Saturday, May 08, 2010

Political update for May, 2010

I actually wrote most of this a month ago for the last political update, but it just got to damn long. Fortunately, the world doesn't change all that fast.


I don’t know if I’m ready. Last presidential election cycle, it started earlier than ever before. There was enough C-Span coverage of visitors to Iowa and New Hampshire that in 2006 – two years before the election – I already knew quite a bit about presidential contenders (now they are household names – but then few people had heard of them) like Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. This time, it is going to be even easier because the candidates have learned how important it is to get a good start. Rudy Giuliani, if no one else, showed us that.

Something happens to people the closer you get to the election. I’m not just talking about the candidates. I mean people people. They get angrier and more insulting the closer to the election we get. I thought John McCain the best man to be in the White House from the beginning. Perhaps that’s why I was told repeatedly I was a racist once President Obama won his nomination (the other option being that I’m actually a racist) and was also told I was a Communist and a Nazi depending on which side my attacker preferred. Naturally, these weren’t blog trolls, but my own friends and family!

I also heard the most ridiculous charges against Obama, McCain and Palin. Joe Biden, a nice guy who has said more dumb things than any president or vice president since Dan Quayle (another nice guy, but he really did say some phenomenally dumb things) and has an ego bigger than the little state he comes from, was somehow exempt from criticism. He even was overwhelmingly judged to have won his debate with Sarah Palin after saying that we (the U.S.) chased Syria out of Lebanon (when?), botched an easy constitutional question of which he claims expertise and one more big mistake which I just forget now. Palin made a mistake about the vice presidents role, but that was writ large pretty much everywhere but Fox and talk radio. Of course, the truth is, we just pretend all these people are up to the job.

In a way, despite the excitment which surrounds presidential elections I don’t think I really want to listen to over two years of vicious attacks against candidates (or me). And, if you think the last campaign was ferocious, just wait until this one. Let me guess – both sides are going to say it is the most important election ever, or at least in 50 years and that our whole existence depends on it. Yawn. Been there, done that, heard that before. Well, maybe it is a little important. But not as important as who controls congress.

I refuse to make any predictions until at least a month after this year’s elections. But, I wonder how many of the hopefuls are now making regular visits to one of the least visited states in the country.

Greece; the end of civilization as we know it

I love this old joke. A religious man is caught on his roof top in a flood. He prays to God for help but gets no response. A little later a police helicopter comes by and tries to get him to board. He refuses because he believes the lord will provide. He prays again for deliverance and gets no response. The police make one last try in a boat collecting stragglers. Again he refuses on religious grounds. Finally, when the water is up to his lips, he asks “God, why have you forsaken me?” And, a voice responds, “Hey, I sent a helicopter and a boat.”

If Greece isn’t a sign for us that we have to change our ways, that we can’t have ridiculous government pensions, endless entitlements, borrow more than we can pay back, and so forth, I don’t know what is. If Europe won’t learn, we should while there is still time.

Yet, do not despair. In fact, hooooooooooolllllld everything (quoting Joe Jitsu of Dick Tracy fame, for the uninitiated). My dismal economic viewpoint is shared by many people now. But, civilization has been on the brink of collapse for thousands of years from warfare, disease and bad rulers and leaders. Ours apparently think that you can make straw into gold if you say it enough times. So, it looks bad . . .


. . . then STUFF happens. I don't know what stuff, but stuff. The council of the wise meet or the riders of Rohan come over the hill and wipe out the army of orcs or the Ents finally get mad enough to do something. You know, stuff. And some people and countries that were rich may become poor, and some poor rich, and some people will die young and others live to 110. But, I do believe we will survive as a civilization without reverting to barbarism. More, as Faulkner at his acceptance of the Nobel prize for literature, we will prevail.

In fact (and this will make my long dead mom happy as I'm pretty sure she is living with him up in heaven now - sorry Dad) I think I'll give you the gist of his speech, which Mom kept on her wall:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. 

Like old Bill, I'm not suggesting we don't need to keep working on it. Of course we do. And, despite my whining about the constant idiocy of the governing class in this country, sometimes you have to step back and say, overall, we are not doing so bad. It is, after all, the most peaceful time in the history of the planet. It is the healthiest time for us in the history of the planet. It may in fact be the happiest time in history too even when you consider how miserable so many people are for no good readon - and all this despite all the stupid things we do, all the mistakes we make, and all of the violent acts against each other we commit. For those who want to deny this and point to the plight of the poor, there are fewer of those, and many who qualify as poor now would be deemed wildly rich by earlier standards not so many years ago (running water, heat, cars, even computers) .

We will clearly need a cultural re-awakening where there is a blending of ideas of liberty and order. But that's too big of a topic to tackle in just part of a post, so on too . . .


After the Times Square bomber was caught the usual question came up of how much Miranda does he get. I’ve blogged extensively on Miranda (June 13, 2009 - Miranda on the field of battle), so I don’t want to go to far with it again, but let me make several points.

Miranda rights, that is the right of criminal suspects being interrogated in custody to know they can remain silent, that anything they say can and will be used against them, that they can have an attorney and that they can have a free one if they can’t afford one, didn’t exist before 1963, when the Supreme Court created the right out of whole cloth, based on the majority opinion that protecting us from secret interrogation by the police was more important than the police protecting us from criminals by extracting confessions. Some judges, Antonio Scalia for one, claims it isn’t even a constitutional right at all, but a prophylactic judge created right to prevent the breach of the constitutional prohibition of forcing someone to testify against oneself. There are arguments on both sides but I’ll skip ahead to the safety issue.

When Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen, was arrested, he was questioned before his Miranda rights were given him. The basis for this is the so called safety exception. There are lots of exceptions to Miranda, the basic reason being that it is sort of a created right and sometimes other things are considered more important than applying it to protect someone’s right to silence, etc. Like police and public safety. In the 1984 Supreme Court case, New York v. Quarles, it was deemed that the police officers right to protect himself or anyone else who came into the supermarket from the gun the suspected rapist had hidden there was more important than the suspect's fifth amendment right. So, the officer who arrested him and had seen his empty holster, asked him where he hid his gun and Quarles showed him. The Supreme Court upheld the questioning under the newly created safety exception.

The court reasoned that the Miranda court thought it was worth a few guilty people going free to protect people’s 5th Amendment rights. But, they decided the safety issue trumps that desire even if the police officer was really just looking for evidence and the whole safety thing was sort of manufactured afterwards.

In fact, the truth was, the whole safety issue was blown out of proportion in that case. They had already frisked Quarles and handcuffed him when the officer asked him where he had put the gun. There was no safety issue. Obviously, the police were going to search the place – only the clerk was there – and so no stranger to the situation would have picked up the gun. But, the court liked the concept and maybe they have a point. However, shouldn’t there have to be a safety issue before we call it the safety exception.

There was no safety issue in this case either. You could take any suspected violent criminal and question him under this theory to see if there are any plans afoot. As Justice O’Connor pointed out in dissent, this would just make Miranda harder to apply. She was right, of course, but the court hasn’t seemed to care. Courts and I think people like the safety exception. In fact, just about everyone except defendants who it applies to like it, and the road was set to expand upon it.

Just suppose this case - Shahzad's - made its way up to the Supreme Court. Do you really think they would overturn the conviction of a man who tried to blow up a car in Times Square in this day and age. Of course not. Even though the court has freed a small number of people under constitutional rules like Miranda, the danger of a crazed serial killer being freed was very slim. Usually, maybe always, they are just put through the system again.

But, our courts seem to prefer legal fictions to just stating the truth. And the truth is that the government just wanted the opportunity to question Shahzad and learn as much as they could about cohorts, other plots, etc. Of course they would. As with Quarles, once he was arrested there did not seem to be any chance of immediate danger with respect to other officers and the public that frisking Shahzad and searching nearby couldn’t cure. 

Arguably, you could apply the same standard to a suspected serial killer as with Shahzad. Why not ask them what else was going on before they are given Miranda rights? Isn't that important for public safety. Maybe they have an accomplice. Frankly, I have never quite understood why the law is not better tailored to the severity of the crime suspected. Because, frankly, that is really the key to what they are doing.

But, let me add one last thing on this issue with respect to Shahzad. The hue and cry about Miranda in the Shahzad case is really about politics, not whether or not the government was prevented from getting information it wanted from him. Almost everyone nowadays understands that they have Miranda rights - even teenagers. Shahzad was an educated person. I would be very surprised if he didn’t know he had a right to be silent and to an attorney. In fact, I would suggest at this point the burden is on those claiming foul that he didn’t. Moreover, just as Quarles did, he kept talking once he was read his rights. So, really, is this not a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing? The answer is . . . of course it is.


I have criticized President Obama as one of the two worst presidents of my politically conscious life (from the 70s on up, really). So, I have to give him his due when I approve of something he does. I could quibble about a few things, but I have not been aghast at his foreign policy so far. I cannot agree with the rather extreme statements that Obama is a militant Islamophile (or Muslim himself) or wants America to fail, etc. That’s just nonsense. That doesn’t mean I don’t think his economic policies aren’t disastrous. They are.

But one of the things he has done of which I approve is his tougher attitude towards Israel. Admittedly, my position might seem a little complex to some. I do not believe any people have a moral right to any land because of religious claims. I do not believe Israel should have been created in the area it is created. I actually agree with Ahmadinejad that it would have been a better idea to put it in Israel Germany. Nevertheless, I accept it as status quo as even many Arab nations do at this time. I have always supported Israel as our ally, sort of a democracy, and as the more moral of the two sides in the Middle East conflict over the past 60 plus years. Nor did I have any qualms when Israel defended itself from Hamas and Hiabollah missiles and kidnappings. They didn’t do enough. The effort Israel goes to in order to keep down casualties of civilians is heroic and dangerous to them. Its one of the reasons they have my support.

That being said, that doesn’t mean Israel should get a free hand to do whatever it wants. I don’t trust them any more than I trust any tribal group of people whose society is based on any form of blood purity. No, I'm not swallowing the whole Zionism is racism thing, because if anything, the surrounding countries claiming that are far more racist. But, if given their lead, Israel might continue the occupation of the West Bank with settlements virtually forever. In fact, there are Jews and Israelis I have spoken with, with no fear of political ramifications (as they aren’t politicians), who openly argue for it.

They miss the natural end to this drama. For Israel to survive, it must come to a political arrangement with its enemies. Many of the Arab block of nations has come to terms with Israel emotionally – that is, they no longer seem to believe that this land shall be forever Muslim or that they must attack Israel. That doesn’t mean they love Israel or that there isn’t a good deal of prejudice against there people. I’m sure the feelings are mutual. But, they have enough enemies - between Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran and Syria that they had better pay attention to the following. Someday, the technological abilities of Hizbollah and Hamas will improve to the degree that by launching enough missiles, they can effectively wipe out the itty bitty tiny little country of Israel. An atomic retaliation will do them no good. They are just too small and will cease to exist.

But, coming to a political solution means giving up settlements and land. When I hear Israel complain that it must have natural growth, honestly, it reminds me a little of the concept of Lebensraum that Hitler favored, and what Jew wants to be associated with that?

So, when President Obama lets them know that he disapproves of yet more building on disputed territory in Jerusalem (even though it did not violate any agreement), I go along with him. I don’t know if it is true that Israeli scientists were refused visas that are routinely granted by us, but, if it is true, then it was a childish and spiteful act by us that shouldn’t be repeated. But, I have no problems with the American government telling Israel – you like our money and our weapons – you have to play ball. Not suicide, not give in, but play ball. It is about time some U.S. president made the statement. I expect a lot from Israel for our support. Often we get it, but just as often we are lax in what we insist upon.


The first thing I want to say, if you haven’t read the bill, you are probably ignorant of the important issues. If you are going by the media reports, you definitely are. I bothered to read the bill, which wasn’t that hard. It was very carefully crafted to withstand constitutional attacks. Predominantly, it is basically a direction to the Arizona law enforcement to enforce federal law. How could that possibly be offensive to people unless they believe that we have no right to a border? It does not, as some claim, permit police to just look for Hispanics – that's pretty easy to find in Arizona – and ask for their papers. It does charge them with doing so when there is reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed.  Racial profiling is expressly made unlawful by the same bill.

Do you realize that now - whatever state you are in - when you are pulled over for speeding the officer takes your license and registration back to his car to see if you are wanted for anything? If there is a warrant, you are hauled into court. Why can’t a police officer do the same in Arizona with illegal aliens? Should they get protection some snook like me wouldn't get for failing to pay a parking ticket on time.

Leave aside the extremists on both sides, most Americans I speak with – liberals, conservative and independents - agree that we need immigration, that illegal immigration is bad and that we have a border problem particularly in the Southwest which is growing worse by the week. Why then, should attempts to close the border be found to be racist?

The only section in the Arizona law that gave me pause was that concerning the outlawing of pulling up to a group of people for the purpose of hiring them and blocking traffic. I guess, if illegals think about it a little, they will only do this in an area where they have a parking lot or common ground to stand on so traffic isn’t blocked. But, I just don’t like nitpickity laws like this making non-dangerous and non-fraudulent behavior illegal. Recently I got a ticket for blocking the box in New York City when there was no reasonable choice but to do it and the officers were standing around handing out tickets like visiting royalty shooting bison from trains for sport in the old west. I didn't like it.

However, the most frequent constitutional charge I hear about the Arizona legislation is that the law is too vague. I don’t think so. If it is, they are going to have to do away with a lot of laws like obstruction of justice, harassment and criminal negligence just to name a few.

Last on this topic – the idea that police officers can ask for i.d. and even frisk you upon reasonable suspicion of a crime was decided in 1968 in Terry v. Ohio. Other cases have also made it clear that merely asking for identification in those circumstances is not unconstitutional. Terry was an 8-1 decision which included Justices Brennan and Marshall in the majority. Only William O. Douglas, who fairly pointed out that the constitution requires probable cause for every search and seizure, dissented. This is one of those areas where originalists seem not to mind a little distance from the text of the constitution.

The Arizona law is not an unfair law. I approve of it. I hope other states enact their own versions. Yes, some cops will do the wrong thing, but most won’t. That’s true with every law.

The Supreme Court

Just my guess as to President Obama’s nomination for the next Supreme Court justice -

Harry Koh. I hate to say the reason, but it is because he is Asian and went to Yale. If not, Koh, then Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Her problem - there are already two Jews on the bench (six Catholic!) The Jews tend to the liberal side and the Catholics to the conservative side.

I’m not suggesting we should pick our judges like this. But we do. In fact, other than having Harvard and Yale on the resume, ethnicity may be the most important factor. I’d also rather that we didn’t have a Harvard-Yale litmus test for the high court (they all are alumni once Stevens goes) but we do. Frankly, we only seem to elect presidents who went there too (Both Bushes, Clinton and Obama – Hillary Clinton would have been one too – only McCain could have broken that trend).

Has our government done such a good job that we want to continue their reign?


Topics I’d most like to cover that I didn’t get to do

California’s race to being the worse state in the union.

Goldman Sachs - good, bad or otherwise?

Maybe next time. See y'all in church.


  1. Hi David,
    Actually (and well, I skimmed it), the new AZ law gives me pause when I realize that I've never officially changed my name in the US (and my CO lic has my given name), although I have an Israeli passport with that documentation, and my social security card and US taxes go by Yael. But I don't have to worry if I am in AZ, b/c if the store I am next to is burglarized and a dark-skinned woman with an accent and I are standing there when the police come, they'll arrest her if she isn't carrying papers. Me? I don't have to carry any - I'm very white. Reminds me of when Eliav found a cell phone and started calling numbers in it to see if we could track down the owner -- and the black ma who lived next door commented that as a black man, he could not do that same thing without taking a risk.
    Yes, I do think we need a national immigration law, I have no idea if the intention is racial profiling or not, like everyone else, some cops are fair and some are not, but given the mess we still have in multiple computerized systems, I can see poor people getting arrested and deported without cause -- or they will hang out in jail without cause. (OK, I'll agree that illegals are taking a risk when they come, but if only we had that infallible system that we don't. As they said so aptly on the SNL News last night (ok this is a poor source for the news - worse than Jon Stewart), but I did find it independently reported), the alledged Times Square bomber was actually ON the plane about to take off when he was arrested -- aren't those no-fly lists supposed to work before people get on the plane? I did like your quotes from last week & was quite surprised in a number of cases to discover who said them!

  2. Some reasonable concerns, but you do realize, I hope, those are also all reasons, if we accept them, not to arrest anyone for murder or rape or robbery, etc. Why should illegal immigration be treated differently? Incompetence and fraud and even evil intent are all part of human civilization. We have imperfect safeguards but have to have some order, don't we? That's why I support some caselaw on "constitutional" rights for defendants which are a stretch. We need the help because the gov't has a huge advantage. I'm surprised you didn't reply to my Israeli comments.

  3. Actually, I got back on to respond to your Kagan/Jewish comment, now that she is apparently the nominee. She will not make it only 3 Jews at one time (I always forget that Breyer is Jewish), but will make it 3 women at one time - certainly at least as noteworthy.
    As far as your Israel comment goes, with each election everything changes. Olmert turned out to be a jerk.
    I go back to Abba Eban's comment that the Arabs have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Barak was willing to give away the farm -- and Arafat said no and started the intifada. Then the Gaza rockets began. All this shifted the balance of power in Israeli politics once more. The Israelis don't trust Pres Obama - at least the journalists don't. More seesawing back and forth. You know, there was a reason that God let the Jews wander for 40 years in the desert -- so that a new generation could arise that knew not slavery. It'll take a while. Anyway, I figure that you have to wait until your niece gets her experience this summer bringing the Serbs and the Albanians together; after she finishes with them, she can start working on the Israelis and Palestinians.

  4. PS What are you supporting on some caselaw on constitutional rights for defendants which are a stretch? I'm a bit lost.
    Also, what did you mean in the Israel part when you wrote: "I do not believe Israel should have been created in the area it is created. [Actually Jews have had a consistent presence over the years.] I actually agree with Ahmadinejad that it would have been a better idea to put it in Israel." Huh? Did you mean Uganda? Actually, Alaska might have been a better choice - at least it would have had oil.

  5. I thought the 40 years was because the men just wouldn't ask for directions.

  6. Uh, the comment that they should have put it in Israel, was supposed to say Germany. If it is in the main body of the blog I'll fix it, but if it is in a comment I can't. All this goes to prove that I really need a proofreader. But, yes, Germany. I think things would have worked out nicely. I don't believe any people have a claim to an area simply b/c there ancestors lived there or some of them always lived there. Are you willing to cede the U.S. to the Dutch b/c some of them always lived here? I doubt it. However, Israel is the status quo right now and it has to be accepted. It was still a mistake.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .