Monday, November 30, 2009

Huckabee’s Horton

In a piece of good news for Governor Gutshot, Mike Huckabee apparently granted the clemency petition of a guy who just killed four police officers:

When Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister then serving as governor of Arkansas, granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons nine years ago, he cited his age: Mr. Clemmons was 16 when he began the crime spree for which he was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Now, Mr. Clemmons is being sought as the suspect in the killing of four uniformed police officers, execution-style, on Sunday as they sat in a coffee shop near Tacoma, Wash., writing reports.

Mr. Huckabee, now a Fox News talk-show host, has been leading the pack of possible Republican contenders for president in 2012. But the killings of the police officers is focusing renewed attention on his long-contentious record of pardoning convicts or commuting their sentences.

Do you remember Willie Horton? He was the rope they used to hang Michael Dukakis.

The people who will be deciding the Republican nominee for president next time around aren’t exactly the forgive-and-forget types, either.

Update: There is an interesting post at Mercury Rising about Mike Huckabee and pardons and clemency. It seems that appearing to adhere to an evangelical brand of Christianity had something to do with whether you got it or not.

That must be it

Spot read somewhere – can’t even remember where, at the moment – that the reason for continuing and escalating efforts in Afghanistan is to provide a way to get at western Pakistan, where the bad guys really do live. Not fighting for a democratic Afghanistan, not to protect the women there, not anything else really having to do with Afghanistan. It’s more rational, anyway, than any other explanation Spot has heard.

Of course, we can’t really say that, since Pakistan is our “ally.” It’s the 80s flipped around: then we used Pakistan as a base for operations in Afghanistan against the Soviets (mostly by our proxies the mujahedeen); now we’re in Afghanistan to have better access for raids into Pakistan.

Whether this amounts to a good or idea or not, Spot cannot say. There is, no doubt, potential for kinds of blow back we haven’t even imagined yet.

The alternative, one supposes, is to conduct raids into Pakistan (if indeed, we think we have to do that) from, gulp, India. Now that’s problematic.

Spot also read recently – again, can’t remember where -  that the keys to the nukes were turned over to the Prime Minister by the President of Pakistan, and that the government there is extremely shaky, even more shaky than usual. Maybe that means we can look, er, forward, to another military coup in Pakistan and the ascendance of pro-Taliban elements in the government.

That would be bad.

The decision to shift all of the resources we did from Afghanistan to Iraq is looking worse and worse in the rear view mirror. We’ve been in Afghanistan so long that we’ve managed to turn the Taliban into fighters in a war of national liberation in the minds of many Afghans, at least the Pashtuns in the south.

Anyway, Spot is curious to know what the rest of you think.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

“Hand wringing and mumbo jumbo”

That’s how one thoughtful and obviously intelligent commenter over at the Star Tribune described an op-ed piece in today’s paper by Vice President Walter Mondale and former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug. The subject of the commentary was the governor’s unallotment last spring before the new biennium began. Their point was that his action is unconstitutional under the Minnesota Constitution. The Minnesota Constitution, the commentary continued, contains an explicit separation of powers, and Governor Gutshot had arrogated to himself functions that belonged to the Legislature.

Here’s the mumbo jumbo that Mondale and Lillehaug referred to:

art three of const

You can look it up. And while you’re at the Minnesota Constitution site, you can look for the provision that says the governor adopts the budget. You won’t find it. That’s the job of the Legislature.

And while it’s very easy to splash around in the shallow end of the gene pool known as the Star Tribune op-ed comments section and insult a former Vice President of the United States and a former U.S. Attorney; it’s much harder apparently, to actually read their arguments and, heaven forfend, read the Minnesota Constitution.

Spot posted on the subject of the op-ed last week.

Comments on the Stool

Commenting is not kvetching, or at least it shouldn’t be. But commenting of late has become, among some commenters, anyway, not a venue for talking about the subject of a post, but rather a place to just bicker with other commenters, often on subjects other than the post. It inhibits a discussion of the subject of the post, and frankly chases other commenters away.

Sometimes the comments are absurdly long; far longer than the posts, even. Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church with fewer words than one in the moderation bin right now. Spot has neither the time nor the inclination to moderate a flame war.

Enough. In court, the lawyers are required to address their remarks to the judge, not each other. There is only one person in the courtroom who can address everybody, and that’s the judge.

Please address your comments only to Spot. Spot is the judge. Spot rules – moderates – and if your comments are not relevant to the post, or are simple insults to another commenter, they won’t be approved. All rulings from Spot’s bench are final, and there is no appeal. Deal with it.

In the endless tit for tat, Spot cannot even figure out who is ahead on points and doesn’t care. We’re just not going to do it anymore.

If all you want to do is bicker, Spot will assist in the exchange of emails so you can have at each other.

Friday, November 27, 2009

R.T. Rybak at Drinking Liberally on December 3rd

DL badge It’s still a few days off, but be sure to mark it down and come to Drinking Liberally on Thursday, December 3rd. R.T. Rybak, Mayor of Minneapolis, and recently-announced candidate for governor, will be our guest.

We meet from six to around nine at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

The Mayor is expected around seven for some remarks and a meet and greet. He’ll be a leading contender for the DFL endorsement, so you won’t want to miss this one.

History is a weapon

From Howard Zinn’s essay in History is a Weapon (and taken from his book A People’s History of the United States):

     When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a "vacuum." The Indians, he said, had not "subdued" the land, and therefore had only a "natural" right to it, but not a "civil right." A "natural right" did not have legal standing.

     The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

     The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in 1636.

     A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the NarraganseIt Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote:

They had commission to pat to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Captain Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampum for damages, etc. and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force.

     The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: "The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully... –"

     So, the war with the Pequots began. Massacres took place on both sides. The English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes and later, in the twentieth century, even more systematically: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy. This is ethno historian Francis Jennings's interpretation of Captain John Mason's attack on a Pequot village on the Mystic River near Long Island Sound: "Mason proposed to avoid attacking Pequot warriors, which would have overtaxed his unseasoned, unreliable troops. Battle, as such, was not his purpose. Battle is only one of the ways to destroy an enemy's will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same end with less risk, and Mason had determined that massacre would be his objective."

     So the English set fire to the wigwams of the village. By their own account: "The Captain also said, We must Burn Them; and immediately stepping into the Wigwam ... brought out a Fire Brand, and putting it into the Matts with which they were covered, set the Wigwams on Fire." William Bradford, in his History of the Plymouth Plantation written at the time, describes John Mason's raid on the Pequot village:

Those that scaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.

     As Dr. Cotton Mather, Puritan theologian, put it: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

     The war continued. Indian tribes were used against one another, and never seemed able to join together in fighting the English. Jennings sums up:

The terror was very real among the Indians, but in time they came to meditate upon its foundations. They drew three lessons from the Pequot War: (1) that the Englishmen's most solemn pledge would be broken whenever obligation conflicted with advantage; (2) that the English way of war had no limit of scruple or mercy; and (3) that weapons of Indian making were almost useless against weapons of European manufacture. These lessons the Indians took to heart.

As it says in the introduction to the site History is a Weapon, history isn’t what happened; it is a story of what happened.

Udate: For those of you who think Howard Zinn doesn’t have it quite right.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Pequot should have had better border control

From a Thanksgiving post three years ago:

The idea of a city on a hill [John Winthrop, picked up by others, including Ronald Reagan] is heartwarming. It suggests what George Bush has spoken of: that the United States is a beacon of liberty and democracy. People can look to us and learn from and emulate us.

In reality, we have never been just a city on a hill. A few years after Governor Winthrop uttered his famous words, the people in the city on a hill moved out to massacre the Pequot Indians. Here's a description by William Bradford, an early settler, of Captain John Mason's attack on a Pequot village:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Candidates’ debate

Not the lyric from the Simon and Garfunkel song, but the one being held tonight for DFL gubernatorial candidates at the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts. Spot hopes to attend, and he has a question. Although he doubts he’ll get a chance to ask it. But here it is:

The Legislative session ended in May in a train wreck and Tim Pawlenty, a/ka/ Governor Gutshot, really deciding on his own what to spend money on in the biennium that began July 1st.

At the time, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth and mutterings that the Legislature was plotting dark revenge. Since then? Nothing.

Then recently, a group of six individuals started a lawsuit to challenge the governor over his exercise of the power of unallotment, at least in the way that he used it. Based on a story in the Strib, Spot learned that the six lost state payments for nutritional assistance that each needed for medical reasons – reasons apart from the fact that we all need to eat to live.

Who’s representing or backing these six people on what is certainly the most important Minnesota constitutional question in years? Advocacy groups? Public interest law firms? Some deep pockets of some kind, anyway? Actually, it is a Legal Aid Services Lawyer. Good on her/him.

Word also comes to the remote precincts where Spot abides that the Minnesota House Rules Committee has decided to file a brief supporting the six. (That was in the news, too.)

Not exactly an overwhelming profile in courage.

Long prologue, but here’s the question:

Are you happy with the way the session ended in St. Paul? If not, what should have been done about it, and if you were in the Legislature, why didn’t you do it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Climateers

I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while. The daughter of a friend of mine is a graduate student in Public and Industrial Environmental Management in Berlin. She is the coauthor of a blog dedicated to environmental activism and apparently will be attending the upcoming summit on the environment in Copenhagen, Denmark as a student representative. (Send her a little extra money, Pop; that’s a really expensive town.)

She was in Berlin for the recent 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, and she makes the observation that one our biggest security challenges in the future will be claims on resources and the environment:

Due to its overarching nature and potential catastrophic effects on international social, political, and economic structures, climate change has been noted as one of the greatest threats to American security by the Pentagon, the State Department and eleven retired three- and four-star admirals and generals.

Scott Horton, a go-to guy on almost everything, noted this about about Germany’s Chancellor Merkel’s recent address in Washington:

Angela Merkel’s speech to Congress on November 3 was a significant event similarly misunderstood by the broadcast media. Merkel gave her country’s thanks for the role played by prior American administrations—particularly that of George H.W. Bush—in German reunification. But carefully wrapped in those compliments was also a bit of a brickbat. Where was that leadership over most of the last decade? You’ll have our support for efforts in Afghanistan, she pledged—and now assume the leadership role we expect of you on issues like global warming. Merkel’s voice is that of a new and much more conservative Europe that looks to America for a forward role and has been sorely disappointed. But how much of this message got through in the American media? None of it. Alas, our media was too much focused on the congressional elections in Plattsburgh, New York, to be bothered with such trivia.

The summit sorely needs American leadership, but it doesn’t appear that it will get it.

Perhaps you will follow The Climateers to get a “citizens’ media” perspective on the proceedings. I plan to.

Update: This just in: U.S. to Propose Emissions Cut Before Climate Talks.

Ebenezer Scrooge: just a misunderstood libertarian

Alternate title: We are all Bob Cratchit now (from Balloon Juice)

Spot had forgotten about these tender Christmas tidings from the Ludwig von Mies Institute:

scrooge So let's look without preconceptions at Scrooge's allegedly underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. The fact is, if Cratchit's skills were worth more to anyone than the fifteen shillings Scrooge pays him weekly, there would be someone glad to offer it to him. Since no one has, and since Cratchit's profit-maximizing boss is hardly a man to pay for nothing, Cratchit must be worth exactly his present wages.

No doubt Cratchit needs—i.e., wants—more, to support his family and care for Tiny Tim. But Scrooge did not force Cratchit to father children he is having difficulty supporting. If Cratchit had children while suspecting he would be unable to afford them, he, not Scrooge, is responsible for their plight. And if Cratchit didn't know how expensive they would be, why must Scrooge assume the burden of Cratchit's misjudgment?

As for that one lump of coal Scrooge allows him, it bears emphasis that Cratchit has not been chained to his chilly desk. If he stays there, he shows by his behavior that he prefers his present wages-plus-comfort package to any other he has found, or supposes himself likely to find. Actions speak louder than grumbling, and the reader can hardly complain about what Cratchit evidently finds satisfactory.

The author, Michel Levin, really gives the full apologia treatment to ol’ Eb:

More notorious even than his miserly ways are Scrooge's cynical words. "Are there no prisons," he jibes when solicited for charity, "and the Union workhouses?" Terrible, right? Lacking in compassion?

Not necessarily. As Scrooge observes, he supports those institutions with his taxes. Already forced to help those who can't or won't help themselves, it is not unreasonable for him to balk at volunteering additional funds for their extra comfort.

Scrooge is skeptical that many would prefer death to the workhouse, and he is unmoved by talk of the workhouse's cheerlessness. He is right to be unmoved, for society's provisions for the poor must be, well, Dickensian. The more pleasant the alternatives to gainful employment, the greater will be the number of people who seek these alternatives, and the fewer there will be who engage in productive labor. If society expects anyone to work, work had better be a lot more attractive than idleness.

Levin says that we must not forget all the good that Scrooge does:

The biggest of the Big Lies about Scrooge is the pointlessness of his pursuit of money. "Wealth is of no use to him. He doesn't do any good with it," opines ruddy nephew Fred.

Wrong on both counts. Scrooge apparently lends money, and to discover the good he does one need only inquire of the borrowers. Here is a homeowner with a new roof, and there a merchant able to finance a shipment of tea, bringing profit to himself and happiness to tea drinkers, all thanks to Scrooge.

A misunderstood fellow, indeed! We’re really lucky that Mr. Levin could find the time to debunk the lies about a fictional character in a fictional story. This is truly productive work.

One has to ask, though, if the strict social Darwinism of libertarianism is so great, why do we need sheltered libertarian workshops for libertarians like Michael Levin?

It is a puzzle.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Selling the apocalypse in a can

1survival1120 To paraphrase P.T. Barnum (at least Spot thinks that who it was), nobody every went broke underestimating the intelligence (he said taste) of the American public. Bill Heid, the owner of a company called Solutions From Science, is selling a can of garden seeds for the low, low price of $149. It looks to be about the size of one of those canisters you use for transactions at the bank drive-up window. According to Heid, the canister can be buried for safekeeping.

One supposes that the can is sealed so that it can be buried, not to mention discouraging buyers from seeing exactly what they got for $149.

Unsurprisingly, Heid has chosen to advertise his seeds on Glenn Beck’s show on KLTK:

Bill Heid, the owner of Solutions From Science, which produces the seed gardens, said that many people scoffed at survival gardens before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the economic meltdown that began two years ago.

Now, said Heid, whose ads have been airing on KTLK's morning Glenn Beck show, his product's appeal spans the political spectrum.

But, not apparently, the entire spectrum:

"This is the most bizarre thing I have ever heard," said state Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, chairman of the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Committee. "I don't want to see my big-city cousins get duped. Somebody's trying to sell you a pet rock."

Here’s Heid’s pitch to the, um, spectrum:

On his website, Heid's pitch is a bit less mainstream. "You don't have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what's going on all around us," the site says. "A belligerent lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control over every aspect of our lives." The pitch: "If you don't have the ability to grow your own food next year, your life may be in danger."

If you go to the Strib’s webpage at the link above, you can see a short video about some of Bill Heid’s other product offerings: a Himalayan diet aid (that got him in trouble with the FTC), and a diet supplement that can enable you to jump higher (no word of FTC action on that one, at least yet).

These cans are no doubt especially attractive to the people who are worried that they won’t be taken by the Rapture and are going to have to stick around for the Tribulation.

That’s a big market, right there.

Strib photo

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Drinking Liberally tonight!

331-front-split-toned-with- We meet from six, until about nine, at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis. You can come anytime.

Just as a head’s up, there will be NO meeting next week: it’s Thanksgiving.

On the 3rd of December, R.T. Rybak will be out guest. The 10th of December is the annual holiday party and Toys for Tots drive; that’s a couple of events you won’t want to miss.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Editor's note

Earlier today, the Cucking Stool put up a post dealing with testimony at a June 23, 2005, Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution. The Senate's record of the hearing, which dealt with the effects of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, can be found here. The Committee's record of the event indicated that Senator Amy Klobuchar made comments that would indicate that she agreed with the anti-choice position of some of the witnesses.

We believe that the identification of the Senator on the Judiciary Committee site is incorrect. Senator Klobuchar was not elected until November 2006 and became a Senator in 2007, making it unlikely that she was actually serving on the Judiciary Committee on June 23, 2005.

We regret failing to catch this error and express our apologies to the Senator.

We do not, however, back away from our concern that the health care reform efforts in Congress have the potential for turning women's health care into a second class form of medicine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It is always an unsettling sight

To see a grown man piss himself, that is. It is that much worse when it happens on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives:

On the House floor last night, Media Matters points out, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) made his case against holding trials for 9/11 suspects in New York City, directing a question to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“I saw the mayor of New York said today, ‘We’re tough. We can do it.’ Well, Mayor, how are you going to feel when it’s your daughter that’s kidnapped at school by a terrorist?” Shadegg said.

The urine has been flowing down the pant legs of right blogistan, too:

At best, this will be a show trial fit not for the American Republic, but a third world kleptocratic totalitarian regime. At worse, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will gain access to classified material he can then leak to other terrorists while New York yet again becomes a target for terrorists. We have already had occasions in this country where terrorists’ sympathetic lawyers have conveyed information, orders, and plans to other terrorists.

Even the Power Line Boyz are having incontinence problems.

But, as usual, Scott Horton sheds useful light on the issue of justice:

Former Bush Administration Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey addressed the Federalist Society only hours after his successor, Eric Holder, announced his plan to bring a group of Guantánamo prisoners up on federal charges in Manhattan. He offered harsh words, claiming that the trials would prove a "circus." Such attacks on the nation's criminal justice system have become routine on the political right.

Take the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who responded to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's promise to bring the Fort Hood shooter to justice with these words:

I was very struck also by Janet Napolitano's comment, I hadn't read it before to see her say that, that the number one priority is to bring him to justice is such a knee-jerk comment and such a stupid comment. He's going to be brought to justice. He is not going to be innocent of murder. There are a lot of eyewitnesses to that. They should just go ahead and convict him and put him to death.

This is the attitude of a lynch mob, being disseminated on Fox News. A few days later, the topic turned from Fort Hood to the trials of Guantánamo prisoners, and the language was no less hyperventilating. "Hang 'em high" tweeted Kristol acolyte Sarah Palin. Other prominent Republicans claimed that the trials offered the prospect of terrorists being acquitted and turned loose. The possibility of an acquittal can't be excluded, of course, but, believe it or not, in our system acquittal does not necessarily lead to immediate release.

One thing that emerges very quickly from a survey of these comments is a dismissive attitude to the Constitution, the criminal justice system, and the need for a careful investigation of the facts and evidence. It's clear that they're really focused on politics, not justice. This attitude is not without parallels in the world and in human history. Kristol's comments perfectly track those of another prominent political figure of the late twentieth century:

There is no reason why a criminal should be tried in the first place … Once his identity is established, he should be killed right away.

That was Ayatollah Khomeini, and the operational demonstration of this principle came in the firing squad execution of thousands of Iranians, especially during the nation's war with Iraq.

Great company for our winger friends, don’t you think, boys and girls?

Update: For those of you who won’t click through to the Scott Horton post, you should know that one of the persons wailing about trying the defendants in New York and referred to by Horton, Michael Murkasey, was George Bush’s last Attorney General. Before holding that job, Murkasey was a judge in the SDNY, and he presided over the case against “the blind sheik” and others accused to committing the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Murkasey made his bones as a judge on that case; it was hardly a “circus.” There were no war crimes allegations, certainly as far as Spot can remember, and as James has pointed out in the comments, the defendants sit in prison today, where they will remain for the rest of their lives.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Katie reads a book!

And she can’t wait to tell us all about it; well, the one idea from it that stuck in her head, anyway. The book? Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed.

Who is Thomas Sowell, Spotty?

Mr. Sowell, grasshopper, is a writer from the well-endowed sheltered conservative workshop known as the Hoover Institute, at least that’s where he was when he wrote his broadside against what he describes as the “elite liberal intelligentsia.” But enough about Sowell! Let’s get back to Katie’s book report.

Katie starts out with the question: unemployment is really bad, so why are we trying to fix health care?

Katie says it is because of the moral preening of liberals. As if conservatives give a rat’s ass about doing something about high unemployment!

Anyway, according to Katie, the President and the Dems in Congress feel all exalted and anointed, and here is where we find ourselves now:

For America's anointed, Sowell concludes, "reality is optional." Today, our nation can't afford such willful blindness. On the economic front, families' livelihoods are on the line. On the health care front, their lives are at stake.

Boys and girls, Spot took the time to quote that paragraph, so he hopes you will take some time and savor all the wild funniness in it.

First, who was the author of this statement? "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality."

Hint: it wasn’t a Democrat.

And second, didn’t all or virtually all Republicans oppose Obama’s stimulus package? And they’re still carping about it. Even though some economists, including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, think it’s too small?

Only somebody with the class and skill of a Katie could take one thing she doesn’t care about and use it to complain about something else she doesn’t care about. That’s a true professional, boys and girls.

Katie wails about the “wild-eyed, budget-busting crusade” to reform health care we’re on. Spot is sure we can all agree that Katie makes commendable use of the hyphen in that phrase; the only thing missing was the alliteration that conservatives love so well.

Some of you are probably familiar with Brad DeLong, an economics professor from Berkeley. He writes a blog, and he said this recently about all the budget bleating:

  • In the short term, we don't have a deficit problem: as long as unemployment remains highly elevated--certainly as long as the unemployment rate stays above 7%--and as long as interest rates on U.S. Treasuries stay low a bigger federal deficit is a feature not a bug: our short-term deficit problem (and the short term lasts for most of Obama's remaining term) is that the deficit is too small, not too big.

  • In the long term, our deficit problem is a federal government health spending problem. Unless medical care cost growth is brought under control--and here the drivers are not factors specific to government programs, for private-sector medical expenditures are exploding at least as rapidly as Medicare and Medicaid--then excess medical cost growth will lead the federal government health programs to first devour the rest of the social insurance state in the years after 2020 and then devour themselves.

  • In the medium term between 2012 and 2020 we are, current projections tell us, on a sustainable budget path--with a budget deficit "no larger than the average of the past thirty years," as the Bush administration flacks used to tell us--with a stable debt-to-GDP ratio as long as output does not grow more slowly than projected and as long as congress observes PAYGO: as long as congress pays for whatever policy changes it makes.

The second paragraph of the DeLong quote is the most significant rebuttal of Katie’s budget hysterics. Health care is not a beast that will devour merely the federal budget; it is a beast that will devour national income if we don’t get it under control. The “market” has demonstrated time and time again that it won’t get the beast under control: it is the beast.

Update: Spot intended to emphasize the point that health care reform is about so much more than those durn tat-ses. Spot has pointed out several times that we pay more per capita for health care than any other industrialized (or non-industrialized, for that matter, of course) country. Often twice as much per capita, but with much less in coverage of our citizens. An OECD study out this year finds the United States near the bottom in many heath care outcomes. In fact, the study finds that our citizens are only first in one category: we think we have the best health care system in the world.

Yeah, we’re number one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No wonder we can’t afford healthcare

From Empire Burlesque:

Our American militarists love war so much that they even bankroll the enemy, just to keep the blood money flowing. This odd but absolutely crucial characteristic of the Never-Ending Terror War was borne out again in a remarkable story in the Guardian (with an expanded version in The Nation).

We’ve taken the idea from Iraq and made it even better:

Of course, in Iraq, the Pentagon finally started paying insurgents as well. But in that instance, they were at least paying the enemy to stop fighting. Here, they only ask that the Taliban allow some trucks to roll through the countryside -- which seems to be entirely in the hands of the insurgents, despite eight years of war and months of Obama's "surge". The Americans pay handsomely for the privilege -- sometimes up to $1,500 per truck, depending on the cargo -- even though they know the insurgents will use the money to keep fighting.

It seems we can’t pour money down that rat hole fast enough. According to a former soldier and foreign service officer who served in Afghanistan, and who wrote a sobering letter of resignation, here is where we’re headed:


Bill of Attainder!

ACORN sued the federal government for enacting a bill of attainder against it. Here’s an interview on Democracy Now with ACORN’s counsel.

This one should be a slam dunk for ACORN.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's time for Jim Oberstar to take one for the team

Katha Pollit said recently:

You know what I don't want to hear right now about the Stupak-Pitts amendment banning abortion coverage from federally subsidized health insurance policies? That it's the price of reform, and prochoice women should shut up and take one for the team. "If you want to rebuild the American welfare state," Peter Beinart writes in the Daily Beast, "there is no alternative" than for Democrats to abandon "cultural" issues like gender and racial equality. Hey, Peter, Representative Stupak and your sixty-four Democratic supporters, Jim Wallis and other antichoice "progressive" Christians, men: why don't you take one for the team for a change and see how you like it?

Congressman Oberstar, you have one of the safest seats in the United States Congress, why can't YOU take one for the team? You voted for the Stupak amendment that will roll back insurance coverage for women. You aren't one of the Democrats in shaky districts who can't afford to alienate your voters. You will have to have been deceased for many years before the citizens of Minnesota's eighth congressional district stop voting for you.

So why can't YOU buck what you think are the odds to cast a vote to make sure that your constituents stop dying because they don't have health care? Why can't you take a stand and allow a common, legal, constitutionally protected medical procedure be covered by health insurance? Why can't you stand up to legislation that strips rights from half your constituents and say no? Why does it have to be women who again and again take one for the team?

Congressman Oberstar, I think it's time for you to take one for the team, reject the Stupak Amendment, and work to pass health care reform legislation that doesn't take away medical care only from women.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Governor Gutshot

the_spotty TPaw, Pepsodent, Governor Gimmick: you can stow them all. Today’s Spotty™ winner’s got the new — and in Spot’s opinion the best — new moniker for Pawlenty:

The similarities between Gov. Tim Pawlenty's abandonment of his deer in northern Minnesota and his departure from the office of governor of this state couldn't be more striking. He leaves both of them gut-shot and wounded.


governor gutshot with legend Spot thinks this one has legs around the country, especially in rural areas that know hunting and hunting ethics.

Remember, a Spotty™ is awarded to the writer of a letter to the editor, an op-ed piece, or a blog post or entry that Spot wishes he has written himself.

Update: The slob hunter governor has gotten panned elsewhere, too.

StarTribune photograh

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Drinking Liberally tomorrow night

331 and DL

Don’t forget our regular meeting tomorrow night (November 12th) from six to nine at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We’re on the eve of destruction

Here’s driftglass on that hopeless windbag Lindsey Graham:

On “Face the Nation” Lindsey Graham warned “the public option will destroy private insurance.”

Just as public parks and gyms have destroyed for-profit fitness clubs, public beaches have destroyed private seaside resorts, public transit has destroyed the car, Segue, motorcycle, bike and scooter industries, public libraries have driven Amazon into bankruptcy, taxpayer-funded police departments have wiped out the market for private security firms, the US Armed Forces have put Blackwater out of business, community colleges have killed the Ivy League, public playgrounds have destroyed private sports franchises, public washrooms have people turning their bathrooms into extra closet space, public housing has destroyed the housing market, public drinking fountains have crushed Evian and Ice Mountain.

And so forth.

And so on.

And so forth.

Spot’s been sitting here for ten minutes trying to figure what to add to that, but he’s got nuthin’. It’s perfect just the way it is.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

It must be almost Pavlovian

A writer of headlines at the Strib is given the task of writing a headline for a Katherine Kersten column. Entirely unbidden, the term “slippery slope” pops into the writer’s head. It could hardly be otherwise; Katie warns an unsuspecting public of a “slippery slope” in every column.

And thus it is today in The perilous, slippery slope of gay marriage.

But Spot isn’t going to write about it. He’s going to adopt the advice of Bishop John Shelby Spong: just ignore these hate-filled creeps for the pestilential pus bags they are. They aren’t worthy of engagement.

Okay, Spot is paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

A thump of the tail to Tild.

Update: From the pictures speak louder than words, anyway, department:


A thump of the tail to David Brauer, and of course, to L.K. Hanson.

We knew she was a little thug

Those of us who saw Bachmann & company take over the state capitol a few years ago really can't be all that surprised this happened.

That's Michele Bachmann interrupting Congresswomen who try to address the House in turn on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday. Unwilling to even let the other side make their arguments, Congresswoman Bachmann has fallen to trying to shout down her colleagues. Screaming over those who were elected to do the people's business. Interrupting like a child when someone she doesn't agree with gets a turn at speaking. Bullying others when she can't get her way.

Between that behavior and Thursday's rowdy confrontation of representatives in the halls of Congressional office buildings, I'm beginning to think Spot might be on to something with his comparison of this gang to a festering bund.

Update: Ohio Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy described what it was like to be shouted down by Bachmann's leader in this stunt:
[T]hree male members of Congress got up and started shouting down — trying to shout down the Democratic women. I thought it was loud, I thought it was rude, I thought it was disrespectful, and I thought it was sexist. [...]

Well, when you engage in loud, rude, and boorish behavior, my mother would have said they should apologize. I don’t expect an apology, but that would be nice to have that. But you know, you’re seeing this sexist behavior going on.

You heard recently comments — from the Republican side of the aisle, some of my Republican colleagues over there — saying Speaker Pelosi should be put in her place, and I think that’s what they thought they were doing with the Democratic women. And it’s simply outrageous to me to have women being treated like that on the floor of the House.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Guilty! II

Here’s an interview with the Italian judge prosecutor who convicted the 23 Americans for kidnapping the Muslim cleric off the streets of Milan. Amy Goodman is joined by human rights lawyer Scott Horton.

M corrects points out it is an interview with the prosecutor. Spot meant prosecutor; really he did. Anyway, it’s nice to have proofreaders, and even better to have people who actually watch the video.

Update: Those of you who watched the video, including the inestimable “M,” undoubtedly noticed the snippet of video of the ABC interview with one of the convicted agents. She admits breaking the law, but then complains that the United States government should have “protected her” and the other agents because they were only “following orders.” She fears that foreign governments will just indict Americans whenever they feel like it. What arrogance.

Spot says that not being extradited to Italy is really more protection than the agent deserves. What was actually being protected in this case was the rule of law against a bunch of cowboy (and girl) Americans who thought they were above it. But it goes to show, that when in Rome (or Milan!), you have to do as the Romans do.

The interviewed international-fugitive CIA operative must have missed the day in spook school when they talked about things like the Nuremberg principles and the consequences of violating domestic law when operating abroad.

Pirates in blue V

Alternate title: Jeep lust

You can read the earlier installments here: part one, part two, part three, and part four. This is the final installment in the series, bringing the issue back home.

Kristen Brown at impound Just a week ago, there was an article in the Metro West section of the Star Tribune about a Richfield mother who had successfully sued to get her Jeep Grand Cherokee back from the Edina police. You’ll remember that Brown’s son was cited for a DWI while driving his mother’s car. The car was seized, and the Edina police commenced an administrative forfeiture proceeding.

Here’s part of what the police said about the seizure and attempted forfeiture of Brown’s vehicle:

Edina police defend what they did, asserting they had the law on their side. Brown's attorney says that when it comes to forfeitures, the Legislature has stacked the deck against property owners and that the law should be changed.

Police said their priority is to keep cars away from repeat offenders. Brown's son, Chris Brown-McCarthy, 21, has a drunken driving conviction from 2007.

"We do take a hard line on it," said Edina Police Chief Mike Siitari. "We do get this occasionally, that, 'It's my car. I didn't know anything about it.' We take a look at it with a jaundiced eye."

You can read both the US. and Minnesota Constitutions from top to bottom and side to side and you will not find the “jaundiced eye” clause.

If the “priority” is to keep cars away from repeat offenders, the chief ought to be asked how many $500 clunkers — or cheap cars in general — that the department has ever seized and and sought to forfeit from their owners. Probably not many. But somebody ought to ask, anyway.

Perhaps the eye is not so much jaundiced as covetous. Remember, on a forfeited car, the department making the bust keeps 70% of the proceeds of the car if sold, or it may keep the car for its own departmental use.

This was Brown’s son’s second impaired driving incident. Here is what Minn. Stat. sec. 169A.63, Subd. 7(d) says about imputing knowledge of illegal vehicle use to an owner:

A motor vehicle is not subject to forfeiture under this section if its owner can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in any manner contrary to law or that the owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender. If the offender is a family or household member of the owner and has three or more prior impaired driving convictions, the owner is presumed to know of any vehicle use by the offender that is contrary to law.  . . . [italics are the author’s]

The article does not state whether Brown’s son’s first violation was in the Cherokee or not.

It is apparent that Chief Siitari was more eager than the statute to imput knowledge of the impaired driving to Ms. Brown. Here’s how he justifies that:

"We look at this as a one way to put an end to [DWI]," he said. "You see it regularly, repeat offenders don't have cars in their names. They still drive. Under these circumstances, I would prefer to have a neutral party determine" if the owner gets the car back.

There was no statutory mandate to commence a forfeiture in this case. It only became a judicial forfeiture because Kristin Brown started a lawsuit to make it one. It is also clear that the police had not the smallest regard for Kristin Brown’s claim of innocence — remember, the chief had a “jaundiced eye” — a claim that was vindicated in court. But she had to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit to do it. And it is disingenuous, to put it charitably, to say that it was all under the guise of having a “neutral party determine” whether Kristin Brown would get her car back.

Administrative forfeiture is a system that has run amuck. It is the rare case like Kristin Brown’s where there is any oversight of police conduct. Administrative forfeiture can and does deprive persons of money, property, and motor vehicles on the spot, while giving them only a brief time, and a complicated and expensive process, to prove their innocence and reclaim their property.

Prove their innocence. Has kind of Soviet ring to it, doesn’t it?

Star Tribune photo

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Busy day, not much time to blog. But Spot did want to pass this along:

Judgment in Milan

An Italian court hearing criminal charges against 26 American officials and a smaller group of Italians arising out of a CIA extraordinary rendition has ruled today. The case relates to the CIA’s snatching of a Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar off the streets of Milan in 2003. He was whisked off to Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Italian prosecutors noted that the American action botched a prosecution they had prepared against Abu Omar for participation in a terrorist conspiracy. Here’s a summary of the court’s decision from Reuters: [the Scott Horton post continues]

The guilty judgments were made “in absentia,” due to the, um, absence of the defendants. The good news for the defendants is that Italy doesn’t practice extraordinary rendition. The United States is unlikely to extradite them, either, so as long at these defendants never leave the country for the rest of their natural lives, they should be okay.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Crowing and kvetching: the Drinking Liberally edition


Drinking Liberally tomorrow night – Thursday, November 5th – will be a a post mortem on the just-conducted election. Come and tell us why your candidate won, and if your candidate lost, come and explain why the voting public was so sadly misguided. Campaign staff are especially encouraged to attend.

Six to nine at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

Pirates in blue IV

In this, probably the penultimate post in the series (part one, part two, part three), we’ll address splitting the forfeiture pot.

The basic rule is 70% of the proceeds go to the local cops or other agency responsible for the bust, 20% to the prosecuting agency, and 10% to the state. That’s what supposed to happen. In practice, however, and as was pointed out in the first post in the series, it doesn’t always work out that way; here again is the City Pages description of the Metro Gang Strike Force in operation:

The looting went well beyond shaking down the occasional 15-year-old pot smoker of his/her pocket change. During searches and seizures, officers routinely confiscated, for their own personal use, highly valuable goodies that had little-to-nothing to do with the accompanying charges. The plunders included flat-screen televisions, lap tops, jewelry, and jet skis-- items "officers and their family members were permitted to purchase, at low prices," according to the findings.

So, there’s a problem right there: property seized that never finds its way on to a seized property inventory or even becomes the subject of administrative forfeiture proceedings. We have another term of art for this property: “stolen.” Related to it, though, is permitting officers and family members to purchase forfeited items at low prices.

This also frustrates one of the ostensible purposes of the forfeiture program to provide additional funds for police departments. It also creates an incentive for an officer to go shopping on duty for family and friends, or even other people in the department:

Chief, I saw this monster flat screen in an apartment today that I just had to have. Put it on 60-day lay away for me will ya’? I’ll make you an offer for it then.

It probably doesn’t happen quite that directly, even at the Metro Gang Strike Force, but it illustrates the problem. And there really isn’t anything to keep it from happening. There is nothing — nothing — in Minn. Stat. sec. 609.5315 that imposes any obligation on law enforcement as to how it may sell forfeited property, or to maximize the amount received, or even to limit the persons who may buy (well, there are for weapons, but you can read them by clicking the link).

Here’s another amazing fact: the cops can keep the property for use by the department. That’s true in the case of motor vehicles forfeited for impaired driving violations, too.

If you have seen police officers driving around in unmarked or undercover cars that seemed odd to you, the chances are excellent that they are the fruits of civil forfeiture. If they hadn’t decided to sell it on eBay, the police in Proctor could have been riding around on an undercover motorized recliner.

It ought to make you at least a little queasy to know that there is no judicial oversight of most administrative forfeitures, nor any oversight of any kind of the disposition of forfeited property, with financial incentives all along the way. The Metro Gang Strike Force is a bloated, malignant example of what the civil forfeiture statutes invite, but it would be naïve to think that some of the Strike Force’s antics haven’t ever happened elsewhere. But because the statutes are so badly written — from the perspective of the public, maybe not law enforcement’s — we’ll probably never know.

In the final installment in this series, probably Friday or over the weekend, we’ll discuss the case of suburban mom Kristin Brown and her Jeep Grand Cherokee that the Edina police wanted.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Pirates in blue III

Alternate title: License to steal

This is the third post in a series. Here’s part one and part two.

I recommended that readers review the complaint prepared against the Metro Strike Force by attorneys for some of its victims: Rivera v. Metro Gang Strike Force. The Strike Force described in the complaint resembles more Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist — only without the charm — than it does a law enforcement agency: brutal, rapacious thugs.

In the Strib article about the joint legislative hearing on the forfeiture statutes held last week in St. Paul (briefly discussed in part one), sheriffs and police officers pleaded for the statute’s life:

"It isn't the statute that's failed," said Apple Valley police Capt. Michael Marben. "It's the lack of accountability."

It was a theme sounded by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, the police chief of Lake Crystal, who advised colleagues not to overhaul the statute.

Well, not exactly, Capt. Marben. Minn. Stat. sec. 609.5314 permits the administrative forfeiture of, inter alia, all money, precious metal, and precious stones, and any “conveyance device” (that’s a vehicle to the uninitiated) found in “proximinity to” controlled substances. There’s more to it than that, but it’s enough to understand some of the more common tactics of the Metro Gang Strike Force.

Armed with the color of law of 609.5314, Strike Force Officers could go out and pick a person clean for the lowest street-level drug offense or even being in proximity to it:

Is that marijuana I smell? Gimme your wallet, your watch, and your diamond engagement ring!

But officer, I’m not smoking marijuana. I don’t have any drugs on me!

Doesn’t matter. You’re obviously in proximity to drug activity. Now hand ‘em over.

And what is “proximity” you may ask? One is tempted to answer: same zip code. From reading the complaint in the Strike Force case, and from other published media reports, it appears that a favorite Strike Force tactic was to enter an apartment, often without a warrant, detain the residents in one room while another officer or officers rifled through other rooms for cash and valuables. Sometimes they prepared an inventory of what they took, sometimes an incomplete one, and sometimes no inventory was prepared at all. And controlled substances often seemed beside the point.

Some of these characters made simple snatch and run robbers and residential burglars look positively amateurish.

But let’s return to accountability. Here’s what defendant and former Strike Force commander Ron Ryan said about his officers’ conduct, from the Rivera complaint:

Defendant Ryan was aware that MGSF Officers were committing theft of personal property and did nothing to prevent it.  When confronted by improper “forfeitures” by MGSF Officers, by the Office of the Legislative  Auditor, Ryan testified that it was known “copper mentality” to take unlawfully the property of suspects, or “mopes,” who appeared to have nicer things in their home or on their person than the police officers had.  He asserted that “coppers like to take as much as they can, that’s just the nature of the beast.”  Defendant Ryan also identified the fact that “illegal aliens” do not “ask for anything back anymore” as a reason why the MGSF was amassing so much cash and property.

Stunning, isn’t it? The Strike Force officers didn’t worry much about accountability to Commander Ryan. Ryan’s statement about the “copper mentality” is telling, too. Let’s assume he’s truthful here for a moment. If that is the “copper mentality,” then it very much is the statute that has failed, because it provides means and opportunity to cops who already have the motive to steal.

And as Rebecca Otto, the state’s top auditor pointed out in the hearing, the Treasurer’s office has limited ability to oversee the forfeiture “program.” Well none, really, when what’s going on is simple theft.

We’ll end for today with another groaner from the hearing:

At the legislative hearing, sheriffs and police defended the law, saying it provided money for law enforcement training and equipment. They portrayed the Gang Strike Force problems as isolated.

There is another word for training, certainly in the business world, and that’s what the forfeiture enterprise is beginning to resemble more and more; that word is “junket.” One question all these law enforcement leaders should have been asked at the hearing was,”How many seminars in warm places and adjacent to golf courses have you taken on forfeiture money?”

The answers would have been interesting.

There’ll be a couple of more posts before we’re done.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Pirates in blue II

This is a follow up to the earlier post, Pirates in blue.

There are two principal kinds of civil forfeiture in Minnesota: judicial forfeiture, and administrative forfeiture, or as law enforcement probably likes to thinks of it, forfeiture lite! Less work, but the same great taste!

It was administrative forfeiture that permitted the Metro Gang Strike Force to become the impressive criminal enterprise that it did. It really shows that properly drawn, government incentives do work.

After property is seized in an alleged controlled substance violation, administrative forfeiture is commenced with this cheery missive from law enforcement:


There is a similar notice for administrative forfeitures of motor vehicles in certain moving violations offenses, such as impaired driving.

Other than referring to a single statute as guidance for how to proceed, the notice says nothing to the recipient about what to do, not even how long s/he has to do it. The answer, by the way, is sixty days.

The property owner must file a lawsuit and in most instances pay the new case filing fee, which is currently $252.00 $322.00. As the plaintiff in such a suit, the property owner has the burden of showing that the property was improperly seized; since it’s a civil matter, none of the rights of accused persons are applicable. In fact, if you’re a criminal defendant, you sue to get your property back at some hazard to your personal freedom.

At least the notice is brutally honest about what happens to your property if you don’t file: you lose it. It doesn’t matter what ultimately happens to any criminal charge.

Because there is a homework assignment, I’ll end this post here. Please read for tomorrow the complaint in Rivera v. Metro Gang Strike Force.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Read Doug Tice

Doug Tice had a front page op-ed section piece in the Strib today. When you’re the editor of the opinion page — at least Spot recalls that’s what Tice is up to these days — you can do that once in a while, shoving lesser mortals aside for a spot in the sun.

The thing is, Spot likes the piece. It’s about how politicians on both sides of the fence use the dangerous person sexual predator lock-up as a political football. It’s been in the news lately, of course, because of the flap over large screen televisions being installed at the facility. The inmates patients who are incarcerated locked up detained housed in the facility have served their time, so it does seem a little churlish to deny a decent teevee to someone being detained against his will.

The point of Tice’s piece, though, is a little different and it is a good one. Politicians bray about public safety from sexual predators, and then bray about its cost, trying to score political points all along the way.

It is almost worth a Spotty™.

Why doesn’t he get one, because he’s Doug Tice?

No, grasshopper, that’s not the reason. Okay, maybe a little. But the real reason is because after a good exposition of the issue, Tice stops. He has no more solutions than the politicians. Spot has to agree a bit with one of the commenters to the article who said essentially, “What’s you point?”