Monday, March 31, 2008

Supreme Court declines to intervene in Jefferson case.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined today to involve itself in the question of whether evidence the FBI seized from the Congressional Office of Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) can be used when Jefferson is tried on corruption charges later this year.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court decision that allowed a congressman to review and remove documents seized during a controversial FBI raid of his office.

Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, said he was the victim of an overly aggressive raid of his Capitol Hill offices in May 2006. He was indicted 13 months later on public corruption charges.

The investigators' raid of Jefferson's office sparked a furor among congressional leaders, including Republicans, who argued the search violated the Constitution's separation of powers and legislative privilege.

The FBI did not warn leaders about the raid before they searched Jefferson's office.

The high court without comment let a lower court ruling stand that allows Jefferson -- with court oversight -- to review the seized documents and take out those that are privileged.

I can only imagine my Congressman, Rick Renzi (R-AZ), also under indictment, slapping his forehead with his palm at today's ruling that in effect bars the use of documents seized from a Congressional Office in a corruption trial and muttering, "Dang! THAT'S where I should have kept it!"

Now, there is no question that with or without the evidence taken from the office, Jefferson stands a high probability of joining Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney in prison. The FBI still has plenty of evidence-- most notoriously $90,000 in cash seized from a refrigerator at the Congressman's home-- with which to build a case against Jefferson.

The lower court ruling is essentially correct, in my opinion. And the reasons are a lot deeper than William Jefferson, Rick Renzi or anyone else.

At issue is the scope of the 'speech and debate' clause regarding separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution and whether it bars the FBI, an agency within the executive branch (the FBI director reports to the Attorney General, who reports to the President) from executing a search warrant on the official offices of a member of Congress.

The executive and legislative branches have ever since the Constitution was ratified been in a struggle for power (one refereed by the courts). At times one has prevailed, at times the other. Under the Bush administration however, we've seen a great expansion of executive power, with the President often choosing to simply ignore laws passed by Congress (even, far more often and far most specifically than was ever done in the past) issuing 'signing statements' when signing laws saying that in effect the laws don't apply to members or agencies within the executive branch. But when the FBI raided Jefferson's office, in effect a raid on Congress itself, it was a clear attempt to put executive control (of a putative sort) on Congress itself. In the history of the Republic, there have been a lot of Congressmen convicted of a crime while in that office, but in not a single one of those cases did investigators believe there was any reason to raid a Congressional Office (or likely realized the Constitutional peril if they tried.)

As a matter of principle, I prefer a strong legislative branch to a strong executive (and yes, I felt the same way philosophically even when the shoe was on the other foot in the 1990's and I felt that Congressional Republicans were using their legislative power to conduct investigation after investigation after investigation.) A strong Congress, no matter how repulsive their positions and actions may be, is not going to move us in the direction of dictatorship. Even when Congress passes laws restricting personal freedoms, as we've seen the past few years (especially between 2001-2006), it is often a weak and spineless Congress following the request and lead of the executive branch.

That does not mean that I feel there should be a 'safe' zone where any criminal can stash evidence and escape prosecution. The whole idea makes the idea of justice a farce. Suppose, for example, that we had a law saying that the police could not search inside a cookie jar. Then guess were all the criminals would keep the evidence? In fact by pushing this confrontation where they did and failing the FBI almost is inviting the next corrupt Congress member to keep a file cabinet marked, "None of your business" in their office, smugly assured that even if it is carted off it can't be used in a trial.

The solution would be for Congressional leaders and members of the Justice Department to negotiate a plan for how such searches should be handled in the future (such as having the Capitol Hill Police, a branch of Congress, do the actual searching). The breach between the present administration and Congress has gotten so deep though that this might be something on the agenda for the next administration.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

We knew this lawsuit was coming, but here the police should prevail.

Last year, a forty-five year old New York woman named Carol Gotbaum was detained by Phoenix police officers on a charge of disorderly conduct at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. She had become enraged after missing a connecting flight to Tucson, and they put her in an airport holding cell. Within a few minutes, she had strangled herself and was dead.

It later came out that she was a disturbed individual, who was actually on her way to Tucson to enter an alcohol treatment facility. Her husband, upon learning that his wife was in police custody, called and urged police to check on her, informing them that she was 'suicidal'. But he called after she had already been dead for an hour.

What made this case unusual is that her family is politically powerful and well-connected in New York City. Her mother in law is reputedly second in line for the mayor's office. People get arrested for disorderly conduct in airports all the time (see Larry Craig.) However her family has the financial and political muscle to fight back, and they are. They are suing for $8 million, to be precise.

(CNN) -- The family of a woman who died last year while in police custody at Phoenix, Arizona's, Sky Harbor International Airport filed an $8 million claim Wednesday against the city of Phoenix and its police department, the first step in filing a wrongful death suit.

Carol Gotbaum, a 45-year-old mother of three from New York traveling to Tucson, Arizona, to enter an alcohol rehabilitation center, was taken into custody by Phoenix police on September 28 after she missed her connecting flight and flew into a rage.

She was left alone in a holding cell at the airport and subsequently died, accidentally strangling herself while trying to escape her handcuffs.

The claim accuses the Police Department of using "excessive and unreasonable force" on Gotbaum and failing to follow its own procedures in handling people who are obviously disturbed.

"Good people here made lethal, unreasonable mistakes, with catastrophic results for Carol, her three small children and for her husband," the claim says.

Gotbaum was treated "as if she was a dangerous criminal, rather than as a sick, intoxicated and vulnerable person she was," it says. "She had no weapon and never threatened anyone."

City attorneys responded to the claim, saying that police officers acted properly and responsibly in restraining Gotbaum.

Certainly there is a good case that could be made here, but the truth is that when police make an arrest at an airport because someone is distraught, they have exactly that-- a distraught individual (and often an intoxicated, distraught individual, as Mrs. Gotbaum was.) There are many, many reasons why people can be upset, at an airport or anyplace else (and the simple act of getting arrested itself is likely to increase stress levels in most people, especially if they've never been arrested before), but when police make an arrest they follow procedure (which does include taking standard measures to prevent someone from hurting themselves). Carol Gotbaum was clearly at a much higher risk of that kind of thing, but there was no reason why Phoenix police would know that.

To be honest, I have one question. Flying is known to be a very stressful act (we aren't in the 'Fly the friendly skies' era anymore, thanks to airline deregulation which has placed a premium on the packing and delivery of people as cargo and has de-emphasized an enjoyable flying experience.) Things like missing flights, as well as missing luggage, getting 'bumped' off a flight, spending hours in a cramped position, flight delays and cancellations and other stressful things happen all the time. If Carol Gotbaum was in such a fragile mental state, why did not the family assign someone (or even hire someone) to accompany her and make sure she got to the treatment facility? Heck, if she had an alcohol problem she required treatment for in a place thousands of miles from home then why would they let her get on a flight unattended? She is known to have consumed alcohol on the flight she got off of, and the story I linked to describes her as 'intoxicated.' Alcohol, which she certainly had access to in the air, is known to be fuel for the kind of volatile situations like the one she was involved in.

I feel for her husband and her family, but I feel that they are as much (or more) to blame for her death as is the Phoenix police department.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Richardson endorses Obama.

Thursday, Bill Richardson, who I supported for President until he dropped out, endorsed Barack Obama, who I switched to and who I actually voted for.

You'd think this post would therefore be completely laudatory. But it's not. In good faith I can't just jump up and down and yell about how happy I am about it. I'd love to but I have just a few nagging reservations, and they are best addressed by looking at some of the political angles.

It is true that I am very happy to see Richardson, who was criticized during the campaign for being indecisive (i.e. 'Yankees or Red Sox?') firmly committing himself to endorsing a candidate. It is true that I still respect Richardson (who I first met over twenty years ago when he was my congressman) and believe that he would do a fine job in any cabinet position, especially any that involved diplomacy, at which he has excelled. And it is true that I am glad that when he finally made a decision about choosing a candidate he chose Obama. That isn't easy to do. Bill Clinton reportedly got in his face and berated Richardson earlier in the campaign (not sure if it is the day the two of them pointedly watched the Super Bowl together) for not endorsing his wife then (asking whether two cabinet positions Richardson was appointed to during the Clinton administration was not enough to warrant an endorsement,) and the conversation that Richardson had with Hillary Clinton before he endorsed Obama was (according to Richardson, but reflecting what others have said about similar phone conversations), 'painful' and difficult. The sense of anger, frustration and resentment from the Clinton campaign is palpable, with Clinton friend and confidante James Carville noting that it happened just before Easter and comparing Richardson to Judas Iscariot and claiming that his 'betrayal' was for 'thirty pieces of silver.' It is clear that if Hillary beats the odds and ends up as President, Richardson won't be nominated for dogcatcher.

However I have to say that the quote by Richardson that he made his decision after hearing Obama's speech on race last week just doesn't feel right. It may well be that Richardson, after doing the delegate math and figuring out that Obama will most likely win, may have used the speech on race as the first major event that came along that he could reasonably cite as a reason to endorse Obama and hitch his wagon to the winning train. However, Richardson has always struck me as a good hard calculator and not one to get carried away with the emotion of the moment (one of the characteristics which has made him a good diplomat,) and as such I would much rather see him just go ahead and say so. Say he believes that Obama is going to be the nominee and that he is supporting him.

Richardson is rumored to want to be the Vice Presidential nominee, or if not that then Secretary of State.

He won't be the Vice Presidential nominee. Obama, assuming he wins the nomination, will need to unify the party. As such there will be a lot of pressure for him to accept Hillary Clinton as number two. If that doesn't happen (either because he resists the pressure or she refuses the job) then there are two somewhat contradictory schools of thought on how he could unify the party. One is to choose a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton if she doesn't want it herself, especially one who would help with the electoral math. Two men who are known to be on her short list, Senator (and former Governor) Evan Bayh of Indiana and Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio-- both of whom also have the executive experience that Obama lacks, would likely be at the top of that list. The other train of thought in terms of getting Hillary supporters to accept Obama is that many women have waited for a long time to have a female President. To obviously reach and choose a woman (as Walter Mondale did when he chose congresswoman-- yes, Geraldine Ferraro-- in 1984) would seem to be a pander and would likely turn off a lot of voters who see Obama as being above that kind of thing. However he could without reaching look for and choose a highly qualified female candidate, especially a Governor who has proven she can do the job as an executive and would therefore make a good running mate for Obama. That may be easier said than done though. Three of the four Democratic Governors whose names come up first, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Christine Gregoire of Washington and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, endorsed Obama much earlier in the campaign, and might not help with hard-core Clinton supporters who support Clinton for her positions rather than her gender (and there are many of them, in fact.) The fourth, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is a strong supporter of Clinton but runs afoul of the Constitutional requirement that if she became President she would have to be native-born (Granholm was born in Canada.) Uniting the party in the event that Hillary Clinton refuses to join the ticket or Obama feels that he can't accept her would be a problem for Obama, but it's not a problem the solution to which puts Bill Richardson on the radar screen in any way. For that matter, if Clinton-- after finishing a very strong second, were passed over in favor of the candidate who finished a very distant fourth and withdrew the day after the New Hampshire primary, that would probably be seen by Hillary and her supporters as the equivalent of a slap in the face, and with some justification. So the bottom line is that Richardson certainly won't be nominated to run for Vice President.

A much stronger likelihood is that Richardson is angling for the position of Secretary of State. He'd likely be very good at it too, based on his numerous diplomatic successes in all kinds of negotiations in the past. Richardson, in his position as a freelancing diplomat as well as U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration, has successfully negotiated treaties with everyone from the dictatorship of North Korea to bands of thugs who have taken American hostages in remote and war-torn regions. Last year he negotiated a cease-fire in Darfur. Frankly, even if he had not endorsed Obama, Obama would be foolish not to pick Richardson for Secretary of State. Politically, Richardson may have the inside track on that job, especially if the other top contender is another former Presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Biden has been even more cautious about issuing an endorsement than Richardson, and while he has been the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, he has never personally gotten his hands dirty with the business of negotiating tough treaties in tough circumstances as Richardson has. Given Obama's inexperience in foreign policy, he needs the best Secretary of State he can get and that would be Bill Richardson.

So it's clear that Obama can give Richardson the position he wants. What Richardson brings is an appeal to Hispanic voters, a group that Obama has underperformed with. Further, by the timing of his annoucement, coming on virtually the same day as the 'passportgate' scandal which cast Obama in a role in which he was both the victimized party and able to forcefully but calmly demand an investigation, Richardson was able to give Obama two major news stories favorable to Obama within the same news cycle and blow Jeremiah Wright's sermons off the front page despite the best efforts of the right-wing media to keep them there. And in the news business, once news is old and replaced by new news, it doesn't tend to return unless there is something new to pull it back to top billing.

Clinton campaign manager Mark Penn said that Richardson's endorsement comes too late to really help Obama with Hispanic voters. Rarely do I agree with Mark Penn, but I think he has a point there. Nevada, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Texas have already voted (and all for Clinton). There is a small but possibly significant Hispanic concentration, oddly enough, in North Carolina (a state Obama is expected to win anyway) and some in Oregon, and then there is Puerto Rico's last-in-the-nation primary, but the truth is that the vast majority of Hispanic voters have already voted. Very likely, given the small margins by which Clinton won in both states, a Richardson endorsement and campaign on behalf of Obama in New Mexico and Texas would have swung both states to Obama but Richardson was too cautious and did not issue an endorsement in time for either state. However, Richardson could be a strong help to Obama if he does campaign in Puerto Rico, and in a general election may be just the antidote that Obama needs if he is willing to barnstorm for Obama, especially in his own state but also in other swing states.

But Richardson, in taking as long as he did to make the bold move, and appearing to worry too much about trying to please both sides (or perhaps it might be better said, trying to displease neither) until so late in the campaign, brought into sharp focus some of the weaknesses he had that probably hurt him during his own Presidential run.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I wonder if any of these preachers will be covered as well as Reverend Wright?

We've heard over and over the statements by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor played on TV, in which he says, "Not God bless America. God damn America! It's in the Bible, for killing innocent people."

Now, I agree with Barack Obama when he said today that those statements are wrong and he does not agree with him. But when asking why Obama still attends that church, I wonder whether they are taking the time to ask whether the parishoners who continue to attend churches where ministers have made hateful statements about abortion, homosexuality and other perceived 'sins,' including that God will punish America for them, still attend those churches.

To cite just one group of examples, consider a few of the statements in 1998 by pastors who blamed the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina on God, as damnation for 'killing innocent people' (which they defined as abortion) and other similar reasons.

*--Steve Lefemine credited God: "In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion [...] Providence punishes national sins by national calamities, [...] Greater divine judgment is coming upon America unless we repent of the national sin of abortion."

*--Reverend Bill Shanks credits God; God's reasons: Abortion, debauchery, homosexuals, witchcraft...

"New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now, [...] God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again.

*--Rev. Dwight McKissic, the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas said "New Orleans flaunts sin in a way that no other places do. They call it the Big Easy. There are 10 abortion clinics in Louisiana; five of those are in New Orleans. They have a Southern Decadence parade every year and they call it gay pride. When you study Scripture, it's not out of the boundaries of God to punish a nation for sin and because of sin. When I look at our country, at what's happening, and what's happening in New Orleans in particular, it's not beyond the realm of possibility."

*-- [Reverend] Fred Phelps credited Katrina as God's retribution for homosexuals: "New Orleans, symbol of America, seen for what it is: a putrid, toxic, stinking cesspool of fag fecal matter. [...] Pray for more dead bodies floating on the fag-semen-rancid waters of New Orleans."

Doesn't sound to me like anything that Rev. Wright said is any more hateful (in fact not as hateful) compared to what some of these 'men of the cloth' were preaching. But I guarantee you that many of them will be sought out for their political support by the GOP (as they have been in the past) come November.

As far as Obama is concerned, it has been smear after smear after smear. Just to prove the point, there is one good thing about all the Rev. Wright controversy. At least the rumor that was being peddled about even a couple of weeks ago that Obama is actually a muslim who gets his world view from the Koran won't fly anymore.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Patrolling in Kabul is 'romantic?' Either the President is delusional or kinky in a very strange way.

Well we now know what President Bush's definition of 'romantic' is. serving in the Afghan war.

I must say, I'm a little envious," Bush said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.

"It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.

Yeah. uh-huh. If he was younger he'd serve. This from a guy who pulled strings to get out of going to Vietnam.

Not seeing your family for months on end, patrolling streets half a world away and hoping not to encounter any suicide bombers along the way, or at least hoping that if there are any then you will find them before they find you. Seeing blood and death and carnage. Wondering why the administration didn't put in enough troops at the outset to do more than turn Afghanisan into an endless war of attrition against an enemy with a steady stream of recruits. Going to bed each night with the realization that you've cheated death once again and the time until you see your family again is one day shorter.

There are a lot of words that kind of image conjures up in my mind, but 'romantic' isn't one of them.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Michigan proves it can be done. Except in Florida.

Michigan and Florida began on the same footing, both being stripped of their delegates to the Democratic convention, and both having held meaningless primaries which were nominally won by Hillary Clinton in the absence of a campaign.

Recently both of them have been discussing what to do about conducting a fair vote.

Michigan, however, is on the verge of having a plan in place which will allow a do-over primary. It does depend on Democrats raising funds to pay for it, but that is a reasonable expectation if the plan is otherwise put into place.

Florida in contrast seems to be completely clueless as to how to put something together. But it's not like a fair election couldn't be held, because Michigan will likely be holding one. Florida only has a long list of 'can't do its', even if the money were provided from outside.

Proving that Florida still doesn't know how to conduct an election, eight years after the 2000 election debacle, six years after the 2002 gubernatorial primary that was riddled with SNAFUS, and two years after a close congressional race in which hundreds of votes appeared to have been not counted but with no paper trail for backup.

Florida: Incompetent, inept, and inconsistent.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The scarlet "H"

Well, you know what kind of week it's been when the names I hear most on the news after New York Democratic Governor Elliott Spitzer are Larry Craig, Bill Clinton and Jim McGreevey.

It also is a great opportunity to answer critics on the right who claim that somehow the media judges a Larry Craig or a Tom Foley more harshly when they are involved in sexual pecadillos than they judge a Bill Clinton or a Ted Kennedy.

The issue is not about sex. It's about hypocrisy.

Bill Clinton left office with a 60% plus approval rating, and that was after the impeachment trial. Voters in Massachusetts have returned Ted Kennedy to the Senate seven times since Chappaquiddick. Why is that?

The answer is quite simple. Whatever their faults (and I'm not defending them) neither Bill Clinton nor Ted Kennedy has told anyone how to live their personal life. They don't go out and preach what they don't practice.

Elliott Spitzer, in contrast, has practically no support in this case, and the reason is because he made his career by being tough on criminals (including prostitution rings) and being 'Mr. Clean' himself. Well, if you claim to be Mr. Clean then you better be exactly that.

Which leads to why Republicans like Larry Craig have gotten such a harsh rebuke from the public as well as from the media. They ran on 'family values' platforms, preaching (among other things) about the sanctity of marriage. And it probably earns them some votes. But when voters find that those votes were earned under false pretenses they feel far more betrayed than they would by say, yet another sex scandal involving Bill Clinton. There is a reason why the media doesn't report on any more Clinton sex scandals. It's because pretty much everybody knows by now that Bill has a zipper problem, and reporting details of another dalliance would be about as interesting to most people as it will be if the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates swap a couple of minor league prospects (yawwwn.) When a sinner is caught sinning, it's not exactly earth-shattering news. But when they bust the preacher who has been out railing against it, then it is.

For that matter, speaking of preachers, this pattern holds beyond politics. There is a reason why Hugh Grant is still making movies but Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard have mostly lost their careers after all three of them were caught consorting with prostitutes. That reason is because Hugh Grant never got out there and judged others for their personal failings. So both society at large and those who work with him are much more willing to forgive Hugh Grant and let him get on with things than they are willing to let those who engaged in a 'hang 'em high' brand of moralisitic judgement escape justice according to the same gallows that they have erected themselves.

But it isn't about the media not reporting scandals involving Democrats. Republicans are in fact more vulnerable to the fallout from sexual scandal precisely because they have cast themselves as the guardians of societies standards, of morality and decency. When preachy, judgemental Democrats like Spitzer or Gary Condit (who once called on Bill Clinton to step aside during the Lewinsky scandal) get caught with their pants down (in both senses of the word) then they face the same wrath from the public as Larry Craig and Mark Foley did.

Which leads us right back to what the Bible says about hypocrisy: If you live in a glass house then don't throw stones.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

California judge overreaches with ruling to criminalize homeschooling

Recently a ruling came down in California which could criminalize home schooling in that state.

Parents of the approximately 200,000 home-schooled children in California are reeling from the possibility that they may have to shutter their classrooms — and go back to school themselves — if they want to continue teaching their own kids. On Feb. 28, Judge H. Walter Croskey of the Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled that children ages six to 18 may be taught only by credentialed teachers in public or private schools — or at home by Mom and Dad, but only if they have a teaching degree. Citing state law that goes back to the early 1950s, Croskey declared that "California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children." Furthermore, the judge wrote, if instructors teach without credentials they will be subject to criminal action.

I believe that this ruling is absurd. There are many reasons why parents home school their children. And in nearly all cases, the children are schooled with far more diligence, care and personal attention than they get in a crowded classroom, with twenty or more kids competing for the attention of a single teacher (even though I believe that most public school teachers do an excellent job, especially for the poor pay they get.)

There is a view held by some opponents that homeschooling parents are all a bunch of relgious fanatics intent on indoctrinating their children and teaching them creationism. I'm not disputing, for that matter, that there are some who fit that description, but that is not who most homeschool parents are. I've known many of them, and very few if any strike me as fanatics.

I know, because my wife and I homeschooled our eldest daughter twice, for a year each time. And the reason was the same-- she wasn't getting the education she needed elsewhere. When she was in the first grade, we moved from Los Lunas to Belen, New Mexico. She was at the top of her class in the new school. But then it turned out that one reason why was because she was using the same textbook that she'd used in kindergarten at another school the year before. We didn't want her to be a year behind already by first grade, so we took her out and schooled her at home. Then when she was in fifth grade, we moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. In Texas they have these ISD's (Independent School Districts) where the idea is that the taxes raised in each district pretty much stay in the district. Well, we were living in the West Oso ISD (lots of apartments, low property values) and the budget of the school there was practically nothing. Some of the books were twenty years out of date (in fact someone told me that the entire budget for the high school was not much more than what the high school two districts down, Calallen, spent just on its football program alone.) So again, we homeschooled our daughter (and even hired a woman with an English degree to supplement some of what we were teaching her with some reading and writing.) Often, homeschooling parents have networks with each other so they can participate in group activities (and it was more than once I was asked to work with some high school aged kid on his or her math.)

In both cases, we were considered qualifiedby the states or school districts involved to teach because I have a master's degree in Mathematics (including a full slate of undergraduate classes, as well as a bachelor's degree in Chemistry.) My wife at the time did not have a degree but she has always been skilled in computers. The idea that either of us would have to go get a teaching degree is ridiculous (as well as the fact that on both of these occasions such a requirement would have been self-defeating since it takes a couple of years at least to get one and in each case we home-schooled for a year because of local conditions-- and we had to make that decision and prepare for it quickly.)

I've also known parents of special needs children who homeschooled because their local school districts would not or could not provide the specific help that they needed. One of my daughters' classmates has been homeschooled on and off because she has Krohn's disease and attending public school would be more difficult and at times embarrassing for her than it would be for other children (though she has also attended during times when her condition is under control.)

Now, there have occasionally been other, more sinister reasons why some parents may claim to be home-schooling, as was the case in the situation that led to this ruling:

The debacle originated with a suit over child abuse. One of the eight children of Philip and Mary Long, a Los Angeles couple, had filed a complaint of abuse and neglect with the L.A. Department of Children and Family Services. The agency determined that the Long children were being home schooled, taught by their uncredentialed mother while officially enrolled in independent study at Sunland Christian School. The DCFS then turned to the courts to mandate that the children attend public school so that teachers might spot evidence of abuse (a charge the parents deny). A juvenile court, however, determined that the Longs had a constitutional right to home school their children. The DCFS appealed and the case landed in Croskey's appellate court.

Clearly no child should be abused or not be educated (which is a form of abuse.) However it is ridiculous to prevent all homeschooling parents (there are 200,000 in California alone) from doing the best they can for their kids because of a handful of child abusers who are trying to use it to hide their crimes. Instead, why not require (as many states now do) that homeschooled kids get checked on once or twice a year so that their progress can be assessed and looked at for any signs of potential abuse, which can if necessary be followed up on with a home visit. And if a case of child abuse is discovered then the guilty parties should be prosecuted. But it seems to me that criminalizing homeschool is the wrong way to handle what is ultimately a much more narrow problem dealing with enforcement of existing law (child abuse is a felony no matter what the circumstances.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

If we are going to spend this much on defense then we should invest in human resources first.

We've heard all the arguments about how we need a secure America in justifying bloated defense budgets, which are many times more than any other nation in the world spends on its military.

Yet, we read all the time about proposed cuts in veterans programs, the attempt a few years ago by the Bush administration to cut the extra pay troops get when they are in combat, and (this affected my brother in law) when they flew troops home from Iraq on a short furlough, they dumped national guard troops off in cities on the east coast and they had to buy their own tickets home if they wanted to see their families (his Colorado national guard unit was flown to if I remember right either Atlanta or Baltimore). We've seen that our army has been stretched to the limit in Iraq, with tours of duty increased and rotation time back home cut as the only way to create the 'surge.' Four years ago, John Kerry said he would if President ask Congress to provide the funding for the creation of two new combat divisions. He lost the election, and the result is that they have not yet been created. We've seen that the chronically low pay in the military has meant that some military families have had to go on food stamps or other means of public assistance, especially during the times when one parent is deployed overseas. We've heard gut wrenching stories of veterans who have been left seriously injured by war, but who have not been given the support they need or have been denied the benefits that disabled veterans have been given in previous conflicts.

So this begs the question: In a military budget that runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars, why can't we find more to pay and otherwise support our men and women in uniform, and why can't we find the relatively smaller amounts it would take to support the veterans administration which is now dealing with its own surge-- in Iraq and Afghan war veterans who need help when they get back home? Even things that they need right now-- like better body armor and up-armored humvees, have been slowed down by bureaucrats who apparently think that those items aren't important enough to put it in the 'urgent' box.

Yhe answer is the same as it always has been, but exaggerated by the twisted 'compassionate conservatism' of the Bush administration, in which individuals often have to deal with the effects of cuts in any kind of services, but there is no limit on the generosity of this government when it comes to corporate welfare.

For example, the biggest story right now involving military contracts is that a European company, Airbus, have been given a contract over Boeing to make air refueling tankers. It is true that one could argue that there are some security concerns regarding background checks, but I would think this would be a relatively minor concern, especially for a European company (we have more sensitive military components than that manufactured in China, for heaven's sake!) What this story has really exposed is that it is all about money. The Airbus model was superior to the Boeing proposal in five out of five criteria, so there is no question that it is a better product, but a lot of people are objecting because of the billions of dollars that will be spent on it (and which therefore won't go to Boeing.) Let me ask it this way: If you are an American pilot, wouldn't you want to have to depend on a more reliable fueling tanker? But somehow this never even has been brought up. We've heard about the money this will cost investors and the company, we've heard about the 44,000 jobs this will cost Americans, which is a legitimate concern, but let's face it-- these employees are being used as pawns for Boeing to hide behind; the real issues is the money. If you want proof, consider that this is actually a rebid contract-- the government official who shepherded through the initial, inflated contract which went to Boeing without a serious bidding process was subsequently hired by the company as a consultant and paid a lot more than any of those 44,000 workers would have earned.

We know the Pentagon is in love with high-tech gadgetry. And as far as developments like laser guided missiles and computer drones etc. have helped with efficiency and reduced casualties that is great. But it has also become an Achilles heel. As I mentioned earlier, many crucial components of our military weapons are manufactured abroad, including some in China. And today we saw a story about how Chinese hackers (who claim they are sometimes paid by the Government, a claim Beijing denies have penetrated the most secure of Pentagon websites In fact, it does not matter whether they are paid by the government or not. The point is that if there were ever a military conflict they could at a crucial time shut down most or all of our computers. If that happened it would depend on the American soldier, and not on all the high tech gadgetry.

I have faith that in such a situation the American soldier would still be able to prevail. But in that context, we have to ask why we are pouring so much money down an endless drain of fat military contracts to build ever and ever more expensive and ultimately more vulnerable weapons systems, while at the same time we spend less and less on the most important and fundamental weapons system we have-- the American serviceman.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Clinton wins make for a supreme irony for Florida, Michigan

Well, it is obvious that the battle for the nomination will go down to the wire with Hillary Clinton's wins tonight in Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas. I am of course an Obama supporter, but clearly Clinton is a fighter, and she's going to make sure that Obama has to earn it if he is the nominee.

She is clearly a winner tonight (as is John McCain, who finally mathematically clinched the Republican nomination, prompting Mike Huckabee to drop out.) Barack Obama is not a big loser, however. He won Vermont and will apparently clearly win the caucus portion of the Texas vote though narrowly losing the popular vote in the primary (meaning he may still win more delegates in Texas than Clinton will.)

But this makes it clear that there are two huge losers in this primary season, at least on the Democratic side: the states of Michigan and Florida. And even more than the fact that they are losers, is how they got there-- a supreme irony, that.

In 1999, Baylor had the football and a 24-21 lead in a football game against UNLV. With the clock running down, UNLV out of timeouts and Baylor inside the UNLV ten yard line, the Bears only had to kneel down and let the clock run out. Instead coach Kevin Steele threw sportsmanship to the winds and tried to run up the score, calling for a play to try and punch the ball into the endzone.

Only it didn't work out that way. In one of the most spectacular instances of comeuppance in sports history, the ball was fumbled on the goal line and the fumble was scooped up and returned 100 yards for a touchdown with no time remaining and a 27-24 UNLV victory. By trying to run up the score instead of walking off the field and into the pressroom with a hard-fought victory, Steele instead had to explain an inexplicable loss.

That serves as an introduction to what happened to Michigan and Florida. They violated party rules and 'jumped the gun' by scheduling their primaries in January, in violation of party rules which spelled out which states had early primaries. Their thinking was that if they held the primaries earlier, they'd 1) get the candidates to come there and campaign, 2) get more national media attention and the attendant dollars that an active campaign would bring into the state, 3) have the candidates focus on issues of importance to them (such as the auto industry in Michigan and senior issues in Florida) and 4) have a real say in choosing the nominee (instead of having the race already decided by the time it was their turn to vote.)

By so doing, they badly miscalculated, at least on the Democratic side (Republicans competed in both states, and in fact Florida turned out to be the key win for McCain, juicing his campaign and deflating Mitt Romney's just in time for Super-Duper Tuesday.) But on the Democratic side, the DNC stripped both states of their delegates (rendering both contests devoid of real meaning,) had the candidates sign pledges not to compete (in fact Obama and most of the other candidates even took their names off of the ballot in Michigan) and even is refusing to seat super delegates from the states (such as Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who pushed for and signed the early primary law into effect.)

And the irony is that both states, especially Michigan are reaping what they sowed (Florida can at least take some solace in the hard fought Republican campaign there and the role the state played in making McCain the nominee. Michigan in contrast, didn't even have much of a Republican contest, with Mitt Romney getting his biggest win of the primary season, which wasn't really all that big.)

In the most competitive Democratic race in decades, it is likely that Democratic voters in EVERY OTHER state EXCEPT Florida and Michigan will get to cast votes that mean something. In short, to note the above four points, 1) the candidates didn't campaign in either one, 2) they aren't getting all the national attention that we've seen lavished this week on, for example, Ohio and Texas, 3) watched the candidates talk about other issues, but not much about the auto industry or-- surprisingly-- senior issues, and 4) not only will the voters not have a say, but even their elected officials-- superdelegates otherwise, will not be seated at the convention. I doubt when Governor Granholm signed the bill she knew she was even signing away her own vote at the convention.

On top of that, recently Florida Governor Charlie Crist proposed scheduling another Democratic primary later this year. Crist, a supporter of John McCain, wants to do so because if Florida's delegates were added back in to the total, it would likely just push the finish line back farther and drag things out longer (you can see the crocodile tears he is shedding over the Florida Democratic party.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

White men as swing voters?

After an earlier story run before the South Carolina primary on CNN backfired on the network, in which they asked black women whether they supported Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, with the obvious subtext that the election was about race vs. gender, the networks seem beside themselves in discovering that the new 'swing voters' are white men in the Democratic party. The theory goes, apparently, that since black voters are voting heavily for Obama and white women are mostly voting for Clinton, Obama's recent success is courtesy of white men choosing Obama over Clinton.

The subtext to this one is that the white men are more sexist than they are racist, which is why we (I am a white male Democrat) are supporting Obama.

Which is utter and complete bologna, and I reject their analysis.

To begin with, let's consider who white male Democrats are. As we know, the preferred party of white men in general is the Republican party. And white men who are either racist or sexist are much more likely to feel at home in an anti-abortion party that opposes affirmative action, child care and anti-poverty programs than they are in today's Democratic party. Very likely they've already left.

The white men who are left, such as myself, are therefore likely to be the most liberal of white men, those who reject the essense of the Republican party.

And the truth is, Hillary Clinton has not been getting the votes of these men because she is the more conservative candidate. The Iraq war vote in 2002 was huge, but that isn't all. Her reluctance to question the wisdom of that vote and renounce it (a la John Edwards) spoke volumes. But she also voted for NCLB, Patriot I, Patriot II, the bankrupcty bill, and just to show that she still hadn't learned anything, the Iran vote last year. So the reason I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton isn't because she was a woman, the reason I didn't vote for her is because her hawkish foreign policy reminded me of Joe Lieberman (I didn't vote for him either when he ran for President in 2004.)

A friend of mine feels the same way, but he told me about how he had been roundly excoriated by some female friends of his who believe that he based his vote on gender. This is of course ridiculous. In fact, the last time when there was a serious competition between a white woman and a black man within the Democratic party, Nancy Pelosi in 2005 defeated former congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee to become minority leader (and then accede to speaker after the 2006 elections.) Most Democratic men I know, if they had a strong opinion of the race, felt that it was better that Pelosi won because she better represents the traditional views of the Democratic party. I agree with that assessment.

But the idea that white male Democrats decide who to vote for based on gender (or race for that matter) is insulting at the deepest level to many of us who have spent a great deal of time and effort supporting the candidate who we believe is better.
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