Friday, December 2, 2011

Does Justice Have a Price Tag?


I read an interesting article in the New York Times this morning: "The Bill of Rights Doesn’t Come Cheap".

Briefly, a case ( Williams v. Illinois) before the Supreme Court involves exactly how far a defendant's right to confront his or her accuser(s) extends. At issue is whether or not a defendant's counsel can call a forensic analyst to testify under the broad interpretation of accuser. The author comes down on the side of a broad interpretation.

As I began reading this I instinctively assumed the opposite side would argue that a presumably neutral technician who submits forensic analyses should not be classified as an "accuser" according to a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution. But such is not the case. The State of Illinois is arguing instead that the sheer cost of bringing more or less peripheral, technically defined accusers to court for cross examination would be prohibitive. According to the article:

"...the Supreme Court has been sharply divided on the issue. In similar cases in 2009 and earlier this year, in which I represented the defendants, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. accepted claims by state governments that, simply put, confrontation in this context costs too much. It is far more efficient, these justices contend, to let analysts simply mail their reports to court. Having to appear at trials pulls them away from their labs, and only occasionally proves more revealing than their written testimony. Hence, these justices maintain, “scarce state resources” are better committed elsewhere."

Now at first blush, one would think that abrogating an important constitutional guarantee on the basis of cost alone to be an incredibly bad idea - and the fact that four justices seem inclined to agree with it is not only mystifying, but also very disturbing. What's more, you can't view the court's divide on this issue as a difference between traditional conservative and liberal ideologies. Frankly, whenever you see Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito on the same side, you have to wonder if there's more to his animal than meets the eye.

You can find the summary of Williams v Illinois before the SCOTUS here. Skimming through the summary, you get the distinct impression that the defendant, Sandy Williams, is guilty as heck and only raised the confrontation issue as a way of trying to wiggle off the hook. From the summary:

“Overall, defendant essentially requests that we require each and every individual involved in the testing and analysis of DNA to testify at trial. For obvious reasons in the abstract and for those provided in the case at bar, we decline to issue such a ruling.”

Mr. Williams' guilt or innocence however is beside the point. You don't go around ignoring the Constitution just to convict one, clearly guilty person. But still, it seems to me this case, others like it, as well as the related issue of tort reform, raise troubling questions about the execution of justice. To wit: is it fair for a society to set limits on the amount of money it is willing to spend in pursuit of justice? After all, in every phase of law, and indeed of government itself, there is only so much money to go around. We're living in a dream world if we deny it.

Now I don't think I should have to prove by statistical evidence how sensitive our justice system is to money. People with enough money to pay for the best attorneys stand a much better chance of escaping conviction than poor people who are stuck with far less effective, court appointed lawyers. Moreover, every year, trials seem to get more and more expensive. It cost Los Angeles County 9 million dollars to prosecute O.J.!

Personally, I believe the more money we spend on determining guilt or innocence, the more likely we are to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Similarly, where "tort reform" is concerned, the more we allow for damages, the less likely businesses will be to abuse the system. However, even I have to admit that the sheer cost of obtaining true justice must certainly have some kind of limits. How much? In what cases, and under what circumstances? Good questions, these.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Honestly, and with as little partisan rancor as I can manage, I'll have to admit the Republican field of presidential hopefuls this year is as sorry a lot as I've ever seen from any party in my admittedly short lifetime. Though an affable and fairly intelligent man, Michael Dukakis was something of an embarrassment - and the same goes for Walter Mondale. Yet neither of these two Democrats even came close to rivaling the current crop of GOP front runners in terms of ineptitude and hypocrisy. I weep for the poor party-line conservative, who come what may is going to have to pull the lever next November for a buffoon. To be sure, such is the intensity of the Tea Party's irrational hatred of Barak Obama that they would vote Republican if their candidate was a sock puppet.

However, since a sock puppet would surely be an improvement on the likely GOP nominee, I doubt if many in the traditional moderate center of the entire electorate will do the same. Under the circumstances, Obama could erect minarets around the White House and conduct daily Muslim prayer services - and still not lose the election.

How did we get to this point? Here the story of Richard Lugar, longtime Senator from my home state of Indiana, is instructive:

First elected mayor of Indianapolis in 1967 (my junior year in high school), Dick Lugar's subsequent career in politics has been a textbook example of the kind of successes a smart, principled man can accomplish. He lost his first try at the U.S. Senate to the veteran Democrat, Vance Hartke, in 1974, but won on his second try in 1976, and has been a U.S. Senator ever since. In the 2006 election, he captured an amazing 87% of all votes cast and Democrats didn't even bother to field a candidate against him. Along the way he's amassed a pile of awards from both conservative and liberal leaning groups. Humble in victory and gracious in defeat, universally admired by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, his record in office has not ever been tarnished by a single act of hypocrisy. A lifetime Methodist and married to the same woman for over 50 years, Mr. Luger has raised 4 fine sons and can proudly claim 13 grandchildren.

Steve, if you didn't know first hand it was true, you would be inclined to believe the Wikipedia article on Dick Lugar to be some kind of fictional account of the Perfect Senator. And by the way, despite the fact that I disagree in principle with many of this man's conservative viewpoints, I've voted for him myself every time I've had the chance. My gosh, the guy even helped establish "The Richard Lugar Center for Renewable Energy", an improbable extension of Indiana and Purdue Universities, which includes funding and participation from academia, the alternative energy industry, and (amazingly) some of the biggest Indiana users of fossil fuels (Like Duke energy for instance.).

For the sake of conservatives, indeed, for the cause of conservatism itself, if would be nice if the Dick Lugar story was headed for a happy ending. But alas, such is not the case - and here's where the story gets weird. Organized under the banner, "Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate", Indiana Tea Parties have united in strong opposition to Richard Lugar's candidacy and are backing a comparative unknown, one Richard Mourdock - the current Indiana State Treasurer. For heaven's sake, why?

I'll tell you why. Richard Lugar is the kind of man who is capable of changing his mind but not his principles. This is also a man who knows the importance of tact, strategy and compromise. In negotiations, someone like Mr. Lugar will always come away with most of the loaf, where the typical blind ideologue will come away with none at all. However, Indiana Tea Partiers don't want an intelligent human being to represent the state, just a glorified sock puppet.

Now I'm not saying voters have no right to organize and promote whoever they feel best represents them. In most ways, that's what politics is all about. But I honestly think that as a nation we're headed down a disastrous road when we start sending empty suits to Washington. To me, this voids the whole idea of representative democracy. Government, it seems to me, works best when communities elect their best and brightest to lead them - and have faith that the difficult decisions those people make are the right ones in the long run.

Now don't worry, I doubt if Dick Lugar is going to lose this round. Hoosiers, even the Republican ones, aren't that stupid. But unfortunately, the same dynamic which is going to keep Mr. Lugar in office isn't going to work on the national level - and especially in the race for Presidency. Here's why:

The Tea Party constitutes only a fraction of the Republican base, and a relatively small one at that. But they are by far the best organized and financed faction. Thus, while it may be true a Republican can win the Presidency without the strong support of the Tea Party, it is increasingly obvious that you cannot win the party's nomination without it. And, just as in Indiana, the Tea Party demands ideological purity. In fact, you get the impression intelligence and overall competence are pretty much of secondary importance, if that. Let one of the candidates publicly disagree some extreme point of social or scientific dogma, and there goes his or her chances. In short, the Tea Party isn't interested in electing anyone who thinks for themselves.

On the local level, this counter-productive insistence on rigid, ideological purity can be overcome by a man with the credentials of a Richard Lugar. But on the national level, the Republican Party just plain doesn't as yet have a candidate of such overwhelming accomplishment and character that he or she can overcome the money and influence of the Tea Party. Someone like Chris Christie might have had a shot. But you know, as soon as it came out in the debates that Chris Christie endorsed the consensus view on climate change, you might just as well have written him off. The Tea Party doesn't believe in climate change and won't back a person who does. That's just for starters.

What it boils down to is the sane, rational, principled, potential Republican candidates (and there are many) are sitting this one out. Which leaves us with a truly odd collection of damaged goods. The only person in the whole bunch with a glimmer of intelligence, John Huntsman, consistently runs dead last in the polls. The consistent front runner is Mitt Romney: a man with such little regard for his own convictions that he's willing to change them at the drop of a hat. Each week it seems one or another of the others bubbles to the surface to claim the lead. This week it is the tireless retread, Newt Gingrich. Last month it was Herman Cain. Before that, Rick Perry was the flavor of the month.

Mitt Romney will continue to poll at or near the top because, week in and week out, he continues to garner support of whatever is left of the moderate faction of the GOP - and this is only by default: these people just have nowhere else to go. The real action has been on the fringe. Yet so far every time one of them has made a run at Romney, sooner or later, they've said something which enrages the Tea Party and whoops, there goes the egg money.

In closing, let me say I'm not all that bothered by whatever special interests (read: cynical, self serving, private groups) are working behind the scenes. After all, special interests have always been the name of the game and Democrats can claim no independence from them. What really bothers me is that the GOP seems to have been high jacked by the politics of rage: a naive, simplistic, media driven rage that spends all of its time apportioning blame and none of its time looking for solutions. It is a rage utterly resistant to facts or evidence. Conservative writer David Frum (who I've often quoted before) has a fairly thoughtful article on this very phenomenon: "When Did The GOP Lose Touch With Reality?".

Then again, maybe as a people we've become just too darn lazy to think for ourselves.

Bon appetit!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stage II


You may recall some time ago I posted the 4 stages of climate change denial. To repeat:

1. Global warming isn't happening.

2. Global warming is happening but humans aren't responsible for it.

3. Global warming is happening, humans are largely responsible for it, but there isn't anything we can do about it.

4. Global warming is happening, humans are largely responsible for it, there is something we can do about, but the costs of mitigation would exceed the costs of warming.

Now it looks like with the pending peer review and subsequent publishing of Robert Muller's BEST study, denialistas will be breaking camp and moving on to stage 2. Back in April of this year I posted an article and comment on Dr. Muller's testimony before Representative Robert Hall's (R-Tx) congressional kangaroo court on climate science: a forum designed from the start to cast doubt on the science behind the theory of AGW. Dr. Muller had been called to testify simply because he had been recognized for years as a skeptic. But, low and behold, after honestly reviewing the data, Dr. Muller in sworn testimony, confirmed the existence of global warming - not only that, but the credibility of the "hockey stick". Thus, his testimony posed an embarrassment - not only for Robert Hall, but the denialist community at large - which immediately ramped up and started trying to discredit the BEST methodology.

During that episode I was most amused by the idiotic dilettante, Tony Watts. Prior to release of Dr. Muller's findings, Mr. Watts had more or less promised on his blog to abide by whatever the BEST team concluded. Yet, as soon as it became obvious the findings conflicted with his own personal dogma, he instantly back tracked and fell in with the chorus of BEST critics.

I failed to mention in that earlier post why the Watts reversal has been so exquisitely ironic. It was Mr. Watts himself who virtually pioneered the organized criticism of surface temperature records - and the computer models which are based on them. The effort culminated in the "paper", "Surface Temperature Records: Policy Driven Deception?" - - the original copy of which was as goofy a piece of flat Earth flim flam as any which has come down the pike in years. As it originally appeared, it was little more than a paste up of unsorted calumnies from a host of dubious sources. In the intervening months, Mr. Watts has painstakingly removed the most comical errors - but the paper just keeps getting flimmier and flammier. Now comes the BEST study, a thorough, well financed project which honestly pursues the objectives which Mr. Watts has been dishonestly pursuing for years. And not surprisingly, the results directly contradict the saucer of weak tea Tony Watts has been trying to pass off as genuine research.

Probably the most damning aspect of the BEST study, for Tony Watts at least, is the devastating take-down of his most cherished conspiracy theory. Namely, that the American NOAA and NASA, along with the British Hadley Centre, are purposely conspiring to drop from their data bases the temperature recording sites which give "colder" readings, while retaining sites which give "warmer" readings. You yourself made note of this in a post of your's last year. As originally conceived, the whole theory was based on Mr. Watts' total ignorance of temperature anomalies. Climate change predictions are based on anomalies at each site, as opposed to Mr. Watts' naive assumption that the readings from all sites are merely averaged: a preposterous method in which "throwing out" colder readings would have some effect.

One of the things the BEST study did was "add back" the readings from all the stations which the NOAA had dropped from the system to see if their inclusion would make any difference in the historical record.

It didn't.

As a matter of fact, the record is almost identical to that which is currently computed without the dropped stations. This should come as no surprise. For some time now, the NOAA has been trying to explain the station selection process to anyone who cares to listen. Furthermore, since all the data is freely available from the NOAA, the BEST review which incorporates dropped stations had already been performed earlier by at least one blogger - with the same results. I need hardly add that Anthony Watts himself, if he is indeed the meticulous researcher he claims to be, could have performed this same exercise with any ordinary home computer before making his profoundly dishonest accusations.

Here's the whole point of this post, Steve:

With the publication of the BEST study, the very existence of global warming is no longer in doubt. Yet, having lost their credibility as climate experts, are we supposed to believe the same pseudo-scientists who spread lies and disinformation, and promoted childish conspiracy theories about the temperature record, will now suddenly morph into experts in chemistry, oceanography, geology and physics, and then explain to us why evidence from these fields as well do not prove global warming is the product of human activity?

Steve, there isn't any conspiracy to alter the historical temperature record! There never was. Yet, now that this particular conspiracy theory has gone up in smoke, we're going to be asked to believe that scientists in fields as diverse as atmospheric chemistry and hydrology are conspiring, in an ever widening circle, to game the system and create false evidence for anthropocentric global warming. And what's more, were going to be asked to believe this by the same people who lied to us about the record of global temperature.

Pfaah! Isn't it about time we start paying attention to what real scientists are telling us about climate change? A whole bunch of them spent countless hours without remuneration to prepare AR-4, the IPCC's seminal report on climate change. Why not take a moment to visit the IPCC website, where you can review the IPCC's reports and credentials of the team members who write them. The whole process is fully transparent and backed by tons of online documentation.



Friday, October 7, 2011


By sheer coincidence I happened across a June 11th (2011) article by one Richard Glover in the Sydney (Australia) Morning Harold, "The Dangers of Bone Headed Beliefs", in which the author pokes fun of climate change denialists, mainly, but also of "green zealots", who treat the science of global warming as a sort of religion. You may not like the humor - it has the typical hard edges of British humor which some here in the Colonies find objectionable.

As it happens, the article didn't create much of a stir when it first appeared in print. However, someone posted a link to it at an American conservative website, where upon it went viral and spawned a ration of hate mail from conservative lunatics, as reported by Mr. Glover in a later article. But that's beside the point. I've no doubt liberal lunatics are as proficient at writing hate mail as conservatives are.

What caught my eye in the article was the following:

"Is it possible to get the politics out of the climate-change debate? The first step might be to acknowledge the way ideology informs attitudes to climate change on both sides.

People on the left instinctively believe in communal action, the role of government and the efficacy of international agencies such as the UN. They were always going to believe in climate change; it's the sort of problem that can best be solved using the tools they most enjoy using.

The right tended to be sceptical about climate change from the start and for exactly the same reasons. It's the sort of problem that requires global, communal action, with governments setting rules. It is a problem that requires tools they instinctively dislike using."

What I found surprising was how compactly the author was able to reduce the public's ideological divide over the science of climate change to such profoundly simple terms. Not only that, but this account makes total sense to me.

Now it is true I firmly believe in the fundamental correctness of the science which establishes global warming as an anthropocentric phenomenon. Furthermore, I've spent no little time considering the views of many in prominence who deny it - and found the criticisms to be unsupported by facts, if not downright fraudulent.

However, before I come to a review of the science, as a liberal, I have one less hurdle to get over than my conservative counterpart. I know going in that if global warming constitutes a valid threat, the solution may require some expansion of national, as well as international government. And frankly, that prospect doesn't bother me. As a liberal, I should say I'm as terrified of repressive government as you are. But, perhaps unlike you, I believe in the perfectibility of government.

This is what makes it so hard for liberals and conservatives to work together on effective solutions. To put it another way, I suppose a conservative might believe that even if the consensus view on climate change is correct, might it be that the loss of individual liberties embodied by a solution are worse than the effects of climate change in any case?

You know, I think this is a meaningful question, and possibly worth at least as much consideration as the details of the science itself. Famously, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey - a true conservative - has stated his unequivocal trust in the consensus view on climate change. Yet, he is also on record as opposing the strategies currently favored by the left. Frum Forum has a rather nice article on his position.

Now it seems to me the whole issue of climate change could be viewed as only a part of a much larger dialogue - one in which the aims of both conservatives and liberals dovetail. Frankly, a rational, integrated, national energy policy which has the objective of supplanting fossil fuels with renewables, need not require as its prime goal the reduction of carbon emissions.

Consider Charles Krauthammer: as ardent a conservative, liberal bashing, climate change denier as ever walked the Earth. Yet, a lack of faith in the science behind global warming doesn't prevent him from writing articles like this. From the article:

"For 25 years and with utter futility (starting with "The Oil-Bust Panic," the New Republic, February 1983), I have been advocating the cure: a U.S. energy tax as a way to curtail consumption and keep the money at home. On this page in May 2004 (and again in November 2005), I called for "the government -- through a tax -- to establish a new floor for gasoline," by fully taxing any drop in price below a certain benchmark. The point was to suppress demand and to keep the savings (from any subsequent world price drop) at home in the U.S. Treasury rather than going abroad. At the time, oil was $41 a barrel. It is now $123."


"Want to wean us off oil? Be open and honest. The British are paying $8 a gallon for petrol. Goldman Sachs is predicting we will be paying $6 by next year. Why have the extra $2 (above the current $4) go abroad? Have it go to the U.S. Treasury as a gasoline tax and be recycled back into lower payroll taxes."

Let's parse this. What Charles Krauthammer is advocating, plainly, is a targeted tax on fossil fuels. What he does not advocate, characteristically, is using this tax to subsidize the production of energy with renewables. Instead, he would use this revenue to reduce payroll taxes - and allow free market mechanics to make renewables a more attractive investment.

Now there, in my estimation, is a solution we should all be able to agree on - liberals and conservatives alike. A: Tax a diminishing resource (oil), the supply of which we depend on from unstable and unpredictable foreign sources. B: Return the tax to the U.S. consumer by way of a "revenue neutral" income tax deduction. C: Allow the market to find and develop alternative energy sources without government interference.

Everybody wins: liberal tree huggers and drill baby drill neocons alike. And nobody has to fight over climatology. What do you think?



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let's get Ready To Ruuuuuuumble!


While others only talk about making home made salsa, Chef Christophe acts.  Herewith, for those courageous enough to follow the trail he blazed:

Chef Christophe's Mystery Death Salsa


6 large, fresh tomatoes
1 medium onion
2 large jalapeno peppers
2 serrano peppers
2 Charleston slim peppers
2 cayenne peppers
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1 tsp cumin - 1 tsp adobo - 1 tsp cilantro

Remove stems from tomatoes, then dunk in boiling water for 1 minute and peel off skin.  Finely chop tomatoes, peppers and onions.  Put them in a crock pot along with the spices and tomato paste and cook at low heat for 6 hours.

For a distinctive flavor, you can also add a couple of tablespoons of brown or white sugar.

This salsa won't exactly terminate your taste buds with extreme prejudice, but it will make any taco or tostada wake up and take notice.  For a kick-in-the-pants, slap-yo-mama, near death experience, puree one large ghost pepper and toss it in.  But just be darn sure you wear rubber gloves (seriously) if you do that.  Oh, and throw away the blender afterwards.

-Chef Christophe

Tuesday, August 2, 2011



Years ago, before the Internet was just a gleam in Al Gore's eye, when I read the newspaper or watched the news on TV, I was pretty much at the mercy of whatever reporter was doing the story.  Now days, things have changed.  Today I read or watch the news online - which gives me a powerful tool to determine the veracity of a news item.  But a lot depends on how you use this tool, or for that matter, whether or not you are inclined to use it at all.

For fun, I thought I'd describe how I typically check out the facts behind a story.  Here goes.

This morning the AJC had an article, "Cost of FAA shutdown could exceed $1billion", which calls attention to the central irony of the dispute between Congressional Republicans and Democrats over re-authorization of the FAA.  Briefly, the whole thing started when House Republicans claimed they wanted to cut funding for the FAA at certain unprofitable rural airports before they would re-authorize the FAA.  However, because Senate Democrats refused to go along, whatever minimal savings would have been gained by these relatively minor cuts (16.5 million annually), have been more than wiped out by lost revenues (125 million weekly) due to the lack of re-authorization.

Conscious of this ridiculous situation, House Republicans fired back with another re-authorization bill which does not contain these cuts.  Which sounds reasonable, yet still Senate Democrats refuse to go along.  Why wouldn't they?  According to this description of the impasse, Republicans now seem entirely rational and conciliatory, which is most likely how the whole thing will be played out in the conservative media.

But wait.  Senate Democrats claim the stalemate has nothing to do with minor cuts at all, but a provision in the House bill regarding unions.  According to the AJC article:

"The labor provision would overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn't vote were treated as "no" votes."

And I can see why anyone would object to this, as it virtually wipes out the fundamental rules which govern any election.  To wit: in a democracy, we only count the votes of those responsible enough to go to the polls and actually vote.  This rule mandates that you not only count as votes the number of those who didn't bother, but that you count them all as a vote for one, pre-determined side.  It would be like government mandating that everyone in a district who doesn't vote, should be tallied up and added to the totals as either Republican or Democrat.  Which pretty much destroys the whole point of having an election in the first place.  Back to the article.

According to Representative John Mica, a Republican from Florida:

"Senate Democrats are also arguing that the House-passed extension is about a labor provision, but the fact is there is no labor provision in the extension..." (my underline).

This, if you will, is the crux of the issue.  If Mr. Mica is telling the truth, why then it is the Senate Democrats who are being bull headed and obstructionist - and incidentally costing us taxpayers the no small sum of 125 million a week.  On the other hand, if he is lying, we're paying that 125 million a week because Republicans want to add a rule which no sane person would view as anything but anti-democratic.

As I said before, without the Internet, you just have to make up your own mind about Mr. Mica's honesty, or lack thereof.  But we don't have to do that, do we?

First, let's find the bill.  Go to (Thomas) Library of Congress, then "Bills and Resolutions" and search the term "FAA".  This takes a little practice, but eventually you will find the bill in question: H.R. 658.  Scroll down to "Evaluation and Audit of Mediation Board", section 903, which says:

"Effective January 1, 2011, the rule prescribed by the National Mediation Board relating to representation election procedures published on May 11, 2010 (95 Fed. Reg. 26062) and revising sections 1202 and 1206 of title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, shall have no force or effect."

Copy "95 Fed. Reg. 26062" and paste it in your search bar, and you will find the Mediation Board's ruling as referred to in H.R. 658.  Here's the summary of the ruling:

"As part of its ongoing efforts to further the statutory goals of the Railway Labor Act, the National Mediation Board (NMB or Board) is amending its Railway Labor Act rules to provide that, in representation disputes, a majority of valid ballots cast will determine the craft or class representative. This change to its election procedures will provide a more reliable measure/indicator of employee sentiment in representation disputes and provide employees with clear choices in representation matters." (again, my underline)

If you want, you can even scan through the Mediation Board's background material, which references the sound legal precedents which have been established through several Federal court rulings.

Now, all of this checking took me no more than a minute or two.  But from it, I was a able to determine, independently, from reliable and unbiased sources, the actual facts behind the AJC news item - and that Representative Mica was lying about them.

Steve, this little bit is going to get spun all different ways in the media.  It will probably turn into one of the thousands of anecdotal "facts" which underlie the average person's overall political viewpoint.  Yet not one person in a hundred will make the least effort to determine if the spin he subscribes to is actually true or not.

This is what I mean when I say the circus going on in Washington today reflects so poorly on the voters who elected these clowns in the first place.  We've become slaves to mediocre, biased and even self-contradictory reporting, despite the fact that we have at our fingertips a powerful tool to cut through the fog and establish the truth.

Maybe we'd rather live in whatever dreamworld of prejudice and ignorance which best suits our preconceptions.  Or maybe we're just too lazy to make the effort.  You decide.



Monday, August 1, 2011


Well they did it.  It looks like we've got a "debt deal".  How marvelous!

Everybody wins this time.  Republicans can say they stuck to their guns and got some sure 'nuff spending cuts.  Democrats can say they "saved" the economy.  Obama can say he put country above party and compromised to avert certain disaster.  Seems to me I've heard this song before.

As it turns out though, this fabulous debt deal is pretty much just a bunch of hooey.  All our leaders are saying is that they pinky promise to look at some as yet undefined spending cuts later on.  And even this nebulous commitment will be left to a "bipartisan commission", composed no doubt of has-been politico's who have nothing to lose by suggesting that maybe grandma can get along just fine without a new wheelchair.

Forgive me for saying pfah.

Steve, I'm a borderline socialist.  I don't have a problem with government take-overs.  As far as I'm concerned, they can take over whatever they want - so long as they start with my house payment.

That said, what ticks me off the most about our leaders in Congress is how poorly they reflect on the public which elected them.  Steve, these people are two faced, attention grabbing, brain dead idiots.  As the man said, none of them could pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.

Sorry, just venting here.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Here we go again...


After bombing 7 and shooting 86 people dead, now we learn through his lawyer, Geir Lippestad, that Anders Behring Breivik "... feels that what he has done does not deserve punishment" - adding, "He has been politically active and found out himself that he did not succeed with usual political tools and so resorted to violence," - and concluding with: "I await a medical assessment of him,".

Hey Geir. Here's a clue. The guy's nuts.

From all indications, we're going to get another one of those "He Didn't Know What He Was Doing Was Wrong Because He Was Off His Rocker" legal defenses, and I can just picture it. Months of delays will pass while a team of head shrinkers determine the guy's a nut job. Finally we'll get to a long trial, during the first five minutes of which the defense will concede the only important fact: that, well, yes, yes he did murder those people...

Then, everyone from the judge on down will try to look all serious for the next three months as the Mr. Breivik's lawyers try to drum up sympathy for the poor wretch. Eventually, on account of Mr. Breivik being out of his mind and all, the charges will be reduced to something only slightly more sinister than tipping over trash cans. He'll spend maybe a couple of years in minimum security, during which time he snags an interview Anderson Cooper. When he gets out he'll sell the book rights for a million five and marry a Swedish model.

OK OK, maybe I'm being a little sarcastic here. But really, do you honestly believe for one millisecond Norway will ever even consider doing to Anders Behring what Anders Behring did to 93 people without a moment's regret?

Hey Norway, wake up! This jerk killed 93 of your own people! Have your fancy trial. Then give this animal a chance to see what a bullet in the head feels like - first hand.


Thursday, July 21, 2011


An interesting graphic can be found here. It shows deficits by year, 1980 through 2010, in both dollars and as a percent of GDP. Most interesting.

From the ideological side of the fence, I notice that Clinton's surplus did not happen until after the Republicans took over in 1994. I also note that after W's 'monster deficit' in 2004 - which is no where close to where we are now(!) - was followed by a steady decline until 2008. IMHO, the 2008 deficit was predominately caused by the economic collapse, although the budget was most certainly bloated (and first pure Democrat budget in a decade or so). This trend continued into 2009 and 2010, when spending *really* took off. I also think the projected reductions in the deficit in the coming years are woefully optimistic.

All of this ideological analysis means nothing.

Whether Democrats or Republicans get proportionate blame is meaningless. Congress writes the checks, Presidents cash them. Everyone's finger is in the pie with the ONLY goal of "getting re-elected".

We both agree that we have a spending problem. Right now, it appears BOTH SIDES are trying to find a way to push things into the next Congressional cycle so THEY won't have to deal with the very hard decisions which are looming. Rest assured that I'm just as ticked off by the Country Club Republicans as I am by the Wacky Left. Everyone is on a spending spree, and the head-in-the-sand pronouncements that things are not as bad as they could be, hides the problem (and the solution).

Fundamentally, I think either you believe in economic liberty – which is to say that government IS NOT the optimum means of allocating investment – or you don’t. I am hopeful that an increasing number of people realize how we REALLY got in this mess (and who was at the controls, e.g., all of the self-serving 'power brokers'). Unfortunately, this is counter-balanced by an increasing number of the "dumb-masses" who are accepting the argument that government ought to take any money lying around to spend as government wants, and this is OK (e.g., ‘fair’) just so long as it soaks ‘the rich’.

I don’t want to fix blame, and I don't want to shift the burden from Peter to Paul, and I don't want to waste time trying to manipulate who gets the credit... I want true economic freedom to make a Real Comeback.

If I may paraphrase Jerry Pournelle again, "Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. And the universe is not fair."

- Steve

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A new fantasy writer is born...


Have you ever heard the old saw about how if you put a hundred monkeys in a room with a hundred typewriters, given enough time, eventually one of them will type out the Gettysburg Address?

Well it looks like The Washington Post has decided to run this very experiment, and today's article: "Five truths about the deficit and the national debt" appears to consist of the first day's output.

No, I take that back. Comparing this article to what a monkey would randomly peck out on a typewriter would be an insult to both the monkey and the typewriter.

Where to begin? The first "truth" starts out by defining the word "deficit" (Hooray!), and ends with this head scratcher:

"Think of it this way: There are rich people who borrow a lot of money, and there are poor people who live within their means. The question of whether someone is rich or poor is separate from the question of how much money they borrow."

Steve, call me unsophisticated, but I always thought the question of whether someone is rich or poor depends on net worth, which is assets minus liabilities. In this simple equation, "liabilities" is short-hand for "how much you borrow". What person in their right mind would not understand this?

Don't bother, I checked. The writer is one Neil Irwin, whose resume includes "an MBA from Columbia University, where he was a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economics and Business Journalism." What was this guy's thesis on, Tantric Healing? Wicca? Let's move on...

Truth 2 starts out well, in this case pointing out that the national debt "accumulated over 200 years", thus clearing up a little confusion for those of us who thought it was racked up a couple of weeks ago. But then we learn, "The good news is that there’s really no need to eliminate the debt entirely." because doing that would be "problematic".

For who? Let's see, A: The government has no debt, therefore B: The government pays no interest on the debt, therefore C: The government can lower taxes, therefore D: us taxpayers get more money to spend on Ronco Pocket Fishermen and Suzane Somers Thighmasters. Sounds like a good deal to me. What am I missing here?

Truth 3 wastes no time going off the rails, by remarking: "Not all debt is bad. Some debt is good." No. Debt, like whooping cough, might be a money maker for the doctor who treats it, but hardly a good thing for the guy who suffers from it. Mr. Irwin opines that borrowing money for " a house or for a child’s education" could "pay off handsomely." Why sure it could! But wouldn't it pay off even more handsomely if you were able to pay for that house or that education in cash? After all, you would still have the same house and the same education, but then not have to send off checks to some lender, each heavily larded with interest, afterwards.

Next, take my word for it here, Truth 4 was lifted, with little modification, from the New Car Salesman's Handbook, Chapter 2, "How To Talk A Sucker Into Buying The Most Expensive Car On The Lot." In that handbook, salesmen are taught to say, with a straight face, "Sir, you make a good living. Don't you think you deserve to drive the Zorch 6000X with the gold plated cup holders and 200 horsepower windshield wipers?"

Irwin aligns this strategy with his version: "Not only would a stronger economy make the deficit lower — it would broaden the nation’s capacity to handle a large debt. Just as a $1 million mortgage would be ruinous for a poor family but easily manageable for a wealthy one, the United States can handle a larger amount of debt the greater our national income."

Translation: "You make a lot of dough, spend it." Steve, why? Why does making a lot of money automatically mean you need to borrow a lot of money? Don't get me wrong, I can see the guy who owns a successful business making hand buzzers going out and borrowing money so he can make more hand buzzers. After all, General Electric wouldn't be ripping the public off today with crummy coffee makers and clock radios if old Tom Edison hadn't borrowed a few pesos to get the whole thing rolling.

However, NEWSFLASH: the government isn't the same thing as a private individual or business. Now you and I may disagree on the extent of what exactly we expect government to do - but don't you think that, having arrived at a reasonable set of parameters, shouldn't we assume that government stay within those parameters? I mean why, if by some miracle, government collects enough money to pay for what we want it to do, should it then go out and borrow money so it can do even more? What kind of crazy logic is that?

Finally, as if waking up from some sort of trance or spell, in Truth 5, Mr. Irwin absent mindedly proceeds to contradict everything he has said so far. Possibly by accident, he discovers "debt dynamics". What is that? Glad you asked.

"Debt dynamics" is: "...the concept that deficits and debt have a built-in feedback loop. So when debt levels rise too high, interest rates can rise, making the debt problem all the more onerous. Debt dynamics are the reason that, even though interest rates are very low now, it is worth worrying about current U.S. debt levels."

Well what do you know. Somehow, while wrapping up two pages of naive generalizations, this Columbia University graduate stumbles on the essential truth which every high school drop-out is going to learn the hard way: when you owe a lot of money, it costs more to borrow it. Solution? Try as hard as you can not to go into debt in the first place.

What do they teach over there at Columbia anyway?



Friday, July 15, 2011

Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Life, and some other stuff


Life is a little bit like baseball. In baseball, our champions are towering monuments of success. Yet in baseball, failure is commonplace. Even the greatest athletes who ever played the game are going to fail most of the time they step into the batters box. Last year, the team which won the World Series won 93 games - but lost 70 - which means they lost 43% of the time.

Life isn't perfect either. No matter how much you want to win, most of the time you are going to fail. Civilizations have accumulated all sorts of adages and maxims about failure - most of which are meant to teach us the hidden benefits of it. Experience teaches us, it seems, that the champions among us are not those who succeed the most, but those who fail the least.

Sometimes I think we go through life carrying our failures like millstones around our necks. We learn to evaluate opportunities in terms of how likely they are to result in failure. Most of us are bench warmers, content to let someone else take the field and suffer the consequences of failure - annoyed, no doubt, in some dark corner of our minds when that someone actually succeeds.

Without consciously realizing it, we most often view success as a matter of mere coincidence. If ten people attempt, but nine of them fail, would not that make the single success sheerly a matter of good luck? What, exactly, did the one winner bring to the table that the nine losers did not?

You disagree? Consider:

The most important job of any parent who ever lived is teaching his or her kids not to take unreasonable chances. The first time my daughter ever drove a car on her own, all I could think of was how many ways it could end in disaster. I doubt if on that occasion I spent a single second thinking about any of the wonderful opportunities which driving a car would present her with. All I could think of was the potential for failure. Hold that thought.

My daughter was just the opposite. All she could think of was how cool it would be to drive a car on her own. I knew that. So, I wanted to temper her enthusiasm with a great big blob of anxiety. As she was driving, instead of thinking about weekend drives and hanging out with friends, I wanted her to be thinking about drivers shooting through windshields and mangled body parts lying on the side of the road.

I wanted her to think about failure, believing, as I did, that this would make her a better driver. And you know, I had all the evidence on my side. Its probably true that over ninety percent of all accidents are avoidable. And those accidents would have been avoided if whoever caused them had been thinking about failure first, last and always. Back to life...

Years ago, before we stopped manufacturing things here in America, I worked summers at the RCA plant in Marion while I was attending school. Being a temp, I got sent around to all kinds of jobs. One job they sent me to was just plain exhausting. A line of overhead hangers, each filled with a really heavy, old style picture tube would come by, next to a line of empty hangers going the other way. My job was simply to transfer the tubes from one line to the other.

I was just a shrimp back then, 5'10" and 155 at most. The first time I got this job I really threw myself into it. But, since the tubes were heavy and awkward to handle, the best I could do was transfer them at a rate of maybe 50%. Man, this wore me out - I mean I was dog tired. But proud. I thought transferring half the tubes from one line to another was something of a feat. At the end of the shift I asked a guy working nearby how many tubes the guy I was subbing for could transfer. Almost casually, the guy said, "all of them.".

The next day I was given the same job. Wouldn't you know it, I went from a rate of 50% the day before to a rate of a 100%. And even at that, after doubling my production, afterwards, I wasn't as tired as I had been the day before.

Bear in mind, I had never seen this rate of production actually done. All I had to go on was the word of a guy who claimed to have seen it done. I had thought that, given my size and strength, this was impossible. Yet the simple knowledge that it was possible was all I needed. I hadn't suddenly become bigger or stronger. The only difference was I was convinced of the actual possibility of success.

Trivial as it sounds, I think of this experience quite often. When I do, it occurs to me that succeeding is not so much a question of ability as it is of belief. I think, probably the best baseball players are not the most gifted, but those who are blind to the possibility of failure. When they strike out, they throw their batting helmets in disgust. They can't believe they could strike out, and hadn't spent a single spare second considering what they would do if they did.

Kids don't know much about failure. In their innocence, they say they want to be movie stars and presidents - and great baseball players. They don't know that of all the millions of kids who start out in T-ball, only a few hundred will ever make it to the big leagues.

But you know, if kids had the wisdom of old men like us, there would never have been a Stan Musial or a Sandy Koufax. Or for that matter an Archie Graham, who played one single inning in the Bigs, and whose brilliant and useful life was immortalized in "Field of Dreams".

Thank God we can't inoculate kids against failure with the morbid wisdom of old age!

Along the paths to every great novel or painting, every marvel of art and science, every wonderful thing which makes life the stunningly beautiful journey it is, lie the bodies of those who dreamed large dreams, tried and failed.

All of us, I think, can remember that one dumpy kid who entered the sack race at the annual picnic and came in a distant last - way behind everyone else and usually writhing on the ground at the finish line while everyone laughed.

But you know something Steve? That was the kid who crumpled up his doubts, tossed them away, got in the sack and tried. And he really wasn't last either - behind him, unnoticed, were all the other kids who didn't.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Well What Do 'Ya Know...



Yesterday I watched (via On Demand) the HBO documentary, "Hot Coffee". If you have On Demand, I absolutely urge you to watch it. If you don't have On Demand, go to the show's website and check the upcoming schedule. It will air several more times between now and July 28th. Finally, if you don't have HBO, order the show from your cable provider and I will personally pay the fee.

The show is about "tort reform" and revolves around three cases, two of which I have already put up blog posts on. The first is the celebrated "McDonald's Coffee" case, and pretty much mirrors my post from a couple of weeks ago. Some added information which I found just plain shocking:

The show features graphic images of Ms Liebeck's injuries, and they are a great deal more gruesome than I had imagined. I actually had to divert my eyes from the screen. Ironically, this segment featured several "man on the street" interviews about the case. When asked, no one was familiar with the real facts, but everyone considered the McDonald's case to be a prime example of the frivolous law suit. Then, when shown a picture of Ms Liebeck's injuries, everyone instantly recoiled, and immediately admitted they were probably wrong. There's a reason for this:

An intentionally distorted version of the McDonald's Coffee case was repeatedly used by several groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) to urge "tort reform", first, in the U.S. Congress, and second, in state legislatures across the country when the Federal effort failed.

Steve, here's the point. When Americans suffer harm which may constitute a tort, they have the right to sue the offender in court for compensation and damages. Often, the offender is a major corporation which can bring to bear millions of dollars of legal resources to the court room. When you arbitrarily limit the amount a jury can award to a plaintiff, you are also limiting the amount of legal resources the plaintiff can obtain to argue his or her case - since we all know a great many of the most significant cases are handled on a contingency basis.

Steve, really, do the math.

The rest of the show examines the political forces behind the tort reform movement, the actual consequences of tort reform and the constitutional implications of tort reform. Its every bit as absorbing and enlightening as the first segment. I'm not going to do a re-hash of the show here (you really need to watch it yourself), but a few points:

"Tort reform" has come to mean nothing more than legislation which limits the amounts and kinds of awards which jurys can award to the winners of lawsuits. And remember, in such cases the amount of the award is determined by 12 Americans who sat through the trial and heard all the evidence. When it comes to health care, there is ample evidence to indicate that in those states where tort reform has been enacted, health care costs have continued to rise at the same, or even steeper rates (as they do in Texas) than as in states where tort reform has not been enacted. In other words, in the merciless crucible of real life, tort reform does precisely nothing to bring down health care costs! And yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, tort reform is one of the centerpieces of health care reform as posited by the GOP.

Why would a political party back a measure to bring down health care costs, when in fact that measure has been demonstrated to have no mitigating effect on health care costs? Give me a minute here...

A while back I read a nice piece in the Chicago Sun Times by Roger Ebert (the well known movie critic) entitled "The One Percenters". For some reason, the article seemed to tie together a number of disparate issues for me - many of which we have been talking about on this blog - but I couldn't put my finger on why. Then it came to me. From the article:

"What puzzles me is why there isn't more indignation. The Tea Party is the most indignant domestic political movement since Norman Thomas's Socialist Party, but its wrath is turned in the wrong direction. It favors policies that are favorable to corporations and unfavorable to individuals. Its opposition to Obamacare is a textbook example. Insurance companies and the health care industry finance a "populist" movement that is manipulated to oppose its own interests. The billionaire Koch brothers payroll right wing front organizations that oppose labor unions and financial reform. The patriots wave their flags and don't realize they're being duped." (my emphasis)

Perhaps our system of justice has become antiquated and unwieldy, and should be carefully and openly reviewed for areas in which it can be streamlined and made more efficient - all of course within the framework of the Constitution. But "tort reform" constitutes no such thing. It is in fact nothing more than a cynical means by which corporations can limit an ordinary citizen's access to justice, and thereby increase profits.

Steve, don't you think its a uniquely American principle that "the little guy" has as much right to justice as the wealthiest corporation? Why wouldn't that principle be enshrined, uncomprimised, in our justice system? How can it be a good thing that the informed judgement of 12 citizens on a jury should be altered by arbitrary limitations? Do you think jury's which arrive at these sorts of awards are under some kind of trance, or magic spell, which renders them incapable of deciding which awards are fair and which are not?

One last point. There's a clear and obvious connection between the Republican Party and the Right to Life movement. I couldn't help but think of this connection as I watched the second case which was reviewed in "Hot Coffee". In this case, twins were born to a couple. One of the twins was perfectly normal and the other was severely brain damaged. As it turns out, this condition was absolutely preventable, had the couple's doctor provided the right pre-natal care and the hospital performed the delivery according to well established procedure. This resulted in one of those "frivolous lawsuits" which Republicans are always talking about. Yet the couple won the case and the jury (again, of 12 American citizens) awarded total compensation of 5.9 million dollars.

Yet, in accordance with Nebraska law (a "tort reformed" state), the judge was constrained to limit the total award to 1.6 million. Think about this for a moment. This couple's child is going to require intensive, costly care for the rest of his life, and 1.6 million would not pay much more than a small fraction of the cost. Not only that, but from that award the couple had to deduct their legal expenses, including attorney fees - which left them much less. So, in due course, now that the child has gotten older and the money has long since run out, the boy's care is now being paid for by Medicaid. And how incredibly ironic that is! The very same citizens of Nebraska, who elected the legislators who passed the laws, are now themselves paying for this child's care, instead of the parties who caused this tragic situation to occur in the first place! How fair is that?

But ever so much more important and ironic Steve, Nebraska is one of the states which has become a flash point in the national debate on abortion. In the event, you might just say Nebraskans, by a recognizable majority, would like to see laws passed which protect the rights of the unborn. Some of these laws have even called for restrictions which ultimately criminalize abortion providers under certain circumstances - and there is no doubt the Right to Life movement would like to see abortion criminalized altogether.

Do I have to draw you a picture here? If a person should be outraged, on moral grounds, by abortion, why wouldn't that same person be outraged by the harm done to this child (while unborn) by medical malpractice? Why wouldn't the same persons support laws which not only penalize, but criminalize medical malpractice of the sort which results in a brain damaged child? Why wouldn't they be calling for accountability from the doctors and the hospital which caused that harm, with the same ferocity they brought against George Tiller?


P.S., I'd be remiss if I didn't point out some fallacies of logic and common sense in a few of your comments on this subject.

First, to characterize a subset of trial lawyers as "ambulance chasers" is both unfair and illogical. Certainly, we know from first hand experience that many firms solicit, sheerly for financial reward, citizens who may have been victims of negligence, malpractice or outright fraud. Yet, this is precisely the way free enterprise is supposed to function in American society. A business sees a need, develops a product to fit that need, and either profits or loses according to the success or failure of the product. You might as well call an "opportunist" anyone who comes up with and risks investment in any product. Remember, having obtained a client, a lawyer or law firm must then invest real money and effort in building a case - with absolutely no certainty of being compensated for that investment.

Second, the "loser pays" idea is a canard. It originates from the popular misconception that frivolous lawsuits are easy to file and often cost a great deal more to defend against than simply settling, without any admission of wrong doing, at the outset. Yet, while it is true almost any lawsuit, regardless of merit, is easy to file, the overwhelming majority of those which are clearly frivolous are easily, and at no great cost, dismissed before they even reach trial. Thus, the system has built-in safeguards against meritless lawsuits. "Loser pays" is therefore only going to affect the initial decisions by a law firm as to how much money it would be willing to invest in building a case.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How's that working out for 'ya - Phase II


I'll have to admit, I was a little stung by a comment of your's on my last post, that being:

"Chris, to point your finger-of-shame at Republicans (on the immigration debacle) specifically is beneath you..."

Then, no sooner had I started to deal with the emotional trauma caused by that remark, you added:

"I do NOT believe racial or religious bigotry is a factor AT ALL."

Let's break this down.

OK, sure, I'll admit I'm a little quick on the trigger finger when it comes to Republicans. But for Pete's sake, on this issue specifically, I was talking about a fairly blatant attempt by Georgia Republicans to cynically mine the issue of illegal immigration for votes. Of interest to me is how this attempt has now backfired in a way everyone on the planet (including those same Republicans) knew it would. Liberals in the Georgia legislature are as lame and cynical a bunch as those from the GOP, but willy nilly, they managed to get on the right side of this issue and oppose HB87. Which, ironically, closely aligns them with Georgia business interests in one of Georgia's most important industries. This issue won't go away and I intend to post more on it presently.

As for racial bigotry, I assure you I wouldn't even be participating in this blog if I thought Steve Green had a bigoted bone in his body. As a matter of fact, it has been the total absence of racial bias which has made it possible for us to reach general agreement on the most ideologically divisive points. I would only point out however, that the world outside the calm and reasonable confines of this blog is not nearly as open minded. For example:

I came across a post by Jay Bookman on HB87 in the AJC (from June 17th, a full 10 days after mine - which only proves how far ahead of the news cycle we are). Jay's article pretty much followed the same general outline of my post. The most interesting part of this was not the article itself, but the 92 comments which follow it. Among them, you will find a pretty fair number of overtly racist remarks - all made by obviously conservative readers.

One early commenter cited "an excellent rebuttal to this nonsense..." in the Marietta Daily Journal. The MDJ article itself is an example of some pretty crude journalism ( "one of my favorite sources of amusement are smug, leftist columnists who wail in anguish..." ), by one D.A. King. For factual substance, Mr. King references "the respected Center for Immigration Studies in Washington". Oh really?

Now a reader looking for confirmation of bias, and no more, would probably stop with the D.A. King piece and toddle off to beddy-by, secure in the knowledge that his opinion was buttressed by research by such an imposing, non-partisan outfit like the "Center for Immigration Studies". Steve, that's how confirmation bias works. If you want to believe the moon is made of Wisconsin White Cheddar, there's probably a "think tank" somewhere willing to provide you with intellectual ammo. But wouldn't it make sense to check out your sources first, since typing "The Center for Immigration Studies" into your search bar only takes a few seconds?

I did. And what emerges is the image of an anti-immigration astro-turf organization, one of a network of as many as 13 founded by retired opthamologist John Tanton, who has been credited with almost single-handedly creating the anti-immigration movement in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center has this to say about the CIS:

“Although the think tank bills itself as an “independent” organization with a “pro-immigrant” if “low-immigration” vision, the reality is that CIS has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked. There’s a reason for that.

Although you’d never know it to read its materials, CIS was started in 1985 by a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton — a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials…”

But, isn't the Southern Poverty Law Center itself just some kind of glorified liberal front group? I don't think so, but on this issue at least you can check out the veracity of their claim simply by going online to John Tanton's magazine, "The Social Contract", and doing a little first hand research of your own. Check out the archive of articles, the articles themselves, the book reviews, the book reviewers, and all the rest. If you don't have time for that, you might as well accept the verdict I myself arrived at by doing this. "The Social Contract" is little more than a portal for a great deal of hard core racial and religious bigotry to creep into the national dialogue.

Steve, its like peeling an onion, and it works like this: One supposedly neutral observer, like D.A. King of the Marietta Journal, writes an article with important, but barely discernible racial overtones, and cites a source which occupies a marginally more racist level. That source is supported by others, and those in turn by still others, and to follow the trail you find yourself going deeper and deeper into world of frank, unapologetic racism.

Think I'm kidding? Or, maybe deluding myself into believing there's a guy in a white sheet behind every tree in the forest? Here's my take:

I detest intolerance in all its forms, and racism is probably the worst one. But I'm less disgusted by those who catagorically admit to downright racism. After all, they pay us the courtesy of identifying themselves as recognizable enemies of a tolerant and enlightened society. What bothers me far more are the stealth racists: those who try to pass themselves off as neutral academicians just trying to weigh the effect of race on society. If there's a level in Hell lower than that reserved for overt racists, that's where they're headed.

To say these stealth racists don't play a huge role in defining the immigration debate in this country is at best, naive.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How's that working out for 'ya?


Most Georgia voters didn't see this coming - except for those with the good sense to follow this blog. You may recall back in July last year I posted a timely column on the disastrous effects of successful immigration law enforcement by the Obama administration. Businesses which depended on the kind of labor only available with undocumented workers were suffering as the INS pursued "silent raids", which effectively made it impossible to retain those workers. Gebbers Farms, a huge, 500 acre orchard was losing hundreds of reliable employees this way - and couldn't replace them with Americans because, well, as one legal immigrant put it: "Show me one American --just one--climbing a picker’s ladder.”. In other words, after all the hue and cry that undocumented workers were stealing American jobs, the government did something about it, the jobs opened up, and suddenly there weren't any takers. That was back in July.

Well, wouldn't you know it, Georgia Republicans heard the same hue and cry and May 13th of this year passed HB87, the "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011" to recover all the jobs illegals were stealing from Georgia citizens. Among other things, the Act requires Georgia businesses to check the immigration status of their employees through E-Verify - a strategy identical to what the INS was using with their effective silent raids. In addition, it "empowers police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects. And it penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come here". Practically overnight, the bill had precisely the effect it was intended to have, and thousands of undocumented workers began to leave the state and move on.

Then, on May 17th, ( 4 days after passage of the bill! ) the AJC ran an article - the mere title of which made me fall off my chair, seized by spasms of hysterical laughter:

"Governor asks state to probe farm labor shortages"

Honestly, I lack the necessary skills as a writer to describe how gigantically funny this is. Governor Nathan Deal signed an Act into law, knowing without any possibility of doubt it would cause labor shortages, now he's shocked!, shocked! that there are labor shortages and "... asked for the investigation [into the shortages] Thursday in a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. Deal wants Black’s department to survey farmers about the impact Georgia’s immigration law, House Bill 87, is having on their industry and report findings by June 10..."


"The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has estimated the labor shortages afflicting South Georgia counties could put as much as $300 million in crops at risk."

Come on man. Does this guy really expect us to believe he didn't know this would happen? Of course he did. HB87 was nothing more than cynical pandering by Georgia Republicans to get votes. Heck, I remember months before, while the bill was still being debated, agribusiness concerns in particular were warning that it would result in severe labor shortages and the consequent loss of hundreds of thousands in lost revenues. Steve, I knew that - I mean, sitting here in my own comfy little house-e-by with only this dinky computer to work with - I knew that. And of course, so did you if you had bothered to read my post from last year.

Anyway, the results of the survey are in. As reported in the AJC, nearly half of the 134 farms surveyed across 61 counties say they are experiencing labor shortages, and only 24% said they had an adequate number of workers. The survey included space for additional comments. This one was representative:

"The labor pool has dried up because Hispanics are leaving Georgia as fast as they can. They are terrified about what will happen when this law goes into effect. Since we cannot find immigrant labor, we are trying to hire non-immigrant labor. Even with pay rates above $10 an hour, we cannot find people interested in working outdoors, in the heat. They will stay for one or two days and then leave. Our work is labor intensive, so we are losing money every day by not having dependable, hard-working laborers. This is just another blow to our business on top of what we have already lost due to the economy." (my emphasis).

Steve, this is serious. We're in a recession, Georgia is one of the most affected states and this is costing us real money. In 2008, a survey from UGA estimated the total impact of agriculture on Georgia's economy to be 65 billion dollars - and much of that comes from the cultivation of labor intensive commodities like fruit, vegetables and horticultural products. We can't afford to mess around with this industry.

One other comment from the survey struck me as exquisitely ironic:

"Agriculture desperately needs a workable labor solution–perhaps a user-friendly guest worker program."

Steve, up until they passed this bill, they already had one!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Reader


Yesterday I had the unexpected pleasure of watching The Reader, an incredibly moving and thought provoking movie produced in 2008 - starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Finnes, and the relatively unknown David Kross. If you get a chance to watch it, I highly recommend it.

Oddly enough, I came across the movie by sheer coincidence. Whenever I watch baseball, I always select a second channel to flip to during the commercials. The Reader was featured on Starz, so I thought, what the heck. Anyway, during the first commercial I flipped to the movie and got so hooked I never got back to the game.

The Reader (in German, "Der Vorleser") is based on an award winning book of the same name written by Bernhard Schlink and first published in Germany in 1995. I haven't read the book, but the wikipedia article on it is quite detailed. By way of a surprisingly original plot, the book deals with participation of ordinary Germans in the Holocaust - and the extreme difficulty of later generations of Germans to understand or accept the reasons why.

Critics of the book say that Herr Schlink is trying to offer an implausible and superficial excuse: that many Germans who played peripheral roles in the Holocaust were just simple, non-bigoted and often illiterate - who childishly considered their participation to be nothing more or less than performing the jobs they were paid to do. This is a fairly thoughtful step beyond the ordinary "I was only following orders...", or "No one knew what was going on..." justifications.

Kate Winslet's mastery her role is breathtaking. On trial as a concentration camp guard, she perfectly expresses the moral bewilderment of a common person forced to gradually absorb the horror her own guilt. The camp at which she was a guard was not a death camp, but hundreds of prisoners died tragically while in her care. For this, she ultimately accepted blame, but not before innocently posing some morally difficult questions to the judges.

"It was my job." She said. "What would you have done?" And the head judge was momentarily struck dumb.

What indeed. What would we have done - you and I that is, Steve. Sitting up here on the bank and watching someone else fight the crocodiles, it seems like an easy question to answer. But to me that question involves a great deal more than how we view ourselves as moral beings. Perhaps morality is not just about drawing lines between right and wrong, but relying on convenient ways to justify our own worth and purpose - which often obscure those lines.

I'm absolutely certain there are more than enough conscious, self-acknowledged racists in any country, including this one, to pull the switches at all the gas chambers of some modern day version of the Holocaust. But what about the more common and less connected work of erecting the fences, building the barracks, and guarding the prisoners? Or, more pointedly, what about the millions more who lack the moral clarity to hold up their hands and say "Stop!", before we reach the precipice?

Are we among them?

Now that's a disturbing question....


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tort Reform


You've managed to get me interested in what you refer to as "tort reform". I've never really liked that term. It sounds a little euphemistic for an ideological notion which in reality advocates sweeping, unprecedented changes in our system of law. Nowadays, we're applying that ideology to health care. Yet it has been repeatedly advanced in the past as a sort of cure-all for many other problems - some genuine, some not. And to my mind this presumed cure has often been worse than the disease.

Largely, what we have is a philosophical divide between consumer advocates and advocates of free enterprise . An iconic moment arrived in 1994 when one Stella Liebeck, a 79 year old lady from Albuquerque sued McDonald's for burns she suffered when she spilled a cup of their coffee on herself - and won. Now be honest Steve, isn't it true that you, like myself, have always considered the "McDonald's Coffee Case" to be an almost perfect metaphor for what's wrong with our legal system?

The popular view is that some bumbling person spilled coffee, got a little inconvenienced by a few minor burns, hired some high powered "ambulance chaser" attorneys, and came away with millions she didn't deserve. Thus, because Ms Liebeck absolutely refused to accept personal responsibility for her own actions, the rest of us now pay more money for what is now disagreeably lukewarm coffee from McDonald's. And, if even a fraction of other similar iconic anecdotes are correct, this common avoidance of personal responsibility has resulted in an outburst of excessive and unwarranted litigation which every year adds billions to the price of everything from soup to nuts.

Don't bother denying you've bought into the McDonald's story - I won't believe it. Heck, I bought into it myself.

Truth is, when Stella Liebeck spilled that coffee, she suffered 3rd degree burns which initially required 8 days of hospitalization, skin grafts, and a subsequent 2 years of additional medical treatment. During her stay in the hospital, she lost 20% of her body weight and exited the hospital at 79 pounds.

But doggonit, coffee is hot, isn't it? Sure, Ms Liebeck's injuries were more severe than what has been popularly assumed, but so what? She spilled the coffee - how is that McDonald's fault? Well, the jury of 12 citizens decided it was 80% the fault of McDonalds and 20% that of Ms Liebeck. Why? Ms Liebeck's attorneys were able to prove that: 1, McDonald's knew the temperature at which they served coffee was too hot (according to their own internal investigations), 2, during the previous 10 years, McDonalds had settled over 700 complaints of similar injuries for a total of a half million dollars and 3, even their own internal quality control manager had confirmed the coffee was too hot - but that this did not constitute a problem worth addressing.

Or, in other words, Ms Liebeck's lawyers were able to prove that McDonald's knew they were serving coffee at a temperature much hotter than what was considered a safe, industry standard, but perceived this gave them a competitive advantage which outweighed the cost of paying for the inevitable injuries their customers might sustain. And what's more, a jury of twelve honest citizens agreed.

Now, as to why this particular case is absolutely relevant to our discussions on health care and tort reform...

First, this case is probably the most notorious of many others which have been used to establish in the public's mind the image of a legal system gone off the rails. Don't get me wrong - I have no doubt there are probably other cases where the litigants received unjust or excessive settlements. But even in those latter examples, there is another aspect of the Liebeck case which bears examining:

Before Ms Liebeck even retained an attorney she offered, on her own, to settle with McDonald's for the sum total of $20,000.00 - which amounted to nothing more than her medical costs and lost income. Yet McDonald's counter offer was only $800.00. This offer presented Ms Liebeck with only one option if she wanted fair, dollar for dollar compensation: to go out and hire an law firm on a contingency basis. Now think this through Steve...

Whatever law firm Ms Liebeck retained would have to face going to court against the expert legal team of a multi-billion dollar corporation. Without any prior guarantee of success, they would have to invest their own money in countless hours of research, issuing subpoena's, preparing depositions, obtaining testimony from a variety of experts - not to mention all the additional court costs and fees necessary to pursue a case like this. Furthermore, one is hardly justified in assuming such a firm should be required to do all this work pro bono - after all, McDonald's lawyers weren't.

Although the initial award due Ms Liebeck and her attorneys came to over two million, the suit was eventually settled for an undisclosed figure less than $600,000.00 - hardly the catastrophic, industry changing amount most people assume - and possibly not much more than the total costs of litigation incurred by Ms Liebeck's team.

Now let's do the math. Suppose someone had sued McDonalds 10 years prior to Ms Liebeck - and thereby added $600,000.00 dollars to the cost McDonald's pays for preparing coffee (which by the way they were selling at the rate of 1.35 million dollars a day). Its entirely reasonable to assume this would have prevented the subsequent 700 injuries. And, if those injuries resulted in medical costs and lost wages at even a quarter of Ms Liebeck's, consumers would then have been saved a total of a little over 3 million dollars. Not a bad trade-off, don't you think? Here's the wrap up:

I mentioned before that in the rush to enact "tort reform", we're basing the potential savings on what amounts to either biased or anecdotal evidence. Furthermore, as in the iconic Liebeck case, we're ignoring the possible benefits - and savings - the present system is capable of producing. And finally, the ideology is sometimes based on faulty initial assumptions - the most frequent of which is this:

The "McDonald's Coffee Case" would never have reached the public's attention, indeed, would never have aquired its sensational reputation, if McDonald's had promptly acted with appropriate concern for its customers. Remember, it was Ms Liebeck herself, not some "ambulance chasing attorney", who came to them first and asked for reasonable compensation.

In an age where we often tend to view lawyers and litigants as little more than money grubbing opportunitists, why shouldn't we at least take the time to determine how many of these high profile cases only got off the ground - and for that matter, became a financial burden - because of a defendant's initial refusal to even consider modest and fair compensation at the outset?



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tort Reform Links

A quick, off-the-top list of links to several articles for consideration concerning tort reform (it is by no means complete, but what I could generate quickly):

"The Tort Tax" (WSJ): here

"Tort costs and the economy: Myths, exaggerations, and propaganda" : here
(Response and Rebuttal to EPI): here

"America's #1 Domestic Problem" : here


"10 Steps to Tort Reform" : here

There are many others. I am sure you will provide rebuttals (although I did present at least some links from both sides of the issue). All worth considering. However, let's not focus too much on generating a competition over who's 'experts' are 'better' : this is not an Appeal to Authority.

It is difficult, at best, to predict changes in behavior or to properly define the dollar-cost specifics of a "what if things were different". Any (and *ALL*) reductions in Health Care Costs *must* be explored; even if only "1-2%" as claimed by some. To ignore or set aside Tort Reform as an integral part of the process is foolish.

- Steve

Monday, May 23, 2011

New(?) Thoughts on simplifying and improving health care.

Just thinkin'....

1. Require insurance providers to treat the entire county as one (1) risk group, with NO divisions like “preferred”, “Non-smoking”, etc… everyone in the same pool.

2. Allow deductions to be applied against the policy premium based on “healthy lifestyles” or other reasonable conditions, at the option of the insuring company, which may/will vary. Implement reasonable penalties for deliberate fraud on the part of the consumer (misrepresentation) to receive unearned benefits.

3. Use the commerce clause to allow companies to sell policies across state lines. Example: As a Georgian, I could buy a policy written under the state requirements of Montana (or California, Texas, etc.) – I’m not restricted to Georgia state requirements. *I*as the end-consumer – get the option to pick-and-choose which set of state-level rules *I* wish to be obligated under (as a payer and recipient of benefits). Some tricky details here, but you get the idea.

4. Set a low minimum coverage requirements (specific conditions) at a national level. Require states to accept national minimum but states may (will) define insurance coverage mandates as they see fit: but which only apply to polices under their state guidelines (see #3). Kick 2% of the premium back to the state whose rules were selected by the consumer for his personal policy (incentive to states to encourage business in their state).

5. Allow consumer to choose to Opt-Out of *any* requirement: federal or state level. If I do not want to pay for pregnancy coverage, I’m not covered. The point: why are MY PARENTS - in their 70’s and 80’s - *required by law* to have a policy that covers pregnancy?

6. Require states to insure citizens (not "residents") of their state at the minimum national level, regardless of income. This could be handled by a “pre-bate” of the monthly premium amount required for national minimum (a health care spin on the Fair Tax pre-bate) – everyone gets the pre-bate regardless of economic status (only fair).

7. With new system in place, drop Medicare/Medicaid and eliminate workers comp. Not needed.

8. Require citizens to insure themselves or prove legitimate reason why not, i.e., taking a pauper’s oath.

9. Establish barrack-style living quarters for those taking pauper’s oath – these become VOLUNTARY “Service Camps”. Minimum living needs (food, shelter) to be provided by state. Unless physically unable, as established by state doctor, pauper to work for state in “community service”. Definition of work required left to states. Sidebar: All illegal immigrants shipped to service camps instead of being deported?

10. Tort reform: Adopt “loser pays” rule for all health care claims. Legal counsel (lawyers) to be personally liable under “loser pays” for lost claims by pauper or any situation where individual loses and has no assets to cover legal costs of winning side.

More details to be sure – a Big one is receiving care for a condition when you chose not to pay for coverage – but that can be handled simply.

BTW - I don’t like it, but I am willing to accept, an individual mandate if imposed on the state level – but I have a constitutional issue with any federal mandate. I can move if I want. *But* under the suggestions above, I don’t *have* to move, I can just take my business elsewhere.


- Steve

Sunday, May 22, 2011

They're at it again!


Holy hoppin' horny toads Steve, have we lost our minds?

On November 30th, 2010, Jared Laughner bought a 9mm Glock pistol at The Sportsman's Warehouse in Tuscon, Arizona. Everybody knows that. They know where he bought it - they have witnesses, records and video. They even know how much 9mm ammo he bought later at a Walmart. Then, the next year on January 8th, he took the loaded pistol with him on a taxi ride to a Safeway store in North Tuscon, got out, walked over to a political gathering hosted by Gabriel Giffords and opened fire, killing six people, including a 9 year old girl, and wounding 13 others.

There isn't any doubt about this. He was taken to the ground at the scene by several heroic bystanders and quickly arrested. They didn't get the wrong guy. There wasn't any mix-up. It was Jared's gun that did the shooting. Many people actually witnessed Mr. Laughner aiming the gun and pulling the trigger - repeatedly. Its even on tape for Pete's sake! There is absolutely zero possibility the shooter was anyone else but Jared Laughner.

Now we learn from the Arizona Daily Star that Jared Laughner might not be "competent" to stand trial. He may not "understand" the charges against him. Plus, he might not be able to "assist his lawyers" in their defense of him.

What in the Sam Hill is there to understand?

Judge: "Mr. Laughner, you shot and killed six people."

Mr. Laughner: "I don't understand."

Judge: "Oh. I see. Well now that's a whole different kettle of fish..."

What? Who gives a flip if this jerk understands how to zip his pants??

And by the way, what defense? Are you kidding me?

So now, once again, justice will have to wait until he gets enough taxpayer funded psycho-therapy until a taxpayer funded doctor says he's "competent". And that could take years. Who knows? Maybe he never will be. And even then, when that magic day arrives and he gets hauled back to court, who wants to bet his taxpayer funded lawyers won't use the "well judge, he just sorta' flipped out" defense. Poor guy - maybe he sat out in the sun a little too long and lost track of the fact that killing 6 people is considered a no-no!

Steve, I tell you what. Man, when it comes to human rights, I'm huge on it. I mean big. Everyone, including scumballs like Jared Laughner deserve swift access to a fair trial. But in this guy's case, why not just get it over and done with? The guy shot 6 people - there's no possible doubt about it. Who cares if he's incompetent, a little messed up or crazy as a loon? I say get him to court, try him, then string him up. I don't even think we should have to pay for a new rope.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Enough already!


You and I routinely disagree on many issues, and climate change is a perfect example. Plainly, each of us thinks the other is wrong. But importantly, neither of us believe the other is supporting his position by intentionally lying about the facts. That's as crucial to me as I'm sure it is to you. We wouldn't have maintained this blog for so long if that was not the case. I'm not only willing, but happy to debate the issues with an honest person like yourself. But a liar, no matter what his views may be, deserves no credibility or respect - none whatsoever.

Just lately I've had an epiphany of sorts. It occurred to me that when it comes to politics, there are two sorts of people and the dividing line is absolutely clear: there are those who are willing to lie about the facts to support their positions, and those who are not. Now I suppose a man could justify lying if he believes some outcomes are more important than that they are attained by dishonesty. Call me old fashioned or naive, but I don't believe dishonesty is ever justified. Case in point:

On 5/19, the President gave a major speech on foreign policy. What he had to say about Israel was especially important:

"So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." (my emphasis)

As you are no doubt aware, these last 30 words set off a political firestorm on the Right.

From The American Spectator:

"...Obama is now ready to advocate the next step of his plan to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

This is absolutely outrageous. There is no way that Israel can be secure, geographically, with the 1967 borders. He knows that. Israel knows that. The world knows that. He may as well have just declared a proxy war against Israel..."

From Fox News:

"Obama, in a sweeping address tackling the uprisings in the Middle East and the stalled peace process, stunned Washington and Jerusalem by endorsing Palestinians' demand for their own state based on the pre-1967 borders. The break with longstanding U.S. policy appeared to immediately aggravate the Israelis, who want the borders of any future Palestinian state determined through negotiations."

Especially egregious, this, from Charles Krauthammer:

"...A new formulation favorable to maximal Arab demands. True, that idea has been the working premise for negotiations since 2000. But no president had ever before publicly and explicitly endorsed the 1967 lines. (!!!!!!)

Even more alarming to Israel is Obama’s omission of previous American assurances to recognize “realities on the ground” in adjusting the 1967 border, meaning U.S. agreement that Israel would incorporate the thickly populated, close-in settlements in any land swap. By omitting this, Obama leaves the impression of indifference to the fate of these settlements. This would be a significant change in U.S. policy and a heavy blow to the Israeli national consensus."

From Orin Hatch:

"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) announced Friday he would introduce a congressional resolution disapproving of President Obama's stance on Israel's border lines, saying that "threatens Israel's security."

"By calling for a return to the pre-1967 borders, President Obama has directly undermined her," Hatch said of Israel. "Rather than stand by Israel against consistent unprovoked aggression by longtime supporters of terrorism, President Obama is rewarding those who threaten Israel’s very right to exist. This is not only ridiculous, but dangerous." "

I could go on and on - this is just a sample. Just about all the usual right wing pundits, not to mention most of the presumed Republican presidential candidates, congressmen, party leaders, and of course Fox News, as if on cue, condemned the speech as a horrifying sell-out of Israel.

Let's back up a minute and ask if this amazing, spontaneous outburst was factually justified. But more importantly, were the facts easily accessible to those making the accusations?

Jeffrey Goldberg, a Jew, a consistent conservative, and of all things, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Force had this to say:

"I'm amazed at the amount of insta-commentary out there suggesting that the President has proposed something radical and new by declaring that Israel's 1967 borders should define -- with land-swaps -- the borders of a Palestinian state. I'm feeling a certain Groundhog Day effect here. This has been the basic idea for at least 12 years. This is what Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were talking about at Camp David, and later, at Taba. This is what George W. Bush was talking about with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. So what's the huge deal here? Is there any non-delusional Israeli who doesn't think that the 1967 border won't serve as the rough outline of the new Palestinian state?"

So what was going on here? Was Barak Obama, as Mr. Goldberg said, just re-stating what had been U.S. policy for the last 12 years - and the right-wingers were just misinformed? Or was it Mr. Goldberg himself who was lying about the facts?

Here's an excerpt from the publicly accessible, well known (to all the right wingers), and thoroughly disseminated letter written to Ariel Sharon by George W. Bush on April 14th, 2004:

"As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities."

---my comment: U.N. Resolution 242, which Mr. Bush was referring to as a basis from which negotiations should start, included the following:

"(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict (i.e. to the 1967 borders);

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."

Steve, its just not plausible to believe at least most of the people making the accusations against Obama were not aware of this clear and succinct strategy outlined and pursued by George W. Bush and everyone else before him.

Go back and compare this excerpt with the 30 lines from Obama's speech:

"We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

This is precisely the same thing George Bush was talking about - and for that matter, Bill Clinton before him. Even as far back as Reagan, no President advocated a process which has as a goal the end result of Israel returning to its 1967 borders. Yet all presidents, regardless of party, have acknowledged the 1967 borders should serve as a starting point of negotiations - exactly as President Obama said in his speech.

Now if you were a mind reader, you might be able to claim the "mutually agreed swaps" referred to by Obama were not of the same magnitude or nature advocated by W. Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush and Reagan. But you know, none of Obama's right wing accusers are mind readers. So on what evidence did they base their accusations?

Steve, they don't have any. Or, in other words, they're lying about the facts.

Now I'm willing to accept the opinion that Barak Obama is not the same, staunch ally of Israel that his predecessors were. I don't agree with that opinion, but neither do I consider it dishonest for someone to say it. What I do object to is someone who boldly, consciously lies about the facts in order to support that opinion. This brings me to the whole point of this post...

I consider the entire problem of poor government to be, not the honest differences in philosophy like you and I have, but the differences created and sustained by dishonesty. In other words, a good policy of governance advocated by dishonesty is worse than a bad policy advocated honestly.

Why? I mean, why would not good policies transcend whatever means were employed to enact them? I'll tell you why. You can't rely on a dishonest man. Sooner or later, an honest man who favors a bad policy will have the moral courage to question the effect of that policy and change his mind. A dishonest man is not capable of this. A dishonest man will stake a claim to one position or another and never, never change his mind - regardless of the facts. As I said in a previous post, some people - lots of them in fact - are so afraid of being wrong that they are willing to sacrifice honesty to keep from admitting it.

This is especially true of Our Leaders. And maybe it is as much our fault as it is their's. After all, isn't it true the most suicidal act in politics is to say, "Sorry, I was wrong." ?


P.S. : I apologize for not yet posting a follow on to your most recent, and excellent two posts. I'll work on it. But this last mass expression of political hypocrisy has got me so mad I just had to say something.