Residents of the Gulf States Deserve Some Blame for the Oil Leak

May 24, 2010

One of the most interesting responses to the massive oil leak that now threatens so much of what is special about the Gulf of Mexico has come from the citizens of the states that line the Gulf. These are, largely, the same people who have spent decades doing the bidding of oil companies while simultaneously screaming about the size of government. To many of them governmental efforts that would have made the locating, removing and refining of oil safer and more expensive have been nonstarters. Now, that their friends in oil have created what will potentially go down as the greatest environmental disaster in American history many of these same people are demanding government intervention. It is no longer good enough to trust British Petroleum—now the government must take over the cleanup and recovery efforts.

This kind of hypocrisy is the kind of absurdity that drives me crazy with the right. You cannot spend decades doing everything in your power to keep government from regulating the oil industry and then demand governmental action when your friends with big oil do what you have tacitly encouraged them to do—cut corners to keep the price of oil down and fund a large portion of your economy. Remarkably, however, this outrageous, avoidable catastrophe has not taught many of you the lessons of your self-serving shortsightedness. While so many of you are blaming the Obama administration for not doing enough many of you are resisting Democratic efforts to raise the cap for private damages that oil companies could be forced to pay people, like you, whose lives have been possibly forever changed for the negative because of British Petroleum’s negligence. Even as your beaches sink under mountains of oil and your native species drowned in rust-colored gunk—many of you warn against policy changes that might hold big oil more accountable to you. How does this make sense? It’s time you recognize the value of a diversified economy and a society that does not spend so much of its time and resources pandering to an industry that shows little regard for you and your land.

You are right; the government should be doing more to make sure the leak is stopped and that the cleanup goes as smoothly as it can be expected to go. But one of the reasons the government is not meeting the complete burden of its responsibility is that government officials are concerned that if they do get to involved that they will be torn apart for a disaster they are only partially responsible for creating. If you want to create a climate where government can be more responsive to its citizens you must stop subscribing to the simple-minded myth that government is regularly incompetent and that business can take care of just about everything if only government gets off of its back. Until conservatives acknowledge and encourage the very real role government must play in all of our lives, we will continue getting the ineffective government we all love to hate.

I’m sorry to have to say this, but the people of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi deserve some of the blame for the misfortune that has befallen them.

Why Progressives Should Oppose Elena Kagan

May 10, 2010

Although Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court was not a surprise to me it has left me feeling very unsatisfied. While it is true that Ms. Kagan may, in a few years, become one of my favorite justices I am not happy with the notion of supporting her simply because President Obama is asking progressives to do so. In many ways, progressives should be troubled by Kagan’s nomination. For starters, she has very little relevant legal experience. Until Obama appointed her to the post of solicitor general Ms. Kagan had never actually practiced law. She had spent her entire legal career as a clerk, political aide, professor and law school dean. Personally, I do not care where you taught or where you climbed to the position of dean (although in her case those are one in the same with where she went to law school); if your resume is nearly void of legal representation or decision making you cannot be considered qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Actually, I wonder how someone who has never practiced law can make a good professor of law, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The argument being advanced by the administration and its apologists that Kagan’s nomination is a change because she comes from outside the judicial establishment does have a grain of truth, because Kagan’s background must force us to conclude that not only does she come from outside the “judicial monastery,” but she comes from outside the community of those who have ever really practiced law. Until Kagan was nearly 50 years old she never used her obvious legal talents to assist anyone in need or publish a piece that sought to advance the law. In my mind that tells us something about the mindset of Elena Kagan. Ms. Kagan is, obviously, someone who has never been willing to put herself out there. She has never accepted a real challenge. Instead, she has chosen to spend the vast majority of her adult life in the secure bubble of Harvard Law School. A lawyer’s choice never to take on positions that provide either ultimate accountability in the legal context or demonstrate some degree of opinion is disturbing. Even as solicitor general Ms. Kagan’s arguments were framed, to a large degree, by the objectives of the administration. Even in that position she was not accepting the challenge of arguing cases that she chose to bring because she supported the moral objectives behind them and/or relished the opportunity to advance legal theory.

When it comes to providing someone with a lifetime pass to impact all of our lives Americans must demand to know more about those being nominated than will be known about Ms. Kagan until she begins serving. Given her lack of relevant experience and her obvious tendency to avoid taking even a moderately controversial stand even Democrats must insist that Ms. Kagan be much more forthcoming during the confirmation process than recent nominees to the Court have been. Simply skating through, as Justice Sotomayor did, will not suffice when a nominee, like Ms. Kagan, has no record that can adequately be examined.

Personally, I believe that Ms. Kagan was chosen by President Obama because she is more centrist than progressives would like to believe. After all, progressives made the very same mistake with Obama himself. While lefties will trumpet Kagan’s involvement with efforts of law schools to fight against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell it is important to point out that the policy was in place before Ms. Kagan became Dean at Harvard Law School. Kagan was chosen because she is a friend of the president—not because her resume screams Supreme Court justice; in fact, it is unlikely that any other president would have even considered her for the job given her lack of relevant experience. This type of nepotism is frustrating and will provide Republicans with a reasonable argument against her nomination.

I have long supported the idea that we needed to bring diversity to the court. Unfortunately, I did not consider the possibility that a president’s idea of judicial diversity included someone who never practiced law. I guess my notion that experience practicing law is an important component to the resume of someone who is nominated for a seat on our nation’s highest court is not a notion shared by the president. But how many of you are willing to simply accept the president’s assurances as valid grounds for confirmation when the decisions made by Kagan will impact our lives long after the president has moved on?

Bob Bennett’s Defeat is a Defeat for America

May 10, 2010

On Saturday Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett was defeated by two more conservative candidates at the State’s Republican Convention. Bennett, who is in his third term, will not even be able to put his political fate in the hands of Utah’s Republican voters in a primary. In short, Bennett was forced out, because many conservatives determined that he was simply not conservative enough. Bennett voted for TARP, he worked with Democrat Ron Wyden on a health care proposal and he voted in favor of the stimulus bill. In reality, all of those votes were good-faith efforts to reach across the political isle and work with Democrats to try and solve some of the most difficult problems our nation faces. Do to his willingness to reach across the aisle, something most voters say they want in a politician, Mr. Bennett lost his job.

Let me say that I am not a huge fan of Mr. Bennett, he is much more conservative than I like a senator to be, but Senator Bennett’s willingness to work with Democrats stood out in a political environment marred by extreme polarization. Unfortunately, Utah Republicans, like Republicans everywhere, have chosen polarization over accomplishment. Until more Americans embrace the idea of working together to solve the problems our nation must solve our nation will continue failing to make the difficult decisions we have put off for decades. Punishing politicians that work with members of the other party is not only unfair it’s stupid.

An Idea for Involving More Parties in the Political Process

May 7, 2010

I have written several times about my distaste for political parties; in fact, I strongly believe that political parties play a major role in both the rampant corruption and ineffectiveness that have come to signify American politics. In response to those postings I have heard from many who just cannot seem to give up on the notion of political parties. So, I would like to throw out a new idea for your consideration. This proposal can best be described as a hybrid between our current system of government and the parliamentary form of government used in most other pretend democracies. Since this is one of my ideas there is, of course, a twist.

Let’s begin by discussing Congressional elections since those are where the most interesting changes to our system would take place. At the outset of the process political parties would run primaries to choose their candidates for individual House and Senate seats. Then there would be a national election day where individuals would have to vote not for an individual, but for a party. At the conclusion of this national election seats would be dispersed based on the percentage of votes each party received throughout the nation; for example, let’s say the X Party received one million votes throughout the nation and that one million vote total represented two percent of all votes cast. Under this system the X Party would be entitled to two percent of the seats that were available in both the House and the Senate. At that point, the X Party would be given seats in the States and Congressional districts where they got the most support and the locals would know who their elected representative was going to be, because at least some of them would have supported that individual in the X Party’s primary.

The only serious negative part of this proposal, as I see it, is that when a party, like the X Party, that is currently a minor player is awarded a seat they will get a seat even though they, in many instances, will not have received the most votes. I acknowledge that this is a huge problem, but unless we adopt this approach we will never be able to diminish the stranglehold the Democrats and Republicans have over our political system. If we want more voices and different ideas presented for consideration then we are going to have to accept a system that has a few quirks. Personally, I think that’s a small price to pay for bringing a diversity of ideas to Congress.

At the presidential level we will allow each party that is represented in Congress to have a primary or primaries and guarantee the winner of each party’s system a spot in all presidential debates and on the ballot of all 50 states. In this way, we will eliminate the ability of the two major parties to freeze out candidates from currently minor parties. At the outset, any party that can establish a foothold in 40 of the 50 states will be allowed to put a candidate into the presidential race. This only makes sense, because these parties have not yet had the ability to win representation in Congress.

Things America Could Learn from the British Elections

May 7, 2010

I only began following the hotly-contested British election in the last week or so, but I have come to believe that there are two things we could learn from the way the Brits conduct their elections. For starters, they do not allow the media to report on poll results. This means that individuals, for the most part, need to think for themselves; the media cannot play a part in creating the narrative by asking misleading questions to conjure up the story they want to report on. Second, the media is not allowed to report the platform of any political party. This puts the job of finding out what the candidates stand for squarely on the shoulders of the voters and limits the kind of distorted reporting made famous in American by Fox and MSNBC.

It would be nice if this year’s mid-term elections were carried out in the absence of all kinds of poll-driven nonsense. It is time the American public have access to an election that is as spin free as possible. If many of us cannot handle that many of us should stay home on Election Day.

Fines for Hiring Illegal Immigrants Should Depend on the Resources of Each Business

May 3, 2010

The best thing Congress can do to greatly eliminate the flow of illegal immigrants across our border with Mexico would be to seriously limit the opportunities illegal immigrants have in America. This means, of course, that any immigration-related legislation passed by Congress must include severe sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants. For the most part, people are not risking their lives crossing the border to find love, happiness, food, health care, or better living conditions. For the most part, people are crossing the border to find better-paying jobs than the ones they can find in Mexico. If we cut off the job supply we will greatly reduce illegal immigration and make more jobs available to Americans. This will, however, result in an increase in the cost of much of our produce and in the cost of most services we need, but I’m sure most of us will be quite willing to accept those inconveniences to bring down the number of illegal immigrants racing across our border.

In order to make it much harder for illegal immigrants to find work Congress needs to do two things: first, we must accept that there is a need for a national ID card that is based on biometrics and cannot be copied; second, we must change the fines that businesses have to pay when they hire illegal immigrants so that the penalties will deter even the biggest of businesses from hiring illegal immigrants. To accomplish this goal we cannot pass legislation that simply increases the fine; instead, we must make the fine dependent on the financial wherewithal of individual businesses. Simply put, a business should have to pay a fine equal to one percent of last year’s earnings for each illegal immigrant it hires. Under this system, every business would have a tremendous incentive to make absolutely sure they are not hiring illegal immigrants. If an individual landscaper hires an illegal immigrant they will have to pay a fine of thousands of dollars. If Wall mart hirers an illegal immigrant their fine will be in the millions of dollars. Either way, each business will know that if they hire someone without a government ID they will run the risk of paying a harsh penalty.

That, my friends, is the best way to, basically, close our border with Mexico. If you are unwilling to support this plan you are not really willing to better secure our border with Mexico.

What you can do to Decrease Illegal Immigration

May 3, 2010

Since the adoption of Arizona’s stupid, racist immigration law I have seen leaders in both political parties talk about the need for the federal government to close our Southern border.
Republicans want to close the border and stop there. Democrats want to close the border as part of a comprehensive bill that would address the illegal immigrants that are already here and try and remove some of the incentives that encourage them to come across the border in the first place. While the Democrats strategy is far more practical neither side will address the five-ton elephant in the room. Neither side will discuss how we can close our border with Mexico. Both sides start a discussion of immigration reform by paying lip service to the notion of closing our border with Mexico, because doing so is seen as a political necessity to try and win support of the large numbers of Americans who think they understand the issue, but really do not. So, to all of you out there I have one simple question how can we close our border with Mexico?

The last few years have taught us that none of the electronic devices that have been deployed work. Much of the fencing that has been built has not made an impact because people who want to cross either climb it or go to places where there is no fence. Constructing a fence that stretches nearly 2000 miles along the border would have serious consequences to our economy and the environment. The only way we can even hope to close the border would be to hire enough border patrol agents to fan them out along the length of the border 24 hours a day. That means we would need to hire hundreds of thousands if not millions of additional border patrol agents at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars each year. How many of you would support that idea? In reality, it is never going to happen. That plan would be an enormous waste of human and financial capital.

There are, however, things that all of us who are concerned about illegal immigration can do that would have a far greater impact on illegal immigration than anything the federal government or state governments could do. For starters, we could all start shopping at places that do not employ illegal immigrants. Since figuring out what places do and do not employ illegal immigrants would be difficult we can start buying our produce from local farmers who do not hire illegal immigrants. Doing this will cause us to pay more for the produce we consume, but if we are really concerned about illegal immigration that price should be a small one to pay. We can stop hiring contractors and landscapers and nannies who are hear illegally. This will require us to do more homework when making these decisions, but that extra homework will be worth it if it lowers the number of illegal immigrants that come across our border. Don’t you think? Lastly, we could stop using illegal drugs. Much of the hysteria over illegal immigration stems from the threat of drug-related violence spilling over the Mexican border into America. But we must keep in mind that the Mexican drug cartels are not fighting to see who can sell the most narcotics in Mexico—their turf wars are almost entirely about the ability to sell drugs to Americans. So, the next time you complain about drug-related violence from Mexico coming to America remember that we, by consuming the vast majority of Mexican drugs, deserve the violence they bring to our nation.

The federal government has been negligent in its failure to curtail illegal immigration, but whether you like it or not the reality is they have largely failed because so many of us appreciate the benefits we get from illegal immigration and have so far been unwilling to sacrifice to decrease its prevalence. Once again, America’s government has adequately represented America.

Republican Failures Cause Health Care-Related Suit

March 23, 2010

The attorney general of Florida has announced that nine other attorneys general are joining him in a suit that seeks to declare the health care reform bill unconstitutional. The ten states are: Alabama; Nebraska; North Dakota; Pennsylvania; South Carolina; South Dakota; Texas; Utah; and Washington. The attorney general for the state of Virginia says he, too, will sue, but he has not yet decided to join the larger suit. Amazingly, all 11 attorneys general who are planning to sue over the health care bill are Republicans. The decision of the attorney general of Washington to join the suit has caused a firestorm in that state, because the Democratic governor opposes the suit.

As if the politics behind this suit weren’t enough no discussion about this action would be complete without a discussion of the human suffering involved. Florida, which is leading the suit, has the second highest rate of citizens without health insurance in the nation. In Florida, 20.2 percent of citizens have no health insurance. Texas, one of the states that believes assisting people in acquiring health insurance is unconstitutional, has the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation. A staggering 25.2 percent of Texans have no health insurance. South Carolina has chosen to join the legal fun, because it hopes that the 16.1 percent of its citizens who have no health insurance continue going without.

In case you are wondering 15.4 percent of Americans currently are living without health insurance. Imagine what that number would look like if states like Florida, Texas and South Carolina were actually supporting their citizens? Maybe, the nation’s overall percentage of uninsured would drop by more than five percent—with no federal intervention. If these states are so angry about the federal government’s decision to act they really should first reflect on their own failures of leadership and compassion. Had they governed their states in a more responsible way the federal government might not have had to do some of their job for them.

America Should Ban the Sale of Fur

March 17, 2010

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is considering a near universal ban on the production, importation and sale of fur in the country. In the current bill an exception would be made for the fur of cattle, camels, goats and sheep. The movement to all but eliminate fur from Israeli clothing began after a documentary showed dogs and cats being skinned and presented evidence that many products that were sold as “synthetic” contained real fur. Currently, 86 percent of Israelis favor the ban on most fur products.

I totally support this effort. It would be great if something similar could be done in America. There is no good reason to continue killing animals for their fur. as

Fiscal Problems Cause the Release of Criminals

March 17, 2010

The number of people being held in state prisons has decreased for the first time since 1972. Currently, there are 1,304,091 people being held in state prisons across the country. This represents a decrease in the state prison population of 5,739 from last year’s total. The decrease is do, in part, to the fiscal problems being faced by many states. California and Michigan, who are facing the worst fiscal problems in the nation, have both decreased their prison populations by thousands in an attempt to save money. Overall, 27 states saw decreases in their prison population from the previous year. America’s total number of prisoners held, however, increased because the number of people being held by the federal government increased by 6,838 for a total of 208,818. There are now more people in the custody of the federal government than ever before. In total there are 1,504,099 people being held in American prisons. This number does not include those being held in county facilities.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that the population of state prisons decreased for the first time since 1972. Would you like to make a guess as to the number of people held in state prisons in 1972? Amazingly, there were only 174 thousand people held in state prisons in 1972. Obviously, the population of America has greatly increased since 1972, but the amount of prisoners has clearly outpaced the growth in total population. That’s something to really think about.


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