A President, not a king

I was not originally planning to post on the big news story of the day, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, but I think a lot of the coverage I've seen as ignored some of the most significant ramifications.  Whatever happens with Guantanamo and military tribunals is not what is important. Rather, what this decision has to say about the very nature of presidential power and its role in our government is extremely important.  To quote Alan Wolfe:

“By striking a blow against President Bush?s claims of unchecked
presidential authority, the U. S. Supreme Court has enhanced the safety
of all Americans…Separation of powers, judicial review, and bipartisanship do not deny
the need for power. On the contrary, the great political theorists who
shaped our constitutional system understood that power checked is power
better exercised. The important thing is not just to make decisions but
to make good ones. And the more deliberative such decisions are, the
more likely they are to be good.”

Highly regarded legal scholar Cass Sunstein has this to say about the separation of powers:

But the reason for the immense importance
of the decision is neither technical nor difficult. That reason can be
found in the Court's insistence on clear congressional authorization
for the creation of military commissions–and in the broader
implication that even in the domain of national security, the president
must pay close attention to what Congress has and has not said. In a
pointed passage, the Court acknowledged that the president is
commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but added that Congress has
plenty of constitutional authority too–to declare war, to raise and
support armies, to define and punish offenses against the law of
nations, and to make rules for the government and regulation of the
land and naval forces. The Court squarely rejected the claim, pressed
by Justice Thomas and at times the Department of Justice, that the
Constitution gives primacy to the president in protecting the nation's

Walter Dellinger, former Solicitor General and Duke law professor declared this case to be:

the most important decision on presidential power and the rule of law ever. Ever.  The court has rejected the central constitutional claim of this
presidency: that no president is bound to comply with laws passed by
the United States Congress if those laws limit any exercise of an
astonishingly broad category they call “inherent Presidential power.”

The founders of this nation wanted a president subject to the rule of law who had to substantially share his powers with Congress.  Remeber, these people rebelled against Britain and King George III.  The Constitution is very much designed to give us a president, not a king.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, President Bush has failed in his attempts to assume the power of a King George.  The only downside, is that apparently four of the members of the Supreme Court are comfortable with a more monarchical presidency. 

What are the 10 Commandments anyway?

You gotta love Stephen Colbert.  In this clip from the Colbert Report (if you've never seen the show, just make sure you do not pronounce the “t” in report and thus show yourself to be tragically unhip), Colbert interviews a Georgia Congressman, Lynn Westmoreland, who is a strong advocate of posting the 10 Commandments in the Congress.  Watching Westmoreland try and actually name the Commandments (about 10 minutes in) is absolutely priceless.

Apparently, these are not even the “real” 10 Commandments

Flag burning public opinion

Before flag burning completely disappears from the political stage until the next time politicians try to pander by eviscerating the first amendment, I thought it would be worth taking a look at public opinion on the issue. Gallup just released a nice little analysis and finds that support for the amendment, though a majority, is a far from overwhelming at 56%.  Change the question wording a little, and mention that the amendment would, in fact, make illegal a form of political dissent, and support falls to a minority 45%.  Just one more demonstration of the power of question wording.  What is public opinion, really, when changing a few words can change support from legal abortion from 70% to 30%?

 It is also worth noting that support for this amendment has been undergoing a gradual decline.  Maybe more Americans are figuring out what this First Amendment things is all about.

Ann Coulter vs. Adolf Hitler

I was planning on just letting Ann Coulter go after my last posting on the matter, but I just came across this quiz which has quotes from both Coulter and Hitler and asks you to guess who made the statement.  I managed to get 11 of 14 write, but did confuse Coulter and Hitler with each other on 3 of them.  Give it a try and see how you do.  For the most part, Hitler's more distinctive speaking style helps, but not always.  There's an interesting analysis of the differences here

The century mark and fonts

So, I finally passed 100 hits in a day (and I was no more than half of them).  Hooray for me.  So, now that I have such a vast readership, I really need to clean up the look on entries that I paste quotations into.  It totally messes up the font whenever I do that and even though I think of myself as relatively computer savvy, I cannot quite figure out how to get it back to the default look.  I even tried pasting into a plain text reader before pasting into the blog editor, but no luck.  Anyway, if anybody reading this uses Wolfblogs and has a suggestion on how to fix this issue, I'd really appreciate it.

Duke Lacrosse case: where it stands

A number of people who have not followed the Duke Lacrosse case all that closely now that it is no longer in national headlines have recently asked me about what's going on.  I've been wishing I new of a nice summary to send them to.  Today's column by Ruth Marcus does a pretty good job of summarizing the way more than reasonable doubt.  This case is to reasonable doubt as Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is to Burger King.  The only thing in reasonable doubt now is the sanity of the prosecutor.  

Cooler heads prevail

By the margin of a single vote (66 of the 67 needed), the United States Senate failed to pass a flag burning amendment.  To quote a Republican Senator whom I am not usually particularly fond of, Mitch McConnell put it quite succinctly: “No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment.”

To quote the Washington Post's paraphrase of a Republican Senator whom I almost never fond of, Orrin Hatch:

“The amendment's chief sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), charged that “five unelected justices” had overturned legal prohibitions that were in force for decades and supported by majorities of the public, the state legislatures and the Congress.

“This amendment is one of the most important things we can do — to send a message to the United States Supreme Court that you cannot usurp the power” of Congress, Hatch said.”

So, according to Hatch, so long as a majority of the public and a majority of the states support something, it must be good.  By that reasoning, slavery, gross discrimination against every group except white males, and physical torture as criminal punishment were good things.

Apparently, Hatch never learned that a chief purpose of the Supreme Court is to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.”  We don't need the first amendment (and the Court) to protect popular views we need them to protect unpopular ones (i.e., flag burning).  Once you start making exceptions in the first amendment for particular unpopular views, you have started down a dangerous path. 

And to end in a note of tortured partisan fairness: I expect pandering to their conservative base and insufficient understanding of the first amendment from Republican Senators– it is the 14 Democratic Senators who voted for this amendment that I am particularly disappointed in.

UPDATE: Nice column on the matter in the Raleigh News & Observer today.  Best quote: “But burn an American flag because you're mad at your senator and have
chosen a dramatic way to make your point — the very essence of
political speech — and some politicians want to put you in jail. It's
not what you do, it's what you think that bothers them.”

The New York Times threatens your right to live!

So, perhaps you've heard of the latest government program to track terrorists financial records.  This program sounds like the sort of thing advocated by most anti-terrorism experts and does not seem to be on the same shaky legal ground as the warrantless wiretapping, but again the Bush administration has approached it with extreme secrecy. 

In response to the New York Times revealing this program administration Press Secretary, Tony Snow said, the media “ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live.”  The president and Dick Cheney have referred to the report as “disgraceful” and suggested it is extremely damaging to our efforts to fight terrorism.  Damn free press!  The editor of the Times nicely defends the action and the fundamental importance of a free press here.  The LA Times does a better job here.

Tne New York Times reporters (who live in Washington and New York) have no more interest in being blown up by terrorists than does anybody else.  Rather, the point is that a program like this should not exist solely at the discretion of the executive branch with no oversight.  (Damn checks and balances!)  As a number of counter-terrorism experts I've heard on the matter have made clear it is not like the terrorists woke up on Friday and said, “uh-oh, better watch our financial transactions now!”  Rather, the terrorists are well aware that we are engaging in this type of investigation.  But moving large sums of money around the world leaves them little choice but to use the global financial system we are monitoring and the occassionally and much less convenient suitcase full of cash.  More than anything, it seems that the administration resents the press for trying to keep its actions accountable to the American people and is trying (unsuccessfully) to intimidate the press (i.e., “they are helping the terrorists”) from doing its job.

Nobody wants another terror attack.  We want a government that is honest and open with the American people and where the president does not have the authority of a dictator. 

Child abuse, privacy, and federalism

Very interesting article in the Raleigh News and Observer yesterday about how social welfare agencies lack the authority to check out-of-state criminal records on the cases they are dealing with.  For example, you'd think child welfare agencies in NC would want to know that a parent in a troubled family had a child abuse conviction in South Carolina, but they are forbidden from having access to that data.  The N&O story highlights several disturbing cases where children were left with parents with out-of-state criminal records that included assault and child abuse.  Apparently law enforcement agencies have access to this inter-state criminal database, but not child protective agencies.  North Carolina welfare agencies have recently won the right to at least perform in-state criminal background checks.

Apparently federal officials have privacy concerns about opening up the database more widely.  I am a huge advocate of privacy rights, but it seems to me that arrest or conviction of a felony (while an adult) should be public record and that persons do not have any particular right to keep this information private.  If it is okay for NC child welfare investigators to know your NC criminal history, they should be able to know your criminal history in any state.  A clear example of the downside of federalism.  Obviously, all the issues involved cannot be made clear from this one story, but it seems like a national law opening up these databases across state lines to child protective agencies would be a terrific idea.

Supply Side Silliness

The New Republic (alas, subscription only, but I'll link anyway) has a very good editorial about a recent increase in tax revenues has many of those on the right crowing about the success of supply side economics (basically, the idea that cutting tax rates leads to an increase in tax revenue).  What those pointing to the 14% increase in tax receipts fail to note, however, is that when a number reaches a particularly low value, i.e., the lowest tax revenue as percent of GDP since before WWII, it is not all that hard to have large percentage increases.  For examples, if you got a 30 on a test, a 50% increase (i.e., a 45) does not mean that you are all of a sudden acing the course.  The amazing thing about all these purveyors of the supply slide myth is that it is purely wishful thinking with no empirical basis.  They would love it if cutting marginal tax rates actually increased overall tax revenue, but the simple fact is the data show this not to be the case.  (If raising taxes hurt the economy to the degree many conservatives suggest, we would have never seen such a boom during Clinton's presidency).  In no surprise to most people with common sense, when you cut tax rates, you cut tax revenue.  But for many on the right, it seems that if they repeat the supply-side mantra enough it will be true.  What's sad is that anybody gives them the time of day on it (and that many of my students fall for it). 

Need a friend?

Chances are pretty good that the answer may be yes.  The lastest Sociological research from a professor at Duke finds a pretty substantial increase in social isolation over the past two decades.  The average American has moved from three to just two close confidants in over this time span. 

Of course, this research largely supports the work of Robert Putnam, a Harvard Political Science professor who first wrote that Americans are increasingly “Bowling Alone” more than a decade ago.  He argues that this decreasing civic engagement (as evidenced by the decline of bowling leagues and other such activities) is a threat to the health of our democracy.  I've never actually read Putnam's book (an embarrassing admission for a political scientist), but I've read enough about it to know that it is thought-provoking stuff. 

What to drink

So, I was telling my class yesterday that they really should try Island Fruit flavor 7-Up plus.  Pretty much the first diet drink I can think of that my wife actually drinks by choice over sugar-sweetened soda.  We joked that I should blog about this, rather than my more typical political posts.  What's the point of a blog if you cannot indulge a little frivolous listing of your favorite products every now and then.  Anyway, you should give the 7-Up Plus a try.  While I'm at it, I'll also put in a plug for X-factor, orange + tropical fruit, gatorade.  The great thing about Gatorade is that it has half the sugar/calories of soda, but tastes 75% as good.  And, I would be remiss not to give credit to my long-time drink of choice, Diet Dr. Pepper.  The diet soda unrivalled by all others.  Happy drinking.  

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