Thursday, March 31, 2005
What I should really be disgusted with is the press and media's inability to tell the story with any accuracy. I'm tired of hype as news. I want facts. Not just some of the facts, but all the facts. Let me make my own decision. The facts shouldn't be hard to come by, nor should they take up so much space that you need to leave some out to make you column fit on the news page.
Frankly, some of the facts I have heard now dispute that Michael Schiavo didn't do anything for her early on, and that at one point several years later, in 1998, he gave up and asked that she be allowed to die by removing the feed tube.
Who are we to say that this really wasn't Terri's wish?
Here is a fantastic, and long, summary and timeline of what has happened, and shows how all the facts have not been presented accurately or even at all.
Facts: Doctors performed tests on her for years, but recorded no higher level function over any of the 15 years she has been in this state. Therefore it's persistent. Patients should show some sign of improvement within weeks or even months, but not years.
The EEG tests, which show electrical activity, have shown NO cerebral cortex activity. Flatline.
More facts: Terri underwent more than three years of rehabilitative therapy after her collapse in 1990, and her husband took her to California late that same year to have an experimental device implanted in her brain in hopes of stimulating activity. He did not do nothing.
Facts: The only "experts" who maintain that she is responsive and not in a vegetative state are doctors speaking for the parents of Terri. Court appointed physicians have not been able to document any consistent responses from Terri that would indicate she is aware of her surroundings.
These facts don't get reported too much, just the politics and the rantings of the parents. I feel for the parents, I really do, but I don't see where they have the high ground here.
For that matter, I am really disassociated with moral conservatives on this issue. I am a conservative myself, but I often wonder at the fights that we pick in life, and whether or not they are worth fighting for. Probably the worst thing that could have happened did. Not Terri dying, it's arguable that happened 15 years ago. I mean moral conservatives went to the federal government and tried to work the system when the did not get the result they wanted after taking Michael Schiavo to court. As much as we think that we have the moral high ground in this argument, Terri's husband has the legal high ground. And after all we are a nation under the rule of law and not of men.
Morality and ethics should be there to guide the law, and perhaps influence it, but not dominate it. The thing that bothered me most about all the legal wrestling over the past few weeks is that congress and Terri's parents were attempting to set some pretty scary precedents in undermining the sanctity of the right of spouses to make critical decisions for each other.
And I would not want me or my wife sanctioned in the same way that Terri's parents were attempting to sanction him.
In January, the NCAA minority issues committee asked schools that use the American Indian as a nickname to conduct a six-month self-evaluation of their relationship with the American Indian. They are due May 1.GROOOAAAAN. Do native Americans really care about this? Does having a student dress up like one for sporting events demean people of that noble blood? There have been surveys done by Sports Illustrated and other agencies (can't link to SI from the 2002 issue, but there's a reference to it here) indicating that while Native American activists oppose the monikers of sports teams, the vast majority of Native Americans do not. But that doesn't seem to matter, as our intelectual superiors know better.
"There are an infinite number of choices for the sports culture, but the Native Americans only have one culture," Illinois professor Carol Spindel, author of the book Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots, said Wednesday.What?!? If I were a native American, I would be patently offended by the statement that all the different native societies that existed (and still do exist) on the continent are really only "one culture."
This is another example of "perceived" offense by certain liberal groups claiming to represent a larger body of people that they, ironically, may not really represent.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
How it works is that there are usually a small number of selected, and trained, officers who communicate with the FBI and are privy to top secret information that could help in leading to arrests.
Other people in the system, such as the mayor and the chief of police get some information, but are only cleared for what's called "Secret" information, not "Top Secret" information.
This seems to disappoint our new mayor.
There are major, if seemingly subtle, differences between secret and top-secret clearance. People with secret clearance know who is being investigated, with some broad information about what that prompted the inquiry -- they may be told, for example, that a tip came from a confidential source in the Middle East. People with top-secret clearance know who is being investigated and receive specific details about the initial source -- they would know, say, the original tipster's name, location and job.
(Portland Mayor Tom) Potter says that without the same level of access to information as his officers, he can't ensure that the Portland Police are following Oregon law. State statutes bar police from investigating people because of their political or religious beliefs.
OK, now, really, this is a horribly great example of micro-managing. Does the Mayor really need to know this stuff? Is he really the one responsible for ensuring that the police are following Oregon Law? Aren't they supposed to do that?
But (Police Chief) Foxworth says secret clearance for the police chief and the mayor is enough.
"We sit down with those officers on a regular basis and go over each and every case," he said. "They are well-trained, and they are well aware of the law and the limitations. It has occurred where the officers have said, 'We can't be involved in this.' . . . The officers themselves did that, not their sergeant or lieutenant."
The FBI representative in Portland has said that he has offered to grant top secret clearance to Foxworth, but not to the mayor.
What surprises me here is that Commissioner Randy Leonard is the author of the resolution that will sever Portland's relationship with the JTTF. Up until this point I have had several reasons to like Leonard and the things he has done, but I don't understand the thinking here.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Perhaps. At the very least I'll still be less frequent.
But what better way to come out of a funk than with some comedy.
Every time you make a credit card purchase, they're supposed to match your signature against the one on the back of your card. Nobody seems to check anymore, so I tried to see how far I could push it with wacky signatures like "Mariah Carey" and "Zeus," which you can read in the original Credit Card Prank.
"The Credit Card Prank" took on a life of its own, vaulting ZUG into the national consciousness. Since then, some thirty million people have read that article -- some of them, it turns out, from the credit card companies themselves. Surely, then, they must have learned their lesson. Right?
Actually, this guy is totally serious, and did some fun journalism. I don't know why anyone should have to sign their name any more. That seems just as dangerous as anything else, having your signature out there for someone to forge.
There are so many places out there now that don't require signatures, like gas stations and internet sales, and people don't check the signatures it seems like a waste of time.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Anyway, I have been torn by this for a while. It seems, according to Instapundit and others, that conservatives as well as liberals are against this bill, and that Republicans in the Senate and House are just feeding off the greedy credit companies. That sounds like the usual whining about some issue you don't like, blame the special interest that's pushing for the bill. It might have some reason to do with it, but is that reason enought to say that this is bad.
I had a hard time trying to find an article that wasn't of the "bad bill coming through congress" or "bill a gift to rich people" or something like that. I did find one article that tried to explain what the changes are here.
Bankruptcy has existed for a large part of American history, I suppose to avoid some sort of system of indentured servitude, or preventing European debtor's prisons from happening in America. Traditional bankruptcy is filing for Chapter 11, which allows you to not have to make full payments on your bills, but only about 70% or whatever you can pay. There is also something called chapter 7, which forgives debts and gives people a fresh start. That is the area of bankruptcy the current bill is after.
I can understand the arguments of those who don't like the bill. Credit card companies are making it all too easy these days to get credit. You've all heard the commercials on the radio: "Oh, man, I'd really like to get a car, but my credit like sucks. What's that? Even I can get credit for a new car at Credit.com? Awesome!"
One wonders if the credit companies are knowingly taking too much risk by lowering their standards as to who can pay and who can't.
But, it's also true that there needs to be some sort of overhaul of bankruptcy as it stands now. There have been 3 or 4 times as many bankruptcies in the last several years than there used to be, just 10 years ago. Statistics are deceptive regarding this issue, as there are many people who file more than once. I believe it is this kind of person who this bill is really aimed at. In that case I kind of agree.
A friend of mine has a relative who has filed more than one, treats it like a get out of jail free card. No sooner has she come out of debt by this method than card companies are sending her stuff again. She hasn't learned to stay within her means, and looks at bankruptcy as a way out.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
I was having a beer with a good friend of mine. Simple guy who does landscaping in Seattle. He said, without any prompting from me, how disgusted he was with congress (especially his own Senator, Maria Cantwell (D)) and how much they nitpick the issue. It's pretty plain to him (and me and probably most people) that there is very little harm they can do to the area in Alaska they are working in. Ms Cantwell complains about how the area will be harmed, but has never been there herself. That pretty much describes most of the people who are opposed to this.
When pretty much everyone on Alaska is for drilling, including the native Alaskan tribe that runs the territory, I see no reason why we should be screaming about it down here in the 48.
He had a former soldier, Addie Collins, who started asking people for shoes instead of care packages when she noticed that kids over there didn't have any shoes, or adequate footwear. She thought she would get a few dozen pair.
She got 15,000. Now she has her own blog. Check it out.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The Cabinet yesterday approved the Chamber of Deputies’ decision to introduce human rights and democracy as subjects at the intermediate and secondary levels and asked the Ministry of Education to consider both subjects in its curricula development plans.As usual, Gateway Pundit is a great place to go for Middle east happenings.
Justice Antonin Scalia criticized the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down the juvenile death penalty, calling it the latest example of politics on the court that has made judicial nominations an increasingly bitter process.
In a 35-minute speech Monday, Scalia said unelected judges have no place deciding issues such as abortion and the death penalty. The court's 5-4 ruling March 1 to outlaw the juvenile death penalty based on "evolving notions of decency" was simply a mask for the personal policy preferences of the five-member majority, he said.
"If you think aficionados of a living Constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again," Scalia told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank. "You think the death penalty is a good idea? Persuade your fellow citizens to adopt it. You want a right to abortion? Persuade your fellow citizens and enact it. That's flexibility."
"Why in the world would you have it interpreted by nine lawyers?" he said.
Which is how I believe judges should act when deciding cases. I think the President does as well, as he has said that he wants more constructionists on the court.
One other note. Check out what the AP writer inserts at the end of the article. After Scalia leaves complaining about all the photographers, the writer ends with this:
During a speech last year in Hattiesburg, Miss., a deputy federal marshal demanded that an Associated Press reporter and another journalist erase recordings of the justice's remarks.
The justice later apologized. The government conceded that the U.S. Marshals Service violated federal law in the confrontation and said the reporters and their employers were each entitled to $1,000 in damages and attorneys' fees.
Oh my gosh. What the heck does that have to do with anything else in this article? Not a thing. It looks like the journalist, Hope Yen, wants something in the article to make Scalia look bad, like he's against freedom of the press or something, to de-legitimize what he's saying. Chalk up another example of poor journalism and poor journalistic ethics.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Well, as Steven Beaven in the Oregonian reports
It's not that the math is fuzzy. Rather, the labyrinthine calculations the transit agency used to arrive at 251 don't actually determine the number of cars left in driveways and garages each day. Instead, they estimate how many car trips are saved by each bus each weekday, based on the number of times riders board TriMet buses, not counting transfers.Got that? So that 251 number includes each trip a single person might make in a day. If you use the bus to get downtown for work, and then back again in the afternoon, that counts as two trips. So the actual number of cars not on the road would be something like 175. But does that include trips to the store, before going to work? Or does it include stops for errands on the way home?
Just something to think about while you are behind a bus in rush hour traffic today.
Fortunately, even though the article sounds skeptical, I think that the state budget is going to help out a lot. The economy has picked up and Oregon jobs are at the same level that they were at in 2000, before the recession.
Well, I missed another one. But Michael Totten didn't. Apparently there was a bright and quite large meteor that came down over the Portland area this weekend. Here's the actual report.
Residents across the Northwest reported seeing the bright streak of light as it flashed across the sky. The flash lasted up to five seconds, and was captured on home video by a witness in Talent, Ore.
Scientists said the flaming object was probably a meteor, and that it likely disintegrated before any fragments fell into the Pacific Ocean.
THE OXBLOG GUIDE TO THE NATIONAL MEDIA:*
1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.
2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.
3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.
4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like the statistics shown in pie charts.
5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.
6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and did a far superior job of it, thank you.
7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.
8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.
9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.
10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country ... or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for.
11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.
PubliusPundit says that cities and towns are practically empty as people walk, bike, ride to the capital for the demonstration. He has LOTS on what's going on today, so I recommend visiting his looooong post.
He also has this FOX interview with Walid Phares about why the pro-Syrian demonstrations won't stop or even slow down Lebanese independence from Syria.
This was just meant as a warning for Taiwan, so the Chinese are probably not going to act yet, but it increases tension in the area. Which, of course, poses problems for the U.S. as we have been trying to use China to influence North Korea, but are squarely against them using force against Taiwan, and have promised to intervene if China tries to invade.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
It's fair to point out that Felony Nation may have gone too far in declaring certain crimes to be felonies. The argument for the enfranchisement of felons often seems to be a proxy fight against mandatory felony sentencing for low-level drug users. It's political poison to suggest that possession of a smidgen of cocaine ought not to be a felony; the enfranchisement of felons is much more palatable. If we're creating too many felons through the drug laws, let's re-examine the drug laws, instead of demeaning the importance of felonies themselves.Voting is a right in this country, but obedience to the law is a requirement in this country as well. I think that felons can work their way back into the graces of the system, but they need to earn the right to vote again by being clean after they have paid their due.
Technorati says that there are over 7 million blogs out there. So I'm in good company.
This wasn't as much of a problem a decade or two ago, when timber companies still had large contracts to cut on federal forests here in the US, as they were getting a relative steal on that land too. But things have changed, and almost all the timber coming out of the U.S. is off private land and therefore is more expensive than timber coming out of Canada.
I am all for free trade, and have supported NAFTA, and now support the on-coming CAFTA (central American free trade agreement). I was very critical of Bush when he decided that we needed a tariff on Steel, as imported Asian steel was hurting out industry. But I'm not so sure the Americans are on the wrong side of this issue. It's hard to compete in a free and open market when someone's taxpayers are supporting the industry in another country. This issue has only come up as the US has stopped that practice, but I think that the U.S. has a right to protect it's timber economy until such time as Canada reforms it's timber industry.
Here was a press release today.
The Canadian government sent what it called an initial proposal to the U.S. to gauge its interest in returning to negotiations in the softwood lumber dispute. The five-page document outlined what Canada is seeking to settle the longstanding dispute. It calls for the U.S. to revoke the current countervailing and anti-dumping duty orders, and Canada then would apply an export tax on lumber shipments to the U.S. The proposal does not give a specific level for that export tax. It also calls for the U.S. to refund 100% of the duties already collected, with interest, since they were levied in May 2002. It also stipulates that for the duration of the agreement, the U.S. government would not file a CVD or AD investigation on Canadian lumber imports, and that the U.S. industry would not undertake any new cases. Under the plan, Canadian provinces would be able to reduce or eliminate the export tax if they completed specific reforms of their timber policies. A spokesman for the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports said they declined comment until they had time to study the document.What Canada is saying here is that they are conceding that there is an issue with their industry and it needs to be reformed, but that they want the money that comes from making the situation equitable, instead of the US profiting from this.
In a way I can see their point. The Canadian government gets a pittance from timber companies (when they should be charging more for the use of their land), the timber companies benefit, but then get charged the difference in order to export to the U.S. market. The U.S. gets money that the Canadian government should have been getting if they charged market rates for use of the land.
But the question is, why don't they just reform their timber leasing practices? The press shot above kind of indicates that is where they are going, but the demand that the U.S. give back all the money they have collected so far might be asking a lot. Call it the penalty for not addressing the problem in the first place and trying to fight the U.S. on the issue for the last 4 years.
There is another issue here too. Canada has threatened to retaliate against the U.S. by boycotting certain products of ours, like wine. Rogue pundit has thoughts about this.
I mean really. The U.S.: "We feel you are unfairly helping your timber industry, so we're going to protect ours a little bit."
Canada: "Waaaaaaaaah! Oh yeah? Well, we're not buying any more of your wine. How do you like them apples, eh?"
Update: "The Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, the U.S. industry group that filed the duty petitions, said today that it expressed to the U.S. government its "strong support for face-to-face negotiations" with Canada. While the Coalition noted there are aspects of the proposal that they do not support, they called the proposal 'a positive step and a show of good faith.'"
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
He goes on to site other examples. Really, its a testimony to large beaurocracies that the unions ensure their employment. Agencies and programs continue to grow while the reason for their existance slowly ebbs away. This is occurring with the Portland School district, as Schools are closing, but teachers and administrators are not being let go.
The Grants Pass School Board fired Wilson in June for threatening students and using foul language. One of his most outrageous statements was telling a female student the only way he could be fired would be if he raped her. The state Department of Education's Fair Dismissal Appeals Board didn't go that far, but did order District 7 to rehire Wilson.
The three-member board confirmed Wilson's behavior, but said it didn't justify firing. Wilson didn't really mean those threats of violence to the girls and others, the board concluded. It's disturbing the board apparently feels it's OK for the driven choir director to be verbally vulgar and belittling to his students.
The advance of hope in the Middle East also requires new thinking in the capitals of great democracies -- including Washington, D.C. By now it should be clear that decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability, have only led to injustice and instability and tragedy. It should be clear that the advance of democracy leads to peace, because governments that respect the rights of their people also respect the rights of their neighbors. It should be clear that the best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies. And our duty is now clear: For the sake of our long-term security, all free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East.So when are we going after Sudan? And Saudi Arabia?
Monday, March 07, 2005
The Supreme Court issued this decision last week on the juvenile death penalty, and the decision has turned out to be quite controversial. The verdict itself was not that vital to American life, in that no rights are going to be squashed, etc. Many people, in fact, will probably agree that minors lack the legal responsibility to face such a harsh sentence, and agree with the judgment on principle.
But thats an opinion, and its not based on any objective evidence. At least none offered by this verdict.
Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the case, and his arguments can be summed up into three points. One is that the Eighth Amendment to the constitution bars cruel and unusual punishment, and states that "the Court must refer to the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society to determine which punishments are so disproportionate as to be cruel and unusual." In other words, we determine what cruel and unusual is by what we think the consensus of Americans think it is.
Two is that minors are not as culpable for their actions as adults in that they display a lack of maturity and understanding of personal responsibility. Kennedy noted that the court recently declared that the death penalty was unconstitutional for a mentally retarded person convicted of a capital offense. Mental retardation, the court said, diminishes personal culpability even if the offender can distinguish right and wrong.
The third argument was that America is quite alone in the world (relatively) in its use of the death penalty. His reasoning here is from the time of the Courts decision in Trop, the Court has referred to the laws of other countries and to international authorities as instructive for its interpretation of the Eighth Amendments prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. He goes on to say that it didnt help the Justices come to a decision, but only confirmed what they had decided.
I read the opinion, but remain unconvinced, and alarmed for a few reasons. Justice OConnors dissent and Scalias dissent are much more convincing.
In Kennedys first point, that there is consensus in the US on this topic, the numbers he uses are not enough, and in other cases have not been enough. There are still 20 states that allow the execution of a minor. Hardly a consensus.
Scalia responded to this "Now the Court says that a legislative change in four states is significant enough to trigger a constitutional prohibition. Its amazing to think that this subtle shift in numbers can take the issue entirely off the table for legislative debate."
Kennedy tries to compare the direction of change in legislative action regarding juvenile capital punishment with that of the mentally handicapped, to try and show that the nation is moving overwhelmingly toward that end. OConnor states otherwise, in that the movement toward the latter was much more evident, and the action toward juveniles was considerably slower.
OConnor points out that in this case, the defendant was well aware of consequences and had considered them when he declared to his friends, in planning the murder/burglary, that they could get away with it, as they were minors.
This is a point that is brought up much in this debate: some minors do have the understanding and sense of right and wrong enough to be responsible for their actions. Indeed many are tried as adults because of the severity of their crimes. If you are going to try someone as an adult, then treat them as an adult, with adult responsibility and culpability. Death penalty included.
It is Scalia who is much more scathing of this opinion. Especially the last point Kennedy makes, which looks to international mood and opinion. OConnor does not mind this action, as she notes that the Court does this frequently in the cases regarding cruel and unusual punishment. But Scalias point is that the Court shouldn't be doing that anyway. After all, most of the world (outside of Europe) outlaws Abortion, but the Court wouldnt necessarily take that view. Scalia accuses Kennedy and company of looking over the heads of the crowd and picking out their friends. In other words, using International opinion when it suits their personal preference. He is astounded that the Court would change its mind after only 15 years.
One more thought. Scalia made another point that the Court took the subject off the table for debate in this country based on some pretty flimsy numbers. This is the part that is disturbing to me. It seems that many people, and most people in States where the juvenile death penalty is still active, believe that there are some people who can be considered culpable, even though they are below the age of 18. Kennedy makes the case that this sentence is rarely issued to minors. This is true, but as it is true, it is the reason that I think the system works correctly. What the Court has done here is take the power of deciding, on a case by case basis, whether or not a minor is responsible enough to warrant the death penalty, from the jury. And from the legislature.Scalia said: "(The) infrequency (of executions for under 18 murderers) is explained, we accurately said, both by the undisputed fact that a far smaller percentage of capital crimes are committed by persons under 18 than over 18, and by the fact that juries are required at sentencing to consider the offenders youth as a mitigating factor."
Powerline responds here. John Hinderaker has an article in the Daily Standard critisizing Kennedy's decision to compare international law. I like it, but I thought Scalia's dissent was better.
Europeans cannot criticize the United States for waging war in Iraq if they are unwilling to exhibit the moral fiber to stop genocide by acting collectively and with decisiveness...I'll give you a hint: He is a governor of a northeastern state, got slaughtered in the Democrat primaries last year, and just became top Democrat numero uno.
Every day that goes by without meaningful sanctions and even military intervention in Sudan by African, European and if necessary U.N. forces is a day where hundreds of innocent civilians die and thousands are displaced from their land. Every day that goes by without action to stop the Sudan genocide is a day that the anti-Iraq war position so widely held in the rest of the world appears to be based less on principle and more on politics.
On a different note, why isn't this person, or anybody, arguing that we should just go into Sudan unilaterally. Would we get critisized by the EU or UN any more than we are already?
Bill is also known for cutting taxes in his first two years as Governor. He is also hispanic, and was a former US Congressman and Energy Secretary under Clinton. What an interestingly strong choice for President in 2008 this would be.
Friday, March 04, 2005
They picked the one issue that brings all bloggers, liberal and conservative, left and right, together. Everyone is attacking this, from Atrios and Kos (left) all the way to Powerline and Charles Johnson (right).
In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.The commission is split 3-3 on whether the decision should be appealed. Predictably, it's on partisan lines.
Says Bradley Smith of the commission:
How can the government place a value on a blog that praises some politician?
How do we measure that? Design fees, that sort of thing? The FEC did an advisory opinion in the late 1990s (in the Leo Smith case) that I don't think we'd hold to today, saying that if you owned a computer, you'd have to calculate what percentage of the computer cost and electricity went to political advocacy.
It seems absurd, but that's what the commission did. And that's the direction Judge Kollar-Kotelly would have us move in. Line drawing is going to be an inherently very difficult task. And then we'll be pushed to go further. Why can this person do it, but not that person?
Update: Totten has feelings on this as well.
Another Update: It seems that, related to the Jeff Gannon incident, a blogger sought and got White House press credentials. Which further blurs the line between Blog and Main stream journalism, which should give the FEC pause. (hat tip Instapundit)
President Bush said on Thursday he would focus for now on the financial problems facing Social Security, signaling a shift in tactics amid a slide in support for his private account plan.Ok, that's Reuters talking. Really Bush is not backing off that much.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan made clear Bush was not backing away from private Social Security accounts despite a suggestion by a top Senate Republican they be taken off the table to get a bill this year.That's further down in the article. Cute how journalists do that. Republican Senators are, however, saying that this battle is distracting from the debate about what to do about the program. That's kind of disingenuous, though, as it is part of the debate, not a distraction from it.
Although, when you think about it, this has all forced Dems and Reps to try to calm the issue down by saying that they WILL talk about making changes to the program so that it will retain solvency farther into the future, but not as long as private accounts. If I were the President here, I would be willing to drop the private account issue as long as it forced the Senate to actually do something about the program, like tying benefits to prices or something. That in itself would be a victory.
Or, if it doesn't get the Senate to do anything, it'll make them look really bad and the President really good.
On another note, check out this poll that the Times conducted.
In a New York Times/CBS News poll published on Thursday, 51 percent of respondents said diverting Social Security taxes into private accounts was a bad idea. The number rose to 69 percent when respondents were told the accounts would result in a cut in guaranteed government benefits.Duh. This reflects less on the Times and CBS and their stupid questions designed to get poll numbers that make the president look bad than it does the public answering the questions.
So, really, if I contribute less to the system because I'm contributing more to my own personal account, I can expect less from the government upon retirement? Well, duh, I didn't think the idea was bad before, duh, but now that you put it that way, duh, I definitely think it's a bad idea.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
I thought that I would write up a little about the country of Lebanon this week, as there are happenings there of great historical significance. I have noticed that there have been many articles and blogs talking about the events of the last couple of weeks, with former Prime Minister Hariri being assassinated, the Lebanese people taking to the streets in protest of the Syrian occupation and the current Prime Minister dissolving the current government.
This is not a comprehensive analysis of Lebanese history, nor is it an attempt to bring out all of the relevant historical events that might have some bearing on what is going on over there right now. I am by no means an expert in this area. I just have an interest, and the current media seems content to bring out only the facts they seem to need in order to tell whatever story they want to spin.
Lebanon is a small country in the right place. It is about the size of Connecticut (and for us Oregonians would fit nicely on the west side in the Willamette valley to the coast) but has about 3.7 million people (so it's a might bit more crowded than the Willamette valley), but its location on the Mediterranean sea gives it a favorable status as a trading center. There are a few geographic regions that all stretch north to south (which, again, reminds me of western Oregon, although much drier). From west to east you have the coast, which is very Mediterranean, the Lebanon mountains, the Bekaa valley and the Anti-Lebanon mountains. The mountains are fairly rugged, and in past times have kept the coastal civilizations semi-isolated from the interior. The highest point in Lebanon is Qurnat as Sawda in the Lebanon mountains at 3088m (just over 10,000 feet). The Anti-Lebanon mountains are almost as high and form the border with Syria. The Bekaa valley is where much of the agriculture is, and where the bulk of the Syrian troops have been since the Taif accords were signed.
The area of Lebanon has a history dating back to ancient Phoenicia. You might have read some of that ancient people while you were skimming the Bible. David and Goliath and all that. The people there preceded the Israelites coming out of Egypt, and are thought by some historians to go back as far as 10,000 BC. They had excellent naval navigational skills and basically ruled the Mediterranean. They are also thought to have created the first alphabet.
Next we get into a long period of conquest by other civilizations. First the Assyrians, then Babylonians, Persians, and finally Alexander the Great came through. It is at this point that we see a decline in the Phoenician civilization as they were gradually Hellenized. In 64BC Pompey conquered Phoenicia and it became part of the Roman province of Syria. Because of all this conquering there are many great ancient temples, buildings and other sites dating back to the Greek and Roman periods. Lots of large stone edifices with large columns and stuff.
After the breakup of the Roman empire, Lebanon became part of the Byzantine empire and Christianity became prevalent, until the Muslims came in from the south, and were well received by the inhabitants, who didn't receive the Christianity of the Byzantines well. From this point Lebanon was a part of various Muslim dominated empires, but with Christians, Jews and Muslims living along side one another, often not in peace.
The last of these was the Ottoman empire, which captured the region in about 1515 and held it until WWI. It was in this time that the present form of Lebanon took its shape and was awarded an emerate by the Ottomans to Ahmad Maan about 100 years later.
I'll copy the next part from a history website as it's relevant, and says it better than I can:
When Ahmad Maan died, power passed to the Shihab family, who reigned until 1840, when internal power struggles brought the age of emirs to an end.
In 1842, the Ottomans divided Mount Lebanon into two administrative regions, one Druze and the other Maronite. That they immediately set to squabbling was anticipated and encouraged by the Ottomans, who practiced a 'divide and rule' policy. By 1845, there was open war, not only between Druze and Maronite, but also between peasants and their supposed feudal leaders.
The Ottomans, under pressure from Europe, created a single Lebanese administrative unit under an Ottoman Christian governor and the feudal system was abolished. The system worked, producing stability and economic prosperity until WWI, when Lebanon came under Turkish military rule and suffered a serious famine. Following the Allied victory in 1918, Lebanon came under French rule.
After WWII the Lebanese became independent from France, and for a time became, once again, a major trading center in the region. The problem was that the French had set up the government so that the Maronite Christians held power, and in a country where half the population is Muslim and there were lots of displaced Palestinians due to the conflicts in Israel, you are just asking for trouble. Leftist Muslims wanted power, Right wing Christians didn't want to give it up, and no-one really wanted the Palestinians there. In 1975 Civil war broke out.
The next 20 or so years involved a lot of civil war and high profile hostage taking. On the one hand you had the Muslims and Christians fighting over the government, and Syria coming in (at the Lebanese president's invitation). At the same time you have the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) making occasional attacks into Israel, so that Israel invaded a few times in order to eliminate the Palestinians living in Lebanon. After the second of these Israeli invasions, in 1982, the UN sent a peacekeeping force to prevent more bloodshed on either front.
This is where one of those watershed moments in the history of US involvement in the Middle east comes into play. That anyone in this scenario would drive a truck with explosives, on a suicide mission, into a building with peacekeepers, was probably quite a shock to Americans. So the bombing of the US compound in 1983, killing 241 US marines and 60 French soldiers was our first high profile exposure to what has become a regular fixture in our coverage of events in the Middle east.
Skipping some here. By the turn of the decade, Israel had retreated most of the way (leaving a DMZ at the border), and Syria had established control over most of the country.
Except for another Israeli invasion in the mid nineties, where they bombed several villages and killed many Palestinians, as well as thousands of Lebanese, the Syrians have had a measure of control over the government, due to the Taif agreements in the early nineties, and internal strife has been muted. However, the Lebanese have expressed their desire that now that things are relatively peaceful, that the Syrians pick up and go, which they have not. Last year the United Nations passed Resolution 1559 calling for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and end all influence in Lebanese affairs.
So far Syria has not complied with the resolution, but with Iraqi elections and the assassination of Hariri, the Lebanese people have decided to take a more aggressive approach, and the US has put more political pressure on the Syrians to oblige. Syria still maintains that it is there because the Lebanese government asked it to be (although that was a long time ago) and because the government has yet to implement all of the constitutional reforms of the Taif accord. Now you all can tell me if you think Syria has any place advising another country on constitutional reforms.
Really, with all the joint - Christian and Muslim - protests going on I don't find it hard to believe that the Christians and Muslims can get along in a truly democratic situation. The government and power structures that the French left behind (another great job by the CESM) created a situation where the Christians had the power and the Muslims didn't. If the government is a fair democracy I see both groups getting along for the most part. They've each lived in the region of Lebanon for centuries, and the original civil war was, as is usually the case, more nuanced than just "Christians vs. Muslims."
The government of Lebanon, as provided by a loose constitution created in 1923 (amended in 1992, Taif accords), is a democracy, with three branches. The Judicial branch in this system is pretty weak, as it cannot provide for not judicial review of legislative acts, but can hear accusations against the president and Prime Minister. The Legislature is a single body with 128 seats, elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation, but divided equally among Christians and Muslims (there are 64 of each in the body). They serve 4 year terms.
The Legislature elects the President (currently Emile Lahud), who serves a 6 year term, and the president appoints the PM and the deputy PM.
Interestingly, by agreement, the president is a Maronite Christian, the PM is a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the legislature is a Shiite. I don't know if this will change, because as of last week, PM Omar Karami stepped down and declared the government dissolved. One hopes that the Lebanese will have some free and fair elections soon and not change the system, as it was generally thought that most elected officials were in Syria's back pocket.
Things are looking up, as the protests and demonstrations against the pro-Syrian government have been peaceful, with Christians and Muslims marching side by side in some cases. There have even been some reverberations in Syria. Also note the interview with Syrian opposition leader Farid Ghadry I noted below.
President Lahoud is giving the legislature 48 hours to pick a new Prime Minister, but some are calling for a "neutral" transition government ahead of elections due by the end of May.
This whole event has caused two bickering siblings to put aside differences:
In a rare display of unity, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the holding of free and fair elections there.Here is a nice timeline of events in the Daily Star. Hat tip to PublisPundit.
Farid Ghadry, the president of the Reform Party of Syria (a US based opposition party, pro-democracy) was interviewed by the National Review.
When asked if the Syrian people will be encouraged by the Lebanese uprising, he replies:
In my talks with the Syrians inside Syria, they are resisting demonstrating because as one human-rights activist told me: "President Bush has yet to call for freedom for the Syrian people." The Syrians are afraid to march without the international cover and the encouraging words of our president. We believe that the moment Syria leaves Lebanon, the president will hammer a strategy for Syrians to gain their freedom and democracy away from a culture of violence that is besieging Iraqis, Lebanese, and now Israelis.Wow. One wonders if the Bush administration knew how well their strategy would be in promoting democracy in the entire region by forcing it in only one of them. Can this really work? And can it be applied to Iran? I'm betting the answer is yes.