Saturday, August 29, 2009

Facing Off

“His face bespoke his soul”

French Philosopher and Writer

“A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face
is her work of fiction.” *
Oscar Wilde

Irish Poet, Novelist, Dramatist and Critic

Facebook has become a rallying place for those opposing the career of Alberto Gonzales, who will teach his first class as a visiting professor at Texas Tech on August 31st. Some of the groups originate from Texas Tech, like the 150 member "Alberto Gonzales Doesn't Belong at Texas Tech" started by "TT" alum Jason Rhodes.

Another similar group is the one started by Texas Tech alum David Ring , who is a former student of Professor Walter Schaller, the professor who originated the petition against the hiring of Gonzales. The petition, signed by some 88 professors at Texas Tech, as of last check, is in protest to his visiting professorship, at the salary of $100,000 for one year. The unusually lucrative visiting professorship for Gonzales, who has never taught a college class before in his life and who will be teaching a single class of 15 undergraduate students, could have paid for two far more highly qualified visiting professors with actual teaching experience and academic credentials.

Others who object to Gonzales and are organizing through face book are more generic in their opposition. Groups like the 56 member "Alberto Gonzales should spend the rest of his worthless life in prison".

Groups address not only disapproval of Gonzales himself, but of those individuals who served as his staff, joining him in participating in what many view to be unethical, and possibly illegal conduct, like the groups which seek to have Gonzales right-hand man Ted Ullyot fired from his position on the legal staff of Facebook, "We demand that Facebook fire Alberto Gonzales' right hand man, Ted Ullyot" and the 14 member "Justice Starts Here, Tell Facebook to fire Alberto Gonzales Lap Dog".

As specific as the antipathy is to Ted Ullyot, it is sparklingly clear that the objection is even greater to the actions of Alberto Gonzales. Then there is the 3,425 member group "Demand that Facebook General Counsel Ullyot resign'" and the group "Free Facebook: No Alberto Gonzales, No Ted Ullyot as General Counsel".

There are even more groups on Facebook which object to Gonzales not only individually, or to the unusually cushy teaching position given to him by his close political friend Chancellor Kent Hance. These groups are a bit more broadly based in their opposition to Gonzales, and are even sometimes a bit scurrilous. With titles like (I ask the readers pardon) the 12 member "Alberto Gonzales Can Suck my Dick" and the 3 member "Alberto Gonzales Is A Demented Child Rapist", these myriad groups more generally are in opposition to ALL of the Bush administration alums, and therefore prominently include opposition to Gonzales.

It remains to be seen in the coming weeks, especially beginning with Gonzales' first day of class at TT at the end of the month, how effective these Facebook organized movement will be at influencing Gonzales future career at Texas Tech. Unconfirmed rumors abound that Chancellor Hance has hopes of extending the term of Gonzales term as a professor, after the speculation that there was strong faculty opposition against hiring him to teach within the law school, and possibly a failure as well to see him installed as Dean. The scope of the Facebook groups alone in opposition to him is extensive. If it will also be effective in countering the clout of Chancellor Hance on Gonzales’s behalf remains to be seen - but it should be fun to watch.

* I have always enjoyed this quotation, and couldn't resist using it here, although perhaps less apt than other quotations.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Words Are Not Always as They Seem

These days, two words are becoming increasingly part of the vocabulary when discussing the health care debate looming in the US Congress. These words are Filibuster and Reconciliation. Both only directly apply to the US Senate, but some constitutional and historical background is in order.

The Constitution of the US, Article I, Section 5 states, inter alia, "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member." This means that both the House of Representatives and the Senate have their own set of rules for the conduct of debate.

In the House of Representatives, debate for each bill is decided in the rules committee and then the majority in the House then passes the Rule for that particular bill. Debate is often quite limited, and there hasn't been a filibuster in the US House of Representatives in over 150 years.

The US Senate is another matter. The US Senate has its own set of rules, which includes Rule XIV (The rule prescribing the conduct of debate, and stating that a Senator may not speak more than twice on a legislative day (which is not the same thing as a calendar day)). Rule XIV does not provide for any way to end debate, and it is that lack of an ending which allows a filibuster to continue as a way to obstruct or totally defeat legislation, even legislation which would pass if put to a simple majority vote. Filibusters used to require that the senator engaging in a filibuster stay on the floor and keep speaking during the term of the filibuster. However, that rule has been removed, and now a filibuster can simply be declared by a senator and it requires a cloture vote to remove. It would probably reduce considerably the number of filibusters engaged in by both parties if the senators were actually required to stay in attendance, on the floor of the senate, for the entire time of the filibuster.

Rule XXII, however, provides for a procedure known as cloture, whereupon the written motion of 16 senators, a vote upon cloture will be held. If 3/5 of the members of the senate vote in favor, then debate ends. Technically, debate can continue for up to another 30 hours, but members are then limited to 1 hour to speak on a bill. In actual practice, debate on the bill ends when cloture is approved, and the matter is then scheduled for a vote.

Until the passing of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Democratic party held a 60 vote majority in the senate, which meant that an almost certain Republican filibuster of the health care reform bill would supposedly fail. Yet, that is by no means certain. The Democratic majority in the Senate is not as united as the Republicans. This is due, in large part, to there being both conservative, moderate and liberal Democrats. There are also a number of fiscally conservative democrats who have grave questions about the health care proposal (as does this author). The Republican party, however, seems to be constantly getting more conservative, almost rabidly so, despite the claim of some of its leaders that its a party of inclusion. However, that is for a different topic. Its questionable at this time whether even were Sen. Kennedy still alive, that a vote on cloture would succeed. The Republican minority has, for the most part, been very vocal against the Democratic health care proposal, spreading a huge amount of misinformation and outright lies, and President Obama has not exhibited good leadership in pushing health care reform by placating wavering Democrats.

I do believe however, if a simple majority vote were taken, that the health care reform act, (some version of it anyway) would pass the US Senate.

The other word being brought forth from time to time is Reconciliation. Now, most of us, when we hear that word, understand its common meaning of to bring together. In the context of the current debate over health care reform, reconciliation would strip the Republicans of the ability to filibuster the health care reform bill(s). Thus, it would do anything except bring together, and would undoubtedly serve to further polarize the two parties.

Congress, acting under its authority in Article I, Section 5 to enact the rules of each house, introduced the concept of reconciliation in the Congressional Impoundment and Budget Control Act of 1974. The process is fairly simple: A concurrent resolution is passed which directs that a committee shall consider a bill that contains the provisions ordered in the resolution. Following that, the committee reports the bill to the Senate, and debate on the bill is then limited to no more than 20 hours. This effectively removes the ability to filibuster and guarantees a further vote on the bill. All bills are still subject to a simple majority vote in the US Senate.

Reconciliation was originally intended to allow budget matters to be passed over the objection of the minority party to help prevent budget impasse (Recall California's nightmare of recent memory) . However, any bill which is affecting revenues can be introduced under reconciliation, its not uncommon for bills to deal with a multitude of topics. The Byrd Rule (2 USC 644) provides areas which will normally allow an objection to parts of a bill under reconciliation. If crafted carefully, however, I believe that a health care reform bill could still be passed under reconciliation and survive the legislative process. The predicted court challenge to the bill would probably be denied by the courts as a political question, and our judiciary doesn't answer political questions such as this.

The Senate Democratic leadership has already given notice to the Republicans that reconciliation is an option if the Republicans do not cooperate. The Republicans, who will undoubtedly cry foul, will recall that it was the Republicans who have used, repeatedly, the process of reconciliation to pass matters relating to huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which little if any tax relief for the middle class. Further, fair notice was provided in April, 2009 when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) informed the Senate Minority leader that he would consider reconciliation if the Republicans were not willing to compromise and to cooperate on health care reform. To date, the Republicans have seem to adopted a strategy they have tried to foist on millions of young Americans about drugs and alcohol: Just Say No! I can always hope that the Republicans will eventually realize that they must deal with this and not stick their fingers in their ears while screaming NO much longer, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.

Definitions: Inter alia Latin: Among other things

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy

Last evening, a man who worked tirelessly for a better America, died. Whether you liked or hated his politics, it is hard to envision one man who better defined the idea of having a compassionate heart. I admired this man's genuine Christian charity and his willingness to face problems head on. I will miss his unique voice, and feel we will not see his like again for a long time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Father's Little Dividend - part 2

"Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact."
Henry James

"Do not be too timid and squeamish about your reactions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was three years old, I had a conversation with my mother about losing baby teeth as I grew older, and how permanent teeth would replace them. My mother began to tell me about how the tooth fairy would visit. I was very interested in learning the details about losing my 'baby teeth', which ones would come out first, and so on. But when my mother tried to explain to me about the tooth fairy, I was mischievous. I had friends with older siblings who had 'visits' from the tooth fairy. A sweet but none the less mercenary child, I paid very close attention to the differing amounts that the older siblings received. I had observed that different kids got different amounts of cash for the same teeth.

I asked my mother to explain why that was. In fact, I did not for one moment believe in the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny, or Santa Clause either. I had worked it out quite logically; it had never seemed to me to be the slightest bit plausible, and as nearly as I can tell, I was born a skeptic. Being a somewhat mercenary child, as I have already mentioned, I also worked out, logically, that so long as the adults were enjoying themselves it was more likely that revealing that I did not believe the fantasies would end them: no more Santa Claus presents under the tree, no more Easter baskets, and clearly no loot for outgrown teeth. Bringing up the different amounts received initially seemed like an interesting negotiating tactic. But as the actual loss of teeth was a few years away, it was premature to haggle as to how much the tooth fairy MIGHT bring then, and leave under my pillow. So, instead, wicked child that I was, I led my poor, dear mother through a series of questions intending to tie her up in logical knots trying to explain the discrepancies. (Cut me some slack here, we were in the car, and I'd been well behaved for hours and hours of shopping; I was BORED out of my mind.) After I had tortured my wonderful mother long enough with my series of leading questions, I finally just folded my arms across my chest, and in dramatic exasperation, I told my mother point blank that I knew full well there was no Santa, no Easter bunny and no Tooth Fairy, along with a few other myths that I felt needed exploding. My mother tried to persuade me, passionately, but all she got from me was the big blue eyed stare that clearly indicated I wasn't buying it, and no amount of persuading was going to sell it to me. I made it clear to her that I had never at any time believed. Her concern was that older children had perhaps spoiled the fun for me. I was quite stern when I told her that I did not think it was a bit funny to exploit the trust of little kids, most of whom believed what adults told them - unlike me. And I expressed my considered opinion that those 'cute little stories' were actually lies, and those kids who did believe would just feel stupid and disappointed later.

So, I proposed a deal to my mother, that I still get all the loot from the various holidays, and the proceeds from losing my teeth, but I didn't have to pretend any more. I felt quite strongly my intelligence had been insulted in being expected to swallow those childish traditions, and I was not shy in expressing it. In exchange, I promised NOT to tell any other children, accepting my mother's premise that it was a matter between parents and their children. The no Santa Clause negotiation, the getting rid of babysitters I didn't like, a certain misadventure going visiting some distance away from home on my tricycle, all suggested to my poor unsuspecting parents that I might differ, significantly, from their expectations of child rearing. Life for my parents was one long roller coaster ride of 'guess what (the hell) she did now'.

Actually, I did once make my own roller coaster, and even persuaded my friends to join me riding on it, until my mother rather hysterically made us stop. My father had bought my mother a beautiful new car, which was parked in the garage. She loved that car. I and my friends each had the usual little red 'coaster' wagons. I had seen roller coasters on television, but my parents were convinced that I was too young to ride them; I was pre-kindergarten age at the time.

So, it was very logical to construct my own instead. I figured out that if you opened the car door, you could climb up on the seat, and from there if you were agile enough you could get on the car roof. Friends working together could lift up the coaster wagon so you could set it on the roof of the car. The roller coaster ride part came from getting into the wagon on the roof of the car, riding it down the windshield, across the hood, and becoming air born. Being a logical child I had carefully, thoughtfully contrived a safe landing by positioning the bags of sand and concrete that my father had bought for the field stone patio and stone terrace walls that were to be installed, where they were stacked against the garage wall. My friends and I had taken turns quite a few times, without any injury, although there were some marks from the wagon tires on the new car, when my mother came out of the house, curious about the loud thudding noises in the garage.

Either she realized very quickly that I and my little friends were none the worse for wear, or this was the one occasion in my entire life when my mother put a greater value on an inanimate object than she did on my well being. Whatever went through her mind, what came out of her mouth was an inarticulate scream at the top of her lungs. I and my friends left in a hurry, and I did not return home until dinner time that evening. Growing up, I had great faith in the existence of my own personal guardian angel; apparently they come in regular, AND industrial strength. Mine must have been the latter, if only to explain how I escaped justifiably being strangled by my loving parents. Fear has never been a big part of my decision making process; the things which frighten other people have never resulted in my receiving so much as a scratch.

When I was eleven, I had begun to make money babysitting my younger sibling. (I believe we have already established that I had a certain mercenary streak in the composition of my character.) My parents would allow me to baby sit for other people, if they were at home so they would be available if something happened. I was allowed to baby sit my younger sibling, if they were going to be going somewhere near by, and it was not going to be very late. I liked the money; there was a serious shortage of willing sitters, so I had augmented my chore-based allowance considerably. On a Friday night, my parents had considered going out to dinner, but kept changing their minds to stay in, which struck me as a bit unusual. I actively lobbied them to go out for the evening, and reluctantly they finally decided to go, but not very far, and not for very long. When I had begun babysitting, I had been very emphatic that I could handle anything that would come up; I was eager to prove my maturity and self-reliance to adults. My father was concerned that I was still rather young to be baby sitting, however smart, or mature I was for my age. He was at great pains to impress on me that home security did not include whatever notions I might have to improvise keeping out bad people. This insistence on his part significantly ruined my subsequent enjoyment of the McCauley Culkin "Home Alone" series of movies. My father assured me that if anyone was hurt because of oh, say an improvised man trap, that we could lose everything we owned. Likewise, he was at great pains to impress on us that we had to at all times keep the fence to our swimming pool locked, because of the laws regarding attractive nuisances, regardless of whether or not that seemed fair to us.

So, that evening, determined to show how well I could handle any eventuality, I found myself dealing with two men outside the house that didn't belong there. I directed my younger sibling to a place of hiding, for safety, and with the advantage of lights out, I enlisted the assistance of our vicious miniature schnauzer bitch. Under current laws, she easily would be considered a dangerous dog; but she was a useful deterrent to trespassers jumping the fence and using the pool. The two men had spent a considerable period of time outside the windows to my father's den. Armed with the Schnauzer, and a baseball bat, I calculated that they would be stuck in a sort of tactical bottle neck as they came through the window, leaving them distinctly vulnerable, especially in the dark. As they were struggling with removing the screen, I let go of the family dog, who as expected went thoroughly 'Cujo' on the window, snarling and growling and flinging herself around trying to get a solid bite of the first guy between her teeth. I had intended to back up her efforts with a few good swings of the bat, but never got the chance. The two intruders fled. In retrospect, I was probably a little too quick letting go of the dog.

I then got my sibling from hiding, called my parents, and then proceeded after that to call the police. My worst fear was that I was going to be in BIG trouble for the damage to the screen and the surrounding woodwork. The screen was in shreds, not even the frame surviving the dog's efforts to reach the intruders.

So when not only my parents arrived minutes later, but also the local police car, a police car from the adjoining municipality (they had a reciprocal arrangement), a county sheriff's car, a highway patrol vehicle, and an unmarked vehicle with two men in it, I happily concluded that there was more going on than a simple burglary attempt, and was relieved to be off the hook for the window damage. (I said I was mercenary, or at least, profit oriented.) I walked out the front door, with the Schnauzer firmly under one arm growling away at the officers in the front yard, and the baseball bat under my other arm, and sat down in my long ruffled flannel nightgown on the front step, waiting for an explanation.

I carefully told everyone all of the details about the men I had observed - and I HAD taken care to observe them before deciding to set the dog on them. And then I extracted from my father the information that in his capacity as an investment banker, he was cooperating with the federal authorities (apparently the FBI) in prosecuting some bad men for money laundering and stock fraud. I have a strong dislike for crime in general, and for white collar crime in particular dating back to that moment.

A few weeks later, my father came to the dinner table after coming home from the office, with a badly bruised right hand. Being very serious, he explained to my mother, my younger sibling, and I that the men who we believed had tried to break into his den had been at some kind of legal meeting that afternoon. One of them had made the threat to my father that it would be a shame if something bad happened to those two cute red headed kids of his; and that there were even worse things that could happen than dying. My father's quiet explanation for his injured hand was that he had lost his temper and hit the man. What he didn't tell me that I learned many years later was that before anyone could stop my father, he had laid the bigger of the two men out flat on the floor, and that it had taken three federal officers considerable effort to peel my father off of him.

My father asked each of us how we wanted to proceed. I recall it being unanimous that we didn't want him to give in to the pressure of threats. The down side was that after that we had to endure certain protective measures for a period of months that were ... well, lets just say they look like a lot more fun on television and in the movies. There were no further incidents, the bad guys were put behind bars. I'm sure it came as no surprise to my parents when I expressed the opinion that if the bad guys got past the protective people, given they were larger than I was, logically it made more sense to kill them, than to try to subdue them and subsequently to try to restrain them. Father still wouldn't let me take fire arms training however. He did venture the advice that if it ever came down to it, if I got someone down, to make sure they didn't get up again. I have no idea to this day if that was a euphemism or a generalization.

The same colleagues of my father who told me about the feds pulling my father off the crook did share with me that my father was quite amused at, and encouraged, by my intention to stop the bad guys if necessary, and that if the occasion arose, he believed I might actually succeed. I'm also very sure that the last thing my father ever wanted was for his darling 'precious princess' daughter to kill someone, even in self defense. I hope it helped him that fear was never part of my decision making, given the grief that gave him on other occasions.

All of which is the long way round leading up to my more recent adventures in uncovering an affinity crime. To be addressed in the next installment.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Turning the Corner

Many reports, including that from a consortium of global bankers says, "We've turned the corner, things are getting better."

The economic meltdown precipitated by not just unwise, but probably illegal risk-taking in mortgage creation - apparently seems to be abating. Apparently.

However, those of us who look at employment number, look at public AND private debt, and look at wages holistically instead agree with the assessment of OTHER prominent economists, when we say, "No, we're just getting worse more slowly."

We spent nearly a decade funding an economy on home equity - and when that bubble burst, the house of cards that was the US economy came crashing down. We have FAR too many low paying service sector jobs, and too damned few jobs actually producing anything. We have FAR too much of the profit pie going to only the owners - a virtual flip-flop of slices of profits from 20 years ago (where 75% of profits went to labor during the Reagan years) to where 38% now goes there.

If we don't fix this employment curve, we don't fix the wage curve, and the debt curve with it - we are NOT getting better, we are simply dying more slowly.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ted Kennedy, Health Care and Replacements

Today, Ted Kennedy's office (on behalf of the Senator no doubt) asked the Massachusetts legislature to 'fast track' a replacement for him. It is undoubtedly due to Kennedy's dwindling number of days left him on God's earth.

In 2004, that same legislature required the replacement of a Senator to be done through a special election (with a campaign period of 5 months) - rather than appointment by the Governor (as is done in Minnesota, for example). This was done to avoid having Mitt Romney replace John Kerry with a conservative should Kerry have won the Presidency in 2004. It's certainly something which was crassly political, but also of course reflected the general opinion in Massachusetts. Kerry was very popular, replacing him with a conservative would not have been.

Now, Sen. Kennedy would like that process greatly accelerated. He wants it for a meaningful reason, he feels it may well take all 60 Democrats and Independents to carry forward Health Care Reform to closure.

However, that's not sufficient excuse to once again go back and amend the laws. The changes made in 2004 for political convenience, should not simply be undone for further political convenience. Tom Delay may have railroaded through gerrymandered changes in Texas in a crass and unscrupulous way, and in a way that Democrats rightly complained about, but if Mr. Kennedy doesn't want to appear to be a hypocrite (in the extreme), he should abide by a law he quite obviously favored in 2004.

He also should have been more forward looking and resigned his seat a while back, with sufficient time to have allowed for the special election to have concluded by the time he stepped down. Doing so now is too late, and Mr. Kennedy is wrong to try.

One of the key distinctions I see between conservatives and everyone else is that, for the most part, everyone else tries to live within the rules they set - Mr. Kennedy needs to stand up for the principals he otherwise believes in. Health care reform is extraordinarily important, but if it cannot pass without him, then he wasn't forward thinking enough, and frankly, perhaps it should not pass if his health is the lynch-pin of change.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bob Novak

Yesterday, Bob Novak died from brain cancer.

Novak was a challenging figure for those of us left of George HW Bush. He was a competent foil, a sometimes blustering side-stepper, but more often than not, one of the few people willing to be honest about their own party as well as the other side's foibles.

I sometimes seethed watching Novak on Crossfire, feeling any competent commentator could shred his arguments, but I equally respected a man who in his later years especially was willing to speak out against excesses in financial services, in government overreaching, and generally in the ever shrinking quality of actual journalism (journalism where who, what, where, when and why were actually reported, without editorial commentary, and without succumbing to the idea that if there are two arguments, but one is not competent, it doesn't mean there is controversy).

I respected Novak in the later years of his life and wish his soul God'd speed on it's way, and offer my sympathies (for what they are worth) to his family and friends.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Father's Little Dividend part1

There is poison in the fang of the serpent, in the mouth of the fly and in the sting of a scorpion; but the wicked man is saturated with it.

Indian strategist and writer,
350 BCE - 275 BCE

As a small child, when my parents would take me for walks, I was fascinated by the tragically flattened bodies of the road kill creatures: birds, squirrels, snakes and frogs. I felt sad for all of them that had lost their race with cars and trucks interrupting their natural world, but most of all I felt badly for the poor snakes that having no legs could never be quick enough. I suppose this was a foreshadowing of my lifelong fascination with comparative anatomy, noticing how the flat bits were alike and how they were different.

Feeling sympathy for the garter snakes in the yard, it hugely amused my parents that I would catch them, and put them in a galvanized steel pail kept in the garage for yard work. And when I had a bunch of them, I would get my parents to take me by the hand, and walk the snakes in the bucket across the street, dumping them out in the grass on the other side so they wouldn't get flattened by traffic on the street. Poor snakes, of course none of them really wanted to be caught by a child, and some of them probably had no desire to cross the road, and may very well have gotten flattened trying to get back, but I meant well. I learned not to be afraid of things that wriggle or slither, and to have a quick, gentle touch.

As an adult I have no fear of spiders, or rodents or reptiles, or predators; I do not have the 'Disney-esque' notion of 'good' animals in nature, and 'bad' animals. Nature is simply nature. It is a view that makes camping much less complicated. A few nights ago a bat, a 'flying mouse', found its way into the house for example, and instead of harming it, I ushered it back outside with the admonition to go eat more mosquitoes, many more mosquitoes. We could always use fewer mosquitoes.

My parents were less amused at my compassion for garden creatures when I realized at a tender age that while I was unafraid of snakes, it was a handy way to rid myself of crabby old ladies hired to be my babysitter. A few garter snakes stuffed in her purse; a little frog dropped in her soft drink, bye bye crabby old lady, and hello parents home early. Father being a stock broker found it important to attend a variety of social events like cocktail parties, and there were a few occasions where the answer to a fleeing baby sitter was to dress me up, threaten me within an inch of my life to be on my best behavior (checking no snakes were accompanying me), and to drag me along to very grown up events.

I was rigorously schooled, on threat of a serious spanking, to answer any conversation by an adult with the words "My mommy says children are to be seen and not heard", which I repeated as often as necessary, usually with a big, innocent smile for punctuation. I learned that you could wander around drinking a Shirley Temple, and old bald men smoking smelly cigars would sit you on their knee and think you were adorable, all the while talking in front of you as if you had the IQ of furniture if you just kept smiling. Old men and even some women will talk about things in front of a child they would never talk about in front of other adults. Old men tended to think all children are stupid, and that girl children were even less intelligent than boy children, in my experience. I didn't discourage that impression; I just enjoyed that a mop of red curls tied back with shiny ribbon, big blue eyes and freckles were disarming. Like many children, I figured out at an early age how to identify when adults were talking secretively, and that was the fun time to listen.

Not even my parents, who had some idea of what they were dealing with, expected that on the drive home from these events, their little precocious darling would spout out information picked up over the course of the evening about price earning ratios, IPOs, reverse stock splits, mergers and changes in boards of directors. Or short selling. Short selling was always very interesting. Dad had always encouraged me to ask questions, and always patiently explained; but even he hadn't really expected that I was paying the kind of attention to his answers that would translate into understanding other adults' conversations. Really good evenings out after ditching the sitter resulted in dad cutting loose on the drive home with a big string of euphoric expletives after one of my little recitations of things I'd heard, given that swearing was fairly strictly avoided at home.

When my dad took to referring to me a 'father's little dividend' as a term of endearment, he wasn't referring to the old Spencer Tracy / Liz Taylor movie. He was referring to real money, our little private joke. To his credit, he never, ever directed me to listen to anyone or for anything. I doubt my parents ever knew enough of what to expect from me to even consider that possibility; I tended to be full of the unexpected. My parents certainly never planned on my little babysitter removal events at all, they were always a total consternation. I doubt all of what I heard was useful, but some of it certainly was helpful, sometimes very helpful, and very profitable.

My parents took a lot of flack for spoiling me and being over-indulgent, but I discovered that wasn't all bad so long as I displayed precocious manners and was on my best behavior. Usually even the sternest grown ups could be won over, with a little effort. Most of them thought my feeling sorry for little garden snakes was sweet. A few old crabs were convinced that any child who would deliberately get rid of a babysitter the way I did must be some kind of incipient monster. I always figured those must be the people my mother meant when she said that there were people who didn't like and didn't trust you if you were too smart, so it was best not to show off, not to let them know what you were thinking. Best to smile, and move away from them.

I spent much more time with adults than I did with children; I suppose that had distinct effect on how I observed them. Very few adults really observe children very carefully, but children, being dependent on adults become very keen observers of them, of necessity, as are many animals. Even when they don't understand words, they understand subtleties of body language and tone of voice, and expression.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ted and Eunice Kennedy

Eunice Kennedy, the crusading sister of John, Robert and Ted Kennedy was laid to rest today.

Notably, Ted Kennedy, the senior Senator from Massachusetts was absent. His absence is ominous - and signals his life is doubtless drawing to a close as he succumbs to the brain cancer which afflicts him, and reduces his voice and vigor. (Full disclosure, I like Ted Kennedy, I worked for his campaign in 1980 (as a teenager)).

Whether you agree with the politics of the Kennedy's in general, it would be hard to argue that they have (as a set of siblings), championed a cause of compassion, much like Paul Wellstone did in Minnesota, throughout their entire lives. They sometimes had feet of clay, as most of us do under scrutiny - but they often stood for what is best in us, kindness, charity, humility and generosity without scorn, derision or judgment.

Eunice Kennedy spent such a life outside the realm of politics, and Ted spent it within it. When Ted passes, the world will be just a little cheaper and just a little meaner for their loss.

Palin's 'Death Panel' Hypocrisy

“The zeal which begins with hypocrisy must conclude in treachery; at first it deceives, at last it betrays."
Francis Bacon

English Lawyer and Philosopher

“The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity."
Andre Gide

French writer, humanist and moralist,
1947 nobel prize for literature,

This was an instance where I felt it appropriate to say less, and to let the document say it more eloquently in my place.

Health Care Decisions Day

WHEREAS, Healthcare Decisions Day is designed to raise public awareness of the need to plan ahead for healthcare decisions, related to the end of life care and medical decision-making whenever patients are unable to speak for themselves and to encourage the specific use advance directives to communicate these important health care decisions.

WHEREAS, in Alaska, Alaska Statute 13.52 provides the specifics of the advance directives law and provides a model form for patient use.

WHEREAS, it is estimated that only about 20% of the people in Alaska have executed an advance directive. Moreover it is estimated that less than 50% of severely or terminally ill patients have an advance directive.

WHEREAS, it is likely that a significant reason for these low percentages is that there is both a lack of knowledge and considerable confusion in the public about Advance Directives.

WHEREAS, one of the principal goals of Healthcare Decisions Day is to encourage Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Assisted Living facilities, continuing care retirement communities, and hospices to participate in a statewide effort to provide clear and consistent information to the public about advance directives, as well as to encourage medical professionals and lawyers to provide their time and efforts to improve public knowledge and increase the number of Alaskan citizens with advance directives.

WHEREAS. the Foundation for End of Life Care in Juneau, Alaska and other organizations throughout the United States have endorsed this event and are committed to educating the public about the importance of discussing healthcare choices and executing advance directives.

WHEREAS, as a result of April 16, 2008 being recognized as Healthcare Decisions Day in Alaska, more citizens will have conversations about their healthcare decisions; more citizens will execute advance directives to make their wishes known; and fewer families and healthcare providers will have to struggle with making difficult healthcare decisions in the absence of guidance from the patient.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sarah Palin, Governor of the state of Alaska, do hereby proclaim April 16, 2008, as: Healthcare Decisions Day in Alaska, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.

Dated: April 16, 2008

Thursday, August 13, 2009

That'll Teach 'Em?

“Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in the courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.”
Abraham Lincoln
16Th US President (1861-65),
1809 -1865

70 Professors Protest the Hiring of Alberto Gonzales at Texas Tech
(Update, as of 5 PM, 8/18/09, the number of petition signers is at 88)

Some 70 professors at Texas Tech University have signed a petition protesting the hiring of former U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The petition was started by long time ethics professor Walter Schaller, not unlike the earlier faculty protests against John Yoo being hired at Berkeley. Perhaps it is just me, but to have 70 potential colleagues protest in writing seems a pretty strong statement about how Gonzales is accepted, or more precisely rejected by his would be peers.

There are other unusual aspects to the hiring of Gonzales. For example, he is NOT being hired to teach law, which is his area of expertise. Gonzales former law firm would not take him back; and no one else in the private sector has expressed a desire to hire him, which certainly reflects on his abilities as a lawyer. Gonzales is writing a book, as are many former Bush administration alumni. Unlike those other administration alumni, so far no publisher is in a hurry to market Gonzales' story.

His one and only class, so far, consists of only 15 students, although there is talk about expanding the class size slightly. That class has already filled; this may be less of a kudos than it seems. In interviews, students have indicated they look forward to being able to put Gonzales on the spot with hard questions about his tenure with Bush. A number of students have expressed disapproval of having Gonzales on campus, on the basis of the ethical objections; they view it as a contradiction to the schools ethical policies, and to the school's motto "Do The Right Thing".

Gonzales is already having to decline to speak on some subjects because of ongoing investigations. Not, I would think, the most graceful excuse to decline to answer a difficult inquiry. And as the subject of Gonzales' class is in part to explain how things operated behind the scenes at the White House, it would suggest at the very least obstacles to Gonzales teaching this subject until after those investigations have been concluded.

Besides teaching, his other duties involve recruiting minority students. (Maybe it is just me who wonders this, but why would anyone seek the help or endorsement of a guy who left public service in such disgrace, who can't get a regular academic job, and who is so despised by the other professors.) Further, Gonzales was not even hired at Texas Tech through the normal channels; he was hired by the Chancellor, which is apparently highly unusual. This certainly suggests that the hire for the one class of fifteen students was some sort of 'good ol' boy network favor' employment.

While the signers of the petition do not realistically hope to see Gonzales removed from teaching this fall, the reason so many have signed is that there is a concern that Gonzales might be kept on for future teaching. The petition itself can be viewed at http://www.//

The objections in the petition fall into two categories, ethical objections, and academic objections.

According to the petition, for teaching the one class to only fifteen students, and the nebulous 'outreach' to minority students, Gonzales will be paid.... $100,000.00. It is noted in the petition that for that amount of money, "two top visiting professors could be hired from the best universities in the world." It should be noted, that so far as I can determine, and so far as the signers of the petition were aware, Gonzales apparently has never taught a class before, not a graduate class, not an undergraduate class. The petition specifically questions whether he even knows how to teach.

I find that an interesting fact in view of Gonzales receiving such a very large salary for teaching only 15 students.

Nice work if you can get it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Give me your tired, your poor

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

-- From a Poem by Emma Lazarus on the pedestal, Statue of Liberty, New York

Nearly all of the people in the United States today are either immigrants or are descended from immigrants, no matter how far back one wants to go. With the exception of the indigenous population, from the beginning of colonization of the New World in the 1500’s, we or our forefathers came here from other places.

Now, in the late 20th and early 21st century, we are dealing with another problem that has come to the forefront of political debate from time to time, and a solution continues to vex American politicians of both parties. That is the problem of immigration reform. There is nearly universal agreement that the US immigration system has massive problems; the agreement on how to fix it is less clear.

First, let’s define terms. For the purposes of this discussion, I will use the following definition: An illegal alien is a person who is not a US Citizen and who in this country and who falls into one of two categories: Entry Without Inspection (meaning crossing a valid US Border checkpoint and being admitted by a customs inspector), or Entry With Inspection (but who has violated the terms of their visa permitting entry) Aliens who have entered without inspection are treated much more harshly than an alien who has entered with inspection and who has violated a term of their visa permitting them to remain in the US. There are at least 11 million illegal aliens, and this number is probably in error in that it is too low. The reason the number is probably too low is that there is no reliable way to count illegal aliens; most are not interested in showing up to be counted by the government for any reason.

Next, let’s examine what we do about illegal aliens currently. If someone is found to be in the US illegally, it can be because they were swept up in an ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) raid (such as the highly publicized raid in Iowa not too long ago), but more often, its due to a criminal conviction and/or jailing pending trial. Many jails routinely screen for immigration status and inform ICE if the person appears to be in the US in violation of immigration law. Once ICE has been advised, they normally place an “immigration hold” on the person. The tricky part is that if ICE doesn’t take custody of the person within 48 hours of completing the sentence (if the person is serving one) or being otherwise eligible for bail, the person has a right to petition for a writ of habeus corpus to be released from custody. Let’s assume, however, that ICE comes and takes custody.

The person will then be brought before an immigration judge, and asked if they agree that they are subject to removal from the US. If they agree, then they are either allowed to voluntarily remove themselves from the US or are deported back to their country of origin. (Sometimes a bond is required if they are allowed to voluntarily remove themselves) If they disagree, they may be held pending a hearing at which point the government must prove that they are ineligible to stay in the US for a variety of reasons (that I won’t discuss here for brevity’s sake)

The reasons that people enter the US illegally are complex, but include the fact that there are opportunities available in the US that do not exist in their home countries. This includes jobs, better working conditions, and higher pay. The argument has been made that illegal immigrants take jobs away from US citizens. A counter argument has been made that illegal immigrants generally take low paying jobs that US citizens won’t take. Both sides of the debate present data which tend to back up their claims, and the truth is probably closer to both sides being correct. Illegal immigrants may very well take some jobs away from US citizens, but at the same time, they also take jobs that US citizens won’t take.

I always think it is disingenuous to identify a problem without a solution. I don’t think this is a crisis by any means. I think there is room for improvement in our system, and I do not think its feasible to simply round up and deport the huge numbers of illegal immigrants that we have in the US as some on the far right have demanded. Nor do I propose granting amnesty.

I give some credit to President Bush for daring to take on the problem of illegal immigration and for proposing some solutions which were very against the majority of the Republican party. In the field of immigration law reform, the Republican party is between a rock and a hard place. The right-wing base seems to have the idea that it would be practical to try to deport at least 10 million people from the United States. This is not an idea grounded in reality. Others within the Republican party enjoy the idea of having illegal workers in the US, because they can be exploited to work for practically slave labor wages.

My suggestion for the illegal immigration problem is two fold:

1. We must stop the economic incentive that illegal aliens have for coming to the US. This means we must pass and enforce strict new laws concerning employers or contractors who hire illegal aliens. A suggested regulation or statute would read as follows:
A. Upon acceptance for hire, all employers in the United States who collect payroll taxes from employees must examine government issued photo identification and an original social security card upon which the name matches the photo identification. Anyone who operates on a contract or subcontractor relationship shall also comply with this Act. The social security number thus provided bust be provided to the USCIS (US Customs and Immigration Service) for verification against the USCIS database within 72 hours of acceptance of employment. The USCIS shall maintain a database of all persons eligible to work in the US. If the employer is notified by USCIS that the social security number thus provided does not match the name then:
(1) The employer must provide the prospective employee with this information and give the employee the name and address of the nearest social security office and the USCIS office.
(2) The employer may provisionally hire the prospective employee, but shall demand that they produce government issued photo identification and an original social security card and re-enter tha number thus provided into the USCIS database no less than 30 days nor more than 45 days after the initial entry. If the employer is notified by the USCIS that the social security number does not match the name or that the person is not eligible to work in the US, the employer must immediately terminate the employee until such time as USCIS can report that the social security number and name match and that the person is eligible to work in the US.
(3) The employer may not repeat the process in Section 1(A)(1) and (2) more than one time for any particular individual. The employer shall report to local law enforcement the name and last known address of any individual who produces more than 2 sets of identity documents showing different names.
B. If the employer is notified by USCIS that the social security number thus provided is not valid for employment, the employer must immediately terminate or refuse to hire the individual.
C. Any employer who fails to comply with Sections A or B shal be deemed for the purpose of this act to have knowingly hired a person not authorized to work in the United States.
D. Any employer who knowingly hires a person not authorized to work in the United States is guilty of a felony and upon conviction shall be punished as follows:
(1) For the first offense committed after this statute is effective, a fine in the sum of $25,000 per unauthorized person found in the employ of said employer.
(2) For the second offense committed within ten years of a first offense, a fine in the sum of $50,000 per unauthorized person found in the employ of said employer.
(3) For a third offense committed within ten years of a first offense, the employer shall be deeded to be operating a continuing criminal enterprise and all property of the employer, including real and personal, and any proceeds of the crime, shall be subect to forefeit to the United States. The Court shall determine, after hearing, the extent to which the property has been involved, but the Court shall include the physical location where the violation occurred in its determination.

The above proposed legislation would help with the people who are both here now, and are tempted to come in the future. Would it stop it entirely? No, it would not. There will always be some who are willing to come and gamble that they can find someone who would hire them and not pay any attention to the rules. It would help with the institutionalized hiring of illegal aliens that is routine in some American industries. Under this proposed legislation, any employer, not just large companies, would be required to comply with this requirement, as would anyone who hires "subcontractors" but who does not withhold payroll taxes.

2. As far as those who are currently here illegally, I would give the above legislation a chance to work, but would also given an opportunity for these people to bring themselves legal. I would show them that there is an opportunity in the US, but to earn the right to legally work in the US would not be easy, nor would it be free. Hopefully, many of those who are here illegally would decide to return home when they could not find work. For those who chose not to, beginning on the effective date of the statute and for a period of two years, those who are illegally in the US can apply for provisional residency status, with some provisions:
A. The illegal alien must show that they have been in the US for a period of at least five years prior to the effective date of the statute. The USCIS will develop a list of documentation which is acceptable for proof, including but not limited to employment records. Said employment records can only be used for proof of residency.
B. The illegal alien must undergo a criminal background check to determine if they are otherwise admissible for residency in the US.
C. The illegal alien must, within five years of being granted provisional residency status, complete the following:
(1) Pay a civil fine of $2,500 for every year that the illegal was in the US prior to application. Such civil fine is not discharged in bankruptcy.
(2) Declare, file and pay any income taxes due and owing for every year the illegal alien was in the US prior to application. If no W-2 can be obtained, the illegal alien must declare all income as self employment. The Internal Revenue Service shall share such income tax returns with USCIS upon request.
(3) Maintain continuous employment for the five year period of provisional residency. If unemployed during this time, such period of unemployment may not exceed 6 months nor may there be an aggregate of more than 1 year of unemployment. No person under 18 shall be required to maintain employment if a dependent or dependent spouse of a provisional resident. A person under 18 years who reaches the age of 18 years during the period of provisional residency shall, if not enrolled full time in a bona fide institution of post-secondardy education, be employed during the remaining period of provisional residency. No one above the age of 72 years or disabled pursuant to the Social Security Disability Act shall be required to maintain employment, but no provisional resident shall be eligible for payments under the Social Security Disability Act unless they otherwise qualify based upon eligible periods of employment.
(4) Demonstrate continuing compliance with all US and state laws and tax provisions.
D. If, after the five year period of provisional residency has expired, all requirements have been met, the provisional resident shall apply for and be granted permanent resident status. Failure to apply for permanent resident status within one year of the ending of provisional resident status shall terminate provisional residency and the provisional resident must leave the US.

The above may seem harsh, and a high burden to overcome, but it is better than deportation and it is far from granting amnesty. This proposal allows for those who find they truly wish to stay in the US to apply for permission to be here legally, but that the process of doing so will not be cheap and it won't be easy. It should not be. They chose to break our law and enter illegally, and they can comply with our law or go home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

He Read A Book, Once

"Woe be to him that reads but one book. "
George Herbert
Welsh Orator, Poet, Anglican Priest
(1593 - 1633)

"I think it is good that books still exist, but they do make me sleepy."
Frank Zappa
Composer, Musician, Record Producer, Film Director
(1940 - 1993)

"I read part of it all the way through."
Samuel Goldwyn
Movie Mogul
(1882 - 1974)

Recently, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals kicked a law suit brought against the United States by 'birther' Stephen Lee Craig. Craig had alleged he was the victim of 'involuntary expatriation', because the Congress had failed to define to his satisfaction the term natural born citizen.

One of my circles of friends has a turn of phrase for the self-styled expert who is bone ignorant on a subject, but does not hesitate to pontificate as if he knew more than he does. That turn of phrase is "I read a book once,” as in the one book, read the one time, (not even the same book several times) making someone an instant expert.

It is a phrase which, in the right company, speaks volumes with few words.

Mr. Craig, who was so unwise as to act as his own lawyer - at least, that is my understanding of the term 'pro se' - tried to enlist the three appellate judges in his efforts to define the term natural born citizen. You see, Mr. Craig wanted to define the term natural born citizen according to a book The Law of Nations, by Swiss political philosopher, Emmrich de Vattel. In the prefece of this old tome written in 1758, first paragraph, the author himself states:

"THE Law of Nations, though so noble and important a subject, has not, hitherto, been treated of with all the care it deserves. The greater part of mankind have, therefore, only a vague, a very incomplete, and often even a false notion of it. The generality of writers, and even celebrated authors, almost exclusively confine the name of "Law of Nations" to certain maxims and treatises recognised among nations, and which the mutual consent of the parties has rendered obligatory on them. This is confining within very narrow bounds a law so extensive in its own nature, and in which the whole human race are so intimately concerned; it is, at the same time, a degradation of that law, in consequence of a misconception of its real origin."

In other words, even de Vattel himself didn't believe anyone really read the darn thing before using it to support their political positions, despite all of the references to it in his own time. In a new twist on the phrase "I read a book once," Craig is asserting his meaning of natural born citizen because....wait for it... the founding fathers read a book once, this book, so it must be true that de Vattel's definition was what the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the constitution. When I was trying to understand the 'birther' arguments, rather than simply assuming they were wrong, the "Law of Nations" argument was one that was accepted even more unquestioningly as absolute truth and justification than some others by the birthers.

Ah, but the court, the court says NO, a court where two of the three judges on the panel were appointed by one of the Bushes - one each for George H. W., and George W., a detail which should - should - put a wrench in conspiracy theories about this particular judiciary being in the pocket of Obama.

Of course, the founding fathers didn't SAY that de Vattel's definition of natural born citizen, which formed the basis for the principle of jus sanguinous used by some countries for THEIR citizenship, was what they were using, not in so many words. No, the very clear words they DID use are in the very first article of the constitution, that Congress should define citizenship; and Congress did, in numerous pieces of legislation over the years.

I couldn't make this up; I have a good imagination, but not THAT good. I wonder how long before it sinks in just how discredited the birther "Law of Nations" argument really is; and how quickly after that another crackpot birther notion will take its place.

Now I openly admit, I only made it through a few pages, including the preface, of "The Law of Nations". It is to say the least, heavy going. I don't think I could drink enough coffee to stay awake just through the whole first chapter of the four books that comprise de Vattel's opus, and I try to discipline myself to do regular 'drudge' reading. But then, I'm not trying to unseat the President of the Unites States by making claims from the content.

The kicker is, that I doubt that Craig or the majority of the other birthers ever read "Law of Nations" either.

Friday, August 7, 2009


"I think if the people of this country can be reached with the truth, their judgment will be in favor of the many, as against the privileged few.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt
American United Nations Diplomat, Humanitarian and First Lady (1933-45), wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US president.


"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

"No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it."
-John Adams, Founding Father, Statesman and Diplomat, 2nd President of the United States (1797-1801) 1735-1826

Orly Taitz is the crazy blond lawyer who has been popping up on both serious and comedic media all over the place, presenting the birther case why Obama is not a valid citizen. But did you ever wonder where Taitz and the birthers get their info?

Now, apparently the Birther followers failed to take the usual Civics classes that I would hope the rest of us have passed. It does not matter where Obama was born, although clearly he has documented to a fare-thee-well that he was born in Hawaii. It does not matter WHERE Obama was born; because no one is disputing that his MOTHER was born in the United States, and was a valid U.S. citizen at the time of Obama's birth; or his maternal grandparents. Our laws require ONLY one parent be a citizen for their offspring to be born natural citizens, and in most instances, acquisition of natural born citizenship is also available through either set of grandparents who are citizens.

Article I of the Constitution, Section 8, gives the Congress the right to establish and define who is a citizen, and naturalization is 4th item down on the list:

"Article 1 - The Legislative Branch Section 8 - Powers of Congress
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, "

For those who slept through American History, the Constitution was ratified in 1788, effective in 1789, with the various amendments expanding it over a number of years. The subject of who is and who is not eligible to be a citizen came promptly under the Naturalization Act of 1790; they weren't wasting any time defining who was and was not a citizen. (No surprise, it was pretty much white immigrants of European origins; people of other races and ethnicities, indigenous Americans, and so on were 'tagged in' later, in some cases, surprisingly later than you might expect.)

Here is one of the places where Orly Taitz has something; the Naturalization Act of 1790 defined citizenship as automatic at birth if born abroad rather than inside the U.S. for the children of FATHERS, but NOT MOTHERS, who were U. S. citizens.

EXCEPT that this has been amended in 1934 legislation to give equal acquisition of citizenship through a child's mother; and was further specified in 1952 legislation, well before Obama was born. That legislation was the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Title III addresses acquisition of citizenship - the correct term for what is under discussion. Title III also addresses the issue raised about John McCain's legal right to be President, as he was born in the Panama Canal Zone.

for Obama:
(g) a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years: Provided, That any periods of honorable service in the Armed Forces of the United States, or periods of employment with the United States Government or with an international organization as that term is defined in section 1 of the International Organizations Immunities Act (59 Stat. 669; 22 U.S.C. 288) by such citizen parent, or any periods during which such citizen parent is physically present abroad as the dependent unmarried son or daughter and a member of the household of a person (A) honorably serving with the Armed Forces of the United States, or20(B) employed by the United States Government or an international organization as defined in section 1 of the International Organizations Immunities Act, may be included in order to satisfy the physical-presence requirement of this paragraph. This proviso shall be applicable to persons born on or after December 24 , 1952, to the same extent as if it had become effective in its present form on that date; and
(h) a person born before noon (Eastern Standard Time) May 24, 1934, outside the limits and jurisdiction of the United States of an alien father and a mother who is a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, had resided in the United States.

The section applicable to McCain:

(a) Any person born in the Canal Zone on or after February 26, 1904, and whether before or after the effective date of this Act, whose father or mother or both at the time of the birth of such person was or is a citizen of the United States, is declared to be a citizen of the United States.
(b) Any person born in the Republic of Panama on or after February 26, 1904, and whether before or after the effective date of this Act, whose father or mother or both at the20time of the birth of such person was or is a citizen of the United States employed by the Government of the United States or by the Panama Railroad Company, or its successor in title, is declared to be a citizen of the United States.

McCain is old, but he is not pre-1904 old; he comes from a family of famous admirals on his father's side, and his mother was born in Oklahoma. Had he been elected, he would have been 'legal' for the office of president, under these provisions. Interestingly, this is not a new topic; other presidents, notably Chester Arthur for one, also have faced the issue of presidential natural citizenship qualification.

So... why would Orly Taitz, herself from a foreign country, keep insisting that Obama is not eligible to be President? I decided to do a bit of research into that, since my own civics class days were a while ago. There are two conflicting legal premises involved, "jus soli", which roughly translates as "law of ground" and "jus sanguinous", the concept of "law of blood" which requires both parents to be considered citizens of the country, for natural at-birth citizenship purposes. Birthers seem fond of quoting the Law of Nations; the Law of Nations, which favors jus sanguinous, is not the law of the United States. In Europe, different countries opted for either citizenship based on jus soli, or jus sanguinous; in the U.S., we have more of a hybrid citizenship-by-birth, and we have over the course of our history passed laws in Congress defining that hybrid form.

It is fairly obvious that those in the House and Senate who have not taken a firm stand in support of President Obama in response to the Birther movement are not sincere. None of them appear to genuinely believe this is an issue. Others seem equally disingenuous in their statements. However, there are those who are perhaps more gullible, certainly misguided individuals who seem to sincerely believe that Obama is not our legal president. These people have the frantic kind of fear that is unique to ignorance. They are desperate to believe that however unlikely, it makes some kind of sense that we do not have a bi-racial black man legitimately occupying the oval office.

We cannot any of us know what their motivation is, although racism seems the most likely explanation. In watching the news footage, I have yet to see anyone who appears to be a person of color who is in terror of the results of the 2008 election. It is possible that fact and reason might succeed with these frightened birthers, but not probable.

There are few options to resolve the divide other than to try. The alternative is to laugh at them, but that doesn't solve the problem of segments of our political whole breaking off into little extremist shards. That process, the fragmenting of our political spectrum, ultimately weakens the whole, the opposite of unifying divergent views. Education is the only possible solution, beginning with our own information, and our own education.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Justice (for) Sotomayor

In a somewhat party-line vote, the Senate (finally) approved Sonia Sotomayor today as the first Latina, and only second women ever to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Congratulations to the Hon. Justice Sotomayor.

As a personal comment. The issues raised about Ms. Sotomayor were mostly smoke-screen. Each of us, during our lives have uttered words on rare occassion we would prefer to have said differently - the examination of her judicial record showed a very even-handed approach, moreso than the likes of Roberts, Scalia and Alito, FAR more so than Bork.

Yet, I supported the approval of Roberts, Scalia and Alito, as the President, by and large, should get to choose his or her Supreme Court Justices barring the presentment for review of wholly unqualified people. I have no issue with questions, I have no issue with reservations, but barring a smoking gun, the vote should be 'aye.' While I may not like every decision, the discretion of whom to appoint for consideration is the President's alone. It is not the right of the Senate to dictate the 'type' of person who they feel is suitable for approval, and certainly not based on political feelings.

Prior to 1998, and REALLY prior to GW Bush, the votes have normally (with the noted exceptions of Bork and Thomas) been pretty unanimous. That ceased with Bush, and it is not to the Democrats credit. The Republicans comported themselves better during Clinton than the Democrats did during Bush '43.

I am glad that this is settled, and would that we could return to our conversations the days of more civicly responsible conduct, including restoring a sense of duty to the conduct and conversations of our elected officials.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Falling Down on the Job

"London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair Lady"
- English Nursery Rhyme (traditional)

“Let every man praise the bridge that carries him over.”
- English Proverb

“That is the road we all have to take - over the Bridge of Sighs into eternity.”
Soren Kierkegaard

Danish Philosopher and Theologian, first existentialist philosopher

On this date, two years ago, in Minneapolis the I-35 W Mississippi River Bridge (known officially as Bridge 9340) like the London Bridge in the Nursery Rhyme, came falling down during rush hour, at 6:05 PM, CDT. The nursery rhyme is believed to date back to the early years of first millennium, when the Vikings led by Olaf II - later St. Olaf - burned down London Bridge over the Thames. The Mississippi River Bridge was a few blocks away from the Metrodome where the Vikings play football, and a few blocks further from the historically significant St. Olaf's Catholic Church. The collapse of that bridge for those who live in the area is one of those "I remember where I was when I heard" moments that will never be forgotten; I can only wonder if it will produce its own nursery rhyme to sustain that memory, or perhaps a new world adaptation. Nursery rhymes are used to entertain children, but so very often they originate in horrific events, brutal invasions for London Bridge Is Falling Down; the Bubonic Plague for Ring Around the Rosey, Pocket Full of Poesies. It would be appropriate.

The bridge that fell opened to traffic forty years earlier in 1967, as part of the "Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways" project that began in 1956. It was replaced with the new I-35 W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge in September 2008; apparently it is bad luck to re-use the old name for a bridge when there are so many tragic deaths and injuries associated with it. The causes of the collapse have been attributed to a variety of problems; deficiencies in design, although it conformed to the requirements of the day when it was built; routinely heavier traffic than was ever anticipated when it was built. Because the bridge had been the very worst site for treacherous black ice, it had been retro-fitted with temperature activated nozzles for de-icing the road surface in winter, which may have contributed to corrosion that weakened the bridge as well. The bridge was not under-inspected; there were years and years and years of analysis and inspections completed. Just not any replacement, and only the more urgently necessary repairs. Still, no one ever thought that one of the single most heavily traveled bridges in the state would fail.

When it was built, it was intended to carry a load of 66,000 vehicles a day; when it fell, it was carrying closer to 150,000 vehicles a day, many of them heavy trucks and buses.The old bridge that fell was pretty much the last new span across the Mississippi river in the metropolitan area, the end of the highway expansion boom, until the new replacement bridge was built. I traveled that bridge, often. On this anniversary, as we contemplate the investment in infrastructure by the Obama administration, we are contemplating nationwide, the similar deterioration of our infrastructure. Our bridges, our highways, the building from that same era are decaying, those that are not falling down yet. Many of those who are fond of chanting that we are the greatest country in the world, we're number one, haven't paid attention to the changes in the last 50 to 60 years.

We may very well have been 'Number One' when these structures were built, but we have performed only the minimum investment in maintaining our infrastructure, and even less in expanding it to keep up with our growth. We need to address our infrastructure, not so that we can boast that we are "Number One", but so that the tragedy which resulted in the death of 13 people and injuries to over 100 others does not happen again, somewhere else in this country.

We need to address our infrastructure because of the importance that our transportation system has to our commerce as well as our national security.This is not a new problem, unique to our 20th and 21st centuries, finding the money for our public structures. In writing this article, I was reminded of a quotation from my American History classes, from Benjamin Franklin, "What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of public utility; what an extension of agriculture even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, aqueducts, new road, and other public works, edifices, and improvement might not have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief."

I am tired of being told that our founding fathers never intended us to have big government, that our infrastructure should be otherwise provided. There is no one who qualifies more than Benjamin Franklin as one of our founding fathers. I am tired of being told that we are overspending; we have underspent rather spectacularly in critical areas, while overspending just as spectacularly in others. The crisis is as much or more in what we spent the money on, as how much; generations of government, administrations both Republican AND Democratic, conservative AND liberal, are responsible for this neglect. WE are responsible for this neglect, and for it's improvement, because it is our country, our infrastructure, our choice, and our resources that are involved.

We can address ourselves to the serious business of improving and expanding our infrastructure. Or we can begin to write new nursery rhymes for children. I know which choice seems the more adult to me. I prefer to be inspired not by nursery rhymes when it comes to our infrastructure, but by the words of 19th century English writer, John Ruskin, " Along the iron veins that traverse the frame of our country, beat and flow the fiery pulses of its exertion, hotter and faster every hour. All vitality is concentrated through those throbbing arteries into the central cities; the country is passed over like a green sea by narrow bridges, and we are thrown back in continually closer crowds on the city gates."