Friday, December 31, 2010

Republicans to prove that they can read

Via my libertarian older brother, the first order of business for the soon-to-be Republican leadership in the House of Representatives will be to read the Constitution on the chamber floor.  They also have some big plans for changes to the House rules:
Keeping with the theme, Republicans will also require every new bill presented on the House floor to cite which article in the Constitution authorizes the enacting of such legislation, a nod to the Tea Party, which made the Constitution a tenant of its movement throughout the midterm election cycle.
The Republicans say that among other changes, they intend to require a vote in order to raise the nation's debt ceiling; they will take attendance at committee meetings and publish the record; and they will require new mandatory spending to be offset by cuts to other programs. Also, the full text of bills must be circulated at least 24 hours before they are considered.
Some of the rules being introduced by Republicans are more expanded than they are new: The 111th Congress, which ended this year, had House Rule XIII, clause 3(d)(1). It required a "statement of constitutional authority of Congress to enact" to be included in every bill brought to the House floor.
House Republicans of the 112th Congress are taking it a few steps further. As Majority Leader–designate Eric Cantor's website explains, Republicans have a commitment to "require every bill to cite its specific Constitutional Authority" and are "recommending a change to standing Rules of the House to require that each bill or joint resolution introduced in the House be accompanied by a statement citing the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the proposed law."
This is a great plan.  I'm sure that when the Constitution is read, all those Representatives will be all, "Hey, we were totally off-base!  It's not that we have honest differences in Constitutional interpretation.  It's that none of us ever read it before!"

Then the Republicans will be all, "We've never even heard of the General Welfare clause!"

And the Democrats will be all, "And we've never even heard of the Militia clause!"

"Let us agree to place a statement on each bill citing the Constitutional Authority justifying it.

"Since we all agree now, we will never argue about what constitutes a valid Constitutional Authority again!"

"Good show, sirs!"

"Indeed, comrades!"

This isn't bullshit political grandstanding.  Not at all.

On a slightly less sarcastic note, some of the other rules they propose aren't all bad, but requiring "new mandatory spending to be offset by cuts to other programs" is ridiculous.  Taxes apparently aren't a valid way to pay for anything.  In fact, they can cut taxes even further with no such restrictions, as Paul Krugman points out in The New York Times (via Digby at Hullabaloo):

To be sure, there were renewed claims that tax cuts lead to higher revenue. But 2010 marked the emergence of a new, even more profound level of magical thinking: the belief that deficits created by tax cuts just don’t matter. For example, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona — who had denounced President Obama for running deficits — declared that “you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”
It’s an easy position to ridicule. After all, if you never have to offset the cost of tax cuts, why not just eliminate taxes altogether? But the joke’s on us because while this kind of magical thinking may not yet be the law of the land, it’s about to become part of the rules governing legislation in the House of Representatives.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the incoming House majority plans to make changes in the “pay-as-you-go” rules — rules that are supposed to enforce responsible budgeting — that effectively implement Mr. Kyl’s principle. Spending increases will have to be offset, but revenue losses from tax cuts won’t. Oh, and revenue increases, even if they come from the elimination of tax loopholes, won’t count either: any spending increase must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere; it can’t be paid for with additional taxes.
Here's an added bonus from Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly's "Political Animal" (via Atrios at Eschaton):
And then there's the other part of House Republicans' new budget rules.
A little-noticed detail in the new rules proposed by House GOP leaders would  greatly increase the power of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee. As National Journal's Katy O'Donnell reports, the new rules say that, for fiscal 2011, the chairman will set spending limits without needing a vote.
If that sounds insane, that's because it is. Under the proposed rules, Ryan would be empowered to single-handedly establish spending levels if the House and Senate struggle to agree on a budget resolution. Just as important, Ryan's levels would be binding on the chamber, without even being subjected to a vote.
Awesome!  Apparently, Republicans can simply obstruct any budget plan, and then Rep. Ryan will be made Almighty Master of the Budget!  Where exactly is the Constitutional Authority for that?

Happy New Year!

UPDATE: Blue Texan at Firedoglake nails it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rep. Steve King endorses some ideas for House investigations

Via Dennis G. at Balloon Juice, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) wants the House of Representatives to conduct a series of investigations.
"There has been a list of government oversight and investigations that needs to be taken up. And it's just a natural thing that people that are in charge don't want to investigate their own party. I saw that happen to some degree when Republicans were in charge, and I clearly see it happen now with Democrats controlling the presidency and the House and the Senate.
Yes, the Democrats don't want to investigate their own party.  This explains the investigations of Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Charles Rangel (whose investigation resulted in censure) by the Office of Congressional Ethics that the Democrat-controlled House created.
"So I think that you will see investigations of ACORN, for one. You'll hear a lot more in the news about ACORN, and about the insidious nature of them -- about how the national organization of ACORN now has been fractured, but they're reforming in the states with the same people, the same players, the same intentions.
The Republicans won't stop beating that dead ACORN horse until President Obama is out of office.  Maybe not even then.

The whole concept of "voter registration fraud" is pretty ridiculous.  I've probably committed what these anti-ACORN jackasses consider "voter registration fraud" simply by registering to vote at the local coffee shop when I wasn't sure whether or not my shit was current.  I've lived in a number of apartments within the same district.  That doesn't mean that I was ever going to be able to cast multiple votes or that anyone else was going to be able to vote in my name.
"And there'll be other investigations looking into the Pigford farms issue, which I think is full of fraud, that what amounts to is paying reparations to black farmers in America. We don't do reparations in America."
Aside from forgetting the reparations paid to Japanese-Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II, Rep. King also apparently equates compensating specific black farmers for discrimination they personally faced specifically from the US Department of Agriculture with general reparations for slavery.

What a jackass.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Banks are apparently committing rampant foreclosure fraud

Via Atrios at Eschaton, here's another story about a family facing illegal foreclosure.  I've got to half-ass it tonight as I don't have much time for comment, but Atrios has been terrific at posting stories about the most egregious foreclosure fraud being committed by banks.  I'm told that David Dayen at Firedoglake has been the go-to source for information on this issue, but I admittedly haven't gotten around to reading much of his stuff yet.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What constitutes "the press"?

Via digby at Hullabaloo, the First Amendment Center has an article by the Associated Press regarding the collaboration between WikiLeaks and respected news outlets The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le MondeEl PaĆ­s, and The New York Times (somewhat indirectly through The Guardian) in reviewing and redacting the trove of over 250,000 diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks has been slowly releasing (1,947 of them so far at the time of this posting).

There has been an awful lot of talk about whether or not WikiLeaks falls under the definition of "the press" for the purposes of First Amendment protection.  Here's what US Attorney General Eric Holder has to say:
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week there was “an active, ongoing, criminal investigation” into WikiLeaks’ release of the material. He said the release jeopardized national security, diplomatic efforts and U.S. relationships around the world. He declined to equate WikiLeaks to traditional news organizations that enjoy certain free-press protections.
“I think one can compare the way in which the various news organizations that have been involved in this have acted, as opposed to the way in which WikiLeaks has,” Holder said. He did not elaborate on the distinction he sees between WikiLeaks and the publications.
Now there are a lot of things I like about Attorney General Holder such as his decision to end Drug Enforcement Administration raids on state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries and his attempts to hold trials in civilian court for five suspected 9/11 terrorists including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

However, on this issue he is simply wrong.  It's quite telling that he is did not elaborate on that distinction because, for the purposes of the First Amendment, there is no meaningful distinction.

So what constitutes "the press"?  If I were to offer a general guideline about what should be included, it would be basically this: any communication intended for the general public.

If any of the leaks released by WikiLeaks had been released only to a limited group such as a specific foreign government, then that could legitimately be considered espionage.  As it stands, I don't see how it can be considered anything other than press under the law, and its collaboration with these internationally respected news outlets only serves to bolster that view.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Former Bush speechwriter and policy advisor has advice for Obama

Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter and senior policy advisor for President Bush, takes to the pages of The Washington Post to suggest that President Obama take a shot at Social Security reform, but not before providing some excellent examples of the Republican concept of "compromise".  Let's take his introduction point by point.
The main achievements of the lame-duck session of Congress were reminders of what might have been. President Obama gave something to get something. To secure a second stimulus, he accepted Republican economic methods.
...those Republican economic methods primarily consisting of tax cuts which provided "stimulus" in the form of weak net job creation and which helped to turn our $800 million-plus surplus into a $1.2 trillion deficit, the deficit being the thing about which Republicans find it fashionable to panic of late.
To pass the New START treaty, Obama offered assurances to Republican senators on nuclear modernization and missile defense.
...the New START treaty initially being cynically obstructed by Republicans despite "the overwhelming support that the treaty has among both U.S. military leadership and the national security establishment."
Contrast this with health-care reform, imposed in party-line maneuvers that left an aftertaste of ideological radicalism.
 ...the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act having been modeled after the 1993 Senate Republican health plan, the Bipartisan Policy Center plan, and Mitt Romney's Massachusetts plan.
The American political system, it turns out, was not broken - just poorly used for nearly two years. obstructionist Republicans who voted in lockstep against policies they'd previously supported just to undermine President Obama and to try to ensure that he is a one-term president.

The analysis that follows is weak, though admittedly, his prescription isn't quite as severe as I would have expected, but that's faint praise at best.  Read it for yourself, but don't expect much.  After an introduction like that, it's not unreasonable to suspect that any argument about to be made isn't exactly going to be in good faith.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nick Kristof examines our bloated military budget

Nicholas D. Kristof has a recent column in The New York Times about the taboo against military spending cuts.  Just about anybody who has followed the debates on the size of the US military budget is familiar with statistics such as this one:
• The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.
However, this little tidbit really jumped out at me:
American troops in Afghanistan are among the strongest advocates of investing more in schools there because they see firsthand that education fights extremism far more effectively than bombs. And here’s the trade-off: For the cost of one American soldier in Afghanistan for one year, you could build about 20 schools.
While I definitely think that our military budget is unnecessarily huge and wasteful (especially while fighting these counterproductive wars), and that that money could and should be used on much more productive things back here in the US, I wonder how that one-soldier-to-twenty-schools figure was reached.

Does the money spent include all of the money we've spent in Afghanistan or only specifically the money that goes to transport, equip, and otherwise support the actual soldiers?  Did they figure only for the cost of construction of these schools, or did they also factor in operating costs such as for faculty, textbooks, and other supplies?

I like the article overall, and I'm always glad to see people with a large audience speaking out against the insanity of our ever-growing military expeditures (especially post-9/11), but I really wish Kristof would have included a link to the study from which he got this particular piece of information.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The new Golden Sun is the shit!

I'm visiting my family for Christmas, and my parents gave me Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on the Nintendo DS.  I was a huge fan of the first two in the series on the Game Boy Advance, so I've been really looking forward to this one.  I'm only about two hours into it so far, but I'm loving it.  If you are a fan of the series or just like Japanese RPGs in general, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  Here's the review from Kotaku if you need more convincing.  Merry Christmas and a happy slow news day!

UPDATE: The way that Blogspot automatically assigns each individual post its own unique URL based on its title worked to amusing effect on this post by removing each "the" to read "new-golden-sun-is-shit".

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pat Robertson comes out in favor of marijuana decriminalization

Via Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings, Christian televangelist and general asshole Pat Robertson is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.  While just about everything that comes out of Robertson's mouth is either incoherent or wrong (and often extremely offensive), his statements about ending marijuana prohibition are surprisingly sensible:

"We're locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they've got 10 years with mandatory sentences," Robertson continued. "These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences. We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes and that's one of 'em.
"I'm ... I'm not exactly for the use of drugs, don't get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it's just, it's costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That's not a good thing."
That's exactly right (except I don't know that mandatory minimums apply to simple marijuana possession anywhere in the US), and it's truly stunning for it to be coming from him.  While this certainly isn't enough to change my overall negative opinion of the guy, I sincerely hope his words motivate other conservative Christians to reconsider their own opinions on drug policy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

UN to investigate treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source

Via Glenn Greenwald at Salon, the UN will be launching an investigation into the treatment of Bradley Manning, the Private First Class of the US Army who is being charged with crimes surrounding the leaking of confidential documents to WikiLeaks.  Greenwald has done an excellent job reporting on WikiLeaks and on Manning's treatment, and I encourage everybody to read about it if you haven't already.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of WikiLeaks, I think we should all be able to agree that holding a US citizen -- who has not been convicted of any crime and poses no risk to himself or others -- in solitary confinement before he is even tried deeply conflicts with our nation's claimed values.  The fact that the objective of this treatment appears to be coercing Manning to make incriminating statements against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange makes it all the more disgusting.

While Manning's treatment may not meet the legal definition of "torture" (unlike waterboarding, which clearly does), it's not far from it, and it looks like it's being used toward similar ends as those to attempt to justify torture.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Are changes to Senate rules on the horizon?

Via digby at Hullabaloo, all of the Democratic Senators returning for the next turn are looking to change some of the Senate's rules.

Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.
“There need to be changes to the rules to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation instead of people being able to quietly say ‘I object’ and go home,” said Sen.Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

I've never been totally clear on whether the Republicans' ability to obstruct bills this term with the mere threat of a filibuster was due to any actual rules of the Senate or due to the simple failure of the Democrats to force them to get up there and actually filibuster.  I apparently need to learn more about cloture.

This year, McCaskill lined up backing from more than two-thirds of senators for elimination of secret holds, which allow a senator to block action on a bill or nomination anonymously. She said that Democrats will also push plans to force senators who place holds to do it publicly. 

I'll be happy if the rules on holds are reformed.  I'm not aware of any actually good reason for them (not that I've really looked around), and the idea that Senators should be able to place them anonymously seems indefensible.

How would you like to see the Senate rules reformed?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome to garmonbozia!

Hello, and welcome to my new blog!  This space will focus primarily on politics and law, as well as science and religion when they affect politics and law.  There will also be the occasional post on entertainment media (mostly video games), and of course, anything I happen to feel like ranting about on any given day.  Blogs that I read with some regularity and that have served as inspiration for this one include:

Glenn Greenwald at Salon
Balloon Juice
Whiskey Fire
Rising Hegemon
Unqualified Offerings
gin and tacos
The NonSequitur
Sadly, No!
World O' Crap
...and others.

If you're familiar with those blogs, what you can expect from me is a hackneyed attempt at a blend of mimicry of those far-superior sites.  Those sites are also where I will become aware of a number of the items that I comment upon here, and I will try to remember to throw out hat-tips where appropriate.

I'd also like to mention my friends at the now-defunct tsujigiri (formerly Corpse Divine), who were the original inspiration to start my own.  Thanks, guys!

While I'll try to provide some unique and insightful commentary here, I'm new at this, so bear with me.  I imagine it's going to be a rocky start, but hopefully I'll still be able to inform and entertain as I learn the ropes. In the meantime, welcome and enjoy!

UPDATE: I can't believe that I neglected to mention my dear old friend The Bastard Himself.  I hope that my starting up this blog helps to inspire him to get back to updating his a little more regularly again.