Sunday, April 30, 2006

King George strikes again

Bush challenges hundreds of laws: President cites powers of his office

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research....

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive-power issues, said Bush has cast a cloud over ''the whole idea that there is a rule of law," because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore.

"Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional," Golove said....

Golove said that to the extent Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of the Supreme Court's precedents, he threatens to "overturn the existing structures of constitutional law."

A president who ignores the court, backed by a Congress that is unwilling to challenge him, Golove said, can make the Constitution simply "disappear."...

Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said the American system of government relies upon the leaders of each branch ''to exercise some self-restraint." But Bush has declared himself the sole judge of his own powers, he said, and then ruled for himself every time.

"This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy," Fein said. [Due to secrecy] "There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn't doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Primer: what happens if this really works?

That is the title of an interesting if confusing movie about what happens to the relationship betwen a pair of friends when an invention they are striving to create actually works.

The movie is complicated by a bunch of jargon (early) and time travel (late). But I recommend it highly. The jargon you can ignore (although it is actually spot on if you know anything about the attempt to create superconductors, the development of which would be akin to the perpetual motion machine).

The time travel is a bit more central to the story. Suffice to say that it gets confusing because you are placed in a position of attempting to find out what has happened 'behind your back' as characters go back in time without your knowledge and revise events you had already witnessed thereby changing what you are presently witnessing.

Eventually this results in violating causality: changing something in the past that led to a future (that no longer exist) that is currently tampering in the past.

I posted the following to the topics forum so beware, SPOILERS AHEAD (it likely won't make any sense unless you've seen the movie anyway).


There are only two Aarons - meaning that there are only two permanent copies of Aaron. That does not prevent there from being three Aarons at a particular point in the movie, just as there only being one Abe prior to his failsafing does not mean that there are not two versions of Abe walking around (or hiding in a hotel) during previous portions of the movie.

People need to distinguish clearly between permanent copies that result from an interference by a future copy in causality (preventing their former self from entering the box) and 'looped copies' which resolve themselves into one by looping through the box.

Let me address the incident which most people take to be evidence for three separate Aarons: the fight that Aaron2 has with himself while Aaron1 is tied up in the attic. What happens is that Aaron2 is fighting with Aaron1 after Aaron1 has escaped the attic (which we know will happen) and then enters the failsafe to combat Aaron2. That is why Aaron1 (the fighter) is too tired to beat Aaron2: he has just escaped from the privations of the attic and spent a number of days traveling back in time to fight Aaron2.

Aaron1 (attic) will enter the box unless Aaron1 (fighter) prevents this. There is absolutely NO indication that this closure of the loop is prevented. In fact it seems that Aaron1 (fighter) has come back precisely to prevent himself from spawning a permanent double, but can't succeed in defeating Aaron2. So in the face of the evidence it seems reasonable to assume that Aaron1 (attic) will eventually escape - we know he does because we see it and we also see him fighting with Aaron2. After his escape he goes to the failsafe and vanishes, hence: there are only two Aarons: Aaron2 who wears the hoodie and goes to some French-speaking nation, and Aaron1, who will eventually successfully loop with his double and therefore does NOT spawn a third Aaron.

This interpretation is confirmed by the final conversation in the airport, where Aaron speaks of dividing the world into two hemispheres, one for each copy of Aaron and Abe (and jokingly, their wife and girlfriend).

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Common Good

An issue that has received a lot of attention lately is the fact that, although the public is sick and tired of the GOP, the Dems do not seem to offer much of an alternative simply because people have a hard time figuring out what exactly what they stand for. This is a shame, because it is due in large part to the Dems themselves. Not only does it prevent them from presenting a principled approach to a whole variety of issues (hence what you read in the press is about Dem strategy and tactics, not values and commitments) but it also allows the GOP an easier time in defining their opponents.

The historical roots of this problem stem in part from the Watergate upheaval, which introduced a renewed Democratic majority at a time when civil rights was tearing down the old New Deal coalition, but a majority based basically on not being the GOP in 1974 and then hanging on like grim death to the advantages of incumbency. The fecklessness of this approach has been exacerbated by the disfunctions of the Dem party where too many of the same failed tacticians have been calling the shots for campaigns for far too long.

Also, many of the Dems supporters have organized themselves into single interest advocacy groups that fail to take into account the larger picture. For example, feminists may oppose Casey (Dem pro-life for Senate in PA) despite the fact that, as a reliable Democratic vote in the Senate Casey will de facto be supporting a much more 'feminist' agenda regardless of his personal views, simply becuase he will vote for a Dem as a majority leader and will likely vote against regressive judicial appointments - as has Reid (Senate Minority Leader and also pro-life) - on the basis of an evaluation covering a whole host of progressive issues. The Dem interest groups are still acting as if the Dems had the majority, in which case lobbying for a narrow set of goals may make a limited amount of sense - but the Dems do not and the behavior of such groups will help perpetuate that situation by protraying the Dems as kowtowing to particular interests even if their pliciy stances are derived from attempting to uphold the common good for our entire society.

As a result of these factors, Dems appear to many less political people as always trying to play an angle, to play 'politics' with issues that for many people are more than just political footballs. The one consistent charge the GOP tries to make every election cycle (well, well apart innuendo about sexual shenanigans) is that Dems don't stand for anything, they lack 'backbone,' they blow with the preailing winds and 'flip-flop.'

The GOP has realized that people will respect you even if they don't agree with you if those disagreements are a matter of conscientious beliefs. The Dems need to rediscover their backbone and stand distinctly for a set of beliefs and only then address particular political issues. Issues are no substitute for core beliefs. It doesn't matter how many issues you agree with your constituents on if they cannot link those positions up to a much greater, overarching perspective that informs them and gives the voter confidence in the candidate's ability to prioritize and make judgments without bending to special interests.

What makes this even more frustrating is that the Dems do have overarching commitments, but they fail to discuss politics in these terms. The notion of the party of the 'common man' and the 'common good' has been discarded for a long time as old fashioned 'class warfare' and potentially offputting to donors, but it is in reality the Dems best argument for the stances they tend to take and the actions they favor.

Hurricane Katrina should be tattooed on every voters' conscience when it comes time to vote this November, because it encapsulates the differences between Dems and the GOP perfectly. When people are in trouble they do not look to abstractions like 'the market,' they look to government. The GOP loves to spout ideology about big versus small government, but in reality the public only cares if the government is efficient and is fair.

Obscure ideological debates over the size of government simply distract us from the more central question: is the government doing what it should be to aid the public good or not? It is not an ideological question, it is a simple pragmatic question of practicality. If my neighbors house is burning down, do I ask him if he invested wisely in the fire prevention devices? Do I turn my back and tell him to quit 'whining' for help? Or do I get together with him and other neighbors and put the fire out?

The same is true of the government: whether to use the resources of our government - the govenment that our tax dollars pay for - should not be subject to the GOP ideological mumbo-jumbo over the who the government can help (corporations) and who it can't (individuals). If we need it to serve the public interest, then it should do so. The alternative is Katrina - with the government standing by helplessly because of the ideological blinkers of our 'leaders' - the most power nation on earth unwilling to help its own people in distress. It is the equivalent of the fire department watching a house burn down simply because 'they did not have proper paperwork to fight the fire.'

Dems need to emphasize who what they advocate is in order to better serve the common good of a diverse and dynamic society. There are no answers in advance, as the GOP and its ideology would have you believe. The best answer is the answer that works to advance the common good. That is why the middle class and those who want to be middle class should embrace the Dems - not because of a laundry list of particular issues - but rather because the Dems work to ensure that everyone get a fair shake and that the government works for the people, not the people working for the government so that it can shower rewards on the few.

Katrina is the GOP vision, a country fettered by ideology. The country that won WWII and rebuilt Europe through pragmatic decisionmaking - that is the Dem vision.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The New Yorker: Fact: ...There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’”...

Liars who KNOWINGLY lied to us

Lacking Biolabs, Trailers Carried Case for War:

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories....

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Democratic Party Plan - the US Constitution

It's an oldy but a goody. It is tried and tested. Its past success is beyond doubt. It is called the Constitution of the United States.

Yep, that is the plan the Democratic Party should suggest every time a talking head suggests that they have 'no plan' (and Bush does?).

What does this plan entail? For one thing it requires independent branches of government. And those independent branches act as checks and balances on each other. We haven't had that since Clinton was in office, and hence... well, you know the rest.

Why are independent branches of government important? Couldn't the Democratic party acted as a check on the GOP all this time? Well, I for one will agree that individual Democrats could have taken a more agressive stance, but institutionally speaking it makes all the difference in the world if you are in the majority as opposed to the minority. Majority status allows you to set the agenda, allows you to realistically bargain with other branches, and perhaps most important allows you to use subpoena's to conduct real hearings designed to air the truth.

Under the GOP rubberstamp Congress, we have all been treated like mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed manure. The best aspect of the Constitutional plan is securing the ability to pierce the veil of lies and talkshow blathering and finally get some true idea of how bad our situation is. After all, the first rule in emergency management is to assess the situation in order to properly set priorities.

Pundits who ask the Democratic Party to come up with a comprehensive plan should be reminded that most of us - including the members of Congress - simply do not know what the true situation is. How does one plan in such an environment? First, by ferreting out the truth. A good start towards that goal would be by actually honoring the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution.