Sunday, January 29, 2006


More about Hamas

Several pundits, writing in newspapers and talking on TV, state that the election of HAMAS in Palestine spoils what chances there were for peace in the region. Hamas will not recognize that Israel even has a right to exist; therefore, what hope is there of a negotiated settlement? For example, David Grossman writes in the Los Angeles Times for Sunday, January 29, as follows:

HAMAS' electoral victory is a severe blow to the chances for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This fact is incontestable and should not be taken lightly. Both sides have much less room to maneuver than they had before the election; the opportunity for a real compromise, one that will hold up in the long term, has almost entirely dissipated.

I disagree with this assessment. The chances for a peaceful, negotiated settlement were between miniscule and zero before the recent election. The election has not diminished the chances for peace; there was no prospect for peace in the long run in any case.

Israel will hold its own election in a few weeks. National security will be the first issue in the minds of most voters. I expect that they will vote their fear of suicide bombers rather than their hope of peace; that is, I expect a new Israeli government dominated by Likud and hard-line settler parties.

There will then be in each country a government that agrees with the other on at least one important issue: There should be a single state for all of Biblical Israel (or Palestine) and the other government should cease to exist. That is, Hamas wants all the land and so does Likud. Hamas denies the legitimacy of Israel. Many Israeli politicians deny the legitimacy or even the existence of a “Palestinian” people.

To me the sad part of this story is that it could have been prevented. The United States was instrumental in the original establishment of the State of Eretz Israel in 1948. The United States could and should have used its influence on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to impose a reasonable settlement, starting with a defined border between the two states. Instead, our various administrations, both Democratic and Republican, diddles and fiddled. American domestic politics prevented any administration from taking a strong stand against the continued encroachments of Israeli settlements on the land that was left for the Palestinians. American foreign policy, attuned to keeping friends in the oil-rich Arab world, refrained from applying pressure on the Palestinian leaders at the time (Arafat and others) to accept or to make counter proposals to various Israeli offers.

We had our chance to influence the shape of things in the Holy Land. Democratic elections this year, both in Palestine and soon to occur in Israel, have frozen us out. We are now left to threaten, to plead, and to wait.

I hope I’m wrong.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Will Hamas have the same fate as Irgun?

Hamas has 76 seats in the 132-member parliament of the Palestinian Authority. The Bush administration is wondering how to deal with a Hamas government. Israel is concerned. Everyone is concerned.

What goes around comes around. Israel and the Bush administration are concerned to fight terror and terrorist organizations. Hamas is a terrorist organization. However, some of us old farts can remember a time when the active terrorist organizations in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine were the Stern Gang and Irgun Zvai Leumi. These terrorist organizations were led by men who later became prime ministers of Israel. Irgun and the Stern Gang no longer exist. I don’t know what happened to them, but I suspect that they morphed into respectable political parties in Israel.

I expect the same future for Hamas.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Waiting, Waiting

The progress of the Alito confirmation proceeds. I feel like a convict on Death Row, hoping that something will happen to delay or prevent my execution. Various appeals have already been denied. The appelate court has refused to consider some pretty convincing evidence of my innocence of the crime for which I am to be executed. One more appeal is waiting, but it doesn't seem likely that it will be successful. I keep hoping, not for a miracle, but for some fairness and good sense.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The Creeping Advance of Socialism

My friend "S" and I had this recent exchange of e-mail regarding the announcement that Ford Motor Company was going to close many plants and lay off many employees.

S wrote: Rather then always bashing Bush and his corrupt party, let’s explore something else.

I own two Ford products. One is a 1998 F-150 pick up truck with 4wd. Its odometer is about to turn 100k miles. The second is a 2003 Lincoln Towncar with 45k miles. There was a time that I would not own a Ford and loved GM products. Today, Ford builds a better product and maintains a better inventory of spare parts then GM. The spare parts are not always made by Ford.

Ford has lost market share for the past ten years. Furthermore, they have restructured themselves twice in the past four years. Each restructure has cut thousands of jobs and project 30,000 this year.

A Conservative might say it is the result of union benefits. My opinion is old Henry must be rolling over in his grave. The man did not like "bean counters." He wanted a better and cheaper product for his customers. He was willing to pay more to his workers to obtain these goals. Now the company that did just that, is about to go under by violating his principles.

The part that kills me is to see educated men think in a box. Our own company would think that cutting employees would make profits soar. If they did not, then do it again. I understand that Ford's production capacity is around 70% and foreign competition production capacity in this country is near 100%. How can these educated men lie to themselves and pump up their hubris attitude?

The latest Economist magazine mentions the change over of the Greenspan economy at the end of this month. There are a number of concerns. In fact the magazine's front page shows Alan running track and handing off a lit stick of dynamite for a baton. None of the potential problems mentioned are even being considered by our politicians. Why should they? Our president does not understand them. So why should the nth descendent of Henry Ford understand?

S wrote again: The town of Hapeville, GA. was on tonight's news. A Ford plant was built there at the end of WWII. The plant is going to close. Hapeville is the high school where I attended. I remember the trains bringing in car loads of chassis frames for the plant which could turn out cars by the minute.

Since you are from Michigan, I am certain there are other Ford plants there scheduled for closure.

I remember that a number of classmates who did not go to college hoping to get jobs at the plant. Since the town was next to the Atlanta airport, the airline jobs also were popular for the locals.

Our own company is now a mere skeleton of it's past. I remember thinking how obvious it was that the management had closure on their mind two years before retirement.

I am glad that I am not one of the baby boomers hoping to retire in the next ten years.

I wrote: In a way the promised downsizing of Ford and GM is good news, if you believe, as I do, that things have to get really, really bad before the public gets off its collective ass and rises up and demands that something be done. We've got to make retirement pensions something that everyone can have and that are portable from one company to another and are administered by a single non-profit organization, paid for by a fee or "tax" levied on all employers, great and small, with augmentation by the federal government. Repubs will scream "creeping socialism," which it is, in fact. However, "creeping" socialism is the best kind of socialism, the kind that I favor.

S wrote again: As our population grows, land becomes scarce and people must share, socialism must creep into our lives. Even the most rancid conservative must eventually accept it.

I bet William Clay Ford will not give up his salary for five years to turn around his company. I bet his great grandfather left enough money in trust to support the family for five years. It would not surprise me a bit that Bill gave himself a raise. Henry Sr. must be having problems. Like our president George, great grandson thinks he knows best. After all he never worried where the next meal is coming from and if his kids or family will get proper health care.

What scares me is how socialistic I am becoming as I get older.

Monday, January 16, 2006


What's Wrong with "Original Intent?"

These Alito hearings, dull and uneventful as they were, have still excited me to think about constitutional interpretation and doctrine. Here are a few random thoughts:

The constitution gives the power to appoint judges to the President, "with the advice and consent" of the Senate. It does not stipulate that that advice and consent is to be expressed as a simple majority vote. The purpose of the phrase was to provide a check on the absolute power of the Executive to appoint judges.

The constitution is full of limitations on what the President and Congress may do. These limitations were inspired by actions that the British government had done in past centuries. The colonists came from a country with a monarch with absolute power and an absolute veto on any legislation he didn't like. The only check Parliament had on the King was the power of the purse. Parliament could not prevent the King from waging war on France or Spain or even on one of his political opponents in England. It could only refuse to appropriate funds to prosecute the war. If the King could find other sources of revenue, he could go ahead with his unpopular war and there was no way to stop him.

The American constitution writers stipulated that Congress, not the Executive, could declare war. It stipulated that the Executive (i.e., President) did not have an absolute veto on legislation but that Congress could override his veto with a 2/3 majority in each chamber.

All of the other rights specifically mentioned in the constitution were put there to prevent things that the English absolute monarchy had done. All of the limits on the power of Congress and the President were put there to prevent certain things that the English government of George III had done to the colonists.

But you know all of this. You learned it in high school. Antonin Scalia learned it in high school, also. So did Clarence Thomas, Samue Alito, and a flock of other federal judges who now pay homage to the doctrine of "original intent" of the framers of the constitution in discerning how its prohibitions apply to present-day conditions and more recent abuses of government power.

Does tapping your telephone line or opening and reading your mail amount to "unreasonable search and seisure?" There isn't a single word in the constitution about telephones or about searching mail. Was the original intent of the framers to permit government to do anything except that which was specifically forbidden? Was the original intent to grant to the people only those rights specifically listed in the document, as amended from time to time? On the other hand, does the Ninth Amendment grant a veritable universe of civil rights to the people? Or to the states?

Case in point: In 1787 anyone who wanted to could grow hemp (i.e., marijuana) for personal use or for sale. The words "hemp" and "cannabis" and "marijuana" do not appear in the constitution. Does government have the constitutional authority to forbid the growing and use of cannabis? It seems to me that "strict interpretation" would deny government the authority to prevent me from growing and using pot.

My case is that "original intent" is a lie. Conservatives who claim to follow "original intent" do so only to achieve conclusions that they like. Claims that a good judge does not and should not consider the likely results of his or her interpretation of constitutional law are phony. We must keep in mind that our representative form of government is an experiment. The constitution is a means to the end expressed in its preamble and not an end in itself. In practice, results count for more than the legal theories that produce the results. It is a very poor judge indeed who ignores the likely results of a decision.

As you all can see, I am not a legal expert. Any high school kid could have written this post.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Alito Nomination

Right up front I reveal my bias: I do not want to see Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court. I believe he will try to overturn the Roe b. Wade decision. I believe that in interpreting the Constitution he will come down on the side of corporations rather than working people, on the side of business rather than environment, and so on. He is, by his own admission, a conservative Republican.

I can go on and tell you why I don't like the conservative Republican philosophy, but that's a subject for another post. My real concern is that this man, Samuel Alito, has in the past expressed himself clearly as anti-choice, annti-equal rights for women, anti-one person, one vote, etc. Not only do most Democrats in the Senate oppose such views, but many Republicans do also. However, all of the pro-choice, pro-civil rights, pro-working people Republicans plan to vote in favor of confirming this very conservative man as a supreme court justice.

I think that Judge Alito's views are opposed by at least sixty percent of Americans. I know, in spite of the cant uttered by some of his supporters in the Senate, that a "strict" construction of the constitution is just as subject to the personal views of the judge making the interpretation as a "loose" construction. A strict construction of the constitution does not (or does) find a right to a heart transplant, for example. The phrase "heart transplant" or "organ transplant" or "blood transfusion" does not appear anywhere in the document. Hence, an organ transplant or a blood transfusion is not a constitutionally protected right. However, the constitution does contain language that says that rights not enumerated in the document are reserved to the states or to the people. A strict constructionist who is not a Jehovah's Witness could find that organ transplants and other life-saving medical procedures are among the "rights not enumerated" that belong to the people or the states. Judge Alito and his right-wing supporters can prattle on and on about not basing a judgment on a desired outcome, but they are hypocrites. They can use the exact language of the constitution to argue that there is or is not an explicit right to an abortion. Since they abhor abortion for religious reasons, just as Jehovah's Witnesses abhor blood transfusions, they find a way concluding that the constitution does not provide a right to an abortion (or a blood transfusion).

The framers of our constitution provided that the Senate shall confirm an appointment to the Supreme Court by a simple majority vote. On the other hand, they stipulated that a solemn treaty requires a 2/3 vote for ratification. The reason is that a treaty ranks just below the constitution itself in legal precedence and supercedes any ordinary law enacted by Congress or a state legislature. They did not foresee that the Supreme Court would inherit the power to judge the constitutionality of laws enacted by Congress or state legislatures. They thought it would be the responsibility of the President to veto such laws. It came as a great surprise when the Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshal, asserted that right in the early 1800's in the case of Marbury v. Madison. I am convinced that if the framers of the Constitution had anticipated the role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the document, they would certainly have stipulated a 2/3 vote for confirming any justice to the Court.

The present incumbent shows how laughable it is that the President would be an impartial judge of the constitutionality of any piece of legislation, or that he would exercise prudent care to select justices who are truly impartial.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Good News and Bad News

Peter S. Goodman, writing in the Washington Post for Tuesday, January 10, 2006, reports that "China has resolved to shift some of its foreign exchange reserves -- now in excess of $800 billion -- away from the U.S. dollar and into other world currencies in a move likely to push down the value of the greenback, a high-level state economist who advises the nation's economic policymakers said in an interview Monday."

First, the bad news: If China starts selling dollars, Japan will have to follow. The result may be a catastrophic fall in the value of the dollar in international trade. Imports will cost more. American tourists won't be able to afford vacations to Europe or Asia. The Bush administration won't be able to continue deficit spending because foreigners will no longer want to buy our bonds. Poor Mr. Bush will be caught between a rock and a hard place: either curtail our expensive adventure in Iraq or agree to a substantial increase in taxes.

Next, the good news: China's action may set in motion a trend toward equalization of pay scales. If the dollars is worth less in comparison with the yuan, the yen, the baht, the Hong Kong dollar, the currencies of Indonesia and Cambodia and Malaysia and other countries who now provide American corporations sources of cheap and compliant labor, it will become less attractive for those firms to export jobs. Eventually a worker in Indonesia or Thailand will earn the same wage as an American worker. Then the goal and promise of globalization will be realized: every country will produce and export those products at which it is most skilled. We will again (or perhaps for the first time) have Portugal specializing in producing wine and Britain in manufacturing clothing to the benefit of both populations.

In between the bad and the good there will be some very hard times for us Americans.

Saturday, January 07, 2006



I read an article in the paper a few days ago about medical research, particularly research leading to new drugs. Before 1980, according to the writer, most of the research on new drugs was done in government and university laboratories. The developed and tested drugs were then licensed to private firms for manufacture and sale. Today most of the research on new drugs is done in private firms who have their own research laboratories. Unlike the university and government laboratories, researchers in these institutions do not necessarily publish all their results. As a consequence, some drugs are marketed without the information that they may not be safe in all circumstances. Recently some well-publicized drugs to relieve the pain of arthritis have been recalled because of information finally made public that the firms that manufactured them had kept secret.

Even more important than the withholding of information is the reason for choosing what drugs to develop and market. Publicly funded university and government laboratories choose drugs that will be of greatest benefit to the population. Privately funded laboratories choose drugs that will bring the greatest profit to the parent firm. The writer of the article stated that this urge toward greatest profit rather than greatest benefit to the whole population tends to increase the cost of drugs.

This assertion leads me to suggest a topic for a graduate student’s thesis:

Comparison of the overall benefits of drugs developed in government and university laboratories funded by public money with the benefits of drugs developed in laboratories funded by private money.

The study should include a comparison of the overall cost to the public of prescription drugs under the two regimes of research and development. In other words, how much does our present system of private funding of drug research contribute to the rising cost of medical care in the United States?

On a different topic, another assertion by persons in positions of power and influence bothers me. President Bush and Vice President Cheney and other members of the Bush administration claim that the tax cuts of 2001 and 2002 have stimulated the economy and should be made permanent. I would like to see some graduate students studying our economic history for the past hundred years to find out whether rates of taxation have had any effect at all on the economy.

The topic of the thesis might be:

Effects of tax rates on business activity in the United States.

My own belief is that the economy depends on the world-wide business cycle and that the modest changes made in tax rates in the United States do not have an important effect, if any at all, on the economy. For example, tax rates were higher during the Clinton Administration but the economy was doing very nicely.

Interested graduate students are welcome to claim these topics as their own.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Globalization and Gasoline Prices

According to the news, the Russians and the Ukranians have been horsing around with natural gas prices and pipelines. One result is that the price of gasoline here in California has gone up four cents a gallon since last Saturday.

Monday, January 02, 2006


The People's Business

Two items in this morning's paper (January 2, 2006) inspired this post. One item described the plight of Medical patients. The State of California has cut back five percent on payments to health service prividers. Some doctors are refusing to treat Medical patients, arguing that the payments are not enough to pay their expenses, and that they have to stay in business to treat other patients.

The other item was a "Letter to the Editor." The writer complained that the legislature and the Governor were not working diligently enough to do the jobs that the public elected them to do.

It made me wonder. Is cutting Medical payments by five percent doing the people's business or are the cuts a result of the Governor and legislature not doing the people's business? Just thought I'd ask. What do you think?

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