Politics: December 2005 Archives

New Year Grinch

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It's about that time of year, where I say "bah, humbug!" to the New Year. I couldn't care less and have no real idea why anyone else does. And last year I recorded a song expressing this. slashdot.org


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<pudge> Alito hearings are ... first week of January, i think
<pudge> ok, Jan 9, they begin
<pudge> which is also when Macworld Expo begins
<pudge> /me shakes his fist at Lotus, the Greek God of Scheduling slashdot.org

Mr. Chairman

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There are many types of political divisions in Washington. The most basic unit is the precinct, which may contain as many as 800 registered voters.

Precincts then make up counties and municipalities, as well as various voting districts: Legislative Districts (which make up the state legislature), Congressional Districts (for the federal legislature), County Council Districts (for the county council), and so on.

Those latter districts overlap, and are based on population. So there are five County Council districts in Snohomish County, and those overlap with the seven LDs, which overlap with the two Congressional Districts.

I live in Snohomish County and am in the 39th LD, the second CD, and the first council district. Some people in King County are also in the 39th LD and second CD.

The political parties are also organized at the most basic level by precinct, and also at the county level, and then at the state level. But there needs to be a level of organization between precinct and county, and the level chosen is LD; so in the end, you have four different 39th LD organizations, one in each of the four counties it stretches across.

I imagine they chose LD because it is the smallest uniform unit across the state; not every county needs to have a county council, or be organized by districts.

So, I do my work with the 39th Legislative District Republican Committee of Snohomish County.

This month, our chairman resigned. We will have an election for a new permanent chair in January. In the meantime, the county chair has appointed me as temporary chair of the 39th. slashdot.org


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People keep telling me ID is not science.

They are unable to say why. Every one of them.

Well, they make some attempts. They say ID is not falsifiable. But then again, neither is evolution: can you come up with any imaginable experiment to show that evolution is false? (No, you can't.)

They say ID is not testable. Well, testability has its own problems, which is why Popper invented falsifiability. Which doesn't work.

Demarcation, as I noted recently, does not work. Do not tell me ID is not science because it doesn't fit some preconceived criteria, because you are just demonstrating that you really don't understand the issues involved.

People say ID is not science, it is philosophy; the problem with this is that science is inherently philosophical itself. Science is about conducting experiments, making observations, drawing conclusions, and forming hypotheses.

How do you conduct an experiment without some philosophical idea of what makes for a proper experiment, following certain guidelines that will lead to reasonable results?

Collecting data and making observations may be mostly empirical, but you have to have some idea of what to observe and which data to collect.

As to drawing conclusions and forming hypotheses: that is nothing *but* philosophy. Reason, logic, imagination are all philosophy.

I don't know if ID is science. But I do know that the people who tell me it is not don't know what they are talking about.


Not That I Am Not Grateful

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$40 billion is a lot of money. Across five years, it is still a lot of money. And I am happy for any reduction in spending and the deficit. But do not expect me to applaud a reduction effort that results in only $8 billion per year, when our deficit is over $300 billion.

The CBO says last year's deficit was $331B, and this year's will be $314B. So according to this -- if it applies this year, which I don't know, but for the sake of argument -- our deficit this year will be "only" $306B. Wooo.

And perhaps worse -- a sign of things to come, maybe? -- for the first two months of FY2006, our deficit is $130B, which is $15B higher than it was last year at this time. So even with this "cut" we are so far still behind last year!

Granted, it's only two months, and with an improving economy, we can expect higher tax receipts this year (especially over the next few months) than last year. But still, this $8B just isn't, well, exciting to me. On the contrary, that the number is so small is downright depressing.

The judge's ruling today was so muddled and wrong-headed and illegal, it boggles the mind.

The most obvious problem is that he ruled on whether or not ID is science. But there is no law justifying him making such a ruling, that defines what science is, let alone gives him the authority to apply any such definition. Whether something is science has not one thing to do with the law, and is the purview only of philosophers and scientists, not lawyers and judges.

Frankly, this part of the ruling alone should cause scientists and educators who oppose ID to fear, not rejoice.

And this error pervades much of the rest of the ruling. For example, he notes, "we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

So may it then be taught in a philosophy classroom? What law gives him the authority to make such a distinction, that something may be taught in some classes, but not in others? And further, what law gives him the authority to say whether something may be taught "as an alternative" to anything else?

The judge has authority to conclude only one thing: whether or not the specific curriculm in question constitutes a promotion of religion, in such a way that it is unconstitutional. The rest is simply beyond his legal authority, and he violates the Constitution and more by going beyond that authority. He says he is not an activist judge; methinks the robed figure doth protest too much. But call it what you will, what's clear is that he ruled on matters he is not allowed to rule on.

And he doesn't even define ID properly, which calls into question his already dubious conclusions. He writes, "We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents." Again, he has no authority to conclude it is not science. But he also has no authority to say whether ID can uncouple itself from one philosophy or another.

And further, the conclusion is obviously erroneous anyway, for the simple reason that ID itself predates modern Creationism by many centuries, and therefore Creationism cannot be an antecedent to ID. But more importantly, not all prominent ID proponents hold to Creationism. Indeed, one of the founders of the Discovery Institute, Stephen Meyer, is no Creationist. He has stated, for example: "We're not absolutists, we're not fundamentalists in the sense that we want to commit to a certain story and we're not young Earth creationists. We're fairly minimalist. What we want to say is that however life arose, design is certainly detectable from the things we see." In other contexts Meyer has expressed a belief in, or acceptance of, most of what I'd call evolutionary science.

The two are not mutually exclusive, and never have been. What are mutually exclusive are the views that God designed the universe, and that God -- if he exists -- did not design the universe. As most scientists make no scientific attempt to claim the latter, there's no quarrel.

A lawyer on NewsHour tonight attempted to use this fact to bolster his case against ID, saying, "There's really -- there's no controversy in the scientific community. There's a controversy that has been created in the public arena by the intelligent design movement itself. But science isn't debating evolution versus intelligent design." Right, but the reason for that is that they are not actually opposed!

He further attempted to impugn a belief in God as evidence that a proposition related to such a belief is automatically tainted, saying, "Their lead expert, Dr. Behe, testified that intelligent design is more believable the more you believe in God. And I don't know of any other scientific proposition that fits that description."

He only doesn't know of any such proposition because he's not very thoughtful or knowledgable. An obvious example is the Big Bang: believing in God makes a belief that the universe had a single point of origin, in time and space, far more believable.

There are others, too, though. It's easy to make the case that my belief in God makes it easier for me to believe in quantum theory, for example, or just generally in the order of the universe: gravity, planets, galaxies, and so on.

The bottom line is that if this ruling had just said, "this curriculum as presented amounts to promotion of religion, and is therefore prohibited," there would be some quarrel with it, but very little. But this ruling went far beyond what is reasonable jurisprudence. slashdot.org

Philosophy of Science

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It is not tenable to claim that ID is not science because of some criteria that it doesn't fit.

Philosophers of Science have soundly rejected such "demarcation." It doesn't work. It excludes things that are science, and includes things that are not.

This is an interesting article about the subject. It's written by someone who believes in both the evolution of species, and Intelligent Design. He is in no way seeking to advance Creationism, a "young Earth," or anything of the like.

Regardless of whether you accept his claims that ID is legitimate science, it should be pretty clear that you cannot say it is not science by merely pointing at largely discredited theories such as logical positivism and falsifiability.


Legality of the Wiretapping Order

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I do not know all the details of Bush's wiretapping order, which makes it hard to discuss.

However, a few facts are clear. Namely: President Bush signed an order (many times) to give power to the NSA that Congress has expressly forbidden.

What do we do with those facts? This post is informative.

It seems likely that the act itself -- warrantless searches -- does not violate the Fourth Amendment. I tend to think it doesn't, because there are exceptions in the law for warrantless searches in regard to national security, as well as in regard to border searches; if these were exclusively limited to international calls, for the purpose of national security, it will be difficult to make the case that the President violated the Fourth Amendment.

It seems quite clear, however, that Bush's order went against written federal law, specifically FISA. It says Bush can't do this, and he did it.

I do not buy the argument that the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq grants the President the authority to do this wiretapping, and even if it did, the PATRIOT Act -- along with its modifications to FISA -- came later, and should have also then modified FISA to allow this to be included. So that's just not flying for me.

But what is not at all clear to me is whether Bush has the authority to do what he did, regardless of what Congress says. The case the administration seems to be that "the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority."

That argument is not persuasive to me, because I do not see the Constitution grant that inherent authority. But I have no idea whether the past 216 years or so of law has recognized this in some way.

Another thing that confuses my thinking is the notion of executive orders. These things are effectively the President bypassing Congress to make laws. I don't know what gives the President such authority, what its restrictions are, and how it would apply in this case.

As far as I am concerned, the President does not have, and should not have, any real authority to make law (which is what he did here, by making an order that opposed an existing law). Even in an emergency, his executive orders should be immediately subject to Congressional approval, as soon as is reasonably possible. I believe in the supremacy of Congress, as did the Founders.

The bottom line is that I think what Bush did was wrong, and should be illegal, and is unconstitutional usurpation of power. But then again, I think the same thing about the No Child Left Behind Act and most federal social programs, so don't read too much into this statement.

Regardless, we're not talking about my own views, but whether Bush violated the law as it is currently interpreted by our courts. And while I am basically convinced that -- given the few things I know about the program -- that he did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and that he did go against FISA, and that he did not have any congressional authority to do what he did, I am nevertheless not convinced he actually violated the law.

Note: I could not care less, in any way, at this stage, about whether this order from Bush was "necessary," for whatever that means. I am only concerned here about the legality of the order. If it is found to be illegal, then its necessity may possibly be a defense. But that's a completely separate issue at this stage, as far as I am concerned. For the sake of argument, we will stipulate that Bush believed it to be necessary for national security, but that doesn't itself make the act legal. slashdot.org

Election Fraud

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We just found out this weekend that the GOP candidate lost the Snohomish County Council race as the result of election fraud.

OK, we don't know for sure that it made the difference, but it is quite likely: everyone believes Stephens (the one who ran illegally) "took" a lot more votes from Sax than from Somers, including Stephens himself. And Stephens even admitted he is planning on moving anyway (which raises the question: why run for office in a county you were planning on moving from?).

There's a lot of unanswered questions, but one thing is simple, and obviously true: if a candidate runs for office runs illegally, and got enough votes to change the result of the election, then that calls the result into question. "Duh." The question is what the law can, or should, do about it.

I won't say whether Terwilliger's a "flaming liberal" as Sax said, but certainly his judgment in not overturning the election is to be questioned, because he has a vested interest in having Sax lose. His biggest issue this year was to go to all-mail voting in the county (which is a de facto violation of my rights, but that's another discussion); the Republican majority on the Council prevented it, and with Somers the victor over Sax, it seems likely that he will now get what he wants.

Note that Terwilliger has the same name as the evil Simpsons villain, "Sideshow" Bob Terwilliger. Coincidence? slashdot.org

On What Authority?

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Tim Russert asked Secretary Rice yesterday, "What is the constitutional authority for the president to eavesdrop on American citizens without getting court approval?"

The remarkable thing about this question to me is that he asked it when he did. Why is this not question asked about everything the President or Congress does? On what Constitutional authority is the federal government paying for Katrina? On what Constitutional authority is Congress holding hearings about drug use in baseball, or the ranking system in college football?

I have not had a chance to fully take in all the news surrounding what prompted Russert's question. It's a complicated and thorny legal issue, that may shake many of our assumptions about federal power. I just wonder about the selective challenges to federal power. I've believed for years that every new law or exercise of federal power should be required to include a justification for that power; maybe now is the time to bring this idea up again. slashdot.org


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Amen, brotha.

His characterizations do not represent our family exactly, but it's pretty close. We are no extremists, wishing to close off our children from the world. Our concern on these grounds are more allowing the line of "achiev[ing] consistent moreal training," as well as avoiding the silly politics of public education, which just get in the way.

I probably don't love learning as much as most professors do -- though we do love it -- and we certainly don't love to teach as much as they do. But these are our children, and we teach them all day long, every day.

Also, our memories of our own public education were not as traumatic as theirs, though they were traumatic. I was teased a lot in junior high, but I eventually got past it through force of will. My wife and I are of personality types that we don't let the haters get us down, for the most part, but the negativity still is a drag, even if it is not traumatic, and why expose my child to that? Then there's the academic trauma: either being bored, or being overwhelmed. Either way, you end up resenting the whole affair.

Without a doubt, the biggest reason we homeschool is to provide far greater educational opportunity with far less wasted time. But a clear second is to simply avoid the negativity -- both social and academic -- that almost inevitably comes from public school. slashdot.org

Oh Spare Me

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The RNC has a fraudulent ad. Supposedly. You see, they show clips of Democrats, then the words "Our soldiers are watching and our enemies are too," on a screen, with a soldier watching. But in reality, he was watching something else (How the Grinch Stole Christmas!).

Yes, and? There's clearly no intent to deceive. It's obvious that this is not meant to be literally what that soldier was seeing. To call this a "fraud" is to be, well, stupid.

Methinks the liberal doth protest too much. slashdot.org

To Be or Not To Be

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Should that Crips guy die?

I dunno. I was not in the court, I don't know the case well, and I can't even remember his name.

But there is one thing I do know: whether he is a changed man is completely irrelevant to whether he should be put to death. You don't punish people for what they are now, you punish them for what they did at the time.

Jamie Foxx, who seems a very nice, smart, and sensible man, defended the Crips guy, saying that he writes stories for kids, showing them that if they go down the path he did, they could end up like he did.

I am not a big fan of the death penalty -- it's one of the few issues I really have no strong opinion of -- but I can think of no stronger message to give to those kids Foxx speaks of then to end the story with a lethal injection. slashdot.org

Judge Steals My Money

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A judge in New Orleans is forcing the federal government to pay for something that no law says it must pay for. The judge has no authority to force the federal government to pay for people to stay in hotels. This is telling:

"FEMA cannot assure the court that it will process all or most of the applications of the persons living in hotels and-or motels by Jan. 7, 2006," Duval wrote. "The court is convinced that many persons in the putative class will be irreparably harmed by FEMA's admitted inability to process the pending applications."

So? What's that got to do with the justice system? It may be bad policy, but it is not illegal policy. No law says FEMA has to provide housing until they finish processing the applications.

Bloomberg adds:

"Underlying FEMA's position is a theme that every person ultimately has to take" care of himself, the judge wrote. "That position is unduly callous under the circumstances wrought by Katrina."

You can believe it is "unduly callous," but the law doesn't permit you to rule based on that belief.

The New York Times notes:

The judge said he based his ruling on the federal law that authorized FEMA. It requires the government to ease suffering and damage caused by natural disasters. The arbitrary deadline violates that legislation, Judge Duval wrote, and discriminates against victims based on their economic status.

The government DID ease suffering. The law does not require FEMA to provide help for some specific period of time or to some certain degree; there's no prohibition of an arbitrary deadline, or a goal that must be met before a deadline can be enforced. The judge is just making up what he thinks is fair, which he has no right to do.

And that nonsense about economic status is socialist garbage, completely unsupported by any federal law.

In the end, Duval decides that because he is a federal judge, he can and will rewrite federal law, clearly violating the Constitution, and stealing my money.

Well, OK, technically he is not stealing my money, as he is only ordering FEMA to take my money. If he actually forced FEMA to do it, that would be theft. FEMA does not have to comply, and should not. slashdot.org

Wikipedia Fun

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I saw some silly "scandal scorecard" on some silly website that was trying to keep a scorecard of all the political scandals by sitting members of Congress.

It didn't list the most notable example: Alcee Hastings, the only sitting member of Congress -- as far as I can tell, ever -- to have been previously impeached and removed from office, for conspiracy and perjury. And one of only six judges ever to have been so.

I looked for information about it, but it was hard to come by. I had some time ago looked at his Wikipedia entry, and it made only a passing reference to it. I went back this time and someone had added the phrase, "but [the impeachment was] subsequently cleared by a court review."

This is news to me. Not knowing much about it, I did some research. What court could overturn an impeachment? On what basis? What's going on?

Sure enough, I found a federal court order remanding the Senate's removal of him back to them for reconsideration. It seems that while Judge Stanley Sporkin said he could not challenge their results, he could challenge their methods: a Senate committee removed him from office, rather than the full Senate.

This appears to be why the phrase was added. But it's not the whole story. What happened next, after it was remanded? Did the Senate ever reconsider, or just drop it? The questions mounted.

Well, Sporkin actually stayed his own order, because a similar case regarding Judge Walter Nixon, also impeached and removed, was coming before the Supreme Court already. The Supreme Court eventually ruled the judiciary had no review of any kind over Senate procedures. (I don't know if the Court would have ruled differently had the Constitution said explicitly that the full Senate must remove from office; as it does not, the point is moot: the Senate makes its own rules where they are not explicitly made for them by the Constitution.)

So the order to remand was vacated and remanded by the DC District Court back to Sporkin, who then dismissed Hastings' appeal. Therefore, contrary to what Wikipedia said, no, Hastings' impeachment and removal were not ever cleared.

What's my point? Twofold: first, that this is an interesting story, and second, that you can't believe it just because Wikipedia says it (which hopefully, most of you already knew). And, by corollary, that just because some columnist is keeping a scorecard, doesn't mean it is remotely meaningful or accurate.

Now Playing: Lost Dogs - The Mark of Cain

Airplanes and Weapons

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If I put a blade inside my laptop computer, how likely is it the TSA would find it?

Of course, there are also many sharp objects inside my computer.

Of course, I could also just explode my laptop's battery by short-circuiting it.

Does anyone here believe for a second that our prohibitions on scissors and tweezers are anything more than symbolic in the first place? I know many people "out there" believe it, but that's only because they are a lot less creative than the terrorists are.

And that's especially alarming coming from our elected officials, because frankly, it doesn't take much creativity to come up with ways to terrorize an airplane, even if you don't have a pair of scissors. slashdot.org

Worst Tagline

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"You're in The Situation Room: where news and information from around the world arrive in one place at the same time."

Yeah, um, Wolf: that's what I call "television." Or "computers." It's not really interesting enough to make your show's slogan. slashdot.org

Anti-Alito Commercial

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Just saw on CNN. It closes with the tagline, "The right wing has already taken over the West Wing; don't let them take over your Supreme Court."

Whose Supreme Court, now? Do they mean the citizens of the U.S.? The ones who voted for Bush, knowing full well that he promised to nominate justices like Scalia and Thomas?

Is this the best the anti-Alito forces can do?

They call themselves IndependentCourt.org, as if they actually want an "independent" court. No, they want a court that is beholden to their own left-wing ideology. Which is fine, but it is not fine to lie about it and say you want an "independent" court that "cares more about how the law affects ordinary Americans than partisan ideology," when such partisan ideology is precisely what they do care about: every single one of their coalition members is an official of a prominent left-wing organization. slashdot.org
<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from December 2005.

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