Monday, October 31, 2005

Ramble On

Another "collection of random thoughts" post.

First, the world mourns Rosa Parks, who died last week. Those of us who grew up in the 1990s tend to forget how much black Americans had to pay for their freedom - and continue to have to pay for it. We will never have a true democracy until the voices of the poor and oppressed are heard alongside those of the rich and powerful. Acts of simple defiance like Parks' have built our democracy - acts of simple defiance will continue to build it. (Not the acts of self-aggrandizing defiance that characterize today's activists on both sides.)

Second, Samuel Alito has been nominated to the Court. I think he's a Scalia clone. In fact, I hear they're having trouble finding his birth certificate. They can only trace him back to a super-secret robotics lab built thirty years ago by Barry Goldwater and the Federalist Society. That probably won't affect his confirmation - Republican senators can easily paint Alito's opposition as anti-android.

Seriously, though, I'm surprised Bush picked someone who might force him to break his citizen detention habit. Alito seems to have a fairly thin record on terrorism cases - at least, the Post didn't report any as among his bigger decisions. He doesn't seem to have much use for discrimination/harrassment laws - one of his more interesting decisions is a case where he overruled a Pennsylvania school district's anti-harrassment policy on First Amendment grounds. (This is a really interesting opinion, and as both a gay-rights advocate and a First Amendment geek, I'm somewhat torn...)

Alito seems to have overruled state law a lot, which is a bit hypocritical since his famous dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey is based on the principle of deference to the legislature. Oh well, I guess consistency isn't what anyone would expect from a Scalia clone. At least he's pro-student media - he ruled against a state law forbidding a college paper from accepting an advertisement from an alcoholic beverage vendor.

Third: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadickheadijad apparently thinks Israel should be destroyed. My colleague Andy wryly noted that the only way he could have made those comments more offensive is by saying, "You know what? We should gas them while we're at it." The hell with crossing the line - he didn't even wave at the line on his way past. When the French accuse you of being anti-Semitic and when the U.N. rebukes you, you know you're pretty dumb. One Iranian satirist put it this way: "Now there’s Iran on one side and Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Oceania against us on the other." But there's a silver lining for the Iranian idiotocracy: Antarctica hasn't gotten into the mix yet.

Fourth: Scooter Libby has been indicted. We can all sleep soundly tonight.

Fifth: 36-0?!?!?!?! What happened? Did some high school team sneak in, put on 'Skins uniforms, and play? Actually, probably not - a high school team would have at least scored some points. Also, Rutgers is bowl eligible - which means that unless Vandy takes out two of its last three opponents (and Tennessee looks beatable, so that is possible), we'll lay claim to the longest bowl drought in Div. I-A. Whee.

Sixth: More stupidity from Hugo Chavez. Seriously, dude. Halloween is not an American government plot. You're starting to sound like Joseph McCarthy. All you need is a lot of alcohol. Also, Iran expands its "destroy Israel" policy to include mannequins.

Seventh: check out this guy who tried to charge women to date him so he could raise money for a political campaign.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I Can't Go To Turkey

Your "Dumb Law of the Day" comes from Turkey, which apparently outlaws the use of the letters W and Q (those letters are not in the Turkish alphabet). So if I were to go to Turkey, I would have to write my name as Jeff Oodhead. And my passport would be confiscated. Wow. Or, rather, o.

Runner-up: a Houston law outlawing sex toys. My favorite line from this article: "Police take into account just how much an item resembles an actual penis when making an arrest." So I guess you can't be arrested for possession of a cucumber. (Incidentally, laws like this have really got to mess with the heads of New Orleans evacuees, who are used to, well, Mardi Gras.)

And: can we now all admit that Brad Lidge is actually Byun-Hyung Kim in disguise?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Jeff's Computer (2002-2005)

My home computer died about a week ago, so I don't have the power to blog at home anymore. I'm writing this from work, so it won't be particularly in-depth. It will be a series of mini-rants. Here goes:

George Will writes an interesting article about how GM is dealing with mounting health care costs to its retirees, and how those health care costs affect their ability to come out with new products. What Will fails to realize, I guess, is that he just made an excellent argument for single-payer health care systems. If corporate benefits packages are weighing down companies, it would ironically enough be pro-business to expand government in this area. If Washington (or Lansing, or Raleigh) is paying for it, the board room won't have to - and that will free up funds for the innovation that drives a successful market system. Furthermore, the cost of providing health benefits will no longer have to be borne by small business owners, which allows them to put more money back into their business (and maybe pay their employees better).

The hitch is in the ridiculous costs of health care. A single-payer system would occupy a good tenth of our budget all by itself - but since I don't trust the market as far as I can throw it when it comes to providing health care, we're left with either companies or governments paying the bills. If we accept Will's argument, government is our only solution, however costly it may be.

Another Post article chronicles the short life span of an eighth-grade reading assignment where students were asked to choose one book from a list of a hundred banned/challenged books, read it, and analyze why it was controversial. Predictably, some idiot parents decided that because they didn't want their kids reading some of the books on the list (reasonable, given that Madonna's "Sex" was on the list, among others), they didn't want anyone else's kids reading any of the books on the list. The school, being spineless, withdrew the assignment. Raising your own kid seems hard enough; someone please tell me why there are parents out there who want to be everyone else's mommy and daddy too.

Also on the education front, students have shown no appreciable gains from the No Child Left Behind act yet. I don't know that we can gauge the success of an education program a mere four years into its existence, but NCLB certainly isn't the magic bullet that the Bush administration was wanting it to be. Looks like Curious George will actually have to put a little more effort into solving our education problems.

And finally, well met, Astros. Why you didn't walk Albert Pujols in the ninth inning of Game 5, I'll never know. But I guess it didn't matter.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What Bush Is Really Up To

A lot of people are asking: why Miers? Why would Bush ignore the legions of conservative legal minds that have been elevated to appellate courts throughout the past decades? Why would Bush nominate someone from his inner circle when he's already facing charges of rampant cronyism? Bush seems to have made no one happy with his pick - is he stupid?

No. Miers was Bush's best pick. And here's why.

I think Bush could care less about "strict constructionism" or abortion or gay marriage or all that other crapola that the media throw about during nomination time. He's really trying to curtail the Supreme Court's interference with his war on terror, and doing a pretty good job of it.

Remember Hamdi v. Rumsfeld? In that case, the Court ruled that Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen, had the right to challenge his "enemy combatant" status in court. The decision was 8-1, with only Clarence Thomas stating that the exigencies of the war on terror supersede Hamdi's habeas plea. Certainly no Bush nominations are going to change that balance at all.

But look at the case closer. Four justices went further in their opinions, saying that not only could Hamdi challenge his status in court, but that the government was wrong in holding Hamdi as an enemy combatant. The four justices were Souter, Ginsburg, Stevens, and - here's the kicker - Scalia.

Scalia's argument was that the only way the executive could have the right to detain a citizen as an enemy combatant was through an invocation of the Constitution's Suspension Clause. That requires an act of Congress, and Congresspeople aren't about to face re-election with the suspension of everyone's habeas rights on their records.

Scalia was in the minority - barely. Had another case come up challenging the right of the Executive to hold citizens as enemy combatants, it would have been decided 5-4 in Bush's favor. Both Rehnquist and O'Connor, the two justices being replaced, were part of the five.

Therefore, the last thing Bush wanted at this point was another Scalia. Another Scalia would seriously limit his ability to detain citizens that might be al-Qaeda members indefinitely. But neither Roberts nor Miers is "another Scalia." Roberts has ruled in favor of the Administration in a war-on-terror case that came before the D.C. Circuit. Miers is the current White House Counsel. Both are reliably on the side of deference to the executive when it comes to terrorism cases. Bush didn't want to take any chances - one false step, and his entire power grab comes a-crumbling down.

The only pick that would have made as much sense as Miers was Alberto Gonzales. But Gonzales made the mistake of making his moderate views on social issues public, so he would draw even more flack from the conservatives than Miers is getting. And Gonzales is a lightning rod for issues of executive power. He drew a lot of opposition during his confirmation as Attorney General, and that would only be amplified by the intense pressures of a Court confirmation battle.

Bush's political calculus is this: neither Miers nor Gonzales would make conservatives happy. So nominate Miers and get the support of liberals and Democrats who'll see Miers' moderation on social issues and who'll think they wouldn't get much better than that from Bush. He'll lose the Dems' support if the Miers debate becomes about executive power, but he knows the media and interest groups will focus on her views on abortion and church-state separation just like they do for every judicial nominee. Now he'll need to pull off just enough Republican votes to win confirmation in the Senate - it should only take five, and Bush could probably get fifteen in his sleep. Thus, the detentions are safe.

Sure, Bush's picks look confusing if we think they're about social policy issues. But Bush's entire presidency has been about the war on terror since September 11, 2001. It's what he ran on in 2004, and it's what keep his approval ratings above 40. Somehow, people seem to forget that when they start looking at the Supreme Court. If we look at the nominations of Roberts and Miers through that lens, it all becomes crystal clear.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nope, Never Heard Of Her Either

Bush just nominated White House Counsel Harriet Miers to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's spot on the Supreme Court. The collective punditry releases a great big "huh?"

Miers has never served as a judge. (Neither had Rehnquist, nor had Earl Warren. Chief Justice Roberts - that's gonna take some getting used to - has only two years.) She has, however, had extensive experience as a lawyer, so maybe she'll know what she's doing up there. At least as much as anyone else, anyway.

Bush has managed to do the previously unthinkable with this one, though - win the praise of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid ("I like Harriet Miers") and the condemnation of the conservative National Review ("The Miers nomination is an unforced error"). Which probably means he made as good a pick as he can make - at a time when his approval ratings are dropping, the last thing he needs to do is initiate a bruisingly partisan confirmation battle that will push the moderates even further from his camp.

Though it is kind of funny that he's following a suggestion of massive spending on hurricane relief with a judicial nomination that drew Reid's praise. Impersonating a Moderate, on the offense, five yards, repeat third down.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

If You Believe...

Shit. Even in our good years, we can't beat MTSU. What the hell?

And then Arizona State forgot the existence of this clever little thing called "run defense." So all in all, it was a pretty shitty day for college football. At least Virginia Tech won.