Monday, May 31, 2010

Raid on Ship

While the rest of the world condemns Israel, it would be useful to keep some things in perspective:

1. we don't as of yet know if the "humanitarian" mission was used to disguise an arms shipment to the Gaza

2. we don't know if the humanitarians have any knowledge of any arms shipment

3. we don't know if the Israeli's assertions concerning an alternative means for delivering the aforementioned humanitarian aid were actually made

4. we don't know if the Israeli's assertion about who fired first are true or not

5. we don't know whether the knives that were used were for their own protection or a part of the stash that could have been delivered to Gaza

6. we do know that the Gaza Strip is administered by Hamas, a terrorist organization that has called for and fights for the abolition of the Israeli state.

7. we do know that Israel is surrounded by countries populated by those who hate them and do no believe they have a right to their own country.

8. we do know that the leaders of those countries will only allow their people to assemble when they will use that time to express their rage and hate at the Israeli people and its government as a whole.

9. we do know that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proven, over the course of his two stints as his country's leader, that he has no interest in restarting the peace negotiations.

10. we know that the the Israeli administration, under Benjamin Netanyahu, continues to permit settlement expansion on land that ultimately will be ceded or traded for land that will have to be ceded to a future Palestinian state.

11. We do know that the incident occurred in international waters and not in water that is claimed by Gaza or Israel.

12. We don't know if the reaction from the European nations would have been any different if the incident took place in Israeli waters.

13. We don't know why the Israelis chose to raid the ship while it was not in Israeli waters. The Israelis say they were attacked, and consequently that those who were on the ship were prepared to fight back. We don't know if this was because the Israelis warned them of the pending raid or if they spotted the Israelis from afar. If they were spotted from afar, waiting until the ship entered Israeli territory would have exposed Israeli troops to an unnecessary loss in human lives while the ship's crew armed themselves.

14. We do know that Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right and a responsibility to defend its territorial integrity and the people who claim citizenship within it.

15. We do know that the Gazans have a right to humanitarian aid.

At this point we can neither condemn nor defend the Israelis for the raid.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dumb Caption Award

The following was found on The Guardian's web site.

Perfect pitch
Cape Town's Green Point Stadium

With 530 toilets, 16 lifts and a jail, Cape Town's Green Point stadium is the jewel in South Africa's World Cup crown. Will it be a sure-fire winner or an expensive own goal, asks Jonathan Glancey

I guess it would depend upon the size, shape and style of the World Cup stadium's toilets.

Those Who Came the Legal Way

get screwed but the illegals get pity and strong support for a "pathway to citizenship."

“I love America,” Mr. Franks said, but he has become embittered because their hard work and frugal ways seem to count for nothing.

“You can go from ‘illegal’ to ‘green card holder,’ but we’re going from ‘legal’ to ‘no way you can get a green card,’ ” he said. “We did it wrong. If we came here illegally, we’d have a chance of becoming citizens.”
from The New York Times

Is something wrong with this picture? They had a self-sustaining business for 9 years. Sure, the recession hit them (like it hit nearly everybody). They weren't on welfare and yet we are booting them out. And yet illegals have the audacity to ask for citizenship. I swear. Whenever an illegal approaches one of our Congress men and women they should get a copy of this article and ask them why they should get what we have denied to those who had enough respect to follow our laws. Then that local Congressman or woman should give the illegal the finger.

So what would Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois), who defend those illegal swine, have to say to the British restaurant owners:

"I think, in the absence of a holistic approach to comprehensive immigration reform, it really isn't going to solve the problem. I think you've probably been to a graduation or two. So have I. We know that thousands of those students that come here on student visas aren't going home. It's summer. We see all the tourists here in Washington, D.C. We know that thousands of those tourists aren't going home. We know that there are workers that come here on temporary work permits; we know they're not all going home. Forty percent of all the undocumented workers, our undocumented population, came here legally to this country and have overstayed their visas. So even if you shut down the border, it isn't going to answer the total question. So what I'm proposing is that we look at it from a holistic perspective."

I guess that would be his answer. Don't follow the rules. Just come here because we won't enforce the laws if you don't leave.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

BP Another Warning

Like the mining accident that nearly everyone forgot about, the BP oil leak in the Gulf provides further proof that businesses cannot be expected to police themselves. Corporate citizenship, if it ever existed as an ideal, is now a thing of the past. We need untainted government oversight that has been lacking from the Mineral Management Agency. Corporations do what they can to maximize profit and they will do so whether that is in our best interests or not. Remember this incident, like the tragic mining accidents we hear about every two or three years, and the stock market collapse on Wall Street when Republicans and conservatives in general talk about small government and eliminating red tape. Some of those regulations which the Republicans dismiss as socialist "big brother" programs are designed to protect us from corporate malfeasance.

BP's "top kill" plan has apparently failed so it will now install a cap container to minimize (and not stop) oil seepage until liquids and cement can be poured into the relief wells now under construction. Relief wells have worked in the past but it will take months (August at the earliest) before the they can be utilized.

When this crisis first began, some conservatives tried to minimize the risks associated with off shore drilling by noting that such accidents rarely occur. The devastation that we are face in the Gulf reminds us, however, of what we face if and when that rare accident occurs. The fishermen in Louisiana have lost their livelihood. The entire ecosystem, including the Everglades in Florida, is at risk. Tourism in the Gulf region will go down and no one yet knows how this will affect the restaurant industry, particularly that segment which specializes in providing seafood.

At a minimum, companies which seek to drill oil in the industry should be expected to build relief wells before they begin their drilling so that these spills can be contained within a matter of hours (or worst days) and not months or weeks. The president said he is extending the moratorium on permits to drill new deep water wells for more than six months.

At this point the president should go much further. Since any and every oil spill can affect the nation's economy and ecosystem as a whole the president should instruct those who would like to acquire such permits to build relief wills before they can drill for oil and see what, if anything they can do to get those who currently operate oil rigs within our economic zone to build them as well. Those who seek to drill for oil should be required to have the means to avert and if need be, minimize the damage caused by accidents of their own making.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

DADT Compromise Watered Down Too Much

What's the point to having a second vote from Congress? Either Congress votes for a repeal that gives the president and the Defense Department the time it needs to implement it correctly or it holds the vote after the report comes out. Gay Americans have pressed Congress to act now since our chances at getting the stupid law repealed dwindle after the Democrats lose their seats in Congress. U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), though, is providing the Democrats too much cover by letting them tell their constituents that they have have fulfilled their vow to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" but then let them back out with the second vote that occurs after the November elections.
Sorry. No dice. One vote would do.

McDonnell's Brand of moderate Republicanism Isn't All That Moderate

First Governor Robert McDonnell (R-Virginia) went after the gays by repealing an executive order barring anti-gay discrimination against state employees. Then he offended the African American community by honoring those who have died for the Confederacy without ever mentioning the stain that led them to fight for it (slavery). He obviously apologized for that one. Now the governor has appointed a Nixon (as in former President Richard M. Nixon) aide who, during his time serving in the White House, drew up a list of employees he considered to be Jewish (since the president at that time thought the Jews were after him) to serve on a government reform committee.
Oh and the aid who will serve on this government reform committee paid a $100,000 fine to the SEC for his investment firm's work for the Connecticut pension fund done 12 years ago.

How Too Many Liberals Think: Border Patrol as " Leverage"

"They said that in focusing first on border security, Mr. Obama might be giving up his best leverage for winning approval of broader but more politically contentious steps to address the status of the millions of immigrants already in the United States illegally, and the needs of employers who rely on their labor." from The New York Times

The amnesty-advocates really don't get it. The president isn't supposed to use the intensity in which he controls our border as "leverage" to extract concessions for people who have violated the law in the process of coming to (or remaining in) the United States. As the chief law enforcer of the land, the president is supposed to secure our borders because it is the law and sending more patrol officers to the border is a part of his constitutional mandate to protect this country from those who would enter the country illegally, for whatever reason.

Mr. Obama really has no legal choice in the matter. Whether he gets the amnesty bill that he want or not, the president has to secure our borders. He cannot threaten to withhold enforcement of laws he doesn't like to extract concessions for something that he wants and still claim (with any legitimacy) that he is impartially upholding the laws of the land.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two Schools, One Building, Two Stories

from The New York Times' magazine last Sunday

A building on 118th Street is one reason that the parents who are Perkins’s constituents know that charters can work. On one side there’s the Harlem Success Academy, a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade charter with 508 students. On the other side, there’s a regular public school, P.S. 149, with 438 pre-K to 8th-grade students. They are separated only by a fire door in the middle; they share a gym and cafeteria. School reformers would argue that the difference between the two demonstrates what happens when you remove three ingredients from public education — the union, big-system bureaucracy and low expectations for disadvantaged children.

On the charter side, the children are quiet, dressed in uniforms, hard at work — and typically performing at or above grade level. Their progress in a variety of areas is tracked every six weeks, and teachers are held accountable for it. They are paid about 5 to 10 percent more than union teachers with their levels of experience. The teachers work longer than those represented by the union: school starts at 7:45 a.m., ends at 4:30 to 5:30 and begins in August. The teachers have three periods for lesson preparation, and they must be available by cellphone (supplied by the school) for parent consultations, as must the principal. They are reimbursed for taking a car service home if they stay late into the evening to work with students. There are special instruction sessions on Saturday mornings. The assumption that every child will succeed is so ingrained that (in a flourish borrowed from the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a national charter network) each classroom is labeled with the college name of its teacher and the year these children are expected to graduate (as in “Yale 2026” for one kindergarten class I recently visited). The charter side of the building spends $18,378 per student per year. This includes actual cash outlays for everything from salaries to the car service, plus what the city says (and the charter disputes) are the value of services that the city contributes to the charter for utilities, building maintenance and even “debt service” for its share of the building.

On the other side of the fire door, I encounter about a hundred children at 9:00 a.m. watching a video in an auditorium, having begun their school day at about 8:30. Others wander the halls. Instead of the matching pension contributions paid to the charter teachers that cost the school $193 per student on the public-school side, the union contract provides a pension plan that is now costing the city $2,605 per year per pupil. All fringe benefits, including pensions and health insurance, cost $1,341 per student on the charter side, but $5,316 on this side. For the public-school teachers to attend a group meeting after hours with the principal (as happens at least once a week on the charter side) would cost $41.98 extra per hour for each attendee, and attendance would still be voluntary. Teachers are not obligated to receive phone calls from students or parents at home. Although the city’s records on spending per student generally and in any particular school are difficult to pin down because of all of the accounting intricacies, the best estimate is that it costs at least $19,358 per year to educate each student on the public side of the building, or $980 more than on the charter side.

Note the difference in expectations. The charter school expects more of their teachers and students and has the means of evaluating their teachers. The public school expects far less from the students and the teachers.

Palin and BP

Former Governor Sarah Palin told the FOX News Channel that the media in general should be questioning Obama administration about its ties to the oil industry:

"I don't know why the question isn't asked by the mainstream media and by others if there's any connection with the contributions made to President Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration,”the former governor said on FOX News Sunday.

She should count herself among the last Republicans to talk about the president's connections to the oil companies, given her exhortations to "drill baby drill" while stumping for Senator (and then presidential nominee) John McCain (R-Arizona).

DADT Compromise

Congressional Democrats, the president, and officials at the Pentagon have apparently reached a compromise that would allow the Democrats to vote on a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal this week. Gay Americans have pressured Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House to fulfill their vow to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

The president said he would work to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this year but had, up to now, backed his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' effort to postpone such a vote until a study which he commissioned was finished later this year. The defense secretary said there were smart and "stupid" ways to change policies at large, bureaucratic institutions and considered a vote to lift the ban before the study was completed, "stupid."

Gays who backed the president in the primary and general election, however, feared that their opportunities to lift the ban would dwindle after the midterm elections, particularly if the Democrats lose control of either House on Capitol Hill. Some liberal bloggers have posted moving letters, some written by gay Americans who served, and others by their relatives, calling for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Congress would get a vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" next week but the change in policy would not go into effect until the the study was completed and after both, the White House and Defense Department, certify that lifting the ban would not hurt our national security. The Department of Defense gets to implement the repeal on its own time line using its own strategy while the Democrats on Congress can tell their constituents they have fulfilled their promise. Gay soldiers, in the meantime, wouldn't have to pretend they are straight, thereby depriving their loved ones of any information coming from the front lines, and the Department can save itself the time and costs associated with training any replacements needed after the removal of a gay soldier.

This compromise, however, appears to be unraveling. The Secretary of Defense undermined the case for a repeal when the Pentagon released a tepid endorsement for a repeal. Through his spokesman, Gates said he "can accept the language in the proposed amendment." Gates "can accept" but not endorse" the compromise proposed by Congress and he will "accept" the compromise only because Congress has indicated "that it would not be possible" to hold a vote on repealing DADT before the review is completed.

Should this compromise fail, the blame will lie with the White House and the Defense Secretary for providing moderate to conservative Democrats who fear the Tea Party's wrath cover to vote to uphold "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and once again, a promise which the Democrats have made to the gay community (and other constituents who may have voted for them) will remain unfulfilled.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Primary Voters Still Want Change They Can Believe in

Today primary voters in Pennsylvania and Kentucky ignored the party establishments' recommendations and voted for the outsider. Kentucky's Republicans selected Dr. Rand Paul over Trey Grayson, the candidate backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Jack Conway, the more liberal of the two Democrats running in that primary, edged out Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo in a closely fought election.

Further north, Democrats selected U.S. Representative Joe Sestak (D) as their party's nominee for the seat now held by his rival, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), effectively ending his senate career. No major in the Democratic establishment would successfully convince Pennsylvania's Democratic voters that Specter was a Democrat and when the president saw the writing on the wall two days ago, his "fierce advocacy" for the senator (as "fierce" as his support for true health care reform, gay rights, and the environment) came to an end.

As expected, embattled Senator Blanch Lincoln failed to clinch her party's nomination. She will face Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who ran to her left, in a runoff election held in June 8.

Republican and Democratic incumbents in Washington should take note. The voters who came out today wanted candidates they can believe in. They wanted candidates who will stand up for the values they believe in. They didn't want a Republican-in-Name-Only or a Democrat-in-Name-Only. They identify as Republicans and Democrats for a reason and the people in both parties, whether they come from the right or from the left, are mad because they believe that the leaders in Washington aren't looking out for them. They see Wall Street getting bailed out while they struggle to keep their homes and they see bills that are designed to help them getting watered down to appease the powerful interest groups that have a stake in the outcome.

The tea party activists believe that the Republicans in Washington are a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. They saw Republicans create a new entitlement program, bail out Wall Street, and mire us in two, excessively expensive wars. The Democratic activists on the left are mad because they saw their party, the party now in power, discard the Democratic agenda they ran on. The president's advisers should remind him that he too ran against the establishment (at that time, backing then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton), on an agenda for change, lest he face a liberal-backed Democratic primary challenger in 2012.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Very Important Detail in the Teen Sentencing Ruling

"A State is not required to guarantee eventual freedom to a juvenile offender convicted of a nonhomicide crime. What the State must do, however, is give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. It is for the State, in the first instance, to explore the means and mechanisms for compliance. It bears emphasis, however, that while the Eighth Amendment forbids a State from imposing a life without parole sentence on a juvenile nonhomicide offender, it does not require the State to release that offender during his natural life. Those who commit truly horrifying crimes as juveniles may turn out to be irredeemable, and thus deserving of incarceration for the duration of their lives. The Eighth Amendment does not foreclose the possibility that persons convicted of nonhomicide crimes committed before adulthood will remain behind bars for life. It does forbid States from making the judgment at the outset that those offenders never will be fit to reenter society." Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court in Graham v. Florida.

States can still sentence juveniles who commit non-homicidal crimes to life in prison as long as they provide them with an opportunity for regularly scheduled parole hearings.

I personally never cared for some of the reasoning Kennedy employed in Roper v. Simmons. To me, the court employed some reasoning, some sound (diminished capacity) and some unsound (international standards, evolving standards of decency) to reach the right judgment (minors cannot be sentenced to death). I cannot help but think of what the Chief Justice, who voted with the majority in overturning Graham's life sentence, had to say here:

"So much for Graham. But what about Milagro Cunningham, a 17-year-old who beat and raped an 8-year-old girl before leaving her to die under 197 pounds of rock in a recycling bin a remote landfill. ... Or Nathan Walker and Jackaris Taylor, the Florida juveniles who together with their friends gang-raped a woman and forced her to perform oral sex on her 12-year old son? The fact that Graham cannot be sentenced to life without parole for his conduct says nothing whatever about these offenders, or others like them who commit nonhomicide crimes far more reprehensible than conduct at issue here."

or here:

"A more restrained approach is especially appropriate in light of the Court's apparent recognition that it is perfectly legitimate for a juvenile to receive a sentence of life without parole for committing murder. This means that there is nothing inherently unconstitutional about imposing sentences of life without parole on juvenile offenders; the constitutionality of such sentences depends on the particular crimes for which they are imposed."

Now, the Chief Justice joined the majority in overturning Graham's sentence and compared the severely long sentence he got lighter sentences for crimes far more heinous than his own:

Graham's sentence was far more severe than that imposed for similar violations of Florida law, even without taking juvenile status into account. For example, individuals who commit burglary or robbery offenses in Florida receive average sentences of less than 5 years and less than 10 years, respectively. Unsurprisingly, Florida's juvenile criminals receive similarly low sentences - typically less than 5 years for burglary and less than seven years for robbery. Graham's life without parole sentence was far more severe than the average sentence imposed on those convicted of murder or manslaughter, who typically receive under 25 years in prison. As the Court explained in Solem, "if more serious crimes are subject to the same penalty, or to less serious penalties, that is some indication that the punishment at issue is excessive."

So. Graham got a raw deal. He deserved to get his sentence overturned and a shot at parole. Count me with the Chief Justice on this one.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Some Brief Election Recommendations

In Pennsylvania: Senator Arlen Specter has represented his state well and deserves our praise for siding with the president on the economic stimulus package at great political cost in our time of need. This politically risky vote cost him his support from the Republican Party that he belonged to for the bulk of his political career and align himself with the Democrats. Given his moderate voting record, and his support for the stimulus package no one can be faulted for rewarding the senior senator with another six-year term. Pennsylvania's voters, however, should vote for U.S. Representative Joe Sestak, whose values and voting record is more in line with the Democratic Party's agenda and values. Democrats who voted for "change we can believe in" in 2010 should take this opportunity to send the president, who has endorsed Specter, the message that they are still waiting and have no problem sending him a representative who will forcefully fight for that agenda.

In Arkansas: For similar reasons, Democrats should oust Senator Blanche Lincoln in favor of their state's Lieutenant Governor, Bill Halter. Senator Lincoln voted against the president's health care program. Though it was seriously flawed, the alternative, doing nothing, was much worse. Halter eventually supported the bill. His views are more in line with the Democratic Party's support for the the lower and middle class working Americans.

In California: Former Slate magazine blogger Mickey Kaus has virtually no chance of unseating Senator Barbara Boxer in their state's primary but he offers voters who dissent from the Democrats' policies on union contracts and immigration a chance to let their representatives in Washington know that we are in dire need of reform on both fronts. Our public schools have been failing the children that live in urban school districts abysmally and that won't change unless we see more support for charter schools, and a serious restructuring if not the outright elimination of teacher tenure. Our legal representatives in Washington must also know that true immigration reform means border control. Our children cannot support Boxers' votes for the teachers unions and amnesty for illegal immigration. Even if Kaus fails to unseat Boxer, his supporters can win attention from Washington with a strong showing.

in Arizona: J.D. Hayworth's conservative stance on immigration is more in line with his state party's base and with this country's needs for immigration reform but Republicans who go to the polls this Tuesday should still pull the lever, albeit reluctantly, for Senator John McCain. Though he comes across as an old, and bitter man who has surrendered his principles (however flawed or misguided they may have been) and his brand (the maverick) in his attempt to hold onto his seat, he did not, unlike Hayworth, align himself with the "birthers" and anyone who believes that our president's racial complexion makes his citizenship credentials suspect. Voters who question McCain's commitment to border control should note that Hayworth's alignment with this movement could do more to undermine our cause for tighter border control than McCain's unbelievable shift to the right.

in Kentucky: Rand Paul's libertarian anti-government outlook may seem radical to those of us who believe the government could serve as our friend as much as our enemy, but it is far more preferable than the corporatist agenda backed by the Republican establishment. He did not support the Wall Street bail out that saved the economy and his call for the abolition of the Federal Reserve may seem too radical but Paul at least offers a philosophical outlook grounded in basic fairness. No one gets hurt and no one gets helped. Kentucky's Secretary of State, has Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's backing. His opposition to the war in Iraq and his instinct to withhold support for elective warfare is also preferable to the establishment's neoconservative agenda. Voters in Kentucky should send the Republicans in Washington a message by pulling the lever for the man who is not backed by the establishment.