Thoughts of an American Centrist

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Air Wars

Boeing and Airbus are at it again. Well, at least their representative governments are.

Both the US and EU are screaming over supposedly "illegal" government subsidies of these two aircraft giants. The US provides favorable treatment in the form of de-factor government contracts to Boeing, the EU gives "loans" to Airbus that don't necessarily need to be paid back. The key difference, from a trade perspective, is that Airbus' treatment is in violation of WTO rules, whereas Boeing's is not.

As a proud US citizen and supporter of the American economy, I hope we kick some major Airbus butt in this little brawl. Since the subsidies started, Airbus has taken quite a bit of market-share from Boeing without any substantial improvement in its fleet.


As a general consumer of news and a human being, such technocratic arguments bore me to tears, and make me wonder who on earth wrote these stupid trade rules in the first place.

One thing to consider: if, as the doomsday crooners predict, this conflict bestows permanent damage upon both companies, will another company arise? A pox on both your houses! Will Lockheed Martin try to get into the passenger jet business? I doubt it. More than likely, I would expect any reciprocal damage to inspire an Asian airline manufacturer. Are Boeing and Airbus ready for the Toyota of the skies? It may behoove our two orbiting quarrelers to consult with General Motors and Mercedes-Benz before they start down the path to mutual destruction.

Hyperbole

hy·per·bo·le
Pronunciation: hI-'p&r-b&-(")lE
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin, from Greek hyperbolE excess, hyperbole, hyperbola, from hyperballein to exceed, from hyper- + ballein to throw
a. extravagant exaggeration (as "mile-high ice-cream cones")
b. The most overused word in the blogosphere today

What's the deal with the word "hyperbole?" A couple of months ago, it seemed that we'd read this word maybe once a fortnight in the hyper-articulate editorial of the major newspapers. Today, it's everyone's favorite, "look, I can use big words too" expression. Yes, it is a nice piece of vocab, but man, is it overused. Today, I pledge not to use the word "hyperbole" in any of my posts until the end of the month! Instead, I shall use the following synonyms "caricature, coloring, elaboration, embellishment, embroidering, exaggeration, magnification, overstatement, padding, stretching amplification, enhancement; fabrication, misrepresentation; fudging, hedging, straw-man."

Is Marx relevant today?

David Brooks seems to think so. I'd like to thank The Yellow Line for highlighting this editorial:

The information age elite exercises artful dominion of the means of production, the education system. The median family income of a Harvard student is $150,000. According to the Educational Testing Service, only 3 percent of freshmen at the top 146 colleges come from the poorest quarter of the population. The educated class ostentatiously offers financial aid to poor students who attend these colleges and then rigs the admission criteria to ensure that only a small, co-optable portion of them can get in.

I heartily agree that the "education divide" is a significant source inequality in today's society. However, I'll vigorously dispute that the system has been "rigged" with the explicit purpose of increasing, or even of maintaining, this stratification.

The one truly thought provoking idea from the editorial was this: “The information society is the only society in which false consciousness is at the top.” To this I will agree. However, I’ll attribute our “false consciousness” more to intellectual and moral laziness than to an outright class inspired power-play.

I'm usually a huge fan of Brooks, but this time I’ll have to take him to task (his automated email response assures me that he’ll read this). David, I'd much rather see you propose a solution or two instead of resorting to mere demagoguery of the “elite class,” which you yourself are so clearly a member.

Of course our educational system needs to be reworked in a way that gives all children access to a decent education, but does name calling and class warfare really bring us any closer to achieving this goal?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Your Mother Told you you'd go Blind!

Who's up for a lively "correlation vs. causation" debate on Viagra? I seriously doubt there's a risk, but better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Centrist Paradise? We need Organization First.

Due to the recently forged anti-filibuster compromise, there have been a number of bloggers and pundits proclaiming an end to the dominance of extremists over the agenda of Congress. Not so fast, guys.

The Yellow Line has a great roundup of gleeful moderates, and his own words of wisdom:

“…it is prematurely optimistic to declare a transfer of power. The extremists in both parties are very loud and well financed. For the Center to take hold, we’ll need to see a lot more courage from the Centrists.”

I agree with that cautionary note.

I’d also like to add another criterion for a true power shift: cross-party interest groups. Our current special interests group system does an excellent job canceling each other out on the national stage: NARAL vs. Right to Life, ACLU vs. Focus on the Family, Brady Campaign vs. NRA. They all nicely balance each other in the general elections.

Unfortunately, within their home parties, these interest groups hold absolute sway with the core. While in a general election, a pro-choice Republican, for example, can offset the rage of the right by tapping into the pro-choice moderates and center-lefts, there is none of that buffer in the primaries. While opposition candidates have the backing (both financially and organizationally) of the core party interest group, the moderate is left out in the cold, looking for support from the much less structured center. Support from the other party’s special interest groups wouldn’t help, either. NARAL reaching across the aisle to support a pro-choice Republican wouldn’t be doing the candidate any favors. It’s support would be seen as a corrupting influence, and only energize the base, further alienating the candidate. Besides, I don’t know of a single pro-choice Republican who takes NARAL’s hard-line position on partial birth abortion, and I doubt any of them would want to be associated with that position anyway. No, the other party’s interest groups are of no help to the moderate candidate.

What we needed are Moderate interest groups.

This, of course, is tricky. NARAL and Right to Life have pretty clear mission statements. So do NRA, Brady, FRC, ACLU, Sierra Club, and all the rest of them. A moderate group would have a much more nuanced and difficult message to communicate and raise money for. Even the names would be tricky. What do you call a group that opposes teacher led school prayer, opposes the teaching creationism, and opposes abstinence-exclusive sex-ed programs, yet supports singing Christmas carols, supports keeping “Under God” in the pledge, encourages active discussion on religious issues, and seeks to avoid both the explicit condemnation and approval of homosexuality in high school curricula? “Americans for Educational Balance,” perhaps. Boring name, but I’d certainly join that group!

I can picture moderate groups like this forming around the country. Slowly, at first, because of the difficulty articulating and communicating the message, but gradually picking up steam driven by the sheer number of people who identify with their positions. Imagine a group called “The National Center for Abortion Reform.” Again, not a very pretty name, but it would have the values and concerns of the bulk of the country at heart, with an eye towards real progress on the issues. Each of the extremist groups on either side of the moderate coalitions would denounce these new institutions as being agents for the other pole. But we’ve heard that before, and we can take it. Groups like this could support moderates on both sides of the aisle, and give coalitions such as the Gang of 14 someone in their corner when the extremists try to raise hell.

Laura 2008? What is the First Lady doing in Egypt?

No, I don't really think so. That being said, the American Centrist notes that Laura Bush is following more closely in the footsteps of her predecessor than her mother-in-law as of late. In a somewhat bizarre move, the first lady publicly endorsed the controversial Egyptian election plan the other day.

GIZA, Egypt, May 23 -- First lady Laura Bush on Monday praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's controversial plan for elections this year, which some opposition groups say would prevent them from participating.

"I would say that President Mubarak has taken a very bold step," the first lady told reporters after touring the pyramids here. "You know that each step is a small step, that you can't be quick."

Bush's comments amounted to an endorsement of Mubarak's plan to hold Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential election this year. A referendum vote is expected Wednesday on the proposal, which would require challengers to secure the backing of members of Mubarak's ruling party to participate.


Can anyone tell me if such involvement in foreign politics is common for a first lady? I would not suspect so. If you look at the Great First Ladies of the past century, most of them have been involved with domestic issues. Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Hillary Clinton all left their mark on the domestic front. The only first lady who comes to mind who was truly involved in foreign policy was the greatest of all of them: Abigail Adams.

So what's the deal? Why has the previously reclusive Laura Bush inserted herself into the middle of an Arab election debate? Is this something that she really believes in, a cause that could coax her out of her shell into daylight? Perhaps. However, I'd suggest a slightly more Machiavellian motivation.

President Bush has invested a lot of his legacy into building democracy in the Middle East. One more long-time virtual dictatorship such as Egypt making the transition to democracy on Bush’s watch would look great on his resume. (Not as great as Saudi Arabia would look, but that’s a topic for another discussion….) Unfortunately for Mr. Legacy, the current Egyptian election system presents somewhat of a problem due to the fact that the proposed election rules do not entirely live up to the “free and fair” catchphrase that always prefaces the word “elections” in the President’s speeches. Still, the administration is well aware that in a country like Egypt, this is as good as it’s going to get this time around. Progress is progress; a point on which I agree 100% with the administration and their spokeswoman Laura.

Such logical reasoning would not satisfy the Bush Bashers Club (BBC. Coincidental acronym? You decide.) Therefore, to avoid the inevitable cries of hypocrisy and corruption that otherwise would have rained down if either the President himself or other members of his administration came right out and endorsed the somewhat sketchy election system, George Bush sent his wife to Egypt to tour pyramids, do Arab Sesame Street, and transmit his tacit, yet public, blessing to President Mubarak’s election plans for all Egyptians to hear.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Good Day for Centrism

So some Senators actually managed to hammer out a bipartisan compromise regarding the filibuster. I'm going to leave the detailed analysis to Charging RINO, but I thought I'd weigh in as well.

First of all, I'd like to say that I'm very very supportive of this compromise. Sure, the critics will be whining like crazy about people who can't choose sides and hell to pay in the primaries. It is also true that there is no enforceable aspect of this compromise. We'll talk about all that tomorrow. For tonight, however, the tone of genuine camaraderie on display tonight gave me a bit of renewed hope in the stately house of Congress.

Let's see if it can hold when a spot on the Supreme Court opens up. I certainly hope it does.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Revenge of Isikoff

As of yet, I've refrained from commenting on the overblown Newsweek fiasco. However, Michael Isikoff's new story is simply too good to pass up.

May 18 - A controversial exile movement cited by President George W. Bush as a source of information on Iran's nuclear ambitions is condemned for psychologically and physically abusing its own members in a new report by the Human Rights Watch.

So it's a classic tale of the scorned reporter publishing a reciprocal tale against his tormentor. The White House is using less than reliable sources? Ah, sweet revenge.

How the Left is Blowing It with Owen

For people in attack mode, the Democrats seem to be going kind of easy on Priscilla Owen's record if you judge the debate by their rhetoric. Oh, I know tons of liberal organizations have written detailed and well thought out objections to Owen's nomination (see here, here, and here), but most of them carry the emotional punch of dry toast. None of them match the concise thesis of Ann Coulter.

As I understand it, the reason Democrats are in a blind rage about Priscilla Owen is that, as a state court judge in Texas, Owen interpreted a law passed by the Texas Legislature requiring parental consent for 14-year-old girls to have abortions to mean that parental consent was required for 14-year-old girls to have abortions.

Brilliant. Short, to the point, pithy, and almost impossible to counter with an equally sound-biteable nugget.

Coulter's technique mainly relies on making her own argument easy to understand coupled with a complete refusal to acknowledge the argument of her opponents. The left has simply failed to provide an effective counter. Instead, they say things like:

"At the hearing, Owen testified that the basis for her claim that a minor must demonstrate that she had considered “religious arguments” concerning abortion was the decision in H.L. v. Matheson, 450 U.S. 398 (1981).9 But Matheson also did not concern the proper interpretation of a bypass provision."

That was a from the thesis written by People for the American Way, a group ostensibly aimed at convincing the American Public that Progressive Judges are a good thing. To me, it seems like a detailed and analytical law-journal-wannabe article is not the most effective way to go about communicating this message. At best, they convinced a few left-leaning law junkies. If Ann Coulter were a liberal, here's what she might say.

"Priscilla Owen feels that she should be allowed to use whatever law from whatever state she pleases so that she can render a verdict the way she wants to."

Same style. Overly exagerated, dismissing opponents argument, and quintessentially easy to understand. A similar leftist argument against Janice Rogers Brown would be:

"Janice Rogers Brown's views are that while the rest of us are innocent until proven guilty, big corporations are innocent despite being proven guilty."

Another gigantic ball drop by the Democrats is letting AG Gonzales' accusation of activism against Owen fly under the radar. Yes, People for the American Way and countless liberal blogs bring up the denunciation and analyze it to death, but so far it hasn't been the effective hammer for actual Democratic Senators that it could be.

In short, Democrats have had plenty of opportunities to make their case against Owen, but as of yet, they haven't done so in a way that would make the American public care. Score one for the GOP.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Owen Missle Crisis

The war over judicial nominations started today, and we're going to take our hats off to Charging RINO for a play by play of some of the more interesting exchanges that have taken place on the floor today. The true zinggers of the day have been coming from Chuck Schumer:

"The Senate has passed 95% of President Bush's judicial nominees. Now, if your child came home from school and said they got a 95% on their test, would you pat them on the head and say 'good job'? Or would you tell them to cheat and break the rules until they reached 100%?"

Breathtaking.

Think Progress has uncovered yet more hypocricy by reporting and analyzing this skirmish between Schumer and Frist:

SEN. SCHUMER: Isn’t it correct that on March 8, 2000, my colleague [Sen. Frist] voted to uphold the filibuster of Judge Richard Paez?

SEN. FRIST: The president, the um, in response, uh, the Paez nomination - we’ll come back and discuss this further. … Actually I’d like to, and it really brings to what I believe - a point - and it really brings to, oddly, a point, what is the issue. The issue is we have leadership-led partisan filibusters that have, um, obstructed, not one nominee, but two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, in a routine way.

Think Progress agues:

So, Frist is arguing that one filibuster is OK. His problem is that several Bush nominees have been filibustered. This position completely undercuts Frist’s argument that judicial filibusters are unconstitutional. (Which is, in turn, the justification for the nuclear option.) If judicial filibusters are unconstitutional there is no freebee.

Who ever said "Star Wars" was the biggest show in town?

Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act has the Votes

Backers of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act are claiming to have the votes necessary to pass this legislation. Says the Chicago Sun-Times:

Now a bill that appears close to passage in the U.S. House would allow couples to donate such embryos to federally funded stem cell researchers.

On Monday, three moderate Republicans held a hearing in Chicago on the bill and predicted it will pass when it comes to a vote, probably before Memorial Day

The Bill is a very short one, which is nice for us lay-people. Of particular note are the restrictions placed on the Stem Cells to be harvested:

`(b) Ethical Requirements- Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:
      `(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.
      `(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.
      `(3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
As you can see, only discarded IVF embryos are included. In addition, full written consent is assured. Neither of these restrictions would seem to hamper supply because:

"I get calls every week from patients asking how to donate," said Sean Tipton of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "They would like to help, but often can't."

One possible bit on controversy not addressed by either the Bill or the Chicago Sun-Times article is the fact that the bill puts no restrictions on the age of the embryos to be harvested. According to Gayle Atteberry, Orin Hatch has a bill out that:

would make it a crime to keep the human embryo alive past 14 days. Why a 14-day limit? Because after 14 days, the body axis and central nervous system begin to take form. By 21 days, the embryo's heart starts beating.

Hatch's bill deals with a ban on cloning to gather stem cells, but the same developmental considerations would still apply.

So, one has to ask, if this bill makes it through the House, would it face a battle in the Senate because of the lack of time limit? If the time limit is a problem, the Senate would most likely draft its own version of the Bill, and the restriction would be added in a conference committee. That is all standard fare unless Bill Frist detonates the nuclear option, and Harry Reid puts the breaks on all Senate business.

That being said, I seriously doubt that Reid would block up Senate business on a Stem Cell bill simply because it makes great political hay. Imagine the campaign ads that will fly if the bill passes and President Bush vetoes it, as he is expected to! If this bill makes it and is vetoed, expect Blue State Republicans to be shaking in their shoes come next November.

Monday, May 16, 2005

SOS (Save our Submarines)

From the "Stupid Choices in Government" desk, let's examine the closing of the Groton / New London (CT) Submarine Base. The largest of the bases targeted for closing, Groton is home to the US's first Nuclear submarine, the Nautilus (no, not this one).

What do you get with nuclear submarines? That's right, nuclear waste! Boy, that stuff is expensive to clean up. It's too bad that the Pentagon didn't budget any money for cleanup in its base closing plan. Says John C. Markowicz, chairman of the Subase Realignment Coalition:

I thought our argument was going to be that they understated the environmental costs, but I never would have guessed that they would just ignore them,”

Hmm, I'd say that's an oversight. More:

The Pentagon's recommendation to close the Groton base estimates that it will save $193 million a year in the first three years, paying off the $680 million cost of closing the base.

If the actual cost of cleanup was included, Markowicz said, the payback period would stretch out for many more years.

The report estimates the cost of environmental cleanup at the base at just $23.9 million, a number he said is ridiculously low for a base that has 15 identified Superfund sites (ed emp). In addition, he said, there are low levels of contaminants in the sediments at every pier dating to the early days of nuclear power when submarines discharged waste water into the Thames River.

Disclaimer, I live in southeastern Connecticut, and work in Groton, so yes, I am slightly biased. This base means a lot to our community. Also, I want to give credit to the New London Day, one of my local papers who carried this story.

All bias aside, however, doesn't this seem a bit odd? The entire purpose of this base realignment was to save money, so one would think that a thorough analysis of all closing expenses would be in order. This is the biggest base that is to be closed, and they didn't even account for one of the most basic expenses. How many details were missed while analyzing some of the smaller bases?

Buy some submarine making stock
Because the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics, also located in Groton, will have to close its doors if it loses its proximity to the base. So what does that mean for the taxpayer? Less submarine manufacturers = less competition = higher prices.

So where are these subs going?
Norfolk. The subs that are currently stationed in Groton will be amalgamated into Naval Station Norfolk (Virginia). More and more ships are being grouped into Norfolk, less and less are at ports throughout the length of the Atlantic Coast. Does anybody remember Pearl Harbor? How quickly we forget the lessons of the past in order to save a buck.

Keep our base open. Please.

Can anyone say "Propoganda"

Wow.... how childish

The Darfur Tragedy

As much as we like to pretend that we live in a civilized world, there are still areas of the earth where atrocities take place on a daily basis. Why do we all simply sit back and do our damndest to forget about it? When have the words "never again" felt as hollow as they do now? If we want the slaughter of innocent people to end the perpetrators brought to justice, we need to demand that the countries of the First World stand up for the abused victims in these Third World countries. It's time for the killing to stop, once and for all.

Take a look at the Coalition for Darfur blog. It does a great job of bringing these crimes to the light of day.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Patriot Community

There's a well known quote by Hitler propaganda chief Herman Goering that reads:

"Of course the people don't want war... [but]the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

-- Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

Cease your groaning, I'm not going to go into a diatribe about how we were all duped into war. I would like to make one request, however; the next time you call someone's partiotism into question for not supporting a war, please think twice. Patriotism is not directly correlated with one's hawkishness. Rather, Patriotism is much more abstract. Patriotism is a loyalty to one's country, a willingness to sacrifice something of your own in order to contribute to our fellow citizens.

Obviously, the soldiers that risk their bodies and put their lives on hold to go overseas have the most steadfast claim to Patriotism. They are not the only ones, however. The teacher who stays long after school to help bright, but misguided, students grow into the leaders of tomorrow is a Patriot. The volunteers who help the Red Cross collect blood are Patriots. The men and women who stood 9 hours in line to vote last November were patriots. The young woman who risks ridicule and contempt from those close to her by advocating an unpopular, but dearly held, belief is a Patriot. The CEO of the plagued company who takes a voluntary pay cut down to $1 per year when he asks his employees to take a cut of their own is a Patriot. Yes, even the man who holds a sign in protest outside the capitol because he yearns for change in his government is a Patriot.

Though none of these simple acts of Patriotism compares to those exhibited by our men and women in uniform, it is for we simpler Patriots that they fight. That is why we give our service men and women a distinct accolade. We call them Heroes.

So the next time you are confronted by an angry liberal who thinks that we never should have taken out the Taliban, please feel free to criticize his argument. Call it naive, call it stubborn, call it shortsighted, call it a dangerous threat to security, call it incredibly misguided. Do not call him unpatriotic, for you have no idea how much he actually loves this country.

If all would just concede that even the most outspoken extremist at the antipode of your political world is merely advocating what he feels is best for the country, I believe that we could return to a society of fraternity and bipartisanship.

In the days following 9/11, this country knit together like it hadn't in 60 years. On that fateful day, all of us knew that we had been attacked not as urban or agrarian, liberal or conservative, black or white, but as one monolithic entity. We all hurt. We all cried. We all beamed with pride when those Heroes raised our flag over the rubble of our collective tragedy. We all knew our country would pull through it, because worse has happened to our fathers, and still the American Spirit lived on. We all hope for that day of peace when our city on the hill is no longer beseiged by the slings and arrows of the cowardly. We may have different opinions on how to get to that time, but we all look with faces turned upwards towards that common goal.

Gay Marriage - Back in the Spotlight!

The American Centrist feels that U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon and the Gay Rights community have made a grave strategical misstep.

WASHINGTON - In the first time that a federal judge has struck down a state constitutional provision limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon on Thursday declared void a provision of the Nebraska constitution that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman and that banned same-sex civil unions, domestic partnerships and other similar relationships.

Even though this court ruling is an undeniable victory for the Gay Marriage movement, I can't help but shake my head at the thought of the inevitable swarm coming from the hornet's nest that just got hit by this rock.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, an advocate of a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage, reacted to Bataillon’s ruling by noting that, when the Senate debated the proposed federal marriage amendment last year, “opponents claimed that no state laws were threatened, that no judge had ever ruled against state marriage laws. They claimed that the states and their voter-approved laws defending marriage were under no threat. After today’s ruling, they can no longer make that claim.”

You mean the most vociferous socially conservative voice in the Senate (one who possibly condoned violence against "activist" judges), has taken issue with this? Gee, who'd'a thunk it?

A more discerning political palate would have realized that they gay marriage Amendment was, in actuality, a get out the vote effort for 2004. With its true purpose accomplished, the issue was then quietly brushed into a corner by the President and GOP Senate leaders.

The Gay Marriage issue was again allowed to progress on a state-by-state basis. First Vermont's anti-gay policies fell, then Massachusetts, then Connecticut, then Callifornia. Left to its own devices, intolerant laws would have become the exception instead of the rule within 10 or 15 years.

However, people with a cause cannot wait that long. They insist on accelerating their issues far more swiftly than that of the natural progression. Now starts the inevitable backlash.

Sen. Cornyn is correct in claiming that the whole dynamic of this issue has changed. No longer can we tackle this issue state-by-state (and in the state courts and legislatures). The decision by a federal judge, if upheld on appeal, will force the issue to take on a National vizard.

The argument that a Constitutional Amendment was simply unnecessary because no states law had previously been tread upon by the federal judiciary may not have been the Gay Rights Movement's most dramatic or compelling argument, but it was the single one with which they enjoyed the majority of popular support throughout the country. Most American's had not been swayed by the "due process" or "equal protections" arguments, but most were weary about changing the 'Tute on a hypothetical. Well it's no longer a hypothetical.

The Gay Rights Movement may have won this short term victory, but I'm not certain if they can withstand the gleeful retribution of the right. Thanks a lot, guys; you've just set us back another ten years.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

On to the Full Senate!

Talk about a squeaker!

Senator Voinovich tried to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one by vehemently refusing to recommend Bolton's nomination, BUT still agreeing to let the "embattled nominee" (journalistic descriptor of the day) through to the Full Senate floor.

What was Voinovich trying to accomplish?
That's my chief question. If I'm to give him the benefit of the doubt, I would have to say that he forged a compromise to his own internal struggle between his obvious revulsion towards Bolton and fealty to his Party's President. I don't think he was too too worried about his reelection chances. The next time his name comes up, Bush will be out of office and no one but us political junkies will remember the Bolton fight. Another possibility is that our good Senator from Ohio was offered a juicy piece of something to get him to at least pass the name along. However, until I'm convinced otherwise, I will continue to assume the best about this very respectable Senator.

Bill Frist to George Voinovich: Thanks for Nothing
As if Bill Frist didn't have enough to worry about getting votes for judges who had gotten their committee's recommendation, he is faced with a much less defensible candidate to ram through. How much ammo did Voinovich just hand filibuster-trigger happy Democrats by pronouncing

"This United States can do better than John Bolton... John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be"

Wow.

If they can't flip 6 Republicans, you'd think the Democrats almost have to filibuster this guy! How can they defend the filibuster of judges if they don't do it to a guy who's own party comrades have been tearing apart.

I'm guessing that's not the direction that Harry Reid is going in, however. George V left some wiggle room about his vote in the Full Senate, indicating that he was unwilling to let his opinion keep Bolton off the floor. He said nothing about how he'll vote when the nomination comes up fom approval. I'm sure Reid has some juicy targets that he's looking to pick off and put in the "no" column.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The American Centrist's Brainstorm for a redesigned judicial nomination process

Given the general angst caused by the situation wherein during the past decade it has become harder to be confirmed to the federal bench than to the Jedi Council, and inspired by a great post and comment forum on the Volokh Conspiracy, I thought I'd do a little brainstorming and come up with a completely new system of appointing federal judges that still falls within the Constitution.

Here's a novel concept: how about voting on batches of nominees instead of one at a time, much the same way a parliament will approve a new executive government.

If there could be a semiannual round up of all appellate and lower court openings, the congress and the president could pool their recommendations and come up with a freshman judicial class whose ideological make up better represents that of the general public.

Here's my idea of how it would work:

  1. The president submits all nominees
  2. The majority party gets to pick some of them out of that pool (55% under the current Senate breakdown)
  3. The minority gets to pick the rest.
There could even be a system where the leadership of each party submits names to the President to include in his nominations.

Here is a short example. Say we have 15 openings in the court of appeals, and 50 more in the lower courts. Under the current government (GOP president; 55 Republicans & 44 Democrats in the Senate):
  1. the Senate GOP would submit 4 names for the court of appeals, and 15 for the lower court.
  2. The Senate Democrats would submit 4 names for the court of appeals, and 12 for the lower court.
  3. The President would make all nominations, but would include the requests of both parties as a matter of courtesy.
  4. The GOP picks 8 appellate court nominees, and 27 lower court nominees
  5. The Democrats pick 7 appellate court nominees, and 23 lower court nominees
If either party decides that they cannot fill their selections with an acceptable number of candidates, they request new nominees for the open spots, and the president submits new names.

Now, this is a pretty complex scheme, but I believe it could do a lot of good. This way, we would maintain a system where, regardless of President, liberal, conservative, and moderate judges all get on the bench. Obviously, the party of the president will get more nominees they like under this system, but that, I believe, reflects the original intent of the constitution giving the President broad discretion. Also note that the nominees that each party submits would have to be ideologues, but that many of the presidential submissions would have to be more moderate to keep the minority party from black-balling them.

Disclaimer: I literally thought of this under an hour ago, and was kind of making it up as I go along, so if there is something glaringly wrong about it, please let me know in a way which does not employ phrases like "you're an idiot" and such. Still, I believe it's a good concept. Also, I am well aware that this system will almost certainly never be implemented. However, I would like to have it ready just in case. After all, you never know when you're going to need a fully formed judicial nominating process, do you? I, for one, want to be prepared for that. Thank you.

Followup: North Carolina Preacher who Expelled Kerry Voters Resigns

This past Saturday I had a post concerning a North Carolina church who excommunicated members for commission of the grave sin of voting for John Kerry.

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. - A Baptist preacher accused of running out nine congregants who refused to support President Bush resigned Tuesday.

"I am resigning with gratitude in my heart for all of you, particularly those of you who love me and my family," the Rev. Chan Chandler said during a meeting at East Waynesville Baptist Church.

Congregants of the 100-member church in western North Carolina have said Chandler endorsed Bush from the pulpit during last year’s presidential campaign and said that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry needed to "repent or resign."

Apparently, the preacher at the church, Rev. Chan Chandler, was ill prepared for the media onslaught that descended upon his congregation when this story broke. After a very transparent "damage control" operation - which included inviting the expelled members back - failed, Rev. Chandler has decided to recuse himself from this fight by resigning. I don't blame him! A sudden plunge into the intense glare of the 24 hour news cycle cameras is enough to make anyone batty. Even our most experienced public figures, one like Tom DeLay who have dealt with the media for years, grow weary of constantly being in the spotlight. That being said, sympathy from me towards the good Reverend is hard to come by. Being cast out of your church as a sinner and heretic doesn't feel too good either, and I'd go so far as to say he got what he deserved.

Clarification on Tax Policy
In my last post I had a very spirited discussion in the comments section with The Iconic Midwest; a very straightforward, blunt, and highly insightful blogger. While we both agree that what the Pastor did was spiritually reprehensible, we had a debate about whether the church's actions merited any consequences from the government in the form of tax status.

The statute in questions was 501(3)(c), regarding tax exempt organizations. The passage in question:

"[the organization] may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates."

I would argue that a Pastor commanding his congregation to vote for President Bush on pain of expulsion in the days before the election were a clear violation of this principle. But what about the cases that are not so clear? For example, is it a violation if a minister simply states on the pulpit that he is planning on voting for Candidate X for reasons Y and Z and merely recommends his congregants do the same? The clarifying notes that the IRS puts out would say "yes."

These organizations cannot endorse any candidates, make donations to their campaigns, engage in fund raising, distribute statements, or become involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate. Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition of section 501(c)(3).

Whether an organization is engaging in prohibited political campaign activity depends upon all the facts and circumstances in each case. For example, organizations may sponsor debates or forums to educate voters. If the debate or forum shows a preference for or against a certain candidate, however, it becomes a prohibited activity.

Personally, I feel that this type of strictness is somewhat insane. However, I suppose it is written in such an unforgiving manner to reduce the number of loopholes (and, by consequence, areas of abuse) in the law. For example, though I don't believe that churches who have opinions about candidates should loose their tax-exempt status, I really do not want partisan booster clubs springing up around the country avoiding campaign finance laws merely because they maintain a nominal Sunday Service.

Here's the part that's really harsh on the members of a Church found to be in violation:

In addition, contributions to organizations that lose their section 501(c)(3) status because of political activities are not deductible by the donors for federal income tax purposes.

Suck.

The lesson here is: Ministers, if you want to endorse a particular candidate, talk about the issues and don't mention any names. Your congregants will know who you're talking about.


Free speech or campaign finance reform?
Reading this regulation at first made my blood boil with free-speech issues. However, I soon realized that no one is actually restricting these ministers' free speech. It is not illegal to endorse candidates from the pulpit. It is not illegal to boot members out of your congregation for voting against your preferences. It is merely in violation of the law if you participate in blatantly partisan actions, and then claim to be a non-partisan organization in order to obtain a tax benefit.

Let me draw a quick analogy. You may deduct the mortgage interest on you first home from your federal income taxes. If you own a second home, the mortgage interest from that residence is not tax deductible. Now, it is perfectly legal to go out an buy a ski condo. You only violate the law if you claim the interest paid on that condon on your taxes. Likewise, churches are tax exempt. Partisan campaign clubs are not tax exempt. A Church may become a partisan campaign club, but it is no longer tax exempt. That is what is happening here.

So the issue is with the law itself. If we have problems with the way the system works, we need to contact our Congress[wo]man and ask him/her to revise the law. However, mind what I have warned: if we allow tax-exempt organizations to become branches of a campaign, it is certain that there will be abuse. 2000 had its PAC's. 2004 had its 527's. Do we really want 2008 to have the 501(c)(3)'s? Even though the way the law is written is possibly too restrictive, it may be the lesser of two evils.

Another Personal Political Selector

The Pew Research Center has come out with a new political identification test. That breaks the country down into more than just the left-right-center categories. NPR has a good breakdown of what the new categories mean:

THE RIGHT

Enterprisers: Highly patriotic and pro-business; they oppose social welfare and strongly support an assertive national security policy. Wealthy, well-educated and white -- about seven-in-10 are white males.

Social Conservatives: Highly religious and very conservative on moral issues. Unlike the Enterprisers, they tend to be critical of business and supportive of government regulation to protect the environment. Largely female and evangelical Christian -- about half favor the teaching of creationism instead of evolution, more than any other group.

Pro-Government Conservatives: Also broadly religious, but deviate from the party line in their support for more generous assistance for the poor. Predominantly female and poorer than other GOP groups -- roughly two-thirds say they have problems making ends meet.

THE CENTER

Upbeats: Financially well-off moderates who express positive views of their finances, government performance and business. Upbeats voted nearly five-to-one for Bush, but half have a favorable opinion of Bill Clinton.

Disaffecteds: By contrast, they are cynical about government and dissatisfied with their personal finances. Disaffecteds backed President Bush by about two-to-one, but many stayed home on Election Day.

Bystanders: Young, financially struggling and even more politically alienated than the Disaffecteds -- very few voted last November.

THE LEFT

Liberals: Affluent and highly secular. Like Enterprisers, liberals are ideologically consistent –- they take the liberal stance on social issues, foreign policy and the role of government. Nearly four-in-10 cite the Internet as their main source of news.

Conservative Democrats: Highly religious and socially conservative -- most say the government should do more to protect morality.

Disadvantaged Democrats: The least financially secure of all the groups, and the most pessimistic about an individual's ability to secure success with hard work. About one-in-five disadvantaged Democrats are single parents.


Where do you fit? Take the test! It's fun.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

There is something missing from this Bankruptcy Bill. Part 3: Balancing the Federal Budget

Last month, I laid out two features that I felt should have been added to the new bankruptcy bill, and today we will conclude the trilogy.

In Part 1 we talked about Reforms to Corporate Bankruptcy Law.

In Part 2 we discussed helpful Regulations for the Credit Card Industry.

In Part 3 we will discuss Balancing the Federal Budget.

What does a balanced federal budget have to do with personal bankruptcy legislation? If you said "nothing," you'd be at least partially correct since we indeed are talking about two different spheres of expertise. If we look more closely, however, we'll see a common theme shared by the two topics: fiscal responsibility.

The main argument in support of the new bill argues that people who rack up debt that they cannot pay for should not get a free pass on that debt, but instead try to pay it off. This is a very sound principle, to be sure.

However, to me it seems a bit hypocritical of Congress to demand greater accountability from the American people on financial issues when they themselves have done an absolutely abysmal job of managing our nation's financial state. How can Congress demand that its hardest pressed constituents cut back even more while all the time they are cutting domestic benefits and simultaneously increasing the national deficit, and consequently ballooning the national debt?

It is right to request everyone in this country be more responsible with their money. We'd just like those 535 elected delegates to be more responsible with ours. There's definitely something missing from this bankruptcy bill....

Even More Good news for John Bolton

Guess what? We have even more people criticizing John Bolton today! Just yesterday we were reminded that Chairman Luger had attacked Bolton's record in June of last year (this, of course, was before he was conscripted to be the man's chief cheerleader in the Senate).

Today, it's been revealed that Deputy Secretarty of State Richard Armitage put Bolton on double-secret-probation while he was Undersecretary of State by requiring Armitage's personal sign-off on every speech Bolton made. The man certainly has a way with words.

Also today, Hans Blix has decided that he wants another 15 minutes of fame, and decides to blast the US for not doing more on arms control. He singles out Bolton in his role as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control for particular criticism.

"Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, by questioning the value of treaties and international law, has also damaged the U.S. position," Hans Blix said.

Granted, Blix is criticizing US action on a the fairly toothless Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but I do think it is of note that he characterizes Bolton's undermining in the general terms of discounting the value of any international treaties at all.

Bolton likes to make absolute and sweeping generalizations (not unlike the one I'm making right here). How can such a blunt and dismissive person work in a delicate and nuanced environment such as international diplomatic relations?

Monday, May 09, 2005

I love the smell of Fillibusters in the morning. Smells like hypocricy

For those of you who still believe there isn't enough hypocricy to go 'round in the filibuster debate, consider these comments made by Chuck Hagel (R-NE):

"The Republicans' hands aren't clean on this either. What we did with Bill Clinton's nominees -- about 62 of them -- we just didn't give them votes in committee or we didn't bring them up."

Behold, the power of Cheese (pizza)

All I can say is "Wow." It's nice to see that some people are still highly motivated by simple pleasures.

Tolerant Religions OK to be Taught in School

I hadn't planned on doing another piece this morning, but man, when something comes your way that you can't keep quiet about....

The Volokh Conspiracy has a great post concerning a Maryland sex-ed program being protested by local conservative groups. Pretty standard stuff, right? Well, as it turns out, the conservatives legitimately have something to complain about. The sex-ed "Teacher Resources" material give some great talking points on how to convince their students that homosexuality is endorsed by the Bible.

OxBlog also has a post is actually a rant against a very unbalanced Washington Post piece concerning the protest. One of the quotes from the article:

"It looks like we're in Kansas after all. I'm appalled. I'm appalled," said Charlotte Fremaux, a parent leader at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School

Excuse me, but I'd submit that it is the supporters of the new program who are acting more like the Kansas anti-Evolution types. Both programs are using the opinions of the large majority of their residents to enforce unconstitutional curriculums. Each is trying to inject explicitly religious messages into what their teachers explain as fact. Each is way out of bounds.

C'mon people, if we're going to (rightly) argue that religious beliefs should not be endorsed by public school teachers, we should be just as adamant that teachers shouldn't explicitly oppose them either. This is a blatantly unconstitutional breach of church-state lines that all Americans, liberal, moderate, and conservative should take serious issue with.

Things Just Keep Getting Better for Bolton....

As if John Bolton didn't have enough troubles with his UN nomination, new reports have surfaced that Bolton may have botched negotiations concerning Chairman Luger's pet issue: nuclear non-proliferation.

"In June 2004, Lugar endorsed a public attack on Bolton by his fellow Republican, Sen. Pete Domenici, who said Bolton bore "a very heavy responsibility" for the festering plutonium issue."

Ouch.

As I've stated earlier (here and here), Bolton is clearly (to put it in the most diplomatic way possible) a poor choice for this post. Unfortunately for the the rest of his second term, the President has prematurely put his reputation - as well as most of his remaining political capitol - on the line for this nominee. With a vote coming this week, Senator Luger is saying that Bolton will most likely make it out of committee alive, but limping, on a party line vote.

If Bolton does make it out of committee, a bitter struggle is sure to follow on the floor of the full Senate. It's all but assured that each of the Senate's 45 Democrats will vote against confirming Bolton, and the question will be whether or not they can coax 6 Republicans away to their camp. (I keep getting an image of Joe Lieberman in handcuffs pleading with Olympia Snow in a Darth Vader mask...)

Which Republicans, if any, will cross the line against this Presidential must-have? What will the consequences for these Senators be if the nominee fails on the floor? Whatever happens, this is definitely going to be a debate to follow.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Are you a Centrist?

The Iconic Midwest, one of our favorite blogs, has a great little discourse on what it means to be a moderate. Check out the questions at the end to see how you rate yourself (be honest).

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Party of a Vengeful God

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Nine members of a North Carolina church were kicked out of their congregation for committing the mortal sin of voting for John Kerry. The barbaric heathens! Here's the scoop:

Members of the small East Waynesville [NC] Baptist Church say Chandler led an effort to kick out congregants who didn’t support President Bush. Nine members were voted out at a Monday church meeting

I'd profess moral outrage, but really we should have expected something like this to happen sonner or later, given the complete assault on social moderates and liberals spearheaded by far-right pastors throughout the land. I'll express again my oft-stated exasperation at these fire-and-brimstone, uber-church-is-state Christians that are giving the rest of us people of faith a bad name. It should be clear to everyone that there are elements on both sides that have no interest in resolving this culture war peacefully. Why else would you supply the militant secularists with such a juicy piece of ammo? Does anyone remember when Christianity was about love, peace, and brotherhood? Well, to some of us it still is. Unfortunately, to many it has become a tired exercise in self-justification. OK, that's enough rant.

Why didn't they leave earlier?
One thing that really perplexed me about this story was why the 9 unrepentant sinners were still members of this righteous body in the first place? According to a former member, the great and wise pastor had declared back in October "anyone who planned to vote for Democratic Sen. John Kerry should either leave the church or repent." (Repent?) Now, the 9 who have been excommunicated are considering suing to get back in! Why on earth don't they just go somewhere else? This is America, there are a dozen Churches per town? Are the rest of them even more partisan and intolerant of differing opinions? Was this church the most loving and understanding in East Waynesville?

Tax-Exemption
An unintended consequence of the preacher's cleansing of his flock is that he has violated the law requiring tax-exempt organizations to be at least nominally non-partisan. Now we all know that this law is largely ignored, I'd be hard pressed to name a case as blatant as this. If the good Reverend wants to form a Republican Booster club, then he should have to play by that set of rules.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Lincoln's Faith, Lincoln's Independence

Wow, this editorial by David Brooks hits the nail precisely on the head.

Creation / Evolution in Schools.... Again

Well here we are again in the age old struggle of God and Science. Actually, scratch that, it's the age old struggle of stubborn people and even more stubborn people.

The Compromise
Am I the only one who doesn't see compromise possible here? Can we include - as one of the lynchpins in almost all current biological research - a thorough teaching of Evolution in schools, yet still leave enough time for at least one vigorous discussion on its merits and deficiencies? After all, teaching Evolution without at least mentioning the doubt and debate swirling around it almost makes its teaching seem incomplete. Also, since when is it unconstitutional to expose school children to views they or their parents don't agree with? No one is saying that students need to believe Evolution, just that they need learn about it. Not talking about it at all isn't going to make it go away, no matter how much the students' or their parents disagree with it.

Intelligent Design
As the great Gordon Gekko would say, this is just "a dog with different fleas." Critics have been calling Intelligent Design "Creationism Lite," but it's not even that. Intelligent Design, in its most pure form, is simply an argument that has been employed against Evolution for the past 100 years, namely: life is simply too complex to have arisen spontaneously. Calling it a Theory in its own right is laughable because its core dependency is a non-provable Creator. Intelligent Design is an argument against Evolution, nothing more.

My Views
As a Christian, it would be pretty hard for me to believe in a God who had no control over the devlopment of his own universe. As someone familiar with biochemistry (one of my majors in college), I find the prospect that the plethora of evidence supporting Evolution is simply a practical joke played by God on Earth's scientists very unlikely. My personal view is that God Created the Heavens and the Earth... and that he did so by employing the Big Bang and Evolution.

I find the statement that life could not have arisen spontaneously obvious. After all, the weak point of the Theory of Evolution is the Beginning of Life. Thermodynamics simply doesn't allow for the spontaneous generation of amino acids in large enough quantities to form a sustainable population. Once amino acids have been formed, it's an even larger leap of faith to believe they somehow formed enough peptide bonds to form a functional and self reproducing protein complex, I don't care how many billions of years you give it. An equally large leap of faith would be for these self-reproducing proteins to spontaneously differentiate and congeal to form an actual one celled organism. None of this could have happened.... without a little push.

So again, I'm a heretic on both sides. Scores of "pure" Darwinists would label me a traitor to the cause. Any hint of a "push" makes it Creationism. To the opposite camp, I'm endorsing Evolution as truth. No matter how much influence I believe God has had in Evolutionary development (I honestly don't know if it was just a little "push" to get the ball rolling and a few more to steer a favorable mutation every now and again, or a hands-on approach to every development in Evolutionary behavior), I'm still ceding some control over human development to Nature. I'm also endorsing the fact that we have a family tree that traverses apes, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, one celled organisms, and chemicals. Let's not even discuss how disgusted the "six-day" fanatics are with me!

But despite the mounds of criticism each side has heaped upon me, I have a pretty clear picture in my mind of what seems likely to have happened, and I think that this idea can be reconciled with both the availiable scientific evidence, and with the Bible. In any case, if anyone ends up reading this far, I am very interested in what all of you think about this.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Lyndie England's Saga Continues

Usually when a prisoner pleads guilty, the case is pretty much over. Not so for Pfc. Lynndie England - the woman accused of prisoner abuse in Iraq. The judge has rejected her plea because he doesn't believe that England thought she was doing anything wrong at the time she was posing for her photo-shoot.

Personally, I agree with the Judge on this one. I feel Pfc. England has been terribly misaligned. In fact, had she not been the prominent American soldier in the now notorious photos, I believe her punishment would have ranged from absolutely nothing, to a dishonorable discharge at the worst. She had no prior experience as an MP, and her boyfriend / mentor assured her that this type of behavior was SOP. How on earth was she supposed to know it wasn't? Are we now expecting every private in our military to have the Geneva Convention memorized, and use it to rebut their superiors? I don't think so.

What Pfc. England did was reprehensible, to be sure, but she is not the one responsible for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib.

Best quote in the article, authored by the incredibly succinct Captain Cullen:

"If the judge doesn't believe she believes she's guilty, he's obligated to enter not guilty on her behalf."

Conspiracy Theorist

I usually don't subscribe to conspiracy theories, but this one is fun to watch and think about, even if it is almost assuredly hogwash.

Are we getting close yet?

Let's hope so.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The man thought to be al-Qaida's operations commander, and who might know where Osama bin Laden is hiding, has been arrested in Pakistan, the government announced Wednesday.

The arrest of Abu Farraj al-Libbi, a Libyan who is also wanted in two attempts to assassinate Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is seen by U.S. officials as significant because of his alleged control over the daily operations of al-Qaida.

So is Al Quaeda's infrastructure crumbling, or is this just an isolated incident? Either way, congrats to the brave men who caught this guy!

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Quiet Giant

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria has a wonderfully insightful piece about China's growing eminence on the global stage. If you have the time, read the whole thing, and think about it.

The implications almost tempt me to take an isolationist standpoint. Yes, yes, economic isolationism is backwards and a sure way to put America on the path to insignificance, but remember the days when cars were all made in Detroit, tee-shirts in Alabama, steel in Pennsylvania, and oil in Texas? Wasn't that nice? Ahhh.... oh well.

One question that I have on my mind is whether or not China's eventual rise to economic equality with the United States is inevitable. I would argue "no," simply because the bulk of China's new found economic heft is due to its surging manufacturing sector. The reason China is miles ahead of other countries in manufacturing is the predominance of cheap labor. People willing to work for next to nothing combined with enormous profits due to the high demand for cheap exports has resulted in an economic divide so wide as to make the United States look like the more Communist state. Unfortunately for the Chinese business interests, utra-cheap labor is not a commodity of indefinite end.

A trifecta of factors - increasing overall wealth of the country, growing international scrutiny, and the ebbing influence of the central government - will cause both an internal and external demand for better working conditions and higher wages for the country's manufacturing workers. While this will not kill the industry completely, much of the new found market share will inevitably shift to other growing nations such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. This will slow the rise of China's economy. How the country's business and political leaders deal with that loss will be the ultimate variable in determining how far China will be able to climb in the long term.

Maybe the President is getting a bit too close w/ Saudi Arabia..