Friday, August 08, 2003

The man who should be president

Al Gore - 50,999,897
George W. Bush - 50,456,002

That pretty much says it all.

Al Gore - the man who got a half million more votes than Bush - had this to say the other day concerning the lies that were used to push the U.S. to invade Iraq:

...what we now know to have been false impressions include the following:

(1) Saddam Hussein was partly responsible for the attack against us on September 11th, 2001, so a good way to respond to that attack would be to invade his country and forcibly remove him from power.

(2) Saddam was working closely with Osama Bin Laden and was actively supporting members of the Al Qaeda terrorist group, giving them weapons and money and bases and training, so launching a war against Iraq would be a good way to stop Al Qaeda from attacking us again.

(3) Saddam was about to give the terrorists poison gas and deadly germs that he had made into weapons which they could use to kill millions of Americans. Therefore common sense alone dictated that we should send our military into Iraq in order to protect our loved ones and ourselves against a grave threat.

(4) Saddam was on the verge of building nuclear bombs and giving them to the terrorists. And since the only thing preventing Saddam from acquiring a nuclear arsenal was access to enriched uranium, once our spies found out that he had bought the enrichment technology he needed and was actively trying to buy uranium from Africa, we had very little time left. Therefore it seemed imperative during last Fall's election campaign to set aside less urgent issues like the economy and instead focus on the congressional resolution approving war against Iraq.

(5) Our GI's would be welcomed with open arms by cheering Iraqis who would help them quickly establish public safety, free markets and Representative Democracy, so there wouldn't be that much risk that US soldiers would get bogged down in a guerrilla war.

(6) Even though the rest of the world was mostly opposed to the war, they would quickly fall in line after we won and then contribute lots of money and soldiers to help out, so there wouldn't be that much risk that US taxpayers would get stuck with a huge bill.

Now, of course, everybody knows that every single one of these impressions was just dead wrong.

He also talked about some of the lies about U.S. economic policies:

(1) The tax cuts would unleash a lot of new investment that would create lots of new jobs.

(2) We wouldn't have to worry about a return to big budget deficits -- because all the new growth in the economy caused by the tax cuts would lead to a lot of new revenue.

(3) Most of the benefits would go to average middle-income families, not to the wealthy, as some partisans claimed.

Unfortunately, here too, every single one of these impressions turned out to be wrong. Instead of creating jobs, for example, we are losing millions of jobs -- net losses for three years in a row. That hasn't happened since the Great Depression.

I really wish Gore would run for re-election.

I like Ahnold!

No, I don't think he should be the next governor of California, but I do like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It strikes me as highly hypocritical to see all these Republicans swooning before the mighty Terminator as if he were the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

As Joe Conason points out at Salon:

"Weren't the Republicans just telling us the other day that celebrities should keep their mouths shut about politics? Didn't they blast the Dixie Chicks, Janeane Garofalo, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and every other artist who spoke out about the war in Iraq? Wasn't the argument that fame doesn't confer experience, wisdom or competence?"

If Arnold had announced plans to run as a Democrat, without changing anything else about his policies or positions, these same folks would find plenty of things about him to criticize.

Here is a run down of some of Arnold's "contradictions" from an article at National Review Online:

“Schwarzenegger seems a bundle of contradictions: an outspoken Republican who's married to Democratic stalwart Sen. Ted Kennedy's niece, Maria Shriver (and the daughter of George McGovern's running mate!). A man who proclaims his life story to be a triumph of individual will, yet often reaches out to people less successful than he. An actor who has regularly been roughed up by critics, yet won a Golden Globe Award for Best Acting debut. A dedicated "jock" who spent years in the weight room, but also has a master of business administration degree. A brutally tough business negotiator who's given away millions to charity. An aggressive bachelor in his younger days who also helped advance women's bodybuilding. A "health nut" who has also taken massive doses of steroids. A man whose father was literally a Nazi in occupied Austria, but whose career has been immeasurably helped by Jewish promoters and producers and calls himself an "honorary Jew." A top-notch athlete whose first charitable work was with handicapped children.

“Undoubtedly his mother-in-law, Eunice, President Kennedy's younger sister, who has devoted her life to the handicapped and underprivileged, influenced him.
"Schwarzenegger faced up to his father's Nazi past, reaching out to the Jewish community and donating his salary (more than $5 million) from Terminator 2 to the Holocaust Museum. Since he met Shriver, he's been the weight-lifting coach for the Special Olympics. He's also a leading sponsor of the Inner City Games. His first independent foray in California politics was his championing of Proposition 49 in 2002 to create after-school programs for kids.

"Schwarzenegger's politics also changed as he aged. A Reagan Republican and a staunch conservative in the '80s, he moderated his politics in the last decade. Schwarzenegger says he is pro-choice, supports gay rights, and endorses "reasonable" gun controls and environmental regulation.

"During the Clinton impeachment drama, Schwarzenegger said he was "embarrassed" by Ken Starr's investigation of the president's private life. While his fellow national Republicans appear to be tilting right, he's followed the recent leftward drift of California politics. He has ended up being a lot closer to Clinton than Newt Gingrich."

Yeah, I'd say he has some potential. Even if he is a Republican, I'd rather see someone like Arnold in office rather than divisive ideologues like Newt Gingrich or Tom Delay.

But I think it is a shame that Arnold has chosen this outrageous recall shenanigan as the vehicle for his entry into politics. Even if he does win, he will face the prospect of having the legitimacy of his election constantly questioned and he will face a flood of revenge petition drives calling for his own ouster by recall. After all, it only takes 12 percent!!! of the people who voted in the last election to sign a petition to force another recall election. It is outrageous and the only reason my conservative Republican friends are willing to go along with this is because Gov. Gray Davis has a D next to his name. If this were happening to a Republican governor, they would be just as outraged as I am, if not more so.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Lottery - A sucker's bet

How I despise the state lottery. I wrote an article many years ago for the Texas Observer expounding on my opposition to a state lottery for Texas - using Connecticut - my domicile at that time - as an example.
In 1990-91 Connecticut was in the throes of a major budget crisis at the same time that Texas was about to adopt its first state lottery. I thought it was ironic that the politicos in Texas were touting a lottery as a miracle cure for future budget woes when Connecticut had been running its own lotter for more than 10 years at that time and look where it got them.

Of course, my protestations did little to dissuade the state from going down its current path - to this day I consider it the one big mistake made by Gov. Ann Richards.

Now we can fast-forward 10-plus years and we find Texas involved in its own budget crisis and now lawmakers want to try to squeeze more blood out of the lottery turnip by latching on to one of the grotesque multi-state con games.

The lottery is the most regressive form of taxation ever devised. It has been called a tax on stupid people and I can't argue against that assessment. It does nothing to benefit the state's economy because it does not generate new revenues - it only sops up what people are willing to throw away on their hopes and dreams.

I'm not a big fan of gambling in general, but real gamblers know that the lottery is the worst possible game with the worst odds of winning. It is a con game of the highest degree and the biggest crime here is that it is our own government - which should be protecting people from being conned - participating in this fleecing of the masses.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Foreign influences

My friend Mark Harden has lured me into a debate over the proper role of the U.S. Supreme Court and whether it is appropriate for justices to consider legal opinions made by foreign entities when ruling on cases under the U.S. Constitution.

Mark was particularly preturbed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for comments she made during a speech before the American Constitution Society.
He has called for her impeachment as a result.

Mark's contention is that “the only purpose of the US Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution of the United States” and thus looking to any other foreign body of law is inappropriate if not outright treasonous.

I would first note that the Constitution set up the Supreme Court under very broad parameters.

Article III, Section 2
The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;--to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;--to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;--to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;--to Controversies between two or more States;-- between a State and Citizens of another State;--between Citizens of different States;--between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

But the whole bit about interpreting the Constitution or judicial review was not spelled out in the Constitution, although it was alluded to in the Federalist Papers. It was not confirmed until it was formally invoked by Chief Justice John Marshall in the Marbury vs. Madison case in 1803.

You can read all about the history of the court and Constitutional interpretation on the court’s Web site here.

So saying that the court was initially set up to do something that didn't come about for a dozen or more years isn't quite accurate. The Marbury case greatly expanded the power of the court by including interpretation among its duties. It did not limit the court to only providing strict interpretations of the Constitution.

But back to the argument at hand. The recent uproar over foreign influences on Supreme Court decisions was sparked by a dissent written by Justice Antonin Scalia in the Lawrence v. Texas case that struck down the sodomy law in Texas. Scalia was upset because Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, referred to an amicus brief filed by Mary Robinson, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights that cited European cases striking down anti-homosexual laws:

"Other nations, too, have taken action consistent with an affirmation of the protected right of homosexual adults to engage in intimate, consensual conduct," Kennedy wrote. "The right the petitioners seek in this case has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom in many other countries. There has been no showing that in this country, the governmental interest in circumscribing personal choice is somehow more legitimate or urgent."

Scalia erupted thusly:

"Constitutional entitlements do not spring into existence because some states choose to lessen or eliminate criminal sanctions on certain behavior. Much less do they spring into existence, as the Court seems to believe, because foreign nations decriminalize conduct," Scalia wrote. "The Court's discussion of these foreign views (ignoring, of course, the many countries that have retained criminal prohibitions on sodomy) is therefore meaningless dicta. Dangerous dicta, however, since 'this Court...should not impose foreign moods, fads or fashions on Americans.'"

Somehow I don't find the idea that adults engaged in intimate, consensual conduct should not have to fear having their door busted down by the morality police as being some kind of foreign mood, fad or fashion.

Unfortunately, what most Americans would take as a temper tantrum by a sore loser, Mark and his friends have taken up as a cause celebre to seek the ouster of ... um... Justice Ginsburg.

It is true that Judge Ginsburg referred to an international treaty in writing her decision in the Grutter v. Bollinger affirmative action case. But why Mark wants to impeach Ginsburg and not also Justice Kennedy is the big mystery here.

Oh, and let's not forget about Justice Sandra Day O'Connor! She needs to be impeached as well. Here are her comments on this issue from an interview with Prof. David Rudenstine of Cardoza University from a few years back:

Rudenstine: When looking at the history of the Supreme Court and the dialogue that goes on among justices and scholars over how to interpret and apply the United States Constitution, there is no evidence that we have looked to Italy and France and Germany or any other country for ways to interpret or rule on cases and legislation.

O'Connor: Historically courts in this country have been insulated. We do not look beyond our borders for precedents. When I went to law school, which after all was back in the dark ages, we never looked beyond our borders for precedents. As a state court judge, it never would have occurred to me to do so, and when I got to the Supreme Court, it was very much the same. We just didn't do it. Occasionally we have to interpret an international treaty - one, perhaps, affecting airlines and liability for injury to passengers or damage to goods. Then, of course, we have to look to the precedents of other member nations in resolving issues. But short of that, we have tended not to pay any attention to what other countries were doing. Yet most countries, at least in the western world, face similar issues from time to time. Look at Canada. Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is parallel to our Bill of Rights - it is not identical but similar. They have faced many of the same issues we have and at roughly the same time. It is my sense that we have not paid close attention institutionally to the jurisprudence of Canada or other nations. I think that's changing.

Rudenstine: As Justices consider a particular case that has been briefed and argued and read, would you then also consider reading opinions of a supreme court or a constitutional court in some other land as a way of gaining additional insight on our own traditions or interpretations?
O'Connor: I would, if it were an issue that had a close parallel in decisions of that other country. I would be interested to know how they handled it, yes.

Rudenstine: In any opinion that you have offered, do you recall citing an opinion of a foreign court?
O'Connor: Yes, but I don't have specifics to give you this morning.
It is a good thing to do occasionally. Let me give you some examples. We had a case not long ago involving state laws governing physician-assisted suicide. We have virtually no experience of that in this country - none. And that was a case where we had some very useful amicus briefs and materials that brought before us the experience of other countries, such as the Netherlands. I found that this was very useful, and I suspect that if we looked we would see some of these materials cited. I also recall that in some of the cases in which our court was looking at state laws governing abortion, it was very interesting to look at comparative experiences in other western nations. I suspect that we would find cited some of those materials as well.

"It is a good thing to do occasionally."

Imagine that!

Monday, August 04, 2003

Why couldn't he be more like Strom?

Sen. Ernest Hollings' decision to not run for re-election next year is not good news for Democratic hopes of regaining control of the Senate.
Too bad he couldn't stick around as long as that other Carolina senator - Strom Thurmond. But Democrats can't just rely on the longevity of their incumbents in order to hold on to power. They are going to have to get out there and convince voters why it is to their benefit to elect them.

That shouldn't be too hard considering the way Bush and company have been running the economy these past two years. But then again you can never underestimate the electorate's determination to delude themselves.

"The Killer D's of Texas"

Here's a cute little ditty that will soon be making the rounds from one of the many talented songwriters who play the Kerrville Folk Festival every year.

Tune: "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
Words copyright 2003 Steve Brooks

Oh, the Killer D's of Texas,
Are going on a tour.
Don't bother trying to find them,
Down on the Senate floor.
They've gone across the border,
Down Albuquerque way.
And the Killer D's of Texas
Put the sting on Tom DeLay.

When the governor of Texas
Was putting in the fix,
He drew a map that looked like
A pile of pick-up sticks.
He tried to slip it through in
The session's waning days,
But the Killer D's of Texas
Put the sting on Tom DeLay.

They crossed the old Red River,
Holed up in a motel.
They busted up the session,
Told the governor, "Go to hell."
He went and called another,
But a dozen wouldn't play.
So, the Killer D's of Texas
Put the sting on Tom DeLay.

Back at the Grand Old Party,
Tom Delay was turning green.
And so was old Rick Perry,
His faithful Gunga Din.
He called them back to Austin,
But they flew the other way,
And the Killer D's of Texas
Put the sting on Tom DeLay.

Far from the state of Texas,
The D's have gone on strike
For democracy and justice,
And the sake of voting rights.
However long it takes them,
That how long they're gonna stay,
Till the Killer D's of Texas
Put the sting on Tom DeLay.

Now, Democrats of Texas,
We've had a losing streak.
But no more will we be Bushwhacked
Or turn the other cheek.
We'll win the next election,
'Cause crime no longer pays
Since the Killer D's of Texas
Put the sting on Tom DeLay.

Pirate movie

I saw “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” over the weekend and really enjoyed it. I never saw that last big pirate movie that was such a bomb - “Cutthroat Island” - so I can’t compare it with that one, but my wife thought this film was like one of the classic Sinbad movies from the 1960s and I would have to agree. Being a Disney film, I was a little afraid that it would be too cleaned up - in other words, lots of fighting where nobody ever dies - but that wasn’t the case. There was plenty of realistic fighting and action - they just refrained from showing blood spurting in slow motion at every opportunity.
The acting was very good in the film. I was interested in seeing Orlando Bloom in his first big role outside of playing Legolas the elf in Lord of the Rings as well as “Bend It Like Beckham”s Keira Knightly.
But it was Johnny Depp who stole the show playing the pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow who he said was patterned after Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. I’ve been a Johnny Depp fan for some time now, at least since ‘95 when he did the delightlful “Don Juan DeMarco.” I think Depp is probably due for an Oscar nomination soon, probably not for this role but maybe something else he has in the works. I saw where his next big film will be the Richard Rodriguez directed “Once Upon A Time in Mexico,” another action movie. But after that it looks like he will have a top-level drama “Neverland” playing the role of J.M. Barrie, the author of the Peter Pan children’s books.
This may have been the last film we will see in a theater for awhile as the impending birth of our first child is drawing ever nearer. I guess that’s what DVDs are for now.