated that if George Bush got ALL of Perot's votes, he STILL would have lost. In 1998, Jesse Ventura captured the Minnesota Governorship running on Perot's Reform party ticket. However, I chalk this up to Ventura's personal appeal, not to a broader national revolt against the parties.

In 1968, George Wallace captured 5 states that would have gone to eventual winner Richard Nixon anyway.

To find a time when a third party last made an actual difference in a presidential election, we have to go all the way back to 1912, where the wildly popular ex-president Theodore Roosevelt split from the GOP to form his much celebrated "Bull Moose" party, thus dividing the Republican voters and handing the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

All this history doesn't bode well for those hoping for a major Third Party to rise up out of the ashes (perhaps originating in Phoenix?)

Like the title of this posts states, "I'll believe it when I see it."

However, this does not leave the moderate without hope. There are moderate wings of both major parties that we can support. (The Democrats have catchy names like "The Democratic Leadership Council," or "Blue Dog Democrats." Why can't John McCain and Rudy Guiliani form some sort of similar group with a neat name? "Rockefellr Republicans" is so 20th century!)

Flipping between the two moderate wings of the major parties may not give us the satisfaction of having a place to call home, but it also does not present us with the temptation to simply spurt party rhetoric for the sake of loyalty either. I can live with that.

In 1948, Strom Thurmund won four states. Again, had good ol' Segregationist Strom not been in the election, those states would have gone to Harry Truman, the eventual winner.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

There is something missing from this Bankruptcy Bill. Part 2, Regulation of the Credit Industry

I am not one of those critics who believe that any type of individual bankruptcy reform is an affront to human dignity. Indeed, I believe that we could all benefit from a proper does of responsibility. Still, I maintain that the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005 is, well, missing something. I'm launching a series of posts detailing all of the issues I would have liked this bill to have addressed, because without them, the bill seems incomplete.
In Part 1, I discussed possible reforms to Chapter 11 (Corporate Bankruptcy) Law.

Today, in Part 2, we'll look into regulation of Credit Providers.

Although it is true that job loss and medical bills are the direct cause of more than half of all the personal bankruptcies in the United States, many families in these situations would never have fallen all the way to bankruptcy were it not for their heavy reliance on credit cards during their time of need, and their subsequent inability to pay off those cards due to the additional fees and charges added on a monthly basis by the companies controlling them.

Obviously, there is going to be a premium to pay for such easy and accessible lines of credit that these cards provide. Americans are well aware that those who cross the line of using plastic for actual credit rather than convenience will be hit by large interest charges each month that effectively put a 10 to 2000% premium on everything they buy, depending on how long it takes them to pay off the card.

When an individual is trying to get back on his or her feet, these premiums can impair that process for months or years after a catastrophic event. Add on top of the interest charges the outrageous fees the credit providers charge for honest mistakes or delays on mail. For someone trying to get out of debt, a payment arriving 12 hours late can be devastating, not just because of the additional $30 - $50 that is added to the balance, but because such a trivial oversight can immediately launch the card's interest rate by several points. It is the combination of all these fees and spiraling interest rates that can keep an unused card's balance actually growing, despite its embattled owner making faithful monthly payments.

Of course, the credit card companies are simply trying to run a business. They take risks by issuing cards to risky customers, and may loose five figure balances in bankruptcy court. People simply canceling their debts hurts business. The Centrist understands this, and therefore must take into consideration the viability of the credit industry into any proposed solutions. I believe that with a little thought, we can hammer out some regulations that protects both the consumer, and the businesses.

  1. Outlaw No-Credit-Check Cards

  2. The Credit Card industry simply loves to market their wares to people who simply cannot afford them: broke college students, people already floating on credit, chronic defaulters. They do this for several reasons. First of all, they expect these types of people not to pay their balance every month, and therefore become their biggest revenue generators. Secondly, whenever that person uses their card, they charge a premium to the merchants. The more card-holders, the more money off of purchases.

    Unfortunately, it is these same risky customers that cause many of the bankruptcies in this country, and drive up interest rates and charges across the entire industry. Simply denying credit to people who cannot be responsible with it removes a huge risk factor from the credit card companies, and could allow them to relax their penalties.

    Of course, this type of reform will further restrict the options of someone who is already in trouble financially. However, getting a high interest rate card that they cannot pay off is never a viable option for actually pulling oneself out of a financial hole. Instead, restricting their options may force them to cut back on their spending, budget, or maybe consolidate their debt into a more manageable bundle. Adding one more card simply delays and exacerbates the inevitable.

  3. Create a Ceiling on Interest Rates

  4. Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as a 20% APR credit card, let alone a 24.99% one. Still, the credit card companies thrived. The racking up of risky customers (see point 1), has virtually necessitated this rate hike, however. If the riskier customers are eliminated, there should be no problem regulating a maximum interest rate (say, 17%) on credit cards.

  5. Require Mediation before Bankruptcy

  6. Just as corporations negotiate with their creditors before filing bankruptcy, so should consumers. There seems to be a mentality in America that states "if you can't pay it off, just file for bankruptcy and everything goes away." The new Bill will divert more people into programs where they try to pay off their debts before they are dismissed. This is a good thing, as I believe people should pay for what they buy in all but the most extreme circumstances. However, that payment schedule and negotiations are all set up and mandated by the courts, which is costly in terms of both time and money to our government. Why not have mediation boards that people must apply to in order to restructure their debt before filing for bankruptcy? We already have the infrastructure with innumerable counseling and consolidation services. Consumers and creditors should at least attempt to work something out between them before getting the government involved.

  7. Increase the "Minimum-Payment" threshold

  8. The "minimum payment" printed on a monthly credit card statement is simply too low, and too tempting to someone in trouble. By doubling the amount of the minimum payment required for the month, consumers would pay off the card an order of magnitude faster than the current minimum payment system. Granted, this will make it tougher in the short run for cash-strapped people who they are trying to get back on their feet, but it will keep them more secure in the long run. It will also make them less likely to end up in bankruptcy court.

  9. Create a Graduated penalty scale for chronic late-payers

  10. Someone who is trying to pay off his or her balance by sending in payments faithfully every month should not - upon being late for one month - receive the same treatment as an irresponsible person who is late many times per year. Unfortunately, most of the companies have implemented a "one strike and you're out" policy for people who make honest mistakes (there is a similar complaint about the IRS, but that's the subject for a different post). Start late payments off at no more than $5, and increase them as consumers fail to pay for several days, or if they do it again within a few months. This way, honest mistakes are still penalized, and chronic offences are still discouraged, but a one-time penalty does not cripple those who are trying to do the responsible thing and "pay it all off."

  11. Eliminate Automatic Rate increases for late payments

  12. This proposal goes hand-in-hand with the one above. Someone trying to pay off their balance over the course of several months can be cut off at the knees simply by making one late payment, thus incurring a rate jump of several percentage points. At all costs, we should not be making it harder for people to pay off their balances!
And there you have it, the American Centrist's six proposed reforms to the credit industry. Granted, each of these reforms will incur bitter complaints from both industry and consumer groups (not to mention the ardent anti-regulation folks), but I believe that they will go a long way to reducing the number of personal bankruptcies in this country. We cannot propose a solution to ending bankruptcies that places the burden either entirely on the consumer, or entirely on the creditor. A solution must involve concessions and additional responsibilities from both parties. These proposed changes won't keep everyone out of bankruptcy, but it should do a lot to help people who briefly came upon hard times, but are now trying to recover and continue to strive for the American Dream.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Another critic comes out of the woodwork to blast Bolton

Granted, the former Ambassador to Moroco doesn't pack as much of a political punch as, say, Colin Powell, but it's one more voice adding to the chorus calling for the withdrawl of John Bolton's nomination. Not to mention this new voice, Frederick Vreeland, is probably the most blunt of the official anti-Bolton Delegation.

Let's look at some quotes:

“[Bolton] has none of the qualities needed for that job... [He] has all the qualities needed to harm the image and objectives in the U.N. and its affiliated international organizations. If it is now U.S. policy not to reform the U.N but to destroy it, Bolton is our man,”

“dealt with visitors to his office as if they were servants with whom he could be dismissive, curt and negative.”

“He spoke of the U.N. as being the enemy,”

“It is totally erroneous to speak of Bolton as a diplomat.”

Wow, that's pretty damning testimony. To be fair, the administration did bring up a good point when it's spokesman said:

“They know him a bit better than a retired ambassador who worked with him 15 years ago.”

Of course, the White House is just relying on one of the oldest political techniques in the book: Slander and discount thine enemy, so I'm not taking their objections too seriously at this point.

Friday, April 22, 2005

How do you sway an Unelected Judge?

I recently replied to a comment from a reader of The Moderate Voice, asking "how are we supposed to react" to judicial decision that we may disagree with. See my answer below.

We're supposed to react in a way that fixes the problem. We're supposed to put up a unified front of popular opinion to sway judges with reason as well as passion. What we are not to do is threaten, belittle, or otherwise undermine the entire judiciary system itself.

The reason that judges are appointed for life is so they do NOT have to cow-tow to the loudest group of objectioners and compromise their principles and their interpretation of the Constitution. Also remember, if we as a people really really don't like a particular aspect of the Constitution, our elected representatives can change it.

But even despite all this, popular opinion DOES have an effect when judges truly go to far. Look at the 9th circuit decision on the pledge. They took "under God" out of it, we were all outraged, and the decision was reversed. That occured because there was a massive protest against the decision.

I'd like you to point out one issue where the bench is "arrogantly defying the will of the voters again and again."

Gay marriage? The only decisions that have been handed down in support of gay marriage are in Vermont and Massachusetts: two states open to the idea. Just the other day, Connecticut's legislature passed civil unions legislation without even a court decision making it necessary.

How about the Schiavo case? This is another one where Congress and the FRC types are lambasting our judges. However, in this case it was CONGRESS that was acting against the will of the people, and the judges supported the overwhelming, less vocal, majority.

Abortion? Big contentious issue. Too bad for the "legislating on the bench" criers that Americans answer to the "Pro-Choice" label in proportions consistently exceeding 60%.

How about the biggest legislation from the bench of all time: Brown v. Board of Ed. Surely you're not arguing that the Cort was way off base on this one, are you?

The Family Research Council wants to Shut Down Key Federal Courts (really, no exaggeration)

Thanks to The Moderate Voice for the tip on this story. Read this post in full! Here's an excerpt:

"Dobson, who emerged last year as one of the evangelical movement's most important political leaders, named one potential target: the California-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."

Get it? So now if you don't like a court — just ELIMINATE IT if you don't like it's rulings. Where did you read THAT in any American history book about how our democracy with its separation of powers functioned?

QUESTION: We wonder if the swing voters and libertarian Republicans who voted for George Bush ever dreamed they would EVER see the day when this was being seriously proposed. We suspect when they cast their votes it was a "given" that the GOP top leadership agreed to centuries old consensus about how our democracy functioned. This is the group that wants the public to trust them to go along with a "nuclear option" — because they don't like activist judges (??)."

I'm trying to figure out if this is extortion or bribery. I'm leaning on the side of extortion.

The only way this ridiculous assault on judges has been allowed to continue is the phenomenal success of groups like the FRC is convincing masses of their followers that somehow the court system as it now stands is unconstitutional. Granted, Article III does give a lot of leeway in setting up courts, and Congress certainly has power over that, but all these WWFFD ("What would the Founding Fathers Do?") strict constructionists should clearly realize from both the writings of Jefferson, Washington, and the Federalist Papers that they all felt an independent judiciary was essential to protecting our democracy from blind political ambition.

I agree that it is time for moderates who either voted for a Republican in 2004 and/or have an inclination to vote Republican in 2006 let our members of Congress know that we will not stand to have our courts brought under the heel of Congress.

Our Constitution outlines three equal branches of government, and that system has done a hell of a good job for more than 200 years. Let's not squash all that now.

Powell Lends his support to the rational people trying to defeat the Bolton Nomination

It seems another very influential moderate Repbulican has some reservations against John Bolton's nomination. Colin Powell has recently met with some of the very Republican Senators delaying the nomination in order to voice his concerns about the embattled nominee. From a The Washington Post:

"Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell is emerging as a behind-the-scenes player in the battle over John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, privately telling at least two key Republican lawmakers that Bolton is a smart but very problematic government official, according to Republican sources.

Powell spoke in recent days with Sens. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), two of three GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who have raised concerns about Bolton's confirmation, the sources said. Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters, according to two people familiar with the conversations."

As usual, the Moderate Voice has a great review on this topic.

Unlike some other critics, this negative assessment is coming from Bolton's former boss. Ouch. In fact, Powell is the only one of six present and former Republican Secretaries of State that did not sign his name to a letter of recommendation for Mr. Bolton.

I honestly don't see how the nomination is going to stay on course. One of the five most influential Republicans in the country - not to mention the one with the most experience with Mr. Bolton - has secretly been lobbying against him.

Why on earth is the president spending political capitol on this guy? Is it only a face saving move? Is he trying to show he can't be bullied by his former "not quite the team player," cabinet member? Bolton is clearly not the man for the job, and the President is building resentment within his own party by pushing him. Not to mention, with this kind of confirmation fight, the man will be a ticking timebomb. He'll be watched like a hawk at the UN, and any misstep will be absolutely pounced upon by the anti-Bush forces in the world.

The President should drop this nominee like his name was "Kerik."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

There is something missing from this Bankruptcy Bill. Part 1, Corporate Bankruptcy Reform

I am not one of those critics who believe that any type of individual bankruptcy reform is an affront to human dignity. Indeed, I believe that we could all benefit from a proper does of responsibility. Still, I maintain that the just-signed-into-law Bankruptcy Bill of 2005 is, well, missing something. I'm launching a series of posts detailing all of the issues I would have liked this bill to have addressed, because without them, the bill seems incomplete.

What exactly is it missing? How about one the unbroached issues that is raised by the "personal responsibility" argument, namely, corporate bankruptcy. Under current Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, a corporation is allowed to duck its creditors and effectively cancel its debts in much the same way a consumer can. The difference? Corporations can use their bankruptcy protection to cancel benefits and pensions to its present and former employees, as well as implement wide-scale lay-offs to curb costs, thus contributing to one of the two biggest reasons for personal bankruptcy filings, unemployment. Doesn't that provision seem a bit counterproductive?

Of course, it is valuable for a corporation to have some bankruptcy protection in order that it may have to opportunity to right itself continue to provide valuable services to its customers, value to its shareholders, tax dollars to its government, and further employment to its employees (if they haven't been laid off). This is right and proper. All too often, however, we see a company abuse these protections by shifting the burden of their net operating loss onto its employees, calling this robbery a "fix," and reopening its doors for business. All this occurs despite having an outmoded business model.

I see no better example of this than with the traditional airline carriers. Delta, United, US Air, and all the rest are filing for bankruptcy because they can't pull in a profit. Boo friggin hoo. I have no sympathy for these carriers because they are operating on faulty business models. Jet Blue, Southwest, and others are raking in huge profits while these ancient behemoths are floundering. Why? Because the new cut-rate carriers have killer business models. Lower fares, a simple fleet, and great service all keep costs low and customers happy. If the older models can't keep up, it's time for them to shut their doors, not hide under Chapter 11 so that they can lose money for just a little bit longer.

"But Mr. American Centrist," you say, "what happens to all the employees of the big airlines if they close their doors? Won't they all be unemployed, thus continuing the cycle of bankruptcy?" Well, my good friend, the answer is "not necessarily." What do you think is going to happen to all the capitol these outmoded airlines possess in abundance? It's not all going to be driven to the city dump. Why, it'll be sold, of course. Either a failing company could be bought outright by another airline that has a better business model, or someone else will buy the closed company's planes. The purchaser will need someone to fly those planes, serve the customers, man the gates, load the baggage, fix the engines, and all the other myriad operations essential to keeping an airline in business. In short, the people who keep the airline in the air will be needed as long as successful companies control the planes.

Unfortunately, the current Chapter 11 laws are stalling this overdue transition. Using corporate bankruptcy laws to extend the life of a bad business model is an affront to capitalism, and it's costing us, as consumers and taxpayers, billions.

Good news for Asian Women

I want to know who had to write the grant for the funding of this study! Not to mention that it is completely bogus, simply b/c when the object of study is in the state that it was studied in... who cares?

Is it the economy (stuipid)?

In late 2004, it looked like the economy was back on the upswing, adding lots of jobs, picking the stock market back up on its feet, stabilized gas prices, and promises of deficit cuts in the years to come. What happened to all that? Why are our representatives in Washington talking about Terri Schiavo, a Social Security problem that's decades removed, Tom DeLay, and filibusters? (OK, I admit, I've been talking about those things too, but I'm not in Congress!)

While most of us Americans at home are wondering what would happen if we were laid off in this market, or how the stratospheric rise of both gasoline and a gallon of milk is going to affect our own monthly budgets, or how the dueling forces of rising college costs and shrinking public school budgets are going to affect our children's educations, or - given the ever increasing life expectancy - how we're going to be able to afford both our own and our parents' retirements, devout Washingtonians have been busying themselves with what 90% of Americans would classify as "fluff."

The answer, in part, may be that it is our fault. As Americans, we have been sitting back, quietly grumbling and festering over our own financial worries. At 26, I'm not sure if the economy is really that bad, or if it's just part of "growing up worrying," so I don't want to complain too loud. Deep down, however, I think we realize that there really is no excuse for the way things are headed now. We need to make some serious noise about the issues at hand. Here are some samples of issues I'd like to see discussed:

We have one hundred and sixty-two billion of dollars in trade deficit with China alone, partly due to the underhanded dealings of Chinese businesses. This is taxing our already overstretched national credit line, and taking away from American businesses. So what do we do? We make them a permanent member on the most favored nations list.

We have skyrocketing fuel prices, mostly because analysts see that there is an end in sight of the world-wide oil supply just a few decades out. What does our government do? Aggressively promote legislation to encourage and speed up real progress on a replacement for petroleum? Nah, we'll just pay some lip service to alternative energy, while re-branding nuclear fuel as one of the "alternative" sources. If we're going to wean ourselves off of greenhouse gasses and Saudi Arabia, we're going to need a serious government initiative to help us find not just an "alternative" solution, but a true "replacement" solution. It'll take nothing less than the kind of momentum Jack Kennedy gave the NASA's Apollo moon landing mission.

Health care costs are out of control! What do we do? Add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, talk about importing drugs from Canada (legally this time), and make noises about malpractice reform. Oh please. The medical system in the US needs an overhaul more than the IRS does, and these little Band-Aids just aren't going to cut it. More about that in later posts.

Let's face it, we have all elected one member of the U.S. House of Representatives, two United States Senators, and a President of the United States of America to help keep our country running smoothly, and they're not doing their jobs. There are a lot more important issues they could be discussing than gay marriage and filibusters, but until we as a people demand that they address the real issues of the day, it's going to be the same-ol'-same-ol' inside the beltway.

The 2006 Congressional elections are still 18 months out, but let's make sure that when they get here, the candidates are answering some serious questions about some serious issues!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Jim Jeffords: a sick man, or proof an independent cannot stand on his own?

"MONTPELIER, Vt - U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, whose declaration of independence from the GOP four years ago briefly gave Democrats control of the Senate, will not seek re-election next year.

Jeffords, 70, has been adamant in saying he will seek re-election, but there have been increasing concerns voiced about his health in recent weeks."

So what are we seeing here? Is it truly an aging veteran legislator that has decided that it is time to give up the hallowed halls of Congress for a well earned retirement, or is it the harsh reality that - even in Vermont - a man cannot decide to declare his political independence and hope to retain his post? I sincerely hope that it is the former.

How on earth did this guy get Nominated?

So what's the deal? We have a guy who likes to hide information from his superiors, berate and threaten his direct reports, and feels that the position he has been nominated for is irrelevant. This brings to my mind two questions:

  1. How on earth was John Bolton picked for such an important job?
  2. Why does he want the job in the first place?
I'm not trying to be coy about this, I'm really very perplexed. One can make the case that, until this hearing, it was not known that this man was such a complete and total jerk, and is now only supporting to keep from losing face. However, it was and is a well-known fact that Bolton hates the U.N, and blames it for various foreign policy failures spanning the past several decades.

Is this really the best person we should send into the U.N. as our representative? Isn't this kind of like sending Michael Moore to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia?

Why would the man even want the job? If he feels that the UN's legitimacy is derived solely from the pseudo-support given it by the United States, shouldn't he see this job more as a demotion to obscurity than the promotion that it actually is? Perhaps he knows it will increase his public profile and stature, perhaps he feels that he can be the force that finally gets those pesky "Old World" European nations to behave. Perhaps he's been sent in as a spoiler, whose primary purpose is to disrupt all UN proceedings, thereby casting doubt on the organization's credibility as a whole. Whatever the reason, he's not the right man for the job.

DeLay Attacks Moderate Supreme Court Justice Kennedy and..... the Internet?

We knew that Tom DeLay and his conservative cohorts are in an all out campaign to subjugate the judiciary. We just expected that he'd go after liberal federal court judges, not one of the moderate members of the Supreme Court!

DeLay's criticism focused on two points:
  1. Justice Kennedy acknowledged the role of international law in rendering a court decision regarding Juvenile Death sentences.
  2. Justice Kennedy performed research on the internet.
Both of these practices were dubbed "incredibly outrageous" by DeLay.

While I agree that international law should not be given sanctity over U.S. law in our court system, and I disagree with Justice Kennedy's evaluation that "It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion," I do not believe his argument to be "incredibly outrageous," and particularly shows no grounds for impeachment. This is especially true since Kennedy relies on more than just international opinion, following the quote up with practical reasoning: "resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime."

Again, I'm not coming out in favor of this opinion, but I certainly don't believe that DeLay has a leg to stand on if this is the main thrust of his argument for impeaching a Supreme Court Justice.

The second point is "incredibly outrageous" on the Congressman's part. Is DeLay really suggesting that all data discovered online is, by very nature, invalid? I wonder if DeLay's own staff looked up quotes, written opinions, and biographical information on Kennedy while preparing their assault? As someone who has been involved in scientific research, engineering, and blogging, I know that the internet is a reliable and invaluable source of data if one conducts one's research through the proper channels. There isn't a life-sciences based PhD student alive that hasn't used Pub Med for research. DeLay is simply trying to leverage the old stereotype that anything that comes off the internet is completely unreliable. (Of course, the Congressman may have a point if Justice Kennedy was using this website for research, but somehow I doubt that...)

The fact of the matter is that the current Court's composition is just fine by my Amercan Centrist standards. We have a fine mix of conservatives (Rehnquist, Thomas, Scalia), liberals (Ginsberg, Stevens, Breyer, Souter), and moderates (Kennedy, O'Connor). Our Supreme Court works best when we have a conservative and a liberal side battling it out over the most contentious issues of the day, with the moderates to help tip the balance. If the court were made up of either Scalia clones or Stevens clones, it would be a disaster for America.

The forces of the extreme right want to see all of the justices made after the conservative mold, with no exceptions for moderates like Kennedy. Just take a look at the all out attack on Justice Kennedy by some of the more vocal and extreme members of the conservative movement.

The American Centrist cannot stand for impeaching justices simply because you don't like a decision they make. Impeachment is valid only when a party has committed "High Crimes and Misdemeanors."

We have an uncanny parallel situation of 200 years ago, when the only other impeachment against a Supreme Court Justice was brought (found on "InfoPlease")

"Associate Justice Samuel Chase , a strong Federalist, was impeached but acquitted of judicial bias against anti-Federalists. The acquittal on March 1, 1805, established that political differences were not grounds for impeachment."

And there you have it. This impeachment nonsense should be case closed. Unless, that is, that the anti-Judiciary forces want to throw out jurisprudence once and for all....

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Habemus Papam

The prayers and best wishes of the American Centrist are with the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI. We wish him and all his followers well in the years to come.

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict's given name) is probably one of the staunchest supporters of traditional Catholic positions on social issues, and I for one look forward to seeing how his positions and choices will influence public debate in this country and around the world. Congratulations to the new Pope, and all Catholics around the world. God Bless.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Faith in Public Life

Seeing as how the national debate over nearly every issue in the land is becoming distinctly flavored by Religious overtones, I feel it necessary to clarify my position on such influence. This issue, perhaps, is what allows me to use the moniker "centrist" more than almost any other. I grew up in a deeply religious setting, but unlike some of the more famous denominations of the day, my particular sect did not believe that it was a Christian’s place to be involved in public life (a position that eventually led me away from that group), let alone a church’s. My background growing up with God very much a part of my life, but without the weekly exposure to the political wing of modern American churches has led me to the following beliefs.

I believe that the Constitution was not written in deference to Judeo-Christian principles, but that those same principles are still represented in that document due to their influence in the lives of its authors.

I do not believe that all public venues need be divested of every faith-inspired object – be it a monument, painting, or motto.

I despise the term “Happy Holidays.”

I believe that groups of public school students have a Constitutional right to pray together within school grounds, but that the school itself should not endorse or recognize these groups at public events as a matter of respect to students of different faiths.

I do not believe that elected representatives of this diverse American landscape have any place in insisting that their particular positions legislation and policy is the only way to please God, or that by inference their political opponents are evil-doers.

I believe that legislators should put all of the lessons and values learned through their faith into their service to our country, but I do not believe they should try to mold their country into the service of their faith.

I believe that the First Amendment protects government from undue influence of religion, and that it also protects the rights of expression for people of faith.

So how do all these principles translate into practical matters on the issue? We’ll be addressing the specific issues as they find their way into the headlines.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Finally, some Bi-Partisan Action on the Estate Tax. The American Centrist Offers his Own Suggestion.

Well it appears that the American Public may get some meaningful action on the Estate Tax after all.

It is far from certain that a compromise can be struck to get estate tax repeal through the Senate. But the fledgling negotiations — between Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a stalwart proponent of repealing the tax, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), tapped by Democratic leaders for the job — are the first sign of movement on the issue in years.

The talks raise the prospect that Congress will summon a rare show of bipartisanship to end the uncertainty that has shadowed estate planning for many families, especially in California and other states where high property values have swollen inheritances.

All along, this issue has had the potential to become a spark for an all out class war. I, for one, applaud the efforts of both Senators Kyl and Schumer working with one another to get a real, commonsense measure passed.

There are really two opposing camps when it comes to the Estate/Death Tax. On the one hand, the people who originally earned this money (the dead ones) have already paid their taxes, so why should their children be taxed again? After all, isn't one of the core principles of the American Dream not just that we can make a better life for ourselves, but for our children as well?

The other camp states that the people on the receiving end of the assets (the heirs) didn't contribute their own work or effort to earn this money, so what right do they have complaining on being taxed on it?

On principle, I'd have to agree with the conservative position, though the liberals have a point that keeps me from being too adamant about it.

When it comes to pragmatism, however, we're talking about a whole new ballgame. The actual cost of a total repeal has been estimated to be between $500 billion and $1 Trillion dollars over the first 10 years of the permanent repeal. That's a lot of dollars to subtract from our already aenemic budget, so I'd then have to say we have a few bigger budget priorities than protecting the inheritance of people like Anna Nicole Smith.

Federal budget aside, what is truly vital here is the prevention of the nightmare scenario so often lamented by proponents of the bill wherein time honored and family treasured businesses that have been passed from parent to child for multiple generations have been forced into sale merely to satisfy the heirs' tax bill. While even the measure's most adamant supporters admit that this situation is rare, we cannot ignore that it does in fact occur in some cases. This reality is an insult to the hard work of generations of tough and resilient Americans, and needs to be stopped at all costs.

Fortunately, your all-knowing American Centrist is right now proposing solution. Allow for an exemption of small businesses (including farms) if the business has provided at least two-thirds of all of the deceased's earned income for the past 3 years. That way, vital family businesses would be protected no matter what the upper limit on the estate happens to be. It could provide a sure-fire safeguard for proud small business owners all over the country.

(On a somewhat related issue, I'd also like all businesses that fall into this category to be excluded from net-worth calculation when deciding a family's contribution to their child's education expenses. I'm sorry, but I don't think someone should get less federal aid for his or her child's education than someone of equal income simply because the first individual owns their own business while the second is employed by someone else.)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Did Bill Frist Commit Political Suicide?

Of course, deciding to dismantle an age old democratic tradition in one of our most hallowed Governmental chambers does not come without personal political ramifications.

In a move of desperation, Bill Frist has established himself as the Religious Right's candidate for the 2008 GOP Presidential Nomination. Ordinarily, a move to simply eradicate the opposition in order to push through judicial nominees wouldn't have anything to do with a religious movement. Except this time Frist went one step further and allied himself with the Family Research Council and led credibility to their ridiculous claim that conservative judges are being held up because of their faith. The group even goes so far as to say "[the judicial nominees] are being blocked because they are people of faith and moral conviction."

I guess Bill Frist sees that the votes of moderate Republicans and independents will all be taken up by either Rudy Giuliani or John McCain in 2008 (not that McCain very publicly announced that he would not vote to remove the filibuster). He therefore must position himself as the early candidate of the Social Conservatives of his party. Of course, this has been developing for the past few weeks. Last month, this brilliant heart surgeon proved he could handle any problem of the medical field by single-handedly diagnosing Terri Schiavo's condition. If that's not an open courting of the Social Conservative vote I don't know what is.

Of course, now that he has made this bold alliance and taken the even bolder step towards ending one of the last stumbling blocks to Majority Free-For-All in the Senate, he needs to deliver. Big time. The embattled nominees will surely get their vote (and their robes), but what comes next? If the Senate grinds to a halt (as Democrats are threatening), Frist will be forever seen as a man who acts in despairation and STILL can't get the job done. Kiss that nomination good-bye. Mr. Leader's task will now be to convince Democrats to continue working with him to pass legislation. He can do this either the nice way or the not-so-nice way.

For the not so nice way, Frist can go after all those Red-State Democrats with a vengeance if they don't play ball. He'll evoke memories of Tom Daschle, and maybe even send a few direct mails in their state in the hopes of scaring them into compliance. The nice way would be tougher, but I'm guessing that it would involve some type of pork product or the promise co-sponsorship on future legislation.

Even these scenarios may not be enough to sway most Dems. If the Senate Majority Leader forms a blood-bond with the religious right, they'll have a fundraising field-day. Blue State Republicans (few as they are) should be VERY nervous about that. If Democrats can sell the idea that the Senate is controlled by the Pat Robertsons of the world, they will have an inside straight draw's chance (or maybe a little less) of regaining Senate control back in 2006. This issue is not sitting well with moderates, such as myself. Read Joe Gandleman's scathing review for a taste of what Senator Frist has in store for him.

So all this brings us to the title of our post. Did Bill Frist commit suicide? The answer is "not necessarily." He has a very long and very thin tightrope to walk, and he has to do a lot of stuff right in the coming months to get the chips to fall his way. One thing is for sure, if he makes too many big missteps he will be out in the cold by the Iowa Straw Poll. If, on the other hand, he is somehow able to navigate some of the key Bush initiatives through the Senate between now and primary time, he'll be in a pretty good position to make his case for leader of the Party.

Odds Frist will pull it off, 4:1.

Robert's Rules of Order and the Filibuster

So it appears that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is poised to take the plunge and take the lead in banning the use of the Filibuster.

I personally think that would be a shame, since the filibuster is one of the tools ways a large minority has to keep polarizing legislation from being rammed through congress by a bare majority. Being a radical centrist myself, I like these sort of internal checks and balances, and would hate to see another barrier to extremism fall. Haven't these guys ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

That's not to say that Senator Frist doesn't have a point. Presidents appoint judges who agree with their views. They always have and they always will. The Democrats' overuse of the filibuster (or at least overuse of threats to use it) have turned the practice from a dramatic display of conscience into a mere legislative annoyance.

Whatever the outcome, here are some suggestions for filibustering activities if the rule does not get changed.

When a Senator gets up to filibuster he or she could....
  1. Read the entire script of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" with full dramatic poise.
  2. Sing Nat King Cole love songs to Teddy Kennedy
  3. Do the Macarena
  4. Perform old Leno stand up (bonus points if the joke is about themselves)
  5. This is the song that doesn't end.......
  6. Rap
  7. Put on a Ventriloquism performance
  8. Play Marco Polo with the remaining Senators
  9. Give a stirring tribute to bad Presidents, such as Andrew Johnson
  10. Play spoons
  11. Tell the truth (unlikely)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Big Gain Hunting

If you watched NBC Nightly News tonight you saw a summary of a great Washington Post story by Mark Kaufman about mega-rich hunters that score huge tax write-offs by donating the dead animals they hunt to museums. In fact, these write-offs are so lucrative that they are advertised by Chicago Appraisers as a way to "Hunt for free." (Wisely, Chicago Appraisers has removed the section about Big Game Tax donations since the maelstorm broke.) Read the whole story here.

Normally, I'd support the cause of hunters. However, this rare species of sportsman must do without my endorsement. I don't know about you guys, but I really don't want my hard earned tax money being used to subsidize millionaires hunting endangered species.

Oh Tom....

Since we wouldn't have an honest to goodness political blog without at least SOME reference to Tom DeLay, let's make our first post about the good representative of Sugarland Texas.

It is the Citizen's view that this guy is somewhat of a scum bag. I don't buy the lowest common denominator excuse of "Everybody else does it, so why are you picking on me?" While true at face value, this argument has never been (and can never be) justification for unethical behavior. After all, how would we respond to Kenneth Lay if he took the stand with a defense consisting of, "Well, a lot of other companies cook the books, why should I be singled out?"

In my mind, it is clear that Tom DeLay must go. It is quite true that there are plenty of other corrupt politicians in our legislature, and it is equally true that one of those corrupt congressmen may possibly succeed DeLay as Leader. However, this alone cannot be an excuse for letting the man slide. I didn't see many Republicans leaping to the aide of Sadam simply because "the next guy might be worse."

No, once disqualifying behavior is exposed action must be taken against the responsible party. Corruption will be a part of politics as long as ambition and greed are a part of human nature, but this truism is not an excuse to tolerate it. When a patient has cancer, a doctor will do his or her best to remove a tumor, even though there is a good chance the cancer has already spread and will reemerge later. In this case, Tom DeLay is a Tumor to both the GOP and the nation as a whole. He must be removed.

OK now that I've gotten all this high-minded ethics talk off my chest, I'd like to examine the political ramifications of this story. I am guessing that Howard Dean & Co. are now regretting the "legs" that this story truly has. Obviously, the original intent of the DeLay-bashing campaign was to hang an albatross around the neck of the Republican Party that would get out both the Vote and the Checkbooks of loyal and outraged Democrats for 2006. However, if DeLay is forced out of the Leadership role, there is a very real possibility that DeLay will become a martyr at the hands of the media-elite for the GOP while Democrats forget the whole incident and keep their checkbooks in their purses. It's going to be a delicate balancing act in the weeks and months to come, so keep a sharp lookout for signs of movement from both the DNC and the Whitehouse.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A New Blog

There is one more political blog in the US Horizon. I can understand your lack of enthusiasm, after all, aren't there more than enough left/right/center political blogs to make the most experienced drill sergeant's head swim? Perhaps, but the beauty of the American Landscape is that there are as many diverse and varied political opinions as there are men and women who take seriously their civic duty to vote.

I'm one of those citizens. I'm not a journalist, or a political science major, or a professional pundit. I'm a 26 year old Software Developer from Connecticut with a wife, a child, a dog, and a mortgage. I am Middle America, and I feel strongly about the issues.

I don't take sides based on party, I don't take sides based on church, I don't take sides based on my social circle. I call it like I see it, just like all of you. I hope you enjoy reading my blog, and I hope you yell at me when we disagree. After all, this is America.