Saturday, August 16, 2003

Gardner making sense on gay marriage

He went about it in a round about way, but J. Francis Gardner, a local conservative columnist for the E-N, makes sense today when he addresses most of the gay rights issues that have been hot topics of late.
Gardner skirts the Supreme Court's Lawrence vs. Texas decision which struck down the state's abhorent anti-sodomy law. But he comes down in favor of allowing gay bishops in the church and proposes a middle ground on gay marriage similar to the civil unions that are now the law of Vermont.
I don't necessarily agree as Gardner states that the Bible makes it "crystal clear" that homosexuality is an abomination. No more clear than the abomination of eating pork. But Gardner does concede that even if the Bible treats homosexuality as a sin, it is not any more or less worse than any other sin so why single out one group of sinners for special mistreatment. I believe that there is a biological component to sexual preferences and so it is not fair to treat it as a choice that someone makes any more than someone chooses whether they are right-handed or left-handed.
Gardner states that any disconnect between human sexuality and reproductive potential is considered a flaw in nature's (God's) grand design. But what if it is not a flaw, but just another aspect of the design?
It would seem that a mature society should eventually come to grips with this possibility and quit ostracizing an entire segment of our society. Perhaps that time is finally coming for the U.S.

Cornyn making sense on immigration

I've liked John Cornyn since the first time I met him back when he first ran for Texas Attorney General. He just seemed like someone who was sincere and intelligent. I still voted for Ron Kirk in the last Senate election, but I was satisified that even if Cornyn won he would be a vast improvement over Phil Gramm.
A story in today's E-N further confirms my impression of him. Cornyn says the U.S. is in denial over illegal immigration and is advocating the creation of a temporary work permit system. I have said before that the U.S. government is not trying to stop illegal immigration as much as it is trying to manage it. Cornyn's proposal sounds like it would go a long way at freeing up our Border Patrol to pursue drug trafficers, smugglers and other real threats to our nation, rather than constantly rounding up desperate laborers looking for work to support their families back home.

I don't know how likely Cornyn's proposal may be approved and implemented, but it is reassuring knowing that we have someone in Washington who is willing to take a pragmatic position in dealing with the situation.

Friday, August 15, 2003

The Tax-Cut Terminator

Billionaire Warren Buffett, Arnold Schwarzennegger’s new financial adviser in the California recall election, has shed some light on why California is facing a $38 billion budget shortfall. Buffett tells the Wall Street Journal today that it’s because the state’s Proposition 13, which limits property tax increases, has left California with ridiculously low tax rates, particularly for the very wealthy.
Buffett readily illustrates this point using two homes that he owns - one in Omaha, Nebraska and the other in Laguna Beach, California.

Buffett’s Nebraska home is valued at roughly $500,000 and his property taxes this year were $14,401.
Compare that to his Laguna Beach home which is valued at $4 million and had property taxes this year of just $2,264.

What’s more, the property taxes on Buffett’s Nebraska house went up $1,920 this year as that state, like every other one across the nation, sought to deal with the economic turmoil brought on by the latest Bush recession. But the property taxes on Buffett’s Laguna Beach mansion went up by just $23.

$23!!! The guy probably tips his bellhop more than that for carrying his luggage! No wonder California can’t balance its budget now that Bush and Co. have screwed up the nation’s economy.

Democrats in California have either been unable or unwilling to address this problem. They have either been blocked or cowed by Republican anti-tax zealots at every opportunity. Perhaps Buffett sees in Schwarzennegger an opportunity for a “Nixon in China” moment where it falls to a “Republican” to do the responsible thing. Because unless Californians want to turn their state into a giant version of Mississippi they are going to have to come up with some way to raise more revenues to get their budget back into balance.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Fox News: Fairly Unbalanced

It just goes to show how often I watch Fox News (practically never), that I was completely unaware that the term “Fair and Balanced” is the news channel’s copyrighted trademark.
Fox News, for reasons that are still unknown, has filed suit against political satirist and comedian Al Franken over the title of his latest book: “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right”.

The ensuing publicity resulting from the lawsuit has had the predictable result of pushing presales of Franken’s book to the top of the charts. So that just leaves the question as to why Fox chose to do this. Either they have some mysterious reason as yet unkown for wanting to boost sales of Franken’s book, or they were just being incredibly stupid. My money is on the latter.

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg writes about the political imbalance on the nation’s radio talk shows which feature endless hours of mindnumbing banter from hard-right conservatives. Even in liberal New York City you can’t turn on your radio without the fear of being harangued by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Bob Grant, Mark Levin and many, many more.
He notes the recent effort underway by a couple of Chicago venture capitalists to start a competing liberal talk network - which could be hosted by Al Franken. But he has doubts that such a network could ever be as successful and I would have to agree with his assessment.
The right wing radio shows succeed because:

“a substantial segment of the right-wing rank and file enjoys listening, hour after hour, as smug, angry, disdainful middle-aged men spew raw contempt at reified enemies, named and unnamed... To the chronically resentful, they offer the sadistic consolation of an endless sneer...”

As much as I enjoy Al Franken’s humor and appreciate his political views, I just don’t think I would spend hours listening to him or anyone else on the radio everyday ranting about things from a left-wing perspective. Maybe it’s because I am comfortable enough in my beliefs that I don’t need that kind of constant reassurance.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Too good to pass up

Here is a quote that is just too good to pass up: (Thanks to Oliver Willis for the link)

"Between trying to impeach Bill Clinton, Florida 2000, and the recall in California, I'm beginning to think that Republicans will do anything to win an election - except get the most votes."

Pete Rose's Scarlet Letter

I was thrilled to read over at Off the Kuff that a deal may finally have been struck to lift the lifetime ban on Pete Rose that has prevented his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Of course, I also couldn't help but notice that Charles is not too happy about all of this. Charles runs what I believe to be just about the best web log in Texas and I generally agree with him about 99 percent of the time. But it looks like on this one issue we are going to diverge rather sharply.

I am unabashedly a huge Pete Rose fan and have been so since I first picked up a baseball glove. The Cinncinnatti Reds were my team when I was growing up and Johnny Bench and Pete Rose baseball cards were the Holy Grail of my youth. So I was deeply disappointed when the whole Rose scandal broke out in the late '80s, but I also felt at the time as I do now that Rose paid for his mistake. I'll go over it again... he lost his job as manager of the Reds, he had to pay a sizable fine, he served time in jail, he suffered the humiliation of having his name forever associated with gambling on baseball, he suffered the indignity of being banned from baseball.... All of these things I could understand at the time, because gambling is a serious problem for professional sports and should be dealt with harshly whenever it is rooted out. However, the lifetime ban that has prevented Rose from inclusion in the Hall of Fame was and is over the top.

Charles points to a couple of essays by baseball writers to make the argument about why Rose still requires further punishment. One of these folks is Derek Zumsteg, an author of Baseball Prospectus. But the thing that struck me most about Zumsteg's writing is just how obsessed he seems to be with punishing Rose. Here is Zumsteg summarizing his take on Rose:

“Pete Rose is scum. His actions threatened the integrity of the game that he professed to love. He betrayed the trust of every fan who appreciated him, and he especially betrayed those still in denial, those now fighting his battles for him and voting in goofy online polls. Baseball should have continued the investigations, forced him to cough up more bank records, more checks, and refused to let him plea out. They should have banned him from baseball, sued him into bankruptcy, bought his house for pennies, burned it to the ground and salted the earth so nothing could grow there. Instead of trying to play the issue down, they should have made it entirely public, showing everyone that baseball takes gambling seriously, that it would aggressively pursue those who did it, and would grant them no quarter.
Fans should spit at Rose when they see him on the street, and boo him when he hangs around stadiums. His autographed items should repel people in shock and horror. When Rose walks the street in shame, we should shake our heads and say "what kind of man would do that?"

Wow! That's pretty nasty. Sounds a lot like Ann Coulter describing how the U.S. should deal with Muslim nations (Bomb their cities, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity). It also sounds like the kind of obsessive hatred that was leveled against Bill Clinton for so many years. In fact, I might even say that Derek Zumsteg is to Pete Rose as Christopher Ruddy is to Bill Clinton. And John Dowd is Pete Rose's own Ken Starr.

Perhaps when Rose "walks the street in shame," he should be forced to wear a big scarlet letter 'G' on his breast.

Charles also points to ESPN sports columnist Rob Neyer who has this observation about Pete Rose:

“...what's truly puzzling to me is the public love for a man who's firmly established himself as one of the more despicable people to wear a major-league uniform. Peter Edward Rose Sr. is a convicted tax cheat and a crummy husband and father who has, for many years, surrounded himself with drug dealers and various other unsavory types. Granted, none of us are perfect, but it seems to me that Pete Rose is significantly farther from perfection than just about anybody you would want to know.”

So there you go. Pete Rose - "scum" "despicable" "convicted tax cheat" (So much for that liberal, namby-pamby business about the rehabilitation of criminals - Once a convict, always a convict, I guess) and what's more, he was a "crummy husband and father"...

Hmmmm. Here is Pete Rose Jr. when asked about what Bud Selig should do about his "crummy father":

"Let's get some closure to this and put my dad back in baseball, where he belongs."

Doesn't sound like Pete Jr. would go along with Rob's "crummy father" argument for keeping Pete Sr. out of the Hall of Fame.

Another problem I have with this never ending vendetta that people have against Pete Rose is their insistence that he must publicly acknolwledge his guilt and apologize before they will consider bestowing their forgiveness upon the lowly sinner. What do they think this is anyway? George Orwell's "1984" where Winston Smith is forced to admit his "thought crimes" to the satisfaction of Big Brother at the end of the novel? That is the kind of thing that happens in China today, not the U.S. I'm sorry for those folks who feel that they need that kind of a spectacle to give themselves "closure," but it is fortunately not something that our justice system today requires.

Like I have said before, the integrity of baseball is no longer the issue. The integrity of baseball was preserved by Bart Giammatti's initial actions when the scandal first came to light. What is at stake now is the integrity of the Hall of Fame which some folks would like to see turned into the Hall of Saints where tests for moral purity take precedent over a player's accomplishments on the field.

Monday, August 11, 2003

A loss of trust

The Washington Post is continuing to wipe the floor with the New York Times with the story about how the Bush team misled the nation about the "imminent threat" posed by Saddam Hussein.

This weekend they ran a major story detailing how the Bush administration's depiction of the Iraqi threat outgrew the supporting evidence.

Josh Marshall picks out this key graph from the story:

"The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied ..."

And here is another piece that ran over the weekend from the AP in which they take a point-by-point reassessment of the allegations and "evidence" that Colin Powell presented to the nation prior to the war:

"It was the most comprehensive presentation of the U.S. case for war. Powell marshaled what were described as intercepted Iraqi conversations, reconnaissance photos of Iraqi sites, accounts of defectors, and other intelligence sources.

"Powell's sober speech was galvanizing, swinging opinion toward war. "Compelling," "powerful," "irrefutable" were adjectives used by both pundits and opposition Democratic politicians. Editor & Publisher magazine found prowar sentiment among editorial writers doubled overnight, to three-quarters of large U.S. newspapers. Powell's "thick intelligence file," as he called it, had won them over.

"Six months after that Feb. 5 appearance, the file does look thin. "

I lost my faith in the Reagan administration back in the mid-80s after I listened to Reagan go on television and lie about the size and extent of the weapons we had covertly shipped to Iran. I had voted for Reagan in 1984, the first year I was old enough to vote, and the realization that the president was either being so dishonest or was so grossly misinformed forced me to reassess a lot of my preconceptions at the time.

By my reckoning, the massive amount of deception that went into pulling our nation into a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq is far worse than Iran-Contra ever was. So I am just as mystified today as I was back then that so many people are willing to forgive, excuse or ignore these deceptions while they continue to back the current administration without hesitation.