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Friday, March 31, 2006

Visa Problems

There's an interesting article with both pro's and con's of the H-1B (professional workers) Visa program in today's Post. I'd call it a good article, except it skips a big piece of information that would probably help a lot of folks understand the program.

First off, if you want to cherry pick data to support your point of view, "Most See Visa Program as Severely Flawed" is a good place to start. They provide three of four sets of conflicting statistics on wages for programmers and engineers, each gotten by a group wishing to advance their own immigration or business agenda.

What the article missed, though was the pure numbers involved in the fields, and why we issue the visas in the first place. Engineering is a good place to look at that information, because it's a field the US is rapidly falling behind Asia in.

Right now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.4 million filled engineering jobs in the US. In 2005 colleges and universities here only graduated 60,000 engineers according to data from the University of Pittsburgh. That number is down from 75,000 in 1985, and is where the problem occurs.

Again, using BLS numbers, overall engineering jobs in the US are expected to grow faster than average over the next 10 years, that comes out to be between 1.8 and 2.6% growth each year. If growth were the only worry, a 4.2% graduation rate to current jobs would cause a depressed market.

However, growth isn't the only consideration when looking at those numbers, attrition is the other. In 2004 NASA had 3 times as many engineers over 60 as it does under 30, and expected 19,000 of them to retire by 2009.

What that means is that job growth (figuring 2%), and the attrition of one federal agency will eat up over half of all graduates each year. Consider that companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing are all in the same situation, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we aren't graduating enough engineers to fill the jobs.

That's where the visa programs come into play. Right now there are a total of 65,000 H-1B slots available each year, usually by December every one of them has a request in for it. H-1B's though aren't just for engineers, they are for other "professional" jobs such as doctors, nurses, etc. (I pointed this out in this earlier article.) So the H-1B program probably still isn't bringing in enough engineers to fill the openings.

For working engineers it's a good thing, since it keeps wages higher than normal because of competition for jobs. My current employer pays a $3,000 bonus to any employee who refers a qualified engineer who gets hired, because of that competition. It's also good for new graduates, who can expect a higher wage than they'd get if there wasn't as much competition.

What about the companies that employ the engineers? At some point a cost benefit analysis will probably show that some of their work can be sent out of the US and done enough cheaper to start making that option more attractive. Certain fields won't be able to because of government contracts, etc. but many can and already are.

In the long run, limiting the numbers of workers that can be imported in certain fields may end up being a (much) bigger detractor to the economy than actually bringing in enough (legally) to do the jobs. Remember, workers under any of the current visa programs pay all US taxes, and for the H-1B people who are here for up to 6 years, they are probably spending more of their money in US than the folks on seasonal visas.

More on the immigration debate here.
Tracked back at Blue Star Chronicles and Don Surber.
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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Leading By Polls

I've had about 10 "real" jobs in my life, including over 20 years in the Navy; one of the things that I've learned through all those jobs was how to recognize someone early on who was going to be a good manager and someone who was going to be a pain in the tail to work for or with.

One of the easiest ways I found to determine which category someone would fit into was how they made hard decisions. Anyone can make easy decisions, if everything in life was easy we'd all be great leaders and exceptional managers.

Tough decisions though, are where the (figurative) men are separated from the boys in leadership. I worked for over a dozen commanding officers in the Navy, all of them senior Captains (O-6). The four I considered "great Captains" had one trait in common, popularity was never a concern of their's. Strangely, those four were also the most popular of the group. The single trait that made 3 of the others wildly unpopular was being control freaks. They lived by the motto "My way or the highway".

What am I getting at with this? Well the Democratic party just released their long awaited "Security Plan" yesterday. One of the things that I noticed as I read about it in a few different papers was that one of the major ways they put this plan together was through polling.

I've never met a great leader, or even a fairly good one, who determined how to lead by conducting a survey and then picking the popular choice, or the most resonant buzz words. Yet that's how the Democrats have determined what should be in their security plan, and how they should word it.

One of the talking points they'll use this year before the election is eliminating terroristm by "combating the economic, social and political conditions that allow extremism to thrive." That sounds great, but exactly how do you do that? Well changing the social and political conditions in many of these countries would require a spreading of democratic prinicples. Which sounds an awful lot like what George Bush has been preaching for the last 5 years.

They've also reworded most of the John Murtha proposals for Iraq to sound less like "cut and run", but still remain essentially that. By "redeploying forces" and having a "significant transition in Iraq", they come to the same place they were, but with words that make it sound less like abandonment.

Their first point will become harder to achieve if they carry out their plans for Iraq. Why? Well when other countries see that things are tough, so we bolted out the door, they are going to be much less receptive to US thoughts on changing their countries way of doing things. They'll question if we'll stick with them through good and bad.

Do I think George Bush has done everything right in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in the broader "war on terror"? No, I don't, however what I do think is that he's been willing to stick with what he believes is the best course for the long run, instead of the popular one for the short run.

When you take a long look back at history it's easy to find presidents who are remembered as failures. Normally they were the one's who followed the popular course of action, instead of the right one. They took the easy road, where they would encounter less resistance, and later the country got to pay for it.

Chris has more up on this at The Fix.
Black Five has nice rant about this also.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Same Hearing, 3 Conclusions

Funny how the headlines change based on the exact same story. The Washington Times story says:

FISA judges say Bush within law

Then, when you go to the New York Times story, the headline is:

Judges on Secretive Panel Speak Out on Spy Program

And the Washington Post says:

Judges Back Court Review of Eavesdropping

When you read the articles you'll find prime examples , from both the left and the right, of cherry picking facts to make a story fit an agenda.

The New York Times article never mentions the judges who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee who said Bush was within the law and his executive authority to order the wire taps. Nor do they mention that the judges and Senators questioned why the law is screwed up:
The panel of judges unanimously agreed that the law should have been changed before now to deal with new threats from terrorists and new communications technologies, a point made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.

"It is confusing that if you take something off of a satellite it is legal, but if you take it off of a wiretap it's not," she said. "We need to include new technology."
The Washington Times never bothers to mention that at least one current member and one past member have disagreed that the President is within his authority on the issue.

The Washington Times uses Judge Allan Kornblum as an example of why the program is legal:

"If a court refuses a FISA application and there is not sufficient time for the president to go to the court of review, the president can under executive order act unilaterally, which he is doing now," said Judge Allan Kornblum, magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida and an author of the 1978 FISA Act. "I think that the president would be remiss exercising his constitutional authority by giving all of that power over to a statute."
But the Washington Post uses the same judge's statements to show why the program is suspect:
I am very wary of inherent authority" claimed by presidents, testified U.S. Magistrate Judge Allan Kornblum. "It sounds very much like King George."
Which leads to my conclusion on this whole thing; the press is the wrong place to try and decide the legalities of the program. While the FISA Court of Review has weighed in on the issue, a test case needs to come up and go through the courts to decide the Article II applicability of this the law.

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20,000 Readers Under the Belt

Sometime today I'm going to hit 20,000 views on my blog. When I started this version of "Crazy Politico's Rantings" in August I didn't think I'd get that many in a couple of years. I'm glad a bunch of you have found this place and made it a regular stop.

I've also found, as evidenced by my blogroll, a bunch of places to check out interesting folks, who I try to get to as often as possible, though I've been a little slow on it lately.

When I restarted this in August I hoped to see 25 or so readers a day, when I started averaging nearly a hundred by December I was thrilled. I didn't think this would get me mentioned in the NY Times and about 8 other newspapers, and a bunch of magazines (The Wal-Blogger story), or onto Charlie Sykes blogroll. By the way Charile, I still consider being on your roll a bigger accomplishment than being mentioned in the Times.

Thanks again everyone for stopping by, leaving comments, and adding your insight and thoughts to my ramblings.


Update: Visitor #20,000 logged in from a Level3.net account in Los Angeles California, and was referred by this Newsweek article, and left by visiting Common Freaking Sense
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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Immigration, French Riots or Religion?

Tough morning deciding what to blog, so I'll hit three things quickly before I head off to work. Sorry about my lack of responses on some posts. I still have a guest in town (the lovely wife), so most of my blogging is going on early a.m. or on my lunch break at work.


The Senate judiciary committee passed a (semi)bipartisan bill 12-6 that on immigration that includes the President's request for a guest worker program. This one will set up a showdown with the Majority Leader Bill Frist on a competing proposal that doesn't include that program. When the Senate gets what ever it does worked out they still have to square their bill with the one in the House that doesn't include a guest worker program either.

My guess is in the end instead of a new guest worker program we're going to get tougher checks on business, an expanded H2B visa program, and limited, if any change to the border status. Just enough to piss off the groups on every side of the issue and not really change much.

While Froomkin thinks that the protests in LA and other cities are a "surging constituency", he's wrong, since most of the protesters don't vote, at least in the US. Others think that both the GOP and Democrats could lose on this issue, the GOP voters who want tougher laws, and the Democrats voters who want little change.


Oh those crazy Frenchmen. Their country is preparing for a general strike because of the new labor laws that would remove job protections from those under 26 years old.

The slowest growing, least productive, most heavily taxed western economy will once again prove that they would prefer the status quo than actually advancing the possibility of gaining some economic freedom. Robert Samuelson has a great Op/Ed piece about it in today's Post.

Update, strikes are shutting down most of the country today.


CommonFreakingSense has a great rant up today about religion and those who push it on others, or are a little rigid in their beliefs. Educated Shoprat has a take on Fred Phelps and his lack of Christianity. Givethem a read.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Blair Defends the US

Tony Blair, in a speech in Canberra, Australia stood up for the US and denounced the "anti-Americanism" in Europe:

(From the Guardian) Mr Blair told the Australian House of Representatives: "I do not always agree with the US. Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have.

"But the strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European and world politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in.

"The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved. We want them engaged."
Oddly, the UK newspapers led with his talk about relationships with the US, while the Associated Press decided to leave that for the end of their release that ended up in US papers.
Instead they chose to start with his Iraq policy, and the defense of it.

Blair is correct on this issue, as much as some folks in Europe hate the idea, if we "pull up the drawbridge", they would be screwed. Based on the fact that they've depended on us to defend them for nearly 60 years, no one in Europe has a big enough stick to really worry out of line countries.

Seriously, does anyone out there think a scolding by France or Germany is going to get anyone's attention? If you do please look at the Ivory Coast, a less than third rate country that France can't handle problems in.

Bitch moan and whine as they might, when Europe says "NATO will get involved", what that means is US logistics, a good number of US troops, and a lot of US aircraft. The "Coalition" no fly zones over Iraq for a decade consisted of one or two European squadrons, and the US Pacific Fleet and a half dozen AF squadrons.

Blair and Bush may be unpopular right now, but the fact is they are a few of the only leaders in the world who will stand up and take action. If we wait for France, Germany or Russia to do something, you can be it will happen only when it's in their best interest, not the worlds.

H/T to Junkyard Blog

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Business and Immigration

Washington Post has an interesting article on business and immigration this morning. One of their big worries is becoming "enforcement agents" for whatever type of immigration policy is enacted.

Currently business is an enforcement agent, kind of. Since we don't enforce the immigration laws very well though, they don't see it. What ever Congress enacts, they need to make sure that there is a balance on who's the actual enforcer on the new laws, and punishment for those who make genuine mistakes.

What I found interesting in the article is the story of the guy running the landscaping company who can't find anyone to work at $7.74 an hour starting wage, and $9-11 average. He ends up getting his laborers by using the H2B visa program, which allows a 10 month stay in the states. The workers also pay all the same taxes you and I do, including Social Security and Medicare.

Now, does he pay a cheap wage? Sure but to be competitive against rivals who use illegal labor, he has to keep costs down. Consider this, though; what he pays is about double what one could expect to receive from AFDC or unemployment insurance; and he still has to import workers.

Considering the city of DC has a 5.5 percent unemployment rate, and 7.7% rate of folks on welfare, shouldn't he have people jumping for those jobs?

Even if you gave up your unemployment, and AFDC payment to take that job, the wage is still low enough to collect food stamps, that most on AFDC already get. So again, it raises the question, are there jobs that are just too menial for some of our population?

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bivouac of the Dead

As the lovely one and I wandered the battlefields in the Fredericksburg area today I caught myself thinking of what it must have been like, with over 100,000 fighting in just a few square miles. You read the markers, the books in the visitor center, and plaques along the walking tour, but it still doesn't set in.

The Fredericksburg National Cemetary however, bring to life the cost of the struggle between the states. Over 15,000 Union soldiers buried are buried in it; most of them (12,000+) unknown and buried in graves of 3-5 men. There is a separate cemetary for the Confederate soldiers, 3300 of them, 2/3's unknown.

On a set of markers at the National Cemetary I found this poem, which brought a tear to my eye as I read it, overlooking the thousands of tombstones and grave markers:

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead

When we returned home I needed to find out what the name of the poem was. It's "Bivouac of the Dead, the rest of the poem, and authors history can be found at ArlingtonCemetary.net. It was written in 1847 to honor the men of Kentucky who fell in the Mexican - American War, but was used by both the Union and Confederacy after the Civil War.

Never forget your freedom isn't free, many have paid a great sacrifice so that you can have the priviledge of taking those freedoms for granted. If you need a reminder, take a walk in one of the many VA National Cemeteries , but bring a tissue along.

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Hamdan Goes To SCOTUS

This week the Supreme Court will hear Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the case of Osama bin Laden's driver who is suing claiming the military tribunals being held for Gitmo detainees are unconstitutional.

One of the interesting aspects of this is that the court will currently have only 8 voting members for the hearing, Chief Justice Roberts heard the case on the appellete level, and therefore isn't eligible to vote on it with the Supreme Court.

Newsweek also has an article on this, suggesting that Justice Scalia should recuse himself from the case, because of statments made at a talk in Geneva, Switzerland (audio here). Specifically, he said:

"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant
you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts,"

So the question comes up whether that is a statement of fact, or a prejudgement on the Hamdan case. That's something the justices will have to work out.

While many on the left would love to see two conservative justices on the sideline for this case, and a black eye for Bush, in a few years I'd venture to guess that they'd dislike the outcome.

Were the Supreme Court to find that the District Court in DC were correct in the fact that the war in Afghanistan was one conflict, not two (US. v Afghanistan, and the broader War on Terror), then by judicial fiat we would still have to be at war with Afghanistan; since al Qaeda is still conducting operations there. Yet we've hosted their elected President in the US a number of times.

I can't think of too many folks who believe that the courts, and not Congress and the President, with the advice of the military, are the correct people to determine who we are at war with.

The second part that at some point we'd be disappointed in would be the District Court's reading of the Geneva Convention. I noted here, and here that the detainees didn't meet the qualifications, based on a number of factors. The Court of Appeals found the same thing, in their decision. Based on the odd logic of the District Court, basically anyone who were to attack US property or persons would have to be considered a "lawful enemy combatant", which doesn't hold up in the Convention itself.

And finally, I think most folks would find it repugnant to have al Qaeda, and other groups who are determined to end the US/Western way of life at the same time be protected by that they seek to destroy. Yet a finding for Hamdan basically would say that even though al Qaeda want's the US destroyed, we should protect it's members under our Constitution.

Here are the links to the DC District Court opinion, and the Appeals Court opinion which overturned the case.

God Bless America also has a take on this.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Immigration Derailing Democrats?

The immigration issue may be a thorn in the side during the 2006 elections, but it may not be the party folks think.

While lots of folks are gloating about the GOP's seemingly unending arrary of suggestions on the policy, and lack of unity, they are ignoring the Democrats. That lack of unity is actually as big a problem for the Democrats as it is the GOP.

While Nancy Pelosi loves to run around talking about the GOP being lockstep behind George Bush, and giving him everything he wants, the truth is they don't. Immigration is the second big example of that, after Social Security reform.

The second part of their immigration problem is the perception that while the GOP may be confused about the issue and how to handle it, the Democrats don't want to do anything.

Hillary Clinton's statements have provided fodder for a lot of conservatives, but shows why so many folks laugh at the 'looney left'.

(from the Washington Post) She declared that Republican efforts to criminalize undocumented workers and their support networks "would literally criminalize the good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."
Excuse me Senator, while you prefer the term "undocumented" the truth is they are also known as "illegal aliens", what they've done is already criminal. What the GOP is actually talking about, though in many voices, is actually enforcing those laws.

Zogby found that 62% of American's they polled want tougher immigration laws, which is directly the opposite of the Democrats in congress of late.

So, while pandering for the Hispanic vote, which is what they appear to be doing, might work on a limited basis, it could cost them other votes. One of the biggest voter blocks to endorse immigration reform are low income African Americans, who think they are in direct competition for jobs with those groups.

So, while the GOP seems slightly disjointed on the "how" question of dealing with illegal immigration, the Democrats seem to be in lockstep of the idea of "not" dealing with it in a manner the public would like.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

That was fast!

It only took four days for the Washington Post to drop the Red America blog, because of allegations that Ben Domenech had plagarized others works in some of his writings.

"Ben Domenech Resigns" is the current headline, with an explaination from the editor, Jim Brady on the controversy and resignation.

The funny thing about this is that someone like Ben should have been the easiest guy in the world to check out before they hired him. Go to blogsearch.google.com, and check out his name. The left evidently did, because they hit the paper with tons of e-mails and comments about the blog, and about Ben.

I hope they don't give up on the idea of the blog, though. It was a good idea, poorly executed that has a place in their paper, if nothing else as a counter weight to Froomkin's "Bash Bush" blog. (I know that's not the name, but read it).

Howard Kurtz at the Post has more up on the allegations and some of Ben's explainations.

h/t to The Thunder Run
Michelle Malkin weighs in on the controversy
Jet at Gun Toting Liberal chimes in with Control C, Control V
The Kossacks are having fun here, here.
Yahoo News also has an article

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Billionaire Bashing

Michael Kinsley's latest opinion piece "Why Be a Billionaire" is classic liberalism at it's best; Billionaires have a lot of money, they don't spend enough of it, so the government should take more away from them.

I don't think Michael understands certain things about wealth like that. Most of what billionaires have isn't in cash, it's in investments. We already tax those when they sell them. France is the only countr I know of with a "wealth tax", which may be why so many wealthy folks have left.

The "stuff" they do have that he didn't like, yacts, expensive cars, huge homes all do provide something, employment for those who make them, service them, and sell them. On top of that, especially the "real property", they pay taxes on, just like everyone else.

He also shows a basic lack of economic knowledge, at least in a practical, proven 20th century sense. While his Kenysian desires to have government take wealth and create jobs sounds good, the truth is we continue to prove every day that it's the wrong way to do it.

It takes about $50,000 in private investment to create a job, yet when the government funds programs to create jobs, it costs between 30 and 50 percent more to do it and about twice as long. The Ludwig von Mises Institute has an interesting article about how taxing to create jobs instead creates an economic drag.

For a practial lesson in that arena one only need look at France, and other "old Europe" economies that are trying to tax their way to prosperity. France taxes at 48% once taxable income exceeds about 48,000 euros (per household). With that kind of taxation they should have no problem with job creation (according to Keynes). Instead they have a 10.5% unemployment rate and rioting over job programs.

The other end of the lesson is Denmark, which began a very comprehensive, supposedly tax neutral shift from high marginal income, business and capital gains taxes. The naysayers (Kenysian economists) said the country would be bankrupt, and the social fabric destroyed.

Instead, the country ended up with overflowing coffers, one of the best employment pictures in Europe, and a more stable economy. What was supposedly a revenue neutral shift ended up being revenue positive for the government.

What Kinsley doesn't seem to grasp is all that "paper wealth" that billionaires are accumulating acutally does provide good for others. When Carl Icahn buys 100 million dollars worth of company A stock, that company becomes more valuable. When they go to expand their business, because of that added value, they get better rates on borrowing, meaning less is paid to service debt, and more to expansion.

On the "closer to home" example, suppose that Bill Gates decided today to sell off all of his Microsoft stock, (about 10% of the companies outstanding shares), and just pay the taxes on it, because it' the right thing to do.

What would that do to the price? It would probably crush it. How would that affect you? Well a large amount of the 90% that Gates doesn't own is in institutional investments, you know, the mutual fund you bought, or your 401(k)'s diversified option, your union's retirement fund investments.

That means that because Bill sold his stock to pay the taxes that Michael Kinsely thinks he should, your retirement could be in jeopardy. Look at what happened to many retirement funds with the dot com bubble of the late 90's or the 1987 market crash.

It would be nice if economics were simple, but they aren't, and Kenysian economics have proven to be more dangerous to an economy than the "do-gooders" who support them will ever admit.

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Carry On America also has a take on this.
Personal notes: I'll be blogging less for the next week, my wife is in town visiting.
My "big little bro" is now blogging, everyone go visit CommonFreakingSense and say "HI", tell him I sent you.
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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bloodshed in Sudan

The UN is impotent, NATO is disinterested, and the African Union is over matched and underfunded, and dealing with a less than engaged government in Sudan. While liberals the world over complain about the Darfur crisis, the groups that they embrace as peace bringers continue to ignore it, choosing not to aggravate the odd balance in Africa.

Today's Opinion Journal has an outstanding piece about the look of a world without US power. They (rightfully) use Sudan as the example of a place where the US could make a difference, if anyone else in the world gave a damn. But based on the UN backdown and indifference the US is right not to go in and try and save the day.

Eventually someone will stand up against the genocide going on there, and maybe the world body will get past itself and denounce it and step in. Until then the US should continue what it is doing, nothing.

We've been scolded for acting unilaterally before, so we shouldn't now. Instead, we should allow the rest of the world to see why sometimes someone needs to ignore the UN, and actually do something.

Probably the saddest thing about this Darfur show is that it's a rerun, we went through the same stuff with Rwanda in 1994, though that was a much quicker, and bloodier version. After a dozen years the UN still can't recognize a crisis or figure out how to deal with it; and they wonder why countries take matters in their own hands.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Turning Red

For those who don't know, the Washington Post started a new blog, Red America, with conservative blogger Ben Domenech, from Redstate.com as the writer.

Evidently it's gotten into some peoples craws, as they have about 900 comments, most scolding them for the audacity to hire a conservative writer for a paper that along with the NY Times has become synonymous with liberal print news.

The reaction isn't a surprise, a few weeks ago when they printed a story about the Democratic Party not taking advantage of President Bush and his recent poll dive, they were inundated with hate mail from the left calling them a GOP mouthpiece.

Many people are upset that to comment on Red America you have to e-mail them to the author. I hope that their server is up to the task, as I'm sure he's gotten a few thousand already. In fact, he comments on the 900 remarks that are in Post Blog about his column. It's good to see he has a sense of humor.
First off, a note of thanks to the liberal side of washingtonpost.com's readership, which has weighed in on Red America in this comment thread. I'm happy that no one's engaged in any ridiculous hyperbole, unfounded accusations or unintentionally hilarious name-calling. We can all agree that such things lower the quality of debate on the Internet, play to the worst side of our knee-jerk partisan nature and have no place in the modern public square. I look forward to engaging you in a serious, respectful discussion on the issues that matter most to the future of our nation.

What I find interesting is that the Post; along with the New York Times and their new conservative beat reporter; seem to be admitting that they don't provide balanced coverage in their news or their editorials. Why else would they need to hire, and advertise they did, decidedly conservative writers?

Howard Kurtz weighs in on the hiring of Domenech and the reaction from places like Crooks and Liars and Editor & Publisher:
I don't get it. One conservative blogger? It's not like The Post doesn't have a left-leaning blogger, or liberal columnists. Is the New York Times a GOP mouthpiece because it employs David Brooks and John Tierney? If people don't like what Domenech has to say, don't click on him. It's not like you can say "cancel my subscription!" since the Web site is free.

Do I think Ben will be able to change the tone of the Froomkin and Messner blogs, or turn columnist Harold Meyerson into a "dittohead"? No, but I hope that his writing at their place will get them to occasionally look at the other side of the street when they formulate opinions and look for facts. Maybe he'll help them find some balance, and maybe they'll help him find some too.

What do I think brought on this change? I think that the Post's embracing of Technorati has helped them see how others view the paper. I know I generally get two or three hits per day from their offices. When you look over how the right and left generally perceive the paper, it's not hard to see why they'd want to broaden their appeal to the right more.

I'll be keeping an eye on Red America, and I hope you do too, just to see how it's working out for Ben at the Post.

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No Logic In His Reasoning

Harold Meyerson has an interesting editorial today, "Will Your Job Survive", which sounds the alarm that between 42 and 56 million (more) American jobs are offshorable.

In his article, he lays the claim that:

Every other advanced economy -- certainly, those of the Europeans and the Japanese -- has a conscious strategy to keep its most highly skilled jobs at home.

Yet America is proof that they are failing at that. We have BMW making cars in South Carolina, Mitsubishi in Illinois, and many more European and Japanese countries "on shoring" jobs to the US.

In fact, the countries with the most strict rules about keeping jobs at home, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, are seeing a migration of them to the old Soviet Bloc countries. They also have double (or more) the US unemployment rate because of many of their policies that they try to protect jobs with.

His solution is of course protectionism. Find ways to lock jobs from leaving the US, which has never worked.

This particular suggestion vexes me:

We need to unionize and upgrade the skills of the nearly 50 million private-sector workers in health care, transportation, construction, retail, restaurants and the like whose jobs can't be shipped abroad.
If he removes the word unionize, it makes perfect sense. But adding a union adds no value to the equation. In fact, I'd say that by adding a union to those jobs which can't leave the US, it might just hasten the retreat of others.

As I mentioned the other day in my article "Micro Thinking in a Macro World " we sometimes take an overly simplistic, one way view of things. The suggestion of unionization to me means that what Myerson is looking for is the higher wages generally associated with unions.

What he ignores is that while those jobs can't leave, they can drive others away based on the higher costs associated with doing business. For instance, no one disagrees that our health care costs are already too high. So, if we drive them up a few more percentage points with a union movement what does that do to companies costs that provide that coverage now? Does that become the straw that breaks their back and causes them to remove their jobs from the market here?

Unionization also generally leads to work force inflexibility, a drag on the companies they are associated with. What's the normal company response? Either eliminate enough workforce to pay for the unionization of the rest, or pare it down to a bare bone, and hire temps, or union "day laborer" from the hall when they need extra bodies. Either way, you end up with a chunk of their workforce out of full time employment.

I once worked with an construction company that required union workers for certain government jobs. They had two permanently on staff, and when they got a government contract called the hall, got enough to do the job, and afterwards laid off all but the two.

The other half of their company was non-union, and paid about $1.50 an hour less than scale, but hadn't had a layoff in over 25 years. They also had a medical plan that was on par with the union, a company matched 401(k) and profit sharing.

At the end of the year the non-union workers had made on average 30% more than their union counter parts, had put more money into their retirement, and had a job for the 50 weeks a year they wanted to work, and 2 weeks vacation.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bush Fisks Feingold

Hat Tip to Little Miss Chatterbox on this one. I hadn't had a chance to watch the President's press conference today, or read the transcript until just now.

LMC let me know about Bush giving it to the Democrats on the suveillance program, so I check the transcript, and sure enough, he calls them out. I noticed this was completely absent in the Washington Post and NY Times coverage other than the transcript.

(From the Washington Post Transcript, I put the line in red that should make many smile):

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. On the subject of the terrorist surveillance program, not to change the (OFF-MIKE) bipartisanship, but there have been now three sponsors to a measure to censure you for the implementation of that program.
The primary sponsor, Russ Feingold, has suggested that impeachment is not out of the question. And on Sunday, the number two Democrat in the Senate refused to rule that out pending an investigation.

QUESTION: What, sir, do you think the impact of a discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office and to the nation during a time of war and in the context of the election?

BUSH: I think during these difficult times -- and they are difficult when we are at war -- the American people expect there to be an honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that's how I view it.

I did notice that nobody from the Democratic Party has actually stood up and called for the getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say, "The tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used." They ought to take their message to the people and say, "Vote for me. I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program."

That's what they ought to be doing. That's part of what is an open and honest debate.

Senators Feingold and Durbin, are you going to take the President's advice? Are either of you willing to say we shouldn't have a program of surveillance against terrorists and their accomplices here?

Followup- Dana Milbank, in his Washington Sketch column ignores this passage also. One would almost think the MSM is conspiring not to push Bush's challenge to the Democrats.

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Bad Math

The NY Times has an interesting piece in "Deficit Demagogues", which rightfully beats up on Bill Frist and George Allen for presiding over more spending in the 2007 budget, after complaining of the deficit at the leadership conference a week earlier.

They make the statement that 62% of the deficit is due to tax cuts, but looking at real IRS numbers, I'm wondering who made that WAG (it's not a "SWAG" because there is nothing scientific about it). My guess is they used the tired old static numbers game to decide what revenue would have been.

When you do static numbers budgeting, or reverse budgeting in this case, you make the (always) faulty assumption that everything would stay the same if you make a change, or in this case, didn't make one.

It's a very easy, and overly simplistic way to try and make a point. In the Times case, though they don't say how they arrived at the 62% figure. I'll assume they took total income, and applied the pre-2002 tax numbers to it. That type of math assumes that the economy sees no advantage of tax cuts, which ignores history.

It assumes that every job created since the tax cuts would have happened anyway, and so would every bit of investment. That alone should be enough to make you discount their numbers, since some of the money that was used for both wouldn't have been in the private sector.

To their credit, the Times calls for Congress to reinstate the budget rules of the late 90's, that required any tax cut or entitlement increase to be paid for. The only problem with that is entitlements are growing so fast, that we won't be able to pay for them pretty soon, even if the new Medicare drug program was tossed out.

While those rules would help slow the deficit bleeding, until we come up with true "entitlement" reform, we'll never get out of deficit budgeting.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

More Fisking of Feingold

Shark and Shepard has an outstanding piece that deconstructs Russ Feingold and his Censure proposal.

Of note to me was this passage:
United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d 59 (2d Cir. 1984), in which the court said:Prior to the enactment of FISA, virtually every court that had addressed the issue had concluded that the President had the inherent power to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance to collect foreign intelligence information, and that such surveillances constituted an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

I bolded that passage because it's very important to understand the difference between inherent powers and legislated powers.

Inherent powers are those derived from the Constitution, they can't be legislated away. Just like the President can't sign an executive order removing Congress's inherent power to lay taxes, or originate spending, they can't write legislation designed to limit inherent powers of the President.

FISA itself appears to be such an attempt, but has never been tested in the courts, however, if the 2nd Circuit's statement is correct, FISA would probably be tossed and an unconstitutional encroachment of the President's power as Commander in Chief.

Go over an read the rest of Rick's piece at Shark and Shepard, and thanks to Charlie for pointing this article out to me.

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Winning in 2008 by Losing in 2006

I've mentioned on more than one occasion in this forum that much of the American public is too lazy to do their homework on economics, government, the Constitution, etc. This morning I'm going to explore a way that either party can use the "soundbite" mentality of the electorate to their advantage in 2008, but only if they end up losing the 2006 mid-terms.

Today's WaPo has an article about the GOP's infighting and lack of message for the mid-terms, and every paper and blogger has said the same about the Democrats in the last couple of weeks.

First, I'm basing my assumptions in this on the fact that in late 2007 or early 2008 our economy will begin slipping into a recession. It's fairly easy to predict, energy costs haven't hit it as hard as they should, but after 18 more months of them being high, they will. The labor market is tight, which drives up costs, and interest rates, while low by traditional standards, are still higher than when most folks went on credit spending sprees. So I give it 18-24 months before the economy stops growing, for about 6-9 months. That's just enough time to use it for political fodder.

If the Democrats were to win the 2006 mid-terms, and take either chamber of Congress, even both, you can expect a few things to happen. Specifically, a number of tax cuts that Bush pushed through in 2001 and 2002 will expire, which will help start the recession.

There's 45 years of data, since Kennedy first cut taxes in 1962 that show the correlation between tax cuts and economic growth, and that data will be ignored, to pander to the party base, "tax the rich" will be the mantra. But the truth is they will only be part of the economic issue, the rest is above

The other thing you'll see is the standard "Washington Gridlock" that occurs the first year or so that a new party takes a chamber. The new party wants to push their agenda, but without both chambers, or the White House, its tough.

2008 then becomes an election about Democrats blocking tax issues that kept the economy growing from 2002-2007. It will be very easy for the GOP to paint an "obstructionist House (or Senate) that put the brakes on a growing economy".

Even if the GOP keeps both sides of Congress the recession I predicted will still happen, because the tax policy alone won't make it go away. Economies take "a breather" once in a while, regardless. It's matter of how long it lasts, which is where government comes into play.

That breather would provide the Democrats the ability to claim that the GOP policies aren't working, and point to rising unemployment, and tightened interest rates as the fault of the other guys. They'll also have the advantage of lowered tax receipts due to higher unemployment, so the deficit will grow more.

Obviously other things could also have an effect on the elections, terrorism, the war in Iraq, or the ethics issues in DC could all change the outcome. I'm only looking at one small part of the puzzle, but since folks think they understand dollars and sense more than the others, it's usually an important part.

Now, my ideal scenario is that more American's take economics courses and read some books to figure out how economies actually work, so they can demand real solutions from elected officials. Because if we weren't so easily convinced by sound bite solutions, none of what I just wrote would matter. We'd actually make politicians have real plans.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Touching The Third Rail, Part 2

In my post this morning that discussed a little bit about the idea of means testing Social Security, I wasn't horribly clear on what my plan would be for it. It has, however lead to some rather lively debate about the idea, keep the comments coming.

William Saletan discussed the idea of age and Social Security in today's Washington Post, which got me to thinking about a combination of age and retirement income as part of the test for how much you would get in benefits.

Right now there is no incentive to not start collecting Social Security at the minimum age of 62, in fact as the retirement age goes up, it ends up looking better and better to collect early. Why? Well, if you are decent at financial planning, or even basic math it's easy to see that the amount it goes up at your "full benefit" age will never make up for the lost income from 3-6 years of collecting the reduced amount.

So, here's my idea, which I don't believe to be a total solution, but a partial one that would keep the Social Security tax from needing to hit 32% in about 2050!

First off, means testing can come in many forms. If you include "all wealth", then you would look at home value, stocks, bonds, etc. A very cumbersome and probably unmanageable. However, if you just looked at income during retirement, it becomes pretty easy, we all do our taxes. (I hope).

Currently we offset Social Security payments if a recipient receives regular income over a certain threshold while collecting benefits. I would apply that same threshold to retirement income that is currently only counted on "regular income" from a job. But I would make it more painful for folks who retire early.

If you request benefits at 62, and have a combined (retirement+regular) income over $35,000/yr you would for forfeit $1 of Social Security for every $2 over the limit.

If you waited until 65 to retire, you would forfeit $1 for every $3, and at your "normal" social security age $1 for every $4 of income. However, if you waited until 2 years after your Social Security age to retire, you'd forfeit nothing.

What this would do is create an incentive to work longer, therefore pay into Social Security longer, and for those who stayed in the workforce the longest, it would remove any penalty.

It would also have little effect on low income retirees, they wouldn't trigger the penalty anyway. And for those who earn more, by staying in the workforce longer, they'd enjoy the benefits of Social Security, along with their other income.

This is not a total solution, it would only slow the bleeding of the system, but it would be somewhat of a help. To truly fix the system, the Trust Fund needs to have it's surplus leave the government's hands.

A reader of the last post suggested I go to http://ecolanguage.net and see the "truth" about how the system works. Well, that's a 12 minute fantasy presentation. You see, it perpetuates the myth that our Social Security surplus dollars are in some "lock box trust fund", which is a lie.

That trust fund is actually special, non-negotiable treasury bonds sitting in a vault in West Virginia. Actually, a bunch of filing cabinets in the vault. You see, when the receipts for Social Security come in, anything that isn't spent is immediately loaned to the government (by the government??) for current spending. The Treasury issues bonds for that money, with a 2% interest rate.

This year the government will borrow $206 Billion from itself in this scheme, meaning that the true budget deficit for the year is actually close to $600 Billion, not the $390 advertised by OMB and the CBO.

The problem with that is the same treasury that issued the bonds has to pay for them, it's kind of like writing IOU's to your checking account. When you are broke, you can't cash them in and use that money, at least not at any bank I've ever had an account with.

The scare mongers in DC convinced enough Americans over the last 5 years that taking that trust money out of DC, and putting it into actual investments was a bad idea, but in fact, is the best idea for saving the system. Right now the only way to pay the "surplus" back is to tax you for it.

Investing it in municipal bonds, TIF bonds, and other safe investments, are a better way to go. Even the stock market, would be a good choice, since there has never been a 20 year period (the bond period for Social Security) when it lost money. When they are due it wouldn't be the Treasury playing it's 3 card Monte game with your taxes to repay it, it would be the issuing authorities.

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We Need To Touch The Third Rail

Today's Sunday Outlook in the Post has a great article on Social Security, "Curse of the Young Old" which describes the drag on the Social Security system caused by our ever increasing population of older Americans.

The author rolls out a line from the original documents setting up the system, a line that was long ago forgotten, when Social Security became a vote grabbing system, not a security system.

The point of Social Security was to subsidize those who couldn't work, not those who could. The program's founding document said it would support old people who were "dependent," "beyond the productive period" and "without means of self-support."

While he concentrated on the first parts of the statement, I'd like to look at the third "without means of self-support", which is where the system has really changed since 1935.

One of the first solutions we always hear to "fixing" Social Security is raising the capped income where taxes are collected. The reason for that cap is there is a maximum benefit that is paid out. It doesn't matter if you made $90,000, the current limit on being taxed for Social Security or $900,000 the benefit you'd get would be the same. Raising the tax limit increases the benefit, but for the folks least likely to need to collect anyway.

A part of the true solution for Social Security is a real means test, do you need the money? We've had somewhat of a means test on the program for earnings while collecting if you were still working. But once you stopped working, and were only collecting other retirement benefits, that went out the window.

For instance, by the time I reach retirement age, wishfully thinking to average 2.5% a year in COLA on my military retirement, I should be making in the area of $3,000 a month from that. So I'll have about $36,000 a year of income. But my social security check would be the same as someone else with similar lifetime earnings but no other retirement. Why?

The first reason folks spit out is "I paid into it, so I'm entitled to it", which is hooey! You pay taxes (which is, according to the courts what FICA is) for all kinds of stuff you don't use. Tons of people without children pay property taxes to support school districts.

By devising a level where Social Security payments are reduced based on retirement income, we'd have a more solvent system, that went back to it's original purpose, supporting those without the means to support themselves.

It would have to be phased in, though. Because truthfully the "gray haired old ladies" vote in too big a block to ever have such an idea make it through congress and be an immediate change. But by putting a starting time on it, say 2015, it gives folks who are nearing retirement a chance to adjust their plans accordingly, and wouldn't hit current retirees.

The American Academy of Actuaries has a quick 4 page PDF that describes some of the ways in which such testing could be applied, and covers more of the problems that could arise, and some basic history of the program.

This also wouldn't be a complete solution to the problems with the program, but it would be a start. The complete solution would include Congress leaving the excess funds alone every year, and invest them somewhere that paid interest out of someone elses checkbook, not the treasury.

Adventures in Perpetuity has a different take on this than I do.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Those Crazy French Kids

Once again the French youth are showing the world why we don't envy them. In response to a new plan by the President to make jobs available for those who want to work, they rioted, smashing windows, starting fires, the things we've become used to with them.

What's the horror of this plan? The President wants to authorize the firing of new workers in their first 2 years without reason. I'm not sold on the "no reason" part, but being able to let go of unproductive workers in generally a good business tenant.

For those who aren't familiar with French labor law, it's nearly impossible to fire a worker, so business is reluctant to hire anyone, for fear a recession will put them out of business because of labor costs. This makes it hard for youth to break into the job market, because older people are filling most of the jobs.

Add to it the exorbitant taxes the government charges business to pay for forced retirement with generous benefits. What you get with that is 10% unemployment overall, and 25-50% for youth, depending on social class.

The President's proposal would allow businesses some flexibility, which they've been screaming for, and might actually coerce some of Europe's least productive workers into productivity, for fear of being fired.

The students protesting today called this "anti-capitalism", actually kids, it's capitalism at it's finest. What it really should be called is "anti-socialism". Some further loosening of the socialist knot around the neck of your economy might get more of you some jobs.

While the French youth are afraid of this loosening of labor law, if they would look to Denmark, they'd see that it worked quite well there. Since the mid-90's when they reduced government labor regulation and taxes they've had the fastest growing economy in western Europe. Along with Britain they have the lowest unemployment rates, and good economic growth, along with the lowest business taxes, and least restrictive labor rules.

Unfortunately, the government in France is convinced it can engineer business to get what they want out of it, and have been failing miserably. A few years back they legislated the 35 hour work week, (with 40 hours of pay), figuring business would hire more people to fill the hours. Instead, they made do with what they had, or left for the former Soviet Bloc countries, where costs are lower.

When people wonder why conservatives here want the government out of business as much as possible, I just point to France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Four formerly great economic powers that really are second rate in many ways, mostly because of their government's involvement in business.

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Takin' Care of Business

Just found an AP release, (via the WaPo) the USS Cape St. George, and USS Gonzalez engaged a suspected pirate ship off the coast of Somalia early this morning.

I'm quite sure that the photo at the left isn't what the fire fight looked like, a standard missile would be just a little bit of overkill (and over budget). But it's a cool picture anyway.

According to the AP they evidently ran across the pirates towing some folks skifs away in the area around Somalia, and when they were going to board them started taking small arms and machine gun fire.

The Navy fired back with their own machine guns, which could be anything from a standard .50 caliber mount, an M-60 or something similar to this 25mm Bushmaster.

Three of the suspects were seriously wounded and being treated on one of the Navy ships. No US sailors were injured in the attack.

One other thing struck me about the press release, the spokesman for 5th Fleet is Cmd. Charlie Brown. I wonder if anyone pulls his podium away just before a press conference?

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Teaching To The Test?

The Post has an editorial piece up today, "'Teach to the Test'? What Test?", a follow up to "Let's Teach To the Test", which was written last month.

'What Test?' Espouses the theory of test elimination, and really, after reading it, traditional education elimination. This quote made it clear that Mr. McCarthy, with 28 years of educational experience doesn't (in my mind) understand education's purpose.
I know of no meaningful evidence that acing tests has anything to do with students' character development or whether their natural instincts for idealism or altruism are nurtured.
You can nurture character development, altruism, and idealism while teaching any subject, but they aren't the primary goal of our schools. The goal of the schools are to make sure the students have a rudimentary understanding of basic subjects so they can get through life.

The other truth of tests is they do prepare you for life, if you live in the real world. Mr. McCarthy asks the question (about testing and preparation):

Is any time left over from mastering theoretical knowledge for gaining the kind of experiential knowledge found in community service or volunteering in programs such as Special Olympics or DC Reads?
Yes, at least that has been my experience. In years of volunteering at my kids schools, from kindergarten through graduation plenty of good students were also good community stewards.

What do students learn by trying to juggle class preparation, community service, extra curricular activities, maybe a job, and a social life? They learn the truth about life, it's a balancing act that is hard to deal with sometimes.

From that balancing act, students can find out how much they can handle at one time. It's where they learn their limits, and can find their desires. When you start removing parts of the balancing act, you are doing a disservice to the student.

At some point in life we all get overloaded, and have to figure out how to deal with it. If it occurs early, in school, we're ahead of the game. One student might decide college prep courses aren't as important to them as performing a community service, another may decide an extra curricular has to go so they can take that prep course.

A teacher is a part of that decision for the student, as are parents, guidance counselors, and friends. When the teachers solution is to remove the test, they've just removed one of the basic learning points in life, choices and consequences of them.

Later in life, when family, work, community and friends are at loggerheads, a decision will have to be made on which to cut back on. What practical experience in that area does the student who had the test removed have? What they will have learned is that someone else will rescue them from the dilemma, but that normally isn't the case.

Jay Cutler, in "Let's teach To the Test" points out that teaching to the test is really no such thing when it's done correctly. It's teaching to the standard that we want the student to achieve. My own practical experience in teaching is that method works well, and students generally don't fret the test.

The last three classes I've taught have averaged well over a 90% on the tests they take when I finish. It's a brand new test, and I've never seen it, only the learning standards that are required for the subject. I could go look it up in the computer, and make sure I'm hitting every question, but it's unnecessary.

In fact, in over 30 hours of instructing this week, I spent 25 minutes "worrying" about the test, that was during a review, in which I use the standards, not the test or sample questions, as the review material.

That's not to say no student is worried about the material when I'm done, they just aren't worried about the test. That, though is the great thing about teaching to a standard, when you let the students know beforehand what the standard is, they know when to ask questions.

Students do come to me after I'm done teaching, but not so they can pass the test, they want to make sure they understand the material. The test becomes not a worry, but instead a measure (as they are meant to be) and the student uses the results to reinforce what they need to know, and to ask about what they didn't know.

If I didn't test them, how would they find out what they don't know? Unfortunately, it would be at some later time, when the consequence might be more than having to take 15 minutes at the end of lunch to get an answer.

Evidently I got Matthew over at People Covered In Fish all worked up this morning, he has quite the rant up on this very subject. Glad to help your blood pressure, shipmate :)

The folks at Goosetales and Penraker aren't impressed with Mr. McCarthy, either.

(3/19) Newsweek also has some interesting stuff on educational competitiveness in this weeks issue.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Interesting Question

E.J. Dionne, in his Post Column today asks "Can Democrats Play This Game?" He's referring to the game of politics in Washington DC, and the nation. Based on his assessment, which is normally a little slanted to the left, the answer is NO.

Now, I have some issues with his column today (no surprise), because he misses a huge point, but he does make some good ones also.

His good points are that the Democratic leadership is running from it's base to the middle, which is why they have all but abandoned Russ Feingold with the Censure Resolution, which has gained a whole 1 co-sponsor in 4 days.

There is good reason for this, as he points out, there are mid-term elections coming up. While Russ is trying to gain more credibility with the base f0r 2008, that base won't win a chamber of Congress in 2006.

The 30% of voters that identify themselves as either hard core Democrats or Republicans can't carry an election, it's the 40% in the middle that you have to attract. His party sees that 40% as people who by and large support Bush on the wiretaps. If Democrats join Feingold and alienate them, they give up possible gains this year for his cause in '08.

The party bigs also realize that for all his appeal to the hard core voters on the left, Feingold doesn't have a snowballs chance in hell in 2008. Howard Dean, Wesly Clark, and John Kerry showed that in 2004. They aren't going to, as Dionne puts it, jump on a grenade for someone who they can't win with. If Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh or Joe Biden had introduced this it might be a different story.

The portion I disagreed with came in this paragraph of the editorial:

"For two decades, Republicans have used their idealists, their ideologues and their loudmouths to push the boundaries of discussion to the right. In the best of all worlds, Feingold's strong stand would redefine what's "moderate" and make clear that those challenging the legality of the wiretapping are neither extreme nor soft on terrorism"
The first part is correct, in a way. The truth is though, you can't "push a conversation" in any direction without clarity in the conversation, and people willing to move that way with it. The way the GOP moved the conversation was by showing how 40 years of Democratic rule in congress didn't work. They also told people their plan, from Reagan to Gingrich, they let people know what they were doing. Bush 41 didn't do such a good job with that in 1992 and lost.

The Democrats haven't tried to have a conversation, as much as a lecture, telling people why they are wrong. And if you get past the politically correct leaders, to the actual people who are in the party, it's often a rude lecture. For instance, I found the following on the blog of someone who visited recently:

We all need to scrub and scrape and push and rub and scrub and scrub until we Get That Shitstain Out of the White House.

That isn't a conversation, that's telling anyone who supports Bush that they are a party to the shitstain. Not exactly the way to attract converts to your cause. While the person who has that as their mantra may well have some great ideas, how many who are unconvinced are going to read farther than that to find out?

Read the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Trey Ellis and Ted Rall and others sites behind the Democrats and you get the same thing. Which means you immediately alienate a good chunk of that 40% you need to attract.

The problem with the second part of that statement is that while the Democrats wanted (very badly) to sell the wiretaps as something done against "Americans" the rest of the country understand who's suspected of being on the other end of those calls from overseas.

Unless they can convince the President to quit reminding people that these are directed at intercepting communications from terrorists, that line isn't going to sell. And I doubt very much that he will be convinced to quit reminding people.

There was a much better way for them to come across when this first hit the news, and not sound as though they are defending terrorists rights to make calls to the US. However, there is now so much tape of their canned statements on the issue that they will never make it look moderate. I think that idea has dawned on the leadership, which is why they are avoiding Feingolds grenade.

So to answer E.J.'s question, no, the Democrats don't know how to play the game. Right now they need a good coach to help them out.

(Updated 3/18)
Eleanor Clift over at Newsweek calls Feingolds resolution a "life raft" for the GOP. A Senior Fellow at the DLC calls it the equivelant of "calling for a filibuster from Davos".

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Wake Up, Ruth

Evidently Justice Ginsburg has been sleeping more often than at a few cases before the Supreme Court. I think she might have actually napped during a few of her Constitutional law classes.

There is a fairly long article in today's Washington Post in which she takes shots at the GOP for wanting to limit the Court's use of foreign law in it's decisions. She's also angry that some wacko's put up some threatening posts on the web towards her and Sandra Day O'Connor over the issue.
On the subject of wacko's, I'm not an advocate of knocking off judges. I think the person (or persons) who would advocate such nonsense should be punished to the extent that (US) law allows.

I would say that she may live in a closet, though. Maybe she never watches the news or cruises blogs, she'd see how often these same types of statements are made about presidents. It happened all the time when Clinton was in office, and still does, maybe more often, with Bush.

The real subject of this though is Article III of the US Constitution, and specifically, the "Original Jurisdiction" clause, that states where the Courts in the US get their power, and what it is (provided by www.usconstituion.net)

(The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.) (This section was modified by Amendment XI. Bold is my emphasis)

Justice Ginsburg is upset that some Republicans want to pass legislation barring courts from citing foreign law in their decisions.

Her reasoning for the use of such citations is thin, at best, and ignores Article III, at worst. In her speech to a South African audience she gave this purpose for such uses of foreign law:

The Supreme Court's citation of them shows "comity and a spirit of humility" toward other countries, she said.
Great, Madam Justice, now go back and read Article III. Your job, according to it, is to make sure that our laws are okay under our Constitution, not if they show a spirit of humility towards another countries law.

When conservatives speak of judicial activism this is the type of issue they are referring to. When judges decide that even though something isn't in the law (our law), maybe it should be, and write a decision in such a way that puts it there.

Three cases brought this to a head, Terri Schaivo, the Juvenile Death Penalty (Roper v. Simmons), and the Texas Sodomy Law (Lawrence and Garner v. Texas). In the Schaivo case, the problem wasn't that foreign law was used, but because the court (rightfully, in my opinion) spanked Congress for meddling where it shouldn't.

The other two cases, though the justices cited foreign law, and the UN in the majority decisions. While it sounds good in a majority opinion, references to British law and UN Conventions are not, by the definition of their job, what they are to be using for writing opinions.

On a side note to this issue, folks who are happy with these decisions might wish to read the dissents. Some very good points are made by Justices Scalia and Thomas on the very evident ignoring (actually, shredding would be a better phrase) of "Stare decisis" by the majority in both opinions. (findlaw.com is a great place to look).

In his Roper dissent Scalia notes that a number of his colleagues who insisted on the importance of that theory in the Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision tossed it out the window for their Roper case opinion.

Now, Justice Ginsburg doesn't find those decisions disturbing, she calls them "judicially independent" decisions. But the only thing they are independent of is her constitutional duty.

Maybe she should re-read her oath (again, the bold is my emphasis):

"I, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as Supreme Court Justice under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.''

Just a thought.

Technorati Tags: Supreme Court, politics and Ginsburg Scalia Thomas, Abortion,Sodomy
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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Agenda Issues

The Democrats seem to be having agenda issue lately. Not only is Feingold trying to push Resolution 398, calling for the President's censure, but Nancy Pelosi evidently missed a Howard Dean memo from last month.

Both the Washington Post, and Opinion Journal have articles today about Feingold's resolution, reaction to it, and why it's getting no support from the Democratic Party big wigs.

The Post story points out what has been said here, and about a billion blogs in the last 3 days about party support for the Censure resolution. The party bigs don't like it because, while they privately would love to beat Bush up with it, the public is behind the idea, in a big way. With only hard core liberals thinking the program is a bad idea, the resolution threatens to alienate middle of the road Democrats, and that all important "undecided" voter with mid-terms coming up.

Opinion Journal goes deeper with "The Impeachment Agenda", noting that folks like Barbara Boxer and John Conyers have tried to find out if there are impeachable offenses they could charge the President with. They bring the whole thing together with this ending note:

Which brings us back to Mr. Feingold's public service in floating his "censure" gambit now. He's doing voters a favor by telling them before November's election just how Democrats intend to treat a wartime President if they take power.

Not only do they want to block his policies, they also plan to rebuke and embarrass him in front of the world and America's enemies. And they want to do so not because there is a smidgen of evidence that he's abused his office or lied under oath, but because they think he's been too energetic in using his powers to defend America. By all means, let's have this impeachment debate before the election, so voters can know what's really at stake.
While the Kosite's would love to have that debate, the truth is, if the GOP frames the election as being about the Presidents ability to defend the country, the polls show the Democrats won't do well. While his overall numbers are low, when the question of is he doing a good job protecting America from more terror attacks, it's always high.

The Daily Kos and Atrios, can't see past their own 0-17 record for supported candidates to realize it's a losing proposition. Evidently the guys at Gun Toting Liberal can't either, since they are all ga-ga over the idea.

Other Agenda Issues
Iowa Voice points out that Nancy Pelosi has started talking about the Party agenda for the mid-term elections. The only problem is that Howard Dean did that last month on Face the Nation, obviously Nancy missed that episode, since their agendas don't mesh.

The one common thread they have is pandering to union voters. While Pelosie pushed her agenda for easier unionization with the Communications Workers of America, last month Dean made sure the Teachers Unions understand that public education, and union teachers are on his agenda.

What the Dean/Pelosi disconnect shows is that the media has been right in bashing them for the last few months on a lack of a coherent message. At some point, soon, if they really do aspire to hold part of Congress after November, the leadership is going to have to sit down, and come up with the actual plan, and start getting it out.

In case they hadn't noticed primary elections have already started, and incumbents with little opposition could be pushing the new party agenda already. Those with opposition could be pointing to what part they would play in it, as a more senior member of the House or Senate.

Instead, right now they have people running in ever congressional district on their own agendas, with little tying them together to show how the party as a whole would run things. When the leaders to finally start pushing their agenda, some Democratic candidates are going to looking like they've changed their entire campaign strategy mid stream.

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Thanks to Don't Go Into the Light and PowerPundit for providing some inspiration for this.
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