Thursday, April 30, 2009

I don't quite get this poll result

I'm somewhat confused by a poll I just ran across.

I certainly can understand the notion that people of faith might separate their faith from their belief about whether torture is a good idea or not (though I don't think that it is a good idea myself), so I might have not been surprised to see a lack of correlation between religion and support or non-support for torture, but a new Pew poll out today suggests that especially among evangelicals and to a lesser degree among adherents of a number of other religions, support for torture is actually higher than it is among people who don't go to church.

According to the linked poll, 54% of people who go to church at least once per week believe that torture of prisoners is sometimes or often justified, versus 42% of non-church goers.

That statistic is somewhat misleading or at least overly broad though, as the survey finds that members of 'mainline' Protestant churches-- such as Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopals-- were actually more strongly opposed to torture than non-church goers (30% of mainline protestants answering that torture is never acceptable, versus 25% of the non-churchgoers) and Catholics were not that far behind non-churchgoers. The number that really sticks out is that only one in eight evangelicals believes the same.

Now, I'm not a member of an evangelical church and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, had no comment on the poll. I'd be interested in knowing how they justify this though. I do go to church every week, and I've read the Bible extensively and I'm not sure what in scripture justifies torturing prisoners. I was reading the sermon on the mount the other day and I'm sure there was nothing in there about waterboarding. Maybe I will read it again tonight just to be sure.

If anyone who is a member of an evangelical denomination would like to comment on this and what in your doctrine makes members of your church more likely to support torture I'd love to hear it. I've always thought that Christians were more likely to uphold the teachings of Christ-- starting with compassion, even towards an enemy once he has been rendered powerless. But maybe I'm getting the wrong idea about that, this is more like the Christian values as practiced during the Inquisition.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Funds to help prepare for a pandemic were cut out as 'pork,' putting us all at more risk

Hat tip to Althouse:

John Nichols of The Nation calls them like he sees them. And he right on target today.

GOP know-nothings fought pandemic preparedness

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse -- with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans -- led by Maine Senator Susan Collins -- aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey's attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient.

And his partisan attacks on his efforts seem not just creepy, but dangerous.

Nichols then goes on to point out how Karl Rove pointed to pandemic preparedness funds in the stimulus package as an example of unnecessary pork.

Further on,

Famously, Maine Senator Collins, the supposedly moderate Republican who demanded cuts in health care spending in exchange for her support of a watered-down version of the stimulus, fumed about the pandemic funding: "Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill No, we should not."

Even now, Collins continues to use her official website to highlight the fact that she led the fight to strip the pandemic preparedness money out of the Senate's version of the stimulus measure.

The Republicans essentially succeeded. The Senate version of the stimulus plan included no money whatsoever for pandemic preparedness. In the conference committee that reconciled the House and Senate plans, Obey and his allies succeeded in securing $50 million for improving information systems at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

But state and local governments, and the emergency services that would necessarily be on the frontlines in any effort to contain a pandemic, got nothing.

I hope to God that this does not turn into a pandemic, but if it does and if state and local governments don't have the resources available to fight it, then remember the funding for that was in the original stimulus package. It was forcibly taken out of there by Republicans as a condition to pass any package at all.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tired of hearing about Reagan all the time.

It seems that every time someone on the right is asked to come up with an alternative for fixing the economy to President Obama's economic programs they invariably suggest that we do what Reagan did. It's always 'Reagan this, Reagan that.'

Of course they do have one point right. Reaganism has dominated the national paradigm for the past quarter century. Even Democrats were debating Republicans over who could do the best job of cutting taxes, deregulating businesses and shrinking the size of the government.

But what in the end has thirty years of Reagan dominated philosophy done for us? It has increased the national debt by 1300%, it included such lowlights as the S&L bailout (if you think that massive taxpayer bailouts of banks that made bad decisions about real estate were something new, they're not,) Michael Milken and the junk bond crisis, recessions beginning in 1991, 2001 and 2007, Enron and the present housing crisis that is requiring bank bailouts on a scale that dwarfs even the S&L bailouts.

In fact the only years during the Reagan era when we did have a balanced budget was following the CLINTON TAX INCREASE (that was also when we grew 20 million + jobs in only eight years.

Yet it seems that for some of these folks they have grown Reagan into some kind of infallible myth. It's been more than twenty years since the man left office (in fact young people registering today weren't even born when he left office) and the old twentieth century solutions of 'tax cut, trickle down, deregulate' just haven't worked in the 21st century (note that the Dow was down about 25% between January 20, 2001 (inauguration day when George W. Bush entered office) and the same date eight years later.

So it's time to apply some new, 21st century solutions. John McCain advocated for smaller government and more tax cuts. If that's what people want then that's what they could have voted for. But they didn't. They voted for a candidate who promised to raise taxes on the wealthy, pledged to implement real health care reform and promised to improve the environment through better government oversight.

The era of Reagan is now over. And after 28 years, none too soon.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tedisco concedes, Democrats hold NY-20

This is the occasional post where I laud a Republican for having some class.

Being behind by 399 votes shortly before the finish of the recount in a special election to fill an open house seat in New York state, Jim Tedisco conceded about an hour ago. Democrat Scott Murphy will represent the 20th district of New York in Congress. Tedisco had started the race out with a 20 point lead over Murphy in the polls but was hurt by his failure at first to say and then saying he would have voted against the President's stimulus plan while Murphy said up front that he supported it. Having made up twenty points on the specific issue of the stimulus, Murphy's win shows that Republicans run against President Obama's economic plans at their own peril.

UPDATE: the recount has been completed and it shows that Tedisco lost by 401 votes.

Recall that in 2004 in Washington state, Dino Rossi dragged the governor's race through the court system for months before he was forced to give it up. So he ran in a rematch last year against Governor Gregoire largely on an 'I-wuz-robbed' platform, and voters had had enough by then of Dino Rossi and he lost big (no recount necessary.)

Tedisco, on the other hand probably gains something with the voters for recognizing that he wasn't going to win and walking away instead of dragging it through the courts.

Somebody ought to tell Norm Coleman.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Even in New York, not enough people can afford an afternoon at the ballgame

It's not often that I sympathize with the New York Yankees.

I once told a friend of mine when we were discussing which baseball teams we liked that at the end of the day I rooted for 'any team that doesn't play its home games in the Bronx.'

But you have to feel just a little bit for the Steinbrenner family about now.

They made a decision before the recession to put together and spend $1.6 billion for a new Yankee Stadium, replacing the legendary old park that was better known as 'the house that Ruth built,' recognizing the man who is still the greatest Yankee (and some believe still the greatest ballplayer) ever.

In order to ensure that their 'build it and they will come' philosophy would work, the Yanks went out and spent millions more on C.C. Sabathia, the cream of the free agent crop, adding to their team payroll which for years has been at the top of the list in baseball.

Of course to recoup all that revenue they jacked up the prices to sky high, even by New York standards. The luxury section, known as the 'legends suite,' sells for $500-$2500 per ticket, per game (plus a small additional surcharge for non-season ticket holders.) That of course is just to get your seat, amenities extra-- at inflated ballpark prices of course.

Only a funny thing is happening though. The Yankees built it, but they did not come.

The most expensive spots in America's costliest ballpark have become an embarrassment packing a financial sting to the proud New York Yankees, as the Legends Suite section in the infield has been filled only once in the six games since the $1.5 billion stadium opened last week.

On most days, the 1,895 seats that cost $500-$2,500 as part of season tickets and go up to $2,625 for individual games haven't been close to full. And as TV cameras pick up the patchy attendance with every pitch, it serves as a little tweak to America's richest baseball team.

"We're done talking about seats," Yankees president Randy Levine said on Wednesday. "We're not talking about seats."

Just a bit annoyed, wouldn't you say? The article goes on to point out that there are even a bunch of empty seats behind home plate (imagine seeing empty seats behind home plate in the old Yankee stadium.) Apparently during a recession even America's most storied franchise with a brand new park can't just keep raising prices like it was the mid 2000's when they began working on this project.

Even in New York, there aren't enough people with enough money to spend it like that any more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just one more small step towards boondocksville

More discussion going on today in the legislature about the effect of state budget cuts on our state and especially on education. Keep in mind that the universities already got hit hard last year.

Meanwhile, the 2010 U.S. News rankings of Law Schools came out.

The University of Arizona law school dropped eight spots from last year, from #35 to #43. ASU fell three spots, to #55.

Just another raindrop in the storm.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Key witness in State Department passport case gunned down outside his church-- one year anniversary

Remember a scandal that erupted last year in the State Department when it turned out that Department employees had illegally accessed passport information regarding Barack Obama? Later on it turned out that the files of Hillary Clinton and John McCain were also accessed, though most of the scrutiny was of Obama's passport file.

At the time it was passed off as the clumsy work of a couple of low level trainees who apparently had accessed the information on a lark. Then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice even called Obama to apologize for the breach. A number of State Department employees were fired as a result.

Only the investigation didn't stop there. It led to an ongoing investigation into passport fraud. One key witness was Lieutenant Quarles Harris, Jr.

Well, obviously there is more at stake here than just ordinary passport fraud. Harris was shot to death one year ago yesterday as he sat in his car in front of his church.

It is not yet known who killed him or whether it is related to the passport fraud case. We will have to wait for the police to finish their investigation before we know that. But the fact that Harris was apparently specifically targeted at a location where he was known to frequent on Sundays is disturbing to say the least. Will they ever find out who killed him or will this simply be swept under the rug?

CORRECTION: I had originally looked at the date on the story and figured it happened this year. In fact this year was the one year anniversary of when it happened. And apparently they still have no killer.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Maybe it's not Texas, but Arizona that's like a whole other country.

Some highlights of the state budget that was passed by the state house of representatives by a unanimous vote:

*-- A 5.1% increase in spending (thanks to the use of federal stimulus funds without draconian cuts elsewhere)

*-- Increased scholarships for students whose families make less than $50,000 by 25%

*-- Expanded electric bill discounts for the poor

*-- Promotes the creation of a high speed rail line between two of the state's biggest cities

*-- Took money from the Governor's office budget to fund programs for veterans and the mentally ill.

*-- Gave most state workers, retired state workers and retired teachers a $1,000 one-time bonus

Wow, our house did that?? No, it was another state's house. A liberal, northeastern, high tax state then? No, it was TEXAS.

Granted this budget will have to be reconciled with the budget passed by the more conservative Texas Senate, but it shows that even in a conservative state it is possible this year to pass a progressive budget.

Except that here in Arizona our legislators give us a choice between draconian, more draconian and most draconian.

Homeland Security memo twisted out of shape by the right

This week the Homeland Security Department released a memo outlining ongoing terror threats and new ones that are developing.

Within hours the right was all over the document, and distorting it in misleading and terrible ways.

Well, let me defend the memo and the department and its chief, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.

First, let's address the whole issue of domestic versus foreign terrorism. Despite what you may have heard, nowhere does the memo suggest that we should be any less vigilant on the issue of foreign terrorists. We still live in a world containing people outside the United States who want to kill Americans and the memorandum says nothing to downplay that fact.

It does however highlight domestic terrorism as the fastest growing terror threat at this time. If anything, I'd think the right would be taking plaudits and repeating their oft-repeated assertion that this shows that the Bush administration's policy against foreign terrorists worked, at least inside the United States. And while I may feel that some of the tactics employed by the Bush administration may have been unnecessarily intrusive and a violation of civil rights (such as the right to search your home when you are not present and without presenting a warrant) I'm willing to give them credit in that attacks by foreign terrorists since 9/11 have all occurred outside rather than inside the United States.

But the right chooses to go after the whole 'domestic terrorist' argument as an attack on them. Where does it say that? The memo is about growing terrorist threats, and nowhere does it suggest that anyone who speaks out peacefully against the administration is a threat.

It does go into some detail about the profile of people that domestic terror groups are looking to recruit. One sentence states that returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more likely to be recruited by these groups because they value their weapons training and combat experience. Unfortunately the right has turned this on its ear and said that the memo claims that veterans are now being called terrorists. House Republican Leader John Boehner called the language 'offensive' and demanded an apology. The commander of the American Legion demanded that that section of the document be retracted. Napolitano has contacted him to set up a meeting to discuss the issue. However the interpretation that the memorandum calls veterans domestic terrorsts is a gross distortion. For one thing, the memo says that these groups are looking to recruit returning veterans. Obviously if you are recruiting someone they are not yet a member of your organization. Further, it is a fact that all terrorist organizations (foreign or domestic) need to recruit people and if you know who they want to recruit then you can take advantage of that knowledge (for example if the FBI wants to infiltrate a domestic terror group then they would probably start by looking for agents that fit the profile of who the group is recruiting.) Saying that domestic terror groups look to recruit veterans is no more an indictment of veterans than for example the statement that al-Qaeda likes to recruit young unemployed muslims is an indictment of all young unemployed muslims (at least not to any rational person-- maybe the right does read it that way since some of them actually do believe that all young unemployed muslims are therefore terrorists.)

The memo goes on to discuss a number of specific issue-indentified terror threats, most notably militant anti-abortion groups or individuals. From this, the right has twisted it to claim that anyone who expresses a pro-life opinion on abortion is therefore being tarred as a terrorist. Which is of course ridiculous. Nothing in the memo says any such thing, but it is a fact that we live in a nation in which several doctors have been murdered and numerous abortion clinics have been bombed. This is terrorism, plain and simple, and if the right can't figure out the difference between a pastor who uses his First Amendment right to speak out against abortion and Eric Robert Rudolf, then they are either stupid or are being wilfully ignorant. The Homeland Security Department is concerned with preventing acts of violence, and if there is an increased potential for violence from anti-abortion extremists then it is the responsibility of the deparment to recognize that and take action to prevent it. The memo isn't about shutting anybody up, it's about stopping terrorists before they strike.

And that is the crux of the problem. If this memorandum was never issued and a terrorist attack occurred then the department would be attacked for never delving into the groups that carried it out (just as the right used the occasion of the Oklahoma City Bombing to jump all over the Clinton administration for supposedly weakening domestic surveillance and not looking closer at those kinds of groups after Waco.)

Incidentally the same memorandum suggests that left-wing extremists are more likely to be involved with cyberterrorism. I'm not sure how come computer literate people on the left are more likely to engage in malicious hacking than computer literate people on the right, but I am throwing that in to show the contrast-- for the most part the righties are assuming this memo targets them and are ignoring that section of the document, except for a couple of talk radio heads who have instead jumped on it as what they claim is 'the only thing in it that is true.' You can't win with this paranoid, xenophobic crowd.

I would like to conclude that I believe that it was a mistake to put FEMA under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department. DHS is tasked with stopping terrorism before it happens, not picking up the pieces afterward. That is what FEMA does, but if DHS does its job well then FEMA will be able to concentrate on natural disasters.

But instead of 'you're doing a great job, Brownie' apparently the reaction of the right to the memo put out by DHS is that they are baking something into the brownies.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Tea parties" turn ugly

I've been looking on the internet for 'tea party' coverage today, and the organized protest that appears to have been put together by the GOP doesn't seem to have nearly as much pop as, for example, the antiwar protests of a couple of years ago.

It started with FOX News blaring about 'hundreds of people in Boston.'

Yeah. A few hundred in one of the countries' major metropolitan areas. That was with great weather, free finger food and a chance get their face on TV. I think more people than that show up every night and pay to watch a double-A baseball game just about anyplace in the country. Remember that over two million people came to the Obama inauguration, on a very cold day when they had to stand in line for hours and not only was no food provided but there was a shortage of porta-potties.

However this has shown a lot of what the right wing and their following is really about.

On CNN (courtesy of blog for Arizona), reporter Susan Roesgen interviews a couple of people who appear to actually know as much as the typical 'idiot-on-the-street' that Jay Leno likes to interview when he goes walking. One guy keeps saying Obama is a fascist and apparently has no idea what that means. He just keeps repeating that Obama is a fascist.

Ignoring the fact that the crowd shots they've shown (if you could call it a 'crowd') are pretty much all white, two incidents really highlight what this is about.

1. They had one in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Someone threw a box over the fence. Security had to clear Pennsylvania Avenue and call in the bomb squad who sent a robot to examine the box. Luckily it turned out only to be a box of tea but the threat was unequivocable.

2. Joe Wurzelbacher (also known as 'Joe the Plumber') in stretching his fifteen minutes of fame into what is getting to be really annoying hours and days and weeks, was hosting a rally and on Pajamas Media TV a protester asked him if he'd like to waterboard President Obama.

So in other words, it's not about taxes at all (especially since not only are the Bush tax cuts still in force but this year in the stimulus package the Obama administration gave them another tax cut that is already showing up in paychecks.) It's not even about spending and government programs (though that is the ultimate goal of many of the GOP operatives who have been organizing this-- they don't want national health care or any other new programs.) These two incidents make it very clear that the one thing that is tying many of these people together is raw hatred of the President.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Texas Governor Seeks 'Sovereignty' from the United States.

I guess there are worse things than having Jan Brewer for Governor. Not that I can think of very many right now, but here is one: having Rick Perry for Governor.

Yeah, the residents of the great state (make that nation, if he gets his way) of Texas now have a bona fide nut, and it's official.

Perry, who is facing a tough GOP primary battle against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who wants his job, is suddenly sounding worse than any Arizona nutcake (and we've certainly got ours too.) Perry is expressing his support for 'Texas sovereignty.'

OK. As I understand it, 'sovereignty' has a lot of meanings, ranging from the right to void federal laws that one dislikes to full independence. However, it is usually interpreted as closer to the latter than the former.

Now it is true that Texas was an independent country for nine years (from 1836-1845) and that it also was one of eleven confederate states that seceded from the union during the Civil War, but that was a real, real long time ago. And in fact by the treaty in 1845 that brought Texas into the union, Texas has certain rights that no other state has (1. at least in Texas, it is legal to fly the state flag at the same height as the U.S. flag, 2. Texas has the right by treaty to subdivide itself into as many as five other states.) But even that isn't good enough for Perry. He wants actual or effective independence.

Maybe they should figure on building that 'border fence' so it walls off Texas rather than Mexico. Not only would it fit Perry's new definition of the border of the United States but it would keep some of the nutty thinking that exists inside, on the inside.

President handles his first crisis perfectly.

So much for the naysayers.

The far right was wondering, even salivating over the day when President Obama would face a significant international crisis. They were excited about having an opportunity to paint him as 'weak' or a 'wimp' (the kind of language you hear bandied about if you have the stomach to listen to right wing radio or read righty blogs, which I sometimes do so I can chuckle at the idiocy.) They even ginned up the non-crisis of the recent North Korean missile launch (which we've known was going to happen for months) as proof that the President wasn't up to the task of protecting the American people (apparently thinking that if he'd just shot the thing down then we'd all be much safer-- of course if he had they'd say that was still too tepid and yell that he should have ordered an all out attack on North Korea.)

Well, there isn't much they can say right now. The President did face an international challenge, received regular briefings on it, tried as hard as he could to defuse the situation diplomatically (though without budging on American policy to never pay ransom-- although some righties were taking guesses on how much ransom he would pay and how soon) and then when the time came to use force he gave the commanders on the scene (because they can see all that is happening much better than he can from Washington) authorization to use lethal force against the Somali pirates if the hostage was in 'imminent danger.' The commander of the SEAL team stationed on the rear of the U.S.S. Bainbridge concluded that he was and used lethal force. Against the three pirates who were constituting the imminent danger, and not against anyone else. Granted no one else was around but this stands in sharp contrast to the testosterone soaked trail of bodies that the right defines as 'foreign policy success.'

The final moment was handled perfectly by the military, but the whole crisis leading up to that conclusion was handled perfectly by the President of the United States.

However, in another stark contrast with his predecessor, this President didn't try to hog the glory. He praised the navy SEAL team that carried out the assault, but didn't try to play it up. In fact, there are five men who deserve the 'hero' label for this (Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, Commander Frank Costellano of the U.S.S. Bainbridge who made the call on the scene, and the three team members who each made a perfect shot in rolling seas in a situation where a miss of even a fraction of an inch could have resulted in a much different outcome) and the President isn't pretending to be one of them.

As Gloria Borger succinctly noted,

Obama "didn't wrap himself around the bravery of those military seals."

Indeed, he commended the captain, the SEALs, called for multilateral efforts to stop piracy -- and went on the next day to give an economic speech. Indeed, this aide adds, "He's not about to put on a flight suit on an aircraft carrier and declare mission accomplished."

Message accomplished.

Borger then goes on to contrast this with a typical 'leader' of the right:

But what about the style of say, Newt Gingrich? The former House Speaker -- often mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2012 -- decided to Twitter his inner thoughts on the pirates in real-time.

Last Saturday: "Obama is making a major mistake in not forcefully outlining the rules of civilization for dealing with pirates. We look weak."

By Monday, after the safe rescue of the captain, Gingrich was, er, a tad more laudatory: "The Navy seals did exactly the right thing in rescuing the American captain. President Obama did the right thing in allowing the Navy to act."

A grudging kudo, if there ever was one.

I guess Newt would have rushed in on Saturday when the mission would likely have been much riskier because there were still four, rather than three pirates on the boat and when the ideal moment when all the pirates and the hostage (Phillips) were all in plain sight had not yet come. I'm glad he's not the President in that case.

The message is clear. Unlike his predecessor this is not a President who goes looking for a fight. But if someone picks a fight with the U.S.A. while he is the President then he won't shirk from the need to do what is necessary to protect American lives.

OK, the right got their wish. President Obama was challenged with an international crisis. Adage to think about-- be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

ASU will give President Obama an honorary degree, after all

It looks like ASU will backtrack from their previously stated position and give President Obama an honorary degree when he speaks at the commencement next month.

That's nice of them.

Considering that among previous honorary degree recipients are an aloe vera tycoon and Canadian and Chinese officials, it seems absurd that the sitting President of the United States would not be presented with at least an honorary degree.

I'm shocked that they ever considered inviting a commencement speaker-- much less the President of the United States without giving an honorary degree (keep in mind it is a cheap perk. An honorary degree together with a ten dollar bill will be good enough for a meal at McDonald's.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The price of decades of Republican rule in the legislature

After decades of the legislature being under the control of the same party, we've reached the point where taxes were cut to the point where they just allowed every institution in the state to operate on a shoestring budget even in the best of times.

But during a recession like we are in now, tax revenues are down and demands are up, and there is no way they can raise taxes (thanks to the law they pushed though via ballot initiative some years ago that requires are supermajority in both houses to pass a tax increase.) In other words they ran the car into the ditch and then disabled the control mechanism.

So, ironically we've now reached the point where a Republican governor is trying to put a measure on the ballot asking voters to approve a one cent temporary sales tax increase, and even the state Republican Party is backing the tax hike.

I may have to hold my nose and vote for it, but in so doing I believe it is critically important that we point out why it has come to this-- irresponsible and reckless huge and irreversible tax cuts from the party that has run the legislature for at least thirty years.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I wonder if the kid on the Hawaiian Punch cans has been named as a 'person of interest'

A crime story that is truly weird:

STOCKHOLM - Police say a Japanese pop star dressed up as a pineapple has been robbed while shooting a music video in southern Sweden.

Police spokesman Bo Paulsson says three young men beat up 41-year-old Hideki Kaji and robbed him of camera equipment worth around 20,000 kronor ($2,500) late Saturday.

The camera crew that was supposed to be filming him was taking a break. There are no suspects as yet and police are still investigating.

Well, I suppose that if you are of a mindset to rob somebody then a guy dressed up as a pineapple sitting around with some expensive camera equipment would qualify as an easy 'mark.'

Senate Republicans try to make President keep Americans in the dark about torture memos. He should call their bluff.

According to Scott Horton at the Daily Beast, Senate Republicans have threatened to 'go nuclear' and block some of President Obama's judicial appointments in order to prevent him from releasing Bush administration memos involving torture.

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

It is disappointing to me that the administration appears to be knuckling under to this particular blackmail. It is important that we as Americans know what exactly happened (or for that matter didn't happen) over the past several years.

Go ahead and release the memos. If Republicans want to be identified as willing to block the President's judicial counsels in order to stick up for the Bush policy of torturing prisoners then let them so be identified.

I'm not arguing that the position of legal counsel isn't important, either in the Deparments of State or of Justice. But how much we find out about what happened is critical if we want to decide publically and in a national debate about whether we are ever going to allow this stuff to happen again.

Besides, I've heard righty after righty after righty claim that Americans will support them and that nothing that bad was done to people who (they claim) were all known terrorists. OK, let's accept that at face value. If that is true, then why are the Senate Republicans going to the wall to try and prevent these memos from being released into the public domain? If there is really nothing more there beyond what is already known and if the public supports them on it, then wouldn't they welcome the disclosure? But obviously there is more there, and they are willing to as an entire Senate conference lay it on the line just to make sure that we never find out what has been done 'in our name.'

I say, call their bluff. Let the public decide who is right about this.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Tax cut proposal in the face of massive budget cuts is an outrage

Three years ago the state legislature passed a temporary, three year suspension of a statewide property tax known as the equalization tax. The tax is designed to provide funding for school and community college districts that have a lower tax base relative to their population than more affluent areas.

The tax primarily affects some businesses, especially in more affluent areas.

The tax is due to expire this year. And like most temporary tax cuts, it appears that some of those affected by the tax consider it a birthright to have this tax taken off the books. They are already shouting about how when it comes back it will be a tax 'increase.'

Of course that is patently ridiculous. It is no more a tax increase than it would be a 'price hike' if your local merchant put an item on sale for a few weeks and then ended the sale on schedule. Rather than being grateful for being given a three year tax holiday, these individuals and businesses are howling about a 'tax increase' they will get when the tax cut expires on schedule.

But beyond that they are lobbying the legislature to not just extend the tax holiday but make it permanent.

Which of course in 2006 when it was passed, they might have had a case, but in 2009 with the state facing a $3 billion budget shortfall and slashing funds for virtually everything in the state, and in addition we may be asked later this year to vote on a 1% sales tax statewide.

Under these circumstances giving a tax cut to a few wealthy business owners who think they should be exempt from the shared sacrifice that the rest of the state is undergoing would be not only foolish but immoral.

They do of course have some lobbyists working on the legislature. But hopeully our legislators will have the backbone to not buckle under this special interest legislation.
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