Saturday, January 08, 2011

Political update January, 2011

Yeah, you, Yoo

I was watching John Yoo on a panel give a talk at a meeting of appellate judges.  If you recall, he was the "bogeyman" from the Bush administration, a deputy assistant attorney general, the one who wrote the legal briefs (two briefs signed by his boss, and Yoo's own letter) claiming the legality of the administration's use of what most people call torture. He is now a professor at Berkeley Law School now. But, at the time the brief was made public, he was criticized by many, including legions of law professors and even the successor to Yoo's own boss, who called them onesided and withdrew them (causing him a short tenure due to hostility in the administration). A few things struck me immediately while watching Mr. Yoo. First, he looks so young. Wikipedia tells me he is 43, but he looks like he is in his 20s. There is no overarching point to this. I'm just saying good for him and I'm jealous. Second, he was very mild mannered, funny and self-effacing and made jokes about his reputation (paraphrasing - "some people think my copy of the constitution has a pullout with secret rules others don't have"). I like him more than anyone else there.

I can read your mind - Ted Bundy was likeable and Hitler's secretaries like him. Fine, we all know you can be very civil and still be a bad guy. I think we need to pay a lot of attention to that, as we are conditioned to think of bombastic orators as the enemy.

I have never read Yoo's memos, so I can't give an opinion on it. I am saying he seemed very nice and you can make your own judgments about what you think of him.  He certainly made the point that lots of our presidents did what they thought they had to do in times of crisis, and he and most of us are glad for it. I'm sure that is true for many of us. For example, how many Americans are cursing FDR because he was sending Britain ships when America was legally a non-combatant? Or think it was wrong for Lincoln to suspend habeas corpus until congress came back in session during the early days of the civil war? Not so many probably. These are examples he raised, among others. We are always more judgmental about recent actors than old ones.

Personally, I am against the use of torture except in that rare ticking time bomb situation which seems to happen a lot in entertainment and not so much, if ever, in real life. And no one can tell me waterboarding or putting someone in a cage where they can't straighten out and the like isn't torture in plain language, whatever the legal definition. If the legal definition is different than the plain meaning of the word, then I am for changing the legal definition. It's like Justice Potter Stewart wrote about pornography - he couldn't define it - but he knew it when he saw it. Of course, if there is going to be prosecution, we need a more precise definition. Additionally, I don't believe we were restrained by international or domestic law as has also been suggested by the Supreme Court when it comes to non-governmental enemy combatants.

Anyway, he made a nice impression.

I think I like this guy

You know who else I think I like - this John Boehner, the new speaker of the house. I liked how he said before the election that he wanted to change congress's rules to make it more transparent and it looks like he is trying. First, I love the idea of congress lowering their own expenses by 5% voluntarily. Sure, maybe it seems a little symbolic but that leaves them with only, eh . . . about $1.5 million per member.

Second, I admire that finally, despite what the other side did, they are planning on open rules (meaning they will take Republican amendment suggestions when legislating) and that they are going to put everything they can on the internet so that the few who are interested can actually read them. We've all seen the power of Wikipedia. 2,000,000 people thinking about something can provide a lot of observations and ideas.

Of course, when the Democrats took power in '06, they also said they were going to regularly have open rules right after they covered just a few things. And the Republicans whined although the honest ones (like David Dreier) whined but acknowledged they had been unfair themselves. Eventually, when the Democrats saw that the Republicans weren't going to just go along with them easily, they backed off. We'll see if that happens again and I expect judge them on it in the next election.

Back to health care

According to Messrs. Boehner and Cantor, the Republican leadership, they were pledging that the rules would be open but the very first bill - the one to repeal the health care law - no. A couple of nights ago I watched the emergency meeting of the rules committee, which went on into the night and which had members questioning other members as witnesses. They might as well have just made speeches, although I guess it made for more dramatic C-Span coverage.

The Democrat on the committtee berated the Republican witnesses for not having an open rule for this one bill, claimed they were backing off their promise right away and that this would have terrible consequences for people who were already relying on the health care law and had made changes based upon it. For example, will Medicare patients have to give back money? Will those who were offered and accepted retirement packages have to give them back?

Mostly, the hearing was committee members questioning other members. The Democrats were affronted. Congressman Jim McGovern (who worked for George McGovern and looks like him, but isn't related) was almost apoplectic. Friday, Jim DeFazio of Oregon on the house floor Friday was actually apoplectic. The Republicans were sanguine, but I thought did a bad job defending their decision to do this with a closed rule. Virginia Fox, on the committee, did point out that none of the hours of hearings they had on health care reform under the Democrat house was for the bill they actually voted on. That was actually a senate bill that was given a house number and there was only one hearing one it - and that was in the rules committee. When the act it went to the floor with 8 Republican amendments, somehow those amendments got lost, and were never voted on. And they did mention the Nancy Pelosi comment that they had to pass it to find out what was in it. I've never seen a list, but that has to be up their with the most offensive thing on process ever spoken by a U.S. legislator.

I couldn't watch the whole hearing - even insomniacs must sleep sometime, but, this is what I would have said if I were a Democrat:

"This is about politics, isn't it? The first shot in the campaign for the '12 presidential race. You claim you want to repeal and replace? Okay, so where's the replace part? If we are going to have hearings for replacement legislation, why in the world would we repeal now, leaving the public completely at see as to what plans to make now. Uncertainty for the six months or year while we debate a replacement law, will be worse than an imperfect law. Moreover, when the Republican bills come to vote, they will be scored by the very same Congressional Budget Office - and you will ask us to believe it. But, right now, the CBO is telling us that this will be a 230 billion dollar loss over a decade. You complain and complain that the deficit is too high, as opposed to when you were in charge and Dick Cheney said deficits didn't matter. You can't justify this, and so you remain silent. Are you really going to tell young men and women that they can't stay on their parent's policies until they are 26 and can get jobs in this terrible economy? Are you really telling parents that some of their children will die because their children have pre-existing conditions? Yes, you are."

If I were a Republican, I'd argue:

"Amazing. You didn't give us open rules when you were in charge, despite your promises to do so, and now you are complaining that we are not giving you an open rule on one bill. I admit, we made the same complaint when you took over, and we had been just as bad. That's over with. There is a reason we are doing it this way. The passage of health care reform in 2009 was done without hearings on the bill we voted on, without real opportunity for amendment, after the president promised there would be an open process. We know from this past election that the dramatic election of so many Republicans was mostly based on our promise that we would repeal a costly an unconstitutional act. We are keeping that promise. You can say all you want about the CBO scoring the health care reform act as reducing the deficit. But, the CBO was presented with smoke and mirrors. We all know that Medicaid's actuarial office has said it isn't so - the bill will create greater deficits and costs will go up. You can say all you want that we want people not to have health care. That's good politics but the opposite of our goal. We want it to be a system where people are free to make choices, which is financially sustainable and we don't need to fund it by printing money or borrowing from other countries. If we don't pass replacement bills, Americans will remember it. Remember, we are asking members to vote on a one page repeal, not over 2000 pages of legislation you claim we already had hearings on and debated, which was so long no one read it before the vote and which only passed with the help of huge legislative bribes putting some states in a better position than others. Let's put a law, badly conceived and passed without regular process away in the same fashion it was passed."

I'm neither a Democrat or a Republican, but it would be disingenuous and pointlessly moderate not to say when I think one has the better of an argument. In my humble opinion, the Democrats made a huge mistake with their health care legislation both in the process and substantively. It is certainly not what a majority of Americans want or think will benefit them.

But, and this is why I am usually in favor of split power, the Republicans need the Democrats to motivate them to find ways so that we can coverage the insurance gap for millians of Americans (I don't care what the number is - millions is sufficient) in a fiscally sound way. The sooner they do this, the sounder their chances in 2012 will be.

The irony here is that unless their is a sea change, the Senate will not even take up the bill. Harry Reid and other leaders have said they will not do so with any bill that takes away consumer protections. Were it to pass, politics might require the president would sign it, but, it's not getting there. But, again, very dramatic C-Span coverage and it is the first shot in the campaign for president in 2012.

For once, Americans seem to be paying attention. If the Republicans do not make suggestions for real health care reform which make sense to us, and if they do not keep their promise as to having open and transparent government - independents like myself aren't going to like it much. The question is - which party will really work to do what Americans want? Right now, led by Rep. Boehner, it seems like Republicans better what Americans, and especially independants want, but we'll see. I put it past no political party to trip over themselves in their effort to take power.

Holy congress, Batman

Pew Forum did a report on the religious make up of the 535 members of the House and Senate, as they've been doing for a while now. Here's some stuff from their report which may interest you:

"The 112th Congress, like the U.S. public, is majority Protestant and about a quarter Catholic. Baptists and Methodists are the largest Protestant denominations in the new Congress, just as they are in the country as a whole.

A few of the country's smaller religious groups, including Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Jews, have greater numerical representation in Congress than in the general population. Some others, including Buddhists and Muslims, are represented in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the adult U.S. population. And some small religious groups, such as Hindus and Jehovah's Witnesses, are not represented at all in Congress."

Because I am incapable of making a spreadsheet. The major categories are in bold. The subcategories aren't. Blue is the percent in congress and red the percent in the population.
Religion        % in congress/% in country
Protestant    57.8/51.3
 Baptist    12.7/17.2
 Methodist    9.5/6.2
 Presbyterian    8.4/2.7
 Anglican/Episcopal    7.7/1.5
 Lutheran    4.9/4.6
 Other protestants    13.7/19.8
    (unspecified other protestants    10.8/5.1)
Catholic    29.2/23.9
Mormon    2.8/1.7
J. Witnesses    0.0/0.7
Orthodox    0.9/0.6
Other Christian    0.6/0.3
Jewish   7.3/1.7
Buddhist    0.6/0.7
Muslim    0.4/0.6
Other world religions    0.0/0.3
Other faiths   0.4/1.2
Unaffiliated    0.0/16.1
Don't know/refused    1.1/0.8

Most interesting there - Anglicans/Episcopal members are over 5 times their proportion in the population. Jewish members are between 4 and 5 times their proportion. Only Presbyterian members, over 3 times their proportion, even come close to those two groups.

But, looking in the opposite direction, the unaffiliated group in general is more than 16 times greater than it's congressional representation (you can't multiply/divide by zero). I note that atheists number (1.6% of the general population) number approximately the same in the population as Jews (1.7%), but there are 39 Jews in Congress and 1 atheist (Pete Stark is an atheist, but because he is also a Unitarian, he is assigned to "other faiths" by Pew). Similarly, there are 2  1/2 times as many atheists as Muslims (.6) in our population, but twice as many Muslims in congress. Then again, roughly 30% of the country consider themselves as indepenent, but the very few independents in congress are very closely tied to a party.

With respect to Protestants, there were 1 1/2 times as many of them who were Republicans compared to Democrats. 12 of the 13 Jews were Democrats. Significantly more Catholics were Democrats than Republicans, while the reverse is true for Baptists.

Of course, over time, the Protestants have lost power in congress - 17.2% since '60-'61, but you can find where much of that loss going to Catholics and Jews, who have gained 10.4% and 5%, respectively.

More at

And . . .

Still expecting someone significant to throw their hat into the ring for '12 (no, not you, Michelle Bachmann). Looks like they learned their lesson from last time - two years is too much.


  1. more at http://pewstinko.snoozefest/longwinded blowhard/faith-in-shut-the-hell-up-before-I-slash-my-own-throat

  2. Now you are just trying to write a contender for the top ten best comments at the end of the year, aren't you?


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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 . . . .