Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Just a Reminder
Much of the criticism of academia on here tends to focus on the squelching of free speech by the purported purveyors of tolerance, liberals. But let us not forget that historically, both the Left and the Right have sought to ban books and censor speech. I was reminded of this when reading Erin today. She has commentary on a Kansas Senator who tried, and failed, to stop a KU sexuality course. In addition, there is a story about a tenure decision, or lack of, that may have been tainted by outside corporate forces who have a large contract with the university.
We must always be vigilant to protect academic freedom from attacks, whether they be driven by Right Wing moralists or Left Wing sensitivists. Each are a threat to the free exchange of ideas and dialogue that is the cornerstone of American democracy and a hallmark of a liberal education.
Voting Rights and the Two Parties
I have never posted someone else's work on here in full, but this post from John at Discriminations is just too perfect. It captures not only how the two parties exploit the thorny issue of race, but how each fails to hold any principle except a commitment to amassing power. Enjoy.

The arcana of racial redistricting, such as the nature of "retrogression" under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, make racial preferences in college admissions look pretty clear and uncomplicated. I hesitate to venture into this dismal swamp without a guide. But ... blogs are full of guides, and I trust someone will correct any mistakes that follow. With that invitation on the table, my take is roughly as follows:

The Discriminations Hypocrisy Award goes to the Republicans. Under Bush I they realized that they could trumpet their fidelity to the Voting Rights Act, and by implication to black voters, by herding black voters into "majority-minority" districts that would be likely to elect black representatives for the first time. And by draining the surrounding districts of black, i.e., Democratic, votes, the policy would have the added benefit -- purely incidental, I'm sure -- of electing more Republicans. The Democrats, unable to oppose procedures that would lead to the election of more blacks, were effectively silenced and co-opted.

It was a brilliant tactical move, sacrificing only principle. Twenty-six such districts were created after the 1990 census, greatly contributing to subsequent Republican gains in the South.

The necessity for "majority-minority" districts was based on the assumption of "bloc voting," that whites wouldn't vote for blacks, but it did not take long for that assumption to be proven false. Once it became clear that super-majorities of blacks were not necessary to elect at least a significant number of blacks, the Democrats slowly emerged from the woodwork and began to argue (remember, they've never been addicted to consistency) that herding too many of blacks into "majority-minority" districts was racist, smacking of apartheid. At the same time, however, they argued that placing too few blacks in a district was also racist. To the Democrats, "too many" means more than enough to assure the election of a Democrat, and "too few" means not enough. By some cosmic co-incidence, the Democrats implicitly argue, that precise balance is what the law requires. This behavior thus has earned the Democrats the much-deserved Discriminations Award for Brazenness.

Both parties, in short, have proven themselves unprincipled. When the Republicans took over the state government in Virginia recently, for example, they moved quickly to round up as many blacks as possible and, freely admitting they were "taking race into account" as one factor among many (sound familiar?), herded them together in as few districts as possible. Not to be undone on the unprincipled front, the Democrats brought in heavy hitter Ronald Klain, Gore's top advisor and head lawyer in the Florida recount, who, presumably with a straight face, argued to the Virginia Supreme Court: "We submit that what was going on here was race-conscious districting...." (Washington Post, Sept. 13, 2002, p. B5) The Virginia Supremes (including the new black chief justice) were not amused, and ruled for the Republicans.

With parties like these, I'm sometimes surprised that anyone at all bothers to vote.

Cut Taxes Now, Worry Later
Have you noticed that the White House never projects beyond 2007 in its economic forecasts? Looking for a reason why?

Beyond 2007, the tax package would actually do more harm than good, warned Joel Prakken of Macroeconomic Advisers LLC, which developed the computer model the White House used.

(courtesy WaPo)
Judicial Roundup
For those of you not keeping up with the stream of ideologues nominated by the Bush administration, here are a couple of highlights.
Bush has nominated Claude Allen, press secretary for Jesse Helms' 1984 re-election campaign. In response to Hunt's referring to Helms' supporters as right wingers, Allen claimed that Hunt had ties "with the queers." Doesn't sound to me like Mr. Allen has quite what is called judicial temperament.
Also nominated is Bill Pryor, Alabama Attorney General, who submitted an amicus brief in support of Texas' anti-sodomy laws. He also submitted an amicus in support of Colorado's anti-gay ballot initiative. And, it seems that Pryor shares Senator Santorum's view of homosexuality, comparing it to "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and even incest and pedophilia (if the child should credibly claim to be 'willing)."
Either the White House is completely tone deaf, which I don't think is the case, or else this President really has cast his lot with the bigots and homophobes of his Party. These religious fanatics would like nothing more than to exclude homosexuals from society, much like the Islamofascists have done in the Middle East. They yearn for a theocratic state, based on their perverted readings of the Bible. They care little about constitutional rights or individual liberty, especially when it allows for behavior outside of what they judge to be acceptable. They do not believe in a forgiving, tolerant god; they hold to the type of god described in Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. They are the Puritans of the modern era and this President has decided to follow them down the path of self righteous rage directed at others. How un-Christian and how un-American.

(Allen story here; Pryor story here; Edwards' sermon here)
That Says It All
Senator Santorum is "our greatest champion for inclusiveness and fairness," according to Senator Sessions. What does it say about the Senate GOP that a man who likened homosexual sex to incest and man on dog sex is considered a champion for inclusiveness? I am almost afraid to hear what other Republican Senators think about homosexuals. Even Senator Gordon Smith said that, "I think Rick represents the views of many Republicans, but not a majority of Republicans."
I have to wonder, though, if Senator Smith is thinking about the Republicans in his home state of Oregon and not the national party. There is a world of difference between Republicans in the northeast states, the upper midwest and the west coast versus southern and border states. For example, Massachusetts most pro-gay governor was Republican Bill Weld, not one of his Democratic predecessors and to this day Log Cabin Republicans hold many high level positions in the Bay State. Here in New York, Republican Governor Pataki was able to push the GOP controlled state senate to pass SONDA last year.
At what point, though, do moderate Republicans leave their party? What must happen to move them to the Democrat, or at least independent column? Most of the moderate Republicans that I know, or have known, are much more socially liberal than the national GOP and I think that episodes like the Santorum affair do quite a bit of damage to these people's allegiance to the party. They have had to swallow a lot more of the Religious Right agenda from this President than they would have expected back in 2000. One has to wonder where exactly is their tipping point.

(Santorum support story here)

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Why International Organizations Shouldn't Matter
UNESCO (United Nations Economic and Social Council) just voted to return Cuba to the Human Rights Commission today. They join such noted defenders of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. According to Human Rights Watch, "You have a huge powerful and very well organized bloc that doesn't want any country criticized, opposes U.N. human rights monitoring and wants to weaken the office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights."
The list of countries on the Human Rights Council is a veritable who's who of oppressors and human rights violators. This is what has become of international organizations such as the UN. It is disgraces like these that undermine the moral authority of the United Nations and provide further reason for the US to continue to go it alone in the world.
Dark Ages
Maybe Bush is capable of pissing off his Religious Right minions. The President is to give his support to a bill authorizing $15 billion for AIDS prevention today, in a Rose Garden ceremony. Interestingly enough, the bill is opposed by conservatives because it does not discriminate against groups that perform abortions. According to the Neanderthals at the Family Research Council, "The AIDS lobby will be very happy, the homosexual lobby will be very happy, the condom crowd will be happy, the Planned Parenthood folks will be happy. That's not the president's base." Ahh.. now I understand. The United States has no moral obligation to help stem the tide of AIDS because gays, people with AIDS, people who use condoms and people who are pro-choice are not the President's base. I find it interesting that the FRC would lump condom users in with gays and pro-choice groups. I am quite sure that many sexually active Republicans use condoms.
It is comments like these that show just how far out of touch with reality and the modern world groups like the Family Research Council are. Condoms are the best weapon against the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (I know, abstinence is even more effective). Religious zealots would prefer that we turn our eyes away from the reality of sexual desire, sexual liberation and sexual intercourse and focus on scaring people into abstinence. The obvious result of that experiment would be millions more infected with AIDS and many more with unhealthy sexual attitudes (probably similar to those of the members of the FRC).

(full story here)
Never Forget
Today is Yom HaShoah, a day to remember the 6,000,000 Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The exact date was chosen because it marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis.

El Malei Rachamim: Prayer for the Departed

O G-d, full of mercy, who dwells on high,
Grant proper rest on the wings of the Divine Presence
In the lofty levels of the holy and pure,
Who shine like the glow of the firmament.
For the souls of the
Six Million Jews, victims of the European Holocaust
Who were killed, slaughtered, burned and wiped out
For the Sanctification of the Name
By the murderous Germans and their allies,
Because, without making a vow,
All the community will pray
For the uplifting of their souls.

Therefore, my the Master of mercy
Shelter them in the shelter of His wings for eternity;
And may He bind their souls in the Bond of Life.
The L-rd is their heritage.
And may their resting-place be in the Garden of Eden,
And may they reach their destiny at the end of days.
And let us say Amen.

All Santorum, All the Time
Just kidding.. but Andrew has some questions for Santorum and his defenders-

One question in my mind: Santorum started this discussion with regard to contraception and the Griswold case. He believes that using contraception is a sin. Does he believe it should be a crime? If not, why not? If he supports sodomy laws because they violate Church teaching, then why does he not suppport laws banning contraception? Or masturbation, for that matter? These are all sins on exactly the same level as homosexual sex. Why do Santorum and other theo-conservatives want to make gay sex illegal but not the others?
Sports as Life
The past few days have offered two dramatically different perspectives on sports and the human condition. Taken as a whole these two stories show that the sports world is simply a reflection of the world in general and to remind us that extraordinary as well as ignoble people inhabit both worlds.
Take the case of Willis McGahee, who entered the draft after his sophmore season at the University of Miami. McGahee suffered what was thought to be a career ending injury during the National Championship game back in January. He tore multiple ligaments in his left knee and was carried from the field. Yet, through sheer will (with an assist from great medical care) McGahee has, only 15 weeks out from surgery, progressed far enough to be the first RB taken in the draft. McGahee is able to squat 225 pounds ten times less than four months from the date of his injury.
Here is a young man who nearly saw his future (at least the future he had planned) vanish. When he tore that knee his dreams of the NFL, of being a first round pick and of multi-million dollar contracts must have flashed before his eyes. Yet, undaunted, Willis worked as hard at rehabbing as he had at becoming college's best running back since OJ Simpson. This is a story of the power of human will and determination, and of a good guy being rewarded. The Buffalo Bills were impressed not only with McGahee's recovery, but the character that it showed. Willis McGahee is a quality individual, on and off the field, and the Buffalo Bills will be rewarded for taking a risk with their first round pick.
On the other side of the ledger is the actions of Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy who has been caught attending parties on two college campuses, other than his own. One would have to question the judgment of any college official who went to college parties, but to make matters worse, Eustachy was going to parties after his team had played and lost to the schools. He is claimed to have made disparaging remarks about his team and to have become drunk and obnoxious at one of the events. Pictures show the coach being awfully flirtatious with undergraduate women, which must be a slap in the face to his wife and children. While it is not exactly Gary Hart's Monkey Business, it certainly displays a lack of character and judgment. Eustachy is, at $1 million per year, Iowa's top paid public employee, and with that comes the responsibility of being a model citizen. Perhaps the power and glamor of being a top college basketball coach was simply too much for Eustachy to handle.
The contrast of these two stories serves to remind us of the range of character in our sports world. Not all athletes and coaches are models, but not all are sleazy, either. The truth is that sports attracts all sorts of people and the same power that bestowed athletic talent does not always bestow decency and honor.

Monday, April 28, 2003

More Silence
Remember Al Gore's troubles with the Buddhist Temple and other charges regarding foreign influence in US politics that surfaced during the Clinton administration? The Right Wing was apoplectic and foaming at the mouth. Republicans in Congress led a witch hunt to root out these foreign influence peddlers.
But now the tables have turned a bit. According to CNN, "Katrina Leung, accused of being a Chinese double agent, was also a political fund raiser for the Republicans." (full story here). Oh, the bitter irony of it all. Where is Fred Thompson when we need him? Where are the outraged Right Wing talk show demagogues? Where is Dan Burton?

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Where Does It Come From?
I've been thinking a lot about homophobia this past week, trying to understand where it comes from and perhaps why I am not inflicted with it. I grew up in an upper middle class family, in a nearly all white town. I didn't know any gay people growing up. Like many of my peers, I made gay jokes. I was in school prior to the era of sensitivity and most teachers would turn a deaf ear to the boys calling each other "fag", "queer" or "homo". Not that we fully understood what a gay person was, to begin with. We just knew that calling someone a gay slur was a major put down.
I don't know that my parents had any gay friends; I suspect that they did not. I am sure there were probably some gay people in my town, but they were pretty well closeted. I can recall, however, that making certain jokes was not tolerated in my house, most of the time. Sometimes I could sneak in a gay joke or a black joke, but most of the time I wasn't able to get away with it.
My family was not overly religious. In fact, I don't think we ever went to church except for weddings and funerals, as best as I can remember, as a family. I had my own foray into religion as a youngster when I would attend church with my grandmother at the local Methodist house of worship.
So then how did I end up being so tolerant and such an advocate for gay rights? I didn't have my first gay friend until the age of twenty-three, when I was in law school. I can still recall him coming out to me, and my response was somewhere along the line of "so what." Am I more tolerant than others because I am not very religious? And that is not a swipe at religious folks, it just seems that the biggest homophobes are religious zealots. Is it because I am more educated than the average person (studies do show that people's opinions tend to be more tolerant the higher their level of education)? Then again, Senator Santorum and the President each have post-graduate degrees.
I think the reason why I am tolerant is because of how I was brought up. I had parents who instilled in me that you are to treat others they way you would want to be treated (Golden Rule, I know). They taught me to judge people for who they were, not the color of their skin or their gender, or some other superficial trait. My parents didn't need to beat me over the head with sensitivity seminars or retreats. They just instilled a very basic tolerance in me, and the results are that I respect other people and I treat them with the same respect I want them to afford me.
So I guess that people who have prejudices, whether it is racism or homophobia, just were not brought up right. And it is at times like these that I am most grateful to my parents for helping to shape me into the person I am today. Thank you mom and dad.
CUNY Law- Wasting Tax Dollars for Almost 20 Years
According to the NYT "the law school of the City University of New York has taken pride in its zeal to produce lawyers with a social conscience and a left-wing sense of the public interest." This would be all fine and dandy if it were not for the school's 50% bar passage rate. One has to wonder if the school should put more of its zeal into graduating law students who will be able to pass the bar and become lawyers. But the actual shock here is that students at CUNY Law have decided to give an award to Lynn Stewart, an attorney who awaits trial for providing material support for a terrorist organization. The Dean has stepped in and refuses to allow the award to be presented at graduation. In repsonse, some grads are planning to wear tape over their mouths, which is likely from the same roll they must use to cover their eyes when preparing for the bar exam.
Dumbing Down America
My other favorite whipping boy- American education. This quote is from the Brooklyn College prof who was removed from the classroom. I could not agree more.

In insisting that students receive academic credentials without benefit of a genuine college education, they have condemned them to a false sense of accomplishment, to ignorance they will continue to remain ignorant of.
Why I am not a Conservative
Affirmative action policies that have been in place for three decades and do not work should be scrapped, but sanctions against Cuba, which have been around at least as long as affirmative action and are as much a failure (Castro is still in power) should remain.
That is what passes for conservative logic.
A Different Take
Spinsanity has a slightly different take on the Santorum affair, arguing that "in mentioning polygamy, bigamy, incest, and adultery, however, he did not state that they are morally equivalent to homosexual acts. Instead, he made the legal argument that if the Supreme Court overturns Texas's sodomy laws prohibiting anal and oral sex amongst homosexuals, those other acts would have to be legalized by the same principle of a constitutional right to privacy." While I do not fully accept this logic, let's take it as true and deal with this argument about privacy.

It is easy to lump bigamy, polygamy and adultery into the same category for legal purposes. Bigamy and polygamy are prohibited via marriage laws, which stipulate (in many states, post DOMA) that marriage is between one man and one woman. What is criminal about polygamy and bigamy is not the sex act, but the marriage(s) in excess of one. (Of course, if one wants to pursue such a relationship polyamory is available without the marriage component). Also, adultery may be prohibited under marriage law, when viewed through the prism of a contractual agreement. Adultery is grounds for divorce in most states as it is violative of the contract entered into with state consent (marriage license). No one has suggested that police ought to raid the premises on no-tell motels to catch adulterous couples in the act.

Incest is wholly different matter. I would assume that Santorum was referring to incest in which a parent engages in sexual relations with an underage child. Such an activity would be illegal under both child welfare and rape statutes. Now, if a child is of the age of consent, my argument breaks down and as abhorrent as I find incest, relations between two consenting adults should not, in my opinion, be criminalized.

This is the difficulty of living in a free society. People are free to do some really dumb things. They are free to make some bad lifestyle choices (smoking, poor nutrition). With freedom comes the opportunity to realize one's human potential, too. What Santorum and others of his ilk would like is to impose their view of morality on the rest of us, to take away our freedom. Imagine that the shoe was on the other foot and it was others trying to circumscribe Santorum and the Holy Rollers rights to worship the god they chose, how they would howl. Living in a free society means that you have to tolerate choices that are different than yours. That is the beauty of America. Don't let the American Taliban take that away from you.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Is the Horse Dead?
Some of you may think that I am beating a dead horse over the whole Santorum thing (while others may think I am preaching to the choir), nevertheless I have found the whole incident and the response, or lack thereof, so troubling. It has made me re-think my own previous support of moderate Republicans. I had thought that the best way to move society and its politics forward was to support the moderates of each party in an effort to silence the more extreme elements of each. In my mind I envisioned a Republican Party that would eventually cast aside its more suspect members- those who are motivated by religious zealotry, racism and anti-minority and anti-woman views. But given the muted response of the moderate Senate Republicans (only Snowe and Chaffee have said a peep) I can see that the GOP is willing to show tolerance towards its homophobic wing.

While I realize that very few Republicans support criminalizing gay sexual relations, there are many who see no problem with discriminating against gays and lesbians in the workplace or in marriage rights. Being anti-gay is an acceptable position in a large swath of the GOP. And, until the GOP renounces such views I cannot and will not support ANY Republicans. I would not even vote for a Republican for dog catcher. I am ashamed to have once been a member of the GOP and to have helped elect Republicans to office as a political consultant. How naive I was to think that the Party actually had room in its "Big Tent" for people who believe, like I do, that gays and lesbians are entitled to all the same rights as every other American citizen.

I hope, for the sake of the country, that more moderate elements of the GOP will assert themselves and re-shape the Party much like DLC did for the Democrats. But in the meantime I will do everything I can to fight against the GOP. Moderate Republicans need to understand that there is a price to be paid for their silence and their acquiescence to the Far Right agenda.
Good Point
This quote is from yesterday's Chicago Sun Times editorial--

How can we have any hope of creating a democratic government in Iraq free from domination by repressive religion if we cannot free our own laws of official faith-based biases inflicted on our fellow citizens?

(thanks to andrew)

Friday, April 25, 2003

Slim Shady
Go check this out.. it's Saddam Hussein to an Eminem song..
(thanks to Bo)
Sobering Point
I have spent the better part of the past few days beating up the GOP for its intolerance towards gays. But, as is often the case, reality does not match hyperbole. I have to remind myself that the Democratic Party does not have such a stellar record on gay issues either, as noted here, here, and here. Keep in mind that it was a Democratic President who gave us "don't ask, don't tell"; signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law; and, was unable to enact ENDA. But some might say that was Clintonian triangulation, to which I say over two-thirds of Democratic Senators and more than half of Democratic Congressmen voted in favor of DOMA.
All of which makes me wonder if the Democratic Party has not become as comfortable taking the gay vote for granted as they are with assuming the black vote. Now, I am not claiming that there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, as I do believe that anti-gay views are much more common place in the GOP than in the Democratic Party. But what help is it that the Democratic Party continues to pay lip service to the gay community while supporting anti-gay policies?
Anyone but Bush 2004
Ok.. so that probaby comes as no surprise considering I am a registered Democrat, but I did vote for GW in 2000, as Al Gore morphed into Mike Dukakis. Aside from his success in the war on terrorism, which is no small feat I'll admit, this president has been an abject failure. From his failed economic policies to his kow-towing to the religious zealots of his party, Bush has shown that he is unfit for the presidency. First it was Ashcroft, then a string of radical right wing judicial nominees, now it's the White House's support for Senator Santorum days after his likening of homosexual sex to man on dog and incest. This stands in stark contrast to the criticism leveled at Senator Lott and Congressman Moran after each of their outbursts. By supporting Santorum this President has shown that he would rather cast his lot with the American equivalent of the Taliban than with the decent, tolerant majority of Americans.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

I have finally added a comments feature to the site. So feel free to add your two cents.
What's in the GOP Closet?
Well, according to this story it's child porn in the conservative closet. It tells the story of a prodigious GOP fundraiser who pled guilty to child pornography charges. The WaPo describes Delgaudio as a "fundraiser for conservative causes and personalities." He had raised money for the legal defense of such notables as Oliver North and John Poindexter, yet still had time to find young girls to engage in sex acts, which he taped. One has to wonder where the Right Wing moralists are now that one of their own has fallen from grace. Why isn't the Family Research Council or the Christian Coalition on the case? Where is Rick Santorum and his comparisons to "man on dog"? Ahh.. the deafening sound of silence.
Gephardt's Gamble
To be completely honest, I have not had the time to fully digest Gephardt's universal health insurance plan, but a couple of items jump right out as troubling. Of course, the most obvious problem is the plan's cost- $2.5 trillion over 10 years- that requires elimination of the entire Bush tax cut and yet would still leave the budget awash in red ink. Keep in mind that the Bush tax cut did have some progressive elements that benefited working class and poor Americans. The other aspect that I would take issue with is its huge subsidies to corporations who already provide health insurance for their workers. A much more trageted approach would focus only on these individuals who did not now have health insurance, while not disadvantaging companies that already provide insurance. I think Gephardt's plan fails on this account. Perhaps if the plan were not so broad the cost would come down and both problems might be solved. Health care is an important issue, but it is also one of the more complex policy areas, so credit has to be given to Gephardt for his willingness to go out on a limb.
Exit, Stage Right
Although it is certainly implied by my posts regarding Senator Santorum's homophobic comments, let me make it clear- he should step down from his position as Conference Chair. To be perfectly honest, there is a part of me who thinks he ought to leave the Senate, as well, but I will leave that decision up to the good people of Pennsylvania. What I find equally troubling, as I think many other bloggers do, is the deafening silence from the White House. The President was very vocal in his condemnation of Senator Lott's comments about Strom Thurmond and one has to wonder why that same level of opprobium is not present in this case. Is it that the White House, especially Karl Rove, views gays and lesbians as a constituency they can write off? A very basic analysis will reveal that there are more African Americans than gays and lesbians, but that analysis fails to take into account the number of people who are neither gay nor lesbian who were offended by Santorum's remarks. And it is not just social liberals like myself. True conservatives will be equally offended by government intervention into the bedroom and the lack of respect that Santorum gives to basic individual liberties. The silence makes it all the more clear just how beholden to religious zealots the GOP and this White House are.
Poor Andrew
It seems that the unwillingness of the White House or the Senate Majority Leader to object to Sen. Santorum's gay bashing comments has left Andrew Sullivan a bit bereft--
"...many establishment Republicans believe that the criminalization of private gay sex is a legitimate position, even when they personally disagree with it. That's how close they are to the fundamentalist right. That's how little they care about individual liberties. I guess, as so many gloating liberals have emailed me to point out, I have been incredibly naive. I expected a basic level of respect for gay people from civilized conservatives. I've always taken the view that there are legitimate arguments about such issues as marriage rights or military service and so on; and that fair-minded people can disagree. And, of course, there are many fair-minded people among Republicans and conservatives who do not agree with Santorum, and I am heartened by their support, especially the Republican Unity Coalition and Marc Racicot, RNC head. But something this basic as the freedom to be left alone in own's own home is something I naively assumed conservatives would obviously endorse - even for dispensable minorities like homosexuals. I was wrong. The conclusions to be drawn are obvious."

I think Andrew is absolutely right and as a former Republican conservative, all I can say to Andrew is, "what took you so long?"

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The Left's Blindspot
The next time you hear boors like fat boy Michael Moore or Tim Robbins-Sarandon whine about being squelched by the Man, ask yourself why none of the Hollywood Lefties ever decry the oppression taking place in Cuba? Here's a list to think of-

Name Occupation Sentence
Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello Human Rights Activist 20 years
Raúl Rivero Castañeda Independent Journalist 20 years
Héctor Palacios Ruiz Human Rights Activist 25 years
Oscar Espinosa Chepe Independent Journalist 20 years
Víctor Arroyo Carmona Independent Journalist 26 years
Eduardo Díaz Fleitas Human Rights Activist 21 years
Horacio Julio Piña Borrego Human Rights Activist 20 years
Fidel Suárez Cruz Human Rights Activist 20 years
Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés Human Rights Activist 18 years
Ricardo González Alfonso Independent Journalist 20 years
Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos Human Rights Activist 25 years
Roberto de Miranda H. Human Rights Activist 20 years
Efrén Fernández Human Rights Activist 12 years
Omar Rodríguez Saludes Independent Journalist 27 years
Marcelo Cano Rodríguez Human Rights Activist 18 years
Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez Independent Journalist 20 years
Carmelo Díaz Fernández Human Rights Activist 15 years
Antonio Díaz Sánchez Human Rights Activist 20 years
Regis Iglesias Ramírez Human Rights Activist 18 years
Marcelo López Bañobre Human Rights Activist 15 years
Arturo Pérez Alejo Human Rights Activist 20 years
Antonio Villareal Acosta Human Rights Activist 15 years
Pedro Argüelles Morán Independent Journalist 20 years
Pablo Pacheco Ávila Independent Journalist 20 years
Alejandro González Raga Independent Journalist 14 years
Alfredo Pulido López Human Rights Activist 14 years
Mario Mayo Hernández Independent Journalist 20 years
Normando Hernández G. Independent Journalist 25 years
Claro Sánchez Altarriba Human Rights Activist 15 years
Luis Milán Fernández Human Rights Activist 15 years
Alexis Rodríguez Fernández Human Rights Activist 15 years
Ricardo Silva Gual Human Rights Activist 10 years
Leonel Grave de Peralta Human Rights Activist 20 years
Jorge Olivera Castillo Independent Journalist 18 years
Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez Independent Journalist 15 years
Edel García Díaz Independent Journalist 15 years
Manuel Vázquez Portal Independent Journalist 18 years
Adolfo Fernández Sainz Independent Journalist 15 years
Mijail Bárzaga Independent Journalist 15 years
Nelson Aguilar Ramírez Human Rights Activist 13 years
Nelson Molinet Espino Human Rights Activist 20 years
Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique Human Rights Activist 18 years
Fabio Prieto Llorente Independent Journalist 20 years
Miguel Galván Gutiérrez Independent Journalist 26 years
Jorge Luis García Paneque Independent Journalist 24 years
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta Independent Journalist 20 years
José Ubaldo Izquierdo Independent Journalist 16 years
José Gabriel Ramón Castillo Independent Journalist 20 years
Omar Ruiz Hernández Independent Journalist 18 years
Margarito Broche Espinosa Human Rights Activist 25 years
Alfredo Domínguez Batista Human Rights Activist 14 years
José Daniel Ferrer Castillo Human Rights Activist 25 years
Luis Enrique Ferrer García Human Rights Activist 28 years
Orlando Fundora Human Rights Activist 18 years
Alfredo Felipe Fuentes Human Rights Activist 26 years
Próspero Gaínza Human Rights Activist 25 years
Diosdado González Marrero Human Rights Activist 20 years
Léster González Pentón Human Rights Activist 20 years
Jorge L. González Tanquero Human Rights Activist 20 years
Iván Hernández Carrillo Human Rights Activist 25 years
Reynaldo Labrada Peña Human Rights Activist 6 years
Librado Linares Human Rights Activist 20 years
José M. Martínez Hernández Human Rights Activist 13 years
Rafael Mollet Leyva Human Rights Activist Pending
Angel Moya Acosta Human Rights Activist 20 years
Oscar Elías Biscet Human Rights Activist 25 years
Jesús Mustafá Felipe Human Rights Activist 25 years
Félix Navarro Human Rights Activist 25 years
Omar Pernet Hernández Human Rights Activist 25 years
Blas G. Rodríguez Reyes Human Rights Activist 25 years
Ariel Sigler Amaya Human Rights Activist 25 years
Guido Sigler Amaya Human Rights Activist 20 years
Miguel Sigler Amaya Human Rights Activist Pending
Manuel Ubals González Human Rights Activist 20 years
Julio A. Valdés Guevara Human Rights Activist 20 years
Miguel Valdés Tamayo Human Rights Activist 15 years
Héctor R. Valle Hernández Human Rights Activist 12 years
Orlando Zapata Tamayo Human Rights Activist 18 years

Other cases of concern Status
Berta Antúnez Pernet Human Rights Activist House Arrest
Luis González Pentón Independent Journalist Unknown
Roberto García Cabrejas Independent Journalist House Arrest
Javier García Pérez Human Rights Activist Unknown
Rolando Jiménez Posada Human Rights Activist Unknown
Rafael Ernesto Ávila Human Rights Activist Unknown
Adela Soto Álvarez Independent Journalist House Arrest

(courtesy Glenn and Matt Hoy)

Having it Both Ways
Today's WSJ comments on the opposition to the dividend tax elimination coming from Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and the municipal bond market. I have no deep love for Fannie or Freddie and their secretive business practices, but I do feel compelled to defend the muni market. I am certainly glad that the WSJ is finally realizing that the elimination of the dividend tax would have an effect on munis, even though I pointed this out months ago.
But the Journal gets a bit confused on the issue and argues out of both sides of its rhetorical mouth. I'll quote directly from the editorial-

Munis currently have a big advantage over taxable investments like stocks. Although after-tax returns on both types of investments are about the same -- after adjusting for risk -- the muni market's complaint is that diminished demand will drop the price of these bonds and that yields will then have to rise to support the market size. And higher yields will make munis less attractive to issuers.

This argument follows the molehill-into-a-mountain construction. Yields on munis might not be affected if tax-free dividends don't shrivel the demand for them. In the competition between bonds and stocks, the inherent higher riskiness of stocks, which makes them inappropriate for certain investors, would dampen any surge out of bonds and into stocks. Many equity investors might also continue to prefer higher stock prices to bigger dividends. And finally, about half of all investors in stocks already hold them in tax free accounts.

So, let's see if we can make sense of this argument. The Journal claims that munis have a big advantage that will be narrowed, or eliminated, if the dividend tax is repealed. Yet, they claim that half of all investors in stock hold them in tax free vehicles. If that is the case, then why is it that munis have a "big advantage" over stocks? Munis would only have appeal to the half of investors who do not already invest in tax free vehicles, but then they have to compare the returns to other vehicles, such as stock, which very likely would have a higher rate of return even factoring in tax treatment.

The reality of the situation is that individuals chose to invest in munis partly for their low risk and partly for their tax free returns. It is difficult to quantify the effect of each aspect, but it does follow that if stock dividends were no longer taxed municipal bond yields would have to rise, at least at the margin, in order to continue to attract investors. Now, there will be those low risk investors who will always stay with bonds, but for the more average investor the prospect of tax free higher returns on stocks will be enough to exit the bond market, or at least scale back their investment in munis unless the yield on munis increased to offset the loss of tax preference. How much muni yields would be forced up is an open question.

But what is not open to question is who bears the cost of increased municipal bond yields- the taxpayer. Whether it is in the form of higher taxes or cuts to services, the money to service municipal bond debt has to come from somewhere. And, either option directly affects the taxpayer. So, as I have noted before, elimination of the dividend tax will only redistribute wealth from taxpayers in general to investors. At a time when most local and state governments are facing budget shortfalls making their borrowing more costly is the wrong thing to do.

Down the Toilet
That is where American higher education is headed, following on the heels of elementary and secondary education into the cesspool of mediocrity. Much like its lower ed. peers, colleges and universities have become more concerned with student's self esteem than with their education. And in order to boost self esteem grades are inflated. Gone are the days of D's and F's for incompetence. Now, students are either given the opportunity to re-take tests, re-write papers or simply get a grade their work does not merit. Part of this can also be blamed on the culture of higher education, where consumerism is in and students will shop for the easiest professors and lobby for their grades, often times invoking the assistance of lawyers and parents.
But this post from Erin regarding a Brooklyn college professor who has been removed from the classroom for damaging student's self-esteem is just scary. Apparently, the professor thought it was more important that students mastered the ability to write at the college level than to protect their self esteem by passing them along. I'm sure that I am not the only person who remembers the stories of athletes with college degrees who read at the 3rd grade level. There was an uproar and colleges and universities upgraded their academic tutoring for their athletes. Yet, if the administration at Brooklyn College as their way, we can look forward to many more college grads who lack the ability to read and write at the college level.
Someone should remind the college that it is an institution of higher education, not a nanny service. What damage will be done to a graduate's self esteem when s/he cannot hold a job because they do not have the skills expected of a college graduate?
What They Really Want
Andrew picks up this tidbit from the full transcript of Senator Santorum's AP interview.
The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.
I read it the way Andrew does as the "we" being the government. So, according to Santorum, the government has the right to limit my wants or passions. Maybe today they will limit our passion for sodomy, tomorrow maybe it will be oral sex (as it is not pro-creative), then pretty soon cuddling and kissing will be out. We will be reduced to a mechanized pro-creative act devoid of any pleasure. Heck, maybe we can go back to arranged marriages, too.
I really wonder how much of this is driven by jealousy- by those who have spent their lives in the missionary position one Saturday evening per month.
GOP= Party of Homophobes?
I had almost missed this one. GOP Chairman Marc Racicot met recently with the HRC and was immediately lambasted by the Family Research Council as having "secret meetings with the homosexual lobby." God forbid that the chairman of a political party actually meet with members of a gay-lesbian political group. Imagine the gall of Mr. Racicot to actually think that courting gay votes might be a good idea? It is groups like the Family Research Council that push the GOP towards the extreme elements of conservatism, to an ideology based on Biblical teachings without any respect given to the religious liberty that is the foundation of the American experiment. These are the people who would turn America into the kind of theocracy that Afghanistan once was, complete with public stonings of homosexuals and women who had sex outside of wedlock. They want to impose their narrow minded view of right and wrong, based on what they see as Biblical teachings, which is in fact just as bastardized a reading of the Bible as the Taliban's reading of the Quran.
It is no accident that Right Wing religious leaders said that 9-11 was brought on by our society's moral decline. People like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the Family Research Council and Christian Coalition share a fundamentalist worldview with the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center. They both seek to impose an oppressive theocratic rule on their societies. They are each morally repugnant and far from the true meanings of Islam and Christianity and there is a dark corner in hell reserved for them all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

American Taliban
No, this is not about John Walker Lindh. It's about the Christian religious fanatics in America and how they seek to turn back the clock to the Dark Ages, much like the Taliban and other Islamofascists have done in the Middle East. In response to the flap over Senator Santorum's comments comparing homosexual sex to incest, polygamy and adultery, a conservative group known as the Concerned Women for America has issued a statement saying that Santorum was "exactly right." And the Family Research Council spokesperson added that, "I think the Republican party would do well to follow Senator Santorum if they want to see pro-family voters show up on Election Day."
So the way to motivate the core constituency of the GOP is to issue anti-gay statements that compare gay sex to incest? What does that say about the intelligence level of the average "pro-family" voter? If the GOP does not distance itself from Santorum's comments and the lunatics of such groups as CWA and the FRC then what they are saying is that they are just as willing to play the homophobic card as they are the race card that they have played so well over the past 50 years. But they do it at a certain peril. Just as the dinosaurs died out and the Roman Empire fell, so will the Neanderthals who would rather turn back to clock to the Dark Ages than to face the modern world. Maybe there is room in Bin Laden's cave for people like Santorum, but there is no room for such a person in the US Senate.
P2004 Info
Surf on over to the Project Vote Smart website here for a gaggle of information about the candidates for president, including brief bios, positions, interest group ratings and campaign finance data.
The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight
Here's a gem from GOP Senate Conference Chairman Rick Santorum--
"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."
To anyone with half a brain these remarks are patently offensive- and it doesn't matter if you are gay or straight. To compare homosexuality with incest is just ludicrous and maybe it shows just how little the GOP has changed in the past fifty years. So much for compassionate conservatism, so much for the Big Tent. I am always amazed that there are actually people in the 21st C. who still think homosexuality is some sort of aberrant behavior that will lead to the end of our society. There have been homosexuals engaging in homosexual sex since the beginning of time, and yet the world has not stopped spinning. These people remind me a bit of the Flat Earth Society who refused to believe the world was round, long after it had been proven. (note: the Flat Earth Society still exists)
And even though I realize some people are homophobic, I hold public office holders to a higher standard. Santorum is by all accounts not the brightest Senator, but he does have a JD and an MBA, so he cannot be a complete rube. It is time for Senator Santorum to step down from his position as GOP Conference Chair. And it is time for the GOP to do a self examination and decide what kind of party it is- is it the party of bigots and homophobes, like Santorum and Lott, or the party of Roosevelt and Lincoln. Time to make a choice.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Taxing Affair
The federal tax code allows for a student loan deduction applied to your gross income, not to exceed $2,500. The amount of your deduction is equal to the amount of interest paid on the loan(s). By deducting this from your AGI, your tax liability is less than it would have been for your earnings. And while this sounds good, it does not go far enough for the reasons stated below.
First, the ceiling may be too low. I do not have any specific data on how many people pay more than $2,500 per year in interest payments, but my guess is that there are quite a few. And I would further posit that those who fall into this category are primarily children of families in the lower socio-economic brackets, as they are the ones most likely to borrow to fund their education. (One might also make the counter-argument that many people who are paying in excess of $2,500 per year in interest attended a professional school, such as law or medicine, and are therefore not in need of tax relief.) Without hard data, it is impossible to analyze the cost of lifting the ceiling in terms of lower tax revenues, but from a theoretical standpoint it makes much sense. Why should people who have had to borrow more, because of their socio-economic status, be punished by capping their student loan interest deduction?
The second problem I have with this scheme is that it deflects attention from other policy alternatives. For example, why should full time students pay any income tax? While some students are exempt or receive a full refund, the majority of students incur some tax liability. While it can be argued that students, like all members of society, consume public services and benefit from a civil society, the counter-argument is that these individuals are investing their time and money in an education that will in fact have benefits that will accrue to society and not just the individual. Most students struggle to make ends meet with summer jobs, work study positions and a boatload of loans. Why not take some of the weight off of their shoulders and allow them to earn up to a certain amount tax free- say $15,000 or 20,000. It would have a benefit to the economy, too because students spend most, if not all, of their disposable income. This money in real people's hands, rather than the US Treasury, would stimulate the economy and help to create jobs.
But, alas, students and young people 18-35 don't tend to vote. And if you do not vote, you do not have power over your elected officials. And so public policy will continue to be driven by middle aged and elderly individuals who vote and give campaign contributions.
A Modest Proposal
(although this post refers to the budget situation in NY, the same logic can be applied elsewhere)
The State of NY finds itself in an $11.5 billion hole for the fiscal year that just began on April 1. The Governor's proposed budget was declared dead on arrival by legislative leaders, public employee unions and spending advocates. Instead, the two houses are looking at closing corporate tax loopholes and implementing a temporary income tax surcharge on upper incomes. But before looking to take more money out of private hands there are steps the legislature should take to narrow the deficit.
First, legislative leaders should put their money where their mouths are and refuse to accept lulu's (additional salary for chairmanships and leadership positions), this wouldn't solve the state's fiscal crisis, but it would send a massage about sharing the pain of tough cuts. Second, there should be no pork in the budget, in the form of member items. Politicians should not be able to buy votes with the public treasury at ANY time, but especially not now. Further, any member item that is more than one year old should not be re-appropriated and that money should be swept back into the general fund. Now, one could argue that money was legitimately provided for whatever organization, however if the group has not accessed it in over twelve months than perhaps they didn't really need the money and it should go back to the public coffers to be used for more pressing concerns like school aid. The legislature must also look for wasteful spending in government. With an almost $90 billion budget, there has to be at least a few billion dollars of waste.
All of these suggestions require a certain degree of intestinal fortitude that most members of the legislature have never exhibited, so we should probably not expect it of them now. It is far easier to raise taxes and play the class warfare game. After all, upper income folks are a small percentage of New Yorkers, and are probably outnumbered by members of public employee unions and other big government advocates.
I should note that I do favor the elimination of corporate tax loopholes. Not because I think corporations should pay more taxes, but because corporations should be treated equally and none should get a special benefit because of their lobbying power and clout. That is not true free market capitalism. But let's be honest and admit that it is not corporations who pay taxes, it is individuals. The economic reality is that depending on the elasticity of demand of the good or service a corporation will either pass on the tax to consumers in the form of higher prices or will pass it along to shareholders in the form of lower dividends (or some combination thereof).

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Democratic Targets
Kos continues his strategizing for 2004 for the Dems. At the bottom of this post, he makes an interesting point, that the Democrats should "target the Libertarians -- with pro-gun, pro-privacy, and anti-PATRIOT act policies (Dean and Clark both score big with this). I fear the far left is lost, it's not just worth the effort to lose the center to pick up the left's 2 percent." While I concur about the second half of his point (and how I wish other Dems were smart enough to understand political math), I am not as convinced that Dean or Clark actually score for a couple of reasons, each in their turn.
First, the 2004 race will feature foreign policy as a major theme and as Governor of one of the smallest states, Dean does not carry any foreign policy heft. Sure, his anti-war schtick has attracted some followers, but even that support seems to be waning as his somewhat more hawkish statements of late have left the doves with some doubt about his true intentions. Plus, as I have noted before, I think the pro-gun people are fairly pro-war, and even though some Libertarians have been reluctant about the use of force in Iraq, they are also not the sort of adamant pro-gun voters that NRA members are.
Now, I am sure some people will counter that Bill Clinton also lacked foreign policy experience, yet was elected president. However, 1992 was a much different time. The parallels are there- stagnant economy, Gulf War victory- but the events of September 11 made foreign policy and security an issue that will not take a backseat to economic doldrums. Also, as much as I admire President Clinton his foreign policy as a nightmare. It lacked any coherent vision; it failed to address the threat of terrorism; it sat idle for too long as genocide occured in both Rwanda and Kosovo; etc. I think Americans will think twice about electing someone like Dean who has no foreign policy experience.
That brings us to the former General. I think that Clark is such a tabula rasa that many people who find him appealing are projecting their own views of what he is onto the General. I do not think we know enough about him to judge his fitness for the presidency, however I will note that my gut feeling is the American public will be skeptical about a lifelong military man as president. Though Clark is a dynamic individual, he does not have the stature of an Eisenhower, or even a Powell. I am also not convinced that the American public is willing to overlook his lack of experience with domestic issues, just as they will be unwilling to overlook Dean's lack of foreign policy expertise.
The ideal candidate will have a working knowledge and experience in both domestic and foreign affairs and will be a moderate. I think the choice is really limited to Lieberman, Kerry, Gephardt and Graham.
Logical Consequences?
Boy oh boy... In a broadside to the PC pro-affirmative action crowd, a UNC Wilmington professor has emailed his students to let them know he will now grade according to affirmative action principles. Obviously, he won't really do it, but it sure makes for good theater. I have quoted a long section below. (thanks to John and Erin)

I have decided to abandon my long-standing opposition to affirmative action after listening to the oral arguments in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case challenging admissions policies at the University of Michigan. While listening to these recorded arguments, I learned that public universities have a ''compelling interest in diversity'' which supersedes simplistic notions of reverse discrimination. Now, because my views have changed, I am forced to alter my classroom grading policies.

Students in my classes will continue to have their final grades based principally on test performance. Students will also continue to have a portion of their grade determined by class participation and/or a final paper depending on the class in which they are enrolled (please consult your course syllabus if you are one of my students).

After I compute final averages, I will then implement the new aspect of the grading process which is modeled after existing affirmative action policies at the university. Specifically, I will be computing a class average which I will then compare to the individual performance of all white males enrolled in my classes. All white males who exceed the class average will have points deducted and added to the final averages of women and minorities. A student need not have ever engaged in discrimination in order to have points deducted. Nor must a student have ever been a victim of discrimination in order to receive additional points.

I expect that my new policy will be well received by some, and poorly received by others. For those in the latter category, please contact Human Resources for further elaboration on the concept of affirmative action. You may also contact the Office of Campus Diversity for additional guidance.

I understand that many of you may consider my new position to be unprincipled. Please understand, however, that the university has long abandoned antiquated principles of ''fairness'' in favor of identity politics. Also understand that my job as a university professor is to prepare you for the real world.

After all, no one promised that life would always be fair.

(full text here)
Another View
Excellent piece on affirmative action in City Journal by Berkeley professor John McWhorter, who himself is African American. It is a well argued call for color blind admissions, which I find fairly compelling and a challenge to my own thoughts about undergraduate admissions. I still have major concerns about the effect of K-12 inequities on a color blind undergraduate admissions process and outcomes and I think McWhorter overlooks potential consequences. Below are some interesting bits from the piece, but you should really read the whole thing.
"One of the motivations for writing my book Losing the Race was hearing a black student working in admissions casually say that she distrusted black applicants who did well enough in high school not to need preferences, since such students would not be committed to Berkeley’s black community—as if it were somehow not “authentically black” to be a top student. "
"Especially in light of the stereotypes that blacks have labored under in this country, saddling black people with eternally lowered standards is immoral. We spent too much time suffering under the hideously unjust social experiments of slavery and segregation to be subjected to further social engineering that benefits the sentiments of liberal elites instead of bettering the conditions and spirits of minorities."
Nation Building in Arid Soil
Although I never thought importing democratic institutions to the Middle East would be easy, I am beginning to wonder if it might not require the use of much more military force than may be palatable for the international community. Take this report for example, which details the attacks on schools in Afghanistan by radical Islamists. And the recent reports out of Iraq are not much more encouraging. Though I must note that I think the media is making way too much of the looting. It can be explained by the emotional turbulence caused by the toppling of a tyrant. Looting even happens here in America, sometimes after teams win championships, so why is it so problematic in Iraq? It is only an issue if you have an ideological stake in discrediting regime change.
But back to my original point about the difficulties in constructing civic institutions. First of all, there is a capacity problem. Many of these people have lived under repressive regimes for so long that they have little experience in civic participation. They were accustomed to keeping their heads down and going about their business. They have little or no history of democratic elections. However, in Iraq there are at least a cadre of bureaucrats who might be called upon to run the government. But in Afghanistan, where the Taliban had turned back the clock to the Dark Ages, there is virtually no capacity to govern in a modern sense. The rule of law is intimidation and violence.
These two countries are not the former Soviet republics, where many civic institutions existed, though were circumscribed. Such institutions will have to be built from the gorund up, which is challenging enough in itself. But it will have to occur in the face of opposition from Islamic fascists who would like for society to remain in the Dark Ages. And they will not just try to undermine efforts to liberalize these two societies, but they will use violence and terror to stop progress. The question for the US and its allies is how much of their own force are they willing to exert in order to squelch Islamic fascism and prevent the re-oppression of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

One for the Road
Just as I was about to go to bed, too.. I stumble upon this piece on CNN. The pro-tax giveaway Club for Growth (really, they ought to be truthful and call it the Club for Millionaires) is airing ads critical of Republicans who voted against the President's massive tax boondoggle, and instead supported a smaller tax cut. The Club's lackey in chief went so far as to compare these members to the French, "Why are his so-called allies in the House and Senate so eager to impede economic progress? These 'Franco Republicans' are as dependable as France was in taking down Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein."
It seems that those who would pillage our Treasury for the benefit of the most wealthy will stoop to any level. Of course, this fits in with the White House's attempts to tie the tax cuts to the war. Ari Fleishcer has stated that the tax cuts are needed so that our troops will have jobs to come back to, which completely ignores the fact that they already have full time jobs in the military.
There is clearly no meaningful connection between the war and tax cuts and any attempt to create such a linkage will only backfire as the average American is far too smart to fall for such a tenuous argument. In fact, some polls have shown over 60% of Americans are opposed to the President's tax giveaway, especially in a time of war. Not that any time is a good one to squander limited tax dollars in a ponzi scheme to benefit the super rich, but now is a particularly bad time and only the most reactionary tax cutters support such a policy. Unfortunately many of the people who still worship at the altar of voodoo economics control the White House and Congress.
Got a bit carried away with errands and what not today, getting ready for my brief trip to ChiTown. May blog from hotel tomorrow night. They have high speed wireless, which is a definite bonus. Looking forward to checking out a new city. If I don't get to the blog before I come home, regular pithy commentary will resume on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Ever since I lived in Boston I have made it a habit to purchase the local paper produced by the homeless organization. In Boston it was Spare Change and here in Albany we now have Big News, which migrated up from NYC. There is always an ad in the paper listing the clothing supplies needed for the clients the organization serves. And it strikes me just how much I take for granted my own life and lifestyle. I am fortunate to have a roof over my head, good clothes on my back, not to mention two stereos, two computers, a car and other luxuries. But for a slight change in fortune I might be the person on the corner begging for spare change or a cup of coffee.
Until I moved to St. Louis for law school, I had only ever heard of homelessness on the news. On Cape Cod we did have a few homeless people but they were all but invisible to me. Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet some of our homeless people in the different cities I have lived in. I have met kind, intelligent, talented and witty people. People who could put a smile on my face on a blustery Boston afternoon in the rain.
I have never bought into the notion that people are homeless because of some character flaw, and I think those who do only have such a view because they do not know any homeless people. And it seems to me that there is something profoundly wrong with a society that tolerates homelessness. I realize that some people on the streets are there from the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill and others are too young to have been victims of that policy change but suffer from mental illness themselves. The convergence of mental illness and homelessness makes for polarizing debates with intense passions on either side. My own opinion is that we as a society owe it to individuals who suffer from mental illness to provide adequate treatment and shelter.
And to those who are homeless for other reasons we owe social programs that will lift them up from poverty. We owe them housing programs that will put a roof over their head. We owe them quality schools for their children so they may succeed, and job training programs for those who lack the skills to compete. But most of all we owe them an apology for ignoring their plight for so long.
Unfortunately we have a political leadership that places more value on handouts to coporations, pork to well connected donors and tax give aways to the wealthiest Americans. How sad that a country founded on a commitment to "promote the general welfare" has so lost its way.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Dean's Gun Closet
As I have written before, I think the gun issue is Howard Dean's skeleton lurking in the closet. Now, Ron Brownstein has picked it up and Matthew thinks Ron is wrong here. Matthew argues that Dean's state's rights view of guns will not hurt him in primaries because the field is so big and everyone else is anti-gun. Matthew also argues that Dean's views will help with the pro-gun Dems, though he admits there are more anti than pro gun Dems. Obviously this issue will play out differently in each state, but what I think Matthew misses is that Dean's anti-war stance will likely cost him the support of pro-gun Dems. Now, I have no statistical data to show that pro-gun Dems are pro-war, but my gut instinct is that the vast majority of pro-gun folks, Dem or Republican, are in support of the war.
So, where does this leave Dean? I think it puts him in a difficult position having one position essentially cancelling out the support he might have received from another position. But it does bolster his image as an iconoclast. The question will be how willing are anti-war liberals to forgive what they perceive to be a pro-gun position? And, will NRA Dems be supportive of an anti-war dove?
Where Do They Find These People?
First, it was Trent Lott waxing nostalgic about Strom Thurmond and his racist Dixiecrats, now we've got a Congresswoman from Wyoming uttering blatantly racist remarks. During the debate over gun legislation, GOP Rep. Cubin said, "One amendment today said we could not sell guns to anybody under drug treatment. So does that mean that if you go into a black community you can't sell any guns to any black person?" As if this was not offensive enough, the GOP led House refused to take down (strike) her comments in a mostly party line vote.
So, not only does Cong. Cubin think all black people are drug addicts, but her party does not find such beliefs troublesome. And the GOP wonders why blacks consistently vote Democratic. It takes more than just a few people of color on a convention stage to make a party racially inclusive. Apparently the neanderthals of the GOP can't seem to get that through their heads.
(full story here)

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Affirmative Action?
I have been trying to stay away from this topic, at least until after the Supreme Court issues its ruling in the Michigan cases. But I got to thinking a bit today and a couple of things stuck out and seemed worthy of comment. First, let us look at affirmative action as educational policy. It has been in place for over thirty years, yet is claimed by its proponents to remain necessary. The promise of AA was to address past racial disparities in higher education. It was supposed to bring about change not only in higher education, but in society in terms of educational achievement. Yet, thirty years later disparity still exists- blacks attend and graduate college at lower rates than their white counterparts and the same is true for graduate and professional schools. And still, there are those who think what we need is more AA. One would think that after thirty years of failure it might be time for a re-thinking of this strategy. For example, a focus on the inequities of the K-12 educational system might be in order. By equalizing educational opportunity at a younger age we could virtually eliminate the problem of an unlevel playing field for university admissions.
My other point is in terms of law school admissions, a subject near and dear to my heart at this moment. I find it a bit curious that elite law schools like Michigan truly believe that some individuals need special help in the admissions process. The vast majority of applicants to schools like U of M come from the most elite public and private colleges and universities in the nation. They apply after four years of what is supposed to be the best education available. Yet proponents of AA insist that minorities deserve special consideration. This is an argument whose bottom line is this- minority graduates of Harvard University cannot compete on an equal footing with non-minority graduates of Harvard University (or whatever elite college you chose) for a spot at U of M law. If this is indeed the truth, then what does that say about the quality of American colleges and universities? What does it say about the efficacy of AA? If one accepts the rationale for AA in law school or med school admissions then one must also logically accept that AA in undergraduate education has been an abysmal failure.
It is especially troubling to read comments from minority students at U of M Law in support of affirmative action because what they are really saying is that they don't see themselves as able to compete with their white colleagues. And if that is not a racist, plantation mindset, then I don't know what is.
My Thoughts Exactly
This is from John Stewart, via HereticalIdeas, which was via ASmallVictory.

"No matter what side of the political spectrum you're on, if you are incapable of feeling at least a tiny amount of joy at watching ordinary Iraqis celebrate this, you are lost to the ideological left. And let me also add, if you are incapable of feeling badly that we even had to use force in the first place, you are ideologically lost to the right. And I would inform both of those groups to leave the room now and do not watch the program. It's like ice-skating: We throw out the high score and the low score. The rest of the people, you're welcome at the table."

Intolerable Behavior
The smattering of anti-war protests at some colleges and universities has brought about an unpleasant response of threats and violence. As always, Erin O'Connor has the details. She highlights some of the incidents at Yale and Berkeley. It is unfortunate that students at what are elite universities have resorted to violence and threats rather than reasoned argument to solve their problems. And, while I agree with Erin almost all of the time, I have to take issue with part of her argument here. She states that, "what we see on both coasts is the sad and frightening spectacle of students putting theory into practice, of young adults applying the ideological lessons of the politicized classroom to their daily lives." Though I do think that students have taken some of their lessons from their classrooms, I feel that Erin almost lets students off the hook. Their presence at such elite institutions allows for a certain assumption about their intellectual ability and that such bright people must have the faculty of free will. They should be intelligent enough to know that threats and violence are nothing more than street brawls and not the way to solve disagreements. It does not matter what political theater occurs in the classroom. We should expect educated individuals to be able to discriminate between egghead theory as practiced in the classroom and real life conflict resolution.
I may be reading Erin wrong, and I hope that I am, but if not then she is almost excusing the actions of politicized students and victimologists because their techniques were learned at the knee of their professors.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Here We Go Again
Back to record deficits, all presided over by a President with the same name as the last record breaker. House and Senate negotiators agreed, and the House has approved, a budget framework that would inlcude $550 billion in tax cuts and record budget deficits. Of course, the dimwitted GOP claims the elimination of the dividend tax and speeding up of other income tax cuts will spur the economy. Despite the fact that the CBO has done their little dynamic scoring game and found this not to be true. But who needs the analysis of real economists?
I can remember a time when the GOP was the fiscally conservative party, when they would chastise the Democrats for running up massive deficits and mismanaging the people's treasury. But after eight years of Democratic budget balancing, the old adages seem to no longer hold true. Now, I am not so naive as to believe that if the deficits were driven by massive increases in social spending that my party's leaders would be so exercised. In fact, there are many in my party who still worship at the altar of big government and are hypocritical for criticizing these deficits from a fiscal prudence standpoint.
But it's the American people who are the victims in this whole game. Held hostage by one party who wants to give massive tax breaks to the wealthiest and another party who wants the federal government to free base their tax dollars. Somewhere out there is someone who understands this and will hopefully come forward with a credible third party.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Nine Dwarves?
As my regular readers know, I have yet to decide on a horse for the P2004 sweepstakes. At this point I would say I have it narrowed down to Lieberman, Graham and Edwards, none of whom have completely captured my attention or loyalty. So I try to keep up with the latest on the campaign trail to see if anyone has distanced himself from the pack. And, along comes this report from last night's Children's Defense Fund cattle call for Democratic aspirants. As has become the norm, the candidates who agree with the American people on Iraq were put on the defensive for their support of the war while the others pandered to the isolationist Left. And, as is his custom, Senator Kerry tried to be on all sides of the issue.
When asked whether the fall of Saddam Hussein changed their opinion of the war, Gov. Dean responded with this gem- "We've gotten rid of him. I suppose that's a good thing." Now, keep in mind this occurred on the same day the Iraqi people welcomed US Marines with roses and tore down statues of Saddam. And Howard Dean supposes it's a good thing? Relieving the Iraqi people of a brutal dictator and the world of a dangerous regime may be a good thing according to Dean? Now that's a man I want guiding my country's foreign policy. Oy!
Uber Lefty candidates Braun and Kucinich lamented that the $80 billion spent on deposing Saddam would have been better spent at home. That is, of course, based on an assumption that in the long run we would not have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to defend ourselves against state sponsored terrorism by thugs like Saddam Hussein. Is it just me or do some of the Democrats sound an awful lot like Pat Buchanan and his band of America First folks?
Isolationism was driven out of the American mainstream decades ago, but it has survived on the far left and far right fringes of America's politics. Unfortunately, that far left seems to hold a controlling interest in who my party nominates to run against George Bush. And that is what makes me depressed.
Dept. of Truly Scary
The dimwitted Bushies have gone and nominated another hard right ideologue to the federal bench. This time it's the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the nominee is Alabama AG William Pryor. Demagogue is all over this one, complete with links and quotes.
One would think that the President's people would get the message that Congress is not going to swallow his domestic agenda, no matter how successful the war effort. His tax package has been gutted, his faith based initiative, too. Estrada is still languishing after how many cloture votes? Are the Bushies really this tone deaf?
War Pigs
According to this NYT story House and Senate negotiators are held up over the war bill. And why, you ask? Because the pork meisters in the Senate tucked in oodles of special interest tidbits completely unrelated to the war. Amazingly enough, the House has refused to go along and wants a clean bill. The Senate pork man, Ted Stevens, allowed his bretheren to add money for dams and farmers to the bill. Some of the items may have merits, but this is clearly not the vehicle to advance them. Is it too much to ask our representatives to deal only with the issue at hand and to stop doling out corporate welfare and other goodies under the guise of aiding the war effort?
The NYT has itself worked up into a lather over Education Sec'y. Paige's recent comments about Christian education. Paige was quoted in a Baptist newspaper as saying, "All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith. In a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values."
While I do not share the Times' outrage over such a comment, I do agree that they are somewhat troubling and not appropriate for an Education Sec'y. But to be honest, there is something to be said for religious schools, especially Catholic ones. Now, I am not a Christian, so hopefully I won't be regarded as biased. There is ample research showing the efficacy of parochial schools at educating children from diverse backgrounds. They have been particularly adept at educating poor African American children as compared to the abysmal failure that marks most inner city public schools.
Critics of parochial schools, many of whom reside in teacher union offices, question their success and point to their homogeneity as the reason for their results. Yet, the demographics of a typical inner city Catholic school is no different than the local public school, including its numbers of special education students. Yet, Catholic schools spend far less per pupil. Of course, some of this success can be traced to the motivation of the parents, but voucher studies have shown that the difference in student performance is not solely attributable to parental factors.
What I find troubling in Paige's remarks are his singling out of Christian schools, implying that other religious schools are not as valuable. Or that schools where the values are not specific to a religion are somehow inferior. I disagree that the public schools do not have certain values. I taught in a public school that had a very specific value system that was reinforced throughout the school year. It was based on universal principles, not any one religion, and it worked incredibly well. Too many critics of public education fall back on the charge that schools are valueless swamps where anything goes. Instead public schools take universal values of respect, learning and community and teach them to children from many different religious backgrounds.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

What We Owe Iraq
Now that the War seems to be nearly over, it is time to think about what a post-Saddam Iraq will look like and what we, as liberators, owe the Iraqi people. Now, there is likely one school of thought that posits our only obligation was to remove Saddam. But this view is short sighted both in terms of future security issues for the US and the world and for its lack of commitment to the ideal of democratic governance. If we were to back out of Iraw as soon as feasible, then we would leave behind a country where the strongest would rule with little respect given to democratic governance or minority rights. It would be a country torn between the majority Shia, the Kurds and Ba'athists. There is an argument to be made that the country might become another Afghanistan, ruled by theocrats who care little for human rights. Such a state would not only be a threat to its own people, but to other regimes in the region, and perhaps to the US and its allies in the West. And, it would certainly make the coalition look as though it did not really care about the Iraqi people.
So, what do we owe the Iraqis? I think we owe them some sort of federal government, where all parties would have a hand in the direction of the country, whether they be secular or religious. We owe the Iraqis a quick transition from a coalition led administrative regime to its own democracy. We must ensure that the UN is allowed only to provide humanitarian assistance and not to control the government (as their abject failure in Kosovo has shown, the UN is incapable of organizing a clam bake, let alone a country). We must prevent French and German companies and their governments from enforcing oil contracts negotiated with Saddam's regime, as these contracts are notoriously one sided and would deny the Iraqi people of their legitimate oil wealth.
Winning the peace on Iraq will be much more difficult that it was to topple Saddam's regime. It will take time and energy and we must not lose sight of Iraq's long term interests. Hopefully the coalition will use the same level of resources in rebuilding Iraq and its civic institutions as they did in planning and executing this war. Anything less would be a defeat.

Monday, April 07, 2003

To be honest, I don't know when I will be up and running again. There is so little to talk about aside from the war. If I find something of interest, I will blog it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Ok.. I am going to be away today through Friday, so there will be no posting for a couple of days. In the meantime, visit some of the sites over there on your left.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Something Totally Different
Apparently the Texas legislature may take up a bill to limit vending machine usage in schools (full story here). I know that there are those of you who may think this is not a good idea and a waste of the legislature's time (HereticalIdeas goes so far as to call this health fascism). But let's look at this from a public policy perspective, focusing on public health. Children in America, like their adult counterparts, are becoming more and more obese. Obesity is linked to health problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease that cost the American health care system hundreds of millions of dollars per year. These diseases also cost the economy in terms of lost productivity and worker missed days. If we can do something to reduce the costs to our health system and our economy, then we should. I am not swayed by the argument that kids will just bring in junk food from home. Perhaps they will, but you know what criminals will get guns, but that doesn't mean we should give them easy access to the rifle shop.
America Haters, Unite!
The one positive outcome of the war thus far is to show the true colors of some academics and "journalists". The virulent anti-Americanism that one is subjected to on university campuses and on major editorial pages has reached a fever pitch. These America haters have picked up where the "anti-war" demonstrators left off calling America a terrorist state and comparing the president to Hitler. These individuals hate America so much that anything she does becomes reprehensible in their eyes. The same people who claim to value human rights stand shoulder to shoulder with China and Syria in opposition to the liberation of the Iraqi people. Remember these people also opposed our invasion of Afghanistan, a country that harbored the terrorist network that claimed over 3000 American lives on 9-11 and oppressed its women and stoned gays to death.
One has to question some liberals' commitment to human rights and freedom. They are willing to demonstrate against some regimes and boycott others, but are unwilling to support the use of force to end oppression. Either they fail to understand that force is a necessary component to overthrow a repressive regime or they care only to give lip service to the human rights of others.
Still Light
Posting is still rather light this week as the only game in town is the war. And, to be honest, I am tired of writing about that topic. Hopefully I won't lose my loyal readers (all five of you) during this dry season.
Dear Joe
Below is the text of an email I sent to Joe Lieberman expressing my disappointment with his campaign.

Although I have great admiration and respect for you as an individual and as a public leader, I am very saddened by your support of the University of Michigan's discriminatory admissions policies. It is especially troubling to me that you cite Martin Luther King, Jr. in support of the University. It is disingenuous for either side to claim the legacy of this great man, but I do find it difficult that someone who dreamt of an America in which his children would be judged not by their race, but by the content of their character would lend his support to a policy that gives an applicant points based on his/her race.
It seems to me that the Joe Lieberman that we used to know disappeared with his nomination for Vice President. There did seem a glimmer of hope that the old Joe might be back when you criticized the Gore campaign for its divisive rhetoric during the 2000 campaign. But now, I am not so sure.
Affirmative action is a difficult issue, especially in higher education. The solution is much more complex than a trite sound bite about diversity. What America needs to do is end the inequitable K-12 education system so that a poor black girl from Harlem can have the same quality of education that an upper middle class white boy from Westchester receives. And we must acknowledge the difference between undergraduate and graduate/professional school admissions policies. There is no compelling reason for affirmative action in the latter, where the admissions process takes place after completion of a four year degree, resulting in a leveling effect.
I find it unfortunate that you have decided to take a left turn in order to head off some of the criticism you are receiving for your support of the war. I also find it sad that you have decided to mouth liberal platitudes about race and equal pay, as though those problems are easily solvable or that there is not an economically rational explanation for "unequal" pay. Apparently, you did not learn a lesson from the Gore campaign and its left lurch away from New Democrat ideals.