12.31.2008

All Along the Watchtower
















I got some hiking in the other day in the Kettle Moraine. To many in the area, the Kettle Moraine is taken for granted as a backdrop part of the landscape.  But what is it?  The great hilly glacial feature that runs the length of eastern Wisconsin.  It's technically an "interlobate moraine" - a bunch of glacial debris deposited at the confluence of two great lobes of ice that ground down into Wisconsin in the last ice age. 

Parnell Tower rises atop one wooded ridge above the treetops. The wind set the bare trees roaring, forcing me to wedge myself between railings at the top to snap a few photos.  It was fiercely cold.
















I looked out over a classic Wisconsin postcard scene through the rails.

















Off to the west, I had a great view of the kames - steep conical glacial hills of debris formed when debris fell down through holes in the glaciers to the plain below.





















After ascending the tower, I made a hike through the surrounding forest for several hours until darkness crept up to the crowns of the trees. The deep snow provided good exercise and warmth - and I wished I had my snowshoes.

It was a tranquil, reflective pause at the end of a long, eventful, often stressful year.  A deep exhalation.

A Return to the Island

I'm back in Madison to celebrate the changing of the years.

The city is looking lovely these days, dressed in its winter best.  While it's in the heart of winter break, the city seems to be full of old friends, roommates, and alums, so I'm looking forward to catching up with whomever I happen to meet.

Last evening - before going out with friends from high school, college, and The Slanty Shanty - I ran into Danny S from Critical Badger.  The chance meeting turned into a great multi-hour conversation on all things blog, politic, tech, Madison, and law school.

I believe co-blogger Steve S is headed in past the reefs later today as well.

If you're in town, give a shout.

12.29.2008

"Let there be dark."















And there was darkness.  For Christmas.  With Grandma and Grandpa.

Halfway through the holiday meal with the great big extended family, the power went out in the Town of Green Bay.  Cell phones flipped on first.  Flashlights emerged next.  Then candles were lighted.  Battery lanterns clicked on.  And, honest to goodness, kerosene lamps appeared as Grandpa recalled that this was the way things were for many farm families in Champion until electricity came in 1939.  I found it easier than ever to sneak extra Christmas cookies with blue sprinkles.

We had proceeded halfway through the lengthy gift exchange before the power was restored several hours later in the night - just as we started to take an over-under on what time the lights would return.

It was a Christmas to remember.

Losing the forest by looking at the trees

"We got whomped with single men, we are losing young voters, we are losing Latinos," McInturff told reporters at a post-election Christian Science Monitor breakfast. "Those are structural troubles now, and they are not just one bad (election) cycle, one bad economy."

In an era of almost frightening campaign microtargeting, is part of the GOP's problem actually its excessive targeting of individuals?

Long pursued as an advantage - more information about an individual should be better - I wonder if there isn't a breaking point when it comes to dissecting the electorate into its sub-camps - a point where disjointed surgical cruise-missile-down-the-chimney appeals to "Disabled Catholic NASCAR Union Hunters for Bush" become counterproductive.

In some respects, it's far easier for a party to "activate" individuals voters when they can be promised something related to their issues of choice.  And national politics will always be about aggregating interests to some extent.

Still, I think the GOP, as it seeks to get its vision back, needs to step back for perspective, let the otherwise incoherent Monet blotches come into focus.  It needs to reach a more universal "reasonable man," if you will, with a less targeted appeal.  And it must do so deftly without appearing to stand for nothing.

The party needs to craft a platform based not on a jumbled pile of interest planks to appeal to various key constituencies, but a broad platform relevant to a wide, general constituency.  And then actually stand for it in practice.  It needs to trend toward an emphasis on the least common denominators at its core - like fiscal responsibility, smaller government, a commitment to federalism, an embrace of technology.  And then make hard decisions and policy choices in line with those emphases.  It needs to reduce its focus on social issues - refining its appeals in that arena to a few overarching commonsense stances.  It also needs to shift its social issues footing.  It needs to morph from a desire to stop societal dissolution of traditional values by enacting social values into law...to a different tack of pushing to preserve individuals' and families' rights to live life according to their traditional values amidst a more pluralistic setting.

The party needs to move beyond Bush and Rovian to-the-brink tactics by crafting and pushing toward a post-War on Terror foreign policy that addresses China, Russia, and non-state actors in a coherent manner with a proper sense of triage based on real American interests and a realistic assessment of actual threats.  It needs to engage in policy discussions in areas of education, healthcare, environment, science, and transportation - even if it ultimately presents a compelling restatement of time-tested adages.  It must engage, though.

Generally, it needs to seem reasonable and common sense.  It needs to attempt to adapt - not necessarily win or thrive in the short term - in the urban environment.  It needs to be smart and welcome intellectual vigor and discourse back into itself.  To be healthy, it needs to be skeptical and historically informed about not only its opposition, but also itself.  The party pitch, as shared by its many voices, needs to be more organic and less canned.

Most importantly, even if the GOP adapts by adopting positions along the lines I've laid out, its foremost hurdle, in my mind, is dealing with what too many will construe as a repudiation and discrediting of free market capitalism in the wake of the financial crisis.  That underlying economic system should remain one of the common denominators at the center of any broad appeal moving forward.

I find it ironic that I feel the need to make a call for a less individualized approach by the GOP as it courts voters.  A greater focus on individuals is desirable.  But in the end, by paying attention to some broad, durable common denominators, the party does center itself on a framework more hospitable to individual liberty.  I think an example from Wisconsin history, as illuminated in Professor Booth Fowler's book "Wisconsin Votes" is instructive.  Writing about a push for temperance in the mid 19th Century:

While the quarreling over alcohol did not last long as a central concern in the 1850s, memories of its dangers as an issue lingered in political strategists' minds.  Thus, knowing how divisive it could be, the newly formed Republican Party of the middle and later 1850s steered carefully away from the matter; besides, the party had its own explosive issue in its opposition to the expansion of slavery.  The logic was simple: Why needlessly antagonize the growing numbers of immigrants and their songs, especially those from Germany, on a matter that was hardly first in minds of the emerging Republican leadership?

Thus, the nascent Republican Party in Wisconsin wisely avoided a needless - and unworkable - push to enact social mores into law, focusing instead on an overriding common denominator issue that, while not as individually tailored to voters, nevertheless entailed extending individual liberty.

The distributive model of government is the final consideration.  In making a pitch to an individual, it is easier to activate a voter by not only microtargeting, but also by then attaching a promise of funding to that issue.  Bush and Rove adopted far too many pages of the Democratic playbook in this regard - see faith-based initiatives, No Child Left Behind, etc.  For the GOP to be an alternative, it must avoid such ploys to the extent possible - but doing so will make the task of party rejuvenation more arduous.

I look around at my generation, I live in it, and I sense the GOP's slip from relevance in the past eight years.  It has become little more than the butt of Stewart or Colbert's latest joke to far too high a percentage of my peers.  It needs to make itself a realistic option again for the people who will make and break elections from this point forward.

12.28.2008

Kissinger's Ghost and the Gaza Strip

As conflict flares in the Gaza Strip, I begin to wonder if the tenuous Middle East framework hashed out by Henry Kissinger isn't about to become undone.

After heralding it several times, I finally had a chance to read a book on Kissinger by my former professor, Jeremi Suri.

If you're interested in modern American foreign affairs, I recommend the book as a helpful insight into the broad trends and major developments from the 1950s through the 1970s.

While the book focuses on Kissinger as a figure - especially on the unique role of his Jewish heritage in shaping his own rise to and exercise of power - the book also helps to set the scene for the ensuing decades of Middle East conflict and diplomacy.

12.27.2008

Another Russian gas pipeline

Another gas pipeline is going up, and with it another tool for Russia in its next fight with the West:
The pipeline, which is part of plans to modernize and expand the Central Asian region's gas network, will run from Turkmenistan along the Caspian coast of Kazakhstan and on to Russia for further transportation to Europe.

The more dependent Europe is on Russia for natural gas shipments, the less it can say the next time Russia decides to invade one of her neighbors. Indeed, the OSCE is already pulling out the peacekeeping force it had there:
Moscow wants to split up the international democracy and human rights group's mission in Georgia to reflect Russia's recognition of South Ossetia as an independent state after crushing Georgia's bid to retake the separatist territory.

Meanwhile, Putin is signaling a raise in prices to Russia's customers:
Mr. Putin says this means that despite well-known global financial problems and the economic downturn, and despite even lower energy prices, the era of cheap energy, including the era of cheap gas, is clearly coming to an end.

Sheepshead




















It's that time of year - to head out into the country on Steinthal Road to the little cabin tucked away in the hills. It's time to park the snowmobile and turn on the generator. It's time for to play some Sheepshead.


















The pile of quarters had dwindled significantly by the end of the night. The banker was keeping his eyes peeled. I kept hoping someone on the good side would crack. Or that I would somehow get Three Kings.






















Alas.

Record Snow
















This is the snowiest December I can recall, and its the second highest December snowfall on record for neighboring Sheboygan County.














Yesterday, the Brothers V mounted to the roof of our neighbor's house to clear away some three-four foot drifts. After several hours up top, we finally realized just how much snow was involved.















Oddly, the abnormally high temperatures today have most of the snow on the run.  This is good in one sense - it reduces some of the mini-Matterhorns of snow in the front yard and clears the roofs.  But it also brings the potential for some foggy, icy roads - and flash flooding.

12.26.2008

David L Goes Line by Line

"In the spirit of Christmas Eve, I wrote up an analysis of all the financial gifts US firms received from the US federal government this year. I’ll begin with an overview of how the government even got to the point of bailouts in the first place."

If Beowulf were a bailout blog post, this would be it.

12.25.2008

Takebacks

So President Bush reversed a presidential pardon. But can he actually do that?

Pardon Power, a blog dedicated to, what else?, "the very latest news regarding presidential pardons and the pardon power (or clemency powers) as exercised in each state" is quite sure he can:
The fact that "the president" - in this case - meant two different presidents (Johnson and Grant), and the fact that - in this case - the warden had actually received the pardons but simply stuck them in his desk for a while, did not matter. The pardons had not actually been placed in the hands of Moses and Jacob DePuy, so the two men stayed in prison and were pardoned (by Grant) later.


TPM isn't so sure, though:
When asked by Rep. Hostettler (R) whether President Bush couldn't undo Clinton's pardons under the Du Puy case, she [sic] seemed to say that Du Puy had bee [sic] superseded in this regard by Biddle v. Perovich from 1927...


Any of our more legal-minded readers care to chime in?

Escalation

Apparently the Chinese want to challenge America's Christmas spirit:
A giant Father Christmas made of ice, which is claimed to be the world's biggest Santa has been unveiled in China.

The 525 ft long sculpture is the centrepiece at the world-renowned ice festival in the northern city of Harbin, where temperatures drop to below minus 35 degrees Celsius in the winter months.

But I think we're still winning the ice-carving race:




Merry Chirstmas to you and yours!

12.23.2008

Revolution of Snow















"And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down."

Bush and the Auto Bailout: A New Era














In bailing out GM and Chrysler Friday by promising $17.4 billion in funds initially meant for TARP programs, President George W. Bush rightfully angered Republicans.

And should have angered us all.

Not only has Bush betrayed any last shred of a sense of limited government conservatism in this step toward nationalization of industries, he has also arguably violated the separation of powers inherent in our form of government.  The government's knee-jerk reactions to the financial crisis are centered on a narrow economic view of the situation.  Bush's response, especially, fails to account for another facet of the crisis: the limited government aspect.

The Legislative branch of government determined that no government funds should go to the automakers.  Bush then stretched authorization language in TARP beyond its boundaries - the funds were authorized for "financial institutions" - in order to act directly contrary to the will of Congress - and arguably beyond his authority as the Executive.  From whence, exactly, the executive power to make a financial bailout of private entities via an appropriation of taxpayer dollars?

I just took an exam Friday where I applied the famous tripartite test from Justice Jackson's concurrence in Youngstown to assess unilateral Executive action where it either has no clear textual basis in the Constitution or is arguably shared power.  It seems Bush's action today places him in Category 3 - where his power is at its lowest ebb, as he acted in direct contravention of the will of Congress.  And he acted domestically.  I view the Youngstown test as providing a court with a stoplight of sorts for assessing presidential action - and I believe a court would find Bush's action in the glare of a red light.  

In my early assessment of this action, Bush certainly seems to have violated the bailout authorization bill.  And I believe it's not out of the question to discuss whether this is an unconstitutional act.   I hope some injured party out there brings suit, if it can overcome the standing hurdles.

Why is this worth fighting?  Why should we care?  Eli L over at University and State called me "a vocal opponent" of the auto bailout - I'm glad to paste that label proudly on my chest.  Here are my reasons in sum:

1.  Limited Government: The federal government, generally, should not have this much involvement in the private economy.

2.  Separation of Powers:  Even if the federal government has this much power, it should not be in the hands of the Executive, but in the hands of Congress - and the auto bailout failed to pass the Senate.  Congress only delegated power to the Executive with respect to the $700 billion for financial institutions in TARP.

3.  Debt:  The short-term sky-is-falling response by the government will saddle our generation with a massive debt crisis on top of existing entitlement crises down the road.  The total federal government outlay during the crisis now weighs in somewhere over $8 trillion by some accounts.

4.  Rejuvenation: Propping up companies that went into the financial crisis in a very weak state artificially avoids the creative destruction necessary for a disease to run its course and permit truly renewed health.

5.  Precedent:  Bush's action in saving Detroit means a line has not been drawn in the sand...and it remains to be seen where the bailouts will stop.

In the end, I think some segments of America will look back at TARP and the hasty, fear-induced $700 billion bailout to the financial sector as a Patriot Act of sorts - a somewhat unwise rapidfire legislative response that has far-reaching implications beyond what any of the supporters even understands at the time.

One final aspect of the auto bailout occurs to me...national defense.  Given the centrality of heavy manufacturing capacity to wartime needs of the nation, I wouldn't be surprised if a military need for the convertible assembly lines of Detroit underlies some of the government decision-making.  A little debate about that issue unfolds here.

Sans Shirt

I sincerely hope this is the full extent of Barack Obama's attempts to parallel Putin.

UPDATE: I see Drudge beat me to the punch.

12.22.2008

Good News... from Iraq

This is of particular interest to me, as Brad noted I will very shortly be heading overseas, but I think this is news that everyone should be very happy to see. There are several parts of this Department of Defense press release that are worth noting, but I'll start with two that stand out the most:
WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2008 – The number of daily attacks in Iraq has dropped nearly 95 percent since last year, a U.S. military official said yesterday.

Iraq suffered an average of 180 attacks per day this time last year. But over the past week, the average number was 10, Army Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said.

“This is a dramatic improvement of safety throughout the country,” Perkins told reporters during a wide-ranging news conference in Baghdad yesterday.

He added that the country’s murder rates have dropped below levels that existed before the start of American operations in Iraq. In November, the ratio was 0.9 per 100,000 people.

Perkins said political progress has complemented the reduction in violence, citing the recent passage of two pieces of legislation that will help guide the future security and political relationship between Washington and Baghdad.

How amazing is that? A 95% reduction in the number of attacks. If anyone had predicted that a year ago it would have been dismissed as a pipe-dream, yet there it is. The other point in there about the murder rate, as a comparison the United States' murder rate from 2000-2006 has been a steady 6 per 100,000. That's an amazing statistic in a country so recently plagued by sectarian violence.

The other part of the release I'd like to point out is the last three paragraphs about the countries that have already withdrawn:

Providing an update on the changing composition of the multinational force, Perkins said forces from 19 countries have completed their missions serving “side by side” with Iraqi security counterparts and have departed the country in the past four months.

“These nations have accomplished much for the people of Iraq. They have trained and mentored Iraqis in everything from security techniques to literacy and public health,” he said. “It has been an honor for us to serve with these great coalition partners.”

The nations include Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Poland, Tonga and Ukraine.

Nineteen countries. Is that really "going it alone?" I'm not trying to pick a fight with anyone here. I am simply pointing out the fallacy of one of the favorite criticisms of President Bush and the Iraq War. I served alongside soldiers from many of these nations and I am glad that they have completed their missions. Given the other statistics in the press release, I look forward to the day we finish ours as well - with honor, victory and freedom for the Iraqi people.

The devil is always more interesting

If you've seen Lord of War, you know who Viktor Bout is:
Mr Bout’s genius was to employ impoverished ex-Soviet pilots, ready to risk their lives for hard currency, and to send his aircraft anywhere they were needed (he rarely flew on them himself). At times that meant getting United Nations peacekeepers into Somalia, or delivering aid for the British government. More often, as the UN eventually described, he provided the logistics that kept cruel civil wars alive. Reportedly Mr Bout supplied, simultaneously, both the rebels and the government during Angola’s civil war.

Similarly, he collaborated first with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and then, after one of his aircraft was impounded for months by the Taliban, switched to trading with the Islamists. He probably helped the American forces to fly material to Afghanistan and certainly did so in Iraq. He was active in eastern Congo, where years of war have led to the deaths of millions. Alex Yearsley of Global Witness sums up his career thus: “There’s nothing he hasn’t done.”

The end of the Cold War certainly created the paradigm shift that allowed him to flourish, and the focus on terrorism brought him down. But he represents a fascinating period of recent history, and in many ways epitomizes the immediate post-Cold War era.

Christmas in the Quarter

LIB: Holiday Nomads

I just spoke with Mike H, who deploys tonight for his second tour on active duty overseas somewhere in Southwest Asia.  Keep him in your thoughts.  He anticipates posting as he's able from the other side.

I'm traveling tonight as well.  Fortunately, I'm headed not into harm's way, but one thousand miles back to the great white north to visit friends and family.  I plan to continue posting over the break, and if we're lucky, the three stateside members of LIB may reunite for a Wisconsin winter conclave of sorts.  Stay tuned.

12.21.2008

Lower 9th Ward Revisited


















A great deal has changed in the Lower 9th Ward since I last shared a slice of the Katrina-devastated tract back in January.  More than any other portion of New Orleans, the Lower 9th has taken on an emblematic status in the nation's mind as symbol of both the horrors and the hopes of New Orleans.  While a sadness still hangs over much of the overgrown neighborhood, I must say I was stunned by the concrete, positive steps forward on my most recent visit.













For one, Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" foundation has progressed beyond the pink visibility tents of January, replacing some of them with stunning new homes near the site of the levee breach itself. Colorful solar powered buildings with modern architectural twists are springing up slowly in the otherwise ghostly surroundings.


















Clearly, this is going to be a much different place.
















Many of the new homes are also raised on pylons, which is the only way to make them sustainable in the below-sealevel neighborhood in the long run.  One of the chief causes of the catastrophic damage in the Lower 9th was the fact that many of the homes were built on slabs - as everyone thought the levees were a surefire way to keep safe and negate the threat of flooding.















Yet swaths of vacant lots peppered with orphaned stairways and gates remain an all-too-common part of the Lower 9th.


























Progress is slow.  The eerie large scale artworks of the international biennial, Prospect 1, show up in the least expected places as one drives through the battered landscape - like the giant ark in the first photo above, a seeming mockery of the neighborhood that wasn't spared by the flood. Abandoned buildings that weren't destroyed or washed away still hulk in the weeds here and there, ominous reminders that there is much work yet to be done.

12.20.2008

Fate?

My grandmother said, "things come in twos, trouble comes in threes." I'm waiting for the third in this sequence:

1.) I start reading this brilliant piece in The Atlantic:
This may also be why plenty of moviegoers (my mother-in-law, for example) will tell you that they cannot stand Jim Carrey. A noisome vacancy at the heart of him, a dreadful resounding hollowness, repels them—for a man who regularly pulls down $20 million per picture, his (ahem) “unfavorables” are abnormally high. But they’re getting at the core of his genius, these sensitive souls. Carrey’s dream sequence of movies is a prophecy, a warning that this clanking ego-apparatus in which each of us walks around, this fissured, monumental self, half Job and half Bertie Wooster, cannot be sustained. Out of his own seemingly bottomless disquiet, Carrey writhes and reaches into the bottomless disquiet of his audience. An oracular bum holds up a handwritten cardboard sign in Bruce Almighty: LIFE IS JUST. We know we’re frauds; we fear a reckoning is due.


2.) Random flipping around, the first thing I come across is Bruce Almighty.

Trouble cannot be far behind now.

Some thoughts on Rick Warren

All the cool kids are talking about it, so I I'd like to talk about Rick Warren for a minute.

We here at LiB have been strongly pro-gay marriage since the inception of this blog, from the Madison marriage amendment debate to the California Prop 8 debate. Across the spectrum of writers here, I think it's one of our unifying strands. But of course, I can speak only for myself when I say: as with many things about the Obama presidency, I feel tentatively positive about his choice here.

Are Rick Warren's comment about gay marriage -- equating it with incest and polygamy -- despicable? Absolutely. But in the same interview, he had this to say:
BELIEFNET: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage?

WARREN: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it.

Here's an interesting thing. The divorce statistics are quite bandied around. People say half the marriages end in divorce. That's just not true. 40% of first time marriages end in divorce. About 61% of second time marriages end in divorce and 75% of third time marriages end in divorce. So the odds get worse and what's balancing this out...when you hear 50% end in divorce, that's just not true. The majority of marriages do last....

BELIEFNET: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce?

Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? Why do we hear more about anything else than about wasting time or gossip? We want to point that my sins are perfectly acceptable. Your sins are hideous and evil.

That's a lot more moderation than one hears from most of the fire-and-brimstone crowd. Moreover, Warren's asking Obama to speak to his congregation signals an open-mindedness that most of the left isn't giving him credit for at the moment. And it is a discredit to both Warren and Obama to overlook things I can agree with him about:
His work in Africa shames those who like to talk about combating injustice and promoting peace. Warren has been engaged in those tough, demanding pursuits.

Beyond the issues surrounding Warren himself, I think it's a good signal from Obama that he truly intends to reach out to the opposition and have a real dialogue about where this country needs to go:
“That dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign's been all about: That we're not going to agree on every single issue. But what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere when we -- where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans,” he said. “That's the spirit in which, you know, we have put together what I think will be a terrific inauguration and that's, hopefully, going to be a spirit that carries over into my administration.”


Perhaps here, Obama is taking a que from Andrew Sullivan:
And the truth is: if we cannot engage a Rick Warren on the question of our equality, we may secure a narrow and bitter victory in some states (just as the Christianists won a narrow and bitter victory in California in November). But we will not win the bigger argument and our victories will lack the moral legitimacy they deserve.

The greatest distortion of our politics in this respect is the notion that gays are in some way opposed to faith and in some way that our cause is a function solely of the left. Neither is true.

Advice on 1L Summer?

If you have any advice for 1Ls on what to do over summer - as far as jobs (good luck in '09), internships, study abroad, or classes - please send your experiences and observations this way.  Any helpful hints on timelines, tactics, or strategies would be great.

Leave a note in the comments or send an email to the email on the sidebar if you'd like me to consider your advice for a general post I hope to do over the winter break.

Why the Soda-tax should scare us all

New York Gov. Paterson's new solution to solving his state's budget problems should bother each and every one of us. It isn't necessarily that he is proposing raising taxes - after all that is the classic Democrat solution to all budget shortfalls - but the type of tax he is proposing. It's one thing to have an income tax, or a property tax or a general sales tax, but once governments begin to use our tax code to dictate certain behavior they have gone too far.

We already have so-called "sin taxes" on cigarettes and alcohol. Those are designed to curb the use of those products and penalize those who do use them. We have allowed them largely because we know that smoking and excessive drinking is bad for our health, but is it a good idea to allow government to do that? The answer is absolutely not.

Once we allowed government to impose its sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol, we gave our legislatures the power to tax and regulate anything that might be bad for us. Which is exactly how we got the proposed Soda tax - both in New York and right here in Wisconsin. That's right, last session, Rep. Chuck Benedict (D - Beloit) introduced a similar sales tax on the sale of soft drinks in Wisconsin. His reasoning was that too many kids drank soda and were having all sorts of negative health effects from tooth decay to diabetes. While we should all be concerned about our health and the health of our children, using tax policy to force one's own view of healthy living onto the entire population is wrong.

Don't think that this is as far as liberals are wanting to go either. Just read Nicholas Kristof's column in Wednesday's NY Times. He is gleeful, absolutely ecstatic at the prospect of a soda tax and calls Gov. Paterson courageous for introducing such a tax. The goal isn't to raise money or improve public health, there is no public good at play. The goal is to run your lives because liberals like Paterson, Kristof and Benedict think they know how to run it better than you do. I know it sounds harsh, but that's the way I see it.

I realize it may seem as though I am making a big deal out of something seemingly so trivial, but seriously, where does it end? Go and read Kristof's column. Really look at the lengths to which he and other liberals are willing to go in dictating how you eat. What's next a tax on all milk that isn't non-fat? What about foods high in sodium, like bacon? When does it end?

It should bother everyone that those in government wish to tell us what to eat and drink. For crying out loud, Kristof thinks that the biggest advancement in health care in the last 40 years was the cigarette tax! And he's serious. This type of thinking must be stopped now, while we can still afford to eat and drink what we want.

One last thing, before anyone cries hypocrisy I don't care if it's Democrats or Republicans trying to tell us how to live our lives. I have the same criticisms for those weak Republicans who support smoking bans and sin taxes as I do for Democrats. This isn't necessarily a partisan problem, it's a government problem.

12.19.2008

The Bucket & The Ark

Done

So ends the semester, at long last.

Daiquiris at The Fly as the tugs went by...and char-grilled oysters tonight.

Navidad Nauticale




















Happy holidays from the Maritime Law Journal suite.  (small silver menorah not visible in photo)

12.18.2008

Bottleneck

NATO supplies being shipped from Pakistan to Afghanistan are being attacked:
Hundreds of lorries and containers have been destroyed in a number of attacks around the city in recent weeks.

In the latest attack on Wednesday, a woman was killed and her two children wounded when three missiles were fired at a Nato supply convoy.

"Militants fired three missiles on Afghanistan-bound trucks carrying supplies for Nato forces. Two landed in open space and one hit a house, killing a woman and injuring two children," Bakhtiar Mohmand, a local government official, said.

There is little government response that I've seen, although security guards seem to have put up some fight:
"We were unable to challenge such a large number of armed men," said Muhammad Rafiq, a security guard of the Sunday attack. He estimated that 200 militants had been involved in the attack.

Pakistani security forces apparently fired at the attackers. "There was artillery and rapid exchange of fire," said a retired police official, Hidyatullah Arbab, who heard the firing from his home. "Peshawar is becoming a battleground."

Although neither of the articles give much of a reason for the attacks, the Jamaat website seems to tie the attacks to US drone attacks of the Pakistani tribal areas, as well as an anger that the Pakistani government is cooperating with the US:
He said tribal people are forced to consider US and Pakistani forces the same since both of them have been bombing and killing them simultaneously. He said on one hand US is killing innocent tribal people from the western side while on the other the Pakistani army is killing the same innocent people like enemies from the eastern side in the name of do more.

"When asked who burnt this village down, he admitted: 'It was the Ossetians.'"

Al Jazeera goes inside an ethnic Georgian village in South Ossetia:
It's hard to believe that this used to be a bustling community with its own schools and businesses.

Some of the destruction is clearly ethnically motivated, but some of the looting is probably the work of profiteers.

There really was not much left to take, so we were surprised when we heard banging in the distance.

As we approached the noise we saw a man in mismatching fatigues using a hammer to tear off the metal frame of a gate.

He ran off as soon as he saw us. Following him down a path we saw about half a dozen other men.

They were clearly not happy to see us, and threatened us with violence if we refused to leave.

The ethnic Ossetians I talked to in Gori felt no fear of reprisals from Georgians; nor did the Georgians harbor malice toward the Ossetians.

Marina Geoshvilli, an ethnic Ossetian resident of Gori, opened her store on the first day refugees returned to the city. She was not worried about reprisals.


The levels of damage, from the pictures on the AJ article, seem about equal to those in most parts of Gori -- caved-in roofs, shattered windows, but not too many walls down or structures completely destroyed.

Recovery

Iceland seems to be coming back from the brink:
"Iceland's IMF-supported programme is advancing well," Mr Thomsen said.

He added that "judicious monetary policy" had helped to stabilise the country's currency, the krona, and that focus would soon turn to lifting capital controls and reducing interest rates.

The worst was behind the country, he told a press conference.

Freedom From Religion Sues Manitowoc County

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued my home county of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, alleging a traditional nativity scene on the courthouse property violates the Establishment Clause.

The creche has been erected annually on the courthouse square by local Roman Catholic organizations since 1946.  One group that helps make the display possible is a Knights of Columbus council, so I wonder if the national organization's finances and legal support will be drawn into the fight.

I have one more exam tomorrow, so I won't comment on the matter at length at this point.

However, a few quick, off-the-cuff observations:  

I think it's cowardly for the Manitowoc County members of FFRF to refrain from being named plaintiffs in the suit.  I also question whether they have been harmed in any way until they have sought and been denied a chance to place a display indicating their particular beliefs or lack thereof on the site (see the collection of holiday/winter displays at the Wisconsin State Capitol in the rotunda each year).  Also, the complaint seems internally inconsistent, to some extent, as it first decries the lack of a policy about use of the site for religious displays and then proceeds to decry the dreadful policy of official approval later in the complaint.  I am surprised that county officials didn't have some better scheme set up to handle a possible legal action based on the creche given a boatload of similar legally problematic scenarios out there (or maybe they do?).  Finally, the lead case law cited in the complaint references a creche displayed inside a courthouse, not outside on the grounds of a courthouse, so I think that distinction might be important in any legal assessment under the First Amendment.

In addition, as far as context, I know from personal experience that there are a number of permanent monuments on the courthouse grounds, including a large stone monument to the Salomon Brothers.  However, I can't recall the specific amount of religiosity or many other details about the monuments.

Here's a view of the courthouse and grounds from the LIB archives.


The End is Nigh

Out of the Blue



Better to burn out?  Or to fade away?

China Steps Out

China is sending forth what some see as its first bluewater projection of naval force in centuries in response to the pirates off the Horn of Africa.

It seems odd that China would not have made a similar move already given its international clout in other non-maritime regards.  So this can be read as China merely becoming a "stakeholder" in international affairs, finally assuming its rightful burden and duty as a rising major power.

It's also in China's self interest as a sovereign nation - with an economy fueled heavily by exports, it needs global shipping to continue to provide a safe, reliable means of transport.  And significant Chinese economic investment and mineral resource extraction is underway in Africa - in places like Sudan.

Still, in the end, this mission, even if a minor one, should also be read for its symbolic significance - a first step in challenging U.S. naval predominance worldwide.  While China has focused primarily on its submarine forces in the past decade by most indications, this is a different matter.  It's about projecting surface power far from Chinese shores.

12.17.2008

Epilogue: The Tank Story

A note from the wife of expelled student Chao Tang (Tank) on his status:

One month ago, Tank met with the Judge for his bailout appeal but the Judge did give him the opportunity for a bailout. The Judge made a decision that he will be expatriated to our home country by immigration agency. However, he still be detained in the federal prison right now because many people need to be expatriated and he is in the waiting list.
we don't know the exact date he will go home.

Thank you,

Furong


As you'll recall, Tank was taken into custody on October 8 of this year.

Too Late for Help

















Leandro Erlich, in the Lower 9th Ward.

Comforting

When there is anxiety, there remains this tranquility.

A Study in Strikes

One

George W. Bush - Big Fish Reeled

"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system," Bush told CNN television, saying he had made the decision "to make sure the economy doesn't collapse." 

It doesn't get much more explicit than that.  

As Bush spoke, ska music filled the air.   And 50% of the remaining 23% of Americans that still approve of him revoked their approval.

12.16.2008

Midnight Oil: Live From the Mausoleum

















Three ways of...
















...looking at...




















...a law library.

Hot Pursuit in Puntland

The UN authorizes pursuing pirates onto land - in what is/once was Somalia.

Here's the text of the resolution calling for Member states to join in the fight against piracy.

And here's one interesting legal provision from it:

"3.   Invites all States and regional organizations fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia to conclude special agreements or arrangements with countries willing to take custody of pirates in order to embark law enforcement officials ("shipriders") from the latter countries, in particular countries in the region, to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of persons detained as a result of operations conducted under this resolution for acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, provided that the advance consent of the TFG is obtained for the exercise of third state jurisdiction by shipriders in Somali territorial waters and that such agreements or arrangements do not prejudice the effective implementation of the SUA Convention;

I think it's unfortunate and ironic that the resolution requires advance consent of the transitional Somali government to prosecute pirates - the entire reason for this resolution, as the document itself notes, is to permit outside powers to swarm the region to stop piracy BECAUSE the Somali TFG is incapable of stopping the pirates operating in its own country and territorial waters.

"I didn't mean to get you all fired up."

Intentions aside, I certainly was fired up last night.  And I'm still smoldering enough today to do a post -  

About the handful of law school students who get "time-and-a-half" to take their exams.

When someone first mentioned the existence of this practice to me yesterday, I was incensed.  How can a few students in the Darwinian academic crucible of a law school exam period get special treatment?  The exam in each course amounts to THE ONLY factor in our grade for the course, so it is the end-all-be-all for months of work and study.

But, sure enough.  Take a keen look around the room as the exam is being handed out.  You will notice that a few individuals from the course are...not present at all.

The individuals whose grades benefit from this perk will not be given an extra day to file a brief beyond its deadline.  They will not be given extra time to review a merger document.  They will not be given extra time to object in court.  And thus it is rather outrageous that they are given a helping hand in the proving ground for lawyers.  Law school is the place where a potential lawyer's skills are honed and tested on as even a playing field as possible.  As flinty as it may sound, it is not a place where individual disabilities should be factored into the competition's outcome.

Even worse, apparently at least one individual who benefits from the practice made it onto law review.  How is that fair?  I am sure my grades would improve, too, if I had 50% more time on each of seven exams in my first year!  This type of result, at the very least, should be avoided.

I wonder how the people who failed a course last year would feel if they knew that certain individuals in the class avoided failing on the curve because they got a break.  I wonder how individuals who missed getting on law review or moot court board - or failed to meet a certain key GPA benchmark for employment purposes - would feel if they knew their spot was taken by someone who got to use a crutch that those other individuals did not get to employ.

I see the impetus behind the move - help those who have some disability so they have an equal shake.  But in practice this is no equal shake - it's an overcompensation that is fundamentally unfair, especially in the context of law school.  For the value of my law degree, I want every individual who graduates from this institution to be qualified - straight up without caveats - to practice law competently.

I believe I have a number of friends in the law school who benefit from the time-and-a-half exception.  While I continue to respect them as individuals, and I count myself as fortunate enough to have no learning-based disability, I cannot in any way respect the institutionalized practice of permitting such an exception that undercuts my own hard work and attempt to play fair.  Time-and-a-half is wrong.

The time-and-a-half option for law school exams should be abolished.  If it is mandated by some legal framework, that framework should be amended to eliminate the requirement.

Let 'em die

Even Andrew Sullivan is opposing a Big Three bailout:
The point of capitalism is that actions have consequences. Once that market discipline is removed for a few of the worst, ill-managed, union-crippled companies in America, the stage is set for endless mediocrity, government-run industry (i.e. even more endless mediocrity), and a free-for-all at the government trough.


Yep.

Obligatory Weather Comparison Screenshot

12.15.2008

Smack Dab in the Middle of a Double Header

Over the River


View Larger Map

Cross the bridge over the mighty Sheboygan...and take a drive down Fremont Street, the main drag in Kiel.  

"Bombing the gut" was the term for cruising up and down the strip back in the day, I've been told.

The big plummet begins

The winds are howling (forecasts say gusts are getting up to 26 mph, making 19 F feel like 4) outside casa Steve as temps are beginning the steep drop from 42 F to -2 F.

Brrr!

12.14.2008

The Inadequacy of Jacob Weisberg

Discussing whether Illinois or Louisiana is more corrupt in a Newsweek article, Slate's Jacob Weisberg utterly fails to mention Governor Bobby Jindal's ethics reforms upon taking office in Louisiana.

Whether a person considers them superficial or not, the legislative ethics efforts put forward by Jindal and passed by the Louisiana legislature earlier this year mark a noteworthy break from the state's past traditions of open and colorful corruption.

Failure to mention this significant development in the Louisiana scene - and give some minor nod to Jindal - even as Weisberg gives us the latest on the Illinois corruption scandal surrounding that state's governor?

It's a glaring omission.  He merely alludes vaguely to a post-Katrina shift.  I can only explain it as a partisan or ideological decision based on an aversion to conservatives or to Jindal himself.  And it provides me with yet another instance of Weisberg's insightful-to-a-point, cherry-picking, ultimately inadequate political analysis skills (See his dance-on-the-grave epitaph for libertarianism as Exhibit A).

Champion Stone Pickers Union

















My great grandpa John loved to see people working, being productive.

Born in 1902, he lived until age 95, giving me a chance to get to know him.

He ran a general store in the small country hamlet of Champion and served as Treasurer for the Town of Green Bay.  My favorite talks with Grandpa John were about his childhood on the shores of Green Bay when sailing schooners were still the main way of transporting most goods.

Since a number of readers enjoyed an earlier post about my grandpa's gimmicks, I thought I would share one of Great Grandpa John's insights on life.

The image above contains one of his humorous observations - in his own hand - from late in life.  As he wrote, the rest of the family was out picking stones in the fields behind his house, trying to remove rocks that might ruin the farm equipment as spring arrived.  It's arduous, but it can be fun - and the little poem captures that perfectly.

12.13.2008

What's the use?

Some interesting things have been bubbling up from the ooze about using the Internet to win elections. Matt Yglesias this the role of the Internet will only expand in the vote-getting game:
At the moment, we’re in a transitional phase in terms of the internet. The technology is so useful that tons and tons of people use it. But only a tiny fraction of the electorate comes from the age cohort that’s really embraced the internet and thinks of email, IM, social networking, etc. as second-nature.


Meanwhile, over at Politico, Saul Anuzis is taking a broader view, combining a back-to-basics ideological focus with a renewed tech drive:
We must learn from the Democrats’ success in 2008 and create a virtual community to carry our message across the nation. I’ve embraced the tools of the digital age, put them to work as a state party chair, challenged traditional media and communicated directly with the public. I blog and Twitter, and Facebook. The Republican Party needs a leader who understands how communities are built and nurtured on the web and knows how to lead our comeback online.


I'd say using things like Facebook will, for our generation, be a "virtual doorknock" -- just as likely to get through as a knock on the door or a phone call; probably even more likely to cut through the din given the opportunity for peer pressure. But right now it isn't clear that 'net contacts drive voters to the polls -- that still requires a very real-life action. Can we translate Facebook to real life?

For All the Legal Scholars Out There

Law school exams: write them or type them?
Fire up DOS - it's time to get hunting and pecking.
Fetch me my quill!
  
pollcode.com free polls

Amending the Pardon Power

I'm up for a discussion about revising the president's Pardon Power.

Ex Parte Garland, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court back in the Reconstruction Era, lays out a pretty much unlimited pardon power, except for cases of impeachment.  That aligns with the text of the Constitution in Article II, Section 2, which only mentions impeachment as an unpardonable conviction. 

I'm not certain if the original Hamiltonian justification for a full pardon power is necessary any longer.  For example, I think amending the Constitution to bar a president from pardoning someone convicted of Treason under the difficult standard outlined explicitly in Article III of the Constitution would not be entirely unreasonable.  

It's certainly worth discussing - especially in an era when the Executive's power in this area has much more potential heft, as he maintains an entire office devoted to poring over applications for pardon and other forms of clemency.  (Interestingly, though, the total number of pardons granted per President has generally decreased since Truman, with Clinton as an anomaly).

Thoughts?

12.12.2008

Turbine with Sibs

Friday music video: Portishead

Portishead is a band you might like to look into if you're looking for something a little jazzy with a good beat:


This is "Glory Box" off their first album, Dummy, which is pretty good. Earlier this year they released a new album, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Good news everybody!

No auto bailouts this year.



Interestingly, it seems to the the unions that killed the bailout:
Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the lead GOP negotiator, said the sides were on the brink of a deal on the amendment he had offered. Representatives from the United Auto Workers -- who were present for most of the negotiations -- would not agree to a specific date, Corker said.

The eternal debate

Since Peter the Great dragged Russia to the west, the debate in Russia has been over whether or not this was a good thing. By the mid-1800s, Ivan Vasilevich Kireevsky had formulated a strand of Slavophilism that would weave its way through nationalist arguments down to today:
In this ultimate triumph of formal reason over faith and tradition the perceptive mind will already detect in embryonic form the whole of Europe's present fate, which is the consequence of an ill-conceived principle...

The whole of the West's social and personal life is based upon the concept of individual and private independence, which presupposes the notion of the individual as a separate entity.


So don't be too shocked when you hear things like this:
In Russian culture, Dugin says, a "collective anthropology" has predominated, meaning that the individual can only fully realize his or her potential when functioning as part of the entire society. The Russian conception of human rights does not include "the right to sin," meaning that society, especially in the form of the Russian Orthodox Church and the central state, has an obligation to protect itself as a means of protecting the rights of its citizens.

Dugin says the Russian cultural tradition on rights and values has more in common with the Islamic tradition than with Western liberalism. "In the Islamic and Orthodox traditions, almost everything corresponds," he says. "We both reject specific aspects of secular, Western, European, individualistic conception of human rights."

12.11.2008

Charting the "Wisconsin Way"

A group of organizations called the Wisconsin Way has released a report on the future of the state's business and economic climate and proposes solutions to create new jobs and balance the state's budget. While there are a number of excellent suggestions within the report about such as eliminating the state's corporate tax and reducing our reliance on property taxes, I think that too much of the report focuses on government and what it can do to create jobs.

It goes without saying that state and local governments have a role in economic development and job creation, but we must focus that role as secondary to that of entrepreneurs and employers. It may sound like a minor distinction, but throughout all of the bailout debates and discussion of how to stimulate the economy, too few people recognize that government cannot replace private enterprise as the creator of jobs and wealth.

The role of government must be streamlined and reduced to that of a referee, it should make sure that everyone is playing fairly and "by the rules," but it should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. The free market does that, not government. I realize to many it sounds harsh but businesses that are run poorly must fail and reorganize so that they can become competitive again.

Back to the Blueprint for Change, I do like a lot of their recommendations that focus on streamlining government, such as restricting the use of property taxes to those services actually tied to property or location and having the state contract with counties and municipalities for services rather than the blank check of shared revenues. If local governments contracted many of their services funded by shared revenue it could increase transparency and eliminate the duplication of services as each service would be itemized.

I do have some problems with the blueprint. I feel that too often it relies on incentives that target only specific, high-demand jobs and industries. While we certainly should encourage businesses to fill needed jobs, we should also be focused on creating a tax and regulatory system that is fair to all industries and encourages job creation in all sectors of the economy.

The blueprint also focuses a great deal on the brain drain Wisconsin is experiencing. We know that a lot of college graduates are leaving the state to find jobs, but how do we get them to stay? The Wisconsin Way suggests giving tuition breaks and tax credits to those who stay and work for 5 years after graduation. It's an interesting idea, but why not simply create a tax climate that is competitive with states that are attracting new grads? Again, if we follow the Wisconsin Way's blueprint it seems as though the state is picking the winners and losers - if you have the skills we want you get a deal, if not, well too bad.

There are suggestions within the Blueprint for Change that are worth a second look, and worth implementing, but I think it focuses too much on trying to pick and choose what sectors and industries should be here in Wisconsin. That is not the job of the government. We need to let businesses and entrepreneurs make those decisions and create a regulatory and tax system that encourages all sectors to grow.

Name That Tree #5



















Not too easy...just remember where I am...

SNOLA!

























I could tell something was up, even before I put my contacts in - by the din coming from the schoolyard a block away.


This is the first time since 2004, before Katrina.

At first I thought it was just sleet coming down against the backdrop of magnolia leaves across the street, but it was drifting down rather slowly...so I put in my contacts, and sure enough, it was snow.  Wet and not well formed, but snow.

And it's continued to fall steadily over the past hour - accumulating in some places, despite the wet ground.

























ADDED: It's still coming down.