Who didn’t see this coming?

In what will likely be sold as fiscal sanity, but is in reality only a calculated political conclusion that eliminating tax cuts raising taxes is more acceptable than eliminating wasteful spending, the Senate Finance Committee decided not to extend dividend and capital gains tax cuts.

Facing a stalemate over one of President Bush’s top economic policy goals, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday gave up efforts to extend deep cuts to the tax rate on dividends and capital gains and approved a $60 billion tax measure largely devoted to hurricane relief and tax cuts with bipartisan appeal.

The measure, which could pass the Senate today, marks the latest in a string of legislative setbacks for Bush, who has repeatedly called on Congress to make his first-term tax cuts permanent and has taken particular pride in the 2003 dividends and capital gains tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2008.

“The fact is, these are a confluence of challenges that require a confluence of choices,” said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), who forced Republican leaders to back down on the dividends and capital gains extensions when she argued such cuts would primarily benefit the wealthy as Congress was moving to cut programs for the poor.

A confluence of challenges indeed. Perhaps she and her fellow Senators should look in the mirror to find the biggest source. But benefiting the wealthy? Sure, but they’re hardly alone. I’m not wealthy, yet those tax cuts affect me by helping me become wealthy. It’s might be helpful for the Senate to remember that I’m doing the work to make myself wealthy, not the multitude of spending nonsense they offer. Might it be better to start with spending than with taxes?

When Republicans start co-opting the economic language of Democrats, little hope remains.

This probably means I’m unpatriotic

The latest from Iraq:

Talk of a secret detention center at the Interior Ministry compound had surfaced in Baghdad this summer. Officials of the ministry, whose ranks are made up mainly of former members of Shiite militias, have repeatedly acknowledged some human rights abuses by their forces but never confirmed the rumors of a secret torture center run with the help of intelligence agents from neighboring Iran.

The first official acknowledgment of the allegations came Monday, when Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the Interior Ministry’s undersecretary for security, said an investigation would be opened into unspecified reports that ministry officers tortured suspects detained in connection with the country’s insurgency.

We rightfully must speak out against this nonsense, because turning Iraq from a tyrannical pro-torture government into a democratic pro-torture government isn’t much of a win. But President Bush should, even though he never will, understand that our moral ground is now quicksand on this. Well done.

The shocking psychology of job applications

In my (hopefully) growing wisdom, I work to be less excitable and more inclined to thinking than snap decisions. So, yesterday when I saw the news that Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito wrote in 1985 of his adamant disagreement on the constitutional principles underlying legalized abortion, I dismissed it. Not because I particularly worry about his opinions on abortion; I don’t. I’d be more interested in his general belief on the right to privacy. The argument, whether or not Judge Alito agrees with it, that such a right to privacy is not in the Constitution would worry me considerably more. That’s what I want to know. If someone can’t read it within the Ninth Amendment, we should toss out the Constitution. Argue that the right to privacy doesn’t include the right to abortion but not that the state has the right to meddle in personal lives at will to promote some public good. Big difference.

But that’s not how Senate Democrats will use that information, as evidenced by this:

“This puts a much stronger onus on Judge Alito to answer questions on this subject,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who called the 1985 document “the strongest statement we’ve seen from a nominee on this very controversial subject for a long time.”

Want to bet he’ll discuss Judge Alito’s judicial philosophy on interpreting the Constitution? In what I’m choosing to interpret as a glimmer of hope, Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered this review after her meeting with Judge Alito:

“He said first of all it was different then,” she said. “He said, ‘I was an advocate seeking a job, it was a political job and that was 1985. I’m now a judge, I’ve been on the circuit court for 15 years and it’s very different. I’m not an advocate, I don’t give heed to my personal views, what I do is interpret the law.'”

Feinstein, who will be one of the senators questioning Alito at his Jan. 9 confirmation hearing said she thought “he was very sincere in what he said.”

My thinking trumped any snap decision I might’ve arrived at because I came to the “advocate seeking a job” conclusion, as well. It was logical and took little more than a moment and a willingness to learn the truth without concern for scoring political points. I still want the discussion to come up in January’s confirmation hearings, but I don’t expect to be happy with the line of questioning.

Christian “federalism” in Virginia

Reading about a recent action by Pastor David Ensign restored a little faith in my fellow Virginians.

Clarendon Presbyterian Church Pastor David Ensign has an alternative air about him. He wears an earring and has been known to pick up his guitar to play a few hymns during Sunday services.

But he surprised even some of Arlington’s die-hard progressives Nov. 3 at the county’s annual human rights awards ceremony, where his church was honored. He used the occasion to announce the church’s new wedding policy:

Traditional marriages are out. “Celebrations of commitment” are in.

To protest Virginia’s laws banning same-sex marriage, Ensign and the church’s governing council decided recently that Clarendon Presbyterian will no longer have any weddings, and Ensign will renounce his state authority to marry couples.

Any heterosexual couple who has their union “blessed” in a “celebration ceremony” at the tiny church will have to take the extra step of being officially wed by a justice of the peace at the courthouse.

“What we’re saying is that in the commonwealth of Virginia, the laws that govern marriage are unjust and unequal,” said Ensign, 45, who has served as the church’s pastor since 2003. He said that the matter had been bothering him for months and that he suggested the policy to the congregation’s leaders because his conscience would not allow him to continue performing legal marriages on the state’s behalf.

In the coming months, I’ll follow all the available options to protest the proposed “traditional” marriage amendment to the Virginia Constitution, even though I’m resigned to the realization that it will pass. But as Pastor Ensign shows, there is hope. No doubt he’ll face some form of punishment or rebuke from Presbyterian Church USA, but he deserves credit for acting Christ-like, which I thought was the purpose of Christianity.

Thankfully, our elected leaders in the General Assembly are smarter than us and know just how to frame decent actions like this. Right?

“I think it’s a shame that this clergyman would seek to undermine traditional marriage, which is the foundation of American society,” said state Sen. Nick Rerras (R-Norfolk), one of the legislation’s sponsors. “It’s a terrible message to send to our youth.”

It’s always about the children, isn’t it? I also thought individual liberty and freedom from tyranny were the foundation of American society, but I’m just some guy, not a State Senator. I’m willing to examine Pastor Ensign’s action from Sen. Rerras’s assumption, although I’m not quite sure what message Sen. Rerras thinks Pastor Ensign is sending. Is he upset that Pastor Ensign is teaching his congregation to reject immoral, unfair social policies? Or is he upset that Pastor Ensign is not teaching his congregation to hate? I suppose the lesson is that America is a Christian nation, unless a Christian pastor determines that his church is in “the Jesus business, not the marriage business.*” Then what, he’s a godless traitor?

I don’t know where Sen. Rerras developed his sense of American government, but it’s pathetic when a pastor understands the function of civil society better than an Assemblyman. I’d laugh at Norfolk for electing Sen. Rerras, but my neighbors are equally stupid.

* This is a quote from the article by Wilson Gunn, general executive of the National Capital Presbytery. I wish I could take credit for it.

No Vengeance, Know Justice

Last week, President Bush said that the United States does not torture. Given the significant evidence to the contrary, this was an interesting position to take. I give him enough credit that I don’t think he’s too stupid to understand what he’s saying. Unfortunately, that reflects poorly upon him, because I can come up with no other explanation than the notion that President Bush lied. Perhaps he doesn’t think he’s lying, but only in a “depends on the definition of ‘is'” manner. That makes US national security adviser Stephen Hadley’s admission clarification troubling. Consider:

“The president has said that we are going to do whatever we do in accordance with the law,” the national security adviser said. “But… you see the dilemma. What happens if on September 7th of 2001, we had gotten one of the hijackers and based on information associated with that arrest, believed that within four days, there’s going to be a devastating attack on the United States?”

He insisted that it was “a difficult dilemma to know what to do in that circumstance to both discharge our responsibility to protect the American people from terrorist attack and follow the president’s guidance of staying within the confines of law.”

This administration hasn’t found it difficult to decide what to do. The president’s guidance, based on a memo redefining torture, attempts to deny habeas corpus to detainees, and refusal to offer any information on where we house prisoners, make it very clear that any treatment short of death is acceptable. In the cases where death occurs, there’s plausible deniability because we’ll blame it on a few renegade soldiers. I don’t see the confusion here and I think Mr. Hadley’s statement confirms that the president doesn’t, either.

More importantly, Mr. Hadley’s September 7th dilemma is crap. We knew something was in the works before then, but failed to act through government bureaucracy and ineptitude. Our security officials missed the link, whether it was ignoring FBI memos warning of suspicious activity or presidential avoidance in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The intelligence gathering system worked as designed. Somehow, Mr. Hadley and everyone involved with this administration seems to forget that. That they do and that their immediate, unapologetic response is to beat the shit out of captives, whether convicted of a crime against the United States or not says a lot about President Bush’s leadership and adherence to American ideals.

The proper response isn’t even hard. Senator John McCain introduced an amendment legally binding the United States to existing policy on prisoner treatment, which President Bush explained was already our method. The amendment passed the Senate overwhelmingly, but it’s stuck in the House due to Vice President Cheney’s insistence that the CIA be exempted. Why do they need to be exempted? The question aswers itself.

I’ve stated before that “enhanced interrogation techniques” torture is not only immoral, it’s also stupid policy. So consider Sen. McCain’s argument against torture:

“I hold no brief for the terrorists,” he said. “But it’s not about them. It’s about us. This battle we’re in is about the things we stand for and believe in and practice. And that is an observance of human rights, no matter how terrible our adversaries may be.” [emphasis mine]

Aside from the most fervent anti-American hack, no one denies that the terrorists we face are scum. I knew that immediately on the morning of September 11, 2001. Like a million of my fellow citizens, I fled Washington, D.C. that day, fearful of what else might be on its way. On September 13th, I went back to work. In those two days, and in the following days and weeks, I witnessed what every person in America witnessed in our collective response to the unthinkable. We’re not scum. We’re better than those who murdered so many of our citizens and those who wish to murder again. We behaved in a way consistent with our ideals then. We didn’t need memos, we didn’t need guidance. We just did. We should again. The only unknown is whether or not the Bush administration will rejoin the rest of us before tarnishing our great country any further.

Search Mike Alstott for the two points he stole

After yesterday’s game debacle for the Redskins in Tampa, I hope all Buccaneers fans have to go through tedious, invasive searches. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they have a point, just that I don’t wish them relief.

Millions of fans attending National Football League games this season have undergone mandatory security frisks, and at FedEx Field the lines often back up to dozens of people. The tactic is one of the best ways to deter suicide bombs and other terrorist plots, league officials say, and most fans simply outstretch their arms and undergo it without objection.

But [Gordon] Johnston, a mild-mannered season ticket-holder from the nosebleed seats, has begun to raise a far-reaching ruckus. After suing the Tampa Sports Authority in October, Johnston won a court victory last week that at least temporarily halts the pat-downs at Raymond James Stadium, where the Washington Redskins are scheduled to play Sunday.

He said he dislikes being touched by “a total stranger” and believes that the potential terrorist threat has been wildly exaggerated. And with his initial court success, Johnston has become either a champion of civil liberties or a meddler whose challenge is, by restricting security measures, endangering the lives of his fellow fans.

“Hey, this is the United States of America,” Johnston said. “If you allow this, then it goes to all the other sporting events, then it spreads to restaurants and malls and every place there’s a group of people, then pretty soon what do we turn into?”

Possibly, he said, “a police state.”

I’ve been to probably a dozen games at FedEx Field Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in the four years since Septmber 11, 2001 and have experienced the same security scrutiny that Mr. Johnston complains about. I don’t have the same level of passion against such searches that Mr. Johnston feels, even though I admit to not thinking too much about the legal foundation underlying the searches. I also trust that, when the process becomes a hassle, people will stay home and watch on television. Football’s (and other sports) owners will deal with the consequences of their policies. I am glad that people like Mr. Johnston care enough to challenge the policy and fight for the underlying principles of limited government, whether the facts warrant such consideration.

Personally, I have problem with the stupidity involved.

The NFL policy calls for every ticket-holder to stand with arms extended to be patted from the waist up.

“What’s to prevent . . . hands to accidentally go other wheres,” he testified.

Forget the possibility of hands going other wheres. It’s a legitimate concern and should be dealt with by the police if it occurs. But that’s getting stuck on stupid while ignoring the obvious. Patted from the waist up doesn’t cause alarm for anyone in the NFL so concerned with fan and team safety. What’s to prevent someone from strapping explosives to legs and other wheres? If the defense is that it’ll be obvious, why will it be? The NFL will play its games in the next three months in generally cold weather. Cold weather will allow for bulky clothes. How many terrorists with explosives strapped underneath their zubas do we need before someone learns that, if it’s valid (and legal) to search fans in this way, “from the waist up” is a stupid policy. Enemies adapt, especially when the policy is public knowledge. (I am NOT advocating making such information secret, of course.) Strategies like this offer little more than a happy sensation that we’re doing something, probably for the children more than anyone.

From no textbook I remember

I had difficulty tracing backwards from this entry at TPM Cafe, so I couldn’t read the discussion preceding this entry. However, this entry provides enough information for me to know that the discussion is ridiculous. With economics so poorly misinformed, I’ll bother to offer only the obvious rebuttals. This is more interesting just to understand how some economic thinking can be accepted by so many, while still being so wrong. Consider these progressive economic solutions:

1. Raise the minimum wage. This is a proven winner for working Americans, especially women. Senator Kennedy has just introduced the Minimum Wage Act of 2005, to increase the minimum wage to $7.25. Let’s get behind it, shall we?

A proven winner? Politically, maybe, but not economically.

2. Support the right of workers to form a union. The AFL-CIO has a proposal for an Employee Free Choice Act. Check it out at http://www.aflcio.org/joinaunion/voiceatwork/efca/ I’m for it. …

I’ve never much cared for unions, although I understand the (foolish) reasons some people like them. Rather than a discourse here, I like how Kip at A Stitch in Haste describes unions as “a Twentieth-Century solution to a Nineteenth-Century problem and have little if any role in the Twenty-First Century.” That’s about right.

3. Increase Social Security benefits. Social security benefits are wealth! Social Security wealth is distributed to every working American on a truly progressive formula. It is by far the best means the country has ever devised to build wealth and security for working Americans and their surviving spouses and children. The Social Security System should of course be protected. But if you want additional wealth creation for working Americans, why not use this channel? Why not, say, credit a modestly restored estate tax to an expanded benefit? …

According to my last projected benefit statement from Social Security, I’d classify Social Security as an opportunity to buy french fries once a week in retirement. Primarily that arises from redistributing wealth, which I think I’m supposed to acknowledge as “good.” Of course, who can forget that gays and lesbians don’t get the full benefits of the “built wealth” that everyone else gets. I guess it’s very Progressive to support a system that continues to exclude gay partners but not a system allowing private ownership of retirement funds to be bestowed opon the recipient’s desired heirs. But we must remember that Social Security creates wealth, but we don’t want it to create too much, because wealth crossing from livable wage territory in to rich territory is so bad that we must tax it progressively. Schizophrenic Economic Policy 101.

4. Universal health insurance. Anyone awake during the debate over the recent bankruptcy bill knows that health crises cause bankruptcy. Want a win-win for the wealth of working Americans? Let’s protect them all from this source of disaster. …

Since there are no specifics, I can only speculate that this means government-funded insurance instead of privately-funded insurance. Better to bankrupt America than individuals, maybe, but the flood insurance system works so well, let’s replicate it. Correct me if I’m wrong.

5. Protect home equity. How do working Americans build wealth in the real world? As we all know, they do it by buying a home. If they are prudent, patient and lucky [ed. note: Huh?], they then keep their debt below the appreciation in their equity. It’s a great system, and it works pretty well. Any thoughts on how to improve it? How about steps to expand it to millions of others, including many minorities, who do not own their homes? …

If they’re too poor to save any income, as the earlier parts of the entry state, how are they buying houses? My personal experience says they’re not. And do I need to point out the implications in the last argument about minorities?

Surprisingly, the comments are worse than that. Read it if you’re interested in a little mental punishment.

The sky isn’t falling. Even in Texas.

Even though a “traditional” marriage amendment passed in Texas yesterday, and a similar amendment is likely to pass in Virginia in 2006, I’m not distressed. I’m nowhere near last year’s level of frustration because the past twelve months showed that the “losses” in this debate are short-term. Freedom has always prevailed over legalized bigotry and it will again. Instead, I’m inclined to amuse myself with the tangential aspects of the debate. From DailyKos comes this statement:

An anti-gay marriage amendment in Texas passed easily (even though it may hilariously invalidate every marriage).

I hadn’t read the text of the amendment before reading that comment, so I looked it up. The ballot language was this:

“The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

No shocker there, of course, but it doesn’t match any remote idea of a controversial interpretation. I followed the link to the amendment’s text for the answer. Here it is:

SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:

Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

SECTION 2. This state recognizes that through the designation of guardians, the appointment of agents, and the use of private contracts, persons may adequately and properly appoint guardians and arrange rights relating to hospital visitation, property, and the entitlement to proceeds of life insurance policies without the existence of any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

Section 2 reads as nothing short of a concession that some legal rights must exist. The obvious question is why Texas won’t set aside the charade that they’ve saved marriage by denying gays and lesbians access to the same civil institution, while allegedly conferring the same legal abilities. But that’s more a head-shaker than anything else. The point of the DailyKos comment is Section 1 (b).

As always, I’m not an attorney, but I understand how the amendment’s wording could lead to a different interpretation from the meaning. The text is awful, but I don’t think this will lead to any nullification of marriage. It requires the reader to insert a bit of context to interpret it the way it’s meant, but it requires just as much to interpret it broadly. With the current judicial activism nonsense, I can’t imagine a Texas judge reading the broader meaning from the text. (How this isn’t legislative activism is an appropriate question.)

An opponent could make the argument that reading the intended meaning out of that text is judicial activism, as well, and I’m inclined to agree. However, I don’t believe that argument will stick, so it’d be an energy expense with little payoff beyond intellectual entertainment. I love those scenarios, but I’m a little strange.

As an aside, if I were a Kossack, I’d be more concerned that the election post carried the title “Weird. We Won. Onward to 2006!”. When your party wins an election, you shouldn’t be surprised. Especially when taking the Governor’s mansion in both elections means handing the keys from the current Democrat to the new Democrat. Being surprised implies acceptance of permanent minority status. That’s not really leadership-oriented thinking, no?

(Source: Balloon Juice)

Economics education should be mandatory

The Senate gets it wrong investigating recent oil profits, and the press exacerbates the problem. Consider:

The chiefs of five major oil companies defended the industry’s huge profits Wednesday at a Senate hearing where lawmakers said they should explain prices and assure people they’re not being gouged.

There is a “growing suspicion that oil companies are taking unfair advantage,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said as the hearing opened in a packed Senate committee room.

“The oil companies owe the country an explanation,” he said.

Lee Raymond, retiring CEO of ExxonMobil (XOM), said he recognizes that high gasoline prices “have put a strain on Americans’ household budgets” but he defended his companies huge profits, saying petroleum earnings “go up and down” from year to year.

“Huge profits” is also in the article’s title. “Huge” is a relative term; saying profits are huge doesn’t make it so. There are other places to get detailed numerical analysis of the fallacy of “huge” profits, but near the end, the article cites James Mulla, chairman of ConocoPhillips, in pointing out that the company’s $3.8 billion profit is a 7.7% profit margin. How is that “huge”? Just like price, volume factors into the final equation. The article should not say “huge”.

I’m not surprised, though, because even our senators seem oblivious to basic business knowledge. If Sen. Domenici really wants an explanation, he can read the financial statements for every public oil company, just like investors do. Here’s a quick test for the Senators: Is ExxonMobil priced correctly at $57.84 per share? How about ConocoPhillips at $66.90 per share? Like profits, one piece of information is all you need to know the answer, right?

The difference between a Republican and a conservative

Democrat Tim Kaine is the Governor-elect in Virginia. Along with New Jersey electing a Democrat, the analysis centers on the predictive nature of yesterday’s results for next November and beyond. I think they’re a faint warning to Republicans. I doubt they’ll listen, but the next election is still twelve months away. Way too much could happen. However, one lesson that I think Republicans shouldn’t learn from Virginia is this message:

I think this loss is Kilgore’s, as his other ticketmates appear to be headed to tight wins. But even here, Bolling won in large part because downstate voters rejected the liberal Leslie Byrne.

The big disappointment was the fact that turnout was down and the GOP turnout effort appeared to do very little overall. It appeared to boost some rural areas, but not by much.

The turning point appears to have been the Democrats ability to turn a Kilgore attack ad back on Kilgore through their use of their allies in the press.

I’m not going to delve into the MSM liberal bias nonsense here, because I don’t think it’s the cause. Even if the press beat that drum, my opinion formed the moment I saw the series of ads; I needed no other help from the media. From the people I spoke with about this election, most everyone had the same reaction. Media bias or not, the Kilgore campaign created sleazy ads. Who’s to blame for that? Take responsibility for the mistake in running the ad instead of falling back to the standard whining about liberal media bias.

As someone who wants the current Republicans gone, I won’t cry if they learn the wrong lesson. As someone who wants limited government, I understand that current Democrats offer little better and will probably learn the wrong lessons from this victory. Such is life.