Thursday, May 29, 2008

The majesty of the law

From the halls of justice known as the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, we have today an opinion that demonstrates the noble task our judges undertake in dispensing justice. Today's opinion, United States v. Dedman, concerns itself with the particulars of the False Claims Act and opens with this description of the facts:
This unusual case arises from the marriage between defendant Darlene Dedman’s (“Dedman”) adopted daughter (who was actually Dedman’s cousin) and Dedman’s adoptive father. Dedman appeals her conviction on the counts of conspiracy to defraud the United States Department of Defense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286, and making material false statements to a federal agent, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. For these offenses she was sentenced to 27 months of imprisonment and ordered to pay over $200,000 in restitution. The government alleged that Dedman orchestrated the marriage as part of a plan to collect her adoptive father’s, John Watson’s (“Watson”), military pension. Dedman argues that she could not be guilty of conspiracy because the marriage between her adopted daughter and her adoptive father was valid and, therefore, there was no false claim. Furthermore, Dedman asserts that if the marriage was statutorily invalid, then the marriage law is unconstitutional. (Emphasis added.)

And yes, it all took place in Arkansas.

Drinking Liberally: pre-convention edition

Tonight's Drinking Liberally (six to nine at the 331 Club in Notheast Minneapolis) is the last one before at least some of the delegates will be heading to Rochester for the DFL State Convention. Here's a chance to come and talk about your candidate for the Senate, national convention delegate, your issue, or whatever else that might pertain to the Convention.

Spot would like to have a chance to talk to more Franken supporters.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quiz time!

A quiz for our readers! Which of the following statements were made by libertarian and notorious union opponent John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, and which were made by Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidate Mike Hatch?

1. “A small cabal of [workers] attempted to organize a union…”

2. “The right to collective bargaining (unionization) is an important legal right. It is important that employees, when they wish to, should have the legal right to form unions.”

3. “The union organizing committee, however, is so weak that it has to resort to anonymity in an effort to give CPR to their comatose effort. Instead of putting their names by their accusations, they hide in the cloak of anonymity looking for any scribner [sic] to serve as their hand maiden”

4. “Our [workers] can have unions, but they don't want unions because they create this adversarial relationship in the workplace.”

5. “The [union supporting] mud throwers do a real disservice to the citizens, the state, and the many talented, hardworking employees in the [workplace] with their vitriolic and unlawful organizing campaign.”

Answers later on, or whenever I get around to posting them.

Spot unburdened II

Yesterday, Spot had some things to say about the respective stances (bad word choice, sorry) views of Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and Al Franken on ending the Iraq war. Today, Spot wants to talk about the even larger issue of defense spending in general.

It is a subject about which, as far as Spot can tell, Al Franken is silent. There is nothing about this issue on Al's web page, and Spot has not heard him talk about it.

But it is something that Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer has mentioned every time that Spot has heard him. Jack talks about the teachers we could hire, the infrastructure we could repair, or the myriad of other things we could do it we just reined in the defense budget (and we're not talking about the care of veterans here), and divorced ourselves from the PNAC crowd's idea of building and maintaining global hegemony.

We can't afford it, boys and girls. We're spending ourselves into oblivion on defense at the expense of all the things that really make the U.S. strong: its economy and its human capital.

Here's part of what Frida Berrigan wrote recently at Tomdispatch:

A full-fledged cottage industry is already focused on those who eagerly await the end of the Bush administration, offering calendars, magnets, and t-shirts for sale as well as counters and graphics to download onto blogs and websites. But when the countdown ends and George W. Bush vacates the Oval Office, he will leave a legacy to contend with. Certainly, he wills to his successor a world marred by war and battered by deprivation, but perhaps his most enduring legacy is now deeply embedded in Washington-area politics -- a Pentagon metastasized almost beyond recognition.

The Pentagon's massive bulk-up these last seven years will not be easily unbuilt, no matter who dons the presidential mantle on January 19, 2009. "The Pentagon" is now so much more than a five-sided building across the Potomac from Washington or even the seat of the Department of Defense. In many ways, it defies description or labeling.

Who, today, even remembers the debate at the end of the Cold War about what role U.S. military power should play in a "unipolar" world? Was U.S. supremacy so well established, pundits were then asking, that Washington could rely on softer economic and cultural power, with military power no more than a backup (and a domestic "peace dividend" thrown into the bargain)? Or was the U.S. to strap on the six-guns of a global sheriff and police the world as the fountainhead of "humanitarian interventions"? Or was it the moment to boldly declare ourselves the world's sole superpower and wield a high-tech military comparable to none, actively discouraging any other power or power bloc from even considering future rivalry?

The attacks of September 11, 2001 decisively ended that debate. The Bush administration promptly declared total war on every front -- against peoples, ideologies, and, above all, "terrorism" (a tactic of the weak). That very September, administration officials proudly leaked the information that they were ready to "target" up to 60 other nations and the terrorist movements within them.

John McCain bellows about not surrendering in Iraq; hell John, it's a little late for that. Iraq was the wrong flight to begin with. Osama bin Laden - remember him? - is more than happy with our giant exercise in self-flagellation in Iraq. Maybe some day, it will dawn on John that the terrorists have already won.

But back to Al Franken. Franken does not articulate any vision for the U.S. role in the world - not that Spot has ever heard, anyway - that shows any promise of leading us out of this war-like morass.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leni Riefenstahl lives!

Leni Riefenstahl lives, and she is making campaign commercials for John McCain!

A thump of the tail to somebody, but Spot cannot remember who.

Spot unburdened

Spot proposed a candidate's surrogate debate at Drinking Liberally last Thursday; Spot offered - although he didn't ask him - to represent Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Spot urged Al Franken's supporters to come and support their man. There were a couple of Franken supporters in attendance, but none wanted to debate Spot. This may be because Spot is as intimidating in, er, person as he is on the screen, but probably not.

There were a couple of points that Spot wanted to make in a debate, and he didn't get to, so Spot will get them off his chest now:

Iraq - Jack says plainly that we need to leave now, or as he says, end the occupation of Iraq. Franken says we need to "leave with more care than we went in." Other than a blinding statement of the obvious, this says nothing about how Franken would disengage.

But what about the argument that since we broke Iraq, we have to stay and fix it? The short answer is we can't, and we'll have to live with the obloquy of that fact for a very long time. In one of the videos that Spot put up of Jack's appearance at DL, the example he used was a bunch of burglars who came in and tossed you house, then offered to stick around and straighten up.

All we seem to be doing now is arming all of the factions in the coming civil war; the situation is just festering.

Jack's all in favor of efforts to rebuild Iraq but say it can only be done by the international community after we leave. Spot says we could probably do a lot of good with just some of the twelve billion dollars we spend there every month.

Franken was an early supporter of the war in Iraq. His objections now seem to be more directed to the manner of prosecution of the war than its raison d’être.

Now, this is Spot talking, but I think it gets to the heart of the matter. Al Franken obviously bought the utopian neo-con dream of remaking the Middle East in our own image. The Project for a New American Century is, and always has been, naive foolishness. Perhaps, he thought, that if we could make the Arabs into little "d" democrats, that they would all embrace the Israelis as brother and sisters.

On his radio show, Franken often referred to Yasir Arafat as a "bad man," including many times after Arafat was dead. Now, everybody from the State Department on down yearns for the Fatah years. Franken, like Condi Rice apparently, couldn't see the Hamas ascendency coming.

And what of our friends, the democratic Israelis? Why don't they just annex the Occupied Territories and make everyone a citizen with a vote? The answer to that is obvious: Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. Much better to colonize the place and displace the Palestinians first.

So long as there is no peace in Israel and Palestine, it will continue to inflame the Muslim world, even if the Arabs were all Jeffersonian democrats. Since Israel is the U.S. proxy in the Middle East, we'll continue to be the object of "terrorist" attacks around the world. "Winning" the war in Iraq has precious little to do with it.

Franken's early support for the war in Iraq had little to do with concern about weapons of mass destruction - which even Spot knew didn't exist except as a pretext for war - and everything to do with Franken's callow understanding of the Middle East.

Spot had a few other points, but we'll leave it for now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Holiday double feature

Because of the increasing interest in Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer's campaign and candidacy for the DFL endorsement for the Senate, Spot thought he would re-run a couple of videos from Jack's appearance at Drinking Liberally in February. The first one is his opening remarks; the second is a Q&A about Iraq.



Saturday, May 24, 2008

We are not cattle!

That's an investment banker's lament on being cashiered by Bank of America:

“These are people’s lives,” said an investment banker in his 30s who was laid off in November from his job at a Bank of America office in New York. “It’s not head count. We’re not cattle.”

No of course you're not cattle, my young friend. We feed the cattle. Maybe if you go to the soup kitchen run by those do-gooder liberals, they'll feed you, too. Just don't get sick!

It's apparently a jungle out there, even for the survivors:

Even for some of those who survive a job cut, the emotional landscape can change. “It’s like I woke up and I’m in a different country,” said a person who has worked for Merrill Lynch for more than two decades and has weathered a recent round of layoffs there.

He described widespread anger, mistrust and angst at Merrill, both among those leaving and those staying. “People are reeling,” he said. “The culture has turned. It is a nasty culture.”

The veneer of civilization is wearing thin!

None of this is really funny, and Spot is sorry for making light of it. But it may be just the ticket to get some of the fledgling Gordon Gekkos out there to learn a little empathy.

Za return of Sigmund Spot

Greetings, liebschen! Sigmund Spot hasn't had za chance to address za liebschen for a long time! He has missed der kinder, ya.

Vat brings Sigmund Spot back you ask? Sigmund Spot vants to talk about za psychological phenomenon compensation.

In what settings does za compensation come into play? Grasshopper?

Doesn't it occur in individuals when zey (now I'm starting to sound like you, Sigmund Spot):

In psychology, compensation is a strategy whereby one covers up, consciously or unconsciously, weaknesses, frustrations, desires, feelings of inadequacy or incompetence in one life area through the gratification or (drive towards) excellence in another area. Compensation can cover up either real or imagined deficiencies and personal or physical inferiority. The compensation strategy, however does not truly address the source of this inferiority. Positive compensations may help one to overcome one’s difficulties. On the other hand, negative compensations do not, which results in a reinforced feeling of inferiority. There are two kinds of negative compensation:

Overcompensation, characterized by a superiority goal, leads to striving for power, dominance, self-esteem and self-devaluation.

Undercompensation, which includes a demand for help, leads to a lack of courage and a fear for life.

Gut. Ya, zat's right! You must watch out for zeez compensators, grasshopper, because zey have zompting zey are afraid of, and zey may have zompting to prove.

Wow, like what, Sigmund Spot?

Well, let's zee, can Sigmund Spot zink of an example? Hmmm. Ja! I've got vun. It a classic overcompensation! Do you know za Mitchell Berg? He zounds like vun of Sigmund Spot's countrymen. Mitchell put up a post yesterday zat vas ostensibly about zanking za veterans, but vas really about caressing guns, to make up for za certain perhaps, ah, physical deficiencies. Let's look at zome examples:

I’ve shot a few [M1] Garands - indeed, I’ve come || <---this close to buying Garands a couple of times. They’re sweet, accurate rifles; the only problems are the peep sights, which I can’t stand, and the top-loading, eight-shot, “all-or-nothing” block clip magazine.

Za words sweet, peep sights, top-loading and all-or-nothing are za tip offs.

But Mitchell has za more rapturous words for a handgun:

And since it’s Memorial Day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight some more gear; the M1911A1 pistol which was designed almost 100 years ago during America’s last insurgency against a seemingly-intractable Moslem insurgency, in the Philippines. Designed to knock a charging, drug-crazed attacker down with no questions asked using a big, bulbous .45 round that was designed for relatively minimal efficiency (so as to leave its kinetic energy in the first thing it hit), it’s mechanically simple but metaphorically rich; “everyone speaks Colt”, it’s said, since the sound of that big metal slide racking a round is reportedly usually enough to scare burglars into the next zip code. It’s on my agenda for one of these next tax refunds - along with a nice jacket.

Ya, zat Mitchell! He's got za metaphor angle right!

Sigmund Spot, isn't the insurgency that Mitchell is talking about the one that occurred after the US liberated the Philippines from the Spanish but then decided to keep it?

Ya, zat's right. And zoze ungrateful little buggers were mad about it!

What do you suppose Mitchell is compensating for?

Vell, maybe it has to do with za schlo - -, never mind grasshopper. Ve don't know.

Portrait of Sigmund Spot by Tild.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Christian roots of the Cucking Stool

In an article describing the ancient Banwell Church in England, the Weston and Somerset Mercury newspaper has this interesting note about cucking stools:

The church records of Banwell are especially interesting, and the registers go back to 1569. Of particular interest is the entry in 1568 that reads: "Pd John Payne for the Kooken stool, 17s." The Kooken Stool or Cucking Stool was a specially made chair to which scolding wives of inhabitants, guilty of misdemeanours, were tied and thrown into the water. No doubt Banwell Pond was the place of 'execution' and where the villagers assembled to watch the ducking.

From now on, boys and girls, you must think of Spot as merely doing his Christian duty.

Update: Whoa! Never mind cucking stools. Be sure to read the last post from MNO on Republicans and money.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pot. Kettle. Black. Redux.

Well, boys and girls, we all know that the Republican Party of Minnesota has been facing some trouble lately on its bookkeeping practices. A bit of an overview can be seen here.

It seems that after that Al-Franken's-accounting-is-goofy brouhaha, the Republican Party of Minnesota decided that they would indeed turn the accountants and auditors on their own... well, issues.

What did it reveal, you ask. It seems that we're not privy to the actual audit. We mere members of the public are stuck with the amended filings that the RPM has filed just this week with the FEC. The amended filings that consist of an amended filing for every single reporting period since the beginning of the year 2002. Every monthly report, every quarterly report, every pre- and post-election report, and every year end report. The amendments only go through the end of 2006, but it's a pretty good guess we'll be seeing more. You can see on the FEC website that since early May, more than 60 amended reports have been filed.

So many amendments, so little time. But the one that jumps out is the one for the 2006 year end report. In the original year end 2006 report, filed on January 19, 2007, the ending cash on hand was $136,614.03. Then in an amended report filed on February 20, 2007, the ending cash on hand was $2,751,965.73. You can find them in this chart. But in the most recent filing from just this week, the ending cash on hand is listed as -$28,325.04. Yes, grasshopper, that's a negative $28,325.04 for the cash on hand at the close of the reporting period. Somewhere, $2,780,290.77 became... well, let's just say it's unaccounted for.

And yes, Grasshopper, on the very day this week that the Republican Party of Minnesota was filing these amended reports, May 21, its Chairman continued to issue outraged-filled press releases about Al Franken's supposedly sloppy accounting.

Update: This post was updated because I can't get the links to work. Go to the FEC website site and search for "Republican Party of Minnesota."

Calling all Franken supporters!

As Spot mentioned earlier, tonight (May 22nd) will be a DFL senate candidate surrogate debate at Drinking Liberally. Franken supporters are urged to attend and defend their man. There is little doubt that Jack Neson-Pallmeyer will be adequately represented.

Well, that was entirely predictable II

Spot thought that he was done with this venomous little tirade, but apparently not.

Here's what Katie believes that we should conclude from the California Supreme Court decision:

Minnesotans can draw two lessons from the California decision. First, it vindicates the approach taken by the proposed Minnesota marriage amendment, which the Minnesota House of Representatives passed in 2006 but the DFL-controlled Senate killed by keeping it bottled up in committee. The amendment would have prohibited both same-sex marriage and civil unions. Opponents sometimes slammed this dual prohibition as mean-spirited, but the California decision now reveals it to be far-sighted.

Second, the California decision vindicates Minnesotans who argue that a constitutional amendment is the only way to safeguard traditional marriage. During the 2006 debate, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson and OutFront Minnesota both maintained that the amendment was unnecessary, because our state already has a "defense of marriage" act and because the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected same-sex marriage in a 1971 case.

Vindicate. She uses the word twice. Vindicate means show to be right by providing justification or proof. Frankly, Katie's got a lot of damn gall to use that word to describe her petty, venal, and sanctimonious view of the world.

Parenthetically, Edina boys and girls, this is the proposed constitutional amendment that Geoff Michel  said that he supported, although he was "open to the idea" of civil unions, at least at a presentation at Bethlehem Lutheran Church a couple of winters ago.  Either Michel was entirely ignorant of what the proposal contained, or he thought that the voters were too stupid to understand what was afoot. Neither scenario reflects very well on the senator.

From Katie's two conclusions, she has two predictions:

First, citizens who once favored more benefits for gay couples may begin to oppose them, knowing now that expanded benefits and same-sex marriage constitutionally go hand in hand.

Second, support may grow for amendments that enshrine traditional marriage in state constitutions. In California, citizens will likely have a chance to vote on such an amendment in November. Before their state's high court tossed out California marriage laws, voters there might have paid the subject little heed, confident that they had found middle ground.

Katie thinks that the middle grounders are all going to break her way. That not so much prediction as a white-knuckled prayer.

But here's the big finish from the column:

Anyone who has followed the abortion debate knows what happens when a court cuts out the middle ground, as the U.S. Supreme Court did on abortion 35 years ago in Roe vs. Wade. Toxic social division is inevitable when courts usurp the people's rights.

Please read that over a couple of times, boys and girls.

[hysterical laughter continuing for several minutes]

According to Katie, "toxic social division" occurs whenever we disagree with Katie. The idea that Katie yearns for the middle ground is so farcical, so ludicrous, so patently absurd that you have to question her attachment to reality. Well, Spot always has, but this certainly makes his case.

In Katie's Wonder World, when somebody else gets rights, Katie loses rights, apparently because she loses control over these people. That's why people like Katie love children so much: while they are minors they are under your complete control.

Graphic by Tild.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

DL: DFL Senate candidate debate!

Made you look. Well, boys and girls we don't seen to be able to get Al Franken to debate Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer before the convention, even though Al told Gary Eichten of Minnesota Public Radio that he would.

So, boys and girls, we're going to do the next best thing. Tomorrow night (Thursday) at Drinking Liberally, we will have a surrogate debate. Spot has appointed himself as the Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer surrogate - at least until somebody better shows up - and anyone, even Al himself, can be a surrogate for Al. The results will be widely reported on the blogs and will undoubtedly be very useful to delegates still on the fence.

A working knowledge of the major candidate position is desirable.

Same time: six to nine. The debate will probably start around seven. Same place: 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

Well, that was entirely predictable

Virtually unintelligible, but entirely predictable. Spot knew that Katie could not let the California pro-gay-marriage decision of last week pass without hissing and spitting like a cat cornered by a ten-year old with a water pistol. The hed for Katie's column is California ruling hijacks the middle ground on marriage. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The debate over same-sex marriage has roiled for over a decade. On one side are people who believe that marriage is properly limited to one man and one woman. On the other are those who argue that lack of access to marriage is unfair to gay couples, because it deprives them of benefits that flow from the marriage certificate, such as survivor rights, hospital visitation and insurance coverage.

In recent years, a sort of middle ground has developed. Called civil unions or domestic partnerships, this new arrangement is often promoted as a way to preserve traditional marriage while bestowing many of its government benefits on gays.

The major Democratic presidential candidates have embraced civil unions as a compromise on same-sex marriage. Some Minnesotans promote the approach as well.

Wow, Spot, it sounds like Katie is in favor of domestic partnerships for gays! I wouldn't have expected her to be that liberal.

Silly grasshopper. You really must stop your habit of only reading the opening paragraphs of articles and columns. That's especially important for Katie, because what she is saying, or trying to say anyway, could be strewn anywhere along the path in the column. If you aren't careful, you could trip over the exposed root of an idea as you're walking along.

Well, then what is Katie's, er, point?

Katie thinks that Californians were too nice to gays, and now they have that fact to blame for the California Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. You see, California did have a domestic partner statute that gave gay couples the opportunity:

to obtain virtually all of the legal benefits, privileges, responsibilities, and duties that California law affords to and imposes upon married couples.

Katie writes:

The court put no stock in the state's argument that same-sex and opposite-sex couples already have equivalent rights under California law. In fact, the majority found that the Legislature's decision to treat gay relationships as worthy of marriage-like benefits actually bolstered plaintiffs' argument that domestic partnerships are discriminatory. Since the Legislature has treated same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally, said the court, withholding the marriage label from gays is a "mark of second-class citizenship."

Darn those gays for thinking that the "marriage label" is important! But Katie obviously thinks it is important, too.

These are old grounds for Fourteenth Amendment equal protection jurisprudence. We've been over it again and again. We'll look at just one example.

One of the most important aspects of Jim Crow was segregated schools. White Southerners claimed that the black schools were merely separate, but that they were equal. They were manifestly not equal, but the Supreme Court of the United States bought the argument in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and held that "separate but equal" did not violate constitutional equal protection. It was horse puckey, of course.

Fast forward to 1954 to a case where the plaintiffs were assisted by the NAACP and its lawyer, Thurgood Marshall. This case is one of the principal reasons that Marshall wound up sitting on the Supreme Court, boys and girls.

In the case of Brown_v._Board_of_Education, the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" was inherently unequal. Not only were the black schools inferior in quality, but they created a second-class citizenship.

Now if we apply Katie's logic to the school desegregation cases, it means that the white Southerners' big mistake was making any effort to educate blacks at all. Why, if blacks had just been left to languish in complete ignorance, they would have had no claim at all! And then the "activist judges" would have left well enough alone.

Which bring Spot to the "activist judges" canard. To a right winger like Katie, an activist judge is one who rules in a way you don't like, especially if the judge find that somebody else is also entitled to a right that you currently enjoy. Without a number of second class citizens, it is not nearly as much fun to be a first class citizen.

One of the ways to mount the charge of activist judges, as Katie does today, is to say that they "[disregard] the will of the people." Well, some of the people, anyway. It was certainly true in Brown v. Board of Education.

In her column today, we have Katie starring as a member of the Topeka, Kansas school board in 1954.

One more teensy thing, boys and girls. Katie argues that the California Supreme Court ignored the will of the people by upsetting the separate domestic partner scheme adopted by the California Legislature. All right, Katie, if we adopt the overturning of an enacted law as judicial activism, who were the most activist Supreme Court Justices, at least as of 2005? Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, Rehnquist, and O'Connor. Conservatives all.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chris Farrell is a level 3 asset

What the heck is a level 3 asset, Spotty?

It's an accounting term, denoting an asset of indeterminable value, like a dodgy debt.

And Chris Farrell, he's the Chief Economics Correspondent at Minnesota Public Radio, right?

Indeed he is, grasshopper. And he was singing in the rain again this morning.

Why, what did he have to say?

Spot commends the audio at the link, grasshopper, but in a nutshell:

Oil prices are high, but people seem to be coping by combining their errands, apparently picking up both eggs and milk in the same trip in the 7,000 pound SUV! Farrell reports this "anecdotally." No word on the effect on commuters going from say, Lakeville to Minneapolis and back every day. Oh well, how much could they matter anyway?

Farrell also reports that the stock markets are signaling that we are coming out of the maybe recession, because you know, that's what stock markets do, prognosticate. And just like Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, Chris wants to be an optimist! He so wants things to go well.

And just like Katie, Farrell wants us to look at the glass as half full!

But Paulson and Bernanke, both Bush appointees, are paid cheerleaders; we should demand more from the guy who wears the title Chief Economics Correspondent at MPR. If you only listen to MPR and Chris Farrell for your economic news, there will be a lot of things that are, well, "news" to you.

For example, here's what George Soros said recently in a BBC interview:

In an interview with BBC business editor Robert Peston, Mr Soros said that while the "acute phase" of the credit crunch might be over, the fall-out and the impact on the real economy has yet to be felt.

He warned that the "financial bubble" of the last 25 years could well be drawing to an end and the post World War II "super-boom" era could be over permanently.

Spot's favorite Malthusian, James Kunstler, put it a little more prosaically, just today:

This [the financial bubble flim flam] has all failed now because the racket went too far. Every possible candidate for a snookering got snookered. Too much collateral for which there were no takers went into the ground. The insane run-up in house values made a downward price movement inevitable, and as soon as the turnaround happened, it fell into the remorseless algebra of a deflationary death spiral. More importantly, however, this society ran out of tricks for loaning money into existence and instead began to experience the pain of money thought-to-be-in-existence being defaulted into a vapor -- and worse, these defaults led to logarithmic chains of money destruction in its places of origin, the investment banks that had created the racket.

The important part of this is that the money is gone. What makes matters truly eerie is that the "bubble" in suburban houses has occurred at exactly the moment in history when the chief enabling resource for suburban life -- oil -- has entered its scarcity stage.

Remember all those Lakeville commuters, boys and girls? Think of those guys on the boat in A Perfect Storm.

But Spotty, the stock market says we're coming out of our troubles! That surely must be true.

If you say so grasshopper, but consider this story from Bloomberg (a thump of the tail to reader Jim for the link):

May 14 (Bloomberg) -- Freddie Mac, the second-largest U.S. mortgage-finance company, reported a smaller loss than analysts estimated after accounting changes reduced charges by at least $2.6 billion.

Without the use of two new accounting rules, Freddie Mac would have posted a loss of at least $1.7 billion, analysts said. A change in the way the company values some assets that aren't traded reduced credit losses by $1.3 billion, while a separate rule that lets the company pick and choose which assets to measure contributed an equal amount, Freddie Mac said.

``They put a lot of lipstick on this pig including several accounting changes that have given them a one time step-up,'' said Josh Rosner, an analyst at independent research firm Graham Fisher & Co. in New York.

The article continues:

The new accounting had a ``significant positive effect,'' reducing volatility in the value of the company's $738 billion in mortgage holdings, as well as for securities and derivatives used to hedge against credit and interest-rate risk, Freddie Mac said.

Freddie Mac spokesman Michael Cosgrove said, ``clearly, based on the comments and reports this morning by the real, substantive analysts who follow this company, the Street is comfortable with our accounting and reporting, and encouraged by the results we presented today.''

Exactly what did they do, Spotty?

Again, from the Bloomberg article:

Financial Accounting Standard 157 allows companies to estimate a value on holdings that aren't traded. Freddie Mac used FAS 157 to list $156.7 billion in so-called Level 3 assets, a category that indicates the holdings are so illiquid that they can only be priced using the firm's own valuation models.

The Level 3 holdings represent 23 percent of assets and are up from $31.9 billion as of December.

The first-quarter results also benefited from a change in policy for buying seriously delinquent loans, those at least 120 days past due, out of the mortgage pools Freddie Mac guarantees. The company must book the decline in value on loans bought from pools at the time of purchase. It ended that practice, cutting losses to $51 million from $736 million in the fourth quarter.

In other words grasshopper, they took the sewage that nobody would buy and decided themselves what it was worth. And changed the way they count. And you know what happened, grasshopper?

The stock went up?

Bingo. This is the genius of the stock market to which our Chief Economics Correspondent refers. It is also worth noting that Freddie's level 3 assets are within spitting distance of its surplus:

The company said its core regulatory capital rose to $38.3 billion at the end of the quarter, about $6 billion above the 20 percent mandatory surplus.

So, maybe ol' Freddie isn't worth much, huh, Spot?

Perhaps it isn't grasshopper. And perhaps instead of Singing in the Rain, Chris ought to be singing Let's Face the Music and Dance.

Conspicuous by their absence

As is the tradition (apparently; it's news to Spot, but he doesn't pay much attention to the inside baseball stuff at the Lege), twelve House members announced their retirement on the last evening of the session. Via Political Animal, here they are:


Rep. John Berns, Wayzata.

Rep. Chris DeLaForest, Andover.

Rep. Brad Finstad, Comfrey.

Rep. Dennis Ozment, Rosemount.

Rep. Erik Paulsen, Eden Prairie.

Rep. Connie Ruth, Owatonna.

Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, Andover.


Rep. Scott Kranz, Blaine.

Rep. Frank Moe, Bemidji.

Rep. Aaron Peterson, Appleton.

Rep. Neva Walker, Minneapolis.

Erik the Bland is running for Congress in the Third District, of course. Rep. Dennis Ozment is the Republican with the most seniority in the House.

More interesting to Spot, however, is who is not on the list. Rep. Kathy Tingelstad is the only one of the "Override Six" to announce her retirement. The Override Two from District 41, Ron Erhardt and Neil Peterson are apparently both going to run again. They each could do that as independents (where Spot thinks that Erhardt especially would be a formidable foe) or by running in the primary for the Republican nomination. To Spot's knowledge, neither has announced which route they he will take.

Reps. Erhardt and Peterson both lost contests for the Republican Party endorsement at the District Convention in March which came on the heels of the vote to override the governor's veto of the transportation bill that included a gas tax increase.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ain't gonna study war no more!

That's Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who you hear more from here.

A thump of the tail to the Mississippifarian.

Friday, May 16, 2008

John Bolton works 'em over

A man in a somber gray suit mounts the podium. He has bushy - unkempt really - hair and a ridiculous white walrus moustache. He is red faced, and he seems to be agitated, an impression that is confirmed as he begins to speak.

The man spends thirty-five minutes exhorting the crowd about the enemies arrayed against them; he speaks without notes as his themes are as familiar to him as the back of his hands. The crowd often murmurs in agreement as gray locks and bald pates bob arrhythmically around the room.

The scene is right out of Elmer Gantry, except that Burt Lancaster was better looking.

The man speaks with a squeaking hysteria that waxes and wanes, a spittle-flecked intensity that occasionally sprays those seated in front. He reaches a fever pitch and says, "Weapons of mass destruction simply cannot fall into the hands of rogue nations. Many of these nations operate with different logic, they value death over life. Therefore, the usual mind set used in previous historical negotiations will not work."

Several people swoon, and others rise angrily, shouting, "Death to these godless nations! Stamp them out before they come for our precious bodily fluids!"

The man presses on and tells the crowd that yes, we must stop them before they destroy us.

There is one fellow in the crowd who seems troubled. He shouts out a question, "Have the godless nations demonstrated any aggressiveness toward us?" Several people seated around the man fall on him at once; there is a brief scuffle. A large menacing man in a brown shirt with a wire leading out of the collar to an earpiece in his ear roughly escorts the questioner out of the room.

The questioner's wife follows them out of the room shrieking, "Let him go! Where are you taking him?"

The speaker concludes by saying that we must destroy the godless governments or bomb their countries into smoking craters before it is too late.

The crowd stands and roars in approval. A weeping Mitch Pearlstein rushes to the podium and embraces the speaker.

*  *  *

By now, boys and girls, you have probably figured out that Spot is imagining John Bolton's speech this week at the Center of the American Experiment. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that Spot wasn't there, but Jackboot Janet was part of the fauning crowd, and she provides the play by play.

John Bolton, the man whose face is shown in the entry for "The Ugly American" in encyclopedias everywhere, has gone from an official fouler of the nest to a free lance tent revivalist, telling us to repent our peaceful ways. He plays to crowds who thrill at his words and his urging that we just skip international law and cut right to the bombs.

it is so much easier to dismiss people, that is to say kill them, when you have separated them from the human race, from us. Life is cheaper "over there." That's what Spot always heard about the Vietnamese, well the North Vietnamese. Our allies in the South were apparently okay in that the valued life like we do.

Much the same thing was said about the Japanese - but curiously not the Germans so much - during the Second World War. Rudyard Kipling wrote the same drivel in The White Man's Burden. And he should know, son of the British Empire that he was.

Now you hear the same thing about the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Pakistanis, the Chinese, Muslims and Arabs in general, and the list goes on.

There is a poisonous racism and bigotry going on here, boys and girls. Call it out for what it is, belittle it and heap all the scorn you can on it. Human nature being what it is, we cannot eradicate it, but we can limit it as motive force in our foreign policy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Legal advice for the ages

From none other than Lawrence Tribe, who advises NYU Law School grads to thank their parents for "doing it."

DL Geekfest tonight!

In collaboration with Minnesota Campaign Report, Drinking Liberally will participate in the Ashwin Madia live blog tonight. The live blog starts at around seven. (Madia is the DFL candidate for Congress in the Third Congressional District - just for those of you who have been living in a cave.)

Update: Spot got an email announcing that Ashwin Madia was declared a "Progressive Patriot" by Russ Feingold's organization of the same name. Congratulations, Ash!

Bring your laptops - there is WIFI access at the 331 Club! Hairy Truman will be there with his iPhone, and we'll have googling contests later in the evening. The first question will probably be, how do you determine the sex of a western marmot? Just to get you started.

DL will be at the usual time - six to nine - and at the usual place, the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

Spot also wants you all, boys and girls, to note that two weeks from tonight, the 29th of May, marks the return of the Tin Star Sisters to the 331 Club. This promises to be a memorable night and a great way to kick off a summer of DL under the awning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Catharsis Week for Katie!

There's blowing off a little steam, and then there's a full bore, double-ended purge. Katie delivered the latter this week. Don't believe it? Here are the heds from her columns this week:

The real agenda behind schools' anti-bullying curriculum


Who will get last word on Pledge of Allegiance in junior high?

One at a time.

Perhaps a better hed for the first one would be: The real agenda behind Katie's anti-public school screeds. Katie is fevered because, well, let's let Katie tell us:

The bully is the scourge of the elementary school playground. So who could object to a new anti-bullying curriculum scheduled to be tested in three Minneapolis elementary schools -- Hale, Jefferson and Park View -- and adopted districtwide if successful?

But what if that curriculum is really a disguise for a very different agenda brought to Minneapolis by the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay and transgender advocacy group? What if its lessons have little to do with bullying, and much to do with ensuring that kids as young as age 5 submit to HRC's orthodoxy on family structure, even if it differs from their own parents' view?

And what if, boys and girls, parents were unable to be sure that they could raise their children to be mirror images of themselves, right down to the last prejudice, religious bigotry, fear, neurosis, and irrationality?

Why, we'd have to destroy the public school system, of course! And that's exactly what Katie, Captain Fishsticks, John Brandl, Cheri Pierson-Yecke and the whole Flintstones gang are trying to do. Oh, they embroider their cause with a some faux concern for the little black children, but don't be fooled, boys and girls. The real agenda is not the improvement of education through things like vouchers and stealth religious schools posing as charter schools. No, it's to avoid raising a child who might be a little more tolerant than the parents. Heaven forfend!

And as is usually the case, Katie is merely the stenographer for some right wing nutjob advocacy group.

UPDATE: Lloydletta has a terrific post about the real dimensions of what is at stake here and identifies more of the medievalists involved.

Moving on to the second column. Shorter Katie: You're free, you little snot, and we won't tolerate your refusing to acknowledge it. That's one thing you are not free to do. Stand up and pledge fealty to the symbol of God's chosen people. Here's the lede:

Brandt Dahl wasn't exactly aiming for the Student of the Year Award when he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance last week at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High near Moorhead. But I suspect the eighth-grader may have had a little more swagger in his step after publicly setting school administrators there back on their heels.

If Brandt's infraction had been a smart-alecky spitball, his one-day, in-school suspension -- one of four meted out to errant students -- might not have been viewed in some quarters as Dilworth's equivalent of Abu Ghraib. But in recent decades, the slightest school pressure to honor our flag has inspired a rescue mission from a legal heavyweight -- the ACLU.

Katie doesn't mean honor; she really means worship. In a country with thoroughly secular governments, it is just wrong to ask anybody, even a kid, to venerate a symbol of something "under God." You can't make the kid pray in school, at least not yet, and you can't even criminalize the burning of the flag as political expression.

Spot has always wanted, at the end of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at some public gathering, to intone a loud "Amen" at the end. Because really, it's a public prayer.

Even Katie has to admit that the Minnesota Chapter of the ACLU - which she spits out like a epithet - is "probably" right on the law of this case. But the Constitution sends such a bad message here:

For many Dilworth students, the incident may reinforce a message that our "me first" culture peddles constantly. It's this: You -- and your whims and desires -- are the center of the universe. Life is about "asserting" and "expressing" yourself, with no need to consult others' wishes or think about anything larger than yourself.

Who will teach our kids another, far less appealing lesson? It's this: You have rights, but you also have responsibilities. These include controlling your desires, being courteous to others and respecting authority. The law does not compel you to pledge allegiance to the American flag or to stand while others do. But simple respect should prompt you to honor those who bled and died for that flag, so that kids like you can sit in an eighth-grade class in Dilworth in the freest and most prosperous nation in history.

Fewer and fewer adults try to teach such lessons these days. But kids need to learn them if our democracy is to continue to flourish.

Today the idea that individual rights trump every other consideration dominates our public square. With its one-dimensional focus, such "rights talk" impoverishes our conversation about what good citizenship requires, and what kind of society we want to be.

This is one of the sorriest pieces of dreck that Katie has written in a long time. The civil liberties cases that have arisen under the Constitution and that have decided the rights of persons in the United States have all occurred because some petty official decided that they knew the right course of conduct for somebody else over whom they exercised some authority. It isn't Brandt Dahl who brought the school administration up short, it was the First Amendment.

But according to Katie, parents need to be more authoritarian if we want democracy to flourish. Spot's not sure how that works, Katie. And Spot doesn't think good citizenship just consists of being polite and respecting authority. That sounds like a recipe for tyranny to Spot.

There is one other thing that Spot wants to point out about these two columns. In the first one, Katie says that children should be exempt from being more tolerant of people because they are somehow different. In the second, she says that children should be more respectful - tolerant - of the feelings of others.

It's confusing, isn't it, Spotty?

Not when you understand the source, grasshopper.

Further update: Tild did this graphic (that Spot just added above) some time ago, and when she used it on Friday, it reminded Spot of it and his promise to use it sometime. This is a perfect post, right boys and girls?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

King Banaian's Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Here's the lede from a post from the Perfesser a couple of weeks ago:

Two nights ago Mrs. S [presumably the Perfesser's wife] started shouting to me down the stairs (where I was in NBA playoff bliss) "we need to buy more gasoline." I realized she meant to bank more gasoline. We keep an account at First Fuel, where we have approximately $1500 socked away, purchased at $2.699. The newspaper blared yesterday morning that we had struck a record. Mrs. S, I've concluded, is a momentum investor.

In other words, the Banaians are gas hoarders.

Perfect. That's just perfect, Spot. The chair of an economics department helping to drive gas prices up.

Yes, grasshopper, but it illustrates one thing.

What's that, Spotty?

It shows that the Invisible Hand, which King worships, doesn't always promote the good of the community. Oftentimes, as King so ably demonstrates, it's just greed that's contrary to the public interest.

This is going on at the national level, too. George Bush has been pushing to increase the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, probably because he wants to Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb Iran, and he knows that supplies are going to become a little well, dicey. But it has the effect of keeping supplies even tighter:

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) has been rallying lawmakers’ support [for a cessation of adding to the reserve at the present time] since March. “All of us feel very strongly that it makes no sense at all for the administration to be taking action to put upward pressure on prices when the SPRO is 90 percent filled,” Dorgan told me [Steve Mufson].

By the way, grasshopper, did you follow the link to the Invisible Hand?

No, Spotty, I didn't.

You might want to have a look.

John Kline blames Democrats!

Last weekend, John Kline had an op ed piece in the Strib. The thrust of his argument was that the US should drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, expand drilling on the continental shelf, and build refineries and nuclear power plants. Oh, and don't forget coal. We have a lot of coal!

As a champion of the crystal pyre scenario, Kline says we have only one place to look to place the blame for our energy woes: the Democrats.

Spot has been meaning to write about Kline's indictment, but now he finds that he doesn't have to; Chris Truscott penned a blog post about it yesterday. Here's just a little of what Chris say:

And Speaker Pelosi delivered it on Jan. 18, 2007 [the common-sense plan that Kline demands], when House Democrats and Republicans came together to pass legislation to end subsidies for big oil so we could invest the savings into American-made renewable energy. Kline should remember. He was there and voted no. (And his Republican colleagues in the Senate totally killed this measure last December when the House version of the energy bill was watered down beyond recognition.

Instead of common-sense, Kline offered us in January 2007 tired rhetoric and half-measures. America was on the brink of a serious energy crisis and he had a chance to lead. Instead he took a pass and now wants to re-write history.

Some of you boys and girls will remember that until recently Chris Truscott was the press secretary for the Ashwin Madia campaign where he helped Ash win the DFL endorsement for the Third District of Congress. He's now returned to the blogosphere. Welcome back, Chris.

Monday, May 12, 2008

And another annoying thing about Thomas Jefferson

Some of you may have read, and a few of you boys and girls may actually remember, Spot's posts about his pique at Thomas Jefferson for allowing the "endowed by their Creator" language to sneak into the Declaration of Independence.

Stephan Pastis, the creator of the cartoon strip Pearls Before Swine, reminded Spot of another annoying part of the language in the Declaration of Independence. His strip on Sunday last:

What do you think Pastis was driving at, boys and girls?

That pursuing happiness is usually a fruitless endeavor?

Very good, grasshopper. Here, the calculating, cynical, and grasping Rat chases happiness, but the good-hearted though somewhat dull Pig is the one who winds up with it. "Pursuing happiness," one of those unalienable rights we got from the Creator, is part of the American ethos; it is a thoroughly Western and utopian idea. And it sets lots of people - dare we call them folks? - up for disappointment.

Remember, boys and girls, lots of things can be pursued, but you can only be happy.

Whose birthday was it yesterday, Spotty?

Well that's easy, grasshopper. Yesterday was Pentecost; it was the birthday of the Christian church.


Yes, but I suspect that isn't the answer you were looking for.

It was also Minnesota's 150th birthday, its sesquicentennial. Nick Coleman notes this about the observance:

The sesquicentennial begins not with a bang. It starts with a dud.

Cannons were fired in celebration when word arrived in St. Paul by riverboat that Minnesota had been accepted into the Union on May 11, 1858. But there will be no cannon fire today, the state's 150th birthday.

Why not? Because the Minnesota Department of Transportation building might collapse.

I kid you not.

The proud North Star State is hitting the Big 1-5-0 in such a condition of decrepitude that we have to make sure the party doesn't get too loud and bring down what remains standing.

It's like when you throw a birthday party for Ancient Aunt Ethel and warn the kids not to pop the balloons because she might keel over.

Minnesota might, too.

Today's muffled statehood observance -- already hampered by funding shortages and forced to share the spotlight with moms and walleyes -- will be even duller than planned. And a lot quieter.

Civil War re-enactors who volunteered months ago to bring artillery to this afternoon's Capitol events have been told by state officials that they cannot fire off their replica cannons.

Apparently, the DOT building is so neglected that its facade might crumble just from the concussion of the Civil War era cannons.

Just think how cool that would be, boys and girls, to be a Civil War re-enactor and bring down a building, without a cannon ball even? It is the stuff from which re-enactor dreams are made.

It is also, as Nick says, emblematic of where Minnesota finds itself today. This out to be like when a dog turns 280, or 350, or even, gulp, 420: a chance for a really good party and some introspection.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Playing the egghead card

Barack Obama is waaay too smart to be the president of the United States. No lesser a light than Michael Gerson said so this morning in the Strib:

The Obama narrative is intellectual and ideological (not social) elitism. Humble roots have never been a guarantee of intellectual humility, especially when a mind comes to flower at Columbia and Harvard.

When a stunted bush flowers at Yale and Harvard, boys and girls, what do we get? Well, never mind, Spot digresses.

Gerson makes this gem of an observation, too:

The issue of the lapel flag pin is a good illustration. Obama's explanation for its absence -- that it had become a "substitute" for "true patriotism" in the aftermath of 9/11 -- is perfectly rational. For a professor at the University of Chicago.

So, Mike, you're saying that ordinary people can't understand what Obama said? You don't give the American people much credit, do you?

And here's some more pithy insight:

The problem here is not that Obama is unpatriotic -- a foolish, unfair, destructive charge -- but that Obama has declared himself superior to an almost universal form of popular patriotism.

Uh, Mike, if you spent some time away from inside-the-Beltway Republicans, you would know that conspicuous flag waving, lapel pins, and the other hoo haw of pseudo-patriotism have fallen off sharply since the heady days of March 2003.

But it's clear that the egghead meme is one that the Republicans are going to try to pin on Obama. Yesterday in The Bloghouse, collected a right-wing blogger's use of the "egghead and African-American coalition" to identify Obama's core supporters, playing both the egghead and the race cards. If he had just included "Muslim," he would have had a hat trick.

Regrettably, Hillary Clinton has been guilty of piling on in this regard, especially in places like Pennsylvania and Indiana. In fact, the blogger's comment above was a quote from Paul Begala, a Clinton supporter. (You can track down the link if you go to The Bloghouse, boys and girls.)

The next time that somebody disparages Barack Obama as an egghead, Spot wants you to ask that person how well the "drinking buddy preference" presidential selection criterion has really worked out.

Spot believes that the vein of anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism that the Republicans have tapped so long is running out.

Some of you may recall the soaring rhetoric of a couple of Democratic presidents of the last century: Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. They didn't demean citizens - the people we now call "folks" - by assuming they could only communicate with them by pretending to be goobers.

Why Spot even recalls that FDR urged people to get maps of Europe so they could follow along when he described the campaign in Europe during his fireside radio chats.

You don't really remember that, do you Spot?

No, but it's a true story.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

He should have stuck to the rough draft II

With the Declaration of Independence in town, now is a good time for this discussion. In a post a couple of days ago, He should have stuck to the rough draft, Spot assails American icon Thomas Jefferson for permitting a Creator to creep into one of the recitals of why were divorcing George III:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .

Spotty grumbled that the language was the centerpiece of the conservative Christian argument that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, and that God was the ultimate source of law - as the Christian conservatives understand it, of course.

Commenter Lee said this about the post:

Advocates of a living constitution believe, as a matter of law, there is a greater and ever-evolving force that controls our laws. Don't they?
Isn't the issue only which god/force the advocates of various positions rely on to make their points?

Now, Lee is a crafty fellow, because he knows that Spot is an enemy of constitutional originalism. In one of the greatest over-generalizations that Spot has ever been guilty of, Spot will say that originalism says that the Constitution means exactly what the framers meant at the time. The living Constitution types, of which Spot is one, say, "Oh, come on. The document was adopted in 1787; we have learned a few things since then."

Death penalty? Did we have it in 1787? Okay then; no problem. That's the originalist position.

We know a lot more about human nature, the frailty of any human endeavor, including truth-seeking in court, and standards of basic humanity have evolved (now there's a scary word to conservatives!) to the point where doubts have to be expressed as to whether the death penalty is "cruel and unusual" as proscribed by the Eighth Amendment. That's the living Constitution argument.

What Lee posits is that the religion-Creator-source-of-law types are a branch of the living-Constitution camp.

But they are clearly not. Let Spot ask you this, boys and girls. How much has religion really changed since the Bible and the Koran (each written by human beings, by the way) were written? For the religious fundamentalists, who believe in the inerrancy of their ancient texts, none. The Bible was fixed in stone - again by human beings - some time in the fourth century, C.E. Not a word has been added or subtracted from it since then.

How would you like to see a fourth century physician, boys and girls? Or dentist? Let's zoom forward to the zenith of the Inquisition. Would you like your free speech case heard in front of Tomás de Torquemada? No? Why not?

In each of these cases, their understanding of the world has been eclipsed by all of the advances that humans have made: in philosophy, ethics, science, politics, and even in the pseudo-science of economics (Spot has a degree here, so no wounded bellowing from you economist types). We accept the advances in medicine (for the most part, except for things like stem cell research) readily, but religious conservatives are unwilling to shed the dogma and teaching of primitives.

Religion has been dragged, kicking and screaming, every inch of the way into the modern age. Spot read somewhere recently that Galileo was pardoned for his heresy by the Vatican in 1992. This is only some twenty-odd years after men walked on the moon. Spot also thinks he read somewhere that Pope Benedict recently wrote something about "rejecting modernity." He's infallible, you know.

The people who most want the "endowed by their Creator" language to really mean something are the same people who would cheerfully gut you like a trout for heresy.

There is in fact a huge parallel between constitutional originalism and religious conservatism. Both are profoundly backward looking in their search for information and in their judgments. It is not a coincidence that Justice Scalia, a very conservative Catholic, is also the principal champion of constitutional originalism.

DL reminder

Aswin Madia, the DFL candidate for Congress in the Third District, will be at Drinking Liberally tonight. Six to nine at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

Madia is apparently going to get some big time help from the DCCC, including some next week. You can come and hear the candidate talk about that.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

He should have stuck to the rough draft

Spotty, are you going to go and see the Declaration of Independence in St. Paul?

Nah. Spot's still kind of annoyed at Thomas Jefferson.


Well, you see there was a compromise made in the language, at the behest of some fundamentalist nuts, probably the Puritans from Massachusetts, that has caused us no end of problems.

Here's the language that Jefferson, child of the Enlightenment, wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men . . .

Notice that nowhere mentioned is a creator; the draft is silent on how men got created. But in the debates, piety snuck in:

As a result, we got this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .

At some point, Jefferson must have thought, "What the hell, it's only a rhetorical flourish. What could it hurt? We're writing to a guy who believes in the divine right of kings anyway."

Jefferson's capitulation on this point has caused unending grief ever since. It is the capstone of the fundamentalist argument that the United States was founded as a religious, and specifically, Christian nation.

It is also fundamental, so to speak, to the notion that U.S. citizens hold their rights as a grant from God, i.e., "natural law." Of course, what God giveth, God can take away. We have an ample supply of preachers who are more than happy to be spokesmen for God on what God wants in this regard.

The fundies insist on calling the Declaration of Independence a "founding document." It is no such thing. It's a Bill of Divorce.

The Constitution is our nation's founding document. The words "God" or "Creator" cannot be found in the Constitution. There are only two references to religion in the Constitution.

The first, in Article Six as Spot recalls, prohibits any religious test or oath for a federal or state office holder.

The other reference is in the First Amendment: the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses.

The Christian nation crowd likes to point to all the acts of reverence and piety undertake in the early years after the Revolution. Did Madison and the other framers just overlook God?

No, of course not. They obviously intended that the Constitution be an entirely positive - as opposed to natural - law document. The alternative would have been to turn every preacher into a law giver. Not very democratic.

It must also be remembered that the framers didn't have to look that far back in their own history and that of Europe to recall the tyranny of the clergy: burning heretics, hanging witches, and slaughter in religious wars.

You get kind of worked up about this, don't you Spot?

Yes, grasshopper, Spot does.

Well, we're going to go see the Declaration of Independence anyway.

It's a free country, grasshopper.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What kind of a magnet?

Yesterday, Paul Krugman breathed a small sigh of relief and said a little prayer of thanks for Ben Bernanke:

I believe we’ve been lucky to have Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman during these trying times. He may lack Mr. Greenspan’s talent for impersonating the Wizard of Oz, but he’s an economist who has thought long and hard about both the Great Depression and Japan’s lost decade in the 1990s, and he understands what’s at stake.

Mr. Bernanke recognized, more quickly than others might have, that we were in a situation bearing a family resemblance to the great banking crisis of 1930-31. His first priority, overriding every other concern, had to be preventing a cascade of financial failures that would cripple the economy.

The Fed’s efforts these past nine months remind me of the old TV series “MacGyver,” whose ingenious hero would always get out of difficult situations by assembling clever devices out of household objects and duct tape.

Because the institutions in trouble weren’t called banks, the Fed’s usual tools for dealing with financial trouble, designed for a system centered on traditional banks, were largely useless. So the Fed has cobbled together makeshift arrangements to save the day. There was the TAF and the TSLF (don’t ask), there were credit lines to investment banks, and the whole thing culminated in March’s unprecedented, barely legal Bear Stearns rescue — a rescue not of Bear itself, but of its “counterparties,” those who were on the other side of its financial bets.

Well, that's one way to look at it. Here's another by Spot's favorite prophet of doom, James Kunstler:

The Fed has, in effect, made itself the world's largest financial shit-magnet. It has already taken in a few hundred billion in securities based on non-performing real estate loans, and has now opened the window to securities based on non-performing credit card debt, car loans, and other miscellaneous IOUs still drifting un-hedged in the banking ether. [italics are Spot's]

That's an arresting image isn't it, boys and girls? Kunstler continues:

It's a mark of our collective desperation to avoid the consequences of so much reckless behavior that no credible authorities have stepped up to denounce this racket -- no Fed governor, no politician of standing (including the candidates for president), no newspaper-of-record. The Attorney-general of New York, Andrew Cuomo, may be quietly cooking up some cases in the deep background, but the SEC and the federal banking regulators hung up their "out-to-lunch" signs on this long ago.

Meanwhile, the basic situation is this: the world is awash with bad investment paper. The standard of living in the US can't be supported on debt anymore. The people of the US don't produce enough real value to service their debts. Institutions can no longer be supported on debt gone bad. Something's got to give -- meaning something has to bring the US standard of living down to a level consistent with our declining actual wealth.

Everything else going on right now is a dodge. The Fed maneuvers, the "coordinated actions" of the western central banks, the postponements of default, the non-disclosure of contents in bank portfolios, the pretense that risk alone is a kind of fungible resource that can be endlessly traded to generate fees -- all this fucking nonsense will only make the eventual unwinding much worse.

Spotty, we had better hope that Krugman is right!

Indeed, grasshopper.