Politics: April 2004 Archives
Volokh furtively places a headline about religious fanatics over a post about the National Council of Churches' advocacy for environmental concerns. He waits until the end to bring it back to the headline's subject, but he's absolutely right. If it's wrong to use religious motivations to support laws, then it's wrong for the National Council of Churches to be a voice amid those that should influence law. I think this is a reductio of such a principle. The founders advocated laws against murder on the basis of religious principles. Is that wrong? Whatever the Constitution requires in religion-state relations, it doesn't require the absence of religious considerations in people's motivations for laws. Yet there's a double standard when conservative religious groups advocate laws, since no opposition ever surfaces with liberal religious groups that do so.
Update: Oops. I forgot the link. Here it is.
Badgermum posted a Douglas Adams excerpt about the lizards who control the world and how we continue voting for one lizard simply to avoid the other lizard from being elected. It's pretty funny. As I've said before, I don't think the Republican Party cares a whit for evangelical Christians' concerns except to pander to them to keep getting the vote, just as the Democratic Party cares nothing about black people's interests except to pander to keep getting their vote. Therefore I appreciate what Adams is doing here (though he wasn't thinking as much about American society, I don't think).
I do like President Bush, though he has to some extent allowed the factions in control of the party to push him in those ways. Still, even if I were to grant that he's no different from the Democrats with both on the bad side, I don't think I could agree with Badgermum's conclusion. I just can't see the Constitution Party extremists as the answer, and it's not because they're a third party and can't even get enough votes to be recognized in non-backward states. It's because I'm even more opposed to some of their fundamental views (e.g. pretending we're a theocracy) than I am to the Republican tendencies that I don't like.
Update: I went and read the Constitution Party platform more carefully to explain why I don't like this part at all, and I discovered that they're actually much worse than I thought. I thought it was just a tendency to tolerate white supremacism and nationalism in service of selfishness, but it runs much deeper than just tolerating those extremists at the fringes. Some of those values are at the very heart of their platform.
More scatological news: Environmentalists have a new cause. We should abandon diapers. Disposables, of course, aren't easily biodegradable and take up lots of room in landfills. They also contan material that will pollute if incinerated. Yet this isn't just a move to cloth diapers. Those use too much detergent, water, and energy to keep washing. The solution? Just stop using them, and figure out the signs to anticipate when your baby is about to engage in bodily functions. Find a toilet or a tree, and then all you'll need to do is wipe the kid. (via Volokh)
I have no words for how stupid this is. This would result in washing clothes more often (or just buying more clothes and having more clothes to wash when you do it), since no one can perfectly predict when a kid's about to unload. Therefore it involves more cleaning supplies: paper or cloth towels or wipes, soap, detergent. It also raises questions about what to do when traveling. Car seats, couches, and public places create problems and not just with having extra changes of clothes. You can't stop a car with no notice in some locations. Certain things are much harder to clean even than clothes. What about the health issues of having waste matter distributed behind trees and such places?
This just takes the environmental problem back a step and just makes life ridiculously more difficult, especially when you've got more than one kid in diapers. It would surprise me to hear this from pretty much anyone except an environmentalist group.
Somehow I hadn't been to Mark Byron's blog in a while. He was almost assuredly one of the first 20 blogs on my blogroll, probably even within the first 15, and I guess he got lost in the shuffle recently. I noticed two posts yesterday when browsing through what I'd missed that are worth drawing attention to.
He reflects on the moral significance of the fact that 50% of the population is of below average intelligence, with some good economics thrown in.
He's also been thinking a bit about neocons vs. paleocons as compared with unadjectived conservatives and flat-out liberals.
Be careful when using coupons. You might save money, but is it worth being arrested? I suppose it might be if you can later win a six-figure lawsuit over it. (from
Someone at Harvard Business School during the period when President Bush had been there (and who became a faculty member shortly thereafter) debunks the mainstream narrative of Bush's coasting through school without learning anything, including some reasons to think the Bush Administration really is what you would expect from an MBA who learned what he was taught when earning his degree. I remember seeing someone talking about the poker player political strategy before. I see it in him, too. (link from Keith Burgess-Jackson)
More from the Meet the Press interview:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, again, in the interest of candor and clarity, you have promised to create 10 million jobs...
SEN. KERRY: Yep.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and cut the deficit in half in your first four years.
SEN. KERRY: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: If you don't achieve those goals, would you pledge that you would not seek re-election?
SEN. KERRY: Well, it would depend on the circumstances. If I don't because there's a war or something terrible happens, of course I'm not going to make that pledge.
Bush has seen two major military conflicts amidst an ongoing terrorism conflict, not to mention something terrible happening on 9-11. Just remember Kerry's predictive excuse the next time he complains that we haven't seen enough new jobs under Bush. He's already excused him for that.
Tim Russert interviewed John Kerry on Sunday. The transcript is at the MSNBC website. There's a nice long bit at the end where Russert presses Kerry on some stuff he's said in the past about Vietnam. Here's Kerry from the 1971 Meet the Press appearance:
There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare. All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.
When Russert now asked Kerry about that statement and if he really thinks he and all those other U.S. soldiers committed atrocities, Kerry gave the following response:
La Shawn has more about the silence from Democrats since Chris Dodd's Trent Lottism. It really is deafening. You can't hear anything.
My previous post on the topic has made it into this week's Carnival of the Bush Bloggers. I haven't read the other entries, so I won't recommend them. I just had to mention it, since The Christian Carnival isn't exactly a highly selective venture (they want to increase its size), whereas this one rejects posts to keep it small.
The memo "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." has been released. It reveals even more how ridiculous the 9-11 commision's more left-leaning members are. Here's the full text. It says bin Laden wanted to strike in the U.S., but that could have been inferred from his threats against the U.S. during the Clinton Administration. It didn't take any special intelligence information to know that. There was some indication of Washington, D.C., as a target with some speculation about various forms of attack, as Condoleeza Rice had indicated. It also says he prepares years in advance, which gives the sense that there's no clear immediate urgency.
The only mention of hijacking is in the following two paragraphs:
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a ... (redacted portion) ... service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of �Blind Shaykh� �Umar �Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
If it's listed as "some of the more sensational threat reporting" and merely "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks", it doesn't sound much like a warning that something like 9-11 was about to occur. It also goes on to say that the FBI were investigating everything thought to be related to al Qaeda.
Everything in the memo is consistent with the view that there are things to be on the alert about but that the relevant authorities were investigating what was worrisome. There's no strong sense that hijackings are even a strong possibility but just that they're within the range of possible threats. (via One Hand Clapping)
We're finishing up the tax forms. I guess we're a lot richer than I thought. First, the check that we received as an advance child tax credit payment, that was supposed to be part of what we get now as our child tax credit, turns out to be a complete gift. Since our allowable child tax credit was far higher than our tax itself, and since they subtract the advance check from the allowable amount before seeing how it compares to the tax itself, we still had a higher allowable amount than tax, and we got the credit for our entire tax. So the check wasn't an advance of something that we now no longer get. We get the full child tax credit we can take in addition to the advance check. We must be rich to be getting free child tax credit checks in addition to anything we get when we fill out our forms.
Second, they have these tax "credits" that they apply after they calculate the tax you allow. Any credit normally applies before the final tax owed. But these "credits" are listed among the payments. The additional child tax credit and the earned income credit are among these "payments". I don't remember ever having paid these, but they say they're payments. To clear up the confusion, they also refer to them as "credits", but it doesn't seem to me that they're credited from anything. They would better be called gifts. However, we all know that only rich people get free money from the government at tax time, and poor and middle class people are the ones who pay for those gifts. So we must be very rich, since this is a fair amount of money.
The end result is that our tax "refund" is very close to $300 less than our taxable income itself. Isn't that a little strange?. Our tax itself is almost $1500 less than our taxable income, so what is it that they're refunding? We must be rich to be getting such a high "refund" from tax we never paid.
The reality is that the Bush tax cuts do far more for the low end of taxpayers, particularly for families with children, than they do comparatively for the rich. They give flat-out gifts to people with lower income and merely collect a smaller percentage from people with middle and upper income (though the higher the income the lower percentage less than last year, even if the amount of the drop is more because the tax is more).
Something like this happened last year, too, but not to the same extent. Of course, New York State was another matter. We get a fair amount money "back" from the federal government that we never paid to begin with, but somehow New York still thought we make enough money to owe them something (and it was more than had been taken out of my paychecks). This year, however, even New York (with the highest tax burden of all 50 states) has joined the bandwagon, and we're getting more back than we paid (though not anywhere near as ridiculously high an amount as the federal "refund").
Overall, I haven't seen anything suprising so far in the Rice testimony. I do want to register my thoughts on one commision member's questioning. A couple members from the Democratic side were a little impatient and impolite with her, but one takes the cake.
Bob Kerrey asked a couple "Have you stopped beating your wife?" questions of Dr. Rice. When she insisted on challenging the assumptions of his questions before answering them, he told her not to filibuster him since he only has ten minutes. (Another panel member, Richard Ben-Veniste, had done this once or twice already, seemingly more interested in his own conspiracy theories than what she had to say, since he obviously didn't listen to her, but it didn't stop her from addressing his false assumptions either.) Kerrey was the one who raised those issues with her, so it's his choice how his time gets used. Then he had the gall to suggest that he'd been patient and polite with her. I don't how polite it is to call someone named Condoleeza Rice by the name "Dr. Clarke". I counted at least five instances of this, and there were probably far more. Getting someone's name wrong is extremely impolite. Insisting that she not challenge erroneous assumptions of his questions is a good example of impatient behavior. Rolling your eyes, grinning with disbelief, and getty edgy while listening to someone does not show politeness and willingness to hear what she has to say, nor does it exemplify patience. He started out well, but I stopped listening to what he had to say after too much of this.
Update: Best quote of the morning: "I don't like to beat a dead horse, but there's a lot of lame ones running around here. Let's see if we can't push them out the door." -- James Thompson, member of the commission
Update 2: As it's wrapping up, I'll say that it seems to me as if she's done what I expected. She's given a cogent presentation of the Administration's perspective on these issues. She answered pretty much every question to my satisfaction and made a couple members of the commission look like jerks and conspiracy theorists. This is from someone who doesn't know most of the issues in detail, but it didn't seem to me as if they had anything serious that she couldn't answer. The commission's chair concluded by saying that she had "advanced their understanding on certain events". Afterward, the vice-chair said he didn't think any of their questions threw her and that her comments would be useful to them. We'll see what the fallout is as it comes.
Update 3: Her prepared statement is already online.
Swamphopper at The Rough Woodsman wonders if the insistence on Condi Rice testifying for the 9-11 commission will draw more support and understanding for the Bush Administration, as similar moves did for the Reagan and Clinton Administrations with the testimonies of Colonel Oliver North and President Clinton, respectively. Will it spark the oft-speculated campaign of Dr. Rice into the presidency in 2008, as those who most hate Hillary have been publicly hoping? Film at 11.
I'm looking forward to her testimony. I think she may be the smartest person in any president's cabinet during my lifetime, and I think it was politically unwise for those who merely want to make this administration look bad to insist that she of all people testify. Of course, those who just want to get to the bottom of things will be much rewarded. Her testimony is the closest thing you'll get to an intellectual's presentation of what sort of reasoning moves President Bush, and therefore it's what I really want to hear.
Oh, and the tradition defense did seem reasonable to me. Political advisors are neither elected nor appointed to a legally recognized position. They've never testified in front of any Congressional commission, and this doesn't seem too different except in the national security urgency of some of the issues involved. Condoleeza Rice has no legal power or authority in any sense. I can understand full well why they would want to ensure that it doesn't set a precedent. So I believe her that she very much wanted to testify but was resisting based on those reasons. She probably wanted the chance to respond officially to thinks she thought were at best exaggerations and distorted impressions. Well, now she gets it. We'll see what happens.