Monday, March 28, 2005

Friday News Dump

Huf’s favorite website has noted the “Friday news dump” in the past whereby the current administration seems bent on releasing potentially damaging stories on Friday afternoon. The blogger noted during the Campaign 2004 that many of the economy’s missteps were released on Friday afternoons and promptly lost to most news followers. The tactic seemed to work, and the evidence shows that such burial of information continues.

News releases by the administration are usually most interesting on Fridays, and this past holiday weekend they were especially noteworthy. Four fairly significant revelations came out from administration officials on Good Friday. Far be it from me to conjecture on the motivations of various officials, but the timing of the release with the Easter weekend, the Schiavo distraction and other big news items such as the Pope’s health bears some interest.

Saturday morning’s paper contained three stories: “US to sell F-16’s to Pakistan”; “Army investigation uncovers abuse at Mosul jail”; and “Army says 27 Afghans and Iraqis murdered in custody.” As a corollary to the last story, the Army also announced on Friday that 17 US soldiers implicated in some of the prisoners’ deaths would not be tried in court. Perhaps this is all a massive coincidence, but personally, I doubt it. Also this weekend, the conservative Judicial Watch released information from the FBI that after 9/11 Saudi officials and bin Laden family members were indeed given special privilege and flew out on chartered flights before general aviation traffic had resumed. Hmmm… it seems Michael Moore was correct.

Although each of these items seems alarmingly controversial, essentially no news coverage is forthcoming. As Monday rolls around, the media are perseverating on the inane death watch for Terri Shiavo, a woman who for all practical purposes died several years ago. So much for the duty of the fourth estate.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Big Government Stomps!

Big government and slippery slopes

Recently the argument drifted toward smoking bans in restaurants and the dangers of second hand smoke. Proponents of big government are pushing for broader legislation banning various activities in private enterprises, namely, smoking in restaurants and bowling alleys. When first discussed, and as presented Monday night, the ban was to exclude bars and bowling alleys, but no such exclusion exists in this Wayne County iteration.

The strongest argument made by these big government types is that waitstaff workers are exposed to dangerous carcinogens from second-hand smoke and their only protection is to ban smoking in their workplace. However, coal mines, steel mills and chemical plants likewise all expose workers to potentially noxious fumes. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration actually has fairly rigorous statutes regarding which airborne chemicals pose health hazards to workers, with various facemask and air-exchangers available for those workers. If a hazardous chemical from cigarette smoke can be identified, then I am sure our free market system will also provide a mask that will protect workers from it.

“Who is in a better position to determine what restaurant patrons actually want?" asks Tim O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Libertarian Party. "We used to have a couple of powerful institutions in this country called 'private property' and 'the free market.' When you respect those concepts you have a society based on voluntary relationships rather than political muscle. Then you don't have to try and guess what people want -- in order to impose it on them. People vote with their money. If you leave the market free to meet the wishes of consumers, it will do just that. Some restaurants will cater to smokers. Some to nonsmokers. Some to those who don't care one way or the other. Instead of imposing a single standard which must necessarily exclude wishes of some, all preferences can thus be accommodated. And not only will the market show what people want, it will even tell you in exactly what proportion because its natural selection process will replace businesses that do not satisfy the wishes of their customers with ones that do.” For that matter, if restaurant owners want to allow mace and pepper spray, I say go for it, as long as the workers are provided face masks.

Current topics as wide ranging as the Terri Schiavo case and Ten Commandments display bring up interesting corollaries to the big government bullying that we see prevalent today. The tyranny of the majority not only tramples on restaurant owners, but also on the brain-dead. We have blurred the concepts of public and private and now the tyrannical majority, when they fail to win a court interpretation of current law, they scamper down the slippery slope and make new laws that further their various causes, only to be found (thankfully) unconstitutional. In the Federalist Papers, Publius warns that good leaders must ignore bad fads and the citizenry must not be taken in by “the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the avaricious, the deperate, by the artifices of men possessing more confidence than they deserve…” (Federalist 71:2). Publius agrees that the people commonly intend to do good with their laws, even when they err; but deceptive legislators may be different. The judicial and executive branches are designed to protect the minority from the wiles and errors of the majority, however, that does not negate the importance of citizens being ever vigilant for bad laws and self-promoting leaders.

While Terri Schiavo may seem far afield from local smoking bans, the case points out the propensity for “avaricious” legislators to inflict their will upon any issue whatsoever. Even assuming the best of intentions of Mr Delay and Dr Frist, the idea of the federal legislature successfully intervening on a local judicial case is unprecedented. What have the Florida courts been doing the past 15 years in regards to Schiavo? They have been deliberating the issues as they pertain to the best interests of Terri Schiavo, and have tried to ascertain what she would have chosen in this sorry circumstance. The courts have interviewed her physicians, family, friends and co-workers, and have judged that 1) she is in a persistent vegetative state and 2) she had stated on multiple occasions that she wished not to continue living in such a state. After years of careful thought and deliberation, the Florida courts have decided to order the withdrawal the extraordinary means of survival for Terri Schiavo—not because it is popular, nor because the majority want it. The judicial order came because, to the best of their ability, the Florida judges have determined that it is in Terri Schiavo’s best interest.

Enter the bungling Republicans, whose ideas of big government intervention show no limit. Senator Frist, a licensed physician, said that by looking at an undated video of Terri Schiavo, he determined that she was not in a persistent vegetative state. Whoa! Wait a minute! In a recent Boston Globe opinion, Leonard Glantz, a Boston University Public Health professor noted, “Frist's long-distance diagnosis clearly deviates from anything resembling good medical practice. It is nothing short of remarkable that this surgeon, who has never been in the same room with Schiavo, feels free to disregard the diagnosis of the neurologists who have had extensive contact with her and who have been subject to the scrutiny of the Florida courts.” Dr Frist seems to be a man “possessing more confidence than he deserves” just as Publius has warned us two and a half centuries ago. I have always given broad latitude to Frist over the years; perhaps because we are brethren within the same profession. But what does such wild conjecture on his part tell us of his skills at decision-making?

Terri Schiavo’s parents are empathic, loving people who deserve our compassion. Their daughter has been rendered brain-dead and their personal lives have unnecessarily been put on public display for over a decade. Perhaps coming to terms with their daughter’s dire predicament, as well as her wishes would serve them in a positive way. I find it hard to imagine a thoughtful and compassionate physician (or any physician, or any person for that matter) making flagrantly irresponsible statements such as those by Frist, and as part of the public record of the US Senate no less! Alas, Dr Frist has done a great disservice to the portrayal of a medical professional as legislator. I cannot know the intentions of gentlemen such as Delay and Frist, but if their purpose-- whether implicit or explicit-- is to further their political careers at the expense of the Schiavo family, then I would think that we have discovered a new form of evil. And quite frankly, I see no other motive for their legal maneuvers.

The Ten Commandments display is yet another example of the majority enlarging government and attempting to inflict its will on the minority. The Alabama case has been settled, and Judge Roy Moore has been removed from office for refusing to remove a religious display, but the “parasites and sycophants” continue to display the Decalogue in order to promote their own legislative careers. Michigan State Senator Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo) has made the display his personal project, and is promoting the presence of a Ten Commandments display in public buildings. Why? What could be the purpose of such efforts, except for the demagogic appeal to his constituents? The current strategy is to marginally change the display—call it “historical”—thereby quieting the critics. (Never mind that the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with US or Michigan history.) Why does the state government need historical displays about religion? Why should my public buildings be cluttered with irrelevant pseudo-historical chachkas? Again, the big government legislators take another opportunity to enlarge government for suspect reasons. In Hoogendyk’s case, he cannot even make the feeble claim of promoting public health that smoking ban proponents claim; nor can he claim to follow Dr Frist’s (albeit faulty) logic about the best interests of a private citizen. No, Senator Hoogendyk’s demagoguery is pure and unadulterated and devoid of any claim to propriety or sanity.

Perhaps it is time for Republicans to seriously re-think the foundations on which conservative government is founded. To paraphrase Dr. Glantz, these people are not conservative; they are radicals who eagerly ignore the rights and wishes of others. These three cases exhibit the willingness to pander to the emotions and muddled thinking of the political base, when common sense and a cursory review of the US Constitution would indicate that such legislative shenanigans have no other purpose. The current Republican majority clogs our legislative chambers with moronic arguments—and for what? To pass unconstitutional laws that gain them political favor by attempting to limit the rights of private citizens such as bar owners, the brain-dead, or the religiously indifferent? We have already skidded down the slippery slope; can the avalanche be far behind?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gitmo blues

Each day I anxiously check my email inbox for the latest humorous justification of our president’s daffy policies. Last week I was regaled with an essay by Charlie Daniels explaining that the Guantanamo prison camp should be a source of pride for America.

You can follow this link, but the upshot is that these detainees are “killers and terrorists” who are being “fed well” and obtaining “quality medical care” therefore the “left” should just shut up about the unconstitutionality of the prison camp. He then takes the opportunity to bring up Bill Clinton’s deficiencies as the reason for terrorism in the first place. Daniels finishes his senseless diatribe with a potshot at (almost) all lawyers -- his lawyer, of course, is among the few reasonable ones(!) Mr. Daniels conveniently left out this reference about the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose report last fall documented torture in contradiction to both the Geneva Conventions and the US Constitution.

The essay speaks for itself on the utter inability for Bushies to find rational evidence that the current administration policies are achieving anything in accordance with the stated purpose of this nation. Therefore, they send emotional essays designed to garner support for Mr. Bush’s failing policies, such as his Maoist internment camp. I can understand carefully rationalizing Gitmo on the grounds of national security as a temporary means to an eventual end. But instead, Daniels recklessly tries to make the case that the detainees are “better off” by being incarcerated, with no hesitation at all in abrogating human rights based only on some unknown allegations and wildly implying that Constitutional and human rights can be abridged by the fiat of one man. C’mon, Charlie, you must certainly have heard of Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet Gulag Archipelago and winced at the prospect of the government’s proverbial midnight knock on the door followed by the disappearance of fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins into decades’ long internment with no day in court. As Americans who have lived through the cold war, we must all still remember the disdain with which we greeted such horror stories and a previous US president who referred to it’s perpetrators as the “evil empire.” Are we now sending our own young men and women to fight wars in order to justify similar imprisonment at the hands of our own government? On the one hand, I read such email because it keeps me abreast of what the unwashed masses are percolating through their tiny redneck minds. But frankly, some things I would rather not know; this world is scary enough without Mr. Daniels sharpening the fine point of our national misdirection.

The Bush supporters who send such trash are monolithic in their wanton lack of insight regarding history and the failures of previous empires. If only one could seek the counsel of Caesar Augustus or Winston Churchill on the folly of trying to impose outside government in the Near East. I imagine that the Bush supporters are emboldened by the recent elections in Iraq as proof of the impending success of the president’s experiment in pre-emption and imposed democracy. Any student of history will tell you that we are in the second inning of this game, and their best hitters are just warming up. The resentment and strife caused by US’ heavy-handed support of despots does not go unnoticed among the masses in that part of the world. I would recommend the reading of Thucydides’ classic The Peloponnesian Wars (or at least review the Cliff’s notes) for further evidence of the difficulties of imposed government and peace through force. For a more readable review of the history of such failed missions, John Judis’ recent Folly of Empire would be appropriate.

Somehow, however, I have a feeling that anybody who would go to the trouble of actually emailing an essay about Constitutional law by Charlie Daniels is certainly not interested in any type of intellectual distillation of history. I can imagine this person reading Daniels’ rant and thinking, “Hmmm, this makes so much sense. I just have to email it everyone I know so they can feel proud of Bush shredding the Constitution, too.” Weird.

Over the past several years, I have become amazed at the utter lack of curiosity by the most vocal Bush supporters. My email inbox has been the resting place of innumerable anti-Hillary cartoons and John Kerry jokes, but rarely is a serious policy piece sent or discussed. At times I have been encouraged that the diatribes were meant just to get a response out of the opposition (i.e., me), and perhaps that was the primary purpose of the Daniels email. But on further review of past emails and discussion, I can honestly say that almost no thoughtful discussion has taken place. I love jokes and sarcasm as much as the next guy, but an occasional Dan Henninger or Charles Krauthammer opinion could provide some meat to chew on. Instead, prior to the Iraq War in 2003, this same emailer who forwarded the Daniels piece sent an article by a stockbroker stating that we had to attack Iraq because it would have been too expensive to bring the soldiers home now after all the trouble of deploying them during the winter of 2002-03. Then, of course, the author finished his spiel about how March of 2003 was a “great time” to start buying stocks. Sales pitches by stockbrokers seem to pass for policy discussion about the most important decisions made by our president. No wonder Bush got re-elected after such a total cluster fuck of a first term.

Needless to say, I am increasingly unimpressed with the dialogue by Bush supporters such as Mr. Daniels and the current emailer. Almost all of it is sophomoric blather that is based on irrational beliefs or jingoist emotion. Whether it’s abstinence-only education and the perceived value of faith-based federal programs or the fatal miscalculation that US soldiers would be warmly greeted as “liberators” in Iraq, Bush and his ilk seem to fail on every argument. The latest salvo against the Social Security pseudo-crisis is another testament to irrational fear mongering and lack of insight. Imagine what the $200 billion dollars wasted in Iraq could have done to shore up Social Security (or Medicare, or Medicaid, or any one of about 20 federal programs that are probably in worse shape than Social Security.)

The American people are a forgiving lot. Most seem to favor the simplistic way Bush envisions the world without seeing the absurdity of it. After the US supported Saddam, the Shah of Iran and the Saudi despots for several decades, Bush and 52% of the American people actually thought that the Iraqi people would throw flower petals the as the US soldiers paraded in their tanks and half-tracks down streets of Baghdad. How simple. How beautiful. How predictably wrong. You can say what you want about Clinton, but he was never that stupid. Even the usually delusional French look downright lucid next to the Bushies.

I will wrap this up. In the future, while you are perusing the Wall Street Journal, AP reports and the Washington Post, perhaps a quick forward of a valid opinion piece would be in order. I’m pretty sure our nation doesn’t need legal advice from the country music crowd. What’s next, fellas, a personal finance seminar by Neil Bush?