The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Silence is Deafening

Several great posts by angry blogger David Sirota. If this stuff doesn't make you angry then you are not paying attention.

What his posts make clear is the urgent need for public financing of campaigns. There I said it. Let's not pussy foot around this anymore. There is simply no other solution than to take the business of campaign contributions out of the political process for they amount to nothing more than legalized forms of bribery -- whatever the Supreme Courts warped view of bribery as constitutionally protected speech. All the reforms about gifts and junkets and meals will come to nothing until the central problem is recognized and dealt with -- politicians depend on fundraisers and lobbyists use the fundraiser as the coin of the realm to buy their way to influence.

Sirota skewers both the Democratic and Republican efforts at casting themselves as reformers. If our media was worth anything they would have already persuaded Americans that the proposals amount to little more than window dressing which preserves the central perks of the incumbents.

He also highlights the scandalous emergence of United from bankruptcy protection. Not only is United practically back on its feet, but the bankruptcy judge approved a plan to award a large fraction of the shares in United to a small handful of executives. And this comes on top of news that United, which managed to wring concessions totalling $4 billion from its workers, has awarded executives at the company $500 million in bonuses.

He goes on to tackle issues like pension reform, identity theft, and the Abramoff scandal. Always a great read, this stuff is guaranteed to get your blood boiling. But the central point is clear, the pathetic response of Democrats, the failure to honestly tackle corruption and to highlight the scandalous pillaging of American companies by corporate executives stems from the essential need to keep those with the deepest pockets placated so that the political contributions flow. A politician who wasn't beholden to those interests might be more willing to shine the light on the scurrying cock roaches as they make off with our future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

If you don't believe sports has something to teach you about life

Check out this discussion of the NFL's byzantine rules in Salon. King Kaufman's Sports Daily: Why Does Football Have Such a Complex Rules Book?

"Good question. A capital-letter-eschewing oedipus has an answer, pointing out that 'soccer is governed by only 17 laws, the first six of which are essentially administrative ... However, it's this byzantine codification that gives Americans something they pride themselves on doing: creating unnecessary government.'

Case in point: The various American soccer bodies, which govern youth soccer, high school, college, etc., have added complicated rules on top of the FIFA set that works for the rest of the world.

'It's an American concept to complicate something as simple as sport so that you create a field of 'knowledge experts' who have something to be experts on,' oedipus writes.

I don't know if it's native to the Colonies to complicate things up, but it's certainly the prime directive of the NFL, the most bureaucratic, technocratic operation in North American team sports. "

It's not government that is corrupt and inefficient by nature. It is the way a people approach their government which helps determine the degree to which inefficiencies and inanities dominate the business of government. Because Americans are so afraid of their government and so terrified of "waste, fraud, and abuse," they saddle public action with complex reporting requirements and rules of behavior. When you don't want partisanship & cronyism to dominate the hiring process, you develop complex civil service rules that prevent managers from flexibly employing the best candidates. When you are terrified that civil servants will appropriate resources and steal, you make them go through a central administrative purchasing agent that must approve every purchase and make you follow a rigorous set of procedures. When you emphasize the democratic process and the right of Congress to oversee every step of the bureaucracy, you get a system dominated by cautious bureaucrats who won't take any initiative not pre approved by Washington politicians. Americans emphasize process over results - hence we have a rules-based, process oriented system. And we rarely get the results we want. We see this in the overwhelming bureaucracies of our public schools. In the myriad forms of the public health system. In the list of requirements for public programs like welfare.

The football example and the anecdote from soccer chillingly reminds us that our love of rules pretty much gets in the way of getting the government we want -- flexible and efficient and responsive to immediate challenges.

For more on this topic check out my favorite bureaucratic tome -- James Q. Wilson's Bureaucracy which begins with the example of the the French fighting the Germans in World War II. Despite our collective perception of the vaunted German fighting machine, Wilson informs us that the French had more tanks, more soldiers, and more weapons than the Germans. What they didn't have was the initiative based system under which German officers were allowed to make decisions on the fly and held accountable only for results. The French, by contrast had a hierarchical system in which they had to check on every decision with the very top so their units were less mobile and less reactive. We like to think that decisions take a long time in the public sector because that is the way of things. But they don't have to. We design public systems this way in our legislatures.

The Death Penalty and the Culture of Life - Death row elder needed 2 injections - Jan 18, 2006:

"Having suffered a heart attack back in September, Allen had asked prison authorities to let him die if he went into cardiac arrest before his execution, a request prison officials said they would not honor.

'At no point are we not going to value the sanctity of life,' said prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon. 'We would resuscitate him,' then execute him.

But the barrel-chested prisoner's heart was strong to the end: Doctors had to administer a second shot of potassium chloride to stop it.

I think the statement speaks for itself.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Focus on the Family Comes out in Favor of Incest

I suppose when you are truly homophobic, anything looks better than same sex domestic partnerships.

The Colorado Domestic Partnership Act would give gay couples the right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, provide access to health-care and family-leave benefits and protect inheritance rights when a partner dies.

Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family, called the proposal discriminatory because it would not protect adult siblings who live together.

I think that relatives already have medical care rights. Inheritance rights are easy to resolve with something called a will. Those of us more literal, supposedly secular humanists have heard of it. But as arguments go this has to be one of the stranger ones.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Good Question

I have wondered about this too.

Don Banks of (Snap Judgments (cont.) - Sunday January 8, 2006) asks:

"I know the Edell Shepherd non-catch was the right call by rule in the Bucs-Redskins game, but here's what always has made me scratch my head when it comes to what constitutes possession in the end zone:

How is it you can score by merely breaking the plane of the end zone, even if you fumble the ball away a millisecond later, but you can have what looks to be a catch ruled incomplete even after you've had the ball for a step and a half in the end zone?"

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Post Game Notes: Pats over Jaguars

1) That was probably one of the closer 28-3 ball games you'll see. But it's a great win and the Pats are definitely playing their best ball of the season. Whether this is enough, we'll see. Their two biggest challenges ahead of them are having to play inside on the Indy Speedway or having to play in the altitude of Denver.

2) I think it's silly for people to say weather did not play a factor in the game. How did they think that was going to manifest itself? That Jacksonville would curl up in a ball and wimper on the 40 yard line? Anyone who has played football in the cold knows where it affects you -- on your hands and in getting hit. The hits hurt that much more and your hands are just that much less flexible and agile. Hence the dropped passes by both teams. The fumbles after big hits. And most importantly, the missed tackles. You tend to miss a tackle in the cold when you just try to grab someone or simply hit them. And finally - Belichick passed on two field goals under 50 yards. And this on a day when we were told wind would not be a factor. Maybe this explains why the Jaguars kicker missed a field goal and barely made another.

3) Finally, looking forward - The Pats lost to both Indy and Denver this year. If I were a betting man I would head to the window and put cash down on the Pats. Belichick's record in rematches against quarterbacks who beat his team earlier in the year? 14-0. 'Nuff Said.

Friday, January 06, 2006

That Commander in Chief Excuse

The U.S. Constitution Online - "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

Bush's (and associated sycophants like Berkeley law professor John Woo (and Samuel Scalito?)) excuse for his warrantless wiretapping is that Congress gave him the authority to do so when it authorized him to defend the "homeland" (da, uber alles) under his Constitutional perogratives as Commander in Chief. Well, has anybody bothered to look at the relevant Constitutional language? Cause there's not a whole lot there that says that a Commander in Chief in his duties in war time is above any law passed by Congress (and signed of course by yours truly the President).

The relevant paragraph is above and it sure is thin on justifications. I don't see how you parse an argument that the President as Commander in Chief of the army cannot have his prerogatives abbreviated or abrogated by Congress. Well it's no stretch to see that a Congress, without taking upon itself any Commander in Chief duties such as setting strategy or telling Generals what to do, has every right to pass laws that limit the amount of money flowing to the armed forces and to pass any number of laws that dictate how soldiers are to conduct themselves in times of war and peace. Do we honestly think that all such rules are the sole reserve of the generals and President and that they dictate all these parameters of behavior? If so, then I guess we live in a much less democratic country then we are all led to believe. The notion that a President can eavesdrop as he wishes in the name of National Security, can emprison indefinitely without charges or trial any one including a citizen of the US, just on his say so that the person is a threat to security, can authorize torture in the name of national security, even when he himself has signed legislation banning the practice is altogether ludicrous. The President is not above the laws of the land. We are supposed to be a nation of laws. I like to think that we are a nation governed by people and that is what makes us great, but the conservatives like to repeat their mantra that what makes us great is that we are a nation of laws. So how about it? Are we or are we not? And don't those laws apply to the elected and appointed officials of our government no matter the circumstance. This argument seems to me as plain as the nose on my face so I just don't get how the MSM can get away trumpeting the argument that this is an esoteric argument between civil libertarians and legal experts and those concerned about our "security." No, it's a clear case of someone putting himself above the law and saying "I don't need no stinking warrants. F- U and the justices you rode in on."
The issue is not invasions of American's privacy. It's simply why did this President not feel that he was subject to US law and submit his supposed security concerns to the court set up to monitor the balance of security and liberty?