Thursday, June 30, 2005

Inept government at its finest

This is going to be one of those columns where I rant about government stupidity… be warned.

I spent about two hours at the Washington, D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles this morning (yes, a DMV story… we all got them) because I received a letter in the mail yesterday (June 29) stating that I needed to have a new Residential Parking Permit by the end of the month (which is today). Unfortunately, the DMV is not able to provide me with a parking sticker because they haven’t received authority from the Department of Public Works to issue stickers yet.

According to DMV, they’ll begin issuing new parking stickers for citizens who live in the RFK (home of the Washington Nationals) vicinity beginning on July 15. Why July 15th? Well, obviously, because that’s the day that all citizens near the ballpark must have a new parking permit or risk being ticketed and towed for violating the city’s new restrictions on parking in the neighborhood around the park.

Here’s a recap, I have to have one parking sticker to park in front of my home by the end of June that DMV can’t provide. I need a second one to park in the ‘hood during events at RFK after July 15 that isn’t going to be available until on or after July 15th.

In speaking with individuals at the Department of Public Works, I was told that DMV would be able to issue BOTH stickers today. DMV said they don’t have enough information from DPW to issue the stickers. I even spoke with the city department that oversees parking enforcement which said they will be “aggressively enforcing” both new requirements beginning Tuesday and July 15th, respectively.

Guess I’ll get to spend some quality time at traffic adjudication next week. Let's hope they don't scratch my car when it gets towed.

Fastest growing cities mostly in southwest and florida

The US Census Bureau released its list of the fastest-growing cities with at least 100,000 people showing new residents flocking to midsize cities in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California.

The fastest growing city was Gilbert, Arizona, followed by Miramar, Florida, North Las Vegas, Nevada; Port St. Lucie, Florida; and Roseville, California. Rounding out the top 10 were Henderson, Nevada; Chandler, Arizona; Cape Coral, Florida; and Rancho Cucamonga, California; and Irvine, California.

The report doesn't include much information on where these people are coming from other than saying that Boston and San Fransisco are the big losers, but regardless these new voters and the shifting demographics will certainly be felt in the 2008 presidential election as the campaigns fiercely compete for votes throughout these states.

Worldwide Police Action Against File-Swappers

This week, over a dozen countries participated in raids aimed at curtailing illegal file swapping over the Internet. Many arrests were made and a good deal of computer equipment was confiscated.

This multi-national law enforcement action goes to show what a worldwide problem illegal file swapping has become. Here in the U.S., the issue is being consistently litigated in our courts. The Supreme Court recently ruled that companies who provide file swapping software can, in some instances, be held liable for the criminal behavior of their customers. But going after the software developers can only dent but not stop file swapping. For every one Napster taken down, ten Groksters grow in its place.

While vigorous investigation and prosecution of file swappers should continue, the only real solution will have to be a technological one that some how prevents duplication. Otherwise, music companies, movie producers and even book publishers are going to have to deal with diminished profits. And diminished profits for them means less product for us.

If nothing else, we need a cultural understanding that illegally downloading an album from the Internet is no different that shoplifting a CD from a store. File-swapping has the potential to be a serious economic problem. I hope it can be dealt with soon.

Assessing The Iraq War/War on Terror Debate

Thanks to all who participated in our debate series covering the War in Iraq and the War on Terror. I hope, if nothing else, everyone came away with a greater understanding of the convictions and arguments of those with whom they disagree. I, for one, learned a lot.

I learned that the vast majority of Iraq opponents supported Afghanistan and, in fact, support military action as one facet of the War on Terrorism. What those who object to this war disagree with is the Bush administration’s claim that this is a war that had to be fought. Those that oppose the war simply and I think reasonably disagree that our greater interests have been advanced by toppling Saddam.

But I also learned that those who support this war have multiple, rational reasons for doing so. Most supporters sincerely believe liberating the Iraqis was a noble cause. Many note that Iraq was worse under Saddam and was also a time bomb. Sooner or later, they argue, Saddam was going to use his wealth and influence to attack us in some form or another. Better to invade now and not wait—particularly given the fact that all intelligence pointed to Saddam possessing WMD.

I also learned that people can talk about this war without getting blindingly angry. The vast number of comments were sensible and devoid of personal attacks. But I wonder if any minds were changed. I certainly learned new facts and new ideas, but I’m still pretty much where I was before.

And where I am is in neither camp. For one, I don’t think Bush lied. But I do think there was a certain level of incompetence throughout the administration in the lead up and initial execution of the war. They seemed too willing to believe the worst about Iraq and yet too willing to believe the best about our chances at a quick and decisive victory. And I think they too easily rejected the Powell Doctrine.

But here’s the thing: I’m not a military expert. And nor are the vast number of Americans. We can only make educated guesses and 20/20 hindsight criticisms. I am willing to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt. I am also willing to listen intently to the critiques from men like Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) who has been to Iraq repeatedly and met with our commanders there often. But I acknowledge that I can’t, from the comfort of my home, truly assess how this war is going and whether or not our leaders have been incompetent or if the mistakes have been acceptable considering all the unknowables of war.

What I do know is the President was reelected. Some say his support was based on lies he told but, again, I just don’t attribute to malice what I can attribute to incompetence. And most Americans stated with their vote that this President was competent enough to continue holding the job. That’s enough for me. Kerry lost. It’s time for the opposition to become the loyal opposition once more. Criticism is vital but divisiveness is not.

Thanks again to all those who participated in this debate series. I have learned that I cannot comment on this war without someone viciously calling me names and questioning my sanity. But I refuse to think we can’t talk about this. We have to talk about this. And our differences on this simply cannot be reason to hate each other. All of you who participated seemed to do so in the spirit that we are one nation. I, for one, appreciate that and think if more could act this way, more progress could be made.

Tough Choices Ahead for Anti-War Movement

For those who are opposed to the war in Iraq, this is a difficult time. While Democratic leaders like Senator Joe Biden (DE) and John Kerry (MA) are offering criticism but still arguing that this is a war we must win, others such as the powerful leftist group, are pushing for immediate withdrawal.

But withdrawal equals defeat. And defeat doesn’t mean we all go back to living in peace. This is not Vietnam where the enemy will cheer our departure and then set up a government that never really troubles us again. No, if the enemy wins in Iraq, you can be sure they will turn the country into a terrorist breeding ground focused at launching attacks at the Western world.

To those who say we wouldn’t be in this mess if we hadn’t invaded Iraq, there is little answer other than to say: unfortunately, at this point, that doesn’t matter. We did invade. And agreement or disagreement with that decision shouldn’t cloud reaction to the current realities.

Timothy Garton Ash makes much the same point today in The Guardian. After harshly criticizing Bush for creating this “massive blunder,” he points out to Europeans:

It would be suicidally dumb for any European to think, in relation to Iraq, "the worse the better". Jihadists now cutting their teeth in Iraq will make no fine distinctions between Washington and London, Berlin or Madrid. Any reader tempted to luxuriate schadenfreudishly in the prospect of a Vietnam-style US evacuation from Baghdad may be woken from that reverie by the blast from a bomb, planted in Charing Cross tube station by an Iraq-hardened terrorist.

I would add, terrorists hardened in Iraq aren’t going to target only Americans who supported the invasion. Voters in both Washington, DC and New York City gave Kerry over 90% of their support in 2004. But that doesn’t make either city any less of a target.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting people should be scared into supporting our continued involvement in Iraq. I’m just pointing out that the stakes have changed. We’re no longer fighting Saddam Hussein’s army that had no relation to al Qaeda. We are now fighting insurgents and terrorists that have clear and admitted ties to al Qaeda. You might agree with The Guardian that getting into this situation was a “massive blunder,” but you should also agree that withdrawing now would be a catastrophe.

Opponents of the war find themselves in a very difficult position. The conflict has morphed from a war of choice into a war of necessity. Can the anti-war movement adapt?

Traffic Cameras Need to Go

In the last month my wife and I have gotten four speeding tickets. Nope, not from traffic cops. From those cameras that take a photo of your car as it “speeds” past a radar. You get the ticket in the mail anywhere from one to two weeks after the offense.

Long before I started getting these tickets, I was strongly opposed to these cameras. You can imagine what four tickets in four weeks has done for my tolerance. Simply put, these things have no place in our cities. They are a terrible bit of government overreach, line the pockets of corporations and set a horrible precedent for policing.

First, there’s little evidence that the cameras increase safety. There’s data to back this up, but you really don’t need any hard numbers to come to this conclusion. It’s hard to slow down and be safer if I get the ticket two weeks after I was speeding. Second, what is speeding? My wife got one ticket for going 32 in a 25. And that 25 speed limit is on a major DC road where the flow of traffic easily and safely exceeds 40mph at any given time.

Such incidents of artificially low speed limits has pushed DC councilwoman Carol Swartz to propose raising limits on many roads. Of course, that would mean less profit for the city. The cameras are a cash cow for both the city and for Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the company that runs them (they bought the contract from Lockheed Martin).

The profit-motive of these cameras coupled with the fact they do little to increase safety should be enough to make any right-minded citizen oppose their use. But there is one other good reason to want these cameras taken down. Think about this: do we want our laws enforced by computers?

The judgment of a police officer cannot be replaced by a camera. A free society relies on our laws being enforced not by strict, insensitive machines but by human beings who can assess a situation and determine the best course of action. And our laws do not exist to provide the government with a sneaky source of revenue. If the city wants more funds, they should try raising taxes.

If you think I’m writing this post because my family just got four tickets in one month, you’re right. The city just robbed me. I don’t like my government using computers to enforce the law. I don’t like my government watching me with cameras. And I don’t like being charged $50 for traveling 32 in a 25. It’s terrible government.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Global Warming Causing Seas to Become Less Salty

Scientists have discovered that the oceans are becoming less salty. This is due to the large amounts of fresh water being dumped into the ocean because of global warming. The effect a less salty sea will have on marine life and weather patterns is unknown at this time, but there will doubtlessly be some potentially serious effects.

While I think it is unwise to be alarmist about global warming, I also think it's unwise to ignore the massive amount of scientific evidence that yes, in fact, our planet is heating up. This might be a natural occurring warming trend. But it might not. Given how many pollutants we've pumped into our air over the last century, I find it hard to believe they've had no effect.

Global warming is an issue we'll all have to give more attention to in the near future.

Did Putin Steal a Super Bowl Ring?

Well, steal is a little harsh of a word. But Russian President Vladimir Putin did walk off with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's Super Bowl ring after the two met in Russia. Whether or not the ring was a gift is unknown. But Putin has not returned it.

Do Russians even play football? Yep. In the EFAF which is a junior league to NFL Europe. The name of that team? The Moscow Patriots.

In the Future, We'll All Be Victims

Or at least we'll claim we are. The New Yorker reports on a new, touchy-feely program by New York Public Schools to teach students about the hurtful effects of ridicule and teach them to be more caring and sensitive. Hey, I'm all for being polite and not needlessly insulting each other, but this whole idea that we deserve to be protected from ridicule is, well, ridiculous.

People are going to insult us--sometimes viciously. That's a fact of life and it's never going to change. We need to raise children who can handle criticism, not children who think they deserve to be protected from it. I quote noted philosopher and anti-victimologist, Denis Leary: "Life sucks. Get a helmet." How's that for a curriculum?

Hat tip: Michelle Malkin

How The Center is Reacting to Bush's Speech

As we have written, President Bush’s speech last night probably won’t change any opinions. As expected, the left is calling it useless and the right is calling it wonderful. But what are those in the center saying?

The line between those who support this war and those who don’t runs right through the heart of the Centrist movement. Were any opinions changed here?

Centrist Republican Jeremy Dibbell says at Charging RINO:

Well, nothing much new, not much different, not much straight talk. In all, a disappointment. The continued linkages between 9/11 and Iraq are really pretty brazen, and we heard nothing concrete about fighting the insurgency. Of course well all support the troops…I’d also support some real honesty from this president.

The slightly left-of-center Bull Moose had this to say:

The President again restated the tie between the overall war against terror and Iraq. Whatever one thought about the link before the intervention, it is certainly true now. That is why we must prevail in Iraq regardless of the validity of the original claim. With all of his errors, mendacity and demagoguery, the President has led us to the point to where there is no turning back. His domestic political opponents are placed in a position where they must hope for his and our nation’s success. Defeat would come at an unacceptable price for our country and result in a precious victory for the terrorist foe.

Moderate conservative Dean Esmay says:

The question is whether it helps the troops, and the war effort.

Yes, it does both. No, it says nothing he hasn't said before, except for the bit about encouraging young people to enlist and to be proud of that choice if they make it. But nothing new NEEDED to be said: we are committed, this is a just and moral cause, and the price of failure would be horrific.

It was absolutely right to hold it on prime time, and a good time to do it. As many people as possible need to see it. Unlike most of those of us who are plugged into politics in the blogosophere, everyday Americans needed reassuring. Most of them got that.

The always thoughtful, middle-of-the-road Ambivablog says:

President Bush gave a good speech tonight. It was plainspoken and firmstanding, and he delivered it comfortably, without either bluster or ingratiation. And certainly without apology: some have wanted him to acknowledge at least some of the serious mistakes made in prosecuting the war in Iraq, and even to hold someone on high (Rummy?) accountable. No, this administration will never do that. They equate the admission of fallibility with weakness and unblinking denial with strength. It makes them seem more than a little unreal and unreachable -- all we ever see is a scripted, polished, minutely calculated performance -- but I don't know. Maybe it's good psychology. If you want a bracing declaration of resolve to stand firm coupled with a scathing critique of all the screw-ups to date, go listen to Presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Centrist Michael Reynolds of The Mighty Middle says:

If the job approval numbers don’t show at least a 5 point bounce, this presidency is effectively over. If he fails to rally the American people on Iraq, following on his failure to sell his Social Security plan, it will mean that people have tuned him out.

And last, but not least, Joe Gandelman of the incomparable Moderate Voice says:

When you read the full text of Bush's speech you note that it wasn't a bad speech. In fact, it may have been one of his more solid Iraq speeches in terms of making a case.

But it probably won't be enough to win over wavering members of the American public, swing voters, and even some Republicans who have been voicing doubts about the way the war is being conducted. The key reason: It contained NO NEW knock-out overpowering point that was made that is likely to sway those totally opposed to the war or beginning to distance themselves due to growing doubts.

So the resounding conclusion from the center seems to be: there was not much there, there. Whether or not this works to shore up support remains to be seen. Over the next few days I’m sure we’ll get some sense on how Americans are reacting and whether Bush achieved his goal.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bush's Speech Decent, But Not What We Needed

President Bush took less than a minute before mentioning September 11th in his speech Tuesday night. That was a clear single that this administration was not prepared to change the message they’ve been hitting for the last few years. And, sure enough, nothing all that new came out of Bush’s speech.

That said, I thought the President gave a very strong argument as to why leaving Iraq now would be a horrible mistake. Of course, most Americans already support staying for now. The real question is, how are we going to win?

The best I can tell is that the President believes all we need is greater resolve. There was no hint that mistakes had been made. There wasn’t even a suggestion that new strategies would be tried. No one expected the President to make broad admissions of error or divulge specific strategies, but I think a lot of Americans would have liked to hear some more direct recognition that things hadn’t gone quite as planned and new courses will now be followed.

Few opinions are going to change because of this speech. While Bush made a very rational argument as to why we need to stay in Iraq, there was not much more than a passing effort to acknowledge and address the millions of Americans who are strongly against this war. Perhaps there is nothing Bush can say to calm the anger of those who oppose him. But I think he should have tried.

Instead, this speech was specifically tailored for those who supported the war but whose resolve has recently slipped. It was not designed to win converts, only to retain supporters. And, as such, I think it will do nothing to heal the bitter divisions over this war. Wednesday morning there will be brutal criticism from the left and resounding praise from the right. But we should expect to hear nothing new from no one new.

We needed more than just a strong argument for staying the course. We needed an earnest attempt to reach across the divide—even if those on the other side want no such offerings. Someone needs to try to bring us back together. Usually that task falls to our President. But that’s just not going to happen it seems.

Can any of the great voices on the left make the effort? Perhaps Senator Biden (D-DE) whose comments afterwards were exactly what liberals need—a firm resolve to win this war coupled with constructive critiques on what needs to change. If more on the left had Biden’s ability to be both committed to success and smart in dissent, perhaps we as a nation could pull closer together.

The President did a decent job in his speech. But we needed a lot more. And we need a lot more still.

America Supports You

I will be commenting on the President's speech later. But first, I urge you all to check out the site President Bush mentioned at the end of his speech. is an excellent site that makes it easy to send an e-mail to a member of our armed services or learn about the many, many programs you can get involved in to show support for our troops--real substantive support.

However you feel about this war, we all have a duty to support the men and women in uniform. Take a second and show your support.

What the President Should Say Tonight (And How His Opponents Should React)

President Bush does not often address the nation in primetime. So, when he does, there’s reason to listen. But, when he speaks tonight,will he say anything worth hearing? I hope so. And here’s what I hope he touches upon.

• The President will reemphasize that the War in Iraq must be won. Whether or not you support the decision to invade, we all must support the decision to stay and help Iraq climb out of chaos and into stability. What moral justification is there in abandoning a people at their time of need?

• The President will admit his administration made mistakes in Iraq. Advice was not always right, intelligence was clearly wrong. Progress has been slower than hoped.

• The President will reassure us that his administration is doing everything possible to correct our mistakes. Then he will tell us broadly what’s being done and what objectives we need to pass before the troops can come home.

• The President will remind us of the progress that has been made.

• The President will acknowledge the sacrifices our troops have made and how painful it is to him and the nation. But how proud he is to live in a nation where men and women are willing to die not just for their freedom, but for the freedom of other peoples.

• The President will remind us that this is everyone’s war. We are all at war. He understands people are upset with the decisions made but hopes they can lay aside their animosity and help us win this war.

• The President will ask us all to sacrifice something. Whether we send care packages to the troops or conserve gas or enlist in the military or join other national service organizations.

• The President will tell us hard times are yet ahead and more will die before the end. But the ends we seek are just and are a goal he hopes all Americans can support.

I also have hopes about how Bush’s opponents will respond.

• They will react to the words Bush actually says and not to negative interpretations they might be able to spin.

• They will listen to Bush as their President and not as the caricature they have invented.

• They will give the President credit for what he says well.

• They will use respect and reason to criticize what they disagree with.

• Should Bush admit error, they will appreciate it and not use it as a means to heighten their attacks on him.

• They will acknowledge that this is not just “Bush’s War” but is a war we are all in.

Are my hopes pure fantasy? Almost certainly. I don’t expect Bush to be candid and, even if he is, I don’t expect his opponents to react with anything other than their usual angry attacks. But I hope something good comes out of tonight. I hope somehow, some way both sides begin to acknowledge we’re in this together and we win or lose together.

We are at war. But we’re practically acting like two separate nations. And we all know what happens to a house divided against itself. I look to the President to start being the uniter he promised he’d be. And I look to his opponents to be willing to lay down their arms if the President offers his hand.

'All Together Now, America'

Many readers have accused me of being too hard on the left. Maybe I am. But it’s not because I have animosity towards liberals. It’s because I spent many years as a pretty staunch member of the left and it kills me to watch that once noble movement stumble and falter, morphing from an ideology of progress into an ideology of, well, hindrance—defined more by what it is against than what it is for.

But don’t take my word for it. Author of The Radical Middle and Centrist thinker/writer Mark Satin has recently posted his review of the Take Back America Conference held by liberal activists earlier this year. Satin knows liberal ideology. He spent decades, beginning in the 1960s, fighting for the causes of the left. And he still has great affection for the hope and community that is (or at least once was) at the heart of liberal thinking. In short, Mark Satin is as credible an observer of liberal politics as you’re likely to meet.

I can’t hold a candle to Mark and I won’t attempt to paraphrase him here. Read his thoughts in full on Take Back America. And read the second part of his piece which discusses what the positive lessons we can learn from the origins and heart of the socialist movement.

He concludes:

We don’t need to “Take Back America.” We need to find honorable roles for everyone here, and then ask or encourage or induce them to play their separate parts. Even Wal-Mart executives. Even far-left activists.

Anyone up for an “All Together Now, America” conference?

Satin knows what he’s talking about. Read what he has to say.

Question 11: How Do We Know When the War is Over?

The eleventh and final question in our debate series on the War in Iraq and the War on Terrorism is a broad one. But it will be interesting to read everyone’s take on this:

How do we know when the War on Terror is over? How about Iraq? When do we bring the troops home?

This is the last question. Tomorrow I’ll post some final thoughts on what has been said and what I’ve learned. Thanks to all who’ve participated.

Question One: Why did we invade Iraq?

Question Two: Has the Iraq war set any precedents?

Question Three: Are we safer?

Question Four: Why do some think America is the enemy?

Question Five: Why are we so divided?

Question Six: Why do we use words like ‘Hitler’ and ‘unpatriotic’?

Question Seven: Can you oppose the war and still support the troops?

Question Eight: Why has there been a rise in democracy in the Mid East?

Question Nine: What’s the next step on the War on Terror?

Question Ten: Will we ever agree if Iraq was right or wrong?

Dobosn Seeks to Divide Nation

James Dobson is upset about the Ten Commandments rulings handed down yesterday by the Supreme Court. In a press release issued by Dobson’s rightwing religious group, Focus on the Family, he says the decision:

"[T]ore a hole through the First Amendment."

I was unaware that the First Amendment guaranteed the right to display the Ten Commandments. But that’s just how it starts. There’s more:

Dobson also calls on his millions of listeners to ready themselves for the "mother of all battles" -- the fight to fill a vacancy on the high court if a current justice steps down soon, as is widely anticipated.

"The decisions released Monday make it more evident than ever that the next justice must be a 'strict constructionist,' a jurist who understands his or her role is to uphold, not shred, the Constitution," he said. "All people of faith, those 'values voters' who made the difference in the last election, must be prepared to make their voices heard to make sure that a future Supreme Court lineup doesn't completely eradicate even our rights as individuals to acknowledge God publicly."

Let’s be very, very clear. We all have the right to acknowledge God publicly. If you want to stand on a street corner and proselytize about Jesus or bow to Ala in the park or light a menorah in your store window, you are allowed.

What the Ten Commandments ruling and, in fact, all so-called “establishment clause” rulings deal with is government reference to specific religions. Our Founders intended our government to be strongly secular or, at the very least, careful not to promote one religion or one sect over any other.

Dobson, however, seems to think this should change. His outrage at the Ten Commandments ruling is disturbing. What does he think? That our government should be posting the Ten Commandments at every turn—specifically promoting the tenants of Judeo-Christian religions over all others?

Even worse than his bad reading of law is his attempts to use these decisions as another excuse to divide the nation. Our right to worship was not touched here. Our freedom of religion remains unscathed. All people of faith still live in the most religiously open and tolerant nations on earth. We have no reason to be mad. In fact, we have reason to rejoice that we Americans have found a way to be at once solidly religious at heart and yet strongly secular in governing.

Apparently, Dobson would prefer and end to this historic balance. Apparently, Dobson seeks to turn people of faith against their government. At this point in America, we need people working to bring us together, not tear us apart. My only hope is that most people will ignore Dobson and his divisiveness. We don’t need it.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Santorum Receives Praise from Liberals

Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is not known as a friend to liberals. But he is a friend to animals and, by association, has won praise from animal rights groups. Most recently, Santorum has introduced legislation that would regulate so-called puppy mills that churn our puppies and kittens and are often criticized for operating under inhumane conditions.

Santorum says animal rights shouldn’t just be a liberal cause.

"To me, it's part of a society that's caring, sensitive to life," Santorum said in a recent interview. "Obviously, the life of animals is fundamentally different than the life of a human being. But to me, we have a responsibility to God's creatures to treat them humanely, and the government's laws should reflect that."

I’ve always thought our ability to love animals is one of the great things that make us human. We have no innate obligation to invite dogs and cats into our homes and care for them. But we do and they become members of our families, posing in our photographs, playing with our children, traveling with us on vacation and mourned in their deaths. Good for Santorum for recognizing the value of these animals. He’s right, animal rights shouldn’t be a left or right issue. It’s really just about being decent human beings.

For Sale – Washington Nationals. Democrats need not apply

The city of Washington has quickly fallen in love with the Nats. The relocated Washington baseball franchise, formerly the Montreal Expos, are in first place in their division. More than 34,000 fans saw yesterday afternoon’s game, a majority wearing red Nats’ merchandise. So far this season, more than 1 million people have come out to see the Nats play at RFK Stadium.

The franchise has just begun to see its value climb. With revenues rising this season, Major League Baseball, the franchise’s current owner, has pledged to allow the team add to its payroll this summer in hopes of securing a division championship. The city has pledged to build the team a new riverfront stadium, scheduled to open in 2008 (though no one really expects them to meet that deadline), which will further add to the franchise’s stream of revenues. Major League Baseball expects to sell the team for a tidy profit sometime this summer and there are currently no less than 6 groups interested in spending millions to buy the franchise.

At least one of the potential owners for the Nats has basically been told not to apply by Congressional Republicans. That group includes billionaire financier George Soros. Earlier this month, Soros joined an ownership bid being led by entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky.

Why do Congressional Republicans care about who owns the Nats? Soros pumped more than $20 million in the last cycle into groups seeking to unseat President Bush and elect Democrats. The Soros-Ledecky group is not seen as the frontrunner to win the bidding for the Nationals

Here’s what House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), whose panel also oversees District of Columbia issues, had to say about MLB’s potential sale of the franchise to a Soros –financed group:

“I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes. I don’t think they want to get involved in a political fight.” If a Soros sale went through, “I don’t think it’s the Nats that get hurt. I think it’s Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions” from anti-trust laws.”

Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that covers the District of Columbia budget also had something to say about Soros’ potential involvement with the DC franchise.

If Soros buys the team and seeks public funding for the new stadium or anything else, the GOP attitude would be, “Let him pay for it. We’re not going to interfere with [the sale], but from a fan’s perspective, who needs the politics?”

It’s the Congressional Republicans that are making this a political issue, not George Soros or his ownership group. If Congress wants to be fair, perhaps the ownership groups that include ex-Senator Peter Fitzgerald and ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell should also be barred from owning the team. In fact, maybe President Bush should be asked to return the millions he made from the sale of the franchise formerly known as the Washington Senators (Texas Rangers).

If Congress wants to get involved with Major League Baseball, perhaps they should start by examining the sweetheart deal MLB gave to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to encourage him to allow the Nationals to move to Washington, D.C. Or perhaps they should pass meaningful laws that would regulate the use of steroids in all professional sports. Congress should keep politics out of baseball and the sale of the Nats.

Supreme Court Allows Texas Ten Commandment Statue to Stay

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a granite Ten Commandments statue in front of the Texas State Capitol. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled the monument to be legal because it is part of a greater display in tribute to the nation’s legal and religious history.

This ruling is in contrast to another ruling released today that invalidated displays of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses. Both rulings were 5-4 and the swing voter was Justice Stephen Breyer.

The Texas case is a good ruling, in my mind. The monument in question has been there for decades and really is part of a greater display representing other legal and religious symbols. In fact, the monument was donated to the state by Cecil B. DeMille as part of the promotion for the movie, The Ten Commandments. So it’s not even possible to say the intent of the display was religious. It was, apparently, promotional.

In the two Ten Commandment rulings, has the Court set an acceptable standard? My initial feeling is yes, although I need to read more about the rulings and think more about their implications. I like the fact that the Court declined to set an absolutist stance on this issue. I don’t think the separation of church in state should be treated with absolutism. We need boundaries but we also need wiggle room.

Today, like it or not, the Court created that wiggle room.

UPDATE: Due to misreporting by the AP, we initially said O'Connor was the swing vote in these cases. It was actually Stephen Breyer that switched sides between the two cases. We have corrected the error in our report. Breyer agreed with the ruling in the Texas case but did not sign on to the majority opinion.

Supreme Court Invalidates Kentucky Ten Commandments Display

In yet another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that the display of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courts are unconstitutional. The ruling did not invalidate all possible displays of the Ten Commandments on public grounds, just the two displays in question.

Basically, the justices seemed to take in to account the intent of the displays. They ruled that some Ten Commandment displays could be legal if set in the greater secular context of the history of law. One such display in Kentucky did just that, surrounding the Commandments with other legal documents from American history. The problem it seems is that those documents were added only after the ACLU sued. Clearly, the original intent was to just display the Ten Commandments and that, said the court, amounts to government establishment of religion and is thus unconstitutional.

These Ten Commandment cases have bothered me from the get go. I feel we’ve interpreted too-tightly the meaning of “establishment” so that we now forbid so much as a reference to a specific religion in public places. I do not think the Framers intended the First Amendment to bar all recognition of religion in the public square. Nor do I think denying recognition of religion in the public square is some kind of natural evolution of a free society. Religion and democracy can and should coexist quite well. More secular does not always mean more free.

That said, I don’t feel comfortable calling this a bad ruling. For one, it sets absolutely no precedent as it is narrowly focused. In fact, if it does set any precedent, it is to allow the display of the Ten Commandments as long as they are intended to be presented in a secular context. Not a victory for the pro-Commandments forces, but not a total defeat either.

We’ll know more when the ruling on the Texas case comes down. If the Court invalidates the Ten Commandments display on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, I think we have reason to be concerned. If not, then we can focus on the Kentucky ruling and decide whether or not it goes too far in banning religious references.

Question 10: Will We All Ever Agree That Iraq Was Right or Wrong?

Question ten in our ongoing debate series about the War in Iraq and the War on Terror is a two part question.

If Iraq becomes a real and stable democracy, will we all be able to agree it was worth it? If Iraq descends into anarchy or a terrorist-supporting theocracy, will we all be able to agree we made a mistake?

Question One: Why did we invade Iraq?

Question Two: Has the Iraq war set any precedents?

Question Three: Are we safer?

Question Four: Why do some think America is the enemy?

Question Five: Why are we so divided?

Question Six: Why do we use words like ‘Hitler’ and ‘unpatriotic’?

Question Seven: Can you oppose the war and still support the troops?

Question Eight: Why has there been a rise in democracy in the Mid East?

Question Nine: What’s the next step on the War on Terror?

Democrats Should Reject the Extreme Left

Karl Rove’s recent remarks clearly tried to tie the disturbing views of far left liberals with the positions of mainstream Democrats. One of the reasons Roves remarks have gained traction is that it was a half truth.

Some liberal groups did react to 9/11 with cries that we not retaliate. Check out the far left A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, a group founded by Americans on September 14, 2001 to protest a military reaction to the terrorist attacks. It has since gone on to be one of the far left’s leading voice’s against the War in Iraq.

A lot of mainstream Americans don’t support the war in Iraq. But A.N.S.W.E.R. is not a group anyone in the mainstream would want to be a part of. This is a group that recently plastered my DC neighborhood with flyers inviting people to come discuss whether the anti-war movement should begin to actively “support the resistance of the people of Iraq.” I’m not sure why anyone would want to support a so-called “resistance” that routinely murders Iraqi civilians and seeks to impose tyranny. But that’s how this group thinks.

And it’s groups like A.N.S.W.E.R. that actually do fit Karl Rove’s description of liberals who didn’t want a strong response to September 11th. Rove clearly meant to link these fringe lefties with Democrats, but the real question is, why did Democrats act like these fringe lefties were part of their party?

A.N.S.W.E.R. doesn’t even consider itself an ally of the Democrats. They protested the DNC convention last year. So why don’t Democrats call these far left groups out? As much as most Americans don’t appreciate the far right trying to impose its own set of values on us all, a lot more Americans are made ill by the kinds of flat-out anti-American rhetoric of groups such as A.N.S.W.E.R.

It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The far left offends most people’s need for safety (the second most important need). The far right offends our need for love (the third most important). So, right there, most people are going to see the far left’s ideas as innately more harmful than the ideas of the far right. That’s a problem for Democrats.

And it’s going to be a problem until they resoundingly make it clear to the American people that the ideas and ideals of the far left are in no way representative of the Democratic Party. Yes, they might lose some hardcore activists but they will regain the confidence of a lot of middle-of-the-road voters made skittish by the far left’s antics.

Democrats and other liberals can definitely be patriotic and question the war in Iraq. But they can’t ignore the fact that certain far-out liberals take their anti-war views to a disturbing extreme. It’s those “liberals” that Democrats need to address, admonish and abandon.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

DC Gun Laws are Bad but Congress' Power Over DC is Worse

Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and George Allen (R-VA) are the most recent members of Congress to try to repeal Washington, DC’s gun laws. The Senators think it’s wrong that they can’t so much as keep a handgun in their home.

They’re right that DC’s gun laws go too far and clearly violate the Second Amendment. While intended to protect residents and lower crime in a city all too familiar with murder, the gun laws go way beyond useful regulation. Simply put, they’re draconian.

But it is unconscionable that U.S. Senators would try to repeal the laws of a specific city. Under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, Congress does in fact have the authority to control the laws of the District of Columbia, but that provision is outdated and wrong. In fact, it is Congress’ power over DC that should be the focus of a repeal movement. No city should have to suffer the constant threat of Congress coming in and changing local law.

The residents of DC are the only American citizens denied representation in Congress but still forced to pay federal taxes. That in and of itself is a serious injustice that must be corrected. And that injustice is only worsened when Congress decides to exercise its control over the city by changing local laws.

If Senators Hutchison and Allen want to change DC law, they should vote in local elections like any other resident. Or they could run for city council. Or, if they were really brave, they could be arrested for owning a handgun and challenge the case in court on the grounds that the city is violating their Second Amendment rights. There are many democratic options open to them.

But abusing Congressional power to meddle is DC’s local affairs is just wrong.

Free Southwest Airlines

After many years, it appears Congress may be willing to repeal the Wright Amendment. The 1979 law prevents carriers out of Dallas' Love Field Airport from offering non-stop flights to anywhere except other cities inside Texas and bordering states.

Love Field is the Dallas base of Southwest Airlines and, because of the Wright Amendment, you can't fly Southwest direct from Dallas to say Las Angeles or Miami or Baltimore or most other major destinations. Nor can you fly Southwest non-stop in to Dallas from those cities. The law was passed to help boost Dallas/Forth Worth International and its main carrier, American Airlines. But now with the emergence of Southwest as one of the nation's largest airlines, Congress is rethinking the logic of the law.

Hopefully, the Wright Amendment will be repealed. It's a bad law. Government should not pass regulations that specifically help one private business while hurting another. American Airlines is lobbying to keep the rule because it fears increased competition from Southwest would negatively affect its bottom line. And it probably would. But right now it's Southwest whose bottom line is being hurt. Why does American Airlines deserve special treatment? Why not let free competition decide whose bottom line is most affected?

Southwest Airlines has been forced to operate under unfair federal regulation for too long. The Wright Amendment should be repealed.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Rove's Remarks Were a Trap

Glenn Reynolds thinks Rove's recent remarks were a well-laid trap. I completely agree. Think about it.

1) The story becomes a story not when Rove speaks but when Democrats get angry.

2) Now that it is a story, Republicans can run around quoting all the stupid things groups like MoveOn, people like Michael Moore and other far lefties have said about 9/11 and our duty to respond with force.

3) This in turn links responsible, mainstream Democrats with the tiny minority of fringe lefties who treated 9/11 as an excuse to criticize America.

4) So now, instead of arguing about how they want to better defend us, Democrats are left having to prove whether or not they want to defend us at all.

Next time Rove opens his mouth, Democrats should just ignore whatever comes out.

Some Support for Kelo v. New London

Ann Althouse says the Supreme Court’s ruling on Kelo v. New London isn’t all that bad.

Opposition to Kelo has been so widespread, I was wondering if anyone had a reasonable argument in support of the Court’s decision. Althouse offers a pretty good one, although I’m still unconvinced that Kelo is a good ruling. You should definitely read for yourself what Althouse has to say, but I think she’s putting a little too much trust in the honesty of developers and local governments.

The problem with Kelo is it opens the door for some serious abuses. Becaouse of this, an even more egregious eminent domain case will almost certainly wind up before the Supreme Court in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, opponents of this ruling should appeal to their state governments to set stricter legal limits on what localities can seize and how just compensation should work.

Thanks to Dean’s World for the tip on Althouse’s article.

Bush to Address Nation About Iraq, But What Should He Say?

Recent polls showing that support for the war in Iraq is slipping have led President Bush to schedule a prime time speech to the nation this coming Tuesday. But what can he say to rally support?

Writing for Fox News, Centrist Democrat and former U.S. Representative from Texas, Martin Frost, suggests the President should level with the American people. Frost says:

There is no question that Saddam was a tyrant and that the Middle East is better off with him no longer in power. Also, a democratic Iraq could have a real impact on the future of the entire Middle East. If nation-building (democratization) had been the administration's real objective from the beginning, it should have leveled with the American public at the outset rather than relying on now-discredited claims of weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi involvement in Sept. 11.

The American public is perfectly capable of dealing with the truth. The Bush administration needs to level with the public about the difficulty of the job ahead in Iraq rather than making general statements indicating that all is well. We will stay the course in Iraq if the country is convinced that Bush has a realistic plan for the future.

We can argue all day about whether Bush adequately and honestly presented the case for war before the invasion. We can also argue about whether or not the media is obsessed with the negative and whether the daily listing of body counts is sapping public support. But we can’t change the fact that we ‘re Iraq and we can’t change how events there are covered. All we can do is decide where to go from here.

President Bush must take a strong leadership role. Public support must be maintained until an Iraqi Constitution is created and a permanent government is elected. It would be incredibly wrong to withdraw now. But staying will have its costs. Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent remarks that the insurgency is in its “last throes” creates a false impression of imminent victory. And while he properly clarified his remarks later, his original statement was definitely part of a pattern of unguarded optimism that has persisted since “Mission Accomplished.”

Optimism from our leaders is essential, but not to the detriment of communicating the real costs. Instead of telling us that this will all be over soon, President Bush should speak clearly about the challenges and losses ahead, about why we absolutely must push forward and about how all of us here on the home front can help the efforts.

Martin Frost is right. We need the hard truth. But we can handle the hard truth. Americans are strong and the great majority of us will not waiver if the President leads.

There Really Isn't a Housing Bubble

So says Lionel Tiger of the Wall Street Journal.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Blues Brothers turns 25

This week marks the 25th Anniversary of the release of "The Blues Brothers."

As Roger Ebert said at the time of its release, "This is some weird movie. There's never been anything that looked quite like it."

And, there has never been and likely never will be anything else quite like it - especially for those of us from the greater Chicago region.

The Chicago Sun Times has a history of the making of the film and what it meant to the City of Chicago.

Democrats call for Rove to resign; WH stands behind him

The White House jumped to the defense of presidential advisor Karl Rove as he continues to take criticism over a statement he made on Wednesday about the Liberal’s response to the September 11th attacks.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett tried hard to spin Rove’s comments into an attack on, a liberal group identified with Michael Moore.

"It's somewhat puzzling why all these Democrats ... who responded forcefully after 9-11, who voted to support President Bush's pursuit of the war on terror, are now rallying to the defense of, this liberal organization who put out a petition in the days after 9/11 and said that we ought not use military force in responding to 9/11," Bartlett said on NBC's "Today" show. "That is who Karl Rove cited in that speech ... There is no need to apologize."

Appearing on CBS's "The Early Show," Bartlett said that Rove was "just pointing out that is a liberal organization that didn't defend or accept the way that we prosecuted the war in the days after" the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Bartlett told interviewers that he didn't understand why Democrats "are throwing up such a huff."

Barlett has a point. Democrats shouldn’t be so quick to defend Moveon. The organization is out of step with the majority of the Democratic party that responded forcefully to the terrorist attacks on our country.

However, I find it very difficult to believe that, of all people, Karl Rove was not purposefully vague in his comments. Here are his words again:

"liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Conservatives "saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war."

If Rove was specifically referring to, it’s not clear in his remarks. And, if he is speaking about the Democrats as a whole his remarks are no less offensive to America than Senator Durbin’s were. The difference is Sen. Durbin's remarks were not designed for partisan advantage (but rather to call out the hypocracy of US treatment of detainees.... yes, there is partisan advantage to be gained here, but I don't believe that was his intent) and, more to the point, Durbin realized that he went to far to prove his point and appologized – something I’m not sure this WH has ever done.

On a related note, isn’t it about time Democrats stop responding so negatively when the Republicans refer to them as Liberals – there is nothing wrong with standing up for your beliefs (and it’s been the Republican strategy to embrace “Conservative” while making “Liberal” into a swear word). The first rule of politics is not to let the opposition define you – and here, the Democrats have failed.

Few Want the Draft, But What About Other Service?

There is a wide consensus amongst Americans that we should not reinstate the draft. A new poll shows that 70% of Americans are opposed to the draft. Over half those polled also said they would discourage a son from enlisting (2/3rds said they’d discourage a daughter).

For better or worse, the military is now viewed almost solely as a career choice rather than a duty. And it’s pretty rational for people to avoid a dangerous career. But for now, that doesn’t appear to be a problem. While the military has missed a number of recruiting goals (particularly for the reserves), there is no indication that the situation in Iraq will require a draft. In fact, given public opinion, a draft might actually do more to turn the country against the war than help resolve it.

But what about other reasons for a draft? Some argue that the volunteer army has eroded our sense of togetherness. Some say the volunteer army makes it too easy for Presidents to engage in military action because, without the threat of the draft, most Americans are not personally affected by war. Being of the post-Vietnam generation, I’ve always accepted the volunteer army as the better option. But I admit I have no frame of personal reference.

Nevertheless, I do think that, as a nation, we need to reemphasize national service. That doesn’t mean just military service, but all service to community and country. Right now, market pressures lead many of us to jump straight into the workforce after we finish schooling. We feel pressured to get ahead quickly and our perceived financial needs trump our sense of duty to country.

That is probably a good thing for our economy. But is it good for our nation? Perhaps one of the reasons we are so divided these days is that we no longer interrelate while serving together. We could all use a little more selflessness, I believe. We could all do a little more service.

Question 9: What's Next in the War on Terror?

Question nine in our on-going debate series on the War in Iraq and the War on Terror is:

What do you feel should be the next steps in the War on Terror? What steps do you think the Bush administration will take?.

Question One: Why did we invade Iraq?

Question Two: Has the Iraq war set any precedents?

Question Three: Are we safer?

Question Four: Why do some think America is the enemy?

Question Five: Why are we so divided?

Question Six: Why do we use words like ‘Hitler’ and ‘unpatriotic’?

Question Seven: Can you oppose the war and still support the troops?

Question Eight: Why has there been a rise in democracy in the Mid East?

Pity for a Bigot

Should we feel pity for Edgar Ray Killen? Dennis Sanders has some great words. A must read.

Kelo Case Should Offend Conservatives and Liberals

Writing about yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on the Kelo v. City of New London case, George Will notes that this is a big win for big government.

Those on the receiving end of the life-shattering power that the court has validated will almost always be individuals of modest means. So this liberal decision -- it augments government power to aggrandize itself by bulldozing individuals' interests -- favors muscular economic battalions at the expense of society's little platoons, such as homeowners and the neighborhoods they comprise…

Liberalism triumphed yesterday. Government became radically unlimited in seizing the very kinds of private property that should guarantee individuals a sphere of autonomy against government.

If by liberal Will means “big, unrestrained government,” then that’s correct. But I can’t imagine too many true liberals being excited about this decision. After all, it will specifically lead to the destruction of an entire New London, Connecticut working class neighborhood just so a private developer can put up condominiums, a luxury hotel and offices. Basically, the city felt that since the neighborhood wasn’t bringing in much tax revenue, it had to go. And the Court agreed.

Eminent domain has its useful purposes. Blighted neighborhoods have been revitalized because of it. But this neighborhood in New London wasn’t blighted. It was just on the wrong side of wealthy. And if working class people can now lose their homes simply because they aren’t convenient to the city’s revenue-generating plans, then we have a serious problem.

Yesterday, I said this decision made me queasy. Today, I’m feeling worse. My conservative side hates the massive expansion of government power. My liberal side hates what the implications will be for working class Americans.

Luxury hotels and condominiums for the rich might be pleasantly attractive and make for a great source of tax revenue, but they shouldn’t have a greater right to exist than does a working class neighborhood. That’s wrong. And I think that’s wrong no matter which side of the political spectrum you come from.

International Poll: U.S. Not Very Popular

Apparently , most of the world now has a more favorable view of China than they do of the United States. A new international poll shows pretty much what you’d expect. We’re not very popular.

I don’t know how important it is that we be well liked by citizens of other countries. Even without the Iraq war, I would imagine our ratings would be less than stellar. As the only Superpower in the world, we’re going to get in people’s way. No one instinctively supports the top dog.

But I wonder what the results would have been if the poll had asked respondents what countries they’d rather live in? I imagine the United States would significantly edge out China on that one. Still, it’s a shame how quickly the goodwill of 9/11 evaporated. We can only hope that the goodwill hasn’t permanently disappeared but is merely dormant. Hopefully as we move our efforts away from the militaristic and towards the more diplomatic promotion of democracy, the world will remember that, all said, the U.S. is a very good nation.

After all, the poll’s bright spot was that most respondents, even in the Muslim world, supported our goal of increasing democracy. As long as democracy is still popular, there's a lot of reason to hope.

Spurs Win it All!

I love the San Antonio Spurs. Can’t help it. They’re my team. And watching them take care of business in Game Seven and win the championship was the most exhilarating sports moment of my life (just nudging out the Cowboys 1993 Super Bowl win).

Pounding out a 81-74 win the Spurs proved they were the better team in this Finals. And what a Finals it was. Four blowouts followed by three of the hardest fought NBA games I’ve ever seen. And the end was sweet. The end was perfect.

Give Detroit its due, though. This is a great team with great players and a defense that clamps down with infuriating skill. But it was San Antonio twisting the vice at the end of this game. Bruce Bowen’s block on Chauncey Billups' 3-pointer near the end of the fourth quarter was one of the most incredible defensive plays of the series.

Also, I want to say a word about Finals MVP Tim Duncan. If the Spurs had lost, he’d have been blamed. But they won, so let me be the first to say that Duncan deserves all the praise and all the awards. At what point do we start considering him one of the top 10 players of all time? The man didn’t have a lights-out game, but he led his team down the stretch and proved he is a true champion.

Ah, the joy. An NBA championship. How I wish I was already back in San Antonio. How I relish watching the championship banner raised next season. To all my friends and all my neighbors back in San Antonio, all I gotta say is : Go Spurs Go.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Insurgency in Iraq not weakening

Contradicting a claim by Vice President Dick Cheney that the insurgency in Iraq is in its “last throes,” Gen. John Abizaid’s, the top American commander in the Persian Gulf, told Congress that the Iraqi insurgency has not weakened. Abizaid’s statement came at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Abizaid told the panel that he believes “there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.”

The Bush administration has consistently tried to paint a positive picture of the situation in Iraq. The statement by Abizaid is an acknowledgement that the hostilities in Iraq will continue for the foreseeable future. I agree with the Bush Administration position that we cannot yet set a tentative timeline for withdrawing from Iraq. We should remain committed for as long as the people of Iraq need assistance and cannot shy away in the face of hostilities.

Killen Gets 60 Years

Edgar Ray Killen, leader of the KKK gang that brutally murdered 3 Mississippi civil rights poll workers in 1964, has been sentenced to 60 years in prison by the judge presiding over his case. Convicted of 3 counts of manslaughter earlier in the week, Killen will now serve out the remainder of his life behind bars.

The judge in the case issued the maximum sentence allowed by law saying "each life has value." The judge should be commended for showing this old, sickly man no pity. The crimes Killen committed prove he is unfit for society. His lack of remorse proves he is unfit for mercy. It is an injustice that he was allowed to live free for the last 41 years.

More Stupid Remarks, More Mock Outrage

Democrats are upset at remarks made by Karl Rove.

Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, said in a speech Wednesday that "liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Conservatives, he told the New York state Conservative Party just a few miles north of Ground Zero, "saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war."

Not surprisingly, Democrats are acting with the same kind of mock outrage that the right cast at Dick Durbin’s remarks last week. Apparently, our leaders are very easily offended these day. And, apparently, saying something stupid is now grounds for opponents to call for your resignation.

All that aside, Rove is pretty much lying. Oh, there were a few fringe liberals such as the editors of The Progressive that wanted to send in UN troops to arrest Osama Bin Laden but, give me a break, those are pretty out-there liberals. All but one elected Democrat in congress voted for the military action in Afghanistan. For goodness sake, even FRANCE supported military action.

As far as spin goes, Rove’s comments are twirling out towards Pluto. But the Democrats quick and harsh reaction does tell you the party is pretty self-conscious about its “weak on defense” image. No rational American would believe Rove’s remarks. Democrats should have just let it pass and it would have gotten no publicity.

Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Property Rights

In a 5-4 ruling issued today, the Supreme Court said that cities have the right to seize private property to advance private development interests. Basically, if a city thinks that a new shopping center built on your property would benefit the city, it can compensate you for your house, seize it and hand the property over to a private developer.

The Supreme Court’s rationale was that the greater economic needs of a community trump individual property rights guaranteed by the 5th Amendment.

This ruling makes me queasy. I don’t like the idea that a city can just take my house because a developer wants to build a hotel where I happen to live. Clearly, the Constitution allows the government to take property with due compensation for “public use.” But that has traditionally meant seizing property for the building of roads and public buildings and such. Taking property for private development is a pretty big leap and seems, well, wrong.

Interestingly, the four Justices who dissented (O’Connor, Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas) are considered the most conservative of the Court’s justices. And yet their rationale was very populist in nature. O’Connor, in her dissent said:

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

That’s my fear exactly. This ruling permits wealthy developers to use city levers to do pretty much whatever they want. Developers already wield a good deal of political power and now the opportunity to abuse that power is greater than ever. I’m generally a big fan of development but not at the expense of people’s private homes and businesses. If someone doesn’t want to sell to a developer, the city shouldn’t be able to force them.

This is not a positive ruling.

Momentum Builds for Redestricting Reform

Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN) has become the first Republican to sign onto a redistricting bill currently circulating through the House.

“Too many Congressional districts have been carefully designed to guarantee victory for one political party or another,” said Wamp. “As the political lines become more skewed, successful candidates are increasingly more interested in political rhetoric than solutions and serving the public.”

The bill would require states to use independent, bi-partisan commissions when redrawing voter districts for congressional elections. Such a measure would hopefully go a long way to returning competitiveness back to House elections. Right now, districts are gerrymandered along ideological lines so that seats are incredibly “safe” and, consequently, Representatives can pander to their bases with impunity.

Representatives are now choosing their voters. It’s time to let voters start choosing their representatives again.

We at The Yellow Line whole-heartedly support this legislation and hope more Republicans and Democrats sign on. Real choice is real democracy.

Thanks the Charging RINO for the tip on this story.

Question 8: Why Has There Been a Rise in Mid-East Democracy?

Question eight in our ongoing debate series about the War on Terror and the Iraq War is:

Why has there been a rise in democracy across the Middle East? Does Bush deserve credit?

Question One: Why did we invade Iraq?

Question Two: Has the Iraq war set any precedents?

Question Three: Are we safer?

Question Four: Why do some think America is the enemy?

Question Five: Why are we so divided?

Question Six: Why do we use words like ‘Hitler’ and ‘unpatriotic’?

Question Seven: Can you oppose the war and still support the troops?

House Social Security Plan: More Government Math than Real Solution

More details on the new Social Security proposal circulating the House:

Republican Reps. Jim McCrery of Louisiana, Clay Shaw of Florida, Sam Johnson of Texas and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin announced Wednesday they were drafting a bill that would wall off the surplus payroll tax revenues Social Security is slated to receive until 2017. They propose transforming general IOUs — which the government places in Parkersburg, W.Va., as the money is spent on other government programs — into personal IOUs for each of the 110 million Americans who pay taxes into the program.

"The American people believe that there is something out there in West Virginia with their names on it," Shaw said during a news conference. "There is not now — but there will be if we pass this bill."

While the federal government would continue to spend the surplus tax money, the individual accounts would bear marketable Treasury bonds that give American workers a sense of ownership over their retirement money, as well as an inheritable asset should they die before they stop working, the congressmen said. A bill being introduced Thursday by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has a similar thrust.

The government would continue to spend the excess revenues, a new bureaucracy would be required and the government's debt would still increase. Democrats said the plan was little different from Bush's call for personal savings accounts funded with a portion of the payroll taxes workers pay each year.

I would like this proposal a lot better if it even tried to address solvency. Instead, the excess revenue will be both spent by the government and reserved for individuals. Sounds like government math to me. Nor am I too excited that “privatization” means we can get a few Treasury bonds.

In principle, the social security surplus should have never been spent on other government programs. It should have been returned to the people in the form of refunds (optimally) or kept separate in a safe investment for later use. But the government is now addicted to the surplus and even this new proposal doesn’t solve the problem—although it at least acknowledges the money should belong to the people and not the government.

But, in the end, I don’t think this plan will create a workable privatization system. It’s not enough to just have the choice of Treasury bonds. And what happens when the surplus is gone? At least someone finally put a plan out there. Too bad Democrats don’t seem willing to work with anything that has a semblance of private accounts or maybe we could get somewhere.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Conservatives Back Away From Anti-Hillary Book

There’s a new book out about Hillary Clinton. I haven’t read it and I wouldn’t ever read it because, by all accounts, it’s a complete load of you-know-what. Muckraking to the nth degree.

I wouldn’t even mention its existence if it weren’t for an interesting phenomenon. A good portion of those on the right are strongly criticizing the book. The latest is rightwing blogger Michelle Malkin who advises her readers to avoid the book. While I trust Malkin truly does find the book abhorrent, I’m also willing to bet that the opinion leaders on the right don’t want their side to fall into the same trap as have many on the left—namely, advancing such hate of their political opponent as to discredit themselves.

In the last 12 years we’ve seen unadulterated hate cast at Bill Clinton and saw him elected twice. Then we saw (and are seeing) unadulterated hate cast at George Bush and saw him elected twice. Maybe some people are finally getting the message.

Of course, if Hillary does get the 2008 nomination, I wouldn’t expect a pleasant campaign from the right. But one that shuns unadulterated hate would be nice.

Another Case of Good News from Iraq Ignored?

Tully over at Centerfield has an interesting post about the coverage (or lack thereof) given to the recent rescue of an Australian held captive in Iraq.

As much as I tend to reject the idea that the media has a blatant political bias, I do have to admit that good news from Iraq is hard to find. Most often, the story is another rehash of another attack, body counts splashed in the headline. It's not that I think the media shouldn't report on the violence, it's that I think the violence is too often given prominence over the triumphs.

The old line "if it bleeds it leads" still seems to be in effect. That's unfortunate because I feel we aren't really getting the full story of what's happening in over there.

Democrats Vow to Oppose Any Social Security Privatization, No Matter How Minor

More details are coming out concerning the Social Security plan being released today by the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill is significantly different from what the President has been proposing.

Instead, the measure showcases a promise, designed to reassure seniors, that Social Security surplus funds will be used only to create individual accounts that differ sharply from Bush's approach.

Despite the differences from Bush's proposals, Democrats quickly attacked the legislation, which is emerging in different forms in the House and Senate.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., called it "a smaller version of a bad idea. That bad idea is private accounts."

"They can twist themselves into any pretzel shape they want," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "As long as privatization is on the table, there will be no compromise on Social Security."

Whatever its prospects, officials said it was possible the leadership would embrace the measure in the House, elevating it in stature above other proposals.

Until the details of the plan are available to the general public, it’s difficult to critique the bill. Nevertheless, it seems that this is an extremely watered down plan that fails to create sustainable private accounts or address the issue of solvency.

It is also abundantly clear that the Democrats are going to blindly oppose any form of privatization, no matter how minor. Do they really believe that a program developed sixty years ago in a completely different economic and social environment needs no real reform? Is the current Social Security system to be regarded as some great, unalterable truth, perfect for all time?

The more I’ve thought and studied on this the more I’ve come to support strongly the idea of some form of privatization. While many details need to be hashed out, the concept is a solid one and much better geared for the modern economy than the system now in place. Unfortunately, the Democrats have declined to even consider it and have instead spent their energy marshalling a prideful resistance. Sometimes I wonder if the Democrats are more concerned with preserving a dying legacy than ensuring we focus on the needs of the future.

From all indications, the best we can hope for this year is some small and generally ineffective version of private accounts. If nothing else, perhaps this will get the ball rolling and make it easier for a future President and Congress to create a real solution.

Jack Abramoff: A Portrait of Corruption

Politics might not cause corruption but it sure can lead to some amazingly crooked behavior. The most recent tale of corruption is also one of the most shockingly heartless to come out in years. And it involves Republican power-player and lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his business partner Michael Scanlon.

The tale of their alleged misdeeds is long and involved. But one of the most disgusting acts was reported last night on ABC's Nightline. Without getting into the nitty gritty, here are the details.

• Abramoff represented Indian tribe casino interests in Louisiana.

• The Louisiana tribe felt they were losing business to an El Paso, Texas tribe's casino

• Abramoff used the Louisiana tribe's casino money to fund a Christian grassroots opposition to the El Paso casino on the grounds that gambling is immoral

• The grassroots campaign worked and the El Paso casino was shut down, putting around 400 Native Americans out of work and shutting off the tribe's only viable source of income

• Abramoff then met with the El Paso tribe and sold them on his services, saying he could get them reopened by slipping language into a bill before Congress.

• The tribe had no knowledge that Abramoff had funded the grassroots campaign against them and agreed to pay Abramoff 4 million dollars along with several hundred thousand in targeted political contributions

• Abramoff failed to get the language inserted and the casino remains closed

• Throughout this episode Abramoff and Scanlon exchanged e-mails gloating over how smart they were and how dumb the El Paso tribe was.

I don't think I need to comment on this. The alleged facts pretty much paint a clear portrait of immense corruption and exploitation. There's nothing quite like greed to make a man forget he has a heart.

And this is only one of the many shady deals for which Abramoff is being investigated by the FBI and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Before the inevitable trials are complete, this might be a scandal that takes several lawmakers down with it, most prominently Abramoff's good friend, House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) who may or may not have received illegal contributions via Abramoff.

Whatever the outcome, Jack Abramoff is living proof that power, greed and a casual relationship with morality can lead a man to commit truly reprehensible acts.

Federal Energy Policy Upsetting Some Republicans

Charging RINO covers the dissatisfaction many traditional Republicans in the Western states are feeling about the drill, drill, drill energy policy coming out of Washington.

I think the Bush administration may be forgetting that many Americans, while not environmentalists, are conservationists. Conservation is about balancing the need for progress with the needs of the land and the rights of property owners. Conservation is best handled by communities and property owners working with businesses to balance land use. But, under Bush, the federal government is superseding local concerns and advancing an aggressive and often one-sided energy policy.

It’s not surprising that this major use of federal power is upsetting Western Republicans who like their government small and their land big. Here again, we have a great opportunity for Centrists to move in and provide better government. As Charging RINO concludes:

If this isn’t the perfect opportunity for a grand centrist coalition of property rights advocates, energy independence proponents, and conservationists, I don’t know what is. There is a niche here to be filled, a political vacuum just begging for leadership. Who will fill the void? Who will stand up for the responsible use of resources balanced with calls for renewable and alternative energy sources as well as a respect for property rights and the preservation of our wilderness areas?

Who indeed?

House to Release Social Security Bill Today

And early reports say it will look almost nothing like the President's plan.

So it looks like the President won't even get his plan out of committee. What went wrong? What will the House Ways and Means Committee plan look like? Will Bush support it?

We'll have ongoing coverage of these and other issues as they arise.

Question Seven: Can You Support Our Troops But Oppose Their Work?

Question 7 in our debate series on the War in Iraq and the War on Terror should is a provocative one.

Is it possible to support our troops but oppose their work? What does “support our troops” mean to you?

Question One: Why did we invade Iraq?

Question Two: Has the Iraq war set any precedents?

Question Three: Are we safer?

Question Four: Why do some think America is the enemy?

Question Five: Why are we so divided?

Question Six: Why do we use words like ‘Hitler’ and ‘unpatriotic’?

Spurs Go Soft Down the Stretch, Series Hits Game 7

The San Antonio Spurs showed the world how championships are lost Tuesday night as they collapsed down the stretch in a 95-86 game six defeat. Once again, Detroit was able to turn their game up a notch and leave San Antonio looking confused. Plagued yet again by free-throw problems, Duncan failed to take over the game like one would expect from a superstar. Instead, it was Rasheed Wallace playing with 5 fouls who looked like the MVP in the game’s final minutes.

I guess it should be no surprise that this series is going the full 7. Both teams are tough on defense, talented on offense and able to play at the highest level for long stretches of every game. But, as a Spurs fan, I was hoping to end this in six. Now, I can’t help but wonder how the Spurs are going to win this series. After dominating the first two games, San Antonio has seemed completely bamboozled by Detroit’s defense and are only still alive because of the miracle play of Robert Horry in game 5.

I think the Spurs have a choice. They can either cement their position as one of this decade’s greatest teams or they can claim the infamy of one of this decade’s greatest choke artists. After last year’s collapse to the Lakers after being up 2-0, losing to Detroit after being up 2-0 and then 3-2 would be a disaster for the team’s legacy. I say it’s a choice because I believe the Spurs are the better team. But I think they’ve played games 3, 4 and 6 like they’re guaranteed to win this series.

Even though Detroit is the reigning champions, I don’t think the Spurs have given them the appropriate respect. Simply put, they’ve played soft. Unless they find a fire inside them, it’s not going to be a happy night Thursday. Then again, the Spurs are a very good team. I'm upset with their weak play at the end of Game 6, but I wouldn't bet against them in Game 7.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Most Americans Think Gitmo Should Stay Open

Via Michelle Malkin, here are the latest numbers on what Americans think about Guantanamo Bay.

As you may know, since 2001, the United States has held people from other countries who are suspected of being terrorists at a detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Based on what you have heard or read, do you think the US should continue to operate this facility or do you think the US should close this facility and transfer the prisoners to other facilities?

Continue to operate: 58
Close facility: 36
No opinion: 6

- In general, do you approve or disapprove of the way the US is treating the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba?

Approve: 52
Disapprove: 37
No opinion: 11

- Do you approve/disapprove strongly, or not strongly?

Approve, strongly: 33
Approve, not strongly: 19
Disapprove, not strongly: 14
Disapprove, strongly: 23
No opinion: 11

I would agree that Gitmo should stay open. There have been problems but those appear to have been addressed. But what I continue to not agree with is this attitude that the mistreatment of prisoners isn’t all that important because, on a whole, we treat prisoners incredibly well.

We can’t let the abuses, however rare, just pass into history. I don’t care if they were perpetrated by so-called “bad seeds.” I don’t care if all the problems have been 100% corrected. What I care about is that it happened. And letting it slide without debate, without seriously looking into it means we are willing to tolerate it. And we simply can’t be America and tolerate abuse. That’s just not who we are. Period.

All that said, we should keep Guantanamo Bay open. It serves its purpose as a needed detention facility for dangerous terrorists and Taliban. We do need to figure out exactly what we’re going to do with all those prisoners, but we don’t need to close down the facility. That’s overreacting. The better solution would be Congressional hearings to ensure the problems have stopped and to show that Americans truly do condemn abuse of prisoners.

UPDATE: Dennis over at The Moderate Republican has some great thoughts on this issue.

Durbin Apologizes, Let's Move On Now

In a tearful statement on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) appologized for his statements last week concerning prisoner treatment at Gitmo.

His statements definitely warranted an apology and hopefully this will put the issue to rest. As we have said, Durbin’s remarks were stupid but the reaction to them was overblown.

I also wanted to address a couple of issues brought up in the comments section of our previous post on this topic. First, apparently al Jazeera has been covering Durbin’s remarks without perspective. A commenter found that this was a good reason to condemn Durbin. While I can find no independent confirmation that al Jazeera did cover this, I can say, so what? Are American public officials supposed to censor themselves for fear of how al Jazeera might cover what they say? That’s a pretty ridiculous standard.

Secondly, a commenter noted that Trent Lott was forced to step down as Senate Majority Leader after making racially insensitive remarks at the funeral of Strom Thurmond. Lott said:

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.”
Pretty stupid. And he deserved to be strongly criticized for it. But he didn’t deserve to lose his leadership position. And he may not have lost it had Bill Frist not capitalized on the incident to stage a coup. Fact is, Senators make stupid comments all the time. But they should only be officially punished for actions, not words. It’s up to the voters to decide if what an elected official says is bad enough to kick them out of office.

Thanks to Charging RINO for the tip on the Durbin apology.

FBI Looks to Stop Violent Animal Rights Activists

The FBI has announced that they are making the fight against animal rights extremists a top priority. According to the agency, increased violence by these extremists have made them one of the largest domestic terrorist threats. There are about 150 open federal cases of arson, bombings and other violent crimes directed primarily at companies participating the experimental use of animals in medical research.

I for one had no idea this was such a problem. I knew animal rights activists tended to be kooky but I find it very strange that people who believe harming animals is immoral would be comfortable committing violent acts that could harm people. But the terrorist mentality is never all that comprehensible.

And make no mistake, these people are terrorists. They might not be of the stone-cold evil variety, but as soon as you begin hiding your identity and resorting to violence to affect change, you’re a terrorist. There's a lot of opportunity to dissent and dissent loudly in the United States. But once that dissent crosses into violence, it can no longer be tolerated.

It’s a good thing the FBI is targeting these groups now instead of waiting until they kill someone.

Killen Convicted

Today, 41 years to the day that his victims were beaten and shot to death, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter. Killen had been accused of rounding up KKK members to attack and kill three poll workers. He is the first and only man involved in the slayings to be tried by the state of Mississippi. In 1967, seven others were convicted in federal court of violating the victims' civil rights but Killen was acquitted after a member of the jury refused to convict a preacher.

Killen will serve a maximum of 20 years in prison. Already 80 and ailing, he will likely never take a free breath again. Justice delayed is still justice served. But this is a man that should have gone away a long time ago.