Thursday, December 18, 2003

More on Dean 

This Washington Post item suggests that Howard Dean's tendency to shoot from the hip is costing him support.

As for myself, the more I learn about this guy, the scarier I think he is. He always explains away his verbal gaffes, but in my (age 50+) experience remarks that come out spontaneously and unguardedly are a lot more likely to represent the true feelings of the speaker than those made after criticism and consultation with image consultants.

Another thing about Dean: I've seen film clips of him spewing red-meat oratory to the faithful masses. Setting aside the content of the speech, the image that immediately popped into my mind was the old film clips of Adolf Hitler speaking to the Nazis before he became Chancellor. Now, I'm not saying Dean's policies are anything like Hitler's, but his oratorical style is certainly similar. Dean exhibits the same anger, the same passion, the same inflammatory gestures and facial expressions.

I don't want this guy to be President, and I think it will be bad for the Democratic Party if they nominate him.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003


Doggerel Pundit has has composed an entertaining bit of verse for your reading pleasure.

Hat tip to Emperor Misha.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Dr. Dean's Defense Policy 

I noticed this post on NRO's The Corner:

From a press release from Senator John Cornyn (who is on Armed Services) in response to a Howard Dean statement that the liberation of Iraq should only have taken place with U.N. “permission:”

“Since when do we need ‘permission’ to protect our nation, our allies and the security of an entire region? Since when does the United States of America need to ask permission before ending decades of rape rooms, torture chambers and the genocide of hundreds of thousands of civilians? It’s disappointing, and I believe quite telling, that he would want to abdicate the responsibility of our national security to a body that left its own sanctions unenforced for more than a decade.

“If the ask-the-U.N.’s-permission crowd had their way, Saddam would still be in power today, rather than in the custody of the 4th Infantry Division.

“I encourage Mr. Dean to visit the troops and families at Fort Hood, home of the 4th Infantry Division and the storied 1st Cavalry Division. It’s a perspective worth having, and something he is apparently lacking.”

Responding to a question following a speech to the Pacific Council on International Policy Monday, Dean declared, “Had the United Nations given us permission and asked us to be a part of a multilateral force, I would not have hesitated to go into Iraq.”
Posted at 01:03 PM

All I can say is that any politician who even hints that the government of the United States of America should defer to any foreign government or international organization in determining what is best for the Nation's defense -- Will. Never. Get. My. Vote.

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French Willing to Reduce Iraqi Debt ... 

Or so say the news reports today. The Fox News reporter notes that the French have agreed to ease Iraq's debt burden to them, "without any quid pro quo" from the US. I'll believe it when I see it.

But if true, I wouldn't be surprised if there is in fact an undisclosed quid pro quo.

What might it be? How about, "You forgive $x billion of Iraq's debt to you and we won't make public the sleazy illegal deals between your government and Saddam in violation of numerous UNSC resolutions. And by the way, we have ironclad documentary proof of those deals, gleaned from the records of Saddam's regime that the Baathists weren't able to destroy. Here are some copies for you to ponder."

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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Supreme Court Justices Forget How to Read English! 

Yesterday, December 10, 2003, in what amounted to a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court held to be constitutional those portions of the McCain-Feingold bill (formally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002) that restrict certain kinds of political advertisements during specified periods before primary and general elections for federal offices. The entire decision runs approximately 298 pages in length, and covers many issues besides restriction of speech.

In my view the decision on restrictions on speech was tragically wrong.

Here's the language of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, in its entirety:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first phrase reads "Congress shall make no law". The BCRA is clearly a law, that was enacted by Congress and (to my great dismay) signed by President Bush, so it would seem to be covered.

Skipping over the establishment clause, we come to "abridging the freedom of speech". I think that campaign advertisements come well within the definition of "speech" for purposes of the First Amendment. In fact, the main reason for the existence of the First Amendment is to ensure that political ideas, even unpopular ones, are given a fair opportunity to be heard. (It does not, of course, mandate that anyone must listen.) My dictionary (Random House Webster's College Dictionary, April 2000 edition) lists the following under "abridge": 1. to shorten by omission while retaining the basic contents: to abridge a book. 2. to reduce or lessen in duration, scope or extent; diminish; curtail: to abridge a visit. 3. to deprive; cut off.

Now, I'm no constitutional scholar, but one of the many beauties of the United States Constitution is that it is written in plain language that can be understood in concept by pretty much anyone who's made it through most high schools in this country. The difficulties in interpreting the Constitution have arisen mostly (in my view) because changes have occurred in the world that the Founders (not even Franklin or Jefferson) couldn't have dreamed of. This issue, however, is pretty basic, and the effects of changes in technology and society should not affect it much. The inescapable conclusion is that five Justices blew it badly.

We are now on the slippery slope -- the five Justices in the majority on this issue have already done far more damage to our fundamental rights as Americans than all the provisions of the Patriot Act. God help us!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Anti- Gerrymandering Amendment 

Here's my draft of an amendment to the US Constitution that would solve the gerrymandering problem. I wanted to post it as a comment on Citizen Smash's blog, but missed the deadline.

The boundaries of all electoral districts for Members of Congress and State Legislators that are not elected at large shall be determined by a nonpartisan panel of not less than five persons whose members shall be appointed by the Governor and approved by at least 2/3 of the members of the Legislature of each State. The boundaries of electoral districts shall be determined using the following criteria: the population of each electoral district shall not very from the mean population of all such districts within a State by more than one percent; each electoral district shall be contiguous; no electoral district shall be designed to favor or disfavor any candidate, political party or organization, race or ethnic group and no information relating to any candidate, political party or organization, race or ethnic group shall be considered in determining the boundaries of any such district; to the extent practicable using the best available generally accepted technology, the ratio of the circumference of any such district to its area shall be minimized; to the extent consistent with the foregoing criteria, the boundaries of such electoral districts shall be coterminous with the existing boundaries of political subdivisions of the several States.

If a court shall find by clear and convincing evidence that the provisions of this Amendment shall have been purposely or recklessly disregarded in establishing the boundaries of electoral districts, the boundaries so established shall be void and the results of any elections conducted thereunder shall be nullified and any resulting vacancies in office shall be filled in accordance with applicable law. Appeals of such a finding shall be made directly to the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Congressional districts, or to the court of last resort within the State, in the case of State legislative districts.

Districts shall be reapportioned as soon as practicable following the ratification of this Amendment, using the most recent United States Census data, and thereafter no more often than once following the publication of each United States Census, unless the districts shall have been found to be void in accordance herewith.

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Monday, December 08, 2003

How Our Tax System Works 

A friend of mine sent this little parable to me a couple years ago. I think it deserves wider dissemination:

Best explanation given yet........
I was having lunch with one of my favorite clients last week and the conversation turned to the government's recent round of tax cuts.

"I'm opposed to those tax cuts," the retired college instructor declared, "because they benefit the rich. The rich get much more money back than ordinary taxpayers like you and me and that's not fair."

"But the rich pay more in the first place," I argued, "so it stands to reason that they'd get more money back."

I could tell that my friend was unimpressed by this meager argument. Even college instructors are a prisoner of the myth that the "rich" somehow get a free ride in America. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day 10 men go to a restaurant for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If it was paid the way we pay our taxes, the first four men would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1; the sixth would pay $3; the seventh $7; the eighth $12; the ninth $18. The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

The 10 men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement until the owner threw them a curve. Since you are all such good customers, he said, I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20. Now dinner for the 10 only costs $80.

The first four are unaffected. They still eat for free. Can you figure out how to divvy up the $20 savings among the remaining six so that everyone gets his fair share? The men realize that $20 divided by 6 is $3.33, but if they subtract that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being paid to eat their meal.

The restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same proportional amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so now the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of $59.

Outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out the $20," complained the sixth man, pointing to the tenth, "and he got $7!" "Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!" "That's true," shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor." The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They were $52 short!

And that, boys, girls and college instructors, is how America's tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table any more. There are lots of good restaurants in Switzerland and the Caribbean!
(Author not named)

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Friday, December 05, 2003

Educators in the News 

This item appeared in Friday's Best of the Web Today:

Zero-Tolerance Watch
A 13-year-old boy has been charged with assault for "giving [a] girl a hickey in a Richland Middle School hallway in September," the Associated Press reports from Fort Worth, Texas. But it looks as though he'll escape prosecution:

The boy said Wednesday he planned to read the letter of apology that he has given to the girl in front of the class today. The boy said he has learned his lesson.

"Don't mess with anybody if they don't want you to mess with them, and don't touch anybody inappropriately," he said.

Meanwhile in Georgia, three students at Conyers Middle School--two 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old--"have been accused of violating the state Controlled Substances Act after a plastic bag filled with parsley was found at the school," another AP dispatch reports. "We believe, because of the way the parsley was packaged, at least two of the students believed it was marijuana," Rockdale County Sheriffs Deputy Myra Pearrell tells the AP. The sheriffs department says this constitutes a violation of a law banning "possession of a counterfeit substance, a felony."

And in Louisiana, the Shreveport Times reports that "a student expelled from Parkway High for a year for having Advil, an over-the-counter pain reliever, will not be allowed to return to the school." The headline: "Bossier School Board Upholds Advil Expulsion." Too bad they didn't leave it up to the less bossy one.

Makes me wonder what kind of education the kids attending these schools are receiving. Who was it that said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Bumpersticker Politics 

Lately while running errands and doing the shopping I keep seeing a car with a bumpersticker that reads "Free Tibet." Based on my life experience and the physical appearance of the driver, I would guess that the driver of the car (who is presumably the person responsible for applying the bumpersticker) is probably someone who objects to the Iraq war in particular and is against war in general. Thus the aforementioned bumpersticker gives rise to a certain amount of cognitive dissonance on my part.

I wonder if the person who expresses such concern for the Tibetans realizes that the only practical method of achieving their freedom is to conduct a war against China. It is possible, although unlikely based on history, that China might during our lifetime succumb to the social pressure generated by such bumperstickers and restore Tibet's independence. But I, for one, believe that Tibet will not be free of Chinese oppression anytime soon, because neither the US nor anyone else is going to conduct a war against China for the sake of Tibet. Nor do I believe it likely that any country will apply any other kind of pressure, be it economic, cultural or diplomatic, on behalf of Tibet if doing so would jeopardize that country's relationship with China.

My point is that however meritorious it might be to desire freedom for Tibet and to express one's solidarity with the oppressed Tibetans by displaying a bumpersticker, the real-world effect of such desire and such expression is zero. Things don't usually happen unless one is willing to exert effort, take risks and pay a price to achieve the desired result. Sadly, in the case of Tibet, the risks and price are high relative to the value (to anyone other than Tibetans) of the result, and it just isn't going to happen in the absence of a huge change of heart by the Chinese.

That said, if it makes the person with the bumpersticker feel good to display it, fine with me. But if he thinks that he's actually going to accomplish anything by it, he's living in a fool's paradise.

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