Politics: July 2006 Archives

Signing Statements

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Signing statements have no force of law. Period. End of story.

Most people whining about signing statements are just blowing smoke. This could not be a bigger non-issue.

There's only one marginally valid complaint in Bush's use of signing statements; they say he should veto a bill rather than signing a bill he partially disagrees with. This sounds good, but is impractical, for more than one reason, and further, is not a Constitutional mandate.

The implication (and sometimes explication) is that Bush signing a law requires that he agree to follow it as written. This is flatly false. The President's primary obligation is to the Constitution, and his signing a bill does not shift the weight of his obligations to a law that conflicts with the Constitution. When President John Adams signed the Alien Act into law (for partisan political reasons), he believed it was unconstitutional, and refused to enforce it, because his Constitutional duty was a higher one.

Also, if the President is obligated to follow a law he signs to the letter, is his successor similarly obligated, even if he disagrees with the Constitutional interpretation? Of course not. And if the successor cannot be so obligated, than neither can the signer be, as the Constitution does not so discriminate.

As to practicality, take the torture law that Bush recently signed. It was a good law, but Bush thought -- for very sound legal reasons -- that if applied in every single case, that it would encroach on the President's Constitutional authority. So he says, "OK, I agree with this law, but be it known that I think it may overstep its bounds in some cases, and in those cases, you bet I am going to do what my job requires, and put the Constitution first," as I would think everyone would hope the President would do, since that's, you know, his job.

You may think he should have vetoed the law, but again, the Constitution does not demand this, and vetoing this bill would cost the federal government a lot of time and money to rework it (not to mention, as with Adams and the Alien Act, carry a heavy political cost), and in the meantime we don't have a law the President thinks we need, so why bother, since it is not necessary?

Further, it's not like the President can get an opinion from the Court on his legal analysis. Congress says they have the right to limit the President's authority in a particular matter; the President disagrees; and no one can know what is right unless the matter is adjudicated by the Supreme Court, since the Court cannot be consulted in an advisory capacity. It is, certainly, and without question, not the responsibility of the President to simply follow what the Congress says, if he thinks they are encroaching on his Constitutional authority. No President has ever held that view, and, hopefully, no President ever will, as that would be a complete surrender of the Executive branch to the Legislature.

This is much ado about nothing. Bush is doing his obligation: protecting the Presidency from Congressional encroachment. And in most cases so far, the Court has found Bush's view of the Constitution to be the correct one; in some others, the Court has ruled against him. That's how it works, that's how it's always worked, and that's how it will continue to work.

The only real difference between Bush and past Presidents is that he is more willing to say up front what he is doing, which I find to be a positive development: most Presidents would not say they would be willing to exercise their Presidential prerogative to ignore Congress and torture people if necessary, they would just do it, and defend it later if it came up. Bush is not trying to sneak around, he says up front: I think this is my right, that you can't take away, and I'm letting you know that in advance. That's a good thing.

(Note that I am not defending the President's view on torture; I am skeptical of the legal case his administration has made, and more importantly, I think it's an unwise policy: far better to keep it illegal, and then violate the law if you really think it is necessary, and let the public judge your actions later. This is not about his particular view, but his right as President to have the view, and to exercise it in this manner.) slashdot.org


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It is not exceptional that this was Bush's first veto. He worked with Congress to avoid vetoes, and except for two years in the Senate, the Congress has had solely Republican leaders. Bush would say "I won't sign that unless you do this," and Congress did that, so, no veto.

It's a given that when he finally does veto something, it's on a values issue where there's no room for Bush to compromise. If there were room, there would've been a compromise, and no veto.

Don't get me wrong, I do wish Bush would have vetoed a lot more bills, especially spending bills, and the campaign finance reform bill, and so on. But I don't find it interesting or exceptional that he didn't do so before now.


Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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The most common argument I hear against those who oppose embryonic stem cell research is one that is, to me, completely vapid. It basically goes, "we could save a lot of people with this research, so therefore we should do it."

This argument makes one of two assumptions, as best I can tell. It could be assuming that the embryonic life (and it is a unique human life, biologically speaking; this is a scientific fact not seriously questioned) is not a life that deserves any protection at all. This is, of course, classic question-begging: this is the very crux of the issue, and so assuming it is nonsensical.

The other possible assumption -- sometimes stated explicitly -- is that even if these are lives, it is acceptable to kill them, because other lives are worth more. Humanity has gone down this path before, and I refuse to. It's anathema. And its atrocity is compounded by the fact that it's the government choosing which lives are more valuable.

So please, save your breath. Don't say "we should do this because good may result." (And worse, don't tell me that good will result, because no one can know that.) If you want to convince me, you cannot possibly do so by telling me the potential benefits; you can only do so by convincing me that no human life is being intentionally killed for the sake of research. I don't care if you convince me that we will cure AIDS and cancer tomorrow by killing off a few dozen embryos today, I will oppose it, if I believe, as I do now (because how could I not?), that those are human lives. Period, end of story. slashdot.org

Economic Realities

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People who hate Bush like to talk about all the problems that exist, and leave out the good things. This is a given, and is well-known, but sometimes their overemphasis and cherry-picking is subtle.

Take, for example, the economy. The Bush-haters love to talk about how there's inflation. Inflation bad, so therefore Bush bad. Except that inflation is the inevitable result of high oil prices, which are the inevitable result of policies and situations that are mostly independent of Bush (increased worldwide demand), compounded by a policy that we already knew, before it started, would contribute to higher oil prices (the Iraq war).

Bush deserves some responsibility for inflation, of course, but for those who thought the Iraq invasion was necessary, the increased oil prices -- again, known beforehand -- are worth it. For those against the war, of course, they are not worth it. Duh.

And then there's the decreasing "real wages." They love to trot out the notion that people are "earning less." But again, this is the inevitable result of the inflation caused by high oil prices: wages do not react quickly to market pressures, so even though nominal wages are increasing (the actual dollar amount you take home), inflation is increasing even more, so real wages (the amount of buying power you have) are therefore decreasing. This is, again, inevitable in the short term. If prices don't come down, then real wages will increase to match, over time. That's how it works.

Inflation and real wage decreases are symptoms, not diseases, and the disease is increased oil costs, which is likely something we're simply going to have to get used to, and everything will balance itself out over time, as it usually does. slashdot.org

Helicopter Evacuations

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Doug Roulstone was at my BBQ on Saturday and told us all a bit about how helicopter evacuations would likely work (he is former commander of the USS Stennis, and used to fly search-and-rescue choppers).

I don't have anything especially interesting or insightful to note about it. But it was interesting, coming from him. slashdot.org

Election Lottery

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If you need to be bribed to vote, you shouldn't be voting in the first place. I don't want you picking my government, if that's what it takes to get you to polls. Sorry.
-- Tucker Carlson, on a plan in some states to enter voters into a special lottery, to encourage people to vote

I agree wholeheartedly with what he said, except for the "Sorry" part. I unapologetically say that you shouldn't vote unless you take a personal interest in doing so. There's only three requirements for voting in this country, two explicit, one implicit, and all important: be a citizen, be 18, and be interested. slashdot.org

Thugs campaign commercial

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A fake anti-Kerry campaign commercial featuring real news footage of a Kerry supporter punching a Bush supporter.

Shock & Awe

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The opening of the Iraq War.

Republican Day

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Tomorrow morning I have the monthly meeting of the Snohomish County GOP Executive Committee at 8 a.m. It should end by 10:30 a.m., at which point I will go home and prepare for the 39th District BBQ at my house later that afternoon, where we will have a bunch of 39th PCOs (Precinct Committee Officers), elected officials, and candidates for office, including the current county sheriff, our state senator and one of the state reps, and a county councilman. We'll also have John Groen, running for the state Supreme Court, and Doug Roulstone, running for Congress in the Fightin' Second (which was featured last week in The Colbert's Report "Better Know A District").

Roulstone will be coming here after a luncheon with Newt Gingrich. I told people to invite Newt to the BBQ, but I don't think that is going to happen; he apparently needs to head to Seattle at that time. slashdot.org

Sentence of the Day

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Climate Change

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From Lou Doubbs last night:

MICHAEL MANN, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: Well, there's clear agreement among the leading scientists in this field that humans are having an influence on the climate. There are several different lines of evidence that are independent. Just the basic physics of how the atmosphere and the climate system works tell us that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations should warm the surface.

DOBBS: Well, if you all as leading scientists, with your best science, your best minds working in the field, agree that there is global warming and that greenhouse gases emissions are responsible for all or part of it, what can we do, Gavin, to deal with the issue?

GAVIN SCHMIDT, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: First of all, we have to understand the physical basis for those changes. We need to understand the greenhouse gases, we need to understand the effects of ozone and black carbon. And then, once we've understood the question, we can come back and say, well, what are the behaviors that we have as a society that are creating these problems? And then what we need to do is stop doing those behaviors and transfer our skills to another kind of...

DOBBS: To get on with the solution.

SCHMIDT: Right, to get on with the solution.


DOBBS: Well, what are we going to do? Let's on this broadcast tonight, LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, this broadcast decides global warming is caused by emissions. That discussion is over here. Let's talk about what we should do next.

MANN: Well, you know, first we have to start -- we have to stop the sort of the false debate that has been placed in the public discourse about the science. The science is agreed upon. And unfortunately, because it's an inconvenient conclusion...

So we don't know the physical basis for the changes, we don't know what behaviors we as a society engage in that cause the changes, but ... we sure do know that humans are influencing those changes! And we should stop having this "false debate" about whether it is true that we are influencing something that we don't understand!

I've come to the conclusion that most scientists simply do not understand the basic concepts of philosophy, and cannot be trusted to tell us what is and isn't true. They may be good at conducting experiments, but they suck at coming to conclusions. We really do need actual philosophers for these things.


North Korea Framework

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Even most Bush critics are conceding that North Korea proliferated WMD -- buying nuclear weapons technology, and selling ballistic weapons technology, with Pakistan -- while under Clinton's bilateral agreement with them. And yet they have no idea of what to do about North Korea except to return to the same failed policy.

Similarly, they say the current U.S. policy is a failure, but the only real evidence they cite is unverifiable: that North Korea has reprocessed pluotnium. North Korea has, in fact, refused to prove it has reprocessed plutonium:

MARGARET WARNER: So then, go to the next step: did you see convincing evidence that they had reprocessed that plutonium, those fuel rods that came out of a nuclear reactor, into actually weapons grade material?

SIEGFRIED HECKER: That's a little more difficult to answer definitively. What they did to try to convince us of that -- they took us through the reprocessing facility. They call it the radio chemical laboratory. And what they showed us were the facility equipment. They answered all of our technical questions. They certainly had the capacity, capability and technical expertise to reprocess but they said they finished the reprocessing at the end of June 2003. And so when they said to me, well, look, we obviously reprocessed, I said, well, I'm not convinced. At that point, they said, would you like to see the product?


SIEGFRIED HECKER: And I said, well, yes, we would like to see the product -- the product being plutonium of some form, and the most important part of that was are they able to reprocess the plutonium and make plutonium metal? So they brought in a box that contained a couple of glass jars, sort of jelly jars to speak, and in those jars they had some plutonium powder. It's called oxalate. It's a powder that goes into the process along to making plutonium metal. The other jar contained plutonium metal, they said.

MARGARET WARNER: And, I mean, could you determine that it really was?

SIEGFRIED HECKER: I have seen much plutonium metal in my time, and what I can tell you, was that everything we saw and the things I was able to do without instrumentation was consistent with that being plutonium, however, I had to tell my host that without additional more sophisticated measurements I'm not able to say 100 percent certain that this is actually plutonium metal.

They also refuse to prove they have any nuclear weapons capabilities, even if they do have plutonium:

MARGARET WARNER: All right. So Mr. Hecker, let's say this metal you saw really was plutonium. Did they show you in addition that showed they had taken it to the next stage which was making it into something that we might call a weapon?

SIEGFRIED HECKER: Indeed. That's where they use the fuzzy concept of deterrence and they said look, you can understand we have a deterrent. I said wait a minute, that's much more complicated than that.

I view at least having to have three pieces for a deterrent. The first one is you have got to make the metal. That's not simple, and I think they demonstrated the capability although there's still this question of whether what they showed me was actually metal. The second piece -- you got to take that metal to a nuclear device much you'd have to take steel to a final automobile that you can drive out. And then the third piece -- you have to take the nuclear device and put it on something, a delivery system. I told them very specifically that I never saw anything or never talked to anyone that would convince me that they actually have taken the next step.

MARGARET WARNER: Made it into a device..

SIEGFRIED HECKER: So we saw nothing that we could say yes, convinced us they made it into a nuclear device.

MARGARET WARNER: Did you ask to see one?

JACK PRITCHARD: In fact they said, are you suggesting you would like to see one? And, of course Dr. Hecker said, yes, we would. And then they then said we have run out of the time. We couldn't arrange that. We certainly didn't expect them to show us a device.

SIEGFRIED HECKER: And I had actually told them when I made this comment that you really haven't shown me the deterrent. They said would you like to see our arsenal and I said well, yes but when they said that would be difficult, I said I would be happy to talk to the people who know how to design a nuclear device or have the capabilities for that next step. But in all fairness, that was the last day and they there went enough time to get the authority to be able talk to the right people.

Hecker to me sounds a bit too apologetic. "Would you like to see the actual bomb?" "Yes." "Great! Let's ... oops, we're out of time, so sorry."

Of course, for practical purposes, we need to take their claims seriously, but we can't assume they are true, either. This is not unlike the Iraq WMD claims: we had some evidence, but nothing remotely resembling proof.

But let's assume they do have plutonium and a weapon. Bush's critics would have you believe none of this was going on during the last few years of the Clinton agreement, that it only started when North Korea pulled out of that agreement (or, at earliest, some months before, when North Korea decided to leave that agreement because of Bush). How do they know this? There's no evidence of it. We know that North Korea violated that agreement by procuring nuclear weapons technology, and we are supposed to believe they did not put that technology to use until Bush's Axis of Evil speech, based merely on their word?

As far as I am concerned, the bilateral framework was utterly useless, and I see no evidence that North Korea was being contained by it, in any substantive way. The multilateral framework -- where Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea will all have vested interests in holding North Korea to its word -- are the only hope for a diplomatic solution at the present time. Bilateralism is a proven failure, and any success we think it was -- partial containment -- is, at best, unproven.

Well, one thing's for sure: we don't really have to worry about Pakistan's ballistic missiles. slashdot.org

Lieberman Quote

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I'm a loyal Democrat but I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party, and that's my loyalty to my state and my country.

I've been mulling the above quote over in my mind. A lot of Democrats seem to be angered by this. I can't, for the life of me, figure out why. I'd be angered by anyone for whom this wasn't true, and anyone angered by this quote is someone I'd not only distance myself from, but be encouraged to make sure never got into any sort of political power.


Biden "Insult"

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Senator Biden talks about how great it is that Indian-Americans are coming into Delaware in droves, and how they run a ton of the convenience stores and donut shops.

So what? What's wrong with that? Don't they?

Is there something wrong with running a gas station or donut shop? Isn't that why they came here, to run a business and make a living and provide for their families? Isn't that a good thing, and shouldn't we welcome it, and praise it?

He didn't state or imply this is what all Indian-Americans do. He just gave that as a great example of them succeeding in America.

What am I missing?

That said, while I see nothing wrong with the comment (apart from being insensitive to political correctness, which is fine by me), I do agree with that article that there's a big double-standard here, that most Republicans would have been destroyed over a statement like this.

Now Playing: writ on water - piano
After my previous journal entry on the book "Misquoting Jesus," I received e-mail from a publishing house, Nimble Books, asking me to take a look at their recent publication, "Misquotes in 'Misquoting Jesus'".

I got halfway through the PDF on the plane, on the way back from YAPC in Chicago, and it's a good book. And I don't say that just because it agrees with most of what I said (except that for the most part it expresses it better, and with more authority).

The author, Dillon Burroughs, emphasizes a few main points, particularly that -- as I noted -- the author, Bart Ehrman, is mostly correct on the facts he presents, but he simply draws unreasonable conclusions. Burroughs heavily quotes people who have worked with Ehrman and are familiar with his work.

From the Burroughs book, I also learned that Ehrman is far more learned than I supposed him to be from the one interview I saw. He helped Bruce Metzger -- the foremost authority on the subject -- edit the fourth edition of "The Text of the New Testament," the very book I mentioned in the previous discussion (I have the third edition).

So the guy clearly knows his stuff. It's not (mostly) his facts that are in question, it's his unwarranted conclusions (and knowing a bit about Metzger, I can guarantee you he doesn't agree with Ehrman's conclusions, either). And again: nothing Ehrman is saying is new. Scholars and students have known this stuff all along.

Here's another interesting link, also picked up via Nimble Books, a debate between Ehrman and William Lane Craig, who is a professor at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, my alma mater. It's a good example, in my opinion, of how Ehrman raises many valid points but simply does not come to a valid conclusion, because his basic line of reasoning is "it is possible that none of this is true," which is, of course, true of everything we think we know.

What historians have to do is look at what is the most likely explanation for the evidence we have, and Ehrman looks at it backward: since miracles are improbable, there must be another explanation for what actually happened; in other words, even if a miracle did happen, in his view, a historian must assume it did not. The empty tomb is not likely, because miracles are not likely, so despite the evidence for it, he believes it was invented later. That's just not a compelling argument, and it forms the foundation of most of what he says in this debate, and in his book. slashdot.org

Joe Lieberman

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Joe said he will be on the ballot as an independent if he loses the Democratic party. He is staying a Democrat, just won't be the Democrats' chosen candidate.

It's a great move. He'll win re-election no matter what happens, which means, no matter what happens, the left wing of the Democratic Party will become even more marginalized. slashdot.org
iTunes Music Store has two "Essentials" lists for "America," one for "Pride" and one for "Protest." Not only do I have more songs from the "Protest" list in my collection, I have actually recorded two of them (see Covers on PudgeTunes): The Hand That Feeds and Political Science.

I think that means I am, officially, a dissenter. slashdot.org
On CNN's Reliable Sources today, the pundits were discussing the leak of national security secrets to the New York Times and subsequent story about the bank data.

I don't know if the release of the details of the program helped terrorists. The argument that it did not, however, is specious: the argument goes that everyone knew we were looking at bank data, in general, and that therefore this wasn't a secret. If so, then why did you put it on your front page? Puzzling. Obviously, this is happening in a way you figure most people didn't know, which presumably means the terrorists also didn't know.

The story itself showed that a prominent terrorist was captured in 2003 using this program, and now they really expect us to just take their word for it that the release of the program's details won't hurt any efforts to capture more terrorists?

But I am more troubled -- as usual -- by the fact that this was leaked in the first place, and that the media feels absolutely no responsibility to follow their legal obligation to reveal those sources when called upon by the court to do so.

When Hugh Hewitt offered the notion that the law should be followed -- that is, that the government should find out who leaked that information, through subpoeana to the reporters they leaked to if necessary, and that those reporters should be held in contempt if they refuse to offer the names -- the other pundits responded with shock and outrage.

Host Howard Kurtz responded, "You're saying you hope that Eric Lichtblau, sitting right next to me, has to testify before a grand jury, and if he won't reveal his sources, then you are perfectly comfortable with a judge sending him off to jail." Hewitt said he hopes Lichtblau is called before a grand jury, but didn't say whether he hopes Lichtblau goes to jail if he does not respond.

I'll answer it, though: of course he should. This is a no-brainer. He knows who has violated the law by leaking classified, potentially very damaging, national security information. It is required by federal law that he provide those names if called upon to do so in federal court, and he should go to jail if he violates that law.

Lichtblau incredibly responded: "I think the use of confidential sources is an important principle for reporters, and if the government starts criminalizing that, which is where we seem to be heading, you know, you might as well declare a moritorium on investigative reporting and end the press' role as a watchdog."

That sounds nice and everything, except for the fact that we are not talking about using confidential sources, but refusing to reveal the names of your sources when under federal court order to do so. And the government is not starting to criminalize that: it's been a crime all along.

So somehow enforcing laws we've had all along, and have enforced all along, will cause an institution that has existed all along to cease to exist.

I am not sure if the press is trying to deceieve the public, itself, or both. 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."

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This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from July 2006.

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